David Koepsell has an interesting piece at the CFI blog titled Ideas, not Idols.
A danger, of course, to making idols of intellectuals or anyone else is that once we learn more about them as persons, their very real and valuable contributions to their fields may become tinged, just like Heidegger’s work now seems iredeemably blighted by his antisemitism. How shall we confront this danger? As Arendt urged, there are incredibly valuable elements of Heidegger’s work that have changed the nature and path of modern continental philosophy. We would be foolish to ignore his contributions, and we should remain compelled by those ideas within his work that seem devoid of hateful ideology. But we would be equally foolish, in my opinion, to view the fact of these contributions apart from his personal failings, and unwise in any case to idolize anyone, be they layman, genius, or god.
It is ultimately the ideas that matter, the principles not the personas. Our heroes will always disappoint us if we dig deeply enough, because like most humans, their lives falls short of even the most modest ideals.
I don’t know. I don’t think disappointment is inevitable, if we don’t expect superhuman perfection. People can be normally human and flawed and imperfect without being Nazis or rape apologists or indeed rapists, after all. Being selfish, greedy, vain, irritable is one thing, and being sadistic, ruthless, predatory, exploitative is another. In other words some people are worse shits than others. They really are.
As students of philosophy, as members of movements, as communities sharing worldviews, we must be wary of elevating ideas by attaching them to specific personalities, no matter how strong, attractive, compelling, or even valuable to the projection of a message. When these people fall, they risk setting back the valuable ideas we explore and they espouse, undermining the progress of our philosophies in the short term.
True, but I’m always a little ambivalent about this, because I think a little bit of hero-having can be motivating and even inspiring. I don’t want to pour cold water on the whole idea. Maybe the solution is to act like the CIA or similar, and do thorough background checks on prospective heroes before giving them the job.