Ernst Cassirer

Ernst Cassirer Biography
Contemporary photograph [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Cassirer Biography

Ernst Cassirer (July 28, 1874 – April 13, 1945) was born in Wrocław, Poland. Philosopher considered one of the most prominent figures of the neo-Kantian current. Throughout his career he studied the works of Descartes and Kant, focusing on the latter. His studies addressed anthropological and historical themes, through which he sought to consolidate a philosophy of culture. He was a specialist in the history of thought and in the study of the Enlightenment, period over which he conducted various investigations.

After training in Berlin, Leipzig, Heidelberg, and Marburg, he began working as a professor at the University of Berlin, later taught at the universities of Hamburg, Oxford, Gothenburg, Yale, and Columbia. Due to the political context of the first part of the 20th century, Cassirer went into exile in Sweden and the United States. Among his most outstanding works are Philosophy of symbolic forms (1923-19) and philosophical Anthropology (1945).

He was born into a wealthy family of Jewish origin, his father was a renowned merchant who gave him the best education. He studied in Berlin, Leipzig, Heidelberg, and Marburg, during his stay in the latter he met Hermann Cohen, a German philosopher of Jewish origin who at that time was studying the work of Kant, is considered one of the founders of the Marburg School, in which scholars like Paul Natorp, Karl Vorländer, and Cassirer stood out. While doing his studies, Cohen became his teacher, which profoundly influenced Cassirer’s philosophical thinking, which since then was part of the Marburg School.

As a member of this school he studied and commented on Kant’s work. At the end of the 1890s, he presented his doctoral thesis entitled, The criticism of Descartes to mathematical and scientific knowledge (1899). Three years later he married Toni Bondy, with whom he had three children: Heinz, Georg, and Anne. After marrying, he lived for a short time in Munich, the city in which he published his first book, The Leibniz System (1902). The following year he moved to Berlin, where he began to practice as a teacher.

Professional career

Four years after settling in Berlin he was named Privatdozent at the University of Berlin. While carrying out his duties as an independent professor, he continued working on his academic production, editing and researching the work of Kant and Leibniz, at the same time he began to write his work The problem of knowledge in philosophy and modern science (1906 -1957), this consisted of four volumes in which Cassirer, analyzed the development of the theory of knowledge, beginning with the thinker Nicolás de Cusa, followed deeply on the humanists and skeptics such as Michel de Montaigne and Francisco Sánchez. Then he studied the work of physicists and mathematicians such as Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, he continued this study analyzing the thinking of Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella, as well as the work of Kant. The book ended with the analysis of the work of Hegel and the current thinkers.

In 1910, he published Substance and Function, a book in which Cassirer, developed his theory of knowledge. Years later, he published i, in which he presented the humanistic ideals of German culture. The following year, he released: Kant: life and doctrine (1918), biography of Kant in which Cassirer, delved into the circumstances and aspects that shaped Kant’s thinking, a short time later he began to write the third volume of The problem of knowledge in philosophy and modern science, in which he analyzed the works of Kant and other thinkers until he reached Hegel.

During his stay in Berlin, Cassirer focused on the study of the field of scientific epistemology, analyzing the works of important thinkers focusing on how they delved into the problem of knowledge. In 1919, he moved to Hamburg, where he served as professor of the Philosophy chair at the University of Hamburg; as an outstanding professor, he became the rector of this in 1929; the famous debates between Heidegger and Cassirer, in Davos, Switzerland. In these, the two of them presented their ideas on the philosophical questions and the thought of Kant.

After settling in Hamburg, he visited the Warburg Institute, an event that marked his academic career, when he came into contact with this institute and its extensive library, he began to devise his Philosophy of symbolic forms, a work he began writing shortly thereafter. At the beginning of the 1920s, he published Idea and form (1921) and the first volume of Philosophy of symbolic forms (1923-1929), which focused on language analysis, followed by publishing the second volume in which he delved into mythical thinking and the third volume. This was published in 1929 and was dedicated to the study of the phenomenology of knowledge.

In this same period, he wrote Language and myth (1925) and Individual and cosmos in the philosophy of the Renaissance (1927); Five years later he published The Platonic Revival in England (1932) and Goethe and the Historical World (1932), a short time later The Philosophy of Enlightenment (1933) came out. That same year he decided to go into exile, due to the tension and danger brought by the rise of Nazism and the rise to power of Hitler. He first traveled to the United States where he held a position as a visiting professor at Oxford.

Two years later he moved to Göteborg, where he remained until 1941. In those years he wrote Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics (1937) and the Sciences of Culture (1940), he also began to write the fourth volume of The Problem of Knowledge in Philosophy and in Modern Science, the which begins in Hegel and ends with the current figures. In 1941, he settled in the United States and began working at Yale University, an institution where he remained until 1944, the year in which he was hired by Columbia University in New York, during his stay in this published Philosophical Anthropology (1945 ), that same year he died suddenly due to a heart attack, on April 13, 1945.

Posthumously, part of his work was published as The Myth of the State (1946); some of his manuscripts and articles are kept in the Yale Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

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