on Art and Art-Theories






Lectures on

Philosophy of CultureCassirer

University of South Alabama,

Mobile, AL., USA












PART ONE: Two Rich Sources of Inspiration: Kant & Goethe



I. Kant


(1) Kantian Critical Outlook

(2) Subjectivity (Copernican Revolution)

(3) Substance (or Reality)

(4) Spontaneity

(5) Form

(6) Schema

(7) Imagination

(8) Critique of Judgement: -- Form and Function

(a) Unity of Sciences -- The Whole Prior

                               to the Parts

                          (b) Purposiveness of Nature -- Principle

                               of Formal Purposiveness

(c) Nature of Art -- Concrete Manifestation


II. Geothe:


(1) "Indissoluble Correlation"

(2) "Genius" - As Seeing Unity in Diversity

(3) "Form" - Dynamic

(4) Art as Creation

(5) Symbolic


'PART TWO:  Cassirer on Art -- A Summary


I. Polarity between Subjective and Objective


(1) Form and Matter..

(2) Language, Science, and Art

(3) Art and Morality .

(4) Tragedy 'and Comedy

(5) Katharsis

(6) Creation and Appreciation (Communicability)

(7) Natural Beauty and Esthetic Beauty


II, Imagination


(1) Romanticism vs. Classicism

(2) Idealism vs. Realism

 (Transcendentalism vs. Naturalism)

(3) Symbolism


III. Pleasure, Play, Art, and Life


(1) Psychologicalism vs. Metaphysicalism:

Santayana, Bergson, and Nietzsche

(2) Art and Play--Schiller

(3) Art and Life--New Orientation, Special

Direction of Human Life and Experience


PART THREE: Comments and Conclusion


1. Merits


(1) Revolt against Dualism (2) On Katharsis

(3) On Croce


II. Limitations


(1) On Aristotle

(2) On Tolstoy

(3) On Santayana

(4) On Bergson

(5) On Nietzsche








This study is composed of three parts: Introductory, Expository, and Critical.  Part I, a brief account of Cassirer’s aesthetic orientation and position tracing back to his two rich sources of inspiration—Kant and Goethe; Part II, an exposition of the chapter on art in An Fssay on Man, and Part III, some critical evaluation of his merits and limitations, especially as revealed in his criticisms of other philosophers on art.

         Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as can be properly called Cassirer’s theory of art.  For never has he had the opportunity to cast his views on art and art-theories into a full-fledged form worthy of the name of a system of aesthetics, as Kant, Croce, Tolstoy, Collingwood, and Stephen C. Pepper of our modem times have done.  But by no means does this imply that he has underrated the role art plays in the whole sphere of human life experience and cultural achievements.  On the contrary, to the function of art he pays high tribute and holds that art is in a most favorable position to make the spiritual fulfilled in the physical, the abstract in the concrete, and give us a more vivid, more colorful image of reality than science.  Even the pre-scientific must be traced back to the primitive arts—an insight of Warburg’s which he finds to be so congenial to this own.  Art is the intensification of reality; science its condensation.  If Cassirer has not given an independent study to art and art-theories, it is solely because he firmly believes that according to the principle of organic interrelatedness, the core of his philosophic conviction, nothing can be treated in isolation from the rest of the Whole.

         The tenor and motif of Cassirer’s philosophy of culture are aesthetical, as bome out by the deliberately well-chosen expression “symbolic forms”—both Kantian and Goethean in origin and spirit.  Just as for Paul Tillich, religion is the substance of culture, and culture, the form of religion, so for Cassirer, art is the substance of culture, and culture the form of art!  As his critic Harry Slochower well notes, “Cassirer’s philosophy itself reaches its own most cloquent expression in his discussion on art and literature.  Here his writing is at its most engaging and animated, metaphor, style and imagery moving in rhythm with the subject discussed,”[1] The present writer tends to believe his whole philosophy of culture is but, or primarily, a philosophy of art in a disguise.  Grasp his views on art, you grasp the core of his whole philosophy of culture as symbolic forms:

         “There is no surer way of evading the world than through art;   

         There is no surer way of binding oneself to it than through art.”[2]

On these two lines of Goethe’s Cassirer comments: “This double determination applies to every kind of creative activity and of symbolic formation.”[3] Thus he declared, “to the extent that the human language can express everything--the lowest and the highest, art can embrace and pervade the whole sphere of human experience.”[4]

Cassirer’s philosophy of culture as symbolic forms, in Robert S. Hartman’s words, is, so to speak, a “Comprehensive Aesthetics.”[5]


Part One: Introduction

Kant, Goethe, and Cassirer


         Throughout Cassirer’s career as philosopher of culture, Kant and Goethe remain his two inexhaustible sources of inspiration.   In Kant, theoretically, he finds some guiding principles and insights; in Goethe, concretely, he finds a paradigm of the creative artist who has exemplified much of the Kantian spirit and ideal.  His acquaintance with both has left a “permanent deposit” in his own thinking, as is the case with John Dewey in relation to Hegel.  For brevity’s sake, as for his relation with Kant, we shall briefly focus on those aspects which mark his deviations, rather than his derivations, from the master; whereas as for his relation with Goethe, we shall stress mainly on their common features in general.  Let us take his relation with Kant first.

1.   Cassirer and Kant


         Cassirer’s attitude towards history is a “futuristic perspective of the past”—Draw back before one can leap higher, as we say.  This is all the truer of his attitude towards Kant.  “Whenever he started for any goal he went to the philosophy of Kant as a base from which to proceed.”[6]  Though an intellectual heir to the Kantian heritage represented by the Marburg School, Cassirer is unorthodoxy, yet brilliant.  It is only the true Kantian spirit and insight, not the the Kantian propositions and teachings in toto, that he cares to follow, develop, and propagate.  Listed below are just a few samples of the Kartian heritage that mark Cassirer’s real point of departure:

         (1) Critical Outlook -- Always trying to arrive at a higher synthesis by examining each possible viewpoint, always looking for a “third view” or a “via media, so to speak, out of the case, out of any opposite or seemingly opposite polarities, is typical of the Kantian Critical Outlook. Coupled with the Hegelian dialectic process, yet with the Hegelian pretense at finality and absoluteness cut off, this Kantian spirit accounts for Cassirer’s functional approach: a dialectic interplay of the historical method and the structural (Gestalten) principle, of the concept of process and that of law, i.e., of Freedom and Form.

         (2) Copernican Revolution and Subjectivity--The startiong point of the edifice of Kant’s Critical Philosophy consists in a radical change in our conception of subjectivity, without falling into subjectivism.  By “subjectivity” we understand the conditioning and forming character inherent in the makeup of our faculty, our knowing mind, that makes possible whatever is valid, universal, certain in our knowledge, while speaking analogously of Copernicus’ epoch-making contribution tothe world of astronomy, Kant says:


“An experiment may be tried in metaphysics, so far as the intuition of objects is concerned.  If the intuition had to conform to the constitution of objects.  I do not see how we could know anything of it a prioril; but if the object (as an object of the sense) conforms to the constitution of our faculty.  I can very well conceive such a possibility.” [7]


         The way Kant has brought about his famous Copernican Revolution in philosophy reminds one of the parable of Mohamed and the Mountain: Since the mountain would not get to Mohamed, so let Mohamed get to the Mountain!  This is also true of the way how Cassirer succeeds in bringing forth a new conception of Substance.


         (3) Substance or Reality--Traditionally, “substance” is taken as some-thing given.  On the one hand, Kant has exalted the status of subjectivity while, on the other hand, he has dichotomized one and the same Substance or Reality into the phenomenal and the noumenal.  “Whatever reality we do know is precisely such as conforms to our ways of knowing.”[8] In other words, our knowledge of the external world is conditioned by our ways of knowing it.  The what presupposes the how, and is conditoned thereby!  Whatever lies beyond the limits of our ways of knowing is beyond human experience, and belongs to the world of noumena.  Substance as the Thing-in-Itself (ding-an-sich) is unknown and unknowable.  It is forever beyond us.  Cassirer succeeds in solving, or rather dissolving, this problem or puzzle in a Mohamedian manner: He proceeds roughly thus:  Since human experience is such that it cannot reach Substance, let Substance reach human experience, functionally considered! To put it in the Kantian language, it would read:  Since the world of the phenomena cannot conform to that of the noumena, so let the latter conform to the former!  Here is Substance—our Work.  It is nothing but what we construct out of the given.  The noumena/phenomena distinction is illusory.  As our constuctive faculty, with all its conditioning forms, is always at work, always in the process of making, so is Substance as the result of our Working.  Thus the old concept of Substance is transformed into a concept of Function, the old concept of Essence into a concept of Relation, the old concept of Being into a concept of Becoming.  Such is Cassirer’s dynamic view, his functionalist version, his new conception, of Substance. It is quite a liberation from the artificial noumena/ phenomena dichotomy of the master.  Instead of any “object,” let us talk about its objectification.

         (4)    Spontaneity—Another notion, no less artificial than the substcnee/ appearance, or noumena/phenomena dichotomy, is the Kantian trichotomy of the human mind into sensibility, understanding, and reason, each with its own function.  For Kant, sensibility (or intuition) is a mode of receptivity, working with the pure time-space forms. Spontaneity occurs only in the pure under-standing.  Neither spontaneity nor receptivity will give us knowledge because each belongs to a different level or order. receptivity can make knowledge possible only in our intuition, while the connecting (Verbindung) of these manifolds in intuition “is a spontaneous act of the power of representation.  This act is called by a general name Synthesis,” which is threefold: Synthesis of apprehension in intuition, of reproduction in imagination, of recognition in concept.

         From Cassirer’s point of view, such a way of trichotomizing the human faculty, so characteristical of Kant’s architectonic impulse, is not only artificial but very awkward.  It creates more problems rather than solve them, e.g., How to make possible the joining of receptivity with spontaneity, of the sensuous with the intellectual, of that which alone can only see with that which alone can only think? of that which itself is blind with that which itself is empty?  “By schema,” thus suggests Kant. But this creates the whole problem of the Critical Philosophy over which Kant has pondered and to which he has devoted his third Critique—Critique of Judgement.  Cassirer approaches the same problem in a different way, first by adopting a different outlook. He thinks that Kant’s three-division of human nature into three different levels cannot be taken literally; the difference of the respective function in each level is a matter of the difference of degree, not of kind. They are to be conceived as distinguishable, but not separated, nor separable, from one another.  On the contrary, there is a unifying thread running throughout the whole framework of human nature, that is the “constitutive” function of the forms, characteristical of the mode of spontaneity.  Thus, spontaneity is conceived as permeating throughout all our functioning faculty; the Kantian “regulative principle” is seen to be superfluous or redundant; its job can be taken over by the “constitutive principle,” and just one principle is good enough. From this new conception of spontaneity follows all Cassirer’s emphasis on activity, freedom, creativity, the power of imagination ... ete. A clue for all these is provided in his new concept of Form.

         (5) Form—Indeed, as Hendel points out, “whenever he started for any goal he went back to the philosophy of Kant as a base from which to procced.  And it was specifically the Kantian conception of form that was basic for the whole of his thought.’’  For Kant, the form is “pure,” in the sense of “free from empirical content”; for Cassirer, the form is “both pure and concrete;” or rather, he is more concerned with the “concreteness” or “materiality” of the forms.  This is an old problem: the relation of form and matter (content), of universal and particular.  There is one crucial point in the Kantian conception of Form which caught Cassirer’s close attention and turned out to be an enlightening insight: that is the “constitutive” character of the elements of form and matter, according to Hendal:

“Even the content or material of knowledge as an element must be trans-cendental: it is only distinguishable as a moment (or factor) in the analysis of knowledge. Concretely we have appearance and experience, and in experience these elements and factors are a1ready found or, to use Kant’s expression, they are “constitutive.” This was a point that Cassirer watched carefully and remarked critically of the master.  . . . ”[9]

But Cassirer treated these elements of form and matter in a functional and not in substantive way.  The materless fom and the formless matter are equally inconceivable; there is a material import in the form just as there is a formal import in the matter.  This constitutive function of the forms is the main theme for Cassirer.  With “form” thus conceived, it is no difficulty to infer that the “transcendental unity of apperceptions” is not confined to the conceptual realm, i.e., understanding, and there is a continuity going throughout the gamut of the whole scale; all are to be interpreted in terms of Cassirer’s principle of functional unity.  In short, Cassirer’s “Form” is another name for Kant’s “Schema”

         (6) “Schema is the Thing”—“Schema,” as conceived by Kant, is that which has a footing both in the sensuous and in the intellectual realms.  It a sensuous-intellectual form.  Hendal says, 


The schema’s the thing that caught the imagination of Cassirer.  He interpreted the whole subsequent post-Kantian philosophy in Germany by reference to it.  And his own philosophy of symbolic forms was a development of the possibilities of this new concept of form. ...

         It is worth noting in detail how important Kant’s notion of schema had been in Cassirer’s own thinking.  In Kants Leben und Lehre (1916) he regarded that notion as the focal point of the constructive thought leading from the Critique of Pure Reason to the Critique of Judgement, the latter being expressly described as “an outcome of the further development of the transcendental schematism.” Furthermore, the variety of the attempt at a solution made by the post-Kantian philosophers, from Fichte to Hegel, ... is to be understood as due to the rich suggestiveness of Kant’s own development of the schema-doctrine, a development towards greater concreteness. ...

         In the Essay on Man he treat of art as a concrete manifestation of the union of intuitive and structural form (i.e., sensuous and intellectual), in other words, the schema.  Had he not been led by various other important considerations to the discovery of a more original theme and title for his work, he might well have presented his own philosophy as an extension of the doctrine of schema, for it is clearly a stage in his notions towards the concreteness of ‘symbolic form.’”[10]

Hendel is quite right in pointing out that Cassirer treats art as a concrete manifestation of the schema—the union of the sensuous and the intellectual forms; but he seems to have underrated the Kantian impact on Cassirer by ascribing to him the title of “the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms” as his original discovery. Not only the theme he deals with, but also the very title of “symbolic forms” he eventually chooses, are both taken directly from Kant,  (Cf. Section 59, The Critique of Judgement). What can be properly credited as Cassirer’s originality lies not in the theme or title of the work, but rather in the way he handles such a theme, by incorporating into this old theme what is really his own Work, e.g., the functional unity and the symbolic character of forms. Compare the following schematic representation for a glimpse of his advancement beyond the previous version of the Kantian framework:













Kantian Framework

Cassirer’s Advancement

Subjective Forms




Text Box: Schemata:
The Symbolic Forms


Moral Ideas


12 Categories

















Time-Space Forms












[Notice: Schema for Kant is restricted somewhere between sensibility and understanding whereas for Cassirer the symbolic forms are conceived as the unifying thread penetrating throughout all levels of the human faculty, just as the transcendental unity of apperceptions for Kant remians restricted within the lower realm of sensibility whereas it is expanded as the Pure Ego or Transcendental Ego for Hurssel!] 

