More on Gadamer: Josh Cherniss has some thoughtful things to say about the question I posed below: was Gadamer a Nazi? Josh thinks that

one of Gadamer’s greatest personal virtues was also a part of his greatest moral failing, and that this same double-edged quality accounts for both an attractive strength, and a worrying weakness, in his work. Gadamer seems to have suffered from an excess of indulgence, of generosity, of tolerance; he was too charitable, at the time and afterwards, to colleagues who believed and did appalling things (though not towards certain fanatical out-and-out Nazis, whom Gadamer did distinguish from their milder colleagues and condemned). It wasn’t that Gadamer refused, or was even reluctant to, pass judgment; he did. But his judgments with regard to the behaviour of German academics under the Nazis strike me as too indulgent towards others – and towards himself. It was a tough situation, and we should indeed avoid passing hasty and arrogant judgment on those faced with a very hard decision . . . Gadamer’s thought, to the very limited extent I understand it, seems to me animated by his attractive and admirable commitment to dialogue and understanding, which Wolin notes at the beginning of his review. This is worth emulating and fostering. But, as Wolin also notes (and quotes Adorno to the effect of), we are also faced with a moral imperative to avoid repeating the horrors of Nazism – and to oppose those who would seek to repeat them. To the extent that Gadamer inspires us to greater humanity, humility, tolerance and understanding, he is a worthy ally in this project; but to the extent that adopting his philosophy and method may inhibit our ability to make tough judgments and take difficult stands, he may also be a sometimes unreliable and even dubious one.

Read the rest here.


Light blogging over the next couple of weeks. I'm trying to get an artice out, and then I'll be out of town for about a week. It's that time of the year when your friends get married!


Lawrence: the Supreme Court surprised a lot of people today, I think, in using the privacy justification to strike down the Texas law against sodomy. Another decision for the casebooks. For the majority and dissenting decisions, as well as a map showing which states are affected by this decision, go here.


Affirmative action: if you're looking for a good round-up of the day's commentary, Larry Solum has compiled an excellent set of resources.

Given that so much has already been said, I've decided not to blog about the substance of the Grutter and Gratz decisions. But I will say that these are the first landmark cases to come down since I started law school. As the excitement passes, I'm looking forward to seeing how the career of these cases develops. One of my professors mentioned to me today that the first major case decided after he started law school was Miranda. It must have been something to watch the legacy of that case expand and unfold. I don't know that Grutter will have the same sort of longevity, but for those of us just entering the legal world, I'm sure it'll be a case we watch with similar interest and concern.

Blogger fodder: in about an hour, the Supreme Court is supposed to release some major opinions on affirmative action, homosexuality, and free speech (to mention only the big three). That should keep the blogosphere going for a few days . . .


Was Gadamer a Nazi? Richard Wolin seems to think he was, at least during the early years of WWII. Arts & Letters Daily is linking to a scathing review of a biography of Gadamer by Jean Grondin in which Wolin argues that Gadamer was actively complicit with the Nazi regime:

Time and again, Gadamer's own ethical transgressions are compounded by Grondin's post hoc rationalizations. "It was certainly a delicate situation to sit in for a Jewish colleague, but what was Gadamer supposed to do?" inquires Grondin plaintively—as though Gadamer's career prospects were self-evidently the major issue at stake rather than his embarrassing willingness to cooperate with a lawless and racist dictatorship. "Should he have protested?" Grondin continues. Yes, that's exactly what Gadamer should have done! For by protesting or having otherwise expressed his disapproval of this horrific regime, Gadamer would have saved the honor of philosophy as well as his own reputation. Yet for reasons Grondin never fully explains, he insists that the only option available to Gadamer at the time was the low road: "In his situation he could only think about getting along himself." Grondin seems not to understand that philosophy's distinctiveness as a vocation is that in such situations it acts on the basis of principle rather than self-interest or survival. Those who view Grondin's biography as a conte morale about how hermeneutics functions in times of duress are surely in for a major letdown.
Undoubtedly, Gadamer's greatest compromise with the Nazi regime concerns his lecture "Volk and History in Herder's Thought," presented on May 29, 1941, at the "German Institute" in occupied Paris. To appreciate the performative dimension of Gadamer's text, one must take into account that the various German Institutes were purely and simply vehicles of Nazi cultural hegemony. As such, there could be no illusions about their explicit political function: to convince wavering European elites of the legitimacy of a Nazi-dominated Europe and to convey the sense that Germany's military potency was backed by an immense cultural prowess. The Wehrmacht had done its job in the trenches. It was now time for German humanists to do their part in the battle for the hearts and minds of Europe's elites and opinion leaders.
The themes of Gadamer's lecture harmonized perfectly with the regime's ideological aims. Gadamer argued that Enlightenment rationalism had played itself out. The new era would be characterized by the ascendancy of the German Volk idea, the ideological lineage from Herder to Hitler, as it were. With Germany's blitzkrieg triumph of June 1940 (the date of the fall of France), the sun had set on Enlightenment universalism. It was now time for the reign of national particularisms, and, in this regard, Germany's claim to superiority seemed self-evident. The philosopher's job was to provide intellectual legitimation for the new geopolitical order. In keeping with this objective, Gadamer concludes the lecture with a glowing encomium to Germany's battlefield triumphs: Herder's "unpolitical intuition of . . . the fate of Germany during his time, and perhaps the fate of such political belatedness is the reason why the German concept of das Volk—in contrast to the democratic slogans of the West—proves to have the power to create a new political and social order in an altered present." After reading these lines, can there be any doubt that, in spring 1941, Gadamer made the Nazis' cause his own?

