MARTIN BONDELI, JIŘÍ CHOTAŠ & KLAUS VIEWEG (eds) | Krankheit des Zeitalters oder heilsame Provokation? Skeptizismus in der nachkantischen Philosophie | Wilhelm Fink, 2016


 

By Joris Spigt 

The edited volume under review here consists of 15 essays that cover the topic of scepticism in the works of Kant, Stäudlin, Schulze, Reinhold, Maimon, Fichte, Schlegel, Schelling, Jacobi and Hegel. This collection of essays has both widened and deepened my understanding of scepticism in the wake of Kant’s philosophy. As such, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in what is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and multifaceted topics in classical German philosophy.

One of the central figures in the post-Kantian landscape is the self-avowed sceptic Gottlob Ernst Schulze. Because Schulze figures in 10 of the essays, his thought emerges as one of the guiding threads of the volume. With his criticism of Kant’s and Reinhold’s philosophy in his (anonymously published) Aenesidemus (1792), attacks on philosophy in Kritik der theoretischen Philosophie (1801), parody of Schelling’s and Hegel’s philosophy in ‘Aphorismen über das Absolute’ (1803), and, finally, thoughts on scepticism in ‘Die Hauptmomente der skeptischen Denkart über die menschliche Erkenntniß’ (1805), Schulze was the agent provocateur of his time, as Klaus Vieweg aptly describes him (p. 18). My review essay focuses on the volume’s treatment of different figures’ responses to Schulze’s Aenesidemus. In particular, I shall discuss the essays of Martin Bondeli, Silvan Imhof, and Daniel Breazeale on Reinhold, Maimon, and Fichte, respectively. My reflections on their essays seek to draw out an implicit issue within them: the lack of reflection on the adequacy and significance of the different responses to Schulze’s scepticism.

It is surprisingly easy to dismiss Schulze’s thought out of hand. In both his Aenesidemus and Kritik der theoretischen Philosophie, Schulze at times paints a painfully crude picture of Kant and the nature of philosophy more generally. Regarding Schulze’s Kritik der theoretischen Philosophie, Hegel famously said that “überhaupt also der Begriff einer Philosophie selbst, ist es, was Hrn. Schulze entgangen ist” (Skeptizismus AufsatzGW 4:206). With respect to Aenesidemus, Breazeale notes that scholars agree that Schulze “all too often confuses empirical, psychological questions with genuinely transcendental ones”, and cites Richard Fincham, who contends that Schulze provides a “total misinterpretation of the central tenets of transcendental idealism” (Fincham 2000:98, cited by Breazeale, p. 167). Despite Schulze’s apparent carelessness with respect to important distinctions in Kant’s thought and his rather rough understanding of philosophy, it is unwise to assume that Schulze is simply mistaken. In fact, such an assumption stands in the way of appreciating the problems that he raises and appraising the adequacy of the responses that thinkers such as Reinhold, Maimon and Fichte gave to Schulze. This is the key lesson that I drew from the essays that I discuss in detail below.

Reinhold

In his Aenesidemus, Schulze criticises Reinhold by questioning the status and content of the latter’s Satz des Bewusstseins, and the notion of a thing in itself within his system. Schulze’s more general criticism, however, pertains to both Reinhold and Kant: he contends that neither figure has established or explained the reality of knowledge. While they may have succeeded in showing the necessary ways in which we think an object, it remains an open question whether our thoughts in fact correspond to the object itself such that we attain knowledge of it. In his essay ‘Der “Gegenstand” der Vorstellung’, Martin Bondeli draws attention to the fact that, although Reinhold is one of the explicit targets of Schulze’s Aenesidemus, he never seems to have explicitly countered Schulze’s criticism. Bondeli claims that Reinhold engaged with Schulze on a more implicit level and endeavours to formulate a response to Schulze’s scepticism based on Reinhold’s writings. Reinhold’s response to Schulze’s scepticism is part of a larger strategy of countering what Reinhold terms ‘philosophical scepticism’. Philosophical scepticism questions the relation between representations and objects and hence the reality of objective truth and Reinhold views Hume as a prime example of a philosophical sceptic. As such, philosophical scepticism poses a genuine challenge to philosophy. How does philosophy fare with this challenge? Bondeli maintains that Reinhold credits Kant with moving beyond Hume’s scepticism by showing the possibility of objective truth without knowledge of the things in themselves (p. 74). As Schulze’s scepticism is a version of Hume’s scepticism, one can formulate a response to Schulze’s scepticism by seeing how Kant and Reinhold move beyond Hume’s scepticism.

