10 December 2013

Heidegger's "black books"

[UPDATE 02/03/2014] (via enowning) A short piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education covering pretty much the same ground as the articles below.
[UPDATE 27/01/2014] An interview with Peter Trawny (editor of the "black books") appeared in Die Zeit (in German). An adapted version in French was published in Le Monde (in French).

[First seen here.] The controversy around Heidegger's political position is rekindled in anticipation of the philosopher's personal notebooks being published next spring. Supposedly, they contain clear antisemitic remarks. The debate has already started in the French press [1,2] and on the radio [3].

The more general question is: to what extent is the quality of the work affected by the morals of the author? There are many possible (and partially overlapping) answers, depending on the precise failing imputed to the author. This is where Heidegger's example is instructive, since his relation to national-socialism and antisemitism is not totally clear (among other things, because his work has not yet been completely published).
  1. One possible position is that of complete separation:  we still read CĂ©line, Hamsun and Pound. We still teach the Stark effect in atomic physics, although Johannes Stark was a fervent Nazi. Why hold philosophers to a different standard? Shouldn't we consider (as Heidegger himself famously did) that the life is completely irrelevant to the work?
  2. At the other extreme we have complete contagion: the philosophy is a reflection of deeper convictions. In Heidegger's case, his Nazi sympathies (which presumably reveal similar, earlier beliefs) compromise the entire work, including Being and Time (1927). This is the position defended by Emmanuel Faye without, as far as I gather, convincing the philosophical community [4,5].
  3. The philosophical remove attitude: regrettably, Heidegger's beliefs do have some (apparent?) affinity with the Nazi doctrine; his, however, was not the "vulgar" national-socialism, but an elevated version belonging to the anti-modern tradition [6]. His lack of preoccupation with ethics is similar to that of Nietzsche, for instance.
  4. The spirit of the time defense: We should not judge everybody by our current standards. Some attitudes that are unthinkable today were very common not so long ago [7].
  5. Those who are not completely satisfied by the points above are left with a final option, that of carefully considering each piece of work for itself but also in its historical context [8,9].

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