As we've seen previously in this course, modernity presents important challenges to us as we try to understand ourselves and our role in the world. We live today in mass societies, and anonymous cities where individuals can easily feel lost, dwarfed by the multitude of people. Further, we live in a world where traditional values and beliefs have been shaken at their foundations. Many of the things that used to serve as important points of orientation for people to define themselves are no longer viable options. When I look at myself in the mirror and ask 'who am I?' I want to have clear and straightforward answers. This is an important question to me personally, as it's to all of us. Somewhere down deep, I want to believe that I'm a unique and special individual. I want to believe that there's some kind of soul, or spirit, or mind that makes me the person I am, and that distinguishes me from everyone else. I'm comforted by this kind of a thought, since if it's true, then, regardless of how many other billions of people there are in the world, there's only one of me. That is something special and important. Why does it mean so much to us to believe in such things? This is an important feature of the modern world. In the past, individuality was not such an important thing. Indeed, it was suppressed or actively discouraged. People were brought up to believe that the most important thing was not themselves as individuals, but rather their relations to larger groups. For example, in traditional cultures, it was very important that one belong to a specific family, and this is what constituted the key elements of one's self-identity. Extended families lived together and functioned as a larger social unit. The Romans had great cults celebrating the ancestors of important families. To belong to a specific family, dictated every aspect of one's life, one's marriage opportunities, one's profession, one's political orientation, and so forth. In modern society today, all of this has gone. Extended families no longer live together, and at best, one has a relatively small nuclear family consisting of a father, a mother, and their immediate children. But today with the frequent rate of divorce and remarriage as well as with the rise of different forms of cohabitation, the nuclear family itself is becoming ever more fragmented. In Modernity the family thus quickly reduces to a series of separate individuals, and no longer serves the same function as it used to. For however important our families are to us today, it's undeniable that they no longer play the same role for us, as they did for people in earlier times. The same thing can be said for other forms of association that were formerly used to define one's identity. For example, affiliation with a specific tribe, a specific guild, or a specific religion. When all these larger units breakdown, we're left with scattered individuals. As society changes, people feel uncertain about the loosening of the traditional bonds to these older institutions, and more pressure is put on the individual to define him or herself in a different way. If one's self-definition doesn't come from one's affiliation with a family or other larger group, then it must come from oneself. This is the reason for our modern anxiety and uncertainty. The entire weight is placed on our shoulders as individualist to define ourselves. But how should we do this? One of the great ideals of the modern world, that one sees historically relatively new societies such as the United States is the notion of the self-made man or woman. That is the idea that individuals can create a good life for themselves in a capitalist economy based solely on their own abilities, their hard work, and determination. They're not dependent on their families, their guild, or anything else for their advancement. No matter what their background, their race, their religion, they can attain success by virtue of their own merit. According to this modern ideal, they can do it on their own. They can in a sense create themselves. This is a key issue in Kierkegaard's criticism of romantic irony that we wish to explore today. Who are we really as individuals? Can we really invent ourselves? Are we in some important ways grounded by other things in our lives that we have no control over? The idea of a self-made man is supposed to be a positive idea that encourages people to work hard, but it can also be a frightening prospect. If I can in a sense create myself and have success based on my own abilities, then I can also fail abysmally based on my own lack of ability. I'm alone in the modern world. This is a frightening prospect that constitutes an important challenge of the modern world. Johann Gottlieb Fichte was one of the most important German philosophers in the period between Kant and Hegel. He was profoundly influenced by the philosophy of Kant, and saw himself as in some ways continuing in the spirit of it, while at the same time correcting what he took to be shortcomings. In 1807, Fichte fleeing from the French advances in the Napoleonic Wars, came here to Copenhagen. Fichte took walks with the physicist Hans Christian Orsted, and his brother the Jurist, Anders Sandoe Orsted in Frederiksberg garden. It was also here that he met the famous Danish poet, Adam