Typography, Philosophy and the Nazi Question

by John Holbo on November 10, 2009

My colleague Axel Gelfert just launched a bold book review-type literary thing, The Berlin Review of Books. And he kindly invited me to review a big fat book, Jan Tschichold: Master Typographer: His Life, Work and Legacy [amazon], for his grand opening. So here is my review. It’s a long one. My main pivot is around one quote from the master, from 1959:

In the light of my present knowledge, it was a juvenile opinion to consider the sans serif as the most suitable or even the most contemporary typeface. A typeface has first to be legible, nay, readable, and a sans serif is certainly not the most legible typeface when set in quantity, let alone readable … Good typography has to be perfectly legible and, as such, the result of intelligent planning … The classical typefaces such as Garamond, Janson, Baskerville, and Bell are undoubtedly the most legible. In time, typographical matters, in my eyes, took on a very different aspect, and to my astonishment I detected most shocking parallels between the teachings of Die neue Typographie and National Socialism and fascism. Obvious similarities consist in the ruthless restriction of typefaces, a parallel to Goebbel’s infamous Gleichschaltung (enforced political conformity) and the more or less militaristic arrangement of lines.

As I point out in the review, it seems a bit silly to conflate militant fascism with minimalist fastidiousness. But that’s not really the point of the review, overall. (By the by, I found a nice, short book – but, egad! out of print and overpriced! – on that whole what-fonts-did-the-Nazis-outlaw? question. Remember?) But you know what Crooked Timber really needs, to get the comments perking along? An open thread to discuss the NY Times piece on the new Emmanuel Faye Heidegger book, Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935 [amazon], that’s what.

I’m curious to hear about previously unpublished seminar material. I have every faith that Heidegger will not come up covered in glory. But surely Faye’s denunciations are so over the top that nothing really edifying can come of from the book’s main thesis, as I understand it. (Not that I have much at stake personally. Heidegger just seems murky to me. I get impatient. I don’t feel compensated for my pains, wandering through this Black Forest of Being. But … well, Bert Dreyfus was my teacher. Lots of my friends seem to think this stuff is pretty important. I dunno. Heidegger’s Nietzsche lectures were sorta ok. Of course he got Nietzsche wrong … ) Faye, from the NY Time article: “I’m merely saying that we should know more about the ideological residues and connotations of a thinker like Heidegger before we accept his discourse ready-made or naïvely.” Yes, but no one has ever advocated ready-made, naive Heideggerianism, per se. And we’re off! waffling between an absurdly weak complaint and the absurdly strong threat of the book’s title, I anticipate.

Part of the problem – here’s a point we can focus on, maybe – is this sort of thing: “’You cannot read most of the important philosophers of recent times without taking Heidegger’s thought into account.’ Mr. Rorty added, however, that ‘the smell of smoke from the crematories’ will ‘linger on their pages.’” I think this is too much. The problem with Heidegger is not that you can smell the smoke from the crematories through the vaguely mystical ‘primordialness’ of it all, but that you can’t. Heidegger is so attuned to the alleged dangers on the other side (problem of technology, all that) that he’s just oblivious to the ways in which his own position could betray a person into … inauthenticity, and that’s just for warm-ups. Heidegger never seems to me to be personally concealing some primordial pit of hate or resentment, anger or suppressed violence – not him, not in his writings. I doubt the seminars are going to change my mind. But he seems disappointingly clueless about the risk that evil-spirited stuff could work its way out through stuff that sounds like stuff he thinks will save us. So obviously the stuff he thinks will save us needs to be handled with a different sort of care than it occurs to Heidegger to take (and lord knows he takes care, in his way.) So I guess I think it sounds flatly preposterous to say that Heideggerian philosophy is fascist. It’s just that the Heideggerian immune system, so to speak, is particularly bad at fighting off something like fascism. That’s not what it’s built to do. Which is a very bad thing. A lot worse than Jan Tschichold thinking maybe he was a bit of a type authoritarian in his exuberant youth. That’s fine, because it was just letters and shapes. Heidegger’s case is also obviously a lot worse than, say, Frege’s. You can separate the logic from the anti-semitism. The fact that Heidegger’s philosophy betrayed him into deep ethical inauthenticity is not something Heideggerian philosophy can shrug off, lightly. (We philosophers are always saying you can abstract arguments and positions from their authors. But Heidegger can’t say that. He’s not ‘we philosophers’, after all.) Still, Heidegger’s is not essentially a Nazi philosopher, surely.

My good old dissertation advisor, Hans Sluga, did a good job in Heidegger’s Crisis: Philosophy and Politics in Nazi Germany [amazon], I think. The book has a lousy title (blame the publisher, I’m sure), because it’s really about academic philosophy’s crisis, under the Nazis. How the field failed. (Not that this is, or is intended to be, some sort of excuse for Heidegger’s sorry personal showing in time of crisis.)

Discuss.

I’ve still got to find the time to write that long piece I’m gonna write about how Tschichold is weirdly exactly like Wittgenstein.

{ 134 comments }

1

scritic 11.10.09 at 3:07 pm

“I’m curious to hear about previously unpublished seminar material. I have every faith that Heidegger will not come up covered in glory. But surely Faye’s denunciations are so over the top that nothing really edifying can come of from the book’s main thesis, as I understand it.”

I think this pretty much captures my feelings about the book. That said, what really riled me about the NYTimes article was the way it kept talking about Heidegger but did not spend even one paragraph trying to tell its readers what Heidegger’s writing is about. That’s a shame, I think – and plus it’ s bad journalism. It’s all “he says, she says” without any idea of what it is that they are talking about.

2

wmschr 11.10.09 at 3:14 pm

If you’re pdf-tolerant, Blackletter is available online.

3

Daniel Kuehn 11.10.09 at 3:22 pm

Your point that Heidegger didn’t really do “Nazi philosophy”, but at the same time can be taken to task for being oblivious to the dangers of Nazism reminds me very much of the way we’ve interpreted Werner von Braun over the years. By all accounts von Braun was an affable, kind-hearted, moderate, ethical person that wasn’t taken in at all by Nazi ideology (which is actually much more than can be said for Heidegger). He just also happened to be a party member and he happened to build the rockets that devastated London.

It leaves us in a very uncomfortable spot, and I don’t think the solution is to purge the Heideggers and the von Brauns any more than it is to ignore their Nazism.

We need to remember that it wasn’t until very late in the war that many Germans and even many party members had an inkling of the full terror of the regime. You could tell Hitler was a racist and a militarist very early on, obviously – but that would hardly distinguish Hitler from his contemporaries. It was the industrialized violence and the genocide and the sheer megalomania that distinguished Hitler – and that was not something that either Heidegger or von Braun could easily anticipate in the early 1930s. What they signed up for was state support, nationalism, and certainly a little ethnocentrism. But once you’re in the vice of Nazism it’s hard to get out when you find yourself in the late 30s and you’re not so sure about whether you like what’s going on anymore. None of this should be misconstrued to excuse either man – I just think it’s important to keep in mind. Nazi Germany was a complex society like any society is. We do ourselves a disservice if we imagine that every passive German patriot or even every party member was a Hitler clone. The reality is much more complex than that.

4

Bill 11.10.09 at 3:23 pm

A person who compares someone who does not agree with his preferred typeface choice to nazis and fascist is probably not a “master”. A person who discredits the legibility of sans-serif without actual legibility experiments is at best a dilettante. Comparing a dilettante typesetter’s opinion to any kind of philosopher is a pointless exercise.

5

JoB 11.10.09 at 3:24 pm

Then the NYT article is kinda appropriately Heidegerean; journalists caught up in the Dasein of it all.

6

Brock 11.10.09 at 3:28 pm

Since you were a student of Dreyfus: Is there any basis to the Wikipedia claim that he was the inspiration for the Futurama character Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth?

7

John Holbo 11.10.09 at 3:31 pm

“Is there any basis to the Wikipedia claim that he was the inspiration for the Futurama character Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth?”

There probably is. One of the Futurama writers dropped out of our graduate program.

8

Hidari 11.10.09 at 3:37 pm

I know a bit about Heidegger’s philosophy and I have read his biography. (excellent).

My thoughts, for what they are worth.

First point:

1: As Safranski makes clear, Heidegger was a ‘type’, and a type with which we should all be familiar. This is the academic who spends his adolescence and ‘twenties stuck in with his head in books (Heidegger seems to have barely noticed that the First World War was taking place), who suddenly wakens up in his mid-’thirties with a not-too-onerous academic position and suddenly realises that he has wasted his youth, and that he had better get living. As with many similar Professors in the ’60s this led to

a: Frantic and embarassingly numerous affairs with much younger female students who idolise him (Arendt was not the only one) while his wife stomps around the kitchen pretending not to notice and

b: ‘radical’ political theorising based on not-too-much knowledge of the realities of actual politics.

At least he didn’t get his ears pierced, or start wearing loud kipper ties, but we all know this type.

Also, like many nerds (the word fits, especially based on photographs), after being a comparatively humble student, albeit one with dreams of grandeur, when given a bit of power and academic prestige, Heidegger suddenly realised that academic professors from provincial universities had been given a God (or ‘Being’) sent task to Set Things Right, and show the world How Things Ought To Be (sic). He was also a man who liked the sound of his own voice, and was a lousy listener. Again, typical academic.

2: Heidegger could also be described, without being wildly unfair to him, as an idiot. He had no grasp of what politics was about. None. He knew no politicians, studied no politics, did not engage in any political activities (except in 1933-1934, when he was quickly outmanoeuvred by more politically adept colleagues). He had little grasp of what Nazi-ism was about at the time, and didn’t really develop much of an idea even as an old man. Like most academics, his main motivations (apart from a desire to put one over on his ‘less intelligent’ colleagues and lust for his attractive female students) were those of abstract philosophical thought, and he had huge difficulties in perceiving that similar beliefs did not motivate other people (specifically, politicians). Thus it is fair to say that Heidegger was a ‘Nazi’ but only if one adds that Heidegger’s view of what a ‘Nazi’ was was one shared by no one else, especially not Hitler.

3: Much of Heidegger’s philosophy is based on gut emotional beliefs that were typical of his era and his class. He was brought up Catholic, and remained in the provinces all his life (he was offered a post in Berlin but turned it down, apparently partly out of fear that he would be shown up as a country bumpkin). His dislike of ‘Modernity’ and Technology based on fear (if he was alive today he would be on Grumpy Old Men, railing against young people and their new fangled I-Pods). As Nietzsche pointed out, exaggerated love of the Greeks is a typical German intellectual vice, as is the belief that ‘It’s been all downhill since Socrates’ (and Nietzsche should know).

4: As Dan Zahavi and other scholars of the ‘New Husserl’ have pointed out, Heidegger’s philosophy, while good and interesting, was not nearly as original or ‘groundbreaking’ as Heidegger made out. (Being and Time was written to secure an academic post and Heidegger had good reasons to exaggerate its originality). Much of it was adapted from Nietzsche, the pragmatists, Ortega y Gassett, Bergson, Kierkegaard, and, especially, Husserl, whose thought has been systematically under-estimated for nearly 100 years (mainly under Heidegger’s influence).

5: Heidegger was a careerist, and could be callous and cruel when he believed he was being crossed. He was also an egotist of the first order. He had little self-understanding, and little sense of humour (his funny, popular, brother was always taking the piss out of his ‘philosophy’, which irritated Martin no end). He was also a German nationalist (there really is no other phrase that fits) who always leaned to the Right, even after the war. His dislike of democracy was based on his gut feeling that it would mean ‘great men’ (guess who?) being ‘dragged down’ by the ‘rabble’.

9

tony 11.10.09 at 3:45 pm

Don’t know if you saw this, but BiggerBooks at least claims to have Blackletter for $20.

10

John Holbo 11.10.09 at 3:58 pm

Well, it’s only about 80 pages, so that’s 25 cents a page. But it’s a pretty good book, tony. If you are interested in this stuff. (It’s not the sort of book that has any business being expensive. It’s just a paperback from The Cooper Union (1998).)

11

John Holbo 11.10.09 at 4:02 pm

“A person who compares someone who does not agree with his preferred typeface choice to nazis and fascist is probably not a “master”. A person who discredits the legibility of sans-serif without actual legibility experiments is at best a dilettante.”

Whatever else he might have been, I think Jan Tschichold was no dilettante, where type was concerned.

12

enowning 11.10.09 at 4:11 pm

I haven’t read Faye’s book, but judging from articles by or about Faye, he doesn’t have access to anything that has not already been published in Heidegger’s complete works – albeit not all translated into English yet. What Faye does is pick bits from different lectures and seminars to generate a Heidegger-the-Nazi-philosopher narrative, while ignoring everything else, which indicates the common Heidegger-the-ontologist interpretation of his way of thinking.

13

JoB 11.10.09 at 4:17 pm

Hey Hidari, that was great! I liked 4. makes me wanna go and find out Ortega y Gassett (only one quarrel: surely Bergson is more underestimated than Husserl ever will be, & not nearly as wrong, which is nice, even in philosophy).

14

JoB 11.10.09 at 4:22 pm

8- Gasset, one ‘t’, I knew there was something wrong there, philosophy en castellano – I thank you again!

15

Jim Harrison 11.10.09 at 4:39 pm

I expect that how you view Heidegger depends a great deal on whether you think of him as the author of Being and Time or focus on his later writings. Like a lot of others, including a fair number of computer sciences types, I find the redescription of human existence carried out in Being and Time extremely important, indeed, in many respects simply true. I do agree with Hidari that Heidegger’s insights were not his alone or all that novel. He did owe an immense amount to Husserl, whose memory he treated very shabbily. For that matter, it’s instructive to compare Being and Time with another work of the 30s, Gilbert Ryle’s Ghost in the Machine.

Do the late writings of Heidegger remind anybody else of Carl Jung? The question may sound snarky. It is intended to be.

16

Alison P 11.10.09 at 5:13 pm

I really enjoyed Hidari’s comment too, and perhaps we’ll see more attention given to Husserl one day. I didn’t know that Heidegger had a funny, popular, brother who was always taking the piss out of his ‘philosophy’. What a hoot.

17

Robin Kinross 11.10.09 at 6:14 pm

John, in your review of the Tschichold compendium (which has been panned elsewhere: for example, The Times Literary Supplemement, 10 April 2009), you are showing once more your innocence about typography and typographic-politics. The key statement by Tschichold is not the Type Directors Club speech of 1959, from which text the quotation you quote was stitched together. (Just the style of that 1959 text is unTschicholdian: evidently put into tone-deaf North-American-English from something he wrote in his own distinctive German.) You need to go rather to the text in which he first publicly declared his change of mind. This is his wonderful statement of 1946, titled ‘Glaube und Wirklichkeit’, and written in response to an attack on his position by Max Bill. All this is discussed, in historically informed and reliable detail, in a recent book by Christopher Burke: Active literature. The book by De Jong (and all) is a book-packager’s compilation, without coherence, and designed in contradiction to its subject’s beliefs at all stages of his life. But that thought seems almost to have occurred to you, judging by the fifth paragraph of your review.

18

Hidari 11.10.09 at 9:12 pm

Heidegger’s brother was called Fritz, was famous as the town (Messkirch) ‘card’, never went to University, and was famous for his antics and his anarchic sense of humour (he picked fights with the Nazis during the war). In Messkirch (you’ll like this, Alison), Martin was always known as ‘oh you know…..Fritz’s brother!’. This when Martin was one of the most famous philosophers on earth.

I might add that my ‘reading’ of Husserl (as containing most, if not all, of the best of Heidegger) is controversial. But on the other hand it was Martin Heidegger himself who continually presented Husserl as an old fashioned Cartesian and Platonist, whose work was really only interesting insofar as it preceded…..well the work of a certain Martin Heidegger.

For different, more modern views cf: Zahavi’s ‘Husserl’s Phenomenology’. (Stanford, 2002).

19

Maurice Meilleur 11.10.09 at 9:56 pm

I thought the NYT review, and Ron Rosenbaum’s recent slipshod piece of work in Slate–and for good measure, Elzbieta Ettinger’s book on the Arendt/Heidegger correspondence–were garbage, for all the reasons mentioned above. But surely Heidegger was actually an anti-semite? He did blackball Husserl for being Jewish, didn’t he? Obviously that would make him no different from the majority of his fellow countrymen (or Europeans, or Westerners generally, I guess) at the time, especially in that part of Germany. And being an anti-semite doesn’t automatically make him a Nazi–or preclude him from having sex with Jews, for that matter. But still.

20

Anderson 11.10.09 at 10:13 pm

Then the NYT article is kinda appropriately Heidegerean

I suppose Heidegger would profess disinterest in what “the They” say about his work.

Great comments, Hidari — just the kind of stuff that we hope will justify our time wasted reading blog threads.

21

Anderson 11.10.09 at 10:23 pm

… What bugged me most about the NYT piece was Faye’s apparent notion that there cannot be a Nazi/racist philosophy, which seems to beg a very large question about “what is philosophy?”

It would be useful in a way if we could demonstrate that Heidegger’s thought *is* fundamentally fascist, because then we would have the question of philosophy’s nature more squarely before us.

22

novakant 11.10.09 at 10:48 pm

Heidegger’s brother was the bank teller in Messkirch, right? I’ve always loved the thought of the two going camping together – does Safranski go into their relationship much? While I’m not Heidegger, nor my brother a bank teller, we used to have endless fights about low-brow vs. high-brow approaches to culture and life in general when we were students, so maybe that’s one reason why this interests me. Btw, I’m happy to report that we have found common ground in our mutual interest in film and are now actually cooperating on various projects.

23

Anderson 11.10.09 at 11:15 pm

Postwar Heidegger?

What does the European Union truly stand for besides a cradle-to-grave social welfare system? For without something to struggle for, there can be no civil society—only decadence.

Or just Robert Kaplan again?

Obviously, The Atlantic should be shelved in the history of fascism, and not on the “current periodicals” rack. Because who might pick up the magazine without realizing the dangers therein, etc.

24

novakant 11.11.09 at 12:07 am

Wow, it’s also quite astonishing how Kaplan is totally misinformed about the actual reality of people’s lives (at least in the EU, but it’s not a great leap to suspect that this applies in general) – no struggle my @ss. And yeah, Heidegger and his faux-authenticity nonsense had its roots in similar ignorance or maybe just plain callousness.

25

Anderson 11.11.09 at 12:10 am

The idea of struggling for one’s neighbors’ quality of life does not seem to register with him, that’s for sure.

26

John Holbo 11.11.09 at 12:23 am

“But that thought seems almost to have occurred to you, judging by the fifth paragraph of your review.”

Not only did it almost occur to me, to judge from the fifth paragraph of my review!

27

John Holbo 11.11.09 at 12:47 am

I thought about being harder on the book for being, basically, a big coffee table book, not a piece of solid scholarship. But I kinda pulled back because it’s obvious from the size and shape of the thing that it’s a coffee table book. And one does not go to such things for scholarship. Nor is scholarship on Tschichold lacking elsewhere, as you point out.

