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The 1929 encounter between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger in Davos, Switzerland is considered one of the most important intellectual debates of the twentieth century and a founding moment of continental philosophy. At the same time, many commentators have questioned the philosophical profundity and coherence of the actual debate. In this book, the first comprehensive philosophical analysis of the Davos debate, Simon Truwant challenges these critiques. He argues that Cassirer and Heidegger's disagreement about the meaning of Kant's philosophy is motivated by their different views about the human condition, which in turn are motivated by their opposing conceptions of what the task of philosophy ultimately should be. Truwant shows that Cassirer and Heidegger share a grand philosophical concern: to comprehend and aid the human being's capacity to orient itself in and towards the world.
The introduction explains how Cassirer's writings interweave three philosophical objectives: elucidating the spheres, the unity, and the history of human culture. Throughout the twentieth century, Cassirer has been mainly remembered for the third component , yet his thought cannot be properly understood if one does not take into account each of these interrelated objectives.
This is the first comprehensive volume in English on Cassirer's philosophy for over seventy years. Eleven leading Cassirer scholars address all of the key aspects of Cassirer's multi-faceted thought and situate them in the wider context of his philosophy of culture. Their essays demonstrate the depth and richness of a philosophical enterprise that still awaits recognition as one of the most original contributions to twentieth-century philosophy. Interpreting Cassirer will prove invaluable not only for Cassirer scholars and researchers of early twentieth-century philosophy, but also for scholars of the philosophy of culture, language, science, art, history, and mind.
In this chapter, Simon Truwant claims that the philosophy of symbolic forms formulates a critique of and response to two dialectically related crises of culture: an intellectual crisis resulting from a lack of overall cultural unity and orientation, and a political crisis resulting from the political sphere overstepping its legitimate boundaries. First, this chapter analyses Cassirer’s accounts of these crises, and their interconnection, in terms of objectivity and truth. On this basis, it appears that Cassirer provides a useful philosophical framework for tackling not only the crisis of Western culture at the beginning of the twentieth century but also the “post-truth condition” that haunts it today. Next, by invoking Kant’s idea of the “cosmopolitan conception of philosophy,” Truwant argues that the philosophy of symbolic forms was set up to deal with this twofold crisis from the very beginning. This means that Cassirer’s later writings on the sociopolitical task of philosophy did not break with his systematic writings from the 1920s but rather revealed the motivation for his earlier thought.