James, D. By my faith! I have been speaking prose for forty years without being aware of it at all; I am infinitely obliged to you for having taught me that. Johann Gottlieb Fichte philosophically refers to the example of Monsieur Jourdain a number of times in his works, including in the Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre. Moreover, he would continue to adhere to this maxim of changing his technical language in all future presentations of his philosophy.
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Fichte was born May 19, in the village of Rammenau in the Oberlausitz area of Saxony. He was the eldest son in a family of poor and pious ribbon weavers. His extraordinary intellectual talent soon brought him to the attention of a local baron, who sponsored his education, first in the home of a local pastor, then at the famous Pforta boarding school, and finally at the universities of Jena and Leipzig.
With the death of his patron, Fichte was forced to discontinue his studies and seek his livelihood as a private tutor, a profession he quickly came to detest. Following a lengthy sojourn in Zurich, were he met his future wife, Johanna Rahn, Fichte returned to Leipzig with the intention of pursuing a literary career. When his projects failed, he was again forced to survive as a tutor. It was in this capacity that he began giving lessons on the Kantian philosophy in the summer of In a few weeks Fichte composed a remarkable manuscript in which he concluded that the only revelation consistent with the Critical philosophy is the moral law itself.
When the true identity of its author was revealed, Fichte was immediately catapulted from total obscurity to philosophical celebrity. Meanwhile, Fichte was once again employed as a private tutor, this time on an estate near Danzig, where he wrote several, anonymously published political tracts.
The first of these was published in with the provocative title Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought from the Princes of Europe, who have hitherto Suppressed it. In this work he not only defended the principles if not all the practices of the French revolutionaries, but also attempted to outline his own democratic view of legitimate state authority and insisted on the right of revolution.
Following the completion of these projects, Fichte devoted his time in Zurich to rethinking and revising his own philosophical position. While maintaining his allegiance to the new Critical or Kantian philosophy, Fichte was powerfully impressed by the efforts of K. In Feburary and March of he gave a series of private lectures on his conception of philosophy before a small circle of influential clerics and intellectuals in Zurich.
It was at this moment that he received an invitation to assume the recently vacated chair of Critical Philosophy at the University of Jena, which was rapidly emerging as the capital of the new German philosophy. Fichte arrived in Jena in May of , and enjoyed tremendous popular success there for the next six years, during which time he laid the foundations and developed the first systematic articulations of his new system.
Even as he was engaged in this immense theoretical labor, he also tried to address a larger, popular audience and also threw himself into various practical efforts to reform university life. Fichte wants to employ his philosophy to guide the spirit of his age. Though Fichte has already hinted at his new philosophical position in his review of G. This manifesto, Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre , articulated some of the basic ideas of the new philosophy, but it mainly focused upon questions of systematic form and the relationship between philosophy and its proper object the necessary actions of the human mind.
In fact, Fichte had not originally intended to publish this work at all, which was written less than a year after his first tentative efforts to articulate for himself his new conception of transcendental philosophy. The Foundation was originally intended to be distributed, in fascicles, to students attending his private lectures during his first two semesters at Jena, where the printed sheets could be subjected to analysis and questions and supplemented with oral explanations.
In he also published a substantial supplement to the Foundation , under the title Outline of the Distinctive Character of the Wissenschaftslehre with Respect to the Theoretical Faculty. Even as he was thoroughly revising his presentation of the foundational portion of his system, Fichte was simultaneously engaged in elaborating the various subdivisions or systematic branches of the same.
As was his custom, he did this first in his private lectures and then in published texts based upon the same. The first such extension was into the realm of philosophy of law and social philosophy, which resulted in the publication Foundations of Natural Right in accordance with the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre published in two volumes in and The second extension was into the realm of moral philosophy, which resulted in the publication of the System of Ethics in accordance with the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre Fichte then planned to extend his system into the realm of philosophy of religion.
The matter quickly escalated into a major public controversy which eventually led to the official suppression of the offending issue of the journal and to public threats by various German princes to prevent their students from enrolling at the University of Jena. At this point, the Prussian capital had no university of its own, and Fichte was forced to support himself by giving private tutorials and lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre and by a new flurry of literary production, increasingly aimed at a large, popular audience.
That same year also saw the publication of a typically bold foray into political economy, The Closed Commercial State , in which Fichte propounds a curious blend of socialist political ideas and autarkic economic principles.
Be that as it may, Fichte never stopped trying to refine his philosophical insights and to revise his systematic presentation of the same. Thus there are more than a dozen different full-scale presentations or versions of the Wissenschaftslehre , most of which were written after his departure from Jena. In Fichte spend a semester as a professor at the University of Erlangen, but returned to Berlin in the fall of that year.
