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Rolf-Peter Horstmann (Berlin)

Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the

Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’
Zusammenfassung. Es gibt durchaus gute Gründe zu glauben, dass Kant und
(einige) deutsche Idealisten davon überzeugt waren, dass ein Ich oder ein Selbst
nur dann in der sehr speziellen Weise einer unmittelbaren nicht objektivierbaren
Selbstwahrnehmung gegenwärtig ist, wenn ein Subjekt einen Gedanken denkt,
d. h. wenn es sich in einem sozusagen „propositionalen Zustand“ befindet. In
diesem Aufsatz versuche ich herauszufinden, ob einige zeitgenössische Ansichten
über die Implikationen, die sich aus Annahmen über die Organisation unseres
mentalen Lebens für Ich und Selbst ergeben, tatsächlich zur Folge haben müssen,
dass man zentrale Behauptungen Kants und (einiger) deutscher Idealisten über
Selbstbewusstsein, Ich und Selbst als haltlos aufgeben sollte. Auf diese Weise soll
eine Verbindung zwischen historischen und gegenwärtigen Bemühungen herge-
stellt werden, Fragen bezüglich der Rolle und des Status des Ich/Selbst zu be-

As is well known, Kant and the German idealists were very resistant against the
idea that the ultimate subject of mental states has to be conceived in terms of a
substantial soul, a self or an I in the sense of rationalistic or dogmatic metaphysics.
Ever since Kant’s criticism of the substantiality of the soul in the First Paralogism of
the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, all of the major post-Kantian
idealists took it for granted that whatever else the soul, the self or the I might be, it
definitely is not a substantial thing. Interestingly, this agreement between these
idealists was not the result of their finding Kant’s paralogistic arguments very
convincing. On the contrary, they all and especially Hegel were rather critical of the
force and soundness of Kant’s reasoning in the chapter on the Paralogisms. What
made them believe that Kant nevertheless was right and that the conception of the
soul, the self or the I as a substantial thing was hopelessly flawed, had to do with
something else. It was their belief that the traditional metaphysical view could not
do justice to what they thought to be the basis of all idealistic philosophy, i. e. a
dynamic conception of a self that is present in self-consciousness. This belief
originated in their conviction that in order to make sense of the idea of an objective
world that is cognitively accessible to a thinking subject via judgments, one has to
postulate a set of activities on the part of this subject which are ultimately
grounded in a complex organization of self-consciousness. This self-conscious-
ness was characterized by Kant and his idealistic successors by different and

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246 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

somewhat puzzling, rather technical names. In Kant’s first Critique it is famously

called ‘transcendental unity of apperception’; Fichte in his first Doctrine of Science
referred to it under the neologism of a ‘deed-act [Tathandlung]’; Schelling in his
early piece Of the I as the Principle of Philosophy labelled it a bit less extravagantly
than his contemporaries; ‘absolute I’; and Hegel in the third volume of his Science
of Logic somehow related it to what in his nomenclature is called ‘the Concept’.
Independently of these differences in terminology, the point each of these phi-
losophers wanted to make is a very similar one: If one is to acknowledge the
fundamental role self-consciousness plays in epistemic contexts as providing the
tools necessary for thinking about the world in terms of objectively valid judg-
ments, one cannot avoid conceiving of self-consciousness in terms of a dynamic
event involving spontaneity and freedom.
When it comes to the question about what the subject is conscious of while
being conscious of itself in this dynamic way, however, things get obscure. Al-
though each of these philosophers seemed to agree that there is some sort of
immediate awareness of the self or of the I involved in this self-conscious activity,
they definitely did not want this awareness to be a consciousness of an object.
They denied not merely that this self was a substantial soul-thing in the traditional
metaphysical sense; they also denied that it had the status of an empirical object to
which a cognizing subject can relate in terms of objectively valid judgments or
propositions. This denial was based on claims tied to the object-constituting role
the self-conscious self or the self-conscious I was supposed to perform by func-
tioning as an enabling condition for objectively valid judgments or propositions;
and it was implied by this role that the self or the I could itself never become an
object. As a consequence, the I and the self of the tradition from Kant to Hegel
ended up becoming somewhat mysterious. It was neither a substantial thing nor
an object of self-experience; at the same time, it was considered the absolutely
necessary condition for almost everything else in all contexts in which being
conscious of something or other in terms of thoughts plays a role. The I became a
radically or irreversibly subjective, non-objectifiable phenomenon, fleeting and
elusive. It became intimately linked, most explicitly in Kant and Fichte, to an
activity that by bringing about propositionally structured mental states called
(most prominently in Kant’s idiom) ‘thoughts’, gives rise to not just the fleeting I or
self but at the same time to a cognitive accessible world, i. e. a world that can be
represented in the form of judgments or propositions.¹

 Whether one can indeed attribute these claims concerning self-consciousness sketched here
to Kant and the German idealistic tradition is by no means uncontroversial. On the contrary, I am
very willing to concede that what I take their considered position to be might be seen as based
on a rather extravagant, even idiosyncratic understanding as to what Kant and his idealistic

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 247

If as all this suggests that the self or the I is considered within Kant and the
German idealistic tradition to be a phenomenon that has a constitutive function
when it comes to propositional (cognitive) states of a subject, i. e. thoughts that are
the result of a conceptual elements involving synthesizing activity of this very
subject, and if it is the case that this ‘propositional’ I or self is only present in a
purely subjective form of immediate awareness whenever the subject is thinking a
thought, i. e. is in a propositional state, then a host of irritating questions show up
immediately. The most obvious among them might be the following two: (1) Does it
really make sense to talk of an awareness of the self/I if this self/I is conceived of in
terms of instability, fleetingness, pure subjectivity and non-objectifiability? (2) Are
there any reasons whatsoever for restricting the immediate awareness of this
peculiar self/I to situations where a subject is in a propositional state, i. e. engages
in the propositional activity of thinking a thought? The first question has been
addressed in different philosophical traditions quite extensively in a couple of
interesting ways, and it has awakened an awareness of the distinction between the
subjective and the objective use of the term ‘I’ in the wake of Wittgenstein as well as
in what is called in Sartre’s phenomenological analyses ‘the pre-reflexive cogito’.
The second question seems to have been answered, at least implicitly, mainly in
the negative. This can be inferred from the attempt launched by some contem-
porary philosophers to revive the idea of a self as an object in its own right of which
a subject is immediately aware and which is the subject of all mental states
whether they are propositional or not.
In what follows, I want to focus on the second question. According to the
position I have just attributed to Kant and the German idealists, the self or the I
plays a role in a non-objectifiable, purely subjective mode of immediate awareness
exclusively when it comes to propositional states of a subject. What I want to
determine is whether this position can be defended against those objections which
charge that such a position cannot do justice to the subjective awareness of non-
propositional states. The starting point for these objections is the critical idea that
the I is immediately aware of itself in other, non-propositional states as well; there
therefore has to be a self/I of which I am immediately aware that is not connected
just to propositional states.
Another way of framing what I am about to discuss is the following: What if
Kant and the major German idealists were right in claiming that the “thinking self”
(of Kant’s Paralogism) is neither a substantial soul (as was claimed by 18th century

successors were after when it comes to this topic. However, I have tried to give some support to
my reading of the essential elements of their views and to elaborate in detail what is called in
the following their ‘propositional view’ in a couple of articles already published. See, in par-
ticular: Horstmann  and .

