Recently, Günther Figal, a German academic, stepped down from his position as Chair of the Martin Heidegger Society, in order (it seems) not to be associated with Heidegger’s anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic strand in Heidegger’s thought had recently been documented with a new level of thoroughness by the publication of notebooks written in the years 1931-41, in which Heidegger offers opinions on “world judaism,” and the “machinations” of the Jews, with their “talent for calculation” which gives them “influence everywhere.”
One can certainly find even more vociferous outbursts of anti-Semitism among the writings of other famous and influential 20th century philosophers, notably Gottlob Frege, “the father of analytic philosophy.” But to dwell on that thought, or to attach any real significance to it, would be to set one’s bar far, far too low. Heidegger was an anti-Semite and a racist. There is no justification for trying to rehabilitate him as “less racist” than some of his peers and contemporaries. He should be condemned outright for it, without qualification or hesitation.
To that extent, Dr. Figal’s impulse had a rational basis: like everyone who aspires to function as an adversary to racists and anti-Semites, he wanted to underline his unwillingness to tolerate or to gloss over Heidegger’s egregious complicity and sinister solidarity with some of the most villainous political projects and social forces of recent centuries. It’s undoubtedly right to do so.
Nevertheless, there is something unsatisfying about his gesture.
Recall that Martin Heidegger was very, very public about being a Nazi as early as 1933, and remained a dues-paying member until the party was unceremoniously and involuntarily liquidated at the end of WW2, even if his “activist” phase lasted only for about a year. In light of this fact — known to anyone even semi-conversant with Heidegger’s life-history, and certainly well known to someone like Günther Figal — why on earth would anyone have imagined that Heidegger might have been opposed, in any substantial way, to anti-Semitism? Does the idea of a Nazi party activist who opposed anti-Semitism make *any* kind of sense? Isn’t that like being an anti-racist Ku Klux Klan activist? And would that not be, as Heidegger said of a Christian philosophy, “a round square and a misunderstanding”?
Figal’s manoeuvre seems calculated to convey a message that few can find even remotely plausible: ‘’Yes, I knew he was an activist in the Nazi Party,” he seems to be suggesting, “but I’m shocked and appalled to learn that he harboured negative opinions about Jews!”
Really, Dr. Figal?
Still, one can give Figal the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that he might have meant only to record his (longstanding) refusal to affiliate with Heidegger’s politics, at a moment when the anti-Semitic dimension of Heidegger’s hard-right political stance was at the centre of a public controversy. He may not have been attempting to pose (unconvincingly) as someone who knew nothing of these matters until recent months.
Regardless of Dr. Figal’s motives, the publicity surrounding his action offers the rest of us a helpful opportunity to ponder an important question, raised by the whole “affair.” What are we to think about the fact that so many of the most important philosophers of modern times were racists and/or sexists of the most horrible sort? Or rather, what are we to think about the standing of their books, in light of the political alignments of so many of these authors with horrifying political projects, such as white supremacy, extreme misogyny, anti-Semitism, and colonialism, to name only a few?
If the case of Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and fascism were an isolated incident, we could dismiss this one example as the singular “bad apple,” bearing no real relationship or affinity to the wider Western-philosophical tradition, and threatening it only with the risk of a flimsy and ultimately false form of “guilt by association.” That, indeed, would provide everyone with a motivation to disassociate themselves from Heidegger, in the Figal style, and perhaps even to stop reading Heidegger or taking his intellectual achievements seriously (which Figal himself was unwilling, he said, to do). Alas, however, Heidegger is not an “outlier” or an anomaly of this type. Instead, he represents yet another case of something very familiar, even normal, in the history of modern Western philosophy: the racist “Great Philosopher.”
Consider the company he keeps, in this regard:
(a) As an initial example, recall David Hume’s pioneering (in a double sense) declaration of white supremacy: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.”
(b) Another “Great Philosopher,” Immanuel Kant, attested to the influence of Hume’s sceptical view of inductive inference on his own project to develop a ‘transcendental idealism,’ immune to the problems posed by an empiricist view of knowledge. But it wasn’t only at the level of epistemology that Kant’s work followed in the footsteps of Hume. Kant took up Hume’s racism, too. According to Kant, who developed a plethora of early pseudo-scientific race-theories, the Indigenous people from the Americas are “incapable of any culture,” so that their “racial” position “stands far below even the Negro, who occupies the lowest of all other levels which we have mentioned as racial differences.”
(c) Then there is the famous egalitarian lover of liberty, John Stuart Mill. Like Hume and Kant, he thought of non-Europeans as fundamentally incompetent and lacking the capacity for autonomous self-determination. According to Mill, colonial domination was not only a good thing in general, but the very idea that colonizers could act “towards a barbarous people” in a way that might be deemed illegal or immoral was a grave error. On the contrary, he argued, “despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians,” as he says in On Liberty, since, like children, colonized peoples need to be “improved” by forcible obedience to “benevolent” overseers.
(d) More recently, as mentioned in passing above, there is the case of Gottlob Frege (who died in 1925). Widely held to be the founder of what has come to be known as “analytic philosophy,” Frege was quite clear about his intense anti-Semitism, his hostility to democracy, and his fondness for virulently anti-Semitic fascist politicians (especially Adolf Hitler and Erich Ludendorff, co-leaders of the “Beer Hall Putsch”). Frege was arguably more full-throated in his denunciation of the Jews and the Marxists even than Heidegger (although, again, this hardly amounts to a defence of Heidegger!). Frege was particularly worried that Jewish people had equal civil rights in the Weimar Republic, along with other “people of different races under us who claim to be considered as Germans.” He reflected nostalgically about how, when he was growing up, “Jews were generally not permitted to stay overnight in my native town of Wismar; only during the annual fairs were they allowed in, and they would then ring the bell for them to come in and ring the bell for them to leave.”
