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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Figuring the self: subject, absolute, and others in classical German
philosophy I David E. Klemm and Gunter Zoller, editors.
p. em. - (SUNY series in philosophy)
Chiefly proceedings of a conference held Apr. 9-11, 1992, at the
University of Iowa.
Includes index.
ISBN 0-7914-3199-1 (hc : alk. paper). - ISBN 0-7914-3200-9 (pbk.
: alk. paper)
1. Self (Philosophy) 2. Absolute, The. 3. Philosophy,
German-18th century. 4. Philosophy, German-19th century.
1. Klemm, David E., 1947- . II. Zoller, Giinter, 1954-
III. Series.
B2748.S44F54 1996
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
David E. Klemm and Gunter Zoller
The self is notoriously elusive. It is not something to be encountered
like other things in the world. Rather, it provides the very perspective or stand-
point from which any such encounter with other things can take place. Accord-
ingly, our ordinary ways of thinking about the world and its objects are ill-
suited to articulating the peculiar status and function of the self. Not
surprisingly, then, philosophical elucidations of the self have been the point of
origin for new ways of thinking not only about the self but also about all the
other things from which the self is to be differentiated and to which it is yet inti-
mately related. This holds equally for past attempts, such as Descartes' intro-
duction of the cogito as the ultimate foundation of certainty in knowledge, and
contemporary efforts in philosophy of mind, such as the semantics of indexical
A particularly intriguing way of thinking about the self can be found in
the work of Immanuel Kant and his successors, the German idealists. In the
decades around 1800, these philosophers developed detailed and varied theories
that place the self at the very center of philosophical reflection. The classical
German way of thinking about the self is characterized by a decidedly idealist
bent. The self is understood not only as the ground of all knowledge concerning
the world, but also as the ground of the very reality of the world. The idealist
extension of the self's original, epistemological function to a larger, meta-
physical role made it imperative to develop a specific terminology that
addressed the radical, world-constituting function of the self. The absolute-
ness of the self as the universal condition of reality was expressed by such
constructs as "subject," "subject-object," and "spirit."
Two hundred years after its inception, the German idealist thinking about
the self is both a source of embarrassment and a challenge. The unabashed
viii Introduction
idealist stance of the German idealists has found virtually no followers in con-
temporary philosophy, and even leads to revisionist, nonmetaphysical read-
ings of the classical German authors themselves. And yet the sustained reflec-
tion on the structure of the self that is to be found in Kant and his successors
remains an important point of orientation and inspiration for historically
informed attempts at a theory of human selfhood.
Much of the recent attempts to retrieve classical German thinking about
the self for contemporary philosophy of mind have originated in the work of the
German philosopher Dieter Henrich and a number of his associates, most
prominently among them Manfred Frank. In works like theirs, historical
research into the exceedingly difficult central arguments of Kant and his idealist
successors is carried out in a spirit at once critical and appreciative. Moreover,
the reconstruction and assessment of classical German theories about the self
has been increasingly informed by related discussions in analytic philosophy of
mind, thus contributing to an emerging dialogue between different historical
periods and philosophical traditions.
The essays in the present volume partake in this ongoing project of rein-
troducing classical German thinking about the self into contemporary philo-
sophical discussion. They provide the English-speaking reader with a survey of
the main issues and positions to be found in German thinking about the self
around 1800, while also introducing a contemporary perspective on the histor-
ical material. The essays present, discuss, and assess accounts of the self in the
main philosophical authors of the period. In addition to the primary figures-
Kant, Schelling, and Hegel-some of the lesser-known participants in the
debate on the self receive critical attention, among them the philosophical the-
ologian Schleiermacher and the poets Holderlin and Novalis. In disciplinary
terms, the accounts of the self covered span a broad range of areas, from meta-
physics and epistemology through ethics, political and social philosophy to
aesthetics and philosophy of religion. The volume as a whole thus provides a
detailed and comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of German idealism
through the focus of the theory of the self.
The essays are organized under three headings, each of them addressing
a'key concept for figuring the self in classical German philosophy. Part One
examines the role of the self as the subject underlying our experience of the
world. Manfred Frank carefully distinguishes between the fact that selves have
consciousness of their very being ("subjectivity") and the fact that selves are
unique and not interchangeable ("individuality"). Frank places the Kantian
and post-Kantian discussion of the self into the larger context of modern and
contemporary thinking about mind and consciousness. Richard Aquila pro-
vides a detailed reading of Kant's account of the subject of mental activity.
Aquila stresses the proximity of Kant's doctrine of inner sense to a nonmeta-
physical theory of the soul. Karl Ameriks surveys the recent interpretations of
Introduction ix
Kant's theory of mind. Ameriks' s critical assessment focuses on readings of
Kant that draw on the work of Fichte. Gunter Zoller presents Fichte' s tran-
scendental theory of consciousness and self-consciousness. Zoller's emphasis
is on the methodological requirements for an adequate account of the subjec-
tivity of the I.
Part Two examines the dependence of the self on some ultimate, absolute
ground. Dieter Henrich argues for the role of metaphysical thinking in our
understanding of the self and its place in the world. He focuses on the close
connection between the self-relation expressed in the first-person singular pro-
noun, "I," and the pure self-relation of the absolute developed by Hegel. Jane
Kneller examines the accounts of selfhood that can be found in the novels of
Holderlin and Novalis. In these literary conceptions of selfhood, Kneller detects
a critique of Fichte's theory of self-consciousness and a return to Kant's agnos-
ticism about the ultimate nature and origin of the self. Richard Velkley dis-
cusses the relation between self and nature in Schelling's theory of art. His
focus is on the philosophical potential of art and on the role of the self as artis-
tic genius. David Klemm presents Schleiermacher's theory of mind, according
to which the unity of the thinking self and the willing self lies in immediate self-
consciousness or feeling. Klemm concentrates on Schleiennacher's theological
interpretation of immediate self-consciousness as both an empirical feeling
and a transcendental cognition of the utter dependence of the self-positing "I"
on an absolute ground he calls "God."
Part Three is concerned with the mutual dependence of self and others.
Walter Jaeschke clarifies Hegel's complex position on the nature and value
of subjectivity. He argues that Hegel's critique of the principle of subjec-
tivity in modern philosophy and romantic thought is entirely compatible
with Hegel's own conception of the infinite subject as mediated with its
own other. Jeffrey Hoover compares the accounts of ownership in Schleier-
macher and Hegel. Hoover shows how social and economic relations with
other selves are part of the concrete realization of the self. John Durham
Peters examines Hegel's account of symbolic interaction through language..
Peters reads Hegel's treatment of self-consciousness and spirit as providing
a theory of communication between selves. David Stern traces the Kantian
heritage of the accounts of selfhood in Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Stern
diagnoses a continued presence of Kant's emphasis on the active and struc-
turing function of the self.
Earlier versions of ten of the twelve essays collected here were presented
at a conference on the classical German theory of the self that was held at the
University of Iowa under the title Figuring the Self on April 9-11, 1992. The
conference was sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the School of
Religion, and the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry at the University of Iowa,
with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The
x Introduction
conference was in turn the culminating event of a semester-long Scholars
Workshop, directed by the editors of the present volume, and supported by a
grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities under the auspices of
the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry at the University of Iowa.
The two essays not originally presented at the Iowa conference, by Man-
fred Frank and Dieter Henrich, were included in order to provide some of the
German context for the work of the American-based scholars represented in this
volume. Frank's essay was published originally under the title "Subjektivitat
und Individualitat: Uberblick tiber eine Problemlage," in Selbstbewuf3tsein und
Selbsterkenntnis (© 1991 Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co., Stuttgart). Hen-
rich's essay, originally entitled "SelbstbewuBtsein und spekulatives Denken,"
was written for the French journal Critique and thus with a French audience in
mind. It subsequently appeared in Fluchtlinien: Philosophische Essays (©
Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1982). The two essays were translated by
Gunter Zoller and appear here with the kind cooperation of the authors and the
permission of the publishers.
The pieces by Frank and Henrich exemplify two main positions in current
German thinking about the self. Frank contrasts the semantic and epistemo-
logical orientation of the account of selfhood in analytic philosophy of mind
with the constitutive role of understanding and interpretation in self-conscious
individuals as emphasized by the hermeneutical tradition. By contrast, Henrich
draws on the tradition of Hegelian metaphysics and portrays the self as tran-
scending the natural world and its ontology of individuality altogether, relating
it instead to the absolute conceived as mediated self-relation. While Frank sug-
gests a complementary relation between Continental and analytic thinking on
the mind, Henrich radically challenges the naturalism underlying virtually all
current accounts of mind and self.
The editors wish to thank their colleagues in the Department of Philoso-
phy, the School of Religion, and the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry at the Uni-
versity of Iowa for supporting the Scholars Workshop and the conference that
provided the basis for this collection of essays. Special thanks go to the execu-
tive director of the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry, Kate Neckerman, and her
staff, for their valuable help with all phases of the project, from the grant writ-
ing through the Workshop and conference organization. Valuable technical
support in preparing the translation of Dieter Henrich's essay was provided
by Maurene Morgan.
Following the lead of the Iowa conference, an international conference on
the self in German philosophy was held at the University of Notre Dame in
April 1994. A volume with papers from that gathering, edited by Karl Ameriks
Introduction xi
and Dieter Sturma, has since appeared under the title The Modern Subject:
Conceptions of the Self in Classical German Philosophy (Albany: State Uni-
versity of New York Press, 1995). That volullle contains two further pieces by
Manfred Frank along with essays by German and American scholar-philoso-
phers and includes a bibliography.
Part One
Self and Subject
Subjectivity and Individuality:
Survey of a Problem*
Manfred Frank
"Subjectivity" and "individuality": with these words, two states of affairs
are evoked with which we believe ourselves to be familiar at all times. After all,
they stand for precisely those objects, among all the objects in the world, which
we take to be ourselves. We are, first, subjects in general, that is, beings that are
not just what they are but that have as an essential property self-conscious-
ness of this their being. And we are, second, individuals, that is, unique and
unmistakable subjects. We live in such an intimate and doubt-free familiarity
with ourselves that the mere question regarding our subjectivity might seem
aberrant, a business typical of idle philosophers. There may oe other questions
that cannot be answered, which may even be without meaning, such as the
question of whether we have a soul and, if so, whether it is immortal, or
whether there is an external world independent of our consciousness, or
whether our moral conscience acts according to evident reasons. All these
questions have indeed been posed by the metaphysical tradition. They are of
vital interest. Those questions are genuine, where "genuine" means that their
answers are not obvious, that they cannot even be given in a final form-
except in the unsatisfactory manner of dissolving rather than solving the prob-
lem at issue, that is, making it disappear as a problem. The latter is Wittgen-
stein's therapeutic procedure, which regards metaphysical thinking as a kind of
disease from which philosophy wants to heal humanity as though from some
By contrast, the question concerning the essence of subjectivity and indi-
viduality is obviously already answered through the self-conscious existence of
the one who poses the question. In order for him or her to be able to ask that
question, he or she already had to be familiar with the state of affairs designated
by those concepts. And no state of affairs in the world could be more inti-
4 Self and Subject
mately familiar to us than this familiarity itself: that strangely elusive cognition
that turns phenomena into the experience of phenomena and that as it were
turns on a light in the darkness that covers the unconscious. Thus on first
glance, our questions concerning the ontological and epistemological status
of subjectivity and individuality seem either superfluous or even suspicious.
Will this impression persist, if we take the time for a second glance?
Are not those very states of affairs about which we have the feeling of an
unsurpassable certainty and familiarity in reality among all the phenomena of
the world that are the most thoroughly concealed? And is it not rather the case
that the subjectivity that we each are in an unmistakable way (or pretend to be)
al",/ays remains a sealed book that obstinately resists being opened, exactly
because of its enormous familiarity? Heidegger once spoke of the subjects that
we are as beings that are neither close nor transparent to themselves: we are
"creatures of distance."1 And in his lectures on the Basic Problems of Phe...
nomenology from the summer semester of 1927 (the year of publication of
Being and Time) he says:
Viewed ontically, we are closest of all to the beings that we ourselves are
and that we call Dasein; for we are this being itself. Nevertheless, what is
nearest to us ontically is exactly farthest from us ontologically. Descartes
entitles the second of his meditations on metaphysics "On the nature of
the human mind, that it is better known to us than the body." Despite or
precisely because of this alleged superior familiarity of the subject, its
mode of being is misunderstood and leaped over not only in Descartes
but everywhere in the period following him, so that no dialectic of mind
can once more reverse the effect of this neglect?
Heidegger sought to make the structure of this being intelligible from its
very problematic character. He terms "Dasein" the being that has the distinction
of being problematic to itself regarding its very own being. In Sartre this
becomes the locution that subject is "a being whose characteristic mode of
being consists in the fact that in its very being it questions its being" and that
"consciousness is almost a kind of ontological interrogation."3 Heidegger's
own formulation, from which Sartre's takes off, can be found in section 4 of
Being and Time. There Dasein is presented as that being for which "in its very
Being [...Jthat Being is an issue."4 Thus Dasein would have the structure of a
self-relation, it would be autoreflective. Heidegger has expressed the same
thought by saying that Dasein is accessible to itself ("disclosed," as he says) in
Subjectivity and Individuality
the light of a given understanding of Being, and this in such a way that the
ecstatic opening toward some other is the ground for its familiarity with itself.
In the lectures of 1927 mentioned above, the reflection-model that informs
Heidegger's elucidation of the structure of subjectivity appears more clearly
Reflection in the sense of a turning back is only a mode of self-appre-
hension, but not the mode of primary self-disclosure. The way in which
the self is unveiled to itself in the factical Dasein can nevertheless be
fittingly called reflection, except that we must not take this expression to
mean what is commonly meant by it-the ego bent around backward
and staring at itself-but an interconnection such as is manifested in the
optical meaning of the term "reflection." To reflect means, in the optical
context, to break at something, to radiate back from there, to show itself
in a reflection from something.
Thus, the self that we are (or take ourselves to be) would not be originally
disclosed to itself. Its self-consciousness would only come about through the
reflection of the world to which it is first completely "given away." Hence, the
self that we ourselves are (or take ourselves to be) would not be originally dis-
tinguished by self-consciousness. Rather, self-consciousness would be a
"derivative mode" of some more original structure, that of the understanding (of
Being), and this in such a manner that it would be part of the structure of sub-
jectivity to pose the question concerning Being and also to interpret itself from
a certain understanding of Being (as results from answering the question con-
cerning Being). Thus, intelligibility would be something that precedes what our
tradition calls "self-consciousness," its apriori (in the literal sense of the term).6
Jean-Paul Sartre has objected to this, arguing that if Dasein were ini-
tially deprived of the dimension of consciousness, then at some later point it
could only regain consciousness at the price of circularity. Indeed, what would
an understanding be that does not include a consciousness of being such an
But this attempt to showfirst the escape of self from the Dasein is going
to encounter in turn insurmountable difficulties; we cannot first suppress
the dimension "consciousness," not even if it is in order to reinstall it sub-
sequently. Understanding has meaning only if it is consciousness of
This is not to deny that being a self includes a self-relation of understanding (or
a relation to Being, whatever that may mean). Sartre only denies that this rela-
tion precedes the subject's being familiar with itself, and further denies that this
6 Self and Subject
relation constitutes the original dimension of consciousness.
Whatever the term "subject" may mean otherwise, we have to think of a
state of affairs that is originally and essentially acquainted with itself, and only
due to this acquaintance can there occur an understanding and explicit self-rela-
tion. "Originally" here means: self-consciousness is not derived from something
that could be thought as existing prior to it; "essentially" here means: this self-
consciousness could not be absent while subjectivity continued to exist; it is an
unconditional, thus, essential property of subjectivity. A psychic quality (e.g.,
having pleasure) could not persist without there being knowledge about it.
Being and knowledge of being perfectly coincide in the case of self-con-
Thus the idea of an unconscious pleasure is completely absurd. There is,
no doubt, weak pleasure; I can be led to experience a slight pleasure
upon listening to a soft melody; that is a pleasure that is all it can be,
given the consciousness with which it is being had. To put it differ-
ently, there is consciousness of weak pleasures, or of total pleasures, or
of partial pleasures; but there is no partial consciousness of pleasures.
Therefore the measure of pleasure is the consciousness with which it is
being had. On the other hand, pleasure is nothing but the conscious-
ness of pleasure. There is no prior pleasure, which would later assume
consciousness as one of its qualities; for unconscious pleasure is an
absurdity. Neither is there consciousness that would subsequently be
colored by pleasure; for a consciousness which in itself would not be
consciousness of anything would be a consciousness without meaning.
Otherwise said, consciousness of pleasure and pleasure are one and the
same thing, or, if you prefer, the pleasure has consciousness as its par-
ticular mode of being.
This strangely unconditional coupling often has given rise to the formu-
lation that in the subject, being (for example, pleasure) has its measure in con-
sciousness (of pleasure). And moreover this property of spontaneous being-for-
itself on the part of psychic states seems to be more original than those forms of
explicit and concentrated self-relation that the philosophical tradition calls
"reflection" and that we constantly employ in philosophical discourse about
subjectivity. For this reason the tradition spanning from the early Romantics
until Sartre has marked self-consciousness as "prereflective" or "immediate."
The· first of these two predicates means that the cognition involved in self-
consciousness is not mediated through some (reflective) knowledge about one-
self. I have self-consciousness not only when I am knowingly attentive to my
consciousness in an explicit manner. If the theory of self-consciousness is not
to be caught in circles, then the possibility of a reflective self-relation must be
Subjectivity and Individuality 7
preceded by some prereflective consciousness of self. "Prereflective" further
means that in original self-consciousness nothing like a subject-object distinc-
tion is to be found;9 for in order to have cognition of itself, consciousness need
not become its own object for a thematizing second consciousness (for a sub-
ject-consciousness). Subjectivity knows right away what it is; and this situation
is designated by the second predicate, "immediate." In self-consciousness there
is no lllediation between sOlllething and something else. The "something as
something" is the structure of the declarative sentence in which a proposition
("that <p") is asserted. But due to the immediacy of the cognition involved in it,
the affirmation of the being of consciousness occurs prepropositionally; self-
consciousness is not a case of propositional knowledge of the structure: "I
know that <p." (On this matter there is intense debate in the recent analytic phi-
losophy of consciousness.)
It is another consequence of this situation that in self-consciousness there
is no identification of something with something else; thus there is also not the
possibility of referential failure. But then it is absurd to ask whether and how he
or she who ascribes some knowledge regarding him- or herself to him- or her-
self can know him- or herself to be the same as the one regarding whom that
knowledge exists. There is no such inner partition in consciousness. States of
the subject are given in such a way that simultaneous with their presence there
is necessarily consciousness about whose states they are. However, this simul-
taneous knowledge only pertains to consciousness itself and not to any of the
properties that can only be known through experience, as is the case with all
information regarding the person as an object in space and time.
The immediacy of the cognition of consciousness is connected to a fur-
ther trait, which   r t r ~ called the "actuality" of self-consciousness. Whenever
consciousness occurs, it is in actu. There is no virtual consciousness of some-
thing, but only consciousness of something virtual. Neither does consciousness
increase or decrease, there are no grades to consciousness, and it does not
come into being or cease to be; whenever it occurs, it is everything that it can
be. To be sure, there is consciousness of things fading, of increasing or decreas-
ing, of things being possible. to
There is a final trait of subjectivity to be mentioned here, which is related
to its actuality, a trait that the philosophical tradition designated as its "spon-
taneity" and that Heidegger called its character of projection. It means that the
self owes all it is (not its existence but its essence) to itself; there is no recep-
tivity or passivity of the originally self-conscious being. In Heidegger's early
works, this thought is carried through only in a contradictory manner. On the
one hand, the meaning that makes the self intelligible to itself is announced to
it from its world (and to that extent the self is dependent upon its world); on the
other hand, the meaning that makes the world intelligible is supposed to be the
result of projects that originate in the spontaneity of the self. In the latter case,
8 Self and Subject
the self could secure the considerateness of its projections only by way of a
prior familiarity with itself. In the former case, it is no longer clear how a
being that is constituted in the reflection of something alien could justifiably be
allowed to carry the name "subject." Sartre avoids this ambiguity by excluding
that the self's familiarity with itself can be the result of information obtained
through something other than the self (such as the world or a so-called Being).
The self is spontaneous not in the sense of being the originator of its own
being, but in the sense of the meaning in the light of which it discloses its
being in changing contexts of understanding:
We say [... ] that consciousness makes itself into what it is. [...] We are not
talking about a power, a fonn of energy, a will, but if nothing from with-
out can give pleasure to consciousness, neither can anything from without
give pain, for one cannot introduce a modification into a closed system
[...] from the outside.
To be sure, it is not very clear how the spontaneity of consciousness
(which obviously also must explain the accomplishments of concentration, of
conceptual thinking, of intentional reference to the world
and of reflection) can
coexist with the prereflective familiarity in the unity of a structural connection.
Quite obviously, familiarity is not the result of some projection; rather the lat-
ter already presupposes familiarity. In turning spontaneity into yet another
essential property of self-consciousness (something one cannot avoid doing),
one might produce a contradiction to the thesis that there is no internal differ-
entiation to be found in self-conscionsness. But this thesis might prove to be too
strong anyway and maybe is not even needed to defend the other essential
properties of self-consciousness.
Be that as it may. Our listing of elementary (and essential) properties of
the subject has not yet contributed to establishing the boundaries of the two con-
cepts "subjectivity" and "individuality"; we have merely collected characteristic
marks of subjectivity. Quite obviously there exists what we have called (in a
problematic act of nominalization) "the self," and this both as a general struc-
ture ("subjectivity") and as "my very own." Heidegger and Sartre know it
above all in the latter (narrow) sense: not "as an instance or special case of some
genus of entities as things that are present-at-hand," but as something singular
and unique, which I have to be "in each case."13 Heidegger believes that the
characteristic fact "that Dasein is in each case mine"14 originally expresses
itself in the use of the personal pronouns ("I am," "you are").15 That, however is
not plausible-as we will have occasion to examine more closely. By using "I,"
everyone refers to him- or herself as a subjective being (by contrast to what is
present-at-hand physically and within the world), but not necessarily to him- or
herself as a unique subject. The accomplishment of      
Subjectivity and Individuality 9
obscured and instantly generalized by the use of the grammatical subject
"everyone." This is easily shown by the beginning of the dialogue between
Mercury and Sosias in Molieres Amphitryon:
Mercury: Who is there?
Sosias: I!
Mercury: Who I?16
Mercury's return question (the comedy of which is still heightened Kleist's
adaptation: "What kind of 1?"17) shows that the weak accomplishment of iden-
tification through the pronoun of the first-person singular is by no means suf-
ficient. Through the latter, the individuality of the subject thus referring to
itself is not specified. Someone-anyone-has thereby merely presented him-
or herself as subject, that is, as an exemplar of a kind of self-conscious and
spontaneous being like him- or herself.
It was Hegel who scrutinized at the beginning of the "Logic of the Con-
cept" the twofold senlantics that the deictic expression "I" has for designating
the subject in general and the particular individual.
But unlike the recent
semantic and hermeneutic discussion of this problem, Hegel was convinced that
the singularizing use of "I" could be explained from a limitation of the univer-
salizing use of "I" (in the sense of Kant's "consciousness in general"). By
means of negation, which lies at the origin of all limitations (omnis determinatio
est negatio), he thought to make evident the individualizing use from the gen-
eralizing one. This view is shared by all of German idealism, except the early
Romantics. Schelling, for exalnple, believes that the "individual I" is the final
member of a process of successive determinations whose subject is the non-
individual subject or the universal spirit.
This view of the matter is still a
commonly held belief in neo-Kantianism and in phenomenology, including
the latter's neostructuralist critics.
By contrast, the recent semantic discussion, which for pragmatic rea-
sons will be represented here only by the nalnes of Strawson and Tugendhat,
has stressed that what is represented through the first-person-singular pronoun
is not reducible to a generic conception of subjectivity. That tradition does not
regard the person as something universal (with transcendental status) but as a
particular that is distinguished from other particular things in space and time
through self-consciousness rather than by the fact that its identity as the bearer
of a finite set of properties is at issue and the ascribing person has SOlne epis-
temically privileged access.
Hermeneutics is more radical yet than the formal semantics of linguistic
analysis in its denial of any connection of derivation between general I and indi-
vidual 1. Hermeneutics has pointed out that the person understood as the fixed
point of reference of (psychic and bodily) properties has not yet been captured
10 Self and Subject
in its individuality. Moreover, hermeneutics has established that individuality
cannot be determined through identity, and neither through "presence to one-
self," but that it is semantically innovative, that it consists in the origination and
modification of world-disclosing interpretive ventures rendered in linguistic
structures. In the light of this objection, the basic confidence of analytic phi-
losophy in the unshakable semantic identity of expressions (including those in
which self-consciousness is articulated) appears naive. Which is not to say
that a prelinguistic access to generically understood subjectivity, as it figures in
certain epistemological positions, is being endorsed. From here a number of
exciting affinities arise to the neostructuralist attack on semantic identity. How-
ever, I believe that the rational core of that attack is better preserved in
In the following sections I will present the three positions one after the
other in the manner of an overview and simultaneously aim at rendering trans-
parent the logic that motivates the transition from one to the other.
Foucault was not the first to point out that the concept of the subject
does not represent a formal-semantic apriori but that it is a modern "inven-
tion." Already Schelling in his Erlangen and Munich lectures and, following
him, Heidegger in his late works wanted to view the development of a dis-
course of subjectivity as the radical consequence of a germinal idea of early
Western thought, which first appeared in Parmenides' joining of being (thought
of as presence) and perceiving (noein). In Plato the view (idea) of being in its
essence (ousia) is the "true being" (ontos on), that emancipates itself from its
object in a peculiar manner or reaches beyond it. Behind this laying of the
tracks in the history of theory stands the metaphor of the mind's gaze: some
"being" is grasped in its essence from a view.
Being discloses itself in its truth to some ideating gaze. The Logos
expresses this truth by gathering the elements of the gaze in at:l order of com-
municable knowledge. According to Heidegger, Plato has thereby brought the
occurrence of truth under the yoke of the view-the idea (which is already
virtually subjectivized). The view provides the measure for the perceiving;
correctness and adequacy of the mind's vision replace the idea that being orig-
inally illuminates the view (which is dependent on the fonner). Thus the way is
prepared for the representational-theoretical reinterpretation of the dependence
of the being of truth on perception.
The step to the subjectivization of philosophy is done as soon as one
thinks of the view-the representation-as self-reflective or ascribes it to a
subject as its owner. According to Heidegger, this step is taken by Descartes. To
Subjectivity and Individuality 11
him representing (cogitare) is the deed of something representing: an I that
represents. Representing acquires the indubitable evidence peculiar to it only in
the inflected form of the first-person singular: cogito. Kant and his successors
still treat "thinking" and "accompanable-by-the-I" as synonymous. Thus the
subject-the term is originally the Latin translation of hypokeimenon-is pro-
moted to being the ground of the intelligibility of the world; it becomes thefun-
damentum inconcussum of all representing capable of truth. In the Preface to
the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel finalizes this shift in meaning with the
phrase that the substance is properly to be thought of as subject.
The nomi-
nalization of the first-person-singular pronoun can be found for the first time in
Leibniz: "that 1" (e.g., in section 34 of the Discourse on Metaphysics, but also
elsewhere). The subject is identified as the I, as which it will also be treated by
Fichte. The transition from the subject of representing to the nominalized I is
apparently made by the notion of self-reflexivity, about which Foucault has
given us valuable insights. The first step is taken by Leibniz's definition of
"apperception" as "consciousness, or the reflective knowledge of this internal
state."21 Kant, who always identifies I-ness with self-reflexivity, takes over
this definition (possibly mediated by C. A. Crusius, who, more so than Christian
Wolff, speaks of consciousness as a representation of my representations).22 If
one further adds the fact that Kant was convinced that no representation is
possible without the active intervention of the understanding, wpich brings its
manifold under viewpoints of unity, then one hits on the locution about the "I
think" that must be able to accompany all my representations. Thus, con-
sciousness (in Leibniz's sense of apperception or reflexivity of the representa-
tional faculty) is equally unity-creating spontaneity and self-observation of
this spontaneity. This explains why the "I think" can be understood at the same
time as self-reflection of consciousness and as the representing of sonlething
(other than consciousness). The "I think" consists in the indissoluble doubling
of "perception in general" and thinking that perceives itself ("self-percep-
Kant's understanding of the essence of subjectivity remained decisive for
the philosophy of his successors-not only the Hegelians but also the neo-
Kantians and phenomenologists.
Even the so-called critics of subjectivity-for
example, Heidegger and Derrida-have never seriously questioned that the
state of affairs denoted by the term "subjectivity" is correctly described as
autoreflexivity of representing. Indeed one has to realize that in the represen-
tational model of self-consciousness the early Western model of conscious-
ness as mental viewing persists. Only now it is no longer the viewing of some-
thing external to the view; rather the viewing goes after itself, the representing
stands "in its own view." Nevertheless self-consciousness is thought of as a spe-
cial case of objective, representing consciousness. The philosophical tradition
calls this self-representing "reflection." Already Descartes, in the Conversation
12 Self and Subject
with Burman, determines consciousness ("being conscious") as "thinking and
reflecting on one's thought."25 Leibniz strengthens this tendency; self-con-
sciousness is a special case of objective consciousness: "We notice our per-
ceptions"26-and this in basically the same manner in which the perceptions in
turn perceive their objects. In this model lies the origin of the view of self-con-
sciousness as being-with-oneself (or "presence to oneself'). For obvious rea-
sons it is untenable. For if consciousness were distinguished through self-rela-
tion-such that that of which there is consciousness only came in view along
with the noticing-, then the first consciousness (in the position of the object)
required a second consciousness (in the position of the subject), which, being
itself unconscious, required yet another consciousness, for which again the
same requirement would hold and which thus, in order to be what it is, required
a fourth consciousness, and so ad infinitum. However, there is consciousness;
thus the reflection model fails as an explanation of the phenomenon.
Descartes himself seems to indicate in scattered allusions
that the diffi-
culty of the reflection model did not escape him. But the first to become aware
of the problem in a documentable fashion was Johann Gottlieb Fichte. In chap-
ter 2 of his Attempt at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (from
1798, as well as in the associated lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre nova
methodo), he infers from the indubitable existence of our familiarity with con-
sciousness and from the impossibility of explaining this familiarity as a case of
self-representation that any attempt to understand self-consciousness as a spe-'
cial case of representing something is futile. This ingenious observation,
though, did not prevent him from distinguishing in his own designs of a positive
alternative in self-consciousness between an acting and a consciousness of the
acting, in short, between a subject- and an object-pole-which renews the cir-
cle. One may surmise (as has actually been done) that Fichte's difficulty stems
from his understanding, which he inherited from the tradition, that subjectivity
can be circumscribed by the term "I-ness" (the nominalized pronoun of the
first-person-singular) or even forms with it a pair of synonyms. In that case the
circle arises in the following manner: If the definition of the usage of the pro-
noun "I" (as that through which everyone refers to him- or herself) is to work,
then he or she who applies it must already have been familiar with the object
referred to. But this variant of the circle of reflection is avoidable, if (1) one
moves away from the nominalization of the pronoun (the "I"), and (2) realizes
that the circle only arises (a) if one takes the self-application of the pronoun "I"
to be a case of identification that equates something with something (else)
through a genuine expanding inference and (b) if one does not believe that the
referent ofthe pronoun "I" could as well be envisioned from the he or she per-
spective (in this case by identifying the person). In case 2a, it is additionally
assumed that only "an I" could know that is such an I but that no one else
could. However, if that is not the case, then the use of the     _D()t ___
Subjectivity and Individuality 13
result in the circle in which Fichte' s own explanation got caught once again.
Thus, there are good reasons for dropping the recourse to the nominalized
I in a theory of subjectivity and to attribute a different meaning to the expres-
sions "subject" and "self-consciousness," such as the following one: immediate
consciousness, not mediated by representation, of this consciousness itself. I
will deal with those types of theories under the title "nonegological theories of
By contrast, theories according to which "self-consciousness" means
"consciousness of the I" have been defended, in addition to Kant and Fichte, by
all of neo-Kantianism (Paul Natorp, Heinrich Rickert), but also, during a period
of their philosophical work, by Edmund Husserl and Bertrand Russell. I will not
deal with those views, but only note in passing that it is mainly those views that
have come under attack by the deconstructivist critique of the subject, which
means that the latter performed a second funeral on a body that had already
been buried. That makes the neostructuralist debate on the subject so curiously
unproductive in philosophical terms.
Nonegological attempts at explaining subjectivity have been undertaken
by, among others, (the early) Franz Brentano, Hermann Schmalenbach, and
Jean-Paul Sartre. Unlike Fichte, they assume that self-consciousness-under-
stood as consciousness of this consciousness itself-is neither the reference of
a consciousness to an I, nor anything else different from consciousness. In ret-
rospect, though, one has to say that this alternative model contains some ardu-
ousness and contradictions, so that its distinction before the classical repre-
sentation-theoretical view is only a matter of degree. For one, it remains unclear
how an act of consciousness momentarily referring to itself (and not to some I)
can simultaneously gain consciousness of the fact that it belongs to a continuum
of acts that are not bound together in the manner of externally coordinated
monadic events. Moreover, in the formula "consciousness of itself' there reap-
pears, even if more hidden than in the egological model, the reflexive pronoun
in which we unfailingly recognize the mark of the reflection model. Only now,
in place of the I, there is in every monad of consciousness a consciousness of
this very monad; consciousness remains confronted with itself in some objec-
tive relation. Nor is this changed by the predicate "immediate," which the
authors named above take over from Fichte.
A radical attempt to escape this circle has been undertaken by authors
whose views Bertrand Russell summarized under the title "neutral monism."
The term designates the position that wants to derive consciousness from purely
differential relations between so-called external occurrences-without any ref-
erence to expressions from the sphere of psychic life. But this position does not
do justice to the phenomena either. On the one hand, it does not succeed in dis-
tinguishing relations between merely external events-that is, between two
craters on the backside of the moon-from those relations the description of
14 Self and Subject
which necessarily involves predicates from the sphere of consciousness-for
example, between my being lovesick and the absence of my loved one. On
the other hand, the occurrences in question-both in William James and in
Ernst Mach-are designated not as things but as "perceptions" or "experi-
ences." But perceptions and experiences can be designated as external occur-
rences only under the circular presupposition of previously suppressing what is
entered into their very semantics: the quality of consciousness. Incidentally
the same point holds for the theoretically quite differently situated attempt of
the neostructuralists-such as Lacan and Derrida-to derive consciousness
. and self-consciousness from the differential play between signs. For it is also
true of signs that they are distinguished from meaningless marks and sounds
only by the fact that some consciousness already has assigned meaning to them
in a hypothetical judgment. But then the thesis that this meaning is in turn the
result of oppositional relations between "marks" or even "signifiers" obvi-
ously moves in a circle. Compared to this situation, there is even reason to
consider the position of a revised phenomenology as more promising. Whereas
neutral monism and neostructuralism explicitly reduce the phenomenon of
subjectivity to the existence of relations, the above-named phenomenological
positions do so in contradiction to their own intentions. The conclusion, which
a noncircular theory of subjectivity would have to draw from the failure of
both those types of theory, and from all theories of consciousness oriented on
the optical model of representing, would be that subjectivity is not a case of
relation at all, neither is it a relation of one occurrence to another, nor a relation
of a representation to an I, nor a relation of some consciousness "immediately"
to itself. The return of the reflexive pronoun in these fonnulas is a reliable test
for the untenability of the nl0del underlying them.
Therefore, Dieter Henrich and some of his students have radically
departed from the interpretation of self-consciousness suggested by ordinary
language as a reflexive relation between members of a relation and proposed to
interpret it as entirely free of relations. Ulrich Pothast has even spoken of an
"entirely 'objective' process in the sense that no moment of a knowing self-rela-
tion enters into it."28 This proposal is not far removed from the aporetic attempts
at solving the problem in the late works of Fichte and Schelling, and also of
Heidegger, where self-consciousness is thought of as secondary effect of a
dimension of intelligibility of the world opened up by Being-a process that
Heidegger terms "disclosedness." In that case self-consciousness would indeed
be "immediate," for it would no longer be mediated with itself by means of a
relational member.
Neither can it be understood as the result ofa goal-directed
action (of a "self-positing"), as the early Fichte assumed (for in that case what
is posited would have to be known before); neither can self-consciousness be
described as a case of identification. This important point is entirely over-
looked by the deconstructivist critics of the subject. Every identification iden-
Subjectivity and Individuality 15
tifies things that are separate. But in the subject there are no two poles whose
identification would have to be brought about through some act. For the same
reason subjectivity cannot be regarded as a case of knowledge. For all knowl-
edge operates through criteria and concepts; to grasp something through con-
cepts means to consider a matter mediately by way of marks that it has in com-
mon with others-something that is excluded by the immediacy of
The fact that self-consciousness is not a case of knowledge or explicit
reflection, has led several theoreticians to ascribe to it the status of the pre-
conscious or even the unconscious. But that is ultimately a matter of terminol-
ogy, about which I do not wish to argue. If like Leibniz, Descartes, and Kant,
one does not have a terminological distinction for designating the difference
between consciousness of the first degree and the reflexive attention to this
consciousness, then it may seem plausible to follow ordinary usage and speak
of the consciousness of the second degree as a case of knowledge. In that case,
the unknown appears, as in Freud, as the unconscious. Then one can understand
also the phrase according to which the I (in the sense of consciousness of the
second degree) is not the master in its own house. However, this locution,
which I consider to be entirely legitimate, demands an elucidation of the prin-
cipal possibility that over the course of a psychoanalytic session, to take that
example, the I is able to recognize itself as the bearer of its own unconscious
history (and does not emerge from the session as someone else, such as after
being brainwashed), something that would be entirely absent in the case of
the ontic separation of the two topical areas. If indeed the knowing self-relation
were only a tiny light spot on the dark map of the unconscious or if it were a
place of delusion, the structure of this light spot or of this delusion would have
to be described intelligibly. Freud's theory-like that of Lacan-is not
advanced far enough to provide this description with its own means.
So far we have spoken about self-consciousness in essentially negative
formulations (we have named criteria that will have to be satisfied by any
future theory); and we have spoken of subjectivity as something general, a
phenomenon that every conscious being shares with all others like it. But orig-
inally we had articulated a more far-reaching interest. We wanted to know
how subjectivity in general hangs together with the consciousness through
which we each know ourselves as unique, singular beings.
For centuries there was no strict terminological distinction between per-
sonality (or the mode of being of something particular) and individuality (or the
mode of being of a singular subject). As far as I can see, this distinction has _
16 Self and Subject
been introduced into the conceptual stock of the debate on self-consciousness
by Friedrich Schleiermacher. It is still hardly known in the idealist systems
from Fichte to Hegel. There individuality (or personality) is taken for a closer
determination of the absolute I (or spirit). All determination rests on negation,
where negation is understood as being-different-from. In designating oneself as
"I," one applies two strictly distinct kinds of exclusion. First of all, one limits
oneself against everything that does not have the character of an I, thus from the
world (or the not-I). This is the fundamental negation through which the I
determines itself as subjectivity in general and distinguishes itself from the
totality of existing objects ("the present-at-hand").
A second differentiation consists in the I's distinguishing itself from
other beings that also have the mode of being of subjectivity, and through this
second act the I determines itself as individual or person, which roughly des-
ignates what Kant called the "empirical I" or the "persona psychologica."
"Empirical" means existing in "space and time." Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel
by no means deny that a specifically determined person can only be given in the
context of intersubjective existence. But Fichte and Schelling did not go as
far as Hegel (or Mead or Habennas) and did not assert that what is not possible
without intersubjective delimitation can therefore already be explained through
intersubjectivity. I can determine another ego as another ego only if I am
ah·eady familiar with subjectivity. The radical intersubjectivist-geneticist theory
of self-consciousness is exposed to the same objection as the one oriented at the
object-theoretical model of self-consciousness. Sartre has shown this for
Hegel's chapter on master and bondsman in the Phenomenology ofSpirit.
If personality could only be understood as the self-limitation of abso-
lute spilit, then clearly its ontological status would have to be that of privation,
of deficiency. Now the analytic position, represented here by Peter Strawson
and Ernst Tugendhat,31 points in exact!y the opposite direction. Their proposal
to descend from "the I" (Gennan "das Ich"; the nominalized pronoun of the
first person) to the "I" (German "ich"; the nonnominalized pronoun that occurs
in sentences as grammatical subject) assumes that this pronoun stands for the
person, that is, a being in space and time that is identifiable as such and can be
univocally delinlited from other beings and persons.
As is well known, Strawson has defended the strong thesis that talk about
identification can only be made intelligible with respect to individuals in space
and time. He has also shown that such identification cannot succeed without the
use of indexical words (such as demonstrative pronouns, deictic expressions,
etc.) and that it cannot be replaced-as, for example, Leibniz believed-by
complete descriptions employing general terms (concepts, marks) without
direct or indirect recourse to indexicals.
The space-time continuum circumscribes a unified system for the knowl-
edge of individual things, out of which we seize one such thing by means of
Subjectivity and Individuality 17
identification and distinguish it as this from all others. This also holds of our-
selves insofar as we are persons, that is, beings of a kind to which both states of
consciousness and bodily properties can be described. Now it is one of the
points of the chapter entitled "Persons" in Individuals that, due to his prior
theoretical decisions, Strawson denies that we are able to refer in an identifying
manner to states of consciousness if we have not been previously identified the
person to whom we ascribe these states of consciousness. Thereby a position of
prime inlportance is accorded to the object to which the personal pronouns
refer (and among the latter especially "I").
Strawson's theory excludes a classical alternative among the modern
theories of consciousness with equal elegance: (1) the position of Descartes and
his successors, according to which states of consciousness may be ascribed
with certainty only to the subject of consciousness and not to that of the body;
and (2) the view defended in the early years of the Vienna circle that psychic
predicates (e.g., experiences) have to be ascribed to an individual thing, namely,
the body, but are not "possessed" or "had" by an ego. The first part of the
alternative is denied with the argument that a transcendental subject of experi-
ences cannot be identified at all, that is, cannot be distinguished from others like
it. The second part is refuted by showing that the argument is circular (fol-
lowing the Wittgenstein of the Blue Book): if the experiences did not belong to
someone who has them and who refers to him- or herself with the pronoun
"I," then they would not belong to anyone. Moreover, without belonging to
someone they could not be verified as predicates of that person's experiences.
Thus, possession without a subject is a contradictory thought, which is already
reduced to absurdity by the linguistic form in which we articulate this rela-
Strawson drew far-reaching consequenc'es from this linguistic form
regarding the convertibility of the speaker perspectives. It is part of the logic of
the employment of the personal pronouns (and the deictic expressions in gen-
eral) that the object to which they refer remains the same regardless of whether
it is addressed from my perspective as "I" or from that of a third person as
"you" or "he" or "she." One can speak here of the principle of semantic sym-
metry between the self-ascription and the ascription to others of predicates of
consciousness. The ascribed predicate (e.g., "is in love") suffers no modifica-
tion of meaning if it is attributed to someone other than me, nor if it is attributed
by me to me or by you to me.
Ernst Tugendhat has taken over this view and refined it considerably. His
contribution to the debate on self-consciousness is all the more stimulating
since it is developed in direct opposition to the position of the "Heidelberg
school" of Dieter Henrich and his students, which constitutes the last detectable
stage of the orientation at the optical model of consciousness, now formulated
in paradoxical phrases. According to Tugendhat, self-consciousness is indeed
18 Self and Subject
not a case of consciousness thematizing itself-as though a subject represented
itself in the position of the object; self-consciousness is not some perceptible
something at all, no thing but a state of affairs that finds linguistic expression in
a proposition. If, following Strawson, the subject of consciousness has to be
understood as a spatiotemporally identifiable person, then self-consciousness
can be defined as the relation between a person and a proposition in which
the position of the predicate is taken by an expression from the semantic sphere
of the psychic or mental. Moreover, the relation in question is one of knowl-
edge. The linguistic articulation of self-consciousness occurs in expressions
like "I know that I <p," where <p stands as sylTlbol for psychic experiences or
states. This view contradicts the Heidelberg position in four decisive regards:
The subject of self-consciousness is identified; it maintains a relation to its
object; this object is not the subject of self-consciousness itself but a nomi-
nalizedproposition; and self-consciousness is not a case of prereflective famil-
iarity but a case of knowledge that can be conceptually explicated.
Tugendhat's position includes unquestioned premises. The first one
assumes a perfect isomorphism between the structure of discourse and the
structure of what the discourse is about. (And yet propositions, unlike the facts
for which they stand, are free of spatiotemporal elements.) Second, Tugendhat
presupposes that all (intentional) consciousness is propositionally structured.
But this assertion is not only counterintuitive (If I love a woman, do I have to
love what is the case regarding her?), it also depends on the first premise,
namely, that in order to refer to an object by means of a proposition, that object
must in turn exhibit the structure of the proposition. Third, Tugendhat excludes
a priori that one could understand self-consciousness not as knowledge about
the person who has self-consciousness but as the familiarity with itself of this
consciousness itself. But it was only the latter that was at issue in the episte-
mological debate, and it represents, in my view, the real problem.
In order to meet successfully the position of the Heidelberg school,
Tugendhat would have to be able to show that epistemic access reduces entirely
to linguistic intersubjectivism. In fact, he himself notices a split between veri-
tative symmetry and epistemic asymmetry.32 This refers to the fact that in prin-
ciple the attribution of psychic states from the he or she perspective can take
place only by means of perceptual and behavioral predicates, while it occurs
without perception from the I perspective. Closely connected with this is the
further observation that I need not identify myself as the bearer of psychic
properties, that I have to understand myself only as identifiable from the he or
she perspective. One's own self-consciousness is indubitable (in that it is anal-
ogous to analytic truths, thus not a case of "knowledge," which is informative
and which, by definition, is susceptible to error and marked by the possibility of
misidentification), for it does not rest on empirical perception or an inference
derived from it (such as the inference from the sparkling eye-what the Greeks
Subjectivity and Individuality 19
called hygron-to being in love). But according to Tugendhat, this radical het-
erogeneity of the modes of access both to the bearer and to the content of psy-
chic states cannot lead to a difference in the meanings of the expressions used.
Otherwise the veritativesymmetry of the two statements "I <p" and "he <p's"
would be put into question. To be sure, this conditional statement expresses a
mere postulate of a methodological nature and is no longer supported by facts.
Moreover, if self-consciousness were tied to linguistic competence (such
that I could learn "I" only if I had previously grasped the possibility of identi-
fication from the he or she perspective and had internalized the convertibility of
perspectives), then my unconditional (Cartesian) familiarity with myself would
be tied to a condition; it would depend on the internalization of the rules that
constitute me as a subject among other subject, even before I had the opportu-
nity to be a subject. But the whole wisdom of the traditional insights into the
failed attempts at explaining self-consciousness can be summarized in the sim-
ple sentence that one could never learn from the other (or from others) that I am
this other, if I did not know it already in advance. To preface the I perspective
with the he or she perspective only adds a new variant to the many circles in the
explanation of self-consciousness.
Further, the assertion of a semantic-veritative symmetry of "I" and "he" or
"she" fails to give the decisive detail. If one holds on to the privileged access that
is free of identification, then it would have to be established first that the refer-
ents of the "I" (without identification) and "he" or "she" (with identification) are
the same. This presupposes a strong thesis about body-soul identity, as it is
characteristic for Strawson and his followers (thus also for Tugendhat); and
this convergence of reference, which is merely presupposed in the notion of
person and by no means proven, is open to a serious objection. Saul Kripke
has given it roughly the following form at the end of his lecture transcript on
Naming and Necessity: Let us assume that the identity relation is not modally
contingent but necessary, and let us further assume the fact of epistemic asym-
metry; then what is given to me in the I perspective, free of identification pro-
cedures and with a (Cartesian) certainty that is immune to error, is something
psychic. Whether anything physical or chemical corresponds to this psychic
something (whether a neuron stimulation or something else is its cause), is not
part of the knowledge of the <p state. Since in the interiority of prereflective
self-consciousness I know nothing of the identity of the psychic state with some
physical one, and since therefore from the I perspective this identity appears at
most as a contingent matter (in fact it does not surface at all), I have (at least
given the current state of explaining the phenomenon) no sufficient reason to
view the person as the bearer of psychic as well as physical states. All that
needs to be fulfilled in order to attribute existence to a <p state is that I actually
have it (e.g.,jeel it); the identity of the <p state with some event in my cortex is
not necessary (since it is not copresented as necessary in consciousness). Not
20 Self and Subject
only is that identification dependent on paradigms but it is also in principle
threatened by failures, since it is guided by observation and experiment. By
contrast, there is little sense in disputing the being of a feeling of pain that I have.
For psychic states have their being in the consciousness that I have of them; and
my knowledge thereof is entirely adequate and independent of paradigms. To put
the matter differently, to the (conceptual) necessity of the identity relation
between brain state and psychic state there corresponds in consciousness no
necessary knowledge of it; one would have to leave consciousness in order to
ascertain its identity with its other, which seems absurd. Kripke writes:
If X =Y, then X and Y share all properties, including modal properties.
If X is a pain and Y the corresponding brain state, then being a pain is an
essential property of X, and being a brain state is an essential property of
Y. If the correspondence relation is, in fact, identity, then it must be nec-
essary of Y that it corresponds to a pain, and necessary of X that is cor-
responds to a brain state, indeed to this particular brain state, Y. Both
assertions seem false; it seems clearly possible that X could have existed
without the corresponding brain state; or that the brain state could have
existed without being felt as a pain. Identity theorists cannot, contrary to
their most universal present practice, accept these intuitions; they must
deny them, and explain them away. This is none too easy a thing to do.
Now already Wittgenstein, in the concluding part of the Blue Book, and,
following him, Sidney Shoemaker have shown that what we mean by "I" and
"psychic state" can never be made intelligible through the attribution of bodily
predicates, that is, from the perceptual or external perspective. Whoever
believes the contrary, forgets that they can address their own body only under
the circular presupposition of previously already having been able to use such
propositions involving psychic predicates as "I see" or "I feel."34
It further follows from this that the referent of "I" is not necessarily the
body. Kripke even thinks that it is necessarily not the body; for this identifica-
tion can fail, while <p states have their necessary and sufficient condition in
their being felt. Descartes' "cogito ergo sum" does not identify his person (thus
his body) but asserts the existence of his I in such a manner that the statement
would also hold if the body were not represented (along) in consciousness:
The simplest Cartesian argument can perhaps be restated as follows: Let
'A' be a name (rigid designator) of Descartes' body. Then Descartes
argues that since he could exist even if A did not, 0 (Descartes '* A),
hence Descartes ;/; A. Those who have accused him of a modal fallacy
have forgotten that 'A' is rigid. His argument is valid, and his conclusion
is correct, provided its (perhaps dubitable) premise is accepted.
Subjectivity and Individuality 21
Shoemaker explicitly stresses the difference between (prereflective) self-
consciousness and that consciousness that thematizes (possible material) con-
tents (or objects) of consciousness by means of perceptual criteria:
The knowledge in question is radically different from perceptual knowl-
edge. The reason one is not presented to oneself "as an object" in self-
awareness is that self-awareness is not perceptual awareness, that is, is
not a sort of awareness in which objects are presented. It is awareness of
facts unmediated by awareness of objects. But it is worth noting that if
one were aware of oneself as an object in such cases (as one is in fact
aware of oneself as an object when one sees oneself in a mirror), this
would not help to explain one's self-knowledge. For awareness that the
presented object was <1', would not tell one that one was oneself <p, unless
one had identified the object as oneself; and one could not do this unless
one already had some self-knowledge, namely the knowledge that one is
the unique possessor of whatever set of properties of the presented object
one took to show it to be oneself. Perceptual knowledge presupposes
non-perceptual knowledge, so not all self-knowledge can be perceptual.
Recognition of these facts should help dispel the notion that the nature of
self-knowledge supports the Cartesian view that the self is a peculiar
sort of object, or the Humean view that it is no sort of object at all.
If that is the case, then the epistemological perspective cannot simply be
transformed into the semantical-intersubjectivist perspective. Rather, the latter
requires a confirmation that can only be given in the field of epistemic verifi-
cation. There is a more serious objection yet, which I would like to establish in
the following section and supplement with a counterproposal.
The objection is that the comprehensive fonnal-semantical reduction of
the problem of self-consciousness is hermeneutically naive and leaves under-
determined the singularization accomplished through the pronoun of the first-
person singular.
First of all, I dispute the view that the pronoun "I" identifies a spatio-
temporal object, if "identifying" is understood in the sense of "objectifying," as
in Strawson and Tugendhat. I designate as "object" only that complex of per-
ceptions that I transcend by means of a fixed concept toward a persistent mark,
to which I can refer as the same at different times. The object owes this identity
across situations to a strict idealization that turns a being in space and time
into a thought entity (as Husserl would say: an "ideal objectivity"). In the ana-
22 Self and Subject
lytic theory the objectification of the referent of "I" corresponds to the belief in
the semantic identity of the expressions used in the predicate ,position (as types
of recursively defined linguistic use). They, too, are fixed across situations by
means of a rule that binds their usage in an intersubjectively valid manner and
does not let them waver from one usage to the other. I dispute that second pre-
supposition as well. (Individuality is the antipode to all idealization and renders
the latter impossible.)
In spite of their emphatic talk about the spatiotemporality of the person,
~ t r w s o   and Tugendhat say remarkably little about its temporality. After all it
consists in the fact that the person can tear him- or herself away from a certain
point of identity (in the constitution of which a countless number of determi-
nants meet) and project him- or herself toward a future in the light of which
every present point of time first receives its ll1eaning. Time brings about disin-
tegration and differentiation-to be sure, in the frame of the continuity of a life
history into which an element of identity enters, yet one that is quite incom-
patible with the hard analytic, Leibnizian criterion of identity (as applied by
Tugendhat). There is no fast core, no fixed identity to an individual.
But the temporality of the individual's projective structure enters also into
the semantics of the predicates through which the former is determined. Mean-
ings are not simply fixed-once and forever-through some semantic code;
they rest on individual interpretations. A person who spontaneously designs its
meaning can move the meanings of the predicates in the light of which he or
she discloses him- or herself as well as others, can set them anew, can modify
them from one usage to the other in an uncontrollable manner. This by no
means excludes intersubjectivity; the latter merely requires a corresponding
spontaneity of understanding on the side of the interlocutor.
Thus, the temporality of the person implies more than Strawson and
Tugendhat are able to concede, namely, that the active person that projects
him- or herself with respect to the future attributes a succession of different
predicates to him- or herself (which as such, however, are invariant over time
due to their codification). Not only does an individual attribute to him- or her-
self different (semantically invariant) predicates, he or she also attributes them
to him- or herself in a different manner, namely, in changing semantics. If the
identification of the person through the ascription of predicates is imperfect (as
Tugendhat concedes) and if the predicates can change their meanings in unfore-
seeable ways depending on the hermeneutic, innovative competence of indi-
viduals who are open with respect to the future, then this threatens the criterion
of identity of both the person and the expressions that stand for his or her psy-
chic states. In order to guarantee that the person can be recognized as one and
the same from a plurality of perspectives of verification (that are connected
among each other through systematic relations), one must presuppose that
there is a one-to-one correlation between positions of verification and persons.
Subjectivity and Individuality 23
But this premise is hermeneutically naive, since it ignores that from one and the
same perspective and with respect to one and the same object there can be a
possibly infinite multitude of interpretations, which affects all expressions in
which the interpretation is intersubjectively articulated. In order to bring about
this conclusion, it is not even necessary to show that the meaning actually
changes from one situation of verification or one word usage to the other. It suf-
fices to show that it can change in a manner not controllable by grammar or
Leibniz's law. If one does not want to fall prey to turning something abstract
like language into a system of self-transformation (language is an idealization
based on the relative and statistical regularities of a set of concrete speech acts
whose infinite number surpasses the capacities of each situation of observation),
there remains only the possibility to ascribe changes of meaning to the being
which, inserted into an intersubjective context of communication, projects
itself through language toward the meaning of its world. Unless is it is the uni-
versal itself, this being can only be the individual.
How then does the individual relate to the subject and the person? And,
accordingly, what is the relation of the hermeneutical approach to the episte-
mological and semantic one? First, we will have to say that individuals are sub-
jects (although not all subjects are individuals), that they are immediately self-
conscious in the sense that they disclose their world in the light of interpretations
that would remain unintelligible without consciousness. But this does not exempt
individuality from the linguistic context-as is charged by the analytic-seman-
tical approach. For interpretations can only be grasped as meanings (of words as
well as sentences). But words do not mean by themselves, or by force of some
anonymous institution; they become so only through hypothetical interpreta-
tions whose carriers are individuals. Just as little as there are signs in them-
selves, does the subject in general open up the disclosure of a world. The dis-
closure of a world occurs in the open space of interaction among individuals
whose subjects are self-conscious singular beings with singular motivations.
But the character of uniqueness thus attributed to the individual eludes the
epistemological frame of a relentlessly idealized semantics of personhood. The
identity of the individual is not established through bodily properties, which as
natural givens are not in themselves semantically relevant. Bodily properties
first acquire the meaning through which they disclose themselves intersubjec-
tively to the linguistic community from individual interpretations, and thus
cannot in turn condition the latter. Neither is the identity of the individual
established through the stability of the meaning of the predicates that are
attributed to it (the individual) at different times and that modify themselves
corresponding to the continuously transformed system of world interpretation
of the individual. Thus, the individual is exactly not a principle of unity.
Whatever else "individuality" may mean, it certainly has to be thought of
as the direct opposite of the notion of the unity and closure of structure (and of
24 Self and Subject
the identity of the expressions which the latter differentiates into a totality). It is
the intervention of the individual that prevents the structure (or the signs that the
latter secures in their identity with themselves) from coinciding with itself. To
coincide with oneself would mean to be present. Now a structure or sign can
never coincide with itself, first, because the thought of the diversity of signs
presupposes that of time and, second, because every use of signs presupposes
the thought of (uncontrollable, nonidentical) repeatability.
The temporal distance between two articulations of a sign requires the
intervention of an interpretation. If nothing about the sound shell of a word
assures its semantic identity-and to believe the contrary would mean to com-
mit the naturalistic fallacy-then only a hermeneutical hypothesis can establish
the unity of. meaning, which, however, is both intersubjectively fallible and
individually undetermined (it is motivated but not necessitated). Now if the
identity of signs itself already rests on interpretation (on the understanding re-
identification of two phonetically always slightly different sounds as the same
signifier), then it is not possible to say that the structure determines the mean-
ing. Particular meaning does not flow a priori from the knowledge of rules.
Rather, it is generated through abductive inferences, as already Peirce demon-
strated, which can never be bypassed entirely, no matter how much they are
Yet this does not simply do away with the notion of semantic (and medi-
ated through it: personal) identity, as it might seem in the hastened conclu-
sions of Derrida's theory of language and subject. Derrida's motives are the
thoughts (1) that reference to subjective (mental) phenomena can occur only
nlediated through signs and (2) that the referring signs can never exercise pre-
cise identifying functions. Derrida justifies the second clause by an idiosyn-
cratic interpretation of the basic structuralist assumption that each sign mediates
its identity through the delimitation of its sign body from that of all others.
Thus, the meaning of sign a would be mediated through relations of being-dif-
ferent-from with respect to b, c, d, e,j, and so on. Now there is no reason to
assume that the chain of oppositional terms to be opposed to the first sign is
finite. Thus, the limits of the semantic identity of a term are functions of an
open system of constantly new differentiations, without there being a term that
is present to itself. And since subjects (and individuals) can only be identified
through signs, the fissure of asynchronicity runs through subjectivity itself and
prevents its "presence to itself."
I can integrate the second of Derrida's objections into my model and
only need to modify the first one. Derrida's theory may justify denying identity
(qua rigid Leibnizian analytic identity with itself) to individuals, but it does not
permit thinking of them as self-conscious and thus related to meaning. This is
due to the fact that Derrida confronts subjectivity-not unlike analytic reduc-
tionism does-with the alternative of being either meaningful and dependent on
Subjectivity and Individuality 25
the articulation of signs underlying it, or to vanish in meaninglessness (reduc-
tio ad absurdum). Now, the argument goes, there is subjectivity; hence, says
Derrida, it is an epiphenomenon of the articulation of signs.
But one can and must concede that meaning is dependent on signs with-
out going so far as to interpret this dependency as a sufficient reason for the for-
mation of meaning. We already saw in our critique of the positions of neutral
monism and structuralism that self-understanding cannot be sufficiently derived
from the pure autonomous referential play of signifiers, which merely repre-
sents their conditio sine qua non. The predicate of significance already enters
into the very definition of the signifier; thus the assertion that the latter is
derived from the former is circular. Moreover, one has to realize that Derrida's
attack on the idea of presence is not only radical but too ractjcal, namely, con-
tradictory. Without the recourse to some moment of relative identity-with-
itself, differentiation (shift of meaning, metaphorical reinscription of mean-
ing) could not be ascertained, would be without criteria and not to be
distinguished from the state of total inertia. For only terms can be differentiated
that agree with respect to at least one moment of meaning, just as terms can
only be identified if they differ from each other in at least one mark.
Now, if one moves to the case of self-conscious individuality, one can
explain the radically open differential character of sign systems without sharing
Derrida's aporias. I would like to imagine the constitution of self-conscious
individuality as a sequence of continuous transformations of the states that
pertain to a person at a given time. This transformation does not occur without
reason (is thus compatible with a causal explanation); however, the reasons
here are not efficient causes but motives. Under "motive" I understand a reason
of such a kind that it could only determine my action in the light of a prior inter-
pretation that discloses it as a reason. An event would be necessitated (triggered
through physical causes), if, given an empirical constellation, it could not pos-
sibly not occur. By contrast, a transition between two states of "copersonality"
(or between two "states of language") is motivated, if it follows from a ground
only insofar as the latter has been posited previously as a reason in the light of
an interpretation.
Thus, those consequences are motivated that are not blindly necessitated
but relate to their occasion. In this sense the nonidentity (in the sense of trans-
formation) of signs is motivated. Since the meaning of the sign preceding it
only existed due to a hypothetical judgment (in itself, in its bare natural state it
has no signifying qualities), the signifying unit of his sign cannot semantically
determine a second use of the sign. But it can motivate it in the sense that a suc-
ceeding semantic hypothesis concerning the meaning of sign a at point t
can be
determined on the basis of a previous use in the context of a future interpreta-
tion. Even then there is no ultimate criterion for the objective identity of the
meaning of expression a at point t
and that of the same expression at point t

26 Self and Subject
For this identity, since it rests on interpretation and not on perception, can only
exist conjecturally, and requires that the underlying interpretation is taken over
by other individuals in the community of communication. That way a continu-
ity would establish itself between two successive states of a person's self-
understanding (and between two successive interpretations of a sign). This
continuity-which would not be a continuity in the evolutionary sense but one
of mutually motivating abductive inferences--could even make intelligible
Derrida's talk about the "non-present place of a differential mark": there would
be such a place insofar as one and the same bearer of expression were open to
many successive inscriptions of meaning. This chain would still be "non-
present," since no inscription had to perpetuate itself in the temporally suc-
ceeding one with the same meaning and in the same manner, as though the self-
presence of its meaning would form an instantaneous unity undisturbed by
From these considerations-whose tentative character I stress-I con-
clude that the recourse to the category of individuality should not have been
given up in the semantic discussion around self and person. For, on the one
hand, individuality is a factor, and it seems to be the only one that resists the
rigorous idealization of the meaning of signs (thus accomplishes exactly
what Derrida thinks "differance" can do). On the other hand, individuality
alone has the advantage that it can be thou$ht as self-consciousness without
circularity and thus can render intelligible motivations and hypothetical judg-
ments, such as interpretations, and ultimately all those processes in which the
category "meaning" occurs necessarily, that is, without possible substitu-
tion. Finally, only individuality explains the fact that designs of meaning
cannot be derived from semantic-pragmatic universals. Relations of deriva-
tions exist only between equals: a rule or concept, on one side, and a case, a
particular instantiation through which the former is specified, on the other
side. But if the extension of the underlying type is first or newly fixed by an
individual projection of meaning, then it becomes analytically clear that the
projection of meaning was not to be predicted by knowing the semantics of
the initial position. That also holds for individual projections of meaning in
the context of a life history. Their identity demands a synthetic principle of
unity that does not exclude qualitative change and especially takes into
account the possibility of reinterpretations of contexts of meaning that have
been left behind. Thus, the question concerning the identity of the person
"over time" seems to point toward a hermeneutics of the self-relation whose
outlines could barely be sketched and whose concrete elaboration remains the
work of future efforts. Those outlines, though, seem of such an imposing
size that, in concluding, I am tempted to take up the privilege of the skeptic,
once invoked by Hume in this matter, and to confess "that this difficulty is too
hard for my understanding."3?
Subjectivity and Individuality
*Translated by GUnter Zoller
1. The Essence of Reasons, tr. T. Malick (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press,
1969), p. 131 (translation modified).
2. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, tr. A. Hofstadter (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press, 1982), p. 155.
3. "Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi," Bulletin de la     de
philosophie 42 (1948), p. 66.
4. Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (London: SCM Press,
1962), p. 32.
5. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 159.
6. Cf. Being and Time, p. 32.
7. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, tr. H.
Barnes (New York: Gramercy, 1956), p. 84; cf. ibid., pp. 73f.
8. "Conscience de soi et connaissance de soi," p. 65.
9. Cf. ibid., p. 63.
10. Cf. ibid., pp. 64, 66.
11. Ibid., p. 66.
12. I intentionally left out intentionality from my sketch of the essential properties
of self-consciousness, for it is an essential trait not of self-consciousness but of knowl-
edge. It is, moreover, not a necessary trait of consciousness, for some consciousness
(moods, sensations, feelings) is nonintentional. Thus, consciousness has a wider exten-
sion than intentionality, and the latter has to be made intelligible from the former, with
intentionality presumably having to do with the spontaneity of the self. This investiga-
tion is not the object of the entirely preliminary considerations developed here.
13. Being and Time, p. 67f.
14. Ibid., p. 68.
15. Ibid.
16. Amphitryon. Three Plays in New Verse Translations. Plautus: Amphitruo-
Moliere: Amphitryon-Kleist: Amphityron, tr. H. Mantinband and Ch. E. Passage
(Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1974), p. 142 (translation modified).
17. Ibid., p. 215.
18. "The Ego is the pure Notion itself, which as Notion has reached Existence. If
therefore the fundamental determinations which constitute the nature of the Ego are
28 Self and Subject
recalled, it may be assumed that mention is being made of something which is known,
that is, which is fan1iliar to imagination. Now Ego is this unity which, first, is pure and
self-relating, and is so not immediately, but abstracting from every determinateness
and content and passing back into the freedom of boundless self-equality. It is thus
universality: unity which is self-unity only by virtue of this negative attitude which
appears as abstraction, and therefore contains dissolved within it all determinateness.
Secondly, and equally immediately, Ego as self-negating negativity is individuality, or
absolute determinedness which opposes itself to and excludes Other: it is individual per-
sonality. That absolute universality which equally immediately is absolute individual-
ization, and Being-in-and-for-itself which is simply positedness and is this Being-in-and-
for-itself only by virtue of the unity with positedness, constitutes equally the nature of
Ego and of the Notion; no notion can be formed about either unless the two moments
mentioned are taken at once in their abstraction and at once in their complete unity."
(Hegel's Science of Logic, tr. W. H. Johnston and L. G. Struthers, vol. 2 [New York:
Humanities Press, 1966], p. 217f.)
I attempt to paraphrase this oddly formulated passage: Everyone believes to be
familiar with the meaning of "I," for by it one does not refer to something other but to
oneself. In truth, however, "I" thus defined designates something entirely abstract which
has been derived by way of analysis from many individual acts of consciousness (of dif-
ferent persons), which all have in common that they can be accon1panied by the repre-
sentation that it is in each case J-that is, the thinking person-who performs them.
Kant sought in this supraindividual universality the justification for his talk about the
objective unity of our consciousness (cf. ibid., p. 218). Aside from the I's particular con-
tent in each case, there relTlains only the "limitlessness identity [of the I] with itself."
This elevates reflexivity to the rank of something universal. The latter is by no means the
unalienable property of the individual subject; rather, its objectivity rests entirely on its
universality. To comprehend something means: to impart a universal (thus non-
individual) form to a manifold of representational givens, which fonn then is binding for
all that designate themselves with "I." On the other hand, the pronoun "I" serves to
designate the "singularity" and "absolute determinateness" of our "individual person-
ality" (according to the classical definition of the individual as the "thoroughly [omni-
modo] determined"), of which each is opposed to each other (and quite possibly also to
itself at different times). Thus, the expression "I" with its two wings encompasses
abstract and universal self-reference and the individuating singularization due to which
each subject is itself in uniqueness and difference from all others.
19. "The first state of the I is [... ] a being-outside-itself. In this connection it
remains to note (and this is a very essential point) that the I, to the extent to which it is
thought beyond consciousness, is precisely not the individual I, for it determines itself as
an individual I only in the coming-to-itself; thus the I which is thought beyond con-
sciousness, or beyond the statement 'I am,' is for all human individuals the very same,
it only becomes in everyone his I, his individual I, precisely by coming to itself in him.
From the fact that what is thought beyond consciousness is the same for all individuals,
that in this case the individual does not yet playa role, it follows further why I absolutely
count for my idea of the external world, without myself having first had experience of it,
on the agreement of all human individuals (the child which shows me an object already
Subjectivity and Individuality 29
presupposes that this object must exist just as much for me as for it). Now, as the I
becomes an individual I-which announces itself precisely via the 'I an1' -, having
arrived then at the 'I am' with which individual life begins, it does not remember the
path any more which it has covered so far, for as consciousness only comes in at the end
of this path, it (the now individual 1) has covered the path unconsciously. By this the
blindness and necessity of its ideas of the external world are explained, as by the previ-
ous point the sameness and universality of theses ideas for all individuals are explained."
(F. W. J. von Schelling, On the History of Modern Philosophy, tr. ft.... Bowie [New
York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994], p. 109f. [translation modified]).
20. Cf. Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,
1977), pp. 10, 14.
21. Principles ofNature and Grace, Based on Reason, section 4, in G. W. Leib-
niz, Philosophical Essays, tr. R. Ariew and D. Garber (Indianapolis and Cambridge:
Hackett, 1989), p. 208.
22. Cf. Kant's gesammelte Schriften, ed. Royal Prussian Academcy of Sciences
and its successors, vol. 17 (Berlin and Leipzig: de Gruyter, 1926), p. 351 (Reflexion
3929), and I. Kant, Vorlesungen iiber die Metaphysik, ed. K. H. L. Politz (Erfurt 1821),
23. Cf. ibid.
24. In what follows I give merely a rough sketch of the post-Kantian (egological
and nonegological) theories of self-consciousness, insofar as they take subjectivity in
general (and not personality or individuality) to be the object of self-consciousness.
The bare scaffold is filled in terms of content and arguments in chapter 2 of "Frag-
mente einer Geschichte der SelbstbewuBtseinstheorien von Kant bis Sartre" (Fragments
of a History of Self-Consciousness from Kant to Sartre) (commentary part of Manfred
Frank, ed., SelbstbewujJtseinstheorien von Fichte bis Sartre [Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1991D.
25. The Philosophical Writings ofDescartes, tr. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D.
Murdoch, A. Kenny, vol. 3. Correpondence (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991),
p. 335 (Conversation with Burman).
26. The Monadology, section 23, in Leibniz, Philosophical Writings, p. 216
(translation nl0dified).
27. Cf., e.g., The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, tr. J. Cottingham, R.
Stoothoff, D. Murdoch, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), p. 285
(Author's Replies to the Sixth Objections).
28. Ober einige Fragen der Selbstbeziehung (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann,
1971), p. 76.
29. On the following, cf. Dieter Henrich, "SelbstbewuBtsein. Kritische Einleitung
in eine Theorie," in Hermeneutik und Dialektik, ed. R. Buhner et at (Ttibingen: Mohr,
30 Self and Subject
1970), pp. 257-84; "Self-Consciousness. Critical Introduction into a Theory," Man and
World 4 (1971),3-28.
30. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London: Methuen, 1959).
31. Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination, tr. P. Stem (Cambridge, Mass.:
MIT Press, 1986).
32. Ibid., p. 75 (translation modified).
33. "Identity and Necessity," In Identity and Individuation, ed. M. K. Munitz
(New York: New York University Press, 1971), p. 162, n. 17; cf. also p. 162f, n. 18.
34. Sidney Shoemaker, "Self-Reference and Self-Awareness," in id., Identity,
Cause, and Mind. Philosophical Essays (Calubridge: Cambridge Dniv. Press, 1984), pp.
6-18, esp. p. 15ff (section 3).
35. Kripke, "Identity and Necessity," p. 163f.
36. Sidney Shoemaker and Richard Swinburne, Personal Identity (Oxford:
Oxford Dniv. Press, 1984), p. 104f.
37. A Treatise ofHuman Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (New York: Oxford Dniv.
Press, 1970), p. 636.
Self as Matter and Form:
Some Reflections on Kant's View of the Soul
Richard E. Aquila
I am going to discuss what Kant calls "the I of inner sense" or "the soul."
In doing this, I shall take as seriously as I can Kant's description of this thing as
the subject of mental activity, that is, as a being, apparently, In which all such
activity inheres as in a "substance" or a "substratum." In addition, I want to try
to take as seriously as I can the connection between this apparently Cartesian
view and Kant's view of what is given in, or by means of, inner sense. In this
regard, I shall argue that Kant's commitment to some kind of inner "subject" is
neither the purely formal or logical notion it is frequently taken to be nor equiv-
alent to (although it is compatible with) his commitment to a thinking sub-
stance, or a noumenal self, beyond sensibility altogether.
Kant does argue, in the Paralogisms chapter of the Critique of Pure
that we cannot in fact be sure that our souls are thinking "sub-
stances," either within or beyond sensibility. However, his point in that con-
text is that we cannot be sure that our souls are permanently enduring things.
What I want to discuss is what this still leaves open, namely, that through the
medium of inner sense one is given the existence of a real being that is an at
least relatively enduring subject or substratum for mental activities and that
is "substantial" at least in the sense that it is not reducible, in its role as
subjector substratum, in terms of any system of mental or nonmental items
of any sort.
In commenting on the first Paralogism Kant says:
Now in all our thought the I is the subject, in which thoughts inhere only
as determinations; and this I cannot be employed as the determination of
32 Self and Subject
another thing. Everyone must, therefore, necessarily regard himself as
substance, and thought only as accidents of his being and determina-
tions of his state. But what use am I to make of this concept of a sub-
stance? That I, as a thinking being, continue for myself, and do not in any
natural manner either arise or perish, can by no means be deduced from
it. (A349)3
In a Nachlaj3 reflection Kant also says the following:
The difference between substance as outer phenomenon and of inner
representation is that the former is the subject of inherence without a
determination of unity [ohne die Einheit zu bestimmen], while the latter
determines unity through the 1.
Admittedly, that is not very clear. In addition, both of these passages
were written prior to Kant's revision of the Paralogisms chapter in the second
edition of the Critique. But I am going to argue that they make an important
point, essential to Kant's theory of consciousness. Furthermore, even in his
criticism of the second-edition version, Kant's point is simply that the argu-
ment's minor premise at most entitles us to say that "in relation to thought
and the unity of consciousness," a "thinking being" must be regarded as a
"subject" of that consciousness. This, Kant objects, tells us nothing about that
subject "in relation to the intuition through which it is given as object" (B411).
But again, the point of Kant's objection is just that "in inner intuition there is
nothing permanent" (B413).
As I have suggested, aside from its use in reference to what we normally
regard as a person or a human being (and, of course, apart from its use to des-
ignate a mere flow of inner states), it is frequently supposed that what Kant
means by the "I" or "thinking subject" is something purely forrnal-a mere
"form"-namely, a form that he designates by means of the title 'transcen-
dental unity of apperception' or 'unity of consciousness. '5 And certainly, how-
ever we interpret the notion, the unifying structure that Kant seems to indicate
by this title is one of the things that he sometimes also speaks of as I.
But as we
have seen, at least a third thing is also called "I." Even outside the Paralo-
gisms chapter, Kant speaks of this third thing, not only as a real object (gener-
ally, Gegenstand; sometimes, Objekt) whose existence is empirically given,
but more specifically as a thinking thing. Thus, in the second-edition preface he
says that "the soul" can be taken in two ways, either as a thing in itself or as an
object of (inner) experience, and in both cases, Kant says, we can still speak of
its mental activity (Bxxvii-xxviii). And at the end of the Critique he says the
following about the perfectly legitimate enterprise of "immanent physiology."
