The Science of Knowledge Part 2: Foundation of Theoretical Knowledge (A-D)

This is the final draft of the reading for September 12’s meeting.  You can find a copy here.

We will meet at Cafe Boiling Pot at 4:30.  Directions are here.

In the previous chapter, three logical principles were established.  The first was the absolute identity of the self; this absolute self is not the self we experience in our heads, but rather the ground of all experience.  Fichte then went on to deduce the principle of opposition, or the not-self, from this identity.  Finally, he established the grounding principle: in order for two things to either be compared or contrasted, they must have some sort of common ground and some kind of difference.  In short, it was the standard dialectical story of thesis – antithesis – synthesis.

In Part 2, Fichte goes on to derive a new set of concepts.  First, he describes interdetermination: opposites, like the self and not-self, reciprocally determine one another.  If the not-self contains a certain quantity of reality, say 3 parts, then it must negate 3 parts of reality in the self.  Interdetermination is a general, non-specific relation between opposites; the specific forms of relation are efficacy (aka causality) and self-limitation.  

§4 – First Discourse

Part 1 established the initial synthesis of self and not-self, and Fichte intends for this to provide the content for all future syntheses.  Everything follows from the connection between self and not-self. All synthetic concepts arise through a union of opposites, so we need to find opposites in the concepts already postulated, and we have to do this voluntarily, through active reflection.  The act of finding opposites, known as the antithetical act, is initially analytical, that is, it involves working out the consequences of a concept.  The catch is that we are analyzing a concept which is not given to consciousness, but only discovered by analysis.  This raises the question of how can a concept be analyzed when it is unknown.

The answer is that no act of antithesis is possible without a corresponding synthesis, and no determinate antithesis is possible without the determinate synthesis (remember that for two things to be contrasted, they need something in common, and for two things to be similar, they need some sort of difference between them).  Synthesis and antithesis are the same act, and are distinguished only in reflection.  So given the antithesis, we can infer the synthesis, and so can establish the third thing in which they are united.

Both self and not-self are posited by the self as capable of mutually limiting one another.  Out of this, we get two principles.  First, the self posits the not-self as limited by the self, and second, the self posts itself as limited by the not-self.  The self is initially absolute, but then appears as a limitable reality capable of having quantity, and so open to limitation by the not-self.  But all this is posited by the self; this is the basis of the theoretical part of the SoK, but will only be fully clear upon its completion; it will also underlie the practical part, but just as much, it will turn out that the practical is what first makes the theoretical possible.

Synthesis and Determination

The self posits itself as determined, or limited, by the not-self. The not-self actively determines the self and thus negates it.  So if all of reality is divided into ten parts, and five of them are posited in the self, then there are necessarily five portions of negations posited in the self.  It is always a corresponding degree.  The self posits negation within itself, insofar as it posits negation within the not-self:

“It thereby posits itself as self-determining, insofar as it is determined, and as being determined, insofar as it determines itself: and the problem, so far as it was posed above, is thereby solved.” (147/126)

Now we have a new synthesis under the higher concept of determination, because it posits quantity.  Determination in general posits mere quantity, but by the synthetic concept just put forward, the quantity of the one correlates with the quantity of the other.  It is an interdetermination.

Synthesis by Interdetermination

Here is the next contradiction to be resolved:

The not-self is to determine the self, that is, it is to annul reality therein.  But this can only be done if it has in itself that very part of reality which it is to annul in the self.  Hence, the not-self has reality in itself.

But all reality is posited in the self, while the not-self is opposed to the self; hence there is no reality at all in the not-self, but only sheer negation.  All that is not-self is negation, and it thus has no reality in itself. (149/128)

The not-self determines the self and so it must be real, but all reality is posited in the self, and so the not-self has no reality of its own; the two statements annul one another and threaten the unity of consciousness.  This cannot be directly resolved through interdetermination.  If we assert the real to be divisible, then we can remove parts from it, and so posit them in the not-self; but how can we remove parts of reality from the self?

The not-self is a quantity, and every quantity is something, and so also a reality, so the not-self has to be a real negation.  The concepts of quantity, activity, and passivity will help us solve this problem.  Remember that the source of all reality is the self, because the self is what is immediately and absolutely posited.  But the self exists because it posits itself, and it posits itself because it exists.  So self positing and existence are the same; but just as much, self-positing and activity in general is the same.  Hence, reality is active, and everything active is reality.