I do think the essays in the book are individually solid. Doubleday, for example, does a very creditable job of condensing his own longer book into his essay on the Penguin years. I know that the 1959 statement was just a restatement of things Tschichold himself said earlier and elsewhere, starting in the 1930′s. I have not read Burke’s latest book, admittedly. But I’ve read his older stuff. He discusses the Tschichold-Max Bill dispute in his book on Renner, since Renner attempted to mediate it.

http://books.google.com.sg/books?id=zfT0Iam0q7AC&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=tschichold+max+bill&source=bl&ots=Rpi42wKelj&sig=3KdYW9PpeT5MVzcWCSf1QKdDww4&hl=en&ei=Uwj6SuGaLJSYkQX474GvCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=tschichold%20max%20bill&f=false

But I was reviewing this book, and the 1959 statement kept coming up, so I attempted to explain it, in terms that are, I think, consistent with Tschichold’s fuller statements of his thoughts. The problem wasn’t the quote itself, but the fact that no one was making it his or her job to say what it means in this book.

28

Kenny Easwaran 11.11.09 at 12:52 am

how Tschichold is weirdly exactly like Wittgenstein.

If a lion could publish, would we be able to understand the typeface it used?

29

john c. halasz 11.11.09 at 3:14 am

Heidegger was a Nazi? Who knew!?! That the controversy erupted in Paris in the 1980′s strikes me as a piece of Parisian provincialism, sort of like discovering the Gulag in the 1970′s. Of course, one takes that fact into account when approaching Heidegger’s work, but that doesn’t a priori vitiate the possible validity or interest of that work. Interest in Heidegger persists inspite of his Nazism, of whatever extent, complexion, or duration, because of the peculiar “depth”, rigor, and “originality” in questioning the received metaphysical tradition, its “De-struktion”, which imprints inherited conceptions of “Reason”, as the supreme tribunal of “justification” of the world and all things, which first emerged and unfolded historically under the aegis of metaphysical thinking. In effect, the burgeoning, proliferating sense of crisis in modernity is encoded as the collapse and loss of the normativity and limits previously ostensibly provided by metaphysical forms of thinking, even as that very loss of limits is traced as an effect of that very form of metaphysical thinking. Certainly such a perspective on modernity has itself its limits, and other conceptions of its sources and unfolding are available. But then Heidegger was a philosopher and was subject to the self-over-estimation that afflicts all modern professions.

What’s not the case is that Heidegger can be simply dismissed ad hominem as a Nazi hack, else it’s not clear why Heidegger remains on the “syllabus”, while all the other Nazi philosophers are forgotten or of minor interest, (including such as Nicolai Hartmann, Ernst Juenger, who was never actually a party member, and some of the leading Kant scholars of the era). (Sluga’s book made clear that Heidegger was among the least Nazified, as well as least politically successful or influential, of the Nazi philosopher’s, who included 2/3 of the university philosophers’ association. That Heidegger was a Nazi remains such a shocking scandal, is because we remember him most, whatever we think of or however we interpret his thought). But if Heidegger’s thought can not simply be dismissed as Nazi, its complicities and affinities with Nazism, in however sublimated a form, can be explored and delineated. It is too simple to say his thought simply an expression of Nazism per se, (not least because the actually existent Nazism was an incoherent ideological hodge-podge, which defies any consistent philosophical intepretation), or even that his thought is fascist through-and-through, as Adorno claimed, though aside from basing that claim on a version of Marxian ideology-critique, that claim is perhaps a denegation of the rivalrous overlap with Adorno’s own thought. But I think one can fairly state not just the thoroughly elitist cast of his thinking, encoded throughout with the ontic/ontological distinction, but its authoritarian tenor: Being is, therefore (sic) it is a commandment. (And such authoritarianism contrasts oddly with the notion that, in some sense, Heidegger was pre-eminently a philosopher of “freedom”, seen in the light of human finitude). Perhaps it’s less fruitful to reduce Heidegger to a Nazi, however temporary or residual, than to use his thought to understand something of (the appeal of) Nazism and the (sense of) crisis, which gave rise to it.

Holbo’s claim that Heidegger succumbed to “ethical inauthenticity” is garbled, at least in Heideggerian terms. In the first place, in SuZ it is clearly emphasized that authenticity only arises as a modification in and of inauthenticity, as in the angst of Being-toward-Death, one re-appropriates the tradition in which one finds oneself as thrown, amidst its idle chatter, in projecting, through “repetition”, a transformed future. (If one wants to find a Nazi affinity in SuZ, I think its latent functionalism would be the place to look). But such “original” projections themselves tend to depreciate and authenticity comes to default into inauthenticity, such that the two tend to change places and authenticity must always be won anew: a “tragic” conception of authenticity. In the second place, the concern with authenticity remains throughout the later work, even if approached from much different perspectives and in a much different “mood”, as a receptive disposition toward the “truth of Being” or what ever term he uses at the time. Thirdly, Heidegger regards ethics apparently as a derivative of ontology or of dispensations of Being, sort of like those children’s pop-up picture books, which, when one opens them, yield a 3-D paper construct. It was Levinas who most of all caught Heidegger out on that, in proposing that ethics rather than ontology was “fundamental”. But then Levinas himself in no wise proposed a formal rational systematic prescriptive “ethics”, any more than Heidegger. Ethical groundlessness, any more than ontological groundlessness, doesn’t save the bacon of academic ethics or normative political philosophy, which I think of as so much academic pettifoggery, of no relevance outside of academia. But then insisting on separating out the “formal” arguments of Heidegger’s work from its worldly contaminations, though somewhat ironically in line with the ontic/ontological distinction, blunts the very “force” of that work. And it won’t do to separate out the question of technology from the issue of authenticity, since it’s obviously the latter that gives “force” to the former. And it’s no use denying the ambiguities and ambivalences of a technological society. I myself think Heidegger lucubrations on technology are too de-differentiated to be of much use. I much prefer the Horkheimer/Adorno line about instrumental reason, since, though backhandedly, it acknowledges the need for and positive value of instrumental reason, even if that is not exactly emphasized, and it highlights precisely the ethical obliquity of rampant instrumentalism, even as it emphasizes its role in the organization of social relations to facilitate the organization of domination. But it suffices little to claim that there is some sort of “pure” ethics, let alone political “ethics”, that would trump such issues. That is “naively” all the more to succumb to ideology.

As to Husserl, SuZ is actually quite close to the manuscripts of Husserl from that time, only publish in his Nachlass, on internal time consciousness, so much so that Husserl didn’t at first recognized the differences with his teaching assistant. When he did, he complained of the “anthropological” tendency of SuZ, which is rather ironic in terms of the later interpretation as a critique of humanism, understood as “anthropology”. But then, inspite of Heidegger’s “enhancement of origins”, whereby he casts himself as in dialogue with the great thinkers of the metaphysical past, it was precisely Husserl’s work that provided Heidegger, with its modernististic claim to begin anew, “pre-suppositionlessly”, with his model of metaphysical thinking, as totalizing objectifying thinking, culminating in its assignment to a transcendental subjectivity that itself lacks assignment, and hence with his interpretation of the root metaphysical interpretation of Being as ousia/substance in terms of presence. That the conception of “the subject”, as an epistemological ground of all knowledge, might be a reflex of the “definition” of Being as ousia/substance, in its interpretation as “objectivity”, and that such a notion of subjectivity might be dissolved together with the critical dissolution of the epistemological turn, thereby interpreting modernity in terms of the rise of metaphysical subjectivism, might come as a shock to liberal individualists, for whom the autonomous ego is the terminus ad quem of all history, but then that sliding tergiversation of Dasein from an individual to a collective existential conception might be as much as problem for them as for Heidegger. If we are stripped of our pretences to “autonomous” subjectivity, and thereby thrown upon our worldly involvements, then what exactly is lost, and by whom?

30

jholbo 11.11.09 at 3:37 am

I’m gonna try to write that post, Kenny.

31

Robin Kinross 11.11.09 at 10:16 am

And one does not go to such things for scholarship. Nor is scholarship on Tschichold lacking elsewhere, as you point out.

So why mount an argument on a quicksand of misinformation and falsities? Doubleday’s pages are among the most dubious in that book. In its previously published book-form, his work was shredded by reviewers: stuffed full of beginner’s mistakes, clueless about history and about how to describe his subject matter even in simple terms. See, for example, Phil Baines’s review in Eye and Paul Shaw in Print (neither seems to be online).

I should declare an interest, as the person who wrote a long introduction to the English-language edition of Die neue Typographie (UC Press), and the editor and publisher of Christopher Burke’s two books. Burke and I also published the so-far definitive account of the Tschichold-Bill-Renner debate, in Typography papers no. 4 (2000).

You really do need to start with those texts, and not waste your time with book-packager’s froth.

32

JoB 11.11.09 at 10:32 am

Hidari, if you ever visit the Husserl-archive in Leuven, let me buy you a coffee.

33

Peter Erwin 11.11.09 at 11:25 am

A person who compares someone who does not agree with his preferred typeface choice to nazis and fascist is probably not a “master”.

Tschichold wasn’t saying that people who didn’t agree with his preferred typeface were fascists; he was saying that he himself had been a bit fascist in the way he went around (back in the 20s and 30s) telling people what typefaces they should and shouldn’t use.

34

jholbo 11.11.09 at 11:42 am

“Doubleday’s pages are among the most dubious in that book. In its previously published book-form, his work was shredded by reviewers: stuffed full of beginner’s mistakes, clueless about history and about how to describe his subject matter even in simple terms.”

This I didn’t know and, if you are right – I’ll take your word, and the Carter review does back you up – I’ve been wrong to take Doubleday for a reliable authority. His is the only complete book about Tschichold I had read before reading “Master Typographer”. I thought it seemed pretty good. I’ve got and have read your intro to “Die neue Typographie” and am presenting awaiting my copy of the second Burke book. I do defer to your expertise.

35

jholbo 11.11.09 at 11:51 am

“A person who compares someone who does not agree with his preferred typeface choice to nazis and fascist is probably not a “master”. “

I was assuming Bill was shifting into Tschichold2 accusing Tschichold1 mode. Otherwise, yes, he just misread the passage.

36

Hidari 11.11.09 at 12:17 pm

‘Hidari, if you ever visit the Husserl-archive in Leuven, let me buy you a coffee.’

At last! My years of commenting start to pay off!

Seriously though, if I am ever in Leuven I will take you up on that offer.

37

John Quiggin 11.11.09 at 12:25 pm

Back in the prehistory of blogging I spent a fair bit of time on the general question of philosophers who support brutal dictatorships, without getting a satisfactory answer. Here’s my thought on Heidegger

Heidegger’s understanding of his own philosophical position led him to derive the implication “I should support the Nazis”. It seems clear that something is badly wrong in Heidegger’s thought, but it is not immediately obvious what is wrong. There are two possible responses. If you believe that at least some of Heidegger’s work contains valuable insights, you should try and isolate the problem, then salvage those points that are unaffected. If you are doubtful about the value of the entire enterprise, you are justified in concluding that the salvage job is unlikely to be worth the trouble.

I found Hidari’s discussion useful, but I still haven’t seen anyone who thinks Heidegger’s work is valuable take the trouble to explain how it led him to support Hitler and how to separate out the valuable bits from the bits that led him to be an (admittedly not very successful) Nazi.

38

novakant 11.11.09 at 12:27 pm

So there are people here, who actually understand Husserl – I’m genuinely impressed. No really, there was a time when I could claim to have understood large parts of Hegel, but with Husserl I never had a clue what in the world he was talking about.

39

Anderson 11.11.09 at 2:24 pm

I wish the Husserl-understanders would toss out a hint as to whether the neophyte should pick up the Logical Investigations first, or Ideas, or some other text.

40

Hidari 11.11.09 at 2:28 pm

‘I found Hidari’s discussion useful, but I still haven’t seen anyone who thinks Heidegger’s work is valuable take the trouble to explain how it led him to support Hitler and how to separate out the valuable bits from the bits that led him to be an (admittedly not very successful) Nazi.’

There are problems with Husserl’s theorising, as there are advantages, so to speak, in Heidegger’s theorising. But the major advantage that Husserl has over Heidegger is that with Husserl one does not have to concern oneself with Heidegger’s view of ‘Being’. Heidegger himself did not make clear what he meant by ‘Being’ (you’ll remember that in his later texts he wrote it Being) but it clearly has some kind of ‘mystical’ ‘religious’ or (possibly) pseudo-religious force. Dreyfus is clearly embarassed by this aspect of Heidegger, and ignores it whenever he can, but Heidegger himself thought it was his one ‘big idea’ that animated his whole philosophy.

I can never make my mind up about this. On the one hand Heidegger was clearly on to something. I just wonder if what he was onto was what he thought he was onto. Wittgenstein of course thought not. What Wittgenstein argued is that what H. was getting at is the sheer ‘thisness’ of the world (the most famous example is ‘the tree’ in Sartre’s Nausea). For example when you open the window on a gorgeous spring day…and there is the world. H. argued (probably rightly) that our drab, technocratic, ‘rational’ society robs of us this sense of ‘wonder’ (H. is very much the Romantic anti-rationalist here) at the sheer thisness of things, the simple fact that we exist and that things are as they are.

Where Wittgenstein thought that Heidegger went wrong was in trying to express this as a philosophical argument. W. was in profound agreement with H.’s distrust of ‘science’ and ‘technology’ and also with his basic emotional insight about ‘Being’. But, to repeat, W. thought that when H. attempted to explain what he meant by this then this became a classic example of ‘Language going on holiday’. The whole point, for W. is that this essentially mystical insight is inexplicable and incommunicable. And of what one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent etc.

But once H. has this concept, or insight, or whatever, of ‘Being’, since he can’t define it, he can do essentially anything he wants with it. So ‘Being’ can ‘withdraw’ as if it’s a person or force, but, of course, H. is always ready to tell us that ‘Being’ is not in actuality, a person or a force (again H. sounds very very like a negative theologian attempting to ‘define’ God here).

One thing H. was keen to stress at all times, however, is that Western Rationalism ‘makes us’ forget Being. Whatever it is, Being is an ‘anti-rational’ concept. Here the demons (as with Nietzsche) are Socrates, Plato and Descartes. Reality, Being, is un-understandable by ‘classic’ Western, rational thinking.

It follows that any attempt to understand society on rational principles is wrong. It also follows from that that any attempt to organise society on rational principles is bound to fail. Therefore, liberalism (especially of the kind seen in the French Revolution, the liberalism of Voltaire and Diderot, the Rationalists) cannot work. But (according to Heidegger) Communism/socialism are merely another kind of rationalism, so they’re out too.

This doesn’t explain why H. turned to Naziism, but it does explain why the radical Right, in some form, was always going to attract him. I think the other pieces of the jigsaw can be found, as I said, in his class background, religious background (right-wing Catholicism), and his position as a (powerful, male) academic.

But this does help to explain, I hope, why H. consistently explained Hitler as part of the ‘rediscovery’ of Being or the ‘return’ of Being. It also explains why Heidegger saw himself as being the only true Nazi (even Hitler misunderstood his own political movement, according to Heidegger), and his own own Naziism as being a ‘private’ or ‘secret’ Naziism. . Heidgger persistently explained his political lapse, not as himself letting anyone else down, but of the Nazis letting him (Heidegger) down. Or more specifically, of the Nazis letting Being down, with Heidegger being, so to speak, Being’s spokesman.

41

Hidari 11.11.09 at 2:41 pm

‘I wish the Husserl-understanders would toss out a hint as to whether the neophyte should pick up the Logical Investigations first, or Ideas, or some other text.’

Like most people I find Husserl very very hard going. But the Dan Zahavi text mentioned above (‘Husserl’s Phenomenology’ (Stanford, 2002)) is really superb and extremely easy to read (not something you can say about most of the Husserl/Heidegger literature).

42

John Holbo 11.11.09 at 2:43 pm

I agree that the Zahavi book is quite clear and to be recommended.

43

John Holbo 11.11.09 at 2:44 pm

44

Anderson 11.11.09 at 2:55 pm

Thanks much!

45

Billikin 11.11.09 at 3:36 pm

Dingbats macht frei!

46

polyorchnid octopunch 11.11.09 at 6:59 pm

I’m going to completely ignore the whole Heidegger thing you guys have going on right now, and discuss what science has to say about which typefaces are more readable, in particular the question of serif vs. sans-serif faces.

I turns out that the answer is “it depends”. Most of the research on this was done app. thirty to forty years ago by computer firms (the truly big player in this one was IBM). What they discovered was that the primary answer depended on a very fundamental feature of the surface the person was reading… did it reflect light (like a piece of paper or a stone plinth) or did it emit light (like a computer monitor or a television screen). What they found was that reflective surfaces were most legible with a light background, dark text, and serifed fonts. Light emitting surfaces were most legible with a dark background, light text, and sans-serif bolded text. This is why all the early computer monitors on personal computers were set up they way they were (think text mode); because studies showed that having them like that meant that readers suffered less eye-strain and fatigue during use. It’s also why a lot of illuminated signs had dark backrounds and light text and Futura etc… they were more legible that way.

47

John Quiggin 11.11.09 at 7:47 pm

Thanks, Hidari. I can find more congenial sources of romantic anti-rationalism in the poetry section, so I’ll forget about Heidegger from now on. But it seems as if I should find the time to take a look at Husserl, or rather a look at Zahavi.

48

Bartleby 11.11.09 at 7:58 pm

So the argument advanced by Faye is that the fundamental ontology of Sein und Zeit and the early works is National Socialist political philosophy? Or that the “average everydayness” of Dasein’s being-in-the-world is an advancement of Fascism? I just want to be sure…

49

john c. halasz 11.11.09 at 9:05 pm

Er, Hidari @ 40, some “corrections”. Heidegger’s “Being” Is basically hatched out of Husserl’s notion of a horizon, the background through and against which an intentional object appears. Hence “Being” isn’t anything, it’s rather sheer background, which is not something to be “defined”, which is begging the question, as definition could only occur at another level. (Words don’t come with definitions; rather definitions are derived from words. Having all one’s definitions lined up a priori is a basic metaphysical move). I don’t think one can follow Heidegger’s thinking at all without understanding him as an expert phenomenologist, having apprenticed with the master himself, and following through on his radicalization of Husserl’s method of intentional analysis. Hence “Being” must be thematized separately from the being of beings,- (I can remember the exact German phrasing, since it’s been a long while, but contrasting Being with the existence of existents might be a clearer translation)- since one can only focus intentional analysis on one object at a time, be it a noema, noesis, or horizon. Being is that which conceals itself in revealing itself, because in giving beings as interpretable appearances, phenomena, the focus shifts from the giving to the given. The basic insight is that orders of meaning are not reducible to orders of reality, material, causal, or other. Hence “language is the house of Being”, Being is veiled by nothingness that nothings, etc. Being, as that which gives meaning to beings, can not be derived from the “metaphysical” ordering of beings themselves, but rather amounts to something like the transcendental condition of meaning in general, from which specific meanings derive that render beings interpretable as more-or-less what and how they are/appear to be. The focus of inquiry then is on the “ontological difference” between Being and beings, which re-differentiates categorial orders of meaning by which the world is interpreted in various historical epochs, with consecutive consequentiality, but without deterministic causality or rational teleology. Yes, there is something vaguely auratic about this Being, the primordial “experience” of which gives intelligibility to the world and meaning to contingent existence, but there is nothing other-worldly to it.

