“This must be a cruel joke,” Jean-Paul Sartre said. He looked around. “This is a fitting hell I suppose.”
Rene Descartes looked Sartre over, “I’m afraid I have no idea who you are.”
Sartre laughed, “No I suppose not, but I would recognize that face anywhere, the great Descartes.” He reached out to greet him, “It’s nice to be in the company of a fellow Frenchmen.”
“Oh yes, that is him,” Baruch Spinoza exclaimed.
Thomas Aquinas got on his knees to pray.
“This is hell fool! Who are you praying to,” Friedrich Nietzsche yelled.
David Hume pulled on the door, “I believe we are locked in this room.”
Sartre pulled a chair and sat down. “Oh yes, we are trapped here for eternity to talk ourselves to death.”
Spinoza pulled the next chair, “How can you be sure this is hell?”
“What else would it be?” Nietzsche barked.
“This must be a test,” Aquinas cried out.
“It doesn’t seem too bad,” Hume said. He took off his jacket. “At least I’m surrounded by fellow philosophers.”
Sartre pounded the table, “You don’t understand, this place is designed to make you grow sick of philosophy, to make you hate the thing you love.”
The door opened, and John Stuart Mill walked through, “My God, is that David Hume?”
Sartre started laughing, “This is getting ridiculous.”
Hume rushed to the door, “It’s locked. How did you get through?”
Mill walked to the door and opened it, “It seems to open for me.”
“Let me try,” Spinoza said. “Yes, it’s open.”
Descartes stared at Mill, “What’s out there?”
“Boredom mainly, the people, I’m not even sure they’re real,” Mill complained.
“So we can leave?” Aquinas asked.
“If you want to,” Mill assured him.
“How can you be sure we’re real?” Descartes inquired.
“I don’t think it matters too much,” Spinoza chimed, “I think I’ll stay a while either way.”
Aquinas finally sat down, “So you weren’t tortured out there.”
“No it’s really hard to describe; it’s not physical,” Mill responded.
"But if this is hell, surely there must be pain,” Nietzsche said.
“Why do you think this is hell,” Mill asked.
“It’s rather mundane to be heaven,” Hume interrupted.
Mill shrugged, “Why does it have to be one or the other?”
“So there’s no God?” Aquinas asked.
“We don’t need God to account for a place like this,” Mill said.
“So there is no God!” Nietzsche exclaimed.
“I didn’t say that,” Mill retorted. He looked closely at Nietzsche. “I like the mustache.” Mill picked up his cup, “Aquinas, I presume, what would Aristotle say?”
Spinoza jumped in, “He would say that this was the result of some unmoved mover.”
Mill smiled, “Well, there must be some cause of this place, but he need not be God or unmoved.”
Hume pulled on the door.
“Why are you so eager to leave?” Descartes asked.
“Because this is all in my mind,” Hume declared.
“Now this is getting fun,” Descartes said. “Why do you suppose we’re in your mind and not mine?”
“This is my hell, don’t steal it from me,” Sartre mocked.
Spinoza smiled, “You are right, this is fun, why do you suppose that we’re in the mind of either one of us; why not all, or neither?”
Nietzsche pulled his hair, “Maybe we’re all insane.”
Mill took a sip of his tea, “No if you go out there, that’s insane.”
“What’s out there?” Aquinas asked.
“I’m more concerned with what’s in here,” Mill said.
Hume sighed, “I’ve fantasized about a scenario like this all my life, but I keep trying to open that door to leave.”
“Why?” Sartre asked.
“I don’t know,” Hume replied.
“Surely there must be some reason for it,” Descartes said.
“Why must there be a reason?” Nietzsche replied.
Spinoza put his hand on his chin, “Fear, that must be the reason.”
Descartes circled the table, “If you are afraid, then there must be emotion in this place. But do you have a body?”
Mill shook his head, “There is surely sensation, I can taste my tea.”
Sartre joined in, “I feel enclosed, restricted, cramped; I might as well have a body.”
“Yes, it does appear that we are extended,” Descartes responded.
“But is not the feeling of being somewhere, extended, itself a sensation,” Aquinas asked.
Hume prepared a sandwich, “I’m listening.”
