I-Hood: Fichte on Construction

Fichte (1762-1814)

For Fichte, according to Daniel Breazeale, construction, i.e., thinking through the self or “I-hood” (Ichheit), has six distinctive features. It requires a “postulate,” i.e., a question or occasion, that serves as

  1. an invitation or summons or challenge . . . to engage in an act of abstraction (from all that is not the I) and reflection (upon whatever remains in consciousness following such an act of abstraction)” (6), i.e. philosophical construction is a process of thinking — thinking as doing or making, rather than merely contemplating. Its “prerequisite” is
  2. an act of radical abstraction from the ‘objective’ or ’empirical’ contents of consciousness,” which characterizes the “philosophical standpoint” (7); and its “organ” is
  3. the capacity for reflection, attentiveness, or intellectual intuition,” i.e., “a direct awareness . . . of what ‘happens’ when one tries to think the I” (8). The process nonetheless requires
  4. synthetic thinking,” which “attach[es] to some previously constructed concept a new concept, one not already contained in the previous one, but instead somehow presupposed by it” (10), i.e., grounding it (à la Leibniz) and “dialogizing” it, i.e., opposing it (à la Spinoza) and transcending it (à la Hegel). These heuristic principles are driven by
  5. imagination” (12), i.e., the “feeling for truth” that characterizes the “philosophical spirit”: “the capacity to think creatively, to engage in ‘inspired guesswork'” (13).
  6. N.B. The scope of construction is limited to “the domain of the pure subject-object,” i.e. “I-hood” (14).

In construction, we reflect on what is happening to the “I” when we abstract from experience to think through an idea.

The problem is: what do ideas have to do with the I? Or, to put it another way, how does “synthetic thinking,” which works with ideas, get us to the I?

Here’s one solution: this requires a kind of thought-experiment in which we think about the I by not thinking about it.

  1. We assume the I and ideas “work” similarly.
  2. We pick an idea.
  3. Because the I is foundational (self is primary) and dialectical (a self implies an other), we examine the grounds of that idea and explore its contradiction.
  4. This leads us to new ideas.

This is “I-ing” the idea — or, rather, this is the I at work.

For Fichte, this is the I. His method of construction is thus genetic, i.e., construction generates the I:

what such a method displays is precisely a transcendentally ordered process in which each stage in the philosophical construction of the self springs necessarily from the preceding one as the condition for the very possibility of the same.


the various realms and structures of ordinary actual life can be grasped philosophically only as products of the transcendental self-construction of the I. (15)

Or to offer another, simpler solution: thinking is how the I acts. To reflect on the I, we examine it in action, i.e., in the process of thinking.

What Fichte offers us, then, is a way to think of thinking (a.k.a. the I) as positional, a way to think beyond identity politics towards positionality. When we argue, we are — or ought to be — at once constructing a self and an argument, not to mention a world.

Putting it somewhat less clearly, to pose a question and propose an answer is to take up a position that presupposes a positioning, the positing of a self and a world.


One thought on “I-Hood: Fichte on Construction

  1. See also Alberto Toscano on Schelling and construction in “Fanaticism and Production: On Schelling’s Philosophy of Indifference” (http://www.warwick.ac.uk/philosophy/pli_journal/pdfs/toscano_pli_8.pdf): “Insofar as consciousness is constituted, to a certain degree, by the foreclosure of its constructive aspect, philosophy, through its ‘artifice,’ repeats the path from blind activity to self- consciousness, and, in Schelling’s words, ‘in becoming aware of the concept as an act, attains to the concept of a concept.'” Aha: “Philosophy [is] ‘free construction’” (60).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s