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.”
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.
 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?