Culture and Human Responsibility

Karol Chrobak

This article is an introduction to Ernst Cassirer’s essay Naturalistic and Humanistic Fundation of Philosophy of Culture. At the beginning the biographical background of its emergence is outlined. Hitler’s rise to power forced Cassirer to emigrate to Sweden. This difficult situation induced him to substantially rethink the ethical dimension of his philosophy of symbolic forms. In the essay Cassirer distinguishes two currents of modern philosophical reflection about man and culture: the naturalistic and the humanistic one. The former considers culture as a result of purely natural processes that run completely independently of any human decision. Such an approach reduces man to “a marionette” that is blindly obedient to external impulses. According to Cassirer such a way of thinking characterizes Hegel’s idealism, Taine’s positivism as well as Spengler’s fatalism. These diff erent naturalisms he contrasts with a humanistic approach to the philosophy of culture where man turns out to be an active, creative being that produces around himself his own world of culture. Following Cassirer I explain this “new humanism” with reference to the philosophy of Johann Gottfried Herder and Wilhelm von Humboldt. Th e conclusion that Cassirer draws from their reflections is that culture is the field of manifestation of man’s inexhaustible power of form giving. Although this power is always ascribed to an individual it is realized in a social context of a particular community.

Keywords: Cassirer · man · culture · naturalism · humanism

Karol Chrobak – Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Institute of Philosophy at the Faculty of Humanities at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (SGGW). Th e interests of the author focus on philosophical anthropology, philosophy of culture and social philosophy. The habilitation that is being prepared concerns the anthropological foundation of philosophy of culture. Besides he works on polish philosophy of the interwar period. He is the author of the monograph dedicated to the philosophy of Leon Chwistek (Niejedna rzeczywistość, Kraków 2004).   »  

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