The Relevance of Cassirer and the Rewriting of Intellectual History

History of European Ideas 41 (4):447-453 (2015)

SummaryThis essay aims to discuss the historiographical implications and premises of Peter Gordon's masterly book Continental Divide, in which he re-evaluates the Davos meeting between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger. This impressive reminder of the prospects of intellectual history deserves to be paid serious attention, particularly in European philosophy departments. Gordon's book exemplifies how problems of systematic philosophy can be clarified by a detour through history.I want to highlight three aspects of Gordon's book that fundamentally transform and deepen our understanding of intellectual history in general and the Davos meeting in particular. First, I highlight one of the main merits of Gordon's study: his emphasis on the plurality behind the term ‘continental philosophy’. This opens up a whole new perspective on a seemingly well-known event within the history of twentieth-century philosophy. Second, I address Gordon's methodological premises, which challenge and fundamentally transform our understanding of intellectual history. Third, I attempt to summarise, from an intellectual history perspective, Gordon's argument about Cassirer's relevance. Here we are faced with the task of realigning and legitimising philosophy in a radically historicised world. To adumbrate the core of my comment I should say that I am thrilled by Gordon's book. I agree with nearly everything he says apart from his conclusions. In a closing remark I will try to explain the reasons for this surprising divergence.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2014.980055
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