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.


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