Cassirer on the syntax of being

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This paper examines the expression of being from the syntactic perspective in the framework of Cassirer’s philosophy of language in his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. It first introduces the debate about the validity of the question of being between the logical and ontological perspectives, represented by J. S. Mill’s attempt to annul the question and Heidegger’s counter argument. It then moves to the syntactic perspective by using Aquinas’ statement that in every apprehension being should be present, and then reconsiders the function of copula in a sentence. The main part of this article follows Cassirer’s argument by picking up the so-called “war of the giants” between the Heraclitean flux and the Parmenidean immovable being in the context of language in Plato’s three dialogues, namely Cratylus, Theaetetus, and Sophist. It then moves on to Cassirer’s Kantian scheme of analysis to handle the Platonic question, and argues that words and sentences are different moments of unit formation in our consciousness. It concludes with Cassirer’s argument of the priority of sentence over words, and that the concentration merely on the copula is a limited approach to the question. The purpose of this paper is to show Cassirer’s contribution to the problem of being by shifting the attention from semantics to the syntax and by breaking new ground from neo-Kantianism, and offers an approach to understand the role of language in our knowledge of the objective world which is neither purely nominal nor realist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-742
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy Study
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


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