Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Philosophy as Science: "Function" and "Energy" in Cassirer's "Complex System" of Symbolic Forms

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Philosophy as Science: "Function" and "Energy" in Cassirer's "Complex System" of Symbolic Forms

Article excerpt

Leibniz geht von dem Funktionsbegriff der neuen Mathematik aus, den er als Erster in seiner vollen Allgemeinheit fasst und den er schon in der ersten Konzeption von aller Einschrankung auf das Gebiet der Zahl und der Grosse befreit. Mit diese neuen Instrument der Erkenntnis ausgeriistet, tritt er an die Grundfragen der Philosophie heran. (1)

Wenn in der Schriften zur Logik und zur Mathematik ... die allgemeine Methode der Leibnizischen Philosophie sich bestimmte und ausbildete, wenn in ihnen das abstrakte begriffliche Fundament des Systems abgesteckt wurde, so tritt uns beim Ubergang zu den Problemen der Biologie die Leibnizische Metaphysik zuerst in ihrer konkreten Gestaltung mit der Eigenart ihrer besonderes Prinzipien entgegen. Der Entwurf der ,,allgemeinen Charakteristik," das Bemuhen um eine allgemeingultige Methodik der Forschung und der Beweisfuhrung hatte den Ausgangspunkt des Leibnizischen Denkens gebildet. (2)

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THIS PAPER EXAMINES Ernst Cassirer's specific proposal for the solution to the classic problem: how can philosophy fulfill its ideal of reaching the status of scientific knowledge and become a science? By answering this question, the present study endeavors to fill an important gap in the Cassirerian studies, where that problem was never addressed. It also brings new material to our understanding of the longstanding tradition of Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft. (3) The exposition of Cassirer's solution will open new research in this field, in particular through a discussion with, first, the solutions offered at the same time by other neo-Kantian schools (Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert for Bade, Leonard Nelson for the physiological trend) as well as by Husserlian phenomenology, and second, with the contemporary trend of "scientific philosophy" (the Vienna and Berlin Circles or more generally the fathers--and uncles--of analytical philosophy). Such a comparative study goes beyond the explicit scope of the present paper and Cassirer's achievement is where we should start.

This ideal of scientificity is almost as ancient as philosophy itself, since we already find it in Plato's fight against the Sophists. But the problem's articulation as well as the solutions offered took very different guises in the course of history. The late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the rise of novel figures of science, inaugurated a new period of knowledge, and Kant's claim to bring metaphysics to the status of science, being indissociable from the success of the Newtonian physics, inaugurated another one. From then on, this problem can be accurately regarded as the inner force commanding the theoretical development of philosophy. In that perspective, the history of post-Kantianism can be considered as the history of a struggle to gain for philosophy a scientificity of its own. Fichte had no other aim than to achieve Kant's unfinished methodological accomplishment and soon suggested replacing the name "philosophy" by "science." "Transcendental idealism" and "speculative thinking" were the names for Schelling's and Hegel's methodological proposals to reach the same scientific status. Herbart and Fries both acknowledged their debts to Kant but shaped their philosophical identity with specific solutions to the problem of the scientific status of philosophical knowledge. Not only the shining stars of philosophy, but also authors of a lesser magnitude in these constellations participate in this extraordinary expansion of a new philosophical universe; for instance Salomon Maimon's skepticism is indeed a claim for philosophy as a science. (4) The numerous and quite diverse neo-Kantian philosophers--such as Hermann yon Helmholtz, Eduard Zeller, Albert Lange, and Alois Riehl--and schools--the neo-Herbartian and their journal, the Zeitschrift fur exacte Philosophie, (5) the neo-Freisean like Nelson, the Southwest (Windelband, Rickert), Marbourg (Hermann Cohen, Paul Natorp, Ernst Cassirer, Albert Gorland, and Rudolf Stammler)--understood the "Back to Kant! …

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