Another Kind of Parting

Another Kind of Parting

Hans Sluga

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

Michael Friedman has written an eye-opening and ambitious monograph on three exceptional figures in twentieth century philosophy. Eye-opening, because he offers us a significantly new perspective on the split between “analytic” and “continental” philosophy. Ambitious, because he combines wide-ranging historical scholarship with a bold attempt to spell out an entire philosophical agenda.


Friedman’s main thesis is straightforward. He holds that the nature and sources of the analytic/continental divide can be greatly illuminated by seeing that the two traditions have “evolved in sharply diverging directions from a common neo-Kantian heritage.” (p. xi) Friedman’s reminder of the crucial role that neo-Kantianism played before the rise of both analytic and continental philosophy is valuable. The neo-Kantians prepared, in fact, the ground for much of what has gone on in the philosophy of the twentieth century. But their contributions to philosophical logic, to the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of science, their interest in the cultural sciences and in ethics, and their creative concern with the history of philosophy have for the most part been forgotten. Friedman is rightly convinced that the neo-Kantian tradition deserves our fullest attention, if we want to understand what has gone on since then.


This he seeks to illustrate by depicting early Carnap and Heidegger as reacting in opposite directions to the neo-Kantian thematic. He writes:


Just as Carnap begins his philosophical career by attempting to realize the philosophical

ambitions of the Marburg School of neo-Kantianism using the new mathematical logic

created by Frege, Heidegger begins his career by attempting to resolve the outstanding

problems of the Southwest School using the new phenomenological method due to

Husserl. (p. 149)


This forthright assertion may, however, need qualification. There is no question that all European thinkers in this period are reacting in some fashion or other to the Kantian heritage. This is obvious not only for Carnap and Heidegger but just as much for Frege, Moore, and Russell, as well as for Husserl and Mach, and indirectly (via Schopenhauer) even for the early Wittgenstein.[i] But the ways and degrees in which they respond to the Kantian system and its neo-Kantian reconstructions differ remarkably. The question is therefore to what extent neo-Kantianism is of specific significance for the development of Carnap’s and Heidegger’s thinking.


Friedman draws in his discussion of Carnap on the fact that he began his philosophical studies under Bruno Bauch, a leader of the Southwest wing of neo-Kantianism, “who was also influenced by the more scientifically oriented Marburg School.” (p. 63) Carnap’s examination of intuitive space in his dissertation is, moreover, according to his own testimony directly “under the influence of Kant and the neo-Kantians, especially Natorp and Cassirer.” (cited p. 65) Friedman admits that after 1924 Carnap begins to distance himself from neo-Kantianism but even in Der Logische Aufbau der Welt  “Carnap by no means intends simply to supplant neo-Kantianism by ‘positivism.’.” (p. 71) He asserts, rather, in § 75 of his book that “the merit of having discovered the necessary basis of the constitutional system … belongs to two entirely different, and often mutually hostile, philosophical systems.” (cited p. 71) While positivism has stressed the basis of cognition in experience, neo-Kantians like Rickert, Cassirer, and Bauch have emphasized the need for positing additional systems of ordering. This much in Friedman’s account is indubitable. The question for the interpreter is, however, how deep the neo-Kantian influences go and how essential they are for the overall project of the Aufbau. Friedman’s account seems to conflict here with Carnap’s own later claim that “the strongest effect on my philosophical thinking were Frege and Russell” and that Frege influenced him most decisively in logic and semantics while “in my philosophical thinking in general I learned most from Bertrand Russell.”[ii] Carnap’s “Intellectual Autobiography” also declares without qualification that the Aufbau was “inspired by Russell’s description of the aim and method of future philosophy.”[iii] One might, of course, dismiss such characterizations as errors of memory but the correspondence between Russell and Carnap during the 1920’s fully confirms this later account. Friedman’s underestimation of the influence of Russell on the Aufbau and his resultant overestimation of that of the neo-Kantians appears to be due a simplistic picture of Russell’s position which he has taken over from Quine and Goodman. According to this picture Russell is just another empiricist “in the tradition of Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Mach” whereas closer study of his texts can show us that there exists, in fact, a significant overlap between Russell’s and Carnap’s projects in the period in question.[iv]


