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NKF Fichte

NKF Fichte

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Published by: vsekakor on Dec 30, 2009
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Johann Gottlieb Fichte is one of the major figures in German philosophy in the period  between Kant and Hegel. Initially considered one of Kant's most talented followers, Fichte deeloped his own system of transcendental philosophy, the so!called
. "hrough technical philosophical wor#s and popular writings Fichte e$ercised great influence oer his contemporaries, especially during his years at the %niersity of Jena. His influence waned towards the end of his life, and Hegel's subse&uent dominance relegated Fichte to the status of a transitional figure whose thought helped to e$plain the deelopment of German idealism from Kant's ritical philosophy to Hegel's philosophy of (pirit. "oday, howeer, Fichte is more correctly seen as an important philosopher in his own right, as a thin#er who carried on the tradition of German idealism in a highly original form.
1. Fichte's Beginnings (1762-1794)
a. )arly life
Fichte was born on *ay +, +-/ to a family of ribbon ma#ers. )arly in life he impressed eeryone with his great intelligence, but his parents were too poor to pay for his schooling. "hrough the patronage of a local nobleman, he was able to attend the 0forta school, which  prepared students for a uniersity education, and then the uniersities of Jena and 1eip2ig. %nfortunately, little is #nown about this period of Fichte's life, but we do #now that he intended to obtain a degree in theology, and that he had to brea# off his studies for financial reasons around +-34, without obtaining a degree of any sort. (eeral years of earning his liing as an itinerant tutor ensued, during which time he met Johanna 5ahn, his future wife, while liing in 6urich. In the summer of +-7, while liing in 1eip2ig and once again in financial distress, Fichte agreed to tutor a uniersity student in the Kantian philosophy, about which he #new ery little at the time. His immersion in Kant's writings, according to his own testimony, reolutioni2ed his thin#ing and changed his life, turning him away from a deterministic iew of the world at odds with human freedom towards the doctrines of the ritical philosophy and its reconciliation of freedom and determinism.
 b. Fichte's sudden rise to prominence
*ore wandering and frustration followed. Fichte decided to trael to K9nigsberg to meet Kant himself, and on July 4, +-+ the disciple had his first interiew with the master. %nfortunately for Fichte, things did not go well, and Kant was not especially impressed by his isitor. In order to proe his e$pertise in the ritical philosophy, Fichte &uic#ly composed a manuscript on the relation of the ritical philosophy to the &uestion of diine reelation, an issue that Kant had yet to address in print. "his time, Kant was justifiably impressed by the results and arranged for his own publisher to bring out the wor#, which appeared in +-/ under the title
 An Attempt at a Critique of all Revelation
. In this fledgling effort Fichte adhered to many of Kant's claims about morality and religion by thoughtfully e$tending them to the concept of reelation. In particular, he too# oer Kant's
idea that all religious belief must ultimately withstand critical scrutiny if it is to ma#e a legitimate claim on us. For Fichte, any alleged reelation of God's actiity in the world must  pass a moral test: namely, no immoral command or action, i.e., nothing that iolates the moral law, can be attributed to Him. ;lthough Fichte himself did not e$plicitly critici2e hristianity  by appealing to this test, such a restriction on the content of a possible reelation, if consistently imposed, would oerturn some aspects of orthodo$ hristian belief, including, for e$ample, the doctrine of original sin, which states that eeryone is born guilty as a result of ;dam and )e's disobedience in the Garden of )den. "his element of hristian theology, which is said to be grounded in the reelations contained in the 8ible, is hardly compatible with the iew of justice underwritten by the moral law. ;ttentie readers should hae instantly gleaned Fichte's radical iews from the placid Kantian prose. For reasons that are still mysterious, Fichte's name and preface were omitted from the first edition of
 An Attempt at a Critique of all Revelation
, and thus the boo#, which displayed an e$tensie and subtle appreciation of Kant's thought, was ta#en to be the wor# of Kant himself. <nce it became #nown that Fichte was the author, he instantly became a philosophical figure of importance= no one whose wor# had been mista#en for Kant's, howeer briefly, could be rightfully denied fame and celebrity in the German philosophical world. Fichte continued wor#ing as a tutor while attempting to fashion his philosophical insights into a system of his own. He also anonymously published two political wor#s, >5eclamation of the Freedom of "hought from the 0rinces of )urope, ?ho Hae <ppressed It %ntil @ow> and
