A.C. Grayling, 62, is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, and founding master of the New College of the Humanities, opening next year. A long-time campaigner for human rights, he is also a trustee of the London Library and a fellow of the Royal Societies of Literature and Arts.
What was your earliest ambition?
To be a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain, which would have involved time travel and better eyesight.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
I grew up in what is now Zambia and went to a number of boarding schools in Africa. I ran away from Falcon College after being caned, an exciting escapade as it was in the countryside and in Africa that means lions. I had three great years at Sussex University but I realised that the intention was to provide generalists rather than scholars, so I did an external degree in philosophy from London University. I finished my doctorate at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Who is your mentor?
One should not be a disciple.
How physically fit are you?
I walk briskly every day if I can. I have an exercise bike and I pedal furiously. I’m vegetarian and teetotal, which sounds very earnest.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Ambition is very important. Almost all human beings are talented in some direction and it’s a happy person who finds his or her talent and can express it.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I have my suspicions about IQ tests. My score was 162; I’m not that smart.
How politically committed are you?
I became very disaffected with the recent Labour government because of the Iraq war and the assault on civil liberties.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Always with a feeling of guilt.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
I rejoice in beautiful things and works of art but I’m not lustful about them.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Book-buying and luxury hotels.
In what place are you happiest?
At home with my wife and family on a sunny Saturday.
What ambitions do you still have?
To feel I’ve made a worthwhile contribution to the great conversation of mankind.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
The writing I’ve published that has been directed at questions about how one thinks about life and makes choices on how to live it. I’ve opened up the great philosophical treasure chest and made it available to a wider readership.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
A number, from the relatively unimportant, such as not learning more languages, to wanting to have been a perfect parent.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
“If I’m going to be given all these wonderful opportunities to give my opinion, now is the time to work hard.”
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I’m a patron of Dignity in Dying and was one of the drafters of the Joffe Bill on physician-assisted suicide. If people have a clear-minded, settled desire to end their lives they should be allowed to do so.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
When we die all the elements of which our bodies are made return to the nature from which they came. We are part of everything, as we always have been.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
‘The Good Book: A Secular Bible’ by A.C. Grayling is published by Bloomsbury