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Gordon, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Skidelsky does yeoman's work here in sifting through Cassirer's work in relation to the conflicting tensions of positivism and the phenomenological turn in Continental philosophy. Bevc's primary line of interpretation, however, is tracing the parallel analysis of the "pathology" of these symbolic forms or structures of perception that induced the dialectic of myth in reason in the cultural genesis of National Socialism. He discusses the Frankfurt School's psychoanalytic studies of the sadomasochistic character, the Culture Industry, and of course the dialectic of enlightenment in terms of a historical process of growing restriction of the liberating power of these structures of orderings and perception.

Bevc thus finds another significant parallel between Cassirer's pathology of symbolic consciousness and the "context of delusion" Verblendungszusammenhang , coined by Adorno to describe mass society, in which this dialectic became nearly total. In the short fifth chapter, Bevc systematically harvests the fruit of his respective interpretations, demonstrating both the complementary and divergent aspects of Cassirer and Critical Theory's explanations of National Socialism.

He is judicious in his assessment, examining their contrasting views on each symbolic form. For example, in Cassirer's view, enlightenment represented two thousand years of progress in human consciousness suddenly destroyed; for Critical Theory, the disenchantment of the world was already a return to myth through the domination of nature.

In general, Critical Theory seems to function for Bevc as a materialist supplement to Cassirer's idealist philosophy of culture, adding the elements of psychic, economic, and environmental domination to the problem of the pathology of symbolic consciousness. In the final conclusion, Bevc asserts a contemporary significance for integrating their insights against the tendencies toward the "depluralization" of symbolic forms in both religious fanaticism and global capitalism: cultural regression "can only be limited in a democratic society in which everyone has a fair share of its ideal and material resources" Bevc, p.

Despite Bevc's facility in treating both Cassirer and Critical Theory and his awareness of their divergence on significant points, his interpretation does risk translating the latter too easily into the more systematic structure of Cassirer's philosophy. For example, in Cassirer's "Essay on Man," science, the highest symbolic form, organizes the other forms into "a system of relations, in which everything has its place and which constitutes 'pure meaning'" Bevc, p. In fact, Bevc's systematic treatment of Critical Theory according to such a teleological progression of symbolic forms is itself somewhat foreign to the spirit of the latter's negative-critical approach.

The underlying differences in their conceptions of enlightenment could perhaps be used more reflexively in this methodological regard. A related problem is that Bevc projects too much of Cassirer's trust in the culturally spontaneous individual onto the guarded hopes of Critical Theory. His claim that both saw the debilitating effects of authoritarianism as an assault on individual freedom is certainly justified, but the Frankfurt School placed little hope in the restoration of autonomous individuality.

Bevc argues, for example, that in contrast to the historical period that accepted philosophies of fate and existential "thrownness," both Cassirer and Critical Theory instead developed "theories of active world-formation through individuals" Bevc, p. While the Frankfurt School shared Cassirer's critical view of Heidegger, the implied target, their point of departure was not the creative, self-realizing subject, whose categories of understanding had only to be properly reset in order to produce a harmonious world. These points aside, however, Bevc is successful in demonstrating the viability and theoretical value of comparing their explanations of cultural regression.

Skidelsky offers a welcome, broad introduction of Cassirer's work, but one that is problematic in its approach to broader issues of philosophy and politics. His more polemic claims, often asserted rather than argued, are unlikely to persuade specialists in intellectual history and may misguide general readers about the complex political contours of continental philosophy. Bevc, in contrast, offers a more focused and systematic comparison of Cassirer's philosophy and Critical Theory.

His argument is generally compelling. He also skillfully draws a number of significant parallels that would seem to have been precluded by Adorno's dismissive comment, although Bevc does occasionally overstep in the case of the Frankfurt School. But perhaps this faux pas is fitting for a scholar whose efforts at intellectual and political conciliation were so recklessly dismissed in his own time and remain, as Skidelsky observes, foreign to our contentious age.

Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture

Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment , trans. Fritz C. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove Princeton: Princeton University Press, , Citation: Nicolaas P. H-German, H-Net Reviews. March, Job Guide. Discussion Networks.

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Simpson is using a rather parochial measure of massiveness. Which brings us to Carnap. Yet Skidelsky and Simpson have it wrong in opposing Carnap and Cassirer. For Cassirer this meant, in particular, that we attempt to trace the conceptual evolution of both modern science and modern philosophy — and the conceptual interactions between them — within the framework of an historicized and to this extent Hegelian version of a broadly Kantian theory of the most general forms and categories of human thought, and this approach was later generalized and extended, in the philosophy of symbolic forms, to embrace what we might call the conceptual history of all of human culture as a whole.


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Now this last step, as I have said, is one that I myself am not prepared to take. And this all seems very reasonable and sensible, and indeed not so far off from the realms which many subsequent thinkers, from Quine to Sellars to Kuhn to Blumenberg to Apel to Habermas, have explored.

If anything, the bashing of Cassirer seems to be an outgrowth of his being too reasonable, too sensible, too down-to-earth, as though admitting the tenability of his position would put the more abstruse theorists out of a job. The embrace of radicalism appears to be a desperate stab at relevancy for areas of the profession feeling increasingly at risk of complete inconsequentiality.

I believe this tendency to be self-defeating. It does explain, though, the phenomenon of someone like Slavoj Zizek, who offers all of the radicalism of a Foucault with none of the content.

Beiser, who is something of an iconoclastic establishmentarian, seems far more heterodox by prescribing the truly deviant step of deep research, something that he follows Cassirer in practicing:. There are two kinds of philosophical historians: derivative and original. While the derivative follow the standard curriculum, the original have the powers to reform and create a new curriculum. It is the ideal and obligation of every genuine philosophical historian to be original, to get beyond the standard curriculum, to resist the pressure of pedagogical interests and intellectual fashions, so that he can give an accurate account of the depth and breadth of an historical period.

No period of the philosophical past stands in more need of an original historian than nineteenth century philosophy. The standard tropes and figures do no justice to its depths, riches and powers. The ultimate purpose of this review is to give the reader some indication of how we must strive to get beyond them. The derivative historians are that much more harmful when they dismiss unfashionable thinkers as unrecoverable.

Not necessarily.


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    Hans Sluga wrote a few months ago: Cassirer does not get close in stature to the much more problematic Heidegger, and he certainly also lacks the philosophical radicalism of a Wittgenstein, Foucault, or Derrida and the incisive scientific acumen of a Russell, Quine, or Rawls.