Simon Critchley

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Simon Critchley
Born (1960-02-27) 27 February 1960 (age 55)
Hertfordshire,[1] England
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental Philosophy
Main interests
Politics, ethics, post-religion, aesthetics

Simon Critchley (born 27 February 1960) is an English philosopher currently teaching at The New School, who writes primarily on the history of philosophy, political theory, religion, ethics, and aesthetics, especially literature and theatre. He argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said to inform his published work: religious disappointment raises the question of meaning and has to, as he sees it, deal with the problem of nihilism; political disappointment provokes the question of justice and raises the need for a coherent ethics.

Education and early work[edit]

Critchley studied philosophy at the University of Essex (BA 1985, PhD 1988) and at the University of Nice (M.Phil. 1987). His M.Phil. thesis dealt with the problem of the overcoming of metaphysics in Heidegger and Carnap; his PhD dissertation was on the ethics of deconstruction in Emmanuel Levinas and Derrida.

Following a period as a university fellow at Cardiff University, Critchley was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at Essex in 1989, becoming reader in philosophy in 1995, and professor in 1999. Since 2004 Critchley has been professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research.[2] He held the position of chair in philosophy at the New School from 2008–2011, and became the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy in 2011. He has held visiting professorships at numerous universities, including Sydney (2000), Notre Dame (2002), Cardozo Law School (2005) and at the University of Oslo (2006). In 2009 he was appointed a part-time professor of philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, where he runs a summer school[3] and teaches in philosophy and liberal arts. Critchley is also a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[4]

Selected works[edit]

The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas[edit]

Critchley’s first book was The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Blackwell, 1992), which argued for an ethical dimension to deconstruction. Rather than being concerned with deconstruction in terms of the contradictions inherent in any text — an approach typical of the early Derrida and those in literary criticism aiming to extract a critical method for an application to literature — Critchley concerns himself with the philosophical context necessary for an understanding of the ethics of deconstructive reading.[5] A second edition was published in 1999 by Edinburgh University Press and a third edition published in March 2014, also from Edinburgh University Press.[6]

Very Little... Almost Nothing[edit]

Critchley's second book, Very Little... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997) focuses on the relation between philosophy and literature and the problem of nihilism.[7]


Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (Verso, 1999) is a collection of essays that includes his debate with Richard Rorty, as well as series of essays on Derrida, Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Jean-Luc Nancy. These essays also show a pronounced political and psychoanalytic turn to Critchley's thinking. A new edition of the book appeared in Verso's Radical Thinkers series in 2009.[8]

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction[edit]

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001),[9] is both an introduction to that tradition of thinking and an essay in meta-philosophy, which lays out the way in which Critchley sees the role of theory and reflection. In the book, Critchley addresses the perennial question of the two major Western philosophical traditions, that of analytical and continental philosophy. Critchley argues that the professional opposition between analytic and Continental philosophy is something that needs to be transcended. Critchley accepts that there is risk within continental philosophy of obscurantism, just as there is a risk of scientism in much analytic philosophy. But the primary purpose of philosophy is to understand ourselves, our world and, as Hegel puts it, to comprehend one’s time in thought.

On Humour[edit]

His "On Humour" (Routledge, 2002) analyses the meaning and importance of humour. Critchley argues that humour is an oblique phenomenology of ordinary bringing about a change of situation that exerts a powerful critical function. On Humour has been translated into eleven languages and has exerted considerable influence over debates around the role of humour in contemporary art practice.[10]

Things Merely Are[edit]

In Things Merely Are (Routledge, 2005), Critchley examines the relation between philosophy and poetry through an extended meditation on the poetry of Wallace Stevens.[11] Critchley's particular focus in Stevens' very late poems, which attempt to describe what poetry can and cannot say about a subject-independent reality. Critchley is referenced in the commentary on Stevens's poem Another Weeping Woman. The book also contains Critchley’s influential essay on Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.[12]

Infinitely Demanding[edit]

Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007) is the most systematic overview of Critchley's philosophical position.[13] It combines a meta-ethics based on the concepts of approval and demand with a phenomenology of ethical experience and ethical subjectivity. At the centre of the book is a theory of ethical subjectivity based on the relation to an infinite demand. Critchley extends his analysis into discussions of aesthetics and sublimation, and into political theory and practice. Critchley argues for an ethically committed political anarchism. Infinitely Demanding has been translated into 8 languages. The book has led to some heated polemics, notably with Slavoj Žižek. “Infinitely Demanding” was the topic of a special issue of the journal Critical Horizons (August 2009).[14]

The Book of Dead Philosophers[edit]

An extended defense of the idea that to philosophize is to learn how to die, The Book of Dead Philosophers was published by Granta in the UK (2008), Vintage in the US (2009) and Melbourne University Press in Australia (2008). It was on the New York Times bestseller list in March 2009.[15] It has been translated into 17 languages.