Heidegger considered modernity a breeching of all limits, previously contained by the understanding of Being concealed in metaphysical orderings of meaning, resulting, through an ultimate forgetting/oblivion of Being, in a violent extrusion upon the world, in the guise of nihilism and a self-proliferating system of technology, at the behest of an adventitious subjectivity, which itself becomes reduced, together with all other beings, to a “standing reserve”, to raw material to feed into the self-proliferating system of technology, which operates without agency or responsibility (care). That Heidegger himself was complicity in (the thinking of) that violence he detected might not, after all, be considered so surprising. (It was the work of Ernst Juenger that strongly influenced Heidegger’s views on technology early on). He was after all a modernist of sorts, and if a reactionary, then of a thoroughly sophisticated sort, who didn’t seek to turn the clock 180 degrees backwards, but rather 180 degrees forward. But it is a mistake to regard Heidegger as a Romantic, for all his Hoelderlin fetishism. If he is to be correlated with artistic labels, it would be expressionist. It’s a mistake to think that expressionism involves a projection of the self’s inner states upon the world. Rather expressionism turns the self inside out, such that the self and its states are already a part of the world. And as to “wonder”, thaumazein is the ancient root of philosophy, so it would make more sense to call it classical, rather than romantic. It’s true that there is an element of a reactionary, irrationalistic cult of sacrifice attached to Heidegger’s otherwise meta-rational thinking. (As there is with Kierkegaard. Levinas is particularly good at sussing that element out, but only by following Heidegger through thoroughly). But to confuse an inquiry into the ground of the grounds of metaphysical rationalism (and its limits) with irrationalism is a question-begging mistake, even if one thinks that is not the most perspicuous way to address such issues.

As to the matter of Heidegger’s language/verbiage, he himself complains of the difficulty of escaping “metaphysical” language. He must inevitably express his thinking in statements with nouns, “substantives”, even as he is attempting to think against the grain of, otherwise than, substantialist thinking, and he issues “propositions” about pre-propositional matters, concerning the sources and limits of propositional logic. Hence he tries out various devices, such as tautologies, “the nothing nothings”, “the essence essences”, etc., in an effect to impart a verbal, processual sense to otherwise substantive terms. Or he crosses out Being or searches for other “names” for what is a temporal process of appearing and not the permanent presence of a substance. The main term he ends up on is not “Being” at all, but das Ereignis, translated variously as “propriative event” or the like, but the 60′s-ish “the happening” would be literally correct. But Heidegger doesn’t aim at just pointing silently at the contingent existence of the world; rather he aims at dismantling the inherited metaphysical conceptuality that enshrouds it, to explore the alternative possibilities for thinking and Being that remain unthought within that inherited tradition, other than persisting in the objectifying stance. “Ontology” in Heidegger means something much different that the traditional sense, which he is intent on critically liquidating, (together with its epistemological derivatives). Rather a kind of deliberate double-think is involved, in attempting to uncover the “inner” truth of the “ontological need” that is concealed and congealed in the false and reified outward forms of traditional thinking and its derivatives. It’s true that in following out the various alternative pathways of thinking that Heidegger attempts in his later work, there is frequently a problem of identifying the criteria he uses. But given his project, it’s not as if remain silent and say nothing in response to the “soundless saying” of Being, even if he might seems to stammer and expatiate at length to little intelligible effect in the face of that silence. It’s often said that Heidegger is the most uncommunicative of thinkers, which is true, (except that thinking is inherently a solitary, if not asocial, activity, and its “translation” into linguistic expression is by no means clear and easy). But there is an element of chosen “strategy” there: through “purifying” the meaning/understanding of Being, Heidegger is attempting to render the conditions for a more authentic language, and therefore a more authentic collective existence, possible.

50

geo 11.11.09 at 9:26 pm

halasz: Heidegger considered modernity a breeching of all limits, previously contained by the understanding of Being concealed in metaphysical orderings of meaning, resulting, through an ultimate forgetting/oblivion of Being, in a violent extrusion upon the world, in the guise of nihilism and a self-proliferating system of technology, at the behest of an adventitious subjectivity, which itself becomes reduced, together with all other beings, to a “standing reserve”, to raw material to feed into the self-proliferating system of technology, which operates without agency or responsibility (care).

Could you elaborate a bit, as simply as possible?

51

bob mcmanus 11.11.09 at 10:34 pm

49:You’re the best on the blogs, halasz, or at least what I enjoy. Can’t say I am amazed, you stopped amazing me long ago. Just grateful.

50:I saved it to disk. I can work with it. The political section looks useful for another reading of Arendt.

52

Hidari 11.11.09 at 10:34 pm

I should have stressed more strongly, perhaps, that my view of Heidegger is my own, and that Heidegger experts might not agree with me.

However, in my defence….

‘Heidegger’s “Being” Is basically hatched out of Husserl’s notion of a horizon, the background through and against which an intentional object appears. ‘

Well perhaps, in its later forms, but Heidegger’s initial interest in Being stemmed from Aristotle-as-seen-by-Brentano (On the Manifold Meaning of Being in Aristotle). It was only after reading this book that he turned to Husserl (my understanding is).

In any case, I thought Husserl’s view of the background etc. really only gets stressed in his thought in his works of the ’30s? (I could be wrong about this).

A few other points.

‘Being, as that which gives meaning to beings, can not be derived from the “metaphysical” ordering of beings themselves, but rather amounts to something like the transcendental condition of meaning in general, from which specific meanings derive that render beings interpretable as more-or-less what and how they are/appear to be.’

To repeat, this sounds very similar (to me) to negative theology. The whole point of negative theology, we will remember (as in the ‘Death of God’ controversy in the ’60s) is that God does not ‘exist’, but is instead ‘the transcendental condition of meaning (or things) in general’. Which doesn’t mean that H. was a theist, (he wasn’t) but that his ‘discovery’ or ‘rediscovery’ of Being owed something to theological concepts.

‘But it is a mistake to regard Heidegger as a Romantic, for all his Hoelderlin fetishism. If he is to be correlated with artistic labels, it would be expressionist.’

I don’t see ‘Romantic’ and ‘Expressionist’ as antonyms. Au contraire.

‘But to confuse an inquiry into the ground of the grounds of metaphysical rationalism (and its limits) with irrationalism is a question-begging mistake, even if one thinks that is not the most perspicuous way to address such issues.’

But I never called H. an irrationalist. I said he was not a Rationalist, which is definitely true.

53

bianca steele 11.12.09 at 12:56 am

I’m inclined to think what Hidari posted against Heidegger is true. OTOH, people whom I’m inclined to take seriously all dismiss those kinds of arguments to one degree or another (even Rorty does, to some degree). So I have to conclude there’s a good chance my inclination to agree with Hidari is based on simple prejudice (for me, not because of his antisemitism, but because of his antimodernism, although I believe those are related in some way). OTOH, one of the first things I learned about how seriously Heidegger is taken was that grunge rock stars like the heroic one Ethan Hawke played in Reality Bites read him while waiting for their coffee and sandwich.

The idea of putting specific thinkers and their ideas under virtual lock and key strikes me as absurd, and it is not difficult to see how this might have bad side effects.

The NYT article reduces the entire controversy to the question whether being a Nazi is grounds for being written out of philosophy. At least the headline does. The article makes it a teeny-tiny bit subtler, reducing it all to the question whether we should stop reading anyone with antimodern sentiments because they are influenced by Heidegger and therefore have Nazi ideas which are genocida. I suppose there is a case to be made that the average NYT reader doesn’t need to know more than that about abstruse philosophers, but this is extremely frustrating.

54

bianca steele 11.12.09 at 12:57 am

Sorry, those paragraphs got out of order. The one about “lock and key” should be after the one it’s before.

55

john c. halasz 11.12.09 at 4:11 am

Hidari @ 52:

I’m dealing with my own primative understanding of Heidegger and his commentators as well, but…

That Brentano book was handed to Heidegger when he was a high school seminary student. And Brentano, who IIRC was a de-frocked RC priest, was a prime pre-cursor to Husserl’s notion of intentionality. (Curiously, he was also a prime influence on Freud’s notion of Besetzung, officially and artificially translated as “cathexis”, but, with crude literalness, translatable as “putting-upon-ness”). But as to “horizon” being a later conception of Husserl, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. If you’re talking about the conception of “Lebenswelt” in the “Crisis of the European Sciences”, then, yes, that post-dates SuZ, with its conception of Dasein as Being-in-the World, but arguably is an attempted response to SuZ. But “horizon” obviously plays a role in the “simple” phenomenology of perception from the get-go. It was Heidegger who (over)-inflated its role, first in terms of the “worldhood of the world” and then in terms of “Being”.

Heidegger was basically a German peasant boy educated on scholarship to be a RC priest, until he went off the reservation. He always acknowledged the theological background of his thinking, but, still, he insisted that what he was doing was philosophy of sorts, not cryto-theology: “Questioning is the piety of thought”, etc. I.e. his primary concern was with “worldliness” and its transformations, not with any other world.

“Expressionism” is a modernistic “aesthetic” ideology, whatever its various forms. (Kafka was not a flabby expressionist, but, in the same spirit that Hoelderlin was a “classical romantic”, he might be called a “classical expressionist”, since one of his primary models, in terms of exactitude of restrained expression, was von Kleist. Expressionist in content, if not in form). But it was already Nietzsche who broke definitively with romanticism. And many themes in Heidergger are already pre-figured or hinted at in Nietzsche. So much so, that some part of Heidegger reads like a more plodding version of Nietzsche, of whom he claimed an unique, exclusive interpretation/possession. (At any rate, Heidegger would have regarded “romantic irrationalism” as a symptom of the very excess of subjectivity that he was criticizing). It’s true that Heidegger re-a-ex-propriates sources in German romantic tradition, to which he is heir, (not just Hoelderlin, but Schelling). But it is not in terms of the construction of the “Absolute” as the subject-object identity of German Idealism, but precisely in terms of the “ontological difference”, in other words, of the sheer otherness of “Being”, which is not the same as the conventional notion of objective truth. If there were such a thing as “Absolute Truth”, then it would be a truth that contains its own error. Which is where the theme of “errancy” comes into play: not just as a deviation from “the truth”, but as its wanderings. Which is where “expressionism”, as the already intricated responsiveness of Being-in-the-World, comes into play.

But, please, spare us cliches about “romantic irrationalism”.

56

John Holbo 11.12.09 at 4:48 am

Who’s peddling cliches about ‘romantic irrationalism’? Your use of that phrase is the first in the thread, John.

‘Romantic anti-rationalism’ – Hidari’s phrase – isn’t the same thing as irrationalism. You can be an anti-rationalist – Heidegger surely is that, and I guess I would call him post-Romantic, to boot – without being an irrationalist. Not exactly. (If you are going to be a stickler for terms, then stickle .)

You will point out – you have – that Heidegger, like Nietzsche, regards himself as a critic of Romanticism. Fair enough. But I feel I get that a lot from the post-Romantics, like Nietzsche, who are basically kinda sorta still in the game. I don’t think Nietzsche broke ‘decisively’ with Romanticism. Only in certain ways. (Of course he said it was ‘decisive’. Yes, of course. One can’t believe everything these Romantic-types say. Inclined to a certain degree of hyperbole, where their authentic natures are concerned, they are.)

Part of the problem, obviously, is what the hell do we take ‘Romantic’ to mean? But, precisely because that can include a lot, you should be more open to the prospect that saying Heidegger is still a kind of Romantic, denials notwithstanding, makes a certain sense. So it seems to me.

57

john c. halasz 11.12.09 at 5:41 am

bob mcmanus @51:

Aw shucks!

But as to Arendt, yes, her Heideggerian, er, involvement does come through in her emphasis on the political as the pre-eminent domain of worldliness, (as compensating for mortality, no less), whereas her conception of the communicative generation of public-political power owes much to the influence of her mentor, Heidegger’s former running buddy, Karl Jaspers. But there’s another layer. Her “stigmatization” of the modern rise of the “social”, which dis-cumbobulates so many liberal commentators, in favor of a puristic ideal of the Greek polis, runs parallel and analogous to the Frankfurt School notion of the “totally administered society”, which, in turn, runs parallel and analogous to Heidegger’s tergiversations about technology. (IIRC there is an Adorno article called “Society”, in which he complains that modernity suffers from an excess of society). Just as Heidegger appeals to the Pre-Socratics to get back behind the origins of metaphysics, so Arendt, in attempting to revive Greek conceptions of practical reason, over against modern traditions of political theory, of whatever sort, appeals to the pre-theoretic Periclean polis, as a riddling device, to cross-examine modern notions of political theory. It’s not that she holds fast to a puristic or impossibly idealized account of the political domain, but rather that she is attempting to enable political communication, and thus the generation of public-political power, across theoretical barriers. (She can seem to bounce across the conventional political spectrum, as now a conservative, a liberal or a leftist, and thus seem inconsistent, subject to “feminine” whim, but what she is consistently is a republican, if of a Germanic sort).

58

john c. halasz 11.12.09 at 6:13 am

Geo @50:

I’ll try and get back to you later, if I can figure out how to devise a step-wise explication.

59

john c. halasz 11.12.09 at 7:14 am

@56:

So, Boss, I slightly mis-transcribed “romantic anti-rationalism” as “irrationalism”. Does that make any difference with the following?
“I can find more congenial sources of romantic anti-rationalism in the poetry section, so I’ll forget about Heidegger from now on.” @47

And do you really think that “anti-rational” domains such as the arts contain no forms of rigor and “logic” of their own, such that they can sloppily be put down to mere “romanticism”? And do you really think than any critique of rationality, of whatever form, is thereby “anti-rational’? I’ve been merely explicating Heidegger, as best as I know how, without exactly endorsing his points of view. But that goes a long sight better in attempting to understand his Nazi involvement than any liberalistic impulse toward suppression. Which doesn’t want to draw its own points of view into question. Heidegger is arguably not at all “anti-rational”, but merely inquiring, in good Kantian fashion, into the limits of “reason”. (O.K. I don’t quite believe that, but it’s worth considering, since many other cognate inquiries might be more fully to the point.) And any fully serious, rigorous inquiry into the limits of “reason’, since Kant, must abut upon the non-rational, else it’s not doing its job. And hence results in a kind of rational “mysticism”. Which can’t merely be dismissed repressively as “romanticism”.

60

John Quiggin 11.12.09 at 7:51 am

do you really think that “anti-rational” domains such as the arts contain no forms of rigor and “logic” of their own, such that they can sloppily be put down to mere “romanticism”

Evidently not, in my case, at least. My point was that, the romantic critique of rationality, or (if you prefer, “inquiry into the limits of ‘reason”) as undertaken by poets seems much more appealing, and its own terms more rigorous, to me than a critique presented in opaque philosophical prose, and ending (on the most favorable possible account) in deep moral and political confusion.

And where does the imputed snark against romanticism come from? It seems as if you are treating it as an inherently pejorative term. To adapt a phrase that Heidegger could certainly have used in its original form, some of my favorite poets are romantics. Not so many, I admit, of my favorite philosophers.

61

novakant 11.12.09 at 9:49 am

It seems to me that some of the recent posts above (sorry for not being more specific, busy) only make sense if in one way or another “rationality” is posited as a given against which less or anti- rational positions can be contrasted. But if one actually takes the trouble of trying to explicate what this “rationality” is supposed to consist of, it becomes clear quite quickly that there is no such thing with neatly circumscribed borders. If one wanted to hold on to such a concept, one would have to subsume people like Quine under the label “anti-rational”.

62

John Holbo 11.12.09 at 11:26 am

“So, Boss, I slightly mis-transcribed “romantic anti-rationalism” as “irrationalism”. Does that make any difference with the following?”

Dude, if you are going to be getting all sloppy with the terms, then why bother leaping down other people’s throats about allegedly ‘sloppy’ uses of Romanticism? (This from the guy who write, earlier: “It’s a mistake to think that expressionism involves a projection of the self’s inner states upon the world. Rather expressionism turns the self inside out, such that the self and its states are already a part of the world.” Sheesh on a stick.)

You are aware, I take it, that there is a thing called the history of modern European philosophy (give or take) and within that thing, there is a thing called rationalism – or Rationalism. It goes back to Plato, at the very least. And it includes the likes of Leibniz and Spinoza and Descartes. But it does not include the likes of Hume, who is an empiricist. Nor Kant, whose critique of pure reason is, in a sense, a critique of rationalism. But this is not to say that Hume and Kant are irrationalists. Rationalism is a distinctive and strong epistemological position. That said, anti-rationalism comes in lots of flavors, including irrationalism. But not all anti-rationalism is irrationalism. Fair enough? But sometimes one worries that certain expressions of anti-rationalism are irrational. Fair enough?

As to whether Quiggin’s preference for anti-rational poetry is something to get head-up about: I don’t really see why. Let’s grant that there is still a sort of ‘rationality’ and ‘logic’ to poetry. Finefine. Your use of scare quotes shows you want to indicate that these probably aren’t quite what Quiggin would be talking about if he used rationality and logic without the scare quotes. So where’s the bloody mystery in him saying that when he is feeling that a spot of rationality is the opposite of what he craves, spiritually, a bit of poetry might be nice. Exactly what this means is all very puzzling, no doubt, but intuitively it is not very hard to grasp.

“… any liberalistic impulse toward suppression”

What’s liberal about it? Seems more anti-liberal to me.

63

novakant 11.12.09 at 1:20 pm

Rationalism is a distinctive and strong epistemological position.

It’s certainly distinctive, as for “strong”, that depends on the sense you’re using the word in. If you mean “strong” as in “extreme” or, well, “distincive” – yes. If you mean you mean “strong” as in “persuasive” or “high explanatory value”, I would beg to differ quite, erm, strongly.

64

John Holbo 11.12.09 at 1:28 pm

I mean ‘strong’ in the sense of distinctive – ‘that’s a strong claim’.

65

engels 11.12.09 at 1:33 pm

do you really think that “anti-rational” domains such as the arts contain no forms of rigor and “logic” of their own, such that they can sloppily be put down to mere “romanticism”

Do you really (sloppily) think that Romanticism contains no rigour or logic of its own?

66

John Holbo 11.12.09 at 1:41 pm

Quite right, Engels.

