Annals of Ethics
Online ISSN : 2434-4699
Ernst Cassirer’s Unwritten Ethics
Its Foundation, Problems, and Meanings
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2020 Volume 69 Pages 145-159


 Although Ernst Cassirer’s concern is primarily focused on epistemology, he wrote several texts on the history of ethics(especially classical German ethics). He also emphasizes that ethics plays a central role in Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, a philosopher whom he greatly respected. Furthermore, the later Cassirer─as a Jew in exile from Nazi Germany─came to assert that a new construction of ethics that can be effective against real social problems is an inevitable philosophical task for his day. However, he did not produce any work explicating his own system of ethics. Why? Beginning with this question, I demonstrate that Cassirer, nevertheless, laid the fundamental foundation of his(unwritten)ethics by widening the application field of Kantian “moral freedom” and that this foundation can be formulated as follows: in order to combat mythical consciousness( symbolic form), which is the only ethical(and social)danger in human life, man must use and promote other kinds of consciousness(symbolic form), such as religious, artistic, linguistic, or scientific consciousness. I then point out some possible problems with this ethical foundation such as the inconsistent variation in his explanations of mythical consciousness in order to directly and exclusively relate the danger of this consciousness to the problems of Nazi Germany; the optimistic view that all types of human consciousness, except for mythical, are morally good; and the lack of serious consideration for actual and concrete social problems or biological and animal elements in human life. Finally, I indicate that what we could learn from these(possible)problems and Cassirer’s attitude toward ethics is, broadly speaking, as follows: we should remind ourselves that one of philosophy’s key tasks is to construct ethics that is effective against real social problems; furthermore, it would not be easy to satisfactorily fulfill this task if one is not prepared in advance or does not take into consideration the real and concrete lives and tangible problems of human existence seriously.

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