Monday, March 31, 2008

Heinrich Heine (book review)

At NDPR there is a review of an edited volume of Heinrich Heine's writings, On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany and Other Writings, published by Cambridge and edited by Terry Pinkard. This book should be of interest to those of us interested in the reception of Early German Romanticism and German Idealism (esp. Hegel).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What the Fi@#te? (Part 1)

Inspired by Grundlegung's Kantian Gloom-Watch and Hegelian Glee-Watch, I thought I would start a "What the Fi@#te?" series tracking some of the more absurd, baffling, and often amusing things Fichte says. Here is Fichte on the effect attacks have on him and his drive for truth:
Whatever my views may be, whether true philosophy or enthusiasim and nonsense, it affects me personally not at all, if I have honestly sought the truth. I should no more think my personal merits enhanced by the luck of having discovered the true philosophy than I should consider them diminished by the misfortune of having piled new errors on the errors of the past. For my personal position I have no regard whatever: but I am hot for truth [für die Wahrheit bin ich entflammt], and whatever I think true, I shall continue to proclaim with all the force and decision at my command (emphasis mine, Science of Knowledge [Cambridge, 1982] p. 90).
I am hot for Fichte.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Self-Knowing Agents (Book Review)

Lucy O'Brien's Self-Knowing Agents (Oxford, 2007) was just reviewed at NDPR. This book should be of interest to people working on self-consciousness and self-reference in general, and might be of interest to people working on these issues in Kant and Fichte.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

UK Kant Society Graduate Conference (CFP)

10-11 July 2008
University of Manchester
Call for papers
Deadline for submission of papers: May 10th 2008.
The 5th UK Kant Society Graduate Conference will take place on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th July 2008 at The University of Manchester.

We are pleased to announce that our guest speakers this year are Professor Robert Pippin (University of Chicago) and Dr Jens Timmermann (University of St. Andrews).

We invite papers from postgraduate students and from those who have recently completed their PhD to be considered for presentation at the 2008 UK Kant Society Graduate Conference. The conference will consider papers related to any aspect of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy from 1781 onwards.

Please submit papers of no more than 5000 words that are suitable for a presentation of around 35 minutes, allowing 20 minutes for discussion. All papers should be suitable for blind review. Please include a cover page consisting of the paper’s title and abstract, as well as personal contact details including an email address.

Submissions should be sent by email no later than 10th May 2008 to marking the subject line ‘2008 UKKS Graduate Conference Submission’. Further details will be publicised nearer the date of the conference.

More information about the UK Kant Society can be found at:

Paula Satne Jones (conference organiser)
Arthur Lewis Building
The University of Manchester
M13 9PL
Email: satnejones@AOL.COM

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Reason

In his new book Kantian Ethics (Cambridge, 2008), Allen Wood points out that Vernunft, the word Kant uses for 'reason', derives from the German word 'to hear' (vernehmen). Wood writes, "A rational (or reasonable) person is above all someone who 'listens to reason,' who is capable of hearing and understanding others when they offer reasons" (p. 18). Wood thinks that on etymological grounds we see that (this is not a philosophical argument), "Reasons..are essentially to be shared between people--they are never only the private possession of those for whom they are reasons" (19). On this view, when one acts according to reasons, one acts on reasons that are intersubjectively grounded. I think this is a view worked out in some detail in Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right and also in Darwall's The Second-Person Standpoint, a book I hope to start posting on soon.

I found the etymological point interesting, especially since I don't remember coming across it before. After a quick glance at Caygill's entry on 'reason' in the Kant Dictionary I found no mention of this point. I thought I would check the OED for any similar connections in English. Granted, the phrases we use like 'He just doesn't listen to reason' make a similar point. This phrase appears to go as far back as 1225, "I heard nu reisuns" and in 1440 we have "new resones speke." Reasons are also seen: 1740 J. Clarke, "I never yet saw believe."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Embodiment in Fichte’s Theory of Self-Consciousness

Here is an abstract for a paper I want to write. I just sent it off to a conference on intersubjectivity and the body.

