I have just received an e-mail from Dom that raises a few questions about yesterday's staff student seminar. This is what it says:
'I've been thinking about the discussion earlier in your seminar, specifically about the references to viewing a philosopher's life alongside their philosophy and the discussion about Neitzsche and Heidegger.
What I seemed to get from the discussion was that it was stated that we have to view Heidegger's philosophy as fascist and that as proof of this we should consider his life. I'm not sure if I agree with this idea of considering a philosopher alongside their philosophy which seemed to me to be a kind of quick and easy way of evaluating their philosophy. Shouldn't we really just deal with the philosophy itself and, if people believe it is fascist or leads to madness, bring it down on its own weaknesses, not by ad hominem?
Also as far as Neitszche is concerned can't he be viewed as the epitome of non-nihilism? What I get with Neitszche is that he is stating that it is the truth-proofs that societies need that actually brings them into nihilism, whereas his eternal return and affirmation acted as a positive denial of nihilism, such as Deleuze used them. This article I thought was both timely and necessary to defend Nietszche as a positive force from people like Jared Loughner and others who use Neitszche to belittle this type of philosophy, such as Bertrand Russell?
This article (http://www.slate.com/id/2281133/) sums it up here when it says that 'Neitszche saw himself as the scourge of European nihilism, and possibly also its remedy. Nietzsche saw nihilism as a disease, which grows from, in Alexander Nehamas' words, "the assumption that if some single standard is not good for everyone and all time, then no standard is good for anyone at any time."'
So what I'm asking you is do you really think that philosophy has to be considered alongside the philosopher's life? I remember someone in the lecture saying that they won't read Heidegger because he's 'evil' and I've been thinking about this and maybe there's a phil blog discussion to be had? Maybe the question 'Is it right to not read things because they don't adhere to our ideological commitments?' could have some going power?'
To answer Dom's question:
The point being made by Dom here is that in making the link between philosophy and biography we are committing the fallacy of 'argumentum ad hominem'.
However, I am not sure that this fallacy applies in all cases. It might not apply to philosophers and it certainly doenot apply to politicians. For example can we really view Thactherism as somehow divorced from Thatcher's own lower-middle class bellicose personality. Isn't Hitler, in some sense, essential the very meaning of Nazi ideology?
Let's take a less well known case - Richard Nixon. Nixon, we know we a paranoid delusionist, who saw enemies everywhere. He was a compulsive seeker of fame and power’, but like many narcissists waqs much ‘more fragile’ than would initially appear.
Psychanalytic theorists have suggested not only that Nixon’s desire to be a leader figure act was a mask for feelings of dependency, rage and envy, but that many of his policy decisions - such as his tragic decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, stemmed from his ‘projecting’ the ‘unacceptable’ aspects of his character onto the world in a ‘paranoid’ manner.
Is this ad hominem? If so, psychoanalysis itself is clearly ad hominem; because it examines the roots of human thought in the unconscious minds of specific individuals (take a look at Freud's study Leonardo da Vinci - a study, incidentally, where 'narcissism' is first deployed as a critical concept).