Modern Intellectual History



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CONTINENTAL DIVIDE: ERNST CASSIRER AND MARTIN HEIDEGGER AT DAVOS, 1929—AN ALLEGORY OF INTELLECTUAL HISTORY


PETER ELI GORDON a1
a1 Department of History, Harvard University

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Abstract

The 1929 ‘Davos encounter’ between Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer has long been viewed by intellectual historians as a paradigmatic event not only for its philosophical meaning but also for its apparently cultural-political ramifications. But such interpretations easily lend legitimacy to a broader and recently ascendant intellectual-historical trend that would reduce philosophy to an allegorical expression of ostensibly more ‘real’ or instrumentalist meanings. However, as this essay tries to show, the core of the dispute between Cassirer and Heidegger is irreducibly philosophical: the Davos debate brought into focus the emergent themes of the so-called “Kant-crisis” of the 1920s, and cast new light upon neo-Kantian doctrines as to the status of objectivity and the possibility for intersubjective consensus in both knowledge and ethics. The Davos encounter cannot be retroactively decided on political or cultural grounds, since it concerns just that unresolved tension between transcendentalism and hermeneutics that is itself constitutive of intellectual history as a discipline.