Reading Fichte
-by Günter Zöller-

Spanish by Gabriel Rivero
translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2017

Text imprint Barcelona, Herder, ©2013 (2015)

Reading Fichte TOC


		2.1. Years of apprenticeship and pilgrimage (1774-1794)
		2.2. Professor in Jena (1794-1799)
		2.3. The so-called dispute concerning atheism (1798-1799)
		2.4. Docent without an academic job (1799-1809)
		2.5. Professor in Berlin (1809-1814)


                3.1. Determination of the limit of pure reason (Immanuel Kant)
                3.2. The opposition between faith and knowledge (Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi)
                3.3. Philosophy starting from a single principle (Karl Leonhard Reinhold)
                3.4. The skeptical theme of Kantianism (Salomon Maimon and Schulze's Aenesidemus)


		4.1. The discovery of the I
                4.2. From the infinite I to the finite one
                4.3. The unity of knowing and willing
                4.4. From the I to the "i," to you and to us
                4.5. The primacy of the practical


                5.1. The Doctrine of Science and its later presentations
                5.2. From the absolute I to the Absolute
                5.3. The Absolute and its manifestation
                5.4. From the Doctrine of Science to the Doctrine of Wisdom


                6.1. Science and art
                6.2. Reason and history
                6.3. Nation and education
                6.4. Law and religion

                              I. Reading Fichte

OF ALL THE modern philosophers, Fichte is the least appropriate for
solitary reading.   His texts are, in general, conceived for public exposition. In
their majority, they should have been thought and heard in the realm of teaching and
academic learning. Therefore, its linguistic and intellectual design are essentially
ready for oral communication. The later and additional exposure through the printed
publication is extrinsic to it - and this also applies where Fichte himself previewed
or proposed their publication. These texts absolutely lack the establishment of fixed
terms and theorems. In place of that, Fichte's texts carefully effect an evolved and
highly complex movement of thought, by means of which the public should be instructed
and motivated for an autonomous intellectual co-realization of such thought.
     In a deliberate analysis of written culture in the philosophic field, Fichte de-
emphasizes the work in favor of the effect, and in place of the progressive
development of multiple contents he prioritizes varied repetition of a few subjects
and fundamental theses; and this always with new attempts in the direction of a
procedure chosen in a premeditated manner, by means of which one should challenge,
undo and replace the established modes of thinking. With his typical connection
between a thematic focus and volatility, philosophizing for Fichte is less extensive
than intensive, less expansive than repetitive, less instructive than insistent.
Fichte takes his listeners and his readers seriously, and he takes them to the
extremes of superimposition. Thus, despite being developed and designed for public
exposition, the Fichtean hermetic texts become comprehensible, typically, after
repeated reading. To read Fichte requires the immersion in a pathway of thought that
profoundly challenges thought itself, yet with which, justly, one's freedom with
respect to external rules is presupposed and deliberately intensified. Fichte counts
upon a public that thinks like him, and with readers who reflect. For Fichte, the
subject with which he deals is things, although his insistent tone and the energetic
sound of his philosophic voice can appear highly subjective. From Fichte's texts--and
from his life--one can learn how philosophical investigation should occur in
intellectual freedom, that is, with complete deliverance to the search for knowledge
and wisdom, without consideration of losses or personal advantages.
     Therefore, to be fair to the biographical-philosophical character of Fichte's
thought, it does not suffice either to take under consideration only some of his
works or a good part of them through an artificial separation of everything vital
from his thought. Fichte is a philosopher who always and everywhere concerns himself
with everything, and his work essentially eliminates selective reception. In the same
fashion, the restriction to one or another phase of his thought cannot satisfy the
continuous character of the movement of Fichtean thought either. An adequate
confrontation with his philosophy should result from a background of familiarity with
his complete works and influence, as in a framework of knowledge of his total
Oeuvre. The present introduction to the philosophy of Fichte attempts to make
available such a preliminary orientation for a proper and deep study of the Fichtean

                              II. Compendium of Life and Work

2.1. Years of apprenticeship and pilgrimage (1774-1794)

Fichte's family origin is humble and his philosophic beginnings are rather obscure.
Born the 19th of May in 1762 in Rammenau--in Upper Lusatia, an old principality of
Saxony--as the first of ten children of a family of laborers, only by luck
undergoes the  joy of noble incentives and high level training. After decisive years
in the state school of Pforta (Schulpforta)--where before Fichte, Klopstock and later
Nietzsche would receive their pre-university education with specialization in ancient
languages--he enrolls, practically without resources, in the University of Jena in
1780; later, the following year, he transfers to the University of Leipzig, where he
studies Protestant theology without obtaining an academic title. In 1788 an
occasion arises as a tutor in Zurich, which he prolongs for two years. Returning
to Leipzig, a casual encounter with the philosophy of Kant will be the revolutionary
intellectual experience of his early years, whose Critique of Pure Reason
(1788) opens for him the intelligible world of morally responsible freedom, as
opposed to the order of nature. By means of study of the Critique of Pure
Reason (first edition in 1781, the second modified edition in 1787) and of the
Critique of Judgment (1790), Fichte manages to consolidate the conviction,
intellectually based, of the natural determinability of all events by personal
certainty, motivated by affect, concerning the freedom of human action.
     Following Warsaw, where the expectation of employment as a tutor was to be
promptly frustrated, Fichte goes in 1791 to Kant in Königsberg. In place of
financial support, which Fichte sought from him, Kant facilitates the printing of his
first writing, conceived there under pressure, to wit, Attempt at a Critique of
all Revelation (1792, an expanded 2d edition in 1793). The writing, that
initially appeared anonymously, was woven primarily from a work of Kant's; after
clarifying the relation that united them, the writing makes famous, all of a sudden,
the until then unknown author and lifts him to the rank of authorized successor to

2.2. Professor in Jena (1794-1799)

After a renewed stay of several months in Zurich, where he marries Klopstock's niece,
Johanna Rahn, and where publications are presented regarding his critical position
about the character and meaning of the French Revolution and upon the state of post-
Kantian philosophy (Reclamation of the Freedom of Thought, anonymous, 1793;
Contribution to the Rectification of the Public's Judgment of the French
Revolution, anonymous, 1793-1794; Aenesidemus Review, 1794), Fichte
receives an offer of a chair in the University of Jena, the principal center for
Kantian philosophy, which he incorporates during the semester of summer, 1794, amidst
great public expectation.
     In the framework of his much appreciated and influential academic activity
teaching in Jena, there emerge in the four coming years and in rapid succession a
coordinated series of publications, in which Fichte proposes the methodological and
programmatic grounding, the same being executed in various parts, of his systematic
philosophy. Fichte expresses the epistemological pretension of the philosophy, that
is, to create the fundamental science or meta-science of all the others, through the
neologism, "Doctrine of Science." First Fichte provides a programmatic writing
(On the Concept of the Doctrine of Science, 1794), later the first of the
numerous presentations of the Doctrine of Science in a strict sense (Fundamentals
of the complete Doctrine of Science, 1794-1795) together with a partial
complement (Outline of the characteristics of the Doctrine of Science in
relation to the theoretic faculty, 1795), followed by the Doctrine of Science
applied in its double form as the doctrine of right and the doctrine of the moral
(Foundations of Natural Right, 1796-1797; The System of Ethics,
     The innovative character of Fichte's philosophy, to which also belongs the
academic exposition following his own manuscripts instead of doing so in accord with
the existing manuals, meets with an enthusiastic reception. In little time Fichte's
reputation exceeds the renown of the aged Kant. With his teaching activity and his
publications, Fichte becomes a fundamental figure of German idealism, from which the
young Schelling would soon emerge and later too the early Hegel, yet who also will
become a reference point for the individual intellectual and poetic efforts of
Hölderlin and Hardenberg-Novalis. Finally, Fichte ascends to be a spiritus
rector of the Romantic circle in Jena around the brothers August Wilhelm and
Friedrich Schlegel.

2.3. The so-called dispute concerning atheism (1798-1799)

Fichte's years in Jena, however, were also marked by university complaints, cultural
wars and scientific polemics. He quarrels with student secret societies, provokes the
local ecclesiastical authorities with academic courses that coincide with the
Dominican masses, and reacts with vehemence and sarcasm before the collegial critique
concerning the evolution of Kantian transcendental philosophy towards a Doctrine of
Science. Meanwhile, scandal arrives with the publication of an article by Fichte
about religion in a journal, of which Fichte himself was co-editor. In that article
Fichte reduces the concept of God to the totality of the universal moral order ("On
the basis of our belief in a divine governance of the world" 1798). In the state-
political and ecclesiastical scandal that is produced, Fichte provokes his dismissal
from the teaching activity through his pronouncements and extreme demands - he
reprimands Church atheism and calls for a public redress of the authorities. This
leaves him practically like a family head without resources, so that in the coming
decade he must find their scarce sustenance through extra-university teaching and
literary activities.
     Fichte seems particularly affected by the fact that the distinguished
intellectuals of the age--among them Kant--distance themselves from him and his
supposed atheism, as much in private as publicly. On the immediate occasion of the
dispute concerning  atheism apologetic writings appear (Appeal to the Public
1799; Responsibility for the Accusation of Atheism 1799). In Berlin, where
Fichte relocates, he immediately writes his most read text, to wit, a popular
presentation of the fundamental positions in the Doctrine of Science, written in a
form compatible with the religious opinions of the era (The Vocation of Man
1800). Similarly, from the years in Berlin there emerges as the result of his
politico-juridical thought an economic text about the fusion of the riches of the
people with the state economy (The Closed Commercial State 1800). A little
later there appears a deliberately simplified and modified presentation in didactic
form of the fundamental features of the Doctrine of Science ( A Crystal Clear
Report to the General Public Concerning the Actual Essence of the Newest
Philosophy 1801).

2.4. Docent without an academic job (1799-1809)

With the move from the university city in the provincial principality of Thuringia to
the capital of the kingdom of Prussia, which even up to 1809 did not have its own
university, the academic docent Fichte, who develops his best work in the ambiance of
professorial exposition, he is converted into the privatized intellectual
occasionally present at cycles of scientific and popular conferences in front of an
educated public from the upper classes - from public servants to the clergy and from
the educated bourgeoisie to the local nobility.
     Due to the impression of extensive error in the comprehension of his written
philosophy and, in particular, the misunderstood atheism in his theory of religion,
Fichte effects two radical changes in his public appearances. In what follows, he
desists in a practically absolute manner from the publication of his scientific works
in the form of books and, with regard to the oral exposition, he gives a new form
every time--or let us say an externally modified form--to the scientific presentation
of his philosophy. With that, the middle and late Fichte protects, certainly, the
essence of his philosophy against false or abbreviated interpretations, yet he also
limits his influence to the relatively small group of his listeners and only reaches
more readers with his scant publications presented in popular form.
     For this reason, in the perception of his contemporaries Fichte becomes
scientifically mute after 1800 and continues to be active and present solely in a
popular or pseudo-scientific fashion. It is thus that the efforts of Schelling and
Hegel to displace Fichte from his leadership within post-Kantian philosophy and
present his still influential Doctrine of Science from Jena as a mere historical
footnote, objectively surpassed by their original contributions and philosophical
developments, became an easy matter. For Fichte's posthumous readers, for whom the
editorial efforts of the mid-19th century and of the last 70 years have made
accessible the dimensions of his work on the Doctrine of Science that continued over
more than two decades, Fichte is seen, on the contrary, as a thinker oriented to the
problem of systematic philosophy, who never tires of showing and demonstrating the
original as well as the experimental, new foci and intentions, and his central
preoccupation with grounding all knowledge - including the knowledge which guides
      After Fichte would expound, already during the second half of his teaching
activity in Jena, a completely new presentation of the Doctrine of Science
(Doctrine of Science "novo methodo" 1796-1799) of which he himself published
only a part (Attempt at a New Presentation of the Doctrine of Science 1797-
1798) yet which is preserved in various Kollegnachschriften. In the 14 years
of life that remain to him beginning in 1800 Fichte every year offers a new
presentation of the Doctrine of Science, each respectively oriented in a different
way. After an interrupted focus in 1800 and a presentation completed during the years
1801 and 1802 there arrives, as the result of intensive preparation, the monumental
series of five presentations of the Doctrine of Science from the years 1804 and 1805,
among which one highlights particularly the second exposition of 1804 as a
speculative apex.
     Along with the serial work on the Doctrine of Science there appears in Fichte's
middle period, 1804-1806, a cycle in various parts of popular lectures about the
philosophy of history, of religion and of education, whose parts Fichte publishes by
1806 (Fundamental Characteristics of the Present Age 1804-1805; On the
Essence of the Scholar 1805; Instructions for a Blessed Life 1806).
     In the summer semester of 1805, Fichte briefly teaches for the first time at the
University of Erlangen, which in the past had belonged to Prussia. During the summer
of 1807 he expounds the Doctrine of Science in the University of Königsberg.
When after the catastrophic defeat of Prussia before Napoleon in the battles of Jena
and Auerstedt (1806) the French occupation of Berlin arrives, in the winter of 1807-
1808 Fichte offers 14 activist conferences ("Addresses") about the history and the
reality of the European peoples and States; this in a continuation derived from his
old lectures on the philosophy of history. This consideration of history and
actuality causes him to keep in mind the situation of the Germans that hinges between
the political impotence of the moment, the traditional and cultural spiritual
particularity, and the potential function of leadership in a post-Napoleonic Europe
of free nations, as much internally as externally in a political sense
(Addresses to the German Nation 1807-1808).

2.5. Professor in Berlin (1809-1814)

Physically and intellectually exhausted by his philosophic labor and from publication
in previous years, starting in 1809-1810 Fichte finds energy for his philosophical
occupation; this time as an academic docent in the new University of Berlin, to which
he brings a political writing on university reform in a preparatory state (Deduced
Scheme for an Academy to be Established in Berlin 1807; published posthumously in
1817) and where he officiates as its first elected rector, until a dispute concerning
a Jewish student, whom Fichte attempts to defend from hostilities on the part of the
students and the professors, obliges him to quit.
     As a professor in Berlin, Fichte integrates the presentation of the Doctrine of
Science--still always diversely pursued and constructed--in a preparatory and
continued series of lectures, as previously he did in Jena. From this series there
exist some drafts--in part fragmentary--from the years 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, and
1814, among which he particularly highlight Instruction for philosophizing
(1809),  On the Study of Philosophy in General (1812), Introduction to the
Doctrine of Science (1813), The Facts of Consciousness (1810-1813),
Concerning the Vocation of the Scholar (1811), On the Relation of Logic
and Philosophy (1812-1813), System of the Doctrine of Right (1812), and
System of Ethical Theory (1812). The traditional image of Fichte's life and
work is completed and rounded out with two texts from his last year of life: on one
side, a philosophical diary in three parts (Diarium I, Diarium II, Diarium
III) which permits a fascinating glance at the experimental work of Fichte's
thought and, on the other, his later political and historico-philosophic lectures on
the evolution of law and ethics in ancient, modern and contemporary history
(Doctrine of the state: the relation of the original State with the kingdom of
reason, 1813; published posthumously in 1820).
     Since his intellectual beginnings in the milieu of the French Revolution,
passing to the republican dispute about the German political misery and the universal
reign of Napoleon, as well as about the strategic resource of Machiavelli
(Machiavelli as Author 1807) in the confrontation with Napoleon, even to
philosophical support for wars of liberation--in which he, as their indirect victim,
dies infected with the hospital fever in the midst of the uprising against Napoleon--
Fichte's philosophic thought  is designed to be effective, especially with an effect
of a public and political nature. In accordance with his comprehension of philosophy,
strict speculation should not exclude historical action, but instead guide, orient
and motivate it. As a philosophical theorist of political praxis, Fichte is
the practical politician of philosophical theory - of a praxis that attempts to make
thought effective with deliberate consideration of the given historical relations.
Despite all doubt that one might have, seen from a distance of two centuries, as much
in the determination of the goal as in the selection of the means of Fichtean
philosophical praxis and in his practical philosophy--especially there where Fichte
conceives freedom unilaterally and too rapidly sacrifices liberality for
rationality--the intellectual output of Fichte seduces with its fundamental trait: a
philosophically determined and politically oriented thought, which elevates the
forecourt as well as the grandstand and knows how to deal with the persistent word
and the profound concept.

