278 Pages
Gain access to the library to view online
Learn more

Ernst Cassirer and the Critical Science of Germany, 18991919


Gain access to the library to view online
Learn more
278 Pages


Reconstructing the relationship between science and politics in Imperial Germany, this book covers the early work of the philosopher and historian Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) and discusses his relation to the Marburg School of philosophy.

Recovering a lost world of the politics of science in Imperial Germany, Gregory B. Moynahan approaches the life and work of the philosopher and historian Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) from a revisionist perspective, using this framework to redefine the origins of twentieth-century critical historicism and critical theory. The only text in English to focus on the first half of the polymath Cassirer’s career and his role in the Marburg School, this volume illuminates one of the most important – and in English, least-studied – reform movements in Imperial Germany.

Acknowledgments; List of Abbreviations; Introduction: “Reading a Mute History”: Ernst Cassirer, the Marburg School and the Crises of Modern Germany; PART I: THE MARBURG SCHOOL AND THE POLITICS OF SCIENCE IN GERMANY: Chapter One: The Twentieth-Century Conflict of the Faculties: The Marburg School and the Reform of the Sciences; Chapter Two: Cassirer and the Marburg School in the Administrative and Political Context of the “Kaiserreich”; Chapter Three: “The Supreme Principles of Knowledge”: Cassirer’s Transformation of the Tenets of Cohen’s “Infinitesimal Method” (1882) and “System of Philosophy” (1902–1912); PART II: CRITICAL SCIENCE AND MODERNITY: Chapter Four: Leibniz and the Foundation of Critical Science: “Leibniz’s System in its Scientific Foundations” (1902); Chapter Five: Science and History in Cassirer’s “Substance and Function” (1910); PART III: LIBERAL DEMOCRACY AND LAW: Chapter Six: Liberalism and the Conflict of Forms: “The Knowledge Problem” (1906–1940) and “Freedom and Form” (1916); Chapter Seven: Law as Science and the “Coming-into-Being” of Natural Right in Cohen, Cassirer and Kelsen Conclusion Critical Science, the Future of Humanity and the Riddle of “An Essay on Man” (1944); Index



Published by
Published 15 July 2013
Reads 0
EAN13 9780857283436
Language English
Document size 1 MB

Legal information: rental price per page 0.008€. This information is given for information only in accordance with current legislation.


