Simon Critchley

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Simon Critchley
Full name Simon Critchley
Born February 27, 1960
Hertfordshire[1], England
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Phenomenology, Deconstruction
Main interests Politics, Ethics, Post-Religion, Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics

Simon Critchley (born February 27, 1960 in Hertfordshire) is an English philosopher currently teaching at The New School. He works in continental philosophy, the history of philosophy, literature, ethics and politics.

Critchley argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said largely 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.



Academic career

Critchley studied philosophy at the University of Essex (BA 1985, PhD 1988,) and at the University of Nice (M.Phil. 1987). Among his teachers were Robert Bernasconi, Jay Bernstein, Frank Cioffi, Dominique Janicaud and Onora O'Neill. His M.Phil. thesis dealt with the problem of the overcoming of metaphysics in Heidegger and Carnap; his Ph.D. dissertation was on the ethics of deconstruction in Emmanuel Levinas and Derrida.

Following a period as a 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. He was director of the university's Centre for Theoretical Studies and collaborated closely with Ernesto Laclau.

Critchley was president of the British Society for Phenomenology from 1994-99. In 1997 and 2001 he held a Humboldt Research Fellowship in philosophy at Frankfurt. Between 1998-2004, he was a programme director of the Collège international de philosophie, Paris. In 2006-7 he was a scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Since 2004 Critchley has been professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He was appointed chair of philosophy in 2008. He has held visiting professorships at the universities of Nijmegen (1997), Sydney (2000), Notre Dame (2002), New York's 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. [1]

Critchley is also "chief philosopher" of the International Necronautical Society, a semi-fictitious avant-garde network that surfaces through proclamations, "denunciations" and live events. He has collaborated closely with the novelist Tom McCarthy on projects including the society's Declaration on Inauthenticity [2] and their joint publication on Joyce. [3] At an event at the Tate Britain art gallery two lecturers purporting to be Critchley and McCarthy were, in mischievous keeping with the inauthentic theme, played by actors.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] The Declaration of Inauthenticity was presented at the opening of the Athens Biennale by Greek actors in June 2009.


The Ethics of Deconstruction (1992)

Critchley’s first book was The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas (Blackwell, 1992), which became an acclaimed source on deconstruction and was the first book to argue for an ethical dimension to deconstruction. A second expanded edition was published in 1999 by Edinburgh University Press. 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.

Far from being some sort of value-free nihilism or textual free-play, Critchley showed the ethical impetus that was driving Derrida’s work. His claim was that Derrida’s understanding of ethics has to be understood in relation to his engagement with the work of Levinas and the book attempts to lay out the details of their philosophical confrontation.

Very Little... Almost Nothing (1997)

Critchley’s second book, Very Little... Almost Nothing (Routledge, 1997) develops in a very different direction and shows his concern with the relation between philosophy and literature and the problem of nihilism. A second edition with additional material and a new preface was published in 2004. At the centre of Very Little... Almost Nothing is the problem of the meaning of life and what sense can be made of this problem in the absence of any religious belief. By way of a series of ‘lectures’ on Maurice Blanchot, Samuel Beckett, Stanley Cavell and romanticism, Critchley argues for a conception of meaninglessness understood as the achievement of the everyday, a view which, he thinks, redeems us from the need for religious redemption.

Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity (1999)

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.

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2001)

Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001), 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. It has been translated into nine languages. In the book, Critchley addresses the perennial question of the two major Western philosophical traditions, that of analytical and continental philosophy. Critchley tries to avoid sectarianism, and 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. Critchley offers the example of the ‘will of God’ as the prime example of obscurantism, but within continental philosophy also the ‘drives’ in Sigmund Freud, ‘archetypes’ in Carl Jung, the ‘real’ in Jaques Lacan, ‘power’ in Michel Foucault, ‘différance’ in Jaques Derrida, the ‘trace of God’ in Emmanuel Levinas, and the ‘epochal withdrawal of being in and as history’ in Martin Heidegger.

On Humour (2002)

Since 2000, Critchley has turned his attention to what he calls ‘impossible objects’: humour, poetry and music. His On Humour (Routledge, 2002) continues the meditation on nihilism begun in Very Little…Almost Nothing; but he continues it in a very different key, analysing 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 8 languages and has exerted considerable influence over debates around the role of humour in contemporary art practice.

