The Poets on the Classics: An Anthology of English Poets' Writings on the Classical Poets and Dramatists from Chaucer to the Present

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Routledge, 1988 - Classical literature - 273 pages
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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.

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, the first for over fifty years, brings Cassirer's magnum opus to a new generation of students and scholars.

Volume 2: Mythical Thought considers the role of myth in human thought and expression. Cassirer examines the main features of morphology of myth before tackling the relationship between myth and self-consciousness. He argues that human beings' experience of the world around them is charged with affective and emotional significance, as desirable or hateful, comforting or threatening. It is this type of meaning which underlies mythical consciousness and explains its disregard for the distinction between appearance and reality. From mythical thought religion and art develop, Cassirer argues, making the mythical view of the world the earliest form of philosophical expression.

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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About the author (1988)

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.

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