Contribution to the Rectification of the Public's Judgment of the French Revolution
. It became widely #nown that he was their author= conse&uently, from the ery beginning of his public career, he was identified with radical causes and iews. In <ctober +-A he married his fiancBe, and shortly thereafter une$pectedly receied a call from the %niersity of Jena to ta#e oer the chair in philosophy that Karl 1eonhard 5einhold C+-D3!+3/AE, a well!#nown e$ponent and interpreter of the Kantian philosophy, had recently acated. Fichte arried in Jena in *ay +-4.
2. The Jena Period (1794-1799)
/a. Fichte's philosophical ocation
In his years at Jena, which lasted until +-, Fichte published the wor#s that established his reputation as one of the major figures in the German philosophical tradition. Fichte neer e$clusiely saw himself as an academic philosopher addressing the typical audience of fellow  philosophers, uniersity colleagues, and students. Instead, he considered himself a scholar with a wider role to play beyond the confines of academia, a iew elo&uently e$pressed in >(ome 1ectures oncerning the (cholar's ocation,> which were deliered to an oerflowing lecture hall shortly after his much anticipated arrial in Jena. <ne of the tas#s of philosophy, according to these lectures, is to offer rational guidance towards the ends that are most appropriate for a free and harmonious society. "he particular role of the scholar  that is, of indiiduals such as Fichte himself, regardless of their particular academic discipline  is to  be a teacher of man#ind and a superintendent of its neer!ending progress towards perfection. "hroughout his career Fichte alternated between composing, on the one hand, philosophical wor#s for scholars and students of philosophy and, on the other hand, popular wor#s for the
general public. "his desire to communicate to the wider public  to bridge the gap, so to spea#, between theory and pra$is  inspired his writings from the start. In fact, Fichte's  passion for the education of society as a whole should be seen as a necessary conse&uence of his philosophical system, which continues the Kantian tradition of placing philosophy in the serice of enlightenment, i.e., the eentual liberation of man#ind from its self!imposed immaturity. "o become mature, according to Kant's way of thin#ing, which Fichte had adopted, is to oercome our willing refusal to thin# for ourseles, and thus to accept responsibility for failing to thin# and act independently of the guidance of e$ternal authority.
 b. Fichte's system, the
Fichte called his philosophical system the
. "he usual )nglish translations of this term, such as >science of #nowledge,> >doctrine of science,> or >theory of science,> can  be misleading, since today these phrases carry connotations that can be e$cessiely theoretical or too reminiscent of the natural sciences. "herefore, many )nglish!language commentators and translators prefer to use the German term as the untranslated proper name that designates Fichte's system as a whole. ;nother potential source of confusion is that Fichte's boo# from +-4D, whose full title is
 Foundations of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre
, is sometimes simply referred to as the
. (trictly spea#ing, this is incorrect, since this wor#, as its title indicates, was meant as the foundations of the system as a whole= the other parts of the system were to  be written afterwards. *uch of Fichte's wor# in the remainder of the Jena period attempted to complete the system as it was enisioned in the +-4D
c. 8ac#ground to the
8efore moing to Jena, and while he was liing in the house of his father!in!law in 6urich, Fichte wrote two short wor#s that presaged much of the
 that he deoted the rest of his life to deeloping. "he first of these was a reiew of a s#eptical criti&ue of Kantian philosophy in general and 5einhold's so!called
 C>)lementary 0hilosophy>E in particular. "he wor# under reiew, an anonymously published polemic called
, which was later discoered to hae been written by Gottlob )rnst (chul2e C+-+!+3AAE, and which appeared in +-/, greatly influenced Fichte, causing him to reise many of his iews, but did not lead him to abandon 5einhold's concept of philosophy as rigorous science, an interpretation of the nature of philosophy that demanded that  philosophical principles be systematically deried from a single foundational principle #nown with certainty. 5einhold had argued that this first principle was what he called the >principle of consciousness,> namely, the proposition that >in consciousness representation is distinguished through the subject from both object and subject and is related to both.> From this principle 5einhold attempted to deduce the contents of Kant's ritical philosophy. He claimed that the

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