Ernst Cassirer began his eclectic, productive and distinguished career as a philosopher of science, but turned to the study of culture apparently after discovering the Warburg Library in Hamburg, where he took up a professorship in 1919. He spent the rest of his life working out a synthesis able to contain the two cultures. He was prescient in getting out of Germany in 1933, and lucky in heading to Oxford and not Paris. From 1935 to 1941 he held a post in Sweden; then there were four years in America, at Yale and Columbia. He died in New York in 1945. Along the way he wrote a series of widely respected books aimed at both specialist and general readers, and earned the personal esteem and intellectual discipleship of a number of his academic colleagues in the New World. In 1929 he had had a spat with Heidegger at Davos, an event that achieved the sort of notoriety among the tribe of philosophers that Wittgenstein later earned by lifting a poker in the direction (perhaps) of Popper at a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Science Club. There was no poker on hand in Davos, although most then and since seem to think that Cassirer was at the wrong end of the philosophical stick.
LRB 26 March 2009 | PDF Download