J.P. Sartre: Why I Believe in God

Jean-Paul Sartre

Despite the atheism which was axiomatic for his approach to philosophy and life itself, in an interview with Simone de Beauvoir from 1974, Sartre made the following curious remark:

I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here: and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.

Then again, as a student of mine once said to me during a class I was teaching on Hegel, people say all sorts of things when they are drunk.

Simon Critchley
The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

Related: Tatsuya Ishida: Drunk God (2006)

On Hope

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

In his 102nd year, [humanist philosopher Hans-Georg] Gadamer was asked for his reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. He answered in German, “Es ist mir recht unheimlich geworden,” Meaning that the world had become strange, even uncanny, to him. He went on to add that “people cannot live without hope; that is the only thesis I would defend without any restriction.” Yet, when his pupil and successor Dieter Henrich visited him for the last time in Heidelberg, he repeated that one cannot live without hope, but added that this hope had become this small, and he raised his hand and showed the tiny gap of light between his thumb and index finger.

Simon Critchley
The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

Photo: Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

On the Desire for a Master


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)