Subtle Bodies: Embodiment in Fichte’s Theory of Self-Consciousness

The work of Johann Gottlieb Fichte is widely recognized as attempting to develop a theory of self-consciousness that grounds in a first principle Kant’s theory of knowledge and cognition. Fichte’s work is often taken to focus on issues in practical philosophy and issues in epistemology. In my work on Fichte I have been developing a mind reading that shows that Fichte has an intersubjective theory of the mind that is conditional for his moral and epistemological principles. In this paper I will argue that Fichte’s theory of the mind articulates a view of the mind as embodied.

In his Foundations of Natural Right, Fichte develops a transcendental argument or deduction that shows how we must conceive of the body as a necessary condition of self-conscious agency. The body, insofar as it is a necessary condition of self-consciousness, must be more than just a material body. For Fichte, while the body is a material body [Körper], it is also a human body [Lieb]. What is the difference between a material body and a human body? The first important difference is that the human body is the embodiment of the will or the ability to form concepts of an end and bring to fruition the end according to a particular conceptualization. However, this kind of concept formation and action is not reflective, but a conceptual pre-reflective activity. A second difference, which follows from the first, is that the human body is subtle or non-objective in that it is saturated with social commitments and is that locus of intentional expressions. In other words, the body as a human body is expressive of rational contents and plays an essential role in the education of the subject into the stance rational self-conscious agents must take.

My reading of Fichte on the body attempts to show that the body is a minded body that is intersubjectively constituted. I also argue that the body is expressive. Its expressivity plays a necessary role in the education of self-consciousness and the constitution of a rational social order.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fichte and the Mind

Lately, I've been working to reduce the first chapter of my dissertation to the size of a journal article. One thing I'm doing in the article is attempting to make a distinction between two kinds of readings of Fichte, one which is primarily epistemological in nature and one that considers Fichte as concerned with the mind and mental action. I'm attempting to show the merits of the mind reading.

One idea I have is that on the mind reading what Fichte has to say about intersubjectivity bears not only on how we should think of self-knowledge, but also on how we should think about the mind and its conditions of possibility. I think, and this is where Fichte scholars will most likely get upset, commentators have mostly advanced epistemological readings that elaborate on Fichte's Kantian influences, his epistemic "foundationalism" (I put that in quotes since it's not clear, at least not to me, whether he is a foundationalist of some sort), the role self-positing plays in terms of establishing a theory of knowledge. Beisier's work, Wayne Martin's and even Paul Frank's challenging work seem to take such a line of thinking for granted. How to characterize Neuhouser's book in terms of this epistemology/mind distinction is more difficult.

I think scholars have failed to adequately understand the role of intersubjectivity in Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness because they have predominantly approached Fichte as concerned with how knowledge is possible. When these scholars move from a concern with how knowledge is possible to a concern with the role of intersubjective relations in Fichte’s thought, they analyze intersubjectivity at the level of knowledge. The result is that intersubjective relations become conditional for how one conceives oneself in terms of personal identity, political identity, or social identity. In other words, intersubjective relations are necessary for self-knowledge or forming a self-conception. But, any self-conception already presupposes that a subject is a self-conscious agent that references itself as an I.

If we can make a distinction between self-conceiving agents and self-conscious agents, I think we can understand the role of intersubjectivity differently. This distinction is important because it demarcates two levels of self-consciousness, one level in which self-conscious agents are conscious of themselves as an I, and one level in which agents are conscious of their unique social identities and commitments. I think this distinction maps on to a distinction between self-consciousness and self-knowledge respectively. With such a distinction operative, I think it is possible to locate the level at which intersubjectivity enters (e.g., Is it at the level of self-knowledge or self-consciousness?), and what implications this has for a theory of the mind and self-consciousness. The upshot is obvious for a theory of mind. If intersubjectivity enters at the level in which we are specifying the conditions necessary for having mental life, the the mind is intersubjectively constituted. I think there might be other implications too that have to do with externalism about the mind or mental content as well. I also think such a reading, call it the mind reading of Fichte, involves showing that the mind is mental activity, but not merely a kind of mental activity internal to the skull, but an embodied activity.