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2010 Jacques Barzun Prize

2010 award presented in April 2012

Peter E. Gordon

The American Philosophical Society awarded the Jacques Barzun Prize for the best book in cultural history published in 2010 to Professor Peter E. Gordon in recognition of his book Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos. The award was presented by Mary Patterson McPherson, Executive Officer of the Society.

Peter Gordon received his Ph.D. in modern European history from the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently Harvard College Professor, the Amabel B. James Professor of History, and co-founder and co-chair of the Harvard Colloquium for Intellectual History at Harvard University. His first book, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, Between Judaism and German Philosophy (2003), won several awards, including the Salo W. Baron Prize from the Academy for Jewish Research for Best First Book, the Goldstein-Goren Prize for Best Book in Jewish Philosophy, and the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the Journal of the History of Ideas for Best Book in Intellectual History. Specializing in modern European Intellectual History from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century, he works chiefly on themes in Continental philosophy and social thought in Germany and France in the modern period.

Dr. Gordon’s book is an in-depth study of the famous 1929 public debate between two major philosophers of the past century – Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger – that took place in Davos, Switzerland. Their confrontation over the mission of philosophy in the wake of Kant, neo-Kantianism, Husserl, and the crisis of European thought after World War I acquired an allegorical significance over the years, as if it marked an ultimate and irreparable rupture in 20th century Continental thought. Cassirer represented an anthropological turn to culture and "symbolic forms," while Heidegger argued for a post-metaphysical existential phenomenology – and this debate about what it means to be human has proceeded along these lines down to the present day. Peter Gordon has provided us with rich historical detail and skillful analysis of all that surrounded this debate.

The Barzun Prize selection committee consisted of Donald R. Kelley (chair), James Westfall Thompson Professor of History Emeritus, Rutgers University; Glen W. Bowersock, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study; and Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Professor of English, Princeton University.