Cassirer and Steinthal on Expression and the Science of Language

Cassirer Studies 7:99-117 (2015)
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Ernst Cassirer’s focus on the expressive function of language should be read, not in the context of Carnap’s debate with Heidegger, but in the context of the earlier work of Chajim (Heymann) Steinthal. Steinthal distinguishes the expressive form of language, when language is studied as a natural phenomenon, from language as a logical, inferential system. Steinthal argues that language always can be expressed in terms of logical inference. Thus, he would disagree with Heidegger, just as Carnap does. But, Steinthal insists, that is not to say that language, as a natural phenomenon, is exhausted by logic or by the place of terms or relations in inferential structures. Steinthal’s “form” of linguistic “expression” is an early version of Cassirer’s “expressive function” for language. The expressive function, then, should not be seen to place a barrier between Carnap and Cassirer. Rather, Steinthal and Cassirer deal with a question that, as far as I know, Carnap does not address directly: how should philosophers analyze human language as a natural phenomenon, as a part of our expression as animals? And how does that expression determine the semantic categories, kind terms, and other structures that develop within, and characterize, human language itself?
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