Fichte Freedom Framework

Here are some of the best justifications for a Fichte freedom framework.

All action results from our ability to reflect; recognizing self-awareness is the basis of all philosophy. WOOD:

Allen W. Wood. "Fichte's Philosophy of Right and Ethics," forthcoming in Günter Zöller (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Fichte. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre is a "science of science as such" (GA I/2:117-118, EW 105-106). It is grounded on a principle which is claimed to be absolutely certain, and to convey the same certainty to the  propositions grounded on it (GA I/2:116, EW 104). The absolutely first principle of the Wissenschaftslehre is the 'I'. It is chosen for its simplicity as well as its certainty, but it turns out to be more complex than it seems. Every act of awareness, Fichte maintains, involves an awareness of the I. "No object comes to consciousness except under the condition that I am aware of myself, the conscious subject" (GA I/4:274-275). Fichte seems to have in mind here what Sartre was later to call the "pre-reflective" or "non-positional" self-consciousness we have even when our attention is focused on objects entirely distinct from the self. If I am reading a novel, for example, my attention is not on myself (or my reading activity) but on the characters in the story, and what they are doing. But if my reading is interrupted by someone ask[s]ing me what I am doing, I reply immediately that I am (and have for some time been) reading; and the self-awareness on the basis of which I answer the question is not something acquired at just that moment but a consciousness of myself which has been present to me all along. For Fichte what is crucial about this awareness is not only its ubiquity and certainty, but equally the fact that it is an awareness of activity, which is present in our most passive states of perception. In every thought you directly note activity and freedom in this thinking, in this transition from thinking the I to thinking the table, the walls, etc. Your thinking is for you an acting" (GA I/4:271-272). What Fichte means by the 'I', regarded as the absolute principle of all philosophy, is nothing but this awareness of our own activity, which is an inevitable ingredient in any awareness and provides us with an ineluctable consciousness of our freedom. The 'I', then, is for Fichte the absolute foundation of philosophy because it is simultaneously the transcendental unity of apperception on which Kant based the possibility of theoretical cognition and the postulate of freedom which was the foundation of practical philosophy. If Fichte derives the ubiquitous certainty of the I from pre-reflective self-awareness, that does not mean that he intends to exclude reflective self-awareness from the first principle. For one of the most characteristic activities of a free I is that of reflecting on itself, and we will see that Fichte uses this feature of self-awareness to derive some of his most ambitious conclusions.  In pre-reflective activity the I "posits itself absolutely"; but in reflection it "reiterates this positing" or "reverts into itself" (GA I/2:408, SK 243; GA I/4:212-213). Reflection is not a feature of the I at all times, but the I's free activity essentially involves a "capacity for reflection" (GA I/2:423, SK 258), and it is essential to being an I that the I should (sometimes) exercise this capacity: "If it is to be an I, it must also posit itself as self-posited" (GA I/2:408, SK 241). In reflecting on itself, the I forms a concept of itself (GA I/4:213, I/3:329).  Every act of conceptualization involves distinguishing the item brought under a given concept from those excluded from it. Therefore, reflective self-awareness involves the I's self-limitation: the I must distinguish itself from what it is not. From this Fichte infers that the very possibility of the I requires its limitation by a "not-I": "The following is implicit in our principle: The I posits itself as limited by the not-I" (GA I/2:285, SK 122). To posit the I is at the same time to "counterposit" a not I (GA I/2:268, SK 105; I/3:330). This means that the activity of the I must be twofold: that of the I, directed toward a not-I and that of a not-I, directed back against the I as a "collision" or "check" (Anstoss) of the I's activity (GA I/2:354-362, SK 189-196). Since both are conditions of the I's existence, Fichte regards both as activities of the I: the former is "ideal" activity, the latter "real" activity (GA I/2:402-404. SK 236-238). 

Free activity consists of choosing among possibilities for acting through which I determine who I am. An individual I can make the transition from possibilities of who it might be to the free decision of who it is by setting an end, acting upon a reason for making the transition, and then actualizing the end. But individual reason cannot account for itself on the basis of itself alone – one must be summoned to act freely. Having a concept of agency requires seeing that agency in the external world – multiple warrants. WOOD (2):

Allen Wood. Fichte’s Intersubjective I. (Stanford University, USA) Inquiry, Volume 49, Number 1 (February, 2006)