Immanent physiology:
Self as Matter and Form 33
views nature as the sum of all objects of the senses, and therefore just as
it is given us ... There are only two kinds of such objects. 1. Those of the
outer senses, and so their sum, corporeal nature. 2. The object of inner
sense, the soul, and in accordance with our fundamental concepts of it,
thinking nature. (A846/B874)7
I now turn more specifically to the Paralogisms chapter. The chapter
opens (A341/B399-B400) with a reference to what Kant says we might consider
either as a certain concept or as a judgment that is the "vehicle of all concepts"
(cf. A348/B406). He puts it simply as "I think." It is "free of empirical admix-
ture," and it "serves only to introduce" (or to "bring forth") "all our thought, as
belonging to consciousness." It is of course not clear what Kant has in mind. On
the one hand, it may be that he means to be talking about a fairly abstract
thought or concept that everyone must have of themselves as conscious beings,
as part of any more concrete self-concept or self-judgment, a concept of oneself
not as someone in particular, but just as a thinker. On the other hand, Kant may
be talking about some function that constitutively brings forth all of one's con-
cepts or thoughts in the first place, as actual states of consciousness, not simply
a function involved in making judgments about one's consciousness.
In any
case, what I want to focus on is what Kant immediately adds.
The abstract or formal structure in question:
enables us to distinguish, through the nature of our faculty of represen-
tation, two kinds of objects (Gegenstiinde). I, as thinking, am an object of
inner sense, and am called soul. That which is an object of the outer
senses is called body. Accordingly the expression I, as a thinking being,
signifies the object of that psychology which may be entitled the rational
doctrine of the soul. (A342/B400)
In other words, whether or not Kant means to equate some "I" or other with a
certain unifying structure, what he makes clear at the beginning of the chapter
is that there is indeed an object whose existence is given in inner sense, and this
is what we are referring to when we are talking specifically about ourselves as
thinking beings. It simply remains to see how whatever formal structure is
also in question is supposed to relate to this object of inner sense. And of
course it remains unclear what it is for that object to be "an object of' inner
sense in the first place.
My own suggestion is going to be, first, that the formal structure in ques-
tion-what we might call the purely "formal I"-is a "determining" form or
34 Self and Subject
structure whose original embodiment in, or determining of, the I of inner sense
is what constitutes the latter as a "soul," and thus as a thinking being or an "I,"
in the first place. And what I want to show is how seriously we can (and cannot)
take Kant's suggestion that such determining is indeed embodied in an under-
lying "substratum." My second point will then be that while the reality of that
substratum is "given" in inner sense, we are still only capable of apprehending
that object indirectly, namely, precisely as a mere determinable substratum
for mental activity; we have no more direct perception of it as an object than
that. Thus:
Consciousness is, indeed, that which makes all representations into [zu]
thoughts, and in it, therefore, as the transcendental subject [that is, in
what we might call the purely "formal I"], all our perceptions must be
found; but beyond this logical meaning of the I, we have no knowledge of
the subject in itself, which as substratum underlies this, as it does all
thought. (A350)
But what it is important to note is that the sentence immediately following
makes it clear that by the "subject in itself' Kant does not mean a noumenal
substratum of mental activity, but simply the soul, as that subject whose reality
is given, empirically, in inner sense:
The proposition 'The soul is substance' may, however, quite well be
allowed to stand, if only it be recognized that this concept does not carry
us a single step further, and so cannot yield us any of the usual deductions
of the pseudo-rational doctrine of the soul, as for instance, the everlasting
duration of the human soul in all changes.
This approach, incidentally, will give us a natural explanation of what
might otherwise seem a contradiction in Kant, namely, that he also explicitly
says that "Inner sense, by means of which the mind intuits itself or its inner
state, yields no intuition of the soul itself as an object (Objekt)" (A221B37). As
I have suggested, the soul might indeed be a substratum for mental activity
whose existence, in such a capacity, is given through the medium of inner
sense, even if it is not more directly perceived as an object. In this connection
we might therefore note that, in his personal copy of the Critique, Kant altered
the thesis of the First Paralogism from "The soul is substance," to "The soul
exists as substance" (A344/B402).9
This approach may also help deal with a difficulty that might appear to be
raised in the opening paragraphs of the Paralogisms chapter. After noting that
the "rational doctrine of the soul" must be "built upon the single proposition I
,think," Kant adds:
Matter and Form
The reader must not object that this proposition, which expresses the
perception of the self, contains an inner experience, and that the rational
doctrine of the soul founded upon it is never pure and is therefore to that
extent based upon an empirical principle. For this inner perception is
nothing more than the mere apperception I think, by which even tran-
scendental concepts are made possible.(A342-031B400-01)
That the relevant "inner perception" is "nothing more than the mere appercep-
tion I think" may suggest that Kant only means to be talking about the pure
unity of consciousness itself, and thus something purely fonnal. And certainly,
each of at least the first three inferences of rational psychology does seem to
involve an illicit transference of characteristics of the unity of consciousness to
the soul as a "thinking being."l0 I don't mean to deny that. But precisely by
appealing to the actual embodiment of the pure unity in question, in the "I of
inner sense," my suggestions may help explain the sense in which even some-
thing so pure as that might be given through the medium of "inner percep-
If this approach is sound, then it is only by virtue of a kind of extension
that the transcendental unity of consciousness might be called "I" in the first
place. The extension would be facilitated by the fact that, precisely in our con-
sciousness of that unity as embodied in inner sense, what is in question is only
an abstract dimension of our apprehension of the existence of a real thinking
being, or at least of a being in which all of our thoughts are actually embodied,
namely, the soul. Thus, as Kant puts it, in the fallacious inferences of rational
psychology, "I am confusing the possible abstraction from my empirically
determined existence with the supposed consciousness of a possible separate
existence of my thinking self' (B427). We might also note that Kant made the
following alteration in a sentence that had appeared in the first edition of the
Critique. Here is the original sentence:
This I [namely, the I that abides in the "continual flux" of the soul] is,
however, as little an intuition as it is a concept of any object (Gegen-
stande); it is the mere form of consciousness. (A382)
Kant then altered this sentence to conclude that the I in question is the "to us
unknown object (Objekt) of consciousness," not a mere form at all.
Before spelling these suggestions out, I need to offer a general way of
looking at the distinction between "matter" and "form" in Kant's theory of
36 Self and Subject
consciousness. To do this, I am going to distinguish between two kinds of
mental form, or between what I shall call two kinds of mental "unification." For
reasons that should become clear fairly quickly, I'm going to adopt some clas-
sical terminology and refer to these as "noematic" (or object-oriented) unifi-
cation, on the one hand, and "noetic" (or act-oriented) unification, on the other.
By noematic unification, I mean either a kind of unification with respect
to a manifold of objects present to mind, or "represented," on some level of
consciousness, or a kind of unification with respect to various aspects or
appearances of such objects. I mean to be using the term 'object' here broadly,
to include, for example, events, states of affairs, or activities as well as "objects"
in a narrower sense. And I mean to include mental unification with respect
not only to actual but also to merely possible objects. Further, I don't want to
assume that whatever sort of unification is in question requires that the unified
items all need to be explicitly present to consciousness. For example, in repre-
senting some explicitly represented object as a tree, I might be said to connect
it, at least in my mind, with other objects and possible objects-namely, by
placing it in the class of objects called "trees." This does not require that those
other objects be explicitly present to consciousness. Similarly, representing
something as a tree, I mentally connect a given "appearance," or perhaps a
mental "image," with other possible ones-for example, with appearances that
I anticipate being able to apprehend-even though none of the other appear-
ances is explicitly present to consciousness at the moment.
In these terms, then, we may say that at least a good part of what Kant has
to say regarding understanding or intellect as a faculty of "synthesis" or "com-
bination" amounts to an argument that particular forms of "noematic unifica-
tion" are necessary conditions for consciousness, or at least necessary for any
consciousness that involves a genuine grasp or understanding (or, for that mat-
ter, misunderstanding) of anything. That is, they are necessary for any con-
sciousness that is not "blind" (A511B75). It is of course also Kant's view that
any instance of noematic unification with respect to objects, in a suitably strong
sense of the term 'object,' must be accomplished on the basis of unification
with respect to actual and possible appearances ofobjects. But unification with
respect to appearances would still be an instance of what I am calling "noe-
matic" unification.
It seems to me that commentators generally focus on the noematic dimen-
sion of mental unification. But quite another notion of unification plays a role,
not only in connection with what Kant himself calls "synthesis" or "combina-
tion"-and thus in connection with his theory of intellect in the Analytic of
Concepts-but also in connection with his theory of space and time in the
Aesthetic. In the Aesthetic, Kant does not refer to this other sort of unification
as any kind of synthesis or combination at all. And in the Analytic, I think he is
not particularly clear how to refer to it. I am going to call it "noetic unification."
Self as Matter and Form 37
In the Aesthetic, it is a crucial part-I think we might say, it is one half-of
what Kant means by "pure intuition," or by the "pure form" of intuition. In the
Analytic, although I am less (and perhaps Kant was less) clear about it, I think
it is also at least an important part of what he means by a "synthesis of appre-
By noetic unification, I am going to mean a certain kind of unification of
what are the actual constituents of a mental state or act. And I am going to pro-
pose that we look at this in the following way: A mental act in which a body of
material is noetically unified is just a state ofaffairs-or perhaps better, is just
a happening-of a special sort. What is special about such a state of affairs, I
shall come back to. In the meantime, I want to make it clear that whatever is
noetically unified in a mental act can be said to be in that act neither merely in
the way that noematically unified items can be said to be "in" it nor in the literal
way in which something might be said to be in a container. Rather, what is
noetically unified is "in" an act in whatever way the ingredients of a state of
affairs or a happening might be said to be in that state of affairs or happening.
With that in mind, then, I want to say that noetic unification actually constitutes,
out of some body of material, a state of affairs or happening which is either a
particular instance of the consciousness of something or-conditional on appro-
priate further structuring within that instance of unification-is at least poten-
tially a particular instance of the consciousness of something. (The reason for
the qualification should be clear shortly.)
In the Transcendental Aesthetic, the only material that Kant suggests is
available for noetic unification is what he calls "sensations." In the Analytic, I
believe that Kant struggled with the need to recognize that this is not the whole
story. In particular, he struggled with the need to recognize a body of potential
material for mental acts that might more reasonably be attributed to an "imag-
inative" than to a purely "sensible" faculty. In any case, what I want to propose
is that, on Kant's view, any instance of noematic unification, at least for beings
whose faculty of intuition is sensible, must be accomplished on the foundation
of a body of noetically unified material. This does not mean that the latter
material is now both noematically and noetically unified. What is noemati-
cally unified is, as it were, on the object-side of consciousness. It is just that for
a being whose intuition is sensible, any instance of noematic unification-as
least insofar as it is to be relevant to the apprehension of objects-is constituted
only through the medium of what is noetically unified in a mental act.
Compatibly with this, there are still various claims that might be
attributed to Kant. The most cautious would be this: For human beings, all
noetic unification is subject to the condition that any instance of noematic uni-
fication accomplished through it needs to involve certain particular forms of
spatiotemporal connectedness. I want to point out that this cautious thesis is
compatible with certain kinds of reductionism. For example, it is compatible
38 Self and Subject
with the view that what unifies the constituents of a single mental act, in such a
way as to ground the constitution, on the correlative "object-side," of an
instance of noematic unification, is just a system of causal or other functional
relations: that is, a system of relations either wholly among the constituents of
that act or, perhaps also, between those constituents and some other items (for
example, sensory inputs, or other environmental factors, or behavioral
responses).13 But it seems to me Kant's view that, quite to the contrary, noetic
unification (at least insofar as it is relevant to unity with respect to appre-
hended objects) rests on a basic and irreducible-one might say, on a "holis-
tic"-unifying function with respect to the material thereby unified.
speaking further to this point, I shall return to what I take to be its bearing on
Kant's reflections regarding the soul as a "thinking thing."
As I have suggested, noetically unifying form or structure, insofar as it is
a presupposition of noematic unification, is one of the things that Kant calls
"pure fOffil of intuition." But there is of course something else that Kant calls by
that name as well, namely, a corresponding noematically unifying form or
structure, that is, the very structure of space and time themselves as special
kinds of "wholes" (or quasi-wholes). In any case, it is important to be clear that
none of what I have said implies that the noetically unifying fonn in question is
by itself sufficient for an apprehension of spatiotemporal connectedness. A
number of Kantian claims-for example, that "all combination ... is an act of
the understanding" (B130)-are presumably meant to exclude that possibility.
Beyond that, we perhaps need not even suppose that the irreducible unifying
form in question is by itself sufficient for any instance of genuine conscious-
ness. Despite Kant's claim about the "blindness" of intuition apart from con-
cepts, we need not deny it either. The claim, again, is simply that any instance
of noematic unification, insofar as it is to be relevant to apprehension of objects,
requires that operations of the understanding be effected on the basis of a body
of material within a single mental act, where the very unification of that mate-
rial into that act is not itself wholly a function of understanding.
It is not simply that, for cognition of objects, one's intellect needs to be
applied to a body of material which is in turn a function of some distinct men-
tal faculty. Rather, intellectual functions need to operate on the basis of a body
of material whose very unification is at least in part a function of that other fac-
ulty. In other words, what we might call the purely intellectual "dimension" of
the "transcendental unity of consciousness" is a dimension that can be realized
or embodied in any actual consciousness only insofar as some instance of
intellectual structuring is effected from within, as it were, the boundaries of an
independently (but not necessarily temporally prior) unified medium. Again,
this does not mean that, apart from intellect, unified "objects," in any relevant
sense, are available to consciousness. But I think it does mean that there is a
certain sort of mental directedness, which is an internal feature of any instance
Self as Matter and Form 39
of intellectually contentful consciousness, but which is not constituted wholly
by means of intellect itself. Apart from this feature, even if there could be such
a thing as noematic unification, it could not amount to unification with respect
to some object that is actually apprehended.
Of course, even if we granted the need for some nonintellectual unity in
mental acts, it would remain a question why we should take this to involve a
basic and irreducible mental structure. For present purposes, I am going to limit
myself to the exegetical dimension of this question. First, Kant seems to be
indicating, precisely by including the Transcendental Aesthetic in a "Transcen-
dental Doctrine of Elements," that sensibility involves, besides our capacity for
undergoing "sensations," a basic and irreducible element of cognition. Presum-
ably, this means the element in question is not further explicable, and a fortiori
not explicable in terms of, for example, causal or other functional relations into
which mental states and their constituents might enter.
So when Kant describes
this element as "that in which alone sensations can be posited and ordered in a
certain form" (A20/B34), then even if this is different from what he generally
describes as "synthesizing" or "combining," his aim would seem to be to argue
that sensibility involves an autonomous unifying function. I believe that what
stands in the way, in many people's minds, of taking this sufficiently seriously
is simply that it is taken to imply that, apart from understanding, sensibility
involves a capacity for noematic unification. And that is not part of the claim.
My second point concerns what we might call the essentially "projective"
nature of sensibility, at least insofar as it plays a role in the apprehension of
objects. What I mean by this is the fact-introduced in the Aesthetic and then
elaborated in the "Anticipations of Perception" (AI66/B207ff)-that the
"appearances" apprehended through bodies of noetically unified material ipso
facto display an aspect-as part of their at least apparent way of filling space
and time-an aspect whose immediate phenomenal quality is reflective pre-
cisely of that material. Kant speaks, for example, of an aspect of appearances
that "corresponds" to the sensations contained in our apprehension of them. 16 I
plan to return to this point later. For now I just note that, in his discussion of the
a priori principle involved, Kant says it is "intuitively certain," given the very
nature of intuition in the first place. Hence, it is incapable of any kind of dis-
cursive proof (A149/B188, A160-2/B199-201). But there is surely no intu-
itively evident connection between sensations functioning within single states
whose constituents are unified by mere complexes of relations-either wholly
among themselves, or between themselves and additional items-and the
notion of sensations as capable of performing a noetically projective role. From
this I conclude that Kant would reject any reductionist approach to the function
whereby such projection is originally constituted.
My third point concerns the fact, previously mentioned, that even the
pure form ofapperception is something that we are given in an "inner percep-
40 Self and Subject
tion": "The reader must not object that this proposition, which expresses the
perception of the self, contains an inner experience ... For this inner perception
is nothing more than the mere apperception I think, by which even transcen-
dental concepts are made possible" (A342-03/B40o-01).17 It is difficult to see
how, if Kant were allowing for the possibility of a reductive approach to noetic
unification, he could suppose that pure apperception is given in an inner per-
ception. For on a reductive approach to the unity of consciousness, what is
supposedly given in inner perception is precisely not whatever structure in fact
makes such perception possible in the first place.
Now I want to return to the notion of "inner sense," regarding which
there are two questions: What can we be aware of as an "object of inner sense"?
And in what way can we be aware of it? As we have seen, Kant thinks that we
are aware of our souls as an object of inner sense, that is, of the thinking "sub-
stance" or the thinking "being" within us, even though we do not directly
apprehend it as an object. But what does this involve? I want to begin with the
fact that, on numerous occasions, Kant tells us that what it involves is an aware-
ness of something that is merely determinable within us, relative to a corre-
sponding determination through understanding. For example, what we are
given in inner sense is said to be the material or stuff (Stoff) with which we fill
our mind (unser Cemiit besetzen)l8 "antecedent to any and every act of think-
ing" (B67). Through inner sense, Kant says, the manifold of such material is
given for "objective combination" (B139). In turn, finally, "the understand-
ing, as spontaneity, is able to determine inner sense through the manifold of
given representations" (B150; cf. B153)!9 Indeed: "In every act of attention the
understanding determines inner sense, in accordance with the combination
which it thinks"; IIIore specifically, it deternlines inner sense "to [zur] that
inner intuition which corresponds to the manifold in the synthesis of the under-
standing" (B156-7n).
Those are all passages added in the second edition of the Critique, to
the Transcendental Aesthetic and the Deduction. But in a passage in both edi-
tions, Kant also refers to inner sense as containing the "whole" (Inbegriff) of the
representations available for combination through imagination and apperception
(A155/B194). And in the first-edition Deduction, although he is not at that
point referring to inner sense explicitly, Kant speaks of the "unity of apper-
ception in respect to a manifold of representations" as determining that mani-
fold "out of a single representation [es niimlich aus einer einzigen zu bestim-
men]" (A127). This way of putting it, incidentally, seems to indicate the need,
not simply for intellectual determining, or unification, with respect to a body of
Self as Matter and Form 41
material available in inner sense, but for a kind of determining that is somehow
presupposed by any such determining. I say this because, at least in this pas-
sage, Kant speaks of such determining as operating, not simply with respect to
a manifold in a single "inner sense," but more specifically with respect to a
manifold within a single representation. That is, the understanding "deter-
min[es] that manifold out of a single representation."20 Other passages seem also
to call for, or at least strongly suggest, the same reading.
In any case, in the Paralogisms chapter, Kant explicitly distinguishes,
not simply between a determining and a determinable factor in consciousness,
but between a determining and a determinable self. In a first-edition passage, for
example, he distinguishes between the determining self-which he equates
directly with the very power of thought (Denken)-and a determinable self
that he identifies precisely as the thinking subject (A402); and just a page ear-
lier, he had also equated the thinking subject with the soul. Similarly, in a sec-
ond-edition passage, Kant makes it clear that the knowledge of self in question
in rational psychology-that is, knowledge of the "I, as object" (of inner
sense)-"is not the consciousness of the determining self," or of "the deter-
mining subject of that relation which constitutes" all judgments, but rather "of
the determinable self, that is, of my inner intuition (in so far as its manifold can
be combined in accordance with the universal condition of the unity of apper-
ception in thought)" (B407; cf. B157-58n).22 And again: "I do not know an
object merely in that I think, but only in so far as I determine a given intuition
with respect to the unity of consciousness in which all thought consists"
Now all of this of course bears only on "inner sense" in the sense of
what Kant calls "the manifold" of inner sense. Shortly, I shall in fact suggest
that it bears only on one of the at least two things that Kant thinks of as the
manifold of inner sense. But none of this clarifies the respect in which any
such manifold-or at least in which the existence of such a manifold-might be
supposed to be made evident by means of any kind of "sense" in the first place.
But before I speak more directly to this point, I want to note that, at least given
the notion in question, we will indeed have arrived at an important respect in
which mental activity might said to inhere in what Kant calls the "soul" as in a
"substance" or "substratum."
Pretty clearly, what Kant is calling the "determining" of inner sense by
thought, in any instance of the apprehension of objects, is the constitution,
through the medium of particular mental acts, of a certain sort of noematic
unity among appearances. But as I have argued, any such instance of noematic
unification needs in every case to be accomplished on the basis of an instance
of noetic unification. More specifically, it can be accomplished only through the
medium of a noetic structure whose defining form is irreducibly holistic, that is,
through the medium of what Kant calls (in at least one sense of the expression),
42 Self and Subject
the pure "form of intuition" in a mental state. In other words, it is only by
operating within the boundaries delineated by an irreducible intuitional struc-
ture, and precisely with respect to a body of material within that structure, that
understanding is able to constitute any relevant noematic unities.
As I have suggested, in order to make full sense of this notion, we may
also have to broaden Kant's own (apparently) official notion of the "material"
encompassable, as it were, on the act- or the subject-side of the mental activity
in question. Or at least, we shall have to broaden our own notion so as to
include material of an "imaginative" rather than of a purely "sensory" sort. In
that case, we will then be in a position to suppose what seems to me in fact to
make good sense, namely, that the intellectual constitution of the relevant uni-
ties in experience-that is, the constitution of certain unities on the object-
side of consciousness-involves the introduction of intellectual structure within
the context of an imaginatively represented structure of appearances. In any
event, if something like this approach is correct, then by definition-that is,
insofar as what Kant calls the soul, as the "I of inner sense," is in fact defined as
the "determinable" element with respect to any such intellectual determin-
ing-then by definition, any such determining must "inhere" in the soul as in a
"substance" or a "substratum."
The best way to bring out the force of this point, with respect to the
notion of mental "substance" in Kant, is to contrast the position that I have just
ascribed to Kant with what I earlier called a "reductionist" approach to noetic
unification. For a reductionist, the unification of certain elements into a single
mental state, through which some object is represented, would at most involve
the obtaining of some system of relations within a "manifold of inner sense."
Or, more precisely, it would involve the obtaining of certain relations either
wholly among the constituents of that manifold or, perhaps additionally,
between those constituents and some other items altogether (for example, sen-
sory inputs, other environmental factors, or behavioral responses). For the
reductionist, then, there would be no point in suggesting that mental activities
"inhere" in the manifold in question. For even if there is such a thing as a
manifold of inner sense, mental activities would simply be instances of relations
obtaining among (or at most involving) the components of that manifold. But
on the proposed alternative, there is (if I might put it this way) a more "sub-
stantial" sense in which mental activities might be said to inhere in the manifold
of inner sense. Namely, they might be said to inhere in it precisely in the
respect that they do not merely involve relations among, or involving, the con-
stituents of that manifold.
On this view, again, any instance of mental activity, or at least any
instance of mental activity that bears on the apprehension of objects, must be
regarded as a unique sort of state of affairs or happening. The constituents or
ingredients of such a state of affairs or happening are the constituents or ingre-
Self as Matter and Form 43
dients of whatever body of noetic "stuff' is in question. But any such state of
affairs or happening also has a characteristic form. On Kant's view, this is a
very special form. In fact, we might say it is doubly special. For in the terms
that I introduced earlier, it is a form whereby the ingredients in question-
however else (that is, however intellectually) they might be structured-are
contained within a single instance of mental "directedness," or a single instance
of mental "projection," through those very ingredients. As I have argued,.it is
Kant's view that any such underlying form is not reducible in terms of any
mere set of relations either among those ingredients or between them and addi-
tional items.
Now I need to confront a question that I postponed earlier, namely: In
what respect can one actually be said to be aware, as of an "object of inner
sense," of the material "determined" by understanding in any instance of the
apprehension of objects? This question, as I shall propose, is inseparable from
a second question that I have also postponed, namely: In what sense can one be
said to be aware, through some kind of "inner perception," of the transcen-
dental unity of consciousness itself? As we have noted, it may seem odd to say
that the transcendental unity of consciousness is given as an object of inner per-
ception, but Kant does say it. And if he did not, then it would in fact be difficult
to see how he could say that the so-called "I of inner sense" was really any sort
of "I" at all.
I believe that the answer to these questions will finally make it clear
that, while more than one thing might be meant by the "transcendental subject"
in Kant, there is a perfectly legitimate, and a very significant, respect in which
the "I of inner sense" is itself given precisely as that subject. That is, as Kant
puts it, it is given precisely as a subject of thoughts that is "known only through
the thoughts which are its predicates" (A346/B404). Once again, the crux of my
proposal will require the notion of intuitional "projection." It will also turn on
Kant's insistence that it is "the representations of the outer senses [that] con-
stitute the proper material" of consciousness" (B67).25
As I suggested earlier, to deal with this point we will need to attend to the
fact that Kant really has two things in mind in talking about the manifold of
inner sense in the first place. Obviously, I believe that one of these is the
"determinable" element that, as I have argued, provides the noetic substratum
for mental activity. But another thing that might be meant by the manifold of
inner sense, I now want to say, is just outer appearances themselves. Or more
exactly, another thing that might be meant by the manifold of inner sense is
outer appearances, insofar as the latter are apprehended, not as some actual part
44 Self and Subject
or aspect of spatial reality, but simply as appearances that might or might not be
some part or aspect of spatial reality. As I shall put it, the second thing that
might be meant by the nlanifold of inner sense is simply outer appearances
themselves, insofar as they constitute a pure noematic "presence" to con-
In effect, this means that we need to distinguish between a noetic and a
noematic "lnanifold of inner sense." For example, an appearance that I am
free to take as a piece of paper in front of me, viewed from a certain perspec-
tive, would be apprehended as a part of the manifold of inner sense-in the noe-
matic sense-insofar as it is apprehended as part of a pure "presence to con-
sciousness," in abstraction from any question as to whether or not it is in fact
any real object at all, not to mention whether or not it is a real piece of paper in
front of me. But no such item could possibly be regarded as part of the manifold
of inner sense in what I have called the noetic sense. For no such item could be
regared as part of a manifold of material in which our mental activity "inheres"
as in a substance or a substratum.
What I want to do now is say something
about the relation between these two notions of "a manifold of inner sense."
Given Kant's pronouncements to the effect that the "proper material"
of consciousness is the representations of outer sense, it would seem that it is in
some way only in or through one's consciousness of the noematic manifold-
and not, as it were, directly by means of reflection on the noetic-that one is
conscious of, or is actually "given," the existence of a noetic manifold in the
first place. In any case, that is the suggestion that I want to put forward. And it
might already be clear, in the light of what I have called Kant's theory of "pro-
jection," how I would try to develop the point. We might put it this way. We are
"given" the existence of a noetic manifold-that is to say, we are given the
existence of a body of material in which our mental acts "inhere"-only inso-
far as that material is actually reflected in, or as it were "projected" into, some
portion of the noematic manifold. In other words, the noetic manifold is given
to us not directly but, as we lllight put it, only in a mirror. To be sure, we are
presented with the existence of that manifold "perceptually." But that is only
because we are able to apprehend its projection, as an actually perceptible
dimension-we might even say as a "qualitative," but not as a purely sensory
dimension-within the noematic manifold.
But I want to go even further than this. What I want to do is to extend the
point that I have just made, so as to make it apply, not only to our awareness of
noetic material in mental acts, but also to our awareness of the intellectual
form that is involved in the apprehension of objects through the medium of that
material. Here we need to attend more specifically to what I have called the
apprehension of pure noematic "presence." It might seem that, to be immedi-
ately aware of any instance of noematic "presence"-that is, to be aware of any
instance of the immediate presence of some object (real or imaginary) to con-
Self as Matter and Form 45
sciousness-one needs to engage in some kind of reflection on one's own
mental activity. In a sense-indeed, by definition-this must be true. But the
question is in what sense it could possibly be true. In particular, if it is the
case that we are aware of the noetic manifold only so far as it is reflected in the
noematic, and if it is also the case that any instance of one's own mental activ-
ity is an irreducible state of affairs or happening, all of the ingredients of which
are nothing more than a portion of that noetic Dlanifold, then it would seem to
follow that we can only reflect on our own mental activity insofar as it is itself
reflected in the noematic manifold as well.
In other words, our original awareness of the pure presence of appear-
ances to consciousness must contain a perceptible-although again not a lllerely
sensory--dinlension that must be regarded as the projection, not of any partic-
ular body of noetic material, but precisely of the transcendental unity of con-
sciousness itself, insofar as that unity is in fact involved in the constitution of an
apprehension of objects. As I have suggested, what this in turn would involve
is the constitution, within the noematic manifold, of certain imaginatively per-
ceptible (and of course intellectually conceptualizable) structural features of that
manifold. In any case, while the features in question must involve more than
immediate sensory quality, the point is that their actual perception, within a
manifold with such quality, must be regarded in terms of an original act of
mental "projection." That is, it must be regarded in terms of an act of projection
from within, as it were, or through, a body of noetically unified material
through which a purely sensory dimension of appearances has also been pro-
jected. If it were not, then there would be no sense in which the structural fea-
tures in question could be regarded as features of the very same manifold as we
had been talking about from the start.
This does not mean that, in apprehending appearances, we must actually
attend to the structural features in question. It is simply that, in so attending, we
would be attending-in the only way that we could possibly do so in so-called
inner perception-to the occurrence of an instance our own mental activity, and
thus to the "transcendental unity of consciousness" itself, as it is manifest in that
activity. But it is in just this sense, as I finally conclude, that we are also
"given" the existence of the soul itself, as the so-called I of inner sense, and thus
as the "thinking being" within us.
In other words, this finally gives us a legitimate, and it seems to me an
important, respect in which the "I of inner sense" is given precisely as what
Kant calls the "transcendental subject" of consciousness.
For while that "I" is
indeed immediately given as a reality in "inner sense," and not merely
abstractly represented in intellectual thoughts or judgments, it is not directly
given by means of reflection, as it were, in the noetic direction. Rather, it is
given only as something-as Kant in fact says of the "transcendental subject of
[one's] thoughts =X"-"known only through the thoughts which are its pred-
46 Self and Subject
icates." That is, it is given as something that is known only, at least as an
"object of inner sense," as that which-whatever it is: "this I or he or it (the
thing) which thinks" (A346/B404)2s-which is noetically "projected" into such-
and-such an instance of noematic presence. What I have tried to argue is that
this in turn is possible only because whatever mental structures are in fact in
question, in any instance of the apprehension of objects, they are structures
that need to have been constituted from within, as it were, the framework of an
independently and irreducibly unified noetic structure.
I want to conclude by indicating briefly, and apart from the exegetical
issues at stake in this chapter, what I take to be the broader significance of
our conclusion. The issue concerns the possibility, essential to Kant's moral
theory, of a rational faith in ourselves as the underlying ground of our own
activity. More specifically, and notoriously, such a faith requires the possi-
bility of believing that, despite the fact that we are not, as appearances, the
ground of our own activity, we are nonetheless, regarded in ourselves (or as
"things in ourselves"), that ground. But what could this mean? In order to
believe that not just something, but "we ourselves," as we are "in ourselves,"
are the underlying ground, there needs to be some object, whose existence is
given empirically, to which we are (whether we realize it or not) ipso facto
referring, when we are referring to certain activities as "our own." If there
were not, then there would be nothing within the bounds of experience, of
which we would be believing that it, regarded in itself, is the underlying
ground of the activity in question. For example, it makes no sense to suppose
that the transcendental unity of apperception, regarded in itself, is the under-
lying ground of mental activity. It makes no sense, because the transcen-
dental unity of apperception is not an object whose existence is given empir-
ically in the first place. Therefore, there can be no question of what "it"
might be "in itself. "29
In other words, unless we take seriously the notion of the "I of inner
sense," precisely as the "subject" in which mental activity inheres, and therefore
precisely as what the word'!' refers to, whenever it is used to ascribe mental
activities to oneself, then even so much as a beliefin oneself as the underlying
ground of "one's own" mental activities is impossible. After all, apart from the
transcendental unity of apperception itself, the only alternative for the referent
of such a belief would be what we ordinarily regard as a particular human
being. But as I have argued elsewhere,30 there is no reason, on Kant's theory of
mental activity, to suppose that that, or any part of it, regarded in itself, is the
underlying ground of mental activity. In any case, as I have argued here, it is
with respect to the "I of inner sense," and not with respect to what we ordinar-
ily regard as a human being, that it could be said that there is, within the realm
of sensibility, at least an underlying subject, if not an ultimate ground, of men-
tal activity.31
Self as Matter and Fonn
1. References to the Critique of Pure Reason, tr. N. K. Smith (New York: St.
Martin's, 1965) are to the original pagination of the first and second edition ('A,' 'B').
2. In my recognition-despite Kant's critique of the rational psychologist's han-
dling of the notions--of Kant's own insistence on the "substantiality" of the I as "sub-
ject," in something other than a purely formal sense, I have benefited considerably
from Karl Ameriks's study, Kant's Theory ofMind: An Analysis ofthe Paralogisms of
Pure Reason (Oxford: Oxford Dniv. Press, 1982). I share Ameriks's conviction that
Kant's insistence rests in large measure on his tendency (1) to equate the question of the
substantiality of the soul with that of its "immateriality" (pp. 65-66) and-utilizing
Ameriks's distinction between appearance, phenomenal, scientific, and noumenal imma-
terialism-(2) to equate the question of "scientific" immaterialism with certain claims
about unity and simplicity (pp. 37ft). However, while I agree with his critique (pp.
42-45) of Kant's dismissal of "phenomenal" materialism (the rejection of "appear-
ance" and "noumenal" materialism being relatively easy for Kant), my approach to the
question of mental "unity" may allow a less critical appraisal (e.g., pp. 40-42) of Kant's
rejection of scientific materialism.
3. Cf. A350-51: "The proposition 'The soul is substance' may, however, quite
well be allowed to stand, if only it be recognized that this concept does not carry us a
single step further, and so cannot yield us any of the usual deductions of the pseudo-
rational doctrine of the soul, as for instance, the everlasting duration of the human soul
in all changes and even in death ..."
Similarly, Kant concedes that "the thinking I, also as substance in the appearance,
is given to inner sense" (A379). And as if to emphasize that what is in question is
indeed some kind of underlying subject or substratum, he speaks of the rational psy-
chologist's fallacious inferences regarding "my" or "our thinking subject" (A349, 356,
357) or about "one's own substance" (B408) or about "what is substantial in me"
(B427). From the various contexts, the point seems to be that the inferences in question
are fallacious, not because they suppose that there is such a thing in the first place, but
only in their attempts to nlake particular assertions about it, for example, that it has a per-
manent existence or a certain sort of simplicity or identity. This seems to be confimled
when Kant later summarizes the issue that had been at stake in the Paralogisms chapter.
He then distinguishes between the Objekt to which the rational psychologist fallaciously
attempts to apply certain ideas-namely, "I myself, viewed simply as thinking nature or
soul"-and what the psychologist attempts to assert in regard to that object. Abandon-
ing, because of its relative emptiness, "the empirical concept (of that which the soul
actually is [wirklich istD"-namely, as I take it, abandoning the indeterminate concept
of the soul as no more than the substratum of all of our thoughts-the rational psy-
chologist begins instead with the "concept of the empirical unity of all thought" itself,
and from there proceeds to the various fallacious inferences in question (A682/B710).
Throughout, I rely on Norman Kemp Smith's translation, occasionally modi-
fied. Also, I sometimes italicize "I," where it was originally printed in Sperrdruck, in
cases where Kemp Smith places the term in single   u ~ ~ ~ _
48 Self and Subject
4. Reflexion no. 5402 (Kant's gesamnlelte Schriften, ed. Royal Prussian Academy
of Sciences and its successors [Berlin: ReiIner, later de Gruyter, 1900ff] [henceforth Ak],
vol. 18, p. 173; apparently from somewhere between 1776 and '78).
5. Cf., most recently, Jay F. Rosenberg, The Thinking Self (Philadelphia: Temple
Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 68-71; Patricia Kitcher, Kant's Transcendental Psychology
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 187ff; C. Thomas Powell, Kant's Theory of
Self-Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 78, 104. Of course these
authors differ in their conceptions of the "I"-form in question.
Such approaches should also be distinguished from another kind of "formal"
approach, where consciousness of the "I," insofar as it plays a role in the transcendental
unity of apperception, is supposed to designate an actual "subject," or at least a "center
of reference," of mental activity, but to do so n1erely formally or emptily, that is, inde-
pendently of the ability actually to identify the thing in question. Here, there seem to be
two alternatives: (1) On the one hand, the role of the "subject" is primarily determined
by the logical notion of a subject in relation to "predicates"; (2) on the other, the latter
notion is by-passed altogether, at least initially, in favor of a broader notion of "center of
reference." In tum, this either (2a) will, or (2b) will not, leave room for the possibility of
an identification of the "center" in question with either an empirical or a noumenal
individual-and perhaps thereby with a "subject" in the sense of (1).
So far as I can tell, examples of (1) can be found in Henry Allison, Kant's Tran-
scendentalldealism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983), p. 283; Wolfgang Becker,
Selbstbewuj3tsein und Erfahrung (Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber, 1984), pp. 100-03,
160ff; Jonathan Bennett, Kant's Dialectic (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974),
p. 72-73; Graham Bird, Kant's Theory of Knowledge (London: Routledge & Kegan
Paul, 1962), pp. 180ff; Norman Kemp Smith, A Commentary to Kant's "Critique of
Pure Reason" (New York: Humanities Press, 1962; repro of 2nd ed. of 1923), pp.
457-58; P. F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen, 1966), pp. 163-69.
(However, in addition to turning on a confusion of the abstractness of a celtain sort of
reference to a subject with reference to a purely "inner" subject, Strawson notes that the
first Paralogism turns on the fact that "I" also "expresses" the transcendental unity of
consciousness [po 167].) Ameriks (Kant's Theory of Mind, p. 69) takes the fact of a
purely formal reference to be one, but not the main one, of the factors at work in the Par-
alogism (see note 2, above).
A rather complex version of (2) is that of Dieter Sturma, Kant aber Selbsbe-
wuj3tsein (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985). Sturma emphasizes, in addition to the notion
of a "center of reference" (pp. 41ft), that of a spontaneous source-but not "subject"-
of mental activity (p. 68). Apart from that, it is not clear from its designation as a
"quasi-object" (pp. 90ft) whether Sturma means to exclude the possibility of its identi-
fication with (or as) a real individual. In any case, the view at least permits, although it
does not seem to require, its empirical "realization" in an individual.
I have found it difficult to classify the position of Dieter Henrich, that is, in "The
Identity of the SUbject in the Transcendental Deduction," in Reading Kant, ed. Eva
Schaper and Wilhelm Vossenkuhl (London: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 250-80. In any
case, it is important to note that even a view of type (a) does not necessarily violate Hen-
rich's strictures against a "reflexion theory" of self-consciousness (cf. "SelbstbewuBt-
Self as Matter and Form 49
sein: Kritische Einleitung in eine Theorie," in Rudiger Bubner, Konrad Cramer, Reiner
Wiehl [eds.], Hermeneutik und Dialektik, I [Ttibingen: 1. C. B. Mohr, 1970], pp. 257-84;
English version in Man and World 4 [1971]: 3-28). Those strictures would only be
violated if the transcendental unity to which the "I" is supposed to contribute required
not only some kind of reference to a "subject" of mental activity, but an actual identifi-
cation of (and thereby with) that referent.
This same point should apply to my own "identification" of the I with a certain
sort of inner "subject." In any case, the present paper goes beyond my earlier approach
(Matter in Mind: A Study of Kant's Transcendental Deduction [Bloomington: Indiana
Univ. Press, 1989], ch. 6). While both are versions of (2a), I failed to see earlier both the
possibility and the necessity of an identification of the I in question with an empirical
object (the "I of inner sense") which may in principle be quite distinct from what we
ordinarily regard as a human being. (Regarding the importance of the distinction for
Kant's moral theory, see the final paragraphs of this chapter.)
6. Cf. A350, A398, B411n, B419, B427. At A382, Kant also says the following:
"This I [that abides within the "continual flux" of the soul] is, however, as little an
intuition as it is a concept of any object; it is the mere form of consciousness." However,
Kant then emended this-Nachtrag to A382 CAk. vol. 23, p. 50)-to say it is das uns
unbekannte Object des Bewu]3tseins. At some points, mistranslation may also exagger-
ate Kant's tendency to equate the "transcendental subject" with the transcendental unity
of apperception. For example, he speaks of the "abiding and unchanging I," and then
adds parenthetically "of pure apperception." Kemp Smith leaves out the preposition,
implying that the I in question is the same thing as "pure apperception." (Of course, the
object that Kant calls the "soul" is not unchanging. But then what Kant really says is that
the I in question is das stehende und bleibende I, which need not entail that it unchang-
ing in the first place.)
7. Kant also says that the three chapters of the Transcendental Dialectic, of
which the first is the Paralogisms, will "start from what is immediately given us in
experience-advancing from the doctrine of the soul, to the doctrine of the world,
and thence to the knowledge of God" (A337/B395n). At A682/B710-A6841B712, he
also distinguishes between the soul-identified with "I myself' and with the "thinking
being"-both as Gegenstand of inner sense and as something "in itself." It is not clear
whether the terminology is meant to speak for Kant himself or to reflect the procedures
of rational psychology, but the passage seems to ll1e strongly to suggest that the former
is the case.
8. The German bears such a reading: als zum Bewuj3tsein gehorig, aufzufiihren.
Also, Kant does seem to have a tendency to speak of something that is intellectually pre-
sented to consciousness, just as such, as if it were itself an intellectual representation. Cf.
B407: "The object is not the consciousness of the determining self, but only that of the
determinable self ..." Pretty clearly Kant means that the object ofa certain conscious-
ness is not the determining, but only the determinable self. For comment on a similar
conflation, in connection with the supposed "simplicity" of the I, see Ameriks, p. 56.
9. Nachtrag to A344 (Ak. vol. 23, p. 50; lny emphasis).
50 Self and Subject
10. B427: In believing that I know (erkennen) that "what is substantial in me" is
the simple, unitary, and identical "transcendental subject" of thinking, "all that I really
have in thought is simply the unity of consciousness, on which, as the mere fonn of
knowledge, all determination is based."
11. Nachtrag to A382 (Ak. vol. 23, p. 50).
12. In addition, we might speak of the concept tree as unifying a manifold of
objects or possible objects, or aspects or appearances of objects, even when nobody is at
the moment representing anything as anything. I take this to be a derivative notion and
will not be concerned with it.
13. This sort of view, in different terminology, has been defended by Patricia
Kitcher in the book cited earlier. Unlike most commentators, Kitcher makes a case for
noetic unification, as the means by which any nlental representation of objects, hence
any sort of noematic unification, is originally constituted.
14. Kant says that only understanding involves "functions"; by contrast, "intu-
itions, as sensible, rest on affections" (A68/B93). However, it seems that Kant is here
considering only functions of unity on the noematic side: "By 'function' I mean the unity
of the act of bringing various representations under one common representation."
15. This, I take it, is why Kant includes Sense (in some contexts along with
Understanding, in others along with Imagination and Apperception, or Imagination and
Understanding), as one of the "fundamental" or "original sources" or capacities of the
human mind (A501B74, A94). Kant also says that, in his general procedure, he is going
to emulate the natural scientist in a search for "elements" of pure reason (Bxix-xxn);
after that, we will be able to proceed "from the smallest elements" back up to the
"whole of pure reason" (Bxxxviii).
16. In the two parts of the Critique mentioned, Kant speaks only of a "projective"
function involving sensations. I have argued elsewhere that, in his treatment of imagi-
nation in the Transcendental Analytic, in connection with the notion of an "affinity" of
appearances, he may also have recognized a projective function involving a very dif-
ferent sort of material, namely, nonconceptual "anticipations" and "retentions" (or, per-
haps better, "posticipations") in intuition.
17. In a passage shortly after this one, Kant also emphasizes that pure apper-
ception is both in some sense "simple" and yet also "something real [etwas Reales]"
(B410). It seems reasonable to assume that, in speaking of the pure form of apperception
as "real," and thus not purely formal, Kant means to be talking about whatever formal
structure is constitutive of noematic unification, precisely as it is embodied in concrete
instances of noetically unified material.
18. Kemp Smith's translation-"occupy our mind"-prejudices a reading in
favor of the supposition that what is in question is a body of material about which we are
mentally occupied, that is, something to be noematically, not noetically, unified.
Self as Matter and Form 51
19. Kant says at B153 that inner sense "contains the mere form of intuition."
But earlier he had made it clear that this means that it "supplies only the manifold to be
combined" (B137-38). The same approach should be adopted, I think, for some of
Kant's formulations at B67-68.
20. Kemp Smith's translation-"determining it out of a unity"-tends to obscure
the point.
21a. "All the manifold, therefore, so far as it is given in a single [in Einer; my
emphasis] empirical intuition, is determined in respect of one of the logical functions of
judgment, and is thereby brought into one consciousness." (B143) "This [requirement of
a category] therefore shows that the empirical consciousness of a given manifold in a
single [in Einer; my emphasis] intuition is subject to a pure self-consciousness a pri-
ori . .." (B144).
b. Kant refers to "the act through which we determine the inner sense according
to its form [seiner Form gemass]" (B155). The qualification, "according to its form,"
may indicate that what is in question is not simply understanding's ability to unify
material contained within single subjects, but contained, and thus in a sense "already"
unified,' within single mental states of subjects.
c. "[T]he form of intuition gives only a manifold, the formal intuition gives
unity of representation" (B160n). We should take special note of the fact that Kant does
not say that intuition, or even sensibility, is what "gives" the manifold in question,
but that the form of intuition is what does so. The point would thus seem to be, not sim-
ply that a nlanifold needs to be presupposed, for actualization of the understanding's
power of (noenlatic) unification in a "formal intuition," but that such a manifold needs
more specifically to be contained within an "underlying" instance of a single (and
thus noetically unified) mental state: "For since by its means (in that the understanding
determines the sensibility) space and time are first given as intuitions, the unity of
this a priori intuition belongs to space and time, and not to the concept of the under-
standing." Cf. the main text of B160: "[B]y synthesis ofapprehension I understand that
conlbination [Zusammensetzung] of the manifold in an [in einer] empirical intuition,
whereby perception, that is, empirical consciousness of the intuition (as appearance) is
d. In "Answer to the Question, Is it an Experience, That we Think?" Kant speaks
of the consciousness of my own thoughts as "an empirical consciousness of the deter-
mining by thought of my own state in time." This of course is another of way of speak-
ing of a "determining" activity with respect to something that is given in "inner sense."
However, in a comment on this same essay, Kant speaks of an action on the part of the
faculty of imagination, whereby the latter "mak[es] a concept [my emphasis] out of an
empirical intuition." Kant calls the action an instance of "aesthetic comprehension." By
its means, a certain manifold is "unified into a whole representation and thus acquires a
certain fOffil" (Reflexion no. 5661 [Ak. vol. 18, pp. 319-20]). That Kant speaks of the
action as "making" something "out of' an-that is, out of a single-intuition seems to
52 Self and Subject
suggest, again, the necessity for any relevant unifying or determining act on the part of
understanding to be an act that bears on a body of material contained, not simply within
the total mental state of a person, but within a single mental state of a person. In this con-
nection, but apart from the question of inner sense, cf. "First Introduction" to the Cri-
tique ofJudgment (Ak. vol. 20, p. 220): "Every empirical concept requires three acts of
the spontaneous cognitive power: (1) apprehension (apprehensio) of the manifold of
intuition; (2) comprehension of this manifold, that is, synthetic unity of the conscious-
ness of this manifold, in the concept of an object (apperceptio comprehensiva); and (3)
exhibition (exhibitio), in intuition, of the object corresponding to this concept. For the
first of these acts we need imagination; for the second, understanding; for the third,
judgment ..." (tr. W. S. Pluhar [Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987], p. 408).
Might we not say: (1) unification of a certain manifold on a subintellectuallevel, thereby
providing an appropriate matrix for (2) intellectual "making" of a concept out of the
manifold within that matrix, thereby constituting (3) an instance of the representation of
an object (in a suitably "strong" sense of the term)? As for attribution of (1) to imagi-
nation: This may be due to a tendency to a somewhat inconsistent tendency on Kant's
part to distinguish the n1ere "provision" of a manifold available for unification in the first
place, as a work of mere "sensibility," from any unification of a manifold (even below
the level of intellect), as the work of a different "faculty" altogether. I have argued
elsewhere that this competes with what is perhaps a more satisfactory tendency to sup-
pose that "imagination" itself provides a body of "material" unifiable in intuition in
the first place.
22. The B407 passage is rendered a bit difficult by an apparent representing/rep-
resented shift on Kant's part (see note 8, above).
23. In the Anthropology, § 24 (Ak. vol. 7, p. 161), Kant says that inner sense is the
consciousness of what a person "undergoes [leidet], insofar as he is affected through his
own thought processes [Gedankenspiel]. Inner intuition ... lies at its ground." Fur-
thermore, the perceptions of inner sense are "psychological," in that they involve at
least some sort of representation [angesehen wird] of one's thinking and feeling powers
as grounded in an inner "substance" of some kind. Accordingly [alsdann], the soul
may be said to be "the organ" of inner sense.
24. Of course, if a body of material is unified, in a single mental state, by virtue of
an irreducible form of mental unification, there will also be a set of relations obtaining
among the constituents of that body of material, namely (and trivially), various instances
of their cocontainn1ent within a body of that sort. But the occurrence of a basic instance
of noetic unification is still presupposed by all of this. It could not in its own tum be
explained either in terms of relations among the original items in question, or between
those items and others.
25. It is frequently noted that this insistence seems new in the second edition of
the Critique. Another of several relevant passages is the following: "[I]n order that we
may afterwards make inner alterations likewise thinkable, we must represent time (the
form of inner sense) figuratively as a line, and the inner alteration through the drawing
Selfas Matter and Form 53
of this line (motion), and so in this manner by means of outer intuition make compre-
hensible the successive existence of ourselves in different states (B292; cf. B154, 156).
In any case, the point seems to go beyond the following pronouncement concerning sen-
sation: "It is sensation ... that indicates a reality in space and in time [my emphasis],
according as it is related to the one or to the other mode of sensible intuition" (A373-74;
cf. B423n).
26. In the Critique, Kant's talk about what is "given" in inner sense seems to me
generally ambiguous as between these two notions. But in a passage in the Anthropol-
ogy, § 24 (Ak. vol. 7, p. 161), he does seem to have in mind the noematic notion specif-
ically, that is, the notion that what one is given in inner sense is nothing other than the
very appearances that one might or might not take to be objectively "outer" reality.
27. The reader should recall the point that I made in note 5, regarding "reflexion
theories" of self-consciousness. In arguing, in effect, for the identification of "oneself,"
qua subject of mental activity, with the 1 of inner sense, I have not implied that the
capacity for an awareness of mental activity as "one's own" depends on the capacity for
actually identifying, and therefore "identifying" with, the 1of inner sense. In fact, we can
never do so: the "object" in question, although an "object of inner sense," is known to us
only "by description," namely, as "that which-whatever it is" is the sensible substratum
for the transcendental unity of apperception.
28. Cf. B422-23n: "The 'I think' expresses an indeterminate empirical intu-
ition, Le. perception (and this shows that sensation, which as such belongs to sensi-
bility, lies at the basis of this existential proposition).... An indeterminate percep-
tion here signifies only something real (Reales) that is given, given indeed to thought
in general, and so not as appearance, nor as thing in itself (noumenon), but as some-
thing which actually exists, and which in the proposition, 'I think,' is denoted as
such." B429-30: "The proposition, 'I think,' in so far as it amounts to the asser-
tion, 'I exist thinking,' is no mere logical function, but determines the subject (which
is then at the same time object [ObjektD in respect of existence, and cannot take
place without inner sense, the intuition of which presents the object not as thing in
itself but merely as appearance. There is here, therefore, not simply spontaneity of
thought but also receptivity of intuition, that is, the thought of myself applied to the
empirical intuition of the very same subject." I presume that the apparent conflict as
to whether or not one is thereby presented "as appearance" simply reflects that fact
that the "soul" is given as an "object of inner sense," even though there is no direct
perception of that object.
29. It should be clear that the point, formulated for simplicity in the language of
a "double aspect" approach to "things in themselves and appearances," could also be for-
mulated in terms of a "two world" approach.
30. See "The Subject as Appearance and as Thing in Itself in the Critique of
Pure Reason: Reflections in the Light of the Role of Imagination in Apprehension," in
Minds, Ideas, and Objects: Essays on the Theory of Representation in Modern Phi-
54 Self and Subject
losophy, ed. P. Cummins and G. Zoller, North American Kant Society Studies in
Philosophy, vol. 2 (Atascadero, California: Ridgeview Publishing Company, 1992),
31. I would like to thank Michael Lavin for comments on an earlier draft of this
paper. In addition, a comment by Karl Ameriks has led me to be more careful than I had
been as regards the distinction between "inner sense" and "inner perception."
Kant and tIle Self: A Retrospective
Karl Ameriks
Many of the latest approaches to Kant's account of the self can be seen as
a refonnulation of strategies developed by earlier generations of Kant scholars.
For example, my own work in exploring the rationalist doctrines that remain
intact despite Kant's critical arguments in the Paralogisms has some obvious
parallels with the "metaphysical" approach to Kant favored in the first third of
this century by German philosophers such as Heidegger.
A variation on this
tradition, which approaches Kant from the perspective of a special sympathy for
Fichte's development of the notion of self-consciousness, has been worked
out in our own time in the influential writings of Dieter Henrich and the more
recent studies of Manfred Frank.
Such an approach has also found favor in
America, notably in an important new book by Frederick Neuhauser, who
defends a Fichtean notion of "self-positing" that closely reserrlbles aspects of
Kant's concept of apperception as it has been interpreted recently by Henry
Allison and Robert Pippin.
But interpreters more influenced by philosophy
in Britain have continued to take an antiidealist approach to Kant. For example,
C. T. Powell's new book can be seen as one more indication of the strong
impact of P. F. Strawson's interpretation of Kant, and it continues to be domi-
nated by questions set by the tradition of Humean skepticism.
A different kind
of indebtedness to empiricism is to be found in interpreters such as Andrew
Brook and Patricia Kitcher,6 who continue the tradition of Herbart in trying to
connect Kant positively with issues in the latest trends of psychology, or what
is now called "cognitive science."7
One can categorize all this recent work on Kant's theory of mind in
terms of four major approaches. The first two approaches are broadly rational-
ist and continental, and stress, respectively, what can be called Leibnizian
("ontological") or Cartesian (subject-oriented) concerns in Kant. I take myself
56 Self and Subject
to represent the first option (= A) while the "Fichteans" represent the second
(= B). The other pair of approaches comes from a broadly empiricist direction.
The first strand (= C) here has a special concern with the fundamental condi-
tions of empirical self-knowledge (Strawson and Powell), while the second
strand (= D) stresses the general empirical implications of Kant's notion of syn-
thesis (Brook and Kitcher).
In all these schools of interpretation the manifold ambiguity of Kant's
doctrine of the "transcendental unity of apperception" plays a central role. Some
aspects of this doctrine are clear enough. Kant speaks of this unity as "tran-
scendental" because (like everything else that he calls "transcendental") he
takes it to be a necessary condition of all our experience. He calls it a unity of
"apperception" because it is the condition that all items of that experience must
be able to be accompanied by the representation "I think." And he speaks of this
apperception as involving a "unity" in order to highlight the fact that this "I" has
a kind of simplicity or self-sameness that contrasts with the multiplicity of items
that are its possible objects. Moreover, it is called an "original synthetic" unity
because it is not derivable from anyone of the representations by themselves,
and because even as a group the representations do not "combine themselves."
This minimal gloss on Kant's terms is common ground for all inter-
preters, but the intrinsic complexity of the doctrine of apperception still allows
for several different points of departure. The doctrine can be explored for meta-
physical as well as epistemological implications, and these in turn can be
viewed in the light of Kant's distinction between phenomena and noumena.
While approaches (A) and (B) stress possible metaphysical aspects of apper-
ception, approaches (C) and (D) focus on epistemological features. On the one
hand, only approach (A) clearly gives a positive noumenal reading to the meta-
physical aspects, but (B) still makes strong Cartesian claims about how the
self can have a special a priori knowledge of its identity (Henrich) or structure
(Neuhouser)-a knowledge that allegedly plays a foundational role with respect
to its external knowledge. Approaches (C) and (D), on the other hand, tend to
emphasize negative aspects of Kant's theory, that is, ways in which Kant's
Paralogisms can be read as meant to reveal how the central epistemological role
of the notion of apperception can lead to inflated metaphysical claims, for
example, to the claim that a formal unity of thought brings with it a real unity of
the thinker. (My main interpretive difficulty with this approach has to do with
its suggestion that it has isolated the only relevant type of fallacy that Kant has
in Inind.) But (C) also adds, positively, an explanation of the connection
between apperception, qua empirical self-knowledge, and the possibility of
knowledge of the external world in general. Very roughly, the story is that I can
understand my own representations and know myself as a real unity with apper-
ception only by locating myself in a spatiotemporal position in a world that con-
tains other subjects who are also knowable only because of their objective
Kant and the Self 57
position in that world. The Htranscendental psychology" of approach (D) adds
that the synthetic role of apperception can be explained further in terms of a
number of specific faculties or functional capacities that go beyond what is
given in sensation and that are needed for all sorts of basic kinds of "cognitive
tasks" (and not merely the knowledge of our position or of other persons in
space-tiIne) that are central in our experience.
Because I have discussed approaches (C) and (D) further elsewhere,s my
main focus here will be on approach (B), the Fichtean reaction to Kant, in
Henrich and Neuhauser. Even here I must abstract from what I have argued
elsewhere is the real key to Fichte' s own reaction, namely his conception of the
self as a moral being.
Moreover, I will in general be abstracting here from
the noumenal and metaphysical issues that I believe are central to the ultimate
understanding of the Kantian self, in order to concentrate instead on its purely
apperceptive aspect, for it is this aspect that is dominant in strand (B), which is
the mainline current German approach.
In order to begin an evaluation of this approach, some further clarification
of Kant's doctrine in its own terms is required. In the most fundamental claim
of his doctrine of apperception, Kant says there is an "I think" that is "tran-
scendental" precisely because it necessarily can accompany all of one's repre-
Much attention has been focused on the phrase "I think" here, but
equal attention needs to be given to what it is that this "I think" is supposed to
be accompanying. Exactly what is it, that this "I think" thinks of? One might
believe that here Kant is speaking directly of objects, psychological objects at
least. But for at least two reasons that cannot be exactly right.
The first reason is that to say "I think" is to use a phrase that calls out for
completion with a that-clause rather than a mere object term; we say "I think
that this is how it feels, etc.," rather than merely "I think x" or "I think x, y."l1
Second, although it might seem that Kant means to attach the transcendental "I
think" directly to representations as such, his real claim is about one's "own"
representations, that is, representations that have the quality of not being, as he
says, "nothing to me. "12 Although this is often forgotten, Kant's doctrine is
not that all representation requires apperception, for he holds that there are
whole species of beings (e.g., dogs, and no doubt cats as well) who have rep-
resentation but not apperception, and there are probably whole layers of human
existence (e.g., our "peripheral" or subconscious or infantile representations)
that have a similar form. So, Kant's claim is only that representations that are
"something to" one, are what must be able to be accompanied by the transcen-
dental "I think." And this means that his doctrine of apperception is precisely
not a claim that each human representation as such, that is, just as a represen-
tation, must be susceptible to apperception. And yet it is his view that all "rel-
evant" representations (representations that are not "nothing to" one) must
already have some kind of personal quality.
58 Self and Subject
I propose that the simplest way to understand this "personal" quality is to
presume that the individual representations in question are already at least
implicitly of the fonn, "I think that so and so ..." It might at first seem that this
would make redundant the "transcendental" "I think," the "I think" that neces-
sarily can accompany all the representations that are "something to" one. How-
ever, a transcendental "I think" is worth introducing because it has a special col-
lective function, for even if in fact the same "I" is distributively involved in the
(E) I think that x, I think that y, I think that z, etc.... ;
nevertheless, (E) is not the same as:
(T) I think that (I think that x, I think that y, I think that z, etc....).
The difference here is not merely that (T) is more complex than any part
of (E) or even the whole set (E). There are at least two extra features of (T) that
are noteworthy. The first is that it implicitly includes the claim (which mayor
may not be a correct claim) that all the uses of "I" within it are coreferential;
that is, I believe Kant understands (T) to include the claim that the I which
thinks that x, is the same as the I which thinks that y, and so on, as well as the
thought that this is the very the same I that thinks that I think that x, and so
forth. A second, and ll10re controversial point is that, given the a priori status of
transcendental apperception, it seems that Kant understands the possibility of
(T) to be a truth condition of the components of (E).13 This may be because of
the meaning of "I" in these contexts; for Kant nlay be reasoning, what could it
mean to be an I that is a correlate of any of the "first-level" thoughts, "I think
that x," and so on, if that I could not be identical with other I's, such as those
referred to in (T)? But if the full· meaning of (T) is used here, then this amounts
to what suddenly appears to be a fairly substantive claim, namely, that a "real
subject" of thought could not be such that it could have only one instantia-
tion, or even such that its multiple instantiations could not be recognized by it
as such, that is, as instantiations of one and the same subject. The latter part of
this claim is striking because, if one allows, as it has just been noted that Kant
does, that there are representations in beings incapable of thoughts, then it can
well seem (with a little sympathy for something like the old idea of a "chain of
being") that there also are or could be thoughts in beings incapable of thoughts
of thoughts. In Kant's terms, such beings could be said to have "empirical" but
not "transcendental" apperception (hence the designations "E" and "T").
It can sound sadly dogmatic to insist that such beings are impossible, or
to ascribe such an insistence to Kant, but can one avoid such dogmatism and
still hold on to Kant's doctrine of apperception? One response would be to
concede the remote possibility of such beings and to stress that Kant's doctrine
is meant primarily as a doctrine for us; we know that we (at least) do in fact
Kant and the Self 59
have more than punctual, uncollected, "merely empirical" apperception.
Nonetheless, just as we may still have some representations without even
empirical apperception, it can also seem that, even if we have some thoughts
that are also parts of thoughts like (T), we still could also have some other
("first-level") thoughts without any possible thought of those thoughts, let
alone a collective "transcendental" thought (a set of thoughts like [T]) that
connects the whole set of such ("first-level," i.e., "[E]-level") thoughts. To
deny that this could happen is to hold for us what I will call "the Strong Apper-
ception Thesis" (SAT), that is, the thesis that all one's empirical apperception
requires transcendental apperception.
It may seem that very little depends on such an esoteric thesis, and yet
one way of looking at the main stream of continentally inspired recent work on
Kantian apperception is to see it as focusing on precisely this point, as building
on SAT and as contending that an insistence on this kind of possible self-con-
sciousness for all our consciousness is the very cornerstone of Kant's philoso-
I will be focusing on three closely related sets of substantive claims that
recent interpreters have attempted to connect with SAT.
Within the first of these sets is a thesis that I will call "Henrich Claim I."
This is the claim that SAT is used by Kant to ground a Cartesian a priori grasp
of our continuing personal identity, which grasp is in turn held to be essential to
an a priori proof of the objectivity of our representations. What I will call
"Henrich Claim II" is the compound thesis that Kant's understanding of SAT is
accompanied by an account of self-consciousness that Henrich calls the
"Reflexion Theory," that (whatever its value may be for Claim I) this is a fun-
damentally inadequate theory, and that it has to be replaced by an account
inspired by what Henrich calls "Fichte' s original insight." I and others have
argued against Henrich Claim I; 14 so here the focus will be on difficulties in
Henrich Claim II.
A second group of arguments is contained in a critical response to Hen-
rich's Claim II by Dieter Sturma.
For the most part I will endorse Sturma's
points, and use them to defend an account of self-consciousness that I to be
fairly close to an orthodox reading of Kant's doctrine of apperception.
I will then use these results in criticizing a third and most recent discus-
sion of apperception, namely Frederick Neuhouser's quasi-Henrichian argu-
ments that Kant supposedly failed to see how the notions involved in SAT
should lead us to follow Fichte in reconceiving the theoretical subject as a
"self-positing" being.
The evaluation of SAT itself clearly hinges on how one understands the
"possibility" that it denies. Understood as restricted to humans, SAT insists on
the claim that any "I think that x" episodes that we have must be able to be con-
nected with other such episodes in the transcendental way that was discussed
60 Self and Subject
earlier (when analyzing what was called "[T]"). I take it that, if the issue here
were one of mere logical possibility, then it would be odd to reject such a
claim, yet it would also be uninteresting to uphold it. Since in some sense any-
thing can always be made more complex than it is, any particular empirical
apperception should always be able to be inflated into an aspect of a higher
level apperception. But SAT is meant to imply more than this triviality; it
implies that there is something about the very type of "thing" that empirical
. apperception is that it requires some real, even if implicit, connection to tran-
scendental apperception. A similar idea about "types" clearly appears to be
behind Kant's notion that, if mere animal awareness were "inflated" into apper-
ception, then this should be described not as a mere enrichment but as a leap
into a different kind of awareness. This is to say that as "mere animal" aware-
ness it necessarily lacks the "real potential" for apperceptive representation, just
as, for Kant, mere hUlnan awareness lacks the real potential for intellectual
It can appear very difficult to determine how one is even to go about
beginning to settle the question of whether or not all our empirical apperception
does have such a "real potential" relation to transcendental apperception. The
whole question may seem to be a matter of the most speculative psychology. Of
course, one could assume a strong "realist" attitude to this issue, and hold that
there is some hidden truth here, such that the potential is either there or it is not.
But this attitude does not do much by itself to help one to decide how to eval-
uate SAT. A more "Critical" approach would be to ask how a use of SAT
might help in the resolution of other philosophical issues. If it turns out that
affirming SArr appears to be, as some interpreters suggest, the only way to
make sense of various distinctive features of our self-awareness, then this can
build a strong indirect case for it, and for affirming the disputed "real potential."
But it may rather be true, as I will be arguing, that if we keep in mind all the
distinctions (and then some) that were developed along the way in introducing
SAT, there can be a more modest way to understand our self-awareness, such
that one can employ a Kantian notion of apperception without going so far as to
insist on SAT, let alone stronger amendments that have been attached to it.
According to Henrich's interpretation, SAT is clearly central to Kant's
account of self-consciousness, and to the whole project of the Transcendental
Deduction. Henrich finds the "central thought" of this project in the A-edition
statement that "the mind could never think its identity in the manifoldness of its
representations, and indeed think this identity a priori, if it did not have before
its eyes the identity of its act, whereby it subordinates all synthesis of appre-
hension ... to a transcendental unity."16 Henrich's interpretation of this "central
thought" has many aspects,17 but the most important aspect for our purposes
here is a claim that coincides quite clearly with SAT: "In every instance of
self-consciousness there is a reference to the totality of all other instances of
Kant and the Self 61
self-consciousness."18 The crucial complication that arises here is that Henrich
has also argued that Kant unfortunately understood this notion of a subject's
"constant relation to itself' in terms of a "Reflexion Theory" of the I, according
to which "this relation to the self is brought about by the subject making an
object of itself."19 Although SAT by itself is taken to be a valuable component
of the Transcendental Deduction, this extra Reflexion Theory is assailed by
Henrich as an inadequate account of self-consciousness.
Henrich's main criticism of the theory20 is that it generates a vicious cir-
cle, presupposing self-consciousness rather than giving an "explanation" of
its "origin." According to Henrich, this is because the reflection in which a
subject makes an object of itself must, in order for it to be intentional and
effective, already understand that the representations it is reflecting on are its
own (since it is precisely seeking out "its" experiences), and so the reflection
itself can hardly be what first brings about self-consciousness.
This is an interesting argument, but note that even if one accepts it and
acknowledges that Kant did not directly state or appreciate it, this does nothing
to show that Kant really held the "Reflexion Theory." Moreover, I also believe
the weakness of the Reflexion theory can be seen in at least two other ways,
ways that Kant could easily accept. First, one can hold the "phenomenological"
view that a person just will not be presented with instances of experience to
reflect on (which is not the same as saying that it could not have any "non-
personal" layers of awareness) that do not already "come to" one (before one
even begins to "seek" them "intentionally and effectively") with what we have
called a "personal quality," an implicit "I think" in the original experience.
Second, one can note that SAT itself can be taken to presume original experi-
ences that are already instances of a kind of self-consciousness, for it is pre-
cisely a thesis about how such first-level "personal" experiences must in addi-
tion supposedly be tied to a higher level of self-consciousness. As was noted
above, for Kant this cannot be the thesis that all one's mere representations as
such contain self-consciousness; rather it is a thesis about what else is needed
by what are already in some sense one's self-conscious representations.
Thus, SAT by itself does not lead to the Reflexion Theory, and in the
absence of any proof that Kant subscribed to the Reflexion Theory, it can be
concluded that the problems of the Reflexion Theory, severe as they may be, do
not show that here Henrich has any valid critique of Kant. That is, Henrich's
critique illegitimately presumes that Kant means to or should be attempting to
give an explanation of how self-consciousness "originates."21 Once this extrav-
agant demand is dropped, there is no clear reason to believe Kant's theory
requires modification, as Henrich proposes, by something closer to Fichte's phi-
losophy. Ironically, Henrich's discussion seems appropriate rather for classical
non-Kantian theories, theories which (unlike Kant's) presume that there is
some sort of objective "criterion" or marker attaching to a set of experiences
62 Self and Subject
(e.g., spatiotemporal proximity, or "connection" with a particular body), such
that, once one finds that marker present, one can suddenly identify the experi-
ences as one's own.
There is another irony here. Henrich thinks that it is an improvement on
Kant to replace, the Reflexion Theory with a doctrine of "self-familiarity," that
is, the idea that there are (perhaps throughout all one's mental life) representa-
tions that are "one's own" prior to any explicit reflection.
The irony is that, as
Sturrna notes, this doctrine can be regarded as exploiting a point central to
Kant's own famous claim that the transcendental "I think" expresses a special
representation that it is possible to attach to all "our" representations,23 for this
stress on the "possible" shows that Kant sees there are representations that do
not become "ours" by means of an actual ever-present act of reflection. This
Kantian point can be expressed in terms of Henrich's own notion of "self-
familiarity"; in Sturma's provocative terminology, the point is that there is at
least one level of our awareness that is primitively "self-referential" but not
"cognitive," that is, it is not originally obtained by a reflective use of any
objective criteria, and it does not "locate" the self in any specific empirical
way.24 Consider what happens, for example, when a person says. "I think some-
thing is going on here." This can be said quite properly even when the person
uses no "criterion" to "identify" him- or herself.
It turns out by a further irony that, except for some incidental termino-
logical complications, this view can be brought quite close to the "Fichtean"
theory that Henrich advocates and expresses in terms of a "self-less con-
sciousness belonging to the self."25 That is, not only are the "improvements" to
be made on Kant already in Kant himself, but the inspiration for these
"improvements," the valid Fichtean ideas to which Henrich calls attention, are
(as Sturma argues) also already present in Kant. What Fichte proposed is that
the I be understood as "positing itself absolutely as self-positing."26 I believe
that the valid kernel in this difficult claim can be broken down into two plau-
sible ideas, namely that self-representation is primitive (hence the I "posits
itself," i.e., its representation can't be derived from the observation of some-
thing else, as in the "classical non=Kantian theories"), and that the self that is
represented understands this and sees itself as spontaneous (hence "as self-
Both these points surely appear to be central to Kant's own theory. Why
then do Fichte and Henrich present them as challenges to Kant? A clue may
come from Fichte' s expression of his dissatisfaction (which also lies behind
Henrich's analysis) with Kant. Fichte says: "But again this consciousness of our
[prior] consciousness we are [according to Kant] conscious of only by making
it into an object, and thereby we attain a consciousness of the consciousness of
our consciousness, and so forth into infinity.-But our consciousness is not
explained thereby."28
Kant and the Self 63
The mistake here-which Fichte is imputing and which I do not believe
Kant is committing-is to presume that, because we may get cognitive access
to our consciousness only by making a reflective object out of it, this is what
makes it "our" consciousness in the fITst place. I propose that the mistake can be
corrected by seeing that it can be true of a state of awareness that, without any
objective ref1ection on the self having taken place, the state is structured by the
form "I think that X,"29 and therefore is already in a personal, even if implicit,
sense an instance of "our" consciousness. In that sense it is an instance of a kind
of "self-consciousness" even if it is not expressly consciousness directed to
"a self' or explicitly a "consciousness of consciousness."30 Rather than working
as a point against Kant, all this just recalls his notion of "first-level" represen-
tations that are specifically "one's own," that is, not "nothing to me." One
could also draw upon SAT here, and argue that such a first-level state is struc-
tured by an "I think" because there appears to be no point in calling the original
state "one's own" if it could not be connected with other similar states that
can be (even if they need not actually be) reflectively, that is, "transcendentally"
represented. However, even without insisting on SAT-that is, without assum-
ing that all such "I think" states must be "really" accessible-I believe we
could fall back on the mere idea of "self-familiarity" that Henrich introduces as
if it were a corrective to Kant and that Sturma develops as just an explication of
Either way, one can give a sense to regarding a simple "I think that x"
(for example, "I think that it is warm"32) state as something that is already a
kind of self-consciousness, even if it is precisely not a reflection on a distinct
A related but distinct line of thought can be found in Neuhouser's impres-
sive reconstruction of Fichte's discussion of apperception. Like Henrich, Neu-
houser attempts to isolate a nonpractical sense
in which, for at least a while,
Fichte takes the representation of the I and its "self-positing" to be "absolute."
Neuhouser, however, goes far beyond what I have called the "valid kernel" of
Fichte's discussion, and focuses on passages where Fichte says "The I exists
only insofar as it is conscious of itself. "35 This surely appears to say more than
that the representation of the self is not derivable from other representations, or
that it involves some grasp of this nonderivability. It rather appears to be an
ontological claim, a claim that the I and self-consciousness are necessarily
coexistent. If this is not taken as a mere stipulation, it is a controversial claim,
one which does not follow directly even from SAT. SAT, after all, is a claim
about how one kind of awareness involves another kind; it does not entail that
an I could not exist when there is not the first kind of awareness.
Neuhouser himself concedes that if Fichte did at first intend the doc-
trine of self-positing to express an ontological thesis about the theoretical sub-
ject, he also appears to have backed off from this kind of argument to empha-
size practical or broadly moral senses in which the subject is self-positing.
64 Self and Subject
However, Neuhouser argues that there are many ambiguities and shifts in
Fichte's early work, and that in the late 1790s, Fichte was at times still stress-
ing distinctive features of theoretical subjectivity. Neuhouser isolates three
strong senses in which this subject is said by Fichte (during this period) to be
self-positing. The first kind of self-positing involves the subject's "non-
representational self-awareness," the second concerns its self-positing as a
"transcendental condition," and the third has to do with the subject's "self-
constituting existence." What remains to be detennined is whether any of these
three notions involves a valid sense of self-positing that points to a crucial
supplement of or corrective to Kant's account of apperception.
Neuhouser expresses the first Fichtean sense of self-positing in the claim
that "the subject is at all tim,es present within consciousness but ... its mode of
being present to itself is fundamentally different from the way it is conscious of
  I read this claim as insisting on a "constancy" or "ubiquity" of self-
presentation that is inherently controversial, that is contrary to Kant's sugges-
tion that we could exist during states that are "nothing to" us, and that is not
even necessary for SAT. The constancy·claim is an ontological leap beyond the
thesis of self-familiarity. It is a claim not merely about hOltt' we are self-aware;
it is already a claim that we cannot exist except when self-aware in a certain
This claim might seem more plausible when it is kept in mind that the
self-awareness Fichte discusses is meant as a concomitant of straightforward
consciousness, and precisely not as a matter of explicit, reflective self-con-
It would be absurd to contend that we must always be in the latter
kind of state, and this is something Fichte himself wants to emphasize. Fichte
expresses his view most directly when he says: "A consciousness of the wall is
possible only in so far as you are conscious of your thinking [and, not merely
"conscious of the wall"] .... But if it is claimed that in this self-consciousness
I am an object to myself, then ... it [the subject] too becomes an object, and
requires a new subject, and so on ad infinitum ... consciousness cannot be
accounted for in this manner."40
The unobjectionable aspect of this passage is its reminder of the diffi-
culties noted earlier with any Reflexion Theory that would attempt to account
for "first-lever' self-awareness simply in terms of objective reflection. The
objectionable aspect of the passage is that it can be used, as Neuhouser does, to
back a claim that there is "a self-awareness that is involved in every represen-
tational state."41 Despite all efforts to resist talk of constant explicit or "objec-
tive" self-consciousness, Fichte and Neuhouser are still insisting on a kind of
constant self-awareness that seems unnecessarily complex and reflexive, that
goes beyond both the doctrine of self-familiarity and SAT to assert some kind
of actual (simultaneous) dual awareness. Although sometimes their point seems
to be merely that the I is a "component" of all consciousness (and even this is
Kant and the Self 65
controversial), at other times the I is said to be a perpetual theme: "every con-
sciousness of an object x involves ... an outward, object directed consciousness
(a consciousness of x), and an inward, self-referential awareness (a conscious-
ness that I am conscious of X)."42 Note that this passage is not an expression of
SAT, for it is speaking of an actual consciousness of consciousness, not merely
of a "real potential." The claim of such an actual consciousness seems unnec-
essary, inaccurate, and encourages an absurd regress. Yet the claim is made
repeat.edly, for example, "When I say that I represent something, this is equiv-
alent to the following: "I am aware that I have a representation of this object."43
But surely, absurdities result if "equivalent" is taken literally in the above; one
needs only to begin to make the called for substitutions.