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248 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

rationalistic metaphysics) nor an empirical object (i. e. something I can become

acquainted with by paying attention to myself as the subject of my former and
current psychological and physical states)? Moreover, what if Kant and the German
idealists were right to claim that a self or I is only present in that very peculiar way
of self-awareness that they thought to be characteristic of and restricted to pro-
positional states of a subject, i. e. to states where a subject is thinking a thought?
How do these claims influence the manner in which we have to understand our
experience of ourselves as subjects of non-propositional states?
I will not discuss questions like these as ‘historical’ questions to which ans-
wers can and should be found by examining the texts of Kant and the German
idealists. In other words, I do not intend to explore whether and how Kant and his
idealistic successors did explicitly tackle the problems which these questions
indicate, nor do I intend to provide material evidence for what could be considered
to be their answers – if indeed they were interested in these problems at all.
Though such a project might be of interest, it is far beyond the scope of this paper. I
will instead explore in a somewhat speculative spirit whether some contemporary
attitudes towards the implications of the organization of our mental life with
respect to the self or the I necessarily imply the result that we have to give up what I
have presented here as the central claims of Kant and the German idealists con-
cerning self-consciousness and the self/I. In pursuing such an approach to these
questions, I aim to establish a connection between historical and contemporary
ways of looking at things and thereby contribute to a type of consideration D.
Emundts has recently referred to as a ‘systematic reconstruction’ of historical
positions.² The systematic reconstruction presented here is meant to result in a
(partial) rehabilitation of certain views of these idealists by pointing out that from
a systematic point of view, their beliefs concerning the self/I have the potential to
play a revealing role even in current debates.
My remarks are divided into five sections. Sections I to III outline and criticize
some (non-idealistic) arguments to the effect that one has to make a distinction
between the I and the self. Section IV hints at the views of Kant and the German
idealists concerning the I. Section V gives a critical assessment of a contemporary
attempt to save the self.

 Emundts (forthcoming).

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 249

As already noted, the conception of the self/I attributed here to Kant and the
German idealists might seem to be in serious difficulty because of its manifest
tendency to restrict the phenomenon of self-consciousness to propositional
contexts. I take this restriction to be rooted in a peculiar way of thinking about the
self/I and self-consciousness which can be outlined as follows: In this idealist
tradition, the self or the I is addressed not just as a characteristic of a subject of
conscious mental states of which it (the subject) can become aware as an object; it
is also considered to be a radically or irreversibly subjective, non-objectifiable
phenomenon that is intimately linked to a synthetic activity which is in charge of
providing propositionally structured content for mental states. According to my
reading, the view Kant and the German idealists share in a significant way is
basically rather simple, and its major claims can be summarized as follows: A self-
conscious subject, i. e. a subject that can think of itself as an I, happens to ex-
perience consciously all sorts of mental states, some of which are propositional
states called ‘thoughts’. It is because of these propositional states that we have to
acknowledge the existence of an irreversibly subjective, non-objectifiable self-
conscious I. Both the conscious propositional states and the non-objectifiable
(irreversibly subjective) self-conscious I are claimed to be essential manifestations
of a (synthetic) activity that self-conscious subjects are endowed with, an activity
which consists in making available propositionally structured content and at the
same time the self-conscious I to the subject. Because the description given here of
this idealistic view places so much weight on propositional contexts, I will refer to
it as ‘the propositional view’. I will call the conscious activity that generates
propositional structure ‘the propositional activity’, the states this activity gives rise
to ‘propositional states’ or ‘thoughts’, and the self-conscious I connected with
these states ‘the propositional I’ or ‘the propositional self’ (in order to distinguish
this I from the self/I as an object of awareness).
As said before, the idealist restriction of the consciousness of a self/I to
propositional states seems a bit implausible given the prima facie impression that
there is a vast amount of non-propositional conscious states, most prominently
feelings and moods, which seem to go together with an immediate non-objective
awareness of the subject of these states in pretty much the same way the irre-
versibly subjective propositional I of the idealists is claimed here to go together
with propositional states. If this impression were to turn out to be well-founded,
then it seems that the restriction of the irreversibly subjective self-conscious I (i. e.,
the propositional I) to propositional contexts is no longer warranted. Instead, one
could suggest that it is an undeniable fact of introspection that in whatever mental

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250 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

activity we are engaged in, be it propositional (thinking) or non-propositional

(feeling, craving), we are immediately aware of ourselves as the subject of this
activity without being aware of ourselves as an object. The item I am immediately
aware of while being in those states normally is said to be ‘the self’. According to
this suggestion, the immediate awareness of the self, characterized that way,
would be a central element of all conscious mental states, both propositional and
non-propositional. However, this suggestion is by no means unquestionable. As
far as propositional states are concerned, there is (from the point of view attributed
here to Kant and the German idealists) nothing to object to the claim that these
states are intimately connected to an immediate awareness of a self. This would be
just another way of saying that the immediate awareness of the irreversibly
subjective propositional I is central to being in a conscious propositional state. But
what about non-propositional states? If immediate awareness of a self is indeed an
essential ingredient of non-propositional conscious mental states as well then the
self a subject is immediately aware of in these non-propositional states cannot be
the irreversibly subjective propositional I. This is so because this latter I is meant to
be a way of being aware of oneself that is exclusively connected to propositional
states. Hence the self a subject is said to be immediately aware of in an irreversibly
subjective manner while being in a non-propositional conscious state must be
different from the propositional I. This difference is taken to be indicated by a
special mode of self-presence characteristic of non-propositional states that can be
distinguished both conceptually and experientially from the self-presence typical
of the propositional states. If one were to accept this consideration, then the
question arises straightaway regarding the relation of the purported self (un-
derstood as the subject of non-propositional conscious mental states) to the ir-
reversibly subjective propositional I (understood as the subject of propositional
conscious mental states). To answer this question, one has to have a look at what
exactly talk about the immediate awareness of the self is supposed to mean, and
whether it is really necessary to assume a self as somehow distinguishable from
the propositional I or as something which has a real or imagined existence in its
own. The answer I am going to propose is a rather radical reductionist one: I will
claim that there is no need for the introduction of a special self that is distin-
guished from and related to the propositional I because there is no self over and
above the I. This way of answering the question will seem to be unconvincing,
especially if one does not appreciate what is wrong with the idea that there is an
immediate awareness of the self as the subject of non-propositional states. It will
therefore serve our purposes if we begin with an attempt to spell out the problems
connected with this idea a bit.
As was already mentioned, the need to introduce such a thing called ‘the self’,
is due to the observation from introspection that, at least in the case of non-

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 251

propositional conscious states, there is an immediate awareness of ourselves as

subjects. Because awareness cannot take place without an object, there has to be
something of which we are immediately aware. This something is the self which is
distinguished from other objects by its special mode of subjective presence in non-
propositional states of a subject. Though history shows that there are many ways to
capture the peculiarities of this something, there is until now no suggestion as to
how to frame the phenomenon called ‘self’ in accessible terms that have a certain
amount of credibility. On the contrary, all attempts, past and present, to capture
the intrinsic features of the self have led to confusion and to the suspicion that, in
the end, one is chasing a chimera.³ One might be tempted to take already this
observation to be a sufficient reason to discard the idea that there could be a self
that is distinct from the propositional I as conceived of by Kant and the idealists
that can function as the subject of non-propositional states. However, this
temptation has to be resisted because it might turn out that there is no reason to
worry about the self as distinct from the propositional I in the first place. This
would be the case if one could show that there is no need for such a distinct self
and, consequently, no need for the distinction between the self and the (propo-
sitional) I. Thus, more has to be said about the possible relation between the
purported self and the self-conscious propositional I, especially if one does not
understand this distinction that well. The task, then, is to explore whether and in
what contexts this distinction is really needed.
From a phenomenological point of view, the most likely candidates in favor of
the necessity of such a distinction are thoughts, feelings and moods, because these
are the mental states that somehow seem to presuppose an immediate awareness
of myself as the bearer of these states. Of these states, thoughts are not of primary
importance. One does not need any such distinction in order to account for a
thought as an item the immediate awareness of which goes necessarily together
with the immediate awareness of the I. Having a thought just entails being
conscious of oneself in an irreducibly subjective way, and there is no thought
without an accompanying propositional I – this at least is suggested by the po-
sition presented here. This I might be taken to be identical with what one calls ‘the
self’, but in assuming identity here one is designating the very same phenomenon
with two different terms. In connection with thoughts, there is no reason to think of
the propositional I as being either a manifestation or a special transformation of
something different, no need for a ‘self’ that has an existence over and above the
propositional I. Thoughts are after all propositional states, i. e. states with a

 In section V I will discuss a contemporary proposal to shed some light on the self in order to
substantiate this claim.

