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. BĂ©atrice 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.

Call for Papers (Hegel)

Here you will find a CFP for a Hegel conference hosted by the Hegel Society of America. The conference is dedicated to "The Philosophy of Subjective Spirit." Papers are not due until February, but if you haven't already, you may want to get your copy of the recently published Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit 1827-8.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Conference on Fichte's System of Ethics

I am listing a link to the most recent Fichteana, the newsletter published by the North American Fichte Society, because it has a call for papers listed in it for a conference on "Fichte's System of Ethics (1798)". The conference will be at DePaul University April 10-13, 2008, and paper proposals are due by September 1, 2007. You can find past issues of Fichteana here.

Transcendental Philosophy at Essex

Essex looks to have a vibrant workshop series on Transcendental Philosophy and Idealism. Here you can find links to papers on transcendental arguments, idealism, and normativity.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Leiter on Continental Philosophy Departments

On his blog Leiter Reports, Brian Leiter (UT Austin) posted today on PhD programs in Post-Kantian Continental Philosophy. Leiter gives us some idea of the programs he thinks are the best:
University of Chicago (Brudney, Davidson, Forster, Haugeland, and Pippin, plus a number of other faculty [e.g., Lear and Nussbaum] with sympathetic interests in particular figures or movements), but any serious student should also be looking at Columbia University (Carman and Neuhouser), Stanford University (Anderson, Follesdal [part-time], Friedman, Hills, Hussain, and Wood are all working primarily or partially on figures or movements in post-Kantian German philosophy).
I am interested in what people think about his post and list. I agree that these programs ought to be at the top of any list. I am interested in what other people consider as good programs for students wanting to work on German Idealism and Post-Kantian philosophy. I would also like to hear about more specific suggestions (as in which schools are good for, Kant, Fichte, Hegel etc, or Post-Kantian political philosophy or ethics). Feel free to also post on Continental programs in general.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Search Kant's Gesammelten Werken online

On this site, located here, you can search all 23 volumes of Kant's writings, which includes his works, letters and Nachlass. Here is what I found when I searched for Schelling's name. It is nice to know Kant was reading him. By the way, it's in German.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I can't help but respond to a discussion on self-reflexivity occurring on a few blogs dedicated to critical theory. It starts at Larval Subjects, and continues at Now-Times and Rough Theory. While their discussion is very much about self-reflexivity in social theory, I want to enter the discussion somewhat sideways by saying something about Fichte.

Self-reflexivity is a central and unthematized notion in the work of Fichte. Here is a remark by Fichte on self-reflexivity:
The self's own positing of itself is thus its own pure activity. The self posits itself, and by virtue of this mere self-assertion it exists; and conversely, the self exists and posits its own existence by virtue of merely existing. It is at once the agent and the product of action; the active, and what the activity brings about; action and deed are one and the same. (97)

The self-positing is reflexive since, to put it plainly, that which is doing the acting is also the same thing that is acted upon. But Fichte's thesis is a bit stronger since self-conscious, self-existence is determined, produced or, perhaps better, constituted in the activity of reflexive self-referring:

What was I, then, before I came to consciousness? The natural reply is: I did not exist at all: for I was not a self. The self exists only insofar as it is conscious of itself (98).

I just put Fichte's idea of reflexivity in terms of reference. To talk about reflexivity presupposes an understanding of its common grammatical use in which a verb is reflexive when upon being uttered the subject uttering it refers to an object which is identical with the subject in some way. A good example of a reflexive verb is 'to perjure'. The grammatical notion of reflexivity does not exactly capture the kind of reflexivity Fichte is after. This is due to the fact that the grammatical notion does not necessarily involve the kind of productivity that concerns Fichte. Reflexivity that is productive creates within the activity of reference that which is being referred to. Here are two examples of reflexive sentences of this sort taken from Nozick's Philosophical Explanations: "some people drone on and on and on" or "SOME PEOPLE SPEAK VERY LOUDLY" (75).

What is unique about these sentences is that they refer from the inside rather than from the outside. We can change the droning example so it refers from the outside: some people do not drone on and on and on. Now it refers from the outside non-reflexively.

