Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A German Idealism Joke

Posting has been very sparse the last few weeks, and will likely continue to be until I return to NY at the beginning of January. I'm down in Texas with the family now. My mom bought me a philosophy joke book (Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...), and surprisingly it has a brief section on German Idealism. Here's the best joke of the bunch:

Secretary: Herr Doktor, there's a ding an sich in the waiting room.
Urologist: Another ding an sich! If I see one more today, I think I'll scream! Who is it?
Secretary: How would I know?
Urologist: Describe him.
Secretary: You must be kidding!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hegel Material Online

Here are some Hegel resources online. This site has some links to many of Hegel's texts and also to commentaries by Hyppolite, Avineri, Findlay, Marcuse and many others.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Philosophers' Carnival

Buffalo Philosophy hosts the Philosophers' Carnival. Make sure to check out the post on McDowell and Kant by Avery at The Space of Reasons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Johann Gottlieb Fichte: A Romantic Novelist? (David W. Wood)

(A few months ago I promised that Self and World would host some Guest Bloggers. Well, we have our first installment from guest blogger David W. Wood. David recently published with SUNY a translation of Novalis writings, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. He is currently writing an article on Fichte, Novalis and the arts for Fichte-Studien.)

It is no secret that the philosophy of J.G. Fichte made an enormous impact on the young romantics. According to Novalis’s own admission, he heavily fell under Fichte’s spell: “Fichte is the most dangerous thinker I know. He powerfully enchants one into his circle.” Novalis was not alone: The early Schelling ended up becoming the “town crier of the Fichtean I”, Hölderlin hitch-hiked to the university in 1794 to sit at the feet of the man who was “the soul of Jena”
, while Friedrich Schlegel famously placed the Wissenschaftslehre alongside the French Revolution and Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister “as one of the three greatest tendencies of the age,” wildly praising Fichte himself “as a philosopher for whom Hamlet would have sighed in vain!” Schlegel and Novalis then carried out a sym-philosophical analysis of the Wissenschaftslehre – a joint study for which they coined the neologism “Fichticizing”.

However, could Fichte himself – the mentor of the Romantic School – ever be classified as a romantic? If explosive documents in the Gesamtausgabe (GA) of Fichte’s works are to be believed, the tentative answer is ‘yes’, and a romantic novelist at that. Frequently derided as the philosophical equivalent of a street-fighter, it now seems there was a much more feminine and ‘romantic’ side to Fichte. For like Hölderlin with Hyperion and Hardenberg (Novalis) with Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Fichte too tried his hand at writing a poetic-philosophic novel. Was Fichte then inspired by the literary efforts of these young romantics? The short answer is ‘no’, since Fichte the budding screenwriter came years before Fichte the philosopher of the Ich.

In 1788 in Zurich, while the three Friedrichs – Schlegel, Hölderlin and Hardenberg – were still fawning over the local Fräuleins and spurning the charms of Diotima, Johann Gottlieb was all pensive and Werther-like, busily composing for posterity a long meditation on love. It was only published 60 years later in 1846, by his son Immanuel Hermann; that is to say, more than 30 years after Fichte’s death, so chronologically we have to rule out any direct novelistic influence of the young romantics on Fichte.

But why has his literary gem been forgotten? – For in all fairness to the great philosopher from Rammenau, he easily holds his own with Goethe and almost out-romantics the romantics. Is not even the title of his piece: Das Thal der Liebenden – “The Valley of the Lovers” – a model of romantic irony? And the question now giving sleepless nights to the leading Fichte scholars: – is it possible to detect in Fichte’s unfinished novella from 1788 a prefiguring of the “A = A” of the Jena Wissenschaftslehre of 1794/95? Or perhaps, of the nova methodo of the Wissenschaftslehre of 1798/99; or dare we say it, of the Königsberg Wissenschaftslehre of 1807, surely conceived under the Schwärmerei of the recently departed Kant?

Finally, the novella once and for all puts paid to the horrible rumour of Fichte’s inelegant writing style (apparently started by a jealous Schiller), and to the stereotype of a Fichte wanting to create the world from out of his own I (apparently started by the dastardly Hegel) – he obviously wanted to create it through the might of his own pen. In any event, we leave it for sober readers to judge for themselves. Rescuing the tale from undeserved oblivion, we are delighted to provide a first English translation of the beginning of Fichte’s The Valley of the Lovers:
In the most charming region of Veltelin, a stone’s throw from the frontier to Italy, lies a tiny valley – called ‘the valley of the lovers’. Its groves are crammed with berries, oranges and lemons, all of which flourish without being tended, infusing summer and winter with the most exquisite smells. A tiny myrtle forest is nestled in its centre, and within this tiny myrtle forest lies a large grave-mound, encircled by roses permanently in bloom. Over-arched by towering wooded mountains and fenced in by crags, a mortal eye seldom catches sight of it, and the erring foot of a hiker rarely wanders here. All but a handful have penetrated this far. They experienced something like a spiritual breath – the kisses of an angel, wafting against their cheeks; a tender longing filled their souls; and unbeknown, tears streamed from their eyes – it was altogether delicious for them! Images of departed friends or loved ones passed before their souls, and they were overcome with inklings of reunion, with premonitions of eternal life, as they glimpsed the five small flames on the grave-mound in the tiny myrtle forest, symbols of reunited faithfulness after death. ….