                              III. Philosophizing for, against and after Kant

3.1. Determination of the limit of pure reason (Immanuel Kant)

The lasting imprint of the philosophy of Kant in Fichte's thinking is founded in his
novel proof of the fundamental reconciliation between nature and freedom. With the
critical project of determining the limit of pure reason, Kant manages to restrict
the absolute determinability of the events of nature to a mere sphere of magnitudes
and physical relations, as distinct from another, purely intellectual, of desiring
and of rationally based acting. With the limitation of reason to its theoretic use
(grounded in knowledge) of things sensibly given in space and time there precisely
corresponded the widening of reason in its practical use (grounded in action) towards
an order of things that is only given through thought.
     With the critical foundation of theoretical philosophy in the Critique of
Pure Reason, Kant had only opened a domain of reason in principle, that would be
located outside of nature and its mechanical concatenation of causes, and had
expected future utilization of it. With the critical foundation of practical
philosophy in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) and the
Critique of Practical Reason (1788) Kant undertakes the objective
determination of that intellectual domain through the rational concept of freedom -
on one side, negative freedom with respect to the legitimacy of nature and, on the
other, positive freedom as the legitimacy of reason. The proper legitimacy of the
rational domain is identified with the ethical normativity of rational willing
through the demand for principles universalizable in action.
     Nevertheless, Kant not only is determinative for Fichte regarding the moral
philosophic boundedness of his causal determinism. Kant precedes Fichte in the
attempt to place into a complex relationship the spheres, in principle separate, of
nature and freedom; a relation that, furthermore, is characterized as much by mutual
exclusion as by reciprocal interchange. Contrary to and complementary with the
theoretical distinction between thing in itself and phenomenon, and also with respect
to the practical amplification of this distinction as a difference between the
legitimacy of nature and the legitimacy of human desiring and acting, Kant undertakes
the reconciliation of the natural order and the rational order, like that between
theoretical reason and practical reason.
     One of the amplifications of the critical idea of reconciliation is the moral-
philosophical connection between the aspiration for happiness and the morality of a
state of total realization ("summum bonum"). Such a state can be anticipated with
good reasoning, but its realization refers to the human capacity for desiring and
acting, the same as that certainty about reality surpasses all human knowledge. The
complete final realization of human aspiration, which might be assumed as possible,
brings moral philosophical reasoning to the "postulates of pure practical reason."
They are not objects of possible knowledge, but instead objects of a belief, as much
theoretically permitted and practically required, in the existence of God and in the
immortality of the soul. Upon the basis of practical moral reason, that which
theoretical reason can think yet not demonstrate is accepted as sufficient for the
goals of practical reason - the raising of morality.
     The second Kantian characterization of the final reconciliation of nature and
freedom, which previously were separate, is the consideration in the Critique of
Judgment of nature as the arena for the exercise of freedom - a consideration
that does not consider nor treat nature as the contrary of freedom, but which leaves
visible the utility of the sensibly given for the rationally required. For Kant, the
sensory-intellectual unity is aesthetically manifested as the beauty of nature,
while teleologically it is presented as the organic life of the phenomenon.
     Fichte transforms the double Kantian perspective--aesthetic and teleological--of
the unity of determinate nature and free spirit in a descent towards his grounding of
unity in an integral structure of subjectivity and objectivity--of sensibility and
spirituality, of thought and will--that first makes the division possible and at the
same time always transcends it. The final Kantian unity is attributed by Fichte to an
original unity, that Kant himself perhaps took as existent, yet not demonstrable.

3.2. The opposition between faith and knowledge (Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi)

Practically contemporaneous with Kant's critical philosophy there emerges, against
the Enlightenment thought of the 18th century and its affirmation of scientific
progress, an alternative in the critique of reason with the philosophical
interventions of the Romantic writer and economic theorist Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
(1743-1819). In them, reason is not investigated from within and in itself as with
Kant and with regard to its possibilities and limits, but instead is critiqued
externally and with recourse to external standards and measures, as pre-rational. At
the beginning of Jacobi's attacks on reason and science is found the so-called
dispute about atheism with Moses Mendelssohn concerning the supposed lack of faith of
the recently deceased Enlightenment thinker Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781).
     Jacobi places the well-known confession of Lessing regarding the impersonal
concept of God within the tradition of philosophical pantheism as belonging to the
systematic context of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), judged as
atheistic and heretical, whom the Jewish community of Amsterdam had excommunicated
early. For Jacobi, the negation of a personal God and of the freedom of the human
will, executed by Spinoza with a strictly rational argument, demonstrates the
atheistic and fatalistic consequences of the Enlightenment confidence in reason and
science, to which Jacobi counterpoises, programatically, the culture of sentiment and
of faith.
     As opposed to Kant, who in the Critique of Judgment puts the "sentiment
of pleasure and displeasure" under principles, for Jacobi the sentiment is not
accessible to rational consideration. Faith as well and, especially, religious faith,
that Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason shows to be rationally based, is
not amenable to rational ordering. Rather, sentiment and faith indicate, for Jacobi,
alternative instances of comprehension of self and the world, by means of which
the always limited discernment in scientific consideration of the world can and
should be surpassed in a genuine experience of the reality of God and freedom.
     Despite the continuing link with Enlightenment thought and, especially, with the
Kantian critical philosophy, in Fichte can be seen a profound and lasting influence
of the affective and dogmatic overcoming of Jacobi's reason and knowledge. From
Jacobi derives Fichte's profound mistrust towards mere knowing without the anchor of
that dimension of reality that already Jacobi and, in agreement with him, Fichte
characterizes as "life." Yet, above all, Fichte takes from Jacobi the affective
evidence of freedom in an original sense and the total grounding of knowledge in a
pre- and extra-scientific certainty, which is essentially certainty in itself. Beyond
his similarity with the critique of reason by Jacobi, Fichte does not share his
objective fixation upon a personal concept of God. Here it is not Jacobi, but Spinoza
--newly brought onto the philosophical discussion plane by Jacobi--with his
identification of God and nature (Deus sive natura) who becomes motivating
for Fichte and his contemporaries, above all for Goethe and Schelling.

3.3. Philosophy starting from a single principle (Karl Leonhard Reinhold)

Fichte is not the first who in a productive confrontation with criticism aspire to
take philosophic development beyond the standard attained by Kant. From his influence
and his effect, Fichte's predecessor in the professorship of Philosophy in Jena, Karl
Leonhard Reinhold (1757-1823) is the most important mediator between Kant and the
initial movement of German idealism. Reinhold comes from a Masonic environment of the
late Enlightenment in Vienna and arrived in Weimar escaping from his monkish life
there; in Weimar he was active with his publications. When during the Eighties decade
of the 18th century Kant's Critique of Pure Reason put popular philosophical
thought in the German language under unknown intellectual demands and almost
insuperable difficulties of comprehension, and it is the Enlightenment popularizer
Reinhold who manages to bring to light the strategic meaning and the systematic
significance of Kant's innovative theory of the object and of knowledge.
     With his Letters on the Kantian Philosophy, which first appeared in a
series of articles and later as a book (1790) Reinhold attempts to bring the critical
philosophy back, beneath an ample renunciation of its arcane methodology and
doctrine, to the traditional preoccupation of philosophy--the existence of God, the
immortality of the soul and the reality of freedom--and highlight especially the
theoretical-speculative guarantee of practical-moral freedom as an essential part of
critical philosophy.
     In the second volume of the Letters on the Kantian Philosophy (1792)
Reinhold takes Kantian underpinning of moral philosophy as a motive for a widened and
deepened presentation of the concepts and the fundamental principles of desiring and
of acting. Here of particular importance for post-Kantian development, and especially
for Fichte, is the amplification of a theory of action through a theory of the
impulses and of freedom, that seeks to integrate the Kantian accord of freedom and
morality in a broader conception of the impulsive basis of all action and of the
fundamental function of freedom as an indifferent selection capacity.
     For the subsequent generation, Reinhold takes the decisive step over Kant since
1789 with the systematic project of a philosophy based upon a single principle, that
tries to deduce the fundamental structure of the spirit, presented in Kant still
separated and of successive form, starting from an original unity. With that,
Reinhold places the systematic project of post-Kantian philosophy before a double
requirement: on one hand, that of identifying a first absolute principle, which
should be in itself evidently true and immediately comprehensible; on the other, that
of completely deducing the fundamental form and contents of the spirit in
methodically controlled steps starting from that systematic principle and in
accordance with a system of principles.

3.4. The skeptical theme of Kantianism (Salomon Maimon and Schulze's Aenesidemus)

Together with the Kantian philosophy, its general critique by means of Jacobi and its
sympathetic revision by means of Reinhold, there appears a fourth formative factor in
the development of scientific philosophizing by Fichte: a skeptical reaction to Kant
in the milieu of the Leibnizian and Humean approaches, which Kant had considered
superseded. The object of the meta-critique of the critical philosophy is, among the
later rationalists as well as among the neo-empiricists, the Kantian use of the thing
in itself, which Kant himself presents as unknowable, yet at the same time as
     Jacobi had already formulated the dilemma with respect to the theory of the
object and of knowledge in Kant, according to which without the supposition of things
in themself, existing in a fashion independent from human forms of knowing (space,
time, categories - particularly that of causality) Kant's philosophy does not make
sense; yet with the acceptance of the thing in itself he cannot abide with it.
According to Jacobi, an extra-subjective material grounding of knowledge is certainly
needed. However, this supposition serves to annul the integrity of the Kantian
system, and especially the application of the category of causality to the
determination of the relation between the thing in itself and the cognizant subject
contradicts the restriction, imposed by Kant, of categorical knowledge to objects in
space and time.
     Reverting to the epistemological monism of the Leibnizians, for whom sensory and
intellectual knowledge constitutes a gradual distinction within the generic activity
of representation, a little later Salomon Maimon (1753-1800) in his Essay on
Transcendental Philosophy criticizes the unrecognized assumption of critical
philosophy - a work which in detail is definite, but with regard to the general
situation is completely diffuse, be it pro or contra Kant, be it in
correction or refutation of the Kantian enterprise. The special objective of his
sagacious analysis is the division, argued by Kant, between intuition and thought
with its consequent systematic problems: on one side, respect for the integration of
both capabilities of knowledge, radically separated; on the other side, for the
adequate application of the subjective apparatus of knowing to an objective,
independent and resistant material. Of importance for Fichte will be the re-
signification effected by Maimon of the thing in itself as an unknowable object
towards an infinitely distant ideal of complete knowledge.
     Influenced by ancient skeptical thought (Pyrrhonism) and its continuation in
David Hume, the critique of Kantian philosophy by Gottlob Ernst Schulze (1761-1833)
is directed, in the first place, against Reinhold's elemental philosophy.
Aenesidemus-Schulze, as he is also called in accord with the old voice from his
anonymous writing (Aenesidemus or, On the Fundamentals of the Elemental Philosophy
Offered in Jena by professor Mr. Reinhold) criticizes the elemental philosophy
particularly for its dogmatism represented by the introduction of the thing in itself
and its subjective contrary, the transcendental subject, whose manifestation cannot
be verified with the tools of critical philosophy. From Reinhold's supreme principle
(the principle of consciousness) according to which the representation of the subject
and object are different wherein the former refers to the latter, Schulze's
Aenesidemus criticizes especially the lack of foundation for the fundamental
epistemological concepts such as representation, subject and object.
     With their accurate probe of the weak points, as much methodological as of
content, in the Kantian philosophy, Maimon and the Aenesidemus of Schulze call
Fichte's attention to the defects detected by them and the pending desiderata for
systematic philosophy which return to self-critical reason and begin from a single
first originating principle. The system of Fichte thus emerges as a productive
reaction to the rationalist-dogmatic and empirico-skeptical challenge to critical

                              IV. The System of Freedom

4.1. The discovery of the I

In the origin of Fichte's systematic philosophy, as well as in its configuration as a
complete philosophical system, a cognitive experience is encountered: the
autobiographical realization--suddenly confirmed--that the only primordial and
infallible evidence available concerning the process through which the consciousness
of oneself occurs in relation with our neighbors - finite rational beings capable of
thought and rational action. In this process, that Fichte describes as the object of
a primary intuitive experience, the finite rational being grounds her own identity on
practical intelligence. The primary self-constitution claimed by Fichte is not a
passive event, that appears and whose appearance if found subject in a casual and
supplementary mode to self-observation. According to Fichte, one deals more with a
product, active and effective, of the self-grounding through the practico-
intelligent being herself, in which the latter is attained for the first time for
herself - in its own forms of existence as a being who knows of themself and others,
and the reason for such knowing as an active being.
     According to Fichte's later analysis, in the primary conscious self-
constitution the certainty of one's own existence and the certainty of the practico-
intelligent nature of oneself coincide. According to the Fichtean appreciation of the
primary experience of self as a practico-intelligent being, all other certainty
--including that most certain within it--is ontologically and epistemologically
secondary and with respect to the first certainty of the practical intelligence,
refers to the assumption of a primary self-consciousness and is dependent upon it.
Thus, all knowing is founded upon the primary knowledge of self, all objective
consciousness is the primary consciousness of the self.
     From the beginning, Fichte named the primary internal instance of all certainty
with the nominal personal pronoun of the first person singular "I" and identified the
corresponding consciousness with "self-consciousness"; put more exactly, as a non-
empirical, pure self-consciousness. In this, he does not make recourse to individual
psychic or mental acts, which would be inappropriate for reliably identifying the
first evidence and all that is based with and on it. Or better, recurring to terms
from the grammar and the phenomenology of inner experience or the experience of self,
Fichte notes a basic confusion in the denomination and description underlying the
instantiation of all particular and objectively determined consciousness of self, as
also of every other consciousness. Even further: according to Fichte, this instance
of primary certainty is not given in the form an an external grounding, separated
from the finite rational being and independent of her, but instead as an essential
part of her being, which belongs profoundly to the finite rational being, but that
shares with all its neighbors on a generic and supra-individual basis the I in
the form of a Foundational-I.
     In the discursive presentation of his discovery of the I and in the
argumentative exposition of its fundamental meaning for the philosophical
comprehension of oneself and of the world, Fichte sought to unite, intrinsically in
himself, the identification of the I with the proof of the function of the I
regarding the principles qua pure self-consciousness for all conscience. The
I-Principle is shown, in this manner, to be the principle of the I, and the ground is
presented as the principle in the phenomenon. With this, he arrives at different
presentations of the Foundational-I.
     On one hand, the I figures as the non-objective quasi-object of an immediate
comprehension, not conceptually mediated and not given sensorily; better, it is an
active comprehension, direct and purely intellectual, for whose denomination Fichte
returns to the mode of knowledge, proscribed by Kant, of "intellectual intuition."
For Fichte, the I as such is comprehensible first and only through intellectual
intuition, at the same time as it is essentially characterized by it - an I that is
understood as purely intellectual and is composed as purely intellectual. On the
other hand, Fichte characterizes the I-Principle with the technical term "genesis,"
which is applied by Fichte in analyzing the usual term "fact," in order to show its
active, productive character and, especially, the mode of its self-production. So
thus, the Yo is somewhat effected and factually existent as an act, and certainly
one's own act, an action for oneself that is due in the first place to one's own
     But Fichte is also sure from the start and without exception that the pure self-
referentiality of the I that is preserved in oneself cannot be the object of a
determinate consciousness. In particular, the pure self-constituting I--put more
exactly the I that should be thought of as thus proceeding from a philosophical
reconstruction--is not a case of manifest self-consciousness. As a principle, the I
underlies all consciousness constituted as a me; it is the unconditioned conditional
which does not belong to the conditioned. Only artificial preparation through
philosophical reflection can elevate the isolated I as such to consciousness and,
beginning there, permit applying the function of the principles of the I in the
posited formation of the "I" to the form of a "me," and thus from there to a
"personal me," to a "you" and to an "us."

