There is a larger reason I do not find the positivists embarrassing: the contrast case on the continent. The positivists, not just those two I have emphasized, wrote with scientific and liberal ambitions, and at least with a passing connection with mathematics and science; in a time in which philosophy on the continent was embracing obscurantism and vicious, totalitarian politics they stood for liberal politics. When National Socialism came, they left home and country, but not in some cases, as with Hempel, before helping to ferry Jews out of Germany. Compare Heidegger, whose defenses of National Socialism echo some of his philosophical views...[his]* political heirs are English professors who remonstrate about sexual oppression, but have never guided a frightened woman through a mindless, aggressive crowd to a clinic. That’s embarrassing.--Clark Glymour.
Glymour's defense of "the positivists" is not just political ("liberal") and ethical, but also personal. That is to say, he praises the character of (some) positivists (e.g., Hempel) in virtue of their good deeds; he links their character to their humane ambitions. Glymour compares the exemplary leaders of, as it were, the school with the less than noble deeds of alternative schools of thought. That is to say, he judges the philosophical commitments of streams of thought by the practices they generate.
I may have more tolerance for the cowardice, opportunism, and hypocrisy of others than Glymour. Even so, while one does not want to evaluate philosophical commitments solely by their ethical consequences -- one may, for example, also wish to appeal to beauty and hope --, he is right that it is perfectly legitimate, even necessary, to evaluate the institutions and practices of philosophy by their psychological, moral, and political consequences, too. (One can recognize this, and think that Glymour is inconsistent in failing to acknowledge the potential for heroism and decency that, say, Existentialism inspired in some (recall).)
How to make such judgments while avoiding political opportunism and allowing for human frailty is not an easy matter. It is, for example, a fact that Glymour's generation was less than heroic in confronting, say, sexism in our midst. The practices entrenched in his generation generated lots of patterns of exclusion within the profession. Given that it is unlikely that any generation will achieve heaven on earth, most of us will be negligent about, and complicit in, many small and often large acts of injustice within the profession and the societies to which we directly and indirectly contribute.
So, the Heidegger problem will not go away for Continental philosophy. But we can't get mileage out of Hempel forever either--our sins of omission and our acts of brutality are accumulating. We should certainly not take dumb pot-shots at English professors!
When I joined professional philosophy, I thought one 'could make it' in the profession by adhering to a 'do-no-harm (to others and self)' principle. Now, I am not so sure. For example, I now think it likely that professional philosophy deforms our moral judgments (recall this piece and this one inspired by Ruth Chang). Not unlike Glymour my politics are Liberal; but if Liberal politics are fundamentally tied to the Liberal state, it's not obvious how we can avoid being held accountable for the lengthy list of misdeeds by Liberal states past and present. It's no use pointing to the 'pure' or un-corrupted versions of Liberalism in our ideal theories; we are, in part, judging by real world consequences, after all. I love to contribute to the improvement of science (if I can), but one cannot be blind to the fact that science, too, is implicated in lots of injustices large and small. Rousseau was a real narcissistic, jerk, but he was not all wrong about the balance of risks and opportunities provided by scientific progress. After Hiroshima, and while we are heading toward ecological disaster, one might even say he was far too optimistic. Of course, in so far as Rousseau's legacy is implicated in a variety of totalitarian experiments we should be cautious in trying to erect a new school on his commitments. Hume was indeed much nicer than Rousseau, but I am pretty sure that in addition to being a racist he was a friend of Liberal imperialism. Neither Hume nor Rousseau made the kind of efforts that Mandeville, a physician who genuinely contributed to his patients's well-being, did to make visible the injustices done to women of their times. Do we commit another act of injustice by forgetting Mandeville while remembering his critics? Or can't we do injustice to the past?
Some existentialists and psychoanalysts claim we are constantly trying to forget death. This morning I caught myself thinking that, perhaps, in my philosophy, I am also frequently trying to forget the horrors of the world, including the refugees that are imprisoned in my home country, the arms-sales that indirectly pay my salary and grants, and, not the least, the many acts of looking away when some would-be-peer or student needed my help.
Stoic withdrawal seems like the wrong approach, too.
*My "his" is meant to capture the general, intended meaning of Glymour's sentence in context, even though it changes the literal meaning.