Saturday, February 11, 2012

Notes of Holderlin's fragment 'Being Judgment Possibility'

This fragment deals with the distinction between being and identity and why an ontology cannot follow from the fact the self-consciousness.
Being -, expresses the combination of subject and object.
The concept "being" must encompass all manners of existences.  Conscious states are subjective, first-person, non-extended entities.  Physical objects are objective, third-person, extended entities.  And yet both sorts of things exist.  So while we have no theory which explains how matter gives rise to consciousness, and while we have no theory which explains how consciousnesses are able to know reality, the fact remains: both sorts of things exist in the same world.  They both are, and so there's some underlying commonality.
Where subject and object simply are, and not just partially, united, such that no separation can take place without injuring the nature of that which is to be divided, only there and nowhere else can there be talk of being as such
The sense of unity implied by being is total, since it must apply equally to everything that exists, regardless of how it exists.  We might say that being implies unrelenting unity, since there is absolutely nothing it will exclude.  If something were excluded from being, and if there were separation between being and something else, then being would no longer be univocal, and so it could not be being.  It would be some particular, finite being.
the same is the case in intellectual intuition.
I take him to mean that intellectual intuition - the absolute I of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre - must also be characterized in such an infinite fashion.  Just as being must dissolve the opposition between subject and object, so too must the absolute I annihilate the distinction between itself and anything else.  There is no "outside" for absolute subjectivity any more than there is an "outside" for being.  Both are infinite.
But this being must not be confused with identity.  When I say: I am I, then the subject (I) and the object (I) are not combined in such a way that no separation can take place without injuring the nature of what is to be separated; on the contrary, the I is only possible through the separation of the I from the I.
When I reflect upon my experience, I recognize that it's my experience.  I perceive things, and in perceiving them, I'm also able to be aware that these perceptions are taking place in my mind.  So the mind not only perceives, desires, etc.  It also exists in relation to itself, and this self-relation is one of its essential features. It has subjectivity.  It not only relates to what is outside of it - objects, states of affairs, etc. - but also to itself, and it takes itself to be itself.  It identifies itself as itself.  That which appears in it appears for it.

There's a superficial similarity here with being.  Being contained the opposites of subject and object within itself.  It united them insofar as they both exist.  The subject does something similar insofar as it holds together perception of the object and reflective awareness of that perception.  Or to put the same thing another way: I perceive something, that something is other than me, but in perceiving that thing (and only in perceiving that thing) I am able to perceive myself.  The subject opposes the object to itself, but that act of opposition is  recooperated  back into the subject, just as being recooperated subjectivity back into itself.  

But the similarity with the concept of being is only superficial, according to Holderlin.  Being unites subject and object.  That's just what "to be" means.  But with the subject it's different.  The principle of subjectivity is not unity but identity.  And that identity only takes place by means of segregation.
How can I say: I! without self-consciousness?  
There's no understanding subjectivity without examining what's peculiar about its inner relation.  This wasn't necessary in the case of being, since we only had to worry about unification, not how the two things - subject and object - relate once they're brought together.  Subject and object only needed to be unified, not identified with one another.  To put it another way: subject and object were only identical qua existing things.  In every other respect they were opposites.
But how is self-consciousness possible?  By setting myself in opposition to myself, by separating myself from myself but, the separation notwithstanding, by being able to recognize myself in what opposes me.
Whatever is happening in self-consciousness, we can't understand it through the concept of unity alone.  There must be distance between myself and the object, otherwise I cannot perceive it.  And if I can't have perception, then I can't have self-consciousness.  It is only by sundering the unity of subject and object that the subject can be a subject.
But in what sense as the same?  I can, must ask this; for in another respect it is opposed to itself.  Therefore identity is not a unification of object and subject, which can take place absolutely, therefore identity is not = to absolute being.
I recognize myself as myself - I can identify myself - only because there is opposition between me and something else.  More than that: the opposition occurs within myself, not just between me and the physical world.  Therefore, the logic governing the I's knowledge of itself as I is not identical with the logic governing the unification that takes place in absolute being, and there is no way to construct an ontology on the basis of self-consciousness.

