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Towards a philosophy of freedom : Fichte and Bergson

By Michael Kolkman


The thesis asks the following question: If determinism cannot give an adequate account\ud of freedom, but conversely, an appeal to freedom as such is unacceptable to\ud determinism, how to formulate an alternative philosophy that would be acceptable to\ud both? What are the conditions such an alternative would have to meet? It is within this\ud overall problematic that we situate the though of Fichte and Bergson.\ud A first step to the solution Fichte finds in Kant’s appeal to a original and\ud synthetic act of consciousness, something said to be a necessary transcendental\ud condition of experience. We situate this appeal to something both original and synthetic\ud as motivated by the perceived failure of a radically reductivist empiricist project (i.e.,\ud determinism). But Kant was criticised for not having supplied a proof for such a\ud principle. Fichte takes up this challenge but not in the way his project has ordinarily\ud been understood. Fichte tries to show that a foundational synthetic act can only ever be\ud adequately understood when taking the form of an opposition of I and notI.\ud The I and\ud notI\ud are cogenetic\ud in that they must be seen to stand in a relation of reciprocal\ud determination. We are then able to demonstrate that the three principles of the\ud Foundations (selfpositing,\ud opposition and reciprocal determination) are simultaneous\ud and not successive.\ud For all their differences and for all his critique of Kant, Bergson is confronted\ud with a similarly structured problem. Departing from an experience that is said to be\ud continuous (duration), how now to account for the very real difference of the organised\ud and the unorganised? Bergson will have to show that, although life/experience is\ud continuous progress, this can only take the form of an opposition of “that which is\ud making” and “that which is already made”, between habit and effort.\ud Fichte and Bergson may be discussed in one thesis because both give a very\ud sustained account of how to think relationally. They prioritise the question of the\ud Verhältnis (dynamic relation, reciprocity) of subject and object as something that\ud precedes the question of the Beziehung (directed relation, intentionality) of subject and\ud object. The second question already assumes subject and object and is therefore\ud dependent on the first. For Fichte and Bergson to understand subject and object means\ud to understand them as different activities, different temporalities, different forms of\ud organisation, as parts of a relation. Such a relational thought is what ultimately allows\ud us to mediate the conflict of determinism and freedom

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