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252 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

propositional content, and those states are not possible without the immediate
and irreducibly subjective awareness of the self-conscious I. The propositional I,
the subject I am immediately aware of in thinking a thought, is established in the
act of thinking. It is not a special way in which an otherwise mysterious ‘self’ is
immediately present.
This leaves conscious feelings and moods. They are supposed to be non-
propositional mental states a person is immediately aware of as its own states in a
non-thetic way. If it were the case (a) that the propositional I can only occur in
propositional contexts, and if (b) there were no feelings and moods, i. e. non-
propositional states, without immediate non-thetic self-awareness, then indeed
one would have to introduce a self which is different from the propositional I in
order to have something a person can be immediately aware of as the subject of
such a non-propositional state. However, both these assumptions are as yet
unwarranted. Since it is the second assumption – that conscious feelings and
moods always involve immediate non-thetic self-awareness – which leads to the
supposition of the self as distinguished from the propositional I, one first has to
answer the question whether the assumption really is unavoidable that awareness
of items like these is said to be necessarily connected with an immediate non-thetic
awareness of oneself. The discussion of this question is of importance not only for
its own sake. It also can have significant consequences for the plausibility of the
first assumption: If it turns out that there is nothing to say in favor of the intrinsic
connection between feelings and moods, on the one hand, and immediate self-
awareness, on the other, and thus nothing to say in favor of the assumption that
there has to be a self as the non-thetically present subject of non-propositional
mental states, then interestingly this result could count as indirect proof of the first
assumption, i. e. that the propositional I can only occur in propositional contexts.

In order to pursue this topic, one first has to spell out what exactly is meant by the
claim that feelings and moods always involve immediate awareness of a self that is
distinct from the propositional I. Standard examples of feelings and moods are
taken to be pain, hunger, love, sadness, joy etc. At least two options seem to be
available, a propositional and a non-propositional one.What could be meant, first
of all, is that in (consciously) realizing or experiencing e. g. that I am hungry, I am
immediately aware of such a self. According to this interpretation, realizing or
experiencing that I am hungry presupposes (1) that there is someone who is
hungry, (2) that this someone has to be myself, and (3) that I am immediately aware
of this someone as myself. These presuppositions suggest that there is a self which

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 253

is a subject of immediate awareness in feelings and moods and which cannot be

taken to be identical with the irreducibly subjective I of propositional states. This is
so, because in this scenario it is an object of my immediate awareness. However,
this option misses the point on two counts. The first is that it establishes the self as
an object of immediate awareness, thus violating the condition fixed at the outset
that in feelings and moods I am immediately aware of myself in a non-thetic, non-
objective manner. The second stumbling block for this option is that it treats
feelings and moods as propositional states. This is so, because (consciously)
realizing that I am hungry means being in a state which could just as well be
described as realizing the thought or thinking that I am hungry. Such a reading
once more goes against the initial assumption that feelings and moods are non-
propositional states. A propositional interpretation of feelings and moods leads
nowhere in the attempt to find room for a self that is distinct from the propositional
I; when it comes to propositional states, there is no need for such a self in order to
think of them as my states. This is not to say, by the way, that feelings and moods
cannot become the content of propositional states. Obviously, I can reflect on my
feelings and moods and thereby make them the content of those states of mine. But
then they are subject to the conditions of all propositional states, and these
conditions do not include a self I am immediately and non-thetically aware of, a
self that is distinct from the propositional I.
The second reading of the claim that feelings and moods always involve
immediate awareness of a self that is distinct from the propositional I alludes to
the immediacy of feeling and suggests that this immediacy points to a distinct self.
The reasoning behind this suggestion is roughly the following: Whenever I am
aware of a feeling like hunger, I am immediately aware that it is I who has that
feeling. Feeling hungry just is me feeling hungry; a feeling of myself is an essential
part of my feeling hungry. It is constitutive of the very phenomenon of a conscious
feeling or a mood I am in that a me-element is integrated. If I were not immediately
aware of myself in feeling hungry, I would not have that feeling at all. And because
feelings and moods are non-propositional states, the I that I am immediately aware
of in these states cannot be the same as the I that is immediately present in
conscious propositional states – at least, not if it is true that this latter I needs
conscious propositional states in order to come about. So it must be another I of
which I am immediately aware in feelings and moods, and this I is the self. Thus,
the assumption of the self (as distinct from the propositional I) is as necessary in
order to account for feelings and moods (non-propositional states) as is the
propositional I in order to do justice to thoughts (propositional states).
This second interpretation is obviously not subject to the line of criticism that
can be directed against the first reading. However, is the phenomenological basis
of this understanding of feelings and moods really convincing? Is it really the case

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254 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

that conscious feelings and moods are non-propositional me-episodes, i. e.

conscious states the content of which is non-propositional but nevertheless in-
volve the immediate awareness of me as their subject? I believe that a closer
analysis cannot support this view for at least the following reasons. First, it has to
be noticed that there is a well-known ambiguity associated with the term ‘cons-
cious state’ which makes it necessary to distinguish between a narrow and a broad
sense of the term.⁴ (a) In the narrow sense, it can mean a state I am in and of which
I am conscious, (b) in the broad sense it can mean a state I am in while conscious
(i. e. not unconscious). When talking about conscious states in the first, i. e. the
narrow sense, one is referring to propositional states someone is in, because being
conscious of a state I am in just means that I am conscious of that state or that it is a
‘that’-state. Thus, being consciously aware of my feeling bad just means that I am
consciously aware that I feel bad, and this means that I am consciously aware of
the content of the proposition ‘I feel bad’. However, when talking of conscious
states in the second or in the broad sense, I do not necessarily refer to states I am
conscious of. Whereas all my states I am conscious of are states I am in while
conscious, not every state I am in when conscious (not unconscious) is a state I am
conscious of. While conscious in the broad sense, I have a manifold of all sorts of
visual, tactile and acoustical impressions (like shades of light, grades of material
resistance, background noises); I have all sorts of bodily and emotional feelings of
the condition I am in (like feeling hot or cold, being in an upright or seating
position); I am in a certain set of mind (like being well tempered or ill-tempered);
and I am guided in whatever I do by expectations which govern my behavior (such
as my expectation that there is not all of a sudden a hole in front of me in which I
am bound to fall if I move forward, or the expectation that everything I am about to
encounter is roughly the way it is under normal circumstances). States like these
are definitely states I am in while conscious, albeit they do not have to be states I
am conscious of. Thus, they are non-propositional conscious states, some of them
mental, many of them bodily or physiological states. They are the states that for the
most part determine my general constitution at any given moment in my conscious
life without my being conscious of them. This is not to say that I cannot become
conscious of (many of) these states, it just means that there are indeed non-
propositional conscious states, i. e. states I am in while conscious but of which I am
not conscious.
Now, if feelings and moods are supposed to be non-propositional conscious
states, then one must think of them as conscious states understood in the broad

 This distinction is somehow analogous to the familiar distinction between a transitive and an
intransitive use of the term ‘conscious’. Cf. Dretske .

