UGA alumnus Gregory Moss of the Chinese University of Hong Kong presents a lecture on "Ernst Cassirer and the Autonomy of Mythological Thought" on Friday, January 31 at 3:30pm in 115 Peabody Hall.
Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms extends Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to a critique of culture. Perhaps less well appreciated is Cassirer’s insistence that the extension of the Copernican revolution to all forms of cultural life entails the acknowledgement of the autonomy or independence of other forms of culture beyond science, such as myth. In this talk my primary aim is to elucidate the meaning of the autonomy of mythological thought in Cassirer. The talk will give special attention to the influence of F.W.J. Schelling’s tautegorical account of myth on Cassirer’s philosophy. Although Cassirer’s thought is often stereotyped as a repetition of the enlightenment, Cassirer’s defense of the autonomy of mythological thought, conceived as a kind of ‘magical materialism,’ demonstrates his break with enlightenment thinking about mythology. According to Cassirer, once the autonomy of myth is recognized, “a whole world of formal problems arises.” If each cultural form develops in total independence, then the goal of providing a system of culture is endangered. As Cassirer states, the philosopher of culture finds herself in a dilemma: either each form “stands side by side” and “they no longer express a common ideal content” or one appears forced to reduce the forms of culture to different instantiations of one form of logic. I conclude by considering some tentative solutions out of this impasse, and their implications for Cassirer’s conception of other forms of culture, including language and science.