Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 8:

1) The truth of the WL exists unconditionally and it remains true even if no one actually ever sees into it. Remember that the truth is that “an absolute, self-grounded insight negates an equally absolutely created division (that is, one not grounded in things) as invalid, and that this insight posits in the background a self-subsistence, which cannot itself be described more precisely.” (p.67)

2) Key point: the grounding, unifying self-subsistence ‘posited in the background’ is not a mere hypothetical proposition which is true only insofar as it is usefully employed as an explanatory tool or ‘idea’ introduced to make sense of some phenomenon or appearance. Such a hypothetical proposition (which Fichte associates with “Kantian, and every other philosophy”) is of course only valid on the condition that the phenomena it is marshaled to explain is first given.  Fichte, at least at this point in his philosophical development, is not only concerned to uncover the conditions for the possibility of empirical knowledge, experience and action — after all, these are each limited frameworks which are shaped by brute presuppositions — but more boldly to uncover the genesis of the possibility of any framework whatsoever.

3) We do not begin with a phenomenon and then ask if the principle is adequate to it; we first should ask which principle must be manifest if such a phenomenon is to be possible in the first place.  Once the conditioning principle is manifest, we can compare it to other phenomena that appear. Where the principle and the phenomenon in question are at odds, we do not throw out the principle but rather recognize that the phenomenon in question, as it has appeared to us, must be re-conceived from a new perspective so that it is no longer in contradiction with the principle. –> the dangers of this method are obvious: if we begin with the wrong principle, we will be attempting to navigate the world with a broken compass. That is why Fichte goes to such pains to make sure his audience understands the principle properly. “Only what can be derived from the principle counts as a phenomenon; what cannot be derived from it is an error simple because of its non-derivation, although it may perhaps incidentally also be [or appear as] immediate.” (p. 68)

4) “If, as is customary, you want to call the absolutely independent One, the self consuming being, God, then [you could say that] all genuine existence is the intuition of God. But at the same time note well– and already a world of errors will be extinguished–that this being, despite the fact that the light posits it as absolutely independent…is actually not so, just because it bears within itself the predicate ‘is’, ‘persistence’, and therefore, death.” (p.68)

5) The difficulty in avoiding dualism (which is undoubtedly necessary) is that it is all too easy to fall into a crude monism that affirms only one side of the disjunction at the expense of the other. “Either we must perish, or God must. We will not, and God ought not!” (p.68). For example, the problem with Spinoza’s system is one we deduce that everything must be a part of God or Nature then it is necessary that everything that appears as independent and self-subsistent must vanish or be swallowed up in God-Nature. But this also means that God-Nature itself must die because the moment of insight (e.g. Spinoza’s own philosophy) in which the absolute, through an act of knowledge, comes to know itself as absolute is left out of the picture. This may seems fine for the pantheist until it is realized that it is only through the reflection of the philosopher that the absolute is united in a single concept, so that God-Nature can appear as God or Nature. Until the moment of insight, the absolute is actually torn asunder by its own attributes and modes of being into pure multiplicity. Nature needs mind to put it back together piece by piece. And it is only in mankind that it can be made whole. This is why, for Fichte, if one denies one’s own autonomy, one is actually blaspheming against God and misrepresenting the laws of nature. “Only those can accuse the science of knowing of atheism…who want a dead God.” (p.68)

6) The schema of the negation of the concept is the I. Since I appear as freely constructing it, the concept (as lawful connection) is crushed.However, if the concept is then of the I, I myself perish since I (as active principle) no longer exist. Then, the whole fiasco becomes manifest, and this manifestation in the form of what is is the phenomenal image of my own destruction. “The light therefore…has a twofold expression and existence” in part as active, inner, and subjective (thinking) and in part as passive, external, and objective (being). (p.69)

7) No one ever truly realizes the light in its essence since we can only intentionally direct ourselves towards one of its disjuncts, as something posited or as something lived. The light is actualized only when it is not ‘realized’ (in the mind, in the concept) and when it is ‘realized’ it is actualized only in the background, but in the foreground, it is skewered by the arrow of intentionality.

