Davos Dispute

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<p>The Davos Dispute: New Aspects The Philosophy of Cassirer in Light of His Dispute with Heidegger</p> <p>Irit KatsurPhD student at the Center for German Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem</p> <p>I am grateful to the Center for German Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose support made this project possible. I express special thanks for additional support that I received from the center for a journey to Leipzig, where I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Thomas Meyer to read Cassirers unpublished lectures, which are in his possession. A special acknowledgment is due to Dr. Meyer, who acquainted me with Cassirers manuscript, helped me read and translate it, and gave me much valuable advice about the secondary literature on this subject. I am also grateful to the Center for Austrian Studies of the Hebrew University for giving me an opportunity to go to Austria and participate several times in German-language courses there. I would also like to thank Prof. Elhanan Yakira for his supervision and Dr. Michael Roubach for helping me with the secondary literature. In addition, I am indebted to Ilia Dvorkin who organized regular philosophical meetings and to Dr. Tatiana Karachentsev and Yoel Regev, who participated in these meetings. Long and intense discussions with them clarified many ideas for me. Finally, I owe much to my beloved friend Alexander Zablotsky for his help in checking and correcting this manuscript.</p> <p>Contents</p> <p>Abbreviations.......</p> <p>3 5</p> <p>Introduction... 1: Phenomenology versus Neo-Kantianism1.1 The First Principle of Phenomenology.....</p> <p>14</p> <p>1.2 Critique of Husserl.... 18</p> <p>2: The Davos Dispute: Cassirer versus Heidegger2.1 Heideggers Critique of Cassirer...... 2.2 Cassirers Critique of Heidegger...... 22 26</p> <p>3: The Symbolic Philosophy3.1 The Dilemma of Life and Culture... 3.2 The Concept of Symbol... 3.3 The Phenomenon of Expression...................... 3.4 Symbolic Pregnance: The Meaning. 3.5 The World of Organic Forms.............. 29 35 39 40 43</p> <p>4: Ethics within the Symbolic Philosophy4.1 Discussion of the Place of Ethics in Cassirers Philosophy..... 4.2 Why Did Cassirer Have Difficulty Integrating Ethics with Symbolic Forms?...................... 4.3 Basis Phenomena...... 52 56 46</p> <p>Conclusion................ 60Bibliography........ 63</p> <p>2</p> <p>AbbreviationsFor the most frequently cited texts by Cassirer, the following abbreviations are used: DD</p> <p>Davos Disputation between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger", in Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [1929]. Appendices, pp. 171-186. Fourth edition, enlarged. Trans. Richard Taft. Indiana University Press, 1990.</p> <p>Works by Cassirer MS PSF IIV The Myth of the State. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Vol. I, Language [1923], trans. Ralph Manheim, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953, Vol. II, Mythical Thought, [1925] trans. Ralph Manheim, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953, Vol. III, The Phenomenology of Knowledge, [1929] trans. Ralph Manheim, reprinted: The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965, Vol. IV, The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms (including the text of Cassirers manuscript on Basis Phenomena), ed. J.M. Krois and D.P. Verene, trans. J.M. Krois. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.</p> <p>Works on Cassirer CSFH Krois, John Michael. Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.</p> <p>Works by Heidegger BT Being and Time [1927]. Trans. from the German Sein und Zeit (seventh edition, Tbingen, Neomarius Verlag) by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper &amp; Row, 1962. KPM EC Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [1929]. Fourth edition, enlarged. Trans. Richard Taft. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Ernst Cassirer: The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Part Two: Mythical Thought [Berlin, 1925]. Review in Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [1929], Appendix II (pp. 181-190). Trans. Peter 3</p> <p>Warnek. Fifth edition, enlarged. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.</p> <p>Works by Husserl I LI Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology [1913]. Trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson. London: Allen &amp; Unwin, 1952. Logical Investigations, Vol. 1. Trans. J.N. Findlay from LU, Vol. 2 [1913]. London: Routledge &amp; Kegan Paul, 1970.</p> <p>Works by Kant CPR Critique of Pure Reason [1787]. Trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.</p> <p>(For full bibliographical details, see Bibliography, p. 62.)