Thursday, February 04, 2010
Heidegger is no Paradox
Martin Heidegger is one the twentieth century's most important philosophers. His Sein und Zeit gets one thinking about what does it mean to be? Yet, in the end such musings remind me of Bertrand Russell's observation that "If any philosopher had been asked for a definition of infinity, he might have produced some unintelligible rigmarole, but he would certainly not have been able to give a definition that had any meaning at all."
Anyway, there's a neat BBC video on Martin Heidegger, which spends a lot of time on Heidegger's life, but little on his ideas. Most interestingly, they spend about half the time discussing the 'paradox' that he was also a virulent Nazi. How could someone so wise is the ways of philosophy be so wrong on something so important?
Simple. It's no paradox that Hitler was nice to dogs and children, that Noam Chomsky is a great linguist and an apologist for every anti-American illiberal regime, that Isaac Newton believed in Biblically inspired numerology, or that someone who is really good at a parochial models of economic interaction would support socialism. My beliefs are not shaken by the fact that someone really smart thinks the opposite on some political issue--what crackpot idea does not have someone really smart who believes it? People have multiple selves, in some contexts, agreeable and insightful, in others closed and clueless.
Most importantly, politics is the arena of ideas that are not 'decidable' in the sense that one can logically prove any currently popular idea is 'wrong', and smart people are good at logic, not prioritizing uncertain hypotheses. Over time wrong ideas, like communism, have their wrongness exposed via empirical contradictions, as when the Eastern Bloc was neither more prosperous or free than the West even though it was putatively for 'the people'. In 1950, most of the best economists thought socialism would economically dominate the perceived anarchy and inefficiency of market oriented economies.