Bondeli argues that Reinhold’s response to Schulze’s scepticism centres around the former’s conception of an object. According to Reinhold, representations relate to an object that is not a thing in itself (pp. 76–7). If I understand Bondeli correctly, what Reinhold means by the term ‘object’ can be either of the following. First, the object of representation—that is, that which is represented—is that which exists “unabhängig von dem jeweils aktuellen Vorstellungsakt dieses Subjekts” (p. 68). In this sense, Reinhold does not deny that our representation relates to an object that factually exists and provides the objective material of knowledge (p. 69). Alternatively, what Reinhold could mean when he speaks of an object is the “Forminvarianz von Bedingungen, die notwendig sind, um angesichts des gegebenen Stoffes Erfahrungssätze artikulieren zu können” (p. 69). On this view, the question of the relation between representation and object is not one of a possible relation and correspondence between a representation and an external object, but about demonstrating “eine Einheit von notwendiger Bedingung von Erfahrung und Gegenstand der Erfahrung” (p. 69). Although Bondeli does not explain the idea that the relation between representation and object concerns the unity of a necessary condition of experience and object of experience, I take him to mean something along the following lines. The object of representation is not a thing in itself, but an object of experience. How we represent an object of experience is rule-governed: to represent an object means to represent it according to rules. Without these rules, we would not so much as be able to represent an object. The question does not concern the possible correspondence between representation and object, but rather the necessary ways in which we represent an object of experience.

Whether Bondeli thinks that Reinhold’s response to Schulze’s scepticism is convincing is unclear. While he mentions that the crucial difference between Schulze and Reinhold concerns their respective conceptions of the relation between representation and object (p. 77), he ultimately stops short of evaluating that difference. Pushing the issue further, I think that Reinhold’s response to Schulze is not convincing. Schulze does not see how the problem of knowledge is solved by, first, stressing that the object of knowledge is not a thing in itself but the object of experience and, secondly, investigating the necessary ways in which we represent an object of experience. At best, the response to his worries merely changes the topic; at worst, it reiterates the problem while assuming that it has provided a satisfactory response. For Schulze, the problem of knowledge is a problem of whether—and if so, how—our representations correspond to objects. Schulze calls those objects things in themselves. One can object that Schulze therefore misses Reinhold (and Kant’s) point. Did Reinhold and Kant not stress that knowledge is knowledge of objects of experience, not things in themselves? Such a response, however, would be short-sighted. Schulze speaks of things in themselves not out of ignorance of a distinction between a thing in itself and an external object or object of experience, but rather because he does not think that such distinctions bring us any closer to a solution. For Schulze, the thing in itself just designates that which ought to correspond with and is external to our representations. The issue remains how we can have knowledge of objects—whether we call these objects things in themselves, external objects, or objects of experience is, at least for Schulze, irrelevant.

But let us for a moment grant that the distinction between a thing in itself and external object or an object of experience is relevant. As was previously mentioned, Reinhold thinks that Kant’s great achievement with respect to scepticism lies in showing the possibility of “objektive Wahrheit ohne die Erkenntniß der Dinge an sich” (‘Über den philosophischen Skeptizismus’, cited by Bondeli, p. 74). In Bondeli’s view, Reinhold takes it that explicating the rules for representing an object of experience explains objective truth. Schulze, however, is not convinced that referring to the necessary ways in which we represent an object is adequate to explain objective truth. In fact, Schulze claims that Reinhold illegitimately infers the existence of an object from the necessity of thinking the object in a certain way, insisting that how we necessarily represent an object is one thing, and whether or how an object is, is another. As long as no one has shown him that he is wrong to insist on the difference between thinking and being, representing and object, Schulze indeed has no reason to think that his worries are alleviated.[1]