Though these lectures later obtained a place of dubious honor as founding documents in the history of German nationalism, they are mainly concerned with the issue of national identity and particularly with the relationship between language and nationality and the question of national education which is the main topic of the work —both of which are understood by Fichte as means toward a larger, cosmopolitan end.
Fichte had always had a lively interest in pedagogical issues and assumed a leading role in planning the new Prussian university to be established in Berlin though his own detailed plans for the same were eventually rejected in favor of those put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt. When the new university finally opened in , Fichte was the first head of the philosophical faculty as well as the first elected rector of the university. His final years saw no diminishment in the pace either of his public activity or of his philosophical efforts.
From his wife, who was serving as a volunteer nurse in a Berlin military hospital, he contracted a fatal infection of which he died on January 29, He thus insisted that there is no conflict between transcendental idealism and the commonsense realism of everyday life. On the contrary, the whole point of the former is to demonstrate the necessity and unavailability of the latter.
Taking to heart the criticisms of such contemporaries as F. Jacobi, Salomon Maimon, and G. Schulze, Fichte propounded a radically revised version of the Critical philosophy. His study of the writings of K. Not only would such a strategy guarantee the systematic unity of philosophy itself, but, more importantly, it would also display what Kant hinted at but never demonstrated: viz.
To the extent that any proposed first principle of philosophy is supposed to be the first principle of all knowledge and hence of all argument, it clearly cannot be derived from any higher principle and hence cannot be established by any sort of reasoning. Though Fichte conceded that neither dogmatism nor idealism could directly refute its opposite and thus recognized that the choice between philosophical starting points could never be resolved on purely theoretical grounds, he nevertheless denied that any dogmatic system, that is to say, any system that commences with the concept of sheer objectivity, could ever succeed in accomplishing what was required of all philosophy.
To be sure, one cannot decide in advance whether or not any such deduction of experience from the mere concept of free self-consciousness is actually possible. This, Fichte conceded, is something that can be decided only after the construction of the system in question. Until then, it remains a mere hypothesis that the principle of human freedom, for all of its practical certainty, is also the proper starting point for a transcendental account of objective experience.
The principle in question simply states that the essence of I-hood lies in the assertion of ones own self-identity, i. The occurrence of such an original intellectual intuition is itself inferred, not intuited. Thus the problematic unity of theoretical and practical reason is guaranteed from the start, inasmuch as this very unity is a condition for the possibility of self-consciousness.
Furthermore, though we must, due to the discursive character of reflection itself, distinguish each of these acts from the others that it is conditioned by and that are, in turn, conditioned by it, none of these individual acts actually occurs in isolation from all of the others.
Transcendental philosophy is thus an effort to analyze what is in fact the single, synthetic act through which the I posits for itself both itself and its world, thereby becoming aware in a single moment of both its freedom and its limitations, its infinity and its finitude. Despite widespread misunderstanding of this point, the Wissenschaftslehre is not a theory of the absolute I. Moreover, it cannot even posit for itself its own limitations, in the sense of producing or creating these limits.
The finite I the intellect cannot be the ground of its own passivity. Such an original limitation of the I is, however, a limit for the I only insofar as the I posits it as such. Accordingly, there are strict limits to what can be expected from any a priori deduction of experience.
According to Fichte, transcendental philosophy can explain, for example, why the world has a spatio-temporal character and a causal structure, but it can never explain why objects have the particular sensible properties they happen to have or why I am this determinate individual rather than another. This is something that the I simply has to discover at the same time that it discovers its own freedom, and indeed, as a condition for the latter.
This however is certainly not the case. Despite this important stricture on the scope of transcendental philosophy, there remains much that can be demonstrated within the foundational portion of the Wissenschaftslehre. For example, it can be shown that the I could not become conscious of its own limits in the manner required for the possibility of any self-consciousness unless it also possessed an original and spontaneous ability to synthesize the finite and the infinite.
In this sense, the Wissenschaftslehre deduces the power of productive imagination as an original power of the mind. The foundational portion of the Wissenschaftslehre thus also includes a deduction of the categorical imperative albeit in a particularly abstract and morally empty form and of the practical power of the I.
On the contrary, a finite free self must constantly strive to transform both the natural and the human worlds in accordance with its own freely-posited goals. The sheer unity of the self, which was posited as the starting point of the Foundations, is thereby transformed into an idea of reason in the Kantian sense: the actual I is always finite and divided against itself, and hence it is always striving for a sheer self-determinacy that it never achieves.
