The Symbolic Construction of Reality: The Legacy of Ernst Cassirer

The Symbolic Construction of Reality: The Legacy of Ernst Cassirer

The Symbolic Construction of Reality: The Legacy of Ernst Cassirer

The Symbolic Construction of Reality: The Legacy of Ernst Cassirer

Synopsis

In 1933 eminent philosopher Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) fled Nazi Germany for the United States. His fame in Europe having already been established through a public debate with Martin Heidegger in 1929, Cassirer would go on to become a noteworthy influence on American culture. His most important early writings focused on the symbol and symbolic interaction, exploring how human cultures- from early myth-based ones to our own modern, scientifically oriented time- have used symbols to mediate the basic forms of experience. Following this work, Cassirer extended his insights to encompass a broad spectrum of philosophical themes: from investigations into Western epistemological and scientific traditions to aesthetics and the philosophy of history to anthropology and political philosophy. Reflecting this diversity in Cassirer's own work,The Symbolic Construction of Realitycollects eleven essays by a wide range of contributors from different fields. Each essay analyzes a different aspect of his legacy, reassessing its significance for our contemporary world and bringing much-needed attention to this seminal thinker.

Excerpt

The eleven essays included in this volume examine the legacy of Ernst Cassirer's thought and reassess its significance for our contemporary world. in focusing on different aspects of Cassirer's wide-ranging work, in fields such as philosophy and history, cultural studies, ethics and politics, these essays seek less to impose unity and order on writings elaborated over the course of five decades, than to explore and interpret different facets of his work in its diversity. Presented sixty years after Cassirer's death in 1945, this volume does not intend to serve as an apology for his orientation; the studies that comprise it reflect a willingness to consider the criticism his work has generated, both among contemporaries and members of later generations. in keeping with this attempt to present a balanced approach to Cassirer's writings, the following introductory essay will consider the contribution made by his theory of symbolic forms in light of important criticism it has elicited.

Cassirer's theory of the symbol

The title of this collection of essays indicates a primary concern of Ernst Cassirer's philosophy, namely the role for human understanding of the symbol in the constitution of reality. Cassirer's characterization of the symbol as “symbolic form,” however, employs this term in a way which is neither usual nor universally accepted. Encompassing the primary symbolic form of language, as well as other cultural articulations such as art, myth, religion, and science, Cassirer's unusually broad definition of the symbol sharply contrasts with a narrower traditional usage in philosophy, where the symbol is said to mean something other than what it directly . . .

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