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying[edit]

How to Stop Living and Start Worrying (Polity, 2010), is a series of conversations between Critchley and Carl Cederström from 2009 and 2010, originally based on a Swedish television series. The conversations are intended to provide an overview and introduction to Critchley's life and work. They are based around a series of topics: life, death, love, humour and authenticity. The volume also contains a discussion with Tom McCarthy.[16]

Impossible Objects[edit]

Impossible Objects (2011) is a collection of interviews with Critchley over the past 10 years, edited by Carl Cederström and Todd Kesselman, published by Polity Press in 2011.[17]

The Mattering of Matter[edit]

Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society, in collaboration with Tom McCarthy, Sternberg Press, Berlin (2012)[18]

Faith of the Faithless[edit]

In Faith of the Faithless (2012) Critchley examines whether there can be a faith of the faithless, a belief for unbelievers. Framed by two 'parables' based on the writings of Oscar Wilde and Soren Kierkegaard, the book is four long chapters dealing with the question of politics and religion in Jean Jacques Rousseau, mystical anarchism, St. Paul and Martin Heidegger. Expanding on his debate with Slavoj Žižek,[19] Critchley concludes with a meditation on the question of violence and the limits of non-violence.

Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine[edit]

Stay Illusion: The Hamlet Doctrine (Pantheon Books 2013 [hc] and Vintage 2014 [pbk])[20] [The Hamlet Doctrine (UK) Verso 2014[21]] This book on Hamlet is co-authored by Jamieson Webster. It deals with the play in the light of various 'outsider' interpretations, such as those of Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Schelling, Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, and Lacan. It argues that at the core of Hamlet is the problem of thought and action: where we know too much, we do nothing.


Bowie is an excursion through the songs of David Bowie. Critchley melds personal narratives of how Bowie lit up his dull life in southern England’s suburbs with philosophical forays into the way concepts of authenticity and identity are turned inside out in Bowie’s work. Published by OR Books in New York and London (2014).[22]

Memory Theatre[edit]

A piece of experimental fiction by Critchley published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in London. Jonathan Lethem writes about Critchley's book, "Simon Critchley is a figure of quite startling brilliance, and I can never begin to guess what he'll do next, only that it is sure to sustain and nourish my appetite for his voice. His overall project may be that of returning philosophical inquiry, and "theory", to a home in literature, yet without surrendering any of its incisive power, or ethical urgency."[23] Memory Theatre was picked by the London Review of Books Bookshop as one of their six books of the year for 2014.[24]

Other work[edit]

"The Stone"[edit]

The Stone is an opinion series in The New York Times, moderated by Critchley, that features the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues that include art, war, ethics, gender and popular culture.[25] Critchley wrote the first article, ‘What is a Philosopher?’ in May 2010. Critchley's recent contributions to the The Stone include Let Be: An Answer to Hamlet’s Question, a collaboration with Jamieson Webster that traces the logic of action in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Euro Blind, a discussion of Sophocles and the so-called "tragedy" of the European debt crisis. More recently Critchley contributed a three-part essay, Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher and an article titled Why I Love Mormonism. The latter received widespread attention and reactions from the Mormon community varied.[26] More recently, Critchley has written an essay on freedom and faith in the guise of a Christmas sermon,[27] an article about a traumatic incident with a pink shirt[28] and a critique of modern ideals of authenticity and happiness.[29]

The Guardian series on Heidegger's Being and Time[edit]

In an essay series[30] for the British newspaper The Guardian, Critchley explores Martin Heidegger's magnum opus, Being and Time, first published in 1927. The importance of Heidegger's work, Critchley explains, is not limited to philosophy, but has poured over into such diverse areas as architecture, contemporary art, social and political theory, psychotherapy, psychiatry and theology. He has also written recently on the continuing importance of the Occupy movement and the need to make Shakespeare dangerous again.[31]

Artistic Collaborations[edit]

Critchley and Tom McCarthy[edit]

Critchley has co-founded with his friend in 1999 a 'semi-fictitious organisation' called The International Necronautical Society (INS) "devoted to mind-bending projects that would do for death what the Surrealists had done for sex".[32][33]

In 2007, after McCarthy and INS Chief Philosopher Simon Critchley had delivered the 'INS Declaration on Inauthenticity' at New York's Drawing Center, the critic Peter Schwenger alleged in Triple Canopy that the two men who appeared in the gallery were not in fact Critchley and McCarthy.[34] Taking his claim as an inspiration, McCarthy and Critchley did indeed replace themselves with actors when delivering the Declaration one year later at Tate Britain.[35] When invited to deliver the Declaration a third time at the 2009 Athens Biennial, they announced that the Declaration would henceforth be outsourced to any institution who wanted it, and commissioned a Greek translation, which was subsequently delivered by Greek actors in Athens.[36]

Critchley and Simmons[edit]

