Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Leiter Travesty

Leiter has remarkably come to the defense of a hack job book on Heidegger by Carlin Romano indirectly. See the post here.

But that does stop his rumination about Heidegger scholars, what I take it to be meant by cult:

There is also something interesting to be written about the ways in which the Heidegger cult and its temporal and cultural kin, the Strauss cult, have operated in similar, quasi-fascistic, "in group" vs. "out group" ways: esoteric terminology, hostility towards dialectic engagement, worship of the master, and so on.

Heidegger doesn't engage in dialectical argument because for him, the purpose of philosophy is to describe human facticity. He is teasing out phenomenological descriptions of human existence. Maybe that is, in itself, an argument---yet in so doing, philosophy is not a description of some problem abstracted from history. It occurs within an ontotheology. In this way, it is resistant to the very positivism that carries Leiter's naturalistic Nietzsche (of course, I would argue something like that someday)! This is not some weird obscurantism if people were honestly going to give him an honest reading, know the background of the philosophy that gives birth to Heidegger, i.e. Husserl, know his contemporaries like Natorp, the background of Dilthey, and see him as completing (by Heidegger's self-estimation) the shortcoming of Husserl's phenomenology. When you know all of that, Heidegger is up to something whether or not one agrees with its status in the history of phenomenology, or philosophy at large.

Moreover, understanding the context of Heideggerian phenomenology in its beginning allows one to encounter why Heidegger moves to poetry. In fact, the language Heidegger adopts is provocative; it has a purpose beyond the lens put to language in any analytic framework. But again, one would have to understand the under-currents of Rilke, Holderlin, Heidegger's rejection of some central themes of the metaphysics of presence and the attempt to implement phenomenology as reasons for why Heidegger requires/uses language the way he does.

The charitability of Leiter's lapse is as charitable as a Protestant Minister's characterizing Leiter's work on moral psychology and Nietzsche. Just because Heidegger and those influenced by his philosophy look like something from the outside doesn't mean they are that way. This is a separate issue from whether or not Continental philosophers and supporters of Heidegger in general have done a good job of talking to outsiders. However, the outsiders must be willing to listen, and one good way might be to honestly represent Continental philosophy schools that are marginalized. And, I might add, have great scholars in phenomenology working on Heidegger! But this problem is more complicated than just than the professional dimension.

Leiter also displays some ignorance of the status of this debate. Consider the following,

"Faye's leitmotif throughout is that Heidegger, from his earliest writings, drew on reactionary ideas in early-20th-century Germany to absolutely exalt the state and the Volk over the individual, making Nazism and its Blut und Boden ("Blood and Soil") rhetoric a perfect fit." OK, so how do these "reactionary ideas" about exaltation of "the state and the Volk" figure in the main themes of Being and Time? I have no idea...

Since Leiter finds the argument from one phrase of Romano on Faye somewhat "interesting", let's look at the above. First, this theme has already been taken up by a number of skeptics and critics. The big book, Mr. Leiter is Victor Farias' Heidegger and Nazism. So, now you have some "idea"; you're only about twenty years too late in your ignorance (It was published in 1987 by Temple University Press).

Really... Oh yes, he does Continental philosophy lady and gentleman. Lest we forget. Now, I know he is nice to me when he says, "The ideas that Heidegger's books should be banned and that anyone who studies Heidegger is a Nazi sympathizer are so ludicrously offensive as to defy belief." I take that as nice, and what he might mean by generous. But seriously, you have to listen to people, like myself, who engage in this stuff before characterizing us from the outside. At least, he goes to Thomson and Carman as good philosophers working on phenomenology. At least, we should respect him that far. Yet, the spirits of his comments are redolent of generosity cloud in the intolerance we Continental Philosophers (Aspiring or Established) find ourselves.


Brian Leiter said...

Did you really read my post and come to the conclusion that I had "come to the defense of a hack job book on Heidegger"?


I realize that when one posts pseudonymously, there is less incentive to be careful or think, but still: how could you be so far off the mark?