4.2. From the infinite I to the finite one

The origin of the individual "i" and of the plural I's starting from a primary,
singular and generic I is presented by Fichte in a reconstructive and artificial
manner in two complementary configurations: first, in a dialectic oriented to the
logical forms of proof and mediation of contradictory relations and, second, in a
"pragmatic history of the human spirit," supported by the empirical unfolding of the
forms of consciousness. In the first presentation of the Doctrine of Science (1794-
1795)--the only one Fichte will publish--both procedures alternate such that the
recourse to the form of consciousness of the fundamental experience of finitude
factually concludes the infinite progressive specification of the contradictions in
the constitution of the "i." The New presentation of the Doctrine of Science
or Doctrine of Science nova methodo (1796-1799), supplied a little later in
the form of lectures, renounces the dialectical construction in view of a double
historical presentation of the I: the ascent of the individual empirical "i" towards
the supra- and inter-individual I-Principle; and the subsequent descent from the
Super-I of the principles to the multiple participating I's.
     Yet this new presentation, whose phenomenology of the practical intelligence
anticipates Schelling's "history of self-consciousness" in the System of
Transcendental Idealism (1800), the "science of the experience of consciousness"
of Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and even Husserl's "genetic
phenomenology" in Ideas I (1912), was not historically influential. More
exactly, it is the dialectical presentation of the I that experiences an immediate
influence, in which the I is presented in distinct capacities and contexts - as an
absolute, empirical, infinite, finite, theoretical, and practical I. In this
presentation, furthermore, the I is placed in opposition to its contrary, the
"Not-I"; its factual existence is attributed to the I itself such that this latter
--as inexplicable as it is unquestionable--is made finite through the admission and
initiative proposed for it by its contrary.
     The interlaced and complex co-existence, opposition and community as much of the
infinite, unconditioned and absolute I as of the I with the Not-I, in the object in
the early Fichte of an artificially separated and technically re-integrated taxonomy
of the fundamental protozoic activities that underly, in a conditional manner, the
conscious and self-conscious representation of objects. For the characterization of
these protozoic activities, Fichte recurs to a concept deriving from the logic of
"to posit" (in Latin, ponere). According to Fichte's conception, through the
multiple coordinated positional acts of the I it make disposable or opens, in
principle, the conceptual space for the particular consciousness and for self-
consciousness. In particular, Fichte distinguishes three principles of positing with
their respective specific modes: the unconditioned self-positioning of the absolute
I, the unconditioned self-contraposition of the Not-I through the absolute I, and the
unconditioned position through the absolute I and Not-I as divisible, through which
the absolute, infinite I is distinguished from the "i" and the finite not-I's.
     The self-dependency of the absolute, primary, pure I, from from contra-position,
in view of a finite divisible "i," opposed and limited by the Not-I, is developed by
the young Fichte as a dynamic of conflicts in the tension between self-limitation and
auto-expansion, both effected by the I. Fichte subordinates the principle of the
contraposition between the "i" and the divisible not-I's to the alternative of
theoretical or practical configurations in the relation between the I and the Not-I.
In the theoretical relationship, which is grounded on the possibility of an objective
cognitive relation between oneself and the world, the absolute I pre-conditions
the finite divisible "i" as conditioned by the finite divisible not-I. In the
relationship thus grounded, the I as the subject of knowledge is oriented in its
determinant objective executions towards the object together with its properties. In
the practical relationship, which is based on the possibility of an intervening
relation of action between oneself and the world, the absolute I instantiates
the divisible "i" as a determinant of the not-I. In the relationship grounded upon
the latter, the not-I is determined by the I in an active fashion by actions or is
modified in its existing determination.
     Starting from the theoretical principle that has as its object the cognitive
determination of the I by the Not-I, in the early Doctrine of Science Fichte
localizes the place of origin for the determination of objects, which is gradually
re-conducted from apparently external instances or not-"i" to the forms of self-
limitation that are found in the I. According to Fichte, it is not originally
exterior things, existing in a manner independent of the I, that limit the cognitive
I in a determining way and, for that reason, become the object of cognitive
determination. Or rather, it is the I itself that originally provides the limitation
and conceives it, so to speak, as secondary as if effected by the external objects.
     Fichte sets the residual form of the external determination as a "top," to which
the I is subject and that is an impetus for the first time towards a (counter)
position regarding the world of objects, which are equally due at the originating
moment to the limitation, as to its objectifying conception by means of the I. The
resistance itself is not understood by Fichte in an objective sense, seen as an
external impulse, but instead as an experience of the limit of the I, which is held
within the confines of its effectiveness in the determinination and for which it
objectivizes being limited by something as a being topped by something.
     To the being-determinate of the I by means of the Not-I at the theoretical
level, the young Fichte adds the contrary determination of the Not-I through the I in
the practical. From the plane of the principles of "i" acts at the referred position
to the plane of the relations between oneself and the world, posited through those
acts, with the foregoing meaning the following: upon the basis of knowledge of that
which is, one arrives at the realization or effectuation of that which is not, but
that can and, furthermore, should be. The rational norm of the universal I is the
foundation of duty in the goal of determination and transformation, effectuated by
the I, from the Not-I. There where the Not-I exists, the I should be; all the
relations of the external determination of the I through the Not-I should be moved
into self-determined relations of the I.
     Basing himself on Kant, the normative status of the pure I is understood by
Fichte as an "ideal" that is the object of infinite approximation, without the
essentially finite "i" being capable of reaching the final infinite-unconditioned
state of pure rationality or the pure I. Thus, the infinite-finite I is characterized
by the young Fichte with a lack of existence of the I, which means a continual, and
partly successful effort overcoming this lack through its internal demand for an
evolutionary self-perfecting.
     Instead of registering sorrow and reacting with affliction before the
fundamental limitation of the I in passive determination, which is justly found also
in active self-determination and in one's self-determination of the I, Fichte refers
to a balancing factor, according to which only an I, who in her incessant pursuit of
infinitude remains with every partial success referred to and dependent on the Not-
I, can have that experience of limitation, without which manifest consciousness and
self-consciousness--which always is consciousness of the finite-determinate--can take
place. Wherever there might no longer be a Not-I, there neither will exist a
consciousness of the I.
     According to Fichte, the absolute I should be represented as a purely self-
referential activity, which is everything and for which everything else is nothing.
The pure, non-empirical I is seen in the course of constituting the individual "i" as
the ground of I-ness, which does not itself present the "i" characteristics--given as
consciousness and self-consciousness--of an "i" frequented by it. More exactly: the
pure-absolute I is a Proto-I than only can be realized as a factual and finite "i."

4.3. The unity of knowing and willing

The transit of the primary, pre-individual I toward the particular "i" is not further
treated by Fichte in the first presentation of the Doctrine of Science (1794-1795)
--that he himself would publish--but instead in the Doctrine of Science applied to
the domains of law and ethics, which Fichte also presents after its academic
exposition in the form of a book (Foundations of Natural Right, 1796-1797;
System of Ethics, 1798). Methodologically both works fall close to the "new
presentation" of the Doctrine of Science, which Fichte had already exhibited three
times in Jena (1796-1797, 1797-1798, 1798-1799) yet that--with the exception of the
fragmentary publication of its initial parts (Attempt at a new presentation of the
Doctrine of Science, (1797-1798)--is only preserved in the notes to the lectures
made by the students (Doctrine of Science novo methodo, Halle annotations,
Krause annotations). Despite the problematic state of its transmission, the
Doctrine of Science novo methodo is worthwhile since its discovery and first
publication up to the beginnings of the 20th century as an important source for the
early evolution of the Doctrine of Science; also because by its balanced and complete
presentation--formal as well as regarding content--for which reason it is appropriate
for beginning the study of Fichte's first philosophy.
     Instead of artificially and abstractly placing the pure I in its double status
as principle and goal of the rational life--the I as "intellectual intuition" and the
I as "idea"--the New presentation of the Doctrine of Science commences with a
"postulate" for the listener and the reader, namely: think about oneself and attend
to how it operates. As the result of the thought experiment, obtained respectively
for each individual, Fichte claims individually validated, yet universally valid,
comprehension, according to which I-ness occurs uniquely in the first place due to
(and also consists of) the thinker and the thought coinciding in the I-Thought; and
both result like two corresponding faces of a single and sole fact. I-ness (the I)
consists essentially in the numerical identity of that that thinks with that which is
thought; and, on the contrary, where such an identity exists, there there exists a
being of an "i" constitution.
     The nature of the I as the originating identity of the I-Subject with the I-
Object is certainly for Fichte the object of a philosophical reflection, in whose
unfolding enter concrete acts of consciousness and self-consciousness. However, the
subject-object identity in the primary I is not, according to Fichte, a case of
objective consciousness of the I as an object; nor is it the concession that such an
identity is a case of reflexive self-consciousness of the I as subject. In other
words, the primary consciousness of the I is pre-reflexive and immediate and less a
consciousness-of than a diffuse internal-being that traverses all extant conscience
and which grants, for the first time, to all particular manifest
consciousness--including the particular consciousness of oneself
constituted in such and such a way--its fundamental "i" characteristic.
     In its fundamental working, this is the being principle of all other
consciousness, the originating, pre-reflexive consciousness of the I replicating
--methodologically like phenomenologically and in a refined fashion--the Kantian
conception of "universal self-consciousness" that makes all other consciousness
possible. Kant had assigned to pure self-consciousness the first person form of, to
think and the function of connecting all the contents of consciousness belong to me.
Fichte goes beyond the intellectualist Kantian conception of the consciousness of
apperception as a product of thought and its subjection to the links between
representations, produced intellectually when he conceives the primary self-
consciousness of the I as essentially practical - as referring to an action and
grounded in it.
     For Fichte, the primary practical self-consciousness is, more precisely,
consciousness of one's actions and, especially, consciousness of oneself directed
towards the action. Otherwise, the primary practical self-consciousness is an
individual-homogeneous consciousness, in which the action and consciousness of the
action coincide in a single and sole fundamental act. The primary consciousness of
oneself is directed to acting-toward-oneself and, in return, the acting-toward-
oneself is originally conscious. The self-referential structure of the action of the
I, through which the I, so to speak, obtains itself, is identified in the Doctrine
of Science novo methodo with the willing that Fichte conceives--based again on
Kant--as the primary practical self-correlation of determining-oneself.
     The primary determination of the will, that comprises the I in the first place,
is highlighted--as opposed to the subsequent particular determinations of the will in
accordance with such and such a goal or through an already constituted "i"--because
the finality and the act of willing coincide, just like the object of willing and
willing the object. In the particular case of the original or "pure" willing there
exists no finality external to the willing, whose comprehension had been foreseen in
it. In such a way that mere willing or pure willing remains with the only object (or
better, quasi-object) of its willing without objects and free of finalities is
willing itself and as such.
     Thus, pure willing is less a primary or originating willing than a formal will,
or rather the mere form of willing, which in Fichte underlies all willing-something
and equally utilizes the form of I-think with respect to all thinking-something in
Kant. As a fundamental form of the I, pure willing--and in this it is newly
comparable with the Kantian "i-think"--not only is formally self-referential, but
also undefined with respect to the content and dependent upon the possible contents
of willing, those that provide the "i" form of willing.
     The I that correlates with pure willing without objects is not, then, a singular
"i" with its determinate particularities. Rather, it is a pure, universal I, that can
be characterized reverting to Kant--starting from whom Fichte develops his theory of
the will--as reason, and more exactly as the rational form of willing. Pure willing
signifies for Kant and Fichte willing in conformity with reason and its formal norm
of strict generality or universality. Pure willing is thus seen to be willing in
accord with the moral law, the practical I as the ethical I and the primary
self-consciousness as the moral conscience.

4.4. From the I to the "i," to you and to us

Along with the practical amplification of the early theory of the I into a theory of
pure volition there appears in the new presentation of the Doctrine of Science the
deduction of the individual "i" starting from the pure I and the translation of the
I-Principle into plural i's and their relations in various forms of socialization. In
a series comprised of argumentative steps, Fichte reconstructs the enabling
conditions of consciousness and self-consciousness of finite rational beings. As
Fichte believes he can demonstrate, for the realization of individual self-
consciousness one requires not only the actual limitation of the originally infinite-
indefinite and purely self-referential activity from contrary objects, but also a
personal experience of the limit by means of encountering its counterparts. Fichte
places at the beginning of human intellectual becoming the original pedagogic event,
"interpellation," by means of which a mature human, already intellectually and
morally formed, requires of another human being, although not formed like them, to
enter in practice into the use of reason. The external motive and internal basis of
originally unilateral interpellation is, according to Fichte's schematic narrative,
the physiognomic presentation of the (in principle virtual) rational being, whose
conformity with the figure of the interpellated being--particularly regarding the
expressive capacity of the face--is conceived as our display of rational potential
and as a stimulus for its activation.
     Among the material basics of the interpellation process, Fichte counts our
bodily disposition--the actual as well as the potential--of the rational being for
mutual understanding through signs and particularly, through spoken language. Also
the capacity of the living body for voluntary movement of the extremities
is included by Fichte under natural functional conditions for human communication. To
Fichte's historico-philosophical conquests belongs the "deduction" of the corporal
constitutionality of the I, that by means of its material manifestation passes from
the general I to the individual "i" and, with that, is self-individualized.
     However, for the concrete becoming of the I not only its materiality is
necessary, but also its socialization. Only in communicative interchange, freely
initiated with its neighbors (intersubjectivity, inter-personality) and oriented
towards a genuine community does the finite rational being (common "man") become
themself. In the systematic program of Fichtean philosophy, the deduction of the body
itself thus coincides with the deduction of the other "i" or the other i's.
     Interpellation, which is directed at the rational and free being, is based on
the part of the interpellating being, now acting freely and rationally, in a
cognitive-volitional act. This act associates the knowledge of the other--potentially
rational and freely acting--with their relationship in ideal conformity with that
idea. Correspondingly, interpellation does not mechanically result from action and
repulsion, but instead stimulates the rational use of their liberty by the
interpellated other. With a concept drawn from the existing theory of judgment at the
time, Fichte characterizes the receipt of practical, effective knowledge of the other
"i" as "recognizing" and "recognition." Put more exactly: as her recognition
qua (potentially) rational and free being.
     Originally, the interpellation of the other and her recognition are unilateral
and for a single time. Yet, when the interpellation is successful in its initial
effect for the emergent rational use of freedom then the interpellated "i" sees in
the interpellating "i" a similar rational being, and in their behavior before them
also recognizes them as such. The latter results from renunciation of mere mechanical
retroactivity, and also by means of the limitation of such forms of interaction which
fulfill the liberty and the rationality of the other "i." If the originally
interpellated "i" results in behavior, it repetitively replicates the recognition
arising in part in him. The same exists for the originally interpellating "i" that,
for its part, continues the recognition of the interpellated "i" beyond the original
act of interpellation.
     For Fichte, the continual praxis of treating the other as similar to
myself falls under the rational assumption of prudent social behavior. To award
permanence and reliability to the cognitive behavior--which is rationally based, but
in its apparition and its duration is absolutely contingent--Fichte locates the
relationship between free beings beneath the concept of law as a set of conditions
under which freedom, in the contractual-social sense, can make itself effective. The
goal of the law is to make possible a "community among free beings as such."
     While Fichte conceives liberty--stated more exactly: the external freedom of an
action in the social domain--as the first and only innate human right, and subjects
all law to the theme and to the finality of maximum enabling of freedom with the
means least interfering with her. The instrument for the installation and the
imposition of the law of freedom, of the guarantees subordinate to that (rights) and
of the defenses of freedoms (prohibitions) is the State - understood as an
institution of law with the authority for coercion in the interest of guaranteeing
general liberty.
     For Fichte, the State is essentially a means; and this in light of a goal that
goes beyond the State and also precedes it: original-innate freedom of the rational
being endowed with will. The juridical order, ruled and sustained by the state,
serves directly as a guarantee of external freedom of action. Juridical peace,
ensured by the state, indirectly enables the ethical self-perfecting of the free
     For the configuration of the State of law, Fichte reverts to the modern
political conception of the social contract. However, Fichte pluralizes the juridical
form of the State in a plexus of contracts, by means of which the citizens are
constituted, firstly, within the State and equally are made subjects of the State
constituted previous to them. Despite every extension of law and of the rights of the
widest population, it must also be maintained that Fichte conceives liberty in the
social context as personal and bourgeois freedom in the foundation of individual
relations, and not as political freedom in self-government or even only co-governing
of the community.
     The juridical socialization of man through the political power of the State in
the Foundations of Natural Right is completed in the System of Ethics
with the moral conditioning of the person through the ethical community. Also within
ethics, according to Fichte, freedom comprises the principle and the aim of action.
However, ethical freedom goes beyond the external liberty that allows action in the
juridical sphere. While law has as object the restriction of each individual freedom
in favor of the liberty of all individuals, ethics has as its aim the transfer of the
free individuality toward legal-egalitarian universality.
     Together with judicial action, diverse yet coherent, there appears unanimous,
strictly identical, ethical desire. Whereas in the law everyone can pursue their own
whenever it does not impede the action pertaining to others, in ethics everyone
should desire and do the same. The identico-universal objective of ethical desire is
freedom as such, understood as growing and finally complete independence of rational
willing with respect to all nature, whether it be found within the rational being as
their sensible nature, or whether it is found outside of him in the form of the
natural limiting power of free action and of wishing.
     Nevertheless, the practical goal of complete liberty and of the absolute
exclusion of everything extra-rational or irrational is not, for Fichte, a state that
can be reached by particular individuals. Rather, to the extent that absolute freedom
deals with the ideal form of an ethical evolution, in which the nature--external as
well as internal--of being rational constitutes the unrenounceable foundation for the
long-term process of self-ethicalization. Fichte's ethics insists, in particular,
upon the natural basis of all rational action in the natural mechanism of
motivational "drive," also included in moral action.
     Certainly, in order to become effective in human action, each drive requires
the act of freedom of voluntary acceptance. However, and on the contrary, all
voluntary action is also dependent upon a foundation of drives. This foundation
allows attaining the exterior execution of what is inwardly desired and freely
decided. Regarding ethical action, Fichte locates the necessary motivational basis in
the "ethical drive." This drive is composed--with regard to its form--of the "pure
drive," directed by itself towards independence and--with regard to its substance--
toward a "natural drive," variable in its content according to the outer or inner
     In the Fichtean ethical perspective, the individualization and particularization
of the I in the individual "i", normatively formed through law, is inverted in the
de-individualization of the particular "i" in the universal I. In the latter, it does
not deal--as in the juridical community of free individuals--with a plural we, but
instead with a total-I, with a collective I of the community or Super-I which
surpasses all individuality, just as the absolute, pure or pre-individual I underlies
all individuality. Thus, the juridical conception of a liberty for
individuality is followed by an ethical conception of a freedom of
individuality. Also in the later evolution of Fichte's politico-philosophic thought
are fused judicial individualism and the political civics of his philosophy of right
with the contrary agreement of uniformity and socialism in his ethics.