The concept of activity needs to be pure; it is only what is in the self’s assertion of itself, only what is implicit in I am.  It has to be abstracted from all temporal conditions and from every object: “The Act of the self, whereby it posits its own existence, is not directed to any object, but returns in upon itself.  Only when the self presents itself to itself does it become an object.” (150/129-151/130)

The self needs determined in order to be the self of experience; that is, activity is to be annulled in it.  So we get the opposite of activity, passivity.  “Passivity is positive, absolute negation, and to that extent is contrasted to merely relative negation.” (151/130)  Everything not posited through the self’s self-assertion is passivity.

If the unity of the real is to be preserved when the self is passive, a similar degree of activity must be carried over into the not-self (via interdetermination):

And with this the foregoing contradiction is resolved.  The not-self, as such, has no reality of its own; but, by virtue of the law of interdetermination, it has reality insofar as the self is passive. (151/130)

The not-self has reality for the self to the extent that the self is passive, and in the absence of this, it has no reality.

Interdetermination is indifferent to which of the two sides is determined by the other; but here, the interchange is about which side determines the other.  This is the synthesis of efficacy, or causality.  That which is active is the cause, the original reality.  That which is passive is the product, the effect.  Both taken together are a causal process (they must be together; the product alone is not a process).  As a sidenote, causality is a temporal process—first the cause, than the effect, but this point needs to be bracketed off for now.

Second Synthesis by Interdetermination

The self posits itself as determined, so it determines itself, but this contains opposites, so it annuls itself. To preserve the unity, we need a new synthesis.  a) The self determines itself; hence it is active. b) It is determines itself, so it is a determinate thing, and as such is passive.  In the same action, the self is both passive and active—a contradiction.

To resolve this, we need to be able to say that the self determines its passivity through activity, and its activity through its passivity.  If determination of any kind is possible, we need a scale of measure; but this scale cannot anything other than the self, since the self alone is absolutely posited.  The self has to be a quantity in which all others are contained, and so can serve as a measure for them.

The self posits itself unconditionally as the totality of the real.  With this absolutely posited standard, the amount of passivity is to be determined.  Passivity is “want of reality”, and want is nothing; nonexistence cannot be perceived.  So it can only be determined by determining the remainder of reality. Basically, the self can determine only the amount of reality its own reality has restricted, and by this determination, the amount of negation is also determined, via interdetermination.  

A quantity of reality not equal to the whole is a negation, the negation of totality.  It stands opposed to the whole.  Every determinate quantity is non totality.  But if quantity is to be opposed to totality, then there must be a ground of conjunction, which must be divisibility.  In absolute totality there are no parts, but it can be compared with parts.

The concept of reality is equivalent to the concept of activity; all reality/activity is posited in the self.  To say that everything in the self is reality is to say the self is solely active; it is self so far as it is active, and so far as it is passive it is not-self. Passivity can only be determined by reference to its connection with activity, which must be done through interdetermination.

The only connection between passivity and activity is their ground of conjunction, quantity.  “To say that passivity can be related to activity by way of quantity is to say that passivity is a quantum of activity.” (154/133)  To get a quantum of activity, we need a measure, the idea of activity in general—that is, the absolute totality of the real.

If all activity is posited in the self, then the positing of a quantum of activity is a diminution of it, and insofar as it is not the whole of activity, then it is determined—i.e. passive.  By positing a quantum of activity we also posit a passivity.

Now we have an X which is both reality and negation.  This X is activity so far as it relates to the not-self, because it is posited in the acting self.  It is also passivity, so far as it is related to the totality of action as a determinate action:

“To illustrate: I think is from the first an expression of activity; the self is posited as thinking, and to that extent as acting.  It is also an expression of negation, limitation, passivity; for thinking is a specific determination of being; and from the concept of all this all other modes of being are excluded.  The concept of thinking is thus at variance with itself; in relation to the object of thought, it denotes an activity; in relation to being in general it denotes a passivity; for being must be restricted, if thinking is to be possible.” (155/134-156/135)

Every predicate of the self is a limitation of it.  This is how the self is both active and passive—it is determinant insofar as it posits itself through absolute spontaneity, and it is determinate insofar as it is posited in a particular context without regard for the spontaneity of the positing.  This self-limitation is the original act of the self; just like efficacy, it is a more specific version of interdetermination, and comparing them will help us understand it more.

The first point is that both self-limitation and efficacy resemble interdetermination in that activity and passivity determine each other.  Second, they are opposed to it because interdetermination is only exchange in general.  Self-limitation and efficacy are specific forms of it.  Third, they have a specific order: in causality, activity is determined by passivity; in self-limitation, passivity is determined by activity.