         (7) Imagination—with regard to the role the imagination plays, Kant speaks of it as” an art hidden in the depth of huntan soul, the true secret of which we shall hardly ever be able to guess and reveal”;[11]  and of the schema as “a product of the productive imagination.  A fuller treatment of its importance is to be found in the Third Critique, especially in connection with the treatment of art experience—Aesthetic Judgement.  In art is represented “a new whole, a new total image of reality and of the spiritual cosmos. And here, at least, imagination can be perfectly satisfied--art is the manifestation of pure and concrete forms.”[12] Kant says:

“Now a representation by which an object is given, that is to become a cognition in general, requires Imagination, for the gathering together the manifold of intuition, and Understanding, for the concepts uniting the representations.  “This state of free play of the cognitive faculties in a representation by which an object is given, must be universally communicable. ...

The subjective universal communicability of the mode of representation in a judgement of taste, ... can refer to nothing esle than the state of mind in the free play of the Imagination and the Understanding.”[13]

Such a eulogistic view of the role of Imagination was fully appreciated by Cassirer; Imagination becomes for him the very source of Freedom, Activity, Creativity, Spontaneity, etc.  The original Kantian insight into the fusion of imagination and understanding is reinterpreted in terms of the dialectic interplay of Freedom and Form as two indispensable and intercomplementary functioning moments.  No wonder Cassirer had to laugh heartily when he was told by Hilbert the modern Euclid that one of the latter’s former pupil, without enough imagination, had become a poet and was doing fine![14]

[It is noteworthy that even Stephen C. Pepper, the greatest of the American philosophers of art since George Santayana and John Dewey. Has also his contextualistic theory of beauty on the same Kntian insight into (1) genius as the faculty of the formation of aesthetic ideas; (2) the “happy relation” of imagination and understanding as productive of aesthetic ideas; (3) the mutual enrighment of the conceptual and the non-conceptual for the emergence of aesthetic quality; and (4) the primacy of imagination in aesthetic experience wherein the understanding is at its service, thou in intellelctual activities the relation is just reversed.  A Kantian note is perceivable in Pepper’s major works from Aesthetic Quality to Concept and Quality.]


        (8)  Critique of Judgement -- Cassirer considers Kant’s Third Critique as the maturest work of a philosopher.  It brings to the fulfillment of the thought of the previous Criiques. In Kant’s own view, there he attempted to reconcile the moral freedom of man with the universal lawfulness of nature.  Without going into any details of its discussion on such topics as genius, creativity, taste, universal communicability, etc. Let us confine our observations only to the main themes of the Third Critique and their significances for Cassirer. The three great problems treated in the Third Critique are: (1) the unity of  natural (empirical) sciences; (2) the purposiveness of nature; and (3) the nature of art.  From Cassirer’s point of view, all these three questions can  be reduced to one question: the question of form and its function, since each one of these problems has to do with the “formation of that which is individual.” In the first case the each of the particular law of the physical world has its specific character and meaning only by reference to the total system of concepts of the special sciences to which it belongs; in other words, if any individual law is apprehended, the whole must be conceptually in mind.  In the second case there is the phenomenon of “individual forms --organic being in  which the “whole” is realized as essentially determining the nature and function of the parts.  This is what Kant calls “the principle of formal purposiveness.” In the third case the most direct and immediate apprehension of individuality and forms is in art, which is a concrete representation where the phenomenon is experienced as the Whole, being determinant of the parts and disclosing itself through them.  Here form is both pure and concrete.  Hence, a relational view of individual and universal.[15]


Owing to the teaching of the Third Critique, Cassirer was enabled to arrive at two of his leading principles: (1) Principle of the Whole as prior to the Parts, and (2) Principle of the Formal Purposivenss, both originating from the notion of an organic Whole.  This very  notion of an “organic whole” is not due to the ingenuity of Kant alone; it can be traced back to Aristotle and earlier;  it was prevailing in the Renaissance men; favored so much by Leibniz, Hegel, Dewey, Whitehead, and a host of others, those who call themselves holistic.  But in Kant Cassirer finds its most systematical and theoretical treatment and justification while, more surprisingly, in Goethe he finds its most eloquent, its most successful embodiment, and its most impressive exemplification.

2. Cassirer and Goethe


To the question whether Goethe was a philosopher? Santayana replies: “Goethe was the wisest of mankind, too wise to be a philosopher in the technical sense.”[16]

         Like Cassirer, Goethe, too, was a great admirer of Kant.  He wrote after reading The Critique of Judgement:

“Here I saw my most diverse thought brought together, artisitic and natural production handled the same way; the power of aesthetic and teleological judgment mutually illuminating each other,... I rejoice that poetic art and comparative natural knowledge are so closely related, since both are subjected to the [same] power of judgement.”[17]


We are further told by Eckermann in his Convereations of Goethe that Kant was esteemed by Goethe as the highest philosopher in the modern time, whose influence upon his advanced age is an “important circumstance”; and  whose doctrine “still continues to work and have penetrated deeply into our German civilization.”[18] As to his congeniality in thought with Kant, Goethe remarks thus:


         “Kant never took any notice of me, though from my own nature I went a way like his own.  I wrote my Metamorphosis of Plants before I knew anything about Kant; and yet it is wholly in the spirit of his doctrine. The separation of subject from object, and further, the opinion that each creature exists for its own sake, and that cork-trees do not grow that we may stop our bottles--this Kant shared with me, and I am rejoiced to meet him  on such ground.”[19]


Goethe came to find, however, that there is still something remaining to be done after the Kantian tradition:


“In the German philosophy there are still two works to do.  Kant did an infinite deal, by writing The Critique of Pure Reason; but the circle is not yet complete.  Now, some able man should write The Critique of the Sense and Understanding of Man; and if it could be as well done, we should have little more to desire in German philosophy.”[20]

Undoubtedly, Goethe’s observations were pregnant with inspiring insight for such an “able man” as Cassirer, who was to complete the circle by writing a Critique of Culture!  His whole system of the philosophy of symbolic forms is dedicated as a fulfillment of Kant’s unfinished task.  In lieu of this, it is seen that the greatest common feature between Cassirer and Goethe lies precisely in their affinity with Kant.  The most distinctive features we find in Goethe, which are also characteristically congenial to Cassirer, can be summed up as follows:

(1) “Indissoluble Correlaltion” (Kant’s term) -- According to Cassirer, “Goethe appears to be the highest development in the historical relation between Form and Freedom.*11  Every complete poem of Goethe’s shows perfect blending of motion and structure, of individuality and totality, being and becoming, i.e., Freedom and Form.   This is due to Goethe’s view of “genius” and “form”.

         (2) “Genius”--While Shaftesbury gives the conception  of “genius” asthe productive, formative , creative agency in art -a conception which directly influenced German intellectual history in the 18th century, notably Lessing and Kant.[21]  Goethe has conceived genius as that which sees connection and unity in diversity. In Gocthe’s conception of genius, Cassirer finds the fulfillment of Kant’s intention, the “Indissoluble correlation” not only of permanence and change, but also of man and nature, form and content, intuition and intelligence, art in nature and nature in art.  He pays this tribute to Goethe:

     “There prevails in his writings a relationship of the ‘particular’ to the ‘universal’ such as can hardly be found elsewhere in the history of philosophy or of natural science, ... The particular and the universal are not only intimately connected but ...they are interpenetrating one another.  The factual and the theoretical were not opposite poles to him...The highest thing would be to realize everything factual  as being itself theoretical ...[22]


Further, this leads to his view of “form,” due to his Greek studies in Italy:


    (3) “Form”—--The Greek view of Form (Type, Pattern, Ideal) becomes for Goethe a principle, a leading principle of life and nature.


“He finds the greatness of Homer, like that of all Greek writers, has lain solely in his power of seeing this world in all its grandeur, its beauty, its outward forms and inner relationships, and in describing what he saw, ...”[23]

Thus writes Humphrey Trevelyan In Goethe and the Greeks:

“He sat in the public gardens and read again with wonder and joy that enchanted island of the Phaeacians.  But now he saw that it was not enchanted, not fairyland that could never exist.  Homer had described the world that he saw around him.  That world--its hills, its plants, its colors, the sea, the men--was the ideal world, but not in the sense that it existed only in the beautifying imagination of the poet.  It was ideal because in it “All Nature’s intentions were perfectly realized. Nothing was half-expressed or distorted. ... By doing so, he had himself made Nature’s intention manifested; he had created as even Nature could only sometimes create.  For Goethe the Odysseys ceases at this moment to be a poem; it seemed Nature Herself.”[24]


He studies Greek sculpture, too, in which he finds the secret of all arts: the principle of Form; he wrote (to Charlotte):

“The human form is asserting its right ... I have found a principle which will lead me, like Ariandne’sthread, through the labyrinth of the human structure.”[25]

This principle leads him to an apprehension of the nature of things, through the vision of types (rather than individuals); such as the Urmensch, Urpflanze, etc (i.e., Platonic Forms or Ideas); In the work of art, Homer for instance, it is the Urmensch as visible, tangible, measurable form, that is revealed to us.  “These noble works of art are at the same time the noblest works of  Nature, produced by men according to true and natural laws.”[26] Those forms, for Goethe, are not merely static spatial or geometrical patterns or figures, they are dynamic, Cassirer explains the dynamic aspect of Form in terms of temporal moment:

“Form belongs not only to space but to time as well, and it must assert itself in the temporal, ... It is remarkable how everything developed logically and consistently from this one original and basic concept of Goethe.”[27]

Notice that this very dynamic notion of Form, and the emphasis on its being “visible, tangible, measurable,” are both characteristical of Cassirer’s neo-Kantian concept of Forms as pure and sensuous (concrete).

(4) Art as Creation—Perhaps Cassirer and Goethe come most close to each other in their view of beauty as the result of our creative, constructive effort; thus an exalted view of esthetic beauty as contrasted with the so-called natural beauty, which looks pale as compared to the great works of art.  This tendency is most vividly shown in Goethe’s admiration of Rubens:

“... the figures cast their shadows into the picture; the group of trees, on the contrary, cast theirs towards the spectator.  We have, thus, light from two different sides, which is contrary to nature.” (said Eckermann.)

“That is the point,” Goethe returned, ... “It is by this that Rubens proves himself great, and show to the world that he, with a free spirit, stands above Nature, and treats her conformably to his purposes.  The double light is certainly a violent expedient, and you certainly say that it is contrary to Nature.  But if it is contrary to Nature, I still say it is higher than Nature; I say it is the bold stroke of the master, by which, he, in a genial manner, proclaims to the world that art is not entirely subject to natural necessity, but has laws of its own.”

“The artist has a twofold relation to nature; he is at once her master and her slave, he is her slave, inasmuch as he must work with earthly things, in order to be understood; but he is her master, inasmuch as he subjects these earthly means to his higher intentions, and renders them subservient.”[28]

This is also exactly Cassirer’s view of art as symbolic, expounded in An Essay on Man.  The so-called “earthly things or means” for Goethe have become “the sensuos medium,” “the conretizing factors” for Cassirer.  The artist’s “free spirit” with which one stands above Nature is for Cassirer the Neo-Kantian notion of subjectivity, spontaneity, creativity, in short, Freedom.

         (5) Symbolic--It has been said that there is a trilogy in Goethe’s artistic life, namely, romantic, classic, and symbolic. Goethe has underdone a series of change or transformation in his artisitic life and career. He was a romantic, when his concern was with the individual, the characteristic; from romantic he changed to being classic, when his concern was with the type, the ideal, the form; and finally he passed to his third manner: symbolic.  The French critic Sherer says that Tasso and Iphigenia mark a new phase in the literary career of Goethe:


“He has given up the aim of rendering by poetry what is characterisitc or individual; his concern is henceforth with the ideal, that is to say, with the transformation of things through beauty, from romantic Goethe had changed to being classic.  The two elements, that of immediate or passionate feeling, and that of well-considered combination of means, balance one another, and give birth to finished works.”[29]


And then he passed to the symbolic:


         “As Goethe grew older and colder, (there) arose his last manner.    He had

passed from representing characters to representing ideals, he is now to pass from the ideal to the symbol. ... This last tendency is evident in the continuation of Wilhelm Meister and the second Faust.[30]


For Cassirer, the development of European artistic life is epitomized in that of Goethe’s: From the characteristic (romantic) to the classic, from the classic to the symbolic, represented by Werther, Iphigenia and Faust, respectively. Most important of all is the third manner he passed to, the Symbolic.  On the last phase the most self-revealing confession comes from Goethe himself when he told Echermann:


(Of the Faust) “the first part is almost entirely subjective; it proceeds entirely from a perplexed impassioned individual, and his semidark-ness is probably highly pleasing to mankind.  But in the second part there is scarely anything of the subjective; here is seen a higher, broader, clearer, more passionless world, and he who has not looked around him and had some experience will not know what to make of it.”(dated Feb. 17, 1828)


Moreover, on the symbolic as above the understanding, Goethe admitted:


“I am rather of the opinion that the more incommensurable, and the more incomprehensible to the understanding a poetic production is, so much the better it is.” (dated May 6, l827).


         With the above orientation in mind, we are now in a position to better appreciate what an inspiring prototype of the creative artist Cassirer finds In Goethe!  Goethe’s conception of genius, of forms, of the relation of particular to universal, of part and whole, of individual and ideal, of motion and structure, of Freedom and Form, of art as Nature’s concrete manifestation, of art as Man’s creative wrok, and finally of art the symbolic, etc. All these are incorporated into Cassirer’s own thought as a permanent deposit. No wonder critics like Harry Slochower says thus:  “In Cassirer’s discussion of Goethe, one senses something like complete identification between author and subject.”[31]  It is such a perfect blending of the Kantian insight with the Goethean spirit that makes the backbone of Cassirer’s Philosophy of Art as a clue to his Philosophy of Culture in terms of the symbolic Forms.

































Part Two:  Art and Art Theories


The following is a summary of the chapter on art in An Essay on Man. It is divided into three sections; in each section he will present the topic in a form of polarity expressed in a variety of contrary terms, from pair to pair, until we are finally shown in the course of presentation that all such distinctions, oppositions, antagonisms, appear to be illusory.

1.  The Objective vs. The Subjective

In the first section, as characteristical of his way of presentation, he starts with a brief historical account of the aesthetics in Germany; traces it up to Alexander Baungarten’s Aesthetica in 1750 as the first attempt to construct a logic of the imagination where art still possessed no independent value of its own, and credits Kant’s Critique of Judgement in 1790 as the first “clear and convincing proof of the autonomy of art”;[32] then he shifts to the consideration of the first pair of polarities: an objective pole and a subjective pole, depending on the emphasis on the one or the other.  Thus we are confronted with two seemingly opposing types of aesthetic theories, both influential in history: the mimetic and the characteristic, or the representational and the expressional; the imitative and the expressive, theories of art.