Please also post the pages in the Farias book which make a philosophical argument about the connection between Heidegger's involvement in Nazism and his philosophy. Steiner and Thomson, whom I cite, have such accounts. If I have forgotten one in Farias, I would like to be reminded of it.

Anonymous said...

Professor Leiter, much hinges here on your careful use of the term "philosophical argument about the connection between Heidegger's involvement in Nazism and his philosophy." Perhaps Farias is only a historian of ideas, rather than a philosopher, and therefore couldn't possibly be held as an authority here?

In any event -- and that is an honest question, trying to pay attention to your formulation of the question -- one can look at p. 62 onward of Farias' book to read his thoughts on the matter.


Carbondale Chasmite said...


You can come here and insult me any time. I am gracious enough to realize an honored guest when they come into my digital home--no matter how clandestine I am. I apologize for the alleged scandalous tone I take. Clearly, I should not have any wit when dealing with your majesty.

However, I do think you come to the same conclusion of Romano if you want to make arguments that confirm the same prejudice that guides much of what Romano writes. You would tease them apart, I see them as symptomatic of the larger picture of philosophy as an academic culture.

For you, philosophy is all about bringing claims consistent with natural science. Your Nietzsche is this way, especially evinced by your recent paper on N as a speculative naturalist like Hume. It was a good paper, although I tend to throw my hat to Nehamas as getting Nietzsche more right. I digress. The purpose of philosophy is to elucidate our experience of the world. There is a culture of philosophy that believes contrary to this.

I am saying that it is consistent given your comments and your tone (if I may posit a derisive tone to Heidegger scholars as a "cult") that the same prejudices guide what you find interesting. This has also already been beaten to death even before my time.

Maybe it is not true. Maybe you just lapsed into trying to be charitable in some way to skepticism about Heidegger and his legacy. However, I should have been clear that you do not defend Romano, but that I see in your post the tenor I have encountered time and time again about the dearth of Continental philosophy and Heidegger in particular. Carman and Thomson are awesome scholars. The true account of Heidegger can be gleaned by people such as these, especially Thomson's book. You should look to Thomson's Heidegger and not give lip-service again to the same bias Romano book is directed.

If you are clever enough, you may find me. You probably already know who I am.

Brian Leiter said...

Anonymous: thank you for the reference, that is quite relevant and responsive on the issue.

As to the other: yes, I know who you are. There was no 'wit' in your post or your further comment; there isn't much that is even accurate, about my views or about philosophy. The Dunning-Kruger effect strikes again, alas.

Good luck in your studies, and thanks again to Anon for the Farias reference.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

Really and Seriously!

Thank you for not addressing how derisive your tone is, even though you do come to the aid of Heidegger fans everywhere (as I regrettably do admit). I'm part of some weird cult, nor the background conditions to familiarize yourself with those things necessary in order to understand why Heidegger has a set of neologisms that make no argumentative sense.

Anonymous said...

Why even bother?

Brian Leiter is to continental philosophy what KISS is to rock music. They're not bad at what they do, but they've largely succeeded by creating a spectacle and generating a lot of publicity in the place of any genuine inspiration or talent.

Carbondale Chasmite said...


The Why Bother comment...well, quite frankly, it's basically a call to duty. I feel I have a duty to confront him on points, as Socrates may have felt when hearing Thrasymachus the bully reiterate the not too original thought that might makes right. Of course, it's been beaten to death as much as many people reject Heidegger from mere association alone.

Anonymous said...

...except that by acknowledging Leiter you give him the most basic modicum of credence, when he deserves none. The guy knows very little about continental philosophy (or frankly, any philosophy except legal philosophy) and engaging him in argument is akin to engaging Bill O'Reilly in argument: he's a total windbag, but has nothing to say and is only out to make money.

You could have acknowledged the same basic point about Heidegger without once mentioning Leiter.

Just my 2 cents.

Carbondale Chasmite said...


It is true many people are windbags.

I would venture an opinion that if Nietzsche can be naturalized, then Leiter's version would be it. Moreover, it's an interesting reading of Nietzsche, and Leiter does some good work at translation and knows a good deal of 19th century philosophy.

