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Volume 18 Issue 2 (June 2010), Pages 159-324

Fichte's Voluntarism (pages 262-282)

Abstract: In recent work Stephen Darwall has attacked what he calls J. G. Fichte's ‘voluntarist’ thesis, the idea—on Darwall's reading—that I am bound by obligations of respect to another person by virtue of my choice to interact with him. Darwall argues that voluntary choice is incompatible with the normative force behind the concept of a person, which demands my respect non‐voluntarily. He in turn defends a ‘presuppositional’ thesis which claims that I am bound by obligations of respect simply by recognizing the other as a person. In this paper I argue Darwall has misidentified the voluntary element in Fichte's account (sections 4–5). This requires me first to explain what Fichte's voluntarism really consists in (sections 1–3), and I suggest an apparent ambiguity in Fichte's position is responsible for Darwall's misreading. Clarifying this ambiguity, however, exposes some limitations to Darwall's thesis, and I end by discussing what those limitations are and what we can learn from them (sections 6–8).

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