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Ernst Cassirers Philosophy of Symbolic Forms and Martin Heideggers Being and
Time and subsequent works by their authors initially seem to come apart over whether we
should look at philosophy through the lens of the theory of knowledge (Cassirer) or of
ontology (Heidegger). Cassirer was in the process of completing four massive volumes on
the Problem of Knowledge even as he wrote his third volume and worked on his fourth
never completed volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Cassirer also considered
the title of Phenomenology of Knowledge for the entire Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
rather than its third and most massive volume. Thus Cassirer is obviously quite interested
in knowledge. But Cassirer, like other members of the Marburg school, takes ontology to
be a matter of knowledge and logic construed as the process of thought (logos) through
which we come to understand and come to be justified in what we hold true. They take
nothing to have being for us that is not a part of the process through which we come to
understand ourselves and the world about us. It is in this sense that members of the school
take Kants dictum from the end of the Transcendental Analytic in the first Critique that
the proud name of ontology must give way to the more modest one of a Transcendental
Cassirer gives the dictum a special significance by noting that Kant offers an
account of being in the heart of the Analytic in the Transcendental Deduction that links
being to the commitment to objectivity implicit in judgment and to the objective unity of
self-consciousness that underlies all judgment and indeed all thought. This unity of self-
consciousness is the basis for the unity of consciousness that the Marburg school takes to
underlie all of science and all of culture and in that sense to underlie anything that has
being for us. Cassirer takes the highest manifestation of ontology to be Kants synthetic
and objective unity of apperception as manifested in the objective import of the copula in
judgments of experience. But the unpacking of this synthetic unity in the process of
inquiry and culture is itself what gives ultimate significance and their vey being to the
different contexts in which operate both in nature and in culture.
Martin Heideggers work puts ontology front and center. This is a constant in
Heideggers mature thought. This is so much the case that the late essay on Time and
Being1 can still be regarded as a greatly modified account of the aborted section of the
same name that was to complete the systematic part of Being and Time. Time and Being
understands being in terms of Ereignis, of the process through which everything in the
world comes into its own proper significance. Being is understood as the process of
manifesting the proper (properly owned) standing (Anwesenheit) of things. The process
places and situates them properly in the way that we dwell. On the face of it this general
conception is very far from the conception with which Ernst Cassirer works in the
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms and especially in his works on the exact sciences. But this
impression is actually largely deceptive.
Cassirer develops an account of the development of culture (and of organic
biological function as part of a community of organisms) in Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
that sees human culture as evolving to an understanding of our own being and of being in
general. Thus for Cassirer [o]nce philosophical idealism arrived at its own concept, once
it saw the idea of being as its original and fundamental problem, the world of myth was
relegated to the realm of non-being2. Cassirer wishes both to rescue myth from the realm
of non-being and to show what the proper role of myth is in experience and ontology and
to develop the way in which philosophical idealism develops the question of being. This
is actually a direct expression of the wider commitments of the Marburg school of idealism
to which Cassirer belonged. The Marburg school had developed a philosophy of science
that embedded all knowledge, including especially mathematics and logic, in the history
and in the process of inquiry and of asking for and giving reasons. Hermann Cohen, Paul
Natorp and Cassirer saw a great tradition of idealism going back to Kant and Leibniz, but

M. HEIDEGGER, Time and Being, in On Time and Being, tr. with an Introduction by J. STAMBAUGH, The
University Chicago Press, Chicago and London 2002, pp. 1-24; Zeit und Sein, in Zur Sache des Denkens,
hrsg. von F.-W. HERRMANN, Gesamtausgabe, Klostermann, Frankfurt a. M. 1975- (= GA) 14, 2007, pp. 3-
E. CASSIRER, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 2. Mythical Thought, tr. by R. MANHEIM, Introductory
Note by CH.W. HENDEL, Yale University Press, New Haven 1955 (= PhSF 2), p. XIII; Philosophie der
symbolischen Formen, II. Das mythische Denken, hrsg. von B. RECKI, Text un Anmerkungen bearbeitet von
C. ROSENKRANZ, in Gesammelte Werke. Hamburger Ausgabe, B.de 1-26, hrsg. von B. RECKI, Meiner,
Hamburg 1998-2009 (= ECW), 12, 2002, p. IX.
also especially and more surprisingly to Plato and the Pre-Socratics.
Cassirer begins the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (in volume 1: Language) with
philosophical reflection on what it is to be. He takes reflection on being to be the beginning
of a truly philosophical approach to the world:

Philosophical speculation began with the concept of being. In the very moment when this
concept appeared, when mans consciousness awakened to the unity of being as opposed
to the multiplicity and diversity of existing things, the specific philosophical approach to
the world was born3.

Cassirer is concerned with the problem of the unity of being in contrast to the diversity of
things and the distinction between being (Sein) and beings (Seiendes). The pluralism that
Cassirer takes over from Kant seeks to put the different contexts in which we distinguish
different kinds of entities into their proper relationship to each other and to the being that
they have for us as self-conscious knowers who are both passive and active participants
in society, culture and science. This general concept of being becomes a mere x like the
transcendental subject and object of thought in Kant. Being becomes a mere X or thing
in itself always to be understood in terms of the specific forms of signs or symbolization
in terms of which human beings come to terms with their world as a whole:

the unity of being for which it [the development of idealistic thought] strove threatens
once more to disintegrate into a mere diversity of existing things. The One Being, to which
thought holds fast and which it seems unable to relinquish without destroying its own form
eludes cognition [ ] and becomes a mere X4.

Even where Cassirer is thus concerned with the question of unity and diversity in respect
to being, he is concerned with this question in two different senses. The first sense is that
of how being is distinct from but also a unity in relation to the different beings or entities
that are. The second sense is the meaning of being that underlies the diversity of its

