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Animal Symbolism Ernst Cassirer Bibliography

1. Biography

Cassirer was born on July 28, 1874, to a wealthy and cosmopolitan Jewish family, in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). Part of the family lived in Berlin, including Cassirer's cousin Bruno Cassirer, the distinguished publisher, who later published most of Cassirer's writings. Cassirer entered the University of Berlin in 1892. In 1894 he took a course on Kant with Georg Simmel, who recommended Hermann Cohen's writings on Kant in particular. Cohen, the first Jew to hold a professorship in Germany, was the founder of the so-called Marburg School of neo-Kantianism, famous for interpreting Kant's transcendental method as beginning with the “fact of science” and then arguing regressively to the presuppositions or conditions of possibility of this “fact.” Kant was thus read as an “epistemologist [Erkenntniskritiker]” or methodologist of science rather than as a “metaphysician” in the tradition of post-Kantian German idealism. After learning of Cohen's writings from Simmel, Cassirer (then nineteen years old) proceeded to devour them, whereupon he immediately resolved to study with Cohen at Marburg. He studied at Marburg from 1896 to 1899, when he completed his doctoral work with a dissertation on Descartes's analysis of mathematical and natural scientific knowledge. This appeared, in turn, as the Introduction to Cassirer's first published work, a treatment of Leibniz's philosophy and its scientific basis [Cassirer 1902]. Upon returning to Berlin in 1903, Cassirer further developed these themes while working out his monumental interpretation of the development of modern philosophy and science from the Renaissance through Kant [Cassirer 1906, 1907a]. The first volume of this work served as his habilitation at the University of Berlin, where he taught as an instructor or Privatdozent from 1906 to 1919.

In 1919 Cassirer was finally offered professorships at two newly founded universities at Frankfurt and Hamburg under the auspices of the Weimar Republic. He taught at Hamburg from 1919 until emigrating from Germany in 1933. During these years Cassirer completed his three-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms [Cassirer 1923, 1925, 1929b], which broke fundamental new ground beyond the neo-Kantianism of the Marburg School and articulated his own original attempt to unite scientific and non-scientific modes of thought (“symbolic forms”) within a single philosophical vision. In 1928 Cassirer offered a defense of Weimar [Cassirer 1929a] at the University's celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Republic, and in 1929–30 he served as the rector of the University, as the first Jew to hold such a position in Germany. In the Spring of 1929 Cassirer took part in a famous disputation with Martin Heidegger in Davos, Switzerland, where Heidegger explicitly took Cohen's neo-Kantianism as a philosophical target and defended his radical new conception of an “existential analytic of Dasein” in the guise of a parallel interpretation of the philosophy of Kant [Heidegger 1929]. Cassirer, for his part, defended his own new understanding of Kant in the philosophy of symbolic forms — against Heidegger's insistence on the ineluctability of human finitude — by appealing to genuinely objectively valid, necessary and eternal truths arising in both moral experience and mathematical natural science (see [Friedman 2000] [Gordon 2010]).

After his emigration Cassirer spent two years lecturing at Oxford and then six years at the University of Göteborg in Sweden. During this time he developed his most sustained discussion of morality and the philosophy of law as a study of the Swedish legal philosopher Axel Hägerström [Cassirer 1939a] (see [Krois 1987, chap. 4]). He also articulated his major statement on the relationship between the natural sciences and the “cultural sciences” [Cassirer 1942], which contained, among other things, an explicit rejection of Rudolf Carnap's “physicalism” (see [Friedman 2000, chap. 7]). Cassirer, like so many German émigrés during this period (including Carnap) then finally settled in the United States. He taught at Yale from 1941 to 1944 and at Columbia in 1944–45. During these years he produced two books in English [Cassirer 1944, 1946], where the first, An Essay on Man, serves as a concise introduction to the philosophy of symbolic forms (and thus Cassirer's distinctive philosophical perspective) as a whole and the second, The Myth of the State, offers an explanation of the rise of fascism on the basis of Cassirer's conception of mythical thought. Two important American philosophers were substantially influenced by Cassirer during these years: Arthur Pap, whose work on the “functional a priori” in physical theory [Pap 1946] took shape under Cassirer's guidance at Yale, and Susanne Langer, who promulgated Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms in aesthetic and literary circles (see, e.g., [Langer 1942]). Cassirer's American influence thus embraced both sides of his philosophical personality. One can only speculate on what this influence might have been if his life had not been cut short suddenly by a heart attack while walking on the streets of New York City on April 13, 1945.

2. Early Historical Writings

As indicated above, Cassirer's first writings were largely historical in character — including a discussion of Leibniz's philosophy in its scientific context [Cassirer 1902] and a large-scale work on the history of modern thought from the Renaissance through Kant, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit [Cassirer 1906, 1907a]. The latter, in particular, is a magisterial and deeply original contribution to both the history of philosophy and the history of science. It is the first work, in fact, to develop a detailed reading of the scientific revolution as a whole in terms of the “Platonic” idea that the thoroughgoing application of mathematics to nature (the so-called mathematization of nature) is the central and overarching achievement of this revolution. And Cassirer's insight was explicitly acknowledged by such seminal intellectual historians as E. A. Burtt, E. J. Dijksterhuis, and Alexandre Koyré, who developed this theme later in the century in the course of establishing the discipline of history of science as we know it today (see, e.g., [Burtt 1925], [Koyré 1939], [Dijksterhuis 1959]). Cassirer, for his part, simultaneously articulates an interpretation of the history of modern philosophy as the development and eventual triumph of what he calls “modern philosophical idealism.” This tradition takes its inspiration, according to Cassirer, from idealism in the Platonic sense, from an appreciation for the “ideal” formal structures paradigmatically studied in mathematics, and it is distinctively modern in recognizing the fundamental importance of the systematic application of such structures to empirically given nature in modern mathematical physics — a progressive and synthetic process wherein mathematical models of nature are successively refined and corrected without limit. For Cassirer, it is Galileo, above all, in opposition to both sterile Aristotelian-Scholastic formal logic and sterile Aristotelian-Scholastic empirical induction, who first grasped the essential structure of this synthetic process; and the development of “modern philosophical idealism” by such thinkers as Descartes, Spinoza, Gassendi, Hobbes, Leibniz, and Kant then consists in its increasingly self-conscious philosophical articulation and elaboration.

In both the Leibniz book and Das Erkenntnisproblem, then, Cassirer interprets the development of modern thought as a whole from the perspective of the basic philosophical principles of Marburg neo-Kantianism: the idea that philosophy as epistemology (Erkenntniskritik) has the articulation and elaboration of the structure of modern mathematical natural science as its primary task; the conviction that, accordingly, philosophy must take the “fact of science” as its starting point and ultimately given datum; and, most especially, the so-called “genetic” conception of scientific knowledge as an ongoing, never completed synthetic process (see below). From a contemporary point of view, Cassirer's history may therefore appear as both “Whiggish” and “triumphalist,” but it cannot be denied that his work is, nevertheless, extraordinarily rich, extraordinarily clear, and extraordinarily illuminating. Cassirer examines an astonishing variety of textual sources (including both major and minor figures) carefully and in detail, and, without at all neglecting contrary tendencies within the skeptical and empiricist traditions, he develops a compelling portrayal of the evolution of “modern philosophical idealism” through Kant which, even today, reads as extremely compelling and acute.

Cassirer must thus be ranked as one of the very greatest intellectual historians of the twentieth-century — and, indeed, as one of the founders of this discipline as it came to be practiced after 1900. He continued to contribute to intellectual history broadly conceived throughout his career (most notably, perhaps, in his fundamental studies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment [Cassirer 1927a, 1932]), and he had a major influence on intellectual history throughout the century. Aside from the history of science (see above), Cassirer also decisively influenced intellectual historians more generally, including, notably, the eminent intellectual and cultural historian Peter Gay and the distinguished art historian Erwin Panofsky (see, e.g., [Gay 1977], [Panofsky 1939]). As we shall see below, intellectual (and later cultural) history is an integral part of Cassirer's distinctive philosophical methodology, so that, in his case, the standard distinction between “historical” and “systematic” work in philosophy ends up looking quite artificial.

3. Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science

It was noted above that Cassirer's early historical works interpret the development of modern thought as a whole (embracing both philosophy and the sciences) from the perspective of the philosophical principles of Marburg neo-Kantianism, as initially articulated in [Cohen 1871]. On the “genetic” conception of scientific knowledge, in particular, the a priori synthetic activity of thought — the activity Kant himself had called “productive synthesis” — is understood as a temporal and historical developmental process in which the object of science is gradually and successively constituted as a never completed “X” towards which the developmental process is converging. For Cohen, this process is modelled on the methods of the infinitesimal calculus (in this connection, especially, see [Cohen 1883]). Beginning with the idea of a continuous series or function, our problem is to see how such a series can be a priori generated step-by-step. The mathematical concept of a differential shows us how this can be done, for the differential at a point in the domain of a given function indicates how it is to be continued on succeeding points. The differential therefore infinitesimally captures the rule of the series as a whole, and thus expresses, at any given point or moment of time, the general form of the series valid for all times,

Cassirer's first “systematic” work, Substance and Function [Cassirer 1910], takes an essential philosophical step beyond Cohen by explicitly engaging with the late nineteenth-century developments in the foundations of mathematics and mathematical logic that exerted a profound influence on twentieth-century philosophy of mathematics and natural science. Cassirer begins by discussing the problem of concept formation, and by criticizing, in particular, the “abstractionist” theory characteristic of philosophical empiricism, according to which general concepts are arrived at by ascending inductively from sensory particulars. This theory, for Cassirer, is an artifact of traditional Aristotelian logic; and his main idea, accordingly, is that developments in modern formal logic (the mathematical theory of relations) allows us definitively to reject such abstractionism (and thus philosophical empiricism) on behalf of the genetic conception of knowledge. In particular, the modern axiomatic conception of mathematics, as exemplified especially in Richard Dedekind's work on the foundations of arithmetic and David Hilbert's work on the foundations of geometry, has shown that mathematics itself has a purely formal and ideal, and thus entirely non-sensible meaning. Pure mathematics describes abstract “systems of order” — what we would now call relational structures — whose concepts can in no way be accommodated within abstractionist or inductivist philosophical empiricism. Cassirer then employs this “formalist” conception of mathematics characteristic of the late nineteenth century to craft a new, and more abstract, version of the genetic conception of knowledge. We conceive the developmental process in question as a series or sequence of abstract formal structures (“systems of order”), which is itself ordered by the abstract mathematical relation of approximate backwards-directed inclusion (as, for example, the new non-Euclidean geometries contain the older geometry of Euclid as a continuously approximated limiting case). In this way, we can conceive all the structures in our sequence as continuously converging, as it were, on a final or limit structure, such that all previous structures in the sequence are approximate special or limiting cases of this final structure. The idea of such an endpoint of the sequence is only a regulative ideal in the Kantian sense — it is only progressively approximated but never in fact actually realized. Nevertheless, it still constitutes the a priori “general serial form” of our properly empirical mathematical theorizing, and, at the same time, it bestows on this theorizing its characteristic form of objectivity.

In explicitly embracing late nineteenth-century work on the foundations of mathematics, Cassirer comes into very close proximity with early twentieth-century analytic philosophy. Indeed, Cassirer takes the modern mathematical logic implicit in the work of Dedekind and Hilbert, and explicit in the work of Gottlob Frege and the early Bertrand Russell, as providing us with our primary tool for moving beyond the empiricist abstractionism due ultimately to Aristotelian syllogistic. The modern “theory of the concept,” accordingly, is based on the fundamental notions of function, series, and order (relational structure) — where these notions, from the point of view of pure mathematics and pure logic, are entirely formal and abstract, having no intuitive relation, in particular, to either space or time. Nevertheless, and here is where Cassirer diverges from most of the analytic tradition, this modern theory of the concept only provides us with a genuine and complete alternative to Aristotelian abstractionism and philosophical empiricism when it is embedded within the genetic conception of knowledge. What is primary is the generative historical process by which modern mathematical natural science successively develops or evolves, and pure mathematics and pure logic only have philosophical significance as elements of or abstractions from this more fundamental developmental process of “productive synthesis” aimed at the application of such pure formal structures in empirical knowledge (see especially [Cassirer 1907b]).

Cassirer's next important contribution to scientific epistemology [Cassirer 1921] explores the relationship between Einstein's general theory of relativity and the “critical” (Marburg neo-Kantian) conception of knowledge. Cassirer argues that Einstein's theory in fact stands as a brilliant confirmation of this conception. On the one hand, the increasing use of abstract mathematical representations in Einstein's theory entirely supports the attack on Aristotelian abstractionism and philosophical empiricism. On the other hand, however, Einstein's use of non-Euclidean geometry presents no obstacle at all to our purified and generalized form of (neo-)Kantianism. For we no longer require that any particular mathematical structure be fixed for all time, but only that the historical-developmental sequence of such structures continuously converge. Einstein's theory satisfies this requirement perfectly well, since the Euclidean geometry fundamental to Newtonian physics is indeed contained in the more general geometry (of variable curvature) employed by Einstein as an approximate special case (as the regions considered become infinitely small, for example). Moritz Schlick published a review of Cassirer's book immediately after its first appearance [Schlick 1921], taking the occasion to argue (what later became a prominent theme in the philosophy of logical empiricism) that Einstein's theory of relativity provides us with a decisive refutation of Kantianism in all of its forms. This review marked the beginnings of a respectful philosophical exchange between the two, as noted above, and it was continued, in the context of Cassirer's later work on the philosophy of symbolic forms, in [Cassirer 1927b] (see [Friedman 2000, chap. 7]).

Cassirer's assimilation of Einstein's general theory of relativity marked a watershed in the development of his thought. It not only gave him an opportunity, as we have just seen, to reinterpret the Kantian theory of the a priori conditions of objective experience (especially as involving space and time) in terms of Cassirer's own version of the genetic conception of knowledge, but it also provided him with an impetus to generalize and extend the original Marburg view in such a way that modern mathematical scientific knowledge in general is now seen as just one possible “symbolic form” among other equally valid and legitimate such forms. Indeed, [Cassirer 1921] first officially announces the project of a general “philosophy of symbolic forms,” conceived, in this context, as a philosophical extension of “the general postulate of relativity.” Just as, according to the general postulate of relativity, all possible reference frames and coordinate systems are viewed as equally good representations of physical reality, and, as a totality, are together interrelated and embraced by precisely this postulate, similarly the totality of “symbolic forms” — aesthetic, ethical, religious, scientific — are here envisioned by Cassirer as standing in a closely analogous relationship. So it is no wonder that, subsequent to taking up the professorship at Hamburg in 1919, Cassirer devotes the rest of his career to this new philosophy of symbolic forms. (Cassirer's work in the philosophy of natural science in particular also continued, notably in [Cassirer 1936].)

4. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms

At Hamburg Cassirer found a tremendous resource for the next stage in his philosophical development — the Library of the Cultural Sciences founded by Aby Warburg. 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. Cassirer's earliest works on the philosophy of symbolic forms appeared as studies and lectures of the Warburg Library in the years 1922–1925, and the three-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms itself appeared, as noted above, in 1923, 1925, and 1929 respectively. Just as the genetic conception of knowledge is primarily oriented towards the “fact of science” and, accordingly, takes the historical development of scientific knowledge as its ultimate given datum, the philosophy of symbolic forms is oriented towards the much more general “fact of culture” and thus takes the history of human culture as a whole as its ultimate given datum. The conception of human beings as most fundamentally “symbolic animals,” interposing systems of signs or systems of expression between themselves and the world, then becomes the guiding philosophical motif for elucidating the corresponding conditions of possibility for the “fact of culture” in all of its richness and diversity.

Characteristic of the philosophy of symbolic forms is a concern for the more “primitive” forms of world-presentation underlying the “higher” and more sophisticated cultural forms — a concern for the ordinary perceptual awareness of the world expressed primarily in natural language, and, above all, for the mythical view of the world lying at the most primitive level of all. For Cassirer, these more primitive manifestations of “symbolic meaning” now have an independent status and foundational role that is quite incompatible with both Marburg neo-Kantianism and Kant's original philosophical conception. 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. It is precisely here that Cassirer appeals to “romantic” philosophical tendencies lying outside the Kantian and neo-Kantian tradition, deploys an historical dialectic self-consciously derived from Hegel, and comes to terms with the contemporary Lebensphilosophie of Wilhelm Dilthey, Henri Bergson, Max Scheler, and Georg Simmel — as well as with the closely related philosophy of Martin Heidegger.

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. Since the mythical world does not consist of stable and enduring substances that manifest themselves from various points of view and on various occasions, but rather in a fleeting complex of events bound together by their affective and emotional “physiognomic” characters, it also exemplifies its own particular type of causality whereby each part literally contains the whole of which it is a part and can thereby exert all the causal efficacy of the whole. 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. The fundamental Kantian “categories” of space, time, substance (or object), and causality thereby take on a distinctive configuration representing the formal a priori structure, as it were, of mythical thought.