“Language and art tire constantly oscillating between two opposite poles, an objective and a subjective pole.  No theory of language or art could forget to suppress either of these poles, though the stress may be laid now on the one and now on the other.”[33]

On the one hand, we have the imitative theory that the aim of art is to imitate nature, and imitation is considered as a fundamental instinct, beginning with Plato and Aristotle, and predominating the whole history of western esthetics until the first half of the 18th century, with Batteus as its last champion; on the other hand, if the stress is laid on the subjective pole, we have the expressive or characteristic (Goethe’s term) theory of art, initiated by Rousseau, who marks a turning point in the history of ideas and of art as well; “art is not a description or reproduction of the empirical world but an overflow of emotions and passions”[34] Indeed, with Wordsworth, all expressive or characteristic art is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”[35] Yet the radical champion of this school, besides Croce, would be Oscar Wilde, who paradoxically proclaims that nature imitates art, rather than the other way round. Though the radical theories of imitation do not intend to restrict the world of art to a merely mechanical reproduction, a copy, of reality, and to a certain extent they all have to make allowance for the creativeness of the artist, yet, obviously, the spontaneity, the productive power of the artist is nevertheless a disturbing rather than a constructive factor.  It is really not easy to reconcile these two demands. truth to the objective reality and influence by the spontaneitv or the subjectivity of the artist.  The way Cassirer succeeds in reconciling them is none other than the Kantinn one: In the first place, he points out the stumbling blocks of either extreme position: that the copy-theory in art will find itself untenable simply because a radical theory of imitation is impossible in principle: the reality of nature is beyond us; and even the theory in its revised form--conceiving art as an improvement on model--as the neo-classicist maintains, is no less questionable; For how can we improve on our model without disfiguring it? how can we transcend the reality of things without transgressing the laws of truth?”[36]  While on the other hand, the expressive theory of art, in its insistence on the overflow of powerful emotions and passion, entirely neglects the other moments, e.g., material factors which make possible the formative process, such as the colors, the lines, rhythms, and words; the moment of purposiveness, the teleological structure, involved in the constructive process.  “Even in lyrical poetry emotion is not the only and decisive feature.  To be swayed by emotion is sentimentality, not art.  Art, in its process of objectification, will perform its very function not only as expressive or representative, but as interpretative. In the second place, after laying bare the inadequacy of either positions to arrive at synthesis of both, a functional unity, Cassirer, proceeds to speak of the essence of  beauty:

“Beauty cannot be defined  by its  mere percepi, as “being perceived;” it must be defined in terms of its activity of the mind, of the function of perceiving and by  a characteristic direction of this function.  It does not consist of passive percepts; it is a mode,  a process of perceptualization.  But this process is not merely subjective in character; on the contrary, it is one of the conditions of our intuition of an objective world.  The artistic eye is not a passive eye that receives and registers the impression of things. It is a constructive eye, and it is only by constructive acts that we can discover the beauty of natural things.  The sense of  beauty is the susceptibility to the dynamic life of forms, and this life cannot be apprehended except by a corresponding dynamic process in ourselves.”[37]

Here we are listening to a most eloquent champion for the Kantian thesis. But the original thesis is further elucidated with concrete examples:

“A sharp distinction between the objective and the subjective, the representative and the expressive in arts is thus difficult to maintain.

When absorbed in the intuition of a great work of art we do not feel a separation between the subjective and the objective worlds… Beyond these two we detect a new realm, a realm of plastic, musical, poetical forms; and these forms have a real universality.  Kant distinguishes sharply between what he calls “esthetic universality” (Gemeingültigkeit) and the “objective universality” (Allgemeingültigkeit) which belongs to our logical and scientific judgements. In our aesthetic judgements, he contends, we are not concerned with the objects as such [der Gegenstand], but with the pure contemplation of the object [das Objekt]. . . .

The Parthenon frieze or a Mass by Bach, Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or  a poem of Leopardi, a sonata of Beethoven or a novel of Dostoievski are neither merely representative nor merely expressive.  They are symbolic in a new and deeper sense.”[38]

“The works of the a great lyrical poets—of Goethe or Hölderlin, of Wordsworth or Shelley—do not give us disjecti membra poetae, scattered and incoherent fragments of the  poet’s life. They are not simply a momentary outburst of passionate feeling; they reveal a deep unity and continuity.  The great tragic and comic writers on the other hand—Euripides and Shakespeare, Cervantes and Molière—do not entertain us with detected scenes from the spectacle of life. Taken in themselves these scenes are but fugitive shadows. But suddenly we be-gin to see behind these shallows and to envisage a new reality.  Through his characters and actions the comic and the tragic poet reveals his view of human life as a whole, of its greatness and weakness, its sublimity and its absurdity.”[39]

Cassirer goes on, by quoting Goethe as his most powerful witness:


“Art,” wrote Goethe, “does not undertake to emulate nature in its bredth and depth. It sticks to the surface of natural phenomena; but it has its own depth, its own power; it crystallizes the highest moments of these superficatl phenomeba by recognizing in  them the character of lawfulness, the perfection of harmonious proportion, the summit of beauty, the dignity of significance, the height of passion.”[40]

To sum up, this is the essence of what has been epitomized as Freedom and Form.  For Cassirer, “This fixation of the ‘highest moments of phenomena is neither an imitation of physical things nor a mere overflow of powerful feelings.  It is an interpretation of reality—not by concepts but by intuitions; not through the meditun of thought but through that of sensuous forms.”—that is to say, “symbolic forms.”[41]

Following the above criticisms on the objective/subjective distinction, Cassirer passes his genial yet enlightening judgement almost to all the important issues in esthetics, such as, form and content (form and matter), art and, morality, art and science, creation and appreciation, the problem of communicability, the problem of kartharsis, tragedy and comdey, ... etc; all have been covered in tile first section of his chapter on art.  They are all centered around the first polarity of the subjective and the objective, which has been just dismissed as illusory and, as it were, all udercut at one stroke.  All such moot issues in traditional aesthetics can be reinterpreted in the light of the symbolic forms as an Open Sesame! 

(1) Form and Content—Cassirer may have well contrasted Tolstoy with Croce on form and matter, as the former suppresses the moment of form while the latter minimize that of content; but from Cassirer’s point of view, they are both one-sided, simply because, “the context of a poem cannot be separated from its form—from the verse, the melody, the rhythm.  These formal elements are not merely external or technical means to reproduce a given intuition; they are a part and parcel of the artistic intuition itself.”[42]  Cassirer’s concern is not merely with the formal aspect, but the concretization of Forms; nor merely with the material factor, but the formalization of the latter.  In one word, form and matter are to be interfused with each other.  This feature has been treated in connection with the problem of Imagination in the following section.

(2) Language, Science, and Art, their Similarities and Differences—Both language and science are characterized by their act or process of classification towards simplification; and similarly, art implies an act of condensation and concentration.  But on the other hand there is to be perceived a difference between and among them:  language and science , depending upon one and the same process of abstraction or generalization, are abbreviations of reality; while art, described as a continuous process of concretion, is an intensification of reality.  What science is searching for is some central common features of a given object, while art is aims at the particular aspect or uniqueness of it.  Art does not limit any sort of conceptual simplification and deductive generalization, it does not inquire  into the qualities or causes of things, it gives us the intuition of the form of things--a true and genuine discovery.  The artist is just as much a discoverer of the forms of nature as the scientist is a discoverer of facts and laws.  Leonardo da Vinci has spoken of the purpose of painting, and sculpture in the words: ‘saper vedere’, which reminds one of the estheticism of Oscar Wilde, emphasizing on the same view: ‘to look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then and then only, does it come into existence.”

           Contrasted with art, science means abstraction, and abstraction means impoverishment of reality.  Thus it is seen that in the realm of scienec, the more abstract a formula, the more efficien is it, hence the more valuable; while in art we have to reverse the measure or criterion: the more concrete a piece of work, the more appealing is it, hence the more valuable.  Here we have arrived at not only a distinction of art and science, but a measure (or criterion) whereby the excellence in art is to be judged.  As contrasted with Tolstoi, who maintains that the work of art is to be judged by the degree of its “infection” (or “infectiousness,” in terms of moral effects,) Cassirer would argue that not the degree of infection, but the degree of intensification and illumination is the measure of the excellence in art.

(3) Art & Morality—This old problem of the relation of art to morality proves to be one of the most puzzling and in the meatime most thought-provoking problems in aesthetics; Plato’s unfavaorable attitude towards art and artist is notoriously well-known to every “lover of wisdom,” and his theory of art has been considered not as a theory of art, but an attack on art; but interestingly enough the platonic bias has found its modern voice in Tolstoi, -- who sees in art a source of infection.  “Not only is infection,” he says, “a sign of art, but the degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence in art.”[43] Both Plato and Tolstoil and their adherents, too, has laid great stress on the moral grandeur of tnan’s character and its mbulding process , as the cardinal concern either in the educational or cultural programme of our philosopher-king or ki the profound sympathy cherished in the heart of our modern saint who cares so much for the “ressurection” of mankind through universal love, and nothing but love; but from Cassirer’s point of view, they seeiii to have neglected a fundamental moment of art, the moment of form.  Their sole justifying ground for their attack on art lies rather in the fear that art, with its powerful infectiousness, will make our life at the mercy of passion.  Here again they fail to see the moment of form: the passion itself is one thing, the image or form of passion is quite another.  Cassirer quotes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“The purpose of playing, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature; scorn, her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.”[44]

“But the imaste of a passion is riot the passion itself,” Cassirer continues:

“The works of the great lyrical poets—of Goethe or Hölderlin, of Wordsworth or Shelley—do not give us disjecti membra    poetae, scattered and incoherent fragments of the poet’s life.  They are not simply a momentary outburst of passionate    feeling; they reveal a deep unity and continuity.  The great tragic and comic writers on the other hand—Euripides and  Shakespeare, Cervantes and Molière—do not entertain us with detached scenes from the spectacle of life.  Taken in themselves these scenes are but fugitive shadows.  But suddenly we begin to see behind these shadows and to envisage a new    reality. Through his characters and actions the comic and the tragic poet reveals his view of human life as a whole, of’its    greatness and weakness, its sublimity and its absurdity.[45]

He further quotes Goethe for support:

“Art does not undertake to emulate nature in its breadth and depth.  It sticks to the surface of natural phenomena; but it has its own depth, its own power; it crystallizes the Iiigliest moments of these superficialphenoriiena by recognizing in them the character of lawfulness, the perfection ofharrionious proportion, the summit of beauty, the dignity of significance, the height of passion.”[46]

To sum up, this is the essence of what has been epitomized as Freedom and Form.  For Cassirer, “This fixation of the ‘highest moments of phenomena’ is neither an imitation of physical things nor a mere overflow of powerful feelings.  It is an interpretation of reality--not by concepts but by intuitions; not through the medium of thought but through that of sensuous forms.”[47]

           The problem of art and morality is a sub-problem of form and content;  Cassirer’s reasonings here is foreshadowed in his discussion on form and content, as summarized (1).  Now let us turn to his views on tragedy and comedy.


(4) Tragesy and Comedy—“The distinction between tragic and comic arts is much more a conventional than a necessary one.  It relates to the content and motives but not to the form and essence of art. Plato has long denied the existence of these artificial and traditional boundaries.”[48]  In Symposium (223) and Philebus (48ff), Socrates was described to compel Agathon the tragic poet and Aristophanese the comic genius “to admit that the true tragedian is the true artist in comedy, and vice versa.” In comedy as well in tragedy, Plato maintains (in Philebus), we experience a mixed feeling of pleasure and pain.  In this the poet follows the rules of nature itself since he portrays ‘the whole comedy and tragedy of life.’ In every great Poem—in Shakespeare’s plays, in Dante’s Comedia, in Goethe’s Faust—we must indeed pass through the whole gamut of human emotions.”[49]

“We may speak of the individual temperament of the artist, but the work of art as such has no special temperarment. ... To speak of Mozart’s music as cheerful or serene, of Beethoven’s as grave, somber or sublime would betray an unpenetrating taste.  Here too the distinction between tragedy and comedy becomes irrelevant. The question whether Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a tragedy or an opera buffa is scarcely worth answering.  Beethoven’s composition based on Schiller’s ‘Hymn to Joy’ express the highest degree of exultation.  But when listening to it we do riot for a moment forget the tragic accents of the Nineth Symphony.  All these contrasts must be present and they must be felt in their full strength.  In our esthetic experience they coalesce into one indivisible whole.  What we hear is the whole scale of human emotions from the lowest to the highest note; it is the motion and vibration of our whole being.  The greatest comedians themselves can by means give us an easy beauty.  Their work is often filled with great bitterness. ...”


         “Comic art possesses in the highest degree that faculty shared by all art, sympathetic vision.”[50]

         (5) Katharsis as the Relief of Material Burden--According to the Teddy Brunius, a Swedish scholar, “Aristotle’s poetics, 1949b 26 (,i.e., on Katharsis) inspired one thousand and four hundred and twenty-five different interpretations before 1931.”[51] Obviously, this figure does not include Cassirer’s new interpretation; for An Essay on Man appeared in 1944. His interpretation is to be understood in light of his treatment (i) of form and matter, and (ii) of tragedy and comedy.  In Aristotle, Katharsis is said to be the effect of tragedy.  For Cassirer, there is no such a sharp distinction of tragedy and comedy, their boundary being blured; it can hardly be the that the Kathartic process is confined to the tragic experience alone. It can be said of all arts, as the consummatory phase of state of our esthetic experience, the highest effect produced by the works of art.  he interprets such an effect in terms of the relief of the material burden (of our passions).  Indeed, it needs some clarification.  While speaking of this Aristotelian theory of Katharsis, he says:

“What seems to be clear and what is now generally admittted is that the Cathartic process described by Aristotle does not mean a purification or a change in the character and quality of the passions themselves, but a change in the human soul. By tragic poetry the soul acquires a new attitude towards its emotions.  The soul experiences the emotions of pity and fear, but instead of beng disturbed amd disquieted by them, itis brought to a state of rest and peace.  At first sight this would seem to be contradiction.

For what Aristotle looks upon as the effect of tragedy is a synthesis of two moments which in real life, in our practical existence, exclude each other.  The highest intensification of our emotional life  is thought of at the same time as giving us a sense of repose.  We live through all our passions feeling their full range and highest tension.  But what we leave behind when passing the threshold of art is the hard pressure, the compulsion of our emotions. ...

