Breazeale, Daniel and Rockmore, Tom. Fichte's Vocation of Man: New Interpretive and Critical Essays

By Kinlaw, C. Jeffery | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Breazeale, Daniel and Rockmore, Tom. Fichte's Vocation of Man: New Interpretive and Critical Essays


Kinlaw, C. Jeffery, The Review of Metaphysics


BREAZEALE, Daniel and Rockmore, Tom. Fichte's Vocation of Man: New Interpretive and Critical Essays. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013. xi + 325 pp. Cloth, $95.00--Fichte's Vocation of Man, which was published in 1800 shortly after Fichte's dismissal from his position in Jena resulting from the infamous Atheismusstreit, befuddled many of his contemporaries and has continued to puzzle German Idealism scholars. Central among the interpretive problems is the question of continuity with Fichte's Jena Wissenschaftslehre manifested by the ostensibly theological turn in Fichte's thought (and thus the transition to the "later" Fichte) that is codified in this text. Although there is diversity and substantive (and philosophically interesting) disagreement among the essays, this volume contributes significantly to the disambiguation of what has been an enigmatic philosophical work and is a welcome addition to the continuously expanding scholarly literature on Fichte. The volume can function as a comprehensive supplement--it contains seventeen essays--to the Vocation and is ideal for classroom use. Space limitation restricts my specific comments only to a few of the essays.

The Vocation is principally a book about moral self-development that advances a theory of rational autonomy, which Fichte defends in part by discrediting two accounts of self-determination articulated respectively in the first two chapters of the text: first, a view that presupposes physicalism and thus from Fichte's perspective renders rational, moral autonomy impossible, and second, an account of self-determination unbridled by any normative constraints. The Vocation serves as an itinerarium whereby the reader, the protagonist, hopefully works her way toward the standpoint of rational autonomy Fichte defends in chapter three. This gives the text a decidedly literary quality, one that is explored by roughly a third of the essays. Crowe and Millan explore respectively moral agency and the relation between moral freedom and aesthetics in the context of the late-eighteenth-century Bildungsroman. De Carvalho makes an interesting case for Interesse as the Vocation's protagonist by (correctly) tying Interesse to an agent's basic self-conception and to the way in which moral self-development, reflectively undertaken, informs and likewise is informed by one's self-conception as a rational agent. Martin offers a careful analysis of autonomous judgment and makes a compelling case for conscience as the resolution of the two discredited conceptions of agency (constraint without self-determination and self-determination without constraint). Following the voice of conscience is acting that is free, self-determining, and normatively constrained.

Autonomous judgment concerns who one is as a rational agent and the type of person one is to become. …

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