E. CASSIRER, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1. Language, tr. by R. MANHEIM, Yale University Press,
New Haven 1953 (= PhSF 1), p. 73; Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, I. Die Sprache, hrsg. von B.
RECKI, Text und Anmerkungen bearbeitet von K. ROSENKRANZ, ECW 11, 2001, p. 1.
PhSF 1, p. 76; ECW 11, p. 5.
different senses. In a certain sense the meaning of being that underlies these different
senses is that of the copula. However the copula and its use in logic and language
ultimately depend on the proper functioning of human beings in their natural and social-
cultural context and so the notion of being as life and dwelling is in a certain sense more
Cassirer begins and ends the first volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms:
Language with a discussion of Greek ontology and of the relation of Parmenides and his
conception of being to that of Plato and of Kant. For Cassirer, philosophical idealism is
distinguished in general by its sensitivity to the problem of what it is to be. In Philosophy
of Symbolic Forms: Language, Plato is the first philosopher for whom being becomes a
problem. Cassirer thinks that Plato has succeeded in freeing the thought of Parmenides
and Heraclitus, and the Pre-Socratics in general, from the assimilation of being to beings
in such thought that is encouraged by myth and ordinary language. He sees the tradition
of idealism in general, but then especially Kant, as raising the question of the meaning of
being. Heidegger will later argue (following Hlderlin) that it is in the Pre-Socratics that
being is distinguished from beings. Heidegger will also insist that Plato inaugurates
thought, metaphysics, which by addressing the question of being in terms of what things
truly are is directed only at the being of beings rather than at being as such. Cassirer reads
the significance of Plato's metaphysics as the development of the difference between being
and beings. Being as such is grasped as that in which beings participate. This is a
difference that Cassirer thinks is not sharply developed in Pre-Socratic philosophy which
Cassirer takes not to have fully emancipated itself either from the sensible or from myth.
Cassirer interprets Plato himself to have regarded the signature achievement of the
theory of ideas to be the recognition of being as a problem: the Pre-Socratics identified
being with a particular existent thing and took it as a fixed point of departure, while he
[Plato] for the first time recognized it as a problem5. What Cassirer means by recognizing
being as a problem is recognizing that there is a task of thinking of being independently
of beings, thinking of being independently of a particular existent thing. Cassirer argues
that even Parmenides succumbed to the power of speech and the diversity of its concept
of being for in his principle esti to einai (there is being or it is possible to be) the

PhSF 1, p. 74; ECW 11, p. 2.
predicative and the absolute or the verbal and substantival signification of being
merge with one another6 . In language, existence claims (the absolute and substantival
meanings of being) are not clearly distinguished from the predicative-relational or
copulative meaning of being that grounds their significance. From Cassirers point of
view, the problem with Parmenides is that he merged the copulative or predicative-
relational conception of being with being as existence and so fell victim to a danger
implicit in the local contextual character of all language. So from Cassirers point of view,
philosophy, logic and ontology need to be rescued from precisely the current view that
considers being primarily as existential quantification. This is his basic objection to the
philosophy of logic and of mathematics of his esteemed contemporaries such as Frege and
Russell and to reconstructions of his position that start from their basic framework of
quantifiers and of set-theory.
To even understand what Cassirer has in mind, one must see that for him Platos
ability, and that of Kant and the Marburg school, to see the problem of being involves the
ability to understand the overall context of logical relations as derived from a fundamental
principle. This principle is none other than the interlocutory principle of shared
intelligibility that underwrites not only individual ideas but the whole pattern of relations
between ideas. This principle unfolds as we reason together. The very being of the ideas
is thus this reasons sensitive process. This is why Cassirer notes: Only where being has
the sharply defined meaning of a problem does thought attain to the sharply defined
meaning and value of a principle. It [thought] no longer runs along parallel to being, a
mere reflection on being, but by its own inner form it now determines the inner form of
being7. Cassirer understands the Platonic principle (arche) in terms of Cohens logic of
origins and indeed Cohens gloss on arche is origin. Thought is taken to determine the
inner form of being through its own inner form. The process of understanding things is
taken to determine the very being of things. Cassirer continues to interpret Platos search
for the ground or explanation for things in terms of the process through which the Marburg
school takes all significance to be generated. The search for the origin leads from ground
to ground, from theory to theory, without ever coming to an end, it has a ground in the
groundless ground of the idea of the good; this is the nature of all inquiry to push for

PhSF 1, p. 176; ECW 11, p. 296.
PhSF 1, p. 74; ECW 11, p. 2.
reasons and good ones and always to fall short and in a sense this is the very process of
culture itself. The process of giving reasons and asking for them is itself the ultimate
ground of explanation. As Natorp nicely puts the point:

The demand for a ground or reason is in the end the following: the demand of Cohens
origin; which in the end is the expression of an originality that cannot be sidestepped by
any theory of thought, thought grounded in itself; in itself that means and can only mean:
in process. This is the only way for there to be a truly independent method in philosophy8.

Cassirer takes Plato's conception of being as idea to be developed in Plato's later

conception in the Sophist of the symploke ton eidon (interweaving of ideas including
that of being) that underlies language and speech. What Cassirer sees in Plato's Sophist is
the first effort to think of pure being as predication, and language as a conversation of
the soul with itself and with others that is grounded in the relationship between ideas
(symploke ton eidon) and that also involves a process of engagement of individuals with
the norms and grounds instituted by the ideas. In this way in Platos Sophist the specific
being of pure concepts of relation is defined for the first time in the history of
philosophy. Without that ongoing process of accountability and willingness to give
reasons both to ourselves and to others, there would be no realm of the forms or ideas.
The world of ideas is itself caught up in a comprehensive systematic process from which
the world emerges. Cassirer notes that in the works of Platos old age the concept of
motion even enters into the exposition of the realm of pure ideas - there is a motion of the
pure forms themselves9. For Natorp, Platos deepest thought is a kinesis of eide (process
of forms). Cassirer follows Natorps idealist interpretation of Platos theory of forms, as
tied up in a process (kinesis) inherent in the realm of ideas. According to Platos Sophist,
there must be process in the realm of forms if forms are to become objects of knowledge.
To be known is a logical alteration in a form (which comes to be characterized by a new
set of relations to the knower). Forms so conceived are the result of the dialogic-dialectical
process of thought and knowledge that also constitutes us as subjects.

P. NATORP, Husserls Ideen zu einer reinen Phnomenologie, Logos, VII (1917-1918), pp. 224-246, here
p. 231.
PhSF, 2, p. 137; ECW 12, p. 162.
Plato has said that there is no other entrance into the world of ideas than through
questioning and answering each other in speech. In question and answer the I and
you must be distinguished, not only for each to understand the other, but for them to
understand themselves. The thought of one partner is kindled by that of the other and by
virtue of their interaction they construct, through the medium of language, a common
world of meaning for themselves10.