Thus, Heidegger is by no means an isolated case. The problem is quite general. We have, besides the cases of Hume, Kant, Mill and Frege, any number of other examples: Rousseau’s intense hostility to women; Hegel’s claim that Africans had no history; Locke’s defence of the enslavement of Africans and the forcible dispossession and displacement of Indigenous peoples; and so on.
But maybe there is something distinctive about Heidegger’s case. Maybe here, but not in the other cases, there is some uniquely inextricable interweaving, some implied or even explicit entwinement or unavoidable intellectual proximity of the political views we find so repulsive and the intellectual contributions to which we remain more or less attracted.
No. This, too, is a problem that extends well beyond Heidegger and implicates all the others.
Kant’s notions of rationality (treating as means) and reasonableness (treating as ends) are defined, in part, by contrast to notions of irrationality that have a racial subtext in Kant’s own thought. In particular, the “Enlightenment” itself, as (so he claims) the historical embodiment of “maturity” for human reason, is deemed by him to be a European achievement, thus entwining his notion of rationality and cognitive maturity with the contingencies of early-modern European culture and its emerging enterprise of colonial domination. Similar points could be made about Mill’s notion of “liberty” as a function of maturity, and “barbarians” as child-like: the distancing of “civilized” Europe from “barbarians” is integral to his understanding of the autonomy that enables white people to be free, and also to serve as “benevolent despots” in relation to the colonized.
I can’t stop to prove the point in detail for each case considered here. But Frege deserves special mention on just this point, since some of his defenders, if that’s what they are, insist that his intellectual achievement is thoroughly insulated from any substantial association with his racism and fascism, and in this way his case supposedly differs from that of Heidegger.
Frege himself insists, to the contrary, that the problem of “comprehending antisemitism” is intimately connected with foundational issues in the philosophy of mathematics, at the core of his philosophical research. “One can acknowledge that there are Jews of the highest respectability, and yet regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent,” Frege writes. “If one wanted laws passed to remedy these evils, the first question to be answered would be: How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” This, he says, “appears to be quite difficult.” Focusing in on the philosophical stakes of this line of thought, Frege writes: “If one wants to make laws against the Jews, one must be able to specify a distinguishing mark [Kennzeichen] by which one can recognize a Jew for certain.” He adds: “I have always seen this as a problem.” What did he just say? He has “always seen this as a problem”? Indeed, he has. He took up just this problem of the “distinguishing mark” in his work, Grundlagen der Arithmetik (1884), §62: “If we are to use the symbol a to signify an object, we must have a criterion for deciding in all cases whether b is the same as a, even if it is not always in our power to apply this criterion.” (Consider, too, Frege’s attempt to develop a rigorous account of “ancestry”: http://rgheck.frege.org/pdf/unpublished/Ancestral.pdf; in this context, one can skip directly to page 4, which makes the relevant point: that establishing ancestral continuity is linked, in Frege’s mind, with foundational questions about the philosophy of mathematics. Indeed, ancestry is at the very heart of his understanding of number.) Odd as it may seem to the rest of us, in Frege’s own thinking, the problem of establishing the Jewishness of a person “for certain” is intimately connected to the problem of the nature of natural numbers, via the problematic of “ancestry” and “the distinguishing mark.”
But what conclusion should we draw about people like Hume, Heidegger, Frege, Kant, and JS Mill? Should we regard their intellectual output as thoroughly tainted, or even (more strongly) as completely discredited, by the entwinement or interweaving of their philosophical conceptions with racist (and/or colonialist and/or sexist, etc.) ideas and assumptions? Should we, indeed, stop reading these people and studying them or trying to learn from an engagement with their ideas?
No doubt, this is a tempting posture, for some. But it seems not to be plausible, on reflection.
To see why, notice that the activity of disentangling defensible from indefensible thoughts and ideas, which are at first apparently integral and interconnected, is not a special undertaking on which we might propose to embark in the special case of racist (etc.) philosophers. No, it is fundamental to our very understanding of rational inquiry and intellectual life. To think is to perform precisely this operation of disentangling. “I agree with you on this point, and this other one, but not on this third point; there I insist you have gone astray, and I can tell you why….” Isn’t the compulsion to repeat this performance, to cycle through this disentangling action again and again, the ultimate source of philosophy’s drama and its enduring appeal? Isn’t it, too, an inescapable obligation that everyone is saddled with, unavoidably and perhaps involuntarily, as soon as one takes up the task of thinking?
Yes. Of course. To dislodge and debunk the tangle of error and confusion that weaves itself through even our best intellectual achievements is exactly what we mean by thinking. And so, why not respond to the interweaving of Locke’s “right of revolution” with his “defence of slavery” in the old-fashioned way: by thinking it through? No other response seems authentically available, in fact, since to respond by sweeping him under the rug only invites his spectral persistence, as a haunting presence that we quietly agree not to mention, much less to grapple with and to confront.