67

CPM 11.12.09 at 2:23 pm

I’d have to do some digging to find the cite, but I recall reading that Löwith claimed that Heidegger told him during an encounter in the early/mid-thirties that the Temporality & Historicity chapter of SuZ was the ‘ground for his engagement with National Socialism’.

This is essentially hearsay, and may be misleading even if accurate, but if you’re interested in the question of what led Heidegger to support the Nazis, it’s not a bad place to start.

68

john c. halasz 11.12.09 at 9:01 pm

@62:

I really don’t want to endlessly trade nitpicks with you, as is your wont. (Though that was a potted piece of history of philosophy). The basic point at issue is that characterizing Heidegger as “anti-rational”, (with possible sliding into “irrational”), begs the question and badly misses the point, because he is precisely inquiring into the meaning of “rational” and “reason” in various interpretations and guises. (Cf. @61). I myself characterized the issue as “meta-rational”, and then went on to point to an element of a “reactionary, irrationalistic cult of sacrifice” that gets fused into otherwise sober, at least partly intelligible concerns. (Though there’s nothing wrong with sacrifice, in the sense of renunciation and the suffering of loss, which is just part of life: it’s the cultic aspect that renders it reactionary and objectionable). But inquiry into and reflection upon presuppositions is one of the “essential” things that philosophy does, and Heidegger does it in spades.

But then there is the rush to labeling, which is an Analytic habit, whereby all positions must have an identifying label to be considered, and a thoroughly academic impulse, reducing reason to classification, whereby everything is just a specimen to be stored in a museum drawer. But there is a sense in which Heidegger doesn’t have any position, (or he has many different positions across many different pathways). You, on the other hand, operate with some definite presuppositions about reason and rationality, closely assimilating them to logic and cognition. This is an old and arguably still prevailing tradition, going back to the Latin mistranslation of Aristotle’s saying that man is the rational animal, with “rational” largely meaning cognitive. Any attempt to bring philosophy into proximity with the concerns of art rather than science must then be quickly labeled non-rational, if not irrationalistic, and “romantic”, and the proper boundaries must be policed. Rather than actually looking at the matter at hand and attempting to understand its animating concerns and stakes. Heidegger, of course, belongs to the continental tradition of “objective reason”, to borrow Hegel’s phrase, in which reason inheres or not in the structure of the world, to which thinking and understanding are a response, rather than regarding reason as just a subjective faculty of knowledge, which brings out a different range of concerns than just the “epistemological” securement of knowledge. But then perhaps some “deeper” questions are being raised there, rather than being wrong-footed as illogical or anti-rational, about, say, the situatedness of knowledge (and responsibility for it) in the world and its rootedness in the concerns or needs of life (or power). “Authenticity” is non-criterial, and that, indeed, is a problem, though not because it is merely adventitious. But if there is no (longer) metaphysical unity to the world, nor neo-positivist unified science, nor epistemological foundations, then part of the validity of knowledge must be referred to the authenticity, both the truthfulness and the needfulness, of the projects of the knowers.

I do have a bias against romanticism. (I also have a bias against viewing art in terms of aesthetics, as reduced to the subjective perception of form, fine feelings and good taste). Stereotypically, it involves overblown, indulgent, naively enthusiastic, subjectivistic modes of expression, which could hardly constitute a counter-position, let alone a critique, of excessive rationalism. It’s true that some historically so labeled don’t fit the stereotype, and the greatest of them, such as Hoelderlin, transcend the label itself. But it won’t do to put down all artistic expression to mere romanticism, which can be safely ignored or indulged, nor to oppose art to reason. (Cf. Adorno). But the key issue was the break with romanticism, which Nietzsche effected most of all, which involves the rejection of return, of homecoming, and reconciling the world harmoniously in the bosom of nature or tradition. “Eternal recurrence”, (to which Heidegger oddly adds the phrase “of the same”), is precisely the expression of that break, and the leap into modernism. Which involves “harder”, more rigorous and more objective modes of expression.

That “sheesh on a stick” was an accurate characterization of a move basic to expressionism. Heidegger termed it “Befindlichkeit”. Look it up! But then perhaps you’re discomfitted by the resulting exteriority of the self, or think that Heidegger’s attempt to break-out of idealism and obviate any recourse to the concept of subjectivity didn’t succeed. Adorno sardonically remarked that Dasein was just the Fichtean absolute ego decapitated, (an allusion to the French Revolution chapter in Hegel’s PhG). And later Heidegger criticized earlier Heidegger to precisely that effect. But that exposure of self to world, without which there is no self, won’t be gainsaid by the appeal to the interiority of a purely cognitive ego.

The topic of this thread was a) type fonts and b) Faye vs. Rorty on Heidegger and his Nazi past. I’ve nothing to say about a). It’s Faye who argues that no bien-pensant liberal intellectual should have any truck with Heidegger because he was nothing but a dirty rotten Nazi scoundrel, who should be excluded from the philosophical canon, definitely a gesture of liberalistic suppression. (Though I suspect his book might be a late salvo in the backlash against la pensee soixante-huit). Rorty, who could hardly be more bien-pensant, argues that Heidegger remains a central figure in the transformations of late modern philosophy, who can hardly be dispensed with, since no one else so “deeply”, rigorously, and systematically unearthed and undermined the the presuppositions of traditional philosophic thought and its traces and residues. I’m with Rorty. The work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein together brought out the “centrality” of language to thinking and understanding (and thus knowing and doing) in a way that simply had not been comprehended before, (as opposed to prior appeals to consciousness or “mind” as grounds of thought and knowledge). And in my view, they also undermined the concurrent project of the logical analysis of language, as begging the question, (since language usage is the larger, more extensive “category” and it doesn’t necessarily have a purely logical structure, nor solely logical or cognitive functions). That was a huge game-changer, resulting in the ambiguous “end” of philosophy, which I don’t think we’re done with yet. (I.e. we are still re-thinking our ends).

Now, if I do manage to formulate a response to Geo @ 50, would you please just leave it alone.

69

Anderson 11.12.09 at 11:09 pm

Mr. Halasz, as a disinterested observer, I’m not sure I grasp the sense of asking a blog poster to “leave alone” a comment you inscribe under his blog post, on his blog.

70

jholbo 11.13.09 at 1:06 am

john c. halasz: “The basic point at issue is that characterizing Heidegger as “anti-rational”, (with possible sliding into “irrational”), begs the question and badly misses the point, because he is precisely inquiring into the meaning of “rational” and “reason” in various interpretations and guises.”

No, it does not. It is perfectly possible to be an anti-rationalist or irrationalist who is, with some degree of success or failure, inquiring into the meaning of ‘rational’ or ‘reason’ in various interpretations and guises. In fact that’s just the sort of thing you would expect an anti-rationalist or irrationalist to do. Why should it be that the mere fact that you are investigating the word ‘rational’ immunizes you from being anti- or irrational?

“But then there is the rush to labeling, which is an Analytic habit …”

Look, it makes no sense to be all persnickety about terms and then, when it is pointed out that you yourself are being a bit loose with terms (and there is for sure no point in being selectively persnickety and loose, just for rhetorical advantage) accuse those who are demanding a certain degree of consistency of engaging in an analytic ‘rush to labeling’. (Can I call you an analytic philosopher now, because of your determination to use ‘expressionism’ very precisely? I hardly think that makes sense)

“Any attempt to bring philosophy into proximity with the concerns of art rather than science must then be quickly labeled non-rational, if not irrationalistic, and “romantic”, and the proper boundaries must be policed.”

Look, this is sheer projection. For better or worse, YOU are the one who regards this notion – Romanticism – as a contaminant to be kept at arms length at all costs. We’re trying to sneak a bit over the Heideggerian border and you are telling us our papers aren’t in order. That’s what we are objecting to. Why are you so determined to police the borders of Heideggerianism against romanticism?

“You, on the other hand, operate with some definite presuppositions about reason and rationality, closely assimilating them to logic and cognition.”

OK, tell me what my definite presuppositions are. I think, actually, I’m operating with a pretty rough and ready notion of reason and rationality, for purposes of this thread. (I’m a ‘back to the rough ground’ kind of guy, after all.) On the one hand, there’s Rationalism, as a specific epistemological position. On the other hand, there’s what people like Quiggin mean when they say ‘rational’, which is not very technical or definite. You are on the wrong side of the former usage because anti-Rationalism is not irrationalism. And you are on the wrong side of the latter because where’s the harm in saying that poetry is ‘not-rational’, or ‘anti-rational’ in this very rough, ordinary sense? If someone says they prefer reading poetry to reading Heidegger – and, after all, Heidegger does tell us to read poetry – is this such an unintelligible attitude? Back to the rough ground!

“I do have a bias against romanticism. (I also have a bias against viewing art in terms of aesthetics, as reduced to the subjective perception of form, fine feelings and good taste). Stereotypically, it involves overblown, indulgent, naively enthusiastic, subjectivistic modes of expression, which could hardly constitute a counter-position, let alone a critique, of excessive rationalism.”

But think what an impossible standard you are setting here: just because there are (let’s grant) useless uses of ‘romanticism’, it hardly follows there aren’t any useful ones. So you can hardly just sterotype them all, negatively, as negatively stereotypical. That’s not sensible.

“But the key issue was the break with romanticism, which Nietzsche effected most of all, which involves the rejection of return, of homecoming, and reconciling the world harmoniously in the bosom of nature or tradition. “Eternal recurrence”, (to which Heidegger oddly adds the phrase “of the same”), is precisely the expression of that break, and the leap into modernism. Which involves “harder”, more rigorous and more objective modes of expression.”

This is getting into a lot of other stuff now. Fatalism, for starters. Nietzsche actually affirming eternal recurrence, for another. Heidegger misreading that as a metaphysical slip of the foot, for a third. (Well, I say it’s a misreading.) Eternal Recurrence is anti-Romantic, I grant, but not because it is a rejection of ‘return’, obviously. As to why it has to be ‘the same’ – the phrase is Nietzsche’s, not Heidegger’s, right? At any rate, the idea is in Nietzsche. That the same exact thing – down to every detail, this spider, this shadow – has to happen again and again.

71

jholbo 11.13.09 at 1:16 am

One last thing: “But then perhaps you’re discomfitted by the resulting exteriority of the self”

Well, it depends what that means. On one interpretation, it might be quite like the sort of Wittgensteinian-Davidsonian externalist line I myself tend to favor, and on that reading I wouldn’t be discomfitted by it in the least. It might, on the other hand, be a kind if Husserlian transcendental intersubjectivity, and I think I would not be discomfitted by that, but I would disagree with it, since I think that take turns out to be an incoherent idealism. I’ve often been told by my Heideggerian friends that Heidegger is basically saying the same thing that I already think – I just have a different, more Wittgensteinian or analytic idiom for expressing it. Then again it may be that I’m missing something more Urspringlich here. But I doubt it is going to be the notion that the self and world are not as easily divided as Descartes supposed. That one is not exactly a shocker these days.

72

jholbo 11.13.09 at 1:39 am

“On the other hand, there’s what people like Quiggin mean when they say ‘rational’, which is not very technical or definite.”

Not that Quiggin couldn’t mean something highly technical by it in a different context. But this just isn’t that context.

73

nnyhav 11.13.09 at 1:45 am

FYI: bookforumblogblock on the typology if not typography (or should that be topo-s?)

74

john c. halasz 11.13.09 at 7:58 am

@70–72:

I have no desire to get into an exchange of nitpicking tu quoques (or IOW a pissing match). Are you claiming that I’ve significantly misread, mis-interpreted, or mis-represented the rough gist of Heidegger’s work/thought here? (At you’ve just slipped from “anti-rational” to “anti-rationalist”, which are much different matters, however “defined”). Look, Heidegger is not anti-rational or irrationalist in the way of e.g. Ludwig Klages. He has a well-defined reasonably rational method in terms of phenomenology, even as he works it out and revises it as he goes along. (Albeit late, he makes claims to have left phenomenology behind, and even hermeneutics, which becomes “a bringing of tidings”. But even those preposterous claims, if they are to be made out, require the following out of the method he claims to have abandoned, with the latter claim presumably referring to the “sendings” of Being). And Heidegger is clearly pursuing a precedented project in his own wise, that others have pursued otherwise, of a critique of reason with respect to its limits, which makes no sense, if one has simply repudiated reason. (Yes, Kant looms large here). But more, “reason” has lost its unity, is subject to differentiations, and provides no guarantees or justifications of “ultimate” outcomes. (Again Heidegger is not the only one to have noticed that; Max Weber, among others, made analogous observations). Heidegger’s inquiry into the ground of the ground of “reason”, (which might not be the most perspicuous approach, as it hypostatizes and entangles itself with the very metaphysics that it is criticizing), ends up with an “Abgrund”. But then that is the result of a rigorous pursuit of the self-referential critique of reason, and the paradoxes that entails. (Which precisely require re-thinking). It doesn’t suffice to dismiss that as merely “anti-rational”, especially if one appeals to some purely logical method, which itself has its origin in the metaphysical substantialism that is at the root of traditional logic. (Though I have no objection to logic per se, provided one recognizes the limits of its applicability, nor to attempt to devise alternative logical formalizations to attempt to remedy defects. It’s just that logic is not the same as or tantamount to “reason”). To assume otherwise is not only to re-assert, fairly dogmatically, one’s own privileged account of reason or what is rational, but to impute a concealed motivation to undermine “reason” for the sake of some irrational “gain”. When what is at stake is perhaps that reason alone guarantees, justifies, or gains us less than we might have hoped.

As to Nietzsche, I do believe that it was Heidegger who added the tag “of the same”, so as to fit him into his scheme as the last metaphysician. But “mature” Nietzsche is intensely oriented toward the future, “projective”, while drawing on both biological-evolutionary and historicist themes. “Eternal recurrence” involves facing “fate”, but there is no notion that its successive iterations would involve the “same” fate. For Nietzsche, the past returns, but only through the future and that past only returns differently. That is the break with “home-coming”, with the strong implication that the “tradition” of the future must be created anew, is not, will not be, a recovery of the past. Just to add one more point, Nietzsche transforms the romantic cult of genius, as the unconscious child of nature. into an exultation of instinct. Surely, there is a sharp irony directed against any romantic antecedents there. But I think I’m making a fairly conventional interpretation of Nietzsche, and not claiming any sort of originality or expertise here.

As to labeling, well, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Davidson are all significantly “externalists”, but that does little to make fruitful comparison. And one can be, say, an “internalist” about cognition and an “externalist’ about ethics (Kant?). Such labels neither catch the cross-hatchings of implications between different areas of a thinkers work, nor does it capture the precise shadings and degrees of their supposed externalism or whatnot, (since no one believes that, e.g., linguistic signs operate without their understanding). Such an apparatus of labeling is meant to make sure the everything is logically “clear” and methodically derived, so no one goes off the reservation and gets too “original”. But I don’t think it suffices to get at the shadings, complications and even obscurities of differing projects of thinking, nor does it somehow obviate mutual misunderstandings. (Elsewhere, I think you’ve over- and mis-applied the label “counter-Enlightenment”, and here I think you’ve over-generalized the label “romantic”).

As to expressionism and Heidegger, I do think I’ve got it correct here. (Not true, since I think emotions are not responses to one’s sheer situatedness in the world, but rather to relational balances and instabilities with others. But in either case they are response to something going on out there, and not merely subjective, interior or psychological, even if that something is not an object). A fauve and an expressionist painting might seem the same, with marked coloration that “distorts” the scene ostensibly represented. But on reflection, each works differently. And I don’t think that such distinctions are not worth making. But my suspicion is that “romantic” is being invoked because all art is merely subjective, imaginary, merely psychological. such that one can submit to the rigors of reason while enjoying the wishful pleasures of art: cake and eating. But all genuine art, romantic or otherwise, is objective expression, not dependent on authorial intention, though certainly on authorial craft. And works of art have an independent existence, just as much a scientific theories do. (If we do without a reflection or correspondence theory of truth, then the same question pertains to works of art as to scientific theories: what, then, are they responsible to?) For Heidegger, art works are a privileged locus for the “worlding of the world”. Adorno’s alternative is that they are “the most sensitive seismograph of historical experience”. I’ll evade any vexing questions about the cognitive status or truth-value of art works, (since their basic paradox is the convincing power of what is obviously a fake), but if unreal, they are nonetheless worldly happenings: they tell us something of the otherness of the world and others in it, and estrange us from self-satisfied interiority or too easy identifications. Since the notion of philosophical evidence, as opposed to argument, is problematical, then why not avail oneself of a resource for non-objectifying thinking, which doesn’t detract from the genuine accomplishments of objectifying thinking within its place and limits?

“Exteriority” is not from Heidegger, but from the French reception of Heidegger. I’ve no idea who invented the term, but it might have been Levinas, perhaps together with his close friend and co-respondent, Blanchot, since that was pretty much the earliest French reception of Heidegger. It signifies not just the intrication of the particular human existence in the world and its exposure to it, but also its exposure in the “face” of the other. It takes aim at Heidegger’s account of Mitsein, as a participation in the world with others on the basis of common communal standards, if not identical ends, which fails to take into account the immanence of the other in the constitution of the interiority of a self, even “prior” to it. (And as I said above, this appeal to participation in common practical standards as norms as the basis of Mitsein already contains a latent functionalism, which comes out if one compares Heidegger to some of his contemporary fellow travellers on the German right). But perhaps the point is that you should be discomfitted by such exteriority, since it means the permanent disruption, the basic impossibility of any undivided unity to the “identity” of an interior self, which can’t be repaired cognitively, since it’s an existential issue. But then for Levinas, at least, such a divided condition in the world before the other is the very condition of responsibility, “sincerity”, which comes “before” cognitive rationality.

Yes, Quiggin is an economist and he doesn’t have to read Heidegger, nor does anyone else. He gets it a bit wrong in that the critique of the limits of reason refers to Kant, and I don’t think that the poets of the romantic reaction against “cold” reason could do the same duty. But then he, qua economist, might be adverse to considering the ambiguity and ambivalence of technological complexes, since innovation must be had at all costs to maintain the rate of profit, er, investment, and “efficiency” is the universal criterion of economic rationality, which doesn’t acknowledge the limits and damages of such sheer instrumentalism. Better to compensate for such concerns by enjoying a good book of poetry. And, of course, war is bad and self-defeatingly destructive and supporting brutally authoritarian regimes is bad and reprehensible. Who knew? But then in history, human beings don’t have infinite options, nor readily malleable preferences, but must chose nonetheless, with results that are not always a wonder to behold. (To be clear, I’m not implying that Quiggin is stupid, and doesn’t think, in his own wise, about some of these issues. I’m suggesting some of the foregoing might in some wise be relevant to re-thinking the priorities of economics, though he may dismiss it as he pleases).