Cassirer rejects the idea that the world of the I is a given and finished existence and
that one only needs to communicate this givenness to another subject by bridging the
divide between persons; for in that case the divide would be an abyss that one could not
get across. The world, the self, the other, things and organisms are constituted in a process
of symbolic significance that is prior to any distinctions that we may draw between them.
The distinction between subjects and objects and a conception of subjects only emerge
through the give and take with each other mediated by language and our other cultural
productions. At the most fundamental level this is also mediated by a mythic-affective
sense of the world. According to this mythic sense of the world, one first sees oneself and
ones environment in terms of ones hopes and fears and the expectations made on ones

E. CASSIRER, The Perception of Things, The Perception of Expression, in The Logic of the Cultural
Sciences, , tr. by S.G. LOFTS, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2000, p. ? (my slightly
modified version of the Stephen Lofts translation); Dingwahrnehmung und Ausdruckswahrnehmung, in Zur
Logik der Kulturwissenschaften. Fnf Studien, in Aufstze und kleine Schriften (1941-1946), hrsg. von B.
RECKI, Text und Anmerkungen bearbeitet von C. Rosenkranz, ECW 24, 2007, p. 411. A more extend
version of this account is to be found in Cassirers conception of Basic Phenomena. In The Philosophy of
Symbolic Forms, 4. The Methaphysics of Symbolic Forms, Cassirer identifies interlocutive interaction with
what Klages and Scheler call the soul and the activity of the will (a notion that they play off against the
spirit in a way that Cassirer ultimately rejects). The will and the effective sphere of action emerge for
Cassirer in the interlocutory give and take between persons in an I-thou relationship. Individuals push off
of each other and their particular concerns and needs and thus come to form a differentiated experience of
objects as result of their shared and non-shared interests. In the process of differentiating the articulation of
our interests, we arrive finally at the level of concepts. The logical and conceptual level of human culture is
seen to be part of a social work that we bring about together and that is appropriated from past generations
and passed on to future generations. As such it is part of spirit. The significative level of experience
culminates especially in mathematical and logical knowledge, including theoretical physics that has almost
been completely stripped of any connection to feeling or intuition. See E. CASSIRER, The Philosophy of
Symbolic Forms, 4. The Methaphysics of Symbolic Forms Including the text of Cassirers manuscript on
Basis Phenomena, ed. by J.M. KROIS and D.PH. VERENE, tr. by J.M. KROIS, Yale University Press, New
Haven and London 1996 (= PhSF 4); Zur Metaphysik der symbolischen Formen, hrsg. von J.M. KROIS,
unter Mitwirkung von A. APPELBAUM, R.A. BAST, K.CH. KHNKE und O. SCHWEMMER, in Nachgelassene
Manuskripte und Texte, begrndet. von K.CH. KHNKE, J.M. KROIS u. O. SCHWEMMER, hrsg. von CH.
MCKEL, Meiner, Hamburg 1995- (=ECN), 1, 1995.
group by tradition. Only gradually does one come to distinguish oneself from other
individuals and from the organisms and the objects that emerge for us from our interaction
with each other and the world. The most basic forms of this interactive process of
constitution are tied up with myth and the less abstract forms of language. In this way,
(realist) skeptical worries about knowledge are rendered non-sensical because they
already presuppose what they deny. Abstracting from objects does not allow us to abstract
from the world in a more fundamental sense that is prior to our own sense of ourselves as
subjects. The representational context of natural languages with their distinctions between
subjects and objects and the more general work of human culture (and the full richness of
the historical context belonging to the activity of spirit) draw on this fundamental sense
of world.
Cassirer shows how culture is embedded in a wider and more fundamental
affective-relational life-process in which we are functionally connected as organisms to
our environment. This is embodied symbolically in myth and at a more sophisticated level
in the arts. In all of these domains it is possible to interpret Cassirer as first and foremost
an abstract structuralist or functionalist. However a key theme in all of Cassirers work is
that abstract structural, functional-relational accounts must be brought together with an
account of how the structures in question came to arise. Thus Cassirer is sympathetic to
Dedekinds construction of the real numbers, but emphasizes that whole numbers and then
the cuts that give rise to the other real numbers are part of a social normative process of
spirit (a construction) rather than of mere abstract sequences that are simply given.
Mathematical functions no less than other structural-functional relations are ultimately
embedded in the process through which we make sense of the world about us, the world
in which we dwell. The world in which we dwell, especially as it is mediated to us through
language and myth, is always local, but is always itself involved in the very process
through which we come to form our own identity as the world about us takes on a
distinctive identity for us. In this process, we also become able as human beings who relate
to the world symbolically to grasp the world in terms more general than the standpoint
that we have in our own culture. We are able to understand that what we take to be true is
itself partly a function of our own changing standpoints within the world and by seeing
the development and change of our own standpoints as part of an ongoing process of
inquiry and culture, we are able to transcend those standpoints. There is one meaning of
being that corresponds to the world in which we dwell and another that corresponds to the
standpoint of objectivity by appeal to which we endeavor to transcend our own particular
standpoint. Even where Cassirer is thus concerned with the question of unity and diversity
in respect to being, he is concerned with this question in two different senses. The first
sense is that of how being is distinct from but also a unity in relation to the different beings
or entities that are. The second sense is the meaning of being that underlies the diversity
of its different senses. Cassirer addresses the meaning of being that underlies the other
meanings of being from two different standpoints. From the vantage point of language, he
argues that the predicative and copulative use of being is grounded in the use of being to
refer to existence. The existential meaning of being tends to lurk in the background in
language and thought and so there is a natural tendency of thought to fall victim to thinking
it is the only meaning of being or at least the most basic one. He also notes that there are
two fundamentally different meanings of existence. Thus there is being as simple
presence, a conception of being popular among modern philosophers. There is also a more
interesting conception of being as dwelling, growth and life:

The use of one and the same word to designate existence (Dasein) and the predicative
relation is a widespread phenomenon, not limited to any particular languages. To consider only
the Indo-Germanic languages, we find that the various terms by which they designate predicative
being all go back to an original signification of existence (Dasein): either in the very general
sense as mere presence (Vorhandensein), or in a special and concrete sense as living and breathing,
growing and becoming, enduring and dwelling11.

Cassirers key move in developing the way in which Kants Transcendental

Analytic addresses the problem of the meaning of being in its pure sense is to recognize
that being manifests itself primarily in the Transcendental Analytic, a logic of truth,
in terms of the predicative (and veridical) copula of judgment and assertion, the little
relational word is, as Kant puts it in the heart of the B-Deduction. He also stresses the
fact that judgment depends on logical functions of thought. These logical functions are the
expression of the unity of our action in predication, as an action they involve something
that we do; they are tied up with the context of our agency:

PhSF 1, p. 317; ECW 11, pp. 297-298.
Only in the use of the copula does the logical synthesis effected in judgment achieve its
adequate linguistic designation. In its analysis of the pure function of judgment the Critique of
Pure Reason pointed to this relationship. For Kant, judgment meant the unity of action, by which
the predicate and linked with it to form a whole meaning, to form the objectively subsisting and
objectively constituted relationship. And it is this intellectual unity of action which finds its
linguistic representation and counterpart in the use of the copula [extensive quote from Kant, 19
of B-Deduction] [...] Thus even for Kant, the pure logician, the objective meaning of judgment
was intimately related to the linguistic form of predicative statement. It is clear, however, that
language could only gradually attain to the abstraction of that pure being which is expressed in the
copula. For language, which in its beginnings is entirely bound up with the intuition of substantial
objective existence, the expression of being as a pure transcendental form of relation can only
be a late product arrived at through a variety of mediations12.

