Steve G. Lofts
Philosophy and Religious Studies
1901E Foundation Year in the Humanities
2206X Introduction to Modern and Post-Modern
Advanced seminars and Graduate courses on European Philosophy, e.g. Bataille, Cassirer, Lacan, Levinas, Heidegger, Nietzsche etc.
Area of research
Transcendental philosophy, philosophy of culture, ontology, phenomenology, structuralism and post-Structuralism
Current research projects
In 1929, Cassirer and Heidegger met in Davos, Switzerland. The Davos encounter was much more than an ivory-tower debate about the proper interpretation of Kant (the central theme of the conference), and more than a confrontation between Germany's two most important thinkers: it was a clash between two antithetical conceptions of philosophy and of human nature. Cassirer defended the humanistic tradition reaching back through Humboldt and Kant to Pico; Heidegger pointed the way to the new anti-humanistic tradition to come. Thus, many justifiably see the Davos debate as a paradigmatic event of its times and a watershed in European intellectual history. Many believe that the renewed interest in the Davos debate is motivated by a growing sense that philosophy is in a state of crisis and that it is necessary to return to the historical debates out of which both the analytic and continental philosophical traditions grew. Here, we can cite the works of Friedman's A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger (2000); Skidelsky's Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture (2008); and Gordon's Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos (2010). Each of these works focuses almost exclusively on the Davos meeting between Cassirer and Heidegger.
My project revisits the relation between Cassirer's and Heidegger's philosophical projects, arguing that their intellectual engagement was more extensive and profound than has been recognized. On an historical level, my project will argue that Cassirer and Heidegger exerted considerable influence on each other, in terms of both the content and the trajectory of their philosophical works. Their exchange can be traced from their first encounter in 1923 at a meeting of the Kant Society in Hamburg, through their pre-1929 seminal works and into their post-1930 works, after what has been called, in scholarship about both Heidegger and Cassirer, their 'turn.'
On the more important systematic level, my research will focus on the claim that, despite their significant philosophical differences, Cassirer and Heidegger recognized a productive interconnection between their respective projects. In other words, Heidegger's fundamental ontology and his existential analytic of Da-sein, and Cassirer's morphology of symbolic forms and his transcendental analytic of the animal symbolicum were---in the minds of their authors---connected. Friedman, Skidelsky and Gordon each demonstrate that Cassirer and Heidegger must be situated in the context of debates that were taking place in the early twentieth century. However, they do so primarily as historians of ideas and do not enter per se into the philosophical issues at stake in these debates.
My work will pick up where these works leave off, investigating the philosophical issues that unite and divide Cassirer's and Heidegger's respective projects. More specifically, I will situate each thinker's project at the heart of the debate surrounding the nature of the human sciences that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. As such, Cassirer's human-centred transcendental theory of the hermeneutical horizons of culture and Heidegger's anti-humanistic hermeneutical theory of existence seek to rethink what it means to be human in a post-metaphysical framework. This project of rethinking the human unites such diverse thinkers as Adorno, Horkheimer, Arendt, Levinas, Bataille, Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida.
My work will argue that the general framework in which these diverse thinkers work was established in the encounter between Cassirer and Heidegger. This project will be of interest to Cassirer and Heidegger scholars, to those interested in the history of philosophy, and to anyone concerned with the rethinking of what it means to be human.
Why I like working at King's
I enjoy the people and the students and the fact that research and teaching not only coexist but inform each other.
My interests outside of King's
I have been and continue to be very active in sports: scuba diving (certified diver by 9, instructor at 12), rugby, football, bike racing, and marathon running. Currently, I try to swim 3 to 4K each morning. I also have very eclectic tastes in music including opera, literature, and art, but have a particular affinity for great architecture, abstract art, and currently the poetry of hip hop.