The 'I' and the Individual: The Problem of Nature in Fichte's Philosophy

Dissertation, Mcgill University (Canada) (1998)
In this thesis I investigate the relationship between 'I' as principle of transcendental philosophy and its ordinary use as first-personal pronoun. This relationship is a central issue in the philosophy of J. G. Fichte. Fichte was concerned to secure the gains made by Kant's Critique against what he called the 'dogmatism of the so-called Kantians' as well as against the attack of the skeptics, by grounding philosophy in a first principle which he called 'I'. To say what Fichte means by 'I' is to give an account of his philosophy, for, according to him, nothing is to be assumed outside of this 'I'. For Fichte the dogmatism of the 'so-called Kantians' consists in the idea that even when the formal conditions of experience have been established, a non-conceptualized content needs to be given to the mind from outside in order to produce empirical knowledge. This way of conceiving empirical constraints of thought, according to Fichte, threatens the results of Kant's critical philosophy, because it is inconsistent with the theoretical spontaneity and the practical autonomy that are crucial to Kant's conception of reason. Fichte argues that adequate empirical constraints can only be deduced from within the 'I'. To do this we must radically rethink our received concept of an 'I', a rethinking which in essence has already been effectuated by Kant, and which Fichte merely wants to make explicit and bring to fruition. Adequate constraints can be seen to be generated internally, once we realize that the standpoint of the 'theoretical I' is derivative from the standpoint of the 'practical I'. A result of Fichte's emphasis on the practical aspect of reason is a heightened awareness of the concept of the individual person and its status vis-a-vis the 'I' as philosophical principle. To be consistent with his principle, and indeed to prove his point, Fichte must 'deduce' the 'I' as individual. ;Fichte's repudiation of dogmatism bears striking resemblances to a contemporary reading of Kant associated with the works of P. F. Strawson and John McDowell. The crucial difference is that for these philosophers the concept of a person is taken as primitive, and hence as the starting point of philosophy. At Fichte's time this position was defended by Fichte's critic, F. H. Jacobi. In the thesis I develop a position in contrast with Fichte's idealism which I call a 'naturalism of second nature' and which I use as a conceptual foil to explicate Fichte's thinking. I argue that ultimately Fichte's project fails by his own standards, in that it fails to save what we normally mean by a moral individual. I argue that in order to conceive of adequate constraints on freedom, we need to make the concept of a person as a natural individual our point of departure
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