Shepherds relate how centuries earlier a young knight had strayed into these parts. Lost at night in the dense thickets, exhausted and famished, he spied afar a fire through the scrub. It belonged to some shepherds guarding their flock. The shepherds willingly shared their meagre meal with him as he warmed himself by the fire. “It’s howling again in those bushes”, said one, as he suddenly approached the group. “The ghost of the poor hermit is whimpering and wailing again! God knows, how my skin crawls whenever I pass by there.” And another replied, “Me too, I’d much prefer to make the one-hour detour. And yet, he was such a good and pious man, the hermit… (GA II/1: 267ff.)
With its cognitive rigor and unmistakable political subtext, we are mystified as to why German scholars have drawn parallels with Lucinde – Friedrich Schlegel’s outrage aux bonnes moeurs. In conclusion, we also recall Novalis’s nocturnal wanderings to Sophie’s grave – and his cry of anguish on failing to find “the idea of infinite love” in Fichte. Star-crossed conjunctions indeed for the Romantic School and the whole course of German literature – if only Fichte had mustered enough philosophical courage to finish and publish The Valley of the Lovers!

(In a subsequent instalment of Fichte and the Romantics we will consider Fichte’s own romantic poetry. Yes, Fichte’s poetry).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Idealism Posts on other Blogs

It's the end of the semester and things are busy, busy, busy. I don't feel like I have time for posting, so I thought I would rely on the hard work of others! Here are some posts on Idealism and other matters from some blogs I like. Enjoy.

SOH-Dan on Kant and Realism

Grundlegung on Autonomy and Nature.

Spontaneity&Receptivity the McDowell and Dreyfus Debate.

Bosphorus Reflections on Hegel and Recognition.

Also, it's worth noting that after a long hiatus, Kant Blog posted a video, Kant: Wrong for America.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pippin's Papers

Many thanks to DuckRabbit for pointing out that Robert Pippin has posted his papers and replies to McDowell and McDowell's response. Also, Pippin has posted a number of papers on Hegel. Worth checking out!!! You can find all of this here on Pippin's site.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New and Newish Books

1. Thom Brooks, Hegel's Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right (Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

2. Philip T. Grier (ed.), Identity and Difference: Studies in Hegel's Logic, Philosophy of Spirit, and Politics (SUNY Press, 2007).

3. Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, Friedrich Schlegel and the Emergence of Romantic Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2007).

4. Will Dudley, Understanding German Idealism (Acumen, 2007).

If you are aware of some new books on Idealism or related matters, post them in the comments.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Philosophers' Carnival is...

here at Philosophy Sucks.


Here at Facts, Ideas and Logic there are some links to papers by Wayne Martin on Fichte and Logic, McDowell papers, some Hegel, Habermas, and Zizek. Plus lots of politics. Cool site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Text of Brandom's Woodbridge Lectures

Here you will find Brandom's Woodbridge Lectures "Animating Ideas of Idealism". At Selbsttatigkeit, you will find Mr. Selbst's reflections on the lectures. He begins with the title of the series, and promises more reflections in the future. Worth checking out!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pre-reflective Consciousness: A Fichtean Intervention

Lately, I have been doing some research on the I, self-reference, and pre-reflective consciousness. This research, as you might guess, is for my dissertation on Fichte and self-consciousness. I want to make a Fichtean intervention into some debates about the I, self-reference and pre-reflective consciousness. In that spirit, here are some thoughts and remarks about the troubles I find in the way some phenomenologists are handling things.

There seems to be a false dichotomy operative in the way in which some philosophers talk about the role of the I in reflective consciousness and pre-reflective consciousness, and I think the dichotomy has been put forward primarily by phenomenologists like Sartre and Dreyfus.

Here is what I take the dichotomy to be. On the one hand, there is a form of consciousness that involves no ego, I, or reflective subject. Dreyfus, following primarily Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, calls this absorbed coping. Sartre, depending on the translation, calls it pre-reflective consciousness or unreflective consciousness (I prefer pre-reflective consciousness, in part because it appears to have become somewhat standard). On the other hand, there is reflective consciousness, the form of consciousness where the I appears or is operative.

The dichotomy straight out is: pre-reflective/no-I OR reflective/I.

About the egoless or I-less form of consciousness, Sartre famously writes, “When I run after a streetcar, when I look at the time, when I am absorbed in contemplating a portrait, there is no I” [1]. In his recent debate with McDowell, Dreyfus concurs with Sartre by first quoting the same passage from Sartre and then concluding, “In general, when one is totally absorbed in one’s activity, one ceases to be a subject” [2].

One might say what they really means is that the I is implicit in pre-reflective consciousness or absorbed coping. Sartre sometimes speaks of the I as appearing, which might lead one to believe there is an implicit I that only appears in some instance where it is made explicit or is reflected out of its implicit state. Sartre writes for instance, “the I never appears except on the occasion of a reflective act” [3]. At least for Dreyfus, the I is not even implicit in absorbed coping, and I suspect the same goes for Sartre. Dreyfus writes, “Samuel Todes adds in Body and World, that we not only have to face things to deal with them, but, as we do so, our body is led to balance itself in the gravitational field. According to Todes, in this and many other ways perception can be seen to be a skilled bodily accomplishment that goes on without an explicit or implicit sense of an ‘I’ who is doing it” [4].

I grant that there are two distinct phenomena, pre-reflective consciousness and reflective consciousness. I also accept that we can learn a good bit about each form of consciousness phenomenologically. I don’t however think we can conclude from a phenomenology of pre-reflective consciousness that it is egoless or I-less simply because it does not appear to us phenomenologically. I think there is some kind of descriptive fallacy in such a move. If something does not appear in order to be described, then it is not operative in the phenomenon. Dreyfus seems to commit such a move when he writes, “There is no place in the phenomenology of fully absorbed coping for mindfulness. In flow, as Sartre sees, there are only attractive and repulsive forces drawing appropriate activity out of an active body” [5]. Mindfulness I take to be McDowell's notion for a kind of minimal I-hood. What McDowell might mean by this is not my concern here.