As far as Heidegger is concerned, Friedman proceeds from the premise that he “received his philosophical education within the neo-Kantian tradition of the Southwest School as it was articulated by Rickert in Freiburg.” (p. 39) In his doctoral dissertation and in his Habilitationsschrift Heidegger showed himself therefore not surprisingly “to be a faithful follower of Rickert indeed.” (p. 40) After Rickert had left Freiburg in 1916, Heidegger became admittedly  attracted to the more developed transcendental psychology of  Husserl, Rickert’s successor. But “the problematic he inherited from Rickert and Lask helps to explain why Heidegger could not remain satisfied with Husserl’s conception of phenomenology.” (p. 46) The result was the “subjective logic” of Being and Time, “the so-called existential analytic of Dasein” (p. 46) with which Heideggerfinally thought to have overcome the problematic of neo-Kantian epistemology.  This picture of Heidegger’s philosophical development differs, however, sharply from Heidegger’s own in the curriculum vitae attached to his Habilitationsschrift – composed at the time when his professional future was entirely dependent on Rickert’s good will. He speaks there of Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and textbooks of scholastic philosophy as the sources of his earliest philosophical thought. There followed the reading of Husserl’s Philosophical Investigations “which became decisive for the course of my scholarly development.” Subsequently, in the winter of 1911, Heidegger began to attend the Rickert’s seminars at Freiburg and they introduced him to an understanding of the nature of logic and of modern philosophy since Kant. Nevertheless, “my basic philosophical convictions remained those of Aristotelian-scholastic philosophy.” The doctoral dissertation sought therefore to draw equally “on modern logic and basic Aristotelian-scholastic judgments.” The reading of Fichte, Hegel, and Dilthey and further study of Rickert led him from there to a new engagement with the medieval philosophy. Thus originated the Habilitationsschrift on theory of categories and meaning in Duns Scotus whose wider aim was “a comprehensive account of   medieval logic and psychology in the light of modern phenomenology.” The impression of an intellectual distance to Rickert that Heidegger gives in these words is confirmed by Rickert’s reaction to the Habilitationsschrift; though he was its official evaluator he left the reading and assessment of the work , in fact, to a substitute, the Catholic theologian Engelbert Krebs.[v] When Heidegger writes Being and Time neo-Kantian seem, in any case, have become enttirely residual to him; what dominates are, instead, phenomenological, existential, and historicist strains of thought.


These observations are, of course, insufficient as a response to Friedman’s subtle and informed neo-Kantian reading of Carnap and Heidegger; but they ought to suffice for showing that his interpretation is controversial. Friedman recognizes, of course, that his account cannot be the whole story. He freely acknowledges that his emphasis on the bearing of neo-Kantianism on Carnap’s thought ignores “influences coming from Wittgenstein, Russell, the empiricist tradition, and even Leibniz” and that in Heidegger’s case his account is “at the expense of the genuinely ontological preoccupations” which Heidegger has derived from the ancient Greeks. (p. xii) But are such acknowledgments enough?


Even more problematic is his broader claim that the analytic/continental divide is best understood in terms of Carnap’s and Heidegger’s divergent responses to the neo-Kantian heritage. His story ignores Moore’s and Russell’s revolt against the idealist tradition at the turn of the century. This was recognized at the time as a “split” by all the parties involved as we can see from Collingwood’s angry denunciations of the new generation of anti-idealist English philosophers.[vi] Friedman’s account also ignores the late nineteenth century growth of a militantly anti-philosophical positivism in continental Europe which in Vienna crystallized first in the work of Ernst Mach and then in the first Vienna Circle of 1908. Here, too, there was from the start a clear consciousness of a “divide” between the fronts quite independent of what went on between Carnap and Heidegger.[vii] These episodes suggest that the parting of analytic and continental philosophy was certainly not due to a single event, a single dispute, a single issue but the outcome of a whole and diverse series of differentiations. That picture corresponds to the realization that analytic philosophy has no single point of origin but is from the beginning a cooperative, collective, supranational enterprise.[viii]


