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Debates in Nineteenth Century European Philosophy: Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses [1st ed.]
 9781315686837, 131568683X

Table of contents :
pt. 1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and the Kantian legacy --
pt. 2. Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) --
pt. 3. Romaticism --
pt. 4. G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) --
pt. 5. F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1854) --
pt. 6. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) --
pt. 7. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) --
pt. 8. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) --
pt. 9. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) --
pt. 10. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) --
pt. 11. Karl Marx (1818-1883) --
pt. 12. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) --
pt. 13. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) --
pt. 14. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) --
pt. 15. Transitioning to the twentieth century.

Citation preview

Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy

Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy offers an engaging and in-depth introduction to the philosophical questions raised by this rich and far-reaching period in the history of philosophy. Throughout thirty chapters (organized into fifteen parts), the volume surveys the intellectual contributions of European philosophy in the nineteenth century, but it also engages the on-going debates about how these contributions can and should be understood. As such, the volume provides both an overview of nineteenth-century European philosophy and an introduction to contemporary scholarship in this field. Kristin Gjesdal is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Temple University. Her work covers the areas of post-Kantian philosophy (especially hermeneutics and phenomenology), aesthetics, and enlightenment thought. She is the author of Gadamer and the Legacy of German Idealism (2009) and the editor (with Michael Forster) of The Oxford Handbook to German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2015).

Key Debates in the History of Philosophy New students to the history of philosophy risk equating a summary of an important philosopher as the final word on that thinker. Lost in the introductions and primers to the great philosophers are the complexities and range of competing interpretations that result from close readings of the primary texts. Unlike any other undergraduate introduction in this field, Key Debates in the History of Philosophy are designed to lead students back to the classic works so that they may better understand what’s at stake in these competing viewpoints. Each volume in the series contains 10 to 15 interpretive issues, or sections, with two chapters included in each section. The first chapter is a re-printed well-known journal article or book chapter. The second chapter either takes to task or builds upon the argument in the first article and is written by a different scholar especially for the volume. The result is a new kind of introduction, one that enables students to understand philosophy’s history as a still-living debate, rather than a string of unearthed truths from the past. Volumes in the series Debates in Medieval Philosophy: Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses, edited by Jeffrey Hause Debates in Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses, edited by Stewart Duncan and Antonia LoLordo Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy: Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses, edited by Kristin Gjesdal

Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy Essential Readings and Contemporary Responses

Edited by Kristin Gjesdal

First published 2016 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2016 Taylor & Francis The right of the editor to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Debates in nineteenth century philosophy : essential readings and contemporary responses/edited by Kristin Gjesdal.—1st ed. pages cm. — (Key debates in the history of philosophy) Includes bibliographical references. 1. Philosophy, Modern—19th century. I. Gjesdal, Kristin, editor. B803.D38 2015 190.9′034—dc23 2015017837 ISBN: 978-0-415-84284-6 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-415-84285-3 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-68683-7 (ebk) Typeset in Minion by Swales & Willis Ltd, Exeter, Devon, UK


List of Contributors References for Republished Texts Editor’s Introduction

x xiii xv

Part I Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and the Kantian Legacy 1 Introduction 1   1 The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason in German Idealism


Rolf-Peter Horstmann

  2 The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason in German Idealism: A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann


Paul Guyer

Part II Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) 33 Introduction 33   3 Fichte’s Original Insight


Dieter Henrich

  4 Fichte’s Original Insight: Dieter Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later Günter Zöller


vi  •  Contents

Part III Romanticism 57 Introduction 57   5 Philosophical Foundations of Early Romanticism


Manfred Frank

  6 Response to Manfred Frank, “Philosophical Foundations of Early Romanticism”


Michael N. Forster

Part IV G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) 79 Introduction 79   7 From Desire to Recognition: Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality


Axel Honneth

  8 On Honneth’s Interpretation of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of SelfConsciousness”


Robert B. Pippin

Part V F. W. J. Schelling (1775–1854) 107 Introduction 107   9 The Nature of Subjectivity: The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature


Dieter Sturma

10 Nature as Unconditioned? The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Early Works


Dalia Nassar

Part VI Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) 133 Introduction 133 11 The Real Essence of Human Beings: Schopenhauer and the Unconscious Will Christopher Janaway


Contents  •  vii

12 Emancipation from the Will


David E. Wellbery

Part VII Auguste Comte (1798–1857) 157 Introduction 157 13 Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology


Johan Heilbron

14 Why Was Comte an Epistemologist?


Robert C. Scharff

Part VIII John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) 183 Introduction 183 15 Mill: The Principle of Liberty


John Rawls

16 John Rawls on Mill’s Principle of Liberty


John Skorupski

Part IX Charles Darwin (1809–1882) 209 Introduction 209 17 Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and Its Moral Purpose


Robert J. Richards

18 Response to Richards


Gabriel Finkelstein

Part X Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) 231 Introduction 231 19 Kierkegaard’s On Authority and Revelation 233 Stanley Cavell

viii  •  Contents

20 A Nice Arrangement of Epigrams: Stanley Cavell on Søren Kierkegaard


Stephen Mulhall

Part XI Karl Marx (1818–1883) 259 Introduction 259 21 Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel: Synthesis Through Social Labor


Jürgen Habermas

22 Epistemology and Self-Reflection in the Young Marx


Espen Hammer

Part XII Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) 287 Introduction 287 23 Wilhelm Dilthey after 150 Years (Between Romanticism and Positivism)


Hans-Georg Gadamer

24 Gadamer on Dilthey


Frederick C. Beiser

Part XIII Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) 313 Introduction 313 25 Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology


Bernard Williams

26 Naturalism, Minimalism, and the Scope of Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology Paul Katsafanas


Contents  •  ix

Part XIV Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) 339 Introduction 339 27 Bad Faith and Falsehood


Jean-Paul Sartre

28 Freud


Sebastian Gardner

Part XV Transitioning to the Twentieth Century 361 Introduction 361 29 Analytic and Conversational Philosophy


Richard Rorty

30 Not Knowing What the Right Hand Is Doing: Rorty’s “Ambidextrous” Analytic Redescription of Nineteenth-Century Hegelian Philosophy


Paul Redding

Suggested Original Texts


Index 387


Frederick C. Beiser is currently Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His books include After Hegel (2014), Late German Idealism (2013), and The German Historicist Tradition (2011). Gabriel Finkelstein is Associate Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Denver. He teaches the history of science, Germany, and Europe. His biography of Emil du Bois-Reymond was published in 2013. Michael N. Forster is currently Alexander von Humboldt Professor, holder of the Chair in Theoretical Philosophy, and Co-director of the International Center for Philosophy at Bonn University. His historical work is on ancient philosophy and especially German philosophy; his systematic work mainly on epistemology and philosophy of language. He has published numerous articles, seven authored books, and two edited volumes. Sebastian Gardner is Professor of Philosophy at University College London and has published books and papers on the philosophy of psychoanalysis and the history of philosophy from Kant. His writings include Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (1993) and Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” (2009). His present research is centered on Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement and its historical reception. Kristin Gjesdal is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia. Her work covers the areas of post-Kantian philosophy (especially hermeneutics and phenomenology), aesthetics, and enlightenment thought. She is the author of Gadamer and the Legacy of German Idealism  (2009) and the editor (with Michael Forster) of the Oxford Handbook to German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2015). Paul Guyer is the Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at Brown University and the Florence R.C. Murray Professor in the

Contributors  •  xi

Humanities Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of nine books on the philosophy of Kant, editor of six anthologies, and General Co-Editor of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, as well as translator of several volumes in that series. His most recent book is A History of Modern Aesthetics in three volumes (2014). Espen Hammer is Professor of Philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia. He is the author of Stanley Cavell: Skepticism, Subjectivity, and the Ordinary (2002), Adorno and the Political (2006), and Philosophy and Temporality from Kant to Critical Theory (2011). He is also the co-editor of Stanley Cavell: Die Unheimlichkeit des Ungewöhnlichen (2002), Pragmatik und Hermeneutik. Studien zur Kulturpolitik Richard Rortys (2011), and the editor of German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge, 2007). Paul Katsafanas is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. He works in ethics and nineteenth-century philosophy. His recent publications include Agency and the Foundations of Ethics: Nietzschean Constitutivism (2013) and “Nietzsche and Kant on the Will: Two Models of Reflective Agency,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 89 (1), 185–216 (2014). Stephen Mulhall is a Professor of Philosophy and a Fellow of New College, Oxford. His research interests include Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, as well as the relations between philosophy, theology, and the arts. His most recent publication is The Self and Its Shadows: A Book of Essays on Individuality as Negation in Philosophy and the Arts (2013). Dalia Nassar is lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sydney. She is the author of The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy 1795–1804 (2013) and editor of The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy (2014). Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. His recently published works include After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism (2014), Fatalism in American Film Noir (2012), and Hollywood Westerns and American Myth (2010). Paul Redding is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Hegel’s Hermeneutics (1996), The Logic of Affect (1999), Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought (2007), and Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche (Routledge, 2009).

xii  •  Contributors

Robert C. Scharff is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire. He is author of Comte After Positivism (2002) and How History Matters to Philosophy: Reconsidering Philosophy’s Past after Positivism (Routledge, 2014); co-editor (with Val Dusek) of The Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition (2nd ed., 2014); and former editor of Continental Philosophy Review (1994–2005). He publishes on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Continental philosophy, the history of positivism, and the philosophy of technology, and is finishing a manuscript, Inheriting Technoscience. John Skorupski is Professor of Moral Philosophy (retired) at the University of Saint Andrews. His books include John Stuart Mill (Routledge, 1989), Ethical Explorations (1999), Why Read Mill Today? (Routledge, 2006) and The Domain of Reasons (2010). David E. Wellbery is the LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor in Germanic Studies and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. His books include: Lessing’s “Laocoon”: Semiotics and Aesthetics in the Age of Reason (1984), The Specular Moment: Goethe’s Early Lyric and the Beginnings of Romanticism (1996), and Schopenhauers Bedeutung für die moderne Literatur (1998). Günter Zöller is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich. His publications include over thirty books and close to three hundred articles, mainly on Kant and German idealism, that have appeared in sixteen languages worldwide. Among his authored and edited book publications on Fichte are Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy (1998), Fichte und die Aufklärung (2005), Fichtes praktische Philosophie (2006), Der Staat als Mittel zum Zweck (2011), Fichte lesen (2013), and Res Publica: Plato’s “Republic” in Classical German Philosophy (2014).

References for Republished Texts

Chapter 1: Rolf-Peter Horstmann, “The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason in German Idealism.” In Paul Guyer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 329–345. Chapter 3: Dieter Henrich, “Fichte’s Original Insight.” Trans. David R. Lachterman. In Darrel E. Christensen et al. (eds.), Contemporary German Philosophy. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1982, pp. 15–55. Chapter 5: Manfred Frank, “Philosophical Foundations of Early Romanticism.” Trans. Günter Zöller. In Karl Ameriks and Dieter Sturma (eds.), The Modern Subject: Conceptions of the Self in German Philosophy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995, pp. 65–85. Chapter 7: Axel Honneth, “From Desire to Recognition: Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality.” In Dean Moyard and Michael Quante (eds.), Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Critical Guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 76–91. Chapter 9: Dieter Sturma, “The Nature of Subjectivity: The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature.” Trans. Nicholas Walker. In Sally Sedgwick (ed.), The Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 216–231. Chapter 11: Christopher Janaway, “The Real Essence of Human Beings: Schopenhauer and the Unconscious Will.” In Angus Nicholls and Martin Liebscher (eds.), Thinking the Unconscious: Nineteenth-Century German Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 140–156. Chapter 13: Johan Heilbron, “Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology.” Sociological Theory, vol. 8, no. 2, 1990, 153–162.

xiv  •  References for Republished Texts

Chapter 15: John Rawls, “The Principle of Liberty.” In Samuel Freeman (ed.), Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 284–297. Chapter 17: Robert J. Richards, “Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and Its Moral Purpose.” In Robert Richards and Michael Ruse (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the “Origin of Species.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 47–67. Chapter 19: Stanley Cavell, “Kierkegaard’s On Authority and Revelation.” In Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 163–180. Chapter 21: Jürgen Habermas, “Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel: Synthesis Through Social Labor.” In Knowledge and Human Interests. Trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro. London: Polity Press, 1987, pp. 25–42. Chapter 23: Hans-Georg Gadamer, “Wilhelm Dilthey nach 150 Jahren. (Zwischen Romantik und Positivismus. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag).” In Ernst Wolfgang Orth (ed.), Dilthey und die Philosophie der Gegenwart. München: Karl Alber, 1985, pp. 157–182. For this volume, the article is translated from German by Gregory M. Moore. Chapter 25: Bernard Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology.” In Myles Burnyeat (ed.), The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, pp. 299–311. Chapter 27: Jean-Paul Sartre, “Bad Faith.” In Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. London: Methuen, 1993, pp. 86–96. Chapter 29: Richard Rorty, “Analytic and Conversational Philosophy.” In Philosophy as Cultural Politics (Philosophical Papers, vol. 4). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 120–130.

Editor’s Introduction

Nineteenth-century philosophy is in many ways still with us. Here we see the origin of ideas and concerns that characterize philosophy even today. The century began with the great contributions of German Idealism—Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling’s attempts to develop the full potential of Immanuel Kant’s transcendental turn, often by transgressing the letter of Kant’s work in order to realize its spirit. In different ways, these philosophers explored the structure of self-consciousness, the relationship between mind and nature, and the nature of normativity. Throughout their works, they maintained that philosophy ought to take the form of a system (though the Kantian notion of transcendental philosophy as a propaedeutic to science was swiftly left behind). The emphasis on a system was put to a test by the romantics: Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), the Schlegel brothers (August Wilhelm and Friedrich), Ludwig Tieck, and Friedrich Schleiermacher, among others. In the nineteenth century we also see a turn, with Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, towards the individual and his or her existential conditions. The century gave rise to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary model and major contributions in political philosophy, with Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill being only two examples. In the works of Auguste Comte and Wilhelm Dilthey we find discussions of the kind of knowledge the various sciences should aspire to and the procedures that best facilitate the knowledge sought. In this period, we also encounter a fundamental critique of religion in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. However, if the nineteenth century anticipates later developments in philosophy, it does not always speak to us in contemporary terms. For a start, nineteenth-century European philosophy responds to different expectations of what academic work amounts to and to different social and cultural sensibilities. Many of the figures we today view as key nineteenth-century

xvi  •  Editor’s Introduction

philosophers were not academics in our sense of the word. Some of them were not even trained as philosophers (Hegel and Kierkegaard, for example, were educated as theologians, and Nietzsche was a classicist). Some nineteenthcentury philosophers also took it upon themselves to challenge traditional forms of philosophy and explore new ways of writing, hoping this would bring about new insights. It is in other words an open question whether our idea of philosophy can or should be projected onto the nineteenth century. The interest in history and historical scholarship is itself an essential aspect of the nineteenth-century legacy. The nineteenth century witnessed a strengthened interest in human historicity and sought to map its implications for the discipline of philosophy. The romantics, Hegel, Marx, Dilthey, and Nietzsche all saw history as a genuine philosophical problem and viewed philosophy as profoundly informed by history. They claimed that a proper understanding of philosophy involves an understanding, critical and reflective, of its place in tradition and the historically developing world. The interest in history should come as no surprise. The nineteenth century witnessed the conclusive dismantling of the feudal system in Europe and the rise to dominance of a new middle class—the bourgeoisie—as it is dissected by writers from Gustave Flaubert to Henrik Ibsen and scrutinized by philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. In this period we see emerging discussions of gender and class and, further, a fundamental critique of religion and religious authority. New social forms prepared for a new historical consciousness and a growing awareness that the future may indeed be fundamentally different from the past. Technological, economical, scientific, cultural, and intellectual developments do not follow strict historical periods and clean-cut divisions between millennia, centuries, and decades. Some scholars follow the historian Eric Hobsbawm in speaking of “the long nineteenth century,” beginning with the French revolution in 1789 and ending with the outbreak of the First World War. Along similar lines, philosophers view the nineteenth century as stretching from Kant’s critical philosophy (and the responses it generated in the 1780s and beyond) to the early days of analytic philosophy a good hundred years later. Whether we follow strict timelines or not, nineteenth-century European philosophy, as the term is typically used, refers to a historical period as well as a certain set of questions and concerns, be they of an existential, aesthetic, moral, or epistemological nature, that can perhaps be characterized by invoking Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblance: there are overlapping similarities, but no fundamental essence that run through and unify the members of this particular era. No collection of this kind can capture a century of thinking. Nor can it cover all the figures and theory constellations that give color and texture to its intellectual fabric. Nonetheless, I hope that the present volume, with its selection of texts and contributors, offers an overview that will spark further

Editor’s Introduction  •  xvii

interest in the field of nineteenth-century European thought. While highquality introductions to nineteenth-century philosophy abound, what sets this volume apart is its focus on critical debates in the scholarship. This is not simply a volume about nineteenth-century European philosophy, but also a collection of texts that directly and actively address the question of how the century, the philosophers, and the questions they raise, are best understood. The volume consists of fifteen parts, each divided into two chapters. The first chapter in each part is a republished version of a significant contribution to the scholarship, the second a newly commissioned response to the original article. Through their encounters, the contributors discuss the validity of the arguments at stake, situate the arguments within a broader, historical context, and reflect on the practice of historical scholarship. Thus, the volume offers an overview of the central issues, problems, and concerns within nineteenthcentury European thought, but also an introduction to the challenges of doing work in the history of philosophy. By presenting a wide range of scholarly contributions, the volume exemplifies a number of philosophical methods and approaches. As such, it presents key debates in European philosophy in the nineteenth century and, closely related, key debates in present-day scholarship. Republished contributions by Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Jürgen Habermas serve to emphasize the continuity between nineteenthand twentieth-century thought. Further, the chapters are characterized by a tight cross-referencing of issues and figures. For example, the debate introduced in the discussion of the Kantian legacy resurfaces in the discussion of Schelling, Freud, and others; the discussion of Hegel’s idea of the dialectic of recognition continues in the work of Marx, and so on. While each of the fifteen parts is furnished with a brief introduction and suggestions for further reading, I will nonetheless provide a roadmap to the volume in its entirety. The first part is dedicated to a discussion of Kant and the Kantian aftermath as it came to set the agenda for nineteenth-century thought, not only within German Idealism (Fichte, Hegel, Schelling), but also among a wider spectrum of thinkers. Indeed, as one nineteenth-century philosopher put it, the question for us moderns is not whether or not we should be Kantians, but, rather, what kind of Kantians we should be. Schopenhauer and Dilthey, among others, viewed themselves as philosophers in the Kantian vein. And when figures such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud presented their work as distinctively non-Kantian, it still applies that the novelty of their contributions, the force of the questions they ask, and the uncompromising way they are asking them, must be brought into relief against a broader knowledge of Kant and the paradigm of transcendental philosophy. The Fichte chapters in this volume center on his theory of self-consciousness, especially his interest in the spontaneity of subjectivity, a point that his contemporaries saw—and we still often see—as his original contribution. However,

xviii  •  Editor’s Introduction

exactly what form Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness takes and how it unfolds throughout his evolving theory of science—the Wissenschaftslehre, as it is sometimes referred to even in Anglophone philosophy—is open to debate. Further, contemporary scholars sometimes worry that the interest in Fichte’s notion of self-consciousness has overshadowed other, equally interesting aspects of his contribution, such as his theory of intersubjectivity and his reflection on the nature and aim of philosophical education. In this context, the romantic movement in Jena must be assigned a special place. The romantics sought to probe what they saw as a dominant notion of philosophy, namely an emphasis on system-formation that had gained an institutional foothold in the wake of rationalism and school philosophy. Hence we need to ask if romanticism is best understood as growing organically out of the paradigm of German Idealism or as a more independent alternative to it. With their interest in poetry, but also history and empirical science, the romantics posed a series of penetrating questions with which the idealists would have less patience. During his early years as a student in Tübingen, Hegel, along with his friends Schelling and Hölderlin, were inspired by proto-romantic sentiments. However, Hegel soon turned into an ardent critic of romanticism. In Hegel’s view, romanticism represented a misguided, subjectivist orientation and, furthermore, a misunderstanding of philosophy’s very task and purpose. The romantics, he argued (rather polemically and with the myopic glance of the contemporary critic), were unable to account for the fundamental historicity and intersubjectivity of human thought and practice. The present volume includes two chapters that deal with—and offer different perspectives on—Hegel’s theory of intersubjectivity and recognition, as it goes beyond the framework of earlier idealism, be it in the shape of Kant, Fichte, or Schelling. Schelling, too, sought to identify and transcend what he took to be the limitations of the idealist program (as represented by Kant and Fichte). In his view, what was needed was not simply a transition from subjectivity to intersubjectivity, but also an account of the limitation of self-consciousness in the encounter with nature in and outside of the human being. Hence we ought to ask, as it is done in the Schelling part of this volume, whether this represents an internal amendment of the idealist framework or, more radically, a fundamental questioning of it. In Schopenhauer, the notion of nature, and especially instinct and will, played a central role. Scholars have also focused on Schopenhauer’s turn (anticipated by the romantics) to the unconscious and his articulation of a set of naturalistic commitments that challenge the framework of Kantian idealism— even though Schopenhauer, as mentioned, was in many ways a Kantian

Editor’s Introduction  •  xix

thinker. Schopenhauer paid attention to philosophical language and form, and the relationship between philosophy and art. In his view, art offers a temporary break, a fleeting moment of transcendence, from the burden of human existence. Exactly how much emphasis should be put on Schopenhauer’s interest in literature and philosophy of art—and, relatedly, how it affects our understanding of his naturalism—is one of the questions raised in the present volume. The French thinker Auguste Comte was interested in the broader historical, cultural, and economical presuppositions of science. He contributed to the establishing of sociology as an academic discipline, but also reflected on the historicity of science and human thought. Further, Comte introduced the term “positivism.” His use of the term, which is anything but simple, should remind us, when encountering the developments of twentieth-century philosophy, that “positivism” does not designate one particular position, but, rather, a wide array of theory formations and methodological guidelines. In England, John Stuart Mill was initially one of Comte’s most enthusiastic readers, though he would later disapprove of what he saw as a religious and metaphysical current in Comte’s work. Mill was a prominent philosopher in his own right. His work covered areas such as logic, psychology, epistemology, moral theory, and women’s rights. In the context of this volume, however, the notion of liberty takes center stage, both in terms of its contemporary relevance and as a matter of situating Mill’s contribution within the context of nineteenth-century thought. Like other thinkers of this period (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche spring to mind), Mill asked what right an individual or minority may have in the face of majoritarian domination. In different ways, the idealists and Schopenhauer sought to grasp the relationship between freedom, on the one hand, and nature, on the other. With Charles Darwin, this problem was given further urgency. Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection situated the human being in nature. Yet it is an open question—discussed in the two chapters dedicated to Darwin— exactly what concept of nature Darwin had in mind: nature as understood from within the perspective of causal laws (only), or, more comprehensively, nature as it achieves its ultimate realization in the human agent and its capacity for moral, even altruistic action. Søren Kierkegaard approached the human being from an altogether different point of view: that of individual existence. While Kierkegaard’s work, written in a playful, ironic tone and under a host of different pseudonyms, included frequent references to Danish Lutheranism, he was influenced by German Idealism and its philosophical vocabulary. Paired with a fascination for Schelling, whose lectures he attended in Berlin, Kierkegaard developed a distaste for Hegelianism. In this volume, however, the chapters on Kierkegaard

xx  •  Editor’s Introduction

focus on his analysis of religious authority and its relevance to contemporary discussions of religion, art, and aesthetics. Karl Marx shared Kierkegaard’s suspicion toward Hegel, though for very different reasons. Marx was a profound critic of religion in every form. What mattered was the way in which human beings think and act from within a set of social, ultimately economically structured conditions. With a view to his early work, the two chapters on Marx focus on the notion of labor. They relate Marx’s concept of labor to the framework of German Idealism and its interest in the relationship between subjectivity and freedom, on the one hand, and nature and natural needs, on the other. In this way, the Marx chapters of this volume discuss the value of his contribution, but also its relevance to later critical theory. Wilhelm Dilthey turned to the human sciences and sought to justify their status as proper domains of research and scientific progress. In so doing, he drew on empiricism, psychology, and historicism. Emerging within the intersection of neo-Kantianism and early phenomenology, his thought paved the way for well-known twentieth-century philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. In this volume, the two chapters dedicated to Dilthey’s work discuss the historical presuppositions for and systematic implications of Dilthey’s contribution to hermeneutics and the larger discourse on the human sciences. Friedrich Nietzsche recommended a different approach to history, that of a critical genealogy. An outsider to university life—following the reception of his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche left his post at the University of Basel—he remained an important voice in nineteenth-century philosophy. Nietzsche’s contribution spans the areas of philosophy of history, philosophy of art, psychology, epistemology, moral philosophy, and philosophy of language. This volume’s discussion of Nietzsche focuses on his moral psychology, his naturalism, and how he shaped his thinking through a critical dialogue with more conventional academic philosophy. Like Marx and Nietzsche, Freud, in Paul Ricoeur’s famous formulation, is considered a representative of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Through his psychoanalytic practice and critique of society and its discontents, Freud placed the modern individual and his or her way of life under scrutiny. In this volume, the chapters on Freud explore how psychoanalysis inhabits a space between naturalism and idealism. In order to understand this position, Freud must be situated in the context of earlier nineteenth-century philosophy, including that of German Idealism. A reading of this kind illuminates the intellectual context in which Freud’s work should be placed, but it also helps us see how psychoanalytic theory can shed light on contemporary debates about the extension and explanatory value of naturalism, especially in the philosophy of mind.

Editor’s Introduction  •  xxi

From Kant to Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, nineteenth-century philosophy has influenced the agenda and methodology of European thought in the twentieth century and beyond. The two final chapters in this volume address some of the ways in which this formation has taken shape and how it keeps— and should keep—influencing debates in European and Anglo-American philosophy alike. Most of the republished articles have been shortened, lightly edited, and adapted to an Anglophone readership (that includes college students at the lower levels). Some of the articles have been more heavily cut. This applies for example to Dieter Henrich’s study of Fichte, which was published in German as a separate book. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s article on Dilthey has been translated especially for this volume. The bibliography, which lists the sources of the republished contributions, should be used as a resource for further study. The edited versions of the articles should never replace the originals, but be taken as an invitation to delve further into the literature. The list of suggested reading at the end of the volume is gathered in cooperation with the authors of the commissioned contributions. It covers original texts by the nineteenthcentury European philosophers discussed and is selected with a special view to teaching purposes. The introductions to the individual parts of the volume include suggestions for further secondary reading. I hope the suggestions for further reading will prove to be of use to students who seek more thorough knowledge of European nineteenth-century philosophy.



Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and the Kantian Legacy

Introduction It would be no exaggeration to claim that the origins of what we typically characterize as nineteenth-century thought can be traced back to Immanuel Kant and his ambition, in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790), to bring the concerns of rationalism and British empiricism into a new, enlightenment program. Kant’s Critiques—in which he carries through his call for a Copernican turn in philosophy—present a number of challenges to which later philosophers, both in Kant’s own time and in the centuries to follow, were to respond. Thus, to the extent that we want to engage the central issues and concerns of European nineteenth-century thought, we need to acquire a basic grasp of the challenges presented by Kant and the Kantian aftermath. One such challenge concerns the nature and scope of human knowledge, as it is laid out in Kant’s first Critique. Like much of his work within the field of German Idealism (including Die Grenzen der Vernunft [Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1991]), Rolf-Peter Horstmann’s chapter situates Kant within eighteenth-century German philosophy and shows how responses to Kant, including those of Fichte, Hegel, and Schelling, were profoundly influenced by the questions and criticisms 1

2  •  Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy

that Kant was faced with from within his immediate intellectual circle. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819), Karl Leonard Reinhold (1757–1823), and Salomon Maimon (1753–1800) are all names that should be mentioned in this context. The problems these philosophers identified in Kant’s epistemo­ logy, Horstmann argues, came to shape the path of post-Kantian idealism. In his contribution, Paul Guyer, while sympathetic to Horstmann’s approach, sketches a Kantian response to Kant’s immediate critics and argues that such a response could challenge the standard understanding of later idealism and suggest, for instance, a close affinity between the perspective of Kant’s philosophy and that of Schelling (a topic that is further pursued in Dalia Nassar’s contribution to the Schelling part of this volume).

Further Reading • Karl Ameriks (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. • Paul Guyer, Kant. New York: Routledge, 2006. • Terry Pinkard, German Philosophy 1760–1860: The Legacy of Idealism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.



The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason in German Idealism ROLF-PETER HORSTMANN

i. Introduction: Reinhold, Jacobi, and Maimon The reception of Kant’s first Critique, the Critique of Pure Reason, by the main members of the German idealistic movement—that is, by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)—is a complex and complicated story that is intimately connected with the history of the controversies to which the first Critique gave rise.1 Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was not an immediate philosophical success. On the contrary, in the first couple of years after its appearance in 1781, there was, much to Kant’s disappointment, little public reaction, and most of it was rather hostile, like the notorious review by Garve and Feder. This led Kant then to publish, in 1783, the Prolegomena, most of which he had already written down before the publication of the Critique of Pure Reason (cf. 23:362ff.)2 with the explicit hope of making his teachings more accessible (4:261, 263f.). Then, four years later (1787), and again reacting to what he thought to be misunderstandings about the foundations of his theoretical philosophy (cf. footnote to the Preface of the Metaphysical Foundations, 4:447ff.), he published a second edition of the Critique in which considerable parts of the original work were rewritten. Within the small community of those who contributed to the early discus­sion of the significance and the consequences of Kant’s critical philosophy, the most 3

4  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

prominent became Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819), Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1758–1823), and Salomon Maimon (1752–1800), who were also the most influential figures in the reception of the Critique of Pure Reason by German idealist philosophers. Whereas Reinhold established himself early on as the leading defender of Kant’s philosophical position, Jacobi was very soon recognized as its most outspoken critic. Maimon thought of himself as neither a Kantian nor a non-Kantian, but as a systematic philosopher in his own right who relied on elements of Kant’s philosophy in order to set up his own version of what he called, like Kant, “transcendental philosophy.” Because the German idealists read Kant’s philosophy, and especially the first Critique, against the background of its initial controversial assessment by Reinhold, Jacobi, and Maimon, it is necessary to provide a short outline of these early debates in order to come to an understanding of the German idealist assessment of the merits and shortcomings of Kant’s thought. As early as 1786–7, Reinhold published a series of articles in a leading intellectual journal of the time, the Teutsche Merkur. He entitled the series the Letters on Kantian Philosophy (Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie). These letters, which were published in a modified form as a two-volume book in 1790 and 1792, were meant to demonstrate that the main doctrines of Kant’s philosophy are not in conflict with fundamental moral and religious convictions, but that, on the contrary, they give a sound and rational basis for shared ethical principles and belief in God. Kant was so pleased with Reinhold’s exposition of central elements of his teachings that at the end of his 1788 essay On the Use of Teleological Principles in Philosophy (Über den Gebrauch teleologischer Prinzipien in der Philosophie), he publicly praised the discerning understanding of his position by Reinhold (cf. 8:183). This recognition by Kant made Reinhold an authority on Kant’s philosophy and led to the view that his reading of Kant’s writings had to be taken very seriously. But hardly more than a year after Kant’s public announcement, Reinhold gave up his role as interpreter of Kant’s position and began to present himself as a thinker who improves Kant’s theory, especially his theoretical philosophy. This was done in a book published in 1789 that Reinhold entitled An Attempt at a New Theory of the Human Faculty of Representation (Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermögens) and that was dedicated to Kant among others. In the introductory essay to this book, entitled On the Fate of Kantian Philosophy up till Now (Über die bisherigen Schicksale der Kantischen Philosophie), Reinhold claimed that although Kant had given a correct and exhaustive theory of the faculty of knowledge (Erkenntnisvermögen) in his first Critique, he had not given an account of the principles that lie at the basis of his theory as its premises. Without stating these premises explicitly and without demonstrating them independently from the results of the

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  5

Critique of Pure Reason, Reinhold argued, there can be no really convincing foundation for Kant’s endeavor. Thus, according to Reinhold, it is the task of philosophy after Kant to supply the premises for Kantian results. For methodological reasons, pursuing this task meant for Reinhold finding a first principle that is universally valid and self-evident from which to deduce Kantian epistemological claims. The principle he suggested, the so-called “principle of consciousness” (Satz des Bewusstseins), which relies on the concept of representation (Vorstellung), turned out to be rather controversial, and was considered to be untenable by influential critics such as G. E. Schulze, Maimon, and the young Fichte. Nevertheless, Reinhold’s central idea that philosophy has to be founded on a first principle that expresses an indubitable fact of consciousness was successful insofar as it gave rise to the impression that Kant’s theoretical philosophy was incomplete and thus in need of a new foundation.3 At almost the same time as the assumed Kantian Reinhold voiced suspicions about the lack of foundation in Kant’s theory, the unadulterated antiKantian Jacobi launched an attack on a central distinction that Kant draws in the first Critique, the distinction between things in themselves and appearances. Jacobi had set off the so-called pantheism controversy in 1785 with his On the Doctrine of Spinoza. In this book, he claimed that it is a mistake to think of reason and rationality as understood by modern philosophy as a privileged means for acquiring knowledge of the world and our situation in it. Instead, he claimed, one has to acknowledge that in the end, all knowledge rests on faith and revelation.4 For Jacobi, the most telling example of a philosophical project that claims to rely solely on reason and scientific rationality and that nevertheless fails badly in the attempt to gain knowledge is Kant’s theoretical philosophy. This is so, according to Jacobi, because Kant starts from assumptions that make no sense at all. Jacobi’s attack on Kant’s theory of knowledge is documented impressively in his 1787 book David Hume on Faith, or Idealism and Realism (David Hume über den Glauben, oder Idealismus und Realismus), especially in the appendix to this book entitled On Transcendental Idealism (Über den transzendentalen Idealismus). Jacobi’s main line of criticism here is roughly as follows. For Kant, knowledge is the joint product of the faculties of sensibility and understanding, where sensibility provides the data by being affected through something or other, and the understanding is in charge of the ordering of these data into the representation of an object by subjecting these data to conceptual rules. Now, if with Kant we call the source of the affection of our sensibility “thing in itself,” and if we name what can be known by us as an object an “appearance,” then, according to Jacobi, Kant faces a dilemma: on the one hand, he has to claim that we cannot know anything about what affects our sensibility—that is, about the thing in

6  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

itself—because what can be known by us as an object has to be conceptually constituted; on the other hand, he has to acknowledge that we know at least something about the thing in itself—namely, that it is the source of affection. This knowledge seems to imply that the thing in itself somehow is an object of knowledge, which in turn seems to imply that it is an appearance. Thus the distinction between appearances and things in themselves either turns out to be no distinction at all or, if there is a distinction between them, then one cannot say anything about their relation to us, not even that things in themselves are the source of affection. Jacobi famously expresses this dilemma in the following words: “without” the presupposition of things in themselves “I could not enter into the system, but with it I could not stay within it.”5 Whether this criticism of Kant’s distinction between appearances and things in themselves is justified or not has itself become a topic of controversy that is still going on and that cannot be discussed here. For the assessment of the validity of Kant’s philosophy by his contemporaries, this criticism had far-reaching consequences, giving rise to worries that at the very basis of Kant’s doctrine there might be tensions between its central and constitutive elements, tensions that cannot be overcome by means of the resources from within the Kantian framework.6 In the eyes of Kant’s contemporaries, these worries, although initiated by the problems connected with the distinction between appearances and things in themselves raised by Jacobi, were not restricted to this distinction, but were raised against other distinctions of Kant’s philosophy as well—for example, against the distinction between concepts and intuitions and between a sensible world and an intelligible world. The aim of avoiding these so-called dualisms led most of the post-Kantian idealists to favor anti-dualistic or monistic models of reality. Concerns from Reinhold about the absence of foundations and worries from Jacobi about irreconcilable dualisms were not the only motives that determined the reception of Kant’s philosophy by the German idealists. A third important motive was provided by the suspicion articulated most forcefully by Maimon (and later in a different way by G. E. Schulze) that in the end, Kant’s critical epistemology cannot refute skepticism with regard to the external world. Maimon made a lasting impression on some of his contemporaries with a book published in 1790 under the title Essay in Transcendental Philosophy (Versuch über Transzendentalphilosophie). Even Kant, although he was ultimately somewhat ambivalent with respect to its merits—for rather opposite assessments by Kant one may compare his letter to Marcus Herz from May 26, 1789 (11:48ff.) and his letter to Reinhold from March 28, 1794 (11:475f.)—paid close attention to it. Among the many topics Maimon pursues in this book, his main point concerning Kant seems to be that although Kant succeeded in giving a convincing account of the

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  7

conditions of the possibility of experience, he failed to show that there are experiences, or that experiences are real. This is so, according to Maimon, because by means of Kant’s theory of space, time, and the categories, one is not in a position to determine an actual experience. For Maimon, this means that Kant just presupposes the fact of experience as organized according to the forms of sensibility and the categories and hence cannot refute the skeptic who doubts that there are any experiences. Although in his Essay, Maimon criticized Kant’s theoretical philosophy with respect to quite a number of different points, it was mainly the charge that Kant was unable to refute the skeptic that became connected with Maimon’s name.7 It is against this background of a growing awareness that there might be limitations and shortcomings in the way in which Kant realized his epistemological project that the German idealists started to read the first Critique. For them, the situation with respect to Kant’s philosophy was further complicated by the fact that their doubts concerning the well-foundedness of Kant’s doctrine induced by critics such as Reinhold, Jacobi, and Maimon were at odds with their belief in the overall superiority of Kant’s teachings. This belief was rooted in their conviction that Kant’s philosophy had been successful in overcoming the divide between rationalism and empiricism by insisting on a priori conditions of the empirical and on the fundamental role of selfconsciousness in constituting the unity of experience in all its different forms as theoretical, practical, and aesthetic experience. This conflict between their doubts and their belief gave rise to an ambivalent attitude toward Kant’s philosophy: on the one hand, they wanted to save what they called the “spirit” of Kant’s philosophy, by which they meant those elements that in their eyes made Kant superior over the modern philosophical tradition; on the other hand, they were forced to acknowledge that what they called the “letter” of Kant’s philosophy, which meant the way in which he presented his teachings, was to some extent deficient.

ii. Fichte This ambivalent attitude can be seen clearly in Fichte’s assessment of Kant’s first Critique. [ . . . ] Fichte became acquainted with Kant’s philosophy early in his intellectual development, even before he started his academic career. As early as 1790, he made notes on the Transcendental Logic of the Critique of Pure Reason and prepared an excerpt with comments from the Critique of the Power of Judgment (Versuch eines erklärenden Auszugs aus Kants Kritik der Urteilskraft). However, what made him a devoted Kantian was neither the first nor the third Critique but the second Critique, the Critique of Practical Reason. He emphatically expressed the deep impression the second Critique made on

8  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

him in a letter written in late summer of 1790.8 Thus, from the beginning, he became interested in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, not for its own sake, but because an assessment of its results was necessary in order to accept the practical side of Kant’s philosophy. Because of the foundational role the first Critique played in Fichte’s eyes for Kant’s practical philosophy, he became—after he came to know of Jacobi’s and Maimon’s criticism of central elements of the first Critique—increasingly frustrated with what he took to be Kant’s imperfect and confused presentation of his theoretical philosophy (cf. GA III, 2, p. 28, no. 171) and thought it his intellectual duty to find out how to improve it. Thus he was not primarily concerned with replacing Kant’s doctrine by an alternative theory, but with transforming it in such a way that it could properly function as the basis of practical philosophy. The claim that he is pursuing Kantian ends by different means runs through all his published writing until 1800. As early as his review of Schulze’s Aenesidemus (written 1793, published 1794), he professes that although the inner content of Kant’s philosophy is, above all, criticism, it will need a lot of work to present it as a well-founded whole (cf. GA I, 2, p. 67). In the programmatic essay On the Concept of the Doctrine of Science (1794), especially in the preface to the second edition (1798), he again points out that Kant was on the right track but did not succeed in realizing his insights in a convincing manner. We find the same assessments in the Foundation of the Entire Doctrine of Science from 1794/95, as well as in the two Introductions from 1797/98. However, Fichte’s claim to have transformed Kant’s critical principles into a coherent “system” of theoretical and practical philosophy by giving up the “letter” of Kant’s theory for the sake of preserving its “spirit” is characteristic of Fichte’s own philosophical work only until about 1800. In the years after 1800, he embarked on a new philosophical voyage and thought of his philosophical project then as so radically new that it could not fit at all into a Kantian framework, whether improved or not. What exactly Fichte found defective in Kant’s theoretical philosophy as presented in the first Critique is difficult to determine. This is because Fichte was very reluctant to criticize or even discuss Kant directly. The most extensive comments on Kant’s philosophy can be found in Section 6 of the Second Introduction to the Doctrine of Science. Given the topics Fichte addresses there and alludes to in other places, the main critical points he seems to be concerned about can be summarized thus: (1) Kant’s theory of space and time is unfounded; (2) the role of intellectual intuition in Kant’s theory of apperception is not sufficiently clear; and (3) Kant’s concept of the thing in itself is misleading. Fichte’s objections with respect to the first topic, Kant’s theory of space and time (cf. GA I, 2, pp. 61f., p. 350, and p. 335 note), are not meant to criticize

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  9

Kant’s major claim that space and time are subjective forms of sensibility or (what amounts to the same) ideal forms of intuition. On the contrary, Fichte unreservedly endorses this claim. What he found objectionable is the way Kant proves this claim in the Transcendental Aesthetic of the first Critique. According to Fichte, in order to prove such a claim, one has to deduce it from a fundamental principle that can be shown to be basic to all knowledge claims whatsoever. This fundamental principle is, as Fichte claims, the I understood as an original act (ursprüngliche Handlung). If Kant had grounded his account of the ideality of space and time in this principle, he would have realized, so thought Fichte, that it is not necessary to think of these forms of sensibility as only subjective, in opposition to real objectivity. Now, it is only to be expected that Kant would not have been convinced by this critical line of reasoning, and not only because it does not address his own arguments for the subjectivity or ideality of space and time as presented in the “Metaphysical Expositions” in the Transcendental Aesthetic of the first Critique directly. What one might find even less convincing is that Fichte’s complaint seems to neglect Kant’s claim of the irreducibility of the faculty of sensibility to any spontaneous activity, a claim that seems to exclude the possibility of grounding space and time in the original act. The second complaint concerning the role of intellectual intuition in Kant’s conception of apperception (cf. GA I, 4, pp. 224ff.) seems also to be confusing because in Kant’s first Critique, there is no place for a cognitive function of intellectual intuition at all. Yet, according to Fichte, the original act or the I is consciously present in each of us in intellectual intuition, and without intellectual intuition there is no I. Thus, at first sight, Fichte’s conception of the I as an original act and Kant’s view of apperception seem to be entirely incompatible. However, this complaint has also to be seen against the background of Fichte’s own approach. Fichte is quite well aware that Kant has an aversion to intellectual intuition because he sees in it an epistemic mode that is not accessible to subjects like us. At the same time, he insists that Kant has to acknowledge intellectual intuition as a mode of awareness in order to account for our consciousness of the moral law, the categorical imperative. Fichte concludes that the intellectual intuition that Kant explicitly abolishes must be distinguished from what he, Fichte, calls intellectual intuition, and that Kant also has to subscribe to this Fichtean mode of awareness that is constitutive of the I if his philosophy is to be consistent. Kant just fails to have a name for it, and for that reason he does not succeed in making his conception of apperception sufficiently clear. Here again one may have doubts about whether this complaint has a basis in Kant’s doctrine of apperception. Although it is true that Kant’s remarks on this topic are rather obscure (a fact that is well documented by the history

10  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

of their interpretation), it does not seem to be the case that their obscurity is intimately connected with his stance toward intellectual intuition. On the contrary: if Kant had allowed intellectual intuition to play a positive role in his theory of apperception, he would have faced enormous difficulties with the rest of his theoretical philosophy. Fichte’s third main objection deals with Kant’s conception of the thing in itself (cf. GA I, 4, pp. 232ff.). As will be remembered from what was said earlier, it was Jacobi who made this topic prominent. In direct reference to Jacobi, Fichte states the problem as follows: if Kant’s notion of a thing in itself is meant to designate a real object that is totally independent of us and is at the same time the source of the affection of our sensibility, then indeed he would be guilty of making his whole position incomprehensible. But, as Fichte puts it in a rather polemical way: “To impute this absurdity to any man still in possession of his reason is, for me at least, impossible; how could I attribute it to Kant?” (GA I, 4, p. 239). Fichte then points out rightly that although there are indeed some passages in the text of the first Critique that burden Kant with such a notion, most of his remarks either explicitly or implicitly reject the idea of a subject-independent thing in itself as the source of affection. What Kant means with his notion of the thing in itself is the representation of something in thought (GA I, 4, p. 241) that we interpret as the given source of affection. And because this thing in itself is an object in thought, it follows necessarily that it has to be taken as a product of thinking or as being posited (gesetzt) by a thinking subject. This indeed is, in Fichte’s eyes, an understanding of the thing in itself that can claim to be truly idealistic and that is thoroughly in line with the spirit of Kant’s philosophy. It has to be regretted—and thus be considered a criticism of Kant—that he misled his readers with respect to the meaning and the function of the thing in itself by giving rise to the impression that he was willing to accept the idea of an independently real given. That this Fichtean explanation of Kant’s conception of the thing in itself would have found Kant’s approval is not very likely. This is so because (1) like Fichte’s first objection, it again ultimately blurs the opposition, fundamental to Kant’s epistemology, between the receptivity of sensibility and the spontaneity of thinking, and because (2) it does not respect Kant’s well-considered reluctance to give any indication as to the ontological status and the constitution of what he calls “the matter of sensation.” In any case, there are strong grounds for suspecting that Kant would not have wanted to agree with the claim that in the end all matter is somehow mental. Thus Fichte’s attempt to engage critically with the first Critique proved not to be very fruitful from a Kantian point of view. Although Fichte might indeed have raised important questions, his very approach to Kant’s philosophy is biased by his own un-Kantian presuppositions. That this is the case is

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  11

confirmed by Kant’s blunt refusal to acknowledge any connection between his philosophical aims and Fichte’s system. [ . . . ]

iii. Schelling At about the same time Fichte published his ambivalent assessment of Kant’s first Critique to the public, Schelling published his early philosophical writings in which he not only admits his close relation to Fichte’s philosophical approach, but also follows Fichte’s strategy in criticizing Kant. Schelling too uses the distinction between the letter and the spirit as well as that between the premises and the results of Kant’s philosophy, and claims to defend the latter in order to avoid the impression of a direct disagreement with Kant in his discussion of the merits and the limits of Kant’s philosophy. He too is rather unspecific with respect to the question as to what exactly has to be taken as Kant’s results or as the spirit of his philosophy. As with Fichte, Schelling’s engagement with Kant becomes less dominant in his later writings. His most explicit comments and allusions to Kant’s philosophy are to be found in his very early essay On the Possibility of a Form of Philosophy in General (1794), in his writing Of the I as Principle of Philosophy (1795), in his Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism (1795), and in the Essays in Explanation of the Idealism of the Doctrine of Science (1797). The Letters and the Essays essentially repeat Fichte’s reservations against the first Critique in that they take up the worries about the limits of what Kant intended to achieve with his theoretical philosophy [ . . . ] and rehearse Fichte’s misgivings about Kant’s theory of space and time and of the thing in itself [ . . . ]. It is in the essay on the Form of Philosophy in General that Schelling becomes a bit more specific as to what he takes to be problematical with the first Critique. What he seems to be concerned about is “the lack of a founding principle and of a solid connection of the Kantian deductions.”9 The deductions to which he refers are the deductions of the forms of judgment and of the categories. He complains that Kant did not succeed in deducing both the forms of judgment and the categories from what he calls “the fundamental form of all thought” (Schröter I, pp. 63ff.). Although worries about the well-foundedness of the table of judgments and its connection with the table of categories go back to Reinhold, Schelling’s complaint is not just an echo of these earlier worries, because he utters this complaint from a different perspective. It has to be seen in relation to his own imaginative attempt to figure out a deduction of the categories and the forms of judgment. This attempt was influenced by the efforts— characteristic of for example, Dietrich Tiedemann (1748–1803) and especially Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann (1761–1819)—to interpret

12  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

Plato’s doctrines within a Kantian framework.10 The young Schelling joined their approach and was led to write a commentary on the Timaeus that was committed to this attitude. Now, in the essay on the Form of Philosophy in General, Schelling in his so-called deduction of the categories and the forms of judgment uses this approach in the opposite direction: he relies heavily on Platonic conceptions in deriving forms of judgments and categories from a common source. Thus, what he found missing in Kant’s deductions was not a Reinholdian first principle, but rather an ontological underpinning for Kant’s epistemology. However, it is hard to think of Schelling’s deduction as an improvement on Kant’s theory. It has to give up almost everything that is genuinely Kantian. Schelling’s most obvious deviations from Kant consist in giving a completely new meaning to the Kantian analytic–synthetic distinction and in virtually identifying categories and forms of judgment. In the text Of the I, which claims again “to reveal the results of the critical philosophy in tracing them back to the ultimate principles of all knowledge” (Schröter I, p. 76), it becomes quite clear that many of the critical objections Schelling raises against Kant’s philosophy have their basis in a very un-Kantian assessment of what his project in theoretical philosophy is all about. For Schelling, Kant’s three critiques are not primarily three investigations into the function and the achievements of the three irreducible faculties of the human mind that, taken together, give rise to a coherent view of the world as a unified totality. For him, the three critiques are the rather obscure expression of an undertaking that starts with the basic assumption of an underlying unity of being and thinking. [ . . . ] This view of the three critiques made it possible for Schelling on the one hand to uncover problems within the critiques that can only be found if one shares his perspective, and on the other hand to claim that he is pursuing the Kantian project. He is, however, honest enough to confess in the Essays in Explanation of the Idealism of the Doctrine of Science “that it never came into my mind to copy again what Kant has written or to know what ultimately Kant was after with his philosophy but only what according to my understanding he had to be after if his philosophy was to be coherent” (Schröter I, p. 299). Although, in the end, Schelling’s criticism of elements of Kant’s first Critique does not really help to improve the Kantian doctrine understood in its own terms, he at least succeeded—contrary to Reinhold and Fichte— in putting forward a very imaginative hypothesis as to why Kant did not explain himself in accordance with the intentions that Schelling and the other critics who publicly declared themselves to be Kantians attributed to him. Whereas Reinhold and Fichte could not think of anything better than to claim that Kant did not want to make explicit his real intentions,

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  13

Schelling blames Kant’s “spiritless age” (erschlaffte Zeitalter) and his style. [ . . . ] Thus, according to Schelling, it was partly Kant’s own fault that he was misunderstood.

iv. Hegel Hegel by and large followed the common critical stance of his fellow idealists. However, he differs from both Fichte and Schelling in that he is a much more careful reader of Kant’s text. This is already documented by the extent of his interchange with Kant’s philosophy in general, and especially with the first Critique. Hegel’s published comments on elements of Kant’s doctrine are to be found in almost all of his major writings and are distributed over his entire philosophical career. The most extensive discussions of topics from the first Critique are found in three texts. The first is one of the earliest texts Hegel published, the article Faith and Knowledge from 1802–3, which appeared in the Critical Journal of Philosophy that he and Schelling edited jointly. The second is his metaphysical magnum opus, the Science of Logic, published in three volumes between 1812 and 1816. The third is the second edition of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline from 1827, his only published presentation of his entire system. In Faith and Knowledge, Hegel gives what could be called a transformative reading of the main elements of the first Critique, which aims at presenting Kant’s epistemological doctrines as an ontological theory in disguise.11 According to Hegel, Kant’s principle of the synthetic unity of apperception (which he identifies with productive power of imagination),12 is an ontological claim to the effect that reality has to be understood as a conceptually undifferentiated whole that bifurcates (entzweit) itself into subject and object by imposing a conceptual structure on itself. With this perspective on the first Critique in mind, Hegel’s leading critical claim then is that although Kant indeed had this profound philosophical insight into the real constitution of reality, he lacked the proper understanding of this insight, which led him to an objectionable psychological or “Lockean” interpretation of what he recognized as a basic ontological fact: the unity of being and thinking or of object and subject (cf. Werkausgabe vol. 2, p. 304; trans. Cerf, Harris, p. 69). This mistake, according to Hegel, results from Kant’s conviction that our ontology is founded on the mechanisms of our cognitive faculties. Kant therefore takes the objective world to be a product of a human activity: “an objective determinateness that is man’s own perspective and projection” (Werkausgabe vol. 2, p. 309; trans. Cerf, Harris, p. 74). This, however, is a clear case of privileging the subject over the object and thus of failing to do justice to the ontological equality of subject and object.

14  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

This general line of criticizing Kant by attributing to him an ontological project that it is rather doubtful that he ever wanted to pursue is accompanied by a long list of critical remarks concerning the details of the first Critique. They start with the already familiar allegation of “the shallowness of the deduction of the categories” (Werkausgabe vol. 2, p. 304; trans. Cerf, Harris, p. 69). They continue by ridiculing Kant’s notion of the thing in itself underlying the distinction between appearances and things in themselves by comparing it to the ore-king in Goethe’s fairy tale, who is a formed object only as long as a human subject provides categories as blood vessels, and becomes a formless clod after “the formal transcendental idealism sucks out” his conceptual veins (Werkausgabe vol. 2, pp. 312f.; trans. Cerf, Harris, p. 77). And they critically address the question of whether Kant’s concept of objectivity as it emerges from his system of the principles of the understanding is not unsatisfactory because it ultimately makes it impossible to distinguish between representations and things since the principles of the understanding, according to Hegel, cannot provide a criterion that can function as a distinguishing mark between an existing thing and an ordered succession of representations (Werkausgabe vol. 2, pp. 311f.; trans. Cerf, Harris, pp. 75f.). Of special critical interest for Hegel is Kant’s distinction between understanding and reason and his repudiation of the idea of an intuitive understanding. In Hegel’s eyes, these topics are intimately connected because it is an impoverished notion of reason that leads to this repudiation. Concerning the distinction between understanding and reason, Hegel points out that both are supposed to be unifying activities of the subject. But whereas the activity of the understanding has at least a genuine content on which it can operate (the sensibly given manifold), the activity of Kantian reason has no real content at all; it is in Hegel’s words an “empty unity,” a “dimensionless activity” (Werkausgabe vol. 2, pp. 317f.; trans. Cerf, Harris, pp. 80f.). The sole function of this activity without content is to regulate the product of the understanding, as Hegel remarks in allusion to Kant’s notion of the regulative use of reason. Because of this lack of real content, reason in the first Critique can play only a negative role when it comes to those matters; the understanding is not in the position to apply its categories to them, such as the soul, the world, and God. Instead of recognizing them as real, although not within the limits of the understanding, Kantian reason elevates them into “intellectuality” (Intellektualität) (Werkausgabe vol. 2, p. 319). Here is where Hegel’s regret of Kant’s rejection of an intuitive understanding comes into play via the following consideration: if Kant had not favored a conception of the understanding that is cut off from the sensible given (because of the alleged irreducible opposition between understanding and sensibility)13 in such a way that the understanding cannot relate non-conceptually to the

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  15

given in experience, but if he had allowed instead for an understanding that interacts in an individuating—that is, intuitive—manner with the empirical, then he could have avoided the purely negative claim that there is nothing to know with respect to the soul (understood as the I), the world (understood as an individual totality), and God, and could have closed the insurmountable gap between the contentless unifying activity of reason and the empirical manifold (Werkausgabe vol. 2, p. 322; trans. Cerf, Harris, p. 85) characteristic of his philosophy. According to Hegel, Kant’s position with respect to the concept of an intuitive understanding in the first Critique is even more puzzling if one takes into account Kant’s assessment of the role of the intuitive understanding in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. In the context of his theory of the teleological power of judgment, according to Hegel, Kant recognizes the necessity of an intuitive understanding in order to account for the inner constitution and the form of organisms (Werkausgabe vol. 2, pp. 324ff.; trans. Cerf, Harris, pp. 88ff.). Thus Hegel concludes that ultimately Kant’s position is not acceptable because his subjectivist and psychologistic approach, especially in the first Critique, fails to answer the question as to how to think of reality in a proper—that is, more balanced—or, for Hegel, “speculative” way. In his Science of Logic, Hegel does not change his early assessment of the limitations of Kant’s views in the first Critique, although he moves away from the polemical tone characteristic of Faith and Knowledge. He acknowledges explicitly the merits of Kant’s philosophy by emphasizing that it has been “the foundation and the starting point of the newer German philosophy” (Werkausgabe vol. 5, pp. 59f.) and gives this as the reason for referring that extensively to his work, which indeed he does. The overall message he wants to convey is again that Kant was on the right track when he made the synthetic unity of apperception the highest point from which every philosophy has to start, but that his notion of this synthetic unity made it a purely subjective unity that stands in opposition to an objective world (cf. Werkausgabe vol. 6, pp. 260f.). However, this moderately balanced general message is somewhat distorted by Hegel’s attitude, especially toward the details of Kant’s first Critique, which remains utterly critical. In particular, Kant’s antinomies and his theory of matter are the targets of Hegel’s extensive critical scrutiny.14 His criticism with respect to the theory of matter is only indirectly concerned with the first Critique although it is meant to highlight a point that can be raised against the antinomies and thus against topics in the first Critique too—namely, that Kant’s arguments are sometimes unsound and circular. With respect to matter, Hegel deals primarily with Kant’s attempt in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Sciences to construct matter out of attractive and repulsive force (Werkausgabe vol. 5, pp. 200ff.). Hegel claims

16  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

that what Kant calls a “construction” is in fact no construction at all but just an analysis of what forces are necessarily presupposed if one starts with a specific conception of matter. In Hegel’s eyes, this procedure amounts to giving a circular argument. His very comprehensive discussion of the antinomies, which is scattered all over the Science of Logic (first antinomy: Werkausgabe vol. 5, pp. 109f. and 271ff.; second antinomy: Werkausgabe vol. 5, pp. 218ff.; third antinomy: Werkausgabe vol. 6, pp. 441ff.), yields a similar result: according to Hegel, each of them is on formal grounds unconvincing. This assessment is by no means unpersuasive and is based firmly in a very close reading of the Kantian text. Thus, in the Science of Logic, Hegel again comes to the conclusion that Kant’s impressive and revolutionary philosophical program was badly executed by him and therefore had to be pursued by different and more adequate means. Presumably Hegel’s best known statement concerning Kant’s philosophy is the discussion in the introductory parts to the very short version of the Science of Logic in his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. The extended version of this discussion appeared in print for the first time in the second edition of this work in 1827. It deals with traditional metaphysics, empiricism, and Kantian critical philosophy, and what Hegel calls “immediate knowledge” as Three Positions of Thought towards Objectivity (Werkausgabe vol. 8, pp. 93ff.). These remarks represent Hegel’s last published judgment on Kant’s philosophy. This discussion adds nothing that could be considered new in comparison with his aforementioned views on the accomplishments and the insufficiencies of Kant’s critical philosophy. It shows that from his Jena beginnings until his late Berlin years, Hegel never gave up the conviction that in order to establish the “right” philosophy, one first has to overcome Kant.

v. Conclusion This short sketch of the reception of Kant’s first Critique in the German idealistic period cannot claim to have dealt adequately with all the different aspects, and especially with all the details both historical and systematic, of the discussion of Kant’s work. However, it should be sufficient to make three main points. The first is the enormous amount of attention Kant’s transcendental idealism received within a relatively short period of time. Within less than twenty years from its first publication in 1781, the Critique of Pure Reason, together with the other two Critiques, changed the German philosophical landscape completely. Whether people reacted dismissively to the Kantian project or whether they endorsed it, no one felt able to disregard Kant’s teachings in attempting to formulate a philosophical viewpoint of his own. This intense influence of Kant’s philosophy from very early on was not restricted to philosophical contexts alone: it extended

The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason  •  17

into many other disciplines, most notably to theology and legal studies, and even into political life. The second point that is noteworthy has to do with the specific manner in which Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel tried to accommodate Kant’s theoretical philosophy as espoused in the first Critique. They all shared the sense that there was something essential missing in Kant’s exposition of his doctrine that made it impossible to grasp the real intentions and the most significant consequences of his endeavor. This sense of dissatisfaction led each of them to his own very individual attempt to transform the principles of Kant’s theoretical philosophy from epistemological principles to downright ontological principles, thus liberating them from what they thought were unreasonable and unjustified restrictions. The third and final point of interest concerns what could be called the dynamics of the attitude toward Kant’s philosophy by the German idealists. Although all of them started their own philosophical projects with the objective of somehow staying within an appropriately modified Kantian “space of reasons,” their transformational efforts led them to systematic realizations of their own philosophical conceptions that ultimately proved to be incompatible with Kant’s position. The growing tension between their ways of transforming Kant’s philosophy in order to “save” its true “spirit” and what Kant himself had been eager to defend as the roots and the boundaries of knowledge ultimately alienated them from Kant. This, however, does not mean that there is nothing to learn from their admiration and their criticism of Kant if one takes into account their own projects. One last thing is worth mentioning. Looking at the criticism of Kant’s theoretical philosophy by the German idealists from a contemporary perspective, one has to acknowledge that their attempt to avoid what they thought to be Kantian shortcomings by transforming Kant’s philosophy into a monistic metaphysical system was not very successful. Only twenty-five years after the death of Hegel in 1831, with the emergence of what then became known as Neo-Kantianism, the conviction started to grow that one should “go back to Kant” and wrestle with the problems of theoretical philosophy within an untransformed, that is to say, broadly non-metaphysical Kantian framework. There is no doubt that much of contemporary theoretical philosophy, especially epistemology and philosophy of science, is deeply rooted in and indebted to such an untransformed Kantian approach toward issues in theoretical philosophy, an approach that relies heavily on privileging what can be called scientific rationality in contrast to metaphysical thinking. But even these contemporary endeavors in theoretical philosophy—nowadays most prominently exemplified by the work of Wilfrid Sellars and John McDowell—cannot get rid of the very problems the German idealists took to be the main obstacles for a successful realization of Kant’s philosophical project by Kant himself. Thus these problems are still with us in one form or another.

18  •  Rolf-Peter Horstmann

Notes   1. There are numerous well-informed versions of this history from different perspectives. Among the most recent are Frederick Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism, 1781–1801 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); William Bristow, Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Eckart Förster, The 25 Years of Philosophy: A Systematic Reconstruction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism, ed. David S. Pacini (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).   2. References to Kant’s work, inserted in the main text, refer to Immanuel Kant, Akademie edition, volume, and page numbers: Kants gesammelte Schriften, ed. the Royal Prussian (subsequently German then Berlin-Brandenburg) Academy of Sciences (Berlin: Georg Reimer [subsequently Walter de Gruyter], 1900–).   3. A very informed analysis and assessment of Reinhold’s position is to be found in Karl Ameriks, Kant and the Fate of Autonomy: Problems in the Appropriation of the Critical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 81–160.   4. Cf. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Werke. Ed. Friedrich Roth and Friedrich Köppen. 6 vols. (Leipzig: G. Fleischer, 1812–25), vol. II, p. 3 and vol. II, pp. 210f., p. 249.   5. Jacobi, Werke II, p. 304, The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill, Ed. G. di Giovanni (Montreal: Queens-McGill University Presses, 1994), p. 397.   6. For a more extensive treatment of Jacobi’s role in German Idealism, see Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Die Grenzen der Vernunft. Eine Untersuchung zu Zielen und Motiven des Deutschen Idealismus, third edition (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann Verlag, 2004).   7. On Maimon, Kant, and skepticism see Paul Franks, All or Nothing: Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German Idealism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).   8. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Ed. Reinhard Lauth et al. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1962–2007), vol. III, 1, p. 193, no. 63. Further references to this work will be inserted in the main text and abbreviated GA, followed by volume and page number.   9. Wilhelm Friedrich Joseph Schelling, Werke. Ed. Manfred Schröter. 6 vols. (Munich: Beck, 1927), I, p. 47. Further references to this work will be inserted in the main text and abbreviated Schröter. 10. Both Tiedemann and Tennemann were influential historians of philosophy whose works were known to have been read by Schelling and Hegel. [ . . . ] An informative discussion of Tennemann’s interpretation of Plato under the influence of Kant and Reinhold is to be found in Manfred Baum, “The Beginnings of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature,” in The Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, ed. Sally Sedgwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 199–215. 11. Cf. the illuminating account of Hegel’s appropriation and transformation of Kant’s philosophy by Béatrice Longuenesse, Hegel’s Critique of Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), especially chapters 5 and 6. 12. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden (Theorie-Werkausgabe). Ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970), vol. 2, p. 308; Faith and Knowledge. Trans. and ed. W. Cerf and H. S. Harris (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977), p. 73. Further references to these works will be inserted in the main text and abbreviated, respectively, Werkausgabe and Cerf, Harris. 13. A careful analysis of this charge is given by Paul Guyer, “Absolute Idealism and the Rejection of Kantian Dualism,” in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, ed. Karl Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 37–56. 14. Cf. Sally Sedgwick, “Hegel on Kant’s Antinomies and Distinction between General and Transcendental Logic,” The Monist 74 (1991): 403–20.



The Reception of the Critique of Pure Reason in German Idealism A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann PAUL GUYER

i. Jacobi, Maimon, and Reinhold This response will complement Rolf-Peter Horstmann’s concise and lucid analysis of the reception of Kant by the three chief German idealists in two ways. First, I will discuss in more detail the criticisms of Kant by Jacobi, Maimon, and Reinhold that Horstmann has described as formative for German Idealism. Second, I will propose how Kant would have had to respond to these criticisms from his point of view, although in fact he explicitly responded to none of them. This in turn suggests how he would have responded to the central ideas of the subsequent idealists so clearly expounded by Horstmann. He himself offers a number of reasons why Kant would not have found their critiques of the critical philosophy convincing; for the most part, I agree with Horstmann’s assessment, and will only put Kant’s position in more general terms, although in one case, namely the case of Schelling, I will suggest there may be a little more common ground between him and Kant than Horstmann allows. Coming upon the heels of the Garve–Feder charge in the 1782 Göttingen review1 that Kant’s transcendental idealism was no different from the subjective idealism of Berkeley, Jacobi put the coherence of Kant’s distinction between appearances and things in themselves into question. Maimon questioned 19

20  •  Paul Guyer

Kant’s distinction between intuitions and concepts, arguing that once Kant had rendered them asunder then, like the king’s men with Humpty Dumpty, he had no way to put them together again. And Reinhold, after his initial enthusiasm for Kant’s restoration of belief in God and immortality on the basis of practical rather than theoretical reason in the first series of his Letters on the Kantian Philosophy,2 objected that Kant had failed to derive all of the principles of philosophy from a single, fundamental principle. I have listed the three charges in this order even though Reinhold’s publication of the last charge in his Essay on a New Theory of the Human Capacity for Representation (1789) preceded Maimon’s publication of the second objection in his Essay on Transcendental Philosophy (1790) by a year, because we can think of the subsequent German Idealists as working back from their solution to the third objection to their solution to the other two. In a nutshell, all of the German Idealists thought that the single principle from which all philosophy could be derived was to be found, perhaps not in the concept of representation, as Reinhold initially suggests, but in the concept of the representer, the subject, or spirit. Once they had established the representing self as the fundamental principle of philosophy, they could see the representation of both particularity and generality, which Kant had distinguished as the functions of intuitions and concepts, as both features of representation or consciousness in general with no gulf between them, and could also see the representation of an object, or realm of objects, as part of the self’s own act of representing, and thus domesticate objects or bring them within the sphere of the self rather than leaving them outside, the tendency which as Horstmann makes clear began with Fichte. In all this they thought they were being true to the spirit of Kant, as Horstmann stresses, in following his lead in internalizing representation to apperception, while they thought they were going beyond the letter of Kant in rejecting what to their minds was his inexplicable retention of the thing in itself as an irrational surd or undigested lump outside of the sphere of representation. Kant’s response to the Garve–Feder criticism that his transcendental idealism was nothing but the old wine of subjective idealism in a new bottle was essentially one of incomprehension, although he tried to make the novelty of his new wine more evident by a terminological modification in the Prolegomena—that is, by redubbing transcendental idealism “critical idealism” (Prolegomena, §13 Note III, 4:293–4),3 and distinguishing that from “real idealism,” which “consists in the claim that there are none other than thinking things,” by saying that his own idealism denies only the spatio-temporal form of things as they are in themselves but insisting that “the existence of the thing that appears is not thereby nullified” (§13 Note II, 4:288–9)—and by the addition of a refutation of traditional idealism (although in its Cartesian “problematic” rather than Berkeleian “dogmatic” version) in the second edition of the Critique. But even while insisting that it left the reality of the existence of

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  21

objects untouched, Kant never yielded on his argument for the transcendental ideality of their spatial and temporal form; and since neither his immediate successors nor the major figures of the next generation ever really examined in detail either Kant’s reason for insisting upon the ideality of spatiality and temporality or the reason for his confidence that the former left the reality of the mere existence of the objects themselves untouched, his incomprehension of the rejection of his position beginning with his earliest deserves at least some sympathy. Moreover, from within the bastion of his transcendental idealism, Kant had insisted upon limits to our knowledge of the self as well as external objects, and so he could not readily have followed the next generation of philosophers in their confident construction of all philosophy upon a foundation of self-knowledge. Thus the prolegomenon for any consideration of the claims of German Idealism must be an evaluation of the merits of Kant’s own argument for transcendental idealism with regard to both the spatiality and temporality of external objects and the genuine temporality of the self together with the reason for his continued confidence in the existence of objects ontologically independent from the self as well as of the self (which, following the cogito argument of Augustine and Descartes, could never be doubted no matter how much of our representation of it was declared mere appearance).4 But before we proceed to Kant’s own arguments and their implications for the projects of German Idealism, a little more detail on the germinal criticisms of Jacobi, Maimon, and Reinhold is in order. Jacobi is of course famous for his statement that “without that presupposition” about things in themselves he “could not enter into” Kant’s system, but that “with it” he “could not stay within it.” What presupposition did he mean? Not just the presupposition of the existence of things in themselves, but the presupposition that things in themselves “make impressions on the senses and that in this way they bring about representations,” thus that their “action” and “causality” are “real and objective determinations” in spite of Kant’s insistence that although there must be things that really do appear to us we can ascribe no spatio-temporal properties to these things as they are in themselves.5 In other words, he specifically objected to Kant’s claim that things in themselves can and do affect us. As we will see, there is a way in which Kant brought this charge upon himself, but also a reason why he would reject it and with it German Idealism’s project of internalizing objectivity entirely within subjectivity. Maimon is considered the source of the objection that Kant unnecessarily and falsely distinguished intuitions and concepts, although this charge cannot be reduced to a single pithy statement from his Essay on Transcendental Philosophy in the way that Jacobi’s criticism can. Perhaps the interesting ground for the ascription to Maimon of this objection to Kant is his position that what Kant regarded as non-analytic insight depending upon pure intuition is in fact necessitated only by our “limited understanding,” “so

22  •  Paul Guyer

that if we, for example, had insight into the true essence of a straight line, and accordingly could define it, then this synthetic proposition [‘a straight line is the shortest between two points’] would follow analytically.”6 In other words, “intuitions,” if not identical to inadequately analyzed concepts, are just experiences that serve us in lieu of adequately analyzed concepts. This is in fact much the same objection to Kant that J.A. Eberhard was making at the same time, and both can be considered descendants of Leibniz’s position that in principle all truths are true in virtue of the containment of their predicates in their subjectconcepts, even though only God can always complete the necessary analyses of concepts and we humans are perforce “mere empirics in three-fourths of our” beliefs (actually, Leibniz says “actions,” but means the beliefs on which our actions are based).7 Unfortunately or not, in his only extended engagement with any of his critics Kant chose to respond to the Leibnizo-Wolffian conservative Eberhard rather than to the more charismatic Maimon,8 apparently leaving German Idealism free to ignore this exchange and thereby to include within its project of constructing all philosophy from a single principle that of showing that there is no essential difference between intuition and concept, or more specifically that intuitions are not only in principle, but also in practice reducible to concepts, and thus reducing, as Horstmann rightly points out that Hegel attempted to do, all theoretical philosophy or metaphysics to logic, that is, the theory of concepts only. We will return to Kant’s reasons for resisting this move from the outset. Finally, a word about Reinhold. In his Letters on the Kantian Philosophy, the first series of which was published in the Teutsche Merkur of his fatherin-law C.M. Wieland in 1786 and 1787 and in book form in 1790, Reinhold had argued for the importance of Kant’s foundation of the postulates of the existence of God and immortality in practical rather than theoretical reason. This might be regarded as influential for Fichte’s subsequent foundation of his Wissenschaftslehre in the second half of the 1790s on the idea of a Tathandlung rather than the mere structure of consciousness. But more influential for all of the German Idealists was Reinhold’s project in his New Theory of 1789, for here he argued that resistance to Kant was inevitable due to the fact that as the “first man . . . to view and show the capacity for knowledge from a completely new perspective, [Kant] was obliged to put a completely new interpretation on . . . older formulae and expressions” rather than directly presenting his insight, but that this work having been done, Kant’s results could now be “developed and systematically organized” from “a concept of representation itself, a concept which by its very nature [is] throughout safe from the former misunderstanding.” Indeed, Reinhold did not confine himself to the term “representation” but went further and claimed that “The basis on which the new theory could and had to be developed consists solely of CONSCIOUSNESS as it functions in all people according to basic laws,” for “what follows directly

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  23

from that . . . is really conceded by all thinkers.”9 Of course, Reinhold’s central idea is that representation necessarily has and suggests or refers to both an object and a subject, and his claim is then that all that Kant claimed to derive could in fact be derived from this insight. Subsequent idealists might stress more Reinhold’s term “consciousness” than his term “representation,” indeed he would call his fundamental principle the “proposition of consciousness” (Satz des Bewußtseins), but their idea was the same: human representation or consciousness itself is not trivially, but substantively the source of all knowledge of reality, that is, it does not merely consist in, but generates all knowledge, or at least more of it than Kant is willing to accept. In particular, the distinction between intuition and concept is not fundamental, because both can be generated out of the more general phenomenon of representation or consciousness, and the distinction between appearance and thing in itself can be superseded, because the object of representation is ultimately internal to representation or consciousness itself. Now we can consider why Kant resisted these objections as far as he knew about them and would have resisted the edifice of German Idealism built upon them.

ii. Kant’s Argument for Transcendental Idealism and Its Implications for German Idealism Here is Kant’s core argument for transcendental idealism. The “metaphysical expositions” of the concepts of space and time (as he named these arguments in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason) establish that we have a priori cognition of the pure, singular forms of space and time as the forms of all objects of inner and outer sense, and the “transcendental expositions” establish that the apodicticity or necessity of the synthetic propositions (definitions, axioms, and theorems) of geometry and arithmetic are all ultimately founded upon these pure intuitions, or our representation of them. The theorems of mathematics in particular are synthetic because, in Kant’s view, they cannot be analytically derived from the definitions and axioms, but can only be verified by the construction of objects (in pure intuition) in accordance with the definitions and axioms, but, Kant adds in the second edition, even if they could be formally derived from the definitions and axioms, they would still be synthetic because the latter, their foundations, are themselves synthetic, true not simply because their predicates are contained in their subject-concepts, but because those subject-concepts themselves are verified by their constructability in pure intuition (see B 14).10 Our synthetic a priori cognition of both the general truths about space and time demonstrated in the metaphysical expositions and of the specific truths of mathematics explained according to the transcendental expositions

24  •  Paul Guyer

then entail the transcendental ideality of spatiality and temporality as forms of objects and space and time as themselves objects of singular reference because of the following argument. Having already stated it in the first edition of the Critique (A 26/B 42 and A 46–9/B 64–6), Kant states it more succinctly in the Prolegomena: Pure mathematics, and especially pure geometry, can have objective reality only under the single condition that it refers merely to objects of the senses, with regard to which objects, however, the principle remains fixed, that our sensory representation is by no means a representation of things in themselves, but only of the way in which they appear to us. . . . Sensibility, whose form lies at the foundation of geometry [for example], is that upon which the possibility of outer appearances rests; these, therefore, can never contain anything other than what geometry prescribes to them. It would be completely different if the senses had to represent objects as they are in themselves. For then it absolutely would not follow from the representation of space, a representation that serves a priori, with all the various properties of space, as foundation for the geometer, that all of this, together with what is deduced from it, must be exactly so in nature . . . it is simply not to be seen how things would have to agree necessarily with the image of them that we form by ourselves and in advance— unless, that is, our “sensibility represents not things in themselves but only their appearances,” in which case “all outer objects of our sensible world must necessarily agree” with mathematics as the structure of appearance itself (Prolegomena, §13 Note I, 4:287). In a word, Kant’s argument is: the propositions about the spatiality and temporality of the objects of our knowledge are synthetic yet a priori, thus universal and necessary; if, however, they were true of things other than our own representations, which necessarily conform to them, then they would, at least as far as we could know, only be so contingently; but they are, as the first premise states, known to be necessarily true; therefore they do not apply to things that exist independently of our representations of them, that is, to things in themselves. In Kant’s view, synthetic a priori cognition requires intuition, not merely concepts, because concepts alone would never yield synthetic judgments, only analytic judgments; and synthetic a priori cognition must be restricted to appearances and not describe things in themselves, because then this a priori and therefore necessary cognition would be contingent after all. Kant’s argument thus requires both his distinction between intuitions and concepts and his distinction between appearances and things in themselves, which are not merely not known to be spatio-temporal but must not be so because they could at best be so contingently. Kant never saw anything wrong

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  25

with this argument, and nobody among his immediate critics or the German Idealists explained to him or to posterity precisely what is wrong with it. (Of course there is something wrong with it: as subsequent history if nothing else has shown, even if the theorems of geometry that Kant took to be necessarily true were to follow deductively from their premises, there is no justification for the assumption that those premises are necessarily true of any objects of any kind.)11 What we might call Kant’s master-argument for transcendental idealism12 also explains why Kant would have been unmoved by another objection to his position, which was not taken up immediately by the Idealists but later became famous when formulated by Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg (1802–72) as the problem of the “missing alternative”: even if spatiality and temporality had to be properties of our representation in order to explain our a priori knowledge of them, why could they not also be properties of things as they are in themselves? This objection had in fact been raised immediately by Hermann Andreas Pistorius, in his reviews of Johann Schulze’s Erläuterungen über des Herrn Professor Kants Critik der reinen Vernunft (book published in 1784, review in 1786) and Ludwig Heinrich Jakob’s Prüfung der Mendelssohnschen Morgenstunden (book published in 1786, review in 1788). Pistorius asserted that Schulze’s Kantian position that “Space and time are entirely necessary representations, they adhere to us entirely necessarily” (Schulze’s words) “does not at all hinder that the concepts of space and time should also have an objective foundation [Fundament]” (these were Pistorius’s words).13 In his review of Jakob on Mendelssohn, Pistorius argued at greater length that there are three possible hypotheses about space and time, namely that they are merely subjective, that they are merely objective, and that they are both, and that Kant had not merely failed to exclude the third hypothesis, but that it is in fact “the most probable among the three, for it not only has in its favor the analogy” with ordinary cases of perception, such as those of tastes, which have both a subjective aspect and an objective basis, “but also those who assume it are not only not embarrassed by the grounds that divide the adherents of the first two but can also very well explain everything that both parties, at the heads of which stand Newton and Kant, adduce in their own favor, and reconcile it with their intermediate hypothesis [Mittelhypothese].”14 But the very fact that Pistorius put the issue as a choice among three “hypotheses” shows precisely what would undermine his objection in Kant’s eyes: for Kant his position is not a hypothesis at all, but the only possible explanation of the necessary truth entailed by a priori cognition. For Kant, Pistorius and later proponents of the “third hypothesis” or “missing alternative” objection just do not understand that a necessarily true proposition must be true throughout its extension, not necessarily true of some of its objects (appearances), but only contingently true of others (things as they are in themselves).

26  •  Paul Guyer

Once again, for Kant all objections to his distinctions between intuitions and concepts as well as between appearances and things in themselves simply failed to understand the conditions of the possibility of synthetic a priori cognition. That was so obvious to him that he in turn could not really understand objections to these distinctions. Before we can consider the prospects for German Idealism from Kant’s point of view, we must emphasize some additional points about Kant’s own conclusions from his master-argument. The first is that Kant simply failed to understand Jacobi’s objection about the thing in itself, and with that all the subsequent motivation to somehow bring the objective entirely within the sphere of the subjective, because he thought that all that he had done, in analogy to what had previously been done with secondary qualities like color and taste, was to reassign some specific properties previously ascribed to objects to the subject without in any way derogating the existence of the objects in question. He had moved spatiality and temporality from things in themselves to appearances, but why should that cast any doubt on the existence of those things themselves? This is what Kant meant when he said “what I called idealism did not concern the existence of things . . . for it never came into my head to doubt that, but only the sensory representation of things, to which space and time above all belong” (Prolegomena, §13 Note III, 4:293). To be sure, Kant also insisted that his reason for reassigning spatiality and temporality (and thus primary qualities) from object to subject was different from the reason for reassigning secondary qualities from object to subject, namely that while the latter move was made because of the contingency of the secondary qualities, the former had to be made precisely, perhaps surprisingly but inescapably, because of the very necessity of the primary qualities, that is, our knowledge of the necessary truths of propositions about space and time (see A 28–9/B 44–5). Second, Kant himself was no doubt at least partially responsible for Jacobi’s objection in particular because he included “Causality and Dependence” on his initial Table of Categories (A 80/B 106) rather than putting the not necessarily spatio-temporal relation of “ground and consequence” there and saving the explicitly spatio-temporal relation of cause and effect—explicitly spatio-temporal because it involves contiguity and succession in accordance with a rule —for the subsequent list of schematized categories (A 144/B 183). If Kant had not made this blunder, he would easily have been able to respond to Jacobi that we have no problem thinking that things in themselves ground or “affect” our sensations, and then that his argument specifically against the spatiality and temporality of things in themselves gives us no reason to question our assumption that things in themselves do affect us, which assumption can be further confirmed by the second-edition “Refutation of Idealism.” From Kant’s point of view, there was thus no reason for the entire project of accommodating Jacobi’s objection ever to have started.

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  27

Finally, as is well known, Kant took the argument for the transcendental ideality of time to imply that we know the self and not just external objects only as it appears and not as it is in itself. Of course, this had already been objected to in 1770 by philosophers at least in this regard in the LeibnizoWolffian tradition, namely Johann Heinrich Lambert, Moses Mendelssohn, and Johann Georg Sulzer, who, brought up in the tradition of Leibniz’s monadology, could conceive of the possibility that space was merely a phenomenon bene fundatus, but could not conceive how time, the form of inner sense, is merely ideal: they asked how could the successiveness of thought be merely an appearance when it must appear thus to successive thoughts?15 Kant’s response to this objection may have been unconvincing (see A 36–7/B 53–4), but the conclusion that he drew from his position was that just as we can be sure that objects as they are in themselves are not really spatial, so we can be sure that the self as it is in itself is not really temporal. And this in turn entails that we cannot know that external objects or bodies and the self are at bottom two ontologically distinct kinds of things. Thus for Kant the lesson of his diagnosis of the fallacies of “rational psychology” in the “Paralogisms of Pure Reason” was ultimately that “if one considers that the two kinds of objects,” that is, body and mind, the extended and the nonextended, “are different not inwardly but only insofar as one of them appears outwardly to the other,” then “what grounds the appearance of matter as thing in itself might perhaps not be so different in kind” from what as thing in itself grounds the appearance of mind (B 427–8). In other words, at the level of things in themselves we have no justification for asserting that mind is different from matter, a fortiori that it is really mind that grounds matter. We can say that the conditions of the possibility of mind, specifically its powers of sensibility and understanding, constitute and therefore govern the appearance of matter, but we cannot go beyond that and make any claims about mind actually grounding matter itself. Of course, in Kant’s view neither can we say that matter might even ground all appearance, including that of mind, precisely because his position is not that spatial extension might not be a genuine property of things as they are in themselves, but that it is not. In fact, Kant’s position is that the most fundamental properties of matter and mind, spatial extension in the one case and temporal extension in the other, cannot be properties of things as they are in themselves, so even though we are entitled to say just what Jacobi originally objected to, that is, that we are affected by things in themselves, we cannot say that either matter or mind is fundamentally explanatory of our experience. That is what Kant means by saying that “if materialism will not work as a way of explaining my existence, then spiritualism is just as unsatisfactory for it” (B 420). For Kant, any project of explaining all of reality as the product of anything informatively characterized as mind is doomed from the outset by transcendental idealism:

28  •  Paul Guyer

thus the Reinholdian and Idealist project of employing consciousness as the single fundamental principle of all philosophy is a non-starter.

iii. The German Idealists, All Too Briefly That is basically the conclusion I want to draw—accompanied, to be sure, by the caveat that since in my view Kant’s master-argument for transcendental idealism is itself rendered dubious by its unsupported assumption that our knowledge of space and time is in fact necessarily true, nothing about the prospects for German Idealism actually follows from Kant’s reasons for rejecting it lock, stock, and barrel. But instead of just resting, probably wisely, with this observation, I want to make a few further points. As I said, these are largely meant to complement Horstmann’s comments, although perhaps there is room to disagree in the case of Schelling. First, as Horstmann points out, one of Fichte’s chief departures from Kant was his insistence upon “intellectual intuition,” the possibility of which Kant had denied precisely by his application of transcendental idealism to the self. As Horstmann observes, Fichte thought that Kant had in fact accepted the possibility of intellectual intuition in his account of our consciousness of the moral law, that is, in what in the Critique of Practical Reason Kant called the “fact of reason.” But of course even in the second Critique, Kant explicitly denied that we have any experience or intuition of our freedom (e.g., 5:47), and instead argued that our practical belief (Glaube) in our own freedom is made possible precisely by the impossibility of proving or disproving our freedom as things in ourselves theoretically: “Pure practical reason now fills this vacant place with a determinate law of causality in an intelligible world (with freedom), namely the moral law. By this, speculative reason does not gain anything with respect to its insight” (Critique of Practical Reason, 5:49). So it seems to me clear, as Horstmann agrees, that Kant would have rejected Fichte’s foundation of a theoretical Wissenschaftslehre on any conception of a practical Tathandlung, although in his “open letter” against Fichte Kant explicitly made only the more general claim that Fichte had made the mistake of returning to metaphysics rather than confining himself to critical logic (12:370). More generally, Kant might also well have asked why we should need intellectual intuition: his own “subjective deduction” had inferred mental acts of synthesis and judgment from the demonstrable facts of our various empirical and a priori cognitions, so what would a (per impossibile) intuition of these acts add to our knowledge? Perhaps this might serve as an interpretation of Horstmann’s “doubts about whether [Fichte’s] complaint has a basis in Kant’s doctrine of apperception.” In the case of Hegel, it seems to me that Kant might have been somewhat hospitable to Hegel’s early position, as Horstmann describes it on the basis

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  29

of Faith and Knowledge, that “Kant’s principle of the synthetic unity of apperception (which he identifies with productive power of imagination) is an ontological claim to the effect that reality has to be understood as a conceptually undifferentiated whole that bifurcates itself into subject and object by imposing a conceptual structure on itself.” That is, Kant surely would have rejected the equation of the mental faculties that yield the transcendental unity of apperception with the productive imagination—that is only the faculty that mediates between sensibility and understanding in the achievement of apperception (and thus the faculty that Maimon might have overlooked)— but, given what he concluded in the Paralogisms, Kant might have accepted Hegel’s view that there is an underlying reality that at one level must remain undescribed—“undifferentiated”—even though at another level—the level of appearance—we can describe it as dividing itself into subject and object. The question here is rather whether Kant could have accepted the argumentation of the later Hegel, beginning with the Science of Logic, or even the Phenomenology, which Horstmann has described (in conversation) as that of a logic in re instead of ante rem. I think that Kant would have questioned Hegel’s strategy of deriving the categories of the understanding from a concept, even such a general concept as that of being, rather than from the functions of judgment as the basic form of all cognition, but in any case he would have objected that any analysis of the a priori aspects of cognition as a whole (all that he was interested in, after all) beginning with the conceptual alone, even the concept of being, is doomed by the irremediable difference between the pure forms of intuition and the pure concepts of the understanding, and that attempting to answer the question of why we have these two powers of cognition and why each of them has the several forms that it does is impossible. It is hard to imagine that Hegel’s intricate deductions in the Logic would have budged Kant from his position that: But for the peculiarity of our understanding, that it is able to bring about the unity of apperception a priori only by means of the categories and only through precisely this kind and number of them, a further ground may be offered just as little as one can be offered for why we have precisely these and no other functions for judgment or for why space and time are the sole forms of our possible intuition. (B 145–6) Perhaps it can be argued that we can make some progress in explaining why we have just the functions of judgment that we do just from the concept of judgment of a manifold alone, as Kant suggests in the Introduction to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (4:474n).16 But more generally, it seems to me that Kant would have thought that the later Hegel’s emphasis

30  •  Paul Guyer

on Geist rather than an “undifferentiated” reality underlying both subject and object violates the cognitive stricture on self-knowledge that the conclusion of the Paralogisms draws from transcendental idealism. As Kant had seen no reason to give up transcendental idealism, he would have seen no reason to give up this conclusion. But that suggests in turn that among the German Idealists Kant might have felt most sympathy for Schelling, or at least a little more than Horstmann allows. What I mean by this is that while Kant certainly would have been hostile to Schelling’s attempt to deduce the temporally successive character of consciousness from the very concept of mind in the Introduction to the 1797 Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, on the basis of his conclusion from the Paralogisms he should have been receptive to Schelling’s transcendence of mind–body dualism in that Introduction by means of the premise that “there is something still higher, which, freely and independently of the body, gives the body a soul, conceives body and soul together, and does not itself enter into this union—a higher principle, as it seems, in which body and soul are themselves again identical.”17 Or at least Kant should have been receptive to this resolution as long as Schelling refrained from saying anything more about this “higher principle.” As soon as Schelling introduced the possibility of an “absolute knowing” of this higher principle, as he seems to do in the Supplement to the Introduction to the Ideas—“An absolute knowing is not one in which subjective and objective are united as opposites, but one in which the entire subjective is the entire objective, and vice versa”18—he would indeed have sacrificed Kant’s sympathy. In the end, perhaps we can only conclude that Kant would have seen the chief proponents of German Idealism, who purported to be realizing the spirit if not the letter of Kant’s philosophy, as themselves ultimately violating the spirit of transcendental idealism. His own master-argument for transcendental idealism may in fact be deeply problematic, but insofar as the German Idealists sought to find ways of overcoming transcendental idealism without ever having diagnosed why it should not have been accepted in the first place, their project may in turn have been deeply problematic.

