Book of the Day: Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers
Tue Feb 17 2009
Okay, maybe Simon Critchley's new work of pop philosophy won't help you overcome your fear of death. But it should jolt readers with its seize-the-day attitude. The heart of the book consists of "190 or so" descriptions of how philosophers have died through the ages, from the 6th century B.C. through the early 21st century. Some of the deaths are noble (Freud succumbed to cancer with great composure). Many are absurd (Heracleitus, history has it, suffocated in cow dung). Taken together, these smart, morbid and sometimes hilarious write-ups reveal death to be both certain and wildly unpredictable—an ungainly fact without which life would, Critchley says, be meaningless.
Read an excerpt...... There is a story of Wittgenstein visiting the philosopher G.E. Moore in 1944 after Moore had suffered a stroke during a trip to the USA. Under instructions from his doctor, Moores wife insisted that his friends limit their visits to an hour and a half. Wittgenstein was the only person to resent this rule, claming that a discussion should not be broken off until it had reached its proper end. Furthermore, Wittgenstein added, if Moore did expire during such discussion, then that would be a very decent way to die, "with his boots on."
Wittgenstein died with his boots on. He had developed a friendship with Mrs. Bevan [his physician's spouse]; they would go to the pub together every evening at six 0'clock where she would drink port and Wittgenstein would empty his glass into an aspidistra plant. She presented him with an electric blanket on his birthday and said, "Many happy returns." Wittgenstein [who had cancer] replied, staring back at her, "There will be no returns." ...