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Wayne M. Martin, Idealism and Objectivity : Understanding Fichte’s Jena Project. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1997, xx-177 p.

  • James Thomas

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  • James Thomas
    Dominican College of Philosophy and Theology, Ottawa

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Corps de l’article

While focused on Fichte’s Grundlage of 1796, comprising work of the early Jena period, this brief but highly concise and interesting work develops an idealist theory of objectivity. As indicated in the Acknowledgements, Martin regarded the faculty of philosophy at University of California at San Diego, at least at the time of writing, as a “hotbed of idealism” (p. x). Other, more analytic schools of thought have clearly also emerged in this faculty and, I suspect, have influenced Martin’s idealism. Martin’s theory of objectivity entails the indifference of knowing subjects to their objects, the doctrine of objectivity of the analytic school. But this doctrine of objectivity also appears idealist, in Martin’s view, as the object is constituted by a consciousness of it. The thing in itself functions, not in a realist perspective, where its nature appears independently of consciousness and forms a standard for it. Indeed, the thing in itself has its nature owing to the demands of consciousness.

What is required for the objectivity of ideas of objects is still the indifference of consciousness, occurring as a result of the inherent freedom of consciousness in positing such ideas and their development. To stress the point, the necessity of the ways we are conscious of objects establishes the determinate reality of these objects. This enables us to determine ideas as either true or false, and the ideas, “representations,” can be taken in the sense of conventions or assumptions initiated freely and freely developed. Truth is not the correspondence of consciousness to the independent reality of its object but the coherence of these conventions or assumptions’ development. The experience of being constrained in the consciousness of objects is thus an important focus of Martin’s research. The coherence of this development has its basis in the experience of the ideas of objects being incapable of being developed in some ways.

A sense of “realism” thus attaches to Fichte’s doctrine. Opposing commentators on Fichte, Martin reads his rejection of dogmatism, not as a rejection of realism per se, but as one of a doctrine incompatible with the agency of consciousness, such as Dretske’s naturalism. This contemporary example of dogmatism denies the self-sufficiency and freedom of consciousness, a freedom needed to choose correctly or incorrectly and thus develop objective ideas.

Another and broader sense of dogmatism opposed to Fichte’s idealism, in Martin’s view, attaches the same weight to a concept of being as naturalism attaches to a deterministic conception of nature. Again, as in the case of the concept of nature that of being is not fundamental but is taken back to its origin in the agency of the conscious subject. This rejection of the primacy of being seems to accomplish a wide sweep of traditional metaphysics, and Martin evidently sets in place of being a conception of the “striving” of knowing subjects to conceive. Consideration of history, and in particular, the Cartesian revision of scholastic metaphysics, would in my view, suggest that this rejection is limited to an understanding of being as pure act, as something definitively conceptualized independently of the consciousness of objects. But Martin appears not to recognize one can also read Descartes as developing a view of being as ultimately a capacity of the intellect to conceive.

A Cartesian idealist theory of objectivity would, however, separate spontaneous and indifferent forms of striving, as explained in Meditation 4. The abstractness of confused ideas could be said to explain their appearance of having an independent reality and the experience of indifference to an object. The adherence of the mind to its nature in the acceptance of “clear and distinct” ideas could be said to account for the spontaneity of striving and the experience of constraint. [1] Martin’s argument for indifference as a condition of objectivity appears to rely on a seemingly obvious doctrine of the realist, that to determine the mind to truth requires an independent reality.

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