Intros to European Philosophy: Fichte

JOHANN GOTTLIEB FICHTE (1762-1814)

Previously read: nil

Key texts: Vocation of Man, Bk. 3

Overall impression: It only seems natural that philosophic discourse should finally focus its lens on will as the pendulum had swung far too to the search for knowledge.  Why do we contemplate at all?  Not for the accumulation of knowledge, but for action – for the application of will.  However, I remain surprised that such a thinker would wave aside the frustration which focus on the will to action (and therefore the frustration of being thwarted) would lead to.  If there is some world-will or Spirit guiding matters, am I to accept its whims so readily?

Surprises:

“Knowledge is not this organ [by which to apprehend the reality of Spirit]: no knowledge can be its own foundation, its own proof; every knowledge presupposes another higher knowledge on which it is founded, and to this ascent there is no end.

(European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley: pp. 494-495)”

Perhaps not ascent or descent, but knowledge is no set limited series of possibilities – it is a progression followed by a digression, which is occasionally an improvement.

~~“Conscience alone is the root of all truth. (ibidem, p. 495)”  As I think conscience to be our internal ideals mirrored back upon the self so that it either accepts, abrogates, or noticeably winces at the perceived reflection, my opinion differs.  Truth is culturally expressed and so is conscience; otherwise I find this definition interesting but not particularly useful.

“Our thought is not founded on itself alone, independently of our impulses and affections; man does not consist of two independent and separate elements; he is absolutely one.  All our thought is founded on our impulses; as a man’s affections are, so is his knowledge. (European Philosophers, p. 496)”

**no comment, just ponder.

“The good cause is ever the weaker, for it is simple, and can be loved only for itself; the bad attracts each individual by the promise that is most seductive to him; and its adherents, always at war among themselves, so soon as the good makes its appearance, conclude a trace that they may unite the whole powers of their wickedness against it.  Scarcely, indeed, is such an opposition needed, for even the good themselves are but too often divided by misunderstanding, error, distrust, and secret self-love…Thus do all good intentions among men appear to be lost in vain disputations, which leave behind them no trace of their existence; while in the meantime the world goes on as well, or as ill, as it can be without human effort, by the blind mechanism of Nature – and so will go on forever. (pp. 506-507)”

Very astute.  The idealist wants everyone to agree with her particular application of the ideal while wickedness offers many rewards with less personal cost (only the cost of being a person).  And Nature chugs along while Wisdom cries in the streets.

“There is no man who loves evil because it is evil; it is only the advantages and enjoyments expected from it and, in the present condition of humanity, likely to result from it, that are loved. (p. 511)”

Someone’s been reading Augustine.

~*~“Reason is not for the sake of existence, but existence for the sake of reason. (p. 513)”  Aye, only we find that existence is not a set object so that we speak of existences and, therefore, reasons which are chosen because they serve the more desired modes of existence.

**~“Alas!  Many virtuous intentions are entirely lost for this world, and others appear even to hinder the purpose they were designed to promote. (p. 514)”  I ‘ve been shewing Descartes to have fallen into this trap; in fact it is the very danger of being understood (as Nietzsche would have it).  The greatest enemies to one’s ideals are too often oneself (and close supporters).

“I am indeed compelled to believe, and consequently to act as if I thought, that by mere volition my tongue, my hand, or my foot, might be set in motion; but how a mere aspiration, an impress of intelligence upon itself, such as will is, can be the principle of motion to a heavy material mass, this I not only find it impossible to conceive, but the mere assertion is, before the tribunal of the understanding, a palpable absurdity; here the movement of matter even in myself can be explained only by the internal forces of matter itself.

(European Philosophers, p. 522)”

Oh the absurdities of life which we assume.  Likewise the following: “I see everywhere only myself, and no true existence out of myself. (ibidem, p. 529)”

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This is Just a Thought…

I am stuck wondering whether conscience can be thought of as a self-formed tradition. To violate one’s conscience seems on the sur-face to very much mirror the identity-scarring we see when societies make scape-goats of egregious norm-violators. Hm…so, a formed tradition will have core values nearer an almost organic centre; the typical society-member naturally shudders when such core values are near to being crossed.

Similarly, are not our own self-images things formed largely as illuminated by our respective pasts? “I know I would never (for I have always managed not to…or I never really considered…)” Is there not a similar physical aversion to violating such images (unless and until core values are reconsidered and reordered) in our very depths? So much of this is surely unconscious, “I am not the sort who…” yet if we examine closely, there are certain central tenets not so easily moved from their defining positions.

A weak conscience is therefore a weakly bordered tradition – one in which the core values have little power to affect one’s decision-making. Hm…does anyone else find this ‘consideration as’ meaningful, I wonder?