Esthetic freedom is not the absence of passions, not Stoic apathy, but just the contrary. It means that our emotional life acquires its greatest strength, and that in this very strength it changes its form.  For here we are no longer living in the immediate reality of things, but in a world of’ pure sensuous forms.  In this world all our feelings undergo a sort of trans-substantiation with respect to their essence and their character. The passions themselves are relieved of their material burden.

We feel their form and their life but not their encumbrance.  The calmness of the work of art is, paradoxically, a dynamic, not a static calmness.  Art gives us the motions of the human soul in all their depth and variety. But the form, the measure and rhythm, of these motions is not comparable to any single state of emotion.  What we feel in art is not a simple emotional quality.  It is the dynamic process of life itself—the continuous oscillation between poles, between joy and grief, hope and fear, exultation and despair.  To give esthetic form to our passions is to transform them into a free and active state.”[52]


Now, it becomes clear that katharsis is interpreted in terms of the relief of material burden,  or simply, katharsis means freedom--liberation. This is no less true of tragedy than of comedy.  Cassirer even coined a term “comic katharsisi”:

         “The greatest comedians themselves can by no means give us an easy beauty.  Their work is often filled with great bitterness.  Aristophanese is one of the sharpest critics of human nature; Molière is nowhere greater than in his Misanthrope or Tartuffe. Nevertheless the bitterness of the great comic writers is not the acerbity of the satirist or the severity of the moralist. ...”

“Comic art possesses in the highest degree that faculty shared by all art, sympathetic vision.  By virtue of this faculty it can accept human life with all its defects and foibles, its follies and vices.  Great comic art has always been a sort of encomium moriae, a praise of folly. In comic perspective, all things begin to take on a new face.  We are perhaps never nearer to our human world than in the works of a great comic writer, ... We become observant of the minutest details; we see this world in all its narrowness, its pettiness,  and silliness. We live in this restricted world, but we are no longer imprisoned by it.  Such is the peculiar character of the comic catharsis.”


“Things and events begin to lose their material weight; scorn is dissolved     into laughter and laughter is liberation.”[53]

         (6) Creation, Appreciation, and Communicability—What has been said about creation applies not only to the artist, but to us, the spectators, the auditors, the beholders.  “Like the process of speech the artistic process is a dialogical and dialectic one.  Not even the spectator is left to a merely passive role.  We cannot understand a work of art without, to a certain degree, repeating and reconstructing the creative process by which it has come into being.  By the nature of this creative procoss the passions themselves are turned into actions.”[54] Here Cassirer expresses the same Crocean view that appreciation itself is a sort of creation.  And creation as such implies freedom:

“If in real life we had to endure all those emotions through which we live in Sophocles’Oedipus or in Shakespeare’s King Lear we should scarcely survive the shock and strain.  But art turns all these pains and outrages, these cruelties and atrocities, into a means of self-liberation, thus giving us an inner freedom which cannot be attained in any other way.”[55]


         (7) Natural Beauty and Esthetic Beauty—Cassirer’s observation of the polarity between the beauty of art and the so-called beauty of nature reminds one of Oscar Wilde’s paradox that nature imitates art.  Let us take Cassirer’s view  first:

“According to Albrecht Dürer, the real gift of the artist is to ‘elicit’ beauty  form nature.  On the other hand we find spiritualistic theories which deny any connection between the beauty of art and the so co-called beauty of nature.  The beauty of nature is understood merely as a metaphor.  Croce thinks it sheer rhetoric to speak of a beautiful river or tree. Nature to him is it sneer rhetoric to speak of a beautiful river or tree.  Nature to him is stupid when compared with art; she is mute save when man makes her speak.”


“The contradiction between these conceptions may perhaps be resolved by distinguishing sharply between organic beauty and natural beauty.  Ther are many natural beauties with no specific esthetic character. The organic beauty of a 1andscape is not the same as that esthetic beauty which we feel

in the works of great landscape paintings. Even we, the spectators, are fully aware of this difference.”


“I may walk through the landscape and feel it charms.  I may enjoy the mildness of the air, the freshness of the meadows, the variety and cheefulness of the coloring, and the fragrant odor of the flowers.  But I may then experience a sudden change in my frame of mind.  Thereupon I see the landscape with an artist’s eye—I begin to form a picture of it.  I have now entered a new reality—the realm not of living things but of ‘living forms.’ No longer in the immediate reality of things, I live now in the rhythm of spatial forms, in the harmony and contrast of colors, in the balance of light and shadow.  In such absorption in the dynamic aspect of form consists the esthetic experience.”[56]

It would be interesting to compare and contrast Cassirer with Oscar Wilde on the beauty of art and the beauty of nature.  Wilde speaks favorably of the impressionists:

   “Paradox though it may seem—and paradox are always dangerous—it is    nonetheless true that Life imitate Art far more than Art imitate Life. ...

A great artist invents a type, and Life tries to copy it, to reproduce it in a popular form, like an enterprising publisher. ...Life is Art’s best, Art’s only pupil. ...

Nature, no less than Life, is an imitation of Art. Nature follows the landscape painter then, and takes her effects from him?

         Certainly. Where, if not from the impressionists, do we get those wonderful fogs that come creeping down our street, blurring the gas-lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows?  To whom, if not to them and their masters, do we owe the lovely silver mists that brood over our river, and turn to faint forms of fading grace, carved bridge and swaging barge?  The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the lat ten years is entirely due to this particular school of art.

For what is nature?  Nature is no great mother who has borne us.  She is our creation.  It is in our brain that she quickens to life. things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.  To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not anything until one sees its beauty.  Then and then only, does it come into existence.  At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects.  There may have been fogs for centuries in  London.  I dare say there were.  But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them.  they did not exist till Art invented them.”[57]


Of course, Wilde’s remark is not to be taken literally.  His emphasis is on the effect of  art on the “sudden change” of our frame of mind.  It is due to such a change that things begin to take on new forms as never seen before.  The sudden change in  one’s frame of mind, as interpreted by Cassirer, may be said to have resulted from one’s experience of the organic beauty, i.e., the beauty of nature; while for Wilde, just on the contrary, the sudden change of one’s frame of mind is said to have resulted from one’s experience of the esthetic beauty, i.e., the beauty of Art  is said to have resulted from one's experience of the esthetic beauty, i.e., the beauty of Art.  But nevertheless neither of these two interpretations can be taken too literally, they can only be treated relationally, and resolved in a functional unity, that is: One’s esthetic experience is conditioned by the previous ones, whether of organic (natural) or esthetic beauty.  Our experience of the one will influence our experience of the other.


II. Imagination: Romanticism and Classicism


In the second section of his chapter on art, Cassirer poses a polarity with respect to Imagination, i.e., the polarity between romanticism and classicism (including neo-classicism); under the headings of Imagination also can be subsumed some other polarities, such as transcendentalism and realism (idealism and naturalism), metaphysical and psychological theories of art, etc.  The last one is preserved for the third section.  His view of the role of Imagination is best reflected in the following anecdote, as related by Dimitry Gawronsky:


“Cassirer liked to tell the following story: Once he met the great mathematician Hilbert, the Euclid of our time, and asked him about one of the latter’s disciples.  Hilbert answered:  ‘He is all right.  You know, for a mathematician he did not have enough imagination.  But he has become a poet and now he is doing fine.’  Cassirer always heartily laughed, when he told this story, and he had good reason for doing so, ...”[58]


           Perhaps his strongest reason may be found in this very chapter on art in An Essay on Man.  His method of presentation as of investigation, as pointed at the beginning, is a dialectic one; his approach to the dissolution of any polarity is a critical one, i.e., by laying bare the nature (through analysis) of, and thus doing justice tom either of these two poles in extremity; and the clue to his wayout, and the sharpest, most powerful weapon whereby he criticizes several leading figures in the field of aesthetics, say, from Croce , Santayana, Bergson, Nietzsche to Schiller, lies precisely in his new conception of Forms.  Take for example hies tratment of the polalrity between romanticism and classicism. Romanticism encourages the free play of the imagination while classicism (including neo-classicism), thoug not at all denying the specific power of theimagination as an indispensable gift to every great poet and artist, will subject it to the control by the laws of reason, in the name of measure, so to seapk, simply because no perfection can be achieved by indulgence in the mere play of this natural impulse and instinctive power; these laws of reason will restrict the poet or artist to the field of the the probable. While, on the other hand, the romantic art will have as its only subject the  marvelous, miraculous and mysterious, in short, the wonderful.  “The source of imaginative creation never dries up, for  it is indestructibe and inexhaustible. In every age and in every great artist the operation of the imagination reappears in new forms and new force.”[59] This sounds highly convincing and seems to be a sound theory of art; but what, after all, is wrong with it?

   Indeed, “in romantic thought, the theory of poetic imagination has reach-ed its climax.  Imagination is no longer that special human activity which builds up the human world oaf art.  It now has universal metaphysical value.  Poetic imagination is the only clue to reality,” thus remarks Cassirer,

“Fichte’s idealism is bsed upon his conception of ‘productive imagination’ (Kantian in origin). Schelling declared in his System of Transcendental that art is the consummation of philosophy. ...The distinction between poetry and philosophy is felt to be shallow and superficial. ... To poetize philosophy and to philosophize poetry -- such was the highest aim of all the romantic thinkers.  The true poem is not the work of the individual artist; it is the universe itself, the one work of art which is forever perfecting itself.  hence all the deepest mysteries of all the arts and sciences appertain to poetry.  ‘Poetry,’ said Novalis, ‘is what is absolutely and genuinely real.  That is the kernel of my philosophy.  The more poetic, the more true.’

By this conception, poetry and art seemed to be elevated to a rank and dignity they had never before possessed. ... Nevertheless, this exuberant and ecstatic praise of poetic imagination had its strict limitation.”[60]

What is the Achilles’ heel of the romantic theory of art?  In brief, the serious drawback consists in (1) its choice of themes, i.e., the wonderful or rather, the infinite, and its resulting dualism of prosaic/poetic, and (2) its unduly emphasis on “free play of imagination,” with the important role of externalization completely ignored.

         On the problem of theme, Cassirer comments thus: “In order to achieve their metaphysical aim the romanticist had to make a serious sacrifice.  The infinite had been declared to be the true, indeed the only, subject of art.  The beautiful was conceived as a symbolic representation of the infinite.  He only can be an artist, according to Friedrich Schlegel, who has a religion of his own, an original conception of the infinite.  But in this event what becomes of our finite world, the world of sense experience?” --


Clearly this world as such has no claim to beauty.  Over against the true universe, the universe of the poet and the artist, we find our common and prosaic world deficient in all poetic beauty.  A dualism of this kind is an essential feature in all romantic theories of art. ...

This conception of poetry is, however, rather a qualification and limitation than a genuine account of the creative process of art.”[61]

In this respect, the realists of the19th century had a keener insight into the art process; they maintained a radical , and uncompromising naturalism which led them to a more profound conception of artistic form where romanticism failed most conspicuously, as form is also a matter of externalization:


       “With the power of invention and of universal animation (i.e., imagination) we are only in the anteroom of art.  The artist must not only feel the ‘inward meaning’ of things and their moral life, he must externalize his feelings. The highest and most characteristic power of artistic imagination appears in this latter act.  Externalization means visible or tangible embodiment not simply in a particular material medium--in clay, bronze or marble--but in sensuous form, in rhythm, in color pattern, in lines and design, in plastic shapes.  It is the structure, the balance and order, of these forms which affect us in the work of art. ...”[62]


Cassirer makes his formalistic tendency keenly felt almost on every page of his writings. He is a formalist, indeed.  But in a different sense; not even in the Kantian sense.  For him, the form is not merely pure, but sensuous, it is another name for Kant’s Schema; it is not static as conditions (like the Kantian forms and categories), it is dynamic, formative, directive, spontaneous, concretizing and transforming.  The problem of form, he would agree with Adolf Hilderbrand and even Croce, is the true problem of art, with “form” used in the its enlarged and enriched, revised sense, of course.  To support  his emphasis on the character and role of the moment of Form, he substantiates his thesis by attacking Aristotle’s view on the tragic plot:

“In his theory of tragedy Aristotle stressed the invention of the tragic plot.  Of all the necessary ingredients of tragedy--spectacle, character, fable, diction, melody and thought-- he thought the combination of the incidents of the story the most important, ...

To enjoy the plots of Shakespeare--to follow with the keenest interest, ‘the combination of the incidents fo the story’ in Othello, Macbeth, or Lear---does not necessarily mean that one understands and feels the tragic art of Shakespeare.  Without Shakespeare’s language, without the power of his dramatic diction, all this would remain unimpressive.  The context of a poem cannot be separated from its form--from the verse, the melody, the rhythm.  These elements are not merely external or technical means to reproduce a given intuition; they are part and parcel of the artistic intuition itself.”[63]

To borrow from Cassirer’s pet polarity: Freedom and Form-- which is reminiscent of Goethe’s Life and Form, even Dichtung und Warheit--romanticism and classicism may be contrasted in their emphasis, each stressing on the one at the sacrifice of the other.  What has been said about romanticism also applies to classicism, just by switching the pople on the scale, interchangeably.  As romanticism has laid too much stress on Freedom while completely ignoring the moment of Form, classicism has shifted to the opposite pole: the power of imagination be subjected to the control by the laws of reason, in the name of measure.  Thus it has committed an error not in its emphasis on the opposite pole (Form), but in its adhering to an erroneous conception of this pole, taking Form as static and rigid as a rule, “measurable by a linear standard or by a clock” (e.g., the dramatic unities of space and time), and expressible in purely objective (arithmetic) terms.


         Just as romanticism can be opposed to classicism with respect both to the power of the imagination and to the moment of form, i.e., both to the subject-matter and to form, so similarly transcendentalism (idealism) can be opposed to naturalism (realism). As mentioned above, the romantic conception of poetry, taking the marvelous, miraculous, and mysterious, the wonderful, the infinite, as the only subject, is rather a qualification and limitation than a genuine account of the creative process of art, the realists have taken the opposite road.  They maintained a radical uncompromising naturalism, by denying the “pure form” of the idealistic schools, and concentrating on the material aspects of things.  By virtue of this sheer concentration, they were enabled to overcome the conventional dualism between the poetic and prosaic spheres, resulting from the romantic conception of poetry and art.  The nature of a work of art, according to the realists, does not depend on the greatness or smallness of its subject-matter.  No subject whatever is impermeable to the formative energy of art.  One of the greatest triumphs of art is to make us see commonplace things in their real shape and in their true light, such as as we find in Balzac, Zola, etc.  The naturalism of the realists leads to a more profound conception of artistic forms (by denying the ‘pure forms” of the idealistic schools; but its serious drawback lies in its attitude towards the imaginative power:

         “Nevertheless, running through the works of all these realists great imaginative power is observable, which is by no means inferior to that of the romantic writers.  The fact that this power could be not openly acknowledged was a serious drawback to the naturalistic theories of art.  In their attempts to refute the romantic conceptions of transcendental poetry they reverted to the old definition art as an imitation of nature.”[64]

“In so doing,” comments Cassirer, ‘They missed the principal point, since they failed to recognize the symbolic character of art.”

