Monday 25 February 2008

Brunellus versus the Brownshirts

Here's an extraordinary story from Gadamer's time in Leipzig:

‘You must understand that during that period one denunciation would come after another, and in my opinion it was pure idiocy – it didn't pay to take it too seriously. But one time a real denunciation did come along. A student wrote about my seminar to her girlfriend who was not there that semester: "I was with Gadamer today. Can you believe he actually said, 'All asses are brown'?" Now, the girl to whom the letter was written was from a family with Nazi parents. She left the letter lying around, the parents saw it, read it, and I was reported to the rector. So I was asked to go to the rector, who was no Nazi sympathizer (no more than I was) but ... he said to me, "So, my dear colleague, how did you come to speak out against the Brown-shirts by saying, 'All asses are brown'? What did you mean by that?" "You don't understand," I replied, "I was merely explaining the first premise of an Aristotelian syllogism with the famous medieval example, 'All asses are brown; Brunellus is an ass; therefore, Brunellus is brown.' For medieval philosophers, all asses are brown, and Brunellus is the name of an ass that they often used." So the rector wrote into the record, "Professor Gadamer was merely explaining the first premise of a syllogism using a medieval example." The rector and I were of similar minds, and there were very few Nazis in Leipzig anyway.’

(A Century of Philosophy: Hans-Georg Gadamer in Conversation with Riccardo Dottori, trans. Coltman & Koepke (2003), p. 104.)

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