What Cassirer calls representative symbolic meaning, a product of the representative function (Darstellungsfunktion) of thought, then has the task of precipitating out of the original mythical flux of “physiognomic” characters a world of stable and enduring substances, distinguishable and reidentifiable as such. 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. For it is primarily through the medium of natural language that we construct the “intuitive world” of ordinary sense perception on the basis of what Cassirer calls intuitive space and intuitive time. The demonstrative particles (later articles) and tenses of natural language specify the locations of perceived objects in relation to the changing spatio-temporal position of the speaker (relative to a “here-and-now”), and a unified spatio-temporal order thus arises in which each designated object has a determinate relation to the speaker, his/her point of view, and his/her potential range of pragmatic activities. 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. Here the Kantian “categories” of space, time, substance, and causality take on a distinctively intuitive or “presentational” configuration.

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. Here we encounter the third and final function of symbolic meaning, the significative function (Bedeutungsfunktion), which is exhibited most clearly, according to Cassirer, in the “pure category of relation.” For it is precisely here, in the scientific view of the world, that the pure relational concepts characteristic of modern mathematics, logic, and mathematical physics are finally freed from the bounds of sensible intuition. For example, mathematical space and time arise from intuitive space and time when we abstract from all demonstrative relation to a “here-and-now” and consider instead the single system of relations in which all possible “here-and-now”-points are embedded; the mathematical system of the natural numbers arises when we abstract from all concrete applications of counting and consider instead the single potentially infinite progression wherein all possible applications of counting are comprehended; and so on. The eventual result is the world of modern mathematical physics described in Cassirer's earlier scientific works — a pure system of formal relations where, in particular, the intuitive concept of substantial thing has finally been replaced by the relational-functional concept of universal law. 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. This characterization is now seen as a one-sided abstraction from a much more comprehensive dialectical process which can no longer be adequately understood without paying equal attention to its more concrete and intuitive symbolic manifestations; and it is in precisely this way, in the end, that the Marburg “fact of science” is now firmly embedded within the much more general “fact of culture” as a whole.

5. Cassirer, Hegel and the Cultural Sciences

Cassirer emphasizes the kinship between his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in the Prefaces to both the second (1925) and third (1929) volumes. Recent commentators ([Skidelsky 2008] [Moss 2015]) have illuminatingly built on this circumstance in further articulating the relationship between Cassirer and Hegel. Considerable light is shed on this relationship by Cassirer’s treatment of the problem of the Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften in The Logic of the Cultural Sciences (1942).

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. [Cassirer 1942] develops a characteristically methodological perspective on this problem by treating both disciplines as empirical rather than “speculative” sciences (in the sense of Schelling and Hegel) and elucidating their methodological relationship within the philosophy of symbolic forms.

[Cassirer 1942] argues that the empirical evidential basis for the cultural sciences starts from the same realm of perceived physical objects and processes distributed in space and time as do the natural sciences—in this case documents, artifacts, rituals, performances—but it goes on to imbue them with a symbolic “sense” or “meaning” that is not at issue in the natural sciences. We must distinguish, in particular, between the representative function (Darstellungsfunktion) and the expressive function (Ausdrucksfunktion) of thought, and only a prejudice privileging “thing perception [Dingwahrnehmen]” over “expressive perception [Ausdruckswahrnehmen]” can support the idea that the natural sciences have a more secure evidential basis than he cultural sciences. (It is precisely this prejudice which, according to Cassirer, lies behind Carnap’s “physicalism.”) For Cassirer, by contrast, both forms of perception are equally legitimate. While the natural sciences take their evidence from the sphere of thing perception, the cultural sciences take theirs from the sphere of expressive perception—and, in the first instance, from our lived experience in a human community sharing a common system of “cultural meanings.”

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. Although every “cultural object” has its own individual place in (historical) time and (geographical-cultural) space, it can still continuously approach a universal cultural meaning (in history or ethnography) as it is continually interpreted and reinterpreted from the perspective of other times and places. 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.

We can further illuminate Cassirer’s evolving attempt to situate himself between Kant and Hegel by considering his evolving relationship to Heidegger. In the 1929 Disputation at Davos Cassirer challenged Heidegger’s radical “finitism” by appealing to the presumed necessary and eternal validity found in both the mathematical sciences and morality. And after the Disputation Cassirer added five footnotes to Being and Time (1927) in The Phenomenology of Knowledge before its publication, where he suggested that his attempt to begin the Hegelian phenomenology with mythical thought rather than ordinary sense perception could also address Heidegger’s concerns. In 1931, however, Cassirer published a review of [Heidegger 1929], which took a different approach from his remarks at Davos. Instead of primarily emphasizing the “eternal” validity found in the mathematical sciences, Cassirer now placed his main emphasis on the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of Kant’s thought, as expressed in the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of the Power of Judgement. His main point was that, whereas the Transcendental Analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason may indeed be written from the perspective of human finitude, the rest of Kant’s system embeds this perspective within a wider conception of “the intelligible substrate of humanity.”

[Cassirer 1931] mirrors his just-completed attempt to embed the Marburg genetic conception of knowledge within a wider conception of the development of human culture as a whole. The way in which Cassirer situates his new philosophy of culture with respect to both Hegel and Heidegger then illuminates his fundamental divergence from Hegel—as it came to be expressed in Cassirer’s works on history and culture after he left Germany for good in 1933. 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. Yet he has now conceded to Heidegger that Kant’s theory of human cognition involves only the notion of potential rather than actual infinity. In particular, Kant’s treatment of the regulative use of the ideas of reason from a merely theoretical point of view leaves their actual content quite indeterminate. 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 1931 review of Heidegger.

What the Critique of the Power of Judgement adds to this conception is then the further idea that rigorous mathematical scientific understanding of the phenomenal world (“mechanistic” understanding) runs out considerably before we arrive at the history of human culture, so that the future is in principle open to the possibility of our continuously approximating the Highest Good without limit. But Cassirer, as we have just seen, has now achieved a parallel result though his methodological distinction between the natural and the cultural sciences. He is thereby in a position to replace what he takes to be the oppressive (speculative) infinity of Hegel’s Absolute Reason with the liberating (practical) infinity of our human (practical) reason [Cassirer 1939, 28]: “In his philosophy of history Hegel wanted to provide the definitive speculative demonstration that reason is substance and infinite power. For this, however, we must, according to him, above all attain the insight that reason is ‘not so powerless as to pass for a mere ideal, a mere ought.’ This form of proof has become shaky; the critique of the foundations of the Hegelian system has pulled the ground out from under it. If we turn back from the Hegelian meaning of idea to the Kantian, from the idea as ‘absolute power’ back to the idea as ‘infinite problem,’ we must of course give up the speculative optimism of the Hegelian view of history. But, at the same time, we thereby also avoid fatalistic pessimism with its prophecies and visions of decline. [Our] acting again has a free path to decide for itself out of its own force and responsibility, and it knows that the direction and future of culture will depend on the manner of this decision.” It is in this way, for Cassirer, that our cultural future always lies open and is always up to us.


Selected works by Cassirer:

(Fuller bibliographies may be found in [Schilpp 1949], [Krois 1987]; many of Cassirer's German writings are reprinted by the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt.)

  • (1902) Leibniz’ System in seinen wissenschaftlichen Grundlagen. Marburg: Elwert.
  • (1906) Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. Erster Band. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer.
  • (1907a) Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. Zweiter Band. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer.
  • (1907b) “Kant und die moderne Mathematik.” Kant-Studien 12, 1-40.
  • (1910) Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff: Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Translated as Substance and Function. Chicago: Open Court, 1923.
  • (1921) Zur Einsteinschen Relativitätstheorie. Erkenntnistheoretische Betrachtungen. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Translated as Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Chicago: Open Court, 1923.
  • (1923) Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Erster Teil: Die Sprache. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Translated as The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955.
  • (1925a) Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Zweiter Teil: Das mythische Denken. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Translated as The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Two: Mythical Thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955.
  • (1925b) Sprache und Mythos: Ein Beitrag zum Problem der Götternamen. Leipzig: Teubner. Translated as Language and Myth. New York: Harper, 1946.
  • (1927a) Individuum und Kosmos in der Philosophie der Renaissance. Leipzig: Teubner. Translated as The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy. New York: Harper, 1964.
  • (1927b) “Erkenntnistheorie nebst den Grenzfragen der Logik und Denkpsychologie.” Jahrbücher der Philosophie 3, 31–92.
  • (1929a) Die Idee der republikanischen Verfassung. Hamburg: Friedrichsen.
  • (1929b) Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Dritter Teil: Phänomenologie der Erkenntnis. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Translated as The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Three: The Phenomenology of Knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
  • (1931) “Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. Bemerkungen zu Martin Heideggers Kantinterpretation.” Kant-Studien 36, 1–16. Translated as “Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.” In M. Gram, ed. Kant: Disputed Questions. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1967.
  • (1932) Die Philosophie der Aufklärung. Tübinen: Morh. Translated as The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951.
  • (1936) Determinismus und Indeterminismus in der modernen Physik. Göteborg: Göteborgs Högskolas Årsskrift 42. Translated as Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.
  • (1939a) Axel Hägerström: Eine Studie zur Schwedischen Philosophie der Gegenwart. Göteborg: Göteborgs Högskolas Årsskrift 45.
  • (1939b) “Naturalistische und humanistische Begründung der Kulterphilosophie.” Göteborg Kungl. Vetenskaps- och Vitterhets-Semhälles Handlingar. 5e Földjen, Ser. A, Band 7, Nr. 3. Translated as “Introduction: Naturalistic and Humanistic Philosophies of Culture” in (1942/1961) below.
  • (1942) Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften. Göteborg: Göteborgs Högskolas Årsskrift 47. Translated as The Logic of the Humanities. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961. Translated as The Logic of the Cultural Sciences. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • (1944) An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • (1946) The Myth of the State. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Note: Cassirer's unpublished writings are now appearing in volumes edited by J. Krois and E. Schwemmer, Nachgelassene Manuskripte und Texte. Hamburg: Meiner.