Here again there is an abundance of ironies, for not only does this posi-
tion appear to take us back into a kind of complexity that the attack on the
Reflexion Theory was meant to liberate us from, but it also seems that the way
out of this complexity is ready at hand in Neuhouser's own stress on the idea
that we have "easy and immediate access" to our own awarenesses.
access can be explained simply by the structure of those awarenesses; since they
are awarenesses of the form "I think that x," no wonder they can be and will be
called up that way on reflection. But this does not mean that they always have
to be already of the form "I think that I think that x."
Unfortunately, this "constant" form is affirmed on the Fichtean analysis.
But how could Anti-Reflexion-Theorists, of all people, make such an odd affir-
mation? The Fichteans defend themselves by emphasizing two ideas: first that
here the initial "think"-in "I think that I think that x"-is "nondiscursive,"
and, second, that the theme of this thinking is not an "object" but an "activity."
So, the claim is that there is an "ever present" "intellectual intuition" here,
whereby I know something (namely, that "I think that x") "because I do it,"45
and what I know is not a thing but something else, my activity.46 But the former
idea, that doing is knowing-is mysterious, since doing by itself is not tanta-
mount to theoretical knowing (only the latter can be epistemically evaluated;
and Fichte himself argues that even the impression of action isn't a theoretical
proof that one is really acting), and the latter idea-that it is an activity that is
known-is irrelevant, since what we know are correlates of that-clauses, states
of affairs, and not things or activities simpliciter.
So much for the fITst sense in which Neuhauser elaborates Fichte's notion
of the I as "self-positing." The second sense concerns the idea of self-positing
as a "transcendental condition of consciousness," that is, of empirical knowl-
edge. Neuhouser discusses several Fichtean texts which develop a line of argu-
ment close to what was earlier called Henrich Claim I, namely that a special
sort of (actual and not just potential) self-awareness is required to make sense
of the subject's knowledge of its identity over time, which in tum is supposedly
necessary for its knowledge of external objects. Neuhauser does an excellent
66 Self and Subject
job of retracing Fichte' s thoughts along this line, but he concludes, quite prop-
erly, that this line "can be shown to rest on a serious misconception of the
[Transcendental] Deduction's strategy."47 The misconception involves failing to
see that for Kant the transcendental role of the "I think" in the Deduction (cf. §
19) has to do with its being the correlate of representations that are related to it
as objective and category-governed-and not with any direct relation between
a constant intellectual intuition and individual representations.
Neuhouser is right in arguing that although Kant speaks of representa-
tions that must be able to be taken as "my own," Kant does not mean to account
. for them in Fichte's way. However, Neuhouser goes too far in explaining the
difference this way: "What makes this condition possible for Kant [that repre-
sentations count as mine] is not an original awareness of each of them as my
own, but the joining together of these representations in accord with the cate-
gories."48 Here, unfortunately, Neuhouser is implying that Kant is proposing
sufficient rather than necessary conditions for the warranted ascription of states
to a particular subject.
But if Kant were proposing such sufficient conditions,
he would after all be offering what was called earlier a "classical non-Kantian
theory" that is subject to the objections to the Reflexion Theory. Fortunately,
we need not ascribe this strange view to Kant, and yet we can still accept Neu-
houser's own conclusion that the "transcendental" role that Fichte may envision .
for his doctrine of a "self-positing" theoretical subject does nothing to force a
revision of Kant's doctrine of apperception.
Fichte's third sense of self-positing concerns the subject as "self-consti-
tuting existence." The main idea here is that if the I is thought of not as a thing
that acts or has a power to act, but just as the activity of self-positing itself, then
at least one need not postulate a "preexisting noumenal ground" for one's
states of consciousness.
As in other issues, one can understand the motivation
for this Fichtean point as a response to obscurities in the metaphysics of quasi-
Kantians such as Reinhold.
But the basic issue here can be discussed inde-
pendently of any invocation of "noumenal grounds." The issue is whether it is
true that "what does not exist for itself is not an 1,"52 and that this I cannot
have any kind of ground outside itself.
Both claims are mysterious and appear to conflate epistemic and meta-
physical issues. This seems especially clear for the second claim, that the self can
have no ground outside it. It may be true that the conception of any ground that
the self invokes to explain itself must be part of the selfs epistemic state; but this
hardly means that such a ground, anymore than the correlate of any other con-
ception we have, could not exist on its own and have an effect on us. The first
claim involves the old issue of whether the self and its self-awareness are neces-
sarily coextensive. Obviously, a being with no representations at all would hardly
deserve the title of a subject or self, but Fichte' s claim must be more than that, it
must be the claim that there is no state of a self that does not actually involve self-
Kant and the Self 67
awareness. This claim could be affmned as a matter of definition, but that would
seem to rob it of significance. The motivation behind the claim appears to be to
counter the idea that a self involves a cluster of very different properties, such that
in some sense the self could persist as long as just some of those properties
remained-that is, even in the absence of self-awareness (e.g., in deep sleep).
There may well be something important about why this idea strikes us as
odd. Perhaps a "nutritive" or "vegetative" being without any thought has been
called a soul or self by some, but we can see that this is a strained idea. Simi-
larly, it is not clear that there is a self even with a being that has many repre-
sentations but none that are "something to" the being. Nonetheless, it must be
kept in mind that (as was remarked earlier at note 42) the kind of self-aware!.  
that the Fichtean affirms as necessary is stronger than mere empirical apper-
ception or even the mere "real potential" central to SAT. And for just this rea-
son his version of the self-positing thesis is especially questionable, for it is all
too easy to imagine that even if all our states are states that are "something to
us," this need not involve the kind of "dual awareness" that the Fichtean insists
on. Hence a self-constitution theory of the subject becomes plausible only to the
extent that one retreats from what is distinctive about the Fichtean doctrine of
apperception. That is, the more reflexive one makes the kind of awareness that
is claimed to be distinctive of us, the less ground there is for insisting that we
could not exist for a moment without such complexity. And this is to say that
the distinctively Fichtean aspects of self-positing that Neuhouser distinguishes
still do not point to a convincing need to revise Kant's own account of apper-
ception. Hence, with respect to at least this aspect of his theory of the self, we
can conclude that here, as throughout our study of current resuscitations of
early criticisms of Kant, the old call "back to Kant" still deserves a hearing.
1. My work on this topic owes much to the participants of the "Figuring the
Self' Conference at the University of Iowa, April 1992, and also to audiences later at
Florence and Notre Dame. On a number of specific points I am indebted to R. Aquila,
W. Carl, R. Fumerton, 1. Hoover, 1. Kneller, W. Ramsey, R. Velkley, and G. Zoller.
2. See my Kant's Theory of Mind (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982), and my
"The Critique of Metaphysics: Kant and Traditional Ontology," in The Cambridge
Companion to Kant, ed. P. Guyer (Carrlbridge: Cambridge Dniv. Press, 1992), 249-79.
Cf. James van Cleve, Problemsfrom Kant (forthcoming), and the survey by M. 1. Scott-
Taggart, "Recent Work on the Philosophy of Kant," American Philosophical Quar-
terly, 3(1966), 171-209.
3. See especially Dieter Henrich, Fichtes urspriingliche Einsicht (Frankfurt:
Klostermann, 1967); Identitiit und Objektivitiit (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1976) [trans-
68 Self and Subject
lated in: The Unity of Reason: Essays in Kant's Philosophy, ed. R. Velkley (Cam-
bridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994), 123-208]; and HThe Identity of the Subject in the
Transcendental Deduction," in Reading Kant, ed. E. Schaper and W. Vossenkuhl
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 250-80. See also Manfred Frank, "Fragmente zu einer
Geschichte der SelbstbewuBtseinstheorien von Kant bis Sartre," in Selbstbewuj3tseins-
theorien von Fichte bis Sartre, ed. M. Frank (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991),415-599; cf.
my "From Kant to Frank: The Ineliminable Subject," in The Modem Subject: Concep-
tions of the Self in Classical German Philosophy, ed. K..Ameriks and D. Sturma
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995),217-30.
4. See Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte' s Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cam-
bridge Univ. Press, 1990); Henry Allison, Kant's Theory of Freedom (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990); and Robert Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions
ofSelf-Consciousness. (Calnbridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989).
5. Charles T. Powell, Kant's Theory of Self-Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1990). Cf. Peter F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense (London: Methuen,
6. Andrew Brook, Kant and the Mind (Can1bridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,
1994); Patricia Kitcher, Kant's Transcendental Psychology (Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, 1990). I discuss aspects of Brook's interpretation (and contrast it with recent
work by Colin McGinn) in "Kant and Mind: Mere Immaterialism, Proceedings of the
Eighth International Kant Congress, ed. H. Robinson (Milwaukee: Marquette Univ.
Press, 1995).
7. For other overviews of treatments of Kant's theory of the self, see especially:
Gunter Zoller, "Main Developn1ents in Recent Scholarship on the Critique of Pure
Reason," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53(1993),445-66; Richard
Aquila, "Self as Matter and Form: Some Reflections on Kant's View of the Soul"
(chapter 2 of this volume); Gary Hatfield, "Empirical, Rational, and Transcendental
Psychology: Psychology as Science and as Philosophy," in The Cambridge Kant Com-
panion, ed. P. Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), 200-27; and
Vladimir Satura, Kants Erkenntnispsychologie, Kant-Studien Ergiinzungshefte no. 101
(Bonn: Bouvier, 1971).
8. See my "Understanding Apperception Today," in Kant and Contemporary
Epistemology, ed. Paolo Parrini (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994),331-47. The first part of that
\ article overlaps with much of the first part of the present chapter, but whereas in that arti-
cle I go on to contrast Kant's account prin1arily with current empiricist analyses, in
this chapter I go on to contrast it primarily with current Fichtean analyses.
9. I have argued that, at least in Fichte's published writings, recourse to a practi-
cal sense of the I is essential to make sense of his arguments. See at n. 34 below, and cf.
my "Kant, Fichte, and Short Arguments to Idealism," ArchivfUr Geschichte der Philoso-
phie 72(1990), 63-85; and my "Fichte's Appeal Today: The Hidden Primacy of the
Practical," in The Emergence of German Idealism, ed. Michael Baur and Daniel
Dahlstrom (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America Press, forthcoming).
Kant and the Self 69
10. B 131. "A" and "B" references here will be to the first and second editions of
Kant's Critique ofPure Reason.
11. Cf. Ernst Tugendhat, Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination, tr. Paul
Stern, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986).
12. B 132; cf. my "Kant and Guyer on Apperception," Archivfiir Geschichte der
Philosophie 65(1983),174-86.
13. More exactly, I take Kant's view to be that, for any of our thoughts con-
tained in sets such as (E), there are corresponding thoughts such as (T), but, given the
psychological limits of finite minds, this need not involve the "real possibility" of one
all-inclusive thought (T) which contains all (E)-thoughts. That is, for any component of
an (E)-set, there needs to be some possible (T)-thought that contains that component
(and, as will be argued, quite a bit more, as well), but there need not be one really pos-
sible (T)-thought that includes all such components. Cf. Henrich, "The Identity of the
Subject," pp. 270-71, on "the coordination of all possible 'I think' -instances."
14. See my "Recent Work on Kant's Theoretical Philosophy," American Philo-
sophical Quarterly, vol. 19(1982), 1-24; and "Kant and Guyer on Apperception." Cf.
Paul Guyer, "Kant on Apperception and A Priori Synthesis," American Philosophical
Quarterly 17(1980), 205-12; "Review of D. Henrich, Identitiit und Objektivitiit," Jour-
nal ofPhilosophy 76(1979), 151-67.
15. Dieter Sturma, Kant aber SelbstbewufJtsein (Hildesheim: Olms, 1985).
16. A 108, cited in Henrich, "The Identity of the Subject," p. 262. This is a pas-
sage central to his earlier and longer interpretation in Identitiit und Objektivitiit. Cf. n. 33
17. For criticisms of "Henrich Clain1 I," see the works cited above in n. 14.
18. Henrich, "The Identity of the Subject in the Transcendental Deduction," p.
271. The passage continues: "And it is in this reference that the knowledge of the iden-
tity of the subject consists; which knowledge thus likewise necessarily occurs with
every instance of self-consciousness."
19. Henrich, "den einzigen Fall von einer IdentiUit von Tatigkeit und Getatigtem,"
Fichtes ursprnngliche Einsicht, p. 192, cited in Sturma, Kant aber SelbstbewufJtsein, p. 109.
20. Henrich's other criticism is that it doesn't allow for full "identity" ("Gleich-
heit") of self-consciousness with itself. For a critique of this charge, cf. Sturma, Kant
aber SelbstbewufJtsein, p.1l O.
21. Sturma, Kant aber SelbstbewufJtsein, p. 111. Henrich appears to appreciate
this point in his later "The Identity of the Subject."
22. Henrich, "SelbstbewuBtsein: Kritische Einleitung einer Theorie," in
Hermeneutik und Dialektik, ed. R. Bubner (Tfibingen: Klostermann, 1972), p. 267,
cited in Sturma, Kant aber SelbstbewufJtsein, p. 111n.
23. Sturma, ibid., p. 111n.
Self and Subject
24. See Sturma, ibid., pp. 56, 117, on how the unique "self-referential" character
of the "I" makes it a "quasi-object," something concrete but something for which our
access is not limited to our knowledge of any specific spatiotemporallocation.
25. Henrich, "SelbstbewuBtsein," p. 280: "selbstlosen BewuBtseins vom Selbst."
Cited at Sturma, Kant aber Selbstbewuj3tsein, p. 111n.
26. Sturma, Kant aber Selbstbewufitsein, p.116; the quotation is also in Henrich,
Fichtes ursprungliche Einsicht, p. 21, and comes from Fichte's Siimtliche Werke I, ed.
I. H. Fichte (Berlin: Veit, 1845-56), p. 528.
27. However, I do not think it is valid to say that each instance of self-awareness
must see itself this way. That is an extra and dubious claim (tied to certain ideas about
"constant" self-awareness that are challenged below in my discussion of Neuhouser). All
I mean to endorse is that at some point in its existence a subject must be able at least
implicitly to understand that it has some spontaneity.
28. Cited in Sturma, Kant aber Selbstbewufitsein, p. 118, from J. G. Fichte,
Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed. R. Lauth, H. Jacobs,
and H. Gliwitzky (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1964ft) IV, 2,30.
29. Cf. Sturma's (ibid., p. 119) helpful distinction between "logical" and "descrip-
tive" elements of an explication of self-consciousness.
30. Cf. Sturma, ibid., p. 25, who points out the problems in restricting self-con-
sciousness either to such "rationalist" self-as-pure-object episodes, or to mere "Humean"
reflective episodes (= mere consciousness of consciousness).
31. I believe all this can be affirmed without immediately going further (cf.
Sturma, ibid., p. 10), to claim that the "immediate egocentric sense" of self-conscious-
ness could never be explained either naturalistically or by "speculative" reference to an
immaterial soul. For a comparison with some current analytic theories, cf. my "Kant and
Mind: Mere Immaterialism."
32. Cf. what Gerold Prauss (Erscheinung bei Kant, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971)
calls "Erscheinungsurteile," for example, "it appears to me that it is warm." However,
contrary to what Roderick Chisholm has suggested, I think we should not transform "I
think x is red" into "I think I am appeared to redly." Rather, "I am under the impression
of being appeared to redly" is enough; a second level "I" should not be introduced
here. Cf. my "Recent Work on Kant's Theoretical Philosophy," and "Contemporary
German Epistemology," Inquiry 25(1982), 125-38.
33. One source of resistance to this line of interpretation may come from the
belief, suggested by the original formulation of Henrich's Claim I, that separate and prior
awareness of the identity of a self as an enduring object (a person) may underlie (i.e., dis-
close the conditions sufficient for) the objective unity of experience that is asserted in the
Transcendental Deduction. But what Kant claims is only the opposite: that any objective
/Kant and the Self 71
assertion about one's own unity must meet the general necessary conditions of objective
unity; for a set of representations to be ascribed to my [one] consciousness, they must
meet the conditions for one [objective] consciousness (B 132; cf. Sturma, Kant aber
Selbstbewuj3tsein, pp. 43-45, 70, and my "Kant and Guyer on Apperception"). This is
not the inverse and absurd claim that for any representations to be ascribed to one con-
sciousness they must be ascribed specifically to my consciousness or my self. And
even though Kant's doctrine of apperception (§ 19) also says any objective unity requires
the possibility of the correlative unity of "a" consciousness, this unity of consciousness
is, as the Paralogisms teaches, a formal unity, not necessarily the unity of a particular
objective self. Nonetheless, current interpreters often propose Cartesian arguments that
attempt to demonstrate the objectivity of our experience as a consequence of knowledge
of one's own personal identity, a strategy that unwisely presumes such knowledge has a
privileged status (see Sturma, ibid., p. 123, for instances of this presumption in Henrich
and Fichte). Whatever the attraction of such arguments for the project of defeating
skepticism, they seem quite contrary to Kant's argument in the Deduction.
34. See above, n. 9.
35. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity, p. 46. Cited from Fichte,
Siimtliche Werke I, p. 97. In Neuhouser's own words, "The I is 'self-grounded' in the
sense that its act of intuition constitutes its being."
36. One explanation of the mysterious clailn would be that Fichte and Neuhouser
(to the extent that he is sympathetic to Fichte) have simply forgotten or rejected Kant's
notion of nonapperceived (i.e., not even merely empirically apperceived) representations,
representations that one could have even if they are "nothing to" one. Neuhouser
(Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 97) cites the relevant passage from Kant (B 132), but
without noting the import I have been stressing.
37. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 52. My emphasis.
38. Neuhouser, ibid., p. 69. My emphases.
39. It can be argued that something like this would be required to follow on
Reinhold's theory of consciousness; and in fact Schulze argued against Reinhold's the-
ory that it had much the same flaws as the Reflexion Theory which was considered
earlier (cf. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, pp. 71-72). It seems that this is
another instance where Kant has been faulted, in the twentieth as well as the eighteenth
century, by those who assimilate his philosophy to Reinhold's. Cf. my "Kant, Fichte, and
Short Arguments to Idealism," and "Hegel's Critique of Kant's Theoretical Philosophy,"
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 48(1985),1-35.
40. Fichte, Siimtliche Werke 1,526-27, Gesamtausgabe IV, 2, 30; cited at Neu-
houser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 73.
41. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity, pp. 73-74. Neuhouser explic-
itly contends that Fichte is concerned with more than a relation to a merely possible con-
72 Self and Subject
42. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity, p. 79-80. Cf. n. 38 above, and
Neuhouser's talk of "ever-present" awareness that one is conscious. A similar tendency
is found in Pippin's work; cf. my analysis in "Recent Work on Hegel: The Rehabilitation
of an Epistemologist?" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52(1992), p. 196.
43. Cited at Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity, p. 77.
44. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 82. Cf. ibid., p. 88.
45. Neuhouser, ibid., p. 83.
46. Cf. Sturma's point (Kant aber Selbstbewuj3tsein, p. 117) that instead of taking
self-familiarity, as Fichte does, as both intuitive (immediate) and conceptual (cognitive),
we would be better to take it as "neither/nor." My way of putting it would be to say that,
as general or transcendental, this special self-familiarity is not immediate (it needs
something, anything, through which we are familiar to ourselves), but as particular or
empirical it is not a cognition of a particular empirical situation. Cf. Sturma's talk of the
self as a "quasi-object," or Kant's own talk of our special familiarity with the self as
involving both a "pure representation" and an "indeterminate empirical representa-
tion." Cf. also my "From Kant to Frank: The Ineliminable Subject."
47. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 98.
48. Neuhouser, ibid., p. 99.
49. See above, at n. 33.
50. Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity, p. 109-10.
51. This is not to say that one need accept Neuhouser's claim (ibid., pp. 104-05)
that the notion of a noumenal cause is incoherent. Cf. my "Kant, Fichte, and Short
Arguments to Idealism."
52. Fichte, Siimtliche Werke, I, 97. Cited at Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Sub-
jectivity, p. 111. Cf. Neuhouser's formulation, ibid., p. 116: "The I is essentially a self-
referring activity that, only in referring to itself, is constituted as an existent."
An Eye for an I:
Fichte's Transcendental Experiment
Gunter Zoller
Doxographical wisdom has it that Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) is
the "philosopher of the 1." Such stereotypical characterization is usually accom-
panied by the reminder that Fichte possessed an ego worthy of his philosophi-
cal subject matter, a biographical fact that made him an easy target for satirical
portrayal through friend and foe. Yet hidden behind the double screen of
schematic labeling and smart caricature lies a powerful philosophical oeuvre
marked by a singular blend of speculative enthusiasm and analytic rigor. To be
sure, Fichte is not easy to understand; worse yet, Fichte is easy to misunder-
stand. He eschewed established philosophical terminology; continued to mod-
ify and revise the presentation of his philosophical position throughout ~  
lifetime; and made unprecedented demands for sustained concentration onthe
listeners of his lectures and the readers of his works.
So, why study an author as dark and difficult as Fichte? The answer is, in
short, that in his theorizing about the I, Fichte made a number of methodolog-
ical and substantial contributions to our understanding of the human mind and
its relation to the physical and moral world that have lost nothing of their orig-
inality and intellectual power. I hope to convey some of that originality and
power by presenting the main lines of Fichte' s thinking on the I from the fall of
1793 to the beginning of 1801. For most of that time Fichte held a professorship
at the University of Jena, and those years are customarily referred to as his
Jena period.! During his Jena period, Fichte published the works that established
his reputation as the foremost successor to Kant and as the instigator of the
post-Kantian philosophical tradition known as German idealism.
In his later
years, most of which where spent in Berlin, Fichte continued to revise the pre-
sentation, if not the substance, of his philosophy in several lecture series, most
74 Self and Subject
of which have only recently been made available in their original form and
received closer attention.
In my account of Fichte' s thinking about the I from the Jena period, I will
(1) address the very nature of Fichte's philosophy; (2) from there move on to a
section on Fichte's idealism; (3) then turn to the method of Fichte's thinking
about the I; (4) following that present Fichte's basic account of the pure I; and
(5), in concluding, briefly address the status of Fichte' s philosophy of the I as a
theory of human subjectivity.
Early on in his philosophical career Fichte coined a term designed to
convey the status and function of philosophy in general and of his own philo-
sophical work in particular. That neologism is "Wissenschaftslehre," literally
the "doctrine of science," customarily translated as "science of knowledge,"
but-lacking a satisfactory translation-best left untranslated.
In line with
contemporary usage, the word "science" (Wissenschaft) stands for the concept
of systematically grounded knowledge. According to Fichte, philosophy is the
discipline that provides the principles for all other domains of rigorous, scien-
tific knowledge, while also providing its very own foundations. Fichte' s foun-
dationalist conception of knowledge makes philosophy the eminent science,
thus changing its nature from the "love of wisdom," as the ancient Greek term
would have it, to that of ultimate knowledge, understood as knowledge regard-
ing knowledge.
Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre closely resembles Kant's transcendental phi-
losophy. Both deal with a type of knowledge that is central to philosophy and
fundamental to knowledge claims in disciplines other than philosophy, namely,
synthetic judgments a priori.
Yet while crediting Kant with the very idea of a
scientifically rigorous philosophy, Fichte insists on the merely propaedeutical
nature of Kant's three Critiques, which are said to have provided the building
material but not the actual construction of the system of philosophical knowl-
Fichte' s efforts at completing Kant follow similar attempts by early fol-
lowers of Kant, most notably J. S. Beck and K. L. Reinhold, to lend a more
complete fonn of presentation to the Kantian doctrines.
the Fichtean trans-
formation of Kantian philosophy goes well beyond the adoption of an alterna-
tive mode of exposition and deeply affects the structure of philosophy and its
basic tenets.
Following Kant, Fichte presents the   as a theory about
empirical knowledge, in particular as an account of the nonempirical grounds of
The key feature of experience singled out for explanation is the
intentionality of representations, that is, their ability to refer to or be about
An Eye for an I 75
objects. Fichte takes over Kant's analysis of knowledge in terms of the "objec-
tive validity" of representations.
The objectivity of empirical knowledge is
understood as involving the accompaniment of certain representations by the
feeling of necessity. Philosophy qua Wissenschaftslehre investigates the ground
for the feeling of necessity that accompanies representations and makes them
more than creatures of our whim. Fichte stresses that the necessity characteristic
of empirical knowledge is not an absolute necessity. The necessity in question
pertains only to our representing of empirical objects and does not affect the
contingency of the empirical objects themselves.
Throughout the lena period, Fichte's presentation of the Wissenschafts-
lehre as a theory of experience is intervowen with an alternative conception of
the Wissenschaftslehre as a theory of freedom. Fichte's philosophy takes the
reality of human freedom as its starting point, thus using the basic conviction
about human freedom as the ultimate resting point for the foundationalist enter-
prise of the Wissenschaftslehre.
Fichte's conception of freedom is thoroughly
Kantian; freedom is understood as autonomy or rational self-determination.
But the systematic function granted to freedom by Fichte far exceeds the con-
fines of Kant's moral understanding of autonomy. Fichte thinks of freedom,
more precisely of our belief in freedom, as the foundation of his entire philos-
ophy, in its theoretical as well as practical parts. Moreover, he soon came to see
the very distinction between theoretical and practical philosophy as a prob-
lematic Kantian heritage that demanded serious revision through a more inte-
grated account of human mental activity. 12 The innovative role of freedom as
the starting point and the ultimate point of concern in Fichte' s philosophy is
aptly conveyed in Fichte's own description of his philosophical project as the
"first system of freedom. "13
The double task of grounding experience and asserting freedom in
Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre can suitably be brought together under the title of
a theory of finite rationality. 14 Fichte has transformed Kant's threefold "Critique
of Reason" into a highly integrated, yet complexly structured system of ratio-
nality. The term "rationality" conveys the nonnative nature of Fichte's enter-
prise, thus distinguishing it from psychological or anthropological accounts
of the human mind. The term "finite" indicates that the norms or laws of men-
tal operations are not of the mind's own, absolutely free making but reflect the
irreducible contingency of a being that has reason without being its own ground
or reason.
Following a methodological practice of the early post-Kantian debate,
Fichte presents his basic philosophical outlook as a "standpoint" (Standpunkt)
76 Self and Subject
from which to treat the philosophical subject matter of his work.
Fichte adopts
an idealist standpoint according to which all possible objects of the human
mind depend in their reality on the laws and functions of the mind, and are for
that matter appearances (Erscheinungen). It must be stressed that Fichte's ide-
alism-like that of Kant's, which it strongly resembles-is a transcendental
idealism, an idealism that makes the reality of appearances depend not on some
absolute, superhuman mind or spirit but on the a priori conditions of human
mental activity. Fichte explicitly rejects what he terms a "transcendent ideal-
iSffi,"16 which would accord to the mind absolute powers in the production of
Fichte's adoption of the transcendental-idealist standpoint is intimately
tied to his fundamental belief in the reality of freedom. Fichte considers ideal-
ism the one and only standpoint from which philosophical reflection can do jus-
tice to the reality of freedom. The goal of preserving the reality of freedom thus
provides a theoretical reason for the idealist standpoint. Yet Fichte concedes
that the effectiveness of the argument for idealism from the vindication of
freedom depends on one's prior conviction of the reality of freedom. The
choice of the idealist standpoint presupposes the extraphilosophical convic-
tion that humans have freedom as their essence and end. I? On Fichte's view, the
lack of such prior conviction results in the adoption of a philosophical stand-
point that is systematically indifferent and in effect inimical to human freedom,
namely, the dogmatic standpoint.
For Fichte, idealism and dogmatism constitute the basic alternative of
philosophical standpoints. Both positions address the task of transcendental
philosophy to seek the nonempirical ground of experience. The idealist locates
that ground in the human mind, while the dognlatist locates it in the thing
understood as originally independent of the human mind, that is, the thing in
itself. The philosopher's choice between those two basic standpoints is not a
matter of weighing theoretical reasons. Nor is it a matter of optional preference.
In Fichte's famous words:
The philosophy one chooses thus depends on the human being one is.
On Fichte's view of the matter, there are just two kinds of human beings,
protoidealists and protodogmatists: one is either a human being deeply con-
vinced of the reality of human freedom and determined to preserve that freedom
in one's practical and philosophical endeavors, or one is a human being lacking
any such sense of freedom and hence incapable of distinguishing between one-
self and "a piece of lava in the moon. "20
Fichte's own conviction of the reality of human freedom leads him to
develop an idealist theory of experience in which the human mind, understood
as the cognitive faculty ("intelligence"), is the ground for the representations of
An Eye for an I 77
the objective \vorld. Fichte critiques Kant for retaining the thing in itself as the
inscrutable source of material diversity anl0ng representations.
In order to
complete Kant's transcendental idealism in the spirit of a "system of freedom,"
the representation of reality has to be attributed entirely to the human mind. In
a striking political analogy Fichte states:
Just as France has freed man from external shackles, so IllY system frees
him from the fetters of things in themselves, which is to say, from those
external influences with which all previous systems-including the Kan-
tian-have more or less fettered man.
Fichte's radical rejection of any dogmatic remnant in his completed tran-
scendental idealism does not stop at the elimination of the thing in itself from
any role in mental representation. It also affects the philosophical concepts
with which the intelligence itself is to be described. Any notions that apply pri-
marily to the analysis of external objects ("things") are deemed unsuitable and
in need of being replaced by concepts that adequately reflect the radical inde-
pendence of the intelligence from factors external to it. In light of the founda-
tional role of freedom, Fichte resorts to a thoroughly praxeological field of
concepts when characterizing the mind. The intelligence is analyzed in terms of
its activity, and specifically of its capability of producing representations. In
fact, Fichte is so scrupulous about avoiding to reify the mind qua intelligence
that he refers to it as "an activity" (ein Handeln) rather than as "something
that does the acting" (ein Handelndes).23
Fichte's choice of the pronoun for the first person singular, "I," to des-
ignate the idealist ground of experience is best understood in this context of a
radical rejection of dogmatic, thing-oriented philosophy. Fichte' s account of the
intelligence as the ground of representations systematically avoids the lan-
guage of "things." Even the Cartesian notion of a "thinking thing" (res cogi-
tans) cannot do justice to the pure actuosity of the intelligence. Yet the I con-
sidered as the nonempirical ground of experience is also entirely removed from
the spatiotemporally located person or individual customarily designated by the
pronominal "1."24 Fichte' s I is a technical term that stands for a structure
designed to address the methodological requirement of thinking the ground of
experience in a manner consistent with the systematic commitment to free-
The distinction between the I as an empirical person and the I as a
nonempirical structure is reflected in Fichte' s distinction between two levels of
cognitive activity. There are, on the level of empirical consciousness, the empir-
ical representations-representations that are about the empirical world and
that have themselves their place in the empirical world of mental facts. But
there are also, on a different plane and accessible only to philosophical analy-
78 Self and Subject
sis, the features of the I as intelligence that are the very conditions for the for-
mation of those empirical representations. In line with his praxeological under-
standing of the mind, Fichte thinks of the nonempirical conditions for empiri-
cal representation as active and processlike. The generic term he employs to
designate the nonempirical dynamical structure underlying all empirical rep-
resenting is that of "positing" (setzen).25 The origin of this term in logic indi-
cates that the intellectual acts in question are not to be thought of as  
psychological events but as the structural conditions that govern all mental
Its ultimate starting point in some extraphilosophical conviction notwith-
standing, Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre operates at a level of abstraction and
reflection far removed from the facts and objects of empirical consciousness. In
his metaphilosophical reflections Fichte refers to the nonphilosophical basis of
philosophy as "life," while philosophy itself is identified as "speculation."26
"Speculation"-the term derives from the Latin word for "mirror" (specu-
lum)-is said to be about life, without itself being part of life. But the copying
or mirroring of life through philosophy does not the take the form of simple
duplication. In moving from the level of experience to the level of the non-
empirical conditions of experience, philosophy leaves behind the shapes and
forms of ordinary consciousness. Fichte himself attributes the lack of compre-
hension encountered by his philosophy to the lack of distinction between what
philosophy is about ("life") and what philosophy itself is ("speculation").
In an attempt to convey how artificial and removed from life philosophy
is, Fichte likens the business of speculation to conducting an experiment.
In an
experiment some real life process is isolated and studied under artificial, sys-
tematically simplified conditions. The experiment of the Wissenschaftslehre
involves the principal object of Fichte' s idealism, the I as the nonempirical
ground of experience. The philosophical object in question is not given as such
but needs to be gained by systematically disregarding what is merely empirical
("abstraction") and by focusing on that which is not empirical ("reflection").28
On Fichte's account, the experiment of the Wissenschaftslehre involves two I's,
the individual I of the philosopher conducting the experiment and the pre-
individual I on which the experiment is conducted. This duality leads to the dis-
tinction of two series in the experiment. The first series is that of the observing,
philosophizing I;.the second series is that of the observed, or philosophized I.
A key feature of Fichte' s transcendental experiment is the intimate rela-
tion between the observing I and the observed I. After all, the experiment does
not concern some entity external to the philosopher's mind but a structure
An Eye for an I 79
instantiated in the philosopher qua mind. Yet the observed I is not the philoso-
pher's own, individual I as such. It is rather the set of structural conditions of
experience that is invariantly present in human minds. The way to access this
structure and make it the object of one's philosophical analysis is the perfor-
mance of an experiment on oneself. Fichte is deeply convinced that the only
way to capture the I in its true nature, unaltered by reification, is through one's
own speculative effort. No one can do the idealist experiment for you. Philo-
sophical instruction-and that includes Fichte's own work-is limited to pro-
viding instruction on how to do it. But you must do it yourself. To put it in
Fichte own words with their characteristic blend of imperative and conspirative
tone: "Think yourself, and notice how you do that."29
The intricate setup of the Fichtean experiment is further complicated by
the peculiar nature of the I to be observed. That I is an object only for and to the
philosopher. In and of itself, the I is entirely different from any thing and is of
the nature of pure activity. In order to do justice to the original nature of I, the
philosophical experimentator must choose an experimental setting that lets the
I engage in its original activity. Moreover, the I under investigation is not
something that is, among other things, engaged in pure activity. Rather, the I is
nothing but that activity. Observing the I's activity is therefore observing the 1's
own coming about. Speculation consists in the philosopher's observation of the
I constructing itself.
In tracking the self-construction of the observed I under
artificial conditions, the philosopher achieves a reconstruction of the 1.
It is important to realize that the Fichtean philosophical reconstruction of
the I is a representation (Darstellung) of the complex nature of the I. Fichte
sharply distinguishes between the system of the mind and its representation
through a philosophical system.
The philosophical representation of the I
employs a developmental account of the 1's complex structure, providing as it
were a historiography of the human mind.
Such linear, temporally articulated
representation is a reflection of the philosopher's finite intellectual capacities
rather than a feature pertaining to the I as such. Fichte's continued revising of
the Wissenschaftslehre can be seen as a sustained effort to extend the limits of
philosophy in order to render more adequately the absolute structure of the I
with the means of finite cognition. Not counting introductory and preparatory
writings, fifteen different versions of the Wissenschaftslehre have come down
to US.
The self-consuuction of the observed I under the philosophical observer's
eye is not limited to the reconstructed coming about of the pure I as such.
Given the systematic function of the I as the ground of experience, the recon-
structed self-construction is simultaneously the reconstructed construction of
empirical consciousness and its world of objects. The I functions as the princi-
ple from which the forms and laws of all consciousness are derived, or, in
Fichte's terminology, deduced.
A crucial step in this reconstructed develop-
80 Self and Subject
ment from the pure I to an an individual, empirically concrete I is the deduction
of intersubjectivity or interpersonality. Fichte argues that the actualization of the
individual I's potential for self-determination can only take place through
dynamic interaction with other intelligent beings that provide the proper "solic-
itation" (Aufforderung)35 to independent action. The development of individu-
ality thus requires community, in the form of an external, legal association or of
a "realm of rational beings" (Reich vemiinftiger Wesen).36 The reconsuuction of
the I thus proceeds from an artificially isolated minimal starting point to the
fully developed structure of individual, social, empirically determined con-
sciousness. Throughout the philosophical tracking process, the observed I fol-
lows definite laws that are reconstructed by the experimentator-philosopher.
Those laws are certainly not of the philosopher's making. But neither are they
of the I's own making. The freedom of the I is a freedom under laws.
During the Jena period Fichte' s idealist reconstruction of the I as the
principle of all consciousness received two basically different formulations.
The earlier of the two is contained in the Foundation of the Entire Wis-
senschaftslehre,38 which was published in 1794/95 and remained, throughout
Fichte's lifetime, the only published detailed presentation of the Wissenschaft-
slehre as a whole. Yet in Fichte's own assessment, that first, imperfect version
was soon superseded by the presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre according to
a new method (nova methodo), presented in lecture courses at lena between
1796 and 1799, and accompanied by the publication of the rudimentary Attempt
at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre in 1797/98 and Fichte's work
on an extensive, but incomplete manuscript, the New Treatment of the Wis-
senschaftslehre, written in late 1800 and, perhaps, early 1801.
One can appre-
ciate the advancements in presentation, if not in substance, that Fichte made in
his lena period, by contrasting the theory of the I set forth in the first pub-
lished version of the Wissenschaftslehre of 1794/95 with the subsequent pre-
sentation according to the "new method."
The Foundation ofthe Entire Wissenschaftslehre proceeds-by way of a
transcendental   empirical consciousness to its a priori condi-
tions. Fichte employs the philosophical tools of reflection and abstraction to
move from "facts" (Tatsachen) of consciousness to the underlying transcen-
dental "activity" (Tathandlung).40 The latter is not given as such, but must be
added in thought in order to satisfactorily account for what is given. Fichte's
starting point are certain mental acts which he takes to be universally per-
formed and therefore to have the status of uncontested facts of consciousness.
These mental acts are said to require some mental activity that belongs to con-
An Eye for an / 8/
sciousness as its necessary condition but that is not itself an object of con-
sciousness, except in the attenuated sense of being inferred through philo-
sophical thinking.
Fichte distinguishes three basic transcendental acts of the mind, each
expressed as a "principle" (Grundsatz) of the Wissenschaftslehre. The first
principle states that the I posits itself absolutely.4\ The main point of this prin-
ciple is that the I does not rest on some presupposed being but is entirely the
result of its activity. The I's very being consists in the activity of positing
itself. The second principle has the I engaged in counterpositing (entgegenset-
zen).42 The I absolutely counterposits a not-I to itself. Here the point is that by
its very nature the I is caught up in a conflict with something which, while
posited by the I, is yet other than the I. According to the third principle, the I
counterposits in the I the divisible I and the divisible not-I, the point being
that the conflict between I and not-I is, in principle, resolved through the rela-
tion of mutual limitation between the I and the not-1.
Fichte considers the three basic principles and the kinds of transcenden-
tal activity they express irreducible to each other or to anything else. Together
they make up the complex structure of the I, in which the latter figures in three
different capacities: (1) as the absolute I or subject that does the positing; (2) as
the I or substance in which I and not-I are counterposited; and (3) as the divis-
ible I or accident that is counterposited to the not-l.
Based on these principles,
the Wissenschaftslehre of 1794/95 proceeds by exposing and removing the
tensions, within the I qua substance, between the I qua accident and the not-I.
The I is seen as "striving" (streben) progressively to eliminate the not-I and to
have the I qua substance approach the condition of the I qua subject, that is,
unopposed absolute I-ness.
The procedure of progressive removal of contra-
dictory determinations is an infinite process, though, a task rather than an
accomplishment. The I qua absolute subject remains an idea that cannot be
fully realized under conditions of human, finite rationality.46
Fichte's attempts at a revised presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre
adopt a new method of presentation. The move from empirical facts of con-
sciousness to the construction of a system of basic principles, with subsequent
dialectical extrapolations, is replaced by the initial postulation of the I's abso-
lute nature, followed by a series of presuppositions that specify the principal
requirements for transforming the bare core of the I into a finite rational being
relevantly structured like US.
Fichte's new procedere may be termed a phe-
nomenology of the I, both in the Husserlian and the Hegelian sense of that
term. Fichte engages in the description of the pure acts of   by'
tracking the different fOfll]S amLst;;lges of
oarestarting point to concrete individuality.48 The chief methodological device
employed in Fichte' s' new, ac.count of the I is the
pher's ability i_ntuit the nonempirical" pure activi!y of the I, al) l!bility for
82 Self and Subject
which Fichte chooses the ominous term, "intellectual intuition. "49 Fichte' s
appeal to a nonsensory as well nonconceptual source of evidence regarding
the I seems to violate the Kantian heterogeneity thesis of intuition and thought,
according to which all humanly possible intuition is sensible and all humanly
possible intellection is conceptua1.
Yet on Fichte's view of the matter, the
philosopher's intellectual intuition is not some rare and dubious accomplish-
ment but is the philosopher's ability to raise to consciousness the very pro-
cesses through which the I comes about. In Fichte' s usage, the tenn "intellectual
intuition" originally designates the structure of the I as such, and only deriva-
tively applies to the philosopher's grasp of the intellectual-intuitive nature of the
pure I.51 It is that condition in each finite rational being due to which con-
sciousness is possible. Like Kant's apperceptive "I think," Fichte's "intellectual
intuition" is, in principle, present in each and every act of representing. It is the
feature that makes my being conscious of something my being conscious of
sOlllething. Indeed Fichte claims that his own understanding of intellectual
intuition is in perfect agreement with the spirit, if not with the letter of Kant's
theory of apperception.52
Fichte's choice of the term, "intellectual intuition," is moreover motivated
by Kant's own understanding of that term. To be sure, Kant rejects the attribu-
tion of nonsensory, intellectual intuition to finite rational beings. Yet he admits,
and even requires, the concept of an intellectually intuitive mode of knowledge
as a limiting concept, designed to determine the confines of human knowl-
edge by entertaining the thought of alternative modes of cognition not subject
to the strictures of human finitude. 53 On Kant's view, a being that possesses
intellectual intuition is a being in which knowing and doing coincide. Fichte' s
description of the I in terms of "intellectual intuition" can be seen as an adap-
tation of the Kantian notion of a mind in which acting and knowing are origi-
nally unseparated. On Fichte's understanding, the I of intellectual intuition is a
doing that is also a knowing, and vice versa.
The notion of an intellectual intuition provides Fichte with a new way of
describing the absolute, autonomous nature of the I. Fichte' s presentation of the
Wissenschaftslehre of 1794/95 had already stressed that the I as such, the pure
I, is nothing but the activity of positing. The I is not a thing that underlies the
positing. Nor is it a thing on which the positing is exercised. Yet in order for
there to be an I, and not just a thing, the positing cannot be the positing of just
anything. Whatever else is being posited, the positing has to be at least the
positing of the I, and this in the twofold sense that the I is both that which
does the positing and that which is so posited. The I has to be the subject as well
as the object of the positing. Otherwise the positing would be the positing of
something else, possibly involving an already presupposed I, but it would then
not be that which posits the I in the first place. But how could such an original
positing of the I take place? After all the positing in  
An Eye for an I 83
pregiven subject-I that does the positing, nor can it rely on a pregiven object-I
to which to direct the positing.
Any such presupposition of an already consti-
tuted I would introduce a vicious circle into the original positing of the I. 56
Therefore, the original positing must be such that the positing that posits the
object is equally the positing of the subject as that which does the positing: it
must be a doing that is a knowing and a knowing thatis a doing.
This is where the notion of an intellectual intuition, with its unseparated
oneness of doing and knowing, comes in. The I is what it is-the activity of
positing-only in that it also posits the positing as such. It is a "positing as
positing."57 The original unity of positing and positing-as-positing makes the
positing a self-positing, a positing in and through which the I comes about:
The I posits itself absolutely, i.e., without any mediation. It is at once sub-
ject and object. The I comes about only by means of positing itself-it
has no prior existence-rather its very being is to posit itself as positing.
[...] Therefore an intuition of the I acting upon itselfis possible. Such an
intuition is an intellectual intuition.
The intimate union of doing and knowing conveyed in the term "intel-
lectual intuition" also stands behind Fichte' s characterization of the pure I as
"immediate consciousness" or "immediate consciousness of itself."59 In the
case of intellectual intuition, the consciousness of an object is immediately, that
is, without further reflection, consciousness of this very consciousness. Fichte
also refers to this immediacy of the I's intuition of itself, present in immediate
consciousness, as "self-consciousness" or "immediate self-consciousnesso"60
The self-consciousness involved in intellectual intuition is thus prereflective,
and must not be confused with the mediated self-consciousness that is based on
a self's reflecting on itself. Moreover, the immediate self-consciousness
expressed through the term of art, "intellectual intuition," is the transcendental
condition not only of empirical self-knowledge but of all other forms of con-
sciousness. Fichte' s intellectual intuition thus takes on the function of the Kan-
tian "I think" that must be able to accompany all my representations.
In addition to casting the prereflective unity of doing and knowing in
the pure I through a suitably revised notion of intellectual intuition, Fichte
repeatedly explains the unity in question through a comparison between the I
(Ich) and the organ of sight, the eye (Auge).61 The comparison fITst occurs in the
Jena lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre "according to a new method" and is
continued, in revised form, in several of Fichte' s later works, including a son-
net.62 Typically in these comparisons, the eye stands for the element of knowing
("seeing") that is originally and indissolubly united with the activity of the I. In
one such instance, Fichte reconstructs the coming about of the I as the unifica-
tion of the "blindly" felt drive to absolute independence with the "sight" pro-
84 Self and Subject
vided by thinking, a process in which "eyes are, as it were, inserted into the
drive that is itself blind."63 The metaphor of the eye here serves to represent the
moment of consciousness in the original activity of the 1. Fichte's talk about
eyes being inserted into the drive should not be taken, though, to suggest the
implantation of some further organ into an already functioning organism.
Rather, the eyes have always already been inserted, just as the positing of the I
is originally also a positing=as-positing. At one point Fichte even conflates the
terminologies of positing and seeing by calling the I "an eye that posits itsel["64
In a remarkable comparison from the lena period, Fichte employs the eye
Inetaphor in an effort to distinguish his theory of the subject from previous think-
ing about the I. Fichte contrasts the views of earlier philosophies that understand
the I as a mirror, passively reflecting its objects, with his own conception of the I
as originally productive and conscious of its absolute independence. According to
Fichte, the image of the mirror, when employed to capture the nature of the I,
leaves unexplained that the image mirrored by the I is also seen by the 1. In the
case of the I, the mirrored image is not provided to some external observer look-
ing at the mirror. Rather the mirrored image is seen internally, by the I itself. The
I is therefore "a mirror that mirrors itself'65-a mirror that can see, in short, an
eye. Moreover, the object of the eye's gaze is not some external reality, as in the
case of some mirror, but the very activity of the I itself:
We see everything in us, we see only ourselves, only as acting.
The I is here portrayed as self-enclosed to the point of seeming totally self-suf-
ficient and a world onto its own. Yet the self-sufficiency in question is not the
ontological independence or self-sufficiency of a divine mind, but the episte-
mological isolation of a finite intelligence that originally knows only itself,
including its own states, and that derives all other knowledge from the experi-
ence of its own finitude. Viewed that way, Fichte's account of experience is an
effort to derive the consciousness of external objects from the limitations that
the I encounters in its original, intellectual intuition.
In employing the language of acting and knowing, of doing and seeing,
Fichte resorts to imagery that casts the preindividual nature of the I, the I-ness
under investigation, in decidedly individual-psychological terms. Yet Fichte
clearly states that the pure I as such, the I of intellectual intuition, is "no con-
sciousness, not even self-consciousness."67 The I in question merely consti-
tutes the "possibility of self-consciousness," but "no actual consciousness
comes into being as yet."68 The I of intellectual intuition is thus not an instance
of consciousness, but the ground or the pure form of consciousness. Its status is
that of an inferred condition, grasped in philosophical thought by means of
abstraction from what is empirical in consciousness and reflection on what
remains over after such abstraction.
An Eye for an I 85
Yet while Fichte is eager to dispel the impression that the pure I is indi-
vidual in nature and empirical in content, he also maintains that the pure I is
somehow present in all acts of consciousness. On Fichte' s understanding, the I
in question is not only a structural condition or form underlying all conscious-
ness, it is also a form present in all consciousness. To be sure, the universal
mental presence of the pure I does not take the form of the pure I being an
object of consciousness. Not even philosophical thinking is able to objectify the
pure I as such. The pure I eludes all objectification. But, for Fichte, this by itself
does not establish that the I in question lies outside of all consciousness. To him
it rather suggests that the pure I is present in consciousness in a manner totally
different from the way objects are present in consciousness. The presence
peculiar to the pure I is the presence that the subject of consciousness has in all
The immediate self-consciousness is that which is eternally, unchange-
ably subjective and as such, and in isolation, it never becomes object, of
some consciousness.
Thus, the pure I is the object of no consciousness and the subject of all con-
The identification of the pure I with the transcendental subject of con-
sciousness makes Fichte' s account of the I an egology in the eminent sense. The
pure I not just the central topic of Fichte's philosophical theory. That theory has
moreover the pure I as its principle. The pure I is the principle of Fichte's
Wissenschaftslehre in that all forms of consciousness are derived from the
pure I, while the pure I itself is not the result of some further derivation. On
Fichte's view, consciousness as such is the consciousness of an I (subjective
genitive), which in all consciousness of other objects (objective genitive) is
always also conscious of this very I (objective genitive). Rather than dissoci-
ating the subject underlying all consciousness from the field of consciousness
itself, Fichte maintains that the subject of consciousness is itself the original ele-
ment of consciousness in all other consciousness. The pure I is not only the
transcendental condition for all consciousness, it is itself the archetypal instance
of consciousness. According to Fichte, immediate self-consciousness
is [...] nothing else but the being-with-itself and beingjor-itself of the
very being that becomes conscious-something that is to be presupposed
in all consciousness-the pure reflex of consciousness.
Still, Fichte' s earlier point that the pure I as such is not to be encountered
in consciousness remains in effect. The I qua transcendental subject, while
being the archetype of all consciousness, is never given as such. No objectifi-
86 Self and Subject
cation could capture its absolute status as the subject of all consciousness. The
pure I can only be inferred through philosophical reflection on its actualization
in empirical consciousness:
That immediate self-consciousness is not raised to consciousness nor
can it ever be. As soon as one reflects on it, it ceases to be what it is, and
it disappears into a higher region.
Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre is its author's life-long struggle to keep up with the
disappearance act of the pure I.
In insisting on the nonobjective and indeed nonobjectifiable status of
the pure I, Fichte does not mean to characterize the pure I as a subject only. On
the contrary, it is part of the very essence of the I's being a subject that this sub-
ject is what it is to and for itself. Otherwise the subject would not really be a
subject, but would be a being for something or someone else, that is, an object.
Thus the pure I, while not being any other subject's object, is still an object to
itself. To be sure, the objectivity of the pure I cannot be that of an object given
to and contemplated by the I. That way the explanandum (the I) would be dou-
bly presupposed in the explanans, in the subject-I as well as the object-I. Rather
the I must be for-itself or with-itself in a manner that excludes all mediation,
externality and duplication. The term of art that Fichte introduces for the abso-
lute unity of the subject in its being-for-itself is "subject-object":
self-consciousness is immediate: in it the subjective and the objective
are indivisibly united and absolutely one. [...] The I is not to be consid-
ered as subject only [...] but as subject-object in the sense indicated.
Fichte also refers to the absolute unity of I under the terms "self-intuition" and
"intuition of the I." In the latter formulation, the genitive construction is objec-
tive as well as subjective: the I is both and in one the intuiting and the intuited.
Fichte's theory of the subject-objectivity of the I is not an isolated piece
of speculation, devoid of context and full of wild claims, but a view that is
firmly integrated into his thinking and that moreover forms the very core of his
philosophy. Throughout the Jena period, and even beyond that first major
phase of his work, Fichte's thinking aims at a comprehensive account of the
human subject. Fichte is chiefly concerned with the very origin and basic struc-
ture of subjectivity. He asks what it is, in terms of the most elementary features
required, to be a human subject, as opposed to being a thing or object. And he
An Eye for an I 87
asks how that most ori inallayer of human subjectivity expresses itself in and
through tile two prjnc!pg.l fOf1l);s of existence;I<nowing and doing. The ..
inquiry is guided by the systematic concern with the radical inde- .
penence of human subjectivity from conditions. The subject is' seen as
-having its within itself, as coming about and developing entirely ..
-on its own. The autonomous activity the su-6]ecCis'moreover originally
-- - - - - .. . .. .....   . ,- '.- ,,- .- - . ""
l!nited with the subject's cognitive dimension; the independent activity of the_
is alwais also an activityfor the subject. ..
The monadic, active-cum-cognitive conception of the human subject
suggests a metaphysical reading of Fichte along the lines of an absolute ideal-
ism that would have things mental and physical originate in the activity of
some absolute subject or spirit. Yet Fichte's continued insistence on the prin-
cipallimits of human subjectivity mitigates against such a reading. The subject
in question is profoundly restricted in its intellectual and volitional powers. It
cannot even posit itself qua I without also positing the not-I. Still there is an ide-
alist character to the subject's positing of everything for itself. The objects
and other subjects so posited are deeply affected by the Fichtean forms of
positing, to the point of seeming nothing but positions brought about in the pro-
cess of the subjecCs original activity of self-positing. However, it has to be kept
in mind that Fichte's human subjectivity is preindividual in nature. It is a struc-
ture that is realized only by individual subjects so structured. The idealism
implied by the universal positing is therefore not a solipsistic idealism, but
one involving a plurality of subjects united in the Fichtean realm of minds or
spirits. Fichte may be an idealist about that which is posited but he is defi-
nitely a realist about the subjects that do the positing. Moreover, for Fichte, the
reality of finite spirits or minds points to a higher reality yet, "the absolute,"
which he came to acknowledge as the unfathomable ultimate ground of every
thing and every subject,74
The chief concern of Fichte' s Wissenschaftslehre from the Jena period is
the Qroper integration of the absoluteness and the finitude of the human subject.
- This'project a delicate balancing act between two equally unacceptable
extremes. Emphasizing thy element of absoluteness at the expense of the
dimension of finitude would let the'theory degenerate dogmatic meta-
, J2Qysics of the subjeCt, while the inverse strategy of emphasizingfinitude at the
expens,e of absoluteness would lead into empirical anthrop?logy
ogy. Fichte sought to avoid either of those paths. In his ambition to steer a
middle'course between a supranaturalistmetaphysics and a naturalist psychol-
ogy, Fichte partakes in the Kantian project of a transcendental science. Tran-
scendental philosophy as formulated by Kant and reformulated by Fichte, is a
study of the principal forms andsonditions of human consciousness that is '/
both respec:tful of the limits of human knowledge and faithful to the other- "/
worldly nature of human mental activity.75
Self and Subject
1. For an overview of Fichte' s development up to and through his lena years, cf.
"Editor's Introduction: Fichte in lena," in Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings, tr. and
ed. D. Breazeale (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 1-49.
2. A substantial part of Fichte' s philosophical writings from the Jena period has
been translated into English: Early Philosophical Writings; Science ofKnowledge with
the First and Second Introductions, tr. P. Heath and J. Lachs (Canlbridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1982); The Science of Rights, tr. A. E. Kroeger (Philadelphia: Lip-
pincott, 1869); The Science of Ethics as Based on the Science of Knowledge, tr. A. E.
Kroeger (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., 1897); Introductions to the Wis-
senschaftslehre and Other Writings, ed. and tr. D. Breazeale (Indianapolis: Hackett,
1994); The Vocation of Man, ed. R.M. Chisholm (New York: Macmillan, 1986); "A
Crystal Clear Report to the General Public Concerning the Actual Essence of the Newest
Philosophy. An Attempt to Force the Reader to Understand," in Philosophy of Ger-
man Idealism, ed. E. Behler (New York: Continuum, 1987), pp. 39-115. The definitive
German edition of Fichte's complete works is the J.G. Fichte-Gesamtausgabe der Bay-
erischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed. R. Lauth and H. Gliwitzky (Stuttgart-Bad
Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1962fO, which, while still not completed, contains
most of Fichte' s writings under consideration in this essay.
The references in the present essay are to the following editions and translations
of works by Fichte: "Recension des Aenesidemus," (1794; "Review of Aenesidemus,"
Early Philosophical Writings, pp. 59-77; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:545-68); Ueber den
Begrijfder Wissenschaftslehre oder der sogenannten Philosophie (1794; Concerning the
Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre, Early Philosophical Writings, pp. 87-135; Gesam-
tausgabe, 1,2:107-72); Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre (1794/95; English
translation under the title The Science of Knowledge, 87-286; Gesamtausgabe,
1,2:251-451); Grundriss des Eigenthumlichen der Wissenschaftslehre in Rucksicht auf
das theoretische Vermogen (1795; "Outline of the Distinctive Character of the Wis-
senschaftslehre with Respect to the Theoretical Faculty," Early Philosophical Writ-
ings, pp. 243-306; Gesamtausgabe, 1,3:143-208); "Vergleichung des von Herro Prof.
Schmid aufgestellten Systems mit der Wissenschaftslehre" (1795; "A Comparison
between Prof. Schmid's System and the Wissenschaftslehre," Early Philosophical Writ-
ings, pp. 316-35 [excerpts]; Gesamtausgabe, 1,3:235-71); Grundlage des Naturrechts
nach Principien der Wissenschaftslehre (1796; The Science ofRights; Gesamtausgabe,
1,3:313-460 and 1,4:5-165); Versuch einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre,
consisting of "Einleitung," and "Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre" (1797;
English translation as "First Introduction to the Science of Knowlege" and "Second
Introduction to the Science of Knowledge," in Science of Knowledge, 3-85; Gesam-
tausgabe 1,4:183-268) and "Erstes Kapitel" (1798; the only published chapter; Intro-
ductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 106-18; Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:271-81); Wis-
senschaftslehre nach den Vorlesungen von Hr. Pro Fichte (henceforth referred to as
Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle; the complete transcript of a lecture course
given by Fichte in 1796/97; first published in 1937; partial English translation in Foun-
dations ofTranscendental Philosophy (Wissenschaftslehre) nova methodo (1796199), ed.
An Eye for an I 89
and tr. D. Breazeale (Ithaca and London: Cornell Dillv. Press, 1992)]; Gesamtausgabe,
IV,2: 17-267); Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo. Kollegnachschrift K. Chr. Fr. Krause
1798/99, ed. E. Fuchs (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1982) (henceforth referred to as Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause; the complete transcript of a lecture course given
by Fichte during 1798/99 and only discovered in 1980; English translation in Founda-
tions of Transcendental Philosophy (Wissenschaftslehre) nova methodo [1796/99]);
Das System der Sittenlehre nach den Principien der Wissenschaftslehre (1798; The
Science of Ethics; Gesan'ltausgabe, 1,5:21-317); Neue Bearbeitung der Wissenschaft-
slehre (1800; recently published fragment of a new treatment of the Science of Knowl-
edge; Gesamtausgabe, 11,5:319-402; no English translation available); Die Bestim-
mung des Menschen (1800; The Vocation of Man; Gesamtausgabe, 1,6:189-309);
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre. Aus den Jahren 1801/02, ed. R. Lauth (Hamburg:
Meiner, 1977) (complete text of a presentation of the Science of Knowledge from the
year 1801/02; no English translation available); Sonnenklarer Rericht an das groj3ere
Publicum uber das eigentliche Wesen der neuesten Philosophie. Ein Versuch, die Leser
zum Verstehen zu zwingen (1801; "A Crystal Clear Report"; Gesamtausgabe,
1,7:185-268). In one instance (n. 62), reference is made to the reprint of the old edition
of Fichte's Works, originally published in 1834/35 and 1845/46 (Fichtes Werke, ed.
I.H. Fichte, 11 vols. [Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971]).
Wherever possible, references to English translations are included along with
the references to the standard German edition. The only exception to this practice are the
two versions of the Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo, whose compilated English trans-
lation (Foundations of Transcendental Philosophy) contains the pagination of both
German editions in the margins, thus making it sufficient to refer to the German editions.
Translations of the Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo are my own.
3. For a recent comprehensive account of Fichte's philosophy, cf. Peter Bau-
manns, J. G. Fichte: Kritische Gesamtdarstellung seiner Philosophie (Freiburg and
Munich: Karl Alber, 1990). Other comprehensive treatments are Wolfgang Janke,
Fichte: Sein und Reflexion. Grundlagen der kritischen Vernunft (Berlin: de Gruyter,
1970), id., Vom Bilde des Absoluten. Grundzuge der Phiinomenologie Fichtes (Berlin
and New York: de Gruyter, 1993), and Gunter Schulte, Die Wissenschaftslehre des
spaten Fichte (Frankfurt/M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1971). For a recent English-lan-
guage account of Fichte,s philosophy of subjectivity during his Jena period, cf. Freder-
ick Neuhouser, Fichte' s Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1990). A concise assessment of Fichte's contribution to philosophy is Allen W.
Wood, "Fichte's Philosophical Revolution," Philosophical Topics 19 (1992): 1-28.
4. Cf. Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre, Early Philosophical
Writings, 106; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:118.
5. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:18. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 11.
6. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 51; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:230. On Fichte's relation to
Kant, cf. my essay "From Propaedeutic to System: Fichte Completion of Kant's Tran-
90 Self and Subject
scendental Idealism," presented at The Idea of a System of Transcendental Idealism in
Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. An International Conference at Dartmouth College,
August 27-30, 1995.
7. For a succinct overview of the early reception of Kant's philosophy, cf. Fred-
erick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cam-
bridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987). An English translation of selected primary
material from that first phase of post-Kantianism can be found in Between Kant and
Hegel: Texts in the Development ofPost-Kantian Idealism, tr. G. di Giovanni and H.S.
Harris (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1985).
8. Cf. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 7f.; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:187.
9. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 4, 9. For a discussion of the sys-
tematic function of the concept of objective validity in Kant, cf. my Theoretische Gegen-
standsbeziehung bei Kant (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 1984). Fichte's theory of
objective reference is at the center of Wayne Martin's Idealism and Objectivity: Under-
standing Fichte's lena Project (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, forth-
10. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:18f. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 13.
11. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 40f.; Gesamtausgabe,
1,4:219. Among recent interpreters of Fichte, Peter Baumanns has especially stressed
the foundational role of the conviction of freedom in Fichte's works from the Jena period.
Cf. Fichtes urspriingliches System: Sein Standort zwischen Kant und Hegel (Stuttgart-Bad
Cannstatt, 1972); Fichtes Wissenschaftslehre: Probleme ihres Anfangs. Mit einem Kom-
mentar ZU Par. 1 der HGrundlage der gesamten Wissneschaftslehre" (Bonn: Bouvier,
1974). For earlier interpretations of Fichte as a theoretician of freedom, cf. Wilhelm
Weischedel, Die Philosophie des friihen Fichte: Aufbruch der Freiheit zur Gemeinschaft
(Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog: 1973; first published in 1939); and
Alexis Philonenko, La liberte humaine dans la philosophie de Fichte (Paris: Vrin, 1966).
12. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:17. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 10.
13. Draft of a letter to Jens Baggesen, April or May 1795, Early Philosophical
Writings, 385; Gesamtausgabe, 111,2: no. 282a.
14. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 7.
15. Cf. Jakob Sigismund Beck, Erliiutemder Auszug aus den Kritischen Schriften
des Herrn Prof. Kant, aufAnraten desselben, vol. 3: Dritter Band, welcher den Stand-
punkt darstellt, aus welchem die Kritische Philosophie zu beurteilen ist: Einzig
moeglicher Standpunkt, aus welchem die Kritische Philosophie beurteilt werden muss
(Riga: Hartknoch, 1793; reprint in Aetas Kantiana [Brussels: Culture et Civilisation,
1968]); excerpts in Between Kant and Hegel, 204-49.
An Eye for an I 91
16. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 21 (emphasis mine); Versuch
einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:200.
17. Cf. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 15f.; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4: 194. Cf. also The Science of
Ethics, 30, 58f.; Gesamtausgabe, 1,5:43, 65.
18. Cf. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 13; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4: 192. For a detailed dicussion
of the standpoints of idealism and realism in Fichte, cf. Ingeborg Schussler, Die
Auseinandersetzung von Idealismus und Realismus in Fichtes Wissenschaftslehre
(Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostern1ann, 1972).
19. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 17 (translation modified); Ver-
such einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4: 195.
20. Science ofKnowledge, 162n.; Gesamtausgabe 1,2:326n.
21. Cf. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 22f.; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:201f. "Outline of the Distinc-
tive Character of the Wissenschaftslehre," Early Philosophical Writings, 245f.; Gesam-
tausgabe, 1,3: 144f.
22. Draft of a letter to Jens Baggesen, April or May 1795, Early Philosophical
Writings, 385; Gesamtausgabe, 111,2: no. 282a.
23. The Science ofRights, 9; Gesamtausgabe 1:3:313n. For a detailed treatment of
the concept of activity in Fichte's work from the Jena period, cf. Martin Oesch, Das
Handlungsproblem: Ein systemgeschichtlicher Beitrag zur ersten Wissenschaftslehre
Fichtes (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981).
24. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science ofKnowledge, 71f.; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, I,4:254f.
25. Cf. "Review of Aenesidemus," Early Philoosphical Writings, 64; Gesam-
tausgabe, 1,2:47. Science of Knowledge, 95ff.; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:258ff. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:21f. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 16. "Second Introduction," Science ofKnowledge, 60; "Chapter
One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 108; Versuch einer neuen Darstellung
der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:242, 272.
26. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 25. Wissenschaftslehre nova
methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe IV, 2:27. "Second Introduction," Science ofKnowledge,
31n., 55n.; Versuch einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe,
1,4:210n., 236n. "A Crystal Clear Report," 95-101; Sonnenklarer Bericht, Gesamtaus-
gabe, 1,7:246-52. For a more detailed discussion cf. Daniel Breazeale, "The 'Standpoint
of Life' and the 'Standpoint of Philosophy' in the Context of the lena Wissenschaft-
slehre (1794-1800)," in Transzendentalphilosophie als System: Die Auseinanderset-
zung zwischen 1794 und 1806, ed. A. Mues (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1989), pp. 81-104.
92 Self and Subject
27. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 21, 34f. "Second Introduc-
tion," Science of Knowledge, 30; Versuch einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaft-
slehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:209f.
28. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 93; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:255. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 10f., 25.
29. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 110; Versuch einer
neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre," Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:274 (translation lTIod-
ified). Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:32. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 28f. Cf. also Johannes Romelt, '''Merke auf
dich selbst.' Das Verha1tnis des Philosophen zu seinem Gegenstand nach dem Versuch
einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre (1797/98)," Fichte-Studien 1 (1990),
30. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 33f.; Gesamtausgabe,
1,4:213. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 28.
31. Cf. "Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre," Early Philosophical
Writings, 133; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:149.
32. Cf. "Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre," Early Philosophical
Writings, 131; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2: 146. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 8f.,
22f. Fichte's idea of a history of self-consciousness is treated in detail in lllrich Claes-
ges, Geschichte des Selbstbewufitseins: Der Ursprung des spekulativen Problems in
Fichtes Wissenschaftslehre von 1794-94 (Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974).
33. Cf. the editor's preliminary overview of Fichte' s presentations of the Science
of Knowledge in Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Wissenschaftslehre 1805, ed. H. Gliwitzky
(Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1984), LXXIf.
34. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:64, 76.
Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 8.
35. Cf. The Science of Rights, 52 ("requirement addressed to the subject");
Gesamtausgabe 1,3:342.
36. Cf. The Science ofRights, xxx; Gesamtausgabe, 1,3:329ff. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 149-52 and 236-39.
37. Cf. "First Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 21f.; Gesamtausgabe,
38. Published in English translation under the title Science ofKnowlege. On this
and the other presentations of the Science ofKnowledge from Fichte's Jena period, cf.
the bibliographical information in note 2.
39. The earliest published text that gives evidence of Fichte's emerging second
lena system is "A Comparison between Prof. Schmid's System and the Wissenschaft-
slehre," E'arly Philosophical Writings, 321-35; Gesamtausgabe, 1,3:251-66. For an
An Eye for an I 93
overview in English of Fichte' s lecture and publication activity during his Jena period,
cf. the editor's introduction in Early Philosophical Writings, 46-49. The place, function
and method of the Science of Knowledge "nova methodo" is discussed in Ives Radriz-
zani, Vers La fondation de l'intersubjectivite chez Fichte. Des Principes aLa Nova
Methodo (Paris: Vrin, 1993). Cf. also my review of Radrizzani's book in Philosophi-
scher Literaturanzeiger 47 (1994):366-68.
40. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 93ff.; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:255ff.
41. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 99; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:261.
42. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 104; Gesamtausgabe, 1:2,266.
43. Cf. Science of Knowledge, 110; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:272.
44. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 116f.; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:279.
45. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, 245; Gesamtausgabe, 1,2:410.
46. For a more detailed account of the structure and the doctrinal core of the
Wissenschaftslehre of 1794/95, cf. my essay "Positing and Determining in Fichte's
Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre," Die Grundposition der ersten Wis-
senschaftslehre Fichtes, ed. E. Fuchs and I. Radrizzani (Neuried: Ars Una, 1996).
47. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:28f. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 27f.
48. Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:27. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 24f.
49. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 38; Gesamtausgabe,
1,4:216f. The Science of Ethics, 51f.; Gesamtausgabe, 1,5:60. On the development of
Fichte's theory of intellectual intuition during his Jena period, cf. Jiirgen Stolzenberg,
Fichtes Begrijfder intellektuellen Anschauung: Die Entwicklung in den Wissenschafts-
lehren von 1793/94 bis 1801/02 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1986).
50. Cf. Critique of Pure Reason, B 71f. As customary, references to the Cri-
tique ofPure Reason employ the original pagination of the second or first edition ("B"
or "A," respectively).
51. Cf. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 114f.; Versuch
einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4,:277f. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:31, 37. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 34.
52. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science ofKnowledge, 45ff.; Versuch einer neuen
Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4,: 224ff. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:31. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-
Krause, 31f.
53. Cf. Critique ofPure Reason, B310f/A254f.
94 Self and Subject
54. Cf. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 106; Versuch
einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:271.
55. Cf. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 109f.; Versuch
einer neuen Dastellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4: 273f. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesanztausgabe, IV,2:30. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 29f.
56. On Fichte's account of the nonreflexive nature of the pure I, cf. Dieter Hen-
rich, "Fichte's Original Insight," in Contemporary German Philosophy, vol. 1 (Col-
lege Park: Pennsylvania State Dniv. Press, 1982), pp. 15-53.
57. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 113; Versuch einer
neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:276. Cf.. also Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:31. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 31.
58. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:31.
59. Cf. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 113; Versuch
einer neuen Dastellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:276. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:30. Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Krause, 30.
60. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 114; Versuch einer
neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:276. Wissenschafts-
lehre nova methodo-Krause, 34. For a comprehensive monograph on Fichte's theory of
self-consciousness throughout the Jena period, cf. Reinhard Friedrich Koch, Fichtes
Theorie des Selbstbewu.f3tseins: Ihre Entwicklung von den "Eignen Meditationen aber
ElementarPhilosophie" 1793 his zur "Neuen Bearbeitung der W.L." 1800 (Wiirzburg:
Konigshausen & Neumann, 1989).
61. On Fichte's usage of the eye metaphor cf. Henrich, Fichte's Original Insight,
31-40 and 47-50. A possible source of inspiration for Fichte's use of the ocular
metaphor is J.H. Jacobi, David Hume aber den Glauben oder Idealismus und Realismus
(Breslau: Loewe, 1787; reprint London and New York: Garland, 1983), 179, 184, 190,
and especially 195.
62. Cf. Siimtliche Werke, VII: 461f. and XI: 347; for an English translation, cf.
Henrich, Fichte's Original Insight, 39.
63. The Vocation of Man, 84 (translation modified); Gesamtausgabe, 1,6:254.
For Fichte's later usage of the eye metaphor, cf. Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre. Aus
den Jahren 1801102, 26, 33, 46ff, 118, 140.
64. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 40.
65. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 54. Cf. also Wissenschaftslehre
nova methodo-Halle, Gesamtausgabe, IV,2:49.
An Eye for an I
66. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 54.
67. Cf. "Second Introduction," Science of Knowledge, 35 (translation modified);
Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:214.
68. Ibid. (emphasis added; translation modified).
69. Neue Bearbeitung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe 11,5:338. The
German original reads: "Das unmittelbare SelbstbewuBtseyn ist das ewig unveranderlich
subjective u. wird als solches, u. isoliert, nie Object eines BewuBtseyns." Cf. also ibid.,
70. Neue Bearbeitung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 11,5:347. The
German orignal reads: "Es ist auch nicht's anderes, als das (aHem BewuBtseyn
vorauszusetzende)-Bey sich selbst seyn u. fur sich selbst seyn des BewuBtseyenden
selbst-der reine Reflex des Bewuj3tseyns." Cf. also ibid., 349.
71. Neue Bearbeitung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 11,5:335.
72. "Chapter One," Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, 113f.; Versuch einer
neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre, Gesamtausgabe, 1,4:276f. Cf. Wis-
senschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 7, 31.
73 Cf. Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo-Krause, 34.
74 Cf. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre aus den
Jahren 1801102, ed. P. K. Schneider (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1977), 4f. On the pres-
ence of a theory of the absolute already in Fichte's lena period, cf. Hans Radermacher,
Fichtes Begrifj des Absoluten (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1970).
75. For a more detailed account of Fichte' s transcendental theory of subjectvity,
cf. my essays, "Willing and Thinking in Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity," in New Per-
spectives on Fichte, ed. D. Breazeale and T. Rockmore (Lanham: Humanities Press,
1995), 1-17; "Original Duplicity: The Ideal and the Real in Fichte's Transcendental
Theory of the Subject," in The Modern Subject: Classical German Idealist Concep-
tions of the Self, ed. K. Ameriks and D. Sturma (Albany: State Univ. of New York
Press, 1995), 115-30; "Bestin1mung zur Selbstbestimmung: Fichtes Theorie des Wil-
lens," Fichte-Studien 7 (1995): 101-18; and "Geist oder Gespenst: Fichtes Noumena-
lismus in der Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo," forthcoming in Proceedings of the
Congress ofthe International Fichte Society 1994, ed. W. Hammacher and W. Schrader,
Fichte-Studien; "Changing the Appearances: Fichte's Transcendental Theory of Practical
Self-Determination," in Proceedings of the Eighth International Kant Congress. Mem-
phis 1995, ed. H. Robinson, vol. 1, part 3 (Milwaukee: Marquette Univ. Press, 1995),
929-42; and the essays referred to in notes 6 and 46.
Part Two
Self and the Absolute
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking*
Dieter Henrich
1. The world is at least as complex as the most complex thought of the
world that we are capable of thinking. To accept this principle must be espe-
cially easy for those who are convinced that everything real is in truth of a
material nature. For in that case thoughts, too, are material processes. And to
understand the material world means to understand what is materially real,
including all thoughts regarding it, thus also including the most complex
thought among them. And from this, the principle in question follows imnle-
diately. But even independent of any prior decision in favor of a particular
constitution of the world, it is meaningful and useful for all philosophy to ori-
ent itself by this principle.
Philosophy has the task of radical inquiry. It is the search for the justifi-
cation of absolutely fundamental assumptions and therefore the critique of
such assumptions insofar as they are used in an unjustified way. But philosophy
has equally well and simultaneously a different goal. It can be called "integra-
tion." Philosophy must synthesize well-founded insights among themselves
and bring them together with unanswered questions that are unavoidable. It
must do so in such a manner that a whole results that does not in turn become
the object of a further radical inquiry. Thus, "integration," in the formal sense
of a comprehensive coordination of well-founded beliefs, corresponds to what
was formally expected of a philosopher under the term "system" (by contrast,
what is expected today is rather the abstinence from such a system), namely, the
comprehensive explanation of reality in its entirety in an explanatory context
that is to be formulated by the philosopher him- or herself.
