Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843)

The most important contribution of Jakob Fries to the Kantian tradition is his theory of justification and the manner in which he addresses the paradoxes of Immanuel Kant's "Transcendental Deduction" in the Critique of Pure Reason. The Friesian theory of justification may be found in the essay The Foundations of Value, Part II, Epistemological Issues:  Justification (quid juris) and Non-Intuitive Immediate Knowledge. Within this, the characterization by Karl Popper of the " Friesian Trilemma" is discussed under that link. Here I will discuss how Fries specifically responds to Kant and examine the controversy about Fries's political activity.

The greatest paradox of Kant's Transcendental Deduction in the Critique was how it was possible to certify or verify the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge when this must be done with arguments that will rest on premises that either are (1) synthetic a priori themselves, which would beg the question, or are (2) synthetic a posteriori and empirical, which would give us only empirical certainty for presumably non-empirical matters, reducing synthetic a priori knowledge to an a posteriori matter after all. The possibility that the premises could be analytic would not, and should not, have been seriously considered by either Kant or Fries, although that would have been the standard, traditional Rationalistic approach, as in Leibniz, as it later would be in Hegel. We may say that it was Hume who had eliminated that kind of appeal (what he called truths based on "relations of ideas").

While Hegel and others concluded that this dilemma rendered Kant's argument ineffective, circular, or unnecessary, Fries solved the problem with a distinction that is now commonplace but is still rarely noted by those who have bothered to address Fries's system:  the distinction between object language and meta-language, or between "system" and "critique." Thus, Fries would say that the object languages of metaphysics, ethics, etc., whose first principles would consist of synthetic a priori propositions, which in the case of ethics would also be propositions of value (with "ought") rather than propositions of fact (with "is"), are logically distinct from the meta-language description of them which is the actual content of Kant's "critique." Thus "critique" itself can be empirical a posteriori without this affecting in any way the a priori status of the object languages. Since "first principles," by Aristotle's own definition, cannot be proven anyway, we cannot understand Kantian "critique" to offer in any logically familiar sense a proof of synthetic a priori first principles. More detail on justification in this sense may be found in the essay cited above [note].

Because Fries thought that the empirical and a posteriori critique was psychological in nature (or "anthropological"), it became commonplace to accuse him of what has been called "psychologism," which we may take to be the doctrine that human knowledge merely reflects the forms of the human mind, the structures that the human psyche imposes upon the world. This accusation entirely failed to take into account the distinction between object language and meta-language, where the psychological, or whatever, nature of the critique would not affect in the slightest the objective character of the object languages, it merely refers to it. So far, only Leonard Nelson has properly understood the implications and success of Fries's theory; and he quickly recognized its affinity to the axiomatic mathematics of David Hilbert, which distinguished between the object languages of mathematics (formalized in axiomatic systems) and meta-mathematical meta-language (which describes the axiomatic systems and considers epistemological and metaphysical questions about them).

Nelson's own doctoral dissertation demolished the accusations of "psychologism" against Fries by the self-sytled "Neo-Kantians" (such as Wilhelm Windelband) of Nelson's day. Even Karl Popper, otherwise an understanding and sympathetic commentator on Fries, produces his own mistaken accusation of "psychologism," i.e. that some sort of subjective (psychological) certainty is to be attributed to the first principles of the object languages. This would have been true for Hume, but not for Fries, where all mediate knowledge -- the manner in which we formulate propositions in concepts -- is fallible and corrigible. The objective certainty that may belong to first principles in themselves, as immediate knowledge, is something that we might approach and approximate, but that is no more than what Karl Popper might have said himself.

Without Fries's evaluation of Kant, a proper understanding of Kant's system and approach has not progressed much in mainstream philosophy in nearly two centuries.

Against the rites, do not look; against the rites, do not listen;
Against the rites, do not speak; against the rites, do not act.

Confucius, Analects XII:1, translation after James Legge [1893], Arthur Waley [1938], D.C. Lau [1979], and Joanna C. Lee [2010]

Religion in Fries

While the basic epistemology of Jakob Fries is an essential starting point for Friesian philosophy, and a stark corrective for all philosophy after Kant, one of the most important directions of its subsequent development was for philosophy of religion. Fries rejected Kant's moralistic interpretation of religion and introduced the dimension of Ahndung, a category of aesthetic realism that could relate religion directly to things in themselves without the mediation, as in Kant, of morality. While this was progress, it was still not quite the right idea, since Fries replaced Kant's moralism with what was actually no more than an aestheticism, with little sense of the issues of salvation, holiness, ritual, atonement, pollution, etc. that are intrinsic and germane to religious matters. Thus, the only justification in Fries for religious "rites," as starkly endorsed by Confucius above, would be their aesthetic appeal, not the pious duty of their observance.

But Ahndung merely needed to be extended, with some phenomenological study, as was subsequently done by Rudolf Otto. Thus, while it is sometimes said that Otto's theory of numinosity was already covered by the earlier category of the sublime, we do not see in the description of the phenomena of the sublime in Edmund Burke or in Kant (the previous best theorists) the characteristic features that Otto discerned in numinosity. The numinous may be at times terrifying, which was a classical feature of the sublime, but the uncanny is a form of the frightening or terrifying that has a very different sense and valence from anything merely in aesthetic value. The respect owed to holy things is unique of its kind and is not to be found among merely natural objects, to which the phenomena of the sublime are otherwise confined. Indeed, the uncanny strongly bespeaks something supernatural, which escapes the judgment of both moral and aesthetic realms.

In both Fries and Nelson we have the curious case of a generalized respect for religion that nevertheless does not translate into much regard for the forms of any actual religion. We may even see hostility for historically important religions, with the distressing precedent of Kant's condemnation of Judaism. All these philosophers are still too rationalistic to even give the time of day to matters of ritual or pollution, except in the most perfunctory and aestheticized senses. Even the moral questions that lead to issues of repentance, forgiveness, salvation, and atonement leave them seriously confused and at a loss, which is a grave drawback when the Kantian tradition ostentively begins with only moral considerations. This is starkly illuminated by the very concept of "sin," from whose moral roots a tree extends far into matters of ritual observance and pollution. This is missing in Fries; yet he provided the epistemological and metaphysical foundation that Otto, with little difficulty, could adapt to the phenomena.

Republicanism in Fries

Fries occasionally comes in for note because of his political activities; and it is typical that when noticed, nothing of his thought is addressed beyond it. These activities present us with a very mixed bag, at once admirable and horrifying. The admirable part was Fries's opposition to the Prussian and Austrian reactionary regimes of the time. When Fichte died in 1814, both Fries and Hegel were proposed to replace him in the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin. Hegel did not occupy the chair until 1818, but Fries had already been disqualified by his republican and nationalistic activities.

In the historical context, German nationalism at the time would be seen as liberal, republican, radical, and revolutionary -- a tradition reflected in the black, red, and gold (Schwarzrotgold) flag of the movement later being used intially for the colors of Belgium in 1830 (more yellow than gold), in the Frankfurt National Assembly in 1848, by the Weimar Republic, and by both post-War German Republics. But these tendencies were not agreeable to Austria or Prussia, and Fries endangered himself by conspicuously associating with radical students and the Burschenshaften student fraternities -- which the Encyclopaedia Britannica still describes as "the Allgemeine Deutsche Burschenschaft (Young Germany Movement), a liberal, idealistic student association" -- a characterization that can be disputed but in some respects was accurate for the time.

Unwelcome in Berlin, Fries was offered the chair of philosophy at Jena, under the tolerant Grand Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar (1775-1828), who had been the first German ruler to grant a written constitution in his domain. Austria and Prussia then became alarmed by the Wartburg Festival of the Burschenschaften in 1817, when, with the participation of 500 students from 12 universities, various symbols of tyranny (e.g. the Code Napoléon and a corporal's cane) and books regarded as reactionary or anti-German were burned.
Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

That was only a prelude; where one burns books, one will in the end burn people also.

-- Heinrich Heine, 1820

Then in 1819 one of Fries's students, Karl Sand, assassinated the anti-liberal dramatist, historian, journalist, and reputed Russian spy August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (1761-1819), one of whose books had been burned at Wartburg. Guided by Metternich, these and similar events were used to close off further liberal and constitutional reforms in Germany.

Already under fire from Austria and Prussia for his participation at Wartburg, Fries was finally dismissed from his philosophy chair after the assassination of Kotzebue and the subsequent anti-Semitic "Hep-Hep" riots. Karl August, however, then provided Fries with a chair in physics (1824), a subject Fries had taught previously at Heidelberg. Fries was able to live out his life in such relatively agreeable circumstances, and he was eventually allowed to teach philosophy again (1838).

We get a slightly different perspective on this in a book by Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom, the Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 [Belknap Press, Harvard, 2006]. Clark discusses the Wartburg Festival [pp.378-379] and the assassination of Kotzebue by Sand [pp.399-402] in some detail; but any reference to Jakob Fries is entirely missing from his book. We do hear of professors who were dismissed because of their association with Sand and the Burschenshaften, including the theologian at Berlin, Wilhelm de Wette (a friend of Fries who wrote a sympathetic letter to Sand's mother), and the historian at Bonn, Ernst Moritz Arndt. But the philosopher at Jena, Fries, nothing. This makes it sound like Fries's role was far more peripheral and incidental than either his supporters or his critics have given us to understand. Or perhaps Clark found the man so distasteful that he decided to ignore him. I can't tell. But Clark also gives us a larger picture of resistance to the conservatives than just from the Burschenshaften.

The black, red, and gold colors of the republican flag came from one of the groups of "volunteer rangers" (freiwillige Jäger), the Lützow Rangers, who had joined the regular and militia forces in fighting against Napoleon. The rangers were celebrated as free and willing volunteers whose dedication was to Germany, not to Prussia or any particular state. This tended to annoy the authorities, who wanted the war seen in terms of authority, not as a spontaneous uprising of the people. Just such a popular upwelling, however, was promoted, not just by the Burschenshaften, but also by the Turnbewegung, the "gymnasts' movement," founded by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in 1811. Physical health was the flip side of citizen volunteers for Jahn.

In the aftermath of the Kotzebue assassination, Jahn was arrested, his gymnastic societies were closed, and he was subsequently imprisoned. This was much harsher treatment than what Fries and the other academics received. Also arrested was a noble military supporter of Jahn, Hans Rudolf von Plehwe. This man introduced jogging, which really only came into general vogue, of course, in the 1970's. Von Plehwe had been at Wartburg and was arrested after participating in a rally in support of Jahn.

But by the time Sand was executed (by decapitation), Clark says that he had become a "celebrity" -- regarded rather like the Japanese assassins of the 1920's & '30's. Indeed, like them, Sand made an attempt at suicide immediately after the assassination, to show, like them, his sincerity. Later, the executioner himself is supposed to have dismantled the blood-stained scaffold and built a shrine for "pilgrims who had come to honour the memory of the dead patriot" [p.401]. Thus, all of this was a public spectacle and sensation that displayed little contribution from Jakob Fries.

Clark's treatment gives us a bit more perspective on the politics of which Fries was a part, but it also leaves the impression that Fries was not one of the most conspicuous leaders or principals of the republican movement. Sand may have been one of Fries's students; but, dressed in clothes of the Turnbewegung, the influences on his behavior went far beyond any ideas, unique exhortations, or involvement from Fries.

However, Clark does disappoint by not including Fries in his treatment; and one would like to see some discussion about whether Kotzebue really was anything like a Russian spy, as had been the accusation. Indeed, Kotzebut had spent many years in Russia, back and forth, worked for the Russian government, had estates there, married a noble Russian woman, and in 1817 was made Russian consul in Germany. This made him, the very least, an actual Russian agent, if not an actual spy. I suspect that the accusation of spying probably reflected the sort of paranoia about spies that we've seen in recent history, as, when I was a student at the American University of Beirut (1969-1970), I was sometimes asked, even in a friendly way, if I worked for, or was being trained to work for, the CIA. On the other hand, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that anyone working as a Russian diplomatic agent would have had something to do with, or at least knowledge of, any Russian intelligence operations.

Clark explains Sand's antipathy for Kotzebue only in terms of the purported "effeminacy" of his plays, and of his publicly stated contempt for the Burschenshaften. It is hard to know from this why Sand should have singled out Kotzebue from all the reactionaries whom he might have targeted. It seems like a Prussian minister would have been more to the point. Since Kotzebue was popular, had no sympathy for German nationalism or liberalism, and had many personal and professional ties to Russia, he must have seemed both particularly conspicuous and threatening.

We get a brief reference about Kotzebue from Niall Ferguson, who says, "When August von Kotzebue -- a minor hack reputed to be in the pay of the Tsar -- was murdered in Mannheim by a radically inclined student, Karl Sand, it suited Metternich quite well as the pretext for a crackdown on liberal tendencies throughout the German Confederation" [The House of Rothschild, Money's Prophets, 1798-1848, Penguin, 1998, 1999, p.127]. This leaves us with the impression that Kotzebue was assassinated because of his "reputed" connection to the Russians, something Clark did not mention, and that this business was associated, not with proto-Nazis, but with "liberal tendencies." But both Clark and Ferguson seem to have missed that Kotzebue actually was "in the pay of the Tsar," quite openly.

