The Divine Lamp

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A short sketch of the philosophy of Fichte

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 30, 2008

Fichte (1762-1814)

Fichte was a disciple of Kant.  When he published his work THE SCIENCE OF COGNITION, he intended to give a scientific explanation of the system of Kant.  But Kant repudiated the explanation and thus Fichte became aware that he had invented a new system of his own.

Th difference between the Critical Philosophy and Transcendental Idealism, as Fichte termed his system, is as follows:

Although Kant held that we have no means of knowing whether the objects which appear to us are actually such as they appear, he did not deny the possibility of this being the case: that they  may have a mode of existence independent of us,  although we have no means of ascertaining it.  But Fichte went further and denies that this was possible.  He moreover  maintained that these objects could be nothing but the product of the human spirit.  He argued thus:  the objects of cognition are all the products of the act of cognition, but the act of cognition is a product of the human spirit, therefore the objects of cognition are also products of our own spirit.  These objects, he continued, may be reduced to the sensible universe, God, and ourselves.  Therefore the universe, God, and ourselves, are only so many products of our own spirit, which places them before it as objects of its cognition.

Fichte then goes on to explain how the human spirit produces from itself all these things.  He says that with the first pronouncement or creation the Ego posits itself.  Before man says Ego, he is not as yet under the form of Ego.  By a second pronouncement man, the Ego, posits the non-Ego, or creates it.  The non-Ego, according to Fichte, is all that is not Ego, That is to say the external world, the divinity, and all the objects of human thought whatsoever.  Now these two acts by which our spirit posits the Ego and the non-Ego are co-relatives, so that the one cannot stand without the other.  The human spirit cannot pronounce itself without contrasting it with the Ego, and finding it to be different from itself.

This double creation of the Ego and the non-Ego is according to Fichte the first operation of the human spirit, which he also terms the intuition.  It has two relations or terms, which are in mutual contrast and opposition.  By this first mysterious operation he thinks he has explained not only the origin of human cognition, but the existence of all things as well; for, since the non-Ego includes all that is not the Ego, it includes God as well as the external world, and thus he arrives at the absurd proposition that not only the external world but even God Himself is a creation of man.

This system is termed Transcendental Idealism, because it applies the idealistic principle of Berkeley to all things without exception, drawing forth with an inexorable logic all its consequences, and discovering the abyss concealed beneath.  The Critical Philosophy of Kant left a doubt whether or not things had a susistence of their own; this was decided by Fichte in the negative; he thus changed the critical Scepticism of Kant into dogmatic Scepticism.

From Fichte’s system were originated in Germany the two others: Schelling’s system of absolute identity, and Hegel’s of the absolute idea, but we omit their exposition as unnecessary for our present purpose.

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