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Nazism, Philosophy and Scholarship: Where Are the Lines Drawn?

How much should a scholar’s beliefs impact the credence and importance of his work?

Join this discussion on Friday, Sept. 9, at 1 p.m. in the Africa Room of the Duquesne University Union at the inaugural event for the philosophy department’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, was interested in the study of “Being” and contributed to phenomenology, existentialism and other philosophical realms. But this giant of a thinker also rejected democracy and supported Nazism in Germany.

“He was appointed chancellor of the University of Freiburg by Hitler, and complied with and wrote in support of the Nazis,”  said Dr. James Swindal, acting dean of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, previously the chair of the philosophy department.  But given Heidegger’s political stance, is it valid to continue to research him given his troublesome historical political context?

The controversy has long swirled around Heidegger, and the Pittsburgh discussion will start with a screening of the German-made documentary Only a God Can Save Us that tells much of his involvement with the Nazi party. A panel discussion will follow with Duquesne’s own Tom Rockmore, a leader in the critical efforts to unearth Heidegger’s collaboration with the Nazis, and Ted Kisiel, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Northern Illinois University—and the first full time doctoral graduate of the DU philosophy department 50 years ago.

At the time of Heidegger’s pro-Nazi work in the 1930s, his fame already had been established, Swindal said. Yet, when the philosopher died in 1976, he had yet to fully address or come completely to terms with this political position.

Still, Swindal said, “Those who believe in the importance of his scholarship say his work should continue to be examined with little regard for his past, while others contend that the historic events must shape the way he’s seen.’”

Duquesne’s philosophy department has had a strong reputation in the interdisciplinary teaching of phenomenology and existentialism since the early 1950s. The department continues its commitment to providing resources and training for students interested in studying this rich tradition.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.