Hans Blumenberg's philosophical anthropology: After Heidegger and Cassirer

Journal of the History of Philosophy 46 (3):pp. 421-448 (2008)
In this paper, I situate Hans Blumenberg historically and conceptually in relation to a subtheme in the famous debate between Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer at Davos, Switzerland in 1929. The subtheme concerns Heidegger’s and Cassirer’s divergent attitudes toward philosophical anthropology as it relates to the starting points and goals of philosophy. I then reconstruct Blumenberg’s anthropology, which involves reconceptualizing Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms in relation to Heidegger’s objections to the philosophical anthropology of his day (e.g., Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, and Arnold Gehlen) as unduly anthropocentric. Blumenberg builds on anthropologist Gehlen’s assumption that human beings are biologically underdetermined and therefore world-open. With this starting point, symbolic forms, such as myth and language, make up a compensatory life-world that supports human existence. Action, or self-assertion, which is necessary given the lack of a seamless fit between human beings and the environment, is thus circumscribed and shaped by the historied, cultural constructs that constitute a life-world. Human beings can thus be characterized as a species that continually renegotiates the shape of its existence through its relation to biological limits on the one hand and cultural constants on the other. Because Blumenberg and philosophical anthropology are relatively unexplored by Anglophone philosophers, and because philosophical anthropology is central to Blumenberg’s methodology generally, this study provides an introduction to both.
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DOI 10.1353/hph.0.0031
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