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.


Jim said...

Very interesting post, Gabe. Thanks for that.

jambontoo said...

Thanks for calling attention to my little, good natured exchange with Karl, Gabe. And I think you are definitely right about the key role played by Sellars in spreading this "Fichtean" reading of Kant. I am just back from the Pacific APA, and I must say that Sellars' influence was everywhere to be found.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought I might have been the only one reading Hector-Neri Castañeda.