         “Art is, indeed, symbolism, but the symbolism of art must be understood in an immanent, not in a transcendental sense.  Beauty is “The Infinite finitely presented” according to Schelling.  The real subject of art is not, however, the metaphysical Infinite of Schelling, nor is it the Absolute of Hegel.  It is to be sought in certain fundamental structural elements of our sense experience itself--in lines design, in architectural, musical forms.  These elements are, so to speak, omnipresent.  Free from all mysteries, they are patent and unconcealed; they are visible, audible, tangible, ...  art can embrace and pervade the whole sphere of human experience.”[65]

From the symbolic point of view there is indeed no limitation whatever on the subject-matter of art.  Thus Cassirer winds up his discussions on romanticism and classicism, on idealism and ralism (naturalism).  All these schools, through his analysis, turn out to be defective, as contrasted with his own position of symbolism.  To conclude, we may safely assert that romaqnticism (idealism) is Freedom without form; classicism is Form without Freedom, realism (naturalism) is neither Freedom nor Form; only symbolism is both.  It is to be noted, however, that there is a shift in the meaning of ‘form’ in these three cases.  For both classicism and romanticism ‘form’ is used in the sense of “rule.” or “law” as measure to be be observed in the course of the creative process  of art; for realism or naturalism, ‘form’ means the ‘pure form’ in the idealistic or transcendent sense, as opposed to ‘the ‘material’; for symbolism ‘form’ means ‘both pure and concrete,’ structural, constitutive, constructive, dynamic, etc.; it is that by which  one’s creative imaginative power becomes concretized, it is always charged with the material import, it is, in sum, the ‘sensuous form’ without losing its ‘pure’ character.  (Here by ‘pure’ we mean ‘without empirical content,’ or ‘free from material burden). In cassirer’s symbolism, he is not merely concerned with Freedom and Form; rather, he is much  more concerned with the Freedom of Form and the Form of Freedom. In Goethe’s language, the higher the Form, the greater the Life; the quality of Life is thus heightened and enhanced by higher forms. In other words, these two correlative concepts can only be treated relationally and functionally.  Not only his theory of art as symbolism, but also his whole philosophy of symbolic forms, can be viewed as a duet of Freedom and From by dialectic interplay of these two moments as intercomplementary by mutal enrichement.


III. Pleasure, Art, and Life


         In the third, concluding section of his chapter on art, Cassirer examines two seemingly opposing schools of thought in esthetics. i.e., psychological and metaphysical theories of art, represented respectively by the esthetic hedonism of George Santayana and the esthetic intuitionism of Henri Bergson. as is typical of his method as the functional approach. His discussion covers the play-theory of Schiller (as contrasted in the conception of play with Darwin’s and Spencer’s), Nietzsche’s view of the Greek art, Croce’s identification of art with language of aesthetics and linguistics, and finally the relation of art to life, in terms of its human import, its role, function and meaning for the whole sphere of human experience.  Since both his way of presentation and those of Santayana, Nietzsche , Bergson, Croce, and Schiller are quite familiar to modern readers, we shall only focus on some of his comments on these themes under the following headings:


(1) Psychologicalism and Metaphysicalism--The polarity between these two schools in aesthetics may be seen in that the former is concerned not with any theories of beauty, but with the fact of beauty and a descriptive analysis of this fact, while the latter has to assume some fundamental principles and is concerned with the theories, rather than merely with some facts, of beauty.  But they meet on the same ground in that both are reactionary in character to the intellectualism or rationalism in aesthetics.

         The psychological theory of art, or esthetic hedonism, has as its starting point a solid, simple, obvious and undeniable fact: pleasure.  No one could deny that the work of art gives us the highest pleasure, perhaps the most endurable and intense pleasure.  This is an undeniable fact, indeed.  But a fact is merely a fact.  If taken as a principle, whether psychological or aesthetic or what the like, its meaning becomes vague and ambiguous in the extreme, and broad enough to include the most diverse and heterogeneous phenomena and the most disparate differences.  As Kant warns in his Critique of Practical Reason by the metaphor of money:

         “Just as to the man who wants money to spend, it is all the same whether the gold is dug out of the mountain or washed out of the sand, provided it is everywhere accepted at the same value; so the man who cares only for the enjoyment of life dos not ask whether the ideas are of the understanding or of the senses, but only how much and how great pleasure they will give us for the longest time.”[66]

This holds in ethics as well as in aesthetics.  In modern times, the esthetic hedonism has found its clearest expression in the philosophy of George Santayana, who defined beauty as “pleasure objectified” and maintained that as science is the response to the demand for information, so art is the response to the demand for entertainment.  On both claims Cassirer comments: In the first place, to say that beauty is pleasure objectified is begging the question, for how can pleasure--the most subjective state of our mind--ever be objectified?[67] In the second place, if it si really the case that art is the response to the demand for entertainment, such a demand can be satisfied by much “better” and “cheaper” means.  he says emphatically:

“To think that the great artist worked for this purpose, that Michaelangelo constructed Saint  Peter’s Cathedral, that Dante or Milton wrote their poems, for the sake of entertainment, is impossible.  They would undoubtedly have subscribed to Aristotle’s dictum that ‘to exert oneself and work for the sake of amusement seems silly and utterly childish.”[68]

“If art is enjoyment it is not the enjoyment of things but the enjoyment of forms.  Delight in forms is quite different from delight in things or sense impressions.” And in line with the Kantian tradition, Cassirer charges all kinds of esthetic hedonism, ancient and modern, for their failure to account for the fundamental moment of activity, spontaneity or, more precisely, esthetic creativeness:

 Forms cannot simply be impressed on our minds; we must produce them in order to feel their beauty. ... In esthetic life we experience a radical transformation.  Pleasure itself is no longer a mere affection; it becomes a function.  For the artist’s eye is not simply an eye that reacts to or reproduces sense impressions.  Its activity is not confined to receiving or registering the impressions of outward things or to combining these impressions in new and arbitrary ways.  A great painter or musician is not characterized by his sensitiveness to color or sounds but by his power to elicit from the static material a dynamic life of forms.  Only in this sense, then, can the pleasure we find in art be objectified.  To define beauty as ‘pleasure objectified’ contains, therefore, the whole problem in a nutshell.  Objectification is always a constructive process.  The physical world ... is no mere bundle of sense data, nor is the world of art a bundle of feeling and emotions.”[69] 

Now let us turn to his comments on Bergson’s metaphysical theory of art. The metaphysical school of esthetics, like the psychological, is a reaction against the rationalistic and intellectualistic theories.  “Intellect does us no good.”  “We cannot understand the work of art by subjecting it to logical rules.  For art arises from other and deeper sources.  In order to discover these sources we must forget our common standards, we must plunge into the mysteries of our unconsciousness life.  The artist is a sort of somnambulist who must pursue his way without the interference or control of any conscious activity.  To wake him would be to destroy his power.”[70]  This anti-intellectual attitude towards art and its commitment to our unconscious life, or intuition, has found its most eloquent champion in Bergson, who gave a theory of beauty which was intended as the last and most conclusive proof of his general metaphysical principles. According to Bergson,

“There is no better illustration of the fundamental dualism, of the incompatibility, of intuition with     reason than the work of art.  What we call rational or scientific truth is superficial and conventional. Art is the escape from this shallow and narrow conventional world.  it leads us to the very sources of         reality.  If reality is ‘creative evolution’ it is in the creativeness of art that we must seek the evidence for the fundamental manifestation of the creativeness of life.”[71]

“But the intention of Bergson,” Cassirer points out, “is not a really active principle.  It is a mode of receptivity, not of spontaneity. Esthetic intuition, too, is everywhere described by Bergson as a passive capability, not as an active form.  For he writes:

“The object of art is to put to sleep the active or rather resistant powers of our personality, and thus to bring us into a state of perfect responsive-ness, in which we realize the idea that is suggested to us and symbolizes with the feeling that is expressed.  In the process of art we shall find, in a weakened form, a refined and in some measure spiritualized version of the processes commonly used to induce the state of hypnosis. ...”


Here lies the greatest flaw in Bergson’s theory of art, Cassirer argues,


“Our experience of beauty is not, however, of such a hypnotic character. Beauty, in its genuine and special sense,  cannot be impressed upon our minds in this way.   In order to feel it one must co-operate with the artist. One must not only sympathize with the artist’s feeling but also enter into his creative activity.”


In sum, to put to sleep the active powers of our personality would be to paralyze our very sense of beauty.


“The apprehension of beauty, the awareness of the dynamism of forms, cannot be communicated in this way.  For beauty depends both on feelings of a special kind and on an act of judgement and contemplation. ... One of the greatest contributions of Shaftsbury to the theory of art was his insistence on this point.” [72]


What has just been raised against Bergson’s metaphysical theory of art also holds for the psychological theory of Nietzsche, his volitionalistic or voluntarianistic thesis of the will to power.

“It is not” he argues, “the ideal of Wicklemann that we find in Greek art.  In Aeschylus, in Sophocles or Euripides we seek in vain for ‘noble simplicity and serene grandeur.’

The greateness of Greek art consists in the depth and extreme tension of violent emotions. The essence of every great work of art lies in this very tension, i.e., the fundamental polarity between the Dionysian and Apollonian spirits.  “... Greek tragedy was the offspring of the Dionysian cult: its power was a orgiastic power.  But orgy alone could produce Greek drama. The force of Dionysius was counterbalanced by the force of Apollo. ... Great art of all times has arisen from the interpenetration of two opposing forces--from an orgiastic impulse and a visionary state.  It is the same contrast as exists between the dream state and the state of intoxication. Dream gives us the power of vision, of association, of poetry; intoxication gives us the power of grand attitude, of passion, of song and dance.”

Cassirer objects to this interpretation of artistic inspiration in such terms. He argues,

“In this theory of its psychological origin one of the essential features of art has disappeared.  For artistic inspiration is not intoxication, artistic imagination is not dream or hallucination. Every great work of art is characterized by a deep structural unity.  We cannot account for this unity by reducing it to two different states which, like the dream state and the state of intoxication, are entirely different and disorganized. We cannot integrate a structural whole out of amorphous element.”[73]


In the above criticisms on Santayana, Bergson, and Nietzsche, Cassirer has resorted to his own scale: the moment of Form, characterized by its structural, constitutive, constructive function and its dynamic mode of life, and the moment of freedom in terms of spontaneity, activity, and creativeness.  The moment of Form, in Cassirer’s treatment of others, appears somewhat like his deus ex machina.

(2) Art and Play--Another influential school of esthetic thought is the so- called play-theory of art, cherished by Schiller, Darwin, Spencer and others. But the very term ‘play’ is differently conceived by them. Schiller’s play-theory is a transcendental and idealistic theory; Darwin’s, and Spencer’s theories are both  biological and naturalistic.  This type of art-theory seems at the first sight to be superior to esthetic hedonism, intuitionism or volitionalism in the sense that it has enjoyed two the advantage of possessing two fundamental features of art:  activity and disinterestedness (both are due to the old master Immanuel Kant).  But still it fails to stand the scrutiny by Cassirer’s symbolistic criterion in terms of the constructive character of Forms.


         First, he points out that there are to be distinguished three different kinds of imagination: (i) the power of invention, (ii) the power of personification and (iii)  the power to constructive and sensuous forms.  “In the play of a child we find the two former powers, but not the third. ... The child plays with things, the artist plays with forms.   Play gives us illusive images; art gives us a new kind of truth—a truth not of empirical things but of pure forms.”[74]  He further emphasizes:


“To be sure, it is not the same thing to live in the realm of forms as to live in the realm of things, of the empirical objects of our surroundings.  The forms of art, on the other hand, are not empty forms.  They perform a definite task in the construction and organization of human experience.”[75]


From the moment of disinterestedness implied in the pay-theory, we will be led to one of its stumbling blocks:  “Removal to a distance.”  this will lead us to the problem, perhaps the greatest problem of all:  Art and Life.


         (3) Art and Life--Here on this major issue, the human import of art and its meaning and significance to life, I think, Cassirer’s discussion comes to its climax, his argument becomes superbly eloquent, forcible, and powerfully convincing:


To live in the realm of forms does not signify an evasion of the issues of life; it represents, on the contrary, the realization of one of the highest energies of life itself.  We cannot speak of art as ‘extra-human’ or ‘super-human’ without overlooking one of its fundamental features, its constructive power in the framing of our human universe. ...”[76]


Behind the existence, the nature, the empirical properties of things, we suddenly discover their forms.  These forms are no static elements.  What they show is a mobile order, which reveals to us a new horizon of nature.  Even the greatest admirer of art have often spoken of it as if it were a mere accessory, an embellishment or ornament, of life.  But this is to underrate its real significance and its real role for human culture.  ... Only by conceiving art as a special direction, a new orientation, of our thoughts, our imagination, and our feelings, can we comprehend its true meaning and function.  The plastic arts make us see the sensible world in all its richness and multifariousness.  What would we know of the innumerable nuances in the aspects of things were it not for the works of the great painters and sculptors?  Poetry is, similarly, the revelation of our personal life. The infinite potentialities of which we had but a dim and obscure presentiment are brought to light by the lyric poet, by the novelists, and by the dramatists.  Such art is in no sense mere counterfeit of facsimile, but a genuine manifestation of our inner life.”[77]




























Conclusion and Comments


         Now it is time to make an evaluation, by summing up our observations on Cassirer as a philosopher of art.  The chapter on art in An Essay on Man is the sole systematic presentation of his views on art and art-theories as available; it is not intended to be an independent and complete theory in aesthetics for, as the main contention of his philosophy of culture implies, art as one of the symbolic forms cannot be treated in isolation from the whole sphere of human work.  In the short span of about forty pages Cassirer had made a masterful exposition of his thesis that art is symbolic form by way of a critical examination of almost all the major schools and major figures in the development of Western aesthetic thought.  His general outlook is critical, his approach and contention reconstructive.  Any reader will be impressed with the characteristic features of comprehensivity, coherence, or consistency of his treatment.  As Slochower has rightly observed, “Cassirer’s philosophy itself reaches its own most eloquent expression in his discussion on art and literature.”  In his philosophy of art we find the core of his philosophy of culture, as he has expressly stated:  “Art can embrace and pervade the whole sphere of human experience.” How to epitomize his position in aesthetics?--a symbolist or symbolic formist.  As such, he exemplifies the saying: To see the cultural phenomena with an artist’s eye.