So, I do consider him a philosophical bully, and consider him less knowledgeable about Continental philosophy. However, one may find him as a "windbag" acknowledging stupidity where it is IS the duty of philosophy. As much as it might pain you, you should tell people where O'Reilly goes wrong.

I have a hobby where I count the informal fallacies of Glenn Beck at night. Sometimes, you might run into people that rely on pundits for their information. The point is that part of philosophy consists in its Gadfly-like manner to confront those who do not know at all.

And apparently, Mr. Leiter has nothing to do but pick on lowly grad students and their blogs. You have to wonder how much time his ego is invested in such trivialities. I'm not saying that my blog isn't important. I'm just saying it's just a nice vehicle I use to get my ideas out there.

Anonymous said...

I imagine we are about to hit diminishing returns on these back-and-forths, but I just wanted to add the following:

(1) I simply cannot agree with you--not even a little bit--on this point. Philosophy is the love of wisdom and has nothing to do with being a gadfly to these sorts of people. You may as well be gadfly to accountants--that's how Leiter does his job.

(2) Leiter, Beck, O'Reilly, etc. are in the entertainment business. They aren't scholars, don't do scholarship, and shouldn't be involved in any conversation about philosophy or scholarship. Leiter artificially inserts himself into academia by running a ridiculous rankings survey--he hasn't contributed anything worthwhile and is a complete hack when it comes to producing anything worthwhile philosophically. (This includes, btw, the idea that Nietzsche should be "naturalized" -- as if, even *if* such a thing could be done, it would not at all be interesting, missing what's so interesting and vital about Nietzsche in the first place...like I said, it's like an accountant doing their job.)

(3) By responding to these dopes, you just legitimize them, when in reality we should marginalize them. I take your point about being gadfly-ish--but like I said, Socrates was a gadfly with people who were interest in conversation...people like Leiter are just interested in being heard and have no desire to hear what you have to say (as the exchange in these comments so nicely illustrates).

(4) Don't be upset by Leiter bullying you--he's a total low grade scumbag in that regard and his emphasis on your anonymity is just another bullying tactic--as if he doesn't regularly post from a variety of anonymous accounts when it serves his purposes.

Anonymous said...

This is anonymous--can you please delete this and my last post. Thanks.

Brian Leiter said...

Goodness, this thread has taken a turn for the worse since I last visited. I would advise the 6:30 pm Nov. 1 Anon to seek some counselling for help with his anger problems, though I give him credit for realizing in his follow-up that posting crazy fabrications about me or anyone reflects poorly on the one hurling the accusations. The idea that my commenting on this thread is "bullying" is really quite extraordinary. It is only because I'm an egalitarian, and try to take people seriously, that I bothered to reply at all when I followed back the link from this site. I did not ask the blog host to disclose his identity, nor have I disclosed it: I simply observed that posting pseudonymously insulates one from the reputation costs of careless reading, but any reader can compare the original criticism with my post about Romano, and draw their own conclusions as to whether my response was warranted or not.

Carbondale Chasmite said...


This post is largely over. I'm glad you're so...egalitarian.

You are right to call attention to the fact that people can judge for themselves the nature of your criticism of the article and the status of its relation to my bizarre approach that said:

If you are committed to seeing Heideggerians like this (as a cult, derisive comment whatever), then you are possibly committed to X, Y, Z. I really never see a problem with saying from position A, the possible commitments are blah, blah and blah. I've explained myself quite clearly, I thought. Maybe you think I haven't and I can't change that.

However, the criticism of you being a bully is more than that. Your humor of picking on Butler is extremely uncharitable and quite misplaced. It doesn't esteem any sense of virtue (You might accept Appiah's summary of reliable traits over time as non-existent, so this might be empty); maybe it's just a type fact of yourself. She's not a "real philosopher." C'mon. That's just abusive. Her recent meditations on politics intertwined with Foucault and Levinas is just elegant, precise and provocative.

So, you know *Shrugs shoulders.* All I know of you is the "who" you disclose in your writings (Is Arendt a real thinker? J/K), and the tone of your posts. You can stop being egalitarian this far South. I would understand completely.