Fichte and German Idealism lV


Hölderlin was right when he complained to Hegel that Fichte’s ‘Absolute I’ was everything, contains all reality, it is everything and outside it nothing exists, which betrays his impatience with something that was far from his own inclinations and convictions – he was much more poet than philosopher, and as we have seen, his view of life, while tending to the Infinite, was a tragic one. He was not quite right, however, since Fichte did not neglect or deny the possibility of an "external" world of objects, or, we should say rather a sensorial reality and the determination of the essence of the object; he was too much of a Kantian to say that that world is an independent reality, but he went beyond Kant by first holding that the ‘thing-in-itself` (causal origin of our own representations) is a chimera, a dream, rather than a thought based on reflection, and, secondly, by founding all Idealist philosophy after him on a first principle, Tathandlung (fact/act), which is not a mere fact, known empirically, but a self-evident certainty, as the only candidate for a first principle in the new philosophical system which he inaugurated. That first principle is a double one, consisting of a “dogmatic” self-positing of the Absolute ‘I’ and the experiential aspect we have just mentioned which, aided by the faculty of imagination, will make possible knowledge of the world of objects.

It must be repeated that Tathanlung is not arrived at empirically by analytic reflection, but through the transcendental method of Kant, which would save it from being called dogmatic (which indeed was what happened, and from which Fichte’s philosophy never recovered). The thing-in- itself is out of our experience, and thus not valid as a principle, whereas the fact/act, which should be understood as a generating activity, is the ground of all possible experience. The alternative that Fichte indicated, or proposed, was to either posit the ‘l’ as that ground, or the thing-in- itself (a noumenon, and thus unknowable). Through the first one we construct our experience in order to explain ourselves to ourselves and, derivatively, in a series of acts, explain the world of phenomena. Other considerations are that the “I positing itself absolutely” is a self-producing process, and that that act must be free, since it owes its existence to nothing but itself. Thus the pure subject, ‘I’, posits, or creates both subject and object in virtue of its creating activity mediated by intellectual intuition. It is, at the same time, the unique principle, formal and material, theoretical and existential, of knowledge; as principle, however, it is not something that ‘acts’ in any particular case or situation, it is rather pure activity, a doing. That activity is infinite, absolute and free. Much as is the case with Advaita Vedanta – a different spiritual and philosophical clime – the pure Suject (or Atma) is not affected by any activity, which is itself the work of Shakti, or Maya in Indian philosophy. In other words, the act of the pure ‘I’ of transcendental philosophy after Fichte is a pure act, which is the initiator or "prime mover" of the activities of the "lower" realm – if we can say this in the context of the Idealism of Fichte – , the world of nature and the empirical ‘I’.

      (To be continued)

About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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