International Conference – Humboldt Kolleg — “Cassirer’s Children” — Turin — February 8.-9. 2018

It is well know that Friedrich Nietzsche was decided not to have heirs or disciples. Ironically, he was one of the most influential thinkers in history. The history of philosophical thought is actually made up by legacies – sometimes also by kinship. This was the idea underlying the title of the intellectual historian Richard Wolin’s book “Heidegger’s Children”. The book, published in 2001 and reissued in 2015, meant this kinship provocatively and of course not in a biological sense. Following this provocation, a conference on the topic “Cassirer’s Children” has been organized in Turin on February 8 and 9, 2018 by Sebastian Luft, Professor of Philosophy at the Marquette University (Milwaukee), and Massimo Ferrari, Professor of the History of Philosophy in Turin University. The conference, financially supported by the Humboldt Foundation in the frame of its Alumni Program and organized in collaboration with the Philosophy Department of the University of Turin, offered Cassirer’s scholars from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, USA and Canada the opportunity to gather in Turin.

The speakers took seriously the provocation about the kinship. Many of them confronted the question about the different possibilities of describing the relationships of intellectuals and thinkers from the 20th Century with Ernst Cassirer: rebellious or “turbulent” children? Legitimate or not? Outspoken or “hidden” heirs? At the end a variegated portrait emerged, focusing on an important segment of 20th century philosophy not only from Germany but also from the USA, Italy and Japan.

As the title suggested, the conference aimed at reconstructing the influence exerted by Cassirer directly or indirectly. At the same time, the assumed personality-based criterion allows building a discipline-based map of the philosophical science in the 20th Century, in which Cassirer’s trails are detected. So, for instance, Rudolf Makkreel and Muriel Van Vliet explored the implications of Cassirer’s thought for aesthetics. More precisely, the first one investigated the meaning and function of arts, particularly of music, and their connection with myth and symbols, according the interpretation of Susanne Langer, an American philosopher 21 years younger than Cassirer, but strongly influenced – clearly acknowledged by her – by his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. The name of Langer appears also in the second paper, devoted to the “turbulent child” of art history, i.e. Edgar Wind, whose intuitions regarding the cognitive status of art and art history and the possible contamination between mathematics and art are sketched. Van Vliet’s conclusion is fruitful: «Who is the master, who is the pupil? Who is the son, who is the father? Cassirer, Panofsky and Warburg find with Wind a son who inspires them as much as he was inspired by them. Wind presented himself at the same time as a classic, as wise child and as an innovator, a turbulent child».

Following the discipline-based criterion it is possible to remark that anthropology attracted the attention of two other speakers. The anthropology of the American scholar and University Professor Clifford Geertz, who was influenced by Susanne Langer and Talcott Parsons, is in the center of Sebastian Luft’s talk. The paper was organized in a symmetrical way: if the first part elucidates Geertz’ understanding of anthropology in its proximity to philosophy, the second part, devoted to Cassirer’s position on anthropology, describes in detail the relationship between culture and nature but also the dangers and limits regarding the connection between experience and thought, culture and philosophy of culture. The conclusion at which the paper arrives is that the link between Cassirer’s philosophy and anthropology is to be depicted in the terms of a sibling relationship. A critical assessment about the philosophical anthropology of Hans Blumenberg in his “Auseinandersetzung” with Cassirer is delivered by Andrea Staiti. If, on the one hand, Enno Rudolph practices the reconstruction of intellectual relationships to Cassirer as an opportunity to provide an ambitious outline of the 20. Century philosophy – his reference names in his frame are Nelson Goodman, Pierre Bourdieu and Jürgen Habermas –, then Massimo Ferrari, on the other hand, detected the traces of Cassirer within the history of science and the development of scientific thought. On the basis of Cassirer’s monumental work on the Problem of Knowledge in modern science and philosophy and of Individuum and Kosmos in der Philosophie der Renaissance, the contributes and remarks of Émile Meyerson, Léon Brunschvicg, Edwin Arthur Burtt, Alexander Koyré, Raymond Klibansky and Paul Oskar Kristeller are taken into consideration and critically connected with each other. The history of science is at the core of two other papers as well, although they focus on the philosophy of one single thinker, Arthur Pap. David Stump identifies the “Neo-Kantian elements in Pap’s Philosophy”, while Thomas Mormann puts in connection Pap’ necessity and his functional A Priori with Cassirer’s critical determinism. In his view the intellectual link between Pap and Cassirer, both German and both emigrated to the USA, allows one to contrast the pessimistic assessment affirming that the clash between “the analytic” and “the continental tradition” has become irreconcilable.

From Germany to the USA – and beyond. The geographical extension of Cassirer’s influence is enriched by two other contributions. Saverio Ricci emphasized the implications of Cassirer’s understanding of culture and cultures for the Italian tradition of historiography and historical thought applied in philosophy. Reference point of his presentation is Eugenio Garin. Away from Europe, Steve Lofts presents Cassirer’s family in Japan. His detailed and well informed paper about “the influence of the Marburg’ School and Cassirer on the foundations of Japanese philosophy” gave the opportunity to make the acquaintance with a series of Japanese intellectuals and thinkers belonging to the Kyoto School and normally unknown or neglected by our West oriented studies.

In the end, the conference offered the chance to Cassirer’s scholars spread all over the world to meet each other, just at the moment when Cassirer’s philosophy and scholarship experience a rediscovery and a veritable renaissance.

Report by Elena Paola Carola Alessiato (Università degli Studi di Torino/University of Turin — Italy)

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