Miscellaneous (한 + Eng)

Philosophy in the aftermath of wars

2020-10-13 17:48
"Philosophy often flourishes in the aftermath of wars, especially lost wars. Socrates served in the losing Athenian army in the Peloponnesian War; Thomas Hobbes wrote “Leviathan” while in exile in Paris after the defeat of the royalists in the English Civil War. At moments of humiliation and confusion, when people need to rebuild their understanding of the world, they are willing to rethink assumptions that go unchallenged in normal times.

... In 1934, the group [the Vienna Circle] came under scrutiny from the police, prompting Schlick to write letters to state agencies insisting that it was “absolutely unpolitical.” The letters didn’t help; the Circle’s official sponsoring organization was dissolved, and some members were forced out of their jobs or arrested. Though the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany was still four years away, the members of the Circle began to look for opportunities to emigrate.

Many ended up in America, where they helped shape the next generation of academic philosophers. Herbert Feigl went to the University of Iowa in 1931; Carnap was hired by the University of Chicago in 1936. Kurt Gödel, famous for his “incompleteness theorem” and his complete unworldliness, didn’t wake up to the danger until the Second World War began. After receiving a job offer from the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, in January, 1940, he had to go the long way around, crossing the entire Soviet Union, the Pacific Ocean, and the United States to get to New Jersey.

For the lesser-known members of the group, things were tougher. Edmonds documents the struggles of Rose Rand, a Jewish woman who earned her doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1938 but couldn’t find a secure academic job in England, forcing her to rely on the grudging charity of émigré organizations. Wittgenstein intervened on her behalf, but even he found her demanding and difficult to deal with. Still, she survived, living and teaching until 1980. Remarkably, no one from the Circle was killed by the Nazis.

Meanwhile, as the logical empiricists fled for their lives, Heidegger was on the rise. After Hitler’s takeover in Germany, in 1933, the philosopher was appointed rector of the University of Freiburg and given the responsibility of bringing it into alignment with Nazism. An enthusiastic Nazi, Heidegger saw his task in metaphysical terms, declaring in his inaugural address that the essence of science is “the questioning standing of one’s ground in the midst of the constantly self-concealing totality of what is.” Carnap would have scoffed at this language; but as the Vienna Circle knew, and Germany and the world were about to find out, pseudo-statements can have very real consequences."

— Kirsh, A. (October 12, 2020). Philosophy in the shadow of Nazism. The New Yorker.