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 255

sense. This is so, because there are no non-propositional conscious states at all if
‘conscious state’ is understood in the narrow sense. In this latter sense, conscious
states are exclusively those states I am conscious of, and these are propositional or
‘that’-states. The problem, then, as to the immediate awareness of the subject of
feelings and moods, boils down to the question whether non-propositional
conscious states, i. e. states I am not conscious of while conscious, do indeed
involve a subject I am immediately aware of, i. e. do indeed need a self.
As is easy to expect, I want to answer this question in the negative. This is so
mainly for reasons that have to do with the phenomenology of these states. It is
highly implausible to believe that states like those mentioned above (i. e. im-
pressions, moods, tacit expectations etc.) are states of immediate awareness. This
is implausible already for the reason that most of them are states a subject is in
simultaneously while conscious. Being hungry, hearing noises, feeling cold and
expecting traffic to move in a certain way in a non-propositional mode all at the
same time, are states difficult to reconcile with the idea of immediate awareness of
each of these states at this time. It seems a bit of a problem to connect these states
with the immediate subjective awareness of a self (as distinguished from the
propositional I), because of the consequences of such a connection. Among these
consequences, the most problematic could be that one has to attribute a self and
its immediate irreducibly subjective awareness to quite a number of animals other
than humans. After all, we think of non-human animals as having conscious non-
propositional states or feelings like hunger, pain and expectations in somehow the
same way we have them. And if one agrees that having those feelings implies the
immediate subjective awareness of a self, then one is forced to grant such a self to
many non-human animals as well.⁵ Another somewhat unwanted implication of
the view under discussion might be that there could be as many selves of one and
the same subject as there are conscious non-propositional states of that subject. If
one is going to allow for many of these states to take place simultaneously, then it
seems one also has to accept a multitude of selves not only of the same subject but
also at the same time.⁶ Or if, in order to avoid confusion with these many selves,
one is to settle for just one self for all of these states, then the question is why the
states should be different. It seems to me that in order to cope with these states
(many involve states of my body directly) and their subject, one is well advised to
take refuge to much more fundamental conditions of conscious states in general in
the line envisioned by i. e. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty whose conceptions of a

 Thus violating one of the assumptions central to an account à la G. Strawson of the self (to be
discussed in section V).
 The conception of a multitude of selves plays an important role in G. Strawson’s book though he
does not think of it as problematic.

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256 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

subject as In-der-Welt-Sein (being-in-the-world) or Être au monde (being directed

towards the world) might turn out to be helpful in this respect.

In short, when it comes to feelings and moods as states of a subject, instead of
thinking of them as ‘selfish’ states, i. e. as states intimately connected with an
immediate irreducibly subjective awareness of a self, I am much more inclined to
follow an assessment of these states which can be attributed to such diverse a
group of philosophers as the early Husserl⁷, Sartre⁸, and more recently D. Henrich⁹,
U. Pothast¹⁰ and K. Cramer,¹¹ and which are discussed under names like the ‘non-
ownership view’ (P. Strawson)¹² or the ‘non-egological view’ (Gurwitsch)¹³. Ac-
cording to the proponents of these views, non-propositional conscious states like
feelings and moods are anonymous or impersonal states in the sense that, though
they are states a conscious subject is in, it need not be aware of them as its own
states. If these views are right, then one might have different guesses as to the
ontological status of non-propositional feelings and moods. The most common-
sensical assumption would be to think of them no longer as mental states, but just
as a special kind of bodily states or at least as exclusively based in bodily states. In
a more speculative frame of mind in which one is inclined to allow for non-bodily
mental states, one might ruminate that some of these states are just the way a
subject participates in objective world-states. Just as there is air-pressure and
humidity out there in the world in varying degrees which impact the general
condition of our lives without us consciously noticing them, so there might be
feelings and moods that exist as items of the objective world and that we do not
explicitly notice. Thus, my feeling good or bad might just indicate that I have
encountered a world region in which there happens to hold sway a high or low
mood-feeling (Stimmungsgefühl), and my becoming aware of this non-proposi-
tional feeling as the state I am in is nothing else but the result of directing my
propositional activity to this feeling, thus transforming it into a propositional state
of which I am conscious in much the same way in which I might become conscious

 Husserl /.
 Sartre .
 Henrich .
 Pothast .
 Cramer .
 p. Strawson , p. .
 Gurwitsch .

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 257

of my feeling hot or cold. Whichever model one is inclined to favor, what is of

importance here is that in order to account for conscious non-propositional states
like feelings and moods, not only is it unnecessary to resort to a self in contra-
distinction to the self-conscious I which is supposed to be a necessary condition
for these states to obtain, it is not even helpful to do so.
Against the non-egological view, a number of objections have been raised.
They have been forcefully put forward by a number of people in recent years and
are very cogently expounded by D. Zahavi in different writings.¹⁴ All these ob-
jections circle around the phenomenon of what is alternatively called ‘subjecti-
vity’, ‘ipseity’, ‘egocentricity’, ‘mineness’ or the ‘for-me-ness’ of experience. What
is meant seems to be the following: In order to count as a conscious non-pro-
positional state of a subject, this state has to be experienced as my experience “in a
first-personal mode of presentation” (p. 60). This mode of presentation, which
brings to our attention the egocentric, subjective dimension of experience, is not to
be identified with any explicit I-consciousness. Rather, it highlights “a certain
basic sense of egocentricity or ipseity” (p. 61). Though this basic sense of sub-
jectivity is not sufficient to postulate something like a self as an item in its own
right distinguished both from an experience and from an explicit I-consciousness,
i. e. as an ontologically independent entity, the assumption of a self as something
that has genuine and independent reality becomes necessary if one takes into
account the sameness of the original experience of ‘mineness’ in the course of
different non-propositional experiences. Hence, according to this line of thought,
in order to do justice to the experienced identity of the subject of conscious non-
propositional states, one has to accept the reality of a self.
However, this consideration is problematic on several counts. I will mention
three of them. First, it seems to rest on the assumption that every conscious non-
propositional state of a subject must be a state the subject experiences in some
unclear first-personal way as its own state. Given the ambiguity connected with the
term ‘conscious’, this assumption allows for a broad or a narrow reading de-
pending on whether the term ‘conscious’ is understood in a broad or narrow sense.
In a broad reading, the assumption would amount to the claim that every non-
propositional state a subject is in while conscious, must be a state the subject
experiences in a first-personal way as its own state. I do not believe that there are
good grounds for such an assumption. As noted earlier, I can (while conscious)
very well be in the state of being hungry or sleepy, even in the state of having pain,

 In what follows I will rely mainly on and quote exclusively from his “Self and Consciousness”
(Zahavi ). A more detailed exposition of the relevant material is to be found in Zahavi 
(Chapter ).