“Wait where did that come from?” Sartre asked.
“I found it in the pantry,” Hume confessed.
“Did you make the sandwich appear?” Spinoza inquired.
“No it was just there,” Hume said.
Mill sipped his tea, “Don’t assume you have powers in this place. Things are just here.”
“But if this place is mental, then we should have some causal powers right?” Spinoza asked.
“Yes! To will it, think it, should make it real,” Nietzsche exclaimed.
“Yes, like a dream,” Descartes proposed.
“My friends, I assure you, this is no dream,” Mill proclaimed.
“But if, this reality, it’s composed of thought-stuff it should be easily molded,” Hume claimed.
Aquinas searched the pantry, “How can we all have the same thought?” He stopped searching, “Unless we are in the mind of God?”
Hume laughed, “Now it’s fun; if we are the merely the thought belonging to someone else, where is our reality?”
Sartre sighed, “Steal my existence now, what a move.”
“But the medium should not matter, my existence should not be contingent,” Descartes proposed.
“Why should we necessarily exist as individual beings?” Spinoza responded.
Sartre grinned, “Now, existence is a greedy concept, I cannot share it, surely what we mean by Existence is individual existence."
Aquinas folded a napkin, “We exist by the grace of God.”
“Oh stuff it,” Nietzsche scolded.
“Why should God care if we exist or not?” Hume said.
Mill smiled at Hume, “Why should anyone care that we exist?”
Descartes smiled at Mill, “Existence is a positive quality, so it would be better that something exists.”
“Exist where?” Sartre inquired.
Nietzsche twirled his mustache, “Alright heathens I’ll play along. You need not exist here, but you must exist somewhere for it to matter.”
“What about everywhere?” Aquinas asked.
“I suppose thought must have some subject,” Descartes proposed.
“Yes, but does that subject need to be real?” Sartre said.
“What is really real?” Hume asked.
“Now I see the fun,” Aquinas exclaimed. “Anselm said that to be real is to exist in the world. But surely we are not in the world now.”
“Are you coming around holy man?” Nietzsche breached.
“I am a philosopher, I can’t help it,” Aquinas said.
“Now let’s suppose you are not thought-stuff, and you are not physical, what are you,” Hume asked.
“You are simply here,” Sartre claimed.
Aquinas smiled, “Yes, is being here enough, to matter."
Sartre blew his nose, “Being here is all that matters.”
“My friends, we must now establish, where is here,” Spinoza said.
Nietzsche searched the pantry, “Being here is being somewhere that you were not before.”
Descartes looked toward the door, “How can we be sure that there was anything before?”
Hume looked toward the door, “We cannot be sure there was a past, but there is this bundle, this thing, that drives my desires now.”
Aquinas looked at Hume, “But your desires surely are not what you are.”
Mill grinned, “Locke would say we are our memories, if that is your defense dear Aquinas, but all things aside, we are something right now independent of either desires or memories."
“The priest would say it’s our soul,” Nietzsche claimed.
Sartre leaned back in his chair, “It doesn’t matter what you call it, desire, memory, soul, what is this thing right now?”
“That thing is you, that is if you will something,” Nietzsche said.
“But if I just lay here without a thought, I surely am still something. You can’t escape being something,” Sartre said.
“But wait a second, if I truly lay there without a thought, I would be something for sure, but I would be dead,” Hume rebuked.
Spinoza looked toward the door, “Now if you started moving without thought, to eat, to procreate, you would be alive, as animals are alive.”
“I think this is enough,” Nietzsche said.
Mill prepared another cup of tea, “No, we surely mean something different.”
Descartes sipped his tea, “If we are not our desires, or memories, or souls, or even our animation, then what are we?”
Aquinas put his finger in the air, “We are centers of volition.”
“Are you saying we exist because we are free?” Hume queried.
“Yes, our freedom defines us,” Sartre said.
Hume frowned, “I wish this were true. I am in this wonderful place, and all I can think about is walking through that door. I assure you I will. I can’t help it. I am not free, but I am certain that I exist.”
“You haven’t walked through the door yet,” Aquinas comforted.
“Yes, but based on the person that he is, he will, independent of opposing actions, possible or not,” Mill said.