Maimon

In his essay ‘Maimon zwischen Reinhold und Schulze’, Silvan Imhof describes how Maimon differentiates his own version of scepticism from that of Schulze. In a nutshell, Maimon thinks that Schulze’s scepticism is flawed insofar as it does not meet critical philosophy (Kant and Reinhold) on its own terms. In contrast to Schulze, Maimon aims to provide an immanent criticism of Kant and Reinhold’s philosophy. Maimon is not suspicious of the idea of critical philosophy as such. Rather, he thinks that Kant and Reinhold have not adequately fulfilled critical philosophy’s task of specifying the limits of the capacity for knowledge. Interestingly, Maimon defines scepticism as the task of critical philosophy:

Der Skeptizismus beschäftigt sich hauptsächlich mit Aufsuchung dieser Bedingungen [der Erkenntnis a priori] und ihrer systematischen Ordnung, um dadurch die Gränzen des Erkenntnisvermögens zu bestimmen und festzusetzen. (GW 5:359, cited by Imhof, p. 96)

For Maimon, scepticism and critical philosophy do not mutually exclude each other—as is the case for Schulze—but are one and the same (p. 96).

According to Imhof, Maimon is critical of Schulze’s idea that we can demonstrate the reality of knowledge only by establishing a relation between representations and things in themselves because Schulze’s idea occludes the question of Kant’s critical philosophy (p. 97). Kant’s question is not one of securing a representation’s relation to an object by uncovering its Realgrund. Instead, as Imhof tells us,

ging [es] […] darum, die Bedingungen zu ermitteln, unter denen die Anwendung jener Begriffe, welche den Gegenstandsbezug von Vorstellungen konstituieren können, als gerechtfertigt angesehen werden kann. (p. 98)

Accordingly, Maimon’s question is whether we are justified in applying the categories to objects of experience. The answer to that question is no: critical philosophy is unable to ground the objective reality of knowledge of experience ( p.  99). While Maimon does not deny that we have pure a priori knowledge of certain objects—Imhof notes that he grants knowledge of mathematical objects (p. 100)—he denies that we have knowledge of objects of experience. He thinks that Kant adequately shows that the categories are necessary conditions for thinking an object, but he does not believe that Kant or Reinhold have shown that the categories actually apply to concrete empirical objects (pp. 101–2). As they have not shown the latter, there is no way for us to know whether we are justified in applying the categories to concrete empirical objects. As a result, there is no way for us to know whether we attain objective knowledge when applying the categories (p. 103). For all we know, our empirical judgments do not relate to real objects. As Imhof puts it:

Obwohl […] die Kritische Philosophie den Nachweis erbringt, dass Erfahrungserkenntnis möglich ist, muss sie es dahingestellt bleiben lassen, ob es tatsächlich Erfahrungserkenntnis gibt. (p. 103)

Demonstrating the possibility of knowledge of experience is one thing; demonstrating its reality is another. Kant and Reinhold succeed at the former but not the latter.

When it comes to Kant’s philosophy, Imhof explains that Maimon faults Kant for presupposing experiential knowledge as a fact. Imhof points out that Reinhold sought to respond to Maimon’s worry by starting with the fact of consciousness instead of experience (pp. 104–5). Reinhold formulates his principle (Satz) of consciousness in the following way:

Im Bewußtsein wird die Vorstellung durch das Subjekt vom Subjekt und Objekt unterschieden und auf beide bezogen. (BeiträgeReinhold 2003:113)

Maimon does not think that Reinhold’s response solves the problem. Imhof paraphrases Maimon’s point as follows:

[D]er Satz des Bewusstseins [drückt] nichts anderes [aus,] als die Tatsache, dass wir, sofern wir Bewusstsein haben, notwendigerweise glauben, dass unsere Vorstellungen auf ein Subjekt und ein Objekt bezogen sind. Dass wir etwas notwendigerweise glauben, implizirt aber natürlich nicht, dass es sich tatsächlich so verhält, wie wir zu glauben genötigt sind. (p. 108)

Unlike the fact of experience, the fact of consciousness does not imply an actual relationship between representation and object, but instead only highlights the intentional character of representations. The intentional character of representations, in turn, leaves open the issue of whether there is an actual object to which the representation relates. Because of this, Maimon thinks that Reinhold’s fact of consciousness does not settle the question whether we have knowledge of experience. The fact of consciousness does not imply or guarantee that what we necessarily take to be representations of objects are in fact representations of how the objects are.