The whole point of the summons, in fact, is that it is what first makes our individuality possible for us, through present[s] us with the concept of our own individual free action in the form of an object of our consciousness. I think Fichte chooses the term Aufforderung because its meaning is delicately balanced between the idea of something we merely can do and the idea of something we should do, or at least have some reason to do. What is clear, however, is that it cannot mean something we are compelled to do or have no choice about doing. Thus if the translation ‘summons’ suggests legal coercion, then that is positively misleading as to Fichte’s meaning. The decisive difference here is between an object that merely restricts our freedom and an object that makes freedom possible. This for Fichte is what is most basic to distinguishing the concept of another I from the concept of the mere not-I (the material world). The not-I resists our ends or may be brought into conformity with them. It may compel us to take one means to them rather than another, or it may make them impossible. But it cannot be the source from which we draw the concept of those ends. A summons, however, is precisely an object of consciousness which makes the concept of an end possible.  How can a summons, in this sense, be considered a transcendental condition of free activity? We have seen that Fichte describes the summons as “contain[ing] within itself the real ground of a free decision” (GA 4:2:179). To act freely, on this conception, is to act in response to grounds or reasons. Reasons have the peculiarity that they are the only possible determinant of what we do that does not compel or causally necessitate what we do, or restrict in any way the possibilities we have open to us. A good reason explains why I do what I have reason to do, but never takes away from me the possibility of doing otherwise. In fact, it makes sense as a reason only as long as this possibility exists. Accordingly, there are two fundamentally different ways that facts in the world might be given to us as agents: first, there are facts that causally necessitate what we do, restricting our freedom to do otherwise; second, there are [or] facts that determine what we do by presenting themselves as reasons for acting. I think Fichte was struck by the fundamental importance of this difference, and inferred from it that there must be something quite distinctive about the way that facts are given to us as reasons. His bold thought is that such facts can be given to us only through a distinctive kind of not-I that we regard as containing within itself the understanding of a reason, and hence free activity – in other words, through a not-I that is itself an I, namely, an I other than my own I. Only another rational being would be capable of having the concept of a free action and a ground or reason for free action. This is in fact the claim through which Fichte establishes this part of his argument.   “I could therefore find a certain self-determination only through ideal activity; through imitation of one that is present at hand, and present at hand without my doing (Zuthun)…I cannot comprehend this summons to self-activity without ascribing it to an actual being outside me that wills to communicate[s] a concept of the action demanded, and hence is capable of the concept of that concept; but such a being is a rational being, one that posits itself as an I, hence an I” (SW 4:220-221). At times Fichte gives this last point what we may call a genetic presentation: Being an individual I, placing before oneself an end, is something a rational being must be educated to do, through the influence of another rational being. “A human being becomes a human being only among human beings.” Freedom is possible only through upbringing (Erziehung) through the influence of other free beings (SW 3:39-40; cf. SW 4:221). The summons should be understood as that kind of object through which something like a reason for a free action can first be given to us. Fichte’s argument is that application of the concept of another I is the transcendental condition for the possibility of our awareness of a reason for acting. “It follows that if there are to be human beings at all, there must be more than one…The concept of a human being is not the concept of an individual – for an individual human being is unthinkable – but rather the concept of a species” (SW 3:39). “Self-consciousness therefore originates with my act of selection from a general mass of rational beings as such…[A free individual] subsists only in the whole, and by means of the whole, as a portion of the whole” (GA 4:2:177).  Acting rationally, even acting autonomously, in other words, is not something a human being could do alone. Autonomy thus consists not in rejecting the influence of others, but in being influenced by others in the right way. Education, and being given reasons for action constitute an essentially different way of being influenced by the world from any merely causal influence, through which one may be coerced, or manipulated, or conditioned to behave, but not enabled to act freely or autonomously. If we embrace some conception of mind and action that cannot distinguish what Fichte calls a ‘summons’ from being causally influenced in general, then we should not expect to understand human freedom or rational action at all. Fichte’s argument implies that those who think of human individuality and freedom as somehow distinct from, or even in opposition to, human community, understand neither the nature of individual freedom nor the nature of community. Fichte’s view here, if correct, would also have some important implications for our conceptions of reason and rationality. Giving oneself a reason for acting is derivative from being given a reason by others and from giving others a reason. Giving others a reason is the internalization of being given a reason by another, and giving oneself a reason is only an application to oneself of giving others a reason. Just as the nature of a mental state is not known exclusively by its owner, so a reason for me is not something answerable only to my perspective. Kant is right that rational thinking is thinking for yourself, but also from the standpoint of everyone else.5 It follows that there is something fundamentally wrongheaded about developing conceptions of rationality that are oriented exclusively to the agent’s standpoint (the agent’s desires, beliefs and preferences). The ideally rational person cannot therefore be conceived of (as often seems to happen in the theories of rational choice theorists, game theorists, and economists) as a calculating sociopath with a gambling addiction.

The conclusion is that ascribing to oneself agency involves ascribing the same capacity to other rational beings since intersubjectivity is a precondition to actualizing my own agency. If my freedom is valuable, there can be no objection to deny another’s since they innately possess the same right and that would be to deny my own worth.

[This framework originally and generously contributed by Torrey Pines VB.]