Secondary and Other Relevant Literature:

  • Aubenque, P., L. Ferry, E. Rudolf, J.-F. Courtine, F. Capeillières (1992) “Philosophie und Politik: Die Davoser Disputation zwischen Ernst Cassirer und Martin Heidegger in der Retrospektive.” Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 2: 290–312.
  • Burtt, E. (1925) The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science. London: Paul, Trench, Trubner.
  • Cassirer, T. (1981) Mein Leben mit Ernst Cassirer. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg.
  • Cohen, H. (1871) Kants Theorie der Erfahrung. Berlin: Dümmler.
  • ––– (1883) Das Princip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte: ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Ekenntnißkritik. Berlin: Dümmler.
  • Dijksterhuis, E. (1959) De Mechanisering van get Wereldbeeld. Amsterdam: Uitgeverif Meulenhoff. Translated as The Mechanization of the World Picture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.
  • Friedman, M. (2000) A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger. Chicago: Open Court.
  • Gay, P. (1977) The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 2 vols. New York: Norton.
  • Gordon, P. (2010) Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Heidegger, M. (1927) Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. Translated as Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962.
  • ––– (1928) “Ernst Cassirer: Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. 2. Teil: Das mythische Denken.” Deutsche Literaturzeitung, 21: 1000–1012. Translated as “Book Review of Ernst Cassirer's Mythical Thought.” In The Piety of Thinking. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.
  • ––– (1929) Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. Bonn: Friedrich Cohen. Translated (together with a protocol of the Davos disputation with Cassirer) as Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1990.
  • Ihmig, K.-N. (2001) Grundzüge einer Philosophie der Wissenschaften bei Ernst Cassirer. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
  • Kaegi, D. and E. Rudolph, eds. (2000)70 Jahre Davoser Disputation. Hamburg: Meiner.
  • Knoppe, T. (1992) Die theoretische Philosophie Ernst Cassirers: Zu den Grundlagen transzendentaler Wissenschafts- und Kulturtheorie. Hamburg: Meiner.
  • Koyré, A. (1939) Etudes galiléennes. 3 vols. Paris: Hermann. Translated as Galileo Studies. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978.
  • Krois, J. (1987) Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Langer, S. (1942) Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Moss, G. S. (2015) Ernst Cassirer and the Autonomy of Language. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.
  • Paetzold, H. (1995) Ernst Cassirer — Von Marburg nach New York: eine philosophische Biographie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
  • Panofsky, E. (1939) Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Pap, A. (1946) The A Priori in Physical Theory. New York: King's Cross Press.
  • Renz, U. (2002) Die Rationalität der Kultur: Zur Kulturphilosophie und ihrer transzendentalen Begründung bei Cohen, Natorp und Cassirer. Hamburg: Meiner.
  • Schilpp, P., ed. (1949) The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer. La Salle: Open Court.
  • Schlick, M. (1921) “Kritizistische oder empiristische Deutung der neuen Physik?” Kant-Studien, 26: 96-111. Translated as “Critical or Empiricist Interpretation of Modern Physics?” In H. Mulder and B. van de Velde-Schlick, eds. Moritz Schlick: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1979.
  • Schwemmer, O. (1997) Ernst Cassirer. Ein Philosoph der europäischen Moderne. Berlin: Akademie.
  • Skidelsky, E. (2008) Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture. Princeton: Princeton Unversity Press.

From Idealistic Studies, 8:8, January 1978, 14-32. 

“Philosophy is presented [in Cassirer's The Myth of the State] as an activity that should aim at the alteration of the historical process, that can aid in the securing of human freedom in the political sphere.  Philosophy is not only to present a picture of the forms within which human culture exists, it is also to act to shape these forms under the human ideals that constitute civilization.

“Although Cassirer’s philosophy is constructed on a different base from [Alfred North] Whitehead’s, I think if Cassirer’s thought were pressed to enumerate the ideals of civilization they would be similar to those in Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas, Part IV.”

Posted September 2, 2008


Cassirer’s Concept of Symbolic Form and Human Creativity

Donald Phillip Verene 

Most scholars regard Ernst Cassirer as a thinker in the Marburg Neo-Kantian tradition whose writings take him from its concern with the analysis of the logical foundations of science to problems in intellectual history, theory of language, and culture.1 The critical work on his thought has reflected and supported this view.2  There is a second image of Cassirer which is shared by the large number of students and general readers who have come to his thought through two works that appeared at the end of his life—An Essay on Man3 and the Myth of the State.4  These works have gone through numerous printings and have appeared in editions in most major Western and Oriental languages.5  These readers have found in Cassirer not primarily an epistemologist and historian of thought but a philosopher of humanity, an interpreter of the fragmentation of contemporary cultural life and the nature of the political world.  These two sides shown by Cassirer’s thought are not exactly opposed, but also they are not joined.

Cassirer’s thought has been employed by scholars in the humanities, linguistics, and social sciences such as A. W. Levi,6 H. and H. A. Frankfort,7 and Leo Weisgerber.8  It has had an influence on such thinkers on philosophical problems of symbolism and perception as Maurice Merleau-Ponty,9 Paul Ricoeur,10 and Susanne Langer.11  Among contemporary thinkers, Susanne Langer is the one figure who has most developed her thought from the perspective of Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms and whose thought has done the most to extend the spirit of his philosophy.  Although Cassirer’s work has been widely read and has had identifiable effects, no school of thought or particular sphere of influence has developed from it and only a limited amount of critical work has, in fact, appeared on it.12  A common impression of Cassirer’s work is that it is not a philosophy in any traditional sense but a series of scholarly researches.13  The fact that no overall unity in Cassirer’s thought has been readily seen, that no common impression has emerged which brings together its two sides, has prevented the critical assessment of its significance and the discovery of the full possibilities that lie within it.

The intention of this paper is to take a step toward understanding the general meaning of Cassirer’s thought by understanding its relationship to the concept of human creativity.14  My concern is to answer two questions: (1) In what sense is a theory of creativity present in Cassirer’s thought? and (2) What does Cassirer’s thought indicate for our understanding of creativity itself, particularly as it relates to symbolization, human culture, and political freedom?  My answers to these questions will be based on an analysis of the developmental relationships between Cassirer’s major philosophical works.  Broadly speaking, Cassirer’s works can be divided into two categories—those which are primarily historical, such as his four volumes of the Erkenntnisproblem,15 and his studies on the Renaissance16 and the Enlightenment,17 and those which directly present his original philosophy.  My discussion will be confined to the latter.18

Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms has its beginnings in Substance and Function (1910).19  In this work Cassirer presents a theory of scientific thought based upon a general theory of the subject-object relationship, mind, and reality.  Cassirer’s view is that the logic of scientific thought must be understood in terms of a theory of concept formation that takes seriality as fundamental rather than the notions of similarity and identity of properties that are the basis of generic class logic.20  What makes science possible, for Cassirer, is the ability of the mind to grasp empirical manifolds as serially ordered under a specific principle of arrangement, such that each element in the manifold is given a determinate position in relation to each other element, and such that elements not present can be determined through extension of the series.21  The pure form of this process can be expressed as F (a, b, c, …) in which a, b, c, etc., have no individual meaning apart from that given them in the series, and F, or the principle of arrangement of the series, has no content beyond its power to express their specific arrangement.22  Thus, in principle, and largely in fact, cognitive thought is in possession of a particular kind of “concrete universal”23 in which any particularly ordered manifold is connected, or connectible in principle, with any other by the fact that any element of a given series may be taken to represent a subseries of a more particular order.

