Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2004
Thora Ilin Bayer
History As Symbolic Form
Cassirer and Vico
Cassirer counts history as a symbolic form in his list that includes myth, religion, language, art, and science, but his discussion of history is confined to a chapter in An Essay on Man. A more complete understanding requires attention to a year-long seminar he taught at Yale on “The Philosophy of History” in 1941–1942. The partially unpublished texts of this seminar are the most extended exposition of Cassirer’s conception of history as a symbolic form. The key source for Cassirer’s philosophy of history is Vico. Cassirer holds that “historical consciousness” is a very late product of human civilization not found before the Greeks and even with the Greeks history is not analyzed as a particular form of thought. Cassirer claims that such analysis did not appear until the eighteenth century in the work of Vico and Herder.