In case you don’t get it, I’m not an Heideggerian or an enthusiast for him. He’s a highly ambivalent figure, both to behold and in the complexion of his own thinking. My eclectic philosophical preferences lie elsewhere. But I think he is a substantial, considerable thinker, who can’t simply be dismissed lazily as a pompous Nazi blowhard. I just been doing yeoman’s work here in roughly explicating his work, so that some might come to judgment on where his Nazi involvement might fit in. I don’t think it a trivial or readily resolvable issue, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. (If I’d take a guess at how to understand his sudden Nazi enthusiasm, I’d point to the “First System Program of German Idealism”, which was “originally” a progressive-liberal reformist proposal to promulgate a popular religion on the basis of “enlightened” philosophical reflection, and thereby renew the German nation, which Heidegger managed to re-interpret in rightist terms).

75

jholbo 11.13.09 at 9:38 am

Well, I’ll be brief: what induces me to snark at you, john, is that you seem to me to spend a lot of time attributing views to your interlocutors that no reasonable person would believe they hold, on the basis of what they say. I think this is a rhetorical tic, not a sign that you are actually incapable of determining what views people are likely to hold, based on what they say. But I think it ends up being something of a drag on the conversation. No doubt snarking about it is not the thing for getting the conversation back up to speed, so there is enough guilt all around.

(That ought to be a generic salutation, for closing thread. When there is enough guilt to go around, the conversation may be brought to a decent close.)

76

Hidari 11.13.09 at 11:19 am

John C. Halasz, 11/11/09

‘But to confuse an inquiry into the ground of the grounds of metaphysical rationalism (and its limits) with irrationalism is a question-begging mistake, even if one thinks that is not the most perspicuous way to address such issues.’

John C. Halasz : 06/04/05

‘Whether Heidegger’s thought is “fascist through and through”, as Adorno claimed, is not a question that can be readily and easily decided. Certainly Heidegger was always an arch-conservative thinker veering toward the rechts-radikal, and there is a deep strain of a reactionary, irrationalistic, elitist cult of sacrifice built into his thought. ‘

77

john c. halasz 11.13.09 at 9:58 pm

@75:

To review. You stuck up of Quiggen. But what Quiggin said was utterly conventional and banal: good, he doesn’t have to deal with that monster Heidegger, he can read some poetry instead, and moral and political confusion are to be avoided at all costs, since nothing could possibly be learned from them. (Quiggin is by no means obliged to attend to Heidegger, least of all out of any attempt to keep up with some bogus prestige, but an old German mandarin might have been tempted to label such an attitude “philistine”). Then you stick up for Hidari, who said “anti-rational”, “irrational”: correction accepted. And then Hidari says that romanticism and expressionism are the same thing: no they’re not.

Then you insist on some capacious sense of the use of “romantic”, such that anything that is excessive, hyperbolic, subjectivistic, possibly irrational, merely expressive, or otherwise not in accordance with a strictly objective sense of rationality can be so labeled. But that’s not actually an idea of rationality or objectivity, so much as the imposition of a certain notion of “economy”. The key point I made above, yes, Heidegger draws on German romantic antecedents, together with many other antecedents, but the ontological difference is not the same as the absolute subject-object identity of German Idealism, but rather concerns precisely the otherness of Being, in fact, its changeable and incalculable objectivity. No response is made to that point. Completely overlooked.

Look, I don’t know the precise contours of your positions, because you never seem to lay them out, instead of engaging in pot and kettle calling contests. I can roughly guess at some of it, Davidson’s true-conditional semantics and the like. But then you do routinely slap labels on your interlocutors/antagonists. For instance, you call them “anti-realists” when no one involved is denying the existence of a real external world or the efficacy of causal processes, though there might be some differences on exactly how that is “picked up and gathered together”. But it’s obscure to me just what “guarantee” you think you can proffer with respect to securing that reality. If you’d want to call Wittgenstein a realist, I’d agree, though of a non-scientific, non-metaphysical sort, but I don’t think it would have occurred to him to proffer some “guarantee” of that reality, as superfluous, rather than just dealing with it. With “discrimination”. Else there is some suspicion of teleology and tendentiousness.

As to cognitivism, whereby nothing is susceptible to rational “justification” unless it takes cognitive form, it’s widespread across many academic disciplines and elsewhere. (It takes a really silly form in the “new atheism” debates). I don’t think you’re, er, uncontaminated by it. Be that as it may, I don’t think everything of relevance to philosophical thinking or concerns is cognitive, else irrational: I would take ethics to be non-cognitive, though not thereby insusceptible to reasonings. What’s more, having long since lost its claim to self-grounding “autonomy”, philosophy exercises no specific cognitive claims and there is no such thing as distinctively philosophical knowledge as such: philosophers don’t know anything, except in the same way as everybody else does. Philosophy, in my book, doesn’t concern truth, which is an empirical matter in everyday life, as in sciences, but rather the interpretation and analysis of meaning and ethical ways of life.

I don’t make it my business to try and police or censor internet threads, which would be futile anyway. And I generally try not to get angry or rude, except to counter when someone is being so him/herself. If you want to talk type fonts, go ahead. If you want to snark on behalf of others or yourself, or make deficient arguments- ( like, “of course, an irrationalist would claim to criticize the limits of reason”)- be my guest. But hey, I’m a hermeneutics guy and I try to interpret things as fairly and accurately as I can. If that means being a “stickler” for certain distinctions and differences, so be it. If you think those distinctions are wrong or not pertinent in explicating the matter at hand, then you could lay out your own distinction and explications rather than just snark, while over-looking most of what I’ve typed.

LA FIN

78

john c. halasz 11.13.09 at 10:10 pm

Hidari @76:

I don’t remember the context of the ’05 quote, but I fail to see what you’re getting at, since I’ve said similar things here. Er, the sentence just above the one you cited from @49; “It’s true that there is an element of a reactionary, irrationalistic cult of sacrifice attached to Heidegger’s otherwise meta-rational thinking”. And Adorno’s claim is mention @29.
Very well, I repeat myself.

79

engels 11.13.09 at 10:38 pm

Well, you appear to be saying that there is a ‘deep strain of… irrationalism… built into [Heidegger's] thought’ but it’s a ‘question-begging mistake’ to ‘confuse [his project] with… irrationalism’. On some natural readings that’s just contradictory.

I suppose what you mean (and it’s a possible reading of what you wrote) is that although there are irrational elements in (even ‘built into’) Heidegger’s project there’s more to it than mere irrationalism. Fair enough, I guess, but (i) Quiggin didn’t actually say that there wasn’t and (ii) it’s not really the simplest way of stating the point.

80

engels 11.13.09 at 10:41 pm

Fwiw I don’t endorse Hidari’s or John Quiggin’s dismissal of Heidegger, though.

81

John Holbo 11.14.09 at 2:32 am

John, since you yourself apparently agree, after all, that there is a strain of anti-ratonalism in Heidegger, which tips over into irrationalism at certain points, perhaps we can agree to agree about that. Our only dispute, it turns out, was over what you are imagining we will go on to say next.

And as to those suspicious imaginings: you say I am presupposing something wrong about logic, rationality, I am afraid of exteriority, I am using ‘romantic’ in an idiotically broad way, I am ‘not uncontaminated by’ this and that. Fine, but would it kill you to substantiate any of these allegations, if you feel strongly enough about them to make them? Point out something I have said that suggests I think something really wrong. Otherwise, cut that stuff out. It’s just not helpful.

82

john c. halasz 11.14.09 at 6:19 am

@81:

What is this? An attempt at modus ponens, because we “agree” on one point, you’ve checked your logic manual and found the p’s and q’s, ergo? No, I’ve been attempting to lay out the “rational” content of Heidegger and separate out any “irrational” residues,- (which goes to assessing his Nazi involvement)- and have thereby exposed myself. You have laid out next to nothing. It would be incumbent on you to lay out what you mean by “rational” and to delineate its limits, if you want to make the charge of “anti-rational(ism)”,- (again a slippage), or “irrationalism” stick. In the absence of that, I can only guess. But is the contingency of human existence “irrational”? Or the contingency of historical epochs and social formations? Is the sense of absurdity a sign of irrationalism, or rather of the failure of rationalism? (Or maybe it’s just a communicative disorder). How do you want to demarcate those limits? And how would you remedy them? (Are Kant, Hegel, Husserl, similarly irrational, in your book, and therefore Heidegger, too? Or is it that the deficiencies and failures of those prior projects authorizes a forgetting and a restoration of “logical” norms?)

Wittgenstein analogized what he was up to with psychoanalysis, not because he was sympathetic to psychologism, but because philosophical theories were defensive structures, basically against the “heartache and thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”, (but also implicitly, at least, against exposure to the other), by which philosophers abstracted themselves from, evaded, buttressed against or hid out from the “real” issues. But contrary to Freud, who claimed to uncover the hidden sense behind apparent non-sense,Wittgenstein sought to uncover the hidden non-sense behind apparent “rational” sense. (Hence the opening of PI, which shows the impossibility of purely ostensive definition, is directed against Russell’s notion that the primary form of knowledge is “by acquaintance”. What could be more reasonable than that?) So maybe relaxing the boundaries of theoretical “rationality” to look at its own hidden non-sense might be in order here. Before one engages in angry, resentful imputations of “irrationality” and seeks to “triumph”over it.

No, it’s not been me who’s been operating in bad faith here, Prof. Holbo. It’s you. Now go back to your comic books or whatnot, boy.

83

John Holbo 11.14.09 at 7:20 am

“You have laid out next to nothing.”

Look, if you really think this is true – and I certainly hope you do, because it certainly looks true in this thread at least – then why have you been accusing me all this stuff?

How can it be good faith on your part to attribute to me angry, resentful, narrow, wrong, ‘contaminated’, over-reaching beliefs when you yourself admit you don’t really have much of an idea about what I believe?

How can it be bad faith on my part to point out that we actually seem to agree about the negative stuff about Heidegger, as far as it goes: namely, it is reasonable to think he is an anti-rationalist who tips over at points into a kind of mystical irrationalism. Now the rest is subject to subtle negotation, but you are shutting all that down in advance with all this hair-trigger hermeneutics of suspicion. You are concerned that the likes of Hidari and Quiggin may think only this negative thing about H., and not bother to find out anything that might reflect more positively. (I hope you’ve read my post carefully enough to know that I think Heidegger should be taken quite seriously.) But then you should say THAT, rather than feigning that the negative thing is obviously wrong, when you don’t actually even think it is yourself. You think it’s sort of right. Nevertheless, Heidegger should be taken very seriously.

In answer to your queries: are Kant, Hegel, Husserl similarly irrational in my book, and therefore Heidegger. Toss in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, for good measure. The answers are ‘no, yes, no, yes, yes, yes.’ That is, I don’t see much irrationalism in Kant or Husserl. But it is important that Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein all have these powerful irrationalist streaks in them. Now this is pretty crude and blunt. They are all very different. But in each case there is a strong anti-philosophy (in the traditional sense) force at work: a sense that traditional rational arguments cannot be what philosophy is about. This can manifest itself as mysticism – or a tendency to flirt with mysticism. And/or as a kind of self-assertion of personality. I think it’s no accident that Hegel, Heidegger and Wittgenstein have a tendency to be unhelpfuly overbearing in their self-presentations. I think of this as being basically a post-Romantic impulse, although that’s also not a fully adequate formulation (obviously). Schlegel: it is impossible either to have a system or not. You have to combine the two. Philosophy must be authentically self-expressive.

To put it another way “Is the sense of absurdity a sign of irrationalism, or rather of the failure of rationalism?”

Maybe a bit from column A, a bit from column B? Possible, no? Something to be considered, eh?

Seriously, my point is just this. You admit that you have no idea what I think, and yet you spend a lot of time making wild guesses about the terrible, stupid things I probably think. But what makes it plausible that I think these terrible, stupid things? Wouldn’t it be more sensible just to ask me what I think, rather than making something up, if you are curious? It isn’t as though I’m unwilling to respond.

84

John Quiggin 11.14.09 at 9:16 am

#77 JCH You certainly have some pretty strong assumptions about economists (Try Googling Quiggin+efficiency+excessive for example).

No doubt, as a mere user of the results of philosophical work, my concerns are banal and philistine. I would like to find out about the limits of reason both in epistemological terms (to what extent can economic theories be said to be confirmed or refuted by evidence or logical critique) and as an issue in economics and decision theory (to what extent can people anticipate and plan for all possible contingencies, and how can we reason about the limits on such anticipation and planning). Some things I’ve read suggest that Heidegger might have something useful to say on these questions, but what I’ve looked at is very hard going. And then there’s the whole Nazi thing. This thread (your defences even more than Hidari’s criticism) have convinced me that I can save my time. As you say, I don’t have to read Heidegger, and I intend to exercise my rights in this respect.

But if anyone can point me to philosophers who would actually be helpful to me on the questions I’ve mentioned, I would be very grateful.

85

Hidari 11.14.09 at 12:23 pm

‘Fwiw I don’t endorse Hidari’s or John Quiggin’s dismissal of Heidegger, though.’

Whoa…ease up there, tiger. I didn’t and don’t ‘dismiss’ Heidegger. As I pointed out at the beginning, I’ve actually used his philosophy in my own work. I have a deep personal distaste for the man, and the whole Nazi thing just won’t go away , but that doesn’t mean that I think Heidegger was a fraud or a charlatan or anything like that. It does mean that in many important respects I think he was wrong* but that’s a very different response.

*Specifically about the whole ‘Being’ thing, which, after all, H. thought of as his major insight. It’s interesting that Wittgenstein, who was a lot more sympathetic to Heidegger than I am, also thought H. had it wrong here and I attempted, above, to explain why.

86

novakant 11.14.09 at 1:17 pm

because where’s the harm in saying that poetry is ‘not-rational’, or ‘anti-rational’ in this very rough, ordinary sense?

I’m not sure if great harm is being done, but saying so would be ignorant nonsense. Sorry to be so brusque, but you can’t have your cake and eat it.

87

Alun 11.14.09 at 2:09 pm

“on that whole what-fonts-did-the-Nazis-outlaw? question. Remember?”

Actually the answer “just about all of them”, though presumably not at the same time. Fraktur (and the more ornate Schwabacher) was eventually banned on the bizarre (and, not that it matters, inaccurate) basis that it was a “Jewish” typeface.

88

John Holbo 11.14.09 at 2:12 pm

Well, I don’t suppose there’s much point arguing about it past this point, novakant. I just think it’s clear enough what Quiggin was getting at. Something like: ‘since Heidegger says I should read poetry, and since I like poetry better than Heidegger, I’ll just take my antidote to the Enlightenment/my requisite not-rational thing/anti-rational thing/divine inspiration/glimmer of Being/whateverthehellpoetryreallyis straight.’ Is that so nonsensical an attitude?

89

bob mcmanus 11.14.09 at 2:23 pm

82:No, it’s not been me who’s been operating in bad faith here, Prof. Holbo. It’s you. Now go back to your comic books or whatnot, boy.

I was walking my 75 pound male dog the other evening when we were attacked by a posse of ten pound furballs. The alpha furball got right in my dude’s face, defending his territory and demonstrating his leadership to his crew, who mostly hung back and gave moral support. Yap Yap Yap. My guy just stared and then went on his business.

I remember all the Holbo-Kotsko threads at The Valve . Holbo was very hard to nail, so Kotsko eventually just moved on. I sometimes think it can be an advantage to not understand the substance of a conversation, so you can cut through to tone and intent.

90

John Holbo 11.14.09 at 2:38 pm

Sorry, did you just call me 75 pound dog, or did you just call me a 10 pound dog with a posse, bob?

91

engels 11.14.09 at 2:53 pm

So Bob what you are proposing is that whenever you see a philosophical argument between two people, one of whom appears to be trying to interrogate the other’s position while the other seems unwilling to engage, you can infer that the second is right, without troubling to understand what either are saying, on the basis of some vaguely macho interpretation you put on the behaviour of some dogs?

92

engels 11.14.09 at 3:44 pm

I think the main problem with this thread is the confusion between ‘irrational’, ‘anti-rational’, ‘anti-rationalist’, also ‘rational’ and ‘rationalist’, and what is meant by thesee terms, and whether these are meant as criticisms of Heidegger’s philosophy in whole or in part. There also seems in some quarters to be a level of personal hostility and suspicion directed at other participants that is a bit hard to understand.

93

JoB 11.14.09 at 3:51 pm

Not to forget a level of personal amicability and praise of other participants that wasn’t too hard to understand (but that was at the beginning).

94

bob mcmanus 11.14.09 at 4:12 pm

90:Yeah, John, you’re the Big Dog

91:interrogate the other’s position while the other seems unwilling to engage

It’s always about the framing and controlling the discourse, isn’t it? Willing to engage on whose terms, about what?

The Kotsko-Holbo disputes always ended in accusations of “bad faith” versus “unwillingness to engage.” Kotsko had trouble describing what Holbo was really doing, I certainly could do no better than he. There are questions of method, and questions of substance. The K-H arguments were usually about Zizek, and IIRC, the incomprehensibility of the “Real” or “negation of the negation” or whatever (Anglo-American vs Continental?). Whatever. I sense an ideological substrate.

I often try to do an amateurish ignorant kind of discourse analysis on comment threads. Who jumps in, with what intent, etc. I have always felt, even when I understood very little of what he said, that Halasz is trying to help, to inform, to explain.

Holbo is more amusing.

95

bob mcmanus 11.14.09 at 5:17 pm

To move a little sidewise, do laypersons have to be able to competently discuss DSGE modeling before they can ask and understand why a generation of supposedly liberal economists affiliated themselves with DSGE? The first is nearly impossible for a layperson; the second I believe is a necessity.

Apparently, the academic economists are having a bit of trouble understanding themselves

Mark Thoma, in that thread, admits to never having read the 70s papers on the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu Theorem. Therein lies a clue about economists. I read those papers a few years ago, but I would, wouldn’t I?

96

novakant 11.14.09 at 5:27 pm

Referring back to my #61 and the recent #92 I’ll try to flesh things out with a couple of examples, so here goes “rational vs the other thing”:

1.) philosophy – rational or the other thing?

It always amazes me how current philosophers simply jump the gun, more or less ignore 2000 years of criticism of / investigation into “rationality” and end up contrasting “philosophy” = rational (and maybe mathematics/physics, even though most of them don’t really have a clue when it comes to that) with “most other stuff” = not rational/insufficiently rational or whatever. Such statements are so swiping as to be completely embarrassing in that they convey either actual or wilful ignorance of the tradition.

2.) art – rational or the other thing?

I’m a film editor and while I’m not sure you would want to call the end product of my efforts art (I don’t care and will leave that to others), I can assure you both from my own experience and that of artists I know, that the production of such works in almost all cases entails a ton of conscious cognitive work – as can easily be seen when one looks at the endless revisions most works of art go through – on the part of those producing it, possibly more cognitive effort, gasp, than goes into your bog standard academic paper. So the whole “strike of genius in the middle of the night” or “unconscious outpouring of emotion that translates immediately into a work of art” is a bunch of hooey that applies in maybe 1 of a 1000 cases. The same goes for the Neo-platonist “artists are lying – philosophy/science speaks the truth” assumption in all its variations.

