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中文日记 – 2016年2月16日


所以决定了我每天都在日记里记下什么东西。不需要太长 – 就足够另我的中文能一点点进步!


日记 ri4ji4 (diary)

目的 mu4di4 (purpose/goal/aim)

以来 yi3lai2 (since/ever since/ after having done X)

练习 lian4xi2 (practice)

记得 ji4de5 (remember)

词汇 ci2hui4 (vocabulary)

所以 suo3yi3 (so/that’s why)

决定 jue2ding4 (decide)

记下 ji4xia4 (jot down)

足够 zu2gou4 (enough/sufficient)



Wissenschaftslehre as Prolegomena to any Future Naturephilosophie?

It is no secret that Fichte believed that the only legitimate starting point for any philosophical system worthy of the name was the standpoint of subjectivity itself, what Fichte called “I-hood [Ichheit]. Knowing this, it is easy to see why Fichte was suspicious of any and all attempts to establish a philosophical system on a contrary foundation, that is to say, on concept of objectivity, or ‘nature’. What should come as a surprise then is that no sooner than Fichte had articulated his system of philosophical science – his Wissenschaftslehre – and had won followers to his system that the very same followers attempted to derive a new philosophical system that was to be no less scientific than Fichte’s own but that would begin not with the concept of the I at is foundation but with that of nature. Instead of the subject as prius we have the object as origin. For, at least in its inception, Naturephilosophie was intended not as a substitute for Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre but as its logical culmination. Just as Kant’s transcendental idealism was presented not as a rival science to Newton’s Principia but as its condition of possibility, so too was Schelling’s Naturephilosophie presented as an exploration of the conditions of the possibility of Fichte’s Science of Knowledge.

Why, then, did Fichte reject the very notion of a Naturephilosophie out of hand? An answer should begin by contemplating the following possible explanatory reasons:

i) nature is not an independent concept but is only thinkable in relation to an I
ii) this relation of nature to the I is one of metaphysical subordination even though these concepts are equally and mutually foundational from a logical point of view
iii) nature has no external check on which it could exert its free activity; freedom needs an ‘outside’; but pure objectivity has no ‘beyond’.
iv) if nature itself is free then the function of the summons becomes superfluous (because the latter only works if a level of uncertainty is involved; my ability to do otherwise is conditioned by my ability to apply different concepts to the same particular including myself. My rational faculties only become transparent to themselves when they are stirred to activity without being caused to any particular activity. In this way, the summons operates on analogy with the feeling of beauty in Kant and Schiller. Notice how both aesthetic experience and the summons involve a surrender to the object which one cognizes as autonomous.)

The Sublime Idea of Natural Right: freedom, nature and their unity in Kant and Fichte

I am not the first to notice structural similarities between Kant’s discussion of the role of beauty in the third Critique and Fichte’s discussion of the concept of the summons in his Foundations of Natural Right and System of Ethics. Despite these points of overlap, there is a striking asymmetry between the two concepts. Whereas for Kant, the experience of beauty presupposes moral self-consciousness, for Fichte, the experience of the summons is precisely what initiates or awakens one’s capacity for self-consciousness in the first place. It follows that, insofar as Fichte shares Kant’s assessment of the concept of the beautiful and the experience thereof, he would seem to be committed to the further qualifying claim that the summons, as transcendental condition for the possibility of the experience of beauty, has already taken effect.

As a Fichtean subject then, it is only after I recognize myself as an individual being belonging to a community of rational agents that I am capable of encountering beauty.

But what I would argue is the more important difference between Kant and Fichte on this point is the following: whereas for Kant aesthetic and teleological judgments when applied to natural objects and to nature as a whole justify an “as if” belief in the harmony between theoretical and practical reason, for Fichte, the summons necessitates that belief, i.e. turns that belief into knowledge. It does so because for Fichte, practical reason is at the base of all cognition. When I find myself willing, I find myself as always already exhibiting purposive activity. My body also exhibits this teleological structure. The judgment of my own purposiveness is not a reflective judgment. Is it a determining judgment?

What is strange about the case of the summons is that it seems that the appearance of my own rational agency is conditioned by the appearance of a rational agency external to me. But is the summons a result of a reflective judgment? It appears that Fichte says as much. This means that a merely reflective judgment has the power to re-constitute and determine anew not only how I think of myself but also what I in fact am; this is because it is of the essence of an I to be no more and no less than what it posits itself to be.

Early in the Foundations of Natural Right Fichte introduces the startling proposition that a finite rational being cannot posit itself as free without presupposing the existence of other finite rational beings outside of it who are also free. Since, for Fichte, it is only insofar as I think of myself as free that I am able to think of myself as an ‘I’ at all, the above proposition amounts to the claim that my own self-consciousness presupposes the projected  existence — and not the actual existence — of other self-consciousnesses. Fichte’s bold idea then is that the belief in the existence of other minds is a transcendental condition for the possibility of my own mind. ‘I’ cannot think me unless I also think ‘you’. It seems to follow then, that first-person thoughts are originally thoughts whose proper subject pronoun is ‘we’; not ‘I’.