Ferguson does not get into any details of what a "radically inclinded student" would have believed, or what the Wartburg Festival might have represented; and the whole dimension of the "effeminancy," or anything else, of Kotzebue's plays is lost in Ferguson's dismissive term "minor hack." We get no sense that the murder created the kind of sensation that Clark describes, and between Clark and Ferguson it is not clear just how significant a figure, at the time, Kotzebue really was, or why Sand would have targeted him. But Kotzebue was significant enough that in 1812 Beethoven approached him to write the libretto for an opera. This never happened -- Fidelio (originally Leonore, 1805, 1814) was Beethoven's only opera -- but Beethoven did write some music for two of Kotzebue's plays. Evidently Kotzebue's reactionary sentiments and Russian entanglements were not enough to put off Beethoven.

In his essay on 'The Religion of Sublimity' (1982), Yirmiahu Yovel has pointed out a certain inconsistency in Hegel's systematization of religions, an inconsistency which does not result directly from the very principle of Hegel's philosophy but expresses rather a contingent, empirical prejudice of Hegel's as an individual, and can therefore be rectified by consequent use of Hegel's own dialectical procedure. This inconsistency concerns the place occupied respectively by Jewish and by ancient Greek religion: in Hegel's Lessons on the Philosophy of Religion, Christianity is immeditely preceded by three forms of the 'religion of spiritual individuality': the Jewish religion of Sublimity [Erhabenheit], the Greek religion of Beauty, and the Roman religion of Understanding [Verstand]. In this succession the first, lowest place is taken by the Jewish religion -- that is, Greek religion is conceived as a higher stage in spiritual development than the Jewish religion. According to Yovel, Hegel has here given way to his personal anti-Semitic prejudice, because to be consistent with the logic of the dialectical process it is undoubtedly the Jewish religion which should follow the Greek.

Slavoj Žižek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology" [1989], The Sublime, Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery, The MIT Press, 2010, p.56.

Hegel's own incoherent "dialectical procedure" or "process" is as arbitrary as he would want it to be. But there is something confused about accusing Hegel of "inconsistency" when his whole method is built on contradictions -- and, of course, the implication here is that the collective spirituality of Christianity, as imagined by Hegel, is superior to the individualism of the other three forms of religion, however prioritized. Slavoj Žižek, meanwhile, whatever his scruples about anti-Semitism, is himself a repellent advocate of communist terrorism and mass murder. No kidding.

Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana;
Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas.

Get thee behind me Satan!
Never tempt me with your vanities!
What you offer me is evil.
Drink the poison yourself!

Medal of St. Benedict

Anti-Semitism in Fries

Admirable and progressive as the republican movement, apart from the celebration of Sand, may make the political commitments of Jakob Fries seem, there was a side to it even darker than a fortunately unrepeated assassination. In criticizing Fries, Shlomo Avineri [Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp. 119-122], has correctly pointed out that German nationalism was already displaying some of its worst tendencies, including the book burning at the Wartburg Festival and anti-Semitism, which included attacks on Jews directly in the "Hep-Hep" riots of 1819 (from the cry, "Hep-Hep! Jude verreck [die]!"), to the distress of Jewish students who had actually participated at Wartburg.

These violent disorders, which continued from August to October and included direct attacks on the offices of the Rothschild bankers in the Judengasse, the street of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt, helped spur the actions of Metternich, with whose measures even the modern liberal might no longer find fault. Fries himself contributed an infamous and disgraceful anti-Semitic tract at the time, the Endangering of German Welfare and Character by the Jews (Über die Gefährdung des Wohlstandes und Charakters der Deutschen durch die Juden, 1816). The truly horrifying overtones of this led Avineri to dismiss Fries and the Burschenschaften, not as "liberal, idealistic," but as proto-Nazis; and he attributed the affinity between them all to the subjectivism and irrationality of Fries's thought.

This repeats a charge from Hegel himself, who also conspicuously condemned Fries's anti-Semitism, in a passage that is often all that academic philosophers have ever heard of Fries. Morally, Hegel did have a leg up on Fries, since he defended civil rights for Jews and apparently protected Jewish students, ironically (perhaps) in the local (Heidelberg) chapter of the Burschenschaften -- although Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) would later complain that Hegel had not condemned the Hep-Hep riots. But, as we shall see below, Hegel was not himself entirely free of the anti-Semitic Zeitgeist of the age, and he is rarely upbraided with this, while Fries receives full blame.

At the same time, the charge of subjectivism and irrationality in general is nonsense when applied to Fries. There was actually nothing particularly rational about Hegel's obscurantism and speculative dogmatism, whatever he called it -- and both he and later Hegelians absurdly called it "Logic" -- and Hegel's view of Fries's (and Kant's) system as subjectivist, however consistent it was with the Romantic and foolish overtones of German culture at the time (from which we get Sturm und Drang), is ridiculous. In taking Hegel's conception of "reason" and "rationality" seriously, Avineri is clearly an apologist for Hegel, willing to uncritically promote Hegel's own technical and tendentious characterization of his opponents -- and blind to the circumstance that "Hegel's Theory of the Modern State," in which the individual disappears, provided a theory of the later absolutist, totalitarian state of the Fascists and Communists. Is that inevitably the "Modern State" that Avineri describes? Doe he agree with it? What business does an Israeli Jew like Shlomo Avineri have promoting this stuff? It makes him sound like a fool.

Politically, there is certainly enough blame to go around. The mix of ideas found later in National Socialism owes as much to Hegel as to the evils advocated or practiced by Fries and the Burschenschaften. From the Neoplatonic (and perhaps Aristotelian) doctrine that God only knows universals, Hegel produced the modern totalitarian idea of the state, where the individual as such is "abstract" and irrational -- only the State, as the historical expression of Geist, "spirit" or "mind," is real and rational.

While Hegel apologists often deny that Hegel's theory was of this sort, my impression is that, when the chips are down, the apologists themselves turn out to be collectivists and statists, with little sympathy for "bourgeois" individualism or classical liberalism, and sometimes even for individual rights and free speech -- rights and civil liberties that remarkably may be called "Fascism" at American universities -- someone once called me a "liberal fascist," which involves considerable confusion in different ways -- and it probably meant that the speaker would be one of those attacking free speech and honest debate in contemporary colleges. The project of creating a totalitarian police state has been adopted by the Democrat Party, in league with anarchists and communists, who have succeeded in spreading their lies and evils through much of American society, including the cowardly culture of business corporations.

After the Terrorist attack of October 7, 2023, on Israel, the anti-Semitic rot at many American universities was suddenly unveiled, with Harvard University leading the way, even as Harvard had recently been identified as being the worst for free speech and academic freedom at any American college. Since Israel was being accused of being "white supremacist" and of being a "colonialist settler state," it was clear how the prevailing Leftist ideology was feeding into anti-Semitism -- as well as how ignorant modern students and professors are, when the population of Israel is largely Middle Eastern Jews who have fled Islamic countries, not to mention Ethiopian Jews. Thus, anti-Semitism is now fashionable among some of the most elite classes in America, although Harvard certainly has its own history of that; and the privileged backgrounds of its adherents have been put on public view when "demonstrators" for the Terrorists have been arrested and their identities revealed -- almost all "educated," wealthy, "Progressives" -- as many disruptive "demonstrations" have been financed by the "Democratic Socialists of America," whose true colors (Red and totalitarian) are now obvious.

Certainly, Hegel's doctrine was agreeable and conformable to the attitude and practice of the Kingdom of Prussia; and Hegel's Philosophy of Right of 1821 was widely regarded, by everyone from Schopenhauer to Marx, as Hegel's justification and rationalization for the regime whose employee, spokesman, and apologist he had become. The same regime, thus promoted, later co-opted German nationalism for its own purposes, grafting onto the same horrifying tendencies of German nationalism all the unlimited power and absolute authority of Hegel's Geist. This separated Republican Schwarzrotgold from the Nationalistic Schwarzweißrot -- black, white, and red -- the colors of the German Empire and Nazi Germany. Colors now used to smear, of all things, Snow White.

Anti-Semitism developed apace during the 19th century. There were even further riots against Jews, as in Stuttgart in 1873. There was a large-scale, political "Antisemitic Campaign" in 1879-1881. That culminated in the "Antisemite's Petition" of 1880, which was a bill debated in parliament to roll back the civil rights of Jews. Bismarck would have none of it, but the extent and virulence of anti-Jewish sentiment is still shocking [cf. Paul Lawrence Rose, German Quesiton/Jewish Question, Revolutionary Antisemitism from Kant to Wagner, Princeton, 1990, pp.236-244].

In the late Empire, it was a bad sign that Wilhelm II's Kaiserin simply refused to visit Wilhelm's Jewish friends -- like Albert Ballin, president of Hapag, Hamburg's largest shipping line and the principal means by which immigrants, particularly Jewish immigrants (who were provided with kosher food), were reaching America. The Kaiser would be a guest at Ballin's estate, "Little Potsdam" (a miniature of the Imperial palace), and solicit his advice. The Kaiser's grandmother, the Empress Augusta (1811-1890), had earlier patronized Jewish charities.

But even Wilhelm would not be free of anti-Semitism, and by the 1920's he was actually saying, from exile, that the Jews should be gassed [Rose, p.386, note]. The review of a recent Wilhelm biography expands on this:

Wilhelm became increasingly anti-Semitic in the period covered by this volume, particularly after defeat in 1918; he believed the Jews to be behind an international conspiracy to destroy Germany. In his cranky retirement, he demanded that Germans not "rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated [ausgerottet]." [Brendan Simms, "The Last King of Prussia," Wilhelm II, by John Röhl, Cambridge, The Wall Street Journal, May 3-4, 2014, C6]

The new element into the mix was the anti-Semitism of Marx himself and other "revolutionary" socialists, for whom Jews now were class enemies, symbolic and more, of Capitalist exploitation.

The worse secret of the Twentieth Century is how the hellish payoff of all this was on both the political Left and the political Right. Where for Hitler the "plutocrat" Jews were rather more important as race enemies than as class enemies, Stalin's policies, beginning with class enemies, insensibly shaded over into racial interpretations also. The "Jewish doctors' plot" was the telling culmination of Stalin's career. Most importantly, both Hitler and Stalin, like Hegel's Geist, only knew people as universals -- as classes or races -- to be impersonally lauded or exterminated. True liberal principles of individual liberty have been steadily ground down, even in the democracies, between the statist millstones of Left and Right.

Neither in Fries's era nor in the 20th century can anti-Semitism as such be taken as a clue to either rightist or leftist political affinities. As Paul Johnson says in his A History of the Jews [HarperPerennial, 1987]:

On the one hand, following Voltaire, the rising European left began to see the Jews as obscurantist opponents to all human progress. On the other, the forces of conservatism and tradition, resenting the benefits the Jews derived from the collapse of the ancient order, began to portray the Jews as the allies and instigators of anarchy. Both could not be true. Neither was true. But both were believed. [p. 309]

Johnson's reference to Voltaire included a citation from his Dictionnaire philosophique [1756]:

Their [i.e. the Jews] residence in Babylon and Alexandria, which allowed individuals to acquire wisdom and knowledge, only trained the people as a whole in the art of usury ... they are a totally ignorant nation who for many years have combined contemptible miserliness and the most revolting superstition with a violent hatred of all those nations which have tolerated them." [Voltaire, quoted by Johnson, p. 309]

A similar caution against applying modern political categories to 18th and 19th century anti-Semitism, especially German anti-Semitism, is recommended by Paul Lawrence Rose in German Quesiton/Jewish Question. The sort of initial observation above, that Fries's political activities were "at once admirable and horrifying," is well explored by Rose, who explains at length how what now to liberal opinion appears to be incoherent and paradoxical -- that the liberal and progressive opinion of its day, as in Kant, nevertheless could comfortably accommodate anti-Semitic views that now look to be the essence of evil and reaction.

Rose provides much more about the place and context of Fries than does Christopher Clark, although the two treatments are complementary in many ways. If we might not have suspected Voltaire of anti-Semitic sentiments, we learn that Immanuel Kant, and even Hegel (for all his denunciation of Fries), were not innocent of promoting anti-Semitic ideas. Thus, as I have discussed elsewhere, Kant denied that Judaism was even a religion, because it did not measure up, in his estimation, to the high and defining moral standard that Kant (absurdly and ahistorically) laid down for the meaning of "religion." But Kant also had objections to the Jews in a vein similar to those of Voltaire:

The Palestinians [!] who live among us owe their not undeserved reputation for cheating (at least the majority of them) to their spirit of usury which has possessed them ever since their exile. Certainly it seems strange to conceive of a nation of cheats, but it is just as strange to conceive of a nation of [pure/honest] traders, most of whom -- tied by an ancient [admitted] superstition -- seek no civil honor from the state where they live, but rather to restore their loss at the expense of those who grant them protection as well as from one another. [Rose, op.cit., p.94, color and bracket added]

Die unter uns lebenden Palästiner sind durch ihren Wuchergeist seit ihrem Exil, auch was die größte Menge betrifft, in den nicht ungegründeten Ruf des Betruges gekommen. Es scheint nun zwar befremdlich, sich eine Nation von lauter Kaufleuten zu denken, deren bei weitem größter Teil, durch einem alten, von dem Staat, darin sie leben, anerkannten Aberglauben verbunden, keine bürgerliche Ehre sucht, sondern dieser ihren Verlust durch die Vorteile der Überlistung des Volks, unter dem sie Schutz finden, und selbst ihrer untereinander, ersetzen wollen. [Immanuel Kant, «Anthropologie», Werkausgabe XII, Schriffen zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politk und Pädagogik 2, Herausgeben von Wilhelm Weisschedel, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 193, Insel-Verlag Wiesbaden 1964, pp.517-518, note, color added; note]

This disturbing and extraordinary passage not only reflects the prejudices just seen in Voltaire, but it exposes attitudes in philosophy, against trade and finance (q.v.), that are not only ancient, ignorant, foolish, and dishonorable but which continue in the radicalized modern leftist academy, to the corruption and harm of education and political life in the advanced democracies -- contributing its own force to modern and continuing anti-Semitism, conspicuously manifest as calumnies and protests against Israel, but with a strong undercurrent of simple hatred for capitalism, commerce, and finance, where trade and finance, practiced by anyone and not just Jews (although they are still there), necessarily exploit, defraud, rob, and oppress the innocent and helpless masses (but for the intervention of a Leninist Vanguard, i.e. the Democratic Party).
Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

That was only a prelude; where one burns books, one will in the end burn people also.

