Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Can a Bad Man Be a Good Philosopher?
The New York Times recently published a piece on the upcoming publication of the English translation of Heidegger: The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy. In the book, the author argues fascist and racist ideas are so woven into the fabric of Heidegger’s theories that they no longer deserve to be called philosophy.
This raises a broader question: Does a Nazi deserve a place among Philosophers?
My initial reaction was "No. Not 'Philosophers' with a capital 'P,' at least."
The following passage from The Gospel According to St. Matthew came to mind: "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. ...Therefore by their fruits you will know them."(1)
So, then, does this this mean a bad person cannot have a good idea?
Well, the point is that he may have a good thought here or there, just as a bad tennis player might make a good shot here or there. This does not make him a good tennis player. Heidigger was a Nazi and thus(3) a bad man and to me, a bad man cannot be a good philosopher. Or at least not a philosopher that I would read.
What do you think?
(1) Ch. 7
(2) cf. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Bk. 3, Ch.2
(3)Jeff challenged me to consider whether we can so easily evaluate whether someone is a "good" or "evil" man in the first place. I imagine there are figures in history whom we can evaluate absolutely as essentially "good" or "evil" without falling into over-simplicity. Speaking of "essentially," that is really what I mean by good or bad. I think the question ultimately relates to the essence/substance/nature of the person. Can a person be evaluated as "good" or "evil" in their essence/substance/nature? I am not sure. I really consider the issue to be whether he deserves to be counted among The Philosophers. Maybe the initial debate is about what the criteria should be for those.