Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hegel on Fichte's Conception of Practical Self-Consciousnes: A Fundamental Criticism of the Sittenlehre in the Differenz-Schrift

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hegel on Fichte's Conception of Practical Self-Consciousnes: A Fundamental Criticism of the Sittenlehre in the Differenz-Schrift

Article excerpt

In the Differenz-Schrift (DS), Hegel criticizes almost all of Fichte's major philosophical works published during his Jena period.1 However, his criticism is not entirely negative but rather double-sided: he admits the correctness of Fichte's fundamental principle of philosophy, but objects to the specific form of his philosophical system. His central objection is that Fichte's philosophical system fails to grasp its fundamental principle, which Hegel identifies as "intellectual intuition," "pure thinking of its own self," "pure self-consciousness (or I = I)" or "I am" (2:52; 119). For Hegel, Fichte's derivation of nature in the Sittenlehre (1798) (SE) is only a new form of one and the same systematic error. From this perspective, he objects that

the synthesis of nature and freedom provides now the following reconstruction of identity out of dichotomy into totality: I, as intelligence, as the undetermined - and I who am driven, I as nature, as the determined, shall become the same through the raising of impulse into consciousness. For then drive "comes within my control. ... In the region of consciousness the drive does not act at all; I act or do not act according to it." - That which reflects is higher than what is reflected: the drive of him who does the reflecting, that is, of the subject of consciousness, is called the higher drive. The lower drive, that is, nature, must be placed in subservience (Botmässigkeit) to the higher, that is, to reflection. This relation of subservience which one appearance of the I has to the other is to be the highest synthesis. However, this latter identity and the identity of the transcendental viewpoint are totally opposed one to the other. Within the transcendental scope I = I, that is to say, the I is posited in a relation of substantiality or at the least in a relation of reciprocity. By contrast in [Fichte's] reconstruction of identity one I dominates and the other is dominated; the subjective is not equal to the objective. They stand in a relation of causality instead; one of them goes into servitude, and the sphere of necessity is subordinated to that of freedom. Thus the end of the system is untrue to its beginning, the result is untrue to its principle. (2:74-75; 138; translation modified)

Three points are involved in the Hegelian criticism. First, for Hegel the distortion of the transcendental viewpoint occurs in an incomplete synthesis of nature and freedom. In particular, the synthesis means to subordinate nature under freedom. Moreover, Hegel interprets the subordination as a causal relation. Second, it is remarkable that Hegel equates Fichte's synthesis between freedom and nature with the synthesis between the intelligent "I" and its natural drive. Whereas the intelligent "I" is undetermined, its natural drive is determinate. The synthesis between the two kinds of "F' then has something to do with a determination of the "I." But this determination does not mean to objectify the "F' as an external object. Rather it consists of self-reflection through which the "F' becomes conscious of itself in and through the determination. As such, the incomplete synthesis of nature and freedom amounts to a defective form of determinate self-consciousness. Finally, Hegel attributes to Fichte an error in establishing an asymmetrical relation within self-consciousness. Due to this asymmetry, the independence of nature or the distinction of the reflected side is entirely canceled. Hegel's own solution to the asymmetrical relation is to substitute the reciprocal and substantial relation for the causal one. In this way, it turns out that the Hegelian objection to Fichte's special system is by nature grounded in a criticism of the theory of determinate self-consciousness or self-determination as developed in the SE.

In the history of German idealism, Hegel's criticism of Fichte in the DS is regarded as a public announcement of the end of the unity of transcendental philosophy, although it does not itself bring about this end. …

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