Being emerges as such in its significance for language, thought and judgment as the
expression of the logical function of thought and predication. It is through this logical
function that the space of logical possibility is opened up, a space however that needs to
be filled out by real contrasts provided in the end by reference to possible real differences
in real things. The copulative notion of being expressed by the logical function of thought
is connected to the distinctions that may be drawn within the space of logical possibility,
these distinctions depend on the pattern of spatial and temporal relations in which human
agents stand or may stand and which they can permute through their physical actions or
in actions of thought such are communicative actions. One has a general relationship in
self-conscious thought and action to the particular point of view within language and
culture and the environment that one has as a particular self-conscious agent. Ones
participation in such social practices as language provides the basis for the relationship
between the context-based direct intuition of space, time and number that we have in myth
and language and things as they present themselves to myth, language and more abstract
thought. In the Philosophy of Symbolic Form, the categories of thought in terms of which
we grasp something as independent of our own point of view emerge out of and make
themselves manifest in and through the process by which language, myth and knowledge

PhSF 1, pp. 313-314; ECW 11, pp. 293-294.
differentiates the world and distinguishes us from the wider social and natural world to
which we belong. The functions of thought are both implicit in and thus in a certain sense
responsible for this process and also susceptible to more explicit articulation in virtue of
our participation in the process of culture.
For Cassirer, the notion of function is intrinsically predicative-relational, entities
in general are for Cassirer positions in a predicative-relational structure that ultimately
includes all of thought and experience; in the judgment-function this predicative-relational
structure has an implicit commitment to truth and the veridical meaning of being. This
notion of truth and the manner in which it is sunk into the predicative-relational dimension
of the logical function of judgment is at the heart of Kants Copernican revolution. It is
only in the distinction between the being of abstract relations and numbers on the one hand
and particular things that there is an ontological difference between beings and being
for Cassirer at all. This is because we only have a grasp of being in contrast to beings in
virtue of our ability to grasp things as part of the whole cultural process through which we
come to make sense of them. As long as we are confined to a certain context of
understanding, being does not become a matter of concern to us.
If we understand logic in terms of Kant's conception of pure logic then no
distinguishable objects can even come into play in logic until we have the resources of
space, time and number to individuate them. Although he works with modern post-
Fregean mathematical logic, Cassirer views the notion of logic in Kantian terms as devoid
of the existential commitments of natural language. Natural language rather than logic is
on his view entirely bound up with the intuition of substantial objective existence13. In
logic, we have a pattern of relations between objects in general; these relations and the
entities that they relate are already part of our ontology for Cassirer, regardless of whether
we quantify over them or not. This reflects the Marburg conception of logic as the
expression of the normative process of thought. Kants conception of judgment as an
action of thought makes this manifest. For a judgment is always made within a certain
historical and social context governed by the objective unity of self-consciousness that
underlies the shared commitments of culture and science.
Cassirer does not limit the concept of being to the copula of judgment. He

PhSF 1, p. 314; ECW 11, p. 294.
recognizes an in some sense equally significant conception of being as life and dwelling,
life that is always tied to a certain situation and context. For Cassirer, the general
copulative sense of being belongs to pure logic and to its conception of pure being;
the sense of being as dwelling in a particular context is the mark of myth and also all
language that has not risen to the complete generality of logic. In the Philosophy of
Symbolic Forms Cassirer develops the process through which human culture both
develops the sense of place involved in our understanding of being as living and dwelling
and rises to an understanding of the world that transcends myth and the contextual
character of language. Heidegger appropriates the account of being as dwelling from
Cassirer, but then suggests that Cassirer and Kant work with a conception of the subject
that is stripped of its essential connection with life and the context in which we dwell.
Although Heidegger is critical of the status of logic in philosophy, his conception of logic
as the process of thinking about what is true is actually deeply indebted to Neo-
Kantianism, even his conception of truth as unhiddenness is a reading of truth in Plato that
is accepted by members of the school when he arrives in Marburg14. The key and important
difference between Cassirer and Heidegger is that Cassirer remains committed to a
conception of reason and thought that arises out of the process of myth and language and
knowledge, but seeks to transcend myth and even the limitations of specific languages.
Heidegger thinks that a form of thought that transcends myth and poetry is unable to grasp
what really matters, being as such, since it always thinks of being in the particular terms
appropriate to explaining and understanding things selectively. Cassirer on the other hand,
thinks that myth dependent thought is incapable of grasping being as such and falls victim
to the very confusion of being with beings that Heidegger aims to avoid. If metaphysics
is to think of being only in terms of the being of particular beings, as Heidegger maintains,
then Cassirer agrees with Heidegger that philosophical thought must get beyond such
Heidegger rejects the goal of emancipating thought from myth and the specificity
of language for he maintains that such emancipation prevents us from understanding being
in its own right in its full generality and significance. By emancipating thought from myth,

