Here’s the question: at what point should a man’s sins cast doubt on his contributions to humanity? I knew nothing about Martin Heidegger until last week when I watched an old BBC documentary about him, Human, All Too Human. If this was all there was to ever know about Heidegger, then two conclusions are obvious:
- Sein und Zeit is born out of a veiled romanticizing of rural life over urban existence.
- Heidegger was a motherfucking Nazi.
I don’t really have a strong interest in philosophy in general, and it’s hard for me to see it as anything more than low-wage lawyering when concepts of “truth” and “falsity” seem to be almost completely dependent on how pretty the words are that’re used to make the case. “Oh, sure, how is science any different?” I hear Canelli asking. My reply to that is, “What data does Heidegger give for his arguments? What data does any philosophy give for their arguments?” People took Aristotle’s lawyering for scientific fact for millennia, and look where that got us.
That’s a pretty big pool I just dipped my toe into. Let me back away from it and return to Heidegger. So, the question stands: does whatever contribution Heidegger is said to have made to human knowledge far outweigh the actions he took in life? Do we approach Heidegger as post-modernists and murder the author while holding the work aloft as something to be judged independent of the corpse at our feet? Or do we look at the context and face the fact that the same being who generated this (supposedly (I’ve never read it)) great work, Sein und Zeit, also maliciously persecuted fellow faculty members, was fiercely anti-semetic, and was never apologetic for the crimes against humanity he so zealously wanted to be a part of? Take it away, Richard Brody:
But, even without particular regard to Jews and Nazis, Heidegger’s brilliance was intrinsically political. For Heidegger, the project of rescuing language from the ostensible truth of logic and restoring it to iridescent incantation implied kicking out the intellectual struts from under the claims to progress on the part of technological society. By undermining logic and science, Heidegger also undermined the Enlightenment—and the individualism, the freedoms, the claim to rights that are made in the name of reason and progress. Even apart from his specific ideological pronouncements, Heidegger was, philosophically, an anti-humanist rightist.
Yeah, not cool, bro.