Spinoza got up to walk around, “If freedom isn’t the source of our individual existence what is?”
Nietzsche walked behind him, “The question we should ask is why we are here now rather than later? You can only be free now.”
Sartre got up to walk behind Nietzsche, “Yes we exist in time.”
Hume joined them, “If we exist in time there must be some manner of cause and effect.”
Descartes followed Hume, “But there is no reason why the present, this moment in time, should be caused by anything.”
Mill lit a pipe, “We seem to have a group of peripatetics.”
“Where did that pipe come from?” Nietzsche inquired.
“From the cupboard,” Mill replied.
“But I didn’t see you get up,” Sartre exclaimed.
“Just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Mill said.
“But that’s preposterous, to have the pipe you must have gotten up,” Hume ordered.
“I understand your suspicion,” Mill said, “but some things aren’t caused.”
Hume scratched his head, “What do you mean?”
Mill smoked his pipe, “The pipe is here, in this room, now it is in my hand. Things only need to be here.”
“Now we’re talking nonsense,” Nietzsche said.
“It is absurd,” Sartre replied.
“Yes, it is absurd,” Nietzsche said, “I’ll fetch us some pipes!”
Hume watched his every step, “See there is a cause there.”
Descartes looked at Hume, “Why must things be caused?”
Aquinas smoked his pipe, “The problem with causes is that it supposes some power.”
Spinoza blew a smoke ring, “Yes, to cause something you must have the power to change it.”
Aquinas looked at the table, “Yes, change requires contact.”
Sartre put down his pipe, “Why must there be contact for something to change?”
Nietzsche put his head on the table.
“What are you doing?” Aquinas asked.
“Contact!” he declared.
“But the table isn’t real; nothing in this room is real,” Hume exhumed.
“Yes it seems we should not be able to interact with non-existent things,” Descartes said.
“My enjoyment of this pipe is real,” Mill claimed.
“Enjoyment of what?” Spinoza asked.
“I really don’t know,” Mill responded.
Aquinas looked at the pipe, “If the enjoyment of the pipe does not come from the object, then it comes from you.”
“That may be so,” Hume said, “but the sensation cannot come from nothing; he must have had it before.”
“I have never met any of you before, but here I am having this experience, these sensations. What makes you think that you are of stuff any different from this table?” Mill said.
The table changed colors.
“Did you see that,” Hume exclaimed.
“Yes it is different,” Mill said.
“What caused it, was it us?” Sartre asked.
“No, things just appear here,” Mill said.
“You’re not telling us something!” Nietzsche scolded.
“There’s really nothing to tell,” Mill said. “This place doesn’t have purpose or intent.”
“But it must be designed for some purpose,” Aquinas said.
“It’s just a room,” Hume said.
Descartes fell to the ground. “My chair it’s gone.”
“Are you alright,” Aquinas asked.
“I think, therefore I am...” Descartes murmured.
Mill reached out his hand to help him up, “Don’t start questioning our existence now.”
“I can’t help it,” Descartes professed.
Sartre laughed, “All it takes is a disappearing chair to cast the great Descartes back into doubt. Now which one of us is the evil demon?”
“Evil demon?” Aquinas inquired.
“An entity to deceive us at every corner,” Spinoza said.
“But mind is the greatest deceiver,” Nietzsche said.
“Yes, the true evil demon is in your head not the world,” Sartre proclaimed.
Descartes stood up, “But mind is the only thing that is true.”
“No, it is the mind, our consciousness, that perverts everything it touches,” Hume claimed.
Nietzsche sat on the floor, “Evil is what you create, it doesn’t exist outside of that. The same with good.”
Aquinas stared at Nietzsche, “There is surely good independent of what we think, god-given or not.”
“What if I were to throw my cup at an imagined fellow in the corner, would that be an evil act. We cannot have evil without consequences,” Mill said.
“The intention matters,” Aquinas said.
“Whose keeping track?” Sartre asked.
“You are,” Spinoza replied.
“If you are the one keeping track, then what is good must be what is pleasing to you,” Hume said.
“But if that is true, then goodness is a matter of aesthetics,” Mill replied.
“I think Aristotle would agree with you there,” Aquinas said.