</p> <p>4</p> <p>IntroductionThe purpose of this paper is to investigate the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer and to clarify some points in the discussion between him and Martin Heidegger, which took place in Davos in 1929 and subsequently continued in their writings. At the end of the 1920s, Heidegger and Cassirer were the most prominent philosophers in Germany. Heidegger started his philosophical career as a disciple and assistant of Edmund Husserl, who began a new philosophical methodology that was called phenomenology. Heidegger, however, introduced many changes in phenomenological inquiry. In his famous book BT, Heidegger developed a new hermeneutic approach to the question of being that many consider the main achievement of twentieth-century philosophy. Cassirer began his philosophical career as a disciple of the neo-Kantian philosopher Hermann Cohen. Heidegger and many others viewed him as a representative of the neo-Kantian movement, the philosophical school that competed with phenomenology and was strongly criticized by Heidegger. However, in his threevolume work that was published in the 1920s, Cassirer proposed a new philosophy that deviated from the neo-Kantian position. It was called the philosophy of symbolic forms, and its purpose was to reconcile two major philosophical movements: phenomenology and neo-Kantianism. In March 1929, at the annual meeting of the II. Davosser Hochshulkurse", the two philosophers and many other academics from various parts of Europe presented lectures. 1 The discussion topic was Was ist der Mensch? (What is man?). During the first week of the conference, Cassirer gave three lectures on the philosophy of anthropology, and on March 26 the famous encounter between him and Heidegger took place. In the debate both Heidegger and Cassirer offered their own way of interpreting Kant, based on which they justified their respective philosophical positions. Heidegger maintained that the main goal of philosophy is to find a basis for the philosophical, cultural, and scientific domains of being, and criticized Cassirer and other neo-Kantian philosophers for lacking such a basis. Heidegger claimed that all human values must be bounded within finite existence and cannot presume to go1</p> <p>The meeting held at the Grand Hotel and Belvedere, Davos-Platz, lasted from Sunday, March 17, to Saturday, April 6, 1929.</p> <p>5</p> <p>beyond it. Cassirer, for his part, charged Heidegger with lacking a transcendent dimension and, hence, being unable to go beyond the given in his existential extrapolation of being. Cassirer argued that without this dimension, Heidegger was unable to explain the objective aspects of human being or, what is more important, the objectivity of ethical values. Having studied in a theological college, Heidegger had a good acquaintance with theological tradition and was influenced by religious outlooks even though he developed a strictly atheist position. 2 Heideggers existential philosophy posited immanent being, within which every realm of human is structured. This philosophy can be viewed as the apex of the secular thought that was initiated by Nietzsche, according to whom all transcendence, not only divine and moral values, but also every determination of objective significance such as scientific laws should be discarded as exhausted and speculative. 3 Heidegger also did away with theological relicts of Self", which he replaced with Dasein, or immanent extension of being. Heidegger thereby weakened the ties with the dualistic Cartesian tradition of mind and body, which had dominated European thought. His ideas indeed appeared revolutionary and provocative and hence attained more support than those of Cassirer, who wanted to preserve meaning, the ideal, and truth i.e., to animate the God who had been killed. Cassirer was, indeed, considered a philosopher of transcendence. He advocated a universality of values and forms both in the domain of knowledge and of ethics. He strongly opposed Heideggers ethical relativism, which resulted from the annihilation of transcendence. The common view is that Cassirer developed a highly rational, ethical philosophy based on universal principles, but lacked the basis of being. This one-sided view is, however, disputable. Cassirer did not try to make existence dependent on transcendence, without roots in the immanence of experience. We shall see that the originality of Cassirers symbolic doctrine lay in integrating the immanence of life with the transcendence of form. I will maintain that both Cassirer and Heidegger broke with the Cartesian dualistic mind-body conception, though Cassirer did not want to eschew the domain of transcendence. According to Cassirer, the sphere of the beyond should be discovered in the very immanence of life, not in</p> <p>2 3</p> <p>Cf.: Ernst Cassirer, Geist and Life, in PSF IV (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 200. Cf.: Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche. 2 Bd. Pfullingen: Neske, 1961.