Integration is impossible without a principle. A systematic connection can
only be shown or established with reference to a manner or rule of correlation
100 Self and the Absolute
which, however, if there is to be integration, cannot be the additive listing of
insights or facts. The search for a principle that guides radical inquiry and
simultaneously makes integration possible necessarily creates the danger for
philosophy to stay below the level of the problem through which it itself is
defined. For the clearer the principle can be formulated and the safer it permits
the dissolution of unfounded beliefs, the more will it also be suited to giving
simple explanations for complex facts and to gaining the integration of secured
insights from the reduction to simple elements that they have in comlllon.
Thus, the force of a theory seems to derive from whether its point of departure
is theoretically simple. And so one comes to understand why the history of
philosophy is almost exhausted by the series of returns to something simple that
was previously hidden and by the corresponding series of acts of "saving the
phenomena" in their true complexity, which, in order to match the reductions,
had to come from one's own radical inquiry. The principle formulated in the
beginning prevents us from taking philosophy as radical inquiry and the reduc-
tive force resulting from it for the whole of philosophy.
2. Philosophy is natural to the human being. This does not mean that
each human being has a philosophy, thus a manner of questioning things rad-
ically and of viewing the world as a whole. Rather, it means that the human
being knows that such questioning and thinking is possible, that it occurs
spontaneously, and that it can only be suppressed by timidity and the habit
associated with timidity. However, such thinking occurs in attempts that out-
line themselves like traces of insight and then expire. A single word, spoken
from long reflection and in sudden heightened awareness, can seem to provide
perfect clarity regarding everything that is. But there are many such words, and
what each of them expresses opens up a perspective that closes or excludes
others in order to obtain its own clarity. Clarity that is filomentary seems also
to be partial. To be sure, from an insight that reveals itself in a given moment,
a philosophy can be extrapolated-but not one that holds up at all times. Only
the latter would be integration. Thus the human being, which by nature is not
only intent on insight but also achieves it, knows that each philosophy that
binds him or her also takes him or her over-even if it is his or her own phi-
losophy. There is always something insightful to be maintained against such a
3. It may well be a law under which natural intelligence as such stands,
that the clarity of original insight has a maximum of extension that cannot be
brought to coincide with the domain of what is intelligible. But there is also a
different reason for assuming that natural thinking originates with partial
insight: philosophy not only justifies and interprets reality; it is at the same
time an interpretation of the thinking being itself. In such thinking, the thinking
being localizes his or her life-whether and how this life is essential or
ephemeral, whether and how to bring it ultimately to an affmnative or negative
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 101
relation to itself and the world, or whether merely to spend it in indifferent
pursuits. Everyone knows that world formulas, which are associated with such
self-localizations, suggest themselves in many ways in the phases and experi-
ences of self-conscious life. And because of them, one can say that each life is
not only a factical course of events but an interpretive history. Not the trace of
insight that comes up last but the sum of the answers to everything thought and
experienced in earnest can be more than mere termination and ending, can be a
conclusion of this interpretive history. And only in such an interpretive history
is a life able to accumulate human experiences. Therefore the sum total cannot
be the simple extrapolation of momentary insight.
Philosophy as a discipline must give language and the possibility of jus-
tified understanding to the thinking life, which can only be unobstructed and
complete as such a course of life and in such an entirety. Therefore, each
attempt to comprehend the world in which the course of life takes place must
elaborate a form that permits to preserve in it all traces of insight that originate
in the course itself. Such an attempt must not and cannot simply confinn those
insights, but it must and can comprehend its occurrences and relate to them as
a whole. This is also the minimal condition for the possibility that disciplinary
philosophy is accepted or even considered in conscious life as that life's sum
total. Forms of radical inquiry are easily accepted, but only as means of acquir-
ing knowledge, as instruments of critique, or even in order to seem to prevail
when justification is needed. But if they close off the space for comprehending
the course of life, which always extrapolates traces of insight, if they even
want to replace this understanding through the ordered learning of their meth-
ods, then the one who considers them has to choose between self-deformation
and unyielding reservation against thein. The latter is the most efficient form of
theoretical resistance on the part of those who do not succeed in explicit theo-
retical justification.
4. One can call theories "linear" that are constructed from a set of axioms
that is organized around a simple basic principle and that are meant to be
exhaustive for their respective domain. It cannot be excluded that a compre-
hensive philosophical theory of this structure might also prove adequate for an
understanding of life. But that is improbable to a high degree. Linear theories
were of historical significance as methods and results of radical inquiry. By
contrast the theories designed to save the phenomena and to preserve the space
for self-conscious life in philosophy were multidimensional. Their basic his-
torically effective pattern was designed by Plato and was translated by Leibniz
and Kant into the philosophical present. Theories of that type are based on the
conviction, which is also expressed in the biographies of their founders, that
philosophical truth can only be obtained if multiple insights are maintained
and established, each of which having their own origins and justifications.
Thus, they respond not only to the failure that results from the fact that radical
102 if the Absolute
inquiry remained without answer, but also to a failure of an entirely different
kind that results when a choice between equally unrelinquishable insights
seems unavoidable. Therefore, those multidimensional theories are already by
their very design in harmony with the experiences of conscious life, which
cannot understand itself in the liberating but limited perspective of a single
insight through which a momentary glimpse in its ground is achieved, but
which knows itself to be bound to and oriented toward a sum of conflicting ten-
dencies of life and positions of consciousness.
In recent generations, the history of philosophical theories was domi-
nated by new forms of radical inquiry. The previous period had seen systems
being advanced that sought to bring the conscious life of human beings in all its
forms into harmony with a philosophical interpretation of the world and had
achieved its pinnacle in Hegel. Hegel was succeeded by theories of a totally dif-
ferent kind, which undertook to explain the conscious life of human beings
from processes that were hidden to them, such that the radical nature of their
inquiry first had to turn against the self-interpretations of human beings. The
new theories explained these interpretations from the conditions of reproduction
in society and from the manner of the repression of its natural impulses. They
shaped a kind of rationality that results from the repudiation of any theory that
could think the tendencies of the life of human beings in the perspective of their
own intentions. And they seemed to be in harmony with the emergence of the
natural sciences, which had done away with the central position of the earth and
subsequently with that of human perception. The latter had been achieved by
bringing the human being's own life into the same distance to itself into which
it had previously been brought with respect to the material universe. Over the
past fifty years this type of rationality has established itself in the formation of
scientific theories about the determinants of conscious life. Procedures have
been developed that are designed to elevate the scientific distance of human
beings to themselves beyond the status of illuminating hypotheses. With respect
to mathematics, computer science, behavioral psychology, and linguistics, phi-
losophy has either incorporated or independently anticipated motives of this
procedure in its own theory construction. Only in this way could linguistic
analysis and an entirely new fonn of philosophical materialism achieve valid-
ity as theories that many believe will find lasting solutions to all legitimate
questions of philosophy.
5. Early on, this tendency had been met by its natural counterpart,
finally and most effectively in the various forms of existential philosophy.
The latter joined the quest for the roots of the self-interpretations of the
human beings but resisted the reductive conclusions to which theories that are
conceived in a linear manner come down in the end. Reduction is not yet
brought about by a recourse to what is simple. For the latter could still be
developed to some high level of differentiation. Rather, reduction follows
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 103
from the denial that the sum of understanding has as its necessary presuppo-
sition the recognition of countervailing starting points. And it is this type of
reduction that has become unavoidable with the departure from a multidi-
mensional structure of theory.
Existential philosophy is, however, essentially a corrective and not a
thinking capable of moving on its own, as evidenced most clearly by the fact
that it cannot achieve an integration in the form of a theory. To be sure, exis-
tential philosophy not only wants to show with convincing force the inner
movement of understanding in the lived existence of human beings in its true
nature; it also wants to establish and elucidate the connections out of which
such lived existence gains form and unity in its course. However, existential
philosophy lacks the possibility to establish a transparent connection between,
on the one hand, everything in which human experience achieves unity, and, on
the other hand, existential philosophy's own manner of analysis and commu-
nication. The theoretical tradition that emerged from Hegel was founded on the
discovery that the movement of consciousness and the structure of theory fol-
low basically the same formal principle. This discovery rendered it capable of
achieving genuine results concerning the experiential history of conscious-
ness-by following the latter's self-generation, rather than merely reporting
about it. By contrast, existential philosophy must proceed in a reporting manner
for reasons of a principal nature. It has always understood itself as phe-
nomenology and thus with regard to procedures that seem to pennit to grasp the
original modes of understanding of the lived life itself, even from this dis-
tance. But again and again it became clear that one could only achieve profound
analyses· by also borrowing from theories of a different origin, theories that
could accomplish what cannot be accomplished even with the most subtle
forms of descriptions, namely, to present a structure in which the implicit
understanding is able to articulate itself on its own. Yet according to the self-
understanding of existential philosophy and its historical role as a corrective,
such a procedure is not legitimate. What existential philosophy asserts in the
age of reductive theories can only receive its due if the basic philosophical
theory as such again releases a space in which this issue can enter and in vv'hich
the understanding proper to it can be unfolded and rediscovered. The insights
yielded by the theories of radical inquiry restrict such a theory to the expecta-
tion that the discovery of such an understanding would be accompanied by a
change in the traditional self-descriptions. But this change cannot amount to the
capitulation in front of any of those attempts to understand the human beings
that have arisen out of the reductive theories of the most recent history of the-
6. The view that the recent history of the sciences mandates a reductive
conception of reason is unfounded. Strategies of universal science are never
more convincing than during the period in which they are still programs emerg-
104 Self and the Absolute
ing from radical inquiry. Our century has witnessed their failure as much as the
time of their formulation. This failure is most instructive not where the pro-
grams cannot be executed, as in the case of behaviorism or, as will be still
demonstrated, the thesis about the linguistic immanence of all understanding,
but where their impossibility itself becomes a provable theorem of some basic
theory, as is the case with the limitative theorems of proof theory in mathe-
matics. Philosophy has yet to reach this theoretical situation that is fundamen-
tal for all formal sciences.
7. There is little reason to think that a theory concerning understanding
and the history of consciousness is confined to the perspective of its integra-
tion in a naturalist universal science-at least much less so than in the case of
mathematics at the beginning of the century, which was expected to be capa-
ble of a universal foundation free of contradictions. A theory of understand-
ing is necessarily self-reflecting, in a manner yet to be further determined,
since to its domain also belongs the construction of theory. The results of the
limitative theorems for the formal theories are to be expected a fortiori in this
domain. It would be foolish to ignore the heightened force for discovery and
conviction that naturalism has achieved, but it would only be an act of accom.-
modation and a lack of reflection to tum naturalism into the major premise for
each theoretical program that thematizes conscious life. Unlike the theory
of material processes, our understanding regarding conscious life still remains
in the state in which physics found itself before Aristotle. There is not even a
worldwide collection of evidence, not to mention the lacking correlation of
facts and positions with respect to some far-reaching insight. Whatever we
can contribute to it today must be done knowing that even if such a theory
could be considered a research program, it could only result in a complete
basic theory after centuries of work. Moreover in it, too, one would have to
expect limitative theorems. To think toward a whole and yet ignore the situ-
ation in which such thinking is done and, as concerns conscious life, done so
necessarily, is to attract ridicule in the sense defined by Plato. Thus a theory
that leaves and opens up space for the appropriation of conscious life is
demanded not only for the sake of this life but also for the sake of the ratio-
nality of the theory itself.
In sum, then, the following is to be expected from a theory with which
conscious life can be in free harmony under conditions of the present age: that
it is not set up in a linear manner but admits contrary positions of insight within
it; that it permits to comprehend the history of the course of conscious life
from the latter's own points of view as a unitary structure; that it does not
close itself off in its very design against the insights of radical inquiry and the
prospect of scientific theory, while not making itself dependent on either of
those. The following sketch will unfold itself in the field designated by these
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 105
8. The possibilities of humans"are not exhausted by our capacity for
rationality. However, if one is looking for a conceptual form in which these
forms of understanding disclose themselves in a unified structure, then it is
legitimate and i!}dicated to take as one's point of departure the most simple
forms of understanding capable of yielding truth. For those forms are not to be
overlooked, much less eliminated, in any understanding, no matter in what the
latter is grounded or to what it extends. It is not possible to fall below the level
of structural differentiation that pertains to them. And everything that can be
attached to them or derived intelligibly from them in a totality of understanding
can be considered thereby validated. This is the viewpoint under which a form
of analysis that is called "transcendental" was established and still remains the
most intelligible foundational procedure, to the extent that philosophy is capa-
ble of such a foundation in the first place. This form of analysis takes its ori-
entation from the simple statement in the form of the subject-object proposition
and the conditions of its meaningful use.
The argument advanced against such a procedure, which is supposed to
render all foundationalism impossible; runs like thus: Linguistic practices are
learned, and they are dependent in their meaning on the learned conditions of
use; each form of linguistic expression, even the one that appears to be the
most foundational, must therefore be considered to be variable and be viewed
as only relatively central within a context of linguistic meaning that is actually
in use.
This argument has to be countered by the consideration that transcen-
dental analysis does not claim to disclose eternal laws. It discovers a func-
tional connection among intellectual accomplishments regarding which it is
not to be seen how they could be employed independent of each other. Only
when the connection has been made visible, can it be judged whether it is
meaningful to assume that in its place another connection could be in use, a
connection that is equivalent to the one that constitutes the basic conditions of
our understanding or corresponds to it in some manner. In any case, there is a
difference to be made between alternatives to the most simple forms of under-
standing and the relativity with respect to human cultures. In order to under-
stand this difference, even in order to be able to perceive at all, it is indispens-
able to take one's point of departure from the orientation toward the structure
implied in the most simple form of understanding. Given these cautionary
measures, it, therefore, remains legitimate to set out a basic relation in the
understanding of the world.
9. Kant was right in founding his philosophy on the fundamental con-
nection between the use of propositions that take the subject-predicate form and
the possibility of self-consciousness. Everything that becomes intelligible for
106 Self and the Absolute
transcendental analysis in the basic relation has to be viewed as established by
the joining of these two. First of all, this relation has to be understood in a
double sense.
a. If the proposition of the elementary form is a statement about things or
events, then the latter are designated in the position of the subject of the propo-
sition as determined individuals. Since they must be distinguishable from other
individuals, they are addressed under the presumption of their identity. To the
extent that this identity must be such that it can be guaranteed, it is presupposed
that a procedure is available through the use of which one thing can be distin-
guished from another of the same kind. And this in turn presupposes that it is
possible to exhibit one individual as distinct from another individual. Therefore,
the simple propositional form presupposes the availability of indicating func-
tions such as "this," "here" and "now," and of functions that introduce indica-
tions, the most important of which is the selective function "another" or (for
pairs) "the other." But indicating functions presuppose mastery of the use of the
first person singular. It is a commonly known fact that "this" does not indicate
anything if it is unknown from which standpoint the indication occurs. Yet to
indicate one's standpoint and to designate oneself as the holder of a particular
standpoint means to employ the personal pronoun of the first-person singular,
b. If the elementary proposition of the subject-predicate form does not
concern individuals but states of affairs of any kind, that is, abstract states of
affairs, then the joining of this form with the possibility of self-consciousness
shows itself in a different manner: propositional form includes the possibility of
propositional assertion. Yet the latter is founded on the possibility ofjustifying
the assertion or of withdrawing it in the case of its being unfounded. This pos-
sibility in tum includes that the person who asserts something is able to relate
not only to the proposition but also to his or her state of belief independent of
the assertion. The latter occurs if one knows or believes that a proposition
seems or seemed to be true, and hence could be asserted and justified. Propo-
sitions of the form "it seems ..." are thus propositions that imply self-con-
sciousness. For if someone knows that something appears to "him" or "her,"
then the person in question knows it of him- or herself.
10. Now who is the one who has self-consciousness of him- or herself?
This question seems just as natural as the impression that there is only one
natural answer to be given to it. And yet this answer leads to obvious reduc-
tions; but every other answer leads into the most serious complications.
The natural answer seems to be that self-consciousness is possessed by
the person who employs language in a particular place and at a particular time.
By means of the fITst person singular that person is supposed to refer to him- or
herself and to his or her own linguistic expression. This answer seems com-
pelling in the case of indexical accomplishments. The indexicals fix positions in
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 107
space and time, and "I" itself is such an indexical. Thus, it seems to follow that
only that which essentially lives in places and at moments and expresses itself
is in the possession of as well as an addressee of self-consciousness.
What seems so natural in this argument, however, evaporates when one
turns to consider the second and more general case of propositions of the form
"it seems." He or she to whom something seems to be the case is defined by the
entire context of the history of his or her beliefs and his or. her successful or
failed justifications. It is entirely inevitable to assume that all true and erroneous
beliefs, insofar as they are related to each other independent of communication,
constitute a context that is just as unequivocally distinct from possible other
contexts as one person is from another person. To that extent someone who pre-
serves him- or herself across the stages of his or her history of beliefs has a
peculiar fonn of identity independent of all spatiotemporal identification. This
makes it necessary to speak of the subject correlated to the person.
We are originally both of these, person and subject, and we are the one
only insofar as we are the other. For no being is to be addressed as a person who
does not at least have a history of belief. We refer to ourselves as person, inso-
far as we address ourselves as one among other individual beings, capable of
indexicalization in connection with the use of the propositional form and thus to
be fixed in each and every case to a position in space and time. We refer to our-
selves as subjects in so far as we know that our state of belief is in each case
related to other such states, and in so far as we view in the unifying connection
of such states the addressee of the pronoun "me," through which each propo-
sition of the form "it seems" is constituted.
As regards the linguistic expression for self-consciousness, the "I," the
twofold meaning of identity associated with it can be marked thus: the first-
person singular singles out its user according to his or her identity in a twofold
way-as person among persons, insofar as the "I" is directly correlated to the
"he," "she," or "you," and as subject among an entities and states of affairs
together, insofar as "I" is directly correlated to the "it" of the third-person
neuter. We understand ourselves equally originally as one among others and as
the one over and against the entire world.
11. Furthermore, one can see that the evidence based on indexical func-
tions is in an essential regard subordinated to the other evidence that comes
about in states of belief. To be sure, one can report by means of indexicals
quite immediately about objects and events. But once the reliability of such
reports is questioned, another chain of justification sets in, different from the
one that arises from the fact that the meaning of a proposition can be tied to the
possibility of the observation of its object. That first chain leads to the fixing of
an entity among others by means of indexicals. But it must be asked also,
What excludes the possibility that basic observations are only thought to be so?
It is a matter of principle that someone whose certainty in observation is under
108 Self and the Absolute
question cannot speak about him- or herself only under conditions that in tum
require observations. If that were possible, then the meaning of the use of the
first person would depend on the possibility of self-observation. However, the
inverse is the case. Observation presupposes that the indexical function can
be applied successfully, which function in turn is organized from the perspec-
tive of the fITst person and, therefore, presupposes that the successful use of the
latter is possible at all times. Everyone who is an observer in the first place must
already be able to arrive at propositions about him- or herself independent of
sorting him- or herself as a person among other persons according to his or her
personal identity. The reliability of the observer can only be judged with respect
to the truth of such propositions. In such propositions a subject attributes to
itself absolutely a state without any possibility of intersubjective control or
observation. And the purest case of such propositions with self-ascriptions are
propositions concerning one's own states of belief. If someone reports that it
"seems to him or her" that something is such and such, then the person in
question cannot be expected to check the truth value of this proposition. Many
propositions concerning other states of one's own have that status as well.
Whatever is known in such propositions, is known as a state of the one who
knows. In such propositions one establishes oneself over and against everything
that is not oneself, thus in and against a world, not only the social world-
one establishes oneself as a subject.
It is important to realize that knowledge concerning states of belief is not
immediate in any of the meanings of immediacy that have played a role in the
history of epistemology. It is based on a distinction made by reflection, is thus
neither simple nor intuitive; and it does not connect a state in which the subject
finds itself with a propositional fonn suitable for communication in the manner
in which knowledge can find spontaneous expression in a well-formulated
proposition. What is immediate in the knowledge in question, in the sense that
it cannot be mediated through a discriminating capacity, is the recognition that
the state of belief is the state of the very being that has knowledge of it. Only
the addressee of the ascription, not that which is to be ascribed, can count as
direct and as in principle infallible. In it the sense of identity of the subject is
constituted and with that the center of all ascription in general, be it to a person
or to some other singular entity in the world. The unity of the world is first con-
stituted as the unity of all that cannot be attributed to the subject itself in the
immediacy just described.
Accordingly, there is a sense in which an original, irreducible correlation
exists between self-consciousness and the unity of the world. But it would be
wrong to reduce self-consciousness to a relational position within this correla-
tion. For the correlation as a whole gains its fonn from the possibility of self-
consciousness, thus rendering the latter foundational in a theoretically signifi-
cant sense. This does not mean that what is posited with the possibility of
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 109
self-consciousness brings the world as such into existence. It means on the
contrary that self-consciousness can only come about together with the emer-
gence of the world as such. 1'he basic functions that constitute a world of enti-
ties distinct from the subject out of the latter's sense of identity are necessary
presuppositions for the possibility of self-ascription as such. For the "me" in the
certainty of the ascription of beliefs has meaning only by contrast to this sense
of identity. Still the identity of the subject in its history of beliefs is the central
point with respect to which the identity functions in thinking about the world
can first come into use. For this reason the correlates in the subject-world cor-
relation are not of equal value but in a state of principal inlbalance. If one does
not preserve exactly the peculiar sense of this imbalance in favor of self-con-
sciousness, one necessarily loses sight of the only suitable foundation for one's
understanding of knowledge and also of the worldliness of human existence.
Philosophical anthropology is full of doctrines about the relation between the
human being and the world that fall short already in their basic conception
because neither their conceptual form nor their explications regarding the ten-
dencies of human life are adequate for articulating the self-understanding of
conscious life. The alternative between the pure world-immanence of con-
scious life, on the one hand, and the constitution of the world through con-
sciousness, on the other hand, is short-circuited on both sides. But the related
deficiencies cannot be remedied through the assertion of a simple correlation
between world and consciousness. Nothing revealing can be obtained from
such a simple correlation regarding the proper dynamics of the self-under-
standing of the human being.
12. The immediacy in the ascription of states of belief is connected with
a peculiarity of self-consciousness that renders unique its central position as
anchoring point of the cognitive relation to the world and also leads to far-
reaching philosophical conclusions.
Each property that a person attributes to him- or herself as a person, hence
as one of the entities of the world, is such that, as a matter of principle, it can
never be ruled out that the property in question might not pertain to the person in
question. The person could lack that property as a matter of fact, and it could be
the case that the property is attributed to that person unjustifiably. Considering
the world as the sum total of states of affairs regarding entities and events, it can
be said that for each person and regarding each proposition about him or her, in
principle the question can arise whether such a person exists in the real world.
And even if it is beyond doubt that the world in which the person who has such
and such properties exists is real, it still can become questionable in a principal
manner for each subject whether it itself is this person. One can make this point
intelligible by reminding oneself of the facts of amnesia and illnesses involving
self-illusion and projection. Yet facts like these are also only possible on the
basis of the principal possibility of each person to put some distance between
110 Self and the Absolute
oneself and one's knowledge of one's own personality. However, such distance
can be established and indeed is established on the basis of the person as subject.
Persons under amnesia are not in a coma but rather "with thenlselves," albeit
without knowing which citizen of the world they really are.
No corresponding distance can ever be established in the knowledge that
a person has of him- or herself insofar as he or she is a subject. Whoever
believes something at all about him- or herself, is thereby really related to
him- or herself as something real, even if everything that he or she believes is
exhausted by the belief not to know anything regarding him- or herself. What-
ever the belief may be and whatever its truth value may be, it is entirely beyond
question that it is a belief regarding himself or herself. If I am in doubt (regard-
less whether rightly or wrongly so) whether I am correctly characterized by a
certain property, then this doubt is already a doubt with reference to myself,
considering the sense in which it can be formulated at all. And in this lies in
turn the fact that the relation to myself could not and may not be established
through a description of whatever kind. To be sure, even as a subject I also nec-
essarily know about myself as a person, and am therefore capable of addressing
myself under this description. But the latter results from the fact that I know of
myself, that therefore I am subject, that hence I can distinguish myself from a
world and thus also localize myself as a being of the world in this world. The
irreducible sense of personhood is available directly on the basis of the sense of
subjectivity. But the sense of subjectivity does not seize the reality of that with
which it is concerned under the description of its personality.
From this follows inversely: a world is as yet incompletely determined as
regards "real" and "not real," if the question can be asked regarding it and the
persons in it whether a given being capable of self-characterization is this per-
son or not. The completeness of a world is first made possible and guaranteed
by the fact that someone can address hin1- or herself in it as him- or herself. And
for every being capable of self-ascription it can be said that for it the reality of
the world is determined by the fact that it relates itself to itself in it, which in
tum is the presupposition for the fact that the being in question can comprehend
him- or herself by means of the properties of a certain person as this very per-
son-regardless of whether this occurs rightly or wrongly so. The property of
the world according to which individual beings with their self-ascriptions exist
in it is not part of the description of this world; neither is the fact that the indi-
vidual beings themselves are capable of self-relation without the mediation of
self-characterization. It is only through this relation that they are subjects and
thus capable of being persons in the real world. And the reality of the world
over and against the concepts of the world, which could also be concepts of
what is merely possible, is defined through this very relation. Already Leibniz
explained the reality of the world by way of its completeness. The reality of the
world, however, is not grounded in the completeness of its description but
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 111
rather in that which has to be called the actualization of the world by means of
the self-relation of the subjects in it. Such a formula sounds absurd only if it is
understood as a statement about the production of the world through beings that
in their entire existence are nonetheless dependent on the world. But there is no
talk about acts of production, which would always only have a determined
meaning in a particular world. Rather the issue concerns the modal-ontological
status of subjectivity in the determination of the meaning of reality.
Given this status, it follows that the knowledge I have of myself, insofar
as I refer to myself, is in essence "real knowledge." It is real knowledge in
the sense that it can only be knowledge of something real, but also in the more
important sense that it can only be a knowledge that is itself real: as knowledge
it has the property of only existing as something real. It is knowledge of the real
and reality itself, and both of them necessarily simultaneously. Although
Descartes was unable to formulate this peculiarity, it nevertheless entitled him
in the end to his theorem that self-consciousness holds a position that is not
comparable to anything else when it come to assuring oneself of what is real.
13. Faced with a fact of this kind, one must sense the inclination to evade
acknowledging its unique status. Among the important philosophical theories of
recent times, all kinds of strategies of avoidance are at one's disposition. Thus,
one can say that the "I" of the fITst person is only a sign that has to be examined
in connection with all other signs; that its function is that of an indexical that
refers to the user of signs as such. But indexicals are not only signals for third
persons. The possibility of a rule-governed use of signs must also be understood
from the perspective of the one who uses them. And its basic condition is that
the first person fixes the point of departure for all indexical reference. Alter-
natively, one can say "I" is an inner-linguistic expression, which can only be
elucidated through the learning of language in its entirety. That may be right,
but it is equally true that much belongs to the functioning of language that is not
exhausted by the rule-governed use of linguistic expressions, but rather partic-
ipates in the latter's constitution. If thinking is not possible outside of lan=
guage, then this does not mean that it consists of nothing but a manner of using
language. Much can belong to language that occurs only with language, while
not yet occurring in language. Thus, even if self-ascription is only possible by
way of the linguistic expression of the first person, this self-ascription can still
be the explanation for the fact that correct usage occurs.
Given the fundamental character of the subject emerging from the use of
the first person, it also follows that it is impossible to think of an alternative to
it, or even only to assume the specific possibility of such an alternative-one's
consciousness of the relativity of its linguistic form notwithstanding. There
can be all kinds of variations in the linguistic means of expressions for self-
ascription, and it is even possible to think that linguistic communities exist in
which they are missing entirely. But we still have to assume that these lan-
112 Self and the Absolute
guages, to the extent that they are at all related to the world, function by means
of anchoring points that already contain the possibility for unfolding some-
thing that corresponds to the form of the first person. A way of relating to the
world for which that would not hold would not only be totally different from
ours but could not even be described as a relation to world and reality.
14. Once some ultimate stratum has been reached, the following ques-
tions always arise: Is it simple or complex? Is it only to be ascertained or also to
be analyzed? In philosophy these questions have a highly significant prehistory.
Yet there is hardly another theoretical situation in philosophy that causes as
much embarrassment as the one that has arisen now. For certainly self-con-
sciousness is not like a quale or a point-not even considering that simples of
such a kind are still simple with respect to a spectrum or a dimension. It is
unavoidable to attribute to self-consciousness an internal structure. For each
ascription requires a distinction between the concept of the kind of state that is
being ascribed and that to which the ascription is being made. Moreover, in the
case of self-ascription the subject targeted by the ascription cannot possibly be
indifferent with regard to the distinction between image, fiction, and entity in
the world. In the actual use of the first person, someone real is necessarily not
only intended but also reached. That is the case even if the ascription as such
fails. And for this reason it has to be conceded unconditionally that in self-
ascription the one who self-ascribes is also cointended as the one who ascribes.
For only the latter kind of ascription possesses that characteristic immunity
against the difference between belief and state of affairs, and thereby immunity
against failure of reference concerning the identity of the one to whom ascrip-
tion is being made, which is to be found in self-consciousness, and specifi-
cally in the consciousness of him- or herself on the part of the one who has con-
sciousness of him- or herself. Thus, there are several components to be
distinguished in a nontrivial manner in the irreducible use of the first person in
the sense of subjectivity: that which is being ascribed; that to whom the ascrip-
tion is being made; and the one who does the ascribing, the latter being identi-
cal with the one to whom the ascription is being made.
It should be clear that the task of penetrating deeper into the complica-
tions involved in this state of affairs is of the utmost interest. One here has to
steer against the danger of letting the conditions of the use of the first-person
singular grow to a degree of complexity that makes its spontaneous use in spo-
ken language entirely unintelligible. But this danger cannot be avoided by buy-
ing into the notion that the first person is to be reduced to automatic use of signs
or to some entirely unstructured datum. Whatever is being said about the con-
stitution of self-consciousness must be said with the greatest degree of cir-
cumspection regarding those opposite dangers.
Yet there are further and more fundamental difficulties to be encoun-
tered by the analysis of self-consciousness and the basic meaning of such a pro-
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 113
gram. Once the structured nature of self-consciousness is granted, an even
more important question arises with respect to each analytic attempt further to
characterize its structure, namely, the question what to expect from such an
analysis in the first place. The procedure of showing relations of mutual impli-
cation is the most familiar model for an analysis of complex entities that have
elements that are dependent on their occurrence in those entities. It can be
called "analysis of factors." But this procedure is entirely inappropriate for the
proper elucidation of self-consciousness. For it presupposes that single fac-
tors can be thematized in such a way that it becomes clear why they cannot
function without others, which others in turn can be addressed in the same
manner. Applied to the case of self-consciousness, this type of analysis would
require naming the factors in it, showing their mutual implications, and making
intelligible from this relation of what self-consciousness consists. But the fun-
damental character of self-ascription excludes designating anyone of its factors
that is not already characterized by an ascription that is self-ascription. Self-
ascription is fundamental exactly because there is no factor through which the
factors of ascription that are not factors of self-ascription could be brought
into the context of self-ascription. If such a factor were to be found, it would
have to be that which constitutes the state of affairs "self' in self-ascription. But
since such a "self' cannot exist independent of self-ascription, such a factor, if
it were to be found, would again coincide with the internally complex totality of
Another way to explain this matter is to imagine that a case of self-rela-
tion and a case of self-ascription were present in front of us like an objective
fact. After all, self-relations are frequently to be encountered in the material
world, and their concept is indispensable in the latter's description. Yet no one
is able to bring forth originally the knowledge of oneself-his or her self-con-
sciousness-by applying the knowledge of such self-relations that is at his or
her disposition. For self-consciousness is distinct frOITI the existence of a self-
relation by the fact that the one who stands in the relation and the one for
which it exists are not distinct from one another. If I had not already the possi-
bility to relate to Inyself, then no amount of study of any self-relations in the
world, even if the latter were ones that are my own (judged from the perspective
of some third person), would lead me to a conclusion to the effect that I exist
and that I find myself essentially in such a relation. To be sure, the "I" includes
that the reflexive pronoun "self' can be used. But there is no way to gain from
the reflexive pronoun the corresponding form in the first person.
If I assume of others that they have self-consciousness, then all I mean is
that they have for themselves the capability that I possess myself and of which
I know, in so far as I am capable of self-ascription. This is the reason why I can-
not gain originally the possibility of self-ascription from the fact that a person
in the world ascribes properties to him- ,or herself. I can only understand what
114 Self and the Absolute
it means that the person in question knows something regarding him- or herself
as him- or herself, if I am in the corresponding relation with respect to myself
and if I exist as this relation, that is, as subject. I have to arrive spontaneously at
the meaningful use of the "I" and thus at self-consciousness. Otherwise each
self-ascription in the world would remain for me an objective state of affairs
just like self-motion and self-destruction. I would not even know what the
application of such a relation to "myself' would mean. Perhaps the possibility
of self-ascription might occur to me originally and spontaneously on the occa-
sion of an inquiry concerning myself. But given the fact that this self-ascription
represents the anchor point in the entire constitution of our relation to the
world, this cannot count as a likely hypothesis. For structural reasons, rela-
tion to the world and self-relation have to come into existence cooriginally. But
the intelligibility of an inquiry concerning someone and thus also concerning
"myself' already presupposes the establishing of a relation to the world. To that
extent, the previously asked question whether someone could arrive at self-
consciousness by applying a self-relation observed by him or her to him- or her-
self, is from the beginning an invitation to a thought experiment that has to fail.
When applying this result to the situation in which the analysis of the fac-
tors of self-consciousness finds itself, it follows that in self-consciousness each
of the factors to be exhibited in it already stands under the condition of being
modified in the meaning that it has through the irreducible meaning of the
quite specific sense of "self' that functions in the use of the "I." To predicate
with respect to oneself is not a predication with respect to a quite peculiar
object but an autonomous and irreducible, thus original manner of predica-
tion. As a manner of predication, it is a factor within self-consciousness; but as
self-ascription it can only be grasped under the presupposition of self-con-
sciousness as a whole. Furthennore, the one with regard to whom self-ascrip-
tion is being known is not someone who becomes a subject by means of some
peculiar kind of predication; rather the being in question is none other than
the one who can only be known that way.
15. It might suggest itself and initially seem hardly avoidable to give a
contradictory form to these statements. If one wants to avoid such contradiction,
but has also convinced oneself that it is not permissible semantically to trivial-
ize the first person by turning its fundamental position into a peculiar role in the
linguistic apparatus of reference, then the conjecture might arise that language
itself goes wrong when suggesting that there is no way to avoid talk about
self-consciousness: as though language in its unavoidable forms of articulation
had become the victim of some theoretically misguided culture; as though lan-
guage were up for revision. But this proposal for a solution again would set
aside the insights according to which self-ascription holds a fundamental posi-
tion in the articulation and form of the relation to the world in its entirety. If the
latter is obsolete in the sense of even only permitting t h ~ ~   l ~ ~ ~ ~ t i   l l   f _
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 115
replacing it, then the entire understanding of a world of real entities is obsolete
as well. But there is no possibility of claiming the variability of the world in
such a way that the claim in question is provable. And thus there is no domain
of articulation with respect to which such a revision could be articulated. In giv-
ing up self-ascription, all ascription in general loses its ground entirely.
Thus, it is necessary to assume both of these: that self-consciousness is
internally c0111plex, and that the complex structure cannot be dissolved by us or
understood in its internal constitution. To the extent that self-ascription is com-
plex, it must be possible to understand it as differentiated at least with regard to
all the moments that constitute ascription as such. But this description is nec-
essarily only an approximation. It takes place under the condition, and must also
be viewed as modified under the condition that the peculiar meaning of the fIrst
person and the self-ascription regulating its use have already been understood.
Many thinkers of the philosophical tradition were inclined to view self-con-
sciousness as a form that is transparent by itself and that even becomes real all
by itself. Yet while self-ascription possesses the very fundamental character that
also would have to be assumed for a self-explaining epistemic act, the manner
in which we have to posit self-ascription with regard to its form and genesis is
entirely opposed to a reality that explains and interprets itself. The fact that the
meaning of reality as such can only be well-determined on the basis of self-
ascription, does not mean that reality emerges from self-ascription; rather it
means that self-ascription is such that nothing can be addressed as real with
regard to which self-ascription has not also taken place spontaneously. And the
fact that self-ascription is one of the most important conditions of the possibil-
ity of acting does not mean that self-ascription in turn could be understood
from acting or as action.
16. In philosophical analysis self-consciousness shows a characteristic
double position: on the one hand, in its functioning in the context of the cog-
nitive relation that the self-conscious human being has to the world; on the
other hand, in the internal constitution of the knowledge one has of oneself.
And in both regards self-consciousness gives rise to quite fundamental prob-
lems. The cognitive relation to the world has a constitution that makes it
unavoidable to attribute to it the role of a structuring principle, in spite of all
protests from theories that would like to demote self-consciousness to a special
problem without particular urgency in the understanding of language and social
interaction. It is from self-consciousness that the referential apparatus for the
cognitive relation to individual objects-the things and events in the world-
gains its peculiar constitution. But self-consciousness is also the principle from
116 Self and the Absolute
which the sense of reality regarding the world as a whole has to be defined. This
peculiarity of self-consciousness-that in its capacity of intending the real it is
already established as something real-distinguishes it radically from all other
truth claims, which cannot guarantee their reality through their occurrence.
And this peculiarity of self-consciousness is related to its other peculiar position
in a manner hitherto entirely unelucidated and unnoticed. For it is not possible
to describe the internal constitution of self-consciousness other than by way of
an approximation which, in principle, cannot be transposed into a direct and
complete elucidation of its structural constitution.
Peculiarities such as these confront philosophy with a basic problem
even when, and exactly when, philosophy can gain insight into the nature of
these particularities only together with the insight that they resist direct analy-
sis. To be sure, problem solving by means of analysis is an important procedure
that leads to philosophical insight. But to reach the insight in one's under-
standing of a problematic situation that ultimate states of affairs pertaining to
knowledge and conscious life have been reached does not mean that thinking
and questioning as such have come to their end. For then a task of an entirely
different kind presents itself-that of localizing what is ultimate, and not only
the ultimate that can be known in revealing analysis but now as well the ulti-
mate that it is reasonable to assume. To be sure, the self-reflection of con-
scious life that bears the name "philosophy" indeed must rest on the analysis of
what is given as fundamental and must aim at that first. But beyond that, phi-
losophy has the equally essential and in a well-determined sense even more dig-
nified task to follow up and elaborate on the entire area of thoughts that are pos-
sible or even necessary for self-conscious life in the face of the ultimate nature
of its own reality, and to find and justify the most comprehensive and the most
adequate among those thoughts. Thoughts of this kind first justify employing
the word "philosophy" in the sense in which it can then be said of a con-
sciously lived life that it always has a philosophy.
But such a philosophy, one which is appropriated in conscious life, must
be something else than only an answer given by philosophical theory to theo-
retical problems. If it were the latter, then it could only be taught, could only be
understood to be true as a doctrine and taken over from instruction. It would not
arise from questions that conscious life poses regarding itself, independent of all
theoretical efforts, and would not be able to answer those questions directly. A
thinking that takes up the problems posed by the peculiarities of self-con-
sciousness can simultaneously relate to the questions and experiences that orig-
inate in conscious life as such only if its theoretical problems have something
directly corresponding to them in the pretheoretical reflection of conscious
life about itself. To be sure, it is not to be expected that all problems that gain
fundamental significance for a theory of self-consciousness also arise in the
reality of conscious life and show effects in it without being thematized by
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 117
explicit theory. But self-consciousness and the functioning of self-conscious-
ness have a fundamental position in the consciousness of reality in its entirety,
and self-consciousness is, moreover, one of the necessary presuppositions for a
questioning relation to oneself. Thus, there is reason to assume that the prob-
lems that the theoretician discovers in the state of affairs of self-conscious-
ness are not entirely removed from actual self-consciousness. If philosophy
intends to reach the actual self-understanding of conscious life and to com-
prehend its dynamics, then it must be able to orient itself in its own problems in
such a manner that its constellation of problems converges in one way or
another with the problem that conscious life becomes to itself on its own.
Two ways of such a convergence have to be distinguished from each
other. In actual self-consciousness peculiarities of its position in the basic rela-
tion to the world can become conscious, which as such are also points of depar-
ture for theory. Questions can arise regarding the self- and world-orientation on
the part of actual self-consciousness on the basis of properties of self-con-
sciousness' which as such do not become clear in the actual life of conscious-
ness and only constitute problematic issues for theory. When applying these
considerations to what has previously been established about self-conscious-
ness, several points become visible at which self-consciousness becomes the
topic of a question that arises out of its own constitution. Here they can only be
named. To pursue them would mean to enter into an analysis of conscious life
that distinguishes itself from existential philosophy by its theoretical orientation
and from the idealist philosophy of the history of consciousness by a theoreti-
cally tenable concept of self-consciousness.
17. Self-consciousness as such necessarily knows the tension that exists
between the subject and its history of experience, on the one hand, and the
individual being of the person and its path in the material world, on the other
hand. Self-conscious life must understand itself equally originally as both of
these. But for this very reason none of the two, neither person nor subject, can
subsume the other entirely. The human being realizes him- or herself in every-
thing that is essential to him- or herself out of the tension between the two
perspectives that together structure his or her life in his or her world. One can
see that neither action (understood not as simple realization of ends but as life
in spaciously arranged plans of life) nor luck (as fulfillment of the entire con-
sciousness by the experience of a world that on the whole corresponds to it)
would be possible outside of the consciousness of this tension. But since the
conditions of being a person can never make intelligible what a subject is, and
since a subject as such can never understand the reality of the world out of
itself, conscious life takes place without being clear about its nature and its on-
gin, and thus with the latent question concerning them-a question which,
unlike the questions posed by worldly objects, arises without view and per-
spective toward a way in which an answer could be found.
118 Self and the Absolute
Self-consciousness as such is bound up necessarily with an understanding
of the meaning of reality, but again in at least a twofold manner: the relation to
the world concerns individuals, and the difference between what is only meant
and what has been verified is understood early on. Only in very few cases does
what is real in the world depend on the person/subject, and thus reality seems to
be understood entirely from the overwhelmingly univocal and impressive real-
ity of things and events in the world. But the world as such is real as well, and
it seems as though conscious life has in it not only the place of some entity that
·one could or could not encounter. Not to be determinable like a thing in the
world and according to the sense of reality that pertains to such things, is not
only the unreflected result of the self-centering of a life asserting itself but the
basic character of self-consciousness itself. And there is reason to attribute to
self-consciousness as such an implicit knowledge of this matter. But self-con-
sciousness knows equally well that it is a person and thus real as an entity in the
world. It can just as little overlook the contingency of its reality, as it can let
itself be defined through its contingency in a principal manner. Therefore, to
give but one instance, the death of conscious life can be accepted in clarity and
peace out of its necessity as a natural event, but it is not to be understood alto-
gether as a natural event entirely.
18. One cannot ascribe to self-consciousness as such a knowledge of the
difficulties of comprehending the form of its self-relation. Persons, however, do
not only know how to behave in a reflective manner in and with respect to
their environment, but also how to correct their own behavior. And while
reflection does not already presuppose the examination of one's beliefs and
actions with respect to their adequacy, it is but one single step to transpose
reflection into such a form. And reflecting for the purpose of orienting oneself
presupposes self-consciousness. Even if this self-relation does not become a
theoretical problem, it is affected by all the questions that come up in connec-
tion with the ambiguous relationship between subjectivity and personality. If
the self-centering subject were the proper reality of conscious life, then the
former could render this life in principle independent of the course of the
world. Inversely, if subjectivity were only a derivative property of personality,
then it would be tied up in the context of dependency that is to be observed in
all worldly things. Thus in its self-interpretation conscious life can neither rely
on its consciousness of only belonging to itself, nor can it understand its own
behavior as that of a worldly thing and, as it were, only let it be. When con-
scious life sets out to bring its thoughts regarding itself into a stable connection,
it must look for a conception that explains why both thoughts seem equally
imperative to it. And whatever the peculiar form of such a conception may
be-typically it is derived from one of the monotheistic religions-it will in any
case stand in a relation of formal correspondence to that which philosophy,
too, has to establish as the form of self-relation in  
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 119
the formal constitution of this self-relation is, it can only be described by
approximation-neither can it be explained from itself, nor can it be explained
in such a manner that its description as a self-relation could be radically
removed. For this description is already essential for the reflection about the
simplest form of the cognitive relation to the world. Yet self-sufficiency, in the
sense in which it would mean self-production, is already excluded by the fact
that self-consciousness can only occur as a reality but cannot be made to come
into reality. Thus self-consciousness, insofar as it is active in relation to itself,
must be described also as self-preservation, hence as an activity of relating to
itself that already presupposes the existence of that which is to be preserved and
the existence of the preserving activity. And, therefore, the whole of self-con-
sciousness and self-preservation must be viewed as a reality that is self-con-
tinuing but that in this continuation of itself does not exist by itself.
It was perhaps the most essential human accomplishment in modern
thinking to provide a self-interpretation of conscious life that took on the form
of a theory corresponding to life's own modes of understanding and that from
this theory gave a new horizon and new, albeit endangered, strength to the
self-assertion of self-consciousness.
Thus conscious life carries with it the origins of diametrically opposed
self-interpretations. Diametrically opposed are the existence of the person
among other worldly things and the subjectivity that distinguishes everything
else from it without the benefit of orientation in the world; the reality of things
that it encounters and the reality in which it knows itself to be prior to any
such encounter; the unfolding and variability of its acting solely from itself
and the consciousness of not even being grounded in itself in its own self-rela-
tion. The diametrical opposition of these equally legitimate aspects of itself
opens the dimension within conscious life in which the conflicts of its self-inter-
pretations unfold and in which they have to be brought into an internally unified
understanding of life and the course of life by means of essential experiences
and traces of insight. If it contains conflicts that are truly essential to life, and if
it is not possible to put them at a distance from the center of oneself and from
one's relation to oneself, as though they were only consequences of condi-
tions under which conscious life happens to stand, then they must have their ori-
gin in exactly this relation. And, furthermore, other realities that are essential for
human life in the sense so defined and that are therefore not to be placed at a
distance from it, must be able to appear and be understood in connection with
the possibilities of understanding that are disclosed immediately through the
constitution of the conscious self-relation. This holds especially for life's capa-
bility and its orientation toward the recognition of norms that relativize its
interests. And although that which would have to be called "motivation" in a
more narrow sense has not yet been articulated in the contrary tendencies of
conscious life toward self-interpretation, even the emotional and motivational
120 Self and the Absolute
side of its understanding and acting cannot be formed and understood without
connection to the basic forms of its self-consciousness. If one does not want to
understand the life of human beings in such a way that in the final analysis their
understanding reduces to ascertaining a merely factual course of events, and if,
in understanding the path of life and its "eccentric course" with respect to its
unity, one does not want to have to rely solely on one's impressions, then there
is not really any alternative to this approach. All that was to be shown here is
that there is the possibility of this approach and not how an interpretation of
conscious life with regard to its unity could be unfolded from it in concreto.
19. But the constitutive moments for such an understanding of conscious
life have not yet been rendered sufficiently clear. To be sure, the oppositional
character of the self-interpretation that suggests itself to self-consciousness as
such opens up the space for the movement of self-interpretation. But if the
domain in which the self-interpretations arise from the form of self-conscious-
ness is not also transcended, then it is yet not possible to reach the unitary
character of life's path by way of understanding its unity. From within that
domain, the origin and maybe even the correlations and sequences in the inter-
pretive dynamics of self-consciousness can be grasped. But this self-con-
sciousness knows itself to be among other things that are real and to have a real-
ity of its own kind. The more it becomes clear about the oppositional character
of its interpretive possibilities and of the senses of reality associated with them,
the less can it limit its understanding to itself and to the ways of self-relation
that are already instituted with its existence as self-consciousness. The question
arises for self-consciousness: What grounds its own reality in the totality of that
which is real in the twofold manner according to which it is both a being in the
world and also has original certainty regarding its reality? Thus, its question
concerns no longer only the one ground of its interpretive possibilities or the
sense of unity in the course of the history of its traces of insight with regard to
the interpretations of life. Rather, the question now concerns a conception of all
reality into which its own self-understanding, including the latter's inner oppo-
sitional character, could be inserted without reduction. This question corre-
sponds to the one that in the Western tradition of explicitly philosophical think-
ing gave rise to the name of one of its disciplines, namely, "metaphysics."
Through the oppositional character of its interpretations and the equivo-
cal character of its knowledge of reality, there arises in self-consciousness a
thought that is saturated by the experiences of its self-understanding as much as
by the failure of its self-understanding, namely, the thought of the darkness of
its very own existence. And from it that which is called "metaphysics" receives
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 121
its inevitable character and its significance for humanity. Both of those were not
only not contested by the greatest critic of metaphysics, Kant, but confirmed in
an entirely new manner. And it must be demanded of every contemporary ori-
entation regarding metaphysics that it place itself in relation to Kant's position.
For Kant metaphysics has its ground in the impossibility of making experi-
ence intelligible out of itself and in the need of rational life to assume thoughts
that are valid for all reality and that simultaneously confirm its most essential
20. The fact that one has to acknowledge a darkness in the primary under-
standing of reality on the part of conscious life in the latter's basic relation to
the world becomes more clear if, in addition to the disparate character of the
comprehension of reality, one also notices the difficulty of finding concepts
within the basic relation that describe the constitution of reality that is familiar
from self-consciousness. To be sure, the world of things in which the person
finds him- or herself is disclosed to conscious life from the very beginning
and therefore on its own ground beyond doubt. But if conscious life is moved to
reflection on different grounds, ones that lie in its experience of reality, then
even this world of self-consciousness can become resistant to understanding so
that we develop a consciousness of the darkness that lies in our natural under-
standing of the world. The natural world is the world of individual things.
Events are to be understood as the changes of their states. But individual things
are essentially such that they exist among others. Their coexistence, however,
is not to be understood from an10ng themselves; it is to be understood out of a
dimension of their ordering, and this dimension-the spatiotemporal dimen-
sion-is not such that from it the occurrence of individual things in determinate
relations could become intelligible-as is the case with numbers whose rela-
tions can be derived from the generative principle of their ordering. There is an
insoluble relation of mutual dependence between individuality and the princi-
ple of order. And thus one cannot say that the ontology of individual things
grasps the world in an adequate manner. For that very ontology can only be for-
mulated by presupposing something that is itself also real, but which can
exactly not be grasped through the ontological form of individuality. The
insight that the relation between individuality and order in the picture of the nat-
ural world is necessarily unexplained, has contributed not a little to the fact that
thinking oriented itself beyond its natural form of understanding, either toward
a science that can comprehend the natural world according to numerical rela-
tions, or toward metaphysics and its peculiar orientation.
The fact that in the natural world, if it is to be described in ontological
terms, there lies an unintelligibility that cannot be removed from within it,
does not occur to natural consciousness. But this form of consciousness is able
to notice a discrepancy between the forms of its own experience and the con-
stitution of the world. For the conscious discrepancy between the perspective of
122 Self and the Absolute
the subject and the perspective of the person regarding his or her own life is
itself part of our basic relation to the world. And from there can arise a con-
sciousness of the fact that the form of one's own manner of experience is not
that of an individual thing in the world order. The course of its opinions in
relation to individual things, the manner in which it keeps present what has
passed, the experience of dreams, the coloring of the relation to the world
through the moods of the phases of life and states of consciousness, all enter
into consciousness and emphasize that the centering of the world toward the
subjectivity of the person is grounded in something other than the world's own
order. Even if all those traits that are to be understood from the anchoring role
of subjectivity in the relation to the world remain attributed to the order of
individual things, they still strengthen the consciousness of the darkness and
unintelligibility of this world, a consciousness that can be mastered imma-
nently only in a magical picture of the world. If, however, the subject attributes
to itself such forms of experience, then it will become aware of the fact that
even regarding its form it is not simply a worldly thing among the things of the
world, and this for the reason that the forms of its existence escape the world
ontology with which it is itself fan1iliar. If one were to elucidate consciousness
regarding its ontology in the language of recent theoretical attempts, then one
would have to say that its form is a sequence of events that does not depend on
things, or an activity that is not exercised by an agent, and that this sequence of
events has to be understood in its connection as a field or process. But
whichever explication one may choose, there will always be the fundamental
fact that the subject-person functions in a transparent, unequivocal manner in its
basic relation to the world, but that the attempt to reach a description of this
entire connection in a well-formed and consistent understanding of its reality
from the beginning encounters the implicit consciousness of its darkness, which
confirms and reinforces itself through all stages of the attempts at explication
that are possible to us.
Thus, the oppositional character of the tendencies of self-consciousness
to understand itself, together with the fact that in its natural understanding of the
world this world in which self-consciousness itself exists cannot be brought to
clear concepts, induces self-consciousness all by itself to come up with differ-
ent concepts of the world. And to the extent that self-consciousness designs
such concepts, it will place its understanding of the way by which it seeks to
preserve its unity amidst the experience of the conflicting play of its traces of
insight in relation to a comprehensive attempt at understanding-an under-
standing that is meant to include self-consciousness itself as well as every-
thing that is real considered in terms of its forms and origins. Thus, its self-
understanding becomes a constitutive basic element of its metaphysics.
It is from this point of departure that the question must be asked regard-
ing the possibilities of metaphysics and the means through which· in it self-
Se(f-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 123
consciousness can transcend its basic relation to the world in order to dispel the
darkness inherent in it by means of an entirely differently constituted under-
21. But why metaphysics? Why should the darkness not be dissolved
by scientific theory? The only prospect for a unified description of the world
that is founded in empirical research is opened up by physical theory. Thus
materialism is the philosophical doctrine that could be gained from the world
concept of the empirical sciences. It would be foolish to underestimate its per-
suasive power. To the extent that materialism is founded on research, it is con-
firmed by an overwhelming and rapidly increasing amount of secure data.
Moreover, materialism responds to the need of conscious life in that it is based
on conceptual formations that do not leave the world picture of the natural
basic relation entirely unquestioned. Materialism follows the manner of intel-
lectually transcending the conceptual forms of the natural relation to the world
that is characteristic for scientific research and that attained the status of theory
in modern physics. But materialism is not itself a natural science. It is the
extrapolation of the most fundamental and most comprehensive scientific the-
ory to a truly universal conception of the world. Materialism must subject all
domains of real states of affairs, which as such are not topics of research in the
physical sciences, to interpretive proposals of basic physical theory that are
not themselves based on research but in materialism's own conception of inte-
gration. Thus, it must subject those areas to a theoretical program that corre-
sponds to the basic theory already elaborated and that Inight come about in
the future.
With 'regard to those states of affairs that are characterized as "con-
sciousness," there are some very fundamental options to be observed regarding
the possibility of such a materialism. For in the manner in which it interprets
itself, self-consciousness is not a possible topic of physical theory, given that
the latter is nothing but basic scientific theory. To the extent that physical the-
ory transcends the ontology of the natural world, it also leaves behind the lan-
guage of subject, of opinions, propositions, and in general every form of ori-
entation in which the perspective of the first person comes in. If some form of
  materialism were to be established on the basis of this theory,
then one would have to choose one of two possible paths. Either one would
have to assert that the language of subjectivity has only a relative and provi-
sional justification, and that in principle it could be replaced by a description of
behavior. Or one would have to extend the physicalist conception of matter in
a manner that could never be at the disposition of physics as long as the latter is
a science. With respect to the first path, the claim to truth that the reflection on
self-consciousness and knowledge raises with such obvious justification would
have to be radically rejected. The other path demands to attribute to the mate-
rial processes certain properties for the very reason that the following states of
124 Self and the Absolute
affairs that correspond to these properties have been firmly established in
reflective procedures: namely, that together with material systems of high com-
plexity, there occur states of affairs that are capable of self-ascription as well as
such self-ascription itself-the states of affairs of self-consciousness. Now in
order to render their occurrence intelligible, the material world must either be
described entirely according to an ontology that already includes such states of
affairs, such that material elements become, as it were, capable of representa-
tion; or else a developing tendency toward the occurrence of such states of
affairs must be attributed to the material world, which cannot be understood
from what physical theorists say about material processes. Thus, the extrapo-
lation that leads to philosophical materialism is by no means a simple univer-
salization but itself a theoretical operation, which, however, is justified by the
insight that material processes alone provide an intelligible explanation for the
reality of individual things in the natural world.
This is not the place to discuss details in the justification of material-
ism. What concerns us here is to make clear that materialism, too, is a reflection
on the natural world not from within it but in a principal departure from it and
in transcending it. The more complete, and thus more philosophical, material-
ism is in its claim, the less it can base its thesis on scientific insight and simul-
taneously include the states of affairs of consciousness, rather than simply
declaring them to be real. This does not exclude that such a materialism could
be found convincing and could be accepted. One can even fonnulate the limi-
tative theorem: If materialism is true, then it cannot include in its science the
states of affairs of subjectivity. If this proposition is correct, then the fact that
consciousness is irreducible in the context of materialism is no compelling
reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, it is a necessary, although not sufficient
condition for its acceptance. The theorem in question can also be justified by
the reflection that science, too, is knowledge and therefore bound to the basic
presuppositions of the articulation of knowledge. One can argue that this sim-
ple truth also implies that the knowledge of reality can never integrate itself
entirely into its own conception of the whole of reality. But this does not
exclude that this very notion is in principle adequate. Rather, the argument
continues, each adequate understanding of reality must remain without force
and to that extent limited with respect to those states of affairs that are already
presupposed by the very conception of knowledge. Thus, one can see in this
limitation a nlinimal condition for its correctness. That is what the limitative
theorem says.
22. The counterpoint to materialism is metaphysics. Like the latter, mate-
rialism can only formulate itself in transcending the basic relation to the world.
But unlike metaphysics, materialism does not seek to meet the inconsistency of
the natural world in such a manner that self-consciollsness-in bringing its
conflicting tendencies regarding insight, self-description, and the p a ~ _ o   _ ~ ~
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 125
into a unifying understanding-is able to understand itself out of this very
conception. At least that form of materialism that is founded strictly on the
basis of physical theory and is specifically scientific directly opposes the self-
understanding in the basic relation. Scientific materialism calls for a self-revi-
sion that is radical because it leads to giving up in earnest the questions of
self-orientation in the world that arise necessarily out of the dynamics of self-
consciousness. For this kind of materialism the understanding of the world is
supposed to become objective not only in the sense that the processes involved
in being a self are comprehended entirely from a reality that is not that of the
first person, but also in the other sense that making these processes intelligible
is not supposed to be a condition for orienting oneself about reality as a whole.
In defining materialism this way, the concept of metaphysics, too, is
already determined. In response to the darkness of the basic relation, meta-
physics unfolds a basic conception of the world in which the natural self-under-
standing can, as it were, inscribe itself. Metaphysics is thus that manner of
transcending the basic relation of all understanding that can simultaneously
be appropriated in this basic relation as an ultimate horizon for the completed
understanding of oneself.
It is exactly this position that lends its good conscience to the basic sus-
picion of materialism regarding metaphysics. For what is being designed in
order to be appropriated in conscious life also seems to be derivable only from
the needs of conscious life. This, however, is opposed by the scientific men-
tality to accept as true only what has been proven, to stop in front of the barri-
ers at which all possible verification comes to an end.
But neither is materialism itself verifiable in this sense. It is only con-
nected in a direct manner with verifiable knowledge. A materialism that does
not misunderstand its own theoretical position cannot exclude that the knowl-
edge emerging in the basic relation is capable of other coalitions as well. And
since the natural self-understanding is oriented toward metaphysics, material-
ism, in order to show its exclusive right as albeit incomplete universal theory,
would have to investigate and critique conscious life in all stages and on all
paths of its attempt at self-interpretation. Hence, materialism would have to
develop a phenomenology of spirit on the way to its self-withdrawal into phys-
ical theory. Lacking such a phenomenology, conscious life cannot possibly be
subordinated under the materialist thesis, which after all itself arises from rea-
son as far as the very nature of conscious life and the rational justification it
demands are concerned.
23. In order to see that it is in principle meaningful to keep open the
path of metaphysics even after the development of a powerful physical theory,
one only has to realize that materialism faces yet another limit in an entirely dif-
ferent regard from the one designated through the limitative theorem. The the-
ory of the material universe must take as its point of departure the fact there is
126 Self and the Absolute
material reality in the first place; and it can only indicate the functions that
determine the relations between material events, but cannot theorize about the
initial constellation of all processes. Metaphysics, on the contrary, has as one of
its origins the question concerning that necessity that is not itself in tum relative
to some fact. It may well be true that this question extends even more dramat-
ically beyond the limits of all theory than the attempt at integrating conscious-
ness and self-relation into the material world. This question Inay even extend
beyond the limits of all intelligibility. But the very fact that all understanding
comes to an end, when faced with this question, makes clear that physical the-
ory does not lead to an insight into some ultimate reality that is intelligible on
its own and that fails only when faced with the integration of conscious life into
its conceptual apparatus-for reasons that are as clear as they are without con-
sequences with regard to the possibility of justifying alternative pictures of
the world. The material world is as little intelligible completely out of itself as
its understanding can be brought to completion in a universal theory. And thus
the path of the metaphysical conceptions of the world is not closed off. The
very fact that they come about is necessitated by self-consciousness and its
dynamics. To be sure, this does not yet secure the truth claim of metaphysics;
but neither is that truth claim suspended through the possibility of scientific
self-liberation or through the historical occurrence of physical theory.
24. In order to determine the constitution of metaphysics with respect to
the basic relation of conscious life, one must distinguish its origins in the basic
relation, its manner of procedure and its conceptual means.
The origins of transcending thinking arise out of the following states of
affairs, which constitute the basic relation as such. These states of affairs, how-
ever, not only cannot be elucidated within the basic relation but even bring
out the consciousness of their resistance against such an elucidation. They are:
the unintelligible self-relation due to which self-consciousness exists; the
unmediated opposition of reality and consciousness in original self-conscious-
ness; and the unintelligibility of finite individuality in the world order. Taken
together, they constitute what can be experienced as the darkness that inheres in
the basic relation. That darkness calls for a thinking in which these states of
affairs can be comprehended in their connection with a clarity that is not avail-
able in the basic relation itself.
It is important not to confuse the elucidation in a thinking that transcends
the basic relation with the attempt at explanation. Explanations necessarily
already presuppose well-determined relations and trace them back to initial
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 127
conditions. But in its very essence metaphysics is not cosmology. Rather, meta-
physics institutes the thinking in a conceptual form that replaces the one func-
tioning in the basic relation for the purpose of gaining clarity about the relation
as a whole. And if metaphysics is at all a form of explanation, then in the spe-
cial sense of thinking a whole in which a correlation of factors that are cofunc-
tioning correlates in the basic relation is rendered intelligible. Rather than as the
derivation from conditions, metaphysics is to be thought of as ontology. Yet
unlike ontology, it is not concerned with the basic relation as such, with what
kinds of reality are always already to be presupposed within it. For this ontol-
ogy had to be regarded as one of the very sources of the darkness of the basic
relation in the first place-not to mention that it is necessarily incomplete.
In reviewing the tradition of metaphysical thinking, one has to say,
though, that for the most part this tradition understood itself as explanatory
thinking. This self-understanding was due to the idea held in the metaphysical
tradition of the way in which it could transcend the basic relation, namely, by
upgrading one of its moments into a position that conceptually dominated the
others. As a person, the subject is an individual among individuals. In its con-
scious life it is oriented toward the world of individuals; and therefore it will
initially understand the experience of the darkness in its life from the unclarity
involved in the relation between finite individuality and the world order. That
unclarity provides the immediate occasion for transcending the basic relation
toward an individuality that is thought in such a manner that the original dif-
ference between individuality and the conditions for individuality to enter into
an order----conditions which themselves are not to be explained from individu-
ality-no longer exists. This unique individuality is then to be understood
simultaneously in such a manner that it includes the sources of unintelligibility
that arise in the basic relation from the self-understanding of subjectivity. The
unique individuality is understood as something real that is real not in relation
to something else encountered by it but originally and by itself; and as some-
thing real that stands in a self-relation that is unmediated and hence pure. From
this results the thought of a self-sufficient substance that is in itself subject in
relation to itself.
25. In understanding the origin of this basic metaphysical concept of
God, one immediately realizes that it is not gained through a simple derivation
from the basic relation. Rather, it results from such a far reaching deviation
from the concepts that function in the basic relation that the thought arises that
a thinking transcending the basic relation could only be gained by giving up the
conceptual form of the basic relation and by exercising a methodically con-
trolled deviation from the latter. In drawing this consequence, a metaphysics
arises that employs the means of paradoxical talk and that as such lays the
groundwork for the first form of a transcending thinking, which henceforth
will have to be called "speculative." To the extent that it no longer understands
128 Self and the Absolute
the conceptual form of the basic relation from the direct intention toward indi-
viduals, this thinking will also come to orient the transcendence not with respect
to an individual that is thought to be self-sufficient but with respect to the real-
ity and the self-relation of the subject.
Together with this double turn, which includes the fact that the ontology
of individuals is no longer decisive for transcending thinking, the thought of an
"absolute" must arise that as such is not an individual but from which every-
thing individual depends internally and for this very reason depends radically.
And this thought represents the fact that explanatory metaphysics has reached
an end. For if transcending thinking no longer leads to something individual,
then it also no longer leads to initial conditions from which finite beings could
be derived from other individual beings in the manner operative in the basic
relation. While the thought of a self-sufficient substance admits being inter-
preted as the first cause of everything individual, the orientation toward an
"absolute," if it occurs consistently, remains immune against this manner of
interpretation. Thus cosmology is definitely severed from metaphysics.
26. Self-consciousness and the problems that arise from attempting to
explain its constitution challenge one to an extraordinary degree to theorize
about it in paradoxical conceptual form. Even the simple concept of self-con-
sciousness seems to lead directly into paradoxes in a twofold manner. If there is
self-consciousness, then this is due to the fact that consciousness knows itself.
But to the extent that it knows itself, that which is known is itself already to be
thought as self-consciousness. And thus self-consciousness presupposes itself
in an infinite regress. Moreover, wherever there is self-consciousness, some-
thing is addressed under the description of being self-consciousness. But if
this description is available in the first place, then actual self-consciousness is
already present. For what the concept indicates can only be understood from the
state of affairs to which it applies. Thus self-consciousness is again presupposed
if it is to be possible in the first place. This infinite inclusion into itself may lead
to the attempt to identify with each other the reality of self-consciousness and
the sense of absoluteness in the one absolute. But it is to be avoided at all costs
to yield to this manner of thinking and to permit oneself such a simple way
toward ascertaining metaphysical truth. For quite aside from the fact that the
paradoxical form results in nothing but contradiction, it thematizes the self-rela-
tion in self-consciousness by excluding the very peculiarity that is essential
for subjectivity and its linguistic expression in the first-person singular. In self-
consciousness there is not only a consciousness having knowledge of this con-
sciousness, but it is known regarding some consciousness that "it itself' is this
consciousness. This property of the first person not only cannot be derived
from any other; neither can it be comprehended as a case of special, possibly
infinite relationality from any other standpoint than the one from which this
special relationality is fulfilled. Finally, the direct interpretation of self-con-
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 129
sciousness as paradoxical self-relation is contradicted by the fact that in this
interpretation self-consciousness is not the occasion for transcending the basic
relation as a whole. Rather this interpretation is suitable for accepting the basic
relation as a whole and only fixing it in self-consciousness as an anchor point,
which in turn is in need of a paradoxical interpretation. But this account does
not do justice to complex states of affairs which in their entirety provide the
occasion to transcend the basic relation as such.
Besides, the deviation from the conceptual form of natural consciousness,
which takes self-consciousness as the starting point for introducing a paradox-
icallanguage in order then to think toward an absolute, is entirely incapable of
obtaining a conceptual fOffi1 that could compete with the one operative in the
basic relation. A thinking that becomes paradoxical in the manner described
must remain in a relation of rejection with respect to the basic relation and
therefore thematize its absolute by way of negating the natural relation. It is
speculative but incapable of becoming a speculative theory in which the abso-
lute could be grasped in itself and according to its form.
27. A theory that is speculative as a theory must relate to the entire con-
ceptual form functioning in the basic relation, and therefore depart from it
even more radically than the paradoxical thinking about self-relations was will-
ing to do. It must undertake to deviate from the natural conceptual form in its
entirety, and not only leave the latter behind at one of the significant sources of
darkness in it. In departing from the basic relation, speculative theory is simul-
taneously a counterproposal to the latter.
This leads to the question in what manner such a counterproposal could
be fonnulated. The answer to this question has an advance orientation. The
thought that structures the relation to the world within the basic relation is the
thought of individuals that are finite insofar as they occur in a dimension of pos-
sible other individuals. If the basic relation is to be transcended radically, then
the thought of the independence of individuals with respect to each other has to
be given up, but this in such a manner that along with it a counterproposal to the
basic relation takes shape. This happens as directly and fundamentally as pos-
sible, if the thought through which the independence of the individual is
grasped and the complementary thought of the differential relation between
distinct individuals is united in one single thought: the thought of the difference
with respect to itself. The latter is the elementary structure of a speculative
conceptual form. But it only becomes a counterproposal to the entire basic
relation, if its fundamental thought can be developed into further differentia-
tions, and this especially by being unfolded into an expression corresponding to
the self-relation of the subject. This expression can be gained most easily by
inscribing the propositional relation into the fonnal relation of difference to
itself, that is, by thinking the form of the real and form of its knowledge in the
continuity of one singular formal state of affairs. Put in those speculative terms,
130 Self and the Absolute
then, self-consciousness will have to be defined this way: to know oneself as
oneself in one's own other.
It should be clear that the systematic deviation from the entire constitu-
tion of the basic relation, which is undertaken with the intent of gaining a
counterproposal to it, results in the conceptual form of Hegel's philosophy,
and this in such a manner that this result appears almost compelling. With this
the exceptional position of Hegel's thought in relation to all possible meta-
physics is indicated. Hegel articulates the thought of the absolute in a language
that does not employ other means than those of the elementary functions of the
basic relation. But he takes them out of their functioning context in a move that
runs counter to the cofunctionality that obtains in the basic relation and that
gives them their original meaning. Instead, he gives them the unity of a single
form that is characterized through the nondistinction between self-relation and
differential relation. On the basis of this fundamental contrast, all other func-
tions of the basic relation, for which other modes of cofunctionality are char-
acteristic, are subjected to the same operation. This holds especially for the
universal character of the predicate, for the being-in-itself of the individual, and
for the relation between conceptual form and reality. All of those are rede-
fined as special developments of the basic speculative thought of self-relating
Among the many other speculative reformulations of natural concept
formations, the ones just named are of special importance, since the suspension
of the original difference and correlativity that they show in their natural mean-
ing has been decisive for other forms of the metaphysical transcending of the
basic relation than the ones that are properly speculative. If one considers the
entire history of metaphysics with an eye toward the conditions of its possibil-
ity, then corresponding to the unanalyzable self-relation of the fITst person is the
pure relation of the absolute, corresponding to the immediate unity of subjec-
tivity and reality is the theorem of necessary being, which found its proper
explication in the ontological proof of God, and corresponding to the dark-
ness in the ontology of the natural world is the thought of some ultimate reality
that is capable of differentiating itself out of itself. The special position of
Hegel's thought consists only in liberating these thoughts from the restraint of
having to be communicated in metaphors and paradoxes and instead wresting a
speculative conceptual form from the basic relation in a direct countermove.
28. Yet Hegel's self-understanding is far removed from this orientation
about the essence of metaphysics and the origin of its conceptual fonn. If meta-
physics is understood as systematic deviation from the basic relation of con-
scious life, then, methodically speaking, it is to be traced back not only to a
thinking that transcends experience but also to a constructive thinking. As
opposed to what Hegel and many other metaphysicians held, however, meta-
physics does not come about in the presence of and the cognitive contact with
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 131
the absolute. Metaphysics is, as Kant saw it, nothing but thinking and thinking
as projecting of ideas, even if those ideas, contrary to Kant, do not originate in
the simple extrapolation of empirical knowledge toward completeness but in the
deviation from and the counterproposal to the form of natural knowledge.
Yet if the metaphysical conceptual form is founded on construction, it is
so in a manner that is the exact opposite of arbitrary design and fiction. This
construction, regardless of whether it is articulated in Hegel's pure counter-
proposal or in whatever other form, is the way of facing the necessity to tran-
scend the basic relation. And this necessity is the double necessity of having to
answer to the darkness of the basic relation and of having to orient oneself
comprehensively about the opposite tendencies of the self-interpretation of
conscious life. This double necessity includes everything that is essential to
conscious life, to such an extent that one must say that the construction not only
takes place from an irrefutable ground but gives expression to a necessity that
underlies conscious life as such. To that extent, one must say that the absolute
is not present in metaphysical knowledge but is effective in its thought itself and
as such and finds expression in it.
29. Yet even with the conceptual form that is the complete counterpro-
posal to the form of the basic relation, metaphysical thought does not fully
capture that from which it takes its departure. This holds especially true with
regard to the self-relation in self-consciousness. To be sure, the entire energy of
Hegel's thought aimed at deriving the reality of self-consciousness from the for-
mal relation of self-relating difference. But both the result of Hegel's own
attempts and the elucidation of the problem situation as such lead to the insight
that the thesis is irrefutable according to which the self-relation and self-con-
sciousness cannot be analyzed properly but can only be interpreted by approx-
If this is the case, then one loses the prospect that metaphysical thinking
could gain a conceptual form from the basic relation which, once established,
could be put into operation as self-sufficient world orientation. Even meta-
physical thinking, while transcending the basic relation, remains tied to this
relation, since its goal of elucidating the whole of what remains unintelligible in
the basic relation can only be reached through a continuing explicit reference to
the states of affairs that have a founding role in the basic relation itself. From
this results the important conclusion that metaphysical thinking can never
achieve its own conclusion all by itself, that even in its radical counterpro-
posal it is always also an interpretation of the basic relation, and that it is
forced to be so in order to gain a consistently maintained form in the first
In any case, metaphysical thinking can only be gained by rejecting natu-
ral thinking, if the former is oriented toward a return to the latter in the form of
interpretation. In order to see this, one only has to realize that metaphysics is
132 Self and the Absolute
something other than explanation and something totally different from knowl-
edge of a second world that exists next to the natural one. Moreover, one of the
two motives that lie at its root is the self-orientation of conscious life. Thus,
from the beginning the rejection of the basic relation occurs with the intention
of its reconstruction in view. And this reconstruction aims at elucidation, not at
Now it became clear that this elucidation can provide only an approxi-
mation, just as even prior to any transcending thinking the direct analysis of
self-consciousness could only result in approximations. In the metaphysical
teconstruction, too, the real centering of self-consciousness around the first
person remains uncaptured. But metaphysical thinking provides self-con-
sciousness with orientation regarding itself such that self-consciousness is nei-
ther entirely eliminated, as in scientific materialism, nor becomes an unlocal-
ized reject of the material universe. And this orientation, moreover, occurs
continuous with a reinterpretation of the natural world in the conceptual form of
the metaphysical counterproposal, which, while only an interpretation, grasps
the unity of this world in clearer and more differentiated terms than would
have been possible with the conceptual means that function in the basic relation
This is not the place to discuss in which manner such a reconstruction
would have to be carried out in concrete terms. Again it is Hegel's thinking that
documents in the most impressive manner how from the speculative conceptual
form means of interpreting the world can be gained that far surpass the ones
available in the basic relation itself in terms of concreteness. Yet it must be
counted as an entirely fundamental and irreducible state of affairs that con-
scious life operates in a basic relation that opens up the possibility of a specu-
lative counterproposal under the latter's challenge, just as it permits an inter-
preting reconstructing of the natural world out of this counterproposal.
