Part One - From the History of Dialectics

4: Part I, Fichte–
The Structural Principle of Logic
Dualism or Monism

Kant did not accept the improvements that Fichte suggested for his theory of thought, on the grounds that they led directly to a need once more to create that very unified metaphysic that Kant had declared impossible and doomed to death from internal contradictions. Before Fichte, in fact, there loomed the image of a certain, perhaps transcendental (in the Kantian sense), but still single and uncontradictory system of concepts providing the main principles of life for humanity. Dialectics was dialectics, but a true theory appertaining to the most important things in the world should still be the one and only theory: ‘The author of this system, for his part, is convinced that there is only one single philosophy, as there is only one single mathematics, and that as soon as this one possible philosophy had been founded and recognised, no new one will arise, and that everything that hitherto had been called philosophy will be counted as an attempt and preparation.’

This single system should still, in spite of Kant’s advice, defeat any other not agreeing with it. For that it would have to be ‘more rational’ in every respect, in other words would have to explain and interpret the other system and so become broader than it.

For Fichte the position that Kant pictured as eternally insuperable, i.e. the existence of two equally true, and at the same time equally untrue, theories, was only a temporary, transitional state of spiritual culture that had to be overcome and resolved in a united, single world conception (Weltanschauung). The dialectic that Kant recognised on the scale of all scientific knowledge developing through discussion Fichte therefore wished to incorporate into a single scientific system that would include the principle opposing it, interpret it in a certain fashion, and convert it into its own, partial and derivative, principle.

Let the single world conception be transcendental as before, i.e. let it equally say nothing about the world in itself; but for all normally thinking people it should be one and the same, necessarily universal, and in that sense absolutely objective. The dualism that Kant affirmed as a quality of the eternally insuperable state of spiritual culture seemed to revolutionary-minded Fichte only a manifestation of the timidity and inconsistency of thought in realising its own principles. Logic could not justify two mutually exclusive systems at once and if, for all that, it did, then not everything in it was in order.

Fichte sought and found the fundamental inconsistency in the Kantian doctrine on thought in the initial concept that Kant consciously proposed as the basis of all his constructions, in the concept of the ‘thing-in-itself’. Already, in this concept, and not in the categorial predicates that might be ascribed to things, there was a flagrant contradiction: the supreme fundamental principle of all analytical statements was violated, the principle of contradiction in determinations. This concept was thus inconsistent in a logically developed system-theory. In fact, in the concept ‘of a thing as it exists before and outside any possible experience’ there was included a bit of nonsense not noted by Kant: to say that the Ego was conscious of a thing outside consciousness was the same as to say that there was money in one’s pocket outside one’s pocket.

Whether the famous ‘thing-in-itself’ existed was not the question here; for, Fichte was convinced that its concept was logically impossible. It was therefore also impossible to build a system of concepts on this foundation because the flaw of contradiction ran right through the very foundation of Kant’s theoretical construction.

Fichte’s conclusion was irreproachable: to think a thing-in-itself meant to think the unthinkable (from the standpoint of the principle of contradiction, of course), meant to violate the supreme fundamental principle of all analytical statements in the very course of their substantiation. He reproached Kant with having set a bad example of juggling with the rules of logic itself in the course of substantiating his own system of logic.

Fichte posed the problem as follows. Was logic itself, as a science, obliged to follow the same principles that it affirmed as absolutely universal for any correct thinking, or was it entitled to ignore them? Should logic be a science among other sciences, or was it rather to be likened to a wilful princeling who dictated laws obligatory for all other people but not binding in himself? The question, it would seem, was purely rhetorical. But surely, according to Kant, it was right after all that man thought of things given in contemplation (i.e. in the field of all special sciences) by one set of rules (those of the logic of truth) and about the things given in thought by another set (in the spirit of transcendental dialectics). It was not surprising that contradictions and the flaws of antinomies appeared between understanding and reason, and, furthermore, within reason itself.

But in that case the very concept of thinking, of the subject, I, was made senseless from the very beginning, i.e. was made contradictory within itself. All the fundamental categories of logic proved to be concepts that denoted not only different but diametrically opposite objects of thought. So we got the position that there were two different Is in every person, in every thinking individual, in constant polemic with each other. One of them contemplated the world and the other thought. Correspondingly, it was suggested, there were two different worlds, the contemplated and the thought of, although they merged into one in direct experience and in real life.