So why the false dichotomy? Here might be a counter-example of sorts. Imagine you are in an argument with a lover. The argument has gotten so heated that you are both yelling at each other. Throughout most of the argument you are carefully reflecting on what your partner says, and thinking about how you will respond. You say things like, “That’s not exactly what I meant”, or “I never did that.” There is a moment in which you become so fed up you lose control of your reflective capacities, and upon becoming completely absorbed in the argument you begin to rant. Your rant continues for, say, 2 minutes without you even realizing it or being completely aware of what you are saying or doing. You just act, simply speak (or yell). After your rant, everything is silent and you think, “What the hell did I just say?” Your partner is fully aware of what you said. During your rant you said things like “I hate fighting with you” and “I’m so tired of this” etc.

In this example of absorbed coping, the I does not disappear. You begin in reflective consciousness, your anger throws you into pre-reflective consciousness, and then the silence kicks you back into a reflective state. If this is right, then the dichotomy between pre-reflective/no-I OR reflective/I is troubling.

You might respond to my example by noting that it involves utterances of ‘I’ and in some way cooks the books. You might think that because it requires speaking or utterances it’s not truly a form of pre-reflective consciousness. True, it does involve ‘I’ but, I think in a pre-reflective way. The examples phenomenologists often use to analyze pre-reflective consciousness or absorbed coping involve merely actions or bodily movements, e.g., running after a street car, opening a door, former Yankee Chuck Knoblauch throwing the ball to first base. These examples involve skills and expertise of different kinds. Sartre, however, mentions the example of contemplating a painting, which would plausibly involve some form of thinking and linguistic competence. Furthermore, we could imagine singers entering absorbed coping in the same way Knoblauch does or actors for that matter. So I don’t think the charge that the example involves language and not merely bodily movement is cause for alarm.

In a future post I will attempt to provide other reasons why the dichotomy is troubling, but I’m curious whether people find this counter-example compelling.

I say this is somewhat of a Fichtean-intervention because I think the Sartrean view is too strong, if it actually denies that there is some, perhaps minimal role of the I in pre-reflective consciousness. In other words, I think Fichte would find Sartre’s denial of the I in pre-reflective consciousness incoherent, since every form of consciousness involves the I. If we better understand the structure of pre-reflective consciousness, we might find that it resembles in fundamental ways reflective consciousness. Sartre would reply, “The error consists in confusing the essential structure of reflective acts with the essential structure of unreflected acts” [6]. What seems magical on the Sartrean view is how in reflective consciousness one can self-ascribe or claim ownership over acts and thoughts that occurred pre-reflectively.

[1] Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego, (trans.) Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New York: Noonday Press, 1957) pp. 48-9.
[2] Dreyfus, Hubert L. (2007) "Response to McDowell", Inquiry, 50:4, 371-377, p. 373.
[3] Dreyfus, p. 375
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., p. 374
[6] Sartre, p. 55.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Philosophers' Carnival

A Thanksgiving edition of the Philosophers' Carnival is here. In it you will find my post on Kant's "Refutation of Idealism".

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hegel Myths

Thom Brooks over at The Brooks Blog has a post here on Hegel's first name and the thesis-antithesis-synthesis myth. Thom credits Fichte, as do others, with a thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectic, which might be right. Fichte certainly uses these terms, but his synthesis never seems to be a true synthesis in which two things are unified. Think of how the I and not-I are "synthesized" in Fichte's development of his three principles. The not-I can't be unified with the I, at least not in any absolute sense, as that would leave us without an I or not-I. Rather, the two are limited, and that is in some respect the synthesis. I have always found these issues somewhat opaque, so if anyone has thoughts on Fichte's notion of synthesis they are more than welcomed.

In terms of the Hegel myth about the thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectic, Marx should be credited, as far as I know, with its origination. In his The Poverty of Philosophy, a work on the anarchist Proudhon, Marx writes:
If we had M. Proudhon's intrepidity in the matter of Hegelianism we should say: it is distinguished in itself from itself. What does this mean? Impersonal reason, having outside itself neither a base on which it can pose itself, nor an object to which it can oppose itself, nor a subject with which it can compose itself, is forced to turn head over heels, in posing itself, opposing itself and composing itself — position, opposition, composition. Or, to speak Greek — we have thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. For those who do not know the Hegelian formula: affirmation, negation and negation of the negation. That is what language means. It is certainly not Hebrew (with due apologies M. Proudhon); but it is the language of this pure reason, separate from the individual. Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking we have nothing but this ordinary manner in itself — without the individual....

All things being reduced to a logical category, and every movement, every act of production, to method, it follows naturally that every aggregate of products and production, of objects and of movement, can be reduced to a form of applied metaphysics. What Hegel has done for religion, law, etc., M. Proudhon seeks to do for political economy.

So what is this absolute method? The abstraction of movement. What is the abstraction of movement? Movement in abstract condition. What is movement in abstract condition? The purely logical formula of movement or the movement of pure reason. Wherein does the movement of pure reason consist? In posing itself, opposing itself, composing itself; in formulating itself as thesis, antithesis, synthesis; or, yet, in affirming itself, negating itself, and negating its negation. (Chapter 2)
That this characterization of Hegel was to become so popular makes some sense when we realize its source is in Marx's at times unfair take on Hegel. Unfortunately, this schema played a prominent role in the film Half Nelson, where it was beaten into the heads of school children and unsuspecting filmgoers, though I don't remember it being credited to Hegel or Marx in the film.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New York Idealsim Workshop

There has been a slight change in location and time for the first meeting of the New York German Idealism Workshop Series. We are still meeting on November 30 at the New School, but we changed the time to avoid, as best as possible, conflicting with a Critical Theory conference taking place on the same day.