This, it seems, informs us about how to respond to Heidegger. Above all, we should resist the temptation to insist, as if in the grip of an unrelenting yet unacknowledged panic, that we can just forget him and all his fascist rantings. On the contrary, we really have to accept our responsibility to think our way through Heidegger. When he claims, for instance, that a chair or a work of art can only “be,” i.e., is only possible at all (as chair, as work), by virtue of unthematic but operative interpretive contexts that confer intelligibility by themselves retreating from intelligibility, like the language that only functions to illuminate a text so long as its own readability as a text is suspended or displaced, is this suggestion itself retrievable at all in the context of an anti-racist practice of inquiry and understanding? Or, by taking it seriously, by working with it intellectually, even in a critical or differentiated way, do we in effect bolster the forces of racial domination, or anti-Semitic demonization, etc.? There are those who presume this question to be settled in advance. I must admit (impolitely, I fear) that I regard such people as, well, a little bit unsophisticated, at least in this area. The idea that this question can be resolved without sorting through the particulars of Heidegger’s writings and the questions they raise is a crude and simplistic position: the sort of thing that one whispers to oneself, seeking comfort and reassurance, insulation from the unease of not-knowing and from the necessity to think things through. I’m reminded of Marx’s admonition: “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”
This brings us back to Dr. Figal. Does he dread the fatigue of the steep climb? Does he worry about the absence of guard-rails or padding to cushion his fall? I assume he does not. I am sure that he will continue to think about Heidegger, and also about Kant, Hume, Frege, and the others. But thinking about them is not a matter of agreeing with them, or depicting them as special or great: the Heidegger Society, if such a thing is necessary, should not have any “investment” in defending or upholding the supposed “greatness” of Heidegger (an investment made all too evident by Figal’s resignation). Perhaps these “great philosophers” are persistently, pervasively wrong about one thing after another. Perhaps we have to fight them, or parts of them, by any means necessary. Certainly, they are, in each case, wrong about a great deal, often but not always in obvious ways. So be it. We don’t owe them any personal or intellectual loyalty. Rather, we owe our loyalty to the difficulty and the pleasure of thinking, and that makes us enemies of simplistic, superficial, ill-informed and otherwise indefensible ideas, whether they come from people we admire (Marx?) or people we find repulsive (Heidegger, Frege, etc.), or people whose character we neither know about nor care about. If there is to be a Heidegger Society, that should be its function: to insist on the need to disentangle insights from idiocy, because there is plenty of both in Heidegger’s body of work, as there is in the work of anyone who is fantasized by misguided “disciples” into the ludicrous position of being labeled a “great philosopher.”
10 thoughts on “On Heidegger in Particular, and Racist Philosophers in General”
Terrific discussion Steve, as well as a fine argument that we cannot so easily disentangle the problems posed by the canonical thinkers. Thanks
That must be the new low. Does the author really want us to believe that the word “ancestral” in Frege’s Begriffsschrift has anything to do with the notion of ethnic of family descent (rather than with the notion of mathematical induction, as the most superficial examination would establish beyond any doubt)? That the far-reaching idea of set membership is related to national segregation? However true are the conclusions and noble the goals, they are only discredited by such egregious intellectual dishonesty.
I absolutely did not say that “the word ‘ancestral’ in Frege’s Begriffsschrift has…to do with the notion of ethnic of family descent.” What I said was that it was *linked* to it, indirectly, but quite explicitly in Frege’s own mind, via the following question: “If we are to use the symbol a to signify an object, we must have a criterion for deciding in all cases whether b is the same as a, even if it is not always in our power to apply this criterion.” In Frege’s mind, this question is fundamental both to his intellectual interest in the nature of number and to his political project of driving all of the Jews out of Germany. In his view, you can’t deny Jews civil rights, or drive them out of the country, unless you can specify “a criterion for deciding in all cases whether b is the same as a,” that is, in this case, a criterion for distinguishing in a principled and rigorous (that is, rigorously anti-Semitic) way Jews from non-Jews. In his mind, you need a way to say of two Jews, that they are both Jews, and he regards this as difficult, but he doesn’t have a clear answer about how to do it.
“One can acknowledge that there are Jews of the highest respectability, and yet regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent,” Frege writes. “If one wanted laws passed to remedy these evils, the first question to be answered would be: How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” This, he says, “appears to be quite difficult.” Focusing in on the philosophical stakes of this line of thought, Frege writes: “If one wants to make laws against the Jews, one must be able to specify a distinguishing mark [Kennzeichen] by which one can recognize a Jew for certain.” He adds: “I have always seen this as a problem.” So, it’s a distraction to fixate on the point about the word ancestry in the abstract, and insist (correctly, but irrelevantly) that it isn’t anti-Semitic. The issue is that there is a convergence, at the core of his philosophy of mathematics and the core of his racial political theory, of a common concern, about how to think about this issue of the distinguishing mark.
And the broader point is not that somehow his philosophy of mathematics is racist. It is that there is no gulf or chasm that separates his racial theories from his theories about mathematics. Rather, there are some common concerns, as well as — quite obviously — a great many issues in one area that are irrelevant in the other area. For the most part, they’re very different matters, both of which he was concerned about. The same is true about Kant, Heidegger, etc. Kant thought that Jews were “a nation of cheaters.” He also had various opinions about space and time, etc. They’re not all a single issue that he addressed, obviously. But neither can we neatly separate his philosophical ideas from his ideas about how, for instance, it was pointless to make a moral argument to the Jews about cheating (which he says in a 1798 publication). This is bound up with his ideas about maturity and moral rationality. There’s overlap. There’s leakage from one area to the other, common themes, etc. That’s my point. It applies to Frege just as much as it applies to Kant.
> In his view, you can’t deny Jews civil rights, or drive them out of the country, unless you can specify “a criterion for deciding in all cases whether b is the same as a,”
Can you prove this? Is this any textual evidence that the phrase you quote (and which is the basis of set-membership relation, as I said) was in Frege’s mind linked to his political project (project?) of driving all of the Jews out of Germany?
And how do you arrive to the conclusion that the definition of the ancestral relation is linked to the notion of ethnic descent via that “question”?
> It is that there is no gulf or chasm that separates his racial theories from his theories about mathematics.
On what evidence is this claim based?
I have already had my answers deleted twice because I apparently hit the wrong key, leading me to be switched out of the commenting box, and unable to return. But I will try again.
You ask for two things: first, textual evidence that Frege is posing (broadly speaking, as I claim, although not narrowly speaking, since no one claims that) the same question when he inquires about defining number terms, like “zero,” and racial terms, like “Jews”; and second, textual evidence for my suggestion that the ancestral relation is also at stake in some notable way in Frege’s way of thinking about what defines the boundaries of the class encompassing all and only Jews, or as he puts it, “how one can distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain.”
