Fame as the Forgotten Philosopher: Meditations on the Headstone of Adam Ferguson

Roy Sorensen 


An ill-informed reading of Adam Ferguson's epitaph has given me an idea for securing posthumous recognition. Consider philosophers in the year 2201 who read my epitaph: ‘Here lies Roy Sorensen who will be long remembered for his paradoxes’. If these future scholars remember me, then well and good. If they do not remember me, my epitaph will appear to be rendered false by their failure to recall me. Suppose the poignancy of this self-defeat leads my epitaph to be widely repeated. I thereby acquire ignominy as the forgotten philosopher. But wait! Eventually someone will notice that no one can remember that Roy Sorensen is forgotten. For if someone did remember that Roy Sorensen is forgotten, then he would be forgotten—not remembered. After all, memory implies truth. Thus the self-defeating aspect of my epitaph is itself self-defeating! The happy ending is that my epitaph becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy by a curious kind of double-negation.