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.