“The book is written against the view that a philosopher’s biography is of no importance and that philosophy can be reduced to a series of systems of thought. It’s really an attempt to rewrite the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers. That was the way that philosophy was taught until the eighteenth century. So in a way it’s a revival of a rather ancient idea of philosophy being taught through exemplary biography or the idea of philosophy as a way of life.”
In this week’s podcast I talk to Simon Critchley about his recently published Book of Dead Philosophers. The book might at first seem like one of those forgettable book of quirky lists and miscellaneous bizzareries, but in fact it’s much more than that. As Jonathan Derbyshire put it in his Guardian review:
“These descriptions aren’t just intended to be diverting, however (though they are certainly that); Critchley says that they are also meant to challenge a conception of philosophy which holds that it is a form of abstract, conceptual inquiry that makes no difference to the lives of those who practise it.
For him, philosophy is not so much about learning how to die, as about learning how to live with what he calls our ‘creatureliness’. We are finite, ‘limited’ creatures, and philosophy is, or ought to be, the business of helping human beings to live with the ‘difficulty’ of facing up to that.”
I met up with Simon in the rather noisy cafe of the ICA in London just before he was due to give a talk about the book, and started off by hitting him with a quote from Heidegger. As you do.
Oh, and the title of this post is a quote from Simon’s book; “unstitching the carefully tailored suit of the self” is his description of the effect that grief has on us.