Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fichte Conference on Vocation of Man

The new Fichtenana, the newsletter of the North American Fichte Society, is now available online. Check it out to see what's new in the world of Fichte studies. Below I'm posting from the newsletter the call for papers for the next conference hosted by NAFS.

Fichte's Vocation of Man (1800)

Tenth Biannual Meeting of the North American Fichte Society
Lisbon, Portugal
April 27-30 2010

The Tenth Biennial Meeting of the North American Fichte Society will be held at Lisbon, Portugal from April 27-30, 2010. Local arrangements will be coordinated by Professor Mário Jorge de Almeida Carvalho (University of Lisbon). The theme of this conference will be Fichte's Bestimmung des Menschen (Vocation of Man) of 1800. Historical, comparative, and systematic approaches to and interpretations of the text are all welcome.

As is the practice of the North American Fichte Society, this event is open to all interested Fichte scholars, both in North America and elsewhere, though English will be the language of the conference and of the presentations. Please send paper proposals, including titles and brief descriptions of contents to Daniel Breazeale, Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40508 USA <> no later than September 1, 2009.

Conference papers should have a maximum reading time of 30 minutes. As in the past, we intend to publish a volume of selected papers from this conference. Though it may not prove possible to publish all of the conference papers, we nevertheless request that anyone presenting a paper formally grant the North American Fichte Society the "right of first refusal" for the publication of the same.

Please note that no funds will be available from the conference sponsors to support either travel costs or living expenses of the conference participants. However, an official "letter of invitation" for the purposes of obtaining travel support from one's own institution, can easily be arranged. Further details concerning lodging, program, etc. will be circulated at a later date to those who have expressed interest in participating.

Monday, April 27, 2009

End the University as We Know It?

Today there is an op-ed piece in the The New York Times titled "End the University as we know it" by Mark C. Taylor, a professor in the religion department at Columbia. He employs the old argument that specialization has destroyed the idea of the university that is built around faculties functioning somewhat autonomously. He even cites Kant, a figure he sees as defending a "mass production" view of the university that requires a certain "division of labor" among the faculties. Kant's essays that make up his Conflict of the Faculties were written in response to threats of censorship on the part of Frederick II. Kant's aim, in part, is to defend academic freedom for the broadly conceived philosophical faculty.

Taylor's essay is far too nearsighted. He anchors a number of suggestions directed at revising the university structure in people's fears of an unknown economic future. He has six suggestions: 1) Restructure the curriculum (the idea is to get rid of specialization and the division of labor model, and put in its place an interdisciplinary model); 2) Abolish permanent departments; 3) Increase collaboration among institutions; 4) Transform the dissertation (by taking advantage of new technologies); 5) Expand the range of professional options for graduate students; 6) Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure.

The problem with many of these suggestions is that they would place constraints on academic research and destroy academic freedom. I think there is a misunderstanding of the problem of specialization motivating Taylor's piece. He seems to think that when research, dissertations, essays, and books become so focused they lose all practical import. It is as if this is an essential element of specialization. That is just absurd. Certainly, many books and dissertations do have little practical import. My dissertation on Fichte will not solve the world's water problems, racism, or even the mind/body problem. There may be only a few scholars who have a serious interest in it. That's fine. Why must everything have an immediate practical import? What specialization provides is not solutions, but ways of looking at larger issues from unique perspectives. The hope is that these varying perspectives provide a deeper analysis of the issues. Sometimes they don't. That's fine too. I also find the idea of interdisciplinary work based on the destruction of faculties where disciplines emerge and debates, methodologies, and theses are developed and revised to be an incoherent idea. Taylor's remarks on abolishing tenure, the very institution meant to maintain academic freedom, I think are unfortunate. If the problem with tenure is that older faculty do not publish or "develop professionally" then some internal mechanism could be established to encourage such things. Faculty turnover is a problem, but destroying tenure does not seem to be the right response at all. As far as turnover goes, do we really want our universities to takeover the business model of Walmart? Taylor essentially has an applied and instrumental idea of the university, and I think his suggestions are deeply troubling.

The major problem with the university system is its cost. Education is a right, not a luxury. Making universities affordable (or just free) would solve some of these problems.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ameriks on Fichtean Influences

I spent a good bit of this afternoon reading a series of exchanges between Karl Ameriks, Daniel Breazeale, and Charles Larmore published by Inquiry in 2003. The exchange is over Ameriks' book Kant and the Fate of Autonomy (Cambridge, 2000), a book that takes issue with how Reinhold, Fichte, and Hegel understood, interpreted, and appropriated Kant. Ameriks blames the influence of Reinhold and Fichte for muddying the waters of Kant interpretation by taking Kant's starting point in his Transcendental Deduction to be the concept of representation, and not, what Ameriks calls "common sense judgment", that is, judgments about public objects found in space and time. The issue here is that Reinhold and Fichte have set up a shortcut to their idealist conclusions, one that bypasses the complexities of Kant's own argument for Transcendental Idealism. Ameriks is well-known for introducing the short arguments to idealism, and his book is largely an attempt to show why this mode of argumentation obscures the meaning and importance of Kant’s project.

