REMEMBERING ROBERT SPAEMANN

First Things | 1/14/2019 | Martin Mosebach
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Robert Spaemann, who passed away on December 10, 2018, at age 91, was a crucial voice among those contemporary philosophers who acknowledge that human reason can know truth and, moreover, who assert that reason is identical with the ability to know truth.

Born in 1927, Spaemann came from a bohemian milieu: Artist Käthe Kollwitz brought his parents—the young art historian and poet Heinrich Spaemann and the dancer Ruth Krämer—together. After reading Rousseau, his parents became curious about religion, and entered a period of study and reflection that finally led them together into the Catholic Church. In 1936, Spaemann's mother died of tuberculosis and his father was subsequently ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

Spaemann - Atmosphere - Fascination - National - Socialism

Spaemann grew up in an atmosphere that rendered impossible any fascination with National Socialism; from the start the Spaemanns’ world was a counter-world. Even today, in certain circles, people are reluctant to accept that this kind of incorruptible counter-current actually existed in Germany—and that it was associated with the Catholic Church. Robert Spaemann is evidence of this, however. His integral, unbroken life during a century marked by brokenness provokes astonishment and even envy.

That he was an “outsider” during the Nazi years did not mean he felt superior to those who were not. He refused to allow any collective force to relieve him of his own moral responsibility. At age seventeen he wanted to know what had happened to the vanished Jews. Refusing to believe stories that said they had simply been sent to work camps, he questioned soldiers on leave from the Eastern Front until he learned the gruesome truth.

Truth - Bidding - Farewell - Falsehood - Attitude

Yearning for truth not only entails bidding farewell to seductive falsehood. It also forbids an “ironic attitude to the world,” as Richard Rorty would define it, “putting the ‘world’ in quotation marks.” In the overuse of phrases such as “so...
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