Notes   1. See translations in Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics with Selections from the Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, revised edition 2004), pp. 201–7, and Brigitte Sassen (ed.), Kant’s Early Critics: The Empiricist Critique of the Theoretical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), the version edited by Feder from Garve’s draft and published in 1782 (pp. 53–8), and the original version by Garve subsequently published in 1783 (pp. 59–77).   2. Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Letters on the Kantian Philosophy, ed. Karl Ameriks, trans. James Hebbeler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). I regret that none of the material

A Response to Rolf-Peter Horstmann  •  31 from Reinhold’s second series of letters published in 1792 was included in this edition, for it is there that Reinhold made his famous objection that Kant’s identification of the will with pure practical reason excluded the possibility of free but immoral action.   3. All translations from Kant are from the volumes of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, eds. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992–). Passages are located by Akademie edition volume and page numbers (Kant’s gesammelte Schriften), ed. the Royal Prussian (subsequently German then BerlinBrandenburg) Academy of Sciences (Berlin: Georg Reimer [subsequently Walter de Gruyter], 1900–), except in the case of the Critique of Pure Reason, where passages are located by the pagination of the first (“A”) and/or second (“B”) editions.   4. For the Augustinian origins of Descartes’s cogito argument, see Norman (Kemp) Smith, Studies in the Philosophy of Descartes (London: Macmillan, 1903).   5. The quotations from Jacobi are from David Hume on Faith, or Idealism and Reason (Breslau: Löwe, 1787), translation Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill, trans. George di Giovanni (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1994), pp. 253–338, at p. 336.   6. Salomon Maimon, Essay on Transcendental Philosophy, trans. Nick Midgeley, Henry SomersHall, Alistair Welchman, and Merten Reglitz (London: Continuum, 2010), chapter 2, pp. 63, 61.   7. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Monadology, §28; in Leibniz, Philosophical Papers and Letters, ed. and trans. Leroy E. Loemker, second edition (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1969), p. 645.   8. For Kant’s response to Eberhard, see On a Discovery whereby Any New Critique of Pure Reason is to be Made Superfluous by an Older One, in Kant, Theoretical Philosophy after 1781, eds. Henry Allison and Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 271–336, or in Allison’s earlier edition with a detailed analysis and additional material from Eberhard’s as well as Kant’s side, The Kant–Eberhard Controversy: An English Translation Together with Supplementary Materials and a Historical-analytic Introduction of Immanuel Kant’s On a Discovery According to Which Any New Critique of Pure Reason Has Been Made Superfluous by an Earlier One (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973).   9. Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Essay on a New Theory of the Human Capacity for Representation, trans. Tim Mehigan and Barry Empson (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), pp. 21, 25, 26. 10. In speaking of verification here, I am invoking the recollection of D. P. Dryer, Kant’s Solution for Verification in Metaphysics (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966), a work overshadowed by the publication of Jonathan Bennett’s Kant’s Analytic and Peter Strawson’s The Bounds of Sense in the same year. 11. I have expounded this point at greater length in Kant and the Claims of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). 12. What I am calling Kant’s “master-argument” is different from what Karl Ameriks has called the “short” argument for transcendental idealism attributed to Kant, which is that the very fact that we sense objects distorts them, thus anything essential to our sensory representations cannot be true of them as they are in themselves; see Ameriks, “Kant and Short Arguments to Humility,” in Kant’s Legacy: Essays in Honor of L.W. Beck, ed. Predrag Cicovaki (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2000), pp. 167–94, reprinted in Ameriks, Interpreting Kant’s Critiques (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 135–57, and Ameriks, Kant and the Fate of Autonomy: Problems in the Appropriation of the Critical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 13. Hermann Andreas Pistorious, review of Johann Schulze’s Erläuterungen, in Bernward Gesang (ed.), Kants vergessener Rezensent. Die Kritik der theoretischen und praktischen Philosophie Kants in fünf früheren Rezensionen von Hermann Andreas Pistorius, Kant-Forschungen Band 18 (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2007), pp. 3–25, at p. 11. 14. Pistorius, review of Jakob’s Prüfung, in Gesang, Der unbekannte Rezensent, pp. 39–71, at pp. 42–4. 15. See the famous letters from Lambert, October 13, 1770, 10:103–9; Sulzer, December 8, 1770, 10:111–13; and Mendelssohn, December 25, 1770, 10:113–16, all translated in Kant,

32  •  Paul Guyer Correspondence, trans. and ed. Arnulf Zweig (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 113–25. 16. For the most persuasive attempt to work out this suggestion, see Reinhard Brandt, Die Urteilstafel. Kritik der reinen Vernunft A 67–76; B 92–101, Kant-Forschungen. Band 4 (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1991). 17. F. W. J. Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, trans. Errol E. Harris and Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 40. 18. Ibid., p. 46.



Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814)

Introduction Johann Gottlieb Fichte presents himself as a Kantian—though a Kantian who, along the parameters discussed in the previous chapters, remains true to the spirit rather than the letter of Kant’s philosophy. Indeed, in Fichte’s view, the successful completion of Kant’s critical project can only be accomplished by transcending the boundaries of the three Critiques. Such a step, he suggests, involves a rethinking of the very heart of Kant’s theory: the transcendental subjectivity and its relation to human experience, judgment, and action. Dieter Henrich’s article (later published as a separate volume) “Fichte’s Original Insight” sparked a new interest in Fichte’s philosophy. Henrich identifies self-consciousness as the guiding concern of Fichte’s thought, yet understands it less as a principle than a problem to which Fichte, throughout the various versions of his Wissenschaftslehre, seeks to articulate a series of possible solutions. The selection published in this volume centers on Henrich’s reconstruction of Fichte’s articulation of the problem of selfhood (and does not include his account of the solutions Fichte offers in the different editions of his work). Much has happened in Fichte scholarship since Henrich’s influential article. In his response to Henrich, Günter Zöller maps the impact of Henrich’s 33

34  •  Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy

essay on German philosophy in the 1970s and beyond. However, he also points out that Henrich, in his focus on self-consciousness, came to downplay other important aspects of Fichte’s work, such as his theory of intersubjectivity and his awareness of the concrete, embodied self. Further, Zöller suggests that some of Henrich’s claims can be disputed in light of textual evidence and, with it, his account of the development of Fichte’s position. As such, Zöller proposes that Fichte’s original insight should not be constructed with an emphasis on self-consciousness and selfhood in the singular, but, rather, in the plural, making his work richer and more relevant to contemporary philosophy.

Further Reading • Dieter Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism, ed. David S. Pacini. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. • Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte’s Theory of Subjectivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. • Günter Zöller, Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy: The Original Duplicity of Intelligence and Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.



Fichte’s Original Insight DIETER HENRICH Translated by David R. Lachterman

“Self-consciousness” is the basic principle of Fichte’s thought. This alone explains why the present age has turned a deaf ear to him. Contemporary philosophy, like contemporary art, arose from a mistrust of impassioned and dramatic talk about the self; it replaced such talk with the concrete notion of “Existenz” and the objective analysis of language. Consequently, only the fading memory of a tradition sustains Fichte’s fame; it often requires an effort to summon up admiration for that tradition itself. For this reason it is difficult to present Fichte’s thought not only as a historical document, but also as a genuine contribution to philosophical insight. However, this is what is intended in this essay. I want to show that at the start of his philosophical career Fichte made a discovery. In the first place, what he discovered was not so much a fact, but rather a difficulty, a problem: He saw that “self-consciousness,” which philosophy long before him had claimed to be the basis of knowledge, can only be conceived under conditions that had not been considered previously. This problem furnished the clue that guided his reflections even before he could formulate it explicitly. He came closer and closer to the solution as he advanced along the tortuous path of his Doctrine of Science. Even when he did not succeed in reaching a solution, he did advance the question; indeed, he advanced it to such an extent that even today to follow his route is still to learn something from him. Anyone seeking a suitable concept of “self-consciousness” must go back 35

36  •  Dieter Henrich

to Fichte and to the knowledge he achieved. Even today this knowledge is still not understood since his achievement was eclipsed too soon and quite unjustly by the condensed and even hermetic character of his rhetoric and by Hegel’s overpowering shadow. [ . . . ] The difficulties in broaching the main issue of Fichte’s thought are great enough. In large part these are the result of the condition of his texts. Fichte himself released only a few of these to the public. In only one of them, The Doctrine of Science of 1794, does he develop the foundation of his philosophy in detail. Nonetheless, what we are justified in saying about all Fichte’s lecturecourses also holds true of this one text, namely, that he modified his conception in the course of writing it down. Accordingly, Fichte met every attempt to pin him down to the letter of his works by advising the reader to view them from the viewpoint of the whole, since the detailed exposition is almost always faulty. Even in his final years he thought that he could grasp and expound on the idea of the Doctrine of Science far more clearly than he ever had. In such circumstances it is easy to understand why there has not yet been a discussion dealing in a genuinely philosophical way with the issues Fichte raises; we might surmise that even if fate had been kinder to his posthumous influence, it would have been difficult for such a discussion to take place earlier. The scene was dominated by general expositions, interpretations focused on Hegel, and learned biographies dealing with the agitated ambience of Fichte’s own age. [ . . . ] [T]he following analysis takes its bearings more from the issue than from the texts. I shall try to interpret and discuss Fichte’s original insight as a contribution to the theory of self-consciousness. In the course of this it will also emerge that the development of the Doctrine of Science can and must be interpreted as the progressive analysis of a concept of the Self. If an interpreter fails to understand this progress, he can do little to further historical interpretations of Fichte’s work and life. In particular, he will not be able to take a firm position on the notorious question of whether, and in what sense, a fundamental change occurs in the course of his thinking. However, historical interpretation and explanation of texts are important tasks in their own right. After having begun by disregarding them, I want at the end to contribute something toward resolving them. We can divide the formation of a theory of self-consciousness into several historical stages. Fichte comes at the beginning of the third stage. After a prehistory stretching from late antiquity into the early modern age, Descartes was the first to make the Self the basic principle and theme of philosophy. He found in the Self the evidentiary basis of all possible knowledge. Leibniz went further and saw in self-consciousness the model for the basic metaphysical concepts of force and substance. In this way it became the basis, not only of the certainty, but also of the content of ontology. Afterward Locke taught that the term “I” signifies only an act of self-identification. This blocked the possibility of taking ontological

Fichte’s Original Insight  •  37

concepts obtained from self-consciousness and applying them retroactively to the definition of self-consciousness. Leibniz’s Self “which is so full of meaning” had become a riddle without place; Hume proclaimed his doubts about its very existence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was still following Locke when he asserted that selfconsciousness is the presupposition behind the connection we produce in making judgments. Thanks to Rousseau the Self became the basis of logic. Kant was following Rousseau’s lead when he made the Self the “highest point” of transcendental philosophy to which “the whole of logic and, conformably therewith,” the theory of the knowledge of objects “must be affixed.”1 Self-consciousness is the common and distinctive theme of all these theories. Furthermore, in most of them self-consciousness is understood as a principle that allows us to ground and establish other knowledge. Because those who held such theories were predominantly interested in its grounding-function, they did not investigate what self-consciousness is in its own right or ask how its own nature can be conceived. They investigated instead its relations to other items, relations in virtue of which it is a grounding-principle; thus, in Descartes’ case, self-consciousness was the basis of evidence, in Leibniz, of categories, in Rousseau and Kant, of judgments. Despite this restricted field of investigation and the diversity among their theses, all of these theories are guided by the very same idea of the structure of the Self. Kant articulated this idea and occasionally discussed it: he conceives the Self as that act in which the knowing subject, abstracting from all particular objects, turns back into itself and in this way becomes aware of its constant unity with itself. Self-consciousness is unique inasmuch as there is no distinction, here, between the one who thinks and the object of his thought, between the one who possesses something and what he possesses. Where the Self is, both the subject and this subject as its own object are present. Also, we can never grasp the Self as subject (Ich-Subjekt) in isolation in the way we can any other thing, whatever it might be. When we are thinking of it we have already presupposed the consciousness of it in our own thought and thus have turned the subject-self of which we are thinking into an object. Thus we can only revolve around it in a perpetual circle. This means that self-consciousness, considered on its own, does not amplify or extend our knowledge of reality. The knower already contains what he grasps when he turns back into himself. That self-consciousness does perform this act of turning back can easily be inferred, Kant thinks, from its structure. “The expression ‘I think (this object)’ already shows that I, in respect to the representation [of ‘I’], am not passive.”2 The word “I” refers to someone who is performing an act. Now, if this subject is itself the object of its own knowledge, then it is so precisely in virtue of its active subjectivity. All Kant’s predecessors would have seen propositions such as these as explications of their own ideas of self-consciousness. To reduce their theory

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to a short formula, they held that the essence of the Self is reflection. This theory begins by assuming a subject of thinking and emphasizes that this subject stands in a constant relationship to itself. It then goes on to assert that this relationship is a result of the subject’s making itself into its own object; in other words, the activity of representing, which is originally related to objects, is turned back upon itself and in this way produces the unique case of an identity between the activity and the result of the activity.3 Although this idea seems intuitively clear it is in fact just the opposite. It is not the Self but the theory of the Self as reflection that continually turns in a circle. This is brought home by the perplexity into which the theory falls as soon as we pose some simple questions. We want to raise two such questions; the first is one Fichte himself raised, thereby inaugurating a new stage in the history of theories of self-consciousness, a stage in which the structure of the Self becomes the essential theme. Our first question, then, is this: The theory that the Self is reflection talks about a Subject-Self that knows itself by entering into relation to itself, that is, by turning itself back into itself. How can this subject be conceived? If we assume that it is really the Self when it functions as the subject, then it is obvious that we are turning in a circle and are presupposing what we want to explain. For we can only speak of an “I” where a subject has apprehended itself, where an ego says “I” to itself. Self-consciousness is distinguished from all other forms of knowledge precisely by the fact that one and the same item presents itself in self-consciousness in a double guise. Whatever act might bring this consciousness about, only the total result, in which the “I” gains possession and knowledge of itself, can be called “I.” However, this act can by no means be described as reflection. For reflection can only mean that an item of knowledge that is already at hand is properly apprehended and thereby made explicit! However, the reflection-theory of the self wants to explain the origin, not the clarity, of self-consciousness. Because this is what it claims to do, it is circular. It can only ignore this circle; it can never escape from it: I am meant to be the one who recollects himself by reflecting on himself. Thus anyone who sets reflection into motion must himself already be both the knower and the known. The subject of reflection on its own thereby satisfies the whole equation “I = I.” Yet, reflection alone was supposed to bring about this equation. We cannot avoid this result by assuming that the Subject-Self is really not to be thought of as Self, in other words, that self-consciousness first comes about as the product of reflection. Such an attempt to escape the circle soon creates problems for if the Subject-Self is really something other than the Self, then it can never achieve the unity of consciousness, namely, the identity “I = I,” by means of reflection. Self-consciousness is the identity of its relata. If their relation is interpreted via reflection and thus as an

Fichte’s Original Insight  •  39

achievement through which the act of reflection becomes conscious of itself, then the subject of the act must either already be the Self, or the equation “I = I” will never hold. If the Subject-Self is not the Self, then neither can the Self, of which we come to have knowledge, that is, the Object-Self, ever be identical with it. Thus, the reflection theory of self-consciousness either presupposes the phenomenon of Self without clarifying it, or totally invalidates it. A second question will disclose the same defect in this theory. The reflection-theory assumes that the Self obtains knowledge of itself by turning back and entering into a relation to itself. Now, if we are to explain consciousness of the identity “I-I,” it is not enough that any subject whatsoever gain an explicit consciousness of any object whatsoever. This subject must also know that its object is identical with itself. It cannot appeal to some third term for knowledge of this identity; the phenomenon of self-consciousness exhibits an immediate relation to itself, a self-relation, as I shall call it. The theory that the Self is reflection confirms, conforming with this phenomenon, that the Self grasps itself only through its return back into itself. Reflection means selfrelation, not relation to a third term that informs us: “Here someone has grasped himself.” [ . . . ] But how can self-consciousness know that it has grasped itself, if an Object-Self has come about only via the Self’s act of reflection? Obviously it can know this only if it already knew itself before. For only on the basis of previous knowledge is it possible for self-consciousness to say: “What I am grasping is I myself.” But, if it already knows itself, then it already knows that “I = I.” And thus the theory of reflection begs the question once again. It presupposes that the problem which it has been faced with has been completely solved at the start. Fichte was the first philosopher to recognize this circle and to draw consequences from it. In his opinion everyone who falls victim to it makes the mistake of representing the Self merely as one object among others. Fichte’s view can be elucidated in the following way: The reflection theory does indeed begin with a Subject-Self; but it then proceeds to think of it only as a force capable of acting upon itself. With this the theory gives up the distinctive sense of subjectivity that belongs to self-consciousness. The latter is interpreted instead in terms of a matter-of-fact activity that really belongs in the sphere of objects. Someone who thinks of this activity is thus presupposing all along a thinking subject (namely, his own), for which this activity is an object. Hence, he forgets to consider the Subject-Self in its own right and actually to bring into focus a self-relation that entails self-knowledge. He speaks about it instead from the standpoint of knowledge that has not yet become its own theme and focus. For just this reason he does not find it strange that he is interpreting the Self as the kind of reflexive relation characteristic of the activity of objects, but not of the act of knowing. This blindness is what first makes it possible to use

40  •  Dieter Henrich

the model of reflection. It hides from view the fact that this model is circular, and that this circularity is inescapable within this model. We become  . . .  conscious of the consciousness of our consciousness only by making the latter a second time into an object, thereby obtaining consciousness of our consciousness, and so on ad infinitum. In this way, however, our consciousness is not explained, or there is consequently no consciousness at all, if one assumes it to be a state of mind or an object and thus always presupposes a subject, but never finds it. This sophistry lies at the heart of all systems hitherto, including the Kantian.4 Needless to say, the reflection-theory does not merely rest upon an inappropriate style of thought; it has some basis in the actual phenomenon of the Self. It does fix its sights on a feature of the Self that really does manifest itself: Knowledge, imprisoned in its experiences and beliefs concerning what it encounters in the world, breaks out of this seemingly all-embracing worldliness and becomes a theme and a question to itself. When it does so, it knows that it alone can make itself sure of itself, and consequently, that it is the subject of its own consciousness of being a Self. We can very well describe this act as reflection. It also makes good sense to look for what makes any other sort of reflection possible. Nonetheless, it still presupposes selfhood in a more primordial sense. This primordial selfhood first allows a Self to work itself free from its connection with the world and to grasp itself explicitly as what it must have been previously, namely, knowledge that what it is, is knowing subjectivity. The possibility of reflection must be understood on the basis of this primordial essence of the Self. The theory of reflection proceeds in the opposite direction and explains the Self as an instance of the reflective act. Consequently, it interprets the primordial, but obscure essence of the Self with the help of the manifest, but secondary phenomenon of reflection. Fichte’s insight has far-reaching consequences. When we watch how Descartes goes about obtaining the foundation of metaphysics from the ego cogito, we can sense his astonishment over this unique mode of knowledge. The expressive and univocal nature of “ce Moi” provoked Leibniz’s astonishment at the incomparable nature of philosophical certainty. Kant spoke of the Self in the same tone. He sees in it the index of a “a sublime faculty, elevated far above all sensory intuition,” a faculty that “looks out onto an infinity of representations and concepts it has itself fashioned.”5 “Sublimity” means for him an experience that goes beyond the limits of comprehensibility. Nonetheless, Kant did not infer from his own astonishment that the Self is enigmatic or hides some secret. From the viewpoint of finite, worldly knowledge the Self does indeed seem purely and simply astonishing. In itself, however, it is completely clear and the most familiar thing of all, once the

Fichte’s Original Insight  •  41

nature of knowledge has been clarified. The Self alone makes it possible for us to become familiar with any other item. For this reason, Kant did not see it as philosophy’s task to interpret the structure of the Self, any more than Descartes and Leibniz did, nor does he perceive the problems encountered in a way of thinking that does understand why this is philosophy’s task. Fichte gave the theory of self-consciousness an entirely new status. A gap, perhaps even an abyss, opens up between the “Self” and what makes the Self intelligible. From now on philosophy’s task is to traverse this gap. The reflection theory, which expects the phenomenon of the Self to furnish its own explanation, far from bringing this gap fully into view, ends up making it disappear. We must, therefore, look for another theory that can arrive at the basis of the phenomenon of selfhood. We cannot find it until self-consciousness has been more completely described and we have experienced the perplexity produced by any attempt to interpret it. Fichte did experience this perplexity. In a certain sense it can be said that he never freed himself from it. The stages in the development of the Doctrine of Science are so many attempts to work out a theoretical explanation for the phenomenon, the problematic character of which he had come to understand; in other words, his chief aim was to grasp the possibility and the inner coherence of this phenomenon. He articulated the key ideas of such a theory in three formulas: his effort to establish these governs the central part of his work. Each formula marks a stage in the history of his basic idea; moreover, each in turn revises its predecessors. At the same time they all result from his opposition to the reflection theory of self-consciousness. Fichte’s language steadfastly resists the implications of this model and therefore has to make use of many metaphors that are very difficult to understand. What he says seems to show that our language favors the secondary or derivative interpretation of the Self. Language hides both the true state of affairs and the difficulties we have in understanding it behind the facade of allegedly transparent turns of speech. Philosophy must work out a theory of self-consciousness in opposition to the language we quite naturally use in speaking about the Self, while nonetheless continuing to use language. This explains why Fichte’s task was so difficult and why he never succeeded in elaborating his theory with complete clarity, even though this was his goal. Consequently, rather than communicating his discovery, he hid it in texts that are among the most opaque and refractory in the entire tradition. The interpreter has to expend the same effort Fichte applied to the issue itself if he wants to free this discovery from the thicket of incomplete manuscripts. [ . . . ] Let us conclude by looking ahead to some further questions. The present essay on Fichte’s original insight did not treat all his propositions concerning self-consciousness. For example, we had to omit the important question of the relation between Selfhood and individuality. Whenever any one uses the term

42  •  Dieter Henrich

“I” he means this particular being who is conscious of himself. Each person can only speak of himself as “I.” It makes no sense to call to another “You I there!” The technical philosophical terms “Self” or “Ego” cannot be introduced into ordinary language. To establish this point certainly does not imply that the terms are illegitimate. It means that a problem has to be emphasized. The consciousness expressed by the term “I” individuates; however, it does not do so the way warts on the chin do, or a place on a sports team does. Furthermore, this consciousness at the same time also universalizes, and this feature deserves the most careful consideration. Each one is individualized through the “I.” Insofar as he says “I,” each one knows himself to be this one individual person. And, every person knows himself to be “this particular One,” when he says the very same thing of himself, namely, “I.” This unity of individuality and universality, although it cannot be further specified, can easily be interpreted, if we decide to take it simply as a manner of speaking. It can then be understood as an act of referring, an indicator, as Russell, for example, argues. This merely sets aside the problem. Of course, in this case we are no longer allowed to say that “I” refers to a mode of consciousness and thus to something real. Once it is admitted that we do refer to some such reality, the entire problem returns. And we have to admit this. Otherwise, what binds men together through reason cannot be made intelligible in any way. Kant discussed this problem in some of his incidental remarks about selfconsciousness. The “Self” contains a twofold consciousness, that is, consciousness of logical universality and consciousness of empirically determined personal existence. However, Kant ascribed these to two distinct subjects, namely, pure and empirical apperception; these do indeed belong together, but must nonetheless be kept distinct. Kant thereby fails to consider that the empirical Self qua Self is already universal, while the pure Self, for just the same reason, is already an individual. The difficulty here is the same in form as the problem addressed in Fichte’s original insight. Individuality and universality in the real Self are two factors primordially united with one another, just as much as Subject and Object in the self-knowing Self are. Hegel adopted this Kantian position. He searched for the logic of the conditions that must be satisfied if we are to gain an idea of the unity of the Self as both universal and in each case individual. Hegel, too, begins with a problem that Kant had left out of consideration; however, this was a different problem from Fichte’s. Consequently, two streams emanating from Kant lead into the idealistic theory of self-consciousness. One leads directly to Hegel; the other, to Fichte. Fichte’s standpoint is that of knowledge of the Self. His doctrine of the relationship between the individual Self and Selfhood in general never achieved the profundity of his original insight, no matter how far it went beyond Kant’s obiter dicta.

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If we were attempting a complete stock-taking of the problem of selfconsciousness, we would have to point out additional obscurities in Fichte’s doctrine. In this essay, however, we wanted only to recall to mind Fichte’s original insight. Philosophers have forgotten it; worse still, they have never taken notice of it. Needless to say, we cannot rest satisfied with his insight as though it yielded definitive knowledge. However, no one has surpassed it up until now. Furthermore, it shows us what is required of a theory meant to focus the light of philosophical ideas on that consciousness thanks to which we understand ourselves. If someone uses this light merely to ferret out trivial difficulties, he would do better to stick to other paths. It would not be overly difficult to show that Fichte’s most important successors could still have learned from him when they began working on the theory of self-consciousness. Herbart, for example, wanted to verify Fichte’s insights with the help of a more objective method than the one used in the Doctrine of Science. However, he never brought self-consciousness into view as a unitary phenomenon, all his instructive insights notwithstanding. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, despite many fruitful distinctions, succumbs to Fichte’s critique of the reflection theory. Heidegger did, indeed, manage to slip past the philosophy of self-consciousness, but only at the price of simply leaving aside the real question with which it is preoccupied. It also is regrettable that Fichte’s insight had no influence within the historical tradition of Idealism. Instead, Hegel’s thought became influential. Fichte would have had two objections to raise: Hegel conceives the unity of opposites only dialectically, in terms of what results from their opposition. However, the phenomenon of the Self requires that this unity be interpreted as original and primordial. Furthermore, Hegel treats the unity of actuality and freedom only as the actualization of freedom, not, once again, as the original unity of both. Every unfolding of opposites, according to Fichte, takes place within the scope of their unity, the unity that first makes their movement possible. Freedom, for him, must be conceived of as actual freedom from the first. Many of Hegel’s successors raise objections of this sort, yet their conclusions never reach the level of Fichte’s insight. They are all inclined to give some abstract actuality priority over the Self, Reason, and Freedom and to say that we are dependent on this actuality. This simply repeats Hegel’s error from the opposite direction, and in a cruder form. They think only about what ties freedom to some fact, not about freedom as fact; but, in that case, the question of the essence, unity, and origin of the Self must remain unanswered.

Notes 1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), B 134, note.

44  •  Dieter Henrich 2. Reflexion 4220. See Benno Erdman, Reflexionen Kants zur kritischen Philosophie. Aus Kants handschriftlichen Aufzeichnungen, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Fries Verlag, 1884). 3. To be sure, two other elements of a more comprehensive theory of self-consciousness were before Kant’s eyes in addition to the reflection theory. On the one hand, he posed the question: What kind of knowledge is it that the Self obtains by reverting to itself? The immediacy of its self-possession suggests taking it as a mode of intuition, while activity, rationality, and reflexivity speak in favor of taking it as conceptual knowledge. Yet, reflexivity excludes the idea of the Self as intuition just as decisively as the immediacy with which it possesses itself excludes giving it a conceptual character. Since, according to Kant, there can only be two types of knowledge, either intuitive or conceptual, in the end he simply expressed his own predicament by saying that the “I” is a “transcendental consciousness” (Reflection 5661). On the other hand, Kant also distinguishes between the Self as consciousness and the experience we have of the Self. The difference between them is the basis of his distinction between pure and empirical apperception. It leads, furthermore, to the problem of connecting consciousness of the existence of the “I” with the self-awareness of a cognitive subject. These two elements are peculiar to Kant’s doctrine and cannot be separated from it. If we enter into them in greater detail, then difficulties quickly arise, especially if we try to make them compatible with the reflection theory of the Self. In any event, that theory remains the dominant idea of the Self, even in the Critical Philosophy. It formulates the idea of the essence of self-consciousness shared by an entire epoch. 4. Fichte, Schriften aus den Jahren 1790–1800, ed. Hans Jacob (Berlin: Junker and Dünnhaupt, 1937), Nachlass, 356. 5. Kant, Opus Postumum, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. the Royal Prussian (subsequently German then Berlin-Brandenburg) Academy of Sciences (Berlin: Georg Reimer [subsequently Walter de Gruyter], 1900–), vol. 20, p. 270.



Fichte’s Original Insight Dieter Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later GÜNTER ZÖLLER

“this I, or He, or It (the thing) that thinks”1

i. Henrich’s Text in Context Almost half a century ago, Dieter Henrich contributed an extensive essay, entitled “Fichte’s Original Insight,” to a Festschrift for Wolfgang Cramer,2 then one of Germany’s leading philosophical minds, who sought to combine the critical legacy of Kant and the neo-Kantians with the ontological tradition, especially the rationalist metaphysics of Spinoza and Leibniz. Henrich himself had not yet turned forty at the time and had recently moved from a professorship at the Free University of Berlin to one at the University of Heidelberg, where Ernst Tugendhat was his colleague and eventually he was joined by his former Berlin colleague, Michael Theunissen, before himself exchanging Heidelberg for Munich in 1981 and remaining there until taking mandatory retirement in 1994. The double title of the Festschrift, “Subjectivity and Metaphysics,” reflected the dual focus of W. Cramer’s oeuvre and the overall orientation of the volume produced in his honor. Other contributors to the Festschrift included HansGeorg Gadamer, Hans Friedrich Fulda, Erich Heintel and Conrad Cramer 45

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(the dedicatee’s son)—turning the volume into a who is who of contemporary German-language philosophy in the Continental vein, with its characteristic combination of historical orientation and systematic concern. The reference points of the other contributions were Kant, Schelling and Hegel. The other topics covered reached from certainty in Descartes through the Kantian a priori to the construction of Christianity in Schelling. Henrich’s piece was the only one on Fichte and one of the more extensive ones in the volume. The piece was republished as a separate booklet of just over fifty pages by the same press in the following year.3 For its republication, the uncounted opening section received the heading “Introduction” and the seven Roman numbered sections of the piece were given the following titles in the table of contents in the book’s front matter: I. I is reflection of itself; II. I posits itself absolutely; III. I posits itself as positing itself; IV. I is force into which an eye is inserted; V. I is appearance; VI. References to developmental history; VII. Outlook. (The previous chapter includes the Introduction and Sections One and Seven.) Except for the added table of contents and the heading “Introduction” added to the opening section, the text of the two editions is identical down to the line and page breaks, which indicates that the old typesetting was reused. In the specific setting of the Festschrift for Wolfgang Cramer and in the larger context of contemporary neo-classical German philosophy, Henrich’s piece was quite representative. It formed part of the attempt made at the time to retrieve Kant and the German idealists for current work in theoretical philosophy on such topics as the nature of mind or spirit (Geist), of reflection (Reflexion) and of reason (Vernunft). Such work was undertaken mostly in articles and essays, while the books combining a major historical figure with a significant systematic subject were typically the authors’ antecedent qualifying publications (Qualifikationsschriften), that is, their doctoral dissertations or Habilitation theses. But in addition to being representative and typical in design and scope within its contemporary context, Henrich’s piece was also unusual and atypical in its focus on Fichte and its philosophical advocacy of Fichte over and against Kant as well as Hegel. While Fichte had long been acknowledged as the crucial link between Kant and the movement known as “German idealism,” in the late 1960s Fichte was neither a formidable figure towering over the German philosophical scene nor a philosopher especially esteemed for his originality. By addressing in the very title of his contribution Fichte’s “original insight,” Henrich was not referring to a known entity in the philosophical discourse of the time. Rather he was announcing a discovery to be made, or rather, one he had made and was about to share. Moreover, the originality of Fichte’s insight, in addition to having been overlooked and unappreciated, would turn out to involve an insight on Fichte’s part, as revealed by Henrich, into an original matter—one involving an origin, specifically the origin of self-consciousness (“I”).

Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later  •  47

Yet Fichte’s philosophy, while not having been granted the status and the significance attached to Kant or Hegel, was by no means unknown at the time. In fact Fichte had been undergoing a rediscovery and work on his philosophy had been enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the 1960s. Historically, philosophical interest in Fichte always had been bound up with interest in Kant. Late nineteenth-century neo-Kantianism brought with it a certain neo-Fichteanism,4 just as the metaphysical Kant interpretation of the early twentieth-century century brought in its trail a metaphysically minded reading of Fichte.5 Yet after the ideological use, or rather abuse, of Fichte’s political thinking for nationalist purposes and propaganda during both World Wars, Fichte’s philosophy seemed compromised and contaminated. Under those circumstances, a new beginning in research and scholarship on Fichte was made in post-war Germany by focusing on Fichte’s more narrowly theoretical philosophy, chiefly his “first philosophy,” which he had termed “science of knowledge” (Wissenschaftslehre) and presented in fifteen different versions, all but the very first one unpublished during his own life time. An outward indication of the politically sanitized return of Fichte onto the academic scene—one that reflected as well as enhanced Fichte’s philosophical standing—was the monumental enterprise of a critical complete edition of Fichte’s writings, including his published works, his literary remains (Nachlaß), his correspondence (both letters written and received by him) and his lecture courses (as preserved in student transcripts). The edition was undertaken by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and resulted in forty-two large volumes published over half a century (1962–2012).6 At the time of Henrich’s piece on Fichte the Academy Edition had only begun to appear and did not yet include any of the previously unpublished material that was to give rise to an extensively enlarged and radically revised image of Fichte’s philosophical work and worth over the ensuing decades through today. Still Henrich’s Fichte piece repeatedly refers to material scheduled for later publication and credits one of the Academy Edition’s instigators, Hans Jacob, for having provided him with some unpublished material.7 On the whole, though, Henrich’s piece is based on the eleven-volume edition of Fichte’s published works together with select and heavily edited posthumous works that been undertaken by Fichte’s son, Immanuel Hermann Fichte (a philosopher in his own right) in the middle of the nineteenth century and that was to be reissued as a reprint a few years after Henrich’s influential piece appeared.8 Henrich’s piece on Fichte had been preceded by work in the early 1960s on general and comprehensive aspects of Fichte’s philosophy, including several programmatic articles by the other instigator of the Academy Edition, Reinhard Lauth, and a booklet by Wilhelm Weischedel, who had already written his Habilitation thesis on Fichte in the mid-1930s, one of the few works from that period untainted by national socialist politics and

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propaganda.9 In turn, Henrich’s piece from the late 1960s was to be followed by a number of book publications beginning in the early 1970s, chiefly among those magisterial book-length studies by Wolfgang Janke, Peter Baumanns and Hansjürgen Verweyen,10 which marked the beginning of increasingly international research, scholarship and publication on a widening range of texts and topics from Fichte’s vast work that was slowly but steadily emerging from obscurity and neglect.

ii. Henrich’s Text in Outline The opening statement of Henrich’s piece combines the fundamental fact that self-consciousness is the principle of Fichte’s thinking with the realization that its very focus on self-consciousness is apt to render Fichte’s philosophy uninteresting in a contemporary philosophical scene dominated by existential philosophy and linguistic philosophy. Under those circumstances, Henrich’s piece sets out to rehabilitate Fichte as a philosopher by arguing for the systematic significance of self-consciousness as the central concern of modern philosophy and for Fichte’s leading role in identifying the peculiar philosophical problem posed by self-consciousness. More specifically, Henrich’s piece sets out to delineate the course of Fichte’s thinking as a series of ever more successful attempts to solve the riddle that is self-consciousness. Before turning to Fichte’s serial solutions of the problem of self-consciousness, Henrich locates his reading of Fichte in the wider context of reassessing the course of modern philosophy since Descartes, which he considers insufficiently understood when being reduced to the self-enthronization of the sovereign subject on the road from Descartes’ Cogito through Fichte’s absolute I to Nietzsche’s will to power. Instead Henrich proposes to portray Fichte as an important part of an alternative history of modern consciousness and its current repercussions. The guiding exegetical thesis of Henrich’s piece is that the overall development of Fichte’s thinking, as documented in the successive versions of the Wissenschaftslehre, is to be interpreted as a progressive analysis of the concept of the I. Henrich positions Fichte at a crucial point of modern thinking about the status and function of self-consciousness that reaches from Descartes through Leibniz, Locke and Hume to Rousseau and Kant. On Henrich’s account, the widely varying positions held by these philosophers agree on the “structure of the I” as involving an act of return onto itself by means of which the subject turns away from any particular object and assures itself of its continuing unity with itself. In the process, so Henrich says, the I relates to itself as its own object, and this in such a way that the subject-I and the objectI are not different beings but one and the same entity. Drawing on an optical metaphor, Henrich brings the peculiar self-identity of the I under the formula of the I’s essence as “reflection” (11 [19]).

Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later  •  49

A crucial consequence of the nature of the I so conceived is that the I’s reflection onto itself is not the origin of the I, but merely the latter’s detection, or rather self-detection. In reflectively establishing the I’s self-identity, the I so ascertained is already presupposed. Accordingly, the so-called reflection theory of the I does not explain the coming about of the I, but only its coming to know itself. Logically speaking, the I of the “reflection theory” is caught up in a circle in which the I qua subject has to be presupposed in order to be turned into its own object, thus implicating the reflection theory of the I in a petitio principii (11, 14 [19, 21]). On Henrich’s account, Fichte was the first to perceive the explanatory failure of the traditional reflection theory of the I, which, according to Henrich, even marred Kant’s account of the matter. According to Henrich, Fichte’s particular point against the reflection theory of the I is the inability of a self-returning, reflective activity to constitute the cognitive self-relation that uniquely marks the I. The cognitive character of the I, far from being the result of reflective activity, is already presupposed and not actually achieved by the reflective return. Thus in the reflection theory of the I, the I as such remains hidden in that it is neither the object nor the result of the reflection on the I, but the latter’s concealed condition or “ground” (15 [22]). On Henrich’s reading, Fichte’s insight into the deficiency of the reflection theory results in a dramatic break in the modern philosophical theory of self-consciousness. The story as told by Henrich goes thus: Prior to Fichte selfconsciousness as such, while being the object of competing accounts, is taken for granted; with Fichte the very functioning of the cognitive self-relation becomes mysterious, because a difference, “perhaps even an abyss” (16 [23]) opens up between the phenomenal features of self-consciousness and the latter’s ground. For Henrich, Fichte sees and meets the need for a more complete and more adequate description of self-consciousness than the one offered by the reflection theory, one that is able to penetrate into the hitherto hidden ground of self-consciousness. But Henrich also sees Fichte’s efforts at an adequate description of self-consciousness entangle Fichte in extraordinary explanatory challenges resulting in theoretical “embarrassment” and straining the logical and linguistic resources at his disposal (16, 25f., 34 [23, 31, 38]). Henrich summarizes Fichte’s extensive efforts at an adequate account of the I in three Fichtean formulas about the I. The formulas are to represent, in a abbreviated form, the three stages of Fichte’s increasing insight into the origin of the I. Moreover, Henrich links each of the three formulas to a specific version or presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre in which it is said to first occur. On Henrich’s account then, the presentational development of the Wissenschaftslehre tracks the evolution of Fichte’s theory of the I. The three presentations of the Wissenschaftslehre singled out for their concrete contributions to the theory of the I date from 1794, 1797, and

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1801. They are, in chronological order, the texts entitled “Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre” (Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre), “New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre” (Neue Darstellung der Wissenschaftlehre), alternatively referred to as “Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo,” and “Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre” (Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre). The initial stage of Fichte’s theory of the I is represented by the formula “The I posits itself absolutely” (17 [24]). Henrich proposes to separate Fichte’s thesis of the absolute self-positing I from its cultural and political association with the French Revolution. Reduced to its systematic significance, Fichte’s formula of the absolutely thetic I, Henrich argues, captures the replacement of the reflection theory of the I with a production theory, according to which the I first comes about by an activity of self-production. Unlike in the reflection theory, the I-subject does not antecede self-consciousness, but arises along with it and “at once” (18 [25]). On Fichte’s original account, as reconstructed by Henrich, the self-identity constitutive of the I consists in a peculiar production: a real activity resulting in a product that includes knowledge of this very activity (19 [26]). Against customary criticisms of Fichte’s absolute I as an expression of egotistic arrogance, Henrich stresses its deflationary dimension. To assert the I’s absolute self-positing, according to Henrich, is nothing more than to maintain that the I immediately and as such involves knowledge of itself or “beingfor-itself” (19 [25]). He further stresses the activist character of the I, declaring “consciousness of the I” in Fichte to be “consciousness of an act” (20 [27]). Still Henrich finds fault with Fichte’s first formula and the stage of the theory of the I it conveys. For one, he detects a remnant of the reflection theory in Fichte’s reduction of self-knowledge to self-reverting activity. Moreover, for Henrich, the occurrence of consciousness in the course of some self-reverting activity presupposes a dimension of “selfhood” (21 [27]) that cannot be reduced to that activity, even if it is a self-reverting one. The next stage in Fichte’s evolving theory of the I, as detailed by Henrich, addresses and redresses the diagnosed defects by attributing to the selfpositing I a co-original awareness of its original self-positing, conveyed by the amended formula “the I posits itself absolutely as positing itself” (21 [28]). For Henrich, the new formula acknowledges the difference between a selfreverting activity as a “general phenomenon of nature,” to be found in all organic life, and the “knowledge of itself” that uniquely defines the I (22 [28]). Moreover, Henrich credits Fichte’s advanced theory of the I, as expressed in the second formula, with the realization that self-consciousness is not exhausted by a “concept of itself,” but equally importantly includes “certainty of its own existence” (22f. [29]). Drawing on Kantian terminology reused by Fichte, Henrich sees a conceptual and an intuitional component intimately

Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later  •  51

connected and originally linked in the Fichtean I, such that self-consciousness is to be regarded as “intuition and concept at once” (23 [29]). For Henrich the chief accomplishment articulated in Fichte’s second for­ mula is the insight that in the I knowledge and existence are “equiprimordial” (24 [30]). But the manifest distinction between the two co-constitutive moments of the I also points beyond the I itself to the latter’s “ground” (25 [30]). According to Henrich, this ground cannot be of the twofold, conceptualintuitional nature of the I that it grounds. Hence the groundedness of the I in something else brings into the I a profound dependency on something other than itself but underlying it and in effect conditioning it. Henrich sees Fichte articulating this very conclusion in the third and final formula of the I, according to which self-consciousness is “an activity into which an eye is inserted” (25 [31]). For Henrich the metaphorical locution is designed to capture the deep fusion of cognition and activity in the constitution of the I. The eye stands for the conceptual component that guides the I’s activity. Henrich goes on to stress the self-referential character of the eye, which in viewing anything at once also sees itself and hence involves a “glance grasping itself” (28 [33]). Yet while the third formula conveys the inner unity of knowing and doing, of theoretical and practical activity, on Henrich’s assessment, it still lacks an account of the peculiar self-relation that is self-consciousness. Even though Fichte’s advanced account does not involve the clandestine prior assumption of the very I that is to be objectified by subsequent reflection, a selfcognition of sorts already is presupposed in all manifest self-cognition in order for such self-consciousness to be able to occur in the first place. On the view expressed by the third formula, cognition with regard to the I is always, at least to some extent, a “recognizing” (Wiedererkennen) (31 [35]). On Henrich’s overall assessment, the increasing insight into the constitution of the I gained by Fichte goes together with the growing difficulty of comprehending and lending intelligibility to the structures and functions so found. For Henrich the lesson to be learned from Fichte’s original insight is that “what is nearest, we ourselves, the knowledge of the I, is what is darkest for our discursive cognition” (35 [39]). With regard to Fichte’s and to any theory of the I, this insight amounts to the recognition that “‘I’ is neither its own ground nor not in need of any further grounding” (37 [40]). According to Henrich, self-consciousness is an “intimate unity [stemming] from an unavailable and inconceivable ground” (39 [42]). He credits the later Fichte with having recognized the original existential dependency of the I, conveyed by the reconceptualization of the I as the “manifestation” of some “absolute” or “God” (37, 39 [40, 43]). The extensive final part of Henrich’s piece follows up on the systematic reconstruction of Fichte’s three-stage theory of the I with reflections on Fichte’s overall philosophical system and its development over time. Henrich

52  •  Günter Zöller

stresses the unity along the way of the Wissenschaftslehre and explicitly rejects customary attempts at attributing to Fichte widely divergent views and positions and at tying those alleged changes to external influences ranging from the occurrence of public attacks (especially the so-called atheism dispute) to the emergence or encounter of competing philosophical positions (chiefly those of F. H. Jacobi and Schelling). By contrast, Henrich insists on the unity and consistency of Fichte’s philosophical thought in general and his theory of the I in particular. In concluding, Henrich briefly contrasts Fichte’s and Hegel’s alternative approaches in the theory of consciousness, attributing to Hegel, rather than Fichte, the project of linking the universality and the individuality of I. In another, methodological regard, though, Henrich notes Fichte’s superiority over Hegel, whose dialectic looks for unity in the perspective of the result and not, as Fichte, in the dimension of origin.

iii. Henrich’s Text in Hindsight Considered in a historical perspective and viewed from the distance of almost half a century, Henrich’s piece on Fichte partakes in two contemporary philosophical developments—the emergence of what came to be known as “philosophy of mind,” in particular the analytic assessment of consciousness and self-consciousness, and the renewed interest in German idealism, including Fichte’s philosophy. Within Germany the former movement was spearheaded by Ernst Tugendhat,11 while the latter development found a leading exponent in Dieter Henrich, whose focus soon shifted from Fichte to Hegel though and who eventually turned to some of the less known or even unknown philosophical figures preceding and surrounding the advent of Fichte on the philosophical scene.12 The main fallout of Henrich’s piece on Fichte was the focus to be found in Henrich’s own further work as well as in that of his students and associates on the non-conceptual, prediscursive, existential certainty of self-consciousness, conjured up by such notions as “event” (Ereignis), “lived experience” (Erlebnis), “feeling” (Gefühl), and “immediate acquaintance” (Vertrautheit).13 Moreover, Henrich and others expanded on Fichte’s original insight, as retrieved and reconstructed by Henrich, that the I owes its being to some “dark ground” eluding conceptual capture and discursive description, favoring and featuring Hölderlin, Hardenberg-Novalis and Schelling, rather than Kant and Fichte, for their advances in post-Kantian philosophy in general and in the theory of self-consciousness in particular.14 The reappraisal of self-consciousness and more generally of the subject (“subjectivity”) to be found in the wake of Henrich’s piece on Fichte even served to combat the post-modern declaration of the death of the subject, which had arisen right around the time of the publication of Henrich’s piece.15

Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later  •  53

Ironically, a shorter early version of Henrich’s piece on Fichte had been presented in French under the title “La découverte de Fichte” in Paris in 1966. Henrich subsequently reconstructed the lost original German version from the French translation and published it under the title “Fichte’s ‘I’.”16 Curiously, Henrich’s piece on Fichte seems to have had no similar wide ranging and long lasting effect in its very topical area, namely, research and scholarship on Fichte. To be sure, subsequent work on Fichte has remained attentive to the central role of self-consciousness in the invention and elaboration of Fichte’s philosophy under the guise of the Wissenschaftslehre. In most of the recent work on Fichte, especially on the early Fichte of the Jena period (1794–1799), the I is recognized as the very principle of his philosophy. But work on Fichte undertaken since the 1970s typically has integrated the concern with consciousness and the interest in the I into a wider perspective on the function that the I qua principle exercises in the overall constitution of the subject and of the latter’s world.17 In particular, in recent decades Fichte has been studied for his contributions to the bodily concrete, individual I and to the socially embedded, inter-individual I. Also recent research on Fichte has tended to focus on Fichte’s practical philosophy and on the doctrinal and methodological specifics of the different presentations of the Wissenschaftslehre.18 A main reason behind the comparative neglect of the specific account of self-consciousness in Fichte offered by Henrich may well have been the problematic textual basis of Henrich’s claims about Fichte’s theory of the I in general and its developmental trajectory in particular. Curiously, the defects to be detected in Henrich’s reading of Fichte on self-consciousness are not owed to the paucity of the material from Fichte’s Nachlaß available to Henrich at the time. Rather it is Henrich’s incomplete command of the already edited and published texts upon which he himself draws that mars his account of Fichte and limits its utility for further research and scholarship. In particular, the three formulas of the I offered by Henrich as landmarks of Fichte’s evolving thinking about the I either do not match up with the textual basis in Fichte that Henrich claims for them, or do not adequately capture Fichte’s account in the text in question. To begin with, the second formula, according to which the I posits itself as positing itself, does not first occur in the revised, “new” presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre from 1798/99, as Henrich claims, but figures already prominently in the very work from which Henrich extracts his first formula, the original presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre from 1794/95.19 Moreover, the first formula, far from capturing the initial stage of Fichte’s theory of the I as contained in the work from 1794/95, represents only an aspect or moment of the I, more precisely the latter’s absolute status as “pure I,” which is immediately supplemented by the introduction of the “Not-I,” the finite or

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“divisible I,” the cognitive or “theoretical I” and the striving or “practical I” as further features of the I’s activity of positing under the constraints of counterpositing and com-positing. Fichte’s I is thus from the beginning a complexly structured, self-enabling as much as self-limiting entity, or rather activity, in relation to which the “absolute I” is but an unconditioned condition lacking any and all consciousness and self-consciousness. But not only does Henrich’s account misconstrue the relation between the first and the second formula, the claimed correlation of the third formula, according to which the I is an activity into which an eye is inserted, is factually false. The formula is nowhere to be found in the text indicated by Henrich, the presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre from 1801/02. Instead a version of the formula appears already in a work from 1800, The Vocation of the Human Being,20 while the comparison of the I with the eye can be found already in the Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo from 1798/99,21 incidentally a text repeatedly cited by Henrich himself (15, 18, 23, 30, 41, 45 and 48 [23, 25, 29, 35, 44, 48, 50]). Moreover, the third formula, inaccurately attributed by Henrich to the work from 1801/02, occurs, with slight variations, in a number of much later works, among them one cited by Henrich himself (27 n. 19 [32 n. 19]), the System of Ethics from 1812,22 and a posthumous text from 1808 first published only in 1997.23 Finally, the work from 1801/02 associated by Henrich with the third formula limits the metaphorical linkage of the I with the eye to the former’s selfenclosed and self-absorbed vision at the exclusion of the linkage with activity,24 a fact that Henrich even concedes at one point (27, n. 19 [32, n. 19]). Considered in their entirety, the inaccuracies in Henrich’s mapping of the three formulas for Fichte’s evolving theory of the I onto particular successive bodies of text call into question the very trajectory outlined by Henrich for the three-staged articulation of Fichte’s original insight. If the second formula is already present in the work from which the first one is taken and the third formula predates as well as postdates the work in which it allegedly first occurs, then the development of Fichte’s theory of the I is both more rapid and more extensive than portrayed by Henrich: more rapid in that the junction of knowing and doing, of ideal and real activity is present in Fichte’s Wissenschaftlehre from the beginning;25 more extensive in that the successive and alternative articulations of Fichte’s “original insight” comprise the complete career and the entire extension of his philosophical work—from the early Jena years to the late Berlin years, from the Wissenschaftslehre proper to its application to law and ethics, and from his transcendental theory of subjectivity to his popular philosophy of history, religion and politics.26

Notes   1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), A 346/B 404.

Henrich’s Pioneering Piece Half a Century Later  •  55   2. Dieter Henrich, “Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht.” In: Subjektivität und Metaphysik. Festschrift für Wolfgang Cramer, eds. Dieter Henrich and Hans Wagner (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1966).   3. Dieter Henrich, Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1967). In the remainder of this article references to Henrich’s piece are to this edition and provided parenthetically in the main text by page number only. In order to assure consistency throughout this article, all translations from Henrich’s piece are my own (though when needed, I include, in square brackets, page references to the translation of the full length essay in Dieter Henrich, “Fichte’s Original Insight,” trans. David R. Lachterman. In Contemporary German Philosophy, ed. Darrel Christensen et al., vol. 1 [College Park: Pennsylvania State University, 1982], pp. 15–53).   4. Kuno Fischer, Fichte und seine Vorgänger (Heidelberg: Bassermann, 1869).   5. Heinz Heimsoeth, Fichte (Munich: Reinhardt, 1923); Max Wundt, J. G. Fichte (Stuttgart: Frommann-Kurtz, 1927) and Max Wundt, Fichte-Forschungen (Stuttgart: Frommann-Kurtz, 1929; second edition Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann Holzboog, 1976).   6. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed. Reinhard Lauth et al. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1962–2012).   7. Dieter Henrich, Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht, p. 28, n. 20.   8. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Werke, ed. Immanuel Hermann Fichte, 11 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971; first published 1834/35 and 1845/46).   9. Reinhard Lauth, “Le problème de l’interpersonnalité chez J. G. Fichte.” Archives de philosophie, vol. 35 (1962), 325–344; “Die Bedeutung der Fichteschen Philosophie für die Gegenwart.” Philosophisches Jahrbuch, vol. 70 (1963), 252–270. Reinhard Lauth, “Fichtes Gesamtidee der Philosophie,” Philosophisches Jahrbuch, vol. 71 (1964), 253–285. See also Wilhelm Weischedel, Der frühe Fichte. Aufbruch der Freiheit zur Gemeinschaft (Leipzig: Meiner, 1939; second edition Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1973) and Wilhelm Weischedel, Der Zwiespalt im Denken Fichtes (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1962). 10. Wolfgang Janke, Fichte. Sein und Reflexion—Grundlagen der kritischen Vernunft (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1970); Peter Baumanns, Fichtes ursprüngliches System. Sein Standpunkt zwischen Kant und Hegel (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1972); and Hansjürgen Verweyen, Recht und Sittlichkeit in J. G. Fichtes Gesellschaftslehre (Freiburg and Munich: Alber, 1975). 11. Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die sprachanalytische Philosophie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976) and Selbstbewußtsein und Selbstbestimmung. Sprachanalytische Interpretationen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979). 12. Dieter Henrich, Konstellationen. Probleme und Debatten am Ursprung der idealistischen Philosophie (1789–1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1991) and Grundlegung aus dem Ich. Untersuchungen zur Vorgeschichte des Idealismus. Tübingen – Jena (1790–1794), 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2004). 13. See Dieter Henrich, “Selbstbewußtsein. Kritische Einleitung in eine Theorie.” In: Hermeneutik und Dialektik, eds. Rüdiger Bubner, Konrad Cramer, and Reiner Wiehl, vol. 1 (Tübingen: Siebeck Mohr, 1970), pp. 257–284; Ulrich Pothast, Über einige Fragen der Selbstbeziehung (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1971); Konrad Cramer, “Erlebnis.” In: Stuttgarter HegelTage 1970, ed. Hans-Georg Gadamer (Bonn: Bouvier, 1974). See also Manfred Frank, Selbstbewußtsein und Selbsterkenntnis. Essays zur analytischen Philosophie der Subjektivität (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1991); and Frank (ed.), Selbstbewußtseinstheorien von Fichte bis Sartre (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991). 14. Dieter Henrich, Der Grund im Bewußtsein. Untersuchungen zu Hölderlins Denken (1794– 1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992); Manfred Frank, Eine Einführung in Schellings Philosophie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1985). 15. Manfred Frank, Die Unhintergehbarkeit von Individualität. Reflexionen über Subjekt, Person und Individuum aus Anlaß ihrer ‘postmodernen’ Toterklärung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986). 16. Dieter Henrich, “La découverte de Fichte.” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1976, vol. 72, 154–169 and “Fichtes Ich.” In Henrich, Selbstverhältnisse. Gedanken und Auslegungen zu den Grundlagen der klassischen deutschen Philosophie (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1982), pp. 57–82.

56  •  Günter Zöller 17. See Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte’s Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Wayne M. Martin, Idealism and Objectivity: Understanding Fichte’s Jena Project (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997). 18. Daniel Breazeale, Thinking Through the Wissenschaftslehre: Themes from Fichte’s Early Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 19. See Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, I/2, p. 409. 20. See Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, I/6, p. 254. 21. See Fichte, Nachgelassene Schriften, vol. 2. Schriften aus den Jahren 1790–1800, ed. Hans Jacob (Berlin: Junker & Dünnhaupt, 1937), p. 377 and Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, IV/2, p. 49. 22. See Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, II/13, p. 317. 23. See Fichte Gesamtausgabe, II/11, pp. 181–229, here 185; on this text, entitled “Since 1 April 1808. After the Addresses to the German Nation,” and its special significance in Fichte’s work, see Günter Zöller, “‘Life Into Which An Eye Has Been Inserted.’ Fichte on the Fusion of Vitality and Vision.” In Rivista di Storia della Filosofia. 24. See Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, II/6, p. 167. 25. On the original joining of the cognitive and the conative in Fichte’s I, see Günter Zöller, Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy: The Original Duplicity of Intelligence and Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 26. On the systematic presence of the I throughout Fichte’s work, see Günter Zöller, Fichte lesen (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 2013). On the overall unity Fichte’s multifaced philosophy, see Günter Zöller, “Johann Gottlieb Fichte,” in The Oxford Handbook of German Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Michael N. Forster and Kristin Gjesdal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 11–25.




Introduction The term “German romanticism” refers to the work of a group of philosophers emerging from the intellectual, artistic, and scientific culture around the turn of the century. The group, based in Jena, the thriving philosophical center that had attracted Reinhold, Fichte, and other post-Kantian philosophers at the time, includes Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis, 1772–1801) and the brothersAugust Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel (1767–1845 and 1772–1829). The early German romantics challenge the contemporary understanding of what philosophy is and how it is best practiced. In particular they question the idea of philosophy as a self-contained system and the notion of selfconsciousness as an Archimedean point in which this system can be grounded. Indeed, the romantic fragments, dialogues, journal discussions, and experiments in “symphilosophizing” still challenge the conventional understanding of philosophy as an academic discipline. Over the past decades, romanticism has received increased scholarly attention. Yet, its radical questions and experimental forms leave us with a considerable hermeneutic challenge. The following chapters present two different responses to this challenge. Manfred Frank, whose work on romanticism has significantly contributed to its place on the contemporary philosophical agenda, sees it as a reaction to Kant and Fichte’s philosophy of (self-)reflection. In Frank’s reading, Novalis’s philosophy is at the frontline 57

58  •  Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy

of this reaction. Novalis recognizes the need for an appeal to a pre-reflective dimension of being. Michael Forster, by contrast, argues that the romantic philosophers not only responded to Kant and Fichte, but also to issues arising from within ancient Greek thought, not least the problem of skepticism. In his view, genuine philosophical insights are spearheaded by Friedrich Schlegel and his original and provocative excursions in epistemology. Further, while Frank draws a sharp distinction between late idealism and romanticism, Forster highlights points of continuity between Hegel and Schlegel, thereby challenging the standard picture of romanticism as being concerned with art, aesthetics, and philosophical form, rather than a wider range of problems in theoretical and practical philosophy.

Further Reading • Frederick C. Beiser, The Romantic Imperative: The Concept of Early German Romanticism. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2006. • Michael N. Forster, German Philosophy of Language: From Schlegel to Hegel and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. • Manfred Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, trans. Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2008.



Philosophical Foundations of Early Romanticism MANFRED FRANK Translated by Günter Zöller

When it comes to early German romanticism, everyone—at least in the area of so-called intellectual history—deems himself or herself competent. Either one sees in it a high point of European culture whose force and productivity in the most varied areas can be compared only with classical Athens,1 or one sees in it the essence of the “German special way” in the course of modernity and may even date from it a fatal history that reaches “from Schelling to Hitler.” In truth, however, early romanticism, at least philosophical early romanti­ cism, is the great unknown in the archives of intellectual history, and not only in its “official” archives. Professional philosophers choose to avoid it, because they feel an insurmountable suspicion against philosophers who think in fragments and who, moreover, are able to obtain their laurels in the literary genre as well. To them the capacity to present complex thoughts in a language that is also aesthetically appealing seems a sign of argumentative invalidity—and accordingly, their own style is quite repugnant. Scholars of German literature, on the other hand, are habitually afraid of poets who also can think—especially if they think as complexly as, for example, Hölderlin and his circle or the Jena group around Friedrich Schlegel. Moreover, scholars of German literature have only rarely been able to acquire the knowledge that is necessary in order to judge Hölderlin’s and Hardenberg’s philosophical writings in addition to their poetry. 59

60  •  Manfred Frank

Yet if one does not comprehend both wings of the early romantic production, then one cannot comprehend the period as a whole. [ . . . ] As regards Novalis, he writes that his profession has the same name as his bride: Sophie (letter to Friedrich Schlegel of July 8, 1796): “Philosophy is the soul of my life and the key to my inner-most self, and since my acquaintance [with Sophie], I am also entirely fused to these studies.”2 Furthermore, comprehensive research recently undertaken on the intellectual situation at the University of Jena during the decisive years from 1789 to 1795 has thrown so much new light on the “constellation” out of which Hölderlin’s thoughtsketch “Judgment and Being” emerged that one must say that research in this area has been placed on an entirely new foundation.3 [ . . . ]

i. I will organize my interpretation of the earliest independent philosophical notes of Novalis into three theses: first, Novalis solves the problem of how something that is by definition unconscious (“ultimate being” [Ursein]) can be mediated with consciousness; second, he aims to show how the conception of a transreflexive unity of being can be reconciled with the conception of an internal articulation of the Absolute (into feeling and reflection, matter and form, synthetic and analytic I, opposition and object, state and object, essence and property, or in whatever form Novalis structures the opposition); and third, Novalis establishes a well-explicated connection between the conception that being is beyond consciousness and the conception of philosophy as an infinite, never-ending approximation. On the one hand, the latter conception integrates the most important result of the critical turn against the philosophy of a first principle from the years around 1792 in the Reinhold circle. On the other hand, it prepares the aesthetic solution of the problem: that which philosophy can grasp only in an infinite amount of time, and thus can never reach, aesthetic imagination is able to grasp in an instant—to be sure, only as something irresolvable. [ . . . ]

ii. My three theses concerning the basic arguments of Novalis’s Fichte-Studien are in need of some kind of overture. Reflection on the relation between being and consciousness precedes the question of how the unrepresentable being could nevertheless be represented by consciousness. Just as in the cases of Hölderlin and Sinclair, Novalis’s first independent intellectual attempts take their departure from reflections on the form or essence of judgment. He is concerned with the relation between the copulative “is” and the meaning of “being” as identity or existence. It had already been the conviction of Rousseau’s Savoyard vicar and also of Kant (and in general of the logic of the time) that the copulative “is” is some kind of indirect indication of identity: an expression

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of one semantic class (ordinarily an expression for a subject representation) is identified with an expression of another semantic class (ordinarily standing for a predicate representation), even if only partially or relatively. Thus, the meaning of “being” is essentially “being identical.” However, in order to express this identity in the form of a judgment, we must, Novalis thinks, step outside of it: “We leave behind the identical in order to represent it” (NS II 104). This representation produces a “pseudo-proposition.” Instead of representing identity, it represents to us a synthetic relation between two expressions. But synthesis is not the same as identity, although it presupposes it. The concession that the seamless identity of original being has to make to linguistic expression (Novalis says to “the sign” [NS II 180]) is thus its dis-figuration (Ent-stellung) into a relation between two different things. This corresponds to Hardenberg’s double identification of “knowledge” (or “consciousness”), on the one hand, with that which is known through a true judgment, and on the other hand, with the intentional relation to a “something.” (Novalis thinks that the German term knowledge [Wissen] stems from “what” [was]) (NS II 105). The first of these two identifications is in agreement with Kant’s position. With the second identification, he contradicts Fichte, who had declared that some consciousness, namely, selfconsciousness, is non-objective—a move with far-reaching consequences. Objective consciousness is also called “positing,” because it posits opposite itself the object (or the thought) of which it is conscious, rather than identifying itself with it (NS II 241). This explains a formula that occurs repeatedly in Novalis: “Consciousness is a being in being outside of being.”4 This being “outside of being” is “no real being” (NS II 106). Thus consciousness has, so to speak, less being than its object, being. This means that for its quasi-being, consciousness is in need of an intentional relation to being. But the reverse does not hold. Being would still be there if there were no consciousness, no knowledge, no judgment of it (or about it) (NS II 106). Consciousness, however, exists only as essentially being-related-to-being. Every relation differentiates, and the determinateness of what is being differentiated is grounded in this differentiation. This, however, prevents consciousness from gaining direct access to the undivided unity of being. The latter could show itself only, according to the linguistic convention introduced by Kant, through some sensation. Following Rousseau and Jacobi, Novalis speaks of “feeling.” This would be a mode of consciousness closed off to conceptual knowledge, a state of “not-knowledge” (NS II 105; cf. 125). Any thematization through reflection would destroy it (NS II 114, 115; cf. 273).

iii. Thus we have reached the point where my first thesis can be justified. For if it is the case that the highest “being” exceeds the possibilities of our cognitive

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faculties, then the question immediately arises how there can be any consciousness regarding it. That is the question to which Novalis, who always remained faithful to the basic critical inspiration of Kant and Fichte, has dedicated a series of reflections that one has to call ingenious both because they are without precedent and because of their effect on subsequent intellectual history. These reflections open up nothing less than an independent course of idealist speculation. At its end there does not stand an absolute idealism in the manner of Hegel. Rather, ontological idealism is overcome in favor of an epistemologically enlightened realism. One could also speak of a return to Kant even before absolute idealism has spread its wings. Here I can sketch only the basic thought of Novalis. At the beginning of Novalis’s thought experiment stands a consideration of the etymology of the word reflection. [ . . . ] Apparently, Novalis was moved to such a consideration because, as we just saw, he thinks of consciousness as in principle related to an object (or “positing”). From this he does not exempt reflection, that is, the consciousness through which we are acquainted with ourselves. In that he distinguishes himself radically from Fichte and the adherents of an “intellectual intuition” following Fichte. Even the alleged intellectual intuition which (as in Hölderlin) directly grasps being in its undividedness is, upon closer inspection, characterized by an opposition: that of intuition and intellect (Novalis says of “feeling” and “reflection”). We have to accept this. Now what would it mean, so Novalis’s thought goes, if the knowledge we do indeed possess of ourselves could not be made intelligible from the thought of reflection? And what if this were the case for the same reasons that prevent us from representing being in a simple predicative proposition (“judgment”)? We can only grasp something objective as ourselves, if we are already acquainted with ourselves prior to all objectification. For that a special consciousness would be needed, one which Novalis calls “feeling.” It would be distinguished by the fact that it would not posit itself opposite that which is felt, as is the case with reflection. And yet Novalis does not really resort to this nonobjective mode of consciousness for his argumentation. “Feeling” is rather the name for an ideal limiting case of consciousness on which we cannot count in an epistemic respect. That is, feeling is originally not a case of “knowledge.” Following Jacobi’s language, Novalis ascribes to it the epistemic mode of “faith” (NS II 105, 107). Thus we have acknowledged a presupposition that cannot be questioned, that cannot be resolved into knowledge, and without which philosophy cannot advance a single step. We are thus referred back to reflection. Out of it we are not able to explicate our actual self-consciousness. But without it, we have no consciousness of our self. Now a consideration of the meaning of “reflection” shows that the expression refers to a mirroring. All mirroring makes what is being mirrored

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appear reversed. If I hold an object in front of a mirroring glass, then right and left will be reflected as left and right. Furthermore, the ray of light that runs toward the glass appears to run away from it in the opposite direction. Novalis calls this order, which is characteristic for the finite world of consciousness altogether, “ordo inversus.”5 According to it, consciousness is “not what it represents, and does not represent what it is” (NS II 226). Now Novalis asks whether things should be different with the reflection due to which we cognize our self. Could it be the case that it is the fault of reflection that we disfigure being into judgment (thus into the oppositional play of two synthesized expressions)? And that we similarly misrecognize our identity as the interplay of two reflections, an I-subject and an I-object? In that case, the advice of Parsifal would be the only remedy: “The wound can be healed only by the very spear that opened it.” In reflecting upon itself, reflection discovers in its own structure the means for mirroring the reversed relations back again into the right order. This is done through self-application or doubling: a reflection that is again reflected upon turns the reversal of relations back around and thus reestablishes the order that obtained prior to the first mirroring. That which first had the appearance of tending “from the limited toward the unlimited” (NS II 114, 115, 117) thus reveals itself in the light of doubled reflection as an “apparent passing from the unlimited to the limited” (NS II 226). Novalis takes himself to have established two things: first, the origin of the idealist appearance according to which consciousness comprehends all objects and their sum total, “being,” only in the perspective of consciousness, since it starts from itself as that which is first (for itself); and second, the truth of realism according to which being “fundamentally”—that is, in the ontological order—precedes all consciousness and exists independent of it. The object of the first reflection is by no means the Absolute itself (that would be a nonsensical, transcendent speculation), but rather its lack. That is why Novalis calls that which assumes the place of the failed object of this first reflection a “what” (NS II 116) and later also “matter” (NS II 172, 174). Now, reflection indeed has an object but not that which it originally intended: the Absolute. The position of nonobjective being has been taken over by that of the objective appearance. As soon as feeling—the organ of this experience of deprivation—is in turn “observed” (thus reflectively objectified), its “spirit” necessarily disappears: “It [the feeling] can be observed only in reflection. The spirit of the feeling [that which reveals itself in it properly] is then gone. From the product [the intellectual intuition] one can infer the producer, according to the schema of reflection” (NS II 114). Novalis’s attempt at a solution is unusual even in the context of the reflection on self-consciousness at the time. Like Kant and Fichte, he does concede to self-consciousness an eminent position and thus distinguishes himself, for

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example, from “post-modern” detractors of subjectivity. But he no longer takes self-consciousness to be a principle. It is rather something “dependent” on being (NS II 259, 258ff.). “I am,” Novalis notes, “not insofar as I posit myself but insofar as I suspend myself” (NS II 196). Thus a negation of reflection opens the path to being—the dream of the sovereign self-origination of the subject is ended. However, being, which has now assumed the fundamental position, does not exercise the abandoned function of grounding, which the tradition from Descartes to Fichte had assigned to the subject. Being is an ontic, not a logical, matter. Nothing follows from it in the logical sense of the word, except that the self is no longer the master in its own house.

iv. I can touch upon the two other theses only briefly, given the limitations of space. The second thesis states that Novalis—who differs here from the author of “Judgment and Being”—does not simply juxtapose the thought of “original being” and that of the internal articulation of consciousness. For Novalis, this internal differentiation of consciousness follows from its unavoidable reflexivity. Therefore we have to distinguish a reflected and a reflecting. In order not to betray the position of philosophical monism, the differentiation of being in reflection has to be made intelligible by recourse to the very structure of the Absolute. Otherwise the difference would fall outside of the sphere of the Absolute. That, however, would mean that the Absolute was not the sum total of all reality, but existed along with something else (independent of it). And that would be an internal contradiction for the being that carries in its very name the specification “quod est omnibus relationibus absolutum.” The determination of this internal differentiation is spelled out by recourse to the opposition of feeling and reflection. Terminological successors to this pair are (in that order) “matter and form,” “synthetic and analytic I,” “opposition and object” (alternatively, “state and object”), and “essence and property.” It is thus always the case that the expression that stands in the position of the subject in the model loses its identity with the application of the predicate and becomes the correlate of a relation. Thus at a higher level, Novalis regains his initial definition of consciousness as “being in being outside of being,” namely, through a consideration of the “significant etymology” of “existence” (NS II 199). We “ek-sist” by standing outside of our own being, thus transforming it into an appearance and relating to it as something lost. Consciousness “is not what it represents, and does not represent what it is” (NS II 226). From here it is not far to Hegel’s determination of time as a being which is, insofar as it is not, and is not, insofar as it is. Lost being is thus represented under the schema of the past, not(-yet)-Being under that of the future. Split between the two, the self loses its strict identity and is transformed into the continuity of a life history.

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v. But, you will say: If I can capture pure being always in only one of its predicates and thus fail to reach it properly, how can I be sure being is at all a meaningful concept? To this Novalis responds with desirable clarity that there is no such thing as the pure (as such): “[Pure would be] what is neither related nor relatable.  . . .  The concept pure is thus an empty concept—  . . .  everything pure is thus an illusion of the imagination—a necessary fiction” (NS II 179; cf. 247). This fiction is “necessary” because without it we could not understand the connection among the members of the judgment, expressed through the little “relational word ‘is.’” It is a “fiction” because we never represent nonrelational being except through the “is” of predication. Thus, it remains the unknown “sum total of the properties known by us” (NS II 247ff.), an ideal, a thought-entity that our knowledge can only approximate infinitely, but the content of which it can never exhaust. And with this thought we enter into the realm of my third thesis. It states that Novalis, unlike Hölderlin, establishes an explicit connection between the thought that being is beyond knowledge and the characterization of philosophy as an infinite, never-ending task. To be sure, Hardenberg’s reasoning is inspired by the doctrines of drives and striving with which he had familiarized himself in the meantime by reading the third part of the Science of Knowledge (of 1795) (NS II 269). These thoughts, which are more radical in their point of departure than those of Fichte, fall totally outside the frame of the philosophy that had trusted self-consciousness with the function of the ultimate foundation of the system of knowledge. For Novalis, the formula of philosophy as “nostalgia for the infinite” thus becomes the indication of philosophy’s inconcludability. This happens in the context of a characterization of philosophy as the search for an absolute ground. This search for a ground, so the argument goes, is necessarily infinite, since an absolute ground cannot be given to consciousness. Now, if “this  . . .  were not given, if this concept contained an impossibility—then the drive to philosophizing would be an infinite activity—and therefore without end, since there would be an eternal need for an absolute ground which could be satisfied only relatively—and therefore would never cease” (NS II 269; cf. 268f.). Once one has convinced oneself of the impossibility of completing the search (or rather of the impossibility of realizing what is sought), so Novalis continues, one will “freely renounce the Absolute” (NS II 269 ff.) [ . . . ] Novalis also calls this impossible “searching for one principle” an “absolute postulate”—like a “squaring of the circle,” the “perpetuum mobile,” or the “stone of the wise” (NS II 270). And from the impossibility of ultimately justifying the truth of our conviction he draws the conclusion that truth is to

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be replaced with probability. Probable is what “is maximally well connected,” that is, what has been made as coherent as possible without there being an ultimate justification to support the harmony of our fallible assumptions regarding the world. The coherence of our convictions must replace the lack of an evident Archimedean point of departure. If someone wanted more than that, wanted to bring before consciousness the unknowable ground as such, which can only be postulated, that person would land “in the space of nonsense” (NS II 252, 254). The fact that the fiction of an absolute justification is called “necessary” (NS II 179) does not by itself make it something actual: “we are thus searching for a non-thing” (NS II 255).

vi. It has been my intention to document, staying quite close to the text, the conclusion drawn by Hardenberg that philosophy does not reach its ideal—and this for the reason that research so far has simply counted Hardenberg among the idealist absolutists. Yet he followed his old tutor Carl Christian Erhard Schmid on the way toward a re-Kantianization of philosophy against the arrogation of absolute knowledge on the part of Fichte and Schelling. The position of these latter was sometimes called “transcendentalism” by Schmid and Niethammer, because it boldly oversteps the limits of knowability. Of course, the fact that the ideal is unreachable by any intellectual effort implies that the propositions obtained by philosophy may never be called ultimately justified. Something that is justified by (Kantian) Ideas is justified only hypothetically. And thus the early work of Novalis fits organically into the constellation surrounding the Philosophisches Journal, with its feeling against philosophizing from a first principle. Early romanticism was much more skeptical and modern than its reputa­ tion. However, that reputation is based on ignorance of the texts, and this so much so that it does not survive their examination. What we have learned from our course through the “constellation” of the early romantic philosophy that follows Jacobi and the second stage of Reinhold’s work are two insights that the materialist and positivist philosophy of the nineteenth century has repressed rather than forgotten and that could be regained only with difficulty toward the end of our century. The first of these is that self-consciousness has to be described in terms totally unlike those for consciousness of objects and that it therefore cannot be reduced to objective consciousness (not even an objective consciousness that is developed and practiced in intersubjective encounters). The second insight is one of modesty: if self-consciousness is indeed a position that cannot be given up in the economy of philosophy—because otherwise the talk of a distinctive dignity of human beings could not be justified at all—it

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is still not a principle, especially not one from which eternal truths could be derived. Rather, our self has the double experience that it cannot be made intelligible through a reflective turning upon itself and that it depends on some “being prior to all thinking,” which it is not itself. At one point, Kant had considered whether the intelligible substrate of “thinking nature” could be thought of as “matter,” or at least as founded in a principle that would equally be the cause of “matter” and of the “subject of thoughts.” For Novalis it is established that our mind is not self-sufficient and that it rather has its root in some being (outside of consciousness) that resists its might. The fact that he did not draw any reductionist conclusions from this treatment of self-consciousness is what makes his position so incredibly contemporary.

Notes 1. Thus Dieter Henrich in his report on the “research program on the origin of classical German philosophy after Kant in Jena 1789–1795,” which he directed: Konstellationen. Probleme und Debatten am Ursprung der idealistischen Philosophie (1789–1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1991), pp. 217f. 2. Novalis, Schriften. Die Werke Friedrich von Hardenbergs (hereafter NS), eds. P. Kluckhohn and R. Samuel (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1960/75), vol. IV, p. 188. 3. Dieter Henrich, Der Grund im Bewusstsein. Untersuchungen zu Hölderlins Denken (1794–1795) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992). 4. NS II 106. To this corresponds the definition of the I as ek-stasis: “It finds itself outside itself ” (ibid., 150). Novalis interprets this ecstatic finding of oneself as sensation (and the latter again, following Fichte), as “sympathetic feeling [Ein-Innenfindung] in reality.” 5. NS II 127. Cf. furthermore pp. 128, 131, 133, 136: “sophistry of the I”; NS III 65.



Response to Manfred Frank, “Philosophical Foundations of Early Romanticism” MICHAEL N. FORSTER

Nobody has done more than Manfred Frank to draw attention to the rich and fascinating epistemological dimension of early German Romanticism. In Unendliche Annäherung Frank argued, among other things, that Friedrich Schlegel already in 1796, under the influence of Niethammer’s skeptical circle, gave up Reinhold’s and Fichte’s commitment to founding philosophy on a single, certain first principle [Grundsatz] based on the subject’s selfconsciousness, substituting for this the ideal of a reciprocal proof [Wechselerweis], or, in other words, coherence among a multiplicity of principles. In Das Individuelle-allgemeine Frank argued that Schleiermacher’s lectures on Dialectics espoused a theory of truth as social consensus and a conception of knowledge as a striving towards such consensus, and that this position also underlay Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutics lectures, which consequently conceived interpretation as a matter, not of finding a supposed original meaning in a text or discourse, but of working towards a consensus among interpreters (much as Gadamer would conceive interpretation a century and a half later). However, Frank subsequently, in his edition of the Dialectics lectures, changed his mind about all that, instead coming to attribute to Schleiermacher a more standard realism in the Dialectics lectures, and (by implication) in the Hermeneutics lectures as well. Concerning 68

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Schelling (who these days is often, and quite reasonably, counted as at least in part a Romantic), in Eine Einführung in Schellings Philosophie Frank argued that having begun his philosophical career as a follower of Fichte, Schelling already early on developed an epistemological position that was significantly different from Fichte’s grounding of certainty in the subject’s own “deed-fact [Tathandlung],” a position that instead appealed to an “intellectual intuition” which transcended the subject. Finally, in the present article Frank makes a case that Novalis, having started out from a set of assumptions that he broadly shared with several of his contemporaries, such as Hölderlin—including a monistic principle of Being that ultimately came from Spinoza via Jacobi; an oppositional model of consciousness that derived from the tradition of Kant, Reinhold, and Fichte; and a likewise “critical” restriction of claims to knowledge to the deliverances of the subject’s own self-consciousness—already by 1795 developed an original series of responses to some challenges that were generated by that set of assumptions. The responses in question included: (1) two epistemological strategies for escaping the oppositional structure of consciousness in order to achieve some form of awareness of unitary Being, namely a strategy of feeling/faith and a strategy of a sort of double application of consciousness or “reflection” designed to reverse consciousness’s/reflection’s distorting division of Being by means of the very doubling involved (as when a doubling of visual reflections in mirrors restores the spatial relationships that the first reflection has reversed); (2) a metaphysical solution to the conflict that seems to arise between consciousness’s oppositional structure and the unitary character of Being that works by explaining consciousness as, on the one hand, necessarily grounded in Being but, on the other hand, also transcending Being in a certain way; and (3) an inference from the fact that Being necessarily remains beyond the grasp of knowledge to the conclusion that Philosophy’s task is therefore an infinite one, and that its goal is not certain truth, but instead merely probability constituted by maximal coherence. As Frank says, the Novalis who emerges from this whole interpretation is much less dogmatic, much more skeptical, than he has usually been taken to be, and the same point applies to German Romanticism more broadly. It seems to me that these interpretations of Frank’s have both virtues and vices. Frank’s account that the early Schlegel, under the influence of skepticism, moved away from commitment to a single, certain Grundsatz based on self-consciousness (à la Reinhold and Fichte) and towards a Wechselerweis is convincing, though I would want to emphasize more than Frank does that the main terms of the Wechselerweis for Schlegel are empirical experience and theory. Frank’s earlier account of Schleiermacher’s epistemology and hermeneutics in terms of a model of truth as social consensus was exegetically untenable and anachronistic, as Frank himself eventually came

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to realize, whereas his later account of them is more exegetically accurate, but also makes them seem somewhat less original. Concerning Schelling, Frank exaggerates the originality of the young Schelling in comparison with Fichte, in particular by overlooking the facts that the concept of “intellectual intuition” was already Fichte’s before it became Schelling’s and that Fichte too was committed to transcending self-consciousness, and he also underestimates the extent to which the tendency of (Fichte’s and) Schelling’s position to transcend self-consciousness is even by their own lights dogmatic and vulnerable to skepticism. Finally, concerning the present article, while I do not dispute that Novalis developed ideas (1)–(3) in roughly the way that Frank describes, I am left wondering how much there is of real philosophical value here. For one thing, the assumptions behind this whole project—unitary Being, the oppositional structure of consciousness, and the “critical” restriction of knowledge to self-consciousness—all seem very questionable, so that the project has a rather extravagant basis. For another thing, even if one granted those assumptions, it would still be far from clear that ideas (1)–(3) either work well individually or cohere with each other. For example, beyond the mere visual metaphor involved in the idea of a “reflection” and its reversal through doubling, what is its cash value here? In other words, how exactly is consciousness/“reflection” supposed to overcome its oppositional structure through a doubling, rather than, say, merely exacerbating it? And how could the solution to the conflict between unity and opposition in (2) work unless consciousness’s transcendence of Being was simply illusory? And if the strategy of feeling/faith and the strategy of doubling “reflection” did provide ways of becoming aware of unitary Being without opposition, as (1) holds, why would Philosophy still need to go on an infinite quest for knowledge of Being, as (3) holds? Nor, if they are abstracted from this context of dubious assumptions and questionable responses, are the philosophical conclusions that emerge in themselves especially original. For example, in (1) Novalis basically just claws his way back from those assumptions through those responses to what had surely been the most common position of both common sense and philosophy for millennia, namely realism; in (2), similarly, neither the idea that consciousness depends on (the rest of) reality nor the idea that it cannot be reduced thereto nor even the combination of both these ideas is very novel; and in (3) the conception that knowledge or Philosophy requires an infinite striving had been clearly anticipated not only by Fichte in the Wissenschaftslehre (as Frank himself notes), but also by Kant in his treatment of the regulative ideas (especially the “transcendental ideal” of God) in the Critique of Pure Reason. Rather than elaborate on those reservations, though, what I would like to do here is to endorse Frank’s generic picture that the German Romantics made important contributions to epistemology, especially contributions with

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a skeptical cast, but to sketch a different positive account of exactly who among the Romantics made the most important contributions and exactly what the contributions were. The philosopher I have in mind is Friedrich Schlegel. For it seems to me that Schlegel’s epistemological achievements went far beyond skeptically rejecting the Descartes–Reinhold–Fichte project of finding a single, certain Grundsatz based in the subject’s self-consciousness, important as that move was, to include in addition a number of further original, radical, influential, and intrinsically valuable moves, all of them likewise sympathetic to skepticism. The first of these further moves was less one of general epistemology than of applied epistemology. But since it occurred at around the same time as Schlegel’s skeptical rejection of a Grundsatz based in the subject’s selfconsciousness, since the application in question turned out to be of epochmaking importance in a certain way, and since it can also serve to illustrate the more specific character of the skepticism that Schlegel was championing, it deserves close attention. Schlegel was essentially the inventor of the very idea of the romantic—that is, of the concept of it and of the commitment to it as something defensible. Famously, he already in all but name characterized romantic poetry and distinguished it from classical poetry in On the Study of Greek Poetry (1797), whose main body was written in 1795/6, but to which he added an important new preface in 1797. More exactly, the work distinguishes sharply between “classical” or “objective” poetry, on the one hand, and “modern” or “interesting” poetry, on the other, and identifies several characteristics that distinguish the latter from the former, including unsatisfied longing, a combination of science with art, a mixing of various literary genres, an admiration for genius, a rejection of what is common in favor of interesting individuality, dissonance, and rhyme. This early characterization of “interesting” poetry and distinguishing of it from “classical” are virtually identical in substance to Schlegel’s later characterization of “romantic” poetry and distinguishing of it from “classical.” In the main body of the work from 1795/6 Schlegel, who had begun his career as a strong champion of classicism, still unequivocally exalted “classical” poetry over “interesting” poetry, which he accused of violating the rules of poetry that were upheld by classical poetry. However, during the very period when he was writing the work, Friedrich Schiller published his essay On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1795/6), in which he distinguished “naive” from “sentimental” poetry in a manner that was strikingly similar to Schlegel’s distinguishing of “classical” from “interesting” (or romantic) poetry, and in particular attributed to “sentimental” poetry several distinguishing characteristics that were similar to those of Schlegel’s “interesting” poetry (e.g., an unsatisfiable longing for the infinite), but defended “sentimental” poetry as no less valuable than “naïve” poetry. And Schlegel’s new preface

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from 1797 then explicitly praised Schiller’s essay and similarly offered a strikingly more positive assessment of “interesting” poetry than Schlegel had yet given in the main body of the work. What motivated Schlegel to change his assessment in this way, thereby in effect establishing German Romanticism? Arthur Lovejoy and Ernst Behler have both emphasized the role of Schiller’s influence here.1 In light of Schlegel’s explicit praise of Schiller’s essay in the new preface, this must surely be at least part of the explanation. However, Frederick Beiser has recently offered an alternative explanation in terms of Schlegel’s increasing philosophical skepticism during the period in question.2 And this explanation seems very plausible as well, once it is modified in two ways: First, whereas Beiser himself offers it as an alternative to the Lovejoy/Behler explanation, it is much more plausibly seen as a further part of the explanation alongside the latter.3 Second, in order to be plausible it needs to be made more precise than Beiser himself makes it in the following way. Schlegel began his career as a classical philologist with a strong interest in ancient philosophy (including Plato). Accordingly, the type of skepticism that he was championing at this period was mainly that of the ancient Pyrrhonists, which consisted in showing the undecidability of contests between opposed views [isostheneia] and thereby motivating suspension of judgment [epochê],4 together with a further type, found in the Platonic dialogues for example, that he tended to regard as merely a variant of the former type and that consisted in discovering inconsistencies within a given view itself, thereby leading to its self-destruction (one might dub these two types “equipollence-skepticism” and “paradox-skepticism” respectively). Accordingly, he already writes in a fragment from 1796: “The skeptic posits an endless quantity, a totality, of contradictions.”5 And in a fragment from 1797 he says: “If Jacobi had had philosophy, he would have had to become an absolute skeptic . . . He is a purely antithetical being. There is no one he is more polemical against than himself . . . He continually has to vacillate and destroy himself.”6 Making Beiser’s thesis that skepticism played a decisive role in changing Schlegel’s attitude towards “interesting” or romantic poetry more precise in this way is important because it lends the thesis far greater credibility than it would otherwise have by showing that the specific sort of skepticism that Schlegel was championing at the relevant period exactly corresponded to his tendency in the new preface of his work to say that the contest between “classical” and “interesting” poetry could not be decided in favor of either of them, that they were in this sense just equally valuable.7 No less important than the two epistemological, and in particular skeptical, moves of Schlegel’s already mentioned (skeptically rejecting the conception of a Grundsatz based on the subject’s self-consciousness and using skepticism to motivate the foundation of Romanticism), though, were several further ones that he made just a few years later in the lectures on Transcendental

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Philosophy that he delivered in Jena in 1800–1 (of which a partial transcript survives). In these lectures Schlegel articulates three ideas about skepticism that seem to me especially important. First, he champions an unusually radical form of skepticism. He continues his skeptical rejection of the whole Descartes–Reinhold–Fichte project of finding certain knowledge in the subject’s self-consciousness (one need not, as Frank insinuates in his article, be “postmodern” in order to find that project dubious), and his replacement of that project with the ideal of a Wechselerweis, or a search for maximal coherence among beliefs as an index of their tenability. He also rejects the conception that the empirically given furnishes certain knowledge, namely on the grounds that it is in fact always already theoretically infused, consequently involves a mixture of truth and falsehood, and therefore requires theoretical purification: The phenomenon is merely crude intuition, in which truth and error are still combined. But facts must be results, they must be discerned, the truth decided upon. All results of philosophy are contained in the one [proposition]: that theory and empiricism are one, that they cannot be absolutely separated.8 And still more radically, he also maintains that the laws of classical logic, including even the law of contradiction, are vulnerable to skepticism: “Logic as the organon of truth offers us the law of contradiction . . . But the source of truth lies for us far higher than in these laws [of logic]; for skepticism also lays claim to these laws.”9 It is worth saying a little more about this last case, skepticism concerning classical logic, since it is especially radical and has not been discussed much in the secondary literature. What induced Schlegel to espouse such a radical skepticism? Though he makes no detailed case for doing so, one can identify at least two lines of thought: (1) His insistence in Georg Forster (1797) and elsewhere that it is quite proper to ascribe inconsistencies to certain thinkers shows that he rejects the traditional Aristotelian-Kantian defense of classical logic according to which it is impossible even to think unless one accepts and conforms to the laws of classical logic. (2) He also believes that there are strong considerations that actually tell against classical logical principles, including reasons for affirming contradictions in defiance of the law of contradiction. This is part of the force of his frequent characterization of reality around this period as fundamentally chaos: “It is a high and perhaps the final step of intellectual formation to posit for oneself the sphere of incomprehensibility and confusion. The understanding of chaos consists in recognizing it.”10 It is also part of the force of his diagnosis around the same period of the phenomenon of confusion in texts as a consequence of confusion or chaos in reality.11

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A few years later, in his Cologne lectures on philosophy from 1804–6 he would sustain a similar skepticism about the validity of the classical logical laws of contradiction and identity, as well as about syllogistic reasoning.12 His rejection of the traditional Aristotelian-Kantian defense of classical logic continues. And in more positive support of the view that the laws of identity and contradiction have only relative validity, he endorses Heraclitus’s denial of them in light of his doctrine of flux,13 and insists in his own voice that life does contain contradictions.14 He also develops a critique of syllogistic reasoning, arguing in particular that it is (a) trivial because it is reducible to a principle of the transitivity of identity, (b) not needed in order to infer correctly, and (c) merely local in its original motivation (namely, a need to combat Sophism among the Greeks).15 Second, Schlegel holds that ancient forms of skepticism are superior to modern ones. As might be anticipated given the persistence of his longstanding admiration for Plato into the period of the lectures (1800–1), Schlegel’s paradigm of a genuine skepticism in the lectures from 1800 to 1801 is the skeptical side of Plato’s thought. Thus he says there that “Plato represented skepticism very completely/perfectly [vollkommen]”;16 that philosophy must be dialectical and therefore Socratic;17 and that several of Plato’s writings, especially the Phaedo, are “suited to produce a yearning for the Infinite.”18 Concerning the Phaedo specifically, Schlegel seems to be thinking largely of Socrates’ autobiographical account at 96a ff. in the dialogue, where he relates how in his youth he came to subject both natural scientific and commonsense explanations to a sort of criticism through paradoxes that led him to lose faith in them, which then motivated him to look instead to the forms as a surer explanation (i.e., a form of paradox-skepticism). But Schlegel is probably also thinking of Socrates’ account at 89c ff. in the dialogue of the need to resist the common “misology” of supposing that equally convincing arguments can be supplied on both sides of any issue and that one must therefore abandon the search for truth (i.e., something more like a form of equipollenceskepticism). In the transcription of the 1800–1 lectures that survives Schlegel does not explicitly discuss other ancient forms of skepticism. But in a remark from 1803–7 he writes that “Skepticism is the center of philosophy as such— and in this respect Greek philosophy is of great value. For the tone of Greek philosophy as a whole is skepticism.”19 And accordingly, in the Cologne lectures on philosophy from 1804 to 1806, besides underscoring Plato’s status as a representative of genuine skepticism, he also devotes a respectful discussion to ancient Pyrrhonian (and Academic) skepticism, with its method of balancing opposed arguments in order to produce suspension of judgment.20 So presumably this broader conception of where in ancient thought valuable forms of skepticism are to be found was already part of his full position at the time of the 1800–1 lectures (being omitted from the surviving transcript

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merely due either to its incompleteness or to Schlegel’s selectiveness in the lectures). In sharp contrast to this extremely positive assessment of ancient forms of skepticism, Schlegel in the 1800–1 lectures holds that modern forms of skepticism are utterly inadequate: although he characterizes Maimon, Reinhold, and Platner as all skeptics of a sort and states that Maimon is the most important among them, he goes on to add dismissively, “But this skepticism stands in opposition to idealism” (i.e., instead of being one with it, as in Schlegel’s view it ought to be).21 Third, Schlegel holds that philosophy both begins with skepticism and always has skepticism as an essential aspect of itself: “Philosophy begins with skepticism”; “Skepticism is eternal too, like philosophy . . . [namely] to the extent it belongs to philosophy.”22 Schlegel also has a more specific version of this general thesis in mind, namely that skepticism performs the vital function for philosophy of destroying the illusion that finite things exist independently of the Infinite, or Absolute: “The finite does not exist at all, it only exists in relation to the whole”; “The illusion of the finite must be destroyed; in order to do that all knowledge must be subjected to a revolutionary condition”; “Philosophy perforce proceeds polemically . . . Philosophy begins by raising itself to the concept of the whole and abstracting from the individual. This is necessary. Philosophy must represent the whole; but it can only do this indirectly. It drives the human mind away from the finite, it challenges the latter”; “Consciousness begins with error, namely with the finite. Now if there is only one science . . . then the task arises of destroying error—and philosophy constitutes this. Philosophy would therefore be . . . destruction of the finite.”23 These three further ideas concerning skepticism strike me as extremely important both in virtue of their influence and in virtue of their intrinsic value. Let me say a little about each side of this in turn. Concerning influence, an especially important factor is the impact that Schlegel’s ideas had on Hegel. Hegel attended Schlegel’s 1800–1 lectures on Transcendental Philosophy. (This is no mere matter of speculation. Not only does a credible, albeit anonymous, contemporary eyewitness place Hegel among the people who attended the lectures,24 but more importantly Hegel himself does so as well, namely in a letter to von Raumer from 1816, where he writes, “But while Friedrich Schlegel was still in Jena I myself witnessed his debut with his lectures on transcendental philosophy. He finished his course in six weeks, not to the satisfaction of his audience, which had expected and paid for a six-month course.”25) And Hegel then immediately afterwards went on to espouse strikingly similar ideas about skepticism himself, especially in his seminal early essay The Relation of Skepticism to Philosophy (1802). First, like Schlegel, Hegel championed an unusually radical form of skepticism. Indeed, the main purpose of his essay was precisely to argue against tame forms of skepticism, such as that which had recently been propounded by G. E. Schulze,

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in favor of a much more radical form of skepticism. Like Schlegel, Hegel in particular skeptically rejected the Descartes–Reinhold–Fichte project of locating certain knowledge in the subject’s self-consciousness and the conception that empirical judgments have certainty, conducting a concerted skeptical attack in his essay on the modern reliance on such so-called “facts of consciousness,” and arguing that the best forms of skepticism, such as Plato’s Parmenides and the Pyrrhonists’ Ten Tropes, on the contrary attacked such “facts of consciousness” first and foremost. Moreover, like Schlegel, Hegel held that a genuine skepticism also attacks classical logical laws. Thus already in a review of Bouterwek from 1801 he criticized Bouterwek for purporting to assume only as much as a skeptic would allow, but then assuming the validity of logical laws, “whereas the consistent skeptic on the contrary denies the concept of a law altogether.”26 And in a still more specific echo of Schlegel, Hegel then in the essay from 1802 questioned the law of contradiction in particular and referred to a higher principle that violated it (“Reason”): “The so-called ‘law of contradiction’ is . . . so far from possessing even formal truth for Reason, that on the contrary every proposition of Reason must . . . contain a violation of it.”27 Furthermore, like Schlegel, Hegel espoused this whole position largely because he (1) rejected the traditional Aristotelian-Kantian defense of classical logic according to which it was essential to any thinking at all, and (2) developed a series of positive arguments against particular principles of classical logic. (Moves (1) and (2) are especially clear in the two published versions of his Logic.) Second, like Schlegel, Hegel in his 1802 essay argued that ancient forms of skepticism are greatly superior to modern ones. Moreover, like Schlegel, he identified Plato as the paradigmatic representative of genuine skepticism. Furthermore, while Hegel focused on Plato’s Parmenides rather than on Plato’s Phaedo, he had in mind just the same function that Schlegel had associated with the latter, namely a skeptical discrediting of commonsense and natural scientific cognition in preparation for an ascent to knowledge of the Infinite, or Absolute: What more perfect and self-supporting document and system of genuine skepticism could we find than the Parmenides in the Platonic philosophy, which encompasses the whole domain of that knowledge [of everything limited, of so-called facts of consciousness, and of the doctrines of the natural sciences] through concepts of the Understanding and destroys it? . . . This skepticism does not constitute a special thing of a system, but it is itself the negative side of the cognition of the Absolute, and immediately presupposes Reason as the positive side.28 In addition, again like Schlegel, Hegel includes a broader range of ancient forms of skepticism as genuine skepticism as well, though, especially Pyrrhonian (and

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Academic) skepticism with its method of balancing opposed arguments. (Much of his essay is devoted to a detailed and nuanced discussion of Pyrrhonian and Academic skepticism.) Moreover, like Schlegel, Hegel, in sharp contrast to his approval of ancient forms of skepticism, rejects modern forms of skepticism as greatly inferior. Furthermore, like Schlegel, he does so mainly on the ground that they cling to finite cognition and hence obstruct a knowledge of the Infinite, or Absolute, instead of destroying the former and proceeding to the latter. Third, Hegel in his 1802 essay repeats Schlegel’s position that skepticism is both the beginning and an essential aspect of any genuine philosophy. For Hegel too: “Skepticism itself is most intimately one with every true philosophy”; “Skepticism . . . can be found implicit in every genuine philosophical system, for it is the free side of every philosophy.”29 Moreover, for Hegel, as for Schlegel, skepticism’s more specific function in philosophy is to destroy the illusions of the finite: “A true philosophy necessarily has a negative side as well, which is turned against everything limited . . . , against this whole territory of finitude . . . ; and is infinitely more skeptical than [modern] skepticism.”30 In short, Schlegel supplied Hegel with several of his earliest, most funda­ mental, and most seminal epistemological positions. Finally, Schlegel’s three further ideas concerning skepticism are, I would argue, also of great intrinsic value. For, as I have argued in other work, Schlegel’s (and Hegel’s) conception of the radicalism of skepticism’s potential, in particular his conception of its ability to call into question even the subject and its self-consciousness and classical logical laws, is defensible.31 As I have argued in other work, Schlegel’s (and Hegel’s) conception of the superiority of ancient over modern forms of skepticism is defensible as well.32 And finally, as I have argued in other work, at least in its generic form Schlegel’s (and Hegel’s) claim that philosophy begins with and essentially includes skepticism is defensible too (and an invaluable key to correctly interpreting philosophers who might at first sight seem to be counterexamples to it, such as Aristotle).33 But that is of course all a long story.