Although Imhof seems convinced that Maimon offers a different, more immanent line of criticism of Kant and Reinhold than that of Schulze, I confess that I fail to see how Maimon’s negative conclusions fundamentally differ from Schulze’s. It seems to me that Maimon’s dismissal of Schulze’s criticism of Kant and Reinhold obscures the similarities between Maimon and Schulze. While it may be true that Maimon is more willing to adopt Kant’s and Reinhold’s language, his objection against both philosophers boils down to the idea that they do not in fact account for the reality of knowledge or experience. Although Schulze frames it differently, his intended claim is the same: despite Kant’s and Reinhold’s assurances to the contrary, the question whether our representations relate to a real object remains up in the air. In addition, Maimon and Schulze employ the same argument against Reinhold in particular. Maimon argues that we might necessarily think that our representations relate to an object, but thinking that by itself does not tell us anything about whether our representations actually relate to an object. What we think is one thing; how things are is another. As I discussed in the previous section on Reinhold, Schulze says nothing different.[2] The necessity of having to represent (think, judge) things in a certain way leaves open whether things are the way that we represent them. Accordingly, Maimon’s and Schulze’s brands of scepticism share the idea that we need an additional step to guarantee that our empirical representations (thoughts, judgements) actually relate to an empirical object. Both agree that we cannot make that step. Because there is no way for us to know whether our representations are true, empirical knowledge is but an illusion.

Fichte

In contemporary parlance, we could say that Maimon’s and Schulze’s scepticism comes down to the worry that there is a potentially unbridgeable ‘gap’ between representation and object. One approach to such scepticism is to try to ‘close’ the gap. Another approach entails conceding the sceptical point and restricting oneself to investigating the domain of representation. In his essay ‘Reinhold / Schulze / Fichte: A Re-Examination’—the only English-language essay in the volume—Daniel Breazeale suggests that Fichte takes the latter approach to Schulze’s scepticism. Breazeale recounts that Fichte understands Schulze’s question about the correspondence between representation and thing in itself as a question about the transition between inner (representation) and outer (thing in itself). According to Breazeale, Fichte wants to show that “no ‘transition’ from the external world to the mind is required, since everything present within consciousness can be fully explained on the basis of consciousness alone” (pp. 163–4). While Schulze thinks that we need to establish a transition from things in themselves to representations, Fichte maintains that representations alone suffice to explain knowledge.

Breazeale links Fichte’s idea that we do not need a transition between the thing in itself and our representations to his rejection of the thing in itself. In this respect, Breazeale cites Fichte’s claim that philosophy has to show

daß der Gedanke von einem Dinge, das an sich, und unabhängig von irgend einem Vorstellungsvermögen, Existenz, und gewisse Beschaffenheiten haben soll, eine Grille, ein Traum, ein Nicht-Gedanke ist. (Rezension Aenesidemus, GA I/2:57, cited by Breazeale, p. 164)

Breazeale reasons that Fichte rejects the notion of a thing in itself because we can—and should—explain knowledge on the basis of consciousness alone. In particular, because philosophy affirms that we cannot escape the circle of consciousness, it should deny the notion of something that exists outside of consciousness. Breazeale points out that Fichte’s rejection of the thing in itself has significant consequences for Schulze’s question concerning the correspondence between representation and thing in itself. He writes:

Not only is it, pace Schulze, not the case that “es ist uns durch die Einrichtung unsers Wesens beigebracht und eingepflanzt worden” that we must always refer our knowledge to a thing in itself existing independently of the same, thunders Fichte; “es ist ihr vielmehr geradezu unmöglich“. (p. 164)

While Schulze thinks that it is necessary to refer our knowledge to a thing in itself, Fichte denies the possibility of referring our knowledge to a thing in itself.

