Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Being or Chaos? Heidegger and Castoriadis at the Crossroads

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Being or Chaos? Heidegger and Castoriadis at the Crossroads

Article excerpt

In a seminar between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger in 1929, Cassirer posed the following question:

   How is it possible that we can as much as grasp an object of art
   which is something objectively there and structured?...Maybe not
   all questions in philosophy can be asked this way, but I think, it
   is only after having asked them that one can proceed to Heidegger's
   questions. (1)

Cassirer took issue with Heidegger's basic ontology, arguing that Heidegger problematically views works of art as transcultural entities without firstly considering how art is intelligible from one individual existence to another. He suggests that if we begin by clarifying the condition of the possibility of art, particularly in terms of how a piece of art from a social and historical time radically different from our own confronts us with a different set of ontological presumptions, we discover that there is not a single ontological structure to human life but a variety of them. While Heidegger admits that the essential point we gain from the history of philosophy is that 'the realisation...of its different standpoints goes to the very root of philosophical work', he responds to Cassirer by arguing that we have no choice but to understand the 'variety of ontological structures' through a question that comes prior to transcendental analysis. That is, from the question of the idea of being:

   To repeat Plato's question [what is that which is?] cannot mean to
   withdraw to the answers of the Greeks. Being as such is split up
   and the big problem to comprehend this inner multitude of modes of
   being from an idea of being. Mere mediating attempts can never help
   us get on. It is of the essence of philosophy, as a finite concern
   of man, that it is also confined to this finitude of man. (2)

While recognising the 'split' nature of being, Heidegger argues that Cassirer's method overlooks the idea of being that is the basic question at issue in the mediation we encounter in the work of art. In his approach, we should not focus our attention of being's fractured modality but the fundamental question that underpins it.

Cassirer and Heidegger's discussion clarifies the divergence between post-Kantian thought and Heidegger's developing position as a dispute over the primary question of philosophy. For Cassirer, philosophy properly begins with elucidating the transcendental configuration of the mind that makes thought and communication possible. Only then can we proceed to asking the ontological questions we encounter. Alternatively, Heidegger believed that Cassirer and the Kantian tradition presume a singular idea of being that is located in the shared finitude of human beings. In his view philosophy properly begins by interrogating what that idea of being is.

The aim of this paper is to place Castoriadis and Heidegger into dialogue, and the Cassirer-Heidegger seminar provides an entry into elucidating the connections and divergences between their work. Castoriadis shared Cassirer's attempt to refigure Kant to face the problems of contemporary philosophy, and while they have different points of interest Castoriadis took Cassirer's 'variety of ontological structures' as a way to explore the social and political implications of Kant's philosophy.

In order to place Heidegger and Castoriadis in conversation this paper will take Cassirer's question of the work of art as its focus. Heidegger and Castoriadis saw art as a mode of clarifying their respective ontological frameworks. In particular, both philosophers understood the original moment of philosophy in regards to Greek tragedy, but came to vastly different conclusions on the ontological implications of tragic art. What Heidegger and Castoriadis have in common is that they both held that Greek tragedy does not simply reveal the false ontological presumptions of traditional philosophy but uncovers the foundation of political and collective being. …

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