         It is unnecessary to repeat all the virtues of his functional approach in general as outlined in the earlier part of this study; in this concluding part we shall content ourselves with being able to highlight some aspects of his aesthetic viewpoints with respect, of course, to both his merits and his limitations.  A clue to his limitations as critic of art-theories lies in what I have taken the liberty to describe as his deus ex machina--which is his new conception of form and which accounts for the consistency of his position as a whole.  And here lies his true merits and limitations as well.

         As is said of the virtues of Kant as a critical philosopher, “he is unwilling to sacrifice insight to consistency.”[78]  This should be laid down as motto for any critical and constructive mind. But one should also realize that it can be more easily said than done for any one.  Great as he is both as thinker and scholar, even Cassirer himself fails to live up such a high ideal as guideline. Indeed, “bonus dormitat Homerus.”  For the sake of consistency of his own system he is tempted at times to sacrifice insights, usually of those who are not immune from his critical scanning.  I shall be brief in mentioning about his merits for they abound almost in every page of his writings we read, too ample to be enumerated here.  Instead, I shall confine my laudatory comments only to two main points--firstly, his expansion of the Aristotelian concept of katharsis to cover both tragedy and comedy, indeed, the entire realm of artistic creative activities; secondly, his criticism of the Crocean position in aesthetics.  On the other hand,  I have some reservations concerning his treatment of other figures, such as Aristotle, Tolstoy, Santayana, Bergson, and Nietzsche, to mention a few.  His criticism of all these figures is, at least in part, “bad shot,” motivated as a rule, of course, by his love of consistency above insights.  let us take a closer look at these two aspects--his merits and his limitations.

         (1) Merits--The most striking feature of Cassirer’s thought is his methodological monism or trans-dualism.  In the campaign against dualism of any sort he is not alone, of course.  For instance, John Dewey is no less wholeheartedly devoted to the same cause, springing from the same source of the Hegelian insight into the unity of culture.  But Dewey is primarily a naturalist and, with his naturalistic tendency and pragmatic outlook, the concept of certainty is dissolved always with that of substance. Not so, however, with Cassirer, for whom reality or substance is not to be denied altogether, nor explained away, but transformed into the concept of function; or is certainty to be simply dropped on looked upon as a taboo, but reinterpreted in terms of form.  By such a tour de force Cassirer has succeeded not merely in solving the moot problem of substance and function, process and reality, freedom and lawfulness in traditional philosophy, at one stroke, as it were; but he has thus laid down, once for all, the foundation-stone for the edifice of his Neo-Kantianism characterized by the functional view of substance and the functional unity of freedom and form.  Any other pair of contrariety will be automatically dissolved in the same way, including, for instances, the distinction of tragedy and comedy.  With the boundary between tragedy and comedy thus broken down, it follows naturally that katharsis is not confined to tragedy alone.  Katharsis is further reinterpreted as relief of the material burden of emotions and passions.  Cassirer has done a great service to the age-long Aristotelian insight; his new interpretation of katharsis is perhaps at least one of the best, so far available.  No less remarkable is his criticism of Croce.  That Croce is methodologically a dualist can be easily ascertained by reference to this distinction bwetween two kinds of knowledge: knowledge by concept and knowledge by intuition.  Cassirer’s refutation of the Crocean view focuses on two points: (1) that Croce has ignored the material moment in the process of externalization and (2) that Croce has made a serious mistake in equating art to language and, consequently, aesthehtics to linguistics.  As to the first point, Cassirer comments:

“For Croce, the essence of artistic creation lies in the formation of intuition alone.  He is interested only in the fact of expression, not the mode.  The only thing that matters is the intuition of the artist, not the embodiment of this intuition in a particular material; when the process (the formation of intuition) is completed the artistic creation has been achieved; what follows is only an external reproduction which is necessary for the communication        of intuition but meaningless with respect to its essence, only of technical importance.”[79]

Yet, Cassirer argues, the formation of intuition is not enough; artistic creation is far from being accomplished when the artist has arrived at any intuition (of the forms); he must not confine his creative activity, his imaginative power, to the formation of intuition alone, which is his spiritual soliloquy; he must be able to externalize his intuition.  Externalization means visible, tangible, audible embodiment not singly in a particular material medium, but in sensuous forms. The term “not simply” here is highly important, signifying that the material moment, though obviously not sufficient in itself, is essentially indispensable for the artistic creation.  Not that Cassirer fails to see the importance of the formation of intuition, but that he is more concerned with the externalization of this intuition. For Croce, externalization is merely of secondary importance, as a matter of technical consideration; for Cassirer, it is essentially and crucially important, it is the consummation of art-activity.  There is no great art without externalization, and no externalization without the material moment.  Here lies the Achilles’ heel for the Crocean position.  It has a blind spot as to the gap between intuition and expression, as Joyce Gary points out.

         Next, we turn to the second point, on the inadequacy of Croce’s identification of art with langauge, of esthetics with linguistics.  Indeed, art may be defined as a symbolic language; but this leaves us only with a common genus, not the specific difference, thus remarks Cassirer:

“Croce insists that there is not only a close relation but a complete identity between language and art.  To this way of thinking it is quite arbitrary to distinguish these two activities.  Whoever studies general linguistics, according to Croce, studies esthetic problems, -- and vice versa.”[80]

But for Cassirer,

         “There is, however, an unmistakable difference between the symbols of art and the linguistic terms of ordinary speech or writing.  These two activities agree neither in character nor purpose; they do not employ the same means, nor do they tend toward the same ends.  Neither language nor art gives us mere imitation of things or actions; both are representations.  But a representation in the medium of sensuous forms differs widely from a verbal or conceptual representation.  The description of a landscape by a painter or poet and that by a geographer or geologist have scarcely anything in common.  Both the mode and motive are different in the work of a scientist and in the work of an artist.”[81]

         A contrast and comparison of art with language and science will make clear the requirement for genus et differentiae.  But language and science are characterized by their act or process of classification towards simplification and, similarly, art implies an act of condensation and concentration.  But on the other hand, there is to be perceived a difference between and among them:  Language and science, depending on one and the same process of abstraction or generalization, are abbreviations of reality while art, described as a process of concretion, is an intensification of reality.


         (2) Limitations--Even Cassirer himself admits that sympathetic vision is the faculty shared by all arts.  If this applies to all arts, it applies all the more to the art of criticism, especially of philosophical criticism. What makes one a great critic is farimindedness that results from combining sympathetic vision with the Kantian virtue of unwillingness to sacrifice insights to consistency as mentioned above.  In the case of Cassirer, as a critic, he is undoubtedly one with great vision, but not sympathetic enough; and as a philosopher, he is highly consistent but at times willing to sacrifice insights, especially some one else’s.  To substantiate this claim, I would like to provide some samples as follows:

         (A) Aristotle on Plot--While Aristotle in his theory of tragedy says that of all the necessary ingredient of tragedy the plot is the most important, Cassirer holds it to be “no necessary element of the artistic process” on the ground that it is a sort of intellectual activity!  He says,

        “To enjoy the plot of Shakespeare, ... does not necessarily mean that one understands and feels the tragic art of Shakespeare. Without Shakespeare’s language, without the power of his dramatic diction, all this would remain unimpressive. ... the plot was so complicated that it needed a special intellectual effort to understand and unravel it.  It is clear, however, that this sort of intellectual activity and intellectual pleasure is no necessary element of the artistic process.”[82]

It is surprising to be told by one who has laid so much stress on the moment of form and has so constantly emphasized on its inseparability from matter that plot is “no necessary element in artistc process”!  The so-called plot in tragedy is but a special case of the principle of organization, or organic unity, of all arts; and organic unity is the master principle of art, be it architecture, or painting, or music, or poetry, or novel, or play.  It is the structural principle applied to the dramatic art.  Even composition can be said of painting and of architecture as well. In Chinese terminology it is called “bu-jü,” literally in the sense of marshalling the total vista by deliberately setting-up all the relevant factors for a situation; Whoever versed in rhetorics can tell the importance of such an apparently trivial technique as the arrangement of words-order even in a single sentence. Any slight changv in the words-order can make a world of difference in effect, even in content, sometimes of vital importance! “A beautiful thing” is less poetical than “a thing of beauty.”  “The harder we fought, the more defeated we are!” a true statement as it is, might have caused demotion for General Tzeng Guo-fan [in putting down the Taiping Riots in the 19th century China]; fortunately it was changed into “The more defeated we were, the harder we fought!”  Why cannot a well constructed plot heighten the total character, the total effect, the total quality as a whole of any dramatic work?  is this precisely what the principle of structure as form meant for?  Why is the plot merely a matter of intellectual activity or a matter of intellectual activity?  Such a purely or barely intellectualistic view of the plot is far too narrow and one sided and fails to do full justice to the main contention of Aristotle. Why must the role and function of form be confined to “the embellishment with each kind of artistic ornament” alone--verse, melody, diction, etc.?  What is meant by the plot for Aristotle?  It means “the structure of incidents.”  It is design from a totalistic perspective.  Why does Cassirer attach so much weight to the sensuous form, or material medium, such as rhythm, color pattern, lines and design, plastic shapes, etc., while disparaging the Aristotelian plot as neither important nor necessary?  For the same story a difference in the plot would involve differences in content and effect.  How can the plot be purely intellectual without material, even emotional, import?  Whence such a dualism of intellectual vs. emotional?  The plot is the structure of the play as a whole which accounts for its organic unity.  It is the form of forms.  Just as the form is a symbolic form, so is the plot a symbolic plot.  It is the backbone of the play itself, unifying and holding all parts together to make an organic whole.  What Aristotle intends to stress on the plot is its all-importance and indispensability to the play writing, obviously not to the exclusion of any other ingredients, such as character, diction, thought, spectacle, melody, as mentioned in his definition of tragedy.   It is simply the principle of structure which sums up all these ingredients and has them wrought into a unified integral whole.  Though Aristotle’s conception of form does not conform with Cassirer’s--for the Greeks, form is pure (free from material contents) whereas for the Neo-Kantians, form is both pure and sensuous (concrete)--this difference by no means constitutes the sufficient ground for rejecting the Aristotelian plot as “no necessary element of the artistic process.”  For what, after all, is a plot if not some sort of form?  It is form of the consummate sort, as in one sense form is to be understood as “organized construction.”  Cassirer is typically dialectical in his treatment of the historical figures:  If the person in question is unimpeachable on the formal ground he will charge him on the material ground, and vice versa.  He has ion hand a double-edged sword for use.  here his charge against Aristotle’s conception of the plot and its role in tragedy is untenable because it is unfair.  And such a charge, in the last analysis, would prove to be self-contradictory and back-fired for reasons stated above, as it is found to be inconsistent with Cassirer’s own organistic position in general, his adopting of the Gestaltan-Principle in particular and, above all, his own view of form as “organized construction.”


    (B) On Tolstoy--According to Cassirer, Tolstoy and Croce make an interesting antipod:  One ignores the moment of form; the other , the moment of matter. His criticism on Tolstoy focuses on two points:  (1) “Tolstoy suppresses a fundamental moment of art, the moment of form”; (2) “Tolstoy holds that the degree of infectiousness is the sole measure of excellence in art.”[83] From Cassirer’s view of art as symbolic forms, form and matter make a dialectical unity through interplay and interpenetration, hence neither should be ignored; and further from his view of art as the condensation and intensification of reality, it follows that “it is not the degree of infection but the degree of intensification and illumination which is the medasure of excellence in art.”[84]

           First, I shall say that Tolstoy does not suppress the moment of form.  In his What Is Art? we find, on the contrary, that no less than Cassirer he has taken into account the moment of form.  He has this to say:

         “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced and having evoked it in oneself then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit the feeling that others experience the same feeling this is the activity of art.”

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them. [85]

How can Tolstoy, a great creative artist himself, suppress the moment of form?  Only that he considers it as a means, indispensable as it is, whereby to transmit one’s feeling to others.  It is the medium of transmission.  The excellence in the work of art does not, of course, consists in the form alone--which is thus a matter of How.  For Tolstoy, art has a much higher aim to achieve, a much nobler function to perform, namely, the improvement of humanity, the value-reorientation of human life and experience through universal love and genuine feelings of brotherhood, in Tolstoy’s words, as embodied in the spirit of Christ.  This view of art concerns more than any formal consideration as a matter of How:  How to transmit so as to infect (influence) the frame of their mind, in the forming and shaping of their characters.  True it is that art aims to transmit feelings, but Tolstoy rasises the question of a higher, deeper level: What kind of feelings is the most worth transmitting?  He was raging his was against the prevailing and highly contagious type of art-theories of his day that proclaims “Art for its own sake” as the standard.  His extolling view of the value of the content is reactionary to the fashion of the later half of the 10th century, especially during the period of the decadence of “la fin de siecle.”

