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Between Reinhold and Fichte

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Ezequiel L. Posesorski

Appendix A

Jakob Sigismund Beck’s Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt as a Reconstructive Example of a “Chapter” of the Systematic History of Philosophy

Texte intégral

  • 1 See: Hülsen 1796, 171-2
  • 2 For Hülsen’s emphasis on the personal character of this free examining task, see: Hülsen 1796, 172 (...)
  • 3 See: Hülsen 1796, 210, and Flitner 1913, 45

1Hülsen closes with a supplementary section appended on 1796. This section discusses Jakob Sigismund Beck’s Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt, aus welchem die Kritische Philosophie beurtheilt werden muss (1796), an essay that Hülsen did not know while developing his historically augmented Wissenschaftslehre.1 The discussion of Beck’s system provides an example of how to reconstruct, autonomously, a chapter of the systematic history of philosophy. Hülsen’s purpose is to show his free examining reader how to exhaust the uncritically established foundations of Beck’s approach.2 Comparison and contrast to the universal concept of philosophy is Hülsen’s way to correct Beck’s misjudgements, and trace his system back to the consensual or non-contradictable standpoint of the absolutely self-grounded I.3

  • 4 Hülsen 1796, 194

Dennoch muss der Versuch des Hrn. B[eck] nicht weniger eben so beurtheilt werden, wie die Kritik d.r.V. Folglich als das, was er wirklich ist, und das andernmal als das, was er seyn würde, wenn man von den höheren Voraussetzungen abstrahieren wollte. Dieses letztere geschiehet nun zum Behufe des erstern, und gehet also auf blosse Berichtigung eines Irrthums im Urtheile. Jenes erstere aber betrifft die Schrift als ein Produkt der freien Selbstthätigkeit, ohne welche sie [...] gar nicht da seyn würde.4

  • 5 See: Hülsen 1796, 33

2The articulation of philosophy’s history is personal. It is the key to overcome partisan disputes and achieve self-determining coordination. Beck’s system has a precise general-personal location within philosophizing reason’s logical history.5 Following Reinhold, Hülsen holds, this comparing-contrasting procedure enables personal critical insight into asking-answering’s logical-historical production.

  • 6 See: Hülsen 1796, 172
  • 7 See: Hülsen 1796, 168-9. Guido Naschert speculates that Hülsen’s interest in Beck can be traced ba (...)

3Hülsen’s interest in Beck’s system is not gratuitous. Beck is for him the only non-Fichtean commentator that has approached the Vernunftkritik from Kant’s own standpoint. He therefore is the only commentator that has completely understood Kant.6 Hülsen assigns Beck a preeminent place in the systematic history of Kantian philosophy.7

  • 8 See: Hülsen 1796, 170-1. It should be recalled that for Hülsen the universal standpoint of the Wis (...)

4Hülsen opens with two remarks. (1) Philosophy unifies all rational beings on the same systematic standpoint. (2) Philosophy emerges in one’s own general-personal striving, while its exhaustivity is determined by a universal grounding principle. That is why philosophy’s standpoint is the exclusively-possible (einzigmöglicher) standpoint. Non-universally determined judgments provoke divergent and incomplete systematic insights of knowledge’s foundational ground. Universal consensus compels rational beings that strive after critical knowledge to rectify their erroneous judgments. Grasping the true form of judgment (Form der Beurtheilung), Hülsen will show Beck, reveals that no ultimate divergence among systems and standpoints is possible.8

  • 9 See: Hülsen 1796, 173-4

5According to Hülsen, Beck’s essay is an attempt at a systematic establishment of the highest or rather the exclusively-possible standpoint of philosophy. If so, Beck’s system should determine knowledge’s sphere universally. As to the inter-determination of all form and content of knowledge, a substantial condition of critical thought, Beck’s approach should express unity as such (Einheit schlechthin), neither epistemic, nor ontological dualism, but a monistic realism-idealism. This is the cornerstone of Hülsen’s criticism of Beck.9

  • 10 In Hülsen’s (1796, 175-6) words: “Daraus würde sich ergeben haben, das man nur mit Geist in Geist (...)
  • 11 See: Hülsen 1796, 174-6, 196-7