Although Fichte gives ‘deductive’ arguments for this position, it is not clear whether Fichte’s conception of recognition is intended to operate on a metaphysical or merely normative level. As Nance points out, there is a modal ambiguity in Fichte’s deduction and this ambiguity has spawned much debate and discussion in the literature. The ambiguity is grounded in a tension that Fichte appears never to be concerned to resolve; for on the one hand, the I must think of itself as free and self-subsistent and only insofar as it posits itself as such is the I capable of I-hood at all. This means that, insofar as I think first-personal thoughts, the ascription of freedom to the object is categorical. On the other hand, when it comes to the freedom of the other, the ascription is merely problematic; I am cognitively free to think the other under the concept of freedom or not. There is then, a modal asymmetry between first-personal thoughts and the second-personal thoughts. First-personal thoughts fit the mold of what Kant, in the Critique of Judgment, calls ‘determining judgment’ whereas second-personal thoughts seem to exemplify what Kant calls ‘reflective judgment’. In regards to the former, the concept applied to the object is said to be constitutive of the object in question and to apply to the object with objective validity. In regards to the latter — to reflective judgment — the concept applies only problematically to the object and whose cognitive authority extends only as far as subjective validity, that is, validity for all actual and potential judging subjects. Fichte is explicit that I apprehend another rational being outside of myself only through reflective judgment and never through determining judgment. Given our privileged access to our own minds that we, on first blush, seem to enjoy, this modal asymmetry is not surprising.

A puzzle emerges, however, when we consider the asymmetry again in light of Fichte’s claim that my cognition of another mind is a condition for the possibility for my own self-consciousness. For now what is apprehended only through reflective judgment is supposed to be a transcendental condition of what must be apprehended through determining judgment. In other words, what I must think categorically is supposed to be grounded in what I must think only problematically. How is this possible?

Before we begin to attempt to answer that question, we want to get a better sense of what distinguishes reflective from determining judgment. Aside from the cognitive dissimilarity between the two forms of judgment there is the question of their epistemic dissimilarity. On the face of it, determining judgment presumably has more epistemic authority than does reflective judgment precisely because, while the former is constitutive of the object as such, the later is merely regulative, determining not how the object itself must be but how I am permitted (or required) to think of and relate to the object.

To be sure, self-conscious thoughts have (almost) all the marks of determining judgment. However, self-conscious thoughts are not determining judgments. They are not judgments. They are intellectual intuitions. What’s the difference? Well, the difference is structural: in judgment the subject and object are distinct; in intellectual intuition, the subject and object are the same. Furthermore, in intellectual intuition, my cognition is non-conceptual. What I apprehend through it is not a particular being instantiated by a particular concept but rather an activity. I am what I posit myself to be. I as a concept is only subsequently derived from this initial act of intellectual intuition.

With this qualification in mind, we are in a position to restate the puzzle of the summons. Call my first-personal thought of my own self-consciousness proposition B and the second-personal thought of the other’s self-consciousness proposition A. Since, A is posited only reflectively, it is thought only problematically. When I think A I do not properly speaking make a knowledge claim but instead express an affirmation of belief. I relate to the other’s freedom under the epistemic attitude of Glaube not Erkenntnis. I am epistemically permitted only to have faith in the other’s free self-consciousness, but I cannot claim knowledge of this. Since proposition B — that I am self-conscious — is epistemically grounded in proposition A and that the latter is something that I do not know but only believe, it follows that I cannot know proposition B either but am permitted only to believe it problematically. It follows that I do not have grounds for thinking of myself constitutively as free. If we help ourselves to Kant’s theory of the merely regulative status of the idea of freedom then we should not be turned off by this result.  However, if we consider this account in light of Fichte’s very different conception of the freedom of the self, we soon realize that a problem looms large.

For Fichte does not think that we are able to represent ourselves to ourselves as anything other than as free-beings. The picture thus painted is a very tragic one indeed: we are metaphysically necessitated to represent ourselves in the very way that we are epistemically not entitled to. We have no theoretical grounds for claiming to know that which we can’t help but believe we are.  On this view, our own necessary self-conception (as I’s striving to be self-sufficient) is an offense to our own normative standards of belief. To put it somewhat dramatically, we have no right to posit own own existence as bearers of rights, as individual free selves.

On this picture, to the extent that we affirm our existence as I’s we lay claim to something we know we do not possess legitimately. We have no normative entitlement to believe what we are cognitively compelled to believe.

We may think that this predicament can be avoided by seeking to justify our belief in our self-consciousness in grounds that are not theoretical but practical. Indeed, this would be a familiar Kantian strategy. There is a problem with this move however because in our case, it is not merely an idea of reason (like immortality or the divinity) that we are trying to ground but the very locus of reason itself which is only thinkable as something active and spontaneous. Another way to put this is to say that practical grounds only perform their legitimizing function if the existence of a practical being is given or presupposed. I exist but now I must decide what I have reason to do and reason to believe. But where the very possibility of a practical being itself is in question (for to ask “Am I practical reason?” is to ask “Am I free?”), it would be circular to try to ground belief in such a being on principles that could only be binding for the very being whose existence we are disputing. For to ask what I have most reason to believe and to do is to presuppose that I am the kind of being capable of being determined to think and act on reasons. Only if we are I’s could we dispute the reality of our own I-hood. We cannot in good conscience deny that we are intellects. It is something we know; indeed, it is on the basis of this that we are able of knowing anything. Our practical nature is given to us. Even skepticism is a species of transcendental idealism, albeit a monstrous one.

Why does Fichte think that the very thing we know better than we know anything else needs to be given to us from outside? And why does he think the source of this can be known only problematically via reflective judgment?