I will start with some general points about Frege’s attitude toward thinking about definitions in different areas of inquiry, and whether he saw these different searches for criteria of membership in different domains as linked or not.
In Foundations of Arithmetic, Frege writes: “Thought is in essentials the same everywhere; it is not true that there are different kinds of laws of thought to suit different kinds of objects thought about.” In particular, the logical constraints on admissible concepts are the same (about which, more below.)
On the face of it, this looks like prima facie “textual evidence” – of a very general kind — for my suggestion that there is no gulf or chasm separating his concern to fix the boundaries of proper use for a race term, “Jews,” and his concern, in the very different context of philosophy of arithmetic, to fix the boundaries of a mathematical term, like “zero.” They are not interchangeable concerns, obviously, nor would I or did I say they were. Quite the reverse: the whole burden of my original blog post above is to deny that we can reject all of Kant’s work, or Heidegger’s, or Frege’s, simply because they were anti-Semites. On the other hand, there is no wall of purity insulating the one set of inquiries (about race) from others (about maturity, concept definitions, the history of being, etc.). In Frege’s view, though, “it is not true that there are different kinds of laws of thought to suit different kinds of objects thought about.”
Let’s look at one of his examples of a “different kind of object thought about”: baldness. He writes: “Bald people for example cannot be counted,” that is, we can’t know how many of them there are, “as long as the concept of baldness is not defined so precisely that for any individual there can be no doubt whether he falls under it” (Phil. and Mathematical Correspondence, p. 100). We just wouldn’t know how many bald people there are, or which people counted as bald and which as non-bald.
I wonder, as an aside, whether you would admit that this is the very same type of question that he says he has always seen as important, with respect to the Jews? To me, it obviously is the same type of question. To say these questions are “linked,” as I do, seems an understatement, but I wonder whether you see it differently, and why.
In mathematics, as in counting bald people, as in sciences generally, regardless of their “different kinds of objects thought about,” I claim that Frege believes this:
“But if we ask, under what conditions a concept is admissible in science…, “[t]he only requirement to be made of a concept is that it should have sharp boundaries; that is, that for every object it either falls under that concept or does not do so” (Posthumous Writings, p. 179). Again, I am not sure, but I wonder, whether you regard that is the same type of question that Frege raises about the Jews, and/or the same type of question that he raises about “a” and “b” in the other passage you wonder about.
Anyway, continuing, I remind you that Frege believed that “all that can be demanded of a concept from the point of view of logic and with an eye ot rigour of proof is only that the limits to its application should be sharp, that it should be determined, with regard to every object whether it falls under that concept or not” (Foundations of Arithmetic, p. 87).
Now, you want to know whether I have textual evidence that his views about the need for a criterion of set membership were “in his mind” when he thought about the Jews and how to deny them civil rights in a principled (racist) way. I return, yet again, to the relevant passage:
“One can…regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent,” Frege writes. “If one wanted laws passed to remedy these evils, the first question to be answered would be: How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” This, he says, “appears to be quite difficult.” Focusing in on the philosophical stakes of this line of thought, Frege writes: “If one wants to make laws against the Jews, one must be able to specify a distinguishing mark [Kennzeichen] by which one can recognize a Jew for certain.” He adds: “I have always seen this as a problem.”
In my view, and please correct me if you think you can show where I’m mistaken, this is a case of the same line of inquiry – how can we define a concept in a rigourous way, such that it is “scientifically admissible,” by setting out a criterion for applying the concept to some objects, but not to other objects? – being applied to “different kinds of objects thought about,” namely, natural numbers in some cases, bald people in other cases, Jews in other cases, and so on.
I sense that you disagree, but I wonder how you can make your disagreement plausible, and in particular, how you can make it sufficiently plausible to provide a basis for your claim that I have sunk to some unprecedentedly low level of intellectual dishonesty. I can assure you that I’m fully untroubled by any worry that you may be right. I’m confident in my rejection of your accusation, but I remain curious how you can be so sure that you’re right. You pronounce on the issue with the most impressive sort of certitude. Where do you get that certainty, in this case? To me, what I say seems rather straightforward, and yet to you, it seems like I’m fabricating some fantastical and absurd notion, that anyone can see is false. It’s a strange case.
Anyway, proceeding to the second issue, about the “ancestral relation.” The basic, intuitive idea of ancestry, which I hope we can agree that Frege is appealing to, in his non-random word choice, even if he replaces or at least reformulates the usual notion with a modified, technical notion, is as follows:
Sometimes, there are lineages of succession, such that some characteristic is inherited by objects that follow, as successors, in a sequence, in much the way that membership in a family can be passed down from parent to child, just as it was earlier passed down from a grandparent to the parent. In this way, Frege has an interest in what I refer to in the original blog post as “the problematic of ancestry.” By “the problematic” of ancestry, I mean, the concern to inquire about whether some trait, for example, membership in the set of all and only Jews, or in some other set, can be passed on by successors in a sequence of this type. .
Now, Frege is very explicit in stating his “wish that the Jews in Germany should lose their political rights or better yet vanish from Germany.” On the other hand, he thinks that this requires, as “the first question to be answered,” “How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” So much, we already know, from everything above. But now we’re asking, is this line of questioning linked to “the problematic of the ancestral relation” that Frege pursues in the philosophy of arithmetic, or not?
