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THE WARBURG YEARS

(1919–1933)
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THE WARBURG YEARS
(1919–1933)

E S S AYS ON L AN G UAG E , ART, MY T H ,


A N D TE C H N OLOG Y

Ernst Cassirer

Translated and with an Introduction by


S. G. Lofts with A. Calcagno

New Haven and London


Published with assistance from the Ernst Cassirer Publications Fund,
and from the foundation established in memory of Philip Hamilton
McMillan of the Class of 1894, Yale College.

Copyright © 2013 by Yale University.


All rights reserved.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Cassirer, Ernst, 1874–1945.


[Essays. Selections. English]
The Warburg years (1919–1933) : essays on language, art, myth, and
technology / Ernst Cassirer ; translated and with an introduction by
S.G. Lofts with A. Calcagno.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-300-10819-4 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Philosophy,
German—20th century I. Title.
B3216.C32E5 2013
193—dc23 2013015801

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992


(Permanence of Paper).

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To John Michael Krois
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CONTENTS

TRANSLATORS’ INTRODUCTION ix

The Form of the Concept in Mythical Thinking (1922) 1

The Concept of Symbolic Form in the Construction of


the Human Sciences (1923) 72

The Kantian Elements in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s


Philosophy of Language (1923) 101

Language and Myth:


A Contribution to the Problem of the Names of the Gods (1924) 130

Eidos and Eidolon:


The Problem of Beauty and Art in the Dialogues of Plato (1924) 214

The Meaning of the Problem of Language for the Emergence


of Modern Philosophy (1927) 244

The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the


System of Philosophy (1927) 254

Form and Technology (1930) 272

Mythic, Aesthetic, and Theoretical Space (1931) 317

Language and the Construction of the World of Objects (1932) 334

GLOSSARY OF GERMAN TERMS 363


INDEX 377
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T R A N S L ATO R S ’ I N T RO D U C T I O N

The initial impetus for this collection of essays by Ernst Cassirer was
provided by the enthusiastic encouragement of John Michael Krois, to
whom the volume is dedicated. Initially assisting with the selection of
essays to be included here, Professor Krois was very generous with his
time and knowledge of Cassirer’s philosophy throughout the manu-
script’s preparation. All of the translations have benefited from discus-
sions with him over the years about Cassirer’s philosophy and technical
vocabulary, the challenges of rendering Cassirer’s thought into contem-
porary English, and how Cassirer himself might have wanted his work
to be translated. Krois worked extensively on the translation of “Form
and Technology” and made numerous suggestions for the revision of his
own translation of “The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the
System of Philosophy.” It is characteristic of him that he insisted we
should feel free to retranslate this essay. As he often asserted, a transla-
tion is a form of interpretation, and there is nothing wrong with having
different interpretations of a text as rich as Cassirer’s. Krois recognized
the need for a single volume of Cassirer’s most important essays, a vol-
ume that would form a sort of Darstellung (a presentation and exhibition)
of his work and thought. All of these essays were written between 1921
and 1932, the most productive period of Cassirer’s career, while he was
at the University of Hamburg and worked in close collaboration with
the members of the Warburg Library for the Science of Culture.
After completing his doctoral studies with Herman Cohen in Marburg,
ix
x TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
Cassirer moved to Berlin in 1906. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of
Berlin undoubtedly played a formative role in the development of his
philosophy of symbolic forms; at the time, Berlin was one of the main
cultural and intellectual centers of Europe, and through his family and
friends, Cassirer was introduced to various cultural worlds, in particular
the worlds of art, music, and literature, as well as the worlds of science,
economics, and politics. It was in this context that Cassirer began to
work on his philosophy of symbolic forms as a transcendental critique
of culture. Unable to secure a permanent university post in Berlin, he
taught as a Privatdozent at the University of Berlin from 1906 to 1919.
After World War I, two new universities were created in Germany: one
in Hamburg, the other in Frankfurt. Wanting to establish themselves,
both immediately offered a position to what must have been the most
famous Privatdozent in all of Germany, for by 1919 Cassirer had already
acquired a considerable reputation as one of the leading thinkers of his
generation. By 1920, he had completed a new critical edition of Kant
and had published numerous essays and seven monographs. Cassirer’s
first book, Leibnizs System in seinen wissenschaftlichen Grundlagen (1902), had
won second place in the prestigious competition of the Berlin Academy
(it is worth noting that no first prize was awarded that year). In 1906 and
1907, the first two volumes of his classic history of the problem of knowl-
edge in philosophy and science appeared, and the third volume followed
in 1920. It was perhaps the appearance of Substance and Function in 1910,
however, that brought the most renown to Cassirer as a thinker in his
own right.
Cassirer fortuitously accepted the offer from the University of Ham-
burg. Where Berlin had been the ideal location for the inception of the
project of the philosophy of symbolic forms, Hamburg, in particular the
Warburg Library for the Science of Culture, would prove to be the ideal
environment for its realization. While Cassirer’s work was conceptually
well advanced when he arrived in Hamburg, there remained a consider-
able amount of concrete research to be done. As destiny would have it,
not only did the Warburg Library contain the material on art, myth, and
language that would be indispensable for Cassirer’s research, its concep-
tual organization embodied the ideal of a manifold view of culture and
meaning that Cassirer was developing philosophically. It is well known
that upon entering the library for the first time, Cassirer was immediately
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xi
able to grasp the organizing principles of its seemingly unorthodox sys-
tem of classification. More than the wealth of information contained in
the Warburg collection, Cassirer encountered there new colleagues who
were engaged in related spheres of research, all of them pioneers in
their fields. To mention only a few, the art historians Fritz Saxl (the direc-
tor of the library), Aby Warburg (whose name the library bore), Erwin
Panofksy, and Edgar Wind were there. At the University of Hamburg,
Cassirer began to work with psychologists such as William Stern, Heinz
Werner, Kurt Lewin, and Wolfgang Köhler, as well as with the linguist
Carl Meinhof and the theoretical biologist Johann Jakob von Uexküll.
The essays in this volume bear witness to the intense collaboration and
fruitful exchange that took place between Cassirer and these thinkers,
both in terms of the content of the material used by Cassirer and in
terms of the conceptual problems addressed. Clearly, this collaboration
was thoroughly interdisciplinary and entirely reciprocal. Cassirer insisted
on the importance of this convergence and synergy between the differ-
ent scientific spheres, on the mutual interpretation of psychology, his-
tory, linguistics, natural science, and philosophy. Throughout these essays,
he not only employed material from these other domains to illustrate
his own theory but let his own thought be informed and transformed by
this engagement. We encounter in these essays the ethos and objective
expression of the collective life of the mind seeking to understand the
globus intellectualis. Cassirer never engaged in mere polemics, neither in
his encounter with other intellectual domains nor in his treatment of the
tradition of philosophy. Indeed, in his critical treatment of Heidegger’s
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, he declared that the dogmatic game of
pitting one “point of view” against another was a type of unthoughtful
“philosophical dispute” that he found “most unpleasant and most un-
profitable.” Rather, for him, “what should be striven after in every philo-
sophical encounter [Auseinandersetzung] and what must be attainable in some
sense, is that the extreme opposites learn to see themselves correctly and that
they try to understand themselves precisely in this polar dichotomy
[Gegensätzlichkeit].”1 Cassirer’s interdisciplinary approach in these essays

1. Ernst Cassirer, “Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics: Remarks on


Martin Heidegger’s Interpretation of Kant,” in Kant: Disputed Questions, tr. and ed.
M. S. Gram (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), 156; Aufsätze und kleine Schriften
xii TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
sets a standard for the most productive critical engagement in the human
sciences, an engagement that determines their belonging together, in
and through the differences between each of them, which makes up the
unity of the globus intellectualis.
Thus, for example, Cassirer worked closely with Panofsky. We can see
the mutual benefit of this collaboration in Cassirer’s own work as well as
in Panofsky’s, as is evidenced by the title of Panofsky’s well-known work
Perspective as Symbolic Form, which is one of the most important works of
modern art history and the philosophical discussion on the topic of per-
spective in the twentieth century. Following Cassirer, Panofsky developed
his own theory of perspective through the expression of a “will to form,”
an expression almost certainly borrowed from Cassirer, as a schema link-
ing the social, cognitive, psychological, and technical practices of culture
into an integrated whole. Panofsky’s essay of 1924, “Idea: A Concept of
Art Theory,” was both inspired by and a direct response to Cassirer’s
1924 lecture, “Eidos and Eidolon,” which appears in this collection.
We see this synergy too in the active collaboration between Cassirer
and Stern and Werner, whose work on the psychology of language, in
particular Stern’s work on language and children, figured prominently
in Cassirer’s writing of this period. Together these three organized the
twelfth congress of the German Society of Psychology, which took place
in Hamburg in 1931. Cassirer’s contribution to this conference, “Lan-
guage and the Structure of the World of Objects” which was published
in 1932, is included here. Werner’s work clearly reflects the influence of
his engagement with Cassirer on his own thought. Through the 1920s,
Werner became increasingly focused on the inner dynamic of the lived
process of forming a figure (Gestalt) and on determining the general laws
of structures and gestalts. Werner’s empirical and experimental works
focused on the microgenesis of structures and gestalt systems that stand
at the heart of Cassirer’s theory of culture and symbolic configuration
(Gestaltung). Even a quick glance at Werner’s Introduction to Developmental
Psychology (1926) reveals the important impact of his interaction with
Cassirer on his thought. For example, it is not difficult to appreciate the

(1927–1931), in Gesammelte Werke: Hamburger Ausgabe, vol. 17, ed. Birgit Recki
(Hamburg: Meiner, 2004), 250.
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xiii
interconnection between Cassirer’s work on expressive meaning and
metaphor and Werner’s work on the origins of metaphor and lyric.
Finally, the influence on Cassirer of Uexküll’s theoretical biology, in
particular Uexküll’s theory of the Bauplan (structural blueprint) and Um-
welt (environmental surrounding world), cannot be overstated. Cassirer
attended Uexküll’s lectures and engaged in many long discussions with
him, and we again see how Cassirer took his lead from another domain
and formed his view of human culture in coordination with it—in this
case, with Uexküll’s view that every animal lives in its own “world of sig-
nification” (Bedeutungswelt).
It was during the 1920s that Cassirer published his three volumes of
the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. The first volume, published in 1923, fo-
cused on language. Its introduction functions as a general introduction
to the whole project of the “critique of culture.” The second volume,
published in 1925, turned to an analysis of mythical and religious
thought. The third volume, entitled “Phenomenology of Knowledge,”
sought to establish the process by which knowledge arises out of the
concrete, lived-effective-action sphere of pure expression and develops
through the presentation function to the level of pure signification in
scientific concepts. In the introduction to volume 3, it becomes clear that
Cassirer had begun to engage Lebensphilosophie, which included, for Cas-
sirer, the work of such philosophers as Bergson, Simmel, Dilthey, and
Heidegger. Once again, Cassirer did not merely reject or conduct a
dogmatic polemic with Lebensphilosophie. Rather, true to his ethos, he
engaged these philosophers in an Auseinandersetzung—an intellectual de-
bate through which he continued to form his own position. This is not
the place to enter into a discussion of the nuanced position Cassirer took
vis-à-vis Lebensphilosophie. In the end, the final section of the third vol-
ume, which was to explicitly treat the relationship between the philoso-
phy of symbolic forms and the fundamental tenets of Lebensphilosophie,
was never completed. In short, as Cassirer wrote in the introduction to
volume 3, “life cannot apprehend itself by remaining absolutely within it-
self. It must give itself form; for it is precisely by this ‘otherness’ of form
that it gains its ‘visibility,’ if not its reality.”2

2. Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 3, The Phenomenology of


Knowledge, tr. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 39. For
xiv TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
The essays in this collection provide more concise and often more
pointed statements of Cassirer’s philosophical position than are con-
tained in the three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, which ex-
ceeds twelve hundred pages in the German edition. In “The Kantian
Elements in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Philosophy of Language” (1923),
“The Meaning of the Problem of Language for the Emergence of Mod-
ern Philosophy” (1927), and “Language and the Construction of the
World of Objects” (1932), Cassirer presents the core tenets of his under-
standing of language and its relationship to both reality and thought.
For Cassirer, language is not referential; it does not refer or point to a
preexisting autonomous existence but rather is constitutive in the con-
struction of thought and therefore in the differentiation of thought and
being. In “The Form of the Concept in Mythical Thinking” (1922) and
“Mythic, Aesthetic, and Theoretical Space” (1931), Cassirer touches upon
mythical thought as a sphere of ritualized, pure, lived effective action
that is structured according to the configuring power of the meaning of
words and images.
In this context, the reader should also consult the much needed new
translation of “Language and Myth: A Contribution to the Problem of
the Names of the Gods” (1924). Together, these essays provide a compre-
hensive overview of Cassirer’s theory of language and myth and of their
mutual relationship in the configuration of the world of external objects
and the constitution of the inner life of the subject. In “The Concept
of Symbolic Form in the Construction of the Human Sciences” (1923)
and “The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the System of Phi-
losophy” (1927), Cassirer focuses on the key elements of his philosophi-
cal project—the symbolic and how it can be used as a framework for
understanding the different modes of meaning without according domi-
nance to any particular mode of meaning. What is more, in the latter
work, Cassirer provides a discussion of the new framework that ap-
peared in the third volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, namely, the
distinction between expression, the presentational function, and pure
signification. In the three volumes of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Cas-

a more detailed discussion of Cassirer’s encounter with Lebensphilosophie, see


translator’s introduction to Cassirer, The Logic of the Cultural Sciences: Five Studies,
tr. S. G. Lofts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), xxxivff.
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xv
sirer often mentioned art and technology without explicitly dealing with
them.
In “Eidos and Eidolon: The Problem of Beauty and Art in the Dia-
logues of Plato” (1924), Cassirer provides a sensitive and corrective read-
ing of Plato’s Cratylus in order to establish an interpretation of Platonic
form that is at once intimately connected to meaning but also transcends
the view of language as simply referential. Here, Cassirer goes to the
core of both Plato’s and his own theory of the image. Finally, “Form and
Technology” (1930) is fascinating for a number of reasons. In turning to
an analysis of technology, Cassirer not only engaged the position of Le-
bensphilosophie but at the same time moved from an analysis of transcen-
dental forms and structures to an analysis of his contemporary world.
Cassirer’s engagement with Lebensphilosophie began before the publica-
tion of Being and Time (1927); Bergson and Simmel rather than Heidegger
figure most prominently in the opening pages of the third volume of the
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Cassirer delayed the publication of the volume,
however, so that he could read the newly published work by Heidegger
and insert footnotes to indicate where his own project and Heidegger’s
connected. Furthermore, in 1929, Cassirer and Heidegger met in the now
famous Devos debate. In the three essays written after 1927, Cassirer’s
language began to incorporate the language of Lebensphilosophie—in par-
ticular, Heidegger’s language.
By the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, Cassirer had
reached the pinnacle of his academic career in Germany. In 1928, a
struggle broke out between the University of Frankfurt, which wanted to
lure him there, and the University of Hamburg, which evidently wanted
to keep him. He ultimately remained in Hamburg, and the following
year he was elected the first Jewish rector of a German university. When
one considers the political and social climate of the time, this remarkable
fact clearly demonstrates the high esteem in which Cassirer was held.
His heavy duties as rector did not hinder his own work, and in 1931 he
published two new books, The Case of Jacques Rousseau and the Platonic
Renaissance in England. He spent the summer of 1931 in the Bibliothèque
Nationale de Paris, where he worked on his famous study The Philosophy
of the Enlightenment, which was published the subsequent year.
On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany,
and the Cassirers, like so many other German intellectuals of Jewish
xvi TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
origin, prepared themselves for a life in exile. Quick to understand the
likely significance of the events that followed Hitler’s coming to power,
Cassirer immediately requested a leave of absence for the next academic
year. By March, he and his wife had left Hamburg, and by July (a mere
five months later), the University of Hamburg—the same university that
only a few years earlier had fought so hard to keep him and had then
made him rector—officially informed Cassirer that he had been “re-
tired” from his post.
The last twelve years of Cassirer’s life were spent in exile: first at All
Souls College at Oxford (1933–1935); then at the University of Göteborg
in Sweden (1935–1941); and finally, from 1941 until Cassirer’s death in
1945, in the United States. During this period, Cassirer continued to write:
The Logic of the Cultural Sciences (1942) and the fourth volume of the Prob-
lem of Knowledge (1950) were written in Sweden shortly after the outbreak
of World War II. These two works were very important to Cassirer, as
they represented his initial response to the madness that surrounded
him. In many ways, the writing of The Logic of the Cultural Sciences was a
political act of resistance for Cassirer. While Lebensphilosophie had not
brought about the war, it had, as Cassirer states in The Myth of the State
(1946), weakened those critical forces that checked the violent power
(Gewalt) of mythical consciousness. In the urgency of the moment, he
provides his final critical response to Lebensphilosophie by establishing the
foundation not only of his own philosophy of symbolic forms but of all
the human sciences, in the ethical relationship between the I and the
you. In Mein Leben mit Ernst Cassirer, Cassirer’s wife, Toni, provided an
account of the summer of 1940, when Cassirer sat down to write The
Logic of the Cultural Sciences:
In these weeks, everything that could happen politically happened,
except that which was expected. Holland, Belgium were overrun,
France had been conquered, and only Sweden escaped. . . . We no
longer wondered at the shortsightedness of anyone; but to the
horrible idea of the subjugation of the Western countries, for us
was added the thought that all the German fugitives, who had
been victims of political or religious persecution, had now come
under Hitler’s power. In this situation, Ernst suddenly decided to
undertake a new work [eine neue Arbeit]. In the morning he took a
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xvii
walk with me and told me about what he was working on, and that
this new work actually signified the fourth volume of the symbolic
forms.3
While in America, Cassirer penned two final monographs: An Essay
on Man (1944) and The Myth of the State (1946). Both works are marked by
the urgency of the times—by the “crisis in man’s knowledge of himself,”
as Cassirer put it in An Essay on Man, and by the realization that “human
culture is by no means the firmly established thing that we once sup-
posed it to be,” as he stated in The Myth of the State.
The essays contained in this volume give us a window onto Cassirer’s
discovery of the symbolic nature of human existence—the fact that our
entire emotional and intellectual life is configured and formed through
the originary expressive power of the word and the image, that it is in
and through symbolic cultural systems that life realizes itself and attains
not only its form, its visibility, but also its reality. It is through the system
of symbolic forms that thought and being are set apart in the strife of
their belonging together in opposition. At the core of this symbolic strife
of thought and being, this Auseinandersetzung, as Cassirer calls it, is found
the relationship of the self to the other. Here, too, the word and the image
do not mediate two autonomous subjects; rather, it is only in and through
them that the I and the you are first distinguished as separate and formed
in their belonging together in opposition. In and through the Auseinander-
setzung there occurs a genuine and mutual cor-respondence between being
and thought, between the I and the you.
Cassirer develops a theory of the symbolic forms of culture and a
philosophical anthropology of the symbolic animal who is both the prod-
uct and the creator of these symbolic systems. At the same time, he gives
this theory flesh in the wealth of material provided by anthropology,
psychology, history, and linguistics. Knowledge, however, does not nec-
essarily lead to enlightenment, to the liberation of the rational-ethical
will from the emotive ritual of lived mythical life. Indeed, once the im-
portance of the function of the word and the image for the emotional
and intellectual life of human beings is understood, does it not become

3. Toni Cassirer, Mein Leben mit Ernst Cassirer (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981),
269–71. All translations in this volume are our own unless otherwise indicated.
xviii TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
possible to engineer this human life, to enter into what the Frankfurt
School called the “culture industry,” or what Cassirer, in his analysis of
the discourse of Nazism in The Myth of the State, called the “technology
of myth”? Is not rationalism itself just another discourse, another myth?
Cassirer would say no. Pointing back to the works in this volume, he
would show that there remains a fundamental difference between the
life of the mind and the life of emotion, that while myth levels down,
there is always a renewed opening, that the forces of critical reason al-
ways counterbalance the forces of myth in the endless strife that consti-
tutes the drama of human existence.

T R A N S L ATO R S ’ N OT E S AND REMARKS ON C A S S I R E R ’ S L A N G UAG E


At the beginning of each essay is a footnote within brackets indicating
the bibliographical information for the original publication of the essay
and, where applicable, the source of the edition from which the transla-
tion has been made. All footnotes that appear within brackets are trans-
lators’ notes that we have provided. The original pagination of the Ger-
man edition is found in the margins of each translation. Because most
readers do not have access to many of the original publications or to the
volumes of the Gesammelte Werke: Hamburger Ausgabe, eight of the nine es-
says have been translated from one or the other of three widely accessible
collections of Cassirer’s works: Wesen und Wirkung, Symbol, Technik, Sprache:
Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1927–1937, and Ernst Cassirer: Geist und Leben Schriften.
Only “Eidos und Eidolon” has been translated from the original, as pub-
lished by the Warburg Library. We have, however, checked to ensure that
there are no substantial differences between these editions and the origi-
nal publications. “The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the Sys-
tem of Philosophy” is a revised version of the original translation by
John Michael Krois. “Myth, Aesthetic, and Theoretical Space” is also a
revised translation, of the original English translation by Donald Phillip
Verene and Lerke Forster. Finally, “Form and Technology” is the result
of a team effort by Lofts, Calcagno, Krois, and Wilson Dunlavey. We
would like to thank both Krois and Dunlavey for their work and all of
their suggestions, which benefited not only “Form and Technology” but
the entire volume.
We have sought to strike a balance between closely reflecting the orig-
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xix
inal German and producing a readable text in contemporary English.
Cassirer writes in a clear, elegant, precise, and poetic German. It is,
however, the German of a certain epoch, and thus many of its stylistic
norms do not always translate well into contemporary English linguistic
and literary sensibilities. We have attempted to mitigate this wherever
possible but have, at the same time, wanted to preserve the original feel
of Cassirer’s voice and style of expression. For example, Cassirer has a
tendency to construct lengthy sentences and employ extraordinarily long
paragraph structures. When these are preserved in English translation,
the text appears unnecessarily complex and dense to the contemporary
reader no longer accustomed to such stylistic devices. In some cases, this
has required the introduction of sentence and paragraph breaks where
they seemed logical.
Beyond the typical challenges encountered in undertaking any trans-
lation, several are particularly acute in the case of Cassirer’s work, and
these merit discussion. Cassirer clearly enjoyed writing and took a play-
ful approach to language. Sometimes this playfulness is important in
bringing out the subtleties of what he is trying to articulate, sometimes it
is just playfulness for its own sake. In “Form and Technology,” for ex-
ample, he refers to the “accusations,” “laments,” and “complaints” made
by philosophers against modern technology, and cites Ludwig Klages as
a case in point. What is lost in translation is the wordplay between the
German word Klage, which means accusation, lament, complaint, and the
proper name Klages. There are too many such instances of wordplay to
be able to indicate them all to the English-speaking reader. We have in-
cluded the German where this wordplay introduces conceptual nuances
that are essential to the meaning of the text but cannot be rendered into
English.
A more important challenge concerns Cassirer’s technical vocabu-
lary, or perhaps more to the point, his adoption and transformation of
the technical vocabulary of other philosophers combined with a tradi-
tion of translation of these authors. In some cases, this is relatively
straightforward; in other cases, it is not. Cassirer often reminds us that
language is not a static entity that can be passed along from one person
to the next without being formed in the process, like a coin at the market
whose value and meaning do not change when it passes from the hand
of a buyer to that of a merchant. Rather, language exists only in its use,
xx TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
and we can use it only by forming it, by working on and transforming it,
thus imprinting it with a new sense. Cassirer uses the language of other
philosophers but imprints it with new meaning. The challenge is to
translate his usage so as to be faithful to the meaning he imprints on the
term, while at the same time providing the reader with the link to the
philosophers whose language he is transmitting to the reader. In Ger-
man, Cassirer’s text resonates with the echoes of the voices of various
authors, and even different epochs of thought, which creates a dialogue
in his texts. And more often than not, Cassirer’s infusion brings together
diametrically opposite views as belonging together in the strife of their
opposition that essentially defines their unique meaning—the dissident
voices of the tradition form a harmony in Cassirer’s thought. Where and
when Cassirer appears to employ a term in a technical sense, we have
used the translations found in the glossary at the end of this volume.
This is not the place to undertake an extensive analysis of Cassirer’s
technical language. Nevertheless, a few comments about Cassirer’s tech-
nical vocabulary are appropriate.
There is, of course, a great deal of Kantian language to be found in
Cassirer’s work. While many of Kant’s technical terms have received
standardized translations, it is important to keep in mind what is hap-
pening in the original German. The English translation of Anschauung as
“intuition” does not capture the sense of “viewing” or “just looking at”
that is found in An-schau-ung. Literally, the word means “something that
shows itself to us,” stemming from the noun Schau, from the verb schauen
(to look), which means “to show” or “exhibit.” The English term “intu-
ition,” while having the sense of an immediate apprehension of the senses,
nevertheless suggests the scholastic meaning of immediate knowledge,
which is foreign to the German word Anschauung. The German captures
the double move of something showing itself to us and something we see
because it shows itself to us. In “Eidos and Eidolon,” for example, Cassirer
often uses the term Schau in such a way as to play off the double meaning
of “showing” and “vision.”
Kant’s use of Vorstellung and Darstellung are typically translated as “rep-
resentation” and “presentation,” respectively. Both words are constructed
from the verb stellen (to set or place, to make something stand). Hence the
importance of Cassirer’s use of hinstellen (to set out), Hinstellung ( positing),
and setzen (to set) throughout the texts collected here. Vor-Stellung, there-
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxi
fore, is a setting or placing “before” or “in front” (Vor-). Thus, for exam-
ple, one can make a Vorstellung in the sense of an introduction, in which
one person or thing is presented to another—is set or placed before an-
other. The reflexive verb form, sich vorstellen, means “to represent or
imagine something,” “to set or place something before the mind’s eye”—
hence, Vorstellung can sometimes be translated as “idea,” though this risks
the danger of being confused with the German Idee. Wherever Cassirer
employs the term Idee the original German is included in parentheses.
Finally, by “representation” neither Kant nor Cassirer means something
like an image that re-presents some other fundamental presentation—
this would be closer to Repräsentation. The term Darstellung means the “set-
ting or placing Da” (there/here); it is the presentation or exhibition of
something concretely given in a specific instance. Whereas a representa-
tion (Vorstellung) places the emphasis on something that stands before the
mind or can be seen with the mind’s eye, a presentation or exhibition
(Darstellung) is a concrete object that exhibits itself to us. The former em-
phasizes the priority of the mind’s eye to see, and the latter privileges a
particular object’s exhibiting of itself before the mind’s eye. Darstellung,
for Kant, is the “being given”: “That an object be given (if this expression
is taken, not as referring to some merely mediate process, but as signify-
ing immediate presentation [Darstellung] in intuition), means simply that
the representation [Vorstellung] through which the object is thought is re-
lated to actual or possible experience” (Critique of Pure Reason, B 195). The
concept is the rule of synthesis by which an object is thought via a repre-
sentation, that is, that which sets before thought. The concept, however,
must be exhibited (dargestellt) immediately in concreto, in a presentation in
pure intuition in order for knowledge (Erkenntnis) to occur; the Darstellung
is thus a concept made sensible.
As a rule of synthesis, the concept “sets out” (hinstellen) and “sets”
(setzen) the differences that are “grasped together” (zusammenfassen) as a
“combination” (Zusammenfassung) of elements that as “interconnected”
form the “coherent” unity of a being. In the translations of Kant, Zusam-
menfassung is translated as “comprehension” and contrasted with “ap-
prehension” (Auffassung). Etymologically, comprehension goes back to
the Latin comprehendere, which signifies a seizing or comprising. The prefix
“com” suggests the state of being together, together with, or in combina-
tion or union. “Comprehension,” however, does not get to what Cassirer
xxii TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
means when he employs the term Zusammenfassung. We have thus elected
to translate it as “combination.” Related to this is the term Zusammenhang,
which literally means to hang together. The elements of a combination
(Zusammenfassung) hang together as a unified whole. To emphasize the
belonging together of the elements, we have translated Zusammenhang
as “coherence” or “interconnection,” depending upon the context. This
permits us, following the standard translation of Kant, to reserve “con-
nection” for Verknüpfung, “combination” for Verbindung, and “bond” for
Bindung. In order for the reader to distinguish Zusammenfassung from
Verbindung, we have added the German in parentheses wherever Cassirer
employs the term Zusammenfassung. In this context, Cassirer on occasion
employs the term Fügung, for which there is no ideal translation. From
the verb fügen, “to join” but also “to ordain,” Fügung is thus both a “join-
ing” and a “destiny.” In both cases there is a fitting together, a coinci-
dence, of the part in the whole. Hence, we have elected to translate Fü-
gung with “coincidence,” recognizing that it is not ideal.
The term Erkenntnis can be rendered as either “knowledge” or “cogni-
tion.” The Norman Kemp Smith translation of the Critique of Pure Reason
employs “knowledge,” whereas the translators of the new Cambridge
Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant have elected for “cognition.”
The root word kennen means to know or to recognize. The prefix er-
intensifies the action and preserves its active nature—Erkenntnis captures
the dynamic active process of knowledge or cognition. Moreover, it is
important to distinguish between Erkenntnis and Wissen. Erkenntnis is the
process of acquiring Wissen (knowledge). As such, Wissen is a mode of
Erkenntnis as well as the achievement of the process of knowing (erkennen),
but one can have other modes of Erkenntnis; for example, pure intuition
is a form of cognition because cognition is a representation as such (Vor-
stellung überhaupt), and the manifold of intuition consists of representa-
tions. Rendering Erkenntnis always as “cognition,” however, risks confus-
ing Cassirer’s use of the term “cognition” with contemporary cognitive
science’s use of the term, which suggests an almost exclusively neuro-
logical or physiological basis for cognition. Thus, with only a few excep-
tions, we have elected to translate Erkenntnis by “knowledge” and to in-
dicate where Cassirer employs the term Wissen to indicate a mode of
knowing or Erkenntnis.
Corresponding or parallel to these two modes of knowing (Erkenntnis
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxiii
and Wissen) are two modes of understanding, Verstehen and Verstand. When
Cassirer speaks along with Kant of the faculty of the understanding
(Verstand ), he speaks of a mode of intellectual thought that can situate
objects (Gegenständen) in their correct order according to the application
of a rule, plan, or ratio of order—an intelligible lawfulness. This mode of
understanding is therefore the understanding of scientific reason. When
Cassier speaks, along with Dilthey, of understanding as Verstehen, he
speaks of the lived awareness of intelligibility (Verständlichkeit) that more
often than not involves a concrete mode of doing and being. Verstand
pertains to an understanding of the object, whereas Verstehen invokes the
apprehension of an insight concerning the object’s application or use.
Thus we say that we understand (verstehen) some historical or social event,
such as 9/11, or how to use a particular tool, such as a computer, but,
at the same time, we do not understand (verstanden) them in their entirety,
that is, we cannot explain them by situating them in a rational context
that accounts for them. Hence, Verstehen involves a hermeneutics of
praxis that is foreign to Verstand. Cassirer, however, often uses Verstehen in
a nontechnical sense. When it is important to understand that he is
employing Verstehen in a technical sense, we have added the German in
parentheses.
The two modes of understanding (intellectual and lived praxis) cor-
respond to two modes of experience: Erfahrung, which we translate simply
as “experience,” and Erlebnis, which we translate as “lived-experience.”
Erfahrung comes from the verb fahren, “to travel through,” literally a
“going forth,” which evokes an encounter with something external. Er-
lebnis, by contrast, is derived from the verb leben, “to live,” and suggests
the inner experience of living through a certain state, such as the feeling
of fear or joy: one lives through the experience again in one’s own mind.
Kant and Hegel speak essentially of Erfahrung, whereas a series of phi-
losophers associated with the Lebensphilosophie movement, such as Bergson,
Simmel, and Dilthey, privilege Erlebnis as an authentic, more primordial
experience over the reified common-object experience (Erfahrung) of con-
sciousness and science. If science speaks of our experience of the world,
the distinction between Erfahrung and Erlebnis marks the distinction be-
tween natural science and the human sciences.
Tangentially connected to the above-mentioned differences between
modes of knowing, understanding, and experience, is a difference in the
xxiv TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
description of modes of action. Again, distinctions risk being lost in
translation; notions as different as effective action (wirken), doing (Tun),
activity (Tätigkeit), action (Handlung), and act (Akt) can all be rendered as
act, action, or activity. Cassirer was acutely aware of the different and
shifting meanings of these words as they were used by the principal
thinkers of German Idealism, including Kant, Hegel, and Fichte; but
also by Marx and Lebensphilosophie, in which the relationship between
thought and praxis is reversed from the traditional primacy of thought
over praxis. For Cassirer, though, each word that describes an act or an
action may have a particular nuance attached to it, as, for example,
when he employs the words wirken, Wirkung, wirklich, Werk, and Wirklich-
keit. The German root wirk renders the Greek word energeia, which trans-
lates as “making actual,” or “bringing something concretely about.”
Wirken, therefore, is that effective activity of spirit that is the transfor-
mative dynamic process of potential into actual (wirklich) being. Thus,
reality (Wirklichkeit) is the product of the effective activity (wirken) of spirit,
its work (Werk). The symbolic forms are to be understood as the various
energeiai, the efficacia, the effective activities that form and configure re-
ality, and not the ergon, the work (Werk), that is the product of that effec-
tive activity. Where Cassirer employs the word Arbeit, another word for
“work,” we have, when possible, rendered it as “labor.” Arbeit suggests a
specific task or labor, whereas wirken suggests a deeper, transformative
sense of bringing something into existence, realization. Arbeit, however,
in many cases cannot be rendered in English as “labor.” In those cases
where it is essential to understanding the text we have added the Ger-
man in parentheses. Furthermore, Wirkung and wirklich are always trans-
lated as “effect” and “actual,” respectively. The distinction in German
between Wirklichkeit and Realität has been understood and exploited dif-
ferently by different thinkers. For Hegel, being has Dasein or Existence and
is therefore real, but it does not have actuality, Wirklichkeit—being real-
izes itself only in and through consciousness. Wirken is the effective activ-
ity that produces Wirklichkeit. To preserve this connection and distinguish
it from Realität, it is often argued that Wirklichkeit is best translated as
“actuality.” One need only survey the translations of the seminal texts of
German philosophy, however, to see that translators are not always com-
fortable with this translation and more often than not elect to alternate
between “actuality” and “reality” according to the context. In English,
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxv
“actuality” suggests a state of affairs or existence that is independent of
the subject whose “reality” is a product of perception, assumptions, and
above all the cultural interpretation of its signification for us. Actuality
is autonomous of its lived signification for us; the actuality of a situation
before which I stand may or may not “actually” be threatening, but if I
understand it as threatening then this is my reality. For Cassirer, the
symbolic forms are meaning-giving, they are the diverse hermeneutical
horizons in which things are understood as the things they are. Each
symbolic form produces its own mode of seeing, its own apperception of
reality. Fortunately, Cassirer rarely employs the German term Realität,
and when he does it is often in quotation marks. Thus, we have elected
to render Wirklichkeit as “reality,” and when Cassirer employs Realität we
have added the German in parentheses.
Cassirer forms a network of connected concepts around the word Bild:
image (Bild ), to form (bilden), formation (Bildung), formation (Gebilde), copy
(Abbilde), after-image (Nachbild ), to copy or reproduce (nachbilden), repro-
duction (Nachbildung), emblem (Sinnbild ), model (Vorbild ), archetype (Ur-
bild ), worldview (Weltbild ). Bild can be variously translated as “image,”
“figure,” “picture,” “idea,” “representation,” “illustration”; and thus
bilden is the act or process by which a Bild is created; accordingly, bilden
can be translated as “to form,” “to compose,” “to build,” “to cultivate,”
“to construct.” Bildung (formation) preserves that dynamic process of
forming, of bilden. For Renaissance and Enlightenment thought, Bildung
signified the process of cultivating good taste, which imprints and forms
the soul; hence, Bildung is used both in the religious sense of formation
and in the modern sense of education. It was originally synonymous
with Erziehung, from the verb erziehen, “to educate, to raise or bring up”—
that is, to cultivate. For Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schiller, and Humboldt, the
Bildung of the individual, understood as the dynamic process of cultural
education and formation, was essential to progress, freedom, and the
construction of the political state. For Cassirer, Bildung is more funda-
mental than the cultivation of belles lettres or the advancement of free-
dom and the political state. It is essential to the bringing forth of the
world, it is world-forming, providing an original imprinting of form on
reality. It thus presents us with the model (Vorbild ) and archetype (Urbild )
of our worldview (Weltbild ), never a mere copy (Abbild ) or reproduction
(Nachbildung) of an already given existence. Rather, existence (Dasein) is
xxvi TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
given its actuality and visibility through the form imprinted on it in and
through the process of formation. A Gebilde is thus the product of bilden:
it is a thing, an object, a work, a creation, or a structure. Following the
French translations of Cassirer, we have translated Gebilde as “a forma-
tion,” in the sense of a structurally formed object, but have added the
German in parentheses so as to distinguish it from the process of forma-
tion (Bildung). We have also translated Formung as “forming,” to distin-
guish it from “formation” (Bildung).
Cassirer was clearly engaged with and influenced by gestalt psychol-
ogy. His theory of symbolic Prägnanz in large part developed out of his
reading of Wertheimer’s “law of the Prägnanz of the Gestalt,”4 which
was also important in the work of Cassirer’s colleague Köhler. The key
challenge is to determine how Cassirer understood Gestalt. A few days
before his death, he gave a lecture entitled “Structuralism in Modern
Linguistics” to the Linguistic Circle of New York. In this lecture, he
drew a direct analogy between his own project of symbolic forms and
that of linguistic structuralism through an analysis of the historical de-
velopment of the concept of Gestalt. After reminding his audience that
the substantive Gestalt is derived from the verb stellen (to set or place,
to make something stand), he turned to Kant for further clarification:
“When Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, approaches those problems
that in our modern scientific terminology we should call ‘Gestaltprob-
leme,’ he does not use the German word. He goes back to the Greek term
ıȤ߱ȝĮ and writes his chapter on the schematism of the pure under-
standing.”5 In Greek, a schema suggests not only a sketch, design, or plan
of how things appear but how things should connect and interact as
well. Cassirer seems to suggest here that when he speaks of Gestalt and
Gestaltung, he is speaking about the schema or schematization and is
ready to recognize this as a proto-theory of structure and to speak of
structure and structuralization. While it would have been possible to use

4. M. Wertheimer, “Diskussion zum Vortag von Benussi: Kinematopaptische


Scheinbewegung und Auffasungsformung,” in Berich über den VI. Kongreß für
experimentelle Psychologie, part I, ed. F. Schumann (Leipzig: Barth, 1914), 11.
5. Ernst Cassirer, “Structuralism in Modern Linguistics,” Word: Journal of the
Linguistic Circle of New York 1 (1945), 118.
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxvii
the substantive gestalt, the connection with gestalten and Gestaltung would
have been lost. In order to preserve this connection, we have chosen the
following translations: “figure” (Gestalt), “to configure” ( gestalten), “con-
figuration” (Gestaltung), and “reconfiguration” (Umgestaltung) as to config-
ure something is to give it structure.
We should pause here to consider the use of the word Bestand, which
Cassirer often employs either as a substantive (Bestand ) or as a verb, beste-
hen. Bestand is very difficult to render into English. The verb bestehen signi-
fies “to exist,” “to continue,” “to last,” “to remain or survive,” “to insist
on,” and thus the substantive Bestand is used to indicate the “existence”
of something that “sits” or “stands” (sellen or stehen) there, ready to be
used, as in the case of “stock,” “supplies,” “assets,” “cash or goods on
hand.” Although it is possible to render Bestand by “existence,” it is essen-
tial to distinguish Bestand from Sein (which we render as “being”), Seiende
(which we render as “being” or “entity,” depending upon the context),
and Dasein (which we render as “existence”). Heidegger’s translators
have rendered Bestand as “standing-reserve,” which preserves both the
idea of standing ready and the suggestion that what is standing there
is a type of supply for some purpose, a stock awaiting use. It would be
anachronistic, however, to employ this Heideggerianism. What is more,
the emphasis in Cassirer’s use of Bestand appears to be placed on the
consistency of a perduring that comes about after a process of forma-
tion and configuration and, logically speaking, before its subsequent use
for some purpose. We have, therefore, translated Bestand as “consistence”
or “consistent existence,” depending upon the context. We would draw
the reader’s attention to the original meanings of “consistence” listed in
the Oxford English Dictionary: “consistence” signified “standing or remain-
ing still, quiescence; state of rest”; “continuance, endurance; continuing
state”; “material coherence and permanence of form.” This would ap-
pear to be precisely what Cassirer had in mind with Bestand.
Each of the symbolic forms is a unique mode of formation and con-
figuration, a mode that does not simply copy or imitate a given reality
but gives it form and figure, thus constituting its visibility and actuality.
For Cassirer, then, there is never a pre-given reality, be it objective or
subjective. Rather, each symbolic form provides what Cassirer calls an
Auseinandersetzung of I and world.
xxviii TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
For a glance at the development of individual symbolic forms
shows us that their essential achievement does not consist [bestehen]
in that they copy [abbilden] the outward world in the inward world
or that they simply project a finished inner world outward, but
rather, it is in them and through their mediation that the two
factors [Momente] of “inside” and “outside,” of “I” and “reality”
[Wirklichkeit] are determined and delimited from one another. If
each of these forms embraces a spiritual [ geistige] “Auseinanderset-
zung” of the I and reality, it should not be understood to mean
that the two, I and reality, are to be taken as given quantities, as
finished, self-enclosed “halves” of being [Sein], which are only sub-
sequently composed into a whole. On the contrary, the crucial
achievement of each symbolic form lies precisely in the fact that it
does not have the limit between I and reality as pre-existent and
established for all time, but must set [setzt] this limit itself—and
each fundamental form sets [setzt] it differently.6
Auseinandersetzung signifies an encounter, a discussion, a debate, a divi-
sion or separation, a conflict, a confrontation, a polemic, a war, strife,
battle, or a clash (Kampf ). Like many German words, Auseinandersetzung
is composed of a number of separate terms which nuance and color its
unique sense and with which Cassirer plays when he employs it as a ter-
minus technicus in his philosophy. First, Auseinandersetzung is composed of
Auseinander and Setzung. Auseinander signifies that things differ, are apart
or asunder. Setzung is the substantive form of setzen (to set or posit) and
therefore signifies a setting or positing. Thus, we have the idea of a set-
ting apart or putting asunder. Setzen is an important term in Kantian
thought as, for Kant, what reason establishes or sets (setzt) as true is a law
(Gesetz). Auseinander can be further broken down into three parts: aus (out
of/from), ein (one), and ander (other). In this way, Aus-ein-ander-setzung be-
comes a (lawful) setting asunder of one out of/from another that takes
place and manifests itself only in and through the strife of a confronta-

6. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2, Mythical Thought, tr.
Ralph Manheim, Introduction by Ch. W. Hendell (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1955), 155–56; Philosophie der symbolischen Formen: Zweiter Teil: Das mythische
Denken, in Gesammelte Werke: Hamburger Ausgabe, vol. 12, ed. Birgit Recki (Hamburg:
Meiner, 2002), 181–82.
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxix
tional encounter. In its original legal application, an Auseinandersetzung
was the settling or settlement of legal relations between individuals who
were divided in conflict over some common property in which both
shared ownership, as in the case of a debtor and his or her creditors. To
be clear, it is not the case that two already existing unrelated positions
clash, but that the positions themselves are a product of the conflict and
exist only in the unity of their antithetical opposition to each other (Ge-
gensätzlichkeit) as an expression of the law (Gesetz) of their Auseinanderset-
zung. Auseinandersetzung thus differentiates as it unites; it binds together
the binary poles of a common relationship governed by law in and
through the clash of opposition that separates them. The einander in Aus-
einander means one another or each other: Aus-einander-setzung is a setting
out of each other that occurs in the encounter with one another. Ausein-
andersetzung is, thus, a productive difference in and through which the
difference of each position exists as the other of the other within the
tension and dynamics of a relational encounter of opposition—or, in
Hegelian terminology, it is the productive negativity that sets apart the
thesis and antithesis and yet constitutes their relationship of belonging
together in opposition. An Auseinandersetzung is a complex synthesis in
which the oppositions of difference coexist and belong together as the
mutually defining, opposing limits of each other. Here, each position in
the Auseinandersetzung exists only in and through the encounter or strife
with its difference, through the interaction that is a mutual acting upon
the other (Aufeinanderwirken); each is defined in its being not through some
self-identical essence but out of its encounter with the limit of the other
it is not. No single translation can capture the rich and complex meaning
of Auseinandersetzung. In each instance, we translate it according to what
makes sense for the particular sentence and include the German in
parentheses.
Hegel’s presence is impossible to miss in Cassirer’s language and
thought. We have followed the standard translation of Aufheben as “to
sublate” and Aufhebung as “sublation.” Cassirer also often employs the
German term Moment, which he almost certainly took from Hegel. The
challenge with this term is that the German Moment can refer either to a
“moment” or “instant” in time or an “element” or “factor” of some to-
tality (Ganzheit). For Hegel, the truth is the whole (Ganze), but it cannot be
given all at once; rather, it must unfold itself, and this unfolding is history.
xxx TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
Through the mechanism of productive negativity, each element (Mo-
ment) that makes up the whole becomes present as a moment (Moment) in
history and is then negated, preserved, and taken up through sublation
(Aufhebung) into the whole. We have translated Moment either as “ele-
ment,” “factor,” or “moment,” depending on the context. Where it is
important to distinguish it from Element or Faktor, the German is included
in parentheses.
Throughout his work, Cassirer uses Ganzheit, Gesamtheit, and Totalität.
Ideally, Ganzheit would be translated as “whole,” Gesamtheit as “aggregate
whole,” and Totalität as “totality.” In a number of instances, however, it
becomes idiomatically challenging in English to employ “whole” or “ag-
gregate whole.” The essential difference between a system of parts that
forms a whole and one that forms a totality is in the nature of the bond
that organizes, relates, and unites them. Where the binding is external to
the phenomena brought together, one would speak of a totality (Totalität)
of contents; where the binding is internal to the being of the phenomena
belonging together, one would speak of the whole (Ganzheit) that forms
the aggregate totality (Gesamtheit) of contents. One can also discern this
difference in the distinction between Inhalt and Gehalt, two German
words for “content,” and Beziehung and Verhältnis, two German words for
“relation.” Inhalt implies an external relation (Beziehung), as in the case,
for example, of wine as the contents of a glass. Gehalt implies an internal
relationship (Verhältnis) in which the content belongs to the being of the
thing that contains it, as, for example, the alcohol content of the wine. It
is not surprising, then, that Verhältnis is used for personal relationships
such as liaisons, love, friendship, and so on, whereas Beziehung speaks to
a tie or connection between things.
Up to this point, the challenge we have identified with translating
Cassirer’s language has been that many of the terms of German Ideal-
ism are very specific. In the case of Geist and geistige, the opposite is the
case: the challenge comes from the extreme vagueness of the terms.
Cassirer employs both Geist and geistige extensively throughout his work,
and it is perhaps safe to say that this marks a Hegelian rather than a
Kantian influence. When Cassirer wrote An Essay on Man, he followed
the lead of the James Baillie’s translation of Hegel and used “mind”
where he would usually have used Geist. It is clear, however, that in both
An Essay on Man and Myth of the State he employs the term considerably
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxxi
less often than one might expect. For a number of reasons, we have
chosen to translate Geist as “spirit” rather than “mind.” First, the use of
“mind” suggests some connection with the analytic philosophy of mind,
which would be misleading to the reader—especially because of its in-
terest in determining the relationship of the mind to the physical body,
in particular to the brain. The entire debate about mind-body dualism is
foreign and perhaps even hostile to Cassirer’s way of thinking. Further-
more, the German term Gemüt, strictly speaking, translates as “mind.”
Depending upon the context, we have, however, translated the adjective
geistige as “spiritual,” but also as “mental” or “intellectual” when “spiri-
tual” sounded unduly religious.
Cassirer makes considerable use of the substantive Wesen, which sig-
nifies the inner nature or principle of a thing, that is, the quintessence,
or simply the essence, of a thing. Wesen can also be used, however, to
signify a being or creature. Thus, depending upon the context, Wesen may
be translated as “essence,” “nature,” or “a being.” But it must not be
confused with Natur or Sein. Wesen implies the principle that pushes the
thing to develop into the being it is, whereas “nature” not only implies
the principle or cause that makes a thing be what it is but also refers to
its physical process of birth, becoming, eventual degeneration, and, in
some cases, death. Where Wesen is translated as “nature” or “a being,” the
German is included in parentheses.
It is not entirely clear whether Cassirer makes a consistent distinction
between “meaning” (Sinn) and “signification” (Bedeutung). On the surface,
it appears that there is an argument to be made that he distinguished
between the meaning (Sinn) of a symbolic form (e.g., language) and the
signification (Bedeutung) it produces. Together, the different symbolic forms
constitute the hermeneutical horizons of meaning (Sinn) in which human
life is interpreted (Deutung), in which it takes on signification (Bedeutung).
The difference between the meaning of myth and that of science, for
example, is that science produces “pure signification,” whereas the signi-
fication of the totemic structures of myth are lived immediately and, as
it were, in the flesh. Throughout this collection we consistently translate
Sinn as “meaning” and Bedeutung as “signification.”
While Cassirer takes up the classical distinction in German between
Macht (power) and Kraft (force, power), he also employs the term Gewalt,
which can be translated as “power.” Macht conveys the sense of an ability
xxxii TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON
or position to do something or use strength. Hence, one speaks of politi-
cal power (Macht) or of God as omnipotent (allmächtig). Macht suggests an
author or domain over a sphere of action. Kraft, however, refers to the
strength or force to be able to do something. Thus, a king may have the
power (Macht) to make laws, but those laws might have no moral force
(Kraft). While Macht can always be translated as “power,” Kraft must be
translated as “force” or “power,” depending on the context. Where it is
not clear from the context or it is essential to understanding the text, we
have included the German in parentheses. Depending upon the context,
Gewalt can be translated as “power,” “force,” “violence,” or “authority.”
For example, one speaks of acts of violence (Gewalttaten), the raw force
(nackte Gewalt) of some act, or a violent (gewaltsam) storm. Cassirer speaks
of Gewalt almost exclusively in the context of religion and myth. Through-
out, we have translated Gewalt as “violent power” so as to distinguish it
from Macht and Kraft. The violent power of myth is presented in the
mythical figure of the Dämon. This Dämon, however, can be both evil
and a savior. Thus, we have translated Dämon as “dæmon” rather than
“demon,” as the latter implies a post-Christian conception of an evil
spirit, whereas the former suggests a pre-Christian conception of a spirit,
as in the Greek įĮȓȝȦȞ.
While other translations of Cassirer have in certain contexts rendered
Empfindung as “feeling,” we have elected to restrict its translation to “sen-
sation” and “sentiment” in order to preserve the important distinction
between Empfindung and Gefühl, which is always translated as “feeling.”
Finally, as mentioned above, in the essays written after 1927, Cassirer
began to engage with Heidegger’s philosophy and to employ some of
Heidegger’s technical language. The reader familiar with Heidegger will
recognize such terms as Dasein, Vorhandenheit, Zuhandenheit, Nivellierung, Aus-
einandersetzung, Bestand, Besinnung, Sorge, Rede, and Stimmung. The problem
is that Cassirer did not always explicitly identify the source of his tech-
nical language but assumed that his reader would be familiar with the
traditions from which he borrowed and with which he was engaged.
Thus, it is difficult to know when and when not to interpret particular
terms as references to Heidegger. Evidently, many of these terms belong
to the vocabulary of the German philosophical tradition, and Cassirer
employed almost all of them from the very beginning of his career. It is
also possible that it was not Cassirer who took on Heidegger’s language,
TR ANSLATORS’ I NTRODUCTI ON xxxiii
but the reverse, that Heidegger was influenced by his reading of Cas-
sirer. This is, for example, our contention with respect to both Ausein-
andersetzung and Nivellierung. This is not the place, however, to put forward
an argument or interpretation around the question of influence. We
have in all cases tried to translate these terms in the way that we believe
Cassirer intended them. Where we believe that he was explicitly refer-
ring to Heidegger, we include the German in parentheses.

On every page of Cassirer’s text we find evidence of his commitment


to the collective life of the mind. Thought comes about neither in a his-
torical vacuum nor in a solitary effort; rather, it is a product of a com-
munity, each contributing in their own way, each leaving their trace in
the objective work of the spirit. We would like to thank Yale University
Press and the Ernst Cassirer Publications Fund for making possible the
English translation of Cassirer’s thought. Special thanks must go to
Margaret Otzel, Otto Bohlmann, and the rest of the editorial team for
their commitment to the life of the mind; they have all contributed to
this translation and have each left their trace through their efforts, pa-
tience, and collaboration.
This page intentionally left blank
The Form of the Concept in Mythical Thinking
(1922)

F O R E WO R D
The following study is an extended version of a paper given at the Soci- ·2·
ety for Religious Studies in Hamburg in July 1921. A separate publica-
tion of this lecture was not originally intended, as I was fully aware that
the problem it addresses belongs to a larger network of issues from which
it would be difficult to detach it. If I have now decided to write this
paper, I implore the reader to view the following merely as a first draft
and sketch, which can achieve a more detailed implementation only
within the presentation of a set of broader problems. The preparations
for this presentation are now advanced enough that I hope soon to be
able to submit at least the first part of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms;
the first volume will, of course, include only the phenomenology of the
linguistic form and then, according to the overall plan of the work, will
be joined by an analysis of mythical consciousness and its relation to
language, to art, and to scientific knowledge; thus, much of what is indi-
cated in the following will find its detailed presentation in a more rigor-
ously and systematically justified fashion.

[First published as Die Begriffsform im mythischen Denken, Studien der Bibliothek


Warburg, 1 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1922). Translated from Wesen und Wirkung des
Symbolbegriffs (Darmstadt, 1994), 1–70. Page numbers from the German edition
used for translation are given in the margins of each translation in this collection.
All footnotes that appear within square brackets are translators’ notes that we
have added.]
1
2 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
The publisher of these studies, Dr. Fritz Saxl, through his lively inter-
est in the content of my exposition from the beginning, has not only
supported me in every way, thereby allowing me to overcome not only
all my doubts and reservations about this text’s separate publication, but
has also assisted me in gathering together the necessary but often inac-
cessible sources, mostly from the material of the Warburg Library. I
would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks. I am
also indebted to my colleagues Professors Carl Meinhof, Otto Demp-
wolff, and Erwin Panofsky at the University of Hamburg, all of whom
have read the article in manuscript form, as well as the galley proofs.

Hamburg, July 1922


Ernst Cassirer

1
·3· Logic becomes conscious of its proper philosophical task and systematic
form only through its own development, which took place simultane-
ously with the development of scientific thought and is constantly ori-
ented toward it. In the particular problems presented by the methodol-
ogy of the individual sciences it grasped a general and comprehensive
problem. This reciprocal relation has existed ever since the foundation of
scientific philosophy in Plato’s theory of ideas. What we designate today
as “logic” was included in the Platonic dialectic as a necessary and inte-
gral component—but, because it did not then bear its own unique name,
its factual content was situated in strict interconnection with the meth-
odology of the individual sciences. Conceptual “justification,” the ȜȩȖȠȞ
įȚįȩȞĮȚ [justificatory account] which is the essential aim of all philoso-
phy and which fulfills its concept, equally applies to the content of
knowledge as its pure form.1 The form of the “hypothetical,” of rela-
tional thought as it was first emphasized by Plato in all its poignancy,
received its confirmation and full clarification in the Meno, which pre-
sents a concrete example of geometric thought. The discovery of the
analytic method of geometry, which comes to fruition here, prepared

1. See in particular Plato, Politics, 285 A, 286 A.


TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 3
the ground for the general analysis of logical reasoning and inference as
it appeared in Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. And in the later Platonic dia-
logues, especially the Sophist and the Statesman, the genuine dialectical
art—the art of distinguishing and connecting—does not emerge as an
absolutely detached logical technique. The theory of the logical concept,
of its genera and species, concerns more the problem of systematic clas-
sification as it was formulated in the descriptive sciences of nature. The
logical forms are, however, so clearly distinguished from the forms of
nature that they cannot be immediately brought to one’s attention; ·4·
rather, whoever wants to grasp them as the highest and most significant,
as the ȝȑȖȚıIJĮțĮ‫ޥ‬IJȚȝȚȫIJĮIJĮİ‫ݫ‬įȘ [the greatest and most honorable idea],
must not shy away from running through the sensuous figures, through
their organization and classification. In this version of the problem in
Plato, the basic tendency of the Socratic theory of the formation of con-
cepts, the principle of Socratic “induction,” remains alive. The spheres
of the sensuous and the intelligible are so strongly distinguished from one
another that it is maintained in the rigorous interconnection between
the dialectic and the specific forms of the configuration of knowledge
[Wissen]. There is never a break here; rather, there is a steady ascent that
leads up from natural philosophy and astronomy, through pure mathe-
matics, to the highest idea [Idee], the idea of the Good. In this idea, for
the first time, the fundamental determination of logic is given: the con-
ceptual unity of philosophy constitutes and grounds at the same time the
conceptual unity of science.
In this sense, modern logic has continued to be the logic of scientific
knowledge, in particular the logic of mathematics and the mathemati-
cal science of nature. All certainty, all “evidence,” which philosophical
thought strives after, appears to be based upon this interconnection.
“[N]ihil certi habemus in nostra scientia, nisi nostram mathematicam
[There is no certainty in our knowledge unless it be in mathematics],”
proclaimed Nicholas of Cusa, who, although he was completely absorbed
by the content of medieval scholastic problems, nevertheless grounded a
new form of philosophy by setting forth, in opposition to scholasticism,
a new ideal of “exactness,” the praecisio of knowledge. There is no need
here to describe in detail how this ideal subsequently operated in the his-
tory of modern philosophy, from Descartes and Leibniz to Kant, or how
it has, with the advances of modern mathematics and mathematical
4 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
physics, secured for itself an even more definite formulation. It will be
forever to Hermann Cohen’s credit that he sketched out this primary
development with full certainty and moved it into the full light of histori-
cal and systematic knowledge. However, he himself drew from this the
conclusion that logic, as the logic of pure knowledge, can be none other
than the logic of the mathematical science of nature. For him, this con-
clusion was the core and meaning of the new method of philosophy
·5· founded by Kant, the “transcendental method.” “[C]ritical philosophy,”
as Cohen defined it, “is that which not only has an interconnection with
science per se, not only with the science of nature per se, but primarily with
mathematics and, thus, through it and guided by it in the science of
nature.” This interconnection not only appears to be confirmed but,
seen from a new angle, was strengthened by the developments in math-
ematics and theoretical physics following Kant. The construction of non-
Euclidean geometries, the altered determinations of the concepts of
space and time, and the development of the relationship between both
concepts in the general theory of relativity—all of these have weighed
heavily on the configuration of the general theory of knowledge, posing
before it a wealth of new and more fruitful tasks.
From the beginning, the relationship between logic as a general “the-
ory of science” and the system of the “human sciences” shows itself to
be a very difficult one. Giambattista Vico was the first to sharply and
definitely set out a plan for a structural design of the human sciences in
modern philosophy. With Vico, we encounter the idea that this struc-
ture, in distinction from the logic of mathematics and the mathematical
science of nature, asserts its own full autonomy, that the human sciences
must be based on their own peculiar fundamentals, but, at the same
time, that they might not necessarily demonstrate the rigor and evidence
of the principles of mathematics. Just as with the spatial world with
which geometry is concerned, just as with the material world with which
physics is concerned, the world of history is based upon general principles
that are grounded in the essence of the human spirit. Thus, the project
for a “new science” appears, a science that was considered to be analo-
gous to the process of geometry; just as the world of magnitudes is not
merely observed but is constructed and created from its elements, the
same process now appears in the world of spirit, not only as possible but
also as necessary. And the latter possesses more concrete reality [Realität]
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 5
and truth because the orders within the human world are superior to the
points and lines, the surfaces and physical figures of geometry. Thus, the
task of a general logic of the human sciences,2 which could take its place ·6·
alongside mathematics and natural science as an equal, was established.
However, only in post-Kantian philosophy, in the speculative systems of
Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, does this task become the central focus of
philosophy. With Hegel, what appeared only as a simple requirement for
Vico moves toward its ultimate solution. His phenomenology and logic
incorporated in bold strokes a greater inclusivity and depth of the con-
crete totality of spiritual life in the historical richness of its phenomena
as well as in its systematic organization and necessity. The content of
Hegelian logic, however, was inextricably linked to its form, that of the
dialectical method. As soon as we give up this form, the whole of the
problem that was held together here through the unity and necessity of
a metaphysical principle falls apart again into a manifold of individual
methodological questions. In particular, it was the methodology of his-
tory that detached itself from that of mathematics and the mathematical
sciences of nature, and attempted to confront mathematics with an au-
tonomous claim. The particularity of spiritual being, its differentiation
from natural being, should be secured through the logic of the science of
spirit [Geschichtswissenschaft], through the definition of the “ideographic”
process of history rather than the “nomothetic” process of the natural
sciences. However, this methodological distinction, valuable as it was in
itself, was greatly overestimated if it was believed to have contained an
authentic foundation for the construction of the human sciences and the
sciences of culture [Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften]. For reflection on the
form and property of historical knowledge does not determine as such
anything about the contents of this knowledge—the manner and direc-
tion of historical apprehension and description leave the object of this
apprehension entirely undetermined. To determine this, we must return
again to the form of historical knowledge, to the content and essence of
what occurs in historical development. All history, as concrete history,
has a determined subject: it is the history of the state or of the law, of
language and art, religion and science. All of these formations [Gebilden],

2. See G. Vico, Principi d’una scienza nuova d’intorno alla commune natura delle
nazioni, ed. G. Ferrar (Milano: Opere seelte, 1836), 139, 159.
6 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
however, do not simply work themselves out in the mere exteriority of
their manifold forms of historical appearance; rather, they reveal in this
·7· externality an inner spiritual principle. Language and religion, art and
myth, each possesses an autonomous structure [Struktur] that is character-
istically different from other spiritual forms—each exhibits a peculiar
“modality” of spiritual apprehension and forming. The mere logic of
history cannot provide an overview of the totality [Gesamtheit] of these
modalities, a view of what constitutes their unique essence and what
separates each from the essence of others. For as much as it seeks to dif-
ferentiate itself from the logic of mathematical science of nature, the
logic of history basically belongs to the same spiritual dimension. It con-
tinues to move within a single modality—the modality of knowledge.
The opposition between historical and natural scientific ideals of knowl-
edge concerns only the organization of the parts within the systematic
concepts of scientific knowledge, and does not address the question of
how the latter as a whole [Ganzes] comports itself toward other spiritual
totalities [Ganzheiten] with essentially different structures and different
layouts. So long as the methodological differentiation articulates itself in
one level of cognition, so long as it proves itself to cognition, and despite
the subtlety of definitions that can be achieved here, then, knowledge
[Wissen] as such, the “humana sapientia [human wisdom]” (in the words of
Descartes), appears in as many objects as it may be oriented toward, but
always as one and the same, such that it receives from the diversity of
objects no greater difference than the light of the sun from the diversity
of objects it illuminates. Logic, however, is furnished with completely new
questions as soon as it attempts to direct its gaze onto the pure forms of
knowledge [Wissen] that are based upon the totality of the spiritual forms
of the apprehension of the world. Each of them, e.g., language and
myth, religion and art, now proves to be a peculiar organ of the intelli-
gibility of the world, and at the same time, each, as the ideal creation of
the world, apart from theoretical and scientific knowledge, possesses its
own particular task and justification.
Of course, this seems to give rise to the question whether or not such
a broadening of logic does not abandon the established, traditional, and
clear determination of the concept. Does logic not lose its historical and
systematic hold, does not its well-defined task and its meaning threaten
·8· to evaporate, if it steps out of the boundaries that have been set for it by
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 7
its correlation not only with the mathematical sciences of nature but also
with science in general? Is it a mere metaphor to speak of a nonscientific
logical formation [Gebilde] in any sense other than that of an arbitrary
transposition? To this question we can, however, first say that, even from
the point of view of the general philosophical tradition, not only does
such an extension of the notion of logic appear permissible, the tradi-
tion itself contains numerous independent attempts to do so. Indeed,
the name of logic suggests that, in its origin, the reflection on the form
of knowledge [Wissen] intimately penetrates the reflection on the form of
language. The limits of logic and grammar are secured and guaranteed
only very gradually. Of course, today no one would think to renew the
ideal of philosophical grammar in the sense of attempting to deduce the
laws of language simply from those of rational thinking and reasoning.
The idea of “Grammaire générale et raisonnée,” which occupied the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, seems to have been removed once
and for all by the historical and psychological consideration of language.
What emerged from this consideration of the individuality of language
and speech, however, is the fact that the more every return to a uniform
logical type was prohibited, the more evident was the need to show more
clearly that this very individuality of the “inner form of language” was
grounded not only in a certain direction of feeling and fantasy but also
in a particular intellectual lawfulness. As a theory of “thinking in gen-
eral,” logic cannot avoid coming closer to this lawfulness of linguistic
thinking; it cannot avoid, for example, focusing on the question concern-
ing the principles of linguistic classification and the linguistic formation
of concepts, or on the question concerning the relationship of logical
judgment to the linguistic sentence. It would appear more difficult to dem-
onstrate a relation between logical and aesthetic lawfulness, for art, at
least, appears as a sui generis formation [Gebilde] that can be understood
only from its own principle of configuration. Nevertheless, the historical
development of aesthetics shows that it also developed as an indepen-
dent systematic discipline out of logic and only very gradually freed it-
self from this common philosophical soil. Aesthetics was founded in the ·9·
eighteenth century by Alexander Baumgarten as a “Gnoseologia infe-
rior [a lower form of knowing],” an epistemological theory of the “lower
forces of the soul.” The idea arises that, just as in the intellectual-rational
domain, in the sensuous and imaginative realms there are rules and forms
8 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
that link and integrate. Just as there is a logic of abstract thinking, there
is a “logic of the imagination.” This notion of the “logic of fantasy” is
given a home in German psychology by Georg Friedrich Meier, a stu-
dent of Baumgarten, and by Tetens. When Kant grounded the lawful-
ness of aesthetic consciousness in the transcendental structure of “the
power of judgment,” he participated in establishing the philosophy of
aesthetics. Guided by such examples, if we dare to speak of a logic of
myth and mythical fantasy, the apparent paradox only increases. For it
appears that the world of myth characteristically remains completely
enclosed in the sphere of primitive sensation and intuition, in the sphere
of feeling and affect, and that it leaves no room for the analytical distinc-
tions and divisions that the “discursive” concept introduces. Even the
very question concerning the form of the concept of myth seems to im-
plicate itself in the entirely unacceptable rationalization of the form of
myth—rather, the object that the question seeks to understand appears
to be falsified and estranged from its own nature.
And yet, as it is true that myth is not enclosed in a circle of undeter-
mined representations and affects but takes shape in objective figures, it is
nonetheless characteristic of a certain mode of giving of figure [Gestaltge-
bung], of a direction of objectification that cannot coincide with the logi-
cal form of object determination. It contains within itself an entirely
determined mode of “synthesis of the manifold,” a combination [Zusam-
menfassung] and reciprocal correlation of sensuous elements. All forma-
tion of concepts, regardless of what domain or material it may take
place in, be it “objective” experience or that of merely “subjective” rep-
resentation, implies a certain principle of combination and “sequenc-
ing.” It is only by this principle that particular “formations” [Gebilde],
particular configurations with fixed contours and “properties,” can be
extracted from the constant flow of impressions. The form of this se-
·10· quencing determines the species and genus of the concept. Serialization
is another mode of ordering, another “perspective” of comparison that
characterizes particular formations, e.g., physical concepts and biologi-
cal concepts, but another consideration of the combination [Zusammen-
fassung] governs the formation of historical concepts. Of course, the tra-
dition of the logical theory of concepts is in the habit of overlooking this
very important difference, or at least fails to bring it to clear method-
ological expression. For it tells us that in order to form concepts we must
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 9
work through an aggregate [Gesamtheit] of identical or similar percep-
tions, continuing to remove their differences so as to point out the com-
mon components; it begins from the presupposition that the similarity or
dissimilarity already lies in the simple content of sense impressions and
need only be directly and unambiguously read out. A closer analysis,
however, shows precisely the opposite: it tells us that the sensuous ele-
ments can be grouped together in very different ways, depending upon
the viewpoint from which they are considered. Things in themselves are
not the same or noncomparable, similar or dissimilar: only thought de-
termines this. Thought does not, therefore, simply copy an existing simi-
larity of things themselves in the form of a concept; rather, by means of
the directives of the comparison and combination [Zusammenfassung] that
it sets up, it determines concepts of similarity and dissimilarity even
before determining what is to be considered similar and dissimilar. The
concept, in other words, is not the product of the similarity of things but
the precondition for the conscious positing of similarity between them.
What is more, the most divergent things can in some respect be consid-
ered similar, while the most alike can always be regarded in some respect
as different: the concept is concerned with just this relation, with fixing
the determining viewpoint and bringing it to a definite expression. This
becomes particularly clear and insistent when, instead of comparing the
various species of concepts within the same genus, one opposes different
genera to one another. Physical, chemical, and biological concepts are
distinguished from one another through some characteristic differences,
but they nevertheless exhibit certain nuances of the general “concept
of nature”; the concepts of the natural sciences are distinguished from ·11·
historical concepts in their specific principle of formation, but both are
nevertheless related and united together as concepts of knowledge. The dif-
ference stands out much more clearly when the transition occurs not
within the same genus, from species to species, but when it takes place
from one genus to another. Here, at once, a real hiatus appears to open
up: the methodological difference turns into a fundamental antithesis.
Even this antithesis, however, can now be used to describe more clearly
the contrast between the peculiarity of each of the opposing elements.
In this sense, it is a logical motive and interest that determines the limits
of the formation of strictly logical concepts and classes. The categories
of logic become completely transparent in terms of their peculiarity only
10 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
if we do not content ourselves with seeking out and considering them
within their own domain, only if we contrast them with the categories
of other domains of thought and modalities of thinking, in particular
the categories of mythical consciousness. That it is not paradoxical to
speak of such categories of mythical consciousness, that the renuncia-
tion of the logical scientific form of connection and interpretation is not
synonymous with absolute arbitrariness and lawlessness, that mythical
thought, rather, is grounded in a law of its own kind and imprint [Prä-
gung], will seek its proof in the following statements.

2
If we consider the process that language follows in the formation of its
concepts and the divisions of its classes, we see that it contains some ele-
ments that can scarcely be compared when understood by our logical
habits of thought and our usual logical measures. The way by which all
the major languages that are closest and most familiar to us divide all the
nouns into different “genera” is so self-explanatory that it has formed
a stumbling block for philosophical and “rational” grammar. The Port-
Royal Grammar, which sets as its task to understand and deduce the total-
ity [Gesamtheit] of grammatical forms from their initial logical ground,
·12· has been forced to limit this ambition significantly in its presentation and
discussion of the difference between genders. After a first attempt at
obtaining a general logical derivative of this difference, it arrived at the
conclusion that, at least in its concrete application, the allocation of cer-
tain nouns to one gender or another was subject to no fixed rule but was
to a large extent governed by “pure caprice and irrational arbitrariness”
[“pur caprice et un usage sans raison”].3 The attempt to render the dif-
ference of gender intelligible by returning to a type of “intuitive” logic
rather than the logic of abstract and discursive thought was also not en-
tirely satisfactory. Jacob Grimm attempted this in one of the richest and
most profound chapters of his German Grammar. The power of aesthetic
fantasy and linguistic empathy is no more evident than, perhaps, in the
section in which Grimm seeks to investigate the end motives of linguistic
formation and to uncover their hidden meaning. The logical capacity for

3. Grammaire générale et raisonnée de Port-Royal, part II (Paris, 1810), chap. 5, 279.


TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 11
the organization of enormous linguistic material stands here in a fortu-
nate balance with the free movement of linguistic imagination, which
never allows a concept to solidify into a simple template but, according
to the specific concrete task, always differentiates it anew and pursues it
in its most subtle nuances and shadings. Grimm lists fewer than twenty-
eight different viewpoints in his presentation of the grammatical gender
of sensuous objects, according to which the allocation of different objects
to a masculine, feminine, or neutral gender is performed. “Grammati-
cal gender,” Grimm summarizes, “is an extension, born of the fantasy
of human language, of a natural order onto each and every object.
Through this wonderful operation, a lot of otherwise lifeless and de-
duced concepts have been simultaneously expressed as being alive and
sensuous and, insofar as these concepts borrow from true gender forms,
formations, and inflections, they become through the things they come
into contact with; this process becomes the entire advancing movement
of stimulus while simultaneously becoming the binding linking of dis-
tinct members.”4 However, as appealing and compelling as this view and
interpretation of the difference between genders may be, it nevertheless ·13·
encountered considerable difficulties, even within the Indo-European lan-
guage group, in the precise functioning of individual languages. Indo-
European linguistics had already found itself constrained by this prin-
ciple, even though it subscribed5 to the general interconnection between
grammatical and natural gender, between gender and sex. Finally, Brug-
mann has replaced Grimm’s observation with a purely formal theory
according to which the gender of most substantive nouns does not go
back to an act of linguistic-aesthetic fantasy but is qualified essentially by
their outer form, by the associative interconnections that developed be-
tween nouns with the same or similar endings.6
The problem appeared in a new light when linguistics advanced to
pursue the problem beyond the borders of the Indo-European, compar-
ing the difference in gender in Indo-European nouns with related but far

4. Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Grammatik (Göttingen, 1831), 346.


5. See, for example, H. Paul, Prinzipien der Sprachgeschichte (Halle: Max Nie-
meyer, 1880), 241ff.
6. See Karl Brugmann, “Das Nominalgeschlecht in den indogermanischen
Sprachen,” Internationale Zeitschrift für allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft 4 (1889), 100ff.
12 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
more general phenomena in other linguistic groups. The analyses thus
gained a broader and more secure foundation. The dual gender of
Semitic-Hamitic nouns and the three-gendered Indo-European nouns
stood out against the far richer and more complex systems of classifica-
tion of other languages. The phenomenon of the difference between
genders was recognized as part of a problem that could find a solution
only within a larger, more comprehensive totality [Ganzen], a problem
that was connected with this totality [Ganzen] by clearly visible threads, by
·14· specific transitions.7 In particular, it was the considerations of the clearly
distinctive system of classification of the Bantu languages that resulted
here in a much clearer and more comprehensive view. We need only very
briefly allude in these introductory remarks to the principle that orga-
nizes this system. As is known, each of the substantives of a certain class
in the Bantu languages is thought of as belonging to a very specific class
and is characterized by its class prefix; furthermore, most classes involve
various prefixes, depending on whether the word is singular or plural.
The Bantu grammar distinguishes more than twenty classes with the use
of even more special prefixes, and it is likely that this extraordinarily rich
structure is merely the remnant of a former system of even greater di-
versity. The entire grammatical and syntactical structure of this lan-
guage is governed and entirely determined by this principle of classifica-
tion. Thus, for example, a noun is designated as the nominative subject
by the fact that its prefix agrees with the subjective prefix of the verb; in
the same way, it is labeled an objective accusative if the analogous agree-
ment takes place between it and the object prefix of the verb. Also, every
word that stands for a substantive in a predicative or attributive relation

7. Such transitional phenomena between the allocation of classes by the Bantu


languages and the allocation according to the grammatical gender that rules in
Semitic-Hamitic and Indo-European languages has been shown by Meinhof
in the Hamitic languages, in particular in the Ful. The Ful spreads over the old
grouping of the nouns, adding only four new rubrics (persons, things, large and
small things), which it then developed into two classes: large things moved into
the personal class, small things into the person (according to the organization in
masculine and feminine). For further details, see Carl Meinhof, Die Sprachen der
Hamiten, nebst einer Beigabe: Hamitische Typen (Hamburg: Friederichsen, 1912), 22ff.
and 42ff. See also “Das Ful in seiner Bedeutung für die Sprachen der Hamiten”
in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (ZDMG), vol. 65 (1911), 201ff.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 13
or relationship, which is expressed in our language by the genitive form,
must assume the appropriate substantive-class prefix. As for the pro-
nouns, their prefixes are not identical with the nominal prefixes; rather,
they amount to a very determined relationship of unique correlation,
such that, for example, the form of the possessive pronoun differs de-
pending on whether or not the owner and the possessive object belong
to one or the other class.8 As you can see, by means of grammatical
agreement, a difference that was initially based on nouns is, to a certain
extent, concentrically spread over the whole of language and its linguis-
tic consideration. However, if we work back from the form in which this
process occurs to the contents of the original distinctions, it, of course,
seems futile to attempt to discover any fixed rule that guides this con-
tent and decides the assignment of certain nouns to certain classes. Even ·15·
more than in the Semitic and Indo-European designation of gender,
everything here appears to be subject to the arbitrariness of linguistic
fantasy, the game of the imagination that combines the content accord-
ing to caprice, whim, or random association. At first glance, it appears as
though the comparison and correlation is led essentially by intuitive ele-
ments, by agreement between the exterior look and the spatial figure of
the objects. For example, a specific prefix stands for particularly large
things and gathers them into a separate class, while another prefix serves
to form diminutives; one designates duplicate things, especially parts
of the body, that correspond to each other symmetrically; another des-
ignates objects [Objekte] that appear to be isolated. In addition to these
differences in size and number of objects [Objekte] come others that con-
cern their mutual position in space, their intertwining [Ineinander], their
proximity [Aneinander], their separation [Außereinander], all of them bring-
ing this relationship to linguistic expression through a differentiated and
finely gradated system of locative prefixes. There are also unmistakable
indications that the class distinction of nouns frequently refers back to
differences in spatial configurations, even beyond the sphere of the Bantu
languages. In some Melanesian languages, the class of round, as well as

8. For more details, see Meinhof, Grundzüge einer vergleichenden Grammatik der
Bantusprachen (Berlin: Reimer, 1906); see also Karl Roehl, Versuch einer systematischen
Grammatik der Schambalasprache (Abhandlungen des Hamburgischen Kolonialinsti-
tuts, vol. 2) (Hamburg: Friederichen, 1911), 33ff.
14 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
those of long or short, things (including the word for sun or moon) is
designated by a special prefix that appears before the word for a certain
king or canoe or certain species of fish.9 For the most part, the Indian
languages of North America do not demonstrate the simple distinction
of nouns according to genus; rather, they divide the totality [Gesamtheit]
of things into animate and inanimate natures [Wesen], and then go on
to distinguish those that are standing, sitting, lying down, as well as be-
tween those that live on the earth or in the water, or those that are formed
from wood or from stone, etc. The laws of congruence are strictly ob-
served here: the verb changes in the objective conjugation by influxes,
which are incorporated into it, its form depending on whether its sub-
ject or object [Objekt] is animate or inanimate, standing, seated, or lying
down.10 In all of this, the dominant guiding principle of classification
·16· that appears in the manifold of different types of classification is rela-
tively simple and transparent because all of these distinctions are under-
stood to be intuitively given, objectively demonstrable characteristics and
features, according to which linguistic organization appears to orientate
itself.
In truth, however, it is at most a single element of apprehension, as
opposed to the other, equally important elements, that is designated. In
particular, it is a general rule here that the domain of objective sensation
and intuition can never be clearly distinguished from that of subjective
feeling and affect; rather, both domains intersect in the most peculiar
way and interpenetrate one another. The classes of nouns are similar to
originary classes of value as well as to property classes: there is expressed
in them not so much the objective properties of the object as the emo-
tional and affective position that the I takes toward it. This emerges
particularly clearly in the fundamental distinction that dominates the
Bantu, as well as most American, languages. It is a known phenomenon,
that one and the same object, depending on the signification and value
ascribed to it, can be assigned to the class of persons and sometimes to
the class of things [Sachen]. Not only do the terms for certain species of

9. S. Robert Henry Codrington, The Melanesian Languages (Oxford: Clarendon


Press, 1885), 146ff.
10. For further details, see John Powell, Introduction to the Study of Indian
Languages (Washington: Govt. Print. Off., 1880), 48ff.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 15
animals change in American and African languages, as, for example,
when the animal appears in mythical stories as a personal and autono-
mous agent,11 the same transformation takes place when an object is
singled out from the totality [Gesamtheit] by a specific characteristic fea-
ture, such as its size or significance. Thus, according to Westermann, in
the Gola language in Liberia, the change of prefix of a noun marks a
change into another class, the class of living beings [Wesen], such that
the object to which it applies is designated as being of a particular size,
excellence, or value.12 In Bedauye, however, the fact that the contrast of
grammatical gender has developed from the older opposition between a
class of persons and a class of things [Sachen] is still clearly apparent; the
masculine, which corresponds to the personal class, is attributed to an
object whose size, reputation, and energy require emphasis, whereas the ·17·
feminine expresses mostly smallness, weakness, and passivity.13 Accord-
ing to the underlying intuition, grammarians from higher and lower
castes who are native speakers of the Drawida language, in which nouns
are distinguished into two classes—the class of “reasonable” and “un-
reasonable” beings [Wesen]—rank words differently.14 Editors and schol-
ars of Native American languages have emphasized that the funda-
mental distinction between “animate” and “inanimate” is not to be
taken as being purely objective; rather, the distinction appears to assert
itself through its application to certain categories of value. So, instead of

11. S. Gatschet, Grammar of the Klamath Language (Contributions to North


American Ethnology, vol. II/1) (Washington: Govt. Print. Off., 1890), 462; on
analogous phenomena in the Ful language, see Meinhof, Die Sprachen der Hamiten,
45.
12. D. Westermann, Die Gola-Sprache in Liberia (Hamburg: Friederischsen,
1921), 27.
13. “Thus, for example, ša’, the cow, is masculine gender because it is well
known in these countries as the mainstay of the entire household; however, ša,’
the flesh, is feminine because, contrary to ša’ the cow, it is less important.”
L. Reinisch, Die Bedauye-Sprache in Nordost-Afrika II (Vienna: Buchhandler der
Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1893), 60, cited by Meinhof, Die
Sprachen der Hamiten, 139.
14. See F. Müller, Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde, vol. III
(Linguistic Part) (Vienna: Gerold’s Sohn in Com., 1867), 83; see also F. Müller,
Grundriß der Sprachwissenschaft, vol. III: Die Sprachen der lockenhaarigen Rassen (Vienna:
Brockhaus, 1867), 1, 173.
16 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
speaking about the opposition between living and lifeless (animate and
inanimate gender),15 we must speak of an antithesis of noble and igno-
ble, of personal and impersonal.16
We will not pursue these linguistic phenomena any further here: we
will consider the problem in the following pages only insofar as a par-
ticular type of classification, which deviates from the logical norms of
the characteristic formation of concepts and classes familiar to us, pre-
sents itself. Here, we see a completely different kind of ordering and
organization of the contents of intuition in our theoretical, empirical,
and conceptually abstract thought. Everywhere there are certain con-
crete distinctions, which are particularly subjectively felt, as well as affec-
·18· tive differences, which are crucial for the divisions and separations, as
well as for the connections and correlations, between the contents of
perception and intuition. Irrespective of whether we are able to under-
stand and relate to the motives that bring about this effect, it is the mere
form of these divisions and correlations that constitutes an important
problem. For in this form there emerges, in the middle of a domain
that, at first glance, seems to defy all logic, a particular lawfulness. Once
the point of comparison is ascertained, it is carried out with the greatest
consistency throughout every part of language; thanks to the strict rules
of grammatical agreement, it asserts itself with an unyielding logic
throughout the entire structure of language. As peculiar or “irrational”
as the basis of comparison may appear to many of us, there nevertheless
prevails in the construction and the development of the system of classes
itself a thoroughly consistent and “rational” principle. Above all, the find-
ings show that even in the thought of “primitive” languages, the content
of a singular perception or intuition is arranged with others; here, too,
the individual is subordinated to a “universal” and determined by a “gen-
eral.” Certain basic differences function as a common schema, as the

15. [Cassirer uses English here.]