6Beck’s presentation is divided into four sections. The first discusses the difficulties concerning the “spirit” of Kant’s Kritik. Beck’s own position according to Hülsen was that mistaken discursive insights into the grounding principle of knowledge, the proto-conscious act of representation (ursprünglich vorzustellen), prevented a true grasping of the “spirit” of Kant’s approach, thus obstructing insight into the true meaning of critical philosophy. Hülsen agrees with Beck and shares his view that a full insight into proto-conscious representation is necessary to grasp the true “spirit” of critical philosophy. Hülsen however claims that Beck omitted the discussion of a crucial topic: the difference between the “spirit” and the “letter” of critical philosophy; only a critically developed insight, a personal ability that the Kritik itself should foster, can penetrate the universal “spirit” of critical philosophy.10 This omission prevented Beck from grounding his system on a universal ground. Beck arrived at the uncritical conclusion that the first principle of knowledge is a transcendental fact.11 Critical philosophy, Hülsen reminds us, proves that

  • 12 Hülsen 1796, 197

Das Ich soll nicht nur keine Thatsache seyn, sondern durch dasselbe wird vielmehr alle Thatsache, als höchstes Prinzip, in Anspruch genommen, und als völlig nichtig erwiesen. Ich merke dies nun an, um des Irrthums willen; denn die Wissenschaftslehre selbst habe ich nicht zu rechtfertigen. Sie wird sich selbst rechtfertigen, und wo sie verkannt wird, nach und nach das Erkenntniss schon öffnen. Nur auf diesem Wege hat sie ihre Bestimmung; nur durch Selbsterkenntniss will sie aufgenommen seyn, und muthet sich daher Niemanden objektiv an, wie diejenigen Theorien thun müssen, die sich nur durch Widerstreit Eingang verschaffen können.12

  • 13 See: Hülsen 1796, 176-7

7According to Hülsen, the core of Beck’s book is in section two, entiteled “Darstellung des transcendentalen unserer Erkenntniss, als des wahren Standpunkts, aus welchem die Kritik der reinen Vernunft beurtheilt werden muss“. Its topic is a discussion of The Grundsatz of philosophy, the exclusively-possible principle of all knowledge. Hülsen reminds us that every free examining reader ought to demand that Beck’s system fulfil the following critical criteria: (1) original representation, for Beck the first possible synthetic unity of consciousness, should provide the system of knowledge with formal and material certainty. (2) As an exclusively-possible principle, it also should hold fully in and by itself; it should attain an absolute systematic status.13 The critical demands that Beck should satisfy are (1) logical certainty and (2) systematic self-sustainability.

  • 14 See: Hülsen 1796, 177

8Hülsen claims that Beck’s principle is imperfect. Critical contrast reveals that by establishing original representation as the highest principle of knowledge, Beck grounded his system only on one of the divisions of a universal system of knowledge: the theoretical. Moreover, Beck’s principle does not fulfil the critical criteria of logical certainty and self-sustainability. For Hülsen the Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt fails to discuss the criteria, which its first principle of knowledge should fulfil.14

  • 15 Hülsen 1796, 178

[...] kann es für die Wissenschaft gleichgültig seyn, ob gefragt wird: hier ist für alle Philosophie das einzigmögliche Prinzip; oder: hier ist ein Prinzip, welches den nothwendigen Anforderungen an ein höchstes Prinzip vollkommen entspricht? Dieses letztere setzt voraus, dass man bei der Aufstellung eines solchen Prinzip, einen bestimmten Zwek hatte, welchem Zwekke zu folge das zufindende Prinzip nur in so fern das höchste seyn konnte, als sich der Zwek aus ihm selbst wieder volkommen rechtfertigte, und daher durch seine Gewissheit schlechthin auch das in seiner Aufstellung vorausgesetzte nun völlige Gewissheit erhielt.15

  • 16 See: Hülsen 1796, 178
  • 17 See: Hülsen 1796, 178-9
  • 18 See: Hülsen 1796, 179

9According to Hülsen, in Beck’s Standpunkt the universally self-grounded or self-sustainable principle such as that of the Wissenschaftslehre is absent. This oversight has dramatic implications. Only a principle that can furnish the universal ground of logical certainty, can ground the necessary correspondence of the form and the content of all possible knowledge.16 For Beck, original representation is the exclusively- possible principle of philosophy. His principle is therefore arbitrary. For Hülsen original representation is only an abstraction, or in his own language, a pure assertion (blosse Behauptung).17 For Hülsen this determines the disputable character of Beck’s principle. An uncritically established principle can be replaced by any other principle of its kind. The consequence is a potential plurality of unjustified “first principles”, and hence the impossibility of withdrawing from the sphere of disputes.18

10Hülsen’s next targets both the formal and the material imperfections of Beck’s principle.