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258 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

without experiencing these states as mine at all. All these states in virtue of their
being states surely enough have to have a subject and that subject might even be
myself, but this does not mean that in order for them to be my states I have to
experience them as mine. Thus, in order to defend the assumption of the reality of
a self, one should give the assumption a narrow reading and restrict it to the
seemingly more moderate claim that every non-propositional state a subject is
conscious of must be a state the subject experiences as its own state. However, this
reading seems to be not right either, because on its basis one cannot capture the
non-propositionality of these states. This is so, because for me to experience these
states as mine already presupposes that I am consciously aware of them (and am
thus in a propositional state with a specific content). And here the subject is the
self-conscious I (according to the model endorsed here).¹⁵
Second, the argument from ipseity sketched above has no means for excluding
the possibility that instead of introducing a self as the subject of immediate
conscious states, one could as well think of the body as this subject. If all that is
asked for is a subject of non-propositional states, and if it is agreed that these
states are those a subject is not conscious of though they are states of an embodied
subject, why not take the body to be the subject? In many cases like those of hunger
or sleepiness and even of pain this seems the most natural thing to do; it cor-
responds to our normal practices to attribute those states to our body, as long as we
are not conscious of them. The same can be said of non-propositional emotions
and moods as well: As long as they are not conscious and thus can be said to be
non-propositional states, one better takes them to be states of the body. After all,
the body is not just a bunch of matter, but is in itself a sentient being; and if there is
something to ipseity at all, then there should be compelling reasons to deny the
sentient body the specific me-experience claimed (wrongly) to be characteristic for
the subject of all non-propositional states.¹⁶ As far as I can see, these reasons are
still missing.

 Actually, the entire reasoning in favor of a genuine self based on the observation of ego-
centricity or ipseity seems to rest again on the conflation of the two senses of the term ‘conscious
state’ pointed out above. It begins with using this term in the wider sense and then goes on to
employ it in the narrow sense without realizing that, in moving from the one sense to the other, one
is no longer discussing the way non-propositional states are experienced (maybe as states of
‘being-in-the-world’ or of ‘being directed towards the world’, at any rate as states which involve a
bodily element) but is giving a rather trifling description of how propositional states are expe-
 This goes in the direction of what I take F. Dretske to be arguing for in his “The Mind’s
Awareness of Itself” (Dretske ).

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 259

The third problem with ipseity as an argument in favor of the self is not just a
problem for the ipseity-argument, but for all attempts to introduce the self as an
ontologically independent item in addition to the self-conscious I and the body.We
might call this the problem of the vanishing self. It arises from the following
question: If indeed we have to accept the idea of an independent self without
which there would be no subject of non-propositional states, what is going to
happen to this self when a non-propositional state ends? When I cease being in the
non-propositional state of being hungry or feeling sorry because things have
changed without my consciously noticing it, does the self which is supposed to be
connected with the original state in the mode of immediate (non-propositional)
awareness just vanish in order to make place for another self? However one tries to
answer these questions, one will run into a lot of quandaries ranging from on-
tological perplexities to epistemological and psychological puzzles.
Thus, the phenomenon of immediate awareness gives us little reason to posit a
self that is distinct both from the body and from the self-conscious I. Especially
when it comes to the subject of non-propositional states (among them moods and
feelings I am not conscious of while conscious), the self is not the most promising
candidate for occupying the status of the subject. On the contrary, when focusing
on non-propositional states, a different picture emerges in which the self plays no
role as a subject at all. According to this picture, the situation is somehow the
following: When conscious, I am in a lot of states most of which are non-propo-
sitional. The subject of these states is myself as a sentient (with respect to non-
propositional bodily states) and ‘situated’¹⁷ (with respect to states of feeling and of
emotions) body. However, as long as all these states are non-propositional, there is
no me-experience and hence no self involved.¹⁸ A me-experience enters the scene
as soon as and insofar propositional states come into view. In propositional
contexts, this me-experience occurs in the form of the irreducibly subjective self-
conscious I, and it is only in propositional contexts that such a self-conscious I has
its place.
So much for the question as to whether feelings and moods understood as
non-propositional states make it necessary to introduce a self that is non-objec-
tively present in immediate awareness. The result is quite simple: The self that is

 The term ‘situated’ is used here as an abbreviation for the condition I am in by just ‘being-in-
the-world’ or ‘being directed towards the world’ in the Heideggerian or Merleau-Pontyan sense.
 Somewhat surprisingly, this result comes close to what is argued for from a thoroughly na-
turalistic point of view by T. Metzinger . However, his attempt to explain all ‘selfish’ phe-
nomena by means of brain activities and neural processes seems to me to put much too heavy a
burden on our poor brain though I am very much in sympathy with the dynamic model of the mind
underlying his approach to mental events.

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260 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

supposed to be a rather mysterious entity over and above the self-conscious I is

gone. Also gone, then, is the idea of the self as something the subject is imme-
diately aware of while being in a non-propositional mental state. Though one
might not really regret the loss of this self, one has to acknowledge at the same time
that this loss gives rise to new problems when it comes to the question of the
immediate awareness of myself as the subject of my mental states. After all, the
phenomenon of an immediate awareness of myself in a special non-objective way
which accompanies all the states I am conscious of is hard to deny; and if there is
no self over and above the self-conscious I of which I can be immediately aware,
then the only candidate left as the object of this special immediate awareness is the
self-conscious I. Because this I (according to the view advocated here) is known to
be the subject of propositional states, the question we now have to answer is this:
What is it the subject is immediately aware of when aware of itself while being in
propositional states?

Within the tradition that has most explicitly emphasized the constitutive role of the
self-conscious I in propositional contexts, the problem of immediate awareness
has been addressed without arriving at a satisfactory solution. We can see this
especially when we consider Kant’s and Fichte’s attempts to offer an account of
what the immediate awareness of the self-conscious I consists in. These accounts
cannot be adequately judged or criticized by just focusing on their explicit content.
In order to assess them, one has to realize that they were subject to antecedent
conditions which were extremely difficult to satisfy. These antecedent conditions
were determined by what in their theories the self-conscious I was supposed to be.
According to the view endorsed by Kant and taken over by Fichte, the I is the
instable non-substantial manifestation of an activity that has its appearance only
on the special occasion of entertaining a thought (i. e. a proposition). Given the fact
that this view implies that the I is a radically subjective phenomenon that can
never have the status of an object, it becomes a trying task to find even a voca-
bulary suitable for describing what I am immediately aware of when I am im-
mediately aware of myself in a self-conscious way. We can infer from Kant’s re-
luctance to directly address this task that he was not entirely comfortable with it. In
the few passages in which he comes up with a description of what we are im-
mediately aware of when we are aware of ourselves in thinking thoughts, he ends
up with rather opaque formulations to the effect that what we are aware of is “an
indeterminate perception” (eine unbestimmte Wahrnehmung, CpR B 423 note) that
is somehow connected with “a feeling of an existence” (Gefühl eines Daseins, Prol.