Breazeale goes on to explain that while Schulze is more than willing to affirm the necessity of having to represent things in a certain manner, Schulze sceptically claims that having to represent things in a certain way is one thing, but the necessity of those things actually being that way is another. Although philosophy has to prove a correspondence between how we necessarily represent things and how things are, it is unable to prove a correspondence between (inner) representations and (outer) objects. Scepticism insists that we can only ever know how we represent things, not how things are independent from and external to how we represent them. Breazeale thinks that Fichte takes Schulze’s sceptical criticism of philosophy seriously and aims to incorporate it within his own system of thought. Breazeale writes:

Instead of trying to accomplish an impossible task, declared Fichte, philosophy should confine itself to the very realm limned by Schulze. It should recognize that it is confined within the circle constituted by the structure of consciousness and confine itself to exploring and mapping this very structure. (p. 165)

According to Breazeale, it is “obvious” that Fichte responded to Schulze’s sceptical doubts by confining philosophy to the realm of representations from the following passage of Fichte’s Eigne Meditationen über Elementarphilosophie:

Ich kann keinen Satz meiner Elementar-Philosophie einem andern beweisen; wenn er nicht meine Elementar-Philosophie bis zu Ende untersucht hat, u. mit den Resultaten derselben einig ist: Ich kann sie nur aus ihr selbst beweisen.—Elementarphilosophie bewahrheitet sich selbst; aus ihrer Uebereinstimmung mit sich selbst: wenn der Weg, den ich wirklich gegangen bin, aus Begriffen sich darthun läßt, und der, welcher aus Begriffen sich darthun läßt, gegangen worden ist, so ist sie in sich selbst wahr. Sie hat in[n]ere Wahrheit. Eine äußere findet in ihr nicht Statt; ja diese findet überhaupt nicht Statt. (GA II/3:24, cited by Breazeale, p. 166)

While Breazeale does not explain the passage just cited, I suspect that he thinks that Fichte’s emphasis on philosophy’s “self-correspondence” and its “inner truth” as opposed to an “outer” truth lends support to his interpretation of Fichte’s response to Schulze’s scepticism. Fichte acknowledges Schulze’s point that philosophy is unable to establish “outer truth” by means of demonstrating the correspondence between how we necessarily think an object and the object itself. According to Breazeale, Fichte’s response to Schulze is the claim that philosophy should therefore confine itself to what is within its reach: describing the way that we necessarily think an object. In doing so, it can establish not an outer, but an “inner truth”. In sum, according to Breazeale, Fichte concedes Schulze’s sceptical point that we cannot know how things are independently of how we represent them, and Fichte concludes that philosophy therefore has to confine itself to investigating the way we represent things.

Based on the passages that Breazeale himself cites, however, I think that Fichte’s response to Schulze’s scepticism is much more radical than Breazeale presents it to be. Take the following passage of Fichte’s Aenesidemus-review:

Aber die Frage ist ja eben von einem Uebergang von dem äußern zum innern, oder umgekehrt. Es ist ja eben das Geschäft der kritischen Philosophie, zu zeigen, daß wir eines Uebergangs nicht bedürfen; das alles was in unserm Gemüthe vorkommt, aus ihm selbst vollständig zu erklären, und zu begreifen ist. Es ist ihr nicht eingefallen, eine Frage zu beantworten, die, nach ihr, der Vernunft widerspricht [emphasis added]. Sie zeigt uns den Zirkel über den wir nicht hinausschreiten können, innerhalb desselben aber verschafft sie den innigsten Zusammenhang in unsrer ganzen Erkenntniß. (GA I/2:55, cited by Breazeale, p. 164, n.47)

As previously mentioned, Fichte understands Schulze’s question about the correspondence between representation and thing in itself as a question about a transition from inner (representation, judgement) to outer (object, thing) or the other way around. For Schulze, the reality of knowledge depends on rendering that transition intelligible. According to Fichte, critical philosophy has to show that we do not “need” (bedürfen) such a transition: philosophy has to explain knowledge on the basis of consciousness alone. Fichte’s statement that we do not need a transition from outer to inner or inner to outer seems to suggest that the idea of a transition is perfectly fine, but we can do without it. But the thought of a transition is not perfectly fine. The sentence in boldface in the above quote makes that clear: critical philosophy never thought to answer the question regarding a transition from inner to outer or outer to inner because that question contradicts reason. It is not that we simply do not need the idea of a transition to explain the reality of knowledge; rather, the very idea of a transition renders knowledge unintelligible because it implies that something in addition to my judgement is needed to explain knowledge. Fichte’s point is that there is nothing in addition to my judgement—there is no “outer” (thing) as opposed to “inner” (judgement). The radicalism of Fichte’s response to Schulze’s scepticism accordingly lies in Fichte’s rejection of a fundamental gap between representation and object.

