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Ernst Cassirer 1874--1945 was a Jewish German intellectual historian and philosopher the originator of the philosophy of symbolic forms After a distinguished teaching career in Germany he fled the Nazis first to Oxford then Goteborg then finally Yale which gives an annual series of lectures in philosophy in his honor he died as a visiting professor at Columbia Having read and admired his historical works particularly The Philosophy of the Enlightenment I was curious about his own doctrines The summary of them included in his semi-historical book The Myth of the State left me quite confused reading it gave me no sense of what a symbolic form was except that it had something to do with what Kant called forms of apperception no surprise Cassirer was a neo-Kantian Similarly on that basis I couldnt have told you what Cassirer thought a myth was though it had something to do with emotions whose motor-expressions were rituals Now I dont think Im a stupid man or a bad reader In the line of professional duty Ive read a great deal on subjects which are fairly tricky conceptually like mathematical logic and quantum field theory and learning theory and it at least felt like I understood them And Im not normally blocked by dense prose either Nonetheless what I got from those passages was a diffused feeling of frustrated incomprehension there was something there and I just wasnt getting it I may add that pursuing my hobby of psychoceramics Ive read a great deal of dense prose where there really isnt anything to be grasped and the difference is palpable Such befuddlement is of course the reason why introductory books are written so I started looking around for an introduction to Cassirer Lo the man wrote one himself An Essay on Man The preface tells us it was intended for those who hadnt German enough to tackle the three volumes of his The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
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