Cassirer's Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms

Cassirer's Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms: A Philosophical Commentary

Thora Ilin Bayer
With an Introductory Essay by Donald Phillip Verene
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Cassirer's Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms
    Book Description:

    This book-the first commentary on Ernst Cassirer'sMetaphysics of Symbolic Forms-provides an introduction to the metaphysical views that underlie the philosopher's conceptions of symbolic form and human culture.Thora Ilin Bayer focuses on the meaning of Cassirer's claim that philosophy is not itself a symbolic form but the thought around which all aspects of human activity are seen as a whole. Underlying the symbolic forms are Cassirer's two metaphysical principles, spirit (Geist) and life, which interact to produce the reality of the human world. Bayer shows how these two principles of Cassirer's early philosophy are connected with the phenomenology of his later philosophy, which centers on his conception of "basis phenomena"-self, will, and work.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12717-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-38)

    At his death in 1945 Cassirer left a quantity of unpublished papers, among which were manuscripts concerning a “metaphysics of symbolic forms.” These manuscripts were on a topic not previously thought to be part of his conception of a philosophy of symbolic forms. They have only recently come to light, and their appearance invites a new perspective, a new understanding of Cassirer’s philosophy.

    Cassirer left his professorship at the University of Hamburg in May of 1933, following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany in January. As a Jew, Cassirer had no future in his homeland, and two months later he...

  4. Part 1 The Early Texts:: Life and Spirit
    • 1 Life and Spirit
      (pp. 41-79)

      The central distinction of Cassirer’s metaphysics is between life (Leben) and spirit (Geist). Cassirer understands all metaphysical systems of the twentieth century as tending in one or the other of these two directions. A full understanding of what life and spirit mean for Cassirer requires not only the definition of the two concepts but also an understanding of their connections with the key ideas of his philosophy of culture, especially his conceptions of dialectic and symbolic form. Cassirer intends his metaphysics of symbolic forms to pass between the horns of the dilemma of life and spirit. To accomplish this, he...

    • 2 The Object of Philosophy
      (pp. 80-126)

      For Cassirer, the object of philosophy in one sense is the dialectic of life and spirit, discussed in Chapter One. The object of philosophy in another sense is itself. Philosophy asks itself what it is, does, and hopes to achieve. A remarkable portion of the early texts of the fourth volume ofThe Philosophy of Symbolic Formsis concerned with what philosophy is and how it functions. Understanding what philosophy is, for Cassirer, is an essential part of the activity of philosophy. The activity of philosophy can be understood through its various components: its presuppositions, starting point, method, goal, and...

  5. Part 2 The Late Text:: Basis Phenomena
    • 3 Basis Phenomena
      (pp. 129-152)

      An understanding of Cassirer’s conception of basis phenomena (Basisphänomene) requires not only a description of the three basis phenomena—I, act, and the work—but also an explanation of how these phenomena are connected with Cassirer’s metaphysics of life, spirit, and symbolic form. Cassirer does not directly spell out such connections, but it is possible to draw out from the text the issues they involve.

      Cassirer begins his discussion of the basis phenomena with Goethe, who formulated the notion of three primary of original phenomena in three maxims. Goethe’s maxim 391 states that this first phenomenon is “the highest gift,”...

    • 4 The Work of Philosophy
      (pp. 153-194)

      Cassirer is concerned not only with what the basis phenomena are but also with what philosophy is as an activity that arises from the basis phenomena. He presents both the history of philosophy and his own philosophy as manifestations of these phenomena. He conceives of different types of philosophy as arising from different basis phenomena. Cassirer claims that other philosophies offer one-sided perspectives on reality, whereas the metaphysics of symbolic forms preserves reality’s tripartite basis.

      In the introduction to the text on basis phenomena, Cassirer states that the proper goal of philosophy is to grasp relative truth. The introduction is...

  6. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-204)
  7. Index
    (pp. 205-210)