30. This state of affairs provides the occasion for a concluding thought,
for which there are only few points of departure in the tradition of metaphysi-
cal thinking. The basic relation challenges the metaphysical transcending,
which, to the extent that it occurs in a counterproposal to the ontology of indi-
viduals' brings with it the thought of an absolute. It is with respect to the latter
that conscious life must orient itself about the contrariness of its attempts at its
self-interpretation in the basic relation. And this orientation occurs in such a
manner that in the process the basic relation receives an interpretive recon-
struction. Once philosophy has understood this entire connection and also
understood that the reconstruction cannot lead to the dissolution of the basic
relation into the speculative conceptual form but only to its interpretation within
it, the following conclusion is reached: The entire constitution of the basic
relation is such that it brings out the thought of the absolute, orients itself about
itself with reference to this thought, and also thereby transforms itself to the
Self-Consciousness and Speculative Thinking 133
extent that only with reference to this thought can there come about in con-
scious life that unity of understanding that persists in the face of all confu-
sions that arise out of the equally essential but simultaneously oppositional
tendencies of self-interpretation. In a language that would have to be traced
back to Fichte this insight would have to be put this way: Conscious life is
nothing other than that the absolute comes to insight, and the validation of this
insight in a life that has become a whole. But from this follows immediately
that the thought of the absolute itself has to be thought by including in it the
thought that the absolute renders possible and demands this appropriation and
validation in a basic relation that is oriented about itself. Therefore, the absolute
must be thought as a process of emergence out of itself through which the
basic relation first comes into being, and this in such a manner that this relation
is fITst closed up in self-sufficient functioning but subsequently obtains its self-
elucidation and proper freedom by transcending its natural world. If in this
insight the path that led into speculative thinking truly achieves its end, then the
question that still remain's for conscious life is whether in this whole it also
knows the truth about itself. Speculative thinking might well finish with an
"ignoramus." It might also choose the scientific path. But is there a more pro-
found validation for an insight than that in it conscious life with all its traces of
insight and irrefutable self-interpretations comes to unity?
Yet as far as the orientation is concerned which philosophy has to give
about the movement proper to conscious life and about the movements of its
self-interpretations, the following is beyond question: It will necessarily remain
behind the thoughts that emerge in this movement itself and through which it
becomes what it is; it will trivialize the actual experience of human beings
rather than liberate them to reason-unless it places itself beyond the analysis
of the basic relation into the reality of speculative thinking. In a time that either
expects theoretical redemption from progressive science and increasingly sub-
tle conceptual analysis, or seeks final satisfaction and appeasement in absti-
nence from theory, the Kantian imperative "sapere aude!" must include
emphatically the imperative "speculari aude!,'-Have the courage to think
beyond your world in order to understand it and also yourself in it!
*Translated by Gunter Zoller.
Romantic Conceptions of the Self
in HOlderlin and Novalis
Jane E. Kneller
The early (Jena) period of German Romanticism is closely identified
with early German Idealism, and with the philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
The reason for this is obvious enough. Fichte began lecturing at the university
in Jena in the spring (Summer Semester) of 1794, and work preliminary to his
major work, the Wissenschaftslehre, appeared in that same year.
His arrival at
Jena was anticipated with great excitement, and among the Jena cohort of
scholars and students who were inspired by his forceful presence were some
whose names were to become inseparably bound up with German Romanti-
cism. The Schlegels, Schelling, Tieck, Novalis, and also HOlderlin
all were part
of the Jena milieu in which Fichte's work was avidly studied and discussed.
Fichte's philosophy was of course very much influenced by Kant's Crit-
ical philosophy (he was hired at the University at Jena as a "Kantian" to replace
ReinhoW), and by Fichte' s concern that a stronger defense of the possibility of
practical reason was needed than Kant himself gave.
The need for such a
move is suggested by Kant himself in the third Critique, where he speaks of a
"gulf' separating nature and freedom, and the need for a "principle of purpo-
siveness" if a causality of freedom is to be seen as effective in the natural
This principle for Kant is never more than regulative, however, and
the question of a common principle uniting theoretical and practical reason in a
single system necessarily remains open for Kant. But for Fichte, a defense of
freedom required more. The discovery of a unitary account of subjectivity,
that is, an account founded upon a single "constitutive" principle appeared
necessary so that practical reason might be firmly situated within the constitu-
tion of an overarching system rather than made to rest on a mere regulative
Romantic Conceptions of the Self 135
To the extent that Holderlin's and Novalis's projects are taken to be
searches for an account of how human desire and feeling may be united with
reflection and reason, that is, to the extent that they are instances of what Dieter
Henrich calls "Vereinigungsphilosophie,"7 it is plausible to see both authors as
part of a post-Kantian attempt to "repair" difficulties raised by Kant's view that
subjectivity is irreducibly dual-natured, that is, part nature and part freedom. It
may also be plausible to claim for these writers a decisive influence on the
course of German idealism.
Certainly in the case of both Holderlin and
Novalis, the "reunification" of nature and self was an important theme. And yet
this longing for a unification of self and nature ought not to be confused with
the project of giving a unified systematic account of the self based on a single
basic principle of consciousness. The latter was Fichte' s project, one to which,
I will argue, neither Novalis nor Holderlin were committed.
If this were not the case, that is, if it were assumed that Holderlin and
Novalis are at one with Fichte in attempting a unified account of the self, then
the fact that they do not do so can only be seen as philosophical failure. More-
over, identifying these writers' goals with Fichte's obscures the very close
affinity between Kant's later writings on morality and aesthetics and an impor-
tant strand of Romanticism. In what follows I will argue that both Novalis and
Holderlin developed conceptions of the self that were in fact far more in the
spirit of Kant than of Fichte, and that their criticisms of Fichte ought to be
read as a sort of poetic Kantian response to Fichte's revisionism. Both Navalis
and Holderlin, I will argue, adopted positions that are best seen as espousing an
essentially Kantian agnosticism about the ability of the human self to know the
ultimate ground of its own unity.9
In the "Doctrine of Virtue" Kant claims that "Only the descent into the
hell of self-knowledge can pave the way to godliness."l0 "Eiforsche, ergriinde
dich selbst!" The self-knowledge that Kant is speaking of here is self-cognition
(Selbsterkenntnis), but in this context it is not, or not simply, theoretical knowl-
edge of the self that Kant is prescribing. It is rather the sort of knowledge that
would answer the questions: What am I, by nature? and What do I really want?
What is really motivating me? These are questions that for Kant are funda-
mental to the task of becoming moral, and hence, fully human. Answering
them is the project that all human beings are obliged to set for themselves. In
this same passage, Kant says that all human wisdom (Weisheit) ultimately con-
sists in the agreement of wants and desires with the human being's final pur-
pose, and the path to this final end requires descent into the murky depths of
human nature and motivation. Human wisdom for Kant involves both theoret-
ical (including empirical) and practical knowledge: knowledge of what we are,
and knowledge of what we should be.
Fichte's revision of the Kantian project of "fathoming" the self was an
important driving force behind Holderlin's and Navalis's philosophical con-
136 Self and the Absolute
ceptions of the self. It is, therefore, important to sketch Fichte' s account of
self-knowledge before going on to assess the link between the project as Kant
conceived it, and the Romantic response to Fichte.
Although Kant showed concern in the third Critique to bridge the gap
between theoretical and practical reason in his own philosophy, he never
rescinded the separate accounts of these two sides of reason given in the first
two Critiques. His call for self-knowledge in the "Doctrine of Virtue" is
intended as a call for individuals to come to know themselves for the purposes
of a practical reason whose necessary systematic connection to theoretical
reason has not been demonstrated. But Fichte, setting about to redeem the
Kantian project for morality, was determined to give a unitary account of the
underlying structure of all consciousness. Thus, what was for Kant a call to
"know thyself' for the purposes of practical reason involved, for Fichte, giving
an account of the very structure of all self-consciousness. An important moti-
vation for Fichte' s account was prompted by criticism of the view attributed to
Kant by Reinhold that all consciousness is representationa1.
On this view,
self-consciousness is to be understood as a representing of ourselves to our-
selves, and it therefore comes to be seen on the model of a subject examining an
object, in this case its self. But this, so the criticism went, appears to involve a
vicious regress of subjects. That is, the representational account assumes that
self-awareness requires that I view myself not only as the object of my exami-
nation but also as subject, as examiner. And the question arises, What is the
nature of this examining subject? At this point the subject conducting the exam-
ination becomes the object of examination and so on ad infinitum. It follows,
according to the criticism, that if we model self-awareness on our awareness of
tables and chairs and other objects in our world, an account of our own sub-
jectivity is literally always just beyond reach.
Whether Kant himself held such a view, and whether a representational
account must lead to vicious infinite regress may be questioned. What is impor-
tant, however, is that Fichte took these problems seriously. His response was to
maintain, fITst of all, that self-consciousness is not a matter of representing the self
to the self-it is not a case of consciousness of an object. Rather, the "I" of self-
consciousness, what I discover when I examine my own consciousness, is an
activity that is at the same time an accomplishment, eine Tathandlung. This
"fact-act"13 of immediate, nonrepresentational self-awareness, this intellectual
intuition, is what Fichte calls "self-positing." The subject capable of representa-
tional knowledge is not itself a representation but rather just is, in Fichte's words
"that act which does not and cannot appear among the empirical states of our con-
Ronzantic Conceptions of the Self 137
sciousness, but rather lies at the basis of all consciousness and alone makes it pos-
sible."14 The task of philosophy is to "reflect on what one might at first sight
take it to be, and to abstract from everything that does not really belong to it."15
The result of this process of reflection and abstraction is an account of
self-consciousness outlined by Fichte in three "principles." First, the self posits
itself absolutely. And this positing is its existence. 16 For Fichte the activity of
self-positing does not produce an effect that is distinct from its activity. Rather
the self is to be understood as essentially identical with this activity.17 Second,
"opposition in general is posited absolutely by the self. "18 This means that the
self, in addition to positing itself posits "the not-self' that is opposed to itself.
Third, "Both self and not-self are posited as divisible." Both self and not-self
are posited as partial negations of each other, they are thus limited by each
other, but not annihilated. These principles exhaust what can be accomplished
by philosophical investigation of the self, Fichte says. The outcome of the
investigation, in Fichte's words is that "In the self I oppose a divisible not-self
to the divisible self."2O The first moment expresses an immediate consciousness
of the self, an intellectual intuition, a self-positing. The second and third occur
as two aspects of one act: the act of division (or "limitation") "occurs immedi-
ately, within and alongside the act of opposition; both are one and the same, and
are distinguished only in reflection. "21 For Fichte,
The self is to be equated with, and yet opposed to, itself. It is all one
consciousness, but a consciousness that involves an absolute self, on the
one hand, and a divisible, limited self on the other.
This, in very rough outline, is how the theory of self-consciousness stood
with Fichte in Jena in 1795. Fichte' s own later revisions need not concern us here.
Holderlin attended Fichte' s lectures in the last months of 1794, and resulned
attendance in the following January, during which time he "engaged in a thorough
and critical study of his [Fichte' s] philosophy."23 During this time Holderlin was
hard at work on his novel Hyperion, and also produced his only philosophical
work, four essay-fragments including one implicitly critical of Fichte's concep-
tion of absolute being, "Urteil und Sein."24 At the same time (early in 1795) that
Holderlin was writing this piece, Novalis was preparing his Fichte-Studien, a
large collection of observations and commentary that is, in the words of one
scholar, "the most important philosophical contribution of early Romanticism.''25
Central to both Holderlin' sand NovaHs' s Fichte reception was dissatis-
faction with Fichte's claim that self-consciousness must be understood as orig-
inating in an act of self-positing, and that the subject that is created and main-
tained by this act is not knowable reflectively via a representation, but is rather
identified as an immediate consciousness, an "intellectual intuition." In other
words, both took issue with Fichte's "First, Absolutely Unconditioned Princi-
138 Self and the Absolute
pie." As Manfred Frank points out, both Holderlin and Novalis found the
notion of absolute self-positing inadequate to the task of explaining a genuine
unity of subjectivity, since the very notion of the 'self-positing itself would
seem to involve a further reflexive act. That is, in Frank's terms "immediacy
and self-reference are incompatible notions."26 An account of the immediately
present self cannot be a self-referential account. This disagreement led, in the
works of Novalis and Holderlin, to doubts about the possibility of a unified
~   o u n t of subjectivity, and to challenges to Fichte's attempt at a such an
account. I want now to examine each of these challenges in tum.
In May 1795, Novalis spent an evening in lena with Johann Gottlieb
Fichte and the poet Friedrich Holderlin at the house of Friedrich
Niethammer, publisher of the influential Philosophisches Journal. Niet-
hammer noted in his diary that they talked much about religion and rev-
elation and concluded that philosophy faced many unanswered ques-
This meeting apparently convinced Novalis of the need to come to terms with
Fichte's philosophy, a conviction which resulted in over five hundred
manuscript pages of notes, his Fichte-Studien, begun during the fall of 1795 and
finished the following summer. But although these studies certainly do repre-
sent a kind of homage to the dynamic professor, they also contain a strong
critique of a central aspect of Fichte' s work.
Novalis's problem with Fichte's account of self-consciousness depends
on the view that, in his words, "The I must posit itself as representing (darstel-
lend)."28 That is, in a very important sense, for Novalis, self-consciousness
must be representational. Insofar as self-consciousness is a reflection on con-
sciousness, it involves thought, and thought can only grasp an object. But
Fichte's "I" is supposed to be nonrepresenting, an original fact-act that can
only be described as immediate consciousness, or "intellectual intuition." In his
discussion of NovaHs, Frank argues that the very term "intellectual intuition"
suggests that whatever else it may be, this way of characterizing "absolute"
unity cannot truly be absolute, because it involves two distinct components, one
intuitive and the other intellectual or conceptual. So for Novalis, intellectual
intuition is viewed rather as a reflection that is directed toward an intuition, or
what for Novalis is the same, a feeling.
Because it is only an attempt to reach
an intuition (feeling) in thought, the best it can accomplish is still only a reflec-
tion of this intuition (feeling). But this is not identical to the feeling itself.
With Fichte' s complex account of a unitary self-consciousness that con-
tains a divided self in mind, Novalis speaks of "the famous struggle within
Romantic Conceptions of the Self 139
the 1."30 It is to be found already in the (allegedly) "absolute Urhandlung" of
self-positing, which is, Novalis argues, nothing more than a necessary deception
of a mediated I that is attempting to be absolute-unmediated-and thus comes
into conflict with itself. Hence, what Fichte takes to be an immediate act of self-
positing is in fact a mediated act. In the mirror of thought we see self-intuition
("Selbstgefiihl") reflected and conclude that we have reached it. But in fact
we are fooled: We have only the "mirror image" of self-intuition, not that intu-
ition itself.
Like any mirroring, self-reflection presents us with an illusion of our-
selves that, Novalis says, requires a second act of reflection if we are not to be
misled into thinking we have attained objective knowledge of what is essen-
tially nonobjective. This second reflective act "corrects" the illusion of the
first act that we had of ourselves, and shows us, not the self, but our ignorance
of it, that we are incapable of grasping the absolute ground of the self. Since
Novalis holds that "striving after the thought of a ground is the ground of phi-
losophy" and "all philosophizing must end in an absolute ground,"31 this would
seem to spell the end of all philosophizing, and for Novalis, in one sense this is
true: "The borders of feeling are the borders of philosophy."
But in another sense, he argues, philosophy may recognize its own abso-
lute when it recognizes that no absolute ground is given. Even in the face of giv-
ing up the search for the absolute, or rather, precisely because of giving it up, the
"drive to philosophize" can never be satisfied, and there arises an "unending free
activity." This "unending free activity in us," Navalis says, is "the only possible
absolute that can be given US."32 Thus philosophy can only ever provide a nega-
tive account of the self: The drive to unify feeling and thought is the only uni-
fying characteristic of the self.
But since this negative characteristic is indeed
one aspect of our nature, it is at least not a falsified account of the human self.
Where philosophy must stop, however, poetry may begin.
There is no definitive answer to whether or not Novalis believed that
poetry could do what philosophy could not, that is, unveil the absolute, and
portray its very essence.
It seems unlikely that he intended to accomplish so
much in his own work. Rather, Novalis's poetic achievement is his ability to por-
tray artistically what he believed followed from his views on the essentially
negative nature of self-consciousness. That is, his literary work is not an "unveil-
ing" of the absolute, but rather an attempt to do "poetic philosophy"35-to under-
stand the self and its world not in abstractions but by romanticizing them.
"Romanticizing," and "Romantic philosophy," on Novalis's definition, is the
"operation" of portraying the unexpected, of "interrupting" ordinary life by
"potentializing" the objects of the world, showing them not for what they are but
for what they are not, what they are only potentially. On this approach, the ordi-
nary is always seen in the light of the "unending," and by the same token, the
unknown, mysterious and unending, are portrayed as ordinary.36 Such a world is
140 Self and the Absolute
a "Verkehrung," an inversion, but it is also a setting right, just as the second
reflection of self-consciousness sets right the illusion of self-recognition.
"Die Welt muf3 romantisirt werden," "The world must be romanticized,"
says Novalis.
Romanticizing, because it portrays what is merely potential,
and hence in effect portrays what is not, is an illusion or inversion that sets right
the original illusion of being at home in the world.
Heinrich von Ofterdingen, with its simple straightforward narrative style
used to depict a free-floating, kaleidoscopic set of illusion, dream and symbols
is a perfect example of this Novalis doctrine of corrective inversion. Perhaps
because it is quite literally a model of Novalis' s idea of romantic philosophiz-
ing, and hence of theory in practice, the secondary literature on this novel is
All that can be done here is to simply suggest how Heinrich,
the protagonist of this piece, can be said to "figure" Novalis' s conception of the
self. Heinrich is no ordinary protagonist, in spite of the fact that he is indeed the
central figure of the novel. Heinrich's "development" is almost entirely an
internal, subjective one, and he is passive to the point of near absence in many
of the chapters. Much, if not most, of the action of the novel does not involve
him, or perhaps it is better to say, it involves him only as the blank screen on
which the fables, allegories, and magical images that constitute the bulk of the
work are played out.
Indeed, Heinrich has practically no "psychological profile"-he is rather
a world unto himself in which dream, fantasy, and reality blur, or better, in
which it makes no difference which is which. Heinrich is a vessel whose only
anchor, if it can even be called that, is his own passive subjectivity. But if
NavaHs' s Heinrich is a romanticized, unanchored, and even alienated self-con-
sciousness compared to the full-blooded and many-faceted character one comes
to expect in novels, still Heinrich's is a "pleasantly" alienated self-conscious-
It includes occasional moments of ecstatic feeling that occur most often
in dreams, or in love, when the self (not always Heinrich) recognizes something
"unending" in itself. These moments, for Novalis, are the result of a reinversion
of our inverted sense of self and as such they are moments ("Augenblicke") of
insight into the absolute. The self, in these felicitous moments of "renunciation
of the Absolute," when it recognizes its own inability to attain transcendence
through reflection, produces in itself
the unending free activity ... the only possible absolute that can be
given to us, and which we find only through our inability to attain and to
recognized an Absolute.
This pleasurable "negative" experience of the absolute bears little reserrlblance
to Fichte's original "Tathandlung." It does, however, very closely resemble
the Kantian sublime:
Romantic Conceptions of the Self 141
For what is sublime in the proper meaning of the term, cannot be con-
tained in any sensible form but concerns only ideas of reason, which
though they cannot be exhibited (dargestellt) adequately, are aroused and
called to mind by this very inadequacy, which can be exhibited in sensi-
A little further on, Kant emphasizes that the sublime is an experience of what is
absolutely great in us. Our inability to represent to ourselves the absolutely
great outside us is the condition of this recognition:
Yet this inadequacy itself is the arousal in us of the feeling that we have
within us a supersensible power; and what is absolutely great is not an
object of sense, but is the use that judgment makes naturally of a certain
object so as to [arouse] this (feeling).42
One might say that Navalis's Ofterdingen is full ofjust these sorts of "negative"
epiphanies-momentary transcendent experiences that amount to "sublima-
tions" of the self.
At the time of their meeting at the home of Niethammer, Holderlin was
on the verge of departure from lena, had already attended Fichte's lectures in
the Winter semester, and had almost certainly already developed his influential
critique of the latter in the fragment "Judgment and Being." Holderlin came to
his study of Fichte immersed in questions of aesthetics from his recent engage-
ment with Kant's third Critique and Plato's Phaedrus, and Schiller's "Uber
Anmuth und Wtirde."43 In one of the philosophical fragments dating from this
time, he is concerned to account for the unity of "necessity and freedom, the
restricted and the unrestricted, the sensuous and the sacred" in the faculty of
Here he speaks longingly of a "morality of instinct" that resembles a
kind of intellectual intuition, an attunement of imagination and desire that nat-
urally conforms to the moral law, uncoerced. But he also admits, such "attune-
ment would then be merely contingent, a matter of fortune." The longed-for
unity, though possible contingently, is for that very reason unfit for systemic
development. At least at this period in his philosophical development, Holder-
lin seems at once driven by what Henrich called "Vereinigungsphilosophie" and
at the same time by skeptical doubts about its possibility.
Doubts about the possibility of a systematic account of a "morality of
instinct" underlie Holderlin's disagreement with Fichte. But these doubts must
be seen in light of his explication of "Being" in the fragmentary essay "Judg-
ment and Being":
142 Self and the Absolute
Being-expresses the connection between subject and object. Where sub-
ject and object are united altogether and not only in part, that is, united in
such a manner that no separation can be performed without violating the
essence of what is to be separated, there and nowhere else can be spoken
of Being proper, as is the case with intellectual intuition.
From this it follows that Fichte's account of intellectual intuition must be incor-
rect, because it refers not to a primordial, essentially indivisible consciousness
of Being, but only to a self-positing activity that involves an act of opposition
and reunification through a concept of limitation or divisibility.46 The unity of
Fichte's I is thus, for Holderlin, a derivative unity, an identity, but not an abso-
lute unity.
The fact that Fichte did not intend to suggest this sort of "primordial
coherence"47 is of less importance here than is the fact that Holderlin felt such
primordial coherence was necessary to ground the conception of a unified self,
and that without it the self was, quite literally, lost. Given such constraints on
what can count as an integrated self,48 it is no surprise that for Holderlin it is not
clear that the self can ever come to know itself. To the extent that self-knowl-
edge is possible, it must involve that which "antedates any structure of synthe-
sis, identity and consciousness."49 That means, for Holderlin, self-knowledge
must be aesthetic. Influenced by his reading of Kant's theory of beauty, and by
his friendships with Schiller and Schelling, Holderlin developed a "doctrine of
beauty" that made the aesthetic the unifying principle of human experience.
Beauty, for Holderlin, is the ideal, the visible model of perfected humanity. In
the Hyperion he speaks of "beings of beauty, or what is the same thing, human
beings."50 Beauty bespeaks the divinity in the human being: "The human being
is a god as soon as he is hUlllan. And once he is a god, he is beautiful."51 For
Holderlin, the experience of the beautiful is the only integrating experience
for the self at odds with itself.
This doctrine does not set Holderlin apart from Schiller or Schelling.
What is distinctive to Holderlin is his insistence that the attainment of the
beautiful is only a contingent matter, depending as it does on nature and the
degree of sensitivity of the individual:
Beauty forsakes the life of men, flees upward into Spirit; the Ideal
becomes what Nature was ... By this, by this Ideal, this rejuvenated
divinity, the few recognize one another and are one."52
Unity of subjectivity is not granted everyone, by any means. The "few" of
whom Holderlin speaks here, of course, are artists-they are the most deeply
sensitive of souls. "The first child of divine beauty is art."53 And though in
Hyperion the hope is expressed that these few great souls will inaugurate a
Romantic Conceptions ofthe Self 143
"second age," this utopian enthusiasm is overshadowed throughout by a deep
sense of disillusion. In a remarkable chapter early in the novel, Hyperion writes
to Bellarmin "What is man?":
How does it happen that the world contains such a thing, which ferments
like a chaos or moulders like a rotten tree, and never grows to
ripeness? ... To the plants he says: I, too, was once like you! and to the
pure stars: I shall become like you in another world!-meanwhile he
falls to pieces and keeps practicing his arts on himself, as if, once it had
come apart, he could put a living thing together again like a piece of
masonry ... yet what he does will always be artifice.
Even the artistic self-or rather, especially the artistic self, who has
"feasted at the table of the gods" and felt "full, pure beauty" must face the
inescapable fact of its own fragmented condition. The poet is bound to be dis-
illusioned, Hyperion tells his friends, because, having known the feeling of
the beautiful, that which is thought is revealed to be disharmonious, full of
contradiction and imperfection. Beauty is never thought.55
Holderlin did not see beauty as a consolation, nor like Novalis, as some-
thing to be attained in moments of poetic exaltation, as a gift that, when
received lends at least a feeling of coherence to the self, redeeming it in
moments of poetic magic: "Overall [the poet] must accustom himself not to try
to attain within individual moments the totality that he strives for and to bear the
momentarily incomplete."56 For Holderlin, unlike Novalis, the poetic can never
be a purely pleasant alienation because it rests on feeling, and feeling is suf-
fering as well as pleasure. Indeed, in the novel, the experience of suffering
seems to be assigned to Hyperion, if not as a duty, then as a matter of necessity
for his romantic spirit. In the second part of the novel, Hyperion asks his cor-
respondent: "Why do I recount my grief to you, renew it ... ?"57
The entire novel is a narrative of alternating suffering and rejoicing, an
attempt to portray the depths and heights that human feeling can attain. Feeling,
Holderlin says, is the poet's "bridle and spur."58 Thus it is tempting to con-
clude that feeling is what redeems the self, for Holderlin, and that even if the
aesthetic is not always a consolation to the divided self it may still, in a more
heroic sense, save it. But this, too, would fail to capture Holderlin's stance.
Although elevated, intense feeling may give the artistic spirit glimpses of abso-
lute Being, it is ultimately unable to unify the individual self, and in this very
important sense cannot be redemptive. In his sketch "The Ground for
Empodocles" he says of his hero's fate:
In order to organize life, he had to strive seizing it with his being at its
innermost; with his spirit he had to try to master the human element, all
144 Self and the Absolute
tendencies and drives, their soul, the inconceivable, the unconscious, the
involuntary in them; precisely in so far as his will, his consciousness, his
spirit, transcended the ordinary and human boundaries of knowledge and
effectiveness, it had to lose itself and become objective ... the objective
resounded the more purely and deeply within him the more open his
soul lay, precisely because the spiritually active man had given himself
away, and this in the particular as well as in the universal. 59
The experience of unified consciousness, in those rare moments when it occurs,
for Holderlin is essentially tragic because it forces the individual to the uni-
versal, and hence beyond what the individual can ever be. To paraphrase Cas-
sirer: The vessel through which the self announces itself must, because it is sin-
gular and limited, itself be broken.f)() Unified consciousness is the death of the
individual. If Holderlin' s project is the quest for such unity, then its success will
be the death of the self. One feels this in the protagonist Hyperion, who in the
course of the entire novel never becomes a full-fledged character. He is a
heroic struggling "figure," but never an integrated personality.
Almost as if he had Holderlin and Novalis in mind (in fact he was
often thinking of Klopstock), Kant proclaimed time and again the dangers of
the novel, the Roman. Too much of this sort of reading, he warns, loosens
one's grip on reality, and leads to fantasizing, which is closely related to
enthusiasm and even madness. In a footnote in the First Introduction to the
Critique ofJudgment he says that it is important to guard against "empty and
fanciful desires, which are often nourished by novels and sometimes also by
mystical presentations, similar to novels, of superhuman perfections and
fanatical bliss."61 But then, almost as if he knew there would be no holding
back the Romantic quest for a unified consciousness he adds that it is impor-
tant "to investigate why it is that nature has given us the predisposition to
such fruitless expenditure of our forces as [we see in] empty wishes and
longings (which certainly playa large role in human life)." His hypothesis:
If we had to be sure that attaining an object was within our power before we
let ourselves desire it, many powers we in fact have would remain unused.
Thus, nature wisely provides us with desires that call forth great effort "even
before we know what ability we have, and it is often precisely this effort,
which to that very mind seems at first an empty wish, that produces that
ability in the first place. Now wisdom is obligated to set limits to that
instinct, but wisdom will never succeed in eradicating it, or [rather] it will
never even desire its eradication."
Romantic Conceptions ofthe Self 145
It is natural to conclude from this that Wisdom must therefore desire
what Novalis would later call the "drive to be an '1.' "62 Since Kant believed, as
we saw at the outset, that wisdom also requires that we fathom ourselves, it is
a very good thing for him that we also have the drive to do so. The works of
both Holderlin and Novalis embody this tendency to strive for what is not, to
overstep, "in a fruitless expenditure of forces," the bounds of what may be
reasonably desired. Hence, for this very reason their "Romantic" contributions
appear to be a step along the Kantian path to self-knowledge, and a natural and
important continuation of the Kantian project.
These poet-philosophers may be seen as following the injunction to
fathom the self, to determine what the self is not, but could be, in order to fur-
ther the Kantian project of determining what the self should be. But as Kant was
acutely aware, this drive to self-knowledge has its costs. Holderlin and
Novalis's Romanticism holds out the promise of discovering new forms of
consciousness, and hence of "refiguring" the self, but only by risking the era-
sure of the very "self' it attempts to fathom.
1. Ober den Begriff der Wissenschaftslehre, and the Foundations of the Entire
Wissenschaftslehre Parts I and II were published in September 1794. Concerning the
Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre had already been completed and was published in
May 1794. Cf. Daniel Breazeale, tr. and ed., Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings
(Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 47-49 for a list of Fichte's publications and
lectures during the Jena period.
2. The question of whether to consider Holderlin a "Romantic" is somewhat dif-
ficult to answer. On the one hand, he is typically classified in German literature school-
book texts as part of the late "Klassik," and many scholars would resist labeling him a
Romantic. Cf., for example, Manfred Frank: "Holderlin ... gehort aber nach der
gewohnlichen Meinung nieht in den Rahmen der Friihromantik; und ich will ihn auch
Dicht durch einen hermeneutischen coup de force zu einem geistigen Mitbewohner der
Jenaer Wohngemeinschaft machen, der er nicht war." In Einfiihrung in diefriihroman-
tische Asthetik: Vorlesungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1989), p. 249. On the other hand, he
is characterized by Ricarda Huch in Die Romantik: Bliite Zeit, Ausbreitung und Verfall
(Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1985 [1951]) as a Romantic by disposition (pp. 484ff). In Die
Romantische Schule (Berlin: Gaertner, 1870), R. Haym sees the germ of Romantic phi-
losophy in Holderlin' s ideas, and argues that he belongs for this reason in a history of
Romanticism (p. 305), although Holderlin is called "eine Seitenlinie der Romantik in
contrast to Novalis's "Hauptlinie" (p. 324).
3. Dieter Henrich points out that even though Kant was still teaching at Konigs-
berg, by 1792 it was the University at Jena that was the center of "Kantian" philosophy.
(Konstellationen: Probleme und Debatten am Ursprung der idealistischen Philosophie
(1789-1795), (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1991), p. 229.
146 Self and the Absolute
4. Cf. Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity (Carrlbddge: Cam-
bridge Dniv. Press, 1990), chapter 1.
5. Critique ofJudgment, tr. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988), p. 13.
6. Or on an alleged "fact" of the consciousness of the moral law. That is, Fichte's
concern was also rooted in his discontent with Kant's doctrine of the "fact of reason" in
the second Critique (AK ). See Neuhouser, pp. 21-29.
7. Cf. Dieter Henrich, "Hegel und Holderlin"(1970) in Hegel im Kontext (Frank-
furt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1987), pp. 12ff. "Vereinigungsphilosophie" is the tenn Hen-
rich uses to refer to the strand of thought exemplified in modern times by neoplatonism,
for instance, by Shaftesbury in England, and by Hemsterhuis and Herder in Germany.
8. As Henrich does with Holderlin, ibid., 21-22, in Konstellationen, ibid., and
most fully in Der Grund im Bewuj3tsein: Holderlins Denken in lena (1794-95)
(Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1992).
9. For the classic discussion of this problem in Kant, worked out against Hei-
degger's reading, see Dieter Henrich, "The Unity of Subjectivity," first published in
Philosophische Rundschau 3 (1955):28-69 as "Uber die Einheit der Subjektivitat" and
translated by G. Zoller in id., The Unity ofReason, ed. R. Velkley (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 17-54.
10. Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. M. G-regor (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 236 (§14).
11. The distinction has a contemporary counterpart in Ernst Tugendhat's dis-
tinction between Selbstbewuj3tsein and Selbstbestimmung. Cf. his Self-Consciousness
and Self-Determination, tr. Paul Stem (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986) pp. 18-38.
12. cr. Neuhauser, pp. 7Off. Neuhauser characterizes the difficulty as an infinite
regress of knowing subjects. Also see Dieter Henrich "Fichte's Original Insight" (in
Contemporary German Philosophy [University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press,
1982], pp. 15-53), where it is argued that "reflection theory" was seen by Fichte to be
untenable because it led to circularity and was question begging. Fichte responded to the
charges directed against Reinhold's version of Kant's theory by G.E. Schulze in Aen-
esidemus, in a review published in 1794 (in Breazeale, ibid., pp. 59-77).
13. This is Neuhauser's rendering of "Tathandlung, " ibid., (p. 106).
14. Science ofKnowledge, ed. and tr. by Peter Heath and John Lachs (New York:
Meredith, 1970), p. 93.
15. Science ofKnowledge, ibid.
16. Science ofKnowledge, p. 98: The word'!, is to be understood as "the self as
absolute subject. That whose being or essence consists simply in the fact that it posits
itselfas existing . .. As it posits itself, so it is; and as it is, so it posits itself."
Romantic Conceptions of the Self 147
17. "It is at once agent and the product of action; the active, and what the activity
brings about; action and deed are one and the same, and hence the "I am" expresses an
Act (Tathandlung)" (ibid., p. 97).
18. Science of Knowledge, p. 103.
19. Cf. Science ofKnowledge, p. 104.
20. Science ofKnowledge, p. 110.
21. Science ofKnowledge, p. 108.
22. Science of ](nowledge, p. 109.
23. David Constantine, Holderlin (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), p. 48.
24. Cf. Henrich, Konstellationen, ibid., pp. 59-63 for a discussion of the dating of
this important fragment ("Judgment and Being"), and for an argument that it dates from
Holderlin's Jena period (1794-95).
25. Manfred Frank, EinfUhrung in der Fruhromantische Asthetik, p. 248.
26. Frank, ibid., p. 250.
27. John Neubauer, Novalis (Boston: Twayne, 1980), p. 22.
28. Fichte-Studien, in Novalis Werke, hrsg. v. Gerhard Schulz (Munchen: Beck,
1969), p. 313, #67: "Das Ich fiuB sich, als darstellend setzen."
29. Frank, p. 253.
30. Fichte-Studien, p. 297, #8.
31. Fichte-Studien, p. 312, #62.
32. Ibid.
33. Cf. Fichte-Studien, p. 297, #8.
34. Cf. Herbert Uerlings, Friedrich von Hardenberg, genannt Novalis: Werk
und Forschung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1991), p. 118.
35. Ibid.
36. Cf. Frank, pp. 272ff., and Fichte-Studien 384f, #37.
37. Fichte-Studien, p. 384, #37.
38. Uerlings, pp. 398ff.
39. Cf. Fichte-Studien, 561, #185: "Die Kunst, auf eine angenehme Weise zu
befremden, einen Gegenstand fremd zu machen und doch bekannt und anziehend, das ist
die romantische Poetik."
148 Self and the Absolute
40. Fichte-Studien, p. 312f, #62.
41. Critique ofJudgment, p. 99 (emphasis added).
42. Critique ofJudgment, p. 106.
43. Cf. Friedrich Holderlin, Essays and Letters on Theory, tr. Thomas Pfau
(Albany: State Dniv. of New York Press, 1988), p. 11, and R. Haym, ibid., pp. 301-02.
44. "On the Law of Freedom," in Holderlin, Essays, pp. 33-34.
45. Holderlin, Essays, p. 37.
46. Cf. Fichte, Science ofKnowledge, 110.
47. Holderlin, Essays, pp. 20ff.
48. This aspect of Holderlin' s thought, Henrich points out, probably owes much
to Holderlin's "projection of Spinoza onto the Science ofKnowledge" (Konstellationen,
49. Holderlin, Essays, p. 26.
50. Friedrich Holderlin, Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece, tr. W. R. Trask (New
York: Ungar, 1965), p. 90.
51. Hyperion, p. 91.
52. Hyperion, p. 76.
53. Hyperion, p. 91.
54. Hyperion, p. 57.
55. Cf. Hyperion, p. 93.
56. "Reflection," in Holderlin, Essays, p. 46.
57. Hyperion, p. 114.
58. "Reflection," in Holderlin, Essays, p. 45.
59. "The Ground for 'Empedocles,'" in Holderlin, Essays, p. 60.
60. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, "Holderlin und der deutsche Idealismus," in Holderlin:
Beitriige zu seinem Verstiindnis in unserm Jahrhundert, Alfred Kelletat, ed. (Tiibin-
gen, 1961), p. 115.
61. Critique ofJudgment, p. 420.
62. Fichte-Studien, p. 297, #8.
Realizing Nature in the Self:
Schelling on Art and Intellectual Intuition in the
System of Transcendental Idealism
Richard L. Velkley
In the year 1800 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854) pub-
lished his System of Transcendental Idealism, the work which is most respon-
sible for this philosopher's reputation as the successor to Kant and Fichte, and
as the immediate forerunner of the mature Hegel. This writing indeed presents
features of two kinds of philosophical inquiry: the transcendental analysis of the
conditions of self-relatedness developed by Kant and Fichte, and the beginnings
of the dialectical mediation of self and other associated most closely with
lIege!. In what follows I shall raise an issue that indicates the distinctive inter-
est and independent worth of this maj or philosophical essay. 1 The System
brings the Idealist discussion of the self-relatedness of the "I" to a critical
stage. For in its attempt to achieve a final integration of Fichte' s starting point
with Schelling's recently developed natural philosophy, it constitutes a turning
point in the systematic program of Idealism. As I will argue, the critical point is
most manifest in the treatment of art. The relation between this treatment and
problems surfacing in the project of basing a comprehensive system on the
infinite activity of the prediscursive "I" or self, sheds much light on the subse-
quent course of Idealist thought. In order to address this relation I must briefly
consider three pairs of ideas in the System: (1) eros and totality, (2) system and
consciousness, and (3) nature and preestablished harmony. I shall then pro-
ceed to discuss two of Schelling's declarations on art: (4) that art is the true
organon of philosophy and brings about unity in philosophical knowledge;
and (5) that the art of genius resolves the fundamental contradiction in being,
thereby completing the system of philosophy.
150 Self and the Absolute
First, a preliminary statement about the System of 1800 is in order, to set
forth some of the terms of the problem of this essay. The central idea of the
System is the "infinite gulf or contradiction" between the primordial infinite
productive activity at the origin of all being, life, and spirit, and the same activ-
ity's effort to give itself objective and conscious form. The ground of exis-
tence is an infinite striving that can never fully realize itself. To "objectify"
itself it must give itself finite form, and no such fonn satisfactorily actualizes its
infinity. Yet this striving is not an infinite chaos of despair or an irrational
blundering desire. The gulf inherent within the activity between striving and
achievement makes possible the appearance of finite selves, minds, and worlds,
which dwell as it were in the space between longing and never-achieved reso-
lution. The world we inhabit is a largely comprehensible order formed by the
successive spatiotemporal unfolding of the activity of an absolute self that is
unable to intuit itself simultaneously.2 Yet comprehension of this ground sur-
passes the finite categories of discursive rational thought. Schelling makes the
extraordinary claim in the concluding sixth chapter of the System of 1800 that
art, alone among forms of human intuition, is able to offer an intuition of the
nonobjectifiable infinite activity of the absolute self. To the extent it is possible,
the artistic productivity of genius brings about a resolution-at least for human
experience-of the striving of the infinite activity. I wish to explore the mean-
ing of this claim and its implications for Schelling's thinking about the goal of
attaining systematic completeness in philosophy.
At the same time, I want to indicate something that I cannot actually
discuss here: that Schelling's position is of much interest for the understanding
of high claims made for art and the aesthetic in post-Hegelian philosophy,
above all in Nietzsche and Heidegger.
For Schelling, artistic   t ~ t o   enables
philosophy to achieve a comprehension of totality that overcomes the
dichotomies of reason and nature, of the conscious and the unconscious. In
other words, art achieves a level of thinking beyond discursive reason that
complements and fulfills, but does not invalidate, discursive reason. Schelling's
central ambition (at least until 1809) is to provide a justification, or "theodicy,"
of reason in the form of a systematic completion of all of the various demands
of reason (metaphysical, moral, religious, and aesthetic). This ambition, which
he shares with Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, sets his views on art apart from those of
Nietzsche and Heidegger. Yet Schelling's position has certain difficulties, and
these help to clarify three things: (1) why Schelling abandons giving to artistic
genius the systematic function of resolving contradiction shortly after the Sys-
tem, although art remains quite central to all later phases of his thinking; (2)
why Hegel, consistently maintaining the goal of a systematic justification of
reason, would grant a smaller role to art; (3) why the revival in Nietzsche and
Heidegger of philosophic priority for poetry and art would be accompanied
by a rejection of a theodicy of reason. I shall return to these issues (but only
Realizing Nature in the Self 151
fleetingly) at the close of the essay, when I conclude with the theme of
"genius." My purpose in this short discussion is only to present some basic
points of orientation for evaluating the significance of the System for later
European philosophy.
Schelling many times reformulated and reconceived the basic problem of
how the infinite ontological ground (whether conceived as self-intuition in
1800 or as the absolute identity of subject and object after 1800) relates to
finite existence, including the finite conscious minds of human beings. In the
System of 1800, Schelling conceives this problem in terms of eros regarded as
dialectically striving reason. Here I want to introduce a rather broad historical
observation. It can be said that German Idealism rediscovered, for modern
thought, the Platonic notion of erotic reason. In spite of its centrality, the
"erotic" strain in this tradition has been mostly neglected by its later adherents
and interpreters. Yet one cannot make sense of the thought of any of the Ger-
man Idealists without noting that reason is in each one characterized as a striv-
ing for self-actualization.
Already in Kant, the striving for the unconditioned is
regarded as essential to reason, and also as forcing reason into a "dialectic" of
fundamental perplexities. Reason is compelled by its striving for totality to
raise questions which it is unable to answer. Since Kant connects this striving
with a revised notion of the Platonic "idea," the sense of eros is certainly pre-
sent, as well.
For Kant the real urgency of the critical inquiry lies in its reso-
lution of this dialectic, so that the striving of reason for totality will not turn into
a nihilistic rejection of reason. In other words, the erotic striving of reason is in
some sense legitimate, for reason cannot be reason without it. But all the same
that striving must be satisfied in some nontheoretical fashion, since speculative
metaphysics, that is, all efforts to find a totality in nature or being, must fail.
Kant's proposed solution is to satisfy reason's demand for the unconditioned by
the endless practical striving toward the highest good-by the "primacy of
practical reason."
One can put the general point about erotic reason in German Idealism as
follows. In a manner that is much beholden to Rousseau, the leading Idealists
(Kant, Fichte, Schleiermacher, Holderlin, Novalis, Schelling, and Hegel) rein-
terpreted the modem self and subjectivity in terms of the dialectical striving of
an antinomic reason to arrive at unity with itself.
Struggling on a path of man-
ifold forms of alienation, which make up human history, the self strives after a
satisfactory recognition of its own essence, in the complete realization of its free
activity. Thus, reason can be seen as dynamic and erotic; but in this modem ver-
sion of eros, the striving of reason does not culminate in a contemplation of a
152 Self and the Absolute
supersensible world of ideas or the divine intellect, but in an ultimate self-leg-
islation or self-intuition that realizes a self-projected ideal. The new erotic rea-
son achieves a degree of systematic integration and totality never before
attempted or imagined. Yet each system of German Idealism seeks to improve
on its predecessors, which it regards as having failed to account adequately
for self-unity. The Kantian system, while aiming at an ultimate legislative uni-
fication of reason, leaves matters at a bifurcation: pure practical reason, with its
noumenal basis in self-legislative freedom, is separated from the laws of phe-
nomenal nature determined by the categories of the understanding. Fichte's
revision of critical philosophy is animated by the desire to overcome that
dichotomy. His account of the productive self-intuition of reason, uniting prac-
tical and theoretical, becomes the starting-point for the later Idealist systems
that seek greater unity, integration, wholeness, and concreteness than Kant
Schelling's philosophy is a series of attempts to achieve a genuine total-
ity, and initially he builds on Fichte's principle of self-intuition. At the same
time, his restless quest is constantly disturbed by a sense of the elusiveness of
this totality, which awareness is connected with his sense of the questionable-
ness of systenlatic solutions based on conscious and discursive thinking alone.
Perhaps for these reasons he is the most truly "Platonic" of all the idealists.
Unlike Hegel, he cannot remain satisfied with absolute conceptual mediation,
although his philosophy of identity between 1801-1804 comes close to that
position. But unlike Kant and Fichte, who have open-ended systems of limitless
striving (what Hegel calls "bad infinity"), Schelling strongly insists that human
striving not be understood as the effort to master nature as the other (or the
"not-self') of our self-conscious willing. Nature instead is the other as our
deeper self, the true ground of the more superficial conscious self. The goal of
striving is not to incorporate this other into the conscious self through subor-
dinating it to the morally superior will. Unconditioned moral autonomy is not
the highest standpoint; there is a yet deeper freedom than human moral freedom
which is at work, although not yet realized, in the preconscious powers of
True systematic completeness (such as was sought by Kant and Fichte)
comprehending both nature and freedom, is possible only if preconscious intu-
ition is the starting point in the account of reason. For natural beings and human
free rationality can have a common intelligible ground only in such intuition as
precedes the self-objectification of the conscious mind.
While having learned from Fichte that the self is a self-intuiting and self-
producing act (the Tathandlung of intellectual intuition) that does not rest on a
Realizing Nature in the Self 153
prior substrate, and that cannot be related to any such substrate without paradox,
Schelling claims to be able to demonstrate the existence of the infinite activity
of self-intuition in nature, prior to its appearance in the conscious human self. to
This claim gives rise to the philosophy of nature and thus to Schelling's early
departure from Fichte.
Whereas in Schelling's view Fichte is the creator of the
true "doctrine of science," which uncovers the first principle of intellectual
intuition for a true system of philosophy, Fichte did not provide the system
itself. This system must include an account of nature-both in its otherness and
in its identity with the human spirit.
The aim of Schelling's account is to
release and actualize the hidden freedom lying in nature and to disclose its
identity with our deeper selves. The introduction to the System of 1800
describes that aim, or what it calls the principle task of philosophy, as the
explanation of the coincidence or agreement (Obereinstimmung) between sub-
ject and object, or intelligence and nature. Natural philosophy, in which
Schelling had already composed substantial treatises, argues toward that coin-
cidence from the objective pole. The present work on transcendental idealism
argues toward it from the subjective pole. Together the two parallel approaches
constitute the whole system of knowledge.
Transcendental idealism shows that the coincidence can be developed
from the conditions of subjectivity, since this coincidence is presumed by both
knowing and acting, by both theoretical philosophy and practical philosophy.
Hence transcendental idealism will uncover the common ground of the theo-
retical and the practical, much as did Fichte' s Doctrine of Science. It does so
also in a fashion that recalls Fichte, by philosophical reconstruction of the con-
stitutive activity of consciousness that goes unnoticed by ordinary conscious-
ness. Philosophical thought is here engaged in watching ordinary consciousness
gradually disclose its own essence, and thus also its ultimate identity with the
principle of nature. But Schelling also makes clear his view that the Fichtean
philosopher has not achieved that identity solely through grasping in con-
sciousness the principle of identity, in the fonn of the "postulate" of intellectual
intuition. As we shall see, this is because the fulfilling mediation, or achieve-
ment of identity, cannot occur simply on the plane of conscious reflection,
either as thought or action. The final mediation indeed is of an· ontological,
not solely reflective, sort. It must actualize a harmony between nature and the
hunlan spirit which, while already somehow latent and preestablished, is also
disrupted by human consciousness.
The demand for a comprehensive system in Schelling is, in one sense,
only taking further the efforts of Reinhold and Fichte to develop an improved,
more integrated version of the critical philosophy, by modifying Kant's doctrine
of the transcendental unity of apperception so that it yields a unitary reason that
is at once theoretical and practical. 14 Yet Schelling's version of such a system is
profoundly ambiguous, and it becomes so precisely in the way it demands
154 Self and the Absolute
completeness. For in requiring the conscious human spirit to recognize itself in
the infinite activity of its other, that is, nonhuman nature, it discloses an impos-
sible tension, or as Schelling says, an "infinite contradiction."15 The true self
that the human spirit discovers in nature-the hidden infinite unconscious self
beneath the apparent finite conscious self-is a self whose objectification by the
finite categories of discursive reason is quite impossible. It would seem that the
effort to complete the system of reason opens up an abyss, the necessary elu-
siveness of the unity of being and hence of all "system." The modern (post-
Cartesian) striving for satisfaction in universal foundations would seem to
result paradoxically in an insight that endangers all systematic aspirations.
Schelling indeed states in the System that philosophy is compelled to return to
its primordial origins in myth and poetry, lying on the other side of discursive
reason; but it does so precisely in order to fulfill its systematic aspirations.
Eventually Schelling is forced by the logic of his position, that is, by the eros
that demands a relation to something beyond the conscious self, to move
beyond modern systematic thought. But he is not ready to take that step in
1800, when he argues that art can complete the system of knowledge, by pro-
viding the objectification that discursive categories cannot provide.
It seems that the boldest of speculative leaps is taking place when, in
the concluding sixth part of the System of 1800, Schelling claims that "art is the
only true and eternal organon and document of philosophy."16 This claim,
unprecedented in the history of Western philosophy,17 is intelligible only as
the conclusion of an argument from the premises of the System, which include
a Leibnizian-Spinozist natural philosophy revised by Fichtean idealism, and a
Kantian effort to provide a link between nature and freedom through art and
teleological reflection. I shall offer brief descriptions of these premises and
then show that they are necessary but not sufficient to account for Schelling's
view of art as providing the ultimate unifying horizon that completes the system
of reason.
The post-Kantian who restores Leibniz's principle of preestablished har-
mony is Schelling. As in Leibniz's philosophy, all of nature and being is under-
stood in terms of an infinite striving or appetite for perception; but this appetite
or conatus is itself reinterpreted in terms of Fichte' s intellectual intuition whose
dynamic is that of a striving for self-objectification.
The infinite productive
activity seeks to intuit itself; it can do so only by self-limitation (since as with
Spinoza's infinite substance and Fichte's "I," nothing external to it can limit it);
and to limit itself it must render itself "objective" by creating worlds of objects.
A lesson that Schelling wishes us to draw from this philosophy of nature is the
Realizing Nature in the Self 155
existence of a preestablished harmony of nature with human intelligence, such
that we are justified in expecting nature to be receptive to our rational and
conscious purposes.
Hence Schelling regards nature as offering providential
support for human history; the ground of history is an ultimate identity of nat-
ural necessity and human freedom.
These speculations also recall in many
respects the central concerns of the Analytic of Teleological Judgment, the
second half of Kant's Critique ofJudgment: the search for evidence of purpo-
siveness in nature, the characterization of organism as nonmechanistic self-
production, and the overarching systematic concern with providential signs of
nature's regard for human moral purposes. But also quite clearly the role of art
and genius in the culmination of Schelling's system is indebted to Kant's Ana-
lytic ofAesthetic Judgment, i.e., the first half of the same Critique. For that part
also is an inquiry into the grounds for making the transition (Ubergang) from
nature to freedom: aesthetic judgment is, in Kant's view, an indicator of a pos-
sible regard of nature for our faculties. 21
But there are great differences between Kant and Schelling, as well.
Whereas Kant proposes a realizing of the human self in nature for the pur-
poses of free self-legislative morality, Schelling seeks a realizing of nature in
the human self for the accomplishing of a deeper unity of freedom and neces-
sity. In Schelling's case, providential support for the realizability of the ends of
freedom in history is only a provisional moment. Furthermore, Kant's tentative
notions of teleology are merely regulative, and in his account of organism he is
not seeking a true "natural philosophy." Kant speaks only of a possible super-
sensible substrate that unites nature and freedom purposively. Schelling more
constitutively affirms the existence of a harmony of nature and freedom, so that
the human spirit looking at nature genuinely beholds itself therein: "The exter-
nal world lies open before us, so that we can find in it again the history of our
spirit. "22 Going well beyond what Kant regards as "critically" permissible
(which is to have only subjectively regulative n.otions of the operation of free-
dom within nature), Schelling speculates on the evolutionary emergence of
rational life out of the prerational in his reflection on nature as our "transcen-
dental past."
Yet if this is Schelling's view, we can well ask why a philosophy of art is
needed, beyond a philosophy of nature, in order to uncover the harmony we
seek? As a post-Kantian, Schelling regards human freedom or self-conscious-
ness as expressing some fundamental divide between nature and the human
spirit that needs to be mediated.
Leibnizian continuity between prerational
and rational spirits cannot be the final word. Yet, as we have seen, Schelling
opposes the Kantian-Fichtean position that the striving of moral freedom is
the highest standpoint. The productivity of genius in works of art is a higher
standpoint, accomplishing the real identity of nature and freedom, of uncon-
scious nature and human consciousness.· Pure freedom opposed to the object is
156 Self and the Absolute
shown to be a mere "appearance." Clearly the function of art as ultimate medi-
ator rests on assumptions that are neither sin1ply Leibnizian-Spinozist nor Kan-
tian-Fichtean. To throw light on this matter we need to consider now more
closely the function of art in Schelling's version of "transcendental idealism."
This requires us to unravel further the sense of the "infinite contradiction"
mentioned earlier.
In addition to the statement about art as the organon and document of
philosophy, already quoted, Schelling also writes: "The universal organon of
philosophy-and the keystone of its entire arch-is the philosophy of art."24
The reference to "philosophy of art" makes clear that Schelling does not
intend a simple replacement of philosophic argument by poetic production,
with his new account of a philosophic "organon." The mention of philosophy
of art also indicates that the organon-function and the documenting-function
of art are not identical. As document, art provides an objective form of intel-
lectual intuition in the sense of a public manifestation or declaration of the
highest principle in a universally accessible fonn.
But that the system of phi-
losophy will culminate in philosophy of art means that the philosophic reflec-
tion on art is somehow extending the philosopher's own insight, not only
making the insight he already has more communicable to others. The term
"organon" of course has a venerable history that includes the Aristotelian
logical writings, modern attempts to provide a new logic of discovery (as in
Bacon and Lambert), and Kant's claim that practical reason or morality, not
theoretical science, is the highest organon of philosophical doctrines. ("The
keystone of the arch" is an obvious reference to Kant's claim about "free-
dom" in the Critique of Practical Reason.) This prehistory of the term indi-
cates that Schelling sees in the reflection on art a means to provide an orga-
nizing principle of unity within our knowledge, to replace the earlier unifying
principles of logic, scientific method, and practical reason. One must keep in
view the relations between organon, organization, organism, and system. An
organon extends insight through giving knowledge the form of organic unity,
or systematic form.
Thus, Schelling's claim that in art or aesthetic intuition, the principle of
intellectual intuition becomes objective, has to be related to his conception of
art as the unifying moment in the system. We have seen that the system must
be able to show the identity of the infinite activity of nature and the self-intu-
ition presupposed by human self-consciousness. That art is the unifying
moment, and not solely documentary, illuminates the meaning of the "entire
mechanism" of the transcendental deduction of the postulated identity, from
Realizing Nature in the Self 157
the subjective conditions of human knowledge.
Schelling asserts that "the
whole sequence of the transcendental philosophy is based merely upon a con-
tinual raising of self-intuition to increasingly higher powers, from the first
and simplest exercise of self-consciousness, to the highest, namely the aes-
thetic."28 But the question naturally arises, whether the "history of conscious-
ness" is an account of progress in representing the postulated identity-princi-
ple of self-intuition, in which case the principle is somehow already fully
actual at the start of the System, but not yet adequately described there; or
whether this "history" is the progressive actualization of the identity itself? Is
aesthetic intuition the best representation, or is it the true actualization, of the
primordial self-intuition? It is clear that art as unifying organon is to effect an
actualizing, and not just representational, completion of the system. The pre-
reflective self-intuition of nature must be realized in the unification with
reflective and conscious self-intuition. A mere representation or description of
nature's prereflective intuition is already accomplished by natural philoso-
phy, in its account of the nonmechanistic self-production of organism. But that
description is still external to the natural productive forces themselves. In the
desired unification, the unconscious production must become conscious of
itself as prereflectively intuitive or self-productive.
How this is so will
become apparent only from the manner in which art, or more especially
genius, resolves "infinite contradiction." This contradiction, being infinite, is
not of a logical sort, but rather ontological. To resolve this contradiction is to
heal a fundamental conflict in being.
Yet any such conception of a conflict in the infinite activity of being
would seem to call into question all notions of preestablished hannony between
nature and the human self. It is also far removed from a Kantian or Fichtean
view of nature and freedom as dichotomous, as separate independent realms
which can at best converge. The latter model of the relation between two realms
can be described in terms of giving the inward (i.e., freedom) an outward
expression: placing the stamp of human freedom or nl0rality on nature as the
other. But clearly Schelling cannot resolve the contradiction of nature and free-
dom, or of the unconscious and the conscious, in that way. His project is not a
convergence on the basis of freedom, but a resolution on the basis of identity. If
art effects the resolution, then it cannot be simply offering an external com-
plement to an internal activity which has priority to the external representation.
Again, one can propose such a mistaken notion of art as "extemalization" only
if one entirely ignores the reconciliation with nature that occurs through art.
When art objectifies infinity activity it discloses more than the self-intuiting of
the conscious human self; it reveals nature as an active power within the self.
Hence only mythic and religious art, not modern portrayal of individual interi-
ority, possesses the requisite powers to complete the system.
With this in
mind, we must turn to the contradiction to be resolved by art.
158 Self and the Absolute
A crux found throughout Schelling's philosophy is the defectiveness of
conscious thinking and acting: both must divide the unity of subject and object
that exists whole in the original infinite activity. The very first act of philo-
sophic reflection divides, and does not capture whole, the reality of intellectual
A certain dividing also is present already in nature, insofar as the
infinite activity limits itself in the producing of any being; but the division
there does not yet take the form of the distinction between the conscious and the
unconscious. Nature attempts to embody its infinity in finite products, and
while failing, it maintains its infinity in the form of infinite becoming. But it is
not conscious of its failure. Human consciousness has this dubious privilege of
being conscious of the gulf between its finite conscious acts and the infinite that
the acts seek to realize. That gulf is the same as the one between the human self,
which Schelling calls the "eternal fragment,"32 and the relative wholeness of
nature's "unconscious poetry of the spirit."33
The task that is then set for philosophy to solve would seem to be literally
impossible for it. It is expressed now this way: "An intuition must therefore be
exhibitable in the intelligence itself, whereby in one and the same appearance,
the self is at once conscious and unconscious for itself."34 This demand, which
expresses the fulfillment of the postulate of intellectual intuition, requires more
than the recognition of the principle of the infinite activity; it demands the
actualization of that principle itself, qua infinite, within finite human con-
sciousness. This requires that the human self actualize at once its own infinite
unconscious basis and the finite conscious reflection on that basis, within con-
sciousness itself. None of Schelling's predecessors made this demand; and
Schelling sees that philosophy itself, by purely conceptual means, cannot bring
this about. Conceptual thinking simply perpetuates the infinite contradiction
between infinite activity and finite thought. It would seem to be utterly impos-
sible, an ontological absurdity, to suppose that finite thought could recover
the undivided unity of the whole. Schelling's systematic goal cannot even be
formulated as an ideal to approximate. There is no way to approach by degrees
the absolute indifference of the undivided infinite.
The intuition that philosophy cannot exhibit, is accomplished in the cre-
ative production of works of art by genius. This intuition, combining the uncon-
scious production of nature with conscious human reflection, is the wonder, the
incomprehensible gift, the grace granted by nature, which makes possible the
impossible: the wholly unexpected harmony that philosophy seeks. It provides
the unifying horizon that indeed nature in its infinite striving has always sought.
Thus, art is the sole and eternal revelation.
I do not want to give the details of
Schelling's account of genius, which resembles closely that of Kant. 36 My con-
cern is only to show how Schelling employs this notion for a systematic aim
Realizing Nature in the Self 159
that goes well beyond anything Kant would give it: "to resolve a contradiction
which threatens our whole intellectual existence."37
Now a most remarkable feature of this resolution must be underlined. It
is especially noteworthy that Schelling calls the resolution a sheer "contin-
gency," even though it is at the same time the "highest potential of self-intu-
ition."38 In the end, preestablished harmony is understood to be fulfilled by
miraculous harmony. One is confronted with the paradox of a systematic com-
pletion occurring on a profoundly antisystematic basis, that of an event
(genius) beyond all human calculation and control. Schelling had more than
one reason for being dissatisfied with this solution. It is not satisfying that the
true organon of philosophical insight, which finally justifies the original striv-
ing of self-intuition to achieve objective form, can be employed wholly con-
tingently, and not as an anticipated telos within the original striving. This
deprives the "dialectic" of advancing insight (on the part of the intelligence
being observed by the philosopher) of any true inner necessity. Hegel accord-
ingly took a very different approach in his account of the history of con-
sciousness in the Phenomenology of Mind (1807), for there the "natural con-
sciousness" discovering its own deficiencies does so through a genuine
self-correction based on the dialectic of the self-mediating concept.
developing consciousness brings about its own education, as it were. In
Schelling's account, even at the stage where intelligence has become philo-
sophical and has seen the incompleteness of both natural philosophy and prac-
tical philosophy, it must then await the miracle of artistic genius,to acquire the
intuition that reconciles opposites.
Yet another deficiency afflicts the position of the System. Unlike the
one just mentioned, this problem is indicated by the text itself. If reconciliation
is dependent on the miraculous appearance of genius, then the documentation of
the highest philosophical insight in objective form has perhaps only an
ephemeral character. But the highest insight must be available not only to
philosophers, for philosophy has the task of reconciling the human spirit with
nature on a larger scale. The true goal of the philosophical system is to univer-
salize intellectual intuition in the form of a philosophical religion, or in a sym-
bolic embodiment of the highest ideas. Clearly Schelling aims through the phi-
losophy of art to prepare the ground for such a religion, which replaces both
revelation in dogmatic theology and the purely rational faith of critical (Kan-
tian) theology. Yet for this to occur, the human spirit must create a new mythol-
ogy; and this cannot exist merely as the radiant accomplishments of rare indi-
viduals, but as the universal bond of an entire people. Thus philosophy must
return to the "universal ocean of poetry" from which it emerged, to prepare for
the creation of this mythology. But how a future race will create this universal
work of art, as a single poet, is a problem that can be solved only in the future
destiny of the world.
160 Self and the Absolute
For neither problem does the contingent appearance of artistic genius
provide a solution. These difficulties help to explain why Schelling shortly
after the System proposes another view of the completability of philosophy
through a nonmiraculous and nonpoetic intuition; such is the philosophy of
identity that he develops in 1801.
Even so, the ambition of philosophy remains
that of providing humanity with a philosophical religion that expresses in sym-
bolic form the ideas or archetypes of philosophy. The philosophy of identity
does not abandon this.
What is more, Schelling, for reasons that cannot be dis-
cussed here, turned away from the purely rational account of the absolute start-
ing point found in the writings between 1801-04, toward the primacy of non-
discursive poetry, myth and revelation in the later philosophy after 1809.
could say that Schelling discovered no adequate way to bring together the
demands of a noncontingent and rational basis for the completion of the infinite
striving in a universal mythology, and of the insight that this mythology is to
convey about the infinity of the primordial erotic striving.
To express this point more fully: the System's proposal that all intelli-
gibility rests on a preretlective infinite erotic striving that can never be com-
prehended by finite categories, rightly culminates in a high claim made for
the nondiscursive thinking of poetry and myth. Such thinking must come to the
aid of conceptual thinking, unable by itself to disclose this situation. But in that
case, art discloses to us the nature of erotic striving as unsatisfiable, not the har-
monious completion of a unified system based on the "I" of self-relation (or on
another principle such as the absolute identity of subject-object). The passage
on art in the System of ·1800 is of lasting interest, even though it is in some
sense "transitional," precisely because it shows in a paradigmatic way the
problematic character of what Schelling sought. At the same time it throws
light on two other developments in German philosophy: Hegel's adoption of a
rational noncontingent standpoint in the Absolute without the revelation of an
infinite unsatisfied eros through art; and the recovery of the contingent poetic
revelation of eros in Nietzsche and Heidegger without the rational Absolute.
Schelling's exposure of the struggle between artistic eros and systematic rea-
son-a version of the ancient quarrel of poetry and philosophy-inaugurates a
new era by giving the first clear expression to one of the central problems of
later modem philosophy.
1. References to the System des transzendentalen Idealismus will employ the
standard edition of K.F.A. Schelling, Schellings Siimmtliche Werke (Stuttgart: Cotta,
1856-61; hereafter cited as SW), I13, 327-634. Many works in this edition, including the
Systeln, have been reissued in a six-volume paperback collection edited by Manfred
Frank, F. W. J. Schelling, Ausgewiihlte Schriften (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1985),
Realizing Nature in the Self 161
which reproduces the Stuttgart pagination. The English translation cited here is that of
Peter Heath, F. W. J. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), with an
introduction by M. Vater (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1978; hereafter
"Heath"). Dieter Jahnig's massive two-volume study is still the most comprehensive
reading of the System of 1800: Schelling: Die Kunst in der Philosophie; Schellings
Begriindung von Natur und Geschichte, vol. I; Die Wahrheitsfunktion der Kunst, vol. II
(pfullingen: Neske, 1966 and 1969). Unlike Jahnig I am most concerned with under-
lining what is problematic in the System's treatment of art. For other discussions of
Schelling on art, see notes 3, 21, 42, and 43 below. There is a growing body of literature
in English on Schelling. The principal book-length study is Andrew Bowie, Schelling
and Modern European Philosophy: An Introduction (London and New York: Rout-
ledge, 1993). See also Alan White, Schelling: An Introduction to the System ofFreedom
(New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983), Werner Marx, The Philosophy of F. W. J.
Schelling: History, System, and Freedom, tr. T. Nenon (Bloomington: Indiana Univ.
Press, 1984), and Heidegger's path-breaking study, Schelling's Treatise on the Essence
ofHuman Freedom, translated by 1. Stambaugh (Athens, Ohio: Ohio Uillv. Press, 1985).
The entire volume XIX, 3 of Idealistic Studies (September 1989), edited by Joseph P.
Lawrence, is devoted to Schelling. It contains several valuable essays relevant to the pre-
sent topics.
2. This thought in the System is basic to Schelling's other presentations of his nat-
ural philosophy. Thus, in the Abhandlungen zur Erliiuterung des Idealismus der Wis-
senschaftslehre (1796/97): "It is as though in every moment the soul is striving to rep-
resent the infinite, but because this cannot be done, it strives necessarily beyond every
present moment to represent the infinite at least successively in time," SW, 1/1, p. 384.
Here and elsewhere Schelling relates his account of the ground of being as a spiritual
activity seeking to intuit itself through an infinite succession of representations, to Leib-
niz (see also SW1/1, pp. 357-58, 386-87). This connection is further discussed below.
3. A discussion of the System's treatment of art that relates it to post-Nietzschean
thinking on art is Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche
(Manschester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1990), especially chapter 4. His discussion is
similar in approach to that of Manfred Frank, Einfiihrung in die fruhromantische
Asthetik: Vorlesungen (Frankful1 am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989), ch. 10, pp. 155-74.
4. In this respect I see a deficiency in the philosopical renewal of the Idealist
accounts of self-consciousness in Henrich, Frank, and the so-called Heidelberg School.
My objection is that it is not sufficient to uncover the immediacy and irreducibility of the
self-familiarity (Vertrautheit) of consciousness, although the arguments made to estab-
lish this have certainly been compelling. But human consciousness is also characterized
by an inherent striving to objectify itself, or to ground itself conceptually. This striving
necessarily fails, and one could speak then of a natural dialectic of reason in this con-
nection. For Fichte and Schelling, this striving for self-objectification is inseparable
from primary self-awareness, and even though it has a dialectical character, it is essen-
tial to the growth of human self-consciousness. Each failure at self-objectification is fol-
lowed by a more enlightened attempt, which then brings about an advance in human
freedom and maturity. Hunlan reason strives toward the most comprehensive form of
162 Self and the Absolute
self-unity, one in which the categories of self-understanding are truly adequate to the
inner being of reason as freedom. This is what I call the "erotic" element in the Idealist
accounts of reason. It has been neglected in favor of a view of self-consciousness in
which an initial imn1ediate (and "undialectical") self-intuition is a satisfactory founda-
tional principle, one that evades the critiques of the self made by linguistic-analytic, nat-
uralistic, and Heideggerian-poststructuralist thinking. Yet the view of the self, once the
self is rescued from those critiques, n1ust include this erotic-dialectical element (which
need not be understood in a Hegelian fashion).
5. Thus the following passage in Critique ofPure Reason (A3141B370-71), in the
section on "The Ideas in General": "Plato very well realised that our faculty of knowl-
edge feels a much higher need (Bedurfnis) than merely to spell out appearances accord-
ing to a synthetic unity, in order to be able to read them as experience; and that our rea-
son naturally exalts itself (aufschwinge) to modes of knowledge which so far transcend
the bounds of experience that no given empirical object can ever coincide with them, but
which must nonetheless be recognised as having their own reality, and which are by no
means mere fictions of the brain" (Kemp-Smith translation, slightly modified).
6. Dialectical eros as the ground anterior to reason (as "will" or "drive") has an
eminent post-Idealist history (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Spengler, etc.).
Rousseau's thought is transmitted to German Idealism most crucially through Kant,
but also through Hamann, Jacobi, Herder, and Goethe. Kant admitted to being con-
verted to a fundamentally new view of philosophy and its human significance by
Rousseau. I have described that transformation elsewhere, in Freedom and the End of
Reason: On the Moral Foundation of Kant's Critical Philosophy (Chicago: Univ. of
Chicago Press, 1989). I argue it is chiefly thanks to Rousseau that Kantian transcendental
analysis replaces a more traditional epistemological or metaphysical analysis. For Kant's
primary aim in the transcendental deduction of the categories is not epistemological; it
is to disclose the grounds for the self-consistency of reason. That disclosure has the
urgency Kant says it has, because reason's very existence is threatened by its theoretical
dialectic. More closely regarded, this threat is posed to reason's capacity for self-deter-
mination, that is, to practical reason. Kant asks: "What use can we make of our under-
standing, even in respect of experience, if we do not propose ends to ourselves? But the
highest ends are those of morality" (Critique ofPure Reason, Kemp-Smith translation,
A8161B844). But as early as 1764-65, Kant understood Rousseau as showing that in
both ethics and metaphysics, reason falls into dialectic through a mistaken "realism," that
is, through seeking to ground itself in an independent order of nature or being. Thus Kant
arrived at the general problematic of the self-subversion of reason. A fundamental
premise of this conception of reason is the inherent "erotic" striving of reason for a
delusory totality (a wholeness of "unconditioned" satisfaction through nature or being)
that leads to dialectic.
7. In recounting his natural philosophy in the Munich lectures on the history of
modem philosophy (1833-34), Schelling expresses this elusiveness in the following
terms: "Being what it is, the Subject can never possess itself, for even in being drawn to
itself it becomes something other; this is the fundamental contradiction, or we could say,
the misfortune in all Being-for either it neglects itself, and then it is like nothing, or it
!RealiZing Nature in the Self 163
is drawn to itself, and then it is an other and to itself unequal.... The first being, this pri-
mum existens as 1have called it, is thus also the first contingent reality (the primary con-
tingency)." Schelling goes on to say that the construction of reality in natural philosophy
begins with a "dissonance" (SWII10, p. 101).
8. Wolfgang Wieland, "Die Anfange der Philosophie Schellings und die Frage
nach der Natur," in Natur und Geschichte: Karl LOwith zum 70. Geburtstag (Stuttgart:
Kohlhammer, 1967), is a classic statement on the motives for natural philosophy in
Schelling. It should be emphasized that the critique of Kantian-Fichtean morality of
autonomous reason, central to the natural philosophy, is not replaced by an "amoral"
necessitarianism. Schelling is searching for a deeper unity of freedom and necessity, one
he hopes to disclose in the three related areas of nature, art, and history. As to history,
Schelling's effort is to uncover a morality of political life that unites free human beings
by the common bonds of a religion that symbolically expresses the highest speculative
ideas in sensuous form, that is, a mythology of reason. The effort is surely akin to
Hegel's notions of Sittlichkeit; the so-called "Oldest System-Program of German Ide-
alism" of 1796, of disputed authorship, already proposes such a "mythology of rea-
son," and outlines how the three areas of nature, art, and history will be reformed in a
new Idealism, thus indicating the COOlmon points of departure for Schelling and Hegel.
See Materialien zu Schellings philosophischen Anjiingen, ed. M. Frank and G. Kurz
(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), pp. 110-12.
9. Manfred Frank argues for the decisive importance of Holderlin's insight into
the deficiency of Fichte's account of the self, for Schelling's tum to a preconscious
unity of the self (which makes thinkable the attribution of self-intuition to nature).
According to Holderlin, if (as in Fichte) the self is a productive self-positing, then it must
be understood in terms of the opposition of subject and object, which reintroduces the
"circle of reflection"; to avoid this circularity, the self must be seen as a primordial
unity (Being) preceding the explicit self-awareness that divides the self from itself in
judgment. This prepares the way for Schelling's wholly prereflective notion of intuition.
See Frank, Eine Einfiihrung in Schellings Philosophie, pp. 61-70. But unlike Holderlin,
Schelling underlines the infinite activity of the primary intuition (in a quasi-Leibnizian
theory of conatus), which becomes its own object through self-limitation.
10. See System, SW 1/3, 376: "The eternal, timeless act of self-consciousness
which we call self, is that which gives all things existence, and so itself needs no other
being to support it; bearing and supporting itself, rather, it appears objectively as eternal
becoming, and subjectively as a producing without limit." Heath, p. 32.
11. Between 1774-96, Schelling published several works that are quite close to
Fichte in approach and spirit (Ober die Moglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie, Vom
Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie, Philosophische Briefe aber Dogmatismus und Kri-
tizismus), then between 1776-99 several treatises of the new natural philosophy
(Abhandlungen zur Erliiuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre, Ideen zu einer
Philosophie der Natur, Von der Weltseele, Erster Entwurf eines Systems der Natur-
philosophie). The first of this last group is the earliest attempt to relate natural philoso-
phy to the Fichtean starting-point.
164 Self and the Absolute
12. SW II3, 330: "Now the purpose of the present work is simply this, to enlarge
transcendental idealism into what it really should be, namely a system of all knowledge"
(Heath, 1).
13. See Section 3 of the Introduction for the account of the "problem" of tran-
scendental philosophy as the demonstration of such coinciding of nature (the uncon-
scious) and freedom (the conscious) on the basis of intellectual intuition.
14. Recent accounts of this development of critical philosophy in Reinhold, Fichte,
and so on are Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate ofReason: German Philosophyfrom Kant to
Fichte (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987) and Frederick Neu-
houser, Fichte's Theory ofSubjectivity (Can1bridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990).
15. SW 1/3, pp. 620-24. In this passage Schelling states that natural science
(Newton) is not capable of resolving infinite contradiction; art is necessarily higher
than science, and only the productive spirits of the former have "genius" in the strict
16. SW 113, 627; Heath, p. 231.
17. See Frank, EinfUhrung in die friihromantische Asthetik, p. 151: Schelling's
System "is the first in Western philosophy which ascribes to art the role of bringing
about the objectivity of that which is anticipated in intellectual intuition-and thus the
reality of its own principle." It is as "organon" of philosophic insight that art objectifies
the principle of self-intuition, that is, it brings about (through the productivity of genius)
the intuition's realization in a finite sensuous form, thus realizing the unconscious pro-
ductive activity of nature in the same act as conscious self-relation (more on this below).
For Schelling's originality, see also D. Jahnig, Schelling: Die Kunst in der Philoso-
phie, vol. I, pp. 9 ~   9
18. See note 2 above on the Abhandlungen zur Erliiuterung des ldealismus der
Wissenschaftslehre (1796-97), which contains accounts of the new dynamic-teleologi-
cal approach to nature with explicit acknowledgment of debts to Leibniz. Note such
statements as ''The ascending scale of organisms and the transition from nonliving to liv-
ing nature disclose clearly a productive power, which eventually develops into freedom.
Spirit seeks to intuit itself in the succession of its representations.... Every organism is
a unified world (according to Leibniz, a confused representation of the world)" (SWIll,
387). Schelling's "renewal" of Leibniz is further elaborated in the important introduction
to ldeen zu einer Philosophie der Natur of 1797 (SWII2, pp. 11-56). One must also give
attention to the role of Solomon Maimon as mediator of Leibnizian philosophy to the
post-Kantian thinkers. See H. H. Holz, "Der Begriff der Natur in Schellings spekula-
tivem Systen1. Zum Einfluss von Leibniz auf Schelling," in Natur und geschichtlicher
Prozess. Studien zur Naturphilosophie F. ~ J. Schellings, ed. H. 1. Sandkiihler (Frank-
furt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1984).