We will now meet at 4:30 on Friday, Nov. 30 at the New School, 65 5th Ave (between 13th and 14th). We will meet in room 307 on the third floor. Please note that both the room and building have changed.

Please email me, if you plan on attending and would like to receive Angelica Nuzzo’s paper: "Reason, Understanding, and the Necessity of Conflict for a Phenomenology of the Contemporary World".

Monday, November 12, 2007


Here are two CFPs:

The University of Warwick is hosting a Hegel conference on "Truth and Falsity" in May 2008. With Paul Franks, Robert Pippin, Angelica Nuzzo, Stephen Houlgate, Robert Stern, and Anton Koch as speakers, it looks to be a good one. Abstracts are due January 15.

Also, DePaul is hosting its graduate student conference on "Aesthetics, Affect and Politics" (April 18-19). Check out their CFP here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

McDowell on Action

I thought this might be of interest to some readers. Here is a very high quality video of John McDowell's UC Berkeley Howison Lecture, "Intention in Action".

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hegel's Philosophy of Language (Book Review)

Jere O'Neill Surber (University of Denver) has reviewed for the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Hegel's Philosophy of Language by Jim Vernon (York University). Definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Guyer on Kant's Moral Philosophy

The new issue of Inquiry (v. 50, Issue 5, 2007) is devoted to an essay by Paul Guyer, "Naturalistic and Transcendental Moments in Kant's Moral Philosophy." Allen Wood, Henry Allison and Sebastian Rödl comment on Guyer, and Guyer replies to their comments. Here is Guyer's abstract followed by Allison's, which gives some sense of what the Guyer piece is up to:

Paul Guyer
"Naturalistic and Transcendental Moments in Kant's Moral Philosophy"

Abstract: During the 1760s and 1770s, Kant entertained a naturalistic approach to ethics based on the supposed psychological fact of a human love for freedom. During the critical period, especially in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant clearly rejected such an approach. But his attempt at a metaphysical foundation for ethics in section III of the Groundwork was equally clearly a failure. Kant recognized this in his appeal to the "fact of reason" argument in the Critique of Practical Reason, but thereby gave up on any attempt to ground the fundamental principle of morality at all. So it is of interest to see how far we might now proceed along the lines of his original naturalistic approach.

Henry Allison
"Comments on Guyer"

Abstract: Guyer argues for four major theses. First, in his early, pre-critical discussions of morality, Kant advocated a version of rational egoism, in which freedom, understood naturalistically as a freedom from domination by both one's own inclinations and from other people, rather than happiness, is the fundamental value. From this point of view, the function of the moral law is to prescribe rules best suited to the preservation and maximization of such freedom, just as on the traditional eudaemonistic account it is to prescribe rules for the maximization of happiness. Second, in the Groundwork, Kant abandoned this naturalistic approach and while retaining the same substantive thesis as his early moral philosophy, "namely that freedom is the value that is realized by adherence to the moral law" (Guyer 455), attempted to provide a non-naturalistic (transcendental) grounding for this valuation of freedom. Third, this took the form of a transcendental deduction, closely modeled on that of the first Critique, which was intended to demonstrate that we are in fact (noumenally) free and the moral law is the "causal law" of this freedom. Fourth, this deduction is a disaster, indeed, one of Western philosophy's "most spectacular train wrecks" (Guyer 445). I shall discuss each in turn, devoting the bulk of my attention to the last.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Kant Study Group (CFP)

The Eastern Study Group of the North American Kant Society has a Call for Papers for their meeting in New York on April 18th and 19th. Béatrice Longuenesse is the keynote speaker and she is delivering a paper titled "I, Self, Subject".

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Videos on Kantian Ethics

Here are some very good videos on Kantian Ethics from a 2003 conference at the University of San Diego. The highlights include Allen Wood on Kant and Fichte and Property, Henry Allison on the Categorical Imperative, Stephen Darwall on Kant, Fichte and the Second-Person Standpoint, Robert Pippin on the Kantian State, and, what looks to be an interesting panel on the categorical imperative. These are not the only talks. There are actually 23 videos in total, all devoted to Kant and ethics. Unfortunately, it does not look like they have the papers online.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Kant's "Refutation of Idealism"

I am curious what people think about the argument of Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism” [B274]. I have been sitting in on a Kant course at NYU/Columbia, and recently we discussed Kant’s argument.

I am wondering to what extent people find the argument convincing. I think this must depend on to what degree one finds transcendental arguments (TAs) convincing and what one thinks such arguments can potentially show. If one does find TAs convincing, then with the “Refutation” we are left with questions about what the argument is meant to prove, what form it takes, and whether it is a TA.

I take it that the “Refutation” is meant to counter the external world skeptic. By arguing for the necessary conditions of a premise the skeptic accepts (that we are aware of ourselves as determined in time) Kant revels that the skeptic is committed to the existence of persisting external objects. Insofar as the argument relies on demonstrating the necessary conditions of a certain experience, the argument seems to be a transcendental argument in the sense people like Strawson [1] and Stroud [2] use the term. From some remarks in Paul Frank’s book All or Nothing it appears David Bell has argued that in some respect the “Refutation” is not a transcendental argument, but I have yet to get my hands on this article [3].

Here is how I see the argument running in its most simplistic form:

P1 I am aware of my existence as determined in time.

P2 A necessary condition of time determination or the determination of successive states is something persisting in perception.

P3 A necessary condition of the persisting thing functioning in time determination is that it is not inside me.

C1 A necessary condition of the persisting thing not being inside me is that it is outside me.

The way Kant puts the conclusion is as follows: “Consequently, the determination of my existence in time is possible only be means of the existence of actual things that I perceive outside myself” (B275).