In general Kant was also inclined to that idea, that the I itself, the subject of thinking, was also a ‘thing-in-itself’. And for that reason, when one tried to create a system of all the determinations of this I, i.e. a logic as a system of the logical parameters of thinking, the system proved contradictory through and through, i.e. self-destroying. As a result, if one followed Kant, it was quite impossible to construct a logic as a science. It was impossible, in constructing it, to observe the very rules that it prescribed as universal and necessary for all other sciences. But then there was no thought in general as one and the same capacity in different applications, but two different subjects, two different Is (each of which had to be considered without connection with the other) as two fundamentally heterogeneous objects, yet nevertheless called by one and the same name.

Apart from the fact that this led to a muddle of concepts (Kant himself was forced to call one of the Is phenomenal and the other noumenal), the very idea of logic as a science quite lost sense for, according to Fichte, all the conclusions drawn from considering thinking about thinking (as a ‘thing-in-itself’ or noumenon) would equally have no relation at all to thinking about things given in contemplation and representation. So all the propositions of logic (i.e. of thinking about thinking) would have no binding force for thinking about things, i.e. for the thinking of natural scientists.

Hence that central idea of Fichte’s philosophy was born, the idea of a general scientific doctrine, a theory that, unlike Kantian logic, would set out principles that were really significant for any application of thought This science would set out laws and rules equally binding on both thinking about thinking and thinking about things. Thinking about thinking, i.e. logic, must provide a model and example of observation of the principles of thought (the principles of scientific scholarship) for the other sciences in general. These principles must remain the same both when thinking was directed to phenomena in mathematics, physics, or anthropology, and when directed to concepts, i.e. to itself.

For a concept was just as much an object of scientific study as any other object; the more so that we only knew any other object scientifically insofar as it was expressed in concepts, and in no other way. That meant that to determine or define a concept and to determine the object were absolutely identical expressions.

The initial principle of Fichte’s science of science (Wissenschaftslehre) was therefore not the contrast or opposition of things and consciousness, of the object and its concept, but the opposition within the I itself. From two different, dualistically isolated halves, having no connection at all with each other, you could not create a single, integral system. What was needed was not dualism, but monism, not two initial principles but one only. Because, when there were two different initial principles, there were two different sciences, which never merged into one.

Fichte also interpreted the object and its concept as two different forms of existence of one and the same I, as the result of self-differentiation of the I into itself. What had appeared to Kant as the object or ‘thing-in-itself’ (object of the concept) was in fact the product of the unconscious, unreflecting activity of the I, since it produced the sensuously contemplated image of the thing by virtue of imagination. A concept was the product of the same activity, but taking place with consciousness of the course and meaning of the activities themselves.

The initial identity of concept and object, or rather of the laws by which the sensuously contemplated world was constituted and those by which the world thought about, the world of concepts, was built, was therefore already included in the identity of their subject, of their origin. The Ego initially created a certain product, by virtue of imagination, and then began to look on it as something distinct from itself, as the object of the concept, as the non-Ego or not-I. But in fact the Ego, in the form of the not-I, was solely concerned, as before, with itself, and regarded itself as it were from the side, as in a mirror, as an object located outside itself.

The job of thought as such thus consisted in understanding its own activity in creating an image of contemplation and representation, in consciously reproducing that which it had produced earlier unconsciously, without giving itself a clear account of what it was doing. The laws and rules of discursive thinking (i.e. of thinking that consciously obeyed the rules) were in fact nothing more nor less than the conscious laws (expressed in logical schemas) of intuitive thinking, i.e., of the creative activity of the subject, the I, creating the world of contemplated images, the world as it is given in contemplation.

Only from that angle did the operation of comparing a concept with its object acquire rational sense. Fichte showed that the opposition, in no way mediated, between the thing-in-itself and its concept (dualism) had also led Kant into the fullest dualism both within the concept itself and within the system of concepts. Fichte quite consistently, from his point of view, showed that denying the principle of the identity of an object and its concept as the initial principle of logic and logical thinking meant, as well, denying the principle of identity in its general form, as a logical postulate. In other words, if logic as a science considered the principles of identity and contradiction (the latter was nothing but a negative formulation of the law of identity) as an absolutely indispensable condition of the correctness of any thinking, then it must apply them to the understanding of thinking itself, and to determinations of its specific object or subject matter, which was the concept.

