Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Disciples can be a Philosopher’s Worst Punishment

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David
For a philosopher, his disciples can be a reward as well as a punishment. Etienne Gilson, in his The Unity of Philosophical Experience, (Chapter 9: “The Physicism of Kant”) says that in the initial days the master and his disciple may find nothing but pure joy in their mutual intercourse, but a stage comes when the relationship deteriorates. He gives the example of Immanuel Kant and his foremost disciple—Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Here’s an excerpt:
Who can read without emotion those pages of his Diary where the young Fichte tells us how, penniless and unknown, he went to the great Kant and asked from him both advice and money. Kant had no money to give, but he gave advice. In order to attract his attention, Fichte had written a Critique of All the Revelations, and sent it to Kant as a letter of recommendation. What joy when Kant declared that it should be printed! Fichte wanted to revise it; but Kant said: "It is well written." "Can this be true?" Fichte asks himself in his Diary, “and yet Kant says so.” 
But in 1794 Fichte wrote his Fundamental Principles of the Science of Knowledge in which he attempted to solve the problem of gap between sensibility and understanding that is there in Kant’s the Critique of Pure Reason. The solution that Fichte had come up with was accepted by most notable Kantians of that period, including Reinhold. But Kant refused to endorse Fichte’s solution and disavowed him. However, Fichte continued to assert that either his solution to the Kantian problem is correct or the Kantian philosophy is meaningless.

Gilson says that what usually brings the friendship between a philosopher and his disciple to an end is that, whereas a master holds his conclusions as conclusions, his disciples receive them as premises, with the consequence that their own conclusions can never be the master's conclusions. Fichte in turn was punished by his favorite disciple Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. They had an acrimonious breakup because Fichte felt his work was being misinterpreted by Schelling, whereas Schelling thought that his ideas were being stolen by Fichte.

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