On the Desire for a Master

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Sadly, it is now almost universally assumed by classical scholars that Pythagoras never existed. It seems that there was a group of people in southern Italy called Pythagoreans who invented a “Founder” for their beliefs who, accordingly, lived and died in a manner consistent with those beliefs. But let’s not allow Pythagoras’ mere non-existence to deter us, as the stories that surround him are so compelling. They are also illustrative of the wider point that disciples of a thinker will often simply invent stories and anecdotes that illustrate the life of the master in whom they want to believe. Perhaps we should be suspicious of this desire for a master.

Simon Critchley
The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

Illustration by Saul Steinberg
The Inspector (1973)