16. S. Gatschet, The Klamath Indians, 462ff. See in particular F. Boas, Handbook
of American Indian Languages, part 1, bulletin 40 (Washington: Smithsonian Insti-
tution, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1911), 36: “The Algonquian of North
America classify nouns as animate and inanimate, without, however, adhering
strictly to the natural classification implied in these terms. Thus the small animals
may be classified as inanimate, while certain plants may appear as animate.”
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 17
coinciding and continuous principles that gradually organize the entire
intuitive world. The sensuous impression is conceptually determined
and related to a particular class through linguistic designation. This has
been expressed psychologically by the fact that languages do not, with a
fixed division of classes, grasp individual things in one single mental act,
but [grasp them] in two [mental acts], which, though indissolubly bound,
are clearly separate from each other. A thing is never merely an indi-
vidual but, in representative signification, exists as representing [Reprä-
sentant] a class that is present and embodied in it as an individual case.17
Certain languages are not content simply to designate this subordination
of the individual to the general only formally by prefixes; rather, they
clearly and extrinsically distinguish both acts of determination by at-
taching to the actual name of an object another that generically deter- ·19·
mines and completes it. Humboldt explains this procedure, in the intro-
duction to his Kawi-Werk, with the example of the Brahman. He notes
that the “real generic notion” of concrete objects is not always assigned
in this way: language is instead satisfied with the expression of what is
the same in some common similarity grasped in something that is understood.
Thus, the concept of an extended length is connected with the words
knife, sword, lance, bread, line, rope, etc., such that the most diverse ob-
jects are placed in the same class only because they have but one quality
in common. Humboldt concludes: “Thus, if these word combinations
attest, however, to a sense of logical organization, out of them more
often emerges the livelier activity of the power of the imagination: sub-
sequently, the Brahman used ‘hand’ to serve as the generic concept for all
kinds of tools, from firearms to chisels.”18 In these sentences is stated, in
a very concise way, the problem at which the following considerations of
the formation of mythical concepts and classes are aimed. We approach
the mythical correlations and classifications here not in terms of their con-
tent but from the perspective of methodology—we wish to make clear
the relationship between the various basic forces of the mind and the

17. See F. N. Finck, Die Haupttypen des Sprachbaus (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1910),
46ff. and 150ff.
18. W. Humboldt, Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues (Gesam-
melte Schriften, Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. VII, 1), 340.
18 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
psyche, and how, simultaneously with the active movement of the power
of the imagination, a peculiar logical meaning and a determined form and
direction of thought are exhibited in them.

3
We begin with those mythical divisions of the world which are rooted in
the sphere of totemic representation and on whose content and form the
stamp of the totemic way of thought is impressed. The question of the
origin and signification of totemism itself—a question that is well known
as one of the most controversial problems of ethnology and the history
of religion—can be completely left aside as it is not the question of the
·20· genesis of totemic intuition, only that of its determined consequences, that
concerns us here. The phenomena that we initially want to consider
have been particularly well observed in the native tribes of the Austra-
lian continent. Concerning the social organization of these tribes, it is
generally known that the structure is configured in such a way as to di-
vide the whole tribe into two exogamous groups: in the relatively sim-
plest type of classification, the so-called Urbunna type, the two main
groups are further divided into several subclasses, according to which
each is designated by its own particular totem animal or plant. It then
applies the rule that the man of one class, possessing a certain totemic
emblem, can marry only outside the group, and only women of a very
specific clan marked by a special totem. Other nuances may result from
the fact that the two main exogamous groups can possess as many as
two, four, or an even greater number of subdivisions that can determine
the affiliation of the children in each class by the class membership of,
first, the father, and then the mother. However, the general principle,
according to which marriages between individual members of the tribe
are regulated and by which the order of the offspring is determined in the
totemic society, is not essentially reconfigured. We need not enter into
the details of these, for us, very complicated family relationships and the
system of kinship that emerges from them. Material about this has been
published in the reports and presentations of Fison and Howitt and
Mathews, and especially in the careful examination of the native tribes
of Australia in two works by Spencer and Gillen. On the basis of this
material, Émile Durkheim, in Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse [Ele-
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 19
mentary Forms of Religious Life] (Paris, 1912), has sketched out a general
sociological theory of religion and its genesis. In this theory, the phe-
nomena of totemism is taken out of the narrow sphere in which it first
appears to belong; Durkeim stresses that totemism, in its primitive con-
figurations, is not merely a principle of social organization but a univer-
sal principle of the classification of the world, and, thus, of the intuition
and intelligibility of the world as well. Indeed, the distinctions between
the various clans, organized according to their respective totems, expand
further and further from the immediate social circles in which they first ·21·
apply until, finally, they merge with all the spheres of existence in gen-
eral, the natural as well as the spiritual. Not only the members of the
tribe but the entire universe with all that it contains are consolidated by
the totemic form of thought into groups that are associated with and
separated from one another through certain relationships. In this way,
this arrangement ultimately captures everything, both animate and in-
animate. The sun, moon, and stars are ordered and separated accord-
ing to the same classes as individual human beings and members of the
tribe.19 When, for instance, the entire tribe is divided into two main
groups—the Krokitch and Gamutch, or the Yungaroo and Wootaroo—
then all other objects also belong to one of these groups. The alligators
are Yungaroo, the kangaroos are Wootaroo, the sun is Yungaroo, the
moon is Wootaroo—and the same is true for all known constellations,
for all trees and plants. Rain, thunder, lightning, clouds, hail, and wind,
each has its own totemic emblem by which it is assigned to a particular
genus. We must bear in mind, here, that this generic determination ap-
pears to primitive thought and feeling as an absolutely real determina-
tion. It is in no way a matter of certain “signs” being attached in any
conventional or nominalist sense to factually diverse objects; rather, this
commonality of signs brings an existing commonality of being [Wesen]
to visible expression. Accordingly, everything humans do, every action

19. “All nature is [ . . . ] divided into class names, and said to be male and fe-
male. The sun and moon and stars are said to be men and women, and to belong
to classes just as the blacks themselves.” E. Palmer, “Notes on Some Australian
Tribes,” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (1884),
300; see, in particular, R. Mathews, “Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes
of New South Wales and Victoria. Part I,” Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society
of New South Wales 38 (1904), 208, 286, and 294.
20 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
exerted on the world of things, must be determined in accordance with
these criteria if it is to be successful. A sorcerer who belongs to the
Mallera group can, for instance, use his incantations and magical rites
only on those objects that belong to his group; all others would remain
·22· unaffected in his hands. The scaffold on which a corpse is placed must
be manufactured from the wood of a tree that belongs to the same class
as the deceased; so, too, the branches with which he is covered must also
be taken from a tree of his class. The Wackelbura in eastern Australia
are divided into the Mallera and Wutara, and the former group is sepa-
rated further into the Kurgila and Banbe. When a member of the Banbe
class dies, he must be buried by men of the Mallera class, and covered
with branches of the broad-leaved boxtree because it is Banbe.20 As you
can see, a very clear separation between the specific spheres of objects
has taken place here, in both the theoretical and practical sense, a sepa-
ration whose specific intellectual or emotional rationale at first appears
to us to be impenetrable, but from which at least one negative element
clearly emerges—namely, that it is not some exterior similarity of things,
their agreement in any singular, sensually understandable or demonstra-
ble feature that guides observation here. We have already recognized,
however, that mythical thought transforms sensible impressions in accor-
dance with its own structural form, and that it decrees in this transfor-
mation certain peculiar “categories” according to which the assignment
of different objects [Objekte] to specific basic classes takes place.
These observations on the totemic system of the indigenous tribes of
Australia were recently richly augmented and further confirmed in a
thorough and detailed presentation by Paul Wirz on the formation of
the totemic social groupings of the Marind-Anim in Dutch South New
Guinea. Here, too, the same basic feature of thought—the encroach-
ment of the totemic structure of the organization of the tribe on the or-
ganization of the world—shows itself in its clearest manifestation. The
totemic clan of the Marind and its neighboring tribes is, as Wirz explic-

20. See, in particular, the characteristic report by Muirhead, cited by Howitt,


“On Some Australian Beliefs,” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great
Britain and Ireland 13 (1884), 191, note 1; see also Howitt, “Further Notes on the
Australian Class Systems,” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain
and Ireland 18 (1889), 61 (Appendix II).
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 21
itly states, a universal totemism in the broadest sense, in that it includes
everything that exists. Every natural and artificial object [Objekt] belongs
to a clan, to a individual “Boan,” and is determined according to its ·23·
nature [Wesen]. This original solidarity finds its expression in a plethora
of myths by which all reality is grasped in its particularity and associated
with a magical-mythical thread. A comparison of the material collected
by Wirz and his entire presentation with analogous instances in other
cultural spheres shows that the myths are not primary and original; the
consciousness and feeling of class affiliation are, by contrast, the derived
element. Rather, the reverse relationship clearly applies here. The myth
only resets, in the form of a report or narrative, a determined consistency
of representation that, as such, is given. Instead of revealing the genesis
of this consistency, instead of giving us an explanation for it, the myth
provides us only with its explication, its interpretive laying out [Ausein-
anderlegung] in the form of a temporal event. What unites the various myths
is always an immediately felt mythical-totemic kinship, a common bond
and friendship that unites the totem with all beings. According to Wirz,
this bond extends so far that it is not possible to list all the totemic objects
[Objekte] that belong together. Not only individual things but even certain
activities, such as “sleeping” and “mating,” are understood as totemic
activities of a certain clan or clan association. It is as if no individual
thing or process could be “apperceived” or incorporated into the unity
of mythical consciousness without being determined and subordinated
to one of its mythical concepts of class. In this respect, it is particularly
instructive and important to note that new objects that were supplied
to the Marind-Anim from the outside, through foreign exchange, were
immediately absorbed into the same character of thought. Wirz de-
scribes this occurrence in this way: “Any coincidence or minor common-
ality can give occasion to the totemic relation [ . . . ]. A clan, the Sapi-
Zé, which designates itself after an ancestor Sapi, recently received a new
totemic relative that was the cow, only because the ox is Malay Sapi and
was known by the name Marind.” Likewise, for example, sago and fine
gray clay are also brought together based upon a purely superficial re-
semblance; the Sago-Boan and the Ton-Boan are considered to be related,
and this relation extends to such a degree that the two groups are not
allowed to intermarry. In its mythical totemic system of relationships,
the Marind also classified a bright red, blossoming ornamental tree that ·24·
22 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
had been recently introduced and cultivated as belonging to the Fire-
Boan because its flowers, they said, were red like fire. If from all of these
examples, however, Wirz concludes that totemic relations often come
about in a purely accidental, arbitrary, and playful way, then he would
seem to measure mythical thought by a standard other than its own. For
the very same thing that forms a constitutive basic feature of this think-
ing finds a community of beings [Wesens] where we are able to identify
only a mere analogy or external resemblance. Mythically, the name is
never taken as a merely conventional sign for a thing, but as a real part
of it—and a part that, according to the mythical-magical principle of
“pars pro toto” [a part for the whole], not only represents the whole but
actually “is” the whole. Anyone who takes possession of the name gains,
in this way, violent power over the object itself, which is the same in its
“reality” (that is, in its magical efficacy) as its own. And here as well the
similarity is never understood as a “mere” relation that has its origins in
our subjective thinking; rather, it immediately points back [zurückgedeutet]21
to a real identity: things cannot appear as similar without somehow being
one in their essence. If we consider this, it becomes clear that, in each
case, what appears to us as a random and playful ordering of particular
objects according to individual mythical classes, is, after all, the forma-
tion of a general mythical concept of class which belongs to an even
deeper layer of mythical thought, and which, in all its idiosyncracy, ex-
presses not an arbitrary but, in a certain sense, the necessary structure
of this thinking.22
The underlying apprehension here emerges even more clearly when
·25· we approach it not from the side of the content of intuition but from the
side of the form of intuition, considering as well how the representation

21. [Cassirer makes a play on the German that cannot be translated here:
zurückgedeutet means to point back, but it can be literally translated as zurück-
gedeutet, interpret-back.]
22. On the whole of this problem, see Wirz, Die Marind-anim von Holländisch
Süd-Neu-Guinea, vol. I, part 2: “Die religiösen Vorstellungen und die Mythen der
Marindanim, sowie die Herausbildung der totemistisch-sozialen Gruppierungen.”
I was able to consult Wirz’s work, which appeared in the fall of 1922 in the Pro-
ceedings of Hamburg University, only after the writing of this paper. I am indebted to
my colleagues Professors Carl Meinhof and Otto Dempwolff for pointing it out
to me.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 23
of the spatial interconnection of things is configured for the mythical
view of the world. In the world of totemic thought, the organization of
space and the differentiation of spatial regions and directions do not take
place as in our sense according to a geometrical, physical perspective
but according to a specific totemic viewpoint. In the totality [Gesamtheit]
of space, there are as many clearly separate individual regions as there
are different clans within the whole [Gesamtheit] of the tribe. Moreover,
every individual clan is associated with a determined orientation in space.
Howitt reports that the Aboriginals of an Australian tribe have orga-
nized their tribe, which is divided into two main groups, the Krokitch
and the Gamutch, according to the initial placement on the ground of a
single staff pointing due east. This staff divided the whole of space into
upper and lower, northern and southern halves; one place was assigned
to the Krokitch group and the other place to the Gamutch group. The
further organization of these groups into classes and subclasses arose
from the placement, near the first staff, of other staffs that were laid
down in a certain sequence in the directions of northeast, north, west,
etc., until finally the entire circumcircle of space was divided into differ-
ent sectors, each of which was simultaneously designated as the place of
a very specific class or subclass. We are not dealing here with a merely
representative [repräsentative] presentation, such as a schematic illustra-
tion of kin relationships by spatial relationships, but with an actual, es-
sential interconnection between the individual classes and the spatial
areas associated with them. Here, too, funeral rites prove to be very sig-
nificant. For example, when a Ngaui, i.e., one of the men of the sun in
one of the relevant tribes whose place belongs to the east, dies, care will
be taken to place the corpse in the grave so that it rests with the head
pointing due east. Correspondingly, members of other classes connected
with a particular direction in space are likewise bound to it.23 ·26·

23. Howitt, “Further Notes on the Australian Class Systems,” 61ff. (see Appen-
dix II); Mathews, “Ethnological Notes,” 293; see Émile Durkheim, Les formes
élémentaires de la vie religieuse. Le système totémique en Australie (Paris: Felix Alcan, 1912)
(Travaux de l’année sociologique), 15ff. and 200ff., and Émile Durkheim and
Marcel Mauss, “De quelques formes primitives de classification. Contribution à
l’étude des représentations collectives,” L’année sociologique 6 (1901–1902), 1–72. A
very similar view and description of totemic classification appears to be present
when, according to the report by Wirz, the Marind-Anim aboriginals attempted
24 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
The same basic classification presents itself, however, in much more
definite terms and in a truly systematic organization in the representa-
tion of the regions of the world by the Zuñi, a tribe of Indians in New
Mexico. The mythical-religious worldview of the Zuñi, and the basic
form of their “mythic-sociological organization,” have been most thor-
oughly observed and described by Cushing, who lived for many years
among them.24 His writings have been greatly supplemented by Steven-
son’s and Kroeber’s in-depth studies on the kinship and clan division of
the Zuñi.25 The peculiar form of the “heptarchy,” the sevenfold organi-
zation of the tribe that corresponds, according to the Zuñi, to a precise
sevenfold organization of space and the world, is clearly reflected in
their external way of life. The village they inhabit is divided into seven
regions, seven spatial neighborhoods—namely, the north, the west, the
south, the east, the upper and lower worlds, and, finally, the “middle” of
the world, which is composed of all the parts. Not just every particular
clan of the tribe but every inanimate and animate being [Wesen], every
thing, every process, every element, and every determined period of
time belongs to one of the seven regions. The clan of the crane and the
·27· pelican, the forest grouse and the evergreen oak belong to the north, the
bear to the west, the deer and the antelope to the east; the parrot clan,
the mother clan of the whole tribe, appropriately takes the central posi-
tion in space, the region of the “middle.” In addition, every spatial re-
gion has a specific corresponding color and number: north is yellow, west
is blue, south is red, east is white; the upper region of the zenith appears

to clarify the relationships between the various clans: they drew a canoe in the
sand and explained that everything in Boan had come with a single canoe from
the east, where everything belonging to the Boan had its specific place.
24. F. Cushing, “Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths,” Thirteenth Annual Report of
the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1891–92), 367ff.; the
description is essentially completed in a series of essays by Cushing, collected and
published under the title Zuñi Breadstuff (Indian Notes and Monographs. A Series
of Publications Relating to the American Aborigines, vol. 8), edited by the
Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, vol. III (New York, 1920).
25. S. Stevenson, “The Zuñi Indians: Their Mythology, Esoteric Fraternities,
and Ceremonies,” Twenty-third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1904; A. Kroeber, “Zuñi Kin and Clan,” Anthro-
pological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 18 (1917).
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 25
multicolored, while the middle, as the representative [Repräsentative] of
all regions, includes all the colors united. Each region is also the home-
land [Heimat] of a particular element and a particular season: to the
north belong air and winter, to the west water and spring, to the south
fire and summer, to the east earth and autumn. Here, not only are the
different regions distinguished but so, too, their value: at the top stands
the north, followed by the west, the south, the east, the upper and lower
worlds; the all-encompassing middle is not specifically named in this
organization. The division of the social professions and labor also fol-
lows the same principle: war belongs to the north and its classes, hunting
to the west, agriculture and medicine to the south, magic and religion to
the east. Through this form of classification, as Cushing points out, the
entire political and religious life of the people is completely systematized.
If the tribe shares a common encampment site, there is not the slightest
doubt as to the determined space that each individual occupies in it: the
distribution of individual groups is governed by the cardinal points. And
this certainty of the spatial “orientation” encloses within itself an analo-
gous orientation of every activity [Tun] and thought. There is no cele-
bration, no ceremony, no meeting of the council, no procession in which
some misunderstanding as to the order to be kept, the position of the
individual clans and the primacy that each is due, could arise. All of this
is so precisely determined by the mythical-sociological structure of their
worldview that it not only equals but surpasses the immediate binding
force of written regulations and laws. Moreover, this basic view operates
as well in the domain of immediate practical activity: for example, ac-
cording to Stevenson, the Zuñi have taken the greatest care in agricul- ·28·
ture to ensure that the colors of their grains correspond to the colors of
the main regions.26
All of these details are significant for the general problem that we are
concerned with here because they reveal the clearest guidelines by which
the manifold of sensuous impressions is divided and organized for the

26. See Stevenson, The Zuñi Indians, 350: “These primitive agriculturists have
observed the greatest care in developing color in corn and beans to harmonize
with the six regions—yellow for the north, blue for the west, red for the south,
white for the east, variegated for the Zenith, and black for the Nadir.” See, in
particular, Cushing, Zuñi Breadstuff, 176ff. For the entire question, see Appendix IV.
26 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
human mind, that is, not according to the mere nature of these impres-
sions, which are given and prescribed in themselves, but according to the
characteristic of seeing, the particular spiritual perspective by which the
figure of the world, as an equally physical and spiritual cosmos, is first
determined. Modern sociology believed that it had found the key to this
basic relationship in tracing back all the logical bonds of our thought to
primitive and primordial social bonds. And, indeed, does there appear
any greater proof and evidence for this interconnection than the rela-
tionships we have just considered? Is it not absolutely clear that our logi-
cal concepts of classes and kinds are, in the end, nothing other than the
reflections of certain social classes and forms of life? The ultimate actual
division on which our thought, in all its artful systems of classification,
concludes, as Durkheim advances, is the division of human society. “In
all probability we would never have thought of joining elements of the
universe together in like groups, categories and types, if we had not had
the example of human community before our eyes, if we had not begun
by making things themselves members of the society of men, so that
logical and social groupings originally flowed into one another without
distinction.”27 It immediately becomes clear, however, that this explana-
tion is too narrow, and, at the very least, insufficient to grasp and inter-
pret the totality of the phenomena being considered, particularly when
we are considering the general form of classification as it confronts us
in the Zuñi system. This system far exceeds the narrow dimensions in
·29· which we encounter it here. We find again the same typical forms of
classification in other modes of life and thought that culturally and so-
cially do not conform to totemic forms of thinking and society. In order
to illustrate this, we will return once again to the problem of space and its
organization. The totemic structure of spatial-consciousness can imme-
diately be placed beside the astrological structure of spatial-consciousness. Very
specific factual transitions and mediations appear to exist between the
two, so that in certain cases it remains questionable whether a certain
sphere of culture, in its overall spiritual attitude, and especially in its
view of space, belonged more to one or to the other structure. Thus, for

27. [Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, tr. Carol Cosman
and Mark S. Cladis, Oxford World Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2001), 114. Translation slightly amended.]
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 27
example, the view of the world of the ancient Mexican cultural sphere
exhibits certain traits by which it appears to be related to the mythical-
sociological worldview of the Zuñi, whose basic elements we have just
discussed. However, these very elements, out of which the construction
of an actual cosmic interconnection is attempted, surround another
region of being. Like the Zuñi, the sevenfold division of the world that
underlies all their thinking is also reflected externally in the sevenfold
arrangement of their dwellings. It is reported that the ancient city of
Mexico was divided into four regions according to the four cardinal
points.28 As with the Zuñi, where each spatial zone was designated by
specific color, here, too, the directions, in ancient Mexican Mayan man-
uscripts, are identified by different colors. Yellow belongs to the south,
red, white, and black, respectively, to the east, north, and west, and the
fifth direction, the vertical or middle, appears to correspond to green or
blue.29 At the same time, however, the classification assumes a certain
calendric character that is retranscribed throughout the domain of astro-
logical-astronomical considerations. As in astrology, here, too, we find
the representation of a certain deity that presides over a special period
of time. The ancient Mexicans’ “Tonalamatl,” that is, the book of good
and evil days, is divided into periods of 13 × 20 = 260 days. Within each ·30·
day, different “signs of the day,” different masters of certain hours of the
day or night, are distinguished. Thirteen guardians of the hours of the day
stand by nine masters of the hours of the night. Thus, tiers of divinities
or manifestations of a divinity were set into a fixed relation to different
time periods and in this way created a basic system of astrological pre-
determination of the future. If Seler’s interpretation of the Mayan
manuscripts applies,30 an exact analogy to the notion of world-zones that
was developed by Babylonian astrology can be discerned here. Each of the
seven zones is assigned one of the seven planets and is thought to control

28. See T. Danzel, “Babylon und Altmexiko,” El Mexico antiguo. Revista inter-
nacional de arqueologia, etnologia, folklore, prehistoria, historia antigua y lingüistica mexicanas
1 (1919–1922), 243.
29. For details, see Eduard Seler, “Der Charakter der aztekischen und der
Maya-Handschriften” and “Zur mexikanischen,” in Gesammelte Abhandlung zur
amerikanischen Sprach- und Altertumskunde (Berlin: Asher, 1902), 411, 527ff.
30. E. Seler, “Der Codex Borgia und die verwandten aztekischen Bilder-
schriften,” and “Das Tonalamatl der alten Mexikaner,” ibid., 133ff., 600ff.
28 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
it. A corresponding organization of the world occurred in India and
Persia, in the seven dvipas of Indian geography and cosmography and the
seven Persian keshvars. However, through a particularly strange and me-
ticulous design, this classification of the universe and its contents also
appears in Chinese thought, where it developed into a general schema of
the conception of the world as such. The basic idea of Chinese religions—
that the entire world is governed by a uniform law, that one and the
same Tao is effective in celestial events as in earthly events and human
action—has created in this schema, as it were, its concrete-sensuous ex-
pression. Every classification of things, all class formation refers back
to the great model of the heavens. Accordingly, the diversity of the heav-
enly regions progresses through the whole of being and through all of its
specific modes of being. For example, one of the oldest works of Chi-
nese medical literature, the Su Wen, sets up a table in which the east is
associated with the season of spring, with the element of wood, with the
organ of the liver, with the emotion of wrath, with the color blue, and
with the sour quality of taste. Correspondingly, the west is associated with
autumn, metal, the lung, concern, white, and sharp taste; middle earth is
·31· associated with the spleen, thought, etc. Each specific region of space is
also assigned a particular animal: to the east, the image of a blue dragon;
to the south, that of a red bird; to the west, that of a white tiger; to the
north, that of a black tortoise. Every religious “science” of the Chinese,
all knowing and all predicting of things and events, is set within this
basic schema, from which general guidelines for the “divination of the
universe,” particularly, in China, the advanced geomancy of the theory
of Fung Šui,31 can be abstracted. If we turn to the way in which the
Greeks appropriated ancient Babylonian theory and the ways in which
they sought to make it scientifically fertile, an antithetical feature of
Greek culture and its manner of thinking clearly emerges. The Greek
geographers took up the Babylonian idea [Idee] of world-zones, but they
freed it from all cosmological-fantastic trappings in order to use it purely

31. On the whole of the problem, see mainly J. de Groot, The Religious System
of China, Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect. Manners, Customs and
Social Institutions Connected Therewith, vol. I (Leiden: Brill, 1897), 960ff.; Universismus.
Die Grundlage der Religion und Ethik, des Staatswesens und der Wissenschaften Chinas
(Berlin: Reimer, 1918), in particular, 119, 171, and 364ff. See Appendix V.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 29
for the purposes of scientific geography. From the many world-zones or
world-islands that embrace one another, they conceived seven rectilinear
zones that were intended to serve only the requirements of an eidetic
overview and organization.32 Thus, these Greek geographers are related
to the idea [Idee] of world-zones as Eudoxus, the founder of the Greeks’
scientific astrology and Plato’s pupil, was related to the idea [Idee] of
Babylonian astrology. A decisive turn in the intuition of the cosmos takes
place here, a turn that was only possible, however, because Greek philoso-
phy had previously discovered and determined with methodological rigor
new instruments of pure theoretical knowledge of the world, new con-
cepts and forms of thought.
Within mythical-astrological thought, however, the organization of
the cosmos, the divisio naturae [the division of nature], now proceeds
more definitely in the direction just discussed. In the ancient Babylonian
period, astrological geography divided the mundane world into four major
regions: Akkad, i.e., Babylonia, in the south; Subartu, i.e., the land that
stretches east and northeast of ancient Babylonia and Assyria, in the
north; Elam, a part of late Persia just to the borders of the Central Asian ·32·
highland, in the east; Amurru, i.e., Syria and Palestine, in the west. The
operations in the heavens were divided into different orders that re-
flected these lands. Every planet, like the separate fixed stars, corre-
sponded to a particular geographic-astrological signification: Jupiter des-
ignated the star of Akkad; Mars, the star of Amurru; Plejaden for Elam,
Perseus for Amurru. In a further specialization, the right side of the ris-
ing moon was related to the west, the land of Amuru, while the left side
was related to the east, the land of Elam. This spatial organization also
takes place in the organization of time. In detailed tables, the separate
planets, constellations, and fixed stars were arranged into groups of
twelve, which were connected with the individual months of the year
and distributed, in accordance with this order, to the various geographi-
cal regions. The first, fifth, and ninth months of the year were allocated
to Akkad; the second, sixth, and tenth months to Elam; the third, seventh,
and eleventh months to Subartu. The same principle of classification

32. For details, see P. Jensen, Die Kosmologie der Babylonier (Strasbourg: Karl J.
Triibner, 1890), 163ff.
30 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
was also extended to the individual days of the month.33 More generally,
in the later development of the astrological system, every greater or
smaller period of time possessed its own particular planetary ruler,
its chronocrator. Mars was lord of the year, Venus the mistress of the
month; Mercury ordered the day, and the sun commanded the hour.
The allocation of individual days of the week to the planets expressed
itself directly in their Latin names: Solis, Lunae, Martis, Mecurii, Jovis, Ven-
eris, Saturni. The successive phases in the life of the individual were also
subjected to this order: from the moon that rules over earliest childhood,
the dominion of the planets over the life of humans moved gradually
from Mercury through Venus, the sun, and Jupiter, until, in the end,
under the reign of Saturn, life drew to a close.34 And just as each discrete
·33· period belonged to and was accompanied by a particular star, every-
thing that happens—the content of every event and all human activity
[Tun]—exhibited the same referential character. Even the most insignifi-
cant performance was subjected, through its grounding in the time and
hour, to its grounding in the stars. It is known how astrology, in its system
of classification, methodologically carried out this basic intuition in the
smallest and finest detail, how it carefully calculated the most positive
moment for the bath, for changing clothes, for each specific meal, for
cutting hair and trimming beards, for filing nails; Ungues Mercurio, barbam
Iove, Cypride crinem35 is an ancient astrological rule. And, as with the indi-

33. On astrological geography, see M. Jastrow, Jr., Aspects of Religious Belief and
Practice in Babylonia and Assyria (American Lectures on the History of Religions,
vol. 8) (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911), 217ff. and 234ff. See as
well the presentation by C. Bezold in the first chapter of Sternglaube und Sterndeu-
tung. Die Geschichte und das Wesen der Astrologie, by Franz Boll (Leipzig and Berlin:
B. G. Teubner, 1919).
34. On the astrology of the ages of life, see F. Boll, Die Lebensalter (Leipzig and
Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1913); in addition, see the following for a masterful over-
view of Boll’s work “Sternglaube und Sterndeutung,” in particular, his article on
the development of the astronomical worldview in the context of religion and
philosophy, in Die Kultur der Gegenwart, part III, section 3; vol. III (Leipzig and
Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1921), 1–51.
35. Ausonius, book VII, 29, cited by F. Cumont, Die orientalischen Religionen im
römischen Heidentum (Leipzig and Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1910), 313. F. Boll, “Die
Erforschung der antiken Astrologie,” Neue Jahrbücher für das klassische Altertum
(1908), 109ff. [There is a play on words that cannot be rendered into English:
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 31
vidual actions of the human, all natural existence was situated in this
planetary schema and obtained by this inclusion a permanent place in
the universe. The basic elements of perception, the sensory qualities, as
well as the physical elements of the material world were subject to this
system of classification. The different colors that illuminated the planets,
which appeared to early observers, led to the distribution of the seven
colors of the spectrum to five planets, the sun, and the moon. Just as the
elements of air, fire, earth, and water were assigned to the planets, so,
too, were the qualities of warm-damp and warm-dry, cold-dry and cold-
wet. Likewise, as the mixture of substances in general were dependent
on the stars, so, too, were the mixtures of humors in humans, as well as
the “temperaments”—the sanguine, the choleric, the melancholic, and
the phlegmatic. If one admits that animals and plants, precious stones,
and metals relate to the seven planets and twelve signs of the zodiac in
the same way—that, for example, gold is equivalent to the sun, silver
to the moon, iron to Mars, tin to Jupiter, lead to Saturn36—then it is clear
that, in the end, there can be no thing, no property, no process, no action
[Tun] in the world that does not have its assigned place and position in
the whole.
From this, however, it becomes immediately evident that astrology,
strange and adventurous as its conclusions appear to be, is based not ·34·
merely on a confused mixture of superstition but on a peculiar form of
thought. The problem of how to think of the totality [Ganze] of the world
as a lawful unity, as a self-contained causal structure, is already most
decisively posed in astrology. Here, we encounter everywhere “explana-
tions” of particular appearances which may seem insecure and unstable
with regard to their specific details, but which belong to a general type of
causal [ursächlichen] thinking, causal [kausalen] deduction and reasoning.
The entire astrological system is based on the premise that all physical
events in the world are interconnected through imperceptible transitions,
that every effect, from the place in which it was generated, continues
endlessly to seize and affect all the parts of the universe. The stars are,
as it were, only the clearest, most visible exponents of this fundamental

Nails is for Mercury (to be done on Wednesday), beards is for Jove (to be done on
Thursday), hair is for Venus (to be done on Friday).]
36. See Appendix VI, below.
32 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
interconnection of the universe. As the passage of the sun determines
the changing of the seasons and, thereby, the growth and decay of veg-
etation, as the tides depend on the course of the moon, so, in general,
no single occurrence can be thought that cannot be connected, through
some close or distant link, to the motion of the heavens. The determina-
tion of the individual form and fate [Geschicks] of human beings is, in a
similar way, “explained” by the psychological-cosmological speculation
that is based on the system of astrology. It was a generally common view
in late antiquity, expressed in different forms, that souls, when they de-
scend from empyrean, from the heights of the heavens into the earthly
body, must traverse the spheres of the seven planets and that every
planet confers on them the particularity that accords with their nature
[Wesen].37 Gnostic and Neoplatonic speculation have developed this basic
insight in different directions, the former understanding it in a pessimis-
tic way, the latter optimistically. At one moment, the stars impart weak-
ness and passion to humans, and, at another moment, the basic forces
·35· of physical and moral life.38 Similarly, in medieval Christian astrology,
the seven planets impart to the human soul the seven mortal sins on its
descent into the earthly: Mars gives iracundia [irritability], Venus, the li-
bido [appetites], Mercury, the lucri cupiditas [love of gain], Jupiter, the regni
desiderium [desire of rule], etc. Even apart from such particular applica-
tions, however, the peculiar “principle of causality” of astrology is found
in the tendency to explain all earthly configurations and effective actions
by “emanations” from the supernatural world. The ancient theory of
celestial ȐʌȩȡȡȠLĮȚ [emanations] prevailed until the Renaissance, although
Marsilio Ficino nevertheless produced a detailed presentation and anal-
ysis of the theory of radii coelestes [rays of the heavens].39 Every particu-
lar existence and event is bound as if with chains to a certain point in the
heavens as its place of origin. In light of the foregoing, as one can see,

37. For details, see Boll, Die Lebensalter, 37ff.


38. Thus Gnosticism gives the sense of the first intuition of Saturn as idleness
or falsehood and deceit; the Neoplatonists, however, accord to it “ratiocinationem
et intelligentiam [ratiocination and intelligence]” (IJާșİȦȡȘIJȚțȩȞ [the theoreti-
cal]); details about this can be found in a yet unpublished work by Panofsky and
Saxl, which is expected to appear in the “Studies of the Warburg Library”.
39. Boll, Die Lebensalter, 37ff.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 33
the astrological view of the world claims, in form, nothing less than the
modern natural-scientific explanation of nature. From a purely formal
perspective, astrology is one of the most magnificent attempts at the
systematic construction of an explication of the world ever ventured by
the human spirit: the demand to “behold the whole in the minute” has
rarely been so vividly stated and so consistently attempted as it was here.
The more pressing question, however, concerns the characteristic fea-
tures by which the causal thinking of science designated itself as such
and by which it clearly and in principle differs from the type of causality
that governs in the astrological system. Indeed, if one measures the “ex-
planations” of astrology by our modern notions and modern methods of
determining physical “causality,” it immediately becomes apparent just
how fragile the astrological system is. From the standpoint of this scien-
tific ideal of knowledge, all the “inductions” of astrology appear as false
and skewed analogies, and as arbitrary and hasty generalizations. These
errors are so clearly evident that it is, at first, difficult to understand how,
in spite of them, in spite of the palpable shortcomings of empirical ob-
servation and material evidence, such a system was able to maintain its ·36·
almost unchallenged domination over the greatest scientific minds, up
to Tycho Brahe and Kepler. However, the fact that our modern analytic-
scientific concept of causality is not a natural possession of the mind but
one of its most recent methodological achievements is most evident here.
This concept is by no means content with the simple question of the
“why” of being and events; rather, it gives this question, which is as old
as human thought in general, a distinctly new twist and imprint. Myth
also asks after the why of things; it also develops a system of theogony
and cosmogony. However, despite all of its efforts to return to the final
“origin” of things, in the end it does not go beyond their concrete “exis-
tence.” The present form [Gestalt] of the world is to be understood in
the context of its mythical past, not in terms of its own structure and
nature, but the mythical past differs in that it is suffused throughout with
the color of the sensible present. Thus, finally, myth explains the whole
world, for its explanation is tied to the tangible [dinglich] part of the same
world—it lets the world emerge from the world-egg or world-ash, it lets
the world be formed out of the body of a giant. Both members of the
causal relationship, the “cause” [Ursache] as well as “effect,” are thus
seized as concrete things [Dinge] and are, as such, related to one another.
34 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
Events take the form of a transition from one thing-figure into another—
this is mythically “conceived,” that is, the successive phases of the thing
are simply grasped and described in their succession. However, the fur-
ther mythical thought progresses, the more complex and indirect this
description becomes. Thought is no longer content to grasp “cause” and
“effect” only as content, that is, to determine that which proceeds out of
another, or to state the mere fact of this emergence; rather, it inquires
after the form of this emergence and attempts to subject it to a general
rule. Astrological thought is already at this stage of reflection; however,
it has not yet freed itself from the “complex” thought of myth, from
thought that confronts cause and effect only as a thing-like totality [Ganz-
heiten] that cannot be disassembled. This explains why it takes its form
from a peculiar middle-hybrid position between myth and science. Here,
·37· for the first time, the infinite variety of the individual forces of myth is
systematized and a general order is introduced. Through the relation of
the deities to each planet, the figures of the gods of polytheism simulta-
neously obtained a fixed, limited position in the cosmos and a specific
efficacy. Reality is no longer ruled by the individual whims of unpredict-
able forces but [ruled] by forces that are bound by a common form of
effective action in a uniform concept of “nature” as a general lawfulness
of events. And yet, within astrology, this abstract thought of the lawful-
ness of the universe was not able to fill itself with concrete content. It
was unable to achieve the apprehension of truly defined “particular laws
of nature,” but through its attempt to apply general categories of the
lawfulness of events to the particular and individual, thought lost itself
again in fantasy and the fantastic. For here an important and indispens-
able intermediary was still lacking—the medius terminus [middle term] that
first gave the concept of law its positive signification and secured its fruit-
ful application in modern physics.
Since Galileo and Kepler in the Renaissance, the form of the scientific
explanation of nature has remained unalterable in its essential feature—
the dissolving of all being into becoming, into spatiotemporal relations,
and the grounding of its lawfulness in the whole of these relations. In the
mathematical theory of natural events, which was the purest and most
perfect expression of this thought, all content and every event had to
be transformed into a complex of magnitudes in order to be viewed and
available to explanation as changeable from moment to moment. Thus,
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 35
the task of theory is to ascertain how all of these changes are mutually
interconnected and how they condition one another. If we imagine a
worldly state at a given moment (t1) and assume that all of its determin-
ing values of magnitudes are known to us, and, further, that changes in
these values would be expressed in equations that present them as func-
tions of time, the entire future knowledge of the world could be deter-
mined through the continuation of a point that it would experience in
the ensuing moments, t2, t3, . . . , etc.; it could thus be mapped out. The
characteristic variable states, the moments x, y, z, together with the first ·38·
d2x dy d2y
or second differential quotients with respect to time dx —, —, —, — and
dt dt2 dt dt2
so on, would be sufficient to clearly describe all coming events, as we are
able to calculate immediately from them, through a simple setting of the
parameter of time, every event in the past. This is the form that the think-
ing of the lawful necessity of natural events has adopted in the modern
astronomical view of the world, in its view of the “mechanics of the
heavens.” This “mechanics of the heavens” is based upon the logical
analysis of the infinite, that is, on the concept of the infinitely small, the
function of and change in magnitude. At the same time, however, in order
for our modern scientific thought to be able to conceive some being in
this way, it must first correlate it to elementary alterations and simulta-
neously annihilate it. The form of the whole, as it is available to sensory
perception or pure intuition, disappears: it is replaced by the idea of a
defined rule of becoming. The nature [Wesen] of each thing is deter-
mined by its genetic definition, by its construction [Aufbau] from the in-
dividual partial conditions that constitute it.
The astrological intuition of being is vehemently opposed to this dis-
solution into the elements of becoming and into their pure determina-
tion as magnitude. Again, it finds in every part, however small, the form
of the whole; we can only think the whole as lawful connection, as the
synthesis of elementary processes. Our procedure, therefore, is, as math-
ematics characteristically calls it, the process of integration, the construc-
tive building up of the knowledge of the whole from knowledge of its
conditioned parts; astrology’s procedure consists in never approaching the
“parts” of being, in the assertion of the identity of being over all empiri-
cal differences and divisions, the identity of its pure foundational figure.
In this develops the unique character of “complex” thought that so fun-
damentally distinguishes analytic-scientific consciousness from mythical
36 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
consciousness. Given the infinite complexity of causal factors that enter
into every unique event and existence, the danger exists, for our way of
thinking, that we may never arrive at the real determination of a con-
·39· crete whole, of a single “actual” being or process: this is because the
functional thought of science, every cognition of an empirical reality, is
transformed into an infinite task, as Galileo first recognized and clearly
stated. For the astrological view of the world, however, the problem is
reversed—the universe as such can never be separated into actual, inde-
pendent determinations. Every attempt at such a separation is implicitly
sublated by the principle of the “sympathy of all things” before it has
barely been undertaken. Particular events and existences become merely
a cover or mask behind which hides an identical form of the universe,
which stands for everything, the small as the big, the near as the distant,
all the same. For modern science, the unity that is sought is the unity of
the laws of nature as a pure functional law; for astrology, it is the unity of
an enduring and consistent existence, a structure of the totality of the world
[Weltganzen]. The world resembles a crystal in which, no matter how
much it is broken into ever smaller pieces, one is always able to recognize
the same characteristic form of organization. Clearly, this is what ap-
peared in those totemic divisions in which we recognized one of the
most primitive forms of the mythical concept of the world. In the system
of the Zuñi, for example, not only was the whole of being divided into
seven spatial regions, so, too, were the members of the tribe, the ani-
mals, the plants, the elements, and the colors, and within a single sphere,
the same unique “septuarchy” repeated itself. The members of a single
clan, to which a particular totem animal was assigned, may, therefore,
differ from one another by virtue of employing a different limb of the
animal—e.g., its head, or its right or left leg—as a particular totemic
emblem, and, once again, one part would correspond to the north, an-
other to the west, one to the “higher” world and another to the “lower”
world, etc.40 The structure of the whole therefore returns, but only on an
abbreviated scale and concentrated in different parts. The whole of time
and the stages of life, the qualities and elements, the corporeal and spiri-
tual worlds, the characters and temperaments, are also, in the astrologi-
cal worldview, constructed according to the same model that revealed

40. For more details, see Cushing, Zuñi Breadstuff, 368ff. (see Appendix IV).
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 37
itself to us in the configuration of the planets, a model that stands before ·40·
us in the clearest spatial projection, as the most orderly arrangement of
all the basic relationships. There prevails here a kind of mythical con-
gruence whose pure form can be compared to the law of grammatical
congruence that confronts us in the consideration of the formation of
linguistic concepts and classes. A certain intuitional, emotional, and
intellectual distinction does not remain fixed to the point where it first
arose; rather, it has a tendency to continue to have an effect, to pull in all
of being in ever-wider circles and, in the end, to envelop and “organize”
it in some way.
The key idea of astrology—the idea of the unity of the microcosm
and the macrocosm—receives here its clearest signification. This unity,
even where it appears as the expression of the causal and dynamic, has
its origin and fundamental significance in an always statically substantial
unity. It is an original unity of being to which the mediated unity of effec-
tive action clearly refers. The primary reason that man is governed by the
laws of the universe lies not so much in the fact that he continually expe-
riences renewed effects from the cosmos but in the fact that, on a smaller
scale, man is the universe itself. Now, of course, this characteristic of
astrological thought, which this thinking assigns to a particular genus
classification, is not sufficient in order to also determine its particular
kind, its specific peculiarity. For even the modern science of causes
knows, in addition to the general concepts of function and law, special
“structural concepts,” which, in their methodological stratification and
coincidence, clearly contrast with the concepts of the first kind.41 In par-
ticular, there are the descriptive sciences of nature, above all, the sci-
ences of organic life, which cannot do without such structural concepts.
Thus, it appears that the more the mode of astrological thought differs
from the modern mathematical sciences of nature, the closer it seems
to approach the biological concepts of form. Indeed, the idea of the “world-
organism” is the recurring image in which astrology loves to dress its ·41·
basic intuition. It would be absurd, says Agrippa von Nettesheim, if the
heavens, the stars, and the elements, which are for all individual beings

41. On this subject, see Carl Stumpf, “Zur Einteilung der Wissenschaften,”
Abhandlungen der Königlich-Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophish-historische
Classe (Berlin: Verlag der Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1907), 28ff.
38 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
the source of life and ensoulment, should themselves lack life and en-
soulment; if the law that is sensed as a whole in every movement of a
limb in the human body does not assert its validity for the entire uni-
verse.42 Nevertheless, it is not in just this aspect of the basic view of life
that the antagonism between the mythical-astrological mode of thought
and the modern sciences’ concepts of form and structure is less pro-
nounced. The apparent coincidence between them in terms of the con-
tent of the concepts only highlights the distance between their respective
forms of thought all the more clearly. The peculiar inner dialectic of astro-
logical thinking consists in the fact that, by missing the generality of
mathematical laws, it forfeits true particularity, the determination of the
individual form. It attempts to grasp the organic unity and vitality of the
whole world, but the vitality of the universe is completely absorbed in
the rigidity of mathematical formulae. The same formulae, when used
to breathe independent life into the universe, bring out its authentic
cognitive content, its purely ideal signification. The organic becomes a
subspecies of mathematics, the mathematical a subspecies of the organic:
but in just this way, neither of them attains the real independence of its
concepts.
Perhaps we become most aware of this limit of astrological thought
when we compare the astrological concept of form to Goethe’s concept of
form. In one of the most famous and perfect poetic formulations of the
concept of form, Goethe connected his basic intuition to the symbols of
astrology. In the Orphic originary words, every “shaped [geprägte] form
develops by living,” which can only be grasped as a particular develop-
ment [Ausprägung] of the all-embracing necessity that is expressed in the
forms of the heavens and the position of the planets. And it is only by
comparing Goethe’s idea of dynamic form and development with the
·42· purely static concept of astrology that a great distance becomes com-
pletely apparent.43 Equally divorced from the mindset of modern math-

42. Agrippa von Nettesheim, De occulta philosophia, book II, chaps. 56 and 60.
43. What is found here, in the following short summary, can be found in
greater detail in two of my works, “Goethe und die mathematische Physik. Eine
erkenntnistheoretische Betrachtung,” in Idee und Gestalt (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer,
1921), 27–108, and “Goethe und Platon,” Sokrates. Zeitschrift für das Gymnasialwesen
10 (1922), 1–22.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 39
ematics and mathematical physics, Goethe dismantles the whole of the
world, but not only into its elements; he wants to view the whole of the
world as a formed whole, as a complex of pure figures. He subjects this
“thinking in figures,” however, to the basic principle that finds its univer-
sal expression in the idea [Idee] of metamorphosis. It is not a question,
here, of rising from the individual figure to the “general,” of comparing
and combining it with others under the generic concept of type and
class; rather, all coherence exhibits itself as a coherence of becoming.
Only that which is derived from a common principle of formation and
which can be thought of as emerging from it truly appears to belong
together. The rule of continuity is, therefore, considered a basic rule of
derivation. At no time can we refer an individual case or intuition im-
mediately to another based on the evidence of mere semblance; rather,
only what follows may be linked to what came before and what comes
next, being thus combined in the unity of a series. In this axiom of con-
tinuity, Goethe follows the methodology of the modern sciences. Indeed,
he recognizes mathematics as a teacher. For him, only experience which
does not spring suddenly from one point of existence or event to an-
other, but which moves through progressive variations of conditions,
through all the intermediary steps, may be considered to be experience
of the “highest kind.” “When confronted by such higher experiences, I
halt in order to unravel them, assuming to the full the viewpoint of the
natural scientist, and there are known examples of excellent men who
have excelled at this. We have to learn from mathematics concerning
this deliberation: only to arrange what follows from what precedes it;
and thus, even so, we must always labor to avail ourselves of no compu-
tation, even though we must be accountable to the most rigorous geome-
trician.”44 By virtue of this basic requirement, Goethe denies himself all ·43·
forms of “induction,” which we have defined as the unique life principle
of the manifold system of astrological “correlations.” He sees the danger
of this induction, this comparison and combination of the discrete and
the disparate, which, instead of understanding the particular with and
against others, merely conceals and levels down its particular individual
character. He says that induction “despises the unique and, in a fatal

44. Goethe, “Der Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt,” in Werke,
vol. XI, 33ff.
40 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
tendency, drags that which only has life as separate to its death in the
general.” Goethe compares his own methodology of “development” to
this method, by which “things worlds apart are connected together in
dark fantasy and witty mysticism.” Of course, for him, every observation
of nature continues to have as its basis the conviction that nothing hap-
pens in living nature that is not combined with the whole. Therefore, if
phenomena appear isolated, they must not, for this very reason, be iso-
lated. He insists, however, that we cannot force this conviction on nature
as a subjective claim, but that, step by step, we have to prove it in the
object itself. In all observations of objects, the highest obligation remains
to discover every particular condition according to which the phenom-
enon appears, striving for, to the greatest possible extent, the integrity
of the phenomenon, “because, in the end, these conditions must be ca-
pable of being strung together, of interlocking with one another, and
must form before the researcher a kind of organization, manifesting
their common inner life.” In this way, according to Goethe, the “power
of the imagination” proves itself in research—this power, which is not
rendered vague by imagining things that do not exist, rather constructs
the figure of the reality itself, according to the rules of an “exact sensory
phantasy.” We can now see that it is basically the same element that sepa-
rates the structural concepts of astrology from the functional laws of
mathematics, and Goethe’s concept of organic nature from the modern
descriptive science of nature. In both cases, the rigid astrological mode
of representation, the conviction that nothing can become that is not
already, is confronted by an originary genetic intuition that attempts to
grasp beings ideally and, initially, to construct them either from the gen-
·44· eral law or from the individual form of becoming.
In contrast to this ideality of the mathematical concept of law and
the concept of organic form, the mythical-realistic view grasps at the same
time the schema and image of being through the totality [Gesamtheit] of
the real. In the end, the unity of the microcosm and the macrocosm can-
not present itself in any way other than in the form of such a sensible
image. This unity is absolutely bound to the fact that it is the same ele-
ments and the same order of the elements that determine the construc-
tion of the universe as well as the construction of the lived human body.
A magical cosmology, therefore, corresponds to a magical anatomy in
a correspondence that appears to have formed under a kind of compul-
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 41
sion of thought within different cultural spheres.45
It is a natural feature
of human thought that the inspection and ordering of objective intu-
itions of the world proceed from the fact that the lived body [Leibes] is
taken as the starting point of orientation. The human body [Körper] and
its various limbs appear as a “privileged frame of reference” to which the
organization of the totality [Gesamt] of space and all that is contained in
it is ascribed. The development of language provides numerous clear in-
dications of this interconnection. In a large number of languages, particu-
larly the African languages and the languages of the Ural-Altaic group,
all of the words that are used to express spatial relations can be traced
back to concrete material words and, specifically, to expressions for parts
of the human body. The concept of “above,” for example, is designated
by the word for head, while “behind” is designated by the word for back,
etc. Even more characteristic in this respect is that linguistic classifications
often distinguish the different limbs of the human body and use them
as a basis for other linguistic determinations and distinctions. A lan-
guage as primitive as the South Andaman possesses a richly developed
classification of nouns in which all objects are distinguished according
to whether or not they possess a human nature, and, furthermore, the
different degrees of blood relationships and the different parts of the body are
strictly separated from one another according to class. Each class pos-
sesses its own prefix and its own corresponding form of a possessive
pronoun. The head, brain, lung, and heart all belong to one class; the ·45·
hand, finger, foot, and toe belong to another class; the back, stomach,
liver, and scalp belong to yet another, etc. This is so much the case that
the whole body appears to be divided into seven different classes. Espe-
cially noteworthy is that there is an extremely curious relation between
the organization of the classes of blood relations and those of the parts
of the body: there is a strange relationship of correlation and identity
between the son and the legs, testicles, etc., between the younger brother
and the mouth, between the adopted son, the head, breast, and heart.46

45. For the form of this “magical anatomy” in Babylon and Mexico, see
Danzel, Babylon und Altmexiko, 263ff.
46. For more details on this system of classification of South Andaman, see
E. H. Man, On the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands (London: Royal
Anthropological Institute, 1932), 51ff., 199ff.; see the report by A. J. Ellis on the
42 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
Such linguistic divisions are known within the mythical divisions. In the
medieval speculation of the unity of the macrocosm and the microcosm,
the living body [Leibes] of Adam was thought to have been formed out
of eight parts: the flesh was identified with the earth, the bones with the
rock, the blood with the ocean, the hair with the plants, thought with
the clouds, and so on.47 Similarly, in mythical thought, the organs of the
human body—the heart, the liver, the spleen, the blood, the bile, etc.—
were correlated to the elements of the vast world and its rulers, the plan-
ets. Such original equations formed the foundation for all “laws,” for
every predetermination of astrology.
In order to penetrate more deeply into the epistemological signifi-
cance of this relationship, we must, of course, return first to the “grounds”
of knowledge, to the various positions that the fundamental concepts of
space, time, and causality occupy vis-à-vis one another in mythical and
scientific thought. The idea of causality always encompasses a pure “in-
tellectual synthesis”—whether in its most primitive or its highest form—
regardless of the concrete figure in which we may encounter it. The
relation between “cause” and “effect,” between the “condition” and
the “conditioned,” is not given in immediate sensuous sensation; rather,
it exhibits an original “supplement” of the power of thought, it involves
·46· a spiritual interpretation of sensory phenomena. And if this relationship,
which itself cannot be intuited, is to be applied to intuition, if the sen-
sible content itself is to serve as the means of this form of causality, then
an ideal mediation is necessary. The concept of cause and effect must
“schematize” itself in intuition, creating a spatial and temporal correla-
tive and counterimage. It was the Critique of Pure Reason that first clearly
and decisively pointed out this basic problem. It conceived the schema,
in contrast to the sensual image, which is only individual, as a “mono-
gram of the pure power of the imagination,” as something that can never
be made into an image and involves only the “pure synthesis, in accord

Andaman language in Transactions of the Philological Society (London, 1882–84),


especially 53ff.; and M. V. Portman, “Notes on the Languages of the South An-
daman Group of Tribes” (Calcutta: Office of the Government Printing, 1898),
chap. IV.
47. See W. Golther, Handbuch der germanisch Mythologie (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1895),
518.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 43
with a rule of unity according to concepts in general.” However, the
various schema present, for Kant, different forms of temporal determina-
tion: the schema are nothing but a priori determinations of time accord-
ing to rules that refer to all possible objects following the order of cat-
egories, the order of time, the content and order of time, and, finally,
temporal embodiment [Zeitinbegriff]. Here in particular, the concept of
number is, in its pure mathematical form [Gestalt], related to the intuition
of time and bound to it: “number is nothing other than the unity of the
synthesis of the manifold of a homogeneous intuition in general, be-
cause I generate time itself in the apprehension of intuition.” It is only
through this reduction to the intuition of time that the concepts of space
and causality are first indirectly determined. The intuition of magni-
tudes in space can, in the end, only take place because we produce them
from their elements in successive synthesis. “We cannot think of a line
without drawing it in thought, we cannot think of a circle without describ-
ing it, we cannot represent the three dimensions of space at all without
placing three lines perpendicular to each other at the same point [. . . ]”
(B 154). In the same way, arithmetic “accomplishes its concept of num-
ber by the successive addition of units in time; and pure mechanics like-
wise cannot attain its concept of motion without employing the repre-
sentation of time.” Every representation of causality, therefore, is based
less on the being of things than on the rule and succession of changes;
strictly speaking, we can never inquire into the empirical ground of
being, only into the ground of events. Only because reason thinks of a ·47·
certain order in temporal relationships as necessary, as subjected to a
general rule, do these give these representations objective signification
and determine it as the representation of an “object.”48
In this determination of the basic relationships of space and time, of
number and causality, Kant proves himself to be methodologically at-
tuned to the mathematical sciences of nature. Here we find the culmina-
tion of an intellectual development common to modern mathematics
and modern logic. The analysis of the infinite arises out of the concept
of “fluxion,” which understands spatial magnitude as a magnitude of be-
coming, and, simultaneously, as dissolving the temporal magnitude that

48. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason [B 154, B 176ff., and B 242];
Prolegomena, §§ 10ff.
44 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
is in it. Here, in the place of finite magnitudes and their relationships,
the principles of their creation, the laws [Gesetze] of their becoming and
growth, are set [gesetzt] ( principia jamjam nascentia finitarum magnitudinum
[principles therefore must arise from the magnitude of finite things]).49
In connection with this problem, and from the same perspective, mathe-
matical methodology has always clearly recognized the common form
of the formation of mathematical concepts as the genetic formation of
concepts: Hobbes and Spinoza, Leibniz and Tschirnhaus unanimously
grasped geometrical definitions as genetic, as “causal definition.” All un-
derstanding [Verstehen] of spatial magnitude and spatial relationships is
bound to the fact that we generate it according to a rule; every form of
“coexistence” is only really and truly recognized from the perspective
of “succession.”
If we compare these determinations with the form of mythical cau-
sality, the opposition of the latter to the scientific concept of causality
can be illuminated from another side. Mythical causality requires “sche-
matization” even more than the scientific: not only does it constantly
refer to concrete sensuous intuition, it also appears to be completely
sublated, thereby fusing with it. Of course, what Kant said about the
“schematism of the understanding,” namely, that it is “a hidden art in
the depths of the human soul, whose true operations we can divine from
nature and lay unveiled before our eyes only with difficulty,” holds even
more for mythical schematization (B 181). However, if scientific thought
endeavors to establish the primacy of temporal over spatial concepts
and to impress upon them greater determination, the general direction in
·48· which these schematizations move can, nonetheless, be clearly described;
in myth, the priority of spatial over temporal intuitions is preserved.
Mythical cosmogonies and theogonies also confirm this: for here, where
more than anywhere else myth appears to take the form of “history,” the
actual concept of becoming and of the continuity of becoming remains
foreign to it. The mythical concept is internally related and grows to-
gether, not with temporal continuity, but with spatial contiguity. All magic
is rooted in the premise that, just as with the similarity of things, their

49. For more details, see Cohen, Das Prinzip der Infinitesimalmethode und seine
Geschichte (Berlin, 1883), especially 81ff.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 45
simple spatial proximity harbors in itself mysterious forces. What only
once came into contact with other things henceforward grows together
with them in a magical unity. Here, simple spatial coexistence has real
consequences.50 The well-known principle of magicical causality—the
principle of pars pro toto [part for the whole]—according to which every
part of the whole represents not only the whole to which it belongs but, in
the causal sense, factually is this whole, is rooted in this basic view. More-
over, what happens to the detached and separate part happens to the
whole: he who possesses not only a limb of the lived human body but also
any arbitrary, even “inorganic” constitutive parts such as nails or hair has,
through this possession, violent magical power over the person to whom
these parts belong. If one compares this magical causality to the causal-
ity of astrology, it appears to be far more detailed and refined; it shows
itself superior, as if the astronomical and cosmic views of the world and
space exceeded the naïve sensory view of space of primitive man. How-
ever, we see now more clearly the bond of the concept of causality to
space. For every event and effective action will, in the end, be attached
to certain original spatial figurations [Gestaltungen], to given configura-
tions [Konfigurationen] and “constellations.” When we perceive with our ·49·
senses an empirical temporal event, such as the sequence of a human
life, we recognize this, as soon as we are able to refer back to an “intel-
ligible” origin, as being grounded and created from the very beginning
in spatiophysical determinations. Modern physics “explains” all spatial
togetherness, all coexistence of things, by tracing them back to the form
of movement and the laws of motion. Physical space becomes the space
of force, which is constructed out of interlocking “lines of power.” This
basic view has received its most recent and clearest expression in the
general theory of relativity, in which the concepts of metric fields and
force fields interpenetrate, in which the dynamic is determined metri-
cally and the metric is determined dynamically. While space dissolves

50. See, for example, E. Lehmann, “Die Anfänge der Religion und die Reli-
gion der primitiven Völker,” in Die Kultur der Gegenwart, vol. 1, part 3 (Leipzig and
Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1913), 11: “I can kill my wart or my ulcer just by touching
the grave: when the body decays, my ulcer or wart will disappear, but if only a
thread of my clothes enters into the shroud, I must soon follow the dead person.”
46 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
into force here, in astrological thought force dissolves into space. The
structure of the heavens and the position and organization of its indi-
vidual parts are themselves nothing other than the intuition of the effect
of the interconnection of the universe, insofar as this interconnection is
grasped in a purely substantial way and is intuited in a purely thing-like
and spatial manner. In this sense, it is not time but space that is taken
here as the real symbol [Sinnbild], as the “schema” of all causality. The
contrast between the mythical and scientific concepts of causality can
be demonstrated down to the finest detail. If the physicist wants to un-
derstand a determined sensuous manifold, the manifold of colors, for
example, if he wants to derive this diversity from a common principle,
there is no choice other than to trace it back, through the mediation of
the concept of number, to a dynamic process. Each individual color cor-
responds to a particular characteristic form and frequency of oscillation,
which makes these colors into an objective “concept.” In contrast, the
general structure of the mythical concept of causality necessarily gives
rise to another procedure, which we have already encountered in certain
concrete examples and applications. In the way that the schematization
occurred, that is, essentially through the mediation of the form of space
rather than the form of time, the individual members of the manifold
were not interpreted in terms of a dynamic process but were related and
simultaneously attached to different “regions” in space. The organiza-
·50· tion of regions of the world, because it includes in itself the elements
and qualities of all physical and psychological properties, became the
archetype and model for organization in general. Here, it is once again
clear how space simultaneously constituted an original intellectual sys-
tem of coordination, a common level of relations to which the manifold
of concrete determinations could be transferred, and which, by virtue of
this transformation, became even more definitely differentiated. How-
ever, precisely because of this transmission, because this projection onto
space was uniformly applicable to any arbitrary manifold, it was also
possible to consolidate and fuse together elements of an entirely differ-
ent nature and origin. Mythical thought takes no offence at this coinci-
dentia oppositorum [coincidence of opposites], which is just its peculiar ele-
ment of life. Things that clash in the intellectual space of logic live
effortlessly together in the mythical-astrological space: One and the same
physical substrate—the same planet, for example—can unite within it-
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 47
self the most contradictory determinations, which become fused in iden-
tity thinking.51
In addition to the spatial proximity of things, however, it is primarily
their qualitative similarity that determines their dependent relationship.
The element of resemblance enters into the composition of the mythi-
cal “concept of causality” with a meaning completely other than that
of scientific thought. For the lawfulness of scientific thought, and in
particular mathematical physics, it is not enough that direct or indirect
similarities be shown in order to maintain an interconnection between two
elements of being. Such an interconnection is found not where the ele-
ments appear somehow to correspond to each other and where they can
be mutually allocated according to a determined schema, but where cer-
tain quantitative changes in one bring about quantitative changes in the
other according to a general rule. By contrast, in astrological thought, a
unique coincidence such as the position of the stars at the hour of birth
determines once and for all the being and destiny of man. It is this mo-
ment that imprints the stamp of fatalism on astrological determinism.
The being of man, as it is determined by the horoscope of the astrologer, ·51·
consigns him to the iron fist of necessity. In a predominantly and essen-
tially dynamic view of the world, necessity itself bears another imprint,
for every empirical being forms itself anew out of the elements of the
past. Of course, this process is determined by a fixed law, so that here,
too, there is a strict determination of events; however, this determination
is itself composed out of an infinity of individually emerging new cir-
cumstances that can neither be closed off nor overlooked. Astrological
fate, however, condenses this fullness into a unique, original, determined
existence that leaves no space for free becoming. This type of logical
determination also imprints the ethical. Upon closer inspection, it is the
general mythical apprehension of similarity that continues to work here
in the astrological intuition of the whole. For modern relational thought,
similarity is nothing other than a relation [Relation] that requires, in
order to be grasped and determined, a mediating intellectual activity
that moves back and forth between the compared contents. The positing

51. For examples of such conflicting determinations in astrological thought,


how the various planets, such as Saturn and Jupiter, are assigned, see the above-
mentioned work by Panofsky and Saxl.
48 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
of this relation [Relation] may have an objective basis, a fundamentum in re
[a grounding in the thing], but, then, it is essentially based on the activity
of consciousness, without which it could not come about. Thus, similar-
ity is not an absolute quality that belongs to things in themselves but the
work of consciousness, and, ultimately, it is available only for conscious-
ness. Depending on the various viewpoints chosen by consciousness for
this comparison, and according to its predominant intellectual or practi-
cal interest, very different objective similarities and groups of similarities
appear. Mythical thought knows nothing of such idealization, or, of
course, of the relativization of the concept of similarity that is linked
to it. Mythical thought traces every relation of similarity between two
contents back to an underlying factual identity, and is only able to un-
derstand [verstehen] it by means of this identity. Every similar comportment
[Sich-Verhalten] of things or occurrences is, for mythical thought, immedi-
ate tangible evidence that something common must be contained in them.
Therefore, if primitive thought and action succeed in imitating a thing
[Sache] or an event with fidelity and accuracy, they necessarily possess in this
imitation the very essence of the thing [Sache] itself. All magical analogy
·52· returns to this presupposition, to the substantial signification and force
that it ascribes to mere similarity. Fundamentally, the astrological view
of the world does nothing other than bring this presupposition to full
implementation and embody it in a logically self-contained system. Be-
fore every correspondence that it is able to produce between different
spheres of objects, it concludes the unity of an interconnection of force
and nature [Wesen]. The mere possibility of mapping the array of colors,
the variety of metals, the number of elements or temperaments, etc.,
onto the system of stars is enough to guarantee that these things are the
simple continuation of the “nature” of the stars.
This basic intuition is most clearly evident in the astrological system’s
view of the position occupied by the concept of number. At first glance,
this position appears paradoxical and contradictory, for here, intellectual
tendencies that would seem to exclude one another as such meet and
interpenetrate in the astrological concept of number. The exactitude of
mathematical thought immediately borders here on a fantastic and ab-
struse mysticism. This peculiar twofold methodological character of the
astrological system has long captivated the attention of the best authori-
ties. Thus Warburg writes:
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 49
It is an incontrovertible fact that, in astrology, two entirely anti-
thetical mental forces, which might logically have been expected to
be in conflict, combine to form a single “method.” On the one side,
we find mathematics, the subtlest operation of the abstract intellect;
on the other, the fear of dæmons, the most primitive causal force in
religion. The astrologer, who comprehends the universe through a
clear and harmonious system of linear coordinates, and who can
precisely compute and predict the relationship of fixed stars and
planets to the earth and to one another, is gripped, as he pores over
his mathematical tables, by an atavistic and superstitious awe of
those very names of the stars that he wields like algebraic formu-
lae: to him, they are dæmons, of which he lives in fear.52
This duality of sensation and intellectual disposition might, however,
be intelligible if one considers that it is not the number as such, but a ·53·
very particular determination and application of the concept of num-
ber, which manifests itself in the thinking of the modern mathematical
sciences of nature and which gives this thinking its specific imprint. The
transition to this way of thinking was only possible after number itself
had been transformed from signifying the mere number of things into the
functional number of the analysis of the infinite. Astrology was not yet fa-
miliar with number in this new and crucial signification. It used number
not to express the laws of change but to express and hold fast to the simi-
larities and analogies between the structures of things, between the vari-
ous regions of being. The constant numerical relationships that pervade
all being and events thus become the means to sublate all apparent divi-
sions and particularities of being into a single basic form of the universe.
By virtue of this reduction, however, every particular event [Ereignis] was
then not only ascribed to the ideal form of number but was connected
once again through number’s mediation to its concrete-thingly substrate
in the heavens. As the heavens are nothing more than the harmony of
numbers become visible, every arbitrary numerical relationship, then,

52. A. Warburg, “Heidnisch-antike Weissagung in Wort und Bild zu Luthers


Zeiten,” Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (Heidelberg:
Winter, 1919), 24 [Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity: Contributions to
the Cultural History of the European Renaissance, tr. David Britt Getty (Los Angeles:
Research Institute, 1999), 613.]
50 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
appeared, directly or indirectly, as if bound with mysterious magical
bonds to the heavens and its forces. Thus, the “sacred numbers” of as-
trology exhibit the first step toward the liberation of the mind from its
immediate sensory view of the world; however, the means for its libera-
tion dominates and subjects it, in a one-sided dependence, to the fatality
of being. This relationship only changes in the instant when number it-
self passes over from the form of structural and existential number into
the form of the functional number. This latter cannot be grasped and inter-
preted as a simple product of being; rather, in it a specific achievement,
a peculiar creation of thought, exhibits itself. The idea of the unity of the
macrocosm and the microcosm then receives a new, specifically idealistic
twist in the philosophy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The
structural number of astrology implicates human beings in the flesh and
in the mind, in the necessity of cosmic events; the functional number of
modern science grounds precisely this necessity in the form of scientific
·54· thought itself and, thus, in the freedom and depth of the mind. For the
signs of numbers, in modern analysis and in their grounding in the mod-
ern mathematical science of nature, are, by their very epistemological
nature [Wesen], not as much signs of things as they are signs of relations
[Relationen] and operations. Behind the given numbers on which arith-
metic depends, the concrete intuition of certain objective formations
[Gebilde] and forces remains. The “abstract” numerical magnitudes of
pure algebra and calculus, however, must confirm their nature through
this connection. They are, considered purely concretely, undetermined,
but it is precisely in their indefiniteness that they possess the peculiar
ideal function of determination. Whereas a kind of dæmonic material
power adheres to the sacred numbers 7 and 9 by virtue of the prototype
of the planetary world, which is exhibited in them, the a and b of alge-
bra, as an analysis speciosa, established by Vieta in the sixteenth century,
or the x and y of Descartes’s analytic geometry and the dy and dx of
Leibniz’s infinitesimal calculus are all symbols in which only the pure
force of mathematical thought exhibits itself. Here we grasp once again
the essential difference between the concept of law of modern natural
science and the concept of law of astrology. Although for astrology the
idea of law constituted, as has been shown, the core and backbone of its
theoretical system, it united indissolubly with the idea of fate. Fata regunt
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 51
orbem, certa stant omnia lege [the fates rule the world, all things stand under
a fixed law]: in fact, this is what law is called in the astrological poem
by Manilius.53 Philosophically understood and grasped, the concept of
the law of modern science leads not back to the idea of fate but to the
grounding, originary form of thought: it frees the mind in that it subjects
things to an ideal of necessity.
The Renaissance constituted the crucial intellectual turning point. It
is possible to describe precisely—a rare phenomenon in the history of
thought and ideas—the exact point at which the “revolution in thought”
began. In the context of our problematic, Descartes’s words in his first
and basic methodological writings take on a new and original ring:
But nothing seems to me more foolish than to dispute boldly, as ·55·
many do, about the secrets of nature, about the effect of the heav-
enly spheres on our earthly world, about the prediction of future
events, and about similar matters, yet without ever having even
inquired as to whether human reason suffices for discovering these
matters. Nor should one regard it as an arduous or even as a dif-
ficult matter to define the limits of the natural intelligence which
we sense in ourselves, since we often do not hesitate to judge even
about the things which are outside us and quite foreign to us. Nor
is it an immeasurable task to want to encompass, in thought, all
the things contained in the universe, in order that we might rec-
ognize in what manner we may subject individual ones to the
examination of our mind. For nothing can be so multifaceted or so
diffuse that it could not be circumscribed by certain limits as well
as arranged under a certain number of headings by means of the
enumeration of which we have been treating.54
Starting from this fundamental principle, Descartes, in the same
work, conceived for the first time the general idea of a mathesis universalis

53. Marcus Manilius, Astronomica (bk. IV, 14); see Cumont, Astrology and Religion
(London and New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 85ff., 154.
54. R. Descartes, Regulae ad directionem ingenii, VIII [Descartes, Rules for the Direc-
tion of the Natural Intelligence: A Bilingual Edition of the Cartesian Treatise on Method, tr.
George Heffernan (Amsterdam; Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998), 121.]
52 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
as the basic science of measure, order, and number. However, within
the science of nature, the same typical twist takes place. Kepler, through
the force of Plato’s idealism, which continued to resonate in him, freed
himself step by step from the spell of the astrological way of thinking,
which had at first imprisoned him, as well as all the other important as-
tronomers of the Renaissance. In his great work The Harmony of the World
(1619), the process of liberation was completed. Once again, the idea
of harmony, of the mutual correspondence between all the parts of the
universe, between the world and man, was executed here in an extensive
and truly grand design. However, the central focus of this relationship
had shifted: for number, which is the pure intellectual expression of this
relationship, was no longer borrowed from things and their form but
was regarded as an “innate” Platonic idea [Idee]. Thus, the pure symbolic
use of the concept of number was separated from its signification and
application in the exact sciences. In the tradition of Pythagorean thought,
which Kepler’s work on the harmony of the world continued, both sig-
·56· nifications stood undifferentiated next to one another. When the Pythag-
oreans established the relationship of tonal intervals, when they formu-
lated the law that determines pitch as a function of the length of the
string, they found themselves completely at the heart of a way of thinking
that leads to the creation of the mathematical science of nature; when,
in order to arrive at the sacred number 10 in their cosmology, they added
the “anti-earth” to the central life, the sun and the moon, the earth and
the five planets, they were moving on the path to symbolic thought. Even
for Kepler, the number, as functional number and physical-mathematical
measure, stands next to its analogical-symbolic use: the latter, however,
no longer constrains spirit because it is recognized and seen for what it is.
In a letter to the Leipzig anatomist and surgeon Joachim Tanck, Kepler
once wrote:
I, too, play with symbols and have planned a little work, Geometric
Kabbala, which is about the ideas of natural things in geometry; but
I play in such a way that I do not forget that I am playing. For
nothing is proved by symbols; no hidden thing is brought to light
in natural philosophy, through geometrical symbols; things already
known are merely fitted [to them], unless by sure reasons it can be
demonstrated that they are not merely symbolic but are descriptions
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 53
of the ways in which the two things are connected and are the
causes of these interconnections.55
By way of concluding these considerations, let us ask ourselves briefly
how far the form of the mythical formation of concepts and classes con-
tinues in higher spiritual forms and to what extent they continue to af-
fect, in particular, the sphere of religious thought. Of course, it is not a
question of comparing religion and myth in terms of their mutual con-
tent. We need ask only if the peculiar form of thinking that we observed
in mythical concepts returns, however it might be modified and trans-
formed, in the construction of the world of religious representations. For
the actual content of religious consciousness can never be expressed in a
fixed body of dogmas and beliefs; rather, in religion, a continuous form,
a unique direction of contemplating the world is expressed such that the ·57·
content consists essentially in the particular direction through which the
entire content of being is newly illuminated and thereby obtains a new
figure. Every truly independent religion creates a new spiritual center of
being around which all natural and spiritual existence and events are
henceforth grouped and ultimately receive their proper “meaning.” The
nature of this center depends upon the specific quality and basic direc-
tion of religious interest, but the way in which the entire periphery of
existence is now set into relation with the religious center is an achieve-
ment of mediating thought, which, as such, is capable of and amenable
to a logical determination and characterization. Thus, every religion
constructs its being and its world in its own way, and certain continuous
categories of religious thought can show themselves in this construction.
If we consider the configuration of the Vedic religion, it is, above all, the
central act of worship that directs religious interests. Prayer and sacrifice
constitute the spiritual center of Vedic religious texts, and from this
Brahmanic cult of ritual significance, the speculative significance that it
receives, in particular, in the Upanishads, gradually unfolds. From Brah-
manism as prayer and sacrifice comes Brahmanism as an expression of
absolute being. Whoever knows and performs the sacrifice spiritually
subjugates all things. All earthly and celestial forces, all the gods them-

55. Johannes Kepler, Opera omnia, vol. 1, ed. Ch. Frisch (Frankfurt and
Erlangen, 1858), 378.
54 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
selves, are woven into the same fabric: the sacred hymns and sayings, the
songs and metric form reign over being. And it is significant that, after
the determination and founding of that center, the remainder of the con-
tent of being is referred to it through the same characteristic correlations
that we encountered earlier in an entirely different domain. In astrology,
certain parts of being were equated with certain parts and positions of
the celestial heavens, but, here, in its basic form, is the intelligible identi-
fication of individual things with different parts of the ritual: the Rigveda
is associated with the earth, the Yajurveda with the air, the Samaveda with
the heavens, etc. Between the various phases of human life—between
youth, manhood, and old age, on the one hand—and, on the other, the
various stages of holy action—morning, midday, and evening offerings—
·58· all of this constitutes not only a correlation but an immediate identity.56
Here, too, a determined form as archetype and model grows up out of
the character of the sacerdotal life, according to which all being, in the
end, configures and organizes itself. The intensity of ritual religious ac-
tivity [Tun] becomes, at the same time, the source of light by which the
content of the entire world is progressively illuminated.
Again, this process exhibits itself in different ways in those religions
that form their worldviews essentially according to an ethical perspective.
Wherever this motive is purely and strongly articulated, a magnificent
simplification arises in the spiritual structure of the universe, for in place
of the infinitely various possible oppositions of being, one single funda-
mental opposition of value, which embraces and dominates everything,
emerges. The ethical dualism of good and evil then becomes the prin-
ciple of every cosmology. This form of thought has been most clearly
realized in the basic intuition of Persian religion, the religion of Zara-
thustra. There, all being and events are understood exclusively accord-
ing to the perspective of the battle between the hostile powers of good
and evil, between Ormazd and Ahriman. And once again, it is language
that brings this characteristic line of thought to its fullest expression.

