Thursday, May 20, 2010

Heidegger's culpability -- and Tarski's

enowning posted the following comment in regard to my post "Albert Kissler examining Faye's "smoking gun"":

To my mind one needs to seperate Heidegger's actions with the Nazis and his culpability (or lack of prescience, if you will) from his works. Mathematicians, scientists, engineers, don't have this problem; if an equation is correct and useful, it is a good equation irrespective of the history of the person who thought it up.

The notion that Heidegger's insights are wrong because of his acts, is a symptom of political correctness gone wild.

Lawrence's response:  A fascinating subject!  To what extent ought our thoughts -- or to narrow it down, the non-philosophical thoughts of a philosopher be associated with his works?   This is an old subject in theology:  A pagan emperor renounced the Christian views of his predecessor and demanded that all Christians renounce their faith or they would be executed.  Many did just that -- precursors of the French Collaborators.  Later after the pagan emperor, the Pagan collaborators wanted to become Christians again.  But elements in the church ruled that they had renounced their faith for good.  They were doomed to hell for their perfidy.  This was quite controversial in the Church in those days -- even more controversial than the extent to which Heidegger ought to be blamed for Nazi crimes.  The Church finally ruled that denying one's faith as a result of coercion was not an unforgivable sin.  That didn't sit well with the hard-liners, but that is the position that won out in the long run.
            I recall that in the 19th century, I think it was, a respected theologian named George Bush renounced his orthodox Christianity and accepted the views of Emmanuel Swedenborg.  He wrote several very sound commentaries that are still in use today, but not in use by everyone.  Many thought that his subsequent heterodoxy invalidated his previous orthodox writings.  And there have been many cases where pastors or evangelists have after a long time rejected Christianity.  What did that mean for all that they did prior to that time -- all the baptisms and marriages they had performed.  The Church (including Protestant denominations) determined that it was the "word" that was to be examined for validity and not the speaker of the word. 
            Moving back to Heidegger, I believe that enowning is saying something very like what the Church said.  Heidegger's "words" should be considered apart from other things Heidegger may have believed -- unless it can be shown that they were connected in some way.  And neither Farias nor Faye have managed to show that. 
            Moving to your contrast with  mathematicians, scientists, and engineers, I found it interesting that Alfred Tarski considered himself a nominalist.  On page 52 of Alfred Tarski, Life and Logic (by Anita and Solomon Feferman), Tarski is quoted as saying "'I am a nominalist.  This is a very deep conviction of mine.  It is so deep, indeed, that even after my third reincarnation, I will still be a nominalist'  He went on, 'People have asked me, 'How can you, a nominalist, do work in set theory and logic, which are theories about things you do not believe in?'  . . . I believe that there is value even in fairy tales and the study of fairy tales.'"
            Was Heidegger more culpable for sincerely supporting an ideology that later was responsible for heinous acts than Tarski for insincerely engaging in mathematical and logical work?  Of course I would have difficulty pursuing my culpability charge when logicians and mathematicians have been nomanlistic at least since the days they proposed that a tortoise would defeat Achilles in a foot race.

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