What impresses Cassirer is that all metaphysical dispute over the “nature” of the concept has been put aside by modern science, which can begin from an empirical matrix of sensation and articulate an order within it expressible in the language of pure mathematical form.  Cassirer’s account of science has within it a concept of reality that is founded on a theory of the relativity of the relationship between subject and object.24  The distinction between the subjective and objective is something which is not given in experience but which is created within it.  It is not present in immediate perception which holds all content on a single plane without distinction.  We come to draw this distinction, Cassirer maintains, by singling out those elements in experience that are constant and invariable and calling them objective, and designating those elements that are changeable as subjective.

An example of this is the shift from the qualities discoverable through the five senses, such as color, warmth, humidity, etc., that comprise the definition of the object in Aristotelian and scholastic science to the mathematical conception of the object in Galileo’s physics.25  For Galileo such sensible qualities of the object become only names which designate the subjective conditions under which the object is apprehended.  The true constitution of the object is regarded as those features of it that are expressible in the notational symbolism of geometry and arithmetic.  To put the same point in broader terms, what are taken as primary features of the object in common sense, that which can be seen and heard, become its subjective features in science.26 Subjectivity and objectivity, for Cassirer, is a distinction whereby the mind builds order in experience rather than being something itself given in experience against which the mind creates knowledge.  What stands constantly before us is not a given reality which thought copies, but the unit of thought itself.

At the center of Cassirer’s theory of cognitive thought is what the translators of the English edition of Substance and Function have called a doctrine of “creative intelligence.”27  For Cassirer the funda-mental notions that philosophy traditionally seeks to understand—mind, reality, subject, object, the external world, thing, causation, etc.—must be understood in terms of the relationships they actually establish between themselves in the process of human thought.  Their being is not something separable from what they are as principles of thought.  Cassirer does not attempt, an attempt that he would call “metaphysical,” to define their meaning independently of the roles they play in the creation of knowledge.  At the beginning of Cassirer’s philosophy there is a concept of mind as creative in the sense of an agency that is determinate of its own reality in a synthetic, processlike manner.

In the three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923, 1925, 1929)28 Cassirer expands the theory of cognition of Substance and Function into a total theory of human consciousness and culture.29  The three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms have an internal development among themselves.  Volume I deals with language, Volume II with mythical thought, and Volume III is titled the Phenomenology of Knowledge (Phänomenologie der Erkenntnis).  The center of Cassirer’s system is this “phenomenology of knowledge” of the third volume, in which conscious-ness is divided into three functions—the expressive (Ausdrucksfunktion), the representational (Darstel-lungsfunktion), and the conceptual (Bedeutungsfunk-tion)—each of which is shown as the grounding of the other in a broad set of dialectical relationships. Corresponding to each of these three functions of consciousness is a basic cultural form—to expression corresponds myth, to representation, language, and to conceptualization, science.30  At the basis of Cassirer’s theory of consciousness is his concept of “symbolic form,” which is the central concept of his philosophy and the one special term which he employs in it.  “Symbolic form” has three basic meanings.31  It refers to: (1) what we ordinarily think of as symbols in the broadest sense of this term—an act, sound, or object in which a meaning is involved, such as a gesture, a graphic, a word, mark, or number; (2) a structure of consciousness achieved through the use of such symbols, having its own internal “logic,” and constituting a major sphere of human cultural activity, such as myth, religion, art, history, or science; (3) those universals, categories, or principles whereby order occurs in experience and which constitute the traditional topics of our philosophical understanding of it, such as causality, object, thing, substance, quality, etc.

These three senses of symbolic form are interrelated and Cassirer frequently moves from one to the other without explicitly calling attention to the shift.  In relation to the first sense, no activity of the mind is more “symbolic” than another.  For Cassirer, to know is to elicit order from the manifold of perceptual experience, and to elicit such order is to symbolize.  Images, words, and numbers are all symbols.  Their difference is not in that one is more symbolic than the other, but in the ways that order is achieved through each in relation to a perceptual manifold.  Thus the fundamental question Cassirer asks is, if the mind creates order in experience, what is the medium through which this order occurs?  He finds this in the symbol which is always at once something physical and something spiritual—something that has a meaning.32  It is the symbol or the symbolic process of mind that cuts across all activity of the human world and which can be analyzed as a universal phenomenon.  Thus in a primary sense the term “symbolic form” refers to the activity of the mind whenever it creates knowledge.

The second and third senses of symbolic form are closely tied to each other.  The creation of knowledge is not limited to the cognitive activity of the mind, but occurs in all forms of mental activity—in mythic, artistic, religious, linguistic, and historical experience.33  The major ways in which the mind knows its object are writ large in cultural experience. Thus the term, “symbolic form,” also refers to the major forms of culture which themselves make up the worlds that lie within the human spirit.  A symbolic form in this sense refers to a mode of structuring experience such that major categories and forms of thought such as cause, object, thing, attribute, space, time, number, and self come together and order perceptual content in a particular way.  These universal forms of thought have no content apart from their presence in cultural activity and their character varies from one cultural sphere to another.  Thus it is possible to compare and contrast mythic and scientific causality,34 mythic and aesthetic space,35 linguistic and scientific concepts of number,36 etc.  The second and third senses of symbolic form follow from the first and themselves combine to allow Cassirer to conceive culture as a system of epistemic forms which arise as products of the three major functions of consciousness or fundamental modes of the subject-object relationship.

It is not possible in a short space to do justice to Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms or the questions that surround the internal relationships of its elements.37  Its basic significance for an understanding of his theory of creativity lies in the fact that in the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms the doctrine of “creative intelligence” of Substance and Function is extended from a theory of scientific cognition to a theory of culture.  The relationship between the principle of arrangement of a series and the members of the series that forms the basis for mathematical and scientific concept formation is seen by Cassirer to be connected to a broader and more fundamental activity of the human spirit—the process of symbolization itself.  Culture as a whole becomes the model of the creative activity of mind in which cognitive, semicognitive, and noncognitive mental activities are understandable as variations of a single synthetic act of mind and apprehensible as a phenomenon in the symbol.

The picture of mind and of culture that is present in the three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms is one in which little tension exists between man and the process whereby culture is created.  The fundamental problem is seen as one of showing that by starting from a concept of symbol it is possible to connect theory of knowledge with theory of culture and to do so in such a way that each form of culture can be understood in its own terms and that no one form comes to dominate over the others in the total system of forms.38  In the final essay of the Logic of the Humanities (1942),39 titled “The Tragedy of Culture,” Cassirer takes up the question of the relation of culture to man and the self-estrangement inherent in the cultural world.  It is here that Cassirer makes his most direct statements about the nature of creativity and here that his thought begins to point strongly toward the normative concerns of a philosophy of culture discernible in An Essay on Man and directly present in the Myth of the State.  In this essay Cassirer regards the creative process as the basis of culture and culture as the process itself writ large.  Cassirer regards conflict as an essential moment within the process whereby culture comes about and develops in its particular forms.  This conflict exists in two basic ways: (1) between the subjective I and the world of culture; and (2) within the historical development of cultural life wherein civilizations rise and fall and cultures confront each other.  Cassirer rejects the view that the I in the act of the creation of culture is fundamentally self-alienated.40  The separation of consciousness into I and world is itself an achievement of consciousness which involves the overcoming of their immediate unity in its original state.  This point must be seen in relation to Cassirer’s earlier essay, which he published immediately after the third volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, titled “‘Spirit’ and ‘Life’ in Contemporary Philosophy” (1930),41 in which he argues that spirit (Geist) and life (Leben) should not be conceived as antitheticals, as opposing substances with distinct essences.  To fix the distinction between spirit and life so that spirit is seen as the self-alienation of life fails to account for the positive content of both.  This can be accounted for, Cassirer maintains, only if spirit is seen as a transformation of life.42  The opposition between I and I, or between the I and itself, is bridged, and can only be bridged, by the existence of culture, which exists as ever present as the basis of all spiritual communication.