Friedman is not unaware of these complexities. In refining his thesis he writes modestly that his account of Carnap, Heidegger, and Cassirer in terms of the fate of neo-Kantianism is simply meant “to shed as much light as possible on the analytic/continental divide from the point of view of this one particular cluster of ideas.” (p. xiii) But that raises the question why this particular point of view deserves the attention that Friedman gives it. For an answer we must look at the larger picture he sketches of the history of philosophy since Kant. [ix]


The Kantian system represents, on his view, “a remarkable synthesis of virtually the whole of human thought.” (p. 145) Post-Kantian idealism, however, abandoned Kant’s architectonic in favor of a systematic unity of nature and spirit, of reason and culture. After the demise of idealism there

arose ultimately the neo-Kantians who rejected both Kant’s original opposition between sensible and intellectual faculties and the subsequent attempt to establish the metaphysical unity of nature and spirit. The neo-Kantians instead re-interpreted Kant’s transcendental logic as an epistemology of the positive sciences of their time. They did so, however, in a Kantian spirit by taking science to mean the whole field of human understanding, that is, both the natural and the human and cultural sciences. But with the destruction of Kant’s architectonic, the neo-Kantians could no longer rely on pure logic as the framework for a philosophy of the whole of intellectual and cultural life. Hence, the need for Cassirer’s “herculean efforts” to construct a comprehensive philosophy of symbolic forms. His attempt to produce such a philosophy proved, however, inadequate and “we are

finally left (in the present space of intellectual possibilities, of course) with the fundamental philosophical dilemma presented by Carnap and Heidegger.” (p. 156) These two respond in radically different ways to the problems left over by the unaccomplished neo-Kantian synthesis. While Carnap holds on to formal logic as the ideal of universal validity and confines himself to the

philosophy of the exact mathematical sciences, Heidegger cuts himself off from logic in pursuit of an understanding of the human condition. Friedman concludes:


If I am not mistaken, it is precisely this dilemma that lies at the heart of the twentieth

century  opposition between “analytic” and “continental” philosophical traditions, which

thus rests, from a purely philosophical point of view, on the systematic cracks in the

original Kantian architectonic. (p. 156)


In order to overcome the persistent dilemma, Friedman considers it helpful to turn back to Cassirer. Not that we can simply appropriate his view-point; but Cassirer, he believes, can still define for us an agenda on which analytic philosophy may fruitfully proceed, one which will allow it, moreover, to enter a productive engagement with the concerns of the continental tradition. For while Carnap and Heidegger were creating the division between the two traditions, Cassirer was making “an

heroic attempt to bridge the ever widening gap between the scientifically oriented approach to philosophy championed by Carnap and the decisive attempt to move philosophy in a quite

contrary direction represented by Heidegger.” (p. xii) His work can, for that reason, serve to “provide us with new possibilities and renewed motivation for making a similarly heroic effort for

ourselves.” (p. xii) Friedman considers it, in fact, “hard to imagine making progress without increased appreciation for both the strengths and weaknesses” of Cassirer’s wide-ranging and

deeply synthetic style of philosophical thought. (p. xii) He concludes his monograph accordingly with the words:


Those interested in finally beginning a reconciliation of the analytic and continental

traditions… can find no better starting point than the rich treasure of  ideas, ambitions,

and analyses stored in his astonishingly comprehensive body of philosophical work.