  • 19 See: Hülsen 1796, 178-80

11Hülsen claims that as self-unaware and therefore unjustified assertions all pre-critical “fist principles” are postulated as absolute in character. Critical insight shows that qualitatively, no distinction among them is possible. Hülsen asks which of these “first principles” (including Beck’s) can attain the status of the highest principle of knowledge. His answer is none. Beck’s principle is formally undistinguishable from other “first principles”; it cannot claim universality as true first principle of philosophy. This compels that we search for distinction in the contents of the principles in question; that we subordinate them according to their functional material advantages.19

  • 20 See: Hülsen 1796, 180-1

12According to Hülsen, philosophy demands that the “Grundsätze” of all possible “first principles” be traced back to a common and universally self-posited fact: the Wissenschaftslehre. Hülsen takes Beck’s Grundsatz (ursprünglich vorzustellen) hypothetically as the fact in question, and asks whether it could contain other “Grundsätze” within its alleged universal sphere. Beck’s Grundsatz is formally undistinguishable. Only its content remains to enable a subsuming or subordination of all “Grundsätze” under its alleged universality. Using this strategy, provisionally, Hülsen enlightens the full problematic character of Beck’s Grundsatz. Hülsen asks whether the content (Behauptung) of Beck’s Grundsatz, a determined object of representation, say “A” or “B”, can determine the material possibility of other “Grundsätze”. The Wissenschaftslehre has shown that all representational contents are determined products of an act of positing. Positing cannot be determined by original representation. If it could, the following would be the results: (1) positing would only be a derived procedure, and not the act whereby original representation attains the content that enables its hypothetic material assertion as philosophy’s Grundsatz. (2) It would be impossible to find any other distinguishing content than the one asserted by original representation.20 Hülsen’s concludes by enlightening the material insufficiency of Beck’s Grundsatz:

  • 21 Hülsen 1796, 181

In Hinsicht der Behauptung ist demnach das ursprüngliche Vorstellen durchaus nicht weiter als jedes A und B, und darum ist es vollkommen dasselbe, ob A, oder ob B, oder ob beide und noch mehrere, als höchste Grundsätze, behauptet werden.21

13Materially, Beck’s Grundsatz cannot claim universality or exclusivity. It does not prevent propositional plurality. Critical insight shows that both formally and materially Beck’s principle is imperfect. Taken as philosophy’s Grundsatz, “original representation” reawakens disputes.

  • 22 An exclusive feature of critical philosophy is its non-counter-positable character.
  • 23 Hülsen 1796, 182: “Also: A ist nicht dem B durch A, und B nicht dem A durch B; sondern A dem B dur (...)
  • 24 See: Hülsen 1796, 182

14Hülsen uses Fichte’s approach in Grundlage to develop his discussion of Beck’s first principle. All uncritically asserted “first principles” such as Beck’s share the same imperfect logical status; they are all posited as “originally” counter-posited principles.22 Ignorance of the act of positing results in the simultaneous “absolute” assertion of two “first principles”, “A” and “B”. Their “absoluteness” compels both principles to exclude each other and engage in a dispute. For Hülsen the “absolutely” counter-posited character of “A” and “B” presupposes their previous particular positing as counter-positable principles. This means that the uncritical assertion of “A” determines its own counter-positable character to “B” and vice versa.23 Both “A” and “B” are self-contradictable.24 Hülsen’s concludes that

  • 25 Hülsen 1796, 182

Dieses hat für alle mögliche Thatsachen Gültigkeit, denn [...] das Verfahren im Behaupten ist eines und dasselbe; ist eine und dieselbe blosse Appellation an den gemeinen Menschenverstand. Weil hier nun jede Rechtfertigung eben in der Appellation besteht, so giebt es für den jedesmal behaupteten Satz kein anderes Kriterium der Gewissheit, als das subjektive Fürwahrhalten, wo man bloss zu Folge des Angenommenen nicht einsehen kann, wie wol noch etwas anderes als das Angenommene wahr seyn könnte.25

