Can the way a philosopher goes out in the end shed some light on what he or she believed while living? That’s the opinion of New School professor of philosophy Simon Critchley, an Englishman whose darkly funny new read The Book of Dead Philosophers chronicles the final gasps of a litany of greats, from Plato to Simone de Beauvoir. (Side note: we particularly enjoy the cover.)
After the jump, Critchley answers Flavorwire’s big question: What does he think happens after we die?
“I have written a book on how philosophers die. I am a philosopher. I will die. In fact, the reader can find a very brief account of my death at the end of the book. However, I am not yet dead, as far as I can tell. What I mean to say is that there seem to be a few vital signs, although one cannot really be sure. Maybe the dead are also flatulent.
“I am often asked the question, ‘Do you believe in the afterlife?’ After mumbling something stupid on a few occasions, I have now learned to reply, ‘Yes, of course I believe in the afterlife. I believe in the life of those that come after, those we love, who are few in number, and those we don’t even know, who are obviously many more, a great many in fact.’ People rarely seem impressed by this answer.
“However, why should we assume that the question of the afterlife must always be answered with reference to me? Isn’t just a teensy bit selfish? What is so important about my afterlife? Why can’t I believe in others’ afterlife without believing in my own?
“But a skeptic might object that I am simply dodging the question. Of course, they might say, the question of the afterlife is about your afterlife. So, does it go on or not, this damned series of disconnected events that we call existence?
“The only really philosophical reply I can give is to say, ‘I don’t know.’ I then usually start talking about Socrates. After he had been condemned to death on the trumped up charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and failing to revere the local gods, Socrates began to ruminate on the afterlife before an audience of his judges.
“He said that death is one of two possibilities. Either it is a long dreamless sleep and really rather pleasant, or it is a passage to another place, namely Hades, and we’ll be able to hang out with Homer, Hesiod and rest of the Greek heroes and keep on chasing boys, which sounds great. Socrates’ point is that we do not know whether death is the end or some sort of continuation. He concludes by saying only God knows the answer to this question. Of course, this makes it a little tricky is you don’t, like me, happen to believe in God.”
The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage) is currently available on Amazon.com.