Meaning in eternity: Karl Löwith’s critique of hope and hubris

Thesis Eleven 110 (1):27-45 (2012)
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The German philosopher and intellectual historian Karl Löwith is known and discussed mainly in the English language via his major work on secularization – Meaning in History, first written and published in English – and the more recently translated essays that criticize Martin Heidegger. However, Löwith’s body of work is rarely considered for the original contribution that it offers to the discourse on the questions of modernity and modern life. This oversight is due much to the way in which Hans Blumenberg and Jürgen Habermas have each ‘dealt’ with Löwith’s position; Löwith in each case becomes a flagstone in the path to their own theories. This article reappraises Löwith’s thought through an exploration of his major works, and discovers that the concepts and motivations behind the critical force of his intellectual histories suggest a more sensitive reading of the modern condition than his critics allow. His notions of nature, cosmos and eternity, and his steadfast skepticism, reveal Löwith to be a theorist of the limits of human finitude, and set him apart from his contemporaries and his former teacher Heidegger. It is these aspects of his work that will continue to be provocative for both defenders of freedom and defenders of nature



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