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Keywords:

  • Davos debate;
  • Heidegger;
  • Cassirer;
  • decisionism;
  • relativism;
  • symbolic forms;
  • philosophy of existence;
  • history of Being

ABSTRACT

In 1929 Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger participated in a momentous debate in Davos, Switzerland, which is widely held to have marked an important division in twentieth-century European thought. Peter E. Gordon's recent book, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, centers on this debate between these two philosophical adversaries. In his book Gordon examines the background of the debate, the issues that distinguished the respective positions of Cassirer and Heidegger, and the legacy of the debate for later decades. Throughout the work, Gordon concisely portrays the source of disagreement between the two adversaries in terms of a difference between Cassirer's philosophy of spontaneity and Heidegger's philosophy of receptivity, or of “thrownness” (Geworfenheit), into a situation that finite human beings can never hope to master. Although it recognizes that this work provides an important contribution to our understanding of the Davos debate and to twentieth-century European thought, this review essay subjects Gordon's manner of interpreting the distinction between Cassirer and Heidegger to critical scrutiny. Its purpose is to examine the possibility that important aspects of the debate, which do not conform to the grid imposed by Gordon's interpretation, might have been set aside in the context of his analysis.