</p> <p>6</p> <p>self-consciousness and not in being to death. This something his contemporaries did not properly understand was the task of Cassirers philosophy. Cassirers philosophy, like Heideggers, reveals the ground of being and also contains an irrational aspect that can lead to the undermining of moral values. Hence, despite many evident differences between the two philosophies, Cassirers cannot completely avoid the ethical problems that he discerned in Heideggers thought. Nevertheless, Cassirer by no means wanted to arrive at ethical relativism. His doctrine was related to the old endeavor to preserve transcendence by means of practical philosophy. This endeavor began with Kant, who posited ethics in place of God, was continued by Hermann Cohen, and was also shared by Cassirer, who desired to incorporate ethics in his symbolic philosophy though he did not managed to do it. After the Davos dispute, Heideggers philosophical doctrine received much more support and had greater success in the philosophical community than Cassirers position. Cassirer can be called the last advocate of transcendence. Already at the Davos meeting, the majority of the philosophers followed Heideggers doctrine, which was considered more promising and original than Cassirers. Moreover, after World War II the optimistic nineteenth-century belief in the moral and rational essence of man, shared by Hermann Cohen and Cassirer, nearly collapsed. As a result of the Nazi period, Heideggers view of finite human existence as filled with fear and worry and subordinated by destiny appeared much more realistic than Cassirers claims about the eternity of the good. Hence Heideggers thought strongly influenced the later continental philosophy; especially postwar French philosophy, as well as cultural studies and literary criticism. As a result of this influence, Cassirers ideas were nearly forgotten. The other reason for the neglect of Cassirers ideas is the difficulty of reading his works, a difficulty that has several aspects. One is the incompleteness of Cassirers philosophy. Being in exile since 1933, along with the circumstances of this period, made it hard for Cassirer to complete his philosophy as he intended.4 He planned to produce works dealing with ethics as well as with art that must appear in the next volumes of PSF. He began to develop an ethical and art philosophy of symbolic forms, but he was only able to compose notes about it. As the researchers of Cassirers philosophy, John Michael Krois and Donald Phillip Verene remarked:See J.M. Krois and D.P. Verene, Introduction, in PSF IV (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).4</p> <p>7</p> <p>These were war years, and the explanation for Cassirers not finishing this project may be the same as the reason he gave later, in the United States, for not producing a work on art the malice or Ungust, of the times. 5 Another difficulty with Cassirer is the complexity of his philosophical task of integrating immanence with transcendence and explaining the manifoldness of human culture. And as Lofts points out, Cassirers main principle, which dominated all his thought, is that the whole always comes before the parts. The parts do not exist prior to the whole, and cannot be understood outside their place and function in the whole. 6 This principle, however, makes it difficult for Cassirer scholars to characterize his ideas clearly and causes the obvious embarrassment in which Cassirer scholarship finds itself when it attempts to define a satisfactory frame of reference for its interpretation of the Cassirerian project. 7 Furthermore, the highly erudite Cassirer tended to stress the unity of his thought with that of other philosophers. His books are filled with ideas of numerous thinkers that Cassirer tried to integrate with his philosophy, and this increases the difficulty of his texts, creates uncertainty about his position, and puts the cogency of his philosophy in question. As a result of all these factors, Cassirers doctrines, compared to Heideggers, were relegated to the sidelines of philosophical development. In my view, the only partial continuation of Cassirers ideas is the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, though he never said this was the case. Levinas developed an ethical theory based on the unperceivable expression of the Other, of the Others transcendence a theory that can be viewed as a kind of extension of Cassirers original, unfinished project. The Davos dispute immediately attracted attention in intellectual circles and became almost legendary in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. It seemed a kind of return of the Socratic living philosophical dialogue, certainly more vivid than books and papers. By the turn of the last century, many scholars agreed that this meeting gave a certain sense of the future of German philosophy. 8 Gordon</p> <p>Ibid., xxiii. Steve G. Lofts, Introduction, in Ernst Cassirer: A Repetition of Modernity (Foreword by John Michael Krois) (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), 19. 7 Ibid. 8 ...bei dem es im gewissen Sinne um die Zukunft der deutschen Philosophie ging ( Raymond Klibansky, Erinnerung an ein Jahrhundert. Gesprche mit Georges Leroux, Frankfurt/M., 2001, 44) in6</p> <p>5</p> <p>8</p> <p>characterized this dispute as almost the most frequently cited conversation in the history of modern European thought that conversation was so closely bound with the fate of European culture. 9 Interest in the political aspect of the Heidegger-...</p>