56. On the place of offerings in the Vedic religion, see H. Oldenberg, Die
Lehre der Upanishaden und die Anfänge des Buddhismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und
Ruprecht, 1915), 17ff.; Martin Haug, “The Aitareya Brahmanam” (Bombay, 1863),
73ff.; Sylvain Lévi, La Doctrine du sacrifice dans les Brâhmanas (Paris: Leroux, 1898),
especially 13ff. See Appendix VII.
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 55
The same physical objects, processes, or activities are designated by dif-
ferent words and given a different signification if they are considered
religiously. Names differ depending on whether they refer to “Mazdean”
or to “Ahrimanic” concepts. The good head and good hand are identi-
fied by expressions different from the “skull” and the “claw” of evil;
dying, speaking, etc., receive different names depending on the subject
being spoken about. All things belong to one or another of the major
ethical classes, depending on whether they are uttered by a supporter of
the divine or a supporter of a dæmonic power.57
This characteristic form of religious concept formation can be pur-
sued even further, down to the last and most profound problems of re- ·59·
ligious consciousness. We need only to remember the separation and
division that underlies all religious theories of predestination. Here again, what
religious consciousness designates as a “world” falls into two sharply dis-
tinct and opposing halves: the class of the elect stands opposed to the
“massa perditionis [damnable masses].” If we consider the form that
lived religious experience takes with Augustine and Luther, with Calvin,
Jansenius, and Pascal, we see that, in fact, the doctrine of the election of
grace did not signify for them an isolated theological dogma but formed
the specific perspective that constituted the fundamental religious cate-
gory according to which they considered the whole of the world. It
would be delightfully tempting to extrapolate from this the genesis of
an entirely new concept and type of religious “causation” [Verursachung]
equally distinct from the concept of astrological-naturalistic fate and the
concept of scientific causal explanation [Kausalerklärung]. However, these
problems, which would lead us into the heart of the content of the phi-
losophy of religion, will not be discussed in detail here. Rather, I will
content myself, once again, with pointing out the formal results, the pure
principle of the foregoing considerations. The form that the formation
of concepts and classes in mythical and religious spheres adopts demon-
strates with particular clarity the idealistic meaning and condition of the
formation of concepts in general. The traditional theory of logic teaches
us that in order to form a concept, we must envisage the fixed properties

57. For more details, see Victor Henry, Le Parsisme (Paris: Dujarric, 1905); see
especially W. Jackson, “Die iranische Religion,” in Grundiß der Iran. Philologie, vol. II,
ed. Geiger and Kuhn (Strasbourg, 1896–1904), 627ff.
56 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
of things, compare them with one another, and extract what is common
among them. From a purely logical perspective, this precept proves itself
to be completely inadequate—and it becomes all the more so the more
one looks beyond the narrow realm of the scientific, of specifically logi-
cal thought, to other domains and directions of thought. For it clearly
follows that we cannot directly read off the properties of things because
the inverse of what we call “property” is determined only through the
form of concepts. Every positing of characteristic features of objective
properties returns to a certain particularity of thought, and according to
the orientation or dominant perspective of this thinking, these determi-
nations, for us, change. From this perspective, it also appears that the
·60· classes and genres of being are not, as naïve realism assumes, fixed once
and for all as such; rather, their demarcation must be obtained, and this
production depends upon the work of spirit. The real fundamentum divisio-
nis lies, in the end, not in things but in spirit: the world has, for us, the
shape [Gestalt] that spirit gives it. And because its unity is no mere sim-
plicity, but preserves in itself a concrete manifold of different directions
and operations, being and its classes, its interconnections and its differ-
ences appear otherwise, depending upon which of the different spiritual
media apprehends it.

APPENDIX I
·61· Alfred William Howitt, “On Some Australian Beliefs,” The Journal of the
Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (1884),
185–198: 191 Anm. 1 (report by James C. Muirhead).58
When a strong black dies, they think that some other black has put a
spell on him. The corpse is placed upon a frame and covered over with
boughs. These boughs must be of some tree of the same “class” as the
dead. Suppose that he were of the Banbe class division, these boughs
of the broad-leaved boxtree would be used, for this tree is Banbe. Men
of the Mallera class (of which Banbe and Kurgila are the subdivisions)
would place the boughs over him. After placing the body on a frame,
which is raised on four forked sticks, they carefully work the ground un-
derneath with their feet into dust, and smooth it so that the slightest

58. [Appendix I was published entirely in English in Cassirer’s original.]


TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 57
mark or print can be observed. Then they make a big fire close to the
spot and retire to their camp. Before leaving, they mark a number of
trees so that this “blazed line” leads back to the frame with the corpse.
This is to prevent the dead man following them. The following morning,
the relations of the deceased inspect the ground under the corpse. If the
track or mark of some animal, bird, reptile, etc., is found, they infer from
it the totem of the person who caused the death of their relative. For all
things belong to one or the other of the two great classes, Mallera and
Wūthera. For instance, if the track of a native dog were seen, they would
know that the offender was Banbe-Mallera, for to this sub-class and class
the Dingo belongs.

A P P E N D I X II
Alfred William Howitt, “Further Notes on the Australian Class Systems,” The
Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
18 (1889), 31–68: 62ff. 59
Light is thrown upon the structure and development of class divisions
by considering the mechanical method used by the Wotjobaluk to pre-
serve and explain a record of their classes and totems, and of their rela-
tion to those and to each other.
My informant worked this record out by laying down pieces of stick
on the ground, determining their directions by the sun, and I took the
directions of these sticks by the compass. The stick No. 1 was first placed
in a direction due east, then stick 2 was laid down pointing N. 70° E.
They represented the two sub-divisions of the Ngaui division of Kro-
kitch, and the people belonging to them or forming them were called
“Ngaui-nga-güli,” or “men of the sun.” The direction in which the sticks
pointed indicated how the individual was to be laid in his grave. That is
to say, his head was laid due east, or 20° north of east, as he belonged to
one or another of the sub-divisions of Ngaui, respectively. Ngaui is the
principal “Mir” or totem, and from it all the others are counted.
My informant then placed stick 4 pointing north, indicating a very
powerful Mir of Krokitch, namely, Batchangal. Stick 3 was then placed
between 4 and 2, and indicated the Barewun people. The whole space

59. [Appendix II was published entirely in English in Cassirer’s original.]


58 TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING

between 1 and 2 is called “Kolkorn-Garchuka,” or “all” or “wholly” of


·62· the White Cockatoo. I have already said that this is a synonym of Ngaui,
or nearly so. The space between 3 and 4 is called Krokitch-Batchangal,
to distinguish it from another Batchangal of the Gamutch primary class,
which is represented by stick 11.
Stick 6 was now laid down, being Wartwut, the name of a powerful
Mir whose totem was the Hot-wind, which blows in that country from
about north-west. Stick 5, placed between 4 and 6 pointing N. 20° W.,
indicated Wartwut-Batchangal, a totem having affinities to both 4 and
6. The space between 4 and 5 is called Kolkorn-Batchangal, or “all”
or “entirely Batchangal,” and between 5 and 6 the space is Wartwut-
Batchangal. My informant now had some difficulty in fixing the direc-
tions for the remaining totems of Krokitch, and he stated that to work it
out satisfactorily he would have to get a number of men together so as
to have members of the other totems to point out their own directions.
However, after consideration he arranged the following: He placed 8 as
indicating Münya, and on either hand 7 and 9, indicating respectively
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 59
Moiwiluk, and a second totem of 8. The space between 6 and 7 he called
Wartwut-Moiwiluk, between 8 and 9 Kolkorn-Munya. The space be-
tween 7 and 8 he did not name, and I omitted to ask him. These nine
sticks represent the principal totems of Krokitch. Perhaps there may be
more, as there appears to be, for instance, a vacancy between 2 and 3
and between 3 and 4: on the other hand, if the totems 5 and 7 are sub-
divisions of 4 and 6 respectively, the vacancies referred to would be ex-
plained on the supposition that 2 and 3 had not sub-divided. That 7 is
a sub-division of 6 is suggested by the statement of another informant
that he was Wartwut but that Moiwiluk also “belonged to him,” and by
the statement of the informant who made the diagram of sticks that the
informant just named was “Wartwut but also partly Moiwiluk.”

A P P E N D I X III
Extract: Paul Wirz, Die Marind-anim von Holländisch-Süd-Neu-Guinea,
vol. I, part 2 (Hamburg: Friederichsen, 1922): Die religiösen Vorstellungen
und die Mythen der Marind-anim, sowie die Herausbildung der
totemistisch-sozialen Gruppierungen (Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiet der
Auslandskunde, vol. 10) (Hamburg: Friederichsen, 1922), 119 and 79.
[See tables 1 and 2.]

A P P E N D I X IV
Frank Hamilton Cushing, “Outlines of Zuñi Creation Myths,” in Thirteenth ·64·
Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the
Smithsonian Institution 1891–92, ed. John Wesley Powell (Washington,
D.C.: U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 1896), 321–447: 367–372.60
Outline of Zuñi Mytho-Sociologic Organization
[ . . . ] The Zuñi of today number scarcely 1,700 and, as is well known,
they inhabit only a single large pueblo—single in more senses than one,
for it is not a village of separate houses, but a village of six or seven sepa-
rate parts in which the houses are mere apartments or divisions, so to ·65·
say. This pueblo, however, is divided, not always clearly to the eye, but

60. [Appendix IV was published entirely in English in Cassirer’s original.]


Table 1: Overview of the totem association of the Kaprim-Sami
·63· Mythological totemic The most ancient The mythological
clan association mythological Ascendants of
Clan
(boan) ascendants the Clan
(Dema) (Dema)
⎞ Raku-rek
⎟ (Rak-rek)
⎟ ⎛ the smoke

⎟ ⎜ from
⎟ ⎜
⎟ ⎜ Garhåbi Garhåbi-rek
Kei-zé ⎟ ⎜ Dema Waiba Waiba-rek
⎟ ⎜
or ⎜ Jagil Umbri Umbri-rek

Kei (cassowary)- ⎟ ⎜ cassowary Dawi Dawi-rek
boan ⎟ ⎜ Honi Honi-rek
⎟ ⎜ Teâmbre Teimbre-rek
⎟ ⎜ Bebuklâ Bebukla-rek
⎟ ⎜
⎟ ⎜ ⎛ Alissan
⎟ ⎜ ⎨ Harau
⎟ ⎜ ⎝ Ugu
⎟ ⎜
⎟ ⎜

ARAMEMB


⎟ ⎨
⎠ ⎜
Samkakai or Saham ⎞ ⎜ Jano Mad Mad-rek
(kangaroo)-boan ⎬ ⎜ Kangaroo-
⎠ ⎜ Dema

⎛ Uar-rek or ⎞ ⎜ Wonatai Tab Araku-end
⎜ Ndikend-hâ ⎟ ⎜ Xenorhynchus- Dapram-rek
⎜ (by the ⎟ ⎜ Dema Onan-rek
⎜ ⎬ ⎜
Ndikend or Uzub (bird)-boan

⎜ Xenorhynchus) ⎟ Endaro-rek

⎜ or ⎟ ⎜ Anau-rek,
⎜ Wonatai-rek ⎠ ⎜ Tab-rek
⎨ ⎜ Mamipu the
⎜ kuna-hi ⎞ Jawima Jawima-rek
⎜ Ndik-end (by ⎟ ⎜ dark

⎜ the dark ⎟ ⎜ Xenorhynchus-
⎜ Xenorhynchus) ⎬
⎜ ⎟ ⎜ Dema
⎜ or ⎟ ⎜
⎝ Mamipu-rek ⎠ ⎝
Neighboring mythological totemic relation Common
mythological
totemic relation

⎛ Smoke (Rak) ⎞ ⎞
⎜ Various small birds (Tena, Talehé Bankala, etc.) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Rotan (Tup), stone clubs with spherical knobs (Kupa) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Fire (Takav) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ ⎟ ⎟

Fire (Takav), jams (Kav), red parrot (Voi ), couscous (Bangá), mosquitoes (Nangit), sleeping (nu),
⎜ The wide beach, river valleys, island (Kadhabud ) ⎟

Fire (Takav) and cassowary (Kei )


⎜ The island | special forms of pig and kangaroo ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Habee | Boan ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Varanus (Kadivuk) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Cassowary (Kei ) ⎟ ⎟
⎨ Several climbers (Akur, Gu, Dâhi-Kassim, etc.) ⎬ ⎟
⎜ Freshwater fish (Orib) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Eugenia aquea (Uarad ) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Abrus precatorius (Samandir) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Coix lacrymae (Baba) ⎟ ⎟

plaice and Tetrodon and Others


⎜ Various water plants (Alissan Majub) ⎟ ⎟
⎜ The juice primae noctis ⎟ ⎟
⎜ ⎟ ⎟
⎜ Female hairstyles ⎟ ⎟
⎜ The prepared sago ⎟ ⎟
⎝ Magic and magicians (Mesåv) ⎠ ⎬

⎛ Kangaroo (Saham) ⎟
⎨ Rotan (Tup), sugarcane (Od ), birds (Gub-a-gub) ⎟
⎝ and other things related to the kangaroo ⎟

⎛ Xenorhyncho asasiaticus ⎟
⎜ (Uar or white [koi-hi] Ndik) ⎟
⎜ Piper methysticum (Uati ) ⎟
⎨ ⎟
⎜ Turtle (Gau) ⎟
⎜ Varanus (Kadivuk) ⎟
⎝ ⎟

⎛ Darker Xenorhynchus (kuna-hi Ndik)

⎜ Antigone Australia (Darau) ⎟
⎜ Monsoons and other winds ⎟
⎜ Rain and thunderstorm magic ⎟
⎨ ⎟
⎜ Swamp snake (Azanid ) ⎟
⎜ Various marsh birds and others (Kondkabai, Ahatub, ⎟
⎜ Gem-ka, Ebob, etc.) ⎟
⎝ Crayfish (And-and ) and others ⎠
·64·
Table 2: Overview of the totem of the cooperative of the Geb-zé
Mythological totem Mythical
clan association Sub-Boan ascendants Clan Closest mythological relation
(boan) (Dema)
⎛ ⎛ ⎛ ⎛ Banana (Napet)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Moon (Mandau)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Hong-rek ⎜ Earth (Makan)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Stone (Kahar) and sand (Sa)

Geb-zé-hâ
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Walinau-rek ⎜ Termites and ants (Kanamin)
⎜ ⎨ ⎨ ⎨
Napet ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Barnacles (Ava)
(banana)- ⎨ ⎜ Geb ⎜ Kajar-rek ⎜ Bamboo (Subá )
boan ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Various fish (Ongajab, Kimu)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Kahar-rek ⎜ Various birds (Momoko, Ruas,
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Kirkua, etc.)
⎜ ⎝ ⎝ and others ⎝

⎜ Kuper-såv
⎜ ⎛ ⎛ Pear oyster (Kuper-Såv)
⎜ (pearl oyster)- ⎨ Mana Mana-rek ⎨ Marsh birds (Obabund, Katar-bira)
⎝ boan ⎝ ⎝
⎛ Meri-ongat ⎛ ⎛ Coconut with unbranched
⎜ (coconut with ⎜ ⎜ inflorescences (Meri-ongat)
⎜ unbranched ⎜ ⎜
⎨ Moju Moju-rek ⎨ Flying black dogs (kuna-hi Kere)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ inflorescences)- ⎜ ⎜
⎜ boan ⎝ ⎝

⎜ ⎛ Actual coconut
⎜ ⎜ (Ongat-hâ)
Ongat ⎜ ⎜
(coconut)- ⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎛ Snake (Bir)
boan ⎜ Ongat-hâ ⎜ ⎜ Oriolus mimeta (Kâwekawé)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ (actual ⎜ Uaba Uaba-rek ⎜ Pleiades (Puno)
⎨ coconut)- ⎨ ⎨ A variety of banana (Sesajo-Napet)
⎜ boan ⎜ ⎜ Inocarpus edulis (Hajam)
⎜ ⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎜ Hornbill (Haivui )
⎜ ⎜ ⎝ Bird of paradise (Zakir)
⎜ ⎜
⎜ ⎜ ⎛
⎜ ⎜ Jagriwâr Jagriwâr-rek ⎨ Species of snake (Koroam)
⎝ ⎝ ⎝ Nautilus (Kind-arir)
Ugâ Dema Nasem-zé
(fan palm)- came with the or Fan palm (Ugâ)
boan Ugâ-Kanu Mégai-zé A fish (Nambimb)
64 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
very clearly in the estimation of the people themselves, into seven parts,
corresponding, not perhaps in arrangement topographically, but in se-
quence, to their subdivisions of the “worlds” or world quarters of this
world. Thus, one division of the town is supposed to be related to the
north and to be centered in its kiva or estufa, which may or may not
be, however, in its center; another division represents the west, another
the south, another the east, yet another the upper world and another the
lower world, while a final division represents the middle or mother and
synthetic combination of them all in this world.
By reference to the early Spanish history of the pueblo, it may be
seen that when discovered, the Áshiwi or Zuñis were living in seven quite
widely separated towns, the celebrated Seven Cities of Cibola, and that
this theoretic subdivision of the only one of these towns now remaining
is in some measure a survival of the original subdivision of the tribe into
seven subtribes inhabiting as many separate towns. It is evident that in
both cases, however, the arrangement was, and is, if we may call it such,
a mythic organization; hence my use of the term the mytho-sociologic
organization of the tribe. At any rate, this is the key to their sociology as
well as to their mythic conceptions of space and the universe. In com-
mon with all other Indian tribes of North America thus far studied, the
Zuñis are divided into clans, or artificial kinship groups, with inheritance
in the female line. Of these clans there are, or until recently there were,
nineteen, and these in turn, with the exception of one, are grouped in
threes to correspond to the mythic subdivision I have alluded to above.
These clans are also, as are those of all other Indians, totemic; that is,
they bear the names and are supposed to have intimate relationship with
various animals, plants, and objects or elements. Named by their totems,
they are as follows: Kâ´lokta-kwe, Crane or Pelican people; Póyi-kwe
(nearly extinct), Grouse or Sagecock people; Tá‘hluptsi-kwe (nearly ex-
tinct), Yellow-wood or Evergreen-oak people; Aiñ´shi-kwe, Bear peo-
ple; Súski kwe, Coyote people; Aíyaho-kwe, Red-top plant or Spring-
herb people; Ána-kwe, Tobacco people; Tâ´a-kwe, Maize-plant people;
Tónashi-kwe, Badger people; Shóhoita-kwe, Deer people; Máawi-kwe
(extinct), Antelope people; Tóna-kwe, Turkey people; Yä´tok‘ya-kwe,
Sun people; Ápoya-kwe (extinct), Sky people; K‘yä´k‘yäli-kwe, Eagle
people; Ták‘ya-kwe, Toad or Frog people; K‘yána-kwe (extinct), Water
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 65
people; Chítola-kwe (nearly extinct), Rattlesnake people; Píchi-kwe,
Parrot-Macaw people.
Of these clans, the first group of three appertains to the north, the
second to the west, the third to the south, the fourth to the east, the fifth
to the upper or zenith, and the sixth to the lower or nadir region; while
the single clan of the Macaw is characterized as “midmost,” or of the
middle, and also as the all-containing or mother clan of the entire tribe,
for in it the seed of the priesthood of the houses is supposed to be pre-
served. [ . . . ]
By this arrangement of the world into great quarters, or rather, as
the Zuñis conceive it, into several worlds corresponding to the four quar-
ters and the zenith and the nadir, and by this grouping of the towns, or
later of the wards (so to call them) in the town, according to such mythi-
cal division of the world, and finally the grouping of the totems, in ·66·
turn, within the divisions thus made, not only the ceremonial life of the
people, but all their governmental arrangements as well, are completely
systemized. Something akin to written statutes results from this and simi-
lar related arrangements, for each region is given its appropriate color
and number, according to its relation to one of the regions I have
named or to others of those regions. [ . . . ] Again, each region—at
least each of the four cardinal regions, namely, north, west, south, and
east—is the home or center of a special element, as well as of one of the
four seasons each element produces. Thus the north is the place of wind,
breath, or air, the west of water, the south of fire, and the east of earth
[ . . . ] correspondingly, the north is, of course, the place or origin of
winter, the west of spring, the south of summer, and the east of autumn.
[ . . . ] By means of this arrangement, no ceremony is ever performed
and no council ever held in which there is the least doubt as to which
position a member of a given clan shall occupy in it, for according to the
season in which the ceremony is held, or according to the reason for
which a council is convened, one or another of the clan groups of one
or another of the regions will take precedence for the time, the natural
sequence being, however, first the north, second the west, third the south,
fourth the east, fifth the upper, and sixth the lower, but first, as well as
last, the middle.
[ . . . ] In strict accordance with the succession of the four seasons
66 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
and their elements, and with their supposed relationship to these, are
classified the four fundamental activities of primitive life, namely, as re-
lating to the north and its masterfulness and destructiveness in cold, war
and destruction; relating to the west, war cure and hunting; to the south,
husbandry and medicine; to the east, magic and religion; while the
above, the below, and the middle relate in one way or another to all of
these divisions. As a consequence, the societies of cold or winter are found
to be grouped, not rigidly, but at least theoretically, in the northern clans,
and they are, respectively: ’Hléwe-kwe, Ice-wand people or band; Áchia-
kwe, Knife people or band; Kâ´shi-kwe, Cactus people or band; for the
west: Pí‘hla-kwe, Priesthood of the Bow or Bow people or band (Ápi‘hlan
Shiwani, Priests of the Bow); Sániyak‘ya-kwe, Priesthood of the Hunt or
Coyote people or band; for the south: Máke‘hlána-kwe, Great fire (ember)
people or band; Máketsána-kwe, Little fire (ember) people or band; of
the east: Shíwana-kwe, Priests of the Priesthood people or band; Úhuhu-
kwe, Cottonwood-down people or band; Shúme-kwe, or Kâ´kâ‘hlána-
kwe, Bird monster people or band, otherwise known as the Great Dance-
drama people or band; for the upper region: Néwe-kwe, Galaxy people
or band or the All-consumer or Scavenger people or band (or life pre-
servers); and for the lower regions: Chítola-kwe, Rattlesnake people or
band, generators (or life makers). Finally, as produced from all the clans
and as representative alike of all the clans and through a tribal septuar-
chy of all the regions and divisions in the midmost, and finally as repre-
sentative of all the cult societies above mentioned is the Kâ´kâ or Ákâkâ-
kwe or Mythic Dance drama people or organization. It may be seen of
these mytho-sociologic organizations that they are a system within a
system, which also contains systems within systems, all founded on this
classification according to the six-fold division of things, and, in turn,
the six-fold division of each of these divisions of things. Indeed, this
·67· tendency to classify according to the number of the six regions, with its
seventh the synthesis of them all (the latter sometimes apparent, some-
times non-appearing) is carried to such an extent that not only are the
subdivisions of the societies also again subdivided according to this ar-
rangement, but each clan is subdivided both according to such a six-fold
arrangement and according to the subsidiary relations of the six parts
of its totem. The tribal division made up of the clans of the north takes
precedence ceremonially, occupying the position of elder brother or
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 67
oldest ancestor, as the case might be. The west is the younger brother of
this, and in turn, the south of the west, the east of the south, the upper
of the east, the under of them all, and the middle division is supposed to
be a representative being, the heart or navel of all brothers of the re-
gions, first and last, as well as elder and younger. In each clan is to be
found a set of names called the names of childhood. These names are
more titles than cognomens. They are determined by sociologic and
divinistic modes, and are bestowed in childhood as the “verity names”
or titles of the children to whom they are given. But this body of names
that relates to any one totem—for instance, to one of the beast totems—
will not be the name of the totemic beast itself, but the names both of
the totem in its various conditions and of its various parts, and of its
functions or attributes, actual or mythical. Now these parts or functions,
or attributes of the parts or functions, are also subdivided in a six-fold
manner so that the name relating to one member of the totem—for
example, like the right arm or leg of the animal thereof—would corre-
spond to the north, and would be the first in honor in a clan (not itself
of the northern group); then the name relating to another member—
say, to the left leg or arm and its powers, etc.—would pertain to the west
and would be second in honor; and another member—say, the right
foot—would pertain to the south and would be third in honor; and of
another member—say, the left foot—would pertain to the east and would
be fourth in honor; to another—say, the head—would pertain to the
upper regions and would be fifth in honor; and another—say, the tail—
would pertain to the lower region and would be sixth in honor; while the
heart or navel and center of the being would be first as well as last in
honor. [ . . . ]
With such a system of arrangement, with such a facile device for
symbolizing the arrangement (not only according to the number of the
regions and their subdivisions in their relative succession and the succes-
sion of their elements and seasons, but also in the colors attributed to
them, etc.), and, finally, with such an arrangement of names correspond-
ingly classified and of terms of relationships that signify rank rather
than consanguinal interconnection, mistake in the order of a ceremonial,
procession or council is simply impossible, and the people employing
such devices may be said to have written and to be writing their statutes
and laws in all their daily relationships and utterances.
68 TH E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING
APPENDIX V

·68· Johann Jakob Maria de Groot, Universismus. Die Grundlage der Religion
und Ethik, des Staatswesens und der Wissenschaften Chinas (Berlin:
G. Reimer, 1918), 119ff.
[ . . . ] The oldest medical book of China [ . . . ] is titled Su Wen and
probably originates from the mythical Emperor Huang and his coun-
cilors; certainly, the style shows us that it was most likely not written
in pre-Christian times, but in it a lot of ancient Chinese science never-
theless survived. In chapter 67, we find that Jang and Jin, the Tao of the
universe, expresses itself in five [ . . . ] K’i, breaths or influences, namely,
heat or warmth, aridity, cold, wind and wet. As Huang was informed
by his wise councilor [ . . . ] K’i-po,’ these influences rule all living beings
and action, and are determining factors in their lives, depending on the
ratio of the mixture in which they occur. Thus, further, the east brings
forth the wind, and because the east corresponds to the element of wood,
the wind is thought to produce the wood as well as sourness, because this
is designated the taste of the east. The above factors also control the
human liver, because it, too, corresponds to the east; the liver produces
muscles and the heart. Furthermore, the spring, which annually pro-
duces plants and wood through its creative force, also corresponds to the
east; as for human beings, this season produces wisdom and understand-
ing, but also [ . . . ] fury because it corresponds to the wind. And so it
becomes entirely clear that the liver is anger, and that the wind and
sourness are also from the harmful influence on the liver. In the same
scholarly way, the great sage indicated to his imperial master that for the
other regions and the center of the universe equally ingenious combina-
tions could be clearly illustrated in the following table, which forms the
basis of the universal system of Chinese pathology and medicine.
East Spring Wind Wood Sour Liver Muscles Anger
and heart
South Summer Warm Fire Bitter Heart Blood and Joy
spleen
Middle Wet Earth Sweet Spleen Meat and Thought
lung
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 69

West Autumn Drought Metal Sharp Lungs Skin, hair, Care


and
kidneys
North Winter Cold Water Salty Kidney Bone and Fear
marrow

Johann Jakob Maria de Groot, The Religious System of China, Its Ancient
Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect. Manners, Customs and
Social Institutions Connected Therewith, Vol. I/1: Disposal of the Dead,
Part 1: Funeral Rites, Part 2: The Ideas of Resurrection (Leiden: Brill, 1892),
316ff. 61
The coffins of grandees in those times displayed “a blue dragon on
the left side, a white tiger on the right, a golden sun and a silver moon
on the top”; moreover, the books of the later Han Dynasty state that
the imperial coffins “used to be decorated and painted with a sun, a
moon, a bird, a tortoise, a dragon and a tiger.” In ancient China, these
four animals denoted the four quarters of the celestial sphere, the east-
ern quarter being called the Azure Dragon, the southern quarter the Red
or Vermilion Bird, the western quarter the White Tiger, and the north-
ern quarter the Black Tortoise. For the sake of convenience, we may
draw these cosmogonic elements in a table as follows: ·69·

East Spring Blue Dragon


South Summer Red Bird
West Autumn White Tiger
North Winter Black Tortoise

A P P E N D I X VI
Distribution of seasons and ages, the elements and qualities of temperaments, etc.
of individual plants. From: Codices Germanicos, described by Franz Boll
(Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, Vol. VII) (Brussels, 1908), 104ff.

61. [The rest of Appendix V was published entirely in English in Cassirer’s


original.]
70 T H E F O R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING

Elementa Anni tempora Zodiaci signa Caeli regiones


ਕȒȡ ਩Įȡ ȀȡȚȩȢȉĮ૨ȡȠȢǻȓįȣȝȠȚ ȞȩIJȠȢ
ʌ૨ȡ șȑȡȠȢ ȀĮȡțȓȞȠȢǹȑȦȞȆȐȡșİȞȠȢ ਕȞĮIJȠȜȒ
Ȗો ijșȚȞȩʌȦȡȠȞ ǽȣȖȩȢȈțȠȡʌȓȦȞȉȠȟȩIJȘȢ ȕȠȡȡ઼Ȣ
੢įȦȡ ȤİȚȝȫȞ ǹੁȖȩțİȡȦȢ૽ȊįȡȠȤȩȠȢ੉ȤșȪİȢ įȪıȚȢ

Humores Temperamenta Colores Status


ĮੈȝĮ șİȡȝઁȞțĮ੿ਫ਼ȖȡȩȞ ਥȡȣșȡȩȞ ਫ਼ȖȡȩȞ
ȤȠȜȒ șİȡȝઁȞțĮ੿ȟȘȡȩȞ ȟĮȞșȩȞ ȜİʌIJȩȞ
ȤȣȝȩȢȝİȜĮȖȤȠȜȚțȩȢ ȥȣȤȡઁȞțĮ੿ȟȘȡȩȞ ȝȑȜĮȞ ʌĮȤȪ
ijȜȑȖȝĮ ȥȣȤȡઁȞțĮ੿ਫ਼ȖȡȩȞ ȜİȣțȩȞ ȖȜȚıȤʌȩȞ

A P P E N D I X VII
“The Classification of Age of Sacrificial Victims and the Different Parts of Their
Bodies,” Khândogjopanishad (Cândogya Upanishad), ed. and tr. by Otto
Böhtlingk (Leipzig: Haessel, 1889), chap. 16, 33ff.
1) Man is the sacrificed. The matutinal offering is equivalent to his
first twenty-four years. The Gâjatrî consists of twenty-four syllables,
and the matutinal offering is linked with the Gâjatrî. The Vasu deal
with this part of the sacrifice and the Vasu are the breaths. In the
Vasu, everything dwells (vâsajanti ).
2) If at this age one becomes unwell, then one says: “O Vasu, your
breath! Let my matutinal offering continue uninterrupted until the
beginning of the sacrifice, so that I, the sacrificial victim, by no
means come to nothing under the Vasu, the breath.” Then he will
rise up and be healthy.
3) The midday sacrifice is equivalent to the next twenty-four years.
The trishtub consists of forty-four syllables, and the midday offering
is linked with the trishtub. The Rudra is concerned with this part of
the sacrifice and the Rudra are breaths. The Rudra bring them all
to tears (rodajanti).
·70· 4) If at this age one becomes ill, then one says: “O Rudra, your
breath! Let my midday offering continue uninterrupted until the
beginning of the sacrifice, so that I, the sacrificial victim, by no
TH E FO R M OF THE CONCEPT I N M YTHI CAL THINKING 71
means come to nothing under the Rudra, the breath.” Then he will
rise up and be healthy.
5) The next contribution corresponds to the (next) twenty-four years.
The Gagatî is forty-eight syllables, and the third offering is related
to the Gagatî. The Âditja is implicated in this part of the sacrifice
and the Âditja are the breaths. Everything dwells in the Âditja, yes
(âdadate).
6) If at this age one becomes ill, then one says: “O Âditja, your breath!
Let my third offering continue uninterrupted until the (full) age
(100 years). I am the sacrificial victim, not amidst the Âditja, the
breath.” Then he will rise up and be healthy.
The Concept of Symbolic Form in the
Construction of the Human Sciences
(1923)

1
·171· If I dare to attempt in the purview of these lectures to deal with a topic
that is neither historical nor specific to the sciences of culture, but is of a
systematic-philosophical nature and therefore would appear to go be-
yond the sphere of problems that the Warburg Library sets for itself,
then such an attempt needs to be accounted for and justified. I believe I
can provide this justification in no better way than to speak of the per-
sonal impression that I received in my first true encounter with the War-
burg Library. The questions that I would like to treat in this lecture by
means of a very brief outline have preoccupied me for a long time;
however, they now seem to stand as if embodied before me. I felt most
intensely what has been said in the opening address of this series: that
here it is a question not of a mere collection of books but of a collection
of problems. It was not the subject collections of the library that awoke in
me this impression; rather, the principle of its construction affected me
more greatly than the mere content. For here, the history of art, the
history of myth and religion, the history of language and culture were

[First published as “Der Begriff der symbolischen Form im Aufbau der Geistes-
wissenschaften,” Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg, 1 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner,
1922), 11–39. Translated from Wesen und Wirkung des Symbolbegriffs (Darmstadt,
1994), 171–200.]
72
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 73
clearly not only juxtaposed but also related to each other and to a com-
mon ideal center.
Admittedly, at first sight this relation seems to be of a purely histori-
cal nature: it is the problem of the living legacy [Nachleben] of antiquity
that—as the introductory lecture explained—governs the entire struc-
ture of the library and lends to it its characteristic imprint. However,
every salvaged problem of the history of spirit, when it is formulated
with greater scope and depth, is at the same time a universal systematic
problem of the philosophy of spirit. The survey, the synopsis, of the
spiritual can fulfill itself in no other way than in its history, but it does
not remain in this one dimension of the historical. The relation of being
to becoming has its true correlation also in the inverse direction. Just
as spiritual being can be viewed in no other way than in the form of ·172·
becoming, so, too, is it the case with all spiritual becoming, insofar as it
is philosophically grasped and penetrated; in this way, it is raised to the
form of being. If the life of spirit does not dissolve into the mere tempo-
ral form in which it takes place, if it does not flow into it, then it will flow
into something else; something permanent that has in itself figure and
duration must reflect on the movable background of events.
The less the researcher of language, the investigator of the history
of religions, the historian of art linger in one single domain of their re-
search, the more clearly they feel this unity of form. With each new
sphere of historical existence that is unlocked, they see themselves at the
same time directed to interconnections whose explanation leads beyond
purely historical observation. In fact, today, not so much in philosophy
as, rather, in the individual sciences, a most vigorous endeavor is stirring
to go beyond “positivism,” beyond the employment of and limitation to
the mere matter of facts. Among contemporary researchers of language, it is
Karl Voßler in particular who has advocated with great energy the thesis
that we would be led to a genuine and full understanding of the histori-
cal facts of language only once research opened itself up to making
the crucial step from positivism to idealism. The further research into
language and comparative linguistics expands today, the more decidedly
there appears the emergence of certain constant motives of linguistic
development, certain “fundamental ideas” of language that are redis-
covered even where there can be no talk of historical influence and
transmission. We are, perhaps, first tempted to search for the grounds for
74 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S
this appearance, insofar as it is concerned with the phenomenon of pho-
netics and the general lawfulness of its development, in the purely physi-
ological domain. If we consider, however, how deeply phonetic and men-
tal elements penetrate one another in the course of the development of
language, if we hold fast to the methodological postulate that Voßler has
given in the pregnant formula “first stylistics, then syntax and phonet-
ics,” then at least we will not believe that we have exhaustively explained
the whole of the phenomena that are in question here by appealing to
physiology. In fact, the phenomenon of phonetics is analogous to that
·173· of morphology [Formbildung], which can be conceived only, if at all, from
the deepest spiritual, structural relationships of language. Wilhelm von
Humboldt has, in his two treatises On Dualism and On the Relationship of
the Adverbs of Place to the Pronoun in Several Languages, given the classic model
for a method of examination that decisively grasps the spiritual content
of an individual grammatical form in order to pursue it in its finest
adumbrations and nuances. The implementation and enlargement that
the basic idea of the latter of these treaties has recently experienced in
linguistics appears to show how much this general tendency of Hum-
boldt’s method continues to have an influence. Even in the field of com-
parative mythology, the endeavor, not merely to inspect the beginning of
mythical thinking and imagining, but to fix a determined unitary core
content of mythical formation in general, has emerged ever more clearly
in the past century. The call for a “general mythology,” whose task should
be to establish a valid universal and to determine the principle in the
phenomena in which every particular mythical formation was grounded,
has now been raised from specialized research.1 However, the writings
of the Society for Comparative Mythology, which ought to have been
determined to bring about this program, have only been able to com-
plete the smallest part of the task that was set forth in it with great clarity.
For, instead of conceiving and characterizing myth as a unified form
of consciousness, they attempted to determine its unity purely from the
objective side. A certain sphere of objects [Objekte] was selected from
Babylonian astronomy and astrology in order to prove that they were
the starting point and model for all mythical formation. However, in this

1. See Paul Ehrenreich, Die allgemeine Mythologie und ihre ethnologischen Grundlagen
(Leipzig, 1910).
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 75
way, the consideration of mythical objects [Objekte] does not really grasp
the constructive unity of mythical thought: this shows itself insofar as the
astral mythology that was erected here as the core of every interpretation
of myth immediately began to disintegrate into a wealth of ever more
antagonistic attempts at explanation in terms of a solar mythology, a
moon mythology, a star mythology, etc. It emerges indirectly, though ·174·
very clearly, that the unity of the spiritual sphere can never be deter-
mined and secured from the object, only from the function that grounds
it. If we pursue the guidelines that come from research into particulars,
we see ever more clearly that they point to a general problem: that of the
task of a general system of symbolic forms.
If I attempt to express the problem in this way, it is, of course, in-
cumbent on me to first define more precisely the concept of “symbolic
form.” We can interpret the concept of the symbolic such that it is un-
derstood as a very determined direction of spiritual apprehension and
configuration that has another, no less determined opposite direction stand-
ing over against it. Thus, for example, from the whole of language, a
determined range of linguistic phenomena that one can designate as
“metaphorical” in the strict sense, and that contrast the “proper” sense
of the word and language, can be singled out; thus, in art, one can dis-
tinguish a form of presentation that simply takes off from the external
configuration of the intuitive-sensory contents, a way of presentation
that employs allegoric-symbolic means of expression; and in the end,
we can also speak of symbolic thought as a form of thought that is dif-
ferentiated from the logical-scientific formation [Geblide] of concepts by
very clearly determined and typical characteristics. However, what should
be designated here by the concept of symbolic form is something differ-
ent and more general. It is a question of taking symbolic expression,
that is, the expression of something “spiritual” through sensory “signs”
and “images,” in its most general signification; it is a question of asking
whether this form of expression, with all of its different possible applica-
tions, is grounded by a principle that marks it as a closed and unified
fundamental process. Thus, what should not be asked here is what the
symbol signifies and achieves in any particular sphere, what it signifies or
achieves in art, myth, or language, but how far language as a whole, myth
as a whole, art as a whole, carry within them the general character of sym-
bolic configuration. Of course, we can historically trace how the concept
76 C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S
of the symbol only slowly matures into this broad universality of system-
·175· atic signification. It is originally rooted in the religious sphere and re-
mains bound to it for a long time. It is only in modern times that it was
progressively and ever more consciously and resolutely replanted from
there into other domains and adapted, in particular, to art and aesthetic
contemplation. Here, too, Goethe describes in greatest clarity the cru-
cial turn of modern consciousness. In the splendid portrait sketched by
Kestner of the twenty-three-year-old Goethe after his arrival in Wetzlar,
he was said to possess an exceptionally vivid force of imagination, which
he expressed mostly in images and allegories. He also tended to say
that he could never properly express himself, but that he hoped, when he
was older, to be able to think and express thoughts in themselves, as they
were. At seventy-five, however, Goethe said to Eckermann that through-
out his life he had only ever looked upon his works and achievements
symbolically, and that, as he expressed it in a letter to Zelter, he only
wanted to take the most original and deepest, the most “authentic”
thought that he ever thought—the idea of metamorphosis—symbolically.
Thus, for him, the spiritual circle of his existence was implied by this
concept; it encompasses not only the entirety of his artistic pursuits but
also virtually the whole of his own form of life and thought. Beginning
from Goethe, and consistent with his perspective, Schelling and Hegel
took over the concept of the symbol for the philosophy of aesthetics and,
through to Friedrich Theodor Vischer’s essay, the signification that the
symbol possesses for the foundations of aesthetics was finally established.
In the following observations, however, it is a question not of the often
rich and fruitful employment of the concept but of its unified and univer-
sally valid structure. By “symbolic form,” one should understand every
energy of spirit by which the content of spiritual signification is linked
to a concrete and intrinsically appropriate sensuous sign. In this sense,
language, the mythical-religious world, and art confront us as particu-
lar symbolic forms. For in each of them the basic phenomenon takes
shape; our consciousness does not content itself with receiving impres-
sions from the outside, rather it links and penetrates every impression
with a free activity of expression. Thus a world of self-created signs and
·176· images emerges that opposes and asserts itself in independent fullness
and original force against that which we designate as the objective reality
of things. Humboldt has demonstrated how the entire mode of subjec-
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S 77
tive perception of objects necessarily merges into the formation and use of
language. For the word is never an imprint of objects in themselves, but is
the image of these objects engendered in the soul. “Just as the individual
sound enters between the object and the human being, so the whole of
language enters between the human being and the inner and external
nature acting on him. The human being is surrounded by a world of
sounds in order to assimilate and process a world of objects. [. . .] Through
this same act, by which he spins language out of himself, the human
being spins himself into it, and each language draws a circle around the
people who belong to it, a circle from which it is possible to escape only
insofar as one enters it at the same time into another.”2 What is said here
of the world of the phonetics of language holds no less for every unified
world of images and signs, as well as for the mythical, religious, aesthetic
world. It is a false, though recurring, tendency to measure the content
and the “truth” they shelter in themselves by that through which they
enter into existence—be it inner or external, physical or psychic existence—
instead of measuring it according to the force and coherence of expres-
sion itself. They all enter between us and objects; however, they not only
designate negatively a displacement in which the object retreats from us, they
also create the only possible and adequate mediation and medium through
which any spiritual being becomes comprehensible and intelligible.
That such a mediation—whether it is through phonetic signs, the
configuration of the image in myth and art, or the intellectual signs and
symbols of pure knowledge—necessarily belongs to the essence of the
spiritual itself can easily be seen only if we reflect on the general form by
which it is given to us. All spiritual content is for us necessarily bound to
the form of consciousness and thus to the form of time. It is only insofar
as it produces itself in time and it is not capable of producing itself in
any other way; then it immediately fades away in order to give way to ·177·
the production of another new space. Thus, all consciousness stands
under the Heraclitean law of becoming. The things of nature in their
objectively real existence are able to show, if necessary, a fixed “consis-
tency,” a relative duration: consciousness, by its very nature, is refused
such a state. It possesses no other being than that of free activity, than
the being of the process. And in this process, the components never re-

2. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 1, 60.
78 C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S
turn as truly identical. Here, there is only a constant flow, a living stream
in which every fixed configuration must, no sooner than it is obtained,
die away once more. And this designates the characteristic antinomy,
the immanent contradiction of consciousness itself. It cannot free itself
from the form of time, for its own characteristic essence exists in it and
is based on it. And yet, the content not only originates [entstehen] but arises
[erstehen]: out of mere becoming, a formation [Gebilde], a figure, an “eidos”
wrestles free. How are these two contradictory demands to be united
and reconciled with one another? How can the instant, the moment of
time, be held on to, without it losing its character as an instance of time;
how can something individual, something given here and now in con-
sciousness, determine its particular individuality so that in it a general
content, a mental “signification,” becomes visible?
The rift that opens up before us here seems, in fact, irreconcilable; the
opposition appears insurmountable as soon as one attempts to render it
in the most precise abstract formula possible. And yet, in the activity
[Tun] of spirit, a miracle is continuously brought about, namely, that this
abyss closes; that the universal encounters the particular, as it were, in a
spiritual medium and penetrates it, forming a truly concrete unity. This
process exhibits itself everywhere consciousness is not content with sim-
ply having sensuous content but produces such content out of itself. It is
the force of producing that configures the contents of mere sensation
and perception into symbolic contents. Here, the image has ceased to be
something simply received from the outside; it has become something
formed from the inside in which a fundamental principle of free forming
prevails. This is the achievement that we see take place in particular
“symbolic forms,” in language, myth, and art. Each of these forms not
only takes its starting point from the sensuous but remains constantly
·178· enclosed in the sphere of the sensuous. It does not turn against the sensu-
ous material but lives and creates itself in it. And with this, the opposi-
tions that must appear as incompatible [unvereinbar] from the perspective
of abstract metaphysics are united [vereinen]. So, in language the pure
significative content of concepts, thus a something that must be general
and immutable, will be entrusted to the fleeting element of sounds, such
that more than of any other it can be said that it is always becoming but
never is. However, this fleetingness itself now proves to be a medium and
a vehicle for the free plasticity of sounds by thought. In its liveliness and
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 79
its mobility, in opposition to linguistic conduct, which, after all, always
remains in the end fixed to the designation of individuals, it comes to
express not only what is thought but also the inner movement of think-
ing itself. Insofar as we do not view the impressions that seem to pierce
us from the outside merely as dead images on a blackboard, but instead
inform them with the phonetic figure of words, a new diverse life awak-
ens in them. In the differentiation and separation that is imparted to
them, they simultaneously gain a new fullness of content. For the pho-
netic sign is not the mere impression of a difference that already exists in
consciousness; rather, it is a medium and a condition of the inner orga-
nization of representations. The articulation of sounds does not simply
enunciate the finished articulation of thought; rather, it first prepares the
way for it. This inseparability of the sensuous and spiritual elements of
the formation of form shows itself even more clearly in the construction
of the aesthetic world of form. Every aesthetic apprehension of spatial
forms may be rooted in elementary sensuous sensations [Elementargefühlen],
every sensation [Gefühl] of proportion and symmetry may immediately
be traced back to the sensation [Gefühl] of our own bodies—and yet, on
the other hand, there can be for us a true understanding of spatial forms,
of plastic or architectonic intuition, only in that we are able to produce
these forms ourselves and able to become conscious of the lawfulness
of this production.
We can distinguish three stages in this sort of inner construction of the
particular value of form. The sign always begins by snuggling as close as
possible to the designated object, by taking it, as it were, up into itself
and rendering it as precisely and fully as possible. Thus with language,
the further we trace it back, the richer it becomes in authentically imita-
tive and metaphoric sounds. It is no wonder that, for a long time, philo- ·179·
sophical theories of language have thought it possible to establish here
the immediate explanation of the origins of language. The theory of the
onomatopoeic origin of language received its systematic formation with
the Stoics, and it underwent original and further elaboration by Giam-
battista Vico in the eighteenth century, and persisted in modern times
to the beginning of modern linguistics. Indeed, today, following the new
critical foundation of the philosophy of language by Herder and Hum-
boldt, the belief that one can grasp the secret of the production of lan-
guage materially as if with our hands has been surpassed. And yet, a look
80 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
at the history of language teaches us that the imitative sound, though
little of the actual principle of language is contained in it, effectively proves
nevertheless to be a contributing factor in the formation of language.
Thus, it is precisely from the perspective of empirical linguistic research
that a somewhat qualified attempt to defend the much-abused principle
of imitative sound has repeatedly been made by Hermann Paul, Georg
Curtius, and Wilhelm Scherer, to mention but a few of the most famous
names. No one had the right, Scherer emphatically asserts, to look down
with a smile of sympathetic contempt on the acceptance of an original
natural interconnection between sound and signification: in fact, it may
be remarked here that whoever wrongly solves such problems is a hun-
dred times further ahead than those who never attempted a solution to
the problem.3 This view seems to be further confirmed, and an even
greater scope seems to be established if we survey the languages of primi-
tive peoples from our linguistically developed culture. Thus, for exam-
ple, the Ewe language, as Westermann in his Ewe-Grammatik demon-
strates, is extraordinarily rich in means to express a received impression
through sounds, a wealth that springs from the almost insatiable desire
to imitate everything heard, seen, or somehow sensed with one or more
sounds. Here and in some related languages, there are, for example,
·180· adverbs that describe only one activity, one state, or one characteristic and,
consequently, only belong to and can only be associated with one verb.
Westermann cites for the single verb to walk no fewer than thirty-three
such adverbial image-sounds, each of which designates a particular man-
ner, a certain nuance and feature of walking.4 As we can see, the linguis-
tic expression has not yet divorced itself here from the purely mimetic,
and it scarcely possesses a higher form of generality. In particular, this
mimetic character of the languages of native peoples distinguishes itself
in the cases of clearly differentiated forms of expression that possess the
designation and precise determination of spatial relationships. Different
degrees of distance, as well as miscellaneous intuitive relationships of

3. Wilhelm Scherer, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (Berlin, 1868), 38; see
Georg Curtius, Grundzüge der griech. Etymologie (5th ed.), 96; Hermann Paul, Prin-
zipien der Sprachgeschichte (3rd ed.), 157.
4. Diedrich Westermann, Grammatik der Eve-Sprache (Berlin, 1907), 83f.
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 81
the position and location of objects that are spoken about, are designated
by a different phonetic coloring by means of different vowels or, in cer-
tain circumstances, by a different tone. From all this, it clearly emerges
how from this stage of linguistic formation [Gebilde] sound immediately
coalesces with the elements of sensuous intuition while simultaneously
penetrating into it and attempting to exhaust it in its complete concre-
tion and fullness.
It is already a further step toward freeing the proper and original
form of language from the content of sensuous intuition when, in place
of the immediate, imitative, onomatopoeic, or mimetic expression, there
emerges another way of designation, which we can call “analogical.”
Here, it is no longer any individual objective quality of objects that is
maintained and reproduced in sound; rather, the relation between sound
and signification is maintained through the subjectivity of thought or
feeling. There no longer exists any factually demonstrable similarity be-
tween the sound and that which it designates; however, to be sure, there
still appears, in the feeling of language, very specific formations and
nuances of tone, as well as bearers of determined natural differences in
signification. It is no longer quite simply the “thing” but the subjectively
mediated impression of it or a form of activity of the subject that should
find its presentation and its own kind of “correspondence” in sound.
Directly from their refined feeling for language, the subtlest and most
profound experts of language believe they are still able to grasp, from
time to time, such correspondences, even in the very advanced stages ·181·
of the development of our civilized languages. Thus, for example, Jakob
Grimm attempted to demonstrate such a correspondence between the
meaning of the form of questions and answers and the sounds used in
Indo-Germanic languages in the formation of the words used in ques-
tions and answers. In languages that possess musical syllabic tones, that
is to say, languages that differentiate identical syllables by means of high,
medium, or deep tones, or by means of monotonic, ascending, descend-
ing tones, this differentiation can easily have etymological value: words
that designate a difference of signification can soon stand for any clearly
formal function of language. Thus, for example, the simple change of
tone can be used as the expression of negation, or it can stamp two essen-
tially identical syllables with different tonal qualities to express things
82 C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S
or events, nouns or verbs. The differentiation between transitive verbs,
between pure action verbs and those that express not an action [Tun] but
a state and condition, can also be achieved in this way. Here, it is no longer
the mere imitation of a sensuously perceived object but an already very
complex intellectual distinction in thought, the transfer of a word in a
defined grammatical category, that is rendered by a purely musical prin-
ciple such as the syllabic tone. A linguistic device such as reduplication, by
which a certain sensuous medium of tone or sound is likewise used to
express the most diverse theoretical relations and significations, appears
to maintain itself on the same level. The reduplication initially encloses
itself very tightly in the objective process and immediately attempts to
imitate it; the reduplication and repetition of the syllable serve the des-
ignation of an action or an event that, in fact, fulfills itself in several
identical phases. However, it goes further than this to designate only that
content which is connected to the fundamental meaning of repetition by
a distant analogy. For substantives, it serves the formation of plurality;
in adjectives, the formation of comparative forms; in verbs, alongside
the frequentative forms, it constitutes above all forms of intensity and is
used for the expression of a large number of particular temporal differ-
ences. There are languages in which this device of reduplication governs
·182· the entire grammatical structure. In all of this, it clearly emerges how
language, even after it has freed itself from a merely onomatopoetic
mode of expression, still takes great pains to conform to the significative
content, to follow it tentatively, as it were.
At the highest stages of its development, however, this interconnec-
tion appears broken. Every form of real imitation is now renounced, and
instead of this, the function of signification achieves pure autonomy. The
less the form of language aspires to provide an immediate or mediate
copy of the objective world, the less it identifies with the being of this
world, the more clearly it penetrates to its own achievement, to its specific
meaning. Instead of a mimetic or analogical expression, it now achieves
the stage of symbolic expression, which, in that it separates from every
similarity with the objective, now directly gains, in this distance and
turning away from, a new intellectual content.
We cannot follow in detail here how the same direction of progress
becomes visible in the construction of the world of aesthetic form. Of
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 83
course, here we are from the beginning on another ground and, so to
speak, in another spiritual dimension. For an artistic form, in the proper
sense, first originates where intuition has completely ceased to be capti-
vated by mere impressions, where it has freed itself from pure expres-
sion. Already, the first phase of artistic configuration is strictly separated
from every kind of “imitation.” And yet, here, too, there emerges, on
a higher level, the same typical separation. Indeed, it is not a question
of a mere succession, of simply historical sequences of concrete artistic
modes of presentation, but [a question] of the fundamental moments
of artistic presentation which are present at every level of development
and whose changing relationship, whose dynamic, is decisive for the style
of every epoch. Goethe, in an essay that brings together the whole of his
basic view of aesthetics, distinguished three forms of apprehension and
presentation, which he identified as “the simple imitation of nature,” the
“manner,” and “style.” Imitation attempts to capture in calm faithful-
ness the concrete sensuous nature of objects that stand before the eye of
the artist; however, this faithfulness vis-à-vis the object [Objekt] is at the
same time its limitation. A limited object is rendered in a limited way
and with limited means. This passivity vis-à-vis the given impression ·183·
falls away at the second level; insofar that it is not so much the simple
nature of objects [Objekte] that is expressed as the spirit of the speaking,
the proper language of forms arises. The object, the model confronts the
formative force of the artist; however, the artist no longer attempts to
grasp it in its totality and exhaust it; rather, he highlights a few charac-
teristic features in it in order to stamp them with uniquely artistic traits.
However, there is, of course, a still higher form and higher force of pre-
sentation than this, one based on the individual and, thus, accidental
nature of artists. If the subjectivity of artists produces the manner, then
the subjectivity of the art produces that which all art is able to do purely
from its own means of presentation, namely, style. This is, of course, the
highest expression of objectivity; however, it is no longer the simple ob-
jectivity of existence but the objectivity of the artistic spirit; it is not the
nature of images but the simultaneous free and lawful nature of forming
that manifests itself in style. “Just as simple imitation is based upon a
calm existence and a loving object, and just as the manner seizes a phe-
nomenon with a lighthearted nature, so style rests on the deepest founda-
84 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
tions of knowledge of the very essence of things, insofar as we are per-
mitted to have knowledge of it through visible and tangible figures.”5 If
we look back at the examination of the form of language, we see that
this differentiation belongs to a general coherence. The path from imita-
tion to pure symbol must be traversed by art as it was traversed by lan-
guage, and only from this is the “style” of art, as is the style of language,
achieved. It is an analogous lawfulness in progress; as with language, it
is an identical rhythm of development of the spontaneity of spiritual
expression that really proves itself in both.
At the same time, however, there exists in Goethe’s definition of style
the hint of another sphere of problems: for here the concept of style is
linked with that of knowledge. Thus, we are reminded that knowledge,
that the development of the logical and intellectual functions are also
subject to the conditions that are valid for every kind of progress from
natural existence to spiritual expression. Knowledge begins as sensuous
impressions and perception, by orienting itself toward things, the “ac-
·184· tual,” completely absorbing them into itself and, as it were, drawing
them into the sphere of consciousness. The first and, in many respects,
classic teaching that grounded the sensualist epistemology in ancient
philosophy described this process in an absolutely sensuous and materi-
alistic way: images, İ‫ݫ‬įȦȜĮ, which establish the link between object and
subject, are the material particulars that detach from things in order to
penetrate the I or soul. The epistemology of Aristotle and the Stoics at-
tempted constantly to refine the expression that had been given to the
relation between knowledge and the object. For Aristotle, it was not the
material of the object but its pure form that merges with sensory percep-
tion in the soul—just as wax picks up the form of the signet ring but not
the gold or ore. And in Stoicism, Chrysippus replaced the term IJȪʌȦıȚȢ
[imprint] with the general term ‫݌‬IJİȡȠȓȦıȚȢ [alteration in the soul]: it is not an
imprint of the object that is produced by perception in the soul; rather,
a change is caused in the soul on the ground of which its existence and
its qualitative character are judged. However, as much as we have striven
here and in medieval philosophy to advance toward an intellectualiza-
tion and sublimation of the copy theory and, more particularly, as much

5. [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil, in
Werke, vol. XLVII (Weimar, 1887–1919), 80.]
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 85
as the scholastics endeavored to establish the distinction between species
intelligibilis [intelligible species] and species sensibilia [sensible species] the
basic sensuous signification of images nevertheless lived on in the abstract
concept of “species.” The new form of thought of modern idealism was
needed in order for the Aristotelian-scholastic concept of species, and
the theory of knowledge linked to it, to finally be surpassed. However,
the presupposition that in order to become known the object had, in
some way, to enter into consciousness, that it had to copy itself in whole
or in part in it, was so solidly and persistently supported that, once this
presupposition was shaken, the knowability of objects increasingly
threatened to become problematic. The idealism of Descartes and Leib-
niz aimed at nothing other than bringing forward the criterion of objec-
tive validity of knowledge in its pure form, in the form of the cogitatio
and the intellectus ipse, imprisoning all those who could not relinquish the
dogmatic premise of the copy theory in an openly skeptical conclusion.
Even in the case of Kant, the emphasis of the theory itself seems to rest
more on the negative consequences it contained in itself than upon its
new and positive fundamental insight. For the core of his thought ap- ·185·
pears neither in the demonstration of how the genuine objectivity of
knowledge is grounded in and secured by the free spontaneity of spirit
nor in the theory of the unknowable “thing in itself.” On the contrary,
here that which clearly detaches knowledge from “things in themselves”
is only another expression of the fact that from here on, knowledge has
found its own solid ground. The “thing in itself ” is, according to the
Hegelian expression, only the “caput mortuum [dead head] of abstraction,”6
only the negative designation of a goal toward which knowledge cannot
and need not be oriented, but this negation creates at the same time a
new and original position—the centering of knowledge in its own form,
and within the laws of this form.
And the same typical turn confronts us where we treat knowledge not
merely according to its general determination but in its particularities;
when we envisage not only its philosophical concept but the manifes-
tation of this concept, or the concrete configuration of the individual
sciences. In its progress, each individual science develops ever finer and

6. [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften


im Grundrisse. Erster Theil: Die Logik, in Werke, vol. VI (Berlin, 1840), 95.]
86 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
more specific conceptual means and, at the same time, increasingly learns
to understand these means for what they are, intellectual symbols. The
history of mathematics provides continuous evidence for this fact; geom-
etry, too, may have begun with empirical measurements; the number,
too, first appears to human thought as the number of things. However,
the progress of mathematics and its development as a rigorous science
exist precisely because from this beginning it progressively freed itself
from the bonds and limitations connected with it. If the concept of the
whole number extends to the fraction, then such an extension may have
its correlate in the actual processes of the world of things, in the division
of concrete objects; if the irrational, which is denied the name of num-
ber in the mathematics of antiquity, is recognized as one of its forms,
and the negative number appears beside the positive, all this was still im-
mediately substantiated in the intuition of spatial magnitudes and their
relationships. The pure concept of number, however, gradually freed
itself from the intuition of things and, thus, of space. Since Dedekind,
·186· there has existed in modern mathematics a progressively clearer ten-
dency to conceive the system of numbers as a system of “free creations
of the mind”7 that are subjected to no law other than that which was in-
cluded in their original positing. It generally appears that every truly
great methodological advance achieved by mathematics in the course of
its history was always closely connected, and even confined, to a devel-
opment and intellectual refinement of its system of signs. The invention
of algebra was founded by Vieta as a logistice speciosa, or figurative analy-
sis: Leibniz’s algorithm of infinitesimal calculus, which signified for him
only one particular case of his basic philosophical-scientific plan—the
project of a “universal characteristic”—provides the clearest evidence
for this. Moreover, with regard to the problem being considered here,
mathematical physics, too, demonstrates a highly characteristic devel-
opment. This was the case so long as the classical system of Galilean-
Newtonian mechanics was clearly regarded as the system of physics, so
long as its basic concepts of space and time, force and mass, could still
be interpreted as concepts that were, in the way that physics employed

7. [Richard Dedekind, Was sind und was sollen die Zahlen? § 6 (Braunschweig:
F. Vieweg, 1893), 21: “Can we rightly call numbers a free creation of the human
spirit?”]
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 87
them, imposed upon us immediately and in a univocal determination
by the “nature of things,” by the character of physical reality. However,
this view lost its foundation the moment that a new construction of me-
chanics was sought through a variation and transformation of precisely
these basic concepts. It is not by accident that it was Heinrich Hertz who
first took this crucial step in his Principles of Mechanics, who deleted the
concept of force from the foundation of mechanics and constructed it
exclusively from the three basic, independent ideas of time, space, and
mass; and it was just in this attempt that he gained at the same time a
new fundamental clarity about the concept of the symbol in general, and
about the direction and meaning of symbolism in physics in particular.
It is the first and, in a certain sense, the most important task of our
conscious knowledge of nature, [Hertz emphasizes,] to enable us
to foresee future experience so that we may direct our present
activities accordingly. However, our process in deriving the future
from the past, and thus achieving the desired foresight, is always
this: we set up internal simulacra or symbols of external objects ·187·
of such a type that their intellectually necessary consequences are
invariably symbols again of the necessary consequences in nature
of the objects pictured.8
Thus, here, too, there appears the “inner simulacrum”—the physico-
mathematical symbols—of objects in place of external objects, and the
demand that we place on the symbols of physics is not that they copy a
particular sensuous and demonstrable existence but that they stand among
themselves in such a connection that, by virtue of this connection, we
can systematically organize and control the totality [Gesamtheit] of our
experience. If we consider the worldview of modern physics, we see how
fruitful this general view of physical knowledge has been for it. The dis-
pleasure and helplessness with which philosophy today still often con-
fronts the results of the theory of relativity arise, perhaps, for the most
part, from the fact that it has not yet sharply and clearly grasped the
genuine character of symbolism in physics that manifests itself in this
theory. So long as philosophy knows no other possibility than the symbol

8. [Heinrich Hertz, Die Prinzipien der Mechanik in neuem Zusammenhange dargestellt


(Leipzig, 1894), 1ff.]
88 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
that is used here—for example, the symbol of Riemannian space, either
as expression for the directly given realities or simply as fictions—it will
not have grasped its methodological meaning and value. The theory of
relativity—if we wish to apply it to the foregoing triadic characterization
of Goethe—is, of course, far removed from signifying a “simple imitation
of nature”; however, nor does it express a purely accidental “manner”
of considering nature; rather, it appears, like other theories, unable to
represent [repräsentieren] the true “style” of modern physical knowledge.

2
We have, up to now, considered essentially as a unity the force of inner
images that manifest themselves in the production of the world of art
and the world of knowledge, and in the production of the mythical and
linguistic worlds; we have attempted to expose in this unity a thorough-
going form of construction, a general type, so to speak. The true rela-
tionship between individual forms, however, only manifests itself when
we attempt, within this type, to determine and delimit over against each
·188· other the particular and specific features of each individual basic orien-
tation. The function of configuration of images can, after all, be thought
of as an ultimate comprehensive unity; however, the differences among
the forms immediately manifest themselves again as soon as we reflect
on the different relationship that spirit maintains in each case toward the
world of images and figures that originates from it.
If we remain at the level of myth, then the force of the image of spirit
manifests itself to us in all its richness, with its incalculable diversity and
the fullness of its demonstrable expressions; however, at the same time,
the world of images signifies here for consciousness only another form
of objective-tangible reality, because it holds it in the same restriction as the
world of immediate sense impression. The image as such is not known
or recognized as a free spiritual creation but is approached as an inde-
pendent effectiveness; a dæmonic compulsion radiates from it, which con-
sciousness masters and then banishes. Mythical consciousness is thor-
oughly determined by this indifference of image and thing [Sache]: the
two are inseparable from one another in the mode of being because the
mode of effective action is common to them. For, in the general magical-
mythical interconnected coherence of things, the image possesses the
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 89
same force as any physical existence. The images of people or their
names in no way represent [repräsentiert] the person but from the standpoint
of the magical interconnection of effects, and, thus, measured from the
magical concept of “reality” [Realität], it is that individual himself. Just
as whoever can take possession of the smallest bodily part of a human
being—his hair, his fingernails, etc.—possesses and rules the whole per-
son, so too will the same mastery be established through the possession
of images or names. The belief in the essential objective being and ob-
jective force of signs, the belief in the magic of words and images, in the
magic of names and writing, constitutes the basic element of the mythi-
cal view of the world. Now, of course, within the latter itself, a gradual
disentanglement and freeing takes place, to the extent that the world of
myth begins to give way to the truly religious world. Every development
of religious self-consciousness finds its origins here. Even though mythi-
cal fantasy remains the substantial foundation and, as it were, the nutri-
tive soil for all religion, the true characteristic form of religion is achieved ·189·
only when it breaks with conscious energy away from this soil and, with
a completely new force of spiritual critique, confronts the content of
mythical images. The content and form of the idea of God for Jewish
prophecy is gained through this attitude, through the struggle against
idolatry [Bilderdienst]. The prohibition of idolatry constitutes the line of
demarcation between mythical and prophetic consciousness. What dif-
ferentiates the new monotheistic consciousness is that, for it, the ani-
mating spiritual force of images [Bildes] is, as it were, extinguished; all
signification and meaningfulness withdraws into another, purely spiritual
sphere and, with this, leaves nothing from the being of images other than
the empty material substrate. Before the force of heroical abstraction,
which prophetic thought possesses and which also determines prophetic
religious feeling, the images of myth become “pure nothingness.”9 And
yet, they do not remain closed for long in this sphere of “nothingness”
into which prophetic consciousness attempts to force them; rather, they
always break out of it again, asserting themselves as an independent
power. In the progress and unfolding of religious consciousness, religious
symbols are repeatedly thought of as both the bearer of religious forces

9. [Jeremiah 10:3 according to Luther’s translation: “Denn der Heiden


Satzungen sind lauter Nichts.”]
90 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
and effects. Throughout the entire evolution of Christian dogma right
up to Protestantism, Luther, and Zwingli, it has been highly significant
that already in the beginning the concept of the symbol was fused to-
gether with that of the sacraments and that of the mystery. “The sym-
bolic”—as, for example, Harnack depicts the belief in originary time—“is
for that time to be thought of not as the opposite of the objective or the
real but as the mysterious effect of God (ȝȣıIJȒȡȚRY—mystery) that con-
fronts the naturalistic clarity of the profane.”10 Of course, here, too, the
separation between the image itself and the spiritual and imageless truth
that it wants to present comes to the fore again. It is in the nature of the
religious, however, that this struggle of motives cannot in itself be fol-
lowed to its conclusion; for even this conflict—this constant attempt to
free itself from the merely pictorial and the constant necessity to return
to it—constitutes a fundamental moment of the religious process as it
·190· fulfills itself in history.
A new freedom of apprehension, however, now confronts us when we
turn from the mythical-religious view to an aesthetic contemplation; for
the latter arises and exists inasmuch as spirit enters here into a new re-
lationship with the whole sphere of images. Of course, art, too, in its
greatest achievements, remains closely entangled with the mythical view
of the world. “Works such as the Indian and Egyptian monuments,”
says Schelling in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Myth, “do not arise as
cave stalactites by the mere passage of time; the same violent power that
internally creates the partly colossal representations of myth is brought
out by the initiatives of art, which transcend every measure of earlier
times. The violent power that, in mythical representations, raised human
consciousness beyond the limits of reality, was also the first teacher of
the greatness, of the full significance of art.”11 What is stated here from
a general speculative conviction has been thoroughly corroborated by
empirical research in the domain of art history and comparative my-
thology. And yet, despite the reciprocal penetration of the content of art
and myth, their mutual form remains clearly distinct. In mythical and
religious consciousness, there exists, on the one hand, a complete indif-

10. Adolf Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, I, p. 198.


11. [Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Einleitung in die Philosophie der
Mythologie, in Werke, vol. I (Stuttgart and Augsburg, 1856), 240.]
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 91
ference between the image and its significative content; on the other
hand, there exists a permanent tension between the two. As soon as the
ideal content is dissolved into the content of the image and, as it were,
absorbed in it, it attempts to free itself from sensuous-figurative expres-
sion, only, however, in order to be subjected to its violent power anew.
This struggle and conflict of motives is replaced by a pure equilibrium
only in the artistic apprehension and configuration of the world. The life
of aesthetic consciousness maintains itself in this equilibrium, just as the
life of mythical-religious consciousness maintains itself in conflict. Artis-
tic intuition does not look through the image onto something other that
is also expressed and portrayed; rather, it immerses itself and remains in
the pure form of images themselves. From the world of effective actions
and passions in which the magical-mythical view of the world encloses
humans, the image has finally freed itself. By freeing itself from the
chains of cause and effect, and by being designated only according to its
ideal content and not according to what it achieves, the image escapes
the sphere of existence that is determined precisely by this intertwining ·191·
of effects. A world of “semblances” is presented in it, but as a semblance
that bears its own necessity and, thus, its own truth.
In another sense, art shows itself as the fulfillment of that which, in
another domain of spirit, in another direction of symbolic formation, is
held only as a demand. We have attempted to prove as a general law of
linguistic expression that it begins from the closest proximity to the sen-
suous object and the sensuous impression in order, therefore, to distance
itself progressively from both. More and more, the word ceases to be
simply a phonic image; the pure significative content is independent of
its sensuous consistence. At the highest point of linguistic development,
this separation is finally achieved; the pure relation of sounds to signifi-
cation appears independent, no longer requiring the support of some
“natural” similarity between the two. However, if language is needed
not only as the expression of pure concepts, in the sense of an objective
determination and objective communication, if it is turned back to
the inwardness of subjects from which it began in order to become the
pure mirror of this inwardness, then a completely new relationship now
emerges in a single gesture. For the language of poetry is no longer a
merely abstract expression of concepts; rather, in it, each word has its
own sound and emotional value. It not only realizes itself in the general
92 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N S CIE NCE S
achievement of representation [Repräsentation] of a certain significative
content but, as sound and tone, it possesses, in addition, an autonomous
life, its own being and its own meaning. Thus, at the heart of the highest
determination of objective presentation, the sound preserves its inner
significance. The objective portrait now strips from itself all mediacy,
everything that is merely representative [Repräsentative] and significative
[Signifikative], in order to return to the form of pure immediate presence.
The secret of the truly perfect poetic expression maintains itself precisely
in the fact that, in it, the sensuous and the spiritual no longer oppose one
another. All the rigidity of mere signs melts away; every word is once
again filled with an individual content specific to it and becomes there-
with the expression of the inner mobility, the pure dynamic of emotions.
The greatest lyrical works of art—for example, in German poetry, the
·192· most perfect poems of Hölderlin—are those that best exhibit this double
coincidence: perfect spirituality that has, at the same time, created the
perfect body, the sensuous tone and rhythm evidently suited for it. Be-
fore creations of this kind, we are seized by the feeling that Hamann has
expressed by saying that poetry is “the mother tongue of human kind.”12
We certainly find here no return to the original primitive source, to the
first historical beginnings of the creation of language; rather, the form
of language has, insofar as it has interpenetrated the form of poetry,
gained a new content. The stage of mere imitative or emotional sounds
thus lies far behind us here: onomatopoeia can occasionally, in a very
limited way, serve certain particular poetic effects; however, it enters
into the essence of lyrical expression as little as it does into linguistic
expression. For here, too, the sound never portrays the individual, the
particular and accidental of the sensuous impression; rather, it oscillates
purely within itself—and only as the totality [Gesamtheit] of that which
is not directed toward something other and external. Rather, the pure
mutually toned oscillations enclose within themselves the unity of an aes-
thetic mood. Thus, the apparent return to immediacy is more the result
of a double mediation in which linguistic and poetic form take part,
each in its own particular way.
Generally, the philosophical examination of “symbolic forms” can

12. [ Johann Georg Hamann, Aesthetica in nuce: Eine Rhapsodie in Kabbalistischer


Prose, in Schriften, ed. Friedrich Roth, vol. II (Berlin, 1821), 258.]
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 93
never simply be content with describing each individual symbolic form
in its determined spiritual structure and in terms of its specific means
of expression; rather, one of the most important tasks is to determine
the reciprocal relationship of these forms, a relationship that results just
as much from their correspondence as from their opposition, from their
attraction as from their repulsion. From the range of problems that
confront such an examination, I have raised only one. When we con-
trast the mythical explanation of the world with the scientific one, it ap-
pears that the two are distinguished by the fact that, on the one side,
there prevails the highest objective determination of thought, whereas,
on the other side, there is only fantastic caprice and individual arbitrari-
ness. Myth, too, has a self-enclosed form; a determined law of formation
also manifests itself in its wealth of contradictory images. And this form
does not arise exclusively in the impulses of fantasy or simply in affects ·193·
but also contains completely determined intellectual elements. Mythical
thought has its “categories” as does logical scientific thought. Above all,
it is the fundamental and ruling category, the category of causality, that
effectually manifests itself in it. That the most universal concept of cau-
sality, the simple idea of the relationship of “cause” and “effect,” is in
no way lacking in myth is clearly manifested in its constant tendency to
derive and “elucidate” the world. Cosmogony and theogony first define
the whole of the mythical world. And, even at the lower stages, the wealth
of mythical fairy tales that specify the mythical “genesis” for any indi-
vidual thing, for the sun or the moon, for humans, animals, or plants,
shows how deeply this fundamental feature is rooted in mythical thought.
It is, thus, not the form of causality as such but its particular direction
and formulation that, in principle, distinguishes the mythical concept
of being and becoming from the scientific concept. For myth still and
especially remains bound in its causal thinking to the form of “complex
thought” that designates and determines it as such. Every mere resem-
blance or accidental coexistence of things, their togetherness in space
and their tangency in time, is enough to unite them into a magical unity
of effective action. Every “magical analogy” is a typical example of this
behavior. The name of the magical analogy, of course, obscures rather
than clarifies this state of affairs: for this is just what characterizes mythi-
cal apprehension; where we see a mere “analogy,” a mere relation of simi-
larity between two different and independent elements, myth, in truth,
94 C O N C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
sees only a single thing before it. It does not separate the various par-
ticular things according to generic similarities but sees every similarity as
the immediate expression of an identity of being [Wesen]. And the same
holds true for spatial togetherness and temporal coexistence as for the
relation [Relation] of similarity. Whatever meets once in space and time
grows together into a magical-mythical unity. As K. Th. Preuß charac-
terizes this behavior of mythical thought:
It is as if the individual object [Objekt], as soon as it excites magi-
cal interests, can in no way be considered separately, but instead
·194· carries the affiliation to other objects [Objekte] with which it is iden-
tified, so that the external appearance only forms a kind of envel-
opment, a mask.13
Even here, however, the scientific concept of causality distinguishes
itself from the mythical concept. For, despite Hume and all those who
have repeated his psychological theory, this scientific concept does not
originate from attraction and the impulse of “association,” from the rule
of subjective imagination that transforms the post hoc [after this] and the
juxta hoc [next to this] into a propter hoc [on account of this]. On the con-
trary, looked at more closely, it proves to be grounded precisely in the
opposite spiritual comportment. It is the conceptual force of analysis that
first makes possible the scientific causal judgment and that gives it its
fixed foothold. If myth makes a thing, as a complex totality [Gesamtheit],
emerge from another thing, then the scientific causal judgment, strictly
speaking, no longer recognizes the relation of cause and effect as such as
an immediate thing relationship. It is not things, as complex sensuously
given totalities [Gesamtheiten], but changes that are found together in the
relationship of cause and effect. Every causal sequence appears as a
whole process that is dissected ever more precisely and sharply into its
stages and conditions. This segmentation first creates the elements be-
tween which a causal relation is predictable as such. Phenomenon Į is
not held as the cause of phenomenon ȕ because both are often observed
together and their further coming together is expected on the basis of a

13. Konrad Theodor Preuß, Die geistige Kultur der Naturvölker (Leipzig and Berlin:
B. G. Teubner, 1914), 13. See, in particular, Konrad Theodor Preuß, Die Nayarit-
Expedition, vol. I. (Leipzig and Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1912).
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 95
psychological compulsion, but rather because a moment x is removed
from the whole of Į and a moment y is removed from the whole of ȕ so
that x and y are obtained in such a way that the passage from one to the
other is determined by a general rule. This rule appears unequivocally
fixed and truly general, according to the basic intuition of mathematical
physics, only when it succeeds in grasping x and y as magnitudes that
undergo changes of a determined measure and that mutually condition
each other in this value of measure. These magnitudes, and the form
of their lawful combination by which their interconnection is rendered
“understandable” and necessary, are not immediately found, however,
in the perceived content of the phenomena but must first be, as it were, ·195·
intellectually subsumed and structurally supported. The sensuously given
is subjected to and penetrated by the form of our causal “conclusion,”
and only takes on, by virtue of this analysis and synthesis of the under-
standing itself, a new figure. What before had been close to one another,
what appeared to be closely bound together by qualitative similarities
or by spatiotemporal proximity, can retreat into the far distance; while
on the other hand, the appearances furthest from each other, from the
perspective of immediate observation, prove on the basis of theoretical
analysis to be subject to one law and, in this respect, similar in nature.
While the mode of mythical thought believes, as it were, that it grasps
concretely the structural connection between cause and effect, it is the
highly involved and genuinely “critical” work of spirit of separating and
dividing that first leads to it. Through this critical work, the single, em-
pirical, proximate, individual contents are subjected to an ever rigorous
subordination and hierarchization: mere existence and its individual
character turn ever more precisely into a general interconnection of
“reasons” and “consequences.” Science constantly separates the ele-
ments of the simple “existence” of things in order to exchange for this
separation a much more solid connection made by universally valid
laws. It arranges the elements of “being” and puts them together into
a relationship in such a way that its highest intellectual goal is achieved
in a most perfect manner. The interconnection of the perceptual world
is effaced in order to rise again in another dimension, in a new way,
because it is now under a new intellectual form. Thus, to give a single
concrete example, phenomena that are sensuously different from one
another, such as a falling stone, the movement of the moon, and that of
96 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
the earth and tide, have been for us, since Newton, under one and the
same physical concept. Moreover, the suppression of specific sensuous
elements from the definitions of physical concepts goes so far that the
domains of physics, which were originally characterized through the as-
signment to specific sensations of the senses, now theoretically fall into
completely separate areas of study. As Planck emphasizes:
Whereas, for example, heat, which in the past was characterized
by the sensuous percept of warmth, formed a well-delimited and
·196· unified region of physics, today, a whole field—thermal radiation
—has split off from it and is handled by optics. The signification
of the sensations of warmth is no longer sufficient to connect the
heterogeneous pieces; rather, now, one area of optics, for example,
electrodynamics, and the other, mechanics, are specially joined in
the kinetic theory of matter.14
And here, too, it is language, in that it participates in both approaches,
in that it joins in itself the element of myth with that of logos, that
emerges between the two extremes and produces a spiritual mediation
between them. The particularity of “complex” thought stands out for us
most clearly in the type of language that we habitually designate as in-
corporated or polysynthetic. The essential character of these languages,
as is generally known, is that in them a clear border between word and
sentence does not exist; the unity of the sentence structures itself not
through relatively independent word units but tends to draw together
the linguistic expression for an entire process or for a whole concrete
situation into a single word of extraordinarily complex structure. Hum-
boldt was one of the first to elucidate this practice, attempting to clarify
its basic intellectual direction by way of the example of the Mexican lan-
guage. He emphasized that this form of language is manifestly grounded
upon a unique mode of imagination: the sentence is not constructed or
gradually built from parts but is given at once as the unity of a stamped
form. However, this apparently completely self-enclosed and unified
form falls short of a genuine synthetic unity as it is still an undifferenti-
ated form. In its pure intellectual sense, true synthesis is not antithetical

14. Max Planck, Die Einheit des physikalischen Weltbildes (Leipzig: S. Hirzel,
1909), 8.
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 97
to analysis; rather, it presupposes and infers it as a necessary moment.
The force of combination [Zusammenfassung] is based on the force of or-
ganization; the more precisely the latter is fulfilled, the more determined
and vigorous the former is. By comparison, in “polysynthetic” linguistic
practice, the unity of words does not lie in this sense of the combination
[Zusammenfassung] of clearly distinguished significative elements of com-
bination in a linguistically whole signification; rather, it is, in essence,
only a conglomerate in which individual determinations lie indiscrimi- ·197·
nately beside one another and merge into one another. Next to the ver-
bal designation, next to the expression of the qualitative character of a
process or an activity, a wealth of accidental auxiliary determinations of
acts [Tuns] or processes is brought to expression in the word-whole. This
modification fuses with the designation of principal concepts and grows,
as it were, completely together with it. Their meaning settles down as a
thick cover over the verbal expression itself. So it happens, for example,
in the linguistic determination of the activity of every particular circum-
stance of place, time, individual manner, mode and direction of activity
[Tun]. The verb changes by incorporating particles from a wealth of suf-
fixes or infixes, depending on whether the subject of an action is sitting,
standing, or lying down, depending on whether the action takes place
with this or that tool. As Powell, who has depicted this method in graphic
detail in the example of Indian languages, remarks:
Perhaps one time in a million it would be the purpose to express all
of these particulars, and in that case the Indian would have the
whole expression in one compact word, but in the nine hundred
and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine cases all
of these particulars would have to be thought of in the selection of
the form of the verb, when no valuable purpose would be accom-
plished thereby.15
Of course, it could be objected that this remark unwittingly grounds
our habits of thinking and our demands of thought on the judgment of
other ways of speaking and thinking. What constitutes a main factor
and what an accident of an action or a process is never fixed in itself by

15. John Wesley Powell, Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages (Washington,
1880), 74.
98 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S
an unambiguously objective indicator; rather, it is the mode of spiritual
apprehension that decides this—and it is this apprehension that gives
the expression of linguistic thought its determined direction. However,
it appears as a general rule in the overall development of language that
the form of intuitively compact expression progressively gives way to the
form of conceptually analytic expression, that in place of the extraordi-
·198· nary concretion that governs primitive languages,16 logical clarity in the
expression of pure relations prevails. While the concrete way of designa-
tion forms an attestation and symptom, here consciousness possesses the
wealth of its content, as it were, in one agglomerated and, in the literal
sense, “concretized” unity. Moreover, the progressive organization of the
sentence not only expresses the progress of intellectual organization but,
at the same time, appears as the means, as a spiritual vehicle for this pro-
cess. It is well known how slowly truly generic expression developed in
the evolution of language, how, for a long time, it was delayed by the re-
quirements and the ability of individual expressions. The former phases
of linguistic development are characterized vis-à-vis the latter in that not
only is there no lack, there is an overabundance of differentiating ex-
pressions that have, however, neither cognized nor designated as such
the differences because here the general concept is missing and, thus, the
general principle from which it can be determined as the particulars
of an overarching unity. This principle will be found and secured only if
the logical force of analysis strengthens and penetrates the formation of
language. The form of the sentence now takes ever more rigorous logi-
cal coincidence. In place of the mere juxtaposition of the elements of
the sentence, in place of the parataxis that designates every primitive
formation of language, there emerges an increasingly determined hier-
archization and subordination that makes speech, as it were, the spiritual
foreground and background, a logical perspective. Thus, the path of
language leads from sensuous complexity to an ever more consciously
and tightly thought unity—from elementary wealth to an apparent pov-
erty that, in truth, first makes the rigor of analytic determination and
control possible.