4.5. The primacy of the practical

In addition to grounding law and ethics in systematic connection with his fundamental
philosophy (Doctrine of Science) Fichte planned the execution of a philosophy of
nature and of religion, which for external reasons remained without realization (such
as, for example, the loss of his post as professor in Jena because of the dispute
about atheism, and his imparting of private classes for years). The four disciplines
(nature, right, ethics, religion) together with their foundational unification in the
Doctrine of Science in a strict sense form, in Fichte's systematic architectonic, a
quintuplicity of perspectives together with their corresponding objective domains
--which go from nature, passing through law, ethics and religion, culminating in the
complete perspective of the philosophy.
    The fivefold schematic division is found also in another application, as well as
in the divided and integrated structure of knowledge. Starting from the I one
arrives, first, at its double unfolding as a rational theoretico-cognitive being and
as practical-volitional together with the constitutive relation of the double I with
respect to both spheres of objective knowledge and of desiring founded in action
(world of sensory being or phenomena, world of intelligible being or
noumena). Finally, both activities of the I are placed into a relationship of
interchange with their respective worlds, in which the sensible world provides the
intelligible world with the material and the basis, while the intelligible world
provides the sensible world form and finality.
     Fichte himself presented his philosophical system, early and continually
regarded by him as "the first system of freedom," and with it he demonstrated the
absolutely innovative function of the principles of liberty for the grounding of his
philosophy together as well as in each of its parts. Just as the right to external
freedom of action underlies the sub-system of rights, so in the case of ethics the
sub-system of moral duties is based on the internal freedom of one's ethical
intentions. In the systematic foundation of nature freedom displays its importance as
the formative principle of the given reality, that is culturally and historically
transformed through law and ethics. In the sphere of religion, freedom enters into
action as self-liberation of the I towards an ethical attitude, religiously oriented
with respect to life.
     In Fichte's central perspective concerning liberty, which must be presupposed
and achieved, he shows apparently independent matter as mere material for the
realization of rights and duties, and with it also as a sphere for the confirmation
of freedom. The sensory world is understood by Fichte with a double function: as a
limit on liberty and as an enabling condition for it. Freedom becomes real in the
overcoming of the resistances. As the contrary, the following is also true: objects
first appear in the phenomenon as resistances to the "i" activity.
     The primacy of acting over being, of activity as against objectivity and of
desiring over observing is designated by Fichte with a term taken from Kant's moral
philosophy of the "primacy of practical reason over the theoretical." However, while
in Kant the primacy of practical reason concerns, in its directive function, the
connection of the theoretical use of reason (determinants of the object) with
practical use (determinants of will), Fichte argues for the practico-radical
character of all "i"-rational activity, which he considers completely grounded in
action. For Fichte, all reason is originally practical. According to its origin, all
thought is an action and all knowledge is oriented toward an object, a desire
oriented towards a goal.
     The eminently practical character of the general system of freedom is also
manifested in the origin and the practical objective of Fichte's philosophy. Highly
abstract reflection, deliberately carried out by Fichte, upon the conditions and the
possibilities of knowledge is not an end in itself, yet instead is functionally
integrated into a deliberate process of self-comprehension and self-informing; a
process that has freedom as much as an assumption as an aim. Reality, underlying
speculation and from his perspective freely chosen and artificially formed is already
denominated by Fichte early and later with the term "life," which derives from the
philosophic doctrine of F. H. Jacobi. For Fichte, philosophy qua the Doctrine
of Science originates in life, in which the Doctrine of Science, as well, should also
deliberately reverberate.
     In general, the relationship between philosophy and life is approached by Fichte
marked by the interaction between liberty and facticity. The factually existent ought
to transform itself through the activity of freedom towards a rational form, like
that free reason ought to confirm and realize itself in the factual. The factual
limits to the realization of reason are thematized by Fichte recurring particularly
in the duality of "natural" pre-philosophic perspectives on the world. Against
reality's natural conviction and primordial freedom there competes in life the
opposite natural belief in the primacy of being and in the primary reality of things.
     The philosophical reflection of the extra- and pre-philosophical alternative
between, on one hand, the conviction of the living I and of freedom and, on the
other, the natural belief in things appears in the systematic alternative of a
philosophy of liberty and a philosophy of things. The idealistic philosophy of
freedom knows itself, certainly, in possession of better arguments as against
dogmatic realism, which hypothesizes the sensory thing in the metaphysical thing.
Despite that, Fichte must concede that the original conviction of the authenticity
and the finality of freedom, necessary for idealism, cannot be mediated by a
conceptual procedure. Therefore, the decision between idealism and philosophical
dogmatism is not a rationally based selection of the better position, but instead a
choice based on taste and thus, not free, which is taken respectively depending upon
"the person that he is" - born idealist or just a born dogmatic.
     Also the attempted reverberation of philosophy in general, and of the idealist
philosophy of freedom in particular, upon life is not a simple question of applying a
rule or a case of the subsumption of the particular in the general. Philosophical
thought does not become effective, according to Fichte, through a direct influence on
life, but instead mediated through the "mode of thinking" or of the "spirit" that
idealist philosophizing of the I brings with it starting from the principle of
freedom. Correspondingly with that, Fichte's pedagogical ambition is not directed to
the transmission of philosophical contents, but instead the proper development, free
and independent, of thinking and of desiring.
     Yet Fichte also has to concede that in every orientation of speculative
philosophy towards life philosophy as such and idealistic speculation one cannot
comprehend them in a general manner. To be effective and influential upon life,
speculative philosophy needs the wardrobe of images and concepts familiarized by
everyday life and traditional thought. As a model example of popular communication of
philosophical thought we have the summary presentation of his early philosophy, done
as a text of formation and edification, namely, the writing that Fichte published in
1800 under the title The Vocation of Man.
     The succession of the three brief "books" in this work commences with
unreflective confidence in the primary reality of natural things and with the
conviction, that accompanies it, of the complete integration of the I--only free in
appearance--in the natural order regulated under laws. It then advances to the not
less apparent autonomy of the I, which--liberated from all ties and rule--dissolves,
so to speak, into nothing. Finally arriving at the claims of the I as a free-
autonomous member of a supra-sensible, purely intellectual order, which is configured
with religious images and theological concepts. Here the fundamental concept for the
Doctrine of Science of will is presented--that is, the set of free, practically
effective self-determination--in a supra-individual, popularly visible form, as an
"infinite will" and "law of an intelligible world."
     In order to characterize the internal certainty that supports the I--isolated
only in appearance--in community with its neighbors, Fichte recurs in the last part
of The Vocation of Man to the concept of faith. Invoking Reinhold, a little
previously Jacobi had introduced this concept in a critical way against the
construction of the Doctrine of Science upon knowledge without a foundation. By
"faith" Fichte designates, in what follows, the certainty--attributed by him a little
previously to practical knowledge as it relates to action--concerning the foundation
as much of knowledge as of action, in practical self-consciousness and, especially,
in the immediate consciousness of practical obligation. Yet as opposed to Jacobi, who
precedes knowledge with faith as its unattainable material presupposition, Fichte
integrates the latter in the self-foundation of knowledge and conceives it as the
practical attitude of undoubted confidence in the reliability of knowledge.
     Fichte characterizes the existence in community of the I (revealed by faith, yet
grounded in knowledge) as the "intelligible world." As a unifying principle
of such an intelligible order of co-existing rational beings, Fichte focuses on the
law of rational action which places the particular will beneath a universal will. The
intelligible kingdom serves for Fichte as the properly real, before which the
particular "i" represents the potential plural individuation of the intelligible
principle in space and time. For this reason, the rational existence of the I
consists essentially in the production--or rather in the reproduction--of the
original intelligible unity under the conditions of individuality and limitation.
     With the recourse to the intelligible world and with the transfer of the I,
divided into plural individuals, to the community of Us as "i"-beings Fichte
undertakes, as much in the popular writing The Vocation of Man as also in the,
for that time new presentation of the Doctrine of Science (Doctrine of Science
novo methodo), an important clarification of his idealist model, taking on the
contemporary perception of his philosophy as unilaterally subjectivist and
deficiently egoistic. But, despite all the re-orientation of his philosophy towards a
pre-individual conception of pure spirituality (noumenalism) Fichte maintains
the practico-free orientation of his thought.
     Certainly, the individual "i" is only an instrument and vehicle of generic
reason (I-total) and of its own legitimacy, removed from all natural order.
Nevertheless, the concrete realization of reason can only result through rational
individuals and their respective partial praxis. The intelligible or the noumenal
world may finally be the only real one, yet the purely intelligible becomes effective
only in the form of the "free" individual "i," who is as much naturally determined as
she can and should be rationally self-determined.

                              V. Being, knowledge and the world

5.1. The Doctrine of Science and its later presentations

The wide teaching and publication activity that Fichte had during his five years in
the position of professor in Jena experiences and abrupt end with the loss of the
post as a consequence of the dispute about atheism. After 1799 Fichte's public
presence is limited to a complete decade of different lessons that he offers
privately in Berlin, other than those in Erlangen in 1805 and Königsberg in
     The object of the belated lessons is transcendental philosophy and freedom of a
Kantian provenance with his central theme concerning the conditions, the
possibilities and the limits of knowledge with respect to its carrier (subject) and
its object; philosophy that Fichte continues developing under the title of "Doctrine
of Science." Just after his naming to the new University of Berlin (1809) and during
his four remaining years of life, Fichte newly develops a wide program of lectures,
in which his philosophical system attains detailed presentation. In the center of his
later lectures is found the exposition of the Doctrine of Science, which Fichte
formulates in a new fashion every time.
     During the last decade and a half of university and private activity there exist
a total of 13 different versions of the Doctrine of Science (1800, 1801-1802, 1804/1,
1804/2, 1804/3, 1805/1, 1805/2, 1807, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814). Among them,
some are found incomplete, but the majority are finished and constructed in an ample
fashion. With the exception of an introductory and synoptic text of 1810 (The
Doctrine of Science presented in its general environment) that involves a final
lesson on the Doctrine of Science of 1810, Fichte himself does not publish any of his
presentations. For this reason, to his contemporaries (successors and rivals), first
Schelling and later Hegel, Fichte's continual work on his fundamental philosophy 
remains simply unknown, as much in regard to its content as to its existence. In the
perception of his contemporaries, over two decades Fichte remains essentially in the
position of the presentation of the Doctrine of Science of 1794-1795, the first and
only one that Fichte himself will publish.
     Although Fichte's continual work on the Doctrine of Science is not given to a
wide public to know, nevertheless, for him the communicative context for the
continual re-elaboration of his philosophic thought remains essential. The constant
question of the Doctrine of Science, namely to inquire into and establish knowing and
willing according to the mode and dimension of its validity, is pursued by Fichte in
successive, multiple and varied expositions, which always are co-determined by
consideration of the intellectual capacity and the formative philosophical horizon of
his listener.
     However, the philosophical environment, within which Fichte tries to make the
presentation of the Doctrine of Science effective, is transformed considerably during
the course of two decades of his academic and conference activity. At the start he
seeks to establish the Doctrine of Science as the definitive form of the post-Kantian
philosophy as against the former and contemporary efforts. This leads, with respect
to the content, to placing the focus of attention, on one hand, upon the grounding of
knowledge through self-evident "principles" and, on the other, in the program of a
gradual deduction of the forms of knowledge, knowledge of the object as of action,
starting from the system of principles of knowing. In reaction to the first reception
of the Doctrine of Science, marked by misunderstanding and incomprehension, Fichte
still develops a "new presentation" in Jena, which instead of starting from the
apodictic principles of knowledge does so according to the philosophical demands
of considering practical intelligence and observing in them the exact realization of
the fundamental thought of one's own I, towards an artificial reconstruction.
     With the presentations of the Doctrine of Science, given 11 times beginning in
the year 1800 in Berlin and once, respectively, in Erlangen and Königsberg,
Fichte reacts to the broad changes in the philosophical landscape of the epoch,
marked by Jacobi and Schelling's meta-critique and Fichte's critique of the Kantian
origins. Fichte's later presentations are guided by the effort to go and meet the
critique of the Doctrine of Science with a clarification of its fundamental question,
its purpose and its focus. Such a clarification attempts to display the philosophical
advantages of that system, as well as to demonstrate the defects, which he diagnoses,
in the philosophical outlines of his opponents.
     It is characteristic of the later presentations of the Doctrine of Science that
Fichte does not react even once with a polemical attitude or to refute the critique
of Jacobi and Schelling which, according to his analysis, is mistaken. Or rather,
Fichte takes seriously, despite all the argumentative discrepancies, the alternative
focuses of Jacobi and Schelling as challenges to the Doctrine of Science. And this in
order to highlight in an ever more clear manner, as much for himself as for others,
his own main question in the productive confrontation with contrary positions. Thus,
Fichte deliberately draws inspiration and orientation from Jacobi and Schelling's
thought, which he tries to make fruitful for the Doctrine of Science. Fichte's
strategy in the later presentations of the Doctrine of Science is not so much to
refute the opponent, yet rather instead the procedure of making their understandings
his own in the light of his philosophic focus. As a result, this leads to a positive
reception of the fundamental concepts of Jacobi and Schelling in the exposition of
the Doctrine of Science; in this exposition the thought of others does not appear as
a foreign import and external influence, but instead as an appropriate and re-
configured part of the Doctrine of Science.
     Among the fundamental conceptions that Fichte receives from his prominent
critics and transforms in accordance with the spirit of the Doctrine of Science, one
finds the fundamental life concepts of Jacobi and those of the absolute of Schelling.
These concepts are presented by their authors against Fichte as a counterweight to
the supposed empty self-referentiality of the philosophy which endows the principle
of the I with a dimension independent, anterior and prior to reality. In addition to
the concepts of life and the absolute as indices appropriated from a dimension of
reality that transcends the I, Fichte adopts the concepts associated with them: on
one hand, the concept of faith, which according to Jacobi fundamentally surpasses
one's own knowledge of the I in reliability and real content; on the other hand, the
concept of the phenomenon, which for Schelling expresses the origin of everything
conditioned starting from the unconditioned-absolute.
     The later Fichte integrates the terminology of life and the absolute in the
development of his own philosophical thought in order to show, through the explicit
and prominent employment of these borrowed concepts, the inclusion of the dimension
of extra-"i" fusion, claimed by Jacobi and Schelling, into the Doctrine of Science.
In it, Fichte submits the concepts taken from Jacobi and Schelling to a revision from
the perspective of his own critico-idealist principle.
     In addition to the contemporaries Jacobi and Schelling, among those whom the
later Fichte re-interprets from sharp critics to required guarantors claimed by
himself, there more and more frequently appear two historico-philosophic figures in
the new versions of the Doctrine of Science: Plato and Spinoza. In both cases
philosophical positions previously combated by Fichte are integrated, such that he
appears as the continuer who perfects the previous intellectual efforts. With
recourse to Plato's theory of ideas and to Spinoza's of substance, Fichte attempts,
like already before with the critical application of Jacobi's life philosophy and
Schelling's of the absolute, to impose this substantial reality in the conception of
knowledge in the Doctrine of Science which, according to the then contemporary
interpretation, remains trapped like a non-substantial subjectivity.
     The presence of the thought of Jacobi-Schelling and Plato-Spinoza in the later
Fichte has, not a few times led in the reception of Fichte's philosophy to the
supposition of a dramatic evolution of the Doctrine of Science beyond the presumptive
idealism and the subjectivism of the young Fichte towards some assumed realism and
absolutism of the later Fichte. The presumed change or turn in Fichte's thought is
typically thought as a return to metaphysical thinking, which should have replaced
the previous Kantian orientation with the current meaning of classical metaphysics
and its fundamental themes of being in general and the existence of God, of the soul
and of the world in particular.
     However, such revisionist evaluations of Fichte's philosophical development
ignore the complex relationship, as much critical as affirmative, of the later Fichte
with the cited predecessors and opponents. This relationship does not consist of a
total and complete imitation and identification, but instead in a selection
deliberately planned and a strategically chosen assumption. For this reason, for the
correct comprehension of the later Fichte and especially the Doctrine of Science in
its latest presentations, it is unavoidable to consider the metaphysical motifs and
the traditional themes--among them above all the references to Plato and Spinoza as
well as to Jacobi and Schelling--in their respective functional contexts. One must
reject absolutely the idea that Fichte continually draws from the arsenal of other
authors for his own philosophical ends and with an interest in illustrating and
explaining his own positions.
     The essential identity of Fichte's principal philosophical question--as opposed
to the diachronically different presentations--and the considerable continuity in the
succession of the distinct versions of the Doctrine of Science becomes clear when one
keeps in mind the breadth of the manuscripts and lecture notes preserved and
completely published only recently. In place of a few apotheoses in the results, that
in the past often had primacy in the interpretive attempts (preferentially those with
respect to the Fundamentals of the complete Doctrine of Science of 1794-
1795 and the second exposition of the Doctrine of Science in 1804), they here make
visible the serial character of the intellectual task of Fichte, which consists
essentially in always presenting a few fundamental ideas in a new or modified form.
The obstinate, repetitive and varied Fichtean philosophical praxis is motivated by
his conviction that to wrap a philosophic idea in words selected deliberately is
certainly irrevocable, yet also always replaceable and, sooner or later, requiring of
     Strictly viewed, no particular presentation of the Doctrine of Science with its
respective fixed form can, according to Fichte, do justice to the living, "pneumatic"
character of knowledge and especially, philosophical knowledge. Only the deliberately
exercised change in the terminology and plasticity avoids the false coupling of the
live thought and a dead idea. In this consists the need for varied repetition with a
view to the adequate comprehension of the Doctrine of Science by the Fichtean
audience and readers. The same necessity applies equally for Fichte with regard to
his own self-comprehension of the finality and the content of the Doctrine of
Science. With the successive alternative presentations, Fichte writes and creates
under the project "Doctrine of Science," a cumulative comprehension of knowledge as
such, as much in its condition and structural system as its final function.

