The Book of Dead Philosophers

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9781847080103: The Book of Dead Philosophers

Starting from the premise that philosophers' deaths have been as interesting as their lives, Simon Critchley pulls readers in with quirky stories of how philosophers died and then confronts the big themes - in this case, what 'a good death' means and how to live with the knowledge of death and free from what he calls 'delusions and sophistries'. The book consists of short, sometimes very short, entries on various philosophers, cataloguing the manner of their demises and linking this to their central ideas. These entries would run from a couple of sentences in the case of the Pre-Socratics or minor Medievals and Moderns, up to a paragraph or indeed short essays of about 800 words in the case, say, of Socrates, Seneca, Rousseau, Kant and Nietzsche. Some of the entries would be rather pithy and, hopefully, witty.The book would be framed with an Introduction, and a long concluding chapter on philosophy and death where I would seek to defend what I have already said about the ideal of the philosophical death as a way of denouncing contemporary delusions and sophistries, what Francis Bacon saw as the Idols of the Tribe, the Den, the Market-Place and the Theatre (incidentally, Bacon died in a particularly cold winter in London in 1626 from a cold contracted after trying to stuff a chicken with snow as an experiment in refrigeration). '

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Review:

Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: For professor Simon Critchely, how we die is possibly more important than how we lived. In The Book of Dead Philosophers, Critchley presents a lineup of nearly 200 famous (and not so famous) philosophers and explores how, through their deaths, one might be inspired to lead a richer life. From a few words to a few pages, each great thinker's death is examined in an enlightening and entertaining manner as the author waxes on the often brutal (and odd) ways they left this mortal coil. And along with natural causes, murders, and suicides, you'll discover what dark departures from suffocating in cow dung, indigestion, and lethal insect stings have to do with how we live today. At times the "sobering power of the philosophical death" might seem more like a morbidly ironic punchline to the life each philosopher led, but Critchley writes, "My hope is that, if read from beginning to end, a cumulative series of themes will emerge that will add up to a specific argument about how philosophy might teach one how to die, and by implication, how to live." --Brad Thomas Parsons

About the Author:

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. His many books include Very Little . . . Almost Nothing, The Faith of the Faithless, and The Book of Dead Philosophers. He is the series moderator of The Stone, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.

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Critchley, Simon
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