19. For "pre-established harmony," seeSWI/3, p. 348 (Heath, pp. 11-12): "How
both the objective world accommodates to presentations in us, and presentations in us to
the objective world, is unintelligible unless between the two worlds, the ideal and the
Realizing Nature in the Self 165
real, there exists a pre-established harmony (vorherbestimmte Hannonie). But this lat-
ter is itself unthinkable unless the activity, whereby the objective world is produced, is
at bottom identical with that which expresses itself in volition, and vice-versa" (trans-
lation slightly modified). There is a discussion of the "pre-established harmony of intel-
ligence" at pp. 545-46; the ultimate implications of this harmony for the providential
account of history, as based on the harmony of nature and freedom, are discussed in Part
Four, pp. 5 9 3 ~ 6   6 The language of harmony, like that of correspondence (Oberein-
stimmung), actually represents a provisional standpoint; for the apparent duality of
principles that "harmonize" is replaced by insight into true identity; see Part Five, pp.
610-11. I leave out of the discussion here whether the language of preestablished har-
mony might not similarly for Leibniz represent only a provisional and imperfect for-
mulation of a true identity of principles of mind and body (based on dynamics).
20. SW 1/3,605-06. An excellent discussion of the place of providence and his-
tory in Schelling, making the argument that his philosophy "from beginning to end is a
philosophy of history," is H. M. Baumgartner, "Vernunft im Ubergang zu Geschichte.
Bemerkungen zur Entwicklung von Schellings Philosophie als Geschichtsphilosophie,"
in Schelling. Seine Bedeutung jar eine Philosophie der Natur und der Geschichte, ed. L.
Hasler (Stuttgart, 1981). The concern with a providential account of history, in con-
junction with a new nonmechanistic physics and an account of aesthetics as the highest
human activity, is already present in the so-called "Oldest System-Program of German
Idealism," from just a few years before the System of 1800. See note 8 above.
21. See Critique of Judgment, Introduction, section IX, for the transition from
nature to freedom by means of the determination of the "supersensible substrate" (the
postulated common ground of nature and freedom) through concepts of purposiveness.
Kant appeals to the idea of this ground to clarify the moral significance of the aesthetic
judgment of natural beauty (Critique, section 42): this substrate is the ground of nature's
apparent regard for our rational faculties in producing beautiful forms for our disinter-
ested pleasure, whose freedom is analogous to moral self-determination. But also the
productivity of genius is given moral-regulative significance (section 57, Remark I),
since genius's natural capacity for the production of aesthetic ideas, which cannot be
brought under the rule of concepts but in which all the faculties harmonize, is another
indicator of a supersensible ground of both nature and freedom. Genius thus permits
Kant to extend moral significance to beautiful art, and to go beyond natural beauty in
speaking of the beautiful in general as the symbol of morality (section 59). Kant's treat-
ment of genius is clearly in the immediate background to Schelling's conception of
genius as the unity of freedom and necessity rendering conscious the unconscious pro-
ductivity of nature. K. Dusing, "Schellings Genieasthetik," in Philosophie und Poesie I:
O. Poggeler zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. A. Gethmann-Siefert (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holz-
boog, 1988), for the relations between Schelling and Kant on genius.
22. Abhandlungen, SWIll, p. 383.
23. Thus, see the praise of Kant for the discovery that the idea of freedom is the
"Archimedean point" outside the world that permits reason to be a unified system; SW
24. SWI/3, p. 349; Heath, p. 12.
25. SW113, p. 625.
Self and the Absolute
26. Significantly Kant and Schelling both employ a striking metaphor in con-
nection with the notion of system: monogramma. Kant states that the basic schematic
idea for a system is a "monogram" (Critique ofPure Reason, A833-34/B861-62), in the
context of characterizing a true system of reason as an organism. Schelling writes that
"every organism is a monogram of that original identity," that is, of the principle of the
system of reason (SWI/3, p. 611; Heath, p. 218).
27. SW 1/3, pp. 625-26; Heath, p. 230: "The aesthetic intuition is indeed the
intellectual intuition become objective. The work of art reflects to me only what is oth-
erwise not reflected by anything, namely that absolutely identical which has already
divided itself even in the'!'; hence that which the philosopher allows to be divided
even in the primary act of consciousness, and which would otherwise be inaccessible to
any intuition, comes through the miracle of art to be radiated back from the products
thereof." Two points should be underlined here: (1) the "aesthetic intuition" spoken of
occurs only through works of art, and is not a general aesthetic faculty; and (2) the
work of art has a unique privilege of making possible an intuition that would otherwise
be inaccessible--even to the philosopher.
28.SWI/3, p. 631; Heath, p. 233.
29. Hence the insufficiency of natural philosophy taken by itself, to complete the
system of reason. The complementary insufficiency is found in practical philosophy,
wherein consciousness is fully aware of itself as freely productive, but only in opposition
to the prereflective intuition of nature. Art alone can bring about the unity of nature and
freedom (SWI/3, p. 611).
30. The stress on mythology and religious art is a persistent feature of Schelling's
treatment of art. In spite of profound affinities with Goethe's natural philosophy and,
therefore, with Goethe's understanding of art as the symbol of nature, Schelling has the
highest estimation of Christian art; it is able to disclose the deepest unity of nature and
creative freedom. For this see his lectures on the philosophy of art, and also the essay of
1803, "(Tber Dante in philosophischer Beziehung," SWII5, pp. 152-63.
31. SWI/3, pp. 610,625.
32. SW113, p. 608; Heath. p. 216.
33. SWI/3, p. 349; Heath, p. 12.
34. SWI/3, pp. 610-11; Heath, pp. 217-18; also SWI/3, p. 349.
35. SW 113, p. 618; also p. 628 (Heath, p. 231): "Art is just for this reason the
highest to the philosopher, because it opens to him, as it were, the holiest of holies,
where bums in eternal and original unity, as if in a single flame, that which in nature and
history is tom asunder, and in life and action, no less than in thought, must forever fly
apart" (translation slightly modified).
Realizing Nature in the Self
36. See note 21 above.
37. SWII3, p. 621; Heath, p. 226.
38. SWII3, p. 634; Heath, p. 236.
39. Werner Marx has sharply portrayed this contrast between Schelling in 1800
and Hegel in 1807 in "The Task and Method of Philosophy in Schelling's System of
Transcendental Idealism and in Hegel's Phenomenology ofSpirit," in The Philosophy of
F. W. J. Schelling, especially pp. 50-57.
40. SWI/3, pp. 628-29.
41. K. Dusing has discussed the very interesting fact that Schelling developed
a three-part plan for a system in which philosophy of art would become an indepen-
dent part on a level with natural philosophy and transcendental philosophy, soon
after the System of 1800, but then abandoned it not long after working with Hegel,
who arrived in lena in early 1801. Dusing argues that Hegel moved Schelling away
from this plan and indeed toward the philosophy of identity-opposing the tradi-
tional view that Schelling was the greater source of influence in the pair. See
Schellings und Hegels erste absolute Metaphysik (1801-1802): Vorlesungsnach-
schriften von I. P. V. Troxler, edited and interpreted by K. Dusing (Cologne: Dinter,
1988). But it should be noted that Schelling presents a three-part structure of philos-
ophy (philosophy of nature, history, and art) in the lectures on the philosophy of art in
1802-03 (see note 42 below).
42. In the lectures on the Philosophy ofArt (1802-03) the very high status of
art is connected to the essential task of mythology. "Mythology is the necessary
condition and the first content of all art." And: "Mythology is nothing other than the
universe in its higher manifestation, in its absolute form, the true universe in
itself.... The creations of art must have the same reality as, indeed an even higher
reality than, those of nature." See Schelling, The Philosophy ofArt, ed. and tr. D. W.
Stott (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 45 and SW 1/5, p. 405. Again
Schelling speaks of the project of creating a new mythology: "Neither do I hide my
conviction that in the philosophy of nature, as it has developed from the idealistic
principle, the first, distant foundation has been laid for that future symbolism and
mythology that will be created not by an individual but rather by the entire age"
(1/5, p. 449; Stott translation, p. 76). Furthermore, art is still an important source of
insight for the philosopher: "The philosophy of art is a necessary goal for the philoso-
pher, who in art views the inner essence of his own discipline as if in a magic and
symbolic mirror." Indeed, the true "archetypes and forms" are more visible in works
of art than in nature (1/5, pp. 351-52; Stott translation, 8). As an objective presenta-
tion of the infinite ideal, philosophy of art is on the same plane as philosophy of
nature and philosophy of history (1/5, p. 368). Genius also instructs the philosopher,
acquainting him with an "absolute legislation" (115, p. 349; Stott translation 6). How-
ever, Schelling no longer maintains that ontological reconciliation can be brought
about only through the activity of genius; instead the principle of absolute identity is
that of an eternallndifferenz of ideal and real, subject and object. For the relation
168 Self and the Absolute
between mythology and art, see Manfred Schroter, Kritische Studien.· Ober Schelling
und zur Kulturphilosophie (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1971), especially pp. 111-22.
43. A fine account of the phases of Schelling's thinking on art is found in J. P.
Lawrence, "Art and Philosophy in Schelling," The Owl of Minerva 20, 1 (Fall
1988):519. See also Xavier Tilliette, L'Absolu et la philosophie. Essais sur Schelling
(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1987), ch, 5 ("La philosophie de rart").
Schleiermacher on the Self:
Immediate Self-Consciousness
as Feeling and as Thinking
David E. Klemm
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) is best known for having recon-
structed the discipline of theology as an interpretation of religion in human
His monumental work in systematic theology, The Christian Faith
(1822, 1830) conceived the essence of religion as a particular determination of
"immediate self-consciousness" or "feeling," namely, the "feeling of absolute
dependence."2 Immediate self-consciousness has a "religious" determination,
according to Schleiermacher, because it includes not only an awareness of the
self in its reciprocal relatedness to the world, but also includes an awareness of
the absolute dependence of the entire relatedness between self and world on a
"Whence" ("Woher"), an absolutely first principle that he calls "God" in The
Christian Faith (CG #4.4, p. 28). Religious self-consciousness in the nature of
the case actualizes itself in concrete, individual forms of action and communi-
cation within historical communities (CG #6, pp. 41-47). Theology gives sys-
tematic description of the expressed contents of religious self-consciouSness and
interprets the meaning of the different elements making up the contents within
a particular tradition (CG 1 5   1 9 ~ pp. 105-118).
Less well known, at least in English-reading circles, is the fact that
Schleiermacher lectured and wrote not only on the full range of studies within
the "theological encyclopedia,"3 but also on philosophical topics such as moral
theory and ethics, aesthetics, psychology, political theory, history of philosophy,
hermeneutics, and dialectic. Schleiermacher worked out his positions on these
topics on the basis of a conception in outline of the systematic unity of all
He constructed his systematic conception in direct engagement with
the central philosophical controversies and movements of his time. Early appro-
170 Self and the Absolute
priations and critiques of Kant and Spinoza, philosophical and philological
interpretations of Plato and Aristotle, involvements with the Berlin circle of
Romanticism, and, above all, Auseinandersetzungen with Fichte, Schelling,
and Hegel, mark Schleiennacher's intellectual development.
Like the last-mentioned Gennan idealists, Schleiermacher worked to
solve the post-Kantian problematic of overcoming the latent dualism in Kant's
thought between theoretical and practical reason by thinking through the oppos-
ing elements to their unity.
Schleiermacher distinguished the domain of theo-'
retical reason or physics (comprising the whole of the Naturwissenschaften as
the speculative theory of nature) from that of practical reason or ethics (com-
prising the Geisteswissenschaften as the speculative theory of history). Dialec-
tic provides the basis of the systematic whole by thinking the unity in difference
of the two domains. Dialectic is first philosophy, a thinking about the thinking
of being. It presents and defends the principles, structures, and rules of all
actual thinking that aspires to become knowing.
The empirical starting point of Schleierrnacher's Dialectic is the phe-
nomenon of dispute (Streit) among different thinkers.? In genuine dispute,
competing representations ("thoughts") concerning one and the same subject
matter ("being") each claim a greater share of the truth than the alternative
representation; the disputants each desire to achieve agreement based on knowl-
edge of the subject matter. The Dialectic both investigates the conditions and
presuppositions under which dispute can be resolved in knowing (in the "tran-
scendental part") and articulates the rules and methods for constructing partic-
ular instances of knowing (in the "formal part").
According to Schleiermacher's analysis of knowing in the Dialectic, the
finite ground of knowing in the subject is found not simply in immediate self-
consciousness ("Gefiihl" or "feeling" as he defines it), but more precisely in the
particular determination of immediate self-consciousness Schleiermacher calls
"religious."8 In this essay, I present and assess this controversial claim by pos-
ing these questions: First, what sense does it make for Schleiermacher to ground
finite knowing on "religious consciousness" defined as a particular modification
of immediate self-consciousness? Second, does not the "religious" determi-
nation of "immediate self-consciousness" add a contingent or particular content
to immediate self-consciousness that renders the proposed finite ground of
knowing arbitrary and thus undercuts its claim to truth? The two parts of my
essay treat these two questions in turn.
Schleiermacher claims in the Dialectic that the finite ground of knowing
lies in the immediate self-consciousness of the subject (DO, 186-94). What
Schleiermacher on the Self 171
does this mean? To understand this claim, I begin by articulating a basic prin-
ciple of Schleiermacher's thought: the principle of individuality. It states that
the universal element of an object of knowledge can never be fully abstracted
from the particular element in which it appears, any more than the particular
element can be derived from the universal element. For example, in the case of
self-knowledge, the principle claims that one can never fully abstract pure sub-
jectivity from the concrete personality in which it appears, any more than one
can derive a concrete personality from the principle of subjectivity. One's indi-
viduality is found precisely in the coming-together of universal subjectivity
and concrete personality.
In Schleiermacher's understanding of this principle, the most essential
element of an object is the third individualizing element "mediating" between
the universal and particular.
Consequently, in his analyses of knowing,
Schleiermacher always considers ideal principles and concepts in their actual
connectedness with real conditions of knowing in the individualized subject.
Principles and conditions of knowing apply more broadly to thinking, where
Schleiennacher begins his analysis.
According to Schleiermacher, thinking is an activity of actual human
consciousness that is always bound to the conditions of the individual subject as
a being endowed with intellectual (i.e., rational) and organic (i.e., perceptual)
functions (DO, 139, 151-52). Thinking refers to the inner mental act of com-
bining and distinguishing the distinct functions of reason and organization.
Both the intellectual and organic functions of thinking cooriginally refer think-
ing to being, defined as that which is thought in thinking (das Gedachte). As
such, being is always a synthesis of intellectual form and sensible content (DO,
139-41).10 The reasoning activity is never fully abstractable from the organic
function in any form of human thinking, because all human thinking, insofar as
it communicates, manifests itself as discourse, and discourse as such always
carries sensible content.
Schleiermacher draws the following distinctions
within the primary terms "being" and "thinking."
Within "being," Schleiermacher distinguishes that which is thought
through the intellectual function of thinking, or ideal being (e.g., concepts),
from that which is thought through the organic function of thinking, or real
being (e.g., actual perceptions). The balanced combination or unity of the two
is ideal-real being (the "totality of being"). All being is an individual combi-
nation of ideal and real being produced by the thinking activity and expressed
in the discursive medium of judgment (DO, 174-78).
Within "thinking," Schleiermacher makes a threefold distinction. First, he
distinguishes basic thinking activities with regard to the primary functions of
reasoning and organizing: 12 The activity in which the intellectual function pre-
dominates and the organic function is secondary is thinking in the narrower
sense (Denken im engeren Sinne). The activity in which the organic function
172 Self and the Absolute
predominates and the intellectual function is secondary is perceiving
(Wahmehmung). The activity in which the two functions approach an equilib-
rium is intuiting (Anschauung) (DO, 157-59). Individuals are "intuited."
Second, within thinking in the narrower sense Schleiermacher distin-
guishes three modes of thinking with regard to the degree of activity or recep-
tivity in the rational subject in relation to its organizing function: In actual
thinking (eigentliches Denken), the subject is both receptive (open to real being
as the given sensible content of thinking) and active (determining the given con-
tent by means of intelligible form). In willing (Wollen), the subject is predom-
inately active in spontaneously realizing ideal being in the world by conceiving
a plan and acting on it.
Infeeling (Gefiihl), the subject is predominately recep-
tive of given content, but not purely so as in the case of mere sensing (Empfind-
ung) (DO, 125-27).14 Like actual thinking and willing, feeling has an intentional
structure; feeling is always directed toward ideal-real being. But in the case of
feeling, the separation between activity and object of activity is reduced to a
minimum: the act of feeling and what is felt approach a unity, whereas in both
actual thinking and willing the act and object are clearly separated. It is correct
to say of Schleiermacher that what is felt is the meaning of some individual
being or mode of being, that is, its relation to the whole (DO, 289).
Third, Schleiermacher distinguishes among forms of thinking based on
the goal or purpose of thinking. Pragmatic thinking aims at transforming what
is external to the thinker, whether this means persuading another person to do as
one wills or transforming the natural world. Artistic thinking aims at achieving
aesthetic pleasure or satisfaction (Wohlgefallen). Pure thinking is thinking
posited simply for the sake of knowing (DO, 6). Dialectic presents the princi-
ples and nL1es for resolving dispute within the domain of pure thinking (DO, 5).
Dispute is resolved in knowing when the differences between competing
representations are removed by affirming a representation whose criteria are:
(1) intersubjective agreement: the thinking activity lying behind the represen-
tation is identical for all thinkers (DO, 129), and (2) correspondence between
thinking and being: the representation conforms to its object (DO, 130). These
two criteria are ingredient in the idea of knowing as such. Insofar as they are
actually fulfilled they engage a third subjective criterion: (3) the feeling of
conviction: a state of immediate self-consciousness which brings to rest the
desire to know (Wissenwollen) presupposed by pure thinking (DO, 130). The
third criterion refers to a specific determination (i.e., certainty) of the psycho-
logical bond between the knowing subject and the idea of knowing with refer-
ence to a particular representation.
Human thinking finds itself in dispute. To resolve dispute in knowing, the
thinking subject oscillates between activities of thinking in the narrower sense
and perceiving in its striving toward an intuition of the individual connectedness
between concept and percept expressed in the form of a judgment (DO, 159).
Schleiermacher on the 173
However, perfect intuition, hence perfect knowing, is an unachievable ideal for
the finite human subject precisely because of the organic element in all think-
ing. If human thinking necessarily combines intellectual form and sensible
content in the discursive form of a synthesis expressed as judgment, no fonn of
knowing is logically capable of grasping itself purely as knowing, that is, of
grasping its own knowing activity as a realization of perfect intersubjective
agreement and complete correspondence between thinking and being that is
undistorted by particularizing elements (DO, 160).16 Perfect knowing is an
ideal that the human intellect can only approxinlate (DO, 159). However, in
spite of the actual limits of human knowing, humans can in principle resolve
disputes through knowing.
According to Schleiermacher, the very possibility of resolving dispute
presupposes some original or absolute thought as the condition of measuring the
competing representations by the idea of knowing. This original thought must
itself be both absolutely beyond dispute and yet latent in every dispute. It is not
a possible actual thought but rather the first principle of all thinking and being,
the absolute ground of knowing. It is possessed a priori by all thinking subjects.
Schleiermacher names this absolute thought the Urwissen or the "transcen-
dent ground" of being and thinking (DO, 115). We possess the transcendent
ground only as a "postulate" expressed in nonarbitrary yet unfulfillable for-
mulae by which we attempt to represent a thought that we both must think
and yet cannot think discursively (DO, 118).
Schleiermacher also holds that the self as individualized subject is the
finite "analogue" of the transcendent ground (DO, 289). Insofar as any self as
"I" possesses itself with certainty, that self presents by analogy the transcendent
ground as well. How so? To clarify the claim, let us assemble the elements
making up the structure of the self: (1) a principle of universal subjectivity
(source of intellectual functions), (2) a principle of particular sensations (source
of organic functions), and (3) a mediating principle (source of individualized
subjectivity as unity in difference of intellectual and organic functions).
According to Schleiermacher, the oscillating activity of thinking (involv-
ing the fITst two principles) always presupposes an implicit or explicit reference
to the self as individualized subject and foundation of all conscious acts (the
third principle) (DO, 178). The mediating principle of individualized subjec-
tivity is the unified ground within the finite self of the relatability of organic and
intellectual functions. Consciousness is always capable in principle of becom-
ing self-consciousness by tracing conscious activity back to the individualized
subject as source. In thinking about thinking, the activity of thinking and the
being that is thought are one and the same (DO, 175-76). In thinking about
thinking, the individual subject shows itself to be in essence a finite identity of
thinking and being in which all formal determinations of thinking correspond to
the determinations of being (DO, 234, 175).
174 Self and the Absolute
At this point, Schleiermacher's analysis seems to occur within what
Dieter Henrich calls the "reflection theory of self-consciousness," which
assumes that "entities which have self-consciousness can execute acts of reflec-
tion which enable them to isolate their own states and activities thematically
and to bring them to explicit consciousness."17 However, we have reached only
a penultimate point in Schleiemlacher's argument. The next step shows that
Schleiermacher was also a critic of the reflection theory.
According to Schleiermacher, the self-reflection just described grasps
only the "reflected I" or "reflected self-consciousness," that is, only the medi-
a.ted "identity of the subject in the difference of moments" and not the origi-
nating ground of consciousness itself (DO, 288). Self-reflection necessarily
objectifies the subject, which in the nature of the case is always subject and
never object, and hence it neither possesses itself nor presents the analogue to
the transcendent ground. Self-reflection presupposes a more fundanlental phe-
nomenon which he calls "immediate self-consciousness" or "feeling," as a
nonobjective, preconceptual, and nonpropositional acquaintance of the sub-
ject with itself. Schleiennacher calls immediate self-consciousness the "essence
of the subject," because it precedes, makes possible, and manifests itself in all
particular purposive activities (CG #3.3, p. 18). How should we understand
the immediate self-consciousness?
Richard Reuter and Manfred Frank have argued that because the imme-
diate self-consciousness is prior to the "I" of self-reflection, Schleiermacher
means to say that immediate self-consciousness is itself a subjectless form of
sheer consciousness as simple openness to the world. Their interpretation is
unconvincing, however. If the immediate self-consciousness is, as Schleier-
macher holds, the originating ground of conscious activities, then it must pos-
sess the quality of subjectivity. To call immediate self-consciousness "I" -less is
to beg the question of the ground of consciousness. It is proper instead to say
that the subject is always potentially present in the immediate self-conscious-
So described, Schleiermacher grasps immediate self-consciousness in
pure thinking as a necessary condition of actual thinking; "immediate" self-con-
sciousness is in fact always already mediated as a transcendental condition of
objective consciousness. At the same time, however, Schleiennacher holds
that immediate self-consciousness does have an empirical or organic appear-
ance in and for the individualized subject, else it would be a purely formal
presupposition, empty of any content, and unable to mediate between organic
and intellectual functions as the ground of their unity (DO, 101). The actual
appearance of itnmediate self-consciousness within objective consciousness
Schleiermacher assigns to feeling. This assignment introduces an apparent
ambiguity to Schleiermacher's terminology. He uses "feeling" to refer both to
the presupposed structure of immediate self-consciousness
and to actual feel-
Schleiermacher on the Self 175
According to Schleiermacher's principle of individuality, however,
actual feelings must be individualized appearances of the underlying struc-
ture, hence distortive of the structure, although certain actual feelings may be
more or less transparent to the "essence of the subject" in its ontological con-
stitution as individualized.
Schleiermacher's description of the feeling of conviction, which binds the
idea of knowing to the individualized subject, displays this ambiguity: it has
both a psychological-empirical and a transcendental-logical dimension. The
feeling of conviction refers both to the immediate affective state of being cer-
tain that a particular representation is beyond dispute, and it refers to a structural
condition of the possibility of human knowing-the dispute-free immediate
acquaintance the subject has with itself.
Knowing, as the correspondence between thinking and being approxi-
mated in intuition and reproduced intersubjectively in discourse, is possible
for the finite self precisely because the individualized subject is immediately
acquainted with itself as a unity of thinking and being in the feeling of convic-
tion (DO, 153, 161-64, 175). The individualized subject is a unity of thinking
and being, of theoretical and practical functions of consciousness, and the sub-
ject immediately knows itself as this unity. It knows itself as a unity of distinct
functions both in its reflexive grasp of the transcendental condition of its con-
scious activities and in the immediate feeling-experience of the unity that it is.
All conscious activities have their unity in what ScWeiermacher calls the imme-
diate self-consciousness or feeling in this double sense, and precisely in this
double sense is "immediate self-consciousness" the final ground of finite know-
Schleiermacher claims that "feeling" best expresses the way that the sub-
ject has and knows its own being as unity. Feeling is always a self-mediated
immediate consciousness in which the "I" recovers the given awareness of its
own being as positing (thinking). Contained in this awareness is the fact that the
"I" as "I" is not the "world" nor anything in it (DO, 288). Otherwise it would
not be self-consciousness in contrast to worldly consciousness. Without this
subjective certainty, objective knowledge would not be possible.
In addition, however, Schleiermacher claims that immediate self-con-
sciousness carries a conviction not only that "I" am "I" and not the world, but
also that the unified being of the "I" as self-positing is not itself self-posited
(DO, 288-89). With this step in his argument, Schleiermacher shows himself
not only to be a critic of the reflection model, but also a critic of Fichte' s orig-
inal insight as an attempt to repair that model. 22 In this step, Schleiermacher
holds that "I" am a unity of thinking and being in that my thinking is my being,
and in thinking, "I am"; nonetheless, this very fact that my being is positing is
not itself produced by my thinking any more than my thinking can negate that
fact simply by its own activity of thinking. The fact of the unity of conscious-
176 Self and the Absolute
ness presupposes its being so posited not by itself nor by another finite con-
sciousness, but by another conceivable only as the transcendent ground itself.
The correlate to the transcendental-logical dimension of self-conscious-
ness in actual feeling is the religious consciousness that "I" am absolutely
dependent on the transcendent ground. He calls the religious feeling a "holy
sadness" or awe.
Here we reach the controversial outcome of the Schleier-
macher's analysis which concerns this paper: it is precisely the individualized
subject in its religious feeling that is the proper analogue to the transcendent
. ground. As the ultimate dimension of immediate self-consciousness, the reli-
gious feeling is the final ground of finite knowing in the subject.
In an important sense, Schleiermacher's theory of the self begins at the
end point of Fichte' s attempt to ground self-consciousness in the active self-
positing of the I, namely, the point at which Fichte sought for a theological
ground outside of the I as pure self-positing activity.24 From the beginning,
Schleiennacher reacted with deep suspicion to Fichte's "original insight" of the
self-positing I and was drawn to a theological foundation for self-conscious-
ness. He articulated this theological ground in the immediate self-consciousness
determined as a "feeling of absolute dependence" in the double-sense just
described. In the "feeling of absolute dependence," which carries both tran-
scendental and empirical meanings, Schleiermacher conveys the conviction
that the self as individualized subject is aware of its sheer givenness, its depen-
dence on a transcendent ground which is not-land not the world. The question
he must face is whether this feeling in its form and content is merely a private
and subjective one on his part (perhaps an articulation of the romantic world-
view), or whether it is necessary and universal for human beings as such.
The problem is severe for Schleiermacher precisely because he connects
the structure of immediate self-consciousness with actual feeling. Feeling, for
Schleiermacher, is a basic form of consciousness through which the self relates
itself to the world. It is a constituent element of human conscious life, equal in
status to knowing and doing. All human beings feel; minimally, they experience
pleasures and pains. However, unlike theoretical consciousness and practical
consciousness, both of which appear to include particular contents that can be
either idiosyncratic for the person who has them (e.g., private opinions and
maxims) or universal and necessary for all people (e.g., rules of logic and the
moral law), the contents of feeling-consciousness are typically taken as purely
Schleiermacher claims, however, that feeling-consciousness has partic-
ular contents that are universal and necessary (i.e., awareness of absolute depen-
Schleiermacher on the Self 177
dence on a transcendent ground), which can come together with contingent
particular contents that are idiosyncratic (e.g., any personal like or dislike), in
just the same way as theoretical and practical consciousness. Schleiermacher's
life work as a systematic thinker could be viewed as an attempt to demon-
strate this claim. However, it is one thing to demonstrate the fact of immediate
self-consciousness as a basic form of consciousness. It is another thing to show
that the content of an actual religious feeling is universal and necessary. Can the
determinate religious feeling express anything more than a privately psycho-
logical and purely subjective "truth"?
In this part of the essay I construct Schleiermacher's answer to this ques-
tion for him, because it is not given in anyone place by Schleierrnacher himself.
To do so, I draw on a selection of Schleiern1acher's writings on conscious-
ness, keeping distinct the elements of religious self-consciousness that he some-
times conflates, namely, the positive element of actual feeling-consciousness
and the negative element of an invariant structure of immediate self-con-
sciousness presupposed by all conscious activity. By distinguishing Schleier-
macher's empirical-psychological descriptions of immediate self-conscious-
ness described as actual feelings from his transcendental-logical analyses of
immediate self-consciousness described as the necessary presupposition of
thinking about thinking, we find that Schleielmacher's answer to the question
involves correlating these two descriptions: The truth of the feeling of absolute
dependence is shown in the correspondence between the two different descrip-
tions. Connecting the different descriptions of immediate self-consciousness as
feeling and as thinking is an intermediary step. Let me begin the analysis with
the level of primordial feeling.
Immediate Self-Consciousness as Feeling: Self as Mood
Consciousness is an intentional relation between a subject and an object.
As such consciousness presupposes a unity of different functions in the finite
self. Schleiermacher calls the structural unity "immediate self-consciousness,"
the unity of the self's being as positing (its being as the combining and distin-
guishing of organic and intellectual functions). Unknowable in itself strictly
speaking, this unity is manifest in determinate form as feeling. Within the
domain of feeling, Schleiermacher postulates an immediate time-conscious-
ness to which the subject responds with a basic mood.
The appearance of immediate self-consciousness as mood includes these
elements: (1) a bare awareness of change (apart from any determinate sense of
what changes), the mere passing of time in a diversity of moments;26 which
requires as a criterion of measurement (2) an immediate awareness of the per-
durance of the now-point of time amidst change. The cornbination of these
two elements leads to (3) an immediate awareness of the awareness of perdu-
178 Self and the Absolute
rance and change: that is, self-awareness of the individualized subject that is
aware of change and perdurance. Finally, (4) The subject appropriates and at the
same tilne manifests its immediate self-consciousness in mood. The mood is the
determinate modification of immediate self-consciousness as a unity of per-
during and changing.
The appropriation of change and perdurance in mood can take three
determinate forms Goy, sorrow, and holy sadness): (1) In the emerging of new
moments of time, immediate self-consciousness feels pleasure, a furtherance of
life, freedom; the basic mood of joy. (2) In the passing away of moments of
time, immediate self-consciousness feels pain, a hindrance of life, dependence;
the basic mood of sorrow. (3) In the perduring now-point as suspended between
emerging and passing away, immediate self-consciousness feels the unity ofjoy
and sorrow as a recovery ofjoy beyond sorrow; the basic mood of holy sadness.
The content of such basic moods comes to intelligible expression through facial
expressions, gestures, exclamations, and bodily actions, such as laughing and
crying, or uttering "Happy day!," "Woe is me," or "It is godly."
In immediate self-consciousness as feeling, there is only minimal sepa-
ration between act of consciousness and object. At this primordial level, the
condition of temporal alteration involves distinction and differentiation, but
only within and for the self. With the emergence of sensible consciousness
(perceiving), these latent divisions become explicit in the separation between
act and object. Immediate self-consciousness as feeling accompanies sensible
consciousness as its ground and combines with it. Basic feeling directs the
convergence of immediate self-consciousness and sensible consciousness
toward an unknowable unity of opposites as goal, a goal that cannot appear as
a direct object of sensible consciousness. Let us now turn to the subsequent
level of analysis.
Sensible Consciousness: Subjective and Objective
At this level, we focus on the combining of immediate self-consciousness
as elemental feeling with sensible consciousness. Schleiermacher's doctrine
of sensible consciousness distinguishes three moments: (1) subjective sensible
consciousness, (2) objective sensible consciousness, and (3) their unity in a
concrete individual.
The subjective consciousness: Self as feeling. The first moment focuses
on subjective states of "being affected" within sensible consciousness. In his
Psychology, Schleiermacher draws the basic distinction between lower "bodily
sensations" originating in the five senses, and higher "spiritual feelings" of
the unity of life originating in a combination of basic mood, bodily sensations,
and some determination by objective consciousness.
Mediation between sen-
sations and feelings occurs by means of a postulated "universal sense," which
Schleiermacher on the Self 179
has an organic basis but is not localizable to anyone organ of the human body.
The "universal sense" is the physiological condition of the possibility for com-
bining particular sensible images into more universal images.
Schleiermacher uses the metaphor of "skin" to represent a whole body
functioning as one, combining and interpreting particular sensations into a sin-
gle sensation that is appropriated in immediate self-consciousness through a
For example, sensations of coldness or warmth localized in one's
hands, are immediately felt by as either painful or pleasurable. The feeling of
pleasure or pain is then immediately appropriated through the "universal sense"
as either inhibiting or furthering one's life in general.
Schleierrnacher identifies fOUf spheres in which feelings of the further-
ance or restriction of life are raised to a spiritual plane at which the self
becomes conscious of itself as part of larger wholes and impel a drive toward
unity:30 First, the social feeling arises in response to communal relations, for
example, in family and close communal relationships. The social feeling is
mediated into a higher form through the idea of humanity in general, provided
by objective consciousness, such that sociality can develop between any and all
humans merely on the basis of the fact of their common humanity. The feelings
of pleasure and pain, furtherance and hindrance of life, freedom and depen-
dence, joy and sorrow, appear in the social context as trust/compassion on one
side and distrustlhatred on the other.
The second and third forms of higher feeling, the nature feeling and the
aesthetic feeling, are similarly structured. The nature feeling arises at a primi-
tive level out of the "universal sense": the self becomes aware of its bodily exis-
tence as a whole in relation to what is outside of itself as a whole, and feels
itself as part of the whole of nature. This feeling of the whole of nature is
mediated by means of objective consciousness.
The aesthetic feeling arises
from the encounter with nature and works of art, and divides into the feelings of
beauty and the sublime. Similar to the Kantian analysis, the feeling of beauty is
the effect of a noncognitive activity of objective consciousness. Likewise, the
feeling of the sublime is the effect of an operation of the objective conscious-
ness in which the sensible material infinitely exceeds the capacity of the con-
cept and there is recognition of the incapacity of objective consciousness to
determine the appearance by a concept.33
Fourth, in his description of the arising of religious feeling, Schleierma-
cher refers to the convergence point of the higher spiritual feelings, a point
which raises self-consciousness to a higher leve1.
This higher level begins
with a consciousness of the self in its sensible consciousness, together with a
consciousness of the whole world of which it is a part, as utterly finite, that is,
as bound to oppositions. How does this occur? In the aesthetic, nature, and
social feelings, each of which expresses a drive toward unity, given oppositions
remain in the end unreconciled. In the social feeling, there is opposition
180 the Absolute
between individual and community; in the nature feeling there is opposition
between the self as a part and the whole of nature; in the aesthetic feeling of the
sublime, there is opposition between the feeling of the finitude of the cognitive
capacities in face of an overpowering and uncognizable object and the elevat-
ing feeling of cognizing the incapacity to cognize the infinite object. These
three higher forms of feeling remain bound to the reciprocal finite structure of
activity and receptivity, pleasure and pain, freedom and dependence, further-
ance and hindrance of life, joy and sorrow, and the objective consciousness rec-
ognizes them as so bound.
The higher religious feeling arises out of the drive to cancel these highest
oppositions: The effect on immediate self-consciousness of the recognition by
objective consciousness of the finitude of the self and the world Schleiermacher
calls the feeling of absolute dependence. This feeling is somewhat paradoxi-
cally described as a feeling of unity that reconciles all oppositions in itself but
without canceling the oppositions utterly: "It brings us to the limits of finite
being, in that this drive of self-consciousness postulates the infinite.''36 Through-
out these levels, subjective consciousness is mediated by objective conscious-
ness, to which I now turn.
Objective consciousness: Self as thinking. The analysis of objective sen-
sible consciousness adds to the cumulative picture the activities of positing
with reference to objects. At this level, material arising in sensible subjective is
thematized. The basic distinction is between perception, or sense activities
with reference to objects through a process of combination, and thinking/speak-
ing in the form of logical judgment. Perception and thinking/speaking always
occur together, but they stem from different functions of the self. The organic
function is the seat of perception. Organic perception refers to the minimal
activity of seeking for and positing an object as the cause of a sensible deter-'
mination of subjective self-consciousness (DO, 140, 145). The intellectual
function is the seat of thinking/speaking. Logical judgment refers to the more
complex activity of providing formal determinations for the object. It is exer-
cised through the capacity of the mind to provide fonnal detenmnations for the
object through logical judgments (DO, 151).
In objective consciousness, the organic function receives the matter of
thinking in sensation and synthesizes it into a determinable percept, and the
intellectual function produces the form of thinking through its schematizing of
a concept.
The logical judgment subsumes the perceived object under a gen-
eral concept. The logical judgment, as the form of thinking/speaking, refers to
"being," defined as what is thought in thinking.
Insofar as any concept or
judgment is intelligible only with reference to higher concepts and judgments,
objective consciousness itself manifests a drive toward systematic unity.39 Inso-
far as particular judgments come into dispute, this drive toward  
Schleiermacher on the Self 181
unity raises the question of truth, and thus manifests a fundamental human
drive toward unity in knowing. The structure of the desire to know becomes
explicit in Schleiennacher's Dialectic, a reflection on the principles and con-
ditions under which competing judgments can be resolved in knowing (DO,
67). Foremost among them is the presupposed but strictly speaking uncogniz-
able "transcendent ground" as the absolute unity of thinking or being. The pre-
supposed absolute unity appears "by analogy" in the concrete individual, to
which I now turn.
The concrete individual: The "I" as such. The being of the self as finite
unity of body and soul is manifest in the "I"-saying of the concrete individ-
In saying "I," claims Schleiermacher, universal subjectivity manifests
itself here and now in the integrated and integrating activity oscillating between
the subjective and objective sides of sensible consciousness. The correlate in lan-
guage to the "I"-saying of the self is the "you"-saying that establishes relation to
the finite other self.
To know the finite self entails knowing the unity of uni-
versality and particularity of the individual who says "I" in relation to the many
"you'" s who constitutethe variety of social groups within the common world.
As we previously saw, religious consciousness only arises, according to
Schleiermacher, on the basis of the development of social relations in objective
consciousness, in the relation between "I" and "you," in recognition of the
common condition of finitude coupled with the drive toward unity. The drive
for unity, however, pushes the reflected I to the highest level of objective con-
sciousness, a level that stands in correlation with the highest level of subjective
consciousness, namely, religious consciousness. The analysis now turns to the
appearance of religious consciousness in and for pure thinking.
Immediate self-consciousness as reflexivity: Self as unity of the unity of
body and soul. We have seen that the content of the religious feeling consists in
(1) a determination of subjective self-consciousness, (2) in which the self rec-
ognizes itself and the world of which it is a part as utterly finite, and (3) in this
recognition feels itself as absolutely dependent, and finally, on the basis of
this feeling of absolute dependence, (4) feels itself dependent on the infinite
"whence" of this feeling, which becomes a postulate for thought. Is this content
universal and necessary for all human beings? To answer this I tum to a third
distinct level of consciousness articulated in Schleiermacher's Dialectic and
Christian Faith. I shall use the term "reflexive consciousness," a term not used
by Schleiermacher himself yet wholly consistent with his term "pure think-
ing'" to indicate the level at which the content of religious feeling is grasped in
its necessity and truth. How does this occur?
Schleiermacher's answer is that immediate self-consciousness, which
originally appears as primordial feeling reappears as reflexive thinking, such
that the two can be brought into correspondence with each other as feeling
182 Self and the Absolute
and thinking. Reflexive thinking reproduces religious feeling in the form of
thinking, and from that standpoint can comprehend the necessity of the content
of religious feeling by bringing immediate self-consciousness as feeling into
correspondence with immediate self-consciousness as thinking. Let me con-
struct Schleiermacher's argument in a more direct way than he gives it.
The first step is to show that immediate self-consciousness must be con-
ceived as a necessary presupposition of actual consciousness. We have already
rehearsed Schleiermacher's arguments in the Dialectic for this step. Recall
that thinking about one's here and now thinking about being presupposes
. immediate self-consciousness as the unifi.ed and unifying essence of the subject.
Thus, Schleiermacher says, "We carry in ourselves the identity of being and
thinking; we ourselves are being and thinking, the thinking being and the being
thinking" (DO, 270). Can we think the essence of the subject?
The second step attempts to determine minimally the essence of the sub-
ject by thinking the point of indifference within thinking itself, namely, the
point marking the transition between discrete activities of actual thinking and
and those of willing, and the reverse. Schleiermacher calls this the moment of
The condition of the possibility for making this transition is imme-
diate self-consciousness, the "essence of the subject," the unified activity which
links thinking and willing. The basis of the Obergang is "our being as positing"
(DO, 288). In thinking the Obergang, we think our being as positing, and we
are our positing as being. In thinking the null-point between thinking and will-
ing, we think the essence of our own being as "immediate self-consciousness,"
the positing activity which is at the same time a being posited, a receptivity. We
think the unity of our being as a relative or finite unity of opposites.
In a third step, the elements uncovered in immediate self-consciousness
as thinking allow us to grasp the corresponding elements present in immediate
self-consciousness as primordial feeling or mood. Corresponding to the active
element of self-positing in reflexive thinking is joy in immediate self-con-
sciousness as feeling; this element includes feelings of pleasure and the fur-
therance of life in sensible subjective consciousness. Corresponding to the
receptive element of being-posited in reflexive thinking is suffering in imme-
diate self-consciousness as feeling; this element includes the feelings of pain
and the restriction of life in sensible subjective consciousness.
Through this structural correspondence, reflexive thinking can now in a
fourth step determine these two opposing feelings ;s reciprocally related struc-
tural elements in immediate self-consciousness: the feeling offreedom desig-
nates the unity of the feelings associated with the active element of positing,
and the feeling of dependence designates the unity of the feelings associated
with the receptive element of being posited (CG, #4.1).
In a fifth step, Schleiermacher determines the relationship between the
two basic feelings associated with the elements of the structure of finite imme-
Schleiermacher on the Self 183
diate self-consciousness. He determines the cooriginality of the feelings of
freedom and dependence as the feeling of reciprocity between act and corre-
sponding object, thinking and being (CG, #4.2). It is a feeling of the whole of
our self-consciousness in its relatedness to otherness, that is, the world.
Schleiermacher now purports to have grasped the reciprocal structure of imme-
diate self-consciousness as it appears both as feeling and as thinking.
In a sixth step, Schleiermacher seeks the ground of this finite structure of
reciprocity. How can we determine the absolute ground? In the theological
tradition, the absolute has been conceived as first cause or highest being. But
according to Schleiermacher, precisely in the attempt to think the absolute or
transcendent ground by means of the concept of causality, or any other such
concept, that thinking thinks its own necessary limit. The thinking that wills to
know its final ground is unable to justify its transcendent use of the concept of
first cause or highest being, and the like. The analogy between structure and
final ground breaks down and thinking confronts its radical finitude. Thinking
about the thinking of being reveals an ineluctable lack in human consciousness.
However, precisely in thinking its radical finitude, thinking thinks the truth of
the religious feeling of absolute dependence, the religious feeling of awe and
holy sadness. How so?
In subjective consciousness, religious feeling arises as a modification of
self-consciousness effected by the failure of objective consciousness to unify
the oppositions that inhere in the social, aesthetic, and nature feelings. In its ori-
gins, this religious modification of subjective self-consciousness is an effect,
registered by means of feelings and moods, of the activity of lower forms of
objective consciousness. The truth of the religious modification of subjective
self-consciousness cannot appear to or for the lower levels of objective con-
sciousness. But at the reflexive level, the truth of religious feeling is warranted
by the negative result of the attempt to think the relationship between finite
structure of reciprocity and the transcendent ground. Why? The result is that we
must think this relationship as one of absolute dependence of the self on a nec-
essary, transcendent, presupposed and yet uncognizable ground.
To return now to the central question posed in this essay: Has Schleier-
macher demonstrated that the actual religious feeling of absolute dependence is
universal and necessary for finite self-conscious beings? As I have constructed
it, Schleiermacher's answer would be that the religious feeling is universal
and necessary, because it is the empirical-psychological correlate of an essen-
tial element in the universal and necessary structure of immediate self-con-
sciousness as thinking. His warrant for this claim is that where a direct corre-
184 Self and the Absolute
lation exists between an immediately given feeling and an element in the invari-
ant structure of self-consciousness, such that the meaning of the feeling is the
element in question, denial of the feeling entails denial of the structural element.
According to Schleiermacher, the basic religious feeling has this universal and
necessary status. If the empirical feeling were to have no correlate in the tran-
scendental structure, then its content would in fact be arbitrary and idiosyncratic
in its particularity.
This essay has made a first step in the attempt to interpret Schleierma-
cher's claim for the meaning and truth of subjective self-consciousness in its
highest form, namely, as the religious feeling of absolute dependence. When
Schleiermacher speaks about a religious feeling of absolute dependence as
finite ground of knowing, he is not merely appealing to a particular feeling or
belief that some people possess or embrace and others do not. Nor is he merely
referring to a presupposed invariant structure of immediate self-consciousness.
Schleiennacher's analysis uncovers a real correlation between an actual feeling-
consciousness and a necessary element in the presupposed immediate self-
consciousness. According to the argument I have constructed from Schleier-
macher's sources, the actual religious feeling is not an arbitrary state of
affection, because it expresses the ontological condition of human finitude.
Likewise, the presupposed invariant structure is not purely formal and empty,
because it actualizes itself in the life of human consciousness. Moreover, the
truth of the religious feeling is ascertained precisely by showing its necessary
connection to the structure of immediate self-consciousness.
The strength of Schleiermacher's argument can be seen in the fact that
any attempt to deny the argument must either instantiate the very finitude of
human knowing in its dependence on the presupposed transcendent ground or
it must successfully determine conceptually the absolute (which is impossible
for a finite intellect). If the very effort to refute the argument reaffirms the
contested claim, then the claim must be a good one. The weakness of the argu-
ment is that it moves in an early version of what Heidegger will later call the
"hermeneutical circle" between a preunderstanding and an explicit under-
standing of the meaning of being.
What is there at the end is there at the
beginning-namely both a polar structure of opposition and a unity of oppo-
sites. For Schleiermacher, ultimate unity-in-difference is expressed through
the principle of individuality as a principle of thinking and being.
Both strength and weakness arise in Schleiermacher's argument because
it concerns the nature of the human relatedness to the first principle of thinking
and being. Strict demonstration always deploys the first principle, yet the first
principle is itself beyond demonstration. Any argument about the relatedness to
first principle nloves into the domain of a reasoned interpretation of what it
means to be a human. According to Schleiermacher's theory of the self, the best
account of human being must articulate the individualized subject as the unity
Schleiermacher on the Self 185
of intellectual and organic functions. His theory cautions against one-sided
interpretations in which the self is either related to the first principle as a formal,
empty a priori without empirical appearance or as a bundle of impressions,
affects, and impules without formal structure. The limited truth of Schleier-
macher's theory of the self lies in its ability to disclose the universal and nec-
essary connection between a particular feeling and the limit of cognition in
grasping the relation between the human and the absolute.
1. Schleiermacher broke the impasse forged in the late eighteenth century
between the orthodox confessional "supernaturalist" theologians on the one hand and the
modem Enlightenment-inspired "rationalist" theologians on the other. Schleiermacher
is properly ackowledged as the father of modem theology. See standard histories of the-
ology such as Emmanuel Hirsch, Geschichte der neueren evangelischen Theologie
(Gfitersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1960), vol. 4, pp. 490-582; vol. 5, pp. 281-364. It could also be
said that Schleiermacher is also very well known for his foundational work in modem
hermeneutical theory and for his translations of and commentaries on Plato's dialogues.
2. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, volume 1, ed. M. Redeker
on the basis of the second edition (1830) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1960), #4,
pp. 24-30. The English translation is published as The Christian Faith, ed. H. R. Mack-
intosh and 1. S. Stewart (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), #4, pp. 12-18. Hereafter
cited as eG.
3. "Theological encyclopedia" refers to Schleiermacher's Kurze Darstellung des
theologischen Studiums zum Behuf einleitender Vorlesungen (Berlin, 1830) and trans-
lated as Brief Outline of the Study of Theology, tr. T. N. Tice (Richmond, Virginia:
John Knox Press, 1966).
4. Cf. Wilhelm Dilthey, Leben Schleiermachers, vol. 2, first half-volume:
Schleiermachers System als Philosophie und Theologie, ed. M. Redeker (vol. XIV of
Dilthey's Gesammelte Schriften) (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966), pp.
5. The dualism bequeathed by Kant pertains to the perceived split between self-
legislating freedom and the domain of nature as determined by the categories of under-
standing. For a discussion on Schleiermacher's understanding of the dualism, see
Andreas Arndt, "Einleitung," to F. D. E. Schleiermacher, Dialektik (1811) (Hamburg:
Felix Meiner, 1986), p. XX-XXI.
6. Friedrich Schleiermachers Dialektik, ed. R. Odebrecht from the 1822 MSS.
materials and lecture notes (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, [1942]
1988), pp. 66-67. Hereafter cited as DO.
7. Or, alternatively, what is in principle the same: dispute among two competing
lines of thought within one and the same mind. For a discussion of this starting point, see
186 Self and the Absolute
David Klemm, "Dispute, Dialogue, and Individuality in Schleiermacher's Dialektik,
New AthenaeumINeues Athenaeum IV (1994), pp. 81-104.
8. That is, the results of the Dialektik, which analyzes the highest condition of
objective consciousness, correspond with the results of Der christliche Glaube, which
analyzes the religious consciousness. For Schleiermacher, the God of speculative the-
ology shows itself ultimately to be the same as the God of Christian faith. See Schleier-
macher's remark that religious consciousness necessarily agrees with speculative con-
sciousness (objective consciousness of the first principle as the absolute or transcendent
ground) in Friedrich Schleiermacher, Aesthetik (Siimmtliche Werke, pt. 3, vol. 7),
(Berlin: G. Reimer, 1842), p. 76.
9. Many commentators claim that the principle of individuality is the distin-
guishing feature of Schleiermacher' s thought in the context of German idealism. See for
example, Heinz Kimmerle, "Das Verhaltnis Schleiermachers zum transzendentalen
Idealismus," Kant-Studien, Band 51, Heft 4 (1959/60), pp. 410-26; Andreas Arndt,
"Schleiermachers Philosophie im Kontext idealistischer Systemprogramme," Archivio
di Filosofia (1984), pp. 103-21, especially p. 114. Manfred Frank is a champion of
Schleiermacher's individuality principle in the context of the dispute about the proper
figuring of the self. See Manfred Frank, Das individuelle Allgemeine: Textstrukturierung
und -interpretation nach Schleiermacher (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1977), pp.
87-144, as well as Die Unhintergehbarkeit von Individualitiit, pp. 116-31, among other
writings. Schleiermacher himself defends this principle in the Dialektik, both in indi-
vidual arguments (DO, 165-72) and in the structure of the Dialektik as a whole with
regard to his claims for the unity in difference between the transcendental and formal
10. Quote 140, DO 139-41. See also Thomas Lehnerer's discussion of this topic
in Thomas Lehnerer, Die Kunsttheorie Friedrich Schleiermachers (Stuttgart: Klett-
Cotta, 1987), p. 21.
11. Thinking is "that inner spiritual activity which becomes actual only through
discourse" (DO, 126). Any actual attempt to abstract the principles and rules of the
intellectual function so as to consider them entirely separately from their codetermina-
tion by the organic function ineluctably reproduces that codetermination, "for every
thinking is inner discourse, and this latter is a part of organization" (DO, 140). "Dis-
course and thinking stand therefore in a tight connection, are actually identical" (DO,
127). Thinking without discourse is not possible, and discourse is the condition of the
actualization of thinking.
12. Lehnerer, pp. 15-16.
13. Actual thinking and willing are reciprocally related activities that are nonethe-
less in principle different from each other by virtue of the fact that willing begins with a
thought of possible being and realizes it in actuality; actual thinking by contrast begins
with being given to the sense and reflects it as a conceptual possibility. Actual thinking
presupposes an element of willing insofar as it expresses itself in discourse; willing
presupposes thinking insofar as the act concretizes itself as a thought. But whereas dis-
Schleiermacher on the Self 187
course as expression of thinking is still a thinking, and the action as expression of will-
ing is no longer the willing, the two activities are distinguishable in principle with ref-
erence to the degree of difference posited between activity and expression as well as to
the mix of active and receptive movements of the subject.
14. Feeling is distinct from sensing, which provides material for all modes of
thinking activity and is itself a mode of consciousness, although not properly a mode of
thinking (as are actual thinking, willing, and feeling). Similarly, the impulses behind
willing activities provide material for willing, but must be distinguished from the activ-
ity of willing itself. Sensations and impulses do not in themselves have an intentional
structure, but must be determined by thinking to become intelligible.
15. Schleiermacher's inclusion of the third criterion is consistent with his inten-
tion to analyze not only the abstract conditions of pure thinking but also the concrete
subjective condition of the thinking subject in which the idea of knowing is always
embedded. See Lehnerer, pp. 22 and 28.
16. Human intuition is always an inexact approximation to the desired unity
between thinking and perceiving because the particular organic features of thinking in
the medium of language necessarily introduces irreducible perspectivity to all finite
thinking. See Lehnerer, p. 31.
17. Dieter Henrich, "Self-Consciousness; A Critical Introduction to a Theory,"
Man and World 4,1971, p. 10.
18. Cf. Hans-Richard Reuter, Die Einheit der Dialektik Friedrich Schleiermach-
ers: Eine Systematische Interpretation (Munchen: Christian Kaiser, 1979), p. 224, and
Manfred Frank, Das individuelle Allgemeine: Textstrukturierung und  
nach Schleiermacher (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1977), pp. 95-97.
19. For example, Schleiermacher equates immediate self-consciousness with
feeling (DO, 288).
20. For example, Schleiermacher schematizes human feelings as affective
responses to the world that are already admixed with objective consciousness in the Psy-
chologie passages analyzed below.
21. Thus interpretations of Schleiermacher's concept of immediate self-
consciousness, which underestimate one side or the other of the double-sense are them-
selves one-sided. Hegel is one-sided in taking Schleiermacher's notion of feeling simply
as affective response (as sensation), just as Konrad Cramer is onesided in taking it sim-
ply as consciousness of consciousness (as thinking the underlying structure). Cf. Hegel's
forward to Hinrichs' Die Religion im inneren Verhiiltnisse zur Wissenschaft in Beyond
Epistemology: New Studies in the Philosophy ofHegel, ed. F. Weiss (The Hague: 1974).
Cf. Konrad Cramer, "Die subjektiviUitstheoretischen Pramissen von Schleiermachers
Bestimmung des religiosen BewuBtseins" in Friedrich Schleiermacher, 1768-1834:
Theologe, Philosoph, Piidagoge (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985), pp.
188 Self and the Absolute
22. See Dieter Henrich, "Fichtes urspriingliche Einsicht," in Subjektivitiit und
Metaphysik, Festschriftfiir Wolfgang Cramer, ed. D. Henrich and H. Wagner (Frankfurt
am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1966), pp. 188-232. The English translation is pub-
lished as "Fichte's Original Insight," tr. David R. Lachterman, in Contemporary German
Philosophy, vol. 1 (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 15-53.
23. Schleiermacher uses the term "holy sadness" (heilige Wehmut) in the early
Reden of 1799 to express the appearing-together of a capacity to know the absolute
(as presupposition) with an incapacity to know the absolute (as object). The feeling of
holy sadness expresses the knowing that we have and have not the absolute. See
Schleiermacher, aber die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Veriichtem
(Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1958), p. 166. The English translation is published as On
Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, ed. with intro. by Richard Crouter (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), p. 217.
24. I follow Dieter Henrich's account of Fichte's development. In the version of
the Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre (1794-95), Fichte attempted to solve
the circularity problem of the reflection model (that it presupposes what it should
explain) with his argument that "the self posits itself absolutely and unconditionally." By
this phrase, Fichte meant that the "I" self is the primordial activity of positing, and that
it enlerges into self-consciousness spontaneously as the act acts on itself. In the 1797
revision, Fichte had seen that he could not simply identify subject and the activity of
positing. His new formulation put it that "the I posits itself as self-positing." This for-
mulation casts the essence of the self as a mode of knowing, but the "as" structure of this
primordial self-knowing simply reintroduces the circularity: something is represented as
something by a subjectivity that is presupposed rather than explained.
In the 1801 version of the Wissenschaftlehre, Fichte gave up the attempt to
ground the self in and through the "I''' s own act of self-positing and spoke of an "eye
inserted in the I." The resort to metaphor drove him subsequently, however, to posit an
active ground existing prior to the active "I," a ground which is not itself the "I" on
which the "I" in its self-positing is dependent. Ultimately, in the 1810 version, Fichte
refers to the self as a "manifestation of God" and thus seeks a theological ground of the
"I." See The Science of Knowledge in its General Outline (1810), tr. W. E. Wright,
Idealistic Studies 6 (1976), pp. 106-17.
25. Schleiermacher uses the term "eine Gemiithstimmung" to designate this pri-
mordial feeling or mood in Friedrich Schleiermacher, Aesthetik, p. 68.
26. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Aesthetik, pp. 233-34.
27. Schleiermacher characterizes the basic mood as "receptivity" because it is nei-
ther brought about by nor traceable to any sensible contents of the objective conscious-
ness; the feeling is neither constituted by the subject nor in the power of the subject. Aes-
thetik, p. 68. Der christliche Glaube, #3.3.
28. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Psychologie, ed. L. George (Berlin: G. Reimer,
1862). See pp. 81-117 for reflections on the relations of various senses to the develop-
ment of subjective and objective consciousness, pp. 182-95 for   ~ ~ ~ n ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~ ~ h ~ r __
Schleiermacher on the Self 189
spiritual feelings, and pp. 195-216 for specific discussion of religious consciousness in
relation to other higher feelings.
29. Psychologie, pp. 428-30.
30. In each of them bodily self-consciousness is immediately directed away from
merely "selfish" self-consciousness preoccupied with feelings of pleasure or pain as
responses to the particularity of local sensation and toward the "Gattungsbewufltssein"
concerned with the furtherance or restriction of the drive toward higher unity. Psy-
chologie, pp. 182-216. See also Thomas Lehnerer's discussion of Schleiermacher's
doctrine of immediate self-consciousness in the Psychologie, in Die Kunsttheorie
Friedrich Schleiermachers, especially, 127-28.
31. Psychologie, p. 184, p. 190-95.
32. Psychologie, p. 199.
33. Psychologie, pp. 200-09.
34. Psychologie, pp. 211-16.
35. Psychologie, p. 213, Der Christliche Glaube, #8.2.
36. Psychologie, p. 213.
37. According to Schleiermacher, objective consciousness always includes both
perception and conception. There is no pure perceiving of an unsynthesized manifold of
sensations, for a percept implies a prior synthesis into a general image, any more than
there is a pure conceiving of a thought without sensible content, for every thinking
occurs in the sensible hence organic medium of language.
38. See Friedrich Schleiermacher, Entwurf eines Systems der Sittenlehre, ed. A.
Schweizer (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1835), #23.
39. In the Dialektik, Schleiermacher carefully distinguishes between objective
thinking, as a synthesizing of universal concepts and particular percepts, and pure think-
ing, as a reflection on the conditions of the possibility of the syntheses established in
thinking and their relation to reality.
40. Psychologie, p. 18.
41. Psychologie, p. 18.
42. "An dem Punkt des Obergangs sind die Grenzen des vorbildlichen und
abbildlichen Denkens miteinander und mit dem Sein (des Menschen) identisch." Marlin
E. Miller, Obergang: Schleiermachers Theologie des Reiches Gottes im Zusammen-
hang seines Gesamtdenkens (Gfitersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1970), p. 50.
43. Schleiermacher uses terms such as "zusammensein" and "Bezogenwerden" to
describe the unity of opposites, which is never simple unity without difference, but the
unity ofuruty and difference. See CF, #5.3.
190 Self and the Absolute
44. Actual people have in fact a greater or lesser capacity to recognize the reli-
gious determination of their immediate self-consciousness, just as just as they do in
the cases of the ethical feeling of respect or the aesthetic feeling of the beautiful. This
fact does not mean that the feeling in question is not universal and necessary as a human
45. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 12th ed. (Ttibingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag,
1972), p. 8.
Part Three
Self and Others
Absolute Sllbject and
Absolute Sllbjectivity in Hegel
Walter Jaeschke
The fact that concepts have a history has really not been acknowledged
very long, perhaps only for two centuries; however in the last decades this fact
has become commonly accepted in philosophical research. Research in the
history of concepts is based on this discovery. One concept with a particularly
eventful history is the concept of the subject. However, the history of this con-
cept is not yet written; indeed it is still widely unrecognized, with the exception
of the considerable change of meaning that has led to the modem concept of the
subject. "Subject" now means more or less the opposite of what it previously
However, concepts not only have a history, their status can also rise and
fall in cycles. While in the history of concepts in general one has to account for
longer epochs in which meanings shift, shorter cycles of alternation can also be
expected, cycles measurable in decades. The concept of history, whose cycle
peaked two decades ago, offers a prime example for this. The concept of the
subject provides a further, and quite relevant, example. Whereas a decade ago
an essay entitled "Hegel's Philosophy of Subjectivity," still indicated precisely
by means of this title, an affirmative relation to the concept of subjectivity, it
might be assumed today that an essay with such a title was prepared to criticize
Hegel's philosophy. The subject has been discredited; one searches for the
concept of subjectivity primarily in order to annihilate it. In the meantime, the
hunt for the subject has become so heated that even apostles of the postmodern
see themselves compelled to raise their voices in order to stop the bloody pur-
It is not astonishing that such alternating cycles of philosophical con-
cepts are generally based on insufficient knowledge of texts. One can perhaps
194 Self and Others
even fonnulate a law: the smaller the number of supporting citations, the more
excessive the course of such cycles of alternation. The current fashionable
departure from the principle of subjectivity occurs all the more easily indeed, as
with every departure, the greater the lack of intimate knowledge of that from
which one departs is. In such situations, knowledge of the texts proves to be
extremely disturbing: it impedes the most severe swings of the alternation-----
barometer. For texts-which are indeed essentially constant-exert an unde-
niably stabilizing effect. The appeal to a broad textual basis, not to mention the
appeal to texts in general, can be therefore an expression of a tendency that is
downright hostile to philosophical fashions.
In spite of the invigorating and liberating effects on the philosophical
discussion that appear to proceed from such cycles of alternation, one may not
be spared the question, whether in the end the effects of such cycles are any
more satisfactory in the sphere of philosophy than in the economic realm,
where they result above all in inflation and unemployment, and are therefore
brought under control, if possible, in the interest of a healthy growth in the
national economy. Indeed it may be that different standards are valid for the
realm of the spirit than for the realm of money. However, it has still not been
proven, that an anticyclical approach, in particular, insistence on genuine
knowledge of that which is to be abandoned, is not also in some sense legiti-
mate here, even if it is by no means fashionable. Yet, what picture emerges,
when one not only laments the repressive basic feature of the principle of sub-
jectivity in Hegel's philosophy and liberates us from that repression through cri-
tique of this basic feature, but in addition when one asks what Hegel actually
intended with the discourse of subject and subjectivity? I should like to eluci-
date this in the following discussion in light of fOUf central concepts: the con-
cept of the absolute subject; the concept of the absolute as subject; the concept
of infinite subjectivity; and the concept of absolute subjectivity.
Hegel, the philosopher of the principle of subjectivity, begins the epoch
of his systematic philosophizing as a critic of the principle of subjectivity, as a
critic of the absolute subject, one can even add, as a critic who prefigured the
same objections that are raised against the principle of subjectivity today. For
Hegel's critique of the standpoint of subjectivity is also a critique of a relation
of predominance, a critique of the predominance of the understanding over
sensibility, a critique of the tyranny of the concept over that which is alive. 1 As
is well known, his critique of the subject in his early essay, Faith and Knowl-
edge (Glauben undWissen), is directed against Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte, each
of whom assigns to the subject a preeminent though quite different position.
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 195
Hegel sees their commonality in the "elevation of the culture of reflection to the
status of a system."2 For these philosophers, "the only certainty that is certain in
itself, is that a thinking subject, a reason affected with finitude, exists, and the
entirety of philosophy consists in determining the universe for this finite rea-
son." The only concern of these philosophers is "to restrict reason utterly to the
form of finitude, and not to forget the absoluteness of the subject in every
rational cognition."
One could suspect that Hegel's critique of such an absolutizing of the
subject is addressed to the wrong authors, for it is well known that Kant's cri-
tique of reason does not aim at an absolute subject, and that Jacobi's approach
is directed against the absolute I of transcendental philosophy. To the extent that
Hegel's critique strives for plausibility at all, it can only achieve this by demon-
strating that, against their stated intentions, the authors under criticism have
fallen back on the position of such an absolute subject. The same thing applies
to Hegel's critique of Fichte, which in this way differs from the critique which,
in the name of realism, Carl Leonhard Reinhold brought against Fichte.
knows quite well what argument Fichte brings forth to justify his position
against Reinhold's critique: Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre does not concern "the
individual at all, who would have truth only for himself, and however in fact
actually has no such truth at all;" Fichte's philosophy does not proceed "from
something subjective, nor from something objective, but only from the absolute
identity of both."4 Already in the essay, On the Difference between the Fichtian
and the Schellingian System (Differenzschrift), Hegel emphasizes, explicitly
against Reinhold, that Fichte' s philosophy is not "a system of absolute subjec-
tivity"; it is not "dogmatic idealism," and to be sure "precisely because the
identity that he sets up does not deny the objective, but posits the subjective and
objective at the same level of reality and certainty."5 Consequently, Hegel's
objection to Fichte is certainly not that Fichte posits the subject absolutely,
but that Fichte did not successfully complete the consistent implementation of
the program of developing the identity of subject and object; rather, Fichte
achieved only a subjective subject-object. Hegel rejects this approach as incon-
sistent: for since the subject is the one who posits, the subject is certainly itself
subject-object; the object however, is not a subject-object, consequently the
identity of the two is asserted, but it fails conceptually.6 Moreover, and this
aspect must be decisive for Hegel's critique of the philosophy of subjectivity,
the approach based on the subject leads to consequences that are not signifi-
cantly distinguishable from those of a dogmatic idealism, of a pure philosophy
of the absolute subject.
In the theoretical sphere, Fichte cannot make plausible the possibility of
cognition, the unity of subject and object. Something foreign, not produced
by the I, adheres to the object; the object is not a pure product of freedom. In the
practical sphere as well, the opposition that is produced by the separation of
196 Self and Others
thinking and nature is not overcome. The opposition of reason and nature leads
here to the idea of a community of rational beings that is mediated by means of
the predominance of the concept, by means of the submission of nature, sub-
jugated by the concept. The approach based on subjectivity only makes it pos-
sible to think the freedom that is actual in a community as a "limitation of the
true freedom of the individual," rather than as a furthering of this freedom,
and in this way subjectivity distorts the idea of freedom into the idea of the
"highest tyranny."7
At this point, I should not like to present further Hegel's critique of
Fi.chte's Wissenschaftslehre, or his ethical system, or natural right, nor to ask
whether Hegel's critique is actually cOlllpelling. In order to do this one would
have to take into consideration the development of Fichte' s philosophy, the
development of his Wissenschaftslehre. Also, I should not like to explore the
connections that Hegel draws, not only from Fichte's philosophy, but also
from the two other "philosophers of reflection," Kant and Jacobi, to their spir-
itual background in Protestantism; that is, I should not like to go into the con-
cept of Protestant subjectivity.8 This concept does not appear to me to be con-
sistently developed in Hegel's early period in Jena. At that time, Hegel had only
asserted the transformation in the distinguishing characteristic of Protestant
subjectivity; namely, the transformation from its simply being unreconciled,
from pushing beyond all finitude, to the later all too smooth reconciliation
with finitude, to eudaimonism, but he had not worked it out. In order to reca-
pitulate this, a detailed discussion would be required of the historical develop-
ment of confessions, of the relation of early Lutheranism to Neo-Protestantism.
We are not concerned here with the historical root of the principle of subjec-
tivity, but with its intellectual content. Against the absoluteness of the subjec-
tivity of reason, indeed against the "madness of the arrogance of this 1,''9 Hegel
conjures up the absolute identity of the subject and object, without yet being
able to explicate it conceptually. In place of such an explication he makes only
two references to models that conceive the relation of subjectivity and nature in
a way different from the reflection model, in the only adequate \vay: fITst, a ref-
erence to Plato's doctrine, that the divine reason gave birth to the world as a
blessed God; and second, a reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, which
Hegel here conceives analogously as a model of the reconciliation of sUbject
and nature, as a denial of the idea of predominance and as a formula for the rec-
onciliation and sanctification of the world. 10
Hegel, as we have seen, regards the idea of the absoluteness of the subject
as an expression of a completely inappropriate approach for philosophy. Nev-
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 197
ertheless, a few years later he places the idea of the Absolute as subject at the
center of the preface to his system of philosophy. Hegel's much cited demand,
that the Absolute is not to be interpreted only as substance, but equally as sub-
ject, has been understood repeatedly by the secondary literature as an expres-
sion of a fundamental transformation of his philosophy during his years in
Jena, a transformation that has been placed under the paradigm "from sub-
stance to subject."
The difference between this new idea, the absolute is subject, and the
rejected idea of the absoluteness of the subject is certainly obvious. Neverthe-
less, the assumption of a change in principle in Hegel's conception of his sys-
tem must be relativized: the assumption loses its plausibility if, in reconstruct-
ing the outlines of the development of Hegel's system, one proceeds not from
the early critical essays of the period in Jena, but rather from his early sketches
of the system that we possess only in handwritten form. In light of these early
sketches (1801/1802), the first conception of the system can be interpreted
already in the sense of the later philosophy of subjectivity, and from this point
of view the elements of a theory of subjectivity in the Differenzschrift can be
better comprehended and highlighted as well. However, this is only noted in
passing. More important is the question: What is to be understood in general by
interpreting the Absolute in its being as a subject?
One should notice from the outset, that Hegel's new program-formula
has nothing to do with the problem of the constitution of self-consciousness, just
as his critique from the previous years had nothing to do with this problem.
One can object against Hegel that at no place in his system did he adequately
thematize the coming about of self-consciousness, except perhaps in the lectures
on psychology, the publication of which is expected soon. However, the fact that
the reflection-model of self-consciousness involves well-known difficulties has
no effect on the assessment of that which Hegel discusses under the concept of
subjectivity; after all, Hegel himself had only ridicule for the supposed circularity
of the structure of self-relation, that is, for the alleged difficulty, that the I, in
order to know itself, must always already presuppose a knowing about itself.
What then does it mean to conceive the Absolute as subject? With regard
to this question, the preface to the system of 1807 already explains itself with a
clarity that ought to exclude any misunderstanding: "The living substance is
further the being, that is truly subject, or, to say the same thing, the being that is
truly actual, only to the extent that it is the movement of the positing of itself."ll
'Being a subject' is thereby elucidated: first, through 'movement,' or, as Hegel
subsequently says, through 'becoming'; and second, through a determinate
movement: through the "movement of the positing of itself," through a "self-
movement of form," through "a becoming of itself."12 The Absolute is "only
that being which completes itself through its development"; it is a result; it is
"what it truly is, only at the end."13
198 Self and Others
Therefore, to conceive the Absolute as subject in no way means to con-
ceive it as "absolute subject" or as "absolute subjectivity" in the sense which
Hegel rejected iIi his essays from the early period in Jena. 'Subject' is now no
longer the name for the consciousness that is insisting on itself in opposition to
the world, hovering over the remnants of the world, positing itself absolutely,
and consequently not emerging from out of the absolute opposition; 'Subject'
is the movement of the becoming of itself, thus a movement that mediates
itself with itself through the negation of its other, and that is the Absolute only
as this mediation. Hegel certainly noticed what might at best be called the
ambiguity of 'subject' that results from this definition. He writes, the com-
mon "need to represent the Absolute as subject," has led to the mistaken
assumption that "the true exists really only as subject;" that is, as subject in the
popular sense, as 'absolute subject,' so to speak. Such an understanding, how-
ever, misses the new, systematic meaning of subjectivity; indeed even worse, it
blocks the ability to know what 'subjectivity' truly is. Hegel expresses this
quite strongly. He writes, "That anticipation, that the Absolute is a subject, is
thus not only not the actuality of this concept, but indeed makes this actuality
impossible, for that anticipation posits the concept of the Absolute as a resting
point, but the actuality of the concept of the Absolute is self-movement."14
One could say, paradoxically: whoever thinks the Absolute as a subject (that is,
as subject in the usual sense, and this is to say, concretely, whoever represents
God as a person in the usual sense of the word), necessarily misses the idea of
the subjectivity of the Absolute, and in addition, such a person causes the true
idea of subjectivity to remain concealed, namely, the idea that the Absolute is
the self-producing movement.
Hegel's demand, to conceive substance as subject, includes yet another
aspect. As was said, in one sense the demand conceives the Absolute as the self-
producing activity. This activity is certainly a self-relation, but not necessarily
a cognitive self-relation. A cognitive relation only arises through the cognizing
subject in "science," thus, in philosophy. Insofar as philosophy stands over
against this process of the self-becoming of the Absolute, that is, finally, inso-
far as philosophy stands over against this processuality of that which is truly
actual, not merely as something other or foreign, but is conceived as a part of
this whole, the cognitive relation becomes a cognitive self-relation. Only in this
way does the whole become a whole; otherwise it would only be a part. Cog-
nizing subjectivity is not excluded from the whole, of which Hegel says that it
is the truth, but it is a constitutive moment of the Absolute. This approach is
also retained in the later elaboration of the system. In order to express it in the
language of the science of logic, we might say: the true presentation of the
Absolute is the one, which cancels the opposition, the external relation between
reflection and absolute identity, and comprehends the interpretation of the
Absolute in the development of scientific cognition as a moment of itself. IS
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 199
This interpretation is nothing foreign to the Absolute, otherwise the Absolute
would not be precisely the Absolute. It is only the Absolute, when it is con-
ceived as subject, and this means precisely this: when it is conceived as the pro-
cess of becoming itself, which includes the aspect of knowing.
Hegel has expressed this idea of subjectivity most concisely in a lesser
known text, namely, his review of F. H. Jacobi's work, even though the word
"subjectivity" itself does not appear here, and instead, the word 'Spirit' takes its
place. Therefore, I should like to cite the decisive passage: "The distinction,
whether the Absolute is determined only as substance or as spirit, consists
hereafter only in the distinction, whether thinking, which has denied its finitude
and mediations, has negated its negations, and in this way has comprehended
the one Absolute, possesses the consciousness of that which it has already per-
formed in cognizing the absolute substance, or whether it does not have this
consciousness."16 The Absolute is understood as subjectivity, or, as Hegel for-
mulates it in connection with the passage that was cited, God is understood as
spirit, only if God is understood as the distinguishing that moves itself in itself
and as the cognizing of himself in the person that is distinguished from him. In
the reconsideration of the preface to the system of 1807, with regard to its
warning about the suggestive but misleading anticipation of the actual con-
cept of subjectivity by the absolute subject, one could add the following: If one
does not understand the concept of subjectivity in the way that Hegel presents
it, then one perhaps thinks God as absolute subject; that is, one thinks God in
precisely the sense which Hegel rejected in his early critical essays. If one,
however, thinks the Absolute as absolute subject, then one does not think it as
absolute subjectivity.
One may object to this systematically explained understanding of abso-
lute subjectivity on the grounds that it attributes a foreign meaning to the well
known word, and this cannot be disputed. However, this may not be a very
strong objection, since Hegel gives sufficient information indeed about the
way in which this word is to be understood. Further, one may object to Hegel
that nothing is said in this concept about the constitution of self-conscious-
ness, and this cannot be disputed either. One must take account of the fact that
Hegel was not interested in this problem. However, if his philosophy is inter-
preted today as a philosophy of subjectivity and is criticized and rejected in the
name of intersubjectivity, then it is certainly necessary to indicate what sub-
jectivity actually is for Hegel.