In logic, in fact, the concept was also the object of study; and logic must dissect the concept of concept. That being so, in logic, of all sciences, the concept and its object were fully synonymous because any other object could only interest logic to the extent that, and insofar as, it had already been converted into a concept, expressed in a concept; for logic was not concerned with sensuously contemplated or intuited things.

There was no place in logic, therefore, as a scientific system of determinations of thought, and could not be, for such expressions as a ‘thing-in-itself’ or ‘the object before its expression in a concept’. Logic had no business in general with such objects, for they were transcendental things for it, that is lying beyond its possibilities of expression, beyond its competence. Beyond those limits began the sphere of super-rational understanding, faith, irrational intuition, and other aptitudes; but they were not competent to operate within science. And Fichte did not want to have anything to do with them, at least within his Wissenschaftslehre.

Such, in essence, was Fichte’s criticism of Kant’s attempt to create a logic, a classically consistent model (from the logical angle) of a ‘right-wing’ critique of dualism, i.e. from the position of subjective idealism. It is no accident that all modern Neopositivists repeat Fichte word for word, discarding the question of the relation of a concept to the external object in a similar way, and replacing it by the question of its relation to the concept (i.e. of a concept to itself). The latter relation is also naturally defined as an identity of ‘sign’ (the term that takes the place of ‘concept’) and of the designatum. The law of identity (and correspondingly the principle of contradiction) then boils down to this, that one and the same sign must designate one and the same thing, must have one and the same meaning or sense.

Let us, however, return to Fichte. He, having contemplated building a system of logic and a logical model of the world, naturally came into conflict with the conceptions of his teacher Kant. To Kant his venture immediately seemed unacceptable: ‘...I declare herewith: that I consider Fichte’s science of knowledge a completely untenable system. Because a pure science of knowledge is nothing more nor less than a naked logic, which, with its principles, does not achieve the material of understanding but abstracts from the content of the latter as pure logic, from which it is a vain task to pick out a real object and therefore one never attempted, but which, when transcendental philosophy is at stake, must pass into metaphysics.’

Kant from the outset repudiated the attempt to create a metaphysic; not because it must describe the world of things in themselves but only because Fichte wanted to create a logic which when applied, would ensure the building of a single system of concepts not cracked by the flaws of antinomies, a system that would synthesise in itself all the most important conclusions and generalisations of science. That, according to Kant, was unrealisable however the system obtained was interpreted, whether objectively (materialistically) or subjectively (transcendentally). One way or the other it was equally impossible. It was quite natural therefore that Kant considered it a groundless reproach that he ‘had not created a system’ but had only posed the task and equipped science with the important (though not completely and consistently worked out) principles needed for such a construction: ‘The presumption, attributing to me the intention, that I wished to provide a propaedeutic to transcendental philosophy and not the system of the philosophy itself, is incomprehensible to me.’

Fichte began by insisting that Kant’s system of philosophical concepts was not a system but only a concatenation of the opinions and principles needed for constructing such and, moreover, very inconsistent ones. The argument therefore passed to a new plane: what was a system? What were the principles and criteria enabling us to differentiate a system of scientific concepts from a concatenation of judgments each of which might be true of and by itself, but was not, all the same, linked with the others?

In explaining his concept of ‘system’, Fichte formulated it as follows: ‘...My exposition, as any scientific one must, proceeds from the most indefinite, which is again determined before the reader’s eyes; therefore, in the course of it, quite other predicates will, of course, be linked to the objects than were originally linked to them; and further this exposition will very often pose and develop propositions which it will afterward refute, and in this way advance through antithesis to synthesis. The finally determined true result obtained from it is only found here in the end. You, of course, only seek this result; and the way that it is found is of no interest to you.’ Thus, according to him a system proved to be the result of the removal of contradictions. They remained unmediated outside the system, and as such negated each other. Therefore there was no system in Kant, but only propositions unmediated by development that he took over ready-made and vainly tried to link together formally, which was impossible since they had already negated one another. With Fichte the whole arose precisely from bits, through their successive unification.

