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Original scientific paper

The Present under the Spell of Early New Age. Differences between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger with Reference to Descartes

Matthias Flatscher ; Institute of Philosophy, University of Vienna

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page 23-54

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Concerning the differences between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger with reference to Descartes one must point out their different ideological-historical and phenomenological approach on the one hand and on the other hand their diverging understanding of history, science and subjectivity. Cassirer and Heidegger agree that Cartesian thought is fundamental to both the contemporary understanding of the self in which man features as an autonomous subject and the contemporary understanding of reality in which being is analysed with the help of modern science. Nevertheless, differences are manifest in the diverging representation of the new image of man and the world. While Heidegger in the revolt of man as subject seeks to get at the root of the existing dominant power relations and the implicit scientific discourse that ultimately excludes from that scope all that cannot be mathematically verified, Cassirer emphasises the nurturing of individuality and autonomy of the human mind. In man‘s successive self-liberation he sees the fundamental principle of anthropological ideal. From Descartes onward, and in particular from the Age of Enlightenment, man has been considered as an end in himself; he may maturely decide on his action, but he must also assume responsibility for it. According to Cassirer, these epistemological and ethical principles constitute the real foundation of our culture. According to him, modern-day progress does not necessarily flow into dominating subjectivism, since responsibility for the wrongful developments of the 20th century does not lie with the inherited models of man and reality, but rather with the disregard of the modern principles such as individuality, freedom and rationality.


Cassirer, Descartes, Heidegger, history, ideological-historical/phenomenological approach, mathesis universalis, natural sciences, problem-historical thinking, subject

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