8) We can speak of the absolute only apophatically, i.e., through negation. “The whole of reality is…the graveyard of the concept.” (p. 71)

9) “What we have so far assumed to be the original light [in the previous lectures] has now changed itself into mere insight and representation of the light; and we have not merely negated the concept that has been recognized as a concept, but even light and being as well…It was negated by something that itself was nothing.” (pp.71-2)

10) “The concept finds its limits; conceives itself as limited, and its completed self-conceiving is the conceiving of this limit.” (p.72) –> e.g. philosophy uncovered its own limits in the Critique of Pure Reason; philosophy realized that its own limits are what made it possible for it to uncover its own limits in the first place; philosophy now knows that it wills its own limits, takes responsibility for its own limits and thus, is not limited by these limits.


Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 7:

1) A brief account of the rules according to which the disjunction we will have to make proceeds:

  • the disjunction is a disjunction into principles, with each principle being at once a principle of unity and of disjunction. –> note the fractal structure of this process.
  • this disjunction provides a deduction from the above process to what Fichte calls a “general schema of the total empirical domain according to its genetic principle.” (p.62)
  • For us the oneness beyond is nothing in itself, although it is posited as in itself; rather it exists only through the light and in the light, and (is) its projection.” (ibid.)

2) “When we observe the light, the light is objectified, alienated from us and killed as something primordial. We have explained [only] what is materially attributed to the light in this observation.” (ibid.) –> since, when we contemplate the light we necessarily survey it in the ‘form’ of object, and since what is object is only one of the disjuncts of the principle which is manifest in the light, we should know and can know a priori that this image of the light is not a true likeness of the light. We have left something out, something essential, namely, the “observing itself.”

3) When we explain (and no longer merely observe) this observing itself in its “inner form” we no longer look to what it contains and leads to but how itself inwardly occurs. This is what Fichte calls “rising to to its principle”. It become clear that:

  • the light is in us (in what we are and what we do when we and in order to observe it) but not immediately in us but via a representative proxy [i.e. the subjective disjunct] which objectifies and so kills it.
  • since there can be no representative nor a representation without what is represented we move from explaining the observed by citing the act of observation as its genetic principle, to observing the subject-object at work in this image, to explaining (or accounting for, grounding) the primordial disjunction into subject-object.
  • Thus, we have now not only factical manifestness (at the objective, subjective, and subjective-objective levels) but also conceptual manifestness which, when thought, thinks itself, and “has essence, spirit, and meaning and is fully and completely self-identical and unchangeable in relation to this essence.” (p.63)

4) It is irrelevant whether we start with the representation and move to the represented or if we grasp first what is to be represented and then derive the representation. We do not think two different things in these two concepts, but think one and the same concept. Meditate on the import of this, the irrelevance of the arrangement of these moments. It is the synthesis in act. Not the activity of any one subject but the activity in which and through which subjectivity emerges in the first place. This structure (which, as concept is just structuredness itself) occurs spontaneously. When grasped in this way, the absolute leaves nothing out of its own manifestation, it “remains unaltered as oneness but…splits itself only in the vital fulfillment of thinking into an inessential disjunction, which neither spoils the content in any way nor is grounded in it.” (ibid.) –> when the unity is thought in this way the splitting of itself that occurs in the thinking of it is its own fulfillment.

5) The concept is recognized truthfully as the primordial concept or Urbegriff because what we have taken hitherto as the source of the absolutely self-sufficient actually first “arise in the way it appears” as one of the disjunctive terms of the concept. Therefore, the concept is actually “more original” than the light itself. –> mediation is more immediate than (intuitive) immediacy.

6) “Now the same single concept grounds its appearance through its own essential being; therefore, in this concept the image and what it images are posited absolutely, things which are constructed organically only through one another. And hence its appearance announces, and is the exponent of, its inner being, as an organic unity of the through-one-another [Durcheinander], which must be presupposed.” (p.64)

7) Image posits imaged and imaged posits image. They posit each other and so arise through-one-another.

8) “I ask about the truth itself, which we recognize as being and remaining true even if no one saw it, and we ask: Is it not true in itself that the image entails something imaged and vice versa?, And, in this case, what exactly is true in itself?…[W]hat common element remains behind as the condition for the whole exchange? Obviously only the through-one-another that initially holds together every inference.” (p.65)

9) The focal point is the concept. Not just any concept. The concept of and as a pure-enduring through-one-another in living appearance.