Hypothesis: the very fact that I can only posit the self-consciousness of the other problematically coupled with the fact that I know my own I-hood with absolute certainty and coupled with the fact that I can only find myself as self-conscious as summoned by the other proves to me that my knowledge of you is no less certain my knowledge of me. That is to say, since I do not have empirical grounds for thinking that you are conscious but I nevertheless think that you are, I know that the realm of knowledge runs deeper than the realm of empirical judgment. The idea of reason has no empirical marks. It is sublime. (Causality similarly has no empirical ground but it is necessary for all empirical experience and thus its use in judgment is justified).

Fichte’s solution is superior to the Kantian grounding in faith and regulative ideas of the purposiveness of nature because these later Kantian arguments from the third Critique presuppose that we already represent ourselves as a) practical reason and as b) individuals existing in a community of subjects. But nowhere does Kant deduce our sociality; it is merely presupposed.

If Fichte’s account can be shown to work, we have not only a defense of Fichte’s conception of selfhood but also a new grounding foundation of the entire critical enterprise.

Reason is an organic whole insofar as its parts owe their existence to the agency of the other parts to which they are organically united; and this relationship is reciprocal. The summoned owes its existence to the summoner who in turn owes her existence to he who she has summoned as capable of recognizing her through the summons.

The summons is not an event but a organizing principle. As Fichte states, to think of it under the schema of event leads to an infinite regress, for to recognize oneself as the referent of the summons is to already be self-conscious.

I find myself as willing. But to find an object is to apprehend an object on the model of perception. But self-knowledge is not perceptual knowledge but knowledge of an object by being that object. In order to find myself then I must think myself as being perceived but not empirically perceived, not sensed. I find myself as willing only on the condition that I find another as willing who in turns finds himself as willing only on the condition that he finds me as willing as well.

Prior to the summons, the subject proceeds to cognize the world “mechanically” by subsuming the objects it encounters under concepts given to the imagination by the understanding in the form of the schema, particularly the schema of causality. In such a state, the subject is not yet conscious of its own spontaneity and does not yet see the extent to which the appearance of the manifold of outer sense is its own handiwork. This is prereflective consciousness. As such it does not resemble the structure of the I that Fichte locates at the centre of philosophy. At this stage consciousness is capable of applying concepts but it has no concept of this capacity and no concept of the concept. It is not even accurate to say that consciousness is capable of making determining judgments at this stage since, for Fichte, as well as for Kant, the notion of judgment includes self-consciousness, properly speaking.

In order to reach full-fledged self-consciousness the subject must awaken to its own freedom to determine itself in accordance to concepts it freely gives itself. What could serve to awaken it in this way? Encounter with an object that resists subsumption under a schema of temporal causality. This can only be accomplished on reflective judgment where the object is first apprehended and then brought under a concept not given. But there are, presumably, many things that I can encounter and apprehend through reflective judgment aside from another rational being.  Why cannot an animal or tree or a hurricane elevate me to self-consciousness?

Why can’t nature awaken me to my freedom? Why does the source of the summons have to be another mind? Because only what has the ability to employ concepts rationally has the ability to represent me as having the same capacity. The summons would not work if I could not represent the summoner as rational and as representing me as rational. The only thing capable of bringing forth cognition as the effect of its action is a being already capable of cognition.

We may still ask “why can’t nature perform this function?” What determines that it is this object that I represent as summoning me and not that object? The easy answer is that insofar as the object issues the summons it ipso facto ceases to be represented as nature and is retroactively posited as another rational agent. This settles the formal question. But this still leaves the hard problem: namely, how do I know that this very object that I must represent as minded is in fact minded? The concept of intersubjectivity has been deductively established in general, but in each particular application of the concept the question as to the legitimacy of the judgment still seems vulnerable to skeptical doubt.

A similar challenge presents itself in relation to the concept of causality as deduced in the first Critique. Indeed this was Maimon’s criticism: although we may be justified in applying the concept of causality in general as a unifying condition for the possibility of experience, there still needs to be a further criterion for applying the concept in particular empirical circumstances. I may know that X has a cause but how do I know that its cause was A and not B, or C? Constant conjunction. Experiment. Faith. Striving.  The Critique of Judgment attempts to provide justification of our belief in the applicability of our judgments to the natural world. Is Kant’s justification sufficient?

In the case of intersubjectivity, the body of the other serves the function of the schema. Face, hands, eyes, voice. But since he is free, the schema must be extended to reflect the other in its capacity as a free being. This is the function of the concept of right which is an extension of the concept of body. E.g. property, artifacts. The sphere of free expression. Additionally, the summoner must be capable of not only thinking of me as a free rational being but also of treating me as such. It must have the power then to interact with me as a free, but finite embodied being. We must share a mutual life-form including laws of movement, modes of perception and communication. Otherwise I will be deaf to its summons and it to mine.

We may consult anthropology and evolutionary biology to help us answer this question but the only answers that can be provided by the empirical sciences are empirical answers. They settle the what but not the why. Even if it so happens that the summons as it occurred and continues to occur for homo sapiens is an intraspecific summons, this does not tell us why the summons cannot also be interspecific.

Remove intersubjectivity, we remove objectivity the shared world.

