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4.0 out of 5 stars Useful study of a clash of idealisms, 15 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Continental Divide (Hardcover)
Peter Gordon is the Amabel B. James Professor of History at Harvard University. In this fascinating book, he explores the famous debate between the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer at Davos in 1929.

These two men were the most eminent representatives of the then leading schools of idealism in philosophy - Heidegger for existentialism and Cassirer for neo-Kantianism. Heidegger notoriously became a Nazi; Cassirer, a Jew, had to flee Germany. Some may find it surprising that two thinkers, apparently so different, shared the same basic philosophy, but the proof is here.

In Heidegger's magnum opus Being and Time (1927), he praised idealism as the only correct philosophy, writing, "idealism affords the only correct possibility for a philosophical problematic."

Gordon writes of neo-Kantianism that Kant's "dualism between concepts and intuitions had struck a great many critics as an unfortunate and perhaps indefensible compromise with empiricism, because it presupposed an unverifiably metaphysical object-independence. It was [Hermann] Cohen's major achievement to do away with this dogmatic reading of the thing-in-itself by suggesting that it was merely a thought-object, an object which had its origin in thought alone. ... The thing-in-itself was accordingly abandoned in favor of a purely conceptual coherentism that replaced the empiricist model of truth as correspondence to an independent object, with a purely intellectualistic model of truth as the systematic coherence among concepts. And it was this argument perhaps most of all that both proponents and critics saw as the defining feature of Marburg neo-Kantianism: its rejection of metaphysics."

The materialist view, the scientific view, is that space-time is not human-dependent. But Cassirer opposed the idea that there is `a metaphysical substrate of independent reality', calling it a `realistic-dogmatic ontology'. Cassirer, like all idealists, miscalled the physical reality existing outside of us and outside of our thoughts as its opposite, as metaphysical. They reverse the meaning of the word meta - beyond - and physis - nature.

Saint Augustine wrote that time was `an extension of the mind itself'. Cassirer agreed that time is `created by thought itself a priori'. The notion of a priori judgements is itself idealist, since "their truth was ascertained independent of empirical experience."

Idealism as a philosophy rejects materialism and all the sciences that build our understanding of the world. Idealists hate Darwin. As Gordon writes, "For the philosophical anthropologists the threat of reductionistic disenchantment that accompanied the mechanistic and random-selection doctrines of modern evolutionary biology could only be disarmed through a newly holistic understanding of the human being."

The rejection of materialism opens the door to endless, pointless, irresolvable dialogues, as between `spirit' and `life', and between Heidegger and Cassirer at Davos.
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