Cassirer maintains that the conflicts that arise within the historical development of human culture, those between periods of cultural life and the rise and fall of civilizations, are never final.  Such conflicts are never absolute conflicts but always display an element that is present in any creative act; the changes they entail are never sheerly novel occurrences but always are tied to something that exists as that against which the change occurs.43 For Cassirer, culture in its historical process is dramatic, and is at any moment potentially tragic for in its development content can be simply lost.  He maintains, however, that at no point does the tragedy of culture become complete.  There is no absolute tragedy of culture, for each conflict does not have as its result the destruction of culture itself, but becomes a revelation of the further dimensions of its essential process.44  The questions of the tensions within culture and the relationship between culture and life, which are treated as general problems in the Logic of the Humanities and Cassirer’s essay on spirit and life,become concrete issues in An Essay on Man (1944) and the Myth of the State (1946).  These two works are directed to tensions present in Western culture in our time.  An Essay on Man has been a puzzling book for some of Cassirer’s commentators because it has been seen as primarily a summary of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, in which Cassirer might be expected to make clearer interrelationships between the various symbolic forms of culture and explain more fully the foundations of his system.45 Looked at in this way it answers few of these questions and, in fact, makes these questions more complicated by adding to his earlier work discussions of art and history.  If, however, the Essay on Man is looked at in relation to the developing concern within Cassirer’s thought with the relationship between spirit and life, and man’s concept of himself as an agent who creates culture, the meaning of this work emerges in a new light.

Although the Essay on Man is not without significance for the analysis of problems present in his earlier epistemological analysis of culture, this is not the true source of its intellectual power.  This revolves around two points.  (1) Cassirer is concerned to show that a philosophy of culture based on a concept of the universality of the symbolic function of mind can provide man with an adequate picture of his own nature.  This concern arises from what Cassirer terms “the crisis in man’s knowledge of himself,” in which contemporary intellectual life has lost its ability to present man with a context in which to form a fundamental and unified concept of himself.46  When this occurs, man’s own creation—culture—becomes confusing to him and his philosophical powers and life begin to lose vitality.  (2) Cassirer is also fundamentally concerned to show that symbolic behavior can be seen as a transformation of animal intelligence.  Thus his chapter on “From Animal Reactions to Human Responses,” and that preceding it on “A Clue to the Nature of Man: the Symbol,” can be seen as an attempt to resolve through the use of biological and psychological material the problem of the relationship of spirit and life, which he faced earlier only in metaphysical terms.  For when man becomes confused about his own nature and its reflection in culture, he also becomes confused about his relationship to life.47  Such confusions, as Cassirer makes clear in the Myth of the State, have not only intellectual consequences but social consequences for the continuance of civilized life.

In the Myth of the State Cassirer turns his attention directly to the nature of the political world.  Here he brings to bear the most original part of his philosophy of symbolic forms—his theory of mythical consciousness—together with his power of historical analysis on the problem of understanding the political activity of the twentieth century.  In particular Cassirer’s concern is to explain the German National Socialist state of the 1930’s and early 1940’s, but the implications of his analysis go much further than this. Cassirer’s ultimate concern is with the direction of modern political life and the role philosophy can play in the establishment of human freedom in the historical process of civilization.  Cassirer sees the basis of the Nazi state to lie in its ability to join technique with the logic of the mythical world.48  The power of the Nazi state is seen to lie in its ability to structure political life in terms of the mythic concepts of fate, destiny, mimetic language use, and ritual. The concept of freedom is replaced with that of fate.

Cassirer finds the intellectual background for this to lie in the thought of Oswald Spengler and Martin Heidegger.49  Cassirer sees behind Spengler’s theory of history a reduction of historical reality to mythic structures such that, as he says, in Spengler the philosophy of history becomes the art of divination. He sees in Heidegger’s concept of Geworfenheit or “thrownness” a view of man which regards him as a being confined within the historical conditions of his existence, a being who can understand these conditions but not change them.50  What troubles Cassirer, and what becomes the theme of the last chapter of the Myth of the State, is that on such views philosophy no longer is seen as an agency of human freedom.  The proper understanding of the relationship between spirit or culture and life is lost, and man confines his understanding of himself simply to exploring the structures of the immediate conditions of his existence without seeing himself as the creator of these structures and the developer of them into the forms of cultural order.  Such views are not only intellectually deplorable but socially dangerous, as man can no longer make sense of his culture as an act of human freedom.  In the world of human affairs it allows for the substitution of the logic of myth for the logic of reason.51

A reading of the last chapter of the Myth of the State presents quite a different picture of Cassirer’s conception of philosophy than the one arising from his origins in Neo-Kantian epistemology.52  Philoso-phy is not discussed here as the organizer and surveyor of human knowledge but as the agency that is to intervene in the creative tensions of culture and affect their outcome.  I do not mean that Cassirer sees philosophy as an activity that is to become a direct part of particular struggles, but it is to supply the necessary element of the self-knowledge that man requires in order to see himself as the agent in these struggles and to grasp the dynamics of their intellectual structure.

The answer to the first of my original two questions—that of the developmental unity of Cassirer’s thought and the presence of a theory of human creativity within it—is now at hand.  Cassirer’s philosophical position develops from a theory of scientific cognition based on a doctrine of “creative intelligence,” to a theory of culture based on a concept of the synthetic activity of mind as universally present in the act of symbolization, to a view of the creative act as writ large in the internal tensions of the cultural world and the relation of life to spirit, to a view of the philosophy of culture as an activity wherein man can come to a knowledge of himself, to a concept of philosophy as having duties to reflect on and attempt to shape the political life of man.  The movement is one from the creative act as cognitive to the creative act as ultimately philosophical and, as philosophical, ultimately ethical.  My concern is not to show that the significance of Cassirer’s thought is concentrated in his political thought, but that his thought has a normative side and that it is connected to his epistemology.

The answer to my second question—that of the implications of Cassirer’s thought for the theory of creativity itself—can be stated in four points:

(1) The beginning point for a theory of human creativity is in a theory of culture.

(2) Culture provides the ever present context in which any act of human creativity can occur.

(3) The internal structure of the symbol provides a basis for a theory of the creative act.

(4) Philosophy is seen as an agency of human creativity not only in the sense of its being a synthetic mode of thought but in the sense of its having a normative role in social life.

(1) In regard to the first point, Cassirer’s thought suggests that analysis of creativity should begin with analysis of human culture seen as the process in which the nature of human creativity is writ large.  In this sense Cassirer’s thought offers a beginning point that differs from those most usually taken in the analysis of creativity, which most often focuses on the artistic process or the psychological processes involved in the origination of new ideas, practical innovation, or personality development as models for understanding creativity.53

For Cassirer to understand the processes wherein experience itself is generated is to understand the fundamental sense in which the human mind is creative.  Cassirer’s thought suggests that only when some understanding of the creative process in its largest terms is achieved (i.e., when it is understood as the activity responsible for cultural experience itself) can it be properly understood in its more particular forms, such as in aesthetic experience, intellectual achievement, or development of the individual.  Thus on Cassirer’s view any particular process of mind that might be singled out as creative must be understood in terms of a total theory of mind as creative, such that it can be seen as derivative from that process whereby culture itself comes about and within which it necessarily occurs.  In this respect Cassirer’s approach to creativity through a theory of culture is like Plato’s procedure in the Republic, in which the nature of the individual is seen as writ large in the structure of the state and in fact continuous with it. 

(2) In regard to the second point, on Cassirer’s view any single act of creativity must take place within one of the forms of human culture.  The I’s apprehension of itself, or of another I, or of an object, always has culture as a middle term, but not a middle term in the sense of a medium that is in itself separate from the I, for the being of this I is constituted through such activity.  Any act which brings something new into existence does so only in relation to one form of culture or another.  In the forms of human cultural life—such as myth, religion, language, art, history, or science—reside the permanent possibilities out of which the human spirit can be extended by the individual act.54

Each one of these forms represents a major way in which consciousness apprehends itself in the construction of experience and which it in turn holds out as a concrete framework for creation to the individual agent.  Individual creation comes about through the assumption of a particular standpoint on the object by the individual consciousness, that consciousness itself has already to some extent taken and which is writ large in culture, and in turn the outcome of such creation is intelligible only in relation to this cultural form.  Thus when an artist constructs a new work or a scientist a theory, the possibility of their accomplishment and its ultimate intelligibility rest on a form of cultural activity that we can call art or science.

(3) In regard to the third point, Cassirer’s thought suggests a parallelism between the internal structure of the symbol and the structure of the creative act, such that in the symbol the creative act is present as a describable phenomenon.55  Cassirer’s concept of the symbol brings together two great notions of German Idealism—Kant’s view in the first Critique, that knowledge is had through a synthesis in the manifold, and Hegel’s view in the Phenomenology of Spirit, that the mind can encounter itself as an internally diverse unity through attention to the forms of its construction of the object.56  That relationship between the universal and the particular element in experience that is stated in abstract terms by Kant as a principle of knowledge, and which is presented by Hegel as an opposition within a given stage of consciousness, is seen by Cassirer as a cultural phenomenon in the symbol.  The symbol is the fundamental unit of mind present in all cultural life.