Natorp takes up the use of Unverborgenheit in his work in the early twenties (1922) just before he died;
he characterizes such unhiddenness as immediate doubt-free truth. See P. NATORP, Philosophische
Systematik, Meiner, Hamburg 1953, p. 375.
Plato came to interpret being in terms of specific norms of being something, ideas. Thus
for Heidegger, Plato came to inaugurate metaphysics as the process of thinking of being
as the being of particular kinds of being. The Marburg reading of Plato blocks this critique
of Heideggers because the Marburg school takes Plato to think of ideas only ultimately
in terms of the whole process of making sense of the world. Thus on the Marburg reading,
Plato already thinks of being as Ereignis. It is in this sense that Platos position (including
that of all philosophical idealism) makes being itself a problem.
On the Marburg reading of being, being is the event in terms of which the world
as a whole becomes significant for us. The way to understand this event is in the end the
central issue. While Heidegger accepts and appropriates Cassirers account of the process
through which different conceptions of time inform our understanding of being in different
contexts, he rejects the Marburg view that there is a fundamentally atemporal dimension
to the process through which the significance of the world unpacks itself and the truth of
being reveals itself. He thus moves from a conception of being in terms of process to an
understanding of being in terms of time, in terms of the temporal process of making things
The significance of Kants Copernican revolution for Cassirer is that it raises the
question of different senses of being and attempts also to answer the question of the unity
and diversity of senses of being as that question has significance for us in human culture.
The unity of being is for Cassirer a functional one rather than a substantive one (Cassirer
is less far away from Aristotle and his focal notion of being as substance than he thinks he
is in part because for Aristotle substance is being-in-function energeia). Cassirer takes up
Kants conception of a purposive whole of significance. In the second edition Preface to
the Critique, Cassirer argues that each of the symbolic forms relates to the other as
organs belonging to a systematic purposive whole of significance with an organic unity
to it. Kant presupposes such an organic unity of different organs in his own account of the
unity and diversity of metaphysical principles. Cassirer draws on Kants own
characterization of the methodology of the Critique in the Prolegomena as one that
develops everything from its fundamental germs without presupposing anything that is
given. This method is followed in the Architectonic as Kant develops the unity and
diversity of all the sciences from the principles that systematically underlie their historical
Cassirer puts this systematic to work as the basis for the generative principle that
underlies the philosophy of symbolic forms. It is only in and through the process (the
spontaneous law of generation) by which things relate to each other in terms of the
different functional wholes to which they belong (and in terms of which they have their
functional-relational significance) that things have an identity and are things for us to
begin with. There are no things given before the process through which our world becomes
significant for us. Thus the general notion of being gets its significance for us from the
process through which all of the different symbolic forms constitute reality and worlds in
different but interconnected ways and senses. Each of the symbolic forms produces and
posits a world of its own through that inwardly determined dialectic by virtue of which
alone there is any reality, any organized and definite being at all. Thus the special symbolic
forms are not imitations, but organs of reality [] Though they all function organically
together in the construction of spiritual reality, yet each has its individual assignment15.
The basic mythical conceptions of mankind [] are not culled from a ready-made world
of being [] They are not products of fantasy which vapor off from fixed, empirical,
realistic existence [] to primitive consciousness they present the totality of being16.
The process of articulating the meanings of being is simultaneously an emancipation from
the power that the concrete forms of experience in myth and ordinary language and realism
have over us.
Neither Cassirers advocacy of function-concepts nor his effort to interpret
mathematical structures in terms of groups of transformations justifies the interpretation
of his position as what Natorp calls static platonism. The context in which we relate the
different clusters of relations is itself what Cassirer calls (following Avenarius and
Husserl) the natural world-concept. Thus what seem like very abstract logical and
mathematical relations (functions) all in the end gain their differential significance from
what we do and as such they gain their own being from the world in which we as human
beings dwell with other human beings and other organisms. The initially seems to be a
struggle between two different conceptions of function and symbolic significance, the

E. CASSIRER, Language and Myth, tr. by S.K. LANGER, Harper, New York 1946), pp. 8-9; Sprache und
Mythos. Ein Beitrag zum Problem der Gtternnamen, in Aufstze und kleine Shriften (1922-1926), hrsg.
von B. RECKI, Text und Anmerkungen bearbeitet von J. CLEMENS, ECW 16, pp. 233-234.
Ibid., pp. 9-10; ECW 16, pp. 234-235.
mathematical-logical conception first developed by Cassirer in Substance and Function
and the Platonic-Aristotelian-Humboldtian conception of symbolic function as essentially
embedded in the all encompassing work of human culture that first emerges in Philosophy
of Symbolic Forms, 1. Language17. There is a difference between the two conceptions of
function. The logical-mathematical notion of function belongs to pure being and it is
inherently absolutely general, whereas the notion of function associated with language
and myth is always inherently local. This corresponds to two very different conceptions
of being for Cassirer. The logical-mathematical notion of function is connected for him
with the conception of being expressed by the copula and Kants original synthetic unity
of apperception and the objective import of judgments. The notion of function that
operates in language and myth is tied to the sense of being as life and dwelling with the
connotation that one always lives and dwells in a specific place and time.
Cassirer addresses the meaning of being that underlies the other meanings of being
from two different standpoints. From the vantage point of logic, the predicative and
copulative use of being belongs to a pure being that is in a certain sense independent of
any particular set of circumstances. However, even the notion of pure being is for
Cassirer sunk into the competence that we have as participants in certain disciplines and
thus is truly independent of our ability to engage with the world in a manner that abstracts
from particular circumstances. From the vantage point of language, he argues that the
predicative and copulative use of being is grounded in the use of being to refer to existence
and here the primary meaning of existence is dwelling. The overall argument of
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms suggests that at the ground level of experience in mythic
thought, being in the sense of dwelling, becoming, growing is the more basic one. The
notion of mere existence has antecedents in mythic thought, but in its starkest signification
as independent existence, it is a late medieval usage that then comes to dominate the

Strikingly, most of the literature lines up on one side or the other of these two conceptions of function,
the mathematical and the cultural. This is no accident for the distinction between these two conceptions is
indirectly connected to the divide between analytic philosophy of science and continental philosophy.
Unfortunately, the study of Cassirer tends to divide into those who are almost exclusively interested in his
philosophy of science, logic and mathematics and those who are exclusively interested in his philosophy of
culture. My view is that to take either one in isolation from the other is to lose sight of the deeper grounding
in the process of origination through which they are grounded in their relations to each other and to (what
Kant calls) the transcendental unity of apperception that underlies the possibility of all science and culture,
but that manifests itself as the unity of reason in historical give and take of individuals and cultures.
modern notion through the medieval distinction between existence and essence (Cassirer
alludes to the distinction between existence and essence18). In Being and Time, Heidegger
plays out the conception of being or existence as dwelling against the conception of being
as existentia, mere constant presence, Vorhandenheit. He suggests that the philosophical
tradition and science including Kant and Neo-Kantianism (and Cassirer) are wedded to
this conception and to this extent they are committed to a worldless subject. To be a
worldless subject is to be a subject that does not have the mode of being of dwelling.
Heideggers conception of world is tied to the conception of being as dwelling.
The central argument of much of the first part (so-called Division I) of Being and
Time endeavors to tie Descartes and Kant and by implication Neo-Kantianism to a
conception of knowledge by a worldless subject19. Even for Descartes, the argument is
less successful than it might first seem to be. But in the case of Kant and Cassirer it is
spelled out against the background of a misinterpretation of their conception of spatial
orientation and spatiality which is also a fundamental misunderstanding of Kants
Copernican revolution. In his essay Was heit: Sich im Denken orientiren?20, Kant takes
the feeling of the distinction between left and right to indicate the orientation of the space
in which one is already embedded. In this way it allows one to orient oneself relative to
objects. Cassirer focuses on the importance of such orientation in his discussion of the
affective-relational role of space and the distinction between day and night, light and
darkness, the sacred and the profane and the cardinal points of the compass (and
corresponding gods) in mythical thought21. Heidegger refers to this aptly as Befindlichkeit,
finding yourself emotionally. Orientation and the affective-relational context of mythic
thought is also already built into demonstrative language for Cassirer22.