This argument appears to prove Kant’s Theorem: “The mere, but empirically determined, consciousness of my own existence proves the existence of objects in space outside me” (B275).

If my formulation works then it should avoid the objection that that all the argument proves is that we must take ourselves as conscious or aware of objects, regardless of whether or not such objects do exist.

Here are some remarks about the premises of the argument. P1 the skeptic must accept and does accept if the skeptic is Descartes, Berkeley or Hume. P2 is based up the analogies which precede the “Refutation” and depends heavily on the First Analogy on substance. P3 seems to depend on a separate argument:

1. A persisting thing cannot be intuited through inner sense or as in me (i.e., not mental).

2. If the persisting thing were in me then it would be a representation.

3. If it is a representation then it is intuited as in time.

4. If the inner representation is intuited and determined in time then a persisting thing is required.

5. Appeal to a representation is circular. We are trying to determine our inner successive states as in time, so we cannot appeal to a representation as they are what require time determination.

6. The persisting thing cannot be a mere representation, but must be a thing outside me.

7. Therefore, the persisting thing must be external.

Allison thinks the argument of the "Refutation", which I take to have four steps, actually has a fifth step that says something about how consciousness of my own existence is at the same time an immediate consciousness of objects existing outside me [4]. Kant does makes this point, but it is a mere elucidation of the implications of C1, and not exactly the final conclusion of the argument. This fifth step is perhaps why the argument is sometimes thought to only show that we must take ourselves as aware of objects regardless of their existence. Robert Stern, in his helpful reconstruction of the argument, quotes Nicholas Rescher, who takes the argument to show that physical or external objects must be “assumed by minds” while “the issue of their actual mind-independent existence remain[s] unaddressed” [5].

Any thoughts?


[1] P.F. Strawson, “Skepticism, Naturalism and Transcendental Arguments” in Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

[2] Barry Stroud, “Transcendental Arguments,” Journal of Philosophy 65 (1968).

[3] Paul Franks, All or Nothing: Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German Idealism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005) p. 202.

[4] Henry Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism (New Haven: Yale, 2004/2nd Edition) p. 285-298.

[5] Robert Stern, Transcendental Arguments and Scepticism: Answering the Question of Justification (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000) p. 143.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Brandom Woodbridge Lectures

Update: The dates of Robert Brandom's Woodbridge Lectures at Columbia have changed:

Robert Brandom, University of Pittsburgh
"Animating Ideas of Idealism"

Lecture One: "Norms, Selves, and Concepts"
November 12th 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, 301 Philosophy Hall, Reception to Follow

Lecture Two: "Autonomy, Community, and Freedom"
November 13th 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, Heyman Center Common Room

Lecture Three: "History, Reason, and Reality"
November 14th 2007, 6:15-8:00 PM, Heyman Center Common Room

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bernstein Tapes

Todd over at Bernstein Tapes now has up Jay Bernstein's (New School) lectures on Kant's Critique of Judgment. The lectures are currently taking place, and so far the first four lectures have been posted. They are certainly worth listening to.

Friday, October 12, 2007

New York German Idealism Workshop

I'm excited to announce that Dietmar Heidemann (Hofstra) and I are starting up a new philosophy workshop series dedicated to research on German Idealism. The New York German Idealism Workshop Series will meet twice a semester at a New York college or university in order to provide the many philosophers, scholars, and graduate students in the New York vicinity an opportunity to meet and share their current research. In the last few years it has become more than evident that there is an increasing interest in German Idealism. We feel that the current philosophical climate is perfect for such a workshop series, and we hope it will further scholarship, intellectual bonds and a deeper understanding of the period.

The workshop series will focus on Kant and German Idealism, but is not at all limited to Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. At each workshop a paper will be presented (approx. 45 minutes), and after a 10-15 minute response paper, we will have a discussion period. Two weeks before the workshop the paper will be circulated by email. This will give us time to consider the work more thoroughly than if we were to only listen to a presentation, as is customary in department workshop series and conferences. Our hope is that such a format will bring about a deeper engagement with the each paper.

At the first meeting on Friday, November 30 Angelica Nuzzo (Brooklyn College) will present a paper titled, "Reason, Understanding, and the Necessity of Conflict for a Phenomenology of the Contemporary World".

This first meeting will be at 3:30 at the New School (79 5th ave) in room D1004 (10th floor). The entrance to the building is on 16th Street, just around the corner from the main entrance to 79 5th ave.

We strongly encourage you to pass this announcement on to other people interested in German Idealism, especially those people in and around the NY area. Although it is not necessary, RSVPs are welcome (please send them to

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hegel and the Mental

In the spirit of my post about the revised translation of Hegel's Philosophy of Mind, I thought I would put up a link to the on-line edition of a book by Willem deVries (University of New Hampshire) about Hegel's Theory of Mental Action (Cornell, 1988). He also has some articles on Hegel and some on Sellars here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Philosophy Job Market Blog

For those of you getting ready for the job market, here is a great blog dedicated to the philosophy job market that offers a dose of reality with a spoonful of comedy. Check out the series of posts on rejection letters that "rock the passive voice". I wish PSG and everyone the best of luck!

Hegel's Philosophy of Mind

Here is a review of Michael Inwood's revised translation of Hegel's Philosophy of Mind (Oxford). At a talk given at the New School, I vaguely remember Terry Pinkard remarking that he was working on a new translation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Now with the translation of Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit 1827-8, which I mentioned here, and Yovel's translation of Hegel's "Preface" to the Phenomenology of Spirit, we are becoming overwhelmed with Hegel translations (which is not at all a bad thing). I only wish a press would do with Hegel what Cambridge has done with Kant--offer a standard translation of all his major works. One issue with the Inwood translation that Sebastain Rand mentions in his reivew is that Inwood translates 'Verstand' with 'Intellect' when many other translations go with 'understanding'. Rand mentions some other issues as well, but overall he finds the Inwood translation to be a significant improvement on the Wallace/Miller translation. When will someone revise the Heath/Lachs translation of Fichte's Science of Knowledge (1794/95 Wissenschaftslehre)?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Kant Yearbook (CFP)

Dietmar Heidemann (Hofstra) has issued a call for papers for the Kant Yearbook, a new journal he is editing. Unlike the Kantian Review and Kant-Studien, each issue of the Kant Yearbook will be thematically focused. The first issues will be on Kant's teleology, a theme in Kant studies that has yet to receive the attention it deserves.


