Dissertation: Das transzendentale Selbstbewusstsein bei Kant

Das transzendentale Selbstbewusstsein bei Kant

Zu Kants Begriff des Selbstbewusstseins im Lichte der Kritik der Heidelberger Schule

BOETHIANA – Forschungsergebnisse zur Philosophie, volume 148

Hamburg , 260 pages

ISBN 978-3-339-10526-4 (print)
ISBN 978-3-339-10527-1 (eBook)

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This book discusses the systematic problem of self-consciousness, focusing on the conceptual possibility of self-consciousness. For this purpose, critiques from Fichte and the philosophers of Heidelberg School (including Dieter Henrich, Ulrich Pothast, Manfred Frank and Konrad Cramer) on Kant will be served as the starting point. The critiques basically underline that Kant’s concept of self-consciousness is conceptually impossible as it is entangled in a petitio principii or an unsolvable circle of argument. Departing from the critiques I then formulate the research questions as follows: first, is these philosophers’ critique on Kant adequate? Second, is the theory of self-consciousness of Heidelberg School, which is developed as alternative to Kant’s theory of self-consciousness, conceptually convincing? Third, is Kant’s theory of self-consciousness conceptually possible or rather does Kant have a theory of self-consciousness, which is conceptually possible?

The research result, which at the same time served as my theses, are as follow: first, the critique of Fichte and other philosophers of Heidelberg School on Kant is inadequate. The argument, which is developed by these philosophers in showing the conceptual impossibility of Kant’s concept of self-consciousness, was based on equalization of apperception and reflection. However, the apperception could not be equalized with the reflection.

Second, the theory of self-consciousness which is developed by Dieter Henrich and his students as alternative to Kant’s, was not philosophically convincing, because it led to a paradox situation; the dissolve of the phenomenon of the self-consciousness itself. The inadequacy of Henrich’s theory of self-consciousness does not, however, diminish his contribution to the philosophy of self-consciousness. Through his research and his reflection on the problem of self-consciousness Henrich had opened the other dimensions of self-consciousness, which in turn gives him the opportunity to approach this phenomenon from perspective of intuition, mystic and romantic.

Third, Kant’s theory of self-consciousness is not conceptually impossible, as Fichte, Henrich and his students had asserted. Kant has a convincing theory of self-consciousness. For Kant, self-consciousness or the “I” is a spontaneous action in form of “I think”. It functions as the basis, hypokeimenon, as transcendental subject in processes of knowing. Kant’s self-consciousness is a transcendental self-consciousness, which has to be logically accepted as the objective and necessary condition of the possibility of experience of something.

The Kantian subject cannot, therefore, be understood in ontological sense, namely as a substance or a cognizable thing. Kant himself warned his reader in some places of his magnum opus, Critique of Pure Reason, so that his subject is not misunderstood. His subject or his self-consciousness is indeed a substance or a I but “just a substance in idea” (A 351), or “the I is substance in concept, just in concept” (A 400) and not in empirical reality. In other words, the Kantian subject is a transcendental subject.

Kant’s self-consciousness is surely a philosophical phenomenon. The philosophical significance of the self-consciousness lies on its transcendentality, as principle or rather as a priori condition of possibility of empirical knowledge. The transcendental status of this self-consciousness does not permit us to reduce it to be a problem of scientific investigation. The reduction of the phenomenon of self-consciousness to be a scientific or empirical case would directly deny its transcendental status. The philosophical or rather Kantian self-consciousness cannot be therefore approached as an epistemological or natural phenomenon. Furthermore, Kant’s self-consciousness has a philosophical significance because we get the knowledge of it not through observation but through the concept of experience. It means that we have knowledge of this self-consciousness just based on the explainability of empirical knowledge or experience.

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