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 261

A 136 note, Ak. 4, p. 334)¹⁹. Not only are formulations like these without much
descriptive value, they are also on the verge of being nonsensical within Kant’s
conceptual framework. A similar observation can be made in the case of Fichte.
His life-long obsession to find an adequate expression for what it is we are im-
mediately acquainted with when aware of the I, led him to most the outlandish
sounding descriptions which rely on terms like ‘picture’ (Bild), ‘force’ (Kraft) and
‘eye’ (Auge) in an almost incomprehensible way²⁰.
This embarrassing difficulty encountered by Kant and Fichte should not
surprise us. It has its roots in the problem of how to describe dynamic processes in
which we are supposed to experience forces and activities not as objects being
manipulated by them but as just being them. Again in Kantian terminology: The
problem is to find a way to make conceptual sense of what Kant calls “an act of
spontaneity” (CpR B 130) where this act is not to be characterized in terms of a self-
conscious subject doing something, but has to instead be described in terms of a
dynamic process which manifests itself in bringing about (in creating) a self-
conscious I in connection with a propositional structure. Because it is a conceptual
problem, i. e. a problem that has to do with the manner by which we conceive of
dynamic processes in general as well as with our special way of accounting for
what is going on in arriving at a propositional structure (in particular in terms of a
vocabulary designed to capture states of substances and not the dynamics of
activities). It is thus somehow futile to search for a more fitting formulation of what
the self-conscious I consists in and what can be regarded as its mode of presence.
Instead of suggesting another inherently obscure formula, it might be better
just to sketch the overall picture once again which yields the intuitive background
for the conception of the self-conscious I at stake and which I have called ‘the
propositional view’. The basic picture which portrays best the function and the
status of the self-conscious I as described here might be outlined as follows: there
is an organized body (e. g. a human being, a person) which has among its faculties
the special capacity to perform acts which consist in generating the complex

 A helpful discussion of these formulations is to be found in D. Emundts commentary to §  of

the Prolegomena (Emundts ).
 Cf. in particular the unpublished material from his last years where he tries to capture the
essential features of the I on hundreds of pages in an almost obsessive way. Among the strangest
formulations are the following: The I “is solely a pure, empty picture [blosses reines leeres Bild]”, it
is “an eye that sees itself [ein sich sehendes Auge]” (GA II/, p.  and p. ), it is “a seeing that
sees itself [Ich = sich sehen des Sehens]” (GA II/, p. ). They culminate in the provocative
claim: “Force that is inserted an eye: the intrinsic character of the I, of freedom, of spirituality
[Kraft, der ein Auge eingesetzt ist: der eigentliche Charakter des Ich, der Freiheit, der Geistigkeit]”
(GA II/, p. ).

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262 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

ensemble of a propositional structure and an accompanying self-conscious I.²¹ At

least to a certain degree, this picture hints at what seems to me to be the most
remarkable feature of what we commonly refer to as the self-conscious I that I have
been discussing as a phenomenon of our conscious lives. This I is nothing but an
instable, non-substantial and fleeting occurrence whose mode of being may be
compared to that of a candle flame and which has the sole function of serving as
the non-objectifiable subject within the wider context of propositional perspec-
tives and attitudes with respect to conscious content. Though this dynamic way of
thinking about self-consciousness may not be the most natural one in the current
philosophical environment, what can be put forward in its favor are at least two
considerations: (1) From a historical point of view, it is quite obvious that the effort
to get a grip on the phenomenon of self-consciousness along the lines sketched
here has been pursued by Kant and the German idealists, i. e. by philosophers who
undoubtedly gave the most attention in the history of modern philosophy to the
puzzling role this phenomenon plays in our dealings with ourselves and the world.
(2) From a systematic point of view, it seems to me hard to deny that the manner of
looking at self-consciousness outlined here helps both to avoid a lot of problems
traditionally connected with theories of self-consciousness and to do justice to
some aspects of what could be called the phenomenology of self-consciousness –
aspects which are difficult to account for in less dynamic views of the matter.

In order to substantiate the claim that even today the search for what is called ‘the
self’ and the effort to capture its peculiarities have not led to very illuminating
results, I will pick as my reference point the most recent contribution to the
question of the nature of the self with which I have become acquainted: Galen
Strawson’s impressive book Selves. An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics (2009).

 At least at the end it should be mentioned that I am well aware that the term ‘propositional’
might have been used throughout the paper in a way that can be regarded as a bit misleading in
that it seems to restrict propositional states or ‘thoughts’ to states in which conceptual elements
intrinsically related to language are involved. The impression is hard to avoid that talk about
thoughts as a genuine kind of propositional mental states seems to suggest that there have to be
sentential or linguistic complements in play that express these conceptual elements constitutive of
a thought. However, this impression is to be resisted. What is addressed as a propositional state
here is every state that comes about through a synthetic activity governed by some rule or other.
These rules are meant to provide the conceptual elements whether they have a linguistic com-
plement or not. Thus hearing a melody or drawing a line is also, according to the ‘propositional
view’, a propositional state, i. e. a thought.

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 263

According to Strawson, it is the result of human self-experience that one cannot

avoid acknowledging the existence of such a phenomenon as the self. Though non-
human animals have conscious experiences too, it is a distinctive characteristic of
human subjects that in self-experience we experience the self as something real.
This something, the self, Strawson says, can be thought to be either identical with
the ‘embodied human being’ or with an ‘inner someone’. There is empirical
evidence for the claim that this self cannot be taken to be the ‘embodied human
being considered as a whole’. The evidence consists in observations based on the
meaningfulness of first-person judgments like “I felt completely detached from my
body” or “I felt I was floating out of my body, and looking down on it from above”
(G. Strawson 2009, p. 23). The self we experience in self-experience must therefore
be an ‘inner something’ which figures “as a (1) subject of experience that is a (2)
single, (3) persisting, (4) mental (5) thing … that is (6) an agent that has a certain (7)
personality and is (8) not the same thing as a human being considered as a whole”
(G. Strawson 2009, p. 3). This self I experience is not just something that I can relate
to as an object (consciousness of my states), even though it might become an object
for me; this self is rather the non-thetic, pre-reflective consciousness of myself
which also is present in my awareness of my feelings and moods (G. Strawson
2009, p. 24). (Some of) those who hold this view take self-consciousness to be
nothing but an ability “to be expressly aware of one’s states or parts or features as
one’s own” (G. Strawson 2009, p. 102). Or, they take self-consciousness to be the act

of grasping itself as itself, when thinking, for example, of itself or one of its parts as having
some property, in a way that is fully spelt out or expressed in something very like the way in
which a being’s grasp of itself as itself is expressed when it thinks of itself as itself in a fully
comprehending, occurent, conscious, linguistic form of thought, employing ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘my’
or ‘mine’ or some such term (My hair’s wet, I’m hopeful, I’m a great ape, That book is mine)
(G. Strawson, p. 105).

Thus, it seems that within this approach, self-consciousness is characterized as

the capacity to think of oneself as an object. As such an object, according to this
view, self-consciousness certainly can be experienced as having a specific “cog-
nitive-experiential character,” though the cognitive-experiential character of self-
consciousness is different from the cognitive-experiential character of self-expe-
rience in that, as Strawson puts it,

one can apprehend oneself as oneself, or apprehending something as one’s own, without in
any way apprehending oneself specifically as a self, i. e. without having self-experience:
without having a picture of oneself as a special sort of something that is not a human being
considered as a whole (G. Strawson 2009, p. 103).

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264 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

This is supposed to mean that self-consciousness, understood as an object, has “a

certain phenomenology” which “entails possession of some sense or conception of
oneself […] as single just qua mental” (G. Strawson 2009, p. 117). Self-con-
sciousness (as an object) in other words somehow contains a conception of the
self. All that is needed in order to be self-conscious is that

[1] one must possess the thought-element I or MYSELF or ONESELF, [2] one must possess the
thought-element SUBJECT OF EXPERIENCE, and [3] one must have some conception of ex-
perience – if only in possessing some grasp of more particular experiential modalities, like
thinking, hearing, and so on (G. Strawson 2009, p. 120 f.).

