The priority of “symbolism” over language in Cassirer’s philosophy

Synthese 179 (1):9 - 20 (2011)
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This essay reconstructs the steps by which Cassirer moved from the philosophy of language in the early 1920s to his more general theory of symbolism. The linguistic turn in philosophy overcame idealism without falling into naturalism or psychologism, but according to Cassirer proclaiming the primacy of language was one-sided. He claimed that language is but one symbolic form among many and, what is more, it is not the most fundamental kind of symbolism. The basic function of symbolism is neither "reference" nor "pure signification," but the unification of sensory phenomena in perception, a function he termed symbolic "Prägnanz." The essay explains how Cassirer argued for a continuity of symbolic processes linking expressive perceptual qualities with scientific theory



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