The Parallactic Leap: Fichte, Apperception, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

In Parallax: The Dependence of Reality on its Subjective Constitution (2021)
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A precursor to the hard problem of consciousness confronts nihilism. Like physicalism, nihilism collides with the first-personal fact of what perception and action are like. Unless this problem is solved, nature’s inclusion of conscious experience will remain, as Chalmers warns the physicalist, an “unanswered question” and, as Jacobi chides the nihilist, “completely inexplicable". One advantage of Kant’s Copernican turn is to dismiss the question that imposes this hard problem. We need not ask how nature is accompanied by the first-person standpoint because “I think” is an apperceptive form of thinking that must be able to accompany any cognition of nature. Kant’s formal conception of apperception worries Fichte in his Nova Methodo lectures. This conception arguably cannot exhaust the ground of experience, for it does not show why we posit objects “at all". For Fichte, it is our agency that first opens a world of objects, viz., as subjects, means, ends, and obstacles. In what follows, I argue that, for Fichte, the I poses no hard problem because it collides exclusively with nihilistic views like Spinozism, which are refuted by a properly transcendental idealist conception of apperception, according to which the first-person standpoint is the absolute ground of our experience of nature. If transcendental idealism refutes nihilism, nature is no more explicable than that there is something it is like for me to perceive and act. In Section 1, I show why Kantian apperception is necessary for possible experience. In Section 2, I reconstruct Fichte’s argument that a modified conception of apperception refutes guises of nihilism, thereby solving the hard problem of consciousness. In Section 3, I suggest that transcendental idealism undermines Chalmers’ proposed solution to and Dennett’s dismissal of this problem.

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G. Anthony Bruno
Royal Holloway University of London


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