Article ID: CBB543803012

Between pluralism and objectivism: Reconsidering Ernst Cassirer's teleology of culture (2024)


This paper revisits debates on a tension in Cassirer's philosophy of culture. On the one hand, Cassirer describes a plurality of symbolic forms and claims that each needs to be assessed by its own internal standards of validity. On the other hand, he ranks the symbolic forms in terms of a developmental hierarchy and states that one form, mathematical natural science, constitutes the highest achievement of culture. In my paper, I do not seek to resolve this tension. Rather, I aim to arrive at a better understanding of how it arises, and of the different options that it presents for understanding the development of culture. I discuss three recent attempts at resolving the tension, put forward by Sebastian Luft, Samatha Matherne, and Simon Truwant, respectively. Based on a reconstruction of Cassirer's system of symbolic forms that centralizes the concept of function, I show that the most promising of these attempts, formulated by Truwant, is not successful. I then turn to Cassirer's philosophy of the cultural sciences, the implications of which for the present problem have not yet been sufficiently explored. I argue that in this context, Cassirer develops the contours of an alternative to the function-based view of cultural development. I conclude that this alternative does not resolve the tension either, but that it allows for a reconceptualization of the teleology of culture as open.

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Authors & Contributors
Chirimuuta, M.
Dussault, Antoine C.
Giancarlo Magnano San Lio
Federico Avogadro
Piqué, Pilar
Dunning, David E.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Perspectives on Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Journal of the History of Philosophy
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Yale University Press
University of Chicago Press
Carocci Editore
Philosophy of science
Philosophy of mathematics
Philosophy of biology
Cassirer, Ernst
Kant, Immanuel
Wolff, Christian von
Peirce, Charles Sanders
Peano, Giuseppe
Morton, Samuel George
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
19th century
18th century
North America

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