However, a still further and a third meaning of subjectivity can be found
in Hegel, and this is closer to the meaning that his critics have in mind. I mean
200 Self and Others
Hegel's discourse about subjectivity as a principle that has emerged at a given
time and in a given place in world history. According to Hegel, subjectivity
emerged first with the Greek Sophists, was further developed in late antiquity
in Hellenism, both in the pagan schools of philosophy and in early Christianity,
and only developed completely in the modern world. Therefore, Hegel can
speak also of subjectivity as the "principle of the modern period" as "a princi-
ple of modern philosophy. "17 In the present and in the distinct forms of the
present (Le., in philosophy, in law, in morals, in art), subjectivity is conceived
as infinite. One is inclined to say: subjectivity is conceived as absolute subjec-
ti vity. With this formulation, the contrast with Hegel's early critique of the
co·ncept of absolute subjectivity would appear complete. Hegel, the early critic
of the absolute subject, would appear himself now as its advocate. However, in
this connection Hegel speaks of the infinite subject, but not of the absolute
subject. And most important, the infinite subject that he proclaims here as the
principle of the modern period is in no way identical with the absolute subject
that he criticized earlier. Nor does this concept of the infinite subject correspond
to that with which Hegel's critics find fault under the concept of absolute sub-
jectivity; as evidence for his mistaken approach.
I should like to draw together a few determinations from out of Hegel's
various and scattered remarks on "infinite subjectivity." One aspect is con-
veyed to us, for example, in Hotho' s transcript of Hegel's lectures on history of
philosophy. In a passage that is abbreviated and inexactly rendered in the old
edition, Hegel speaks of the condition, "that spirit thinks itself, that the indi-
vidual as a single being apprehends the intuition of itself as universal, that its
being is its universality and the universality is its being, that the individual is
\vith itself; as universal, it is with itself, with the universal. 1'his being-with-
itself is the infinite personality."18 Perhaps from out of this idea of the identity
of universality and singularity in the I, Habermas concludes that "the moments
of the universal and individual" are able "to be thought as united only in the
context of monological self-cognition," and for Habermas, the result of this is
the priority of the subject as universal. Consequently, in the end, the result is the
dominance of the state over against the subjective freedom of the individual.19
In opposition to Habermas, I should like to object that this connection between
the identity of the universal and the individual moments of the subject, on the
one hand, and the dominance of the state, on the other hand, is not conclu-
sive. Nor is this identity the most important definition of the concept of infinite
At least one ought not to conceal the fact that for Hegel an entirely dif-
ferent concept is connected immediately with the idea of infinite subjectivity:
the concept of freedom. The most easily managed criterion for determining
the degree of realization of the principle of subjectivity, for Hegel, certainly lies
in the human knowledge of his freedom: namely, knowing whether the human
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 201
has his freedom only by virtue of a particular ethnic or social identity, as in
antiquity, or whether he has it because he is the object of divine grace and
compassion, as represented by the Christian religion, or whether the human has
his freedom by virtue of being human, that is, by virtue of his spirituality. The
latter formulation being elevated by Hegel to the principle of the modern
world-to be sure not only on empirical grounds.
The ground of this freedom, the infinity of subjectivity, lies in the com-
plex situation that the recourse to consciousness, the turning back of con-
sciousness into itself, is at the same time an emergence from its particularity,
the elevation to universality. This transition however does not lie simply in
the logical circumstance that the subject as individual is immediately a univer-
sal; that is, that every particular I as I is precisely that which every I is. The ele-
vation to universality and consequently, the infinity of the subject, lies rather in
the fact that the innermost core of the subject is thinking.
In thinking, the
subject is both with itself as well as with thinking seen as the universal in and
for itself. This relation of individuality and universality is constitutive for the
concept of infinite subjectivity, not the other relation, that the I as I is a uni-
versal. The universality that distinguishes the infinite subject is not an imme-
diacy that inheres in the subject by nature, so to speak. In this case, the infinite
subject would be the inflexible absolute subject, to which Hegel's early critique
applies. The universality is rather the universality of thinking, which is the
mediating and mediated process in which truth is constituted.
In the concept of infinite subjectivity Hegel thinks this process of the
mediation of subjectivity (qua knowing) and substantiality: that the subject
forms itself into truth by means of thinking, "and one achieves and acquires
truth only by means ofthinking."21 That which is true is mediated by means of
Hegel distinguishes this form of mediation from the immediate coin-
cidence of subjectivity and substantiality, as he finds it playing a role in imme-
diate knowing. He also distinguishes it from any appeal to authority: from the
appeal to the external authority of institutions, or to the inner authority of con-
science. In our language, one could designate the mediation of thinking that is
constitutive for infinite subjectivity as an intersubjective process, and one can
also find fault with the fact that Hegel has still not employed this terminology.
Indeed, one could object that he has explicated all too little how this process of
thinking is itself to be thought; that is, how the universality that is grounded by
thinking comes into existence and how it is to be secured. However, one cannot
object to his approach, at least not with justification, that it is a model of the
predominance of the monological or even a monomaniacal subject, and that it
excludes intersubjectivity. In fact, the opposition of subjectivity and intersub-
jectivity is a post-Hegelian abstraction. The fact that thinking does not belong
merely to the subject qua individual subject, like an opinion that is only 'mine,'
but rather that thinking is the very element in which the identity of all the indi-
202 Self and Others
vidual subjects is realized, is for Hegel precisely the characteristic mark of
thinking. Without the moment of intersubjectivity, thinking would always in
fact stand exposed to the danger of being private, unable to realize the univer-
sality claimed by thinking.
Surely, no further clarification of the difference between this concept of
infinite subjectivity and the criticized concept of the absolute subject is
required. However, it is still not clear how the concept of the subjectivity of the
Absolute and the concept of infinite subjectivity are related. I shall briefly
sketch this relation here. Once again, the connection of these two concepts
lies in the concept of thinking. On the one hand, I have shown above that the
concept of thinking is constitutive for the concept of the Absolute. Thinking
cannot be excluded from the concept of the Absolute; thinking is the interpre-
tation of the Absolute, and insofar as it is not an external reflection, it is the self-
interpretation of the Absolute. That which is true, and the Absolute is that
which is true, cannot be thought as such, unless the movement of thinking is
recognized as constitutive for the concept of truth. Otherwise, the Absolute
would be indeed the night in which all determinations are submerged and in
which all cows are black. And surely, on the other hand, as I just said above, the
movement of thinking is constitutive for the concept of infinite subjectivity,
which is the principle of modernity.
With this, at least, the direction is indicated in which the unity of the
concept of the Absolute as subject and the concept of the infinite subject can be
developed in more detail. However, Hegel also expressed this connection him-
self: namely, in the philosophy of religion, and particularly in the introduc-
tion to the presentation of the consummate religion in the lecture transcript
from 1827. Thus, Hegel expresses this connection in a central text that was not
contained, or at least contained only in a fragmentary way, in the old edition.
English readers will find this passage available for the first time in the edition
of Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of religion translated and edited by Peter
Hodgson. Also the third concept thematized in this essay, that of the absolute
subject, plays a role in this context.
For Hegel, a decisive advance in the history of religion is that God is con-
ceived as subject, as absolute subject. In distinction from the substantial divini-
ties of the orient, and also in distinction from the Greek divinities, which,
according to Hegel, are still not seriously concerned with subjectivity, the God
of Israel is subject. The God of Israel is no longer substance, but subject, and to
be sure, as Hegel repeatedly says23 in his presentation of the religion of Israel, is
absolute subject. (TIus form must be the appropriate one, even if the sources in
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 203
part speak of absolute subjectivity.) Therefore, as Hegel says, the God of Israel
alone deserves the name God,24 and in this claim also lies the reason for the fact
that Hegel, in the lecture transcripts of 1827, permits the Jewish religion to
follow the Greek religion.
However, with this description of the God of Israel as the absolute sub-
ject, the Jewish idea of God is in no way immune to the critique that Hegel
employed earlier in regard to the concept of the absolute subject. On the con-
trary, the objections from the early years in Jena against the absolute subject are
repeated mutatis mutandis against the Jewish God: God's difference from the
world is an expression of the absolute rupture. The emptiness of content follows
from this rupture: certainly God is determined as wise; purposes are posited in
God. This certainly already exceeds the mere abstraction; and also the fact
that this God is represented as creator, shows God on the way from the absolute
subject to a concrete determination of subjectivity, so to speak. But the purpose
of this God is described, for example, as mere power. An echo of Hegel's
early critique of the absolute subject is again found in this critique of the Jew-
ish idea of God. In spite of particular moments pointing in the direction of a
concrete understanding of subjectivity, in Hegel's view the Jewish God as
absolute subject remains in the end abstract: the subjectivity of this God is a
subjectivity for fantasy and representation, and "the comprehension of the pure
idea and the concept" is something completely different.
The idea of absolute subjectivity, however, taken now in the affirma-
tive sense, is the idea of spirit, the representational form of which Hegel finds
in the Christian idea of God. In this form the idea of spirit is the result of the
history of religion: the fOTIns preceding Christianity "are grasped together in the
infinite, absolute form, in absolute subjectivity, and only when spirit is thus
detennined as absolute subjectivity, is it spirit." Spirit is self-determination, a
primal division in itself and in a knowing, for which it is. However, spirit can-
not know itself as absolute subjectivity if the knower is something external to
spirit. This had been explicated previously in the concept of the Absolute as
subject, and Hegel repeats it here once again: "the final thing, however, is that
this, for which spirit is, this concept, this subjectivity, is not something external
to spirit, but is itself absolutely infinite subjectivity, the infinite form."26 The
complete semantic content of the concept of absolute subjectivity thus requires
for its reality a redoubling, so to speak: spirit is known as absolute subjectivity,
but since this knowing is indeed its knowing of itself, the side of this knowing
is also to be comprehended as infinite subjectivity. Or, we could reverse this
and place the accent on the knowing subject: spirit can only be conceived as
absolute subjectivity when the subject, which must comprehend this concept,
knows itself as infinite subject.
Therefore, Hegel, the critic of the absolute subject, can be at the same
time the philospher of absolute subjectivity. The early semantic content of the
204 Self and Others
concept of 'absolute subject' is preserved in the final texts, even if Hegel, or the
student texts that have been handed down to us, does not always sharply dis-
tinguish terminologically between these two concepts. Thus, to this extent,
there is no change of view between the early critique of the absolute subject and
the later affirmation of absolute subjectivity. However, a change does occur, to
the extent that Hegel, at the time of his early critique, still did not have at his
disposal that conception that he later placed under the title of absolute subjec-
tivity and infinite subjectivity: namely, that thinking mediates itself with its
other, and only in this way achieves its truth and freedom.
1. Hegel, Gesammelte Werke, ed. by the Academy of Sciences of Rhineland-
Westphalia in association with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. 40 vols. pro-
jected. Hamburg, 1968 ff. Hereafter cited as GW. GW4:48, 59.
2. GW4:322.
3. See C. L. Reinhold: Beitriige zur leichtern Obersicht des Zustandes der
Philosophie beym Anfange des 19. lahrhunderts, ed. C. L. Reinhold. Hamburg,
1801-1803. In particular, manuscript I, Article 5: "Sendschreiben an den Herm Pro-
fessor Fichte ..." (1801). This text is also found in Transzendentalphilosophie und
Spekulation: Der Streit um einer Ersten Philosophie (1799-1807), Quellenband, ed. by
Walter Jaeschke (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1993), pp. 126-34.
4. J. G. Fichte-Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften,
ed. R. Lauth and H. Gliwitzky (Stuttgart: Bad Cannstatt, 1962ff.), 1/7:303f.
5. GW4:41.
6. Ibid.
7. GW4:54f.
8. GW4:319.
9. GW4:404.
10. GW4:407.
11. GW9:18.
12. GW9:19.
13. Ibid.
14. GW9:21.
15. GW 11 :371f.
Absolute Subject and Absolute Subjectivity 205
16. Hegel, Werke. Complete edition edited by an association of friends, 18 vols.
Berlin, 1832 ff. Hereafter cited as W. W 4:435.
17. Hegel, Vorlesungen: Ausgewiihlte Nachschriften und Manuskripte. Edited
by the Staff of the Hegel-Archiv, Bochum. 10 vols. projected. Hamburg, 1983 ff. Here-
after cited as V. V6: 70f.
18. Hotho, Nachschrift zum Kolleg iiber Geschichte der Philosophie, 22b; cf.,
Werke 13:133.
19. Jiirgen Habermas, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwolf Vor-
lesungen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1985), p. 53.
20. V7:127f.
21. V6:70f.
22. V7:128.
23. V4:292, 625f.
24. V5:193.
25. W 13:55.
26. V5:194.
Appropriating Selfbood:
Schleiermacher and Hegel on
Subjectivity as Mediated Activity
Jeffrey L. Hoover
Central to German Idealist thought is the notion of a mental activity that
grounds universal structures of consciousness and allows individuals to be
aware of themselves as subjects. Within the tradition of German Idealism this
activity is viewed as self-generating; an original, reflexive awareness which
makes possible the particular conscious states of individual subjects. In the
opening lines of the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte describes this activity as that
"which does not and cannot appear among the empirical states of our con-
sciousness, but rather lies at the basis of all consciousness and alone makes it
possible."! This view signals a break with the Cartesian picture of the subject as
primarily passive. Indeed, in German Idealism, subjectivity is conceived not
only as active, but as purely an activity.
Yet, early German Idealists from Kant to Schelling viewed the sponta-
neous activity of self-consciousness as prior to any particular conscious states of
individuals. As such, subjectivity in itself has an immediate existence that is not
mediated by conscious activity. This pure, nonempirical existence of self-con-
sciousness, which serves as the ground of conscious experience for the early
German Idealists, is variously called "the transcendental self' or "the absolute
ego" and is characterized as an original, if unobservable, reflexive (self-)relation.
These earlier idealists, then, have not entirely given up the Cartesian view of sub-
jectivity. Subjectivity, being conceived as an immediate self-relation, has a sim-
ilar status for these thinkers as Descartes' cogito in that it is in itself both nonem-
pirical and foundational for empirical consciousness. Among the early German
Idealists, subjectivity is understood as a self-presence that is prior to or makes
possible our particular experiences as conscious subjects.
Appropriating Seljhood 207
However, in the thought of two later Idealist thinkers, Schleiermacher and
Hegel, there is a shift away from the conception of subjectivity as an immedi-
ate self-relation that is prior to empirical consciousness. Both of these thinkers
conceive of self-presencing subjectivity, as mediated by participation in a com-
munity of minds; individual subjectivity originates through activities of an
"intersubjective" sort. The self-relation of an ego is no longer viewed by
Schleiermacher and Hegel as something that exists immediately, that is, prior to
participation in an intersubjective realm of language and action, but as some-
thing that emerges from this experience. Self-consciousness for these thinkers
is not originally given, but is always already a result of mediation.
In their view
priority is bestowed not on a pure, spontaneous ego, but on a community of lan-
guage and action constituted by particular consciousnesses each of which
relates to this intersubjective community as a particular ego to universal sub-
jective activity.
The universal subjective activity that grounds individual subjectivity in
Hegel and Schleiermacher does not imply the existence of a subjectivity sepa-
rable from the concrete, particular consciousnesses. There is no group mind,
only a collectivity to which each belongs. Individuals become selves on this
view by virtue of distinguishing themselves, their own subjectivity, from such
a collectivity. The coming-to-self-consciousness of individual subjects, on
Schleiermacher and Hegel's view, then, is a result of the progressive develop-
ment of a subjectivity that is intersubjective and not an originary, immediate
In the writings of both Hegel and Schleiermacher one accordingly dis-
covers a shift of focus away from the activity of self-consciousness in its self-
relating aspects, which preoccupied earlier German Idealists. Individual sub-
jects are viewed instead as embedded consciousnesses-as persons situated
in a particular social context. Achieving subjectivity according to both thinkers
is intimately related to the participation of individuals in activities that are
essentially intersubjective. One such activity that is the focus of both Schleier-
macher and Hegel in their respective accounts of the process of developing
self-conscious subjectivity, is that of appropriation. Just as we cannot achieve
self-consciousness unless we are inducted into a linguistic community, nei-
ther can we become selves without participating in the acquisition of prop-
erty. This latter activity of appropriation will serve as a guide to understanding
the view of subjectivity in the thought of these two later idealists.
While Hegel and SChleiermacher are in agreement concerning the neces-
sity of appropriation in achieving self-consciousness, they are at odds in their
conception of the nature of property and its role in this process. These two
alternative views of appropriation reveal divergent conceptions of selfuood
despite their both having taken the intersubjective tum of later German Idealist
thought. On the one hand, Hegel's accommodation of Kant's thought, influ-
208 Self and Others
ences his conception of property as abstract and as consisting of ownership
rights that are transferable in principle to anyone. Schleiermacher's position, on
the other hand, is indebted to romanticism in that he conceives of property as a
medium for the expression of one's unique nontransferable character. Yet,
these considerable differences belie a shared assumption of the significance of
this activity in the coming to self-consciousness of individual subjects in mod-
ern society.
In contrast to earlier Idealist views Schleiermacher's notion of a self is of
a concrete existent. A self is not an abstract, reflective ego, but an individuality
embedded uniquely in a life-world. Moreover, the subjectivity that selves pos-
sess according to Schleiemlacher cannot be conceived apart from this embed-
dedness. Self-consciousness is not reducible to the presence of a kernel of sub-
jectivity that bears a universal formal structure of self-reflected thought. Rather,
selfhood "is generated as a by-product" of a concretely situated activity.3 Con-
sciousness of an "I" is linked in Schleiermacher to synthetic cognitive opera-
tions that are ultimately organic in nature and therefore uniquely formed in
each person. The seat of reflective awareness according to Schleiermacher is a
synthetic activity that he sometimes refers as the "Fantasie." The Fantasie
raises to the level of consciousness the mere empirical succession of mental
events that are attributable to the "organic" functions of life, the nonintellectual
practical activities of mental operations. Raising "organic" activities to the
level of consciousness, however, involves two elements of synthesis-one by
which a manifold is organized into an object, and one in which a succession of
objects are placed in relation to each other as part of the same continuity.
Accordingly, the higher faculty in its influence on the organic is to be
conceived as none other than combinatorial. This faculty in the individ-
uals is Fantasie. In the first place each individual act, apart from its asso-
ciation with what precedes it and follows, is combination, since out of the
diverse flux an objective unity of intuition and a subjective unity of con-
sciousness will be formed. Then the t10w is combination, because a con-
tinuity of time will be fonned through the unity of memories and a con-
tinuity of intuition through the unity of relations of reason to the totality.
The synthesizing faculty of Fantasie as we see in this text is the ground
of both the apprehension of discrete units of experience, that is, the presence of
objects/concepts (what Schleiermacher calls "intuition"5) and the unity of a
subject of "I" across a diversity of such intuitions. Knowledge of oneself
Appropriating Seljhood 209
involves accordingly a synthetic cognitive activity whereby all judgments are
placed in relation to one whole. 'The whole to which each unitary intuition
must relate, however, is in Schleiermacher's view not merely the whole of an
individual's experience, but that of human subjectivity in general. Indeed, con-
ceptual apprehension or "intuition" is a "uniform relation to communal sub-
jectivity, to the nature of humans."6 An intuition of oneself, then, involves
placing one's own acts and thoughts in relation to the collective subjectivity of
the human community. Schleiermacher points out in his work, Monologen,
that I perceive my own being to the degree that I "intuit Humanity and deter-
mine my place and standing in its domain."7 In this romantic manifesto from
1800, Schleiermacher goes so far as to say that in self-consciousness one has
the "consciousness of the whole of humanity" within oneself.
This romantic
ideal needs to be understood as a Grenzbegriff, a regulative ideal. Complete
knowledge of the whole of humanity, and correspondingly of one's own indi-
vidual uniqueness is, in the end, unattainable at least in the sense that it could be
rendered as an object for thought, a unified intuition.
This view of self-consciousness as being grounded in one's relation to
human subjectivity suggests three things: that self-awareness depends on one's
ability to intuit one's relation to others; that self-consciousness is a matter of
degree according to one's ability to distinguish oneself from others; and that
each self-conscious subject has a unique self-intuition. In the Monologen
Schleiermacher calls this latter point his "highest intuition." "Each person," he
writes, "is to represent humanity in his or her own way, in a unique mixture of
elements."9 Each individual occupies a unique location within conscious social
life and, therefore, has a unique relation to the whole that Schleiermacher calls
humanity. The synthetic activity of the Fantasie forms for individuals, given
their unique position within human subjectivity as a whole, a unique intuition of
their relation to the human community and thus a unique intuition of them-
selves. Self-intuition is therefore not an "immediate" familiarity with oneself
but something acquired progressively through our socially situated synthetic
One result of this conception of self-intuition is that the communal sub-
jectivity stands as a necessary presupposition of individual self-conscious
Self-consciousness bound up within the particular person is no
cognitive act since reason then stands under the power of nature and can
become self-consciousness only through an opposing effect which
negates it.
To be knowledge, self-consciousness must become external, like
that which is objective. It can therefore come to exist as something unique
only in a community of objective knowledge. to
210 Self and Others
Here self-consciousness is seen as developing through activities of an objective
and public sort. Schleiermacher finds in individual subjects a synthetic fac-
ulty that produces cognitive, self-conscious results only within a community of
knowledge. Thus, self-conscious individuals have an intuition of themselves
only in r l ~ t   o n to this external subjectivity. A precondition of subjectivity in an
individual then is subjectivity in an independently existing community of
minds. To be sure, this realm of objective knowledge exists only if there are
individual subjects to constitute it. Schleiermacher rejects the hypostasization of
subjectivity as found in the thought of the later Fichte. Reason is only to be
found in concrete individualities; there is no transcendent subject associated
with the collective subjectivity that is the basis of external and objective knowl-
Individual subjects, however, are not conceived by Schleiermacher as
ontological primitives. Schleiermacher's view of the interrelationship of selves
and communal subjectivity is best understood as one of mutual dependence.
Neither individual subjects nor collective human subjectivity is an underived
primitive for Schleiermacher but together they constitute an eternal "oscillation
of life." He writes: "Individuality ("Eigentiimlichkeit") would be nothing if it
did not appear in community; it exists only relative to others. The community
would have no foundation if it were not the individuality."ll From the perspec-
tive of the collective subjectivity, the individual subjects are prior. However, if
one adopts the standpoint of an individual self-consciousness, as we all do, its
own existence is dependent on the whole.
The individuality of individual subjects that Schleiermacher associates
with self-conscious beings, as in the above quotation, is not to be conceived as
merely a matter of the presence of a unique combination of elements of col-
lective subjectivity due to an individual's unique spatiotemporallocation within
"humanity." Individuality for Schleiermacher is more than the result of a dis-
tinctive socialization-more than a unique empirical constitution of one's men-
tal life. The uniqueness found in individual hurnan subjectivity is not reducible
to a unique set of external relations to others.
Humans are only persons insofar as they place others alongside
themselves and at the same time distinguish themselves from the others.
We deny that animals have personality properly because the two do not
emerge in their existence in the correct opposition and because the indi-
viduality in them does not appear as essential and innate to their life,
but only as a result of spatial and temporal relations during their life.
The less humans qualitatively distinguish themselves from others, the
less we see them as personally developed in their ethical life and the
less they place others alongside themselves, the less their personality is
ethically developed.
Appropriating Seljhood 211
Schleiennacher suggests in this passage that individual subjectivity that
is distinctively human is "qualitatively" unique rather than merely "quantita-
tively" so. Or again, he suggests that the individuality of each subject is due to
something "innate" to them, rather than merely a matter of their unique spatial
and temporal relations to other subjects. These references to a uniqueness in
individual human subjects that is not reducible to external relations is rooted in
Schleiermacher's view that nature uniquely fashions each subject. One must not
forget that for Schleiermacher each subject is a concrete individual. This
implies not only that the individual is embedded uniquely within collective
conscious life, but that it is also a unique natural organism. The cognitive activ-
ities of the subject are linked in Schleiermacher's thought to organic processes
of nature. In particular, the cognitive faculty of Fantasie is tied to the organic
power of perception and corresponding to the cognitive synthesis of intuition is
an organic activity implicated in perception that he sometimes calls "Talent."13
The Talent, being rooted in. the particularity of nature, is "physical and acci-
dental" resulting in relative differences between individuals. This distinctive-
ness of the Talent, which is due to the natural uniqueness of individuals, is
elevated by the faculty of Fantasie to "true individuality."14 Thus, Schleier-
macher admits that while reason itself is "public and uniform" and cannot be
individual, the Fantasie that produces our particular concepts is always "indi-
vidual and particular."15 In this manner individuals distinguish themselves from
one another qualitatively, or internally, not simply by virtue of their unique spa-
This view is given further support and elaboration in another passage
resembling the earlier one in which he distinguished humans from animals:
A personal existence distinguishes itself from others and sets itself
alongside the others which must therefore also be distinguished inter-
nally.... We ascribe to all species and kinds of animals a unique exis-
tence, but do not ascribe to the individual exemplar a complete person-
ality, partly because we take its individual uniqueness more as the result
of external relations than as an inner principle, partly because its con-
sciousness has not broken through to a determinant opposition by means
of which it is able to distinguish itself and place itself alongside O'th-
ers.... The less a human or a people differentiates itself from another,
the less developed it is personally in its ethical life; the less it places and
recognizes others besides itself, the less ethically developed it is in its per-
Here Schleiermacher articulates two conditions of the internal uniqueness
that is associated with individual subjectivity: (1) that the uniqueness is "the
result of an inner principle"; and (2) that the individual is consciously aware of
212 Self and Others
itself as unique in comparison to others. The first condition is described in
contrast to a uniqueness that is a result of external relations. This first condition,
then, would appear to be a reference to the uniquely formed organic differ-
ences mentioned above that render cognitive faculties uniquely individuated in
each subject. The second condition, however, complements the first since it
emphasizes the ability of a subject to distinguish its own activities from those of
others. From their spatiotemporally unique location in a collectivity of lan-
guage and action, individuals develop personal uniqueness by means of a
unique organizing activity that produces unique intuitions and enables them to
cognize themselves and their own acts as distinct from others in that collectiv-
ity. Not only must cognitive synthetic activities of reason form unique intuitions
of the collective subjectivity, but it must also be aware of its own intuitions as
distinct from presentations of subjectivity it encounters in other selves.
Self-consciousness, then, is not conceived on the earlier German Idealist
model of a transcendental structure that is one and the same in all individual
consciousnesses. Schleiermacher's notion of the universal is that of a totality, a
community of subjectivity, and the relation of individual to this universal is that
of unique part to whole. The universal is made immanent not as a common
principle or structure constituting each individual, but as a unique apprehension
and presentation of a shared life-world. Schleierrnacher writes of his departure
from his own earlier Kantian views:
For a long time it also satisfied me to have found universal reason and
worshipped the uniformity of the one existence as the sole and highest
existence ... that humanity revealed itself as varied only in the diversity
of outward acts, that man, the individual, is not a uniquely formed being,
but one element and the same everywhere. 17
Schleiermacher's own view of the presence of reason in individual subjects is
developed in opposition to this so-called "Kantian" model. As already out-
lined above, for Schleiermacher, reason is present in self-conscious subjects as
a unique essence that results from the cultivating of a uniquely constituted
organic activity within the context of a collective subjectivity whereby one
distinguishes oneself from other subjects.
However, the cultivation of one's unique organizing activity of reason to
the degree necessary for producing self-consciousness is not merely a cognitive
process. Cultivating cognitive individuality within a particular intersubjective
context is a function of one's participation in a community of praxis. One area of
praxis that ScWeiermacher explicitly connects with the development of a unique
inner nature is that of appropriation. In order to understand the role that appro-
priation plays in this account of selfhood, particular notice must be taken of the
nontransferable character that Schleiermacher associates with individuality.
Appropriating Seljhood 213
Schleiermacher writes that "organizing reason as individuality (Eigen-
tiimlichkeit) has the character of nontransferability (Uniibertragbarkeit)."18 An
individual's unique inner nature cannot be alienated or transferred to another.
For Schleiermacher, the nontransferable nature of individuals, is expressed in
property-"the character of non-transferability inhabits the person's impulse
toward differentiation, toward absolute appropriation, whose result is prop-
erty. "19 Appropriation, according to Schleiermacher, is the act of extending
oneself into nature since there can be "no strict division between the person and
its extension into the surrounding nature."20 However, appropriation is not to be
understood as simply a matter of extending oneself as a preformed individual-
ity into one's environment. Individuality, as noted above, results from a process
of cultivation and this process goes hand in hand with the activity of leaving
one's unique mark on the world. "The individualizing of the immediate char-
acter and the individualizing of the external world go together and   ~ h is con-
ditioned by the other."21 The mutual implication between appropriation and
the cultivation of individuality leads Schleiermacher to make the bold claim that
"a person who forms no fixed property also has no individuality."22 The activ-
ity of forming property, therefore, is understood by Schleiermacher as a prac-
tical activity of reason that corresponds to the cultivation of cognitive indi-
On the one hand, the property that results from the practical activity of
appropriation in Schleiermacher's account is not be confused with the acquisi-
tion of rights of ownership. Schleiermacher uses the word "Eigentum" (prop-
erty) in a broad sense to refer to all those things in which one objectifies one's
individuality. Schleiermacher rarely makes use of the distinction, employed
by Hegel and others of his day, between property in the broad sense as includ-
ing anything that is the result of appropriating activities, and property in the nar-
rower, legal sense. Property in Schleiermacher's sense includes all that has
been marked by one's practical activity. The origin of all property on this
account lies in the individual's impulse to impress his or her personality on the
world. Property on this view has a special significance for the cultivation of
individuality since it is the means by which one's unique rational essence is
given existence. In property one places oneself and one's unique sphere of
activity alongside that of others and is able accordingly to distinguish one's
organizing acts of reason from those of others and thereby actualize and appre-
hend oneself as a unique self.
On the other hand, property in the narrower sense is tied to the legal
recognition of rights of ownership, which are transferable to others.
Schleiermacher's point of view, that which is the medium of legal exchanges
and therefore alienable, can hardly embody one's nature in a unique and deter-
minate manner. Ownership that is subject to legal transfer abstracts from the
unique objects, which results in a conception of property as alienable and as not
214 Self and Others
intrinsically tied to any particular person. Property of this sort is a poor vehicle
for expressing one's unique character.
According to Schleiermacher, then, the extent to which one uniquely
appropriates the external world is directly related to the degree of individuality
one is able to attain. This is not to be taken in a strictly quantitative sense,
namely, that the more one owns, the more individuality one achieves. One does
not become more distinctly self-conscious by owning more. When Schleier-
macher says that a person who has no fixed property has no individuality,24 he is
not criticizing the poverty of possessions per se, but emphasizing the importance
of individuals actualizing themselves in an objective manner, depositing their
individuality in things with unique and determinate characteristics. In fact,
Schleiermacher cites fixed property as expressive of individuality in contrast to
money whose nature is intrinsically tied to the possibility· of exchange.
One need not look far for the roots of this approach to property. Within
romantic thought one encounters the view that each individual has a unique
existence and that personal fulfillment consists in the cultivation and expression
of that unique way of being. This romantic view is often called expressivist
because it embraces the attempt to make manifest in a public medium, some-
thing that is personal and private.
Schleiennacher therefore adopts this expres-
sivist approach that is frequently encountered in romantic discussions of art or
nature, and applies it to the notion of property.27
In accord with his emphasis on property in its unique and expressivist
aspects, Schleiennacher sees the greatest potential for embodying individuality
as lying not in the medium of economic or legal exchanges, but in the content
of free social interaction. The primary locus for activities of appropriation in
Schleiermacher's account is in a peculiar sense of property in which it is con-
ceived as the medium of "free sociality" (freie Geselligkeit). Free sociality, as
Schleiermacher conceives it, is a sphere of social relations that he distinguishes
from three other central arenas of social life, namely, the state, the church, and
It is a domain of social interaction that is constituted by a shifting
array of voluntary attachments free from the dictates of government, religion, or
Within this sphere of free sociality, social relations are left to con-
figure themselves according to the needs and interests of the individuals, sub-
ject to no higher purpose than the cultivation and expression of the individual-
ity of its participants. Schleiermacher develops his notion of free sociality at the
turn of the nineteenth century while intimately involved in the romantic milieu
of Berlin salon society. It was within the midst of this heady environment of a
burgeoning intellectual movement where the old boundaries between class,
profession and gender were often ignored, that Schleiermacher first describes
this sphere of free sociality.30
The "property" that he cites as the medium of this private realm of social
interaction is property only in his characteristically noneconomic and nonlegal
Appropriating Seljhood 215
sense. Moreover, "appropriation" in the realm of free sociality is to be under-
stood as the act of impressing one's own unique character on the social inter-
action so as to influence the characters of others. This form of appropriation is
referred to by Schleiermacher as "ethical possession" whereby "I occupy that in
whose development I have been included. "31 "Ethical possession" finds its
fullest expression in the reciprocal hospitality of free sociality where there is a
"voluntary openness to others entering the sphere of property. "32 The basis of
free social interaction therefore is not property in the sense of the legal rights of
ownership, but as the cultivation of individuality mutually participated in by
persons in free social relations. The bond of sociality, according to Schleier-
macher, "is not a matter of being present for another in exchanges of a legal
sort, but is defined by nontransferability."33 One does not come to possess indi-
viduality in isolation from others, but through the give and take of social rela-
tions, the opening of one's heart and hearth to the influence of others.
Schleiermacher acknowledges that protection must be given to some
forms of property, providing it with a legal status backed by the authority of the
state in order that it might receive its fullest and most free expression. Only
under the protection of the state does one find the "universally valid determi-
nation of the criteria of the existence and infringement of property."34 Legal
acknowledgment of ownership itself, however, is not the essential instrument
for cultivating selfbood that it is in Hegel. In Schleierrnacher's thought it is
merely an aid to the efficiency and stability of reciprocal hospitality. While the
state provides the protection that is necessary for free interaction as private
persons in this view, it is the activity of individuals as mutually influential on
each other's character that is the essential feature of appropriation for the cul-
tivation of the individuality of self-conscious subjects.
In summary, then, Schleiermacher develops a theory in which a unique
and nontransferable awareness of self is mediated by acts of appropriation in the
peculiarly nonlegal and noneconomic sense of reciprocally fashioning one
another's character in free sociality. It is in this manner that Schleiermacher
defends the intersubjective realm of voluntary social relations as foundational
for the development of individual selfuood.
It is evident that Schleiermacher never entirely escapes his early roman-
tic conception of the individual subject as the organ of the infinite whereby
determinate and finite subjects each uniquely reflect a totality of human sub-
jectivity. Hegel, on the other hand, adopts an approach to individual subjectiv-
ity that is more indebted to earlier Gennan Idealist theories involving the notion
of a transcendental ego than it is to romanticism. Consequently, Hegel's view of
216 Self and Others
subjectivity includes elements of abstraction and universality that are reminis-
cent of earlier idealist theories although these elements are no longer viewed as
foundational, or immediately given to subjects, but as mediated by participation
in specific culturally determined traditions. For Hegel, as for Schleiermacher,
subjects are conceived as concrete individuals embedded in particular social and
historical contexts. Hegel in particular emphasizes the historically determined
aspect of these contexts. It is only through participation in social practices and
institutions unique to a particular historical epoch that individuals actualize
themselves as subjects.
Like Schleiermacher, Hegel views the development of self-consciousness
as progressive, and as a matter of degree. However, for Hegel the degree to
which individuals are able to develop self-consciousness has as much to do with
the epoch in which they live as with their personal activities and achievements.
Hegel's reconstruction of the coming-to-self-consciousness of humankind
through successive stages, beginning with mere desire, then advancing to inter-
personal strife, and finally arriving at mutual intersubjective recognition, is
well-rehearsed in the literature on Hege1.
What is of interest for our present
concerns is the process by which individuals achieve self-conscious aware-
ness within an established context of communal subjectivity.
On Hegel's view, self-consciousness is mediated to modern subjects
within a politically organized social sphere. Individuals come to an awareness of
themselves through an established institutional framework of intersubjective
recognition. The most complete discussion of this process of achieving subjec-
tivity within modern society is to be found in Hegel's major political work, the
Philosophy ofl'?ight. Here Hegel provides an account of communal reason, that
is, objective spirit, as revealed in modern nation-states. This account begins
with a discussion of the manner in which the will actualizes itself within in a sys-
tem of legal institutions under the title of "Abstract Right." The legal institutions
that Hegel treats here are those of modern European states, including property,
contract, and infringement. Hegel applies the term "Abstract Right" to the legal
structure of modem European states because it provides formal recognition to
individuals conceived abstractly as legal subjects. Under the law individuals
are conceived independently of their concrete particularity and as possessing a
general and identical capacity for making free, arbitrary, and willful choices. On
the basis of this nature as autonomous agents, individuals are designated under
the law as "persons" and therefore as bearers of various nonspecific rights.
Hegel's account of this conception of individuals, which is enlbodied in
the legal institutional framework of modern society, is not to be divorced from
the individual subjects' awareness of themselves. Hegel understands the legal
designation of "persons" as indicating a form of subjectivity in which indi-
viduals are conscious of themselves as purely formal wills, as free and dis-
tinct from any particular determination of will.
Appropriating Seljhood 217
The abstract will, consciously self-contained, is personality....
"Subject" is only the possibility of personality; every living thing of any
sort is a subject. A person, then, is a subject aware of this subjectivity,
since in personality it is of myself alone that I am aware. As this person,
I know myself to be free in myself.
The subjectivity mediated to an individual as a "person," that is, as a subject
who participates in the institutions of abstract right, is an awareness of oneself
as an autonomous agent. Seltbood in Hegel's sense, then, is a consciousness of
one's capacity for making free, arbitrary choices and not of one's uniqueness as
in Schleiermacher's view. "Personality is the first, still wholly abstract, deter-
mination of the absolute and infinite will. "37 Selthood in this abstract sense,
which is viewed by Hegel as foundational for modern subjectivity, is made
explicit in the legal notions of property, contract, and infringement. By means
of these particular legal institutions, persons receive formal recognition when
the law: (1) bestows on one a prima facie right to objectify one's will in prop-
erty; (2) limits that right and gives it definition in contract, and (3) treats one as
a willful subject on having committed a wrong. To the degree that other indi-
viduals respect these legal rights, one receives actual recognition of oneself
as an autonomous agent.
The property that is essential for mediating this abstract conception of self
to individuals is likewise abstract-a mere Thing (Sache) with rights of own,
ership attached. The law treats possessions in their universally formal aspect as
expressions of will by "persons." The determinate features of the Thing become
irrelevant to its classification as property just as the particular will of individuals
is irrelevant to their classification as "persons." No consideration is given to
property as the characteristic expression of unique selves. At times Hegel
describes property in terms that suggest Schleiermacher's expressivist lan-
guage, calling property "the embodiment of personality" and claiming that to be
a person one must own property.38 However, these remarks are be understood
quite differently from Schleiermacher's emphasis on property as the cultivation
and expression of individuality. Embodying personality in a Thing consists
for Hegel simply in rendering an object such that it can be recognized by others
as being owned. Fashioning it in a unique manner is not a necessary condition
for embodying one's person in a thing. According to Hegel there are three
ways to take possession of a thing, only one of which involves the actual shap-
ing of the thing, the other two-seizing and marking-leave the thing itself
essentially unchanged.
This is because the determinate features of the thing
owned are irrelevant to its legal classification. "It is only these Things (Sachen)
in their immediacy as things, not what they are capable of becoming through
the mediation of the will, that is, things with determinate characteristics, which
are in question here where the topic under discussion is the person."4O
218 Self and Others
Participation in the legal institution of ownership does not bestow recog-
nition on one as a unique individual for Hegel. On the contrary, it provides
individuals with a means of coming-to-consciousness of themselves as having
the universal characteristic of an undetermined will. Property, as anything that
can be subordinated to such a will, is accordingly conceived as mere alien-
able possession, that is, possessions that can in principle be the object of any
will. "Things" in Hegel's discussion of property are whatever is potentially
-the subject of an exchange of ownership from one will to another. Ownership
springs not from having mixed some labor or activity with some object, giving
it features that are characteristic of a unique self, but simply from a will desir-
ing to possess it or use it for its own purposes.
Hegel develops this view of property only in his mature period. In his ear-
lier writings on the philosophy of spirit during the period from 1803 to 1806,
the so-called lena Realphilosophie, Hegel's views are closer to those of
Schleiermacher. In these texts he emphasizes the role of the productive activity
itself in gaining recognition. In these texts, labor is described as "consciousness
making itself into a thing."41 Labor is the externalization of a particular con-
sciousness in an activity that produces results for consciousness.
Hegel is quite critical in these Jena writings of the tendencies in the
industrial economy that make labor less expressive of individual workers. After
citing Adam Smith's example of how the division of labor allows ten men
together to produce 48,000 pins per day as opposed to 200, Hegel points out
that in proportion to the increase of production resulting from the division of
labor, "the labor becomes that much deader, it becomes machine work, the
skill of the single laborer is infinitely limited, and the consciousness of the
factory laborer is impoverished to the last extreme of dullness. "42 Perhaps even
more damning of the rationalization of labor under capitalism, and at the same
time more reminiscent of Schleiermacher's remark about the unsuitability of
money in cultivating selfuood, Hegel writes:
The outlook of the mercantile class is therefore this understanding
of the unity of a thing with its essence: a person is as real as the money he
has. The self-image is gone. The [inner] significance has an immediate
existence [of its own]. The essence of the thing is the thing itself. Value
is hard cash. The formal principle of reason is there ... It is the abstrac-
tion from all individuality, character, skills of the individual, etc. This
outlook is that harshness of spirit, wherein the individual, altogether
alienated, no longer counts.
As in this text, the younger Hegel at Jena recognizes an expressivist role
for labor in the progressive cultivation of selfhood, but as he matures, Hegel
increasingly emphasizes the appropriation of alienable possessions in this
Appropriating Seljhood 219
struggle for recognition. By the time he pens the Philosophy ofRight he arrives
at a position in which he considers the appropriation of private and alienable
property as essential to mediating to subjects a peculiarly modem awareness of
themselves as autonomous and indeterminate wills.
During the years that separate his Jena writings from his Philosophy of
Right, Hegel's understanding of market economics and bourgeois relations
deepens and his appreciation of these modern phenomena is heightened. It is
during this period that Hegel formulates his account of civil society (burger-
fiche Gesellschaft), the sphere of private economy dominated by alienable pos-
session. Thus, when Hegel takes up his discussion of property in the later text,
it is conceived primarily in its role as alienable property. The significance of the
alienability of appropriated things is emphasized in Hegel's discussion of con-
tracts in the Philosophy of Right. Contracts provide for lawful exchange
between persons by virtue of an agreement concerning the value of the thing to
be exchanged. The exchange value that is codified by a contract is an abstrac-
tion from the things themselves that are to be exchanged. Contracts, therefore,
involve a further level of abstraction beyond the mere discounting of the
uniqueness of the object in that the real object of the contract is a value and not
a thing at all.
In the contracts of modern bourgeois society, according to
Hegel, our will is objectified in the value arrived at by mutual agreement, not in
the thing itself which might be given up in the exchange. This reinforces the
self-image bestowed on individuals by the institutions of abstract right, namely,
that of being an abstract will.
Hegel places this conception of modern subjects as autonomous and
nonempirical wills at the center of his practical philosophy, however, he never
loses sight of the fact that this conception is itself an abstraction and only one
moment in the process of achieving self-consciousness. The conception of the
person as indeterminate will mediated by the legal institutions and conven-
tions of abstract right is understood by Hegel as an abstraction from the con-
crete life of the bourgeois subject in civil society (biirgerliche Gesellschaft).
Just as Schleiermacher's conception of the unique self is inseparable from its
embeddedness in the concrete life of free sociality, Hegel's conception of the
self as abstract agent is to be understood as inseparable from its actualization
within the concrete economic and legal relations of bourgeois society. Despite
the order of presentation that Hegel chooses for the Philosophy of Right,
Hegel's account of abstract right in the opening sections of the book (as well as
the account of interpersonal relations in the second section called Morality) pre-
supposes the concrete relations and institutions of civil society that are dis-
cussed at the end of the book under the title of Ethical Life.
Thus, the legal
conception of persons as equal in their formal capacity as indeterminate wills to
freely enter contracts involving appropriated possessions is derived from and
cannot exist apart from the exchange relations of modern bourgeois society.
220 Self and Others
In the opening lines of the later section on civil society in his Philosophy
ofRight Hegel makes clear that the "person" as a legal entity is still central to
the account of civil society, except that here the "person" will be treated not
merely according to its abstract and legal definition, but as a concrete individ-
ual essentially related to others.
Here one finds the full-bodied intersubjectivity
that is described only abstractly in the opening section of the Philosophy of
This understanding of the relation between the modern European legal
conception of persons and the concrete relations of bourgeois life is not one that
Hegel develops early in his philosophical career. In fact, he speaks disparag-
ingly during his Jena period of the legal conception of persons that he later out-
lines in the Philosophy ofRight. For example, Hegel writes that:
Personal independence in the sphere of legal right is really a sim-
ilar general confusion and reciprocal dissolution of this kind. For what
counts as absolute, essential being is self-consciousness as the sheer
empty unit of the person ... this empty unit of the person is, therefore, in
its reality a contingent existence, and essentially a process and an action
that comes to no lasting result.
If the concept of persons as purely fonnal wills is conceived apart from or
prior to the concrete relations and institutions of social life, rather than as an
abstraction based on these phenomena, then it is easy to understand why Hegel
would disparage them as empty and therefore inadequate to the actual coming-
to-self-consciousness of individuals. Those who read the final sections of the
Philosophy ofRight on civil society and the state as merely superseding the ear-
lier discussion of abstract right, tend to read Hegel's description of property and
person in this earlier section as a picture of an empty, formalistic conception of
persons that he wants to supplant. (A similar reading of the middle section on
morality as a picture of an empty, formalistic conception of moral subjects is
also common and misleading.) The abstract conception of persons and property
found in the section on abstract right, however, is to be understood not as
superseded by the concrete relations described under the rubric of "ethical
life," but as receiving their substance and grounding in these forms of life.
The conception of persons in the legal sense is an abstraction, but it is not an
empty one as Hegel later realized, when he came to see it as intimately tied to
the concrete relations of civil society (biirgerliche Gesellschaft) which he
describes in the Philosophy ofRight under the headings of "System of Need,"
"Administration of Justice," and "Police and Corporations."48
Within the substantive context of civil society one does not encounter
purely formal wills as suggested by the abstract image of legal personhood.
Instead, in the transactions of civil society one finds determinate wills along
Appropriating Seljhood 221
with all their particular desires for particular things. At this concrete level
Hegel is able to recover, in part, the notion of property in its expressive ten-
dencies that is so central to Schleiermacher's account. In the economic
exchanges of bourgeois society, individuals reveal their particular desires,
tastes, and projects. While civil society revolves around property that is inher-
ently alienable, much of this property still involves things with determinate
characteristics that are the object of an owner's determinate will. In its role as
the medium of exchange among individuals in civil society, property can be
viewed as particular (if not necessarily unique) expressions of wills that are no
longer abstract but determinate and informed by particular desires and interests.
Appropriating activities within the sphere of civil society are nonetheless
characteristically economic and legal in nature, involving alienable posses-
sions and therefore not especially expressive of individuality. Even though
alienable property can serve as a vehicle for expressing determinate will, its
nature and role in cultivating selfbood is distinct from that of Schleiermacher's
"ethical" property. Schleiermacher conceives appropriation in its primary sense
as the reciprocal cultivation of characters toward uniqueness. And, it is for
this reason that he chooses to focus on the expression of the inalienable property
of character rather than on alienable possessions. Hegel, on the other hand,
does not see the actualization of individuality as the end toward which appro-
priating activities are directed. Instead, appropriation within modem society
enables individuals to achieve an awareness of themselves as particular wills
endowed with the universal capacity for exercising the faculty of choice in an
undetermined manner. The self-consciousness that Hegel associates with par-
ticipation in the realm of legally recognized economic transactions, is one that
is peculiar to the modern epoch. It is in modern civil society that we actualize
ourselves as free, independent wills in the marketplace of a free economy.
From Schleiermacher's point of view, Hegel's account of practical activ-
ity would certainly appear inadequate for achieving consciousness of individ-
uality. The subjectivity that is promoted through participation in the modern pri-
vatized economy is one that tends toward atomism rather than toward
conceiving oneself as a unique expression of a whole community. The form of
self-consciousness that corresponds to bourgeois economic life is one that
maintains a distance between itself and public reason. Modem subjects con-
ceive of themselves as distinct private loci of reason and will, not as organs of
a totality.
Hegel, even more than Schleiermacher, was aware of these tendencies
toward the privatization of subjects in modern economic life and takes account
of them even while addressing the dangers they pose. At the beginning of his
discussion of civil society he points out that "civil society affords a spectacle of
extravagance and want as well as of the physical and ethical degeneration."49
Given this jaundiced view of modern bourgeois society Hegel does not end his
222 Self and Others
Philosophy ofRight with the discussion of civil society, but goes on to elaborate
how intermediary corporations and public institutions help to incorporate the
relations of civil society into a national life that provides them with a unity and
collective purpose. It is only in the life of the state in its broadest possible
sense as something amounting to a national culture, that Hegel sees individuals
achieving full self-consciousness. Only in this context do individuals become
conscious of themselves as members of a collective subjectivity. Consequently,
Hegel views "property" and "personhood" in the legal sense, along with their
actualizations in the substantive relations of modern bourgeois society, as tied
to a form of subjectivity that is not complete. As Hegel sees it, the institutions
and practices of civil society must be complemented by life within a state
whereby a more adequate self-conception is mediated to subjects.
Although a discussion of the elevated self-consciousness that Hegel
develops in the final section of the Philosophy ofRight would take us beyond
our present examination of the role of property, it must be noted that even the
augmented subjectivity resulting from political life does not supplant the self-
conception shared by bourgeois subjects in civil society. Instead, after taking
account of the conception of subjects as free, autonomous agents-a conception
he inherited from Kant and Fichte-as central to modern European institu-
tions and the praxis of bourgeois civil society, he goes on to give an account of
how these modern subjects are incorporated into a larger ethical life that medi-
ates a collective identity to them. While Hegel views the conception of subjects
as free, autonomous agents, which was passed on to him through Kant and
Fichte as in need of supplementation, he nonetheless considers it an inelim-
inable element of our modern sense of self.
Hegel's proximity to earlier German Idealists on this point must not be
exaggerated, however. Unlike his predecessors he takes the abstract conception
of ourselves as indeterminate wills ("persons") as grounded in historically
appearing concrete forms of life in modern bourgeois society. It is in this aspect
that Schleiermacher and Hegel both set themselves apart from earlier German
Idealist accounts of subjectivity. They ground the subjectivity of individuals in
the concrete praxis of social life whereby individuals come to see themselves in
relation to the image presented them by collective forms of rational activity.
Having both embraced the view that the ground of subjectivity lies in
intersubjectivity, and not in some reflexive awareness originally given in con-
sciousness, Schleiermacher and Hegel develop divergent accounts of the devel-
opment of subjectivity and the role that appropriation plays in it. The self-
awareness mediated to individuals under Hegel's account of civil society is
familiar to his idealist predecessors, whereas the self-awareness mediated to
individuals under Schleiermacher's account of free sociality bears affinity with
romantic thought. According to Hegel's view, one becomes conscious of a
determinate self that possesses radical autonomy within the context of bour-
Appropriating Seljhood 223
geois economic life in which one appropriates property that is in principle
transferable to other similarly conceived agents. In Schleiermacher's thought,
however, one becomes conscious of a self that possesses the individuality of an
absolutely unique cultivating activity. And, this is achieved significantly within
the context of free sociable relations such as those of the salon society during
the beginning of nineteenth century Europe. Accordingly, the medium for these
respective spheres, namely, property, is also divergently conceived. For Hegel
it is abstract, involving legally recognized rights of ownership of alienable
possessions. For Schleiermacher it is expressive, consisting of the cultivation of
those around us, who in turn cultivate our own natures-a "reciprocal hospi-
tality." The turn toward grounding individual subjectivity in intersubjective
forms of life that unites Schleiermacher and Hegel, therefore, produces funda-
mentally opposing accounts, one profoundly expressivist and one that accom-
modates within it the earlier idealists' tendencies toward abstraction and uni-
1. 1. G. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, ed. P. Heath and 1. Lachs (Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982),93.
2. Cf. Robert Williams, Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other (Albany:
State Univ. of New York Press, 1992), 141ff.; Ludwig Siep, "Person and Law in Kant
and Hegel," Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 10: 1 (Spring 1984), esp. 75ff.; Allen
Wood in Hegel's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990),45;
Manfred Frank, What Is Neo-Structuralism?, tr. S. Wilke and R. Gray (Minneapolis:
Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1989), 194-95. While the term "immediate self-conscious-
ness" figures prominently in Schleiern1acher's thought, it is an unfortunate nomina-
tion, since he explicitly notes that the unifying activity of consciousness it names does
not in itself involve the awareness of an "I." See Friedrich Schleiermachers Dialektik,
ed. R. Odebrecht (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, [1942] 1988),287-88
and 290-92.
3. Frank, What Is Neo-Structuralism?, 195.
4. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06), ed. H.-J. Birkner
(Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1981), 80-81.
5. "Intuition" in Schleiern1acher's mature works refers to a conceptual appre-
hension and is the counterpart to feeling, a nonconceptual awareness.
6. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06), 80.
7. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Monologen, ed. F. M. Schiele (Hamburg: Felix
Meiner, 1978), 20-21.
8. Monologen, 28.
9. Monologen, 30.
10. Ethik (1812/13), 30.
11. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06), 16.
Self and Others
12. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Schleiermachers Werke: Auswahl in vier Biinden,
II, ed, O. Braun and J. Bauer (Aalen: Scientia, 1967),448.
13. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06), 17-19.
14. These relative differences (of organic functions between individuals) are not
exhausted in elevating the perceiving activity to a knowing activity; rather, the mind
enters into them and thereby raises this analog of individuality to true individuality.
Brouillon zur Ethik (1805106), 80-81.
15. Schleiermachers Werke: Auswahl in vier Biinden, I, 271.
16. Ethik (1812/13),274.
17. Schleierrnacher, Monologen, 29.
18. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),41.
19. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),41-42.
20. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),42.
21. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),44-45.
22. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),45.
23. Schleiermachers Werke: Auswahl in vier Biinden, 11,437; 443 and Ethik
(1812/13), 252.
24. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),45.
25. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),45.
26. Cf. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
(Carrlbridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 374.
27. Others of Schleiermacher's generation also adopted this romantic sense of
property. Schleierrnacher's friend, Wilhelm von Humboldt, who was hardly a romantic,
writes: "Humans never regard so much what they possess as their own, as what they do.
The laborer who tends a garden is perhaps its owner in a truer sense than the lazy con-
sumer who enjoys it." Gesammelte Schriften, I (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1968), 114.
28. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),49.
29. Schleiermachers Werke: Auswahl in vier Biinden, II, 3-4; and Ethik
(1812/13), 100. For a fuller discussion of Schleiermacher' s conception of free sociality
Appropriating Seljhood 225
see my "Friedrich Schleiermacher's Theory of the Limited Communitarian State,"
Canadian Journal ofPhilosophy 20 (1990), 241-60.
30. "Versuch einer Theorie des geselligen Betragens," appeared in the year 1799
in the January and February issues of Berliner Archiv der Zeit und des Geschmacks.
31. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06),60.
32. Brouillon zur Ethik (1805/06), 49-50.
33. Ethik (1812/13), 265.
34. Ethik (1812/13), 98.
35. The original account is found in §§ 166-230 of the Phenomenology ofSpirit
and in §§ 424-37 of the Encyclopedia ofPhilosophical Sciences.
36. Hegel's Philosophy of Right, tr. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford Dniv. Press,
1952) § 35Ad. References to this work will be cited as Philosophy ofRight.
37. Philosophy ofRight, § 41.
38. "It is a duty to possess things as property, Le. to be as a person." G. W. F.
Hegel, Hegel's Philosophy ofMind: Part Three ofthe Encyclopedia ofthe Philosophi-
cal Science (1830), tr. William Wallace and A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1971), 242. "In his property a person exists for the first time as reason." Philosophy of
Right, § 41Ad.
39. Philosophy ofRight, § 54.
40. Philosophy ofRight, § 43.
41. G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel and the Human Spirit, tr. Leo Rauch (Detroit: Wayne
State, 1983), 120. The role of labor in Hegel's Jena writings is more extensively dis-
cussed in: Manfred Riedel, Between Tradition and Revolution: The Transformation of
Political Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), 15-22; Shlomo
Avineri, "Labor, Alienation, and Social Classes in Hegel's Realphilosophie" in The
Legacy ofHegel, ed. J. 1. O'Malley (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973), 196-251; and Walter
Euchner, "Freiheit, Eigentum and Herrschaft bei Hegel," Politische Vierteljahresschrift,
11 (1970),531-55.
42. G .W. F. Hegel, System of Ethical Life (1802/03) and First Philosophy of
Spirit (1803/04), ed. and tr. H. S. Harris and T. M. Knox (Albany: State Univ. of New
York Press, 1979),248. See H. S. Harris's comments on this text in, Hegel's Develop-
ment: Night Thoughts, 1801-1806 (Oxford: Oxford Dniv. Press, 1983), 333.
43. Hegel and the Human Spirit, 166.
44. Philosophy ofRight, § 77.
45. This is also the view of Allen Wood in Hegel's Ethical Thought, 101-02.
226 Self and Others
46. Philosophy ofRight, § 182.
47. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1977), 291.
48. See Peter Stillman's development of this reading of Sittlichkeit in "Property,
Contract, and Ethical Life in Hegel's Philosophy ofRight" in Hegel and Legal Theory,
ed. D. Cornell et al. (New York: Routledge, 1991),205-27.
49. Philosophy ofRight, § 185.
"The Root of Humanity":
Hegel on Commllnication and Language
John Durham Peters
Freud tells the story of once seeing a disagreeable old man approaching
him on a train-until he realized there was a full-length mirror at the other
end of his compartment. 1 Hannah Arendt compares the self to the daimon in
ancient Greek religion that constantly follows each of us around, looking over
our shoulder so that we never see it but others do.
Hegel, in tum, wrote that one
self requires another: the self only exists in its relation to another self. The
self, then, is perplexing: we seem to know nothing more intimately, yet there
can be nothing so strange. The self is, so to speak, at once selfsame and self-
different: it belongs to itself and yet it transcends itself into nature and the
world of others. Like a Moebius strip, the self only has one surface, though at
any given point along that surface, an opposite side can be found.
In this essay I argue that Hegel's understanding of the self and its relation
to other selves gives us rich ways to refigure the concept of communication. As
this concept is often formulated, the problem is this: How can my experi-
ences-unique to me and regarding which I have a privileged access-be trans-
ferred through the shaky public medium of language to reach your own, very
different, set of experiences? The conceptions of experience and selfbood
informing this question-conceptions that lie at the heart of the Anglo-Amer-
ican empiricist tradition-give rise to an apparent antinomy: the self must face
either the threat of isolation (in its private meanings) or bondage (to public
ones). The political fears of solipsism and tyranny, in other words, shape the
outer limits of current thinking about communication.
228 Self and Others
Hegel can help us dialectically resolve such notions. But even among
those continental theorists whose thinking has been nourished by the Hegelian
principle of the identity of identity and difference, views about communication
often make only piecemeal use of Hegel's complete vision. At one extreme lies
the sober ideal of distortion-free communicative action (Habermas); at the
other, the frolicksome expose of the endless mischief of discourse such that
communication is at best a chimera (Derrida). Habermas underplays language's
strangeness, Derrida its instrumentality. Moreover, when Habermas quests for
the social, political, and historical conditions in which people can pat1icipate in
forms and forums of undistorted communication, or when Derrida revels in
the differance of nonidentical signifiers in discourse, both are elaborating just
aspects of Hegel's grander vision.
A rereading of Hegel would round out current debates and help us find an
account of communication that neither erases the curious fact of otherness at its
core nor the possibility of doing things with words. Language is resistant to our
intent; nonetheless, it is also the most reliable practical means of persuasion we
have. Though language is a dark vessel and does not carry quite what I, as a
speaking self, might think it does, it still manages to coordinate action between
selves more often than not. This center position would be occupied by thinkers
such as Gadamer and Ricoeur.
In this brief essay, my task is to outline Hegel's insights into what we
today would call communication; current debates will only play distantly in the
background. Hegel's treatment of recognition (Anerkennung) and of language
(Sprache) as "the real existence of spirit" (Dasein des Geistes) in the Phe-
nomenology ofSpirit (1807) will be the core exhibits in my argument, as Hegel
preserves both the uncanniness of language and the possibility of its working to
build community life. In particular, Hegel argues that the selfs inwardness is no
automatic property of all human beings but precisely acquired through inter-
action with others: the self learns to know itself as a self only through partici-
pation in a public, spiritual (geistig) world. He makes communication not a psy-
chological problem of two private minds touching but a political and historical
problem of creating conditions in which the mutual recognition of self-con-
scious individuals is possible.
Hegel interpretation is, admittedly, a notoriously vexed business: the
same thinker who inspired the young Marx and Dewey with his dynamism
has long been seen by others as an overweening systematizer. As Vittorio
HosIe argues, Hegel's thought is a watershed between the modem philosophy
of subjectivity and the post-Hegelian focus on intersubjectivity, so that it is dif-
ficult to know whether to read Hegel as the last great thinker of the cogito or the
first thinker of "the other." It is HosIe's thesis that a fault-line runs in Hegel's
system between the Logic, which culminates in absolute subjectivity, and his
"Realphilosophie" (philosophy of nature and spirit), which is motivated by
"The Root ofHumanity" 229
insights into intersubjectivity, however unevenly they are integrated into the
system as a whole.
This thesis usefully explains the conflict of interpretations around Hegel,
since the choice of textual focus has much to do with the understanding of
Hegel one comes away with, and explains my own choice of focus. A price
Hegel paid for his ultimate systematic coherence, argues HosIe, was the sup-
pression of intersubjectivity; hence the Phenomenology is far richer than the
Encyclopaedia on this topic.
Indeed, much recent scholarship on intersubjec-
tivity in Hegel focuses on the Phenomenology and his Jena work.
This essay
only examines the Phenomenology, acknowledging that a full treatment would
need to consider Hegel's early writings (e.g., the Frankfurt fragment on love),?
his Jena lectures, his Philosophy ofRight,S and his system as a whole.
Hegel referred to self-consciousness as the terra firma of modern philos-
ophy, the principle that made it distinctly modern.
The trouble is that self-
consciousness is also the quicksand of modern thought, at least of German
idealism. J. G. Fichte made a discovery about the self that Manfred Frank calls
the experience of a whole generation.
It was that the attempt of the self to
know itself must fail, since the self is not an object to be known but rather the
active subject that in fact does the knowing. When in thought I go looking for
my self and seek to know it, I am not merely looking for how it appears as an
object, but what it really is as a subject. When I reflect on my inner self, all I
can grasp is an energy of positing, the mighty whirlwind of the world-consti-
tuting self as it rushes by. Yet I do recognize it as myself, .not as something or
someone else, which suggests that I must have made the acquaintance of myself
before I started to philosophize about it.
Otherwise I'd not recognize as me
what I find. Hence, the self is an undivided activity that turns back on itself, a
unity of two parts. As Fichte said in an 1802 note added to his Wissenschafts-
lehre: "The self is a necessary identity of subject and object: a subject-object;
and is so absolutely, without further mediation."12
That the self is an immediate unity with itself, a Moebius-like entity, was
an insight taken in several directions by thinkers after Fichte. Novalis, for exam-
ple, saw that to be a self is to be engaged in self-deferral-a fact he dubbed the
"sophistry of the self."13 The self chases itself in successive phases: but since the
self is fundamentally one, it strives for reunification in the future. In reflection,
we see only our past self: in the present, we see only the self escaping itself.
Novalis wrote, to say that the self exists (in the etymological sense of "ek-
sists") is to say that "it finds itself beside itself' (Es findet sich, ausser sich).15
The self confronts itself in the uncanny situation of being its own double.
230 Self and Others
Romantic topoi such as nostalgia, longing for postponed unity, and the sweetly
painful sense of the vanishing moment clearly originate, for Novalis at least, in
philosophical reflection on the temporal structure of self-consciousness.
Much could be said about the ramifications of the discovery of the Dop-
pelganger self in subsequent European literature (e.g., Hoffmann, Poe, Baude-
laire, Dostoyevsky, Freud, Borges) but the Phenomenology itself offers a clas-
sic treatment of self-doubling and -deferral. Its opening arguments already
take up the thenle of the vanishing present: what is most richly present to me
here and now-this daylight, this moment-will inevitably pass away.16 The
contents of my thought, taken as sensuous certainty, are self-depleting. Even
when immersed in the blooming, buzzing confusion of the senses, one must
face "this endless paradox of consciousness, this eternal flight of myself from
myself."17 I cannot know what I now am, only what I was: but what I now am is
only what I wi111ater become. "We get self-possession, self-apprehension,
self-knowledge, only through endlessly fleeing from ourselves, and then turn-
ing back to look at what we were. "18 The otherness of the self to itself is the
founding motive of the Phenomenology and its method: consciousness must
pass through the tribulations of the dialectic in order to know itself later through
a process of recollection (Er-innerung).19 Hegel's pun suggests that inward-
ness is a telos, not an arche. As Royce puts Hegel's basic insight: "I know
myself only in so far as I am known or may be known by another than my
present or momentary self."20
Knowing self by another is at the core of the process of recognition,
described in one of the most famous passages in the Phenomenology.21 Hegel
starts his discussion of the emergence of self-consciousness from the key datum
that human beings are desiring beings. Desire is the most elementary form of
self-consciousness that humans share with animals; its usual modus operandi is
the utter assimilation of the object. Desire has a fundamentally negative rela-
tionship to its object: for example, the apple ceases to exist as an apple when I
eat it; my continuing life is dependent on the constant cancellation or negation
of other objects and their assimilation into my body. As creatures of desire,
then, we humans find ourselves both dependent on objects that have no lasting
reality and entrapped in a circle of desire and assimilation that is neither human
nor free. For Hegel, desire is an early form of self-consciousness, but it is rad-
ically self-enclosed and not able to be introduced into an "objective," public,
shared, social domain.
How, for Hegel, can the desiring human animal jump off the wheel of
desire and prove itself to be a human and not a beast? Since the human layer of
the desiring creature has no positive content yet, it must negate its animal nature:
desire must be directed to other humans, recognized by them, and must discover
objects whose satisfactions are not merely transitory. As Hegel puts it, "Self-
consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness."22
"The Root ofHumanity" 231
Desire is still a relentless striving for fulfillment though it finds a new "object,"
one that it cannot simply cancel or assimilate, that is, another subject. And here,
in this rendezvous of two selves, we first encounter, as Hegel notes, the concept
of Spirit or Geist-which he defines as the experience of the simultaneous diver-
sity and unity of self-consciousnesses, of an "I that is We and We that is 1."23
The fight for recognition is the transition from self-consciousness to
Spirit. Recognition, as Robert R. Williams argues, is for Hegel the genesis of
"This situation of reciprocal recognition is one of communicative free-
dom, which Hegel describes as being at home with self in another."25 Unlike
Fichte and Schelling, who used the formula of "I =I" to express the starting
point of their systems, Hegel insists on the experience of Spirit within a com-
munity, "I =We."26
Self-consciousness, in the opening words of the master-slave section,
can exist for itself only as it exists for another self-consciousness: it exists
only as it is recognized.
Leo Rauch suggests the Berkeleyesque phrase for
Hegel: esse est agnosci, to be is to be recognized.
For Hegel, human realities
exist only insofar as they appear in the daylight of mutual recognition and col-
lective life. The higher accomplishments of Spirit-law, the state, art, poetry,
religion, and philosophy-do exist for Hegel in material form (e.g., in texts,
cities, stone, paint, language, etc.). But they do not exist as Spirit without being
recognized as having a significance that transcends their embodiment. An ani-
mal might see a sculpture, say, as a piece of stone useful for shelter or other pur-
poses, but could not recognize it as "sculpture," that is, as possessing a mean-
ing not exhausted by its animal uses and as belonging to a given moment in the
history of the human species. To recognize the statue as a work of art or human
expression is to be a member of a collective world in which the sculpture has
meaning and to be capable of practices of interpretation and participation. For
Hegel, Spirit, though it cannot be identified solely with the material fonns it
takes, is not some mystical entity: it exists precisely in the commerce of the "I"
and the "We," in the communicative practices of a community. Spirit is, as I
will argue below, fundamentally a matter of interpretation.
Now this "I = We" is not so easily achieved. The discovery that I am not
the only self in the universe, is treated by Hegel as painful: as Royce puts it, we
are all, pragmatically speaking, idealists in the sense that we each cannot help
but live in a universe in which our self is the founding principle.
A self accus-
tomed to the workings of desire is frustrated in its attempt to consume the
other. Strange things start to happen when one self confronts another: the self
either seems a foreign being, or the other seems nothing but a mirror of the
232 Self and Others
The act of one self is the identical act of the other: it is a concerted action
of two that seems to each to be only the action of one.
! (Hegel's description has
comic potentials, as the confusion of identity is one of the great devices of
comedy from antiquity to the present; one thinks of the scene in the film Duck
Soup in which the two, identically dressed Marx brothers come to a doorway
that one thinks is a mirror, because the other mimics every movement of the one
until they discover they are really two people.)
To each individual self-consciousness in Hegel's tableau, the other is a
nullity at first, but the other cannot just be wished away or consumed or treated
as a mere common object. Each is sure of self but not of the other, which
amounts to being unsure of self as a human being.
Each desires to be recog-
nized by the other as more than an animal immersed in life, and does so by
being willing to sacrifice life for the sake of being hailed by the other to the
human world, where a sign can count as more than life itself.
As an incipient
human who knows that the other can memorialize the courage that brought
my death, I may be willing to sacrifice my life in battle for the sake of proving
myself unattached to mere life. Should I fail to do so, I will remain a slave, that
is to say, subhuman, and the whole process of making a public world in which
two "I"s recognize each other as a "We" will have been undermined: since
recognition which is not mutual must fail like a sign that only has a private
interpretation. This part of the Phenomenology is all about what makes a being
human, and it is tied to a sign-process of public recognition. Only in proving to
another that one is more than an animal can one prove it to oneself: becoming
human is an intersubjective accomplishment.
In this, Hegel attacks a core assumption of commonsense views of com-
munication. For Hegel the self has no "inside"-its self-discovery goes on in
the daylight of common life in the threatening or loving company of others.
That the self's "interior" is largely hidden from others grounds worries about
the (im)possibility of communication. That you do not know what I really
think or feel "inside" is the privilege I may claim (but to do so is, for Hegel, an
affront to "the root of humanity," the mandate to achieve commonality in con-
sciousness).34 The process of recognition, in contrast, suggests that the self's
outside is just as hidden from itself as its inside is from others. For Hegel self-
interiority and exteriority are temporal rather than spatial: one is an sich or
"implicit" when he or she has not yet achieved recognition by another. Just as
you cannot know the details of w]1at remains unexpressed in my inwardness, so
I cannot know what of my inner life is available to others and in what way. I do
not know in detail how I appear in public, how others take me, how my actions
redound in the world, even what my quirks and mannerisms are.
My self, so
plainly revealed to others, is largely opaque to me and I can recognize it only as
it is interpreted to me in public signs that I can recognize. My private self is
obscure to you, but my public self is obscure to me. My private self, therefore,
HThe Root ofHumanity" 233
is also obscure to me, since it is made out of public materials. I have to rely on
others for self-knowledge: I have no secret passageway to the holy of holies.
The self thus stands in the same position to itself as it stands with regard
to others. As Peirce says, "The recognition by one person of another's per-
sonality takes place by means to some extent identical with the means by which
he is conscious of his own personality."36 Royce makes a similar point: "One
discovers one's own mind through a process of inference analogous to the
very modes of inference which guide us in a social effort to interpret our neigh-
bors' minds.... Although you are indeed placed in the 'interior' of yourself,
you can never so far retire into your own inmost recesses of intuition as merely
to find the true self presented to an inner sense. "37
For Hegel the self has no privileged access to itself: it can only find itself
afterwards when the tangible expressions have been made, or in another self,
who has recognized it as a self. Self and other intuit themselves in the same
objective, public stuff-in Geist, which consists precisely in this in-between-
The problem here, in Hegel's account, is that the medium of recognition
is unequal and asymmetrical. The master succeeds in doing what was previ-
ously impossible in the realm of desire: he lives a life of pure pleasure, unmedi-
ated by contact with any transient thing (save the slave himself); he is a pure
consumer, living in a world without resistance.
The slave, in contrast, must
daily groan against the hard stuff of matter, transforming his ephemeral being
into solidity through work. This leads Hegel's dialectic out of the impasse that
arose in the relation of master and slave: the master ends up being recognized
not by a fellow master, but by a slave. The master ultimately TI1Ust fade away,
lacking any element of permanence, while work becomes the medium of the
slave's self-expression: the work is "desire held in check, fleetingness staved
off' (gehemmte Begierde, aufgehaltenes Verschwinden).40 The budding self-
consciousness of the slave exists precisely in the objects he produces, which
serve as signs in which he can recognize himself as he is recognized by others.
To think of self-consciousness as existing, quite literally beside itself, in
outer, material forms opens the door to unhappy consciousness, alienation, and the
rest of the Phenomenology-a "gallery of images" of distorted forms of inter-
subjectivity (indeed intersubjectivity is not always a happy union of equals, but is
protean in expression).42 Locating self and self-consciousness, like Spirit or Geist,
in the precarious world of material things and mortal others is, admittedly, risky.
But then, as Hegel makes so clear, Spirit is rarely realized without tragedy.43
Hegel's conception of Spirit, like that of Sittlichkeit or ethical life, is
fundamentally about the forms of collective life in which we find ourselves con-
234 Self and Others
joined in a common history with others.
In several passages in the Phe-
nomenology Hegel connects Geist directly with the medium of community,
language (Sprache).45 Language "is the existence (Dasein) of the self, as self; in
language, self-consciousness, qua independent separate individuality, comes as
such into existence, so that it exists for others. "46 Language, like work for the
slave, is the medium for the exteriorization of the otherwise hitherto self-
enclosed self. Other expressive means do not do justice to the self as a con-
scious being: action, gesture, facial expression all leave the self immersed in
itself, partly hidden, and obscured. "Language, however, contains the self in its
purity-it alone expresses the I, the I itself. "47
Several concepts from Hegel's description of the slave's coming to self-
consciousness recur in his discussion of language as the medium of Spirit. In
speech the self acquires objectivity   just as the slave does
through work. The slave's fear must be cultivated through service and "for-
mative activity" (Bilden), otherwise it remains internal and speechless (inner-
lich und stumm).48 The slave's coming-to-consciousness is a kind of coming to
language and speech, a finding of his voice. For Hegel "a being, for which
self-consciousness is possible, is necessarily endowed with a voice, and further
with speech, and must be recognized and recognizing ..."49
But just as the slave is not yet free, speech offers a peculiar kind of
objectivity, since it instantly vanishes: as soon as the "I" speaks as "I," it dis-
appears, like the sound that carries the utterance, leaving only the perception of
that self among those who heard it. Hegel uses the metaphor of infection
(Ansteckung) to describe how the "I" is contagiously perceived (vemommen) by
those who hear its speech.
But the self does not somehow disappear in its
hearers: the disappearance of the sounds lets the self return to itself as univer-
sal: "This vanishing is thus itself immediately its abiding; it is its own knowing
of itself, and its knowing itself as a self that has passed over into another self
that has been perceived and is universal."51 Self-knowledge, again, comes from
alienation now, reincorporation later, and here Hegel makes speaking to
another-eommunication-part of the odyssey of Spirit. The voice, as Simon
argues, represents for Hegel the principle of the negation of the body to allow
expression of Spirit in time. 52
In the next paragraph, Hegel brilliantly discusses the kind of alienation
from language that has undergirded and undennined most communication the-
ory. Though Spirit obtains in the "in-between" of the self-consciousnesses,
the unity of the entire situation of communication-at minimum, speaker,
utterance, and hearer-gets broken into refractory sides (the speakers), leaving
the unity behind as a floating, disconnected entity-the content or "message":
"Their unity is broken up into two rigid, unyielding sides, each of which is
for the other an actual object excluded from it. Consequently, the unity appears
as a middle term (Mitte)."53 Hegel could be referring to traditional communi-
"The Root ofHumanity"
cation theory here, in which "the message" is often thought as something
passed back and forth like a frisbee between speakers independent of, and
without any constitutive power on, them. But Hegel is insistent that the in-
between is the chief form in which self-consciousness can find itself as such.
"The spiritual substance (geistige Substanz)" needs two distinct self-conscious
beings for it to enter into existence. And these in turn "are also immediately
aware they they are such actual existences only through alienated mediation"
(entfremdete Vermittlung). For Hegel the whole situation of discourse is the
forum for Spirit.