How should we then cut the distinction between self-reflection and self-reflexion? I think there are likely many ways to do this, but I want to address what we might consider to be Fichte's way of making the distinction. A reflective self-activity discovers or finds out something about itself and refers or abstracts out that aspect. I may reflect on my feelings, beliefs, or memories, but this reflection does not produce that feeling, belief, or memory. Fichte's philosophical method might be considered reflective in a similar sense. Reflexivity we might consider as the nature or structure of the kind of self-activity that grounds any form of self-consciousness, where in the act self-consciousness is produced, determined or posited.

As a footnote to what I have said, Schlegel picks up a notion of reflexivity, most likely from his readings of Fichte, and applies it within his reflections on theory building. I don't have any Schlegel texts at hand but a notion of reflexivity is at work in many of his comments on what poetry and criticism ought to be. One remark that seems to mirror the productive form of reflexivity says something like a book review should contain within it a theory of book reviews.

Even though what Fichte is handling is a theory of self-consciousness, I think his notion of reflexivity is not limited to subjects as some of the examples above are meant to show.

*Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, trans. Peter Heath and John Lachs (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1982).
*Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge: Harvard, 1981).

"Aesthetic Judgment" Conference (NYU)

NYU has been hosting a very good conference series on "Issues in Modern Philosophy" for a few years now. This years conference (November 9-10), dedicated to "Aesthetic Judgment", looks quite good. Here is the program, and more info on the series and how to register can be found here.

SPEP 2007

The 2007 SPEP program is available here.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Jane Kneller's New Book on Kant

Jane Kneller (Colorado State University) recently published with Cambridge Press an exciting new work on Kant titled Kant and the Power of Imagination (Cambridge, 2007). I am preparing a review of it for the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and thought I would first share my thoughts here. All citations are to her book.

Kneller's book is just as much about the German Romantics (Novalis in particular) as it is about Kant. Kneller argues for a continuity thesis between Kant and the Romantics that brings Kant closer to the Romantic's enthusiasm for the creative imagination and Novalis closer to Kant's modesty about knowing the absolute, unconditioned ground of the self. Fichte, on such a reading, is taken to have overstepped what one can reasonably say about the self with his claim that intellectual intuition provides a rational insight into the grounding act of self-consciousness.

The lynchpin of Kneller's arguments for the continuity thesis is her claim that imaginative freedom (reflective judgment) suggests that "political and moral progress may be intimately connected with our ability to make universally valid aesthetic judgments" (38). Kneller believes if we consider imaginative freedom, it is possible to show how the highest good can actually be realized. Such a reading is meant to found hope for a moral world not in Kant's postulation of God, but in the human, imaginative capacity. Novalis' imperative, "The world must be romanticized", does not seem too far off.

Along with the Kantian ideas of theoretical and practical freedom, Kneller points to imaginative freedom, which is grounded in aesthetic reflective judgment and independent of the theoretical and practical domains. Reflective judgment does not exactly involve the categories and operates independently of the Categorical Imperative; "no concepts must be applied, no commands must be followed," Kneller says (43). The imaginative freedom of reflective judgment can be defined negatively as not constrained by theoretical reason or practical reason. Even further, when judging an object with disinterestedness the imagination is not tied to inclination, the good, habit or anything of the like, but reigns free. The imagination also operates freely for the artist who produces in art "aesthetic ideas".

Kneller's account of imaginative freedom is meant to reveal the possibility of the highest good's realization. A requirement it seems for one to believe in the possibility of a moral order is that one believe that through our own agency we can possibly bring about a moral world. Kneller thinks that this belief can be grounded in the power of imagination: "Our ability to represent such a world in imagination would allow us to believe in the possibility of a moral world on earth and in ourselves as creators of that world" (52). In other words, it is through imagination that we conceive of such a world order, which is then the highest good. God does not need then to be some motivating postulate since our own imaginative capacity is good enough to motivate us.

Many find Kant's postulation of God as reason to believe happiness and a moral world order are possible to be at least suspect and quite possibly inconsistent with his critical project. What is nice about Kneller's argument is it seems to displace the need for a postulate and grounds the possibility of a moral world order in human capacities. The argument seems to be a conceivability argument.