Notes   1. Arthur O. Lovejoy, “The Meaning of ‘Romantic’ in Early German Romanticism” and “Schiller and the Genesis of German Romanticism,” in his Essays on the History of Ideas (New York: Capricorn Books, 1960); Ernst Behler, Friedrich Schlegel in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1966), pp. 38–43.   2. Frederick C. Beiser, The Romantic Imperative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), pp. 119ff.   3. Beiser simply rejects the Lovejoy/Behler explanation (ibid., pp. 116 ff.), but I think that his reasons for doing so work much better as reasons for adding to it than for rejecting it.   4. See, for example, Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Cambridge, MA and London: Loeb Classical Library, 1933), p. 8.   5. Kritische Friedrich Schlegel Ausgabe (henceforth: KFSA), ed. Ernst Behler et al. (Munich: Schöningh, 1958–), 18:4.

78  •  Michael N. Forster   6. KFSA, 18:55.   7. For some further discussion of this topic, see my “Herders Beitrag zur Entstehung der Idee romantisch,” in Die Aktualität der Romantik, eds. Michael Forster and Klaus Vieweg (Berlin: LIT, 2012).   8. KFSA, 12:98.   9. KFSA, 12:3. 10. KFSA, 18:227. 11. See on this Hermann Patsch, “Friedrich Schlegels ‘Philosophie der Philologie’ und Schleiermachers frühe Entwürfe zur Hermeneutik,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 63 (1966). See also my German Philosophy of Language: From Schlegel to Hegel and Beyond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 60–3. 12. See esp. KFSA, 12:316–21; cf. 13:259–60, 280. 13. KFSA, 12:316–19. 14. KFSA, 12:321. 15. KFSA, 12:315–16. This criticism of syllogistic reasoning is closely related to Schlegel’s famous claim in Athenaeum Fragments, no. 82 that asserting is more important than proving. 16. KFSA, 12:42. 17. KFSA, 23:103. 18. KFSA, 12:8. 19. KFSA, 18:562, cf. 187–9. 20. KFSA, 13:347–54; cf. 12:124–30, 181–2, 229–30. 21. KFSA, 12:95. 22. KFSA, 12:4, 10; cf. 18, 42. 23. KFSA, 12:11, 77, 93, 97. Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781–1801 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 456–7 notes the model in question here in a general way, but seems not to realize that for Schlegel this is the function of skepticism in philosophy. 24. Friedrich Schlegel: Neue philosophische Schriften, ed. J. Körner (Frankfurt am Main: Gerhard Schulte-Bulmke, 1935), pp. 46ff. 25. Hegel: The Letters, ed. and trans. C. Butler and C. Seiler (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 339. Hegel was evidently mistaken about exactly how long the course ran. 26. G. W. F. Hegel, Werke (henceforth: Werke), eds. E. Moldenhauer and K. M. Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970), 2:141. 27. Werke, 2:230. Hegel’s conception of a skepticism that is radical enough to attack even logical laws also has some other contemporary sources, especially C. G. Bardili. See on this my Hegel and Skepticism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), ch. 1; and Kant and Skepticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), ch. 12. 28. Werke, 2:228. 29. Werke, 2:227, 229. 30. Werke, 2:227–8. For some further discussion of Schlegel’s development of these three ideas and Hegel’s appropriation of them, see my “Schlegel and Hegel on Skepticism and Philosophy,” in Die Begründung der Philosophie im Deutschen Idealismus,” ed. E. Ficara (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 2011). 31. See my Hegel and Skepticism and Kant and Skepticism, ch. 12. Concerning logic in particular, see also my Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), ch. 5 and “Skepticism about Logic in Germany at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century” (forthcoming). 32. See my Hegel and Skepticism. 33. See my “Does Every Genuine Philosophy Have a Skeptical Side?” (unpublished). An acceptable though not perfect translation of this article can be found in Skeptizismus und Metaphysik, ed. M. Gabriel (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2012): “Hat jede wahre Philosophie eine skeptische Seite?”



G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831)

Introduction Few works in philosophy have been as influential as G. W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). While intended as an introduction to his system, the Phenomenology presents the world-historical panorama through which Hegel retrieves his path to the position he would designate, against subjective idealism (Kant and Fichte) and objective idealism (Schelling), as an absolute idealism. With its employment of intellectual figures and historical examples, Hegel’s work would inspire Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, and Wilhelm Dilthey, though they all sought to position themselves against Hegel and the Hegelianism that came to dominate intellectual discourse in Germany. As a result of Alexandre Kojève’s lectures in Paris in the 1930s, Hegel’s phenomenology, and in particular his analysis of the struggle for recognition, also came to influence generations of French philosophers. Hegel’s discussion of the struggle for recognition has been—and still is—at the center of Hegel scholarship, both in a German and in an Anglophone context. In “From Desire to Recognition: Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality,” Axel Honneth approaches Hegel’s notion of recognition from a psychoanalytical point of view and sees the encounter with an other as, ultimately, involving a subject’s encounter with its own nature. This encounter, Honneth argues, makes possible a proto-morality that is part of the very constitution of human 79

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self-consciousness. Robert Pippin’s response to Honneth, “On Honneth’s Interpretation of Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Self-Consciousness’,” questions this view (and the usefulness of the psychoanalytic framework for our understanding of Hegel’s turn to recognition) and argues that the struggle for recognition highlights a relation that, although constitutive for cognition and reason, cannot (yet) be ascribed a moral dimension.

Further Reading •• Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, trans. P. Christopher Smith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976. •• Axel Honneth, The Pathologies of Individual Freedom: Hegel’s Social Theory, trans. Ladislaus Löb. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010. •• Robert Pippin, Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.



From Desire to Recognition Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality AXEL HONNETH

Hardly any other of Hegel’s works has attracted so much attention as the “Self-Consciousness” chapter in the Phenomenology. As difficult and inaccessible as the book may be on the whole, this chapter, in which consciousness exits “the nightlike void of the supersensible beyond, and steps out into the spiritual daylight of the present” finally seems to give our understanding something to hold on to.1 All of a sudden, Hegel’s account of the mind’s self-experience takes on more striking colors, the lonely self-consciousness unsuspectingly meets with other subjects, and what was previously a merely cognitive happening is transformed into a social drama consisting of a “struggle for life and death.” In short, this chapter brings together all the elements capable of supplying post-idealistic philosophy’s hunger for reality with material for concretion and elaboration. Hegel’s first students took the opportunity offered by this chapter in order to take his speculative philosophy out of the ethereal sphere of ideas and notions and pull it back down to the earth of social reality. And ever since, authors ranging from Lukács and Brecht to Kojève have unceasingly sought to uncover in the succession of desire, recognition, and struggle the outlines of an historically situatable, political course of events. However, sharpening Hegel’s considerations into concrete and tangible concepts has always meant running the risk of losing sight of this chapter’s 81

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argumentative core in the face of all this conflictual interaction. After all, Hegel intended to do much more than merely prove that subjects necessarily enter into a struggle with one another as soon as they have realized their mutual dependency. By employing his phenomenological method, he sought to demonstrate that a subject can arrive at a “consciousness” of its own “self” only if it enters into a relationship of “recognition” with another subject. Hegel’s aims were of a much more fundamental sort than the historicizing or sociological interpretation cared to realize. He was not primarily interested in elucidating an historical event or instance of conflict, but a transcendental fact which should prove to be a prerequisite of all human sociality. If a description of an historical–social event is to be found at all in the “Self-Consciousness” chapter, then only after the event that Hegel is truly interested in has already occurred: when the subject has emerged from the self-referentiality of mere desire enough to become aware of its dependence on its fellow human subjects. Hegel thus seeks to do no less than explain the transition from a natural to a spiritual being, from the human animal to the rational subject. The social conflicts that follow in this chapter are meant only as a processual articulation of the implications of this spirituality for human beings. In what follows I will attempt to reconstruct the decisive step in Hegel’s line of argumentation: the transition from “desire” to “recognition.” That this endeavor is anything but simple can be seen clearly in the long series of interpretations that have arrived at quite willful and even absurd understandings of this text by failing to pay any real attention to Hegel’s own formulations.2 One cause for this tendency might lie in the quantitative imbalance between the central line of argumentation in the “Self-Consciousness” chapter and its remaining part. Of the nearly forty pages it takes up, Hegel dedicates only one-and-a-half pages to the thesis that the consciousness of one’s self requires the recognition of another self. I want to place these few lines at the center of my reconstruction by (1) clarifying Hegel’s concept of desire, in order to then (2) elucidate his internal transition to the concept of recognition. My interpretation, which focuses strongly on Hegel’s precise wording, will demonstrate that Hegel provides us with more than one argument as to why intersubjective recognition constitutes a necessary prerequisite for attaining self-consciousness.

i. In the Phenomenology, Hegel describes the process by which we arrive at an understanding of the presuppositions of all our knowledge from the perspective of both an observing philosopher and the subjects involved. He seeks to portray every step in the consummation of this understanding in a way that ensures that the steps are understandable not only for the super-ordinate observer, but also for the agents involved in the process. The chapter begins

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with the observation that both parties have already learned in connection with the steps previously described to grasp the dependence of the object of their cognition on their own actions. The world of objects no longer faces them externally as a mere “given” that they must make certain to themselves; rather, this world proves to be a “mode” of their own relation to it: But now there has arisen what did not emerge in these previous relationships [of sense certainty, perception, and understanding], viz. a certainty which is identical with its truth; for the certainty is to itself its own object, and consciousness is to itself the truth. (PS 103, §166) Hegel means by this that the subject can now be aware of itself as an authoritative source of its own knowledge about the world. Whatever “truth” about reality it is capable of calling to mind is due not to its passive registering of reality, but to an active act of consciousness that has antecedently constituted the alleged “object.” In a certain sense, both the observer and the observed subject have thus advanced to an epistemological standpoint already characterized by Kant in his transcendental philosophy. As a result, both parties are faced with the question as to the nature of the knowledge that subjects can have of themselves as creators of true claims. The “self,” whose awareness of itself forms the object of Hegel’s subsequent considerations, is therefore the rational individual, who is already abstractly aware of its constitutive, worldcreating cognitive acts. Hegel then seeks to solve this problem by first having the phenomenological observer anticipate the steps of experience that the involved subject will then take. From the perspective of the observer, it is easy to see the kind of difficulty or insufficiency that marks the beginning of each new stage, such that the observed subject sees itself compelled to proceed to the subsequent process of experience. The conception that this subject would need to have of itself in order to truly possess self-consciousness consists in its own active role as a creator of reality. Yet as long as it is only aware of itself as the “consciousness” that, according to Kant, must be able to accompany all “ideas,” it does not experience itself in its own activity of constituting objects. My awareness of the fact that all of reality is ultimately the content of my mental states is not sufficient to assure myself of my synthesizing and determining activity, rather I conceive of my consciousness just as selectively (punktuell) and passively as I do the mental attention that I pay to it in that moment.3 For this reason Hegel explicitly criticizes Kant and Fichte in speaking of a mere duplication of consciousness: but since what it [self-consciousness] distinguishes from itself is only itself as itself, the difference, as an otherness, is immediately superseded

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for it; the difference is not, and it [self-consciousness] is only the motionless tautology of: “I am I”; but since for it the difference does not have the form of being, it is not self-consciousness. (PS 104, §167) There must be a difference between the type of consciousness that I have of my mental activities and these activities themselves that is not yet present in the initial stage of self-consciousness, for I lack the experience that would make me aware of the fact that, unlike my accompanying and floating attention, the activities of my consciousness possess an active and realitymodifying character. The philosophical observer, who is aware of this insufficiency at the first stage of self-consciousness, thus sketches in advance the type of experience that would be necessary in order to become conscious of this difference. At this very early point, to describe this second stage, Hegel surprisingly uses the notion of “Desire.” He thus chooses a term that refers not to a mental, but to a corporeal activity. However, before the involved subject can take up such a stance, one that Robert Brandom terms “erotic,”4 it must first learn to grasp reality as something that it can aim at with the purpose of satisfying elementary needs. Hegel uses the notion of “Life” to elucidate this intermediate step, which is meant to explain why observing subjects are motivated to take up a stance of “Desire.” This notion consequently occupies a key position in its argumentation, for otherwise we would not be capable of understanding the transition that compels individuals to continue the process of exploring their self-consciousness. Hegel had already spoken of “Life” in the preceding chapter, in which he introduces the “Understanding” (Verstand) as a form of knowledge of objects that is superior to “perception.” To understand reality in its totality with the help of understanding as “Life” not only means to ascribe the disassociated elements of perception a unified principle in the form of “Force” (Kraft), but also, and more importantly, to learn how to grasp the synthesizing capacity of one’s own consciousness in relation to this sort of knowledge. The creation of the category of “Life” therefore represents the turning point that provides the prerequisites for the chapter on self-consciousness, because the subject here starts to interpret the world as being dependent on its own cognition, thereby beginning to develop “self-consciousness.” But, surprisingly, the same category of “Life” reappears in this new context at the very point at which the transition is to take place from the initial, empty, or merely duplicated form of self-consciousness toward a second, superior form. After the observer has finished his act of anticipation (Vorausschau), which means that it is only through the stance of “Desire” that the subject can arrive at a better consciousness of its “self,” Hegel provides an account of all the implications of the

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notion of life, an account that is clearly marked as an act of reflection on the part of the involved subject: What self-consciousness distinguishes from itself as having being, also has within itself, in so far as it is posited as being, not merely the character of sense-certainty and perception, but rather it is being that is reflected into itself, and the object of immediate desire is a living being. (PS 104, §168) We can conclude from this sentence that Hegel has begun to demonstrate how the observing subject begins to draw consequences from the previously developed notion of “life” for its own self-understanding. While previously it could conceive only of this “self” according to the pattern provided to it by the passive observation of its mental activities, thereby envisioning this “self as a worldless, non-corporeal and non-situated ‘I’,” it now begins to understand itself from the perspective of the opposition to the concept of the “living thing,” a concept of which it is already in cognitive possession. What the observer already knows—that the subject must take up a stance of desire in order to arrive at a better and more complete self-consciousness— is something that this subject only gradually calls to mind by applying the notion of life reflexively to its own stance toward the world. It learns that its self is not a placeless, selective consciousness, but that it instead relates to organic reality in active praxis, for it can no longer behave actively, that is as a naturally self-reproducing being, towards a world that is full of liveliness. In this sense, we could follow Frederick Neuhouser’s thought and say that the subject has had a transcendental experience, because it recalls that it was only capable of conceiving of the notion of “Life” because it encountered this object in the practical stance of active access.5 Of course, before Hegel can ascribe this kind of experience to his subject, he must develop categorically the concept of “life” up to the point at which its consequences for the individual’s relation-to-world arise automatically. After all, it is not merely the external determination of the observer that is to change in the subject’s reflection of the notion of life, but an internal conclusion drawn by the observed subject itself. In reflecting on what it is facing in the unity of reality that it has created with the help of the category of “life,” the individual cannot avoid having two simultaneous realizations. It observes that the world it has constructed is a totality, which is preserved through permanent transformation, that is a totality of genii whose generic qualities are constantly reproduced through the life cycle of its individual members. “It is the whole round of this activity that constitutes Life . . . the self-developing whole which dissolves its development and in this movement simply preserves itself” (PS 107, §171). Yet because only the individual consciousness can be aware of

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this particularity of the living being, of its genus character, the subject must realize at the same time that it is partially excluded from this life process. As a bearer of consciousness, it seems to belong to a different category from the quality it is aware of as a living genus: “in this result, Life points to something other than itself, viz. to consciousness, for which Life exists as this unity, or as genus” (PS 107, §172). At this point, where we see the preliminary result of the involved subject’s self-application of the notion of life, Hegel’s text is especially difficult to understand. The well-known difficulty of not being able to determine precisely whether the determinations he chooses are merely characterizations of the observer or rather results of the observed subject’s experiences becomes even more intense here. Hegel formulates the issue as follows: This other life, however, for which the genus as such exists, and which is genus on its own account, viz. self-consciousness, exists in the first instance for self-consciousness only as this simple essence, and has itself as pure “I” for object. In the course of its experience which we are now to consider, this abstract object will enrich itself for the “I” and undergo the unfolding which we have seen in the sphere of life. (PS 107, §173) I take the first part of the first sentence of this compact statement as anticipating the desired result of the observed subject’s experience, while the second part of the sentence, which begins with “exists in the first instance,” points out the momentary state of its self-consciousness. The involved individual still conceives of its own “self” as pure, non-situated consciousness, but from the perspective of the observer it must understand itself as an individual member of a living genus. Hegel means here that the subject is compelled to make such a transition from pure self-consciousness to “living” self-consciousness in the sense that it must recognize its own liveliness in the liveliness of the reality it constitutes. In a certain sense, it cannot help but discover retrospectively in its own self, through the reflection of its own notion of the organic life process, the natural features that it shares with the reality that is dependent on it. Yet, Hegel skips this step—upon which the subject’s own naturalness is discovered in the liveliness of the self-created object—and immediately moves to the stance in which the observed subject reaffirms its newly gained understanding. In the attitude of “desire,” the individual assures itself of itself as a living consciousness that, although it shares the features of life with all of reality, is still superior to reality in that the latter remains dependent on it as consciousness. Desire is therefore a corporeal form of expression in which the subject assures itself that it, as consciousness, possesses living, natural features: “and self-consciousness is thus certain of itself only by superseding this other that

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presents itself to self-consciousness as an independent life; self-consciousness is desire” (PS 107, §174). Hegel clearly also intends his notion of “desire,” which outlines the second stage of self-consciousness, as a far-reaching critique of the philosophy of consciousness of his time. He points out that when Kant or Fichte conceives of self-consciousness as the activity by which that consciousness merely observes itself, then we lose sight of more than just consciousness’ active, synthesizing side. Or, in other words, not only is the subject robbed of the chance to recall its own activity of guaranteeing truth (wahrheits-verbürgende Aktivität), rather this conception also suggests that the rational self, of which the subject is seen as possessing knowledge, is free of all natural determinations and thus lacks any kind of organic liveliness. Hegel appears to claim that the philosophy of consciousness denies that the subject has any kind of direct, unmediated experience of its own corporeality. Not least for the purpose of countering the anti-naturalism of his contemporaries, Hegel builds a second stage of “desire” into the process of acquiring self-consciousness. In this stance the subject assures itself of its own biological nature in such a way as to express its superiority over all other beings. By virtue of its capacity to differentiate between what is good or bad for it, it is always certain of the element of its consciousness that separates it from the rest. For Hegel, the confirmation of desires, that is the satisfaction of elementary, organic needs, plays a double role with regard to self-consciousness. The subject experiences itself both as a part of nature, because it is involved in the determining and heteronomous “movement of Life,” and as the active organizing center of this life, because it can make essential differentiations in life by virtue of its consciousness. We might even say that Hegel intends his conception of desire to demonstrate just how much humans are always antecedently aware of their “excentric position” (H. Plessner). As long as humans view themselves as need-fulfilling beings and are active in the framework of their desires, they have unmediated knowledge of their double nature, which allows them to stand both inside and outside nature at the same time. It is important that we attain some clarity as to the role played by “Desire,” because the literature on Hegel often has a tendency to dismiss this stage merely as something negative, as something to be overcome. By contrast, Hegel appears to me to insist that the experience associated with the satisfaction of our most basic drives gives rise to a kind of self-consciousness that goes far beyond the first form of self-consciousness in terms of content and complexity. Instead of having the subject merely experience itself as selective (punktuell) consciousness, which always remains present in all its mental activities, the satisfaction of its desires provides it with the unmediated certainty of a self that is placed excentrically, along with its mental activity, into nature. Because this self-consciousness does justice to humans’ biological nature, Hegel is also

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convinced that we cannot give up the fundamental achievement of this stage of self-consciousness. Whatever other prerequisites are necessary in order to allow the subject to attain a proper awareness of its self, these prerequisites must be contained in a consciousness of being involved as a “living member” in nature. However, the stronger we emphasize what is achieved by “desire,” the more urgently we must answer the question as to what causes Hegel to regard this stage of “self-consciousness” as insufficient. He needs but a single brief passage in order to demonstrate the necessity of a further transition. This passage constitutes the next step of our reconstruction.

ii. Hardly does Hegel describe the essential importance of desires for selfconsciousness before he outlines the reasons for the failure of the associated kind of experience. Unlike his elucidation of the transition from the first stage of self-consciousness to desire, Hegel does not make a clear distinction between the perspective of the observer and that of the participant. He doesn’t take up the philosophical standpoint and sketch in advance the aim of the next step of experience in order to then subsequently have the subject itself go through this learning process, rather both processes appear to somehow collapse into one. The starting point for this accelerated, almost rushed description is a summary of desire’s accomplishments. In this stance the subject is certain of the “nothingness” or “nullity” of living reality; it views itself in its excentric position as superior to the rest of nature. As a human animal, the appropriate way to express this superiority is to consume the objects of nature in the satisfaction of its desires. Hegel thus remarks that in its desires, the subject “gives itself the certainty of itself as a true certainty, a certainty which has become explicit for self-consciousness itself in an objective manner” (PS 107, §174). The transition follows immediately in the next sentence, in which Hegel remarks laconically: “In this satisfaction, however, experience makes it aware that the object has its own independence” (PS 107, §175). A few lines further on, Hegel asserts even more explicitly that self-consciousness is unable to “supersede” its object “by its negative relation” to this object, rather “it produces the object again, and the desire as well” (PS 107, §175). It is clear, therefore, that Hegel is convinced of having uncovered an element of self-deception in the stance of desire. The subject deceives itself about itself; one could say that it operates with false conceptions about its relation to the world in believing itself capable of destroying its object through the satisfaction of its needs, through the fulfillment of its desires. However, it is much more difficult to answer the question as to why this sort of self-deception should motivate a transition to a new stage of self-consciousness. It is unclear why the disappointment over the independence of the object should lead to an

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encounter with the other and to recognition. Nearly all the interpretations of this point in the text that I have seen resort either to metaphorical bridges over this divide or to additional constructions not found in the text itself.6 First of all, we need to clarify more precisely just what Hegel takes to be the deficit of desire in relation to self-consciousness. The reference to selfdeception can only be seen as a first indication of the direction we must go and not as the solution itself. As readers who follow the directions of the philosophical observer, we already know what kind of self the observed subject is to attain consciousness of after having gone through the previously analyzed stages: this subject must truly realize that it itself is the rational, reality-constructing actor of which it is only abstractly and generally aware at the beginning of our chapter. We could also say that the “I” must arrive at a point where it understands itself in the constructive activity through which it produces an objective world. In the wake of this process of experience, however, a new demand has been made on self-consciousness, one that the subject could not at all have been aware of at the first stage. By placing itself, as a “transcendental” consequence of its own notion of living reality, into nature as a consuming being, the subject must realize that its reality-creating activity is not merely a particularity of its own self, but a fundamental property of human beings in general. By recognizing the genus-character of life, that is, the fact that natural reality exists independent of the continued existence of its individual specimens, the subject is compelled to grasp its own self as an instantiation of an entire genus—the human genus. At the first stage of self-consciousness, self-accompanying observant consciousness, the subject was still very far from this form of self-consciousness. By contrast, at the second stage, rationally compelled by the implications of its own notion of “Life,” it at least attained the threshold at which it views itself and its consciousness as being placed into nature as a superior being. Here it conceives of itself as a natural, organic self that has acquired the certainty of being able to destroy the rest of nature by consuming its objects in the process of satisfying desires. Hegel now abruptly claims that this ontological assumption is bound to fail, because natural reality continues to exist despite humans’ consumptive acts. However restlessly the subject satisfies its desires, the “process of life” as a whole continues despite the destruction of its individual members. As a result, nature’s objects retain their “independence.” Thus, strictly speaking, the insufficiency of the experience of “desire” is twofold. First of all, this experience provides the subject with a delusion of almightiness, leading it to believe that all of reality is but a product of its own individual conscious activity. Second, this prevents the subject from conceiving of itself as a member of a genus. So despite all the advantages that this stage bears for self-consciousness, it must fail due to the fact that it creates a false conception of an omnipotent self. Within the framework of desire, the subject can grasp

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neither its reality-producing activity nor its own genus-character, because reality in its living totality remains untouched by the activity through which the subject merely satisfies its individual needs. I have chosen the expressions “almightiness” and “omnipotence” with caution in order to enable comparison with ontogenesis, a comparison that could be helpful at this point. The ingenious psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott has described the infant’s world of experience as a state in which an infant follows a nearly ontological need to prove to itself the dependence of its environment upon its own intentions. All the acts of destruction by which it mauls the objects it possesses are to prove that reality obeys its all-encompassing power.7 What is important for our purposes is not the empirical correctness of these observations, but their possible applicability in elucidating what Hegel actually intends to claim. Hegel seems to want to say the same thing as Winnicott— not in relation to ontogenesis, but certainly with regard to the observed subject’s experiences. Both seem to claim that this subject strives, through the need-driven consumption of its environment, to acquire the individual certainty that the reality it faces is on the whole a product of its own mental activity. In the course of this striving, however, it is confronted with the fact that, as Hegel puts it, the world retains its “independence” (Selbstständigkeit), since its existence is not dependent on the survival of its individual elements. According to Winnicott, the infant exits its omnipotent stage by learning to discover in the form of its mother or other figure of attachment a being that reacts to her destructive acts in different ways. Depending on the situation and on how she is feeling, the mother will react to her child’s attacks sometimes by showing understanding and sometimes disapproval, such that the child eventually learns to accept another source of intentionality besides its own, one to which it must subordinate its grasp of the world. Winnicott’s train of thought can serve as a key for understanding the considerations with which Hegel attempts to motivate a transition from the second to the third stage of self-consciousness. The sentence immediately following Hegel’s description of the failure of “Desire” is quite possibly the most difficult sentence in the Self-Consciousness chapter. Without any warning from the knowing observer, Hegel claims that in order for the subject to consummate its self-consciousness, it requires another subject that carries out the same negation “within itself” (an ihm) that the former had performed only upon natural reality: On account of the independence of the object, therefore, it can achieve satisfaction only when the object itself effects the negation within itself (an ihm); and it must carry out this negation of itself in itself, for it is in itself the negative, and must be for the other what it is. (PS 108, §175)

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Perhaps it would be wise to ask what need Hegel is referring to here—a need that Hegel claims can be satisfied only under the conditions of a mutual negation. He cannot have in mind the organic drive previously expressed in the notion of “Desire” since, after all, this need has already attained fulfillment in the consumption of the natural world. Despite all the disappointment the subject brought upon itself in this stage, it was nevertheless successful in appropriating from reality, according to its own discriminations, the materials that could satisfy its animal or “erotic” needs. So the need that Hegel has in mind must lie deeper and be likewise contained in “Desire,” a need we could call “ontological” due to the fact that it seeks the confirmation of a certain specific conception of the ontological character of reality. In the destructive activity meant to satisfy its desires, the subject sought to confirm its own certainty about the “nothingness” or “nullity” of the world, of its character as a mere product of its own mental activity. Hegel now claims that this previously unfulfilled ontological need can be fulfilled only under the two following conditions: First, the subject must encounter an element of reality that performs this same act of negation on it; second, the subject must perform the same kind of negation on itself.8 It is not difficult to ascertain in this complex thought a reference to the necessity that the observed subject encounter another subject, a second consciousness, for the only “object” itself capable of carrying out a negation is a being that likewise possesses consciousness. In this sense the sentence with which Hegel begins his characterization of the third stage of self-consciousness clearly opens up a new sphere in the subject’s process of experience. The subject not only sees itself confronted with living reality, but encounters in reality an actor that is likewise capable of conscious negation. What is more difficult to understand, however, is Hegel’s remark that this second subject must apparently be capable of performing a negation an ihm, that is upon the first, observed subject, in order that the desired satisfaction of the ontological need can come about—at least, this is the customary interpretation of the formulation according to which the new “object” carries out a “negation within itself (an ihm).” We should not, however, take this thought literally as indicating an act of destruction or need-driven consumption. Instead we should take this “an ihm” to mean “an sich selbst,” such that Hegel’s formulation would be interpreted as ascribing the second subject a type of negation that it directed at itself, a type of self-negation. This would mean that the first subject encounters the second subject as a being that in the face of the first subject performs a negation upon itself. In any case, this interpretation secures our understanding of why the observed subject’s ontological need can be satisfied only in an encounter with the other: If this second subject carries out a self-negation, a decentering, only because it becomes aware of the first subject, then the first subject is thereby confronted with an element of reality that can change its own state only on the basis of the first subject’s presence. If we refer back to

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our comparison with Winnicott’s thesis, we could say that the subject encounters in the other a being which, through an act of self-restriction, makes it aware of its own “ontological” dependency. Hegel, however, does not content himself with a mere mention of this first movement of negation, but accompanies it with a complementary movement of negation on the part of the observed subject. Not only does the alter ego carry out a kind of self-negation, but also the ego whose experiences are described here. Yet, with this second step, Hegel merely draws the conclusions from what he has already expressed, for if the second subject performs a negation on itself only because it encounters in the form of the first subject a being of the same type, then the first subject must also carry out the same kind of self-negation as soon as it comes into contact with this fellow human being. Hegel, therefore, claims that this type of intersubjective encounter, which he asserts here as a necessary condition of self-consciousness, is strictly reciprocal, for in the moment in which these two subjects encounter one another, both must perform a negation upon themselves, which consists in distancing themselves from what is their own. If we add to this thought Kant’s definition of “respect” (Achtung), in which he views a demolition (Abbruch) or negation of self-love,9 then we see clearly for the first time what Hegel sought to claim with his introduction of the intersubjective relation. In the encounter between two subjects, a new sphere of action is opened in the sense that both sides are compelled to restrict their self-seeking drives as soon as they come into contact with one another.10 Unlike the act of satisfying needs, in which living reality ultimately remains unchanged, in interaction a spontaneous change of situation occurs within both parties to the event. Ego and alter ego react to each other by restricting or negating their own respective, egocentric desires in such a way that they can encounter each other without the purpose of mere consumption. If we assume further that Hegel was thoroughly aware of the relatedness of his idea of self-negation to Kant’s definition of respect, we might even ascribe to him a more far-reaching intention at this point. It appears that he intends to say that the observed subject can attain self-consciousness only with the aid of an experience that already possesses moral content in an elementary sense. It is thus not only in the chapter on “Spirit,” in which Hegel explicitly deals with “morality,” that Hegel introduces in the form of self-restriction a necessary condition of all morality, but already here in connection with the conditions of self-consciousness. However, this step in Hegel’s description takes on a peculiarly automatic, even mechanical character, for it is not the case that both subjects limit their respective desires on the basis of a free decision, rather the act of decentering appears to occur almost as a reflex to the perception of the other. Hegel apparently intends to say that the specific morality of human intersubjectivity already gets underway at this early stage, if only in the form of reciprocal, reactive behavior.

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Ego and alter ego react to each other at the same time by limiting their egocentric needs, through which they make their further actions dependent on each other’s comportment. It is only a small step from this point to an understanding of why Hegel regards this kind of proto-morality as a condition of self-consciousness. We have already seen that Hegel sees the observed subject’s ontological need as being satisfied in the intersubjective encounter. As soon as this subject encounters another human being, it can see in the latter’s act of self-negation that a relevant element of reality reacts to its mere presence. The observed subject is capable of ascertaining its own dependence on its own consciousness in the quasi-moral reaction of the other. But Hegel intends self-consciousness to mean more than the ontological insight that reality is a product of one’s own conscious self. The observed subject should furthermore be able to perceive itself in the activity in which it produces reality. At this point, Hegel makes use of the reciprocal character of the situation of interaction he has introduced in order to explain the possibility of the perceptibility of one’s own activity. It is the selfrestricting act of alter ego in which ego can observe first hand the type of activity through which it itself at that very moment effects a real change in the other subject. Both subjects perceive in the other the negative activity through which they produce a reality that they can grasp as their own product. Therefore, we can conclude along with Hegel that the possibility of self-consciousness requires a kind of proto-morality, for only in the moral self-restriction of the other can we recognize the activity in which our own self instantaneously effects a permanent change in the world and even produces a new reality. For Hegel, however, this consummation of the process of self-consciousness does not lead immediately to a world of commonly shared reason. The creation of this kind of “space of reasons” is something he instead saves up for the result of the struggle that subjects must subsequently engage in due to their realization of their mutual dependency. What, according to Hegel, our subject has learned is something that he formulates almost naturalistically in the sense of the notion of Life so decisive for the stage of “Desire.” After the subject has attained self-consciousness due to moral reciprocity, the individual is capable of understanding itself as a living member of the human genus. This subject has become “for itself a genus” (PS 108, §176). Thus at this point all three demands Hegel had made of self-consciousness in the course of his reconstruction can be regarded as fulfilled. The subject perceives in one and the same moment in the self-restriction of the other the activity through which it produces (social) reality, and it thereby understands itself as a member of a genus whose existence is maintained by precisely this type of reciprocity. So it cannot surprise us that Hegel ultimately reserves a single expression for the particularity of this genus: “recognition”—the reciprocal limitation of one’s own, egocentric desires for the benefit of the other.

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Notes   1. G. F. W. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 109, § 177. Further references will be abbreviated PS, followed by page number and section.   2. This tendency can even be found in the otherwise impressive interpretation offered by Terry Pinkard, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). My impression is that in his interpretation of this central point in the Phenomenology, the transition from “Desire” to “Recognition,” he resorts to trains of thought found in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right as a kind of interpretive crutch.   3. Hans-Georg Gadamer offers a very plausible and clear interpretation of this issue in his essay, “The Dialectic of Self-Consciousness,” in Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, trans. P. Christopher Smith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976).   4. Robert Brandom, “Selbstbewusstsein und Selbstkonstitution,” in Hegels Erbe, eds. Christoph Halbig, Michael Quante, and Ludwig Siep (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2004).   5. Frederick Neuhouser, “Deducing Desire and Recognition in the Phenomenology of Spirit,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 24 (1986): 243–262.   6. The interpretation offered by Frederick Neuhouser (1986), which I also followed in an essential point in my first step, is the exception.   7. Donald D. Winnicott, “From Dependence towards Independence in the Development of the Individual,” in Donald D. Winnicott, The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment (London: Hogarth Press, 1965).   8. It is thus false to speak of a “need for recognition” at this point, as is often done in the works of Kojève and his disciples. The need that Hegel really does seem to assume here by speaking of its “satisfaction” through the subsequently described reciprocal negation is instead the demand of the observed subject to be able to change reality through the activity of its consciousness. In my words, this would be an “ontological” need. For a critique of Kojève’s interpretation, see Hans-Georg Gadamer (1976). For Hegel, “recognition” is thus not the intentional content of a desire or need, but the (social) means by which a subject’s desire that its own reality-modifying activity be capable of being experienced is satisfied.   9. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H. J. Patton (New York: Harper, 1964), p. 69. 10. G. W. F. Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, vol. III, trans. William Wallace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), § 408.



On Honneth’s Interpretation of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Self-Consciousness” ROBERT B. PIPPIN

i. Axel Honneth’s essay, “From Desire to Recognition: Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality”1 contains two controversial claims about the most famous chapter (Chapter IV, “Self-Consciousness”) in the Phenomenology of Spirit.2 The first is that the most difficult “transition” issue in Hegel’s idealized account of the key conditions necessary for a subject’s achieving self-consciousness concerns the failure of a putative orectic stance towards the world that Hegel calls “Desire.” The failure is said to involve a failed original pretension in this stance to “almightiness” and “omnipotence” over all nature; its utter dependence on the subject’s will and mental activity (FDR 85). As a gloss on this, Honneth appeals to the developmental psychology of Donald Winnicott, and the latter’s account of the infant’s insistence on the world’s dependence on the infant’s intentions, his original sense that “the world is the product of its own activity” (FDR 85). This assumption of course fails. The infant learns not only of the world’s continuing independence, but that there are sources of intentionality other than its own (the mother’s for example). The subject experiences a “decentering.”


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This raises one issue right away. It is not clear why an invocation of the development of a young infant and Winnicott’s account of the infant’s loss of omnipotence would be relevant at this stage of the Phenomenology. This is partly because no issue of omnipotence is raised in those terms, partly because there is no appeal by Hegel to any analogy with infants, but also because the Winnicott account does not involve any uniquely theoretical claim.3 We don’t need Winnicott to note that infants will discover that they are not omnipotent and that others have intentions. An image or an analogy is fair enough. Hegel himself will introduce us to this problem in a highly figurative way and will begin with “animal” intentionality, and will proceed to “death struggles” and to “Masters and Bondsmen.” But the “omnipotence problem” and its “failure” are not in the text, as I will try to show, and the Winnicott reference is easily dispensable. Secondly, Honneth argues that Hegel is in this chapter already advancing a key general claim in his philosophy. With the discovery of another subject that can negate its own desires in the presence of another such self-negating subject, “we can conclude along with Hegel that”: the possibility of self-consciousness requires a kind of proto-morality, for only in the moral self-restriction of the other can we recognize the activity in which our own self instantaneously effects a permanent change in the world and even produces a new reality. (FDR 89) I disagree with both interpretive claims, do not find them supported by the text, and want to argue that the first, the “failure” experience, creates a problem for Hegel’s narrative subject, “consciousness,” where there is none (“omnipotence”), and that the second exaggerates what we are entitled to claim at this point in the book. There is no “moral” self-restriction anywhere in sight yet; there is struggle, death, fear, and domination. If this is proto-morality it is “proto-” beyond recognition. There is certainly no argument that any self-consciousness would not be possible without such a “proto-morality.”4 Honneth makes a number of other important and interesting claims that I do not have space to discuss, but these two also suggest the general direction of his interpretation, and I want to present a counter suggestion about the chapter, another way of reading its place in the book as a whole. Honneth neglects that larger question, and that, I want to show, distorts his reading.5

ii. As with any isolated section of an organic work, one’s view on the right reading of this chapter will be informed not only by a view of what problem

On Honneth’s Interpretation of Hegel  •  97

Hegel is trying to solve in that chapter, but, unavoidably, by some view of where the book as a whole is heading, or how to understand the culmination of Hegel’s project in such claims as the achievement in the last chapter of “Absolute Knowledge.” One sort of anticipation is especially important. The first three chapters of the Phenomenology have already established that any consciousness of an object must also involve a self-relation as well as an other-relation, that consciousness is also always self-conscious. This had become explicit in the previous chapter on the Understanding. (One Hegelian formulation of the point from §82: “Consciousness distinguishes something from itself and at the same time it relates itself to it.” This “relating itself to it” [rather than simply being in a relation to it] quickly becomes the central issue.)6 And yet— and here all the problems start—such an implicit self-consciousness cannot itself be a form of intentional consciousness, consciousness of an object.7 That is, the claim is that all consciousness and all judgment based on perceptual consciousness involve a kind of self-consciousness. At the judgmental level, taking S to be P is thus taking myself to be taking S to be P. It is a judgment only insofar as I am conscious of judging. (I must stand behind what I claim, am committed to defending what I claim, to rejecting what is inconsistent with what I claim.) But in a self-relation like this the self in question (or the taking) cannot be just another object of intentional awareness, is not a mental event we are aware of. If it were, then there would obviously be a regress problem. But of course, stated this way, self-consciousness appears (simply grammatically) to be a dyadic, intentional relation to a special sort of object, me. And yet it cannot be. And this sets the task for the dialectical gymnastics of Chapter IV. If the development of the Phenomenology is understood the way just suggested, then something must be going wrong in Honneth’s version. When Honneth summarizes the convergence with Kant, he talks about a subject “aware of its constitutive, world-creating cognitive acts” (FDR 78). Or that to obtain self-consciousness, the subject must understand itself in its “active role as creator of reality” (FDR 78). This sort of language predominates in Honneth’s essay and is what sets up the Winnicott analogy. But the selfconsciousness in question is not intentional consciousness of mental events, and certainly not of “world-creating” mental “actions.” That is, the large question to which Hegel thinks we have been brought by his account of consciousness in the first three chapters is indeed a familiar Kantian one, but not any such a “world-creation,” whatever that could mean. This question concerns just what it is for a being to be not just a recorder of the world’s impact on one’s senses, but to be for itself in its engagements with objects, including its simple perceptual engagements. That the basic structure of the Kantian account (and so the continuing independence of the world) is

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preserved until this point (that is, no “creation”) is clear from this passage, which, I suggest, cannot be reconciled with Honneth’s radically idealist language and is expressly intended to foreclose that option: With that first moment, self-consciousness exists as consciousness, and the whole breadth of the sensuous world is preserved for it [und für es die ganze Ausbreitung der sinnlichen Welt erhalten], but at the same time only as related to the second moment, the unity of self-consciousness with itself [die Einheit des Selbstbewußtseins mit sich selbst]. (PS §167)8 Hegel is arguing against interpreting the claim that “the truth of consciousness lies in self-consciousness” involves a disappearance of the world into moments of a self-positing world creation. There is no claim that “all of reality is ultimately the content of my mental states” (FDR 78), and Hegel’s criticism of Kant and Fichte in PS §167 is directed at the emptiness of their notions of apperception, not at all that they have not successfully understood world creating acts. Here is the passage that Honneth cites: However, self-consciousness is in fact the reflection out of the being of the sensuous and perceived world and is essentially the return from out of otherness. As self-consciousness, it is movement, but since self-consciousness merely distinguishes itself from itself as itself, that distinction as an otherness is in its eyes immediately sublated. There simply is no distinction, and self-consciousness is merely the motionless tautology of “I am I.” Since in its eyes the distinction does not also have the shape of being, it is not self-consciousness. (PS §167) This summarizes Hegel’s familiar complaint about the mere formality or emptiness of the “highest principle” of both the Kantian and Fichtean project. (The key issue is to be able to understand self-consciousness as “movement” [Bewegung], an issue we shall address shortly.) Again, Hegel says that the objective moments are “preserved.” Right before the “preserved” passage cited above, he had noted the following, emphasizing the two moments, consciousness of objects, and its unity with itself, the selfconsciousness that any such consciousness also is: Otherness thereby exists for it as a being, that is, as a distinguished moment, but, for it, it is also the unity of itself with this distinction as a second distinguished moment. (PS §167)

On Honneth’s Interpretation of Hegel  •  99

Such sensuous objects become appearances, but this does not mean some Berkleyian “mind-dependence.” It means what it had meant in the previous chapter; that the perceptual grasp of how things present themselves sensibly must be understood to involve an active determination of their true objective reality, as in the notion of force, or Kraft, which is never treated as “created.”9 This passage and indeed all of PS §167 indicates that Hegel insists on an acknowledgement that whatever account we give of a self-determining selfconsciousness, it is not a wholly autonomous or independent self-relating; the “sensuous world” must be preserved. This does create a puzzle, the one already mentioned. For this non-intentional implicit self-consciousness cannot be an intuition of a self; the self is not passive with respect to itself in its relation to objects. There is what Kant calls apprehending the contents of inner sense, or there is “empirical apprehension.” But Kant himself always struggles very hard to distinguish such empirical apperception from “transcendental apperception,” the non-isolatable self-relation in relation to any object, of inner or outer sense. And such a self-awareness is also not a conceptual classification. The “I” that thinks itself in apperception has for its content only the I that is thinking itself. (Hegel’s word for such a self-relation that is not a subject–object relation is always “infinity.”) Put another way, the self-consciousness that is a necessary condition of any human doing or thinking adverts to a way of one’s doing or thinking, as if adverbially, and involves no self-inspection. One does what one does, one is aware of what one is aware of, one thinks what one thinks, all knowingly. I suggest that this is the set-up for Chapter IV. Hegel puts it this way at the end of Chapter III. He says that, in trying to get to the real nature of the essence of appearances, “while it undeniably seems to be pursuing something else, it is really just consorting with itself (PS §163). In the Science of Logic, the analogous parallel formulation is that the concept “gives itself its own content” or its “actuality.” The Kantian analogue is that experience requires a categorical structure that is not itself derived. It is at this level that the understanding must be said to experience “only itself.” The determination of these categorical moments is a self-determination of our cognitive power, a selfdetermination that determines what must be the case, with transcendental necessity. We then have to deal, in the deduction, with skepticism about such subjective self-determination, but that would not even be a problem if “constitution” meant “creation.” This, Hegel says, raises the problem: “the cognition of what consciousness knows in knowing itself requires a still more complex movement” (PS §167, m.e.). Hence Chapter IV, the “still more complex movement.” We know of the necessity of a self-relation in relation to any object, even, say, in mere perception, but we have at our disposal only the structure of consciousness as a model for such a relating, and that means

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consciousness of an object and that cannot be the right model. That would presuppose the presupposition we are trying to clarify. Chapter IV will help us see another way of understanding this self-relation.

iii. I mentioned that to some extent how we anticipate Hegel’s overall conclusion in the Phenomenology cannot but be influential in interpreting what this new understanding of a self-relation will be, and I need to say something about that structure in order to respond to Honneth’s views on “life” and “desire.” It is generally agreed that the task of the Phenomenology is to disabuse us in various ways of a representationalist or impositionist or, at the other extreme, naïve realist or naturalist account of consciousness and empirical knowledge. So the basic nature of the mind–world relation, rightly understood, is at issue. Yet it is clear in the work that Hegel is also interested in the proper understanding of the subject’s relation to other subjects. And so the natural question is: what is the role, if any, of understanding the varieties of possible subject–subject relations in understanding properly the subject–world relation, which we now understand also requires the subject’s relation to itself in any relation to an object? Or are they two different topics? Chapters I to III are clearly about the mind–world relation directly, and much of Chapter V and all of Chapters VI and VII are clearly about forms of sociality. Chapter IV stands in the middle. A decision about such interpretive possibilities will not only affect how one reads the rest of the Phenomenology—are such phenomena as stoicism, skepticism, the unhappy consciousness, and the meaning of the Enlightenment aspirations for reason, to be understood as essentially aspirations for forms of life responsive to the social struggle unresolved in Chapter IV, the relation of master and bondsman? Their “meaning”? Or not? Such a reading will also affect how one reads Hegel’s final position on philosophy’s relation to socio-historical actuality, so large issues are at stake. I think (but of course cannot demonstrate here) that the two issues—subject/object and subject/subject—are deeply linked, that that linkage is first on view in Chapter IV, and that Hegel’s demonstration of this link is one of the major achievements of the book. The case for looking at Chapter IV this way has three main parts. In a way that is typical of his procedure, Hegel tries to begin with the most theoretically thin or simple form of the self-relation required by Chapter III, and so considers the mere sentiment of self that a living being has in keeping itself alive, where keeping itself alive reflects this minimal reflective attentiveness to self. Objects are now “for consciousness,” which selfconscious consciousness is a mere “self-sentiment,” a living being, “for itself” as living; that is, needing to sustain life to live, to sustain itself. Such

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a minimal form of self-relatedness is shown not to establish the sort of selfrelatedness required as the desideratum in the first three chapters. He then asks what alters when the object of the desires relevant to maintaining life turns out not to be just another object or obstacle, but another subject and, in effect, he argues that everything changes when our desires are not just thwarted or impeded, but challenged and refused. And he then explores how the presence of such an other subject, in altering what could be a possible self-relation, sets a new agenda for the rest of the Phenomenology, for both the problems of sapience and agency. The central passage where a putative “practical and then social turn” in all this takes place is the following: But this opposition between its appearance and its truth has only the truth for its essence, namely, the unity of self-consciousness with itself. This unity must become essential to self-consciousness, which is to say, selfconsciousness is desire itself. [“Begierde überhaupt,” which could also be translated as “desire in general,” or “desire, generally” or “mere desire.”] (PS §167) But still, at this point, the gloss he gives on the claim that “self-consciousness is desire” is not much help. The gloss is, as if an appositive, “This [the unity of self consciousness with itself] must become essential to self-consciousness, which is to say, etc.” The first hint of a practical turn emerges just here when Hegel implies that we need to understand self-consciousness, even in relation to objects, as a unity to be achieved, that there is some “opposition” between self-consciousness and itself, a kind of self-estrangement, which, he seems to be suggesting, we are moved to overcome. The unity of self-consciousness with itself “muß ihm wesentlich werden,” must become essential to the experiencing subject, a practical turn of phrase that in effect almost unnoticed serves as the pivot around which the discussion turns suddenly and deeply practical. As we shall see, it eventually does much more clearly “become essential” as a result of a putative encounter with another and opposing self-conscious being. It is in this sense that the claim “self-consciousness is desire itself” says the same thing as that the unity of self-consciousness with itself “must become essential to consciousness” and hence that “das heißt.” Hegel then makes another unexpected move when he suggests that we consider the most uncomplicated and straightforward experience of just this striving or orectic for-itself-ness; that we now consider what he calls life, also an important element in Honneth’s interpretation: By way of this reflective turn into itself, the object has become life. What self-consciousness distinguishes from itself as existing also has in

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it, insofar as it is posited as existing, not merely the modes of sense­certainty and perception. It is being which is reflected into itself, and the object of immediate desire is something living. (PS §168)10 What we need now to blunt the impression of an arbitrary shift of topics here is a clearer sense of what Hegel is proposing, not so much what he is rejecting. Let me first complete a brief summary of the themes in Chapter IV (once we begin reading it this non-Honneth way) and then see where we are. The most immediate embodiment of the striving that is a subject’s first intimated relation to itself would be a self’s attention to itself as a living being.11 That is how it is immediately for itself in relation to other objects. Living beings, like animals, do not exist in the way non-living beings (like rocks or telephones) merely exist; living beings must strive to stay alive, and so we have our first example of the desideratum, a self-relation in relation to objects.12 Life must be led, sustained and this gap between my present life and what I must do to sustain it in the future is what is meant by calling consciousness desire as lack or gap, and so a negation of objects as impediments. If consciousness and desire can be linked as closely as Hegel wants to (that is, identified) then consciousness is not an isolatable registering and responding capacity of the living being that is conscious. And if this all can be established then we will at this step have moved far away from considering a self-conscious consciousness as a kind of self-aware spectator of the passing show and moved closer to considering it as an engaged, practical being (and closer to knowing what such a status might have to do with the possibility of knowing anything).13 At points Hegel moves from very general and abstract points about living beings and desire and specifies the distinctive character of desire that counts as “self-consciousness,” as was claimed in his identification. He wants, that is, to distinguish purposive doings that are merely the natural expression of desire (and a being that is merely subject to its desires), and therewith a corresponding form of self-consciousness that is a mere sentiment of self, from actions undertaken in order to satisfy a desire as such; that is, the actions of a being that does not just embody its self-sentiment, but can be said to act on such a self-conception. That a merely desiring subject is not truly a subject, that it is rather subject to its desires and their link to their objects, is what Hegel means in PS §175 when he says that a desiring consciousness constantly experiences the endless cycle of desire and satisfaction. He wants to distinguish between natural or animal desire and human, self-conscious desire and so tries to distinguish a cycle of desires and satisfactions that continually arise and subside in animals from beings for whom their desires can be objects of attention, issues at stake, ultimately reasons to be acted on or not. This occurs in a very rapid series of transitions again in PS §175 where

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Hegel starts distinguishing the cycle of the urges and satisfactions of mere desire from a satisfaction that can confirm the genuinely self-relating quality of consciousness, rather than its mere self-sentiment. So I can see no hint of any “self-deception” in this orectic stance, as Honneth claims (FDR 84). We have mere animal consciousness; we lack what we need to resolve the selfrelation in relation to an other that emerged from the first three chapters, and we will soon find it. That is, we have already seen a crucial aspect of the structure of Hegel’s account: that any self-relating is always also in a way provisional and a projecting outward, beyond the near immediacy of any mere animal selfsentiment. Conscious takings of any sort are defeasible, held open as possibilities and so must be tested; and avowed commitments must be realized in action for there to be any realization of the avowed intention (and so revelation of what the subject was in fact committed to doing). The projected self-sentiment of a merely living self is realized by the “negation” of the object of desire necessary for life, but this is part of an endless cycle of being subject to one’s desires and satisfying them. This all begins to change at the end of the paragraph (PS §175), as Hegel contemplates a distinct kind of object which, in a sense “negates back,” and not merely in the manner of a prey that resists a predator, but that can also, as he says “effect this negation in itself”; or, come to be in the self-relation required by our desiring self-consciousness. That is, Hegel introduces into the conditions of the “satisfaction” of any self-relating another self-consciousness, an object that cannot merely be destroyed or negated in the furtherance of life without the original self-consciousness losing its confirming or satisfying moment. He then identifies a further condition for this distinction that is perhaps the most famous claim in the Phenomenology.

iv. It is this one. “Self-consciousness attains its satisfaction only in another selfconsciousness” (PS §175). He specifies this in an equally famous passage from PS §178. “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself because and by way of its existing in and for itself for an other; i.e., it exists only as recognized.” As he goes on to make clear in the exposition of that claim, Hegel wants to introduce a complication in any account of the self-relation he is trying to show is constitutive for intentional consciousness and purposive deeds. Consciousness is said to be “beyond itself” because its self-relating attentiveness is always defeasible (or challengeable in the case of action) and so its being in its very self-relation in some way “held open” to such a possibility is considered a constitutive condition. (Conscious takings can always “rise” to the level of explicit judgments and defenses of judgments; habitual actions can

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be defended if necessary.) Hegel now introduces the possibility—unavoidable given the way he has set things up—that all such considerations are uniquely open to challenge by other conscious, acting beings. Such challenges could initially be considered as merely more natural obstacles in the way of desiresatisfaction in all the various forms now at issue in Hegel’s account. But by considering imaginatively the possibility of a challenge that forces the issue to the extreme, a “struggle to the death,” Hegel tries to show how the unique nature of such a challenge from another like-minded being forces the issue of the normative (or not just naturally explicable) character of one’s takings and practical commitments, and any possible response, to the forefront.14 To be norm-responsive at all is then shown to be not just open to these unique sorts of challenges, but to be finally dependent on some resolution of them. (This is why, while Hegel has shown that a minimally apperceptive consciousness— the implicit “I think . . . ” that accompanies any consciousness—is a necessary condition of experience—any experience at any historical time—the forms of thinking implicit in any “I think” are not immune to challenge; they are “socially contestable.”) It is on the basis of this account, how we can be shown to open ourselves to such challenges and such dependence just as a result of a “phenomenological” consideration of the implications of the apperception thesis, that Hegel begins his attempt to establish one of the most ambitious claims of the Phenomenology of Spirit: the sociality of consciousness and action. I conclude here with the most serious problem with Honneth’s account, conceding that the alternative account provided here is all initial and remains very abstract. Even conceding that, Honneth seems to leave out something of great and even dramatic importance. I mean Hegel’s appeal to the experience of opposed self-consciousnesses, especially the talk of a struggle to the death. It is fair enough to limit an analysis. No article can discuss everything.15 But where Hegel’s account is heading, here as everywhere, reveals a good deal about whence it came. Honneth seems to me to leap forward to Chapter VI when he moves from these considerations to genuine mutuality, each restricting or negating its desires in the light of the other’s doing so (FDR 88). It is not clear at this point in the book why any agent would do that, as opposed to seeking to subject another’s will to one’s own. I think that what Hegel tries to explain at this point is why it is that we cannot treat as satisfactory any picture of a monadically conceived self-conscious desiring consciousness, a desiring being who can practically classify and who is aware of being a practical classifier and so has a normative sense of properly and improperly classifying, but is imagined in no relation to another such self-conscious classifier or imagined to be indifferent to another’s takings. This is inadequate on the simple empirical premise that there are other such subjects around in a finite world, those other subjects will not and from their point of view cannot allow such pure

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self-relatedness. And Hegel asks us to imagine how an inescapable conflict with others attempting to satisfy their desires forces on one the nature of one’s attachment to life; it is in response to such a conflict that the relation can now count as a commitment, given that one surrendered or sacrificed the original commitment for the sake of life. Life has become a value. But the sketch we have so far of a self-conscious theoretical and practical intentionality simply insures not only that there will be this contention, but that on the premises we have to work with so far, it has to be a profound contention that can, initially or minimally conceived, only be resolved by the death of one, or the complete subjection of one to the other. As noted, morality, even proto-morality, is nowhere yet in view.

Notes   1. In Axel Honneth, “From Desire to Recognition: Hegel’s Account of Human Sociality,” in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Critical Guide, eds. Dean Moyar and Michael Quante (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 76–90. Hereafter, I will refer to this text as FDR, followed by the page number. Page numbers in the text refer to this version of Honneth’s article.   2. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit. I am following here and throughout Terry Pinkard’s valuable facing-page translation, available at The paragraph numbers in the text refer to his translation as well. Henceforth, I will refer to this text as PS, followed by the paragraph number.   3. I mean the appeal to Winnicott in this piece. Object-relations theorists like Winnicott (and Jessica Benjamin) are of course important to Honneth in providing the backing for his claims about the link between self-relations necessary for proper identity formation, like self-confidence, and inter-subjective relations like love. The general idea, that genuine self-identity (a demarcated, stable but flexible ego-identity) is an achievement and that the achievement must also be an inter-subjective one, is certainly, stated that way, a Hegelian idea, but its bearing on this section is what is unclear to me. See Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflict, trans. Joel Anderson (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).   4. I realize of course that Honneth may be concentrating on just that bit of Hegel’s account that interests him. He is obviously aware that in Hegel’s account the positive affective acknowledgement of another as another self in whom I have a stake is an achievement that begins with something quite contrary, a negative acknowledgement (a struggle), and it is clear that in Honneth’s own theory “care” is primordial, not derivative. See his Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea, ed. Martin Jay (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), and Part II, “Morality and Recognition” in his Disrespect: The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007). But he does not himself qualify his account in this way. Indeed he presents it as the only accurate interpretation of the chapter known to him.   5. The alternative interpretation that I will present is defended at greater length in Robert Pippin, Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).   6. The duality of this claim, especially both self- and other-relation are quite important, as will be clear in a moment.   7. Not understanding this properly is what generated the inverted world dilemma, although that cannot be argued here. See Robert Pippin, Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfactions of SelfConsciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 131–142.

106  •  Robert B. Pippin   8. Cf. the Berlin Phenomenology: “In consciousness I am also self-conscious, but only also, since the object has a side in itself which is not mine.” G. W. F. Hegel, The Berlin Phenomenology, trans. Michael John Petrie (Dordrecht: Riedel, 1981), p. 56.   9. Often Honneth’s language switches between the subject’s “constitution” of objects (which implies the right Kantian point: necessary conditions of what objectively exists) and “world creation,” which is not the right gloss on either Kant or Fichte, for that matter. See Robert Pippin, “Fichte’s Alleged One-Sided, Subjective, Psychological Idealism,” in The Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy: Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, ed. Sally Sedgwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 147–170. 10. I note again that Hegel says here “also,” not “instead of.” 11. It may help establish the plausibility of this reading to note how much this practical conception of normativity and intentionality was in the air at the time. Ludwig Siep has clearly established how much Hegel borrowed from Fichte for the later sections on recognition and his practical philosophy in general. See his Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philosophie (Freiburg/Munich: Alber, 1979) and many of the essays in Praktische Philosophie im Deutschen Idealismus (Frankfurt am Main: Surhkamp, 1992). 12. Something at least true in a metaphorical sense for organic beings like plants or microbes. 13. An important interpretation of Chapter IV that builds on this idea: Robert Brandom, “SelfConsciousness and Self-Constitution: The Structure of Desire and Recognition,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 33 (2007): 127–150. 14. Honneth has his own view of the importance of struggle (and, say, the negative experience of misrecognition) in the establishment of self-relations, but that account is also not invoked in this context. See again Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition. 15. That said, Honneth does claim a great deal: that he will explain the “transition from ‘desire’ to ‘recognition,’” and that the “long series” of other interpretations of this issue are “willful and absurd” and this because they (presumably all) fail “to pay any real attention to Hegel’s own formulations” (FDR 77). That is quite a sweeping and unusually (for Honneth) contemptuous (“willful and absurd”) dismissal, and sets a high bar for Honneth’s own claim to have been the only one in the long history of interpretations of this passage to pay attention to Hegel’s text.



F. W. J. Schelling (1775–1854)

Introduction The work of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling is getting increasing attention in the philosophical scholarship. Not only is there, as Paul Guyer points out in Chapter 2, a clear continuity between Kant and Schelling. Also, scholars of this period see Schelling’s work as voicing, from within the framework of German Idealism, the question of whether idealism can at all accommodate a notion of nature, thus allowing us to reconsider the relationship between idealism and naturalism. In the following, Dieter Sturma and Dalia Nassar present two different approaches to these issues. A relatively early contribution to the Anglophone reception of Schelling’s philosophy, Sturma’s article, which is part of a philosophical oeuvre that covers German Idealism, but also ethics and environmental issues, views Schelling’s turn to nature as a response to Kant and Fichte. That is, Schelling’s philosophy of nature is explained in light of the internal problems of transcendental idealism. Nassar, by contrast, asks whether this reading links Schelling up with a philosophical paradigm that he had rejected. Staking out an alternative course of interpretation, Nassar takes Schelling to question the soundness of the idealist paradigm. On her reading, Schelling’s contribution is not simply a matter of furnishing transcendental idealism (understood in terms of its orientation towards self-consciousness) with an adequate category of 107

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nature, but also of introducing the idea that the unity of nature and the subject is ontologically prior to the formation of human consciousness and its conceptual orientations.

Further Reading • Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1993. • Dalia Nassar, The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy, 1795–1804. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. • Lara Ostaric (ed.), Interpreting Schelling: Critical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.



The Nature of Subjectivity The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature DIETER STURMA Translated by Nicholas Walker

i. It is well known that transcendental idealism for Kant simply represents a critical idealism, one that draws the limits of knowledge in terms of the distinction between phenomena, on the one hand, and things in themselves, on the other. According to Kant, the transcendental idealist can also be understood as an empirical realist who refuses to dissolve the duality between our experience and objects of our experience, and concedes the existence of objects independent of the subject.1 The Kantian doctrine of transcendental idealism, irrespective of its various possible forms and modifications, is specifically characterized by a fundamental dualist structure with regard to the distinction between the “given” and the “constituted.” It was precisely this dualism that represented the skandalon of philosophy for the post-Kantian idealists, one that had at all costs to be overcome, despite their recognition of the positive aspects of Kant’s contribution. The early German idealist attempts to articulate a philosophical system are all essentially monistic in character, expressly designed to translate the Kantian dualism into the terms of a monist theoretical model. Nonetheless, with his 109

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System of Transcendental Idealism of 1800—conceived at a time when that dualism was already widely regarded as having been transcended—Schelling took up and modified the question concerning the relative opposition between idealism and realism. For according to Schelling, the concept of transcendental idealism is capable of opening up a perspective from which the opposition between realism and idealism can be seen to derive from a third moment or dimension. [ . . . ] Schelling’s own third path toward transcendental idealism pursues the optimistic program of avoiding both the supposed bifurcation of Kantian dualism and the one-sided perspective of Fichte’s theory of subjectivity in the Science of Knowledge, without falling back into the dark night of an undifferentiated monism. At the beginning of his development, Schelling believed that the project of a philosophy of nature was merely filling in an area that Kant and Fichte themselves had left undeveloped. But now Schelling no longer assumes that subjective idealism—whether in the form of transcen­dental idealism or the Fichtean Science of Knowledge—and the philosophy of nature can merely be conceived in a complementary correspondence to one another. A number of contemporary authors, especially Reinhold, Jacobi, and Fichte, were influential in prompting Schelling’s new conception of transcendental idealism. But by 1800 Schelling had already completed his own turn toward the philosophy of nature. The figures of Plato, Spinoza, Kant of the Third Critique, and, last but not least, Hölderlin, had all been significantly involved in this development. And it was essentially the philosophy of nature that gave Schelling his distinctive philosophical profile toward the end of the 1790s. Nonetheless, very little is known about what effectively and decisively prompted Schelling’s original attempt to revise idealism in terms of a philosophy of nature. While we can certainly identify a number of relevant influences here, they are quite insufficient on their own to explain Schelling’s specific accomplishment in the philosophy of nature, or the particular role that it plays in his thought. We cannot really argue that his desire to develop the general pantheistic approach of early German idealism and romanticism played an important part in this. But Schelling’s own approach is uniquely characterized by the distinctive attempt to connect these speculations on the philosophy of nature directly with the empirical scientific knowledge of the time.2 Apart from examining the sources in the cultural and philosophical background of the age, we could also attempt to clarify the emergence of Schelling’s philosophy of nature by identifying the possible systematic reasons for this development.3 This approach has the advantage of allowing us to eval­ uate the divergence between Schelling’s earlier conception of transcendental idealism and his later position. In the following I shall therefore pursue this second option, and attempt both to outline the motivating systematic reasons

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behind the formulation of Schelling’s philosophy of nature with particular attention to the fundamental criticism of idealism that is involved, and to reconstruct the systematic significance of his philosophy of nature itself.

ii. In the overall context of classical German philosophy, the systematic significance of Schelling’s philosophy of nature, despite its undeniably speculative intentions, lies preeminently in its essentially critical function.4 The attempt to overcome the narrow epistemological limits of transcendental philosophy continues to animate all the numerous modifications and revisions that Schelling would subsequently make in the project of his philosophy of nature. In spite of the fact that his project was explicitly directed against the Kantian version of transcendental philosophy, Schelling nonetheless found encouragement in Kant’s Third Critique in particular. Yet the general critical impetus that Schelling shared with other younger contemporaries—especially with Novalis and Hölderlin—still does not suffice to explain his characteristic path in constructing a philosophy of nature in order finally to translate transcendental idealism into another theoretical context altogether. It is still regarded today as Schelling’s original achievement to have intro­ duced the idea of a philosophy of nature into classical German philosophy in the form of a “prehistory” of reason. Even at a time when he was still much impressed by Fichte’s influential Science of Knowledge, Schelling was already beginning to sketch a theory of self-consciousness in terms of the self-development of nature [ . . . ].5 Schelling develops in terms of the philosophy of nature the basic idealist concept that having a relation to oneself is only possible through simultane­ ously having a relation to something else. For Schelling, that which is distin­ guished from consciousness itself belongs to the “history of self-consciousness.”6 With this idea he initially only takes up Fichte’s project of a “pragmatic history of the human spirit.” But the theoretical perspective assumed by the philosophy of nature soon led Schelling toward positions that far transcend the domain of idealism as it was articulated by Fichte. It is Schelling’s fundamental thesis, and one defended at every stage of his intellectual development, that subjectivity can never become transparent to itself as long as it remains within the immanence of reflection. That is why he attempted to extend the history of self-consciousness in a naturalist direction. In contrast to the epistemological implications of transcendental philosophy, what is given in external reflection does not simply stand opposed to subjectivity, but emerges rather as the visible manifestation of subjectivity’s own history. For Schelling, therefore, self-consciousness is at the very least the provisional culmination of nature’s process of self-development (see SW I, 383).

112  •  Dieter Sturma

But Schelling did not regard some such thesis of mere externalization as sufficient to accomplish the transition from transcendental philosophy to the philosophy of nature. For this thesis initially only sets the given of external reflection over against self-consciousness. From this perspective, the only thing that can be said of nature is that it constitutes a structural element in the self-relation of subjectivity. In the theoretical context of transcendental philosophy, this constructive reductionism is unavoidable, something that is also clearly revealed in the fact that such a philosophy can only provide purely negative determinations for the externality of subjectivity. According to Schelling, the fundamental deficiency of every epistemologically conceived philosophy of subjectivity lies in the fact that it is not interested in the character of that to which self-consciousness relates in external reflection. As a result of this, the effects that are exercised upon self-consciousness by the natural dimensions of human beings are overlooked. In the last analysis, such an approach also generates difficult problems for the theory of reflection itself, because this approach must at least implicitly assume that subjectivity has to do only with itself. But the assumption of a pure self-relation on the part of subjectivity is justified in neither foundational-theoretical nor in phenomenological terms. Schelling provides a simple explanation for the problem of the circularity of subjectivity and self-consciousness that appears insoluble within the narrow limits of epistemological theory. There is absolutely no need to discover ever new metaphorical ways of supposedly overcoming the logic of immanent circularity that attaches to self-consciousness.7 In Schelling’s eyes, all that is required is to interpret the transcendental conditions of subjectivity in a developmental and historical fashion. If it is indeed possible to grasp the given and the conditions of subjectivity in terms of a systematic and developmental prehistory of the fact of subjectivity itself, then there can be no pure self-relation on the part of subjectivity in the first place. According to this perspective, human subjectivity is not condemned ceaselessly to move solely within a closed circle of its own. The systematically pressing task of any philosophy of nature consequently consists in reformulating Kant’s refutation of idealism in such a way that the relata of self-relation appear as simultaneously independent and structurally identical. The immanent circularity of subjectivity can only be broken and an actual relation only be established if the relata are recognized in both their independence and their affinity. The speculative thrust of Schelling’s attempt to extend Kant’s refutation of idealism in the shape of the philosophy of nature consists in the claim that we can only conceive the possibility of self-relation by stepping out beyond the limitations of immanent subjectivity. This model of reflection is characteristic of Schelling’s theory of subjectivity and it reappears in every phase of Schelling’s thought. It is an approach explicitly intended

The Nature of Subjectivity  •  113

to establish a position in which the limits of subjectivity have already been surpassed. The task of demonstrating precisely how this position is possible in detail is fundamental in Schelling’s philosophy of nature. This project of transcending the purely negative determinations of transcendental philosophy in terms of a philosophy of nature nonetheless takes its point of departure precisely from the basic foundations of that philosophy. From the interpretative perspective of early German idealism, these transcendental-philosophical foundations are essentially governed by the idea of self-positing unconditioned subjectivity. In the so-called Das älteste System­ programm des deutschen Idealismus, these foundations are emphatically celebrated as the only possible way of conceiving the thought of a creation ex nihilo. [ . . . ] Over thirty years later, that is, after passing through every stage of his protean philosophical development, Schelling is still describing this thought just as emphatically as before (SW X, 90). [ . . . ] It is clear, therefore, that Schelling does not simply repudiate the idealist concept of self-positing even in the later phases of his thought. But he qualifies the concept by arguing that it cannot actually accomplish what Fichte and the other early idealist thinkers expected to accomplish, namely, to resolve the problem of the transition from the immanence of subjectivity to the objectivity of subjectivity. As far as the recognition of the idea of an objectivity independent of subjectivity is concerned, Fichte’s Science of Knowledge in Schelling’s eyes even represented a decisive regression in comparison with Kant’s thought. When he compared the two positions directly, Schelling attributed more objectivity to the Kantian critique of knowledge than he did to the post-Kantian project of the Science of Knowledge. For all its objective intentions the concept of self-positing still harbors a number of egocentric connotations. In Schelling’s view, it is particularly well-suited to flattering our self-centered attitudes. The concept in question could not redeem its promised access to the unconditioned, since subjective idealism was incapable of providing an argument to prove that the world of objects as given in experience exists only for and on the basis of human subjectivity. The unconditioned domain that was promised reveals itself, on the contrary, as an admission of dependency, since the reflecting consciousness constantly experiences with regard to itself that it does not dispense with the spatiotemporally given objects of its perception. Once the theoretical context of the philosophy of nature is provided, the self-certainty of the subject loses all appearance of being something entirely without presuppositions. Anyone who attempts to derive the dependency of the objects of outer reflection from the supposedly unconditional character of self-certainty fails, according to Schelling, to think through the problem of self-consciousness to the very end:

114  •  Dieter Sturma

But it is immediately revealed here that although indeed the external world is only there for me insofar as I am also there and conscious of myself (and this is obvious), it is also true on the other hand that while I am there for myself, and am conscious of myself, that with this explicit affirmation that I am, I also find the world already—there—in being, and thus that the already conscious ego cannot possibly produce the world. (SW X, 93) The fact that an external world exists for me does not mean that there is an external world only for me or only through me. The immanence of subjectivity that appeared so indestructible for Fichte is, according to Schelling, simply the result of a far-reaching mistake in the argument itself. It is because idealism is incapable of grasping its own presuppositions that it supposes it contains these presuppositions solely within itself. Only an idealism that has failed to understand itself properly sets itself up in opposition to a naturalist realism. [ . . . ]

iii. It must be admitted that great difficulties are involved in providing theoretical justification for Schelling’s various systematic attempts to develop a philosophy of nature. Nonetheless, the critical problematization of idealism that prepared the way for Schelling’s speculations on the philosophy of nature remains highly significant in itself. This problematization was intrinsically determined by considerations all of which represented constructive reactions to the narrowly focused analysis of subjectivity characteristic of the Critical philosophy and of Fichte’s Science of Knowledge. For Schelling, that which is given independent of consciousness and that which is posited in and through consciousness are essentially one and the same. If some such identity thesis is not presupposed, according to Schelling, both the nature within myself and the nature outside of me must continue to remain utterly incomprehensible. But since nature is temporally prior, then subjectivity itself, quite apart from the question concerning the underlying principle of both, acquires the form of an intrinsically altered nature. The constructive advantage attaching to the naturalist derivation of subjectivity consists above all in the fact that all the externalization and correspondence problems that beset transcendental philosophy and subjective idealism appear to be resolved in a single stroke. Schelling perspicuously formulated the problem involved in the externali­ zation of subjectivity, and his interpretation of the “I am” goes beyond merely identifying the unconditioned character of self-certainty. For he also attempted to show that “even presupposing Fichte’s proposition that

The Nature of Subjectivity  •  115

everything only is through and for the ego, it is still possible to comprehend the objective world” (SW X, 95). What Schelling had already emphatically invoked in his Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, as the human striving toward an unchangeable selfhood (see SW I, 335), reappeared transformed in the context of the philosophy of nature as the “labor of self-awareness” (SW X, 93): It is only in and through this labor that the authentic capacity of subjectivity is revealed, which essentially consists in nothing else but discovering itself in the nature that lies beyond it and the nature that develops within it. Schelling summarizes this idea in 1827 in On the History of Modern Philosophy: I therefore attempted, in a word, to explain that indissoluble connection between the ego and the external world which it necessarily represents to itself by recourse to a transcendental past of this ego that precedes our actual or empirical consciousness, an explanation which thereby led me towards the idea of a transcendental history of the ego. (SW X, 93/94) For Schelling, this “transcendental past” of the ego was no mere extravagant flight of speculation that transfigured the time before the ego came to consciousness of itself. If the fundamental proposition of Cartesian thought is only properly understood, it is seen to lead toward the idea of the transcen­ dental past (SW X, 94). [ . . . ] The concept of the transcendental past is a metaphorical expression that results from combining a temporal and an epistemological determination. The construction of the concept thereby connects the systematic conditions of the possibility of self-consciousness with the presuppositions of its own developmental history. The constructive connection between epistemology and developmental history thus extends the meaning of the basic Cartesian thesis of the “I am.” For it now expresses an idea of self-certainty that determines the instantaneous intuition of one’s own existence as a result rather than simply as an entirely self-sufficient point of departure. Schelling’s fundamental claim, namely that the “I am” is already an expression of the process of “coming to awareness” of the ego, does not attempt to grasp self-consciousness from the perspective of its psychological selfevidence or familiarity with itself. It attempts rather to demonstrate that self-consciousness is not exclusively a question of self-certainty or selffamiliarity, and that a series of conditions within self-consciousness must already be fulfilled if the latter is to arise at all. What distinguishes this basic claim from the epistemologically structural history of self-consciousness already developed in Kant’s Critical philosophy and in Fichte’s Sci­ ence of Knowledge, is the assumption that the reconstructed conditions of

116  •  Dieter Sturma

self-consciousness must be at least partly identical in structure to the phe­ nomenon of self-consciousness. The idea of the ego’s “coming to awareness of itself” in the “I am” possesses a decentering function: The subject of self-consciousness sees itself as a reflective instantiation of a dimension that is not itself egocentrically structured. To that extent, the phenomenon of self-consciousness takes on the significance of a process of coming to awareness through which nature becomes partially transparent to itself in the form of the rational individual. In evaluating this idea of “coming to self-awareness” in the “I am,” we must also take care to distinguish between the subjective standpoint of the finite individual and that transindividual objectivity that Schelling calls Ego or “Geist.” The idea of “coming to self-awareness” implicit in the “I am” is thus subject to further differentiation. The path from self-exteriority to self-awareness is a movement from impersonal to personal subjectivity: I can only become conscious of myself if I encounter an external world in a manner that itself stands under the conditions of a transindividual and impersonal subjectivity. With this concept of coming to self-awareness in the “I am,” it is striking just how close Schelling comes to Kant’s epistemology of self-consciousness. For the latter is also constructed from combining transcendental determinations and concepts that relate essentially to the actually occurring phenomena of consciousness. According to Kant, the identity of self-consciousness can only be maintained over time because the synthesis of the given manifold, of the data of consciousness, stands under the condition of the transcendental unity of apperception.8 As a typical post-Kantian philosopher, Schelling takes a further step. He subjects Kant’s epistemologically negative determinations, such as “the transcendental unity of apperception” or the “given of sensible intuition,” to a naturalist extension of meaning. The idea of a genetic isomorphism of nature and spirit as derived from the real existence of finite selfconsciousness is particularly significant in this context (SW X, 94). The fact that the referential character and the coherence of human experience cannot be grasped exclusively from the subjective standpoint lends an initial plausibility to the position of problematic idealism. It is only a more penetrating analysis of human experience that can bring the decisive presupposition to the focus of philosophical attention: namely, that genetic isomorphism of nature and spirit in which finite subjectivity participates. If no such isomorphism had developed in the first place, then there could never be any consciousness either of inner or outer nature. In that case, there could be no practical reciprocal action between subjectivity and nature, and the sensible perception of objects and events of nature could never arise. The circumstance that the genetic isomorphism of nature and spirit represents the condition of the possibility of our experience and interaction with natural processes and events does not itself signify, however, that acting

The Nature of Subjectivity  •  117

and knowing subjects could exercise cognitive mastery over this isomorphism. We are certainly capable of responding to it practically, but as such it remains opaque to us. According to Schelling, our every representation of the external world is as blind as it is necessary. Schelling’s deduction of the objectivity of subjectivity is based upon the thesis that finite subjectivity is itself involved in the developmental history of this isomorphism of nature and spirit. What might initially appear as nothing but speculative flights of natural philosophy are actually derived from fundamental considerations that are not formally unlike those that support Kant’s transcendental deduction of the pure concepts of the understanding. Schelling, too, attempts to derive and justify the referential character and coherence of human experience in a single step. The important distinction between Kant’s and Schelling’s deduction consists in their differing interpretations of the fact that the conditions of the possibility of self-consciousness cannot themselves be correlated with experiential states. Whereas Kant is content, with typical critical modesty, to point out that I am not explicitly conscious of the original unity of my representations under self-consciousness in general,9 Schelling entertains the possibility of deriving the conditions of the referential character and coherence in human experience from the ways in which nature manifests itself: But insofar as the ego now becomes an individual ego—something which indeed immediately announces itself in the “I am”—insofar as it has now arrived at this “I am” with which its individual life commences, it no longer recalls the path which it has traversed up to this point, but since consciousness only emerges precisely at the end of this path, the (now individual) ego has traversed the path towards consciousness itself quite unconsciously and unknowingly. This is what explains the blindness and necessity of its representations of the external world, as well as the identity and universality of the same in all individuals. The individual ego now finds in its consciousness nothing but the monuments, the memorials as it were, of the path rather than the path itself. (SW X, 94/95) This metaphor of the monuments and memorials of the path that lead to consciousness cannot simply be explained as an extravagant expression of the philosophy of nature. It actually helps Schelling address the ambitious task of rendering the exteriority of the self accessible to consciousness in a different form. For the concrete labor of “coming to self-awareness” is essentially concerned with nothing else but this prior exteriority on the part of consciousness. It might seem plausible to suspect the presence of some form of subjective idealism still lurking behind the image of the process of “coming to

118  •  Dieter Sturma

self-awareness,” to interpret the latter simply as a continuation, albeit it a highly complicated one, of the idealist conception of self-creation. Such an interpretation, however, would certainly fail to grasp the specific character of Schelling’s argumentation as opposed to that found in Fichte. As far as Schelling is concerned, it is an unshakable fact of finite existence that the latter does not simply possess the external and inner conditions of its own “coming to self-awareness” at its own disposal. Our various forms of theoretical and practical dependence upon inner and outer nature impose narrow limits on the possibility of self-knowledge. By virtue of the naturalist incorporation of subjectivity, these forms of dependency continue to exercise their effects and do not simply lose their influence when rational individuals enter into the domain of explicit consciousness and self-consciousness. This circumstance is the reverse side, as it were, of the various gradated levels involved in nature, spirit, and subjectivity. If the boundaries here are fluid ones, then the various dispositions and characteristics of human individuals cannot rigidly be detached from these contexts. All processes of self-knowledge must therefore also recognize the possibility that those determinations that we identify as the motivating reasons for our own attitudes, perspectives, and modes of behavior are not necessarily the true causes of the latter. As for Kant, for Schelling self-knowledge in the strict sense of the word is impossible. Whereas Kant in this connection points to epistemological reasons for this, and to the limited discursive means at the disposal of rational individuals, Schelling regards the natural history of subjectivity as representing the decisive obstacle to a fully cognitive self-relation. In accordance with this account, self-knowledge must be grasped as a process that must transpire in some harmonious relation to that natural history. But that is certainly a task that dramatically exceeds the powers of the individual. From a naturalist perspective the life of persons represents nothing but an “eternal fragment,” and our cognitive relationship to ourselves must likewise remain a fragment.10 Schelling’s notion of the process of “coming to self-awareness” was originally motivated by the fundamental thought: “no relation to the self without a relation to nature.” It is precisely the truth of this thought that prevents us from ever finally concluding this process either practically or cognitively. Of course it is also true in a quite trivial sense that self-knowledge is ultimately a neverending process, but Schelling was able to go further than this and reveal that self-knowledge is inconclusive not only on the basis of the finitude of reflective life itself, but also by virtue of those naturally determined components from which that life is first composed. According to Schelling, the conception of the process of “coming to selfawareness” through the movement from a prior self-exteriority toward a reconstructed self-exteriority only finds its ultimate completion in a theory of

The Nature of Subjectivity  •  119

the self-limitation of reason itself. Schelling first began to elaborate this theory in his Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom in 1809, which marked a decisive break with idealist conceptions of freedom in particular and indeed with typically idealist strategies of argumentation in general.11 Schelling’s theory of the self-limitation of reason ultimately and effectively culminated in the diagnosis that human reason in itself is groundless and can only find its essence in something outside or beyond itself.

iv. [ . . . ] After 1800, the path of Schelling’s philosophical thought became increasingly radical and this in turn also forced him to advance far beyond the concepts of externalization that he had explored in his philosophy of nature. The culminating products of this radical development are the Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom and the Philosophy of Revelation, which both oppose the position elaborated in The System of Transcendental Idealism, a new philosophy in which existence and the ground of existence can no longer be brought into systematic connection with one another. Schelling’s later works undertake to engage the question concerning the very ground of existence from which nature and man alike first emerge. But he no longer seeks the answer to this question within a closed idealist system. He now accepts the seemingly inevitable impossibility of such philosophical and systematic closure. This progressive radicalization of Schelling’s speculation in these works thereby departs decisively from the general monist perspective shared by the other representative thinkers of German idealism. In this sense, Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom must really be seen as the great alternative project to Hegel’s Phe­ nomenology of Spirit. [ . . . ]

Notes   1. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1956), A369f./B 518ff.   2. Cf. Wolfgang Wieland, “Die Anfänge der Philosophie Schellings und die Frage nach der Natur,” in Materialien zu Schellings philosophischen Anfängen, eds. Manfred Frank and Gerhard Kurz (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975), pp. 237–79; Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Ergänzungsband zu Werke, Band 5 bis 9. Wissenschaftshistorischer Bericht zu Schellings Naturphilosophischen Schriften 1797–1800 (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1994).   3. In the context of a historical reconstruction of philosophy, much is to be learned from the recent edition of Schelling’s early commentary on Plato’s Timaeus: F. W. Schelling, “Timaeus” (1794), ed. Hartmut Buchner (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1994). [See Section IV of the full-length version of the present essay; Sturma’s discussion of Schelling’s Plato is left out in this volume.] For further interpretation of Schelling’s Science of Knowledge, see Manfred Baum, “The Beginnings of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature,” in The Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, ed. Sally Sedgwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 199–216.

120  •  Dieter Sturma   4. See my essay, “Schellings Subjektivitätskritik,” in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 44 (1996): 429–46. Cf. Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 30–44.   5. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Sämmtliche Werke (Stuttgart and Augsburg: J. G. Cotta’scher Verlag, 1856–61) [henceforth cited as SW], vol. I, p. 123. All translations from the original texts are by Nicholas Walker.   6. SW I, 382. For the concept and overall idea of a history of self-consciousness in the context of a philosophy of nature, see SW I, 382ff. and III, 395ff. Cf. my essay, “Die Odyssee des Geistes. Schellings Projekt einer naturphilosophischen Geschichte des Selbstbewußtseins,” in Philosophie der Subjektivität? Zur Bestimmung des neuzeitlichen Philosophierens, vol. 2, eds. H. M. Baumgarter and W. G. Jacobs (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1993), pp. 580–90.   7. As is well known, it was Fichte who explicitly attempted to realize this project. According to Dieter Henrich, it was this that led him toward his “original insight” into the nature of selfconsciousness; see Dieter Henrich, “Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht,” in Subjektivität und Metaphysik, eds. D. Henrich and H. Wagner (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1966), pp. 188–232 [published, in part, as Chapter 3 in this volume]. Cf. my Kant über Selbstbewußtseins. Zum Zusammenhang von Erkenntniskritik und Theorie des Selbstbewußtseins (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1986), pp. 107–27.   8. As is well known, it was Fichte who explicitly attempted to realize this project. According to Dieter Henrich, it was this that led him toward his “original insight” into the nature of self-consciousness; see Dieter Henrich, “Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht,” in Subjektivität und Metaphysik, eds. D. Henrich and H. Wagner (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1966), pp. 188–232 [published, in part, as Chapter 3 in this volume]. Cf. my Kant über Selbstbe­ wußtseins. Zum Zusammenhang von Erkenntniskritik und Theorie des Selbstbewußtseins (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1986), pp. 107–27.   9 . See Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 131ff. [§16]; cf. Dieter Sturma, Kant über Selbstbe­ wußtsein. Zum Zusammenhang von Erkenntniskritik und Theorie des Selbstbewußtseins (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), pp. 30–106. 10. See Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 132f. 11. SW III, 608. Cf. my Philosophie der Person. Die Selbstverhältnisse von Subjektivität und Mora­ lität (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1997), pp. 232–40.