16. See in particular the explanation in the well-known work by Lucien Lévy
Bruhl, Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (Paris: Les Presses universitaires
de France, 1910); German translation (Vienna and Leipzig, 1921), 116ff.
C ON C EPT OF SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM AN S CIE NCE S 99
However, we could, it is true, put forward an argument objecting not
only to language but also to the totality [Gesamtheit] of symbolic forms.
Do these forms exhaust the most profound immediate content of con-
sciousness? Or do they not rather signify a continuous impoverishment?
We have alluded to W. von Humboldt’s suggestion that language im-
poses itself between subject and object, between the human being and
the reality that surrounds him. However, does it not follow from this
that, at the same time, language, as well as the other symbolic forms,
erects an opposition and veritable barrier between our consciousness ·199·
and reality? And must not the question be posed whether it would be
possible to break through this barrier in order to arrive at the true and
essential, the uncovered being? In fact, the quest to return from mere
signification to ultimate and original being, from mere representation
[Repräsentation] and symbolism to the basic metaphysical certainty of pure
intuition asserts itself more strongly today than ever before. The first
and most necessary step here seems to be to renounce all conventional
symbols in order to replace words with immediate intuition, linguistic-
discursive thought with pure, wordless showing. Berkeley has anticipated
here the modern positivist demand for a “critique of language”:
In vain do we extend our View into the Heavens, and pry into
the Entrails of the Earth, in vain do we consult the Writings of
Learned Men, and trace the dark Foot-steps of Antiquity, we need
only draw the Curtain of Words, to behold the fairest Tree of
Knowledge, whose Fruit is excellent, and within the reach of our
Hand.17
What is said here about language would seem logically to apply to any
mode of symbolic expression. Each spiritual form seems at the same
time to signify a cover into which spirit encloses itself. If we were able
to remove all these covers, we would be able to penetrate true and un-
altered reality, the reality of subjects as well as that of objects [Objekte].
A review of language and its place in the construction of the spiritual
world already indicates what we are to think about conclusions of this
kind. Even if one could really entirely escape the mediating character of

17. George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge,


Introduction, § 24.
100 C ON C EPT O F SYM BOLI C FORM I N THE HUM A N SCIE NCE S
linguistic expression and the conditions that this imposes upon us, the
realm of pure intuition [Intuition], the unlimited wealth of life itself would
not be encountered; rather, it is, again, only the narrowness and dullness
of sensuous consciousness that surrounds us. And the necessity of such
a conclusion imposes itself upon us even more clearly if we apply this
question to the totality [Gesamtheit] of symbolic forms—to language, myth,
·200· art, and religion. We believe it is possible to refrain from considering
each of these particular forms, and under certain conditions we can re-
frain from doing so, provided that we are allowed, in abandoning them,
to retain other, richer content. It is in this way that the mystic seeks to
escape all pictorial configuration, which is the heart of aesthetic intu-
ition, and, thus, tries to evade all relativity of linguistic expression; and
in this negation, in this pure “no, no” that as the basic motive recurs in
each historical figure of mysticism, seems to open the new and original
position of religious consciousness. Even as a positive figure, however,
the latter still contains a definite and specific way of forming. Our analy-
sis attempts to show that behind each particular sphere of symbols and
signs, be they linguistic, mythical, artistic, or intellectual signs, there are
certain energies of forming. To relinquish the sign, not only in this or that
sphere, but in every form, signifies at the same time the destruction of
these energies. The real substantiality of spirit consists not in the fact
that it can do without sensuous and symbolic content as a simple accident
and reject it as an empty shell but in the fact that it asserts itself in resist-
ing this medium. Thus, for philosophy, for all contemplation of being,
life in itself can never constitute the goal or a nostalgia of its contem-
plation prior to any formation and thus beyond it; rather, for philoso-
phy, life and form constitute a single indivisible unity. For it is by form
and its mediation that the immediacy of life takes the figure of spirit; but
the power of spirit is, as Hegel puts it, “only as great as its expression and
externalization [Äußerung], its depth only as deep as it dares to spread out
and lose itself in its exposition [Auslegung].”18

18. [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A. V. Miller


(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 6.]
The Kantian Elements in Wilhelm von
Humboldt’s Philosophy of Language
(1923)

1
The groundwork of critical philosophy includes not only an altered de- ·236·
termination of the relationship of knowledge [Wissen] toward the object
but also a new conceptual determination of knowing. Both essential
moments of knowledge [Wissen] can themselves be combined in the de-
mand for its objectivity and its encompassing unity. Its unity, like its ob-
jectivity, however, is now enriched and grounded in a completely new
way in opposition to a dogmatic way of thinking. Just as the object is
based upon and measured by knowledge, it obtains an authentic inner
multiplicity by virtue of the multiplicity of the principles of knowledge—
thus, the unity of knowledge [Wissen] no longer coincides in any way with
its simplicity, with its derivation from its own principle. Post-Kantian
philosophy once again demanded such a derivation, while Kant’s teach-
ing, in its external triadic organization of the critiques (the Critique of Pure
Reason, the Critique of Practical Reason, and the Critique of the Power of Judg-
ment), had already documented how the authentic and complete concept
of “reason” not only tolerated but directly demanded a multiplicity of
variegated methodological approaches and a variety of applications and

[First published as “Die Kantischen Elemente in Wilhelm von Humboldts Sprach-


philosophie,” in Festschrift für Paul Hensel (Greiz: Ohag, 1923), 105–27. Translated
from Ernst Cassirer: Geist und Leben Schriften, ed. Ernst Wolfgang Orth (Leipzig:
Reclam, 1993), 236–73.]
101
102 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
methods of verification. Even within the purely theoretical sphere, the
same relationship was repeated. The various basic functions of knowl-
edge determined the domain of objects and generally circumscribed
the region of objectivity as such. Kant did not base his thinking on a
communal, transcendental world of things in order to observe and copy
·237· such a world from different points of view; rather, these points of view
are original ways, particular forms of configuring knowledge [Wissen],
which nevertheless unify with one another into a collective task of deter-
mining objects, and looking back from this task, they produce an inner
coherence.
However, the overall structure of knowledge [Wissen], in its totality
[Ganzheit] and its particularity, is nevertheless only an ideal erected by
critical philosophy. The execution and carrying through, the concrete
fulfillment of this ideal, can result only in the steady progress of science
and can never be anticipated and established once and for all in an ab-
stract project. Where, therefore, such a determination was attempted,
certain provisional and hypothetical features were necessarily held next
to this generally valid determination. It expressed, on the one hand, the
particular historical problem-sphere of the individual sciences, and, on
the other hand, the particular scientific orientation of interest of philo-
sophical critical thinkers. Even Kant’s blueprint and methodological
construction of the system of scientific knowledge are not free from such
individual limitations. Kant’s considerations refer to and classify two
large clusters of problems. The concept and knowledge of nature are
constituted by mathematics, and the concept of history and the human
sciences are constituted by ethics. The thinking of theoretical necessity,
as it was advanced by mathematics and the mathematical science of
nature, and the thinking of freedom, as it was advanced through ethics,
together formed the two unconflatable poles of critical philosophy. Here,
synthesis and analysis, as well as connection and separation, become
distinct; here lies the Kantian view of the world and of life. The world
of being operates against the world of the ought, the world of appear-
·238· ance operates against the intelligible world. Because Kant, with all the
energy of his personal and intellectual being, confronts this great funda-
mental divide, the particular methodological differences, which are found
within the two great domains and in which they have their individual
members, can for him now be reexamined. Just as the concept of theo-
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 103
retical knowledge [Wissen] is not only grounded in mathematics but in
the end seems to be almost entirely bound by it, Kant makes clear that
in every discipline there lies only as much “authentic” science as can
be contained in mathematics. And, so, there arise the pure concepts of
history and development in his theory of ethical principles. In thinking
about freedom and ethical self-consciousness, there is, first, the meaning
and purpose of history, as well as of all spiritual existence as such. Thus,
for Kant, the reason of nature grounds itself in mathematics and the
reason of history in ethics. The objectivity of being and the objectivity
of values are not immediately encountered; rather, they are first ob-
tained and secured in the determination that we give ourselves in think-
ing and willing, and in the theoretical or practical law under which we
are placed. We can and ought to give ourselves over to this movement,
this inevitable process, without fear of losing ourselves in the constancy
and limitation promised by the dogmatic concept of being; for this
process is from the beginning directly related to both mathematics and
ethics as the centers of theoretical and ethical certainty, and will be held
through within a determined circle of objectivity, that is to say, within a
general and necessary validity.
If we look, however, from here to the sciences in their factual struc-
tures and systematic configurations, we notice a lacuna in the general
critical orientation. There is a domain of spirit, even in the case of the
practical and teleological sciences, that is fulfilled neither by the analogy
of the mathematical concept of necessity nor by the model of ethical ·239·
values or the concept of norms. There is an original spiritual energy,
comparable to an artistic energy, in which the antithesis between nature
and freedom appears to be overcome and a new relationship, a recipro-
cal determination, exhibits itself, and yet this relation is not sublated into
art and aesthetic configuration but flourishes out of its own autonomous
principle. If we follow the phenomenon of this domain, we seem to be
bound completely within the chain of empirical causes and effects, and
there develops out of it a formation [Gebilde] in which the universality
of the freedom of spirit first fully exhibits and shows itself. We find our-
selves, here, face to face with a pure and true spiritual creation to which all
mere arbitrariness of reflection is related and according to which it itself
appears as a product of nature. Here, the basic opposition that rules over
the whole Kantian system does not appear sufficient to determine and
104 K AN T IAN ELEM ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
delimit this new sphere—the domain of language, which is distinctly
spiritual. If the mathematical concept of natural causality and the idea
[Idee] of the ought and freedom constitute two centers of critical theory,
then language appears as an ex-centric structure [Gebilde]. This already
emerges from the external architectonic organization of Kantian theory.
Kant’s system contains within it a logic as well as an ethics and aesthet-
ics; it is oriented like the texts “Metaphysical Foundations of the Natural
Sciences” and “Metaphysics of Morals.” It establishes a new form of the
theory of religion and law, of the philosophy of history and political phi-
losophy, but the problem and theme of a philosophy of language is hardly
mentioned or clarified. The cosmos of “reason” is developed and laid
·240· out for us without its most important tool, without the logos that is alive
and effective in language and belongs to it. Here lies a defect that did not
escape Kant’s early critics. All “metacritique” that attempted to surpass
the Critique of Pure Reason was always bound to this point, and Kant’s crit-
ics attempted to rescue the Kantian system from this flaw. In this regard,
we cite Hamann’s texts “Metacritique of the Purism of Pure Reason” and
“Metacritique of the Purism of Reason and Language.” The attempt
to critique reason without providing a critique of language appears to
be Kant’s real, incomprehensible oversight, for he himself had seen how
both immediately went together. “According to me,” so Hamann wrote
to Jacobi, “neither the talk of physics nor that of theology, but language is
the mother of reason and revelation, its A and 1 [alpha and omega].”
“Reason is language, ȜȩJRV [logos]. I gnaw at this bone and would go
to my death with it. It is always dark for me over this depth. Still I wait
for an apocalyptic angel with a key to this abyss.” “What Demosthenes
called ‘actio,’ Engel ‘mimicking,’ Batteux ‘imitation of a beautiful nature,’
is, for me, language, the organon and criterion of reason. Here lies pure rea-
son and likewise its critique.”1 It was this, Hamann’s basic theme, to which

1. Johann Georg Hamann, Brief an Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi vom 28. Oktober 1785,
in Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, ed. Karl Hermann Gildemeister (Gotha,
1868), 122; ibid., Brief an Johann Gottfried Herder vom 6. August 1784, in Schriften, ed.
Friedrich Roth, vol. VII (Leipzig, 1825), 151f., and ibid., Brief an Scheffner vom 11.
Februar 1785, 216; concerning Hamann’s constitution of language, see Rudolf
Unger, Hamanns Sprachtheorie im Zusammenhange seines Denkens. Grundlegung zu einer
Würdigung der geistesgeschichtlichen Stellung des Magus in Norden (Munich: C. H. Beck,
1905).
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 105
Herder held on and always returned anew in his struggle with Kant.
“Concerning pure and impure reason,” he emphasized in his Metakritik,
“these old most worthy and necessary witnesses must be heard, and we
must not allow ourselves to be ashamed of each of the designating words
of heralds and deputies when we are speaking of a concept. How ought
the judge of reason to assess this means through which reason brings ·241·
forth, holds, and completes its work?”2
And so the Critique of Pure Reason, which did not deal with the prob-
lems of language, notwithstanding the mediating effects that arose from
them therein, decisively reconfigured the form of the philosophy of lan-
guage. This is because language’s principal content did not emerge out
of its unique and individual historical shape [Gestalt]. This new principle
of thought, which operates with force and fertility in language, proves
itself in that, on account of its own factual consequences, language at-
tempts to appropriate and progressively conquer ever new domains of
spirit. Here lies the decisive service that Wilhelm von Humboldt per-
formed for critical philosophy. Insofar as he introduced philosophy into
the science of language, he united and reconciled it with a domain of
problems that, if it appeared to remain outside its limits, meant that its
foundational thought would be in constant danger. Now, Kantian the-
ory, by virtue of the mediation of language, contains a new, fuller way
and entry point into the human sciences. Thus, language turns out to
be an organ, a living tool of reason as well as the critique of reason.
However, philosophy must in this sense, through the method of critical
idealism, freely fertilize and be reorganized by language itself.
Wilhelm von Humboldt’s relationship to Kant has often been por-
trayed according to its key features and its development: however, the
signification of Kant’s teaching for the conception and layout of Hum-
boldt’s philosophy of language has hardly been recognized for its true
scope and depth. Just as we must proceed to demonstrate the Kantian ·242·
roots of Humboldt’s ideas [Ideen] of ethics, aesthetics, and the philoso-
phy of history, so too must we assuredly take care to deal with the inter-
connection between Humboldt’s philosophy of language and Kant’s Cri-
tique of Pure Reason. Admittedly, Rudolf Haym has already emphatically

2. Johann Gottfried Herder, Werke zur Philosophie und Geschichte, ed. Johann von
Müller, vol. XV, 24ff.
106 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
referred to this interconnection in his classic 1856 biography of Hum-
boldt; he attempted to elucidate this interconnection in an introductory
section on the philosophical presuppositions and foundations of Hum-
boldt’s theory of language and on how the “alphabet and the spirit of
Kant”3 are generally present in Humboldt’s linguistic work. With great
clarity, Haym demonstrated how the systematic organization of the cri-
tique of reason determined the general methodological disposition and
construction of Humboldt’s philosophy of language. He also showed
how Kant’s transcendental doctrine of form, and, in particular, his view
of space and time, as well as his theory of the schematism, had a great
effect on Humboldt’s theory of linguistic form, his view of the founda-
tional parts of speech and their reciprocal relationships. However, even
greater than Humboldt’s dependency upon the letter of Kant’s text, as
Haym emphasized, is his affinity with the spirit of Kant. “The truth is
that which thought itself or, more precisely, the undeniable central dis-
covery of language is drawn from its affinities with the Kantian way
of thinking. The truth is that the whole of his philosophy of language
moves, and it moves directly to the most determined ways of thinking,
where, according to the nature of the object, there must be a correspon-
dence with the formulations and propositions of the Kantian system.
We can say that Humboldt was a Kantian, even if he never read a line
·243· of Kant, even if Kant had not written or lived.”4 In Haym’s remarkable
statement, a program is posited that is executed fully and concretely by
neither Haym nor his followers. Spranger, in his monograph on Kant
and Humboldt, which generally treats the influence of critical idealism
on Humboldt’s configuration of humanistic thought, refers back to Haym
vis-à-vis the philosophy of language without fully pursuing this argu-
ment.5 Particularly striking, however, is that Steinthal, who, in his edition
and commentary on Humboldt’s work on the philosophy of language,

3. [Rudolf Haym, Wilhelm von Humboldt. Lebensbild und Charakteristik (Berlin:


R. Gaertner, 1856), 446.]
4. Rudolf Haym, Wilhelm von Humboldt. Lebensbild und Charakteristik (Berlin,
1856), 450.
5. See Rudolf Haym, “Kant und Humboldt,” Kant-Studien XIII (1908), 157ff.
See Eduard Spranger, Wilhelm von Humboldt und die Humanitätsidee (Berlin: Reuther
und Reichard, 1909).
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 107
dedicated a specific section to Humboldt’s relationship to Kant, only
touches upon the general theoretical and ethical foundational questions
of Kant’s theory. He completely disregarded the particular linguistic,
scientific problems in his discussions of this interconnection.6 This lack
of a proper philosophy of language in the critical system appears to ex-
clude a direct relation between this system and Humboldt’s foundation
for the science of language. Likewise, we can easily overlook here the
underlying pathways through which both are nevertheless connected
with one another. The following considerations attempt to make visible
this latent mediation, and seek to bring forward new evidence for the
effect that the methodological motive of critical idealism apparently had
on remote domains of spirit. ·244·

2
It is particularly striking that there is no stand-alone discussion of the
problem of language in the Critique of Pure Reason, especially when we
compare Kant’s work in this respect with the previous great systems of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. All of these systems, no matter
how diverse their points of departure and their basic, critical epistemo-
logical orientations might have been, concerned themselves with the
phenomenon of language and its principal interpretation. The idea of a
“lingua universalis” [a universal language] was already present in Des-
cartes’s letters, and in the further formation of Cartesian philosophy, es-
pecially the school of Port Royal, which sought to create a tight connec-
tion between logic and grammar, a “grammaire générale et raisonnée” [a
general and well-reasoned grammar]. Leibniz took up this idea, expand-
ing its circumference as well as deepening its content. The science of lin-
guistic signs in the broadest sense, the “characteristica generalis” [gen-
eral characteristic], had become for him a “scientia generalis” [a general
science], a method and means to knowledge as such. He planted this
direction and interest in the German philosophy of the eighteenth cen-
tury, in the generation that preceded Kant. Lambert and Ploucquet,

6. See Wilhelm von Humboldt, Die sprachphilosophischen Werke Wilhelms v. Hum-


boldt, ed. and intro. H. Steinthal (Berlin: F. Dümmler, 1884), 230–42.
108 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
Sulzer and Tetens all followed the interconnection between reason and
language, seeking to make clear its rules.7 The Berlin Academy of Sci-
ences, which had come to play a leading intellectual role in the first half
of the eighteenth century, grasped this general movement of thought on
two occasions: the first was in 1759 when it requested that a prize be
awarded for an investigation of the reciprocal influence of language on
·245· the development of ideas [Vorstellungen] and opinions, and vice versa; the
second was ten years later in 1769 when it posed the question whether
human beings, if left merely to their natural capacities, would be able to
invent language and by what means they would be able to arrive at this
invention. This question, as is well known, was the point of departure of
Herder’s award-winning essay, in which he took the problem of the ori-
gin of language to a new plane. The logico-idealistic consideration here,
which he took from Leibniz, contained the results of empirical and psy-
chological ways of treating the problem. For the systems of empiricism
had from the beginning also assigned to language a dominant place in
the development of the whole, in the structure of the world of concepts
and ideas [Vorstellungen]. For Hobbes, who renewed and reworked the old
nominalist theories, language was not only a means but also the direct,
singular content of all logical-rational knowledge. All generality of signi-
fication was, for him, rooted in the word and could not be separated from
it. A true, generally valid knowledge [Wissen] is never possible if it is based
upon ideas [Ideen] or things [Sachen] themselves; rather, it is only possible
through arbitrarily created signs, which we place in their positions. And
so words are not only “collectors of thought”;8 rather they are also that
element through which as such there initially comes to stand a sphere
of thinking, a connection between all general concepts, in opposition to
immediate sensory sensation and concrete, singular intuitions. Locke
toned down the radicalism of his predecessors; however, he returned to it
later when he advanced his analysis of ideas, where the problem of lan-
guage increasingly became central. In the third book of his Essay Con-

7. I follow this closely in my text, Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissen-


schaft der neueren Zeit, 2nd edition, vol. II, 415ff.
8. [Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (part 1: De homine, chap. 4), in Opera philosophica,
post cognitas omnium objectiones, conjunctim et accuratius edita, vol. I (Amsterdam, 1668),
17: “Vocabula enim sapientium quidem calculi sunt quibus computant. . . .”]
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 109
cerning Human Understanding, he reported how he regarded words and
language. From its inconspicuous beginnings, Locke extended the cir-
cumference of language and ultimately developed its signification within ·246·
his entire system. Finally, for Berkeley, too, the analytic-psychological
critique, which he exercised on the world of representations, percep-
tions, and abstract concepts, blended completely with a critique of lin-
guistic signs and symbols. In order to advance genuine knowledge, in
order to obtain a true, concrete content of being, he had first to draw
back the curtain of words that, for us, cover this being. The negative
critique that was carried out here on language also contained, however,
a positive enrichment of its meaning and a broadening of its own par-
ticular content. For the concept of language in the whole of Berkeley’s
theory was not limited to the simple application of speech sounds; rather,
next to this conventional language of sounds there was the “natural”
language of perceptions and ideas [Ideen]. In the thinking of a “visual
language,”9 by virtue of which one perception follows from another and
both stand in a constant, empirical connection that points to and repre-
sents the perception, the question concerning the origin of the idea of
space, for Berkeley, received its solution. And in accord with the double
character of Berkeleyan philosophy, this psychological result was over-
turned in a metaphysical one. The world of things, for Berkeley, lost its
absolute consistent existence and substantiality. All being, what remained
of it, arose directly out of its function—and this was nothing other than
the spiritual interconnection and ordering exhibited in sensory images.
The collective, transcendent world of objects, to which the perception of
the singular subject ought to be related in accordance with that world’s
traditional realistic use, could no longer be replaced by the thinking of a
spiritualistic community in which the subject made possible its communal
relation to a divine originary substance. The world of sensory percep-
tions was now regarded as a language used by the divine being [Wesen] in ·247·
order to communicate with finite subjects and to establish a relationship
between them.10 Thus Berkeley’s initial psychological critique of lan-
guage, which extended from his metaphysical standpoint, was at the same
time deepened and enriched. If this critique initially appeared as a defi-

9. [Gesichtswahrnehmungen, literally, in German, the face or look of perception.]


10. See my Erkenntnisproblem, 2nd edition, vol. II, 278ff., 315ff.
110 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
ciency of language—a language that did not attain in its general and
abstract significations of words the individual fulfillment and concretion
of the content of perception—this content itself was inverted into a
richer and deeper language, as a particular symbolic form.
All the same, such a presupposition and hypostasization of the con-
cept of language retained a unified appearance in the metaphysics, as
Berkeley had practiced it, of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In general, philosophers had been content with the traditional explana-
tion of words as arbitrary signs that had been given to human beings
by the Creator for the purpose of mutual understanding and commu-
nication or as signs created by human beings by virtue of their natural
capacities and development. Even until Herder’s day, an interest that
was essentially oriented to one or the other side of this alternative, to the
opposition between the hypothesis of a divinely or a humanly created
language, endured. The first view was represented by Bishop Warbur-
ton’s book on Moses’s divine reception of the law and, in particular, in
Germany, in the Academy of Berlin, by Süssmilch. The second view was
expressed and justified in the circles of French Enlightenment philoso-
phy, particularly in the philosophies of Condillac and Maupertuis. How-
ever, the conflict that had been waged over the origin of language had,
at first, left the intuition concerning the goal and content of language
untouched. Both parties were limited in that each essentially viewed lan-
·248· guage as a means by which to denote a given cognitive content that came
from the outside, as well as to render audible our inner, self-enclosed ideas
[Vorstellungen]. In the foundation for the general characteristic laid down
by Leibniz, we admittedly find the point of view not only that language
serves for the expression and presentation of a finished world of con-
cepts and ideas [Vorstellungen] but also that language contains a particular
power and gift of “inventing”; it not only dismantles and puts together
in an analytic fashion the content of consciousness but also expands it in
a synthetic way. However, this fruitful idea, which is interconnected with
Leibniz’s general tendency, the syllogistic logic through which to com-
plete and enrich a “logica inventionis” [a logic of inventing], remained
for the moment without general effect. In particular, it was the sensualist
theory of knowledge of English and French Enlightenment philosophy
that hindered its acceptance because for it, every givenness, all genuine
“consistence” of representation and knowledge, was thought to arise out
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 111
of sensory elements; and everything that can be added by another func-
tion, everything that is added from the perspective of logical or linguistic
concepts to this constituent element, could only claim, vis-à-vis it, a sec-
ondary signification. Here, the signs of language possess no authentic pro-
ductive force and validity; rather, they serve only as a necessary aid for
consciousness, which—and here the sign cannot at the same time over-
see and directly grasp the concrete totality [Gesamtheit] of sensorily intu-
ited content—must be content with a hint, with a symbolic abbreviation.
The unlimited fullness and variability of the content of representations
can only be reproduced through language and kept in accordance with
thought because we introduce into sounds specific conventional signs that
characterize it. This view of language, which Locke had already intro-
duced in the third book of his Essay, was further elaborated, in particular
by Condillac, in the sense of a consequent, psychological sensualism.
Every language now appeared merely as a classifying and ordering of
given particularities under certain general characteristics through which ·249·
a determined linguistic sign was fixed and delimited by other signs, one
against another. The work and performance of science consisted in noth-
ing other than this process; science naturally and instinctively turned
to language in order to raise up a clear consciousness and to establish
definite grounding principles. The sciences are simply methodically con-
structed and structured languages (langues bien faites), languages that do
not so much create individual signs for individual objects as create whole
systems of signs with determined connections and order. Condillac led
not only algebra, and with it the whole of mathematics and mathemati-
cal physics, but every form of free intellectual and artistic activity back
to such a model of a language of signs. What we call genius in science
and art lay only in the force and clarity with which the analysis of the
complex content of representations and its determination through char-
acterizing signs could be effected. Thus language appeared in this view
as the basic form of the productivity of consciousness; however, this pro-
ductivity was delimited by the progressive movement of the given whole
to dismantle and once again reassemble its parts.
It was Herder’s work The Origin of Language (1770) that introduced a
deeper consideration of the autonomy and spontaneity of spirit that lay
in language. This new turn consisted primarily in the fact that language
was no longer understood in the Enlightenment sense as merely a means
112 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
for knowledge; rather, Herder sought to show its signification in the con-
struction of the whole of consciousness, its theoretical as well as its practical
basic orientation. Rousseau’s essay Essai sur l’origine des langues [Essay on the
Origin of Languages], insofar as it referred to affectivity as the root of all
linguistic formation and sought, therefore, to renew the ancient Epicu-
·250· rean theory of the genesis of speech sounds out of natural animal sounds,
had already prepared the way for such a turn. However, Rousseau’s
general historical writing, which first appeared, after his death, in 1782,
had no general historical effect. Here, what Herder distinguished in his
theory of the origin of language, that is, what he distinguished from the
theory’s historical surroundings and what he extracted from them, is the
same element on which the originality and depth of Herder’s perspec-
tive is based. Herder’s legacy lies in both his philosophy of history and
his philosophy of language in that a new concept of an end, a new direc-
tion for teleology, arises from them. Spiritual events are not questioned or
valued according to their benefit; rather, there is present in language a
pure, inner meaningfulness, an inner appropriate form. There is no ex-
ternal goal that flows out from language; rather, its goal is language’s
immanent form insofar as Herder sees the meaning and content of lan-
guage as the meaning and content of history or art. In this view, lan-
guage first becomes for him not some mechanical imprint of given de-
terminations of being or of representations but an active energy and a
life-form of spirit. Language recalls not just dead being, it exhibits the
pure expression of each dynamic of spirit in which the elements of rep-
resentations as such are first created and their limits are determined over
and against one another for us. This dynamic takes its point of depar-
ture from affect, feeling, and willing, understood not as the alphabet of
a dead grammar but as “passions that ring out”; they are the first signs
of speech and word. Insofar as the affect expresses itself in this way,
however, it concomitantly grows out of, and even beyond itself, in this
very expression. The beginning of naming is at the same time the begin-
ning of a new and deeper mindfulness. Out of the “cry of impressions”
language is born; however, each new force of the soul now develops out
·251· of it, not simply because language receives a given impression, but be-
cause it distinguishes one from another, it chooses and separates. Here,
it reaches reflection and deliberateness, and with these it arrives at its
first true spiritual concept and self-consciousness. The originary func-
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 113
tion of judgment lies enclosed in the originary function of language, and
together they first make possible for us a “world,” understood as an em-
bodiment of fixed, mutually opposed, delimited determinations and fig-
ures; and this world that lies over and against an I is a unified center of
apprehension and self-mindfulness.
Herder’s theory of the essence and origin of language is related at
essential points to Hamann’s basic intuition, and in his struggle against
Enlightenment philosophy, Herder borrowed many weapons from Ha-
mann’s theory. What nevertheless distinguishes him from this theory,
however, is the emphasis with which he insisted on the view of language
as an active spiritual energy. For Hamann a symbolic revelation of the
divine exhibits itself in the act of linguistic formation and a linguistic
understanding that frees itself from the soul in a receptive and passive
way. The soul is the mother earth, the rich field (șİȠࠎ ȖİȫȡȖȚȠȞ [the
divine earth]) out of which the divine crops sprout and develop.11 If
Herder, in full opposition to this view, sees in language the true charac-
teristics and foundations of the self-activation of the human spirit, then
the second decisive formative element of his youth, namely, Kantian the-
ory, can unmistakably be said to assert itself. We can understand Herder’s
derivation of language as stemming from the Hamannic element of affect
and passion, but we can also trace it back to the Kantian element of the
power of reflection and prudence. As Herder wrote in 1770 in his prize
essay on the origin of language, he stood in principle on the same ground
as Kant. There, he considered purely and factually the same intuition
and conceptual determination of the “spontaneity” and autonomy of
spirit; both thinkers, through similar but somewhat different paths, si- ·252·
multaneously arrived at a shared conclusion. A growing estrangement
between Kant and Herder during the following decades led, however, to
a full-blown break between the two, and with this, a break in the devel-
opment of the philosophy of language. That the Critique of Pure Reason
hardly mentioned the problem of language undoubtedly contributed to
the fact that, from the beginning, Herder felt himself pulled back from
it. What appeared to him in the Critique as a living source and a concrete

11. Johann Georg Hamann, Philologische Einfälle und Zweifel über eine akademische
Preisschrift, in Schriften, ed. Friedrich Roth, vol. IV (Berlin: Reimer, 1823) 47. See,
Unger, ibid., 171ff.
114 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
originary power of spirit was replaced with an “abstract” theory of cat-
egories, a logical schematism. And with a lacuna of a theory of language,
Herder saw a lacuna of a theory of history. Insofar as Kant missed the
way to an appreciation of language, he had, therefore, missed, accord-
ing to Herder, the way to the true concept and understanding of living,
spiritual development. In this fact, despite so many personal misunder-
standings in Herder’s critique of Kant, there lies an unresolved factual
conflict. First, Humboldt’s theory of language brought this conflict for-
ward, but it also led this conflict toward its resolution. For the conflict
had to go through the schools of Kant and Herder. It was filled and ani-
mated by the thinking of dynamic development; it also made an effort
to insert itself and appear equal to the rigorous method of critical ideal-
ism. Humboldt, therefore, with both these ideal presuppositions and the
demands of the multiplicity of empirical materials, as well as the setting
out of the wealth of the linguistic, historical facts, first tapped into the
inner richness of these facts as the unifying spiritual form by which they
were connected.

3
·253· Wilhelm von Humboldt’s entire philosophical intuition, which Steinthal
designated as “Kantian Spinozism,”12 was generally determined by two
different points of view and tendencies. However, this designation and
pregnant formulation utterly and completely expressed the opposite of
what was fundamental here: neither the systematic nor the historical sides
were fully dealt with. For when Humboldt appears to have an affinity
with Spinoza, it is certainly never with the original basic shape of Spi-
nozist ethics; rather, it is only with the Spinoza of the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries—the Spinoza that was exhibited in Herder’s
“God.” Humboldt saw the human spirit and its development as situated
in a dynamic wholly living [All-Leben] nature, and this intuition frequently
led him to the threshold of the theory of pan-unity [All-Einheit], and fur-
ther to Schelling’s metaphysical version of identity-philosophy.13 As soon

12. [Wilhelm von Humboldt, Sprachphilosophische Werke, 14.]


13. On the relation of Humboldt to Schelling, see Paul Hensel, “W. v. Hum-
boldt,” in Kant-Studien XIII, 177ff.
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 115
as he had been dragged to this point, however, he saw himself once
again drawn backward. For it was not the intuition of the universe, as
Schelling had announced it, but the intuition of the individuality that
constituted Humboldt’s particular strength and ingenuity. And here he
sought and found the help of Kant. Kant’s critical determination of
limits, as well as his own indelible feeling for individuality, prevented
him from allowing the consciousness of the I to be sublated into the
consciousness of the all. And then he sought, once again, a medium in
which both of the opposing elements of his thought moved, reciprocally
penetrating and passing into one another, the finite with infinite, the
particularity of spiritual being with the universality of a spiritual life and ·254·
a spiritual signification. He saw this intellectual demand first truly ful-
filled in language. The true synthesis and the genuine reconciliation of
the great fundamental antagonisms of metaphysics were achieved in it.
Spirit, in its pure particularity and full generality, exhibits itself in lan-
guage as both limited and unlimited, as free and necessary. Here, it first
shows itself, according to Humboldt, to be that ideal of a concrete gen-
erality with which the whole of post-Kantian speculation wrestles. Here
is a generality that cannot be arbitrarily devised from conceptual reflec-
tion; rather, language exhibits itself in the individual spiritual develop-
ment, which is understood as its immanent goal and, at the same time,
as its driving spiritual force. “Language,” as Steinthal expresses this rela-
tionship, “is, on the one hand, the bond of individuals that binds one to
the other with an endless originary force. On the other hand, it is the in-
dividuating principle that plunges the originary force into the reality of
appearances and historical development.”14 Humboldt’s first scientific
linguistic treatment, his “Essay on the Basque Language and Nation,”
already sets this point of view at the center of his considerations.
Language is, above all, an intermediary, first between infinite and
finite nature and, second, between one individual and another: at
the same time and through the same act it makes possible a unifi-
cation, and it arises out of the same act. . . . The consideration of
this topic, such that it does not become chimerical (a chimera,
understood as the dry, even mechanical undoing of the bodily and

14. See Wilhelm von Humboldt, Sprachphilosophische, in Werke, 14.


116 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
constructible, must have its origin here), leads, in the end, to the
depths of humanity. We must free ourselves completely detached
from the idea [Idee] that language can be separated from that which
it designates, for example, the name of an individual from the per-
·255· son. Likewise, language is not an arranged numbering, a product
of reflection and its agreement, or, generally, the work of human
beings (as one seizes a concept through experience) or the work of
an individual. Like a true inexplicable wonder, it breaks out of the
mouths of a nation, and it is no less astonishing when, coming out
of the babbling of the child, it is daily repeated and overlooked
with indifference [ . . . ] as it is the clearest trace and the surest
proof that human beings do not possess in themselves an isolated in-
dividuality, that I and you are not merely reciprocally demanding;
rather, if we could turn back to the point of separation between I
and you, we would find that they are truly identical concepts, and
so there are, in this sense, spheres of individuality, from weak, in-
firm individuals in need of assistance, to the sphere of the ancient
roots of humanity, because otherwise all understanding from the
beginning until now would have been impossible.15
This first determination of language, given by Humboldt, admittedly
appears to belong, once again, to the whole way of considering and
thinking that is peculiar to dogmatic metaphysics. The logos, which is
effective in language, serves as the point of departure and the means for
excluding a lost transcendent originary unity that lies beyond all empiri-
cal separations. Language was called forth as witness of the pantheistic
view of the world and spirit. However, Humboldt did not remain at-
tached to this first intuition; rather, he configured it according to the
standard of Kant’s new critical concept of the object [Objekt], as he under-
stood it. What characterizes this concept of the object [Objekt] is, above
all, the insight that an object [Objekt] of knowledge can only really be
spoken of in terms of its interconnection with a function of knowledge
and correlative to it. The object is an object of knowledge [Wissen]; it is
not determined “in itself ” as an object of appearance, rather its deter-
·256· mination successively grows through the productivity of spirit. The di-

15. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Sprachphilososphie, Schriften (Steinthal), 18.


K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 117
rection of this productivity—the categories that are determining and
actual in this work of spirit—results first in a new, transcendental con-
cept of objectivity. And, according to Kant, it is, in the end, a single
originary function that lets itself be integrated into this whole work. All
grasping, all determination of an objectivity as such is grounded by the
synthesis of judgment. The unity and the necessary connection of the
manifold that we have in mind here when we speak about an “object of
representations,” return to the logical “unity of action,” which is fulfilled
in judgment. By virtue of the different forms of judgment, by virtue of
the judgment of quantity, quality, relation, the representation first truly
obtains generality and necessity and is thereby moved out into the sphere
of “being,” into the domain of objectivity. At this point, the critical the-
ory of knowledge grasps Humboldt’s new turn in the philosophy of lan-
guage. What is here described by Kant as the achievement of judgment,
Humboldt made possible in the concrete life of spirit only through the
mediating achievement of language. Objectification in thought must come
about through objectification in the sounds of language. This was the
foundational conviction that settled in Humboldt the more he became
at home in the world of language with respect to logic and the theory of
knowledge, but also with respect to all domains of spirit. “Fundamen-
tally, what completely drives me,” he wrote to Wolf in 1805, “is the study
of language. I believe I have uncovered the art of how to use language
as a vehicle to work us through the deepest and highest manifold of the
whole world.”16 What is also remarkable is that Kant, in the Critique of
Pure Reason, as the vehicle for his theory of knowledge, occasionally re-
lied on notions of language at certain important and meaningful points.
Where he speaks of the decisive achievement of judgment in the process ·257·
of objectivation, he points to the function of the sentence and the copula
in the phrase as examples. Through the copula in the sentence, through
that “little relational-word [Verhältniswörtchen] ‘is,’” not only are the sub-
ject and the predicate externally joined, they are also set in a relation of
objective, necessary unity and objective, necessary connection. When
I say “the body is weighty,” the content does not lie in this proposition
because the representation of the body and a determined feeling of

16. [Wilhelm von Humboldt, Brief an Friedrich August Wolf vom 16. Juni 1804, in
Werke, vol. V (Berlin, 1846), 266f.]
118 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
touch and muscles, which I designate as “weightiness,” are only subjec-
tive, only found together in me, and only here and now in a singular in-
stant; rather, both belong to one another according to a general law,
because weight is somehow grounded in the “nature” of the body.17 Here
as well, Kant immediately thinks of an individual linguistic appearance,
a determined linguistic form as the means of a categorical form, as the
expression of a logical, factual significative relationship. The method of
Humboldt’s philosophy of language is found in the fact that he not only
expands and deepens this process, that he not only transfers it onto the
whole of the linguistic phenomenon, but also seeks to creatively account
for its foundations and its possibility. For Humboldt, as for Kant, the
concept of synthesis becomes a genuine, central, and motivating concept;
synthesis is not a connection that takes place between ready and given
objects, rather it is the basic condition of objective positing, of the posit-
ing of something as an object. He finds this property to be particularly
well defined and clear in language. For it is, in a single word and in the
connected speech, an act, a truly creative action of the spirit. Concepts
·258· and sounds are set out as words and as speech, and in this way, between
the external world and the mind, something that is distinguished from
both is created.18 Language gives rise to subjectivity, even to the indi-
viduality of discursiveness; however, on the other hand, the subjectivity
of all humanity certainly becomes objectified in it. “The original agree-
ment between the world and humans in which the possibility of all knowl-
edge of truth lies is also further obtained piece by piece and progres-
sively by means of appearance. For the objective remains always to be
authentically gained.”19
This is the thought through which Humboldt remains firmly and en-
duringly connected to the foundation of critical idealism: for the objec-
tive is not given, rather it must first be produced. It is not that which is
determined in itself but that which has to be determined. Because this
fundamental determination, seen from a linguistic point of view, is com-

17. See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edition, B142.
18. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 211.
19. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. III, 20. For a comparable study of
language in relation to the different epochs of the development of language, see
Werke, Steinthal, 61.
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 119
pleted in the sentence, Humboldt’s philosophy of language claims primacy
of the sentence over the word, just as Kant’s transcendental logic claims
primacy of judgment over the concept. The sentence, not the word, is
the primary linguistic utterance; there again, every incomplete propo-
sition, from the perspective of speaking, actually amounts to a closed
thought. The analysis and characteristics of individual languages, as
well as language itself, emanate from it and its idiosyncratic structure.20
“We can think it impossible for language to begin with the designation
of objects by words and these words then being placed together. In real-
ity, speech is not composed out of words set next to each other; rather, ·259·
words inversely come out from the whole of speech.”21 It is this later
reflection that dismantles, that tears asunder this unity of meaning, which
is vividly and immediately exhibited in the sentence, into grammatically
separated elements and word unities.22 What the unity of the sentence
marks, however, is not some meaning already given and fixed as a mere
imprint in the consciousness of the speaker; rather, it is to be thought of
as a means and vehicle for the bestowal of meaning itself, as a process in
which spiritual signification itself becomes and emerges. And so we have
reached Humboldt’s most well-known and famous, albeit hardly fully
appreciated, conceptual determination of language. Language is to be
seen not as a dead product but more amply as a production. We must
abstract further and more deeply from those words that have an effect as
the designation of objects and the intermediary of understanding, and
against this, we must carefully return to the inner activity of spirit, to lan-
guage’s tightly interwoven origin and its reciprocal influence. Just as lan-
guage is itself not work [Werk] (ergon) but an activity (energeia), so too can its
true definition, which stands before us as the externally repeating work
[Arbeit] of spirit, not its ready and final product, only be genetic. This gen-
esis, however, is itself to be understood not psychologically but transcen-
dentally. And this is not about those psychic elements of the formation

20. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. III, 528. See Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk
in Werke, vol. VII, 143.
21. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. III, 448. Ibid., vol. VII, 72.
22. Concerning this position of the sentence, see Moritz Scheinert, “Wilhelm
von Humboldt’s Sprachphilosophie,” in Archiv für die gesamte Psychologie, vol. XIII
(Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1908), 163.
120 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
[Gebilde] we call language that arise chronologically; rather, we are seek-
ing the position of language in the cosmos of spirit, to grasp its significa-
tion for the construction of subjective and objective reality as well as the
separation of these realities between them. Just as Kant demonstrated
·260· the basic logical categories in which the possibility of “inner” and
“outer” experience, the possibility of the consciousness of objects and
the consciousness of the I, are to be found, Humboldt likewise sought
the same goal for basic linguistic forms. These forms are not copies of a
tangible objectively presence and repeatable representation; rather, they
are organs and ways of intellectual consideration and forming.
And just as the entire character of language, understood in its proper
sense, lies only in the act of its actual bringing forth, so is this also the
case for its individuations, its particulars. Languages, on the whole and
individually, are not genuine means to present an already recognized
truth but are more for uncovering an as yet recognized truth. “Their
difference is not one of sounds and signs but a difference of worldviews.
Herein is contained the foundation and the ultimate purpose of all lin-
guistic investigations.”23 The idea, however, “that different languages
only denote the same autonomous mass of objectively present objects
and concepts is genuinely pernicious for the study of language—it is the
very same idea which hinders the expansion of knowledge of language
and makes the objectively present objects dead and unproductive.”24
Every language, insofar as it is not a dead form of being but seeks to be
a life-form, insofar as it is not in itself a merely tangible, consistent exis-
tence but expresses the activity and energy of spirit, is necessarily mixed
in with subjectivity. This subjectivity, however, sets itself on the way to
lifting itself up to generality and passing into the objective, that is, as
lawfully determined. In the foreword to his work on the Kawi Humboldt
writes:
Even when considering the products of language, the view of lan-
guage as a mode of representation, as merely designating objects
·261· perceived in themselves, is not confirmed. One could never, more-
over, through this view, exhaust the full and deep content of lan-

23. Concerning this very study of language, see Steinthal, 60.


24. Steinthal, “Handschrift über die Kawi-Sprache,” 152ff.
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 121
guage. Just as no concept is possible without language, so, too, can
there be no object for the soul, for it is through the mediation of
the concept that the external receives its full essential being [Wesen-
heit]. The entire manner of the subjective perception of objects nec-
essarily pass through the formation and use of language. For the
word that originates out of this perception is not an imprint of the
object in itself but an image of the object as it is produced from
this in the soul. Here, every objective perception is inevitably mixed
with subjectivity, and so we can consider, already independent of
language, every human individuality as a unique position of the
worldview. It becomes even more, however, through language; here,
the word stands over and against the soul . . . and further creates
an opposition between standing over and against self-meaning and
object, and brings to the fore a new particularity. . . . Just as the
individual sound enters between the object and the human being,
so the whole of language enters between the human being and the
internal and external nature acting on him. The human being is
surrounded by a world of sounds in order to assimilate and process
a world of objects. These expressions do not exceed in any way the
standard of ordinary truth. The human being primarily lives with
objects, indeed, sensations and action in him depend on his ideas
[Vorstellungen], even exclusively so, as language supplies them to him.
On the other hand, however, the idea that the soul and the object are
both in language and formed by language exerts a strange effect on the
soul. And here the opposite view now arises: language is an autonomous
and objective influence to the degree that it is dependent upon being
subjectively worked. It is directly in action that its production lies, just as
it makes its object again. The true solution to this opposition, however, ·262·
lies in the unity of human nature.
Whatever stems from it, what is authentically one with me, there
the concepts of subject and object, of dependency and nondepen-
dency, pass over and into one another. Language belongs to me be-
cause I bring it forth as I do; and as the ground of this lies both in
speaking and in the having-spoken of all humanity . . . so it is with
language that I experience a limitation. Everything in it that limits
and determines me stems from human nature that is internally co-
122 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
herent with my own; and whatever is foreign stems from my mo-
mentary, individual nature and not from my real true nature.25
Furthermore, in this view, the full validity of Humboldt’s new critical
concept of objectivity becomes clear. True spiritual objectivity joins nei-
ther one of us independent beings nor only the being that is produced
by us; rather, it roots itself in the mode and the generally valid lawful-
ness of production itself. In this lawfulness of synthesis, understood as an
all-encompassing principle, both elements of the opposition come to be
with one blow, the world of the subjective and the objective is created.
Spirit creates, but the created thing is placed over and against spirit by
means of the same act, and the thing lets itself be affected as an object
[Objekt].26 Here, language is recognized as creation, but it is freed at the
same time from every subjective arbitrariness, an understanding similar
to the perspectives on the discovery of language that dominated the sev-
enteenth and eighteenth centuries. Language is no longer a product of
reflection and convention, even though it is a work of freedom; rather,
it is the product of a freedom that gives itself laws and at the same time
creates the sphere of necessity as its counterimage and correlate.
In the end, for Humboldt, all of these determinations are ultimately
·263· contained in the complex and highly controversial concept of the “inner
form of language.” This form corresponds to Humboldt’s new concept
of objectivity, an objectivity that in no way expresses that which is
tangible but rather a purely functional property and determination. In
the work of spirit, laying down of consistency and uniformity raises the
articulated sound to the expression of thought; when grasped and sys-
tematically presented as thoroughly as possible in its interconnection this
accounts, according to Humboldt, for the form of language. This not
only reveals itself in the general structure, in what we call the gram-
matical construction of language, but arises as well in the individual
particularities of designation, which are at the same time particularities
of apprehension. The result obtained up to now is the same as that
achieved through the outer, the corporal, through the senses or perceiv-
able objects; the word is not equivalent to the meaning of the object that

25. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 59ff.
26. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 213.
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 123
one has in mind; rather, it is the apprehension of the very same thing
through the production of language. “[ I ]f in Sanskrit, for example, the
elephant is now called the twice-drinking one, now the two-toothed
one, and now the one with a single hand, as many different concepts are
thereby designated, though always the same object is meant. For lan-
guage never presents the objects, but always the concepts that spirit has
spontaneously formed from them in producing language; and this for-
mation under discussion here, insofar as it must be seen as entirely inter-
nal and as preceding, as it were, the sense of articulation.”27 Thus the
concept of the inner form of language obtains for the domain of the
philosophy of language what the general concept of form achieved for
the critical theory of knowledge. The concept of inner form presents the
final clearing away of theories of mere imitation and copy in that it al-
lows a type of determination of objects that is dependent upon its being
grasped and grounded in thought. ·264·
Again, and in another sense, we can see an analogy between the ap-
plication of the concepts of “matter” and “form” in the work of Kant
and Humboldt. For Kant, form is merely an expression of a relationship,
but it gives rise at the same time to the authentic objectivating principle:
for even this designated object [Objekt], in the critical sense, designates
the “object in the appearance” that it “composes entirely in relation-
ship.” The sensory impression as such, and the sum of such impressions,
constitute only an undetermined object; true determination, the con-
figuration of the object, first takes place through categorical forming,
especially through the categories of relation [Relation], understood as
the foundational concept of relationship, the “analogies of experience.”
We can anticipate that this logical state of affairs will also be found in
the structure of language, in its constancy and its correlative expression.
And in this fact, says Humboldt, we see in all truly and thoroughly struc-
tured languages the separation of matter and form, the complete sepa-
ration of the thing-component and the relation-component [Relations-
bestandteil ], and we also see how both are grasped together in a pure
unity. To the acts of designating concepts by a plurality of content- and
object-characteristics, language’s own labor is added, through which it is

27. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 89ff.
124 K AN T IAN ELEM ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
transferred into a determined category of thinking or speech ( just like,
for example, a determined substance or property). The full meaning of
words arises at the same time out of each expression of the concept and
this modifying indication.
These two elements, however, lie in entirely different spheres. The
designation of the concept belongs more to the objective process
of the meaning of language. The transfer of these senses into
a determined category of thinking is a new act of linguistic self-
consciousness through which the singular case, the individual word,
becomes related to the whole of possible cases in language or
·265· speech. It is through this incorporation of the singular into the
whole that this operation binds itself, with complete purity and
depth, to this same language in a meaningful fusion and subordina-
tion, its autonomous, arising-in-thought, more-than-external im-
pressions rising in pure receptivity consequent to activity.28
As for Kant, for Humboldt matter refers back to the receptivity of the
senses, and form refers back to the pure spontaneity of thinking. Like-
wise, form does not preexist in the object [Objekt] (as the “thing in itself ”);
rather, it must “be performed by the subject,” but this performance takes
place according to a generally valid rule and possesses form according
to its ideality at the same time as signification is being realized. Insofar
as the individual content, by virtue of the linguistic endowing of form, is
not indicated as such but rather is related to the whole of possible con-
tent and becomes characterized according to its position in the whole,
it is completely determined in this relation primarily according to its
objective content by the unity of the thinking of self-consciousness. Ac-
cording to Humboldt, herein lies as such the perfection of designation
and language, because both determinations and their external expres-
sion are not separated; rather, as they are made out of one and the same
factual act of thinking, they are established as one and as phonetically
complete.

28. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 109.
See also vol. VII, 287. “The true affix is indicated through the use of sound in the
unity of the word, without which nothing material is added, since it is transferred
into a determined category from the meaningful part of a word.”
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 125
He sees this ideal of language achieved above all in inflexive lan-
guages. For inflection should not be confused with the mere mechanical
addition of the form-component to material-component, of the expres-
sion of relation to the expression of signification; rather, a pure synthesis
of both, a reciprocal determination between them is exhibited. Inflec-
tion distinguishes between signification and relation only insofar as both ·266·
are joined in a linguistic whole, in a unity of words, and lying therein,
they fulfill the authentic purpose of language, which is to eternally sepa-
rate and bind.29 “The inflected word is nevertheless one through struc-
turation, just as the various parts of a budding flower are one, and what
arises in language is pure organic nature.”30 As we can see, Humboldt
made the basic mistake that the critical theory of knowledge further
compounded; he supposed that an autonomous “form,” with its very
own underlying matter, became joined and occluded afterward—the
form was never part of the matter. In individual inflexive languages,
he saw the material components of signification in the verbal roots of
stems, understood in the original, self-enclosed pronominal sense, as well
as in the formal expression of relation in endings. The verb is the seed
from which all intuition of an “objective” event unfolds. The particular-
ization of the world, understood as a particularization of activities and
energies, is expressed and established in it. These verbal material roots
are, however, of a descriptive or narrative nature, because they designate
movements, properties, and objects in themselves, without any relation
to a presumable or felt personality; these verbal roots stand over and
against other elements of language by which they directly turn out the
expression of a personality or a simple relation to the same and excep-
tional essence of signification.31 In his treatise “On the Relation of Ad-
verbs of Place with Pronouns in Certain Languages,”32 Humboldt tried
to show that these subjective roots must originally exist in every language,
and that it was a completely incorrect idea to view the pronoun as the ·267·

29. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 263;
see also vol. VII, 125.
30. Ibid., 113.
31. Ibid., 103.
32. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. III, 483. [Here, Cassirer is referring to
the treatise of 1829 and to that of 1827 concerning Dualis. In the following cita-
tion, however, he provides further text from vol. III, 483.]
126 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
later part of speech in language. Here, we have a narrowly grammatical
type of idea, according to which the pronoun ought only to signify the
idea of the noun that more profoundly suppresses the view of language
as created. “There is naturally the personality of the speaker himself,
who is constantly and immediately in contact with nature, and whom it
is impossible to exempt; this personality also contrasts in language with
the expression of his I. However, in the I itself, the you is also given, and
through a new opposition there arises a third person. Here, now, the
realm of feeling and speaking, including dead things, is left behind.” Just
as the critical theory of knowledge sought to establish the logical-priority of
form over matter, the pure relation over the being of tangible-substance,
so, too, Humboldt sought to demonstrate how language follows this path
from inner to outer, from relation to being. However, Humboldt’s ac-
count basically treats language as only the ʌȡȩIJİȡȠȞIJ߲ijȪıİȚ [first ac-
cording to nature], and not as ʌȡȩIJİȡȠȞʌȡާȢ‫ݘ‬ȝߢȢ [what is first for us]—
that is, as a factual distinction of validity in the individual elements in
which all linguistic formation lies, not as the determination of the order
of its separated, temporal emergence. For the objective roots, especially,
cannot be viewed as real, existing elements of language in themselves;
rather, they clearly bear the mark of having been produced through
analysis; true language, however, is only revealed through speech, and
the actual discovery of language does not let itself be thought as con-
taining enduring elements—the analysis is pursued downward.33
Even in the details of Humboldt’s theory of language, the dominant
position asserts itself: on the one hand, he describes the verb as the bearer
of objective signification, and on the other hand, he describes pronouns
·268· as the expression of a subjective relation. The verb speaks “the act of
synthetic positing,” in which the spiritual property of language resides in
its clearest and most powerful way. It designates and contains at once
this act in both its pure impression and its being freed from all acciden-
tal circumstances. The verb sharply distinguishes itself from nouns and
the other components of speech because to it alone is given the act of
synthetic positing, understood as a grammatical function. All remaining

33. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. VII, 105.


K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 127
words of sentences are dead, lying inert between the matter they join.
The verb alone is the life-containing and life-preparing center.
Through one and the same synthetic act, the predicate, through
being, is joined together with the subject; this is only the case be-
cause being, which crosses over into an act with an actualizing predi-
cate, insofar as it is thought of as being capable of being joined as
such to the general state or occurrence, becomes in reality. One
does not merely think a lightning strike; rather, the lightning bolt
is as it travels downward. One does not merely bring together, as
capable of being joined, spirit and the immortal; rather, spirit is
immortal. Thinking, if we can speak of it in meaningful terms,
leaves, through the verb, its inner dwelling and crosses over into
reality.34
For, according to one of Humboldt’s intuitions, which he took up from
the theory of Bernhardis and the Englishman Harris, but which he also
reshaped and further developed according to his own particular intu-
ition, two different fundamental acts bind themselves together in the
verb.35 Pure relational positing is united with existential positing. Not
only is the predicate erected by the subject, the subject itself is estab-
lished in reality through the form of the enclosure of the two; it asserts
itself as a being and not merely as something thought or imagined. This ·269·
basic determination of being is present in every verbal expression. If I
say the tree blooms, I therefore say at the same time of the blooming tree
that it is a determined object with a determined property. So the verb is
the combination [Zusammenfassen] of something energizing and activat-
ing, not merely something quantitative, or a standing attribute given by
being or by the capacity of the category of being, which here is proven
and guaranteed in its immediate and not only logical but also the force
of linguistic forming. Specifically, Humboldt refers to Bopps’s evidence
that in Sanskrit the first development of the forms of the future and past

34. Ibid., 214.


35. As obtained by August Friedrich Pott, Wilhelm von Humboldt und die Sprach-
wissenschaft, vol. II (Berlin, 1880), cciiff., and by M. Scheinert, reference above,
184ff. See also the Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 223.
128 K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY
tenses were composed from the root word and verb ás (“to be”).36 Here,
Humboldt’s theory of language is joined anew to a characteristic feature
of the Kantian theory of judgment. The core and the authentic achieve-
ment of judgments lie not, according to Kant, in the merely given con-
tent of representations that is analytically dismantled; neither are judg-
ments to be merely psychologically understood in the sense of a simple
mechanism of association, by which representations are joined with one
another. What judgment creates is more a new integrity of cognition—a
form of being and objective validity that confronts mere existence and the
mere flowing of representations in subjective consciousness. Humboldt
locates this act of “self-enactive positing,” above all, in language. And on
the strength of this positing, so he emphasizes, a determined language
through all periods depends on the whole of psychic life.37 Herein it is
asserted anew that no kind of genus of representations can be consid-
ered as the mere received consciousness of an already objectively pres-
ent object.
·270· The activity of senses must synthetically combine with the inner
action of spirit, and from this combination the representations
break free; it becomes over and against the subjective force an
object [Objekt] and perceived as such anew, turning back to its
source. Language is, however, indispensable for this. For spiritual
striving breaks through making its path through the lips in speech,
its product returns to the ear of the subject. The representation
is transferred to actual objectivity, without being deprived of sub-
jectivity. This language alone can do. Without this transposition
into an objectivity that returns to the subject, a transposition in
which language plays a role and which always happens implicitly,
the formation of the concept, and, hence, all true thinking, is im-
possible.38
In these most pregnant sentences, which clarify from all sides the con-
tent and tendencies of Humboldt’s philosophy and science of language,
we see once again what fundamentally binds Humboldt to Kant. The

36. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. III, 218.


37. See Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke, vol. VII, 213.
38. Ibid., 55.
K AN TIAN ELE M ENTS I N HUM BOLDT’S PHILOSOP HY 129
dogmatic view of the world dismantles being into two separate and
rigorously, mutually opposed spheres: idea [Vorstellung] and object, con-
sciousness and actuality, the I-world and the world of things. The more
sharply these spheres are separated and opposed to one another, impli-
cating and making the problem more difficult, the more necessary be-
comes a bridge between the two spheres, a mediation, an ideal intercon-
nection or a real reciprocal effect. The Critique of Pure Reason demonstrates
with methodological rigor and systematic completeness the irresolvable
nature of the problem; it shows its inner antinomic characteristic. At the
same time, however, with this negative verdict it sets out a new positive
concept of subjectivity and objectivity and even a new question. The
world of the subject and objects [Objekte] no longer stands as two oppos-
ing halves of one absolute being; rather, being constitutes one and the
same realm of spiritual functions through which we obtain the content ·271·
of both, their separation and their reciprocal connection. This abstract
result was introduced by Humboldt, through the mediation of language
in the concrete consideration of the spiritual life. Language, too, remains
an inconceivable wonder so long as we remain with the traditional meta-
physical separation of consciousness from the elements of the world, so
long as we remain with the separation of being into merely “inner” and
“outer.” Language first becomes clarified when we let this dynamic op-
position become a position of gazing at the oppositions of being, when
we penetrate back from beings that merely exist and are affected by the
foundational form of actualization itself, from ergon [work] to energeia [act].
Now it can be shown that subjectivity, the freedom and autonomy of
spiritual doing, lies in the objectivity and necessity of all spiritual work,
and also in language, understood as the long-standing and irremovable
unity of creation and work.
Language and Myth:
A Contribution to the Problem of the
Names of the Gods
(1924)

To my beloved father-in-law
OTTO BONDY
for his eightieth birthday
October 3, 1924

1
·73· The beginning of Plato’s Phaedrus depicts how Socrates is lured into con-
versation by Phaedrus, whom he encounters outside the gates of the city
on the banks of the Ilissus. The landscape that Plato lays out in this
scene is depicted in the finest detail—this presentation emits a radiance
and fragrance that we rarely see in the usual classical portrayals of na-
ture. Socrates and Phaedrus sit down under the shade of a tall plane
tree, at the edge of a cool spring; the summer breeze is mild and sweet
and filled with the chirping of cicadas. In this setting, Phaedrus asks
whether this was not the place where, according to myth, Boreas kid-
napped Orithyia, for the water is agreeably pure, transparent, and thus
fitting for young girls to play in. However, concerning the additional

[First published as “Sprache und Mythos: Ein Beitrag zum Problem der Göt-
ternnamen,” Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, 6 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1925).
Translated from Wesen und Wirkung des Symbolbegriffs (Darmstadt, 1994), 71–158.
Original English translation: Language and Myth, tr. Susanne K. Langer (New York:
Dover, 1953).]
130
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 131
question as to whether he holds this story or this “mythologemen” to be
true, Socrates replies that, even if he does not precisely believe it, he
would not be embarrassed to do so.
For then I could proceed as do the learned and say by way of
clever interpretation (ıȠijȚȗȩȝİȞȠȢ), that Orithyia, while playing
with her companion Pharmacia, had been borne over those far
away cliffs by Boreas the Northwind, and because of this manner
of her death she was said to have been carried off by the god
Boreas. . . . But I for my part, Phaedrus, continues Socrates, find
that sort of thing petty enough and consider such interpretations
rather an artificial and tedious business, and do not envy him who
indulges in it. For he will necessarily have to account for the figures
of the centaurs and the chimera, too, and will find himself over-
whelmed by a very multitude of such creatures, Gorgons and Pega-
suses and countless other strange monsters. And whoever discred-
its all these wonderful beings and tackles them with the intention
of reducing each of them to some probability will have to devote
a great deal of time to this unseemly sort of wisdom. But I have no
leisure at all for such pastimes, and the reason, my dear friend, is
that as yet I cannot, as the Delphic precept has it, know myself. ·74·
So it seems absurd to me that, so long as I am ignorant of myself,
I should concern myself with strange and foreign things. There-
fore, I let all such things be as they may, and think not of them, but
of myself whether I be, indeed, a creature more complex and
monstrous than Typhon, or whether perchance I be a gentler and
simpler animal, whose nature contains a divine and noble essence.
(Phaedrus 229 Dff.)
If Plato described in this way the interpretation of myth, which was
considered by the Sophists and rhetoricians of his time to be the expres-
sion of the highest learning and the blossom of an authentic urbane spirit,
as the opposite of this spirit, if he saw in it only a “farmer’s wisdom”
(ܿȖȡȠȚțȠȢıȠijȓĮ), this judgment did not, of course, prevent the following
centuries from repeatedly taking pleasure in this wisdom. Like the Soph-
ists and rhetoricians of Plato’s time, the Stoics and Neo-Platonists of the
Hellenistic period especially contented themselves in it. And, time and
again, linguistic research and etymology have been used as vehicles for
132 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
it. Here, in the empire of phantom-figures and dæmons, as in the area
of advanced mythology, the Faustian word seemed to prove itself again
and again: here, one believed that the essence of each individual mythical
figure could be immediately gleaned from its name. That the name and
the essence stand in an internally necessary relationship to one another,
that the name not only designates the essence but is the essence itself
and that the force of the essence lies enclosed in it—this belongs to the
fundamental presupposition of mythical intuition itself. It appeared that
philosophical and scientific research into myths was also willing to assume
this presupposition. What is still lived as immediate intuition and con-
viction in myth is itself turned into a postulate of reflective thought; the
inside of this circle, the affinity between things [Sache] and names and
the latent identity of both, is raised to the requirement of method. In the
course of the history of research into myth and in the history of philol-
ogy and linguistics, this method has undergone a progressive deepening
and refinement. It has developed from the crude instrument it was in the
hands of the Sophists, and from the naïve etymologies of antiquity and
the Middle Ages, to possess the philological rigor and the force and ex-
panse of intellectual survey that we admire in the master of today’s clas-
·75· sical philology. We need only consult Usener’s foundational work on the
“names of the gods” to see this. Here, especially when he compares the
ironic and exaggerated uses of the Platonic name “Cratylus,” albeit al-
ways according to a model of true “explanations,” we clearly see how far
we have come in using this intellectual attitude and tool. But even the
nineteenth century knows theories about the relationship between lan-
guage and myth that unmistakably remind us of the old methods of the
Greek Sophists. Among the philosophers, it was Herbert Spencer who
sought to carry out the thesis that the mythico-religious veneration of
the general appearances of nature, such as the sun and the moon, had its
ultimate ground in nothing other than a misinterpretation of the names
of these appearances. And among the linguists, Max Müller not only
used etymological analysis as a means of illuminating the nature of cer-
tain mythical figures, especially in the context of Vedic religion, but also
connected it to a general theory of the relationship between language
and myth. For him, mythology is neither history transformed into fable
nor fable transformed into history; nor does it emerge directly from the
intuition of nature and its great figures and forces. In fact, everything
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 133
that we name as myth is conditioned and mediated by language in the
sense that it is interconnected to the basic lack or original weaknesses of
language. All linguistic designation is necessarily ambiguous—and the
source and origin of all myth is to be sought in this ambiguity, in this
“paronymia” of words. Characteristic of this view are the particular
examples employed by Max Müller. We think, for instance, of the saga
of Deucalion and Pyrrha: after Zeus rescued them from the great flood
that destroyed the human race, they became the ancestors of a new race
by taking up stones and casting them over their shoulders to form human
beings. This emergence of the human being out of stone is quite simply
unintelligible and appears to defy any interpretation. Does it not, how-
ever, immediately become comprehensible if one remembers that, in
Greek, human beings and stones are denoted by identical or at least
similar-sounding names, that the words ȜĮȠȓ [people] and ȜߢĮȢ [stone] are
reminiscent of each other? Or take the myth of Daphne, who, trans- ·76·
formed by her mother, the earth, into a laurel tree, was rescued from per-
secution by Apollo. Again, only the history of language can make this
myth “intelligible” and give it a clear meaning. Who was Daphne? In
order to answer this question, we must seek refuge in etymology or, in
other words, we must explore the history of the word. Daphne can be
traced back to the Sanskrit Ahanâ, which signifies in Sanskrit the redness
of morning. As soon as we know this, everything becomes clear. The
history of Phoebus and Daphne is nothing other than a description of
what we see every day: first, the appearance of redness in the eastern sky,
then the rising of the sun-god who hastens after his bride, the moon,
then, with the touch of fiery sunbeams, the gradual fading of the morn-
ing redness, and, finally, the sun-god’s death or disappearance into the
bosom of its mother, the earth. Thus, it was not the appearance of na-
ture itself that was crucial for the development of the myth; rather, the
Greek word for laurel (įȐijȞȘ) and the Sanskrit word for morning redness
are interconnected, and thus lead with an inescapable necessity to the
identification of the figures they designate. This is, therefore, the conclu-
sion to which Max Müller is led:

Mythology is inevitable, it is an inherent necessity of language, if


we recognize in language the external form and manifestation of
thought. [I]t is in fact the dark shadow that language throws upon
134 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
thought and which can never disappear so long as language has
not become entirely commensurate with thought, which can never
be the case. Mythology, no doubt, breaks out more fiercely during
the early periods of the history of human thought, but it never
disappears altogether. There is mythology now as there was in the
time of Homer, only we do not perceive it, because we ourselves
live in the very shadow of it, and because we all shrink from the
full meridian light of truth. . . . Mythology, in the highest sense of
the word, is the power exercised by language on thought in every
·77· possible sphere of mental activity.1
It might appear idle to revert to intuitions that have long been aban-
doned by contemporary linguistic and research into comparative my-
thology, if they did not display a typical attitude that continually recurs
in all of these domains—in the theory of myth as well as in the theory
of language, in the theory of art as well as in the theory of knowledge.
For Max Müller, the mythical world is essentially a world of semblance—
a semblance, however, that is explained once it is shown that it arises from
the initial and necessary self-deception of the mind. This self-deception
is grounded in language, which constantly plays a game with the mind,
which always entangles the mind anew in that iridescent ambiguity that
is its legacy. And this intuition that myth is founded not on a positive force
of configuring and forming but on a type of affliction of the mind, that we
must see in myth a “disease” required by language, still finds representa-
tives and advocates in modern ethnographical literature.2 In truth, if we
actually attempt to trace it back to its philosophical roots, this view is
really nothing other than a necessary consequence of that naïve realism
for which the reality of things is something essentially and unambiguously
given and which can be directly grasped with the hands, ܻȡ‫ޥ‬ȟIJĮ߿ȞȤİȡȠ߿Ȟ,3
as Plato says. If we grasp reality [Wirklichkeit] in this way, then everything
that does not possess this substantial reality [Realität] necessarily changes
into deception and semblance. This semblance may be ever so finely spun,

1. Friedrich Max Müller, “The Philosophy of Mythology,” appended to Intro-


duction to the Science of Religion (London: Longmans, 1873), 353–55.
2. E.g., Daniel Garrison Brinton, Religions of Primitive People, 1897 (American
Lectures on the History of Religions, vol. 2), 115ff.
3. [Plato, Thaetetus 155 E.]
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 135
and it may flit around us with colorful and appealing images; however,
the fact remains that the image possesses no independent content, no in-
trinsic signification of its own. A reality is mirrored in it, but it is a reality
that does not arise in the appearance, that it can never adequately por-
tray. Thus, from this point of view, all artistic configuring is considered
as a reproduction that necessarily always falls short of the original. Not
only the simple imitation of a sensuously given model but everything
that one designates as idealization, manner, or style, succumbs in the end
to this verdict: for measured by the simple “truth” of what is to be pre- ·78·
sented, the idealization is itself nothing more than a subjective defor-
mation and disfigurement. Accordingly, all other processes of spiritual
forming also would seem to signify a similar violent distortion, the same
secession from the essence of objective reality and the immediate real-
ity of lived-experience. For spiritual processes never grasp reality itself;
rather, in order to present it, in order to be able to hold on to it in some
way, they must take refuge in signs and symbols. The curse of mediation,
however, adheres to every sign: it must veil where it wants to reveal.
Thus, the sound of language wants to “express” in some way objective
and subjective events, the “inner” as well as the “outer” world. What
language retains of this, however, is not the life and individual fullness of
existence but only a dead abbreviation. Every “signification” [Bedeutung]
that the sound can claim for itself can never go beyond mere “indica-
tion” [Andeutung]—an indication that must appear as impoverished and
empty with respect to the concrete manifoldness and concrete totality
of actual intuition. This holds for the world of objects as well as for the
world of the I: “When speaks the soul, alas, the soul already no longer
speaks!”4 From this point, we are only one step away from the conclusion
that the modern skeptical critic of language has drawn, namely, the total
dissolution of the alleged truth-content of language and the insight that
nothing more than a type of phantasmagoria of the spirit is presented
in it. And seen from this point of view, not only myth, art, and language
but, in the end, theoretical knowledge itself become a phantasmagoria.
For, the latter, too, is never able simply to mirror the pure essence of
things but must grasp this essence in “concepts.” However, are concepts