I guess the difficulty I find with the argument is that it does not seem to make any progress in demonstrating the possibility of our actualizing a moral world order. There is a real difference between the possibility of something and the possibility of our actualizing something. The difficulty is that something's possibility is simply not a motivating factor, and as it stands achieving a moral world order seems to lack a motivating factor. Kneller does remark on this point: "Whether in this world or in the next, it is hard to see how any mere postulate of reason, whether as a belief in God and immortality, or in human progress in history, or as a pact with reason itself, really solves the problem for Kant, because the problem is not just one of attitude, but of rational motivation: It is a matter of having good reason to imagine ourselves achieving what reason demands, of feeling that possibly we ourselves can accomplish a just world" (50). I think there is a disconnection between possibility and motivation, and I guess Kant would want to fill in the lacuna with the idea of respect for the moral law.

I think Kneller is right to suggest this as a consistent way of reading Kant. I also think she is right to claim that because of the argument's emphasis on thinking imaginatively about the world, Kant is brought closer to the Romantics in a way consistent with his own project.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Call for Papers (Graduate Student Conference)

CFP for "Re-thinking Subjectivity" conference at The New School available here.

The 51st Philosopher's Carnival

The 51st Philosopher's Carnival is here. The carnival is devoted to mathematics, logic and science, but the last posting, submitted by The Brooks Blog is on Hegel and the Family. You can find more Hegel papers by Thom Brooks (University of Newcastle) on The Philosophy of Right at The Brooks Blog.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sir Isaiah Berlin Speaks!

I found this entertaining, which I read about at the blog Virtual Philosopher. It is a recording, available here, of Sir Isaiah Berlin speaking without breathing, with much disgust, and much misunderstanding, perhaps willful misunderstanding, about the Romantic movement and the German Idealists who, according to Berlin were enthusiasts of what he calls the indomitable will that creates values ex nihilo. Here's a quote about the Romantics and Idealists' view: "The heart of the entire process is invention, creation, making out of literally nothing, or out of any materials that may be to hand, and the most central aspect of this view is of course that your universe is, of course, as you choose to make it to some degree, at any rate; that is the philosophy of Fichte, that is to some extent the philosophy of Schelling…" The recording and similar materials can be found at The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library.

Call for Papers

The Society for German Idealism has listed a call for papers here for their meeting during the APA Pacific Division (March 18-23).

Sunday, August 5, 2007

New German Idealism Book

Espen Hammer (Essex) has edited a new book on German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge, 2007) that is coming out next week. Check out Amazon. The contributors are quite distinguished: Stephen Houlgate, Sebastian Gardner, Paul Redding, Andrew Bowie, Richard Eldridge, Jay Bernstein, Frederick Beiser, Paul Franks, Robert Pippin, Fred Rush, Manfred Frank, Terry Pinkard, Robert Stern. I read a draft of Bernstein's essay on Fichte and the body, which alone is reason to get a hold of this edition.

The Bernstein Tapes

Here is a very good site for students working on either Hegel or Kant. These are recordings of Jay Bernstein's (New School) most recent Hegel and Kant lectures. The Kant lectures have detailed notes that are downloadable and outline the lectures. I know Bernstein is teaching Kant's Third Critique this fall, so there might be a chance these lectures will appear as well.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sebastian Gardner on German Idealism

If you have not caught wind yet of Sebastian Gardner's (University College London) work on Kant and German Idealism then you might want to look at his homepage. There you will find some of his lecture notes, which have very comprehensive bibliographies, some of which are annotated (see especially his German Idealism Lecture notes (2005-2006). I've noticed that his Routledge Guidebook to Kant and the 'Critique of Pure Reason' (London: Routledge, 1999) is showing up in more and more syllabi and footnotes. I've always found this work clear and insightful, especially given its introductory nature. Gardner also has a book in the works on Fichte and Schelling (Routledge). According to Amazon, this book will hit the streets in January of 2009.