3.) The self – rational or the other thing?

Try therapy, or deconstruction for that matter – you might be surprised.

97

John Holbo 11.14.09 at 6:03 pm

novakant, I don’t think it’s very likely that anyone in this thread – let alone contemporary philosophers – is/are assuming the validity of such ludicrously oversimple and manifestly implausible views. These are the straw-iest of straw men you are attacking.

98

novakant 11.14.09 at 6:34 pm

Considering the extensive amount of oversimplification you have engaged in above, I think you are not really in a position to voice complaints in this regard.

99

John Quiggin 11.14.09 at 7:24 pm

@95 That’s a big jump, but the answer is “No” at least I hope so. I’m writing about how and why new Keynesian economists went for DGSE, and while I’m not a layperson, I’m certainly not a DGSE expert.

On the SMD theorem, I obviously didn’t get the memo here, and presumably neither did Mark Thoma, since a lot of people seem suddenly to have decided it’s the Godel theorem of neoclassical micro. Aggregation is problematic and there is no guarantee of uniqueness in general equilibrium. Who knew?

Sorry to threadjack, but I doubt this aside is going to derail typography and philosophical disputes.

100

bianca steele 11.14.09 at 7:33 pm

it is reasonable to think [Heidegger] is an anti-rationalist who tips over at points into a kind of mystical irrationalism

I missed a bunch of posts in the middle there, probably around the time the baby changed my screen resolution to an illegal value, and anyway I make it a kind of policy to stay away from certain kinds of trolls.

But what I want to know is this: Has he provided a philosophical argument–a convincing argument using the tools of philosophy–in favor of his anti-rationalism and mystical irrationalism; and do we really have to assume he has done so, unless and until he is proved either not to have been a real philosopher (as Faye would have it), or excluded on the grounds of being a Nazi, or something? (I am assuming that we cannot replace the second possibility by something like “he was a philosopher and that means he is not in favor of anti-rationalism and mystical irrationalism, so don’t you average NYT readers worry your pretty little heads,” while at the same time those pre-inclined to mystical irrationalism can put Being and Time on their shelves and feel they are not only justified but actually academically superior to people who think the text is, you know, kind of turgid and difficult.)

101

bianca steele 11.14.09 at 7:36 pm

And, obviously, this question does not concern it itself with a philosophical issue, and neither do I want to threadjack what is actually a pretty nice lesson in Heidegger for those students of philosophy (not necessarily academic) who haven’t yet found a way into it yet.

102

bianca steele 11.15.09 at 12:58 am

@100 looks a little hostile in retrospect. I suppose I should ask whether mysticism etc. is really what Heidegger is arguing in favor of, as opposed to whether this is something people who try to understand his real point might conclude about him.

103

John Holbo 11.15.09 at 2:51 am

novakant: “Considering the extensive amount of oversimplification you have engaged in above, I think you are not really in a position to voice complaints in this regard.”

Look, you need to be a bit more sensitive to context and what people plausibly mean by what they say. Very often people say something like ‘this vs. that’ without actually believing there is a dayglow bright line between this and that. You surely know this: now apply it to this thread. Take my post, for example, plus the Tschichold review I linked (to take only the most handy evidence that your charges can’t possibly be just, against me). Is it really likely, having written as much about typography as I have, that I think it’s a completely irrational inspirational process by which romantic types fling-flang little letters all over the place? No. Is it plausible that there is a romantic/irrational element in Tschichold’s philosophy of type – his philosophy of his art? Yes, there is a kind of Romanticism to a stance like this: ‘This is the Age of the Engineer. We must use sans serif only. There will be no discussion.’ Is there something irrational about a stance like that. Yes, I think there is, and was at the time. Does it follow that I must think that Tschichold is a flaming irrationalist, through and through. No, obviously I have to think exactly the opposite, because I know a lot about him, and about the complexities of typography. Now what about art in practice? Tschichold emphasized the notion of ‘tact’ – that is, having the ‘touch’. So much of being an artistic success, and a competent craftsperson (there’s another division to bridge, but on we go) is acquiring ‘tact’. I’m sure as a film editor you have to acquire the ability to make decisive, reliable, good ‘this is good/this is bad/this is not quite there yet’ judgments. Are these rational? Yes, but no. You aren’t just waiting for Zeus to tell you what to do, or going out to flounce in the ruins. But it is also true that you can’t really give reasons for your judgments in a lot of cases. They just come to you – as a result of your rigorous training and long experience, to be sure. Still, you can’t justify yourself explicitly. You can’t articulate why this works. You can’t refute the alternatives, per se.

Now, back to philosophy: Heidegger is like Tschichold (not nearly as much like him as Wittgenstein, but let’s press on.) He’s like Tschichold in that there is a huge weight of study and erudition and rational knowledge bearing down on you if you take up arms against Heidegger. He has a powerful intellect and he has worked long and hard at this stuff. Nevertheless, there is a moment when he just stands on his authority as a Thinker. He basically just baldly asserts privileged access to this Primordiality stuff. And it’s not as though I thought the reasons were going to go on forever until we grounded out in some happily rationally self-evident Platonic Heaven of Sufficient Reasons. (I’m a Wittgensteinian, not a Rationalist.) But in Heidegger’s case – as in Tschichold’s, by the by – I find that certain key arguments ground out, reason-wise, disappointingly early, especially in light of the weight of study and erudition and traditional scholarly knowledge that are also present in the vicinity. So I say there is a streak of somewhat Romantic irrationalism in Heidegger. He actually is a bit of a mystic, around the edges. (Not Tschichold, however. Not really.) I don’t say that’s a bad thing. Maybe not. (Wittgenstein is my favorite philosophy, and he’s a mystic around the edges, too, in my opinion. But I get more out of him, all the same.)

Let’s pull the threads together just a bit. It isn’t that doing philosophy is so different from doing typography, at the end of the day. As I say in my post, it’s astonishing to me how little difference there is between Tschichold and Wittgenstein. Yet there is a problem making philosophy a function of ‘tact’ – this conclusion just ‘looks right’, ‘feels right’. My problem with it is not that I think ‘tact’ is some naive, inspirational, pure Romantic thing, but that it isn’t a matter of giving reasons, in any deductive or inductive or any other traditionally argumentative sense. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s philosophically problematic. Because non-philosophy, just getting by in life non-reflectively, is a matter of ‘tact’ as well. So what’s philosophy, then? Do I accept philosophy done this way, or does it turn out to be a kind of bald opinionation? One of the problems that interests me is how to think my way around this very conundrum, which I take to be a Wittgensteinian one: the resemblance of philosophical problems to aesthetic ones, and yet the conviction that there’s something puzzling about this resemblance. Things were supposed to be otherwise. But they’re not. So what do we make of that?

104

Keir 11.15.09 at 5:48 am

I’m sure as a film editor you have to acquire the ability to make decisive, reliable, good ‘this is good/this is bad/this is not quite there yet’ judgments. Are these rational? Yes, but no. You aren’t just waiting for Zeus to tell you what to do, or going out to flounce in the ruins. But it is also true that you can’t really give reasons for your judgments in a lot of cases.

But this is wrong: it is like saying that when one looks at the sky and says: it is blue! one is being irrational. Of course one isn’t; one is being quite rational when one looks at something that doesn’t work and says `this doesn’t work’. The reason being, of course, it doesn’t work. And one might not be able to articulate in great detail — although you should be very wary when you say this, because in fact I rather think most artists could get quite reasoned about this sort of thing — why it doesn’t work, but the fact remains: it doesn’t work.

When I see a tree I do not go: oh, that is a plant with a trunk and leaves and so-forth; it is a tree! I go: it is a tree, and that is entirely rational.

105

john c. halasz 11.15.09 at 7:14 am

Look. There a fairly consistent pattern to Holbo’s M.O., (besides the one, where, when he does exposit his one’s views on some matter, he goes on at Holbonic length). He wrong-foots his interlocutor, and then, when the response comes, he claims to be wrong-footed himself, without actually laying out any of his cards on the table. I’ve no doubt this is a feature of his Analytic training, where someone delivers a paper, and some small technical, logical point is raised to attempt to knock the whole thing down. But that’s mere academic gamesmanship. There is nothing wrong with clarifying or amending a point. But philosophical arguments come as complex, cross-implicated wholes, which are not reducible to a sequential set of single inferential steps. Further, they involve distinct projects, which motivate them, in terms of a response to a felt need or lack within the overall “field”. They are not all of the same piece and subject to a singular criterion of logical technique. In fact, the whole Analytic attempt to develop philosophy, (whatever is left of it), as the elaboration of logical techniques of argument is mistaken in my book, not just because logic is not something purely self-sufficient, but has distinct limits, but because it amounts to continuing the metaphysical imperative to complete systematicity, all the while resulting in the elaboration, with ever greater refinements, of any and all positions, resulting in sheer argumentative impasses, ending in its own self-defeat. But then philosophical “problems” are aporetic puzzles, and are not susceptible to being stuffed into a definitively defined professional problematic and “solved” piece-meal, in the manner of “normal” science. That’s precisely the sort of appeal to sheer technicity that Heidegger is criticizing.

But then with any theory, philosophical or other wise, it is possible to ask: what is it good for, what is it applicable to, what use is it,- (which is not the same thing as sheer “utility”),- what sort of need or “necessity” is its projection deriving from or calling forth. Holding on to the “necessity” of theory to define what is “rational” is question-begging. I meant it when I said the Holbo needs some philosophical therapy. That aggression and that defensiveness are one and the same thing. And he attributes non-sense to others, while mis-recognizing or hiding his own nonsense. A sense of duplicity, other than that involved in the ambiguities of the subject-matter, arises. He needs to adopt a more dialogical and interpretive approach, across differences. At least here in virtual reality, where he can’t claim some privileged authority, if not amongst his charges in Singapore.

Holbo’s worries about “mysticism” are overblown and involve misprision. (And at any rate, mysticism is preferable to dogmatic fundamentalism any time). His imputation of romanticism not only treats the term ahistorically and ignores Heidegger’s intrication, indeed, self-situation, in successive unfoldings of historically received tradition, but it’s plainly incorrect, flat-out wrong: Heidegger is a high modernist, not a romantic. Moreover, the romantic “reaction” against “reason” is precisely a species or derivative of the sort of metaphysical subjectivism that is one of the main matters of Heidegger’s criticism

. But there’s another “deeper” layer. Any attempt to critique and delimit the limits of reason must eo ipso “posit” something non-rational, that is other or outside of reason. (And by the way, part of the point of such delimitation is that the “products” or “objects” of reason are validated precisely in terms of and on the basis of their limits). It is to the thinking of that other of reason , that outside, that Heidegger’s later thinking turns. The bringing of “thinking”, which is his term for what happens after the liquidation of metaphysical/substantialist thought, into proximity with poetry, (though “Dichtung” has a broader range, more like “creative composition”), is part of an attempt to think about poesis, production, as a response to our estrangement in an artificial technological world into the construction of which we are all drafted. And the ways in which that outside has become our inside. He’s not proposing to abolish the technological world, but, in attempting to think through the non-technological “essence” of technology, to find ways of “releasement” from its over-riding imperative “necessity”, by which we could reconfigure that technological world and our relations to it, constructing it otherwise, in terms of more authentic, responsible relation of care for the world and the beings in it, beyond our mortalities. Those apparently mytho-poetic figures in some of his later work are not just a regression into the wilds of the “outside”, which he insists we must confront.

The critique of metaphysics, as the root of the inherited Western conception of “reason”, the supposed arbiter of all “justification” of the world, knowledge, social practices, etc., as substantialist/entitative thinking, which totally and systematically objectifies all beings in the world in the name of an arbitrarily defined, unlocatable “subjectivity”, which only exists as a reflex of its objectifying function, is also a critique of its tendencies to result in reification, of the compulsive, repressive function of rational “necessity”. Horkheimer in the 30′s termed Heidegger’s thought the reified transcendence of reification. And, indeed, there is a critical question as to, to what extent Heidegger remains entangled in the very “object” of his criticism, reproducing it in the course of his thought. Levinas in the 60′s spoke of “metaphysics, perhaps whose very essence is reification”, at once with and against Heidegger. But the critique of “metaphysical” reason, which emerged from the mythic enmeshment in and of the world as its antagonist, but for that very reason dragged its opponent with it as its doppelgaenger, amounts to a de-mythifing critique of the myths of reason itself, in its various successive forms and guises. It’s a two-sided or double critique, both of the oppressive irrationalities of myth and of the repressiveness of reason itself, which disguises its complicities with the very mythic powers it sought to evade.

Since someone dug up a past comment of mine, I went through some effort to find another past comment of mine at another, more obscure website, in which I expatiate at some Holbonic length on my notion that the main theme of modern philosophy since Kant has been the progressive critique of reason as a critique of metaphysics and myth. The occasion though was some sort of discussion of “post-modernism”:
http://sauer-thompson.com/conversations/archives/2005/09/another-post-fr.html

106

John Holbo 11.15.09 at 8:42 am

Keir: “it is like saying that when one looks at the sky and says: it is blue! one is being irrational. Of course one isn’t”

If you will go back and read my comment, Keir, you will notice that I scrupulously refrained from saying that these exercises of immediate judgment are irrational. All I said was that they involve ‘tact’. Now I admit that we don’t usually say ‘the sky is blue’ is a judgment that requires ‘tact’. That’s fair enough. But I think it is fair to say that when someone says something like ‘should I move this more to the center, or does it look better on the side’, that this sort of judgment involves a kind of immediate ‘tact’ (just to stick with my word of choice.) And it is often not possible to provide rational arguments for such judgments. Does that seem fair? If not: why not? Surely you are not going to argue that, in fact, we are prepared to offer compelling rational arguments that the sky must be blue, when we judge that it is. We just judge it to be so, immediately. (And, of course, this is a very complex process, but not one that involves a lot of explicit, conscious, rational self-justification.)

John C. Halasz: “Look. There a fairly consistent pattern to Holbo’s M.O., (besides the one, where, when he does exposit his one’s views on some matter, he goes on at Holbonic length). He wrong-foots his interlocutor, and then, when the response comes, he claims to be wrong-footed himself, without actually laying out any of his cards on the table. I’ve no doubt this is a feature of his Analytic training, where someone delivers a paper, and some small technical, logical point is raised to attempt to knock the whole thing down.”

Look, John, by training I am not really a narrowly-analytic philosopher by any stretch of the imagination. I dissertated on Schopenhauer’s influence on Wittgenstein under a pair of profs. who have both written about Heidegger. In the present case, the ‘small technical, logical point’ that I raised against you (if that is my m.o.) was that you have been talking complete and unadulterated smack about me. Which may seem a small thing to you, but to me it is at least noteworthy. You have been accusing me of all sorts of things that aren’t very plausible, while admitting that you have no idea what I really think. I asked you whether you think this is, indeed, a hermeneutically sound way to set about having a conversation with someone. And now I ask again. If, indeed, as you have now twice admitted, you have no real idea what I think about nearly anything – that’s fine – how can you be so sure I suffer under this huge load of troubles?

If I may venture a therapeutic suggestion of my own: I think you are very eager to critique a certain set of what you take to be analytic misconceptions. So eager are you that you project these views on me, so as to create an occasion for rehearsing and rolling out these critical arguments that are very important to you. The only problem: I am not actually the one you want to be arguing with, if anyone indeed is. If you need someone to fight with, who will defend a very narrow view of philosophy, according to which it aspires to be a set of puzzles on the model of ‘normal science’ – fine, go find that person and argue with them. (They do exist, although they are comparatively rare. So this will be a non-trivial task, finding them. But not an impossible one, I grant.) But obviously I am not that person.

Now I have a specific request: I think it’s fine for you to explain Heidegger, as best you can, as you have attempted to do in this thread. But can you please, going forward, refrain from doing it by way of making up things about me that you yourself admit you have no reason to believe are actually true.

107

Keir 11.15.09 at 9:37 am

But I think it is fair to say that when someone says something like ‘should I move this more to the center, or does it look better on the side’, that this sort of judgment involves a kind of immediate ‘tact’ (just to stick with my word of choice.) And it is often not possible to provide rational arguments for such judgments.

Of course generally one doesn’t argue about this kind of thing, one merely appeals to the judgement of heaven here, but in fact I have seen people argue these points. And yes, often one can’t put these things into words, but I don’t think saying these are non-rational decisions is justified. After all, many of the ways we answer these questions are essentially the same as Wittgenstein’s penta-hand-figure, which surely you agree is a rational way to discuss that question?

108

jholbo 11.15.09 at 2:30 pm

I don’t think we are disagreeing, Keir. I made a point of only saying such practical judgments are only non-rational (not irrational!) in the very narrow sense that no conscious rational arguments are typically made in these cases. And often they can’t be made at all. I was very careful to say only that ‘often’ it is not possible to provide rational arguments for one’s judgments in such cases. Obviously it would rather dogmatic of me, and quite implausible, to try to make this a reason-free area of activity.

In short, you are right that saying these are non-rational decisions (judgments) wouldn’t be justified. That would be an overgeneralization. But I intended something more qualified.

It’s also worth noting that it is perfectly common to call what I am talking about ‘practical reason’, in rough contrast to ‘theoretical reason’. (I am taking it to be obvious that ‘reason’ may be used in different senses.) I don’t mean to be a stickler for terms about this. The point is what the contrast comes to – which is, of course, an issue. But I would like to emphasize, in case it isn’t perfectly obvious, that I am not calling Heidegger and Wittgenstein borderline mystics because I think they are talking about practical reason and its working. I’m calling them borderline mystics becuase I’ve read them and I think they are borderline mystics, who happen to be quite interested in, among other things, trying to explicate the nature of ‘practical reason’ (if that term seems better).

I don’t actually remember Wittgenstein’s ‘penta-hand-figure’. Maybe I’m remembering it under another name. Which example was that exactly?

Let me make another, more positive engagement with John C. Halasz, who writes: “but it’s plainly incorrect, flat-out wrong: Heidegger is a high modernist, not a romantic. Moreover, the romantic “reaction” against “reason” is precisely a species or derivative of the sort of metaphysical subjectivism that is one of the main matters of Heidegger’s criticism.”

The problem with this is that I approach the issue through an interest in W.’s Tractatus – that is, an interest in something that I regard as a mysticism-inflected work of high modernism. (You can argue that it isn’t actually. Fine. But I don’t think it would make much sense to say he couldn’t possibly be flirting with mysticism just because the book is modernist, aesthetically.) So I am less convinced than John is that such things cannot possibly be. And yes, I have also granted that Heidegger doesn’t want to be a Romantic. He wants to get clear of all that subjectivism. But saying and doing are two different things. I am not denying that Heidegger was a relentless critic of Romanticism. I am merely asserting that, as well, he himself can be read (against the grain, no doubt) as continuing the Romantic line in German philosophy.

109

Henri Vieuxtemps 11.15.09 at 2:39 pm

But obviously I am not that person.