The symbol is internally and inherently dialectical, a unity of inseparable opposition between the universal and the particular.  The nature of these oppositions takes several forms.  A word is at once a breath of wind or a mark on paper—something physical and something having a meaning.  The symbol is never merely physical but it is never without physical being.  In the realm of meaning the word always has a particular meaning, but never a unique meaning, as it is always part of the vocabulary of a language.  As its meaning is the result of the linguistic function of consciousness it is further tied to the world of the human spirit generally, and ultimatelyderives its significance from its place within it in relation to other cultural forms.  For Cassirer the connection between the universal and the particular in the symbolic process can be seen in purely formal terms in the mutually determinative relationship between the members of a series and the law of their arrangement.  But it can also be seen in the act of perception itself in what Cassirer terms “symbolic pregnance” (symbolische Prägnanz).57  Cassirer uses this term to refer to the fact that in sensory experience we are never presented with a bare perceptive datum which is then interpreted and joined with further conceptual content through apperceptive acts.  Instead, we are always presented in perception with an act that contains a definite direction and determinate character.58  Symbolic meaning, Cassirer maintains, is already present in the most immediate phase of mental apprehension of the object.  Conceptual meaning arises not by a separate act added to perceptual experience but by a transformation of it.  This process is what separates animal from human mentality and is the basis for transforming the concept of man as rational animal into man as symbolizing animal.59

The importance of Cassirer’s concept of the symbol for the formulation of a theory of the creative act lies in two directions.  (1) By describing the central unit of human consciousness or thought, the symbol, in terms often associated with creativity, Cassirer provides a basis for a theory of the creative act that is modeled directly on the working of mind itself and not on some particular process of it (e.g., those I have mentioned above in point one).  (2) By developing a “logic of the creative act” from Cassirer’s concept of the nature of the symbol, there would be reason in advance to believe that in principle such a theory would be sufficiently rich conceptually to allow for the interpretation of creativity as it occurs in all forms of mental life (e.g., as it occurs in both art and science).  It would further follow from this that any account of the creative act once developed from the nature of the symbol would be best pursued in terms of the particular context of culture in which it occurs.

(4) In regard to the fourth point, Cassirer’s view of philosophy as it appears in the Myth of the State has implications for how philosophy can view itself as a creative agency in the course of human affairs. Philosophy is seen in this work not simply as being creative in the sense of being synthetic in its understanding of man’s cultural life or in intellectually resolving tensions within it.  Philosophy is presented as an activity that should aim at the alteration of the historical process, that can aid in the securing of human freedom in the political sphere.  Philosophy is not only to present a picture of the forms within which human culture exists, it is also to act to shape these forms under the human ideals that constitute civilization.60  Cassirer’s thought suggests that a theory which sees all activity of consciousness as fundamentally creative process must see itself not simply as the observer of this process, but as the originator of a version of this process itself.

The direction which Cassirer’s thought points in this respect would appear to be the analysis of the relationships that exist in contemporary political life between mythic thought-forms, technique, and human reason.  Man is only in a position to shape his freedom, freely to hold to values, when he is not confused about the forces that shape his political life. The transformation of the life of the state onto a foundation composed of a union of mythic thought-forms and technological processes is by no means something that ended with the fall of the Nazi state. The technology of human affairs, of managing behavior, thought, and emotion, as well as mythic thought-forms are much in existence below the surface of contemporary political life and are not much understood.61  How man is to deal with these forces now that they have entered political life is not a question that can be left to fields of specialized inquiry.  It is philosophy that must have something to say about the possibilities of dealing with these tensions.62

In conclusion, let me say that my intention has not been to deal with the critical problems and difficulties that lie within Cassirer’s thought, as indeed such problems exist within it.  My intention has been rather to see what can be learned by a positive reconstruction of its central ideas.  This paper has aimed at two things: (1) to make clear something of the general meaning of Cassirer’s thought, a point, the unclarity of which has practically been a constant of the critical writing on his thought.  My view has been that there is a line of continuous development within Cassirer’s systematic philosophy, from Substance and Function in 1910 to the Myth of the State in 1946, published after his death, in which his thought moves from a theory of science to a philosophy of political freedom.  (2) In so doing I have attempted to show how the concept of human creativity is involved implicitly and explicitly in Cassirer’s thought, such that the assertion that all human activity is symbolic activity can be seen as equivalent to the assertion that all human activity is creativity, and that kinds of creativity are distinguishable from each other by the fact that they follow the directions of the symbolic process in human culture seen as a structure of symbolic forms.63



1 For an analysis of Cassirer’s relationship to Marburg Neo-Kantianism see: William H. Werkmeister, “Cassirer’s Advance Beyond Neo-Kantianism” and Fritz Kaufmann, “Cassirer, Neo-Kantianism, and Phenomenology,” The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer in The Library of Living Philosophers, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp (Evanston: The Library of Living Philosophers, Inc., 1949), pp. 759–854. Also Seymour W. Itzkoff, Ernst Cassirer: Scientific Knowledge and the Concept of Man (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971), chs. 3 and 4, esp., pp. 62–68.

2 See D. P. Verene, “Ernst Cassirer: A Bibliography,” Bulletin of Bibliography, 24 (1964), 104–06, 103; and “Ernst Cassirer: Critical Work 1964–1970,” Bulletin of Bibliography, 29 (1972), 21–22, 24.

3 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.  Herein-after cited as EM.

4 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946.  Herein-after cited as MS.

5 These include for EM translations into Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, German, Korean, and Portugese; and for MS translations into Spanish, Swedish, Portugese, German, Italian, Korean, and Japanese.  In addition to EM and MS a work that is widely read by English readers as an introduction to Cassirer’s thought is Language and Myth, trans. Susanne K. Langer (New York: Dover Publications, 1953; orig. pub. New York: Harper, 1946).

6Literature, Philosophy and the Imagination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962).

7Before Philosophy, the Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1949), chs. 1 and 8.

8 See Robert L. Miller, The Linguistic Relativity Principle and Humboldtian Ethnolinguistics: A History and Appraisal (The Hague: Mouton, 1968), p. 42, n. 23.  Also see references to Cassirer in A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (New York: Vintage Books, n.d.); Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “On the Definition of the Symbol,” Psychology and the Symbol: An Interdisciplinary Symposium, ed. J. R. Royce (New York: Random House, 1965); and W. M. Urban, Language and Reality: The Philosophy of Language and the Principles of Symbolism (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939).

9Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), pp. 124–27 and 235.  For a discussion of the relationship between Merleau-Ponty and Cassirer see Theodore Kisiel, “Aphasiology, Phenomenology of Perception and the Shades of Structuralism,” to appear in the proceedings of the Fifth Lexington Conference on Phenomenology: Pure and Applied.

10 See Ricoeur’s criticisms of Cassirer’s theory of the symbol in Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 10–21.

11 See Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), p. 410; Philosophical Sketches (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962), pp. 58–59; and Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Vol. I (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 80–81, n. 10.

12 For a list of reasons for the lack of influence exerted by Cassirer’s thought see Itzkoff, p. 222.  I would add to this list the effect of the political events of Cassirer’s time.  Having to leave Germany in 1933, going first to England and then to Sweden and the United States, Cassirer was during some of the most mature years of his career never in a position for sufficient time personally to pass on his ideas to a generation of students who might have gone on to teach and develop them.  For details on these years see Dimitry Gawronsky, “Ernst Cassirer: His Life and Work,” Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, pp. 28–37; and Toni Cassirer, Aus meinem Leben mit Ernst Cassirer (New York: Privately issued, 1950), pp. 187–310.

13 In his review of EM Brand Blanshard states: “It is hard not to think, as one reads a book so wealthy as this in historic and scientific erudition, but at the same time so oddly inconclusive, that Cassirer was rather a distinguished reflective scholar than a great speculative philosopher.  The learning is not mobilized in the interest of any theory.” Philosophical Review, 54 (1945), 510.

14 For a discussion of the relation between Cassirer’s thought and other figures in terms of creativity see Eugene T. Gadol, “Der Begriff des Schöpferischen bei Vico, Kant und Cassirer,” Wissenschaft und Weltbild, Part I, 22 (December 1968), 24–36; Part II, 22 (March 1969), 8–19.

15Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, Vols. I-III (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1906, 1907, 1920).  Vol. IV orig. pub. in English as The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science, and History since Hegel, trans. W. H. Woglom and C. W. Hendel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950).

16The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, trans. Mario Domandi (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964).

17The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. F. C. A. Koelln and J. P. Pettegrove (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951).