Nature as Unconditioned? The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Early Works DALIA NASSAR

Dieter Sturma’s “The Nature of Subjectivity: The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature,” was one of the first systematic accounts of Schelling’s philosophy of nature published in English. In the 1990s, Fichte and especially Hegel had received a warm welcome in Anglophone scholarship, while Schelling remained a well-kept secret, with the exception of Andrew Bowie’s 1993 Schelling and Modern Philosophy and Dale Snow’s Schelling and the End of Idealism (1996). Like Snow’s book, Sturma’s article focuses on the question of nature and its relation to transcendental philosophy, especially Fichtean idealism. His aim is to explicate the “critical significance” of the philosophy of nature, that is, the way in which the philosophy of nature offered a response to and a criticism of key Fichtean claims. For Sturma, this involves justifying the turn to the philosophy of nature from out of transcendental philosophy. He thus situates Schelling within transcendental philosophy—within the parameters defined by both Kant and Fichte—and seeks to explain how and why Schelling moved beyond these parameters. In other words, Sturma reads Schelling as a postKantian philosopher, who came to recognize, early on, the inherent problems of Kant’s dualisms and Fichte’s subjectivism. He sought to resolve these problems, Sturma maintains, through the philosophy of nature. 121

122  •  Dalia Nassar

There is much to laud in Sturma’s explication of the reasons why Schelling moved beyond both Kant and Fichte. For one, Sturma’s systematic approach offers important insights into the difficulties of transcendental philosophy, and thus makes a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of philosophical method. In addition, it illustrates and underscores Schelling’s significance: why we should be concerned with Schelling’s philosophy in general and with his Naturphilosophie in particular. These are valiant goals and Sturma goes some way toward achieving them. Yet, his understanding of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie and its relation to transcendental philosophy remains bound to a conception of nature that Schelling had in fact rejected.1 After all, Schelling’s claim was not simply that nature is, as Sturma puts it, a structural moment in the development of consciousness. Rather, his claim is that nature must be regarded as unconditioned. What does Schelling mean by the unconditioned, and how can nature be regarded as such? In the following, my aim is to answer precisely these questions. Contrary to Sturma, I argue that in order to understand the critical function of the philosophy of nature, it is necessary to determine Schelling’s conception of the unconditioned and clarify how Schelling came to think of nature as unconditioned. Furthermore, and in contrast to the majority of scholarship, I argue that both the sources and justification of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie can only be found in Schelling’s earliest philosophical writings, On the Possibility of a Form of Philosophy in General (1794) and On the I as a Principle of Philosophy (1795).

i. Sturma’s Goals By outlining the problems with Fichte’s account of the self as self-positing, and arguing that it cannot achieve what it purports to achieve—namely a “transition from the immanence of subjectivity to the objectivity of subjectivity”—Sturma lays the ground for Schelling’s move to the philosophy of nature. According to Sturma, Schelling shows that subjectivity is possible only if it can recognize itself “in that which it is not.” Self-consciousness, in other words, cannot be achieved through a kind of direct intuition or self-certainty. More conditions must be met in order for self-consciousness to arise—and these conditions, Sturma maintains, have to do with the “pre-history” of consciousness, with consciousness before it becomes self-consciousness, that is, with nature. Thus, according to Sturma, nature constitutes a “structural element in the self-relation of subjectivity.” Nature in other words, is a fundamental moment or element in the development of subjectivity. This (restricted) conception of nature may have to do with Sturma’s choice of texts. Although Schelling wrote several significant works that directly concern the philosophy of nature—the Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797),

Nature as Unconditioned?  •  123

On the World Soul (1798), the First Outline for a Philosophy of Nature and its Introduction (1799)—Sturma does not reference these writings. Instead, he introduces the theme of nature through the 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism—a work that Schelling considered to be a necessary counterpoint to the writings on the philosophy of nature, and thus not an exposition of it. As the title indicates, the System of Transcendental Idealism offers an account of the development of subjectivity through a series of conditions that enable the emergence of self-consciousness. Nature is one of these moments. While the System takes the subject as its starting point and final goal, the First Outline takes nature as its starting point—or as Schelling puts it in the first paragraph, it regards nature as the “unconditioned” (HKA 1/7, 78).2 The fundamental claim of the philosophy of nature then is that nature—not the self—is the first principle of philosophy and the ground of being and knowledge. This has significant implications, both for Sturma’s interpretation of Schelling and for Schelling. If the philosophy of nature conceives of nature as the unconditioned or first principle, then nature cannot be deemed a mere moment or structural element in the development of the subject, as Sturma claims. In turn, if the philosophy of nature is a counterpoint to transcendental philosophy, it implies that nature must be regarded in the same way as the I. How is this possible? This is the question that underlies the philosophy of nature, and it is the question that ultimately leads to Schelling’s break with Fichte. It is also a question that Sturma does not directly address. After all, Sturma interprets Schelling’s philosophy of nature as an aspect of a larger philosophy of subjectivity, in which nature plays a critical and systematic role, but is not regarded as independent of the history of subjectivity. So long as Naturphilosophie is a mere structural element within transcendental philosophy, the grounds for its independence from transcendental philosophy need not be considered. Yet, even in the System, Schelling affirms the equal status of the philosophy of nature and transcendental philosophy: “Neither transcendental philosophy nor the philosophy of nature is adequate by itself,” he writes, “both sciences together are alone able to do it” (HKA 1/9.1, 25). In turn, following the publication of the System Schelling became convinced of the priority of the philosophy of nature, writing in the “Allgemeine Deduction des dynamischen Processes” (1800), “the true direction for that which is valid for knowledge everywhere, is the direction which nature itself has taken” (HKA 1/8, 366). Thus, in contrast to the view expressed in the System, Schelling here maintains that the philosophy of nature is not only a necessary counterpoint to transcendental philosophy, but—more radically—its very foundation. In light of this, Sturma’s interpretation seems lacking. In the first instance, it does not recognize and explicate the equality between Naturphilosophie

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and transcendental philosophy, as expressed in the System, and, furthermore, it ignores the foundational role that nature plays in Schelling’s later thought. This means that to understand the philosophy of nature, and grasp Schelling’s justification of it over against the Wissenschaftslehre, it is not enough to conceive of the former as a moment of the latter. Rather, it is essential to determine the way in which Schelling conceived of nature as unconditioned. Recent work on German idealism has taken up this challenge, arguing that it is in Schelling’s conception of nature as unconditioned that the break with Fichte and the inauguration of an entirely new brand of idealism is to be found. Frederick Beiser distinguishes Schelling as an “objective” or “absolute” idealist, in contrast to both Kant and Fichte’s “subjective” idealism.3 Similarly, Robert Richards emphasizes a key transformation in Schelling’s understanding of nature, in which Schelling sheds his Fichtean account of nature, as elaborated in the Ideas, and develops a philosophy of nature in which nature—and not the self—is the first principle.4 However, in spite of the increased interest in Schelling’s philosophy of nature, and the general sympathy with which many interpreters have treated it, its philosophical justification remains a hotly debated topic. Eckart Förster’s critical assessment of Schelling’s methodology is the most recent addition to the controversy surrounding the status and legitimacy of the philosophy of nature. According to Förster, while Schelling was right to claim that “the origin of nature is not in the I,” he was wrong in that he treated nature in the very same way that he treated the self.5 Schelling’s mistake, in other words, has to do with misunderstanding Fichte’s insight regarding the unconditioned nature of the I. Only the I is unconditioned because it alone is both the producer and the product of knowledge. No such productive relationship is possible in the context of nature. Nature, after all, remains other than and outside of the self. The question thus remains regarding the philosophical status of Schelling’s claim that nature is “unconditioned.” On what grounds does Schelling determine the unconditioned character of nature, and how does he justify this claim in relation to transcendental philosophy? It is only by answering these questions that one can begin to understand the “critical function” of Naturphilosophie in Schelling’s thought.

ii. Schelling’s Early Conception of the Unconditioned One of the great difficulties of understanding Schelling’s philosophy of nature has to do with determining its relation to his other writings, in particular those that preceded it. After all, it is precisely during the time in which Schelling is allegedly most influenced by Fichte that he began to develop his philosophy of nature.6 Thus, questions concerning the context out of which Schelling’s

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Naturphilosophie arose and the sources that may have inspired his turn to the philosophy of nature have been central in the various attempts to understand Schelling’s development and his move to the philosophy of nature. Sturma’s interpretation reaffirms the widely held view that in the years between 1794 and 1799, Schelling was undertaking a Fichtean project.7 This of course makes Schelling’s turn to the philosophy of nature highly mysterious (why, how, and when did Schelling alter his views?) and even problematic. If the move to the philosophy of nature is placed within a Fichtean framework, it seems very likely that Schelling constructed the philosophy of nature on the basis of Fichtean insights and concepts (such as intellectual intuition). As such, Förster’s critique should not be surprising. But in what sense and to what extent was Schelling working within a Fichtean framework in the mid to late 1790s? Did he undergo a fundamental break with his previously held (Fichtean) views in 1799 or 1800? Or was the move to the philosophy of nature a gradual, even immanent shift—one that coincides with (rather than opposes) views put forth in his preceding writings? A careful reading of Schelling’s earliest systematic writings reveals a complex story— one that is hardly the focus of contemporary scholarship. Schelling’s first writings were not uniformly in line with Fichte’s premises, and Schelling was not clearly, or always, a disciple of Fichte’s. Most importantly, Schelling’s notion of the “unconditioned,” as elaborated in these early works, bears little resemblance to Fichte’s. To begin with, it is important to understand why Schelling came to the conclusion that philosophy must be based on an unconditioned first principle, or Grundsatz. In 1794 Schelling was familiar with the skeptical critiques of Kantian philosophy, and saw it as the task of philosophy to respond to these attacks. Thus he commences his first systematic work, On the Possibility, with an acknowledgement of both Reinhold’s and Fichte’s efforts to overcome skepticism, and a brief mention of Fichte’s review of the anonymously published skeptical work Aenesidemus (1792).8 Schelling agrees with Fichte and Reinhold that a first principle or Grundsatz is the only means by which to guard critical philosophy against skepticism. The problem with Kant, Schelling goes on, is that he merely suggested such a principle, but did not establish it. He writes: Kant stopped at the mere statement that the original form of all philosophy is available, without however connecting it with any ultimate principle. Even the connection of this form (which he had stated to be the form of all possible thinking) with the particular forms of thinking (which he had at first set up in exhaustive fullness) was nowhere stated by him so definitely as it would seem necessary. From where did that distinction, analytic and synthetic judgments come?

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Where is the principle on which the first form is based? Where is the principle from which the particular forms of thinking derive, those which Kant enumerates without relating them to a higher principle? These questions still remain unanswered. (HKA 1/1, 289) In other words, for Schelling (as it was for Reinhold and Fichte), the only way to unify the various elements of thought and to unify thought and its object (i.e., achieve the transcendental deduction) is through determining the principle that underlies thought. What is it, Schelling asks, that makes judging possible? Or, what is the ground for the most fundamental principle of thought, the principle of identity?9 This question was the focus of Fichte’s early investigations, leading him to conclude that the very possibility of the principle of identity implies a self-reflective structure. In other words, a = a is contingent on the structure of consciousness, namely I = I. According to Fichte, the fundamental proposition or Grundsatz must meet two key criteria: first, it must be knowable—a principle that one “does know and can know”—because a principle that is unknowable cannot explain how and why a science works (GA 1/2, 113). Second, it must be certain, because it is only through a “common certainty [Gewißheit]” that the propositions in the system can be connected to one another and to the Grundsatz (GA 1/2, 114). This means that the Grundsatz must be established in relation to a knower— an individual consciousness. Thus, Fichte locates the science of knowledge within the perspective of the knowing I. Or, as he puts it in On the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre (1794), “The proposition ‘A = A’ is originally valid only for the I. It is a proposition derived from the proposition ‘I am I’” (GA 1/2, 140). In other words, the certainty of the Grundsatz is established through its self-certainty, its immediate self-evidence, which is based on a self-reflective first-person perspective. In contrast to Fichte, Schelling argues that what characterizes philosophy as science is that all of its principles are based on or derived from one principle. In other words, it is not the notion of immediate certainty that underlies scientific unity; rather, scientific unity is achieved insofar as all the parts and their relations are determined in accordance with “one condition,” which is “unconditioned” (HKA 1/1, 269). The Grundsatz is thus not understood in terms of certainty or insight into certainty, but as the unconditioned condition. Furthermore, Schelling distinguishes the “inner form” and the “outer form” of the Grundsatz, identifying the inner form with self-positing as such and the outer form with the form of identity. The former, he maintains, precedes and makes possible the latter (HKA 1/1, 274). Thus, he grants priority to the self-positing I and distinguishes it from the logical form of identity, or the self-reflective “I am I.”

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By indicating a difference between self-positing, on the one hand, and the form of unconditioned positing, on the other, Schelling distinguishes between the I as a self-causing cause, a self-determining reality, and the I as a member of the formal structure of positing, a self-identical, self-reflective consciousness. For Schelling, then, the Grundsatz is unconditioned not because it is self-evidently certain, but because it is positing itself: das Setzende. Thus, he describes the unconditioned as an “absolute causality (absolute Causalität),” whose “being-posited is not determined by anything but itself, which therefore posits itself” (HKA 1/1, 280). In other words, the unconditioned is not determined by and is therefore not equivalent to the certainty that is achieved through reciprocal determination, that is, the certainty achieved in selfconsciousness. Rather, it is an original positing that precedes and makes the structure of reciprocal determination possible. In turn, because it precedes the self-reflective, self-determining structure of consciousness, the unconditioned cannot be grasped by it. In light of this, a fundamental difference between Schelling’s understanding of the unconditioned and Fichte’s becomes clear. The distinction between the self-positing I and the structure of identity—between the “inner form” that precedes and makes possible the “outer form”—means that the unconditioned is not reducible to the self-reflective “I am I.” Rather, self-reflective consciousness is derived from an original self-positing or absolute causality—a causality that is neither subjective nor objective, but makes both subjective consciousness and the objects of experience possible. In other words, the unconditioned is not a product of subjectivity, nor is it an object opposed to subjectivity. It is neither thinking nor being, but that which precedes and makes their very relation possible. Thus, Schelling writes at the beginning of Of the I (1795), “the ultimate ground of reality is a something [Etwas], which is thinkable only through itself, through its being, briefly, it is that in which the principle of thought and being are one” (HKA 1/2, 86). For, he elaborates, “we are talking here about the absolute I, this should be the genus of all reality, and all reality must coincide with it, that is, must be its reality. The absolute I must contain the data, the absolute content that determines all being, all possible reality” (HKA 1/2, 112).

iii. The Philosophy of Nature In his commentary on the 1809 edition of his philosophical writings, Schelling remarks that Of the I represents idealism “in its freshest appearance, and maybe in a sense, which it later loses. At least the I is still thought of everywhere as absolute, or as absolute identity of subjective and objective, not as something subjective” (HKA 1/4, 58). Indeed, in the years between 1796 and 1799, Schelling oscillated between various (and competing) conceptions of both philosophy in general and the

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philosophy of nature in particular, and in some instances came very close to Fichte’s subjective account of nature as a “product” of our “spirit [Geist]” (SW 1/1, 386). Thus, in the Ideas he argues that the aim of Naturphilosophie is not to determine “whether and how that assemblage of phenomena and the series of causes and effects, which we call the course of nature, has become actual outside us.” Rather, the aim is to grasp “how they have become actual for us” (SW 1/2, 29–30). The goal, in other words, is not to grasp nature as unconditioned, as the absolute causality that determines both being and knowing, but to grasp nature as a particular product of our spirit. In spite of this, Schelling draws an important distinction between natural entities and works of art, which suggests that natural beings must be conceived as independent of a thinking subject. Just like works of art, organisms are composed of parts that are organized in accordance with an idea. There is no arbitrariness or contingency in the relations between the parts or the functions that they perform. However, while in the artwork, the intention (or concept) lies outside of the work, in the mind of the artist, in nature the concept is internal to the organized entity, such that nature can only be appropriately described as self-organizing. Thus, Schelling writes, “This concept dwells in the organization itself, and can by no means be separated from it; it organizes itself” (SW 1/2, 41). Although Schelling does not realize the implications of this claim in the Ideas, it is the insight that underlies his understanding of nature in the years that follow. Thus, in the Outline and its Introduction—the two texts in which Schelling’s “break” with Fichte is most clearly evident—Schelling argues that nature must not be considered as a product of our spirit (or mind), but as self-producing (HKA 1/8, 35). Precisely because the concept (or cause) is internal to nature, nature cannot be conceived as a product or effect of something else. Thus, just as Schelling describes the absolute I in Of the I as absolute causality, so here he distinguishes nature as unconditioned precisely because it is self-causing. It is not a product of the reflective structures of consciousness (conditioned by thought), but unconditioned productivity. On account of this, Schelling criticizes the use of transcendental methods for the philosophy of nature. While transcendental philosophy seeks to derive nature from mind, or the real from the ideal, the true method of Naturphilosophie, he proclaims, requires that “the ideal . . . arise out of the real and admit of explanation from it.” Thus, Schelling goes on, “there is no place in this science for idealistic methods of explanation, such as transcendental philosophy is fitted to supply.” Naturphilosophie will proceed by following “the first maxim of all true natural science, to explain everything by the forces of nature” (HKA 1/8, 31). The philosophy of nature, in other words, must not only begin with the idea of nature as unconditioned, but must also seek to explain all natural phenomena through this first principle or fundamental

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premise. We no longer explain nature insofar as its structures correspond to those of the mind, but rather explain the mind out of the structures of nature.

iv. The Critical Function of the Philosophy of Nature Although in On the Possibility and Of the I Schelling does not engage directly with the question of nature, it is in these works that he lays the foundations for his later conception of nature as unconditioned. For it is in these writings that he distinguishes the unconditioned as absolute causality, which is not reducible to the structures of self-reflection. It is also in these writings that he regards self-reflection (the structure of the subjective self) as an outcome (a later concept) of a more original productivity. In light of this, Schelling’s account of nature as unconditioned and his view that the self should be regarded as a result of (or a moment within) nature’s productivity appear to be neither new nor arbitrary. Rather, they clearly follow from premises articulated in his earliest writings. The question remains, however, as to how the connection between the philosophy of nature and these earlier works can illuminate the critical function of the philosophy of nature. This question involves two different sub-questions. On the one hand, it concerns the relationship between Naturphilosophie and Schelling’s version of transcendental philosophy. On the other hand, it concerns the relationship between the philosophy of nature and the critical project in general (i.e., Kant and Fichte). In contrast to Sturma, I have argued that the roots of the philosophy of nature—its key ideas and aims—precede Schelling’s engagement with Fichte. This means that the “critical significance” of Schelling’s project cannot be reduced to a response to Fichte’s project (or Schelling’s appropriation of it). The question then is: If the tenets of Naturphilosophie were developed well before Schelling’s (brief) interest in Fichte, what role can the philosophy of nature have within the critical project? The answer to this question leads back to Kant, and, more specifically, to the Critique of Judgment. Although Schelling refers to Kant’s third Critique in many of his writings, it is in Of the I that he explicitly addresses the critical significance of the work, both for Kant’s project and for his own. After all, it is in the third Critique that Kant takes up the problem of unifying the different aspects of critical philosophy, and suggestively invokes the notion of a “supersensible ground” as a means by which to overcome the opposition between these different aspects—that is, between the domain of freedom and the domain of natural necessity (and in turn between teleology and mechanism) (AA 5:185, 5:410). By unifying the opposing laws of nature and freedom, the supersensible ground functions like Fichte’s and Schelling’s notion of a Grundsatz—a first, unconditioned principle in which, as Schelling

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put it, thought and being are one. It is only by unifying the opposing domains through such a principle, Kant maintains, that the critical project can be completed. Kant, of course, did not develop the notion of a supersensible ground in any detail, nor did he furnish a satisfying resolution to the Antinomy of Teleological Judgment, in which the two maxims—teleology and mechanism—are considered.10 Schelling was not, however, entirely discouraged. Rather, in Kant’s attempted resolution, he glimpsed significant hope. As he saw it, the solution to Kant’s problem was presupposed or assumed throughout Kant’s corpus. Thus, Schelling writes in the Preface to Of the I, “I believe that in the case of such a writer [i.e., Kant], one must explicate him according to the principles which he must have presupposed, and only according to them” (HKA 1/2, 73). The aim, then, is to make explicit what Kant had left implicit. In particular, Kant’s reference in sections 76 and 77 to an intuitive intellect provided a significant clue for Schelling’s understanding of what philosophy can and should aim to achieve.11 Kant explains that the discursive understanding proceeds from the part to the whole, such that it cannot conceive of the parts of an organism as being inherently or necessarily connected. Rather, their relations are regarded as entirely contingent, based on location in space (i.e., mechanically). To understand an organized being, however, it is imperative to grasp the inherent and necessary relations of its parts. For this reason, the discursive intellect invokes the notion of a final end or cause (AA 5:398, 5:410). An intuitive intellect, by contrast, proceeds “synthetically” from the “whole to the parts,” and thus grasps the inherent connections between the parts without the notion of a final end. As such, it does not end up in the paradoxical situation of having to assume two opposing (yet necessary) maxims—mechanism and teleology. This provided Schelling with important insights. For one, Kant’s claim implies that the different domains of critical philosophy can only be unified through a “higher standpoint,” in which the opposition between mechanism and teleology no longer obtains. It also implies that this higher standpoint is independent of the structures of the discursive intellect and concerns the fundamental ground (Grundsatz) of reality, the ground of being and knowing, nature and mind. This means that nature must be regarded independently of the subjective mind. It also means that the categories and structures of nature and the philosophy of nature cannot be the same as the categories that define the philosophy of the subject—that is, transcendental philosophy. Taking cues from the third Critique, Schelling came to realize that the Grundsatz that unifies opposing domains and thus makes philosophy possible necessarily implies a conception of nature as independent of the subjective mind.

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v. Conclusion I have tried to show that Schelling’s turn to the philosophy of nature should be neither surprising nor unconvincing. The seeds of the philosophy of nature are clearly sewn in his notion of the unconditioned as a non-subjective, non-objective original productivity or absolute causality. Thus, for Schelling, nature did not signify a mere “history” of subjectivity, as Sturma would have it; rather, as unconditioned, nature was regarded as independent of the structures of subjectivity. This means that the “critical function” of the philosophy of nature must be sought not through an examination of the role that nature plays in the development of subjectivity, but rather through an investigation of the meaning of the unconditioned and how Schelling arrived at the radical claim that “the true direction for that which is valid for knowledge everywhere, is the direction which nature itself has taken” (HKA 1/8, 366).

Notes   1. In a recent conversation with Dieter Sturma, which took place after I had composed this chapter, he explained that he had revised his interpretation of this aspect of Schelling’s thought. Specifically, he agreed that for Schelling, nature, as unconditioned, cannot be regarded as a moment within the history or development of consciousness.   2. All references to Schelling’s works will be made in the body of the text as follows: HKA: Werke: Historisch-kritische Ausgabe, eds. H. M. Baumgartner, W. G. Jacobs, and H. Krings (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1976–). SW: Schellings Sämmliche Werke, ed. K. F. A. Schelling (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1856–61).

All references to Fichte’s works will be made as follows: GA: Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed. Reinhard Lauth et al. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1962–2012).

All references to Kant’s works will be made as follows:

AA: Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaft (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1900–).   3. Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), esp. pp. 488–505.   4. Robert J. Richards, The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 141–145.   5. Eckart Förster, The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy: A Systematic Reconstruction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 249.   6. In fact, it is in his most “Fichtean” work, the 1796–97 “Abhandlung zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre,” that Schelling directly engages with the question of nature for the first time. See especially SW 1/1, 380–386.   7. Xavier Tilliette, for instance, contends that “Vom Ich does not only tolerate a Fichtean interpretation, it demands it.” Xavier Tilliette, “Erste Fichte-Rezeption. Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der intellektuellen Anschauung,” in Der Transzendentale Gedanke. Die gegenwärtige Darstellung der Philosophie Fichtes, ed. Klaus Hammacher (Hamburg: Meiner, 1981), pp. 532–545, here 536.

132  •  Dalia Nassar   8. The complete title of the work is “Aenesidemus, or Concerning the Foundations of the Elementary Philosophy Propounded in Jena by Professor Reinhold, including a Defense of Skepticism against the Pretensions of the Critique of Pure Reason.” It was later revealed that the author was the professor of philosophy Gottlob Ernst Schulze (1761–1833).   9. Kant famously remarks in the “Analytic of Principles,” that the rules that underlie judgment, and according to which judgment operates, are unknowable: “judgment is a peculiar talent which can be practiced only, and cannot be taught. It is the specific quality of so-called mother-wit; and its lack no school can make good” (A133/B172). 10. On the various (failed) attempts to work out a clear “solution” to the Antinomy of Teleological Judgment, see Eric Watkins, “The Antinomy of Teleological Judgment,” Kant Yearbook 1 (2009): 197–222. 11. Thus he writes in Of the I: “perhaps there have never been so many deep thoughts compressed into so few pages as in the critique of teleological judgment, S. 76” (HKA 1/2, 175R).



Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)

Introduction Arthur Schopenhauer was educated in the era of German Idealism. Neverthe­ less, much of his career was spent critiquing and seeking to articulate a sustainable alternative to the tradition from Fichte to Hegel and Schelling. Kant, by contrast, was endorsed by Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer introduced a notion of will that influenced the young Friedrich Nietzsche, but also reso­ nated in the work of Sigmund Freud. His break with idealism was due to its philosophical content, as well as its philosophical style and ambitions. Schopenhauer was an exceptionally gifted writer. Hence it should come as no surprise that his work has inspired not only philosophers, but also a number of writers, including Honoré de Balzac, August Strindberg, Robert Musil, Italo Svevo, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, and Ingeborg Bachmann. In his essay “The Real Essence of Human Beings: Schopenhauer and the Unconscious Will,” Christopher Janaway explores Schopenhauer’s steps beyond idealism, his unique combination of naturalism and metaphysics, his discus­ sion of the will and individuation, and his view of the human being and its place in nature. Janaway emphasizes how Schopenhauer establishes a continuity 133

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between the human being and every other part of organic nature, placing the trans-individual will (and its manifestation in the inclination to maintain life) at the center of his understanding of the essence of human being. In his response to Janaway, David Wellbery, whose publications include a study of Schopenhauer’s importance for modern literature (Schopenhauers Bedeutung für die moderne Literatur [München: Karl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, 1998]), draws attention to another aspect of Schopenhauer’s work: his interest in literature and music as they provide a temporary refuge from the striving and suffering of human existence. While contrasting Schopenhauer’s position to that of Martin Heidegger, Wellbery analyzes the claim that the content of art is, ultimately, the idea or the intelligible order of being. He also discusses Schopenhauer’s account of creative genius as well as his understand­ ing of the relationship between art and philosophy. In Wellbery’s reading, Schopenhauer establishes an alternative to idealist aesthetics, with its empha­ sis on beauty as an expression of freedom.

Further Reading • Christopher Janaway, Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. • Bart Vanenabeele (ed.), A Companion to Schopenhauer. Oxford: WileyBlackwell, 2012. • Robert Wicks, Schopenhauer. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.



The Real Essence of Human Beings Schopenhauer and the Unconscious Will CHRISTOPHER JANAWAY

In The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1819 and 1844) Arthur Schopenhauer aims at a global metaphysics, a theory of the essence of the world as it is in itself. He calls this essence will (Wille), which, to put it briefly, he understands as a blind striving for existence, life, and reproduction. Human beings have the same essence as all other manifes­ tations of will in the world, and this has several consequences for Schopen­ hauer’s conception of humanity. Neither rationality, nor intentional action, nor consciousness is primary or foundational in human beings. The true core of the personality is not the self-conscious “I” or subject of knowledge, but rather the will, which is fundamentally blind and without knowledge, but that interacts with the intellect almost as an agent distinct from it. As we shall see, Schopenhauer makes a number of psychological observations about the inter­ play of intellect and will. These include the omnipresence of sexual desire in or beneath our experience; the persistence of desires and affects unknown to the self-conscious intellect; the will’s capacity to prohibit representations in the intellect that are liable to arouse certain emotions; and the occurrence of madness when memories painful to the will are shielded from the intellect and arbitrary representations are substituted. In this paper I propose to elucidate and interrogate Schopenhauer’s notion of will and its relation to ideas about


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the unconscious, with the aim of addressing its significance as an exercise in philosophical psychology.

i. Schopenhauer in the History of the Unconscious This paper will be more exegetical than historical in any comparative or genealogical sense. Schopenhauer rather encourages an ahistorical apprecia­ tion of his work. He tends to say that all previous thinkers have failed to solve that “riddle of the world,” which he answers by saying that the world is will; and that all previous thinkers have failed to see will as having primacy in human beings, instead making willing secondary to knowing, or to some­ thing called reason, soul, or intellect. He infamously portrays most of what has happened in philosophy since the publication of Kant’s Critiques as dishon­ est, worthless, and irrelevant—though we should not always take this at face value. Schopenhauer is much less of a Kantian than he implies; he is without doubt more of his immediate time than his rantings against the German ide­ alists and university professors of the day would have us believe; and he is extremely well read, constantly citing a wide range of historical and contem­ porary authors in philosophy, literature, and the sciences. In the case of Goethe, Schopenhauer knew him personally in the decade 1810–20 through his mother’s literary set in Weimar. He quotes Goethe’s verse liberally in The World as Will and Representation, but more to the point in an offhand remark he does acknowledge some continuity between Goethe and his own central doctrine of the will. He says of Goethe’s novel The Elective Affinities (1809) that: “as its title indicates, though Goethe was unaware of this, [it] has as its foundation the idea that the will, which constitutes the basis of our inner being, is the same will that manifests itself in the lowest, inorganic phenomena.”1 Schopenhauer’s surviving notebooks attest that he had spent some time studying Schelling’s works of the early 1800s, including the System of Transcendental Idealism.2 It has been suggested that Schopenhauer appropriates some of Schelling’s central notions: Andrew Bowie has written that “Scho­ penhauer avoids the term ‘the absolute’, but his notion of the Will has the same function as the absolute in the structure of [his] argument,”3 and that Schopenhauer’s position “echoes what is intended by [Schelling’s] notion of ‘intellectual intuition’”—this despite the fact that Schopenhauer not only avoids, but on numerous occasions elaborately deplores, the whole notion of “intellectual intuition,” and is generally quite rude about Schelling. Sebastian Gardner has recently questioned the extent to which Schopenhauer’s theory of will parallels anything in Schelling, on the grounds that Schopenhauer’s philosophy is not genuinely a form of transcendental philosophy, and in particular is not concerned to offer an account of the world from within the

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conditions of self-consciousness, instead propounding a form of naturalism underlain by what is ultimately a fully realist metaphysics.4 To debate this issue further would take us too far afield for present purposes—which is not to deny that it is a worthwhile and promising debate to pursue. If we look for influences forward in time, Schopenhauer is well established as a staple in the history of the unconscious.5 In their different ways Eduard von Hartmann and Friedrich Nietzsche are indebted to Schopenhauer in an explicit and thematic manner. Both Freud and Jung were also very much aware of his work, though the nature and medium of Schopenhauer’s influ­ ence on the development of psychoanalysis is often seen as less clear cut. There is a body of literature on the Schopenhauer–Freud connection (effectively reviewed by Gardner in the piece mentioned above), which reveals that Scho­ penhauer’s anticipations of Freud are indeed remarkable—something the lat­ ter famously but guardedly acknowledged, saying, for example in 1916–17, that “There are famous philosophers who may be cited as forerunners—above all the great thinker Schopenhauer, whose unconscious ‘will’ is equivalent to the mental instincts of psycho-analysis.”6 Earlier (in 1905) he had remarked that “Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, showed mankind the extent to which their activities are determined by sexual impulses—in the ordinary sense of the word,”7 and (in 1914) that “what [Schopenhauer] says . . . about the struggle against accepting a distressing piece of reality coincides with my conception of repression so completely that once again I owe the chance of making a discovery to my not being well read.”8 Finally, in his Autobiographical Study of 1925 Freud says: The large extent to which psycho-analysis coincides with the philosophy of Schopenhauer—not only did he assert the dominance of the emotions and the supreme importance of sexuality but he was even aware of the mechanism of repression—is not to be traced to my acquaintance with his teaching. I read Schopenhauer very late in life.9 One may wish to dig around to show that Freud must have had more direct acquaintance with Schopenhauer’s doctrines than he claims here. But even if we take Freud’s remarks at face value, it is safe to say that Schopenhauer’s immense influence on many areas of intellectual and cultural life in the latter half of the nineteenth century provided a seedbed in which the specific theoretical claims of psychoanalysis could easily grow. In this sense, if in no other, one can proclaim Schopenhauer “the true philosophical father of psychoanalysis.”10 However, in the relatively short space remaining here I shall not be pursuing any of these links back or forward, but shall restrict myself to an internal investigation of Schopenhauer’s notion of will and what is distinctive about it.

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ii. Awakened Out of Unconsciousness Let me start with two resounding passages of Schopenhauerian prose, which remain impressive even in translation. Both are from the second volume of The World as Will and Representation, first published in 1844. Unconsciousness [Bewußtlosigkeit] is the original and natural condition of all things, and therefore is also the basis from which, in particular species of beings, consciousness appears as their highest efflorescence; and for this reason, even then unconsciousness still predominates. Accordingly, most beings are without consciousness; but yet they act according to the laws of their nature, in other words of their will. Plants have at most an extremely feeble analogue of consciousness, the lowest animals merely a faint gleam of it. But even after it has ascended through the whole series of animals up to man and his faculty of reason, the unconsciousness of the plant, from which it started, still always remains the foundation, and this is to be observed in the necessity for sleep as well as in all the essential and great imperfections . . . of every intellect produced through physiological functions. And of any other intellect we have no conception. (WW II: 142) Awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness [Bewußtlosigkeit], the will finds itself as an individual in an endless and boundless world, among innumerable individuals, all striving, suffering, and erring; and, as if in a troubled dream, it hurries back to the old unconsciousness. Yet till then its [the will’s] desires are unlimited, its claims inexhaustible, and every satisfied desire gives birth to a new one. No possible satisfaction in the world could suffice to still its craving, set a final goal to its demands, and fill the bottomless pit of its heart. . . . Everything in life proclaims that earthly happiness is destined to be frustrated, or recognized as an illusion. The grounds for this lie deep in the very nature of things. (WW II: 573) Let me highlight three themes apparent here: first, the continuity of the human essence with that of nature as a whole; next, the secondary and superficial nature of the human intellect, which is in complex interaction with the more fundamental part of us that is the will; and finally, the unhappiness, worthlessness, or nothingness (Nichtigkeit) of the life we lead as manifestations of this will, and the consequent need, in Schopenhauer’s eyes, for a redemption from this existence.

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iii. Will as Real Essence We must be careful with the concept will. Schopenhauer asks us not to think of wanting, desiring, or intentionally acting as constitutive of will in his sense, but to stretch the concept much more widely. So we must think away its tradi­ tional associations with rationality and consciousness, and indeed with men­ tality as such. Will has some manifestations that are mental, conscious, and rational, some that are mental and conscious but not rational, some that are mental but neither conscious nor rational, and some that are none of these. Human beings manifest acts of will (Willensakte), which are conscious mental states that may well be rational, in that the motives causing some­ one’s actions may be rationally formed beliefs that give them a reason to act. However, Schopenhauer gives a fundamentally anti-dualist account of action, insisting that the act of will is not a purely mental volition that causes physical effects; rather, it is identical with bodily action. So the physi­ cal movements I make in the course of intentionally doing something are a case of willing. In fact, Schopenhauer starts his argument for the world as will from this very place. The will in this first sense is immediately known to each subject, in a unique way not captured by the Kantian conception of nature as the realm of objects in space and time and subordinate to causal laws. As the subject of willing, I do not, indeed cannot, understand my body in those objective terms. There is an immediate and inner knowledge of the self as conjointly subject and body, and this, for Schopenhauer, is the key that unlocks the internal essence (inneres Wesen) of all those things distinct from us that present themselves to our outer knowledge as empirical objects. They are all objective manifestations of the same essence, they are all the objectiva­ tion or objecthood (Objektivation, Objektivität) of will, or appearance of the will (Willenserscheinung). The initial argument for this is somewhat as follows: I know myself and I am myself, but in the case of everything else, I can only know it and not be it. But if I were to regard other things only to the extent that they are known or knowable, I would be denying them any real being (Wesen) at all. They would remain: “mere representation, i.e. mere phantoms” (bloße Vorstellung, d.h. bloße Phantome) (WW I: 104). External things would then be, if you like, mere knowable outsides with no true core within. If we can know our own inner essence directly, we face a choice: either we can regard ourselves as divorced from the rest of the world by virtue of our uniquely having this essence, or we can infer that, as belonging to the world, we must share its essence. A sup­ pressed premise here is that whatever is my essence must be the essence of everything in the world—or of everything that indeed has any essence. So there is a deep-seated naturalism in Schopenhauer’s treatment of human beings, which from the start is metaphysical in character; though at the empirical level

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of description he is amenable to a more scientific naturalism—as we saw in his remark that we have no conception of any form of intellect that is not produced through physiological functions. Schopenhauer also believes that all empirical explanations given in science, though perfectly in order in their own right, must eventually peter out into something inexplicable, and that they need completion by a unifying metaphysical account of the nature of reality as a whole. Having established the intimate connection of body and will in intentional action, Schopenhauer finds other instances of that connection: every impression on the body is also at once and directly an impression on the will. As such it is called pain when it is contrary to the will or pleasure when it is in accordance with the will. . . . The identity of the body and the will further shows itself . . . in the fact that every vehement and excessive movement of the will, in other words, every emotion, agitates the body and its inner workings directly and immediately, and disturbs the course of its vital functions. (WW I: 101) Schopenhauer embraces as movements of the will: all desiring, striving, wishing, longing, yearning, hoping, rejoicing, exulting and the like, as well as the feeling of unwillingness or repugnance, detesting, fleeing, fearing, being angry, hating, mourning, suffering, in short, all affects and passions. For these are only movements more or less weak or strong, stirrings at one moment violent and stormy, at another mild and faint, of our own will that is either checked or given its way, satisfied or unsatisfied.11 Though they cannot be classified as acts of the will, such affects and passions are (or at least often are) states of mind of which a subject is conscious. What unites them with bodily acts of will is their dynamic nature: they are partially constituted by a condition of desiring or striving in the individual who undergoes them (WW II: 209–210). From the close association of the above mental states with the body Scho­ penhauer makes the claim that the body itself, which is the condition of will­ ing in the narrower sense, must also be an objectivation of will. The motives that cause me to act in a certain way do not explain my willing: the foun­ dation of my willing in these particular conscious ways must lie elsewhere than in the causes of my acts of will or of my affects. Schopenhauer concludes that my “whole body must be nothing but my will become visible” (WW I: 107); the body is “objectivation of the will.” This is a prime case of will’s

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“blind activity,” or of its being “without knowledge” (WW I: 114, WW II: 293–304), as he frequently puts it, and here will is neither rational, nor con­ scious, nor mental. The very organized structure and normal functioning of my body, its growth, and all the processes of it that presuppose neither con­ sciousness nor even mindedness are manifestations of what Schopenhauer now calls will to life. The inner nature of the human being is that it tends towards maintaining and propagating life, and this same inner nature is com­ mon to every inhabitant of the organic world. A tiger, a sunflower, or a singlecelled organism have the same inner nature or essence. Schopenhauer even argues that at the most fundamental level the same inner nature must be that of the whole phenomenal world, not only in the organic, but also in the inor­ ganic realm where it underlies the processes of gravitation, magnetism, and crystal formation (WW II: 350). But my essence is the same as that of every other thing in the world. The boundary between human willing and other processes of organic enddirectedness is not one between metaphysical kinds. I as agent have an “inner nature” in virtue of which I tend towards local ends and the overarching end of life—being alive and reproducing life. And since throughout nature the striving for existence is “blind,” not essentially medi­ ated by consciousness, this must apply also to my essence. So what I essen­ tially am is a thing that blindly tends towards living existence. It is crucial to Schopenhauer that I tend by nature not only to preserve my own existence, but to propagate the existence of more living things. For him, reproductive sexuality is as basic to the nature of the human individual as the drive towards continuing his or her own existence. The genitals, he comments, are “the real focus of the will” (WW I: 330). The whole body, including the brain, is object­ hood of the will, but the organs of reproduction are where the will to life is seen most plainly for what it is. So what seemed distinctive of human beings, their capacity for intentional action, is just another instance of the will manifesting itself in nature (WW I: 327).Indeed, “the real self is the will to life”: in other words, the real self is the principle of blind striving for existence and reproduction that manifests itself as organic body, as me, the bodily individual, while not pertaining to me alone (WW II: 606). And human willing is one among a multitude of ways in which organisms tend towards a telos, distinguished from other organic processes merely by the kind of causal antecedents that deflect the organism’s course. Once we regard humanity in this way, we have to attribute to ourselves some of the characteristics of the world at large. The will (the world) is itself ground­ less and has no exterior purpose. It merely, as a brute fact, manifests itself endlessly as individuals that endlessly strive. Nothing in the world strives or tends as it does for any ultimate reason. It is not to fulfill any rational purpose, or because there is a good end-state to be attained, that plants or crystals grow, or that objects gravitate towards the earth. And so it is with humanity. We

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each exist as an individual organism that blindly and for no good reason “grav­ itates” towards survival and sexual reproduction. Hence, although rational thought and choice are characteristics of human beings, they are not at the core of the human psyche, and are, Schopenhauer believes, explicable as mere instruments of the more fundamental will to life. Even consciousness, let alone the self-consciousness that was earlier proclaimed the true starting-point for philosophy, must be underlain by a nature that is more fundamental than it. Schopenhauer casts his theory of will from the start in Kantian terms. The world of representation is governed by the laws of space, time, and causal­ ity, but beyond it lies the realm of the thing in itself, which Kant had left as a riddle. Schopenhauer offers a solution to the riddle: the thing in itself is will. The notion that the will is beyond the realm of the subject’s representation of objects licences the idea that the will is beyond the principle of individuation. Hence Schopenhauer can regard it as an undifferentiated whole, not split up into plural individuals at all—though strictly speaking it must be beyond the whole question of plurality and unity. The will is also not causally related to anything, does not exist in time, and is not subject to change. Forcing his doctrine into this Kantian framework might in retrospect be regarded as one of Schopenhauer’s most unfortunate moves—it certainly gives rise to numerous problems of consistency and intelligibility. I could not begin to rehearse them all here, but a couple of consequences are worth noting. First, it is hard for Schopenhauer consistently to separate the notion of the thing in itself considered as the world apart from all knowability on the one hand, and the notion of will as the most general form under which the world is knowable to us. In the latter sense will is the thing in itself, while in the former it is not (WW II: 198). Second, it is hard for Schopenhauer to distinguish the undifferentiated will of which everything in nature is the objective appearance, from the will that is my individual essence or real nature—what I am in myself. Schopenhauer borrows Kant’s term “intelligible character” (intelligibler Charakter) for this: the intelligi­ ble character is an innate and unchanging disposition of will quite specific to the human individual. Working only with a notion of the thing in itself that places it outside time and space, and thus outside of individuation, makes the notion of the “in itself” aspect of the individual hard to negotiate, yet Schopenhauer’s psychol­ ogy requires a timeless and unchanging will to underlie all of the individual’s conscious states and actions, and to be a character peculiar to that individual.

iv. Will and Intellect Many of Schopenhauer’s most interesting psychological insights occur in a chapter of the second volume of The World as Will and Representation entitled “The Primacy of the Will in Self-Consciousness,” where he

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catalogues different ways in which the relationship between primary will and secondary intellect shows up in self-conscious experience. The will is a more primitive, indeed simple and childish part of the psyche. Schopen­ hauer notes how infants are full of will at a time when their intellect is hardly developed at all (WW II: 211). In adult life, as soon as the developed intellect represents anything in thought or imagination, this same will, unchanged, responds: If, for example, we are alone, and think over our personal affairs, and then vividly picture to ourselves, say, the menace of an actually present danger, and the possibility of an unfortunate outcome, anxiety at once compresses the heart and the blood ceases to flow. But if the intellect then passes to the possibility of the opposite outcome, and allows the imagination to picture the happiness long hoped-for as thereby attained, all the pulses at once quicken with joy, and the heart feels as light as a feather, until the intellect wakes up from its dream. (WW II: 207–208) And so on through numerous examples, in which: the intellect strikes up the tune and the will must dance to it; in fact, the intellect causes the will to play the part of a child whom its nurse at her pleasure puts into the most different moods by chatter and tales alternating between pleasant and melancholy things. (WW II: 207–208) However, though the will is simpler than the intellect, it reasserts its true hegemony in the following manner: by prohibiting the intellect from having certain representations, by absolutely preventing certain trains of thought from arising, because it knows, or in other words experiences from the self-same intellect, that they would arouse in it any one of the emotions previously described. It then curbs and restrains the intellect, and forces it to turn to other things. (WW II: 208) Note that the more primitive will has the power of absolutely preventing certain trains of thought from arising in the intellect. That is to say, although such thoughts are in some sense present as ours, we never consciously entertain them. The process of prevention must therefore be an unconscious one. And it is a process that the conscious intellect is powerless to resist:

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it is bound to succeed the moment the will is in earnest about it; for the resistance then comes not from the intellect, which always remains indifferent, but from the will itself; and the will has an inclination in one respect for a representation it abhors in another. Thus the representation is in itself interesting to the will, just because it excites it. At the same time, however, abstract knowledge tells the will that this representation will cause it a shock of painful and unworthy emotion to no purpose. (WW II: 208) An extension of the will’s repression of thoughts—for that is what we have here—allows Schopenhauer to account for madness (Wahnsinn), which for him is a kind of defect of memory (WW II: 400). Schopenhauer gives other examples from everyday life—the sort of thing that “anyone who is attentive can observe in himself ” (WW II: 210)—in which the will makes decisions or plans as it were “in secret,” decisions from which the intellect remains excluded and “can only get to know them, like those of a stranger, by spying out and taking unawares; and it must surprise the will in the act of expressing itself, in order merely to discover its real intentions” (WW II: 209). Consequently, I do not really know how attached I am to a certain obliga­ tion or course of action: Schopenhauer narrates examples where a conscious judgment as to the desirability or undesirability of acting thus-and-so is swept away “to my own astonishment” by a “jubilant, irresistible gladness” that reveals the true orientation of my underlying will (WW II: 209). Many of these eloquent passages are frequently quoted in the literature and constitute Schopenhauer’s most visible contributions to the history of thought about the unconscious. The will, as he puts it, has a “direct, unconscious, and disadvantageous influence on knowledge” (WW II: 219)—and the disadvantage of our natural condition is something we shall see emphasized more as we proceed.

v. Sexual Will One of Schopenhauer’s major themes is that the will in nature is greater than the individual living being, and has the individual at its mercy. A prime illustration occurs in his discussion of human sexuality (WW II: 531–567). We saw above how the sexual functioning of the body is the primary expression of the will to life in human beings. The sex-drive or sexual impulse (Geschlechtstrieb) is the “kernel of the will-to-life . . . the concentration of all willing” (WW II: 514). It is not surprising, then, if sexual love (Geschlechtsliebe) directed towards another individual is a powerful force in human life: It is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort; it has an unfavourable influence on the most important affairs, interrupts every hour the

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most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds. It does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, and to interfere with negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of the learned. It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts . . . it appears on the whole as a malevolent demon, striving to pervert, to confuse, and to overthrow everything. (WW II: 533–534) “It” is clearly being conceived here as some agency or purpose that is not fully subject to the individual’s conscious control—though Schopenhauer appears to wish it were. Sexuality is not only ubiquitous for him, but tormenting.12 His account of sexual love operates on two levels: at the level of individual consciousness, the other is singled out as the object of desire and idealized. He or she is, apparently, beloved for qualities of value he or she uniquely pos­ sesses; and satisfaction of the desire by another interchangeable object is ruled out. Thus it seems to the individual lover. But all this is an illusion, according to Schopenhauer. The individual is merely being used. For at a deeper level, all (heterosexual) sexual desire can be explained functionally as enabling repro­ duction (WW II: 535). Schopenhauer maintains that the “will of the species” (Wille der Gattung, WW II: 554–555) directs the behavior of individuals whilst deluding them that they pursue by choice their own individual preferences and purposes, such as seeking their own pleasure. Since the will as thing in itself is beyond individuation, it lives on in future generations: thus “the kernel of our nature” (Kern unsers Wesens) is indestructible and shared with our whole spe­ cies (WW II: 559). He even says it is the will to life of the as yet unconceived child that draws a man and a woman to love one another (WW II: 536). In gen­ eral, the unique intensity of the passions that attend sexual behavior and the (sometimes absurd and ruinous) seriousness with which it is pursued confirm Schopenhauer in his view that it expresses the very core of human inner nature that is the will to life.

vi. Escaping the Will Human happiness is frustrated or rendered impossible by the situation as Schopenhauer describes it. The will intrudes upon, and interferes with, our conscious life. For us there can only be perspectival knowing, in that affects, passions, and hidden drives, inclinations, and aversions invariably “twist, colour, and distort” our judgment and perception (WW I: 373). The will calls the tune, never leaving us in peace. The sexual drive dominates and tor­ ments us. The will is timeless and can never be satisfied, so that fulfillment of any desire brings only a momentary release from pain that yields instantly to

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more unfulfilled desiring. The will is our essence, but it is our essence that blights our existence. To be an individual expression of will is a condition of purposelessness and suffering—to the extent that, for Schopenhauer, if we really understood the nature of things fully, we should much prefer non-exist­ ence. Schopenhauer describes death as the “great opportunity no longer to be I” (WW II: 507). Lapsing back into the unconscious will of nature is a release from individuality and pain. Schopenhauer’s philosophy as a whole unfolds a series of states that redeem what he sees as the absence of positive value in life. Aesthetic experience, in which consciousness is disinterested and temporarily freed of the will, is at one end of the spectrum, extinction of the individual at the other. Value can be retrieved to the extent that the individual embodiment of will abates. One wills less and less, and locates significance less and less in the individual living mani­ festation of will one happens to be. In aesthetic experience willing abates totally but temporarily, and one ceases to be aware of oneself as individual. But similar notions of selfless objectivity apply in Schopenhauer’s ethics and philosophy of religion. In describing those who have undergone the ultimate redemption, which he calls the denial of the will, Schopenhauer asks us to recall his charac­ terization of aesthetic experience as that of a “pure, will-less, painless, timeless” subject and imagine such a state prolonged indefinitely (WW I: 179, 390). Aes­ thetic objectivity prefigures the disintegration of one’s ability to place value in the striving, material individual one is—that disintegration that is for Schopen­ hauer the sole hope of cheating life of its emptiness of genuine, positive worth. It is sometimes asked whether Schopenhauer’s philosophy deserves the title “pes­ simism”: that it probably does is borne out by his consistent central thought that the very essence of each human being, of humanity, and of the world as a whole causes only grief and is something to escape from, if possible, at all costs.

Notes   1. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), vol. II, p. 297. Further references will be abbreviated WW, followed by volume and page number.   2. See Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains, ed. Arthur Hübscher, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Oxford: Berg, 1988), vol. III, pp. 339–391.   3. Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity front Kant to Nietzsche (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 263.   4. Sebastian Gardner, “Schopenhauer, Will, and the Unconscious,” The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, ed. Christopher Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 391–398.   5. As mentioned in Lancelot Law Whyte, The Unconscious Before Freud (London: Julien Friedman, 1979); Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1970); Michel Henry, The Genealogy of Psychoanalysis, trans. Douglas Brick (Stanford, CT: Stanford University Press, 1993).

The Real Essence of Human Beings  •  147   6. Sigmund Freud, “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey and Anna Freud et al., 24 vols. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953–74), vol. XVII, pp. 143–144 (hereafter cited as SE followed by volume and page numbers).   7. Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, SE, VII: 134.   8. Sigmund Freud, “On the History of the Psycho-analytic Movement,” SE, XIV: 15.   9. Sigmund Freud, “An Autobiographical Study,” SE, XX: 59. 10. Gardner, “Schopenhauer, Will, and the Unconscious,” p. 379. 11. Arthur Schopenhauer, Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will, ed. Günter Zöller, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 10. 12. As Nietzsche realized; see the well-known passage in On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Cambridge: Hackett, 1998), Third Treatise, §6.



Emancipation from the Will DAVID E. WELLBERY

Schopenhauer’s view on the place of the will in human thought and action comes into relief when we contrast it with what might be called the influence model. To speak as if the will (in the sense of appetite, urge, desire, and affect) could influence human thought and action presupposes the heterogeneity, and thus the differential intelligibility, of a “drive” or “want” component, on the one hand, and a deliberative or ratiocinative component, on the other hand. In Plato, horse and charioteer may be bound to the same vehicle, but they are nonetheless distinct and the role of the latter is to monitor the influence of the former, tugging at the reins when appetite threatens to determine the course of action. Dualistic models kindred to Plato’s abound in the history of philosophy and Schopenhauer’s uniqueness within philosophical tradition derives in no small part from the fact that he abjures them. The will for Schopenhauer doesn’t impinge upon what we think and do. Rather, thinking and doing, at least in their quotidian manifestations, are only intelligible as expressions of the will. Prof. Janaway catches this point by stressing that for Schopenhauer the will constitutes the “real essence” of human beings. The will, we might say, does not influence thought and action, but permeates them. Something like this has to be exegetically right. But if Schopenhauer holds that the will is pervasive in human life, then it seems puzzling that he also argues that emancipation from the will is possible. That sounds like it would have to be emancipation from human being itself. Such emancipation occurs, according to Schopenhauer, in two domains: 148

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aesthetic experience and moral experience. The purpose of the following remarks is to try to make at least interpretive sense of this claim as regards the aesthetic domain. Let us start with Schopenhauer’s view of ongoing human activity. It may be said that there is a pragmatist (or proto-pragmatist) strain in Schopenhauer’s thought insofar as he holds the framework of ongoing human activity as the overarching context in terms of which cognition and knowledge (the German word embracing both meanings is Erkenntnis) must be understood.1 If we view cognition as a thing apart, then we will likely be concerned with matters such as conceptual content and epistemological adequacy and our reflection will shuttle back and forth between participial inflections of the verb “to represent.” On such a narrowly focused, isolating view, the representing idea or judgment and the represented object, along with their various interlacements, fill the screen of philosophical scrutiny, as if human life were a series of picture-takings. A major intention of Schopenhauer’s philosophy is to remove mindedness from its theoretical isolation and place it in the encompassing context of “life.” We may say that, while Hegel overcame an isolationist or mentalist view of mindedness by looking toward the socio-historical formation and transformation of concepts, Schopenhauer did so by directing inquiry toward the process in and through which living beings maintain themselves. For this reason, he belongs among the progenitors of the metaphysically muscular cousin of pragmatism, Lebensphilosophie.2 The crucial structural feature of the life process, as far as the human being is concerned, is the centering of the world in self-reference. Life is egocentric and cognition or representation is in service or, as Schopenhauer often writes, in slavery to such egocentricity. At issue is not merely a question of perspective, but what Schopenhauer calls the “anxious involvement”3 we have in our own ego. The entire range of intra-world and interpersonal relations is given its orientation through this primordial self-directed care or concern. The thought is sufficiently important to warrant at least a brief explication. Schopenhauer’s pathway to the view of human activity as care-driven, and thus in a strong sense self-interested, is grounded in a boldly speculative metaphysical vision according to which the world of individuated entities is the artifact of the organizational complexity inherent in the higher forms of the metaphysical Will’s objectification. In animal life, the metaphysical Will assumes the form of individuated centers. The structure and internal processes as well as the movements and behavior of these centers are all expressive of a will to live, or to live on, hence also to secure the continuation of the species. Within the context of the ongoing affirmation of the will to live, cognition serves an instrumental function. It is, as Schopenhauer never tires of insisting, secondary to the will, merely epiphenomenal to the in-itself

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of life. Thus, the elaborate latticework of representation (space, time, and causality) that renders the items of experience determinate is construed as an emergent device of self-preservation for higher forms of animal life. The world parsed by the principium individuationis is not metaphysically real, for the metaphysical Will is one and timeless and heterogeneous to representation. It is, however, the world in which living beings experience themselves as discrete entities faced with the unceasing challenge of self-maintenance and meeting this challenge by discriminating the “motives”—the objects of attraction or aversion—that representation lays out before them. This world is centered on the individuated will that comes to manifestation as the animal body, a center that emerges, then, at the intersection point of will and representation. The peculiar twist that Schopenhauer gives to the theory of subjectivity comes into view here. The ego (Ich) arises not out of a self-positing act or intellectual intuition, but by virtue of the anchoring of representation in a corporeally individuated will to live. Thus, it transpires that of all the possible contents that representation can have, one—self-awareness—is endowed with the sense of anxious involvement referred to above. That content uniquely matters to me because I have it in being it. When we say, with Schopenhauer, that the ongoing process of human life is egocentric, the claim does not refer to a relative lack of generosity, fairness, or altruism. Egocentricity is not a quality that could be corrected by some adjustment of attitude such as an enhancement of sociability. Rather, the urgency of self-reference gives experience its very structure and, in this sense, is world-constitutive. We may bring out this point by recalling a thought of Heidegger’s according to which the world, as the totality of inter-referential relations, has its final for-the-sake-of-which in the existent being (Dasein).4 Similarly, Schopenhauer argues that the vast array of representational content is centered in self-reference much like the points of a sphere are what they are because of their relation to the point at the center.5 Anxious involvement in or concern for one’s own self, Schopenhauer claims, mediates knowledge of every world item encountered. It guides our thought along the pathways of the nexus idearum. It lends orientation to human activity in general. Of course, the comparison with Heidegger is pertinent only with regard to the centering of ongoing human activity in self-referential concern and the two philosophers differ starkly with regard to the significance each attributes to this structure. For Schopenhauer, clearly, the major point is that self-directed concern is vital, that it expresses the will to live at its core. This inflection of the thought sponsors the blunt reductionism suffusing Schopenhauer’s descriptions of human life. The conception of the ongoing process of human life adumbrated in the foregoing makes clear why it is difficult to imagine what emancipation from the will might look like. What is required is emancipation from egocentricity in the

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sense explicated. Egocentricity, however, is not an accidental condition of human beings, but the very structure of human experience and world encounter. What might it be to give that up? It would seem that a satisfying response to that question would have to: (a) make plausible a mode of intentionality or openness to the world that differs from the normal apprehension of things within the ongoing activity of life; (b) elaborate a notion of subjectivity that is distinct from the form of corporeally grounded self-reference characteristic of anxious involvement; (c) demonstrate that experiences are available in which representation does not function as an instrument of the will. Of course, these three desiderata are intertwined and a case made for one will pull the others along. It is just such a case that Schopenhauer endeavors to argue in his analysis of aesthetic experience. His claim is that the experience of art and, more generally, of beauty qualifies as fulfillment of the enumerated criteria. This argument is unfolded in the third book of volume I of The World as Will and Representation and elaborately glossed in the corresponding chapters (29–39) of volume II.6 A generally recognized feature of aesthetic experience that Schopenhauer makes much of is the isolation of the aesthetic object. One may say that isolation is characteristic of any object attended to aesthetically. Aesthetic attention sequesters its object, cutting it off from its circumambient world. Such isolation is radical. It is not merely the isolation of distinguished things, for beyond the edges of such things there is always something more: all the other things from which the object differs. Rather, it is the isolation of worlds or totalities, the edges of which have no other side. Aesthetic contemplation attends to its object as a self-standing whole, defined out of its self-presentation. The reason this is such an important datum for Schopenhauer is that it so strikingly differs from empirical experience. Such experience individuates objects through representations that acquire their meaning within a thoroughgoing relativity of inter-representational relations. Empirical objects are located according to spatial and temporal determinations that refer to other such determinations; they are embedded within causal networks; their properties are abstracted into general propositions that function in inferential chains; finally, they figure as motives for action (for the will) within the ongoing course of life. Schopenhauer’s way of putting this is to say that objects are individuated within the nexus of relations laid down according to the fourfold principle of sufficient reason, the latticework of the represented world. This just is the way that the world is given to us in quotidian experience; it just is the structure of human intentionality. The subtitle of book three of The World as Will and Representation announces that it will treat of a type of representation “independent of the principle of sufficient reason.” That such representations are characteristic of aesthetic experience is the interpretive finding resulting from Schopenhauer’s account of aesthetic isolation. In terms of the criteria

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listed above, this finding confirms the accessibility of a mode of experience the intentional structure (a) of which differs from that obtaining in the ongoing process of human life. This account of aesthetic isolation enables us to see that the intentionality of aesthetic experience differs from that of empirical experience, but it does not give us a positive account of that divergent intentionality. Such an account enters in with Schopenhauer’s notion of the Platonic Idea as the content of art. We may characterize Schopenhauer’s thought as follows. Since empirical objects just are rendered determinate by virtue of spatial and temporal relations to other objects, by causal relations, by reasons given, and by their role as motives for action, then the object of aesthetic experience is not an empirical object at all. Such is the upshot of the analysis of aesthetic isolation: the aesthetic object is not relevantly determined by any of these relational patterns. What does relevantly determine the aesthetic object is, on the one hand, that it is apprehended intuitively (non-discursively) and, on the other hand, that it is a universal. These intuited universals constitute the Idea in the specific sense in which Schopenhauer uses that term. Schopenhauer’s discussion of architecture can serve to illustrate the basic thrust of his claim. The Idea that architecture discloses or makes intuitively accessible is the lowest level of the metaphysical Will’s objectivity. The features that come together in this Idea are such qualities of the building material (stone) as weight, cohesion, rigidity, and hardness, with the contrasting feature of light. The artwork brings these phenomenal features into a relationship of tension—the force of each bringing out through resistance or antagonism the force of the other—such that they manifest themselves in the unity of their configuration as moments of the Idea. As regards architecture in particular (Schopenhauer presumably has the Greco-Roman employment of columns in mind), what is revealed is the strife between gravity and rigidity, secondarily between opacity and transparency. The aesthetic (as opposed, say, to the political) task of architecture is to produce arrangements in which this strife is disclosed in a perspicuous, but internally multifarious fashion (WWR I, par. 43). Thus, the Idea as content of aesthetic intentionality is neither a particular empirical object, nor a general concept abstracted from such objects, but rather an order or form of intelligibility constitutive of a region of being. In the dynamic array of the artwork, the totality of the moments constitutive of that region is disclosed to an intuitive apprehension. One sees not particulars, but archetypal configurations. Of course, it is not accidental that such intuited Ideas evince the character of strife, since strife, on Schopenhauer’s view, is the character of the metaphysical Will at every level of its objectification. From the question of intentional content we can move to the matter of aesthetic subjectivity (b). Viewed against the background of quotidian egocentric experience described above, the noteworthy feature of aesthetic

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experience is that all the pertinences that hold for a given individual subject— the needs, desires, cares, anxieties, sufferings—fall away within this experience. The aesthetically relevant subject, Schopenhauer infers, is not the individual at all, but a disembodied, impersonal cognitive function, what he calls the “pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of cognition” (WWR I, par. 34). The thesis is obviously affine to Kant’s notion of disinterested pleasure and it may be that the overcoming of individuation Schopenhauer attributes to aesthetic experience refigures what Kant thought of as the universal voice authorizing the judgment of taste. Whoever judges that a singular object intuitively apprehended is beautiful does not speak just for or of herself. But Kant’s use of these notions bears on the procedures of justification attached to a certain form of judgment, while Schopenhauer’s theory tends toward the hypostatization of a trans-individual subjective being and it is not at all clear what that might mean. A charitable interpretation of Schopenhauer’s position might start by noting that the notion of a pure subject of cognition does capture salient aspects of the phenomenology of aesthetic experience. The world of the artwork concerns me only insofar as it reveals itself to me. I contemplate the aesthetic object not from a position within a world I share with it, but as if from out of an absence. The aesthetic object, in other words, is not an object within my egocentrically constituted world of individual entities. Indeed, my only relation to the world revealed within the work is that I contemplate it. We might say that my activity—what I am doing within aesthetic experience—is replete with contemplation. This thought can be reformulated as the thought that in aesthetic experience I am solely as one-who-contemplates. That just is the aesthetically relevant aesthetic subject. The point is important to Schopenhauer, for whom the cardinal feature of aesthetic phenomenology is the identity of consciousness and content. The subject is completely taken up by or absorbed in the object such that “it becomes the object” or “is nothing but the object’s distinct image” (WWR I, par. 34). Note—and this seems to be what Schopenhauer is driving at—that there is conformity here between noesis and noema. That is, just as the object intuited in aesthetic experience—in contradistinction to all empirical objects—is a special type of universal (an Idea), so too is the cognizing subject universal: neither you nor I, but something like the universal form “subject-of-representation.” Given Schopenhauer’s account of the ego or self as the intersection of corporeally individuated will and representation, we may say that the form of subjectivity emergent within aesthetic experience is subjectivity without ego or self. Whoever appropriately attends to the paintings in a museum has left her identity cards at the door. All of this points to the conclusion that in aesthetic experience the instru­ mental role of representation (c) within the business of living—representation as a device for the life maintenance of a complexly organized, needful entity—is suspended. Schopenhauer believes his analysis brings out the fact that aesthetic

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experience is not merely a way quotidian subjects relate to a particular class of objects (say, beautiful ones) within the world, but a categorically different sort of experience, discontinuous with the experiences we have under the normal (we might say: natural) conditions of life. Our starting point was to say that in ongoing activity the will permeates thought and action; that willing, thinking, and doing are all part of the same encompassing process: the affirmation of the will to live. In aesthetic experience cognition “tears itself loose” from the will, emancipates itself from its functional subservience (WWR I, par. 34). Finally, it is this detachment that provides access to the unique structure in which a pure or selfless subject of representation contemplates universal configurations of being (Platonic Ideas). Putting the matter that way highlights the continuity between Schopenhauer’s thought and the most venerable of philosophical aspirations. It is important to note, however, that there is no dialectical method for the attainment of the contemplative state of mind. Rather, it seems to be the result of a developmental aberration, the hypertrophic growth of an organic capacity beyond the degree required for the accomplishment of its normal functioning. Schopenhauer’s term for this swerve from the normal arrangement of capacities is genius. “It is as if, in order that genius emerge in an individual, a measure of cognitive power (Erkenntniskraft) must have befallen (zugefallen) it that far exceeds that normally required for the service of the individual will; this freed-up excess (Überschuß) of cognitive power now becomes the subject purified of will (willensrein), the bright mirror of the essence of the world” (WWR I, par. 36). Genius is the capacity for objectivity construed as representation absent of egocentricity, the capacity for pure, disinterested, impersonal contemplation. It is, secondarily, the capacity to deploy techniques so as to externalize and communicate this state of mind. One may communicate such intuitions in the medium of intuitively apprehended configurations, as in the case of artistic genius, or in the mode of conceptual elucidation, as in the case of philosophical genius. Art and philosophy are the modes of communication of objective insight into the essential structures of the world; both are rooted—this is their essential affinity—in the ego-free intuition of the eternal forms of being (of the Will’s objectivity). In this thought, Schopenhauer senses his own congeniality with Spinoza (WWR I, par. 34). The most surprising feature of Schopenhauer’s surmise, however, is not the valorization of selfless contemplation, but the claim that the cognitive capacity actualizing itself in contemplative activity results from an accidental deviation. One cannot think of genius as the goal of a purposeful striving or of a rational procedure. Genius just occurs. Here a deep consistency in Schopenhauer’s system comes into view, for it turns out that the cognitive faculty in which the Will attains to its adequate objectivity—the intuition of the Platonic Ideas—is just as groundless, just as pointless, as the will to life and, indeed, the metaphysical Will itself. Schopenhauer is a philosopher of the absurd.7

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Looking back on Schopenhauer’s theory, we are compelled to conclude that the price of emancipation as he conceives it is that it leaves human experience behind. Schopenhauer is willing, perhaps eager, to pay that price. In his view, aesthetic experience constitutes a kind of salvation from our will-tethered condition, accession to a state of mind he does not hesitate to call “beatitude” (Seligkeit) (WWR I, par. 68). In aesthetic experience, this occurs episodically as a momentary interruption of our ongoing, egocentrically oriented activity. (Moral experience, as realized in the holy person or ascetic, offers enduring release, but this has not been our theme here.) In the end, then, the very dualism Schopenhauer had abjured returns with a vengeance. It is no longer a dualism of appetite and reason or of first- and second-order desires. It is, rather, a dualism of will-permeated, egocentrically oriented activity, on the one hand, and a state of contemplative beatitude stripped of any traces of a first-personal stance, on the other hand. One might bring out this point by saying that, on Schopenhauer’s account, there is no possibility that aesthetic experience could be integrated, or reintegrated, into the ongoing course of human life. The breach between the two is unbridgeable. In this respect, Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the aesthetic emancipation from the will breaks with the deepest conceptual commitment of idealist aesthetics. Starting with Kant and continuing ever more forcefully across the work of Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel, aesthetic experience is linked to a heightened sense of vitality (what Kant calls Lebensgefühl) and to the self-awareness of freedom. Schopenhauer, as we have seen, severs aesthetic experience from these two sources. If the notion of freedom plays a role in Schopenhauer’s aesthetics at all, then merely in the negative sense of freedom from the relentless will to live. Art and life enter into a relationship of antagonism with one another, an antagonism that will find its fictional exfoliation in the works of Thomas Mann.

Notes 1. Cf., Arnold Gehlen, “Schopenhauers Resultate,” in: A. G., Gesamtausgabe, vol. 4: Philosophische Anthropologie und Handlungslehre, ed. Karl-Siegbert Rehberg (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1983), pp. 25–49. 2. Cf., Ferdinand Fellmann, Lebensphilosophie. Elemente einer Theorie der Selbsterfahrung (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1993), pp. 35–52. 3. Arthur Schopenhauer, Der Handschriftliche Nachlaß, ed. Arthur Hübscher (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1985), vol. 3, p. 167. 4. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1972), p. 84 (par. 18). 5. Handschriftlicher Nachlaß, p. 166. 6. Parenthetical references are to the German edition: Arthur Schopenhauer, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Wolfgang Freiherr von Löhneysen, fifth edition, 4 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1995), vols. I and II, using the abbreviation WWR with volume and paragraph number. 7. Cf., Clement Rosset, Schopenhauer, Philosophe de l’absurde (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1967).



Auguste Comte (1798–1857)

Introduction Auguste Comte’s work covers a wide span of topics: science, politics, philosophy, and religion, to mention a few. Today, Comte is not always given due credit. In his own time, however, he was viewed as a weighty intellectual presence. Not only did he shape the outlook of French nineteenth-century thought, but he also came to leave a lasting imprint on English and German philosophy. John Stuart Mill, who was engaged in a lengthy correspondence with Comte, later published a book on his work, and Alexander von Humboldt attended his lectures on positive philosophy in Paris. Comte is often viewed as the founder of modern sociology and the father of positivism. However, it is not entirely obvious what positivism means in this context and how it is to be evaluated with respect to Comte’s philosophical commitments. These questions motivate Johan Heilbron’s discussion of Comte’s philosophy of science and Robert C. Scharff ’s response to Heilbron. Heilbron’s article, “Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology,” situates Comte within the intellectual and scientific climate of nineteenth-century France. Heilbron suggests that Comte’s originality should be sought primarily in the formulation of his epistemological position. Of particular importance in this regard is Comte’s awareness of the historicity and diversity of scientific practice, ranging (with increasing complexity) from abstract mathematics to 157

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concrete (empirical) research in sociology. Indeed, in Comte’s view, sociology represents the ultimate science, bridging the gap between the natural and the human sciences. While Heilbron discusses Comte’s contribution to the history and socio­ logy of science, Scharff’s “Why was Comte an Epistemologist?” focuses on the philosophical presuppositions of Comte’s contribution, including his account of the historical development of science and philosophy, as well as of human society and reflection as such. Scharff, further, asks us to take Comte’s positivism seriously and discusses how it represents an alternative to the positivism that surfaces with the later Vienna School. In this way, Comte’s work offers an opportunity to reconsider what we mean by positivism, be it in philosophy or other disciplines.

Further Reading • Johan Heilbron, The Rise of Social Theory, trans. Sheila Gogol. London: Polity Press, 1995. • Robert Scharff, Comte After Positivism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. • Andrew Wernick, Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.



Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology JOHAN HEILBRON

Among the masters of sociological thought Auguste Comte probably has the worst reputation. “Positivism” is commonly considered a form of narrowmindedness, and the term is used most often in a polemical sense. If someone says, “He is a positivist” or “It is a bit positivistic,” there is something wrong, although it is not precisely clear what it is. During the famous Positivismusstreit, one of the great dispute rituals of German sociology, Adorno and his opponent Hans Albert each criticized the other for being a “positivist.” One of the few things they agreed on was that “positivism” was to be rejected. That is quite typical of the status of positivism and of Auguste Comte, who is considered to be its founder. In philosophy Comte’s attempt to dethrone metaphysics never received much sympathy, and academic philosophers never have really forgiven him for it. To many of them Comte was persona non grata. Although his work is seldom read, it is widely associated with unsophisticated thinking: with empiricism, with a blind imitation of the natural sciences, and with the unreflective use of quantitative methods. The fact that none of these associations has anything to do with Comte’s actual writings has not made any difference for his reputation. In sociology Comte does not have a much better name. He is a figure of some historical importance, but references to his work have long since disappeared from the debates. His writings did not become the object of 159

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ongoing commentary and interpretation. They have often been edited by followers outside academia, and there is no Comte scholarship comparable to that which exists for Montesquieu and Tocqueville or for Weber and Durkheim. To most sociologists Comte is a textbook personality, vaguely familiar, but strange and somewhat embarrassing. Sociologists, who usually are not sure of their scientific status, do not like to be bothered with a man who founded the religion of humanity. Most references to Comte in academic discourse reproduce the established clichés. When Comte is discussed in a more elaborate way, apart from rather vague associations, there are two types of interpretation. First, there are the interpretations based on his political, social, or religious significance. In these cases Comte is read against the background of the ideological crisis of postrevolutionary France; his work is discussed in relation to the SaintSimonians, the rise of conservatism, or the attempts to find a worldly substitute for Catholicism. The best-documented study on Comte, Henri Gouhier’s La jeunesse d’Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme (1933–41), was inspired by such an interpretation.1 The second type of interpretation stresses a different aspect. Here Comte is seen primarily as a theorist. His earlier works are central; his later activities appear only in sarcastic subordinate clauses. In such cases Comte’s originality is located in his “positivism” and his “sociology.” Positivism is seen as the center of his theory of knowledge; his sociology is regarded as an elaboration or application of that theory. This is the standard way in which Comte is presented in academic textbooks. It is also the most obvious way. Comte introduced both terms—positivism and sociology—and nothing seems more plausible than to summarize his contribution according to these terms. Both interpretations, I think, are mistaken. The first is inaccurate because it has nothing to say about Comte’s extended writings about the sciences. If Comte’s project from the beginning was primarily political or quasi-religious, it remains a mystery why he went to the trouble of writing numerous books and articles on recent developments in the sciences. That effort represented an intellectual endeavor and should be interpreted as such. The second interpretation does this, but this interpretation is misleading because one can show that neither Comte’s positivism nor his sociology was particularly original. One may add that historically they have not been very significant either. That statement requires some explanation.

i. Positivism and Sociology Positivism commonly has two different meanings. First, it refers to a form of imitation of the natural sciences in the domain of the human sciences. If one follows this description, Hobbes is probably the first positivist. Condorcet,

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Cabanis, and perhaps the early Saint-Simon were positivists, but Comte explicitly rejected such imitations and was certainly not a positivist in this sense of the word. Positivism also can refer more broadly to antimetaphysical conceptions of knowledge. Here the idea is that there can be no knowledge of “first causes” or “final causes,” that there is no positive knowledge of the “essence” of things, and that all such questions must be banned from science. Comte is a positivist in this sense. The question, however, is whether he contributed much to the formulation of this conception. He invented a word for it, but it is doubtful whether he did much more. Positivism in this sense emerged parallel to classical physics. Newton wished to refrain from what he called “hypothetical” questions, that is questions about first or final causes. That attitude became conventional in the French Academy of Sciences during the eighteenth century,2 and by 1800 the explicit rejection of metaphysics was commonly accepted in French scientific circles.3 Comte never disputed this development. On the contrary, he himself stressed that positivism in this sense was nothing new. In 1835, when he gave a lecture to the Academy of Sciences, he started his speech by saying that scientific statements need “positive verification.” That was an “indispensable condition” for validity and was “universally accepted.”4 He expressed the same attitude in the Cours de philosophie positive, where he states that it is “useless” to insist on the “principle” that distinguishes metaphysical from scientific knowledge. Everyone who had some knowledge of the advanced sciences was “familiar” with this principle.5 Comte made no claim that he contributed much to the idea of positive sciences. In his later writings the term “positivism” assumed a much broader meaning. “Positive” then also meant “useful,” “precise,” and “certain.”6 Such an extension was part of positivism as a world view or an ideology. That idea probably was original, but I will not discuss Comte’s later work here. As to Comte’s “sociology,” one might make the same comments as about his positivism. Comte invented the word, but the ideas to which it referred were not particularly new. The law of the three stages, for example, which Comte regarded as the core of his whole sociology, can be found in Turgot’s work. The human mind, according to Turgot, developed in three stages. At first, when people had no idea of true causes, they imagined that “invisible beings,” gods, were responsible for everything that was not done by humans. Then philosophers started to criticize these conceptions, but because they also lacked sufficient knowledge of the true connections, they proposed explanations in terms of “abstract entities.” Scientific explanations emerged only much later with the help of mathematics.7 Comte might have known this text; he certainly knew Condorcet’s biography of Turgot and the Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (1794), which was an

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elaboration of Turgot’s scheme. Nor can other aspects of Comte’s sociology (the distinction between “statics” and “dynamics” or between “spiritual” and “worldly power”) be seen as important innovations. Comte undoubtedly made contributions to both positivism and sociology. Probably most important were his attempts to formulate more systematic and more elaborate conceptions, but interpreting them as remarkable breakthroughs in any sense is questionable. One may add that historically these contributions have not been especially significant either. Sociology became an academic discipline and logical positivism developed in philosophy, but in both cases the relationship with Comte’s conceptions was almost entirely nominal. For the logical positivists Comte hardly existed; there is not one such thinker for whom Comte has been important. In fact, Comte’s theory was opposed in many ways to the program of the logical positivists. Comte rejected the idea that there existed universal criteria by which scientific statements could be distinguished once and for all from nonscientific statements. He also rejected the reductionist ideal that was so dear to the logical positivists. In sociology the situation was the same. Durkheim, the sociologist who owed most to Comte, regarded the law of the three stages as a “historical curiosity.”8 He was no more strongly impressed with Comte’s other sociological insights.

ii. Comte’s Originality The conclusion, then, must be either that Comte was a very minor figure or that something has been overlooked. Commonly the first conclusion is accepted, but that, I think, is a major mistake because Comte’s intellectual contributions cannot be reduced to his positivism and his sociology. To do so is to fail to recognize his theory of the sciences; that lack of recognition is standard practice.9 Whatever may be the significance of his positivism and his sociology, Comte’s theory of the sciences was both more original and historically of much greater significance. Comte was more important as a theorist of science than as a positivist or a sociologist. Very briefly, one might say that Comte was the first to have developed systematically a historical and differential theory of science. Comte, in effect, broke with the idea that science could be founded on some nonhistorical, logical, or (in any case) universal principle. Accordingly he rejected virtually all of the existing theories. Descartes had located a foun­ dation for knowledge in an ahistorical subject; Leibniz had looked for a logical foundation and unification of the sciences; all classical theories presupposed that there actually was a timeless and universal criterion for truth.10 Comte’s epistemology broke with this presupposition as the result of a twofold operation. First of all, Comte historized the question: scientific knowl­ edge was to be seen as a historical process. Concepts and theories change;

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any statement about science therefore should be a statement about historical processes, not about universals. In comparison with the earlier contributions of Turgot and Condorcet and with the emerging historicism and Hegelian philosophy in Germany, this position was not uncommon. More original was the second operation, whereby Comte differentiated the sciences according to a theory about the specific characteristics of their object. He rejected monist or reductionist theories of science and replaced them with a differential theory. What science was not only depended on phases and stages, but also on the specific properties of the scientific object in question. It was impossible to reduce the different sciences to one basic type. This differential approach, first of all, was the establishment of a fact. With the expansion and the enormous prestige of science during the revolutionary period in France, scientific differentiation accelerated. The Academy of Sciences remained a dominant institution, but was no longer the undisputed center of scientific work. Under the old regime the Academy of Sciences, like other academies, had held a monopoly on judgment. A scientist’s career depended essentially on the support of the Academy, which also controlled the possibil­ ities of publication. One of the major effects of the French Revolution was that the monopolistic structures (guilds and other professional corporations) were abolished. Universities and academies were replaced by new institutions such as the École Polytechnique, specialized journals arose, scientific societies were founded, and at the same time conflicts became manifest between different groups of what soon would be “disciplines” in the modern sense. The new regime was a more differentiated structure, in which the traditional, “supradisciplinary control” was weakened severely.11 This shift may be described as the transition from the classical to the modern epistemic regime. It was accom­ panied by a similar change in epistemology.12 Whereas theories of science during the Enlightenment had been based on the unity and invariability of reason, around 1800 epistemology became an area for competing conceptions and divergent cognitive strategies. In France this change led to open conflicts, especially between represen­ tatives of the mathematico-mechanical disciplines and spokesmen for the life sciences. Each group tended to defend a form of monism. Representatives of the mathematical sciences, such as Condorcet and Laplace, claimed that their models also were valid for chemistry, biology, and even the “moral sciences.” With the tools of the calculus and probability theory, mathematization had become an important tool in many areas. Condorcet’s “social mathematics” was only one example of this trend. Representatives of the life sciences, on the other hand, argued that their theories were in fact more general. Cabanis, for instance, claimed that gravity was merely a particular form of “affinity” or “sensibility” and that physics therefore was part of the more general science of physiology.13

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Against this background, Auguste Comte may be seen as one of the first to have investigated these struggles with some detachment. He rejected the generalizations of the various parties and tried to specify the conditions under which certain methods and procedures were more effective than others. The result was a differential theory of science, which was founded on the distinction between different levels of complexity. Astronomers studied the geometry and the mechanics of celestial bodies; these were fairly simple phenomena. Physics was a more complex and less unified field that could not be reduced to mechanics. Physical phenomena (light, heat, electricity, magnetism), however, were simple enough for adequate mathematical description. Chemists studied matter at the level of molecular “composition” and “decomposition.” These processes were subject not only to the laws of mechanics and physics, but also to what were called “chemical affinities.” Biologists studied living beings, which were more complex than dead bodies. Their conduct could not be explained solely by physical forces and chemical affinities because it depended primarily on the “organization” of the body. Social phenomena were yet more complicated because human beings had the capacity to learn. In that respect they differed from other living creatures. The sciences, Comte argued, formed a series of increasing complexity and decreasing generality. The laws of mechanics and physics were fairly simple and were valid for all natural phenomena, big or small, dead or alive. Chemistry was more complex and less general. There were many physical phenomena without chemical effect, but no chemical phenomena without physical effects. The laws of biology were more complex, and were valid only for living bodies. The laws of human societies were still more complex and less general. Human beings formed, so to speak, the smallest subset of natural phenomena. This series of increasing complexity, according to Comte, also explained the historical development of the sciences. The human mind first discovered the principles of the simplest objects. Knowledge of more complex objects was acquired only after the simpler phenomena had become known. Chemistry became a positive science only in the eighteenth century. Biology was in the process of becoming a science; in sociology the first steps had yet to be taken. This basic idea of a differential series of the sciences was elaborated in detail in Comte’s Cours de Philosophie Positive, which appeared in six volumes between 1830 and 1842. Comte’s theory basically concerned the relationships between different sciences. He recognized, of course, that the sciences had characteristics in common; he discussed this matter in the first lesson of the Cours, where one finds Comte’s positivism. Yet these six volumes were not about what the sciences had in common. Contrary to what is generally assumed, they were not concerned with the demarcation between science and metaphysics. The Cours tried to explain how recent developments in the sciences could be interpreted in the light of the ontological scheme that Comte

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had developed earlier. Thus the Cours de Philosophie Positive is not a positivist textbook, and positivism (in the sense of an antimetaphysical conception of knowledge) is not the principal subject of the book. The Cours presents essentially an elaboration of a historical and differential theory of science. If this interpretation is valid, Auguste Comte can be described as one of the very first modern epistemologists. His differential approach to scientific knowledge implied a radical rejection of any claim for scientific monopolies. It also put an end to the illusion of universal methods. This antireductionist form of theorizing was an extremely important intellectual breakthrough. Therefore what must be explained is not so much Comte’s positivism or sociology as the rise of this theory.

iii. The Dynamics of the Comtean Project [ . . . ] A closer look at [Comte’s educational years, especially his training at and later exclusion from the École Polytechnique] makes it possible to reconstruct the steps that resulted in his theory. The first systematic outline can be found in a piece published in 1822; thus the theory essentially had emerged in the six previous years. In this period Comte struggled with two problems; both were linked to his exclusion from the École Polytechnique. The first problem was political; Comte blamed the Bourbon Restoration for his expulsion. His very first text is a violent attack on the “terrible league of kings and priests.” Almost immediately afterward, however, Comte raised the question of a more scientific approach to politics and society. In early articles he clearly drew on Saint-Simonian arguments, but his work differs in tone and style from the prophetic declarations of his master. His views corresponded to those of the liberal opposition, but they were not merely political comments. He wrote a text on tax reform that actually is an analysis of the function of taxes in industrial society. He also wrote a critical note about the role of liberal politicians, in which he stated that it is not possible to analyze and participate in politics at the same time. Thus even these early political texts revealed the attitude and the dispositions of a scientist, or in any case someone who was used to reasoning in a way that was very different from Saint-Simon’s. The second problem that concerned Comte was mathematics, which was the basis of the training at the École Polytechnique. Most of the leading scientists in France were mathematicians, and they had been either teachers or pupils at the school. Their reputation was due largely to what has been described as the “burst of mathematization” in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.14 French scientists firmly dominated this development, of which Laplace was the leading figure.15 Mathematics also was the science that Comte knew best. He did not doubt its significance, but he became increasingly critical about the way in which mathematical tools were used. He also was critical about

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the unlimited claims that were made in the name of mathematics. What was needed, he thought, was a theory of mathematics that also would account for its limitations. Such a theory would be useful both to scientists and to teachers of mathematics. Being liberated from the routines of the school, Comte felt that he perceived the imperfections of the school and of its mathematical spirit more clearly than other people. The book he planned on the subject, however, was never written. He abandoned it after writing about 80 pages because he soon discovered that a theory of mathematics would have to be based on the role of mathematics in science, and an explanation of that role would require a theory of science rather than a theory of mathematics. In 1819 Comte was convinced that he had formulated the problem in a new way and that he was reaching an interesting solution. The “learning years” were over, he wrote to a friend, and to mark the transition he changed his name from Isodore to Auguste. In a letter, the 21-year-old Comte explained to a friend that most mathematicians were merely “calculating machines.” They were preoccupied with a few very special questions, and did not even understand why the methods they applied were so effective. If they had some knowledge of other sciences and other methods, they would understand their own work better and would not pretend that all scientific problems had a mathematical solution.16 Comte had in mind specifically the biomedical sciences. For these disciplines, which were not taught in the École Polytechnique, the term “biology” was coined between 1800 and 1802. The introduction of a new term as a general designation for botany, zoology, and medicine was part of a struggle for scientific recognition. Lamarck, who introduced the term in France, had opposed the efforts of mathematical physicists in this domain and he strongly rejected the validity of their approach. A similar position had been formulated by Bichat, who belonged to the so-called Montpellier school. Comte referred often to Bichat and called him the true founder of biology; in the positivist calendar it is Bichat rather than Galileo, Newton, or Laplace who figures as the patron of modern science. The Montpellier version of biology is an important clue to the Comtean theory of the sciences. According to Bichat, living organisms differ from inorganic phenomena because they are irregular. Therefore in biology it is impossible to look for the same kind of regularities as in mechanics. Mathe­matical models are inappropriate, and biology should be an independent science based on the study of “vital principles” or “vital forces.”17 Comte was not an unconditional admirer of this concept. He reformulated certain aspects, but basically he agreed with it. With the recognition of biology as a science different from physics, Comte acquired a fruitful analogy by which to redefine the status of social science: Social science would be to biology what biology was to chemistry. This reasoning can be found almost literally in a

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note written by Comte in 1819. The note is titled “On the attempts that have been undertaken to found the social science on another science.”18 If the analogy with biology was to be followed, what were the specific characteristics of social phenomena as compared to biological phenomena? The answer can be found in a text about Condorcet, written in the same year. The progressive development of civilization, or the law of progress, is the dominant force in the human world. It was, in a way, the “vital principle” in the life of human beings; according to Comte, it was to Condorcet’s credit that he had discovered it. Thus Bichat’s concept of biology was the clue to Comte’s theory of the sciences. The theory of the sciences, in turn, was the solution to the two problems with which Comte struggled: mathematics and politics. In his epistemology they form the two ends of the chain. One may add that Comte’s understanding of biology also was crucial for his sociology. His sociological conceptions depended strongly on biological notions, and his sociological vocabulary is essentially a transposition of biological concepts. Comte recognized that sociology was a different science from biology, and that the law of the three stages was the specific principle of human society. Yet although he never ceased to stress this point, his notion of historical processes remained biological. Progress was the development of order; dynamics, for that matter, were subordinated to statics. Comte borrowed this idea from biology, a biology that was not evolutionist but “preformist,” and in which developments were seen as the realization of a pre-existing entity. The appropriate images for this mode of thinking were embryos and germs.19

iv. A Critique of Mathematical Reason Comte’s theory was the outcome of a dilemma. It was the work of a man thoroughly trained in the mathematical and physical sciences, who had been virtually expelled from the scientific community and excluded from the career possibilities that his education normally offered. From the beginning, Comte’s intention was critical; he wanted to write a critique of mathematical reason. Yet it was no less typical of his project that this critique would be constructive. It would be based on science and would be addressed to the very people who formed the object of his criticism. Comte did not recognize any reference group other than these mathematically trained physicists at the École Polytechnique and the Academy of Sciences. He did not try to find a position anywhere else, and he maintained that biologists and sociologists should learn mathematics and physics before starting to work on more complex objects. Comte tried to convince his former colleagues that they unjustly claimed a monopoly on scientificity. There were other positive sciences, in which

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physicists could learn other procedures than those to which they were accustomed. From biologists they could learn the comparative method; from sociologists they could learn the historical method. To think that there were mathematical methods for these sciences was to strive for “impossible perfection,” as Comte said in his early texts. His later formulations were less diplomatic; in the Cours he rejected probability theory because he saw it as an instrument of mathematicians with which to dominate the other sciences. On the other hand, Comte did not agree with the biologists’ claim to independence. Increasing complexity also meant increasing dependency. Living beings depended on chemical and physical processes, whereas physics and chemistry did not depend on biology. Biological phenomena formed a specific level of reality, but this was not an independent level. Nor was it an antagonistic level, as Bichat had supposed. The struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death was a vitalist myth that Comte did not accept. Instead he did much to find concepts that could bridge the gap between the organic and the inorganic. His idea was that of “relatively autonomous” sciences. Comte formulated this idea, although he did not use this expression, which seems to be very recent. (It is found in the work of Louis Althusser and Norbert Elias, both of whom have expressed their admiration for Comte.) [ . . . ]

v. Conclusion Comte’s theory of the sciences was a detailed elaboration of a historical and differential theory of science. It was opposed to any form of cognitive absolutism; however strange it may seem, Comte thought of himself as a relativist. “Tout est relatif, voilà la seule chose absolue” was a favorite maxim of the young Comte.20 For Comte this “relativism” was related to the historical nature of science and to his differential ontology of the sciences. The theory was formulated in opposition to different forms of absolutism, but because it presented an ontological scheme, it also was opposed to the intellectual voluntarism that spokesmen of the literary intelligentsia propagated. Chateaubriand and later romantics adhered to the cult of the creative genius. Against such forms of intellectual voluntarism, Comte’s theory presented an account of the sciences that was formulated in terms of the degree of complexity and generality of their object. Ultimately the issue is whether there is a need and a possibility for such a form of ontology. If this is the case, Comte’s conception certainly has not lost its relevance. The difference in levels of complexity is a central issue in any discussion of the ontological questions of science, and it is a central topic again in contemporary epistemology. Comte’s historical and differential theory of science inaugurated an original tradition in epistemology. This tradition may be regarded as specifically French.

