Philosophy & Anti-Semitism

Yesterday (March 18, 2019) I read an op-ed in the New York Times regarding anti-Semitic views held by several famous Western analytical philosophers in “modern” philosophy (within the last 400 years). It is a though-provoking article but there are some flaws in the reasoning. For the first time, I posted a comment in the discussion session of the New York Times to make a couple of points. For your convenience, I have included the comment below. Note that there are some typos in the comment and you can’t edit comments on the NY Times. I have taken the liberty of including the corrections here. Here is a link to the article and comment:

GaryML | CA
I understand that many figures in history (including the history of philosophy) held view that most people (including me) would consider immoral, from the ancient Greeks through the 20th Century. When I discuss such figures such as Kant and Hume in the classroom, I briefly mention some of these concerns. But ideas must be considered on their own merits: the fact that Hume expressed unacceptable anti-Semitic views does not mean the we must automatically reject any consideration of any of his ideas in epistemology or other fields. We must examine the ideas themselves without an ad hominim attack on the source.

And the comment about Ludwig Wittgenstein is somewhat misleading. The Wittgensteins were a Jewish family that had become secularized and assimilated into the mainstream culture in Vienna. With the rise of Hitler, the Jewish ancestry became an issue, and in 1938 the family had to purchase a “Befreiung” to reclassify the family members remaining under German control (sisters Hermine and Helene) from Jewish to fully German. I am aware of Ludwig’s comments from 1931 that have a somewhat anti-Semitic tone (which can be found in the book Wittgenstein’s Poker by Edmonds and Eidinow (Harper Collins, 2001)). I don’t think one off-hand comment about how European Jews may be regarded in European history is sufficient to cast Wittgenstein as anti-Semitic, especially given the the events that followed with the rise of Hitler.

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