Because Fichte rejects a fundamental gap between representation and object, I think that Breazeale’s suggestion that Fichte thought that philosophy had to “confine itself to the very realm limned by Schulze” as a result of Schulze’s scepticism is mistaken. The quote that Breazeale adduces in favour of his interpretation can be read to support the exact opposite conclusion. Fichte’s distinction between an “inner truth” over against an “external truth” only prima facie supports the idea that he thinks that philosophy needs to “confine” itself to a particular domain, namely, the domain of “how we necessarily think (an object)”. By describing that domain, philosophy would establish an “inner truth” as opposed to an “outer truth.” Fichte seems to say as much when he writes: “Eine äußere [Wahrheit] findet in ihr [sc. der Philosophie] nicht Statt.” But then he immediately adds: “[J]a diese [sc. äußere Wahrheit] findet überhaupt nicht Statt.” Fichte does not say that philosophy is unable to establish an outer truth, with that inability representing a kind of limitation on the part of philosophy. Instead, Fichte rejects the very idea that there could be something like an outer truth in the first place. I take it that Fichte does not maintain that philosophy should confine itself to “how we necessarily think (an object)”.  Fichte’s point instead seems to be that how we necessarily think an object and the object itself are one and the same. How we necessarily think does not circumscribe a particular domain—e.g. “the mind”—over against another domain—e.g. “the world”.

My interpretation of Fichte accordingly differs from that of Breazeale. In Breazeale’s interpretation of Fichte, philosophy should “confine itself to exploring and mapping [the] very structure [of consciousness]” (p. 165). Contra Breazeale, I think that for Fichte, mapping the structure of consciousness does not involve a limitation or confinement of any kind.[3] Fichte responds to Schulze’s scepticism by rejecting the very oppositions that give rise to Schulze’s sceptical doubt, namely, the idea that “how we necessarily think (an object)” is one thing, and “reality” is another.

But perhaps I am overestimating the difference between Fichte and Schulze. Is it not fair to say that Fichte accepts Schulze’s criticism of philosophy’s putative knowledge of things in themselves? Schulze denies that we have knowledge of things in themselves. By things in themselves he does not mean anything technical or special: the term designates anything outside of or external to the way that we represent or think things. Fichte appears to deny just what Schulze denies. So what is the difference between them? The difference lies in the fact that the phrase “We do not know things in themselves” does not have the same meaning for both thinkers. In Schulze, the phrase marks a failure or a limitation; in Fichte, the phrase is a tautology.

We can read what I understand as Fichte’s radical response to Schulze in two ways. First, we can take Fichte’s response as a dogmatic rejection of Schulze’s scepticism: where Schulze sees a problem, Fichte does not find one. From Schulze’s point of view, that would be very dissatisfying. It is like responding to Schulze’s worries by assuring him, “don’t worry”. Telling Schulze not to worry will not make his worries go away; it will only strengthen them. In order to dissolve Schulze’s concern, it is imperative to demonstrate the incoherence of his concern. Doing so involves showing that one has already lost one’s grip on the nature of judgement by characterising judgement in the way that Schulze does. Recall that for Schulze judgement essentially and fundamentally leaves open the question of truth: it is one thing to judge that things are so, but it is another for things to actually be so. Fichte’s point is that judgement is essentially and fundamentally self-conscious:

Das V.V. [Vorstellungsvermögen] existirt für das V.V. und durch das V.V.; dies ist der notwendige Zirkel, in welchem jeder endliche, und das heißt, jeder uns denkbare, Verstand eingeschlossen ist. Wer über diesen Zirkel hinaus will, versteht sich selbst nicht, und weiß nicht, was er will. (Rezension Aenesidemus, GA I/2:51, cited by Breazeale, p. 163; boldface added)

