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Idealistic Studies

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published on October 26, 2019

Shuchen Xiang

Organic Harmony and Ernst Cassirer’s Pluralism

This article argues that Cassirer’s thinking about the relationship between the different symbolic forms is best elucidated via the paradigm of “organic harmony.” Although Cassirer did not use the term himself, the harmonious cooperation between the parts found in the organic world provided him with a welcome alternative to traditional accounts of order (i.e., identity or hierarchy). This article gives three examples of “organic harmony” from which Cassirer drew inspiration: Goethe’s idealistic morphology, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s account of language, and Herder’s account of history. Through “organic harmony” we can make better sense of and better articulate the pluralism of Cassirer’s PSF. Finally, this article shows how the motif of organic harmony is the normative moment in Cassirer’s own challenge to twentieth-century fascism and argues that the Cassirerian emphasis on finding a coherence which does justice to the uniqueness of particulars—harmony—is an ethical injunction relevant for our times.

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