Frege points out, or rather claims, that making the Jews “vanish from Germany” would “have been relatively easy sixty years ago,” that is, around 1864. (Jews in the North German Confederation obtained universal suffrage around 1866 [67?], as Frege points out in a diary entry from the same period, so this might be what he has in mind.) However, he now thinks – I take it, due to assimilation and/or civic integration – to be no longer easy: “Now, it appears to me to be quite difficult. Perhaps one must be satisfied with fighting the ways of thinking which show up in the activities of the Jews and are so harmful, and to punish exactly these activities with the loss of civil rights to make the achievement of civil rights [by Jews] more difficult.” (This material is all from his 1924 diary, in this last case, in the 30 April entry.) Paradoxically, if I may note this as an aside, he also says that his “thoughts in politics aim at a more distant future,” rather than a fading past. “For the politics of the moment,” he says, “we are in need of a man who sees not only the present, but who has a plan in mind how to free Germany from the French pressure. He must enjoy universal confidence. But where is such a man? I have hoped that Ludendorff,” Hitler’s collaborator in the Beer Hall Putsch, “could be the one. I scarcely hope so any longer….No doubt one needs youthful vigor to sweep away the people.”
Returning to the main point: Frege thinks that the time may have passed when one could identify all and only Jews by anything more than a behavioural criterion. But pause here. What would the criterion – now possibly inaccessible – have been, that would have been more than behavioural? In my view, it is clear that he is thinking of some not-just-behavioural property of Jewishness, which is passed on in the grandparent…parent…child sequence. In short, I believe that Frege’s imagined ideal, maximally principled criterion of Jewishness, for capturing the set of all and only Jews, and either denying them civil rights or driving them out of the country, was this kind of lineage-based inheritance of Jewishness from parents, from whom it was in turn inherited from one’s grandparents, and so on. The editor of Frege’s Diary note that the Nazis, whose politics were – I think any fair-minded judge would agree – broadly similar to those of Frege, instituted a regulation 10 years later according to which, “He is a Jew who is descended from at least three grandparents who are purely of Jewish race.” Here, it crucial to note that Frege explicitly contrasts “the Jews in Germany” with those people in Germany “of Aryan descent.” That’s in the very same paragraph that he asks what he calls “the first question to be answered” by anti-Semitic policy-makers, “How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” And it is in the very same *sentence* as he expresses his “wish that the Jews in Germany should lose their political rights.”
Here, he uses this word, “descent,” not “ancestry.” But that’s irrelevant, by your own standard, i would assume. If he had said, “Aryan ancestry,” instead of “Aryan descent,” you would not concede the point, I’m sure. My view is this: here he relies on the “problematic of the ancestral relation,” in the sense that he holds fast to the idea that there are some people in Germany, those “of Aryan descent,” who have not inherited the “distinguishing mark” of the Jew, the criterion of membership in the set of all and only Jews, whereas there are others who – however hard it might be to identify them – have in fact inherited from their parents, and before that from their parents’ parents, and so on, a common membership in the set of all and only Jews. To me, this is a return to, a reactivation of, the problematic of the ancestral relation, now in a different domain, but answering to the same sort of desiderata about finding a principled basis for demarcation, in order to make (in this case) the concept of “Jews” into an “admissible” one.
Now, perhaps this won’t convince you. You ask for “proof,” and so on. To me, it all seems painfully obvious. To you, for reasons I find hard to grasp, it all seems like some kind of malicious and baseless fabrication, a display of the most outrageous intellectual dishonesty.
I anticipate that we’ll have to agree to disagree on these matters, but at least I have laid out the basis on which I make my claims, for other readers – should there be any – to judge for themselves.
(For obvious reasons I am leaving unanswered all predictions of my future behaviour, insights into inner workings of my mind, etc.)
The weakness of your arguments is that you fail to establish any link (not to say “intimate connection” as you claim) between Frege’s mathematical writings and his racial “projects”, beyond coincidence of certain words. Repeating that something is “painfully obvious” doesn’t make it so.
And to make your conclusions stand, such link must be established, because the mathematical ideas in question are so widespread that they occurrence cannot, by itself, be used to prove anything.
“Ancestral relation” in Begriffsschrift is simply a definition of natural numbers as something over which induction principle holds. Induction was used since the dawn of the Greek mathematics and countless mathematicians were thinking in terms of relations which hold on successor if they hold on predecessor, and placed such relations in the centre of their theories. Does this constitute a link to the racial theories these mathematicians happened to enjoy? In my view, answering “yes” to this question is intellectually dishonest.
Similarly, the definition of set membership used by Frege belongs to Cantor (perhaps also an Anti-Semite?). It is so common that one would be hard-pressed to give an alternative definition.
To prove a link between Frege mathematics and Frege racial ideas would require establishing a structural similarity between them by looking at larger and larger textual contexts in which “ancestral relation” and “set membership” are used, until you arrive at a context which is unique enough. But surprisingly, you do no such thing, limiting the exposition of the mathematical side of your simile to quoting individual words.
PS: to avoid losing your edits, copy your comment into buffer (Cntrl-A Cntrl-C, “Command” on Mac) before submitting.
The thing is, unlike Cantor, we *know* perfectly well that Frege was an anti-Semite, because (for one thing) he used the very term anti-Semite to refer to himself, but more importantly because he went into great detail about how valuable it would be to deny them civil rights, or to make them “vanish from Germany.” So, there isn’t any need for me to establish that. It is a fact that no one, least of all Frege, would contest, and the question is, how does he think about this wish to make the Jews vanish? Does he think about it in some way that is radically alien to the way he thinks about his other intellectual concerns? Or does he think about it in ways that echo and overlap with the way he thinks about those other intellectual concerns? In my last comment (https://publicautonomy.org/2015/01/22/heidegger/#comment-3861), I have proven that Frege uses the same logical standard for the admissibility of concepts in his discussions of how to define numbers, baldness, and “the Jews,” and that in itself entails that there is a link. The link is akin to the link consisting of someone’s use of the same gun in two killings. It may be that in one case, the killing was in self-defence, and we therefore have no reason to condemn it, whereas in the other case the killing was a cold-blooded act of murder, so that we do condemn it. This is the “disentangling” that we have to do, as i argue in the original post. You write, in a manner that I will pointedly stop short of calling intellectually dishonest, as if I want to blur the difference between cases like this (blameless versus blameworthy uses of a single instrument), by pointing to the link or commonality/overlap. In fact, as you should know, the whole point of mentioning Frege (and Kant, Heidegger, etc.) was to insist that we have a responsibility to think through the matter of what parts of their thought are discredited by association with anti-Semitism, and what parts are not. I have never suggested and would never suggest, that anything Frege says about numbers is anti-Semitic. What I say is that, in his thought considered as a whole, which includes among many other things his “wish that the Jews would vanish from Germany,” there are recurring themes and intellectual concerns, notably, the concern to establish the logical admissibility of the concept of “Jews,” in the same way that he is concerned to establish the logical admissibility of other concepts. I won’t bother repeating myself, because I think I’ve already demonstrated all this (https://publicautonomy.org/2015/01/22/heidegger/#comment-3861), and I find your suggestion that I haven’t to be evasive, in so far as you simply assert that I haven’t established a link that I claim to have indeed established in some detail.
