Religious and Philosophical Writings of Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb 1762-1814
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After a time of brilliant activity, he was dismissed on a charge of Atheism. Withdrawing to Berlin, he was afterwards appointed Professor at Erlangen, and, finally, at the newly founded University of Berlin, of which he became the rector in He died in of fever, which he contracted from his wife, who attended the wounded soldiers in the hospital.

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Born into a poor family at Rammenau, Germany, Johann Gottlieb Fichte attracted the Drawn to philosophy by the writings of Lessing and Spinoza, Fichte was to visit Immanuel Kant, showing him the manuscript of a work on religion, his. In Fichte published two lecture series that were treats of morality and religion in a popular format.

While he was in Jena he wrote his principal philosophical works— The Basis of the Entire Science of Knowledge Wissenschaftslehre , and his more extended works on Natural Right and the Theory of Morals. These last were delivered as lectures to the general public while the French were in command of the city, and did much to rekindle the patriotism of his countrymen. His name, indeed, is remembered by many chiefly on account of his patriotic endeavour, and the author of the Wissenschaftslehre is overshadowed by the orator of the Addresses.

He was a man of upright and resolute character, gifted with rare natural eloquence, and his lectures, both to his students and the public, were full of fire and inspiration. His opinions may be true or false, but his character as a thinker can be slightly valued only by those who know it ill, and as a man approved by action and suffering, in his life and in his death, he ranks with a class of men who were common only in better ages than ours. Fichte's philosophy has been usually regarded as falling into two periods, that of Jena and that of Berlin, and it has been maintained by some that the views of the later phase are entirely opposed to those of the earlier.

It is true, indeed, that his later writings are of a more popular nature and more positive in their tone and spirit, but there is nothing in the earlier period inconsistent with the later. Fichte himself was conscious of no change; he never regarded his Wissenschaftslehre as containing his whole system. His practical views as to man's vocation and higher life have their roots in his whole conception of human consciousness and activity laid down in The Science of Knowledge.

It is true that in his later writings he seems to give a more definite place to the idea of God, but, as has been shown, there is evidence that from the very first he regarded the absolute ego as being prior to and underlying all the manifestations of the particular ego. A more natural division might be made into theoretical and practical philosophy, for to Fichte all conscious life consisted of thought and action; indeed, thought with him is action.

The world can only be comprehended from the standpoint of consciousness, and that again can only be explained through the will.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762—1814)

The ego is pure activity, and all reality is its product. The theoretic only exists for the practical. His doctrine is wholly life and action. The philosophy of Fichte is a system of pure and subjective idealism. Reality is experience, and it is nothing more. Hence the philosophy of Fichte starts with the demand that the facts of experience shall be examined as facts of self-consciousness.

They exist only for a thinking being, and their significance and interpretation for the thinking subject is the business of philosophy.

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Philosophy, in other words, is the rethinking of experience, the endeavour to reconstruct in a systematic way what ordinary consciousness accepts. Fichte, therefore, calls his work Wissenschaftslehre , or The Science of Knowledge , for, unlike every particular science which has to do with special objects, the business of this doctrine is to develop from its first principle the plan or complete frame-work of human knowledge generally. Before showing how Fichte works out this principle, it will be desirable to form a clear idea of the origin and aim of Fichte's theory.

Fichte starts from Kant. He believed that the Critique furnished the material of a consistent view of the world, and that all that was needed was a rearrangement of its principles. Kant had, indeed, traced back everything to the internal constitution of our own thinking faculty. But in so doing he had left in opposition two distinct sources of our knowledge, one of which was to be sought within our intelligent being, and the other without.

In other words, Kant seemed to refer the matter of knowledge to the action upon us of a non-ego or "thing-in-itself" absolutely beyond consciousness. Now Fichte felt that here was a duality which must be overcome. How was it to be done? There are only two ways possible.

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Experience is an activity of consciousness directed towards objects. It can, therefore, be derived only from things or pure thoughts. It must have its source in objects outside of the mind or in the thinking subject itself. The one is the explanation of Dogmatism; the other of Idealism.

Dogmatism regards consciousness as a product of things, tracing all the activities of the mind back to mechanical necessity and ending in materialism and fatalism. Idealism, on the contrary, sees in things a product of consciousness in which all the activities of the subject are determined only in and by itself. Between these two explanations a great gulf is fixed. Dogmatism or realism, as it may be called, is shown to be untenable as assuming an absolutely unknown and unknowable thing outside of self-consciousness.

