Fichte and German Idealism V


In a famous letter of Jacobi to Fichte (1799), the former recognizes (one reads) that a pure philosophy… all of one piece, truly a system of reason, is possible only in the Fichtean manner. Somewhat later in that letter Jacobi observes that in a philosophy like that of Fichte, the human spirit, by absolutizing itself improperly as creator of the world, is dissolved in turn in the concept of a pure coming and going originating  from nothingness, to nothingness, for nothingness, in nothingness. Hegel, to the contrary, objects to Fichte’s philosophy in that it resumes itself to a reflexive philosophy of subjectivity that does not rise to the speculative level. Elsewhere he states that in the Doctrine of Science by Fichte, the principle of identity does not become ultimately the principle of the system… the subject-object is transformed into something subjective and does not get to suppress that subjectivity and posit itself objectively. That objectivity alone would make that Idealistic philosophy scientific. To these two criticisms a third one may be added, that of Kant, who, in his equally famous declaration of 1799 contra Fichte and the latter’s ‘Doctrine of Science’ (which could also be translated as ‘Science of Knowledge’), identifies that doctrine with a pure logic which, in order to get to the real object, would end in a for him (Kant) unacceptable metaphysics. All these criticisms, which have continued to the present time, can be subsumed under three philosophical orientations: existentialism, rationalism and critical theory. On the other hand, the criticism of the dogmatists of the 18th and 19th century was that the ground of all experience lies solely in objects existing independently of the ‘I’ .This philosophical position still exists – as materialism, pragmatism, naturalism – , but nowadays it is more difficult to support, despite being the most prevalent one; it is currently exemplified by attempts at creating artificial inetelligence, for instance, with all the attendant technology, as well as by neuro-linguistics and other akin disciplines.  Fichte spent much time critizicing this naturalist position for being unable to provide a foundation for the self-understanding of the ‘I’. This, for him, was an a priori impossibility: no external determinations can have an ‘I’ as a result (B. Dörflinger, U. of Maguncia, as reference).

Fichte had a liberating experience when he read the ‘Critique of Practical Reason’ of Kant, and this was a turning point for him: Ever since I read the Critique of Practical Reason I live in a new world. There are things, he had previously believed, that are not amenable to demonstration or proof, like the concept of absolute liberty, and the possibility of doing justice to the exigencies of the heart within the field of philosophy. This, by itself, took Kantian philosophy much farther than its originator had thought possible, and it became a unifying principle (between logos and representation, Vorstellung), and thus a systematic principle, with an extension to the moral field, especially with freedom (My system is from top to bottom only an analysis of the concept of liberty). The importance of the new principle, which he later called Tathandlung, is that it finds its realization in the doctrine of representation (theory) as well as in practical doing.

After 1799 there is a change of terminology in Fichte as well as some other interests and areas covered (such as religion) rather than it being a rupture in the line of his philosophical thinking as has been characterized ever since. For instance, the term logos appears, its meaning being ‘absolute knowledge’ and also pure ‘I’. Knowing and being (logos and God) become more clearly identified as the two sides of the same reality, a reality which, in its essence, is ultimately incomprehensible and inexhaustible; it is so because it cannot be an object of human knowledge. 

        (To be continued)

About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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