  • 26 See: Hülsen 1796, 183-5

15Fichte’s insight into the circular positing relation of grounding and grounded in Grundlage enables the overcoming of such uncritical linear efforts.26

  • 27 See: Hülsen 1796, 188-9

16Another failure of Beck’s system according to Hülsen is that Beck’s idealism is a destructive idealism (zerstöhrenden Idealismus). As the highest principle of knowledge, “original representation” ought to be that self-determining act whereby all possible reality is originally posited. That is why the Wissenschaftslehre’s cornerstone, the absolutely self-grounded I, can only appear from Beck’s perspective as a product of original representation. Beck accordingly cannot determine the Absolute I as a true self-posited agent. In the Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt the Absolute I ought to be something determined (ein Bestimmtes), something that is because there is something else, original representation, whereby it is. Consequently, the Absolute I cannot emerge in Beck’s approach as a spiritually self-related agent, as a self. For Beck, the Absolute I ought to be a mere representational object.27 Hülsen asks:

  • 28 Hülsen 1796, 189-90

Aber wo ist nun das Bestimmende, wenn das Ich das Bestimmte ist? und was soll demnach erklären, dass das ursprüngliche Vorstellen ein solches wirklich sey? Aus seiner eignen Realität, sey es ursprünglich oder diskursiv, kann weder mittelbar noch unmittelbar mehr als ein Vorstellen, und nie ein Seyn abgeleitet werden. Wie ist das Vorstellen nun selbst aber zu bestimmen, und wie also überhaupt ein Bewusstseyn möglich?28

  • 29 See: Hülsen 1796, 189-91

17According to Hülsen, Beck’s position is untenable. Beck offers only a determined but not a determining I. Beck posits only an explanandum, not an explanans. That is why Beck cannot exhaustively answer the question about consciousness’ possibility. Critical contrast also shows that Beck’s partial “first principle” is a self-contradictory principle; its non-exhaustivity cancels its alleged original condition. The failure of the Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt is Beck’s omission of a critical account of the original proto-conscious synthesis presupposed by his “original” act of representation. Hülsen concludes that Beck’s principle neither grounds, nor explains the possibility of consciousness.29

  • 30 See: Hülsen 1796, 189, 191

18This proves for Hülsen that Beck’s standpoint is “destructive idealism”. (1) The absence of an original explanans-I proves that reality in the Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt is not the product of spontaneous positing but of undetermined representation. Beck cannot explain the emergence of an objective world. (2) The absence of an original self-reflecting explanans-I leaves the question open: who accomplished the act necessary to ground the act of “original” representation? These two failures reveal the self-contradictory character of Beck’s idealism. Critical contrast shows that both formally and materially, Beck’s non- exhaustive premise negates or undermines its contention to be critical philosophy, and hence Hülsen’s assessment of it as a “destructive idealism”.30

  • 31 Hülsen (1796, 193) reminds us that “Alle Versuche im Philosophieren gingen nur darauf aus, das urs (...)

19Nonetheless, according to Hülsen, Beck came close to understanding the systematic relevance of a self-reflecting explanans-I. Beck himself argued that „das ursprüngliche Vorstellen ist das Objekt der Philosophie als Wissenschaft“. According to Hülsen, this is what the Wissenschaftslehre teaches. It essentially constitutes a self-conscious explanation of consciousness’ foundations, a systematic representation of the original proto-conscious acts behind the first possible representation. What Beck overlooked is the primacy of the original acts whereby “original representation” is transformed into an object of inquiry. Beck’s supporters unavoidably perform these acts, as critical philosophy itself compels their deduction. The self-conscious grasping of these acts is what Hülsen calls “scientificphilosophizing.31

  • 32 See: Hülsen 1796, 191-4

20Hülsen claims that Beck demands from his reader to adopt the standpoint of “original representation”. But Hülsen corrects Beck by claiming that transcendental freedom must self-determine itself to self- reflect on “original representation”, a spiritual relation must connect transcendental freedom and “original representation”. This relation is the unconditional relation of a determined object to its unconditional conditioner (the Absolute I). Beck’s overlooking of this proves that his first principle is not exhaustive.32