But would it kill you to pretend that you are that person and play along? Them’s just words…

110

novakant 11.15.09 at 2:45 pm

re #103

“Look”, I’m trying to be reasonably polite here, John, but when you’re on a roll you tend to say stuff that is just preposterous and the caveats you regularly add to such statements, while they are designed to make your position appear more complex than it actually is, are for the most part cya rhetoric. E.g.:

Hegel is “irrational”? – I really don’t know what that is even supposed to mean. Have you really read all the stuff needed to understand Hegel? Have you read him closely (there’s also a problem with reading him in translation)? Have you made a good-faith attempt to understand what he’s trying to say, who and what he was responding to, why he is saying the things he does? Frankly, I doubt it, because had you, it would be strange to come up with such a statement as a result.

But my main point is: even if you grant that there isn’t a bright line between “the rational” and whatever else, you are still heavily relying on those concepts as delimiters of your position, which seeks to locate things somewhere along a scale ranging from a to non-a. The trouble with doing that is not the differentiation as such between statements and behaviours we might want to consider slightly more or less rational – we do that and, as a limited and superficial tool of categorizing stuff, doing so might be useful in day to day life. The trouble is rather, that when one dares to look closer, the dichotomy evaporates: there simply is no “this vs. that” and efforts to force such a distinction upon the phenomena in question regularly fail to do justice to them in order to maintain an artificial concept that just doesn’t hold much water. In an effort to be productive, I’ll provide further examples below:

1.) Editing is partly an intuitive process, correct, but I question the very idea that intuition is something non-rational. One might not always be fully conscious of what one is doing, but then a programmer writing code, a mathematician coming up with a proof or and academic writing a paper aren’t either. Also, it’s really not as if the editor just comes up with stuff and that is that, but rather he is bound by a script, the logic of a narrative and most importantly he is in a constant back and forth with the director, so it is a very conscious and discursive process, and you better be able to explain, jusify and defend all of your decisions (on the last film I’ve done, we must have gone through somewhere around 25 versions of the edit and exchanged 150 emails, each debating several changes). And there are reasons why some things work and others don’t and these reasons can be pinpointed. This is so, because most people share a natural sense of rhythm and coherence, which is your benchmark as an editor – watch a badly edited film and you’ll see immediately what I mean. (Much the same as the above can be said about color grading.)

2.) A couple of my friends are software developers and one might think that writing code is for the most part a rational and logical process – but that just isn’t the case. Most software of some complexity is written by a team of coders who each have their own personal approach to problem solving, their own style of writing code and their own, often exemely strong, convictions on how software should be written – these aspects are to a large part what one might want to call “non-rational”, emotional or personal and both the coders, as well as the project managers who have see these things through, can go on forever about the difficult and often annoying process of streamlining all this quirkiness into a functional end-product. And while they all have their own, abstract vision of how this should be done in an “objective”, logical manner, most software code is a big, cobbled together amalgam of hacks, copy and paste bits and quick fixes to underlying structural problems. Believe me, there is surprisingly little objectivity or stringent logic involved.

3.) I’ll be brief, because this is already very long: whenever some philosopher throws the logic book at you to defend a rationalist position or to bolster claims that analytic pilosophy is oh so scientific, while the “continental” version is a bunch of incoherent gibberish – in such case it’s a good move to simply mention the name Quine.

So in most matter, humans are just muddling through, there is no way of clearly distinguishing the rational from the non-rational parts of their work and the dichotomy of rationality and its other, even if proposed with a lot of caveats, is so abstract as to be quite useless.

111

Salient 11.15.09 at 3:05 pm

This is so, because most people share a natural sense of rhythm and coherence, which is your benchmark as an editor

Are we in agreement that this is predominantly socially constructed (and individually inherited)?

I haven’t followed the dispute on this thread quite attentively enough to comprehend for sure whether I am thread-jacking, and will not be investing close attention to many of the above comments (when more than x% of a comment is taken up by behavioral analysis of the conversation participants it’s one to skip over). So, apologies if I’m just getting in the way with the above question, and hopefully I’m not — I profess my extension of good faith to everyone all around and am trying to be both helpful and pleasantly inquisitive.

112

jholbo 11.15.09 at 3:17 pm

novakant: “Have you really read all the stuff needed to understand Hegel? Have you read him closely (there’s also a problem with reading him in translation)? Have you made a good-faith attempt to understand what he’s trying to say, who and what he was responding to, why he is saying the things he does? Frankly, I doubt it, because had you, it would be strange to come up with such a statement as a result.”

I’ll just quote to you a bit I was just reworking, from an old thing in which I have occasion to quote Adorno on Hegel. I’ll just put quotes around the whole thing, It’s me talking here, quoting Adorno, just to be perfectly clear.

“In an essay subtitled “How to Read Hegel”, Adorno discusses how “the romanticism that the mature Hegel treated with contempt, but which was the ferment of his own speculation, may have taken its revenge on him by taking over his language.” He writes sympathetically, discerningly of the ‘music’ of Hegel’s prose, grey-on-grey though it has been found: “a kind of gestural or curvilinear writing strangely at odds with the solemn claims of reason that Hegel inherited from Kant and the Enlightenment.” He concedes stuff of such quality must be a standing temptation to emptiness, idle words and narcissistic false-comfort. “Hegel is no doubt the only one with whom at times one literally does not know and cannot conclusively determine what is being talked about, and with whom there is no guarantee that such a judgment is even possible.””

Now, back to your question: if you are just going to take it to be self-evident that I am writing in bad faith, fine. I can’t really prove that I’m not. If, in asking me whether I have read ‘all the stuff necessary to understand Hegel’, you are testing me to see whether I am a fool and will answer ‘yes’ – then the answer is ‘no’. Obviously I have not read everything necessary to understand Hegel. If, on the other hand, you are serious in making this objection to me, because you are just confused about the range of attitudes towards Hegel that deserve to be taken seriously, then I recommend Adorno’s essay to you, “How To Read Hegel”. It is quite a good essay, I think.

113

jholbo 11.15.09 at 3:25 pm

novakant: “But my main point is: even if you grant that there isn’t a bright line between “the rational” and whatever else, you are still heavily relying on those concepts as delimiters of your position”

And so are you, my friend, when you conclude you comment: “So in most matter, humans are just muddling through, there is no way of clearly distinguishing the rational from the non-rational parts of their work.” This is a claim you support with evidence from practical experience. But unless there is an at least rough conceptual distinction between rational and non-rational, then the claim that these things cannot be clearly distinguished is just nonsense. Bah-bah cannot be distinguish from dah-dah. But you yourself apparently think there is some sense to the claim. So you – like me – are relying on these concepts, problematic as they are, as delimiters of your position.

Welcome to the club.

114

jholbo 11.15.09 at 3:42 pm

“But would it kill you to pretend that you are that person and play along? Them’s just words…”

No, it wouldn’t kill me, fair enough. I guess I could play crazy logical positivist for an hour or so, if that’s what the public is really banging their keyboards for. But it seems a rather contrived exercise.

115

novakant 11.15.09 at 3:43 pm

Quoting Adorno and using the lamest trick in the book of rhetoric is unfortunately not enough to impress me, or other people I suspect – try harder. But this is getting boring. Over and out.

116

jholbo 11.15.09 at 3:53 pm

“using the lamest trick in the book”

Logic?

117

bianca steele 11.15.09 at 7:27 pm

jch: Thanks for that last explanation. I’ll never say a bad word about your kind of troll again. :)

JH: Obviously I’m not really in this discussion, but thanks for reminding me to check Google Books again for snippets from Dreyfus. He needs to go onto my to-read list (though after some books on politics, and Levi-Strauss, and some other things, unfortunately). Of course, a lot of what he said on the surface about the limits to computer intelligence, by the mid-1980s, had become pretty obvious (though I’ll concede perhaps that there is a strand somewhere even of newly minted computer science students who need to hear that, possessing a temperament not shared by more people-oriented types like business and humanities majors).

118

Tim Wilkinson 11.15.09 at 8:08 pm

Yes, logic. You may not realise this but your problem is Analytic training, where someone delivers a paper, and some small technical, logical point is raised to attempt to knock the whole thing down. But that’s mere academic gamesmanship. There is nothing wrong with clarifying or amending a point. But philosophical arguments come as complex, cross-implicated wholes, which are not reducible to a sequential set of single inferential steps. Further, they involve distinct projects, which motivate them, in terms of a response to a felt need or lack within the overall “field”. They are not all of the same piece and subject to a singular criterion of logical technique. In fact, the whole Analytic attempt to develop philosophy, (whatever is left of it), as the elaboration of logical techniques of argument is mistaken in my book, not just because logic is not something purely self-sufficient, but has distinct limits, but because it amounts to continuing the metaphysical imperative to complete systematicity, all the while resulting in the elaboration, with ever greater refinements, of any and all positions, resulting in sheer argumentative impasses, ending in its own self-defeat. But then philosophical “problems” are aporetic puzzles, and are not susceptible to being stuffed into a definitively defined pro[fessional problematic and “solved” piece-meal, in the manner of “normal” science. That’s precisely the sort of appeal to sheer technicity that Heidegger is criticizing.

You still don’t get it, do you. You must stop using any argument that might be described as ‘logic’ or involving a ‘technical’ point. You must deal only in complete theories, treating them as indivisible wholes, though parts of them may be amended or clarified. You must stop treating philosophical arguments as all suspectible to criticism for being illogical – which is tantamount to assessing them merely on the basis of something You must end the project – which you with your robotic lack of self-awareness you may not realise you are engaged in – of attempting to develop philosophy as the elaboration of logical techniques of argument.

119

Keir 11.15.09 at 8:09 pm

I don’t actually remember Wittgenstein’s ‘penta-hand-figure’. Maybe I’m remembering it under another name. Which example was that exactly?

In Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics somewhere, as an example of how to count the vertices of a pentagon I think. You take five line and join them to the vertices and look, you have a correspondence, so.

120

Tim Wilkinson 11.15.09 at 8:11 pm

hmm, submitted early by accident, or maybe as a result of subconscious desire to stop wasting time.

121

jholbo 11.16.09 at 3:05 am

Thanks Keir, I don’t have my copy handy but I sort of get the point I think. I was actually thinking about a different sort of example. There’s a story about Wittgenstein coming up to – who was it, Normal Malcolm’s wife? Anyway, W. sponaneously brandishes a pair of scissors against the innocent woman’s jacket, removing two of the buttons. And everyone agreed that it looked much better without them when he was done. True story, apparently.

W. uses tailoring examples a lot, actually. (This looks right. This isn’t long enough.) Now this actually covers a range of cases. Tailors have ‘rules of hand’ for performing precise geometrical operations. Mostly matching operations. Ways of ensuring that this is exactly the same length/size as that. But then there is also the judgment that ‘this needs two fewer buttons’, which is equally precise – and equally numeric – but a bit less rationally scrutable or rationally reconstructable.

I’m just going to assume that Tim Wilkinson is having a bit of fun.

122

Keir 11.16.09 at 4:23 am

There’s a book I read the other week by some philosopher from a University in South of England about creativity that was very much taken by the tailoring comparison. Unfortunately, all I can remember was that it was very British analytical, in a very studiedly informal way, it was from the ’60/70s, and the chap had been a Fellow at Oxbridge.

123

Salient 11.16.09 at 12:56 pm

W. sponaneously brandishes a pair of scissors against the innocent woman’s jacket, removing two of the buttons. And everyone agreed that it looked much better without them when he was done.

I would also feel compelled to indulge and appease the crazy famous person with scissors still in his hands agree with his sound aesthetic judgment. :)

124

John Holbo 11.16.09 at 1:25 pm

Yes, there’s that angle on the problem, too, Salient.

125

Tim Wilkinson 11.16.09 at 1:41 pm

just going to assume that Tim Wilkinson is having a bit of fun. Yes I was rising to the bait of Mr Middle Initial’s hectoring word-salad. It wasn’t any fun though.

Re the crazy famous person with scissors still in his hands – he might have replaced them in his pocket by then.

126

novakant 11.16.09 at 5:41 pm

Tim, why don’t you tell us what’s wrong with Hegel, Quine or Davidson – that might actually be interesting. It’s perfectly possible to criticize holism in a constructive way, there are many examples of eminent philosophers doing so – but just ranting about it without an argument is a bit naff really.

127

Tim Wilkinson 11.16.09 at 6:08 pm

just ranting about it without an argument is a bit naff really

Well, quite, hence my push-button irritation at the italicised chunk from Mr Halasz. I probably would have discarded the post if I hadn’t accidentally submitted it, though as mentioned that did at least release my time for something else. It was certainly not intended as a rant against Quine and Davidson. Are you saying that Halasz’s remarks were Quinean or Davidsonian (I won’t pretend to have much of a clue about Hegel), or my clumsy pastiche aplicable to them, or did you think Halasz’s words were mine and the irony absent? That is a straightforward question and no criticism is intended or deemed appropriate, in case there is doubt (and even the slightest concern).

128

novakant 11.16.09 at 6:29 pm

I’m only saying that you seem to have problems with holism (I think you have criticized it before) and mentioned three of its preeminent proponents. It might be interesting to find out what lies at the heart of your criticism and take it from there.

129

Tim Wilkinson 11.16.09 at 8:30 pm

Nope I have a pretty neutral attitude to holism. I certainly haven’t criticised it anywhere I can think of. And I’m fairly sure I haven’t previously mentioned any of those three ever, anywhere (except, possibly, in passing in an undergraduate philosophy essay). So I imagine this mistakenly initiated and singularly unproductive discussion can now be laid to rest, and we can discuss the rather more interesting matter of whether de Stijl adopted the wrong colours, and if so, less seriously but more topically, whether there was any bloodlust involved.

130

john c. halasz 11.17.09 at 2:09 am

Well, thankfully, this thread is dead. But, just to add to its demise… As far as I’m concerned, it was about Heidegger and not about Holbo. It was Holbo, no doubt with proprietary zeal, who managed to make it about Holbo, to the extent that it ever was. (So it’s not a matter of equal “guilt”; some might feel more sinned against than sinning, though, no doubt, there is always a multitude of sins for love to covereth). The basic point at issue was this: any attempt to deploy the means of reason to critique the limits of reason is inherently paradoxical, (indeed, downright aporetic). And it’s no use to claim to be vouchsafed against any such paradox, since that is to have recourse to the dogmatic self-grounding “authority” of reason. (Nor is the matter to be confused with radical philosophical skepticism, which it was the merit of Wittgenstein to have recognized doesn’t exist, can not be raised coherently as a question, let alone a position, except on the basis of confusion, error, or obfuscation). Hence for Holbo to claim that what I termed “meta-rational” is “anti-rational” is question-begging. It is incumbent upon him, then to “define” or specify what he means by “rational”, in the face of the groundlessness of “reason”,- ( “der Grund” has become “ein Abgrund”, an “off-ground”, such that “reason” undergoes displacement, is “thrown”), of the loss of unity of “reason” and the world, and of the differentiation within “reason”. Holbo responds simply that we all understand what is meant roughly by “rational” in an ordinary sense. If I then impute a few commonplaces, (rational as associated with formal logical inferences aimed at the securement of cognition), I am accused of intolerable projectiveness in the absence of all evidence. Then we get a sophistry about how, of, course, some unnamed irrationalist would be claiming to be criticizing “reason”, however incompetently, (which hovers evasively between an assertion and a negation). Hence by cherry-picking only opportunistically selected points from a, er, longer explication/expatiation, which I have some reason to believe was not entirely unclear or inferentially incoherent, a snarking tu quoque pissing match ensues, which disrupts any conversation about the subject matter and diminishes any interest that might be had in the thread.

As to the late discussion of “tact”, the locus classicus of the issue was Kant’s third “Critique”, whereby aesthetic judgments of taste, provided they were differentiated out from cognitive or ethical judgments in the rational infrastructure of “reason”, could be rationally argued for, but not rationally and definitively decided. But I found it odd for that to be referred to “practical reason”, (though Kant also discusses there analogous teleological judgments and the role of both in the sensus communis). It’s true that there are artistic practices, just as there are cognitive ones, but that’s different from the matter of ethical,- (or political, economic, etc.),- practice, unless we’re going for full-fledged, flat-out pragmatism. But then the problem of intuition/Anschauung has always been a vexed one in philosophy, as to its rationality or irrationality. In my view, Kant was decisively right in his reposte to Hume, not just with respect to the “necessity” of causality in construing experience, but more broadly, that any adequate conception of experience already requires synthesis, rather than mere association. Hence the continental tradition’s attempts to generate adequate conceptual syntheses to disclose the world of experience, rather than pursuing a logical analysis of already given concepts/objects, on the basis of self-evident evidence and atomistic assumptions. That’s clearly where Heidegger’s thinking derives from, which has nothing to do with his having an inadequate grasp of logic or of conceptions of reason. Analytics often complain that phenomenological investigations are inadequately argued, though they do contain rational argumentative and procedural elements. But then that whole style of philosophy is based on a peculiar notion of philosophical evidence. (“Don’t think. Look!”). It simply won’t do to demand (ever more) complete arguments, while ignoring the issue of evidence, or naively assuming a transparent notion of it, (since what would count as evidence is always organized through some sort of conceptual framework). At any rate, the guiding animus of any project of philosophical thinking always involves intuition, whether conceptual or not, regardless of whether that animating intuition ever comes to complete “clarification” or not.

Though this matter of “tact” might be of some use here. (And, thanks, Novakant, for dealing with that tergiversation about Hegel and Adorno; I would have side-stepped it, to avoid further entanglements). To some of us, Holbo’s tact in making certain distinctions/judgments strikes us as off, “incorrect”, dare I say, tactless. De gustibus, non disputandum, my mother used to say. I”d think, “Yeah, ma, I know what you’re talking about”.

Though, I’m amazed that Holbo takes his stand on TLP rather than PI. He’d know TLP much better than I would, since I find it inscrutably opaque. But it needs attending to, since not only is PI a thorough-going self-criticism and transformation of the views of TLP, so that what PI is getting at becomes much clearer with TLP as background, but there are some “deeper” lines of continuity between the two, in terms of animating project and some core distinctions, not least between what can be said and what can only be shown, which determines the indirection of PI. But presumably the point of TLP was to delimit (transcendentally?) through a reduction/integration of Frege’s truth-functional logic the whole realm of what could be asserted, empirically or otherwise, about the existent world, so as, by a kind of via negativa, to show the sort of normativity that is not reducible to formal logic. “Woran man nicht spechen kann, muess man schweigen”. From a certain modernistic, if rather positivistic standpoint, to say only what one can say, and no more, to state the facts and nothing but the facts, amounts to a form of authenticity, call it “Joe Friday existentialism”. But the “mystical” is then explicitly identified with the ethical. Which, as involving counterfactual norms, can’t be derived from or grounded in the order of factical existence. Other than by appealing to Schopenhauer, I fail to see the “romantic irrationalism” in such “mysticism”. But then W. did think the better of it, and re-drew the boundaries of his whole thinking, (as its original conception was obstructive, he found, to his animating project). But the fundamental ethical concern hasn’t disappeared, only become more recessive, since much of PI is concerned with the relation to the other, the very “root” of the ethical, even if in his personal life W. was routinely out-of-sorts with others. (If one re-reads PI with Levinasian goggles on, it’s odd how “Jewish” W. seems). Perhaps the whole unspoken, underlying animating impetus of PI has nothing directly to do with the various “problems” he presents or “dissolves”, but rather concerns the salvation of the soul, namely, W.’s own. Perhaps that is what is “irrational”?