Ernst Cassirer and the Critical Science of Germany, 1899–1919
“The increasing interest in Cassirer makes this masterful work necessary reading.By putting Cassirer in the context of the project of the Marburg school and his relation to Leibniz, Moynahan brings out the depth and consistency in Cassirer’s political and social thought, as well as its relation to his technically demanding early philosophy. It will change the way social theorists draw on Cassirer.” —John Levi Martin, Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago
“Moynahan’s study offers deeply researched new insights on Cassirer’s philosophical development. Moynahan shows that Cassirer must be understood from the beginning of his career as an independent mind who combined deeprootedness in Marburg neoKantianism with the ability to theorize and reformulate innovations in the natural sciences at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cassirer’s philosophical writings up to the end of his life were defined by the same combination. By taking careful account of Cassirer’s early work, Moynahan’s work rehabilitates Cassirer as one of most import philosophers of the last 100 years.” —Thomas Meyer, LMU Munich, and author of “Ernst Cassirer: Eine Biographie”
“Gregory Moynahan has written an important book on a thinker whose voice we need to bring back into the conversation of critical theory. It is in Ernst Cassirer’s early works and connection with the challenging philosophy of his teacher Hermann Cohen, Moynahan demonstrates, that his relevance for contemporary debate is particularly evident. This erudite and wellargued text at once illuminates the pre–World War One reform project of the Marburg school and suggests its continued significance in Cassirer’s work.” —Drucilla Cornell, Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature,and Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
“The last decade has witnessed a second renaissance in the scholarship on the philosopher Ernst Cassirer. With its unusual emphasis on the oftenmisunderstood early phase of Cassirer’s development, Gregory Moynahan’s book is an original and stimulating contribution to the recent literature.” —Peter E. Gordon, Professor of History, Harvard University, andauthor of “Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos”
Ernst Cassirer and the Critical Science of Germany, 1899–1919
Gregory B. Moynahan
Anthem Press An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company www.anthempress.com
This edition first published in UK and USA 2013 by ANTHEM PRESS 75–76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK and 244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA
Copyright © Gregory B. Moynahan 2013
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library CataloguinginPublication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress CataloginginPublication Data Moynahan, Gregory B., 1966– Ernst Cassirer and the critical science of Germany : 1899–1919 / Gregory B. Moynahan. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 9780857283214 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Cassirer, Ernst, 1874–1945. 2. Marburg school of philosophy. 3. Science–Philosophy. 4. Science–Germany–History–20th century. I. Title. B3216.C34M69 2013 193–dc23 2013016572
ISBN13: 978 0 85728 321 4 (Hbk) ISBN10: 0 85728 321 9 (Hbk)
Cover illustration from Bruno Taut’sAlpine Architekture, 1919. Image provided courtesy of the Ryerson and Burnham Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago.
This title is also available as an eBook.
Dedicated with love to my parents Patricia Buchanan Moynahan and John Francis Moynahan
List of Abbreviations
Part I
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Part II
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Part III
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
“Reading a Mute History”: Ernst Cassirer, the Marburg School and the Crises of Modern Germany
The Marburg School and the Politics of Science in Germany
The TwentiethCentury Conflict of the Faculties: The Marburg School and the Reform of the Sciences
Cassirer and the Marburg School in the Administrative and Political Context of theKaiserreich
“The Supreme Principles of Knowledge”: Cassirer’s Transformation of the Tenets of Cohen’sInfinitesimal Method(1882) andPhilosophySystem of (1902–1912)
Critical Science and Modernity
Leibniz and the Foundation of Critical Science: Leibniz’s System in its Scientific Foundations(1902)
Science and History in Cassirer’sSubstance and Function(1910)
Liberal Democracy and Law
Liberalism and the Conflict of Forms:The Knowledge Problem(1906–1940) andFreedom and Form(1916)
Law as Science and the “ComingintoBeing” of Natural Right in Cohen, Cassirer and Kelsen
Critical Science, the Future of Humanity and the Riddle ofAn Essay on Man(1944)