In the second place, I should like to point out that in so far as their attitude towards the purpose is concerned, Tolstoy has much in common with Cassirer than we are usually aware of.  The misleading impression is created by the choice of word, especially the expressions “infection” or “contagion,” of which neither can be taken in the literal sense.  At most it serves as a warning as used in the metaphorical way! It signifies the power of transmission and communication, for good or for evil.  Few have keener insight into this power of art than Tolstoy, except perhaps Plato in the ancient time.  Both Plato and Tolstoy are fully aware of how powerfully corruptive the bad art could be!  With this key term of “infection” thus clarified, we can now proceed to compare it as a counterpart notion to Cassirer’s “motion.”  Whereas Tolstoy maintians “The stronger the infection the better is the art,” Cassirer argues that the essence of art consists in motions rather than emotions. Speaking of katharsisi, he remarks:

         “The calmness of the work of art is, paradoxically, a dynamic, not a static calmness.  Art gives us the motions of the human soul in all their depth and variety.  But the forms, the measure and rhythm, of these motions is not comparable to any single state of emotion.  What we feel in art is not a simple or single emotional quality.  It is the dynamic process of life itself.”[86]

Is there any better interpretation of Tolstoy’s advocacy of  “stronger infection” than the “motions of the human souls in all their depth and variety?” Tolstoy is concerned not merely with communication, but also the effects of this communication.  His “degree of infectiousness” is to be understood not only in terms of “the intensity of infection,” but in terms of its moral and psychological effects upon human life as a whole.  Even though we may agree with Cassirer on that “it is not the degree of infection but the degree of intensification and illumination which is the measure of the excellence in art, we may still probe more deeply by asking further:  What about the effects of this very phenomenon of intensification and illumination?  Once we are thus “illumined,” what kind of difference has it made upon us as consequences, upon the whole frame of our mind, upon our general outlook on life, upon our life styles and life ideals? In Cassirer’s own word:  “a new orientation.” Because art is symbolism. There it is!--The concord of insights for both Cassirer and Tolstoy.  For what constitutes the symbolic character of art, if not “meaning” or “significance?” though we are told by Cassirer that “meaning” or “significance” is not something given” as an easy pleasure or beauty, it is something to be dug out by our active, constructive efforts; it is our achievement constructed by virtue of the functions of our creative faculty. And once such meanings or significances were thus dug out, the effects they exert upon our soul and mind cannot be obliterated; to underrate such effects and functions of art, as Cassirer puts it, would be to underate its real significance and its real role in human culture.’’ Thus concludes emphatically our philosopher of culture:  “Only by conceiving art as a special direction, a new orientation, of our thoughts, our imagination, and our feelings, can we comprehend its true meaning and function.”[87]  Though the choice of words in the expression “infectiousness” may be unfortunate, Tolstoy has a point:  “beware of art--especially the bad kind.”  In so far as the positive function of art is concerned, there is nothing essentially incompatible between Cassirer and Tolstoy in their conception of “effectiveness” or “the power of motion” as the measure of excellence in art--a criterion of judgement, that is to say.  They both fully recognize that the function of art consists in its power of transformation of the person by providing him/her a a special direction, a new orientation, for our thoughts, our imagination, and our feelings, in sum, our whole personality.  In this respect their views and insights converge and can be interpreted in terms of each other.  A note of difference, however, is near at hand:  For Cassirer the function of art is not confined to the realm of moral or religious life alone; it has such a wider siginificance than the one given by Tolstoy the moralist plus religonist.  Man cannot live on bread alone, nor solely on morality either. Here Cassirer’s view is no doubt superior to Tolstoy’s.  But on the other hand, the earnestness as reflected in the Tolstoyean criterion of art is not to be dismissed either, despite the unpleasant impression associated with the term “infectiousness.”  Moreover, what Tolstoy suggests as to the sure means whereby to achieve the optimal effect of art--individuality, clarity, and sincerity--is quite congenial with Cassirer’s general criterion of excellence in art:  “The more conrete, the better,” with art defined as the intensification and illumination of reality.  In contrast to science what is always searching for some central common features of a given object, art is always aiming at the particular aspect or uniqueness of it.  Of the three requirements as conditions of the highest degree of effectiveness in art, Tolstoy stresses sincerity above all.  Sincerity, means the whole commitment on the part of the artist, the impelling force and drive for him to express his feelings.  But individuality and clarity correlate to Cassirer’s requirement for intensification and illumination.  The more individual the feeling is, the more strongly does it act upon the recipient, hence the more intensifying.  The more clearly it is expressed, the more illuminating is the work itself, hence the more effective.  In the quest for particularity, individuality, uniqueness are convergent the insights of Tolstoy, Cassirer, Croce and Bergson, despite their differences in details.

         (C) On Santayana—The definition of beauty given by Santayana as pleasure objectified” is criticized by Cassirer as “begging the question.”  The definition, as it stands, is far from being an ideal one, simply because “pleasure” is not only ambiguous, but multiguous, thus vague and misleading.  Nevertheless, Santayana has a point on “objectification,” hence deserving  some credit at least on that account. Cassirer redefines “pleasure” as “delight in forms” and reinterprets “objectification” as “eliciting form the static materials a dynamic life of forms.” In other words, objectification means externalization.  After having thus fitted these two terms into his own framework, Cassirer goes so far as to claim that “only in this sense, then, can the pleasure we find in art be objectified.  To define beauty as “pleasure objectified” contains, therefore, the whole problem in a nutshell, and “objectification is always a constructive process.”  His argument on the inadequacy of the psychological theories of art as based solely on pleasure as a a fact is quite enlightening; but he fails to do full justice to Santayana’s whole view:  It is not pleasure itself, but the objectification of pleasure, that accounts for the essence of beauty.  One may take issues with Santayana on his hedonist claim for “pleasure” as a defining ground of beauty, but not on the requirement of “objectification,” whether taken as “expression” or “externalization,” or “eliciting,” or what the like.  And the ground Cassirer gives for his criticism on Santayana is not convincing: “According to Santayana beauty is .... “pleasure objectified.” But this is begging the question.  For how can pleasure—the most subjective state of mind—ever be objectified?”[88]  Obviously Cassierer has taken “pleasure” as one private experience, unsharable, uncommunicable, too personal, etc., hence “the most subjective state of mind.” This kind of comment is a violation of his own trans-dualistic, and organic outlook in general. By “pleasure”  we mayunderstand a sort of “enjoyable experience” such as a sunset view, which is highly sharable, hence objectifiable. It is the main contention of Santayana that pleasures that are not objectifiable are excluded from the universe of discourse in The Sense of Beauty. Even Kant admits universality of pleasure as one of the four moments of beauty.  Those kinds of experience that are not universalizable, nor objectifiable, Kant calls “agreeable, delightful” to the person alone in a given moment, but not beautiful.  To say “pleasure is the most subjective state of mind”--hence unobjectifiable--is to commit the fallacy of arbitrary definition, or rash conclusion.  Besides, it is un-Kantian at bottom.  By thus twisting “pleasure” into “the most subjective” one can at best present (or misrepresent) the initial definition as “contradictory in term,” yet not “begging the question.”   state of mind “unsharable” we can at most say that this (definition) is contradictory in term,” but not “begging the question”; for there is no question to beg yet. I am rather inclined to suspect that here, as elsewhere, Cassirer has made one of his “bad shots” as a critic, unfortunately.

         (D) On Bergson—Cassirer becomes most unsympathetic when he comes to the treatment of Bergson and Nietzsche, whose backgrounds are entirely and diametrically different from his.  As he indicated, the metaphysical theory of Bergson and the psychological theory of Nietzsche are both reactions against intellectualism or rationalism; and he himself may be called a most eloquent champion for rationalism, though in a qualified sense. With his Neo-Kantian background in critical idealism, he is always lured to the rationality of forms.  For quite a long period of time Bergson has not been saved from the charge of anti-intellectualism, as Whitehead points out.  This is unfair.  Bergson has only criticized intellect as insufficient, and even redefines intuition as “intellectual sympathy.”  To call Bergson anti-intellectual or anti-rational is onesided, unfair.  As Alfred Northe Whitehead acknolwledges, “ I am also great indebted to Bergson, William James, and John Dewey.  One of my preoccupations has been to rescue their type of thought from the charge of anti-intllectualism, which rightly or wrongly hass been associated with it.”[89] Cassirer’s harsh criticism of Bergson, I think, is largely due to a misreading of he context.  He says, “The intuition of Bergson is not a really active principle.   It is a mode of receptivity, not of spontaneity.  Aesthetic intuition, too is everywhere described by Bergson as a passive capability, not as an active form.” To back up such a verdict he quotes Bergson as saying:

“The object of art is to put into sleep the active or rather resistant powers of our personality, and thus to bring us into a state of perfect responsiveness, in which we realize the idea that is suggested to us and sympathize with, the feeling that is expressed. ... There are thus distinct phases in the progress of an aesthetic feeling, as in the state of hypnosis.”[90]

adding further:

         “The artist is a sort of somnambulist who must pursue his way without the interference of control of any conscious activity.  To wake him would be   to destroy his power.”[91]

Finally, in conclusion, he proclaims: “All aesthetic theories which attempt to account for art in terms of analogies taken from disordered and disintegrated spheres of human experience--from hypnosis, dream or intoxication (Nietzsche) --miss the main point.”[92] He argues that the fundamental feature of art is the constructive power in the framing of our human universe.  One will be really surprised to be told that the intuition of Bergson is a passive principle, so much at odd with the key-note and motif of a philosopher of creativity, of the élan vital, the great champion of creative evolution!  Three questions can be raised thus: (1) Is it really the case that Bergson’s intuition is a passive capability, not spontaneity, not an active principle? what is Bergson’s real point? (2) Can the analogy of “hypnosis” be taken literally? and what is meant by “putting into sleep”?  And (3) How, then, can the Bergsonian thesis be justified, that rality is creativity as advanced in Creative Evolution and that only by intuition cvan we grasp reality?  Bergson could be criticized on many other grounds, such as his dualism of intuition vs. Intellect, absolute vs. Relative knowledge, etc.  Decidedly not on any passive view of intuition.  The term “hypnosis” a misleading, as any analogy can be.  By no means should it be taken literally.  The main contention of Bergson is to emphasize the function of intuition as superior to concept, as enabling us to see the particular features of an object and its uniqueness.  Any possible screening factors must be brushed aside before one can have an immediate experience of reality.  The mediate is the screening, be it logical choppings, conceptual thinkings, verbalizations, or symbolic conventions.  By putting into sleep these stumbling and screening factors, i.e., getting rid of those intervening symbols (stereotyped), then, and only then, will we be able to release the power of intuition laten within us, which is active, spontaneous, creative in character, through and through.  Conventionality, not intuition,  is the arch enemy of activity!

         The most striking difference between Cassirer and Bergson is to be found in their attitude towards “the symbol.”  For Cassirer, it is the soul, the center of human creative activity; for Bergson, it is precisely what should be dispensed with!  He even defines metaphysics as the science which claims to dispense with symbols.  “So art,’ he argues,

“whether be it painting, or sculpture, poetry or music, ha s no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalizations, I short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself, ...  Art is certainly only a more direct vision of reality.” (La Rire)

But how?  By intuition!  Concepts, symbols, understandings, are all intervening factors that must be brushed aside.  Only in this sense can we understand Bergson’s true contnetion and intention when he uses the metaphorical language such as ‘putting into sleep” and “as in a state of hypnosis.”  All that the intende to mean (no matter what he has said) is simply to call our attention to what he believes to be a higher faculty in our mind and personality than the whole set of intellectual apparatus.  Put into sleep those unfriendly forces in our makeup before our creative potency can fully release itself.  Or, to translate it into the Kantian language, “Deny knowledge in order to make room for the really creative”; “put into sleep theintervening, the mediate, in order to make awaken the immediate--the intutitve, the creative.”  In the statement “the object of art is to put into sleep the active or rather the resistent powers of our personality” the word “active” is a poor choice, unfortunately.  But fortunately it is auto-corrected, as balanced by the term that immediately follows it, “or rather resistent powerers, ...”  Cassirer seizes upon the former, while overlooking or letting go of the the latter!  The Bergsonian intuition is entirely different from that in the Kantian sense, i.e., as a product of sensibility which is passive, receptive, etc., classed as on the lowest level in the mode of perception.  To label indiscriminately Bergson’s intuition as passive, receptive, unspontaneous is unfair.  What Bergson attempts to accomplish is to awaken us from our dogmatic slumber in intellectualism!  He thus refers our attention to intuition as a better substitute for the conventional mode of knowledge and experience.  Intuition for Bergson is by no means passive; it has spontaneity of its own, more powerful, more direct (immediate), more responsive than mere intellect.  Otherwise, how is it possible that we are brought into “a state of perfect responsivenss?”  Bergson’s love of the dynamic and active, the creative and spontaneous, is no less than Cassirer’s.  But how is it that the Bergsonian position is treated as almost incompatible with his won?  Is there any possibility to the synthesis of both philosophies?  How shall one account for the apparent incompatibility between them?  An enormous amount of clarification and profound sympathetic understanding are required for such highly feasible task; fortunately several important clues are available, and the basic guideline is “put the spirit before the statement.”  Their difference is primarily a terminological and methodological one.  Bergson is a dualist while Cassirer is a trans-dualist as far as the methodological orientation is concerned. Besides, terms like “symbol” and “the symbolic” are taken in quite different senses for these two philosophic minds.  For Bergson, the symbolic is opposed to the intuitive, as the mediate vs. The immediate, the conventional vs. the creative, intellect vs. intuition, rationality vs. the irrational (even supra-rational), etc.  For Cassirer, the symbolic stems form the primary fusion of the sensuous and the intelligible, substance and fucntion, material and meaning.  “Primary fusion in he symbolic, this primacy of the symbolic functions, is thesecret of all symbolic forms and all spiritual activity.” It is ‘the mystery of creative activity par excellence,” thus Robert S. Hartman has rightly observed.[93] “There is no Outside or Inside here, no Before or After, nothing active or passive.  Here we have a union of element.”  Such a monist or fusionist view of the symbolic, of course, is superior to Bergson’s dualistic conception of the symbolic vs. The intuitive, because it is all-inclusive rather than bifurcational.  But this does not blur our insight into the tenor of creativity as the common denominator for their respective systems of thought.  A. W. Levi has looked upon the Bergsonian philosophy as less a metaphysics than a philosophy of culture:


         “What can we say with assurance of the place of mind, imagination and creativity in the universe?  What is the ultimate meaning of man’s science, his philosophy, his religion, and his art?  Stripped of all non-essentials, this, I think, is the root-problem of the Bergsonian philosophy.  It is less a metaphysics than a philosophy  of culture.”[94]


On the other hand, no less paradoxically, we have Carl Hamburg’s characterization of Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms as “both a philosophy of culture and a metaphysics of experience.”  Again, we may quote as witness Robert S. Hatman’s interpretation of Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms as “a philosohy of creation,”

         The category of creativity is the one we shall apply to the deduce from his system.  In order to do so we must first clear the way and determine his philosophy negatively against its two poles, the raw-materials of creation and the source of the creating act.  The symbolic form is neither the one nor the other, but represents the process of the creative act itself. ... Cassirer’s philosophy is neither concerned with pure Being nor with pure  consciousness, but with the context and interaction of both.”[95]

Even Susanne K. Langer argues for  “the deep and close” relationship between Cassirer’s epistemology (phenomenology of knowledge) and Freud’s new psychoanalysis.  For it is the recognition of the “non-discursive, or mystic mode of thought) rather than his clinical hypothesis of an all-pervading disguised sexuality, that makes Freud’s psychology important for philosophy.” “The broadening of the philosophical outlook achieved by Cassirer’s theory of language and myth affects not only the Geistwissenschaften, but also the most crucial present difficulty in philosophy itself--the even increasing pendulum are between theories of reason and theories of irrational motivation.”[96]

She credits Cassirer with being able to have broken down the narrow limits of the rrationalist theory in a more adequate conceptual frame:

           “Der Mythos als Denkform, is the theme that rounds out the modern philosophical picture of human mentality to embrace psychology and anthropology and linguistics, which has broken down he narrow limits of rationalist  theory in a more adquate conceptual frame (i.e., the symbolic forms).”[97]

