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Cassirer, Ernst (1874–1945)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD013-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Cassirer is one of the major figures in the development of philosophical idealism in the first half of the twentieth century. He is known for his philosophy of culture based on his conception of ‘symbolic form’, for his historical studies of the problem of knowledge in the rise of modern philosophy and science and for his works on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Cassirer expanded Kant’s critique of reason to a critique of culture by regarding the symbol as the common denominator of all forms of human thought, imagination and experience. He delineates symbolic forms of myth, religion, language, art, history and science and defines the human being as the ‘symbolizing animal’. All human experience occurs through systems of symbols. Language is only one such system; the images of myth, religion and art and the mathematical structures of science are others.

Being of Jewish faith, Cassirer left Germany in 1933 with the rise of Nazism, going first to Oxford, then to university positions in Sweden and the USA. In the last period of his career he applied his philosophy of culture generally and his conception of myth specifically to a critique of political myths and to the study of irrational forces in the state.

Citing this article:
Verene, Donald Phillip. Cassirer, Ernst (1874–1945), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD013-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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