Why German Idealism Matters

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Why German Idealism Matters

Matthew Segall

Quote:... Rather than beginning with the fact of consciousness’s representation of an object to a subject, as Kant tended to, Fichte’s original insight was to ground philosophy instead on an unrepresentable act—unrepresentable because we have a special “intellectually intuitive” experience of this act prior even to the a priori forms of intuition and categories of the understanding that Kant argued determine our experience in advance of all consciousness. This unrepresentable act is the Self.

Fichte’s Self is not accessible in the representational way that knowable objects are. The Self is not another object among objects—it is no object at all! The Self is that which makes the appearance of objects possible, that which formally conditions and categorically determines them...

Quote:Despite being just as entranced as the rest of the German philosophical community with so much of what Fichte had to say about the freedom of the “I,” Schelling was from the beginning unable to deny the inescapable reality and autonomous creativity of nature. Unlike Kant and Fichte, who argued that mind organized nature, Schelling was committed to knowing a living and self-organizing nature. Beginning in 1797 with his book Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, Schelling published a series of groundbreaking and influential texts on Naturphilosophie wherein he articulated an ensouled understanding of the universe. Nature was no mere appearance for Schelling, but rather the living ground and visible body of an eternally incarnating divinity. In contrast to Kant’s view in his third Critique of Judgment that the human mind could not understand with any clarity the organic or living aspect of nature, Schelling affirms our ability to cultivate special experiential knowledge of the divine life at work at the heart of every self-organizing process. Upon assimilating the philosophy of Fichte, Schelling would come to call this participatory way of knowing intellectual intuition.

Quote:So, why does German idealism matter? In our technological age, the risk posed by increasingly intelligent machines has been widely acknowledged. But to my mind the true danger lies more in humans becoming machine-like than in machines becoming human. Grasping the significance of Kant’s transcendental intervention helps prevent us from shirking the responsibility of freedom, for the human spirit is no mere algorithm. Fichte inspires us to pay attention to the power of our own imagination to shape reality. Schelling reminds us that this power is in fact a higher potency of nature itself, the until-now-unconscious spirit of cosmic evolution rising into consciousness. The harm we do to what we thought was a natural world distinct from us is only harm done to ourselves. And Hegel invites us to patiently endure the sometimes difficult dialectical twists and turns of history. If we can avoid becoming ideologically fixated by partial truths or fragmented into warring camps, and if instead we are able to stay with the tension of opposites, we may discover that an integral consciousness emerges to unite them. The work of the German idealists is an invitation to exercise our freedom of thought and to consider that what at first appears impossible may, after a slight tweak of our assumptions, become absolutely necessary.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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