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11 - Gender and the Politics of Recognition in Johann Gottlieb Fichte's Foundations of Natural Right and Kleist's Amphitryon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 May 2022

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Summary

MY CONTRIBUTION DISCUSSES aspects of a larger project on literary responses to philosophies of recognition. The goal is to draw attention to probing entanglements of philosophical discourses of self, law, and politics in literary explorations of battles of recognition. In the first part of the paper at hand, I discuss features of Johann Gottlieb Fichte's (1762–1814) theory of recognition, embedded in his Grundlage des Naturrechts (Foundations of Natural Right, 1796/1797). In the second part, I read facets of Kleist's comedy, Amphitryon (1807), as aesthetic experimentations with consequences and complications of Fichte's attempt to delineate a philosophy of law and a design of a constitutional republic from his concept of reciprocal recognition. I pay particular attention to the politics of gender, religion, and class.

Fichte's attempt to build a philosophy of natural law on his Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre (Foundation of the Entire Theory of Science, 1794–95) marks an important starting point for modern theories of recognition. For, his concept of reciprocal recognition fuses the cognitive aspects of his philosophy of self with a social dimension. This is already inherent in his Wissenschaftslehre, as his famous description of (self-)consciousness as a “Tathandlung” (fact-act) renders the I not entirely autonomous; the fact-act (i.e., the I) occurs in unison with a trigger from somewhere—so to speak, a nudge from the noumenal world. This prod depends, in turn, on the fact-act (i.e., the I). This is how, in Fichte's philosophy, the unintelligible and the intelligible (the noumenal and the phenomenal) butt against each other. He describes this union as “Wechselwirkung” (reciprocity).

Natural Right

In his Grundlage des Naturrechts, Fichte unfolds this model for the I’s positing of a non-I that is presumably endowed with reason and free will. The second theorem reads: “Das endliche Vernunftwesen kann eine freie Wirksamkeit in der Sinnenwelt sich selbst nicht zuschreiben, ohne sie auch anderen zuzuschreiben, mithin, auch andere endliche Vernunftwesen außer sich anzunehmen.” Here the nudge gains features of a summons (cf. GdN, 36): “Der Mensch … wird nur unter Menschen ein Mensch …—sollen überhaupt Menschen sein, so müssen mehrere sein… . Der Begriff des Menschen ist sonach gar nicht Begriff eines Einzelnen, denn ein solcher ist undenkbar, sondern der einer Gattung.”

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Heinrich von Kleist
Literary and Philosophical Paradigms
, pp. 287 - 307
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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