PhSF 1, p. 315; ECW 11, pp. 295-296.
See M. HEIDEGGER, Sein und Zeit, Niemeyer, Tbingen 1927 (= SZ), pp. 60-62; Sein und Zeit, hrsg. von
F.-W. VON HERRMANN, in GA 2, 1977, pp. 80-83.
KGS VIII, pp. 131-147.
PhSF 2, pp. 94 ff; ECW 12, pp. 110 ff.
Language internalizes our orientation in space by means of a complex system of possible positions for
demonstrative reference. These possible positions for demonstrative reference are already built into the
phonetics of language. What in a sign-language are indicative gestures connected to one's sense of bodily
feeling express themselves for Cassirer in the phonetics of linguistic signs in terms of differences in pitch.
The context of an agent's interaction with her environment emerges still further at the level of the use of
names and predicates in semantics and pragmatics; the use of names and predicates is tied to a general
context of significance that in turn involves a system of possible causal-demonstrative interactions with the
world about us as agents. Cassirer is happy to forgo claims about the primacy of one form of language to
Heidegger misconstrues Kant as being committed in his account of spatial
orientation to a world-less subject which is outside of space and merely induces spatial
representations by means of a subjective feeling23. In Division II, he then argues that
Kants notion of a person is not fundamentally that of an end in herself and bearer of
responsibility but a worldless, atemporal and ahistorical individual bereft of fundamental
social and historical relations. Kant supposedly construes the self as an isolated subject
that accompanies representations in an ontologically completely indeterminate way
because Kant did not see the phenomenon of world24. A more adequate reading even of
the first Critique would take it also to be, especially in its second half, in the
Transcendental Doctrine of Method, the refutation of the very notion of a worldless subject
of representations. Cassirer conceives of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms not as the
constitution of a world by a worldless subject that is outside of time and space, but as the
process in which through the development of myth and language, self and world first come
to be distinguished. Cassirer nowhere endorses a worldless subject of thought. Thought
does in its more abstract forms come to emancipate itself more and more from myth. But
it never completely transcends the affective-spatio-temporal context that is first provided
to human culture by the expressive dimension of myth.
Heidegger argues that the conception of being as dwelling is fundamental to
existence as being-in-the-world and that traditional ontology has missed out on being-in-
the-world. For Cassirer this conception is actually key to the fundamental level of human
engagement with the world. The in of being-in-the-world is to be understood as innan
dwelling25. Especially in What is Metaphysics? where the connection to the linguistic
data is more developed and elaborate, Heidegger draws on the very linguistic data that
Cassirer presents in the final chapter of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1. Language.

others. It is important for him however that language is linked as such to a full-fledged implicit pattern of
spatial-temporal relations between different agents who have an I-thou interlocutory relation to each other
as agents involving other persons and things. The natural, in a certain sense absolute system of
coordinates for all representation of motion in language is evidently provided by the situation of the speaker
and the situation of the person addressed [] On the basis of such concrete distinctions in reference to some
material thing or to the I or thou, language goes on to develop more general and more abstract
designations. It creates definite groups and schemata of suffixes of direction, which classify all possible
movements according to certain principle spatial divisions, particularly the cardinal points (PhSF 1, pp.
211-212; ECW 11, p. 164).
SZ, p. 110; GA 2, p. 147.
SZ, p. 321; GA 2, p. 425.
See SZ, p. 54; GA 2, pp. 72-73.
Heidegger attempts to establish the importance of the notion of growth (phuo and physis
connected to be and hence to being in early Indo-European) and the connection of the root
of the verb to be ues and Gothic wisan (I was) to dwelling which Cassirer develops at the
end of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1. Language 26 . And in the final period of
Heideggers thought, the significance of dwelling is later connected to Holderlins pre-
and-post-metaphysical thought: What then does ich bin [I am] mean? The old word
bauen, to which the bin belongs, answers: ich bin, du bist mean I dwell, you dwell. The
way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan,
dwelling. To be human means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell27. Mortals
are in the fourfold of earth, sky, mortals and gods. Dwelling, as preserving, keeps the
fourfold in that in which mortals stay: in things28. Thus dwelling constitutes the overall
significance of the world. It is as such sunk into the event of world and its unity of
hiddenness, especially associated with the earth and disclosure, especially associated with
the sky. The notion of dwelling is more explicitly connected to being and time as event in
Heideggers late lecture Time and Being. It is essential to dwelling that each thing come
into its own and both hide and reveal itself as what it is.
Cassirer develops a rich phenomenology of the natural world-concept in his
account of language and myth. He articulates the process of self and world differentiation
through which scientific knowledge develops. He traces science back that to the mythic-
emotional and linguistic representational access to the world from which human culture
begins. In the process of such differentiation of different contexts of being, he shows how
different conceptions of being emerge from the different ways in which different forms of
culture and different symbolic forms temporally relate to the entities in their distinctive
context of significance. In Mythical Thought, Cassirer distinguishes the eternal presence
of theory and the ontology of the exact sciences from the way in which myth and feeling
are sunk into the authority of the past, and prophetic and eschatological religion is directed
at the future and develops a new conception of history and its ontology. In this account,

See PhSF 1, pp. 317-318; ECW 11, pp. 298-299 and M. HEIDEGGER, Introduction to Metaphysics, tr. by
G. FRIED and R. POLT, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2000 (= IM), pp. 13 ff. and pp. 64
ff; Einfhrung in die Metaphysik, hrsg. von P. JAEGER, GA 40, 1983, pp. 15 ff. and 65 ff.
M. HEIDEGGER, Building, Dwelling, Thinking, in Poetry, Language and Thought, tr. and introcutcion by
A. HOFSTADTER, Harper and Row, New York 1971, p. 145; Bauen Wohnen Denken, in Vortrge und
Aufstze, hrsg. von F. -W VON HERRMANN, GA 7, 2000, p. 149.
Ibid., p. 149.
we can see the germ of Heideggers conception of the relation of being to time.
For Cassirer, language is schematized according to space and the whole being-in-the-
world of language is reflected in spatial dimension of language, a dimension that is then
enriched by its socially interactive and temporal-historical character. Cassirer starts from
the notion of spatial orientation in Kant which involves a feeling of the difference between
the left and the right sides of one's body: The ground of the distinction between regions
in space' starts from the situation of the speaker and spreads in concentric circles until the
objective whole, the sum and system of local specifications has been articulated29 One is
able to orient oneself in respect first to the sun, the moon and the stars and the points of
the compass and then with respect to the whole of space.

