In _Time in the Ditch, _John McCumber explores the effect of McCarthyism on American philosophy in the 1940s and 1950s. The possibility that the political pressures of the McCarthy era might have skewed the development of the discipline has rarely been addressed in the subsequent half century. Why was silence maintained for so long? And what happens, McCumber asks, when political events and pressures go beyond interfering with individual careers to influence the nature of a discipline itself?
From scientific revolutions to Boston AA : philosophy and the speaking of matter -- What is the history of philosophy? -- Aristotle, oppression, and metaphysics -- Modernism in philosophy : fulfillment and subversion in Kant -- The malleability of reason : Hegel's return to Heracleitus -- The fragility of reason : earth, art, and politics in Heidegger -- Dialectics, thermodynamics, and the end of critique -- Critical practice and public goods : the role of philosophy.
Hegel's critique of Kant was a turning point in the history of philosophy: for the first time, the concrete, situated, and in certain senses "naturalistic" style pioneered by Hegel confronted the thin, universalistic, and argumentatively purified style of philosophy that had found its most rigorous expression in Kant. The controversy has hardly died away: it virtually haunts contemporary philosophy from epistemology to ethical theory. Yet if this book is right, the full import of Hegel's critique of Kant has not been (...) understood. Working from Hegel's mature texts and reading them in light of an overall interpretation of Hegel's project as a linguistic, "definitional" system, the book offers major reinterpretations of Hegel's views: The Kantian thing-in-itself is not denied but relocated as a temporal aspect of our experience. Hegel's linguistic idealism is understood in terms of his realistic view of sensation. Instead of claiming that Kant's categorical imperative is too empty to provide concrete moral guidance, Hegel praises its emptiness as the foundation for a diverse society. (shrink)
From the perspective of a contemporary German reader, one consideration is particularly important from the start. Illumination of the political conduct of Martin Heidegger cannot and should not serve the purpose of a global depreciation of his thought. As a personality of recent history, Heidegger comes, like every other such personality, under the judgment of the historian. In Farias’ book as well, actions and courses of conduct are presented that suggest a detached evaluation of Heidegger’s character. But in general, as (...) members of a later generation who cannot know how we would have acted under conditions of a political dictatorship, we do well to refrain from moral judgments on actions and omissions from the Nazi era. Karl Jaspers, a friend and contemporary of Heidegger, was in a different position. In a report that the denazification committee of the University of Freiburg at the end of 1945, he passed judgment on Heidegger’s “mode of thinking”: it seemed to him “in its essence unfree, dictatorial, uncommunicative.”7 This judgment is itself no less informative about Jaspers than about Heidegger. In making evaluations of this sort Jaspers, as can be seen from his book on Friedrich Schelling, was guided by the strict maxim that whatever truth a philosophical doctrine contains must be mirrored in the mentality and lifestyle of the philosopher. This rigorous conception of the unity of work and person seems to me inadequate to the autonomy of thought and, indeed, to the general history of the reception and influence of philosophical thought. I do not mean by this to deny all internal connection between philosophical works and the biographical contexts from which they come—or to limit the responsibility attached to an author, who during his lifetime can always react to unintended consequences of his utterances. 7. Ott, “Martin Heidegger und der Nationalsozialismus,” p. 65. Jürgen Habermas is professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. His most recent books include the two-volume work Theory of Communicative Action and The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures . John McCumber is an associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern University. He is the author of Poetic Interaction: Language, Freedom, Reason. (shrink)
It has been claimed, out of admiration for the great thinker, that his political errors have nothing to do with his philosophy. If only we could be content with that! Wholly unnoticed was how damaging such a “defense” of so important a thinker really is. And how could it be made consistent with the fact that the same man, in the fifties, saw and said things about the industrial revolution and technology that today are still truly astonishing for their foresight?In (...) any case: no surprise should be expected from those of us who, for fifty years, have reflected on what dismayed us in those days and separated us from Heidegger for many years: no surprise when we hear that in 1933—and for years previous, and for how long after?—he “believed” in Hitler. But Heidegger was also no mere opportunist. If we wish to dignify his political engagement by calling it a “standpoint,” it would be far better to call it a political “illusion,” which had notably little to do with political reality. If Heidegger later, in the face of all realities, would again dream his dream from those days, the dream of a “people’s religion” [Volksreligion], the later version would embrace his deep disappointment over the actual course of affairs. But he continued guarding that dream—and kept silent about it. Earlier, in 1933 and 1934, he thought he was following his dream, and fulfilling his deepest philosophical mission, when he tried to revolutionize the university from the ground up. It was for that that he did everything that horrified us at that time. For him the sole issue was to break the political influence of the church and the tenacity of academic bossdom. Even Ernst Jünger’s vision of “the worker” [der Arbeiter] was given a place beside his own ideas about overcoming the metaphysical tradition via the reawakening of Being. Later, as is known, Heidegger wandered all the way to his radical talk of the end of philosophy. That was his “revolution.” Hans-Georg Gadamer is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. His books include Truth and Method, Philosophical Hermeneutics, The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy, and The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays. John McCumber, associate professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, is the author of Poetic Interaction: Language, Freedom, Reason. (shrink)
Well-documented, brilliant, definitely a major contribution to philosophy!" —Choice In this compelling work, John McCumber unfolds a history of Western metaphysics that is also a history of the legitimation of oppression.
This paper explores how an earlier stage of Hegel’s system structures later stages. Starting with the section on “substance” in the Logic, I argue that substance for Hegel is a “dialectical” or narrative structure, one whose nature is to unfold over time. In the Logic, substance unfolds into causality and reciprocity in turn. This established, I then show how this narrative structure can be found in Hegel’s treatments of three phases of objective spirit: marriage, family, and state. Objective spirit, I (...) argue, can make only the transition to causality. The final transition in the narrative structure, into reciprocity, is reserved for absolute spirit. This means that while the categories of both substance and reciprocity structure Hegel’s accounts of marriage, family, and state, they coexist uneasily. Only in art are they harmoniously brought together via a philosophically comprehended transition. (shrink)
Hegel's rejection of the Kantian thing-in-itself makes the "an sich" an ingredient in experience—that about a thing which is not yet present to us is what it is "an sich." Hegel bars thus any philosophical appeal to anything construed as atemporal, a path which I argue was also taken by Nietzsche, Foucault, Rorty, and Habermas. Unlike them, however, Hegel pursues a project of systematic philosophy, which now consists in showing how temporal things mutually support one another. The recent Continental philosophers (...) I discuss do not share this systematic conception; hence some of their most distinctive insights and problems. (shrink)
Time in the Ditch presents evidence that the politics of the McCarthy Era has distorted American philosophy, both institutionally and intellectually, ever since that time. It proposes a new paradigm, situating reason, which is free of those distortions. It is neither an account of the new golden age of philosophy outside philosophy departments (as Harding wishes) nor a general history of the rise of analytical philosophy (as Hollinger thinks). I defend myself against Cohen's charges of factual error and historical misreading, (...) and explain mycritical views on the way the history of philosophy is generally taught in the U.S. (shrink)