Continuing from part one on The Vocation of Man (1799), Book II.
In this preview, we clarify whether Fichte is trying to keep the notion of a “real world” beyond our experience or not. It’s part of the progression of the text that while at first he assumes that there must be something real behind this experienced world we as individuals create, he gives up that notion in the middle of Book II. So how does he get to his startling reversal? First he develops the notion of “intuition” as distinct from perception to explain how we perceive space. Really, we just have these point-to-point experiences of color, but we somehow unconsciously synthesize these into perception of a whole covered surface.
In the full episode we get more into this: This capacity for synthesis is a precondition for having perceptions at all, and so that aspect of perception where such syntheses occur is called intuition, because it’s neither mere sensation nor is it full-blown inferential thought, which is the kind of thing that comes into play in more complex parts of perception where we’re creatively comparing various intuitions (I say “creatively” because as we discuss, Fichte says that we “annex” or “attach” something extra to our intuitions, some thought that we presumably have to make up, though Fichte doesn’t quite say how). We engage in thought, for instance, when we’re figuring out how far away some object is based on how clearly we can make it out, how big it looks, and how big things of that sort have looked in our past experiences. With that level of complexity, we might be fooled by an optical illusion, as if someone shows us a picture of a building on a TV screen: We’re used to buildings being big, and so it looks far away (and was truly far away from the camera), but the image is actually only a few feet from our eyes, and if we though the screen was a window, we’d be fooled. Intuitions (like the perceptions they synthesize) are always accurate, but thoughts need not be. This picture of perception allows us to both be the sole author of everything in our experience and yet still be wrong about things. That would be impossible if experience were like a dream we could change according to the whims of our unconscious minds, but the world for a transcendental idealist is still stable, with facts in it to be discovered and confirmed, if only we think our various intuitions together in a coherent way. (Whether this commits Fichte to a coherence theory of truth is not clear, though. There still might be, within the enlarged world of thought, some facts that beliefs might have to correspond to, and because Fichte believes that within this thought world there’s a legitimate distinction between the subjective and the objective, we might not need to just describe truth as a matter of the coherence of all of a person’s beliefs.)
Some of this distinction between thought and intuition will be made clearer in ep. 272 (where we in fact spend more time still on Book II than on Book III). In the latter portion of this discussion, we get into more quotes about how objects and the I (the subject) arise in experience. It is a fundamental feature of our experience that these always appear as separate, that there are objective objects appearing before me, but these objective and subjective poles must arise out of a fundamental unity, which sounds very much like Heidegger’s Being-in-the-World, the point of which is to say that we don’t experience ourselves a la Descartes as passive observers of the world who can legitimately doubt whether there is a world at all, but that world and consciousness (maybe not “self” which might be something synthesized out of different conscious experiences) are always given at the same time. While an anti-skeptic will use this insight to say that doubt about the existence of the external world is fundamentally incoherent, Fichte dismissed that kind of insistence that the natural world is primary and that we are of course animals within it as dogmatism. Instead, the fundamental unity of I and perceived object shows that both are parts of conscious experience, i.e. parts of me, even as some of these parts of myself appear to be as objective (apparently not me) and subjective (obviously me).
This has evidently become a pretty weird sort of phenomenology, if it’s even still phenomenology at all: We only ever experience the subject and object as separated, because that separation is what makes experience possible at all, and yet we somehow also experience their fundamental unity. To focus on the subjective side, it sounds initially like Fichte thinks that, as illustrated by Avicenna’s flying man thought experiment, our knowledge of self is unmediated, not requiring any objectification. But maybe unlike Avicenna, it’s that Heideggerian subject-object unity that we have unmediated knowledge of. But if any fully described perception already has that unity ripped apart into subjective and objective, then that sounds like even our knowledge of self is synthesized out of different perceptions (which is Kant’s position). Does our actual experience decide between these interpretations, or is this all Kantian transcendental speculation that goes beyond phenomenology?