In counterposing his position to Kant’s, Fichte said: ‘The generality that I affirm in no way arises through apprehension of plurality under unity, but rather through derivation of endless plurality from the unity grasped in a glance.’ The initial generality, which was differentiated in the course of its own disintegration into a variety of particulars, also had to be established in scientific system before all else.

But Kant’s image of the whole, too, was brought to light through the particulars from which it was built up, as from bits. And now, after Kant, the task could only consist in getting from this whole to the particulars, in testing and re-testing them critically, in purging the system of everything superfluous and fortuitous, and in preserving in it only the diverse definitions that were required of necessity in order to construct the whole. The whole (the generality) then proved to be a criterion for the selection of particulars; it was now necessary to develop the whole system of particulars systematically, step by step, starting from that one, single principle. Then we would get science, a system.

In other words, the logic of analysing Kant’s philosophy had immediately concentrated Fichte’s attention on the problems that had been brought together in the section of the Critique of Pure Reason on transcendental dialectic, on the problems of the absolute synthesis of concepts and judgments into a theory understood as a single system. There also was to be found the ‘growing point’ of logical science. Fichte proposed calling the new field of investigation of thought ‘the science of knowledge’ (Wissenschaftslehre), i.e. the science of the universal forms and laws of development of a system of scientific determinations. These determinations would, of course, be invariant for any particular science, be it mathematics or physiology, celestial mechanics or anthropology. They must define any object, and that meant they must represent a system of universal determinations of every possible object of scientific study, its logical ‘parameters’.

Science, consequently, must give itself a clear account of its own activities, achieve selfconsciousness, and express its selfconsciousness through the same categories through which it comprehended everything else, any other object given in experience. The science of science was in fact a system of determinations outlining any possible object, and at the same time the structure of the subject constructing that object, and the logical forms in turn were the forms realised, abstractly expressed, and built up into a system of rational consciousness in general, i.e. not the empirical consciousness of this or that individual, but only the necessary and universal forms (schemas) of the activity of any possible being possessing thought.

What used to be called ‘logic’ was only an abstract schema of this universal activity of constructing any possible object in consciousness. Fichte specially investigated and explained his understanding of the relation between his Wissenschaftslehre and ‘logic’. The latter proved to be only an abstract schema of the same activity as was outlined in the former. Therefore, as he put it, the Wissenschaftslehre could not be demonstrated logically, and it was impossible to premise any logical proposition on it, even the law of contradiction; on the contrary, any logical thesis and all logic must be deduced from the Wissenschaftslehre. Thus logic received its significance from the science of knowledge and not the science of knowledge from logic.

The fact was that theoretical ‘schematising’ (i.e. operations controlled by logical rules and propositions) by no means lacked necessary and natural premises. Their analysis became vitally important precisely when thinking came up against certain changes, which in essence were a uniting of contradictory, opposing determinations.

Here Fichte did not differ with Kant, who well understood that change ‘presupposes one and the same subject as existing with two opposite determinations’, and that one and the same thing could at different moments of time have a certain predicate A, and then lose it and be not-A. If, however, a thing could lose predicate A without ceasing to be itself, and be transformed into something else (into the object of another concept), that meant, according to Kant, that the disappearing predicate did not belong to the concept of the given thing, was not one of its universal and necessary determinations. The concept (in contrast to the empirically general representation) expressed only the absolutely unaltered characteristics of the thing. Theory was not interested in change – that old prejudice also trapped Kant. All change was a matter of empirical views and not of theory. Theory, constructed according to the rules of logic, must give a picture of the object withdrawn, as it were, from the power of time. Theory had no right to include in the definitions of a concept those determinations that the passage of time had washed off a thing. A concept therefore always came under the protective cover of the principle of contradiction.

But how did matters stand if the object represented in theory (in the form of a theoretical schema constructed according to the rules of logic) began to be understood not as something absolutely unchanging but as something coming into being, if only in consciousness, as with Fichte? How did it stand with the principle of contradiction, if the logical schema had in fact to picture a process of change, the beginning or the becoming of a thing in consciousness and by virtue of consciousness? What was to be done if logic itself was understood as an abstract schema of the construction of an object in the eyes of a reader, i.e. as a schema of the consistent enriching of the initial concept with newer and newer predicates, a process whereby there was initially only A, but later B necessarily arose (which in itself was understandably not A or was not-A), and then C, D, E, right down to Z? For even the simple combination of A and B was a combination of A and not-A. Or was B nevertheless A?

