Ernst Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (PSF) primarily reflects on culture as a system of normative domains that are path-dependently configured. PSF elaborates on the domains of myth/religion, language, and science, but misses a discussion of the economy. By sketching a corresponding exposition, we contribute to the ongoing discussion of how economic science may investigate the world beyond utility functions. Our argument proceeds along historical and comparative lines with a ‘reciprocal comparison’ of the medieval economies of Europe and Japan. We thus approach the normative essence of economic thought and behaviour and test its variability in socio-cultural contexts diverging from ‘now’ and ‘here’. Our sketch of the economy as a symbolic form has important implications for the theoretical understanding of change in social systems. We argue that existing factors of change recognised in the economics discipline, such as fluctuations in supply and demand, and institutional innovation, critically require a superposition with patterns of cognition as they guide agents in their grasp of economic problems and, consequently, in their responses that shape material economies. We suggest that conceiving of the economy as a symbolic form makes these patterns of cognition accessible.