You example of a gun used in two crimes is a good start. Suppose two crimes have been committed in which, according to forensic experts, the same gun has been used. That would, under certain circumstances, make it reasonable to suggest that the owner of the gun was involved in both crimes. Next suppose that two crimes have been committed in which, according to the eyewitnesses, the perpetrator is “a black person”. Would it be sound to conclude that the same person was involved in both crimes? Obviously not. What is the difference between the “gun” case and the “black” case? Simply put, the difference is that the predicate “is an owner of a gun with a given ballistic characteristics” is much more selective than the predicate “is black”.
So, if you want to establish that link you want to, you have to describe to isomorphic parts of racial and mathematical theories of Frege in sufficient detail to be an evidence of the link in question. Perhaps you can do this. Perhaps you have even done this, but you definitely not demonstrated this in this post, because you did not describe the mathematical part (forensic evidence from one of the crimes) in any detail beyond a reference to similarity of words and ubiquitous mathematical practices, which are not selective at all.
Referring to the first part of your last response, I debate neither Frege’s Anti-Semitism (well-known biographical fact), nor racial undercurrents of the European philosophy in general (of which Marx, with his unending diatribes against Slavs and Russians in particular, suggestive of lifelong symptoms of a trauma is much better example than Frege).
You’re starting to respond to my actual arguments and evidence, rather than denying they exist or refusing to respond on the grounds that they make reference to your opinions (or what you call “the inner workings of [your] mind”), so in that sense we’ve made a breakthrough, here.
I sense that we both want to see this debate through to a clear resolution one way or the other, and I think that’s for the best. Particularly from my point of view, since I’m a named participant in this discussion, and my intellectual integrity has very directly been called into question, I’m keen to have this discussion carried out as fully and as openly as possible, so that in the end there can be no doubt who is right. True, this reflects a certain degree of confidence in the rightness of my position and in the likelihood that I will prevail in a thorough debate. But I think we can probably both plead guilty to a certain degree of high confidence in our own correctness in this dispute. What gives the discussion its drama is the fact that only one of us can be indeed be correct.
As is my style generally, the substance of my reply will rely mainly on direct quotations from the relevant texts — both texts written by Frege, and texts written by leading Frege scholars. I will also quote what you and I have said, above.
But before turning to quoting pertinent source texts, I have to note that your supposed counterexample doesn’t work. The scenario here is one in which (to adjust the example a bit) it is established in advance that the same white guy killed two people. Different victims, but that’s not relevant. What we need to know is whether there is anything in common — any link — between the killer’s two acts, or whether there is no link other than the fact that one person is responsible for both. Was the same instrument used in both cases, or different and unconnected instruments? If I can show that Frege brings the same instrument to both inquiries, natural numbers and his analysis of “Aryan descent,” then that will be enough. You have very directly denied that there is any such (substantive, non-trivial) link or connection.
What I was supposed to establish, both by virtue of what I claimed in the first place, and by virtue of what you demanded as evidence, was that, in Frege’s mind (as revealed by what you called “textual evidence”), there was a link between the way he thought about anti-Semitism and the way he thought about other concepts, like zero and baldness. I did establish that much, by extensively quoting him to the effect that in all three cases, he deemed there to be a constraint on the admissibility of the concepts that required him to specify a criterion for sharply drawing the boundaries for a concepts proper application (in the way that I described, quoting him). Remember, that’s what’s claimed in the original post, and that’s what you claimed was obviously false. (But I return to all this, below.)
Frege believes that, in the case of Jews, sharp boundaries for membership versus non-membership in the set of all and only Jews is politically important, in order to make denial of civil rights feasible. In the other cases, it is important or not for other reasons. But the link is clearly established. This is not, in Frege’s mind (which is what matters here), as revealed by “textual evidence,” a matter of “similarity of words” or “ubiquitous mathematical practices,” as you claim. It is a matter of his specific, not unique but certainly characteristically Fregean approach to establishing the admissibility of concepts, and his view that there are not different criteria for admissibility of concepts for different objects, but one common standard for all domains of inquiry. Now, in no way am I required to argue that he is the only one who uses that approach to establishing the admissibility of concepts, as if it were uniquely a Fregean idiosyncrasy. No, I only have to establish that he believes that it is necessary to deploy the same approach in all three domains (indeed, in all relevantly similar domains), such that in his mind (text), there is a link, an issue (conceptual admissibility, based on ability to specify a criterion for membership/non-membership, and the problematic of the ancestral relation as a way of doing that both for “Jewish” and “Aryan descent” and for natural numbers) that he regards as obligatory.