The new KANT YEARBOOKis now accepting submissions for its first upcoming issue in 2009.

The KANT YEARBOOK is an international journal that publishes articles on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. It is the KANT YEARBOOK’s goal to intensify innovative research on Kant on the international scale. For that reason the KANT YEARBOOK prefers to publish articles in English, however also articles in German will be accepted. Each issue will be dedicated to a specific topic.

The first issue’s topic is KANT’S TELEOLOGY

All papers, historical or systematic, related to KANT’S TELEOLOGY are welcome though there is a preference for the following themes: The theory of organized beings and the concept of life (‘Critique of Judgment’, §§64-66), the antinomy of teleological judgment, the doctrine of the postulates, the final purpose, modalities (§76), intuitive understanding, archaeology of nature (§80), the problem of the two introductions, teleology in history, Kant’s teleology in German Idealism, Kant’s teleology and the theory of evolution/Darwinism, Kantian teleology and modern biology.

The KANT YEARBOOK practices double-blind review, i.e. the reviewers are not aware of the identity of a manuscript’s author, and the author is not aware of the reviewer’s identity. Submitted manuscripts must be anonymous; that is the authors’ names and references to their work capable of identifying them are not to appear in the manuscript. Detailed instructions and author guidelines will be available here.

For further information contact the editor: or the publisher Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York ( ).

Deadline for submission is May 15, 2008.

Editor: Dietmar H. Heidemann (Hofstra University)
Editorial Board: Henry E. Allison (University of California at Davis), Karl Ameriks (Notre Dame), Gordon Brittan (Montana State University), Klaus Düsing (University of Cologne), Daniel O. Dahlstrom (Boston University), Kristina Engelhard (University of Cologne), Hannah Ginsborg (University of California at Berkeley), Michelle Grier (University of San Diego), Thomas Grundmann (University of Cologne), Paul Guyer (University of Pennsylvania), Robert Hanna (University of Colorado at Boulder), Georg Mohr (University of Bremen), Robert Stern (Sheffield University), Dieter Sturma (University of Bonn), Ken Westphal (University of Kent), Markus Willaschek (University of Frankfurt)

Publisher: De Gruyter Berlin/New York

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fichte on Systematic Form

Fichte uses the term systematic form a number of times in his essay Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre. It is almost certain that Fichte’s concept of systematic form is rooted in Reinhold's writings, since it was Reinhold who impressed upon the age the idea that all philosophy must be systematic. I think Fichte's comments on systematic form are important because they help us understand how he conceived the logic of transcendental arguments to run. With that in mind, I want to share a few reflections on systematic form.

It seems to me that Fichte uses systematic form in two ways, one that is descriptive and one that is logical (normative). Systematic form is a descriptive property that holds for certain presentations of scientific propositions, but it is neither necessary or common to science itself. Fichte considers systematic form as only incidental to the activity of science, not its actual essence (EPW, 104). A necessary condition for a science is that the collection of propositions constituting the science are sound. Without soundness at the ground, no matter however systematic or coherent the other propositions might be, there is a failure to reach the level of science. Obviously, a coherent collection of propositions that are false or fail to touch the world, is not, simply because it is systematic, a science.

Systematic form, as Fichte uses the concept, is not meant merely to describe the structure the totality of propositions take, it is also, and perhaps more importantly, a rule or normative condition about how those propositions should be ordered. As a normative condition governing inferences, systematic form is what provides reason to accept one inference over another seemingly valid inference. In other words, the validity of an inference is checked against whether or not the inference is systematic or not.

When it comes to checking the validity of an inference or whether it is systematic, Fichte thinks we must examine how the two propositions are 1) connected to each other and 2) connected to a first principle that is self-justifying and certain. In both cases we are ultimately worried about how one proposition is connected with another proposition, and according to what reasons or principles the rule connecting them is a valid rule. Fichte defines "the form of the science" as the manner or way [die Art] in which we pass on the certainty from the first principle to other propositions. Given these remarks, systematic form is not meant as a descriptive property that characterizes a totality of propositions; it rather refers to a "specific kind of inference by which we infer the certainty of other propositions from the certainty of the first principle" (p. 105). In making this point, Fichte asks what our "warrant" [Befugnis] is for such inferences. First, I want to suggest, somewhat schematically, what the rule of connection might be, and in a separate post I hope to suggest why Fichte thinks it is a good rule. To understand this rule, I think, is to further illuminate what Fichte means by systematic form a logical stance, not descriptive one.

One option I think Fichte provides is what I will call, for the sake of ease, the equivalency criterion. The equivalency criterion says that proposition P is equivalent to proposition P1 iff there is some content in P1 that is also in P. The equivalency criterion does not guarantee that P and P1 are consistent. If a proposition P consists of R and S and is equivalent in respect R to proposition P1 then they seem to meet the equivalency criterion. However, proposition P1 might conceivably consist of R and ~S, which means that though they are equivalent in a certain respect, they are also inconsistent in another respect. For this reason, the equivalency criterion must be supplemented by a consistency criterion. The consistency criterion says that proposition P is consistent with proposition P1 iff there is not some content in P1 that contradicts P.