Though within this approach there seems to be no need for introducing the idea of
a irreversibly subjective self-conscious I (an I which can never become an object),
the approach purports to be able to account for such a phenomenon as well in that
it claims that there is nothing ‘elusive’ about the I (as a subject). There is nothing
elusive, because “there’s another non-thetic form of self-apprehension in which
the I or subject […] can be directly or immediately aware of itself in the present
moment” (G. Strawson 2009, p. 177). This self-awareness, in Strawson’s words,

seems to involve a state that has no particular content beyond the content that it has in so far
as it’s correctly described as awareness or consciousness of the awareness that it itself is, […]
but does so without involving anything propositional […] or thetic in the narrow, distance-
introducing […] sense. I take it that it is what people have in mind when they speak of ‘pure
consciousness experience’: consciousness that is consciousness of the consciousness that it
itself is and that includes consciousness (non-propositional) that it is consciousness of the
consciousness that it itself is. It’s an early and rather routine step in certain meditative
practices, and there’s an extremely robust consensus about its reality. (G. Strawson 2009,
p. 179 f.)

The picture that emerges seems to be the following: (1) Whereas all conscious
beings, whether non-human (animals) or human, have the ability to be immedi-
ately aware of many things (among them, states of themselves), it is the human
being alone that experiences itself immediately and in a non-propositional way as
a self. (2) Not that it experiences itself as a peculiar object among other objects, it
rather is present to itself as an ‘inner someone’ or a self in an immediate mode of
awareness. (3) Though some sort of immediate self-awareness is meant to be
common to all conscious creatures, it is a prerogative of human beings to have an
immediate awareness of themselves as selves. (4) If human beings are equipped
with the right means (if they possess the ‘thought-elements’ ‘I’ and ‘subject of
experience’), this immediate awareness of themselves as selves might go together
with a non-thetic apprehension of oneself as oneself or with self-consciousness.

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 265

Claims (1) to (4) clearly imply the assumption that the (real or imagined)
existence of the self is confirmed by what we are immediately aware of. However,
this assumption is somewhat puzzling both for descriptive and phenomenological
reasons, especially when it comes to human beings (and in light of the lessons
gleaned above from Kant and the German idealists). If one not just takes for
granted that all non-propositional states of humans involve immediate awareness
of the self and considers it an open question whether humans can be immediately
aware of some content or other without at the same time being immediately aware
of the self, then one would like to know with respect to (1) things like the following:
How is one to distinguish, within the vast realm of non-propositional states of a
subject, between what is immediately (non-propositionally) present without the
immediate presence of the self and what is present in such a way that it involves
immediate presence of the subject’s self-experience (as a self)? Are we to introduce
two modes of immediate awareness of our conscious environment: one that is
immediately aware of ‘non-selfish’ non-propositional content, the other of ‘selfish’
non-propositional content? If so, how am I to distinguish between these contents
in immediate awareness? Do they just feel differently? But in feeling as a state of
immediate awareness presumably a subject is involved, at least as ‘selfish’ non-
propositional content. If this is so, then the very concept of a ‘non-selfish’ non-
propositional content as distinguished and independent from ‘selfish’ non-pro-
positional content becomes a problem because now it seems that there is no ‘non-
selfish’ non-propositional content around anymore if feeling has to play a role in
its description.
This suggests that one has to distrust the distinction between ‘selfish’ and
‘non-selfish’ non-propositional content as somehow independent and unaffiliated
elements of what a (human) subject can be immediately aware of. But if one is to
give up this distinction, then one is thrown back to either of two claims both of
which are incompatible with (1) and both of which are disputed (at least by
Strawson). The first is the claim that all non-propositional content is ‘selfish’, i. e.
involves an immediate awareness of the self. This is not very convincing because of
phenomenological considerations. It seems to be possible to be immediately
aware of a lot of things without being at the same time immediately aware of
oneself as a self. In crossing a street, much is immediately present to me, but why
should this imply that I also have to be immediately present to myself as a self?
There always needs to be some special activity to bring the self into the picture. The
second option is the claim that all non-propositional content a subject is imme-
diately aware of is ‘non-selfish’. I am inclined to endorse this view even if implies
that one has to deny the possibility of an immediate awareness of oneself as a self
(as an inner something). This is so, because there is no real alternative. If it is
indeed the case that there is no way to distinguish between ‘selfish’ and ‘non-

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266 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

selfish’ non-propositional content in immediate experience, and if it is the case

that there definitely is ‘non-selfish’ non-propositional content, then all non-pro-
positional content of immediate experience must be ‘non-selfish’. Thus (1), the
basic assumption of the scenario, seems to be not that convincing because of its
patent incoherence.
The second element (2) in the scenario pointed out before is also somewhat
confusing. In order to be experienced not as an object in an immediate mode of
awareness, one has to take what is experienced in this mode to be non-proposi-
tional content because propositional content is always content which is consti-
tuted by being about something, i. e. an object. However, the immediate awareness
of non-propositional content as my self or my ‘inner someone’, presupposes again
that one is in the position to distinguish between what one is and is not imme-
diately experiencing as one’s ‘inner someone’. This has been shown in the pre-
ceding paragraph to be impossible. Thus, one faces a dilemma: Either one clings to
the claim that the immediate experience of the self as an ‘inner someone’ is not the
experience of an object but the experience of a non-propositional content (in
which case, one has to give up the ‘as inner someone’ qualification), or one ad-
heres to this qualification (in which case, the content of this immediate experience
can no longer be regarded as non-propositional content). All of this suggests that
the descriptive value also of (2) is somehow difficult to assess.
The situation is similar in the case of (3). Here, too, it is not that easy to decide
what one is asked to agree with or object to. Already the distinction between
different sorts of immediate self-awareness among conscious creatures has its
problems. At least two readings of this distinction seem possible. The first suggests
that though it is a common feature of all conscious creatures to be immediately
self-aware, this self-awareness is exemplified in different creatures differently, and
it is just in human beings that it shows up as the immediate awareness of
themselves as selves. If this reading is correct, then one would like to know what
non-human creatures are immediately self-aware of if not of their selves.Whatever
else is proposed has to be such that it can rightfully count as a case of self-
awareness. If what in immediate self-awareness is experienced is not oneself, then
there is no reason to think that what is experienced has anything to do with self-
awareness. If, however, what is experienced is indeed oneself, then the self be-
longs to the very content of this experience, which means that the experience
becomes an immediate awareness of oneself as a self. Thus, it is hard to see how to
make sense of a conception of self-awareness which does not involve awareness of
oneself as a self. This again indicates that if there is a difference in the way
conscious non-human and human beings are self-aware, this difference must be
rooted in something other than in what is purported to be specific for self-
awareness, namely awareness of oneself as a self.