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It started to develop at the end of the nineteenth century, when academic philosophers such as Boutroux began to be interested in Comte’s work. Ever since that time, French history and philosophy of science have been closely intertwined. This historical epistemology, as it has been called, replaced the search for logical foundations with a problematic in which processes of concept formation and theory building were analyzed as historically and regionally bound. This mode of analysis, represented by Bachelard and Canguilhem, continued something that began with Auguste Comte and that was opposed—curiously enough—to the logical positivism that had come to dominate the AngloAmerican world. This tradition was used by Althusser to reinterpret Marx, was renewed by Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, and is present in the assumptions of many French works. In this respect Comte’s work may be said to represent a tacit reference for quite a few leading French intellectuals. The French reception of Kuhn’s work, for example, which has astonished foreign observers, can be understood only with reference to the Comtean tradition in the sense outlined above. If Auguste Comte is seen in this way, one cannot easily overestimate his significance. Yet this is not the whole story. In fact, Comte’s theorizing contained a fundamental shortcoming. This was not so much his “positivism” or his “internalism” as his objectivism. Comte’s approach was limited to a theory about the subject matter of the different sciences. It gave no real account of the subjects of scientific work or the social practices in which they are involved. For Comte science was an activity of humanity; the only way in which he could explain why certain people discover certain things at a certain time was by referring to his levels of complexity: the human mind necessarily discovered simple things before more complex phenomena. That is a poor explanation for the actual development of the sciences. By eliminating the scientists from science, Comte eliminated all the problems of interpretation and sociability, of hermeneutics and sociology. Recent work has made it quite clear that these dimensions, which are related to scientific actors and to the social arrangements that they form, should be included in any adequate theory of science. Yet there is no reason why such a theory should be incompatible with a historical and differential epistemology such as Comte proposed.

Notes   1. Henri Gouhier, La jeunesse d’Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme (Paris: Vrin, 1933–41).   2. Roger Hahn, The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666–1803 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), p. 34.   3. Nicole Dhombres and Jean Dhombres, Naissance d’un nouveau pouvoir. Sciences et savants en France (1793–1824) (Paris: Payot, 1989), p. 450.   4. Auguste Comte, “Premier mémoire sur la cosmogonie positive,” in Ecrits de jeunesse, 1816–1828 (Paris: Mouton, 1970), p. 585.

170  •  Johan Heilbron   5. Auguste Comte, “Cours de philosophie positive,” in Philosophie première. Cours de philosophie positive, Leçons 1 à 45. Présentation et notes par M. Serres, F. Dagognet, A. Sinaceur (Paris: Hermann, 1975), p. 26.   6. Auguste Comte, Discours sur l’esprit positif (Paris: Vrin, 1983), pp. 64–65.   7. A. R. J. Turgot, “On Universal History,” in On Progress, Sociology and Economics, ed. Ronald Meek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 61–119.   8. Emile Durkheim, “La Sociologie,” in Textes, Vol. 1 (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975).   9. For one of the very few exceptions, see Norbert Elias, What is Sociology? (London: Hutchinson, 1979). 10. See for example R. McRae, The Problem of the Unity of the Sciences: Bacon to Kant (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1961). 11. R. Stichweh, Zur Entstehung des modernen Systems wissenschaftlicher Disziplinen. Physik in Deutschland 1740–1890 (Frankfurt am Main: Surhkamp Verlag, 1985). 12. For a more detailed analysis, see Johan Heilbron, The Rise of Social Theory, trans. Sheila Gogol (London: Polity Press, 1995). 13. M. S. Staum, Cabanis: Enlightenment and Medical Philosophy in the French Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 179–182. 14. Thomas, Kuhn, “Mathematical vs. Experimental Traditions in the Development of Physical Science.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 7 (1976), 1–31. 15. Robert Fox, “The Rise and Fall of Laplacian Physics.” Historical Studies in the Development of the Physical Sciences, 4 (1974), 89–136 and I. Grattan-Guinness, “Mathematical Physics in France, 1800–1840,” in Mathematical Perspectives: Essays on Mathematics and its Historical Development, ed. J. W. Dauben (New York: Academic Press, 1981), pp. 95–139. 16. Auguste Comte, “Lettre à Valat, 24–9–1819,” in Correspondance générale et confessions. Vol. 1 (Paris: Mouton, 1973). 17. See Georges Canguilhem, Etudes d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences (Paris: Vrin, 1983), pp. 75–80. 18. Auguste Comte, “Premier aperçu d’un travail sur le gouvernement parlementaire considéré comme régime transitoire,” in Ecrits de jeunesse, pp. 473–482. 19. Georges Canguilhem, G. Lapassade, J. Piquemal, and J. Ulmann, Du développement à l’évolution au XIXe siècle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1985), pp. 22–25. 20. Comte, “Premier apercu  . . . ”



Why Was Comte an Epistemologist? ROBERT C. SCHARFF

In “Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology,” Johan Heilbron recommends that contemporary reconsiderations of Comte’s philosophy should avoid interpreting his work in terms of either twentieth-century positivism or the familiar textbook sketches of his role as “founder” of positivism and “father of sociology.”1 This is good advice. In the first place, almost everyone from John Stuart Mill forward berates Comte for failing to appreciate the need for a formalized account of scientific methodology—an “organon of proof,” in Mill’s Baconian phrasing.2 Moreover, Comte’s famous “Law of the Three Stages” of human intellectual and social development is typically construed as damning evidence of his tendency to speculate unscientifically about empirical issues. Mill likened it to the useless retelling of a story whose favorable outcome we already know. Durkheim called it a “historical oddity,” symptomatic of Comte’s tendency to treat ideas about material reality more seriously than material reality itself. And the logical positivists regarded Comte’s law as so embarrassingly unempirical that some of them took on the title “logical empiricist” out of fear their views might otherwise be associated with Comte’s. Yet like Heilbron, I think Comte actually had good reasons for being anti-formalist about scientific epistemology—substantive reasons that make him more interesting today, after the demise of logical positivism as a movement, than his later progeny. Also like Heilbron, I think the textbook accounts of Comte’s conceptions of positivism and sociology make him so unimpressive that, were they accurate, we would indeed have little reason to study him today. 171

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This said, however, I propose a different response than Heilbron’s. I do not think that the only (let alone the best) way to counter the standard accounts is to simply admit that “neither Comte’s positivism nor his sociology was particularly original” (AC, 154; RST, 198–201) and then move quickly to a revisionist analysis of his epistemology. Not only are the standard accounts of Comte’s “positive philosophy” quite wrong, but I believe that without a better understanding of this philosophy—and especially of the role played in it by Comte’s law—the underlying rationale for the very epistemology Heilbron wants to praise will remain obscured. It may be true, as Heilbron claims, that Comte founded an original epistemological tradition, but as I argue elsewhere and summarize here, Comte’s reasons for being epistemologically innovative are ultimately neither epistemological nor even scientific, and it is these reasons that make him more than just historically interesting.3 In a word, Heilbron explains how Comte reformed epistemology for the sake of better science. I consider why Comte thought better science was philosophically important.

i. Heilbron: Comte’s “Differential” Epistemology Comte’s originality, Heilbron claims, actually lies in the area of his primary concern, namely, providing a general theory of science that stresses the historical determinateness of scientific practice and the irreducible ontological variability of its objects (AC, 156–57; RST, 234–35). Our primary source for this theory is said to be Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive, which is concerned mainly with “epistemological research.” For in spite of appearances, its “philosophical and political aspects were secondary.”4 As for Comte’s theory itself, it marks a radical break with “virtually all existing theories” of his time, since it denies that science can be founded “on some nonhistorical, logical, or . . . universal principle” (AC, 155; cf., RTS, 234–53). According to Heilbron, Comte’s theory was his response to an initial “dilemma”—one at once “political” and “mathematical”—and it is best under­stood through its “social dynamics” (AC, 157–58; RST, 221–22, 250–51). Both because Comte was “virtually expelled from the scientific community and excluded from the [normal] career possibilities,” and because he was unusually knowledgeable about biomedical research when most of his peers still pictured science in terms of physics and chemistry, Comte possessed the “critical distance” needed to recognize the serious limitations of the reigning institutional conception of scientific practice. Above all, this conception was excessively dependent, both theoretically and metaphorically, on the image of the mathematical character of scientific theorizing (AC, 159; RST, 250–51). Indeed, Comte’s theory of science amounts to a kind of “critique of mathematical reason.”5 But whatever it is called, Comte’s

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“historical and differential theory of science inaugurated an original tradition in epistemology” that for a while dominated French social thought at a time when Paris was recognized as the “international capital” for innovative social theory (AC, 160–61; RST, 262–66, 271–73). If original, however, Comte’s theory strikes Heilbron as deeply flawed. “Restricted to the objects of scientific knowledge, it failed to take into account that the knowledge of these objects presumes active subjects” (RST, 252; AC, 161). Comte’s “objectivism” betrays an excessively intellectualist interpretation of scientific knowledge that fails to do justice to the historical record and wrongly depicts science as “more a natural than a social process,” whose theories arise primarily through a Cartesian-like movement from simpler to more complex conceptualizations. In short, Comte’s theory seems to imply that science is essentially a logical process, so that a perfectly adequate theory of science might well begin by “eliminating the scientists from science . . . [along with] all the problems of interpretation and sociability, of hermeneutics and sociology” (AC, 161; cf. RST, 253). Heilbron obviously does not see in Comte any anticipation of the Social Studies of Science movement; yet he insists that we treat Comte’s objectivist account of the “ontological condition” of scientific practice as only one-sided, not mistaken. For it stands as a necessary corrective to those recent theorists who embrace the other extreme and “propagate a purely subjectivist theory in which the features of the object studied are no longer accounted for” (RST, 253). For these theorists, there are no scientists either, “only sly subjects that con­struct ‘realities’ independently of any ontological [i.e., “objective”] condition. These scientists without objects are the exact opposite of Comte’s objects without scientists.” Hence, Heilbron concludes, an adequate contemporary theory of science would be one that combines all the recent studies of the “activities, interpretations, conflicts, and interests” of actual scientists with an empirically corrected version of Comte’s “differential” approach. Here, then, are the parameters of Heilbron’s interpretation. He focuses primarily on Comte’s significance from the standpoint of the history and sociology of science, especially social science. He identifies the personal-social origins of Comte’s epistemological theory, evaluates the theory’s factual accuracy, and recommends revisions for the sake of an empirically more accurate theory. As he puts it in The Rise of Social Theory, his aim is to “combine intellectual history with social history” to produce an account of both modern social science, specifically, and scientific practice, generally, as an “intellectual field.” Historians of ideas may very well detect theoretical affinities and patterns of intellectual development, but they can only explain their findings by explicitly taking into account the social dynamics of intellectual

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production. Textual and historical interpretation thus need to be combined with a sociological perspective. (RST, 270, my emphasis) In other words, Heilbron interprets Comte’s theory itself as a scientific object (but without forgetting it is produced by an active subject); and he holds that if his analysis of its intellectual content and his explanation of its socio-historical conditions are factually adequate, we may conclude that the theory has been “understood.”

ii. Rejoinder: Comte’s “Positive Philosophy” Of course, this quick-and-dirty description of Heilbron’s decades-long research program is thin and unfair in various ways, but I offer it primarily as summary, not critique. Of course, I would object if Heilbron’s socio-historical analysis, explanation, and resultant empirical understanding were mistakenly interpreted as telling the whole philosophical story of Comte’s approach to science. But Heilbron knows he is doing social science; the mistake would be to transform his results into social scientism. Hence, my own approach to Comte’s epistemology is very different from Heilbron’s, but it is not its rival. He presents an empirically contextualized description of what Comte did, together with an account of some antecedent and contemporaneous conditions in terms of which he did it. He then shows how a study of subsequent events teaches us that an adequate picture of scientific practice cannot remain objectivistically Comtean, nor become strong-program social constructivist instead. Heilbron is therefore justified in characterizing his work as preparing the way toward an improved “historical understanding” and more sophisticated “social theory” of scientific practice—one that might allow us to “analyze the intellectual field [of science] as a whole,” awaken social scientists from their “disciplinary slumbers,” and “contribute to [their] collective self-understanding” (RST, 267–73). My interpretation starts, more or less, where Heilbron’s project would ideally reach its completion. He shows convincingly that Comte hoped his considerable effort to develop an improved theory of science might initiate epistemological reform among his scientific colleagues. But Comte himself warns us not to think of this as the whole story. My Cours, he says, is “a course on positive philosophy, not on the positive sciences.” The “foundation” of this philosophy is the Law of Three Stages, and its “full character” is elucidated in terms of four “principle general advantages,” only two of which are primarily (and even then not entirely) about epistemology.6 In short, Comte’s fundamental concerns are extra-epistemological from the start. Granted, Comte realizes that one advantage of positive philosophy is that analyzing

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“the general traits of the sciences” facilitates scientific progress; but even here, his reasoning has an extra-scientific focus. Scientists do better, he says, when they are reminded that whatever disciplinary boundaries they assume for the sake of specialized research, these boundaries are all somewhat “artificial,” since the essence of science lies in the kind of philosophical approach it is, not in any specific methodological instantiation of this approach (CPP, 43–47/25–28; 3/1). Comte defends the epistemology he does and views scientific practices the way he does because his three-stage law requires it. His “objectivism” is not just the function of a theoretical decision to offer scientists a better epistemology. It expresses his underlying conviction that the method that unifies the special sciences is best understood as the explicit articulation of our third and final “way of philosophizing” that we adopt in becoming intellectually “mature.” Only in this way, Comte explains, can we see why thinking like a scientist is important in the first place. Comte’s “plan” for this positive-philosophical defense of science took shape in the early 1820s, when Gustave d’Eichthal sent him a French translation of Kant’s Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Viewpoint, and Comte replied that if he had known of it earlier, he would have been spared the trouble of writing his own version.7 After that, Comte stopped thinking of himself as a pioneer in the general effort to produce a “scientific history” of human development and began to emphasize instead the specific contribution his threestage law could make to it. Of course, Heilbron is right that Comte’s law is not “original” in the empirical sense of his being the first to talk about stages of intellectual development. But we should add that Comte himself was always more interested in contextualizing his ideas than in touting their originality. “No idea,” he says, “can be understood otherwise than through its history” (CPP1, 3/1). In this instance, he wants to show how his three-stage law can contribute decisively to the transformation of the older sacred histories into a genuinely scientific one, by depicting mature intelligence not just in terms of science in its final condition, but in relation to its pre-scientific origin and developmental trajectory, its underlying aims, and its role in the wider human world.8 Moreover, Comte insists the ultimate point of this larger story is political, which is why his list of positive philosophy’s greatest advantages refers so indirectly to epistemology. Heilbron protests that “If Comte did indeed primarily have political or ideological intentions, then it remains a mystery why he initially focused mainly on the development of the various sciences” (RST, 197–98; cf. AC, 154). “Initially” is at best ambiguous here, but the mystery disappears when we note that even in his earliest essays (called “Early Political Writings” for a reason), the importance of science is already linked to Comte’s more fundamental concern with the need for social reorganization. From the beginning, “intellectual” development as such is not Comte’s main interest.9 Hence, another of positive philosophy’s principle advantages

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is its capacity to explain why mature societies will replace elitist, classical education with a universal science-oriented curriculum—not just for the sake of better science, but because even those who do not become scientists must understand that science constitutes the successful culmination of a threestage intellectual pursuit of our oldest and most sought-after goals, namely, control over nature’s powers as a condition for political reorganization leading to social harmony. For Comte, the quicker humanity knowingly cedes power to mature intelligence, the quicker we can begin to successfully accommodate/control nature through the “engineering” (his word) application of genuinely predictive theories. With material security thus assured, we can go on to wrest control of social life from those theologically and metaphysically driven authorities who currently guarantee a world of continued upheaval and violence, beholden to their various incompatible, but equally “absolute” dogmas or ideologies. Like members of the scientific community, well-informed minds will be able to resolve their differences in social life as scientists do in the pursuit of knowledge—with evidence and conversation, not with Absolute Truth forced down the unwilling throats of the less powerful. In short, although it is in some sense correct to say Comte’s law is not original and accurate to place it at “the core of his sociology” (AC, 154; RST, 199), this is not very helpful. The law, as Comte describes and uses it, is clearly much more than a “systematization” of some similar considerations by Turgot that he “might have known” about; and it lies at the core of his sociology only because Comte thinks it lies at the core of everything that we say and do, at every stage of our intellectual (and with a time lag, socio-political) development.10 Finally and most importantly, Comte makes his law the basis of his own reflective defense of positive philosophy itself. Here, Heilbron’s acceptance of the “common meanings” of positivism as characterizing Comte’s position is unfortunate. Were it really the case that Comte promoted the “imitation of the natural sciences in the domain of the human sciences” and took a strongly “anti-metaphysical” stance toward pre-scientific thought, then his position would indeed be less interesting—but this would also mean that by his own lights, Comte was not really a positivist at all.11 When “common meanings” force us to conclude that the founder of the positivist movement was no positivist, we might well ask whether he is being understood. The problem is easy to identify, but harder to analyze. It is later positivists, not Comte, who gave us these common meanings. It is his more narrowly epistemological progeny who interpreted the “scientific worldview” as requiring commitments to formalism in epistemology (conceived as an internal disagreement with Comte on method) and empiricism in everything else (interpreted as implying an anti-metaphysical stance that no longer needs Comte’s defense). As we know, opponents of logical empiricism understandably have seen themselves as post-positivist when they rejected these austere commitments. But what,

Why Was Comte an Epistemologist?  •  177

then, are we to make of the fact that Comte also rejected these commitments, in the name of positivism? This matter is easily muddled because philosophical positions are so often defined in terms of their explicit doctrines instead of the underlying orientation that makes these doctrines seem right in the first place.12 Thus Comte did indeed reject the strictly “logical analysis” of scientific method, and like many post-positivists, he did so out of respect for actual scientific practice. But Comte was no post-positivist. He was not reacting to logical empiricism. So how could it be so clear to him that, philosophically speaking, variable practice must trump the intellectual urge for unity, when so many of his colleagues (and progeny) failed to see this? What made Comte so respectful of scientific practice, when others continued to take a more “Cartesian” attitude toward method? The short answer is that, given his reflective use of the three-stage law, he regarded their attitude as still metaphysical—that is, abstract, logical, preoccupied with the timeless and universal—whereas a mature intelligence favors observation over pure reason and recognizes that the last thing a budding scientific mind needs to hear, as it moves away from the absolutist and ahistorical attitude of theological and metaphysical thinking, is that there is a formal account of the scientific method that captures all its “essentials.” Obviously, a longer answer lies beyond the scope of this essay, but let me conclude by saying a bit more about the continuing relevance of Comte’s idea of thirdstage thought and life—an idea that seems to me more bothersomely familiar than historically remote.

iii. Comte’s Positivism Today Consider first Comte’s surprisingly generous attitude toward pre-scientific thinking. Unlike many later philosophers—only some of them positivists— Comte does not interpret scientific thinking as a kind of leap beyond tradition; nor does he regard it as just self-evidently the way reason operates when it gets things right. Enlightenment advocate he may well be, but for Comte, one must earn the right to be one. When a scientific mind says that “knowledge” must be based on “observation,” we must understand how these thick, rich, even lifedetermining terms carry with them the wisdom and folly of inherited practices, and this means retracing the development of such practices. For example, when Comte says we cannot “know” whether there is a god, or an afterlife, or a purpose to life, it is not because he is committed to a silly linguis­tic theory that explains these questions away as artifacts of a mistaken belief that all nouns must have referents. Rather, mature minds realize in retrospect—by, so to speak, recalling their own and humanity’s intellectual development—that answers to these sorts of questions will never be found, because “evidence” is permanently unavailable. What our cumulative experience tells us is that truly

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educated persons turn to poetry, art, and music to celebrate these questions as mysteries, rather than to religious texts or metaphysical treatises in hopes of finding answers to them.13 At the same time, even if claiming knowledge of life’s mysteries is the mark of an immature mind, Comte warns against taking a dismissive attitude toward them. For example, atheism’s self-assured claim that no deity exists is equally theologico-metaphysical. Comte is thus interpretively generous about pre-scientific thought because his defense of intellectual “maturity” partly depends on showing that it is a transformation, not a rejection, of theology and metaphysics. Indeed, philosophical appreciation of the nature of scientific practice depends upon understanding this, for the traditional stories about philosophy’s origin are misleading. Theologians tell us it begins in fear and trembling; metaphysicians, in experiences of awe or wonder; but both therefore fail to identify the real purpose of their own resultant activities. At bottom, theological, metaphysical, and scientific thinking are equally “practical,” because all three have the same fundamental interest in finding the means to control our natural surroundings and organize peaceful societies. We all start life with the sense that nature and other people usually behave in expected ways. The ancient images of the harmony of the spheres and of a cosmos in which everything is busy being itself are not mere metaphors. They express what we humans take to be the essential conditions of a normally functioning world. It is the unexpected disruption of this orderliness that motivates intellectual development. Having ourselves been “theologians in childhood and metaphysicians in adolescence” (CPP, 7/4), we realize in retrospect that what we have always most deeply desired is restoration and maintenance of the sort of predictable existence we all begin by expecting. Hence, we have no reason to be embarrassed that we once worshipped gods or speculated about hidden powers—any more than we should be embarrassed that, say, we once talked like babies or lacked object permanence before we grew up. Comte employs his law, as we say, developmentally. We humans learn that real knowledge rests on observation by first experiencing the sorts of failures that result when one does not yet realize this. Thus, to fully understand the nature and promise of science, one must skip the scientistic trashing of prescientific thought, look beneath all the usual epistemological analyses, and see scientific thought as the culmination of a learning process in which the “way” of philosophizing changes, but not its point. Theology and metaphysics are just as concerned to develop explanations for the unexpected and unwanted as science; and prayer and ritual, and meditation on first principles, are just as much forms of technology (i.e., applications of explanatory theories). It is just that applied science really works. Of course, one could ignore all this and settle for determining what Comte’s law gets empirically right. I suggest, however, that we have more

Why Was Comte an Epistemologist?  •  179

to gain by pondering his “positive philosophical” conception of third-stage intelligence as our inheritance—that is, as the default understanding of life in the “developed world” (with the rest of the world chauvinistically conceived as either undeveloped or developing). Think of the Comte who explicitly embraces, reflectively defends, and draws out the extra-scientific importance of a “scientific view of the world”—and then notice that he preserves our access to what later positivists ignored, consigned to history, psychology, and sociology, but nevertheless continued to assume and thus passed down to us anyway. Of course, we inherit Comte’s scheme with misgivings he never entertained. Certainly, in less privileged parts of our world, his view resonates with actual and urgent physical and social needs. But is Comte right that our primary—as opposed to circumstance-driven—desires are to control nature and live “orderly” lives?14 Are we still confident that “intellectual development” is a one-size-fits-all, “scientifically” definable idea? What sort of politics really goes together most conveniently with “knowledge is power” and “social peace through social engineering”? Something secular and democratic, or . . . ? Does Comte’s positivistic practical-mindedness—however extended and pluralized—paint the right picture of the point (or perhaps points) of life? Indeed, does life have any “natural” point at all? I think Comte is helpful here precisely because he does not ask these questions. He never considers a fourth stage. For him, third-stage life just is our final condition—that is, the successful ending of a quest that is now acknowledged to be endless. Mature minds learn from their theological and metaphysical failures that there is no universal system of absolute truth, that claims to knowledge are always “relative” to available evidence, and that all knowledge is ultimately valuable for what it enables us to do. In the scientific stage, we are forever in the process of getting what we have always wanted. Third-stage life is not just somewhat better than theologically or metaphysically defined life; it is our proper condition and is understood in maturity to be that condition. This is Comte’s story as far as he lived it. His mature thinkers have no experiential incentive to ask whether the third stage might in some fundamental way be incomplete or unsatisfying. Today, Comte’s Enlightenment optimism is not so easily embraced; but we should do more here than merely direct our twenty-first century misgivings at his nineteenth-century “theories.” Comte did indeed make empirical claims and develop an epistemology— one that by his own standards now obviously calls for critique on the basis of our own “observations.” Yet challenging Comte’s claims and theories does not automatically make us post-positivists. Beneath the surface of our updated theories and epistemologies, we all remain to some extent happy Comtean pragmatists, eager to assume that all the disruptive features of life will eventually be tamed into “practical problems” soluble by

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technoscientific means. Comte felt free to depict the future as simply more of the same for more of the globe, and there is something profoundly right about this. His is an empirically plausible and “developmentally” persuasive picture of what is ever more widely occurring in any case; and that picture still lives in us. But that is precisely my point. Thinking of our own experience as still permeated by something like Comte’s conception of third-stage life gives us a fresh way to consider our misgivings about this default position without assuming that an improved epistemology, alternative social and political theories, and maybe some supplementary inquiry concerning the good life will move us past these misgivings. Both Comte’s optimism and our misgivings spring from living through his philosophical positivism under differing conditions, not as the consequence of anything specific asserted in (or against) its name. What we inherit, as Comte’s defense of this positivism shows, is not just scientific and extra-scientific theories plus our second-order take on them, but a whole underlying “way of philosophizing” in the midst of which we remain—new epistemologies, axiological theories, and consciously adopted post-positivist counter-positions notwithstanding. Critically reconsidering this underlying “developed-world” sense of existence depends in the first instance on discovering that we already “have” it, rather like we discover at a certain point that we have and are “living” a native language. We can enact it, adapt it to new circumstances, become critically reflective about it, even consider moving (transformatively, of course) beyond it; but it is self-deception to think we can simply walk away from it in favor of another choice.

Notes   1. Johan Heibron, “Auguste Comte and Modern Epistemology,” Sociological Theory 8/2 (1990): 153–62 [hereafter, AC]; also, in full dress, Heilbron, The Rise of Social Theory, trans. Sheila Gogol (London: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 205–53 [hereafter, RST]. See also Mary Pickering, Auguste Comte: An Intellectual Biography, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2009, 2009), vol. III, pp. 564–79.   2. Mill’s relationship with Comte was complex. He began with strong praise for Comte’s Cours, acknowledging its influence on his own work, but cooled toward him during their eight-year correspondence. As their socio-political and epistemological differences became obvious, Mill turned decidedly negative, ridiculing Comte’s later writings and even removing passages acknowledging influence or expressing praise from later editions of his Auguste Comte and Positivism. See John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte and Positivism, in Collected Works, vol. 10. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), pp. 261–368, esp. xlvi–lv (editor’s introduction), 265, 328–29. See also Pickering, August Comte, vol. I, pp. 505–38; and Robert C. Scharff, Comte After Positivism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 45–72.   3. Scharff, Comte After Positivism, pp. 143–207; “Empirical Technoscience Studies in a Comtean World: Too Much Concreteness?,” Philosophy and Technology 25/2 (2012): 153–77; How History Matters to Philosophy: Reconsidering Philosophy’s Past After Positivism (New York: Routledge, 2014), pp. 127–52.

Why Was Comte an Epistemologist?  •  181   4. RST, 234. References to Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive, 6 vols. (Paris: Bachelier, 1830–42) and to “Lessons” 1–2, Introduction to Positive Philosophy, trans. Frederick Ferré (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988) will be cited as CPP, reference to volume and page no. of the 1830–42 edition, plus English translation, if available.   5. AC, 159–60. Heilbron seems to be thinking especially of Comte’s objection to the excessive love for mathematical modeling among biomedical scientists.   6. CPP, 24–25, 32/14, 19; cf. Comte, A Discourse on the Positive Spirit, trans. Edward Spencer Beesly (London: William Reeves, 1903), §§2–3, 78. I ignore the first advantage—that is, positive philosophy’s making possible the discovery of the “logical laws of the human mind”—which expresses Comte’s opposition to both the mischief of the pseudo-scientists of “spiritual substance” like Royer-Collard and Cousin, and the general tendency (even among scientists who remain too “Cartesian”) to privilege traditional deductive logic as “the” way mature minds reason.   7. Pickering, Auguste Comte, vol. I, pp. 290–92.   8. See Pickering, Auguste Comte, which promises to define the field of Comte scholarship for decades to come.   9. Or maybe better, intelligence rather than intellect, to stress that Comte’s interpretation of “thinking” includes the role of all the powers that contribute to any theorizing at any stage of development (viz., feelings, instincts, imagination, will, as well as cognition proper). Moreover, seen in terms of Comte’s larger concerns, his law is clearly not just about theology, metaphysics, and science as such, but equally about childhood, adolescent, and mature thinking as these manifest themselves (under the right conditions) in developing individuals, cultures, and societies, not just in the special sciences. 10. I share Pickering’s doubts about Turgot’s influence. Condorcet’s biography does not, as Heilbron claims, discuss specifically Turgot’s three-stage “scheme”; and like Pickering, I would emphasize that for all Comte’s eagerness to “gather eighteenth-century ancestors once he broke with Saint-Simon,” the Cours cites neither Turgot’s Discours, nor its conception of a three-stage law (Pickering, Auguste Comte, vol. I, p. 200, n. 32). 11. RST, 198–99; AC, 154. Heilbron admits that Comte’s “expanded definition” of “positive” in the 1844 Discours is “part of positivism in a more philosophical sense” and “undoubtedly original”; but he dismisses it as a “later addition.” There, Comte says philosophy is “positive” because it is concerned with what is (1) real (accessible to observation); (2) useful (to improving the human condition), (3) certain (i.e., opposed to encouraging indecision), (4) precise (not vague), (5) constructive; and (6) relative (to evidence) (Comte, A Discourse on the Positive Spirit, pp. 64–71). What Comte does add “later” to his original slogan of “order and progress” is “benevolent love,” along with “sympathetic” as a seventh sense of “positive,” meaning the capacity to recognize what reason guided by the other six characteristics can (and cannot) attain. 12. This is what Heilbron misses in claiming that “positivism was never a dominant movement in France” (RST, 46). 13. Comte’s view of the arts, however, is somewhat unpleasantly “moralistic and utilitarian,” not genuinely aesthetic. He sees them as good mainly for building character, moral sensibility, sociality (Pickering, Auguste Comte, vol. III, pp. 638–41). 14. For example, later theories of social peace often still privilege order over sociality, but who is still as confident as Comte that the latter will follow, given enough of the former (Andrew Wernick, Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-Theistic Program of French Social Theory [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001], pp. 120–25; 214–20)? Nor are we still smitten with nineteenth-century notions of social harmony based on tenuous analogies with the scientific “community.”



John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)

Introduction John Stuart Mill is a major voice in English nineteenth-century philosophy. While his thoughts have their roots in Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, he was influenced by the German tradition, especially Wilhelm von Humboldt (whose work he quotes in On Liberty, [1859]). Mill also wrote a book on Auguste Comte. Mill’s engagement with French and German philosophy made him a truly European thinker whose work would shape the philosophical landscape across national borders and movements. Mill’s contribution spans large and covers logic, economy, philosophy of science, epistemology, mathematics, social philosophy, feminism, and other areas. More than anything else, however, his name is associated with liberal political theory. In his Harvard lectures on the history of modern political philosophy, John Rawls engages Mill’s concept of utility, his account of justice, and his social theory. The following chapter contains Rawls’ discussion of the Principle of Liberty, in which he sees an anticipation of his own position (including the Principle of Justice). John Skorupski’s response to Rawls, “John Rawls on Mill’s Principle of Liberty,” takes issue with the affinity Rawls sees between Mill’s understanding of liberty and justice, and Rawls’ own idea of justice as fairness. Skorupski points out that such a reading risks being unhistorical. He also discusses the differences 183

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between Mill’s position and modern liberal thought. As read by Skorupski, Mill’s liberalism is not only committed to freedom, but also to human happiness.

Further Reading • Fred R. Berger, Happiness, Justice and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. • John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. • John Skorupski, Why Read Mill Today? London: Routledge, 2006.




The Principle of Liberty JOHN RAWLS

i. The Problem of On Liberty (1859) 1. I begin with stating the problem of On Liberty as Mill formulates it in Chapter I.1 This problem is not the philosophical problem of freedom of the will, but that of civil or social liberty. It is the problem concerning “the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” This is an ancient problem, but one that, Mill believes, in the state of society of the England of his day, assumes a different form under new conditions. It requires, therefore, a different and, in Mill’s view, more fundamental treatment (I: §1). What Mill has in mind is that the problem of liberty, as he anticipates it, will arise in the new organic age in which society will be democratic, secular, and industrial. The problem is not that of protecting society from the tyranny of monarchs, or rulers generally, for this problem has been settled by the establishment of various constitutional checks on government power and by political immunities and rights. The problem concerns the abuses of democratic government itself, in particular the abuse by majorities of their power over minorities. Mill says: “The will of the people . . . practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people—the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power” 185

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(I: §4). Thus Mill’s concern is the so-called “tyranny of the majority,” to which Tocqueville had previously drawn attention.2 2. Note, however, that Mill is equally concerned with “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, . . . the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development . . . of any individuality not in harmony with its ways . . . There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism” (I: §5). Moreover, Mill foresees that this problem will occur under the new conditions of the imminent democratic society in which the newly enfranchised laboring class—the most numerous class—will have the vote. The problem, then, is to determine what, under these new circumstances, is the “fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control” (I: §6). Some rules of conduct, legal and moral, are plainly necessary. No two ages resolve this question in the same way, and yet each age thinks its own way is “self-evident and self-justifying” (I: §6). 3. At this point Mill stresses a number of characteristic faults of prevailing moral opinion. Thus, this opinion is usually unreflective, the effect of custom and tradition. People are likely to think that no reasons at all are required to support their moral convictions. And indeed some philosophers (perhaps Mill refers to the conservative intuitionists here) encourage us to think that our feelings are “better than reasons and render reasons unnecessary” (I: §6). Then Mill states one of the main principles he wants to attack: “The practical principle which guides them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct is the feeling in each person’s mind that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathizes, would like them to act” (I: §6). Of course, no one “acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking”; but Mill maintains that it is true nonetheless, because: “an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person’s preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people’s liking instead of one” (I: §6). But to most people, their own preferences supported by the preferences of others are perfectly satisfactory reasons, and in fact, the only reasons they usually have for their moral convictions. [See also IV: §12.] 4. The prevailing moral opinion in society tends, Mill believes, to be a grouping of unreasoned and unreflective, mutually supporting shared preferences; yet these opinions are influenced by many kinds of causes: (a) For instance, where there is an ascendant social class, a large portion of the morality of a country reflects the interests of that class and its feelings of class superiority.

Mill: The Principle of Liberty  •  187

(b) But also, the general and obvious interests of society have a share, and a large one, in influencing moral opinion; so the role of utility (in Hume’s loose sense of an appeal to these interests) is not unimportant. These general interests, however, have their effect less from being recognized by reason than as a consequence of the sympathies and dislikes that grow out of them. Thus, to sum up Mill’s argument, the unreasoned likings and dislikings of society, or of some dominant portion of society, are the main elements that have, up to now, determined the rules for general observance, which have been enforced by the sanctions of law and prevailing opinion. And “wherever the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed” (I: §7). 5. I have gone into these details since they help us recognize how Mill views the problem of liberty and what he sees the Principle of Liberty—first stated in I: §9—as doing. Mill wants to change not only the adjustment between social rules and individual independence, as actually determined up to now, but also how the public—the educated opinion he wants to address—reasons about those adjustments. He is presenting his Principle of Liberty as a principle of public reason in the coming democratic age: he views it as a principle to guide the public’s political decisions on those questions. For he fears that the sway of prevailing and unreasoned opinion could be far worse in the new democratic society to come than it has been in the past. Note that Mill thinks that the time for making changes is “now,” but the situation is not hopeless. [Cf. III: §19 esp.] “The majority have not yet learnt to feel the power of government [as] their power, or its opinions their opinions” (I: §8). When those in the majority, including the new laboring class, come to feel this way, individual liberty will be as exposed to invasion from government as it has long been from public opinion. On the other hand, Mill thinks there is much latent resistance to such invasions. But the situation, as he sees it, is in a state of flux and can go perhaps one way or the other. “There is . . . no recognized principle by which the propriety or impropriety of government interference is customarily tested. People decide according to their personal preferences” (I: §8). They rarely decide in accordance with any principle, “to which they consistently adhere, as to what things are fit to be done by government.” It is because of this lack of principle (in this state of flux) that when government does intervene, it is as likely to be wrong as right (I: §8). 6. Putting this together with I: §15, where Mill speaks of the present tendency to increase the power of society while reducing the power of the individual, we can say that he hoped to do the following:

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(a) He aimed to state a principle of liberty appropriate for the new democratic age to come. This principle would govern the public political discussion of the adjustment of social rules and individual independence. And: (b)  By convincing arguments, Mill wanted to build up support of this principle “a strong barrier of moral conviction” (I: §l5). The disposition of people to impose their own opinions can only be restrained by an opposing power; in this case Mill thinks it must be at least in part the power of moral conviction. And: (c) These arguments are to be based on reason, because only in this case do they appeal to genuinely moral convictions as opposed to widely shared and mutually supporting preferences. Here it becomes plain that by reasoned arguments Mill means arguments founded on the Principle of Liberty (as he explains it in Chapter I, §§9–13), and as it is connected with his conception of Utility (I: §11). This principle meets, he thinks, all the requirements of a reasoned principle, whereas no other principle does so. The Principle of Liberty is presented, then, as a public political principle framed to regulate free public discussion concerning the appropriate adjustment between individual independence and social control (I: §6). As such, it will be instrumental in shaping national character to have the aims, aspirations, and ideals required in the age to come. I comment here that Mill’s chosen vocation is evident: he sees himself as an educator of influential opinion. That is his aim. He thinks the situation is not hopeless: the future is still open. It is not unreasonable, or merely visionary, to try to forestall the possible tyranny of democratic majorities in the coming age. Plainly Mill attributes significant efficacy to moral convictions and to intellectual discussion about political and social matters. (Here he would seem to differ from Marx. But there is a question how to put this more exactly: for Marx too asserts that his Das Kapital has a social role.) Attempts to convince by reason and argument can have an important bearing, at least in those circumstances where things are in flux and can still go one way or the other. I wouldn’t say that Mill’s tone is particularly optimistic. He is doing what he thinks he can best do in the present circumstances. [ . . . ]

ii. Some Preliminary Points about Mill’s Principle 1. Before taking up the meaning and force of Mill’s Principle of Liberty, I consider a few preliminary points relating to it. Note first that he thinks of it as covering certain enumerated liberties. They are given by a list and not by a definition of liberty in general, or as such. (This procedure was used in justice as fairness, where Mill is followed in this respect.) It is these listed liberties

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that receive special protection and that are defined by certain legal and moral rights of justice. (a) First (covering the inward domain of consciousness), liberty of conscience, liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical and speculative, scientific, moral or theological. Freedom of speech and press is practically inseparable from the preceding. (b) Second, liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the “plan of our life to suit our own character,” without restraint so long as we do not injure the legitimate interests (or moral rights) of others, and even though they think our conduct foolish, degrading, or wrong. (c) Third, liberty to combine with others for any purposes that do not injure the (legitimate) interests of others; freedom of association. (For a, b, c, see: I: §12.) Mill adds that “No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified” (I: §13). Thus, for the most part, Mill presents his argument by defending these specific liberties. He focuses primarily on the first two in Chapters II and III, respectively. 2. Next, observe the scope and the conditions under which Mill says the Principle of Liberty applies: (a) It does not apply to children and immature adults; or to the mentally disturbed (I: §10). (b) It does not apply to backward societies: he says: “Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion” (I: §10). Mill notes that the nations with which he is concerned in the essay are nations that have long since reached this stage. (c) Later Mill adds that the Principle does not apply to a people surrounded by external enemies, and always liable to hostile attack. Nor does it apply to a people beset by internal commotion and strife, in either of which a relaxation of self-command might be fatal (I: §14). 3. From these remarks it is clear that the Principle of Liberty is not a first or supreme principle: it is subordinate to the Principle of Utility and to be justified in terms of it. Rather, the Principle of Liberty is a kind of mediate axiom (Utilitarianism, II: §§24–25). But nevertheless one of great importance: it is a principle of public reason—a political principle to guide the public’s discussion in a democratic society.

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That the Principle of Liberty is viewed by Mill as a mediate axiom, a subordinate principle (II: §24), is confirmed by what he says in I: §11: he writes: “I forego any advantage which could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract right, as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions.” He adds the very crucial rider: “but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.” [ . . . ] For now I note that among them [these permanent interests] are interests in the firm guarantee of the moral rights of justice, which establish the “very groundwork of our existence” (Utilitarianism, V: §25). Another permanent interest is an interest in the conditions of free individuality, which conditions are an essential part of the engine of progressive change. Mill’s idea is that only if a democratic society follows the Principle of Liberty in regulating its public discussion of the rules bearing on the relation of individuals and society, and only if it adjusts its attitudes and laws accordingly, can its political and social institutions fulfill their role of shaping national character so that its citizens can realize the permanent interests of man as a progressive being.

iii. Mill’s Principle of Liberty Stated 1. Mill states the Principle of Liberty in I: §§9–13; IV: §§3, 6; V: §2, with further explanation in §§3 and 4. In the first statement it reads as follows (I: §9): “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is selfprotection.” He adds that: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” Someone’s own good is a good reason for: “remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise.” To justify such coercion requires that the conduct in question is likely to produce evil to someone else. Regarding the part of a person’s conduct that concerns himself alone, Mill says: “his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (I: §9). 2. This principle is, of course, intended by Mill to apply to restraints on liberty that are the result of what Mill calls the “moral coercion of public opinion,” as well as to the restraints of law and other institutions enforced by sanctions of the state. We can formulate the principle of liberty in the form of three clauses as follows: First Clause: Society through its laws and the moral pressure of common opinion should never interfere with individuals’ beliefs and conduct unless

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those beliefs and conduct injure the legitimate interests, or the (moral) rights, of others. In particular, only reasons of right and wrong should be appealed to in public discussions. This excludes three kinds of reasons: Liberty, III: §9; IV: §3. (i) Paternalistic reasons, which invoke reasons founded on other persons’ good—defined in terms of what is wise and prudent from their individual point of view. (ii) Reasons of excellence and ideals of human perfection, specified by reference to our, or to society’s, ideals of excellence and perfection. (Utilitarianism, II: §6; On Liberty, IV: §§5, 7. All of IV: §§3–12 is important.) (iii) Reasons of dislike or disgust, or of preference, where the disliking, disgust, or preference cannot be supported by reasons of right and wrong, as defined in Utilitarianism, V: §§14–15. Thus, one way to read Mill’s Principle of Liberty as a principle of public reason is to see it as excluding certain kinds of reasons from being taken into account in legislation, or in guiding the moral coercion of public opinion (as a social sanction). In the case of public reason, the three kinds of reasons given above count for zero. I call your attention here to a question of interpretation. I have read the first clause of the Principle of Liberty as saying that society should never interfere with an individual’s belief and conduct unless that person’s beliefs and conduct injure the legitimate interests, or the moral rights, of others. This doesn’t always fit with Mill’s own way of stating the principle. He says in I: §9: “the sole end for which mankind are warranted . . . in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection.” Or: “to prevent harm to others.” Or: “the conduct . . . must be calculated to produce evil to some one else.” Or: “the only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others.” And in I: §11 he speaks of conduct “hurtful to others,” and in IV: §3, of conduct that “affects prejudicially the interests of others.” Obviously much that others do concerns us, but that is not to say that what they do produces evil to us. As Mill says in IV: §3, “The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others . . . without going the length of violating any of their constituted rights.” “Concern” and “affect” are general terms covering much. We must decide, then, how to resolve this implicit ambiguity and vagueness of Mill’s language and to do so in a way that makes sense of his text. To this end I read the leading text as given by III: §9 and supported by IV: §3. So we say the following, drawing on IV: §3: First Clause: Society should never interfere with the individual’s beliefs and conduct by law or punishment, or by moral opinion as coercive, unless

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the individual’s beliefs and conduct injure—that is, wrong or violate—the legitimate interests of others, either in express legal provisions (assumed to be justified), or by tacit understanding ought to be considered as (moral) rights. This still needs some commentary and interpretation, but we are now getting a definite doctrine. Now let’s take bits at the start of III: §9 and later parts of the paragraph to render it more exact: Society is to allow the cultivation of individuality “within the limits imposed by the (moral) rights and the (legitimate) interests of others.” Hence, individuals are “to be held to rigid rules of justice for the sake of others” and within these limits they are to give fair play to the nature of different persons, allowing them to lead different lives as they choose, because “whatever crushes individuality is despotism.” Accepting this for the moment, I continue the exposition. Now, Mill is not denying that in other contexts—say in the context of personal life, or in the internal life of various associations—considerations that fall short of violating the (moral) rights of others can be sound reasons. Of course they can be. Nor is he denying that our dislike of and our annoyance with the beliefs and conduct of others is painful to us, even when it does not affect our rights or legitimate interests. Of course it is painful! And so it is a disutility, to use the general term. His view is that to advance the permanent interests of humankind as a progressive being, society does better if it resolutely adheres to the Principle of Liberty that directs it to exclude the three kinds of reasons noted above. Thus, Mill’s principle imposes a strategic constraint on the reasons admissible in public political discussion and thereby specifies an idea of public reason. (Compare this to the idea of public reason in Restatement.)3 3. Second Clause: If certain kinds of individual belief and conduct do injure the legitimate interests and moral rights of others, as shown by the considerations of right and wrong admissible by the first clause, then public discussion may properly take up the question whether those beliefs and conduct should be in some way restricted. The question may then be discussed on its merits, but of course excluding the three kinds of reasons noted above. Observe that because injury to the legitimate interests or moral rights of others (as currently understood, or specified) can alone justify the interference of law and moral opinion, it does not follow that it always does justify it. The question remains to be discussed on its merits in terms of admissible reasons. Third Clause: The question must be settled by those merits. 4. In conclusion, the substantive force of Mill’s principle of liberty is given by the three kinds of reasons excluded by the first clause, with the last two clauses saying in effect that reasons of right and wrong, as defined in Utilitarianism, Chapter V: §§14–15, especially reasons of moral rights and justice,

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must settle the case. The result is that only certain kinds of reasons—only certain kinds of utilities—are appropriate to invoke in Mill’s form of public reason.

iv. On Natural (Abstract) Right 1. Let’s ask why Mill said (in I: §11) that he would forgo any advantage to his argument that could be derived from the idea of abstract right as a thing independent from utility. One obvious reason, certainly, is simply to inform the reader of his philosophical position and to reaffirm his official utilitarian view that all rights, whether moral, legal, or institutional, are founded on utility (Utilitarianism, V: §25). Utilitarians generally recognized the various rights of private property, for example. They held that these rights are justified because they promote the general welfare. But it is also possible, in principle at least, to argue that restrictions on the right of private property, or its abolition altogether, might be even more favorable to the general welfare, in view of present or future social conditions. Mill accepts the general form of this argument. The special features of his view arise from his interpretation of utility in terms of the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. The idea that rights have a philosophical justification apart from utility, whether utility is understood in Bentham’s or in Mill’s way, or in some other way, all utilitarians rejected. This was one of their objections to the idea of natural rights, which Bentham described as “nonsense on stilts.”4 2. But a second reason why Mill mentions his disavowal of abstract right is that his formulation of the principle of liberty may seem to presuppose it. This he wants to deny. But if the overwhelming majority of society wants very much to interfere with the self-regarding conduct of but a few others—and Mill, in his strong chapter on “Liberty of Thought and Discussion,” says they have no right to do so (On Liberty, II: §1)—we want to ask why shouldn’t they? On some ways of understanding utility, the sum of utility would certainly seem to increase. Mill also says at the same place (II: §1) that the principle of liberty of thought and discussion is to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual when the question of compulsion and control arises. I assume here that Mill means by “absolutely” that the principle of liberty admits of no exceptions, that it always holds under the normal conditions of the democratic age (at least barring very special circumstances). One is led to ask how the principle of liberty could always hold and allow of no exceptions, even in the case of a single individual, unless the principle invoked some natural right that could not be overridden.

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Here we have to keep in mind Mill’s statement in II: §1, where he says that even a whole people lack the power (right) to silence political discussion, even against a single person. This power, whether exercised by the people or by their government, is illegitimate. He says: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Once again, this prompts us to ask: how can the number of persons fail to make any difference as to the justification of silencing discussion unless some doctrine of natural, or abstract, right lies in the background? Is Mill simply indulging in a rhetorical flourish? 3. I interpret the passages that suggest a doctrine of abstract right as Mill’s way of saying that it is better for the advancement of the permanent interests of man as a progressive being that the public political conception of the coming democratic society always affirm the principle of liberty without exception, even when applied to the case of a single individual dissenter. Keep in mind that what Mill is doing is advocating the principle of liberty as a principle subordinate to the principle of utility to govern the public political discussions as to how to regulate basic political and social institutions. Recall that he regards these institutions as ways to form and to educate a national character suitable for the democratic age. He is saying that when we understand the role of the principle of liberty and the present and future conditions of its application, we will see that there are no good reasons founded on utility for making any exceptions when utility is properly understood as the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. This interpretation is confirmed by what Mill says in II: §1. He writes: “Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception . . . of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Of course, Mill has in mind opinion on general matters of doctrine, political and social, moral, philosophical, and religious. He believes it is in the permanent interests (security and individuality) of man as a progressive being to know which of these general doctrines are true, or most reasonable; and he believes also that the necessary condition of reasonable belief on these questions is complete freedom of discussion and inquiry. “The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded” (II: §8).

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Thus by silencing one person in expressing an opinion, we do injury to the public process of free discussion. And this free process of discussion is necessary for advancing the permanent interests of man as a progressive being in the present age. Moreover, the injury done to free discussion is done without any compensating advantage. Not only does the silencing of discussion educate to the wrong kind of national character, but it tends to deprive society and its members of the benefits of truth. This last point is made in On Liberty, II: §§3–11, the “infallibility argument,” in which Mill argues that no human, regardless of his convictions, is infallible; and if all who express contrary opinions are suppressed, those who are wrong will lose the chance to discover the truth.

v. Conclusion As we have discussed it, the idea of public reason involves the idea of admissible reasons vs. those reasons that are not admissible. But grounds must be given for why all reasons are not admissible, since it is easy to think that surely all reasons should be tallied up. Different political conceptions of justice may, of course, hold different reasons as admissible and offer different grounds for doing so. In justice as fairness, the grounds for limiting the reasons admissible in public reason are the liberal principle of legitimacy—the principle that the collective political power of citizens on matters of constitutional essentials and basic questions of distributive justice should turn on the appeal to political values that all citizens may reasonably be expected to endorse, and so rest on a shared public understanding. Given the fact of reasonable pluralism, which free institutions lead and sustain, citizens have a duty to one another to exercise their power in accordance with this principle. A democratic society in which this is done realizes an ideal of civility.5 Mill’s grounds for his idea of public reason are different, of course, but hardly antithetical. His principle of liberty along with his principles of moral right and justice, and the other principles of the modern world, are all principles subordinate to the supreme principle of utility. The principle of liberty is to be strictly followed in public discussion. This is part of society’s basic institutions educating citizens to a certain national character: one that, of course, takes the equal liberties for granted, and promotes in the most effective way the permanent interests of humankind.

Notes 1. John Stuart Mill, Collected Works (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963–1991), vol. XVIII. Further references to this work will be given by chapter and section. Mill’s Utilitarianism (also referenced by chapter and section) can be found in Collected Works, vol. X.

196  •  John Rawls 2. See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Henry Reeve (1st ed., London: Saunders and Otley, 1835). 3. To publicly justify our political judgments to others is to convince them by public reason, that is, by ways of reasoning and inference appropriate to fundamental political questions, and by appealing to beliefs, grounds, and political values it is reasonable for others also to acknowledge and endorse. John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001), p. 27. [ . . . ] 4. Bentham said in Anarchical Fallacies: “Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,—nonsense on stilts.” See Nonsense upon Stilts, ed. Jeremy Waldron (London: Methuen, 1987), p. 53. This book contains the text of three historically important critiques of the rights of man, those of Bentham, Burke, and Marx. 5. See Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, pp. 40–41 and pp. 90–91, on the liberal principle of legitimacy and the fact of reasonable pluralism. See also Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993; paperback ed., 1996), pp. 137, 217.



John Rawls on Mill’s Principle of Liberty JOHN SKORUPSKI

i. For many years John Rawls gave lectures at Harvard on the history of political philosophy. John Stuart Mill was regularly discussed in them. The version of the lectures that was eventually published as Rawls’s Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy1 contains four lectures and an appendix on Mill, along with lectures on Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau and Marx. One of the lectures on Mill (13 out of 68 pages) is on Mill’s Principle of Liberty – the principle expressed and defended in the essay On Liberty. As one would expect, given the time at his disposal, Rawls’s discussion of the Principle is selective. But what he says is generous, perceptive and grounded on very careful reading and reflection. It is, in its own right, an important contribution to studies of On Liberty. Beyond that, and equally interestingly, it tells us something about what one great liberal philosopher thought about another. It also reflects an explicit and admirable conception of how the history of philosophy should be done, which we can well begin by considering. One of the places in which Rawls spells out this conception is a note called “Some Remarks About My Teaching”:2 I always tried to do two things especially. One thing was to pose their [the philosophers he discussed] philosophical problems as they saw 197

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them, given what their understanding of the state of moral and political philosophy then was. So I tried to discern what they thought their main problems were . . .  Another thing I tried to do was to present each writer’s thought in what I took to be its strongest form. I took to heart Mill’s remark in his review of [Alfred] Sedgwick: “A doctrine is not judged at all until it is judged in its best form.”3 Yet I didn’t say, not intentionally anyway, what to my mind they should have said, but what they did say, supported by what I viewed as the most reasonable interpretation of their text. The text had to be known and respected, and the doctrine presented in its best form. Leaving aside the text seemed offensive, a kind of pretending. To appreciate that this is good advice is not difficult, to apply it is not easy. In fact it takes exceptional patience, care, impartiality and open-mindedness to apply it fully. Rawls had these qualities to a high degree. We see them at work in his discussion of Mill’s Principle of Liberty. Nonetheless we can still ask how far, perhaps without intending to, he tells us what Mill should have said, had he been a Rawlsian, as against what he actually did say. We shall come to this question, but let me first summarise the main outline of Rawls’s interpretation.

ii. In line with his remarks about method, Rawls begins by considering Mill’s aims and the way these affect his choice of topic, his argument, and its virtues and defects. As he rightly emphasises, Mill saw himself as an educator of enlightened and advanced opinion. His aim was to explain and defend what he took to be the appropriate fundamental philosophical, moral and political principles in accordance with which modern society should be organised . . . Mill thought modern society would be democratic and industrial and secular, that is, one without a state religion, a non-confessional state.  . . . He hoped to formulate the fundamental principles for such a society so they would be intelligible to the enlightened opinion of those who had influence in political and social life. Mill’s aim then, in Rawls’s view, was to formulate principles that would not only be normatively appropriate in their guidance for modern politics, but also be likely to find general acceptance. This, Rawls thinks, is what he saw as the function of the Liberty Principle:

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He is presenting his Principle of Liberty as a principle of public reason in the coming democratic age: he views it as a principle to guide the public’s political decisions on those questions. For he fears that the sway of prevailing and unreasoned opinion could be far worse in the new democratic society to come than it has been in the past.4 Clearly Rawls sympathises with Mill’s general aim. He might well see his own work as having the same aim. We shall have to come back to what he means by “public reason”, and whether such a concept can be ascribed to Mill. But one thing we can immediately see is that this reading of Mill’s aims helps Rawls to explain sympathetically the relation between the Liberty Principle and Mill’s underlying utilitarianism. Mill, he says, intends the Liberty Principle to guide public policy by ruling out as inadmissible three kinds of reason for compulsory (in any sense) interventions in people’s actions: (i) paternalistic reasons, (ii) perfectionist reasons, (iii) “reasons of dislike or disgust, or of preference, where the disliking, disgust, or preference cannot be supported by reasons of right or wrong, as defined in Utilitarianism, V”.5 This nicely captures at least the core of the Principle. Mill says that the Principle should apply “absolutely”; Rawls takes him to mean that it should be applied without exception, on the grounds that it better serves the progressive development of human beings, and thus their good, that “the public political conception of the coming democratic society”6 should adhere to this self-restraining principle unconditionally. Here again Rawls’s reading is perceptive and unfussy. Overall, Rawls takes Mill at his word when the latter says that the underlying philosophical ground for the Liberty Principle is utilitarianism, rather than any theory of natural rights. Nor does he dismiss this as implausible, though he points out that it is something for which a case has to be made. His general discussion of Mill’s utilitarian strategy can be found in his fourth lecture on Mill (“His Doctrine as a Whole”), and in the Appendix to the lectures on Mill. In the second lecture (“His Account of Justice”, pp. 266–283) he gives a similar “indirect utilitarian” reading of Mill’s account of justice, basing it on Mill’s complex discussion in Chapter V of Utilitarianism. There Mill characterises justice in terms of rights, gives a definition of rights in terms of obligations on the part of society to its individual members, and claims that the ground of any such obligations is utility. He proceeds to argue, substantively, that we are collectively obliged to safeguard to everyone certain “essentials of human well-being” that are necessary to “the very groundwork of our existence”.7 These are primary utilities that in a modern society should be guaranteed to each individual as a matter of right. Rawls takes him to be advocating a “social minimum” conception of justice.

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Thus Rawls’s overall picture of Mill’s strategy – as liberal educator of the public – takes him to argue indirectly from an underlying ethical principle, the principle of utility, to two explicit principles “of public reason in the coming democratic age” – namely, the Principle of Liberty and the Principle of Justice. These respectively guarantee the liberties and the minimal welfare of all citizens of a modern democracy. Mill’s reason for advocating them, on Rawls’s view of his aims, is that they stand a good chance of securing general acceptance, and that such general acceptance will best promote what Mill famously conceives of as “utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being”.8 I believe this overall picture of Mill is accurate and insightful. Not surprisingly, moreover, Rawls thinks it brings out some important ways in which Mill’s strategy for liberalism is close to his own. In the rest of this essay I want to consider how far this is true.

iii. We can begin by asking how closely Mill’s ideas about liberty and justice resemble Rawls’s conception of “justice as fairness”, which comprises first, principles that guarantee to individuals adequate equal liberties and second, the wellknown difference principle, the former taking precedence over the latter. Rawls sees them as very close. Indeed he says they are so close “that, for our present purposes, we may regard their substantive content as roughly the same”.9 This last remark goes too far, whatever present purposes may be. It has some plausibility as regards the Liberty Principle – but even there it is unhistorical. One very important difference is that for Mill the Liberty Principle is not part of a larger view that holds that the liberal state must be “ethically neutral” – whereas that requirement is a central feature of Rawls’s liberalism. We shall come to this. More immediately striking, however, is the difference between Mill’s principles of justice, so far as they can be reconstructed, and Rawls’s Difference Principle. Here a first thing to note is that Mill has many things to say about justice, scattered across all his moral and political writings. They have been very well surveyed by Fred Berger.10 All the same, in the way that there certainly is a Millian Principle of Liberty, there is no Millian Principle of Justice. This is in itself noteworthy. Although Mill could be very passionate indeed about what he saw as injustice, and had, for example, radical views about inheritance, he did not formulate a principle or principles of justice in the way that he formulates and defends a Principle of Liberty – in a long philosophical essay specifically devoted to the subject. His philosophical attention, as against his frequent and intensely moral attention to specific injustices, was directed much more to the notion of liberty than to principles of justice.

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Still, what Rawls is specifically concerned with in his lectures is Mill’s discussion in Chapter V of Utilitarianism. In so far as a principle can be drawn from Mill’s discussion of justice in this chapter, it can indeed reasonably be seen as a social minimum principle – one that guarantees to everyone the “essentials of human well-being”. But Rawls’s difference principle is different and stronger. As he formulates it in the lectures on Mill and elsewhere, it states that “social and economic equalities” can be justified only if they “are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society”.11 This is much more demanding than a principle that simply requires universal provision of “essentials of human well-being” and otherwise leaves open the question of what and how inequalities can be justified. No clear view of political actuali­ ties could regard “their substantive content as roughly the same”. The idea of a guaranteed social minimum, unlike the difference principle, is part of real-life democratic politics. That there should be some sort of social minimum is not much questioned. People differ widely about where it should lie, and about various other questions, for example, about whether different levels of support should be provided to the deserving and the undeserving – but they do not, on the whole, deny that some sort of social minimum should be guaranteed by society. (I should note, perhaps, that I am writing this from Europe.) In contrast, there is much evidence that when the Difference Principle is put to people they reject it. So the idea of a social minimum of collective support is close to common moral sense as found in many liberal democracies, whereas the Difference Principle is not. It is hard to see why a utilitarian should seek, as a matter of strategy, to shift moral common sense in the direction of the Difference Principle. This is by no means to deny that there are strong utilitarian arguments for more equality than is actually found in modern democracies. But it is not obvious, from a utilitarian standpoint, that the best way to pursue greater equality is by promoting a public principle that gives absolute priority to making the worst off better off, however slightly, and at whatever cost. In contrast the idea of a social minimum principle has some real leverage as a publicly accepted principle of democratic politics – and it is plausible that something like the Principle of Liberty has some real leverage too. The three kinds of reason for intervention that – as Rawls says – it disallows are indeed widely treated with suspicion; although public reluctance to allowing intervention based on such reasons is far from the “absolute” ban prescribed by Mill. Still, it is not unreasonable to hold first, that Mill’s principles of justice and liberty, as characterised by Rawls, can be defended on utilitarian grounds (whether or not that is the best way to defend them), and second, that they have considerable acceptability in modern democracies: a base of acceptance from which one might argue for principles of a Millian kind, if not exactly Mill’s.

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The issue of public acceptance is important for Rawls because of the philosophical weight he puts on what he calls “overlapping consensus”.12 Rawls believes his principles of justice as fairness can be justified from a variety of reasonable ethical positions, of which utilitarianism is one, though only one. This, if true, would greatly add to their stability. Rawls accepts that utilitarianism is a “reasonable” ethical position, though he does not endorse it, and he accepts that utilitarianism could form part of an overlapping consensus on Mill’s principles of justice and liberty. However, even if Mill is right in thinking that utilitarianism can be part of an overlapping consensus on his principles of liberty and justice, that does not show that it could be part of an overlapping consensus on Rawls’s – unless Rawls sets his difference principle aside. It is interesting to note, then, that Rawls holds that a social minimum principle, but not the Difference Principle, should be seen as a “constitutional essential” in a democratic and liberal state.13 One of his reasons is that some form of social minimum has a greater chance of widespread acceptance than the difference principle; he maintains, however, that the philosophical case for the Difference Principle remains. Of course overlapping consensus and public acceptance are not the same thing. They are nonetheless connected, the more so the more one thinks that people’s ethical positions (in a liberal democracy) are by and large reasonable, and that they are not confused about what follows from them. In that way, and to that extent, an argument seeking to show that the Difference Principle would feature in a thought-out overlapping consensus is weakened if, in fact, settled moral common sense in a liberal democracy rejects it in favour of a social minimum principle.

iv. I shall not pursue further these interesting questions about the difference principle and the social minimum, since our main concern is Mill’s Principle of Liberty. Here the most significant issue is how Mill’s overall conception of the content and aim of a public principle of liberty in a democratic state differs from that of Rawls’s. It is the heart of the difference between Millian and Rawlsian liberalism. But since both authors have extensive and complex things to say about it, we can only scratch the surface. Rawls’s strong and evident inclination to bring Mill’s ideas about liberty and justice close to his own does not, I believe, arise simply from a strategic interest in finding an overlapping consensus. At a deep level he feels affinity with Mill and thinks of him as belonging to his own kind of liberal tradition. Somewhat surprising evidence for this can be found in Rawls’s lectures on the history of moral philosophy.14 There he refers at several points to what he calls the “liberalism of freedom”. He characterises it as the view that civic and political freedoms are ends in themselves, and not merely means to something

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else, such as happiness – and he classes Mill, along with Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and himself as a liberal of this kind. “Rousseau and Mill thought that the institutions of freedom were good for their own sake, and not only as a means to happiness or welfare” – in contrast: The liberalism of the (classical) utilitarians – Bentham, James Mill, and Sidgwick – is distinct from the liberalism of freedom. Its first principle is that of the greatest happiness summed over all individuals. If it confirms the liberal freedoms, it is a liberalism of happiness; yet if it doesn’t confirm these freedoms, it is not a liberalism at all. Since its basic ideal is that of maximizing happiness, it is a contingent matter whether doing this will secure the basic freedoms.15 Note the difference between this reading of Mill and that offered in the lectures on the history of political philosophy. There, as we have seen, Rawls attributes to him a strategy of working out principles of justice and liberty that are consistent with utilitarianism and will also secure general consent. Why isn’t that the liberalism of happiness? The situation is somewhat complicated by a distinction Mill makes in Utilitarianism, between means to and parts of happiness. It is highly impor­tant to his form of utilitarianism, but would have been rejected by Bentham, James Mill and Sidgwick. He applies it to virtue in Utilitarianism, and to individuality in On Liberty, arguing in the former that virtue can become a “part” of happiness, and in the latter that individuality can become an “element” of well-being. When virtue and individuality are so incorporated, through individual self-culture, they give access to higher forms of happiness, though they also open up possibilities of disappointment and discontent. The point of Mill’s distinction, obviously, is to deny that virtue and individuality are simply means to happiness. For a developed human being they become ends in themselves – but as parts of happiness, not in contradistinction to it. Whether or not this line of thought can be defended, it is crucial to Mill’s liberal politics. It is an aspect of the “Aristotelian principle” that Rawls rightly attributes to Mill,16 according to which the most valuable forms of happiness are achieved through development of one’s potentialities – the Millian assumption being that both virtue and individual spontaneity of character are such developments. To that extent, then, Rawls is right to place Mill apart from the other utilitarians, and I would not in any way diminish the importance of this difference. However, to approach what Rawls calls the liberalism of freedom, Mill would have to argue not just that the virtues of spontaneity and moral freedom can become parts of happiness, but that living in a society that has the “institutions of freedom” is itself a part of happiness. He does not say that, and

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it does not seem a plausible thing to say. Those institutions are, rather, means to cultivation of a character that has access to the higher forms of happiness. For Mill, as for the classical utilitarians, it is a contingent matter that they are the best means. Crucially, for Mill, utility should be understood in the large sense that takes full stock of the Aristotelian principle. Nonetheless, if a despotism, or a paternalist meritocracy, can best secure the achievement for many of utility in that large sense, fine. Mill’s basic claim for democracy is that that is not possible once human beings “have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion”.17 He thinks this claim is founded on very deep facts about human nature. They are however, still empirical facts about human nature. His is a liberalism of happiness, not a liberalism of freedom.

v. In Rawls’s lectures on the history of political philosophy the discussion of Mill is realistic and careful, and the distinction between “liberalism of freedom” and “liberalism of happiness” disappears. We should follow Rawls’s own principle of historical method by noting how he saw the aim of these lectures: I shall try to identify the more central features of liberalism as expressing a political conception of justice when liberalism is viewed from within the tradition of democratic constitutionalism.18 This is a somewhat contorted formulation, because so much of Rawls’s background thinking is packed into it. He sees liberalism as a political doctrine about justice, a doctrine to be understood and assessed ab initio from within the framework of democratic constitutionalism. This way of seeing liberalism would surprise a classical liberal, say like Benjamin Constant or Madame de Staël, whose commitment is to the value of personal liberty, who does not see the vital question of personal liberty as having much to do with separate questions about social justice or political participation, and who does not think that personal liberty is something to be evaluated from within a framework that takes democracy as a given, but thinks, rather, that it is the prime value by which democracy itself should be evaluated – cautiously. As a framework for the history of political philosophy, Rawls’s aim could not illuminate the priorities of such liberals. Their liberalism is, indeed, the liberalism of freedom, though a different kind of freedom to that of Rousseau, whom they opposed. However, Rawls’s framework may seem to fit Mill better. As he says, Mill’s adherence to the Liberty Principle is strongly strategic: Mill sees it as a vital safeguard for “utility in the largest sense” under the coming conditions of democracy, where he expects strong currents of conformism to flow. Mill makes no secret of this in the essay on Liberty (and is even clearer

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in his letters about it). At the same time he is eager to persuade as many people as possible, whether or not their ethical premises are utilitarian. That of course is what one expects, given that his aim is in the best sense political, and not just philosophical. To that extent a Rawlsian conception of Mill, as someone seeking to achieve consensus on institutions of liberty “from within the tradition of democratic constitutionalism” seems quite plausible. But it obscures crucial differences between Mill and Rawls. A basic theme in Rawls’s political philosophy is that democratic states must be neutral between rival conceptions of the good. This underlies the distinction he makes between “political” and “comprehensive” liberalism. Comprehensive liberalism derives the institutions of freedom from a fully worked-out conception of the good (or indeed the right, as in Kant). Political liberalism, in Rawls’s special sense, refrains from endorsing any such comprehensive doctrine. It recognises that in a democratic society there will be a variety of conflicting comprehensive doctrines. In view of this fact it seeks to establish institutions of freedom on the common ground of an overlapping consensus among reasonable ones. It proposes that these institutions should be entrenched in the constitution of the democratic state, and not left vulnerable to the vagaries of its legislature. What is it then, for an institution or a doctrine to be so entrenched? Here Rawls has a surprisingly strong view, encapsulated in his doctrine of “public reason”. It requires us “to make our case for legislation and public policies we support in terms of public reasons”,19 that is, reasons that do not go beyond the entrenched principles of political liberalism. The ethical neutrality of the state is a corollary, in that reasons derived from a conception of the good that goes beyond those principles are not in Rawls’s sense public, and so cannot be used to support a case for legislation or public policy. Somewhat implausibly, Rawls thinks his doctrine of public reason can be derived from the political virtue of civility between citizens.20 And he interprets Mill’s Liberty Principle in this way – see for example the passage I quoted in section II. How plausible is this interpretation? Let us first consider policies that prohibit or forbid. Obviously Mill would reject arguments for such policies that are inconsistent with the Liberty Principle. But does that mean that he would rule them out of democratic discussion in a political forum, as violations, in that context, of a duty of civility? Suppose a democratic legislature is considering whether to legalise assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness. One of the legislators expresses his intention to vote against the motion, on the conscientious ground that our lives are not ours, but God’s. That would not be an acceptable reason to prohibit assisted suicide in cases that involve adults who consent, according to the Liberty Principle. Should his argument therefore be disallowed from the debate? Should he be restricted to arguing that legalising assisted suicide might injure the interests of non-consenters? Does he infringe a duty of civility if he

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is honest about the case he really believes in? To my mind it is quite evident that Mill would not want to stop him from arguing as he does, although he would disagree with him. He does not envisage the Liberty Principle as a meta-principle of discourse, restricting what arguments can be put in public democratic debate. He would see that as an illegitimate restriction on liberty of thought and discussion. Let us turn next to policies of state support based on comprehensive conceptions of the good. Here the gap between Mill and Rawls widens. For Rawls, the state has no role in perfecting its citizens, since ideas about what constitutes perfection belong to wider conceptions of the good. In Mill’s view, we have a strong obligation of education to others through counsel and assistance: “Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter.”21 This obligation can be described as paternalist and, so far as it includes education for excellence, perfectionist. Nor are we talking here merely about civic virtues that are instrumental to responsible citizenship, but about virtue, excellence and prudence in the full and complete sense. Inevitably, then, in discharging our obligation we are expressing our conception of the good. Unlike Rawls, however, Mill has no principle of state neutrality that would forbid us from pursuing this obligation collectively, through action by the state. Forbidding the state from promoting any conception of the good is no part of his liberalism. On the contrary, he takes it as evident that the state has a duty to promote the well-being of its citizens, where that includes making them better people: the most important point of excellence which any form of government can possess is to promote the virtue and intelligence of the people themselves. The first question in respect to any political institutions is, how far they tend to foster in the members of the community the various desirable qualities, . . . moral, intellectual and active.22 This contrast goes very deep: Mill thinks the ultimate aim of both liberty and representative government is raising the excellence of the people, and he thinks that is the aim because it gives people access to the highest forms of happiness. The significance for politics of his ideas about higher forms of happiness is the great theme of his moral and political writings. In thinking about government he is not thinking, so to speak, from within democratic assumptions. He does not think the vote is a right in the way that liberty is. Famously, he thinks the franchise should favour the educated by giving them more votes. In short, he is not concerned to tailor the liberal ethos to the democratic ethos, but rather the other way round.23

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vi. Our conclusion about Rawls’s reflections on Mill must be mixed. In the Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy his approach to Mill, in particular to Mill’s conception of the relation between utility and liberty, is informed, thoughtful and sympathetic. Yet at the same time, and perhaps in part because he is so sympathetic, he tends to see Mill as much more in agreement with him than Mill really is. We have noticed various aspects of this. Easily the most important, however, is the attitude of the two thinkers to democracy. Mill is prepared for restrictions on the franchise that favour the educated, while insisting on liberty of discussion; Rawls, while taking universal democratic rights for granted, wants to regulate democratic discourse by principles of “public reason” – which Mill would most likely see as dangerous restraints on full liberty of discussion. To some extent, this may be explained historically, by the fact that Rawls wrote at a time, and in a polity, in which the assumption that a right to vote is fundamental, is simply taken for granted. Mill did not. To some extent it may be explained by the fact that they anticipated different dangers: for Mill the danger was a tyranny of conformist mediocrity, for Rawls it was that of democratic debate falling into division, acrimony and eventually violent conflict. Beyond that is a basic point: Mill’s political philosophy is thoroughly teleological. For him, as he said, the philosophical criterion of policy was not the will of the people, but the good of the people. If Rawls’s presentation of Mill obscures these momentous differences, it prevents us from learning lessons from them. We can ask whether the difference arises from a development in which, to put it for sure very crudely, democracy and equality rather than liberty and personal excellence come to be the basic values held by “enlightened opinion”. If we share Mill’s commitment to liberty and excellence, and his worries about the conformist effects of democracy, we can ask whether this development, if that is what it is, is a good one. And we can ask whether Rawls’s political liberalism does not lead us further towards it, instead of counteracting it – as Mill’s Principle of Liberty, including his passionate defence of liberty of thought and discussion, was meant to do.

Notes   1. John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).   2. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. xiii.   3. John Stuart Mill, Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (London: Routledge, 1963–1991), vol. 8, p. 52.

208  •  John Skorupski   4. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, pp. 251–2, 286.   5. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. 291.   6. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. 294.   7. John Stuart Mill, Collected Works, vol. X (Utilitarianism), pp. 255, 251.   8. Mill, Collected Works, vol. XVIII, (Liberty), p. 224.   9. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. 267. 10. Fred R. Berger, Happiness, Justice and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (London: University of California Press, 1984), chapter IV. 11. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. 267, note 3. 12. John Rawls. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), §11. 13. Rawls, Restatement, p. 48. 14. John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000). 15. Rawls, Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, pp. 340, 366. 16. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, pp. 269, 300. 17. Mill, Collected Works, vol. XVIII, (Liberty), p. 224. 18. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, p. xvii. 19. Rawls, Restatement, p. 90. 20. Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, pp. 286, 289–90, 291, 292–3, 296, 299. 21. Mill, Collected Works, vol. XVIII, (Liberty), p. 277. 22. Mill, Collected Works, vol. XVIII, (Considerations on Representative Government), p. 390. 23. For more on this aspect of Mill, and in general on the liberal critique of democracy, see John Skorupski, “The liberal critique of democracy”, in The East Asian Challenge for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective, ed. Daniel Bell and Li Chenyang (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).



Charles Darwin (1809–1882)

Introduction Charles Darwin’s work develops in dialogue with Continental nineteenthcentury thought (including that of the German philosopher and scientist Alexander von Humboldt), and would later influence nineteenth-century theories about human life and its place in nature, as well as debates about teleology and the idea of purposiveness in natural evolution. Darwin’s evolutionary theory is often presented as a path-breaking, yet simple discovery: At stake is a hypothesis about random development, among individual representatives of a species, of certain favorable characteristics, and the non-contingent favoring of these individuals and their offspring over the course of multiple generations. Yet, as Robert J. Richards shows in his article “Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and its Moral Purpose,” Darwin’s theory develops in a more complex way. Darwin’s view of nature cannot, as it is sometimes argued, be reduced to a notion of sheer mechanical selection, but seeks, as Richards places Darwin closer to the legacy of German romanticism, to leave open the possibility of a development towards a potentially moral and altruistic creature: an animal that possesses moral sentiments—that is, human being. Indeed, as Richards reads Darwin, his ambition is not simply to show that nature brings forth such a higher animal, but also that, in so doing, nature displays a potentially moral dimension. 209

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In his “Response to Richards,” Gabriel Finkelstein applauds the parallels Richards draws between Darwin and the tradition of nineteenth-century German philosophy. Finkelstein’s response, however, centers on the immediate reception of Darwin in the context of German science and epistemology. In particular, he focuses on Emil du Bois-Reymond, the first scientist to accept Darwin’s theory in Germany. Rather than seeing Darwin’s work as a continuation of philosophical romanticism and its interest in the teleology of nature, du Bois-Reymond reads it, along the lines of the ancient philosopher Lucretius and his modern followers, as presenting an altogether disenchanted, mechanistic view of the universe. In this way, Finkelstein suggests an alternative reception of Darwin. However, he supports Richards’ claim that it was Darwin’s immediate readers (more than Darwin himself) who came to emphasize a mechanistic view of nature, thus also breaking with the early nineteenth-century understanding of nature as a field of potential value and a domain in which humans, as free, symbol-producing, and morally disposed, can feel at home.

Further Reading • Gabriel Finkelstein, Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003. • Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987. • Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw (revised edition). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.



Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and Its Moral Purpose ROBERT J. RICHARDS

Thomas Henry Huxley recalled that after he had read Darwin’s Origin of Species, he had exclaimed to himself: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!”1 It is a famous but puzzling remark. In his contribution to Francis Darwin’s Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Huxley rehearsed the history of his engagement with the idea of transmutation of species. He mentioned the views of Robert Grant, an advocate of Lamarck, and Robert Chambers, the anonymous author of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), which advanced a crude idea of transmutation. He also recounted his rejection of Agassiz’s belief that species were progressively replaced by the divine hand. He neglected altogether his friend Herbert Spencer’s early Lamarckian ideas about species development, which were also part of the long history of his encounters with the theory of descent. None of these sources moved him to adopt any version of the transmutation hypothesis. Huxley was clear about what finally led him to abandon his longstanding belief in species stability: The facts of variability, of the struggle for existence, of adaptation to conditions, were notorious enough; but none of us had suspected that the road to the heart of the species problem lay through them, until 211

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Darwin and Wallace dispelled the darkness, and the beacon-fire of the “Origin” guided the benighted.2 The elements that Huxley indicated—variability, struggle for existence, adaptation—form core features of Darwin’s conception of natural selection. Thus what Huxley admonished himself for not immediately comprehending was not the fact, as it might be called, of species change, but the cause of that change. Huxley’s exclamation suggests—and it has usually been interpreted to affirm—that the idea of natural selection was really quite simple and that when the few elements composing it were held before the mind’s eye, the principle and its significance would flash out. The elements, it is supposed, fall together in the following way: species members vary in their heritable traits; more individuals are produced than the resources of the environment can sustain; those that by chance have traits that better fit them to circumstances compared to others of their kind will more likely survive to pass on those traits to offspring; consequently, the structural character of the species will continue to alter over generations until individuals come to be specifically different from their ancestors. Yet, if the idea of natural selection were as simple and fundamental as Huxley suggested and as countless scholars have maintained, why did it take so long for the theory to be published after Darwin supposedly discovered it? And why did it then require a very long book to make its truth obvious? In this chapter, I will try to answer these questions. I will do so by showing that the principle of natural selection is not simple but complex and that it took shape only gradually in Darwin’s mind. In what follows, I will refer to the “principle” or “device” of natural selection, never to the “mechanism” of selection. Though the phrase “mechanism of natural selection” comes trippingly to our lips, it never came to Darwin’s in the Origin; and I will explain why. I will also use the term “evolution” to describe the idea of species descent with modification. Somehow the notion has gained currency that Darwin avoided the term because it suggested progressive development. This assumption has no warrant for two reasons. First, the term is obviously present, in its participial form, as the very last word of the Origin, as well as being freely used as a noun in the last edition of the Origin (1872), in the Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), and throughout The Descent of Man (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). But the second reason for rejecting the assumption is that Darwin’s theory is indeed progressivist, and his device of natural selection was designed to produce evolutionary progress.

i. Darwin’s Early Efforts to Explain Transformation Shortly after he returned from his voyage on HMS Beagle (1831–36), Darwin began seriously to entertain the hypothesis of species change over time. He had

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been introduced to the idea, when a teenager, through reading his grandfather Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia (1794–96), which included speculations about species development; and, while at medical school in Edinburgh (1825–27), he had studied Lamarck’s Système des animaux sans vertèbres (1801) under the tutelage of Robert Grant, a convinced evolutionist. On the voyage, he took with him Lamarck’s Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres (1815–22), in which the idea of evolutionary change was prominent. He got another large dose of the Frenchman’s ideas during his time off the coast of South America, where he received by merchant ship the second volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1831–33), which contained a searching discussion and negative critique of the fanciful supposition of an “evolution of one species out of another.”3 Undoubtedly the rejection of Lamarck by Lyell and most British naturalists gave Darwin pause; but after his return to England, while sorting and cataloguing his specimens from the Galápagos, he came to understand that his materials supplied compelling evidence for the suspect theory. In his various early notebooks (January 1837 to June 1838), Darwin began to work out different possible ways to explain species change.4 Initially, he supposed that a species might be “created for a definite time,” so that when its span of years was exhausted, it went extinct and another, affiliated species took its place.5 He rather quickly abandoned the idea of species senescence, and began to think in terms of Lamarck’s notion of the direct effects of the environment, especially the possible impact of the imponderable fluids of heat and electricity (Notebooks, 175). If the device of environmental impact were to meet what seemed to be the empirical requirement—as evidenced by the pattern of fossil deposits, going from simple shells at the deepest levels to complex vertebrate remains at higher levels—then it had to produce progressive development. If species resembled ideas, then progressive change would seem to be a natural result, or so Darwin speculated: “Each species changes. Does it progress. Man gains ideas. The simplest cannot help.—becoming more complicated; & if we look to first origin there must be progress” (Notebooks, 175). Being the conservative thinker that he was, Darwin retained in the Origin the idea that some species, under special conditions, might alter through direct environmental impact as well as the conviction that modifications would be progressive. Darwin seems to have soon recognized that the direct influence of surroundings on an organism could not account for its more complex adaptations, and so he began constructing another causal device. He had been stimulated by an essay of Frédéric Cuvier, which suggested that animals might acquire heritable traits through exercise in response to particular circumstances. He rather quickly concluded that “all structures either direct effect of habit, or hereditary effect of habit” (Notebooks, 259).6 Darwin thus assumed that new habits, if practiced by the population over long periods of time, would turn into instincts; and these latter would eventually

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modify anatomical structures, thus altering the species. Use inheritance was, of course, a principal mode of species transformation for Lamarck. In developing his own theory of use inheritance, Darwin carefully distinguished his ideas from those of his discredited predecessor—or at least he convinced himself that their ideas were quite different. He attempted to distance himself from the French naturalist by proposing that habits introduced into a population would first gradually become instinctual before they altered anatomy. And instinct—innate patterns of behavior—would be expressed automatically, without the intervention of conscious will power, the presumptive Lamarckian mode (Notebooks, 292). By early summer of 1838, Darwin thus had two means by which to explain descent of species with modification: the direct effects of the environment and his habit-instinct device.

ii. Elements of the Theory of Natural Selection At the end of September 1838, Darwin paged through Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population. [ . . . ] In the Autobiography, Darwin mentioned two considerations that had readied him to detect in Malthus a new possibility for the explanation of species development: the power of artificial selection and the role of struggle.7 Lamarck had suggested domestic breeding as the model for what occurred in nature. Undeterred by Lyell’s objection that domestic animals and plants were specially created for man,8 Darwin began reading in breeders’ manuals, such as those by John Sebright (1809) and John Wilkinson (1820). This literature brought him to understand the power of domestic “selection” (Sebright’s term), but he was initially puzzled, as his Autobiography suggests, about what might play the role of the natural selector or “picker.” [ . . . ] In the Autobiography, Darwin indicated that the second idea that prepared the way for him to divine the significance of Malthus’s Essay was that of the struggle for existence. Lyell, in the Principles of Geology, had mentioned de Candolle’s observation that all the plants of a country “are at war with one another.”9 This kind of struggle, Lyell believed, would be the cause of “mortality” of species, of which fossils gave abundant evidence.10 In his own reading of Lyell, Darwin took to heart the implied admonition to “study the wars of organic being” (Notebooks, 262). These antecedent notions gleaned from Lamarck, Lyell, and the breeders led Darwin to the brink of a stable conception that would begin to take more explicit form after his reading of Malthus’s Essay in late September 1838. [ . . . ]

iii. The Malthus Episode Malthus had composed his book in order to investigate two questions: What has kept humankind from steadily advancing in happiness? Can the

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impediments to happiness be removed? Famously, he argued that the chief barrier to the progress of civil society was that population increase would always outstrip the growth in the food supply, thus causing periodic misery and famine. What caught Darwin’s eye in the opening sections of Malthus’s Essay, as suggested by scorings in his copy of the book, was the notion of population pressure through geometric increase [ . . . ]. Darwin found in these passages from Malthus a propulsive force that had two effects: it would cause the death of the vast number in the population by reason of the better adapted pushing out the weaker, and thus it would sort out, or transform, the population. [ . . . ] All the “wedging” caused by population pressure would have the effect, according to Darwin, of filtering out all but the most fit organisms and thus adapting the latter (actually, leaving them pre-adapted) to their circumstances. Though natural selection is the linchpin of Darwin’s theory of evolution, his notebooks indicate only the slow emergence of its ramifying features. [ . . . ] But the most interesting reflections, which belie the standard assumptions about Darwin’s theory, were directed to the final cause or purpose of evolution. This teleological framework would help to organize several other elements constituting his developing notion.

iv. The Purpose of Progressive Evolution: Human Beings and Morality The great peroration at the very end of the Origin of Species asserts a longstanding and permanent conviction of Darwin, namely, that the “object,” or purpose, of the “war of nature” is “the production of the higher animals.”11 And the unspoken, but clearly intended, higher animals are human beings with their moral sentiments. Darwin imbedded his developing theory of natural selection in a decidedly progressivist and teleological framework, a framework quite obvious when one examines the initial construction of his theory. At the end of October 1838, he focused on the newly formulated device: My theory gives great final cause of sexes . . . for otherwise there would be as many species, as individuals, & . . . few only social . . . hence not social instincts, which as I hope to show is the foundation of all that is most beautiful in the moral sentiments of the animated beings. (Notebooks, 409) In this intricate cascade of ideas, Darwin traced a path from sexual generation to its consequences: the establishment of stable species, then the appearance of

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social species, and finally the ultimate purpose of the process, the production of human beings with their moral sentiments. This trajectory needs further explication. When Darwin opened his first transmutation notebook in the spring of 1837, he began with his grandfather’s reflections on the special value of sexual generation over asexual kinds of reproduction. The grandson supposed that sexually produced offspring would, during gestation, recapitulate the forms of ancestor species. [ . . . ] Darwin retained the principle of embryological recapitulation right through the several editions of the Origin. Recapitulation produced an individual that gathered in itself all the progressive adaptations of its ancestors. But the key to progressive adaptation was the variability that came with sexual reproduction (Notebooks, 171). In the spring of 1837, he still did not understand exactly how variability might function in adaptation; he yet perceived that variable offspring could adjust to a changing environment in ways that clonally reproducing plants and animals could not. Moreover, in variable offspring accidental injuries would not accumulate as they would in continuously reproducing asexual organisms. Hence stable species would result from sexual generation. [ . . . ] But once stable species obtained, social behavior and ultimately moral behavior might ensue. Just at the time Darwin considered the “great final cause” of sexual generation—namely, the production of higher animals with their moral traits—he opened his Notebook N, in which he began to compose an account of the moral sentiments. [ . . . ] Darwin believed that the moral instincts were essentially persistent social instincts that might continue to urge cooperative action even after being interrupted by a more powerful, self-directed impulse. [ . . . ] [A]t this point in its development, he did not see how other-directed, social instincts, which gave no benefit to their carrier, could be produced by selection. This difficulty seems to have led him to retain the device of inherited habit to explain the origin of the social instincts. Thus in late spring of 1839, he formulated what he called the “law of utility”—derived from Paley—which supposed that social utility would lead the whole species to adopt certain habits that, through dint of exercise, would become instinctive [ . . . ]. While Darwin never gave up the idea that habits could be inherited, he would solve the problem of the natural selection of social instincts only in the final throes of composing the Origin. At the very end of October 1838, Darwin gave an analytic summary of his developing idea, a neat set of virtually axiomatic principles constituting his device:

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Three principles, will account for all 1. Grandchildren. like grandfathers 2. Tendency to small change  . . .  3. Great fertility in proportion to support of parents. (Notebooks, 412–13) These factors may be interpreted as: traits of organisms are heritable (with occasional reversions); these traits vary slightly from generation to generation; and reproduction outstrips food resources (the Malthusian factor). These principles seem very much like those “necessary and sufficient” axioms advanced by contemporary evolutionary theorists: variation, heritability, and differential survival.12 Such analytic reduction does appear to render evolution by natural selection a quite simple concept, as Huxley supposed. However, these bare principles do not identify a causal force that might scrutinize the traits of organisms to pick out just those that could provide an advantage and thus be preserved. Darwin would shortly construct that force as both a moral and an intelligent agent, and the structure of that conception would sink deeply into the language of the Origin.

v. Natural Selection as an Intelligent and Moral Force In 1842, Darwin roughly sketched the outlines of his theory, and two years later he enlarged the essay to compose a more complete and systematic version. In the first section of both essays, as in the first chapter of the Origin, Darwin discussed artificial selection. He suggested that variations in traits of plants and animals occurred as the result of the effects of the environment in two different ways: directly, by the environment’s affecting features of the malleable body of the young progeny; but also indirectly, by the environment’s affecting the sexual organs of the parents.13 Typically, a breeder would examine variations in plant or animal offspring, and if any captured his fancy, he would breed only from those suitable varieties and prevent back-crosses to the general stock. Back-crosses, of course, would damp out any advantages the selected organisms might possess. In the next section of the essays, Darwin inquired whether variation and selection could be found in nature. Variations in the wild, he thought, would occur much as they did in domestic stocks. But the crucial, two-pronged issue was: “is there any means of selecting those offspring which vary in the same manner, crossing them and keeping their offspring separate and thus producing selected races” (Foundations, 5)? The first of these problems might be called the problem of selection, the second that of swamping out.