-- Heinrich Heine, 1820

In the era of Kant, Hegel, and Fries, opposition to the the Jews was rationalized in terms of the moral backwardness of Judaism in general and of the moral corruption that attended Jewish business in particular. Both of these were then interpreted as alien factors and dangers to the German nation. The common recommendation, that Judaism be eliminated, expressed by Kant in the chilling term "the euthanasia of Judaism" (Die Euthanasie des Judentums), at the time meant the moral and practical conversion of the Jews to either Christianity, honest labor, or Enlightened, rational sentiments, which would eliminate Judaism entirely as a religion, a culture, a way of life, and a distinct community.

But this was often expressed in such ambiguous and heated terms that the same recommendation could later be recycled with calls, not just for the explusion, but for the physical destruction of the Jews -- as the Nazis actually attempted to accomplish. Kant's expression of "euthanasia" thus stands out in retrospect, to his shame, as a kind of prophecy of genocide.

In the absence of the racial theories of the later 19th century, the destruction of the Jews as a race is not something that we see in the earlier era -- although things like the much earlier "purity of blood" laws in Spain look a whole lot like a full racism before its time, although the Spanish case (unless the Inquisition got involved) only featured legal disabilities.

The program of eliminating Judaism and, in effect, the Jews through moral reform is also seen in Hegel, despite his support for civil rights for Jews and condemnation of the anti-Semitism of Fries. And then there is Marx. In each of them, Judaism is represented as an evil or an anachronism that the progress of history will overcome. As it happens, there is an overlap between Hegel and Marx in the way that this is done. Paul Lawrence Rose describes the problem in Hegel:

Yet if Hegel supported the Prussian Edict of Emancipation and publicly defended Jewish students, his support arose out of his general theory of the state and that created a difficulty. For Hegel, "civil society" -- the stage of society in which man was not a free, genuinely social man, but merely one who obeyed his own selfish interests and the laws imposed by external authority -- was most aptly symbolized by Judaism, the religion of divinely imposed Law. The higher form of the state, however, would make men free and genuinely social in a regime of reason and love, just as Christianity had superseded Judaism. Hegel, therefore, came back indirectly to his youthful Kantian view that Judaism was ethically inferior to Christianity; but he now embodied this view in a grand philosophical-historical system that always required that Judaism be interpreted as a superseded phase of world history. [op.cit. p.115]

We see this issue turn up in the discussion by the Hegelian Slavoj Žižek in the epigraph above, where the moral deficiency of Judaism is coupled with that of Greek and Roman religion in relation to Christianity. The idea that civil society, the sphere of private activity, is a place of immoral selfishness and "atomic" individualism, identified by Hegel with the moral primitiveness of Judaism, was of course similarly promoted by Marx, with civil society falsely characterized as the place of the "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes) in laissez-faire capitalism -- when civil society, of course, simply means the place of voluntary relationships, unlike the coercion and slavery of every government that has attempted to implement Marxism.

The idea that civil society will be eliminated, either by the Hegelian dialectic of history or by the Marxist proletarian revolution (also part of a dialectic of history), not only by definition thereby eliminates Judaism -- as Marx explicitly asserts -- but it also provides the theory for the modern totalitarian state, in which privacy is gone and all human relations become matters of politics, political values, and political control, i.e. political moralism.

I am not sure if this is what Hannah Arendt meant by the origins of totalitarianism in anti-Semitism, but that is a connection that can certainly be made. The dialectical priority accorded to Judaism, criticized by Žižek, may be seen as praise for the introduction of individualism or perhaps as blame, in retrospect, for just that introduction. It is noteworthy that both Yirmiahu Yovel and Žižek regard Hegel's construction as the result of personal anti-Semitism, despite the traditional regard shown Hegel for his opposition to Fries's anti-Semitism. But it is obviously not just personal. The rejection of the individual is a theoretical necessity for Hegel.

In the development of nationalistic anti-Semitism from Kant to Fries, Rose reserves a large place for Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814):  "Fichte's apotheosis in the public consciousness of modern Germany as the founding spirit of 'Germanness' means that he bears a large responsibility for the rise of both revolutionary and nationalist Jew-hatred" [p.131]. Rose also refers to Fichte in this way:  "...Fichte believed it will-nigh impossible to humanize the Jews since Jewish vice was so embedded in Jewish heads that it would disappear only when those heads were replaced with new ones" [p.69]. In this respect, Fichte was also identified (with Hegel) as an embarrassment to philosophy by Julian Benda (1867-1956) in his classic, La Trahison des Clercs [1927]:

It was reserved for our own age to see metaphysicians of the greatest eminence turning their speculations to the exaltation of their own countries and to the depreciation of other countries, fortifying the will to power of their compatriots with all the power of abstractive genius. Fichte and Hegel made the triumph of the German world the supreme and necessary end of the development of Being.... It will be the eternal shame of the German philosophers to have transformed the patrician virgin who honored the Gods [i.e. metaphysics] into a harpy engaged in shrieking the glory of her children. [The Treason of the Intellectuals, 1928, translated by Richard Aldington, Transaction Publishers, 2007, pp.77-78, boldface added]

I was a philosophy student for many years, and knew graduate students who actually specialized in Fichte, without knowing anything of this about him. It is thus instructive to see Rose link Fichte with Fries:

The most public and rancorous manifestation of the revolutionary nationalist spirit of Fichte broke forth in the student Burschenschaften fraternities that appeared after 1815. Although their immediate impetus came from such "Germanomaniacs" as E.M. Arndt and Friedrich Jahn, the logical capacity of development into dangerous nationalism and antisemitism inherent in Fichte's doctrines made them extremely influential. Significantly, Fichte's leading disciple, the philosopher Jakob Fries (1773-1843), took a prominent role in the formation of these intolerantly nationalistic and anti-Jewish associations. Very often described as freedom-seeking "democratic" groups, the Burschenschaften had, in fact (as Saul Ascher noted), taken up the French ideal of liberty and Germanized it so that it became a peculiarly German revolutionary myth embodying primitive nationalistic and Teutonic enthusiasms. [op.cit. p.125, boldface added]

Here we get some of the sort of information missing in Clark's book. According to Rose, Fries had a "prominent role" in no less than the "formation" of the Burschenschaften; and Rose also says that Fries "instigated" the Wartburg Festival [p.130]. At the same time, it is striking and also perplexing that Rose would call Fries "Fichte's leading disciple." In what sense? It may be no more than in this matter, but it leaves us wondering if the discipleship was immediate and personal, as if Fries had been Fichte's student (he was eleven years younger), or remote and indirect, as if Fries had merely read or heard Fichte.

Otherwise, in philosophy, it is hard to discern any connection between Fries and Fichte whatsoever. Rose's treatment of Fries subordinates him so thoroughly to Fichte that he isn't even named in a characteristic statement like this:  "But this does not mean that Kant, Fichte, and Herder were 'racists,' instensely hostile to Judaism as they were" [p.63] -- a sentence that affirms Rose's impression that these men really didn't like the Jews, but that racism as now understood really didn't exist before 1860. Indeed, Rose says:

Thus, Fries reproaches the [Friedrich] Rühs school for implying that there was a "racial quality in this people" (Rasse in Volk) that might forever bar them from full civil rights! [p.130, boldface added]

Nelson's extensive critique of Fichte in Progress and Regress in Philosophy [Volume II, translated by Humphrey Palmer, Basil Blackwell, 1971, pp.55-70], not only says nothing about any relationship of Fichte with Fries, but identifies multiple points in Fichte's philosophy, including the rejection of things-in-themselves, the failure to distinquish between critique and system, and the purported use of "intellectual intuition," that are profoundly un-Kantian and un-Friesian in substance. Since Nelson does not discuss the politics of Fries or Fichte, and has no interest in German (or any) nationalism, it is not surprising that the whole issue should pass under his radar. However, we cannot avoid addressing the problem, especially in light of the events -- i.e. with the Nazis -- that took place after Nelson's death.

Just as people might be surprised to find anti-Semitism in Voltaire or Kant, we might also be surprised to find it in Goethe; Niall Ferguson performs this service:

When marriage between Jews and Gentiles was legalised in Frankfurt -- one of a number of minor concessions wrung from the Frankfurt Senate in the 1820s -- the eighty-year-old Goethe was moved to comment:

This scandalous law will undermine all family sense of morality, intimately associated with religion as it is. When this passed, how can a Jewess be prevented from becoming Principal Lady of the Bed Chamber? Who knows whether or not bribery has played a role in all this; who knows whether or not the all-powerful Rothschilds are behind it?

If so august and enlightened a figure could express such a view, it is no wonder the Rothschilds were content to see popular participation in German political life kept to a minimum. [op.cit., pp.141-142]

Frankfurt, the home of the Rothschilds, was a Free City at the time, with its own self-government -- hence the role of the "Frankfurt Senate." "Popular participation" seemed to be the source of a great deal of anti-Semitism, with riots over several centuries, while the Jews had always been protected by the Emperors and generally by other rulers. Nevertheless, the old aristocracy, in sentiment like Goethe, probably was not too keen on intermarriage between the religions. There is an aspect to this that now seems bizarre, but it involves attitudes so ingrained that we might imagine Fries afloat in a veritable sea of it. That "liberals" could be anti-Semitic may take some getting used to, but then we have come full circle to this now -- although true leftists do openly despise "liberalism," with its quaint and sinister notions of free speech and conscience, along with "neo-liberalism," i.e. capitalism

Fashionable Anti-Semitism Excused

So if Fries was simply anti-Semitic, this means all his thought is just (and justly) discredited? Right? Well, anti-Semitism, while repellent in Fries or anyone, tends to be excused or ignored when found in those who are more politically favored or intellectually fashionable, or where the rest of their ideas are regarded as worthy in themselves and unrelated to attitudes towards the Jews. Thus, anti-Semitism expressed or practiced by Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Marx, Nietzsche, Gottlob Frege, or
Heidegger! He was a fucking Nazi!
-- the response of Kees Bolle (1927-2012), Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Religion, UCLA, a person not given to crude language, in oral response to a report about Mark C. Taylor promoting Heidegger at Williams College, 1989
Martin Heidegger is hardly even noticed, if not deliberately ignored, by their advocates [note].

Also, we cannot ignore now what happened after the October 7, 2023 murderous attack on Israel by the terrorist organization Ḥamās. Americans learned that American universities had become hotbeds of anti-Semitism, which then exploded in public "Kill the Jews" demonstrations, whose participants were often the privileged, snowflake children of wealthy, "liberal" parents and whose sponsors are often organizations like the "Democratic Socialists of America." Israel, it seems, most of whose citizens are Middle Eastern Jews who fled persecution in Islamic countries, was some kind of European colony, and so an exemplar of "colonialism" and "imperialism," whose sins have been indoctrinated into today's students by Marxist professors.

Thus, the confluence of Leftist ideology and anti-Semitic ideology actually is no more than what is poetically suitable, given that Martin Heidegger, who stands behind so much of modern university nihilism, was actually a member of the Nazi Party and a functionary of the Nazi regime. And, of course, Marx provided the "dialectical" justification for all contemporary Leftist anti-Semitism, as found in Leftist campus radicals, or in both crude and more sophisticated (i.e. dissimulating) forms of Islamism. This has long been reflected in anti-Israel protests at American colleges. Columbia University has recently been identified as the most anti-Semitic school in the United States; and in 2021 Rutgers University, after new terrorist attacks on Israel, was forced to apologize for its own condemnation of anti-Semitism. That is not a typo. Rutgers apoligized for its own condemnation of anti-Semitism. Similarly, the Presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard were forced to resign after Congressional testimony in which they allowed that calling for the "Genocide of the Jews" might not violate their University "speech codes." The President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to hold on, despite giving similar testimony.

