Cassirer, Ernst


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Cassirer, Ernst

(ĕrnst käsēr`ər), 1874–1945, German philosopher. He was a professor at the Univ. of Hamburg from 1919 until 1933, when he went to Oxford; he later taught at Yale and Columbia. A leading representative of the Marburg Neo-Kantian school, Cassirer at first devoted himself to a critical-historical study of the problem of knowledge. This work bore fruit in the monumental Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit (3 vol., 1906–20) and Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff (1910, tr. Substance and Function, 1923). In his chief work, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen (3 vol., 1923–29, tr. Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1953–57), he applied the principles of Kantian philosophy toward the formation of a critique of culture. His view that all cultural achievements (including language, myth, and science) are the results of man's symbolic activity led Cassirer to a new conception of man as the "symbolic animal." Cassirer wrote many other studies on science, myth, and various historical subjects. These include two written in English: An Essay on Man (1944) and Myth of the State (1946).

Bibliography

See P. A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (1949, repr. 1973); studies by S. W. Itzkoff (1971), D. R. Lipton (1978), J. M. Krois (1985), and P. E. Gordon (2010).

Cassirer, Ernst

 

Born July, 28, 1874, in Breslau, now Wroclaw; died Apr. 13, 1945, in New York. German idealist philosopher, representative of the Marburg school of neo-Kan-tianism.

Cassirer was a professor (1919–33) and rector (1930–33) at the University of Hamburg. After 1933, Cassirer lived in exile: in Oxford (Great Britain), in Göteborg (Sweden) from 1935 to 1941, and in the USA from 1941 until his death.

At the start of his career Cassirer studied the philosophical problems of natural science and elaborated a theory of concepts, or “functions”; after 1920 he created an original philosophy of culture. Following the lead of H. Cohen and P. Natorp, Cassirer eliminated from the Kantian system the concept of the “thing-in-itself” as one of the two factors (the other being the subject of cognition) that create the world of “experience”; material for the construction of experience (“multiformity”) is created in Cas-sirer’s system by thought itself. Accordingly, space and time cease to be perceptions (as they were in Kant) and are transformed into concepts. Instead of the two Kantian worlds, there exists a single world, the “world of culture”; ideas of reason, like categories, become constitutive instead of regulative, that is, they are the principles that create the world. Cassirer terms these principles “symbolic functions,” inasmuch as they represent the highest values and are connected with the “divine” in man.

The diverse fields of culture, termed “symbolic forms” (language, myth, religion, art, science) are regarded by Cassirer as independent formations, irreducible to each other. Cassirer’s philosophy of culture also determined his idealistic conception of man as a “symbol-creating animal.” He is the author of several books on the history of philosophy, on G. von Leibniz, I. Kant, R. Descartes, and the philosophies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Cassirer’s ideas, especially his theory of “symbolic forms,” was a decisive influence on the Warburg school’s studies of cultural history.

WORKS

Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, vols. 1–4. Berlin, 1906–57.
Freiheit und Form. Berlin, 1916.
Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1923–29.
An Essay on Man. New Haven, Conn.-London [1945.]
The Myth of the State. London, 1946.
Zur modernen Physik. Oxford, 1957.
In Russian translation:
Poznanie i deistxiteVnosf. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Teoriia otnositel’nosti Einshteina. Petrograd, 1922.

REFERENCES

Buczyńska, H.Cassirer. Warsaw, 1963.
Ernst Cassirer. Edited by P. A. Schilpp. Berlin, 1966. (Contains a bibliography.)

A. A. KRAVCHENKO

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