10) The appearance is the side of disjunction. The living (or the “livingness”) is the side of unity. However, if what appears is unity then the livingness takes on the appearance of disjunction. And if what appears is disjunction, then the livingness functions as the unity. “Only through life to the concept and only through the concept to life.” (p.66)

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 6:

1) WL must trace multiplicity back to oneness and, conversely, it must deduce all multiplicity from oneness.

2) WL never descends into absolute oneness or into absolute multiplicity (empirical givenness) but stays with both moments equally.

3) No oneness that appears as simple oneness (i.e. as one side of a disjunction, e.g. matter, mind, crude conceptions of God) is or could be the true oneness that we are seeking.

4) The principle of the WL can equally be called the principle of oneness or the principle of disjunction since it is a principle of unity and one of multiplicity and because qua principle, it unites, holds together and grounds the moment of unification and the moment of disjunction.

5) “To put it simple, oneness cannot in any way consist in what we see or conceive as the science of knowing, because that would be something objective; rather it consists in what we are, and pursue, and live”. (p. 56)

6) Only a principle can enter into the WL, never only a principled result which is merely a phenomenal or empirical appearance and can never be used as explanatory ground but as something in need of explanation.

7) “Each principle in which we stand (and we never stand anywhere but in a principle) yields an absolutely self-differentiating oneness.” (p. 57) –> self-differentiating because as principle it opposes itself to its elements, and yet as oneness, it holds these elements together, grounds them and explains their relation.

8) The only questions is whether this oneness is the highest, is it self-grounded or is it grounded in something it has not considered? –> For instance, if we thought the unity of being and thinking was the highest we were wrong since the principle of their unity does not express or explain their being-held-apart. Ascending the spiral of principles, we may rest assured that the principle A = a–x,y,z is the highest principle but again, each of these disjuncts is itself a principle of unity at its own level but at its own level fails to relate itself to the other levels. The WL needs to uncover not just any of these multiple unities but the absolute disjunction in relation to the absolute oneness. This is the general model of the procedure of the science of knowing.

9) The WL always necessarily begins trapped in a one-sidedness. “We find ourselves trapped in the familiar frequently cited inexpressibility: that the oneness is to separate itself at one stroke into being and thinking and into x,y,z both equally immediately. In this actual disjunction there are two distinguishing grounds which are mutually dependent. The distinguishing ground between being and thinking and the distinguishing ground between the sensible and the supersensible. –> this is paralleled in the discussion to come of the principle which makes the moment of appearance distinct from the moment of ground and the moment of ground distinct from the moment of the appearance of appearance.

10) When we postulate a ground as explanans for an explanandum we execute a synthesis post-factum. What we need to achieve in addition is a synthesis in action {im Akte}. –> Kant’s philosophy never quite made it this far, though the notion that practical cognition has the task of presenting the connection between practical and speculative reason certainly flirted with the idea.

11) First, we present something in factical manifestness then we ascend to the genetic insight on the basis of its principles. –> Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse repeat. This is the methodology of the Wissenschaftslehre. However, this is not the highest point. We ascend the ladder, then we kick it away. But the kicking away is just another invisible wrung on the same ladder.

12) Having perceived the unity between the unity of unity and difference and unity, Fichte is trying to wean us off the holding together in consciousness that makes this unity manifest as a statable fact. “Thus away with all words and signs! Nothing remains except our living thinking and insight, which can’t be shown on a blackboard nor be represented in any way but can only be surrendered to nature.” (p. 60) –> compare to Hume’s current of nature?!

13) In representing the absolute principle as manifest, we negate its truth, since the very form of its representation is wrong. It is only adequately represented (or rather presented, expressed) in life. And yet exposing it as such “is a contradiction which may well be essential and necessary.”

14) “Everything is brought together again when enacted.” (p. 61)

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 5:

1) “For we do not create the truth,  and things would be badly arranged if we had to do so; rather, truth creates itself by its own power,  and it does so wherever the conditions of its creation are present.” (p.48) –> contrast this passage to Bertrand Russell’s short treatment of Fichte in his ‘History of Philosophy’ where Russell accuses Fichte of madness for allegedly making truth out to be something under human control. 

2) We perform something, led in the process by something operating immediately by rules of reason, culminating in facticity.

3) We then search out the principle which guided us mechanically in this procedure and so come to know mediately what was immediate.