Cassirer’s approach to the same issue over irratinality vs. the rational is our modern philosophy, we admit, is no doubt superior to that adopted either by Freud or Bergson.  For both Freud and Bergson are victims to the pitfalls of dualism, still haunted by the primacy of the irrational over the rational, whereas Cassirer has adopted a far more balanced, broader, hence more adeqauate outlook whereby he is enabled to see the problem in the light of the “primary fusion in the symbolic” function of the mind.   Bergsoin is attempting to launch upon the same campaign, to fight the same battle, to break down the same “narrow limits of the rationalistic theory,” but less successfully because he fails to free himself from the dualistic trap, such as intuition vs. intellect, the immediate vs. the symbolic.  In Stephen C. Pepper’s later work Concept and Quality the opposition of intuition vs. Intellect is dissolved into a a dialectical unity by the very principle of fusion.  Intuition is reinterpreted in terms of “pre-rational,” and “post-rational”--culminating in the “trans-rational.”  It is simply the unifying principle of our ways of knowing.  And it is in this revised and broadened sense that intuition is declared by Pepper to be the “alpha and omega” of all knowledge and experience. Cassirer’s insight in this regard merges with Dewey’s and Pepper’s.  Bergson’s dualistic view of intuition as opposed to intellect should be revised, broadened, but not amistaken as “non-active, or non-spontaneous”; for this is unfair to the spirit of of Bergsonian philosophy as a whole.  Like Cassirer’s, the Bergsonian metaphysics of experience is a philosophy of culture; like Bergson’s, the Cassirerian philosophy of culture is a metaphysics of experience.  The uniting bond between them, and the common denominantor for both, is a philosophy of creation, with creativity as the ultimate category.  A call for the synthesis of both is made by Robert S. Hartman:

         “Bergson’s philosophy is based on the form of our inner experience, time; Cassirer’s is based on that of our experience, space.  Therefore the latter is led to the central notion of the symbol, which the former rejects; the former to that of metaphysics intuition which the latter rejects.  Cassirer’s philosophy can be understood in terms of the plastic arts; Bergson’s in terms of music.  A synthesis of both philosophies would be the true philosophy of symbolism.”[98]

And we may add, “Creative Symbolism” or “Symbolic Creativism.”  The notion of “the creative” is expressed for Cassirer by the term “the symbolic”; for Bergson by the term “the intuitive.”  Such a discrepency, terminological as is it is, can be easily rounded out, and what remains is the common ground o f creativity for both systems.  It is the spirit, not the statement (or letters), that counts, especially in the case of a philosophy like Bergson’s.  To call his intuition “not a mode of spontaneity” or “as in a state of hypnosis” is to miss the spirit for the sake of the statement.  It is the fallacy of “taking the finger for the moon,” as the Zen Buddhist calls it.

         (E) On Nietzsche--Just as Cassirer has little sympathy for Bergson, it can hardly be expected that he might have any more for Nietzsche, another arch enemy of intellectualism, but far more radical, powerful, and impulsive, and threatening.  Cassirer’s criticism of Nietzsche, again, betrays his love of consistency above insight and his lack of sympathy. He attacks upon the Nietzschean view of art can be boiled down to one point:  “We cannot integrate a structural whole (unity) our of amorphous elements.”  By this he means “the Dionysian and the Apollonian spirits.”  The whole argumentative power hinges upon whether these two elements are really amorphous.  Let us grant Nietzsche a hearing:

         In his early work The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche has maintained that the true spirit of Greek tragic art can be described as a aduet of two forces, the Dionysian and the Apollonian.  The force of Dionysus is counterbalnced by that of Apollo.

     “It is the same contrast as exists between the dream state and the state of intoxication.  Both these states release all manner of artistic powers from within us, but each unfetters powers of a different kind.  Dream gives us the power of vision, of association, of poetry; intoxication gives us the power of grand attitude, of passion, of song and dance. ...


     The further development of art is just as necessarily bound up with the antagoism of those two natural art-forces, as the further development of mankind is bound up with the antagonism of the sex.”[99]


On such a thesis of unity of duality in art-theory Cassirer comments:


     Even in this theory of its psychological origin one of the essential feature of art has disappeared.  For artistic inspiration is not intoxication, artistic imagination is not dream or hallucination.  Every great work of art is characterized by a deep structural unity.   We cannot account for this unity by reducing it to the two different states which, like the dream stte and the state of intoxication, are entirely diffused and disorganized.  We cannot integrate a structural whole out of amorphous elements.”[100]


Readers must be taken by surprise!  It is simply incredible that such a great philosopher of symbolic forms, such a great champion of symbolism in aesthetics and in culture, as Cassirer, should have failed to see that that terms like “Dionysian” and “Apollonian,” “dream state” and “state of intoxication” as used in the above context must be taken symbolically par excellence, never literally!  How can the dream state or the state of intoxication be treated as hallucination?  The most creative moment in the artistic persons can be legitimately likened to the state of intoxication.  Lives of great artists abound in witnesses in this regard.  Not only artistic inspiration is an intoxication, but intoxication of the highest order.  In Plato’s Ion (536 4) it is spoken of as a sort of being possessed or held, by the Muses, so to speak.  It is moment of seizure or ecstacy, or peak experience, as our modern psychologist calls it.  Nietzsche only uses such expressions as the Dionysian and the Apollonian, the dream state and the state of intoxication, etc. As metaphors to illustrate the artistically creative state of mind; it is a symbolic illustration.  The most obvious mistake, “bad shot,” that Cassirer has committed is his misjudgement that in Nietzsche’s theory one of  the essential features of art disappeared, namely, the deepest structural unity, hence his lamentation  over its disappearance!  We may well console Cassirer with the remark: It never disappears so long as the Apollonian spirit is stll alive and at work.  For what odes the Apollonian spirit symblize or stand for?-- if not the principle of restraint, of the rational, which is essential to any organized construction and which accounts for the “noble simkplicty and serene grandeur” of Greek art, as Lessing calls it.  Without this very moment of the Apollonian spirit, how could the Greek art of scupture, architecture, poetry, and the drama be possible?  “Dream” means “ideal” for the Greeks.  As Goethe observes, “Of all peoples the Greek have dreamt the dream of life best.”[101]And “ideal” is derived from “idoV” or “ideia meaning thereby “form” or ‘shaping pattern.”  It represents the formative tendency in all arts, andit is just virtue of such a tendency that the states of intoxication, “diffused and disorganized” (apparently so), are integrated into a structural whole.  Interpretations of the greatness of Greek art hitherto made, from Lessing to Wincklemann and Goethe, are all onesided until Nietzsche, who has suggested for the first time a far more balanced view by calling our attention to the Dionysian aspect as the motivating force for artistic creation.  The Greeks are passionate, active, adventurous, “to do their business is their only holiday.”  They were “parents of rationalism and of emotional worship.”  In this sense, they are “the epitome of human nature.”[102]

     The Apollonian and the Dionysian spirits are just symbols for two apparently antagonistic tendencies in human nature; the rational and the emotional. Nietzsche admits,


     “This antagonism of the Dionysian and of the Apollonian in the Greek soul is one of the great riddles which made me feel drawn to the essence of Hellenism.  At bottom, I troubled about nothing save the solution of the question, why precisely Greek Apollonianism should have been forced to grow out of a Dionysian soil?  The Dionysian Greek had need of being Apollonian: that is to say, in oder to break his will to the titanic, to the complex, to the uncertain, to the horrible by a will to measure, to simplicity, and to submission to rule and concept.”


Finally, he discovers the secret of the greatness of Hellenism lies precisely in  the interfusion, interpenetration, and perfect blending, of these two apparently antagonistic tendencies, upon which depends the production of great art just as upon the duality of sex depends the production of humankind.


     Cassirer charges this view by labelling the Apollonian and Dionysian elements as “amorphous”-- incapable of being integrated into a structural whol;e.  Yet he gives no further explanation as to why they must be so.  Such a charge is far from being fair or well grounded.  Has he bypassed the suggestive and illustrative metaphor of the “duality of sex” as Nietzsche gives?  Moreover, we have good reason to believe that his Freedom and Form parallel Nietzsche’s symbolic expression of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, which may be regarded as Cassirer’s Freedom and Form dramatized.  “These two different states,” as he mentions, are not sufficient ground their being “amorphous>‘  Otherwise, all  the so-called dialectical interplay or synthetic unity would have broken down.  No more can his Freedom and Form be integrated into a structural whole than Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian !  Where is the use of the principle of functional unity, then?


     In fact, Cassirer does not need to have criticized so much and so many of the other positons; he could have his own position art as symbolic forms well defended and well presented in a perfectly coherent and consistent manner without over-criticism.  Many of the insights discussed above, I am convinced, could be incoporated into his own system rather than excluded from it.  For instances, Aristotle on plot as the principle of organization and construction; Tolstoy on the purpose of art as improvement and perfection of humankind; Santayana on objectification of the feature of beauty and the ground of communicability fo aesthetic experience; Bergson on intuition as creative and spontaneous in character; and Nietzsche on union of the emotional and the rational (symbolized by the Dionysian and the Apollonian), etc.  Though a jade work does not lose all its intrinsic value despite some minor flaw, blemish, or tiny spots, the case study of Cassirer in relation to such figure listed above serves as a teaching lesson for us all: a lesson on the importance of “Never sacrifice insights to consistency,” or what amounts to the same, “Never commit the fallacy of the over-shots.”








           [1] Harry Slochower, “Cassirer’s Functional Approach to Art and Literature,” in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1967), p. 642.

[2] Enrst Cassirer, “Spirit and Life,” in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), op. cit., p. 870.



[3] Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New York and New Haven: Yale University

Press, 1966), p. 158.

[4] Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New York and New Haven: Yale University

Press, 1966), p. 158.


[5] Cf. Robert S. Hartman, “Philosophy of Symbolic Forms,” included in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Enrst Cassirer (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1958), p. 329.


[6] Charles W. Hendel, “Introduction,” Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), Vol. I, pp. 1-2.

[7] Immanuel Kant, “Preface to the Secobnd Edition of The Critique of Pure Reason,” tr. Max Müller, in  T. M. Greene (ed.), Kant Selections, (Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1957), p. 15.

[8] Hendel, op. cit., p. 3.

[9] Hendel, Ibid., p. 10.

[10] Hendel, Ibid., pp.14-15.

[11] T. M. Greene (ed.), Kant Selections, p. 103.

[12] Hendel, op. cit., pp. 19-20.

[13] Kant, The Critique of Judgement, T. M. Greene (ed.(, Kant Selections, p. 389.

[14] Dimitry Gawronsky. “Cassirer, His Life and His Work,” in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (New YorK: Tudor Publishing Co., 1967), p. 35

[15] Hendel, op. cit., p. 20.

[16] George Santayana, Three Philosophical Poets (New York: A Doubleday Book, 1964), p. 127.

[17] Ernst Cassirer, Kants Leben und Lehre, or Kant’s Life and Thought, tr. James Haden (New Haven: Yale University, 1981), p. 273.

[18] Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann (London: Everyman’s Library, 1951), p. 115.

[19] Ibid., p. 191.

[20] Ibid., p. 295-296.

[21] Hendel, op. cit., p. 31.

[22] Ibid., p. 32.

[23] Humphrey Trevelyan, Goethe and the Greeks (Cambridge University Press, 1942), p. 160.

[24] Ibid., p. 160.

[25] Ibid., p. 169.

[26] Ibid., p. 172.

[27] Hendel, op. cit.,  p.31. 

[28] Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann (New York:

M. Walter Dunne, Publisher, 199901), Edition of Universal Classic Library, p. 201.

[29] Matthew Arnold, Mixed Essays, Irish Essays and Others (New York: Macmillan Co., 1902), p. 217.

[30] Ibid., p. 225.

[31] Harry Slochower, op. cit., p. 647.

[32] Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 137.

[33] Ibid., p. 138.

[34] Ibid., p. 140.

[35] Ibid., p. 141.



[38] Ibid., p. 146.

[39] Ibid., p. 146.

[40] Ibid., p. 146.

[41] Ibid., p. 146.

[42] Ibid., p. 155.


[43] Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 147.

[44] Ibid., cited on p. 147.

           [45] Ibid., p.146.

           [46] Ibid., p. 146.

           [47] Ibid., p. 146.

           [48] Ibid.

           [49] Ibid.

           [50] Ibid.

           [51] Teddy Brunius, Inspiration and Katharsis--The Interpretation of Aristotle’s Poetics VI, 1499b 26 (Uppsala:  Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, 1966), p. 9.


           [52] Ibid., p. 149.

           [53] Ibid., p. 150.

           [54] Ibid., p. 149.

           [55] Ibid., p. 149.

           [56] Ibid., pp. 151-152.

           [57] Oscar Wilde, op. cit., p. 38, p. 40, p. 47-48.

           [58] Dimitry Gawronsky, “Cassirer, His Life and His Work,” in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), op. cit., p. 35.

           [59] Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 154.

           [60] Ibid., pp. 155-156.

           [61] Ibid., p. 157.

           [62] Ibid., p. 154.

           [63] Ibid., p. 155.

           [64] Ibid., p. 157.

           [65] Ibid., pp. 157-158.

           [66] cited in Ibid., p. 159.

           [67]Ibid., p. 159.

           [68] Ibid., p. 159.

[69] Ibid., p. 160.

           [70] Ibid., p. 161.

           [71] Henri Bergson, Time and Free  Will, p. 14, cited in Cassirer, op. cit., p. 161.

           [72] Ibid., p. 162.

           [73] Ibid., p. 163.

           [74] Ibid., p. 164.

           [75] Ibid., p. 167.

           [76] Ibid.

           [77] Ibid.,  p. 169.

           [78] Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (New York: The humanities Press, 1966), p. xxiii.

           [79] Cassirer, op. cit., p. 1.......

           [80] Ibid., p.1....

           [81] Ibid., p. 169.

           [82] Ibid., p. .....

           [83] Ibid., pp.147-148.

           [84] Ibid., p. 148.

           [85] Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), translated by Aylmer Maude in 1906, selected in Melvin Rader (ed.), A Modern book in Esthetics (New York: Holt, Tinehart and Winston, 1967), Third Edition, p. 65.

           [86] Cassirer, op. cit., p, 148.

           [87] Ibid., p. 169.

           [88] Ibid., p. 167.

           [89] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: ...),Critical Edition by Donald Sherburn and David Griffith, p. xii????

           [90] Ibid., p. 161.

           [91] Ibid.

           [92] Ibid., 67.

           [93] Cf. Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, p. 303.

           [94] Albert William Levi, Philospohy and the Modern World (New York:  Indiana University Press, 1967), p. 64.

           [95] Ibid., 392-393.

           [96] Ibid., pp. 398-399.

           [97] Ibid., p. 399.

           [98] Ibid., 328.

           [99] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, #798, 799.

           [100] Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 163.

           [101] Richard Livingstone, Greek Ideals and Modern Life (Oxford University press, 19...), p. 434.

           [102] Richard Livingstone, Greek Genius and Its Meaning to us (Oxford University Press, 19...), p. 32, p. 16.





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