When Good Philosophers Do Bad Things

596px-Scale_of_justice_2_new Contemporary developments in Hermeneutics have compellingly defended the claim that one cannot ‘put down’ the self in the act of picking up a pen.  Our contexts and ideologies, our histories and stories, bleed into our work. However, while it may be reasonable (and even desirable) to expect readers to juggle the possible influences of a writer’s life and times, one might ask if it is equally so when a particular ‘authorial context’ is judged to be far more dangerous than an ill-fated love affair or the Renaissance.

Recent headlines offer one such example.  An English edition of Emmanuel Faye’s work Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy hits the shelves next month.  And, while ‘Continentals’ have long since known of Heidegger’s ties to Nazism, it is of little doubt that this new translation will further fuel already burning questions: does this imply that Heidegger’s corpus was inspired by National Socialism and, if so, does his philosophy serve to advance it as well?

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Carlin Romano, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, offers his two cents – and only two cents at that.  Romano seemingly avoids the difficulty at hand, assuming that such socially and politically reprehensible ideologies would inevitably force themselves into a thinker’s work. As a result, Romano proposes that Heidegger should not be read, that Heidegger “should be the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations.”

Whether or not English speaking readers will agree that Faye has, in fact, ‘proven’ the influence of Nazism across Heidegger’s corpus is one thing. Its advancement will be quite another.  But, either way, the question of how one might respond to such an ‘authorial context’ remains.  At the very least, one wonders what philosophy would look like if it chose to follow the (il-)logic behind Romano’s proposal.  What of philosophy would remain if it disregarded all thinkers who claimed (momentary or lasting) allegiance to ideologies which are dangerous, socially dysfunctional, or ‘evil?’  What of philosophy would remain if it removed the sexists, racists, gender-ists, ageists, species-ists, etc.?  Would even we be allowed to stay?  To read more, see this article in The Chronicle.

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One thought on “When Good Philosophers Do Bad Things”

  1. I was at a Holocaust literature conference last month where the point was made that, whilst representation puts us on the side of the survivors, statistically speaking, if we were to transpose those attending the conference into the Third Reich, the majority of us would have been on the side of the Nazis.

    As uncomfortable a reality as it is for us to face retrospectively, Nazism was considered a perfectly legitimate political stance in the 1930s and 40s.

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