Monday, February 08, 2010

Linker, Damon. "Why Read Heidegger." THE NEW REPUBLIC November 1, 2009.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger gets a lot of bad press. And for good reason. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis, he did and said and wrote some nasty things before and after serving as the rector of Freiburg University from 1933-1934, and though he eventually distanced himself from his earlier enthusiasm for Hitler, he seems never to have ceased believing that there was an "inner truth and greatness" (those are Heidegger's own words, spoken in a lecture from 1935) to the National Socialist movement. That sounds bad, and it is. By now, scholars have demonstrated beyond just about any reasonable doubt that, judged from moral and political standpoints, Heidegger was a pretty despicable human being. But here's the thing: Heidegger also possessed the most powerful philosophical mind of the twentieth century. If he had written nothing besides Being and Time (1927), he would deserve to be recognized as Europe's greatest philosopher since the death of G.W.F. Hegel in 1831. (I realize that for many philosophy professors trained in the Anglo-American tradition, the judgment contained in the previous sentence is absurd on more than one level.) But Heidegger wrote much more than Being and Time. His collected works--including previously published books, transcripts of university lectures, private notebooks, and much else--will eventually run to over 100 volumes. There's a lot of redundancy in those books, some of it is impenetrable, but there are also frequent flashes of philosophical brilliance that rival the profoundest passages of Plato, Aristotle, and Kant. And that means that rendering a global judgment of Heidegger and his legacy is extremely complicated. Unless, that is, you're Carlin Romano. I'm referring to Romano's recent essay from the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he uses the sordid evidence of Heidegger's Nazi enthusiasms compiled in a just-translated book by French philosopher Emmanuel Faye to argue that the time has come to excommunicate Heidegger--or rather his writings and ideas--from the university. In Romano's view, "the pretentious old Black Forest babbler," the "provincial Nazi hack," should be considered "a buffoon" whose ideas are "the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations." I've long admired Romano's essays for the Chronicle and the Philadelphia Inquirer. But this column is an intellectual disgrace, and one that the Chronicle should be ashamed for having published. I say this as someone who's very far from being one of the "acolytes" who "bizarrely venerate" Heidegger and his ideas. I've written critically about his thought on a couple of occasions myself and am in complete agreement with Romano about the moral obscenity of Heidegger's actions (and of some of what he taught and wrote) during the 1930s. But moral disgust does not relieve a reader--let alone a critic--of the burden of intellectual engagement. . . . Read the rest here:

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