The capacity to represent is the capacity to judge. To judge means to judge self-consciously.[4] To frame this point as a response to Schulze’s worries: I always already conceive of my judgement as an answer to the question of truth. In judging, I do not leave open whether things are the way that I judge them to be. To want to separate my judgement from the question of its truth is to misapprehend my own judgement. Fichte by no means wants to say that whenever and wherever I judge, my judgement will therefore be true. Fichte instead wants to say—and to only say—that the truth of judgement cannot be understood by considering anything other than judgement itself. We do not need to turn away from judgement—there is nowhere to turn to. Instead of a dogmatic rejection of Schulze’s question, we can perhaps read Fichte’s response to Schulze more charitably: Fichte wants to show Schulze the undeniable self-conscious character of judgement in order to reveal the incoherence of Schulze’s question. At the same time, however, we would equally do well in trying to understand the aim of Schulze’s question. Doing so would force us to look past the specific way that Schulze formulates his question. Schulze is confounded by how our judgements can be true. How I can know that my judgement is true in judging and understand the sense in which it can be true is indeed a source of wonder. Fichte would agree. Instead of looking for the truth outside of judgement, however, the self-consciousness of judgement is the start and end point of the investigation of truth.

Conclusion

In closing, I briefly turn to the volume as a whole. The disjunctive in the title of the collection of essays nicely captures the two predominant conceptions of scepticism that we find in most of the thinkers discussed in the volume. Scepticism is either a sickness that opposes true philosophy, or a provocation that aids it. Both seem tied up together in Kant’s thinking. For Kant, Hume’s scepticism represents both the antithesis to philosophy—in that it undermines the foundations of all knowledge—and something that aids philosophy by flagging a crucial problem that philosophy needs to solve.[5] Reinhold more strictly distinguishes between a ‘superficial’ or ‘dogmatic’ scepticism that is anti-philosophical, and a ‘critical’ or ‘philosophical’ scepticism that points to weak spots in the fabric of knowledge. Similarly, Fichte distinguishes between a ‘systematic’ scepticism that denies the possibility of a philosophical system tout court and a ‘critical’ scepticism that serves as a corrective for philosophy as a system of knowledge.

While it makes sense to distinguish between different forms of scepticism, framing scepticism as either anti-philosophical or a fruitful challenge to philosophy imposes a constraint on the meaning of scepticism. Scepticism need not be opposed to philosophy or the formulation of a problem that philosophy needs to solve. I was glad to discover that the volume does not confine itself entirely to the opposition that its title suggests. Johannes Korngiebel’s essay on Schlegel and Tereza Matějčková’s and Folko Zander’s essays on Hegel together engage with a conception of scepticism that exceeds the opposition of scepticism as either anti-philosophical or a solvable problem, a temporary state of uncertainty on the way to certainty. According to both thinkers, scepticism in its most significant form is immanent to philosophy. Interestingly, both Schlegel and Hegel were rather weary of the way that scepticism was being treated in their day and age. In his excellent piece that traces the development of Schlegel’s conception of scepticism, Korngiebel cites the young Schlegel:

Es gibt noch gar keinen Skeptizismus, der den Namen verdient. Ein solcher müßte mit der Behauptung und Fo[r]derung unendlich vieler Widersprüche anfangen und endigen. Daß Konsequenz in ihm vollkommene Selbstvernichtung nach sich ziehen würde, ist nichts Charakteristisches. Respekt vor der Mathematik, und Appelieren an den gesunden Menschenverstand sind die diagnostischen Zeichen des halben unechten Skeptizismus. (KFSA 2:240, no. 400, cited by Korngiebel, p. 224)

Hegel similarly bemoans the superficial understanding of scepticism of his times, contending that scepticism’s “edles Wesen in einen allgemeinen Schlupfwinkel und Ausrede von der Unphilosophie in den neuesten Zeiten verkehrt zu werden pflegt” (Skeptizismus-Aufsatz, GW 4:197). Both Schlegel and Hegel challenge the notion that scepticism is necessarily anti-philosophical or a mere provocation for philosophy. But then again, it is perhaps only fitting that a volume on scepticism should implicitly question the dominant conceptions of scepticism that it takes for granted in its title.