  • 33 Hülsen 1796, 194

Hr. B[eck] hatte also seine Anforderung: sich auf den Standpunkt des ursprünglichen Vorstellens zu versetzen, gar nicht überlegt, da er sonst wahrgenommen haben müsste, dass sich das ursprüngliche Vorstellen gar nicht durch sich selbst erkläre, sondern einen Erklärungsgrund erfordete. Nach seiner Ansicht setzt er Sich Selbst mit seinem ganzen Philosophieren als ein Produkt des ursprünglichen Vorstellens. Wäre dem wirklich nun so; so wäre auch seine Anforderung ganz unstatthaft und sich selbst widersprechend. Nun muss man es umkehren: weil eine solche Anforderung nothwendig ist; so ist jene Ansicht in sich selbst widersprechend und unstatthaft.33

  • 34 See: Hülsen 1796, 200-2

21In section three, Beck discusses Kant’s Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. For Hülsen this transition is arbitrary. According to Hülsen, Beck does not even try to justify this transition. Contradicting his own grounding criteria, Beck grounds the practical division of his system on a second “exclusively-possible” principle: practical freedom. To Hülsen’s astonishment, Beck holds, this second principle cannot be traced back to original representation. Beck discusses his two principles separately. Inconsistently, Beck presupposes an original duality in the human spirit. Inconsistently, independent treatment is the self-contradictory cause of Beck’s focus on each one of these principles as grounding principles. According to Hülsen, critical contrast shows that if Beck’s theoretical principle (original representation) were ascribed exhaustive priority, all it could be proved is the formal ability to think (Gedenk- barkeit) the principle of practice, but not its reality (Wirklichkeit). Beck’s system leaves room neither for real freedom, nor for the articulation of philosophy’s practical division. If Beck’s practical principle were ascribed exhaustive priority, that is, the role of establishing an original spiritual duality, an inconsistency would follow. The systematic determination of this duality would demand its theoretical assertion, its transformation into a determined object of thought.34 Hülsen’s criticism is that considered as two separated, though simultaneously asserted “first principles”, the self-complementary principles of theory and practice relativize each other and undermine the original condition that Beck ascribes them.

  • 35 See: Hülsen 1796, 205-7, 209

22Regarding Beck’s concept of moral ought (sittliches Sollen), Hülsen’s criticism is that Beck assigns this concept the status of an arbitrarily established fact (Thatsache), while identifying it with practical reason or freedom. This identification allows Beck to characterize moral ought as the highest principle of practice. According to Hülsen, critical philosophy must deduce the possibility of this fact. As an arbitrarily established fact, Beck’s concept of moral cannot explain a fundamental feature of critical thought: reason’s practical ability to strive. Equally uncritical is Beck’s approach to the highest good, which provides a systematic foundation for our necessary belief in God and immortality. According to Hülsen, attainment of the highest good, a full self-conscious fulfilment of our spiritual nature, demands infinite self-reflective striving after regulative self-identity. Hülsen’s focus on the highest good as a unitary concept, as a judging synthesis of moral action and happiness, allows a systematic equation of the concepts “reason” and “God”. Beck, apart from lacking such a unitary concept, misses the fact that a rationally grounded belief in God and immortality is the rational being’s key to regulate his supreme moral task: the exhaustive subordination of all possible Not-I.35

  • 36 Hülsen 1796, 207-8

Die empirische Erscheinung, welche wir Tod nennen, hat demnach in dem reinen Begriffe von unserer Unsterblichkeit gar keinen Sinn. Haben wir einmal dem Willen seine Aufgabe gegeben; so liegt forthin auf unserm Wege für uns kein Tod mehr, und ihn fürchten heisst eben so viel, als das Fortschreiten zum Vollkommnern fürchten. Der sittlichgute Mensch bedarf also der Ueberzeugung von Gott und Unsterblichkeit jetzt, in diesem Augen- blikke, den er will jetzt, un in diesem Augenbikke, schön für die Ewigkeit handeln. [...] Sehen wir nun auf den höchsten Zweck unserer handlungen; so findet sich da nichts von Uebereinstimung der Glückseligkeit mit der moralischen Würdigkeit, sondern die Glückseligkeit liegt schon als nothwendig in unserm Willen, und der höchste Gegenstand unsers Strebens ist die Vernunft selber. In so fern sie dieses ist, und sich selbst also eine Aufgabe ist, liegt auch Vollendung in der Unendlichkeit in ihrem praktischen Wesen. Seine Aufgabe denken, und die Unendlichkeit in sich ausnehmen ist darum völlig identisch.36

  • 37 See: Hülsen 1796, 204. Hülsen closes without discussing section iv of Beck’s essay.