But we’ve been through this all before. PI, far from being a work of Analytic philosophy, is concerned partly with showing the essential impossibility of such a thing, understood as a formal-logical clarification of language with an at least implicit view toward the epistemological certification of knowledge. Neither the priority of formal-logic over linguistic understanding, (from which W. did start out), nor the epistemological certification of knowledge remains. And, yes, when the likes of John Emerson or I take objection to Analytic philosophy, we’re thinking mainly of logical positivism and Quine, whose work is a sympathetic and only partial critique of logical positivism and whose “epistemology naturalized” is either a piece of dogmatic scientism or oddly relativistic. And as well, of the reduction of the “natural” interest of philosophy, of which Kant spoke, to a purely academic elaboration of formal logical techniques. (It might be a considerable merit of Davidson to have dug his way out of such an unnecessary detour, but I’ll note that he seems to end up with a peculiar residue of Hegelian-type rationalism: I can only understand or accord the rationality of another, if it can be subsumed in or identified with my rationality). But that is not to deny that Analytic philosophy has not developed since, or that some of its “names” might represent considerable philosophical thinkers in their own right, or that, indeed, some of its latter-day adherents have taken up topics, arguments, concerns to be found in continental philosophy (100+ years later). In fact, Analytic philosophy has lost its unity as a distinctive project and amounts nowadays just to a style of doing philosophy, or at any rate, what’s left of it, since the claim of philosophers’ to have some uniquely authoritative, exclusive possession of the concept of “reason” or what is “rational” is now just a deflated flat tire that has gone off its rim, so that philosophical projects wander in many directions, without an exclusive content of their own.

As to Tim the Blade, I’ve never attended a grad seminar in Analytic philosophy, so my notion is more a rumor of war than war itself. But then he himself seems to relish the knock-down style, with it’s concern above all for correctness, which strikes me as merely academic, (and also, peculiarly English, if I may say so): ew! a mistake! But of course, one might be mistaken on a particular point without being mistaken in the main, or, conversely, correct in all points, but completely mistaken with respect to one’s project and its fundamental premises. And there is little sense that such “knockdowns” might actually involve a “dialectic” of negations and affirmations or that one can’t just assume a prior identity and unity to rationality and its criteria, but one might have to engage with significant difference, that such difference might be “prior” to any mediation, (which is actually a key premise for any genuine dialogue).. But then he shows no awareness for the sort of hermeneutic issues my “word salad” was raising. Or simply dismisses them with dry, rather jejune irony. But it turns out that Heidegger the “totalitarian” was actually a philosophical pluralist. His conception of “project” or, more exactly, of the hermeneutic circle between thrownness and projection and of the worldhood of the world as the counterpart of existential intentionality, was the powerfully original conception by which the early Heidegger made his name. And he had to do some fancy footwork about Dasein being at once ontic and ontological, blah, blah, etc, to nominate his “Seinesfrage” as “die Hauptfrage”, while admitting a variety of other possible, if more “ontic”, projects. An emendation might clarify or better enable a project, but it doesn’t substitute for reflection on underlying projects and their differences. Otherwise it is, indeed, just game-playing.

As to holism, IMO any philosopher worth his salt ends up in some sort of holism, however limited. It, of course, needn’t be as “gigantic” as Heidegger’s, which goes, perhaps impossibly, to the limit. Indeed, an argument against his conception of authenticity is that it appeals to an impossible, unattainable sense of wholeness, as what would “heal” or “save” us. Levinas’ analogous counter-position of “sincerity” makes that point: only a divided form of “wholeness” is ever possible, and it doesn’t come from or as a revelation of Being itself. But a logical reductionism in the name of “realism” is of little interest. It precludes, without obviating, too many possible questions.

End of spiel.

131

jholbo 11.17.09 at 5:45 am

“any attempt to deploy the means of reason to critique the limits of reason is inherently paradoxical, (indeed, downright aporetic). And it’s no use to claim to be vouchsafed against any such paradox, since that is to have recourse to the dogmatic self-grounding “authority” of reason.”

John, are you aware of any methods of critiquing the limits of reason that are safe against any threat of inherent paradox? I’m not. Hence I don’t think the issue is anyone claiming to be ‘vouchsafed’ security while dancing over the abyss. Rather the puzzle is why you seem so sure your side has the upper hand, just because the other side is sure to be at some risk. Who isn’t? We might avoid the dogmatic self-grounding “authority” of reason, only to find ourselves afflicted with the dogmatic self-grounding authority of Heidegger’s claim to be a Thinker. That might not be worse, but it’s not obviously better. Hence the concern.

“Hence for Holbo to claim that what I termed “meta-rational” is “anti-rational” is question-begging.”

Indeed, and that’s why I didn’t claim any such thing. I merely said that it could be. Isn’t this sorta obvious, John? See my Adorno-on-Hegel quote above (although admittedly, Hegel is his own kettle of fish). There is a serious risk in this sort of philosophy. You try to go beyond reason, to get a better handle on reason, and you just lose your grip. Do you really deny that this is an occupational hazard hereabouts?

“It is incumbent upon him, then to “define” or specify what he means by “rational”, in the face of the groundlessness of “reason” …”

Why? Why can’t I be sort of later Wittgensteinian about it? We start where we are, with our ordinary terms like ‘rational’. That is, we don’t start in the face of the groundlessness of ‘reason’. Why should we?

” … in the face of the groundlessness of “reason”,- ( “der Grund” has become “ein Abgrund”, an “off-ground”, such that “reason” undergoes displacement, is “thrown”), of the loss of unity of “reason” and the world, and of the differentiation within “reason”.”

Sez you. I don’t buy it. Why should I? Gimme a reason. I don’t mean by this anything more than: convince me. if someone tells me something and it doesn’t sound right, I must be convinced. Give me a reason. (Yes, I know, I am supposed to read Heidegger. But here’s the problem: I have, and I don’t buy it. I take it seriously, but I am always coming back from the Abgrund to the rough ground, Wittgenstein-style. That seems to me wisest.)

“If I then impute a few commonplaces, (rational as associated with formal logical inferences aimed at the securement of cognition), I am accused of intolerable projectiveness in the absence of all evidence.”

Look, what you imputed were unnamed – but darkly hinted at – errors on my part, no doubt due to my bad upbringing by analytic philosophers. It is no good saying you don’t have to specify what they are because they are quite common among analytic philosophers, so it can go without saying. Maybe so, but I am not just going to sign a confession without even knowing what I am charged with. Why should I? You have this picture in your head of a target Anglo-American philosopher who believes lots of (sort of vague) bad, stupid stuff. You are eager to fight with this picture. Fine. But leave me out of the middle of it. That’s all I ask.

“As to Tim the Blade, I’ve never attended a grad seminar in Analytic philosophy, so my notion is more a rumor of war than war itself. But then he himself seems to relish the knock-down style, with it’s concern above all for correctness, which strikes me as merely academic, (and also, peculiarly English, if I may say so): ew! a mistake! But of course, one might be mistaken on a particular point without being mistaken in the main, or, conversely, correct in all points, but completely mistaken with respect to one’s project and its fundamental premises.”

John, I think you are failing to appreciate a key element of the psychic dynamics hereabouts. Tim “the blade” Wilkinson and John “wrong-foot” Holbo like to engage in this sort of picky-picky stuff when arging with John “knitting spaghetti with a hammer” halasz because your holism seems to us excessive. You are saying, in effect: how dare you raise picky objections when what I am asking is for you to consider this whole alternative picture? But the reason is that we don’t accept the whole alternative picture. We are trying to give you a sense of why we don’t. Because, after all, it is possible to be mistaken about little picky points and ALSO mistaken in the big picture.

There’s a nice passage in Kierkegaard about this conflict in styles between the Socratic, dialogic approach to philosophy, and the Hegelian, holistic approach – which is, inevitably, more monologic, with a paradigm handed down from on high. Kierkegaard notes that Socrates would simply ignore Hegel’s demand that all picky questions be held until he was done with the Logic. Socrates would soon have Hegel ‘by the hip’ in some irritating judo lock of an elenchus. And there would be dialogic justice in that, too. Not that Hegel is wrong. But if you don’t see the Socratic point of view as well, you are actualy missing one of the key ingredients in dialogue.

True, dialogue doesn’t mean you have to be a passive-aggressive jerk about it. But the impulse to puncture huge, inflated holistic offerings that allegedly have to be accepted whole, and can’t be critiqued piecemeal – is very Socratic and dialogic. Maybe this is just comment box bad blood between you and I, but you don’t seem sufficiently appreciative of how my style of pickiness can facilitate dialogue and, thereby, mutual understanding. If you disagree with someone, you should try to isolate the source of the disagreement, break it down. But you seem to see, behind any such piecemeal maneuver, the stalking horse of analytic philosophy error. But it could be: desire to treat the other as an equal, hence as someone to whom appeals must be made in terms that the interlocutor has reason to accept.

Of course it is often not possible to isolate the source of the disagreement and work it out in tidy logical fashion. But one should at least try – there is no harm in trying – before resorting to the holistic approach, which certainly has its own risks: namely, that it can devolve into a mordant and merely rhetorical clash of paradigms, or alleged fundamental insights.

132

john c. halasz 11.18.09 at 4:18 am

Look. I’m slower than most. I try and gather together my teeming thoughts and fit them together in a post that is as “clear”, consecutive, coherent, and “complete” as I can muster. It takes some time and effort, but is slightly more remunerative than “Mechanical Turk”. Hence the long paragraphs, the sometimes tortured syntax as I try to fit in all the bits of thought together, the overlooked typos, etc. I’m well aware it might seem self-absorbed and gnarly. And many might scroll past, which is fine. I’m also aware my comment might just be skimmed, and pounced on opportunistically about some particular point, without addressing the balance of what I’ve tried to convey. (It’s a cut-and-paste world, though that didn’t just begin with the internet). Something of that has gone on here. But I’m not a partisan of some unmitigated holism. Nor a Heidegger fan-boy. (Did you just miss the mention of Heidegger’s “gigantic” holism, though that too is a bit of a one-sided misprision. The only thing I definitively said about “holism” is that all interesting philosophies will manifest it in some form or degree, because they involve a cross-implication of disparate matters, topics or concerns, with a quasi-systematic, but never complete implicature. And that is a matter that needs attending to, though I think it a mistake to think that such a cross-stitching of different areas of thought carry necessarily any metaphysical implication of how the world “must” then be).

But then my point, the insistence on which has brought your last somewhat more forthcoming response, is that this has not be all about you, nor about me, who is of little importance, but this thread is about Heidegger, and his “Nazism”. I’ve been simply trying to explicate roughly the gist of his work to render the context of his self-implication in Nazism available for readers’ judgment. (And I’ve marked several points of criticism, though haven’t attempted any “systematic” critique, as rather beyond my feeble powers.) So are you claiming that I’ve mis-characterized him or gallingly overlooked some crucial aspect? I’m not selling Heidegger,- (except that I think Rorty is right that he was a centrally important thinker, crucial to understanding much of the later developments in modern philosophy, and that Faye is likely a repressive fool in attempting to erect a cordon sanitaire around his work, so as too protect us poor souls from thinking evil thoughts),- so you don’t have to “buy” it. You might not like Heidegger’s idiom of the excess of Being over beings, but it is a discernable and rather central issue, since the excess (or surplus) of meaning/potential over existents amounts to a kind of fundamental “fact”, without which, er, there would be no understanding (of existents or anything else). That “fact” can be,- and has been,- construed in other terms and handled differently, though simply ignoring or denying it would scarcely advance “clarity”. (And the “eruptions” of such an excess of Being is partly a matter of just reading philosophical texts, since such spots will occur, not least because such texts are registering historical changes in the world and its understanding, however much they might deny or claim to master such change). Citing the German quasi-pun is just a way of making plain that apparently portentous talk of the “abyss” follows quite “naturally”: the loss of secured foundations is already a showing forth of the world, (and something we can learn to live with and even relax about, because in some sense we’ve always been there). And one last point. Heidegger is not just criticizing substantialist metaphysical thought, he’s actively liquidfying it through phenomenological investigation and disclosure of “experience”,- (“Everything that solid melts into air”). It follows then that he’s not trying to restore “substantial” community. Rather the dubious bet undertaken is that, by following through the “oblivion of Being” in nihilism and technology, it’s reversal can be brought about in a transformed attitude toward that world.

I’m not asking you to buy any of this. But I am asking whether there is any conception of “reason” that can secure or guarantee one against such issues, (since part of what H. is questioning is what exactly do philosophical theories guarantee or justify, as opposed to how they actually “work” and how they exceed what they can actually deliver or master). You appeal repeatedly to the “rough ground”,- (but is that all that different from “thrownness”, since part of the point of that is that skepticism of the reality of the world isn’t really possible, since that is where you already are and from where you must pick up your life and walk, which “death” only re-enforces?). But the counterpart of that rough ground was getting off the slippery ice of logico-semantic abstractions and idealizations, which lead us astray. Is “reason” tout court not such an abstraction? And are you still claiming that philosophers would have some special monopoly on “reason” by virtue of what? Specialized logical techniques, unavailable to ordinary competent reasoners? And are you denying the widespread awareness of of the proliferation of different rationalities? You might try citing “family resemblances”, but I don’t think that would be adequate to the difficult issues involved in differentiation. I’m not saying that somehow you should pay obeisance or submit to the “authority” of Heidegger as great Thinker. Not at all. But I am saying you should be able to feel the “force” of some of the questions his work raises. Perhaps one could say that “reason” is a structure of inferences. But we don’t know in advance which of our sets of inferences might fail and how. Or you could say that “reason” is a structure of norms, which would mean it could neither be a purely subjective faculty, nor something simply given in reality. But that structure of norms undergoes contestation and revision, so its “justificatory” reach will exceed its grasp. (It’s not the business of philosophy to dictate epistemologically to science its concepts and methods, even if only with respect to their “form”, for example, but rather the sciences must work those issues out for themselves in the course of research, though it might be useful to follow up after them in explicating and explicitating those disciple specific norms, to render them available to more general public understanding). I think the best answer to the question about reason is the oldest one about the speaking animal. People might talk all sorts of craziness or nonsense, but they all have a fundamental existential need to make sense of themselves and the world, in order to orient themselves in the world and with others in it. Such sense-making activity is fundamental to human being, “prior” to any formal logic or conceptual scheme, and is ongoing and never ends, since the boundaries between sense and nonsense are not set and settled once and for all. “Reason” then would be a giving of accounts and involve accountability, though there is nothing to say that everything we might think or intuit could necessarily be articulated or “translated” into the terms of discursive reasoning. In that light, inquiry into the sources of sense and the needs and valuings we invest in the world and one another, oh so finitely, would seem rather germane.

Your putting down Heidegger’s thought to “romantic irrationalism”, in the light of his Nazi involvement, strikes me as far too pat, as if unromantic rationalism would thereby provide an immunity to such a debacle, and as if Heidegger could be subsumed with all the other crazies. (One look at the membership of the German Philosophical Association at the time should put a rest to such a notion: were Oskar Becker and Nicolai Hartmann “romantic irrationalists”?) But what if it were precisely Heidegger’s “rationalism” that accounts for his Nazi commitment? Worse for him, and worse for us.

I have no general animus against all Analytic philosophy, (as opposed to positivism), and am not playing for “our side” against theirs. These issues have been addressed before: how inference in natural language is not the same as that in formal logic, and how, though either might be mistaken, it’s not clear that the latter should take precedence over the former; how formalization is of little avail, if it is not based on already understanding a matter; how obsession with precise logical reconstruction of arguments in linear step-wise fashion leads to mis-readings of texts and even out-right failure to read large potions of texts; etc. But I can well seen why Rorty went off the reservation. And my objection to the “knockdown” style is that it’s inconducive to a more genuine negotiation of differences and often might involve a petitio principii or a pulling of rank in favor of established “positions”. (Tim the Blade night have been facetious, but he was also supercilious. And since, by his own account, he “hasn’t a clue about Hegel”, it’s likely he hasn’t dipped his fingers into Heidegger either. So what is he adding?) As to the issue of your general professional deformation as an Analytic philosopher, well, that’s a continental topic, Bildung, and I’d just hate to see that translated into “necessary and sufficient conditions”.

133

jholbo 11.18.09 at 9:32 am

“Your putting down Heidegger’s thought to “romantic irrationalism”, in the light of his Nazi involvement, strikes me as far too pat”

Well, it may be that we just have a misunderstanding, which our mutual irritations have exacerbated out of all proportion. First, I wouldn’t call – and haven’t called – Heidegger an irrationalist any more than I would call Wittgenstein one (or not much more). But I do think both of them have their moments, in this regard. And I have said so. Second, I don’t put down Heidegger’s thought as romantic irrationalism (to the limited extent that I do) in light of his Nazi involvement. That is, the fact that he had this massively unfortunate – to say the least – ethical lapse is not part of the evidence set that he’s a romantic irrationalist. The evidence that he’s a romantic irrationalist, such as it is, is the set of his philosophical writings and lectures. I do think that the fact that he had his late-romantic side may have been part of what made him susceptible to being clueless about Nazism. He found it too easy to see the romance of blood and soil in a positive – or at least forgiveable light. He thought he could accommodate himself to all this. But this is a fairly weak and uncontroversial point: namely, blood and soil was this vaguely romantic and very unfortunate concoction. And Heidegger should have known better than to touch all that with a 10-foot pole. But he didn’t.

Third, even if I had said that his romanticism caused his Nazism – which I didn’t, not exactly, although I’m sure it didn’t help – that wouldn’t be to imply that he could have saved himself by being a rationalist. (That would be a very screwy argument, so it’s a bit uncharitable to stick it to me without first hearing me actually make it.) You make the point that it isn’t as though the other philosophers did so much better in keeping themselves out of trouble, but this is precisely the final point of my post, so I think we can agree to agree. I finish up by recommending Sluga’s book, which makes precisely this argument: Heidegger is the famous one, so he gets the blame. But the mostly forgotten Kantians and Platonists and Aristotelian academic philosophers of the time generally fell down as badly, or almost as badly. This doesn’t excuse Heidegger, but it does make it implausible for people to go rooting around for extra special reasons why he failed.

134

Tim Wilkinson 11.18.09 at 11:30 am

That’s better.

Comments on this entry are closed.