Your suggestion that I have to somehow pinpoint specific features of mathematical induction, or anything else, is misplaced. Obviously, the more one focuses — in a narrow way — on a specific domain of inquiry, such as how to tell whether someone is bald, the further away from the point of commonality one gets. But you are asking me to establish the point of commonality, so it is necessary, on the contrary, for me to refrain from focusing *unduly* on baldness, natural numbers, or Jews. I have to focus on how Frege thinks about what makes concepts admissible in general, and about how he deploys the problematic of the ancestral relation. Everything else would be a distraction, a case of changing the subject and ignoring what I’m being asked to demonstrate: the commonality between Frege’s research, such as it is, into the various domains of inquiry, and by definition that point of commonality abstracts from (or rather transcends) the specificity of the objects in each case. As Frege puts the point, “it is not true that there are different kinds of laws of thought to suit different kinds of objects.”
So, let’s keep focused on that: not baldness, not mathematical induction, not Jewish blood (or whatever he thinks he’s looking for), but the matter at hand, the animating concern to establish boundaries for applying concepts. That is the instrument in common. Baldness, Jewish blood, and natural numbers are just specific applications.
Even so, I judge that it may help to start by looking more closely at something you claim I have not described in enough detail: mathematical induction. In fact, as you know, I did describe what I thought was relevant about mathematical induction, and what it had in common with Frege’s treatment of Aryan versus Jewish “descent,” and I explained the sense in which these were linked. Here’s what I wrote, in the relevant comment, above:
“Sometimes, there are lineages of succession, such that some characteristic is inherited by objects that follow, as successors, in a sequence, in much the way that membership in a family can be passed down from parent to child, just as it was earlier passed down from a grandparent to the parent. In this way, Frege has an interest in what I refer to in the original blog post as ‘the problematic of ancestry.’ By ‘the problematic’ of ancestry, I mean, the concern to inquire about whether some trait, for example, membership in the set of all and only Jews, or in some other set, can be passed on by successors in a sequence of this type.” Since this doesn’t satisfy you, I will go into the matter more fully shortly.
But first, without in any way backing away from my claims, and on the contrary quite insistently digging in my heals and determining to give the point about ancestry ever more central prominence in our discussion from here on, at your suggestion and with my concordance, I want first to note that, in the initial blog post, I didn’t think of this as one of my main points, so I enclosed it in parentheses and simply invited the reader to “consider” the commonality. To facilitate such consideration, I drew the reader’s attention to a journal article discussing Frege’s use of the ancestral relation, and specifically I suggested that the specifically relevant part of that paper was the discussion that began on p. 4 of the article. Now, it is on p. 4, and even more so on the first two paragraphs of p. 5 of Heck’s article that the topic of how Frege’s technical treatment of the ancestral relation, in the context of mathematical induction, is related (or not) to “the intuitive meaning” of ancestry. There, on p. 5, Heck says this: “Frege is aiming to tell us how to define the notion of an ancestor, for example, in terms of that of a parent. And there is an obvious way to do this: My ancestors are my parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on.” Upon saying that, Heck proceeds to find fault with the elucidation of ancestry in these terms, and at that point his further pursuits diverge from my point, which is summed up in that one comment: “Frege is aiming to tell us how to define the notion of an ancestor, for example, in terms of that of a parent.”
To say that “Frege is aiming” to do that, I should think, entails the relevant point: that establishing ancestral continuity is linked, in Frege’s mind, with foundational questions about the philosophy of mathematics.
But so much is just re-hashing what I have already said, which hasn’t satisfied you. So, let me continue.
I think that, since I’m not a Frege scholar, or even someone with a healthy interest in Frege, it is probably best for me to cite a known expert, in support of my claims. So, I will turn to someone who, for whatever it’s worth, Hilary Putnam has called “one of [Frege’s] most important interpreters,” namely, Joan Weiner. I will quote her book, ‘Explaining Frege,’ at length, because in the long run, I think it will save us time.
“What is mathematical induction? Suppose we want to show that all natural numbers have a particular property. According to the principle of mathematical induction, we need establish only two things: First, we need to establish that the property holds of 1. And second, we need to establish that for any number, n, if the property holds of n, it holds of the successor of n (if this is so, the property is said to be ‘hereditary in the natural number sequence’)….But if mathematical induction is a form of inference particular to the domain of numbers, its results would not be derivable from logic alone [which is a central concern of Frege’s — SD]. One of Frege’s insights is that the principle of mathematical induction is not a special principle derived from the peculiar nature of the domain of numbers. In particular, the feature of the natural number sequence that allows us to use mathematical induction to prove general truths about numbers is not peculiar to the natural number sequence. Consider the relation that holds between two people, x and y, when x is a direct ancestor of y — that is, when y is a child of x; or y is a child of a child of x; or y is a child of a child of a child of x, and so on. The sequence of natural numbers (1, the successor of 1, the successor of the successor of 1…) is very like a sequence consisting of a particular person and her direct descendants (for instance, Anna, Anna’s children, Anna’s children’s children, and so on). Both sequences are determined by a first member and relation — in one case, by the number one and the *is the immediate successor of* relation; in the other by Anna and the *is the child of* relation. It is possible to use a principle almost indistinguishable from mathematical induction to establish facts about the sequence consisting of Anna and her descendants. The principle of mathematical induction tells us that, in order to show that all members of the natural number sequence have some particular property, we need only establish that the first member has the property and that the property is hereditary in the natural number sequence. Suppose for the moment, that it just so happens that the property of having brown eyes is hereditary in the sequence consisting of Anna and her descendants. That is, suppose that in this particular population every child of a brown-eyed person has brown eyes. Suppose, further, that Anna herself has brown eyes. If we can establish both of these facts — that the property of having brown eyes is hereditary in the sequence and that the first member of the sequence (Anna) has brown eyes — then if follows that every member of the sequence has brown eyes. If there is any doubt, we can go through the same reasoning that was used to convince us that mathematical induction proofs work in arithmetic” (Weiner p. 22-23). She continues on the next page: “Nor does the legitimacy of either inference rest on features peculiar to people and numbers. All that seems to matter is the structure of the sequence — in particular, the fact that a first member and a relation determine each sequence. And there is no reason to think that there can be sequences only of certain sorts of objects.” (Ibid, p. 24)
OK, again, I regret the need for such a long quotation, but as you can see, this passage bears very directly on our dispute. What Weiner argues here is that there is a connection, a link, between two notions of ancestry: mathematical induction and the inherited properties passed from parent to child in genealogical lineages of descent. Now, you have claimed more than once that this is only a matter of “similarity of words.” In fact, you claimed that “the most superficial examination would establish beyond any doubt” that there is no link or connection between these two notions. But Weiner argues in some detail that “one of Frege’s insights is that the principle of mathematical induction is not a special principle derived from the peculiar nature of the domain of numbers,” but on the contrary, the “sequence of natural numbers (1, the successor of 1, the successor of the successor of 1…) is very like a sequence consisting of a particular person and her direct descendants (for instance, Anna, Anna’s children, Anna’s children’s children, and so on).” Moreover, Weiner’s argument about why they are “very like” one another very closely echoes my own account of the connection/link of mathematical induction, which I restated above, in this comment. I hope you will rebut Weiner, or extend your accusation of “egregious intellectual dishonesty” also to Weiner, whichever you find less disagreeable. After all, Weiner says that “It is possible to use a principle almost indistinguishable from mathematical induction to establish facts about the sequence consisting of Anna and her descendants,” and by extension (I add, using Frege’s racial terms) facts about the ancestral sequences of people of “Jewish” or of “Aryan descent.”