Reflective judgment is possible only if I am first capable of distinguishing between the object apprehended as determinate object (particular subsumed under concept) and the object apprehended in its bare particularity. But given the schema, all physical objects are synthesized automatically under the schema of causality without my self-conscious awareness of this synthesis. Schematized appearances are, inter alia, subconscious judgments. We share these cognitions with animals. I am not capable of apprehending myself as individual if I am not capable of apprehending objects as individual and vice versa. What needs to happen, before I can recognize my own contribution to experience is to have an experience devoid of that contribution. I need to experience the object as determinable but subject to no determination in particular by necessity.

In order to know myself as an I (or “pure will”) I need a concept of what I am. But the I is not something I can observe empirically (at least not originally). I find it in the apprehension of my activity. My willing. The activity in which the subject and object are united or brought together; in judgment by affixing a predicate to a subject; and in action by determining an object in accordance with a concept or end. I ask myself “what am I doing?” and when I ask myself this included is the question “what am I (to be)?”

Fichte’s method in the System of Ethics is to begin with a proposition that he takes to be a fundamental presupposition of any and all possible ethical doctrines or systems of moral philosophy and then to derive its conditions of possibility. The proposition is given in the third-person:

“[T]he human mind finds itself to be absolutely compelled to do certain things entirely apart from any extrinsic ends, but purely and simply for the sake of doing them, and to refrain from doing other things, equally independently of any extrinsic ends, purely and simply for the sake of leaving them undone.” (SE, p.19)

In addition to its third-person declarative voice, the sentence is a generic statement. It is not about this mind, or that mind, but about the human mind in general. Fichte allows that the claim may be accepted on faith or its validity may be disputed. In the latter case, one asks after the pedigree of the claim and seeks a “genetic cognition” of the aforementioned fact. On what grounds does one believe that the human mind comes to be categorically compelled in this way?

It is interesting that Fichte answers this question, which seeks a justificatory account of moral consciousness, by shifting into the first-person plural.

“Nothing absolutely excludes any question of a higher ground but this: that we are a we; that is, the I-hood within us, or our rational nature…” (SE, p. 20)

Instead of citing empirical evidence to back up this claim (say gleaned from textbooks on moral psychology or evolutionary biology) Fichte explains the fact about the human mind by referring us back to a structural characteristic of the mind itself, namely its intersubjectivity. An account then, of moral self-consciousness must proceed from a standpoint internal to the object being studied.  Curiously, Fichte equates the alleged fact that “we are a we” with the our “I-hood” and equates the two of them with our “rational nature” implying that a being that instantiates one instantiates the others.  If and only if the human mind is a we can it be called a rational being, an I.

This is a premonition of things to come. For in the sequel, Fichte will go on not only to claim that the ability to think intersubjectively is a condition of our moral consciousness, but he will make the stronger claim that such intersubjectivity is a condition of all self-consciousness in general. The ability to think I-thoughts presupposes the ability to think you-thoughts and we-thoughts.

What are the conditions for self-consciousness that Fichte thinks intersubjectivity supplies?

1) the non-efficient causation condition

2) the individuation condition

3) the modal initiation condition

4) the normative condition

These are conditions that, unmet, foreclose the possibility of knowing oneself as a rational agent, of thinking first-personal thoughts and of acting intentionally. How does Fichte think we come to think of ourselves in intersubjective terms, as one I among others? By the summons. And how do we come to find ourselves summoned? Through what Fichte, following Kant, calls ‘reflective judgment’, through which a concept is freely applied to an object when the object is first encountered in perception as an indeterminate but determinable particular.

What needs to be established is not how something known problematically could ground something known constitutively (or else through intellectual intuition) but how the former could occasion the latter. The relationship between the summons and self-consciousness is not ground to consequent but part to part. The relationship between the summons and intellectual intuition is not ground to consequent but part to whole.

The summons, as Roedl says, is a thought for two. Like a contract, the summons only functions if both parties think of themselves simultaneously as subject and object, agent and patient, of the transaction. If, on the other hand, my own self-consciousness is stirred by the beauty of a sunset, I may think of myself as being in some sense “in conversation” with nature as a whole, but this is no thought of the sun’s.

The whole is self-reverting activity.

“It cannot be too strongly stressed that a rational being is not
something arbitrarily composed from heterogeneous pieces but is a
whole; if one removes one of its necessary components, then one
removes all of them.” – Fichte, Sittenlehre, p.169

The Sittenlehre is, among other things, an exposition of the conditions of the possibility of moral necessity. What is unique to Fichte’s approach is that he is concerned with the experience of moral necessity from the first-person point of view. How is it that within my sphere of possible actions I feel compelled to do only some and to avoid doing others?

In the 1797 introduction to The Science of Knowledge Fichte calls our attention to a fact. This alleged fact is not to pertain to any subject matter in particular or to any specific individual but to any and all persons who simply “attend” to themselves as they engage in the activity of thinking. As such, the fact may be called universal. The fact is the following:

“some of our presentations are accompanied by the feeling of freedom, others by the feeling of necessity.”[1]

Fichte then suggests that it is the task of philosophy to explain how and why these necessity-charged mental presentations arise. Of those presentations that feel free, no further explanatory ground could be given for them, since as free feelings they are unconditioned.

A question arises: is this universal fact a member of the class of free presentations or does it belong to the class of necessary presentations? If the former then philosophy can say nothing further expect that it exists as such. If the latter, then it is necessary that there are presentations of the mind that appear freely. Freedom is necessary. It thus follows, on Fichte’s definition of the purpose of philosophy, that philosophy must explain how and why there are presentations accompanied by a feeling of freedom. Freedom itself cannot be explained. But that there is freedom is a necessary fact and this necessity cries out for explanation. And it is the philosopher’s job to provide one.

