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!