Simon Critchley, together with John Simmons, has been involved in a music project for many years. In September 2014, Critchley and Simmons released an album, 'The Majesty of the Absurd' –

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • (1992, 1999, 2014) The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
  • (1997) Very Little... Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature, Routledge, London & New York (2nd Edition, 2004).
  • (1999) Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity: Essays on Derrida, Levinas, and Contemporary French Thought, Verso, London (Reissued, 2007).
  • (2001) Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press.
  • (2002) On Humour, Routledge, London ISBN 978-0415251211.
  • (2005) On the Human Condition, with Dominique Janicaud & Eileen Brennan, Routledge, London.
  • (2005) Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens, Routledge, London.
  • (2007) Infinitely Demanding. Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, Verso, London & New York.
  • (2008) The Book of Dead Philosophers, Granta Books, London; Vintage, New York; Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
  • (2008) On Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’, with Reiner Schürmann, edited by Steven Levine, Routledge, London and New York.
  • (2008) Der Katechismus des Bürgers, Diaphanes Verlag, Berlin.
  • (2008) Democracy and Disappointment: On the Politics of Resistance (DVD) – Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley in Conversation, Slought Books, Philadelphia.
  • (2010) How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, Polity Press ISBN 978-0745650395.
  • (2011) Impossible Objects, Polity Press ISBN 978-0745653211.
  • (2011) International Necronautical Society: Offizielle Mitteilungen
  • (2012) The Mattering of Matter. Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society, with Tom McCarthy, Sternberg Press, Berlin
  • (2012) The Faith of the Faithless, Verso.
  • (2013) Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine, Pantheon (North America); Verso (Europe)
  • (2014) Memory Theatre, Fitzcarraldo Editions (UK)
  • (2014) Bowie, OR Books.
  • (2015) Suicide, Thought Catalog/Kindle Single.
  • (2015) The Problem With Levinas, Oxford University Press.

As (co)editor

  • (1991) Re-Reading Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  • (1996) Deconstructive Subjectivities, ed. with Peter Dews, State University of New York Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • (1996) Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings, ed. with Adriaan T. Peperzak and Robert Bernasconi, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
  • (1998) A Companion to Continental Philosophy, ed. with William J. Schroeder, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
  • (2002) The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, ed. with Robert Bernasconi, Cambridge University Press.
  • (2004) Laclau, A Critical Reader, ed. with Oliver Marchart, Routledge, London.

Critchley has also edited the following book series:

  • Thinking the Political (Routledge)
  • Blackwell Readings in Continental Philosophy (Blackwell)
  • Thinking in Action (Routledge)
  • How to Read... (Granta, London, and W.W. Norton, New York)


  1. ^ "Simon Critchley's top 10 philosophers' deaths" at (Wednesday 11 June 2008)
  2. ^ "404 Error – The New School in New York City". 
  3. ^ "About the Summer School". Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  4. ^ "Simon Critchley – Professor of Philosophy – Biography". 
  5. ^ "An Error Occurred Setting Your User Cookie". 
  6. ^ Critchley, Simon (18 March 2014). The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, 3rd Edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 352. ISBN 9780748689323. 
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  8. ^ "". 
  9. ^ "Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction". 
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  12. ^ "Critchley on Terrence Malick". 
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  14. ^ "Critical Horizons: Special Issue on Simon Critchley’s Neo-Anarchism". Continental Philosophy. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "How to Stop Living and Start Worrying: Conversations with Carl Cederström". Times Higher Education. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Sternberg Press – Tom McCarthy, Simon Critchley, et al.". 
  19. ^ "Violent Thoughts About Slavoj Zizek". 
  20. ^ "Stay, Illusion!". 
  21. ^ "". 
  22. ^ "Bowie – OR Books". OR Books. 
  23. ^ (PDF)  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ "Fitzcarraldo Editions". 
  25. ^ "The Stone". The New York Times
  26. ^ Joseph Walker (20 September 2012). "Mormonism: The last acceptable prejudice?". 
  27. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ Part 1: Why Heidegger Matters, Part 2: On Mineness, Part 3: Being-in-the-world, Part 4: Thrown Into This World, Part 5: Anxiety, Part 6: Death, Part 7: Conscience, Part 8: Temporality
  31. ^ Simon Critchley. "Simon Critchley". the Guardian. 
  32. ^ "Tom McCarthy: How he became one of the brightest new prospects in British fiction" The Independent" 21 September 2007
  33. ^ "Lost in the orbits of spies and mobsters". London: Telegraph. 13 September 2007. Retrieved 15 April 2010. 
  34. ^ "The State of Inauthenticity – Triple Canopy". 25 September 2007. Retrieved 15 April 2010. 
  35. ^ "Tate Channel: Tate Triennial 2009 Prologue 4: Borders". Retrieved 15 April 2010. 
  36. ^ "2nd Athens Biennale 2009" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2010. 

External links[edit]