Fichte’s conclusion was: choose between these two – either the principle of contradiction was absolute (but then no synthesis was possible in general, not uniting of different determinations) or there was development and a synthesis of the determinations of concepts (and they did not conform to the absolute requirements of the principle of contradiction).

Fichte followed another, third path. He started from the point that what was impossible to represent in a concept, that is to say the combination or synthesis of mutually exclusive determinations, constantly occurred in contemplation or intuition (in activity to construct the image of a thing). Thus, by analysing. Zeno’s famous paradox and showing that we divide any finite length into infinity, Fichte concluded: ‘From this you see that what is impossible and contradictory in the concept actually happens in the intuition of space.

If, therefore, you came up against a contradiction in a logical expression, the thing was not to hasten to declare that it could not be, but to return to the intuition (Anschauang), the rights of which were higher than those of formal logic; and if analysis of the act of intuition showed you that you were forced of necessity to pass from one determination to another, opposing one in order to unite it with the first, if you saw that A was necessarily transformed into not-A, you would then be obliged to sacrifice the requirement of the principle of contradiction. Or rather, that principle could not then be regarded as the indisputable measure of truth.

Fichte also demonstrated this dialectic from the example of the origin of consciousness, of the ‘positing’ of the non-Ego (not-l) by the activity of the Ego, the differentiation of the person himself as the thinking being from himself as thought of, as the object of thought. Could a person become aware of himself, of the acts of his own consciousness, of his own constructive activity? Obviously he could. He not only thought, but also thought about his thinking, and converted the very act of thinking into an object; and that exercise was always called logic.

The starting point in this case, as was shown above, could only be I, the Ego (Ich, das Selbst) understood as the subject of an activity producing something different from itself, that is to say the product, the recorded result. The Ego was initially equal to itself (I= I) and, considered as something active, creative, creating, already contained in itself the necessity of its own transformation into a non-Ego (not-I). We saw and knew this directly, from self-observation, for consciousness in general was realised only insofar as a representation of something else arose in it, a representation of a non-Ego, a thing, an object. There could not be empty consciousness not filled by anything.

The transformation of the I into the not-I occurred, of course, quite independently of study of the rules of logic, and before their study. It was a matter of natural ‘primary’ thought. It was a prototype of logical, reflective thinking that discovered a certain law-governed necessity in itself, in its activity in constructing images of things, and then expressed it in the form of a number of rules, in the form of logic, in order henceforth to follow them consciously (freely) and to submit to them.

All logical rules must therefore be deduced, derived by analysis of actual thinking. In other words they had a certain prototype with which they could be compared and contrasted. This approach differed radically from Kant’s position, according to which all fundamental logical principles and categories had only to be consistent in themselves so that their predicates did not include contradictions. Kant therefore postulated the laws and categories of logic, while Fichte required them to be deduced, and their universality and necessity demonstrated.

True, Fichte, like Kant, did not encroach on the actual content of logical forms and laws. On the contrary, he wanted to demonstrate the correctness of all the logical schemas known in pre-Kantian and Kantian logic, by indicating more rigorous conditions for their application. But he thereby also limited them, establishing that the principle of contradiction was only fully authoritative in relation to one determination, and that within a developing system it was constantly being set aside or discarded, since each succeeding determination negated the preceding one both individually and absolutely.

Fichte tried in that way to deduce the whole system of logical axioms and categories, in order to understand them as the universal schemas, consistently taken into practice, for uniting of empirical data, as degrees or phases of the production of concepts, for concretising the initial, still undivided concept into a number of its universal and necessary predicate-definitions. There is no need here to explain why Fichte did not succeed in his programme of deducing the whole system of logical categories, why he did not succeed in turning logic into an exact science, into a system. In this case it was important to have posed the problem. Let us merely note that the ensuing criticism of his conception was directed precisely at explaining the reasons for his failure, and at analysing the premises that hindered his idea of reforming logic, of deducing its whole content from an investigation of actual thinking, and in that way of uniting within one and the same system categories that stood in a relation of direct negation of one another (formal contradiction), and that had seemed to Kant to be antinomically uncombinable, and not includable within one non-contradictory system.

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