(p. 159)


In order to substantiate his picture of Cassirer as a potential mediator between the analytic and the continental traditions Friedman turns to an account of the “International University Course” at Davos in Switzerland in the Spring of 1929 in which Cassirer and Heidegger disputed over the interpretation of Kant’s critical philosophy. The event has become famous in recent years as symbolizing a watershed in the philosophical currents of the time with Cassirer standing for the waning tide of neo-Kantianism, which had dominated German philosophy for half a century and Heidegger for the new rising waters in philosophy. Because of the political turmoil of the following years which forced the Jewish and politically liberal Cassirer to flee Germany and led Heidegger to identify misguidedly with Hitler’s regime, the Davos meeting has also come to be seen as a

confrontation between Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment forces in European philosophy. Such a political interpretation of the Davos meeting is, however, questionable because political differences played no role in the Davos discussions, the Enlightenment was not at stake in them, and it is far from clear that Heidegger was even vaguely motivated by political concerns at that time.


Friedman understands that the political interpretation of Davos is problematic; but he, too, emphasizes the difference in the political and social ideals of those involved in it and while he does not argue the case, he, too, suggests that there is an inherent link between the more technical philosophical views of Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger and their political commitments. This will certainly require further argumentation since we know by now that some of Cassirer’s fellow neo-Kantians also became National Socialists in 1933 (e.g., Bruno Bauch), that some logicians and positivists did likewise (e.g., Gerhardt Gentzen and Hugo Dingler), and that some existential philosophers were committed democrats (e.g., Karl Jaspers). The relations between philosophical views and political commitments are, so it appears, less tidy than we like to imagine.


But the supposedly political side of the Davos debate is, in any case, not of central concern to Friedman. More important to him is the fact that Rudolf Carnap was in the audience during the three week event and managed to have conversations with Heidegger (and presumably also with Cassirer). Shortly afterwards he wrote his polemical essay “Overcoming Metaphysics” (published in 1932) which attacked Heidegger as a typical representative of the metaphysical tradition and set out to expose his assertion that “the nothing nihilates” as characteristically nonsensical. The sharpness of Carnap’s words, so Friedman believes, in turn instigated Heidegger to draw a line in the sand between the logic-oriented work of his opponent and his own philosophizing. In a withering blast he accused Carnap in his 1935 lectures of a nihilistic forgetfulness of the basic question of philosophy (his remarks remaining unpublished until both protagonists were dead). The political currents had by that time taken Carnap and many of his philosophical associates to the English-speaking world while Heidegger with many other “continental” philosophers were left behind. Philosophical disagreement and political history thus conspired to rupture the conversation between the two sides. For Friedman it is evident, that Davos was the point at which “the ensuing split between what we now call the analytic and continental philosophical traditions” was initiated. (p. xi)


The main effect of this retelling of the Davos meeting is, of course, to re-enforce the picture of Cassirer as the man in the middle between Carnap’s and Heidegger’s extremes. In some ways, he is “extremely close, in fact, to the position of Carnap and the logical positivists.” (p. 110) But he is also sympathetic to the phenomenological tradition and “the contemporary Lebensphilosophie of Dilthey, Bergson, Scheler, and Simmel” on which Heidegger draws. (p. 101) But can Cassirer’s work really carry the burden that Friedman assigns to it – that of moving current philosophizing beyond the stultifying aanalytic/continental divide? Much stands in the way of that. For one thing, contemporary readers of Cassirer may find him heavy going. His writing displays both far-ranging  historical scholarship and an over all vagueness in formulation. His high-mindedness in both style and content is at times hard to bear. Friedman records Carnap’s note from the Davos meeting that “Cassirer speaks well, but somewhat pastorally.” (p. 7) This means, presumably, that Carnap sees him as somewhat of a Protestant pastor and that is, indeed, an apposite characterization of both the content and tone of Cassirer’s writings. But the main problem with regarding Cassirer as the protagonist for the next phase of philosophy is not such shortcomings. It is rather what Cassirer stands for. Can we really conceive of the next step in philosophy as a kind of neo-neo-Kantianism? There are distressingly many contemporary philosophers who might respond affirmatively to that question. But before we all rush to the works of Cassirer we may want to ask what kind of mediation between analytic and continental philosophy he can offer us. Friedman praises him and, indeed, the neo-Kantians as a whole for their attempt “to incorporate both scientific and non-scientific modes of thought within a single philosophical framework.” (p. 100) And he quotes Cassirer approvingly as writing:


The natural scientific concept does not deny or negate the object of ethics and aesthetics,

even though it cannot construct it with its means; it does not falsify intuition, even though

it consciously considers it under a single governing point of view and gives prominence

to a single determination for it… It is a new teleological order of reality that now appears

next to the mere order of magnitudes and in which the individual first obtains its full

meaning. (p. 100)


There derives from this an eirenic, reconciling, synthesizing conception of the task of philosophy. Its goal is “a single philosophical framework” in which the concerns of both analytic and continental philosophy can be brought together.


Some such reconciliation is, indeed, hoped for by many of those now writing about the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. But one might have a very different view of the current situation and consider the conflict and disagreement between these traditions as both inevitable and desirable. Not that a state of mutual ignorance is good; one certainly hopes for energetic interchanges across the lines of division. But that is not the same as expecting or wanting a reconciliation and even less wanting a reconciliation on the basis of some kind of Kantian schema. If the history of philosophy teaches us anything, it is that the divergence and conflict of schools is a productive force. Would twentieth century philosophy have been better off, if Carnap and Heidegger had shaken hands at Davos in the name of Cassirer’s synthesis? What is more, the terms ”analytic” and “continental” have by now become catch-alls for all kinds of movements and ideas and the disagreements within each tradition have proved conflictual and stimulating as well as resistant to reduction. Given the low chance of a reconciliation between the various factions within analytic philosophy and within the continental tradition, why should we expect one between the analytic and the continental fronts?


To the neo-Kantian project of finding a single philosophical framework in philosophy we can oppose that of establishing difference, of emphasizing the essential and productive disunity of human knowledge, of critiquing all philosophical attempts at reducing things to a common denominator. Such a philosophy would not be at all systematic and synthetic in the Kantian sense, but topical, case-oriented, and critical in outlook. Wittgenstein, as we know, practiced some such form of thought (and so do some of the postmoderns). To mention these alternatives to Friedman’s proposal is not to predict the future course of philosophy. But they remind us how wide the arc of philosophical thinking now is and that the very project of looking for a single philosophical framework is already controversial even before we begin to ask in what terms it should be constructed.


Friedman’s discussion remains of interest even if we do not buy into his agenda. It recalls the fact that neo-Kantianism was at one point the dominant force in European philosophy and that both analytic and continental philosophy have grown out of its soil. This is important not, as Friedman

imagines, for charting the future of analytic philosophy but for understanding its present character. For nothing is more disconcerting to those committed to other ideals within the analytic tradition (be they naturalistic, empiricist, positivist, scientistic, pragmatist, skeptical, or Wittgensteinian)  than the apparently unstoppable encroachment of Kantian modes of thinking. In ethics, political philosophy and even aesthetics this is only too obvious. It is no less evident in epistemology, in the pre-occupation with transcendental arguments and the conditions of the possibility of this or that concept and it is evident even in the current self-interpretation of much of analytic philosophy. Friedman’s observation that neo-Kantianism stood at the beginning of the analytic tradition can explain to us why a creeping Kantianism or neo-Kantianism or neo-neo-Kantianism has proved so attractive. For those who would rather not walk that path Friedman’s monograph is an eye-opening and timely reminder.[x]




[i] Neo-Kantian influences on Frege have been explored in Gottfried Gabriel, “Frege als Neukantianer,” Kantstudien, vol. 77, 1986, pp. 84-101 and in Hans Sluga, “Frege on Meaning,” in H.J. Glock (ed.), The Rise of Analytic Philosophy, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford 1997, pp. 17-34.


[ii] Rudolf, Carnap, “Intellectual Autobiography,” in The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap, ed. by Paul Arthur Schilpp, Open Court, La Salle Ill. 1963, pp. 12 and 13.


[iii] Loc. Cit., p. 16.


