From Heidegger to Pomos (Was Re:It's a battlefield...)

curtiss_leung at curtiss_leung at
Thu Dec 10 09:38:36 PST 1998

I've been lurking for a while, and thought I'd pipe up on the question

of Martin Heidegger.

> I'm no Heidegger scholar, though I taught him now and then in

> classes on existentialism or cont phil when I was a phil. professor.

> I was quite startled to read several essays collected in the Farrel

> Krell anthology of Basic Writings which I thought were very deep

> and insightful as people of straight-out philosophy and history of

> science, written in intelligible and lucid prose. The point of view

> expressed in them was proto-Kuhnian--in fact, I'd say that H

> anticipated a good many of the ideas which are now associated with

> Kuhn.

I had to read some essays in that same collection; it was pointed out

to me that Kuhn was indirectly influenced by Heidegger via Alexandre


> As to his Nazism, I don't think it's relevant to this. The view I

> came to at the time is that he was attrcated to Nazism because of

> its superficial use of a certain anti-modernist romanticism, the

> Blut und Erde scheisse,a s well as by his own ambivalent

> anti-Semitism. (Why ambivalent? Well, he studied with Husserl and

> taught Arendt, and both of them loved him and so far as we can tell,

> he them.) I don't think his politics means he has nothing to teach

> us about science.

Hmmm...I have to disagree. I think that Heidegger's involvement w/the

Nazi party does have some bearing on his philosophy. I'm not saying

that his writings on science are wrong-headed -- on the contrary --

but that they're only part of his overall philosophical project, which

did have certain specific political aims. As I understand it,

Heidegger's position is that an inquiry into and a proper attitude

towards capital-B Being is a necessary precondition towards any

activities that concern small b-beings; so, in particular, science is

secondary to and derived from philosophical ontology. Heidegger

apparently found that the Nazi party would inculcate the appropriate

attitude towards capital-B Being in the German people (what that means

I don't know, but it is the gist of the notorious Rectoral Address),

and certainly wanted to play a role in some through going cultural

changes which certainly would have included the priority and prestige

of the physical sciences. So while Heidegger himself was

scientifically literate and his writings in the philosophy of science

accurate and substantial, science was for him secondary to concerns of

fundamental ontology.

To bring this back to Sokal and Bricmont, I understand many of the

thinkers they criticize -- Deleuze, Kristeva, Irigaray -- are, in some

sense, Heideggerians. They may not be fundamental ontologists, but

for them, philosophy has primacy over science. And this raises the

hard question that Sokal and Bricmont avoid: just what is the status

of philosophy vis-à-vis the hard sciences, and vice versa? It's

certainly disingenuous of thinkers in cultural studies to attack the

alleged originary ambitions of other discourses without acknowledging

their own Imperial roots, but as far as I can tell, S&B haven't even

done this.


Curtiss Leung

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