Who is Ernst Cassirer?June 25, 2021
Ernst Cassirer KErnst Cassirer was a great German philosopher who lived from 1874 to 1945.
Moving from Kant’s philosophy and expanding Kant’s basic principles about the ways in which a priori concepts in the human mind shape the natural world, Cassirer strongly objected to the view that a concept is obtained by abstracting from a large number of single examples, from individual existence, and just like Plato, the concept is the one that organizes knowledge. As a tool, he stated that particulars were pre-existing for the classification of individual objects.
Summary of Cassier’s Basic Philosophy
Ernst Cassirer was born in Breslau to a Jewish family. He worked as an assistant at the University of Magdeburg, known for his adherence to the Neo-Kantian school of philosophy. While sympathetic to Kant, he criticized Hegel, who pursued “absolute rules”. In addition, he was under the influence of people who were influential in hermeneutic and cultural sciences such as Vico and Herder.
Ernst Cassirer based his ideas on Kant. He also gained fame with his work “Philosophy of Symbolic Forms”. In this work, Cassirer aimed to construct a general philosophy of all symbolic forms. He made the transition from linguistic forms to mystical thought and from there to the philosophy of science. It aims to understand how these different forms are formed.
Cassirer says that the content of the elements and the relations mutually constitute and construct each other. There is a differentiation in epistemological processes, which results from the expression of individual elements by different types of relationships.
The basic principle of all symbolic forms is that they can only be understood with the specific, and the specific can be understood by referring to the general, in his work named “The Logic of Cultural Sciences”, which he wrote in 1942. In this sense, he is accepted as an important name in sociology, especially in the sociology of culture.
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
Cassirer’s greatest contribution to philosophy from neo-Kantian positions is the paradigm he developed in his 3-volume “Philosophie Der Symbolischen Formen” (“philosophy of symbolic forms”), his Magnum Opus.
According to Cassirer’s philosophy of science, modern scientific thought is based on the “functional concept”. In contrast to the Aristotelian theory of concept production (finding a common substantial element based on differences and similarities in a set of particularities and generating a concept from it), the “functional concept” seeks a principle that will order a set of particularities into a series.
The ordering of particulars in a series, unlike a “substance”, has no reality or meaning independent of the elements it organizes. elements have meaning only according to their position in the series. With this model, Cassirer tries to explain the dryness of everything called experience during the cognitive or non-cognitive activities of the human mind.
The origin of the “functional concept” is, of course, Kant. Cassirer advances this with the “symbol” as an integral part of the human experience. From this point of view, Kant’s “critique of reason” becomes a “critique of culture” in Cassirer. Every different culture has a way of ordering perceived particularities. Every culture has its own form, its own object construction, causality explanation, space design, time and number imagination. From this point of view, Cassirer constructs such things as myth, religion, language, art, history and science as “symbolic forms”. Although he says that other forms are possible, he does not reveal “forms” such as morality, technology, and economy.
In the third volume of his “Philosophy of Symbolic Forms” (“phenomenology of knowledge”) he tells us that there are 3 symbolic forms that correspond to the basic development of consciousness:
(a) ausdruckfunktion – all knowledge and culture stem from the “ausdruck function”. At the “expression” level an object is “feeled”. Consciousness becomes “myth” at this level. The symbol and the symbolized are at the same level of reality.
(b) darstellungsfunktion – the felt mythical image unlocks the logical powers of language and produces the “representation (darstellung) function”. With this function, the world of common sensory objects is created, the attributes and classes of objects are born. The symbol and the symbolized now become separate levels of reality.
(c) bedeutungsfunktion – goes beyond this with the “marker (bedeutung) function”, which corresponds to scientific and theoretical thinking. Here the creation of “symbolic systems” is made possible. Symbols mark other symbol schemes here: math and mathematical logic are examples.
What are Ernst Cassirer’s contributions to cultural sciences?