The natural, in a certain sense absolute system of coordinates for all representation of motion in
language is evidently provided by the situation of the speaker and the situation of the person
addressed. On the basis of such concrete distinctions in reference to some material thing or to the
I or thou, language goes on to develop more general and more abstract designations. It
creates definite groups and schemata of suffixes of direction, which classify all possible
movements according to certain principle spatial divisions, particularly the cardinal points30.

As Cassirer sees it, language internalizes our orientation in space by means of a complex
system of possible positions for demonstrative reference. These possible positions for
demonstrative reference are already built into the phonetics of language. What in a sign-
language are indicative gestures connected to one's sense of bodily feeling express
themselves in the phonetics of linguistic signs in terms of differences in pitch. The context
of an agent's interaction with her environment emerges still further at the level of the use
of names and predicates in semantics and pragmatics; the use of names and predicates is
tied to a general context of significance that in turn involves a system of possible causal-
demonstrative interactions with the world about the agent. Cassirer is happy to forgo
claims about the primacy of one form of language to others. It is important for him
however that language is linked as such to a full-fledged implicit pattern of spatial-
temporal relations between different agents who have an I-thou interlocutory relation as

PhSF 1, p. 206 (tr. modified); ECW 11, p. 157.
PhSF 1, pp. 211-212; ECW 11, p. 164 (supra note 22).
agents involving other persons and things. In language there is a transition from a mimetic
stage in which sounds in language mimic their objects (onomatopoeia) to a more
sophisticated analogic stage in which the demonstrative significance of terms is
emancipated from direct word-world correspondences or imitations of the world by words.
Finally, the demonstrative significance of words gives way to their global role in a pattern
of linguistic significance emancipated from residual word-world relations that are
independent of the holistic structure of language.
Cassirer does not limit himself to an account of time and space according to a
timeless present of theory. He distinguishes between different forms of time and
interpretations of world process in myth and religious consciousness according to whether
the accent of thought and feeling is on the past, the present or the future31. These times
correspond to the wider horizon of Kant's conception of history first adumbrated in the
Transcendental Doctrine of Method and developed in Kant's later writings including the
Critique of Judgment. Thus myth is taken to be not only past-directed and soaked in
feeling, but also to give an overwhelming significance and presence to the past and
tradition, messianic religion and its sense of history is not only future related, but gives
overwhelming significance to that future:

What distinguishes mythical time from historical time is that for mythical time there is an
absolute past, which neither requires nor is susceptible of any further explanation. History
dissolves being into the never-ending sequence of becoming, in which no point is singled
out but every point indicates the way to one farther back, so that regression into the past
becomes a regressus in infinitum 32.

Theory is taken to be present directed, and the presence of the present becomes so
overwhelming that the present is transformed into a timeless present and now. The eternal
present of theory is inaugurated by the Eleatic tradition of Greek thought which manages
according to Cassirer to maintain a balance between the emphasis in Chinese thought on
permanence and in Indian thought on change:

See PhSF 2, p. 136; ECW 12, pp. 161-162.
PhSF 2, p. 106; ECW 12, p. 125.
It is this inner process of spiritual liberation that accounts for the characteristic feeling of
time which attained its first true maturity among the Greeks. We might say that here for
the first time thought and feeling became free to gain a pure and full consciousness of the
temporal present. Only the Being of Parmenides can be conceived as "present": it never
was and never will be, because the whole of it, one and indivisible...The Platonic Idea is
purely present, for only as something that always is and never becomes can it satisfy
thought with its postulate of identity, of a never-changing determinacy. And for Plato, the
philosopher is the man who by virtue of his reason is always oriented toward being33

The different conceptions of time lead to different ontologies within the general context
of the manner in which thought relates itself to and from a certain cultural context. In the
conception of the overwhelming significance and authority of the past in myth, of the
future in eschatological religion in the tradition of (Persian influenced) Zoroastrian,
Talmudic and Christian thought, as well as the distinctively historical future-directed
thought of the Hebrew prophets which does not have a substantial place for an afterlife.
Each schematizes space, time, number and causation differently and in the process
develops a distinctive symbolization in terms of which human beings dwell and live in the
world. Especially in his Phenomenology of Knowledge Cassirer extends this model of
different experiences of time, space, number and of one's relation to other human beings
to the different kinds of objectifications (a term from Natorp Cassirer uses in Philosophy
of Symbolic Forms that is later borrowed by Heidegger in The Basic Problems of
Phenomenology34) involved in different forms of metaphysical thought. While Cassirer
argues that one cannot absolutize any of the tenses, he seems to see them all as forms of
presence35. This too comes to play an operative role in Heidegger from Being and Time to
Time and Being in the early sixties.
In contrast to Heidegger, for Cassirer, true or authentic temporality is on the one
hand a tenseless sequence of events ordered according to relations of simultaneous, earlier
and later and a tensed sequence of events. Neither exists completely independently of the

PhSF 2, p. 133; ECW 12, pp. 157-158.
M. HEIDEGGER, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Translation, Introduction and Lexicon by A.
HOFSTADTER, Indiana University Press, Bloomington , IN 1988; Die Grundprobleme der
Phnomenologie, hrsg. von F.-W. VON HERRMANN, GA 24, 1975
Cf. PhSF 3, p. 217?; ECW 13, p. ?
other, for we cannot make sense of our experience of the past, present and future unless
we can put it into an order that in the course of the development of language and thought
becomes more and more structured in terms of sequential order. The sequential order of
events is in turn connected to the symbolic structure of all science, a symbolic structure
that gives significance not only to all events. Thus Cassirer refers to authentic time (die
eigentliche Zeit) as consciousness of sequence36.
It is here in the interpretation of the status of consciousness of succession that
Heidegger's greatest departure from Cassirer's account of time arises. And this goes to a
more fundamental difference between Cassirer and Heidegger. For Cassirer, sequence and
sequential order is key to our understanding of the most comprehensively articulate grip
that we have on the world in mathematics and logical function. For Heidegger,
mathematical and logical function, sequence and consciousness of succession is not
authentic being or time but instead an abstraction, a reality that is confused with true
being. Heidegger acknowledges that consciousness of sequential order in passage and
succession is constitutive of the common or vulgar notion of time. For Heidegger, both
passage, as well as the atemporal tenseless sequence of events, are nevertheless illusory.
Instead of the sequential order of McTaggart's A, B, or C-series, Heidegger looks for the
structure of time in the non-sequential time of affective-agent-relative myth, language and
religion (as it is indeed described by Cassirer). Cassirer identifies a level of time in myth
and religion that is tied to agency and spatial orientation as an agent, but that does not
display a distinctively sequential order. The sequential order of succession emerges for
Cassirer from the practice by means of which we organize and order things in language.
This is a linguistic process that begins with particular circumstances and particularities
(he mentions the more than 5000 terms for camel in Arabic), and gradually ascends to
kinship relations displayed in noun endings and only then through the social exercise of
demonstrative discourse about times and spaces and their connections is raised to a level
where a still heterogeneous experience of space and place and time and history as a context
of relations emerges(this is a conception that Heidegger appropriates in Division II of
Being and Time for his analysis of how the vulgar notion of time emerges from the
authentic and inauthentic temporality of agency). The spatial and temporal points of