Oehlenschlager. Fichte was perhaps best known for his theory of subjectivity. He tried to start from the ground up and find out, what could be established philosophically with absolute certainty. According to Fichte, what we know immediately is our own thoughts and sensations. This is the subject, the ego or the eye which he says posits itself. Since there's nothing prior to this, the subject is the most basic thing that can be known and all other knowledge derives from it. What he calls 'the ego' is the absolute, and everything else is secondary. Beginning with the subject, Fichte in a sense follows Descarte's famous foundational starting point 'I think therefore I am' . We have first knowledge about the self before we have knowledge about the world. While we can doubt the truth of the knowledge about the world, our self-knowledge is immediate and indubitable. But there's more to Fichte than just Descartes' picture. Fichte was decisively influenced by Kant's theory, that the world that we see around us is shaped by our own human faculties of cognition. In other words, we see objects, for example in space and time not because space and time are parts of the world itself, but rather because there are parts of our human apparatus for knowing. This means that the entire sphere of objectivity is determined or constructed by our human perceptive or cognitive faculties. This means that all objects in the world reflect something about us as human subjects. The first proposition in Fichte's work, the science of knowledge is that the subject is identical to itself and doesn't recognize anything outside itself is having ultimate truth or validity. Fichte tries to capture this with the formulation 'I am I' or 'I is equal to I', which is often expressed in a shorthand version with an equal sign, 'I = I'. By using this formula, Fichte hopes to call to mind the law of identity. One of the fundamental laws of logic, that states simply that a thing is a thing or a is a. The truth of this law is immediately clear to everyone, and can't be called into question. Fichte's, 'I am I' also refers to the fact that there's a unity of self-consciousness with its representations which stand for the external objective sphere in general. The point is that, 'I am I' includes both the subject and the world, but in the sphere of the subject itself. The world is determined by the representations of the subject. I recognize that there are things in the world, that are separate from me but then I also realize that more importantly they're an extension of myself in the sense that they are representations produced by my cognitive faculties. This focus on the subject and the denial of any substantial sphere of objectivity is very attractive to the German romantics. Fichte seemed to provide them with a metaphysical view that supported their conviction of the flimsy and insubstantial nature of the world of objectivity. By contrast, Fichte's theory put the focus squarely on the individual subject. Hegel ends his lectures on the history of philosophy by treating the most important philosophical movements of his own day. In this context, he examines a philosophy of Fichte at some length. After presenting Fichte's theory, Hegel issues a couple of criticisms. Most importantly, he argues that the I or ego of Fichte represents merely the individual aspect of self-consciousness. But what's missing is the universal aspect, specifically, that part which makes humans who they are as human beings. The self that Fichte sketches can only stand apart from and opposed to other selves, since there's nothing to unite them. Here, Hegel shows himself to be clearly on the side of the advocates of reason and the enlightenment since he claims that the individual is essentially defined by the universal capacity of reason, and not by the individuality of feeling or sense perception. Since we all share the faculty of reason, we can understand things in the same way. Further, we can relate to and understand each other. But lacking the rational dimension, Fichte's subject is cut off from others and isolated. Moreover, Fichte's subject is cut off from the objective sphere in general, which is referred to as the 'not I'. Without rationality, the individual is unable to recognize or consent to the rational elements in the social sphere as a whole, for example, laws, customs, and traditions. Hegel says, and I quote, "The Fichtean philosophy recognises the finite spirit alone, and not the infinite; it does not recognize spirit as universal thought." In short, Fichte's philosophy only recognizes one half of the relation, the subjective half, but it fails to see that the subject through thought and reason has a connection to other people in the world of objectivity and actuality. Hegel's point here is that when we think about who we are as human beings, and try to articulate that to ourself, then it's important that our definition captures what's unique about humans. The romantics focus on feeling and the senses since they claim that that's what's unique for each individual. Hegel, however, points out that feeling and senses are faculties that we share in common with the animals. These faculties don't identify the truly human element in all of us. Instead, it's the faculty of reason that makes us human, and