Thursday, May 20, 2010

Re: Heidegger's culpability -- and Tarski's

A rather outraged response was posted by Donal: 

Intriguing thread title. Swallowed bait.

The post asks:-
"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?"

The answer is yes. Engaging in maths and logical work, as Tarski did, does not lead to the murder of millions or promote an inhuman fascistic social philosophy.

It is also questionable how "_sincere_" is used here: it is usually taken as a term of approbation - but perhaps not when referring to a sometime Nazi supporter:-give me insincerity any day. That Tarski doubted the reality of mathematical objects, in whatever philosophical sense, would not make his work insincere either - no more than Berkeley was insincere when he looked for what he couldn't presently perceive.

To even ask whether Tarski's nominalism leaves him "culpable", on the plane on which MH is culpable, is risible. It would be less fatuous to ask whether the risks of passive smoking from Einstein's pipe put Einstein in the same bracket of  "culpable" as Hitler with his "sincere" use of death squads.

Of course, if a strong argument can be made, by examining the history and impact of ideas, that Tarski's math and logic work helped produce murderous regimes and a senseless World War, then these peepers will be agog.

Lawrence responds:

            Donal's outrage would be valid only if something like the criticisms that Emmanuel Faye advanced were also valid, and I am have assumed they are not based on my own reading of Faye, Heidegger, and others --  and the further evidence of Albert Kissler (see ).  His outrage is valid, in other words, only if he doesn't know or understand the evidence.
            National Socialism (the "ideology" I referred to) was not in the 1933/34 time period equivalent to what it became later, say by 1940.  No one, not even Emannuel Faye is suggesting that it is.  What Faye argues is that Heidegger's beliefs were demonstrably the same as National Socialism at the later time.  In his book he offered what he claimed was proof, but when the "smoking gun," the document Faye based his allegation upon was published and could be seen as not supporting Faye's argument, then we are back to the original claim that Heidegger made: that he believed in National Socialism as he conceived it.  He thought with the right leader, Germany could become the "spiritual" leader of Germany. 
            Thus, the evidence that Heidegger was not culpable for what National Socialism became seems incontrovertible. 
            Now as to Tarski's culpability for practicing his whole life in a field he didn't believe related to reality, this is the more open question.  Did Tarski treat his mathematics and logic like a chess game?  If so, why does Tarski say what he says, that "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?"   One has only to be reminded of the comment by enowning that preceded my note:
            "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. "
            Enowning, unlike Donal, has examined the evidence that refutes Faye's allegations; so he (or she) is clear about there being no valid argument that Heidegger was culpable for what German National Socialism became.  Where I took issue with Enowning was in his assumption that "Mathematicians . . . 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."  Perhaps Enowning's terms "this problem" and "useful" are his out.  The problems for Tarski was that many thought they were being mislead about what he had produced.  But if Tarski's mathematics were as useless as he implies then he, and Enowning, could argue that Tarski was not being a hypocrite by practicing something that other people assumed related to reality, but that he did not.  While that may be an out for Enowning, I'm not as sure, as Donal seems to be, that it is for Tarski.

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