I take it that the equivalency criterion and the consistency criterion are what Fichte is after when he writes:

[The] sole means for expanding…knowledge and making it more certain would be by comparing what is uncertain with what is certain and then inferring the certainty or uncertainty of the former from its equivalence [Gleichheit] or inequivalence [Ungleichheit] (if I may make provisional use of these terms until I have time to explain them) to the latter. If an uncertain proposition were the equivalent of one that is certain, then it could be safely assumed that it would be certain too. If the uncertain proposition were opposed [entgegengesetzt] by one that is certain, then we would know that the uncertain proposition would be false. The mind would thus be insured against being deceived any further by the false proposition. It would be freed from error, but it would not have gained truth (Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings, p. 102).

Fichte’s terms here could be more exact. The passage articulates a version of the equivalency criterion, but what does it say about the consistency criterion? The consistency criterion I think is what is meant when Fichte says that P and P1 cannot be opposed. The rule for inference making is that the proposition inferred must be equivalent and consistent with some other proposition. This still seem quite vague. In a future post I will attempt to address this issue further.


Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings, (trans.) Daniel Breazeale (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Brandom's Locke Lectures

At Words and Other Things, there is a collection of links to Robert Brandom's John Locke Lectures from April 2007. Up now are audio files of the lectures, which include replies and the question and answer session.

He is also giving the Woodbridge Lectures this fall at Columbia:

Robert Brandom
Woodbridge Lectures (November 5-9, 2007)
"Animating Ideas of Idealism"

Lecture One: "Norms, Selves, and Concepts"
Lecture Two: "Autonomy, Community, and Freedom"
Lecture Three: "History, Reason, and Reality"

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Hölderlin Translation

Good news on the Hölderlin front. A new translation of Hölderlin’s novel Hyperion is currently in preparation by Ross Benjamin for Archipelago Books. A new translation, I think, should illuminate aspects of Hölderlin’s German not available to English readers, without obscuring the original or perverting English syntax. From what Ross has told me, it sounds like his translation will do just that. With Hölderlin’s German, Ross is working to bring out its musicality. Hölderlin’s poetry is well known for its musical character, and in my experience, translations have not sufficiently recognized its pervasiveness, so I’m excited to see what Ross has in store for us.

We can expect the translation sometime in the Spring of 2008. If you are not familiar with Archipelago Books, you should seek out their somewhat recent publication of Novalis' The Novices Of Sais (Archipleago, 2005). The Novalis book is a beautiful edition that is accompanied by the drawings of Paul Klee. They have also published books by Musil, Buchner, and Rilke.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hegel Society Meeting

Here and here Thom Brooks reports on the Hegel Society of Great Britain meeting, which took place last week.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Philosophy Dissertations

Here is a site that both links and stores philosophy dissertations so they can be downloaded and read. At the bottom of the page are directions on how to get your dissertation added to the list. There is a noticeable lack of dissertations on historical figures like the German Idealists, but you will find two dissertations listed about Kant.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Coast of Utopia

Had I a blog back in April, I would have posted on a play I went to at Lincoln Center called The Coast of Utopia. The play is by Tom Stoppard and starred Ethan Hawke and Billy Crudup. I mention the play because the first third is about the influence Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel had on a group of young Russian revolutionaries, the anarchist Bakunin, the liberal socialist Herzen and the literary critic Belinsky.

I was originally interested in the play because of the figure Bakunin. I certainly did not expect to hear Ethan Hawke, as a young Bakunin, utter lines about Fichte:
Agriculture? I'd rather kill myself than study agriculture. But after three years in Berlin I'd be qualified for a professorship. I am prepared for it. I was on the wrong track with Fichte, I admit it--Fiche was trying to get rid of objective reality, but Hegel shows that reality can't be ignored, on the contrary, reality is the interacion of the inner and outer worlds.
Ok, so Stoppard is no Dieter Henrich (more of an Isaiah Berlin), but his attempts to connect the development of German Idealism from Kant to Hegel (and its shift toward the materialism of Marx) with the Bildung of the Russian petty bourgeoisie is fun to watch on stage. You can also read the play. I should mention that the play itself is an achievement--in fact it is really three plays, Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage that make up The Coast of Utopia

One of my favorite lines in the play is spoken by Billy Crudup's character Belinsky: "But the truth of idealism would be plain to me if I had heard one sentence of Schelling shouted through my window by a man on a galloping horse."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Sebastian Rödl on Self-Consciousness

Here Béatrice Longuenesse has a review of Sebastian Rödl's book on Self-Consciousness which he* (any Castañedians out there?!?) characterizes as "an attempt to recover and rejuvenate the achievement of the German idealist tradition." You might want to also check out a post by James Dow at Selbstatigkeit on Rödl's definition of self-consciousness, and while you're at it, James posted on Kant and the mind too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

One Month Anniversary!

A new semester is beginning for most of us, and that means we are likely overwhelmed with new courses, students and old friends. With August ending Self and World has now been up for one month, and I think it's off to a fine start. In August there were over 700 visitors, and it seems many have become regular readers. So that's great!

In September I plan to have some guest bloggers posting on Kant and Hegel, and I plan to post on Fichte, in addition to posts related to German Idealism and academia generally. I will be working also on Kant's Critique of Judgment, so expect some posts about that as well.

I want to thank everyone for checking out the blog and linking to it, and I urge everyone to spread the word about Self and World to your students, colleagues and friends. Happy Fall Semester!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Aesthetics and Cognition in Kant's Critical Philosophy (Book Review)

Here is a review of a newish book of collected essays edited by Rebecca Kukla (University of South Florida) on Kant's Aesthetics and more.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some New Books

Here is a list of some new books published in the last few months on German Idealism and related subjects (some are expected to come out in September). Click on the numbers to find out more about the publications. In the comments you can add other books published recently and I will add them to the list.