Since Nietzsche had a great many harsh things to say about the Jews, in books that are commonly read, a small apologetic industry has grown up to defend him. Nietzsche's theory that the distortion of morality into a mechanism for protecting the weak was the result of the vindictive hatred conceived by the Jews for the "noble races" who conquered them, however, would seem at once to discredit him as a moralist and simultaneously to convict him, all by itself, as an anti-Semite. If the excuse for Voltaire or Marx or Frege or Heidegger is that the rest of their thought is too important or edifying to be dismissed because of one reprehensible viewpoint, then Hegelian apologists like Avineri (who don't seem to notice the anti-Semitism woven into Hegel's system) are certainly not justified in using the same failing to tar and dismiss Fries's thought as a whole. The only substantive claim is that Fries's anti-Semitism followed from the "irrationality" of his thought, but this is a charge as well directed against Hegel himself, and most excellently made against Nietzsche and Heidegger, who make no pretense of rationality.

Unlike Karl Popper, I do not think that Heidegger should be shunned just because of his moral and political failings. There are some interesting, albeit limited, ideas there, which I have used myself. Yet not only was Heidegger an actual member of the Nazi Party, but as late as 1966 he said, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine that was not released until after his death, that "National Socialism indeed went in the right direction" -- der Nationalsozialismus ist zwar in die Richtung gegangen [Heidegger, The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, by Emmanuel Faye, translated by Michael B. Smith, foreword by Tom Rockmore, Yale University Press, 2009, p.242]. Any sin of Fries pales besides the folly and moral corruption revealed by this statement, from a man who participated in the regime he extoles and who had had twenty years to reflect on the crimes against humanity that it had committed. In a way, pace Sir Karl, this may actually make it more important to consider his thought and its implications, along with the cluelessness, folly, or viciousness of his apologists.

The same with Nietzsche, who, after all, can be very entertaining -- and even Hegel with his proto-totalitarianism must be addressed. In turn, Fries's thought should be evaluated as a whole. But, unlike apologists for Nietzsche or Heidegger, I see no point in trying to deny that he was an anti-Semite. As it happens, when I met Paul Branton in 1984 and asked him, as I had once been asked, about Fries's anti-Semitism, he sputtered in outrage. This from a man who fled Hitler's Austria to Palestine, who witnessed the Arab Revolt of 1936 (which means that people were killed right in front of him), and who joined the Royal Navy to fight Germany during World War II -- incongruously carrying around a copy of Leonard Nelson's Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, a practice that must have looked very odd to his fellow sailors.

Although Branton may have had before his mind the sterling anti-Nazis qualities of Nelson's circle, he did not actually meet any of them until after the War. Thus, it was the ideas that attracted him, and in reading Nelson he found no hint, and had no thought, of Fries's attitude toward the Jews -- although Nelson's attitude towards religion differs little from Kant's in its harshness and ahistoricity. Similarly, we get the drift of Popper's standards, not only in the exhortation that people should ignore Heidegger, but in that after the War Popper refused offers of teaching positions in Germany or Austria, precisely because of what had been done there. What he may not have known is that professors who were former Nazis and collaborators generally escaped the consequences of their behavior and returned to their positions, and even to anti-Semitic discourse, after the War (see Yvonne Sherratt, "The Nuremberg Trials and Beyond," Hitler's Philosophers [Yale, 2013, pp.229-263]). He would not have enjoyed dealing with them as colleagues. At the same time, Julius Kraft, Nelson's principal student and a relative of Popper's, who had lost members of his own family in the Holocaust, did return to Germany, with the intention of laboring to set things right. Like Nelson and Kraft, Popper did not use the dark side of Fries's politics in order, merely by association, to impeach the rest of his thought.

The fundamental question to ask is how an expression of anti-Semitism relates, indeed, to the rest of a philosopher's thought. Anti-Semitism as a form of racist ideology was essential to the political theory of the Nazis; yet such racism seemed to be missing in Heidegger (which is what I thought until recently; but now see the revelations of Emmanuel Faye) and also in Fries -- especially since such ideology didn't exist yet in the early 19th century. It is not missing in Nietzsche, who freely uses expressions like die Herren Rasse, the "Master Race," or "Race of Masters." If anti-Semitism occurs, as in Marx, because of envy, distaste, misunderstanding, and hatred of successful middleman economic minorities, just as Chinese were hated in Indonesia, Indians in Uganda, Lebanese in Ghana, Japanese in California, or Koreans in Harlem, then the problem is clearly originally one of hatred and misunderstanding of capitalism and the conditions for economic success, and not just some atavistic expression of ethnocentrism and racism.

The Fall, 2011, "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, with their anti-capitalist agenda, have featured their share of diatribes against Jews and Zionists for the evils of banking and finance. Few ethnic groups, whether successful or unsuccessful, get attacked, robbed, or murdered without some element of envy or perceived economic threat involved. Such ethnic hatreds will be certain to continue as long as economically successful minorities are regarded as prospering because of dishonesty or exploitation, or even unsuccessful groups are regarded as illegitimately absorbing wealth that somehow collectively belongs to some other group.

The fault, indeed, is again Hegelian: the reification of a universal, a group, into the legitimate possessor of rights and liberties. Since tens of millions of people have been murdered in the Twentieth Century on this principle, whether applied in racial or class terms, the historical guilt of Kant, Fichte, Fries, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Frege, and Heidegger can only truly be assessed in terms of whether or how they contributed to the formulation or application of that principle. In that light, the final word must be that it was the metaphysical and moral individualism of Kant and Fries, however imperfectly they understood its proper, liberal application, that statists and collectivists like Hegel, and his spiritual descendants, with Marx or even the so-called "Pragmatists," such as John Dewey and Richard Rorty, in American philosophy, found the most objectionable.

The anti-Semitism of Right and Left comes down to the same hatred:  the hatred of capitalism and liberty -- although certainly with good doses of religious bigotry and ethnic xenophobia thrown in. To the political Right, capitalism represents, like the Jews themselves, a threat to the customs and hierarchy of traditional Christian (or Moslem, etc.) society. Commercial culture frees individuals from ancient restraints, producing "vulgar" popular enjoyments and non-conforming individual behavior. To the political Left, capitalism represents a threat to the ideological social engineering, Utopianism, and Mandarinism that really is the content of a leftist political program. A commercial culture that frees individuals does not ensure that they will conform to ideologically sound ("politically correct"), edifying activities. Rightist and Leftist politics thus cross paths as they return to the ancient paradigm of the Law Giver, like Solon of Athens or, more to the point, Lycurgus of Sparta, which was to engineer the moral rectitude and worthy occupations and preoccupations of the subjects of the state.

Since a political Mandarinism is rather like the status of learned scholars in the Mediaeval Jewish (or Moslem, for that matter) tradition, many Jews have curiously been attracted to political programs whose promotion of state power and whose attacks on private property and individual liberty are inevitably turned upon the Jews themselves, whose own economic success and status are always due to the limitation of state power and the protection of private property and individual liberty. Thus, for the Right, Jews represent the threat of radical innovation, while for the Left they represent the threat of opposition to radical innovation, as derived from individualism and privacy.

For Jews themselves, Jewish tradition, itself formulated long before the existence of capitalism or liberal democracy, sadly often motivates attacks upon the very principles of limited government and individual liberty and property that protect Jews from the envy, ill will, and Utopian manipulations of others. Thus, American Jews are said to earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. This is neither good for the Jews nor, as it happens, morally right. For instance, after I had a letter published in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the "health care" proposals of the Clinton Administration, I received a telephone call from a doctor who quoted the Bible and Jewish Tradition to me about how we had to take care of everyone. That socialism and absolutist government were not going to be effective or appropriate ways to take care of everyone did not seem persuasive to him. Nor had he remembered that Jewish charity could never be coerced in the Mediaeval circumstances of the Jewish community -- escape was always available by conversion to the surrounding Christian or Muslim societies.

How Fries would have taken to later events is a question that cannot be answered. Whether he would have gone ahead with Bismarckian nationalism (Schwarzweißrot) and its terrible apocalyptic future or moved toward a more properly liberal stand (Schwarzrotgold), we can never know. What we can see instead is Leonard Nelson's career, which was forthrightly internationalist and socialist. Unfortunately, Nelson thereby errs in the opposite direction, with a leftist rather than a rightist impatience with liberal principles and the individualistic free market. That Nelson was not tempted by anti-Semitic rhetoric is a tribute to his good sense, but there would have been nothing particularly inconsistent or surprising if his Leftist sympathies had happened to propel him in that direction, especially when he saw religious life absurdly as somehow fulfilled in politics. In the Kant-Friesian tradition, therefore, we must wait for a mature and appropriate political and economic philosophy until Popper and F.A. Hayek, with the latter laying to rest the calumnies against commercial culture and finance.

"Jakob Friedrich Fries and the Birth of Psychologism," The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1786-1880, by Frederick C. Beiser, Oxford University Press, 2014, 2017

The Sources and Influence of the Kant-Friesian School

The Principles of Friesian Philosophy

The Curse of the Friesian School

Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013)

C. Edgar Goyette, Jr. (1917-1972)

Note on Fries in The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function

Kay Herrmann, Mathematische Naturphilosophie in der Grundlagendiskussion, Jakob Friedrich Fries und die Wissenschaften

Dr. Kay Herrmann, in English

Dr. Kay Herrmann, in German

History of Philosophy


Philosophy of Religion

Fries on Home Page

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 1;
Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013)

Metaquestions about a field, say about science or mathematics or the law, are not normally questions that are contained in the field itself; they are not, respectively, scientific or mathematical or legal. Rather they are categorized as philosophical questions, residing, respectively, in the philosophy of science, of mathematics, of law.

Rebecca Goldstein, Incompleteness, The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, Atlas Books, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005, p.27-28, color added

Even among those who appear to be well aware of the language/meta-language distinction, considerable confusion can still be found. In Justice for Hedgehogs [Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2011], legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin does not want to accept a language/meta-language distinction when it comes to ethics and the metaphysical or epistemological questions of meta-ethics. He does not even want to call himself a moral "Realist," although he is, because of its status as an ontological doctrine. And the idea that metaphysics should describe the objects denoted by moral terms or propositions he disparages and dismisses by calling such objects "morons," with a cute word play on the root of "moral" (Latin mores, moralis, moralitas), the "-on" ending for subatomic particles ("electron," "hadron," etc.), and the familiar meaning of "moron" (Greek, μορός, "fool") There is some irony in this, since Dworkin uses his argument to avoid addressing the metaphysical questions that are also typically dismissed by moral skeptics he otherwise opposes. Such metaphysics or epistemology as he wishes to allow he wants to include in the object language of ethics. Yet this in itself demonstrates his lack of understanding for the object language/meta-language distinction.

Dworkin says, "We cannot escape from morality's independence, no matter how strenuously we struggle" [p.39]. The independence of value is a commendable thesis, but we may see a clue to Dworkin's confusion in the fact that he never speaks of the axiomatic independence of morality and of value. When we add such a term, this means that we are aware of the propositions of morality or of value as a logical, deductive system (or systems), which could be organized, as Aristotle anticipated, into axioms and theorems. Once we understand the nature of such a system, then we can understand how its contents refer, i.e. have objects they describe in reality, and how we can refer to the system in other propositions that belong to a meta-language. Thus, Chapter 1 of Dworkin's book begins with a meta-statement, "This book defends a large and old philosophical thesis:  the unity of value" [p.1]. If we render the thesis as "Value is a unity," or "Value is one," then, with a predicate that is a concept from mathematics, a number, this is not a proposition of morality or ethics or any other part of the universe of value. It is a proposition of meta-ethics or value theory, which applies a number to the system or the nature of value -- a thesis in opposition to the value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin.

To avoid the meta-questions that refer, on the one hand, to the object language of morality or ethics (or aesthetics) itself, or to the objects denoted by those object languages, Dworkin must become some kind of skeptic about reference itself. Thus, he is comforted that the classic distinction between mathematics as an axiomatic system and meta-mathematics, established by David Hilbert, pounced upon, as Friesian, by Leonard Nelson, and fundamental to the Incompleteness Proofs of Kurt Gödel, is obscured by some mathematicians [cf. p.41-42]. But this is not a matter that is just, as Dworkin says, "semantic" [p.42]. It is a hard distinction of logic, used by the likes of Alfred Tarski to define truth -- e.g. "p" is true if and only if p, where the first "p" is "mentioned," and so in quotes, while second is "used," i.e. it refers (to its objects). Truth is predicated of a proposition, which itself is the object of the affirmation. If Dworkin wants to be a reference skeptic, he must ally with Wittgenstein, for whom "language games" seem to be self-referential and autistic. But Dworkin doesn't like the "language game" discourse and would not like the relativistic autism implied by Wittgenstein's philosophy.

By collapsing the meta-language of value into the object language of value and confusing what is content and what is reference, Dworkin can also collapse, and thereby obscure and conceal, whatever it is that is denoted by the propositlons of morality, ethics, aesthetics, etc. We may say, "The Golden Gate Bridge is red," and "The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful." In metaphysics, it is then natural to ask what "red" and "beautiful" are in reality and how they come to be equally predicated of the bridge. Dworkin doesn't want to address such questions, and trivalizes them with (repeated) talk about "morons," as though this parody were the only existing Realistic ontology of value. The threat he feels from the proper metaphysical question may be due to another confusion. He says, "Philosophy can neither impeach nor validate any value judgment while standing wholly outside that judgment's domain" [p.37]. In an important sense, this is true. The content of any proposition of morality, etc. depends on its place as a theorem in the logical system of morality. Dworkin seems to think that meta-ethics or value theory somehow determines the content of such a value system. His acceptance of this misunderstanding is then reflecting in his thesis that any meta-ethical propositions must be part of the object language systems of value -- which, again, denies that there is a difference between content and reference, use and mention, or even subject and object. But Dworkin is confused in the first instance that a foundational metaphysical inquiry (as opposed to a foundation inquiry that is the axiomatics of the system itself) is supposed to determine the content of morality or anything else, as though the language of metaphysics is itself axiomatically foundational of the object languages, deducing their axioms from itself (as we might see it in Hegel).