“But what if your goodness disgusts me,” Nietzsche said.
“There are certain principles of order, reason, that would appeal to anyone of us who considered the matter seriously,” Spinoza said.
Nietzsche scoffed, “Says you.”
“I think the room is getting smaller,” Hume said.
Nietzsche pointed at Mill, “You know what’s going on. But you just won’t tell us.”
“I assure you, I know as much as you," Mill responded.
“Liar!” Nietzsche threw his pipe to the ground. “I’m going to find out for myself what’s through that door.” Nietzsche stormed out the room and through the door, slamming it as he left.
“What do you think is on the other side?” Spinoza asked.
“What if it’s death,” Hume said.
“But we’re already dead,” Sartre insisted.
Mill shook his head, “I assure you there is nothing good through that door.”
“What if it’s the true afterlife,” Aquinas insisted.
“Will you take that leap of faith,” Sartre asked.
Descartes wobbled his head, “I am certain that I exist here, in this place, but through the door it is unclear.”
Mill looked at the door, “I’ve been there, that is not the type of existence we’ve been discussing.”
Aquinas stared at Mill, “There is something about you I don’t trust. You could be a malevolent spirit.”
Sartre pounded the table, “Any of us could be.”
“I’m going to find out for myself.” Aquinas stepped through the door, gently closing it behind him.
“Are they dead?” Descartes asked.
“It depends on what you mean by death,” Mill said. “We’re dead now, but I take it that’s not what you mean.”
“Do they exist?” Spinoza asked.
Mill shook his head, “Do we exist right now.”
Sartre shook his head, “Friends, we are dead, why are we so reluctant to accept it.”
Hume looked down, “I don’t want to cease to be.”
Sartre looked at him, “This conversation cannot go on forever.”
“But if there is some new reality beyond that door, I want to experience it,” Descartes said.
Spinoza smiled, “Haven’t we had enough.”
Hume put his hands on the table, “There is no way to know what’s on the other side.”
Mill looked at the door, “There is no way to know anything.”
Spinoza stood up, “I know that I was, and that is enough for me;” then he disappeared.
Hume pulled his hair, “So Spinoza wasn’t real.”
Mill looked on, “Why do we keep insisting on some reality we can’t even explain."
"But if he can just disappear, then he surely cannot be real,” Descartes claimed.
“What do you think is on the other side of that door,” Mill claimed.
“The room it’s getting smaller,” Sartre pointed out.
“What is the end game?” Hume asked.
"It’s the end game for all of us, death,” Sartre said. Hemlock appeared on the table.
“What’s that,” Descartes asked.
“It’s hemlock,” Mill responded.
“Where did it come from,” Hume asked.
Mill pointed to it, “Oh it’s always been here—you’ve just failed to notice.”
Descartes started to back away from the table, “You’re not what you appear to be!”
Mill transformed into a demon with red skin and horns. “I am what you take me to be,” the demon responded.
Descartes rushed toward the door, “I knew you were after me, all this time; I was right.” Descartes closed the door.
Hume shivered, “Are you a demon?”
"I’m who you’ve be been having discourse with. It’s been genuine. I thought you were an atheist?"
"I don't know anymore," Hume replied.
"Sartre is right that this conversation cannot go on forever. This room is enclosing on us.”
“What is this room?”
The demon smiled, “Oh Hume that’s a conversation for another lifetime.” The demon poured hemlock into the cups. “You have a choice, to drink the poison, or go through the door. You are free to decide.”
Sartre stood up and put his hand on Hume’s shoulder, “Take as long as you need.”
“No I’m ready. I was always determined to go through that door, it just wouldn’t open for me until now.”
Sartre handed Hume his coat. “You know you can still drink the hemlock, that’s a death you can be certain of.”
Hume shook his head, “Not all of us are like Socrates.” Sartre opened the door for Hume and waved.
Sartre sat down, “I suppose this was all in my mind.”
The demon nodded, “Yes, none of them were real.”
“I’m all alone then?”
“I’m afraid so.” The demon laughed—then disappeared.
Sartre smiled, leaned back in his chair and drank the hemlock.
Nicholas Schroeder is a philosopher, living in New Orleans, who enjoys writing flash fiction with a philosophical bent.