Having established the foundation of his new system, Fichte then turned to the task of constructing upon this foundation a fully-articulated transcendental system, the overall structure of which is most clearly outlined in the concluding section of the transcripts of his lectures on Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo. The closest he ever came to developing a philosophy of nature according to transcendental principles is the compressed account of space, time, and matter presented in the Outline of the Distinctive Character of the Wissenschaftslehre with Respect to the Theoretical Faculty and the lectures on Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo.
Whereas theoretical philosophy explains how the world necessarily is , practical philosophy explains how the world ought to be, which is to say, how it ought to be altered by rational beings.
Ethics thus considers the object of consciousness not as something given or even as something constructed by necessary laws of consciousness, but rather as something to be produced by a freely acting subject, consciously striving to establish and to accomplish its own goals and guided only by its own self-legislated laws.
On the other hand, this is not the only way the world can be viewed, and, more specifically, it is not the only way in which it is construed by transcendental philosophy. In this portion of the system the world is considered neither as it simply is nor as it simply ought to be; instead, either the practical realm of freedom is viewed from the theoretical perspective of the natural world in which case one considers the postulates that theoretical reason addresses to practical reason or else, alternatively, the natural world is viewed from the perspective of practical reason or the moral law in which case one considers the postulates that practical reason addresses to theoretical reason.
The same condition applies, of course, to the other; hence, mutual recognition of rational individuals turns out to be condition necessary for the possibility of I-hood in general. The theory of right examines how the freedom of each individual must be externally limited if a free society of free and equal individuals is to be possible.
Unlike Kant, Fichte does not treat political philosophy merely as a subdivision of moral theory. On the contrary, it is an independent philosophical discipline with a topic and a priori principles of its own.
Whereas ethics analyzes the concept of what is demanded of a freely willing subject, the theory of right describes what such a subject is permitted to do as well as what he can rightfully be coerced to do. Whereas ethics is concerned with the inner world of conscience, the theory of right is concerned only with the external, public realm, though only insofar as the latter can be viewed as an embodiment of freedom.
On purely a priori grounds, therefore, Fichte purports to be able to determine the general requirements of such a community and the sole justification for legitimate political coercion and obligation. In addition to the postulates addressed by theoretical to practical reason, there are also those addressed by practical reason to nature itself.
The latter is the domain of the transcendental philosophy of religion, which is concerned solely with the question of the extent to which the realm of nature can be said to accommodate itself to the aims of morality. The questions dealt with within such a philosophy of religion are those concerning the nature, limits, and legitimacy of our belief in divine providence.
The philosophy of religion, as conceived by Fichte, has nothing to do with the historical claims of revealed religion or with particular religious traditions and practices. But this is about as far as it can go. Neglected as the Wissenschaftslehre may have been during this period, Fichte was not entirely forgotten, but remained influential as the author of the Addresses to the German Nation and was alternately hailed and vilified as one of the founders of modern pan-German nationalism.
Particularly during the long periods preceding, during, and following the two World Wars, Fichte was discussed almost exclusively in the context of German politics and national identity, and his technical philosophy tended to be dismissed as a monstrous or comical speculative aberration of no relevance whatsoever to contemporary philosophy.
But the real boom in Fichte studies has come only in the past four decades, during which the Wissenschaftslehre has once again become the object of intense philosophical scrutiny and lively, world-wide discussion—as is evidenced by the establishment of large and active professional societies devoted to Fichte in Europe, Japan, and North America.
Much of the best recent work on Fichte, particularly in Germany, Italy, and Japan, has been devoted exclusively to his later thought. But it is also a reflection of the relatively anemic tradition of Fichte scholarship in England and North America, where even the early Wissenschaftslehre has long been neglected and under-appreciated.
This situation, however, has fundamentally altered, and some of the most insightful and original current work on Fichte is being done in English. Life and Work 2. The Starting Point of the Jena Wissenschaftslehre 4. Systematic Overview of the Jena Wissenschaftslehre 4. Fichte Bonn: Adolph-Marcus,
Author:Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Biodiversity Heritage Library
Based on lectures Fichte had delivered as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Jena , it was later reworked in various versions. The standard Wissenschaftslehre was published in , but other versions appeared posthumously. Science of Knowledge has first established Fichte's independent philosophy. In , the German romantic Friedrich Schlegel identified the Wissenschaftslehre , together with the French revolution and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 's Wilhelm Meister , as "the most important trend-setting events Tendenzen of the age. Michael Inwood believes that the work is close in spirit to the early works of Edmund Husserl , including the Ideas and the Cartesian Meditations The Wissenschaftslehre has been described by Roger Scruton as being both "immensely difficult" and "rough-hewn and uncouth".