4) It is in this way that we ascend from the factical to the genetic, and, grasping the latter mediately, grasp this moment, too, in the mode of factical manifestness until the restless of this oscillation is brought to rest in the stage where the insufficiency of factical manifestness is just what is manifest as fact.  There is then no higher term to proceed to since the negation of the previous and penultimate stage of factical manifestness at the hands of the subsequent moment of active immediacy actually affirms what the fact had made manifest, namely, its own insufficiency.  –> this kind of dance has parallels in other formulations of the paradox of self-reference.

5) The unity of (A + *) and [(A) + (*)] is the discovery of the WL.

6) This insight is not the result of a premise, presupposition or postulate of human convention or empirical influence.  It simply occurs independently and spontaneously in any thought whatsoever.  The structure or process to which insight grants us access ‘is’ not anything,  since being is properly only one element of this structure.

7) Even the word ‘is’ derives from and signifies mere manifestness. 

8) Since the structure arises spontaneously of itself we cannot ask how or from what it was produced — production and genesis themselves presuppose this structure, what Fichte is calling pure light. But we can ask how insight into the pure light is produced.

9) Substance is the appearance of pure light in the mode of self-sufficiency.  But this is only half the story. Any philosophy which thematizes only the absolute as substance fails as a philosophy.  –> e.g. Spinoza.  Keep in mind that this does not rule out Fichte admitting that Spinoza grasped the moment of Substance accurately. 

10) Doing deposes being and being desposes doing. But this division primordially is nothing at all.

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 4:

1) The results so far: knowing is beyond all change and beyond the subject-object distinction.

2) This knowledge of knowing – in its factical manifestness – is only the “premise” of the WL. Still needed is the active element, i.e. the construction of this unchangeable being.

3) Once the construction is accomplished, the second term, change, will also have been established.

4) Mere genesis is only pure activity (one term); however, determinate genesis is what results when we have grasped knowing in its factical and in its genetic forms.

5) We are the inward realization of the oneness of this unity. –> it is important to keep in mind that Fichte is no longer merely discussing the unity of Being and Thinking but is now talking about the unity of the unity of B and T and the activity that is their-being-held-apart.
x y z * B-T

6) Since any reconstruction is also a conceiving, and any conception takes the form of factical manifestness, any reconstruction of this process fails to conceive what it must, namely genetic manifestness, hence insofar as the genetic principle is conceived it is conceived as inconceivable. But this does not mean we can have no knowledge of it. “The absolute is not intrinsically inconceivable, since this makes no sense; it is inconceivable only when the concept itself tries for it, and this inconceivability is its only property”. –> Compare to Wittgenstein’s ‘showing’. See also Graham Priest on the ineffable.

7) This kind of knowing, by reconstruction of the concept in the concept, is secondary knowing or consciousness and can only attain to the level of the moment of division in which pure knowing splits itself up into A, *, x y z, and B-T.

8) Empirically, we never escape the principle of division (in what is surveyed in consciousness) but we can go beyond this moment intellectually “with regard to what is valid in itself”.

9) Now, although the moment of construction or genetic manifestness negates the feigning of totality by the moment of factical manifestness, it would equally be a mistake to allow the moment of construction to lay claim to the throne of totality. Fichte was himself accused of making this mistake in his earlier work. “The construction as such is denied by the manifestness of what exists autonomously; thus even the inconceivable, as the inconceivable and nothing more, is posited by this manifestnesss, posited through the negation of the absolute concept, which must be posited just so that it can be annulled.” (p. 42)

10) The self-sufficient quality of the absolute is alien to knowing-as-consciousness, but it is, nevertheless, known. How so? In immediate manifestness, neither solely in factical manifestness nor soley in genetic manifestness (as these moments are conceived in consciousness), but within intuition or, what Fichte here calls pure light. Pure light is Fichte’s name for the absolute as it is known in intuition, not as concept. Hence the use of a metaphor to express the idea.

11) Pure light posits the concept only to negate the concept and in so doing, reveals itself as the principle of both the concept’s manifestness and its destruction. “Pure light has prevailed…as the principle of both being and the concept.” (p.43)

12) As pure light we know ourselves only mediately by first positing the concept and then negating it. We have to do this because we need to know ourselves immediately as immanent, as subjectivity in action, as I; and we need to know ourselves emmanently, as object, as reason.