Dworkin has thus not understood, even as he does not mention, Aristotle's theory of the first principles of demonstration. The absence of terms like "axiom," "theorem," or "first principle" from his book demonstrates his blindness to this whole dimension of the issue and allows him to proceed with his confusions about object language and meta-language. His particular opportunity to do better comes when he says:

What makes a moral judgment true? When are we justified in thinking a moral judgment true? My answer to the first is that moral judgments are made true, when they are true, by an adequate moral argument for their truth. Of course that invites the further question: What makes a moral argument adequate? The answer must be: a further moral argument for its adequacy. And so forth, [p.37]

Dworkin has thus, perhaps (re-)discovered the Regress of Reasons, but apparently without acknowledgement or awareness that Aristotle had already identified this problem and examined its consequences much, much earlier. Nor do we get any indication that Dworkin is aware that Fries and Karl Popper had reexamined the issue. It is not enough to make an argument, or even a formal proof. We must ask about its foundations, its axioms, which, unfortunately for Dworkin, calls for a critical epistemological meta-theory. Dworkin obviously doesn't want to do this and is willing to cook up some ill-informed sophistry to avoid it.

The Skeptics who dismiss value as non-existent ("error skeptics" for Dworkin; I would say "nihilists"), or who transfer its ground to some non-moral or non-value facts about the world ("status skeptics" to Dworkin; I would say "reductionists"), do use a metaphysical critique to denature or delegitimize the modality of value propositions. In this sense, such Skeptics wish to affect the content of ethics and to undermine its force. In this cause, the Skeptics often use their misunderstanding of Hume, such as we see in Antony Flew, to deny the force or existence of morality. Dworkin demonstrates a better understanding of Hume by affirming that this was not the meaning of Hume's critique [p.17]. That morality is not discovered or deduced from natural objects does not mean that it does not exist. But Dworkin then misses why Hume calls himself a Skeptic.

My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference. [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Shelby-Bigge edition, Oxford, 1902, 1972, p.38]

Dworkin apparently does not want to allow the meaning of the "curiosity" that Hume, "as a philosopher," has about "the foundation of this inference," i.e. from empirical contingency to necessity, or in the case of morality from fact to value. Hume's own explanations of causality and morality from custom and habit, although inadequate, don't make any sense otherwise. Dworkin appears to say, in effect, that Hume's practice does refute his doubts. But a simple distinction between language and meta-language, or in Kant's terms between quid facti and quid juris, separates the issues. Dworkin misses the point, and ends up in effect accusing Hume of not understanding his own argument. As an interpretation of Hume, this may not be much better than Antony Flew.

Since the skeptics do create an effect on morality itself, either to eliminate it or denature its imperatives, we must consider Dworkin's claim that this necessarily makes the skeptical arguments part of morality, which implies that morality exists and that it is what it is after all. But if true, Dworkin's argument would prove too much, for it not only obscures and confuses the carefully assembled logical structures of mathematics and Set Theory -- about which Dworkin seems complacent or baselessly gratified -- but its consequences extend to the metaphysics of mathematics and of other philosophical issues that share a key characteristic of value and mathematics, namely the abstract nature of its objects. Most significantly, this includes the traditional Problem of Universals. The referents of value, mathematics, and universals are all abstract objects and so fit uncomfortably (or unconformably) into a phenomenal world that apparently consists of individual, transient, empirical objects. If we apply Dworkin's arguments to mathematics and universals, we achieve the remarkable result that skepticism about mathematical objects and universals is self-refuting but that, when it comes right down to it, we don't need to say how abstract mathematical objects or universals actually exist in reality anyway. This relieves us of a great metaphysical burden, but mathematical skeptics and Nominalists are probably going to feel cheated, as they should. They are the victims of Dworkin's bit of sophistry. If Dworkin wants to delegitimize his own value realism, this takes with it both Aristotelian Realism and Ockhamite Nominalism; for the very use of universals by Nominalists -- and they do use them -- refutes the whole metaphysical inquiry into their meaning and status.

Dworkin says, "But there is nothing else for moral skepticism to be but moral" [p.42]. No, if value and moral imperatives are denatured, because they are dismissed as fraudulent or reduced to indicatives (e.g. "Society acts this way"), then the skeptic becames an immoralist, like Nietzsche -- or at least, as a positivist, someone who mistakes actuality for obligation. Moral skepticism can simply be immoral, i.e. eliminate the moral universe of discourse, as Nietzsche wished to do. Whether the skeptics can then act without invoking moral principles, providing ammunition for a Socratic elenchus, is another question; for Dworkin's claim is not that skeptics are hypocrites whose actions do not match their words, but that any discussion of morality, even to pull the cognitive and ontological rug out from under it, vindicates morality. That would have been a nice trick, if Dworkin could get away with it; but he cannot.

In the collapse of language and meta-language, we must consider whether Dworkin's argument endangers our ordinary understanding of hallucinations. After all, if Dworkin's moral nihilist cannot meaningfully deny the existence of the objects of morality, which are somehow collapsed, self-referentially or autistically, into the content of morality itself, how can we meaningfully deny the existence of the objects of hallucinations, which would be subject to the same collapse? How can we not allow the existence of the objects of hallucinations when Dworkin forbids us the very meaningfulness of the denial of the existence of the objects of value? In each case, there is a representation that refers to objects. For hallucinations, the very definition of the phenomenon is that their objects do not exist. The moral nihilist merely affirms, after a fashion, that morality is a hallucination -- something with a content, a representation, that nevertheless is of something non-existent. If Dworkin admits that the reference of hallucinations does not exist, how could he then turn around and forbid the moral nihilist from saying the same thing about morality? He cannot; for if he allows the function of content and reference in one case, he cannot discard it in another, just because it inconveniences his preferences.

The sophistry in Dworkin does not end with his mangling of the relation of reference. His dispute with Isaiah Berlin has some good points -- the rejection of equally legimate and rational but incommensurable values (addressed elsewhere) -- but then some grave shortcomings. It is not clear how far Dworkin appreciates aesthetic variety. He also does not have a polynomic theory and so wishes to "resolve" traditional moral dilemmas. Thus, Dworkin asserts that high taxation does not violate rights to private property because, if high taxation is justified, the owner did not have the right to all his property in the first place. This is a skewed and dangerous view of the matter and obviously seeks to avoid a sense that political provisions of law may involve trade-offs, compromises, and a benefits vs. loss analysis. The government that tells property owners that the government has a right to a certain percentage, perhaps a large percentage, of their property, perhaps in order to carry out a "redistribution" of wealth, probably does not have a very good understanding of the principle of the Declaration of Independence that "governments are instituted among men to secure these rights" -- i.e. that the government only has the power to take property in order to efficiently and minimally protect the remaining property. Dworkin seems to have a different view of the matter, and we begin to get the drift of his ideological commitments:

A laissez-faire political economy leaves unchanged the consequences of a free market in which people buy and sell their product and labor as they wish and can. That does not show equal concern for everyone. Anyone impoverished through that system is entitled to ask: "There are other, more regulatory and redistributive, sets of law that would put me in a better position. How can government claim that this system shows equal concern for me?" [pp.2-3]

This has substituted Dworkin's own principle of "equal concern" for the traditional principle of the protection of natural rights, and it appears to rely on Marxist canards about capitalism. First of all, how does laissez-faire capitalism not demonstrate "equal concern" for everyone, unless Dworkin has shifted from a "nomocratic," equal-before-the-law conception of government to a "teleocratic" conception that it is the job of government to equalize outcomes and to engineer a certain "redistribution" of wealth? Dwokin clearly believes that laissez-faire capitalism has "improverished" the workers (as Marx says), who then yearn for Lenin or Stalin, or perhaps just Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama, to make their lives better. But it is far late in the day for American academics to believe such nonsense, although ignorance in the matter is widespread. Paul Kennedy reminds us, "...average real wages in Britain rose between 15 and 25 percent in the years 1815-1850, and by an impressive 80 percent in the next half-century" [The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Vintage Books, 1987, 1989, p.146-147]. Laissez-faire capitalism did not impoverish (or "pauperize") the workers -- quite the opposite. Even John Maynard Keynes said:

Communism is not a reaction against the failure of the nineteenth century to organize optimal economic output. It is a reaction against its comparative success. It is a protest against the emptiness of economic welfare, an appeal to the ascetic in us all... The idealistic youth play with Communism because it is the only spiritual appeal which feels to them contemporary. [1934]

Ronald Dworkin is the sort of philosopher who has not kept up with this but is reduced to repeating the Marxist clichés that he probably heard in the faculty lounge every day.

But the irony of Dworkin's passage is that those who are hurt by capitalism, namely competing businesses who fall into bankruptcy or are bought out, do make just this sort of protest to government, which has responded for some time now with protectionist and anti-competitive measures that have produced modern corporate welfare, "crony capitalism," and, in short, the modern revival of Mercantilism. Dworkin may think that he is refering to the workers being impoverished, but the actual reponse is in terms of the corporate lobbyists who crowd Washington bars and pitch their own sob stories or fairy tales to Congressmen. The Marxist principle that capitalism drives up unemployment has now been refuted for decades, if not (at this point) centuries, by the low unemployment of laissez-faire bastions like Hong Kong and Singapore, and the high unemployment of socialist experiments like France, California, Greece, and pre-reform Sweden. I suspect that Dworkin is the kind of political philosopher who is content to see workers impoverished by minimum wage laws, just because those who have jobs get paid more. This is the problem of "the seen and the unseen" in economics, and it is rare for academic or legal philosophers to have achieved such an advanced level of information and understanding [cf. Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, 1946; or Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas, "What One Sees and what One Does Not See," by Frédéric Bastiat, 1850].

Thus, once Dworkin dispenses with the metaphysics and epistemology that are otherwise called for by his inquiry, he can get down to the characteristic follies of academic "liberalism" in the modern university. And if he misses the point of the value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin, at least he is hard on the skeptics and nihilists. This is not enough to redeem the muddle of his analysis of meta-ethics or the conventional shibboleths of "liberal" poltics.

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 2;
Jews as Palestinians

Kant thinking of Jews as "Palestinians," Palästiner, however paradoxical it now sounds, was not unique. We find the same sort of thing in no less than the essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who expressed, to more than one person, opposition and hostility that Lionel Rothschild be admitted to the British Parliament. Carlyle told fellow historian James A. Froude (1818-1894) about a conversation with Rothschild:

I observed too that I could not conceive why he and his friends, who were supposed to be looking out for the coming of Shiloh, should be seeking seats in a Gentile legislature. [The House of Rothschild, Volume II, The World's Banker, 1849-1999, Niall Ferguson, 1998, Penguin, 1999, 2000, p.27]

In a letter to Monckton Milnes, a Member of Parliament, Carlyle wrote:

A Jew is bad, but what is a Sham-Jew, a Quack-Jew? And how can a real Jew, by possibility, try to be a Senator, or even a Citizen of any country, except his own wretched Palestine, whither all his thoughts and step and efforts tend? [ibid., boldface added]

This is the old question of the "dual loyalty" of the Jews, who now have the actual State of Israel calling to them, which somehow does not get raised in trendy opinion for demonstrators waving Mexican flags in the United States, or for Muslims whose loyalty may first be to the , Ummah, the "Nation," of Islâm (such suspicions would be "Islamophobia"). Lionel Rothschild was elected to Parliament in 1847, but, unable to take an oath as a Christian, was not seated until 1858. The largely conservative opposition was battled by no less than the leader of the Conservative Party, Benjamin Disraeli, himself a converted Jew -- but still called by Bismark, der alte Jude.

Disraeli himself sometimes voiced views that today might be taken as anti-Semitic. When Leopold Rothschild, son of Lionel, was born in 1845, Disraeli wrote to the parents, expressing his hope that, "he will prove worthy of his pure and sacred race, and of his beautiful brothers and sisters" [ibid., p.29]. Seeing the Jews as a "pure... race" will remind us of Nietzsche saying similar things ("...the Jews are beyond doubt the strongest, toughest and purest race now living in Europe"), and at a time not much removed from Disraeli, who, of course, had nothing but love for this "race," of which he was, "racially," a member -- while Nietzsche attrributes to the Jews the impotent revenge of the "slave revolt in morals." The peril of thinking of the Jews in racial terms is now evident; and if Nietzsche, or Disraeli, simply reflected the spirit of the age, Nietzsche, at least, is not free of the guilt that his influence had on those who later thought to protect themselves from this "race" by genocide.

