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This is the gravestone of philosopher, mathematician, and humanist William Kingdon Clifford. His self-composed epitaph, marking his burial place at Highgate Cemetery, reads: ‘I was not, and was conceived. I loved and did a little work. I am not and grieve not.’ It epitomises the humanist idea of the one life, and that its meaning is what we make it. Clifford’s words echo the better-known Epicurean epitaph: ‘I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind’. Epicurus, an ancient philosopher who believed in the pursuit of earthly pleasure and finding happiness through learning, tranquillity, and friendship, believed that ‘Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us’. Epicurus taught that there was no such thing as an afterlife in which punishment (or reward) could be meted out. This meant that death, merely a state of non-existence, was nothing to fear. It was up to human beings to make the most of being alive, and it was possible for everyone to be happy.

Image: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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