13) Pure light knows itself in a three- or five-fold synthesis: “Thus, it must be constructed as oscillating from a to b [1] and again from b to a [2] and as completely creating both [3]; thus as oscillating between the twofold oscillation [i.e. between [4] (a to b vs. b to a) and [5] between (a to b vs. b to a) and (a to b) vs. (b to a).]–> in other words, each oscillation between poles becomes itself a new pole from which to oscillate with the previous, lower level of oscillation. Strange, yes. Mad? Maybe.

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 3:

1) knowing, as the oneness of being and thinking, is self-standing without requiring anchorage in a sensible object or derivation from a previously assumed postulate or axiom. It is manifest a priori and its manifestness is independent of the content of the thought through which it is apprehended.
2) the above can be demonstrated to oneself by coming to the realization that the unity of B and T obtains regardless of any changes made to the object or subject of thought. –> since we can contemplate an infinity of possible objects, we could never know via induction that we had surveyed all possible objects and yet we know that the unity of knowing is not a function of the  particular object thought. Thus we know this a priori. 
3) “Knowing…is not subjective.” (p. 35)
4) the changeable substrate which holds together all changeability is unchangeable in its changeability. 
5) the unchangeable opposes itself to the changeable and vice versa
6) when knowing is grasped as unity it merely appears as fact, in the form of what is the case. –> Fichte calls this form of knowing’s self-appearance “factical manifestness”.
7) Factical manifestness is merely the external existence of knowing; it is not, however, its internal essence which is not manifest as a fact but only as active principle, what Fichte here calls “genetic manifestness”.
8) Kant does not thematize this aspect of knowing. In fact, all science, including mathematics, thematizes only what is manifest as fact. This is not a weakness of empirical and mathematical sciences but it does highlight the territory of knowledge that is unique to philosophy.
9) WL is the only true philosophy because it recognizes that this genetic, active component is the proper subject matter of philosophy which aims to present the absolute, to ‘catch it in the act’ so to speak.
10) Any rival philosophy which sought to refute or best the WL by solely focusing on the contemplation of facts and factical manifestness would, in positing the absolute as such, contradict itself in the act since factical manifestness is possible only if it is also a genesis, a “synthesis that is also an analysis” logically and temporally simultaneous with any fact that is manifest.

Fichte’s Science of Knowing, 1804, Lecture 2:

1) A = absolute oneness
2) A is an inseparable unity between being and thinking
3) A as absolute reveals / resolves itself into unity of B + T.
4) The [dualistic] philosophical conception which holds the difference between B and T to be valid in and of itself totally disappears.
5) “Oneness thus is the same as pure knowing in and for itself, and therefore it is knowledge of nothing.” (p.28) –> this ‘nothing’ referred to here is mentioned only so that the kind of knowledge Fichte is talking about here will not be confused with any kind of a posteriori knowledge or with any merely analytic knowledge either, for example, empirical knowledge either from outer or inner sense or analytic knowledge from the consideration of some trivial relation of meaning between concepts. The ‘nothing’ does not mean that the thought is empty or without sense.
6) Since A splits itself into B and T there are also three divisions made within it.
                        /   \
There is (x) the absolute as being, (z) the absolute as thinking and there is (y) the middle term between x and z that is the unity between them.
7) x is what Kant called the sensible world and is explication corresponds to the first critique; y is the moral realm indepedent of the sensible world and explicated in the second critique; y is originating and connecting root between the sensible, natural realm and the supersensible, moral realm and its explication is Kant’s concern in the third critique. 
8) Kant never adequately showed how these three moments of the absolute come together and how we can know this.
9) So, whereas Kant’s transcendental philosophy began with x (Critique of Pure Reason), proceeded to z (Critique of Practical Reason) and then later quilted them together in y (Critique of Judgment), the WL begins with y and grounds x and z in it. As Fichte describes it, the WL’s “essence consists first in discovering the root (indiscernible for Kant) in which the sensible and supersensible worlds come together and then in providing the actual conceptual derivation of both worlds from a single principle.” (p. 32)
10) “The science of knowing’s own maxim is to admit absolutely nothing inconceivable and to leave nothing unconceived; and it is satisfied to wish not to exist if something is pointed out to it which it hasn’t grasped, since it will be everything or nothing at all.” (ibid)