Insofar as the self is regarded as embracing the whole determined realm of all realities, it is substance.  So far as it is posited within a “not absolutely determined area of this realm” it is accidental.  It is a part of the whole.  No substance is conceivable without relation to an accident, because only by possible possible areas within an absolute realm does the self become a substance.  It is only through accidents that realities are engendered, otherwise everyone would be one: “No accident is conceivable without substance; for in order to recognize that something is a determinate reality, I must relate it to reality in general.” (157/136)

Substance is all change in general; accident is a determinate that interchanges with some other changing thing. The self is the only initial substance, and within that, all possible accidents are posited.  He hasn’t yet discussed the activity of the self that distinguishes and compares itself as substance and accident, and what causes the self to do that.  The cause could be an effect of the not-self.

Each synthesis joins things “in the middle”, but not at the two extremities.  This indicates something important about the SoK – it will continue finding links between opposites, but the contradictions are not resolved, but only extended further.  New contradictions will always be discovered.

The supreme problem is how the self and not-self can interact when they are held to be completely opposed to each other.  We put an X between them, so they indirectly interact.  But sooner or later, it appears they are in direct contact (and so destroy each other), so we put a new link between them, a Y.  This goes on forever, unless there is “an absolute decree of reason, which the philosopher does not pronounce, but merely proclaims: Since there is no way of reconciling the not-self with the self, let there be no not-self at all!” (158/137)

To look at it from another angle – insofar as the self is restricted by the not-self, it is finite.  But in itself, as posited by its own activity, it is infinite.  These two must be reconciled; but this is impossible.  Think of a single light in a boundless space.  At one point, there is light; at others, darkness.  The light and the dark must be at some point; there must be a point which is both light and dark, which is a contradiction.  We could put twilight between them.  But then you need a boundary between light and twilight, and so on.  Fichte’s answer is that light and dark are only opposed by degrees; dark is a minimal quanity of light.

Synthesis of the Two Types of Interdetermination

The self posits itself as determined by the not-self; that’s the primary point of departure.  Must be maintained to keep consciousness unified.  But then there were contradictions: how can the self both determine and be determined?  By interdetermination.  That gave us the question, is reality posited in the self or not-self?  The answer was efficacy: passivity is posited in the self, and the same quantity of activity was posited in the not-self.  The next question was how to posit passivity in the self; the answer was substantiality; passivity and activity are only differences of degree.

But these answers take us into a circle.  If the self posits a lesser degree of activity in itself, then it posits a passivity in itself and an activity in the not-self.  But the self can’t posit less activity in itself, because of substantiality, it posits all activity, and only activity, in itself.  So the positing of that lower degree of activity in the self would have to follow an activity of the not-self, but that is impossible because of efficacy: the not-self is active only to the extent that a passivity is asserted in the self.  In other words, in efficacy, the limitation of the self arises from the not-self.  Suppose that at time A, the not-self is not operating on the self, so that all reality is posited in the self, and hence that no reality is posited in the not-self.

Suppose further that at time B the not-self operates with three degrees of activity on the self, so because of interdetermination, three degrees of reality are abolished in the self, and three degrees of negation are posited in place of them.  But here, the self behaves passively—the degrees of negation are posited, but they are only posited “for some intelligent being” external to the self which observes it, but not for the self as such.  Having the degrees of negation posited for the self as such would require that it be able to compare time A with time B and distinguish the quantity of its activity at both times, but we have not shown how this is possible;  “To put it in terms of our principle, the self would indeed be determined; but it would not posit itself as determined, for only a being external to it could posit it so.” (160/140)  Basically, If the self posits itself as determined, it is not determined by the not-self; if it is determined by the not-self, it does not posit itself as determined.  It cannot do one without the other, so it can do neither absolutely, so it cannot do either.  Hence, the self posits nothing at all.  But this contradicts the principles above.  

Both propositions must correct, but only in part. We need to say that the self in part posits passivity in itself, insofar as it posits activity in the not-self, and vice versa.  Activity in either the self or not-self which does not negate the other is called independent activity, but independent activity contradicts the law of opposition, and so contradicts interdetermination.  Hence, the idea of independent activity can only hold good in part.  The activity is only independent in a certain sense.

There has to be an activity in the self which determines a passivity in the not-self, and is itself determined thereby; and an activity in the not-self which determines a passivity in the self, and is determined by it; to this, interdetermination is applicable.  Both must also have an activity which is not determined by any passivity in the other; this has to be true so that the contradiction of having to posit both activity and passivity in itself could be resolved.

For both to subsist, they need to be united by a synthetic concept, and this has to be interdetermination.  To resolve them, we need to say that independent activity is determined by interaction and passion, and conversely, that interaction and passion are determined by independent activity.  We get the two spheres of reciprocity and independent activity, and the two determine one another.  So all independent activity is determined by interaction and passion; and vice versa.  Next time, we will hopefully get an idea of what interaction and passion are.

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