The Best Thesis Defence

I’m not a fan of Kant. I think placing a disembodied human mind in the centre of the universe poses some serious problems. But anyway, here’s a story about some students trapped in a house haunted by dead philosophers. 

This story was first published on 27 June 2016:


“It’s creepy in here,” says Genevieve, hugging her shoulders.

The other two look around at the shadowy recesses of the abandoned house.

“The professor said he came here to develop his research skills,” says Winston “We should keep going.”

A thin grey light seeps from the ornate cornice. As the students watch, a pearly ghost appears, sporting a long beard and a toga.

“It’s the ghost of Socrates!” shouts Oliver.

“It’s not Socrates,” says Genevieve “Socrates didn’t have a beard. Gorgias says so.”

“Not true,” says Oliver. “Most men in Athens had beards. Socrates was a man in Athens. So Socrates had a beard.”


The apparition passes through Oliver’s body. The skin on his face flakes off as if hit with an atomic wind, and his raw bones collapse into a pile on the ground.

“Run!” screams Winston.

The two students tear down the creaky hallway and dart into another room. With a hiss Socrates bursts through the wall.

“I have an idea,” says Genevieve, stepping forward. “No cat has two tails. Every cat has one more tail than No Cat. Therefore, every cat has three tails.”

The ghost lets out a gurgling scream and tears transparent nails down its face. “That’s a trickery of language, you’re exploiting the ambiguity of absence! Unfair!”

With a hiss like bubbling chemicals Socrates melts into an ectoplasmic puddle.

“Language,” says Winston, his eyes wide “Language is power here.”

“Did you hear something?”

A horrible figure staggers through the door, its yellow skin sagging off a skeletal frame: an animated corpse, living long past its relevance.

“Immanuel Kant!” the students yell.

Kant leers and shuffles forward, arms outstretched.

“Wait,” says Winston “You called your Critiques a Copernican revolution, but Copernicus ejected humans from the centre of the universe. Your work did the opposite: in placing the human mind at the centre of existence, you were anti-Copernican.”

The corpse halts for a moment, and then grins, revealing rotten teeth. “You think semantic hair-splitting can stop me? Ha! I am the most powerful philosopher in the universe!”

Kant opens his mouth and releases a rancid breath that seems to wail across centuries.

Something rattles behind them. Genevieve and Winston throw themselves to the floor as two European spectres burst through the wall.



The newcomers glare at Kant. “It’s time you died,” they say, not really in unison.

The students roll out of the way as the spectres charge.

“For phenomenology!” the ghosts shout.

With a mighty crash the philosophers engage.

Genevieve and Winston scramble from the room, heading for the exit. A shadowy figure blocks the way, looming over them. It’s Heidegger, with a hammer in-hand.

“I will destroy your ontic being,” says Heidegger “and your ontological Being, which is the being of being, or Dasein.” He raises the hammer.


Winston scrunches his eyes shut and holds out his hands.

“What are you doing?” Genevieve shrieks.

“I can’t prove that the world exists, only that I exist. This could all be a dream. That means I can make anything happen.”

“This isn’t the time for Cartesian Doubt! It’s so problematic.”

Winston holds his arms like a pantomime knight. “I am holding a sword,” he says. A shining blade appears in his fist. He glares up at Heidegger.

“Why didn’t you conjure a way out?” says Genevieve.

“Because this is what the professor wants us to learn,” says Winston, readying his weapon. “The best thesis defence is a good thesis offence.”


I’m not a philosophy student (which is likely evident in the story) but I do engage with a lot of philosophy in researching/writing my PhD exegesis. This story was written for a competition on Needle in the Hay ( called “Horrors & Heidegger”. The prompt included a quote by Heidegger about writing – which I found ironic, given Heidegger’s writing (at least in English translation) seems unnecessarily circular and difficult to read. Originally the Heidegger in this haunted house was going to be sporting some Nazi apparel, but in the end I thought I should focus on his work rather than his personal life. Still scary though. 

Follow the link to read the rest of the short list:




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