separates us from the animals. Moreover, it's what unites us with one another, since we need the recognition of other human beings to be who we are. At the end of his account, Hegel interprets Fichte's theory of the ego as an important forerunner of the different theories of subjectivism and relativism that are found in German Romanticism. Specifically, he links Fichte's theory of the self-positing ego with Friedrich von Schlegel's theory of irony. In short, Fichte's 'I' is the forerunner of Schlegel's ironist. The ironist doesn't believe in the truth of anything objective. Instead, Hegel says, quote, "The subject here knows itself to be within itself the Absolute, and all else to it is vain." But Hegel notes that no one can remain in this relativism for long, and at some point, one requires a fixed truth or point of orientation. He notes that Schlegel himself ultimately abandon the viewpoint of irony, and in his search for a foundational truth converted to Catholicism. For Hegel, this is a demonstration that Schlegel himself in time came to realize the implausibility of this position. Like Hegel, Kierkegaard traces Fichte's theory of the subject back to Kant's epistemology. As we've noted, for Kant, the faculties of the human mind shaped the world that we perceive in important ways. Space and time are not objective facts about the world, but they're a part of the human perceptual apparatus. We can't perceive things without them. Likewise, things such as cause and effect relations or the idea of substance with properties, belong to the human conceptual structure, which Kant calls the categories of the understanding. So, the picture that Kant presents is that we receive the sense data from the outside, which on its own is inchoate, but then our mental and perceptual faculties immediately go to work on this, and turn this information into concrete objects that we're used to seeing. Kant calls these representations, since they're not the objects themselves, but rather the result of a cognitive process that organizes the data received by the senses. Thus, arises in Kant a split between our representation of a thing, which we're familiar with since it conforms to the rules of our human cognition, and the thing as it is in itself, that is, the thing considered on its own apart from any subject that perceives it. Kant argued that this thing in itself, which Kierkegaard in his text refers to by the German term, "Ding an sich", can't be known since we can't abstract from our human cognitive faculties to represent such a thing. So, these faculties are the way in which we know the world, but they're also in a sense limiting since they prevent us from knowing how things are in themselves. This caused a great controversy in the reception of Kant's philosophy since it gave rise to the skeptical problem that we can never know if our representations of objects in the world are true, since we can never compare them to the things in themselves. Kierkegaard points out that Fichte tried to resolve this problem by reconceiving this Kantian model. Fichte claimed that it was absurd to separate content and form in this way. In other words, the content of the representations according to Kant comes from the unknown external object, but the form is supplied by the subject's cognitive faculties. Fichte claims instead that content and form are necessarily connected, and so there's no need to posit something external to the subject. The subject can, in a sense, produce its own representations. This is again the idea of the notion of the 'I is equal to I' , since the subject is identical with the external world in the sense that the world is a product of the human cognitive processes. There's a unity of the subject and the object. Kierkegaard's objection to this is much the same as that of Hegel. When the world simply becomes an extension of the human subject and its faculties of cognition, then everything is reduced to subjectivity, and nothing objective remains. Kierkegaard writes, and I quote, "When FIchte infinitized the I in this way, he advanced an idealism beside which any actuality turned pale." For Kierkegaard, this meant that Fichte's position represented a radical and absolute negation of the world of actuality. What was true and important was the subject, but the world around us had no independent existence. At a certain level, Fichte's position is attractive to Kierkegaard since it represents negativity, that is, a negation of the world. He takes this to be an important improvement over Kant who didn't have this negative element in his philosophy because of the doctrine of the thing in itself, which although unknown, at some level represented the objective truth of the world around us. But Fichte, by contrast, negates this world and shows that it's insubstantial. As we've seen, this is what Socrates did in ancient Athens, and Kierkegaard praised him for this negativity. Kierkegaard believes that this negative experience is important for everyone, and he hits at a Christian meaning to this, when he paraphrases from Scripture saying that this process of negation is necessary, quote "Since everyone who wants to save his soul must lose it. " This seems to imply that in order to be a Christian, one must reject or negate the world, and withdraw into oneself.