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In beginning to deal with these difficulties (and more to come), Darwin pro­ posed to himself a certain model against which he would construct his device of natural selection. This model would control his language and the concepts deployed in the Origin. In the 1844 essay, he described the model this way: Let us now suppose a Being with penetration sufficient to perceive the differences in the outer and innermost organization quite imperceptible to man, and with forethought extending over future centuries to watch with unerring care and select for any object the offspring of an organism produced under the foregoing circumstances; I can see no conceivable reason why he could not form a new race (or several were he to separate the stock of the original organism and work on several islands) adapted to new ends. As we assume his discrimination, and his forethought, and his steadiness of object, to be incomparably greater than those qualities in man, so we may suppose the beauty and complications of the adaptations of the new races and their differences from the original stock to be greater than in the domestic races produced by man’s agency. (Foundations, 85) The model Darwin had chosen to explain to himself the process of selection in nature was that of a powerfully intelligent being, one that had foresight and that selected animals to produce beautiful and intricate structures. This prescient being made choices that were “infinitely wise compared to those of man” (Foundations, 21). As a wise breeder, this being would prevent backcrosses of his flocks. Nature, the analog of this being, was thus conceived not as a machine, but as a supremely intelligent force. In the succeeding sections of both essays, Darwin began specifying the analogs for the model, that is, those features of nature that operated in a fashion comparable to the actions of the imaginary being. He stipulated, for instance, that variations in nature would be very slight and intermittent due to the actions of a slowly changing environment. But, looking to his model, he supposed that nature would compensate for very gradually appearing variations by acting in a way “far more rigid and scrutinizing” (Foundations, 9). He then brought to bear the Malthusian idea of geometrical increase of offspring, and the consequent struggle for existence that would cull all but those having the most beneficial traits. Many difficulties in the theory of natural selection were yet unsolved in the essays. Darwin had not really dealt with the problem of swamping. Nor had he succeeded in working out how nature might select social, or altruistic, instincts, the ultimate goal of evolution. And as he considered the operations of natural selection, it seemed improbable that it could produce organs of great perfection, such as the vertebrate eye. His strategy for solving this last

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problem, however, did seem ready to hand—namely, to find a graduation of structures in various different species that might illustrate how organs like the eye might have evolved over long periods of time. Moreover, if natural selection had virtually preternatural discernment, it could operate on exquisitely small variations to produce something as intricate as an eye.

vi. Darwin’s Big Species Book: Group Selection and the Morality of Nature In September 1854, Darwin noted in his pocket diary, “Began sorting notes for Species theory.” His friends had urged him not to delay in publishing his theory, lest someone else beat him to the goal. His diary records on May 14, 1856: “Began by Lyell’s advice writing species sketch.”14 By the following fall, the sketch grew far beyond his initial intention. His expanding composition was to be called Natural Selection, though in his notes he referred to it affectionately as “my Big Species Book.” And big it would have been: his efforts would have yielded a very large work, perhaps extending to two or three fat volumes. But the writing was interrupted when Lyell’s prophecy about someone else forestalling him came true. In mid-June 1858, he received the famous letter from Wallace, then in Malaya, in which that naturalist included an essay that could have been purloined from Darwin’s notebooks. After reassurances from friends that honor did not require him to toss his manuscript into the flames, Darwin compressed that part of the composition already completed and quickly wrote out the remaining chapters of what became the Origin of Species. At the beginning of March 1858, a few months before he was to receive Wallace’s letter, Darwin had finished a chapter in his manuscript entitled “Mental Powers and Instincts of Animals.” In that chapter he solved a problem about which he had been worrying for almost a decade. In his study of the social insects—especially ants and bees—he had recognized that the workers formed different castes with peculiar anatomies and instincts. Yet the workers were sterile, and so natural selection could not act on the individuals to preserve in their offspring any useful habits. How, then, had these features of the social insects evolved? In a loose note, dated June 1848, in which he sketched out the problem, he remarked, “I must get up this subject—it is the greatest special difficulty I have met with.”15 Though Darwin had identified the problem many years before, it was only in the actual writing of his Big Species Book that he arrived at a solution. He took his cue from William Youatt’s Cattle: Their Breeds, Management, and Disease (1834). When breeders wished to produce a herd with desirable characteristics, they would choose animals from several groups and slaughter them. If one or another had, say, desired marbling, they would breed from the family of the animal with that characteristic.16 [ . . . ]

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Darwin thus came to understand that natural selection could operate not only on individuals, but also on whole families, hives, or tribes. This insight and the expansion of his theory of natural selection would have two important dividends: first, he could exclude a Lamarckian explanation of the wonderful instincts of the social insects—since no acquired habits could be passed to offspring—and simultaneously he could overcome a potentially fatal objection to his theory. But second, this theory of family selection (or community selection, as he came to call it) would enable him to solve the like problem in human evolution, namely, the origin of the altruistic instincts. In The Descent of Man, Darwin would mobilize the model of the social insects precisely in order to construct a theory of human moral behavior that contained a core of pure, unselfish altruism—that is, acts that benefited others at a cost to self, something that could not occur under individual selection.17 Hence the final goal of evolution, as he originally conceived its telic purpose, could be realized: the production of the higher animals having moral sentiments. Yet not only did Darwin construe natural selection as producing moral creatures, he conceived of natural selection itself as a moral and intelligent agent. The model of an intelligent and moral selector, which Darwin cultivated in the earlier essays, makes an appearance in the Big Species Book. In the chapter “On Natural Selection,” he contrasted man’s selection with nature’s. The human breeder did not allow “each being to struggle for life”; rather, he protected animals “from all enemies.” Further, man judged animals only on surface characteristics and often picked countervailing traits. The human breeder also allowed crosses that reduced the power of selection. And finally, man acted selfishly, choosing only that property that “pleases or is useful to him.” Nature acted quite differently: She cares not for mere external appearances; she may be said to scruti­ nize with a severe eye, every nerve, vessel & muscle; every habit, instinct, shade of constitution,—the whole machinery of the organization. There will be here no caprice, no favouring: the good will be preserve & the bad rigidly destroyed.18 Nature thus acted steadily, justly, and with divine discernment, separating the good from the bad. Nature, in this conception, was God’s surrogate, which Darwin signaled by penciling in his manuscript above the passage just quoted: “By nature, I mean the laws ordained by God to govern the Universe” (Species Book, 224). As Darwin pared away the overgrowth of the Big Species Book, the intelligent and moral character of natural selection stood out even more boldly in the précis, that is, in the Origin of Species.

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vii. Natural Selection in the Origin of Species In the first edition of the Origin, Darwin approached natural selection from two distinct perspectives, conveyed in two chapters whose titles suggest the distinction: “Struggle for Existence” and “Natural Selection” (Chapters III and IV). Though their considerations overlap, the first focuses on the details of the operations of selection and the second contains the more highly personified re-conceptualization of its activities. In Chapter III, Darwin proposed that small variations in organisms would give some an advantage in the struggle for life. He then defined natural selection: Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species,  . . .  will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving.  . . .  I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved by the term Natural Selection. (Origin, 61) Darwin would explain what he meant by “struggle” a bit later in the chapter, and I will discuss that in a moment. Here, I would like to note several revealing features of his definition. First, selection is supposed to operate on all variations, even those produced by the inheritance of acquired characters, and not just on those that arise accidentally from the environment’s acting on the sex organs of parents. Second, Darwin believed that virtually all traits, useful or not, would be heritable—what he called the “strong principle of inheritance” (Origin, 5). Third, though the initial part of the definition indicates that it is the individual that is preserved, in the second part it is the slight variation that is preserved—which latter is the meaning of the phrase “natural selection” (Origin, 61, 81). The passage draws out the “chicken and egg” problem for Darwin: a trait gives an individual an advantage in its struggle, so that the individual is preserved; the individual, in turn, preserves the trait by passing it on to offspring. Finally, the definition looks to the future, when useful traits will be sifted out and the nonuseful extinguished, along with their carriers. In the short run, individuals are preserved; in the long run, it is their morphologies that are both perpetuated and slowly changed as the result of continued selection. “We behold,” Darwin observed (using a recurring metaphor), “the face of nature bright with gladness”; but we do not see the struggle that occurs beneath her beaming countenance (Origin, 62). But what does “struggle” mean, and who are the antagonists in a struggle for existence? Darwin said he

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meant “struggle” in a “large and metaphorical sense,” which, as he spun out his meandering notion, would cover three or four distinct meanings (Origin, 62–3). First, an animal preyed upon will struggle with its aggressor. But as well, two canine animals will “struggle with one another to get food and live.” The image Darwin seems to have had in mind was that of two dogs struggling over a piece of meat. Furthermore, struggle can be used to characterize a plant at the edge of the desert: it struggles “for life against the drought.” In addition, one can say that plants struggle with other plants of the same and different species for their seeds to occupy fertile ground. These different kinds of struggle, in Darwin’s estimation, can be aligned according to a sliding scale of severity. Accordingly, the struggle will move from most to least intense: between individuals of the same variety of a species; between individuals of different varieties of the same species; between individuals of different species of the same genus; between species members of quite different types; and finally, between individuals and climate. These various and divergent meanings of struggle seem to have come from the two different sources for Darwin’s concept: de Candolle, who proclaimed that all of nature was at war, and Malthus, who emphasized the consequences of dearth to whole populations. Today, we would say that struggle— granted its metaphorical sense—properly occurs only between members of the same species to leave progeny. Adopting de Candolle’s emphasis on the warlike aspects of struggle may have led Darwin to distinguish natural selection from sexual selection, which latter concerns not a death struggle for existence but males’ struggling for mating opportunities. In the chapter “Natural Selection” in the Origin, Darwin characterized his device in this way, pulling phrases from his earlier essays and Big Species Book, but rendering them with a biblical inflexion: Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. . . . Can we wonder, then, that nature’s productions should be far “truer” in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship? (Origin, 83–4) The biblical coloring of Darwin’s text is condign for a nature that is the divine surrogate and that acts only altruistically for the welfare of creatures. The attribution of benevolence to nature becomes explicit in Darwin’s attempt to mitigate what might seem the harsh language of struggle. He concludes his

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chapter “Struggle for Existence” with the solace: “When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply” (Origin, 79). Darwin’s model of moral agency mitigated the force of Malthusian pitilessness.

viii. Conclusion I have argued that Darwin did not come to his conception of natural selection in a flash that yielded a fully formed theory. What appears as the intuitive clarity of his device is, I believe, quite deceptive. I have tried to show that his notions about the parameters of natural selection, what it operates on and its mode of operation, gradually took shape in Darwin’s mind, and hardly came to final form even with the publication of the first edition of the Origin of Species. In this gradual evolution of a concept—actually a set of concepts—I have emphasized the way Darwin characterized selection as a moral and intelligent agent. Most contemporary scholars have described Darwinian nature as mechanical, even amoral in its ruthlessness. To be sure, when Wallace and others pointed out what seemed the misleading implications of the device, Darwin protested that, of course, he did not mean to argue that natural selection was actually an intelligent or moral agent. But even Darwin recognized, if dimly, that his original formulation of the device and the cognitively laden language of his writing carried certain consequences with which he did not wish to dispense—and, indeed, could not dispense with without altering his deeper conception of the character and goal of evolution. Darwin’s language and metaphorical mode of thought gave his theory a meaning resistant to any mechanistic interpretation and unyielding even to his later, more cautious reflections. Let me spell out some of those consequences to make clear how markedly Darwin’s original notion of evolution by natural selection differs from what is usually attributed to him. Natural selection, in Darwin’s view, moved very slowly and gradually, operating at a stately Lyellian pace (perhaps seizing on useful variations that might occur only after thousands of generations; Origin, 80, 82). It compensated for meager variability by daily and hourly scrutinizing every individual for even the slightest and most obscure variation, selecting just those that gave the organism an advantage. A nineteenth-century machine could not be calibrated to operate on such small variations or on features that might escape human notice. If natural selection clanked along like a Manchester spinning loom, one would not have fine damask—only a skillful and intelligent hand could spin that—or the fabric of the eye. Second, Darwin frequently remarked in the Origin that selection operated more efficiently on species with a large number of individuals in an extensive, open area (Origin, 41, 70, 102, 105, 125, 177, 179). He presumed that, as in

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the case of the human breeder, a large number of individual animals or plants would produce more favorable variations upon which selection might act. The greater quantities would also create Malthusian pressure. Yet in the wild, this scenario for selection could occur only if the watchful eye of an intelligent selector somehow gathered the favored varieties together and isolated them so as to prevent back-crossing into the rest of the stock. After Fleeming Jenkin, in his review of the Origin, pointed out the problem of swamping of single variations, Darwin suggested in the fifth edition that groups of individuals would all vary in the same way due to the impact of the local environment.19 Thus when the implications of his model of intelligent nature were recognized, Darwin had to invoke as analog a Lamarckian scenario. Today, we assume that small breeding groups isolated by physical barriers would more likely furnish the requisite conditions for natural selection. Third, a wise selector that has the good of creatures at heart would produce a progressive evolution, one that created ever-more-improved organization, which Darwin certainly thought to be the case. He believed that more recent creatures had accumulated progressive traits and would triumph over more ancient creatures in comparable environments (Origin, 205–6, 336–7). He summed up his view in the last section of the Origin: “And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection” (Origin, 489). This passage, which remains unchanged through the several editions of the Origin, is an index both of Darwin’s moral conception of nature and of its progressive intent. The moral overlay of the passage has blotted out the winnowing force of selection, which hardly works to the benefit of every creature. And, as Darwin made clear in the third edition, the “improvements” wrought by selection will “inevitably lead to the gradual advancement of the organization of the greater number of living beings throughout the world” (Variorum, 221). Fourth, such an intelligent agency would select not merely for each creature’s good, but also for that of the community. Darwin, in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin, extended his model of family selection to one that operated simply on a community [ . . . ] (Variorum, 172). Finally, the intelligent and moral character of natural selection would produce the goal that Darwin had sighted early in his notebooks, namely, the production of the higher animals with their moral sentiments. Darwin thus concluded his volume with the Miltonic and salvific vision that he had harbored from his earliest days: Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms

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or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Origin, 490) Darwin’s vision of the process of natural selection was anything but mechanical and brutal. Nature, while it may have sacrificed a multitude of its creatures, did so for the higher “object,” or purpose, of creating beings with a moral spine—out of death came life more abundant. We humans, Darwin believed, were the goal of evolution by natural selection.

Notes   1. Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, 2 vols. (New York: Appleton, 1990), vol. 1, p. 183.   2. Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, vol. 1, pp. 179–83.   3. C. Lyell, Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes in the Earth’s Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation (London: John Murray, Facsimile reprint: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), vol. 2, p. 60.   4. Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 85–98.   5. Paul H. Barrett, Peter J. Gautrey, Sandra Herbert, David Kohn, and Sydney Smith, eds., Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836–1844 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 12, 62. Henceforth, this text will be referred to as Notebooks, followed by the page number.   6. Single wedges indicate erasure; double wedges indicate addition.   7. Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, ed. N. Barlow (London: Collins, 1958).   8. Lyell, Principles of Geology, vol. 2, p. 41.   9. Lyell, Principles of Geology, vol. 2, p. 131. 10. Lyell, Principles of Geology, vol. 2, p. 130. 11. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859), p. 490. Henceforth, this text will be referred to as Origin, followed by the page number. 12. Richard Lewontin, “Adaption,” Scientific American 239 (1978): 220. 13. Charles Darwin, The Foundations of the Origin of Species: Two Essays Written in 1842 and 1844, ed. F. Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), pp. 1–2. Henceforth, this text will be referred to as Foundations, followed by the page number. 14. Charles Darwin, Personal Journal MS 34, Cambridge University Library, DAR 158.1–76. 15. Charles Darwin, Cambridge University Library, DAR 73.1–4. I have discussed the problem of the social insects in Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, pp. 142–52. 16. Charles Darwin, Cambridge University Library, DAR 73.1–4. 17. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior, pp. 206–19. 18. Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection, Being the Second Part of His Big Species Book Written from 1856 to 1858, ed. R. C. Stauffer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 224. Henceforth, this text will be referred to as Species Book, followed by the page number. 19. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: A Variorum Text, ed. M. Peckham (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959), p. 179. Henceforth, this text will be referred to as Variorum, followed by the page number.



Response to Richards GABRIEL FINKELSTEIN

i. Introduction Robert J. Richards has spent most of his career tracing the connections between German Romanticism and Charles Darwin. His research has done much to change our image of the great Victorian naturalist. Where earlier scholarship tended to understand Darwin’s theory in the context of natural theology and political economy, both native English traditions, Richards has demonstrated the importance of foreign ideas to the creation and reception of Darwin’s treatise On the Origin of Species. His essay above is exemplary in this regard. I won’t presume to challenge Richards’ argument. His brief is a model of logic, evidence, and style; he knows a lot more about Darwin than I do; I support his interest in directing scholarly attention to Germany; and finally, I find his thesis convincing. Historians like to stress how science doesn’t live in some empyrean castle of ideal dimensions, but rather on the rough-and-tumble plain of interest and influence. If we consider Richards’ essay at its most sublunary, we could take his analysis of the evolution of Darwin’s ideas as a metaphor of how truth emerges from history through the careful selection of material from the marketplace of ideas. But instead of focusing on Richards’ rhetoric, I’d prefer to look at Darwin’s reception in the country most affected by his teachings. German disciples wrangled over the meaning of his theory from the outset, something that helps to explain why the debate shows no signs of dying down there even today.1 226

Response to Richards  •  227

ii. Final Causes in Darwin’s Theory “Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and its Moral Purpose” begins with the classic anecdote of Thomas Henry Huxley’s astonishment at the simplicity of the principle of natural selection: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” Richards maintains that natural selection is neither as simple as Huxley recollected nor as mechanical as scholars described. Instead, the principle embodies a complex set of ideas that took Darwin years of work to develop into a forceful argument. Drawing on evidence from notebooks, manuscript essays, and drafts of the Origin, Richards traces the evolution of Darwin’s thinking from his early beliefs in the effects of habit and environment to his analogies of breeding and warfare to his crucial reading of Thomas Malthus’s essay on population. Central to this development was a teleological conception of “the production of higher animals,” which Richards takes to be “human beings with their moral sentiments.” Richards adduces three sources of evidence for Darwin’s belief in progress. The first is “embryological recapitulation,” a phrase that refers to the parallel between the stages of growth in an organism and the order of species in the natural world. Since both series tend toward greater differentiation and complexity, many biologists assumed them to be lawfully related. As Ernst Haeckel declared in 1866, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” The second source of evidence is Darwin’s image of a “hand of nature” picking and choosing the very best individuals. Much as a wise breeder selects superior types for his crosses, nature continually scrutinizes her flocks for advantages of form and behavior. The language of Darwin’s metaphor is necessarily teleological: machines can’t make choices, but nature can and does, and always for the good of the species. This observation led Darwin into a conundrum. If natural selection implies a war of all against all, how do we account for instances of altruism? The inheritance of acquired behaviors is hard to imagine in organisms that lack cultural memory, and on the biological side of things, no one has been able to show how habits turn into instincts. Instead of invoking occult powers of learning and inheritance, Darwin attributed selflessness to competition in a broader sense—competition between groups. Those that cooperated prevailed over those that didn’t. As Richards points out in his third source of evidence, all this struggle had a happy outcome. Nature favored the intelligent and the just.

iii. Du Bois-Reymond’s Mechanist Interpretation of Darwin’s Theory The first German scientist to accept Darwin’s teachings was Emil du BoisReymond. Why this fact has escaped attention isn’t entirely clear—it may

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have something to do with the oblivion into which du Bois-Reymond has fallen, and it may have something to do with the indifference with which most physiologists greeted Darwin’s theory. Whatever the case, du Bois-Reymond never hid his respect for his Victorian colleague. He first learned of the publication of the Origin in the fall of 1859; he read the second edition in English in the spring of 1860; he let his colleagues know that he approved of the theory later that year; and by the winter of 1861 he was teaching the theory to his students at the University of Berlin. Thereafter he worked to get Darwin an honorary degree from the University of Breslau, a knighthood of the Prussian Order of Merit, and a membership to the Berlin Academy of Sciences. He also promoted Darwin in public lectures and in formal addresses, most notably a eulogy in 1883 that sparked two days of debate in the Prussian House of Deputies. Given his authority as the “foremost naturalist of Europe,” and given his talent as a spokesman for evolutionary theory, du Bois-Reymond vied with Haeckel for the title of Darwin’s champion in Germany.2 The interesting thing about du Bois-Reymond’s example is that he endorsed Darwin for reasons entirely at odds with the ones that Richards defends. In his youth du Bois-Reymond read Lucretius, ridiculed teleology, and swore to uphold the tenets of biological reduction. He considered Alexander von Humboldt’s Romantic natural history “antediluvian both in mind and matter,” just as he faulted his advisor, the biologist Johannes Müller, for dabbling in the theories of Goethe. By contrast, Darwin presented du Bois-Reymond with a vision of nature “permeated by one glorious and undeviating principle of regularity”—the principle of mechanical necessity.3 Du Bois-Reymond’s commitment to mechanism ran through all his discussions of Darwin. It was found in his survey of the “Findings of Contemporary Science,” a popular course first offered in the winter of 1861 that highlighted energy conservation and natural selection as foundations of the natural order. Du Bois-Reymond concluded his treatment of Darwin with the praise that natural selection had eliminated “at one stroke all justification for the suspenseful agony of teleology.” The same judgment informed another popular “Exposition of the Darwinian Theory” that he delivered nine times between 1877 and 1880. Du Bois-Reymond ended these presentations with a simple question: Which was more dignified of God—successive periods of creation, lumps of protoplasm invested with special powers, or a primordial cosmic nebula? The last possibility, he reminded his listeners, had the advantage of positing an entirely mechanical basis to evolution. But the most complete statement of du Bois-Reymond’s views on evolution appeared in “Darwin versus Galiani,” a speech that one contemporary called “the clearest defense of natural selection.”4 Addressed to the Prussian Academy of Sciences on July 6, 1876 in celebration of its founder, “Darwin versus Galiani” drew explicit lines of continuity between the mechanical character of Leibniz’s physics and the mechanical

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character of Darwin’s biology. Du Bois-Reymond set the stage by recounting a classic debate over design in nature. The radical materialist Baron Holbach maintained that life arose fortuitously, in opposition to the Abbé Galiani, who dismissed Holbach’s conjecture as entirely improbable. This dispute expressed the quandary of natural history in the Age of Enlightenment: either it surrendered “all occurrences to the hand of Epicurean chance” or it granted a providential order to the universe. Darwin’s great service was to have supplied it with a third alternative, that “of establishing blind necessity in the place of final causes.” Du Bois-Reymond judged the eminence of the achievement plain. Eradicating teleology from nature constituted “one of the greatest advances ever made in the world of thought.”5 Other scholars agreed. The author of a history of materialism rejected final causes as antiquated: Most of those who, in spite of modern science, feel themselves justified in holding fast to teleology, cling to the gaps in scientific knowledge, overlooking the fact that at all events the form of teleology which has existed until now, that is, the anthropomorphic, is utterly disposed of by the facts. . . . It can now, however, be no longer doubted that nature proceeds in a way which has no similarity with human purposefulness; nay, that her most essential means is such that, measured by the standard of human understanding, it can only be compared with the blindest chance. On this point we need wait for no future proof; the facts speak so plainly and in the most various provinces of nature so unanimously, that no view of things is henceforth admissible which contradicts these facts and their necessary meaning.6 Du Bois-Reymond equally identified the concepts of force and matter as nothing other than a “more recondite product of the irresistible tendency to personification.”7 Such animism was disastrous for science. “Final causes in nature are incompatible with its intelligibility,” he explained. Hence, if there is any way of banishing teleology from nature, the scientist has to take it. Such a way is found in the theory of natural selection .  . . .  In holding fast to this theory, we may feel like a man clinging to a plank that only barely keeps him afloat. When the choice lies between a plank and going under, the advantage is decidedly on the side of the plank.8 His allusion to Lucretius was clear: The Origin of Species may have been a shipwreck, but it was better than the alternative. For the remainder of the speech du Bois-Reymond compared the views of Leibniz and Darwin. A perfect universe had no need for final causes. Modern

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perspectives looked much the same. “Take away from Leibniz’s theory of the cosmos the illusory apparatus of monadology, of pre-established harmony, and of optimism,” du Bois-Reymond remarked, “and the only solid core that remains is the mechanical conception of the world.” The implications of this outlook were cut to the quick: How profoundly in error are they who, often in tones of scientific pharisaism, lament our blindness in trying to account for the world without final causes. . . . These people simply show that they are fundamentally ignorant of what discovery means. True understanding was physics; as far as biology was concerned, Darwin’s theory offered the closest approximation.9

iv. Conclusion Richards is right—natural selection isn’t easy to understand. What are we to make, then, of du Bois-Reymond’s immediate grasp of the concept? Did he attach a meaning to it that Darwin never intended, or was he just the first of his colleagues to perceive its significance? Does natural selection superintend a grand design, or does it simply hammer order out of chaos? Scholars debated the question in Darwin’s time, just as they do now.

Notes 1. See Georgy Levit, Kai Meister, Uwe Hoßfeld, “Alternative Evolutionary Theories: A Historical Survey,” Journal of Bioeconomics, vol. 10, no. 1 (February 2008): 71–96. 2. The following section draws from my book Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA; London: The MIT Press, 2013). 3. Henry Thomas Buckle, History of Civilization in England, 3 vols. (1857; 1861; reprint, Fort Worth, TX: Davis, 1987), 3: 482. Cf. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition (1859; reprint, Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 243–4: “one general law . . . .” 4. Emil du Bois-Reymond, “Darwin versus Galiani. Rede in der öffentlichen Sitzung der Königl. Preuss. Akademie der Wissenschaften zur Feier des Leibnizischen Jahrestages am 6. Juli 1876,” in Reden von Emil du Bois-Reymond, ed. Estelle du Bois-Reymond, 2nd edn., 2 vols. (Leipzig: Veit, 1912), 1: 540–66; Adolf Kronfeld, “Emil du Bois-Reymond,” Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift 47 (1897): 167–9, 215–19, 253–5, on 253. The following section also draws from my book. 5. Du Bois-Reymond, “Darwin versus Galiani,” pp. 544–5. 6. Frederick Albert Lange, The History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance, trans. Ernest Chester Thomas, 3rd edn. (1866; New York: Harcourt, Brace; London: Keegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1925), 2, pt. 2: 33. 7. Lange, Materialism, 2, pt. 2, p. 378, quoting Emil du Bois-Reymond, Untersuchungen über thierische Electrizität, 2 vols. (Berlin: Reimer, 1848–84), 1: xl–xli. 8. Du Bois-Reymond, “Darwin versus Galiani,” p. 557. 9. Du Bois-Reymond, “Darwin versus Galiani,” pp. 559–61.



Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

Introduction The work of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard is stylistically playful and brave, exploring a number of genres and authorial positions. Written under a host of different pseudonyms, Kierkegaard’s work is saturated by irony, satire, jokes, and paradoxes. His lifelong passion for philosophy was tempered by a strong ambivalence towards the dominant theories of the day, especially Hegelianism and its identification of conceptual thought with dialectical systematicity. For Kierkegaard, Hegel’s emphasis on the need for a philosophical system left out what philosophy should be about: human existence as crystallized in the individual—hiin Enkelte. A new kind of philosophy was required, one that abandoned systemic aspirations so as to focus on individual engagement. With his background in Danish protestantism, Kierkegaard saw faith and religion (but also literature and music) as lenses through which human individuality could be explored. While critical of dominant theological institutions and practices, he asks what kind of self-relation—and relation to other human beings, as well as to God, the absolute other—faith entails. While this question is paradigmatically posed in Kierkegaard’s discussion, in Fear and Trembling (1843), of the binding of Isaac, it is the issue of religious authority and obedience, as scrutinized in his posthumously published account of the disobedient Magister Adler from 1872 (Authority and Revelation or The Book on Adler, as it is called in a later translation), that is at the center of 231

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Stanley Cavell’s reading in Chapter 20. In Cavell’s reading, the discussion of authority, as it goes beyond the question of religion and discloses a broad spectrum of philosophical challenges, situates Kierkegaard within the nineteenth-century debate of alienation, but also points forward in time towards Ludwig Wittgenstein’s insights into human expressivity and the limits of discursive reasoning. Cavell’s approach to Kierkegaard, published in Must We Mean what We Say? (2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), is analyzed by Stephen Mulhall, who places Kierkegaard’s work—and Cavell’s interest in Kierkegaard—within a larger framework of ordinary language philosophy and aesthetics.

Further Reading • Michelle Kosch, Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. • Stephen Mulhall, Inheritance and Originality: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kierkegaard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. • Michael Theunissen, Kierkegaard’s Concept of Despair, trans. Barbara Harshav and Helmut Illbruck. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.



Kierkegaard’s On Authority and Revelation STANLEY CAVELL

“I myself perceive only too well,” Kierkegaard says in beginning a second Preface to his Cycle of Ethico-Religious Essays, “how obvious is the objection and how much there is in it, against writing such a big book dealing in a certain sense with Magister Adler.” His first answer to this objection is just that the book is “about” Adler only in a certain sense, the sense, namely, in which he is a Phenomenon, a transparence through which the age is caught. But that is scarcely a serious answer, because what the objection must mean is: Why use the man Adler in this way? And Kierkegaard has an answer to this as well: it enabled him to accomplish something which “perhaps it was important for our age that [I] should accomplish and which could be accomplished in no other way.” This is not a moral defense for his treatment; it does not, for example, undertake to show that an action which on the surface, or viewed one way, appears callous or wanton, is nevertheless justified or anyway excusable. Kierkegaard goes on to offer what looks like an aesthetic defense of his treatment of Adler—“without him [I] could not have given my presentation the liveliness and the ironical tension it now has.” This moral shock is succeeded by another as we realize that the presentation in question is not offered for its literary merit, but for its value as a case study; it is the justification of a surgeon, whose right to cut into people is based on his skill and credentials and whose right to present his cases to others is based on his office and on the obligation to transmit his knowledge to his peers. 233

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Why, on this ground, is the Adler case of profit? Of what is he a typical, and until now undiagnosed, case? He is a case of a particular and prevalent and virulent confusion, and an initial diagnosis is broached: “Disobedience is the secret of the religious confusion of our age.”1 But what is the secret? Isn’t this just what the case was widely known to be all about? Adler’s claim to have had a revelation was certainly a case for the Church, and in particular a case of confusion; he was suspended on the ground that his mind was deranged (Lowrie’s Preface, p. ix) and finally deposed after replying evasively to the ecclesiastical interrogatories. This seems patently a case of trying unsuccessfully to evade the Church’s authority. But it seems Kierkegaard’s view of the case is different: “the whole book is essentially . . . about the confusion from which the concept of revelation suffers in our confused age. Or . . . about the confusion involved in the fact that the concept of authority has been entirely forgotten in our confused age” (p. xvi). The concept is entirely forgotten. This suggests not merely that Adler, for instance, was disobedient in this particular case; it suggests that Adler would not have known what obedience consisted in. And it implies that no one else would have known either, in particular not the Church. The concept of revelation, on the other hand, is not forgotten; it is confused. Adler suffers from this, but so do all men in our age, in particular men of the Church. When Bishop Mynster appealed to Adler’s mental derangement as the ground for suspending him, he was evading the same thing Adler would come to evade, the claim to a revelation; and in this evasion the Church is disobedient to its divine command to preach and clarify, to hold open, the word of God. So the case deepens. For it is not merely that the situations of the extraordinary preacher and the ecclesiastical authority are morally analogous, each suffering his own confusion and each falling into his own disobedience. The third Preface Kierkegaard composed seems to me to go farther, almost saying that they suffer identical consequences, the same confusion of mind, that they are both, as the age is, spiritually deranged. The political events of 1848, which called out this final Preface, are interpreted by Kierkegaard as an attempt to solve a religious problem in political terms, an attempt which will go on, and with increasing confusion and fury, until men turn back to themselves: Though all travel in Europe must stop because one must wade in blood, and though all ministers were to remain sleepless for ruminating [about constitutional amendments, votes, equality, etc.] and though every day ten ministers were to lose their reason, and every next day ten new ministers were to begin where the others left off, only to lose their reason in turn—with all this not one step forward is made, an obstacle to it is sternly fixed, and the bounds set by eternity deride all human

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efforts. . . . Ah, but to get the conflagration quenched, the spontaneous combustion brought about by the friction of worldliness, i.e., to get eternity again—bloodshed may be needed and bombardments, item that many ministers shall lose their reason. (p. xxi) The book on Adler is about a minister who has lost his reason, and the flat ambiguity of Kierkegaard’s “many ministers” registers exactly the ambiguity of concepts, the confusion of realms, which he finds the cause, and the content, of our sickness. Both political and religious ministers madly try to solve religious problems with political means, the one by “levelling” worldly differences into a horrible parody of what is, Christianly, already a fact; the other by trying to approach by reason what is always grasped by faith, or by trying to make a shift of emotion do what only a change of heart can do. This points to a second ambiguity in Kierkegaard’s prediction, recorded in the phrase “shall lose their reason.” To lose their reason, religiously understood as “[letting] the understanding go” (p. xxii) is precisely what the ministers, what we all, should do; it is precisely because we are incapable of that “leap into the religious” (but equally incapable of letting go of religious categories, of “Christianity of a sort”) that we are confused. This is one way Adler is seen by Kierkegaard as a Satire upon the Present Age, and one prompting, throughout the book, for Kierkegaard’s recourse to his categories of the comic and ironic. Adler performed the one saving act, he lost his reason; only he did it the way he does everything else, the way things normally are done in our reflective age: he did it literally, not religiously. He went crazy. But just in this lies the real defense of Adler, the moral answer to the question “Why expose Adler?” The derangement of this minister is shared by all ministers. Of course in his case the derangement may have got out of hand, he went too far; but this, as Kierkegaard says in the concluding sections of his book, is to his “advantage” as a Christian, because it came from a real spiritual movement toward inner self-concern. Religiously considered, other ministers are in the same, or in a worse, state; so it is unjust that Adler should be singled out for deposition on the ground of derangement. And the Bishop should have considered it religiously. For the Church, Adler is not a transparent medium, but an opaque glass, a mirror. Perhaps this is a way of seeing why, while Kierkegaard calls Adler a satire on the present age, he calls him an epigram on the Christendom of our age—a terse and ingenious expression of it. Of course this does not mean that there are no valid religious grounds on which to question and perhaps depose Adler. What it means is that providing these religious grounds, in our age, for our age, will require overcoming the specific confusion which has deprived us of religious ground altogether; hence the form of activity will be one of regaining clarity. (In this book, Kierkegaard

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characterizes our age in a few, very specific, and often repeated, ways; his task is to provide correctives specific to them. For example, he finds that we are absent-minded, so his task is to provide presence of mind; he finds us lightminded (lightheaded?), so his task is to inject seriousness and balance; he finds us distrait, so his task is to attract our attention.) In his first Preface Kierkegaard says he uses the Adler case “to defend dogmatic concepts,” and in the second Preface he claims that from the book one will “get a clarity about certain dogmatic concepts and an ability to use them” (p. xv). By “defend dogmatic concepts” he does not mean “provide a dogmatic backing for them,” but rather something like “defend them as themselves dogmatic”; as, so to speak, carrying their own specific religious weight—something, it is implied, theology now fails to do—and this is a matter of coming to see clearly what they mean. So his task is one of providing, or re-providing, their meaning; in a certain sense, giving each its definition. This definition is not to provide some new sense to be attached to a word, with the purpose of better classifying information or outfitting a new theory; it is to clarify what the word does mean, as we use it in our lives—what it means, that is, to anyone with the ability to use it. Now an activity which has the form of taking us from confusion to clarity by means of defining concepts in such a way has, from Socrates to Wittgenstein, signaled philosophical activity. As I do not insist that philosophy is exhausted in this activity, so I do not insist that Kierkegaard is, in this book, exclusively philosophical. The question I want to turn to is, rather: How far is the book on Adler to be considered a book of philosophy? There are several reasons for pressing this question: 1. It recognizes that the kind of writing before us is problematic, and so keeps faith with Kierkegaard’s own efforts, as an author and as a Christian, to write distinct kinds of works. 2. This book is itself about writing, about the differences between real and fake authors: our amnesia of the concept of authority is expressed by an amnesia of genuine writing and reading: speech, never easy, has now fully become talk. Adler’s confused disobedience to religious authority is not merely analogous to, but is instanced by his disobedience, as an author, to the requirements of art. Adler’s books are not only fake religion, they are fake books—and the one because of the other. 3. The emphasis on philosophy distinguishes Kierkegaard’s effort here from other efforts with which it may be confused: (a) If one says he writes to defend Christianity and to reform Christendom, then one must know his differences from (say) Luther. “[Luther’s] . . . day is over,” Kierkegaard said in a work composed during the period in which he was reading and writing about Adler; “No longer can the individual . . . turn to the great for help when he

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grows confused.”2 Luther saw the Church in bondage, Kierkegaard sees it in a position of false mastery and false freedom; Luther’s problem was to combat a foreign institution motivated politically and economically, but Kierkegaard’s problem is that the mind itself has become political and economic; Luther’s success was to break the hold of an external authority and put it back into the individual soul, but what happens when that authority is broken? Luther’s problem was to combat false definitions of religious categories, but Kierkegaard has to provide definition for them from the beginning; Luther could say, “The mass is not a sacrifice, but a promise,” and now Kierkegaard’s problem is that no one remembers what a promise is, nor has the authority to accept one. (b) The emphasis on philosophy serves as a corrective to calling it psychology. Kierkegaard is often praised in our age as a “profound psychologist,” and while I do not wish to deny him that, it seems to me attractively misleading praise, especially about such efforts as the present book; because what is profound psychology in Kierkegaard’s work is Christianity itself, or the way in which Kierkegaard is able to activate its concepts; and because the way he activates them, wherever else it is, is through philosophy, through attention to the distinct applicability of concepts—perhaps one could say, attention to the a priori possibility of applying the concepts in general: it is what Kant called Transcendental Logic, what Hegel called Logic, why Oxford philosophers are moved to speak of their attention to words as a question of logic; Wittgenstein called it “grammar.” Take the originating concern of the book on Adler: “How far a man in our age may be justified in asserting that he had a revelation” (p. 91). This is the question the Church ought to have confronted—in order to confront itself, as it stands, with the fact that it cannot answer it. Because this question of being “justified in asserting” is not a matter of determining how likely it is, given a certain man’s psychological make-up and given a particular historical condition, that he had or will have a revelation (it is always unlikely); nor a matter of determining whether one is religiously prepared to receive a revelation (for, religiously speaking, there is no human preparation possible); nor a matter of determining psychological variation and nuance in different instances of the experience of a revelation and tracing its antecedents and consequences in a particular man’s worldly existence. The question is whether, no matter what occurs in a man’s life, we are conceptually prepared to call it a revelation, whether we have the power any longer to recognize an occurrence as a revelation, whether anything any longer could conceivably count for

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us as a revelation—could, so to speak, force us to assert that what has taken place is a revelation. Of course, anyone can, and occasionally will, use the word “revelation,” to refer perhaps to a striking or unexpected experience—this, as emerged in the interrogation of Adler, is what happened in his case. And quite generally: “every Christian term, which remaining in its own sphere is a qualitative category, now, in reduced circumstances, can do service as a clever expression which may signify pretty much everything” (p. 103). The serious issue, which is simultaneously the logico-philosophical and the Christian issue, remains: for a Christian church to be in a position in which it has to say that God is hidden or distant or silent, is one thing; for it to be in a position in which it would not find it conceivable that God should speak to us, is something else. In the latter case, the implication is, one should stop referring to such a thing as Christianity altogether. Let me, then, call attention to two procedures characteristic of Kierkegaard’s writing which I think of as philosophical, and philosophically correct: 1. He frequently wishes to show that a question which appears to need settling by empirical means or through presenting a formal argument is really a conceptual question, a question of grammar. (This is one way of putting the whole effort of the book on Adler.) Take the question John Stuart Mill raises in his essay on Revelation (Part IV of Theism): “Can any evidence suffice to prove a divine revelation?” Mill’s answer, after careful consideration and reasoning is that “miracles have no claim whatever to the character of historical facts and are wholly invalid as evidences of any revelation”; but he adds to this the concession that if a certain sort of man “openly proclaimed that [a precious gift we have from him] did not come from him but from God through him, then we are entitled to say that there is nothing so inherently impossible or absolutely incredible in this supposition as to preclude anyone from hoping that it may perhaps be true. I say from hoping; I go no further.” From a Kierkegaardian perspective, Mill has gone nowhere at all, and indeed there is nowhere to go along those lines. For the answer to his question is just, No. The statement “A revelation cannot be proven by evidence” is not an empirical discovery, nor a sensible topic for an argument; it is a grammatical remark. (Religiously speaking, such a thing is “absolutely incredible.”) One factor of Mill’s hope is that there is a God through whom the gift can have come; and he regards someone as “entitled” to this hope because there is some evidence for his existence. For Kierkegaard, to hope for such a thing on such a ground is not an act of piety and intellectual caution; it is a hope for nothing: hoping it is as incoherent as believing it firmly. Other grammatical remarks in, or to

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be elicited from, the book on Adler are, for example, “Religion only conquers without force”; “One must become a Christian”; “Christianity is not plausible.” 2. The other philosophical procedure to be mentioned is what Kierkegaard calls “qualitative dialectic.” Very generally, a dialectical examination of a concept will show how the meaning of that concept changes, and how the subject of which it is the concept changes, as the context in which it is used changes: the dialectical meaning is the history or confrontation of these differences. For example, an examination of the concept of silence will show that the word means different things—that silence is different things—depending on whether the context is the silence of nature, the silence of shyness, the silence of the liar or hypocrite, the short silence of the man who cannot hold his tongue, the long silence of the hero or the apostle, or the eternal silence of the Knight of Faith. And the specific meaning of the word in each of those contexts is determined by tracing its specific contrasts with the others—the way its use in one context “negates” its use in another, so to speak. There is one dialectical shift which is of critical importance for Kierkegaard, that which moves from “immanent” to “transcendent” contexts. It is, I believe, when he is speaking of this shift that he characteristically speaks of a qualitative (sometimes he adds, decisive) difference in meaning. (This is the point at which his insistence on God as “wholly other” finds its methodological expression.) The procedure is this: he will begin with an immanent context, appealing to ordinary contexts in which a concept is used, for example, ordinary cases of silence, or of authority, or of coming to oneself, or of being shaken, or of living in the present, or of offense . . . ; and then abruptly and sternly he will say that these concepts are decisively or qualitatively different when used in a transcendental sense, when used, that is, to characterize our relationship to God. (“The situation is quite otherwise  . . . ”; “It is quite another matter with  . . . ”) Sometimes he is merely abrupt and stern, and offers us no further help in understanding; as if to say, You know perfectly well what I mean; as if to rebuke us for having forgotten, or for refusing to acknowledge, something of the clearest importance. Sometimes, of course, he does go further; then he will describe what the life of a man will look like which calls for description, which can only be understood in terms of—which (he sometimes puts it) is lived in—Christian categories. A man’s life; not a striking experience here and there, or a pervasive mood or a particular feeling or set of feelings. As if to say: in that life, and for that life, the Christian categories have their full, mutually implicating meaning, and apart from it they may have any or none (pp. 103, 104, 115, 165). And contrariwise, a life which does not invite, require description in terms of (is not lived within) the mutual implications of these categories—no matter how religious it is in some sense, and however full it may be of sublime and intricate emotion—is not a Christian life.

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When I said that I thought this procedure was philosophically correct, I did not mean to suggest that I found it philosophically clear. As an account of “qualitative differences of meaning” (in terms of “immanence,” “transcendence,” “qualitative,” etc.), I find it all but useless. But it begins and ends in the right place, with the description of a human existence; and each difference in each existence makes what seems intuitively the right kind of difference. And it seems to me right that Kierkegaard should suggest that we do or could know, without explanation, what it means to say that a man “stands before God” or that “This night shall thy soul be required of thee”; know what they mean not just in some sense, but know what they mean in a sense which we may wish to call heightened. That we may not know this all the time is no proof against our knowing; this may only indicate what kind of knowledge it is—the kind of knowledge which can go dead, or become inaccessible. Nor would the fact that we cannot explain the (heightened) meaning of such utterances prove that we do not understand them, both because it is not clear what an explanation would consist in, and because knowing where and when to use an utterance seems proof that one knows what it means, and knowing where and when to use it is not the same as being able to give an explanation of it. It is true that in the religious case an explanation seems called for; but this may only mean, one might say, that we are perplexed about how we know its meaning, not whether we do; and even that not all the time. And, again, this particular situation may be characteristic of a particular kind of meaning rather than a situation in which meaning is absent. There might even be an explanation for the sense, as I wish to put it, that we are balancing on the edge of a meaning. And Kierkegaard’s explanations, however obscure, are not obviously wrong. He does not, for example, say that religious utterances are metaphorical. While Kierkegaard’s account sometimes refuses explanations of meaning, sometimes seems to rebuke us for being confused about a meaning which should be clear with a qualitatively decisive clarity, sometimes seems to suggest a mode of explanation for that sense of “balancing on the edge of a meaning,” he would nevertheless not be surprised at Positivism’s claim, or perception, that religious utterances have no cognitive meaning. Indeed, he might welcome this fact. It indicates that the crisis of our age has deepened, that we are no longer confused, and that we have a chance, at last, to learn what our lives really depend upon. Utterances we have shared about our infinite interests no longer carry any cognitive meaning. Well and good; we have now completely forgotten it. Then it is up to each man to find his own. “To imagine a language,” says Wittgenstein in one of his best mottoes, “is to imagine a form of life.” When a form of life can no longer be imagined, its language can no longer be understood. “Speaking metaphorically” is a matter of speaking in certain ways using a definite form of language for some purpose;

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“speaking religiously” is not accomplished by using a given form, or set of forms, of words, and is not done for any further purpose: it is to speak from a particular perspective, as it were to mean anything you say in a special way. To understand a metaphor you must be able to interpret it; to understand an utterance religiously you have to be able to share its perspective. (In these ways, speaking religiously is like telling a dream.) The religious is a Kierkegaardian Stage of life; and I suggest it should be thought of as a Wittgensteinian form of life. There seems no reason not to believe that, as a given person may never occupy this stage, so a given age, and all future ages, may as a whole not occupy it—that the form will be lost from men’s lives altogether. (It would be a phenomenon like everyone stopping having dreams.) It is Kierkegaard’s view that this has happened to the lives of the present age. Wittgenstein, late in the Investigations, remarks that “One human being can be a complete enigma to another. We learn this when we come into a strange country with entirely strange traditions; and, what is more, even given a mastery of the country’s language. We do not understand the people. (And not because of not knowing what they are saying to themselves.) We cannot find our feet with them.” Toward the end of the book on Adler, Kierkegaard has this: Most men live in relation to their own self as if they were constantly out, never at home. . . . The admirable quality in Magister A. consists in the fact that in a serious and strict sense one may say that he was fetched home by a higher power; for before that he was certainly in a great sense “out” or in a foreign land . . . spiritually and religiously understood, perdition consists in journeying into a foreign land, in being “out.” (pp. 154–55) One may want to say: A human being can be a complete enigma to himself; he cannot find his feet with himself. Not because a particular thing he does puzzles him—his problem may be that many of the puzzling things he does do not puzzle him—but because he does not know why he lives as he does, what the point of his activity is; he understands his words, but he is foreign to his life. Other major writers of the nineteenth century share the sense of foreignness, of alienation, Kierkegaard describes; and not merely their own alienation from their societies, but of self-alienation as characteristic of the lives common to their time; which is perhaps the same as seeing their time as alienated from its past. They can be understood as posing the underlying concern of Kierkegaard’s book: “how it comes about that a new point of departure is created in relation to the established order” (p. 192; cf. p. xxi). Kierkegaard’s answer is that it comes “from ABOVE, from God,” but the

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test of this answer depends on confronting it with the major answers given it by (say) Marx, and Freud, and Nietzsche (both the Nietzsche of the Birth of Tragedy and the Nietzsche of Zarathustra). This should forcibly remind one how little of the complexity of Kierkegaard’s book I have brought out; for politics, psychology, art, and the final break with God are all themes of the dialectical situation within which The Book on Adler, like Adler himself, is produced. I began by indicating some lines through which the religious plane intersects the psychological; let me end with a word or two about its intersection in this book with the political and with the aesthetic. The Introduction, written one year before the Communist Manifesto, starts the imagery of the newspaper which recurs throughout the book—the image of its gossip, of its volatilization of concepts, the universal (no-man’s) intelligence it wishes to be, the fourth estate which undermines the idea of estates altogether with their recognized authority and responsibilities, pulverizes them into a gritty mixture called the public, from whom nothing but violence and distraction can be expected. Four years earlier Marx had written some articles for his newspaper3 against a rival editor who had raised the question: “Should philosophy discuss religious matters in newspaper articles?” Marx despises the mind which could frame this question as passionately as Kierkegaard would, and Marx responds to it by criticizing it, as Kierkegaard would; that is to say, he responds dialectically. The point of application of his criticism is evidently different, not to say opposite from Kierkegaard’s, but it clarifies for me a particular lack in Kierkegaard’s “ethico-religious investigation” of his age and of the way that determines its possibilities for a new departure. He was deeply responsive with the “criticism of religion” which Marx said is now (in 1844) complete in Germany (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Kierkegaard can be seen as attempting to carry its completion to the North, while at the same time one of his dominating motives would be to criticize religion’s criticizers. Nothing an outsider can say about religion has the rooted violence of things the religious have themselves had it at heart to say: no brilliant attack by an outsider against (say) obscurantism will seem to go far enough to a brilliant insider faced with the real obscurity of God; and attacks against religious institutions in the name of reason will not go far enough in a man who is attacking them in the name of faith. The criticism of religion, like the criticism of politics which Marx invented, is inescapably dialectical (which is, I take it, a reason Marx said it provided the origin for his criticism), because everything said on both sides is conditioned by the position (e.g., inside or outside) from which it is said. (This emerges in so differently conceived a work as Hume’s Dialogues, in its outbreaks of irony.) Kierkegaard is fully dialectical where religious questions are concerned, as is displayed not merely in his long attention to different Stages of life, but in the many particular examples in which the same sentence is imagined to be said by men in different

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positions and thereby to mean differently. (On the recognition that they mean differently depends salvation, for the Gospel saves not because of what it says but because of who it is who has said it.) But his dialectical grasp is loosened when he comes to politics, where his violence does not see its own position and where the object he attacks is left uncriticized. He attacks newspapers and gossip and the public, as no doubt they deserve (on religious and on every other ground); but he does not consider, as it is Marx’s business to consider, that what is wrong with them is itself a function of the age (not the other way around), and that a press which really belonged to the public (a public which belonged to itself) would reflect its audience otherwise than in gossip, and that its information would become, thereby, personal—existential in the relevant sense. We now know that this has not happened, but we should not therefore know that it is inevitable that it has not happened. I do not suggest that if it did happen Kierkegaard’s problems would become solved, or irrelevant. But to the extent such a question is neglected, Kierkegaard’s damning of society to perdition and his recourse to the individual, is suspect—it may be that a fear of the public is only the other side of a fearful privacy, which on his own ground would create the wrong silence and the wrong communication and provide no point for a new departure. In our age, as yet an unknown distance from that of Kierkegaard, we are likely to read his books as aesthetic works, thus apparently denying his fervent claims that they are religious (even, with the present book, ignoring his claim that it can be understood essentially only by theologians—a remark I choose to interpret ironically or aesthetically, as a rebuke to theologians for not attending to their job of defending the faith, in the categories of the faith, but instead help deliver it bound and gagged into the hands of philosophy). We read him running the risk, and feeling the pinch, of his damning out-bursts against the merely curious, who translate the real terrors of the religious life into sublime spectacles of suffering with which to beguile their hours of spiritual leisure (cf. pp. 158–59). I take heart from the realization that both his and our concepts of aesthetics are historically conditioned; that the concepts of beauty and sublimity which he had in mind (in deploring the confusion between art and religion) are ones which our art either repudiates or is determined to win in new ways; that, in particular, our serious art is produced under conditions which Kierkegaard announces as those of apostleship, not those of genius. I do not insist that for us art has become religion (which may or may not describe the situation, and which as it stands describes phenomena other than those I have in mind) but that the activity of modern art, both in production and reception, is to be understood in categories which are, or were, religious. The remarkable Introduction is, in effect, an essay in aesthetics— or is something I wish aesthetics would become. Its distinction between

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“premise-authors” and “genuine authors” is drawn in a vital place—the place at which one must criticize a given work, perhaps the work of a given period, not as deficient in this or that respect, but dismiss it as art altogether. This kind of occasion is characteristic of the modern in the field of art. It does not arise as a problem until some point in the nineteenth century. I might call the problem “the threat of fraudulence,” something I take to be endemic to modern art. One cannot imagine an audience of new music before Beethoven, or viewers of the paintings or spectators of the theater of that period, as wondering, or having the occasion to wonder, whether the thing in front of them was a piece of genuine art or not. But sometime thereafter audiences did begin to wonder, until by now we grow up learning and cherishing stories of the outrage and rioting which accompanied the appearance of new works, works we know to be masterpieces. At the same time, the advanced critics of the period in which this is becoming manifest (e.g., Matthew Arnold, Tolstoy, Nietzsche) were finding that it was precisely the work acceptable to the public which was the real source of fraudulence. It is characteristic of our artistic confusion today that we no longer know, and cannot find or trust ourselves to find occasion to know, which is which, whether it is the art or its audience which is on trial. Kierkegaard, who knew one when he saw one, defines the genuine author in terms of his moral relation to his work and to his audience: having a position of his own, the real author can give to the age what the age needs, not what it demands, whereas the fraudulent artist will “make use of the sickness of our age” (p. 5) by satisfying its demands; the genuine author “needs to communicate himself” (p. 8) whereas the false author is simply in need (of praise, of being in demand, of being told whether he means anything or not); the genuine is a physician who provides remedies, the false is a sick man, and contagious (p. 11). Kierkegaard has other ways of capturing the experience of this difference (which he calls a qualitative difference), and when we find him saying that: it is a suspicious circumstance when a man, instead of getting out of a tension by resolution and action, becomes literarily productive about his situation in the tension. Then no work is done to get out of the situation, but the reflection fixes the situation before the eyes of reflection, and thereby fixes (in a different sense of the word) the man. (p. 173) we recognize that writers in our time, such as Georg Lukacs and Sartre, have not deepened this definition of the problem of modernism. Adler is, of course, a premise-author, and Kierkegaard goes on in the body of his book to use the out-throw of imagery and contrasts which emerge in this Introduction to mark the features by which one knows that Adler is no

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better an apostle than he is an author; in both fields he lacks, in a word, the authority. I do not suppose Kierkegaard meant to suggest that a genuine author has to have, or claim, God’s authority for his work, but his description of the apostle’s position characterizes in detail the position I take the genuine modern artist to find himself in: he is pulled out of the ranks by a message which he must, on pain of loss of self, communicate; he is silent for a long period, until he finds his way to saying what it is he has to say (artistically speaking, this could be expressed by saying that while he may, as artists in former times have, begin and for a long time continue imitating the work of others, he knows that this is merely time-marking—if it is preparation, it is not artistic preparation—for he knows that there are no techniques at anyone’s disposal for saying what he has to say); he has no proof of his authority, or genuineness, other than his own work (cf. p. 117) (artistically speaking, this is expressed by the absence of conventions within which to compose); he makes his work repulsive, not, as in the case of the apostle, because of the danger he is to others (p. 46) but because mere attraction is not what he wants (artistically, this has to do with the various ways in which art has today withdrawn from, or is required to defeat, its audience); he must deny his personal or worldly authority in accomplishing what he has to do (artistically, this means that he cannot rely on his past achievements as securing the relevance of his new impulse; each work requires, spiritually speaking, a new step); art is no longer a profession to which, for example, a man can become apprenticed (religiously speaking, it is a “call,” but there is no recognized calling in which it can be exercised); finally, the burden of being called to produce it is matched by the risk of accepting it (religiously speaking, in accepting or rejecting it, the heart is revealed). Art produced under such spiritual conditions will be expected to have a strange, unheard of appearance. Kierkegaard puts it this way: That a man in our age might receive a revelation cannot be absolutely denied [i.e., I take it, denying it would suffer the same confusion as affirming it], but the whole phenomenal demeanor of such an elect individual will be essentially different from that of all earlier examples. (p. 46) All this does not mean (it is not summarized by saying) that the artist is an apostle; because the concept of an apostle is, as (because) the concept of revelation is, forgotten, inapplicable. So, almost, is the concept of art. To the extent that one finds such considerations an accurate expression of one’s convictions about the modern enjambment of the impulse to art and to religion, one will want to re-examine the whole question of Kierkegaard’s own authorship—a task which could take a form related to Kierkegaard’s book

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on Adler: for Kierkegaard is a “case” with the same dimensions, and no less a phenomenon than Adler, if harder to see through. In particular, in the light of our un-aestheticizing of aesthetics, what shall we make of Kierkegaard’s famous claim for himself that he was, from the beginning, a religious author, that the Pseudonymous works were part of a larger design which, at the appropriate moment, emerged in directness?4 Since, presumably, he denied being an apostle, his claim says nothing about any special spiritual position he occupies as a Christian; he, like many others—like Adler—is a writer about religious matters. What the claim means, to our position, is that he is a genuine author, that he shares that fate. One fate of the genuine modern author is exactly his indirectness; his inability, somehow just because of his genuineness, to confront his audience directly with what he must say. Kierkegaard’s claim to religious authorship sounds too much as though the Pseudonymous works were a strategy he employed for the benefit of others; whereas those works ought to be seen as a function of his inner strategy, as a genuine writer, to find ways of saying what he has it at heart to say. For it is very peculiar to us—in an age of Rilke, Kafka, Joyce, Mann, Beckett, non-objective painting, twelve-tone music—to hear an artist praising the strategy of indirectness, thinking to encompass its significance by acknowledging its usefulness as a medium of communication. What else have we had, in major art of the past hundred years, but indirectness: irony, theatricality, yearning, broken forms, denials of art, anti-heroes, withdrawals from nature, from men, from the future, from the past. . . . What is admirable in a work like Fear and Trembling is not its indirectness (which, so far as this is secured by the Pseudonym, is a more or less external device) nor its rather pat theory about why Abraham must be silent. What is admirable, exemplary, is its continuous awareness of the pain, and the danger, of that silence—of the fear of the false word, and the deep wish that the right word be found for doing what one must: what, to my mind, Kierkegaard’s portrait of Abraham shows is not the inevitability of his silence, but the completeness of his wish for directness, his refusal of anything less. Exemplary, because while we are stripped of Abraham’s faith and of his clarity, it is still his position we find ourselves in. For certainly we cannot see ourselves in Kierkegaard’s alternative, we are not Tragic Heroes: our sacrifices will not save the State. Yet we are sacrificed, and we sacrifice. Exemplary, because in our age, which not only does not know what it needs, but which no longer even demands anything, but takes what it gets, and so perhaps deserves it; where every indirectness is dime-a-dozen, and any weirdness can be assembled and imitated on demand—the thing we must look for, in each case, is the man who, contrary to appearance, and in spite of all, speaks.

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Notes 1. Søren Kierkegaard, On Authority and Revelation: The Book on Adler, or a Cycle of EthicoReligious Essays, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. xviii. Further references to this work will be inserted, by way of page numbers, in the main text. 2. Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, trans. Alexander Dru (New York: Harper & Row, 1962, Torch Book), pp. 58, 81. 3. These pieces are collected under the title “The Leading Article of No. 179 of Kölnische Zeitung,” in a volume of selected writings of Marx and Engels entitled On Religion (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1975). [A more recent edition was published by Dover in 2008.] 4. See Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work as an Author, trans. Walter Lowrie (New York: Harper & Row, 1962, Torchbook). [A more recent translation of this work was published by Princeton University Press in 2009 (trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong).]



A Nice Arrangement of Epigrams Stanley Cavell on Søren Kierkegaard STEPHEN MULHALL

Cavell begins his essay on Kierkegaard’s book On Authority and Revelation1 by asking what justifies its author in using the very real private and public trials of one man – a minister of the Danish Church who claimed to have experienced a revelation and was suspended by his superiors on the ground that his mind was deranged – as the focus of such an unsparing critical analysis. He points out that, for Kierkegaard, it is a case study, analogous to those authoritatively presented by a surgeon to his peers out of an obligation dispassionately to communicate the knowledge that his skilful incisions have revealed. More specifically, this book is ‘about’ Magister Adler only in a certain sense – the sense in which he is a Phenomenon, a transparence through which the age is caught, in its confusion about the concept of a religious revelation and its occlusion of the concept of religious authority. However, since Adler’s derangements mirror those of his fellow ministers, Cavell further suggests that, for Kierkegaard, Adler is also an epigram on the Christendom of his age – a terse and ingenious expression of it. Accordingly, when Cavell ends his essay by suggesting that ‘Kierkegaard is a “case” with the same dimensions, and no less a phenomenon than Adler, if harder to see through’, the immediate implication is that he understands his own essay as relating to Kierkegaard in the way that Kierkegaard’s book 248

A Nice Arrangement of Epigrams  •  249

relates to Adler. That is, for Cavell, Kierkegaard is a transparence through which certain conceptual confusions and occlusions of his age are caught, and a terse and ingenious expression of certain derangements (call them ways of letting go of what understanding is understood to be) that he suffers together with his fellows – where the fellows in Kierkegaard’s case are not ministers of Danish Christendom (an office he never held), but rather critics of nineteenthcentury religious, moral, political, psychological and economic dispensations and discontents: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud. And the surgical techniques whose skilful application to Adler justify Kierkegaard’s apparently callous treatment of him are exactly what Cavell aspires to apply to Kierkegaard himself – techniques that go under the name of ‘qualitative dialectics’. As Cavell summarises the matter, ‘a dialectical examination of a concept will show how the meaning of that concept changes, and how the subject of which it is the concept changes, as the context in which it is used changes: the dialectical meaning is the history or confrontation of these differences’. His essay demonstrates the centrality of such contextual examinations to Kierkegaard’s critical practice, and the extent to which the illumination they cast depends not only on bringing out specific differences of meaning when a given expression is used in different contexts, but also on showing how the specific meaning of one expression-in-a-context is a function of its place in a field of other expressions, which have their full, mutually implicating significance only in and for a specific form of human life (e.g., Christian concepts in a Christian life). Qualitative dialectic thereby exploits an essential duality in the idea of attending to context: on the one hand, since the smallest shift in local context might alter the meaning of a word, we must learn to distinguish one context of its use from others; but on the other, since each of a word’s context-specific meanings themselves exist only by virtue of their location in a broader context of words and action, we must be equally willing to relate the use of different words-in-their-contexts to one another. On this conception of dialectic, sensitivity to local differentiations of meaning and awareness of broader integrations of meaning are not opposing critical strategies, but essentially complementary ways of clarifying significance; for it is a word’s holistic relations to other words that partly determines its specific differences in meaning in differing contexts of its use (it is its relatedness to concepts such as ‘God’ and ‘revelation’ – as opposed to concepts such as ‘shyness’ and ‘brazenness’ – that determines the significance of the concept of silence in a given context as religious rather than psychological). Cavell praises the flexibility and precision with which Kierkegaard conducts his dialectical critique of the Christendom of his age, and of that age more generally. It allows him to identify contemporary revolutionary impulses and their reactionary counterparts as embodying a confusion of

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concepts, with ‘political and religious ministers madly trying to solve religious problems with political means, the one by “levelling” worldly differences into a horrible parody of what is already a fact, Christianly speaking, and the other by trying to approach by reason what is always and only grasped by faith’. It also allows him to diagnose those impulses as originating in a kind of human self-alienation – in which people live in relation to their own self as if they were constantly out, never at home – and to so to prescribe as its only possible cure our permitting ourselves to be called or fetched home by a higher power, by God. But Kierkegaard’s proposal for curing this malaise brings out the extent to which his diagnostic of it at once relates him to, and differentiates him from, his fellow critics of culture. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud might each agree that the root phenomenon with which they are concerned can be called ‘selfalienation’; they might further agree that an exemplary expression of such alienation is a collective confusion or occlusion of concepts to which a species of dialectical criticism is the only apt response (because such criticism brings a person’s words back home to the local contexts and global perspective of their meaningful employment, hence recovers them from a condition in which they mean anything and nothing, and so in which those employing them are alienated from this aspect of their own modes of existence, not at home to themselves). Nevertheless, each critic’s use of these key terms must itself be dialectically understood. The meaning of ‘alienation’, ‘conceptual confusion’ and ‘dialectical criticism’ in Marx’s mouth will be as different from their meaning in Kierkegaard’s as the field of concepts to which Marx relates it in his broader critical thought and practice differs from the field to which Kierkegaard relates it in his; and so will their conceptions of which particular conceptual confusions and occlusions are fundamental to the contemporary scene. Kierkegaard’s delineation of the way to overcome that self-alienation makes it clear that his conception of that overcoming and of what is thereby overcome is distinctively religious – expressive of an over-arching perspective or form of life that is profoundly different from that in which a Marxist or Nietzschean or Freudian use of the same critical terminology of alienation and its overcoming has its distinctive meaning. Hence, as Cavell says, the key test of the value of Kierkegaard’s conception of how to overcome such selfalienation must be to confront it with the competing conceptions advanced by his fellow critics. This way of presenting Kierkegaard’s inward enmity with his dialectically critical others brings out the extent to which dialectical criticism must always be conducted with a certain self-awareness: as Cavell puts it, ‘the criticism of religion, like the criticism of politics which Marx invented, is inescapably dialectical . . . because everything said on both sides is conditioned by the position . . . from which it is said.’ The dialectical critic is sensitive to the

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context-specificity of the concepts that are the object of his criticism because he thinks that meaning is inherently dialectical – that what a word means is a function of the local context of its use taken in relation to the perspective of the one using it. So it follows that his own critical claims must themselves be dialectically understood if they are to be understood at all – that is, they must be grasped as a function of their local context of application in relation to the perspective of the one advancing them. To overlook this conditionedness is an error into which those who read and respond to such criticism might easily fall. But it is also an error to which the critic himself might succumb – for example, by advancing his criticisms as if they were not themselves as thoroughly conditioned by context and perspec­ tive as their objects; and when he does so he opens himself to a particularly intimate and wounding kind of criticism – that of being an undialectical dialectician, accusing others of being not at home to certain aspects of their own lives with concepts in a way that demonstrates that the critic is alienated from his own words of criticism, and so from himself qua critic. Marx would talk of false consciousness, Nietzsche of the man of knowledge’s failure to know himself; a Christian might talk instead of offering to remove a mote from one’s brother’s eye whilst overlooking the beam in one’s own. And this is Cavell’s key criticism of Kierkegaard’s critique of politics: ‘his violence does not see its own position and . . . the object he attacks is left uncriticized.’ When he excoriates newspapers and gossip and the public, Cavell suspects that Kierkegaard does not consider the possibility that what is wrong with them is itself a function of the age (not the root cause of what is wrong with that age); and as a result he does not see that his undiscriminating condemnation of the public to perdition might itself be a function of a specific feature of his own critical perspective – a fear of the public that is itself expressive of a fearful privacy. I take Cavell to be simultaneously invoking two ways of meaning this last phrase. On the one hand, there is Kierkegaard’s theoretical commitment to a concept of privacy as grammatically or logically inviolate, absolutely beyond another’s acknowledgement – quite as if he is fearful of admitting his openness to being known, his internal relatedness to others. On the other, there are his practical self-presentations as essentially known to himself and essentially unknown to others – in the pseudonymity of his writing, which Cavell thinks is too often a strategy employed for the benefit of others rather than an indispensable means of clarifying what he himself has it at heart to say, and in his notoriously misleading modes of participation in Copenhagen’s social life, which risked treating others as instruments whilst occluding the fearful possibility that any aspect of himself as he is behind these social masks might lie beyond his own grasp. By using one phrase to activate both registers of significance, Cavell implies that each dialectically conditions the other in his subject’s form of life.

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Since Cavell declares that Kierkegaard’s dialectical critical method is both philosophical and philosophically correct, then – mindful of the parable of the mote and the beam – we might ask ourselves how dialectical Cavell’s own criticism of Kierkegaard actually is. Is it a critique that sees its own position – that is, that sees its own conditionedness, and in particular the local context and the holistic perspective within which alone it has such sense and force as it possesses? Answering this question requires that we register a further dimension of significance in the notion of a dialectical-critical method that we have hitherto passed over, but that is pre-eminent at its Hegelian point of origin – its sensitivity to specifically historical contexts and conditions. In the case of Kierkegaard’s case-study of Adler, the subject and the object of criticism inhabit the same age or period, are one another’s contemporaries; indeed, this is part of what makes the former’s ability penetratingly and prophetically to discern in the latter the distinctive features and likely fate of their particular era so impressive (at least as impressive as it is in the contemporary casestudies that drive the critical work of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud). The same is not true of Cavell’s case-study of Kierkegaard; on the contrary, without the passage of time between Kierkegaard’s book and Cavell’s essay, the latter’s perception of Kierkegaardian prophetic criticism as internally related to the projects of those other dialectical thinkers of his age (most of whom came after him) would be inconceivable. But even if historical distance is a necessary condition for recognising Kierkegaard’s fellowship with these critics, it is surely not sufficient; at the very least, Cavell’s perceptions are also profoundly enabled by his allegiances to the later Wittgenstein, although it is important to note that the object of his allegiance is very much not the later Wittgenstein familiar to most philosophers (even most Wittgensteinian philosophers) in the 1960s, when ordinary language philosophy dominated the Anglo-American scene. At the time at which Cavell’s essay was published, he had not yet brought his distinctively deranging reading of the Philosophical Investigations (which released him from what an understanding of Wittgenstein was – and still is – understood to involve) to the point of publication in extenso: that would come only with the appearance of The Claim of Reason in 1979.2 But its influence pervades all the essays in the book of essays in which his reading of Kierkegaard first appeared;3 and his ability to see Kierkegaard’s qualitative dialectic as a philosophical method was importantly facilitated by his interpretation of Wittgenstein’s method of grammatical investigation as exemplifying a perception of our words and concepts as essentially projective. Take the word ‘feed’: we learn to ‘feed the cat’ and to ‘feed the lions’, and then, when someone talks of feeding the meter or feeding our pride, we understand them; we accept this projection of it. At the same time, however,

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such projections are also deeply controlled. We can, for example, feed a lion, but not by placing a bushel of carrots in its cage; and its failure to eat them would not count as a refusal to do so. Such projections of ‘feed’ and ‘refusal’ fail because their connection with other words in their normal contexts do not transfer to the new one: one can only refuse something that one might also accept, hence something that one can be offered or invited to accept; and what might count as an offer and an acceptance in the context of a meal is both different from and related to what counts as an offer and acceptance in the context of mating or being guided. These limits are neither arbitrary nor optional; they show how what Cavell calls a word’s grammatical schematism determines the respects in which a new context for a word must invite or allow its projection: [A]ny form of life and every concept integral to it has an indefinite number of instances and directions of projection; and this variation is not arbitrary. Both the ‘outer’ variance and the ‘inner’ constancy are necessary if a concept is to accomplish its tasks – of meaning, understanding, communicating etc., and in general, guiding us through the world, and relating thought and action and feeling to the world. (CR, 185) This flexible constancy, or essentially non-arbitrary variation, is what Cavell means by the projectibility of language; and it is itself a manifestation of (what Cavell understands as) Wittgenstein’s vision of words as governed by criteria: [Wittgensteinian] criteria do not relate a name to an object, but, we might say, various concepts to the concept of that object. Here the test of your possession of a concept . . . would be your ability to use the concept in conjunction with other concepts, your knowledge of which concepts are relevant to the one in question and which are not; your knowledge of how various relevant concepts, used in conjunction with the concepts of different kinds of objects, require different kinds of contexts for their competent employment. (CR, 73) A word’s grammatical schematism is its power to combine with other words – ‘the word’s potency to assume just those valences, and a sense that in each case there will be a point of application of the word, and that the point will be the same from context to context, or that the point will shift in a recognizable pattern or direction’ (CR, 77–8). Hence when the acceptability or naturalness of a new projection of a given word is in question, our final judgement will turn upon the speaker’s capacity to show that and how the new context into

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which she has projected it either invites or can be seen to allow that projection by inviting or allowing (at least some modified form of) the projection of those other words to which its criteria relate it, and which are accommodated in familiar contexts of the word’s use. This way of understanding criteria and grammar plainly acknowledge the internal relatedness of local differentiations and general integrations of meaning that is central to qualitative dialectic; but it also frees Wittgenstein’s later philosophical method from any tendency towards what one might call linguistic (and so philosophical) conservatism. For it avoids picturing the recovery of the grammar of ordinary words in the way Wittgenstein’s defenders favour as much as his deniers – as a matter of either restricting us to the reiteration of its current ranges of its employment or of establishing entirely new (and so essentially unrelated) applications. Such a picture precisely occludes the essential openness of words to engagement with new contexts, in relation to which further reaches of the significance of those words (further possibilities and impossibilities of our making sense of and with them) disclose themselves. On Cavell’s reading of Wittgenstein, to say that words possess a grammatical schematism is to say with full dialectical rigour that the meanings of words are essentially, always already to-be-unfolded; hence, they live and move and have their being in history, with all its complex conditions and vicissitudes. So understood, Wittgenstein’s writings reveal themselves as embodying the possibility of a contemporary variant of dialectical criticism of culture (by, for example, criticising its given forms in the name of its unattained, but attainable, possibilities of making and enacting sense). This is why Cavell quietly, but plainly, implies that Kierkegaard’s earlier version of dialectical criticism was not itself as historically inflected or sensitive as it was capable of being. For although Kierkegaard is all-too-aware that contemporary Christendom was undergoing a crisis to which previous ages had not succumbed, and was to that extent aware of conditions specific to his present age, he appears to have understood that crisis as a falling away from a prior, ideal (or at least more ideal) state or condition – one in which qualitative differences between aesthetic, ethical and religious concepts, contexts and stages or spheres of existence (call them forms of life) were better understood because more faithfully realised in life; and more importantly, he seems to have regarded these differences as ahistorically valid, their availability as standards or ideals essentially unconditioned by time and circumstance – as possibilities that are fixed in number and nature, one might say eternal. This would suggest a certain dialectical limitation on Kierkegaard’s criticisms of his age, one that may or may not be a function of his religious perspective: despite the fact that he registers his age’s increasingly pervasive confusion and occlusion of religious concepts, and the intensifying loss of existential integrity and intelligibility (both individual and collective) that this is creating

A Nice Arrangement of Epigrams  •  255

all around him, he never fully confronts the possibility that these registrations clearly portend for Cavell – namely that ‘as a given person may never occupy [the religious] stage, so a given age and all future ages, may as a whole not occupy it – that the form will be lost from men’s lives altogether’. This idea of losing a form of life together with the conceptual field that articulates it links the Kierkegaardian version of dialectical criticism not only to its nineteenth-century counterparts, but also to a more specific, not exclusively Wittgensteinian, and highly influential thread of philosophical projects and debates in the present age of Cavell’s essay – the second half of the twentieth century. It is central to Anscombe’s 1958 article ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, in which she famously claims that the situation in which we currently stand with the notion of ‘moral obligation’ exemplifies the survival of a concept outside the framework of thought that made it intelligible; Alasdair MacIntyre later transfigures this local observation into the central thesis of his 1981 book After Virtue, according to which the language and appearances of morality more generally persist even though its integral substance has largely fragmented and partly been destroyed.4 Cavell himself had already developed (in writings that would eventually constitute Chapter X of The Claim of Reason) an analogous critique of Stevenson’s emotivist analysis of moral discourse, although his view was that Stevenson’s portrait of morality was written as if by someone who had lost the very concept of moral thought and discussion – that is, by someone blind to what actually existing moral life is like. Nevertheless, as Cora Diamond points out in her famous 1988 paper ‘Losing Your Concepts’, if Cavell’s critique is right, Stevenson has actually lost the capacity to employ moral concepts in part: for to be able to describe what it is like to use moral concepts is itself a (philosophically reflective) use of those concepts, and to that extent Stevenson’s failure is not merely one of perception – it indicates one area of our life with moral concepts that is exactly as MacIntyre takes our moral life to be more generally.5 These various diagnoses of situations in which we might be said to suffer from loss of concepts each have to confront a particular worry: if these critics really believe that concepts only have their specific meaning within the relevant framework or context of employment, and if the concept with which they are concerned really does now exist outside that context, then by their own lights it simply cannot any longer be the concept they present it as being. Either it retains its sense in the new historical situation, in which case the lost or fragmented context was not in fact determinative of its intelligibility; or that context really was constitutive of its sense, in which case it must now lack that sense, and so cannot really be said to be the same concept (or indeed, to be an intelligible concept at all). Cavell’s essay reveals that this dilemma is not in fact forced upon those inclined to prosecute any version of the ‘loss of concepts’ diagnosis; for he

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concludes his critique of Kierkegaard by suggesting that the concepts whose loss of religious sense Kierkegaard sees Adler as presaging – the concepts of authority and revelation – are in Cavell’s present age the concepts through which we can alone understand modern art. In other words, sensitised by his projective reading of Wittgensteinian criteria, he identifies one fate that concepts that suffer the loss of their original enabling context might undergo other than that of loss of sense – that of migration into another context, within which they make a different but related kind of sense. It is vital to note how Cavell characterises this particular dialectical shifting of sense from context to context. He specifically does not say that it indicates that for us art has become religion – ‘([that] may or may not describe the situation, [but] as it stands describes phenomena other than those I have in mind)’ – but rather that ‘the activity of modern art, both in production and reception, is to be understood in categories which are, or were, religious’, that ‘our serious art is produced under conditions which Kierkegaard announces as those of apostleship, not those of genius’. If concepts are inherently projective, then when concepts originally employed in a religious context come to be employed in an artistic context, it cannot be right to say either that they retain their religious meaning in their new artistic context (i.e., to say that art has become religion) or that their meaning in that new context is wholly and solely artistic rather than religious. For if the new artistic context invites and allows the projection of those originally religious concepts, then it discloses a further range or dimension of significance of those original concepts. One might say that it unfolds an internal relation between what we have understood religion to be and what we have come to understand art to be. It thereby discloses an artistic register of significance in religion and a religious register of significance in art, or more precisely a sense in which the place of serious art in the late twentieth century is comprehensible only as a genealogical descendent of serious religious thought and practice in the nineteenth century. But of course, to understand that relation in a properly dialectical way one needs to understand three historical contexts: not only that of serious mid-nineteenth century religion and serious mid-to-late twentieth century art, but also that of serious mid-nineteenth century art (since one could not understand serious twentieth-century art’s capacity to invite the projection of religious concepts independently of understanding that capacity’s indebtedness to its own historical conditions). What Cavell means by the serious art of his age is anyway patently internally related to serious art in the mid-nineteenth century. For what he takes to be artistically serious in his contemporary circumstances – the work of figures such as Stella, Newman and Caro – is familiarly known to us as modernism; and he understands such artworks as persistently and necessarily confronting the possibility that they are not so much deficient aesthetically in this or that

A Nice Arrangement of Epigrams  •  257

respect, but rather fail to count as a work of art at all – a possibility that is a function of the artist’s inability to rely on his inheritance of any range of artistic conventions as guaranteeing the status of his work as art, so that he confronts his relation to the history of his enterprise as an undismissable problem, something he can neither take for granted nor simply reject as irrelevant, in every work he makes. And for Cavell, this kind of condition ‘does not arise as a problem until some point in the Nineteenth Century’. In making this point about the historical origin of modernism in the arts, Cavell is placing it dialectically, disclosing its internal relatedness not only to Kierkegaard’s critique of religion, but also to the analogous critiques of analogous spheres of society (themselves understood as internally related to one another) by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. This implies that the condition of modernism in the arts is one further expression of the experience of self-alienation and the attempts at its overcoming that these dialectical critics were concerned to expose and espouse: modernist artists understand themselves to be inhabiting a foreign aesthetic land – to be not-at-home with themselves as painters or musicians or sculptors, to be at once unable to find their feet with their aesthetic inheritance and unable to discard the desire to re-establish that footing. And precisely because they cannot do so by relying on inherited conventions, their condition foregrounds questions of authority and revelation: the authority of such an artist’s expressions is absolutely in question (not only as expressive of good art, but as art at all), and its reality or lack of it is revealed in every individual work he produces (or defers producing – perhaps because he is awaiting inspiration or its proper means of articulation, perhaps because he is lacking in courage). This does not mean that the modernist artist simply is an apostle; this would be as undialectical – as ungrammatical a remark – as saying that he simply is not. But tracking the transfiguration of these concepts from religion to art makes it easier to comprehend critics of modernism such as Michael Fried when they resort to a spiritual register in their passionate advocacy of those artists who take up this modernist task – to the point of Fried’s beginning his most famous essay with an epigraph citing the Protestant pastor Jonathan Edwards, and ending it with the remark that ‘presentness is grace’.6 Reading Cavell’s essay from our present perspective, and so as a terse and ingenious expression of an earlier philosophical, artistic and religious age, we might well be struck by the extent to which these transmigrated concepts have suffered further historical vicissitudes. For it is now an art-critical commonplace to regard mid-twentieth century artistic modernism as outmoded or dead, as having been theoretically and practically outflanked by what might be called postmodernist modes of artistic endeavour in which the artist’s relation to the history of their enterprise appears to be an eminently dismissable problem. If that is true, then the present value of Cavell’s case-study

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of Kierkegaard would lie in its helping us to measure what we might have lost (let’s say spiritually) in losing that form of artistic life; but since concepts that have migrated once might do so again, we should also consider the possibility that the categories needed to comprehend modernist painting and sculpture in the 1960s are now needed in other artistic media (such as photography and film), or in other spheres of culture.7 So it is not surprising to find that Cavell’s most recent writings authoritatively reveal the continuing centrality of those concepts (under the guise of what he calls Emersonian perfectionism) in overlooked, but vital, dimensions of our present forms of morality, politics and philosophy.8 The dialectic continues to unfold  . . . 

Notes 1. The title under which Lowrie’s translation of the text was published (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1955), and to which Cavell’s essay refers; it was most recently re-translated by H. V. and E. H. Hong under the title The Book on Adler (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998). 2. Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), hereafter CR. 3. Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What we Say? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). 4. Anscombe’s essay is reprinted in her Ethics, Religion and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981); After Virtue was published in London, by Duckworth. 5. Diamond’s essay appeared in Ethics 98 (Jan 1988), pp. 255–77. 6. The title essay of Art and Objecthood (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 7. Cf. Fried, Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008). 8. Cf. Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).



Karl Marx (1818–1883)

Introduction Karl Marx’s thoughts on class, economy, and labor have shaped our understanding of human society. Few philosophers have exerted a stronger influence on history itself. However, while politicians and ideologues across the world set out to realize their versions of Marxian thought, philosophers have asked how best to understand his arguments and outlook on human life and practice. Marx’s philosophy develops as a critique of Hegel and the idealist framework of nineteenth-century philosophy. Inspired by Ludwig Feuerbach and the left-Hegelians, Marx wanted to formulate a materialist theory of human life and its path towards liberation. From within the framework of the Frankfurt School and its emphasis on social thought, the early Jürgen Habermas analyzes Marx’s break with idealism. In his 1968 Knowledge and Human Interests, Habermas discusses Marx’s alternative to the idealist conception of the transcendental subject. In Habermas’s reading, Marx replaces the Kantian notion of the synthetic unity of apperception with an analysis of how labor—the ongoing interaction with nature, the shaping of the environment into a world in which we can recognize ourselves and feel at home—serves this function, though in a thoroughly non-idealist way. 259

260  •  Debates in Nineteenth-Century European Philosophy

In his response to Habermas’s reading of Marx, Espen Hammer, whose work includes studies of Theodor W. Adorno’s political philosophy (Adorno and the Political [London: Routledge, 2006]) and aesthetics (Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory [Cambridge University Press, 2015]), focuses on Habermas’s account of Marx’s notion of labor. In Habermas’s reading, Hammer argues, the Marxian analysis of labor is deprived of its self-actualizing function and made to serve as a quasi-transcendental category that ultimately stands opposed to the young Habermas’s own ideal of communicative action. The lasting relevance of Marx’s philosophy, Hammer suggests, is not rooted in his attempt to anchor epistemological categories in historical praxis, but in his analysis of human self-realization and the political conditions under which it can find its ultimate form.

Further Reading • G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978; expanded edition 2000. • Jonathan Wolff, Why Read Marx Today? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. • Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx. London: Routledge, 1981; second edition 2004.



Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel Synthesis Through Social Labor JÜRGEN HABERMAS Translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro

In the last of the economic-philosophical manuscripts from his Paris period (1844) Marx comes to grips with the Phenomenology of Mind.1 He focuses especially on the last chapter, on absolute knowledge. Marx follows the strategy of detaching the exposition of consciousness in its manifestations from the framework of the philosophy of identity. He does this in order to bring to light the elements of a critique that often “far surpasses Hegel’s standpoint,” elements that are already contained, although concealed, in the Phenomeno­ logy. In so doing he refers to paragraphs 381 and 384 of Hegel’s Encyclopedia, in which the transition from the philosophy of nature to the philosophy of mind is delineated, making explicit the basic assumption that tacitly underlies the Phenomenology. [ . . . ] For Marx, on the contrary, it is nature that is the absolute ground of mind. Nature cannot be conceived of as the other of a mind that is at the same time in its own element (bei sich) in its other. For if nature were mind in the state of complete externalization, then as congealed mind it would have its essence and life not in itself, but outside itself. There would be an advance guarantee that in truth nature could exist only as mind reflexively remembers it while returning to itself from nature. [ . . . ] This seal placed on absolute knowledge by the philosophy of identity is broken if the externality of nature, both objective environmental and 261

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subjective bodily nature, not only seems external to a consciousness that finds itself within nature, but refers instead to the immediacy of a substratum on which the mind contingently depends. Here the mind presupposes nature, but in the sense of a natural process that, from within itself, gives rise likewise to the natural being man and the nature that surrounds him—and not in the idealist sense of a mind that, as Idea existing for itself, posits a natural world as its own self-created presupposition.2 Objective idealism attempts to render the being-in-itself of nature com­ prehensible as a presupposition of absolute mind that has not been discerned as such by subjective mind. What Marx opposes to this is no coarse materialism. It is true that he first appears to be renewing the naturalism of Feuerbach’s anthropology.3 In opposition to Feuerbach Marx certainly emphasizes, beside the bodily attributes of an organism dependent on its environment (sensuous receptivity, need, emotionality, vulnerability), the adaptive modes of behavior and active expressions of life of an “active natural being.” But as long as he attributes to “objective activity” the still unspecific meaning that man, like every organism, “can only express his life through real, sensuous objects” (MEGA I, 3:160), Marx remains caught in the realm of naturalistic ideas. The first thesis against Feuerbach, however, already goes beyond this.4 Here the meaning of speaking of man as an objective being is not anthropological,5 but epistemological: “the active side” that idealism has developed in opposition to materialism is to be comprehended materialistically. When Marx sees as the main flaw of all previous materialism “that the object, reality, sensuousness is only apprehended in the form of the object or of intuition (Anschauung) and not, however, as sensuous human activity, as practice (Praxis),6 not subjectively,” then “objective activity” has acquired the specific meaning of constituting the objectivity of possible objects of experience. As natural objects the latter share with nature the property of being-in-itself, but bear the character of produced objectivity owing to the activity of man. On the one hand Marx conceives of objective activity as a transcendental accomplishment; it has its counterpart in the construction of a world in which reality appears subject to conditions of the objectivity of possible objects of experience. On the other hand he sees this transcendental accomplishment as rooted in real labor (Arbeit)7 processes. The subject of world constitution is not transcendental consciousness in general, but the concrete human species, which reproduces its life under natural conditions. That this “process of material exchange” (Stoffwechselprozess) takes the form of processes of social labor derives from the physical constitution of this natural being and some constants of its natural environment. [ . . . ] The nature that surrounds us constitutes itself as objective nature for us only in being mediated by the subjective nature of man through processes of social labor. That is why labor, or work, is not only a fundamental category of

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human existence but also an epistemological category. The system of objective activities creates the factual conditions of the possible reproduction of social life and at the same time the transcendental conditions of the possible objectivity of the objects of experience. The category of man as a tool-making animal signifies a schema both of action and of apprehending the world. Although a natural process, labor is at the same time more than a mere natural process, for it regulates material exchange with nature and constitutes a world. [ . . . ] Thus in materialism labor has the function of synthesis. As soon as we understand social labor as synthesis denuded of its idealist meaning, however, we run into the danger of a transcendental-logical misunderstanding. For the category of labor then acquires unawares the meaning of world-constituting life activity (Lebenspraxis) in general. This view arises especially if we interpret Marx’s writings on the nature of man in terms of the analyses of the life-world found in Husserl’s later works. A phenomenological strain of Marxism found expression in the Thirties in several works of Herbert Marcuse, writing under the influence of Heidegger.8 After the war this view found supporters among those influenced by Sartre9 and governs the interpretation of Marx in several socialist countries.10 Nevertheless, no matter how meaningful Marx finds “considering the labor process primarily independent of every specific social form,”11 he never regarded it as the foundation for the construction of invariant meaning structures of possible social life-worlds. Social labor is fundamental only as the category of mediating objective and subjective nature. It designates the mechanism of the evolution of the species in history. Through the labor process what changes is not only the nature that has been worked on, but, by means of the products of labor, the necessitous nature of the laboring subjects themselves. [ . . . ] Because the tool-making animal distinguishes itself from all other animal species through the reproductive form of social labor, the human species is not characterized by any invariant natural or transcendental structure, but only by a mechanism of humanization (Menschwerdung). The evolutionary concept of the “nature of man” unmasks philosophical anthropology as an illusion just as it does transcendental philosophy. In contrast to the fleeting aspects of individual performances, productions, and gratifications, labor processes give rise to something general that accumulates in the productive forces—Hegel had already observed this with regard to the tool. In their turn these enduring productions, or stored up forces of production, transform the world within which subjects relate to their objects. Therefore the species can have no fixed essence, either as a transcendental form of life or in the empirical form of a biologically conditioned basic pattern of culture. [ . . . ] When Marx sees in the history of industry, that is in the evolution of the system of social labor, “the open book of man’s essential powers

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(Wesenskräfte), human psychology existing in sensuous form,”12 what he has in mind is not an empirical structure, but the context in which the history of the species is constituted. The stages of the manifestation of consciousness are determined by transcendental rules of apprehending the world and of action. In this framework a particular “objective nature” is given to each social system, regarded as a subject. But this framework itself changes historically in dependence on a “subjective nature” that is itself formed by the results of social labor. The famous sentence that the formation of the five senses is the work of all of previous history is meant literally by Marx. The materialist study of history is directed toward societal categories that determine both the real process of life and the transcendental conditions of the constitution of life-worlds. In opposition to Hegel’s position in the Phenomenology, Marx holds the conviction that the self-reflection of consciousness discloses the fundamental structures of social labor, discovering therein the synthesis of the objectively active natural being man and the nature that is his objective environment. Marx did not arrive at an explicit concept of this synthesis. He had only a more or less vague conception of it. He would have found the very concept of synthesis suspect, although the first thesis on Feuerbach directly contains an injunction to learn from idealism insofar as it grasps the “active side” of the cognitive process. Nevertheless, from various indications we can extrapolate the way in which social labor is to be conceived as the synthesis of man and nature. We must clearly articulate this materialist concept of synthesis if we wish to understand how all the elements of a critique of knowledge radicalized by Hegel’s critique of Kant are present in Marx and yet are not combined to construct a materialist epistemology. Synthesis in the materialist sense differs from the concept developed in idealist philosophy by Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, primarily in that it does not generate a logical structure. It is not the accomplishment of a transcendental consciousness, the positing of an absolute ego, or the movement of an absolute mind. Instead it is the both empirical and transcendental accomplishment of a species-subject that produces itself in history. Kant, Fichte, and Hegel can recur to the material of spoken sentences, to the logical forms of judgment: the unity of subject and predicate is the paradigmatic result of the synthesis as which the activity of consciousness, ego, or mind is conceived. Thus logic provides the substance in which the achievements of synthesis have been sedimented. Kant takes formal logic in order to derive the categories of the understanding from the table of judgments. Fichte and Hegel take transcendental logic in order to reconstruct respectively the act of the absolute ego from pure apperception and the dialectical movement of the absolute notion (concept, Begriff) from the antinomies and paralogisms of pure reason. If, in contrast, synthesis takes place in the medium of labor rather than thought, as Marx assumes,

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then the substratum in which it leaves its residue is the system of social labor and not a connection of symbols. The point of departure for a reconstruction of synthetic accomplishments is not logic, but the economy. Consequently what provides the material that reflection is to deal with in order to make conscious basic synthetic accomplishments is not the correct combination of symbols according to rules, but social life processes, the material production and appropriation of products. Synthesis no longer appears as an activity of thought, but as one of material production. The model for the spontaneous reproduction process of society is the productions of nature rather than those of mind. That is why for Marx the critique of political economy takes the place held by the critique of formal logic in idealism. [ . . . ] This synthesis through social labor is not an absolute one. Anything like absolute synthesis can be conceived only on the presuppositions of the philosophy of identity. Hegel’s model of mind that recognizes itself in nature as in its other combines two relations of reflection: the self-reflective relation of the isolated subject to itself and the intersubjective relation of a subject that knows and recognizes a subject in the other just as the latter does with regard to the former. In the absolute identity of mind and nature the moment of difference in unity is retained from the first relation just as the moment of unity in difference is retained from the second. Absolute mind is the identity of mind and nature in the mode in which the subject knows itself to be identical with itself in self-consciousness. But this unity implies just as well the nonidentity of mind and nature in the mode in which one subject knows itself to be absolutely different from another. It follows from this that absolute difference is still conceived as a relation between subjects. Therefore what unites the identity of mind and nature with their non-identity can itself be conceived according to that type of synthesis through which the identity of an ego comes into being. One of the two moments that is mediated defines the category of mediation itself: as absolute, synthesis is still conceived after the pattern of self-reflection. Marx, on the contrary, does not view nature under the category of another subject, but conversely the subject under the category of another nature. Hence, although their unity can only be brought about by a subject, he does not comprehend it as an absolute unity. The subject is originally a natural being instead of nature being originally an aspect of the subject, as in idealism. Therefore unity, which can only come about through the activity of a subject, remains in some measure imposed on nature by the subject. The resurrection of nature cannot be logically conceived within materialism, no matter how much the early Marx and the speculative minds in the Marxist tradition (Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno) find themselves attracted by this heritage of mysticism. Nature does not conform to the categories under which the subject apprehends it in the unresisting

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way in which a subject can conform to the understanding of another subject on the basis of reciprocal recognition under categories that are binding on both of them. The unity of the social subject and nature that comes into being “in industry” cannot eradicate the autonomy of nature and the remainder of complete otherness that is lodged in its facticity. As the correlate of social labor, objectified13 nature retains both independence and externality in relation to the subject that controls it. Its independence manifests itself in our ability to learn to master natural processes only to the extent that we subject ourselves to them. This elementary experience is expressed in the language of natural “laws” that we must “obey.” The externality of nature manifests itself in the contingency of its ultimate constants. No matter how far our power of technical control over nature is extended, nature retains a substantial core that does not reveal itself to us. The process of production regulated in systems of social labor is a form of synthesis of man and nature that binds the objectivity of the possible objects of experience to the objective activity of subjects on the one hand, but does not eliminate the independence of its existence on the other. [ . . . ] Marx is assuming something like a nature in itself. It is prior to the world of mankind. It is at the root of laboring subjects as natural beings and also enters into their labor processes. But as the subjective nature of man and the objective nature of their environment, it is already part of a system of social labor that is divided up into two aspects of the same “process of material exchange.” While epistemologically we must presuppose nature as existing in itself, we ourselves have access to nature only within the historical dimension disclosed by labor processes. Here nature in human form mediates itself with objective nature, the ground and environment of the human world. “Nature in itself” is therefore an abstraction, which is a requisite of our thought: but we always encounter nature within the horizon of the world-historical self-formative process of mankind. Kant’s “thing-in-itself” reappears under the name of a nature preceding human history. This conception has the important epistemological function of pointing to the contingency of nature as a whole; in opposition to the idealist attempt to reduce nature to a mere externalization of mind, it preserves nature’s immovable facticity despite nature’s historical embeddedness in the universal structure of mediation constituted by laboring subjects. This discussion can be summarized as follows. Synthesis through social labor neither generates a logical structure nor creates an absolute unity of man and nature. Like Kant’s original apperception, the materialist concept of synthesis preserves the difference between form and matter. Of course the forms are categories not primarily of the understanding, but of objective activity; and the unity of the objectivity of possible objects of experience is formed not in transcendental consciousness, but in the behavioral system

Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel  •  267

of instrumental action. Nevertheless, the matter that is given is first shaped in the labor process as in the cognitive process: “In his production man can only proceed like nature herself, that is only by changing the forms of sub­ stances.”14 For the labor process is one of “forming objects, of subjecting them to a subjective end; their transformation into results and containers of subjective activity.”15 Yet if we compare the elements of the labor process with those of the cognitive process—that is if we compare the material of labor, the instruments of labor, and the labor force with the material of sensation, the categories of the understanding, and the imagination—then the characteristic difference between Kant and Marx becomes clear. The synthesis of the material of intuition by the imagination receives its necessary unity through categories of the understanding. As pure concepts of the understanding these transcendental rules of synthesis make up the internal and inalterable inventory of consciousness as such. The synthesis of the material of labor by labor power receives its actual unity through categories of man’s manipulations. As instruments in the broadest sense, these technical rules of synthesis take on sensuous existence and belong to the historically alterable inventory of societies.16 The materialist concept of synthesis thus retains from Kant the fixed framework within which the subject forms a substance that it encounters. This framework is established once and for all through the equipment of transcendental consciousness or of the human species as a species of tool-making animals. On the other hand, in distinction from Kant, Marx assumes empirically mediated rules of synthesis that are objectified as productive forces and historically transform the subjects’ relation to their natural environment. What is Kantian about Marx’s conception of knowledge is the invariant relation of the species to its natural environment, which is established by the behavioral system of instrumental action—for labor processes are the “perpetual natural necessity of human life.” The conditions of instrumental action arose contingently in the natural evolution of the human species. At the same time, however, with transcendental necessity, they bind our knowledge of nature to the interest of possible technical control over natural processes. The objectivity of the possible objects of experience is constituted within a conceptual–perceptual scheme rooted in deep-seated structures of human action; this scheme is equally binding on all subjects that keep alive through labor. The objectivity of the possible objects of experience is thus grounded in the identity of a natural substratum, namely that of the bodily organization of man, which is oriented toward action, and not in an original unity of apperception, which, according to Kant, guarantees with transcendental necessity the identity of an ahistorical consciousness in general. The identity of societal subjects, in contrast, alters with the scope of their power of technical control. This point of view is fundamentally un-Kantian. The

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knowledge generated within the framework of instrumental action takes on external existence as a productive force. Consequently both nature, which has been reshaped and civilized in labor processes, and the laboring subjects themselves alter in relation to the development of the productive forces. The actual stage of development of the productive forces defines the level at which each generation must bring about anew the unity of subject and object. The Kantian component of the concept of synthesis through social labor can be elaborated in an instrumentalist theory of knowledge.17 The latter would have to make conscious the transcendental structure of labor processes within which, and only within which, the organization of experience and the objectivity of knowledge become possible from the standpoint of the technical controllability of nature. In Marx there are only a few methodological pointers toward such a theory. They were first elaborated in pragmatism, especially by Peirce and Dewey. But they suffice to render comprehensible the affirmative relation of materialism to the natural sciences. For the technically exploitable knowledge that is produced and tested in research processes of the natural sciences belongs to the same category as the pragmatic knowledge of everyday life acquired through trial and error in the realm of feedback-controlled action (erfolgskontrolliertes Handeln).18 Marx once wrote to Kugelmann, “Natural laws can absolutely not be abolished. What can change in different historical states is only the form in which these laws take effect.”19 Only because the conditions of the objectivity of possible natural-scientific knowledge are rooted in a deep-seated structure of human action can statements of laws at all claim universal validity. In contrast, the historically changeable form is grounded in the level of development of the forces of production. At the same time this level designates that of a cumulative learning process and thus determines the conditions under which new technical knowledge arises. This knowledge is itself potentially a productive force that reacts back upon the subject via the nature to which it is applied. This is where the second, non-Kantian component of the concept of synthesis through social labor comes into play. This component is developed in the interpretation that Fichte gives to Kant’s concept of the original synthetic unity of apperception—naturally on idealist presuppositions. Kant was faced with the problem of how synthetic unity in the manifold of representations comes into being for a finite understanding that is not given the manifold of intuition through its own self-activity. On the premise that subject and object are not identical, knowledge by the understanding is possible only when an original synthesis brings the manifold of given representations under the unity of an apperception. The synthesis of representations is brought about by my representing to myself the identity of consciousness in these representations. This occurs in self-consciousness. Thus in order to show the possibility of a cognitive faculty divided into sensibility and understanding,

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Kant must assume a faculty that combines all my representations, considered as collectively belonging to me, in a self-consciousness. We ascertain this spontaneous faculty of imagination in the experience of the ego being identical with itself. Fichte takes this deduction of pure apperception and turns it upside down. That is, he starts with the act of self-consciousness as the original transcendental experience, and thus with the absolutely certain, and inquires how this self-reflection is to be conceived. Fichte covers Kant’s path in reverse in order to prove the identity of ego and non-ego and thus precisely to contest the presupposition on which Kant saw himself compelled to ascend to the transcendental unity of self-consciousness. According to Kant, pure apperception produces the representation “I think,” which must be able to accompany identically all other representations, without this representation itself being able to be accompanied by and reflected by a further one.20 What Fichte demands is just this reflection that goes one step further than self-consciousness. What then emerges, however, is that whoever wants radically to think himself must depart from the dimension of mere thinking and representing and spontaneously carry out the act of self-consciousness, producing it with his own existence. Self-consciousness is not an ultimate representation that must be able to accompany all other representations: it is an action that goes back inside itself and thus in its own accomplishment simultaneously makes itself transparent—an act that becomes transparent to itself in the course of its own achievement. Fichte’s train of thought is as follows. Self-consciousness constitutes itself by my retaining myself as an identical ego in all my representations while at the same time abstracting from the entire content of what is thought. If the ego, however, in returning to itself, becomes conscious of itself, then there must already be an ego there at its basis and preceding it, to which it returns. Then, though, self-consciousness would not be original; instead it would first have to be derived from something like the ego. Yet it is only through self-consciousness that we can attain certainty about the ego: the ego is only the beingfor-itself of the ego. Then, however, we must penetrate behind the situation in which we obtain the representation of self-consciousness through abstraction from all that does not belong to the ego. We must construct the ego in the very act of self-consciousness itself: Ego exists only insofar as it posits itself. The ego as self-consciousness cannot coincide with the ego that experiences being or non-ego come into existence outside itself. Rather, the ego that I merely encounter knows itself as ego only insofar as it is posited by itself. [ . . . ] The original ego posits the ego by positing a non-ego in opposition to itself. As original ego it is nothing outside of this action of returning into itself. Since consciousness is always consciousness of something, it is precisely selfconsciousness that remains beneath the threshold of clear consciousness; yet in being accomplished it is purely and simply certain.21

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This interpretation given by Fichte with stubborn logic to Kant’s pure apperception sheds light on the identity of socially laboring subjects as it is conceived by materialism. As an identical ego they find themselves confronting an environment that obtains its identity in labor processes; this environment is not ego. Although the transcendental framework within which nature appears objectively to these subjects does not change, the identity of their consciousness is formed in each case in dependence on the historical stage of development of the forces of production and an environment formed at this stage by their production. Each generation gains its identity only via a nature that has already been formed in history, and this nature is in turn the object of its labor. The system of social labor is always the result of the labor of past generations. It continually establishes a new “proportion between labor and natural substance.” The present subject has in some sense been “posited” by the totality of preceding subjects, that is placed in a position to come to grips with nature at its historically determined level. Yet it cannot regard this totality as an alien subject. For the labor processes through which it has been constituted itself belong to the very same production in which it is itself engaged and that it is merely carrying forward.22 In its labor the present subject comprehends itself by knowing itself to have been produced as by itself through the production of past subjects. At any stage the social subject confronted by its environment relates to past processes of production and reproduction as a whole just as the ego confronted with its non-ego relates to the deed of action returning to itself, which as the absolute ego produces itself as ego by positing a non-ego in opposition to itself. Only in its process of production does the species first posit itself as a social subject. Production, that activity that Marx apostrophizes as continuous sensuous labor and creation, gives rise simultaneously to the specific formations of nature with which the social subject finds itself confronted and the forces of production that put the subject in a position to transform historically given nature in its turn, thereby forming its own identity. The identity of consciousness, which Kant understood as the unity of transcendental consciousness, is identity achieved through labor. It is not an immediate faculty of synthesis, or pure apperception, but an act of self-consciousness in Fichte’s sense. That is why a social subject attains consciousness of itself in the strict sense only if it becomes aware of itself in its production or labor as the self-generative act of the species in general and knows itself to have been produced by the “labor of the entire previous course of world history.” In distinction to Fichte, of course, Marx refers the unconscious production of non-ego and ego only to the historical world of mankind. Actual nature is always presupposed as a substratum of the activity of positing in both its objective and subjective aspects. [ . . . ]

Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel  •  271

Marx restricts Fichte’s absolute ego to the contingent human species. Its act of self-generation, the activity in which it constitutes itself, is thus absolute only in relation to historical formations of the ego and the non-ego, to societal subjects and their material environment. Production is conditioned on both sides by “natural presuppositions.” The material to be worked on enters labor processes “from without,” while the organism of the human laborer enters it “from beneath.” From the materialist standpoint synthesis is an accomplishment relativized with regard to the sphere of world history. Marx relegates Fichte to an area bounded by Kant’s transcendental philosophy on the one side and Darwin’s theory of evolution on the other. Already before Darwin, Marx is familiar with an interpretation, in terms of an anthropological theory of cognition, of transcendental philosophy in its instrumentalist construction. Synthesis through social labor presupposes the evolution of nature to the human stage—that is a finite natural production that can no longer be comprehended idealistically as synthesis. For the transcendental framework that is posited with the behavioral system of instrumental action and makes synthesis possible is grounded in the species-specific bodily organization of man as such. Without the particular physical equipment of the hominids, the “process of material exchange” could never have assumed the form of labor at the human level. Men “begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step that is conditioned by their bodily organization.” “The first state of affairs of which to take note is therefore the bodily organization of these individuals and the relation it sets up between them and the rest of nature.”23 The absolute ego of social production is founded in a history of nature that brings about the tool-making animal as its result. Therefore Marx can view the history of the human species as a “real portion of natural history, of nature’s becoming man” (MEGA I, 3:123). However, Marx does not say how we can comprehend history as a continuation of natural history. We can speak of “nature’s becoming man” both as the natural evolution of the human species to the threshold of culture and as the world-historical process of humanization (Menschwer­ dung). But in the first case “nature” is in the subjective genitive whereas in the second it is in the objective genitive. The materialist concept of synthesis allows us to make the historical evolution of systems of social labor plausible at the same time as a history of transcendental consciousness. But it is still an open question how to conceive natural history’s production, which is the basis for the self-generative act of the human species, in relation to social production—in other words, how it can be comprehended as the prehistory of the history of transcendental consciousness. The materialist concept of synthesis through social labor marks the systematic position occupied by Marx’s conception of the history of mankind in the intellectual current that begins with Kant. In a turn of thought

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peculiarly determined by Fichte, Marx adopts the intention of Hegel’s objection to the Kantian approach to the critique of knowledge. In so doing he is impervious to the philosophy of identity, which precludes epistemology as such. Notwithstanding, the philosophical foundation of this materialism proves itself insufficient to establish an unconditional phenomenological self-reflection of knowledge and thus prevent the positivist atrophy of episte­mology. Considered immanently, I see the reason for this in the reduction of the self-generative act of the human species to labor. Alongside the forces of production in which instrumental action is sedimented, Marx’s social theory also incorporates into its approach the institutional framework, the relations of production. It does not eliminate from practice the structure of symbolic interaction and the role of cultural tradition, which are the only basis on which power (Herrschaft) and ideology can be comprehended. But this aspect of practice is not made part of the philosophical frame of reference. It is in this very dimension, however, which does not coincide with that of instrumental action, that phenomenological experience moves. In this dimension appear the configurations of consciousness in its manifestations that Marx calls ideology, and in it reifications are dissolved by the silent force of a mode of reflection to which Marx gives back the Kantian name of critique. Thus in Marx’s works a peculiar disproportion arises between the practice of inquiry and the limited philosophical self-understanding of this inquiry. In his empirical analyses Marx comprehends the history of the species under categories of material activity and the critical abolition of ideologies, of instrumental action and revolutionary practice, of labor and reflection at once. But Marx interprets what he does in the more restricted conception of the species’ self-reflection through work alone. The materialist concept of synthesis is not conceived broadly enough to explicate the way in which Marx contributes to realizing the intention of a really radicalized critique of knowledge. In fact, it even prevented Marx from understanding his own mode of procedure from this point of view.

Notes   1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Dietz, 1956-), I, 3:150ff. Henceforth, this edition will be cited as MEGA.   2. “As the abstract Idea, revelation (Offenbaren) is immediate transition, the becoming of nature. As the revelation of mind, which is free, it is the positing of nature as its world: a positing (Setzen) that, as reflection, at the same time concretely presupposes (voraussetzen) and thereby causes the world as independent Nature.” G. W. F. Hegel, Enzyklopädie of 1830, eds. Friedhelm Nicolin and Otto Pöggeler (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1959), §384.   3. “If real, corporeal man, standing on the firm round earth and inhaling and exhaling all the forces of nature, posits his real objective essential powers as alien objects through his externalization, the subject is, nevertheless, not the process of positing. . . . The objective

Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel  •  273 being only . . . creates and posits objects because it is posited by objects, because it is natural in its very roots. . . . Thus, in its act of positing, it does not descend from its “pure activity” into creating the object; instead, its objective product only confirms its objective activity [activity directed at objects].” (MEGA, I, 3:160).   4. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke (Berlin: Dietz, 1959), 3:5.   5. translator’s note: Here “anthropological” refers to the philosophical theory of man and not to the science of anthropology (ethnology, ethnography, etc.).   6. translator’s note: In certain contexts Praxis has been translated as “conduct” or “activity.” The use of “praxis” in English has been avoided even in the context of Marxian theory for two reasons. First, the word Praxis does not as such mean anything more in German than “practice” does in English: action as opposed to theory. Marx’s use of it is an interpretation of the traditional concept of practice. Second, the author is attempting to shed new light both on Marx’s conception of Praxis and its meaning in general, and it would be misleading to prejudice this attempt terminologically. It is true, of course, that in current English “practical” often means “technically skilled” or “expedient” rather than “relating to human action” (that is symbolic interaction).   7. translator’s note: Arbeit means “work” or “labor.” In line with the author’s linking it to instrumental action, active adaptation, and technology and distinguishing this sphere from that of symbolic interaction, social organization, and cultural tradition, it has been generally translated as “work,” which emphasizes its functional character. Nevertheless, in keeping with traditional usage, “labor” has been retained for Arbeit in the discussion of Marxian theory.   8. See my essay “Zur Diskussion um Marx und den Marxismus,” in Theorie und Praxis (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1967), pp. 261ff.   9. Jean Paul Sartre, Critique de la Raison Dialectique (Paris: Gallimard, 1960). 10. A representative example is the book by the Prague philosopher Karel Kosík, Die Dialektik des Konkreten (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967). See also the works of the philosophical circle surrounding the journal Praxis, which has been published in Zagreb since 1965. In this connection see Gajo Petrovic, Marx in the Midtwentieth Century (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1967). 11. Karl Marx, Das Kapital (Berlin: Dietz, 1962), 1:185. 12. “Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte” (MEGA I, 3:121). 13. translator’s note: In the text the words “objectify” and “objectivate” have been employed to render two different concepts. To objectify (vergegenständlichen) means to make into an object of instrumental action or of natural science separate from and external to the subject—in other words, to constitute in the Kantian sense. To objectivate (chiefly objektivieren) means to give form in a symbolic system, that is to make into a vehicle of communicative action. The latter may become external to the subject in the sense that others can participate in it, but it is at the same time that in which the subject exits. 14. Marx, Das Kapital, 1:47. 15. Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Berlin: Dietz, 1953), p. 389. 16. “They are products of human industry: natural material transformed into organs of human will over nature or of man’s activity in nature. They are organs of the human brain created by the human hand: objectified cognitive power” (Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, p. 594). 17. Hegel had already opened up this perspective, although with a polemical intention. See Hegel’s “Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie,” in Georg W. F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Hermann Glockner (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1949–59), 19:555ff. 18. translator’s note: Erfolgskontrolliertes Handeln literally means “action controlled (or monitored) by its results (or success).” This concept has been translated as “feedbackcontrolled action,” with the emphasis being on feedback from performance in the environment as part of adaptive processes. 19. Karl Marx, Briefe an Kugelmann (Berlin: Dietz, 1952), 67, letter of July 11, 1868. 20. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), §16.

274  •  Jürgen Habermas 21. The philosopher attains certainty about himself as ego by giving himself up to the act of self-consciousness: “He comprehends his act as an action in general, of which he already has a concept from his previous experience, and as this particular action that returns to itself, as he observes it in himself. Through this characteristic difference he distinguishes it from the sphere of action in general. What action is can only be observed, and not developed from or communicated through concepts. But what is contained in this observation or intuition is comprehended through its opposition to mere being.” Johann Gottlieb  Fichte, “Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre,” Ausgewählte Werke (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1962), 3:45. 22. “History is nothing but the succession of individual generations, of which each exploits the materials, capital, and forces of production transmitted to it by all its predecessors. Thus, each generation on the one hand continues its acquired activity under entirely altered circumstances and on the other modifies the old circumstances with an entirely altered activity.” Marx and Engels, “Deutsche Ideologie,” in Werke, 3:45. 23. Marx and Engels, “Deutsche Ideologie,” pp. 20f.



Epistemology and Self-Reflection in the Young Marx ESPEN HAMMER

Among his many works, Karl Marx’s 1844 economic-philosophical manu­ scripts (Paris Manuscripts), which were edited and presented as late as 1932, stand out as perhaps the most important expression of his economic and philosophical views. It is in these texts, in which many commentators claim to have discovered a “humanistic philosophy,” that Marx for the first time presents an account of modern capitalism, theorizing such crucial concepts as those of exploitation, class, commodification, alienated labor, and the prospects for a classless society. In the following I will focus on Jürgen Habermas’s 1968 reading in Knowledge and Human Interests, which stands in the tradition of so-called Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Like all thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Habermas is interested in Marx as a theorist of liberation. However, in this particular text he is just as focused on Marx’s epistemology. I first explore Habermas’s conception of how Marx’s view relates to those of Kant and Hegel. I then discuss Habermas’s reconstruction of Marx’s epistemology. In the conclusion I claim that Habermas’s critique of Marx is quite problematic. It fails to acknowledge the true implications of Marx’s concept of labor (including alienated labor), and it wrongly locates ideology exclusively at the “communicative” level. While in many ways inspired by 275

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Marx, Habermas is ultimately a liberal thinker interested in questions of reason and rationality, and how these capacities are embodied in modern institutions. Marx, by contrast, is best thought of as a theorist of human self-actualization.

i. The Young Marx The 1844 economic-philosophical manuscripts tackle a number of deep philosophical quandaries that had been preoccupying Marx’ post-Kantian predecessors. Marx asks questions about the essence of man and mankind. He comes forward as a materialist, places labor at the center-stage of his account, and accuses his contemporary bourgeois society of creating conditions that lead to an alienation (Entfremdung) of labor. He is also wondering whether history has a purpose and direction, proposing ultimately a secular version of the familiar Judeo-Christian story of salvation. For Marx, labor is a dialectical concept, comprising a dynamic relation between subject and object. As man labors, he objectifies himself in the products of his labor, thereby transforming raw nature into entities that reflect his being. As a result, not only does the world become “humanized” (so that we can recognize it as “our world,” amenable to human projects), but the subject arrives at a position from which it, as Hegel and Feuerbach also urged, can view itself as “being-at-home-in-the-world,” existing such that its active relationship to the world enables it to achieve full self-actualization. In the process of transforming the world in light of our projects, we also change ourselves. Thus, Marx speaks of how our cognitive capacities, including our senses, must be viewed as having been shaped by the natural history of labor and subsequent self-transformation. Ideally, this history should lead to a state in which our “species-being” is fully reconciled with external reality: the world should be fully humanized, and man should exist freely in it as a completely actualized being. However, as labor becomes subject to commodification, its main aim shifts from that of reconciling oneself with external reality and achieving free self-actualization to that of providing profit for the owner of the means of production. Marx’s vision of capitalism is that of radically exploited workers, slaving night and day by the machine to secure their own subsistence while affluent capitalists extract surplus value in the form of profit. As a result, four dimensions of alienation arise: •• ••

being reduced to a mere component of the machine he is operating, the worker becomes alienated from the total process of labor; not owning the product of his own labor, the worker becomes alienated from the object he is making;

Epistemology and Self-Reflection in Marx  •  277

•• ••

being a competitive individual on a job-market, the worker becomes alienated from his fellow human beings; and, ultimately, being alienated from his “species-being” (Gattungswesen) the worker fails to actualize himself in accordance with the fundamental potential of humankind.

In response to this predicament, Marx famously advocates radical social change. The 1844 writing is not just a piece of contemplative philosophy. Its aim is to contribute to the overthrow of bourgeois society and the establishment of a purportedly non-alienated, communist society. If all history, as Marx later says in the 1848 Communist Manifesto, is the history of class struggle, then communism is supposed to constitute the end of history. Communism, for the young Marx, is free self-actualization. It is the unimpeded self-actualization of man qua species-being. Communism thus involves a reconciliation between subject and object, freedom and necessity, individual and species, such that man, in Marx’s view, is able to find himself at home in the world. Obviously, such unconstrained self-production cannot take place within just any social arrangement. Marx is at pains to define which social arrangements it is that best promote it, but is never able to say much more than that it must not contain any of the features that unduly constrain active self-creation. For this reason, we cannot understand communism in the young Marx except as the negation of capitalism. Communism involves the liberation of man’s species-being: it is the negation of everything that stands in the way of spontaneous praxis. It entails, in other words, the negation of private property and commodification, of the state insofar as it serves particular interests, as well as of the various ideologies that underwrite and legitimize the liberal-capitalist society.

ii. Habermas’s Epistemological Reading of Marx The text “Marx’s Metacritique of Hegel: Synthesis through Social Labor” forms the second chapter of Habermas’s first major work in philosophy, the 1968 Knowledge and Human Interests. In order to understand his approach to Marx in this book, it is necessary to have a sense of the overall goal of Habermas’s project, which is to formulate an account of so-called knowledgeconstitutive interests. These are interests that supposedly underlie, inform, and in a sense even make possible the various sciences. Thus, with the help of such figures as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Peirce, Dilthey, and Freud, Habermas detects in the natural sciences a technical interest, in the cultural sciences an interest in historical understanding, and in the critical sciences (for Habermas sociology and psychoanalysis) an interest in emancipation. Whether and in exactly what sense such interests exist has been the subject of much critical

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debate, and in the decades since the publication of Knowledge and Human Interests, Habermas has done little to defend his view.1 Indeed, it may even seem that he has rejected it. Just as important for this project, however, and of direct importance for his approach to Marx, is Habermas’s critique of positivism and his call for a rethinking of the theory of knowledge. Self-reflection is a key term in this regard. Whereas the positivist demands that all inquiry is fundamentally constrained by a regard for facts, with facts being constituted independently of human interest and orientation, the tradition that Habermas identifies with will typically aspire “to go behind” the facts and ask how they come into being, whether they may be ideological, and whether they are necessary and unavoidable.2 The idea of self-reflection was central to the first generation Critical Theorists (Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and others). However, as Habermas, a representative of so-called second generation Critical Theory, points out, it can be traced back to the Kant/Hegel legacy of critical philosophy. Habermas starts his book by pointing to Hegel’s radicalization of Kant’s demand for self-reflection. In Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the task of transcendental philosophy is to disclose and justify the existence of a priori conditions of knowledge. Rather than accepting knowledge as given (as the positivist would do), the transcendental philosopher investigates its conditions of possibility. As Habermas points out, however, in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the Kantian critique is confronted with the objection that since the critique itself must claim to be a species of knowledge, it is caught in a circle. The critique necessarily presupposes that which it seeks to uncover the conditions of possibility for. It cannot, in other words, account for its own presuppositions. By accepting the circularity, yet subjecting those presuppositions to an ongoing critique and reflection, Hegel instigates his own investigation. On Habermas’s reading the dialectic ensuing from this investigation is oriented towards a perpetual transformation of conditions or norms that are merely given, the Hegelian “in itself,” into conditions or norms that are posited as the outcome of acts of self-reflection, the Hegelian “for itself.” Rather than resting his claims on implicit yet ungrounded presuppositions, Hegel traces the progressive collapse, and reconstitution at a higher level, of the conditions of knowledge. However, as Habermas sees it, even the Hegelian project is hampered by an unjustified and ultimately pre-critical appeal to the absolute, the mediated unity of subject and object, which Hegel is said to have presupposed from the very beginning of his dialectic. For this very reason, Habermas concludes that not only Kant’s, but also Hegel’s philosophy rests on presuppositions that are unaccounted for within the terms set by the project as a whole.3

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This, roughly, is where Habermas’s exposition stands when he gets to Marx and the 1844 economic-philosophical manuscripts. As opposed to the many commentators who have considered Marx mainly as a theorist of the capitalist system and of pre-determined patterns of historical transformation, Habermas’s Marx is preoccupied with man’s essence—with species-being, alienation, and self-actualization. It is the reality of human existence and the relationship between subject and object that interests him. However, like other members of the Frankfurt School such as Max Horkheimer and Alfred Schmidt, Habermas also considers Marx in relation to the previous development of German Idealism from Kant and Fichte to Hegel.4 While drawing on a Kantian/Fichtean notion of constitution and self-constitution, Marx, he claims, retains Hegel’s model of radical self-reflection without appealing to the unpromising and dogmatic notion of absolute knowledge. How does Marx do this? According to Habermas, the answer must be sought in Marx’s materialist standpoint. Whereas Hegel had seen spirit as the first term of his philosophy, Marx posits nature—the objective environmental and the subjective bodily nature—as the absolute prius.5 The ontological priority of nature had been crucial to Marx at least since his 1841 doctoral dissertation on the ancient atomists Democritus and Epicurus. While implicit in his 1843 critique of Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right, in the 1844 Paris Manuscripts it becomes the basis for a fully worked out solution to the classical problems of German Idealism: What is the relationship between subject and object? What is the object of knowledge? What is it to be a subject? For Hegel, spirit is the unifying principle. It is as a spiritual being, situated within spirit (which, mediated by practices, institutional arrangements, and material structures, includes ways of mattering, standards of evidence and evaluation, as well as norms of reasoning in the widest sense), that subjects come to know an object. It is thanks to his account of spirit that Hegel can talk about the identity of subject and object. For Marx, on the other hand, the fundamental principle of unification is nature itself, the fact that human beings are embodied, material creatures, situated in a material world, capable of transforming the world in light of their own plans and projects. Here the mind presupposes nature, but in the sense of a natural process that, from within itself, gives rise likewise to the natural being man and the nature that surrounds him—and not in the idealist sense of a mind that, as Idea existing for itself, posits a natural world as its own selfcreated presupposition.6 In light of more recent interpretations of Hegel, one may be suspicious of the terms by which Habermas at this point contrasts Hegel and Marx. On

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the deflationary readings of spirit that dominate much contemporary AngloAmerican scholarship, there would be no reason to think that Hegel would not also view human beings as embodied, material entities, situated in a thoroughly material world. Yet even if Habermas’s (essentially neo-Platonic) reading of Hegel is discarded, it is possible to follow Habermas in discerning substantial differences between Hegel and Marx. In particular, while Marx is committed to the view that reality “in itself” is to be equated with nature (understood realistically as “fundamental matter” or “stuff”), Hegel understands reality “in itself” or “absolute reality” as in complex ways necessarily articulated through spirit (and thereby also via the intellectual activities of human agents insofar as they are spiritual beings).7 In this regard, Marx is closer to Kant than to Hegel. As Habermas points out, for Marx it is the case that, in order to become an object of knowledge, nature considered as “fundamental matter” or “stuff” necessarily has to appear to the subject. It will therefore have to be mediated by some form of human activity that will serve to objectify nature for us and make it accessible. In this sense Marx reverts to a Kantian duality of thing in itself and appearance. Like Kant, Marx is an epistemological dualist. In the metaphysical sense, however, he is a monist: whatever is real belongs to the order of nature. The central term in accounting for objectification is labor, which already makes a brief cameo in the famous chapter on the master/slave dialectic in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, a work that Marx was intimately familiar with.8 In this section of the dialectic, Hegel ascribes to labor a self-transformative capacity. Fearful of the master, the slave is forced to work, and in the process of transforming external nature, he comes to see it as his own product and an expression of himself. By “negating” the object, the slave has thereby broken the immediacy of instinctual need and, in what Hegel calls a process of formation (Bildung), is able to view himself as the originator of a world that is his possession and product. Not only, then, does labor effect a “humanization” of nature, capable of breaching the gap between subject and object, but the subject can rightly consider this overcoming of otherness as the result of a process for which he can take full responsibility. In this way, Hegel’s theory of labor partakes in his more comprehensive account of freedom as reconciliation.9 Although Habermas does not make this connection explicit, it seems evident that Marx uses Hegel’s theory of labor as a starting-point for his own account of alienated labor. In his reading, Habermas notes various key features of Marx’s theory. One such feature—and this is the Kantian element of Habermas’s reading—is that labor is a form of synthesis. Labor creates unity and structure in experience; it objectivizes nature for us and makes it a possible object of knowledge. In this sense it synthesizes subject and object. Another feature focuses on the idea that labor, or “objective activity,” is both

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transcendental and empirical: it serves as the condition of possibility for the objectivity of possible objects of experience and, at the same time, is a perfectly concrete, empirical, and natural process.10 Unfortunately, Habermas is not very precise about how labor can serve this function. Nor does he account for why he thinks that Marx’s labor theory of synthesis is superior to Kant’s categorical theory of synthesis. A Kantian is likely to respond that whatever merits Marx’s theory has, it will have to presuppose the transcendental account of objectivity that Kant sets forth in the Critique of Pure Reason. No labor can take place unless the subject can relate objectively to nature, and Kant’s fundamental claim is precisely to have uncovered the objectivizing conditions whereby such a relation can be established. In response to such a claim, an interpreter sympathetic to Habermas’s/ Marx’s view could claim either that Kant’s conception of objectivity in fact has to presuppose the kind of pre-predicative synthesis that labor involves, or that the concept of labor can do the job of accounting for the constitution of objectivity independently of any Kantian categorical synthesis. The first strategy would typically direct attention to Kant’s notion of intuition, arguing that the unity of intuition (or “formal intuition”) required for categorical synthesis and hence experiential uptake cannot be established by the synthetic unity of apperception itself (since synthetic unity of this kind must presuppose that the object of synthesis, namely intuitions, satisfy the requirements for being synthesized) but presupposes some form of pre-conceptual, pre-categorical synthesis, possibly of the kind that Marx proposes.11 The second strategy seems to be the one that Habermas adopts. However, more work would be needed to justify the somewhat counter-intuitive claim that the appeal to labor can be a substitute for Kant’s transcendental account. Perhaps the prima facie implausibility of such a view is the reason why Marx does not seem to hold it. Marx’s terms are different. The closest he seems to get to Habermas’s reading is when he refers to the “appropriation” of the object via labor, the “fashioning of inorganic nature,” and of nature being man’s “body with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die.”12 However, these are quite different terms from the ones we find in Kant. It seems that Marx is not engaged with a Kantian problematic of synthesis and a priori constitution, but, rather, a more intuitive notion of coming to conceive of nature as mattering in this or that way. When a tree is looked at in terms of its potential for providing timber, or a field in terms of its potential for cultivation, then it is the significance of these items, and not their transcendental status (as synthetically unified or not), that has changed. We have seen how Habermas interprets labor in expressive terms. Labor is an externalization of the human subject, a realization of that subject’s very being or essence. It is therefore surprising that Habermas also suggests that Marx’s conception of labor can be equated with instrumental action.13 Such

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action turns “raw nature” into an object of knowledge from the vantage-point of its technical controllability. (As Peirce argues, to know an object is to know what the consequences are of performing given procedures on it.)14 The equation of labor with instrumental action is questionable. For Marx, labor differs from mere manipulation. In its unalienated form it involves skill and a commitment to the activity of transformation for its own sake, manifesting one’s humanity. If Marx simply had had instrumental action in mind, then his theory of self-actualization through labor would become incomprehensible. In addition to conceiving of labor as a form of (Kantian) synthesis, bringing about a unity of subject and object, Habermas also registers that Marx thinks of labor in social terms. It is man’s species-being that ultimately transforms and “humanizes” nature. As Habermas puts it, “The subject of world constitution is not transcendental consciousness in general but the concrete human species, which reproduces its life under natural conditions.”15 Although Habermas seems aware of the ambition that Marx associates with the notions of species-subject or species-being, he does not think that Marx has a good account of intersubjectivity. Like so many of the thinkers that Habermas analyzes, Marx, with his notion of labor, remains stuck at the subject/object level, failing to properly disclose the subject/subject relationship.16 While he intends to theorize man’s social existence, his notion of labor, which only applies to the subject/object relationship, prevents him from succeeding. Much of Habermas’s oeuvre subsequent to the publication of Knowledge and Human Interests is focused on refining and developing the distinction between instrumental and communicative action. Unlike instrumental action (or what Habermas conflates with labor in Marx), communicative action is intersubjective, oriented towards mutual and rational establishment of intersubjectively binding validity claims. Habermas believes that it is only with the introduction of some notion of communicative action (or what he in Knowledge and Human Interests calls “symbolic interaction”) that reifications—for Habermas systematic distortions of free communication—can be dissolved. The reason, he argues, is that reifications arise at the level of symbolic interaction—the level, he adds, of ideology-formation. According to Habermas, reification is best understood as that which prevents and distorts discourse. It should be analyzed at the level of symbolic interaction. Marx, however, ties reification directly in with his concept of labor. Reification designates any process of abstraction whereby the relations in which an action or a set of events stand are forgotten or repressed. Alienated labor, one might argue, is a species of reification in that it represents a failure to consider labor in all its relevant aspects. According to Marx, labor under capitalism is alienated in various ways.17 It is far from obvious why accounting for these tendencies requires that we step out of the sphere of labor and enter

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the level of symbolic interaction (communicative action). Under capitalism the alienation that Marx is referring to takes place as labor-power becomes a commodity. Again, the reason why Habermas is led to this misinterpretation of Marx is that he conflates labor with instrumental action. It makes no sense to say that instrumental action can be alienated. Instrumental action is a status-concept: an action simply may or may not satisfy the criteria for being assigned that status. As we have seen, however, labor is Marx’s central device for conceiving of human self-fulfillment. In free, unalienated labor, man has the potential not only for creating a human world, but for creating himself as its subject. It is in light of this potential that one can be alienated. Ultimately, Habermas’s dualism of instrumental and communicative action prevents him from getting the kind of alienation that Marx is referring to into view. Marx’s vision is simply not available on Habermas’s set-up. The second reason why Habermas’s dualism of instrumental and com­ municative action seems contrived from a Marxian point of view is that, for Marx, every activity is essentially social. Although capitalism has a tendency to alienate the worker from his social environment, making him consider himself as an isolated individual, both labor and language are for Marx deeply intersubjective phenomena, involving shared patterns of interpretation, action, and judging. Isolating ideology, as Habermas does, from everyday practice makes its causes oblique and its effects incomprehensible. In Marx, ideology arises not at the level of communicative action viewed in separation from the sphere of labor; on the contrary, alienated labor is itself ideological—a form of collective delusion that nevertheless is constitutive of human practice. When Marx critiques labor, he demonstrates the ideological nature of central liberal notions such as “free exchange,” “just salary,” and the like. Habermas’s approach to Marx is Kantian and liberal. It considers Marx as a theorist of epistemic constitution (and self-constitution) in the Kantian sense, and it proposes that social critique and ideology critique are species of rational reflection open to all citizens regarded as free and equal. While the approach to Marx is respectful, it signals (at least retrospectively) that Habermas is about to stake out his own path, quite independently of Marx. Since the publication of A Theory of Communicative Action in the early 1980s, it has become virtually meaningless to view Habermas as a Marxist thinker. Today he is better thought of as a liberal-left leaning social democrat. The divide between Marx and Habermas must ultimately be explained in terms of fundamental commitments distinguishing their approaches. Habermas is a theorist of rationality. As in the chapter on Marx from Knowledge and Human Interests, he sees the task of philosophy as that of reconstructing rationality and its both a priori and a posteriori presuppositions and conditions. Throughout most of his career, Habermas has been skeptical of any attempt to retrieve something like human nature or essence: apart from

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its speculative nature, such an endeavor would tend to privilege certain lifeforms over others, thereby threatening the purported neutrality and fairness of political space. Marx, by contrast, is a theorist of human self-actualization. At the center of his vision is labor—man creating himself and the world in free activity. In the Paris Manuscripts, communism is simply the kind of society in which labor is fully liberated; thus, in such a society, man’s essence can finally be actualized.

Notes   1. The scope of this article does not permit me to discuss these interests. Suffice it to say, though, that Habermas, who at this stage is influenced by neo-Kantianism, has had problems defining their exact epistemic status. At several points in his discussion he refers to them as “quasi-transcendental,” implying that they are supposed to play a constitutive role for each of the sciences. However, if, as he claims, they are not transcendental in the Kantian sense of being strictly a priori, but, rather, historically emergent characteristics, then in what sense are they unavoidable? In his later work as well, Habermas has struggled to unify his transcendental and his historicist intuitions.   2. Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Oxford: Polity Press, 1987), p. vii: “That we disavow reflection is positivism.”   3. The status of the absolute in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit has been a classical problem of interpretation. Throughout his career, Habermas has maintained that Hegel’s conception of spirit essentially is neo-Platonic, and that Hegel for this reason proceeds pre-critically by simply accepting the absolute as a matter of faith or dogma. On this view, spirit, or the absolute subject, is considered a metaphysical entity that actualizes itself teleologically by progressively overcoming its own self-alienations. It would exceed the scope of this article to discuss this claim, which in recent interpretations has met with considerable resistance. Suffice it to say that, in Knowledge and Human Interests, Habermas seems to believe that this reading can more or less be taken for granted. He does not defend it, at least not in any detail. For a more detailed discussion of Habermas’s approach to Hegel, see Espen Hammer, “Habermas and the Kant–Hegel Contrast,” in German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Espen Hammer (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 113–34.   4. Max Horkheimer obtained his Habilitation with a dissertation on Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment. His interest in Kant remained palpable well into his period as Director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and his intellectual collaboration with Theodor W. Adorno. See also Alfred Schmidt, Der Begriff der Natur in der Lehre von Marx (Frankfurt: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1962). While not as central to the Frankfurt School as Horkheimer, Schmidt, a long-time colleague of Habermas, remained an important associate and proponent of its research program.   5. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 34: “Marx is assuming something like nature in itself. It is prior to the world of mankind.”   6. Ibid., p. 26.   7. As several commentators, including Manfred Frank, have emphasized, it is at this point likely that Marx’s critique of Hegel is informed by his 1842 exposure, in Berlin, to the lectures of the late Schelling. In his late, so-called “positive” philosophy, Schelling claims that Hegel’s merely “negative” philosophy, while accounting for conceptually mediated cognition of essence, does not arrive at pure ipseity, being or existence as the absolute subject of predication. Both Schelling and Marx refer to an indeterminate being functioning as a condition of knowledge. See Manfred Frank, Der unendliche Mangel am Sein. Schellings Hegelkritik und die Anfänge der Marxschen Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975) and F. W. J. Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy: The Berlin Lectures, trans. Bruce

Epistemology and Self-Reflection in Marx  •  285 Matthews (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007). That Habermas would deal with this side of Marx is suggested by the fact that his doctoral dissertation—Das Absolute und die Geschichte. Von der Zwiespältigkeit in Schellings Denken (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Bonn, 1954)—was focusing on the late Schelling.   8. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 117–18.   9. See Frederick Neuhouser, Foundations of Hegel’s Social Theory: Actualizing Freedom (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 19: “As Hegel conceives it, essential independence from the other can be achieved not through the abolition of that other—not by simply making the other cease to be—but only by doing away with (“negating”) the otherness, or alien character, of the other. ( . . . ) Freedom, then, is a state of beingwith-oneself that is attainable only through a process best characterized as the overcoming of otherness.” 10. Marx himself does not seem to have used such Kantian terms. While his interpretation of Marx makes use of such terms, Habermas never makes an effort to demonstrate that Marx himself employed Kantian terms. That, no doubt, is a challenge for Habermas’s approach. 11. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). One way of cashing out such a claim would be to follow Dieter Henrich and others in arguing that the B-deduction of the Critique has two steps: In the first step, Kant proves that the categories apply unrestrictedly to all intuitions that have unity. In the second, he proves that, due to the synthesis of apprehension, which combines the manifold in an empirical intuition, all intuitions necessarily have the requisite unity. If Kant, in the difficult §26 of the B-deduction, fails to demonstrate that the synthesis of apprehension presupposes, or stands under, the synthesis of the understanding, then notions of pre-predicative synthesis may be invoked. See Dieter Henrich, “The Proof-Structure of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction,” The Review of Metaphysics, vol. 22 (1969): 640–59. 12. Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in Collected Works, vol. 3, trans. Martin Milligan (New York: International Publishers, 1976), pp. 273, 276. 13. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 36. 14. Charles Sanders Peirce, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” in Selected Writings, ed. Philip P. Wiener (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), p. 124: “It appears, then, that the rule for attaining the third grade of clearness of apprehension is as follows: consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.” 15. See also Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), p. 18: “Certainly the most obvious thing Feuerbach and Marx mean in calling man a Gattungswesen is that human beings live in societies, and the mode of life of each individual is essentially dependent on interaction or intercourse with others.” 16. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 42: “[Marx’s social theory – E. H.] does not eliminate from practice the structure of symbolic interaction and the role of cultural tradition, which are the only basis on which power (Herrschaft) and ideology can be comprehended. But this aspect of practice is not made part of the philosophical frame of reference. It is in this very dimension, however, which does not coincide with that of instrumental action, that phenomenological experience moves. In this dimension appear the configurations of consciousness in its manifestations that Marx calls ideology, and in it reifications are dissolved by the silent force of a mode of reflection to which Marx gives back the Kantian name of critique.” 17. Marx, Collected Works, vol. 3, pp. 270–82.



Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911)

Introduction Wilhelm Dilthey is a true philosopher of the humanities. Not only did he write the intellectual, philosophical, and literary history of his century, but his philosophy centered on the truth, objectivity, and relevance of the historical sciences and the relationship between the human and the natural sciences. Dilthey occupies a space between neo-Kantianism and historicism, on the one hand, and early phenomenology, on the other. He was Edmund Husserl’s mentor and teacher, and when Martin Heidegger entered the philosophical arena in the early 1920s, Dilthey’s work was given special attention. Further, it is worth mentioning that during his stay in Berlin W. E. B. de Bois studied with Dilthey. Dilthey’s legacy has been shaped by his critics, first and foremost Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose Truth and Method (1960) represents an attempt to go beyond Dilthey’s model. For this volume, a later contribution by Gadamer, “Wilhelm Dilthey After 150 Years (Between Romanticism and Positivism),” has been translated from German. Sharpening his reading from Truth and Method, Gadamer argues that Dilthey’s hermeneutic philosophy remains restricted by the dual traditions on which it draws: romantic aestheticism, on the one hand, and the positivism of the new nineteenth-century sciences, on the other. In his response to Gadamer, “Gadamer on Dilthey,” Frederick C. Beiser discusses the limitations of such a reading. In his view, 287

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Dilthey was not naively blinded by these philosophical currents, but actively sought to change, develop, and make use of them. Further, with its emphasis on methodology, Dilthey’s theory represents a fundamental challenge to Heidegger’s ontology and Gadamer’s hermeneutics.

Further Reading • Fredrick C. Beiser, The German Historicist Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. • Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Donald G. Marshall and Joel Weinsheimer. London: Continuum, 2004. • Rudolf Makkreel, Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.



Wilhelm Dilthey after 150 Years (Between Romanticism and Positivism) HANS-GEORG GADAMER Translated by Gregory M. Moore

There is no one today who even remotely compares with Wilhelm Dilthey. What a giant of historical erudition, critical universality, descriptive art was Dilthey; truly, he possessed a writer’s temperament. At times this narrative quality of his is downright annoying to us as philosophers: when we expect an argumentative inference, for example, and he simply says, “and then came  . . . ” Nevertheless, there is one aspect in which perhaps we are all comparable with him—his lack of conceptual power. In my presentation [ . . . ] I cannot avoid speaking of this lack of conceptual power in Dilthey; I do so, however, not with the superiority of one who thinks he possesses a greater power, but with the advantage of one who in his life has encountered a teacher of greater intellectual power than Dilthey could find. For me, and presumably for many others of my generation, that teacher was Martin Heidegger. [ . . . ] I am a staunch antihistoricist when it comes to genetic questions in respect of a thinker’s work. I simply do not believe that it is all that important what new insights or modifications of older insights are yielded by the context of an intellectual life. Rather, a thinker’s concerns and the questions he raises remain as a rule overwhelmingly consistent, visible even in their earliest adumbration, which, in the course of a thinker’s life, may yet be richly developed. This is true 289

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for more or less everyone in philosophy, and not just for the great thinkers. It is also true for Being and Time, which in my opinion we generally misread. Heidegger’s first great masterwork represents in a certain sense an episode in his thinking—an initial, provisional summary of insights arrived at after long gestation, which were not by any means intended to be a last word. The turn [die Kehre], which is often talked about as if it were a mythical departure from the true path of thought, seems to me to have actually begun as early as the year 1920, when in a lecture Heidegger proclaimed (as a young student I learned of it from an auricular witness, and both my eyes and ears widened): “It worlds.” That analogy ought to make clear why I am convinced that continuity predominates in Dilthey’s thought, too, and that in this very circle, which has something in common with phenomenological research, we are perhaps not sufficiently accustomed to appreciate this. [ . . . ] Heidegger remarks in Being and Time of his own existential analytic of Dasein, which is to prepare the way for the question of Being, that it is resolved to “foster the spirit of Count Yorck, in order to serve the work of Dilthey.”1 That is a real Heideggerian statement, one that cannot simply be quoted, but instead demands interpretation. It bears witness to a deep polemical tension. What Heidegger means to say is this: To be sure, Dilthey has, through the tremendous power of his historical genius, made historicity an unavoidable theme of our thinking. But this “enigmatic old man,” as his students shyly called him, this universal researcher, sympathetic to every advance of science, was characterized by a strange, liberal cultural optimism, and in this respect his great friend Count Yorck was quite different. He represented for Dilthey an absolutely grounded existence as a landowner, as a representative of the Prussian nobility and as a deeply religious man. To measure Dilthey against him is not only Heidegger’s view; Dilthey’s own all-feeling sensorium passes this judgment on himself. We must recall that fine exchange between both men, which Dilthey has described and is published in the eighth volume of his Collected Works.2 It begins with the confession that he has encountered in the Lutheran Yorck von Wartenburg a personality whose position in life and whose deep rootedness in Christian and Prussian tradition presents an entirely different completeness [Geschlossenheit] than is possible for him. With an almost heroic effort Dilthey remembers the necessity of his having to forgo even happiness because he can live only as an objective thinker [Denkender] (GS VIII, p. 233). To live as an objective thinker—such is the task that consumed Dilthey’s long and tragic intellectual life. Heidegger truly had no reason to appeal to the spirit of Dilthey for his own bold undertaking of renewing the question of Being—but we well understand his appeal to the spirit of that grounded man who was the great friend of the renowned scholar Dilthey. When the correspondence between the two men was published in 1923,3 Heidegger

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saw in Count Yorck the superior figure and emphatically concurred with his critical judgments. [ . . . ] The influence of the young Heidegger may have helped motivate Husserl’s renewed interest in Dilthey. But Heidegger’s portrayal of himself as the coming man at Husserl’s expense, and which assuredly points to a quite original study of Dilthey on the part of Heidegger, ought not to be taken entirely at face value. Heidegger loved to tell the story of how he accompanied Geheimrat Husserl, who was traveling to London, to the platform of the Freiburg railway station and Husserl, while waiting for the train, unfolded the presentation he planned to deliver in London. Heidegger then asked: “And what of history, Herr Geheimrat?” To which Husserl replied: “Oh dear, I seem to have forgotten it.” I do not think that, in a deeper sense, Husserl had forgotten history or, even earlier, had ever let it out of his sight, at least since his first contact with Dilthey. Even the profound and protracted interest that Husserl took in the analysis of time, which finds magisterial expression in the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time,4 seems to me at bottom already to anticipate the later doctrine of passive genesis and the anonymous horizons of intentionality. [ . . . ] To be sure, Dilthey retained an enduring interest in the common founda­ tions of knowledge in the natural and human sciences. But he recognized a decisive difference between them. For nature it is very much possible to work toward a system, a whole, a comprehensive theory—with all the restrictions imposed by the prevailing concept of method. Conversely, what makes the historical world so distinct is that in it, for all the steady expansion of scientific experience [wissenschaftliche Erfahrungsausweitung], no such perfection is possible in a uniformly intelligible theoretical context of meaning [Sinnzusammenhang]. Dilthey, it seems to me, remained committed to the inhomogeneity of the natural and historical worlds. It was precisely this that led him to his philosophy of worldviews that we have heard so much about: that in the realm of historical life no all-encompassing theory is conceivable, so that the forms of the constituting worldview seek to satisfy this need and through their own onesidedness give expression to the manysidedness of life. It is my contention, then, that the heterogeneity that characterizes the historical world distinguishes it from the inner uniformity of the naturalscientific world image as Dilthey saw it. The hermeneutic turn, which certainly announces itself in Dilthey’s late work and which plays a decisive part in the development of phenomenology, did not really encroach on Dilthey’s self-understanding, as I shall attempt to show. He was profoundly affected by the determining influences of the new empirical epistemology of his age. He aimed to deepen this empiricism by adding an historical dimension to it. This is evident in the first instance by his adherence to the concept of inner experience from beginning to end, even in the face of later criticism

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such as Hermann Ebbinghaus directed at him.5 We need to understand what that implies. It means this: the human sciences, too, are genuine empirical sciences. They, too, are based on facts: the facts of consciousness. Dilthey, then, is part of the great nineteenth-century reversal of the concept of the facts of consciousness. This concept was first developed in German idealism; it was therefore a transcendental concept behind which actually stood the fact-act [Tathandlung] that produces the facts. The transcendental concept of “facts of consciousness,” guided by the spirit of the empirical sciences (of nature as well as of history), and under the influence of the epistemology and inductive logic of John Stuart Mill, was transformed into an empirical concept. To be sure, Dilthey continued to harbor a sense of superiority toward Mill and English inductive logic, but only in the sense that he sought to introduce the wealth of intuitions [Anschauungsreichtum] at his disposal as someone immersed in the historical world and that Anglo-Saxon researchers and logicians were lacking. It seems to me beyond dispute, however, that inductive logic exerted a lasting influence on him. This coincides with the rise of neo-Kantianism, or more specifically with its advance guard, which was represented by such figures as Hermann Helmholtz, Eduard Zeller, Friedrich Albert Lange and came into more general prominence with the claims trumpeted in Otto Liebmann’s book Kant and his Epigones.6 We must ask ourselves how this incipient recognition of Kant was actually justified. Reading Eduard Zeller’s inaugural address at Heidelberg,7 we see that the a priori structures of our knowledge, which he elaborates under the head “epistemology” [Erkenntistheorie],8 have a quite different function. The crux of his deliberations is this: Kant has taught us how much the forms of the understanding endanger the ascertaining of pure facts. Zeller’s turn to Kant’s apriorism, which indeed prepared the way for neo-Kantianism, therefore does not take place for the sake of Kant’s apriorism as such; but rather so that we learn to subtract our conceptual baggage and actually approach the pure facts, on the basis of which we finally arrive, through scientific objectivization, at a secure procedure and learn to avoid the “deductive fallacies” (GS XVIII, 5) that Hegel, say, committed. That is exactly how the young Dilthey expresses himself. We ought to keep this in mind if we want to grasp correctly Dilthey’s concept of inner facts, for which he introduced the notion of Erlebnis. This was a newly fashionable term back then. I have had occasion to trace its emergence in the literature of the first half of the nineteenth century and made a couple of minor discoveries,9 to which Konrad Cramer has since added.10 He has shown that at that time the feminine form “die Erlebnis” plays a role in Christian Hermann Weiße and Immanuel Hermann Fichte. This finding confirms my own, that the term “Erlebnis” had not yet been stamped with a definitive meaning. We see Dilthey’s embrace of the concept of Erlebnis too much in the light of its subsequent

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success, which is due not least to Dilthey’s own ideas about psychology and the later hermeneutic turn. Hence we do not pay adequate attention to the ontological signal tone that the concept of Erlebnis possesses for itself and that is associated with such words as “reflexive awareness” [Innewerden, Innesein]. Tellingly, Dilthey insisted that Erlebnis is not “given” (cf. GS VI, 313). “Given” seems to him still too separative. That would imply “given for a consciousness.” “Awareness” [Innesein], by contrast, means the inseparable unity of Erleben and Erlebnis. It is therefore the ontological quality of Erlebnis that matters primarily to Dilthey. Let me illustrate this point with a little observation that also touches on Brentano’s influence on Dilthey in the mid 1870s. In volume 18 of the Collected Writings we find a chapter among the manuscript outlines entitled “Classification of Mental Facts” (GS XVIII, 72–77). That seems to me a clear allusion to the well-known chapter in Brentano’s Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, which was published a year before Dilthey composed his notes. Brentano’s title was “Classification of Mental Phenomena.” That Dilthey here replaces the term “phenomena” with “facts” is revealing. He is concerned with the epistemological inference that there is here a factual basis [Tatsachengrundlage] equivalent to the factual basis on which the experimental natural sciences developed their system of knowledge [Wissenschaft]. Although Dilthey was otherwise critical of Brentano’s conceptual stylings, which he thought exotic (GS XVIII, 113f., 148f.), I would like to bring up for discussion several points at which we can discern an inner affinity between Brentano’s endeavors and influence and Dilthey’s effort to lay the foundations of the human sciences in a new kind of psychology. The first point is that the concept of Erlebnis obviously contains an internal ambiguity. Erlebnis is, on the one hand, as I have shown, the ontological formulation for the res cogitans, in the extended sense that Descartes already conceived of the cogitatio. Erlebnis denotes a mode of Being distinct from the definition of res extensa prevailing in the experimental natural sciences. On the other hand there is an aspect of Erlebnis that plays a role from the outset, but only later does it feature ever more prominently, namely the hermeneutic aspect: Erlebnis is constituted by its meaning. I recall that I once found a delightful typographical error when comparing the two editions of Dilthey’s Life of Schleiermacher, with the text undecided between “Erlebnisse” (experiences) and “Ergebnisse” (results).11 The more recent edition has “Erlebnisse,” the older one “Ergebnisse,” probably because “Erlebnisse” in those days was still an unusual expression, so that, according to the principle of lectio difficilior, the error was presumably the fault of the printer. But the error is not so far-fetched. Erlebnis really is a result [Ergebnis]. Something is an Erlebnis because something of lasting meaning, a result lay in it. Erlebnis is unified in respect of its meaning [auf seine Bedeutung hin geeint] and only then elevated to the unity of a structured form [gestalthaftes Gebilde].

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Both sides of the concept of Erlebnis are evident in Dilthey from the outset. In this regard his progression is consistent when he takes as his starting point the inner facts, in other words experientiality [Erlebnishaftigkeit], and designates the mental facts as such with the concept of Erlebnis, but then proceeds to the hermeneutic shift in the concept of Erlebnis in the sense of meaning [Bedeutung] and significance [Bedeutsamkeit]. The internal consistency seems clear to me, even if it is generally overlooked. This has led to misinterpretations of Dilthey’s “hermeneutic turn,” such that in 1907, 1908, or 1910 he is said to be still stressing the theme of understanding [Verstehen] in relation to other persons and classifying it under the psychology of inner facts. Were we to trace how the concept of Verstehen is only gradually amplified in Dilthey, we would recognize the resistance he had to overcome within himself. That is remarkable, if we consider that both Schleiermacher and Droysen had given the concept of Verstehen an almost religious overtone. By contrast, the title of Dilthey’s famous “understanding-psychology” [verstehende Psychologie] is Ideas about a Descriptive and Analytic Psychology. There is no mention in the title of Verstehen and very little in the book itself. There, too, the term occurs primarily in connection with the understanding of other persons and in later usage above all in the context of poetics. Let me use this opportunity to suggest that perhaps we do not sufficiently recognize the importance of Dilthey’s poetics and his accomplishments in this field. The so-called advances of literary studies and literary theory stand in the way. Nevertheless, in a revealing letter Count Yorck praises one of Dilthey’s poetological essays12 and, as friends tend to do with one another, at the same time offers an oblique criticism, writing: “Here you are at your best.” There is some truth to this assertion. Without a doubt Dilthey could feel especially competent in this field. Where Dilthey is concerned with the foundation of the human sciences and the concept of inner facts, however, the teleological-hermeneutic component of the concept of Erlebnis presents problems for him. When he has to recognize Erlebnis as result [Ergebnis], he gets entangled in the familiar aporias of temporality. It seems to him unavoidable that the meaning of something, and hence of the life-nexus, can be appreciated only retrospectively. Aristotle, as I see it, was superior to him on this account. We are all familiar with the manner in which he refers to the story of Croesus and Solon in the Nicomachean Ethics,13 where he asks: Can we really say someone is happy only when his life is at an end? Would that not be paradoxical? His answer was as follows: even if it is true that the wheel of Fortune rolls unpredictably onward, there is yet something firm on which we can ground talk of happiness, or eudaimonia, and that is hexis, the disposition that constitutes the nature of aretê and is tied to the arrangement of the good in the family, friendship, and city. This point of view is surely not alien to Dilthey. He cannot have overlooked what it means that the book of world history must be written anew in every

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present moment and hence understanding [Verstehen] is intimately bound up with happening [Geschehen]; this is a point of view that hermeneutics and Heidegger have foregrounded, but it already distinguishes Dilthey’s interpretation of Verstehen as a play of forces, as the authentic experience of reality [Realitätserfahrung]. Nevertheless, Dilthey is so subject to the pressure of the modern conception of science and its secret ontology that occasionally, for the sake of the objectivity of science, he says things that are downright absurd. For instance, he claims that when one sees a masterpiece of painting again and again in the course of time, during consecutive museum visits, the deeper meaning of this picture is gradually disclosed to the viewer (cf. GS VII, 74). Ultimately, one possesses the “true” meaning—as if light and darkness did not alternate in our lives and the brightness of the everlasting day were ever granted to us as a fixed result. Already Aristotle knew that only the Divine did not sleep. Here, then, a resultative formula [Formel des Ergebnishaften] is projected into the experiential [Erlebnishafte] under the pressure of conceptual anticipations [begriffliche Vorgriffe]. The same goes for one of the most interesting facets of Dilthey’s theory of interpretation, namely musical understanding. Dilthey referred to it often, particularly in his later writings, perhaps inspired in part by the newly emerging theory of Gestalt. He cites musical understanding as an example of the concept of structure and of the centering around a middle point, which constitutes Verstehen. He describes very nicely how in understanding the end of a piece of music is already anticipated, as it were, so that someone who has understood the construction of the whole experiences the last note as the last because he “already knows” it to be such and has no need to wait for the applause of others. In other reflections Dilthey seems almost to forget his own insights when, for instance, he describes the mystery of musical understanding such that we see how, in the purely temporal nature of music, something is constructed, how it begins and then continues through the repetition, contrast, and clash of motifs, eventually terminating in the synthesis of the finale. And when he then says: At the end the meaning of the whole is there (GS VII, 58). Such a description, drawing on the structures of Viennese Classicism, runs counter to his own insights—apparently under the constraint of particular conceptual presuppositions. A further point, one that perhaps concerns me the most, is the role of selfreflection [Selbstbesinnung]. This is the distinction that Dilthey does indeed claim for himself and for the foundation of the human sciences. Here we encounter that remarkable phrase of the self-reflection of the researcher. This phrase, it seems to me, contains a tension; it brings together what are, properly speaking, two irreconciliable things. For, on the one hand self-reflection is indeed always that of an individual. On the other hand, however, the self-reflection of the researcher is supposed to represent the anonymous

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community of researchers that realizes the insistence on the objectivity and universal validity of knowledge in the human sciences, that is, of understanding in all its forms. Here lies Dilthey’s deepest aporia. What is self-reflection? No one can hear the term without thinking of Socrates and of the Socratic observation [Erfahrung] that self-reflection is certainly not the consequence of mastery of an art. Self-reflection can be lacking in those who master their art. While Socrates disputes that statesmen or poets master their art completely, he concedes that handworkers do.14 Today we might say scientists instead of handworkers. Because it’s true: science does indeed know something, and it knows more and more. But it does not know the “good.” We ourselves are aware of that, insofar as we are men of science. The application of the empirical observations [Erfahrungen] accumulated by science is not the task of science, and at bottom even the responsibility for its own system of knowledge [die eigene Wissenschaft] cannot be imposed on it. That does not preclude it being the task of each individual scientist inasmuch as he is a political person and a citizen. But it is not the responsibility of “science” itself. This is irreconciliable with the very idea of science. Yet the modern sciences are deeply pervaded by it. Plato illustrates this point with perfect clarity through the observations that Socrates makes in Athenian society. In the case of Dilthey, then, we see how the concept of self-reflection has a peculiar shimmer. On the one hand, it embodies Dilthey’s sincere commitment, in which the religious roots of his existence are visible (he was, after all, the son of a high-ranking Protestant clergyman). On the other hand, we have its transformation into the pathos of the objective researcher. At this juncture we must ask ourselves: Does it make sense at all to overextend the concept of self-reflection such that it unites the irreconciliable, namely the Socratic question and the progress of research in the human sciences? There are passages in Dilthey that today we read only with astonishment and quiet horror, for instance when he says that only through such an unfolding of the human sciences can Europe be endowed with new spiritual content. Or when he enthuses about the new spirit of earthly enjoyment [Weltfreude] and thisworldly belief, of world piety [Weltfrömmigkeit], and we hear once more the pantheistic echo of Christian tradition. Even his predilection for romanticism and for Schleiermacher can be understood in this way, which is what my choice of title, “Between Romanticism and Positivism,” is gesturing toward. The title is suggesting that an authentic romantic inheritance continues to make itself felt. Yet Dilthey got himself hopelessly caught up in the empirical standpoint [Erfahrungsstandpunkt] of modern science and could never quite extricate himself from this positivistic entanglement. This is shown not least by Dilthey’s failure fully to adopt the true model that could serve as the vehicle for the methodical justification of the human sciences, the tradition of Aristotle’s “practical philosophy.” Admittedly, he

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initially called the human sciences the moral-political sciences and in doing so was drawing on the tradition of practical philosophy. Hence his claim that the human sciences ought to intervene in the life of society in a regulative capacity. This corresponds to Aristotle’s idea of practical philosophy and is obviously closer to the idea of self-reflection. Here we are touching on an age-old inherited problem in practical philosophy, which has its origin in the Socratic question of the good. It is my contention that this inheritance cannot be preserved in the concept of science as it was developed in theory and practice by Galileo and Descartes. The demand that Dilthey makes of the human sciences cannot be fulfilled. But Aristotle’s practical philosophy did hold on to the Socratic question. He tried to ground the good in human life, independently of all Pythagorean theorizing, on the experiences [Erfahrungen] of social life itself, and in such a way that we are able to account to ourselves for what we are doing as theoretical thinkers. For what we bring to consciousness when we think obviously had already to be common coinage. This is practical philosophy: that which has already become ethos (ἦϑος) through ἔϑος, through education, practice, habit and which is quickened with moral reflection, phronesis, i.e. concrete rationality, undergoes in contemplation a certain generalization. Despite modifications the knowledge of politics and society continued to manage this inheritance throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages. Only with the triumph of the seventeenth century and the new conception of science in modernity did the problem of the relation of theory and practice become a purely theoretical relation. “Practice” was now understood as the application of theory. But the application of theory could be nothing more than technique. Practical philosophy is always something more than application and theory. Here Dilthey had inevitably run into a dead-end. At most we might still understand the mere objectivation of self-reflection in the sense of the Socratic question and practical philosophy, but that cannot be transformed into the development of the human sciences while still maintaining the claim thereby to give life dignity, consistency, and stability. At this point one might argue as follows. If Socrates revealed the good as the object of his question and shows that the experts provide no answer to it, which only self-reflection is able to do, then in like fashion Dilthey has put history and historical self-reflection in the place of Socratic self-reflection. That seems to me, however, to cut short the real problematic. History never enacts itself and never gives us answers like an expert whom we are questioning. We ourselves stand in history and remain open to the question of the good in every decision that we have to make. The objectivity of science is no relief from this burden. Dilthey therefore seems himself of necessity exposed to the problem of relativism, which he never tried to conceal. In doing so he certainly resisted the temptation to erect over the empirical sciences a kind

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of teleological metaphysics, as some of his older contemporaries did, and as it were to build a metaphysical substructure for the empirical sciences of the mind after the manner of Lotze or Fechner. Rather, he refused to conceal from himself the inhomogeneity of the historical world and strove to endure the fragmentariness that is inseparable from the empirical sciences of the mind. There is a remark by Dilthey that goes something like this: If everything that could be re-experienced were re-experienced and we then gazed into the inscrutable face of life, we would learn that it can give us no answer (cf. GS XVIII, 66f.). This is precisely what Dilthey was stressing when he saw the scientific task of philosophy in the typology of worldviews, which takes account of the manysided nature of life and thus also the fragmentary character of all worldviews. But how the human sciences or philosophy shall thereby acquire a normative validity, one that might preserve the legacy of Aristotelian practical philosophy, seems to me insoluble. That issue will be raised once again in the clash with Husserl. The conflict between Dilthey and Husserl, which erupted after the publication of Husserl’s famous essay in Logos in 1910,15 has a long prehistory. [ . . . ] Nevertheless, it is not just a matter of clearing up the differences and misconceptions as such. We must also ask ourselves why such misconceptions could arise and what preconceptions led to these misconceptions. If, for example, we examine the significance of [Husserl’s] Logical Investigations for Dilthey, then there are several passages in Dilthey’s work that put us squarely in the picture. We find, for instance, that he cites the “meaning-fulfillment” with particular enthusiasm (GS VII, 39f., 234–237). [ . . . ] Intentionality, meaning-intention, meaning-fulfillment—these are concepts of Husserlian phenomenology and correlation research. Dilthey’s interest in the concept of meaning lies elsewhere; for him the concept does not primarily signify the meaning of words, but rather the meaning that is constituted in the course of life or history. So what caused Dilthey to look for support in Husserl’s Investigations? Hermann Ebbinghaus’ critique of his ideas about a descriptive and analytical psychology strikes me as having decisive importance in this regard. It delivered a profound shock to Dilthey, so that by and large he redirected his attention to other matters, to the studies of Schleiermacher and Hegel, through which he discovered the Hegel manuscripts in the Berlin State Library that in the Nohl edition became known as the so-called “theological juvenilia.” Clearly it hit him hard that such a gifted psychological researcher, and one whom he esteemed so highly, opposed him with authority and rejected his depiction of previous psychology in a tone bordering on indignation. Dilthey’s readiness to look for succor in Husserl seems to me to be connected with the helplessness he felt in the face of Ebbinghaus’ critique. Husserl’s logical investigations extricated him, so to speak, from several difficulties in his foundation of psychology. He learned that an expression

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can have a meaning without it having to be the expression of an experience [Erlebnisausdruck]. That was the achievement of the first “logical investi­ gation,” and that includes intentional meaning being an essential part of the expression. For Dilthey this means that a structural connection between life and meaning is given: meaning is in life. Dilthey did not accept the concept of intentionality at all. He evidently thinks his own concept of the structural system [Strukturzusammenhang] is more objective and for that reason retains it. But thanks to his borrowing from Husserl he learns to overcome the ambiguity in the concept of Erlebnis. It is not in tranquil retrospect that things are first known in their true meaning, and it is not the case that, accordingly, the significances take objective shape in life themselves and ultimately are objectively grasped by us. Rather, through his productive misunderstanding of Husserl, Dilthey succeeds in establishing an even closer connection between meaning and significance. The ambiguity in the concept of meaning, according to which it can be both what is intended and what is significant [das Gemeinte und das Bedeutsame], is obviously not mere confusion, but points to something important in the matter itself. Here I must make myself Dilthey’s defender, for in doing so I am acting in my own defense. It seems to me necessary to recognize that the intended meaning and the actual significance flow into each other. This frees the logical relations of concept and judgment from their isolation and returns them to the fundamental occasionality in which they appear in the life-nexus. Only in this nexus does a meaning, a discourse, or an event acquire its true concreteness. The sense of a discourse, constructed from words, and the significance that such statements express in the life-nexus really do converge. Long before Austin, Hans Lipps formulated key insights in this regard, and it seems to me that these things were already prefigured in Dilthey. To be sure, Dilthey was wholly unaware of having misunderstood and accommodated Husserl to his own interests; hence his enthusiasm for Husserl and his disappointment by him. Through Husserl’s critique he saw himself suddenly reckoned among the philosophers of Weltanschauung, whom Husserl charged with weary skepticism and the decline of human culture. Right up to his final treatise on the crisis of European sciences it was Husserl’s heartfelt conviction that this must be overcome. How might Dilthey have defended himself? In the published work we have only a single hint, which Bollnow also cites but does not interpret. There is a footnote, a passage in the Problem of Religion of 1911, where Dilthey writes: “Compare my dispute with Husserl” (GS VI, 321). I am unaware of such a dispute, but we might ask what gave occasion to invite such a comparison and from that reconstruct what Dilthey might have said in response to Husserl’s essay. At stake is the nature of religion. Evidently Dilthey means to say that we cannot simply leave unprovable worldviews as they are, but that they must be

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questioned in accordance with a metaphysics—a metaphysics that no longer has the old sense of metaphysics. Thus, Dilthey believes that he is actually in complete agreement with Husserl. But then he adds that in doing so we need only have recourse to the propositions necessary in each case. That clearly means: Dilthey asserts in opposition to Husserl that he does not require the transcendental ego for a responsible concept formation and investigation. Evidently he has rightly recognized that the Logos essay necessarily amounts to the grounding of transcendental subjectivity and lays sole claim to the concept of rigorous science on the basis of this “ultimate justification.” He counters that it is only a matter of induction in the relevant area. The essay on the Problem of Religion does indeed draw on interesting sources relating to American sectarianism, on which James based his famous account of religious experience. Dilthey acknowledges the superiority of the Americans in the field of psychology of religion precisely because they have at their disposal this wealth of empirical evidence. This confirms what Riedel has described as the departure from the idea of justification [Begründungsgedanke] in the sense of ultimate justification [Letztbegründung]. This departure from ultimate justification does not of course mean a renunciation of justification in every sense. The relevant productive and structural system [Wirkungszusammenhang und Strukturzusammenhang] must be illuminated. It is precisely this, according to Dilthey, that must be possible without transcendental claims to justification being implied. In principle Dilthey could retreat to a strong position, which was later shared by all of Husserl’s students in Göttingen, and in the end by Heidegger as well. I myself was taught as early as 1918/1919 that in the Ideas Husserl had lapsed into neoKantianism. When I was a student Husserl’s Ideas were read with this kind of criticism in mind, not least under the influence of Max Scheler. Dilthey must have conceived his reply to Husserl’s program along the following lines: “I completely agree with Husserl that worldviews are not susceptible of proof. I am concerned with a quite different kind of knowledge, which is not metaphysics in any previous sense of the word.” We might call it rather a meta-worldview or, in Dilthey’s words, a “philosophy of philosophy.” At any rate it is a scientific philosophy and not weary skepticism. And he might have continued: Nevertheless, I cannot follow Husserl if all justification is to be a transcendental justification in transcendental subjectivity. If this reconstruction is correct, then we can say that Dilthey is entitled to claim that he be taken seriously as a partner in the struggle over true positivism. What Husserl in the Ideas asserted on behalf of “transcendental phenomenology” left the Diltheyan dimension of historical experience [Erfahrung] undeveloped.16 The manner in which Dilthey enriched the content of self-reflection by reference to the objective mind, to society, to history, and above all to art did

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not allow him, as I have tried to show, to lay rightful claim to the grand tradition of practical philosophy; but it does allow him to appeal to what he had already expressed as a youthful critique of contemporary psychology; the contents and not only the forms and laws [Gesetzlichkeiten] of mental life must be investigated (Cf. GS XVIII, 5). To learn to understand the contents of lawfully operating mental life in its essential contexts—that would mean ultimately accomplishing what Dilthey, even as a young man, set as a task: to take up anew the tendency of the phenomenology of mind (Ibid.).

Notes   1. Sein und Zeit, p. 404; the passage in full reads: “Thus it becomes clear in what sense the preparatory existential and temporal analytic of Dasein is resolved to cultivate the spirit of Count Yorck in the service of Dilthey’s work.” Martin Heidegeer, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996), p. 369. Cf. Heribert Boeder, “Dilthey ‘und’ Heidegger. Zur Geschichtlichkeit des Menschen,” in Dilthey und der Wandel des Philosophiebegriffs seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, ed. E. W. Orth (Freiburg/Munich: Karl Alber Verlag, 1984), pp. 161–177.   2. See Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften, 26 vols. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1914–2006), vol. VIII, pp. 225–233: “Modern Man and the Clash of Worldviews.” Further references to this work will be inserted in the main text, abbreviated GS, and followed by volume and page number.   3. Sigrid von der Schulenburg (ed.), Briefwechsel zwischen Wilhelm Dilthey und dem Grafen Yorck von Wartenburg, 1877–1897 (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1923).   4. Edmund Husserl, “Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewußtseins,” ed. Martin Heidegger, Jahrbuch für Phänomenologie und phänomenologische Forschung, 9 (1928): 369– 490. See also Edmund Husserl, Gesammelte Werke, vol. X (The Hague/Doordrecht: Nijhoff/ Kluwer, 1950).   5. Hermann Ebbinghaus, Grundzüge der Psychologie (Leipzig: Veit & Comp., 1902).   6. Otto Liebmann, Kant und die Epigonen. Eine kritische Abhandlung von Otto Liebmann (1865), ed. Bruno Bauch (Berlin: Reuter and Reichard, 1912).   7. Eduard Zeller, Vorträge und Abhandlungen, 3 vols (Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag, 1875–1884), vol. 2, pp. 446–478: “Über Bedeutung und Aufgabe der Erkenntnistheorie” (1862).   8. On the emergence of the term Erkenntnistheorie, see Klaus Christian Köhnke, “Über den Ursprung des Ausdrucks Erkenntnistheorie—und dessen vermeintliche Synonyme,” Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte, 25 (1981): 185–210.   9. See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (Tübingen: Mohr, 1960), pp. 56–66. 10. See Konrad Cramer, “Erleben, Erlebnis,” Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, ed. Joachim Ritter et al., vol. 2 (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 1972), pp. 702–711. 11. Hans-Georg Gadamer, op cit., p. 60 n.3. 12. Letter of August 5, 1892 to Dilthey, in Schulenburg, Briefwechsel, pp. 149f. The letter begins: “Yesterday I read in Hannsen’s Rundschau of your treatise on aesthetics. That is your proper domain.” 13. See Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1100a 11. 14. Plato, Apology, 21 c–22 d. 15. Edmund Husserl, “Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft,” Logos, 1 (1910/1911), 289–341. 16. See Elisabeth Ströker, “Systematische Beziehungen der Husserlschen Philosophie zu Dilthey,” in Dilthey und die Philosophie der Gegenwart, ed. Ernst W. Orth (München: Verlag Karl Alber, 1985), pp. 63–96, as well as the well-known footnote by Oskar Becker in the Husserl Festschrift of 1928.



Gadamer on Dilthey FREDERICK C. BEISER

i. The Fraught Dilthey Legacy Poor Wilhelm Dilthey! His legacy has been fraught, torn apart by conflicting forces. He has been bashed by the positivists for not being scientific enough; and he has been battered by the hermeneuticists for being too scientific. The positivists complain that his method of understanding does not meet the most basic standards of scientific explanation; and the hermeneuticists contend that his method, wrongfully and fatally, presupposes standards of objectivity taken from the natural sciences. It is not surprising that Dilthey has been vulnerable to such opposing assessments. His own thinking was, as Hans-Georg Gadamer has stressed, the product of two opposing traditions: romanticism and positivism. Throughout his intellectual development he struggled to reconcile these traditions, which pulled him in opposing directions. Whether he succeeded in reconciling them has been controversial. For the positivists, Dilthey was too much of a romantic; for the hermeneuticists, he was too much of a positivist. It is the fate of any philosopher who strives for the middle ground to be assaulted by both extremes. Dilthey has been a prime example of this old truth. For contemporary readers of Dilthey, the mere fact that he has been interpreted and assessed from such opposing standpoints should be a red flag. It warns them that each standpoint might be one-sided, that it might have captured only one side of Dilthey, whose thinking might be more rich and complicated than either standpoint makes him out to be. Could it be that Dilthey, as the heir of such conflicting traditions, was aware of the problems 302

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of each, that he knew all too well the problems that his later critics attributed to him? Could it be that his middle ground is still more plausible than the extreme positions of his critics? In this article I want to defend that very possibility. I wish to argue that neither positivist nor hermeneuticist has made a fair or accurate assessment of Dilthey’s thought. Silly is he or she who thinks that Dilthey’s successors or detractors have surpassed him. The jury is still out on his legacy. Having examined the positivist critique of Dilthey elsewhere,1 I want to devote most of my attention here to the critique of Dilthey advanced by the hermeneuticists, and in particular to that put forward by Hans-Georg Gadamer.2 There should be no doubt that Gadamer’s critique of Dilthey is more challenging than that of the positivists. While the positivists invented a caricature, which it was all too easy for them to destroy, Gadamer’s critique comes from a thorough and profound knowledge of Dilthey’s writings and it gives a subtle and nuanced interpretation of them. Gadamer sees all too well that Dilthey’s thinking is rich and multifaceted, and that it often pulls in opposing directions; he also fully recognizes that criticism of Dilthey often has to be qualified and balanced by opposing considerations. The problem with Gadamer’s interpretation is not his knowledge or interpretation of the texts, which is of the highest order, but the philosophical presuppositions behind it. His critique of Dilthey is an essentially external one. It does not assess Dilthey according to whether he is consistent, or according to whether he achieves his own ideals. Gadamer has a settled and fixed position on certain basic philosophical issues – the possibility of historical objectivity, the heterogeneity of historical and natural explanation – and he makes his position the standard for his criticism. The basic problem with Dilthey, as far as Gadamer is concerned, is that he has not reached Gadamer’s level of insight – or, bluntly and accurately, that of Martin Heidegger, the philosopher to whom Gadamer frankly expresses his greatest debts, and to whom his critique is largely indebted.3 So he or she who questions Gadamer’s presumed insights will not be in accord with his critique of Dilthey.

ii. The Positivist Critique Before I examine Gadamer’s critique of Dilthey, let me briefly explain the problems with the positivist critique. We do well to keep that critique in mind because it makes for an illuminating comparison with Gadamer’s. It reveals not only the one-sidedness of Gadamer’s critique, but also why Dilthey insists on standards of objectivity in the human sciences. What Gadamer deplored as a mistake, Dilthey regarded as a necessity. Without these standards of objectivity, there could be no sustainable claims to knowledge in the human sciences.