1. Béatrice Longuenesse, Hegel's Critique of Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

2. Rachel Zuckert, Kant on Beauty and Biology: An Interpretation of the 'Critique of Judgment' (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

3. Novalis, The Birth of Novalis: Friedrich Von Hardenberg's Journal of 1797, With Selected Letters and Documents, ed., Bruce donehower (SUNY, 2007).

4. Novalis, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon, ed., David Wood (SUNY, 2007).

5. Katie Terezakis, The Immanent Word: The Turn to Language in German Philosophy, 1759-1801 (Routledge, 2007).

6. Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology (SUNY, 2007).

7. Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy: The Berlin Lectures (SUNY, 2007).

8. Paul Redding, Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought (Cambridge, 2007).

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Philosophers' Carnival

is here. In this edition of the Carnival, there are some reflections on Hegel's dialectic and partial truths. As usual the Carnival showcases many diverse posts, and is worth checking out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yovel's Hegel Translation

Over at The Brooks Blog, Thom Brooks (Newcastle) has posted a draft of a paper he will present at The Hegel Society of Great Britain in September during a roundtable on Yirmiyahu Yovel's (New School) translation of Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Brooks criticizes Yovel for taking too general of an approach in his commentary on the Preface. For the conference program go here.

Fun with Kant

The Kant Song.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fichte and Self-Consciousness

As many readers know, I am currently writing a dissertation on Fichte and self-consciousness. I'm still very much at the beginning stages, although the project has been forming and changing in my mind for more than a year. Today I did some writing on the meaning of self-consciousness and how-possible questions, e.g., 'how is synthetic a priori knowledge possible?' One way I think we can conceive of Fichte's project is as a response to a how-possible question about knowledge, which then brings him to a how-possible question about self-consciousness.

The how-possible question motivating much of Fichte’s writings, I think, is somewhat of an implicit question, although it is most explicitly stated in his Foundations of Natural Right (1796/97) where he says, “Our task was to show how self-consciousness is possible” (p. 30). At the open of The Science of Knowledge (1794/95), Fichte is perfectly clear that his project is meant to provide a foundation to knowledge. The foundation is not merely an epistemic principle, but a principle that expresses the enabling act of subjectivity. What I take Fichte to provide is a principle of subjectivity, what we can call the principle of self-consciousness since without self-consciousness we have no means to speak about subjectivity. The principle of self-consciousness should be defined in two steps, the first of which defines the content of self-consciousness and the second, the nature of its activity: 1) a mode of existing is self-conscious when one takes oneself as oneself; and whereby 2) the activity of taking oneself as oneself necessarily asserts oneself as existing as a self-conscious being capable of having I-thoughts. An important feature of this definition, one that makes it a Fichtean definition, is that the agent and product are one and the same, and even further, the activity of self-consciousness is a self-constituting activity in which the agent produces or constitutes itself as self-conscious. The content of self-consciousness is about oneself which means the activity is reflexive.

One way to parse the distinction between an epistemic principle and the principle of self-consciousness is to render the latter as a principle about the activity of the mind while the former concerns knowledge. Since the principle is a grounding principle of empirical consciousness and its forms of knowledge, what Kant often refers to as simply experience, “Experience is an empirical cognition, i.e., a cognition that determines an object through perceptions” (A176/B218), we should briefly examine how Fichte understands the logic behind grounding. Doing so will clarify why he grounds knowledge and experience according to an act of the mind that falls outside empirical consciousness and knowledge.

We call the states or representations of empirical consciousness empirical, one because they are the result of perceptions and experience, and two because they are not necessary, but contingent. While they result in knowledge, this knowledge is, so it follows, also contingent. That I see a red apple sitting upon my desk and know there is such a red apple is contingent upon there being a red apple and my being at the desk. My knowledge is grounded upon something I can offer up as evidence, reason or justification. Being able to offer up grounds is wholly dependent upon the contingent nature of my knowledge. As Fichte writes:

One can ask for a reason only in the case of something judged to be contingent, viz., where it is assumed that it could have been otherwise…The task of seeking the ground of something contingent means: to exhibit some other thing whose properties reveal why, of all the manifold determinations that the explicandum might have had, it actually has just those that it does. By virtue of its mere notion, the ground falls outside what it grounds. (I, 425; p. 7-8)

If we are after a principle to ground our human knowledge, empirical consciousness or experience, by virtue of the meaning of ground, the principle we are searching for cannot be an empirical fact of consciousness; it must instead fall outside of empirical consciousness while at the same time enabling its possibility. The principle must be expressive of something non-empirical that conditions empirical consciousness. The principle of self-consciousness is meant to be such a principle and its role is to account for a non-empirical activity of consciousness that grounds empirical consciousness and knowledge. Returning to Fichte’s how-possible question, ‘how is self-consciousness possible’ it becomes evident that he is asking about how it is possible to ground empirical consciousness in a non-empirical principle, one that requires no other ground.

What he is not asking about is how it is possible self-consciousness exists. I take the claim is about how we should talk about self-consciousness. A how-possible question about freedom might be in response to a skeptic about the existence of freedom (see Cassam's The Possibility of Knowledge for a discussion of these themes). A hard determinist will take freedom to be something like an illusion. That self-consciousness is illusory would appear absurd to Fichte. But offering an explanation is where the difficulty lies. So, I think one way of framing Fiche's how-possible question is as follows: 'how is an account of self-consciousness possible'. What I think is helpful about such an approach is that it both offers a way to interpret what Fichte is up to, while also developing the constraints he believes ought to be placed upon any theory of self-consciousness.