5.2. From the absolute I to the Absolute

With Schelling there emerges, early and almost contemporary with the first formation
of his own doctrine (Doctrine of Science) and of the theory of ethics and of right, a
sympathetic critic. Apparently even in the role of talented exegete of the innovative
philosophy of Fichte, the young Schelling goes on record against Fichte's systematic
preference for critical idealism versus the equal originality of that critique and
dogmatism as fundamental philosophical options. "Transcendental" realism, that starts
from the theoretical knowability of the "things-in-themselves" and which Fichte
--following Kant--excludes as non-critical, returns, in this fashion, as an
alternative focus of post-Kantian philosophy.
     Already early on--namely, in the second half of the decade of the 1790's--
Schelling develops independently of Fichte the program of a realist-dogmatic type of
philosophy which puts aside the critical-transcendental world genealogy beginning
with the I - and in particular nature beginning with spirit. Thus, the concept of
nature contributed by Schelling is radically different from the concept of nature of
Kant and of Fichte, for whom nature is, primarily, a product of categorical
constitution and of a subjectivist position. Seen from a systematic viewpoint, with
his equalization of matter and spirit together with the independence of nature,
Schelling adheres to Spinoza's conception of a productive, generative nature
(natura naturans).
     Schelling's next step beyond Fichte, taken in 1801 in the fragmentary
Presentation of my system of philosophy, is also inspired by Spinoza. Like
Spinoza, who subordinates the attributes of being and of thought in a unique absolute
substance (Deus sive natura) as a common ground, Schelling attributes the
complementary realities of nature and of spirit to a pre-disjunctive origin
that is characterized neither by materiality nor by spirituality, and which Schelling
introduces as the completely unconditioned indefinite. In a third step, carried out
in 1804--above all in Philosophy and Religion--Schelling replaces his own
early exposition of the deployment of the conditioned starting from the
unconditioned--a presentation which, furthermore, was already oriented to the logical
concept of deduction--by the dramatic idea of the "leap" and of the "fall" into the
absolute to which one might succumb in their transit towards the finite-conditioned
     Fichte becomes aware of all these evolutions, rapidly puts them to the test and
responds to them in detail - first in private notes, also in correspondence with
Schelling (interrupted in 1801) and later in the final expositions of the Doctrine of
Science. The continual development of Schelling's philosophy beneath the sign of the
radical concept of human and divine freedom as a concept of the capacity for choice
between good and evil, which he presents in 1809 as the work Philosophical
investigations into the essence of human freedom, had not already been considered
by Fichte.
     Fichte emerges from the encounter with Schelling's successive projects
concerning the philosophy of nature, the philosophy of the absolute indifferent
and the philosophy of the absolute which "succumbs to itself" with growing
skepticism; yet also with a selective reception of concepts and Schellingian
conceptions for the presentations of the Doctrine of Science. In the year 1800 Fichte
is in agreement with Schelling's proposition to "go beyond the I." However, as
opposed to Schelling, Fichte does not see in it an enervation of transcendental
idealism into one of the two fundamental egalitarian forms of the philosophy. Rather,
Fichte claims to have already executed the complement of the philosophy of the I
demanded by Schelling, as well as having already launched its subsequent elaboration.
     In particular, Fichte refers to the transformation of the individual "i" through
a generically extended will--that already is found in germ in the Doctrine of
Science novo methodo and in its popular version, The Vocation of Man--
as well as the deduction of the plural existence of the I starting with the spatio-
temporal individuation of a pre-individual spiritual matter, undifferentiated, yet
differentiable. Fichte responds to encountering Schelling's requirement for the
transcendence of the ego with reference to the respective philosophical
representation of the practical fusion of the particularized individuals into an
intellectual community of equals under the conditions of freedom.
     Especially against the philosophic project of Schelling of a philosophy of
nature systematically independent of idealism (transcendental) Fichte alleges that
the monistically limited materiality of nature cannot explain the characteristic
duplicity of reality, in which what is thought can refer to the quantity and quality
of an entity different from itself. Above all, Fichte insists versus Schelling on the
presence of thinking in all being, while all being exists only as thought - even as
that not expressly thought. For Fichte it is possible to abstract oneself from all,
but not from the I itself, which as the subject of the thinking cannot be in any way
     In the same fashion, Schelling's conception of the undifferentiated absolute,
that cannot be included in the domain of thinking nor in that of the reality of being
finds criticism and refutation in Fichte. Fichte criticizes the emptiness of
Schelling's indifferent absolute, from which nothing can result and that therefore
cannot be appropriated as the beginning of some other, not to say of all other
things. That Schelling maintains, despite that, the deduction of the finite-
conditioned starting from the absolute-unconditioned demonstrates for Fichte the
ambiguity of the concept of the absolute in Schelling, which Fichte sees oscillating
between infinite self-referentiality and self finitude that does not want to end.
     In the self-establishment of the absolute as ground and consequence, affirmed by
Schelling, Fichte diagnoses the clandestine presence of thinking in that shape of the
intellectual form of ground and consequence, while the absolute is grounded in itself
and something else is now found by Fichte under a sort of legal thinking that
operates against the supposed indifference and undeterminability of the absolute. If
the Schellingian absolute is conceived as internally articulated self-referentiality,
then the infinite-unconditioned coincides with that absolute which Fichte claims to
have already shown long ago in the will through the figure of "pure self-
     In the background of the critical evaluation of Schelling's new focuses, Fichte
takes two properties of the Schellingian theory of the absolute for his own
elaboration in the Doctrine of Science. Meanwhile he develops--in a perfected
continuation of Schelling's thought--an original conception of unconditionality. This
is presented under the rubrics of "being," "absolute being" or "the absolute" as
completely indeterminate and indeterminable, as completely supported within itself,
closed into itself as if deprived of all comprehension and determination. The
absolute thus isolated does not have to include itself in the sphere of the subject
(thinking) nor either in that of the object (objective being), but instead can be
presumed by both spheres.
     Fichte attempts to be fair with the radical indeterminability of the absolute,
inasmuch as it alienates all formal determination as the content of the concept of
the absolute and tries to understand its being--or rather its quasi-being--with the
minimal, limiting characterization as pure activity. In
fact, with that the absolute--recaptured in the later presentations of the Doctrine
of Science derived from Schelling--is equated with the "absolute I" of the early
presentations, for the "absolute I" of the early presentations from Jena was not an I
in the sense of a being conscious of herself, but instead the element presented
separate from unconditionality in the individual "i." Thus, to the elimination of the
"i" characteristics of conscience and intentionality of the pure I in the early
Fichte corresponds the structural equalization of the absolute in the "absolute I" of
the later Fichte.
     Later, and also in that improving on Schelling, Fichte defines the absolute,
that resides internally in oneself, with a second formula of being, which reaches
beyond oneself and appears in a singular fashion in the phenomenon. The original form
of the absolute-in-the-phenomenon is determined by Fichte in a way that brings to the
surface the objective coincidence between the concept of the absolute--introduced by
Schelling into post-Kantian philosophy--and the fundamental conception of the
Doctrine of Science, as it had been established long before. The unique phenomenon of
the absolute is nothing else than knowledge; put more exactly, knowledge as such in
its absolute and unconditional validity and certitude, independent of all the
contingent conditions of realization in a particular consciousness.
     With his double thesis, namely that only to the absolute does being properly
belong and that outside of the absolute only knowledge exists, the later Fichte moves
clearly away from Schelling, who together with knowing always grants value to natural
being as a genuine form of manifestation of the absolute. On the contrary, for the
early as well as the later Fichte all objective reality is only as knowledge, by
knowledge and of knowledge. If one wished to reproduce the conception of reality
represented by Fichte by means of a model of ontological layers, whose traditional
focus upon fixed forms is barely appropriated by the active character of the Fichtean
reality, then they would have to differentiate knowing, as the unique phenomenon of
being, from being one with the unique absolute, as well as differentiate it from
pretty reality as plural secondary phenomena to the original phenomenon.

5.3. The Absolute and its manifestation

With the expression, based in Schelling, of the "phenomenon of the absolute," the
later Fichte returns to the Platonic idea, according to which the one, the uniquely
real, underlies everything else--which actually is not and therefore is not actual--
as the condition and limit of its diminished reality. Thus, in Fichte's terminology a
deficient meaning is joined with an efficient meaning. As a mere phenomenon,
the manifestation of the absolute--of knowledge--is not and never will be the
absolute itself. Nevertheless, as a phenomenon of the absolute, the phenomenon
is also the absolute, if indeed in its phenomenal form.
     With a different terminology the later Fichte follows Plato's double concept of
the phenomenon. The being-outside-itself of the absolute in the phenomenon, in which
the absolute appears in the phenomenon and at the same time does not appear, is
reproduced preferentially by the later Fichte with the concept of "image." In the
concept of image are unified the secondary, deduced and diminished character of the
being of mere phenomenon with the intrinsic reference of the image to the actual
real, to which--despite all differences--the phenomenon-image belongs. To this one
adds a double sense of the image in Fichte, that both before and after separates in
the "image" of knowledge the copy of the model, or say the imitation of the ideation.
A tight reference to Plato exists, when one thinks of the etymological origin of
"idea" (eidos) in the verbal form of "to see." The later Fichte frequently
applies the terms "insight" and "seeing" as a metaphorical replacement for the
concept of "knowledge."
     In the later Fichte, the term image encounters another significant
dimension through the linguistic origin of "image" in the perfect participle of
"imagine." As something formed, the "image" is the product or creation and,
especially, result of processes of the formation of knowledge, by means of which
objects of all sorts are implemented, inasmuch as they are formations or images. With
the productive meaning of "to form" and the underlying reference in it to the
productivity of knowledge, the later Fichte pursues his own early distinction in the
principle of knowing as active and productive. In the later presentations of the
Doctrine of Science the focus on the phenomenon qua image corresponds with
the position, pre-eminent in the early presentations, of the "productive
imagination," which already in Kant figured as the fundamental capacity for
constituting the object. The image as a product of the imagination in its productive
function, as much for knowledge of the object as for the objects of knowledge, is not
in Kant and Fichte merely imagined, but instead is the formed reality.
     As alternative terminology Fichte presents the difference between the absolute
and the image through the distinction between truth and phenomenon. Correlative with
this, in the later presentations he marks the divisions in the Doctrine of Science by
means of the titles "doctrine of reason and doctrine of truth" and "doctrine of the
phenomenon and doctrine of appearance." The doctrine of truth contains only the
minimal awareness in a being of the absolute and of the absoluteness of being, yet
for whose articulation and communication the laborious procedure of the elimination
of appearance and of error is needed. To the presentation of the original certainty
of the absolute being is united the certainty of its manifestation as knowledge, by
knowledge and of knowledge. To the doctrine of the phenomenon of the absolute
(phenomenology) then belongs the differentiation of knowledge according to the
carrier (subject) and the object, just like the typological differentiation of the
fundamental forms of subjectivity and objectivity with respect to the diverse
specific perspectives regarding nature, law, ethics, religion, and philosophy.
     In the exposition of the fundamental relation, in which one finds the absolute
with respect to the phenomenon-image, the later Fichte reverts to the double figure
of manifestation and separation (Diremption). The absolute is realized in the
phenomenon, yet also is lost in it. Grounding the contradictory relationship of the
absolute with its phenomena is an ambiguity constitutive of the absolute itself, in
which Fichte distinguishes an internal form and another external one. In its strict
immanence the absolute is closed into itself, completely without references and,
therefore, absolutely particularized. Or rather, it should be considered in this
manner in philosophical reflection upon the pure concept of the absolute. The being
of the immanent absolute is completely indeterminate and properly infinite; for this
reason, it is conceived and reproduced by Fichte in a grammatical sense as an
     Yet, additionally, Fichte believes he can set a form of exteriorization upon the
absolute, by means of which exteriorization  or emanence also corresponds to being,
the alternative to interiorization or immanence. Fichte conceives the distinction
between the internal and external forms of being of the absolute also as the
distinction between mere "being" or "position" or "existence." The duplication of the
absolute does not consist in a pure parallelism, but instead in a consecutive
relation, through which the absolute, which first was closed and enclosed in itself,
subsequently and in addition exteriorizes itself. As Fichte explains, the result of
the figures of being of the absolute (immanent being, emanent being) are not subject
to an unconditioned legalism, which would limit the absolute in the conditions of its
manifestation. Rather, the transit from immanence to emanence or from being to
existence occurs in the absolute in a spontaneous manner through a leap.
Nevertheless, the hiatus in the relation between the interiority of the absolute
and its exterior contributes only to the event of the exteriorization as such. Under
the presumption that the absolute should manifest itself, the phenomenon of the
absolute--its manifestation as knowledge and, especially, as knowledge of the
absolute or "absolute knowledge"--is realized with the necessity of law. With
terminology and a form of representation that are supported in the internal relation
of freedom of the will with the normativity of an action of human desire, Fichte
unites facticity and normativity in the being of the phenomenon of the absolute. For
Fichte the following is true: the absolute does not necessarily manifest itself; it
can also not do so. But, if it does manifest itself, then it should necessarily do so
as knowledge and within its legality.
     With the theorem of the absolute being and its phenomenon-image the later Fichte
endows his critical theory of knowledge with a foundational dimension that should
guarantee the absolute nature of the validity of knowledge - certainty and
unconditional truths pertaining to knowledge as such. Instead of supporting himself
in himself and provoking the suspicion of being in an empty circle, the knowledge is
manifested as fundamentally marked by an unconditionality that does not flow from
itself. In this manner, the being that appears as independently absolute cannot be an
identity which resides and is external to knowledge. Rather, absolute being
represents in an artificially isolated fashion that element of unconditionality which
attains complete development in knowledge per se and, especially, in the
unconditional pretensions of certainty and truth in knowledge.
     If the absolute, instead of representing an ontologically or even theologically
separate magnitude, is encountered as the logical-epistemic moment of unconditioned
validity, then there exists a complete functional equivalence between the absolute
being of the late presentations of the Doctrine of Science and the absolute "I" of
the early presentations. Just as the absolute "I" of the early Fichte does not
represent a functional "I" with self-consciousness and freedom of the will, but more
like the logical-epistemic structural condition of that consciousness, so likewise
the absolute being of the later Fichte is an entity in itself, like the originally
represented absoluteness that corresponds ideally with real knowledge.
     The strategic parallel between the absolute "I" in its relationship to the
individual "i" and absolute being in its relation to absolute knowledge even attains
in Fichte's self-critique the formerly attempted independence or emerges from the
absolute character of the "absolute I" and of "absolute being." In this manner, the
early Fichte promptly replaces the originally separate presentation of the "I" that
faces itself and everything else in an integral presentation by means of a history of
the formation of individual self-consciousness. Equally, the later Fichte does not
abandon it in the separate introductions of the absolute or of being, but instead
integrates the latter in the display of the structure such that the absolute can
fulfill itself first and only in the phenomenon. In the later Fichte, as a
consequence of this modified presentation, the "I" as being becomes the "I" as form,
as the fundamental form of knowledge.

