Saturday, October 25, 2008

A very good point from Johann Gotlieb Fichte

Something that proves the worth of reading this person who is generally forgotten and unknown in the English speaking world.
The point is from the first introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte's most major philosophical work.

Picture the thing that Western philosophy, specifically Anglo and French philosophy, have taken as their jumping off point for centuries, Descarte's "I think therefore I am", "Cogito Ergo Sum". Fichte makes the case that if you focus on exploring a concrete "I", taking that as your base, then you have to buy into determinism for the self. The reason is that the more the "I" is concretely defined the more subject it is to both internal and external laws. Take Utilitarianism, for instance. By defining humans as motivated purely by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, human nature that does not fit into that box is rendered non-existent. The pleasure-pain concept determines the character of the self and puts human beings in a social universe where the working out of pleasure and pain relationships can predict in large part what your life and the life of society as a whole is going to look like, in a general sense, even though there are variations regarding people's individual tastes and individual interpretations of what pleasure and pain really are. Free will becomes a constant problem, then, partially because of the attempt to give concrete meaning to the self. That is the self isolated from reality.

Fichte argues that a way out of this is to start from our sense perceptions and work inward. The reason he does this is because he sees the individual, and what we call the self, floating in a see of contextual meaning, floating in a world of experience that goes far beyond what we comprehend when we look inward only. He bargains that if we can figure out the basic universe in which the self is situated that we can therefore comprehend what we call the self more easily. By self he means the mind examining itself in a self conscious way, giving an illusion that there's a concrete self when it's only a kind of self reflection of the mind. That means, in turn, that to really look at what we mean by self we need to examine the deeper workings of the mind, which knowledge of experience will no doubt help to do.

The model of the person, the mind, floating in a sea of experience guarantees freedom, then, because it leaves open the question of the working of the outside world. The self, then, only has to reckon with the traditional questions of things like free will once the understanding of experience has been worked out, and by that time questions like "free will" may well prove to be culturally determined instead of truly valid and these questions may be seen as aspects of other, more complex, questions, that we are barely aware of now.

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