Allen Wood Offered Position at Indiana

Allen Wood (Stanford) has been offered a senior position by Indiana University, Bloomington. No word yet on whether he will accept. See Leiter's note here. Wood is well known for his work on Kant, Hegel and Marx, and he has made a number of his paper's available on his personal homepage. There is a newish paper there on "Fichte's Intersubjective I" that was published in Inquiry (Feb. 2006). We'll keep an eye on what happens.

UPDATE: Wood is moving to Indiana. Here for more details.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Critchley vs. Leiter: Understanding German Idealism

Last week Brian Leiter (UT Austin) of the "The Philosophical Gourmet" fame attacked Simon Critchley (New School) for misrepresenting the relationship between German Idealism and what Critchley called the "continental tradition" or what we refer to by convention as "Continental Philosophy". To read Leiter's rant against Critchley go here. Here is what Critchley says about German Idealism:
It was felt by post-Kantians like Maimon and Jacobi, and by the German idealists, that Kant had established a series of dualisms in the Third Critique--pure reason and practical reason, nature and freedom, epistemology and ethics--but had failed to provide a single unifying principle which would bring those dualisms together. German idealism, then, can be seen as a series of attempts to provide this principle. So you get the Subject in Fichte, Spirit in Hegel, art in the early Schelling, and then in later nineteenth and early twentieth century German philosophy, Will to Power in Nietzsche, Praxis in Marx and Being in Heidegger. These are all attempts to answer this question.
Leiter writes:
I assume in a normal PhD program, a graduate student who submitted a statement like this as part of a prospectus would be expelled from the program, but apparently such sophomoric blather is thought to constitute scholarly insight in some circles. Overcoming the dualisms of the Third Critique surely was an animating concern (among others) for some of the German Idealists, but it obviously was not for Nietzsche or for Marx. Hegel was a dead issue in German philosophy by the 1850s, as materialists, on the one hand, and NeoKantians, on the other, rose to prominence, and Schopenhauer's anti-Hegelian polemics informed a generation's perception of the mad system builder of Jena. What role "will to power" actually plays in Nietzsche's philosophy is, unbeknownst apparently to Critchley, actually a hotly debated scholarly topic, but there is no significant account of it on which it constitutes an "attempt" by Nietzsche to provide a "unifying principle" for the dualisms of the Third Critique. Assimilating Marx to this just-so story is even weirder, given Marx's spectacular hostility to the questions of metaphysics and epistemology that animated German Idealism, a hostility encapuslated (sic) in the 2nd Thesis on Feuerbach, where Marx deemed all questions "isolated from practice" to be merely "scholastic" questions. This was no "attempt" to "bring those dualisms together," but an attempt to push them off the table as questions worth anyone's intellectual energy.
I don’t think Leiter is being as generous has he should be given that Critchley’s claim about German Idealism and Continental philosophy was made in an interview. Here is what Roman Altshuler at the "Ends of Thought" has to say. Altshuler makes some clear points mostly in defense of Critchley.

Leiter’s post and Critchley’s comments do raise an important question about how we should understand the influence of German Idealism on late 19th and 20th century philosophy. How did Idealism re-orient philosophy? Leiter takes Critchely to be claiming that there was no major reorientation and that Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger continue the search for unifying principles. Is this a plausible way to understand Marx, Nietzsche or Heidegger? I agree with Leiter that it’s not, but I don’t think that is exactly what Critchley means, though I could certainly be wrong. I take it he is claiming that praxis, will to power, and being are attempts to overcome or deflate the need for a unifying principle between pure reason/practical reason or freedom/nature. In this sense Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger are indeed responding to the Kantian dualisms internal to his Critical philosophy. This I think is a brief, general, and generous reading of the Critchley's words, and with such a reading in mind I assume there is no need to kick Critchley out of school. The question remains: how did German idealism re-orient philosophy (for the better)?

About the Blog

The purpose of this blog is to serve as a site to think about German Idealism and related philosophical issues. I hope that it will also be a resource for students and scholars to become aware of current news, publications, conferences, and events related to German Idealism and Post-Kantian philosophy in general. In the near future I plan to involve other students and scholars of Post-Kantian philosophy to post on the blog as well. If you have news or anything you would like posted for now just send me an email.