Idealism is the only satisfactory standpoint, in that it selects as ground of explanation what is actually in consciousness. But it must not be an imperfect idealism—which takes the ego as the alone real and denies the existence of the non-ego , or multiplicity of experience. Self-consciousness always implies consciousness of something else than self, and could not exist without it. Consciousness, in order to know itself, must be conscious of a limit, but it must be a limit within itself and set by itself. The world which ordinary intelligence regards as outside is really a world within,—a world which, indeed, must be accounted for, and can, therefore, be accounted for only as the product of the ego.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The central fact then for Fichte was what Kant called "the unity of consciousness. To explain knowledge by what is not known is a contradiction. All we know are the determinations of our own self. You may call them, he says, images or representations, but they are the images of nothing external, for we possess nothing else but those images.

There can be no thing-in-itself. The wish to represent to ourselves objects as they are is unthinkable; it really amounts to the desire to represent objects without representing them. Having thus seen Fichte's general standpoint, and having traced the genesis of his doctrine, we may now proceed to give shortly an outline of the development of his system. We must start with a principle of unity, and show that all things are necessarily related in one complete system of reason.

That is the task which Fichte undertakes in The Science of Knowledge. And here it is Fichte's aim to show that theoretic and practical reason coincide.

2. Fichte’s Philosophical Project

For while the whole system of pure thought can be deduced from one principle, the ground of this principle is explicable only in the region of practical life. The ultimate basis for the activity of thought is to be found in the will.

1. Life and Work

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. Much of the best recent work on Fichte, particularly in Germany, Italy, and Japan, has been devoted exclusively to his later thought. Philosophy of mind. Concerning Human Dignity. Despite or possibly because of parallels with Hegel 's later formulation of history as a dialectical process , it was arguably Hegel himself who was largely responsible for the subsequent relegation of Fichte to a footnote in the larger history of German Idealism. Also see EB.

It is only in the practical sphere, in the world of action, that the ego becomes conscious of itself. What then is this single principle from which Fichte starts, and how does it act? To answer this question we must remember what is the problem of the Wissenschaftslehre. It is to give a complete systematic exposition of the principles which lie at the basis of all reason and knowledge—it is to trace the necessary acts by which consciousness comes to be what it is.

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This can only be done by the mind reflecting on its own action. Now, if we examine that act we find that there are three momenta in the process of analysis. These are, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. These three axioms are related. The second is the opposite of the first, and the third is the result of both. A equals A , or, we may say, "I am I. This is what Fichte calls a deed-act Thathandlung. The ego posits itself as real. How it does so we cannot tell, but until it does so there is no consciousness.

The non-ego is opposed in consciousness to the ego. This is the antithesis of the original thesis. This act is also intuitive. I cannot tell how it occurs. I only know that as soon as I think myself, I think also my non-self. This is the axiom of contradiction. We have seen that in so far as the non-ego is affirmed, the ego is negated, and yet the non-ego can only be affirmed within the consciousness or mind, and is, therefore, not really negated.

How is this contradiction to be solved? How can we think together reality and non-reality without the one destroying the other? Only by each limiting itself. The contradiction is solved in a higher synthesis, which takes up the two opposites into the identity of the one sole consciousness. The ego and the non-ego limit or determine each other. The ego posits itself as limited and determined by the non-ego. And the non-ego is limited and determined by the ego. One word of caution must here be given. It must be clearly understood that the ego spoken of by Fichte in these principles is not the individual ego , not any particular self, but the pure ego in general Ichheit , which is to be presupposed as the prius of the manifold representations of the individual consciousness.

It is the pure eternal reason which is common to all and is the source of all thinking, and which is present in all particular manifestations. In the synthesis of the third act, two principles may be distinguished: 1 The non-ego determines the ego ; 2 the ego determines the non-ego. As determined or limited, the ego is theoretic; as determining it is practical. Hence we have the two parts of the Science of Knowledge —the theoretic and the practical.

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The first has to solve the question: How does Reason or the Ego come to assume anything objective? And the second has to answer the question: How does the Ego come to ascribe to itself causality? Theoretic Science of Knowledge.