Fichte’s System of Ethics also begins with the apprehension of a fact whose explanation he sets as the task of philosophy. The human mind is absolutely compelled to do certain actions for their own sake and to avoid doing other actions simply for the sake of not doing them. Necessity appears again but here in reference to action. It is moral necessity and it is in need of explanation.

Fichte’s project in the Sittenlehre is to provide a deduction of the moral nature of human beings from the “highest or absolute” principle of “I-hood”. Insofar as one then accepts I-hood as a principle, one must accept the moral nature of such I-hood.

Moral nature is essentially indexed to action — what can be done and what is to be done. If our moral nature is action-oriented, and presupposes our existence as agents, then it presupposes the conditions of the possibility of agency. I must represent myself as the intentional source of my movements. I must see myself as end-driven. I must find myself only as willing. My willing is the only thing I am capable of acquainting myself with and not being mistaken about its identity. My relation to objects of perception is structured such that there is space between the form and the content of the thought. The form of the thought is demonstrative, a universal: this man. The content of the thought is a particular but it is also a universal, this man. I cannot be mistaken about the particular to whom a refer with the demonstrative, but that the this that I refer to is a man is something I am in no position to know merely by this act of referring. Here, the act of judgment is not the ground of the knowledge it claims. I can be wrong about the identity of the object I apprehend through perception. I may see a man approaching and think the man is dressed poorly not knowing that this man is me and that instead of a window I look into a mirror. In willing, there is no room for mistaken identity. The subject of the thought is per esse the thinker of the thought. When I think to myself “I will play guitar” there is no room for me to be wrong about who the thought is about.

One of the master ideas of Fichte’s philosophy is that mind as such is essentially indexed to action. Theoretical reason is a form of practical reason. Actions have the unique characteristic of being essentially end-directed, or teleological. This is what distinguishes actions from mere events or happenings. To say that all theoretical reason is grounded in practical reason and that all mindedness is grounded in activity, then, is to say that all thought is teleological. All thinking is directed towards an end. This is sufficient to prove the activity of thought, but it is not enough to show that thought is free. For thought to be free, it must not be directed to any end whatsoever but to an end that it gives itself.

Unless I attribute freedom to the being whom I represent as stimulating me to self-consciousness, I would be forced to conceive of my own resultant mental activity as something merely mechanically caused.  Leaving aside the question whether the mind is the kind of thing capable of being mechanically caused we can focus first on the question whether I would be normatively permitted to think of myself as having been caused in this way. In order to entertain the thought that I may have been mechanically caused, I must think of two different conceptions of the I and try to unite them in one thought. If the conceptions are contradictory then they cannot be united in one thought. One must be rejected as false. But which? Naturally, the concept of the I that is to be rejected is the one that bears no deduction, either through theoretical or practical reason. But since in contemplating the pedigree of my own I-hood I must presuppose that I am doing what I will because I will it and willing what I do because I do it — for otherwise no conclusion could follow logically from the premises of any thought — my moment of self-doubt serves as a practical demonstration of my own reality as the I that is self-sufficient. The mechanical I is thus revealed to be an impossible thought. If a thought were to be mechanical, its parts would be related not per esse but per accidens. If my thought is the judgment, “7 + 5 =12” and if my thought is mechanical, then it cannot be in virtue of my understanding the concepts of 7 and 5 and the rules of addition that I represent their sum as 12. Instead, it is entirely the effect of the mechanism that, lucky though it is, happens upon the right answer by chance. Indeed, it is only on the assumption of the freedom of thought that the notion of a “right” answer even makes sense.

[1] J.G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, trans. Peter Heath and John Lachs, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 6

Within the sphere of freedom, there are some actions that I must do and some that absolutely may not do. That is to say, within the sphere of metaphysical possibility, there is a layer of necessity that is normative.

The reason why I must recognize the freedom of the other is because it is only on that condition that I can posit my own freedom as having been non-causally coaxed out of me. Otherwise, I find myself not as willing but as merely driven. As a finite being I find myself always limited by something. Unless I posit this limitation as something I have willed then I cannot consistently think of myself under the idea of freedom. But since I cannot help but think of myself under this idea I am bound theoretically to the category of rights which I practically rely on in any self-conscious thought. This is a transcendental deduction of the concept of right.

Like Kant’s deduction of the categories, Fichte’s deduction of the concept of right and mutual recognition is transcendentally valid only generally; in each particular case it is valid only problematically. The judgment that the other recognizes me as joined to it in a relation of right is fallible. The other may be deceiving me for his own ends or he may not be the kind of being capable of rationality. How do I determine in each particular case whether to treat the potential other as an actual bearer of rights?

Berkeley on freedom of volition and freedom of imagination

Like Descartes, Berkeley is a metaphysical dualist. But unlike Descartes, Berkeley did not subscribe to a dualism of mind and body but instead developed a unique and robust metaphysical distinction between the realm of ideas, on the one hand, and the realm of spirits, on the other. Rather than follow Descartes in separating the world into that which is material and that which is mental, Berkeley cashes out his distinction in terms of passivity and activity. Ideas, he says, are purely passive entities, while spirits, such as our own mind and God’s, are purely active. Commentators are broadly in agreement on these fundamentals of Berkeley’s ontology. Where there is lively disagreement, however, concerns how we are to interpret Berkeley’s theory of the causal relationship between these two ontologically distinct realms.