Acknowledgement: I thank Olivia Brown for her thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

Note:

[1] Schulze might be tone-deaf to the real point of Reinhold’s philosophy and perhaps there is a way in which Reinhold can or does respond adequately to Schulze. My point is that, if Bondeli does justice to Reinhold’s response to Schulze’s criticism, Reinhold’s response would unlikely satisfy Schulze.

[2] To say that we necessarily believe that our representations relate to an object (Maimon) is identical to saying that we necessarily think an object in a certain way (Schulze). If both were not identical, that would mean that when I think an object, I think that it is necessary to think the object in the way that I do, yet at the same time leave it open whether I believe that my representation relates to an object. However, my thought that it is necessary to think the object in the way that I do just means that I believe that my representation relates to an object.

[3] Admittedly, Fichte’s verbiage at times obscures the point that there is no confinement or limitation of any kind involved. For example, when Fichte speaks of transcendental philosophy as showing us “den Zirkel, über den wir nicht hinausschreiten können”, it may seem as though Fichte thinks that we are somehow ‘stuck’ inside the circle of consciousness and that we simply have to give up any hope of going ‘beyond’ consciousness. Such would be Schulze’s take on the situation. But for Fichte, the “nicht …. können” does not have to describe a contingent negation of an ability. If it did, it would mean that while some creatures could conceivably have the ability to step out of the circle, we humans (unfortunately) do not have it. Fichte seems to deny the very conceivability of such an ability.

[4] I am indebted to Sebastian Rödl’s Self-Consciousness and Objectivity (Rödl 2018) for my understanding of the self-conscious nature of judgment.

[5] Kant’s idea is that in one and the same movement philosophy must solve the problem that scepticism poses and eradicate scepticism (see Bxxxiv–vi). Kant of course also speaks of the “skeptical method” (as distinct from scepticism) that is “essentially proper to transcendental philosophy only [nur der Transzendentalphilosophie allein wesentlich eigen]” (A424/B452). While scepticism is said to undermine the foundations of all knowledge so as to eradicate all reliability and certainty thereof (A424/B451), the sceptical method consists of bringing out the misunderstanding in what appears to be a reasonable conflict between two parties (A424/B452). Instead of uncovering uncertainty, the sceptical method “aims at certainty [geht auf Gewißheit]” (A424/B451), presumably by dissolving the conflict that creates uncertainty in the first place.

 


References:

Fichte, J.G. (1965), Gesamtausgabe [GA], Bd. I/2, eds. H. Jacob & R. Lauth (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog).

——— (1971), Gesamtausgabe [GA], Bd. II/3, eds. H. Jacob & R. Lauth (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog).

Fincham, R. (2000), ‘The Impact of the Aenesidemus upon Fichte and Schopenhauer’, Pli 10: 96–216.

Hegel, G.W.F (1968), Gesammelte Werke [GW], Bd. 4, eds. H. Buchner & O. Pöggeler (Hamburg: Meiner).

Reinhold, K.L. (1793), ‘Ueber den philosophischen Skeptizismus’, in D. Hume, Untersuchung über den menschlichen Verstand, trans. M. W. G. Tennemann (Jena), I–LII.

——— (2003), Beiträge zur Berichtigung bisheriger Mißverständnisse der Philosophen [Beiträge], Bd. 1, ed. F. Fabbianelli (Hamburg: Meiner).

Rödl, S. (2018), Self-Consciousness and Objectivity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Maimon, S. (1970), Gesammelte Werke [GW], Bd. 5, ed. V. Verra (Hildesheim: Olms).

Schlegel, F. (1967), Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe [KRSA], Bd. 2, ed. E. Behler (Paderborn: Schöning).

Schulze, G.E. (1996), Aenesidemus oder über die Fundamente der von dem Herrn Professor Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementar-Philosophie [Aenesidemus], ed. M. Frank (Hamburg: Meiner).

© Joris Spigt, 2018.


Joris Spigt is completing a Ph.D. funded by the Flemish Research Council (FWO) at Leuven University, Belgium, titled Negativity and Reason: Hegel’s Engagement with Skepticism.

Website

Advertisements