[iv] Friedman discusses the question of the significance of Russell for Carnap in Reconsidering Logical Positivism, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999) which  contains a more detailed exposition of his neo-Kantian reading of Carnap. Drawing on the as yet unpublished Russell-Carnap correspondence, Christopher Pincock provides a decisive rebuttal of Friedman’s interpretation. (“Russell’s Influence on Carnap’s Aufbau”, Synthese, forthcoming)

[v] The curriculum vitae is reprinted in full in Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger. A Political Life, transl. By Allan Blunden, Basic Books, New York 1993, pp. 84-86.

[vi]R.G. Collingwood, An Autobiography, Oxford University Press: Oxford 1939. Collingwood’s remarks are quite unaffected by what has been going on in continental Europe. Russell and his followers, he writes, have jettisoned whatever can be recognized as a positive doctrine in philosophy and have simply revived “the old positivist attack on metaphysics.” But their work, “with all its ingenuity and pertinacity, is only building card-houses out of a pack of lies.” (p. 52) These are words as strong as any exchanged between Carnap and Heidegger. They are understandable only in the light of Collingwood’s feeling that, as a survivor of the idealist tradition, he is cut off and isolated from every other school of philosophy in England.


[vii] Friedrich Stadler’s monumental account and documentation of the history of the Vienna Circle is now available in English translation. (The Vienna Circle. Studies in the Origins, Development, and Influence of Logical Empiricism, Vienna-New York: Springer 2001) His book is bound to raise our understanding of the Vienna Circle to an entirely new level. The work reveals clearly how logical empiricism in Vienna saw itself from the start as detached from the philosophical tradition and how it was hostile to both Kantian and Hegelian tendencies within academic philosophy. The early adherents of the movement were, for the most part, not even professional philosophers but

mathematicians, physicists, social theorists, and psychologists. They thought of themselves, in the terms of Schlick’s programmatic essay of 1930, as part of a new turn in philosophy (“Die Wende der Philosophie,” Erkenntnis vol. 1, 1930) which meant for them, at the same time, a split with established philosophizing. Schlick’s formulations are, in turn, under the influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus where the break with the philosophical tradition is thematized from the preface to the last sentence.


[viii] Hans Sluga, “What Has History to Do with Me? Wittgenstein and Analytic Philosophy”, Inquiry, vol. 41, pp. 99-121. I argue there against Peter Hacker’s assertion that analytic philosophy originated at the Cam as well as Michael Dummett’s claim that it originated in Austria. Instead, I propose a multifactorial account in which the identity of analytic philosophy emerges cumulatively from the work of many. This seems to me most evident with respect to the interactions between Frege, Russell, and the early Wittgenstein in which a great deal of the initial agenda of analytic philosophy was defined. What entered this agenda were concerns that the three shared (specifically with logical analysis, with structure and logical form) but equally important were their distinctive and individual concerns: Frege’s focus on epistemological questions, on the relation between the empirical and the a priori, Russell’s interest in ontological problems, his pluralism and realism, and finally Wittgenstein’s preoccupation with language but also his underlying skepticism. For further elaboration of this picture see “Macht und Ohnmacht der analytischen Philosophie,” in Friedrich Stadler (ed.), Bausteine wissenschaftlicher Weltauffassung, Vienna-New York: Springer 1997, pp. 11-33.


[ix] Friedman’s story is intriguing but highly selective. His account touches barely on the huge influence of empiricism, naturalism, positivism, and Darwinism on the development of

nineteenth century thought.These tendencies were important even in the formation of the neo-Kantian tradition, which was anything but a closed school. The tradition included philosophers attached to idealist and Hegelian modes of thought as well as metaphysical realists and scientific positivists. Helmholtz, Lange, and Vaihinger who belonged to neither of the two major schools of Neo-Kantianism were as much part of the tradition as Cohen, Rickert, and Bauch and they played possibly a more direct role in the emergence of analytic philosophy than the latter group.


[x] I am grateful to Barry Stroud, Christopher Pincock, and Michael Friedman for comments on an earlier version.

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