I was genuinely surprised by this review. On a spectrum of Nazi affiliation from Heidegger to Habermas, I suppose I'd always thought of Gadamer as closer to Habermas--despite Gadamer's age. Maybe Wolin is wrong about his interpretation of the events he discusses, but, if he's right, it's pretty disturbing stuff.


Not Geniuses, but damn good web-designers. Ezra Klein, Joe Rospars, and Matt Singer have opened up shop together. The blog looks terrific. Go check them out.


Weithman and public reason: Lucas Swaine (Dartmouth) reviews Paul Weithman's (Notre Dame) recently published Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. I haven't yet had the opportunity to read Weithman's book, but I'm very much looking forward to it. His other contributions to debates about public reason are careful and precise (two special virtues in an area with so much mushiness), as well as uncommonly charitable to those with whom he disagrees. In the book's Introduction, Weithman says that he will defend the following two principles:

(5.1) Citizens of a liberal democracy may base their votes on reasons drawn from their comprehensive moral views, including their religious views, without having other reasons that are sufficient for their vote – provided they sincerely believe that their government would be justified in adopting the measures they vote for.
(5.2) Citizens of a liberal democracy may offer arguments in public political debate which depend upon reasons drawn from their comprehensive moral views, including their religious views, without making them good by appeal to other arguments – provided they believe that their government would be justified in adopting the measures they favor and are prepared to indicate what they think would justify the adoption of the measures.

In his review, Swaine worries that Weithman's "principles would permit voting or advocacy for unreasonable measures, in unreasonable ways, and on unreasonable grounds." I have similar concerns about the permissiveness of Weithman's principles, but I'm also interested in the sincerity constraint expressed in (5.1) and perhaps also in (5.2). I say "perhaps" because it's not clear that (5.2) imposes a sincerity constraint on public advocacy. Citizens may offer non-public reasons provided (i) they believe that government is justified in adopting whatever policy they advocate, and (ii) they are "prepared to indicate what they think would justify the adoption of the measures." They don't actually have to indicate what they think--they just have to be prepared to do so. Does this mean that citizens may offer any reasons they think will be persuasive in public advocacy--so long as they, personally, believe what they advocate is justified according to some adequate reason? Can they offer reasons they don't believe at all just to get other people to agree with them? I think any adequate account of the ethics of public advocacy will have to deal with this question. It'll be interesting to see what Weithman says in the book about the signficance of reasonableness and sincerity in public debate.


Bernard Williams has died. I haven't yet seen links for a memorial but will post them as soon as they are available. Here is a brief biography for Williams from the philosophy department at UC-Berkeley:

Professor Williams received the M.A. degree from Oxford University. After serving in the Royal Air Force, he held a series of academic positions in England. In 1967 has was appointed Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, and in 1979, Provost of King's College. He came to Berkeley in 1988; from 1990 to 1996 he also held the position of White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford University. Professor Williams divides his time between Berkeley and England.
He has been Fellow of the British Academy since 1971 and Foreign Honorable Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1983. He has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Dublin, the University of Aberdeen, Cambridge University, Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Chicago; he was knighted in 1999.
He has served on several government committees in England, including the Royal Commission on Gambling (1976-78), and he was chairman of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorhip (1977-79). He was a member of the Labour Party's Commission on Social Justice (1992-94) and participated in the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act (1997-2000). From 1967 through 1986 he was a member of the Board of Sadler's Wells Opera (later the English National Opera).

The photographer Sijmen Hendriks has a portrait of Williams here, and, in 1993, David Lavine drew one of those classic caricatures for Williams in the New York Review of Books. Around the publication of Truth and Truthfulness, Stuart Jeffries published a nice profile of Williams in the Guardian. It's available here.

Update: for some tributes to Williams among bloggers, see Bertram, Runnacles, Solum, and Levy. There's now an obituary in the Guardian (noted by Bertram).


The Strauss reading list: so it seems that the Strauss story isn't going away. Leo Strauss' daughter, Jenny Strauss Clay (a professor of classics at UVA) defends her father's legacy in the New York Times. Another tribute to Strauss--this one by Bret Stephens--appears in the Jerusalem Post. But the only recent contribution that I've found really valuable is today's post by Josh Cherniss, who I had a chance to meet during my recent visit to Oxford. Josh has put together a nice list of secondary reading for anyone who wants to learn more about Strauss and Straussian political philosophy.


Anonymous: now who wrote those unclaimed Rawlsian pick-up lines in Chafetz's run down of the best (postable) entries? Only a Straussian could figure it out!


Regards from Oxford: I've stopped in Oxford on the way back to the States. Not much to report, except that construction never ceases on Cornmarket Street. I've also managed to scrounge up a couple entries for OxBlog's "best political theory pick-up lines." Unfortuntely, I didn't manage to work in "colonization of the lifeworld." But, then again, we Rawlsians don't do that sort of thing . . .