Simon Critchley on the Best Philosopher Deaths
Simon Critchly is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York. He is the author of many books,including On Heidegger's Being and Time and Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. The Book of Dead Philosophers was written on a hill overlooking Los Angeles, where he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute. He lives in Brooklyn.
Question: What are the most memorable philosopher deaths?
Critchley: Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon was going through London one day and it was, there was snow lying on the ground, and he stepped down from his carriage, and asked a woman in a house for a chicken, slaughtered the chicken, and he then began to proceed to stuff the chicken with snow, because he had this idea that snow could perhaps refrigerate animal flesh. Brilliant idea, the refrigerator 300 years, 400 years before it was invented. As a consequence of this, he caught a cold but he was some distance from home, so he went to the house of a local aristocrat-friend in Chelsea somewhere, but the bed was damp, and the cold turned into pneumonia and he died of the effects of that. Maybe the worst example of course is Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Rousseau who unlike Obama’s written 2 autobiographies, Rousseau wrote 3. So, Obama’s still got time to catch up and surpass Rousseau. In the last of the autobiographies, he talks about one of the walks he was on and he was on this long walk out of Paris. This was coming back into Paris. A carriage was coming up the hill with a huge mastiff dog running alongside of it. The dog crashed into Rousseau, threw him to ground, he lost consciousness. He regained consciousness some hours later. Blood was running out of his mouth. He was horribly disfigured and bruised, and he said that the first sentiment he felt at that point was calm, was a complete sense of joy and so, contentment with existence, which is strange. He goes back home and he survives for another 2 years but some of his biographers think that he died of the effects of the cerebral damage caused by this collision with the dog. But, this is the kicker. Stories then began to circulate around Paris that Rousseau had in fact died and they even got the king and queen of France and they believed that he died. His obituaries began to appear in the press which were overwhelmingly negative and even a sale, an auction of Rousseau’s manuscripts which entirely fallacious was announced in the press. So, Rousseau was the only philosopher I know who had died posthumously. He died, he lived to experience the effects of his own death and of course it made him very sad.
The philosopher recounts how Francis Bacon and Jean Jacques Rousseau met their end.
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