5.4. From the Doctrine of Science to the Doctrine of Wisdom

The integration of the absolute into knowledge is developed by the later Fichte in a
double form - as the original identification of the absolute with (absolute)
knowledge and as the final direction of knowledge towards the absolute. For the later
Fichte, according to its origin, knowledge does not have its unconditional, absolute
validity (certainty and truth) in subjective or mental acts of an individual
consciousness, nor likewise in objective nature, the material of particular things.
Rather, the absolute character of the validity of knowledge--or put more exactly, the
validity of genuine, certain and necessarily true understanding, distinct from
fallible belief--lacks all ontological and epistemological contingency.
     Insofar as knowledge as such exists only by means of its origin in the absolute,
the absolute comes to realize itself, on the contrary, only in knowledge and,
especially, in its absoluteness. Certainly the absolute should be considered as prior
to knowledge and as its grounding. However, it is thought itself that constitutes the
absolute as the corresponding assumption. In this way, the inter-crossing of the
absolute is presented in a double perspective: on one hand, with the absolute a
magnitude is introduced into the philosophical foundation of the possibility of
knowledge (Doctrine of Science) that surpasses all knowledge by definition,
even the meta-knowledge and fundamental knowledge of the Doctrine of Science. On the
other hand, the operative act of making the assumption of the absolute is an integral
part of knowledge in its complex self-analysis.
     The contiguity and community of the absolute transcending knowledge and the
absolute immanence of knowledge are not treated by the later Fichte as a logical
contradiction, but as a productive opposition. It reflects the complex composition of
knowledge, whose relation to being is marked as much by difference as by coincidence.
The later Fichte justly sees the Doctrine of Science as a pendular movement of
philosophic thought, which deliberately and intentionally oscillates between the
realist perspective on the absolute as something different and separate from
knowledge, and the idealist perspective of the absolute as a necessary-conditioned
product of the thought of knowledge's self-constitution.
     With the oscillation of the philosophical presentation between the realist
transcendence of the absolute with respect to knowledge and the idealist immanence
of knowledge the later Fichte recaptures previous reflections that seek to connect
the idealism of the Doctrine of Science with its realism; this is the double figure
of "idealist realism" and "realist idealism." Just as was the case in Fichte at
first, in the later Fichte the idealist position has preponderance over the realist.
In the view of its author, at no time does the Doctrine of Science become a doctrine
of being or mutes critical philosophical transcendence into post-critical
metaphysical transcendence.
     The differentiation of the Doctrine of Science with respect to ancient pre-
critical metaphysics is explicitly effected in the later Fichte through a radical
critique of the traditional fixation of metaphysics upon the classical themes of
being, God, soul, and world. Against the general tendency of metaphysics towards
being as such (ontology), Fichte argues that being can manifest phenomenologically
only in thought, through thought and for thought. For this reason, the fundamental
philosophical discipline is not the theory of being, but instead the doctrine of
knowledge. Epistemology appears in the place of ontology.
     With regard to the ancient metaphysical them of the existence and the essence of
God, Fichte criticizes the fundamental presupposition of a God distinct from the
world, with properly human characteristics like personality, intelligence and will.
Instead of that, the later Fichte defends--in continuity with his early conception of
God as the basis of universal moral order--a cosmological conception of God, with the
absolute located in the world itself as its living and edifying principle, and he not
recognizing "any extra-mundane God" or "any world outside of God."
     With this, the ancient metaphysical conception of the world as created by God
and distinct from him also becomes null. In place of anthropomorphic creationism
there appears in the later Fichte the complementary conception of the worldliness of
God and the divinity of the world. The identificatory reunion of God and world is
illustrated by recourse to the traditional theological conceptions of "revelation"
and incarnation. However, Fichte also explains that the phenomenal process of the
absolute, as opposed to its theological-religious setting and data, is infinite, does
not reach a conclusion and constitutionally comprehends the phenomenon of the
absolute as a phenomenon of something that does not manifest, and the revelation of
God as the revelation of something not revealed.
     Finally, Fichte criticizes the traditional metaphysical theory about the soul as
the false supposition of an individual existence, purely intellectual and
independent. For Fichte, individuality is neither original nor ultimately final.
Rather, the individual acknowledges the primary potency of the intellectual in the
state of particularization and individuation, to which is united the progressive re-
integration of individuality into the totality beneath the rubric of the social norms
of law, of ethics and of religion.
     Also, the characteristic separation in ancient metaphysics of the individualized
spirit (soul) from the correlatively individualized matter (body) arouses in Fichte
an energetic critique. For the early and later Fichte, matter is the principle of
individuation through autonomization. The spiritual is manifested in the phenomenon
only in strict correlation with the body itself. And furthermore: spirit and matter,
soul and body are considered by Fichte as alternative perspectives, complements in
the double constitution of the practico-rational being--"man"--who without the body
could not actuate and realize anything, but also would not even be able to think and
     Despite the rigorous critique of the traditional metaphysics of objective being,
of the personality of God, of the creation of the world, and of the separate
existence of the soul, the Doctrine of Science does not embark upon a polemic of
anti-metaphysical thought, nor does it fall into the simple substitution of being
through knowledge. From the start and to the end, the self-critique of knowledge
exceeds the reduction to mere nature and causal determination, and tends towards the
vindication of radical freedom and the self-validation of the bringer of knowledge
and the action based on knowledge. His supra-naturalism brings metaphysical
characteristics to the Doctrine of Science, so that the Kantian grounding of nature
and natural science together with the grounding of liberty and moral philosophy
reclaims the status of a "metaphysics of nature" and a "metaphysics of customs." As
predecessors of the philosophy specifically developed by himself Fichte names Plato
and Spinoza, as well as the Gospel of John, whose prologue is seen by Fichte as an
anticipation of his own considerations regarding knowledge, the world and God. 
     The anti- and supra-naturalist intention and motivation in the later
presentations of the Doctrine of Science take the double form of the self-grounding
and self-limitation of knowledge. Knowledge is seen, on one hand, as free from the
natural determination of psychic and physical factors, which occasionally could
determine knowledge at its conception and configuration, yet they cannot constitute
it in its essence, that is, in its unconditional character of certainty and truth. On
the other hand, the self-sufficient legitimacy of the validity or knowledge becomes
limited. Knowledge concerns everything known and knowable. The self-formation of
knowledge is seen as a process of formation, that naturally disables pristine access
to that which underlies all characterization or formation.
     In view of the paradoxical situation of everything beings only in and for
knowledge, yet knowledge itself not being all, the later Fichte assigns to the
Doctrine of Science the ultimate task of surpassing the limits of knowledge with the
same means of limited knowledge. To this end, the self-constitution of knowledge
should be carried out as much extensively as intensively, in such a way that its
essential limits flourish in maximum extension and profundity of knowledge. With the
exposition of the limits of knowledge and the united effort for self-surpassing that
knowledge, in the later presentations of the Doctrine of Science Fichte does not
effect a suspension of knowledge, nor does he seek a replacement through alternative
recourses. Rather, one deals here with a perfecting of knowledge - the perfecting and
complementing of its capacity up to the extreme form of the self-assignment and self-
surpassing of knowing.
     The figure of the perfection of knowledge is for the later Fichte enlightened
knowledge of himself, that understands its conditions, possibilities and limits.
Optimized knowledge is knowledge's knowledge-of-itself or knowledge as knowing.
Stated in the characteristic terminology of the later presentations of the Doctrine
of Science, which conceives knowledge as an image, the following applies: knowledge
ought to conceive itself as an image and evaluate itself according to the "being of
the image" and the "system of the image." The self-understanding of knowledge thus
essentially includes the comprehension that knowledge, in accord with its essence,
refers to a not-knowing - or to something which is not known positively, yet can be
known within limits.
     But for the later Fichte the self-knowledge of the understanding as knowledge is
not limited to an intellectual comprehension and to a theoretical understanding. To
the complete self-understanding of knowledge in its limitations belongs, rather, the
effort of knowledge for its self-surpassing and its elevation over something which is
fundamentally distinct and separate from knowledge. This self-elevation is
articulated in the later presentations of the Doctrine of Science in several ways: as
the self-destructive abrogation of knowledge as the transit from the knowing of
knowledge towards the not-knowing of faith, as the subtractive apportioning of
knowledge, as a transit from knowledge to life, as the depersonalization of thought
and of desire, and finally as the progress of science towards knowledge.
     In the later Fichte, common to the alternative expositions of the self-
transcendence of knowledge is the confrontation of knowledge with something different
from knowledge itself, yet with which, on one side, is found a relation--whether in
fact formal, negative and empty of content--and on the other, towards which it is
oriented as part of its complementary manifestation. The subsequent expositions of
the self-transcending of knowledge coincide also with the change, which its
propagates and portrays, of the activity and the spontaneity of acts of knowledge
towards passivity and the receptivity of knowledge that has reached its limits;
knowledge that opens towards something completely other and this latter opens itself,
for its part, to correct knowledge in the moment of its complementation.
     In this way, the desired self-abrogation of knowledge should pass from
intentional distance, from which thought only represents being, to an internalism in
which knowledge participates directly and without distance from being. Faith, which
replaces and complements knowledge, should surpass the circularity of knowledge,
though certainly supported within itself, yet also simply turns toward itself; a
transcendence that is carried out through a voluntary confession of an ultimate
reality or lawfulness which is at the basis of knowledge. Finally, knowledge's
deliberate reflection on its process of formation should lead to a non-thought of the
product of the formation, by which knowledge can arrive per negationem at
     Nevertheless, the distinct procedures of knowledge's self-surpassing remain only
partially effective. The absolute does not allow being commanded. Nor can the self-
critique of knowledge be directly mediated. Fichte can only argue with examples and
didactically present how each item, particularly those for itself, must proceed in
order to introduce the necessary transfiguration of knowledge, yet whose occurrence
is really upheld by the voluntary disposition. In this fashion, possible information
about the "other state" (Robert Musil) remains minimal and negative. The non-thought
of the form of knowledge takes place only in thoughts, and the abrogation of
knowledge consists more in the recognition of its ultimate nullity than in its sharp
abrogation and definitive destruction.
     Fichte himself mostly approximates the radically modified character of knowledge
critically by means of recourse to the concept of life. The early Fichte had opposed
life to the concept of knowledge and had presented knowledge precisely as non-life;
the later Fichte operates with a wider concept of life, that also comprehends the
self-movement of knowledge, characterized by action and, especially, by action-
towards-itself (subjectivity-objectivity); in place of the old opposition of life and
not-life there appears in the later Fichte the difference between suspended and thus
"dead" life, and living, lived life, which is experienced.
     The difference between substantial life and verbalized life corresponds in the
later Fichte to the internal difference in the concept of life between objective,
realized knowledge and live, continuous life. With this background, the self-
transcendence of knowledge is understood as the realization of knowledge, attained
theoretically and practically executed. The self-surpassing of life does not for
Fichte consist in the renunciation of knowledge, but instead in the internalization
of knowledge that arise from knowledge of being and its object to knowledge of life
and of itself.
     Also however, the process of enlivenment of knowledge, theorized by the later
Fichte, should finally go beyond knowledge. Despite this, the finality of vitalized
knowledge is not non-knowing and emptiness. Instead of being slight or even nothing,
enlightened knowledge regarding itself should be more than knowledge. Knowledge
should become especially effective and thereby participate in life not only by
copying and reproducing, but by modeling and forming. The influence of knowledge,
guided by the understanding, tends especially to the voluntary direction of life, a
direction toward comprehension and rational purpose which Fichte places under the
title of "wisdom, prudence, reflection"; denominations that are connected with the
ancient traditions of cognitive and connative self-domination.
     The final direction of knowledge towards wisdom signifies for the central
enterprise of the Doctrine of Science the demand to develop into a Doctrine of
Wisdom. Yet, like already in the case of understanding, including the knowing of
knowledge in the Doctrine of Science, knowledge--together with its philosophical
presentation as the Doctrine of Wisdom--is not an available object of intellectual
information and instruction. For the later Fichte, wisdom represents the ideal of the
practical influence of knowledge attained theoretically. Knowledge becomes wisdom in
the transit from the understanding to the deed and, especially, in the transit from
rationally grounded comprehension to rationally grounded praxis. The elevation, in
accordance with a goal, of knowledge towards desire corresponds with the prominent
position of the fundamental practical concepts in the final presentation of the
Doctrine of Science, which expresses with them a continual return to the distinctions
of primary practical reason in the early presentations of the Doctrine of Science.
     To the practical direction of the Doctrine of Science there corresponds, in the
later Fichte, the complementation of the Doctrine of Science in the strict sense
through the Doctrine of Science that arrives at its application in life. With this
occurs the return of knowledge to life in a double form. Within the Doctrine of
Science itself it arrives at the complement of the philosophic system in the doctrine
of law and of ethics, that the later Fichte newly expounds in Berlin reverting to the
first presentations from Jena (Rechtslehre 1812; Sittenlehre 1812). Outside of
the system of the Doctrine of Science, yet based upon it, the later Fichte develops a
critical diagnosis of human history in the past and in the present, which he connects
with a prognosis for the future of human culture in view of reason and freedom - this
expressed in a generally comprehensible form and with the explicit intention of broad