Language for Hegel is "the real existence (Dasein) of Spirit. Language is
self-consciousness existing for others, self-consciousness which as such is imme-
diately present (vorhanden), and as this self-consciousness is universal."54 Self-
consciousness is owed to the human capacity for speech, which implies an
other, not just the possession of a brain. "A self-consciousness exists for a self-
consciousness. Only so is it in fact self-consciousness; for only in this way does
the unity of itself in its otherness become explicit for it."55 As language, self-con-
sciousness is not private or enclosed by the experiences of the individual: indeed,
Hegel supposes a direct communion of consciousnesses via language. In lan-
guage "I =I," but also I =other: in language's objectivity the self (Selbst) is both
distinct and "coalesces directly with other selves and is their self-conscious-
ness. It perceives itself just as (ebenso) it is perceived by others ..."56 Hegel
seems unconcerned about the odds against the successful "coalescence" (zusam-
menflief3en) of selves, so public is language for him. The common presence of
people to audible and intelligible signs seems sufficient here to link distinct
self-consciousnesses-certainly a view remote from the twentieth-century sen-
sitivity to the possibility of breakdown in all situations of communication.
Hegel's fullest treatment of language in the Phenomenology comes in his
discussion of Greek religion, which is basically an analysis of the carrying
capacity of various media for the spirit. Greek religion is superior to the Egyp-
tian for Hegel inasmuch as it has discovered interiority-and ways to embody
it. Language offers itself as the highest element for the work of art-taking dif-
ferent forms, to be sure, in hymn, oracle, epic, tragedy, and comedy, all of
which Hegel would later class under "community" in his lectures on art. 57
Hegel again calls language "an outer reality (Dasein) that is also immediately
self-conscious existence. Just as the individual self-consciousness is immedi-
ately present in language, so it is also immediately present as a universal infec-
tion; the complete separation (vollkommne Besonderung) into individual selves
is at the same time the fluidity and the universally communicated unity of the
many selves (die allgemein mitgeteilte Einheit der vielen Selbst); language is
the soul existing as soul."58
In the singing of a hymn, in which all singers participate in praise of the
god (or rather, are all inspired by the god), spirit possesses "the being-for-others
236 Self and Others
and the being-for-self of the individual,s in one unity."59 Such celebration is both
public and inwardly felt: it is no private pining, as in the case of "the beautiful
soul,"60 but an activity that fuses singularity and universality. "Devotion, ignited
(angeZiindet) in all, is the spiritual stream which in the multiplicity of self-con-
sciousness is conscious of itself as the act of all alike and as single being ..."61
Many voices, one song; differences preserved within unity: here we have the
simultaneous "I" and "We" that is Geist.
A different kind of language among the Greeks is that of the oracle,
wJ:1ich is not a kind of general self-consciousness. It is, in contrast, the lan-
guage of a foreign self-consciousness, content only to speak in darkness and in
The true locale for spirit is not found here, but in the linguistic work of
art, whose curious objectivity Hegel also contrasts with that of the statue,
whose being is outer and thinglike.
Other forms of community art fail for a
variety of reasons: in Bacchanalian revels, the self is beside itself (ausser sich)
and utters only ecstatic glossolalia; in the physical beauty of the statue or the
athlete, the self is submerged in corporeality, not its genuine element either. The
language of the oracle is too contingent, that of the hymn sung only to a single
god and not to the universe, and that of Bacchus is mere babbling. The integrity
of a mythology is needed: "The perfect element in which inwardness is just as
exte.rnal as externality is inward is once again language ..."64
For Hegel there is no inside and outside to language. Though it is used by
particular speakers, that use operates in a system of signs that, like time, are
materially fleeting, but nonetheless objective in that they contain self-con-
sciousness in public form. Hence in language the artist finds finally his own
Gestalt, and it turns out also to be the shape of his people, since the artwork
serves the inspiration or Begeisterung of the people.
Homer's achievement in
Hegel's view is nothing less than having made "a pantheon whose element
and habitation is language," a "collective heaven" (Gesamthimmel) to go
together with a "collective people" (Gesamtvolk).66 In language the self-con-
sciousness of a free people can be formed. Here we find the love of the old
mythology in one who earlier had seen the need for a new mythology to match
modern times.
Later Hegel would regard philosophy as the highest form of
Spirit-an art that happens preeminently through language.
Though highly suggestive, Hegel's theory of language is not well devel-
oped by current standards; much in his views is the common property of his
Important for us is his insistence that self-consciousness exists primarily
in language (rather than in individual bodies) and that the self knows itself in
the same way it knows another. Moreover, Hegel includes what one could call
liThe Root of Humanity" 237
a communicative imperative in his philosophical anthropology. In the Pref-
ace, Hegel mocks those who pretend to have a private inner oracle that exempts
them from the need to argue their views with their fellows: such people trample
"underfoot the root of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press
onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an
achieved community (Gemeinsamkeit) of consciousness."69
Such claims have an uncanny resemblance to the notion of a community
of interpretation developed in the shadow of Hegel by the American philoso-
phers Peirce and Royce, a notion that posits that human nature exists precisely
in the communicative relationships it finds itself in and among.
In closing, I
want to pursue some insights of theirs that develop the concept of communi-
cation in a Hegelian direction. The relevance of Peirce and especially Royce for
Hegel studies has been noted more often than developed.
Both thinkers grap-
pled lifelong with German idealism, Royce being the fOrelTIOst idealist in the
United States in his lifetime and perhaps the chief importer of German idealism
into American circles.
Peirce argues that "man is a sign . . . my language is the sum total of
myself; for the man is the thought. "73 Humanity and "words reciprocally edu-
cate each other."74 Consciousness for Peirce does not only apply to beings
endowed with "animallife"-words have consciousness and grow in it. This
position need not conjure the specter of animism (Geist as ghost) nor the fear
that language is a totalitarian squelcher of cognitive freedom: for Peirce as for
Hegel, the education between humanity and language is reciprocal. Neither is
Peirce as it were a pre-post-structuralist arguing for the relentless hailing capac-
ities of discourse through which we, as subjects, are shaped at will: his vision of
language as-ideally-a set of historically grounded and scientifically tested
public signs that has neither an inside nor an outside and develops through an
open-ended community of inquiry sounds much like Hegel's notion of Geist.
The meaning of one sign, for Peirce and Royce, is another sign: meaning
obtains in the commerce or concourse between signs, not in some terminus in
either the material universe "outside" or the mental universe "within."Meaning
is neither a matter of referring to objects nor evoking concepts. A sign
"expresses a mind, and it calls for an interpretation through some other mind,
which shall act as mediator between the sign, or between the maker of the
sign, and someone to whom the sign is to be read." Each interpretation is itself
a new sign, which in turn calls forth n10re interpretations or signs.
The process of interpretation is triadic: (1) A sign (2) means something
(3) to somebody: all three moments are necessary. For example, the hiero-
glyphics of ancient Egypt, prior to the discovery and decipherment of the
Rosetta stone, did indeed have meaning, but they did not have that meaning for
anybody then living: they were mute, like the slave before his labors of exter-
nalization, what Hegel would call "an sich." Once deciphered, the signifi-
238 Self and Others
cances of those signs were available to anyone who learned the sign system,
that is, someone who learned to systematically associate one sign with another.
Indeed, that decipherment was precisely the mapping of one sign system on
another. Even when I write a reminder or a diary entry to myself I treat myself
as someone with whon1 I must later communicate: my note must be intelligible
to my future self who is an other to me and must be able to make links to a pub-
lic association of signs that I can recognize.
Even in talking to ourselves we
employ public media of communication: inwardness is achieved only after
.outer expression. Signs signify, meanings mean, and minds interpret not
through private whimsy but through public discourse.
Royce posits three kinds of intellectual processes to account for a com-
munity of interpretation: conception, perception, and interpretation (which cor-
respond roughly to Peirce's categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness).
"Perception has its natural terminus in some object perceived; ... Conception
is contented, so to speak, with defining the universal type ... [Both] are self-
limiting processes."77 By perception Royce means something like the synthesis
of sensory input; by conception, the analysis of ideas in their purely logical
necessities. But like Hegel he takes the method of philosophy to be more than
analytic and synthetic:
Royce's notion of interpretation is intended to account
for social, symbolic life without reducing it to either the order of ideas or the
order of events. Interpretation is a process that is, in principle, endless in time,
since both its starting point and its results are signs: "every interpretation, as an
expression of mental activity, addresses itself to a possible interpreter, and
demands that it shall be, in turn, interpreted. "79 Every sign shoots beyond itself
to another sign: a sign, we might say, attains satisfaction only in another sign.
Sittlichkeit is a Hegelian term of art that has long puzzled translators: ethical
life, customary morality, mores? In a spirit of creative appropriation I might
propose "structures of communication."80
Royce's notion of interpretation as necessarily social and temporal, and of
social life as necessarily interpretive, returns us to Hegel. Hegel, read through
Royce and Peirce, can be seen to have discovered a truth about social life,
with all its love and strife: since humans are signs, and since the meaning of one
sign is another sign, one human being finds his or her meaning in another
human being. Selves and signs exist alike only in their relations to others. Both
are examples-perhaps the most basic ones of all-of Hegel's principle of the
identity of identity and difference. The nature of the self is to transcend itself.
What is a stumbling block to solitary philosophical reflection-the self as
a paradoxically circular entity-is a truth in community life: the self is a rela-
tion that relates itself to an other. Such relations, as the Phenomenology shows,
can range from the grotesque to the sublime, from the violence of battle to the
ecstacy of the community work of art. Peirce and Royce do not feature the
dark side of self-other relations as much as Hegel: Royce's vision of interpre-
"The Root of Humanity" 239
tation is unremittingly sunny. Hegel would likely accept Royce's vision as a
normative description of Geist, but he would insist on its being possible only as
a result of a larger process of social and historical preparation. Peirce and
Royce help show the centrality of communication-the meeting of selves in
public sign processes-for Hegelian thought, and point toward the homeland of
Geist in the community of interpretation.
1. Sigmund Freud, "Das Unheimliche," in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 12 (Frankfurt
am Main: Fischer, 1947), pp. 262-63, note 1.
2. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press,
1958), pp. 179-80.
3. I have developed this argument in "John Locke, the Individual, and the Origin
of Communication," Quarterly Journal of Speech 75 (1989), 387-99. Locke can be
read as the author, I argue, of this notion of communication, and taking human dis-
course as an issue of mind-matching or successful transmission shows up in some CUf-
rent theorists (e.g., Karl Popper) but more commonly in a wide range of popular and
self-help discourses.
4. Vittorio HosIe, Hegels System: Der Idealismus der Subjektivitlit und das Prob-
lem der Intersubjektivi(iit, 2 vols. (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1987).
5. HosIe, vol. 2, pp. 385, 407.
6. For example, Robert R. Williams, Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other
(Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1992); Andreas Wildt, Autonomie und
Anerkennung: Hegels Moralitiitskritik im Lichte seiner Fichte-Rezeption (Stuttgart:
Klett-Cotta, 1982); Ludwig Siep, Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philoso-
phie: Untersuchungen zu Hegels Jenaer Philosophie des Geistes (Freiburg/Munich:
Karl Alber, 1979); Raymond Plant, Hegel (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1973);
Jiirgen Habermas, "Labor and Interaction: Remarks on Hegel's Jena Philosophy of
Mind," in Theory and Practice, tr. J. Viertel (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 142-69.
7. Translated into English by T. M. Knox, in G. W. F. Hegel, Early Theological
Writings, ed. R. Kroner (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), pp. 302-08.
See also, more generally, H. S. Harris, Hegel's Development: Toward the Sunlight,
1770-1801 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).
8. For recent work in this vein on Hegel's Philosophy ofRight, see, for example:
Siep, pp. 285-94; Allen W. Wood, Hegel's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 77-93 and passim; Michael Theunissen, "The Repressed Inter-
subjectivity in Hegel's Philosophy ofRight," in Hegel and Legal Theory, ed. D. Cornell,
M. Rosenfeld, and D. Gray Carlson (New York/London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 3-63;
and David J. Depew, "The Polis Transformed: Aristotle's Politics and Marx's Critique
240 Self and Others
of Hegel's Philosophy of Right," in Marx and Aristotle: Nineteenth-Century German
Social Theory and Classical Antiquity, ed. G. E. McCarthy (New York: Rowman & Lit-
tlefield, 1992).
9. G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen aber die Geschichte der Philosophie III, Werke,
vol. 20, ed. E. Moldenhauer and K. M. Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1971),
10. Manfred Frank, Einfiihrung in die friihromantische Asthetik: Vorlesungen
(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989),249.
11. See Dieter Henrich, "Fichte's Original Insight," tr. D. R. Lachterman, in
Contemporary German Philosophy, vol. 1 (College Park: Pennsylvania State Dniv.
Press, 1982), pp. 15-53, and his "Self-Consciousness: A Critical Introduction to a The-
ory," Man and World 4 (1971), pp. 3-28.
12.1. G. Fichte, The Science ofKnowledge, with the First and Second Introduc-
tions, ed. and tr. P. Heath and 1. Lachs (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1982),
13. "Sophistik des Ich." Novalis, quoted in Frank, Einfiihrung, p. 268.
14. Here I follow the lucid explication in Frank, Einfiihrung, pp. 264-65.
15. Novalis quoted in Frank, ibid., 265. Cf. Novalis Werke, ed. with commentary
by G. Schulz (Munich: Beck, 1969), p. 295: "Urn sich selbst zu begreifen muG das Ich
ein anderes ihm gleiches Wesen sich vorstellen, gleichsam anatomieren."
16. G. W. F. Hegel, Phiinomenologie des Geistes (hereafter cited as PhG), ed. 1.
Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Meiner, 1952 [1807]), 79ff; paragraphs 91-110. I have relied for
paragraph numbering on Hegel's Phenomenology ofSpirit, tr. A. V. Miller (New York:
Oxford Dniv. Press, 1977). English quotations in this essay come from the Miller trans-
lation with occasional modifications.
17. Josiah Royce, The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1983
[1892]), p. 205.
18. Royce, Spirit, p. 206.
19. PhG, pp. 27-28,39,524,564; paragraphs 29, 47, 753,808.
20. Royce, Spirit, 207.
21. PhG, pp. 133-50; paragraphs 166-96. This section has been given a daz-
zling variety of interpretations: see George Armstrong Kelly, "Notes on Hegel's 'Lord-
ship and Bondage,'" in Hegel, ed. A. MacIntyre (Garden City: Anchor, 1972), pp.
189-217, who treats the range of readings historically made of the section: psycholog-
ical, social, political, etc. I am convinced that Hegel intended the account of the struggle
for recognition as more a rewrite of Book I of Aristotle's Politics, Hobbes's state of
nature and Fichte's notion of Anerkennung (see Wildt, pp. 337-42) than a description of
"The Root ofHumanity" 241
the necessary negativity of all interpersonal encounters, however suggestive such read-
ings are (for example, by Lacan). It comes early in the PhG and hence belongs to an
early stage of human consciousness: HosIe (vol. 2, pp. 374-75) rightly compares this
section to monumental mythical stnlggles such as Enkidu and Gilgamesh, Arjuna and
Shiva, Jacob and the Angel. For Hegel, recognition is already achieved in modern
states: a fresh battle needn't begin at every encounter.
22. PhG, p. 139; paragraph 175. Emphasis in original.
23. PhG, p. 140; paragraph 177. Robert R. Williams, "Hegel's Concept of Geist,"
in Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit, ed. P. G. Stillman (Albany: State Univ. of New York
Press, 1987), 1-20, outlines three competing models of Geist in Hegel interpretation:
Spirit as (1) a transcendental ego redivivum; (2) humanity itself; and (3) social or inter-
subjective. Both Williams and I favor the third reading.
Throughout this paper I will use "SpiIit" with capital S for Geist (following A. V.
24. Williams, Recognition, 143. One should note that it was Fichte, not Hegel,
who first developed the concept of Anerkennung: see Williams, Recognition, pp. 49-64;
Wood, pp. 77-83; Wildt, pp. 19-23, 287-93, and passim. Nonetheless, as HosIe argues
(vol. 2, pp. 379-80, n. 85), the first principle of Fichte's philosophy was always the "1"
and it was Hegel who broke through to intersubjectivity.
25. Williams, Recognition, p. 149.
26. Cf. PhG, pp. 257-58; paragraph 351, and PhG, p. 471; paragraph 671.
27. PhG, p. 141; paragraph 178.
28. Leo Rauch, "Introduction: On Hegel's Concept of Spirit," in Hegel and the
Human Spirit: A Translation ofthe lena Lectures on the Philosophy ofSpirit (1805-06)
with COlrlmentary, ed. and trans. Leo Rauch (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1983),
29. Josiah Royce, Lectures on Modem Idealism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press,
1919), p. 158.
30. PhG, p. 141; paragraph 179.
31. PhG, p. 142; paragraph 182.
32. PhG, p. 143; paragraph 186.
33. Hegel's term (PhG, p. 144; paragraph 187) for putting one's life at risk in the
battle for recognition-daransetzen-ups the stakes in the philosophical history of the
verb setzen in German idealism, making it a matter of life and death, rather than only a
matter of philosophical speculation, as in Fichte. Cf. Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to
the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. J. H. Nichols, Jr.,
assembled by R. Queneau, ed. A. Bloom (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1980).
34. PhG, p. 56; paragraph 69. See below.
Self and Others
35. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, tr. H. Zohn, ed. H. Arendt (New York:
Schocken, 1968), p. 137, notes the uniquely modem self-alienation of seeing oneself on
screen or hearing one's recorded voice. Mirrors are more ancient.
36. Charles Sanders Peirce, The Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. 1. Buchler
(New York: Dover, 1955), p. 351.
37. Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1913),
vol. 2, pp. 138-39. Royce here seems to be commenting on Peirce, "Some Conse-
quences of Four Incapacities," Philosophical Writings ofPeirce, pp. 228-50.
38. Royce, Spirit, pp. 208-09, n. 2, underscores this point by translating Hegel's
Allgemeinheit, in section 436 of the Berlin Encyclopaedia, where the self-consciolls-
nesses affirmatively recognize each other as recognizing, by publicity.
39. PhG, pp. 146-47; paragraph 190. La phenomenologie de l'esprit, tr. 1. Hyp-
polite (Paris: Aubier, 1941), vol. 1, p. 162, n. 24 (Hyppolite's note).
40. PhG, p. 149; paragraph 195.
41. Here one is reminded of Schleiermacher' s claim, as recounted in the essay in
this volume by Jeffrey Hoover, that the forming of property is necessary for the forming
of one's individuality.
42. The phrase "gallery of images" of course comes from PhG, p. 563; para-
graph 808.
43. See Williams's excellent discussion in Recognition, chapters 9 and 10.
44. Hegel defines Sittlichkeit in terms of Geist-PhG, p. 256; paragraph 349. Cf.
HosIe, vol. 2, pp. 381-85.
45. Paragraphs 508, 652, 710, 713, 726, an10ng others. Language does appear in
different moments in the PhG-as a corrupted vehicle of sycophancy and flattery in
paragraphs 508ff, as the breakdown of public moral substance in the reliance on con-
science in 652ff, and as the very soul of Greek religion in 710ff. Nevertheless, Hegel
admits a repetitive purpose: in each discussion of language he uses the term "wieder"
[again] as if reminding himself and us of the return of the same point.
46. PhG, p. 362; paragraph 508.
47. PhG, p. 362; paragraph 508.
48. PhG, pp. 149-50; paragraph 196.
49. Josef Simon, Das Problem der Sprache bei Hegel (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer,
1966), p. 70.
50. PhG, p. 362; paragraph 508.
"The Root of llumanity"
51. PhG, p. 363; paragraph 508.
52. Simon is very useful in explaining why the voice, as a medium that works in
time, must disappear for Hegel: ''The voice for Hegel signifies the cancellation of local-
ization in space, the expression of freedom from spatial determination to which the liv-
ing being strives" (72).
53. PhG, p. 363; paragraph 509.
54. PhG, p. 458; paragraph 652.
55. PhG, p. 140; paragraph 177.
56. PhG, p. 458; paragraph 652. The sense here of "just as" is less "at the same
moment" than "in the same way."
57. Robert C. Solomon, In the Spirit ofHegel: A Study ofG. W. F. Hegel's Phe-
nomenology of Spirit (New York: Oxford Dniv. Press, 1983), p. 607.
58. PhG, p. 496; paragraph 710.
59. PhG, p. 496; paragraph 710.
60. PhG, p. 445ff; paragraphs 632ff.
61. Ibid. Miller omits part of the phrase in translation. Note Hegel's images of fire
and water, which capture the contagion of such collective devotion.
62. PhG, pp. 496-97; paragraph 711.
63. PhG, p. 498; paragraph 713. That Hegel's model here is Homer is clear on
507, paragraph 729.
64. PhG, p. 505; paragraph 726.
65. The male pronoun is Hegel's.
66. PhG, p. 506; paragraph 727. Cf. Herman Rapaport's talk concerning national
poets at the Iowa conference on Figuring the Self.
67. See the misnamed "Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism" tr.
H. S. Harris, Hegel's Development: Toward the Sunlight, 1770-1801 (New York:
Oxford Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 510-12; also the interesting discussion, though a bit
strained in its reading of the political views of the document, in Manfred Frank, Der
kommende Gott: Vorlesungen iiber die neue Mythologie, part 1 (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1982), pp. 153-87.
68. Plant, Hegel, p. 27ff, and Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge
Dniv. Press, 1975), p. 380ff and passim, both emphasize Hegel's debts to Herder.
69. PhG, p. 56; paragraph 69.
244 Self and Others
70. See, for example, Peirce, Philosophical Writings, pp. 247,250,39; Royce,
Problem, vol. 2, passim.
71. See, HosIe, vol. 1, 8, and vol. 2, p. 384; Williams, Recognition, pp. 169,
199; and Williams, "Hegel's Concept," p. 18: "Perhaps no one has understood this
[Hegel's theory of Sittlichkeit, with its central conception of Geist as social infinite] bet-
ter than Josiah Royce in his book The Problem of Christianity."
72. See Royce's chapters on Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and. Hegel in The Spirit of
Modern Philosophy and Lectures on Modern Idealism. Royce is often called a Hegelian,
but it was a label he resisted: see Problem, vol. 1, xi-xii.
73. Peirce, Philosophical Writings, p. 249.
74. Ibid.
75. Royce, Problem, vol. 2, p. 283.
76. Royce, Problem, vol. 2, p. 140ff.
77. Royce, Problem, vol. 2, p. 149.
78. Hegel, Differenzschrift, quoted in Plant, p. 90.
79. Royce, Problem, vol. 2, p. 160.
80. I am grateful to Marsha Paulsen Peters, Ben Peters, David J. Depew, Kenneth
Crniel, and Kate Neckerman for much-needed help and encouragement in the writing of
this essay, and to all participants in the "Figuring the Self' Workshop for their learned
and congenial company.
Heidegger and Wittgenstein on the
Subject of Kantian Philosophy
David G. Stern
This essay explores some of the striking similarities between Heideg-
ger's and Wittgenstein' s criticisms of Kant's conception of the subject. Hei-
degger's interpretation of Kant's critical legacy, as set out in Being and
Time and his lectures on Kant from the 1920s and 1930s, while Kantian in
spirit, is deeply critical of the role Kant gave to the "transcendental sub-
ject," a world-constituting self outside the world. Similarly, Wittgenstein
had the greatest respect for Kant's philosophical method and had accorded a
crucial role to the transcendental subject in the Tractatus, yet entirely repu-
diated this conception of the self in his later work. Because the self, con-
ceived of as the structure and subject of experience, plays such a crucial
role in Kant's philosophy as a whole, these objections to Kant's concep-
tion of the subject also let us see how each of these philosophers continues
the critical tradition that Kant began.
Before taking up Heidegger and Wittgenstein's appropriation and radical
revision of Kant's conception of the subject, it will be helpful to indicate their
historical context. Eighteen eighty-nine, the year in which Martin Heidegger
and Ludwig Wittgenstein were born, in Germany and Austria respectively,
lies midway between Kant's time and our own, precisely a hundred years after
the French revolution and the decade in which Kant's three Critiques were
published. Eighteen eighty-nine was also the year in which Adolf Hitler was
born; all three were part of the generation that grew up immediately before
World War 1. There is no reason to think that either Heidegger or Wittgenstein
influenced the other directly. However, in a discussion with Waismann and
246 Self and Others
Schlick, Wittgenstein did say that he could well understand what Heidegger
meant by "Sein und Angst," explaining this by linking "Being and anxiety"
with central themes in his own work:
Man feels the urge to run up against the limits of language. Think for
example of the astonishment that anything at all exists. This astonishment
cannot be expressed in the form of a question, and there is no answer
whatever. Anything we might say is a priori bound to be mere non-
These commonalities can be traced to their shared debt to Kant and post-
Kantian philosophy; to Kant, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Frege, and
Weininger in particular in the case of Wittgenstein, and a much wider range of
figures in the nineteenth-century German tradition for Heidegger.
While this
chapter stresses points of agreement between the two philosophers, there is
no denying that there are enormous differences between the two: to mention
only the most obvious, Being and Time is in the Gennan tradition of systematic
philosophical treatises, and employs an abstruse terrninology; Wittgenstein's
Philosophical Investigations avoids technical tenninology and its style is highly
unsystematic and untraditional. In fact, it is these very differences that makes
the points of agreement I shall discuss all the more remarkable.
The ambiguity in the use of the tenn "subject" in my title between subject
as self or subjectivity, and subject as topic, or subject matter, is not just a play on
words, for Kant's Copernican revolution gave the structure of the self an abso-
lutely central and extremely paradoxical status. Kant held that we can have
knowledge of the world we experience, a world of empirical phenomena, because
it is a world that is, in part, a product of our own mental activity, a world we have
constructed ourselves. At the same time, he denied that we can have any knowl-
edge of a noumenal world, a world entirely independent of us. Copernicus's rev-
olution put the sun at the center of the solar system, rather than the earth; Kant's
revolution in philosophy puts the mind in the center, rather than the world. From
a Kantian perspective, the Cartesian question of whether I really can know any-
thing about the external world is fatally ambiguous. It is either the question of
whether I can know about noumena, which are by nature unknowable, or it is the
question of whether I can know about phenomena, which can be known. Kant's
reply to skepticism about the external world is that the problem of how a mind
can have knowledge of the external world depends on a misunderstanding, for
mind and world are essentially interrelated. The same principles underlie both our
mental lives and empirical knowledge. In the fITst chapter of the Critique ofPure
Reason, the "Analytic of Concepts," Kant argues that these unifying principles
can be derived from the categories, the pure concepts of the understanding. This
point, the crucial point of departure for all that follows, is summed up i!1   Q ~ _
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 247
final section of the introductory "Clue to the Discovery of All Pure Concepts of
the Understanding."4 In this passage, Kant emphasizes the common role of the
categories in both judgment and experience:
The same function which gives unity to the various representations in a
judgement also gives unity to the mere synthesis of representations in an
intuition; and this unity, in its most general expression, we entitle the
pure concept of the understanding. (A79/B104-05)5
In the next sentence, he restates this point, stressing the common role of the
mind's activity in both cases:
The same understanding, through the same operations by which in con-
cepts, by means of analytical unity, is produced the logical form of a
judgement, also introduces a transcendental content into its representa-
tions, by means of the synthetic unity of the manifold in intuition in gen-
era!. (A79IBI04-05)
The structure of the self is also the structure of the not-self: both are constituted
by the nde-govemed activity of the transcendental subject. The transcendental
subject is not an entity to be found or recognized within experience, but neither
is it transcendent, altogether independent of experience; rather, it is like the van-
ishing point of a perspectival painting-a construction implied by the structure
of what is pictured, but not present in it. But unlike such a focal point, or any
other part of a painting, for that matter, its activity structures and constitutes the
field of experience as a whole. As a result, the subject matter of philosophy
becomes the uncovering of the structure of this philosophical conception of the
subject of philosophy: as rule-governed transcendental activity.6
In doing this, Kant took the Cartesian conception of the self as a mental
substance, a thinking thing, and split it into two: in addition to the empirical
ego, the self we encounter in introspection, he also postulated the transcen-
dental ego. This nonempirical subject underlies not only the empirical self but
also empirical objects, structuring both mind and world. Its nonempirical, atem-
paral activity, governed by rational principles that can be deduced by philo-
sophical reflection, thus became the principal subject matter for philosophical
inquiry. This extraordinarily ambitious conception of the self, as not of this
world yet nevertheless world-constituting, provided a radically new conception
of philosophy, one that proved decisive not only for German idealism but also
for much subsequent work in the phenomenological, hermeneutic, and ana-
lytic traditions.
We shall see that Wittgenstein and Heidegger formulated far-reaching
critiques of the Kantian conception of the self. But this criticism is so radical
248 Self and Others
that, half a century later, despite the fact that they have become canonical fig-
ures in the history of philosophy, few philosophers have appreciated the true
nature of their positive views about the nature of experience. For instance,
Dieter Henrich, a leading Kant scholar and the author of an almost encyclope-
dic review of the intellectual context of Heidegger's Kant book and its recep-
tion,? touches on his treatment of self=consciousness in a single dismissive sen-
Heidegger did, indeed, manage to slip past the philosophy of self-con-
sciousness, but only at the price of simply leaving aside the real question
with which it is preoccupied.
Similarly, Ernst Tugendhat, another leading German philosopher who has been
in the forefront of attempts to foster a dialogue between German and Anglo-
American philosophy, rejects Heidegger's central tenn for his positive con-
ception of human existence, Dasein, without any reservations at all. In a book
that claims to make use of Heidegger's insights in order to situate the self
within a social and practical context, while drawing on a supposedly Wittgen-
steinian logicolinguistic methodology, he writes:
I cannot see how the introduction of the term Dasein has had any positive
sense. It is only a stylistic device that has unfortunate consequences, and
we can better appropriate Heidegger's contribution to our complex of
problems if we refrain as far as possible from the use of this term.
With friends like that, who needs enemies? Wittgenstein's expositors have
also proven to be his own worst enemies; despite his repeated explicit repudi-
ation of behaviorism and solipsism in his own later writings, such blatant mis-
readings are still extremely popular, mainly, I think, because this enables
philosophers to make superficial sense of his position and so dismiss it as a
familiar error. As an emblematic example, I would offer the fact that the last
chapter of Kripke's widely read book on Wittgenstein on rule-following, a
case ofjust such a dismissive reading of Wittgenstein, has attracted none of the
critical attention that has surrounded the first two chapters of that book. to
In Heidegger's case, the importance of Kant's work for his own is exten-
sively documented. Kant is one of the most frequently cited authors in Being
and Time (the other is Aristotle); one of the projected but unpublished Divisions
of Being and Time was to have been devoted to Kant..
Nevertheless, we can
presume that most of what he would have said can be found either in his book
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, published in 1929, or the five sets of
(published) lectures in which he discussed Kant extensively, given between
1925 and 1936.
They clarify Heidegger's conception of the relationship
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 249
between his own work and the history of philosophy, offer a powerful and
original reading of Kant's philosophy, and also provide a commentary on every
major portion of the text of Kant's first Critique.
While Wittgenstein never engaged in this kind of extended exegesis, he
too considered the Critique of Pure Reason "a work of the first rank."14 We
know that he read the first Critique out loud and discussed it with a friend
while in a prisoner-of-war camp after the ending of World War 1.
In the early
1930s, Wittgenstein explicitly acknowledged the Kantian character of his own
concern with showing the limits of language, limits that are determined by the
common but inexpressible stlucture of language and world:
The limit of language shows itself in the impossibility of describing
the fact which corresponds to a sentence (is its translation) without
repeating that very sentence.
(What we are dealing with here is the Kantian solution to the prob-
lem of philosophy.)16
In a lecture given at about the same time, Wittgenstein even described the
transcendental method-"Kant's critical method without the peculiar applica-
tions Kant made of it"-as "the right sort of approach":
Descartes and others had tried to start with one proposition such as "Cog-
ito, ergo sum" and work from it to others. Kant disagreed and started
with what we know to be so and so, and went on to examine the validity
of what we suppose we know.
While both Heidegger and Wittgenstein were deeply influenced by what
Wittgenstein calls the "Kantian solution of the problem of philosophy," neither
showed much sympathy for Kant's detailed execution of his solution. Kant
had regarded the common structure of judgment and intuition as only the clue
to an enormously complex web of argument that would establish our right to
employ the categories and so provide a refutation of idealism, skepticism, and
dogmatism. Instead, they saw this shared structure as itself containing the
answer to problems about the existence of the external world, and Kant's
lengthy arguments as betraying his inability to get beyond the fundamental
dualism of subject and object that prevented him from articulating the positive
insights he had achieved. This rejection of the Kantian problematic is particu-
larly clear if we turn from the intricacies of the Transcendental Deduction to the
much more clear-cut argument that Kant presented in the "Refutation of Ideal-
250 Self and Others
ism,"18 first published in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.
There, Kant endeavors to resolve the "scandal of philosophy" that there had
been no "satisfactory proof' of "the existence of things outside US."19 Heidegger
begins his reply by stating that:
The "scandal of philosophy" is not that this proof has yet to be given, but
that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again.
Heidegger's reason for his position, which follows immediately in the text, is
that Kant's demand for such a proof stems from a misunderstanding of our
existence that splits it into an independent subject and object:
Such expectations, aims, and demands arise from an ontologically inad-
equate way of starting with something of such a character that indepen-
dently of it and "outside" of it a "world" is to be proved as present-at-
hand. It is not that the proofs are inadequate, but that the kind of Being of
the entity which does the proving and makes requests for proofs has not
been made definite enough. ... If Dasein is understood correctly, it
defies such proofs, because, in its Being, it already is what subsequent
proofs deem necessary to demonstrate for it.21
Like Kant, Heidegger rejects the Cartesian conception of the self as a
"thinking thing," arguing that it reifies the structure of our experience, turning
an activity into a fictitious object. But he contends that since Western philoso-
phy took the Cartesian turn there has been an almost unavoidable pressure
toward conceiving of ourselves as things, whether or not this is modified by the
qualification that we are distinctively mental things. The grammar of subject
and predicate, inherited by Descartes from the scholastics and taken over in tum
by Kant, provided a conceptual scheme of substance and accident, within which
it was impossible to articulate a genuine alternative.
According to Heidegger
(and also Wittgenstein
), this prephilosophical conception of what there is has
shaped the fonn of our reflective conception of ourselves; for all Kant's post-
Cartesian concern with the nature of thought, the structure of the alternatives
that were open to him was determined by an ontology that had become so
accepted that he was never able to fully work his way out of it.
As a result,
Heidegger contends that Kant's conception of the subject of experience is
much closer to Descartes than might appear at first sight. Kant, he alleges,
never positively clarified the ontological status of the subject, and so was
unable to avoid slipping back into thinking of the self as substance. Heidegger's
thoroughgoing rejection of traditional questions about the nature of the subject
and its relation to the world requires a radical reconstrual of the traditional
philosophical vocabulary.
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 251
Ontologically, every idea of a "subject"-unless refined by a previous
ontological determination of its basic character-still posits the subjec-
tum (hypokeilnenon) along with it, no matter how vigourous one's ontical
protestations against the "soul substance" or the "reification of con-
sciousness." The thinghood itself which such reification implies must
have its ontological origin demonstrated if we are to be in a position to
ask what we understand positively when we think of the unreified Being
of the subject, the soul, the consciousness, the spirit, the person.
Another guiding insight that Heidegger and Wittgenstein take from Kant
is that the central task of philosophy is the investigation of the conditions of
possibility for our lives to have the structure that they do. Where they part
company is in their respective conceptions of the structure of our lives. For
Kant, these are conditions for the possibility of experience, to be found in the
categorial structure of the understanding, that activity by which the transcen-
dental subject structures the data which are given to sensibility. For Heidegger,
they are constitutive characteristics of Dasein, to be found in the existential ana-
lytic of Dasein. The later Wittgenstein, however, is deeply suspicious of the
very idea that the structure of our lives lends itself to systematic formulation;
much of the secondary literature on "forms of life" is best understood as
attempting to find ways of reappropriating his antisystematic ideas within a rec-
ognizable philosophical system.
Ho\vever much Kant endeavored to correct Descartes' conception of the
self as a thinking thing, he still agrees with him in thinking that philosophy must
start out from a conception of the experience of an isolated individual and ask
how that individual can have knowledge of an external world. Like Descartes,
he conceives of that experience as a mental representation which mayor may
not be of anything beyond that representation. Thus, one can give a character-
ization of any given experience which leaves it quite open whether there is
anything nonmental that it is an experience of. Heidegger contends that it is
these more fundamental Cartesian presuppositions that must be given up if we
are to avoid slipping back into a dualistic ontology: the subject of philosophy is
not a worldless "I," but rather Dasein, which is essentially worldly. Philosophy
has" no privileged starting point in reflection on the nature of the mental of the
kind that both Descartes and Kant unquestioningly take for granted. Like
Wittgenstein in his treatment of the private object of experience, Heidegger
questions whether the notion of such a worldless something or the subject that
is correlated with it is really intelligible:
Even the "I think something" is not definite enough ontologieally as a
starting point, because the "something" remains indefinite. If by this
"something" we understand an entity within-the-world, then it tacitly
252 Self and Others
implies that the world has been presuppposed; and this very phenomenon
of the world co-determines the state of being of the "I," if indeed it is to be
possible for the "I" to be something like "I think something." In saying
"I," I have in view the entity which in each case I am as an "I-am-in-a-
world." Kant did not see the phenomenon of the world ... as a conse-
quence the "I" was again forced back to an isolated subject, accompany-
ing representations in a way which is ontologically quite indefinite.26
In short, because Kant lacks an alternative ontology with which he can replace
the traditional one he was ineluctably forced back into the embrace of the tra-
ditional conception.
In place of the Cartesian dualities of thinking things and extended things,
and of thoughts and their thinker, Heidegger and Wittgenstein offer us con-
ceptions of ourselves as unitary, essentially worldly beings. In a sense, Hei-
degger's use of the term Dasein is intended as a successor concept for tradi-
tional notions of the subject (the person, the consciousness, the thing that
thinks). But at the same time it is also presented as a central term in a system
that aims to undermine such conceptions altogether. Consequently, Dasein
must have a different grammar from its predecessors: it must be impossible to
speak of Dasein as a thing, or as having properties. Here, it might seem, we are
running up against the limits of language: How are we to speak of ourselves,
then? Heidegger's answer is that Dasein does not have the same kind of Being
as things such as furniture or trees. Things and Dasein are both beings, but
they "are" in different ways. Things, such as the Cartesian's thinking thing or
physical objects, are present-at-hand (vorhanden); Dasein, on the other hand, is
an existent (has Existenz). Put in a more linguistic mode, we might say that the
grammar of talk about Dasein must be different from the grammar of talk
about things. For things present-at-hand around us, Heidegger retains the tra-
ditional grammar of subject and predicate, of things and their properties. Dasein
(and any other existent, for that matter) has certain essential structural fea-
tures-Heidegger calls them "existentialia"-and other nonessential aspects,
"characteristics," which mayor may not be instantiated by a given Dasein.
Unlike "person" or "subject," there is no plural form of the word. Nor is Dasein
to be understood as a property that each of us has or is. Nevertheless, Dasein is
most intimately related to particular, individuable, countable creatures: our-
selves. Indeed, Heidegger insists Dasein has Jemeinigkeit, or "individual mine-
ness."27 The root of this difficulty lies in Heidegger's irreducibly social account
of the nature of human beings: that we can think of certain human beings as
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 253
subjects is a consequence of our socialization into certain practices.
Dasein is
Heidegger's term for the whole interrelated nexus of roles, practices, norms,
customs, institutions, and so forth which constitute human society. People are
Dasein, not in the sense that they are literally identical with the whole social
nexus, but because they manifest all the essential structural aspects--existen-
tialia-of Dasein.
Another essential aspect of Dasein' s Being is that to be Dasein is to be an
interpreting being. In other words, to be a case of Dasein is to be a being which
has a certain understanding of what it is, or as Heidegger puts it, "takes a stand
on its own being." This "preunderstanding" is not to be conceived of on the
model of an explicit self-conception, for Heidegger does not only want to avoid
the subject-object dichotomy but also the consequent representation of Dasein' s
self-understanding as a purely conceptual matter. Partly this is because such a
way of conceiving of matters is unfair to the phenomena in being overly theo-
retical: we do not (usually and for the most part) think of ourselves as taking a
stand on all of the various issues that continually arise for us. Rather, we sim-
ply find that we have ways of dealing with them which embody a particular
stand on the matter in hand. Heidegger maintains that if we look carefully, we
will see that the Kantian dualism of subject and object, like the Cartesian
dichotomy of mind and matter:
splits the phenomena asunder, and that there is no prospect of putting it
together again from the fragments ... What is decisive for ontology is to
prevent the splitting of the phenomenon-in other words, to hold its pos-
itive phenomenal content secure.
In place of talking of the stand we take on our Being in terms of behavior or
self-representation, Heidegger talks of ways of being Dasein, ways of instan-
tiating particular aspects of the overall nexus of socially determined roles and
ways of acting that are available to us.
Thus Heidegger's strategy in Being and Time depends on the constructive
project of giving a positive characterization of the everyday world in which we
live and move. He argues that philosophical reflection arises out of this
"hermeneutic of everydayness," and is to be understood as an impoverished off-
shoot of our ordinary activity. This leads him to the conclusion that the foun-
dationalist project of "grounding" our everyday knowledge on the basis of a dis-
tinctively philosophical account of ourselves and our place in the world tacitly
presuppposes the very knowledge it is supposed to vindicate. In its place, Hei-
degger offers us an intricate interpretation of our prephilosophical understand-
ing of our everyday world, and argues that it is only on the basis of this account
that one can see the errors of the tradition. To the philosopher who wants to
know how an isolated subject can come to have knowledge of objects in the
254 Self and Others
external world, or other minds, Heidegger replies that these "problems" rest on
a completely mistaken understanding of what it is to be a person, to be in the
world, and so forth.
In other words, the only way out of such a problenl is to avoid getting in:
these problems are set up in such a way that they cannot be solved; one can
only dissolve them by recognizing the presuppositions that give rise to them.
Wittgenstein once compared a philosopher struggling with a philosophical
problem to someone who tries to open a closed but unlocked door by pulling on
it   the wrong direction. But instead of advocating a systematic alternative to
traditional conceptions of human existence, as Heidegger did, he held that the
task of philosophy should be to return us to the concepts that are present in our
ordinary language. Instead of advocating yet another technical vocabulary
designed to free us from our philosophical preconceptions, he presented a vari-
ety of devices that are intended to free us from the desire to formulate such
In the Philosophical Investigations, he says that his aim in phi-
losophy is to "show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."31 A fly-bottle is a glass
bottle containing sugar-water with an entrance at the bottom, which flies never
escape because they always fly upward, hitting the glass and ultimately drown-
ing in the water. A fly, unlike a person tugging at a door, is unable to learn from
its mistakes; it remains to be seen which is the apter analogy.
Wittgenstein's notes from the mid-1930s make it clear that he conceived
of the solipsist as the archetypal fly in the fly-bottle,32 but in the Investigations
the image of the fly-bottle provides a coda to a passage in which Wittgenstein
explains why his criticism of a conventional conception of the mental does
not commit him to denying the existence of minds or mental processes. Like
Heidegger, Wittgenstein is criticizing ways of talking about experience that
can mislead us into thinking we are describing how things must be when we are
only articulating an unrecognized presupposition. In #299, he writes:
Being unable-when we surrender ourselves to philosophical thought-
to help saying such-and-such; being irresistably inclined to say it-does
not mean being forced into an assumption, or having an immediate per-
ception or knowledge of a state of affairs.
There is an excellent, if inadvertent, example of this error a few paragraphs later,
in a passage where he is discussing the relation between the expression of pain and
the person who is in pain, stressing the primacy of the suffering person as against
a shadowy conception of the sufferer as a primarily mental entity. Anscombe
translates Wittgenstein's German "die leidende Person ist die, welche Scbmerz
auBert" as "the subject of pain is the person who gives it expression," reintroduc-
ing the very term "subject" that Wittgenstein took care to avoid. A more natural
translation would read: "The suffering person is the one who expresses pain."
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 255
In his preceding treatment of the notion of a private language, Wittgen-
stein has tried to show that ifone conceives of the mind as consisting of private
mental states, then one will be unable to talk of it all. So at this point in the
Investigations, Wittgenstein faces the task of denying the conception of the
mental as an inner process, while reassuring his interlocutor, the voice of his
alter ego, that he is not denying the existence of the mind altogether. Thus his
interlocutor objects: "And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the
sensation itself is a nothing. "33 Wittgenstein replies: "Not at all. It is not a
something, but not a nothing either! The conclusion was only that a nothing
would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said....
The impression that we want to deny something arises from our turning away
from the picture of the 'inner' process."34 Wittgenstein' s explanation of this
predicament, like Heidegger's treatment of the Kantian subject, turns on the
thesis that the philosopher has been trapped by an unnoticed presupposition
concealed in the grammar of our language. He asks himself "How does the
philosophical problem about mental processes and states and about
behaviourism arise?" and replies:
The first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of pro-
cesses and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we
shall know more about them-we think. But that is just what commits us
to a particular way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite con-
cept of what it means to know a process better. (The decisive movement
in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one we thought
quite innocent).35
Any conjuring trick depends on focusing the audience's attention on some-
thing unimportant so that the decisive move can be made without their sus-
pecting anything. And this, as Heidegger and Wittgenstein can help us see, is
precisely what happens in the case of the Kantian subject.
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversa-
tions Recorded by Friedrich Waismann, p. 68. First published as Ludwig Wittgenstein
und der Wiener Kreis: Gespriiche aufgezeichnet von Friedrich Waismann, German
text only, ed. B. F. McGuinness (Blackwell, Oxford, 1967), tr. B. F. McGuinness and 1.
Schulte, same pagination (Blackwell, Oxford, 1979).
2. In the passsage just quoted, Wittgenstein goes on to explicitly refer to the par-
allels with Kierkegaard: "Kierkegaard too saw that there is this running up against
something and he referred to it in a fairly similar way (as running up against paradox.)
256 Self and Others
Ibid. In a note written in 1931, Wittgenstein included Schopenhauer, Frege and
Weininger on a list of those figures who had influenced him (in Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Culture and Value, ed. G. H. von Wright, 2nd ed., tr. P. Winch, Oxford: Blackwell,
1980), p. 19.
3. Two valuable studies that set both Wittgenstein and Heidegger in a wider his-
torical context are Robert Solomon, Continental Philosophy Since 1750: The Rise and
Fall ofthe Selj(Oxford: Oxford Dniv. Press, 1988), which develops an interpretation of
the role of the self in post-Kantian philosophy congruent with the one advocated here,
and Rudiger Bubner, Modern Gernlan Philosophy, a wide-ranging overview of major
trends -in recent German philosophy, tr. E. Matthews from the author's unpublished
manuscript (New York: Cambridge lTniv. Press, 1981).
4. Heidegger emphasizes the importance of this part of the first Critique in his
1927-28 lectures and his Kant book. See: Martin Heidegger, Phiinomenologische Inter-
pretation von Kants Kritik der reinen Vemunft, Winter 1927/28; Gesamtausgabe Bd. 25,
ed. I. Gorland (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1977), pp. 263-92. Kant und das
Problem der Metaphysik, 4th ed., enlarged (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1973), pp.
13-14,55-62, tr. R. Taft as Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (Bloomington and
Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana Dniv. Press, 1990), pp. 39-44.
Wilfrid Sellars, in his lecture course on Kant at the University of Pittsburgh in the
summer of 1980, placed great stress on these sentences, characterizing them as a "com-
pressed outline" of the argument of the Transcendental Deduction as a whole. The first
three chapters of Jay Rosenberg's The Thinking Self (Philadelphia: Temple Dniv. Press,
1986) provide a systematic exposition of the central themes in Sellars' reading of this
5. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1956).
Translations are from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, tr. N. Kemp Smith
(London: Macmillan, 1933). References to the first Critique in parentheses following the
quoted passages, and are to the pagination in the 1781 'A' edition and the 1787 'B' edi-
6. These issues are discussed at greater length in my article, "'What is the ground
of the relationship of that in us which we call "representation" to the object?' Reflections
on the Kantian legacy in the philosophy of mind," in Doing Philosophy Historically, eel.
P. Hare (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1988), pp. 216-30.
7. Dieter Henrich, originally published in Philosophische Rundschau (1956), tr.
G. Zoller as "On the Unity of Subjectivity," in The Unity ofReason: Essays on Kant's
Philosophy by Dieter Henrich, ed. Richard Velkley (Cambridge, Mass.: 1994), pp.
8. Dieter Henrich, "Fichte's Original Insight," tr. David R. Lachterman in Con-
temporary German Philosophy, vol. 1 (University Park: Pennsylvania State Dniv. Press,
1982), pp. 15-53. Originally published as "Fichte's ursprtingliche Einsicht," in Subjek-
tivitiit und Metaphysik, ed. D. Henrich and H. Wagner (Frankfurt am Main: Kloster-
maIm, 1966), pp. 188-232.
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 257
9. Ernst Tugendhat, Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination (Cambridge,
Mass.: MIT Press, 1986), p. 152. Translation of Selbstbewuj3tsein und Selbstbestim-
mung by P. Stem.
Tugendhat's principal objection to the use of the term Dasein is as follows: In
contrast to the substantive predicates "human being" or "person" it has no plural, and
therefore it seems absurd when Heidegger says that he wants to designate this entity,
man, as Dasein. One cannot adopt a different expression for a word when it has a dif-
ferent grammar (ibid.) I will turn to this objection shortly.
10. Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private l£lnguage (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1982.) An early and influential example of such a misreading
is Chihara and Fodor's "Operationalism and Ordinary Language," American Philo-
sophical Quarterly 2 (1965):281-95, reprinted in Wittgenstein: The "Philosophical
Investigations," ed. G. Pitcher (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 384-419. For
further discussion of this issue, see my "Recent Work on Wittgenstein: 1980-1990,"
Synthese 98 (1994):415-58.
11. Heidegger characterized Part Two, Division One, of Being and Time, as fol-
lows: "Kant's doctrine of schematism and time, as a preliminary stage in a problematic
of Temporality." See Being and Time, tr. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New
York and Evanston, Ill.: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 64. Translation of Sein und Zeit, 7th
ed. (Tiibingen: Neomarius Verlag).
12. Martin Heidegger, Logik. Die Frage nach der Wahrheit, Winter 1925/26;
Gesamtausgabe Bd. 21, ed. W. Biemel (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1976);
Martin Heidegger, Die Grundprobleme der Phiinomenologie, Summer 1927, Gesam-
tausgabe Bd. 24, ed. F.-W. von Herrmann (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1975),
tr. A. Hofstadter as The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (Bloomington, Indiana
Univ. Press, 1982); Martin Heidegger, Phiinomenologische Interpretation von Kants
Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Winter 1927/28, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 25, ed. I. Gorland
(Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1977); Martin Heidegger, Yom Wesen der men-
schlichen Freiheit: Einleitung in die Philosophie, Summer 1930; Gesamtausgabe
Bd. 31, ed. H. Tietjen (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1982); Martin Heidegger,
Die Frage nach dem Ding: Zu Kants Lehre von den transzendentalen Grundsiitzen,
Winter 1935/36, Gesamtausgabe Bd. 41, ed. P. Jaeger (Frankfurt am Main: Kloster-
mann, 1984).
13. For a valuable discussion of the relationship between Heidegger's discussion
of Kant and the original text see: Daniel Dahlstrom, "Heidegger's Kantian Tum: Notes
to His Commentary on the Kritik der reinen Vernunft," Review of Metaphysics 45
14. Brian McGuinness, cited in Garth Hallett, A Companion to Wittgenstein' s
uPhilosophical Investigations" (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1977), p. 768. Cf.
McGuinness Wittgenstein: A Life, vol. 1 (London: Duckworth, 1988), p. 253.
15. Unpublished biographical notes of F. A. von Hayek, cited by Newton Garver
in "Neither knowing nor not knowing," Philosophical Investigations 7 (1984):223, n. 16.
258 Self and Others
16. Culture and Value, p. 10 (translation modified). This remark was written in
1931. For further discussion of the issues raised by this passage, see my Wittgenstein on
Mind and Language (Oxford: Oxford Dniv. Press), 1995.
17. King and Lee, Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1932,1931-32,
pp. 73-74. Most discussions of Wittgenstein' s relationship to Kant either overemphasize
their affinities, yielding a reading of Wittgenstein' s work as a form of idealism (see, for
example, Bernard Williams, "Wittgenstein and Idealism," in Understanding Wittgen-
stein, ed. G. Vesey [London: Macmillan, 1974]) or overemphasize their differences,
yielding a reading that fails to recognize the extent to which Wittgenstein's critique is a
continuation of a specifically Kantian tradition. There is a judicious discussion of this
issue in Newton Garver, "Wittgenstein and the Critical Tradition," History ofPhiloso-
phy Quarterly 7 (1990):227-40.
18. B274 ff.
19. B xxxix; other quotes in this sentence are from the same source.
20. Being and Time, p. 249.
21. Ibid. On the next page, Heidegger states his conception of his own contribu-
tion as follows: "Our task is not to prove that an 'external world' is present-at-hand or
show how it is present-at-hand, but to point out why Dasein, as Being-in-the-world, has
the tendence to bury the 'external world' in nullity 'epistemologically' before going on
to prove it" (250).
22. While Heidegger only intimates this claim in Being and Time, he does provide
an extended defence of this contention throughout Part 1 of The Basic Problems of
23. See, for example, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks, 2nd ed., tr.
R. Hargraves and R. White (Oxford, Blackwell, 1975), 57 ff. First published as
Philosophische Bemerkungen, ed. R. Rhees (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964).
24. It is symptomatic of the depth of this dispute that there are no neutral terms
one can appeal to in order to characterize that which is at the focus of the debate: On the
one hand, to talk of the "subject" or the "philosophical self' is already to be employing
a loaded Cartesian vocabulary. On the other hand, to avoid using these terms, and speak
of "human beings" or "people" in this context is to use terms that are no less question-
begging. For further discussion of this issue, see Robert Brandom, "Heidegger's cate-
gories in Being and Time," The Monist 66 (1983):387-409 and John Haugeland, "Hei-
degger on being a person," Nous 16 (1982):15-26.
25. Ibid., p. 72. The following two quotations from Being and Time sum up Hei-
degger's debt to Kant and also the extent of his break with the Kantian tradition. Hei-
degger holds that Kant saw that "the 'I think' is not something represented, but the
formal structure of representing as such, and this formal structure alone makes it possi-
ble for anything to have been represented" (ibid., p. 367) and also "makes a more
rigourous attempt than his predecessors to keep hold of the phenomenal content of say-
Heidegger and Wittgenstein 259
ing 'I'; yet even though in theory he has denied that the ontical foundations of the
ontology of the substantial apply to the 'I,' he still slips back into this same inappropri-
ate ontology.... The Being of the'!, is understood as the reality of the res cogitans"
(ibid., pp. 366, 367).
26. Ibid., p. 368.
27. Macquarrie and Robinson translate this term using "in each case," a con-
struction I shall discuss shortly. See Being and Time, p. 42.
28. This construal of Heidegger, which stresses the social and pragmatic dimen-
sion of his conception of the everyday in Being and Time, is in broad agreement with
recent work along these lines by Brandom, Dreyfus, Haugeland, Okrent, Richardson,
Rorty, and others. See Robert Brandom, "Heidegger's categories in Being and Time";
Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World: A commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time,
Division I (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991); John Raugeland, "Heidegger on Being
a Person"; Mark Okrent, Heidegger's Pragmatism: Understanding, Being, and the Cri-
tique of Metaphysics (Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988); John
Richardson, Existential Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986); Richard
Rorty, "Heidegger, contingency and pragmatism," in Essays on Heidegger and Others
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 27-49.
29. Being and Time, p. 72.
30. For further discussion of Wittgenstein and Heidegger and their respective
conceptions of the "end of philosophy," see Stanley Cavell, This New Yet Unap-
proachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein (Albuquerque: Living
Batch Press, 1989) and Richard Rorty, "Wittgenstein, Heidegger and the Reification of
Language," in Essays on Heidegger and Others, pp. 50-65.
31. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe
and R. Rhees, tr. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 3rd ed., 1973),309.
32. "But what I now see, this view of my room, plays a unique role, it is the visual
world! [...] (The solipsist flutters and flutters in the flyglass, strikes against the walls,
flutters further. How can he be brought to rest?)"
The above parenthetical sentence, unlike the one that precedes it, was originally
written in German. L. Wittgenstein, "Notes for Lectures on 'Private Experience' and
'Sense-Data,'" p. 300. First published in an abridged form in the Philosophical Review,
77:275-320. A complete edition of this text that I have edited is in Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Philosophical Occasions: 1912-1951, ed. 1. Klagge and A. Nordmann (Indianapolis,
Ind.: Hackett, 1993), p. 258.
33. Philosophical Investigations, 304.
34. Philosophical Investigations, 304-05.
35. Philosophical Investigations, 308.
Subject Index
Absolute, 128, 130-32, 139-40, (or
"transcendent ground") 173, 176,
181, chapter 9
absolute 1,16,63,81-82,87, 146n. 16,
150-51, chapter 9,206
accident, 81
apperception, 11,39-40, 50n. 17,55-58,
60, 63-64, 67, 82; transcendental
unity of, 56, 58-60, 153
appropriation, 207, 212, 215, 221
art, 149-50, 154-60, 161n. 1, 164n. 15,
166n. 27, 166n. 35; philosophy of
art, 155-56, 165n.21, 167n.41,
Being, 14, 142; as the intentional
object of understanding, 5, 10; 171
beauty, 142-43
civil society, 219-22
communication theory, chapter 11
consciousness, 64, 123, 144, 237;
history of, 157; in relation to
understanding, 5; pure unity of, 35,
43, 45, 84; religious, 176, 181-82;
sensible, 178-81
Dasein, 4-5, 248, 250-53
desire, 230
dialectic, 170
dogmatism, 76
eros, 149-52, 154, 160; Platonic notion
of, 151
existential philosophy, 103
Fantasie, 208, 211
feeling, 138-40, 143, 169-70, 172,
174-85, 187n. 14; of absolute
dependence, 176, 181, 183-85
free sociality, 214-15
freedom, 75-77,80,90n., 134, 152,
155-57, 163n.8, 165n.21, 182,
genius, 151, 155, 158-60, 165n. 21,
German idealism, 73, 76, 134-35, 149,
151-52, 161n.4, 170,206-08,212,
215, 222, 237; absolute idealism,
87; transcendental idealism, 153,
156-57, 164n. 12, 164n. 13
German romanticism, 134-35, 139-40,
God, 49n. 7,127,130,169, 186n.8,
hermeneutics, 9-10, 23, 26
"I," 11, 16-22, 28-29n. 19, 31-35,43,
47n.5,56,58,63,64, 70n.24, 72n.
234,251-52; as ground of
experience, 75-77, 83; as individual
(observing), 78, 86; as preindividual
(observed), 78-79,84,86-87,149;
as present in all consciousness, 85;
as pure activity, 79, 80-83, 91n. 23,
136, 138, 150, 152; of inner sense,
45-46, 49n. 5, 49n. 6; as mirror of
itself, 84; as subject-object, 86, 160,
175,200; nominalization of "I,"
12-13, 77; structure of, 77-78, 85,
87, 142
"I think," 11, 35, 53n. 28, 56-58, 63,
66,83, 258n. 25; generalizing use
of first person pronoun, 8, 27, 28n.
Subject Index
19; singularizing use of first person
pronoun, 8,27, 28n. 18
indexical words, 16, 106-08, 111
individuality, chapter 1, 121, 127, 171,
inner sense, 31, 34,40,43-44, 51n. 19,
51n. 21, 52n. 23, 52n. 25, 53n. 26
intentionality, 27n. 12
interpretation, 237-39
intersubjectivity, 22, 80, 201-02, 207,
inruition,39,82, 172, 187n. 16,209;
intellecrual intuition, 65, 82-84,
136, 138, 141-42, 152, 154, 156,
158, 164n. 13, 166n.27;pure
intuition, 37,41
knowing, 171-73, 175
language, 228,234-36, 249
linguistic analysis, 9
materialism, 123-26, 132
meaning, 25-26
mental unification, 36-42, 50n. 13,
metaphysics, 120-27, 130-32
mythology, 159, 163n. 8, 166n. 30,
natural world, 120-26, 152-54, 158,
196; philosophy of nature, 153-57,
162n. 7, 163n. 11, 166n.29
neostrucruralism, 13-14
Subject Index
neutral monism, 13
noumena, 56, 246
organon, 156, 159, 164n. 17
person, 15-17, 19,22,77, 107, 110,
119,122, 127,216-17,222; as
something universal, 9; as
something particular, 9
phenornena, 56,246
phenomenology, 14, 61, 103; of spirit,
125; of the I, 81
philosophical anthropology, 109
philosophy: as critique and as
integration, 99-104; discipline of,
poetry, 139, 147n. 39, 150, 154, 156,
preestablished harmony, 149, 157, 159,
164n. 19
projection, 43-46, SOn. 16
property, 207, 213-15, 217-23
Protestantism, 196
psychic states, 19-20
rational faith, 46
rational psychology, 35, 47n. 3
reason, 150-51, 196, 212; as practical,
136, 151-52,156, 170; as
theoretical, 136, 156, 170
reflection, 78; as a bending back, 5, 11;
as self-relation, 6, 11-14
religion, 159-60, 169-70,201;
philosophy of, 202
representation, 10-12, 52n. 23, 57, 66,
77, 82, 136; empirical
representations, 77; intentionality of
representations, 74; nonempirical
conditions for empirical
representing, 78, 83; of the I, 79,
revelation, 160
self: abstract conception of, 217; as
determining and determinable, 41,
49n. 8, 136, 158; as a general
structure, 8-15; as matter and fOIm,
chapter 2; as moral being, 57; as
"my very own," 8, 15, 63; as
infinite striving, 151, 161n. 4, 163n.
10 ; concrete existent, 208; Kant's
view of, chapter 2, chapter 3;
structure of, 173, 247
self-ascription, 113-15, 124
self-consciousness, 17-18, 60-65,
chapter 5, 156,209-10, 221,
234-35; as actual, 7, 65; as
alienated, 140; as derivative, 5; as
foundation for all consciousness,
59, 66, 109,206; as free of
relations, 14-15; as immediate, 6-7,
174-78, 182, 229; as mediated, 207;
as prereflective, 6-7, 83; as
progressive, 216, 228; as relational,
230-31; as self-interpretation of
conscious life, 115-33; as
spontaneous, 7-8; deconsttuctionist
critique of, 13-14; reflection model
of, 11-12, 48n. 5, 53n. 27, 59,
61-62, 64, 66, 174; structure of,
112-15, 136-37,227,229; tied to
linguistic competence, 19, 106-07
self-positing, 55,59, 62-66,81-83,
136-39, 146n. 16, 176, 188n.24,
self-recognition, 231-33
sign, 24-26, 237-38
soul, 31-35,40-42, 47n. 3,49n. 6,
49n. 7
speculation, 78, 127, 129, 132
spirit, 199,203,231,233-39
subject, 31-32,41,46,81,86,107-10,
chapter 12; absolute subject,
chapter 9,228; as autonomous
agent, 217, 219, 222; as
immediately acquainted with itself,
6-8, 130, 174; as individualized,
216-17; as invented, 10; as ground
of the intelligibility of the world,
11, 170, 206; history of, 193;
transcendental subject, 43, 45, 47n.
3, 49n. 6, 50n.l 0, 85-86, 206,
subjectivity, chapter 1, 64, 86-87, 110,
absolute subjectivity, chapter 9;
infinite subjectivity, 200-01
sublime, 140-41
substratum, 31, 34, 41, 43
Subject Index
substance, 31, 42, 47n. 2, 47n. 3, 50n.
synthesis. See mental unification
Tathandlung, 136, 147n. 17, 152
temporality, 22
theology, 159, 169,176, 185n. 1
transcendental analysis, 105-06, 162n. 6
understanding: of Being, 5; theory of,
willing, 172
world, 49n. 7
Allthor Index
Allison, Henry, 48n. 5,55, 68n. 4
Ameriks, Karl, viii, ix, 47n. 2, 48n. 5,
49n. 8, 67n. 2, 68nn. 6, 8, 9, 69nn.
12,14, 70nn.31,32, 71n.39, 72nn.
Aquila, Richard, viii, 68n. 7
Arendt, Hannah, 227
Aristotle, 104, 170, 240n. 21, 248
Arndt, Andreas, 185n. 5, 186n. 9
Avineri, Shlomo, 225n. 41
Bacchus, 236
Bacon, Francis, 156
Baudelaire, Charles, 230
Baumanns, Peter, 89n. 3, 90n. 11
Baumgartner, Hans Michael, 165n. 20
Beck, Jakob Sigismund, 74, 90n. 15
Becker, Wolfgang, 48n. 5
Beiser, Frederick C., 90n. 7, 164n. 14
Benjamin, Walter, 242n. 35
Bennett, Jonathan, 48n. 5
Borges, Jorge Luis, 230
Bowie, Andrew, 161nn. 1, 3
Brandorn,Robert, 258n.24, 259n.28
Breazeale, Daniel, 91n. 26
Brentano, Franz, 13
Brook, Andrew, 55, 56, 68n. 6
Bubner, Rudiger, 256n. 3
Cassirer, Ernst, 148n. 60
Cavell, Stanley, 259n. 30
Chihara,257n. 10
Chisolm, Roderick, 70n. 32
Claesges, Ulrich, 92n. 32
Copernicus, Nicolaus, 246
Cramer, Konrad, 187n. 21
Crusius, Christian August, 11
Dahlstrom, Daniel, 257n. 13
Depew, David 1., 239n. 8
])errida, Jacques, 11, 14,24,25,26,228
Descartes, Rene, vii, 10, 11, 12, 15, 17,
Conversation with Burman, 11
Dewey, John, 228
Dilthey, Wilhelm, 185n. 4
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 230
Dreyfus, Hubert, 259n. 28
Dusing, Klaus, 165n. 21, 167n. 41
Euchner, Walter, 225n. 41
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb, ix,ll, 12 ,13,
65, 66, 68n. 9, 71nn.33,34, 72n.
46, 73-87,90n. 11,133,134,135,
136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142,
146nn.6, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153,
154, 161n.4, 163nn.9, 11, 164n.
14,170,175,176, 188n.24, 194,
Wissenschaftslehre, 12, 80, 81, 82,
Fodor, Jerry, 257n. 10
Foucault, Michel, 10, 11
Frank, Manfred, viii, x, 55, 68n. 3, 138,
145n.2, 147n.36, 161nn.3,4,
163n.9, 164n. 17, 174, 186n.9,
Frege, Gottlob, 246, 256n. 2
Freud,Sigrnund, 15, 162n. 6,227,230
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 228
Garver, Newton, 258n. 17
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 162n.
Habermas, lurgen, 16,200, 239n. 6
Hamann, Johann Georg, 162n. 6
Author Index
Hardenberg, Friedrich von, viii, ix,
134-45, 229, 230. See also Novalis
Harris, H.S., 225n. 42, 239n. 7
Hatfield, Gary, 68n. 7
Haugeland, John, 259n. 28
Haym, Rudolf, 145n. 2
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, viii,
ix, 9, 11,16,102,103,130,132,
149, 150, 151, 152, 159, 160, 163n.
8, 167n.41, 170, 187n.21,
241nn. 24, 31, 242nn. 44,45,
Differenzschrift, 195, 197;
Encyclopaedia, 229; Faith and
Knowledge, 194; Phenomenology of
Spirit, 11,16,159,228,229,230,
232, 233, 234, 235,238; Philosophy
ofRight, 216, 219, 220, 222, 229
Heidegger, Martin, ix, 4,5, 7, 8, 10,
11, 14, 55, 150, 160, 161n. 1, 184,
245-55, 256n. 4, 257n. 9, 258nn.
21, 22, 25; Basic Problems of
Phenomenology, 4; Being and Time,
4, 245,246, 248, 253; Kant and the
Problem ofMetaphysics, 248
Hemsterhuis, Franz, 146n. 7
Henrich, Dieter, viii, ix, x, 14, 17, 29n.
29, 48n. 5,55,56,57,59,60,61,
62,63, 67n. 13, 71n. 33, 94nn. 56,
61, 135,   ~ 145n.3, 146nn. 7,8,
9,12, 147n.24, 148n.48, 161n.4,
174, 188nn.22,24,240n. 11,248
Herbart, Johann Friedrich, 55
Herder, Johann Gottfried von, 146n. 7,
Hinrichs, Friedrich Wilhelm, 187n. 21
Hirsch, Emmanuel, 185n. 1
Hitler, Adolf, 245
Hobbes, Thomas, 240n. 21
Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus,
Holderlin, Friedrich, viii, ix, 134-45,
145n.2, 146n.8, 147n.24, 148n.
48, 163n.9;lfyperion, 137, 142
Author Index
Homer, 236, 243n. 63
Hoover, Jeffrey, ix, 224n. 29
HosIe, Vittorio, 228-29, 241n. 24,
244n. 7
Huch, Ricarda, 145n. 2
Humboldt, Wilhelm von, 224n. 27
Hume, David, 26
Husserl, Edmund, 13, 21
Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich, 162n. 6,
194, 195, 196, 199
Jaeschke, Walter, ix
Jahnig, Dieter, 161n. 1, 164n. 17
James, William, 14
Janke, Wolfgang, 89n. 3
Kant, Immanuel, vii, viii, ix, 9, 11, 13,
15, 16, 28n. 18, 31-46, 47nn. 2,3,
49nn.6, 7,8,50nn. 14,15,16,17,
51nn. 19, 21, 52n. 23, 53n. 26,
55-67, 69n. 13, 70n. 33, 71nn.36,
39, 72n.46, 74, 75, 76, 77,82,87,
101, 105, 121, 131, 134, 135, 136,
141,142,144,145, 145n.3, 146nn.
155, 156, 158 159, 162n. 6, 165nn.
21,23, 166n.26, 170, 185n.5, 194,
258nn. 17, 25; Critique of
Judgment, 74, 134, 136, 141, 144,
155; Critique ofPractical Reason,
74, 136, 156, 245; Critique of Pure
Reason, 31,32,33,34,35,40,41,
Kelly, George Armstrong, 240n. 21
Kemp Smith, Norman, 50n. 18, 51n. 20
Kimmerle, Heinz, 186n. 9
Kitcher, Patricia, 48n. 5, 50n. 13, 55,
56, 68n.6
Klemm, David, ix, 186n. 7
Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb, 144
Kneller, Jane, ix
Koch, Reinhard, 94n. 60
Kojeve, Alexandre, 241n. 33
Kripke, Saul, 19, 20, 248; Naming and
Necessity, 19
Lacan, Jacques, 14, 15, 241n.21
Lambert, Johann Heinrich, 156
Lawrence, J.P., 168n. 43
Lehnerer, Thomas, 186n. 10, 187nn.
15, 16, 189n.30
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von, 11,
12, 15, 16,23, 101, 110, 154, 164n.
18, 165n. 19; Discourse on
Metaphysics, 11
Locke, John, 239n.3
Mach, Ernst, 14
Maimon, Salomon, 164n. 18
Martin, Wayne,90n. 9
Marx, Karl, 228
Marx, Werner, 161n. 1, 167n. 39
Mead, George Herbert, 16
Miller, Marlin E., 189n. 42
Moliere, 9; Amphitryon, 9
Natorp, Paul, 13
Nenon, Thomas, 161n. 1
Neuhouser, Frederick, 55, 56, 57,59,
63, 64,65, 66, 67, 68n. 4, 70n.27,
42,51,52, 89n.3, 146nn. 4, 6, 12,
164n. 14
Newton, Isaac, 164n. 15
Niethammer, Friedrich, 138, 141
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 150,
160, 162n.6
Novalis, viii, ix, 134-45, 229, 230;
Fichte-Studien, 137,138; Heinrich
von Ofterdingen, 140, 141
Oesch, Martin, 91n. 23
Okrent, Mark, 259n. 28
Parmenides, 10
Peirce, Charles Sanders, 24, 233, 237,
238, 242n. 37, 244n. 70
Peters, John Durham, ix, 239n. 3
Philonenko, Alexis, 90n. 11
Pippin, Robert, 55, 68n. 5, 72n. 42
Plant, Raymond, 239n. 6, 243n. 68
Plato, 10, 101, 104, 141, 162n. 5, 170,
196; Phaedrus, 141
Poe, Edgar Allan, 230
Popper, Karl, 239n. 3
Poquelia, Jean-Baptiste, 9 See also
Pothast, Ulrich, 14
Powell, C. Thomas, 48n. 5, 55, 56,
Prauss, Gerold, 70n. 32
Radermacher, Hans, 95n. 74
Radrizzani, Ives, 93n. 39
Rapaport, Herman, 243n.66
Rauch, Leo, 231
Reinhold, Karl Leonhard, 66, 71n. 39,
74, 136, 146n. 12, 153, 164n. 14,
Reuter, Hans-Richard, 174, 187n. 18
Richardson, John, 259n. 28
Rickert, Heinrich, 13
Author Index
Ricoeur, Paul, 228
Riedel, Manfred, 225n. 41
Romelt, Johannes, 92n. 29
Rorty, Richard, 259nn. 28, 30
Rosenberg, Jay F., 48n. 5, 256n. 4
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 151, 162n. 6
Royce, Josiah, 230, 231, 233, 237, 238,
239, 242nn. 37, 38, 244n. 72
Russell, Bertrand, 13
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 16
Satura, Vladimir, 68n. 7
Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph,
viii, ix, 9, 10, 14, 16, 134, 142,
149-60, 161nn.2,4, 162n. 7,
163nn. 8, 9, 11, 164nn. 15, 17, 18,
165n.21, 166nn.26,30, 167nn.41,
42, 170, 206, 231; System of
Transcendental Idealism, 149, 150,
151, 153, 154, 157, 159, 160
Schiller, Friedrich, 141, 142; Ober
Anmuth und Wiirde, 141
Schlegel, Friedrich, 134
Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel
Ernst, viii, ix, 16, 151, 169-85,
185n. 1, 186nn.8,9, 187nn. 15,19,
20,21, 188nn.23,25,27, 189nn.
37, 39,43, 206-33, 223nn. 2,5,
242n. 41; Christian Faith, 169, 181;
Dialectic, 170, 181, 182;
Afonologen, 209; Psychology, 178
Schlick, Moritz, 246
Schmalenbach, Hermann, 13
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 162n. 6, 246,
Schroter, Manfred, 168n. 42
Schulte, Gunter, 89n. 3
Schulze, Gottlob Ernst, 146n. 12
Schussler, Ingeborg, 91n. 18
Scott-Taggart, MJ., 67n. 2
Sellars, Wilfrid, 256n. 4
Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper,
Third Earl of, 146n. 7
Author Index
Shoemaker, Sidney, 20
Siep, Ludwig, 239nn. 6, 8
Simon, Josef, 234, 243n. 52
Smith, Adam, 218
Solomon, Robert, 256n. 3
Spengler, Oswald, 162n. 6
Spinoza, Baruch de, 148n. 48,154,170
Stem, David G., ix, 256n. 6, 257n. 10,
258n. 16
Stillman, Peter, 226n. 48
Stolzenberg, Jurgen, 93n. 49
Strawson, Peter Frederick, 9, 16, 17,
18, 19, 21, 22, 48n. 5,55,56, 68n.
5; Individuals, 17
Sturma, Dieter, 48n. 5, 59,62,63, 69n.
15, 70nn.24,29,30, 71n.33, 72n.
Taylor, Charles, 224n. 26, 243n. 68
Theunissen, Michael, 239n. 8
Tieck, Ludwig, 134
Tugendhat, Ernst, 9,16,17, 18,19,21,
22, 69n. 11, 146n. 11, 248, 257n.9
Uerlings, Herbert, 147n. 34
Velkley, Richard, ix
Waismann, Friedrich, 245
Weininger, Otto, 246, 256n. 2
Weischedel, Wilhelm, 90n. 11
White, Alan, 161n. 1
Wieland, Wolfgang, 163n. 8
Wildt, Andreas, 239n. 6, 241n. 24
Williams, Bernard, 258n. 17
Williams, Robert F., 223n. 2,231,
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, ix, 17, 20,
245-55, 255n. 2, 258n. 17; Blue
Book, 17, 20; Philosophical
Investigations, 246, 254, 255;
Tractatus, 245
Wolff, Christian, 11
Wood, Allen, 89n. 3, 223n. 2, 225n.
45, 239n. 8, 241n. 24
Zoller, Gunter, ix, 68n. 7, 89n. 6, 90n.
9, 93n. 46, 95n. 7