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MLN 117.5 (2002) 1127-1131

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Michael Friedman, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer and Heidegger. Chicago: Open Court, 2000. xv + 175 pages.

In the summer of 1929, the small Swiss city of Davos hosted one of the most significant philosophical encounters in twentieth-century Europe, a debate between Ernst Cassirer, leader of the Marburg School, and Martin Heidegger, auteur cel├Ębre of Sein und Zeit [SZ] and recent inheritor of Husserl's chair of philosophy at Freiburg. Cassirer had just completed the third volume of his magnum opus, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms; Heidegger had just finished a book on Kant, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. The debate pitted them, like Thomas Mann's Settembrini and Naphta, against each other over the [End Page 1127] interpretation of Kant, generating considerable reaction from the philosophical world in both Germany and the Continent as a whole. Besides prominent Neo-Kantians, a number of philosophers, young and old, traveled to Davos. Rudolf Carnap, one of the central figures of the Vienna School of Logical Positivism, was there; participants from the French intellectual world included Leon Brunschvicg (at the height of his Parisian glory), as well as the young Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Cavaill├Ęs and Maurice de Gandillac; Franz Rosenzweig wrote about the Disputation from his home. Many left Davos having found Heidegger's interpretation of Kant electrifying (3); others appreciated Cassirer's more seasoned appropriation and later pointed to a certain contempt, perhaps anti-Semitic, on Heidegger's part (5n).

Michael Friedman's Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, Heidegger marks a renewal of interest in this grosse Disputation. Focusing on the triangle that graces his subtitle, Friedman treats the event as illustrative of the Analytic/Continental division (xi), with Carnap on the one side and Heidegger on the other, but also as the event whose aftermath instituted the rift, "to the point of total mutual incomprehension," between the two traditions (157). The traditional story of the debate has interpreted the distance between the thinkers by pointing to Cassirer's later resentment of Heidegger, and has treated Carnap's 1932 book The Overcoming of Metaphysics, his damning response to Heidegger's own 1929 "What is Metaphysics?" (12-13), as largely irrelevant to the Disputation. Friedman instead proceeds to complicate the picture by showing the positive climate fostered by Carnap, Cassirer and Heidegger in their meetings (5), as well as by contextualizing their respective texts and differences in both their friendly personal relationships and the larger sociopolitical context (3-4) in which they situated themselves.

Friedman weaves his story clearly and concisely, showing how this meeting between three philosophers in the tradition of Kant and Neo-Kantianism complicates the traditionally perceived divide between Analytic and Continental philosophy, and insisting on common points of interest and often-unanticipated agreement. Succinctly put, his main preoccupations in this context concern (i) the interweaving questions of truth, logic and objectivity (ch. 3, 4, 7, 8), and (ii) the relationships between the various, often closely-related dualistic conceptions in Kant, post-Kantian idealism and Neo-Kantianism (phenomena/noumena, internal/external, subject/object, logic/temporality, etc) (ch. 3, 6, 7; 143-44). Friedman underscores Cassirer and Carnap's philosophical agreements and mutual concerns (110, ch. 7), pointing to their fundamental reliance on science and logic, their search for a philosophy with a 'universally acceptable' non-metaphysical ground, and reading their 'failed' attempts effectively to join Kantian dualities as constitutive of their rejection of Heidegger. By contrast, Heidegger's insistence on temporality, his analytic of finitude (49) and rejection of the philosophical primacy of logic, mathematics and mathematical physics (21-22) helped produce a serious philosophical alternative to Carnap's 'scientism' and Cassirer's trust in the comprehensiveness and transcendental value of 'symbolic [End Page 1128] forms.' It also produced an interpretation of Kant that, precisely by turning these problematics on their heads (a favorite expression of Friedman's), in turn facilitated the destruction of the Neo-Kantian problematic and the Continental move into a "humanistic" (157) existentialist phenomenology that came to ignore problems of logic and to treat...


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