4. [Friedrich Schiller, Sprache, in Sämtliche Werke, ed. Richard Fester and Eduard
von der Hellen (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1904), vol. I, 149.]
136 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
something other than the formations and creations of thought, which,
instead of giving the pure form of the object, only enclose the form of
thought upon itself ? Accordingly, all schemata of theoretical thought
by means of which the reality of appearances are examined, structured,
and surveyed are, therefore, in the end, nothing but mere silhouettes—
an airy web of spirit, in which it is not so much the nature of things as
theoretical thought’s own nature that is expressed. Thus, has knowledge
[Wissen], like myth, language, and art, also become a type of fiction—a
fiction which recommends itself through its practical usefulness, but to
·79· which we may not apply the strict measure of truth, if it ought not to
melt immediately into nothingness.
In the end, there is only one remedy against this self-dissolution of
spirit: we must take seriously the turn that Kant calls the “Copernican
Revolution.” Instead of measuring the content, meaning, and truth of
spiritual forms by something other than what is reflected in them, we
must discover in these very forms the measure and criterion of their truth,
their intrinsic significance. Instead of understanding [verstehen] them as
mere after-images, we must recognize in each one of them a spontane-
ous rule of production, an original way and direction of configuring that
is more than the mere imprint of something given to us from the begin-
ning in fixed configuration of being. Considered from this point of view,
myth, art, language, and knowledge become symbols, not in the sense
that they designate, by means of a suggestive [hindeutend] and interpre-
tative [ausdeutend] allegory, an objectively present reality in the form of
images, but in the sense that each one of them creates its own world
of meaning and has emerged out of them. In these [symbolic forms],
the self-development of spirit is exhibited, by virtue of which alone there
is a “reality,” a determined and structured existence [Sein]. Individual
symbolic forms are not imitations of this reality but organs of it, as it
is only through them that reality is rendered into the object of spiritual
vision and so is able to become visible as such. The question as to what
beings in themselves are beyond these forms of visibility and the making
of visibility and how they may be obtained, this question must now be
silenced. For only what presents itself in a definite configuration is visible
for spirit; each definite figure of being first has its source in a definite mode
and way of seeing, in an ideal giving of form and bestowing of meaning.
Once language, myth, art, and knowledge are recognized to be such ideal
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 137
modes of bestowing meaning, then the basic philosophical problem is
no longer how they relate to absolute existence [Sein], which stands, as
it were, behind them as an unfathomable substantial core, but how they
mutually complement and support each other. Although they all work
together as organs in the construction of spiritual reality, each of these
organs nevertheless has its own function and performance. And the task
now arises not merely to describe these performances in their simple
proximity to one another but to understand them in their mutual pene- ·80·
tration of one another, to comprehend them in their relative depen-
dence as well as in their relative autonomy.
Here, the relationship between language and myth appears at once
in a new light. It is no longer a matter of simply deriving one of these
forms from the other and clearly “explaining” the one in terms of the
other, for this type of explanation would result in a leveling down, a
sublation of their particular contents. If myth is, as Max Müller’s theory
has it, nothing more than the dark shadow that language throws upon
thought, then it is difficult to understand [verstehen] how this shadow re-
peatedly changes with the semblance of its own light, how it can develop
a thoroughly positive life and an effectiveness behind which that which
we are in the habit of naming the immediate reality of things, the fullness
of empirically given sensuous existence, resides. Concerning language,
Wilhelm von Humboldt has remarked: “The human being primarily
lives with objects; indeed, sensations and actions in him depend on his
ideas [Vorstellungen], even exclusively so, as language supplies them to him.
Through the same act by which he spins language out of himself, the
human being spins himself into it; and each language draws a circle
around the people who belong to it, a circle from which it is possible to
escape only insofar as one enters at the same time into another.”5 This
holds perhaps even more for the fundamental mythical representations of
humanity than it does for language. They are not raised up from a ready-
made world of being, not merely formations [Gebilden] of fantasy that
become detached from the fixed, empirical real reality of things and rise
over them like a light mist; rather, for primitive consciousness, they ex-
hibit the whole of being. Mythical apprehension and interpretation are not
subsequently introduced into certain elements of empirical existence; rather,

5. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Einleitung zum Kawi-Werk, in Werke, vol. VII, 60.
138 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
the primary “experience” itself is thoroughly penetrated by the figures of
myth and, as it were, saturated with its atmosphere. The human being
lives with things only because and insofar as he lives in these figures; he dis-
closes reality to himself and himself to reality only in that the world as
well as he himself enter into this malleable medium, not only touching but
·81· also penetrating one another. Accordingly, every observation that claims
to have uncovered the roots of myth by demonstrating the particular object
sphere from which it initially arose and gradually spread remains insufficient
and one-sided. There is, as we know, an abundance of such explanations;
the manifold of theories about the original core and origin of the forma-
tion of myths are themselves hardly less motley than the empirical world
of objects. Now, the source and point of departure of mythical conscious-
ness are looked for in certain psychological states and experiences, es-
pecially in the experience of dreaming; now they are searched for in the
intuition of natural existence [Sein], in which the observation of the ob-
jects of nature, such as the sun, the moon, and the heavenly bodies, is
further distinguished from the great processes of nature, such as the storm,
lightning, and thunder, etc. Thus, the attempt is repeatedly made to ex-
plain soul mythology or nature mythology, solar mythology and lunar
mythology, or storm mythology and thunderstorm mythology, as my-
thology per se. However, even if we assume that one of these attempts
were able to succeed, the genuine problem that the philosophy of myth
has to address would not have been solved, only pushed back. For mythi-
cal forming as such cannot be understood and clarified by demonstrating
the object on which it was initially and originally carried out. It is and
remains the same miracle of spirit, the same mystery, whether it applies
to this or that content of being, whether it involves the interpretation and
configuration of psychic processes or physical objects [Objekte] and, in
the case of the latter, this or that object in particular. Even if it were pos-
sible to resolve all mythology into astral mythology, what myth under-
stands in the heavenly bodies, what it immediately sees in them, is not the
same as what appears to empirical perception and observation or to
theoretical thought, which gives a scientific “explanation” of the phe-
nomena of nature. Descartes said of theoretical knowledge that, in its
nature and essence, it remains one and the same regardless of what ob-
ject it may direct itself toward—just as the light of the sun is one and the
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 139
same regardless of what different sorts of objects [Objekte] it illuminates.
The same is true for each symbolic form, be it language, art, or myth,
insofar as each one of them is a particular way of seeing and harbors a ·82·
particular source of light proper to it. The function of seeing, of the
spiritual coming into light, can itself never be realistically derived from
things and cannot be understood from that which is seen. For it is a ques-
tion here not of what is seen in things but of the original direction of
looking. If we understand the question in this way, then admittedly, it
does not seem to bring us closer to a solution; rather, it appears to re-
move us even further from the possibility of one. For language, art, and
myth are presented as various originary phenomena of spirit, which can
as such be shown but cannot be further “explained,” i.e., reduced to
something else. The realistic view of the world always possesses, as a
fixed substratum for such explanations, the given reality that it assumes
exists in any fixed coincidence, in a particular structure. It takes this
reality as a totality [Ganzes] of causes and effects, of things and proper-
ties, of states and processes, of static figures and movements, and then
poses the question as to which of these components of a particular spiri-
tual form—of myth, of language, or of art—was first grasped. If it were
a question of language, then it would be asked whether the designation
of things preceded the designation of processes and activities, or vice
versa—whether linguistic thought first grasps things or processes and
whether it first forms nominal or verbal “roots.” This problem, however,
becomes invalid as soon as we make it clear that the distinctions assumed
here between the organization of the world into things and incidents, into
permanent and transient, into objects and processes, do not underlie the
formation of language as a given fact, but that it is language itself that
first leads to this organization, which develops it in each of its parts. It
turns out, then, that language does not begin with a stage of mere “noun
concepts” or mere “verb-stems” but first brings about the distinction
between them; it creates the great spiritual “crisis” in which the perma-
nent and the transient, being and becoming, are opposed. Accordingly,
the originary concepts of language, insofar as they can be spoken of,
must be thought of as lying not on this side but beyond this separation,
as being given in their configurations that still maintain themselves, so ·83·
to speak, in a suspended fashion and in a state of indifference between
140 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
the nominal and the verbal sphere, between the expression of things
and the expression of process or the expression of activity.6 And a simi-
lar indifference also appears to be characteristic of the most original
formations of mythical and religious thought whose development we
can trace. It appears natural and self-evident to us that, by itself, the
world partitions itself off for perception and intuition into fixed, clearly
defined individual figures, each of which possesses its own precise spatial
limit and, through it, its own determined individuality. If a particular
figure signifies a whole for us, this whole nevertheless constructs itself
from clearly determined unities that do not merge into one another;
rather, each possesses its own particularity that clearly sets it apart from
the particularity of the others. These individual elements, however, are
not just given to mythical intuition from the beginning; rather, it must
gradually and step by step first extract them from the whole—it must
first carry out the process of withdrawing and separating. For this rea-
son, and in order to distinguish it from our theoretical-analytic mode of
observation, the mythical apprehension has been described as a “com-
plex” apprehension. Preuß, who coined this term, points out, for ex-
ample, that in the mythology of the Cora Indians, which he has studied
and presented, the intuition of the nocturnal and diurnal heavens must
have as a whole preceded the intuition of the sun, the moon, and the in-
dividual constellations. Here, the first mythical conception was not that
of a lunar or solar deity; rather, it was, as it were, the totality [Gesamtheit]
of the heavenly bodies that first assumed mythical impulses.
To be sure, the sun-god occupies the first position in the hierarchy
of gods, but he is represented . . . by the various astral deities. They
are there before him, he is created by them, by someone jumping
or being thrown into the fire; his effective power is influenced by
them, and he is artificially kept alive and going in that he feeds off
the hearts of the sacrificed, i.e., off the stars. The starry night
heaven is the precondition for the existence of the sun, which is
the meaning of the whole religious apprehension of the Cora and

6. For more details about this see my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. I,
Language, 228ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 141
the ancient Mexicans, and which is still able to function as a main ·84·
factor for the development of religion.7
And the same function that is attributed here to the nocturnal heav-
ens appears in the beliefs of Indo-Europeans to be assigned to the light
of the day heavens. Comparative linguistics seems to render accessible
to us the fundamental status of religious sentiment and thought of the
Indo-Europeans in which the heavens of the day are revered as the high-
est deity: in a known linguistic equation, the Vedisch Dyaush-pitar corre-
sponds to the Greek ǽİީȢʌĮIJȒȡ [father Zeus], to the Latin Jupiter, and to
the Germanic Zio or Ziu.8 Apart from this, however, the Indo-European
religions also show various traces that indicate that the worship of light
as an undivided whole was preceded here by a particular manifestation
of individual heavenly bodies that appear only as bearers of light. In the
Avesta, for example, Mithra is not, as he is later, a sun-god but the guard-
ian spirit of the heavenly light. He appears on the mountaintops before
the rising of the sun in order to cross the heavens in his chariot, which
is drawn by four white horses, during the day, and when night descends,
he, still on guard duty, continues to illuminate the surface of the earth
with an indeterminate semblance. He is, as it is expressly said, neither
the sun nor the moon nor the stars, but through them, as his thousand
ears and ten thousand eyes, he perceives everything, watching over the
world.9 In a way, it appears obvious to us here how mythical apprehen-
sion first grasps only the great fundamental qualitative contrast between
light and darkness, and how it takes them as one essence, as a complex
whole, from which particular configurations only gradually detach them-
selves. Like linguistic consciousness, mythical consciousness has the dif-
ferences of individual figures only insofar as it continuously posits these

7. Konrad Theodor Preuß, Die Nayarit-Expedition I: Die Religion der Cora-Indianer


(Leipzig: Teubner, 1912), L. See further, Konrad Theodor Preuss, Die geistige Kultur
der Naturvölker, 9ff.
8. On the justification of this linguistic-mythical equation, which admittedly
has often recently been disputed, see, for example, Leopold von Schroeder, Arische
Religion (Leipzig: Haessel, 1914), I, 300ff.
9. Yasht X, 145; Yasna I, ii (35); see Franz Cumont, Textes et monuments figurées
relatifs aux mystères de Mithra (Brussels: H. Lamertin, 1899), I, 225.
142 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
differences and “singles them out” from an originally undifferentiated
intuition of unity.
·85· With this insight into the determining and decisive achievement that
myth, like language, brings to the spiritual construction of the world of
objects, admittedly everything that a “philosophy of symbolic forms” can
teach us would appear to have been exhausted. Philosophy as such can-
not go beyond this point; it cannot presume to place before us in concreto
the great process of separation that comes to fullness here, delimiting its
individual phases over against each other. If philosophy, however, must
be content with a general theoretical determination of the outlines of
the image of this development, then perhaps research into language and
myth can, in turn, supplement this mere outline, making clearer the lines
that philosophical-speculative contemplation can only indicate. Hermann
Usener has made a first and promising step in this direction in his work
Names of the Gods. Usener subtitled his book “An Essay on the Theory of
the Formation of Religious Concepts,” and by doing so, he expressly situ-
ated it in the established context of philosophical problems and system-
atization. A history of the figures of the gods—their gradual emergence
and their particular development among individual peoples—explains
Usener, cannot be a valid, attainable goal, only a history of representa-
tions. However colorful, however manifold and heterogeneous these
representations may appear at first sight, they have their own inner law.
They do not originate from the unrestrained capriciousness of the power
of the imagination; rather, they move along definite paths of feeling
and mental configuration. Mythology wants to demonstrate this law.
Mythology is the theory (ȜȩȖȠȢ) of myth or the morphology of religious
representations.10 Admittedly, Usener does not appear to expect from
philosophers any help for his great task; and in this context, a clear and
unambiguous rejection of them is made. As he explains:
In their divine grandeur over the historical, our philosophers treat
the formation and combination [Zusammenfassung] of concepts by
reducing the individual to the species and genus as a self-evident
and necessary process of the human spirit. They overlook that

10. Hermann Usener, Götternamen. Versuch einer Lehre von der religiösen Begriffsbil-
dung (Bonn: Cohen, 1896), 330; see esp. vff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 143
which is beyond the dominance of our given logic and epistemol-
ogy; a long section of development prevails which the human spirit
slowly worked through, moving toward concepts and thinking that ·86·
was subordinated to laws essentially different from those of repre-
senting and speaking. Our theory of knowledge will have to do
without the necessary substructure until linguistics and mythology
have thrown light on the processes of the spontaneous and un-
conscious representing. The leap from individual perception to the
concept of genus is much greater than we, with our education and
language, which think for us, are able to suspect. It is so great that
I am not able to imagine if and how the human being would have
been able to carry it out, if language itself—of which the human
being is himself unconscious—had not prepared the process and
brought it about. It is language that permits the gradual coming
forth out of the mass of equivalent particular expressions; one that
extends its domain over more and more cases until finally it is able
to encompass all cases and become the concept of genus. ( p. 321)
We are hardly able to counter the reproach that is directed here against
philosophy with anything convincing: for, as Usener points out, almost
all of the great philosophical systems—with the Platonic system being
perhaps the sole exception—have indeed neglected to create that “sub-
structure” for the theoretical theory of knowledge from this indispens-
ability. Here, then, it is the philologist, as a student of language and reli-
gion, who has once again, through problems that come out of his own
research, placed before philosophy a new question. And Usener has here
not only indicated a new way; he has resolved to pursue it by employing
the tools offered to him by the history of language and the exact analysis
of words, especially the analysis of the names of the gods. This raises the
question whether philosophy, which does not have such tools at its dis-
posal, can, in turn, take up the problem that has been placed here by the
human sciences, and by what intellectual means it can treat the problem.
Is there a way other than the history of language and the history of reli-
gion for us to enter deeper into the spiritual genesis, into the origin of
primary linguistic and religious concepts? Or does the insight into the psy-
chological and historical emergence of these concepts fall together with the
insight into their spiritual essence, into their fundamental signification and
144 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
function? The following reflections will attempt to answer this question.
·87· They will take up Usener’s problem precisely in the form he has stated
it; they will attempt, however, to approach it from another direction,
attacking it with means other than those of philology and linguistics.
Usener himself is right to have indicated the justice and even the neces-
sity of such a reflection, insofar as he formulates his basic question not
only as a question for the history of language and the general history of
spirit but also as a question for logic and epistemology. The underlying
assumption is that these two disciplines have to keep in mind the prob-
lem of linguistic and mythical concept formation, and that they have to
treat it with their own methodological means. Only in this expansion, in
this apparent impingement on the sphere of logical tasks will philoso-
phy’s own determination be clearly denoted and will the sphere of pure
theoretical knowledge clearly delimit itself over against other domains
of spiritual existence [Sein] and spiritual forming.

2
Before we move on to this general task, it is essential to grasp the indi-
vidual facts that Usener’s examination of the history of language and
religion has brought to light in order to have a firm foothold for our
own theoretical interpretation and construction. In the formation and
configuration of the concepts of the gods that Usener pursues with the
names of the gods, he distinguishes three basic phases of development.
The formation of the “gods of the moment” stands out for us as the
most ancient distinguishable stage of mythical thought. In these gods,
neither a general power of nature personified nor any specific dimen-
sion of human life, nor a regularly recurring feature or consistent exis-
tence, is captured or transformed into a permanent mythico-religious
image; rather, it is essentially something momentary, an ephemeral
arousal, a fleeting, quickly surfacing and quickly vanishing mental con-
tent, which, in that it objectifies itself and discharges itself outside, cre-
ates the figure of gods of the moment. Every impression that human
beings encounter, every desire that stirs in them, every hope that lures
them, and every urgency that approaches them, can, in this way, become
for them religiously effective. When momentary sentiment attaches to
the thing before us or the state in which we find ourselves, the effective
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 145
energy that surprises us, with the value and, as it were, the accent of the ·88·
divine—then the momentary god is felt and created. It stands before us
in immediate detail and uniqueness; not as part of a force that can reveal
itself here and there, in different locations in space, at different points
in time, to different subjects—rather it is present, as something to one
subject only here and now, in the undivided moment of lived-experience
that descends upon this subject with its presence and casts its spell over
him. Through examples taken from Greek poetry, Usener has shown the
extent to which this fundamental and original religious sentiment was
still very much alive in the ancient Greeks, and how it was constantly
effectuated in them. “Because of this mobility and sensitivity of religious
sentiment, any random concept, any random object, that rules all
thought for the moment can without further ado become raised to a
divine status: understanding and reason, wealth, chance, the decisive
moment, wine, the joys of the meal, the body of a beloved being [. . . . ]
What comes to us suddenly like a stroke of fate from above, what makes
us happy, what saddens and oppresses us, appears to enhance the sensa-
tion as a divine nature [Wesen]. As far back as we can trace the Greeks,
they have possessed the generic concept įĮȓȝȦȞ [dæmon] for it” (pp. 290ff.).
However, over these dæmons of the moment, which come and go, which
emerge and vanish like the subjective sensation from which they origi-
nate, another series of gods, which have their origin not in momentary
sensation but in the permanent well-regulated activity [Tun] of the human
being, now begins to rise up. The further spiritual and cultural develop-
ment progresses, the more the passive comportment of human beings
toward the external world is changed into active comportment. The
human being ceases to be the mere plaything of outer impressions; he
intervenes in events with his own will in order to regulate them accord-
ing to his desires and his needs. This regulation has in itself its own
measure and its own periodicity: it consistently exists in that the same
series of human actions, in which one and the same permanent effect
is secured, repeats itself at certain intervals, in the uniform return from
day to day, month to month, year to year. However, again, as before with
its suffering, the I can bring its activity [Tun] to consciousness only by
projecting it outside and representing it before itself in a fixed intuitive
formation. Every particular direction of this activity [Tun], however, now
originates from and corresponds to a particular god. These gods, too, ·89·
146 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
however, which Usener designates as the “special gods,” still have no
essentially general function and signification; they do not yet penetrate
being in its whole scope and depth but remain limited to a sector, to a
very specific quarter of it. Within this narrower sphere, however, they
have determination and duration, and with this, they acquire a certain
generality. For instance, Occator, the god in charge of harrowing, does
not merely influence this year’s tillage or this or that individual field;
rather, he is the god of harrowing in general, annually hailed as the pro-
tector and guardian of all those united by the return of this rural busi-
ness. Thus, he exhibits a single, and perhaps in itself minor, rural activ-
ity, but he portrays it universally ( p. 280). In the so-called Indigitamenta
gods of the Romans, Usener shows how rich and versatile the manifes-
tations of this type of “special god” were in Roman religion. The first
breaking of fallow fields, as well as the second plowing, the sowing, the
weeding, the cutting of the grain and its harvesting—each has its par-
ticular god; and no one of these activities can succeed if the god is not
called in the right way and by its right name. Usener has shown the same
typical organization of the divine world according to individual spheres
of activity in his treatment of the Lithuanian gods. And he draws from
this, as well as from analogous observations in the history of Greek reli-
gion, the conclusion that the figures and names of such special gods in a
specific phase of religious development must return in essentially the
same way. They are the necessary passageway that religious conscious-
ness must pass through in order to reach its final and highest formation,
the formation of personal gods. However, according to Usener, only the
history of language can illuminate the path that religious consciousness
must traverse, for “the condition for the genesis of the personal God is
a linguistic-historical process” ( p. 316). Wherever the special god is first
grasped, wherever it stands out as a determined figure, it possesses a
specific name taken from the particular sphere of activity of which it is
in charge. This is the case so long as this name is understood, so long as
it is felt in its original signification—so long as the limits of the name cor-
·90· respond to those of the god, a god that is also restricted through its name
to the narrow domain for which it was originally created. It is, however,
otherwise, if by phonetic change or by the stem of the word dying out,
the naming of the god loses its interconnection with the living vocabu-
lary and thus its intelligibility. The name, then, whether it is pronounced
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 147
or heard, no longer awakens in consciousness the representation of an
individual activity to which the subject named by it remains exclusively
restricted. The name has become, rather, a proper name—and this leads,
like the given name of a human being, to the thought of a certain per-
sonality. Now, a new being [Wesen] that further constructs itself accord-
ing to its own law has emerged. The concept of the special god, which
expressed a certain activity [Tun] more than a certain being, now gains
lived embodiment and, so to speak, flesh and blood. The god is now able
to act and to suffer like a human; it operates in a different way, not sim-
ply becoming absorbed in a single activity [Tun], but confronting it as
an independent subject. The many names of the gods, which were pre-
viously used to designate so many sharply distinguished special gods from
one another, now contract into expressions for one personal being [Wesen],
which emerges in this way; these expressions become appellations of this
being [Wesen], designating the different aspects of its nature, its force, and
its effectiveness (301ff., 325, 530ff.).
What fascinates us about Usener’s results, which we have attempted
to poignantly and briefly reproduce, is not primarily their pure content
but the method by which they were achieved. Usener believes his results
to have been reached purely by way of an analysis of words, and he does
not tire of emphasizing that the examination of the forms of words in
which individual religious representations find their sedimentation—that
is, so to speak, in their Ariadnian thread—is the only hope we have of
finding a certain orientation in the labyrinth of mythical thought. Philo-
logical and etymological dissection, however, is not, for him, an end in
itself; rather, it only serves as an instrument in the service of resolving a
deeper and more extensive problem. For what should be understood and
recognized is, above all, not the historical change of the names and fig-
ures of the gods as such but the “origin” of these names and figures.
Usener’s investigation attempts to move toward a point at which both ·91·
the god as well as its name first arise in consciousness. This “arising,”
however, is not thought of as purely chronological, it is not taken as a
unique historical process that plays itself out in a specific, empirically
demonstrable time; rather, Usener seeks to understand [verstehen] it as
essentially tied to the fundamental structure of linguistic and mythical
consciousness, to a general law of linguistic and religious concept for-
mation. Here, we stand not on the ground of history but on that of the
148 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
phenomenology of spirit. Thus, as he already emphasizes in the preface
to his work:
Only through devoted preoccupation with the spiritual traces of
vanished times, and thus through philological work, are we able to
teach ourselves to empathize with the past; then can related chords
gradually resonate and sound in us, and then can we discover in
our own consciousness the threads that connect the old and the
new. Richer observation and comparison allow us to go further,
and we proceed from the particular to the law. It would be terrible
for human science if whoever engaged in research into individual
facts had to wear chains that prevented him from pursuing the
whole. The deeper one digs, the more one is rewarded by more
general knowledge.11
Thus, from the beginning, Usener’s examinations do not take place
in the framework of individual languages and individual historical cul-
tures. If he takes his examples and his evidence from the history of
Greek and Roman religion, he nevertheless leaves no doubt that these
examples are used only as a paradigm for a general interconnection.
This emerges with particular clearness if one places his evidence along-
side other evidence that has only become known through the ethnologi-
cal research of the past decades. Usener himself uses comparative mate-
rial from primitive cultures and religions only sparsely, even though he
expressly confesses and emphasizes that he has gained his understanding
of many important basic facts of the history of Greco-Roman religion
through the detailed study of the Lithuanian world of gods. However, in
other spheres, and above all in the sphere of American and African reli-
gions, surprising parallels are also often found that confirm and illumi-
nate his basic historical and philosophical theses of religion. In the very
detailed and careful presentation on the religion of the Ewes, Spieth
·92· provides a portrayal of the Ewes’ world of the gods that can serve per-
fectly as a classic example of that phase of religious development which
Usener designates as the “gods of the moment.” Although Spieth seems

11. [Hermann Usener, Götternamen. Versuch einer Lehre von der religiösen Begriffsbil-
dung (Bonn: Cohen, 1896), vii.]
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 149
here to refer to Usener, it is not obvious and is hardly likely that the
theologian and missionary was influenced by the theories of the classic
philologist, as his intention was directed not toward any general and
theoretical considerations but toward the simple presentation of facts
he observed. All the more remarkable in our context is the report that
Spieth gives not only of the nature [Wesen] of the Ewe gods, of the na-
ture [Wesen] of the trõwo, but also of their genesis:
Once the inhabitants of the city of Dzake in Peki had settled into
their current place of residence, a farmer searched for water in the
fields in which he labored. In a trough-shaped hollow he thrust
his machete into the moist earth. Suddenly, a blood-like juice
came toward him, which he drank and which refreshed him. He
recounted this to his relatives and made them go with him to the
place in order to sacrifice to that red juice. Gradually, the water
became clear and the whole family drank from it. From then on
the water was the trõ of its discoverer and the family members.
[. . .] With the arrival of the first settlers of Anvlo, a man must
have stood in the jungle before a large, thick monkey-bread tree.
The sight of these trees frightened him. He thus went to a priest in
order to have this event interpreted. The answer he received was
that that the monkey-bread tree was a trõ that lives with him and
wants to be admired by him. The angst was thus the sign by which
that man recognized that a trõ revealed itself to him. If somebody
escapes into a termite mound from his animal or human persecu-
tors, he says afterward: “The termite mound saved my life.” It is
the same if a human being finds safety in a brook from a shot and
wounded animal or a family or whole tribe is rescued from the
enemy in a mountain. In each case, the rescue is ascribed to a
power existing in the object or place by which or through which
one has experienced the rescue.12

12. Jakob Spieth, Die Religion der Eweer in Süd-Togo (Leipzig: Dieterich’sche
Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1911), 7ff. See esp. Spieth’s work on the Ewe tribes (Berlin:
B. Cassirer, 1906), 462, 480, 490. The examples given here are particularly suited
to refuting Wundt’s objection that Usener’s “momentary gods” are “not so much
real empirical starting points as logical postulates” (Volkspsychologie 2, IV, 561).
150 LANGUAGE AND M YTH

·93· The value of such observations for the general history of religion con-
sists above all in the fact that a dynamic concept of the gods has taken
the place of the static one with which both are in the habit of operating,
that the god or dæmon is no longer described merely according to what
it signifies and is, but rather that the law of its formation is pursued. Its
birth in the mythico-religious consciousness is supposed to be observed;
indeed, its hour of birth is announced. If empirical science, in the do-
mains of linguistics, the history of religion, and ethnology, finds itself
placed before these sorts of questions, then no one can deny them to
philosophy, especially if it takes up these questions and attempts to illu-
minate them from the standpoint of its own basic problems.

3
In order to understand [verstehen] the formation of mythico-religious con-
cepts, not only in terms of its results, but also in terms of its principle,
and in order to comprehend how the formation of linguistic concepts is
related to that of religious concepts and in what essential features both
agree, we must admittedly go back a long way. We cannot avoid here a
detour through general logic and epistemology, for only on this basis can
we hope to determine more precisely the function of linguistic and reli-
gious concepts and to separate them clearly from that of the theoretical
concepts of knowledge. Usener himself was aware that this problem was
concerned not only with the history and philosophy of religion but also
with purely theoretical knowledge; for what he wanted to shed light on
through his research was nothing less than the old fundamental question
inherent in all logic and epistemology, namely, the question of how the
spiritual process that elevates the individual to the universal, how the
transition from individual perceptions and ideas to the concept of genus,
is carried out (see 12ff.). On the way to the history of language and reli-
gion, he considered the clarification of this issue not only possible but
necessary, which indicates that he did not feel satisfied with it and was
·94· not reassured by the logicians’ usual explanation of the relationship of
the universal to the individual and particular. Indeed, what this explana-
tion renders most objectionable for the linguist, provided he seeks to pen-
etrate more deeply into the fundamental spiritual principles of language,
can easily be indicated. The concept, as logic is in the habit of teaching,
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 151
originates in that several objects [Objekte] that agree in certain features
and, consequently, in part of their content are combined [zusammenge-
faßt] in thought, in that from the dissimilar features the similar but fixed
ones are abstracted, by which the general representation of a class of
objects [Objekte] in consciousness arises. Consequently, the concept (notio,
conceptus) is the representation in which the totality [Gesamtheit] of the es-
sential features, i.e., the essence of the object [Objekt] in question, is repre-
sented.13 In this seemingly simple and plausible explanation, everything
comes down to what one understands here by “feature,” and how one
understands these features to be created. The formation of a general
concept presupposes the determination of features: only if certain identify-
ing marks through which these things can be recognized as similar or
dissimilar, as coinciding or not coinciding, exist does the possible of the
combination [Zusammenfassung] of the similarities together into a genus
exist. However, we must necessarily inquire further: How do such marks
exist prior to language, prior to the act of naming, or, rather, are they not
grasped only by means of language, only in the act of naming itself ?
And, if the latter be the case: According to what rules, according to
what criterion, does this act proceed? What is it that compels language
to collect these representations into a unity and to designate them with a
particular word? What induces it to draw out certain figures from the
flowing and always uniform series of impressions that meet our senses
or that originate from the inner activity of spirit, to dwell on and stamp
them with a certain “signification”? As soon as the question is formu-
lated in this way, traditional logic leaves linguists and philosophers of
language at a loss. For its explanation of the emergence of general ideas
and of concepts of genus presupposes that which is sought for and whose
very possibility is in question, namely, the formation of linguistic con- ·95·
cepts themselves.14 The problem becomes all the more difficult, how-
ever, and at the same time all the more urgent as soon as we consider
that the form of the ideal combination [Zusammenfassung], which leads to
primary linguistic concepts and particular signification of words, is not

13. See, for instance, Friedrich Überweg, System der Logik und Geschichte der
logischen Lehren (Bonn, 1874), §§ 51ff.
14. For more detailed discussion of this point, see my Philosophy of Symbolic
Forms, vol. I, 206ff.
152 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
dictated to us unequivocally and one-sidedly by the object [Objekt]. But
even here, the freedom and specific spiritual particularity of language
express themselves. Admittedly, this freedom, too, must have its rule, this
original and inventive power must also have its law. Can this law be dem-
onstrated, and how is it related to the rule that prevails in the creation of
other ideal spheres of signification, in particular, in the formation of our
mythical and religious concepts, as well as the concepts of purely theo-
retical knowledge and those of the natural sciences?
We begin with the latter so as to demonstrate that all intellectual work,
which spirit brings to fruition in the forming of individual impressions
into “general” representations and concepts, is essentially directed to-
ward freeing the particular, the given here and now, from its isolation,
that it be seen in relation to and collected with other particulars into the
unity of a comprehensive order, into the unity of a “system.” The logical
form of the concepts, understood in the sense of theoretical knowledge,
is nothing other than preparation for the logical form of judgment; all
judgments, however, aim at dispelling and overcoming the appearance
of isolation that attaches itself to every particular content of conscious-
ness. The apparently singular, insofar as it “subsumed” under a general
idea, insofar as it grasped as a “case” of a law or as a member of a mani-
fold or series, is recognized, understood, and comprehended. In this sense,
every real judgment is synthetic: for it desires and strives for precisely
this synthesis into a whole, the coincidence of particulars into a system.
This synthesis cannot be carried out immediately or with a single blow,
rather it must be worked out step by step, such that the individual intu-
itions or the particular sensory perceptions are progressively set in rela-
tion to one another, and then joined together into relatively greater com-
plexes, until finally the union of all of these separate complexes yields
an integrated image of the totality of the appearances. The will to this
·96· totality is the enlivening principle in the formation of our theoretical and
empirical concepts. This necessarily proceeds, therefore, “discursively”;
that is to say, it takes the specific case as its starting point, not in order
to immerse itself in it as such or to remain in its intuition, but in order
to run it through the whole of being in certain directions that the empiri-
cal concept just designates and fixes. In this process of running through,
of discursive thought, the individual now receives its theoretically fixed
“meaning” and its determination. It appears differently according to the
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 153
ever-broadening interconnections in which it is placed: the place that it
takes in the totality [Gesamtheit] of being or, rather, that it is assigned in
this totality [Gesamtheit] by the continuous movement of thought, deter-
mines at the same time its content, what it theoretically signifies.
How this ideal of knowledge governs the construction of natural sci-
ence, in particular the construction of mathematical physics, needs no
further explanation. All concepts of theoretical physics have no other
goal than to reshape the “rhapsody of perceptions”15 with which the
world of the senses first confronts us, into a system, into a unified em-
bodiment of laws. The individual appearance only becomes a phenom-
enon and the object of “nature” in that it meets this requirement—for,
in the theoretical sense of the word, nature is, according to the Kantian
definition, nothing other than the existence of things insofar as it is de-
termined according to general laws. Admittedly, it might seem that this
Kantian concept is too narrowly grasped, that it immediately fails as soon
as we move from the “nature” of physics to that of biology and descrip-
tive natural science, from the theoretical-constructive concepts of the
exact sciences to “living” nature. For here, at least, each individual signi-
fies something itself; here, it does not stand as an instantiation of a law
that classifies it; rather, here, it presents itself as an individually limited
and, through just this limitation, significant existence. Closer consider-
ation teaches us, however, that even here this determination includes no
opposition to universality; rather, it demands universality as its supple-
ment and necessary correlate. We can visualize this more clearly if we
keep in mind the methodology of Goethe’s examination of nature—a
methodology which is not only distinguished by a certain type of think-
ing about nature that confirms itself in the greatest clarity and liveliness, ·97·
but which, at the same time, knows about this exercise, which it recog-
nizes and expresses as its inner norm. Goethe repeatedly demands the
complete concretion, the perfect determination of the intuition of na-
ture, in which every particular should be seen and grasped as such in the
clear outline of its individual figure; however, with no less clarity, he
states that the particular is subject to the eternal universal, and that it is
constituted and becomes comprehensible in its particularity only through
it. For this very form and character of living nature determines that

15. [Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B 195.]


154 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
nothing exists in it that is not bonded with the whole. Of this fundamen-
tal law, under which his research stood, Goethe said: “Physical investi-
gations forced me to the conviction that in every observation of objects,
the very condition under which a phenomenon appears, the highest duty
is to meticulously search out and strive for the most complete whole of
the phenomenon possible, because, in the end, they are compelled to
join together with each other or, rather, in each other, and to form a type
of organization for the intuition of the researcher; their inner living
whole must be manifested.” Universality, thus, does not appear here, as
in mathematical physics, in the figure of an abstract formula, but rather
emerges as a concrete “living whole”; here, it is a matter not of the mere
subsumption of the individual case under the law but of an “organiza-
tion” in which, if it ascribes the part to the whole, the form of the whole
at the same time also appears immediately in the part. The discursive
character of thinking, however, remains lively and effective in the mid-
dle of this seeing. For the object does not stand still before the intuition
simply in its individual determination and particularity but begins to stir
before intuition. It does not merely present a simple figure but unfolds
into a series and a wealth of figures: it falls under the law of “metamor-
phosis.” And this metamorphosis does not end before the ambit of the
contemplation of nature has been measured. This ambit exists for the
outlook of the researcher only in that, in the progress from one object
to another, it gradually becomes apparent through the steady stringing
·98· together of cases.16 In this sense, Goethe praised the “maxim” of meta-
morphosis, saying that it had safely escorted him through the whole
sphere of the comprehensible and, in the end, led him to the frontier of
the incomprehensible, before which the human spirit has to be content.
In this form of consideration, everything that exists is taken for itself, but
at the same time, it is grasped as an “analogy of all that exists,”17 so that
existence always appears to us at the same time separated and united.

16. See, in particular, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Der Versuch als Vermittler
von Objekt und Subjekt” (1793), in Werke, vol. XI, 21ff.; Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe, Einwirkung der neuern Philosophie, in Werke, vol. XI, 48; for more details, see my
essay “Goethe und die mathematische Physik,” in Idee und Gestalt (Berlin, 1924), 33ff.
17. [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen. Nach den Hand-
schriften des Goethe- und Schiller-Archivs (Nr. 554), ed. Max Hecker (Weimar, 1907)
(Schriften der Goethe-Gesellschaft, vol. 21), 120.]
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 155
This form of seeing is not counter to that of the “derived”; rather, each
penetrates and rises up out of the other: “I do not rest,” says Goethe,
“until I find a most pregnant point from which a great deal has been
derived or rather from which a great deal voluntarily produces itself and
confronts me.”18
And in the end, historical concepts, like the morphological and bio-
logical concept of form, stand under the same law of our thinking.
Attempts have been made to separate the “individualizing” of historical
formation of concepts from the “generalizing” formation of concepts
of the natural sciences. If this latter sees in the individual case nothing
other than the representative [Repräsentanten] of the law, if the “here” and the
“now” only become significant for it because and insofar as they render
a universal rule visible, then history inquires after the here and now in
order to grasp and to know more clearly the individual case as such. Its
intention, therefore, is directed neither toward any particular type of
concept that can realize itself more uniformly in the majority of cases
and, from the perspective of the concept, in indifferent copies, nor to-
ward a repeatable, recurrent event; rather, it is absorbed in the indi-
viduality and peculiarity of concrete facts, in the factually singular and
unique. However, here, too, it is clear that the uniqueness and singularity
that forms the matter of history, and of the science of history, does not
contain in itself its specific form. For here, too, every individual gets its
meaning only by virtue of the connection into which it enters. If it can-
not be grasped as an instance of a general law, then, in order to be thought
of as historical at all, in order to become a subspecies of history, it must
take its place as a member in certain events or in a certain teleological ·99·
nexus. Its temporal determination is consequently the strict opposite of
its temporal isolation, for historically it signifies something only if it points
back to the past and forward to the future. Accordingly, as with Goethe’s
morphological consideration, all genuine historical consideration, in-
stead of losing itself in the intuition of the merely unique, must advance
toward the “most pregnant” points of events, in which, as in focal points,
the whole series of events concentrates itself. For historical conception
and understanding [Verstehen], widely separated temporal stages are united

18. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Bedeutende Förderniß durch ein einziges geistreiches
Wort, in Werke, vol. XI, 63.
156 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
in them into one. As certain moments are singled out from the uniform
stream of time, relating to one another and combined into a series, the
origin as well as the goal of events, their whence and whither, are first
illuminated. The historical concept is also characterized here by the fact
that a thousand connections are forged by one strike, and that which
we call the specific historical “meaning” of appearances, historical signi-
fication, is constituted not in the intuition of the individual but in the
consideration of these connections.
We will, however, no longer dwell on these general observations, as
our intention here is not directed toward the structure of theoretical
concepts of knowledge as such; we want to elucidate from this structure
another, namely, the form and particularity of primary linguistic concepts.
So long as this is not done, the pure logical theory of the concept re-
mains incomplete. For all of the concepts of theoretical knowledge form,
as it were, only a logical upper stratum, which is grounded in another
stratum, namely, the stratum of linguistic concepts. Before the intellec-
tual work of conceiving and understanding [verstehen] appearances can
begin, the work of naming must have advanced to a certain point. For it
is this work that transforms the world of sensuous impressions, which the
animal also possesses, into a spiritual world, a world of ideas [Vorstellun-
gen] and signification. All theoretical knowing takes its departure from a
world already formed by language: the natural scientist, the historian,
the philosopher, all initially live with objects only as language gives these
·100· objects to them. And this immediate and unconscious bond is harder to
see through than anything that the spirit obliquely creates in the con-
scious activity of thought. It is rather obvious that logical theory, which
allows the concept to be formed through generalizing “abstraction,” is
of no further help here. For this abstraction consists of selecting from a
wealth of given determined features certain ones that are common to dif-
ferent sensuous or vivid complexes. Here, however, it is a question not
of selecting from already objectively present features but of extracting, of
positing the features themselves. It is essential, here, to understand and to
clarify the type and the direction of the “remarking” itself, which must
intellectually precede the “naming.” Even those thinkers who have most
vigorously concerned themselves with the problem of the “origin of lan-
guage” have believed it necessary to stop at this point, in that they took
for granted that this act of “remarking” was essentially an original “ca-
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 157
pacity” of the human soul. As Herder says in his treatise on the origin of
language, “When the human being assumed the state of reflection that
is his own, and when this reflection is rendered free for the first time,
language was invented.” When we think of a definite animal—a lamb,
for instance—that passes before the eyes of a human being, what image,
what intuition of it will form itself in human consciousness? Not the
same image that would arise for a wolf or a lion, which smells and, in its
mind, already tastes the lamb, which is overpowered by sensuousness,
whose instinct throws it upon the lamb, nor for any other animal indif-
ferent to the sheep, which would thus let it wander into the dark clear-
ing, because its instinct would have turned it toward something else.
Not so with the human being! As soon as he comes to the demand
to know the sheep, no instinct disturbs him, no sense seizes him to
approach nearer to it, or away from it; he stands there, just as it ex-
presses itself in his senses. White, gentle, woolly—his self-reflective
soul seeks a characteristic—the sheep bleats! He has found the
characteristic. The inner sense is activated. This bleating, which
made the strongest impression on him, which broke free of all the
other properties of sight and touch, sprang forth, penetrating
the depths, remains with him. . . . “Ha! you are the bleating one,”
he feels inside; he has recognized it humanly, he clearly recognizes
and names it, that is, with a characteristic. . . . And with a charac-
teristic, then? What else was that other than an internal characteris-
tic word? The sound of the bleating perceived by a human soul as
the sign of the sheep, becomes, by force of this mindfulness, the ·101·
name of the sheep, even though his tongue had never attempted to
utter it.19
We clearly sense in these sentences the reverberation of those theo-
ries he sought to combat—Enlightenment theories of language that let
language emerge out of conscious reflection and be “invented.” The
human being seeks characteristics because he needs characteristics, because
his reason, the specific faculty of “mindfulness” that is his own, demands
it. This demand itself remains here something underivable—it is a “basic

19. Johann Gottfried Herder, Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache, in Werke,
vol. V, 35ff.
158 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
power of the soul.”20
The explanation has, of course, come full circle,
for the end and goal of the formation of language—that positing and
determination of characteristics—must at the same time be regarded
as its beginning. The Humboldtian concept of the “inner form of lan-
guage” appears to point to another direction of investigation. For, here,
it is concerned no longer with the “whence” of linguistic concepts but
with their pure “what,” not with their emergence but with the demon-
stration of their particularity. According to Humboldt, a special form
of spirit, a special type of grasping and understanding [verstehen], mani-
fests itself in the form of remarking that underlies all word and language
formation. The difference between individual languages is thus one not
of sounds and signs but of different views of the world. If, for instance,
moon in Greek is designated as measuring ( ȝȒȞ), in Latin as shining
(luna), or, if in one and the same language, such as Sanskrit, the elephant
is called here the one that drinks twice as much, there the two-tusked
one, and elsewhere the one with one hand, this shows that language
never simply denotes perceivable objects [Objekte] as such but always
spontaneously forms concepts of the mind, such that the nature of these
concepts always depends on the direction of intellectual contemplation.
Even this concept of the inner form of language, however, must, in the
end, presuppose that which it wants to show and derive. For on the one
hand, language appears here as the vehicle for the extraction of every
spiritual view of the world, as that medium through which thought must
pass before it can discover itself, before it can give itself a specific theo-
retical form. On the other hand, however, even this form, even a specific
theoretical view of the world must be presupposed in order to render the
·102· particularity of a certain language, the nature of its remarking and nam-
ing, understandable. So, the question of the origin of language, even with
the thinkers who have grasped it most profoundly and have struggled the
hardest with it, threatens again and again to become a veritable puzzle;
all the energy of thought that is devoted to it appears, in the end, only to
circle the question and leave us at the point from which we began.
Nevertheless, it remains in the character of such fundamental ques-
tions that spirit, hope as it may to finally solve them, can never fully

20. [Immanuel Kant, Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren, in
Werke, vol. II, 63.]
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 159
unveil them. And there arises a new hope of at least advancing toward
the principle of a solution, if, instead of comparing the form of primary
linguistic concepts with the form of logical concepts, we bring them
together with the form of mythical concepts. What distinguishes both
mythical and linguistic concepts from logical concepts, and what per-
mits us to collect them together into an independent “genus,” is, above
all, the circumstance that in them, both one and the same direction of
spiritual apprehension appears to manifest itself, a direction opposed to
that of the movement that takes place in theoretical thought. As we have
seen, theoretical thought aims to free the sensuously or intuitively given
contents from the isolation in which they immediately present them-
selves to us. It lifts these contents out of their narrowly restricted sphere
and arranges them together with others; it compares them with others
and arranges them in a determined order, into an all-inclusive intercon-
nection. It proceeds “discursively” in that it takes the particulars, the
here and now of objectively present content, only as a starting point from
which it will run through the whole of intuition, from a manifold of di-
rections, until it finally links them into a self-enclosed quintessence, into
a system. In this system, there are no more isolated points: all members
reciprocally refer to one another, point to, illuminate, and explain one
another. Everything individual is increasingly spun together in theoreti-
cal thought, as if by invisible intellectual threads, which bind it to the
whole. The theoretical signification it receives is stamped with the char-
acter of the whole. Mythical thought is, when we consider it in the ear-
liest fundamental forms available to us, far removed from such a stamp;
indeed, this stamp contradicts the authentic essence of mythical thought. ·103·
For here, thought does not stand freely over against the content of intu-
ition in order to refer and compare it to others in conscious reflection,
rather here, it is, as it were, taken captive and held spellbound by this
content as soon as it stands directly before it. It rests in it; it feels and
knows only its immediate sensory present, which is so powerful that be-
fore it everything else vanishes. It is as if where the human being stood
under the spell of this mythico-religious intuition, the whole world was
lost to him. The particular momentary content, in which the religious
interest extends itself, fills consciousness so completely that nothing ex-
ists beside or apart from it. In its most charged state, the I turns toward
the one, lives and forgets itself in it. We find, here, instead of a widening
160 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
of the intuition, its most extreme narrowing; instead of an expansion that
gradually leads it through new spheres of being, a drive toward concen-
tration; instead of an extensive diffusion, an intensive compression. This
gathering of all forces upon one point is the prerequisite for all mythical
thought and mythical configuring. When the I is, on the one hand, com-
pletely given up to a momentary impression and “possessed” by it, and,
on the other hand, there is the utmost tension between the I and the
external world, when external being is not simply considered and per-
ceived but suddenly overcomes man in its sheer immediacy with the
affect of fear or hope, terror or wish fulfillment, then, as it were, a spark
jumps across, the tension finds a release, as the subjective excitement ob-
jectifies itself and presents itself before man as a god or dæmon. Here we
stand before the mythico-religious originary phenomenon that Usener
attempted to express through the concept of the “gods of the moment.”
“The individual appearance is divinized, is idolized, in full immediacy
without a very restricted concept of genus somehow intervening; the one
thing that you see before you, and nothing else, is the god” ( p. 280). Even
today, the life of primitive peoples shows us specific features in which this
process clearly emerges. We may recall the examples of this process cited
by Spieth: the water that a thirsty person finds, a termite mound that
rescues and saves the life of someone being chased, any new object be-
·104· fore which people are overcome by a sudden angst—all of these are im-
mediately transformed into a god. Spieth summarizes his observations
thus: “In the moment in which an object or any striking characteristic
enters into any noticeable relationship to the human disposition and
life, be it agreeable or repelling, that is the hour of birth of a trõ in the
consciousness of the Ewe.”21 It is as if the isolation of an impression,
through its being lifted out from the whole of common, everyday experi-
ence, renders with it at the same time its great intensive increase along-
side a high degree of thickening, and, as if by virtue of this thickening,
the objective figure of the god now comes about, as if it virtually sprang
forth from it.
And it is here, in this intuitive mode of configuration of myth, and
not in the formation of our discursive theoretical concepts, that we must
search for the key that may unlock for us the intelligibility of the original

21. [ Jakob Spieth, Die Religion der Eweer, 8.]


LANGUAGE AND M YTH 161
linguistic concept. We are not allowed to reduce its formation to any
type of reflexive contemplation, to a static and tranquil comparison of
given sense impressions or to the isolation of certain “characteristics,”
but must turn from this static intuition to the dynamic process that pro-
duces the linguistic sound out of itself. It is not, however, achieved with
this turn, and there now arises another, more difficult question, of how
it is possible that out of this process anything permanent can detach
itself, how, out of the undetermined seething and surging of sensory
sensation and of sensory feeling, an objective, linguistic “formation”
[Gebilde] can grow. In order to illuminate the “origin” of language, mod-
ern linguistic research has frequently reverted to Hamann’s dictum that
poetry is the “mother tongue of the human race”;22 it has emphasized that
language is rooted not in the prosaic but in the poetic side of life, that its
final ground is, therefore, to be sought not in dedication to the objective
intuition of things and their division according to certain characteristics
but in the originary force of subjective sentiment.23 However, if this
theory of lyrically musical expression seems to escape the circle in which
the theory of logical expression becomes entangled, it nevertheless fails
to bridge the gap between the purely expressive function of language ·105·
and its function of signification. For a hiatus between the lyric and the
logical sides of linguistic expression also exists in it; what remains un-
explained is precisely the displacement by which the sound is transformed
from the sound of the sensation into the sound of designation and sig-
nification. However, perhaps the recollection of the genesis and emer-
gence of the primary mythical configurations of the emergence of the
gods of the moment can guide us further. If the god of the moment has
its origin in the birth of the moment, if it owes its emergence to an en-
tirely concrete and individual situation that never recurs in the same
way, it nevertheless gains a consistent existence that lifts it far above the ac-
cidental occasion of its emergence. As soon as it is raised up out of this
immediate urgency, out of the care and hope of the moment, it becomes
an independent being [Wesen] that henceforth lives according to its own
law that has acquired a figure and duration. It confronts the human being

22. [ Johann Georg Hamann, Aesthetica in nuce. Eine Rhapsodie in Kabbalistischer


Prose, in Schriften, ed. Friedrich Roth, vol. II (Berlin, 1821), 258.]
23. Otto Jespersen, Progress in Language (London: Swan, 1894), esp. 332ff.
162 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
not as a creature of the hour but as a superior objective power, which the
human being admires and to which, through the fixed forms of cult, he
gradually gives a determined form. In the figure of the god of the mo-
ment, the memory of its original meaning and existence for the human
being, the memory of the resolution of and deliverance from the fulfill-
ment of a desire and a hope, is not only recorded but persists and re-
mains long after this memory has faded and completely vanished. And
we must ascribe to the sound of language the same function, the same
tendency toward persistence found in the mythical image. Like the god
or dæmon, the word, too, is, for the human being, not a creature that
he himself has created; rather, it confronts him as a being in itself and as
significant in itself, as something objectively real. As soon as the spark
jumps across, as soon as the tension and affect of the moment finds its
discharge into the word or the mythical image, a peripeteia effectively
institutes itself in spirit: excitement as a merely subjective state is extin-
guished and is taken up into the formations [Gebilden] of myth or lan-
guage. And now a progressive objectification can begin. To the extent
that the human being’s own action [Tun] gradually extends itself to an
ever-larger sphere and orders and organizes itself within this sphere, a
progressive organization, an ever more determined “articulation” of the
mythical as well as the linguistic world will also be achieved. In the place
·106· of the gods of the moment now arise the gods of activity, as Usener has
demonstrated through the examples of the Roman Indigitamenta and the
Lithuanian gods. Wissowa summarizes the basic character of the Roman
religion thus: “The same gods are thought of, so to speak, from a purely
practical point of view as being effective in all those things with which
the Roman is occupied in the course of ordinary life; the local surround-
ings in which he moves, the different activities that make demands upon
him, the events that decisively configure the life of the individual as well
as the life of the community, they all stand under the rule of clearly con-
ceived deities with keenly defined authority. Even Jupiter and Tellus are
the gods of the Roman community, the gods of the house and the hall,
of the forest and the pasture, of the forest and the harvest, of growth,
flowers, and fruit.”24 Here, one can directly trace how the intuition of

24. Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1912),
vol. 2, 24f.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 163
objective existence first opens itself up to the human being through the
medium of his own activity [Tun] and through its continuous differen-
tiation, which he grasps in clearly differentiated mythical images before
logical concepts. And here, too, linguistic development now appears to
be the counterpart of the development of mythical intuition and mythi-
cal thinking. For we cannot grasp the nature [Wesen] and function of
linguistic concepts if we think of them as copies, as depictions of a fixed
thing-world that, in its individual components, stands in stiff demarca-
tion over against the human being from the outset. Rather, here, too,
the limits must first be set, must be drawn by language; and this comes
about as the activity [Tun] of the human being internally organizes itself,
and through this, his representation of being receives an ever-clearer
determination. It has already been seen that the primary achievement
of linguistic concepts cannot be found in a comparison of the content of
different individual intuitions or in the extracting of their common char-
acteristics, but is directed toward the concentration of intuitive content,
toward, so to speak, its distillation into a single point. The mode of this
concentration, however, always depends here upon the direction of in-
terest; it essentially depends not upon the content of the intuition but
upon the teleological perspective under which it is configured. Whatever
in some way appears significant for desire and willing, for hoping and
caring, for doing and the drives [Treiben]—upon it alone is the stamp of ·107·
linguistic “signification” pressed. Differences of signification first enable
that thickening of the contents of intuition that, as we have seen, forms
the presupposition for its naming, for its linguistic designation. For only
that which somehow refers to the focal point, to the centers of desire and
activity [Tun], that which proves itself to be promoting or hindering,
important and necessary for the whole of activity [Tun] and the whole of
life itself—only that which is singled out of the flowing, always uniform
series of sense impressions—is “noticed” in the midst of these impres-
sions, that is to say, is provided with a particular linguistic accent, with
a mark. Without doubt, we must also ascribe the beginning of this re-
marking to the animal, insofar as in its world of representations, those
elements to which it is drawn through the basic direction of its drives,
through the specific direction of its instincts, are singled out. Only that
which excites or is directly or indirectly interconnected with an individ-
ual drive, such as the nutritional or sexual drive, only that “exists” for the
164 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
animal as an objective content of its feeling and representing. This being,
however, fills only the prevailing moment in which the drive is actually
evoked, in which it is immediately provoked. As soon as this arousal
subsides, as soon as the drive is satisfied and fulfilled, being, the world of
representations, collapses into itself once again. If a new stimulus meets
the animal’s consciousness, this world may be resurrected again; how-
ever, it always remains within the narrow limits of actual stirrings and
arousals. These individual beginnings always fill only the moment itself,
without joining together into a series: the past is only dimly retained, the
future is not erected into images, into foresight. Only symbolic expression
creates the possibility of retrospection and foresight, for through it, cer-
tain distinctions are not only made within the whole of consciousness but
are also fixed as such. Once the linguistic sound has impressed its seal and
given it a determined character, the once-created, that which is sepa-
rated out of the total sphere of representations, does not fade away again.
Here, too, the determination and particularization of effective action
precedes the determination of being. The correlations in being come
about in accordance with activity [Tun], not according to the “objective”
·108· similarity of things, but according to the way in which the contents are
grasped through the medium of activity [Tun] and classified together into
a determined interconnection of purpose. This teleological character
of linguistic concepts25 can be directly supported and clarified through
various examples from the history of language. A large number of the
phenomena that the science of language treats under the concept of
“changes of signification,” can, from here, only be understood in prin-
ciple. If, through the reconfiguration of the conditions of life, through
the change and progress of culture, an alteration in the practical rela-
tionship of the human being to his surroundings has set in, the concepts
of language no longer retain their original “sense.” They now begin to
shift, to move about from place to place, to the degree that the border-
lines set by activity [Tun] change and blur each into other. Wherever and
for whatever reason the limits between two activities lose their importance,
their “significance,” there frequently occurs a corresponding alteration
in the signification of words, in the linguistic designations of these activi-

25. On the “teleological” structure of linguistic concepts see the more detailed
study in my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. I, 225ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 165
ties. A characteristic piece of evidence for this process may be found, for
example, in an essay that Meinhof has published under the title “On the
Influence of Occupation on the Language of the Bantu Tribes in Af-
rica.” According to Meinhof, “the Herero have a word for sowing, rima,
that is phonetically identical with lima, which means ‘hoeing or plowing’
in other Bantu languages. The reason for the strange change in signifi-
cation is that the Herero neither hoe nor sow. They are cow herders, and
their whole language reeks of cows. In their eyes, sowing and plowing
are not worthy occupations for a man. Accordingly, it is not worthwhile
for them to take the trouble to distinguish between these contemptuous
occupations.”26 The examination of primitive languages also offers vari-
ous examples, for the form of the designation does not follow the external
similarity of things or events, but whatever has the same name is linguis-
tically assigned the same “concept” whenever its functional signification
is the same, i.e., whenever they occupy the same or analogous position in
the whole of human actions and human purposes. Accordingly, certain
Indian tribes are said to use one and the same word for “dancing” and
“working”27—not, obviously, because the intuitive difference between ·109·
both activities does not immediately impose itself upon them, but be-
cause dance and field work essentially serve for them the same purpose of
caring for life. For the growth and prosperity of the crops depends, for
them, even more than on the prompt and proper cultivation of the fields,
on the correct execution of their dances, of their magic and religious
ceremonies.28 The fusion of names, of linguistic concepts, results from
such weaving together of activities. When the Christian sacrament of
the Eucharist was made known to them,29 the natives of the Swan River
in Australia even named it a dance; what becomes apparent, again, is to

26. Carl Meinhof, “Über die Einwirkung der Beschäftigung auf die Sprache
bei den Bantustämmen Afrikas,” Globus, vol. 75 (1899), 361.
27. “Die Tarahumara tanzen überhaupt nur zu Zauberzwecken bzw. als
‘Gebet.’ Tanzen ist ihnen daher . . . gleich arbeiten, was aus der Bedeutung des
Wortes für tanzen nolávoa hervorgeht.” Konrad Theodor Preuß, “Ursprung der
Religion und Kunst,” Blobus, vol. 87, 336.
28. See Konrad Theodor Preuß, Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto (Göttingen
and Leipzig: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1923), vol. I, 123ff.; vol. II, 637ff.
29. Élie Reclus, Le primitif d’Australie ou les non-non et les oui-oui. Étude d’ethnologie
comparée (Paris: E. Deutu, 1894), 28.
166 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
what extent a unity may be posed by language in spite of radical differ-
ences or even complete disparity between intuitive contents, so long as
the contents are seen as corresponding, as being in accordance with one
another in their teleological “sense”—here, according to their significa-
tion as cult.30
At the same time, we catch sight here of the basic motives by which
mythical thought frees itself from the indeterminacy of “complex” intu-
·110· ition and proceeds to concretely determinate, sharply delimited indi-
vidual formations. Here, too, so it appears, the direction of this progress
is determined primarily through the direction of doing something; what
is reflected in the form of mythical configuration is not so much the
objective form of things as the form of human effective activity. As with
the action of human beings, so also the action of the god, who is in
charge of them, initially extends only to a narrowly determined vicinity
to which it remains restricted. Not only does every particular activity
have its particular god, but every individual segment of a determined
doing, each independent phase, will also refer to the territory of an in-
dependent god or dæmon, which will also be bound to this region of
effective action. The Roman Fratres Arvales, when making atonement for
the removal of trees from the grove of the goddess Dia, divided the ac-
tion into a number of individual acts, for each of which a special deity
was invoked: Deferenda, for fetching the wood, Commolenda, for cutting it
into pieces, Coinquenda, for chopping it up, and Adolenda, for burning the
brushwood.31 Primitive languages tend to proceed in a very similar way;

30. Here we may give another characteristic example of this “teleological”


construction of linguistic concepts, which I owe to an oral communication from
my colleague Professor Otto Dempwolff. In the Kâte language, which is spoken
in New Guinea, there is a word, bilin, which denotes a certain kind of grass with
tough stems and roots that are wedged firmly in the soil: the latter are said to hold
the earth together during earthquakes, so that it does not break apart. When nails
were first introduced by Europeans, and when their use became popularly known,
the natives applied this word to them, as well as to wire and iron rods, in short,
to everything that served the “function” of holding things together. Similarly,
one may often observe in the language of children the formation of such teleological
units of signification, which do not meet our class concepts at all, and seem even
to defy them. See Clara and William Stern, Die Kindersprache (Leipzig: Bath, 1906),
26, 172, et al.
31. Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer, 2, 25.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 167
instead of grasping the action in its generality and expressing it through
a general verbal concept, they divide it into individual subsections, each
of which is expressed by an independent verb, and thereby, so to speak,
break it up into small pieces. It is perhaps no accident that, precisely in
a language like that of the Ewes, which possesses, as is clear in Spieth’s
presentation, a rich fullness of gods of the moment and special gods, this
linguistic peculiarity is so strongly pronounced.32 And even where lan-
guage and myth rise above the intuition that is bound to the moment
and to concrete-sensory content, where they break through the barrier
that initially seemed set before them, both remain joined insolubly to-
gether for a long time. This interconnection is so tight that it will prob-
ably never be decided, on the basis of empirical data, which of the two,
myth or language, takes the lead and which follows in this progress to-
ward the general, toward universal figures and concepts. Usener has, in
a philosophically significant section of his work, attempted to prove that
all general linguistic concepts have gone through a certain mythical stage. ·111·
According to him, the fact that abstract nouns in the Indo-Germanic
languages are usually formed by the feminine, with the ending -a (-Ș),
contains a trace of an original stage in which that which is expressed
by these feminine formations was not thought of as an abstract concept
but immediately felt and imagined as a female deity. “Can there be any
doubt,” he asks, “whether ĭȩȕȠȢ [Phobos] was earlier ijȩȕȠȢ [phobos], the
divine figure or the condition? Why is it the male condition and not the
neuter gender IJާįȑȠȢ [the god]? The first creation of the word must have
had inherent in it the representation of a living personal being [Wesen],
the ‘shooer’ or the ‘flight producer’; this idea still appears in countless
applications of the seemingly abstract thing: İ‫ݧ‬ı߱ȜșİȞ or ‫݋‬ȞȑʌİıİijȩȕȠȢ
[to enter into or to fall upon fear]. We must assume the same course
of events for all of the feminine formations. The feminine adjective only
became an abstraction in that it was denoted as a feminine personal-
ity, and in ancient times, this could only have been conceived divinely”
(p. 375). However, do not the science of language as well as the science
of religion also exhibit traces of a reverse impact: should we not assume
that, for example, the way that inflected languages endow every name

32. Diedrich Westermann, Grammatik der Ewe-Sprache (Berlin: D. Reimer,


1907), 95.
168 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
with a particular “gender” must have decisively determined the intuition
of the mythico-religious being and formed it according to itself ? Or was
it an accident that where such differences in grammatical “gender” do
not exist in language, where, rather, other essentially more complex fea-
tures of classes are found in their place, the mythico-religious world also
exhibits a very different structure, that it differentiates being according
to totemic groups and classes, rather than placing and dividing it under
personal, violent divine powers? We will content ourselves, here, with
merely posing this question, which would have to be answered, if at all,
by detailed scientific research. Whatever the answer might be, however,
it is evident that in the progress from the momentary to the permanent,
from sensory impression to “figure,” language and myth enclose the
same general task and reciprocally condition each other in their solu-
tion. United, they prepare the ground for the great syntheses in which
an intellectual structure, a general theoretical view of the cosmos, arises
for us.

4
·112· If up to this point we have attempted to uncover the common root of the
formation of linguistic and mythical concepts, now the question of how
this interconnection exhibits itself in the structure of the mythical and
the linguistic “world” arises. Here, a law reveals itself that is equally
valid for all symbolic forms and that essentially determines their devel-
opment. None of them immediately emerges as a separate, indepen-
dent, and recognizable configuration, but each gradually detaches itself
from the common mother earth of myth. All the contents of spirit, how-
ever much we are able to systematically assign them to their own domain
and base them on their own autonomous “principles,” are factually first
given to us only in this interpenetration. Theoretical, practical, and aes-
thetic consciousness—the world of language and knowledge, art, law,
and ethics, the basic forms of the community and the state—all of these
are originally bound to mythico-religious consciousness. This intercon-
nection is so strong that wherever it begins to loosen itself, the world of
spirit seems threatened by total disintegration; the individual forms, in
that they emerge from and stand over against the whole with the claim
of specific particularity, appear to uproot themselves and to give up a part
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 169
of their own nature [Wesen]. Only gradually will we learn that this self-
abandonment only exhibits a necessary moment in its self-unfolding, that
the negation contains the germ for a new position, that the separation
itself becomes the basis of a new connection that arises from different
presuppositions.
The original bond of linguistic consciousness with mythico-religious
consciousness expresses itself above all in the fact that all linguistic for-
mations [Gebilden] appear at the same time as mythical formations [Gebilden]
endowed with certain mythical forces such that the word of language
turns into a type of original potency in which all being and all events are
rooted. In all mythical cosmogonies, as far back as they can be traced,
this dominant position of the word can be repeatedly shown. Among
the texts that Preuß has collected from the Uitoto Indians is one which
he included as a parallel to the opening passage of St. John, and which, ·113·
in fact, in his translation, seems to agree almost completely with it. “In
the beginning,” it says, “the word gave to the father the origin.”33 As
surprising and striking as this echo may seem, no one would want to at-
tempt to establish a direct relationship or even an analogy of the factual
content between this primitive account of creation and the speculation
of St. John. And yet, this echo places before us a certain problem; it points
to the fact that there must prevail here a hidden, indirect relation that
extends from the “primitive” beginning of mythico-religious conscious-
ness to those highest formations in which it appears to have passed over
into pure speculative consciousness.
We will only be able to obtain a more exact insight into the nature
and ground of this relation once we have succeeded in tracing the di-
verse examples of mythico-religious worship of the word provided by
the history of religion from the common feature of the contents to the
unity of the form. There must be some determined, essentially constant
function that lends the word this distinguishing religious character, that
raises it from its beginning into the religious sphere, into the sphere of
the “sacred.” In the accounts of creation of almost all great cultural re-
ligions, the word always appears in alliance with the highest creator-god;
it appears either as the tool he uses or virtually as the primary ground

33. Konrad Theodor Preuß, Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto, vol. I, 25ff., vol. II,
659.
170 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
from which, like all being and every order of being, he, too, originates.
Thought and its linguistic utterance are usually grasped immediately as
one, for the heart that thinks and the tongue that speaks necessarily be-
long together. Thus, in one of the earliest documents of Egyptian the-
ology, this originary force of “the heart and tongue” is attributed to
the creator-god Ptah, through which he produces and rules all gods
and men, all animals, and all that lives. Everything that is, comes to be
through the thought of his heart and the commandment of his tongue:
all psychic as well as all physical existence, the being of the Ka as well as
·114· that of all qualities of things, owe their genesis to him. Here, as has been
emphasized, thousands of years before the Christian era, god was thus
grasped as a spiritual being who thought the world before he created it,
and the word was employed as the means of expression and the instru-
ment of creation.34 And all physical and psychic existence [Sein], as well

34. See Alexandre Moret, Mystères égyptiens (Paris, 1913), 118ff., 138; see esp.
Adolf Erman, “Ein Denkmal memphitischer Theologie,” Sitzungsbericht der königlich-
Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, XLIII (1911), 916ff.—An exact parallel to this
may be found, for example, in a Polynesian creation hymn, which, according to
Bastian, translates as follows:
In the beginning of Space and Companion,
Space in the height of Heaven,
Tananaoa filled; he ruled the Heaven,
And Mutuhei wound himself above it.
In those days was no voice, no sound,
No living thing yet in motion.
No day there was as yet, no light,
Only a gloomy, black-dark night.
Tananaoa it was who conquered the night,
And Mutuhei’s spirit the distance pierced.
From Tanaoa Atea was sprung,
Mighty, filled with the power of life,
Atea it was, who now ruled the Day,
And drove away Tanaoa.
“The basic idea is that Tanaoa induces the process in that the original silence
(Mutuhei ) is removed through the production of Tone (Ono), and Atea (Light) is
wedded with the Red Dawn (Atanua).” See Bastian, Die heilige Sage der Polynesier,
Kosmogonie und Theologie (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1881), 13ff.; also Achelis, “Über
Mythologie und Kultus von Hawaii,” Das Ausland, vol. 66 (1893), 436.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 171
as all moral bonds and all ethical order, are rooted in him. Those reli-
gions that ground their worldview and their cosmogony above all on a
fundamental ethical opposition, on the dualism between good and evil,
venerate in the word of language the originary force through which
alone chaos was able to be formed into an ethico-religious cosmos. The
entrance of the Bundahish, the cosmogony and the cosmography of the
Parsis, portrays the battle between good and evil powers, between Ahura
Mazda and Angra Mainyu, as beginning with Ahura Mazda’s reciting
of the words of the sacred prayer (Ahuna vairya):
He spoke that which consists of twenty-one words. The end, namely,
his victory, the impotence of the Angra Mainyu, the decline of the
Daevas, the resurrection and the future life, the ending of opposi-
tion against the (good) creation in eternity he showed to Angra ·115·
Mainyu. . . . When a third of this prayer had been spoken, Angra
Mainyu’s body doubled up in fear; when two-thirds had been spo-
ken, he fell to his knees; and when the whole had been spoken, he
was dismayed and powerless to commit indecencies against the
creatures of the Ahura Mazda, and was in dismay for 3,000 years.35
Here, too, it is the words of the prayer that precede material creation
and that continuously maintain it against the destructive powers of evil.
Similarly, in India, the power of speech (Vāc) is placed ahead of and
above the power of the individual god. “All the gods, the animals, and
people depend upon speech, all creatures are based upon speech. . . .
Speech is the immortal, it is the primogeniture of the eternal law, the
mother of the Veden, the navel of the world of the gods.”36 And to the
primacy of its origin corresponds the primacy of its force. Often it is
the name of the god, not the god himself, that appears as the authentic
effective element.37 And knowledge of this name subjects the being [Wesen]

35. See Der Bundehesh, edited for the first time by Ferdinand Justi (Leipzig, 1868),
chap. 1, 3.
36. Taittirîya Brahmana, 2, 8, 8, 4 (German by Geldner in Bertholet‘s Religions-
geschichtliches Lesebuch, 125).
37. According to the legends of the Maori, they did not bring their old gods
with them when they first immigrated to New Zealand, only their mighty prayers,
by virtue of which they were sure they could make the gods bend to their desires;
see Daniel Garrison Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples, 103ff.
172 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
and will of the god to whoever possesses it. Thus, a famous Egyptian
narrative relates how Isis, the great sorceress, cunningly brought the sun-
god Râ to reveal his name to her, and how through it, she won dominion
·116· over him and over all of the other gods.38 Every form of Egyptian reli-
gious life possesses this belief in the omnipotence of the name and in the
magic violent power that dwells in it.39 In the ordination ceremony of
the Egyptian kings, how the individual names of the god are to be trans-
ferred to the pharaoh is established by very determined regulation; each
new name transfers to him at the same time a new attribute and divine
force.40 This motive also plays a decisive role in the Egyptian belief in
the soul and immortality. For their trip into the land of the dead, the
souls of the dead must be given not only their physical belongings, such
as clothing and food, but also certain magical equipment, which consists,
above all, in the names of the gatekeepers of the underworld, for by this

38. “I am”—so speaks Ra in this story—“I am that with many names and
many figures, and my figure is in each god. . . . My father and my mother have
told me my name, and it has remained hidden in my body since my birth, so that
no sorcerer should acquire magic power against me.” Here, Isis spoke to Ra (who
has been stung by a poisonous snake formed by her and who now seeks with all
gods a cure against the poison): “Tell me your name, divine father . . . , tell it to
me, so that the poison may go out of you; for the man whose name is named
continues to live.” The poison, however, burned greater than fire, so that the god
could no longer resist. He said to Isis: “My name should pass out of my body into
yours.” And he added: “You should conceal it, but you may reveal it to your son
Horus as a powerful magic against each poison.” See Adolf Erman, Ägypten und
ägyptisches Leben im Altertum, 11, 360ff.; Die ägyptische Religion, vol. 2, 173ff.
39. See the examples cited by Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic
(London: T. Cook and Sons, 1911), vol. 2, 157ff.; see also Theodor Hopfner,
Griechisch-Ägyptischer Offenbarungszauber (Leipzig: Haessel, 1921), 680ff.
40. See esp. George Foucart, Histoire des religions et méthode comparative (Paris:
A. Picard, 1912), 202f.: “Donner au Pharaon un ‘nom’ nouveau, dans lequel
entrait la désignation d’un attribut ou d’une manifestation de l’Épervier, puis,
plus tard, de Râ et l’ajouter aux autres noms du protocole royale, c’était pour les
Egyptiens introduire dans la personne royale, et superposer aux autres éléments
qui la composaient déjà, un être nouveau, exceptionnel, qui était une incarnation
de Râ. Ou, plus exactement, c’était bel et bien détacher de Râ une des vibrations,
une des âmes forces, dont chacune est lui tout entier; et en la faisant entrer dans
la personne du Roi, c’était transformer toute celle-ci en un nouvel exemplaire,
un nouveau support matériel de la Divinité.”
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 173
knowledge alone can the doors of the land of the dead be opened. Even
the boat that carries the dead, as well as all of its individual parts—the
rudder, the mast, etc.—demand that he call them by their rightful names;
only by this naming can he render them submissive and willing to take
him to the desired place.41 The essential identity between the word and
that which it designates emerges still more clearly if we consider the
interconnection from the subjective rather than the objective side. For,
the I of the human being, his self and his personality, are, for mythical
thought, insolubly interwoven with his name. Here, the name is never a
mere symbol but, rather, it too belongs in the immediate possession of its
bearer, a possession that is carefully guarded and whose exclusive use is ·117·
jealously watched over. From time to time, it is not only his proper name
but also some other linguistic designation that are treated in this way as
physical possessions and, as such, may be acquired and usurped. Georg
von der Gabelentz, in his book on the science of language, mentions the
edict of a Chinese emperor who, in the third century B.C., claimed sole
application of a first-person pronoun that had, until then, been allowed
for everyone.42 And the name even outgrows this more or less accessory
signification of possession, provided it is taken as real, substantial being,
as an integral component of the human being. As such, it equals his body
or his soul. It is said of the Inuit that, for them, the human being consists
of three parts: his body, his soul, and his name,43 and in Egypt we en-
counter a quite analogous view, according to which, alongside the physi-
cal body of the human being stands, on one side, his Ka and, on the
other, his name, as, so to speak, a spiritual “doppelgänger” of the body.
And of all three determinations, it is exactly the last that progressively
becomes the actual expression of the “self,” the “personality” of the
human being.44 Even in more advanced cultures, this interconnection
between personality and name remains alive. When Roman law formu-
lated the concept of legal personhood and denied certain physical sub-
jects acknowledgment as legal subjects, those who were deprived of their

41. For further details see Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, 164ff.
42. Hans Georg Conon von der Gabelentz, Die Sprachwissenschaft, 228.
43. See Daniel Garrison Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples, 93.
44. See Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, 157; also Moret, Mystères
Egyptiens, 119.
174 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
own legal existence were also deprived of their own name in the legal
sense. In Roman constitutional law, slaves could not be given a name,
as they were not permitted to function as independent personalities.45 In
other ways, too, the unity and uniqueness of the name not only marks
the unity and uniqueness of the person but also constitutes it; it is what
first transforms the human being into an individual. Where this isolation
does not exist, the borders of individuality also begin to blur. Among the
Algonquins, someone with the same name as another is held to be that
·118· person’s other self, his “alter ego.”46 If, according to a widespread cus-
tom, the grandson receives the name of his grandfather, this expresses
the belief that the grandfather is resurrected in the grandson, that he is
reincarnated anew in him. As soon as a child is born, it must be deter-
mined, above all, which of his deceased ancestors has reappeared; only
when this has been established by the priest can the act of naming take
place, by virtue of which the child is named for this ancestor.47 And, fur-
thermore, for basic mythical intuition, the individuality of the human being
is not essentially constant and invariable; rather with each admission into
a new, decisive phase of life, the human being acquires another being and
another self, a change manifested above all in a change of name. The
boy receives another name when he comes of age, because through the
magic customs that accompany his initiation, he has ceased to exist as
boy and is born again as another, as a man, in whom a forefather is re-
incarnated.48 In other cases, the change of name can be used to protect
the human being from threatening violent powers: he escapes these vio-

45. Theodor Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, vol. III, I, 203; see Rudolph
Hirzel, “Der Name—ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte im Altertum und beson-
ders bei den Griechen,” Abhandlungen der sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften,
vol. XXVI (1918), 10.
46. “The Expression in the Algonkin tongue for a person of the same name
is nind owiawina, ‘He is another myself ’” ( Jean-André Cuoq, Lexique Algonquine,
Montreal 1886, 113; quoted by Daniel Garrison Brinton, op cit., 93). See esp.
Friedrich Giesebrecht, Die alttestamentliche Schätzung des Gottesnamens in ihrer religions-
geschichtlichen Grundlage (Königsberg: Pr. Thomas und Oppermann, 1901), 89.
47. See, for example, Jakob Spieth, Die Religion der Eweer, 229.
48. Characteristic examples of this are found in the initiation rites of the
Australian native tribes; see esp. Alfred William Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-
East Australia (London: Macmillan, 1904), and Edwin Oliver James, Primitive Ritual
and Belief: An Anthropological Essay (London: Methuen, 1917), 16ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 175
lent powers in that, with the new name, he, so to speak, dresses himself
in another self, and thus cloaked becomes unrecognizable. Among the
Ewes, a name is given, especially to children whose earlier siblings have
prematurely died, that suggests something repulsive in itself or that con-
fers upon them a nonhuman nature: the Ewes believe that death will be
frightened or deceived by the name so that it will pass them by as though
they were not human.49 Likewise, the name of a sick or blood-guilty per-
son will often be altered for the same reason, so that death will not find
him. Even in Greek culture, this custom of altering names and its mythic ·119·
motivation was maintained.50 In general, the existence [Sein] and life of
the human being is so tightly linked with his name that, so long as the
latter exists and is pronounced, the human being is still immediately
thought of as present and felt as effective. The dead can, at any moment
be, “invoked” in the literal sense, whenever those who survive them speak
their name. As is known, with many primitive peoples, not only does the
fear of such a return lead them to avoid mentioning the dead, which is
scorned through certain taboos, but even the pronunciation of words or
syllables that are similar to the name of a deceased is carefully avoided.
Often, for example, a type of animal, after which the dead person was
named, must receive another linguistic designation so that in the use of
the animal’s name the dead person is not summoned at the same time.51
In many cases, the whole type of a language is decisively influenced and
its vocabulary more or less altered through processes of this kind, whose
motivation falls exclusively within the mythical sphere.52 And the further

49. See Jakob Spieth, Die Religion der Eweer in Süd-Togo, 230.
50. Christian Hermippos, De astrologia dialogus, 26, 7: “įȚ੹ IJȠ૨IJȠ țĮȜ૵Ȣ ਲȝ૙
șİ૙ȠȚ țĮ੿ ੂİȡȠ੿ ਙȞȞįİȢ ਥȞȑıʌȚıĮȞ ਥȦĮȜȜȐIJIJİȚȞ IJ੹ IJ૵Ȟ ਕʌȠȚȤȠȝȑȞȦȞ ੑȦȩȝĮIJĮ,
੖ʌȦȢ IJȢȜȦȞȠ૨ȞIJĮȢ Į੝IJȠઃȢ țĮIJ੹ IJઁȞ ਥȞĮȑȡȚȠȞ IJȩʌȠȞ ȜĮȞșȐȞİȚȞ ਥȟૌ țĮ੿
įȚȑȡȤİıșĮȚ” (cited by Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie [Leipzig, 1903], 111ff.).
51. Herman Frederik Carel ten Kate, Notes éthnographiques sur les Comanches
(Revue d’Éthnographie, IV), 131 (cited by Konrad Theodor Preuß, “Ursprung der
Religion und Kunst,” Globus, vol. 87, 395).
52. Name taboos, as I understand from a personal conversation with Mein-
hof, play a vital role especially in Africa. Among many of the Bantu peoples, for
example, women are not allowed to pronounce the name of their husband and
their father, and, as they may also not use the relevant appellatives, they are
forced to form new words.
176 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
the power of a being [Wesen] extends, the more mythical effectiveness and
“signification” it holds together, the further, too, does the signification of
its name extend. The command of secrecy, therefore, applied first and
foremost to the name of the god, for with its pronunciation, all the violent
powers inherent in the god himself would be released.53 Here, again,
·120· we stand before one of the basic and originary motives that, rooted in
the deepest stratums of mythical thought and feeling, maintains itself
even in the highest configurations of religion. Giesebrecht has pursued
the origin, the extent, and the development of this motive throughout
the Old Testament in his work Names of God in the Old Testament. However,
early Christianity, too, remained entirely under the spell of this intuition.
Dieterich writes in his Mithras Liturgy:
How the name enters as proxy for person, how the name named
is tantamount to calling-a-person-into-existence [Ins-Dasein-rufen];
that a name is feared because it is a real force; that knowledge of
it is sought because being able to speak it bestows control of that
power on the knower—all these facts indicate clearly what the
early Christians were still feeling and wanted to express when they
said in God’s name instead of in God, or in Christ’s name instead of in
Christ. . . . We can now understand such expressions as ȕĮʌIJȓȗİȚȞ
İ‫ݧ‬ȢIJާ‫ݹ‬ȞȠȝȋȡȚıIJȠࠎ [to baptize them in the name of Christ] in-
stead of ȕĮʌIJȓȗİȚȞ İ‫ݧ‬Ȣ ȋȡȚıIJȩȞ [to baptize them Christians]; the
name is spoken over the water, and thereby takes possession of the
water and pervades it, so that the person being baptized is quite
literally immersed in the name of the Lord. The congregation,
whose liturgy begins with the words, “In the name of God,” was
thought at the time to be within the domain of the effect of the
name (no matter how figuratively and formally the phrase is taken).

