The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 3: Phenomenology of Cognition, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Volume 3

Phenomenology of Cognition, 1st Edition

By Ernst Cassirer


544 pages

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Hardback: 9781138907249
pub: 2020-06-18
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"In his Phenomenology of Cognition, Cassirer provides a comprehensive and systematic account of the dynamic process involved in the whole of human culture as it progresses from the world of myth and its feeling of social belonging to the highest abstractions of mathematics, logic and theoretical physics. Cassirer engages with the most sophisticated and cutting-edge work in fields ranging from ethnology to classics, egyptology and assyriology to ethology, brain science and psychology to logic, mathematics and theoretical physics. His command of philosophy, literature, and the arts is superb. Echoing his work on Kant, Cassirer begins The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms with the problem posed by the meaning of being for philosophy since Plato. But Cassirer also shows that this problem gains new significance with Kant and with the development of modern culture. Cassirer weaves his conception of the development of knowledge into a broadly Kantian and German idealist dynamic-historical conception of significance and of experience that refuses to accept a fundamental opposition between literary, philosophical and scientific culture. In consequence of his great vision grounded in careful reflection and argument, Cassirer’s systematic conception of the Copernican cosmopolitan-cosmological revolution is still philosophically and scientifically unmatched in contemporary philosophy on both sides of the Atlantic and of the Pacific." - Pierre Keller, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Riverside, USA.

This new translation makes Cassirer’s seminal work available to a new generation of scholars. Each volume includes an introduction by Steve Lofts, a foreword by Peter Gordon, a glossary of key terms, and an index.

Steve Lofts is Professor of Philosophy at King’s University College, Canada. He is the translator of Cassirer’s The Logic of the Cultural Sciences and The Warburg Years (1919-1933): Essays on Language, Art, Myth, and Technology.

Table of Contents

Foreword Peter E. Gordon

Translator’s Preface S. G. Lofts

Translator’s Introduction: A Phenomenology of Symbolic Creative Cognition – the Unfolding of the Symbolic Function and the Construction of a Pure Theory of the Symbolic S. G. Lofts

Translator’s Acknowledgements S. G. Lofts.



Part 1: The Expressive Function and the World of Expression

1. Subjective and Objective Analysis

2. The Expressive Phenomenon as the Basic Element of Perceptual Consciousness

3. The Expressive Function and the Mind-Body-Problem

Part 2: The Problem of Representation [Repräsentation] and the Construction of the Intuitive World

1. The Concept and the Problem of Representation [Repräsentation]

2. Thing and Property

3. Space

4. The Intuition of Time

5. Symbolic Pregnance

6. Toward the Pathology of Symbolic Consciousness

Part 3: The Function of Signification and the Construction of Scientific Cognition

1. Toward a Theory of the Concept

2. Concept and Object

3. Language and Science – Thing Signs and Ordinal Signs

4. The Object of Mathematics

5. The Foundations of Natural Scientific Cognition

Appendix: "Spirit" and "Life" in Contemporary Philosophy (1930).


General Index

Index of Proper Names.

About the Author

Ernst Cassirer was born in 1874 in the German city of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland). He entered the University of Berlin in 1892, taking a course with the sociologist Georg Simmel. Simmel introduced Cassirer to the writings of the Neo-Kantian school, particularly Hermann Cohen. Cassirer became deeply interested in Neo-Kantianism, reading Kant primarily as an epistemologist and methodologist of science against the prevailing German idealist legacy of Kant as a metaphysician. In 1894 he moved to Marburg University to study with Cohen, completing his doctorate in 1899 with a dissertation on Descartes’s analysis of mathematics and science. He returned to Berlin in 1903, where he continued to work on Descartes and Leibniz whilst developing his much larger interpretation of the development of modern philosophy and science from the Renaissance to Kant. The first volume of this work served as his habilitation at the University of Berlin, where he taught as an instructor or Privatdozent from 1906 to 1919.

In 1919 Cassirer was offered a professorship at the newly founded University of Hamburg, at the time under the Weimar Republic. He taught at Hamburg from 1919 to 1933. During these years Cassirer completed his three-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, his major work. It went far beyond the neo-Kantianism of the Marburg School, attempting to unite scientific and non-scientific modes of thought - "symbolic forms" - within a single philosophical vision. In 1929 he took part in a famous debate with Martin Heidegger in Davos, Switzerland, where Cassirer defended his brand of neo-Kantian symbolic forms in the face of Heidegger’s existentialist and phenomenological critique of neo-Kantianism.

In 1933, Cassirer emigrated from Germany and spent two years lecturing at Oxford and then six years at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. He developed his theories of morality and the philosophy of law through the study of the Swedish legal philosopher Axel Hägerström. He also continued to work on the relationship between the natural sciences and the "cultural sciences, rejecting Rudolf Carnap’s physicalism and challenging the drift towards what he regarded a scientific reductionism in philosophy. Cassirer finally settled in the United States, where he taught at Yale University from 1941 to 1944 and at Columbia in 1944–45. During these years he wrote An Essay on Man, which expresses some of the core themes of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, and the Myth of the State, which examines rise of fascism on the basis of Cassirer’s conception of mythical thought. He died suddenly as a result of a heart attack while walking in New York in 1945.

About the Series

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms

Ernst Cassirer occupies a unique space in Twentieth-century philosophy. A great liberal humanist, his multi-faceted work spans the history of philosophy, the philosophy of science, intellectual history, aesthetics, epistemology, the study of language and myth, and more. Cassirer’s thought also anticipates the renewed interest in the origins of analytic and continental philosophy in the Twentieth Century and the divergent paths taken by the 'logicist' and existential traditions, epitomised by his now legendary debate in 1929 with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, over the question "What is the Human Being?"

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms is Cassirer's most important work. It was first published in German in 1923, the third and final volume appearing in 1929. In it Cassirer presents a radical new philosophical worldview - at once rich, creative and controversial - of human beings as fundamentally "symbolic animals", placing signs and systems of expression between themselves and the world.

This major new translation of all three volumes, the first for over fifty years, brings Cassirer's magnum opus to a new generation of students and scholars. Taken together, the three volumes of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms are a vital treatise on human beings as symbolic animals and a monumental expression of neo-Kantian thought.

Correcting important errors in previous English editions, this translation reflects the contributions of significant advances in Cassirer scholarship over the last twenty to thirty years. Each volume includes a new introduction and translator's notes by S. G. Lofts, a foreword by Peter Gordon, a glossary of key terms, and a thorough index.

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