philosophy war


Dr Kissinger famously said that the fierceness of academic quarrels is proportionate to the triviality of the issues; he was mistaken. These issues can engage fundamental questions of intellectual and moral life. They can far outweigh the factitious mummeries of diplomacy. When Heidegger ruled that the destiny of the West turned on the Latin mistranslation of the Greek “to be”, he was exaggerating, but his hyperbole was meaningful. According to Pierre Bouretz, a “thirty years’ war has rent apart the philosophical conscience of Europe”. (Where conscience signifies both “conscience” and “consciousness”, a blurring duality integral to French.) This war set at radical odds the deconstruction and reconstruction of reason; the subversion or transgression of metaphysics; antithetical ways of eliminating classical concepts of the ego and of individual consciousness. Implicit in the polemics were the liquidation or salvation of the heritage of Kant and the Enlightenment, a casus belli crucial to Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School no less than to Michel Foucault. Further in the background, but of consequence, were almost incompatible readings of Descartes opposing Jacques Derrida to Foucault in the period from 1963 to 1972. And although it is the European matrix that is the origin and context of these clashes, the impact on philosophical teaching and argument in the United States (later in Japan) proved seminal.

more from George Steiner at the TLS here.