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The positivist critique of Dilthey is based on a simplistic interpretation of his method of understanding (Verstehen).4 The positivist assumes that the method of understanding operates by virtue of intuition, empathy, and imagination. The historian or social scientist is asked to imagine himself in the place of the person whose action or words he wants to understand. To understand his words or actions means that the interpreter can recreate or relive them as if he were the agent or author himself. Historical explanation is then a kind of imaginative reconstruction or empathetic reenactment of the past. Although this interpretation is simplistic, it is not entirely inaccurate. There are indeed passages in Dilthey where he writes about understanding in terms of “transposition” (Hineinversetzen), “reimagining” (Nachbilden), and “reliving” (Nacherleben). If this alone were the method of understanding, the positivist’s critique of it would be compelling. The positivists make the following points against it: that reliving projects the feelings and beliefs of the interpreter into his object; that it is not really a kind of explanation because it simply recreates the phenomenon to be explained; that it amounts to only an hypothesis or conjecture, which has to be confirmed by inductive generalizations; and so on. The problem with this critique is that it attacks a position no one holds. There is not a single one of these points that Dilthey himself would not acknowledge. Though he stresses the value of reconstruction or reenactment, he thinks that it alone does little explanatory work, and that it alone cannot provide knowledge. Reconstruction or reenactment, Dilthey thinks, should come either at the beginning or end of enquiry: at the beginning in the form of intuition or feeling that is the basis for an hypothesis or conjecture; at the end as a complete grasp of what has been explained. Between the beginning and end of enquiry, Dilthey insists, there must be an intermediate stage of explanation, which serves to confirm or falsify the initial intuitions or feelings. This intermediate stage consists in what Dilthey calls “the elementary forms of understanding”.5 These forms of understanding, which are already implicit in ordinary life, are developed in a more systematic and explicit form by the historian or social scientist. They essentially consist in a form of inference or reasoning, where a word or action is subsumed under inductive generalizations. Schematically, they take the following form. (1) There is a constant conjunction or sequence between an expression E (a word or action) and the mental state S. (2) There is in this particular case C an expression E. Therefore (3), in case C, E is an expression of S. The point to see here is that elementary understanding is nomological, that is, it involves subsumption under generalizations, explanation according to laws. That is precisely the positivist paradigm of explanation. The important point to see here is that Dilthey insisted that understanding be based upon methodological investigation, upon careful observation and

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the application of inductive generalizations. He condemned the attempt to base it upon intuition alone as “aesthetical mysticism” and “enthusiastic obscurity”.6 Although he believed that imagination and sympathy are aids to understanding, he never claimed that they alone are sufficient to establish an interpretation. Gadamer maintains that, though Dilthey was beholden to the ideal of science, he never made the positivist mistake of thinking that explanation in the human sciences is nomological.7 This is simply false, however, because Dilthey had always stressed that explanation in the human sciences involves the determination of general laws and their application to particular cases. He emphasizes this point in his Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften,8 and it became important in his later critique of the neo-Kantians.9 Dilthey argued against Windelband and Rickert that the difference between the natural and human sciences cannot be that the natural sciences are “nomothetic”, that is, concerned with general laws, while the human sciences are “ideographic”, that is, concerned with the individual as such. That distinction does not work because the human scientist – be it in history or economics – has to discover and apply inductive generalizations just as much as the natural scientist. Gadamer’s own insistence that understanding in the human sciences cannot be nomothetic simply reinstates the problems of the neo-Kantian paradigm – an irony for a philosopher who makes it a point of pride to have seen beyond neo-Kantianism.10

iii. The Charge of Positivist Foundationalism Throughout his many writings on Dilthey, Gadamer made a variety of criticisms of his great predecessor, but one criticism recurs constantly, one especially important for Gadamer and for Dilthey’s philosophy. This is Gadamer’s complaint that Dilthey was too beholden to the methods and standards of the new natural sciences. For Gadamer, this was Dilthey’s fatal error, his proton pseudos, his original sin. While Gadamer fully recognizes Dilthey’s attempt to distinguish the human from the natural sciences, he still contends that his distinction is inadequate, chiefly because it applies to the human sciences methods and standards appropriate only to the natural sciences. Dilthey’s work is infected by the scientific mentality of the age, Gadamer laments, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the influence of positivism upon him. Although Gadamer himself does not precisely distinguish them, there are two respects in which he thinks Dilthey’s work is too beholden to positivism. First, Dilthey, like all positivists, attempts to provide an empirical foundation for knowledge, basing it upon “facts of consciousness” or inner experience. Gadamer’s Dilthey is not a neo-Kantian nor a Hegelian, but above all an

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empiricist. Second, Dilthey, again like all the positivists, believes in the possibility, indeed the necessity, of an objective standard of knowledge in all the sciences, whether human or natural. This objective standard of knowledge implies that (1) the observer is impartial and independent, standing above the conditioning forces of society and history, that (2) he knows facts that are given, and that (3) these facts hold independent of his consciousness of them. Explicitly or implicitly, self-consciously or subconsciously, these positivist dogmas infect all Dilthey’s thinking, Gadamer charges, compromising and confounding his many contributions to hermeneutics and history. What are we to make of these criticisms? In assessing them we have to distinguish two questions. First, does Dilthey really hold these positivist beliefs? Second, if he does, is he really mistaken in doing so? If he does not hold some of these beliefs, and if he is correct in holding others, Gadamer’s criticisms will be without merit. Regarding the first aspect of Dilthey’s positivism, it is certainly true that Dilthey was devoted to a foundationalist programme in epistemology, a programme like that endorsed by positivism. His early psychology was meant to provide an empirical foundation for the human sciences by basing them upon inner experience. It was the task of psychology to describe “the facts of consciousness” that would provide a basis for all the sciences. The foundationalist thinking behind this psychology appears most explicitly in the so-called Breslauer Ausarbeitungen,11 which are the first drafts for the planned second volume of the Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften. Some of the foundationalist assumptions behind his new psychology come straight from the playbook of the Cartesian tradition. Dilthey stresses the importance of what he calls “the principle of phenomenality”, which states that (1) all evidence for the existence of the external world comes from my own perceptions, and (2) these perceptions exist only within me. What Dilthey had in mind here was Descartes’ famous point in the Meditations that, though it is not certain that what I perceive is X, it is at least certain that I perceive X. Like Descartes, Dilthey assumes that immediate experience of my inner states is certain and indubitable, and that all knowledge of the existence of the external world has to be based upon it. This foundationalist project seems to give all the evidence Gadamer could ever desire that Dilthey was beholden to positivism. Attempting to base science on a firm foundation of facts has always been a favourite positivist pastime. Yet Gadamer has got hold of only one half of a much more complicated and interesting story. For Dilthey was the heir of not only empiricism and neo-Kantian foundationalism, but also of romantic anti-foundationalism. In their reaction against Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre in the late 1790s, the romantics (Novalis, HÖlderlin, and Friedrich Schlegel) had developed a profound critique of foundationalism; their critique was then passed on to Adolf Trendelenburg

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and Hermann Lotze, who happened to be Dilthey’s teachers. Already in some early fragments from the 1870s,12 Dilthey began to follow in this antifoundationalist tradition, engaging in a sustained critique of foundationalist epistemology. He made the following kind of criticisms of the foundationalist programme: (1) that philosophy cannot be presuppositionless because we need presuppositions to begin enquiry; (2) that justifying claims to knowledge requires a criterion, which as a claim to knowledge cannot be justified except on pain of an infinite regress; (3) that the idea of a selfsufficient epistemic subject, which exists independently of the social and historical world, is a fiction; and (4) that the validity of a method cannot be determined a priori, but only by applying it and seeing whether it is successful. Later, in the 1890s,13 Dilthey realized that the classical foundationalist project ends in an aporia: that it traps us inside the circle of our own consciousness, because from the immediate certainty of inner experience we cannot prove the existence of an external world; in other words, there cannot be any theoretical demonstration of the existence of an external world. The only way to break outside the circle of consciousness is not theoretical, but practical; it comes not by thinking, but by acting, by the experience we have when the world resists our striving to control it. It is only in the resistance to our will and our deeds, Dilthey argued, that we know that something exists independent of us. It is only when we consider the anti-foundationalist forces in Dilthey’s thinking that we can explain one important fact about his philosophical development: his growing disenchantment with psychology. Although Dilthey never abandoned his interest in psychology, as Gadamer rightly maintains, he ceased to give it the importance it once had. By the early 1900s psychology ceased to be the master science for Dilthey and it lost its past foundationalist role. This had little to do with the influence of Husserl, still less with the effect of Ebbinghaus’ review, and much to do with Dilthey’s own doubts about foundationalism. Gadamer stresses the persistence of the psychological programme because it seems to show that Dilthey was still in thrall to foundationalism. But he is ignorant of Dilthey’s equally persistent anti-foundationalism and the undermining effect this had on his early conception of psychology.14 Granted that Dilthey had his doubts about foundationalism, Gadamer could still maintain that his empiricism shows his debts to positivism. Gadamer maintains that Dilthey departed from the empiricist tradition only in expanding the notion of experience – his concept of Erlebnis comprises feeling and desire as well as sensation – but that he still advocated empiricism all the same.15 This thesis is a crude oversimplification, however, ignoring entirely some of the basic differences between the positivists’ concept of experience and Dilthey’s own concept of lived experience. The positivist concept of experience is an immediate awareness of reality, a direct encounter with brute

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facts. Dilthey insisted, however, that lived experience is constituted by the subject’s values and beliefs, and that it is not a datum existing independent of them.16 Furthermore, it was a central theme of his critique of mechanistic psychology that it hypostasizes mental events as if they were objective facts independent of the subject who has them.17 Finally, Dilthey was too much in debt to the Kantian and Hegelian tradition to believe in the positivist dogma of “immediacy”; he knew all too well that all consciousness is mediated, conditioned by the concepts, needs, and values of the subject. While Gadamer knew all too well of the Kantian and Hegelian influences on his concept of lived experience, he tended to forget all about them for the sake of portraying Dilthey as a positivist.

iv. Historical Objectivity in Dilthey Regarding the second aspect of Dilthey’s alleged positivism, his adherence to a scientific standard of objectivity, Dilthey again seems guilty as charged. For in the preface to his Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften Dilthey had praised “the modern historical school” because it had raised history to the status of a science on a par with physics and biology.18 History had now become a science, Dilthey believed, because it followed strict methods to assess claims to knowledge about the past; even though history could not know all the facts about the past, it could determine with a high degree of accuracy the probability of claims about it. It was because of his great confidence in the new history that Dilthey embarked upon his famous project for “a critique of historical reason”. This project would be not only a critique of history by reason, but also a critique of reason by history. It would show how the philosophers’ beliefs in a universal and eternal reason are conditioned by, and the product of, history. What the philosopher believed to be eternal and necessary, the historical critic would show to be the product of a specific culture and epoch. In showing how the philosophers’ standpoint is conditioned by the forces of history, Dilthey seems intent on undermining claims to objectivity. So Gadamer’s claim that Dilthey presupposes such claims appears off the mark. But, arguably, Gadamer’s point cuts deeper. He points out what he thinks is a fatal flaw in Dilthey’s project: that Dilthey seems to assume that the historian who historicizes everything is a-historical himself; he seems to have an objective Archimedean standpoint that shows him all the facts. But, Gadamer rightly asks, is not the historian himself the product of history? If so, he cannot have the kind of objectivity that Dilthey seems to undermine, yet really presupposes. Although Gadamer’s critique of Dilthey seems compelling, its force rests entirely upon an old truism: that the standpoint of the historian lies in history itself. Hence, it is often said, each generation has to write history anew, because

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it sees things in the past that other generations have not seen. Gadamer admits that Dilthey knew these truisms; but he insists that his devotion to the scientific ideal was too great for him to spell out and assimilate all their consequences. Despite recognizing the all powerful forces of historicization, Dilthey, Gadamer insists, still clung to an ideal of historical objectivity.19 Assuming that Gadamer is correct in holding that Dilthey has an ideal of objectivity, the question remains whether he was wrong in having one. The problem with Gadamer’s objection is that it is very general and vague. He seems to assume that recognizing the historical perspective of the historian means that there cannot be any objectivity, no knowledge of even the most basic historical facts. But this is not clear at all. It is important to investigate the extent or degree to which the historian’s standpoint is conditioned by his own historical context, and then to determine what kind of objectivity is possible. Does recognizing the historicity of the historian mean there cannot be any knowledge of historical fact at all? If this is so, then there must be a complete historical relativism. Or does it mean only that the same facts can be assembled and put together according to different perspectives or theories about them? If so, then there will be some room for objectivity in history after all, at least in the determination of facts, though not in the theory about these facts. Dilthey’s position regarding historical objectivity corresponds to the more modest second option. While he fully recognized that the historicity of the historian conditions his theories about historical facts, he still believed that it allows for the possibility of determining basic historical facts. This is not only a consistent position, but the more plausible one. To see why it is more plausible, we need to go back in history and to explain the rationale for the belief in historical objectivity. That rationale was given by Dilthey’s great teacher, Leopold von Ranke. Gadamer himself sees Ranke as the source of Dilthey’s faith in historical objectivity,20 so he would not complain if we go back to him. Given Dilthey’s great admiration for Ranke,21 we are on firm ground in letting Ranke speak for him. The classical statement of the ideal of historical objectivity appears in the preface to Ranke’s 1824 Geschichte der romanischen und germanischen VÖlker where Ranke declares that the aim of the historian is to tell the truth “as it actually happened” (wie es eigentlich gewesen).22 Ever since, it has been a popular pastime of self-congratulating self-critical historians to charge Ranke with naivité. Ranke seems to assume that the historian can just tell the facts as they are, as if perspective does not figure into the bargain. But few of Ranke’s critics – Gadamer among them – place his statement in its original context, and few of them fully recognize the consequences of denying it in its original meaning. Ranke’s statement has to be understood in the context of his critique of traditional historiography, which was not critical in its use of sources, used imagination to fill in gaps in a narrative, and went far beyond the evidence

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available. In the appendix to his Geschichte, Ranke engaged in a long critical discussion of Guicciardini’s Storia d Italia, which had been for generations one of the most trusted sources about Renaissance Italy.23 When Ranke compared Guicciardini’s history with its original sources he was dumbstruck by the discrepancy. Guicciardini had either fabricated events or his narrative was contrary to confirmed facts. The moral of the story should be clear. The kind of objectivity that Ranke demands is not a conceptual or even practical impossibility, but the kind we demand in law courts and in ordinary journalism. We are asked to stick to the facts, to what is known, and we are warned not to go beyond them. Ranke wanted the same for history. If the kind of historical objectivity he demands is impossible on the very general and vague grounds put forward by Gadamer, then we have a priori grounds to suspect all legal enquiries and all journalism. No one doubts that in ordinary life, if we stick to the evidence, we can determine what actually happened. The general kinds of doubt about the historicity of the historian do not affect fact finding on the basic level, that is, determining who, what, when, and where something happened. This, however, is not quite the end of the matter. For there remains another sense of objectivity in history that is more difficult to achieve than just determining the basic facts. This sense of objectivity demands laying aside our preconceptions, prejudices, and values and striving to understand the past according to its own preconceptions, prejudices, and values. This is the kind of objectivity implied in the attempt to relive or reenact the past, to see the past in its own terms, as it was lived by people in past cultures and epochs. Ranke demanded this kind of objectivity too. In his Englische Geschichte he wrote about how he wanted “to extinguish [himself] and to let the things speak for themselves”.24 Gadamer flatly and dogmatically declares that Ranke was demanding the impossible; we cannot just leap beyond our own times and see other times just as they were.25 Here again, though, Gadamer has exaggerated the extent to which we are conditioned by and locked within our own historical horizon. To be sure, we cannot leap beyond our own times, and it is impossible for us to grasp immediately and entirely the experience of those who lived in a distant epoch and alien culture. But, surely, we can make some progress in knowing the past in its difference and otherness. We can learn the languages of those who lived back then; we can learn all the basic facts about their historical context; we can then imagine what it would be like to be them, even if we cannot exactly reproduce it. Gadamer portrays knowledge of the past as if it were a black or white, an all or nothing matter; but it is a matter of shades of grey, of more or less. He has exaggerated a truism – that the historian is conditioned by his own times – into the basis of a wild historical skepticism, which is then used as a platform to criticize Dilthey.

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So, in the end, Gadamer’s critique of Dilthey is either simplistic or implau­ sible. It is simplistic when Gadamer claims that Dilthey was a positivist foundationalist. This ignores the powerful anti-foundationalist strands in Dilthey’s thinking, which eventually led him to abandon his own project for a foundationalist psychology. It is implausible when it presupposes that the historicity of the historian makes it impossible to know the basic facts of history, or even to get beyond to some degree our own cultural conditioning. In assuming that we could know historical facts, and that we could know the past in its own terms, Dilthey stood on firmer ground than Gadamer, who exaggerated the truism about the historicity. The failures of Gadamer’s critique show the need for a re-assessment of Dilthey. Not that such a re-assessment needs to redeem or rehabilitate Dilthey; but at least it should proceed according to the standards of a strictly immanent critique.

Notes   1. See my The German Historicist Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 346–354.   2. My assessment is based on all Gadamer’s writings on Dilthey, of which the article translated here is representative. I consider the four articles reproduced in volume IV of Gadamer’s Gesammelte Werke (Tübingen: Mohr, 1987): “Das Problem Diltheys. Zwischen Romantik und Positivismus”, IV, pp. 406–424; “Wilhelm Dilthey zu seinem 100. Geburtstag”, IV, pp. 425–428; “Der Unvollendete und das Unvollendbare. Zum 150. Geburtstag von Wilhelm Dilthey”, IV, pp. 429–435; and “Wihelm Dilthey und Ortega, Philosophie des Lebens”, IV, pp. 436–447. My assessment is also based on Gadamer’s discussions of Dilthey in Wahrheit und Methode, Gesammelte Werke I, pp. 70–76, 222–246. I have also used the article “Wilhelm Dilthey nach 150 Jahren (Zwischen Romantik und Positivismus. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag)”, which appears in Dilthey und die Philosophie der Gegenwart, ed. Ernst Wolfgang Orth (Munich: Alber, 1985), pp. 157–182. This last article is not in the Gesammelte Werke; it is a shorter version of “Das Problem Diltheys”.   3. “Wilhelm Dilthey nach 150 Jahren”, p. 157. One admires Gadamer’s frankness; but one must question his judgement. Dilthey’s teachers were some of the most eminent of his age: Lotze, Ranke, and Trendelenburg. Dilthey appreciated the value of each as much as Gadamer appreciated Heidegger.   4. For the positivist critique of the method of understanding, see Carl Hempel, “The Function of General Laws in History”, The Journal of Philosophy 39 (1942), 35–48; Theodore Abel, “The Operation Called Verstehen”, The American Journal of Sociology 54 (1948), 211–218; Otto Neurath, “Sociology and Physicalism”, in Logical Positivism, ed. A. J. Ayer (New York: Free Press, 1959), pp. 282–317, esp. 295, 298; Edgar Zilsel, “Physics and the Problem of Historico-Sociological Laws”, in Readings in the Philosophy of Science, eds. H. Feigl and M. Brodbeck (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953), pp. 714–722, esp. 721; and Ernest Nagel, The Structure of Science (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961), pp. 480–485. Although Popper distanced himself from the positivists, he shares with them a similar account of Verstehen. See his The Poverty of Historicism (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1957), p. 138.   5. On Dilthey’s account of the elementary forms of understanding, see “Das Verstehen anderer Personen und ihrer Lebensäusserungen”, GS VII, pp. 205–227. All references to Dilthey, which are abbreviated GS, are to Gesammelte Schriften, eds. Karlfried Gründer and Frithjof Rodi (GÖttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961–).   6. See GS XIV/2, pp. 650–658.   7. “Das Problem Diltheys”, Werke IV, p. 417.

312  •  Frederick C. Beiser   8. GS I, pp. 27, 42.   9. See Dilthey’s Beiträge zum Studium der Individualität, GS V, pp. 242–258, esp. 257–258. 10. Gadamer’s misconceptions about neo-Kantianism are revealing and embarrassing. He states in Wahrheit und Methode that Dilthey avoided the errors of the neo-Kantians in not applying the methods of the natural sciences to human action (Gesammelte Werke I, p. 225). But the neo-Kantians were critics of exactly that procedure, and Dilthey deliberately did not follow them down that path. He was a critic of the neo-Kantian theory that the human sciences are fundamentally about the individual. This is one of the few places where Gadamer’s knowledge of Dilthey is lacking, and it derives from his misconceptions of neo-Kantianism. 11. See especially “Viertes Buch to Ausarbeitungen zum Zweiten Band der Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften”, GS XIX, pp. 58–227. 12. See “Frühentwürfe zur Erkenntnistheorie und Logik der Geisteswissenschaften”, GS XIX, pp. 1–57. 13. See especially his 1890 Beyträge zur Lösung der Frage vom Ursprung unseres Glaubens an die Realität der Aussenwelt und seinem Recht, GS V, pp. 90–138. 14. The reason for Gadamer’s ignorance on this score is that volume XIX of Dilthey’s Gesammelte Schriften, in which the early anti-foundationalist themes appear, had been published only lately, in 1982. Gadamer makes reference to the importance of this volume in “Wilhelm Dilthey nach 150 Jahren”, p. 158. 15. “Das Problem Diltheys”, Gesammelte Werke IV, pp. 409–410. 16. See Dilthey’s Ideen über dine beschreibende und zergliedernde Psychologie, GS V, pp. 215–216. 17. See Dilthey, “Fortseztungen der Abhandlung von 1875”, GS XVIII, p. 70. 18. See Dilthey, GS I, p. XV. 19. Gadamer, “Wilhelm Dilthey nach 150 Jahren”, pp. 170–171. 20. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, Gesammelte Werke I, p. 236. 21. See Dilthey’s reminiscence about Ranke’s seminar on history, “Erinnerungen an deutsche Geschichtsschreiber”, GS XI, p. 217. Dilthey plainly admires Ranke’s attempts to reimagine the past. 22. See Ranke, Sämtliche Werke, ed. Alfred Dove (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1867–90), XXXIII, p. VII. 23. Zur Kritik der neuerer Geschichtschreiber: Eine Beylage zu desselben romanischen und germanischen Geschichten (Leipzig: Reimer, 1824). Reproduced in volume XXXIV of Sämtliche Werke. 24. Ranke, Sämtliche Werke XV, p. 103. 25. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, Gesammelte Werke I, pp. 172, 235.



Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

Introduction Friedrich Nietzsche started out as a young professor of classics in Basel. Inspired by Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner’s musical drama, Nietzsche’s early study of Greek tragedy analyzed the state of modern art and launched a frontal attack on the reflective stance of the Socratic philosopher, if not of philosophy as such. He called for an affirmation of life, finite and imperfect as it is. As it develops, Nietzsche’s work covers a wide range of topics: among them art, history, morality, religion, truth, and objectivity. In an essay initially published in European Journal of Philosophy (and later included in the posthumously published collection The Sense of the Past), Bernard Williams, while interested in Nietzsche’s naturalist approach to psychology and moral issues, explores his critique of philosophy. He suggests that Nietzsche invites us to question the very idea that philosophy should deliver truths or “tell us something.” At stake, rather, is an attempt to urge us to raise questions. For Williams, who drew on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy (the essay opens with a set of reflections on the parallels between Nietzsche and Wittgenstein that have been omitted for this volume), this, rather than a set of doctrines and ideas, represents the real value of Nietzsche’s work. In his response to Williams, Paul Katsafanas questions this approach. Against the widespread reading of Nietzsche as a literary writer, as evading positive contributions to philosophy, Katsafanas points out that a writing 313

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style that does not aspire towards the creation of a system does not prevent philosophical theorizing. Further, Katsafanas takes issue with the notion of Nietzsche as a naturalist philosopher, asking what naturalism means in the first place. He also discusses recent contributions to Nietzsche scholarship, (such as the work of Robert Pippin, who contributes to the Hegel section of this volume). Focusing on Nietzsche’s discussion of human will, Katsafanas plots an alternative to the notion of Nietzsche as a reductive naturalist, on the one hand, and the idea of his work as offering an artistic, expressivist philosophy, on the other.

Further Reading • Paul Katsafanas, Agency and the Foundations of Ethics: Nietzsche’s Constitutivism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. • John Richardson and Brian Leiter (eds.), Nietzsche. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. • Bernard Williams, The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy, ed. Myles Burnyeat. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.



Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology BERNARD WILLIAMS

i. Nietzsche and the Extraction of Theory Nietzsche is not a source of philosophical theories. At some level the point is obvious, but it may be less obvious how deep it goes. [ . . . ] [With Nietzsche], the resistance to the continuation of philosophy by ordinary means is built into the text, which is booby-trapped not only against recovering theory from it, but, in many cases, against any systematic exegesis that assimilates it to theory. His writing achieves this partly by its choice of subject matter, partly by its manner and the attitudes it expresses. These features stand against a mere exegesis of Nietzsche, or the incorporation of Nietzsche into the history of philosophy as a source of theories. Some think that these features stand against the incorporation of Nietzsche into philosophy as an academic enterprise altogether, but if that is meant to imply the unimportance of Nietzsche for philosophy, it must be wrong. In insisting on the importance of Nietzsche for philosophy, I mean something that cannot be evaded by a definition of ‘philosophy’. In particular, it cannot be evaded by invoking some contrast between ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy. This classification always involved a quite bizarre conflation of the methodological and the topographical, as though one classified cars into front-wheel drive and Japanese, but besides that and other absurdities of the distinction, there is the more immediate point that no such classification can evade the insistent continuities between Nietzsche’s work and the business of 315

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what anyone calls philosophy. At least in moral philosophy, to ignore them is not simply to adopt a style, but to duck a problem. I agree with a remark made by Michel Foucault in a late interview, that there is no single Nietzscheism, and that the right question to ask is ‘what serious use can Nietzsche be put to?’ One serious use is to help us with issues that press on any serious philosophy (in particular, moral philosophy) that does not beg the most basic of its own questions. Nietzsche will not help if he is taken to impose some one method on us. I have already said that I find his texts securely defended against exegesis by the extraction of theory; but it does not follow, and it is important that it does not follow, that when we are trying to put him to serious use our philosophy should contain no theory. This is because the insistent continuities between his questions and our business run in both directions. Some of the concerns to which he speaks are going to be better met – that is to say, met in a way in which we can better make something of them – by quite other styles of thought, and perhaps by some theory that comes from elsewhere; certainly not by theoretical, or again antitheoretical, incantations supposedly recovered from Nietzsche himself.

ii. Naturalism and Realism in Moral Psychology There is some measure of agreement that we need a ‘naturalistic’ moral psy­ chology, where this means something to the effect that our view of moral capacities should be consistent with, even perhaps in the spirit of, our understanding of human beings as part of nature. A demand expressed in such terms is perhaps accepted by most philosophers, apart from some anciens combattants of the wars of freewill. The trouble with this happy and extensive consensus, however, and no doubt the condition of it, is that no-one knows what it involves. Formulations of the position tend to rule out too much or too little. The position rules out too much if it tries reductively to ignore culture and convention; this is misguided even on a scientific basis, in the sense that to live under culture is a basic part of the ethology of this species.1 It rules out too little if it includes many things that have been part of the self-image of morality, such as certain conceptions of moral cognition; a theory will scarcely further the cause of naturalism in this sense if it accepts as a basic feature of human nature the capacity to intuit the structure of moral reality. It is tempting to say that a naturalistic moral psychology explains moral capacities in terms of psychological structures that are not distinctively moral. But so much turns on what counts as explanation here, and what it is for a psychological element to be distinctively moral, that it remains persistently unclear whether the formula should be taken to be blandly accommodating, or fiercely reductive, or something in between.

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The difficulty is systematic. If a ‘naturalistic’ moral psychology has to characterise moral activity in a vocabulary that can be applied equally to every other part of nature, then it is committed to a physicalistic reductionism that is clearly hopeless. If it is to describe moral activity in terms that can be applied to something else, but not everything else, we have not much idea what those terms may be, or how ‘special’ moral activity is allowed to be, consonantly with naturalism. If we are allowed to describe moral activity in whatever terms moral activity may seem to invite, naturalism excludes nothing, and we are back at the beginning. The trouble is that the very term ‘naturalism’ invokes a top-down approach, under which we are supposed already to know what terms are needed to describe any ‘natural’ phenomenon, and we are invited to apply those terms to moral activity. But we do not know what those terms may be, unless they are (uselessly) the terms of physics, and this leads to the difficulty. In this quandary, we can find in Nietzsche both a general attitude, and some particular suggestions, that can be a great help.2 I shall say something later about what I take some of his suggestions to be. The general attitude has two relevant aspects, which have to be taken together. First, to the question ‘how much should our accounts of distinctively moral activity add to our accounts of other human activity?’ it replies ‘as little as possible’, and the more that some moral understanding of human beings seems to call on materials that specially serve the purposes of morality – certain conceptions of the will, for instance – the more reason we have to ask whether there may not be a more illuminating account that rests only on conceptions that we use anyway elsewhere. This demand for moral psychological minimalism is not, however, just an application of an Occamist desire for economy, and this is the second aspect of the Nietzschean general attitude. Without some guiding sense of what materials we should use in giving our economical explanations, such an attitude will simply fall back into the difficulties we have already met. Nietzsche’s approach is to identify an excess of moral content in psychology by appealing first to what an experienced, honest, subtle, and unoptimistic interpreter might make of human behaviour elsewhere. Such an interpreter might be said to be – using an unashamedly evaluative expression – ‘realistic’, and we might say that what this approach leads us towards is a realistic, rather than a naturalistic, moral psychology. What is at issue is not the application of an already defined scientific programme, but rather an informed interpretation of some human experiences and activities in relation to others. Such an approach can indeed be said to involve, in Paul Ricoeur’s wellknown phrase, a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. As such, it cannot compel demonstratively, and does not attempt to do so. It invites one into a perspective, and to some extent a tradition (one marked by such figures as Thucydides, for instance, or Stendhal, or the British psychologists of morals whom

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Nietzsche described as ‘old frogs’), in which what seems to demand more moral material makes sense in terms of what demands less. The enterprise can work, however, only to the extent that the suspicion it summons up is not a suspicion of everything. Writers on Nietzsche typically pay most attention to his claims, or what appear to be his claims, that every belief about the relations of human beings to reality is open to suspicion, that everything is, for instance, an interpretation. Whatever may need to be said at that level, it is equally important that when he says that there are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretations,3 a special point is being made about morality. This does not mean that we should simply forget, even in these connections, the larger claims. We need to get a deeper understanding of where these points of particular suspicion are to be found, and it may be helpful to work through larger claims on a path to getting a grasp on more limited claims. This is particularly so if we bear in mind that ‘claim’, for Nietzsche, is in fact rarely the right word. It is not only too weak for some things he says and too strong for others; we can usefully remember, too, (or perhaps pretend) that even when he sounds insistently or shrilly expository, he is not necessarily telling us something, but urging us to ask something. In the rest of this chapter, I shall try to assemble some of Nietzsche’s suggestions about a supposed psychological phenomenon, that of willing. I shall leave aside many interesting things that Nietzsche says about this concept, in particular about its history. My aim is to illustrate, through a schematic treatment of this central example, the way in which a method of suspicion – the search, one might almost say, for a culprit – can help us to achieve a reduced and more realistic moral psychology.

iii. Illusions of the Self Speaking seriously, there are good reasons why all philosophical dogmatizing, however solemn and definitive its airs used to be, may nevertheless have been no more than a noble childishness and tyronism. And perhaps the time is at hand when it will be comprehended again and again how little used to be sufficient to furnish the cornerstone for such sublime and unconditional philosophers’ edifices as the dogmatists have built so far; any old popular superstition from time immemorial (like the soul superstition, which, in the form of the subject and ego superstition, has not even yet ceased to do mischief): some play on words perhaps, a seduction by grammar, or an audacious generalization of very narrow, very personal, very human, all too human facts.4 The general point that Nietzsche makes here (one shared with Wittgenstein, and indeed J. L. Austin, about the extraordinary lightness of philosophical

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theories) is directed to a particular idea, that the ego or self is some kind of fiction. Later in the same book he follows Lichtenberg in criticising the cogito as the product of grammatical habit. Elsewhere, he makes a similar point more specifically about action. He quotes a sceptic: ‘I do not in the least know what I am doing. I do not in the least know what I ought to do.’ You are right, but be sure of this: you are being done [du wirst getan], in every moment. Mankind at all times has mistaken the passive for the active: it is their constant grammatical mistake.5 Many ideas might be drawn from this complex, some of them uninviting; for instance, that we never really do anything, that no events are actions. More interestingly, Nietzsche can be read as saying that action is a serviceable category of interpretation, but a local or dispensible one; this seems to me hardly less implausible, but some have accepted it.6 If people perform actions, then they perform them because they think or perceive certain things, and this is enough to dispose, further, of a crude epiphenomenalism that might be found in some of Nietzsche’s sayings – perhaps in his suggestion that all action is like willing the sun to rise when the sun is just about to rise. Nietzsche’s doubts about action are more usefully understood, I suggest, as doubts not about the very idea of anyone’s doing anything, but rather about a morally significant interpretation of action, in terms of the will. The belief in the will involves, for him, two ideas in particular: that the will seems something simple when it is not; and that what seems simple also seems to be a peculiar, imperative, kind of cause. Philosophers are accustomed to speak of the will as if it were the bestknown thing in the world  . . .  But  . . .  [w]illing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unit only as a word – and it is precisely in this one word that the popular prejudice lurks, which has defeated the always inadequate caution of philosophers.7 He goes on to explain that what is called ‘willing’ is a complex of sensations, thinking, and an affect of command. He points to the consequences of our being both the commanding and the obeying party, and of our ‘disregarding this duality’. Since in the great majority of cases there has been an exercise of will only when the effect of the command – that is, obedience; that is, the action – was to be expected, the appearance has translated itself into the feeling, as if there were a necessity of effect. In short, he who wills believes with a fair amount of certainty that will and action are somehow

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one; he ascribes the success, the carrying out of the willing, to the will itself, and thereby enjoys an increase of the sensation of power that accompanies all success. What exactly is the illusion that Nietzsche claims to expose here? It is not the idea that a certain experience is a sufficient cause of an action. He does indeed think that the experiences involved in ‘willing’ do not reveal, and may conceal, the shifting complex of psychological and physiological forces that lies behind any action, the constant, unknown, craving movements that make us, as he puts it, a kind of polyp.8 But it is not that the experience sets itself up as the cause. Rather, the experience seems to reveal a different kind of cause, and suggests that the cause does not lie in any event or state of affairs – whether an experience of mine or otherwise – but in something that I refer to as ‘I’. Such a cause seems to be related to the outcome only in the mode of prescription, through an imperative; and since this stands in no relation to any causal set of events, it can seem to bring about its outcome ex nihilo. Of course, any sensible theory of action, which allows that there is indeed action, and that thoughts are not merely epiphenomenal in relation to it, will have to allow that my consciousness of acting is not the same as a consciousness that a state of mine causes a certain outcome. This follows merely from the point that the first-personal consciousness that one has when involved in action cannot at the same time be a third-personal consciousness of that very involvement. But the first-personal consciousness that an agent necessarily has does not in itself have to lead to the kind of picture that Nietzsche attacks; action does not necessarily involve this understanding of itself.9 The picture is a special one, particularly associated with a notion such as ‘willing’, and when it is present, it is not merely a philosophical theory of action, but can accompany many of our thoughts and moral reactions. So where does it come from, and what does it do? Part of Nietzsche’s own explanation is to be found in the course of one of his most famous passages: For just as the popular mind separates the lightning from its flash, and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called lightning, so popular morality also separates strength from expressions of strength, as if there were a neutral substratum behind the strong man, which was free to express strength or not to do so. But there is no such substratum; there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; ‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything. The popular mind in fact doubles the deed; when it sees the lightning flash, it is the deed of a deed: it posits the same event first as cause and then a second time as its effect.10

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There are two helpful ideas in this account. One is that the picture under attack involves a kind of double counting. The self or I that is the cause is ingenuously introduced as the cause of an action. If my agent-self produces only a set of events, it may seem that I shall not have enough for my involvement in the action: I shall be at best the ‘pilot in a ship’ to which Descartes referred. The doubling of action also follows from the idea that the mode of causation is that of command. Obedience to a command consists of an action; but commanding is itself an action. The self can act (at one time rather than another, now rather than earlier) only by doing something – the thing it does, willing; but, for more than one reason, what it brings about in this way seems itself to be an action. In making action into something that introduces an agent-cause, the account has a powerful tendency to produce two actions. The second helpful thought to be recovered from Nietzsche is that such a peculiar account must have a purpose, and that the purpose is a moral one.

iv. The Target of Blame The purpose of the account can be read from the way in which it associates two ideas, which contribute to its incoherence and together compound it. One idea is that there is a metaphysically special unit, a real action, unlike anything else that can be individuated among the world’s processes. The other is that this stands in an unmediated relationship – something like being an effect ex nihilo – to something of quite a different kind, again unique – a person, or self, or agent. There is an idea that needs items standing in just such a relation: it is a certain purified conception of blame. Blame needs an occasion – an action – and a target – the person who did the action and who goes on from the action to meet the blame. That is its nature; as one might say, its conceptual form. In the real world, it does not need these things in the pure and isolated form implied by the account of the will. The Homeric Greeks blamed people for doing things, and whatever exactly went into their doing so, it was not all this. Rather, this version of the occasion and the target will be demanded by a very purified conception of blame, a conception seemingly demanded by moral justice. It is important that the mere idea of just compensation does not make this demand, nor every idea of responsibility. If A has been damaged by B’s careless action, B may be held responsible for the loss and reasonably required to compensate A, though the loss to A formed no part of what B willed. A very exact concentration on B’s will, and the purely focussed conception of blame that goes with it, are demanded not merely by responsibility or demands in justice for compensation, but by something more specific. It is not hard to find an explanation of the more specific demand. It lies in the seeming requirement of justice that the agent should be blamed for

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no more and no less than what was in his power. What the agent brought about (and for which, in the usual order of things, he may be asked to provide compensation) may very well be a matter of luck, but what he may be strictly (as these conceptions say, ‘morally’) blamed for cannot be a matter of luck, and must depend in a strict and isolable sense on his will. It is appropriately said that what depends on his will is what is strictly in his power: it is with regard to what he wills that the agent himself has the sense of power in action to which Nietzsche refers. As agents, and also as blamers under justice, we have an interest in this picture. The needs, demands, and invitations of the morality system are enough to explain the peculiar psychology of the will. But there is more that needs to be said about the basis of that system itself. Nietzsche himself famously suggested that a specific source for it was to be found in the sentiment of ressentiment – a sentiment that itself had a historical origin, though hardly one that he locates very precisely. I shall not pick up the historical aspect, but I think it is worth suggesting a brief speculation about the phenomenology of focussed blame, which is a close enough relation to Nietzsche’s ‘genealogy’, perhaps, to be a version of it.11 If there is a victim with a complaint for a loss, there is an agent who is to blame, and an act of that agent that brought about the loss. The anger of the victim travels from the loss to the act to the agent; and compensation or recompense given by the agent will acknowledge both the loss and the fact that he was the cause of the loss. Suppose the agent brings about a harm to the victim, and does so intentionally and voluntarily; where ‘intentionally and voluntarily’ is not supposed to invoke the special mechanisms of the will, but merely means that the agent knew what he was doing, wanted to do it, and was in a normal state of mind when he did it. Suppose that the agent is not disposed to give compensation or reparation, and that the victim has no power to extract any such thing from him. In refusing reparation, the agent refuses to acknowledge the victim or his loss; it is a peculiarly vivid demonstration of the victim’s powerlessness. These circumstances can give rise, in the victim or in someone else on behalf of the victim, to a very special fantasy of retrospective prevention. As victim, I have a fantasy of inserting into the agent an acknowledgement of me, to take the place of exactly the act that harmed me. I want to think that he might have acknowledged me, that he might have been prevented from harming me. But the idea cannot be that I might in some empirical way have prevented him: that idea presents only a regret that it was not actually so and, in these circumstances, a reminder of humiliation. The idea has to be, rather, that I, now, might change the agent from one who did not acknowledge me to one who did. This fantasied, magical change does not involve actually changing anything, and it therefore has nothing to do with what, if anything,

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might actually have changed things. It requires simply the idea of the agent at the moment of the action, of the action that harmed me, and of the refusal of that action, all isolated from the network of circumstances in which his action was actually embedded. It involves precisely the picture of the will that has already been uncovered. Much can grow from this basic feeling. It lays the foundation for the purest and simplest construction of punishment, and it is very significant how the language of retribution naturally deploys teleological notions of conversion, education, or improvement (‘teaching him a lesson’, ‘showing him’) while insisting at the same time that its gaze is entirely retrospective and that, inasmuch as it is purely retributive, it does not look to actual reform.12 But the construction is at least as much at work when it is not a question of any actual punishment, but only of the purely moral conceptions of guilt and blame, and it then involves a further abstraction; it introduces not only retribution’s idea of retrospective causation, but morality’s idea of an authoritative but sanctionless law, of a judgement that carries no power besides that judgement itself.

v. Conclusion This is, of course, only a sketch of a possible account, drawn (fairly directly) from Nietzschean materials. The most important feature of it, for the present purpose, is its structure. We start with a supposed psychological phenomenon, willing, associated with the conception of the self in action. The phenomenon seems recognisable in experience, and it seems also to have a certain authority. Its description already presents difficulties and obscurities, but proposals merely to explain it away or to ignore it seem typically to have ignored something important, even to leave out the essence of action. Reminded both that different pictures of action have been held in other cultures and that the notion of action itself is less than transparent, we can be helped to see that the integrity of action, the agent’s genuine presence in it, can be preserved without this picture of the will – indeed, can only be preserved without it. The process by which we can come to see this may be complex and painful enough for us to feel, not just that we have learned a truth, but that we have been relieved of a burden. Since the picture is neither coherent nor universal, yet has this authority, we need to ask where it comes from and what it does. It is not itself manifestly tied to morality, offering rather a picture of voluntary action in general, but there is a moral phenomenon, a certain conception of blame, which it directly fits. This conception, again, is not universal, but is rather part of a special complex of ethical ideas that has other, and related, peculiar features. The fit between the special psychological conception and the demands of morality enables us to see that this piece of psychology is itself a moral conception,

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and one that shares notably doubtful features of that particular morality itself. In addition to this, we may be able to supply some further psychological conceptions that help us to understand the motivations of this particular form of the ethical. Those conceptions, as presented by Nietzsche under the name of ressentiment, certainly lead out of the ethical altogether, into the categories of anger and power, and it cannot be a matter simply for philosophy to decide how much those categories will explain. Other explanations may be needed, and it may be that they will prove to be more basically linked to notions of fairness, for instance. But in laying such explanations against one another, and in diagnosing the psychology of willing as a demand of the morality system itself, we shall be following a distinctively Nietzschean route towards the naturalisation of moral psychology.

Notes   1. I discuss this point at greater length in ‘Making Sense of Humanity’, in Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers 1982–1993 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), chapter 7.   2. It will be obvious that Nietzsche’s interest is located by the present discussion mostly in terms of his more ‘sceptical’ works, rather than in (for instance) his ideas of self-overcoming. This is not to deny that they, too, can have their uses. In any case, there is no hope of getting anything from his redemptive aspirations without setting them against his accounts of familiar morality.   3. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 108.   4. Ibid., Preface. The reference to Lichtenberg, below, is at section 17.   5. Nietzsche, Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 120. The passage about the sunrise, mentioned below, is also from Daybreak, p. 124.   6. For example Frithjof Bergmann, ‘Nietzsche’s Critique of Morality’, in Reading Nietzsche, eds. Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen Marie Higgins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 29–45. Bergmann includes ‘individual agency’ (along with such items as selfhood, freedom, and guilt) in a list of concepts allegedly special to our morality; he takes himself (wrongly, I think) to be following Clifford Geertz in the claim that it was not known in traditional Bali. Similar errors have been made about the outlook of Homeric Greece: see below, note 9. The idea that action, in our ordinary understanding of it, is a dispensible and indeed mistaken conception is shared by a very different kind of philosophy, eliminative materialism; in that case for scientistic reasons.   7. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 19. The whole section is relevant.   8. Nietzsche, Daybreak, p. 119.   9. This is clearly illustrated by the treatment accorded by some scholars to the Homeric conception of action; not finding in Homer this picture of action, they have thought that the archaic Greeks either had no idea of action, or had an imperfect one, lacking the concept of the will. I discuss this and related misconceptions in Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), see in particular chapter 2. 10. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingday (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), First Essay, section 13. 11. A Nietzschean genealogy typically combines, in a way that analytical philosophy finds embarrassing, history, phenomenology, ‘realistic’ psychology, and conceptual interpretation. The historical stories, moreover, strikingly vary from one context to another. Some of Nietzsche’s procedures are to be seen specifically in the light of Hegel’s Phenomenology, and

Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology  •  325 of his recurrent amazement that there could have been such a thing as Christianity. Some are certainly less helpful than others. But the mere idea that we need such elements to work together is surely right. We need to understand what parts of our conceptual scheme are, in what degree, culturally local. We understand this best when we understand an actual human scheme that differs from ours in certain respects. One, very important, way of locating such a scheme is finding it in history, in particular in the history of our own scheme. In order to understand that other scheme, and to understand why there should be this difference between those people and ourselves, we need to understand it as a human scheme; this is to understand the differences in terms of similarities, which calls on psychological interpretation. Very roughly speaking indeed, a Nietzschean genealogy can be seen now as starting from Davidson plus history. 12. A particularly illuminating example is Robert Nozick’s discussion of retributive punishment in Philosophical Explanations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 363ff. His heroic attempt to express what pure retribution tries to achieve (as opposed to what, in actual fact, it does) reveals, it seems to me, that there is no logical space for it to succeed.



Naturalism, Minimalism, and the Scope of Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology PAUL KATSAFANAS

Bernard Williams’ article, replete with provocative and insightful claims, has been extremely influential in Nietzsche scholarship. In the two decades since its publication, much of the most interesting and philosophically sophisticated work on Nietzsche has focused on exactly the topics that Williams addresses: Nietzsche’s moral psychology, his account of action, his naturalistic commit­ ments, and the way in which these topics interact with his critique of tradi­ tional morality. While Williams’ pronouncements on these topics are brief and at times oracular, and although many important details are not addressed, he manages to identify some of the richest veins in Nietzsche’s texts. In this response, I focus on the four central claims in Williams’ article. Sec­ tions i and ii address the claim that Nietzsche is a naturalist and an advocate of “minimalist moral psychology,” respectively. Sections iii and iv examine Williams’ interpretations of Nietzsche on the will and agency. Finally, Section v critiques Williams’ claim that Nietzsche cannot be a source of philosophical theories.

i. Naturalism Although the secondary literature from the 1950s through the early 1990s tended to ignore or downplay Nietzsche’s naturalistic commitments, more 326

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recently the idea that Nietzsche is a naturalist has become very influential. Williams’ article is one of the earliest pieces to give this claim center stage. He writes that Nietzsche is of help in developing a “‘naturalistic’ moral psy­ chology, where this means something to the effect that our view of moral capacities should be consistent with, even perhaps in the spirit of, our under­ standing of human beings as part of nature.”1 However, Williams notes that it is extraordinarily difficult to see what, exactly, naturalism involves: “for­ mulations of the position tend to rule out too much or too little.”2 They rule out too little if they do not give us any substantive constraints. They rule out too much if they try “reductively to ignore culture and convention.”3 After all, Nietzsche’s explanations and theories make pervasive appeals to values, customs, religious beliefs, and cultural practices; accordingly, his demand for naturalism cannot be interpreted as, for example, the demand that all philosophical theories be couched in the terms of physics. Nietzsche seeks some middle ground, though there are difficulties articulating just what this would be. Can we say anything more definitive about Nietzsche’s naturalism? While Williams demurs, others have taken up the task. Brian Leiter offers a sys­ tematic defense of the idea that Nietzsche is a “Speculative Methodological Naturalist”: Nietzsche constructs theories that are “modeled” on the sci­ ences, in the sense that he offers “speculative theories of human nature [that] are informed by the sciences and a scientific picture of how things work.”4 Nietzsche’s naturalism is speculative in that he does not blithely accept the results of current science, but questions certain aspects of it; his naturalism is methodological in that it recommends not so much a substantive body of scientific doctrines, but a way of doing philosophy. Although Leiter has done more than anyone else to clarify Nietzsche’s naturalism, and although the push toward naturalistic interpretations has cor­ rected the lamentable tendency of earlier commentators to ignore Nietzsche’s incorporation of empirical claims into his philosophical accounts, Leiter’s for­ mulations remain quite capacious. For example, Leiter takes it as a criterion of adequacy that accounts of naturalism rule out Hegel as a naturalist, and it’s certainly right that Hegel and Nietzsche pursue different philosophical pro­ jects in different manners.5 But why wouldn’t Hegel count as a Speculative Methodological Naturalist—that is as someone whose reflections on human nature are informed by the sciences? He does, after all, discuss and draw on sciences as diverse as physics, physiognomy, and phrenology; while he does not stop with them, their truths are supposedly incorporated in his ultimate theory. To be clear, it doesn’t matter, for present purposes, whether it’s plau­ sible to regard Hegel as a naturalist; what matters is that if our account of naturalism is compatible with the projects of philosophers as diverse as Hegel

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and Nietzsche, then it rules out very little indeed. There is a question, then, about whether we can articulate a form of naturalism sufficiently restrictive to do real philosophical work and sufficiently capacious to capture Nietzsche’s commitments. A further question—and one often left aside in discussions of naturalism— is how much philosophical and interpretive work can be done by outlining the precise form that Nietzsche’s naturalism takes. An ambitious interpretive proposal would maintain that we should begin by determining what form of naturalism Nietzsche accepts, and then apply this account of naturalism in order to understand Nietzsche’s accounts of willing, freedom, morality, and so forth. But we could also take the opposite approach: we could start by ana­ lyzing Nietzsche’s accounts of willing, freedom, and morality, and learn, from them, what form of naturalism he accepts. This strategy seems to me more promising. But notice that if this latter strategy is pursued, then the project of outlining a precise account of Nietzsche’s naturalism becomes idle; all the work is done by the more particular interpretations of willing, freedom, and so on. I’ll return to this point below.

ii. Minimalism and Reductionism Williams repeatedly speaks of Nietzsche’s “demand for moral psychological minimalism.”6 But, like his claims about naturalism, Williams’ pronounce­ ments on minimalism are not analyzed in much depth, making it hard to see what he has in mind. It’s tempting to interpret minimalism as reductionism, particularly when we associate minimalism with naturalism. After all, there is a famous philoso­ phical naturalist who pursues a reductionist program: David Hume. Hume— or at least contemporary Humeans—attempt to account for human nature and human action in terms of two basic kinds of psychological states: beliefs and desires. Commentators sometimes assume that Nietzsche is engaged in a similar project. For example, Leiter writes that “Nietzsche’s naturalism bears a striking structural similarity to Hume’s,” 7 and he adopts the term “the Humean Nietzsche” to describe “the Nietzsche who wants to explain morality naturalistically.”8 However, there is a problem with interpreting Nietzsche as a Humean. Lanier Anderson perceptively writes that: a full-dress “Humean” interpretation of what “minimalism” requires can­ not possibly be true to Nietzsche’s intentions . . . [Nietzsche’s moral psy­ chology] is populated by an impressive array of attitude-types—drives, affects, instincts, desires, wills, feelings, moods, valuations, sensations, concepts, beliefs, convictions, fictions, imaginings, cognitions, and so

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on—and Nietzsche liberally appeals to the full range, without evincing any noticeable concern about reducing apparently more complex atti­ tudes (e.g., valuing) to simpler ones (e.g., desiring).9 If Nietzsche were a reductionist, we would expect to find him trying to reduce the plurality of distinctive psychological states to some smaller set. But even a cursory reading of the texts shows that this is not the case. As Anderson notes, Nietzsche deploys a vast array of psychological terms, and there is no indica­ tion that he thinks we should rid ourselves of some of these terms in favor of others. Moreover, Nietzsche does not attempt to reduce evaluative terms to non-evaluative ones; and his conception of the natural includes culture, value, custom, and convention.10 What, then, could Williams mean by the claim that Nietzsche is a minimal­ ist about moral psychology? Here is his most extensive discussion of the term: to the question “how much should our accounts of distinctively moral activity add to our accounts of other human activity” [the minimalist] replies “as little as possible”, and the more that some moral understand­ ing of human beings seems to call on materials that specially serve the purposes of morality—certain conceptions of the will, for instance— the more reason we have to ask whether there may not be a more illu­ minating account that rests only on conceptions that we use anyway elsewhere . . . Nietzsche’s approach is to identify an excess of moral con­ tent in psychology by appealing first to what an experienced, honest, subtle and unoptimistic interpreter might make of human behaviour elsewhere.11 In claiming that Nietzsche is a minimalist about moral psychology, Williams simply means that Nietzsche avoids appeal to faculties, processes, or psycho­ logical states that are involved only in moral cases. For example, some phi­ losophers have appealed to a special faculty of intuition that gives us direct access to moral truths (for example, Reid, Moore, and Ross); others think that morality involves a distinctive type of willing, or a form of self-consciousness not required in other cases of action (Kant, for example). On Williams’ read­ ing, then, Nietzsche wants us to ask whether accounting for human behavior really requires positing these special faculties and states. While no doubt true, this claim is not especially informative. After all, who disputes the claim that philosophical accounts of human nature should draw on relevant empirical information? And who denies that if we can account for moral behavior without appeal to special faculties, then we should do so? Phi­ losophers who have abstained from empirical inquiry or countenanced spe­ cial moral faculties typically do so because they believe that their arguments

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necessitate it. We appeal to a special faculty of intuition because it seems required in order to account for our knowledge of moral truths; we appeal to a special capacity for willing because our experience of freedom seems to necessitate its existence. In the face of these arguments, merely asserting that philosophers should avoid appeal to faculties involved only in distinctively moral cases seems to beg the question. What’s needed, instead, is a detailed critique of the arguments on the basis of which philosophers have been led to posit distinctively moral states, fac­ ulties, and processes. For example, in Human, All-too-Human, Nietzsche engages in the by now familiar attempt to account for purportedly unegoistic behavior in egoistic terms; if successful, such a project would show that there is no need to posit unegoistic motivation. This is the kind of project that can lead to minimalism; but minimalism is the end result, rather than a premise in an argument.

iii. The Nature of Willing The problem that we’ve encountered, above, is that Williams’ calls for natu­ ralism and minimalism are vague and diffuse. These slogans seem compatible with any number of philosophical theories, including the ones that Nietzsche rejects. In light of this, I suggest that both naturalism and minimalism are best viewed as regulative ideals or conclusions of arguments, rather than as substantive commitments or premises in arguments. They provide us with some loose guidelines for interpreting Nietzsche’s texts, but do not by them­ selves resolve disputes about the nature of willing, morality, and other topics of central concern. Let’s turn, then, to the topic that Williams does treat with somewhat more depth and precision: Nietzsche’s account of the will. I’ll begin by stating Williams’ interpretation; I’ll then discuss the ways in which these points have been taken up in the literature. According to Williams, Nietzsche argues that traditional pictures of the will make two mistakes. First, “the will seems to be something simple when it is not.”12 In other words, although we interpret willing as a single state or pro­ cess, willing is in fact “a complex of sensations, thinking, and affect of com­ mand.”13 Second, the will “seems to be a peculiar, imperative, kind of cause.”14 In particular: the experience seems to reveal . . . that the cause does not lie in any event or state of affairs . . . but in something that I refer to as “I”. Such a cause . . . stands in no relation to any causal set of events [and] can seem to bring about its outcome ex nihilo.15

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This is clearest in libertarian theories of freedom, which maintain that human beings have a causally undetermined capacity for choice. For example, Kant writes that the will “can indeed be affected but not determined by impulses  . . .  Freedom of choice is this independence from being determined by sensible impulses.”16 This is the kind of account that Nietzsche is rejecting.17 While it’s obvious that Nietzsche rejects libertarian accounts, it’s much harder to see what he puts in its place. Several central questions arise: Does Nietzsche have a positive account of willing, or does he abandon the very con­ cept? Given that willing is traditionally pictured as the capacity to actuate one­ self via self-conscious thought, does Nietzsche mean to deny the possibility of conscious thought’s having a causal impact on action, or are his goals more modest? And, more generally, what is Nietzsche’s theory of action? In the past two decades, there has been an explosion of work on these questions. I’ll out­ line the interpretive options and then offer my own proposed resolution. Nietzsche is skeptical about the extent and efficacy of conscious mental processes; he notes that most of our activities occur without consciousness. Consciousness, he claims, is “basically superfluous,” for “all of life would be possible without, as it were, seeing itself in the mirror; and still today, the predominant part of our lives actually unfolds without this mirroring.”18 For this reason, “states of consciousness . . . are (as every psychologist knows) trivial matters of fifth rate importance.”19 These remarks have led some com­ mentators to interpret Nietzsche as claiming that all conscious thought is epi­ phenomenal. For example, Brian Leiter argues that for Nietzsche, “conscious states are only causally efficacious in virtue of type-facts about the person,” where “type-facts” are “either physiological facts about the person, or facts about the person’s unconscious drives and affects.”20 Put simply, whenever an action seems to be caused by a conscious state, it was actually caused by some non-conscious state (such as a drive or a physiological state). Elsewhere, I’ve argued that this is a mistake: there are a number of pas­ sages in which Nietzsche explicitly attributes a causal role to conscious thought.21 In response, Leiter conceded that Nietzsche does not argue for “the epiphenomenality of consciousness per se,” but does argue for “the epiphenomenal character of those experiences related to willing.”22 In par­ ticular, “the conscious mental states that precede the action and whose propositional contents would make them appear to be causally connected to the action are, in fact, epiphenomenal.”23 Mattias Risse argues for a simi­ lar reading of Nietzsche, claiming that “according to Nietzsche’s attack on the Kantian notion of will, we are deceived” about our own “decision mak­ ing process”; in particular, “outcomes that we perceive as obtained from a standpoint of deliberative detachment really emerge from a struggle of desires.”24

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So, while commentators have mostly backed off from the dubious claim that Nietzsche views all conscious thought as epiphenomenal, some still endorse the idea that conscious willing is epiphenomenal. I doubt that even this more modest claim can be sustained. While some of Nietzsche’s early works do argue for the irrelevance and causal inertness of conscious willing, by 1883 Nietzsche develops a more substantive conception of willing. For example, in the Genealogy Nietzsche discusses the “sovereign individual,” whose defining characteristic is that he possesses “his own protracted, independent will.” The sovereign individual is able to commit himself to a course of action and carry through with his commitment. He is “strong enough to maintain [his com­ mitments] even in the face of accidents, even ‘in the face of fate’.” By contrast, a non-sovereign individual is “short-willed and unreliable,” incapable of hold­ ing himself to a course of action in the face of contrary pressures.25 Similar characterizations occur in Twilight, where Nietzsche identifies will­ ing with the power “not to react at once to a stimulus, but to gain control of all the inhibiting, excluding instincts  . . .  the essential feature is precisely not to ‘will’, to be able to suspend decision. All unspirituality, all vulgar com­ monness, depend on an inability to resist a stimulus: one must react, one fol­ lows every impulse.”26 He goes on to define weakness as the “inability not to respond to a stimulus.”27 The weak individual’s actions are determined by whatever impulse or stimulus happens to arise; he possesses no capacity to direct his own behavior. By contrast, the strong individual is able to check his impulses and resist environmental stimuli. In these passages, Nietzsche maintains that some individuals have the capacity to control their behavior consciously. So, in his later works, Nietzsche ceases to engage in flatfooted denials of the efficacy of conscious willing, and instead offers a subtle critique of particular aspects of our assumptions about willing. In particular, I’ve argued that he is best understood as critiquing a model of agency indebted to Kant. Suppose we see Kant as making three claims about reflective agency. First, reflection suspends the effects of motives: I can step back, pause, and consider my motives without being driven to act by them. Second, motives do not determine choice: motives incline me to act in certain ways, but I can override these inclinations with an act of will. Third, choice determines action: in typical circumstances, I have the capacity to act as I choose to act. Elsewhere, I have argued that Nietzsche endorses a complex account of motivation, which entails that reflection is not capable of suspending the influence of motives.28 When we appear to step back from our motives, these motives often drive the course of reflective thought, coloring our perceptions and deliberations. Thus, Nietzsche rejects the first aspect of Kant’s account. Nonetheless, Nietzsche does suggest that in certain circumstances conscious deliberations can shift the balance of motives: our conscious thoughts and

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deliberations not only provide new motives, but can gradually transform exist­ ing motives.29 Thus, he accepts a version of the second claim. He also accepts a version of the third claim: while he rejects the idea of a will that issues in punctual moments of choice, he does treat conscious thoughts and episodes of willing as one component in the vector of forces determining action. If this is right, Nietzsche does not simply reject all accounts of willing; rather, he aspires to develop a psychologically richer account, which does justice to the diversity and complexity of human motivation, including the host of interac­ tions between conscious and unconscious states.

iv. Actions and Mere Events We have discussed the connection between action, willing, and conscious thought. But what can we say about Nietzsche’s theory of action itself? What, on his account, is an action? Action theory begins with an attempt to separate actions, or things that I do, from mere events, or things that I undergo. My walking to the store seems to differ from my growing hair or my aging, although these are all events that involve me. The most common way of marking this distinction between actions and events is by appealing to a special cause of action that is not pres­ ent in mere events. For example, perhaps actions are events that are caused by intentions or belief/desire pairs. Or, to use an older model, perhaps an act of conscious willing causes action, but not mere events. Although we might initially think that Nietzsche rejects the very distinc­ tion between actions and mere events, Williams rightly notes that this is implausible: many of Nietzsche’s arguments rely on just this distinction.30 It is plain, though, that Nietzsche would reject traditional ways of drawing the dis­ tinction. For example, he is skeptical about conscious willing’s connection to action, so he certainly can’t accept the model that identifies action with events brought about by episodes of conscious willing. It is possible that Nietzsche embraces an alternative causal account. For example, we could distinguish action from mere event by claiming that any­ thing caused by a drive counts as an action, regardless of whether the agent is cognizant of it; certainly, there are passages that suggest such a view. Another possibility is that Nietzsche endorses a non-causal account. Robert Pippin and Aaron Ridley argue for this later possibility, claiming that Nietzsche adopts an expressive theory of action. Let me explain. Williams prefaces his discussion of Nietzsche on willing by quoting a famous passage: For just as the popular mind separates the lightning from its flash, and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called

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lightning, so popular morality also separates strength from expressions of strength, as if there were a neutral substratum behind the strong man, which was free to express strength or not to do so. But there is no such substratum; there is no “being” behind doing, effecting, becoming; “the doer” is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything.31 While most of the debate on Nietzsche’s theory of action centers on the ques­ tions described in Section iii, there is an alternative tradition that, taking these remarks about doers and deeds quite seriously, sees Nietzsche as engaged in a more radical project: developing an expressive theory of action. The expressive theory was originally attributed to Hegel by Charles Tay­ lor. In essence, the theory maintains that actions, but not mere events, are expressive of the agent’s self. As Pippin puts it, Nietzsche is “asking us to relo­ cate our attention when trying to understand an action . . . from attention to a prior event or mental state” to “‘what lies deeper in the deed itself’ and is expressed in it.”32 Pippin argues that the causal model “distorts what is nec­ essary for a full explanation of an action,” for it isolates the action’s cause (whether it be a conscious intention or a belief/desire pair or something more complex) from broader facets of the person’s situation, such as “the person’s character,” “life history,” “community,” and “tradition,” all of which, Pippin claims, are needed “before the adoption of a specific intention can itself make sense.” Moreover—so Pippin argues—the causal model is incapable of recog­ nizing that “intention formation and articulation are always temporally fluid, altering and transforming ‘on the go.’”33 The expressive model, on the other hand, is supposed to handle these cases with ease. If so, it would fit better with Nietzsche’s emphasis on the provisional nature of our own intentions, the incomplete and distorted knowledge that we have of our own action, and the necessity of examining broader social forces in order to understand particular actions (all of which are on display in the Genealogy, for example). Of course, to give the expressive theory content, we need to explain what expression is. Unfortunately, it is just here that we run into trouble. Although Pippin has offered the most extensive treatment of these issues, his formula­ tions are undeniably vague. For example, his claim that action is “a continu­ ous  . . .  everywhere mutable translation or expression of inner into outer,” so that “what I end up with, what I actually did, is all that can count fully as my intention realized or expressed,” seems to identify expression with “mutable translation” and then “realization,” without specifying what these notions are.34 So a serious difficulty with the expressive theory, as presently formulated, is that it asks us to replace a well understood, familiar notion of causality with a hazy, undefined concept of expression. While identify­ ing certain weaknesses in causal theories, the expressive theory offers only promissory notes about how it will resolve them. In light of this, it is not

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obvious why we should replace a relatively clear set of terms (desire, inten­ tion, drive, cause, etc.) with vague, arguably metaphorical terms like “expres­ sion.” What is gained thereby? Although Pippin rightly notes some reasons for skepticism about causal accounts of action, we can reject these accounts without committing ourselves to expressivism. I have argued that Nietzsche employs the notion of agential unity in order to distinguish actions and mere events. Briefly, his idea is that when the agent acts, she exhibits a form of unity that is absent in cases of mere behavior. Although commentators often take the relevant type of unity to be a unity among the agent’s drives, I have argued that Nietzsche is actually interested in a kind of unity between the agent’s conscious conception of the action and the forces that motivate the action. In particular, an agent exhibits Nietzschean unity if (1) he approves of his action, and (2) this approval is stable in the face of further information about the action’s etiology. For example, the priests of the Genealogy are disunified because, were they to recognize the way in which their own ressentiment is motivating their conflicts with the ancient nobility, they would disapprove of their actions. It is in cases of this sort—cases in which the agent experiences an inner disharmony or conflict— that it seems appropriate to judge that the agent is not acting in the fullest sense. These cases are pervasive, which is why Nietzsche writes that “Noth­ ing is rarer than a personal action. A class, a rank, a race, an environment, an accident—everything expresses itself sooner in a work or deed, than a ‘person’.”35 The advantage of this account of unity is not only its greater textual fidelity, but also its ability to sidestep both the murky notions of expression and the pervasive problems with causal accounts.

v. Systematicity Let’s conclude with a more general point. Williams opens his article by announcing that “Nietzsche is not a source of philosophical theories.”36 He claims that Nietzsche’s texts are “booby-trapped, not only against recovering theory from it, but, in many cases, against any systematic exegesis that assimi­ lates it to theory.”37 This claim has influenced some readers, with Pippin, for example, defending it at length.38 However, this strikes me as the weakest point of Williams’ article. Depend­ ing on how we interpret Williams’ claim, it is either trivial or false. If we take Williams to be claiming that Nietzsche’s texts do not present arguments in a premise–conclusion form, then his claim is true but obvious; Nietzsche adopts a more literary, impassioned style. There are good questions about why he does so, but surely the mere fact that a philosopher writes in an unsystematic fashion does not entail that the philosopher has no theories, no substantive accounts of the phenomena he discusses.

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If, on the other hand, Williams is claiming that Nietzsche does not offer substantive, positive accounts of willing, motivation, selfhood, and so forth, then he is simply wrong; as I have indicated in the prior sections, Nietzsche does offer constructive proposals. Work published in the past few decades demonstrates that we can, indeed, extract from Nietzsche’s texts substantive accounts of topics ranging from the psychology of ressentiment, to the structure of drives, the internal tensions of Judeo-Christian morality, the nature of will­ ing, the decadence of culture, the possibility of affirming life, and so on. Doing so merely requires a kind of interpretive care that, at the time Williams wrote his article, was often absent in Nietzsche scholarship.

vi. Conclusion Williams’ article served as a corrective to the dubious and philosophically unsophisticated interpretations of Nietzsche that were rampant in the 1980s and early 1990s. It helpfully nudged commentators toward issues of endur­ ing philosophical concern, and, in focusing on Nietzsche’s philosophical psy­ chology, turned attention toward one of the richest areas in Nietzsche’s texts. However, most of the claims in Williams’ piece are sketched rather than fully developed. Given their brevity, it is not surprising that these discussions have been superseded by the more careful work that has appeared in the two dec­ ades since the original publication of Williams’ piece. Nonetheless, there is much of enduring value here.

Notes   1. Bernard Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” European Journal of Philosophy 1:1 (1993), 5.   2. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 5.   3. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 6.   4. Brian Leiter, “Nietzsche’s Naturalism Reconsidered,” The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche (New York: Oxford, 2013), p. 577.   5. Brian Leiter, “Review of Nietzsche’s Naturalism Reconsidered,” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (January 21, 2014).   6. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 6.   7. Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 10.   8. Leiter, “Nietzsche’s Naturalism Reconsidered,” p. 582.   9. R. Lanier Anderson, “What is a Nietzschean Self?,” Nietzsche, Naturalism, and Normativity (New York: Oxford, 2013), pp. 209–210. 10. Elsewhere, I have argued that concepts such as drive (Trieb), affect, value, and perspective play ineliminable roles in Nietzsche’s moral psychology. See Paul Katsafanas, The Nietzschean Self: Moral Psychology, Agency, and the Unconscious (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 11. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 6. 12. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 8. 13. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 8. 14. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 8.

Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology  •  337 15. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 9. 16. Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, ed. and trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 6: 213–214. 17. The question whether Kant is best interpreted as a libertarian is beyond the scope of this paper. What matters, for our purposes, is that Nietzsche interprets him in that way. 18. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), p. 354. 19. Nietzsche, The Antichrist, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), p. 39. 20. Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality, p. 91. 21. See Paul Katsafanas, “Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind: Consciousness and Conceptualization,” European Journal of Philosophy 13:1 (2005): 1–31. 22. Brian Leiter, “Nietzsche’s Theory of the Will,” Philosophers Imprint 7 (2007): 1–15, at 5. 23. Leiter, “Nietzsche’s Theory of the Will,” pp. 10–11. 24. Mattias Risse, “Nietzschean ‘Animal Psychology’ Versus Kantian Ethics,” in Nietzsche and Morality, eds. Brian Leiter and Neil Sinhababu (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 66–67. 25. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 1968), II.2. 26. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1954), viii.6. 27. Nietzsche, Twilight, v.2. 28. Paul Katsafanas, “Nietzsche and Kant on the Will: Two Models of Reflective Agency,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (July 2014): 185–216. 29. See, for example, Daybreak, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 38. 30. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 8. 31. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, I.13. 32. Robert Pippin, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 80. 33. Pippin, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy, p. 78. 34. Pippin, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy, p. 78. 35. Sämtliche Werke, Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden, eds. G. Colli and M. Montinari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1967–1977), volume 12, notebook 10, note 59. 36. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 4. 37. Williams, “Nietzsche’s Minimalist Moral Psychology,” 4. 38. Pippin, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy, pp. xv–xvii.



Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

Introduction Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory represents a change in the nineteenthcentury understanding of human agency. Hardly any other thinker has delivered a more powerful blow to the idea of human existence as reason-driven and self-determined. Hence, while psychoanalysis, as it received its initial form around the turn of the century, evolved as a clinical method for treating psychopathologies, it also came to shape the direction of later European philosophy and art (surrealism, for example, is inconceivable without the background of Freud’s theory of the mind). From Jean-Paul Sartre and Herbert Marcuse to Theodor W. Adorno, Jürgen Habermas (whose reading of Marx is included in Part XI), and Julia Kristeva, philosophers have looked to Freud’s work for arguments and inspiration. The Freud part of this volume starts with Sartre’s famous critique, excerpted from Being and Nothingness (1943), of the idea of self-deceit. While no doubt indebted to Freud’s contribution, Sartre questions his limitation of human freedom and his view of the ego as framed by the id and the superego. For Sartre, the idea, as he puts it, of a kind of knowledge that is ignorant of itself represents an almost logical breach. In his response to Sartre, Sebastian Gardner discusses the relevance of these objections and places Sartre’s concerns within a philosophical framework that, ultimately, goes back to Kant and Hegel. He suggests that, at the end of the day, 339

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the issues Sartre identifies disclose a tension in Freud’s work between materialist assumptions and an emphasis on the capacity for self-determination. As Gardner argues, much of the previous work on Freud—and, indeed, much contemporary work, too—seeks to find a way out of this dilemma, or at least a way to articulate it in a meaningful manner.

Further Reading • Sebastian Gardner, Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993. • Jonathan Lear, Freud. London: Routledge, 2005. • Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes. London and New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.




The human being is not only the being by whom négatités are disclosed in the world; he is also the one who can take negative attitudes with respect to himself. We [have] defined consciousness as “a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” But now that we have examined the meaning of “the question,” we can at present also write the formula thus: “Consciousness is a being, the nature of which is to be conscious of the nothingness of its being.” In a prohibition or a veto, for example, the human being denies a future transcendence. But this negation is not explicative. My consciousness is not restricted to envisioning a négatité. It constitutes itself in its own flesh as the nihilation of a possibility that another human reality projects as its possibility. For that reason it must arise in the world as a Not; it is as a Not that the slave first apprehends the master, or that the prisoner who is trying to escape sees the guard who is watching him. There are even men (e.g., caretakers, overseers, gaolers) whose social reality is uniquely that of the Not, who will live and die, having forever been only a Not upon the earth. Others so as to make the Not a part of their very subjectivity, establish their human personality as a perpetual negation. This is the meaning and function of what Scheler calls “the man of resentment”—in reality, the Not. But there exist more subtle behaviors, the description of which will lead us further into the inwardness of consciousness. Irony is one of these. In irony 341

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a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed; he affirms to deny and denies to affirm; he creates a positive object, but it has no being other than its nothingness. Thus attitudes of negation toward the self permit us to raise a new question: What are we to say is the being of man who has the possibility of denying himself? But it is out of the question to discuss the attitude of “self-negation” in its universality. The kinds of behavior that can be ranked under this heading are too diverse; we risk retaining only the abstract form of them. It is best to choose and to examine one determined attitude that is essential to human reality and that is such that consciousness instead of directing its negation outward turns it toward itself. This attitude, it seems to me, is bad faith (mauvaise foi). Frequently this is identified with falsehood. We say indifferently of a person that he shows signs of bad faith or that he lies to himself. We shall willingly grant that bad faith is a lie to oneself, on condition that we distinguish the lie to oneself from lying in general. Lying is a negative attitude, we will agree to that. But this negation does not bear on consciousness itself; it aims only at the transcendent. The essence of the lie implies in fact that the liar actually is in complete possession of the truth that he is hiding. A man does not lie about what he is ignorant of; he does not lie when he spreads an error of which he himself is the dupe; he does not lie when he is mistaken. The ideal description of the liar would be a cynical consciousness, affirming truth within himself, denying it in his words, and denying that negation as such. Now this doubly negative attitude rests on the transcendent; the fact expressed is transcendent since it does not exist, and the original negation rests on a truth; that is, on a particular type of transcendence. As for the inner negation that I effect correlatively with the affirmation for myself of the truth, this rests on words; that is, on an event in the world. Furthermore the inner disposition of the liar is positive; it could be the object of an affirmative judgment. The liar intends to deceive and he does not seek to hide this intention from himself nor to disguise the translucency of consciousness; on the contrary, he has recourse to it when there is a question of deciding secondary behavior. It explicitly exercises a regulatory control over all attitudes. As for his flaunted intention of telling the truth (“I’d never want to deceive you! This is true! I swear it!”)—all this, of course, is the object of an inner negation, but also it is not recognized by the liar as his intention. It is played, imitated, it is the intention of the character that he plays in the eyes of his questioner, but this character, precisely because he does not exist, is a transcendent. Thus the lie does not put into the play the inner structure of present consciousness; all the negations that constitute it bear on objects that by this fact are removed from consciousness. The lie then does not require special ontological foundation, and the explanations that the existence of negation in general requires are valid without change in the case of deceit. Of course we have described the ideal lie; doubtless it happens often

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enough that the liar is more or less the victim of his lie, that he half persuades himself of it. But these common, popular forms of the lie are also degenerate aspects of it; they represent intermediaries between falsehood and bad faith. The lie is a behavior of transcendence. The lie is also a normal phenomenon of what Heidegger calls the “Mitsein [being with others].” It presupposes my existence, the existence of the Other, my existence for the Other, and the existence of the Other for me. Thus there is no difficulty in holding that the liar must make the project of the lie in entire clarity and that he must possess a complete comprehension of the lie and of the truth that he is altering. It is sufficient that an over-all opacity hide his intentions from the Other, it is sufficient that the Other can take the lie for truth. By the lie consciousness affirms that it exists by nature as hidden from the Other; it utilizes for its own profit the ontological duality of myself and myself in the eyes of the Other. The situation can not be the same for bad faith if this, as we have said, is indeed a lie to oneself. To be sure, the one who practices bad faith is hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a pleasing untruth. Bad faith then has in appearance the structure of falsehood. Only what changes everything is the fact that in bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth. Thus the duality of the deceiver and the deceived does not exist here. Bad faith on the contrary implies in essence the unity of a single consciousness. This does not mean that it can not be conditioned by the Mit-sein like all other phenomena of human reality, but the Mit-sein can call forth bad faith only by presenting itself as a situation that bad faith permits surpassing; bad faith does not come from outside to human reality. One does not undergo his bad faith; one is not infected with it; it is not a state. But consciousness affects itself with bad faith. There must be an original intention and a project of bad faith; this project implies a comprehension of bad faith as such and a pre-reflective apprehension (of) consciousness as affecting itself with bad faith. It follows first that the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth that is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully—and this not at two different moments, which at a pinch would allow us to reestablish a semblance of duality—but in the unitary structure of a single project. How then can the lie subsist if the duality that conditions it is suppressed? To this difficulty is added another that is derived from the total translucency of consciousness. That which affects itself with bad faith must be conscious (of) its bad faith since the being of consciousness is consciousness of being. It appears then that I must be in good faith, at least to the extent that I am conscious of my bad faith. But then this whole psychic system is annihilated. We must agree in fact that if I deliberately and cynically attempt to lie to

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myself, I fail completely in this undertaking; the lie falls back and collapses beneath my look; it is ruined from behind by the very consciousness of lying to myself that pitilessly constitutes itself well within my project as its very condition. We have here an evanescent phenomenon that exists only in and through its own differentiation. To be sure, these phenomena are frequent and we shall see that there is in fact an “evanescence” of bad faith, which, it is evident, vacillates continually between good faith and cynicism: Even though the existence of bad faith is very precarious, and though it belongs to the kind of psychic structures that we might call “metastable,” it presents nonetheless an autonomous and durable form. It can even be the normal aspect of life for a very great number of people. A person can live in bad faith, which does not mean that he does not have abrupt awakenings to cynicism or to good faith, but which implies a constant and particular style of life. Our embarrassment then appears extreme since we can neither reject nor comprehend bad faith. To escape from these difficulties people gladly have recourse to the unconscious. In the psychoanalytical interpretation, for example, they use the hypothesis of a censor, conceived as a line of demarcation with customs, passport division, currency control, and so on, to reestablish the duality of the deceiver and the deceived. Here instinct or, if you prefer, original drives and complexes of drives constituted by our individual history, make up reality. It is neither true nor false since it does not exist for itself. It simply is, exactly like this table, which is neither true nor false in itself, but simply real. As for the conscious symbols of the instinct, this interpretation takes them not for appearances, but for real psychic facts. Fear, forgetting, dreams exist really in the capacity of concrete facts of consciousness in the same way as the words and the attitudes of the liar are concrete, really existing patterns of behavior. The subject has the same relation to these phenomena as the deceived to the behavior of the deceiver. He establishes them in their reality and must interpret them. There is a truth in the activities of the deceiver; if the deceived could reattach them to the situation where the deceiver establishes himself and to his project of the lie, they would become integral parts of truth, by virtue of being lying conduct. Similarly there is a truth in the symbolic acts; it is what the psychoanalyst discovers when he reattaches them to the historical situation of the patient, to the unconscious complexes that they express, to the blocking of the censor. Thus the subject deceives himself about the meaning of his conduct, he apprehends it in its concrete existence, but not in its truth, simply because he cannot derive it from an original situation and from a psychic constitution that remain alien to him. By the distinction between the “id” and the “ego,” Freud has cut the psychic whole into two. I am the ego, but I am not the id. I hold no privileged position in relation to my unconscious psyche. I am my own psychic phenomena in so far as I establish them in their conscious reality. For example I am the

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impulse to steal this or that book from this bookstall. I am an integral part of the impulse; I bring it to light and I determine myself hand-in-hand with it to commit the theft. But I am not those psychic facts, in so far as I receive them passively and am obliged to resort to hypotheses about their origin and their true meaning, just as the scholar makes conjectures about the nature and essence of an external phenomenon. This theft, for example, which I interpret as an immediate impulse determined by the rarity, the interest, or the price of the volume that I am going to steal—it is in truth a process derived from self-punishment, which is attached more or less directly to an Oedipus complex. The impulse toward the theft contains a truth that can be reached only by more or less probable hypotheses. The criterion of this truth will be the number of conscious psychic facts that it explains; from a more pragmatic point of view it will be also the success of the psychiatric cure that it allows. Finally the discovery of this truth will necessitate the cooperation of the psychoanalyst, who appears as the mediator between my unconscious drives and my conscious life. The Other appears as being able to effect the synthesis between the unconscious thesis and the conscious antithesis. I can know myself only through the mediation of the other, which means that I stand in relation to my “id,” in the position of the Other. If I have a little knowledge of psychoanalysis, I can, under circumstances particularly favorable, try to psychoanalyze myself. But this attempt can succeed only if I distrust every kind of intuition, only if I apply to my case from the outside, abstract schemes and rules already learned. As for the results, whether they are obtained by my efforts alone or with the cooperation of a technician, they will never have the certainty that intuition confers; they will possess simply the always increasing probability of scientific hypotheses. The hypothesis of the Oedipus complex, like the atomic theory, is nothing but an “experimental idea”; as Peirce said, it is not to be distinguished from the totality of experiences that it allows to be realized and the results that it enables us to foresee. Thus psychoanalysis substitutes for the notion of bad faith, the idea of a lie without a liar; it allows me to understand how it is possible for me to be lied to without lying to myself since it places me in the same relation to myself that the Other is in respect to me; it replaces the duality of the deceiver and the deceived, the essential condition of the lie, by that of the “id” and the “ego.” It introduces into my subjectivity the deepest intersubjective structure of the Mit-sein. Can this explanation satisfy us? Considered more closely the psychoanalytic theory is not as simple as it first appears. It is not accurate to hold that the “id” is presented as a thing in relation to the hypothesis of the psychoanalyst, for a thing is indifferent to the conjectures that we make concerning it, while the “id” on the contrary is sensitive to them when we approach the truth. Freud in fact reports resistance when at the end of the first period the doctor is approaching the truth. This

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resistance is objective behavior apprehended from without: the patient shows defiance, refuses to speak, gives fantastic accounts of his dreams, sometimes even removes himself completely from the psychoanalytic treatment. It is a fair question to ask what part of himself can thus resist. It can not be the “Ego,” envisaged as a psychic totality of the facts of consciousness; this could not suspect that the psychiatrist is approaching the end since the ego’s relation to the meaning of its own reactions is exactly like that of the psychiatrist himself. At the very most it is possible for the ego to appreciate objectively the degree of probability in the hypotheses set forth, as a witness of the psychoanalysis might be able to do, according to the number of subjective facts that they explain. Furthermore, this probability would appear to the ego to border on certainty, which he could not take offence at since most of the time it is he who by a conscious decision is in pursuit of the psychoanalytic therapy. Are we to say that the patient is disturbed by the daily revelations that the psychoanalyst makes to him and that he seeks to remove himself, at the same time pretending in his own eyes to wish to continue the treatment? In this case it is no longer possible to resort to the unconscious to explain bad faith; it is there in full consciousness, with all its contradictions. But this is not the way that the psychoanalyst means to explain this resistance; for him it is secret and deep, it comes from afar; it has its roots in the very thing that the psychoanalyst is trying to make clear. Furthermore it is equally impossible to explain the resistance as emanating from the complex that the psychoanalyst wishes to bring to light. The complex as such is rather the collaborator of the psychoanalyst since it aims at expressing itself in clear consciousness, since it plays tricks on the censor and seeks to elude it. The only level on which we can locate the refusal of the subject is that of the censor. It alone can comprehend the questions or the revelations of the psychoanalyst as approaching more or less near to the real drives that it strives to repress—it alone because it alone knows what it is repressing. If we reject the language and the materialistic mythology of psychoanalysis, we perceive that the censor in order to apply its activity with discernment must know what it is repressing. In fact if we abandon all the metaphors representing the repression as the impact of blind forces, we are compelled to admit that the censor must choose and in order to choose must be aware of so doing. How could it happen otherwise that the censor allows lawful sexual impulses to pass through, that it permits needs (hunger, thirst, sleep) to be expressed in clear consciousness? And how are we to explain that it can relax its surveillance, that it can even be deceived by the disguises of the instinct? But it is not sufficient that it discern the condemned drives; it must also apprehend them as to be repressed, which implies in it at the very least an awareness of its activity. In a word, how could the censor discern the impulses needing to be repressed without being conscious of discerning them? How can we conceive

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of a knowledge that is ignorant of itself? To know is to know that one knows, said Alain. Let us say rather: All knowing is consciousness of knowing. Thus the resistance of the patient implies on the level of the censor an awareness of the thing repressed as such, a comprehension of the end toward which the questions of the psychoanalyst are leading, and an act of synthetic connection by which it compares the truth of the repressed complex to the psychoanalytic hypothesis that aims at it. These various operations in their turn imply that the censor is conscious (of) itself. But what type of self-consciousness can the censor have? It must be the consciousness (of) being conscious of the drive to be repressed, but precisely in order not be conscious of it. What does this mean if not that the censor is in bad faith? Psychoanalysis has not gained anything for us since in order to overcome bad faith, it has established between the unconscious and consciousness an autonomous consciousness in bad faith. The effort to establish a veritable duality and even a trinity (Es, Ich, Ueberich expressing themselves through the censor) has resulted in a mere verbal terminology. The very essence of the reflexive idea of hiding something from oneself implies the unity of one and the same psychic mechanism and consequently a double activity in the heart of unity, tending on the one hand to maintain and locate the thing to be concealed and on the other hand to repress and disguise it. Each of the two aspects of this activity is complementary to the other; that is, it implies the other in its being. By separating consciousness from the unconscious by means of the censor, psychoanalysis has not succeeded in dissociating the two phases of the act, since the libido is a blind conatus toward conscious expression and since the conscious phenomenon is a passive, faked result. Psychoanalysis has merely localized this double activity of repulsion and attraction on the level of the censor. Furthermore the problem still remains of accounting for the unity of the total phenomenon (repression of the drive that disguises itself and “passes” in symbolic form), to establish comprehensible connections among its different phases. How can the repressed drive “disguise itself” if it does not include (1) the consciousness of being repressed, (2) the consciousness of having been pushed back because it is what it is, (3) a project of disguise? No mechanistic theory of condensation or of transference can explain these modifications by which the drive itself is affected, for the description of the process of disguise implies a veiled appeal to finality. And similarly how are we to account for the pleasure or the anguish that accompanies the symbolic and conscious satisfaction of the drive if consciousness does not include—beyond the censor—an obscure comprehension of the end to be attained as simultaneously desired and forbidden? By rejecting the conscious unity of the psyche, Freud is obliged to imply everywhere a magic unity linking distant phenomena across obstacles, just as sympathetic magic unites the spellbound person and the wax

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image fashioned in his likeness. The unconscious drive (Trieb) through magic is endowed with the character “repressed” or “condemned,” which completely pervades it, colors it, and magically provokes its symbolism. Similarly the conscious phenomenon is entirely colored by its symbolic meaning although it can not apprehend this meaning by itself in clear consciousness. Aside from its inferiority in principle, the explanation by magic does not avoid the coexistence—on the level of the unconscious, on that of the censor, and on that of consciousness—of two contradictory, complementary structures that reciprocally imply and destroy each other. Proponents of the theory have hypostasized and “reified” bad faith; they have not escaped it. This is what has inspired a Viennese psychiatrist, Steckel, to depart from the psychoanalytical tradition and to write in La femme frigide: “Every time that I have been able to carry my investigations far enough, I have established that the crux of the psychosis was conscious.” In addition the cases that he reports in his work bear witness to a pathological bad faith that the Freudian doctrine can not account for. There is the question, for example, of women whom marital infidelity has made frigid; that is, they succeed in hiding from themselves not complexes deeply sunk in half physiological darkness, but acts of conduct that are objectively discoverable, which they can not fail to record at the moment when they perform them. Frequently in fact the husband reveals to Steckel that his wife has given objective signs of pleasure, but the woman when questioned will fiercely deny them. Here we find a pattern of distraction. Admissions that Steckel was able to draw out inform us that these pathologically frigid women apply themselves to becoming distracted in advance from the pleasure that they dread; many for example at the time of the sexual act, turn their thoughts away toward their daily occupations, make up their household accounts. Will anyone speak of an unconscious here? Yet if the frigid woman thus distracts her consciousness from the pleasure that she experiences, it is by no means cynically and in full agreement with herself; it is in order to prove to herself that she is frigid. We have in fact to deal with a phenomenon of bad faith since the efforts taken in order not to be present to the experienced pleasure imply the recognition that the pleasure is experienced; they imply it in order to deny it. But we are no longer on the ground of psychoanlysis. Thus on the one hand the explanation by means of the unconscious, due to the fact that it breaks the psychic unity, can not account for the facts that at first sight it appeared to explain. And on the other hand, there exists an infinity of types of behavior in bad faith that explicitly reject this kind of explanation because their essence implies that they can appear only in the translucency of consciousness. We find that the problem that we had attempted to resolve is still untouched.




The philosophical controversies surrounding psychoanalysis with which we are most familiar concern its scientific standing or, as its most vociferous detractors allege, lack thereof. Scientificity provides a fruitful set of terms for evaluating psychoanalysis, however, only if Freud’s ideas are understood as inductively grounded hypotheses to which the usual sorts of quantified empirical testing are appropriate, and a quick glance at the mountain of psychoanalytically inspired work in the humanities shows that this is highly doubtful: psychoanalysis holds appeal and is reckoned to have importance, not because it is believed to offer a scientific back door into the essence of the mind, bypassing the usual forms of access, but on the contrary because of the way in which it coheres with all of the other forms of sense making that we employ. If psychoanalysis should be counted a science, it belongs among the human sciences, whose methods are diverse, largely continuous with our folk practice of crediting one another with beliefs and desires, and for the greater part not shared by the natural sciences. To say this is not of course to say that Freud’s claims are true, but to indicate their proper measure. This, at any rate, is how Sartre understands Freud—as attempting to render theoretically perspicuous certain puzzling psychological phenomena that we encounter in ourselves and others in which there appears to be a motivated failure of self-knowledge. This plane of consideration is ethical as much as explanatory: self-deception, like weakness of will, is inconsistent with sincerity and full integrity, while honesty with oneself and courage in facing up to one’s feelings are virtues; 349

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self-knowledge matters in ways that are not merely epistemic. Sartre’s criticisms are consequently of a different order from those of, say, Karl Popper, and they reveal more of the philosophical significance of Freud’s ideas.

i. Sartre’s Argument Let us begin by spelling out Sartre’s argument in Being and Nothingness.1 The explicit object of his attack is Freud’s concept of an agency or mechanism, referred to as the censor,2 which determines the relation of mental contents to consciousness, either by refusing unconscious elements admission to consciousness (the system Cs.), or by exiling previously conscious elements to the unconscious (Ucs). Such exclusions—acts of repression, Verdrängung—are adduced to explain the perplexing cognitive failures and failures of rationality encountered inside and outside the psychoanalytic consulting room: the analysand’s heated and indignant repudiation of a construal of his motives that the evidence clearly supports, a person’s inability to recognize her actions as bearing a significance that is plain to all around, and so on. The agency responsible for repression is conceived by Freud as strictly non-identical with the person as a whole, of whom it forms merely a proper part. The metapsychology appears furthermore to be modelled closely on the intersubjective case: communication between the parts of a single person’s mind is held to break down in the same way that communication can break down between different people. Hence Sartre’s remark, ‘psychoanalysis places me in the same relation to myself as the Other is in respect to me’—the analyst is conceived as playing the role of a mediating third party, an Other who restores communication between the part of the analysand from which awareness is withheld (Cs.) and the part containing the withheld item (Ucs.). The principle of individuation of mental parts in Freudian theory—its distinctions of Cs., Ucs., and intermediating censor mechanism; or in Freud’s later theory of id, ego, and superego—thus owes something to our pre-theoretical conception of the distinction of one mind or person from another. Now for the problem, as Sartre sees it: in order to do the work that Freud asks of it, the censor is required to know of the threat posed by the unconscious content to the interests of consciousness and to share its aim of self-protection. And in order to execute its task of keeping the anxiety-inducing idea away from Cs., the censor is needed to sponsor various doxastic projects—incriminating counter-evidence must be reconstrued, awkward questions must be deflected, and so on—in ways that demand full rights of access to the mind and world of the subject. Psychoanalytic explanation, in so far as it turns on the postulation of the censor or some functional equivalent—and it does so essentially—is therefore non-explanatory: in truth and in effect the censor is the person as a whole, under a particular description. The censor mechanism ‘within’ me just is me

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qua bringing it about, determining, that I disavow my motives, wishfully attribute to myself false qualities, and so on. If the censor is stripped of its rationality, then it deflates to a point where it is explanatorily useless; but if it is attributed the capacity to do what Freud demands of it, then it inflates to person-sized proportions. Hence the contradiction: the psychoanalytic censor is both part and whole, both non-rational mechanism and non-mechanical rational agent. The original puzzle was to explain how I can lie to myself. Psychoanalysis answers: by virtue of the censor mechanism. But that concept is empty, Sartre contends, for it simply recycles, behind a screen of theoretical terminology, the explanandum in the verbal shape of an explanans. More broadly we can see, Sartre believes, that the whole strategy of mental partition employed by Freud is ill-conceived: the unity of the person is sui generis, undecomposable, conceptually primitive. The para-intersubjective modelling of the mind in psychoanalytic metapsychology is, moreover, not simply confused, but a case of complicity: the self-deceived subject puts themselves forwards implicitly as an innocent victim of deception, and the psychoanalytic theoretician buys their story, constructing a whole theory of mind in accordance with their self-serving illusion of having passively suffered a psychological misfortune, in the same morally innocuous way that one can be simply unable to recall a telephone number. Freudian theory thereby underwrites the psychological and moral failings of human beings. It must now be asked, with a view to seeing what defence may be available to Freud, if Sartre has made any assumptions with which issue may be taken. Sartre cannot be charged with having assumed dogmatically that unconscious mental states are a conceptual or metaphysical impossibility, or that the mind necessarily enjoys inescapable total rational transparency—he does in fact hold both views, but in this context he has granted Freud, for the sake of argument, what is required for formulation of the psychoanalytic hypothesis. Sartre may nonetheless seem to have begged the question in so far as he supposes that the operations of the censor involve beliefs and desires that bring it into effective identity with the person as a whole. Granted that its psychic agency cannot be genuinely mechanical in the manner of a physical process—since it operates on mental content, which cannot be acted on without being in some way understood—why can it not still be much more rationally limited, more mechanism-like, than a full-blown rational agent? It is after all integral to the programme of homuncular explanation, or faculty theory, as we encounter it more generally in psychology, that homunculi and faculties are accorded extremely limited powers and ranges of function—the faculty of memory can do no more than store and retrieve memories, the module of word-recognition can only process linguistic representations, and so on.3 It is also highly relevant that ordinary psychology acknowledges a vast range of psychological phenomena that involve intentionality, but not rationality,

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perhaps not even conceptualization: the finger movements of a professional pianist, the subliminal awareness of the increasing weight of an object that makes me tighten my grip as my glass is refilled, the anticipation of attack that pushes all else out of mind, and so on. These not only form the penumbra of mental life, but also, it may be argued, give evidence of a supporting substrate without which rational reflective consciousness would collapse.4 In short, can Freud not respond to Sartre by invoking the homuncularist strategy of functional analysis, in conjunction with an appeal to the ordinary idea of sub-rational, pre-conceptual intentionality? If so, then the seemingly intersubjective character of Freud’s mental divisions is a distraction, of heuristic value but not strictly part of what the theory asserts. It depends on what we think the facts are in the relevant kinds of case, and on how we understand the total phenomenon of a person’s self-deception or motivated self-ignorance. If all that the censor need do is block episodes of consciousness, then the ‘rule’ governing its behaviour does not imply significant rationality: it can unconsciously deflect ideas with a particular affective quality or associative power in roughly the way that we instinctively avert our gaze from obscene or abhorrent sights. If however the ‘mechanisms of defence’, as Freud calls them, stretch to complicated doxastic manoeuvres, then Sartre’s argument is well grounded. In order to progress on this front it would be necessary therefore to examine actual case histories in some detail. The next point is the crux of the matter and not contingent on the details. Suppose we accept the psychoanalytic account of what goes on when, say, a patient resists the interpretation of the analyst. Resistance is analysed into the interactions of mental parts. And yet it remains the case that we understand the person as a whole in such cases as working against themselves, that is as exhibiting a self-relation. That is why psychoanalysis can advertise itself as a form of emancipation, as liberating the subject from her own counter-purposivity. (Compare cases of defective performance where no self-relation is involved— inability to wake up, or to add up a set of numbers. To restore such capacities is, as in physical medicine, to empower, but not to liberate.) Now the question is this: since according to psychoanalysis the self-relation involved in repression and resistance is a function of mental parts, (why) should we not treat selfrelations in general as supervening on and made true by the interrelations of mental components? Psychoanalysis seems to make exactly that claim in, for example, the context of morality: to sacrifice the gratification of an appetite for the sake of duty, just is for certain sorts of causal relations to obtain between id, ego, and superego. In so far as psychoanalysis does not, in such cases, claim to have shown the non-existence of its explanandum—Freud is not Nietzsche—what it must claim to be offering is a form of realist reduction, that is, an account that reveals the underlying reality of moral self-relations and shows what it is that enables us to determine ourselves in accordance with duty. To the extent

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that self-relations are held to be conceptually problematic – and the worry that self-consciousness, self-knowledge, and self-determination may be incoherent has a long history5 – it would seem that there is reason to welcome partitive analysis as explaining reflexivity in a way that frees it from paradox. Pursuing this line, psychoanalysis might join forces with cognitive psychology in its endeavour to map the sub-personal modular realm.6 Sartre, however, believes that partitive analysis is incompatible with selfrelations. His reasons emerge most clearly in his discussion of psychoanalytic symbolism, in Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions.7 Here he is concerned with a different type of relation between Ucs. and Cs., as it were the next stage in the standard psychoanalytic sequence. Having undergone repression, unconscious ideas and the desires formed around them do not of course disappear, but retain their force, and one of the several possible results of their continued search for fulfilment is symbol-formation: cued by some associative connection, an object accessible to consciousness becomes by substitution the vehicle of expression for the repressed idea; the conscious object, invested with the significance of the unconscious idea, symbolizes the latter, such that the gratification consciously taken in the object at the same time fulfils (or at any rate appeases) the unconscious desire—Cs.’s relation to X satisfies Ucs.’s wish for Y, because X ‘means’ Y. Sartre’s criticism of this model follows the e