As we will see, Fries rebuked those who had the idea of the Jews as a race, before this sort of thing would really be an issue (since Fries died in 1843). But when it was, we find Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the father of Zionism, avoiding the language used by Disraeli:

Herzl... differs with him [i.e. Israel Zangwill] over whether the Jews are, as Zangwill sees it, a race or, as Herzl insists, "a historical unit." [Norman Lebrecht, Genius & Anxiety, How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947, Scribner, 2019, p.137]

But anti-Semites were not the only people to refer to Jews as "Palestinians." Gustavus Poznanski (1804-1879) was cantor and later rabbi of the Congregation Beth Elohim, Charleston, South Carolina. Poznanski supported Jewish loyalty to America, even to the exclusion of aspirations to return to the Promised Land. Thus, in 1841, he said, "This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city and this land... America is our Zion and Washington our Jerusalem." This was a striking defense of Jewish assimilation to the social and political norms of America, along with the continuation of Jewish religion and identity. Constitutional freedom of religion in the United State made that possible; and of course the inspiration of Zionism was not the Jewish experience in America, but that in Russia, France, and Germany.

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 3;
Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob Frege is one of the most important figures in the history of logic, and I had an entire seminar on him with Irving Copi at the University of Hawaii in 1973. But Frege's anti-Semitism only just came to my attention in 1998, in Tom Rockmore's On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy [U. California Press, 1997]. Rockmore refers to "Frege's well-known, vicious anti-Semitism" [p. 40]; but it must not be all that well known, since neither Copi nor any other philosopher or logician I've ever met bothered to mention it. It is anti-Semitism of a particularly disturbing sort since Frege, although he died in 1925 and so had no clue about the later triumph of the Nazis, was already for them and for Hitler at the time and in 1924 was endorsing racial laws to require Jews to wear something to distinguish them as Jews [p. 311-312] -- like the yellow star later used by Hitler -- a device not uncommon in the Middle Ages, in Christendom and Islâm, that Fries had himself advocated.

This is a good case for the discussion about Fries, since it would be hard to blame logic for Frege's anti-Semitism (though I'm willing to listen to arguments). At the same time, this also illustrates the fact that logic alone almost always fails to produce sensible views about anything else in logicians themselves. When I was a student at UCLA in 1968-1970, the logician Donald Kalish (1919-2000) was the chairman of the Philosophy Department. A characteristic pronouncement of his was that "Philosophers are either logicians or lotus-eaters." Nevertheless Kalish was a political (e.g. a "peace") acitivist; and when he presided over faculty meetings that were large enough to require microphones, he reportedly instructed the ushers, when they would hold the mic for dissident faculty members, that they should hold it too far away or shove it in their faces. Thus, not only was Kalish a fool in philosophy, we was a self-righteous leftist with a vicious streak.

Frege is also a good case for a phenomenon that occurs in my correspondence:  people who write to me, and are critical of something about Friesian philosophy, and who then threaten to discredit all of it by exposing Fries's anti-Semitism -- expose it with the information that they have learned from the webpages that I have myself posted! There is something odd about that. They are threatening to expose something that I have already exposed? Come again?

But we may then engage in the thought experiment about what it would mean to expose Frege. Clearly, someone like Professor Copi, if he even knew of Frege's anti-Semitism himself, must have felt awkward about teaching a seminar and relying in his discipline on a serious, of not notorious, anti-Semite. Yet, once he may have determined that Frege's political ideas were irrelevant to his logical studies, then he really need not have worried about the matter again.

The case of Fries is rather different, since his philosophy, like Kant's, features a moral teaching, which thus might be discredited by his political views, if the latter can be traced to the former. This is precisely the purport of Hegel's criticism that the moral philosophy of both Kant and Fries is subjective and "irrational." Why the moral philosophy of both Nietzsche and Heidegger should then be given a pass by their enthusiasts, when both are profoundly and openly irrationalistic, with a valorization of violence and even injustice, and be the subject of desperate apologetics, is a little mysterious. The solution, of course, is that there is little about Hegel's dialectic that is genuinely rational, while its moral positivism is fully conformable to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the sort of Statists and totalitarians who ironically and, in the case of Nietzsche, incongruously find comfort in all three.

A curious treatment of Frege is to be found in Hitler's Philosophers, by Yvonne Sherratt [Yale, 2013]. Discussing Frege briefly but in some detail, Sherratt says, "with this background of strong anti-Semitism and nationalist zeal Frege would go on to become the father of Western analytic philosophy. The origins of this brand of philosophy were therefore also tainted by associations with Hitler" [p.60]. Later, Sherratt says, "Given that analytic philosophy is dominant throughout Western universities, it is worrying that the founder of this tradition, Frege, held such morally repulsive views -- and moreover that for the majority of students this issue will never even be raised" [p.262].

It is unclear from these statements why Frege's influence should be "worrying." Are students going to become anti-Semites because they discover that a great logician was an anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer? But then, if the "issue will never even be raised," and if the students, like me, studied Frege in some detail without ever hearing about his political views, how can the students even be aware of such views to be influenced by them? This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Indeed, Sherratt seems to be employing nothing more than guilt-by-association, in the absence of any argument that Frege's political ideas logically follow from this ideas in logic, epistemology, or metaphysics. I don't get a sense that Sherratt is aware of the difference, in a book that, although merciless about Heidegger, nevertheless does not examine the principles of his philosophy that were conformable and agreeable to his political commitments.

What actually is "worrying" is that Sherratt does not seem to be aware that analytic philosophy, although in my view indeed of little enduring value (which I take to be the implication of Sherratt's remarks), is actually no longer "dominant throughout Western universities." Instead, the Frankfurt School Marxism apparently supported by Sherratt herself, by way of "critical studies" in deconstruction and "Post-Modernism," has become much more influential, far beyond philosophy departments. This has come to motivate the intolerance, political indoctrination, and even violence that now characterize the regime of Western education. When activists emulate the Hitler Youth by shouting down invited speakers or even throwing things and storming the stage at politically "incorrect" events, their inspiration is not the logical theory of Gottlob Frege, but the Frankfurt Marxism of people like Herbert Marcuse. Sherratt provides nothing about any of these philosophers that would enable us to make informed judgments about the moral or political principles of their thought. She therefore is missing the essential element in the real evaluation of people like Frege, Heidegger, Fries, or Marcuse -- the link between theory and practice (or "Praxis" as the Marxists like to say).

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 4

Biography, Publications, and Book Prospectus of Dr. Kay Herrmann,
with Jakob Fries Page.

Return to Index

"Jakob Friedrich Fries
and the Birth of Psychologism,"
The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1786-1880

by Frederick C. Beiser

Oxford University Press, 2014, 2017

Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung.
The world is my representation.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §1 [Reclam, 1987, p.3], The World as Will and Representation, Volume I [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation, p.3]

Leonard Nelson spent his entire life fighting the accusations of "psychologism" made against Jakob Fries. "Psychologism" is the doctrine, more or less, that knowledge is subjective and relates to the human mind and human nature, not to the objective world. For example, we might even say that the later Ludwig Wittgenstein asserts a kind of psychologism, since "language games" impose a pattern and an order on the world that is not derived from the world but just from the particular human language that is being used. Wittgensteinians don't seem to worry that this is autistic, self-referential, relativistic, and nihilistic -- but that is the conceit of the "post-modern" mindset prevalent among the (largely narcissistic) academic and cultural elites -- people who are now marching in "Kill the Jews" demonstrations.

Nelson was let down by his own students, who, we have seen, abandoned Nelson's defense and accepted that Fries represented psychologism. Grete Henry even reduced Fries's psychology and anthropology to "Behaviour Study." This was perhaps, in part, under the powerful influence of, if not B.F. Skinner, then Karl Popper, who had his own interpretation of the term, that "psychologism" represented a claim of subjective certainty for any kind of immediate knowledge, what Henry called "infallible insights," despite there being no such thing in Friesian philosophy. In general, however, Nelson's students simply went along with the nihilistic mainstream of Analytic philosophy.

Frederick Beiser's book is a history of Neo-Kantianism. Beiser gives Fries pride of place as the first Neo-Kantian, and he defends him against various unwarranted charges made by later Neo-Kantians. Beiser tries to be very fair to Fries, and we hear little about the embarrassment of his later political commitments. Thus, we don't get answers to some of the questions that arise, as we've seen above, about Fries's activities and influence. We do hear about Fries's anti-Semitism, and considering that Beiser had relatives who were murdered by the Nazis, as we hear from the dedication of the book [q.v.], it is a tribute to Beiser's restraint that we don't hear more about the issue.

However, Beiser does have a section on Fries's early political thought ["Early Political Philosophy," pp.54-63], as expressed in his Philosophische Rechtslehre of 1804. From this, despite its liberal Kantian origin and general principles, we learn that Fries nevertheless endorses absolute monarchy and rejects the principles of a separation of powers, checks and balances, enumerated powers, or any practical limitation of government.

Fries seems to see limited government as a good, but the only practical limit he envisions to the power of the monarch is "public opinion," without any explanation how this is to be expressed or even taken seriously by an absolute monarch. This is basically absurd, ignores the political philosophy recently developed in the Anglophone world, from Britain to the United States, and perhaps prepared the ground for the way in which Fries will jump the rails from liberal republicanism.

Also, today we see how easily "public opinion" can be throttled by a dictatorship, or even by influence in a democratic government, especially from unelected bureaucrats, on a pliable, biased, and partisan media, as in the "Russia collusion" hoax against Donald Trump in 2016 or the suppression of evidence of the corruption of Joe Biden and his family in 2020.

Beiser says:

The principle that we should treat all people equally became the principle that all people in a nation should be equal, having the same language, religion, ethnic origin. This understanding of equality, combined with a lack of tolerance for those who do not meet is requirements, was the basis for Fries' later anti-semitism, which remains an inexpungible stain on his reputation. [p.63]

This is as far as Beiser goes in condemning Fries, and it is damning enough; but it should also serve to warn us that it began with serious flaws in the "republicanism" originally described by Fries. Flaws in political philosophy continue with Nelson, who also seems insensible of the wisdom of republican government as described by Polybius, Machiavelli, John Locke, and then American Founders like Jefferson and Madison. Nelson's socialism and description of market economies as "anarchy" generally disqualifies him from our serious consideration. The proper "Friesian" political economist is F.A. Hayek. Nelson is guilty of the "Fatal Conceit" described by Hayek.

While Beiser usefully alerts us to problems in the political philosophy of Fries, he strongly promotes the construction of Fries as representing psychologism. He is aware of Nelson's defense of Fries, and acknowledges that much of it is justified, but he still thinks it fails to go as far as Nelson thought.

While it is tangential to the main issue, there is a clue that Beiser may not have the best understanding of Nelson's arguments. Thus, in one footnote, Beiser says:

The fact that Fries begins with the same problem as Kant shows how misleading it is to claim, with Nelson, that Fries' work proves the impossibility of epistemology. See Nelson, Jakob Friedrich Fries und seine jüngsten Kritiker (Göttingen: Dieterich, 1909), pp.80-81. Fries himself would have found this a startling conclusion. Though Nelson is correct that Fries did not intend to provide an objective justification for the validity of knoweldge, it hardly follows from this that he showed the impossibility of epistemology. Fries did intend to provide a subjective justification of synthetic a priori principles, which surely falls with in the purview of epistemology. [note 108, p.73]

But Nelson, no more than Fries, would want to prove "the impossibity of epistemology." What Nelson thought instead we can see in his essay, "The Impossibility of the 'Theory of Knowledge'" [Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, Yale, 1949, Dover, 1965, p.185]. What Nelson addressed was a certain kind of Epistemology, where an Erkenntnistheorie is expected to prove the existence of knowledge. The temptation to do such a thing might be in response to the Greek tradition of "Skepticism," which, beginning with Pyrrho of Elis, denied the existence of knowledge -- reminding us that Greek "Skepticism" went far beyond merely having "doubts."

Nelson's argument about this is simple. If we have a proof that knowledge exists, its source and premises must be in some kind of knowledge, or it cannot prove anything. But then it already begs the question. Similarly, if the claim of Skepticism is that knowledge doesn't exist, then, if we cannot actually know this, because knowledge doesn't exist, there is no rational basis for saying so.

The practice of Pyrrho himself was to "suspend [ἐποχή] judgment in all things, either that they exist, or don't exist, or both exist and don't exist, or neither exist nor don't exist." We only know about Pyrrho's thought because of his followers, who were less consistent in their know-nothing-ism -- like the Zen teachers who tell all about the "Silent Teaching."

Thus, a project to prove that knowledge exists, or that it doesn't exist, already must presuppose that it does. Otherwise, we can see in Pyrrho's principle something that he brought back from his sojourn in India with Alexander the Great; for this is no less than the "Four-Fold Negation" of Buddhism and Advaita Vedānta, which applies to things -- all reality in Buddhism -- which are not amenable to systematic rational knowledge. But much the same thing is familiar to us in Kantian philosophy as Kant's Antinomies. The Antinomies and Kantian "Dialectical Illusion," by the way, are things Beiser does not mention in his (disapproving) consideration of the theory of things-in-themselves in Fries.

Thus, Nelson's argument about Erkenntnistheorie can lead off into serious and revealing considerations. But Beiser thinks that it somehow is about the "impossibility of epistemology," when "epistemology" just means talking about knowledge, which Nelson does all the time. So we might be warned here that Beiser can sometimes misread or misinterpret Leonard Nelson.