18 Cassirer’s published writings, which number approximately 125 items and span a period of 47 years, do not classify easily into periods or particular categories.  A full study of the development of his thought would need to show the relationship between his historical works and those which directly present his philosophy, as well as the relation of these to his studies of German literature, particularly his essays on Goethe.  For a classificatory scheme of Cassirer’s writings see Philosophy and History: Essays Pre-sented to Ernst Cassirer, ed. Raymond Klibansky and H. J. Paton (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), pp. 338–50.

19Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuch-ungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1910).  English trans.: Substance and Function and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, trans. W. C. and M. C. Swabey (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1923; rpt. Dover Publications, 1953).  Hereinafter cited as SF with page references to the English edition.

20SF, pp. 14–17.

21SF, pp. 148–50.  Cf. “Die Begriffsform im mythischen Denken,” Wesen und Wirkung des Symbolbegriffs (Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1956), p. 9.

22SF, p. 26.

23 SF, pp. 20–21.

24SF, pp. 272–73.

25 Cassirer, “The Influence of Language upon the Development of Scientific Thought,” Journal of Philosophy, 39 (1942), 316–17.  In SF see pp. 254–55.

26 SF, p. 275.

27SF, p. v.

28Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, 3 vols. (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1923, 1925, 1929). English trans.: The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, trans. Ralph Manheim, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953, 1955, 1957).  Hereinafter cited as PSF with page references to the English edition.

29 Cassirer states: “I first projected this work, whose first volume I am here submitting, at the time of the investigations summed up in my book Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff (Berlin, 1910)” PSF, I, p. 69.  In SF see pp. 232–33.

30PSF, III, pp. 61, 108, and 282.

31 See Carl H. Hamburg, Symbol and Reality: Studies in the Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1956), p. 58.

32 PSF, I, p. 109.

33 These are forms which Cassirer discusses.  He also mentions forms of customary morality (Sitte), law (Recht), economics (Wirtschaft) and technology (Technik). See PSF, II, pp. xiv-xv.

34PSF, II, pp. 43–59.

35 Cassirer, “Mythic, Aesthetic and Theoretical Space,” trans. D. P. Verene and L. H. Foster, Man and World, 2 (1969), pp. 3–17.

36PSF, III, pp. 342–56.

37 Regarding such problems see, for example, William H. Werkmeister, “Cassirer’s Advance Beyond Neo-Kantianism,” pp. 796–98; and Wilbur M. Urban, “Cassirer’s Philosophy of Language,” pp. 438–41 in The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer.

38PSF, I, pp. 80–84.

39Zur Logik der Kulturwissenschaften: Fünf Studien, Göteborgs Högskolas Arsskrift, Vol 47 (Göteborg: Wettergren and Kerbers Forlag, 1942).  English trans.: The Logic of the Humanities, trans. Clarence Smith Howe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961).  Hereinafter cited as LH with page references to the English edition.

40LH, pp. 188–89.

41 “‘Geist’ und ‘Leben’ in der Philosophie der Gegenwart,” Die Neue Rundschau, 41 (1930), 244–64.  English trans.: The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, R. W. Bretall, pp. 857–80.

42The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, p. 875. Cf. LH, p. 215.

43 LH, p. 200.

44 LH, p. 211.

45 Cassirer’s own comments in the Preface to EM give support to this approach: “My critics should, however, be warned that what I could give here is more an explanation and illustration than a demonstration of my theory.  For a closer discussion and analysis of the problems involved I must ask them to go back to the detailed description in my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms” (p. viii).  My view of the ethical thrust of EM is not intended to exclude its significance for an understanding of the specific parts of Cassirer’s epistemology.  I would emphasize another sentence in Cassirer’s Preface: “Since that time [the publication of PSF] the author has continued his study on the subject.  He has learned many new facts and he has been confronted with new problems” (p. vii).  My view of EM as having an ethical standpoint and a particular relationship to MS was suggested to me by my recent study of Cassirer’s unpublished papers at Beinecke Library, Yale University.

46EM, pp. 21–22.

47 In this regard, note the end points of Cassirer’s discussions in chs. 4 and 5 in which he draws out the implications of the distinction between animal and human mentality of ch. 3. He speaks of the impor-tance of man’s symbolic ability for forming an ethical-religious concept of the future (pp. 54–55) and for conceiving ethical-political ideals (pp. 60–62).

48 MS, p. 282.

49MS, pp. 289–93.

50 The differences between Cassirer and Heidegger do not seem to lie in their specific phenomenological analyses (see the exchange of footnotes between Being and Time, H. 51, n. xi, and PSF, III, pp. 149, n. 4; 163, n. 2; 173, n. 16; 189, n. 34) but in their interpretation of Kant and the ultimate implications their philosophies have for a theory of man and human freedom.  See also Carl H. Hamburg’s translation of the record of their meeting at Davos in 1929, “A Cassirer-Heidegger Seminar,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 25 (1964), 208–22; Heidegger’s review of PSF, II, Deutsche Literaturzei-tung, 21 (1929), 999–1012; and Cassirer’s review of Heidegger’s book on Kant, Kant-Studien, 36 (1931), 1–26.  An account of the entire Davos meeting showing something of the general character of the meeting and the involvement of other participants exists in the form of the Davoser Revue: Zeitschrift für Literatur, Wissenschaft, Kunst und Sport, Vol. 4, No. 7, 15 April 1929.  For a comparison of Cassirer’s and Heidegger’s views on Kant see Calvin O. Schrag, “Heidegger and Cassirer on Kant,” Kant-Studien, 58 (1967), 87–100.

51 See also Cassirer, “Judaism and the Modern Political Myths,” Contemporary Jewish Record, 7 (1944), pp. 115–26.

52 For a clearly stated analysis of Cassirer’s thought from the standpoint of political philosophy see John J. Schrems, “Ernst Cassirer and Political Thought,” The Review of Politics, 29 (1967), pp. 180–203.

53 Although the literature on creativity is quite large these are the basic approaches to be found within it, e.g., see S. J. Parnes and H. F. Harding, eds., A Source Book for Creative Thinking (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962).  For a view that approaches creativity in a way other than those of the above but which employs an aspect of aesthetic experience as a model see Carl R. Hausman, “Mystery,Paradox, and the Creative Act,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 7 (1969), pp. 289–96.

54 Cassirer states: “Wir können nur in diesen Formen anschauen, erfahren, vorstellen, denken; wir sind an ihre rein immanente Bedeutung und Leistung gebunden” (“Zur Logik des Symbolbegriffs,” Wesen und Wirkung, p. 209).

55 In EM Cassirer states: “If we content ourselves with contemplating the results of these activities—the creations of myth, religious rites or creeds, works of art, scientific theories—it seems impossible to reduce them to a common denominator.  But a philosophic synthesis means something different.  Here we seek not a unity of effects but a unity of action; not a unity of products but a unity of the creative process” (p. 70).

56 For an analysis of Cassirer’s relationship to Hegel see D. P. Verene, “Kant, Hegel, and Cassirer: The Origins of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms,”Journal of the History of Ideas, 30 (1969), 33–46.  See also Charles W. Hendel’s Introduction in PSF, I, pp. 32–35; 62.

57PSF, III, pt. II, ch. 5, esp. p. 202.

58 For an example of this see PSF, III, pp. 200–01.  See also “Das Symbolproblem und seine Stellung im System der Philosophie,” Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, 21 (1927), pp. 194–95.

59EM, ch. 2.

60 Although Cassirer’s philosophy is constructed on a different base from Whitehead’s, I think if Cassirer’s thought were pressed to enumerate the ideals of civilization they would be similar to those in Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas, Part IV.  As Whitehead states them: “I put forward as a general definition of civilization, that a civilized society is exhibiting the five qualities of Truth, Beauty, Adventure, Art, Peace” (New York: Macmillan, 1933, p. 353).

61 To my mind the one thinker who makes clear the extent of these problems is Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Knopf, 1964); Propaganda (New York: Knopf, 1966); and The Political Illusion (New York: Knopf, 1967).

62 Cassirer states: “The great thinkers of the past were not only ‘their own times apprehended in thought.’  Very often they had to think beyond and against their times.  Without this intellectual and moral courage, philosophy could not fulfill its task in man’s cultural and social life.  It is beyond the power of philosophy to destroy the political myths.  A myth is in a sense invulnerable.  It is impervious to rational arguments; it cannot be refuted by syllogisms.  But philosophy can do us another important service.  It can make us understand the adversary” (MS, p. 296).  For a criticism of Cassirer’s negative account of the role of myth in political life see D. P. Verene, “Cassirer’s View of Myth and Symbol,” The Monist, 50 (1966), pp. 559–64.

63 A version of this paper was originally presented at the Society for Philosophy of Creativity session at the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division meeting, Boston, 1972.  I am most grateful for the remarks of the two commentators at this session, James Haden and William Werkmeister.

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