53. See, for the late-Greek magical practice, Theodor Hopfner, Griechish-
ägyptischer Offenbarungszauber, § 701 (179): “The higher and more powerful the
God was, the more powerful and more effective must his true name also be.
Therefore, it is to be assumed quite logically that the true name of the one basic
god, the demiurge (įȘȝȚȠȣȡȜȩȢ) of human beings is not at all bearable: for, in
fact, this name was at the same time also the divine in itself in his highest potency,
therefore much too great for the weak nature of the mortal; therefore, it would
kill him to hear it.”
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 177
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name (İ߿ȢIJާ
‫݋‬ȝާȞ‫ݻ‬ȞȠȝĮ), there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)
means simply, “Where they pronounce my name in their assembly,
there I am really present.” ݃ȖȚĮıșȒIJȦIJާ‫ݻ‬ȞȠȝȐıȠȣ [hallowed be
thy name] had a much more concrete signification than one would
ever suspect from the hermeneutics of the various churches and
their doctrines.54
The special god, too, is and works only in the very particular circle
to which his name assigns him and within which it holds him. Whoever
wants to assure themselves of their protection and help must be careful
that they are really integrated into this circle and that they address him
by his “right” name. This care explains the changes that prayer and re-
ligious speech go through, particularly in Greece and Rome—changes
in which the god’s name is constantly varied in order to escape the dan- ·121·
ger of missing the correct and crucial designation. With respect to the
Greeks, this custom with prayer is demonstrated by a well-known pas-
sage in Plato’s Cratylus;55 in Rome, it led to a standing formula in which
the various terms of invocation, corresponding to several aspects of the
god’s nature [Wesen] and will, are strung together by either-or, “sive-
sive.”56 This formulaic type of invocation must be repeated every time;
for each performance offered to the god, each desire directed toward
him, will be accepted by him only insofar as he is addressed by his proper
name in each case. Accordingly, the art of the proper invocation has
virtually developed in Rome into its own priestly technology, which pro-
duced the Indigitamenta under the trust of the pontifices.57
We must stop here, however, for it is not our intention to accumulate
religio-historical and ethnological material but, rather, to clarify and de-
fine the problem that this material brings to light. Such an interweaving,
such being in one another as has been established here between the
word of language and the different basic configurations of the mythico-
religious consciousness can be no accident, but must be grounded in the

54. Albrecht Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie, 11, 114ff.


55. Plato, Cratylus 400 E.
56. For details, see Eduard Norden, Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formenge-
schichte religiöser Rede (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1913), 143ff.
57. See Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer, vol. 2, 37.
178 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
essential features of language and myth themselves. In order to explain
this interconnection, one has, from time to time, referred to the sugges-
tive force of words, the spoken command, to which the “primitive” human
being is particularly subject, and it has been thought that the magical
and violent dæmonic power that all linguistic utterance has for mythic
thought seems, for them, to be nothing more than an objectification of
this grounding experience. We may not, however, locate the actual and
genuine originary phenomena of linguistic and mythical consciousness
on such a narrow empirical-pragmatic basis, on such details of individ-
ual or social experience. On the contrary, the question of whether their
content-relations, which have been demonstrated between the forma-
tions [Gebilden] of language and those of myth, are not also understood
·122· [verstehen] here from the form of the forming itself, whether they have not
been understood from the conditions that linguistic expression as well as
mythical configuration are already subject to in their first unconscious
beginnings, imposes itself more and more. We have found these condi-
tions in a type and direction of spiritual apprehension that is opposed
to that of theoretical, “discursive” thought. If the latter tends toward
expansion, connection, and systematic coherence, then linguistic and
mythical apprehension strives inversely toward thickening, concentra-
tion, and isolation. There, individual intuition is seen in relation to the
totality [Gesamtheit] of being and events, and it is joined to this totality
[Gesamtheit] with finer and tighter threads; here, it is taken not for that
which it signifies in a mediated fashion but as what it directly appears to
be—it is grasped and embodied in its pure presence. One comprehends
that from this type of embodiment there must emerge another basic view
of the word, of its content and its force, that holds for discursive think-
ing. For the latter, the word is essentially the vehicle for the basic task
that theoretical thought sets for itself, i.e., for the production of a relation
between the particular, currently present content of intuition and other
contents that resemble or “correspond” to it in some way, that are con-
nected with it by a certain law of correlation; its sense lies in the produc-
tion and expression of such relations. Grasped thus, the word appears as
something essentially ideal, as a “sign” or symbol whose content shows
itself not in its own substantial existence but, rather, in the intellectual
relations [Relationen] that it sets into itself. The word emerges, as it were, as
a formation [Gebilde] of another order, another spiritual dimension, be-
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 179
tween the particular contents of intuition, as they impose themselves in
the immediate here and now of consciousness; and it is precisely to this
mediating position, this remoteness from the sphere of immediate exis-
tence, that it owes the freedom and ease with which it moves, with which
it can link one content with another. However, this free identity, in which
is found the core of its logical achievement, must necessarily remain for-
eign to the mythical view of the world. For only that which exhibits itself
in real presence has for myth being and a meaning. Here, there is no mere
“indicating” or “signifying”; rather, every content toward which con-
sciousness is drawn and directed immediately transforms itself into the
form of existence and the form of effective action. Consciousness does ·123·
not stand over against the content in free reflection in order to clarify
it in its structure and its lawful interconnections, in order to dismantle it
into its individual parts and conditions; rather, it is captured by this con-
tent in its immediate totality [Ganzheit]. It does not unfold the individual
content; it does not go forward and backward in order to observe it ac-
cording to the aspect of its “grounds” or its “consequences,” rather it
rests in its simple, consistent existence. When Kant defines the concept
of “reality” such that every content of empirical intuition, provided that
it is determined according to general laws and is classified by it into
the uniform “context of experience,” is to be described as “actual,” he
has exhaustively described the concept of reality of discursive thought.
Mythical and primitive linguistic thought, however, knows no such “con-
text of experience.” For its achievement exists, as we saw, much more in
the breaking away, the almost violent withdrawal and isolation. Only
when this isolation is successful, when intuition is concentrated into a
single point and, so to speak, reduced to it, do mythical or linguistic for-
mations [Gebilden] come about, do the words of language or the mythical
momentary gods spring forth. And this form of genesis determines, at
the same time, the content in which both belong. For here, where the
process of spiritual grasping is directed not toward the expansion, broad-
ening, and extensification of content but rather toward its highest inten-
sification, this, too, must express itself in its reaction on consciousness.
All other existence or events are for consciousness, henceforth, as if they
have been absorbed; all bridges that connect the content of concrete in-
tuition with the totality of experience as a cohesive system are as if they
have been broken off: only that which mythical or linguistic apprehen-
180 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
sion singles out fills the whole of consciousness. So it must now rule this
whole with almost unlimited violent power. There is nothing, near or far,
with which it could be compared or “measured”; rather, its simple pres-
ence [Präsenz], its simple present [Gegenwart], seizes the whole sum of
being in itself. Here, therefore, the word does not express the content of
intuition as a merely conventional symbol, rather it coalesces with it into
an insoluble unity. The content of intuition not only in some way con-
tracts into the word, rather it is completely absorbed by it. Whatever is
·124· once fixed in a word or name appears not only as something actual but
literally as the actual itself. The tension between the mere “sign” and the
“signified” no longer exists: in place of a more or less appropriate “ex-
pression,” there emerges a relationship of identity, a total convergence
between “image” and “thing” [Sache], between the name and the object.
And the substantial solidification that the word is granted here can be
illuminated and rendered intelligible from another side as well. For we
also meet the same consolidation, the same transubstantiation, in other
domains of spiritual creation; it seems to constitute the basic rule of
virtually all unconscious creation. Every work of culture, whether it is
technically or purely intellectually oriented, takes place such that there
gradually emerges a mediated relationship that replaces the immediate
relationship in which the human being stands to things. If, in the begin-
ning, the sensory drive and its satisfaction immediately and instanta-
neously follow one from the other, as culture progresses, more and more
mediating links insert themselves between the will and its object. The will
must seemingly distance itself from its goal in order to reach it; instead
of appearing to move the object [Objekt] into its circle through a simple,
almost reflexive sort of action, the will must differentiate its doing, dis-
tribute it to a larger sphere of objects [Objekte] in order to realize through
the union of all acts, through the application of diverse “means,” the
purpose that it sets before itself. In the technical sphere, this growing
intercession expresses itself in the invention and use of tools. However,
here, too, it may be observed that, as soon as the human being employs
the tool, it is no longer a mere product in which he knows and recognizes
himself as its creator. He sees in it not a mere artifact but an indepen-
dent being, something that possesses its own powers [Kräften]. Instead
of ruling it with his will, he turns it into a god or dæmon on whose will
he depends and to which he feels himself subjugated and which he reli-
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 181
giously and ritually venerates. In particular, it seems to have been the
axe and the hammer that carried such religious signification in earliest
times;58 however, even today, among primitive peoples, the cults of cer- ·125·
tain implements and arms—the cult of the hoe or the fishhook, of the
spear or the sword—are still alive. Among the Ewes, the smith’s hammer
(Zu) is regarded as a mighty deity to whom they pray and offer sacri-
fices.59 And, even in Greek religion and classical Greek literature, the
sensations that underlie this cult often still suddenly break through. As
an example of this, Usener has drawn attention to a passage in Seven
against Thebes by Aeschylus, in which Parthenopaios swears an oath on
his spear, which he “honors more than god and higher than the eyes,” to
destroy and plunder the Thebans. “Lives and victory depend upon the
direction and force, so to speak, from the good will of the weapon; this
sentiment uncontrollably boils in the crucial moment of the battle; the
prayer does not evoke a god from afar to guide the weapon: the weapon
itself is the helping, rescuing god.”60 So the tool is never regarded as
something merely manufactured, as something devised and produced
according to capriciousness, but as a “gift from above.” Its origin goes
back not to the human being himself but to a “savior,” be it divine or
animal. This affiliation of all cultural goods to a “savior” is so pervasive
that from time to time some have even believed it possible to locate in it
the core and origin of the notion of god.61 Again, we grasp here an es-
sential feature of mythical thought, which distinguishes it in the sharp-
est way from the direction of “discursive,” theoretical reflection. This is
characterized by the fact that, even in the apparently immediately given,
theoretical reflection recognizes and singles out a share of the productiv-
ity of spirit. Even in pure matters of fact, it reveals moments of spiritual
configuration: even in the data of the sensuous sensations and intuition,
it tracks down the participation of the “spontaneity of thought.” How-
ever, if, in this way, the tendency of reflection is to sublate all receptivity

58. Examples of this may be found, e.g., in Karl Beth’s Einführung in die
vergleichende Religionsgeschichte (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1920), 24ff.
59. Jacob Spieth, Religion der Eweer, 115.
60. Hermann Usener, Götternamen, 285.
61. See Kurt Breysig, Die Entstehung des Gottesgedankens und der Heilbringer (Berlin:
G. Bondi, 1905).
182 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
into spontaneity, for mythical apprehension it is the inverse—namely,
everything spontaneous is sublated into something merely receptive, ev-
erything generated with the participation of the human being becomes
·126· something that is simply received. And this holds true for the technical
tools of culture as well as for its intellectual tools. For, in the beginning,
there exists no sharp limit between them, only a fluid one. Even purely
mental contents and products, such as the words of language, are ini-
tially thought of as the conditions of the physical existence and physical
preservation of the human being. Preuß reports that the Cora Indians
and the Uitoto believe that the “originary father” created human beings
and things, but that, since completing this creation, he no longer inter-
venes directly in events. Rather, he gave human beings “words,” which
constitute the cult and religious ceremonies that help them to master
nature and attain whatever is necessary for the survival and flourishing
of the human race. Without words, without the sacred sayings that were
given to him from the beginning, the human being would feel completely
helpless, for nature yields nothing in return for his mere work.62 Among
the Cherokees, too, it is an accepted belief that the tracking down and
killing of wild things either by hunting or fishing is accomplished chiefly
by the use of certain words, certain magic formulas.63 It is a longer course
that human intellectual development must traverse in order to progress
from here, from the belief in the physico-magic force that is summed up
in the word, to consciousness of its intellectual force. In fact, it is the word,
it is language that actually first opens for the human being the world that
stands even nearer than the physical existence of objects [Objekte], and
that even more directly affects his welfare and his woes. Through it alone
does existence and life in the community become possible; and in it, in the
community, in the relation to a “you” does its own I, its subjectivity, first
assume a determined figure. However, here, again, we see not only that
this creative performance in which it takes place is grasped as such but that

62. For details, see Konrad Theodor Preuß, Die Nayarit-Expedition, I, LXVIIIf.;
Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto, I, 25f.; see also Konrad Theodor Preuß’s article:
“Die höchste Gottheit bei den kulturarmen Völkern,” Psychologische Forschungen, II,
1922.
63. See James Monney, “Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee,” VIIth Annual
Report of the Bureau of Ethnology (Smithsonian Institution), 301–97.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 183
all the energy of spiritual activity [Tun] is transformed into the result of
this activity [Tun], which seems bound up in the object from which it
seems to radiate back as reflection. Thus, here too, as with the tool, all ·127·
spontaneity is interpreted as receptivity, all creation as being, everything
that is the product of subjectivity is interpreted as substantiality. And yet,
this mythical hypostatization of the word holds decisive significance for the
development of the human spirit. For it signifies the first form in which,
in general, the spiritual force of the word and language can be grasped
as such—the word must be understood in the mythical sense as a sub-
stantial being and a substantial force before it can be understood in the
ideal sense as an organ of spirit, as a basic function for the construction
and organization of the spiritual reality.

5
Usener considers the formation of those figures that he calls “momen-
tary gods”—suddenly stepping forward, creatures born out of the ur-
gency of the moment or from a very determined momentary affect,
creatures that originate from the capacity to stimulate mythico-religious
fantasy and in which their complete original mobility and volatility is
evident—as the earliest stratum of religious formation of concepts that
we can follow. Meanwhile, it appears as if the results that ethnology and
the comparative history of religion have produced in the three decades
since the appearance of Usener’s work place us in a position to step
back even further. The work of the English missionary Codrington ap-
peared a few years before Usener’s main work; with the appearance of
The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folk-Lore (1891), the gen-
eral history of religion was enriched with a new and important concept.
Codrington locates the root of all of the Melanesians’ religious represen-
tations in the belief in a “supernatural force” that penetrates all being
and events, that is present and effective at one moment in mere things,
at another in persons or spirits, but is never bound exclusively to any
determined individual object or individual subject as its bearer, and
may be passed from place to place, from thing to thing, from one person
to another. The existence of things and the activity [Tun] of the human
being appears in this intuition, so to speak, to be embedded in a mythical
“force field,” in an atmosphere of effective action that penetrates every-
184 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
thing in order to thicken itself into extraordinary objects beyond the
·128· sphere of everyday life, in individual persons possessing powers, as in
outstanding warriors or chieftains, wizards or priests. The core of this
intuition, of the mana-idea, as Codrington describes it among the Mela-
nesians, does not constitute, however, so much the idea of an individual
particularization of power as simply the completely undetermined, in
itself still fully undifferentiated representation of a “power” [Macht] in
general, which manifests itself now in this form, now in that, now in one
object, now in another, and which is venerated because of its “sacred-
ness” and feared because of the perils it contains within itself. For that
which is contained in a positive sense in the concept of the mana also
corresponds to the negative aspect in the concept of the taboo. Each rev-
elation of power, whether it shows itself in persons or things, as animate
or inanimate, leaves the sphere of the “habitual” and joins a particular
region of existence separated from the area of the everyday and profane
by fixed borders, through certain measures of defense and protection.
Since Codrington’s first findings, ethnological research has gone on to
trace the diffusion of this basic idea across the whole earth. Not only
among the South Sea Islanders but also among a large number of the
tribes of Native Americans, as well as among indigenous peoples in Aus-
tralia and Africa, terms that correspond precisely to those of the mana
have been discovered. The same representation of a universal, initially
in-itself undifferentiated power can be demonstrated in the manitu of the
Algonquins, the wakanda of the Sioux, the orenda of the Iroquois, as well
as in various African religions. On the basis of these observations, mod-
ern ethnology and the history of religion have often gone so far as to see
here not only a universal phenomenon but the characteristic category of
mythico-religious consciousness. The “taboo-mana formula” has been de-
clared as the “minimum definition of religion,” that is, as the expression
of a differentiation that constitutes, in general, one of the essential, in-
dispensable conditions of religious life and that exhibits the lowest and
·129· most accessible originary vision that we know of.64

64. See especially Robert Ranulph Marett, “The Taboo-mana Formula as a


Minimum Definition of Religion,” Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, XII (1909), and
“The Conception of Mana,” Transactions of the 3rd International Congress for the
History of Religion (Oxford, 1908), reprinted in The Threshold of Religion (London,
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 185
Admittedly, in present-day ethnolography, general agreement over the
interpretation of this formula and over the exact meaning of the mana con-
cept and similar or corresponding concepts has as yet not been reached.
Rather, different interpretations and attempts at explanation immedi-
ately stand over against each other. “Preanimistic” views and explana-
tions alternate with “animistic” ones; substantial interpretations that see
in the mana something essentially material stand opposed to others that
emphasize its energetic nature, that attempt to grasp it in a purely dy-
namic meaning.65 Perhaps this contradiction, however, can be used to
lead us closer to the proper meaning of the mana concept. For it shows
that this concept is completely indifferent to the wealth of distinctions
that our theoretical observation of being and events and advanced reli-
gious consciousness make, that it acts toward them, so to speak, “neu-
trally.” An overview of the available material appears to show us that it
is precisely this indifference that constitutes the essential characteristic
of the mana concept—the more closely one attempts to “determine” it,
that is, to fix it according to the sense of categorical differentiations and
contrasts familiar to us, the further we necessarily remove ourselves from
it. A first, obvious determination was tried by Codrington, who char-
acterized the mana not only as a miraculous or magic power but also as
spiritual, as “spiritual power.”66 The problematic nature of this charac-
terization, however, already emerges in the examples he himself gives.
For, in them, it becomes clear that the content and scope of the mana
concept in no way agrees with our concept of “spiritual” existence,
whether one introduces into the latter the determination of a personal
being, or whether one contents oneself with the determination of life in
contrast to the “inanimate.”67 For not everything living and animate befits

1909), 99ff. See also John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt, “Orenda and a Definition of
Religion,” American Anthropologist, N.S. IV (1902), 36ff.
65. An excellent critical survey of the various theories represented in ethno-
logical literature may be found in Friedrich Rudolf Lehmann’s work Mana. Der
Begriff des “außerordentlich Wirkungsvollen” bei Südseevölkern (Leipzig: Spamer, 1922).
66. [Originally in English.]
67. Hewitt demonstrates, through a detailed linguistic comparison, that the
orenda of the Iroquois, too, is not equivalent to their concepts of either “mental”
[seelische] forces or merely “life forces,” but is a concept and expression sui generis
(op. cit., 44ff.).
186 LANGUAGE AND M YTH

·130· mana, only that to which for some reason is ascribed the extraordinary
ability of effective action, just as mere things are also suitable, provided
they distinguish themselves as some uncommon form that excites mythi-
cal fantasy and thereby rise out of the sphere of the habitual. From this,
it turns out that what is described in the mana concept, and in its cor-
responding concepts, is not a determined group of things—animate or
inanimate, “physical” or “spiritual”—but, rather, a certain “character”
that can be enclosed in the most diverse contents of being and events,
provided they awaken mythical “astonishment,” provided they raise
themselves up from the well-known, the accustomed and “average.” As
Söderblom says in summarizing the result of his detailed and exact anal-
ysis of the concept: “The relevant words (mana, manitu, orenda, etc.) have
varying significations and are translated in different ways—for example,
remarkable, very strong, very big, very old, dangerous, magically power-
ful, magically informed, supernatural, divine, or in the substantive: power,
magic, sorcery, luck, success, deity, pleasure.”68 A unity can be obtained
out of such, for us, completely disparate significations only if we no lon-
ger seek this unity in a determined content but in a determined type of
apprehension. Not the “what” but the “how” is decisive here; it comes not
from the nature of the noticed but from the nature of the noticing, from
its direction and property. Mana and its corresponding concepts do not
express a determined and fixed predicate; however, in them, a particular,
consistent form of predication can be recognized. And this predication
can, in fact, be designated as the originary mythico-religious predica-
tion, insofar as through it the great separation, the spiritual crisis through
which the sacred emerges out of the profane, through which the out-
standing emerges out of the sphere of the equally valid in the religious
sense, is carried out. The object of religious consciousness is, so to speak,
first constituted in this process of separation; the sphere in which it is at
·131· home is delimited. However, we can now grasp the decisive element for
our general problem. For, our purpose, set out from the beginning, is to
grasp language and myth as spiritual functions, which do not presuppose
a world of given objects divided according to fixed and finished “char-

68. Nathan Söderblom, Das Werden des Gottesglaubens. Untersuchungen über die
Anfänge der Religion (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1916), 95.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 187
acteristics” but actually produce this organization and make this positing
of characteristics possible. The mana concept and its corresponding neg-
ative concept of taboo have shown us how this organization originally
comes to be.
However, from the fact that here we are moving on a level where the
mythical and religious worlds do not yet confront us in a fixed coinci-
dence and forming, but where we still see it before us, as it were, in statu
nascendi [the state of being born], the sharp polysemy of the mana words
and corresponding concepts also become comprehensible. It is charac-
teristic that even the determination of the class of words to which the
word mana belongs always seems to run up against new difficulties. Ac-
cording to our habits of thinking and speaking, the word can be grasped
simply as a noun, as a noun substantive. Looked at in this way, mana be-
comes a sort of substance that exhibits the embodiment and combination
[Zusammenfassung] of all the magic forces contained in individual things.
It forms a self-existing unity that can, however, distribute itself over sev-
eral beings [Wesen] or objects. And because this unity was thought of not
only as that which exists but also as animate and personified, our basic
representation of “spirit” was taken directly for the mana concept, as many
have frequently seen in the Manitu of the Algonquins or in the wakanda of
the Sioux nothing other than the designation of the “big spirit,” which
they assumed, was worshipped as the creator of the world. A more pre-
cise analysis of the words and their signification, however, has nowhere
confirmed this interpretation. It shows that, quite apart from the cate-
gory of personal existence, which is never really strictly applicable here,
even the concept of thing, the independent substantial being, proved to
be too rigid to bring together the mobile and fleeting representation that
has to be grasped here. Thus, McGee remarks that the reports of mis-
sionaries, according to which the wakanda of the Sioux was said to be an
expression for “big spirit,” for the representation of a personal, originary
being [Urwesen], have, without exception, been refuted by more precise
linguistic studies.
Among these tribes the creation and control of the world and the
things thereof are ascribed to “wakan-da” (the term varying some- ·132·
what from tribe to tribe), just as among the Algonquian tribes
omnipotence was assigned to “ma-ni-do” (“Manito the Mighty”
188 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
of “Hiawatha”); yet inquiry shows that wakanda assumes various
forms, and is rather a quality than a definite entity. Thus, among
many of the tribes the sun is wakanda—not the wakanda, but simply
wakanda; and among the same tribes the moon is wakanda, and so
is thunder, lightning, the stars, the winds, the cedar, and various
other things; even a man, especially a shaman, might be wakanda or
a wakanda. [ . . . ] In like manner many natural objects and places
of striking character were considered wakanda. Thus, the term was
applied to all sorts of entities and ideas, and was used (with or
without inflectional variations) indiscriminately as substantive and
adjective, and with slight modification as verb and adverb. Mani-
festly a term so protean is not susceptible of translation into our
more highly differentiated languages. Manifestly, too, the idea ex-
pressed by the term is indefinite, and cannot justly be rendered
into “spirit,” much less into “Great Spirit”; though it is easy to
understand how the superficial inquirer, dominated by definite
spiritual concept, handicapped by unfamiliarity with the Indian
tongue, misled by ignorance of the vague prescriptorial ideation,
and perhaps deceived by crafty native informants or mischievous
interpreters, came to adopt and perpetuate the erroneous interpre-
tation. The term may be translated into “mystery” perhaps more
satisfactorily than into any other single English word, yet this ren-
dering is at the same time much too limited and much too definite.
[ . . . ] Indeed, no English sentence of reasonable length can do
justice to the aboriginal idea expressed by the term wakanda.69
According to the accounts of linguists and ethnologists, much the
same thing is apparently true for the name of the god, and the funda-
mental religious intuition it embodies, in the Bantu languages. Here, we
can employ another linguistic criterion in order to appreciate correctly
the character of this fundamental intuition, for the Bantu languages
distinguish all nouns according to determined classes, and in this way
·133· they clearly separate the class of persons from the class of things [Sachen] so
that, from subsumption of the name of the god under one of these classes,

69. William John McGee, “The Siouan Indians,” 15th Annual Report of the
Bureau of Ethnology (Smithsonian Institute, 1892–93), 182ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 189
a certain conclusion can immediately be made as to the underlying rep-
resentation. Indeed, for example, in the East Bantu language, the word
mulungu, which has been chosen by the missionaries as the translation for
our word “God,” is characteristically assigned not to the class of persons
but to the class of things [Sachen], and, according to its prefix and nomi-
nal character, it is seen as belonging to it. Now, admittedly, this fact
leaves room for a double consideration. We can essentially see in it a
phenomenon of decay, a decline of a previously higher stage of divine
reverence. “The representation of God as a personal being [Wesen],”
remarks Roehl in his grammar of the Shambala language, “has been
practically lost among the Shambalas; they speak of God as an imper-
sonal spirit, immanent in the whole of creation. The Mulungu lives in the
forests, in individual trees, in cliffs, in caves, in wild animals (lions, snakes,
cats), in birds, in locusts, and so on. For such a Mulungu as something
absolutely impersonal there is no place in Class 1 (the ‘class of per-
sons’).”70 The opposite interpretation has been given by Meinhof, who
summarizes the results of an exact analysis, from a religious and linguis-
tic perspective, of the mulungu concept to the effect that the word initially
denotes the place of the ancestral spirits and then the power that is effec-
tive from this place. “However, this power remains ghostly, it is not per-
sonified; it is also not grammatically treated as a person, except where a ·134·

70. Karl Roehl, Versuch einer systematischen Grammatik der Schambalasprache (Ham-
burg: Friederichsen & Co., 1911), 45ff.—A very characteristic example of the “im-
personal” character of the mulungu concept is found in Hetherwick’s account of
the use of the word among the Yao of British Central Africa: “In its native use
and form the word (mulungu) does not imply personality, for it does not belong
to the personal class of nouns. . . . Its form denotes rather a state or property
inhering in something, as life or health inheres in body. Among the various tribes
where the word is in use as we have described, the missionaries have adopted it
as the term for ‘God.’ But the untaught Yao refuses to assign to it any idea of
being a personality. It is to him more a quality or faculty of human nature whose
signification he has extended so as to embrace the whole spirit world. Once after
I have endeavoured to impress an old Yao headman with the personality of the
Godhead in the Christian sense of the term, using the term Mulungu, my listener
began to talk of ‘The Mulungu,’ ‘Mr. God,’ showing that originally to him the
word conveyed no idea of the personality I was ascribing to it.” (Hetherwick,
“Some Animistic Beliefs among the Yaos of British Central Africa,” Journal of
the Anthropology Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, XXXII [1902], 94.)
190 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
foreign religion has brought this comparison to its essence.”71 Examples
of this type are instructive because they show us that the level of mythi-
cal formation of concepts that we find here corresponds to a level of
linguistic formation of concepts into which we may not properly insert
our grammatical categories, our distinctions of more keenly distinguished
classes of words. If we want to show any linguistic analogue to the myth-
ical concepts that are in question here, we must, it would appear, return
to the originary stratum of linguistic interjections.72 The manitu of the Al-
gonquins, like the mulungu of the Bantu, is used in this way—as an ex-
clamation that describes not so much a thing as a certain impression, and
that is used to refer to anything uncommon, astonishing, admirable, or
terrifying.73
We now recognize to what extent this level of consciousness, to which
these mythical and linguistic formations belong, still precedes the stage
in which the formation of the “momentary god” takes place. For the
momentary god, with all of its fleetingness, always remains an individ-
ual, a personal figure, whereas here, the sacred, the divine, that which
overcomes the human being with a sudden movement of terror or rever-
ence, has a thoroughly impersonal, “anonymous” character. In this very
·135· namelessness, however, only the background is given, from which deter-
mined dæmonic and divine figures with determined names gradually
detach themselves. If the “momentary god” is the first actual formation

71. Carl Meinhof, “Die Gottesvorstellung bei den Bantu,” Allgemeine Missions-
Zeitschrift, vol. 50 (1923), 69.
72. In a few cases, this connection would still appear to be shown etymologi-
cally; according to Brinton, for example, the wakanda of the Sioux goes back,
etymologically, to an interjection of astonishment and amazement (Religions of
Primitive Peoples, 60).
73. It is the custom among them (the Algonquins), when they notice something
particular with men, women, birds, animals, or fish, to shout out: manitu, that is,
“This is a god.” When, therefore, they speak among each other about English
ships and big buildings, the ploughing of fields and particularly about books and
letters, they end with “mannitowock,” that is, cummannittewock, “you are a God”
(report by Roger Williams 1643; quoted by Söderblom, op. cit., 100. See, in par-
ticular, Hetherwick, op. cit., 94: “Mulungu is regarded as the agent in anything
mysterious. It’s mulungu is the Yao exclamation on being shown anything that is
beyond the range of his understanding. The rainbow is always ‘mulungu,’ although
some Yaos have begun to use the Mang’anya term ‘uta wa Lesa,’ ‘bow of Lesa.’”
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 191
in which the mythico-religious consciousness asserts itself in a lively and
creative way, then the general potentiality of the mythical-religious sen-
timent underlies this reality.74 The separation of a “sacred” world from
a “profane” world as such is the first presupposition for the formation of
individually determined, created divine figures. The I now feels itself as
immersed in a mythico-religious atmosphere, which surrounds it con-
stantly and in which it exists and lives; it takes only a spark, a particular
opportunity, for the god or dæmonic to emerge out of it. The outlines of
such dæmonic figures may at first be undetermined;75 nevertheless, they
designate the first step along a new path. Now, myth moves from its ini-
tial, as it were, “anonymous” stage to the exact opposite, to the stage of
“polyonymy.” Every personal god unites in itself a wealth of attributes,
which originally belonged to the special gods that experienced their com-
bination [Zusammenfassung] in them. However, not only the attributes but
also the names of these gods—not as proper names, but as appellatives—
are transferred to the new god, for the name of the god and its essence are
one. Thus, the polyonymy of the personal gods really constitutes a nec-
essary feature of their nature and disposition. “For religious sentiment,
the predominance of god expresses itself in the fullness of surnames; ·136·
polyonymy (ʌȠȜȣȦȞȣȝȓĮ) appears to be a demand and presupposition
for a higher personal god.”76 In Egyptian writings, Isis appears as the

74. This expression of “potentiality” has been worked through in the fact that
the mana-idea and its corresponding ideas were sought to be described. See, for
example, Hewitt’s definition on 38. “Orenda is a hypothetical potency or poten-
tiality to do or affect results mythically.” See also Edwin Sidney Hartland’s Presi-
dential Address in A Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
(York, 1906), 678ff.
75. On the other hand, language, in its designation for such dæmonic beings,
frequently offers indications for this particular “indetermination.” In the Bantu
language, for example, the names of such beings are not given the prefix of the
first class, which includes the “independent acting personalities.” Rather, there
exists here a proper prefix, which, according to Meinhof, is used for ghosts [Geister],
insofar as they “are not thought of as independent personalities, but rather ani-
mate or that which befalls a human being; thus they apply to sickness, distant
smoke, fires, streams, the moon, as natural power.” Carl Meinhof, Grundzüge einer
vergleichenden Grammatik der Bantu-Sprachen (Berlin, 1906), 6ff. (See above, 57 note 1.)
76. Hermann Usener, Götternamen, 334.
192 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
thousand-named, even ten-thousand-named, the myrionyma,77 just as Al-
lah’s power is, in the Koran, pronounced in his “hundred names.” This
wealth of names for the god is also evident in the religions of the Ameri-
can native, especially in the Mexican religions.78 Thus, the representa-
tion of the god first receives, so to speak, its concrete embodiment and its
inner fullness through language, through the word. As it enters into the
bright light of language, it ceases to be silhouette and shadow. However,
a counter-instinct, which is no less grounded in the nature of language,
also comes to life again. For just as language tends toward individuation,
regulation, and determination, it also tends toward generalization. So,
guided by language, mythico-religious thinking is brought to a point
where it is no longer content with the manifold, the difference, the con-
crete fullness of divine attributes and divine names, where the unity of
the word becomes the means through which it attempts to penetrate to
the unity of the god concept. This thinking, however, now pushes even fur-
ther beyond this level, to a being that, as it is no longer limited in indi-
viduals, is no longer named by any name. The cycle of mythico-religious
consciousness has, in this way, come full circle, for as in the beginning,
consciousness of the divine now stands over against the “nameless.”
However, the beginning and the end do not resemble each other, for we
have only here entered into the sphere of genuine generality from the
sphere of mere indeterminateness. Instead of being integrated into the
infinite multiplicity of qualities and proper names, instead of being inte-
grated into the colorful world of appearances, the divine separates itself
·137· from this world as being without qualities, for every mere “property”
would limit its pure essence: omnis determinatio est negatio [every determina-

77. See Heinrich Karl Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie der alten Ägypter (Leipzig,
1888), 645; for the expression “Isis myrionyma,” which is also found in Latin
inscriptions, see Georg Wissowa, Religion und Kultus der Römer, vol. 2, 91.—In mag-
ical practice, this idea of the “polynomy” of gods has condensed itself into a
fixed pattern. Thus, the Graeco-Egyptian magical prayers and magical formu-
lae/invocations of Dionysius and Apollo, in which the individual names by which
they are denoted appear in alphabetical order, so that a letter of the alphabet is
allotted to each verse. For details, see Theodor Hopfner, Griechisch-ägyptischer
Offenbarungszauber, § 684 (175).
78. For more details, see Daniel Garrison Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples,
99.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 193
tion is a negation]. It is, above all, the mysticism of all times and all peo-
ples that must, again and again, wrestle with this twofold intellectual
task, with the task of grasping the divine in its totality, in its most con-
crete innerness and contentfulness, and yet, at the same time, of keeping
it safe from every particularity of name and image. Thus, all mysticism
aims at a world beyond language, a world of silence. God is, as Meister
Eckhart has called Him, “the simple ground, the still, silent desert, the
simple still silence,” for “that is his nature, that he is without nature.”79
The spiritual force and depth of language, however, now shows itself
in that it prepares the ground for this last step, in that it first clears the
way for the goal of its own overcoming. Two basic concepts of language
that, perhaps, present the most characteristic and most difficult spiritual
achievement are the concept of being and the concept of the I. In their
pure manifestation, both would appear to belong to relatively late stages
of the development of language; both clearly exhibit in their configura-
tion the difficulties before which linguistic expression was placed here
and which it was able to overcome only step by step. With regard to the
concept of being, a glance at the development and basic etymological
signification of the copula in most languages shows how linguistic thought
was only very gradually able to move toward obtaining the expression of
pure “being” from that of “being-a-certain-way.” The “is” of the copula
goes back almost without exception to a sensuously concrete, fundamen-
tal signification: instead of a simple “existence” or a general “comporting-
itself,” it originally indicated an individual, determined mode and form
of existence, especially a being at this or that place, at a certain position
in space.80 When, however, language arrives at freeing the thought and
the expression of “being” from this constraint to a particular form of
existence [Existenz], then a new vehicle, a new mental tool, has been
created for mythico-religious thought. Admittedly, critical, “discursive”
thought finally arrives at a point in its progress where the expression of
being presents itself as the expression of a pure relation, and thus, where, ·138·
to speak with Kant, being no longer appears as the “possible predicate

79. See Franz Pfeiffer, Deutsch Mystiker des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts, vol. II: Meister
Eckhardt (Leipzig, 1857), 160.
80. Illustrations of this principle may be found in my Philosophy of Symbolic
Forms, vol. I, 313ff.
194 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
of a thing” and, consequently, not even as the predicate of God. How-
ever, for mythico-religious consciousness, which knows no such critical
separation, which proceeds rather more “objectively” to its highest for-
mations, being becomes not only a predicate but at a certain stage in its
development, the predicate of predicates—it becomes the expression
that allows one to subsume all individual attributes, all the characteris-
tics of God, under a single condensed seizing. Wherever in the history
of religious thought the demand for the unity of the divine arises, there it
clings to and finds its surest support in the linguistic expression of being.
This direction of religious thought can be found even in the history of
Greek philosophy—in Xenophanes, the unity of the divine is deduced
and proven from the unity of being. However, this interconnection is not
restricted to philosophical speculation; rather, it extends back to the ear-
liest known, originary records in the history of religion. Already in the
early Egyptian texts, in the midst of all of the individual figures of the
gods and animals of the Egyptian pantheon, we encounter the idea of
the “hidden god,” who is described in the inscriptions as the one whose
figure no one knows, for whose image no one has searched: “he is a se-
cret for his creature,” “he is a secret name for his children.” There is only
one designation that can be given to this god as the creator of the world,
as the one who forms men and gods: simply, being. He begets and is not
begotten, he bears and is not born, he is being, he himself, the constant in
all, the permanent of all. Thus, he “is from the beginning,” “from the
outset”; everything that is, came after he was.81 Here, all the separate,
concrete, and individual names of the gods are taken up into the one
name of being; the divine excludes all particular attributes from itself, it
can no longer be designated by anything else, and can be predicated only
of itself.
From here, only a single step is needed to arrive at the basic idea of
·139· pure monotheism. This fundamental idea is reached as soon as the unity
that is grasped and pronounced here from the perspective of the object
is turned into that of the subject, as soon as the signification and mean-
ing of the divine, instead of being sought in the being of things, is sought
in the being of the person, in the being of the I. The same is equally

81. Compare the excerpts and translation from inscriptions in Brugsch, Reli-
gion und Mythologie der alten Ägypter, 56ff., 96ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 195
valid, in the linguistic sense, for the expression of the “I” as for the ex-
pression of being; it, too, must be found through the long and difficult
detour of language, and intellectually worked out, step by step, from
concrete-sensuous beginnings.82 As soon as it is coined, however, a new
category of religious consciousness develops with it at the same time.
Again, it is religious speech which quickly seizes upon this expression,
which, so to speak, uses it as a step ladder to climb upward to a new
spiritual height. The form of the “I-predication,” the form of the self-
revelation of God, in which He reveals, through a repeated “I am . . . ,”
the different sides of His uniform nature [Wesen], originates in Egypt
and Babylon, and afterward, in later stages, it develops into a typical
stylistic form of religious expression.83 This form first stands before us,
however, in a perfect figure once it suppress all others, when the only
“name” of the deity that remains is the I. When God reveals himself to
Moses, Moses asks what name he should give to the Israelites if they
desire to know which God has sent him, and he receives the answer: “I
am, that I am. So, shalt you say to them: ‘I am’ has sent me unto you.”
Only with this transformation of objective existence [Existenz] into per-
sonal being is the divine truly raised to the sphere of the “uncondi-
tioned,” to a domain that cannot be described through any analogy to
things or the names of things. For its designation there remains, from all
the means of language, only the personal expression, the personal pro-
noun: “I am He; I am the First, the Last,” as it is written in the prophetic
books.84
Finally, both ways of consideration—the way through being and the
way through the I—are brought together into a unity in Indian religious ·140·
speculation. It, too, takes its departure from the “sacred word,” from the
Brahma. In the Vedic books, all being, even God, is subject to the force
of this sacred word. The word regulates and guides the course of nature;
through knowledge and mastery of the word, the informed are bestowed

82. For details, see my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2, 247ff.


83. For the origin and dissemination of this form, see the exhaustive studies
by Norden (instructive also for students of philosophy of religion): Agnostos Theos,
177ff., 207ff.
84. Isaiah 48:12; see 43:10. For the significance of the “I am He,” see Ignaz
Goldziher, Der Mythos bei den Hebräern (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1876), 359ff.
196 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
with the power to rule over the whole world. At first, the word is grasped
entirely as an individual, which is subordinated to a specific individual
being. In its application, in its use by the priest, the most scrupulous
precision is necessary; any deviation in a single syllable, any change in
rhythm or meter would render the force of the prayer ineffective. How-
ever, the progress of the Veda to the Upanishads shows us how, more
and more, the word is removed from this narrowness of magic, how it
was configured into a universal intellectual potency. From the essence
of particular things, thought, as it is expressed in its individual, concrete
designations, strives toward the unity in which it encloses and brings
these things together. The force of particular words is thickened, as it
were, into the originary and basic force of the Brahman, the essential
word.85 In this, all particular being, everything that seems to have an
“essence” of its own, is taken into account; however, with this, at the
same time, it is sublated as a particular. In order to express this relation-
ship, religious speculation again reaches for the concept of being, which,
in order to grasp its pure content, now appears in a sort of heightened
intensification in the Upanishads. As Plato contrasted the ‫ݻ‬ȞIJĮ [exis-
tents], the world of empirical things, with the ‫ݻ‬ȞIJȦȢ‫ݻ‬Ȟ [true existents],
the pure being of the idea [Idee], so we find in the Upanishads the indi-
vidual and particular existence opposed to the Brahman as the “existing-
being” [Seiend-Seiende] (satyasya satyam).86 And with this development,
the one now meets and interpenetrates the other, which takes its depar-
ture from the opposite pole—an intellectual progression that treats, not
·141· being, but the I, as the center of religious reflection. Both directions ar-
rive at the same goal, for being and I, Brahman and Atman, are sepa-

85. On the fundamental signification of Brahma as the “sacred word,” as


prayer and spell, see Hermann Oldenberg, in the Anzeiger für indogermanische
Sprach- und Altertumskunde, vol. VIII, 40; also, therefore, Oldenberg, Die Religion der
Upanishaden und die Anfänge des Buddhismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht,
1915), 17ff., 38ff., 46ff. A somewhat divergent explanation is given by Hopkins,
who regards the concept of “power,” which has been transferred to the word of
the prayer and its magic effectiveness afterward, as the fundamental signification
of the Brahma: Edward Washburn Hopkins, Origin and Evolution of Religion (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1923), 309.
86. Examples may be found in Paul Deussen, Philosophie der Upanishads
(Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1899), 119ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 197
rated only in expression, not in content. Only the self that does not age
and wither, that is unchangeable and immortal, is the true “absolute.”
However, with this last step, with the identity of Brahma and Atman,
religious consciousness and religious speculation have again broken their
initial limits, the limits of the word. For the words of language are no
longer able to grasp this unity of “subject” and “object” [Objekt]. Lan-
guage steps between the subject and the object [Objekt]; it constantly moves
from this to that, and from that back to this, but while constantly joining
them, it must nevertheless look upon them as always separate. In that
religious speculation sublates this separation, it tears itself away from
the power of the word and the leadership of language: however, it
thereby arrives at the essentially transcendent, which remains, for the
word as well as for the concept, unapproachable. The only name, the
only designation that remains for this All-One is the expression of nega-
tion. The being of the Atman, which is called here “no, no”—beyond
this “thus it is not,” there is nothing higher. Thus, this attempt at liber-
ation, which cuts the bond between language and mythico-religious con-
sciousness, also confirms yet again how strong and solid this bond is—as
myth and religion strive beyond the limits of the linguistic, with this
striving they at the same time reach the limit of their own possibilities
of configuration.
When, in the year 1878, Max Müller published his Lectures on the Origin
and Development of Religion, he leaned on the first reports that he received
by letter from Codrington concerning the mana of the Melanesians, using
them to support his basic philosophical thesis of religion, namely, that all
religion establishes itself on the ability of the human spirit to grasp the
“infinite.” He remarks:
What I hold is that with every finite perception there is a concomi-
tant perception, or, if that word should seem too strong, a con-
comitant sentiment or presentiment of the infinite;87 that from
the very first act of touch, or hearing, or sight, we are brought into
contact, not only with a visible, but at the same time with an invis-
ible world.

87. [Cassirer’s original gives “a concomitant sentiment or presentiment of the


infinite” in English.]
198 LANGUAGE AND M YTH

·142· And in the word mana, which he interpreted as a “Polynesian name for
the infinite,” he saw one of the earliest and clumsiest expressions for that
which may have been the first stage of the grasping of the infinite.88 The
increasing acquaintance with the sphere of mythico-religious represen-
tations from which the concept and expression of mana originated, how-
ever, seems to have thoroughly destroyed this halo of the infinite and
transcendent that the word envelops here. It has shown how thoroughly
the “religion” of the mana is bound up not only in sensory intuitions but
also in sensory drives, in absolutely “finite” practical purposes.89 Indeed,
Müller’s interpretation was only possible because, as he expressly ex-
plained, he equated the “infinite” with the “indefinite,” the “eternal” with
the “indeterminate.”90 However, the fluidity of the mana-representation,
which renders it so difficult to fix in our intuition and for which it has
been so difficult to find an adequate expression in our linguistic concepts,
has nothing to do with the philosophical and religious idea [Idee] of the
infinite. If the latter is beyond the possibility of linguistic determination, so
the former still stands before this determination. Language moves into the
middle realm between the “undetermined” and the “infinite”; it trans-
forms the undetermined into the determined and holds on to it in the
sphere of finite determination. So, there is, within the mythico-religious
intuition, a different “nameless” order that constitutes the lower and
upper limits of linguistic expression; however, between these two limits,
through the hidden limits of its own form, language can now move
freely, can demonstrate the entire direction and the concrete wealth of
its power of configuration.
Here, too, a type of consciousness beyond its basic relationship to
language can be made out in myth, even though, in accordance with this
particularity, it can bring its own type of consciousness to expression not
·143· in abstract concepts of reflection but only in images. It transforms the
ideal process of coming to light, which in language takes place in some-

88. See Friedrich Max Müller, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (Lon-
don: New Impression, 1898), 46ff.
89. “All Melanesian religion,” says Max Müller, citing a letter of Codrington’s,
“in fact, consists in getting this Mana for oneself, or getting it used for one’s benefit—
all religions, that is, as far as religious practices go, exist as prayers and sacrifices.”
90. “What I want to prove in this course of lectures is that indefinite and
infinite are in reality two names of the same thing” (Max Müller, 36).
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 199
thing objective, and presents it as a cosmogonic process. Thus Jean Paul
once said: “It seems to me that ( just as the speechless animals that drift
through the outer world as though in a dark, deadening, and undulating
sea), the human being would be lost in the starry vastness of external
intuition if he were not able to divide that vague brightness into constel-
lations through language, and thus resolve the whole into its parts for
consciousness.”91 Within its sphere and in its own language of images,
myth presents this emergence from the dull fullness of being into a world
of clear, linguistically tangible configurations through the opposition be-
tween chaos and creation. For, once again, the word constitutes here the
means; it is speech that constructs the bridge from the figureless, origi-
nary ground to the form of being, to its inner organization. Thus, the
Babylonian-Assyrian history of creation portrays chaos as the state in
which the heavens were still “unnamed” and where, under them on the
earth, no one yet knew the names for anything. In Egypt, too, the time
before creation is called the time in which no god yet existed, and in
which no one knew the names of anything.92 An originary determina-
tion worked itself out of this indeterminateness when the creator-god
first pronounced his own name, and by virtue of the violent power dwell-
ing in that word, called himself into life. Thinking that this god is noth-
ing other than his own ground, a causa sui, the mythical expresses itself
in the idea that the god brings himself forth by virtue of his name. Be-
fore him, there was no other god, nor is there another god beside him:
“There was for him no mother who made his name for him, nor a father
who pronounced him in that he said: I have begotten him.”93 In the Book
of the Dead, the sun-god Râ is described as his own creator because he
names himself, that is to say, he has even given himself his essential na-
tures [Wesenheiten] and his forces.94 And from this originary force of speech,

91. [Jean Paul, Levana oder Erziehlehre (chap. 2, § 131), in Werke, vol. XXIIC
(Berlin, 1842), 78.]
92. See Alexandre Moret, Le rituel du culte divin journalier en Égypte (Paris:
E. Leroux, 1902), 129.
93. From a Leyden papyrus. See Alexandre Moret, Mystères égyptiens, 120f.
[“. . . il n’existait point de mère pour lui qui lui ait fait son nom; point de père
pour lui qui l’ait émis en disant: ‘C’est moi (qui l’ai créé).’”]
94. Totenbuch (ed. Naville), 17, 6; see Adolf Erman, Die ägyptische Religion (Berlin:
Reimer, 1909), 34.
200 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
which dwells in the demiurge, arises everything that has existence [Ex-
·144· istenz], that has a determined existence [Dasein]: when he speaks, he sig-
nifies the birth of the gods and of peoples.95 The same motive appears, in
another turn and in a new depth, in the biblical account of creation.
Here, too, it is the word of God that divides the light from the darkness,
that lets heaven as well as earth emerge from himself. The names of the
earthly creatures, however, are no longer directly given by the creator
himself but are assigned only by man. After God has formed all the ani-
mals of the field and all the birds of the heavens, he brings them before
man to see how he will name them: “Then as man names them, so shall
they be called” (Genesis 2:19). In this act of naming, the human being
takes possession of the world, as it were, physically and mentally; through
this naming, it submits to his knowledge and rule. Thus, in this individ-
ual feature is revealed the general, basic nature and the ideal achieve-
ment of pure monotheism that Goethe described by saying that the be-
lief in the unique God always has a spiritually uplifting effect, in that it
brings the human being back to his own inner unity. Admittedly, this
unity cannot be discovered otherwise than, by virtue of language and
myth, in concrete formation, by revealing, embodying itself in a world
of objective figures, from which it is gradually reclaimed through progres-
sive reflection.

6
The preceding considerations have made us understand, above all, the
close interweaving of mythical and linguistic thought; they have shown
how the construction of the mythical and linguistic worlds is determined
and ruled for a long time by the same spiritual motives. However, a basic
motive, in which, as it appears, this relation not only actually shows itself

95. See this documentation in the passage of “Le mystère de verbe createur”
by Alexandre Moret, Mystères ëgyptians, 103ff., as well as Lepsius, Älteste Texte des
Totenbuches, 29. How this Egyptian idea of the power of the word to create joins
with the fundamental ideas and intuitions of Greek philosophy, and the signifi-
cance of this development for the formation of the Christian theory of logos, has
been set forth by Reitzenstein in his Zwei religionsgeschichtliche Fragen (Strasbourg:
K. J. Krübner, 1901), esp. 80ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 201
but from which it can also be understood [verstehen] in its ultimate ground
and origin, has so far remained unnoticed. That myth and language are
subordinated to the same or analogous spiritual laws of development ·145·
can, in the end, be truly comprehended only if we succeed in demon-
strating a common root from which both spring. The commonality in
their achievements, in their configurations, also clearly points here to an
ultimate commonality in the function of configuring itself. In order to
make out this function as such, and to present it purely for itself, we must
pursue the ways that the development of myth and language have un-
dergone, not forward but backward—we must return to the point from
which the two lines diverge. And this indeed seems to be demonstrable,
for however much the contents of myth and language can be distin-
guished, one and the same form of spiritual apprehension is effective in
both. It is this form that we can describe as the form of metaphorical
thought. It appears that we must return to the essence and meaning of the
metaphor if we want to grasp the unity, on the one hand, and the differ-
ence, on the other hand, of the mythical and linguistic worlds.
It is frequently emphasized that it is the metaphor that ties the spiritual
bond between language and myth. In the precise determination of this
process and the direction that it follows, however, theories differ greatly
from each other. In one, the real origin of the metaphor is sought first in
linguistic formation, in another it is sought in mythical fantasy. Some-
times it is the word that begets the mythical metaphor through its origi-
nally metaphoric character, and it must constantly supply the metaphor
with new nourishment; sometimes, on the contrary, it is the metaphoric
character of words that is regarded as an indirect result, as an inheri-
tance, that language receives from myth and that it holds in fee from it.
Herder, for example, has emphasized this primary mythical character
of all verbal and linguistic concepts in his excellent essay On the Origin of
Language.
Given that the whole of nature resounds: nothing is more natural
for a sensory human being than that it lives, speaks, and acts. The
savage sees the high tree with its splendid summit and admires—
the summit rustled! That is a stirring deity! The savage falls down
and prays! See, here, how the history of the sensory human being,
the dark bond, comes out of the verbis nomina [verbal nouns]—and
202 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
with it the easiest step toward abstraction! For the savages of North
America, for example, everything is still animated; every object
has its genius, its spirit, and that this has also been so with the
Greeks and the East may be seen from their oldest dictionaries
·146· and grammars—they are, as the whole of nature was to their in-
ventor, a pantheon! An empire of animate, acting beings! . . . The
raging storm and the sweet zephyr, the clear spring and the mighty
ocean—their whole mythology lies in the treasure troves, in the
verbis and nominibus of the old languages, and the oldest dictionary was
such a sounding pantheon.96
Romanticism has pursued Herder’s fundamental intuition further: Schel-
ling, too, sees in language a “faded mythology” that preserves in abstract
and formal differences what mythology grasped as living and concrete
differences.97 “Comparative mythology,” especially as practiced by Adal-
bert Kuhn and Max Müller, took up precisely the opposite approach of
explanation when it attempted to substantiate itself in the second half
of the nineteenth century. They methodically based mythical comparison
on the results of linguistic comparison; the conclusion regarding content
seemed to result from the primacy of the linguistic formation of concepts
over the mythical formation of concepts. Consequently, mythology be-
came a product of language. The “radical metaphor” that underlies the
formation of all myths was interpreted and understood [verstehen] in its
necessity as an essentially linguistic formation [Gebilden]. The identity or
harmony of linguistic designation initially cleared and pointed the way
to the mythical fantasy.
The human being, whether he wanted to or not, was forced to
speak metaphorically, not because he could not curb his poetic
fantasy, but rather because he had to exert it on the most outward
in order to find expression for the increasingly growing demands
of his spirit. Under metaphor, one should no longer simply under-
stand the carefully considered activity of a poet, the conscious trans-

96. Johann Gottfried Herder, Über den Ursprung der Sprache, in Werke, vol. V
(Berlin, 1877), 53f.
97. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Einleitung in die Philosophie der
Mythologie, in Sämtliche Werke, 2nd div., vol. I, 52.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 203
ference of one word for an object to another. This is the modern,
individual metaphor that generates from the fantasy, whereas the
old metaphor was much more frequently a matter of necessity,
and in most cases, was less the transfer of one word for a concept
onto another than the creation or closer determination of a new
concept by means of one of the old names.
What we commonly call mythology is, thus, only a small remnant of a
general level in the development of our thought, a faint living on of
what once formed a complete empire of thought and language. ·147·

We will never gain an understanding of mythology before we have


learned that what we call anthropomorphism, personification, or
animation is absolutely necessary for the growth of language and
reason. It was entirely impossible to grasp and to hold onto, to
know and to understand, to comprehend and to name the external
world without this fundamental metaphor, this universal mythology,
this bubble of our own spirit in the chaos of objects [Objekte] and
re-creating according to our image. The beginning of this second
creation of spirit was the word, and we can add, in truth, that
everything was done through this word, that is to say, everything
was named and known and that, without it, nothing of what has
been done would have been done.98
Before we can attempt, in this multiplicity of contradictory theories,
to take a position in the debate over the status of the temporal and spiri-
tual priority of language over mythology or myth over language, it is
essential to delimit and sharpen the basic idea of metaphor itself. We
can take this concept in the limited sense as being restricted to the con-
scious substitution of the designation of the content of one representa-
tion by the name of another content that is in some features similar or
that offers some indirect “analogies” to it. In this case, metaphor is a genu-
ine “transference”: the two contents, between which it goes back and
forth, have been fixed as self-determined and independent significations,

98. Friedrich Max Müller, Das Denken im Lichte der Sprache (German translation,
Leipzig, 1888), 304f., see esp. 443ff. See also Max Müller, Lectures on the Science of
Language, vol. II, 8 (London, 1873), 368ff. (see also, above 3ff.).
204 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
and between them, as fixed beginning and end points, as a given terminus
a quo and terminus ad quem, the movement of the representation that leads
from the one to the other takes place, and the one, in accordance with
the expression, is substituted for the other. Any attempt to penetrate the
phenomenal causes of this substitution of representation and expression
and to explain its extraordinarily rich and manifold use, in particular the
use that primitive forms of thought and language have made of this type
of metaphor, of the deliberate identification of two contents that are
·148· understood and known to be different in themselves, leads us back to a
foundational layer of mythical thought and feeling. Werner, in his study
in developmental psychology on the origins of the metaphor, has most
likely shown that certain motives arising from the magical view of the
world, and in particular, certain kinds of names and linguistic taboos,
play an important role in this type of metaphor, in the transcription of
one expression by another.99 This use of the metaphor, however, obvi-
ously assumes the sensory content of individual formations [Gebilden], as
well as their linguistic correlates, as already given, as fixed quantities; only
after these elements have been linguistically determined and fixed as such
can they be exchanged for one another. This transposition and exchange,
which already exchanges the vocabulary of language with its material,
must be distinguished from the genuine “radical” metaphor, which is a
condition of the formation of language as well as the mythical forma-
tion of concepts itself. Indeed, the most primitive linguistic articulation
already necessitates the transposition of a determined content of intu-
ition or feeling into sound, thus into a content that is itself a foreign, even
disparate medium, just as the simplest mythical figure only originates by
virtue of a transformation through which a determined impression of
the sphere of the ordinary, the everyday, and the profane is relieved and
moved to the sphere of the “sacred,” the mythico-religiously “signifi-
cant.” What takes place here is not simply a transfer; rather, it is a genu-
ine ȝİIJȐȕĮȚȢİ‫ݧ‬ȢܿȜȜȠȖȑȞȠȢ [a transformation into a wholly other genus].
It is not simply a transition from one already existing genus to another
but the very creation of the genus itself to which the transition proceeds.
If we now ask ourselves, however, which of these two forms of metaphor

99. Heinz Werner, Die Ursprünge der Metapher (Leipzig: Engelmann, 1919), esp.
chap. 3, 74ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 205
evokes the other, whether the ultimate ground of the metaphorical ex-
pression of language lies in the mythical attitude, or inversely, whether
this attitude itself could only have taken shape and developed from lan-
guage, the preceding considerations have shown us that this question is
essentially invalid. For, here, it obviously cannot be about empirically
establishing a temporal “earlier” or “later”; rather, it is concerned only
about the ideal relationship in which the linguistic form stands vis-à-
vis the mythical form, with the way the one intervenes in, and, in its
content, conditions the other. This conditioning, however, can itself be ·149·
grasped only as absolutely reciprocal. Language and myth originally stand
in an insoluble correlation, from which they only gradually resolve into
independent members. They are different shoots of one and the same
drive of symbolic forming, which emerges from the same basic act of
spiritual elaboration, the concentration and increase of simple sense in-
tuition. In the sound of language as in primary mythical configurations,
the same inner process finds its conclusion: both are the resolution of an
inner tension, the presentation of psychic stirrings and arousals in certain
objective formations and structures [Gebilden]. As Usener emphasized:
The naming of things is not established through an arbitrary act.
One does not constitute just any sound-complex in order to adopt
it as the sign of a certain thing as one would for a coin. The mental
excitement that is evoked by a being that is confronted in the out-
side world is simultaneously the stimulus to and the means of
naming. Sense impressions are what the I receives from its collision
with a not-I, and the liveliest of these push forward by themselves
to phonetic explication: they are the bases of individual namings,
which speaking people attempt. ( p. 3)
And this genesis of naming corresponds, feature for feature, as we have
seen, to the genesis of the “momentary gods.” Thus, the meaning of the
linguistic and the mythical “metaphor” will only reveal itself—and the
spiritual force that lies in both can only be completely understood—if
we trace them back to this common origin, if we seek them in every par-
ticular combination [Zusammenfassung], in every “intensification” of sense
intuition, which lies at the base of all linguistic as well as all mythico-
religious forming.
If we again assume as our starting point the opposition presented to
206 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
us by the formation of theoretical or “discursive” concepts, then, in-
deed, it would appear that the different direction in which the formation of
logical-discursive concepts and the formation of linguistic-mythical con-
cepts move come to clear expression in their results. The former begins
with an individual particular intuition in order constantly to widen it, in
order to go beyond its initial limits to ever-new relations that we discover
in it. The intellectual process that plays itself out here is a process of syn-
thetic supplementation, uniting and completing individuals into the whole.
·150· In this relation with the whole, however, the individual does not give up
its concrete determination or its limitation. It fits into the whole, into the
totality of phenomena, but at the same time it stands over against this
totality as something independent and unique. The ever-narrower con-
nection that the individual intuition gains in relation to others does not
mean that it disappears into these others. The individual “exemplar” of
a species is “contained” in this species; the species is “subsumed” under
a higher genus. At the same time, however, they remain separated, they
do not coincide. This basic relationship expresses itself in the simplest
and most meaningful way in the well-known schema that logic conven-
tionally uses for the presentation of this hierarchy of concepts, this super-
ordination and subordination of species and genus. Here, the logical
determination is presented geometrically: every concept has a deter-
mined “sphere” through which it distinguishes itself from other concept-
spheres. These spheres are able to interlock in numerous ways, mutually
covering and intersecting with one another. Nevertheless, there belongs
to each a fixed, delimited place in the sphere of concepts. In it, the con-
cept also maintains itself in its synthetic extension and continuation: the
new relations it enters into lead not to its boundaries being blurred but
to their being more sharply grasped and recognized as such.
If we compare this form of the logical concepts of species and genera
with the originary form of linguistic and mythical concepts, it immedi-
ately appears that they each belong to a quite different tendency of thought.
If, in the one case, there occurs a concentric expansion over ever-wider
spheres of intuitions and concepts, in the case of linguistic and mythical
concepts, the very opposite movement of the spirit emerges. Intuition is
not widened but compressed; it is, so to speak, concentrated into a single
point. In this compression, only one element, on which the accent of
“signification” is placed, is found and singled out. All light is thus gath-
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 207
ered here into one point, the focal point of “signification,” while every-
thing that lies outside this focal point of linguistic and mythical appre-
hension remains essentially invisible. It remains “unremarkable” because
and insofar as it remains without any linguistic or mythical “marker.” In
the conceptual sphere of logic, a more diffuse light prevails—and the ·151·
further that logical analysis progresses, the more this even light and clar-
ity extend. In the intuitional space of myth and language, however, next
to positions from which the most intensive luminosity radiates, others,
which appear wrapped in darkness, are always found. While individual
contents of intuition become centers of linguistic-mythical force, centers
of “significance,” there are others that remain, so to speak, below the
threshold of signification. And the fact that primary mythical and the
primary linguistic concepts constitute such punctual unities accounts for
the fact that they leave no room for further quantitative differentiations.
With each relation of concepts, logical contemplation must pay careful
attention to the scope of relationship of concepts, and classic “syllogistic
logic” is ultimately nothing other than a systematic directive by which
concepts of different scope can be connected and super- and subordi-
nated to each other. Mythical and linguistic concepts, however, must be
taken not in extension but in intension, not quantitatively but qualita-
tively. Quantity is reduced to a merely accidental element, to a relatively
indifferent and meaningless difference. If two logical concepts are stud-
ied under a next-higher genus as their “genus proximum,” their specific
difference is nevertheless carefully observed in this connection. In lin-
guistic and, above all, mythical thought, the opposite tendency, without
exception, prevails. Here, a law that one might call the law of leveling
down, the obliteration of specific differences prevails. Each part of a
whole appears to be equivalent to the whole itself, each exemplar of a spe-
cies or genus appears to be equivalent to the genus as such. The part not
only represents [repräsentiert] the whole but is the whole, the individual or
the species not only represents the genus but is the genus; they each not
only present both part and whole for immediate reflection but imme-
diately grasp the force, signification, and reality of the whole in itself.
Here, we are reminded, above all, of that principle that can be desig-
nated as the original fundamental principle of linguistic as well as mythi-
cal “metaphor”: the principle customarily expressed as “pars pro toto”
[part for the whole]. As is well known, all magic thought is ruled and ·152·
208 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
permeated by this principle. Whoever takes hold of any part of the whole
attains with it, in the magical sense, violent power over the whole. What
significance this part possesses for the structure and coherence of the whole,
what function it fulfills within this structure, is relatively unimportant here;
it is enough that it belongs or has ever belonged to the whole, that it is,
however loosely, linked to it in order for it to secure its full magical force
and significance. For example, in order to procure magic mastery over
the body of another person, it is enough to attain possession of his nail
clippings or a lock of hair, his saliva or excrement; even the shadow, re-
flection, or footprint of the person achieves the same purpose. Among
the Pythagoreans, there existed a directive to smooth the bedding as
soon as one rose so that the imprint of the body could not be used to
harm the person.100 Most forms of so-called analogy-magic also origi-
nate from this basic intuition; however, in this way, they show that it is a
question not of a simple analogy but of a real identity. If, for example, in
rain-magic the rain is lured through the sprinkling of water or is driven
away by pouring water onto red-hot stones that suck up the water by
hissing,101 both ceremonies receive their true magical “meaning” from
the fact not only that the rain is pictorially presented but that it is felt to
be really present in each drop of water. The rain as mythical force, the
“dæmon” of the rain, exists as whole and undivided in the sprinkled or
evaporating water and is thus immediately accessible to the magic effect.
And the same relation between the whole and its parts exists between the
genus and its species, between the species and each of its exemplars.
Here, too, the borders flow completely into one another: the species or
genus is not only represented [repräsentiert] by the individual but exists
and lives in it. If, for example, in the totemistic worldview, a group or a
·153· clan structures itself along totemistic lines, and if particular individuals
name themselves according to their totem animals or plants, then not
only is it always a question of an arbitrary demarcation through conven-
tional linguistic or mythical “signs” it also concerns here a real commu-

100. Iamblichus, Protreptichos, 108, 3; quoted by Ludwig Deubner, Magie und


Religion (Freiburg: Freiburger Wissenschaftliche Gessellschaft, 1922), 8.
101. See Richard Heinrich Robert Parkinson, Thirty Years in the South Seas, 7;
quoted by Heinz Werner, Die Ursprünge der Metapher, 56.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 209
nity of beings [Wesen].102In other respects, too, whenever a genus is in-
volved at all, it always appears to be wholly present and effective. The
god or dæmon of vegetation works and lives in each individual sheaf in
the field. Therefore, an ancient but still generally popular custom de-
mands that the last sheaf be left when gathering the harvest, for the force
of the fertility-god, from which the harvest of the coming year should
grow, is concentrated in it.103 In Mexico, among the Cora Indians, every
corn stalk, indeed, every grain of corn contains the deity of the corn com-
pletely and fully. The Mexican corn-goddess Chicome coatl is, as a young
girl, the corn stalk, as an old woman, she is the corn harvest; she is also,
however, in every individual grain of corn and in every special dish.
Likewise, various gods of the Cora represent certain kinds of flowers,
but they are named according to the individual flower; this is also true
for all dæmonic animals: the cicada, the cricket, the grasshopper, the
armadillo are essentially treated as a unity.104 If, therefore, the old rhet-
oric, as a main type of metaphor, led to the substitution of the genus for
the species, the whole for the part, or vice versa, then it is obvious to
what extent this form of metaphor follows directly from the spiritual
nature [Wesen] of myth. At the same time, however, it turns out that for
myth itself, this concerns something completely different and much more
than a simple “substitution” or a linguistic rhetorical figure [Figur]; that
which appears to our retrospective reflection to be a mere transfer is, for
myth, rather a genuine and immediate identity.105 And from this essen- ·154·

102. See my study The Form of the Concept in Mythical Thought, 12ff.
103. See Wilhelm Mannhardt, Wald- und Feldkulte, 2nd ed., vol. I (Berlin,
1904–1905), 212ff.
104. See Konrad Theodor Preuß, in Globus, vol. 87, 381; see esp. Die Nayarit-
Expedition, vol. I, XLVIIff.
105. This is more obviously valid if we consider that, for mythico-magical
thought, an image is never given as a mere image, but every image contains the
“nature” of the thing, i.e., its dæmon or its “soul.” See, for example, Ernest Wallis
Budge, Egyptian Magic, 65: “[I]t has been said above that the name or the emblem
or the picture of a dog or a dæmon could become an amulet with power to pro-
tect him that wore it and that such power lasted as long as the substance of which
it was made lasted, if the name, or emblem, or picture was not erased from it. But
the Egyptians went a step further than this and they believed that it was possible to
transmit to the figure of any man, or woman, or animal, or living creature the soul
210 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
tial feature of the mythical metaphor, we can determine and understand
more precisely the sense and effectiveness of what one is in the habit of
calling the metaphoric function of language. Quintilian has already indi-
cated that this function does not amount to a part of language but ex-
tends over the whole of language and characterizes this whole: “paene
quidquid loquimur figura est [nearly all that we speak is configured].”106
If this is so, however, can we understand metaphor, in the general sense
of the term, not as a determined direction in language, but as one of its
constitutive conditions? Thus, once again, we are led back from our effort
to understand metaphor to the basic form of the formation of linguistic
concepts. Ultimately, it derives from that act of concentration, of com-
pression of the intuitively given that already constitutes the indispens-
able presupposition for the formation of every individual linguistic con-
cept. Let us assume that this concentration takes place with respect to
different contents and in different directions, that, in two complex intu-
itions, the same element is grasped as “essential” and significant, as the
giving of signification; as a result of this, the closest interconnection and
cohesion between the two that language as such is able to give is created.
For, as the undesignated does not “exist” at all for language, as it has the
tendency to darken completely, so everything with the same designation
must appear as essentially homogeneous. The sameness of the elements
that are fixed in the word progressively withdraws from all other hetero-
geneity belonging to the intuitive contents, and, in the end, lets them
disappear completely. Here again, the part sets itself in the place of the
·155· whole; in fact, it becomes and is the whole. By virtue of the principle of

of the being which it represented, and its qualities and attributes. The statue of a
god in a temple contained the spirit of the god which it represented, and from time
immemorial the people of Egypt believed that every statue and figure possessed
an indwelling spirit.” The same belief is still found everywhere today living among
the “primitives.” See, for example, Hetherwick, “Some Animistic Beliefs among
the Yaos of British Central Africa” (see footnote above, 189): “The photographic
camera was at first an object of dread, and when it was turned upon a group of
natives they scattered in all directions with shrieks of terror. . . . In their mind the
lisoka (Seele [soul]) was allied to the chiwilili or picture and the removal of it to the
photographic plate would mean the disease or death of the shadeless body” (89ff.).
106. [Marcus Fabius Quintilian, Institutionis oratoriae libri duodecim (book 9,
chap. 3, sec. 1), ed. Eduard Bonnell (Leipzig, 1866), 111.]
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 211
“equivalence,” contents that, from the point of view of our immediate
sensual intuition or from the point of view of our formation of logical
classes, appear very different can be treated alike in language, so that each
statement that holds for one is transferred and applied to the other. “If
the Cora,” Preuß remarks in a description of complex magical thought,
“consider the butterflies quite absurdly to be birds, then, in their eyes,
everything that they distinguish as the individual characteristics of an
object [Objekt] must belong together in a completely other way from that
which we assume to be the case on the basis of our analytic-scientific
observations.”107 The apparent absurdity of these and other correlations
immediately disappears, however, if we remember that all such forma-
tions of primary concepts come about only as they are guided by lan-
guage. For instance, if we assume that, in the designation and conse-
quently in the linguistic concept “bird,” the element of “flight” is singled
out as crucial and essential, then by virtue of this element and through
its intercession, the butterfly, in fact, belongs to the class of birds. Our
languages, too, still create correlations that conflict with our concepts of
empirical-scientific classes and species, such as, for example, in the Ger-
manic languages, in which the designation of butterfly as “butter-bird”
or “butter-fly” (Dutch botervlieg, English, butterfly) is common. And at
the same time, we understand how such linguistic “metaphors” act fur-
ther on, and must always prove to be an ever-fertile source for, the for-
mation of mythical metaphors. Every characteristic feature that once
provided a starting point for the formation of qualifying concepts and
for the qualifying designation can now serve to set the objects that were ex-
pressed by this designation immediately into one. If the intuitive image
of lightning, in the treatment it undergoes by language, is brought to-
gether with the impression of the “form of a snake,” then lightning has
become a snake; if the sun is called that which flies in the heavens, then it
thus appears as an arrow or bird, as does, for example, the sun-god of
the Egyptian pantheon, which is shaped with the head of the falcon. For,
here, there are no merely “abstract” designations; rather, each word im-
mediately changes into a concrete mythical figure, into a god or dæmon. ·156·
Every undetermined sense impression can, in this way, provided it is lin-

107. Konrad Theodor Preuß, Die geistige Kultur der Naturvölker (Leipzig and
Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1914), 10.
212 LANGUAGE AND M YTH
guistically fixed, become the starting point for the formation and nam-
ing of a god. In the table of names of Lithuanian gods given by Usener,
the snow-god, the “glimmerer” Blizgulis, is located alongside the god of
cattle, the “roarer” Baubis, but also represented here are the bee-god
Birbullis, the “buzzer,” and the god of the earthquake, the “thresher”
Drebkulys.108 And once a “roarer god” was conceived, he had to be rec-
ognized as one and the same being [Wesen] in the most diverse phenom-
ena, he had immediately to be heard in the voice of the lion as well as
in the bellow of the storm or the thunder of the sea. Again and again,
myth in this sense is revitalized and enriched by language, as is language
by myth. And at the same time in this continuous combining and inter-
penetration, the unity of the spiritual principle, from which both origi-
nate and of which both are only different expressions, different manifes-
tations and levels, demonstrates itself.
And yet, in the progress of spirit, even this very close and apparently
necessary connection also begins to work itself loose and to resolve itself.
For language does not belong exclusively to the realm of myth; rather,
from its beginning, another force, the power of logic, is effective in it.
How this power gradually grows stronger, how it is refracted in language
and by means of language cannot be pursued further here. In this devel-
opment, the words of language increasingly become mere conceptual
signs. And this process of separation and liberation is paralleled by an-
other: art, like language, also appears in its beginning to be closely bound
up with myth. Myth, language, and art form a concrete and still undif-
ferentiated unity, which only gradually resolves itself into a triad of more
independent spiritual modes of configuration. The same mythical ani-
mation and hypostasis that the word undergoes are thus also accorded
to the images and to every form of artistic presentation. Especially in the
magical view of the world, the magical word appears everywhere along-
side the magical image.109 The image, too, achieves its purely presen-
·157· tative, specifically “aesthetic” function only insofar as the magic circle in
which it remains entranced in mythical consciousness is broken through,
and it is recognized as a particular form of configuration instead of as
a mythico-magical figure. However, if language as well as art remove

108. See Hermann Usener, Götternamen, 85ff., 114.


109. For further details, see my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. II, esp. 40ff.
LANGUAGE AND M YTH 213
themselves in this way from the mother earth of myth, the ideal, the
spiritual unity reestablishes both at a new level. If language is to develop
into the vehicle of thought, if it is to form itself into the expression of
concepts or judgments, this forming can take place only through its ever-
greater renunciation of the fullness of immediate intuition. In the end,
nothing more than the mere skeleton of the concrete content of intu-
itions and feeling that originally belongs to it, of its living body, appears
to remain. There is one domain of spirit, however, in which the word not
only preserves its original image-power but within which it constantly
renews it, in which, so to speak, it experiences its constant palingenesis,
its simultaneously sensuous and spiritual rebirth. This regeneration takes
place in that it forms itself into artistic expression. Here, it is accorded
once again the fullness of life; however, this is no longer the mythical-
bound life but an aesthetically freed life. Of all the types and forms of
poems, it is the lyric that reflects most clearly this ideal development.
For, the lyric poem is not only rooted at the beginning in certain magi-
cal-mythical motives but also continues to maintain the interconnection
with myth in its highest and purest products. The really great lyric poets,
such as Hölderlin, for example, are those in whom the mythical vision
develops itself once again in full intensity and full objective force. How-
ever, this objectivity has now shed itself of all tangible compulsion. The
spirit lives and prevails in the word of language as well as in the mythi-
cal image without being mastered by either. What achieves expression
in poetry is no longer the mythical world of dæmons and gods, nor is it
the logical truth of abstract determinations and relations. The world of
poesie severs itself from both as worlds of mere semblance and play;
however, it is in this world of semblance that pure feeling first achieves
articulation and comes to full and concrete actuality. The word and
mythical image that initially confronted spirit as hard, real powers have
now cast off all reality and effectiveness; they are only a light ether, ·158·
in which spirit freely moves without hindrance. This liberation comes
about not because spirit discards the sensory cover of the word and the
image but because it uses both as organs by which it comes to understand
them for what they are, in their most profound ground, as its own self-
revelations.
Eidos and Eidolon:
The Problem of Beauty and Art
in the Dialogues of Plato
(1924)