This has the further implication that, if I know I exist, original unity (being) has been sundered/lost:
Judgment - is in the highest and most strict sense the original [ursprunglich] separation of the most tight unity of object and subject in intellectual intuition, that separation which makes object and subject first possible, the judgment [Ur - theilung, original - separation].  The concept of judgment already contains the concept of the reciprocal relation of subject and object to each other, as well as the necessary precondition of a whole of which object and subject are the parts.
Judgment in the ordinary sense of the word contains separation within it.  In "S is P", "If A, then B", etc., concepts are opposed to and then related to one another.  This separation in judgment is a mere reflection of the original separation entailed by the possibility of experience itself.  If ordinary language is founded in original separation, then this explains why the Seinsfrage cannot be approached discursively.  Any statement to the effect of "Being is ______" or "The absolute is ________" presupposes the sundering of original unity, of absolute being.  And yet because the opposing terms show up for us at all, they point to the unity suggested by the concept of "being" itself.
'I am I' is the most fitting example of this concept of judgment [Ur - theilen], as a theoretical judgment [Urtheilung], for in the practical judgment it sets itself in opposition to the not-I, not in opposition to itself.
Self-consciousness is the most conspicuous case of the sundering and concealment of being itself.  It's the fount of absolute division and absolute disunity.  The idea of founding an ontology on the back of the "I" is absurd. "Being" cannot represent the goal of such a philosophy but can only be its enabling limit.
Actuality and possibility are differentiated, as mediate and unmediated consciousness.  When I think of a thing [Gegenstand] as possible, I merely repeat the preceding consciousness through which it is actual.  For us, there is no conceivable possibility which has not been actuality.  For this reason the concept of possibility cannot be applied to objects of reason, for they never occur to consciousness as what they appear to be, but only [occur as] the concept of necessity. The concept of possibility belongs to the objects of the understanding, that of actuality [belongs to] objects of perception and intuition.
Human experience is circumscribed and limited everywhere by the original sundering of being, and therefore it finds only the limited and the finite.  As Novalis exclaimed in his 1797 Miscellaneous Remarks: "We look everywhere for the Unconditional Absolute, and all we find are the conditions."  Unmediated, unified being is given only as a possibility.  Intellectual intuition is, at best, a regulative idea.  (There's ample evidence Fichte conceived of it this way.)

Though he doesn't stick to the letter of Kant's philosophy, Holderlin is a very good Kantian philosopher.  He's picked up on the idea of finitude and has expressed it with a sublimity of prose unapproached by Kant.  The idea in this passage is that an absolute, subjective idealism - where the I posits both itself and the not-I - is stopped, not by anything external, but rather by the very conditions that allow self-consciousness to the thrive in the first place.  This is not done on the basis of the conditions of sensibility, as Kant does it.  Rather, it's done by means of an examination of the conditions of the I itself.  The elegance and brutality of this attack is unsurpassed.  I would not want to be Fichte reading this.

But is his description of subjectivity correct?  Fichte's account of the I's self-positing is strong.  This is really his great contribution to the history of philosophy.  Because what he realizes is that the subject has to be understood as subject, not as object.  Fichte was fond of asking his students on the first day to think about the wall in the lecture hall, and then to think about the I who perceives the wall.  Yes, there is the moment where the subject knows itself by reflecting upon itself.  In that moment it sunders its unity: there is the first-order mental state (e.g., riding a bicycle), and there is the second-order mental state which has the first-order mental state as its object ("I know that I am riding a bike.")

Yet Fichte was also aware that in order to have that second-order knowledge, the first-order mental state must already "be there" for me somehow.  It's the same way that you would not be able to specifically think, "I am reading a blog post," unless you already had some kind of non-specific, background awareness that you were reading a blog post.  The explicit act of knowing arrives late to the party.  It's only underlining what you already know.

And this non-explicit awareness of your own existence and what you're doing really must be a knowing.  It has to be knowledge as opposed to blind intuition.  There's no mistaking that it's me who's reading/writing the blog post.  Saying "I'm aware of reading the blog post," is a repetition of what's already there.  So by the time the I explicitly finds and calls itself out, it has long since not only been aware of itself but has known itself to be itself.

This is a peculiar state of affairs, one which Holderlin never seems to take into account in his otherwise brilliant critique of Fichte.  For Holderlin, the self is an inherently dual phenomenon.  It always turns up only as the I breaking itself apart in self-consciousness.  But for Fichte, self-consciousness is an originally non-dual existence.  And unlike for Holderlin, where non-duality is something always already destroyed by the act of awareness, for Fichte, non-duality is the apparent reality of the I as I.  This isn't a matter of speculation for Fichte.  It's a matter of experience.

Holderlin's critique of Fichte, with its notions of finitude and the concealment of being, looks back to Kant and forward to Heidegger. Yet Fichte's account of subjectivity seems more enduring than Holderlin's.  His idea of the I's self-positing anticipates Sartre's concept of non-thetic self-awareness.  It also seems to jibe with other 20th century accounts of subjectivity that are similarly non-dual.

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