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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

elevant here, one’s

elevant here, one’s distinctiveness is an artefact ofhow the comparison with others is framed. In thecase of Heidegger, then, we should ask if there wereother philosophers of roughly the same vintagewho said roughly the same things, but were notNazis. If so, then the dispensation from negativeresponsibility urged by Rorty is not justified.When I was first a student of philosophy 25 yearsago, there were certainly just such non-Nazi alternativesto Heidegger. They included Karl Jaspers,Paul Tillich and Jean-Paul Sartre. Back then,Heidegger and they were routinely collectedtogether as ‘existentialists’, and Heidegger wouldnot have necessarily received the most respectfultreatment. To be sure, there were important differencesamong these thinkers, but Rortyesque claimsto Heidegger’s ‘striking originality’ would certainlyneed to be tempered, if Being and Time continued tobe read alongside Reason and Existenz, The Courage toBe and Being and Nothingness. In that case, onemight reasonably query the source of the remainingphilosophical nuances that distinguish Heideggerfrom these contemporaries, and the extent towhich those nuances, if not altogether overvalued,might not be indebted to trains of thought thatattracted Heidegger – but not Jaspers, Tillich orSartre – to Nazism. This would make a good researchproject in the humanities, even today.190

However, this question became difficult to poseonce ‘existentialism’ disappeared as the name of aphilosophical school, along with sustained study ofits major proponents – except, of course, Heidegger.He was renovated as a seminal transition figure: thefinal deconstructive moment of a larger and olderschool, ‘phenomenology’, which seeded thecurrent waves of postmodern continental Europeanthought. Moreover, unlike his existentialist rivals,the disruption of Heidegger’s academic career byWorld War II never forced a major reorientation ofhis thought in relation to new audiences. As thetrajectories of philosophy, psychology, theologyand literature moved farther apart, the impact ofJaspers, Tillich and Sartre became more disparate.Ironically, Heidegger’s intellectual stature mayhave even been helped by the time-honoured practiceof ‘learning from the opponent’ in which victorsindulge after a war. In this respect, Heidegger’spolitical ‘genius’ may lie in having stuck with theNazis long enough for the Americans to discoverhim during De-Nazification without ending upbeing judged an untouchable war criminal whoseworks had to be banned. As committed anti-Nazisensconced in Allied countries, Heidegger’s existentialistrivals never underwent such intense scrutinynor subsequently acquired such a mystique fordepth and danger. These facts, combined with an191

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