Heidegger scholarship is in crisis these days, and not just because his anti-Semitism has recently been put on full display. The crisis, rather, is that almost ninety years after his major work was published and sixty years after his best work was finished, Heidegger scholars still cannot agree on what he was driving at.--Thomas Sheehan, reviewing Krzysztof Ziarek, Language After Heidegger.
I admire Sheehan's review of Ziarek's book (which I have not read). It tries to be fair to Ziarek (and Heidegger). Not unlike this review, it avoids the hysterical praise and hysterical dismissiveness that characterizes so much of the reception of Heidegger. Even though Sheehan disagrees with Ziarek methodologically and substantially, he tries to be informative and (I hope) fair to the book under review. It also makes a useful distinction between two approaches in the history of philosophy that goes beyond Heidegger scholarship. I quote:
One approach (the one that I prefer) is to hose down Heidegger’s language to get at what he was trying to articulate, and then to express that in what Milton called “an answerable style.” An alternative approach is the circular one of remaining within Heidegger’s language while attempting to explain it. This approach, which medieval logicians called modus psittacinus (Aristotle, τρόπος ψιττάκινος, Hist. anim. VIII 12, 597b27-29), is widely favored in contemporary Heidegger scholarship
So far so good. So why the critical title to this post? First, I deny that Heidegger's antisemitism is a source of crisis. Not because it is unproblematic or irrelevant (and for good measure we can throw in other unsavory behavior and silences/evasions by Heidegger); rather Heidegger's problems with complicity in badness (or worse) recur through philosophical history. Those of us that do philosophy in an institutional context would be politically and philosophically naive, if not self-deluded (the worst philosophical sin in light of the Delphic injunction), if we thought that we avoid complicity with badness (of varying horribleness) just because we are not nazi-fellow-travellers. If we fail to confront our own inner (and institutional) Heidegger -- and merely treat him as the easily to be dismissed other --, we don't start the project of understanding our own place/role in the world we claim to wish to understand (change/improve/explain, etc.).
Second, and less important, Sheehan (and he is not alone) misunderstands the point of the history of philosophy. He thinks that what really, really matters (in the sense of avoiding crisis!) is to get at Heidegger's intentions (and what he means or might have tried to say, etc.). But if Heidegger is fruitful or highly suggestive to ongoing research -- and while it is not my genre there is considerable evidence this is so -- then I do not see any reason to think there is any scholarly crisis at all. Even if some scholars do not intend or understand themselves as contributing to ongoing research, their efforts may (indirectly) do so--and we should rejoice in that rather than despair about getting some professor's mere intentions right.