The earliest inspiration for this book came from my first graduate advisor, Amos Funkenstein. Having asked him which texts should be on my reading examinations in early modern European history he mentioned a few titles and then paused and added, “…and everything by Ernst Cassirer.” When I noted that this entailed quite a bit of material for an exam that was only months away, he smiled and shrugged before limiting his recommendation to just theErkenntnisproblemseries and Cassirer’s historical trilogy from the Weimar period that ended with thePhilosophy of the Enlightenment.Sadly, soon after I left for archival research on a planned dissertation on early modern intellectual history, he died – suddenly, it seemed to his students and friends – after a short battle with lung cancer. Bereft of both an advisor and, I thought, a viable project without him, I chanced upon a further great teacher in John Michael Krois, at the Humboldt University, Berlin. Not surprisingly, the larger Cassirer reading plan was gradually revitalized. My passion for modern thought and indeed the problem of modernity, long developed in classes with Martin Jay at Berkeley, suddenly came to the fore. Thanks to Martin Jay’s gracefully agreeing to take me on as an advisee and John Krois’s local guidance, I was soon able to develop a workable dissertation project on the understanding of culture and “physiognomic immediacy” in Cassirer and Simmel. Martin Jay’s superb guidance on the dissertation from a position somewhat skeptical of Cassirer’s project was invaluable, and his particular combination of erudition and clarity remains for me unparalleled. Despite my indirect route, I thus ended upon having not just one but three of the best (and, as it turned out, most complementary) advisors any graduate student could wish for. If I can only occasionally do justice to their range of scholarship, I nonetheless always strive to bring their passion and curiosity to each moment of teaching and research. The present book developed from core questions left unanswered in my dissertation, which I realized could only be grasped by leaving Cassirer’s late work and returning to his earliest. Here too John Krois was of enormous assistance, and it was with great sadness that, soon after meeting with him in Berlin and providing an earlier version of this manuscript, I learned of his death. I am sure other friends and students will be familiar with his remarkable generosity of spirit and time, which always seemed all the more impressive given his prodigious and multifaceted academic endeavors. I was very fortunate to have several close readers of the present work, most notably early on my colleague Roger Berkowitz at Bard College and more recently Peter E. Gordon at Harvard University. Both read through the manuscript with remarkable care and insight, and their comments fundamentally changed the direction of the text. Thomas Meyer of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich generously read selections of the text with
his characteristic perceptiveness. The final chapter of this text benefited from discussion at the New York Area Seminar in Intellectual and Cultural History, where I would like to thank in particular Jerrold Siegel, Richard Wolin and Samuel Moyn for their comments. The same chapter appeared in the Festschrift for Martin Jay,The Modernist Imagination: Intellectual History and Critical Theory, and I am proud to do Martin Jay justice by now having a much more complete context in which it can be read. Of course, all shortcomings in the manuscript are my own. A number of friends from reading groups have taken part in developing the ideas presented here. At Berkeley, an informal reading group formed around Amos Funkenstein’s seminars and introduced me to a wide array of medieval and early modern thought, which was of great assistance in understanding Cassirer and the Marburg school. In retrospect these discussions with Julian Bourg, Dallas Denery, Carina Johnson, Isaac Miller, Michael Witmore and Jonathan Sheehan were a high point of my education – in my memory of them the fog is always dramatically rolling into San Francisco, the coffee perfect and Nicholas of Cusa is in the air. Also at Berkeley, Thomas Brady, Hans Sluga and Randolf Starn all provided invaluable assistance in developing earlier versions of the ideas presented here. Yehuda Elkana kindly shared his ideas on his own work on Cassirer over lunch in Berlin and noted, to my surprise, that my own projects were a logical development of my education since Amos Funkenstein “was a Cassireran” – both a concept and a categoryI had curiously never considered. At Bard College, a smaller writing group formed that was integral to the development of the present work, a collaboration with the ever insightful Laura Kunreuther and Julia Rosenbaum. I have further benefited from conversations with friends and colleagues at Bard including Thomas Bartscherer, Tabetha Ewing, Alice Stroup and Marina van Zuylen. Leon Botstein and David Kettler read selections from the manuscript and generously provided insight and references. Further friends who have been particularly helpful interlocutors over the years include Susan Bernofsky, Rita Chin, Lisa Cody, David Eng, Willfried Gessner, Jacqueline Goss, Haejeong Hazel Hahn, Galen Joseph, Janine Ludwig, Anne McKnight, John V. Maciuika, Elliot Neaman, Katherine Pence, Jing Tsu and Deborah Zafman. The research contained in this work is indebted to generous fellowships from the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst and the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung BundezkanzlerStipendium, the latter of which was kindly given for both the earlier dissertation and a second round of research for the present book. A sabbatical leave from Bard College was instrumental to completing this work. I benefited from the help of librarians at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, the Berlin State Library, the Humboldt University archives and the philosophy libraries at the Freie University and the Humboldt University. Particular thanks to Virginia Cassirer Veach, who graciously allowed me to visit her and peruse the remains of Ernst Cassirer’s library and the family photographs. I would like to thank the anonymous readers for Anthem Press as well as the earlier Martin JayModernist ImaginationFestschrift. At Anthem Press, I would particularly like to thank Brian Stone, Janka Romero, Tej P. S. Sood and my editor Rob Reddick.