Mounting the Stage of the World: Theory of the Subject as Actor in the Parallel Positions of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Jean-Paul Sartre


Eric Duffy

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2008


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Tom Rockmore

Committee Member

Jim Swindal

Committee Member

Dan Selcer


Subjectivity, Fichte, Sartre, Spectator, Act, Phenomenology


The theories of the subject advanced by Fichte and Sartre bear a remarkable similarity with one another even though each thinker addresses different fundamental problems. The modern view of the subject addresses two central yet related problems: the problem of knowledge and the problem of moral responsibility. The modern conception of the subject arises in Descartes' philosophy where we can identify two distinct views: a passive spectator subject and an active actor subject. Descartes defends the view of a passive spectator on the level of a theory of knowledge. Kant fundamentally changes the discussion of the modern subject with his Copernican revolution that requires an active subject for knowledge and morality to be possible. Fichte responds to Kant directly on the level of a theory of knowledge, and Sartre responds to Kant indirectly as a means to respond to Husserl. Fichte and Sartre account for the human subject and not the formal spectator subject. Fichte and Sartre conceive of the subject as active to account for how individuals life their particular lives. This theory of subjectivity establishes a two-level view of the subject. The first level of engaged practical activity is ordinary consciousness. The second level is reflective self-consciousness. Reflection is the fundamental structure accounting both for how objective knowledge claims are possible and for how the subject is self-determining, making morality possible. Fichte and Sartre identify a general ideal self at the root of the entire range of possible acts for a human subject to provide a unity to the subject. Each thinker employs a methodology termed phenomenology of action. The human subject is situated in a world confronting it, populated by objects limiting it. The individual constructs the world of experience by organizing it through enacting choice. A goal to be realized is iv posited and the subject then acts in the world confronting it to actualize the goal. The goal creates values making experience intelligible, but can only be brought about through real activity. This view of the subject allows for the possibility of providing a philosophical account for the entire range of human activity.





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