                              VI. The philosophy of the future

6.1. Science and art

The eminently practical character of Fichte's philosophy is also manifested in his
conception of the social effect of philosophy in general and of the Doctrine of
Science in particular. Knowledge, including its scientific basis, should never be an
end in itself, but instead serve the orientation and the motivation of the action.
Taking the step of thinking does not carry out a mere external application of
knowledge to life. Rather, knowledge itself is already conceived in a practical
sense. As "practical knowledge," it is based upon an internal, "ideal" activity, and
is directed towards an external, "real" activity.
     Fichte also gives value to the pre-eminence of action and its effect for oneself
and for his own academic activity and as a writer. As a university docent and writer,
he is interested in communication of his own philosophical thought to a public whom
he attempts to stimulate and challenge to think and to act autonomously. The general
purpose of influence absolutely determines the respective specific selections of the
conceptual and linguistic means for the exposition of his reasoning.
     The public, deliberately pursued by Fichte, consists, in the first place, of
students and persons already formed academically, to whom he directs himself in open
and publicly announced, yet privately organized, university expositions. In the same
manner, the writings published by Fichte himself are directed to a university or
academically formed public - whether as a version printed practically
contemporaneously with his university lectures, or as subsequent publications from
old conferences. Nevertheless, the Fichtean proposition of exercising influence goes
beyond his own audience and his readers. The role and the social function that his
audience and his readers possess or will possess in the future should have provided
Fichte a wider, indirect influence upon the overall society.
     Nor is the practical ambition of the knowledge limited to the maximum extent or
influence and effect of the knowledge. Even of greater importance than the extent is
the manner of realization of the desired effect. Knowledge, which has to be
communicated to the society, should not only help in understanding the world, but
also serve to change it. The attempted transformation of the world is seen by Fichte,
furthermore, as an improvement of it. Viewed strictly, Fichte does not attempt to
change the already existent into something better. Rather, the practical direction of
knowledge has as a goal the construction of a completely new world, to wit, the
construction of a better world.
     The improvement of the world, guided and introduced through practical knowledge,
is situated at two levels of human evolution. On one hand, it deals with a
modification and an evolution of the relation of rational finite-sensory beings with
respect to external nature, who increasingly through their technical efforts are
liberated from their nature and are brought into order by means of the rational
formation of the will. Fichte propagates and predicts the progressive transformation
of nature into culture and of the naturally given into the humanly made.
     On the other hand, the improvement of the world, analyzed and demanded by
Fichte, contributes to the relation of persons one with another. According to
Fichte, in social relations there should appear, instead of the transmitted
traditions, marked by ancient privileges and historical traditions, the dominion of
rational principles for human co-existence. Fichte professes, especially, the
realization of liberty and equality as fundamental forms of community on the global
     The general direction of practical knowledge towards the progressive betterment
of the natural and social relations of persons conditions the characteristic focus of
Fichte's philosophy on the future. The future, which Fichte adopts as a theme, is not
an imminent series of events, whose occurrence could be prepared for or prevented.
The future with which Fichte deals is essentially open and must be produced by the
people themselves; yet thus is also not essentially given through to a conclusion
and is thereby infinite. According to Fichte, knowledge is decisive for the formation
of the future, given that it appears as previous knowledge. Being practical,
something is not known in knowledge either as existing or as something imminent, but
instead as something to be produced. Considered as an image, practical knowledge is
not an imitation, but a model.
     Philosophical futurism differentiates Fichte's conception of history from that
of his previous followers and that of his subsequent critics and opponents. As
opposed to the Fichtean philosophy of self-formation of the future, the philosophy of
Hegel appears as a philosophy of the present, that instead of a preparation for a
completely different future serves the affirmative identification with the here and
now. On the contrary, the philosophy of Schelling is presented primarily in the
melancholic internalization of the former past, which even profoundly affects the
present as a foundation (Grund) and abyss (Abgrund).
     In Fichte, the conception of the open-infinite future that men should form
elevates freedom--together with knowledge--to a fundamental factor of history. But
historically effective freedom does not mean for Fichte the arbitrary selection of
ends and means for human self-realization. Rather, freedom is classified under
knowledge, whose understanding sets the goal and shows the necessary means for the
realization of the freedom. The specific freedom of practical knowledge consists, in
a negative sense, in the freedom of natural determination, while in a positive sense,
in the liberty of a rational destiny.
     To be able to become socially and historically effective, the knowledge of the
future needs agents who know how to effectively transmit their rational
comprehension, based upon acts, to other persons. Fichte names the immediate
destination group of his philosophical conferences and of his writings, thanks to
whom knowledge can and should become real, as "wisdom." The concept corresponds to
the Latin term, also applied by Fichte, of "eduditus." This does not primarily
designate a person formed scholastically (scholasticus) or connoisseur of a
science (doctus) but instead to someone who possesses knowledge acquired
independently, such that they can transmit it to others and others can apply it.
     The social concept of wisdom in Fichte is conceived in such a wide manner that
it comprehends scholarly and university activity, and the free labor of writing, as
well as the politico-juridical practice of administrative and government posts up to
the position of constitutional governor. Despite all specific differentiation
according to position, task and function, the sages are associated through knowledge
that they hold commonly, through society, which should be supra- and inter-
generationally active for perfecting and for progress. The formation of history
foreseen by Fichte, through the sage, is of a mold as much political as pedagogic.
     The opposite concept to the sage as subject and agent of human self-perfecting
is formed, according to Fichte, by the "people" as the subject of perfecting.
However, for Fichte the opposition between the sages and the people is not absolute
and insuperable, but rather historically conditioned and limited. Naturally, the
theoretical and practical efforts of the sages with regard to formation are aimed so
that all persons, independently of their educational level and their social position,
can take an active part in the process of human perfecting, of the self and of the
     In order to guarantee an effective transit from knowledge to its realization,
Fichte includes in the formation of the sage the development of communicative
capacities and technical abilities whether in discourse, writing or action. Fichte
sees the sages not only as persons who know, but also as persons who act creatively,
flexibly and are formative; put briefly, as "artists" and, especially, as progressive
and creative formers of human development. With this, "art" does not have the
meaning of an aesthetic ingredient for life as in the established "fine arts"; nor 
is it a mere useful art according to the model of the manual arts. Rather, the wise
art of the savants of art is found in the tradition of the "liberal arts," that in
the old university guaranteed the general formation of the students in the
fundamental logico-linguistic disciplines (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) and in the
basic mathematical subjects (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). Yet Fichte
replaces the fixed canon of the pre-established materials and technical knowledge
from the old schools and universities with the focus on philosophy (Doctrine of
Science) and practice directed towards the expansion and the application of knowledge
in the university of the future, which he envisioned.
     The fundamental characteristics of his philosophy of knowledge and the art of
the sage are developed by Fichte in cycles of university lectures upon the duties of
the sage - the Latin title announcing the lectures reads de officiis
eruditorum. Fichte offers the lectures on the morality of the sage once in Jena
(1794), Erlangen (1806) and Berlin (1812) respectively, the the curricular and
conceptual context of the contemporary presentation of the Doctrine of Science.
Common to the three cycles is the internal connection between scientific pretension
and "moral," ethico-social obligation, by means of which Fichte hopes to instruct and
inspire the sages of the future for the scientific-artistic work in the society.
     The Jena lectures concerning the definition of a sage integrate the presentation
of the social obligation of the scientifically formed person in the wider plan of the
destiny of humanity in general, that consists in the pursuit and realization of
accord within oneself under the guiding idea of pure "i"-being. The particular
position of the sage is due to the human destiny of free self-perfecting, for which
preparatory education is needed as well as introductory formation by means of a human
model, scientifically versed and ethically qualified. Furthermore, the young Fichte
places the measures of education and formation under a pedagogic perspective, in
which the sage and the people should deliberately direct themselves to one another.
     In the Erlangen lectures about the essence of the sage he explains the knowledge
of the sage through the concept, taken from Plato, of Idea, which Fichte conceives as
theologically singular to show the non-empirical origin and the normative pretension
of an alternative universal order to construct. With the goal of the progressive
realization of the ideal world in the given and real world, Fichte demands from the
sage, in addition to understanding of the eternal idea, internal familiarity with the
proper time and the free-sovereign disposition of forms of efficient influence upon
his contemporaries. In accordance with Fichte's exposition, the divine idea is
realized in such a way in the sage that it completely supplants one's personal life
to present itself in its place.
     The lectures in Berlin concerning the definition of the sage apply the term of
"regard" for the vision of the theologically identified idea which guides the sages;
regard in the ancient sense of "sight." For the fundamental aspect of the sage's
wisdom, to know is separate from the everyday and the given, and for its transforming
effect in the society Fichte applies the term, Platonically inspired, of
"enthusiasm." For the remainder, Fichte subordinates the particular sages to a
generic concept of sage that corresponds to the pre-eminence of the human genre in
the long-term collective progress against the fragmentary and continually frustrated
courses of the particular individuals.
     The lectures of Erlangen and Berlin on the definition of the sage assign to it
the task, now in tangentially theological terms, of the co-creation and the
continuous creation of the world. Underlying the elevation of the sage, the artist
and creator is the idea that the world, insofar as it is conceived as a divine
creation, should not be seen as closed and completed by the divine act of creation.
Instead, the manifestation of the divine in the finite is an infinite process, that
essentially is established through the cooperation of people and, especially, through
their free action. In the pedagogical perspective of the later Fichte, the creation
of the world becomes a common question for the human genre, in which the sensory
world offers the means for the progressive realization of the intelligible world. To
the structural unity of the sensory world and the intelligible world corresponds the
social union of the sage and people through the instrument of the "popular doctrine."

6.2. Reason and history

The popularization of knowledge and, especially, of philosophical knowledge
--propagated and practiced by Fichte--has its focus of attention in the critical
confrontation with its own time, that Fichte situates in the double context of its
historical origin and its future goals. In the center of the popular Fichtean
philosophy is found thought about history, in which the pre-determined succession
of times is presented along with the proper autonomous action of persons compatible
within themselves and dependent upon each other. For Fichte, the course of history
according to a plan is established and is dependent on the cooperation of humans in
the formation of their own history. The exact unfolding of the history is not pre-
determined, not even its successful culmination - both things are subject to the
unpredictability of human liberty and of empirical contingency. It is a form of the
passage of history that allows ordering and considering the factual events in a past
and present.
     From a philosophical perspective Fichte believes he can subsume the course of
history under a general scheme. The historically effective and ruling powers of the
course of history in their mutual relation are for Fichte reason, nature and freedom.
Human history in Fichte has its presumptive point of departure in the completely
instinctive realization of a rational order among persons. The complete interchange
of nature towards liberty in the rational foundation of the human world constitutes
the eventual theme of the history of the human genre; an interchange in which the
ancient directive role of (rational) instinct is replaced by rational reflection and
free decision.
     In the midst of the legendary ends of human development Fichte localizes his own
era, that he sees marked by the complete loss of the previously given order and the
temporal absence of the human world's new free order. The schematic course of history
proceeds, in this way, from reason without freedom, passing through freedom without
reason, until it is reason with freedom. Through the insertion of a respective phase
of transition between the end points and the empty middle of history Fichte arrives
at a number of five epochs of the world, to which he awards distinct titles, marked
theologically: beginning with the "state of innocence of the human genre," descending
from there to the "state of growing sin" up to the "state of complete sinfulness" and
from here newly ascending from the "state of growing justification" until a "state of
complete justification."
     The conception, centered around reason and liberty, of total historical time and
its succession in five epochs is developed by Fichte with pure conceptual means like
the philosophical construction of history. The pertinence of one era is not to be
determined, according to Fichte, simply in a chronological mode, yet instead is based
in the given factual affinity of a culture's representatives and participants with
respect to the principle and the constitution of the epoch. Fichte assigns to the
third era of human history, which he identifies with the "actual epoch," the
enlightenment principle of not recognizing and not giving value to something that
cannot be understood with the common means of understanding.
     The cultural manifestations of the prevailing intellectual principle of
actuality are, for Fichte, the reduction of the society to the concrete individual
and to her self-interest (individualism), the ontic reduction of reality to the
sensorily experimentable (empiricism), the empirical privilege of doubt (skepticism),
and the ethico-religious orientation of human ambition toward personal freedom
(eudemonism). Fichte criticizes the pseudo-enlightenment equivalence of the real with
what is comprehended through mere understanding; and instead of that, defends the
contrary thesis, according to which only the real can be properly understood.
Nevertheless, Fichte appreciates in the evaluative spirit of the enlightened era and
in its construction of a critical public space the historical dissolution of
prejudices and superstition by means of the understanding itself; a comprehension
that Fichte requires lifting from the naturalist plane of mere understanding to
supra-natural summit of reason and freedom.
     At the center of the Fichtean universal history, based upon actuality and
oriented to the future, is found the history of the States. To the thematic focus of
philosophic consideration of humanity's history and its progressive evolution
corresponds a concept of the State, that subordinates individuals to a superior
totality and for the first time grants sense, finality and meaning to their
insignificant particular lives . Yet the State, in accord with its ideal concept, is
not actually an instrument of repression, but the legal outline within which the
individuals can for the first time attain their liberty and self-responsibly direct
it towards a rational life. Here Fichte pursues his own early reflections about the
instrumentalization of right and the State for the enabling and incentivization of
free and rational self-determination.
     In the Fichtean perspective of the philosophy of the State appears the total
historical development of humanity as an evolutionary movement that moves from the
despotism of the Near East--marked by arbitrary domination and the impossibility of
freedom, whose traces Fichte pursues up to the contemporary Ottoman Empire--and
passing through the discovery and the struggle for freedom for many in ancient Greece
and Rome, until the idea of a universal equality and liberty and its--up to now
limited--realization in Christian Europe - especially in post-reformation Europe. At
the center of the juridico-political philosophy of history is found the doubly-phased
progress towards the universal dominance of right and of the law, which might be
accompanied by an unequal distribution of rights, and later advance towards equality
in the sense of equal rights for all.
     Particularly noteworthy in the Fichtean political history of post-ancient Europe
is the guiding idea of an intra-state unity and a supra-state identity of the
European medieval and modern States, that Fichte sees durably united through their
double origin, namely, in the later consequences of the migration of peoples and in
the repercussions of Christianization. Corresponding to this, Fichte also sees,
behind all the apparently heterogeneous population of Europe with its differences of
language, culture and politics, "a single people."

6.3. Nation and education

The political philosophy of universal history, that Fichte will present for the first
time in the popular conferences about the Fundamental aspects of the current
age in the years 1804-1805, with its historical integration of the existing
egoistic-individualist culture in a story of decadence and progress by the human
genre discovers its actualized continuation three years later in the  Discourse to
the German nation, which was presented before a private and educated public. The
external motive for the new evaluation of the current actuality is found, on one
hand, in the French occupation of Prussia following a disastrous military defeat
against Napoleon in 1806 and, on the other, in the compliance of the German States to
the French Empire, which transformed them into an agglomeration of protectorate
vassal States and occupied States.
     Instead of attributing, without vacillation, the loss of state autonomy to the
military debacle, Fichte pursues the deeper origin of the political catastrophe in a
fundamentally moral-spiritual crisis, in which the egotistical orientation of the
governors as much as the governed was proven incapable of energetic action for the
self-defense and the self-preservation of the community. But in Fichte's opinion,
effective self-surpassing of egoism also created the cultural-spiritual space for the
deliberate introduction of another complete and fundamentally transformed world. The
opportune point of departure for the possible transit toward the next epoch is found,
for him, in the part of Europe that has attempted the consequential self-destruction
of the era of egoism, that is, the German States.
     With the concept "German nation" Fichte reverts to the traditional term for the
German origin or nationality which served as the specific denomination of the new
medieval-modern Roman empire in the succession of the Imperium Romanum (Holy Roman
Empire of the German Nation), yet that also showed the country of origin of business-
persons or students who lived abroad. In this mode of usage the single German nation
is contrasted with the plural (particular) German States, which were only
precariously united by the imperial constitution. Furthermore, at the time of the
Addresses the "ancient empire" was crumbling into self-dissolution, such that
the term "German nation" did not correspond to any actual political entity.
     When in the Addresses Fichte makes the denomination "German nation"
independent, hitherto applied to history in an attributive mode, and into a noun and
names it as the recipient of his 14 consecutive discourses, we do not deal with a
restorative or reactionary maneuver, with which one attempts to remember or revive a
past figure of German history. Rather, the naming by Fichte is an innovative and
completely revolutionary process, that also matches the configuration of the object
of Fichte's politico-nationalist discourses. With the designation "German nation"
Fichte aims neither at the regional citizens of the different political structures
upon German soil, nor to the population diversified by dialect and custom in the
particular States.
     Rather, in a creative act of political imagination, Fichte directs his
Addresses to a population without its own politico-state or historico-
geographical identity. Nor does the denomination "people" do justice to the
interlacing, as much imaginative as universal, of Fichte's creative thoughts on
history, because "people," seen politically, suggests submission (people-State)
whereas the "German nation"--as much expressed as attracted by Fichte--deliberately
ignores the opposition between prince and people and, precisely, seeks to overcome
it. In its orientation toward a future "republic of the Germans," the
Addresses are politically explosive and are affected by the political concept
of nation from the French Revolution. Later, the adaptive and manipulated reception
of the Addresses in the environment of the First and the Second World War
would make Fichte's Addresses an anachronistic document of aggressive
German imperialist nationalism.
     In the usage that Fichte's gives it, the term "nation" itself is not
characterized, for example, in an ethnic manner. Certainly the general term
denominates in its Latin root (natus) origin or provenance. However, Fichte
does not conceive the provenance of the "German nation" as a tribal origin, but
instead as belonging and spiritual affinity. Nor does he use the term for an
ethnographic distinction of the "German nation" with regard to other nations, but
for the geographic differentiation between the populations strictly stemming from
     In the Fichtean comprehension of history, the German States--among them Fichte
counts the European nations of the north--form together with France and the rest of
the Romanic nations a national community, whose sub-nations, culturally and
politically differentiated, belong to a single class by reason of their common
origin, and in the future should live together instead of only co-existing or indeed
living one against the other. Fichte's fixation on a particular nation--his own--is
found in the wider context of European thought about history in which nationalization
and inter-nationalization should be mutually conditioning and loyalty to one's own
country should serve as the specific direction of each nation towards the European
and international goal of a community of nations. With the central idea of the
Addresses, that is, the international-cosmopolitan intention of the nation,
Fichte recurs to his previous reflections on international law and on international
pacific order.
     The intra-European difference, argued by Fichte, between the (at the moment
virtual) "German nation" and the other already politically constituted nations--in
the first place, France--is neither ethnically nor politically motivated. For Fichte,
what is specific about the "German nation" is based, rather, on an historical
factum from long before with long-term consequences for the history of
Europe - this is, the regionally limited Romanization of the trans-Alpine space and
the division, following from it, between the "free" resident population and the
Romanically civilized Germanic population. Fichte sees the politico-cultural
difference between the Latin-speaking culture of the Romanic peoples and the Germanic
languages of the non-Romanic peoples of the north of Europe.
     The thematic focus on the propagation of Latin is underlain by another
philosophic conception of language and of thought, in which language is considered as
a means of intellectual communication and, especially, as mediation of spiritual
contents. Fichte takes language in its communicative capacity with regard to the
spiritual as a disposition for human formation and comprehension. In this, Fichte
considers that the formative effect of language upon humans is more meaningful than
that formation which men can impress upon it. The subject of language is not,
therefore, the person and even less the particular person, but instead her genre in
its respective specific manifestation under given historical conditions.
     Nevertheless, the ancient cleavage in Europe is not exhausted, for Fichte, in
the descriptive difference of the arising Romanic peoples, linguistically speaking,
and the peoples who remained Germanic. Fichte makes the historical process
responsible for the foreign linguistic formation in the specific cultural evolution
of the Romanic nations. In place of the former internal affinity between thought and
language there appears in the Roman, according to Fichte, the interference of an
external linguistic culture distant from the reflection and the linguistically
articulated aspirations of its vital basis and subjects it to an alternative language
and thought.
     Yet decisive for the process diagnosed by Fichte of germanico-romanic alienation
are not the respective preferences and disadvantage of the linguistic cultures
involved, which Fichte regards as genuine, but instead only the process of cultural
hybridization per se, in which the entering culture displaces and overlays the former
linguistico-cultural character. Nor do the ideas of originality and ascendency which
Fichte presents reflect an essentialist or even ethnic conception of the philogenetic
linguistic identity. He uses them, rather, as functional expressions for the
structural differences between homogeneous and heterogeneous cultural forms. The
concept of a people, operative in the European construction of history, indicates in
a completely neutral manner a society of persons, understood as interchange and
procreation in a corporal and spiritual sense.
     The functional differentiation beween an originative language, together with the
correlative culture, and a foreign language and culture experiences a widening of
values when Fichte places the historical difference of the Germanic and Romanic
linguistic cultures with his own philosophical distinction between free, living,
critico-idealist thought and unfree, dead and dogmatic-realist thought. Due to this,
from the originative thought and speech of the non-Romanized European peoples arises
their capacity for the true philosophy of liberty; from the alienated spirituality
and linguistic character of the Europe's Romanized populations arises their
limitation to deficient thought about things. To the false philosphical consciousness
of the Roman and the true wisdom of the German there corresponds also, according to
Fichte, different political forms of cultural formation. The first of the cultural
formations starts from the dominators and thus is effected in an external manner,
while the second part of the people and their particular representatives--Fichte
refers to Luther--thus should be rooted in the people themselves.
     In addition to the linguistico-cultural alienation of people with respect to
their spiritual roots, the partial Romanization of Europe leads also, according to
Fichte, to the political alienation of the peoples with respect to their princes. The
significant consequences of the perturbed relations of domination are absolutism in
pre-revolutionary France and Caesarism in post-revolutionary Napoleonic France. On
the contrary, the non-Romanized peoples of Europe--and especially for the German
States--validate a political culture of consensus for Fichte, of freedom from
arbitrary domination and from violence, and of agreement between prince and people; a
political culture that, however, due to external influences and new developments
Fichte views as historically and actually limited and threatened.
     With the double background of the privileged historical position in the European
cultural sphere of the German language and the actual destruction of an autonomous
political life in the German States, Fichte sketches a politico-social plan for a
"German nation" to be formed for the first time, which should essentially begin from
the people and from their representatives instead of from the degraded and ruined
dominators. At the center of the Fichtean philosophy of political formation the
project for a "national education" is found, by means of which the unity of the
"German nation" should be produced, beyond civil limits and the State. As opposed to
the early enlightenment proposition of an "education of the people" with its focus on
the pedagogically ignored rural population--Fichte refers here particularly to the
theoretical and practical work of the Swiss educator Pestalozzi--the educational
formation of the German nation should comprehend all the circles of the population.
Fichte attempts to abolish the traditional private domestic education of the
so-called higher circles and replace it with public education and universal
     In his theme of the overcoming of prejudices and privileges, and also liberation
from ignorance and superstition, Fichte's pedagogical reform is presented as
egalitarian and liberal--and thereby as specifically modern. The propagation of
education and the transmission of knowledge concerning domination of the body itself,
the formation of a responsible will and the formation of the person as a citizen
also unite the pedagogy of Fichte with ancient ideas, especially classical-Greek,
about the political formation of the citizen through gymnastic and musical education
(paideia). Particularly noteworthy are the resonances of public education by
means of the educational State (Politeia) outlined by Plato, that is
manifested in the uprooting of learning from the familiar circle and the
implementation of an educative ethico-political program upon a philosophical base.
     But as opposed to Plato, whose model of the city-State is constructed at the
highest level of supra-historical stability and immobility, Fichte arranges his
educational politics for the "German nation" into a wide and open traversal of
history, that should approach the still influential past, going beyond the
contradictions shared in the present, toward a peacefully united future. The
politico-pedagogical formation of the "German nation" is not in the service of a
planned conquest nor a deliberate usurpation of Europe, in the style of the
regenerator of the revolution and Corsican political arrival Bonaparte, to whom
Fichte denies a proper dynastic name (Napoleon). Rather, in Fichte's political vision
of history the pacific Europe of the future should emerge from the mutual enrichment
among the Romanic civilization, the Germanic culture and the ancient legacy. In a
theoretical perspective on the State, Fichte sees the European supra-nation of the
future as a federative community of free States instead of a universal imperial