23The main failure of Beck’s system is the absence of a self-conscious insight into the circular relation of philosophy to its exclusive object: the system of knowledge.37 Critical insight should show the precise systematic location of Einzigmöglicher Standpunkt within a personally articulated rational history of philosophy; it should show how to exhaust, augment, and correct Beck’s grounding principle, achieve self-determination, withdraw from the sphere of partisan disputes, and integrate autonomously in a coordinated striving after absolute self-identity.

Notes

1 See: Hülsen 1796, 171-2

2 For Hülsen’s emphasis on the personal character of this free examining task, see: Hülsen 1796, 172, 209-10. Hülsen acknowledges that he has reached the standpoint of the Wissenschaftslehre without knowing Beck’s approach. Still, Hülsen’s position is consistent, as the rational history of philosophy represents only a quantitatively disparate general-personal process. Qualitatively, Hülsen implies, Beck’s standpoint does not differ from Reinhold’s.

3 See: Hülsen 1796, 210, and Flitner 1913, 45

4 Hülsen 1796, 194

5 See: Hülsen 1796, 33

6 See: Hülsen 1796, 172

7 See: Hülsen 1796, 168-9. Guido Naschert speculates that Hülsen’s interest in Beck can be traced back to 1791. Beck could have been one of Hülsen’s philosophy teachers at the University of Halle, where he enrolled in 1785. See: Naschert 1998, 115

8 See: Hülsen 1796, 170-1. It should be recalled that for Hülsen the universal standpoint of the Wissenschaftslehre requires a personal self-determining account, or rather, a normative interpretative apprehension of reason’s activity.

9 See: Hülsen 1796, 173-4

10 In Hülsen’s (1796, 175-6) words: “Daraus würde sich ergeben haben, das man nur mit Geist in Geist eindringen könne.”

11 See: Hülsen 1796, 174-6, 196-7

12 Hülsen 1796, 197

13 See: Hülsen 1796, 176-7

14 See: Hülsen 1796, 177

15 Hülsen 1796, 178

16 See: Hülsen 1796, 178

17 See: Hülsen 1796, 178-9

18 See: Hülsen 1796, 179

19 See: Hülsen 1796, 178-80

20 See: Hülsen 1796, 180-1

21 Hülsen 1796, 181

22 An exclusive feature of critical philosophy is its non-counter-positable character.

23 Hülsen 1796, 182: “Also: A ist nicht dem B durch A, und B nicht dem A durch B; sondern A dem B durch B, und B dem A durch A entgegengesetzt.”

24 See: Hülsen 1796, 182

25 Hülsen 1796, 182

26 See: Hülsen 1796, 183-5

27 See: Hülsen 1796, 188-9

28 Hülsen 1796, 189-90

29 See: Hülsen 1796, 189-91

30 See: Hülsen 1796, 189, 191

31 Hülsen (1796, 193) reminds us that “Alle Versuche im Philosophieren gingen nur darauf aus, das ursprüngliche Vorstellen wahr und richtig zu reflektieren. Mithin ist diejenige Reflexion, welche ihrem Gegenstande vollkommen entspricht, das endliche resultat aller Versuche, und daher die Wissenschaft von den Handlungsweisen, wodurch die objektiv synthetische Einheit des Bewusstseyns eine solche ist, d.i. eine Wissenschaft von der Möglichkeit alles Wissens, oder eine Wissenschaftslehre.”

32 See: Hülsen 1796, 191-4

33 Hülsen 1796, 194

34 See: Hülsen 1796, 200-2

35 See: Hülsen 1796, 205-7, 209

36 Hülsen 1796, 207-8

37 See: Hülsen 1796, 204. Hülsen closes without discussing section iv of Beck’s essay.

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