History, Freedom, and Normativity in Cassirer

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Whether and to what extent Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of culture contains a normative element for the proper evaluation of symbolic forms is a central question in Cassirer interpretation. In this paper, my aim is to specify the nature of this normative element. I not only assert the existence of a real normative dimension in the philosophy of culture, but also specify the nature of its main element: the concept of freedom. The concept of freedom in Cassirer is by no means an explicit facet of his systematic thought. However, this does not indicate that this is not an important part of his system. Rather, it might mean that Cassirer either thought it so basic he didn’t need to explicate it or he thought that it would be made clear through his exposition of symbolic forms. I will proceed by arguing for a “normative space” in Cassirer’s philosophy of culture. By “normative space” I mean a certain limitation to the philosophy of culture that makes room for the free act of the cultural agent for which she is responsible. In other words, by “normative space” I mean to suggest that Cassirer meant to leave room, and a prominent seat, for the normative element in the philosophy of culture. After establishing this, I will suggest that this normative task in the philosophy of culture is, from a first-person perspective, inevitably connected to the descriptive task, but from a third-person perspective, conceptually distinct. I will then move to better define what I take to be the main value of the normative task: freedom. The freedom that Cassirer defends is an ethical conception understood as both a constitutive norm for cultural action and a regulative ideal for the evaluation of cultural objects. Understanding freedom in this way allows us to conceive of it both as a fundamental phenomenon and an evaluative standard.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Method of Culture
Subtitle of host publicationErnst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
EditorsLuigi Filieri, Anne Pollok
Place of PublicationPisa
PublisherEdizioni ETS
ISBN (Print)9788846761002
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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