In his paper, “Berkeley on the Activity of Spirits”, Sukjae Lee defends an interpretation that attributes to Berkeley the view that human beings enjoy a “dual power” to causally produce two types of distinct output. When we are engaged in willing, we produce volitions which are purely spiritual. When we are engaged in imagining, on the other hand, we are responsible not only for the production of volitions but also for the production of ideas, namely ideas of imagination, which are the effects of prior volitions. Thus, on Lee’s reading, although all of our causal activity originates in the spiritual realm and has, as we might say, spiritual ‘input’, the ontological status of the output of our activity may be either spiritual or ideal, depending on whether it is a volition or an imagining. As Lee puts it,

[W]e have the power to produce volitions, and this power comprises the inner core of our activity in such a way that, even if we were to possess just these powers, we would be genuinely active in virtue of them. But, as it turns out, we are directly aware that, in the case of ideas of imagination, our volitions result in the actual production of the ideas, such that we can claim this power to produce ideas of imagination as well. (p.27)

Lee positions his dual power reading in opposition to Pitcher’s more restrictive ‘single power’ assessment of Berkeley’s theory of human causality[1]. Although Pitcher does not dispute that Berkeley himself thought that the human mind was causally responsible for the production of volitions and the ideas of the imagination, Pitcher tries to make the case that Berkeley “should drop this additional claim that ‘image-volitions’ are the true active causes of their intended effects [I.e. ideas of imagination]” (p.26) because according to Berkeley’s own metaphysics the spirit does not enjoy the ability to directly perceive its own powers. Since the mind has no means of perceiving itself, it has no image of its powers and so no means of knowing whether it is responsible for the images that appear to follow from or accompany its volitions. The problem with this line of argument, Lee suggests, is, for one, that it flies in the face of many passages where Berkley carefully spells out that although the mind has no imagistic knowledge of itself (it being by nature active) it still can “know [itself] by a certain internal consciousness” and through an “inner feeling” or simply through “reflexion” (p.26). Furthermore, it seems that this argument would also have to render the mind’s capacity to know that it has the power produce volitions equally obscure and so equally problematic (p.27). But this is not a move that Pitcher wants to make since he still wants to preserve the single power story.

Someone more sympathetic to Pitcher’s analysis may want to uphold the single power reading by grounding it in an alternative factor that does not rely on Pitcher’s ‘obscurity argument’. The factor I have in mind is the input-output distinction between willing and imagining mentioned above. Simply put, it is because imagining is a two-step process involving input from one ontological realm and output from another that it should not be treated on the same terms as willing, which is a one step-process. Witness that when I will, there is no clear distinction between the act and its product; the volition is the willing. But conversely, when I imagine something, I must first will to do so and then have my volition confirmed or ‘registered’ in the mind’s eye as an idea.

It seems that this is enough to establish the right kind of distinction between acts of will and acts of imagination that Pitcher needs in order to lend the single power story he favours more credence. For while there is no room for an external causal source, e.g. God, to get a wedge in, so to speak, between my volition-as-act and my volition-as-product, it seems that there is ample room for God to have so structured the world that my volitions are succeeded by opposing images, random images or indeed no images at all. Thus, a defender of Pitcher might reason, Berkeley should not have attributed the kind of dual power causality to human beings that Lee’s paper endorses.

[1] ‘Single power’ is not Pitcher’s term.

Berkeley on Ideas and “I”

In Part I of the Principles, Berkeley discusses two ways by which we may come to know an object. The first way (or “head” as he calls it) is through sensory perception, an entirely passive faculty which Berkeley refers to as the way of “ideas” [1](Berkeley, p.56). The second “head” Berkeley calls the way of “spirits” by which he means an active faculty, apprehending its object either through inference or through immediate (non-sensory) acquaintance[2].

As far as the first head goes, the story is familiar empiricism but with an idealist twist: the ideas we have in the mind are sensory impressions or “images” copied from things outside the human mind. The twist is twofold: rather than understanding these things external to the human mind to be material bodies, Berkeley understands them to be simply more ideas, but with (i) a higher degree of reality than the images of sense impression or the “chimeras” of imagination and (ii) existence in the mind of God. Since Berkeley refers to all of these things (sensations, human-mind independent objects, and human-mind dependent imaginings) as ideas it will be helpful to map out some distinctions.

Ideas (real) exist in the mind of God and are the originals of which our ideas (images) are mere copies. Ideas (chimeras) are like images but they do not represent (directly) anything real outside the human mind.[1] This distinction in the taxonomy of ideas seems to be relying on the following principle or criterion of “reality”:

An idea has a higher degree of reality the more it satisfies the following conditions

  • The idea manifests itself with efficacy, order and distinctness
  • The idea must not depend for its existence on a human will (p.36)
  • The idea must not depend for its existence on a human mind.

Assuming this reconstruction is accurate, it is interesting to match each type of idea against these criteria. For example, ideas (real) satisfy 1,2 and 3 as they are “affecting, orderly and distinct” (ibid) and do not rely on the human will nor need to be perceived by a human being in order to exist. However, ideas (images) satisfy 1 and 2 but not 3 while ideas (chimeras) seem to satisfy none.