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 267

The second reading is not that promising, either. According to this reading, all
conscious creatures, whether human or non-human, have in common a basic form
of self-awareness that just goes together with or might even be a necessary element
of being conscious. To this basic form is somehow added, in the case of human
beings, an awareness of oneself as a self. In this picture, a human being would
have been endowed with either one faculty of double self-awareness or two fac-
ulties of self-awareness, one in which it is immediately aware of itself in the ge-
neral conscious creature way, and another in which it is immediately aware of
itself in a human being way, i. e. as a self. Such a picture is puzzling. Even if one
does not object to this model of split self-awareness on the grounds that it is
phenomenologically unsupported, one cannot help asking how it is supposed to
work. How does creatural self-awareness relate to human self-awareness? Can a
conscious human being, being itself a conscious creature, be aware of itself only in
a way that is incompatible with the way other conscious creatures are aware of
themselves? If so, why should we take these incompatible ways to be instances of
self-awareness? The fact that there are widely different readings of (3) possibly
indicates that (3) also seems to be either rather unclear or very implausible.
Claim (4) in the scenario sketched above of how to think of the self is of special
interest because it tries to integrate self-consciousness into a view of the self that
seeks to distinguish between self-consciousness and the self. The suggestion is
that though the immediate awareness of the self as an ‘inner something’ is not
identical with the immediate awareness of oneself as an I because the self is not
the I, the immediate awareness of oneself as a self might under certain conditions
as well be the same as or indistinguishable from the experience of non-thetic (non-
propositional) apprehension of oneself as oneself or as an I. As will be shown, this
proposal again is quite ambiguous and allows for at least two different inter-
pretations, none of which is that convincing. First of all, one has to note that this
approach to self-consciousness grants that there is an immediate non-proposi-
tional awareness of the self-conscious I. Although quite natural, this supposition
is by no means without problems, as will be seen later. However, even if one is
prepared to grant this assumption (as I do), one has to ask with respect to claim (4):
How does it come about that the immediate awareness of the self as self or ‘inner
something’ can be transformed or can change into an immediate awareness of the
self as I? According to the model under discussion here, this transformation or this
change depends on the availability of so-called “thought-elements” like ‘I’ and/or
‘subject of experience’. The idea seems to be that as soon as a conscious creature is
in the possession of certain conceptual resources (the so-called “thought-ele-
ments”), the immediate awareness of the self as an ‘inner something’ has to be-
come (or at least can become) an immediate awareness of a conceptual inter-
pretation of the ‘inner something’ – such that what is immediately experienced is

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268 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

no longer just the self as self, but the very same self as ‘I’ or as ‘subject of ex-
perience’. This transformation, however, is not meant to have an effect on the
immediate experience. The immediate awareness of the self is supposed to be
objectively the same as or at least subjectively indistinguishable from the im-
mediate experience of the I. If this is the model, then what the proposal amounts to
depends on whether one declares objective sameness or whether one takes sub-
jective indistinguishability to be the distinguishing mark of the immediate
awareness of the self as well as of the I. One has to differentiate between sameness
and indistinguishability in this context because whereas objective sameness of
two cases of immediate awareness implies their indistinguishability, subjective
indistinguishability of two cases of immediate awareness might not necessarily
imply their being the same.
First, then, let us have a look at the claim that the immediate awareness is in
both cases the same. The question here is: Can an immediate experience of the self
as self be the same as an immediate experience of the self as I? Because the
immediate experience of the self as self is taken to be an experience of a non-
conceptual content while the immediate awareness of the self as I has to be the
experience of a conceptual one – after all, the I is a thought-element – the
question, more generally, is: Can the immediate awareness of something non-
conceptual be the same as the experience of something conceptual? It might be an
interesting question in its own right whether it makes sense to talk about an
immediate awareness or experience of concepts. Do concepts make themselves
immediately felt in a special way? Even if they feel in a special way, it is hard to
believe that they immediately feel the same way as non-conceptual elements of
immediate awareness feel, because otherwise the whole distinction between non-
conceptual and conceptual or thought-elements in immediate awareness breaks
down. Now, if the (concept of the) I is a thought-element and if the self, the ‘inner
something’, is not a thought element, then it is rather unlikely that the self as I is
immediately experienced the same way as the self as self. Thus, even if the im-
mediate awareness of the self as self can happen to change into or be replaced by
the immediate awareness of the self as I, it is by no means evident that the way one
is immediately aware of either the self or the I is the same. On the contrary, it is
fairly obvious that the immediate awareness is different – if there is an inner
awareness in a non-propositional mode possible at all of something conceptual
like the I. If, therefore, the proposal under discussion is understood as based on
the assumption of sameness of immediate awareness in both cases, then it seems
to be an unfounded claim.
Another interpretation of the proposal is that it does not insist on sameness,
but instead on indistinguishability of the immediate awareness of the self as self
from the immediate awareness of the self as I. The reasoning here could follow

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Kant, the German Idealists, the I, and the Self – A ‘Systematic Reconstruction’ 269

these lines: Though the self is not identical with the I, and though the immediate
awareness of the self might have to be different from the immediate awareness of
the I, the way the self is immediately experienced is indistinguishable from the way
the I is immediately experienced. According to this reasoning, the situation is very
much like cases of self-deception: The immediate awareness of a sound I mean to
hear in dreaming, the way the sound feels to me while I am dreaming, presumably
has to be different from my immediate awareness of a (very similar) sound I ac-
tually hear while being awake. Nevertheless, both cases of immediate awareness
might be such that I cannot tell any difference; what I experience in the one case is
indistinguishable for me from what I experience in the other.
But even if this analogy between self-awareness and sound-awareness is not
disputed and even if it is conceded that it is legitimate to think of two different
cases of immediate awareness as indistinguishable, there still remains a puzzle
when it comes to the immediate awareness of the self and the I. This puzzle has to
do with the following: Let us grant that the immediate awareness of the I is in-
distinguishable and at the same time different from the immediate awareness of
the self. How can I find out whether it is the I or the self that I am immediately
aware of? If there is no difference in ‘how it feels’ involved in both cases, it could
well be that whenever I am immediately aware of the I, I am instead immediately
aware of the self and the other way round. Each of these cases could be seen
analogous to a case of self-deception. But whereas in the case of ‘real’ self-de-
ception (for instance,with respect to sounds) there are always ways to find whether
I am deceived, this is not so in the case of the I and the self; their difference is
meant to be only a conceptual, not a ‘real’ difference. So the result is: If the self and
the I have to be distinguished, then their immediate experience has to be dis-
tinguished too, and if their immediate awareness cannot be distinguished then
there is nothing which can support the claim that one has to distinguish between
the I and the self. Thus, the whole distinction between the immediate awareness of
the I and of the self seems to be experientially unfounded and conceptually
unclear. This leads to the suspicion that the distinction between the I and the self
on the level of immediate, i. e. non-propositional awareness or experience is
somewhat unintelligible within an approach which insists on the authenticity of
the self over and against the I. One cannot resist the impression that, within such
an approach, the self is ultimately vanishing and the I has no phenomenal space.
The foregoing comments on just one representative example of positions
which take the self to be a phenomenon sui generis on the basis of what we ex-
perience in immediate awareness and which tend to endorse to some extent either
all or some of the claims (1) to (4), are not meant to be damaging to or to aim at
some sort of refutation of these positions. On the contrary, they are intended to hint
at a dilemma. On the one side, we find the conviction, deeply embedded in our

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270 Rolf-Peter Horstmann

experience and in our conception of ourselves, that there indeed corresponds

something to what we call ‘the self’. Otherwise, it seems, a large part of our whole
personal vocabulary would be pointless. To talk about self-awareness, self-ex-
perience, self-reliance, even talk about self-justice, self-deception and the like, is
for us indeed talk about something and not just a way of speech. On the other side,
when it comes to an explanation of what we mean by the term ‘self’ when talking
about self-involving phenomena, all attempts to give this term a ‘substantial’ or
‘objectifying’ reading end in obscurity and give rise to the disturbing impression
that there are no adequate means available for solving the task. How to solve this
dilemma still seems to be a challenging task. Perhaps it cannot be solved but only
avoided. One way to avoid it is the strategy chosen by Kant and the German
idealists (as sketched here) that culminates in the message: There is no need for a
self as a unique item in our mental constitution, for most of our theoretical and
practical purposes it is enough to rely on the (propositional) I.²²

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 Thanks for helpful comments to Dina Emundts (as so often) and Sally Sedgwick.Thanks also to
Dieter Henrich and Barry Stroud for their interesting remarks on an earlier version of this text.

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