The Origins of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms marks the culmination of Donald Phillip Verene’s work on Ernst Cassirer and heralds a major step forward in the critical work on the twentieth-century philosopher. Verene argues that Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms cannot be understood apart from a dialectic between the Kantian and Hegelian philosophy that lies within it.
Verene takes as his departure point that Cassirer never wishes to argue Kant over Hegel. Instead he takes from each what he needs, realizing that philosophical idealism itself did not stop with Kant but developed to Hegel, and that much of what remains problematic in Kantian philosophy finds particular solutions in Hegel’s philosophy. Cassirer never replaces transcendental reflection with dialectical speculation, but he does transfer dialectic from a logic of illusion, that is, the form of thinking beyond experience as Kant conceives it in the Critique of Pure Reason, to a logic of consciousness as Hegel employs it in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Cassirer rejects Kant’s thing-in-itself but he also rejects Hegel’s Absolute as well as Hegel’s conception of Aufhebung. Kant and Hegel remain the two main characters on his stage, but they are accompanied by a large secondary cast, with Goethe in the foreground. Cassirer not only contributes to Goethe scholarship, but in Goethe he finds crucial language to communicate his assertions. Verene introduces us to the originality of Cassirer’s philosophy so that we may find access to the riches it contains.