This comes back to psychologism:

What is decisive in making Fries a psychologicist in this sense is his commitment to the Kantian theory of mathematics. Fries never questioned the Kantian doctrine that mathemtics concerns the forms of human sensibility, space and time, and that it is therefore valid only for them. Mathematics gives us no insight, then, into some Platonic realm of being or nature as such. It is a common misake, Fries cautions in his Neue Kritik, to think that demonstration provides us with objective justification, as if we knew reality in itself simply by showing how principles are grounded in intuition. All that demonstration ever gives us is knowledge relative to our way of perceiving the world. Proof is therefore for Fries the only objective method to justify knowledge. [p.81, citations removed]

There are a number of things we must consider here. Most important is the Friesian theory of justification, the "Friesian Trilemma," where propositions are justified by "Proof," i.e. logical deduction, "Demonstration," i.e. by showing an intuitive ground, or "Deduction," where the problem is general propositions that are neither analytic nor self-evident nor justified by an intuitive ground. Kant believed, for instance, that the axioms of geometry are justified by an intuitive ground in "pure intuition," i.e. our imaginative visualization of space. Claims about the validity of this, or what even means, are examined here in the "Deuteronomy of Kant's Geometry."

More important for the argument over Fries, however, is the statement by Beiser that, "All that demonstration ever gives us is knowledge relative to our way of perceiving the world." This would reduce geometry, and so a lot of physics, to a phantasmagoria of human consciousness. How could physics, or engineering, work if the human construction of the nature of space had nothing to do with the objective world? Physicists, indeed, including Einstein, have wondered how mathematics, which we seem to have just made up on our own, ends up apparently applying to the world, in ways where, if we got it wrong, we could get hurt.

But what Beiser has missed about a Kantian theory, whether of geometry or metaphysics, is the nature of Kant's "Empirical Realism," whereby phenomenal objects are themselves an "objective reality" and the true ὄντως ὄντα, the "beingly beings" of the phenomenal world. Beiser, indeed, does not mention "Empirical Realism" or the proper ontological status of phenomenal objects. He says that, "Mathematics gives us no insight, then, into some Platonic realm of being or nature as such"; but from that we would expect that mathematics, having generated an illusion in our consciousness, would not be a reliable guide to the behavior of the actual, external, physical universe. This has not been the experience of physicists.

So we must always ask in the end, are Kant's "forms of sensibility," space and time, merely constructs of the human mind? Kant does not make that clear. He does not even make it clear if the "forms of sensibility" might instead belong to any rational mind. Or, even better, what if we do substitute Plato for Kant. Mathematicians, after all, tend to be Platonists. And, as I have considered, what if our "pure intuition" is simply an intermediate step between consciousness and things-in-themselves? That depends, of course, on the significance of consciousness as such in the nature of things.

Since consciousness seems to turn the quantum wave function into discrete particles, physicists have had a tough time trying to make sense of this, or find a way to preserve their Democritean materialism. They are especially unnerved by Einstein's "spooky action at a distance," where quantum effects can propagate instantaneously, ignoring both spatial distances and the velocity of light. Einstein hoped that this would falsify quantum mechanics, but it did the opposite; and this implies, as Kant might have thought, that there is a level of reality more fundamental than space and time. But none of it is just a construct of the human mind.

Returning to the main issue, Beiser implies that, like space and time, all of metaphysics, or ethics, would be for Fries only a characteristic of human consciousness or human nature. This overlooks something fundamental, clearly identifed and emphasized by Nelson. Thus, synthetic a priori propositions of metaphysics or ethics are not within the logical system or language of Kantian or Friesian Critique.

Beiser seems to be aware of this, but I notice that he doesn't use the modern terminology. Thus, he speaks of Critique as a "second order" system, where now it would be clearer to say that it is the "meta-language" of the "object languages" of metaphysics or ethics. Nelson was acutely aware of this because of his familiarity with the theory of "meta-mathematics" developed by his friend, patron, and mentor David Hilbert. If Beiser does not use this terminology, we might wonder how aware he is of the issues involved. Yet Beiser does seem to be aware that metaphysics can be rational and a priori, while Critique is empirical and a posteriori. Nevertheless, he doesn't draw the conclusions that follow from this.

Thus, the whole focus in Fries with psychology and anthropology is directed to the meta-language of Critique. This comes up particularly, or exclusively, in relation to the Friesian "Deduction" of a priori knowledge; yet Beiser seems to confuse, or overlook, the difference between Critique and its object languages. The object languages are unaffected by whatever subjectivism or psychology Fries attributes to Deduction.

Nelson himself quotes Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), one of the later Neo-Kantians, confusing Critique and Deduction with the object language of metaphysics:

If one could describe transcendental deduction as an investigation that "belongs" to psychology, then the metaphysical discipline a a whole would disappear in the psychological. [Leonard Nelson, Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, Dover, 1965, p.136]

Wenn man die transzendentale Deduktion als eine der Psychologie »angehörige« Untersuchung bezeichnen dürfte, so wäre die Disziplin der Metaphysik überhaupt in die der Psychologie aufgelöst. ["Die kritische Methode und das Verhältnis der Psychologie zur Philosophie," 1904, Die Schule der kritischen Philosophie und ihre Methode, Band I, Gesammelte Schriften, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, 1970, p.43]

If Cohen, whose version of Kant Beiser may prefer, confuses the meta-language of Critique with the object language of metaphysics, I am left to suspect that Beiser does the same.

Beiser quotes Fries:

Even for the ideal of a perfect scientific form of our knowledge, the highest possible justification is only a subjective one which relates to merely the inner laws of the activity of our reason. It is always only a question of what human reason knows and recognizes, and never immediately about how things are in themselves. [pp.80-81]

Selbst für das Ideal einer vollendeten wissenschaftlichen Form unserer Erkenntniß[sic] ist also jede oberste Begründung nur eine subjektive, die sich bloß auf die inner Gesetze der Thätigkeit unsrer Vernunft im Erkennen bezieht. Es ist immer nur von dem die Rede, wie die menschliche Vernunft weiß und erkennt, und nicht unmittelbar von dem, wie die Dinge an sich find. [Jakob Friedrich Fries, Neue oder anthropologische Kritik der Vernunft, Verlag „Öffentliches Leben“, Berlin, 1934, Erster Band, §71, p.354]

Fries leaves out a kind of "middle term" here, which is the objectivity of phenomenal objects, without which he would only be a "subjective idealist," like Berkeley, which is exactly how some sympathetic interpreters, like Schopenhauer, saw Kant -- Schopenhauer, whose first words in the text of The World as Will and Representation, are Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung, "The world is my representation." This is Kant's "Empirical Realism" with a vengeance, without the ambiguity that we get with Kant, Fries, Nelson, and others.

Otherwise, Fries is speaking about the psychological nature of Critique. But his leap directly to the Dinge an sich at the end of the quote might definitely give someone the wrong idea -- unless Fries has confusedly gotten the wrong idea, for the moment, himself. Of course, Kantian theoretical knowledge is limited to phenomena. If, in turn, Critique is limited to empirical psychology, the objective nature of the object languages of Critique can be lost in the shuffle. This can be overlooked even by sympathetic readers. It is less of a problem, for instance, with Schopenhauer, who never sees things in themselves as a separate order of objects. Indeed, a version of that is proper. Things in themselves are phenomenal things, in themselves.

Since Beiser ends up giving little credit to the defense of Kantian things in themselves, doubtlessly in sympathy with later Neo-Kantians, it is worth noting how the Kantian transcendent (of things in themselves) actually continues in phenomenal objects, whether conceived by Kant, Schopenhauer, or Fries. In the first place, it is obvious that the inspection of our empirical perception does not reveal the atoms and molecules, let alone the subatomic particles and fields, which are the physical constituents of material reality. Even worse, if fundamental particles are Dirac Point Particles, then matter is actually entirely empty space, filled only with "fields," whatever those are (i.e. either a Relativistic deformation of space itself, or a flux of virtual particles, which have no real mass or energy).

Our inability to do so was the basis of the rejection of the atomic theory by Ernst Mach (1838-1916), whom some consider, not just to be a great scientist, but something like an important philosopher of science. Thus, he rejected the idea that there could be physical realities within material objects, concealed from our senses (something Hume, a proper Empiricist, would never consider possible either). That concealment would be one version, and an obvious one, of "things in themselves." So we could say that Ernst Mach, like Hegel or the later Neo-Kantians, rejected things in themselves (as he certainly would have, in any sense). It is just that Mach was thinking in terms of material objects, denying a key discovery of 19th century science, despite all the evidence for it.

Kant's sense of things in themselves is mainly how objects would exist entirely separate from our perception and consciousness. Of course, most of the material universe does that already. So Kant meant something a little different. Is there something about, perhaps, the inner nature of things, and not just in physical terms, that cannot be present to the senses, that cannot appear in "a possible experience"? Indeed, yes. Kant even has a general principle about this. Phenomenal reality consists of things that are mutually conditioned by the laws of nature. Nothing exists independently, or in an unconditioned way. As it applies to causality, this means, not just that everything has a cause, but every cause has a cause also, in a continuing sequence, ad infinitum.

In a way, there is nothing new about that. Buddhist metaphysics also construes the phenomenal world as mututally conditioned. This is the doctrine of "relative existence," and the specifically causal version of that is "dependent origination," whose cycle we see in the diagram at right -- in India, time generally has been seen as cyclical rather than linear. Salvation is to be free of those conditions, in an unconditioned reality, i.e. Nirvāṇa, निर्वाण. This renders one free of suffering.

As in Buddhism, Kant envisions a level of reality free, in different ways, of conditions. If our will, for instance, causes things but is not itself caused, it is what we call "free will." We cannot account for that in the phenomenal world, as indeed science does not. Similarly, an immortal soul, an unconditioned substance, is invulnerable to material causes, while otherwise Kant places the characteristics of substance in phenomenal objects, that they are durable, separable, and identical. Whether they have unconditioned characteristics is hidden among things in themselves.

Kant can explain the conditioned nature of phenomena as an artifact of the thoroughgoing synthesis that is carried out by the mind in the course of the construction of consciousness. Time is stitched together with the rule of causality, without limit. But this has two sides. One is the subjective construction of consciousness. The other is the objective character of the world. Images in perception do not cause each other, but phenomenal events do cause each other, even as they may cause sensations that are used for perception. This duality will become important for the nature of Friesian Deduction, as I will consider.

There is a key boundary here. If the object of our study is consciousness as such, then this is introspective and, in the Friesian sense, psychological. However, if the object of our study is the world of phenomenal objects, then the object language for which this is the reference is not introspective or psychological. Also, Kantian synthesis does not generate the world, which would require an "intellectual intuition," where knowledge causes its objects, which would make us God. For all I know, perhaps the later Neo-Kantians did think they were God (as Hegel did). But I won't accept that. If I were God, there are some changes around here that I would make.

This creates a bit of a dilemma, certainly for Frederick Beiser. Kant's empirical realism (or Schopenhauer's) would mean that the objective world consists of these phenomenal objects. But, on the one hand, this would mean that the theory of Fries cannot be a form of psychologism. Also, on the other hand, we have the paradox that representation is both subjective and objective, internal and external. This is hard to accept for common sense, and in analyzing Kant or Fries, it may be a benefit that the dilemma can get lost in the shuffle, and someone like Hermann Cohen or Beiser can ignore one part of it and reduce the whole philosophy, whether of Kant or Fries, to what is subjective and psychological (i.e. to "psychologism"). Kant's use of the term "transcendental idealism," which I have considered elsewhere, introduces some confusion and misdirection which also helps conceal and muddle the dilemma.

Only Schopenhauer presents us with no ambiguity over the phenomenal presence of the objective world. I don't think even Nelson is clear enough about the issues involved. I don't think there can be an easy answer to everyone's satisfaction. I have described the dilemma under the problem of "Ontological Undecidability." For the purpose of this essay, however, it must be affirmed that the existence of the object languages, not just of metaphysics and ethics, but even of physics and ordinary experience, subverts and falsifies Beiser's reduction of the philosophy of Fries, if not Kant, to the subjective and psychological content of the Critique of Reason. What Fries says about Deduction in the quote above is irrelevant to the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge and even factual a posteriori knowledge of the world. This is what thrilled Nelson about Hilbert's construction of the object language/meta-language distinction in mathematics.

What it looks like is that the emphasis by Fries on the psychological nature of Critique and Deduction served to completely distract people from some of the essential points, both in his day and now in ours. Indeed, I think he went way too far -- the confusion is not entirely the fault of people like Beiser. If we look at the way Fries wanted to construe psychology as a kind of empirical science, we can't help notice that this is very different from what psychology, any psychology, looks like today. We can't even say that William James (1842-1910) represents a kind of psychology in good standing now. He is of greater value just as a philosopher -- a fate into which Freud and Jung may be sliding.

But if the kind of psychology described by Fries is dated and abandoned, doesn't this demolish the Friesian project, all by itself? The concern of Fries with the "faculties" of the mind is pretty much forgotten; and, we might notice, that our inability to discern "faculties" in the stream of consciousness, while perhaps giving them the status of scientific hypotheses, nevertheless leaves them as a dead letter in the progress of actual science. As I have already noted, the appeal of Grete Henry to "behavior," while in step with the trendy contemporary psychology of her day, also represented a false step and a dead end in the development of Friesian philosophy.

