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Idealistic Studies

Volume 37, Issue 3, Fall 2007

Matthew C. Altman, Cynthia D. Coe
Pages 179-202
DOI: 10.5840/idstudies200737313

The Self as Creature and Creator
Fichte and Freud Against the Enlightenment

The conception of subjectivity that dominates the Western philosophical tradition, particularly during the Enlightenment, sets up a simple dichotomy: either the subject is ultimately autonomous or it is merely a causally determined thing. Fichte and Freud challenge this model by formulating theories of subjectivity that transcend this opposition. Fichte conceives of the subject as based in absolute activity, but that activity is qualified by a check for which it is not ultimately responsible. Freud explains the behavior of the self in terms of biological drives and social pressures, yet both forces are actively interpreted by the subject itself. The tensions that arise from these very different approaches show that both Fichte and Freud are trying to overcome this deeply imbedded dichotomy between freedom and determinism. Although some would respond to these tensions by trying to forge a Hegelian synthesis, such a resolution covers over the paradoxical nature of finite subjectivity.