Ernst Cassirer sees in religion a means of transmitting human experiences through symbols. In "Essay on Man," his main thesis is that man does not work with things, but with himself and the symbols that express it. Man is surrounded by linguistic forms, the images of art and religion, he is incapable of seeing anything else without having a real mediator between him and the real. As a type of mediator, he looks at the symbols. Human existence for him is in them and through them, and "not in the world of naked facts or according to immediate desires and needs". For him the symbols are universal. He writes about problems that affect symbolic thought and behavior, human progress and culture, and is it right to relate them only to man, ignoring all other beings.
Cassier aims to separate the different strata of speech, the first of which is the language of emotions.It also affects the difference between proportional and emotional language. For him this is the true dividing line between the world of man and that of the animal. For Cassirer, the question of animal intelligence is one of the great unintelligent mysteries of anthropological philosophy. In contrast, however, only man has developed symbolic imagination and reason. In Essay for Man, Cassirer presents a case of two deaf children who, through the means of special methodology, learn to speak. To reach this point, children have to make a much more significant discovery, namely to understand that each subject has its own name. Despite their shortcomings, these people are capable through the power of reason that they possess to understand the symbolism of human speech.
The symbol is not only universal, it is, on the contrary, extremely variable. We can express the same meaning through different languages, and even within the boundary of one, using different ways, words, gestures. One of the deaf girls has its own word for every person. Like any reasonable man, he shows an act of recognition. Interestingly, when the girl realizes that the teacher has married she has decided that she has to come up with a new sound for her - she no longer perceives it the same way.
Cassirer says that without symbolism the life of man would be similar to that of the inhabitants of the cave of Plato's famous myth. The author also says that man would limit himself only to the limits of his biological needs and practical interests without being able to find the way to the "ideal world" revealed to him through religion, art, philosophy, science. It is these characters that distinguish man whether he is healthy or ill, poor or rich, smart or not, from the other animal species. He seeks the symbolic forms as the essence of all cultures. For him, myth is one of the forms of knowledge. He says that "in the first mythological explanations of the universe there is always a primitive anthropology alongside primitive cosmology"