Now, at this point, it is necessary to recall what Frege says, and what you claim is not substantively linked or connected to mathematical induction, in Frege’s mind (as this is revealed in what he writes, or what you call “textual evidence”). So, let’s return to the text in question:
“One can…regard it as a misfortune that there are so many Jews in Germany, and that they have complete equality of political rights with citizens of Aryan descent,” Frege writes. “If one wanted laws passed to remedy these evils, the first question to be answered would be: How can one distinguish Jews from non-Jews for certain?” This, he says, “appears to be quite difficult.” Frege adds: “If one wants to make laws against the Jews, one must be able to specify a distinguishing mark [Kennzeichen] by which one can recognize a Jew for certain.” He concludes: “I have always seen this as a problem.”
You argue, or rather insist, that there is no connection or link (other than the non-substantive link of “similar sounding words”) between Frege’s concern to establish clear boundaries between people of “Jewish” and people of “Aryan descent,” on the one hand, and the kind of “ancestral relation” that he invokes in the context of using mathematical induction to analyze natural numbers. And you claim that “the most superficial examination would establish beyond any doubt” that these two uses of the word “ancestry,” or the word “descent,” and related words like “inheritance,” have no substantive (but only a similar-sound-based) link or connection.
I believe, on the contrary, that the link is indeed substantive, and that in Frege’s mind/text this matter of inheritance from ancestor to descendant — which in my view Weiner is right to suggest that Frege regards as a fundamentally a unitary notion, albeit one deployed in very different domains, stemming from importantly different motives — is a repetition of the same logic of inheritance/ancestry (my “problematic of the ancestral relation”), and in both cases it is important in part because it bears on the admissibility conditions for properly scientific (in a broad sense) concepts: the boundary between having or not having a property has to be of a sort that can be specified in a principled and rigorous way. Furthermore, I believe that my initial claim, and my subsequent claims, provide no evidence of “egregious intellectual dishonesty,” but only indicate that I read Frege in a straightforward way, indeed, in the same way that at least one (and in fact, more than one) leading Frege scholar reads Frege.
Turning the tables somewhat, I accuse you, not of any sort of “egregious intellectual dishonesty” (perish the thought!) but rather of eccentricity in your reading of Frege. Of course, there is no barrier that I or others want to erect against proposals to read Frege in a new and unusual way. Quite the reverse: just repeating Weiner’s interpretation seems redundant. (I do it here only under a kind of duress, to defend myself against a public accusation of dishonesty.) Still, if one strikes out in a new direction, saying that after all Frege is being misinterpreted by leading experts, it is undignified to do so in the mode of trumpeting unsubstantiated accusations of misconduct or irresponsibility on the part of anyone or everyone who relies on the conventional view (or rather, a view fully and demonstrably within the mainstream of Frege scholarship). Instead, one should make one’s case in a principled way, focusing on, to borrow your term, textual evidence to substantiate your proposed new reading.
For now, I will stop here, but I look forward to your reply and to continuing our discussion.
A little math. If there are a total of 50 Jews to be deported and 25 Jews are deported how many Jews are left? The answer is 25 and not why is this man talking about Jews? Even if it was young Hitler in school the answer would still be 25. Supposing the teacher of the class raped his sister 50 times. The answer to his math question is still 25. Lets ask the teacher to change his examples. Lets question him about Antisemitism but lets not question the math.
Now on Heidegger. More than any other philosopher, Heidegger focused on Being and the special case of Being that is “my Being” Oh yes and Heidegger was an Anti-Semite. I do not recall any idea of Heidegger’s philosophy that excludes Jews. Do you? Writing privately in his notebooks (as we all do) He unburdened his prejudices. As rector he resisted firing some Jewish professors but was forced to by the Nazis. The Nazis obviously were disappointed with his behavior. That mutually ended his Rectorship after one year.
I mentioned Heidegger’s philosophy of Being because his focus on Being has allowed a generation of professors and philosophers to turn to that subject instead of trying to understand Man from the outside. Heidegger turned to themes of Aristotle that had not been reworked since that time. My personal opinion is that your emotional feelings about Heidegger are similar to Heidegger’s feeling about Jews. Neither of you is rabid in your disapproval but both of you are more emotionally involved than the subject warrants.
My family,here in the U.S., was unable to find a single living relative after the Holocaust.