6.4. Law and religion

In a complement to the schematic sketch of a complete background to history in his
Fundamental aspects of the current age and the programmatic project of a
common European history in Addresses to the German nation, in the short and
unexpected ending of his life Fichte outlines a universal history of freedom. It
includes the course of thought and political action since the founding of the States
in the early Near East, passing through the political achievements of Greece and
Rome, until Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, and Modernity. At the center of the
universal history of freedom is found the idea of law, according to which human
desire and doing underlie obligatory rules that particularly orient and order the
life of the political community.
     In the "Conferences on varied subject-matter in political philosophy" of Berlin
in 1813, that later appeared under the title, The doctrine of the State or, on the
relation of the originative State to the kingdom of reason, Fichte pursues the
development of the political idea of law since the autocracies of the Near East,
passing through the forms of domination by the aristocracy, democracy and the
republic in European Antiquity, until the modern monarchies. With that, his politico-
philosophic interest has in mind the construction of a legally ruled order, that
binds the governors as much as the governed and in this fashion ties them together.
The guiding viewpoint of the politico-philosophic telling of history is the formation
and development of right as a reliable rule for social action.
     The historically dimensioned concept of law of Fichte's so-called Science of
Rights places the focus of legal regulation not on justification and permission,
but instead in obligation and in command. In the later Fichte, right contains as a
primary political category legislation for social action and has for a theme to
guarantee the legality of such action. The liberation of tutelage does not have
priority in Fichte's juridical thought, but instead the legal enabling of social
action through its liberation with respect to illegal coercion and arbitrary power.
As a successor to Kant, Fichte thinks of freedom as realized and guaranteed primarily
through law.
     Fichte presents the political history of the idea of right as a long-term
process of growing comprehension of nature and the function of law, as well as the
diffusion, united to the foregoing, of legal relations. The arena of the legal
process in the political society is for Fichte the State with its capacity and its
authorization for the realization of coercive law. The evolutionary movements of
rights as the fundamental form of state order consists in the growing reunion of the
idea of right with the idea of equality, which instead of privileges for some few
introduces and demands equality before the law first for several, later for many and
finally for all.
     The requirement of juridical equality is seen by Fichte as theoretically
understood and practically realized--at least in principle--above all by two
successive historical steps. The beginning of juridical progress performs the transit
from the realm of violence towards the dominion of law, which Fichte sets in the
Greek discovery of the political form of life in the autonomous city-state (Polis).
Before the law all members of the political community are equal and are equally
subsumed under the obligations and the guarantees of the law. Fichte localizes the
criterion for the enjoyment of equality of right in the Greek city-states--as also in
the successor Roman Republic--in political status. Equality of right or equality
before the law and, thereby, also equality with each other, in accordance with the
understandings of Antiquity, forms the complete citizenry of a state structure; all
certainly, yet only them.
     Characteristic in the political comprehension of law and in the juridical
comprehension of politics is that Fichte does not fasten political progress of
juridical relations on equality of participation in power by the citizens, but
instead their equality of participation upon right. Formulated in the ancient
terminology of Greek thought on the State, Fichte's attention is not on the
government by the people (demokratia) but instead upon equality of the law
(isonomia). Therefore, the politico-juridical form of life is not limited to
the comparatively liberal and permissive Athens of Pericles, but equally comprehends
the rigid and politically rigorous form of its opposite, to wit, Sparta beneath the
dominion of law.
     The second juridical advance identified by Fichte goes from the juridical
privilege of the full citizen in classical Antiquity towards equality principally of
all the members of a politico-juridical community within Modernity. Fichte sees the
beginning of the extension of juridical equality in the intentional change in the
subject of law, which advances from the character as citizen toward that of person
and from the specifically political rights of the citizen to those that correspond to
man-as-such. In place of the maximum extension of juridical equality through the
equality before the law of ancient Rome appears--at least in principle--the juridical
equality of all in modern Europe.
     The "legalization" of political relations in the community is caused according
to Fichte's comprehension of history by a growing understanding of the meaning and
the goals of right and the law, which do not limit or, even, suppress freedom, yet
instead are appropriated to guarantee it and make it absolutely possible. Fichte puts
the apprenticeship process primarily in the hands of the governors themselves, who
with their role like legally empowered executors of coercive law, present themselves
at the same time like civil pedagogues, who should foment a culture of accord. For
the distant future of the politico-juridical order, Fichte foresees the disappearance
of the State as an institution of coercion. In its place at the end of history there
should appear respect and the free observance of law.
     Terminologically, Fichte interprets the difference between the coercive legal
order and the free legal order as the difference between "State" (real) and "kingdom"
(ideal). He defines the kingdom more precisely as the "kingdom of right" and as the
"kingdom of liberty." The kingdom forms the supra- and post-State community of free
persons, in agreement in their comprehension as well as in their action; people no
longer comprehended as citizens in a State with particular laws, with authorization
for coercion, but instead as members of a widely cosmopolitan society of equals that
is in the service of the "formation of the free personality, independent of
     The dominion without coercion of law and of freedom has in Fichte the character
of a juridical community oriented towards the ethical, that replaces external
coercion with internal self-obligation. With the predicted dissolution of external
state coercion through the internal and spontaneous observance of the law, Fichte
recurs to early ideas about the transition of the political community from the
juridical realm toward the ethical realm, above all Kant's conception of an "ethical
community." Yet as opposed to Kant, who considers the republic of virtue as an ideal-
imaginary order contrasted to the State of law, Fichte conceives the integration of
the juridical order with ethical conviction in the context of a philosophy of
history, which imagines the State as a means to an end; an end that goes beyond the
State itself.
     Similarly the religious conception and Kant's idea of an ethical community
encounter their transformed continuity when Fichte equates the realm of right and of
liberty with the entrance of the "kingdom of God on Earth" or with the "heavenly
kingdom." The difference from Kant, for whom the religious community goes beyond the
limits of space and time, is found in the radical conception of a nearer, intra-
mundane "kingdom," with which Fichte connects with his early politico-philosophical
saying: "to discover heaven already on this Earth."
     Thus, Fichte's late recourse to religion and theology is politically oriented
and juridically motivated. For Fichte, at the start of political history one finds
the founding and the foundation of state power through an invocation of a divine
order and legislation. The naive confidence is the authenticity and the reliability
of the divine laws, that Fichte tries to find equally in priest-governors and
believers, allows him to frame political "theocracy" as "blind faith." Instead of
unenlightened fideism at the other extreme of history there should appear an
understanding and recognition of the rational foundations of right and law, which
should lead to a final state of an enlightened and self-liberated humanity. To the
historical growth in comprehension of the rational nature of state law corresponds
the historically growing understanding of theology and of religion, generally, and of
the theological basis of political domination in particular. At the start of
politico-religious development Fichte places his anthropomorphic concept of God with
the idea of a divinity conceived of as a person with their own will. The goal of
politico-religious development is formed, in Fichte, with the rational idea of a
universal divine order, that grants the person liberty for thought and their own
actions and conceives the concept of God in a non-personal fashion and as the ground
for enabling free action.
     When Fichte characterizes the final historical State of voluntary juridical
action as a "theocracy," we do not find there a regress to religious forms of thought
over the political. Rather, what is happening is the translation of a traditionally
proven concept to its ultimate meaning, stripped of antiquated myths and obsolete
images, and shaped by the double requirements of reason and freedom for human thought
and action. In the later Fichte "theocracy" has the meaning of domination of reason
and legislation of freedom. And this coincides with the later doctrine of right not
treating the divine kingdom, imagined and desired by Fichte, as a kingdom of over
there, but rather is treated as the real world in space and time, freely and
rationally improved through the work of humans.
     The decisive distance of Fichte with respect to the ancient religious and
theological ideas and prejudices is also seen in the explicit critique in his later
political philosophy of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Particularly in
the so-called Science of States Fichte denies the conception of sin and
expiation--of human culpability and divine redemption--as well as the miraculous
activity of the creator of the Christian religion, whose life Fichte comprehends as a
moral example, instead of interpreting his demise in a theologico-dogmatic way. In
Fichte's polemical expression all who believe in the Christian doctrine are mere
"Christians," representatives of a specific dogma. On the contrary, those who should
properly be called "Christs" are simply those in whom the meaning of the passing of
the creator of the religion orients one's own life by means of his example.
     That which is preserved from religion in the Fichtean political theology is a
specific perspective on the world, in which one's gaze on the existing reality is
embellished by the light of the new order, anticipated rationally and freely, in
human relations. Nevertheless, the real perfecting of the world is not due to a
"religious gaze at ourselves and the world," but to one's historico-social action in
accordance with right and the law. Fichte's thought can seem particularly religious
only if the world is reduced to nature, the spiritual to the material and the moral
to the sensory, as Fichte might have observed of his contemporaries.

                              VII. Fichte yesterday, today and tomorrow

The immediate effect of Fichte upon philosophical development is essentially limited
to the half decade of his writing and academic activity as a professor in Jena.
However, his influence over the course of those few years is wide and deep, and
extends from the inspiration of the early works of Schelling and Hegel up to the
philosophic impress of the early Romanticism of Jena. The early Fichte has,
particularly, an antagonistic effect and provokes enthusiastic approval as well as
an original critique.
     For the 19th century Fichte is a superceded philosophical author, who sowed his
own historical magnitude as a popularizer of himself. During the second third of the
19th century Fichte's practical and popular philosophy had repercussions mediated by
the protagonists of the progressive Hegelian school (Max Stirner, Ludwig Feuerbach,
Karl Marx). During the last third of the 19th century an historical interest grew
concerning the significance of Fichte as a transitional figure from Kant to Hegel. In
the framework of the academic reorientation towards Kant instead of toward Hegel,
carried out by neo-Kantianism, at the end of the 19th century a neo-Fichteanism is
developed, which in the context of the First World War assumes a populist character.
     A genuinely philosophical confrontation with the work of Fichte takes place in
the first quarter of the 20th century as a consequence of the metaphysically oriented
turn of neo-Kantianism (M. Wundt, H. Heimsoeth, M. Heidegger) and in the framework of
a complete exposition of German idealism (R. Kroner, Nicolai Hartmann). Works of
great importance appear at that time in France (X. Léon, M. Gueroult). After the
propagandistic takeover of Fichte by the national-socialist ideology, from which few
exceptions exist (W. Weischedel) Fichte is academically rehabilitated in the second
half of the 20th century in West Germany by means of phenomenology, transcendental-
philosophical and theory of consciousness lectures (W. Janke, R. Lauth, D. Henrich).
     Research about Fichte in philosophic circles has evolved and specialized over
the last decades with particular and general studies - above all in Germany, France,
Italy, and North America. At the center of the fresh interest are found, in the front
line, Fichte's original contributions on the theory of subjectivity ("i" body) and of
sociability (you, ourselves). The most recent investigations into the philosophy of
Fichte are dedicated as much to the particular presentations of the Doctrine of
Science as also to the Fichtean philosophical grounding of law, politics, morality,
pedagogy, art, and religion.
     Currently a generation of young researchers is active in an international
context and in their work connect a profound understanding of the primary texts with
current philosphical questions and perspectives, in particular in the realm of the
philosophy of spirit and practical philosophy. Corresponding to the wide
repercussions of his work, in recent times Fichte has gained significance also in the
political sciences, in history and in literature, and has attracted scientific
attention. Thanks to the ample and modern translations, Fichte is also present in
research and in philosophico-cultural and politico-social debates in China and Japan.
     With the culmination of the J. G. Fichte Gesamtausgabe by the Academy of
Sciences of Bavaria in 2012, Fichte's philosophic work is completely open and
available for philosophical investigation. Up to the moment, the post-humous texts
--many of them published for the first time or well edited in a trustworthy way for
the first time--have been, in general, investigated and interpreted selectively and
as separate - among those post-humous texts are found practically all 15 different
presentations of the Doctrine of Science.
     In future research concerning Fichte it will be important to take into account
the complete evolution and the maturing of his philosophy and especially the Doctrine
of Science, with its serial and varying presentation, and to evaluate it later from
the now optimized situation of the texts. Among Fichte's other works with
philosophical range and current philosophical significance, which ought to be read as
text as well as in context, pertain to the popular conferences corresponding to
philosophy of history, of right, of religion, and of politics.
     Regarding the general evaluation and valuation of Fichte's philosophic potential
it will not be unimportant to critically, comparatively and creatively confront
Fichte's complete work with the philosophical results of his opponents Schelling and
Hegel. Short of a differentiated inventory of the achievements of German idealism,
there could not be a linear history of the progress or regress of the thought of
Fichte to Hegel, passing through Schelling. Rather, one must try to appreciate
Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, starting with Kant, as historically alternate and
systematically complementary sides of one philosophical thought. A thought that at a
distance of two centuries appears to us extraordinarily near and distant at the same
time: near through its critical and self-critical focus on reason and liberty, yet
also distant given its hope and its confidence to be able to consider everything in
such a way that it becomes and remains a docile object for human co-design.