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Breazeale, Daniel and Rockmore, Tom. Fichte's Vocation of Man: New Interpretive and Critical Essays.

BREAZEALE, Daniel and Rockmore, Tom. Fichte's Vocation of Man: New Interpretive and Critical Essays. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013. xi + 325 pp. Cloth, $95.00--Fichte's Vocation of Man, which was published in 1800 shortly after Fichte's dismissal from his position in Jena resulting from the infamous Atheismusstreit, befuddled many of his contemporaries and has continued to puzzle German Idealism scholars. Central among the interpretive problems is the question of continuity with Fichte's Jena Wissenschaftslehre manifested by the ostensibly theological turn in Fichte's thought (and thus the transition to the "later" Fichte) that is codified in this text. Although there is diversity and substantive (and philosophically interesting) disagreement among the essays, this volume contributes significantly to the disambiguation of what has been an enigmatic philosophical work and is a welcome addition to the continuously expanding scholarly literature on Fichte. The volume can function as a comprehensive supplement--it contains seventeen essays--to the Vocation and is ideal for classroom use. Space limitation restricts my specific comments only to a few of the essays.

The Vocation is principally a book about moral self-development that advances a theory of rational autonomy, which Fichte defends in part by discrediting two accounts of self-determination articulated respectively in the first two chapters of the text: first, a view that presupposes physicalism and thus from Fichte's perspective renders rational, moral autonomy impossible, and second, an account of self-determination unbridled by any normative constraints. The Vocation serves as an itinerarium whereby the reader, the protagonist, hopefully works her way toward the standpoint of rational autonomy Fichte defends in chapter three. This gives the text a decidedly literary quality, one that is explored by roughly a third of the essays. Crowe and Millan explore respectively moral agency and the relation between moral freedom and aesthetics in the context of the late-eighteenth-century Bildungsroman. De Carvalho makes an interesting case for Interesse as the Vocation's protagonist by (correctly) tying Interesse to an agent's basic self-conception and to the way in which moral self-development, reflectively undertaken, informs and likewise is informed by one's self-conception as a rational agent. Martin offers a careful analysis of autonomous judgment and makes a compelling case for conscience as the resolution of the two discredited conceptions of agency (constraint without self-determination and self-determination without constraint). Following the voice of conscience is acting that is free, self-determining, and normatively constrained.

Autonomous judgment concerns who one is as a rational agent and the type of person one is to become. As Martin shows, Fichte attempts to elicit from the reader, the protagonist in Fichte's story, an act of genuinely autonomous judgment. In this reviewer's judgment, Martin's piece is one of the best in the volume.

The problem of the consistency of the Vocation with Fichte's Jena Wissenschaftslehre and thus the question of the continuity of his thought are thoroughly explored in this volume. Zoller, Estes, and Wood argue for some form of continuity, Breazeale and Rockmore dissent. Wood contends that Fichte's conception of the infinite (construed as an epistemological limiting principle) is continuous with Fichte's earlier writings. This thesis would seem to commit Fichte, however, to a view of the Absolute as something transcendent (highly questionable, in this reviewer's judgment, when associated with the Jena writings) and further--a move Wood makes--an identification of the Absolute with God. Estes attempts to establish continuity in Fichte's conception of faith (a rational agent's affirmation of the ultimate efficacy of his moral actions) between the Vocation and the primary writings of the Atheismusstreit. Whereas faith must postulate some form of divine providence to assure that efficacy, Estes maintains (correctly, I would argue) that Fichte ethicizes or secularizes that traditional theological principle. Rockmore argues for discontinuity precisely by identifying what he sees both as a theological turn in the Vocation and a transition to a far less philosophically compelling version of foundationalism he finds absent in the Jena Wissenschaftslehre. Breazeale's essay is the most thorough and careful assessment of the continuity problem in the volume. He argues that the Vocation represents a genuine turn toward an external foundation for reason and the world of experience--the ultimate source of conscience is the Absolute or God--but argues persuasively that this transcendent turn is adumbrated in Fichte's analysis of the pure will in the Wissenschaftslehre nova method. Rather than being a departure from the Jena writings, the Vocation is rather the culmination of the internal logic of Fichte's own position as his system evolved.

Five of the essays are comparative and place the Vocation in conversation with Kant, the early Schelling, Hegel, and postmodernism. Of notable interest is Nuzzo's argument that Fichte's theory of self-determination, as developed in the Vocation, can be read fruitfully as a more persuasive solution to Kant's third antimony.

In sum, this volume is a rich collection of essays which should be "mustreading" for philosophers interested in the development of German Idealism and moral agency.--C. Jeffery Kinlaw, McMurry University
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Author:Kinlaw, C. Jeffery
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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