- Idealism and Objectivity: Understanding Fichte’s Jena Project by Wayne M. Martin
This text claims to present a new interpretation of Fichte’s Jena system. Toward this end the author presents a primary thesis and several secondary theses as alternatives to standard or recent Fichte interpretations. Martin’s main thesis is that the central and guiding project of Fichte’s Jena Wissenschaftslehre is to develop an idealist theory of objectivity. Most controversial of the subordinate theses will certainly be Martin’s claim that Fichte is a realist.
The text is symmetrically divided into two parts, each composed of three chapters. Part I addresses the “Parameters of the Jena Project,” while Part II focuses on the “Elements of a Theory of Objectivity.”
In section one of the first chapter Martin sides against the long-standing interpretation of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre as speculative metaphysics and with the more recent epistemological (and anthropological) reading of the Wissenschaftslehre, but warns against taking Fichte as a “classic epistemologist,” whose anti-skeptical project is to “provide a rational justification of our claims to empirical knowledge” (15). Rather, Martin contends, Fichte’s main goal in the Wissenschaftslehre is to develop a theory of the “objectivity” or “referential character” of consciousness, which is a concern more with the structure, rather than with the justification, of knowledge.
Section two is where Martin lays out his particular notion of objectivity, according to which a conscious state is objective if it is “ ‘of’ or ‘about’ something that I take to exist independently of that conscious state” (18). The author emphasizes that objectivity, as [End Page 634] he understands it, is “less a function of [the] immediate content [of a conscious state] than of how I interpret or ‘take up’ that content” (19).
The arguments of Chapters 2 and 3 are intended to lend support to Martin’s thesis that Fichte could, without inconsistency, be counted as a realist. In Chapter 2 Martin argues that Fichte’s rejection of dogmatism should not necessarily be interpreted as a rejection of realism. According to the author, Fichte indeed rejects any synthesis of idealism and dogmatism, although there is textual support for the claim that Fichte might support a synthesis of idealism and realism.
In Chapter 3 Martin argues that the standard interpretation that Fichte utterly rejects things-in-themselves is incorrect, and proposes that the concept of things-in-themselves must necessarily be used by Fichte “to state the epistemological implications of [his] idealist theory of objectivity” (75). Martin’s ultimate goal in these chapters is to counter-balance the standard caricature of Fichte’s idealism by arguing that Fichte does not deny the possibility of a reality independent of the I.
Part II is where Martin actually begins his interpretation of the Grundlage, especially sections four and five of the same, which, according to Martin, is where “Fichte tries to carry out the task of providing a theory of the objectivity of consciousness” (81). In Chapter 4 Martin examines the Fichtean concepts of (self-) positing and op-positing and determines that these are pre-representational cognitive acts that establish the schema of subject-object opposition, which is a condition for the possibility of conscious representation.
Chapter 5 is a study of Fichte’s methodology, which Martin claims is an unsuccessful, but nonetheless “strikingly original,” “dialectical category theory,” or method of contradiction (5). Martin compares Fichte’s method to the ancient mathematical method of “regula falsi,” and concludes that the positive impact of Fichte’s method is to force a conceptual expansion. Fichte, in other words, uses contradiction to retain, rather than to reject (as in a reductio) the source of contradiction.
Finally, in what is the most intriguing chapter of the text (Chapter 6) Martin examines Fichte’s striving doctrine in light of his attempt to develop an idealist theory of objectivity. Using ontogenetic analogies based on how an infant comes to experience an independent world, Martin argues here for the primacy of practice, and more specifically that there is a kind of striving that “is independent...