A clue about where things have gone wrong perhaps can be seen in a key term used by Fries and Nelson. This is die nicht-anschauliche unmittelbare Erkenntnis, "Non-intuitive immediate knowledge," such as we see on Nelson's axiomatic diagram at right ["Die kritische Methode und das Verhältnis der Psychologie zur Philosophie," cited above, p.54; translated in Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, p.146]. With eight vertices, this diagram can be redrawn as a cube, making for a 3-D analogue to the logical "square of opposition," which has four vertices. A cube of opposition has been used here to illustrate kinds of rights.

The expression, "non-intuitive immediate knowledge," goes unmentioned, not just by Grete Henry in the cited essay, but also by Frederick Beiser. Yet it is hard to understand how it could be overlooked or neglected in a presentation of Friesian epistemology; and we might suspect that its absence means that something essential has been misunderstood or overlooked. Something about it, perhaps, puts off advocates of the "psychologism" of Friesian philosophy. And, of course, that is precisely the point.

Thus, "non-intuitive immediate knowledge" is an epistemological conception, not a psychological one, although perhaps an argument could be made. But then Beiser thinks that Nelson has rejected "epistemology." Indeed, Nelson's entire axiomatic diagram looks like an epistemological argument. And it is. Indeed, as Nelson appreciated, it goes back to Plato. And I would say, a Platonic version here is going to be better than the "psychological" critique. With an addition. Since the psychology of Fries begins with something that is out of favor with psychology, namely introspection, we might consider another version of introspective philosophy, namely the Phenomenology of Franz Brentano (1838-1917) and Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). Husserl's Pyrrhonian ἐποχή leaves out worries about things in themselves, and so leaves us with nothing but representation as mental content. Psychological enough for you?

But Husserl's Phenomenology was intuitionistic, and he personally tried to block Nelson's academic career, until Nelson was rescued and protected by David Hilbert. Nelson, indeed, had no patience with Husserl's intuitionism, though he would have been appalled at Husserl's anti-Semitic betrayal by Martin Heidegger -- which happened after Nelson's death. Indeed, if we worry about the influence of anti-Semitism in Fries, we might be reminded that Nelson is buried in a Jewish cemetery.

So if Nelson didn't like intuitionism, and he did like Plato, how can that be reconciled? The whole concept of non-intuitive immediate knowledge, indeed, is that it is immediately present and used without our initially being aware of it. Just like Platonic Recollection, which was based on the experience of Socrates in discovering that people used ideas that they were not aware of and that they might even denying using. Nothing else in the history of philosophy could duplicate that case until Fries and Nelson.

Yet the idea of convert knowledge, which is nevertheless applied, is now quite familiar in linguisitics, where people use natural languages fluently, often with only the vaguest ideas about their grammar. Yet I find people who profess bewilderment at the idea we could possess knowledge and not be aware of it. But simply asking them the rules for the formation of a regular plural in English will probably find them equally bewildered, proving the Friesian point. Also, Noam Chomsky (before he ascended to a political Cloud-cuckoo-land, Νεφελοκοκκυγία) argues persuasively that there is an a priori compenent, a "universal grammar," behind the rules of individual languages. That most lingusitic rules are learned as well as used unconsciously, is another curious aspect of our abilities.

Thus, without changing the essentials of Fries's argument, we can do some simplification and substitution. The form of intentionality, described by Brentano and Husserl, presents us with mental contents, on the one hand, but a perceived world, on the other hand, as mental contents are spontaneously projected onto, or into, a world. Schopenhauer describes much the same thing. Introspection, which we might call "psychological," addresses mental contents as such, while experience presents us with the objects of the intended world. As Hume would remind us, introspection really doesn't reveal anything that is not already displayed in the objects. Thus, Hume denied we have an inner experience of a soul, and Kant agreed with him.

We then must consider what Fries would mean by saying, "The highest possible justification is only a subjective one which relates to merely the inner laws of the activity of our reason." But the "inner laws of the activity of our reason," which Kant would have regarded as the rules of synthesis, are no more than the subjective, inner side of the same rules that appear objectively in our representation of the world. As I said above, causality, which Kant uses as a rule of synthesis, does not mean that our mental contents cause each other, but instead that events in the world cause each other. Thus, Kant had an argument that we call the "subjective Deduction," while he also had an argument we call the "objective Deduction." As Fries says, the inner, psychological perspective on mental contents may only give us a "justification" that "is only a subjective one."

This precludes an "objective Deduction." And perhaps Fries has made a mistake. We might consider that something has been forgotten, namely the objective character of the object languages of Critique. Also, even Brentano and Husserl did not think of intentional objects as the world itself -- Husserl, with his ἐποχή, explicitly exempted himself from such a claim. But that would be the meaning of Kant's "empirical realism," so clearly stated by Schopenhauer: Die Welt ist meine Vorstellung.

If that is the case, then an objective Deduction is no longer about the "activity of reason," the rules of synthesis, or any speculative or hypothetical psychological furniture of faculties. The subjective rules of synthesis are now the objective laws of the world; and their covert presence in our empirical intuition is no less that the equivalent of the Platonic Recollection of the real intuition we had in the Platonic "interim state" (to use Buddhist terminology) between lives, now rendered invisible as non-intuitive immediate knowledge.

With Plato and Husserl folded into the mix, is this still properly Friesian philosophy? It is, because Husserl's intentionality covers the "psychological" side of Friesian Critique, conveniently leaving out dated 19th century psychology, while Plato's covert Recollection covers both the presence of Friesian non-intuitive immediate knowledge and Kantian empirical realism. Most importantly, the Friesian conception of non-intuitive knowledge is unique to Fries and Nelson, even rejected by Nelson's own students, and Kant's empirical realism is a principle poorly understood by all Kantians, all Neo-Kantians, and even well enough by Fries and Nelson. Only Schopenhauer hits the target squarely, although he then went too far, rejecting the possibiity of unconditioned realities, like free will, among things in themselves.

A fault in the subjective Deduction of Fries is that "the inner laws of the activity of our reason" are things, let alone the activity, that are not available for our inspection. Fries doubtless thought that the way we employ concepts like causality was testament to the activity and the principles of our reason. We can certainly look at them that way. But to mean anything, causality must apply to actual causes. If we just make it up and then rubber stamp it on Nature, we might as well order up the Houris, حُورِيَّات (ḥūrīyāt), of Paradise while we're at it. That would be a lot more fun.

Hume could not explain the necessity of causal connections except as an artifact of the regularity of experience. That was a "subjective Deduction." If Kant could only explain the necessity of causal connections as an artifact of the "transcendental unity of apperception," that was also only a "subjective deduction," since the unity of our consciousness is logically unrelated to the necessity of causal connections between events.

So, the objective necessity of causal connections can only be because of the inherent necessity of those connections. And we know about that because, on examination and reflection, that is what we find. We might even say Hume did something of the sort, since he understood that "constant conjunction" was insufficient to prove "necessary connection." Hume himself says, "There is a step taken by the mind which is not supported by any argument or process of the understanding." So either the "mind" has just made this up, like any lunatic imagining that he is Napoleon, or we have discerned the necessity in the object.

Because this discernment is falliable, we know that our understanding is not intuitive. We must formulate the understanding on examination and reflection. It is tested by, as Karl Popper might say, falsification. With causality, we look for exceptions. In the early days of quantum mechanics, it was thought that quantum indeterminacy, spontaneous particle decay, and the random collapse of the wave function were violations of causality. Yet the rules of quantum behavior are as mathematically lawful as any other laws of nature. Some atoms or particles decay because they are unstable, and this instability can be given a precise value. A lot depends on it.

Of course, this kind of examination looks like it is about the quid facti. Nelson would agree, and that is generally what Socratic Method is used for, something Nelson made his specialty. But with Deduction, we are concerned about the quid juris, the second part of the "discovery and justification" procedure we often hear about.

A clue comes with Hume saying, "There is a step taken by the mind," which is undoubtedly a psychological observation, but it highlights the gap between between the quid facti of something like causality and the nature of the principle as a priori and necessary. So what is the quid juris Deduction? It is nothing less than the theory of nicht-anschauliche unmittelbare Erkenntnis, non-intuitive immediate knowledge. That is not psychology; it is epistemology. And it means that non-intuitive knowledge carries its own justification, just as if it were the "intellectual intuition" to which the likes of Ficthe, Schelling, and Hegel all appealed. If they can do it, then Friesians can do it, in their own way, avoiding the paradoxes and absurdities of intuitionism. After all, "intellectual intuition" not only makes us God, it makes us (or the Idealists, as they wished) infallible. But infallibility is actually about the quid facti, which must be continually tested by reflection and Socratic Method.

Of course, that infallibility is what Popper wanted to accuse the Friesians of, since his version of "psychologism" was the subjective certainty supposedly attending immediate knowledge. But Fries and Nelson didn't even think that empirical intuition was infallible, since truth and falsehood attend propositions, and propositional knowledge is mediate knowledge, i.e. conceptual knowledge formulated to refer to a ground in immediate knowledge, whether intuitive or non-intuitive. Mediate knowledge is always fallible and corrigible -- something else that Grete Henry and Frederick Beiser don't seem to ever mention. The fallibility attending empirical intuition is something we experience every time we aren't sure what we have seen. The infamous unreliablity of "eyewitness accounts" means that we must go back and look again, or solicit or consult other testimony and evidence.

In the end, Frederick Beiser's misconstruction of Friesianism can in one sense be well taken. The Neue oder anthropologische Kritik of Fries distracts from the nature of his own meta-language/object language distinction, to the point were the latter, as we see in the quotation above, gets lost in the shuffle. We can't blame Beiser for being deceived by this. It is all too easy. Not even Nelson was repaired that sufficiently, especially since he appeals to the "self-confidence of reason":

This self-confidence of reason is the universal principle that transforms the psychological conclusions of the theory of reason into critical deductions... [Socratic Method, etc., p.125, color added]

Dies Selbstvertrauen der Vernunft ist das allgemeine Prinzip, das die psychologischen Ableitungen aus der Theorie der Vernunft zu kritischen Deduktionen macht... [op.cit., Gesammelte Schriften, pp.31-32, color added]

But the "psychological conclusions" are still a "subjective Deduction." Reason can have all the "self-confidence" you like, and this still doesn't reassure us about the world. What claim does reason have to earn that trust? What does reason even mean when it comes to something like the principle of causality? Kant's "metaphysical Deduction," to derive the principle of causality from the form of the logical conditional proposition, is basically ridiculous, relying on the ironclad logical principle of free association -- the ground and source of almost all of Hegel's philosophy.

Thus, the "confidence" due to causality must reside in the principle and the objective connection, not in our mental states. The "intellectual intuition" of the Idealists would account for that -- I don't think Hegel has ever been accused of "psychologism" -- but the Friesians modestly construe the relevant form of immediate knowledge as merely non-intuitive. As I have just said, this has the added benefit of adding fallibility and corrigibility to what was the purported certainty and infallibility of Idealist philosophy.

The only thing in the history of philosophy that compares to the Friesian theory is Platonism -- not Neoplatonism, which is intuitionistic. Nelson was sensible of the Platonic precedent, but he still thought that the "self-confidence of reason" was needed. Of course, even Plato's Recollection is from an internal source, namely memory. Part of the problem may have been in Nelson's failure to appreciate the full significance of Kant's empirical realism. Schopenhauer, who did, was not someone Nelson seems to have taken seriously enough, any more than Nelson could have taken hints from Husserl, with whom, as we know, there was a personal conflict.

Perhaps with some irony, Kant's empirical realism would have worked better with Neoplatonism, although Plato himself may have felt uneasy with his explanation, or non-explanation, of how objects in the world "participate" in the Forms, and derive their character and reality from them, separate from our own Recollection of them. There is a lot there to work with, and it is not so surprising, after all, that we should take the Kritik of Jakob Fries as a work in progress.

It may be that Frederick Beiser can be forgiven for not seeing the way beyond the misdirections in Fries, but he does fail to appreciate some of the issues, and his horizon may be artificially narrowed by his target on the later Neo-Kantians, whose own approach to Kant seems to have met a dead end in 20th century philosophy. Even Ernst Cassier (1874-1945), who is remembered for his Kantianism -- and who went out of his way, as Beiser recounts, to attack Fries and Nelson -- nevertheless was swamped in popularity by the tide of enthusiasm for irrationalists like Martin Heidegger, with whom Cassier had a famous (pathetic) debate in 1929.

While it may be said that Fries and Nelson also represented a dead end in 20th century philosophy -- while Nelson's life work was confusedly both promoted and undermined by his students -- that is not quite right, since Rudolf Otto and Karl Popper both rely on Friesian concepts. That may not amount to much, and Otto is widely misunderstood and associated with Existentialism and other irrationalities, and Popper, as I have noted, represents serious misunderstandings of Fries; but the material is still there, and popular. Philosophy of science cannot be conscientiously discussed with Popper's name coming up. In philosophy of religion, Otto can be ignored, but not conscientiously, where sentiment against him might merely reflect materialist contempt for actual religion.

So, we shall see. I don't find The Proceedings of the Friesian School turning up in public discourse, or academic conferences, but it is available.

Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843)

Leonard Nelson (1882-1927)

Fries on Home Page

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