Skip Nav

Ernst Cassirer

2. Early Historical Writings

❶Their combination is not impossible; Aristotle, Hegel, and Lotze, for example, achieved it magnificently. He was a mind of extraordinary range, equally at home, to all appearances, in the ancient literatures and in modern science, in history and in mathematics.

Navigation menu

File usage
1. Biography
File history

Warburg was an eminent art historian with a particular interest in ancient cult, ritual, myth, and magic as sources of archetypal forms of emotional expression later manifested in Renaissance art, and the Library therefore contained abundant materials both on artistic and cultural history and on ancient myth and ritual. In particular, they lie at a deeper, autonomous level of spiritual life which then gives rise to the more sophisticated forms by a dialectical developmental process.

From mythical thought, religion and art develop; from natural language, theoretical science develops. The most basic and primitive type of symbolic meaning is expressive meaning, the product of what Cassirer calls the expressive function Ausdrucksfunktion of thought, which is concerned with the experience of events in the world around us as charged with affective and emotional significance, as desirable or hateful, comforting or threatening.

It is this type of meaning that underlies mythical consciousness, for Cassirer, and which explains its most distinctive feature, namely, its total disregard for the distinction between appearance and reality. Similarly, there is no essential difference in efficacy between the living and the dead, between waking experiences and dreams, between the name of an object and the object itself, and so on. Working together with the fundamentally pragmatic orientation towards the world exhibited in the technical and instrumental use of tools and artifacts, it is in natural language, according to Cassirer, that the representative function of thought is then most clearly visible.

We are now able to distinguish the enduring thing-substance, on the one side, from its variable manifestations from different points of view and on different occasions, on the other, and we thereby arrive at a new fundamental distinction between appearance and reality. This distinction is then expressed in its most developed form, for Cassirer, in the linguistic notion of propositional truth and thus in the propositional copula.

The distinction between appearance and reality, as expressed in the propositional copula, then leads dialectically to a new task of thought, the task of theoretical science, of systematic inquiry into the realm of truths. So it is here, and only here, that the generalized and purified form of neo- Kantianism distinctive of the Marburg School gives an accurate characterization of human thought.

Recent commentators [Skidelsky ] [Moss ] have illuminatingly built on this circumstance in further articulating the relationship between Cassirer and Hegel. Hegel had conceived nature Natur and spirit Geist as two different expressions of a single divine infinite Reason, which manifests itself temporally from two different points of view. His project of an encyclopedia of philosophical sciences had three parts, the logic, the philosophy of nature, and the philosophy of spirit, where the logic had the task of depicting the dialectical conceptual structure of infinite divine Reason itself.

But this Hegelian project for securing the ultimate logico-metaphysical identity of nature and spirit found ever fewer followers as the century progressed, as the rising tide of neo-Kantianism — aided by further developments within the natural sciences instigated by Hermann von Helmholtz — undermined the appeal of the original Naturphilosophie of Schelling and Hegel together with their Absolute Reason.

The result was the problem of the Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften as it presented itself to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet we also have the capacity, in the cultural sciences , to extend such meanings beyond their originally local contexts.

Whereas intersubjective validity in the natural sciences rests on universal laws of nature ranging over all physical places and times, an analogous type of intersubjective validity arises in the cultural sciences independently of such laws. Universal cultural meaning thereby emerges only asymptotically, in a way similar to the genetic conception of knowledge of the Marburg School now seen as based on the significative function of thought.

Rather than an abstract mathematical relation of backwards-directed inclusion, however, we are concerned, in the historical cultural sciences, with a hermeneutical relation of backwards-directed interpretation and reinterpretation — and, as a result, there is no possibility, in these sciences, of reliably predicting the future.

In , however, Cassirer published a review of [Heidegger ], which took a different approach from his remarks at Davos. By building the Marburg conception of knowledge, in his new philosophy of culture, on top of the more primitive forms of mythical thought [ Ausdruckswahrnehmen ] and ordinary language [ Dingwahrnehmen ], Cassirer takes himself to have done justice to the insights of both Hegel and Heidegger while avoiding both the infinite divine reason of the former and the radical human finitude of the latter.

In the case of the idea of transcendental freedom, for example, we are only able to determine it negatively from a theoretical point of view , as a species of causality that is not bound by the conditions of time-determination governing the phenomenal world. In the Critique of Practical Reason , however, Kant asserts that transcendental freedom acquires a determinate content from pure practical reason, through our immediate awareness of the moral law as normatively binding on our will as a fact of reason , and that the practical objective reality thereby conferred on this idea can then be transferred to the ideas of God and Immortality.

This is because the moral law unconditionally commands us to seek the Highest Good — the realization of the Kingdom of Ends here on earth — which is an infinite task requiring infinite practical faith and hope. The resulting divergence from the indeterminate and merely potential infinity arising within theoretical reason is visible in the famous passage on the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me at the end of the Critique of Practical Reason , from which Cassirer quotes in his review of Heidegger.

But Cassirer, as we have just seen, has now achieved a parallel result though his methodological distinction between the natural and the cultural sciences. But, at the same time, we thereby also avoid fatalistic pessimism with its prophecies and visions of decline. Schwemmer, Nachgelassene Manuskripte und Texte. Early Historical Writings 3. Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science 4.