·1· If we can measure the greatness of a thinker by the vast opposition that
envelops his thinking, forcing it into a unity, then certainly Plato belongs
to a clearly unique phenomenon in the history of spirit. All the problems
with which Greek philosophy had up until then wrestled are organized
by Plato into a completely new tension and seen with a very different
intensity. If we compare Plato’s world with the image of the cosmos
sketched out by Pre-Socratic philosophy, we sense that the latter, in the
overall manifold of its configurations, still adhered to a certain simplic-
ity, a certain archaic “naïveté.” It is the highest concept of being by
which each of these worldviews is centered and by which each is finally
stabilized. It is in Plato and the Platonic dialogues that Greek thought
first becomes genuinely dialectical in the strict sense. And this objective
dialectic of thought is traced back to a subjective dialectic in Plato’s
spirit. The highest power of the configuration of the will merges in this
spirit with the clarity of a pure “theoretical” contemplation of the world;
mythical fantasy actualizes itself throughout in abundance, and yet, at
the same time, it shows itself in this abundance to be bound by demands
set by the rigorous concept of knowledge [Wissen] and the general meth-
odology of knowledge. This methodology can, however, exhibit itself in

[First published as and translated from “Eidos und Eidolon, das Problem des
Schönen und der Kunst in Platons Dialogen,” in Vorträge der Bibliothek War-
burg, 2 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1924), 1–27.]
214
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 215
no other way than as a unity of opposites. Its essential achievement con-
sists in the perfect intellectual balance produced between the function
of division and that of combination, between that of the quiet depth
of pure vision and that of the highest spiritual liveliness of mediated
thought. With Plato’s characteristic tendency to “provide justifications,”
he has not only realized this balance in his doctrine but has also con- ·2·
sciously established it as a postulate for all philosophical knowledge. All
knowledge is, for him, at once analysis and synthesis, įȚȐțȡȚıȚȢ and
ıȪȖțȡȚıȚȢ of concepts. There is no genuine knowledge [Wissen] that does
not precede the exact and artful separation of concepts. As the priest
does not cut the sacrificed animal into pieces as he likes but dismantles it
in accordance with the natural structure of its limbs, so too the dialecti-
cian renders visible this inner articulation and organization of structure
in concepts.1 This power of segmentation, however, must be equal to that
of uniting: the įȚĮȚİ߿Y [splitting/cutting], the IJȑȝYİȚYțĮIJߩİ‫ݫ‬įȘ [in accor-
dance with the idea] knows no other goal than to bring together anew
the separated elements into one unitary figure. Thus, the dialectician
is not only inadvertently or subsequently a synoptist, but by virtue of his
first and original endeavor, he is simultaneously a synoptist; so, only the
synoptist can be the true dialectician.2 In the connection and integration
of that which has been separated with great precision, ıȣYȐȖİȚY [the
bringing together] and ıȣȞȠȡߢȞİ‫ݧ‬Ȣ‫ݐ‬Ȟ [the bringing all being together]
constitute the meaning and unity of logos itself.3 And this relationship
holds as much for the construction of Plato’s world of objective thought
as for the whole interior of his intellectual world. In this heterogeneous,
even contradictory stance, basic orientations of reflection remain very
close to one another. From time to time, the attempt has been made to
cope with this “multiplicity of views” of the Platonic spirit by separately
establishing all the different aspects that rise out of it, as, for example,
the famous modern account of Plato that treats in one and the same

1. See on this point Plato, The Statesman 286 Dff., Plato, Phaedrus 265 Dff.
2. Plato, Republic 537 C: “੒ȝ੻ȞȖ੹ȡıȣȞȠʌIJțઁȢįȚĮȜİIJȚțȩȢ੒į੻ȝ੽Ƞ੡ [“The
dialectician is a synoptist, the nondialectician is not a synoptist.”]
3. See, for example, Plato, Sophist 259 E: “ǻȚ੹Ȗ੹ȡIJ੽ȡਕȜȜȒȜȦȞIJ૵Ȟİੁį૵Ȟ
ıȣȝʌȜȠț੽Ȟ੒ȜȩȖȠȢȖȑȖȠȞİȞਲȝ૙Ȟ.” [“Because that which we have given birth to
in discourse is it the reciprocal interweaving.”]
216 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
paragraph the man, the teacher, the writer, the philosopher, the theolo-
gian, and the social politician. Describing and labeling the scope of Plato’s
theory in this way, however, does not grasp its essential content or its origi-
nal, ideal center, its personal intellectual focus point. The pure encyclo-
pedic concept of philosophy as a theory of the “whole” of the world that
builds itself upon the theory of its individual “parts” is foreign to Plato.
For no other great thinker embodies in greater measure than Plato the
principle that Goethe once summarized in the dictum that everything
humans undertake to achieve, whether it is brought about by the act or
the word, must arise from the complete unity of powers, and that, ac-
·3· cordingly, “everything that is isolated is abject.”4 It was given to Plato to
immediately embody a unification that modern thought had sought from
different avenues. Being and theory interpenetrate in him such that the
question as to which of the two elements is first, which is second, which
determines and has formed the other can no longer be posed.
And yet there exists a vast sphere of problems for which this unity
seems to have been sublated, in which a clear rupture seems to have oc-
curred between who Plato was and what he taught. Plato the ethicist, the
religious thinker, the mathematician, has created in dialectics the tool
that was appropriate for him and was the adequate conceptual expres-
sion of his basic intuition. The first step in the realm of dialectics already
seems, however, to exclude the artist Plato, seems to demand the con-
scious renouncement of everything that was animated by his artistic
powers and tendencies. An ancient report recounts how the young Plato,
after his first encounter with Socrates, at a time when he felt gripped by
the meaning of the Socratic question, had burnt his poetry. And as a more
mature man at the height of his works and thought, he had in his outline
of the Republic not only demanded the expulsion of the poets but also
denied art as such an intellectual right to a home in the whole of his
theory. The Platonic theory of ideas [Ideen] has in its original conception
and grounding no place for an independent aesthetics, for a science of art.
For art adheres to the sensuous phenomenon of the thing by which it
can never provide rigorous knowledge [Wissen], only opinions and be-
liefs. As measured by the whole of Plato’s personality, this phenomenon

4. [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit. Dritter Theil, in Werke,
vol. XXVIII (Weimar, 1887–1919), 108.]
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 217
appears paradoxical, and this paradox is intensified even further if we
consider the theory of ideas [Ideen] in its purely objective structure and
its objective historical fate. For no philosophical theory has ever more
vigorously and more fully begun from aesthetic effects than this system,
which abnegates a separate, independent, and valid existence [Sein] to aes-
thetics. It is no overstatement to say that basically every systematic aesthet-
ics that has arisen in the history of philosophy up to now has been and
has remained Platonic. Wherever, in the course of a century, a theory of
art and beauty has been sought, there again our view is directed back, as
under a theoretical constraint, toward the concept and term “idea” [Idee]
from which, like a later offshoot, the concept of the ideal emerges. And ·4·
not only the theoreticians of art but the great artists too are witnesses
to this interconnection that has remained alive throughout the centuries.
The succession that leads from Plato to Augustine, from Augustine to
Marsilio Ficino, from him to Winckelmann and to Schelling, corresponds
to the succession of great artists who, each in his own way and yet as if
under the spell of a continuous tradition, have sought and found their
way to Plato. It is enough to name here Michelangelo and Goethe in
order to bring to consciousness the force and diversity of this spiritual
and historical interconnection. If Platonism, however, had expressed the
same force in the history of science, if, in particular, the founders of mod-
ern mathematical physics had declared themselves to be his students,
they would only have taken up certain motives that are already described
more clearly in Plato himself. Galileo and Kepler are steeped in the
same temperament of thought that runs through Plato’s late dialogues
and, in particular, that found its expression in the Timaeus and in the
Philebus. They fulfill the schema of exact science that was drafted here in
its fundamental features with a completely new concrete content; how-
ever, in purely methodological terms, they hardly needed to add any
essential feature to this schema. The development that Platonic thought
experiences within the general theory of art and within art itself proves
to be far more difficult and more complex. For here, a peculiar oscilla-
tion, an opposition between intellectual attraction and repulsion, gov-
erns. In attempting to ground itself in Platonism, art must always at the
same time attempt to free itself from its spell. For the theoretically deep-
ened and developed concept of form in Platonic philosophy constantly
threatens to bring about the fate that it sublates in truth its own concept
218 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
of form in the endeavor to generalize and purify it. Again and again, the
history of aesthetic idealism stands before this antinomy, before the ques-
tion of how the fundamental idea of form, as it had appeared and was
determined by Plato, could be rendered fruitful for aesthetics without
thereby letting the specific object of aesthetics, the particular mode and
direction of artistic configuration, lapse into a merely universal, englob-
ing abstraction.
The struggle between motives that breaks out here can be clearly
·5· designated if we begin from the opposition of two concepts, which for
Plato have an essentially more fundamental signification and which ef-
fectively form the two focal points around which his thinking turns. Eidos
and eidolon, figure and image—this pair of concepts encompasses, as it
were, the whole expanse of the Platonic world, and constitutes its two
most external limits. It is a testimony to the tremendous force of Plato’s
language that he is successful, with a single variation, with a light color-
ation of expression, to fix a difference in signification that had for him
no equal in systematic sharpness and pregnance. Eidos and eidolon—two
terms that descend from the same linguistic root, that unfold from one
basic signification of to see, ‫ݧ‬įİ߿Ȟ [to see, to look], and that imply for
Plato, in the specific meaning he gave to them, two essentially different
directions, two “qualities” of seeing diametrically opposed to one an-
other. In the one case, seeing possesses the passive character of sensible
sensations, and only strives to take up and copy an external sensuous
object; in the other case, it becomes free vision [Schauen], the grasping
of an objective figure that can, however, fulfill itself in no other way than
in an intellectual act of configuration. If at first we remain with this one
side of the opposition, then it can be said that the originality and depth
of Platonic philosophy generally consist in raising philosophical con-
templation for the first time out of the sphere of mere “being” into the
sphere of “form.” Pre-Socratic philosophy also strove to conceive being
as the unity of form, as being ruled by a general law of form; however,
it was able to articulate this law in no other way than by repeatedly giv-
ing it the color of being. Thus, the Ionian philosophy of nature places
the origins of being [Sein] in an individual concrete being [Seiende], no
matter whether it is described as water, air, or fire. Where this substantial
reflection transforms itself, however, where, instead of an ‫ݎ‬ȞțĮIJ‫ޟ‬IJ‫ޣ‬Ȟ‫ވ‬ȜȘȞ
[being in materiality], one seeks ‫ݐ‬ȞțĮIJ‫ޟ‬IJާȞȜȩȖȠȞ [being according to
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 219
reason], this very logos, this pure concept of being, in its articulation and
configuration, is still bound to some image, to a kind of sensible substrate.
With the Pythagoreans, with the Eleatics, with Heraclitus, it is no longer
a question of the unity of the world-stuff but a question of a unity that
belongs to a completely other dimension of thought. Instead of taking
the world in its simple existence, it must be understood by its “principle,”
and the Pythagorean number, the Eleatic One, the Heraclitean Logos are
erected as such principles. However, just as the general idea of logos, as ·6·
the intuition of the universal rule of events, condensed itself for Hera-
clitus into the image of eternal living fire that glows and fades according
to its intensity, so too Parmenides’s idea of one being, in which all arising
and passing away and all sensuous qualities and differences must be
eradicated, can only be secured by making it rest on the intuition of the
cosmos as a well-rounded and closed sphere. Only with Plato is such a
sensuous schema of the pure concept of being overcome once and for
all. A clear cut now separates the world of ‫ݻ‬ȞIJĮ [existents] from that of
‫ݻ‬ȞIJȦȢ‫ݻ‬Ȟ [true existents], the mere existence of phenomena from the
content and truth of pure forms. It is not possible to arrive at the au-
thentic and true origins, at the “principle” of the sensible world, so long
as we search for this principle in it or think of it as in some way contain-
ing sensuous determinations. Plato establishes this fundamental unity
of thought in three different directions of reflection. He begins from
the spheres of pure will and pure knowledge [Wissen]—he grounds his
thinking in the validity and truth of ethical norms and mathematical
concepts. And from here he continues indirectly to the problems of na-
ture. For nature, too, is no mere incarnation of material things and forces;
rather, it partakes, by virtue of the eternal order that prevails in it, in the
realm of pure form. It does not belong to mere existence; rather, it em-
bodies the essence and the pure laws of essence, to the extent that such
a presentation in the domain of becoming proves to be possible. Thus,
for Plato, there exists in the progression from the problems of ethics to
those of mathematics, and from the problems of mathematics to those
of nature, a rigorous continuity of thought; as different as the contents
that are grasped here are and as entangled as they become in the sphere
of thought, they are all rigorously encompassed by a unitary question of
thought and are mastered by it.
This question, however, is inadequately formulated if, in order to
220 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
designate it, we link it, as is ordinarily done, to the opposition of the uni-
versal and the particular. So long as we see the essential element of the
Platonic idea [Idee] and its intrinsic logical character as presenting the
unity and universality of the generic concept of particular things over
against their multiplicity and particularity, we have not fundamentally
gone beyond the standpoint of medieval universals. In truth, however,
·7· the original problem, with which Plato always begins, is not so much the
problem of universals as the problem of the determined. To find an ab-
solute over against the relative, an unconditional over and against the
conditioned, a determined over and against the undetermined: this is
the demand, without whose fulfillment neither true knowledge [Wissen]
nor authentic will is possible. The students of Socrates first grasped this
demand from the side of the will. As Plato understood the question of
Socrates, it signified for him nothing else but the question about the
concept, about the eidos of the will itself. Our activity [Tun] should not
dissolve into the manifoldness of individual and accidental actions, it
must not be abandoned for each arbitrary external stimulus and im-
pulse; rather it must find in itself a fixed norm, a lasting standard by
virtue of which it is bound as if by iron chains. This bond is the funda-
mental character of everything ethical. There is an implicit order in that
which is moral, an inner measure of the relationships of the will whose
consistent existence and validity are to be compared to the pure relation-
ships of mathematical measure. Through this mediating concept of order,
through the concept of IJȐȟȚȢțĮ‫ޥ‬ıȣȝȝİIJȡȓĮ [the orderly arrangement of
proportion], the world of knowledge [Wissen] is internally joined to-
gether with that of the will. Both the order in being and the order in
activity [Tun] now appear as different articulations of one and the same
principle by which the cosmos first constitutes itself as such.5
With the extension of the ethical cosmos that comes to fullness itself
in this analogy, however, Plato has, of course, already overstepped the

5. See in particular Plato, Gorgias 507 Ef.: “ijĮıȚ įૃȠੂįȠijȠੂțĮ੿Ƞ੝ȡĮȞઁȞ țĮ੿


ȖોȞ țĮ੿ șİઃı țĮ੿ ਕȞșȡȫʌȠȣȢ IJ੽Ȟ țȠȚȦȞȓĮȞ ıȣȞȑȤİȞ țĮ੿ ijȚȜȓĮȞ țĮ੿ țȠıȝȚȩIJȘIJĮ
țĮ੿ ıȦijȡȠıȪȞȘȞ țĮ੿ įȚțĮȚȩIJȘIJĮ țĮ੿ IJઁ ੖ȜȠȞ IJȠ૨IJȠ įȚ੹ IJĮ૨IJĮ țȩıȝȠȞ țĮȜȠ૨ıȚȞ.”
[“Wise men, Callicles, say that the heavens and the earth, gods and men, are
bound together by fellowship and friendship, and order and temperance and
justice, and for this reason they call the sum of things the ‘ordered universe,’
my friend, not the world of disorder or riot.”]
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 221
Socratic sphere. The main focus of the actual foundation is now shifted
from ethics to dialectics. However, this is in general the theory of the
object insofar as it is grasped as the pure object of knowledge [Wissen].
There is no true certainty and determination of knowledge [Wissen] if
there is no content of knowledge [Wissen] that is in itself persistent and
changeless. Nowhere does the sensible world, the world of immediate
sensation and perception, show us this constancy, this uniformity of con-
tent with itself. Moreover, one of the main features here is that all con-
tent, no sooner than it has been posited, annihilates itself. The sensuous
world is a sphere of contradiction—it knows both a fixed determination
and a series of determinations that alternatively sublate one another.
Thus, there are in it no independent “properties” existing for themselves
that can be clearly fixed and held on to in thought; rather, wherever we ·8·
believe to have grasped something or anything given, a IJȓ [what] or a
‫ݸ‬ʌȠȚȞȠࠎȞ [predicate], it immediately dissolves into a mere becoming
or into an embodiment of mere relations.6 Against this hovering and
oscillation of sense perception and representation, thought has perhaps
nothing else to do but withdraw in the certainty of its own nature
[Wesen]. It would be futile to search for some persistence in the content
of knowledge [Wissen] if it were not grounded in the persistence of the
pure form of knowledge [Wissen]. Only if we have ascertained it our-
selves are we sure that not everything dissolves into continuous motion,
that everything is not drawn to and fro in the ebb and flow of our subjec-
tive “phantasms,” that it possesses its own “nature,” a consistent, logical
existence. Only by means of the stable resistance of knowledge can we
arrive at the stable resistance of being, for it is only when knowledge
itself does not give up its nature that there is something like a knower
and a known, that there is a subject and an object [Objekt] of knowledge
[Wissen].7

6. See, in particular, Plato, Theaetetus 152 D.


7. See Plato, Cratylus 386 Df.: “ȅ੝țȠ૨ȞİੁȝȒIJİʌ઼ıȚʌȐȞIJĮਥıIJੁȞ੒ȝȠȓȦȢਚȝĮ
țĮ੿ਕİȓȝȒIJİਦțȐıIJȦੁįȓĮਪțĮıIJȠȞįોȜȠȞį੽੖IJȚĮ੝IJ੹Įਫ਼IJ૵Ȟ਩ȤȠȞIJȐIJȚȞĮȕȑȕĮȚȩȞ
ਥıIJȚIJਕʌȡȐȖȝĮIJĮȠ੝ʌȡઁıਲȝ઼ıȠ੝į੻ਫ਼ijૃਲȝ૵ȞਦȜțȩȝİȞĮਙȞȦțĮ੿țȐIJȦIJ૶
ਲȝİIJȑȡ૳ijĮȞIJȐıȝĮIJȚਕȜȜ੹țĮșૃĮਫ਼IJ੹ʌȡઁıIJૈȞĮਫ਼IJ૵ȞȠ੝ıȓĮȞ਩ȤȠȞIJĮૌʌİȡ
ʌਥijȣțİȞ.” [“But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals, and
all things do not equally belong to all the same moment and always, they must
be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: they are not in
222 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
This determination and uniformity of the pure form of will, as it
presents itself from the perspective of the problems of ethics, and this
determination of the pure form of knowledge [Wissen], which for Plato
manifest itself, above all, in mathematics, now stand over against both
domains in which there exists no fixed and true configuration of being,
but where the movement of representation and fantasy only feigns the
image of such a configuration. Both the appearance of nature and the
appearance of art belong to this sphere of mere images; neither of them
brings anything of its own, neither brings to expression some unchang-
ing logos; rather, both are subjected to the rule of įȩȟĮ [doxa], that is,
subjective opinions and conjectures. Nature falls under Heraclitus’s ver-
dict concerning the flux of things. The changeability and fleetingness,
the thorough relativity of its objects, correspond to the relativity and
changeability of any knowledge [Wissen] that is at all possible from these
objects; Heraclitus’s objective thesis displaces the subjective thesis of the
Sophists, which has its own place in the world of perception in which
each of its perceptions is true. No true knowledge [Wissen] may pene-
·9· trate into the world of becoming, for the concept of knowledge [Wissen]
excludes that of becoming. Right up to his last works, in which the con-
cept of “movement” receives in this respect a completely other significa-
tion and evaluation, as it becomes in the concept of țȓȘıȚȢ [movement
from dynamis to energeia] a systematically fundamental concept of Pla-
tonic logic, Plato had steadfastly held onto this decision against a mere
natural becoming. From that which itself hovers in fluctuating appear-
ance, no rational insight about any knowledge worthy of the title of rig-
orous truth can be given.8 Thus, none of the so-called sciences of nature
shows us the way to the realm of pure forms. From the perspective of
the dialectician, the grandeur and greatness with which these sciences
embellish themselves reveals itself to be deceptive. This tone of thought

relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating according to fancy, but are indepen-
dent and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.”]
8. See, for example, Plato, Phoebus 59 B: “ʌİȡ੿Ƞ੤ȞIJ੹ȝ੽țİțIJȘȝȑȞĮ
ȕİȕĮȚȩIJȘIJĮȝȘįૃਲȞIJȚȞȠ૨Ȟʌ૵ı઼ȞʌȠIJİȕȑȕĮȚȠȞȖȓȖȞȠȚșૃਲȝ૙ȞțĮ੿੒IJȚȠ૨ȞȠ੝įૃ
ਙȡĮȞȠ૨ıȠ੝įȑIJȚȢਥʌȚıIJȒȝȘʌİȡ੿Į੝IJȐਥıIJȚIJੑ ਕȜȘșਥıIJĮIJȠȞ਩ȤȠȣıĮ.” [“And how
could we ever hope to achieve any kind of certainty about subject matters that
do not in themselves possess any certainty? . . . Then there can be no reason or
knowledge that attains the highest truth about these subjects!”]
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 223
reaches particular characteristic and pregnant expression in the passage
in the Republic in which Glaucon, Socrates’s interlocutor, cites astronomy
among those sciences that should be called upon to bring about the “con-
version” of the soul and to satisfy its urge for something higher.
You seem to me in your thought to put a most liberal interpreta-
tion on the “study of higher things,” [Socrates] said, for appar-
ently if anyone with thrown-back head should learn something
by staring at decorations on a ceiling, you would regard him as
contemplating them with the higher reason and not with the eyes.
Perhaps you are right and I am a simpleton. For I, for my part, am
unable to suppose that any study turns the soul’s gaze upward
other than that which deals with being and the invisible. But if
anyone tries to learn about the things of sense, whether gaping
up or blinking down, I would never say that he really learns—for
nothing of the kind admits of true knowledge—nor would I say
that his soul looks up, but down, even though he study floating on
his back on sea or land.9
Measured by this standard, even the stars themselves are only a “col-
orful work in the heavens” in whose splendor the sensory human may
be captivated, but which, for those who truly live in the world of ideas
[Ideen], become something completely different. For the latter never un-
derstand the stars as what they themselves expose in the sensible appear-
ance but rather according to what they signify for our knowledge. And
their deepest signification consists in the tasks they provide spirit, in the ·10·
stimulus on the mathematical showing [Schau] that they imply. The dia-
lectician must learn to consider them, not as physical bodies, though they
may appear sublime and monumental, but as examples and reproaches,
as ʌĮȡĮįİ‫ޥ‬ȖȝĮIJĮ [patterns] and ʌȡȠȕȜȒȝĮIJĮ [problems] of mathematical
speculation.
Then, said [Socrates], we must use the blazonry of the heavens as
patterns to aid in the study of those realities, just as one would do
who chanced upon diagrams drawn with special care and elabora-
tion by Daedalus or some other craftsman or painter. For anyone

9. Plato, Republic 529 Aff.


224 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
acquainted with geometry who says such designs would admit the
beauty of the workmanship but would think it absurd to examine
them seriously in the expectation of finding in them the absolute
truth with regard to equals or doubles or any other ratio. [ . . . ]
It is by means of problems then [ . . . ] as in the study of geometry,
that we will peruse astronomy too, and we will let be the things in
the heavens, if we are to have a part in the true science of astron-
omy and so convert to right use from uselessness that natural in-
dwelling intelligence of the soul.10
Here, to take the example of nature, the opposition between the
sensible figure and the ideal figure, between İ‫ݭ‬įȠȢ [eidos—figure] and
İ‫ݫ‬įȦȜȠȞ [eidolon—image], clearly takes shape, although the opposition
is not exclusive to this domain; for it, a mediation is not only possible
but directly demanded. For Plato’s theory of ideas [Ideen] is equally ruled
by the thought of the separation between “idea” [Idee] and “appearance”
and by the thought of the connection between the two. We cannot under-
stand the systematic meaning of separation, of ȤȦȡȚıȝȩȢ [separation],
without the meaning of participation, without ȝȑșİȟȚȢ [participation].
In that it is differentiated from the world of pure forms, the appearance
is not condemned to complete negativity, to absolute nothingness. For
simple nothingness, in which no trace of essence or truth remains, can-
not as such ever appear. However, the natural appearance, the phenom-
enon of nature, is such that it does not simply dissolve for us into some-
thing indeterminate, rather in it a constant existence shines through. In
every becoming of nature, above all in that prototype of all becoming
that represents for us the movements of the heavens, the orbits of the
stars, we grasp not only its pure “thatness,” the mere empirical fact of
·11· translocation but its “how” and “why.” In it, a constant order, a mani-
foldness constantly measured in itself, discloses itself. In fact, nature could
never be made a problem of mathematics if, independently of our consid-
eration, of the subjective reflection of dialecticians, an inner relation to
mathematics, an inner measure and an inner figure, did not inhere in
it. The more Plato entered into this thought, the more the way to a sci-
entific construction of natural being and natural becoming freed itself.

10. Plato, Republic 529 Aff.


EI DOS AND EI DOLON 225
Certainly, he differentiated with great methodological foresight and rigor
this way from that of pure rational knowledge: he always insisted on
delimiting myth, which necessarily enters into every presentation of nat-
ural becoming, against the truth of logos. However, myth may not be
arbitrary fiction; rather, it has in itself the imprint of “plausibility”
[Wahrscheinlich]. In this concept of plausibility (İ‫ݧ‬țȩȢİ‫ݧ‬țĮıȓĮ [a showing
forth, an appearing]), the accent is placed equally on the opposition be-
tween pure and unmixed truth existing in itself and on the relation to
which it adheres. And this latter positive element asserts itself with grow-
ing force in the progress of Plato’s thought. From the Phaedo to the Repub-
lic and the Timaeus, we can follow the development of a certain problem
in which the progressive reconciliation of the realm of nature with the
realm of pure forms is carried out by means of mathematics. In the
Phaedo, the constant mood of the flight from the world, the quest for
release “as quickly as possible” from the chains of the living body, turn
into the flight from nature. The fact that the endeavor to grasp the “rea-
son” of the world has remained within the limits of nature, that instead
of becoming logic and dialectics it has remained cosmology and cosmo-
physics, Plato feels to be the deepest methodological lacuna of all specula-
tion, a lacuna that only appears to have been overcome by Anaxagoras’s
theory of ȞȠࠎȢ [nous]. However, the journey into the land of ideas [Ideen],
the įİȪIJİȡȠȢʌȜȠࠎȢ [second voyaging or second-best method] of the Phaedo
requires another guiding principle.
. . . it occurred to me that I must guard against the same sort of
risk which people run when they watch and study an eclipse of the
sun; they really do sometimes injure their eyes, unless they study
its reflection in water or some other medium. I conceived of some-
thing like this happening to myself, and I was afraid that by ob-
serving objects with my unprotected eyes and trying to compre-
hend them with each of my other senses I might blind my soul
altogether. So I decided that I must have recourse to theories, and
use them in trying to see the truth about things.11 ·12·

What is demanded here is achieved in the middle books of the Re-


public by virtue of the position that the science of nature takes in them.

11. Plato, Phaedo 99 Df.


226 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
There is no science of nature for the sake of itself, with the intent to
grasp and exhaust nature’s concrete sensuous fullness and manifoldness;
however, there is, arguably, a pure theory of nature that constitutes a
particular case and special application of mathematical theory—that
transforms the things of nature into problems of mathematics and that
thus places them under a completely new perspective of reflection. Only
in this way do we arrive at a philosophy of nature as it is presented to us
in its general outline in the Timaeus. Here, too, the endeavor that seeks
to find the essential elements of physis in the physical itself is, from the
beginning, rejected. Whoever does not stray from the domain of reason
into that of mere opinion, whoever does not want to blur the limits of
‫݋‬ʌȚıIJȒȝȘ [justified knowledge] and of ‫ݷ‬ȡș‫ޣ‬įȩȟĮ [correct opinion] can-
not look upon sensuously perceived things such as air or fire, earth or
water, as the true elements of the physical. The authentic originary ele-
ments, individuals that prove themselves as the true beginning and which,
as such, stands up to our thoughtful examination, is found rather in pure
mathematical constructions [Gebilden]. The universe is no mere mixture
of stuff but is configured in itself—configured according to figures [Fig-
uren] and numbers. The philosophy of nature in the Timaeus hopes to
demonstrate these geometrical and arithmetic structural elements. The
particular stuff, which, in the ancient philosophy of nature, was simply
accepted as such in its sensuous givenness and properties, sublimates here
into particular figurative formations and orders. That which we desig-
nate in simple perception as fire shows itself now as determined by the
form of the tetrahedron, air by the form of the octahedron, while the
figure of the icosahedron and the hexahedron are, as it were, propped
up and intellectually structured by the substrates of water and earth re-
spectively.12 And just as we recognize here in the polyhedron the general
model and schema according to which the corporeal world is built, so
also the becoming now undergoes, as it were, a new purely mathemati-
cal elucidation. If its content is opposed to the pure being of the idea
[Idee], a certain inner form nevertheless is at work in it. For all becoming
fulfills itself in the unity of time, which itself does not dissipate but per-
·13· sists. This unity has its own unchangeable measure, its periods and

12. Plato, Timaeus 48 Bff., 55 Aff.


EI DOS AND EI DOLON 227
rhythms, in which an enduring ordering of the limits of the world is
revealed in the middle of time and, as it were, in the mobile background
of time. Thus, time becomes the “mobile copy of eternity”—an image
of eternity and the One that remains in itself, an image that is in ac-
cordance with number.13 The theodicy of becoming and of nature in
the Platonic system are such that in them, through the mediation of the
mathematical concepts of number and time, a fixed order finally be-
comes visible—a necessary bond that is, if not equal to the eternal de-
termination of the pure idea [Idee], nevertheless at least analogous to it.
The awe before nature, as the merely sensuous, now wanes. As image, it
has itself become the image of something purely thinkable (‫ݧ݋‬țޫȞIJȠࠎ
ȞȠȘIJȠࠎ [aesthetic god, image of the noetic]). The suddenness with which
Plato the dialectician, who seems to resist imposing figures on the world
of the senses, no longer stands up against the intuition of nature as a
mathematical cosmos, is already asserted in the Republic in order to clear
the way to the world of pure concepts. Certainly, in the Timaeus too, the
contemplation of that which becomes is, in the beginning, nothing other
than a rest the thinker allows himself in his vision [Schau] of eternal
being.14 The end of the dialogue, however, goes beyond even this final
reservation. It risks the image, fundamentally paradoxical in Plato’s sys-
tem, of the world as the perceivable God. The limit that the rigorous
ideal of dialectical knowledge [Wissen] has erected over against sensuous
reality is broken through—the myth of the creation of the world and of
the creator of the world ends in a pure hymn to the physis, to the world
of ordered appearance.
The world has received living being, mortal and immortal, and
is fulfilled with them, and has become a visible living being con-
taining the visible—the perceivable God who is the image of pure

13. Plato, Timaeus 37 D: “Ǽੁț੩įૃਥʌȚȞȠİ૙țȚȞȘIJȩȞIJȚȞĮĮੁ૵ȞȠȢʌȠȚોȢĮȚțĮ੿


įȚĮțȠȢȝ૵ȞਚȝĮȠ੝ȡĮȞʌȠȚİ૙ȝਦȞȠȞIJȠȢĮੁ૵ȞȠȢਦȞਦȞੁțĮșૃਕȡȚșȝઁȞੁȠ૨ȢĮȞĮੁȫȞȚȠȞ
İੁțȩȞĮIJȠ૨IJȠȞįȞį੽ȤȡȩȞȠȞ੩ȞȠȝȐțĮȝİȞ.” [“Wherefore he resolved to have a
moving image of eternity, and when he set in order the heaven, he made this
image eternal but moving according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity,
and this image we call time.”]
14. See Plato, Timaeus 59 C, D.
228 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
thought, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect—the one only-
begotten world.15
However, once again, and in all its clarity, the conflict between the
world of pure forms and the world of mere images, the conflict between
İ‫ݭ‬įȠȢ [eidos] and İ‫ݫ‬įȦȜȠȞ [eidolon] is placed before us, no longer in the
domain of nature, but in the domain of art. For art raises the claim to
·14· hold up before us a “second nature”; however, in this a renewed break-
ing takes place; a doubly reflected, thoroughly mediated image of being
is created. Instead of ascending toward the unconditioned, it descends
even deeper into the realm of the merely derived and mediated. Sub-
jectivity in all its power and fullness prevails in it; however, at the same
time, it is purely unbounded arbitrariness. The free activity of the cre-
ator, which does not inquire into any objective measure or rule, declares
itself here to be sovereign; the force of įȩȟĮ [doxa], which is clearly op-
posed to that of the concept, continually generates those formations [Ge-
bilde] that recognize no judge other than įȠȟȐȗİȚȞ [forming doxa] itself as
sensuous representation and fantasy. If, in fact, the phenomena of nature
were flowing and changeable but allowed in this flow an objective
rhythm, a mathematically tangible regularity of becoming itself to be
recognized, then the last barrier that art builds before us in the world
would appear to be removed. No more limits are set for the flowing
phantasms. Thus, for Plato, artists are on one and the same level as the
Sophists because they are both genuine masters, great virtuosos of sub-
jectivity. Plato persistently maintains this parallelism, which begins in the
Republic and finds its systematically rigorous grounding in the substantial
reckoning with the Sophists contained in his older work, the Sophist. If
the philosophical thinker aspires to the sphere of pure forms, and if,
by virtue of reason, he applies himself to the display [Schau] of eternal
beings, then the Sophist and the artist enthrall us with colorful images of
the world of appearances to which they and we hold tight. For the dia-
lectician, the researchers of ideas [Ideen], confronts both as mere image-
makers, as İ‫ݧ‬įȦȜȠʌȠȠȓ [makers of images]. The activity of the artists, like
that of the Sophists, is grasped under the general concept of imitation,

15. See Plato, Timaeus 92 B (German translation by Otto Apelt, Philosophische


Bibliothek, vol. 1, 79).
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 229
of ȝȓȝȘıȚȢ [mimesis], and by virtue of this generic concept is devalued.16
There arise those threefold successive stages that are established in the
famous part of the beginning of Book Ten of the Republic. One concept,
one eidos, is established by the dialectician for all multiplicity that is
grasped by one signification and denoted by one name. And whoever
wants to fabricate it by means of craft or technology, whoever wants
to actively bring forward some individual object, must necessarily look
to this unity of the archetype [Urbild]. Thus, the cabinetmaker does not
create the eidos, nor the essential form of beds or tables, but these serve ·15·
him as previously existing patterns from which he manufactures a par-
ticular table or a particular bed as a concrete, sensible, individual thing.
However, there exists another creator of the work [Werkbildner], who is
not limited to the production of an individual implement, but whose art
seems to grasp the art of every other creator [Bildner].
Ah, but wait, and you will say so indeed, for this same handicrafts-
man is not only able to make all implements, he produces all plants
and animals, including himself, and thereto earth and heaven and
the gods and all things in heaven and in Hades under the earth.—
A most marvelous Sophist, Glaucon said.—Are you incredulous?
Said I, tell me, do you deny altogether the possibility of such a
craftsman . . . , or do you admit that in a sense there could be such
a creator of all these things, and in another sense not? Or do you
not perceive that you yourself would be able to make all these
things in a way?—And in what way, I ask you, Glaucon said.—
There is no difficulty, said I, but it is something that the craftsman
can make everywhere and quickly. You could do it most quickly if
you should choose to take a mirror and carry it about everywhere.
You will speedily produce the sun and all things in the sky, and
speedily the earth and yourself and the other animals and imple-
ments and plants and all the objects of which we just now spoke.—
Yes, Glaucon said, the appearance of them, but not the actuality
and the truth.—Excellent, said I, and you come to the aid of the
argument opportunely. For I take it that the painter too belongs to
this class of producers, does he not?—Of course.—However, you

16. See, in particular, the Sophist 233 Eff., 239 D, and 254 A; Republic 605 C.
230 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
will say, I suppose, that his creations are not real and true. And yet,
after a fashion, the painter too makes a couch, does he not?—Yes,
Glaucon said, the appearance of one, he too.17
Thus, the divine creator, as author of the pure essential forms, con-
fronts the human craftsman—the producer of actual-physical individual
things—and the artist, as mere imitators, as builders of appearances.18
And what most deeply debases art is that it is most removed from the
original creation, that in it the force of the original creation is as good
as extinguished. For Plato, there is no sort of creation that is not con-
ditioned and directed by a pure vision [Schauen]. Even the creator of the
world, even the demiurge of the Timaeus, can bring forth the sensible
world in space and time only insofar as he looks to the idea [Idee] of
ȞȠȘIJާȞȗࠛȠȞ [the knowing life] as well as to the eternal model in order
·16· to configure that which becomes according to this “paradigm.” And the
technician, the artisan, must also do so insofar as he is really productive,
insofar as a new formation [Gebilde] emerges from the work of his hands
or, at least, has a mediated part in this ideal showing [Schau]. The artisan
who produces the loom does not imitate an individual sensible thing;
rather, what stands before his eyes is the form of the loom as such, that
is, for what it is determined and in what its function consists, what its
proper telos is. And if the loom should break in the course of working,
then he can create another, by looking not to the broken one but to that
originary form according to which he formed [gebildet] the first one.19
The “free” art of the painter, however, seems to be created from nothing.
And yet, according to Plato, the unilateral dependence on the sensuous
model manifests itself in it, except here, instead of being recognized as
a mere copy [Abbild], it is transformed into an archetype [Urbild], into a
binding norm for artists.
We stand, here, at a point at which the path of Plato and the path of
later theories of art largely derived from Plato most clearly separate
from one another. Later theory attempted to bridge the oppositions that
are opened up here, to free art from the reproach of mere “imitation” by

17. Plato, Republic 596 D–E.


18. Plato, Republic 596 Aff.
19. Plato, Cratylus 389 Af.
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 231
substituting for the rigorous Platonic concept of idea [Idee] the dazzling
and ambiguous concept of the “ideal.” As a consequence, the two con-
cepts tend to clash in the historical presentation and interpretation of
the Platonic intellectual world, and play off one another in many dif-
ferent ways. Not only was the aesthetics of modern philosophy, in that
it began from the concept of the ideal and advanced to the midpoint,
convinced it was following the Platonic path, but inversely, the attempt
to derive from this late intellectual offshoot the original meaning and the
systematic tendency of the Platonic idea [Idee] has often also been made.
Thus, Karl Justi has, in his work Aesthetic Elements in Platonic Philosophy,
attempted to provide the proof that the idea [Idee] gains its basic signifi-
cation not so much from a logical or ethical object as from an aesthetic
one—that the artist’s creation is an objectivation and hypostatization of
that internal intellectual models that stand before the eyes of the artist
in intuitive clarity. “It is thus”—says Justi—“precisely the element that we
miss in Plato’s theory of art: the presentation of the ideal and improve-
ment of nature that receives its place here in the object of philosophy; ·17·
because it found the essence of beauty there where it does not belong, it
misrecognized it where it had claimed recognition.”20 This accusation
of an uncritical blurring of the borders between philosophy and art,
however, does not do justice to the dialectician, the diäretiker Plato. The
aesthetic “ideal” is and remains, if we take it in its conventional significa-
tion, of a hybrid nature insofar as it is authentically indigenous neither
to the world of the sensuous nor to that of the intelligible but, to a cer-
tain extent, hovers between them in an undeterminable middle. The
formation of the ideal cannot refrain from sensuous foundation; how-
ever, it does not hang onto one single formation of meaning but runs
through a series of sensuous configurations in order finally to encounter
in it a subjective “selection.” For Plato, such an apparent justification of
artistic activity would have signified, rather, its clearest disavowal. For
clearly, the basic systematic concept of Platonism opposes itself to this
view of artistic “invention,” to this view of the “inventio.” According
to Plato, the unity of the form or eidos can absolutely never be obtained
by gathering it out of a sensory multiplicity. Such a gathering would di-

20. Karl Justi, Die ästhetischen Elemente in der Platonischen Philosophie. Ein historisch-
philosophischer Versuch (Marburg: N. G. Elwert, 1860), 62.
232 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
rectly contradict the authentic synoptic vision [Schau] of the dialectician,
the ıȣȞȠȡߢȞİ‫ݧ‬Ȣ‫ݐ‬Ȟ [the togetherness of all being]. Instead of being raised
above the world of multiplicity, we are all the more strongly involved in
it; instead of penetrating to the true generality of form, we are aban-
doned to an endless series of numerous appearances. The true unity can
absolutely never be the result and the mere sum of individuals—for
unity and multiplicity belong to completely different dimensions, to differ-
ent “dwellings” (‫ݏ‬įȡĮȚ [abodes]). The pure figure can never arise out of
the flowing together of so many merely sensuous images. As in mathe-
matics, the idea [Idee] of equality [Gleichen] is completely mistaken and
misunderstood if we attempt to grasp it as an abstraction from different
cases of real identity [Gleichheit,], as an abstraction from similar timbers
and stones. This also holds for the ideas [Ideen] of the just, the good, and
beauty.21 Plato sharply draws the border between merely curious on-
lookers, who content themselves with the observation of many and di-
verse beautiful things, and those true seers who penetrate the originary
·18· form of beauty itself.22 The former reacts to the latter as those who
dream to those who are awake: “He, then, who respects beautiful things,
but neither believes in beauty itself nor is able to follow when someone
tries to guide him to the knowledge of it—do you think that his life is a
dream or a waking? Just consider. Is not the dream state, whether the
man is asleep or awake, just this—the mistaking of resemblance for
identity?”23 Every vivid sensory appearance, no matter whether it is spun

21. See Plato, Phaedo 74 Aff.


22. Plato, Republic 476 Af.: “IJĮȪIJૉIJȠ੝ȞȣȞ . . . įȚĮȚȡ૵, ȤȦȡ੿Ȣ ȝ੻Ȟ Ƞ੠Ȣ Ȟ૨Ȟ į੽
਩ȜİȖİȢ ijȚȜȠșİȐȝȠȞȐȢ IJİ țĮ੿ ijȚȜȠIJȑȤȞȠȣȢ țĮȓ ʌȡĮțIJȚțȠȪȢ, țĮȓ ȤȦȡ੿Ȣ Į੣ ʌİȡ੿ੰȞ੒
ȜȩȖȠȢ, Ƞ੢Ȣ ȝȩȞȠȣȢਙȞ IJȚȢੑȡș૵Ȣ ʌȡȠıİȓʌȠȚ ijȚȜȠıȩijȠȣȢ. [ . . . ] ȅੂȝȑȞ ʌȠȣ, ਷Ȟ įૃ
ਥȖȫ, ijȚȜȒțȠȠȚ țĮȓ ijȚȜȠșİȐȝȠȞİȢ IJȐȢ IJİ țĮȜ੹Ȣ ijȦȞ੹ȢਕıʌȐȗȠȞIJĮȚ țĮ੿ȤȡȩĮȢ țĮ੿
ıȤȒȝĮIJĮ țĮ੿ʌȐȞIJĮ IJ੹ਥț IJ૵Ȟ IJȠȚȠȪIJȦȞ įȘȝȚȠȣȡȖȠȪȝİȞĮ, Į੝IJȠ૨ į੻ IJȠ૨ țĮȜ૨
ਕįȪȞĮIJȠȢ Į੝IJ૵Ȟ ਲ įȚȐȞȠȚĮ IJ੽Ȟ ijȪıȚȞ ੁįİ૙Ȟ IJİ țĮ੿ ਕıʌȐıĮșĮȚ.” [“This . . . is my
division. I set apart and distinguish those of whom you were just speaking, the
lovers of spectacles and the arts, and men of action, and separate from them
again those with whom our argument is concerned and who alone deserve the
appellation of philosophers or lovers of wisdom. . . . The lovers of sounds and
sights, I said, delight in beautiful tones and colors and shapes and everything
that art fashions out of these, but their thought is incapable of apprehenidng
and taking delight in the nature of the beautiful in itself.”]
23. Plato, Republic 476 C.
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 233
out of elements of reality or subjective fantasy, remains, in fact, for Plato,
a mere oneiric image that fades into the night as soon as the bright light
of day, the light of dialectical knowledge and of the genuine philosophi-
cal vision of essences, falls upon it.
The tension between “form” and “image,” between İ‫ݭ‬įȠȢ [eidos] and
İ‫ݫ‬įȦȜȠȞ [eidolon], has now reached its zenith; the opposition between
them appears essentially irreconcilable. In fact, in the domain of art,
the motive of mediation that we actively detect in the domain of nature
also appears to fail. Certainly, we could raise the question whether the
thought of the ȤȦȡȚıȝȩȢ [separation] must not also stand aside here for
the thought of ȝȑșİȟȚȢ [participation]—that is, could not the image, es-
sentially different as it is from the pure idea [Idee], nevertheless share in
it and indicate it? In nature, this indication appears to be fulfilled: it is
the phenomenon of becoming itself, by the pure relationships of num-
ber that emerge in it, by the mathematical orders into which it fits, that
indicates the realm of eternal forms of being, that not only, therefore,
conceals them but also equally reveals them. Are the formations [Gebilde]
that the artist creates not, in the same sense, just as much a revelation as
a concealment? Would it be possible, even if art is never tantamount to
the idea [Idee], even if it does not create an adequate expression of it,
to nevertheless give it symbolic expression? Reconciliation through the
medium of mathematics seems, in fact, to offer itself here without being
forced. For there is no doubt, at least for Plato, that all beauty, whatever
its individual nature and whether we think of it as the beauty of nature
or the beauty of art, rests in the final analysis on the pure determinations
of number and measure. We bump into the genuine ground and the most ·19·
quintessential imprint of beauty, for Plato is in no way willing to admit
that any sensuous figure could ever be equal in beauty to that of the pure
figures of mathematics and, in particular, the regular bodies of stereom-
etry.24 Thus, beauty and truth are joined together through the mediating
concept of measure. And consequently, in the Philebus, a “pure pleasure” is
expressly recognized in the concordant, in the harmony and proportion
that, as such, are of a thoroughly particular nature and incomparable to

24. Plato, Timaeus 53 E: “IJȩįİȖ੹ȡȠ੝įİȞȚȢȣȖȤȦȡȘȢੑȝİșĮțĮȜȜȓȦIJȠ੝IJȦȞ


੒ȡȫȝİȞĮȢȫȝĮIJĮİੇȞĮȓʌȠȣțĮșૃ ਨȞȖȑȞȠȘਪțĮȢIJȠȞ ੕Ȟ.” [“For we shall not be willing
to allow that there are any distinct kinds of visible bodies fairer than these.”]
234 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
the sensation of sensuous pleasure. Authentic beauty is probably not that
which the majority would like to understand by it, namely, the beauty of
the living body or of certain paintings; rather, the beauty of such sur-
faces and bodies is determined by rules and measures of angles. “Things
like that [ . . . ] are not, like most things, beautiful in a relative sense; they
are always beautiful in their nature, and they carry pleasures peculiar to
themselves (Ƞ‫ݧ‬țİȓȞĮȢ‫ݘ‬įȠȞȐȢ [those at home with themselves]), which are
quite unlike sensuous titillation.”25 Through this concept of “pure plea-
sure,” the sphere of aesthetics seems to be admitted into and reconciled
with the world of pure forms. For everywhere in Plato, this expression of
țĮșĮȡȩȞ [an independent pure act] has systematic signification for dif-
ferentiating the objective essence from the mere subjective appearance,
the absolute determined and standardized in itself from the changeable,
moving, and arbitrary. In this function, the concept of the pure, whose
basic original signification plunged into the religious sphere, is included
and used in Plato’s ethics as well as in his theory of knowledge. However,
it is precisely now, with true beauty having been transferred into certain
objective relations of measure, that the verdict pronounced on purely
imitative art is not only confirmed but reinforced. For the artist, insofar
as he intends mere imitation, does not inquire into the objective measure
of things; rather, he exhibits them with all their changes and vicissitudes,
in all the accidental natures of their external appearance. He gives them
not as they are determined in themselves but as they exhibit themselves
to the observer, relative to his position and location as well as to other
external circumstances, e.g., relative to the change in light. He does not
omit these subjective elements; rather, he seeks them out and deliber-
ately stresses them. Instead of the reality of the figure, he arranges only
·20· its simulacrum, marked by all sorts of alterations, shortenings, and distor-
tions.26 Instead of freeing us from the sensuous immediateness of impres-
sions, the imitator seeks to capture us precisely in this immediacy, which
he presents as the authentic and ultimate, as, quite simply, the “being”
[Seiende]. The concept of the “pure,” formulated in Plato’s dialectics ac-
cording to different designations such as țĮșĮȡȩȞ [an independent pure
act] and ܻțȡȚȕȑȢ [exact], ܿȝȚțȠȞ [intact], and İ‫ݨ‬ȜȚțȡȚȞȑȢ [pure or with-

25. Plato, Philebus 51 C.


26. See especially Plato, Sophist 233 Eff., Plato, Republic 605 Cff.
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 235
out offense], rises up against this attempt. All of these designations insist
on a clear and precise, a truly “exact” separation of the spheres of being;
they separate with complete rigor the essence and the appearance, the
pure form and the sensuous impression. The first step of the mimetic
artist, however, is to sublate this separation. His realm is the realm of
illusion, of the interplay and reciprocal merging of semblance and reality.
Every stimulus that the works of the imitative artist exert on us is based
on a dangerous magical spell, for the arts of the poet, the painter, and
the sculptor are, in fact, identified by Plato not only with the Sophists but
also with magicians.27 Whereas the dialectician teaches us to recognize
the shadows on the wall of the cave as that which they are, as shadows,
whereas he accomplishes the great “turning of the soul toward the
light,”28 the imitator is opposed to this turning around. Instead of ad-
vancing toward the truth of the pure figure and pure being, he remains
in that twilight middle in which the borders of light and darkness blur
together; he rests, as Goethe’s Epimetheus put it, “in the murky realm
of possibility that mélanges the figures.”29 It is, above all, this mélange,
this undetermined hovering between the two worlds of form and image,
for which Plato reproached imitative art. The artist, too, no longer lives
immediately in the world of sensuous appearances as if it were the only
world that was given—for him, too, it has become a sort of phantasma-
goria and silhouette; however, all his strivings are directed to breathing
life into this very shadow and to cloaking it with the semblance and al-
lure of being.
And from here, what appears at first sight to be one of the strangest
and most paradoxical features of the Platonic theory of art can also be ·21·
explained. All subsequent theories of art adhere to the correlation of art
with the beautiful, which they accept almost as a self-evident assumption.

27. Plato, Sophist 234 C, see also Plato, Philebus 44 C.


28. See especially Plato, Republic 521 C: “IJȠ૨IJȠįȒ, ੪Ȣ਩ȠȚțİȦ, Ƞ੝țੑȢIJȡȐțȠȣ
ਗȞİ੅ȘʌİȡȚȢIJȡȠij੽ ਕȜȜĮȥȣȤોȢʌİȡȚĮȖȦȖȒ, ਥțȞȣțIJȡȚȞોȢIJȚȞȠȢਲȝȑȡĮȢİੁȢ
ਕȜȘșȚȞ੽ȞIJȠ૨ ੕ȞIJȠȢȠ੣ȢĮਥʌȐȞȠįȠȢ, ਸ਼Ȟį੽ijȚȜȠȢȠijȓĮȞਕȜȘșોijȒȢȠȝİȞİ૙ȞĮȚ.”
[“So this, it seems, would not be a whirling of the shell in the children’s game but
a conversion and turning about of the soul from a day whose light is darkness to
the veritable day—that ascension to reality of our parable which we will affirm to
be true philosophy.”]
29. [ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Pandora. Ein Festspiel, in Werke, vol. 12, 299.]
236 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
For Plato, however, this correlation transforms itself into its opposite. The
crucial position that Plato gives the idea [Idee] of beauty is well known.
The depiction of the soul’s ascent toward the idea [Idee] of beauty as
it is given in Diotima’s discourse in the Symposium and in the third great
discourse on love in the Phaedrus belongs to the masterpieces of the Pla-
tonic presentation of art that have infused all subsequent centuries with
their radiance and intensive intellectual brilliance. Not only did the Re-
naissance elaborate from this theory of art a more profound under-
standing of Plato, but also, later, all great epochs of artistic creation and
of reflective contemplation on art returned again and again to the Pla-
tonic theory of eros as the genuine speculative authentication and justifi-
cation of all artistic figures. The interconnection that history, however,
has established here did not exist for Plato himself in this form. The art
of love that he praises is not the art of poets and image-makers but the
Socratic art, the art of dialectic. The same is true of the most profound
characteristics of the figure of Socrates, as Plato has portrayed him in
the Symposium with immortal features, namely, as with the problem of
truth, Socrates also has a specifically ambiguous, genuinely “ironic” re-
lationship to the problem of beauty. He is like the Silenoi who, hidden
and invisible, contains within himself a divine image. He exhibits the idea
[Idee] of beauty by negating it in its sensuous appearance. In this sense,
its essence contains a constant appeal that at the same time signifies a
constant warning. And in a more profound way, Plato always adopted
this warning as his own. The more fully the Socratic question was con-
figured for him, the more clearly the limits between the purely sensuous
form and the intellectual form determined themselves. Thus, the higher
the idea [Idee] of beauty moved, the more deeply did the husk of imitative
art peel away for it. For the consideration of the sensory figure in which
the artist loses himself is certainly one of the first steps, and a point of
passage, in the ascension to the world of beauty; however, it must not
be more than a point of passage. Authentic eros does not stop with the
sensuous-corporeal figure that first sparked it, but from the beauty of the
living body it drives further to the beauty of the soul, to the beauty of
actions, efforts, and knowledge.
Whoever has been initiated so far in the mysteries of love and has
·22· viewed all these aspects of the beautiful in due succession, is at last
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 237
drawing near the final revelation. And now, Socrates, there bursts
upon him that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty
he has toiled so long for. It is an everlasting loveliness which neither
comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades, for such beauty
is the same on every hand, the same then as now, here as there,
this way as that way, the same to every worshipper as it is to every
other. [ . . . ] And if [ . . . ] man’s life is ever worth the living, it is
when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty. And once
you have seen it, you will never be seduced again by the charm of
gold, of dress, of comely boys, or lads just ripening to manhood.30
Imitative art, however, knows nothing of this “transcendence” over
all that is sensuously limited and unique. Instead of risking the ascent
“beyond being” (‫݋‬ʌȑțİȚȞĮ IJ߱Ȣ Ƞ‫ރ‬ȢȓĮȢ),31 the artist laboriously gropes
along with the crutches of imitation, with the sensuously given. It is dia-
lectics that first shows us the true way here—the way to the high sea of
beauty.32
Thus, we see that it is one and the same unyielding mood of thought,
one and the same systematic and thoroughly structured fundamental
opposition, that determines all of Plato’s judgments on art and beauty.
And yet, if we let the Platonic dialogues as a whole take effect, we often
sense a completely other intonation that is not in accordance with this
mood. It is precisely these tonal variations in the Platonic dialogues,
which are entirely directed toward the presentation of determined ob-
jective thought, and which give the dialogues their allure, that never
quite merge. In addition to the systematic objective of concepts, the sub-
jective movement and vitality of the process of thought develops in the
dialogues; in addition to the general content of the problem of the indi-
vidual, the psychological problematic of the thinker develops itself. Nei-
ther one ever imposes itself immediately on the other, thereby arriving
at a full congruence. Rather it is often as if within this resonance of the
most personal and the most individual in Plato certain subtle beats, cer-

30. Plato, Symposium 210 Eff.


31. [Plato, Republic 509 B.]
32. Plato, Symposium 210 D: “ਥʌ੿IJઁʌȠȜઃʌȑȜĮȖȠȢIJİIJȡĮȝȝȑȞȠȢIJȠ੣țĮȜȠ૨.”
[“And thus, by scanning beauty’s wide horizon.”]
238 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
tain faint tones of difference, are audible. And these differences, this
inner tension, manifest themselves perhaps most clearly in Plato’s judg-
ments about artists and works of art. The more resolutely he warns
about the deceptive and magical work of art, the more perceptible be-
comes the extent to which he himself is gripped by this magic and how
difficult it is for him to break free from it. How deeply Greek poetry,
·23· Homer in particular, have affected him becomes clear in that famous
passage of the Republic in which he reduces tragic poetry, and its master
Homer, to the mere image-makers of “phantasms” and, in the name of
logos, bans them from the republic.33 And in the Phaedrus, which erects
once again the pure concept of knowledge, the concept of dialectics
over against every art of speech, against every attraction and temptation
of rhetoric, here, too, he fought at the same time for the most profound
rights of the șİȓĮȝĮȞȓĮ [god-mania] of artists.34 Now, as resolutely as
the “transcendence” of the idea [Idee] was championed, a sensuous copy
of the idea [Idee] of the beauty is at least equally admitted. “For the
copies [Abbilder] of justice and temperance and all those other prized
possessions of the soul have no luster; nay, so dull are the organs where-
with men approach their images [Bildern] that hardly can a few behold
even approximately recognize in them the nature of the archetype [Ur-
bildes]. However, beauty was not only resplendently to be seen when
the souls enjoyed with the blessed choral the most marvelous sight and
spectacle, but we still grasp it now in its light with the brightest of our
senses.”35 We can follow this duality of Plato’s position vis-à-vis the prob-
lem of sensuous beauty just until the unique style of the Phaedrus. For
nowhere else is the realm of pure forms—the colorless, figureless, un-
touchable being that can only be seen by reason itself—proclaimed with
greater energy and more vigorously differentiated from every sensuous
existence of phenomena. And yet, however, in no other work than this
has Plato so powerfully established the force of his sensuous-plastic nar-
ration. The landscape of the shores of the Ilissos on which Socrates and
Phaedrus confer clearly stands before us, graspable in all its individual
features. Here, everything is not only seen in the most reliable outlines of

33. Plato, Republic 598 Eff.


34. Plato, Phaedrus 244 A.
35. Plato, Phaedrus 250 Bff.
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 239
individual figures but is at the same time painted with the most delicate
and luscious colors. Here, those oppositions, which in Plato’s philosophy,
in his theory of ideas [Ideen], must necessarily be identified and main-
tained, come into contact and are reconciled in Plato himself. Just as
Socrates, according to the presentation in the Phaedo, immediately before
his death attempts the production of poems because he has come to
doubt whether he has, with his philosophy, truly and entirely fulfilled
the demand of the gods to carry out the service of the muses,36 so Plato’s
Phaedo, which develops, on the one hand, the concept of dialectics with ·24·
the greatest clarity and sharpness, also contains, on the other hand, a
kind of palinode of those judgments of disavowal by virtue of which he
attempted to ban and restrict art to the sphere of ȝȓȝȘıȚȢ [mimesis]. For
Plato himself discovered and practiced here, as in the Timaeus, a new art
that was not merely imitative but configurative in the true sense: the art
of mythical speech that, however little it claims the title of absolute truth,
is thus not merely deception but the truth itself rendered visible in the
images of the “true semblance.”
And yet, from the opposite side, certain motives exert an influence
that leads to a type of easing of the tension produced by the great polar
opposition on which Plato’s system rests. For, increasingly, it appears that
even the image as such is not exclusively indigenous to the sphere of art,
but that its particular achievement extends as far as the domain of pure
knowledge. For mathematical knowledge, which tends toward the idea
[Idee] in its consistency and eternity, in its pure being-in-itself, can in no
way do without sensuous help and support. It is able to present the na-
ture of the universal and imageless only in the image, only in the sensu-
ous individual case. And it is this very relation and adhesion to the image
that constitutes the particular separating border between the procedures
of mathematicians and those of the dialecticians. Thus, a sharp meth-
odological cut—a IJȝ߱ȝĮ [cut, incision], as Plato expressively calls it—not
only separates the sensory from thinking but also goes straight through
the middle of the realm of pure thought itself. For, in one part of the
thinkable, the soul exclusively deals with the latter, grasping the pure
relationships of truths as such and tracing them back to their last premise-
less and imageless beginning. In the other part of the thinkable, however,

36. Plato, Phaedo 60 Dff.


240 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
the soul makes use of visible images and refers to them in its delibera-
tions without taking into account that it does not itself make sense of
these images, but of another that resembles them.37 And even at this
point, the bond of thought to images does not stop. Even the dialectician,
even the philosopher, who, in pure thought and on the basis of logical
conclusion, rests with the vision [Schau] of eternal entities,38 feels en-
snared by the power of the image as soon as he attempts to grasp in
·25· words the result of this vision [Schau] in order to teach and communicate
it. For every rendering into words is a thoroughly mediated presentation
that remains clearly inadequate to the object itself, which it attempts
to designate and express. Now, that is why—in the long philosophical
parenthesis of Letter VII—Plato shows, for instance, that, next to the sen-
suous physical model, in which we sketch out the presentation of the
pure concept of a circle, we also project the linguistic presentation in a
certain word, and both the sensible image and the phonetic and linguis-
tic image are, from the standpoint of pure knowledge, now subjected to
the same conditions and the same limitations. Name and image, ‫ݻ‬ȞȠȝĮ
[name] and İ‫ݫ‬įȦȜȠȞ [image], are equally far from the pure signification
of the circle itself, from the Į‫ރ‬IJާȢ‫ݸ‬țީțȜȠȢ [circle itself ]. The tragedy
here is to search for something ultimate and unconditioned and yet to
be bound, in the presentation of this unconditioned, to the insurmount-
able dependence on mediated expression. The dialectician, as well as
the artist, encounters this tragedy. He too, provided he undertakes to
formulate his latest knowledge linguistically, cannot move beyond the
domain of mediation, and thus, beyond the domain of ȝȓȝȘıȚȢ [mime-
sis], if one takes this concept in its widest sense. Even mediation, how-
ever, is not to be understood and valued purely negatively; rather, it sig-
nifies an indispensable preliminary stage for the highest philosophical
knowledge. For only for those who have gone through it, who, in tireless
work, have traversed the domain of the name and linguistic definition,
the domain of sensuous intuition and perception, does the reasonable
insight over everything insofar as it is granted in general to human nature

37. See Plato, Republic 510 Aff.


38. Plato, Sophist 254 A: “੒įਦȖİijȚȜȩȢȠijȠȢIJૌIJȠ૨੕ȦIJȠȢਕİ੿įȚ੹ȜȠȖȚȢȝ૵Ȟ
ʌȡȠȢțİȓȝİȞȠȢੁįȑĮ.” [“Whereas the philosopher, whose thoughts constantly dwell
upon the nature of reality.”]
EI DOS AND EI DOLON 241
finally light up. Thus, for the later Plato, the final and ultimate tension of
thought leads directly to its final and most profound self-modesty—to a
self-modesty that no longer spurns the medium of images because it is the
specifically human expression that we are able to give to the highest
spiritual things.39
Of course, insofar as art does not rise above the domain of mere re-
production, no place is reserved for it in the construction and develop-
ment of the philosophical system; for it does not yet show itself equal to
the strict dictates of logos. As Plato says in the Republic: ·26·

But nevertheless let it be declared that, if the mimetic and dulcet


poetry can show any reason to exist in a well-governed state, we
would gladly admit here, since we ourselves are very conscious
of her spell. However all the same it would be impious to betray
what we believe to be the truth. [ . . . ] Yes, for great is the struggle
[ . . . ] a far greater contest than we think it, that determines
whether a man proves good or bad, so that not the lure of honor
or wealth or any office, no, nor of poetry either, should incite us
to be careless of righteousness and all excellence.40
So, all the pathos of the logician and the moral philosopher goes to
work against the temptations and charms of art. Plato’s system knows as
such no philosophy of aesthetics; it does not even know of its possibility.
We can no longer follow any further the paths and the historical medita-
tions by means of which the fundamental assumptions of aesthetics have
nevertheless grown out of this system. Only one intellectual motive that
already lives in Plato himself will be briefly indicated here, even though
it only attains full effectiveness in Neoplatonism. The basic idea of the

39. Plato, Letter VII 342 Aff.; see, in particular, 344 B: “ਚȝĮȖ੹ȡĮ੝IJ੹ ਕȣȐȖțȘ
ȝĮȣșȐȞİȚȞ, țĮ੿IJઁȥİ૨įȠȢਚȝĮțĮ੿ ਕȜȘș੻ȢIJોȢ੖ȜȘȢȠ੝ȢȓĮȢ, ȝİIJਕIJȡȚȕોȢʌȐȢȘȢ
țĮ੿ȤȡȩȞȠȣʌȠȜȜȠ૨ȝȩȖȚȢį੻IJȡȚȕȩȝİȞĮʌȡઁȢਚȜȜȝȜĮĮ੝IJ૵ȞਪțĮȢIJĮ, ੑȞȩȝĮIJĮ
țĮ੿ȜȩȖȠȚ, ੕ȥİȚȢIJİțĮ੿ĮੁȢșȒȢİȚȢ. . . . ਥȟȑȜĮȝȥİijȡȩȞȝȢȚȢʌİȡ੿ ਪțĮȢIJȠȞțĮ੿ȞȠ૨Ȣ,
ȢȣȞIJİȓȞȦȞ੖IJȚȝȐȜȚȢIJૃİੁȢįȪȞĮȝȚȞਕȞșȡȦʌȓȞȘȞ.” [“It has occurred to me to speak
on the subject at greater length, for possibly the matter I am discussing would
be clearer if I were to do so. There is a true doctrine, which I have often stated
before, that stands in the way of the man who would dare write even the least
thing on such matters, and which it seems I am now called upon to repeat.”]
40. Plato, Republic 607 Cff.
242 EI DOS AND EI DOLON
Platonic theory of love is that all authentic eros must be creative eros. Every
true intellectual force in human beings, regardless of which direction
they may go in and whether they have an effect in thinking, acting [Tun],
or forming [Bilden], is a generative force. True eros aims neither at the
possession nor at the simple intuition of beauty but at the “creation in
beauty.”
We are all of us prolific, Socrates, in body and in soul, and when
we reach a certain age our nature urges us to procreation. Nor
can we be quickened by ugliness, only by the beautiful. Concep-
tion, we know, takes place when men and women come together,
but there’s a divinity in human propagation, an immortal some-
thing in the midst of man’s mortality which is incompatible with
any kind of discord. [ . . . ] Well then, she went on, those whose
procreancy is of the body turn to woman as the object of their
love, and raise a family, in the blessed hope that by doing so they will
keep their memory green, “through time and through eternity.”
However, those whose procreancy is of the spirit rather than of the
flesh—and they are not unknown, Socrates—conceive and bear
the things of the spirit. And what are they, you ask? Wisdom and
all her sister virtues; it is the office of every poet to beget them, and
of every artist whom we may call creative (țĮ‫ ޥ‬IJࠛȞ įȘȝȚȠȣȡȖࠛȞ
‫ݼ‬ȢȠȚȜȑȖȠȞIJĮȚİ‫ރ‬ȡİIJȚțȠ‫ޥ‬İ‫ݭ‬ȞĮȚ).41
·27· In this concept of procreative configuring and procreative discover-
ing, in this concept of heuretic, which is not denied to the artist, the
concept of ȝȓȝȘıȚȢ [mimesis] already receives from Plato its first impor-
tant counterweight. In art, too, mere ȝȓȝȘıȚȢ [mimesis] does not prevail;
rather, an authentic procreative function prevails; it is not taken as essen-
tially reproductive but as an independent form of configurative presentation.
Plato takes up this motive and weaves it into his theory of “intelligible
beauty.” When Phidias created Zeus, he did not form him according to
any individual sensuous model; rather, he gave him the figure that Zeus
would have given himself if he had sensuously incarnated himself. In
this composition, a new, systematic esteem for art announces itself within
the history of Platonism. Now, it is no longer a reproduction and copy-

41. Plato, Symposium 206 Bff.


EI DOS AND EI DOLON 243
ing of the configured world; rather, it returns to the principles, the basic
forces of configuration. Thus the true artist joins the ranks of the divine
demiurge, who produces the world of the senses from the vision [Schau]
of the ideas as eternal models. Through the mediations of Augustine and
Marsilius Ficino, of Giordano Bruno, Shaftesbury, and Winckelmann,
this basic insight increasingly became the common intellectual property
of modern times. Since the Renaissance, a new form of aesthetics and
theory of art has arisen, which, based upon Plato himself and constantly
looking back to him, now secures for the world of art the theoretical and
systematic “justification” that Plato had refused it and that, from the sys-
tematic presuppositions of his doctrine, he had to refuse.42

42. For this development, which cannot be perused further here, I direct the
reader to the excellent work of Erwin Panofsky, which, in connection with the
problems treated here, pursues the influence of Plato’s basic ideas on aesthetics
and the theory of art in modern times: “Idea”: Ein Beitrag zur Begriffsgeschichte der
älteren Kunsttheorie, Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, vol. V (Leipzig, 1924).
The Meaning of the Problem of Language for
the Emergence of Modern Philosophy
(1927)

·274· If we take as fixed and generally valid the traditional claim that the
history of modern philosophy begins with Descartes, if we see in his
seminal methodological works the first characteristic expression of the
modern mode of philosophical thought, then this beginning exists and
indeed this mode of thought embodies itself here for the first time in a
closed system. This system, as well as the fundamental philosophical the-
ory of Descartes, stands before us without historical presuppositions or
ties, arising as if from nowhere. It consciously cuts every interconnection
with the past; it wants to stand on its own and to be understood on its
own. Reason does not wish to be deterred from its pathway by looking
back to authority and history. As Descartes’s student Malebranche so
sharply and poignantly formulated it: the philosopher has no need of
history; he should face nature and reality as Adam faced it. And yet,
Descartes’s teachings are nevertheless unconsciously linked by invisible
threads with the past. For, even for the self-certainty of pure thought, the
autonomy of reason, which, viewed systematically, stands at the begin-
ning of Cartesian philosophy, forms, when viewed historically, a late and
mediated result. The demand of this autonomy would not have been

[First published as “Die Bedeutung des Sprachproblems für die Entstehung der
neueren Philosophie” in Festschrift für Carl Meinhof (Hamburg: L. Friedrichsen,
1927), 507–14. Translated from Ernst Cassirer: Geist und Leben Schriften (Leipzig:
Reclam, 1993), 274–86.]
244
T HE PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN PHILOS OP HY 245
achieved had it not been formed by that enormous spiritual struggle for
freedom at the turn of the fifteenth century; nearly two centuries were
required before it was recognized and understood in its most profound
and unique tendency of thought in Descartes. We must return to this ·275·
“renaissance” of thinking not only if the system of modern philosophy
is to be seen as a fixed and logically closed structure but also if we are
to grasp the historical-spiritual conditions and the general spiritual im-
pulses by which it was formed. A large array of historically problematic
considerations and investigations confront us: here, however, only one
specific motive is to be extracted from it. We are inquiring into the role
language and the philosophy of language play in this process of freeing and
renewing thought. This role is rarely taken into consideration in research
into the history of philosophy and the history of spirit. Just as a new view
of nature and history developed in the Renaissance, so too, artistic and
religious ideas [Ideen], as well as concepts of the law and state, changed
and demanded new forms—all this has often been investigated in detail.
Are we, however, to assume that this whole spiritual process of change
was carried out without actually being connected to a comprehensive
view of language and without the transformation of a new course of
thinking? Whoever takes up the relationship of thought to language in
the way Wilhelm von Humboldt does, whoever sees in language not only
an expression and reverberation of thought but an organon [instrument]
of thought in language, sees a fundamental element in thought’s forma-
tion that, from the outset, is bound to assume a more profound intercon-
nection between the two. The following lecture can only demonstrate in
a brief outline1 how this conclusion is confirmed—how, from the living ·276·
development of language and from the conscious reflection on the par-
ticular way linguistic form constantly gave rise for thought new problems
and proposals that have, in a profound and decisive way, intervened in
its own configuration.

