Fichtean meditations
On subjectivity, nature and society.

Fichtean meditations
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Posted Dec 25, 2011 - 9:41 AM:
Subject: Fichtean meditations
Idealism accords central importance to the subject - the divine or universal subject in what is usually called objective idealism and the finite human subject in those varieties of subjective idealism that do not propose to resolve the subject itself into a chaos of sense-impressions and atomic thoughts. And the latter tendency posits that the finite subject is in some sense primary and that other entities in the world are at the least dependent on the subject (or "ego" etc.).

Is this picture compatible with actual human experience? It seems to me that actual human subjects require an external check to their activities, something outside the sphere of their consciousness that can resist them. Without such a check the notion of activity of a subject becomes unintelligible and the subject itself dissolves into an indifferent union with its environment.

The self-recognition of a subject and its constitution as a thinking subject, furthermore, seems to require other subjects with which the subject can enter into relation and the broad framework of culture. Without these things the subject would remain feral and incapable of discourse. And the encounter of many subjects seems to require some neutral grounds outside the proper spheres of consciousness of both parties - an external world.

So it seems to me that the human subject can't be conceived of as primary, and that an analysis of human subjectivity can only point to an external world.

But suppose that the idealist wishes to suppose some universal subject not tied to specific empirical individuals (as Fichte, who was the inspiration for this thread, did)? There is nothing obviously wrong with such a proposal, of course, but taking the above into account, an infinite, unchecked consciousness existing outside culture would be so dissimilar to what we usually call human subjectivity it isn't clear how we are to understand the clam that this "absolute" is a subject.

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Posted Dec 25, 2011 - 9:48 AM:

Fichte is the fountainhead of the essentially wacky German form of idealism, which I find most difficult to admire. Sorry; I can't think of him without Santayana's Egotism in German Philosophy coming to mind.

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Posted Dec 25, 2011 - 10:54 AM:

ciceronianus wrote:
Fichte is the fountainhead of the essentially wacky German form of idealism, which I find most difficult to admire. Sorry; I can't think of him without Santayana's Egotism in German Philosophy coming to mind.


Fichte is sometimes interpreted as an extreme subjectivist, much as Kant is interpreted as an extreme skeptic or agnostic, but I do not think this is a viable reading. And whatever one's opinion of Fichte's personality and philosophy, I think that the materialist tendency he exhibits in his late work is philosophically interesting - it demonstrates that idealism can't account for that object which it places at the centre of its thought, the human subject. The thread was inspired by that thought.
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Posted Dec 27, 2011 - 3:56 AM:

It seems to me that actual human subjects require an external check to their activities, something outside the sphere of their consciousness that can resist them.
What?
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Posted Dec 27, 2011 - 4:38 AM:

The Great Whatever wrote:
What?


Fichteanese. The point was that unless something external to me opposes my actions, I can't form an idea of action - perhaps exertion at most (though even corporeality is very alien to the "pure subject" of idealist thought) - and of my identity as a centre of action.
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Posted Dec 27, 2011 - 4:41 AM:

To Mega Therion wrote:


Fichteanese. The point was that unless something external to me opposes my actions, I can't form an idea of action - perhaps exertion at most (though even corporeality is very alien to the "pure subject" of idealist thought) - and of my identity as a centre of action.
So how do you know what's external to you if you don't know what you are until something that's not you acts on you?
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Posted Dec 27, 2011 - 4:51 AM:

The Great Whatever wrote:
So how do you know what's external to you if you don't know what you are until something that's not you acts on you?


I was speaking with the benefit of hindsight, as it were. But without my actions meeting resistance, how can I form a conception of action, of effort etc.? Without such resistance, it seems to me, I would not only not know what I am - I would not know that I am since existence and identity would be useless terms to me in my effortless, unchecked mode of existence.
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Posted Dec 28, 2011 - 5:33 AM:

To Mega Therion wrote:


I was speaking with the benefit of hindsight, as it were. But without my actions meeting resistance, how can I form a conception of action, of effort etc.? Without such resistance, it seems to me, I would not only not know what I am - I would not know that I am since existence and identity would be useless terms to me in my effortless, unchecked mode of existence.

I don't understand. What is resistance?
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Posted Dec 28, 2011 - 5:43 AM:

The Great Whatever wrote:

I don't understand. What is resistance?


I extend my arm, and am stopped by the screen of the laptop - or by the limitations of my musculature etc.
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Posted Dec 28, 2011 - 5:45 AM:

To Mega Therion wrote:


I extend my arm, and am stopped by the screen of the laptop - or by the limitations of my musculature etc.

So, resistance is when the will tries to change reality and fails?
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