One of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers presents the results of his lifetime study of man's cultural achievements.An Essay on Man is an original synthesis of contemporary knowledge, a unique interpretation of the intellectual crisis of our time, and a brilliant vindication of man's ability to resolve human problems by the courageous use of his mind.This suggestive volume now makes available the substance of his point of view." --Irwin Edman, New York Herald Tribune "The best and most mature expression of his thought."--Journal of Philosophy Ernst Cassirer, a German neo-Kantian philosopher, taught at several European universities before moving to the United States and teaching at Yale (1941-1944) and Columbia universities.
Each successive chapter is good, but the picture of man that was to emerge from the harmonization does not seem to be coming nearer.
Perhaps the synthesis was to be reserved to the end.
It would be impossible for so rich a mind to range over so vast a region without saying much that is illuminating, and this he does.
If one wants to know what a ripe intelligence thinks about the various theories of the origin of language, or Frazers theory of magic, or the play theory of art, or Croces or Nietzsches or Lamprechts or Rankes theory of history, or the religious significance of taboo, or the place of Pythagoreanism in the development of science, one will find the answers here, together with countless other carefully weighed conclusions and arresting obiter dicta.
One cannot read it without feeling afresh how deep a loss the philosophic community sustained in his recent death.
He was a mind of extraordinary range, equally at home, to all appearances, in the ancient literatures and in modern science, in history and in mathematics. He had taught at Berlin, Hamburg (where he was rector of the university), Gothenburg, Oxford, Yale, and Columbia.Their combination is not impossible; Aristotle, Hegel, and Lotze, for example, achieved it magnificently.But the two things sometimes get in each others way.In the first part of his book Cassirer lays this down as his avowed purpose. These symbolic activities embrace all the more important activities of man, and if they are to be duly scrutinized, one must offer something of a phenomenology and philosophy of myth, religion, language, art, literature, history, and science.On this tremendous task Cassirer launches bravely out.He does not, like the animal, live in the immediate; he can look before and after; he can set up remote ends, ideal satisfactions, and pursue them persistently and variously.To know what he is, therefore, one must inspect these symbolic activities closely, bring to light their ends, and if possible discover some single end that gives direction to them all and brings them into harmony.What the thinkers of the past have thought of the human race, what can be said of its art, language, and capacities for good and evil in the light of modern knowledge are discussed by a great philosopher who had a profound experience of the past and of his own time."Ernst Cassirer..a long standing international reputation in philosophy....The central contention is that if we would understand the nature of man, we must study, not his supposed metaphysical essence, but his functions or activities, what he does.And the most distinctive thing about his activities is that they are symbolic.