Things Merely Are (2005)

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

Infinitely Demanding (2007)

Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007) is the most systematic overview of Critchley's philosophical position. 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. German and Italian translations appeared in 2009 and it is being translated into 3 other languages. The book has led to some heated polemics, notably with Slavoj Žižek (See below, the Critchley-Žižek Debate). “Infinitely Demanding” is the topic of a special issue of the journal Critical Horizons (August 2009).

The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008)

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). Spanish (Santillana), Italian (Garzanti) and Greek (Patakis) translations appeared in 2009 and it is being translated into 7 other languages. “The Book of Dead Philosophers” was widely reviewed and discussed (see below). It was on the The New York Times Best-Seller List in March 2009 and was a top ten bestseller in Greece in Summer 2009. The aim of “The Book of Dead Philosophers” is to examine, defend and refine the ideal of the philosophical death in the context of a culture like ours that is defined by a denial of death. However, the deeper intention of the book is to challenge and revise the way we think about the history of philosophy. More specifically, the book tries to conceive of the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers and thereby rethink the way in which approach the relation the activity of philosophy and an individual life, between conceptuality and biography.

On Heidegger’s Being and Time (2008)

This volume (Routledge, 2008) combines Reiner Schürmann's lectures at the New School for Social Research on Heidegger’s Being and Time with Critchley’s New School lectures on the relation between Heidegger and Husserl and his own interpretation of Being and Time. Where Critchley argues that we must see Being and Time as a radicalization of Husserlian phenomenology, Reiner Schürmann's proposal is to read Heidegger ‘backward’, arguing that Heidegger’s later work is the key to unraveling Being and Time. Critchley concludes the volume with an extended critique of Heidegger’s concept of authenticity.

Der Katechismus des Bürgers (2008)

This small volume (Diaphanes, Berlin, 20088) on the problem of politics and religion in Rousseau was first published in German.

The Faith of the Faithless (2010)

Critchley is currently working on a book called The Faith of the Faithless, to be published by Harvard University Press.

See also


  1. ^ Critchley's Tilburg homepage
  2. ^ Two Paths for the Novel by Zadie Smith November 20, 2008
  3. ^ Of Chrematology: Joyce and Money by Simon Critchley and Tom McCarthy 2003
  4. ^ Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages For Nicolas Bourriaud
  5. ^ International Necronautical Society (INS) delivers keynote declaration on Inauthenticity, Tate Britain
  6. ^ Tate Britain Press Release
  7. ^ Review in 3ammagazine
  8. ^ Real Inauthenticity from Anthem Magazine
  9. ^ Crackling Embers IV: Art’s Dirty Secret Redux (3AM Magazine)
  10. ^ The Matter of Past Loving London
  11. ^ Tate Triennial 2009 Prologue 4: Borders: Simon Critchley & Tom McCarthy - Declaration on Inauthenticity

Selected bibliography

As editor

Critchley has edited the following book series:


External links

The Critchley-Žižek Debate

  1. Critchley: Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso, London & New York, 2007; ISBN 1844671216).
  2. Žižek: Resistance Is Surrender in the London Review of Books.
  3. T.J. Clark's and David Graeber's Responses in the London Review of Books.
  4. Zizek's Response a letter in the London Review of Books.
  5. Critchley's response, an article titled, "Crypto-Schmittianism" at state of
  6. Žižek's In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso, London & New York, 2008), pp. 337-350.
  7. Critchley: Autumn 2008 Violent Thoughts on Slavoj Zizek in Naked Punch
  8. The Violent State Article by Robert Young on the Critchley-Žižek Debate in Naked Punch

The Guardian Series on Heidegger's Being and Time

Uncanniness in Heidegger and Lacan, with William Richardson

Critical Horizons Special Issue: Simon Critchley’s Neo-Anarchism

The Diavlog of Dead Philosophers: Percontations

Free Thoughts: BBC Radio Series

Frieze Art Fair Podcast

To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die

The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations

Against the Grain

Slought Foundation Award for Creative Thought

Online writings



on Sunday