1. For further details and a more thorough explanation concerning the


implications of what is said here, I would refer the reader to a more in-depth
study published under the title: Individuum und Kosmos in der Philosophie der Renais-
sance, in Studien der Bibliothek, Volume 10 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1927). [The
Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, tr. Mario Domandi (New York:
Harper and Row, 1964).]
246 T H E PROBLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN P HILOSOP HY
This process of reciprocal influence and reconfiguration can be fol-
lowed in three main motives. The first motive, going deeper into the
world of language, arises from the new literary and social power by
which the entire spiritual form of the Renaissance was initially brought
to its maturity and its specific shape. The educational ideal of humanism
grows out of a new fundamental view of the essence and value of lan-
guage. From the outset, with all its weaknesses and one-sidedness, what
raised humanism up beyond a mere scholarly movement, what lent it
universal signification, was the fact that it remained preoccupied with
language and with the literary monuments of antiquity, but not for their
own sake; rather, a new cosmical-concept and concept of human beings
arises out of its scholastic-concept. Petrarch, the actual founder and origi-
nal discoverer of humanism, also proceeds from here. He is the first of
those who felt the internal interwovenness of spiritual content with lin-
guistic expression, and he strongly emphasized it. It is here that his con-
cept and ideal of “eloquence” is rooted, which is, for him, more than
rhetorical ornamentation; it is, for him, a revelation and confirmation
of the inner essence of the spiritual itself. In Cicero’s style, in the style of
classical Latin, he discovers the heights of antiquity, its form of life and
its form of humanity. If he repeatedly returns from the new to the clas-
sical model, then it must nevertheless be at the same time more than a
mere model, for each genuine form must fulfill itself with individual
content if it is not to remain a mere abstract rule and external schema.
·277· In the individuality of style and speech, the individuality of the human
being proves and completes itself: suus stilus cuique formandus servandusque
est [his style must form and serve him].2 Petrarch’s work De sui ipsius et
multorum ignorantia [On His Own Ignorance and That of Many Others]
literally expresses the principle of humanism by emphasizing that the
clarity of thought and the clarity and beauty of linguistic expression are
bound together, for no art is able to extract clear speech from an unclear
and dark mind. The same principle is defended more consciously, more
decidedly, more pointedly and forcefully by Lorenzo Valla; it becomes
an actual weapon in his arsenal against medieval, “barbarian” philoso-
phy. Does the mode of thinking of this philosophy not manifest itself

2. [Francesco Petrarca, Brief an Johannes de Certaldo, in Epistolae familiares


(Venice, 1492), fol. 22b.]
T HE PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN PHILOS OP HY 247
directly in its form of language? Are the linguistic deformations of scho-
lastic Latin, are coinages such as haecceitas, quidditas, and so forth, not
clear signs of a way of thinking whose interconnection with the living
intuition, with the concrete reality of things, has been lost, instead in-
dulging in a world of self-creative conceptual fantasies? We return to
the clarity and simplicity of language, whereby this abstract logical fab-
rication will become invalid. Thus, on the “elegance” of Latin, Valla
expects of his work a reconfiguration and a new formation of dialectic.
Because logic and rhetoric, dialectic and stylistics, can only develop to-
gether, they are but different fruits from the same tree of knowledge that
mature as well as wither together at the same time. So, true rebirth, the
renaissance of the spirit and education of antiquity, can only take place
through the reestablishment of the language of antiquity. This is a veri-
table universal power and, at the same time, reserves the lightest and the
most apparent world power in the realm of spirit.
This humanistic ideal of the Renaissance, however, was not able to
remain standing; it contained, upon closer considerations, the motive of
its own overcoming, its dialectical subversion within itself. For, if it was ·278·
true that each individual must speak his own language, is the proposition
not also valid for the individuality of nations and historical epochs? Does
the living development of thought let itself become constricted into the
forms of a finished language, which, however complete it may be, would
signify in this completion an end, a conclusion, and a solidification? With
this question, the Renaissance’s consideration of nature and its empirical
science of nature stand in opposition to the requirements of humanism.
The more this knowledge grows stronger, the more it also endeavors to
create an independent language and to represent its own rights. From
this type of effort, from the demands of technical knowledge [Wissen]
and the mathematical knowledge of the natural sciences, develops the
demand for a linguistic instrument that is mobile and flexible enough to
adapt itself to every step thought takes on this new path. In classical
Latin such plasticity is found wanting; it is only an expression of what has
already been and not an organ of what is coming to be in thought. For
this reason, empiricism, mathematics, and technology all insist clearly and
impatiently on the liberation from this world domination by Latin that
humanism had announced. Now they create almost exclusively for their
own ideal tasks and needs the new tool of national languages. It is here
248 T H E PROBLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN P HILOSOP HY
that the primacy of the education and language of antiquity is first
vanquished; the rights of the “volgare,” the language of the people, are
secured. Leon Battista Alberti, one of the leaders of this spiritual move-
ment, already in 1441 seizes upon the plan to organize a contest around
philosophical themes that should be discussed in the language of the
people in order to prove its equivalence and intellectual equality to
·279· classical Latin. In his History of New Linguistic Scientific Literature, Olschki
exhibited the interrelationship of these two spiritual motives, how, step
by step, on the one hand, the new techno-mathematical mode of thought
that begins in the fifteenth century was stimulated and promoted by the
development of “modern” languages and, on the other hand, how that
mode of thought constantly reacted to language.3 Inventors of technology
and artists, mathematicians and natural scientists—men such as Brunel-
leschi and Alberti, Leonardo and Galileo—are involved in this process
of the development of a new linguistic and scientific “style.”
However, alongside these opposing movements that arise from hu-
manism and from the growth of empirical science there now stands
another movement, which, in a certain sense, encompasses and unites
them. Both distinct currents of humanistic education [Bildung] and the
mathematical formation [Bildung] of the natural sciences had already
met each other in one thinker, who embodied, like no other before him,
the ideal of Renaissance knowledge [Wissen] in its totality and in its in-
ternal dialectical tension. In the system of this thinker, in the speculation
of Nicholas of Cusa, an important place is also assigned to language. Here,
language appears again not only at the center of the battle between the
conflicting formational interests of the time but also at the center of its
whole structure of thought. Perhaps, then, this structure, the structure
of Renaissance thought, stands out nowhere more clearly today than
with Nicholas of Cusa. He still seems to stand completely under the spell
of scholasticism; he writes and speaks medieval Latin, as in his philo-
sophical terminology, which he directly ties to medieval linguistic con-
·280· cepts. At the same time, however, there stirs everywhere here a new spirit
that makes itself manifest as much in the metaphysics and speculative

3. Leonardo Olschki, Geschichte der neusprachlichen wissenschaftlichen Literatur, vol. I:


“Die Literatur der Technik und der angewandten Wissenschaften vom Mittelalter
bis zur Renaissance” (Heidelberg: Winter, 1919).
T HE PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN PHILOS OP HY 249
theology as in the mathematics and cosmology. And now both parts of
Nicholas of Cusa’s work are brought together in a peculiar and original
way by his theory of language. It forms an intellectual center and focus
of his system, a focus from which rays radiate out in all directions. The
teachings of Nicholas of Cusa do not possess, of course, an independent
“philosophy of language” as an integrated part of the overall system.
Only occasionally, only suggestively does Nicholas of Cusa appear to
turn to the problems of language. However, just these scarce hints show
everywhere the strongest intellectual pregnance. They reach to the very
depths; they are not content with raising individual sides of the problem
but infer a certain form of thought, a general category of language under
which the whole consideration of the world is compressed.
Nicholas of Cusa proceeds from the same problem that had occupied
Christian medieval thought for centuries: it asked the basic question con-
cerning the relationship between God and the world. Two solutions to this
question seem to present themselves, one from the viewpoint of substan-
tiality and the other from the viewpoint of causality. The first seeks to
ground a common essence between God and the world; the other situates
between them, if it is necessary to do so, an accidental causal relation.
In the one case, the being of the world is enclosed and originally deter-
mined in the being of God; in the other case, it comes about through
emanation or through a free act of creation. Nicholas of Cusa’s specu-
lation is not far from both viewpoints, as he has been described in the
history of philosophy, for whomever it suits best, a “theist,” a “panthe-
ist,” or a “panentheist.” However, all these determinations do not cor-
respond with the actual new moment that gives its stamp to Nicholas
of Cusa’s theory of God. The relation between God and the world, be- ·281·
tween God and the human spirit can, strictly speaking, be grasped, ac-
cording to Nicholas of Cusa, neither as a “whole” to its “part” nor as a
“cause” to its “effect.” Here prevails another relationship that Nicholas
of Cusa designates in terms of the relation between “presentation” [Dar-
stellung] and the “presented” [Dargestelltem], between a linguistic-mental
symbol and its signification. Is the sound of speech a part of the meaning
that embodies itself in it? Does it constitute a substantial element of this
meaning, which stands next to another elemental part and which is or-
dered to it? Certainly not: for how would it be able to fulfill its task,
which consists in nothing other than bringing to expression the whole
250 T H E PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN P HILOSOP HY
and unbroken meaning, if there is no difference to be found between
them? Does this expression, however, imply that no congruence or iden-
tity exists between the sound of speech and what it means? Rather, must
not meaning and sound, in order to refer to one another, remain strictly
divorced from each other, must they not belong to very separate spheres?
The connection that produces itself between them does not sublate this
principal difference, it demands it. The sound is an image, a presenta-
tion, a representative [Repräsentant] of meaning; however, it is only able
to fulfill this function because it is not the meaning itself but is in some
way fundamentally other than it. And, according to Nicholas of Cusa,
we must assume the same relation, the same coincidence [Koinzidenz] of
“unity” and “alterity,” in the relationship between God and the world.
No proposition that is valid about God is in the same sense valid about
the world, and vice versa. If we begin from the world to rise to God, the
only way that remains open to us is that of “negative theology”: for each
predicate we attribute [zusprechen], we must negate [absprechen] another.
The distance between both poles is and remains infinite, so that it can be
reduced by no effort of discursive thinking, by no process of logical me-
·282· diation. According to Nicholas of Cusa, however, it is just the concept of
symbols that, to a certain extent, bridges this infinite distance. Human
knowledge never grasps the divine other than symbolically, but it does
so in the manifold of symbolic expressions that shapes this knowledge,
there are different ranks and degrees of “adequation.” There are dark
and cloudy effigies [Abbilder] as well as sharp and precise effigies [Ab-
bilder]. Nicholas of Cusa finds the latter exclusively in the domain of
mathematics. From his earliest writings he turns to mathematics in order
to deepen and enrich it further by important positive insights that will
continue its intellectual development. And yet, in no way is mathematics
an end in itself, nor does he exclusively need it as a vehicle and tool for
exact knowledge of nature. Rather, he insists on its symbolic, its purely
allegorical character. The mathematically infinite becomes the mirror
image of the metaphysical infinite. The mirror image [Spiegelbild ] no
more reaches the archetype [Urbild] than it purely and genuinely reflects
it, for the “precision” of mathematics and its “unshakeable certainty”
impresses the seal of perfection on mathematical signs.4 And from here

4. See, for example, Nicolaus Cusanus, “De docta ignorantia,” Lib. I, chapter II.
T HE PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN PHILOS OP HY 251
on, from the basic relationship that is revealed to us in language (both
in science and everyday life), we obtain an insight into the structure of
being, into basic ontological determinations. We may like to designate
God as a “cause” of being or as an absolute “substance”; this thought
always requires, if it is to be taken with any real sharpness and removed
from all its ambiguities, closer determination. And Nicholas of Cusa
achieves this by considering God as the “meaning” of being. Between
word and meaning there can never exist an identity, never any kind of
substantial agreement. And yet, despite this fundamental “alterity,” the ·283·
word points to its meaning and fulfills itself in its meaning. In the same
way, all finite being aims at the infinite, all conditioned being finds in the
absolute its fulfillment and its truth. Now, we can recognize the significa-
tion Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy of language possesses for the whole
of his system. It takes nothing less than the decisive category to form this
system in accordance with it. Where Nicholas of Cusa seeks to make
clear the relation between the sensible world and the intelligible world,
he falls back upon the originary-phenomena of language and under-
standing [Verstehen] in which, according to him, this relation becomes
directly illuminated. There are three ways in which we can think of
how the sensory and intellectual are linked with one another. We can be
turned toward the sensory appearance in such a way that we grasp noth-
ing other than what makes itself known to immediate demonstration.
We take up this position when we hear the word of a foreign language;
we take up this word as a certain determined quality and strength of
sound, but we understand nothing else in it, nothing beyond the mere
phonetic phenomenon. In a different way, however, if we “understand”
[verstehen] the word, if it “signifies” something to us, then the sensing of
the sound serves us only as the medium by which and by means of which
we grasp a certain “rational” content. And, finally, we are able to think
an insight that is no longer dependent upon such sensory mediation, but
whose intellectual being and intellectual signification is conceived purely
in-itself. Of course, the human mind is not capable of direct intuition;
it remains subjected to the nature [Wesen] that stands above it in the hi-
erarchy of spirits.5 According to his nature and his being [Wesen], the ·284·

5. See Cusanus, “De conjecturis,” Lib. II, chapter XVI: “Dum enim quis
Romanam loquitur linguam, ego (Cusanus) auditu vocem, tu vero (Caesarine)
252 T H E PROBLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN P HILOS OP HY
human being is referred to a spiritual “middle point”—he has every-
thing intellectual only so long as he visualizes it in signs and symbols. It
is this capacity that determines his position in the universe. If he shares
sensible sensation and imagination with animals, he rises above the ani-
mal world through his ability to form signs and to understand signs as
such. And, finally, he creates signs that are of a purely “abstract” nature,
which, however, represent [repräsentieren] only ideal significations and re-
lations but not concrete tangible objects [Objekte]. Solus vero homo signum
quaerit ab omni materiali connotatione absolutum penitusque formalem; simplicem
formam rei, quae dat esse representans. Quod quidem signum sicut est remotissimum,
quo ad res sensibiles, est tamen propinquissimum quo, ad intellectuales.6 [Certainly,
only man seeks a sign, removed from every material connotation, almost
completely formal, representing the simple form of the thing in ques-
tion. For such a sign, as it is almost remote from sensible things, is most
near to intellectual ones.] In this way, Nicholas of Cusa, while maintain-
ing his view on the phenomenon of language and the human activity
of speaking, penetrates from here to the real center of his philosophy. All
knowledge—the mathematical-science of nature as well as metaphysical
knowledge—becomes for him, in the end, language. Because the world
is nothing else but a book God has written with His finger, its meaning
has to be interpreted and appropriated by the human mind; he can only
advance in this interpretation step by step and must understand how to
spell it out, character by character, in order to solve gradually the signi-
fication of the individual sentences. However, the meaning, which has
to be searched for in this toilsome work of spelling out, stands before
him as a whole, for the whole, which he presupposes in the recognition of
the parts, can prove and demonstrate itself only in the act, only by the
constant progress of discovery. Thus, what is assumed in every investiga-
tion is the light that leads us to the object after which we inquire.
·285· We cannot pursue here how all these thoughts about the modern

etiam in voce mentem attingis; intelligentia vero sine sermon mentem intuetur:
ego enim irrationaliter, tu vero rationaliter, angelus intellectualiter.” [“Even for
one who speaks the Latin language, I (Cusanus) hear by means of a voice, and
you (Caesarino), certainly, touch the mind in the voice; certainly intelligence sees
the mind without speech: even I without reason, you, certainly, with reason, the
angel intellectually.”]
6. Cusanus, “Complementum theologicum,” chapter IV.
T HE PRO BLEM OF LANGUAGE FOR M ODERN PHILOS OP HY 253
philosophy of religion, modern epistemology, and the modern theory of
science have been elaborated.7 It might, however, already have become
clear in this quick overview how tightly and insolubly the principal ques-
tions of the philosophy of language are interconnected to that very gen-
eral philosophical weltanschauung, and how the direction in which they
are to be answered rests upon the basic direction and figure of systematic
philosophy.

7. For more details, see my work Individual and Cosmos in the Philosophy of the
Renaissance, 57ff.
The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place
in the System of Philosophy
(1927)

In philosophical essays written for the occasion of Eduard Zellers’s fif-


tieth doctoral anniversary about forty years ago, Friedrich Theodor
Vischer focused attention on the concept of the symbol, which he had previ-
ously treated extensively in his aesthetics. On that occasion, he described
this concept as a mutating Proteus, difficult to come to grips with and
confine. In fact, there is probably no other concept in aesthetics that has
proven to be so rich, so fruitful, and to have had so many applications as
this one. There is, however, also almost no other that is so difficult to
contain within the limits of a fixed definitional determination, so un-
equivocally restrictive in its use and signification. And this difficulty in-
creases and intensifies if, as is the case in these considerations, we grasp
the problem of symbolism so broadly that it does not belong exclusively
to any single domain of spirit but rather becomes a systematic focal point
toward which all of the basic disciplines of philosophy are directed—
logic no less than aesthetics, the philosophy of language as well as the

[First published as “Das Symbolproblem und seine Stellung im System der


Philosophie” in Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 21 (Stuttgart:
Enke, 1927), 191–208. Original English translation: “The Problem of the Symbol
and Its Place in the System of Philosophy,” tr. J. M. Krois, in Man and World 11
(1978), 411–28. The current translation is a modified version of Krois’s original
translation from Symbol, Technik, Sprache: Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1927–1933, ed. Ernst
Wolfgang Orth and John Michael Krois (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1985), 1–38.]
254
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 255
philosophy of religion. It is not difficult to show the signification of the
concept and problem of the symbol for the internal development of
thought in these domains. We need only turn to the historical progress
of their basic problems to see it stand out clearly and distinctly. However,
with every transition to a new sphere of the problem, there appears an
enrichment as well as a new displacement of the problem; a true ȝİȐȕĮȚȢ
İ‫ݧ‬Ȣ ܿȜȜȠ ȖȑȞȠȢ [a change to a wholly other genus] arises with conse-
quences. When we look from the philosophy of religion to the philoso-
phy of art, and from there to logic and the theory of science, and we find
the problem of the symbol as an active and significant concern in all of
them, the universality of this significance must unmistakably be paid ·2·
for with a constant change of signification. It becomes something else
depending upon the new spiritual atmosphere in which it stands. In the
religious sphere, in which the concept of the symbolic is originally rooted,
it appears above all to be taken in a purely thing-like and thoroughly
“objective” sense. Here, the symbol does not resemble a merely medi-
ated comparison, of a metaphor or “emblem”; it stands before us as an
immediate actuality [Wirkliches] because it stands before us as an imme-
diate effect [Wirksames]. In early Christianity, according to Harnack, sym-
bolism was not thought of as the opposite of the objective or real but
rather as the mysterious and sacred—the mysterious to which the natu-
ral, clear, and profane was opposed.1 However, symbolism immediately
appears in another light as soon as we leave the sphere of religious mean-
ing and look at aesthetic meaning. Here, its actuality [Wirklichkeit] and
tangible reality [Realität] now seem in another light progressively to fade
away—but a new, genuinely ideal element now appears all the more dis-
tinctly. In the whole of speculative aesthetics from Plotinus to Hegel, the
concept and problem of the symbolic arise precisely at that point where
the relationship of the sensible world to the intelligible world, the rela-
tionship between the appearance and the idea [Idee], is to be determined.
The beautiful is essentially and necessarily a symbol because, and to the
extent that, it is split within itself, because it is always and everywhere
unity and double. In this splitting, in its adherence to and its transcen-
dence of the sensory, the tension that pervades the world of our conscious-

1. Adolph von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 3rd ed. (Freiburg: J. C. B.


Mohr, 1894), vol. I, 198.
256 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
ness is not only expressed but it is also revealed in the original and fun-
damental polarity of being itself: in the dialectic that exists between the
finite and the infinite, between the absolute idea [Idee] and its presenta-
tion and embodiment within the world of particular empirical existents.
Yet, another relationship confronts us within the sphere of purely logical
·3· problems. Here, too, the construction and development of these prob-
lems show that the coherence of the logical world of form cannot be
adequately grasped or exactly presented unless we use certain concrete,
sensible signs for this presentation. Through them, as representatives [Re-
präsentanten] of logical meaning, its inner structure is truly opened up to
us for the first time. In modern philosophy, it was Leibniz, above all, who
first realized this fundamental relationship and pursued it in every direc-
tion. It is well known how this, his basic view, like his demand for a
“universal characteristic” that should always accompany logic, proved
itself in his work and showed its productive capacity in the creation of
the algorithm of infinitesimal calculus. It has, however, been effective far
beyond these quarters. In fact, it is no exaggeration to maintain that the
entire scientific configuration of logic and mathematics, as it was carried
out in the nineteenth century, stood under its influence. The constant
and continuous formation of Leibniz’s guiding idea has, on the one hand,
given rise to Hermann Grassman’s geometrical characterization and his
theory of expansion and, on the other hand, provided the basis for the
foundation of symbolic logic by Boole, Peano, and Russell. And today, a
thinker such as Hilbert, the princeps mathematicorum [the prince of math-
ematicians], sees the sole salvation of mathematics, along these lines.
His only hope for securing its foundations and a consistent proof of the
absence of contradictions stems from a general “formalization” of math-
ematics that will be carried out to full completion. This tendency is so
strong and dominant that, under its influence, a complete transforma-
tion in the view of the objects of mathematics has begun to assert itself.
For the proper object of mathematics is henceforth no longer numbers
or magnitudes but rather the sensibly intuitive signs themselves. “Be-
cause I assume this standpoint,” Hilbert emphasizes, “the objects of the
theory of numbers are for me, in direct opposition to Frege and Dede-
kind, the signs themselves. . . . Herein lies the firm philosophical view
which I hold to be requisite for the grounding of pure mathematics as
well as all scientific thinking, understanding, and communication; in the
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 257
beginning—we must say—was the sign.”2
Certainly, we must not overlook ·4·
or ignore the fact that this radical conclusion is still quite contested in
mathematical circles today. A dangerous opponent to Hilbert’s attempt
to reduce all mathematics to a “theory of signs” has arisen in the “in-
tuitionist mathematics” represented by Brouwer and Weyl. The attempt,
however, to fit the entire contents of mathematics into a “theory of
signs” in this way is characteristic of a typical and fundamental direction
of modern mathematical thought. And we need only indicate briefly
how much this way of thinking has affected the framing of the concepts
of the natural sciences and their epistemological foundations. As early as
Helmholtz, the concept of the sign becomes central to the epistemology
of the natural sciences. It is responsible for the unique form of his entire
theory of perception and his construction of “physiological optics.” In
addition, Heinrich Hertz has not only pursued this direction of thought
further but also given it precise and explicit formulation in his Principles of
Mechanics. According to Hertz, all natural scientific thought and all con-
cept and theory formation in physics consists in a fundamental symbolic
act: “We form for ourselves inner images or symbols of external objects;
and the form that we give them is such that the necessary consequents
of the images are always the images of the necessary consequents of the
things pictured.”3
We must now ask ourselves, however, whether the very abundance of
applications to which the concept of the symbol lends itself has not pro-
gressively eroded and destroyed its clear and determined content. Do we
still have a basic, unified, systematic problem to deal with here, a prob-
lem that extends to all areas of knowledge [Wissen] and all domains of
spirit? Or do we not, on the contrary, have a question possessing merely
an apparent unity that dissolves into a mere word as soon as we try to ·5·
grasp and define it more closely? Does the term “symbol,” as it is used
today in the philosophy of religion, aesthetics, logic, and the theory of
science, conceal some kind of unified content? Does it refer to an all-
embracing function of spirit that remains the same in its basic character-

2. David Hilbert, “Neubegründung der Mathematik,” Abhandlungen aus dem


Mathematischen Seminar der Hamburgischen Universität, vol. 1 (1922), 162.
3. [Heinrich Hertz, Die Prinzipien der Mechanik in neuem Zusammenhange dargestellt,
in Gesammelte Werke, vol. III (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1894), 1.]
258 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
istics even though it takes on a new and unique figure in each of its out-
growths? However, if this is so, where do we find the unifying bond that
connects the fullness and manifold of significations that the concept of
the symbol has gradually assumed in its immanent development? In the
closely measured time that is available to me here, I cannot answer this
question with any real exactitude and precision, let alone attempt to give
a truly systematic foundation for the answer that I have in mind. I can
only try to present a few guidelines that should serve more to suggest the
course of investigation than provide you with any positive findings. Permit
me, then, to begin with a simple concrete example that should place us
at the center of the question. We start with a particular perceptual lived-
experience, with a drawing that we see before us, which we take in some
way as an optical structure and as a coherent whole. Here, we can be
directed to the purely sensory “impression” of this drawing. We grasp
it, for example, as a simple drawn line that differs and stands out from
others through certain visible qualities and basic traits of its spatial form.
We do not need to concern ourselves for the time being with whether
spatial configuration is already included and imparted in this simple sen-
sory impression or if this organization itself only results through the
cooperation of “higher” mental functions. Nor need it concern us now
if, perhaps, what we usually refer to as the immediate “perception” of
space already embraces definite intellectual processes such as “uncon-
scious inferences.” The lived-experience of perception itself as a purely
phenomenal givenness, in any case, exhibits no such separation. It is
·6· only first introduced after subsequent psychological or epistemological
analysis. However, while devoting myself to the impression of this sim-
ple lived-experience of perception, while I follow the individual lines of
the drawing in their visible relationship, in their lightness and darkness,
in their contrast against the background, and their upward and down-
ward design, the drawn line suddenly begins, as it were, to animate itself
from within as a whole. The spatial formation [Gebilde] becomes an aes-
thetic formation [Gebilde]. In it, I grasp the character of a particular orna-
ment that combines, for me, a certain artistic meaning with a particular
artistic significance. I can be engrossed in the pure contemplation of this
ornament, I can place it before myself, so to speak, as something time-
less, or instead I grasp in and through it something else; it presents itself
to me as an excerpt and expression of an artistic language in which I
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 259
recognize the language of a particular time and the style of a historical
epoch. As Mr. Frankl most “sensibly” observed yesterday, the style, the
time’s characteristic “will-to-art,” stands all at once pregnant with
meaning and alive before me in the concrete lived-experience of the line
drawing. Once again, the form of consideration can change so that what
at first presented itself to me as a pure ornament discloses itself as the
bearer of mythic-religious signification. In the instant in which, with
reflection, I not only grasp from the outside this signification but also am
seized inwardly by it so that I live and am in it, the figure that I see before
me is as though saturated and impregnated with a new meaning. It is
beset by a tinge of magical enchantment. It no longer acts as a mere aes-
thetic form but is like a primeval revelation from another world, from the
world of the “sacred.” Here, in the middle of sensory lived-experience, it
overwhelms whoever is open to it with mystery and awe. Finally, we can
deliberately draw a sharp contrast between this form of apprehension
and inner appropriation, and another one that is diametrically opposed
to it. Where the aesthetic observer and connoisseur devotes himself to
the intuition of pure form, and where the form reveals a mystical mean- ·7·
ing to the religiously moved, the formation [Gebilde] that is visible to the
eye can also offer itself to thought as an example of a coherent purely
logical conceptual structure. As Plato said, the constellations themselves
signify nothing to the calculating astronomer, but serve him only as “par-
adigms” through which he becomes conscious of the purely mathemat-
ical nature of movement and the timeless ideal essence of “faster” and
“slower.” Thus, for the mathematical mind, the line drawing becomes
nothing but a visible graphic representation [Repräsentation] of a certain
functional process. In its immediately given figure, it grasps something
that is completely beyond intuition as such. It sees in it the image of a
law, a form of ideal correlation, which is the ultimate foundation of all
mathematical thought. And here, too, it is the whole of the intuitive fig-
ure, not merely a part or fragment of it, which is configured from this
specific “point of view” and is accordingly imbued with a certain con-
tent of meaning. Where aesthetic direction of contemplation perhaps sees
a beautiful line in the style of Hogarth, the view of the mathematician
sees the image of a certain trigonometric function, such as the image of
a sine curve, while the mathematical physicist perhaps recognizes in this
same curve the law of a certain natural process, such as the law of peri-
260 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
odic oscillation. We attempt to express this systematic interconnection by
considering the fundamental sensory lived-experience with which we are
dealing, in this case, as received into, determined by, and configured
through various “symbolic forms.” This way of speaking, however, must
not be understood as though we were dealing here with a mere separation
or temporal succession of “form” and “matter.” If we may distinguish,
by employing Husserl’s terminology, between the sensory material and
“animating acts,” between the sensual ‫ވ‬ȜȘ [hyle] and intentional ȝȠȡijȒ
[morphe], this abstract distinction can never mean that these may be sepa-
rated in the phenomenon or that in itself formless matter, which is gradu-
·8· ally taken up into various forms of bestowing meaning and subsequently
configured by them, is given. Whoever in this way converts the Kantian
“dualism” of form and matter, which is a difference of signification and
transcendental “validity,” into a divergence and juxtaposition of things
in real existence, has thereby already missed the decisive point of view
needed for the profound understanding of this difference. For us, in any
case, it is certain that pure phenomenological “sensation” and “sense-
bearing” are only given as an indivisible unity. We can never completely
separate the sensory as such, as some naked “raw material” of sensation,
from the whole complex of meaning. Yet, we can indicate the different
ways it configures itself and how it means and “says” differently, accord-
ing to the characteristic perspective of meaning, the focal point under
which it comes. Philosophy must not permit itself to be content to fix
itself to one of these focal points, no matter how comprehensive it may
appear to be. Rather, it must attempt to encompass them all in a higher
synopsis and to understand [verstehen] each of them in their constitutive
principles, for it is precisely the totality [Totalität] of these principles that
constitutes the objective unity and totality [Ganzheit] of spirit. A strictly
“critical” philosophy cannot direct its attention toward schematically sim-
plifying the richness and fullness that is offered in the various basic ori-
entations of cultural consciousness by trying to force them together into
a general form. We must try to grasp in concreto the particular manner in
which the sensory becomes the bearer of meaning within each of these
domains, and attempt to show in their resoluteness the fundamental laws
under which all of these various processes of forming stand.
Here, we can see in all of these particular worlds of form, no matter
how much they differ in principle and structure, that there is nonetheless
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 261
a certain direction of construction in their order and a certain manner in
which they develop from elementary figures to more complex figures. By
trying briefly and, therefore, of course, only in an abstract and sche-
matic way to indicate the guidelines of this development, we can intro-
duce a very broad relational system of thought, according to which we can ·9·
describe and ascertain the “orientation” of each symbolic form. Just as
we can completely render the figure of a spatial curve by introducing
three vertical axes one after another, measuring the distance of every
point of the curve from these axes, so it is permissible to distinguish three
different dimensions of symbolic forming. The simplest and, in a certain
sense, the most original and primitive type of this relation confronts us
wherever some sensory lived-experience becomes imbued for us with a
certain meaning-content to which a characteristic expressive value adheres
and appears saturated by it. Even here, we are essentially beyond the
abstraction of a “mere” sensible sensation, as dogmatic sensationalism
understands it. This is because the sensible content stands before us, to
speak with Spinoza, not as a mute image on a tablet but, rather, imme-
diately in its objective existence and its being-a-certain-way through
which it communicates to us from its inner life. This transparency of the
sensory is as such inherent in every aesthetic intuition as such; however,
it is by no means restricted to the domain of the aesthetic. Rather, it can
be recognized in every sound of language and in every elementary fig-
ure of myth. We are not inquiring here into the possibility of this inter-
connection, nor are we attempting to know whether it is grounded in either
the metaphysical or the basic psychological determinations that possess
an external and sensory power to express some “internal” being in this
way, immediately revealing it to us. The answers that have been pro-
posed to this question either misinterpret the problem that we are deal-
ing with here, by substituting a foreign fact for it, such as the logical fact
of an analogical inference, or, at best, merely create another designation
for the phenomenon by speaking of a symbolic “empathy” of the inter-
nal with the external. Yet, the more problematic that all theories of the
originary phenomenon of expression prove themselves to be, the more
clearly and definitely it stands before us as a phenomenon. However, on ·10·
the other hand, a look at language, and especially the linguistic sentence,
which can be identified more rightly than the word as the proper struc-
tural element of language, shows that language does not remain in this
262 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
first sphere, the sphere of expression; rather, it must necessarily tran-
scend it in order to fulfill its particular task. For in every sentence there
is always a certain positing that aims at an objective fact that language
seeks to contain and describe in some way. Here, it is no longer the mere
conditioned state spoken of that is mediated through speech; rather, a
relation in being is expressed that is supposed to persist “in itself ” and
is thought to be accessible and ascertainable in its consistence by every
sensitive, intuitive, and thinking subject. The copula “is” is the purest
and most pregnant imprint of this new dimension of language, which
can be signified with the term that Bühler introduced with reference
to Husserl as the function of presentation [Darstellungsfunktion]. However,
another, third sphere now rises above this function of presentation, which
we will designate as pure signification [reine Bedeutung]. It is separated from
the sphere of presentation in that it has freed itself from the ground of
intuitional configuration in which presentation is rooted and out of which
it continuously draws its strength. It is suspended, so to speak, in the free
ether of pure thought. The sign, in the sense of the sign of pure signifi-
cation, neither expresses nor presents. It is a sign in the sense of a mere
abstract correlation. It maintains a reciprocal relation and correspondence
that is grasped as a general law. We must, however, refrain from thinking
of the elements that enter into this relation as an autonomous consis-
tence and content that exist and signify something beyond this relation.
This relationship is perhaps most clearly expressed in the modern foun-
dations of geometry introduced by Pasch and brought to completion by
·11· Hilbert. In their system, points, lines, and planes, which, according to
older interpretations, we are accustomed to viewing as intuitive formations
[Gebilde], do not lose all of their presentative meaning. They only serve as
signs for a certain content of signification—for that mathematical mean-
ing-content that is expressed in the axioms of geometry. Whatever ful-
fills these axioms can be chosen as representative [Repräsentant] of this
meaning-content, for in every genuine geometric proposition there is
the constitutive law of this content, not the intuitive determination of the
elements themselves. Thus, the points and straight lines in this “abstract”
geometry can be replaced in a certain manner by structures [Gebilde] of
a completely different intuitive nature without these different intuitive
interpretations changing anything of the character of the logical con-
tent of the particular geometry in question, because this is based solely
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 263
upon the pure form of the axioms themselves, that is, on general principles
of correlation and not on particular figures and formations [Gebilde].
If we take this general differentiation of the functions of expression,
presentation, and signification as our basis, which I can, of course, no more
than sketch for you, then we possess a general plan of ideal orientation
within which we can now indicate to a certain extent the position of
each symbolic form. Of course, this position cannot be fixed once and
for all such that it could be referred to within the basic plan by a fixed
point. On the contrary, it is characteristic for each form that, in the vari-
ous phases of its development and in the different stages of its spiritual
construction, it has a different relationship to the three basic poles that
we have tried to distinguish here. It shifts from place to place in this de-
velopment, and by virtue of this movement it is able to attain its own
area of being and meaning; it reaches its completion and internal limits.
Let us try to make this clear once more with the example of language.
There can be no doubt how very much and how strongly language, from
its most primitive configurations to its highest stages, is founded on and ·12·
rooted in the purely expressive. As one-sided and insufficient as it is to
attempt to understand language merely as expressive movement, as did
Wundt, and to attempt to determine its spiritual nature [Wesen] from that
perspective, there can be no doubt that a certain expressive or “physiog-
nomic” character still adheres in the words of our highly developed lan-
guage. The modern psychology of expression has called direct attention
to these features of language. Heinz Werner has recently undertaken
experiments in the Hamburg Psychological Laboratory to try to shed light
on this physiognomic side of the lived-experiences of language. On the
other hand, there is no question that only a single motive and, as it were,
single dimension of linguistic expression is concerned and that language
as a whole is truly constituted and perfected only when it goes beyond
this motive. In order to make the nature and continuity of this process
clear to us, we need only observe the procedure that is usually employed
in language to coin the first designation for spatial relationships. Lan-
guage has a new task wherever such relationships are signified linguis-
tically, where “here” is distinguished from “there,” where the location of
the speaker is distinguished from that of the one spoken to, or where
greater nearness or distance is rendered by various indicative particles.
Here, the merely subjective sensation and stimulus are transformed into
264 T H E PROBLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
an objective intuition: natural sounds of pure feeling give way to the
sounds of presentation. However, the continuity of development that is
manifested here consists in the fact that the new form to which language
is now elevated still uses the older material means. The components of
pure emotive expression are not discarded but are preserved though, at
the same time, they change their figure; they are given a new meaning
and, as it were, a new life. This two-sided relationship, or bipolar char-
acter, is clearly recognizable in basic indicative words, the demonstrative
·13· pronouns of primitive languages. They come from a purely “physiog-
nomic” determination—shading and coloration of the vowel. In this sen-
sory coloration of tone, however, they contain certain basic determina-
tions of objective intuition. The sharper vowel, for instance, designates
nearness to the speaker, whereas the duller, greater distance; and in a
similar manner, the direction from I to you, that is, the centrifugal direc-
tion, is distinguished from the opposite centripetal direction. Temporal
distinctions can also be differentiated solely by tone in this way. In the
Somali languages, for example, the vowel “a” serves as a suffix to a noun
in order to designate it as temporally present, whereas the vowel “o”
designates the temporally absent, the past or the future. Thus, language
proceeds from expressive meaning to pure presentative meaning, and
from this it is constantly directed toward the “third realm,” the realm of
pure signification. Language is not confined to the sphere of the intuitive
and tangible but attempts to grasp what is ultimate and highest in the
realm of thought. However, of course, the limits of language become
visible in this attempt. For even where language is elevated to the expres-
sion of pure relations, the sensory coloration still adheres to the expres-
sion. Language repeatedly attempts to grasp expression of purely logical
determinations and relations in images, which it takes from the immedi-
ately intuitable sphere. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the most uni-
versal expression of relation, the copula of the predicative sentence. The
pure “is” of predicative statements is designated in the majority of lan-
guages, including highly developed and refined ones, in such a way that
a clearer auxiliary meaning adheres to it so that logical “being” is re-
placed by the spatial being-there [Da-Sein] and being-over-there [Dort-
Sein]. The validity of a relation is, therefore, replaced by an existential
statement, a proposition about a particular existence [Dasein], and the
character of this existence. A basic characteristic of language shows it-
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 265
self in this kind of substitution, which it cannot abandon without forfeit-
ing its own nature.
Philosophical sensationalism frequently liked to refer to this fact in
order to conclude, on the basis of language’s inability to break through
the sphere of sensory intuition, that the same inability holds for thought. ·14·
Locke made use of the theory of language as one of the foremost pieces
of evidence for his theory of knowledge. However, the most essential
element is thereby overlooked because, although pure knowledge can
in no way dispense with language as a genuine organon of thought, it
changes this instrument in its very employment. It is not bound to the
limits of phonetics and the words of language but extends beyond them
by making them serviceable for its own ends. Here, as already foreseen by
Descartes and Leibniz, a general universal language or lingua universalis
is generated as a necessary organ for the progress of scientific thought.
Only today, in modern mathematics and symbolic logic, which serve
as its foundation, has it reached its proper development and structural
perfection. In it, language has completely left the domain in which it
is originally rooted. It has, once and for all, cast aside everything that is
merely the concern of expression. Nothing adheres to the signs of the
symbolic language of mathematics and logic that in any way includes a
relation to the “subject” or to the individual world of feeling and sensa-
tion. They serve exclusively the representation [Repräsentation] of the most
general, objective, and necessary facts. However, the world of intuition,
to which the function of presentation of language is always directed, now
progressively begins to recede until it finally disappears completely in the
new world that now emerges here and imposes and asserts its own rights
ever more clearly and consciously. In a well-known, humorous definition
of pure mathematics, Russell says that it is a domain in which one never
knows [weiß] about what one is speaking or if that which one says is true.
Naturally, this definition seeks in no way to deny the specific significance of
pure mathematics or, what, for Russell, is synonymous with it, pure logic.
It does deny, however, that this signification requires any intuitive sub-
strate or intuitive object. Here, the final radical step has been taken; the
realm of pure relations and signification has become self-supporting and ·15·
has absolved itself from every bond to an intuitively accessible existence.
The specific nature and tendency of this separation is particularly prom-
inent where it is not confined to the sphere of pure mathematics as a
266 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
theory of abstract formal relations but extends to the knowledge of real-
ity and defines it in accordance with this new ideal.
It can be said that it is precisely this new methodological approach
and revision of the basic view of the meaning and means at the disposal
of the knowledge of nature that is responsible for the crisis in modern
mathematical physics. What principally differentiates the worldview of
classical mechanics from the worldview of the general theory of relativ-
ity is the different roles and importance they assign to intuition in the
construction and constitution of the object of the natural sciences, the
object of experience. Of course, the classical Newtonian system is also
based upon concepts that are principally of a nonintuitive nature. New-
ton’s absolute space and time, which flow evenly according to their
own nature and separately from all relations to an external object, have
no intuitive content. When, however, we consider their structure more
closely, it turns out that they refer to the field of intuitional being and
that they are derived from it by a continual process of progressive ideal-
ization. They merely follow through to the end the path that intuition
points out. They subjugate physical being to a fixed geometric intu-
itional schema within which all natural processes are to be ordered. Space
and time appear here, at least, as analogies of empirical intuitive objects.
Even in their absoluteness, they are still understood as thing-like, con-
crete formations [Gebilde]. The concept of mass in Newtonian physics
also has this concrete, substantial character. A piece of matter can be
fixed as a self-identical thing and be recognized in various locations in
space as being one and the same. It can, to an extent, be followed by
our gaze in all phases of its movement. The infinite number of positions
it can occupy in space at different times form, nonetheless, a readily
·16· comprehensible whole insofar as they steadily emerge from one another
and are all bound to the same given, intuited substratum. However, it is
precisely this substantiality of space, time, and mass that has been pro-
gressively abandoned by modern physics. Maxwell’s theory of light and
electricity forms, here, an important and methodologically essential be-
ginning. The mechanical theory of light had to attempt to explain opti-
cal phenomena by thinking of them as the image of a determined move-
ment that was configured on the pattern of the movement of solid bodies.
Even after it had progressed from emission theory to wave theory, light
waves were still considered as something concrete, as a movement of
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 267
particles, which propagated themselves in the medium of ether in the
same manner that a wave spreads out in water or the vibration of an
elastic string spreads through the air. Maxwell’s theory, on the other
hand, broke through this manner of explanation. In place of this kind of
description of physical processes, which is like a transcription into known
intuitive accessible relationships, he gives a purely mathematical determi-
nation. Every unique position of the ether is associated with a deter-
minate state, and the periodic changes of these states, as expressed by
determinate equations, replace the metaphorical figurative expression of
the “light wave.” The character of the ether is restricted to the fact that,
for every one of its points, two directed magnitudes—the magnetic and
the electrical vector—are given. It is well known how modern theory has
progressed in this direction to become pure field physics. It could only
complete this transformation, however, by increasingly freeing itself from
the conditions of clarity upon which the older theory was based. In his
Leiden lecture on ether and relativity theory, Einstein maintained that
general relativity did not need to abandon the concept of ether; it only
had to deny that it lay in a determined state of movement. However,
such an ether, about which we can say neither that it rests nor that it ·17·
circulates with a determinate velocity (it is, of course, no longer a physi-
cal “thing”), is configured analogically to a thing given to intuition: it
has become a pure symbol of order. And it is also symbols of order of
this kind that we have before us in the concepts of time and space in the
general theory of relativity. For, on the one hand, the interchangeability
of space and time that is maintained here must appear for intuition as
unattainable. On the other hand, “the” time and “the” space as such
ceased to be something objectively independent, something measurable.
Space no longer has a fixed “structure” as such that we might determine
as Euclidean or non-Euclidean. Rather, for each position there is a par-
ticular determination of mass, which depends upon the form of certain
physical magnitudes, on the magnitudes that determine the gravitational
field for the place in question. I do not need to enter any further into all
of these interconnections; here they should only serve as a confirmation
of how the “symbols” with which the modern physicist describes the
processes of nature have, in fact, taken the last decisive step and left the
area of intuition and presentation for the domain of pure signification.
Recent mathematics and physics have not gone this way by means of
268 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
a short cut; rather, they have been led to it, with factual necessity, by the
peculiar character of their methods and their objects. Of this there can
be no serious doubt. The kind of symbolic forming of thought that is
effected here, however, now stands out all the more sharply from the
basic attitudes of other spiritual domains. In this context and before this
audience, I do not need to enter into the particularity of aesthetic form-
ing. One thing is immediately clear: The aesthetic object is rooted in the
world of perception and its conditions in a wholly other and far deeper
sense than is the case with the empirical physical object. No matter how
far or how high aesthetic presentation reaches beyond the sensory given-
ness of appearances, or how much it strives toward the ideal—the do-
main of ȞȠȘIJȩȞțȐȜȜȠȢ [the beautiful known object]—it is and remains
·18· restricted to intuitional being and must closely cling to it. It appears to
have become more difficult for aesthetic theory to understand the rela-
tions maintained within aesthetic apprehension and configuration, be-
tween the world of pure expression and the world of pure presentation. The
attempt has been made, not infrequently, to relate the aesthetic exclu-
sively or, at least, chiefly to one of these two poles, thereby giving it a
foundation. There are aesthetic systems that try so much to restrict art to
the emotional and have it so fully absorbed by the pure lived-experiences
of expression that, as a result, that which is characteristic of the aesthetic
object is almost lost. There are others, however, that try to separate the
aesthetic in the strict and proper sense from its roots in subjective “feel-
ing” so that, for them, it becomes nothing but a definite, basic form of
objective comprehension and knowledge, which, as such, stands on the
same level as the theoretical knowledge of nature. It is unmistakable, how-
ever, that through this isolation and abstract juxtaposition of the “sub-
jective” and the “objective” elements, the specific form of the aesthetic
is destroyed rather than recognized. For what is unique about the na-
ture [Wesen] and the basic character of the aesthetic form of meaning is
that, in it, these two motives, which prove to be separable and relatively
independent of each other in other forms of meaning, are no longer sepa-
rated, and stand instead in a purely correlative and mutually determin-
ing kind of relationship. Here, we can no longer ask which of these two
elements—the element of expression or the element of presentation—is
the ʌȡȩIJİȡȠȞIJ߲ijȪıİȚ, what is, by nature, earlier and later. For the nature
of the aesthetic itself excludes every such relationship of earlier and
TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 269
later, every relation of one-sided and univocal dependence, dependence
of the one on the other. It is the merging [Aufgehen] of the one into the
other, the ideal balance that presents itself between them, that consti-
tutes aesthetic comportment as well as the aesthetic object. Here I would
like to appeal to what Mr. Prinzhorn presented yesterday on the prob-
lem of rhythm. The gist of his characterization of rhythm was precisely ·19·
that it is the “equilibrium of the polar tension between expression and
presentation.” If we look back once more to language, we see that the lan-
guage of poetry is different in nature from that of ordinary life and that
of science in that, for it, there is no opposition and separation of presen-
tative meaning from expressive meaning. It seeks in expression, and by
virtue of it, pure presentation, as in pure presentation it seeks pure ex-
pression. Every perfect poem by Goethe, for instance, presents us with
both an indissoluble unity and whole [Ganzheit]. It is completely sub-
merged in and saturated with a particular mood in every tone and in its
entire rhythmical movement. It is precisely in this melodic-rhythmic ex-
pressive content, however, that a new figure of the world, which then
appears before us in pure objectivity, is constructed for us. The various
art forms—poetry, music, and the spatial arts, including painting and
sculpture—may attain this unity in various ways and by different means,
but it is absent in none of them because it belongs to the essence of ar-
tistic forming as such.
I cannot enter more closely into the host of interesting specific ques-
tions that a treatment of the theme demands. I have only attempted
here to sketch a general outline of the problem. I only wanted to create
a framework for a treatment of the problem of the symbol, realizing that
I cannot fill it out in any fashion. Filling out this framework must be left
to the individual lectures, each of which will illuminate the problem from
a particular angle.
By way of conclusion, I may at least say a few words about a very gen-
eral, basic question that arises with the analysis of every symbolic form.
We cannot even use the terminus “symbol” without raising the general
question that we may designate as the truth-question. A symbol would not
be a symbol if it did not lay claim to a kind of truth. A mere sign that is
detached from every relation to something that is to be signified or to a
signification that it grasps and brings to expression would thereby no longer ·20·
be a sign. It would be reduced to a mere existence in which the character-
270 TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOS OP HY
istic sign function was extinguished. The difference, therefore, between
our idealistic conception of symbolic forms and a realistic view does not
lie in any denial of the objective certainty of these forms. On the con-
trary, the attempt here is to establish this certainty and to understand it
by means of a general principle.
Kant saw the basic character of Platonic idealism in the fact that
Plato did not stop with the “copy view of the physical world order”4 but
elevated himself instead to an intuition of its “architectonic connection.”
In this sense, the standpoint of the mere “copy view” must be exchanged
for that of the “architectonic connection” in every sphere of objectivity,
no matter of what kind or type. Such a sphere cannot, by the simple imi-
tation and rendering of some pre-given being, evidence the truth and
objectivity that characteristically belongs to it; rather, it accomplishes
this in the meaningful order of the construction that it carries out by
virtue of an original principle of giving form.
It is well known how this basic thought has proven itself in the “Co-
pernican turn” that Kant executed in his attempt to lay the foundations
of knowledge. The object [Objekt] of knowledge, i.e., nature, stands under
the pure laws of the understanding because it is there alone that we are
able and allowed to spell out appearances as experiences, that is, so that
we can combine them into objective unities. However, we also have to
realize that, beyond this purely theoretical domain, the respective form
of combination, the synopsis, does not imitate the object seen in this
synopsis but constitutes it. To be sure, aesthetics, like the critique of
knowledge, has also taken centuries to learn to grasp and determine the
concept of “natural truth” in this sense. Again and again, it was forgot-
ten that nature, as “beautiful” nature, is neither given nor set before the
sculptor or painter as the goal of imitation but rather is the mode and
direction of artistic configuration out of which the individual arts’ intu-
ition of nature grows. Thus, the law of style and, hence, the law of inner
·21· truth under which every individual art stands cannot be extracted from
some fixed “nature of things.” It is, rather, the independent originality
and autonomy of this law that itself determines this truth. The agree-
ment with this inner norm, which is a norm of forming [Bilden], gives the
formed [Gebilde] its stable order. In this sense, the aesthetic of the eighteenth

4. [Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B 370.]


TH E PRO BLEM OF THE SYM BOL I N PHI LOSOP HY 271
century, the aesthetics of Mendelssohn and Lessing, already pronounced
this thought by asserting that we must begin with the kind of signs that
each art uses in order to reach a certain demarcation of its domain and
possibilities. The determination of an art lies in what it is capable of by
virtue of its specific signs, not in what the other arts are just as much or
more capable of accomplishing. In the end, this principle of Lessing
informs us that it is none other than the style of each art that is decisive
in determining its immanent truth and its objectivity, not the other way
around. If we conceive this basic thought in general terms, then we are
thereby required, as in the case of the individual arts, to inquire into the
law of forming in all domains of spirit as such, and into the understand-
ing of the objective structures that become visible in them. Let us recall,
once again, our example of the line drawing that could first be taken as
an aesthetic ornament, then as a magical-mythical insignia, and then
again as a mathematical curve that served as the designation of a func-
tional process. And in each of these versions, a thoroughly different ob-
jective imprint was attained. Thus, in this way, it now becomes clear how
that which we call the object is to be understood not in the manner of a
fixed and rigid forma substantialis [substantive form] but as a functional
form. At the same time, it can be seen how the richness of being originally
unfolds out of the richness of meaning, and how the manifold character
of the significations of being does not stand in contradiction to the de-
mand for the unity of being; rather, it is just the proper fulfillment of this
demand that is exhibited.
Form and Technology
(1930)

1
·39· If we judge the signification of the individual subdomains of human culture
primarily by their actual effectiveness, if we determine the value of these
domains according to the magnitude of their direct accomplishments, there
can hardly be any doubt that by this measure technology claims first
place in the construction of our contemporary culture. Likewise, no mat-
ter whether we reproach or praise, exalt or damn this “primacy of tech-
nology,” its pure factuality seems to be beyond question. All the forces of
configuration in contemporary culture are increasingly concentrated on
this one point. Even the strongest counterforces to technology, even those
spiritual potencies that are most distant from technology in their content
and meaning, seem able to actualize themselves only insofar as they be-
come conjoined with technology and, through this alliance, become
imperceptibly subjected to it. Today, many consider this subjugation the
ultimate goal of modern culture, and its inevitable fate. However, even
if we think it impossible to constrain or stop this course of things, a final

[First published as “Form und Technik” in Kunst und Technik, ed. Leo Kestenberg
(Berlin: Volksverband der Bücherfreude-Verband, 1930), 15–61. Translated from
Symbol, Technik, Sprache: Aufsätze aus den Jahren 1927–1933, ed. Ernst Wolfgang Orth
and John Michael Krois (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1985), 39–90. The current trans-
lation is a collaborative effort by Steve Lofts, Antonio Calcagno, John Krois, and
Wilson Dunlavey.]
272
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 273
question remains. The essence and basic determination of spirit does not
tolerate any external determination. Even where it entrusts itself to a for-
eign power and sees its progress determined by it, spirit must at least
attempt to penetrate the core and meaning of this determination. Spirit
thereby reconciles itself with its fate and becomes free. Even if spirit is
not able to repel and conquer the power to which it is subjected, it nev-
ertheless demands to know this power and to see it for what it is. If this
demand is made in earnest, it does not possess a merely “ideal” significa- ·40·
tion and is not limited to the realm of “pure thought.” From the clarity
and certainty of seeing follows a new force of effective action, a force with
which spirit strikes back against every external determination, against
the mere fatality of matter and the effects of things. Insofar as spirit is
mindful of the powers that seem to determine it externally, this mindful-
ness already contains a characteristic turning back and turning inward.
Instead of grasping outwardly at the world of things, it now turns back
onto itself. Instead of exploring the depths of effects, it returns to itself
and, by means of this concentration, achieves a new strength and depth.
Admittedly, we are still far away from fulfilling this ideal demand today,
particularly in the domain of technology. A gulf that separates thought
and activity [Tun], knowledge [Wissen] and effective action repeatedly
emerges. If Hegel is correct when he states that the philosophy of an age
is nothing more than that very age “grasped in thought,” and if this phi-
losophy, understood as the idea of the world, only appears after reality
has completed this process of formation and so “finished itself,”1 then we
would have to expect that the incomparable development of technology
over the course of the past century corresponds to a change in the way of
thinking. If, however, we look at philosophy’s present situation, this expec-
tation has been only partially fulfilled. Admittedly, from approximately
the middle of the nineteenth century onward, problems that had their
origins in the realm of technology have increasingly made their way into
abstract “philosophical” examinations, thereby giving them a new goal
and direction. Neither the theory of science nor the theory of value has
escaped this influence. The theory of knowledge, the philosophy of cul-

1. [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, oder
Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse, ed. Eduard Gans, in Werke, vol. VIII
(Berlin, 1833), 19f.]
274 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
ture, and metaphysics all attest to technology’s breadth and growing
power. This interconnection exhibits itself most clearly in certain cur-
rents of the modern theory of knowledge, which attempt to transform
the traditional relationship between “theory” and “praxis” into its op-
·41· posite, defining theoretical “truth” merely as a special case of “utility.”
Beyond these properly “pragmatic” trains of thought, however, the
growing influence of technical concepts and questions on philosophy as
a whole is unmistakable. Even modern Lebensphilosophie is often subject
to it, though Lebensphilosophie believes it takes the most vigorous stand
against it. It, too, is not free from the chains that it mocks. However, all
of these inevitable points of contact between the domains of technology
and philosophy in no way prove that an inner communality is being initi-
ated and built up between the two. Such a community can never result
from a mere sum of external “influences,” however manifold and strong
we may think them. While philosophy and technology have jointly en-
tered into the systems of positivism and empiricism—we need only think
of Mach’s principle of economy as the basis of a theory of knowledge—
this bond must not produce the semblance of a true unification of the
two. Such unification would be reached only if philosophy succeeded in
fulfilling, on this point, the general function that it has increasingly ful-
filled with ever-greater clarity for other domains of culture. Since the
days of the Renaissance, philosophy has brought all the powers of mod-
ern thought before its forum, questioning them about their meaning and
right, their origin and validity. This question of the ground of validity,
the quid juris as Kant calls it, is directed to all of the formal principles of
spirit; in posing this question, the grounds of their specific characteristics
are first uncovered, their own proper meaning and value discovered and
assured. Philosophy has achieved such assurance, such “critical” mind-
fulness and justification, for mathematics, the theoretical knowledge of
nature, the “historical” world, and the human sciences. Although new
problems constantly arise here, although the work of “critique” will never
come to an end, the direction of this work has been set since the days of
Kant and his founding of “transcendental philosophy.” Technology, how-
ever, has not yet been seriously integrated within this circle of philosophi-
·42· cal self-reflection. Technology still seems to retain a singularly peripheral
character. Genuine knowledge of technology, insight into its spiritual
“essence,” has not kept pace with the growth in its scope. A fundamental
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 275
motive for the inner tension and antagonism found in the formative ten-
dencies of our epoch lies precisely in this disparity: in this impotence of
“abstract” thought to be able to penetrate into the core of the techno-
logical world. A resolution of this tension can never be hoped for or
sought by adjusting the extreme points of the tension or by effecting a
mere compromise between them. Rather, their possible unity requires
the insight and clear and frank acknowledgment that this particular case
involves more than a mere difference; it is a genuine polarity. This fact
determines the task that philosophy has to fulfill with respect to the cur-
rent development of technology. This task cannot be limited to assigning
technology a predetermined “place” in the whole of culture and, there-
fore, in the whole of a systematic philosophy that aims to be the intel-
lectual expression of culture. Technology cannot simply be placed next
to other areas and formations [Gebilden], such as “economics” and “the
state,” “morality” and “law,” “art” and “religion.” For in the realm of
spirit, separate domains never stand simply together or next to one an-
other. Here, the community is never spatially static but possesses a dy-
namic character. One element is found “with” the other only to the ex-
tent that both assert themselves in opposition to each other, thereby mutually
“setting each other into opposition” [auseinandersetzen]. Thus, every intro-
duction of a new element [Element] not only widens the scope of the spiri-
tual horizon in which this confrontation [Auseinandersetzung] takes place but
also alters the very mode of seeing. This process of configuration not only
expands outwardly; it also experiences in itself an intensification and
heightening so that a simultaneous qualitative transformation, a specific
metamorphosis, occurs. It is not enough for modern philosophy simply
to find a “space” for technology in the edifice of its doctrine. A space
that is created in this way will always remain an aggregate space and ·43·
never become truly systematic. If philosophy wants to remain loyal to its
mission, if it wants to maintain its privilege, so to speak, of representing
the logical conscience of culture, it must also inquire into the “conditions
of possibility” of technical effective action and technical configuration,
just as it inquires into the “conditions of possibility” of theoretical knowl-
edge, language, and art. Here, too, philosophy will be able to ask the
questions of being and validity only when it has clarified the question
of meaning. This clarification, however, cannot succeed so long as one’s
considerations are limited to the sphere of the works of technology in the
276 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
domain of the effected and created. The world of technology remains
mute as long as we look at it and investigate it from this single point of
view. It begins to open up and to divulge its secret only if we return
from the forma formata to the forma formans, from that which has become
to the very principle of becoming.
Today, the urgency to return to this principle is felt much more by
those who work in technological fields and are engaged in its productive
labor than by those who work in systematic philosophy. In technology,
the power of “materialistic” ways of thinking and questioning has been
given up. The search for the purpose and legitimacy of technology re-
quires posing this question ever more clearly and ever more consciously
in reference to the “idea” [Idee] it embodies and the essential spiritual
determination that is fulfilled in it. “The origin of technology,” as ex-
pressed in one of the newest works in the philosophy of technology, “lies
in the idea [Idee].”2 Another author formulates the task as follows:
We will examine technology as the organic partial appearance of
a larger phenomenon, the development of culture as such. We will
attempt to understand it as the corporal expression, as the histori-
·44· cal fulfillment of a basic idea [Idee] required for a system of cultural
ideas [Ideen] where the tangible material of technological creations
comes to be inwardly mastered, regardless of how varied the ar-
ticulation of the idea [Idee] is in the battle of motives and tenden-
cies among those engaged in these activities. It is essential to see
the transpersonal, above the lower sphere of interests of mediating
subjects, as an overall ideal commonality in the history that determines
human actions—not as a kind of blind law, but as something they
freely take up, in order to become historical reality.3
Whatever the answer, the question itself is transferred to the level where all
genuine historical decisions belong. The question also leads the problem
back to its initial historical origin and is linked to it in a remarkable and
surprising way. Just as a modern thinker standing in the midst of the con-

2. Friedrich Dessauer, Philosophie der Technik. Das Problem der Realisierung (Bonn:
Cohen, 1927), 146.
3. Ederhard Zschimmer, Philosophie der Technik. Vom Sinn der Technik und Kritik des
Unsinns über die Technik ( Jena: E. Diederichs, 1914), 28.
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 277
crete existence and life of technology comes to see the crux of the prob-
lem, so too the discoverer of the “Idea” [Idee] and the “World of Ideas”
conceived it more than 2,000 years ago. When Plato develops the relation-
ship between “idea” [Idee] and “appearance” and seeks to justify it system-
atically, he seeks to ground it not in the figures of nature but in the works
and formations [Gebilde] of IJȑȤȞȘ [techne]. The art of the “craftsman,”
the “demiurge,” provides him with one of the great examples and models
with which he exhibits the meaning and signification of the idea [Idee].
According to Plato, this art is no mere reproduction [Nachbildung] of some-
thing that is objectively present and existing [Vorhandenen und Daseinden];
rather, art is possible only on the basis of a prototype [Vorbildes] and archetype
[Urbildes] to which the artist looks in his creative work. The artist who first
invented the loom did not initially find it as something given in the sen-
sible world; rather, he introduced it into the sensible world by looking toward
the form and purpose, toward the eidos and telos of the tool itself. Today,
the constructor [Bildner] of the loom still looks to that form. For instance, ·45·
if a loom is broken and a new one must be constructed, the broken loom
is not used as a model and pattern; rather, what gives direction to his labor
is his gaze upon the original form as exhibited in the spirit of the first inven-
tors. This general form, however, and not an individual thing existing in
the sensible world, grounds and constitutes the true and proper “being”
of the loom.4 Is it a coincidence, then, that this basic motive of Platonism
is also increasingly asserting itself in contemporary reflections on the
meaning and essence of technology? Dessauer, for example, remarks:
From a higher sphere of power and reality, through the spirit and
hands of the technician and worker, an immense stream of experi-
ence and power descends into earthly existence. A spiritual stream
pours into the chaotic material world, and everyone, from the cre-
ator to the final worker, takes part: all are recipients.
Similarly, Max Eyth writes:
Technology is everything that gives the human will a corporeal
form. Here, human willing coincides with the human spirit, which
contains an unending number of externalizations and possibilities

4. Plato, Cratylus 389 A (for details, see my presentation of the history of Greek
philosophy in Max Dessoir, Lehrbuch der Philosophie, vol. I, 92ff.).
278 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
of life. Thus, technology, despite being bound to the material world,
also received something of the boundlessness of the pure life of
the mind.5
Such remarks clearly illustrate that the modern mindfulness of the ground
and essence of technology is no longer satisfied with viewing it merely as
an “applied natural science” that is somehow harnessed and captured
in the concepts and categories of the thinking of the natural sciences.
What is sought, rather, is technology’s relation to cultural life in its to-
tality and universality. This relation, however, is to be found and estab-
lished only when we focus on the concept of form rather than on the concept
·46· of being of natural science, and when we reflect on its ground and origin,
its content and meaning. For it is only by the concept of form that the
expanse of spirit first becomes accessible and that its scope and its hori-
zons are first determined for us.6 If, instead of beginning from the exis-
tence of technological works, we were to begin from the form of the ef-
fective action of technology and shift our gaze from the mere product to
the mode and type of production—and to the lawfulness revealed in it—
then technology would lose the narrow, limited, and fragmentary char-
acter that otherwise seems to adhere to it. Technology adapts itself—not
directly in its end result, but with a view to its task and problematic—into a
comprehensive sphere of inquiry within which its specific meaning and
original spiritual tendency can be determined.
In order to penetrate this sphere and truly grasp its core, another
fundamental and purely methodological mindfulness is needed. The par-
ticular character of the question of meaning that confronts us here re-
peatedly threatens to become obscure; its borders repeatedly threaten to
become blurred because of other motives that not only join it but also
gradually and imperceptibly lead to its displacement. Such a displacement
has already occurred if we believe that the question of meaning can be
equated with the question of value, and that such a starting point can bring
about a genuine solution to the question. In this identification of “mean-

5. Friedrich Dessauer, op cit., 150; Max Eyth, Lebendige Kräfte. Sieben Vorträge aus
dem Gebiete der Technik, 4th ed. (Berlin: J. Springer, 1924), 1ff.
6. In the scope of this work, I can only state this thesis. For the development
and the systematic justification of this claim, I refer the reader to my Philosophy of
Symbolic Forms (3 vols.) (Berlin, 1923–29).
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 279
ing” and “value,” a deferral of the problem has already taken place. Ad-
mittedly, this logical lacuna continues to be largely unnoticed because it
not only belongs to the problem being investigated here but also extends
to the whole expanse of the “philosophy of culture” and spans all of its
tasks. So often in the history of thought, the “transcendental” question
is posed about the “possibility” of culture, its conditions and principles, ·47·
but rarely has this question been held on to and explored with great acu-
ity, especially concerning its pure essence [Ansich]. It constantly slid away
in two different directions: the question concerning cultural achievement
has been subordinated to the question concerning its content. We could
understand the measure of this achievement from the viewpoint of the
most different spiritual dimensions, but no matter how high or how low
we might estimate it, this would not rectify the mistake committed in the
first statement of the problem. This state of affairs already emerges with the
first real “critic” of modern culture, Rousseau. When Rousseau placed
the whole of the intellectual and spiritual formation of his time before the
real questions of conscience and destiny, the framing of his question
was dictated by external sources, that is, the competition sponsored by
the Academy of Dijon in 1750. The question was whether the rebirth of
the arts and sciences had contributed to the ethical perfection of humanity
(si le rétablissement des Sciences et des Arts a contribué à épurer les mœurs).7 Accord-
ing to Rousseau, who typified the basic orientation of Enlightenment
ethics, this perfection was reached by fulfilling desire and enjoying a
standard of “happiness” won through humankind’s transition from the
state of “nature” to that of culture. “Happiness” and “perfection” are
the two dimensions within which he sought the answer to his problem.
They provide the standards by which his responses are to be adjudi-
cated. It was not until German Idealism that a crucial turn was brought
about; German Idealism was the first to pose the “question of essence”
with great acuity and clarity, disengaging it from the accessory questions
of happiness and moral “perfection.” Thus, for instance, in the Critique
of Judgment, the realm of the beautiful could be philosophically grounded

7. [Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discours qui a remporté le prix a l’Académie de Dijon, en


l’année 1750. Sur cette question proposée par la même Académie: Si le rétablissement des sciences
et des arts a contribué à épurer les mœurs, in Collection complète des œuvres, vol. XIII (Zwei-
brücken, 1782), 27–62.]
280 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
through the autonomy, the self-legislation, and the self-signification of
the beautiful, which is discovered and guaranteed in opposition to the
feelings of pleasure and displeasure as well as to the norms and rules of
the ethical “ought.” If we turn to the realm of technology and to the
·48· ever-intensifying struggle that goes on within it in order to grasp its spe-
cific meaning and content, we discover that the struggle remains for the
most part at a preliminary stage, a stage through which the other domains
of spiritual culture have long since passed. We may bless technology or
curse it, we may admire it as one of the greatest possessions of the age
or lament its necessity and depravity—in judgments such as these, a
measure that does not originate from it is applied to it. Consciously or
unconsciously, purposes are ascribed to it that are foreign to the pure
creative will [Gestaltungswillen] and pure creative power [Gestaltungskraft] of
technology. And yet, an authentic judgment can come only from within
technology itself, that is, only from insight into its own inherent, imma-
nent law. The philosophy of technology, at least, is tied to this demand.
Admittedly, philosophy confronts the contents of spiritual culture not
only by observing and testing them but also by judging them. It does not
want merely to know them but wants also to approve and reject, assess
and evaluate, adjudicate and pass judgment upon. This philosophy can
and must do. Its intellectual conscience, however, forbids it to make a
judgment before it has penetrated into the essence of that which is being
judged, grasping it on its own terms. This freedom of the philosophical
gaze, however, is rarely found in modern apologias for technology or in
the attacks and accusations directed against it. Again, we are tempted to
employ the maxim that Spinoza formulated in his political philosophy for
the accused as well as the plaintiff: non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed
intelligere [Do not laugh, do not lament, even do not hate; rather, under-
stand].8 The determination of “being” and “being-a-certain-way,” the
intuition of what technology is, must precede the judgment of its value.

8. See, for example, the disparate judgments over the meaning and worth of
technology, which Zschimmer has summarized in his Philosophie der Technik, e.g.,
45ff., 136ff. [Baruch de Spinoza, Tractatus politicus. In quo demonstratur, quomodo
societas, ubi imperium monarchicum locum habet, sicut et ea, ubi optimi imperant, debet institui,
ne in tyrannidem labatur, et ut pax, libertasque civium inviolata maneat, in Opera postuma
(Hamburg, 1677), 268.]
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 281
Here arises a new dilemma: the “being” of technology permits itself
to be grasped and exhibited in no way other than in its activity. It ap-
pears only in its function. It exists neither in its external appearance nor ·49·
in what it externalizes; rather, it exists in the manner and direction of the
externalization itself, in the impulse and process of configuration to which
this externalization is subjected. Thus, being can become visible only in
becoming, work can become visible only in energy—but this particular
difficulty clears the way and indicates the direction for further consider-
ation. For here, at this point, the affinity and internal relation between
technology and the pure form and principle of other basic powers of
culture [Geist], no matter how different they may be with respect to their
content, become clear. What Humboldt has proven for language is also
valid for these other powers: the genuine conceptual determination, the
only true “definition” that can be given for these powers, is a genetic
one. They cannot and must not be understood as “dead products,” but as
a way and basic direction of production. It is from this intellectual ten-
dency that we should inquire into the essence of technology. Goethe says
that when a human being acts meaningfully, he always and simultane-
ously acts as a lawmaker. It belongs to the essential task of philosophy to
penetrate into this human lawgiving, to measure and penetrate its unity
and internal differences, its universality and particularity. Only through
such a comprehensive endeavor can we secure a basis for a detailed
judgment. What is hoped for is the determination of a norm above all
merely subjective expressions of praise and reprimand, favor and dis-
pleasure, seizing instead the authentically objective “form” of the per-
ceived object in its nature and necessity.

2
Max Eyth, one of the most enthusiastic and eloquent pioneers of the
spiritual sovereignty of technology, begins his lecture “Poetry and Tech-
nology” from the known relationship between the function of technol-
ogy and the function of language. ·50·

Two things essentially distinguish animals from human beings,


understood from the perspective of their external appearance:
the word and the tool. The ability to create words and tools has . . .
282 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
made the human being out of the animal. How these abilities have
come into the world will undoubtedly remain an eternal puzzle
that no theory of evolution will be capable of solving, because they
originate in a spiritual wellspring from which no animal has ever
drunk. Both abilities were imperative for the survival of the human
being in a hostile world in which he, physically more helpless,
weaker, and less resistant than most animals, would undoubtedly
have quickly perished. What saved him . . . in the sphere of knowl-
edge [Wissen] was language; in the sphere of ability, the tool. The
power that turned the mere defenseless human being into the sov-
ereign over every living thing on earth rests on knowledge [Wissen]
and ability, on the word and the tool. . . . In prehistoric times, far
from the beginnings of culture, the tool undoubtedly played the
primary role in the configuration of human existence. . . . Later,
a decisive alteration in the relationship between word and tool
emerged. Language, just because it can speak, knew how to create
for itself a superior, one might say improper meaning. In the sen-
sibility of human beings, the mute tool was increasingly relegated
to the background. Knowledge [Wissen] was master and ability
served. This relationship continued to intensify and has continued
to be accepted until now. Today we stand amid a fierce struggle
that is endeavoring, if not to alter, then to return the relationship
of the two to its proper foundation. In its growing domination, lan-
guage exalted its improper claim to be the only tool of the spirit.
In general, language believes this still today. Concerning the tool
of the spirit, language forgets the spirit of the tool. Both word and
tool are a product of the same originary spiritual force that has
made the animal homo into the human being, homo sapiens, as it is
·51· called by the scholars who, of course, allude only to the human
being’s knowledge [Wissen] and forget the skill that has rendered all
his knowledge [Wissen] possible.9
I have singled out these sentences by a technician and a thinker of
technology because a real philosophical problem is hidden in the parallel

9. Max Eyth, “Poesie und Technik” (op. cit., 12ff.); see the lecture “Zur
Philosophie des Erfindens” (op. cit., 230ff.).
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 283
asserted here between language and tools. It is not merely wit, or an
external analogy, that brings together language and tools and attempts
to understand them by one spiritual principle. The idea of such an es-
sential relation was not foreign to the first “philosophers of language”
within European thought. They did not primarily preconceive the word
and language as the mere means of presentation, as the means for the
description of external reality. Rather, they saw in language a means for
the mastery of reality. For them, language became a weapon and a tool
that human beings employed in order to compete in the struggle with
nature and with their peers in social and political conflict.10 “Logos”
itself, as the expression of the particular intellectuality of the human
being, appears here to have a “theoretical” as well as an “instrumental”
signification. Yet, implicitly contained in this is the counter-thesis that
the power of logos also rests in every simple material tool, in every ap-
plication of a material thing that serves human will. Thus, the determi-
nation of essence, the definition of the human being, develops in this
twofold direction. The human being is a “rational” being [Wesen] in the
sense that “reason” comes from language and is insolubly bound to it;
ratio and oratio, thinking and speaking, become interchangeable con-
cepts.11 However, at the same time, and no less originally, man appears
as a technical, a tool-forming being [Wesen]—“a tool-making animal,”12
to employ Benjamin Franklin’s words. The power with which man asserts ·52·
himself against external reality, and by virtue of which he first gains a
mental “image” of this reality, is determined by these two sides of his es-
sence. All spiritual handling of reality is bound to this double act of “grasp-
ing” [Fassen], of “conceiving” [Begreifen] reality in linguistic-theoretical
thought and “comprehending” [Erfassen] through the medium of effective
action the intellectual and technological giving of form.
In both cases, it is essential to guard against a misunderstanding in

10. For details about this “analogical character of logos” in the theory of
language of the Sophists, see the explanation of Ernst Hoffmann, Die Sprache und
die archäische Logik (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1925), 28ff.
11. [The original text reads: “ratio and oratio, speaking and thinking.” However,
as thinking corresponds to ratio and speaking to oratio, we have inverted the
terms.]
12. [Verified by James Boswell (conversation on April 7, 1778), in Life of Samuel
Johnson, vol. II (London: Macmillan, 1900), 425.]
284 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
order to penetrate into the actual meaning of this giving of form. The
“form” of the world, whether in thinking or doing, whether in speech or
in effective action, is not simply received and accepted by the human
being; rather, it must be “formed” by him. In this respect, thinking and
doing are originally united; they both stem from this common root of
forming figures, gradually unfolding and branching off from it. Wilhelm
von Humboldt13 has shown this basic relationship in language. He dem-
onstrates how the act of speaking is never a mere receiving of the object,
a reception of the existing form of the object in the I. Rather, it contains
in itself a real act of world-creation, the raising up of the world to form.
The idea that different languages only denote the same mass, indepen-
dent of the objects and concepts available to them, is, for Humboldt,
truly pernicious for the study of language. This view masks that which
constitutes language’s genuine meaning and value. It conceals language’s
creative role in the laying out, production, and securing of the intuitive
worldview. The difference among languages is not a difference between
sounds and signs, rather it is “a difference of worldviews.”14 Correctly
understood, what is said here about the use of language also holds for
each use of the material tool, however elementary and “primitive.” Here,
too, that which is crucial is never found in the material goods that are
·53· gained through it, in the quantitative expansion of the sphere of influ-
ence through which, little by little, one part of external reality after an-
other is submitted to the will of the human being. The will that initially
seemed limited by its proximity to the lived human body, to the move-
ment of its own limbs, gradually explodes and breaks through all spatial
and temporal barriers. In the end, this overcoming would be fruitless if
spirit only contained and dragged along with it new world-matter. Here,
a more genuine and greater profit lies in the gaining of “form,” in the
fact that the expansion of effective action changes along with its qualita-
tive meaning, creating the possibility of a new aspect of the world. Effective
action, in its continuous increase, in its expansion and intensification,

13. Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke (Akademie-Ausgabe), vol. VII, part I, 119;
for more details see my Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. I, Language (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1923).
14. [Wilhelm von Humboldt, Über das vergleichende Sprachstudium in Beziehung auf
die verschiedenen Epochen der Sprachentwicklung, in Werke, vol. IV, 27.]
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 285
would finally have to be recognized as powerless, as internally aimless
and weak, if an inner transformation, an ideal turn in its meaning, were
not simultaneously being prepared and constantly carried out. What phi-
losophy is able to achieve for technology, for its understanding and legiti-
macy in thought, is the demonstration of this turn in meaning. To do
this, however, philosophy must reach deep into the past. It must seek to
penetrate back to when the secret of the “form” first opened itself to the
human being, when it began to rise up in thought and accomplishment—
in order, admittedly, to cloak itself just as much as to reveal itself—so as
to exhibit itself only as in a puzzling mist, in the “twilight of the idols”
of the magical-mythical worldview.
If we compare the worldviews of various civilized peoples to those of
primitive peoples, the deep opposition between them reveals itself per-
haps no more sharply than in the direction the human will adopts in
order to become master over nature and gradually to take possession of
it. A type of a technological will and accomplishment confronts the type
of magical will and accomplishment. Attempts have been made to derive
this originary-opposition from the totality [Gesamtheit] of differences that
exists between the worlds of civilized peoples and those of primitive
peoples. Humans from an earlier stage are distinguished from those of a ·54·
later stage, just as magic is distinguished from technology. The former
may be designated as homo divinans and the latter as homo faber. The whole
development of humanity presents itself, then, as a completed process,
containing innumerable intermediary forms through which the human
being moves from the initial stage of homo divinans to the stage of homo
faber. If we accept this distinction, as Danzel has forcefully maintained in
his Culture and Religion of Primitive Man,15 then we have not reached a solu-
tion to the problem; rather, we have only acquired a perspective, a for-
mulation of the problem. For it would only be an assertion and extrapo-
lation if ethnology, from which this distinction originates, attempted to
explain it by attributing to the comportment of “magical” man a pre-
dominance of “subjective” determinations and motives more than purely
“objective” ones. The worldview of homo divinans is supposed to come
about through the projection of his own states onto reality; he sees in the

15. Theodor-Wilhelm Danzel, Kultur und Religion des primitiven Menschen (Stutt-
gart: Strecker und Schröder, 1924), 2ff., 45ff., 54ff.
286 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
external world what is going on within himself. Inner processes that take
place entirely within the psyche are transferred to the outside. Drives
and stirrings of volition are interpreted as forces that intervene directly
into events, steering and altering them. However, from a purely logical
perspective, this explanation is marred by a petitio principii—it confuses
that which is to be explained with the ground of explanation. When we
reproach primitive peoples for “confusing” the objective and subjective,
for letting the borders of both areas flow into one another, we are speak-
ing from the standpoint of our theoretical observation of the world
founded on the principle of “reasons,” on the category of causality as
the condition of experience and the objects of experience. For these
borders are not “in themselves” objectively before us; rather, they must
first be set down and secured, they must first be erected by the labor of
spirit. The manner of setting these borders takes place differently ac-
·55· cording to the overall attitude in which spirit exists and according to the
direction in which it moves. Each transition from one comportment and
direction into another always ends in a new “orientation,” a new rela-
tionship between the “I” and “reality.” This relation is not set down as
unique and unambiguous from the beginning; rather, it first comes to
be because of the manifold ideal processes of “setting into opposition”
[Auseinandersetzung] as in myth and religion, language and art, science
and the different basic forms of “theoretical” comportment in general.
For human beings, a fixed representation of subject and object accord-
ing to which they comport themselves does not exist from the beginning;
rather, in the entirety of these comportments, in the entirety of his lived
bodily and his psycho-spiritual activities, there first arises knowledge
[Wissen] of both subject and object; the horizon of the I first separates
itself from that of reality.16 There is no fixed, static relationship between
them from the outset, rather there is, as it were, a fluctuating back-and-
forth movement. From this movement, a form gradually crystallizes in
which the human being first grasps his own being as well as the being
of objects.
If we apply this general insight to the problem presented here, we see

16. For a more detailed argument see the Introduction to my Philosophy of


Symbolic Forms, vol. I, 134ff.
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 287
that, for the human being, in his magical as well as in his technological
comportment, the world does not already have a determined form; rather,
he must search for this form and must find it in various ways. The way
in which he finds it depends on the dynamic principle that the general
movement of spirit follows. If we assume that the principle of “causal-
ity” [Kausalität] and the question concerning the “reasons” of being and
the “causes” [Ursachen] of events already prevail in the magical appre-
hension of nature, then the barrier between magic and science falls away.
In his work The Magic Art, J. G. Frazer, one of the best specialists on ·56·
magical phenomena, expressly draws this conclusion in his attempt to lay
out completely the factual sphere of the magical arts; at the same time,
he links a certain theory about the meaning and origin of magic to his
description of this factual sphere. On Frazer’s account, magic amounts
to nothing more and nothing less than the beginnings of “experimental
physics.” In magic, the human first acquires an intuition of objective
being and events, which are ordered according to fixed rules. The course
of things now presents itself to him as a closed nexus, a chain of “causes”
and “effects” in which no supernatural power [Macht] can arbitrarily in-
tervene. According to Frazer, it is here that the world of magic is clearly
separated from the religious world. In religious intuition, the human is
subjected to foreign violent powers to which he entrusts the whole of his
being. Here, there is still no fixed natural course, for as yet the world does
not have its own figure and its own power; rather, it is a plaything in the
hands of superior transcendent forces. It is, however, just this basic view
against which the magical view of the world protests. It grasps nature as
a strictly determined sequence of events and seeks to penetrate into the
essence of this determination. It knows no coincidence; rather, it rises to
the intuition of a strict uniformity of events. And, in this way, it achieves,
in contrast to religion, the first stage of scientific knowledge of the world.
Admittedly, magic differs from science in its result, but not in its prin-
ciple and its problem. This is the case because the principle “like causes,
like effects” governs it as well, giving it its imprint. That it is not able to
employ this principle in the same sense as the theoretical science of nature
is due, according to Frazer, not to a logical reason but only to a factual
one. It is “primitive” not in its form of thought but in the measure and
the security of its knowledge content. The circle of observation is too
288 FORM AND TECHNOLOGY
narrow, the nature of observation too fluctuating and uncertain, for it
to be able to erect truly durable empirical laws. The consciousness of
lawfulness as such, however, has been awakened in it and is tightly and
·57· steadfastly held on to by it. Thus, in the end, Frazer sees in both funda-
mental forms of magic nothing other than the application and variation
of the “scientific” principle of causality, which he understands and ex-
pounds here in accordance with the views of English empiricism: “sym-
pathetic” magic and “homoeopathic” or “imitative” magic are both
founded on the fundamental laws of ideal association that rule over all
causal thinking. In the case of the former, it results in the law of “asso-
ciation by similarity,” and in the case of the latter, it results in the law of
“association by contact” and becomes the guiding principle of theoretical
and practical comportment.17
The flaw in Frazer’s theory upon which a large number of ethnologists
have remarked, can be stated as follows: it awards magical comportment
a signification that vindicates it as an achievement that is reserved for
technological comportment. Magic may differ from religion insofar as the
human being is able to escape the merely passive relationship to nature
—that is, he no longer receives the world as the mere gift of a superior
divine power but wants to take possession of it and stamp it with a de-
termined form. The manner of this appropriation, however, is entirely
different from the appropriation carried out by the effective action of
technology and in the thinking of the natural sciences. The magical
human being, the homo divinans, believes, in a certain sense, in the om-
nipotence of the I. This omnipotence expresses itself, however, only in
the force of a desire. In its highest intensification and potency, reality is not
able in the end to elude desire. It is connected and subjected to it. The
outcome is linked to a particular activity [Tun] in the following way: the
goal of the activity [Tun] is precisely anticipated in the representation,
and the image of this goal is worked on and held to with great intensity.
All “real” actions, if they are to be successful, need such magical prepa-
·58· ration and anticipation. Warring or raiding, fishing or hunting can suc-
ceed only if every individual phase is magically anticipated and at the

17. See James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Part I: The Magic Art and the
Evolution of Kings (London: Macmillan, 1911), vol. I, chapters 3 and 4.
FORM AND TECHNOLOGY 289
same time “rehearsed” in the right way.18
Already in the magical view
of the world, the human being tears himself away from the immediate
presence of things and builds his own empire, with which he reaches out
into the future. However, if, in a certain sense, he is freed from the power
of immediate sensation, he has only exchanged it for the immediacy of
desire. In this immediacy, he believes he is able to seize reality directly
and to conquer it. The totality [Gesamtheit] of magical practices is, so to
speak, only the interpretative laying out [Auseinanderlegung], the progres-
sive unfolding of the desired image that the spirit carries within itself to
the goal. The simple, ever more intense repetition of this goal is already
regarded as the way that must inevitably lead to it. Herein originate the
two originary-forms of magic: word-magic and image-magic. Word and
image, then, are