Is there room, I wonder, for a kind of idea that Berkeley has missed? Namely, an idea that is “affecting, orderly and distinct” (1) but that does depend on the human will and must exist in the human mind? For instance, the notion of the “I” seems to fit the bill but for the fact that Berkeley calls it “absurd” that an active substance which “supports or perceives ideas should itself be an idea or like an ideas” (p.78). Perhaps this is an unhappy use of the word “idea” for Berkeley but it would be a convenient way to justify why we might be committed to ascribing a high degree of reality to the concept of the “I” whilst refraining from associating it with the mode of knowledge Berkeley calls the “way of ideas” which he opposes to the “way of spirits”.

[1] The distinction between ideas (images) and ideas (chimeras) may merely be verbal since in places, Berkeley seems to lump both categories together (e.g. §33 “The ideas imprinted on the senses by the Author of Nature are called real things; and those excited in the imagination being less regular, vivid and constant, are more properly termed ideas, or images of things, which they copy and represent.” (p.35)) Nevertheless, I think there is room for the conceptual distinction since chimeras clearly depend on the human will to a much higher degree than do our sense impressions.

[1] All in-text paginations refer to Berkeley, George, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, edited by Kenneth P. Winkler, Hackett Publishing, Cambridge

[2] I hesitate to use the word “acquaintance” here to talk about the way Berkeley thinks we know, for example, our own mind or God’s. All we need keep in mind is that this word in no way connotes a receptive relationship to the object thus known.

Sukjae Lee on Malebranche’s local arguments for Occasionalism: No representations and mind-body causation

After discussing the “Representation Principle” (RP) of Malebranche’s No Representations (NR) argument[1] as it relates locally[2] to mind-body[3] causation, Sukjae Lee raises a concern about how we should understand the RP condition as it relates to mind-mind causation or volitional action.  The RP principle states that

If a thinking substance A is the cause of bodily [or mental] event B, then A intends B by representing B and is aware of this representation. (Lee, p.83)[4]

In the case of mind-body interaction, RP appears to foreclose on the possibility of the mental being a genuine cause of the physical since it is implausible to claim that we are capable of representing at a sufficiently “high level of detail” the entire causal process that transpires between the initiation of an action in, say, a decision to raise one’s arm, and the termination of that action in the rising of the arm (p.84). As far as mind-body interaction goes, the discrepancy between the complexity of the causal process and the paucity of detail contained in our representations of that process seems to be Malebranche’s principle reason for denying the mind true causality.

Setting aside whether or not NR is persuasive in the mind-body case, Lee considers how the Representation Principle might relate to volitional actions, these being quintessential examples of mind-mind causation that do not involve any transference of causal or “motor force” to a body, even when the body in question is our own. Noting that there are many passages in which Malebranche “appears to endorse some sort of real causality within souls” (p.86)  Lee asks “[h]ow does something like the NR argument relate to our volitional actions, which…seem to consist [merely] in the consent or suspension of consent to a particular good” (p.87).

Specifically at issue is whether or not we have to satisfy RP in order to qualify as genuine causes of our own volitions and if not why there would be an exception to the rule in this case. For one thing, the RP condition seems to pose much less of a problem than it does in the mind-body case; gone is the worry that my representation of the intended event will be lacking in sufficient detail. If the RP condition does apply to the exercise of volition, perhaps Malebranche believes we can meet it.

Despite its plausibility, Lee raises the interesting  possibility that this conclusion might conflict with another commitment of Malebranche’s, namely, that we do not have clear and distinct knowledge of the soul, including, presumably, its essential properties and causal powers (p.87-8)[5].  Lee’s thought seems to be that laying claim to a degree of mental transparency sufficient to satisfy the RP condition might be seen to be in tension with the belief, held with no less conviction, that our knowledge of the soul is severely limited. What further complicates things is that Malebranche appears in places to ground the volitional capacity itself in the very fact that the nature of the mind is inscrutable and differs in inexplicable ways from the nature of body (Ibid).  If we don’t have a clear idea of the soul, in other words, then we can’t know that God hasn’t orchestrated things such that we are able to exercise our wills freely. And this negative belief is enough, according to Malebranche on this interpretation, to warrant the positive belief in freedom of the will[6]. Such a conclusion, Lee speculates , “seems to go against the very idea that we have knowledge of a key principle governing our volitional actions like RP” (p.87). Lee ends his discussion on this point with an attempted resolution.

Briefly, Lee’s solution is to suggest that we can uphold the inscrutability of the mind without giving up on RP.

Malebranche could well agree that for the moral powers to be there, one does have to represent the particular outcome towards which the soul is to be directed, despite the fact that these powers themselves are mysterious and inexplicable. (p.88)

As attractive as it is, this solution may frustrate Malebranche’s desire to hold fast to NR when it comes to mind-body causation. For why couldn’t I use the same reasoning to claim that I am the true cause of my arm’s going up given that I can (a) represent (in lossless detail) the outcome of my intention to lift my arm and (b) affirm that the power that I exercise in doing so is “mysterious and inexplicable”? (Ibid).

Lee could respond by pointing out that even if we were to refute NR in the case of mind-body interaction we would still be blocked by the Passive Natures (PN[7]) argument since no amount of representation could add a motor force to a body which is in itself entirely inert.  Furthermore, even if we granted that the mind could somehow impart a force to a body, this would still do nothing to explain how that force could be transferred from one body to the next without the direct intervention of God. And since it is plausible to think that there are numerous body-body links along the causal chain uniting my volition to the intended outcome, we would still be very far from establishing any kind of necessary connection between the two.

