Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Define Self-Positing!

I'm defending my dissertation this Friday, and have been reading through it. I've always struggled with defining Fichte's conception of self-positing. Here is what I say it is at one point:
Self-positing is the very activity in which the I is constituted as an I by virtue of reflexively self-reverting into itself so to immediately become intuitively aware of its own reflexive activity involved in the self-ascription of representations in judgment.
This account is defended by a good bit of interpretation and argumentation (or so I'd like to think). I'm curious how others might define self-positing. Give it a shot in the comments if you dare!


Michael Steinberg said...

Missed you in Lisbon--and Lisbon itself isn't to be missed.....

Good luck Friday! For what it's worth, here's a bit I wrote on self-positing as part of a MS on the Vocation of Man for non-philosophers....Please excuse the obvious parts. Or you can always reread Dieter Henrich.....

In the reflection theory the subject-self turns on itself and encounters itself as the object-self. ... But the reflection theory doesn't doesn't explain what we think it explains. It might give us an accurate picture of how we look at the self, but it can't show us what makes the self different from anything else, how we come to know it, or how it comes to be. Instead, it depends on the assumptions that we already have a self and know what that self is—the very things that it's supposed to explain.

For example, the subject-self of the reflection theory could never really recognize itself in the object-self unless if it already knew it was the self. The whole thing about a self is that it's not just a thing, it's me. That “mineness” is what the subject-self recognizes; it's supposed to say, “Hey! That's my self!” when it finds the object-self. But if I'm thinking in terms of “mine” or “me” then I must already have a sense of self. These thoughts wouldn't make sense without one.

You may remember the myth of Narcissus, the man who had never seen his reflection and who fell in love with himself when he saw his face in a pool of water. He thought that the reflected face belonged to someone else. That's just where the reflection theory leaves us. It accounts for the reflection, but it doesn't show us how we recognize the reflection for what it really is. It just assumes that we know this beforehand.

Fichte's philosophy really begins with this problem....In his earliest mature writings he argued that “the self posits itself.” He added that this was an “absolute” positing and that the self is nothing other than this act of positing. You probably find this puzzling, but that's all right; this formula is a riddle, and Fichte wants us to think it over and solve it.

We might start by asking what “posit” means. Fichte never defines the word, but in German it means roughly that the self places itself in front of itself. It creates a division in itself between the subject-self and the object-self, and it sets up a relation between them.

Does the self come into being with the division? Not at all. What posits the self is the self. It makes itself into what it is by positing itself, which suggests that it sort of pulls itself up by its own bootstraps. But this doesn't mean that the self exists before the positing, either. The self isn't the maker by itself (the self that does the positing) and it isn't the product (the self that gets posited). The self is the act, the act where both the positing self and the posited self have their being.

That means that the positing isn't something that happened once in the past, leaving us with a self we used from then on. It's something ongoing; it's happening all the time. We're constantly making ourself, so the self that does the positing is always as real and as present as the self that it posits. Positing, for Fichte, isn't like taking an ax and chopping something in two. It's a kind of dividing that leaves the original unity unimpaired.

Anonymous said...

Very speculative here, but I'd venture that any purely dependent manifold has as its cause the "self-positing" of the agent unity.

I'm exploring this notion right now in an article I'm revising on Plato, actually. The question is how to formally render the "self-" quality of a system with the integration characteristic of "personal" unity.

David W. said...

Self-positing = willingly putting oneself before a committee of philosophy professors, brazenly staring them down, and voila: they end up blinking first.
Congratulations Dr. Gabe on eine schöne Selbst-Setzung