What I find interesting about Ameriks' take on Fichte is that he sees his influence on contemporary philosophy to be more profound than most philosophers and scholars are willing to recognize. The problem with this Fichtean influence, for Ameriks, is that he takes Fichte to be at best a bad Kantian, and at worst a bad philosopher, so his influence can only be deleterious. Breazeale admirably comes to the defense of Fichte, but in doing so he questions Ameriks' assumption that Fichte's work has been influential:
I am deeply gratified—as well as somewhat amused—by Ameriks' undisguised alarm at the 'growing interest' among contemporary philosophers in post-Kant idealism in general and in Fichte in particular. Even if it represents a considerable exaggeration of the actual situation, I am still flattered to read that 'enough has been written in recent years to make this one-exotic strand of thought familiar and even attractive to many English-language readers' (Ameriks, p. 4). Indeed, it seems to be part of Ameriks' rhetorical strategy to exaggerate in this way the threat represented by contemporary interest in the work of the post-Kantians in order thereby to emphasize the timeliness and significance of his effort to vindicate 'orthodox Kantianism'. (Breazeale, "Two Cheers for Post Kantianism", Inquiry, v. 46, p. 240)
Ameriks finds Fichtean influences in the way in which scholars like Robert Pippin interpret Kant. A lot of this criticism from Ameriks is aimed at defending what he takes to be the right interpretation of Kant’s work, one that is not metaphysically deflationary in its orientation. Ameriks takes issue with more than just scholars of Kant and post-Kantianism. He also finds that a certain kind of Fichteanism has begun to take hold in analytic circles. In a footnote he writes, "An impressive recent indication of the 'analytic' trend I have in mind is Susan Hurley aptly titled Consciousness in Action, a work that does not directly invoke Fichte but provides an extensive discussion of 'action-oriented' readings of Kantian apperception, with an insightful critique of 'the myth of the giving'"(Ameriks, 188). Hurley also defends another thesis, one Hector-Neri Castañeda called 'the Fichtean thesis': a necessary condition of consciousness is self-consciousness. Action-oriented theories of apperception, perception, knowledge, and consciousness are becoming more and more influential in certain circles in philosophy of mind. I think Breazeale is probably right to be skeptical about such trends resulting from philosophers having read Fichte. However, Ameriks is, I think, right to insist that there is a post-Kantian influence on contemporary analytic philosophy. This influence should be traced back to the post-Kantianism of Sellars. Post-Kantianism of the Sellarisan variety is quite influential today. Ameriks book was published in 2000, just a few years after the wave making works of McDowell and Brandom. I think in this respect Ameriks is right to see Fichtean influences in contemporary analytic philosophy and Kant interpretation, even when they come by way of Hegel and Sellars rather than directly from Fichte himself. Like Breazeale, I don't, however, takes these influences to be toxic.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Reviews

Two reviews at NDPR:

Béatrice Longuenesse, Hegel's Critique of Metaphysics, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Scott Stapleford, Kant's Transcendental Arguments: Disciplining Pure Reason, Continuum, 2008.

Pete Mandik posted an entry on transcendental arguments he wrote for a book he is working on. And over at Philosophy, et cetra, Richard Chappell has created a feed for NDPR so you can receive their reviews through your blog reader, rather than via email.

Monday, April 13, 2009

German Idealism Workshop, April 17

On Friday, April 17, the next German Idealism Workshop will take place at the New School. Below are the details:

Andreja Novakovic (Columbia) will present a paper on Hegel titled, "Second Nature and Ethical Life".

Matt Congdon (New School) will respond.

Time: 4:30
Place: The New School, 65 5th Ave (14th St. and 5th ave).
Room: Wolf Conference Room, 2nd Floor (This is the old Wolf, not the new one)

If you plan to attend and would like to receive a copy of the paper, email me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation

Cambridge recently published a new edition of Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation (Ed. Gregory Moore).

From the publisher:

This is the first translation of Fichte’s addresses to the German nation for almost 100 years. The series of 14 speeches, delivered whilst Berlin was under French occupation after Prussia’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Jena in 1806, is widely regarded as a founding document of German nationalism, celebrated and reviled in equal measure. Fichte’s account of the distinctiveness of the German people and his belief in the native superiority of its culture helped to shape German national identity throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. With an extensive introduction that puts Fichte’s argument in its intellectual and historical context, this edition brings an important and seminal work to a modern readership. All of the usual series features are provided, including notes for further reading, chronology, and brief biographies of key individuals.

• Selection of key writings, with introduction, notes and chronology aimed at students • Fichte is the second most important 19th-century German political theorist after Marx • Moore is a leading scholar in the field


Foreword; Acknowledgements; Introduction; Chronology; Notes on the text and translation; Suggestions for further reading; Abbreviations; Addresses to the German Nation; Notes; Glossary.