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.

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