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms 5. Secondary and Other Relevant Literature: Biography Cassirer was born on July 28, , to a wealthy and cosmopolitan Jewish family, in the German city of Breslau now Wroclaw, Poland.

Bibliography Selected works by Cassirer: Translated as Substance and Function. Translated as The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Yale University Press, Translated as Language and Myth. The Phenomenology of Knowledge. Bemerkungen zu Martin Heideggers Kantinterpretation. Translated as The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Princeton University Press, Translated as Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics. Eine Studie zur Schwedischen Philosophie der Gegenwart.

A, Band 7, Nr. Translated as The Logic of the Humanities. Translated as The Logic of the Cultural Sciences. Translated as The Mechanization of the World Picture. After working for many years as a Privatdozent at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, Cassirer was elected in to the philosophy chair at the newly founded University of Hamburg , where he lectured until , supervising amongst others the doctoral theses of Joachim Ritter and Leo Strauss.

Because he was Jewish, he left Germany after the Nazis came to power in After leaving Germany he taught for a couple of years in Oxford , [ where? When Cassirer considered Sweden too unsafe, he applied for a post at Harvard University , but was rejected because thirty years earlier he had rejected a job offer from them.

Cassirer died of a heart attack in April in New York City. His son, Heinz Cassirer , was also a Kantian scholar. Cassirer's first major published writings were a history of modern thought from the Renaissance to Kant. In accordance with his Marburg neo-Kantianism he concentrated upon epistemology. In Substance and Function , he writes about late nineteenth-century developments in physics including relativity theory and the foundations of mathematics. In Einstein's Theory of Relativity he defended the claim that modern physics supports a neo-Kantian conception of knowledge.

He also wrote a book about Quantum mechanics called Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics Warburg was an art historian who was particularly interested in ritual and myth as sources of surviving forms of emotional expression. In Philosophy of Symbolic Forms —29 Cassirer argues that man as he put it in his more popular book Essay on Man is a " symbolic animal ".

Whereas animals perceive their world by instincts and direct sensory perception , humans create a universe of symbolic meanings. Cassirer is particularly interested in natural language and myth.

He argues that science and mathematics developed from natural language, and religion and art from myth. In Cassirer took part in an historically significant encounter with Martin Heidegger in Davos. Cassirer argues that while Kant's Critique of Pure Reason emphasizes human temporality and finitude, he also sought to situate human cognition within a broader conception of humanity.

Cassirer challenges Heidegger's relativism by invoking the universal validity of truths discovered by the exact and moral sciences. Cassirer believed that reason's self-realization leads to human liberation. Mazlish however notes that Cassirer in his The Philosophy of the Enlightenment focuses exclusively on ideas, ignoring the political and social context in which they were produced. In The Logic of the Cultural Sciences Cassirer argues that objective and universal validity can be achieved not only in the sciences, but also in practical, cultural, moral, and aesthetic phenomena.

Although inter-subjective objective validity in the natural sciences derives from universal laws of nature, Cassirer asserts that an analogous type of inter-subjective objective validity takes place in the cultural sciences. Cassirer's last work, The Myth of the State , was published posthumously; at one level it is an attempt to understand the intellectual origins of Nazi Germany. Cassirer sees Nazi Germany as a society in which the dangerous power of myth is not checked or subdued by superior forces.

The book discusses the opposition of logos and mythos in Greek thought, Plato 's Republic , the medieval theory of the state, Machiavelli , Thomas Carlyle 's writings on hero worship , the racial theories of Arthur de Gobineau , and Hegel.

Cassirer claimed that in 20th century politics there was a return, with the passive acquiescence of Martin Heidegger , to the irrationality of myth, and in particular to a belief that there is such a thing as destiny.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

Main Topics

Privacy Policy

An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture, Yale & New Haven, File history Click on a date/time to view the file as it appeared at that time.

Privacy FAQs

There is, Cassirer declares, a ``crisis in man's knowledge of himself.'' I dare say it takes a philosopher, perhaps even a German philosopher, to deem the absence of an adequate and generally accepted philosophical anthropology a ``crisis,'' but this dramatization is harmless, and Cassirer has a real point.

About Our Ads

An Essay on Man is an original synthesis of contemporary knowledge, a unique interpretation of the intellectual crisis of our time, and a brilliant vindication of man’s ability to resolve human problems by the courageous use of his mind/5(12). An Essay on Man (written and published in English) () ( The Myth of the State (written and published in English) (posthumous) () ( Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer, , ed. by Donald Phillip Verene (March 11, ) Ernst Cassirer: Gesammelte Werke. .

Cookie Info

(Essay on Man ) Cassirer’s essay Zur Einsteinschen Relativitätstheorie () was his last major thematic enterprise before the first volume of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. In it he sees himself following Cohen’s task of updating Kant’s philosophical groundwork for science. One of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers presents the results of his lifetime study of man’s cultural achievements. An Essay on Man is an original synthesis of contemporary knowledge, a unique interpretation of the intellectual crisis of our time, and a brilliant vindication of man’s ability to resolve human problems by the courageous .