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  • Plato in Germany: Kant-Natorp-Heidegger
  • Colin McQuillan
Alan Kim . Plato in Germany: Kant-Natorp-Heidegger. International Plato Studies, 27. Sankt Augustine: Academia Verlag, 2010. Pp. 312. Cloth, €59.00.

Plato in Germany addresses the differences between Paul Natorp's and Martin Heidegger's interpretations of Plato. It is through their interpretations of Plato, Alan Kim suggests, that Natorp and Heidegger develop their own philosophies. Because Kim situates his study in relation to the Kantian legacy in German philosophy, the divergence of Marburg Neo-Kantianism and Husserlian phenomenology, and the development of Heidegger's fundamental ontology, however, his work becomes much more complicated.

The first chapter of Plato in Germany, which deals with Kant's interpretation of Plato, is perhaps the weakest in the book. Kant's occasional references to Plato may suggest a peculiar understanding of the Greek philosopher, but calling it an interpretation is, perhaps, giving Kant too much credit. To suggest, as Kim does, that Kant's interpretation of Plato exerted a decisive influence on the development of his critical philosophy is almost certainly going too far. It is not likely that Plato, through Mendelssohn's Phädon, made Kant reconsider his earlier defense of a "moral sense" theory; nor is it likely that Brucker's criticisms of Plato led Kant to reconsider the conception of the noumena he defended in his inaugural dissertation. Plato's name may appear in texts related to these issues, but Kant was not the kind of thinker who developed his ideas through interpretations of other philosophers. He positioned himself with respect to their main ideas, to be sure, but few subtly evolving interpretations are to be found in his works.

The second and third chapters of Plato in Germany trace the interpretation of Plato from Königsberg to Marburg, situating Natorp's reading of Plato within the intellectual history of nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany. Kim identifies several key themes—the determination of laws; the identification of processes; the elaboration of systems; the confrontation with positivism, psychologism, and historicism—that connect German idealism and empiricism to Marburg Neo-Kantianism. Kim also shows how Natorp takes up these themes in his epistemology and philosophy of science, as well as his interpretation of Plato.

In chapter 4, Kim describes how Platonism allowed Natorp to think about the relationship between ideal form and empirical content in a way that avoided psychologism. The Platonic forms become, for Natorp, what the categories are for Kant. They are pure concepts that unify and determine the manifold given in sensibility. By analyzing these concepts and [End Page 382] showing how they ground valid judgments, Natorp thought it would be possible to establish a set of basic functions that would constitute the logic of the sciences. Such a view is, perhaps, to be expected from a Neo-Kantian like Natorp, but his attempt to articulate the logic of the sciences through a developmental reading of Plato's Phaedrus, Theaetetus, Phaedo, Republic, Sophist, and Parmenides becomes much clearer with the help of Kim's commentary.

Chapters 5 and 6 are contextualizing chapters, where Kim lays out the differences between Natorp's Neo-Kantianism and Husserlian phenomenology and the archaic interpretation of Plato developed in the circle around the poet Stefan George. Like the second and third chapters, these chapters could be accused of biting off more than they can chew; yet they are genuinely impressive contributions to the intellectual history of the period. Kim provides a lucid account of the issues that united and divided Natorp and Husserl in their attempts to establish the logical and methodological foundation of the sciences. His account of George's influence on the Plato interpretations of Karl Reinhardt, Heinrich Friedemann, Kurt Hildebrandt, and Paul Friedländer is similarly impressive. Kim shows how George's influence moved German interpretation of Plato away from questions of science, towards aestheticism and intuitionism.

Kim addresses Heidegger's 1924/25 lectures on Plato's Sophist in chapter 7. While this chapter may seem to follow more naturally from chapter 5, the interpolation of the chapter on the George circle allows the reader to recognize alternative influences on Heidegger's reading of Plato. Kim highlights the "archaist...


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