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Volume 49, 2021

The Enigma of Fichte’s First Principles (Das Rätsel von Fichtes Grundsätzen)

Carlos Zorrilla Piña
Pages 309-330

Circumvolutions of the Mind
Fichte on First Principles and Transcendental Circuits

Fichte once described the first principle of his philosophical system as a globe or attractor point which rests on nothing else but its own power, and which – as by the inception of a gravitational field – thereby simultaneously sets the conditions for the groundedness of all the components of the edifice of knowledge which follow. This description suggests his philosophical enterprise is articulated in accordance to the linear structure of foundationalism. At the same time, however, Fichte’s enterprise is unequivocally transparent regarding its many circularities, the most interesting of which is described by the relation between the I under philosophical observation and the I of the transcendental philosopher who undertakes the observation. Indeed, such a relation – which Fichte called not only a circle but a circuit – is what explains his assertion that the task of the transcendental philosopher is to be a pragmatic historiographer rather than a legislator of the mind. The philosopher’s task is historical insofar as the I who undertakes the examination is at every move trying to repeat its genesis in a conscious manner. It is circular, in turn, insofar as the activity of the examined I is supposed to culminate in precisely the point where the examining I stands, but not forgetting that it has to account for the possibility of the latter’s very examination. To map the horizon and grounding capacity of such circumvolutions of the mind is what this paper aims to do.