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Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos Paperback – February 6, 2012
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Continental Divide conjugates an even-handed reconstruction of the debate and its lasting significance with an astute analysis of how philosophy revisits its own past in order to define its present circumstances. Of interest to both specialists and generalists, this study sets the benchmark for all future discussions of the relation of Heidegger and Cassirer. (Thomas Sheehan, Stanford University)
A paradigm of philosophically informed intellectual history, this fascinating, wide-ranging book provides a comprehensive account of an epic intellectual confrontation, and uses it as a lens through which to focus on the ideas, forces, characters, and personalities that shaped the debate at a crucial cusp of European thought. (Robert B. Brandom, University of Pittsburgh)
In Rosenzweig and Heidegger, Gordon concludes with a reading of the 1929 debate between Heidegger and Cassirer at a philosophical conference at Davos, Switzerland...Gordon here returns to this primal scene and reconstructs the event with extraordinarily thoughtful and scrupulous precision. This debate has achieved legendary status in the history of contemporary thought and is regarded as opening an abyss between those who base philosophy on scientific reason, and the human power of reflection, and those who are haunted by the unthinkable, the unsaid, and the unsayable...By judiciously reconstructing Cassirer's and Heidegger's arguments, Gordon definitively unveils the subtle refinement of Heidegger's positions and shows with new clarity that this struggle over Kant's legacy has relentlessly unfolded over the 20th century. A work of exceptional significance. (N. Lukacher Choice 2010-11-01)
[An] extraordinary book...Each of its pages of sustained philosophical explication excites and astonishes, and in the process teaches us new ways of thinking about the history of ideas...After [Gordon's] brilliant reading, we can no longer simply ascribe Heidegger's and Cassirer's differences to inimical philosophies...Gordon's manifesto will resonate with historians of my generation. (David Nirenberg New Republic 2011-02-03)
Continental Divide provides the definitive narrative and analysis of the Davos incident, its background, its context and its aftermath. Gordon neither abstracts the philosophical debate from its contemporary setting, nor reduces it to its extraphilosophical ramifications. He has a masterly understanding of the philosophy, but insists that abstract ideas, too, very often wear layers of historical clothing...He sees that the hermeneutic disagreement was genuine and that real philosophical issues were at stake in the collision of Cassirer's celebration of rational spontaneity with Heidegger's concept of thrownness--the collision, that is, of idealism with existentialism. Gordon refuses to boil those ideas off in either uncritical historicism or easy political editorializing. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, and his narrative never ascends to such a lofty historical perspecti ve that the philosophical air becomes too thin to breathe. (Taylor Carman Times Literary Supplement 2011-11-04)
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Top Customer Reviews
Many on the next generation of European philosophers were interested spectators at the debate. (Others falsely claimed or misremembered that they were present. Gordon unfortunately does not attempt a complete list.Read more ›
At the time of their Davos meeting, Cassirer and Heidegger were renowned. The older philosopher, Cassirer, was an urbane German-Jewish philosopher and a neo-Kantian who had written extensively on the history of philosophy, including a three-volume statement of his own philosophical approach, "The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms". Heidegger was born in rural Germany to a family of modest means and saw himself as an outsider. Before the Davos debate, Heidegger and published only one book, but it was extraordinary and made him famous. The book,"Being and Time" (1927) has become a classic of philosophical literature. In their Davos debate, Cassirer and Heidegger explored the issues that divided them and also tried to see the extent to which they shared common ground.Read more ›
This book has many, many virtues:
(1) It is a clear exposition of the elements of the Davos debate between Cassirer and Heidegger. From this, you can get a real sense of what it is like for two masters of philosophy to expound and argue. Philosophy students would learn a lot about how to argue.
(2) The event throws a powerful light on the tensions in Weimar Culture, and the text covers them in exemplary fashion.
(3) The erudition of both philosophers shines through: the whole debate centers around the interpretation of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, which both men have at their fingertips.
(4) Gordon makes very clear what is at stake between the two interpretations and the world views of Cassirer and Heidegger. He is very, very judicious between the two. It is not a hatchet job on either man: rather the reader comes away deeply impressed by both figures and their committments.
(5) Gordon is an excellent writer. I am in awe of his capacity to navigate through both the narrative and the philosophical arguments.
Gordon isn't as bad as, say, William D. Blattner's two books. Those books, especially the B&T guide, remain the worst secondary literature on Heidegger I've ever read. Farias's great historiographical book was even-handed but collapsed when trying to convey MH's thinking after 1930. Gordon is able to both moderate that peculiar, liberal humanitarian moralizing while conveying B&T in the now superficial, traditional terminology that secondary-literature has adopted in its attempt to explain it. I can't believe people still call Heidegger an existentialist.
I could see someone that hasn't read any of Heidegger's books after the 1930's enjoying this book, or someone who has just studied or taken a course on Being and Time. Its for that level of understanding, the very beginning. I came to this book as a veteran and I admit it was boring for me. I bought it because I had read Geoff Waite's awesome essay on Heidegger, Cassirer and 'Esotericism' and wanted to know the details of Davos. There really wasn't much to learn outside of an appreciation of Leo Strauss's comments regarding the emptiness and lostness of Cassirer and all of academic philosophy in the face of Heidegger. Gordon provides the context for this despite himself.Read more ›