PhSF 2, p. 106; ECW 12, p. 125.
different agents involved in (demonstrative) discourse with one another do not become
the abstract and homogeneous space and time of physics with its notion of invariances
across changes in spatio-temporal position without another feat of abstraction that takes
one beyond ordinary language.
Myth and its emotional-situational affectedness (Befindlichkeit) provides a past-
oriented conception in which the past and the authority of tradition has an almost absolute
presence. Language sinks time into the present and the ability to orient oneself relative to
other objects in the context of demonstrative reference (this is the source for Heidegger of
the vulgar notion of time). Prophetic and eschatological religion provides a new sense of
history, not just as what is past and tradition, but as relevant to and as part of one's
responsibility for the future.
Cassirer recognizes forms of time that have a very different structure than that of
sequence. But Cassirer insists on the ontological primacy of the notion of sequence in
making sense of time and of number. He does not think that sequential time is the only
possible one, or even that such sequential time is the only kind of time that can be given
articulation in language and thought. But he does think that sequential time is the only
kind of time that can be understood in comprehensively systematic terms in science. The
status of sequence and functional relations within a series is in the end a fundamental
difference between Cassirer and Heidegger. Heidegger takes the kind of time that Kant,
Cohen and Cassirer take to be manifested in the prophetic experience of time as hope for
a future that one endeavors to bring about through one's own world-historically significant
action and makes it fundamental. But he must still recur to the account that Cassirer
provides of how our experience of sequence comes about in his analysis of the vulgar
notion of time and its origin in the inauthentic temporality of everyday engagements. And
later in Time and Being Heidegger will interpret different forms of time and being as
different manifestations of the event (Ereignis) of presence (Anwesenheit) through which
everything comes into its own proper significance.
Heidegger distances himself from Cassirer and assimilates Cassirers contextual
account of the expressive and representational dimensions of myth and language to his
account of abstract thought, while appropriating much of the underlying phenomenology
with which Philosophy of Symbolic Forms works. Thus Heidegger rejects the primacy of
the predicative-logical sense of (pure) being that Cassirer takes to be fundamental. There
is no doubt that Heidegger no longer accepts Cassirers ambition to understand pure
being" in terms of the pure transcendental form of relation opting in the place of the
purely relational being of logic for the way language always designates existence in this
or that place, a being-here or being-there, or else existence in this or that moment37.
However it is important to see that pure being of the kind displayed in the copula
in objective (and subjective) assertions is in fact just the pure transcendental form of
relation for Cassirer. It is the relational character of all signs and symbols understood as
a condition for the very possibility of experience. While we are concerned with the purely
relational being of signs and symbols as they constitute human social and cultural
experience, we do not abstract from the content of such signs and symbols in the manner
of traditional abstractionist theories. The signs continue to have their full significance and
objective import, but we are concerned with their significance and objective import purely
in terms of the manner in which it displays itself in their essential relatedness to other
signs and symbols and through the process of making sense of the world through which
that relatedness is instituted. Looked at this way, Cassirer's conception of logical function
is just the other side of the Aristotelian-Humboldtian conception of the energy or
actualization of a culture in its works.
For Cassirer the predicative or copulative meaning of being emerges out of the
existential conception of being. But the notion of existence involved in this early
conception of being is not the modern notion expressed by a bound variable. Here being
is identified with existence in the wider sense of life. Thus it would be more plausible to
argue that the different senses of being are initially deeply intertwined, so that the purely
copulative and existential meanings of being are late developments in what Heidegger will
ultimately view as the degeneration of the Ancient Greek conception of being38. The
linguistic evidence suggests that the veridical meaning of being is quite ancient. The
veridical use of being is present in stems that go back to the early phases of Indo-
Germanic languages 39 . Only in the wake of Christian theology and its conception of

PhSF 1, pp. 314-315; ECW 11, p. 294.
Heidegger remarks in Introduction to Metaphysics that the notion of existence, standing out of persistence
and truth properly applies for the Greeks only to non-being rather than being (M. Heidegger, Introduction
to Metaphysics, cit.. p. 64; GA 40, pp. 65-66)
The word for truth is a derivative of the present participle of being es- in Indo-European. In Indian and
Scandinavian languages from the far ends of the Indo-European linguistic world words for truth-telling
creation out of nothingness is the purely existential conception of being and with it the
kind of skeptical question about whether the world as a whole might not have existed and
then might not exist even possible. The status of being-present-at hand [Vorhandenheit] in
this sense of existence is connected with a more derivative conception of copulative
significance corresponding to the correspondence theory of truth. Heidegger suggests that
the copulative or predicative notion of being is in fact a derivative form of the conception
of being as truth and disclosure. Cassirer too thinks that the predicative notion of being is
deeply connected to the notion of truth. There is no predicative notion of being without
signs and symbols and without truth there are no signs or symbols. It might seem that
Heideggers conception of being as disclosure or unhidden-ness is a radical break with
Cassirers point of view. However, the interpretation of the Greek notion of truth, aletheia,
as unhidden-ness is a Marburg innovation.
Heidegger seems to have precisely Cassirer's platonist conception of being in mind
when he suggests that it is Kant for whom metaphysics first became a problem. For
Cassirer in PSF as for Cohen and Natorp, Kants effort in the Critique to understand Plato
better than he understood himself is largely successful. The interpretation of Plato as a
metaphysician with a conception of being and ideas divorced from the process of
knowledge and culture is taken to be the invention of Aristotle. Cassirer will begin to have
doubts about this later on in the Logic of the Humanities and think of Platos metaphysics
as something that can no longer be defended. In that sense he too will seemingly come to
think that it is actually Kant for whom metaphysics first became a problem.

using is [so], san, satya, are direct cognates of to on in Greek; this suggests that the veridical
meaning of being as to be true is quite ancient. For the evidence. See H. FRISK, Wahrheit und Lge
in den indogermanischen Sprache, Gteborgs Hogskolas Arsskrift, 41/3 (1935), pp. 3-6 and 28. In archaic
English the word to on and satya sooth plays the same role of indicating truth-telling. l See CH. KAHN,
Essays on Being, Oxford University Press, New York 2011, p. 227.