To be sure, it is clear that one would need to do a lot more work to destabilize Malebranche’s core occasionalist commitments, including his global arguments which we have not touched on here. Nevertheless, it would not be inconsequential to have built a case using a commitment immanent to Malebranche’s philosophy itself — namely, the inexplicable mystery of the soul — that shows that at least one of the local arguments for occasionalism does not go through. If volitional liberty can be harbored in the mystery of the mind then why not allow cases of mind-body causation to be explained (or not explained) by the same mystery?

[1] The argument is Malebranche’s but the designation “No Representations Argument” is Lee’s.

[2] Although the causality in question involves two substances, viz. mind and body, the argument is “local” insofar as it is designed to show that the mind cannot be the true cause or source of interaction between mind and body. Hence it meant to establish only that the mind is causally impotent when it comes such actions.

[3] Like Lee, I mean by “mind-body causation” cases in which the causal agent is the mind and the patient the body. The opposite relationship would, of course, be notated as “body-mind causation” which is not under discussion in Lee’s paper.

[4] All paginations refer to Lee, Sukjae, “Passive Natures and No Representations: Malebranche’s Two “Local” Arguments for Occassionalism”

[5] Lee credits Tad Schmaltz with this analysis.

[6] Although this is hardly the place to go into it, I detect a slight affinity between this argument and Kant’s deriving a pro tanto justification for practical belief in freedom from the proof that we can have no theoretical insight into such a faculty given our cognitive finitude.

[7] This is Lee’s name for Malebranche’s second local argument for occasionalism. It refers to the idea that the notion of body when perceived clearly and distinctly can be known to be passive and incapable of generating movement from itself.

Mere Conservationism and the distinction between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ when it comes to believing.

Mere conservationists hold that secondary causes are the immediate and per se causes of their effects. They also hold that God’s role in any secondary causal process is only to conserve the existence of the secondary cause allowing it to carry out its own proper effect.  Freddoso formulates the three central tenants of mere conservationism as follows:

(CON)   Necessarily, for any participated[1] being x and time t such that x exists throughout a temporal interval that includes t but begins                                        before t, God conserves x per se and immediately at t.

(SC)       In general, created substances causally contribute both actively and passively to the existence of various entities at various times.

(MC)     Necessarily, for any entity x and time t, if any created substance produces x at as an immediate and per se cause, then God is a                                          (merely) remote cause of x at and not an immediate and per se cause of x at t. (Freddoso, p.566)[2]

Three arguments from Suarez are presented by Freddoso to show that MC is an unstable position that should be abandoned in favour of a metaphysics that either reserves a larger role for God’s causal influence, viz. concurrentism, or reserves a smaller role, viz. deism (p.567). For our purposes, we will examine only the first of Suarez’s arguments.

Argument One tries to show that CON relies on an ambiguous conception of the term ‘conservation’ that, once clarified, should lead one to reject MC and affirm concurrentism (SC + CON) or reject CON and affirm deism (SC + MC) (p.569).  Paraphrasing Freddoso, Suarez’s thought seems to be that in order for CON to do any meaningful dialectical work the notion of ‘conservation’ upon which it relies must apply equally to participated beings in their existence (esse) and in their coming to be (fieri).

Or, as Suarez himself puts it

[T]he existence of a thing cannot depend more on an adequate cause after it has come into existence than it did when it was coming into existence.  [DM 22, sec. 1.7] (p.567)

In other words, there is no principled way to draw a metaphysical distinction between the way in which a being depends on God’s conservation for its existence and the way in which it depends upon God’s conservation for its coming into existence.

[I]f it is not the case that all things come to exist immediately from God, then neither is it the case that they are conserved immediately. [DM 22, sec. I.7] (Ibid.)

Thus, we have a dichotomy: either esse and fieri both depend on God’s immediate per se conservation in which case MC is false; or else neither esse nor fieri depend on God’s immediate per se conservation in which case CON is false. Since denying MC leads to concurrentism and denying CON leads to deism, the very possibility of the mere conservationist position (and the persuasiveness of Argument One) depends entirely on whether or not we take the dichotomy that Suarez has set up to be genuine or false.

In the brief space that follows, I want to consider how one might go about arguing that Argument One is based on a false dichotomy.

An argument from reason:

If we take the beliefs of rational beings to count as participated beings then it seems intuitively plausible that the esse of a belief relates to God’s conservation in a different way than does its fieri. For although the existence of the belief — say, that “2+2=4” — depends on God’s immediate conservation in a non-controversial way, it is not at all clear that my coming to believe this fact relies in any way on God’s immediate conservation.  Rather, it appears intuitively that my belief, when it is true, follows exclusively from assessment of the reasons I have for believing it.  But since the metaphysical status of beliefs in Suarez’s philosophy has not been directly clarified here, this solution can only be preliminary.

[1] For the purposes of this brief discussion, we can understand ‘participated being’ as any being that is not God.

[2] All citations refer to Freddoso, Alfred J., “God’s General Concurrence with Secondary Causes: Why Conservation is Not Enough”, Philosophical Perspectives, Vol.5, Philosophy of Religion (1991). pp. 553-585