Johann Gottlieb Fichte

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Upon the progress of knowledge the whole progress of the human race is immediately dependent: he who retards that, hinders this also.
The Age of Empty Freedom ... does not know that man must first through labour, industry, and art, learn how to know; but it has a certain fixed standard for all conceptions, and an established Common Sense of Mankind always ready and at hand, innate within itself and there present without trouble on its part;—and those conceptions and this Common Sense are to it the measure of the efficient and the real. It has this great advantage over the Age of Science, that it knows all things without having learned anything; and can pass judgment upon whatever comes before it at once and without hesitation,—without needing any preliminary evidence:—'That which I do not immediately comprehend by the conceptions which dwell within me, is nothing,'—says Empty Freedom.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (19 May 176227 January 1814) was a German philosopher, who was one of the founding figures of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, a movement that developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant.

Quotes[edit]

Humanity may endure the loss of everything: all its possessions may be torn away without infringing its true dignity; — all but the possibility of improvement.
  • The infinitely smallest part of space is always a space, something endowed with continuity, not at all a mere point or the boundary between specified places in space.
  • The correct relationship between the higher and lower classes, the appropriate mutual interaction between the two is, as such, the true underlying support on which the improvement of the human species rests. The higher classes constitute the mind of the single large whole of humanity; the lower classes constitute its limbs; the former are the thinking and designing [Entwerfende] part, the latter the executive part.
    • The System of Ethics According to the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre (1798; Cambridge, 2005), p. 320.
  • “Whether there can be love without esteem?” Oh yes, thou dear, pure one! Love is of many kinds. Rousseau proves that by his reasoning and still better by his example. La pauvre Maman and Madame N____ love in very different fashions. But I believe there are many kinds of love which do not appear in Rousseau’s life. You are very right in saying that no true and enduring love can exist without cordial esteem; that every other draws regret after it, and is unworthy of any noble soul. One word about pietism. Pietists place religion chiefly in externals; in acts of worship performed mechanically, without aim, as bond-service to god; in orthodoxy of opinion; and they have this among other characteristic marks, that they give themselves more solicitude about other’s piety than their own. It is not right to hate these men,-we should hate no one, but to me they are very contemptible, for their character implies the most deplorable emptiness of the head, and the most sorrowful perversion of the heart. Such my dear friend never can be; she cannot become such, even were it possible-which it is not-that her character were perverted; she can never become such, her nature has too much reality in it. You trust in Providence, your anticipation of a future life, are wise, and Christian. I hope, I may venture to speak of myself, that no one will take me to be a pietist or stiff formalist, but I know no feeling more thoroughly interwoven with my soul than these are.
  • The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.
    • Addresses to the German Nation (1807), Second Address : "The General Nature of the New Education". Chicago and London, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1922, p. 20.
  • If you want to influence him at all, you must do more than merely talk to him ; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.
    • Addresses to the German Nation (1807), Second Address : "The General Nature of the New Education". Chicago and London, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1922, p. 21
    • Paraphrased variant: The schools must fashion the person, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.

The Vocation of the Scholar (1794)[edit]

The Vocation of the Scholar (1794) by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by William Smith.
  • Upon the progress of knowledge the whole progress of the human race is immediately dependent: he who retards that, hinders this also. And he who hinders this, —what character does he assume towards his age and posterity? Louder than with a thousand voices, by his actions he proclaims into the deafened ear of the world present and to come —"As long as I live at least, the men around me shall not become wiser or better; — for in their progress I too, notwithstanding all my efforts to the contrary, should be dragged forward in some direction; and this I detest I will not become more enlightened, — I will not become nobler. Darkness and perversion are my elements, and I will summon all my powers together that I may not be dislodged from them."
    • Αs translated by William Smith, in The Popular Works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1889), Vol. I, Lecture IV, p. 188.
  • Humanity may endure the loss of everything: all its possessions may be torn away without infringing its true dignity; — all but the possibility of improvement.
    • "The Vocation of the Scholar" (1794), as translated by William Smith, in The Popular Works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1889), Vol. I, Lecture IV, p. 188.

Introduction to Fichte's Science of Knowledge (1797/1798)[edit]

Introduction to Fichte's Science of Knowledge (1797/1798) by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by Adolph Ernst Kroeger.
  • The representation of the self-sufficiency of the I can certainly co-exist with a representation of the self-sufficiency of the thing, though the self-sufficiency of the I itself cannot co-exist with that of the thing. Only one of these two can come first, only one can be the starting point; only one can be independent. The one that comes second, just because it comes second, necessarily becomes dependent upon the one that comes first, with which it is supposed to be connected. Which of these two should come first?
    • p. 17-18.

The Vocation of Man (1800)[edit]

Full text online

Doubt[edit]

  • The "I" who speaks in this book is by no means the author. Rather, the author wishes that the reader may come to see himself in this "I": that the reader may not simply relate to what is said here as he would to history, but rather that while reading he will actually converse with himself, deliberate back and forth, deduce conclusions, make decisions like his representative in the book, and through his own work and reflection, purely out of his own resources, develop and build within himself the philosophical disposition that is presented to him in this book merely as a picture.
    • P. Preuss, trans. (1987), p. 2
  • Wenn ich nur dasjenige weiß, und von ihm überzeugt bin, was ich selbst gefunden, – nur dasjenige wirklich kenne, was ich selbst erfahren habe, so kann ich in der That nicht sagen, daß ich über meine Bestimmung das Geringste wisse; ich weiß blos, was Andre darüber zu wissen behaupten.
    • If I only know what I am convinced of and have found out myself, if I really only know what I have experienced myself, then indeed I cannot say that I have the least knowledge about my vocation; I only know what others claim to know about it.
      • P. Preuss, trans. (1987), p. 4
  • Mit derselben Sicherheit, mit welcher ich darauf rechne, daß dieser Boden mich tragen wird, wenn ich darauf trete, daß dieses Feuer mich verbrennen würde, wenn ich mich ihm näherte, will ich darauf rechnen können, was ich selbst bin, und was ich sein werde. With the same assurance with which I count on the floor to support me when I step on it, and on the fire to burn me were I to approach it, I want to be able to count on what I myself am and what I will be.
      • P. Preuss, trans. (1987), p. 4
  • It is so by nature that the plant will develop with regularity, that the animal will move purposefully, and that human beings will think. Why should I take exception to recognizing also the last as the expression of an original force of nature, as I do the first and the second?
    • P. Preuss, trans. (1987), p. 11
  • The original thinking force of the universe progresses and develops itself in all possible determinations of which it is capable, just as the other original natural forces progress and assume all possible configurations. I am a particular determination of the formative force, like the plant; a particular determination of the peculiar motive force, like the animal; and in addition to this a determination of the thinking force: and the union of these three basic forces into one force, into one harmonious development, is the distinguishing characteristic of my species.
    • P. Preuss, trans. (1987), p. 12
  • My immediate consciousness, my absolute perception, cannot go beyond myself, — I have immediate knowledge only of myself, whatever I know further I know only by reasoning, in the same manner in which I have come to those conclusions concerning the original powers of Nature, which certainly do not lie within the circle of my perceptions. I, however, — that which I call myself, — am not the man-forming power of Nature, but only one of its manifestations ; and only of this manifestation am I conscious, not of that power, whose existence I have only discovered from the necessity of explaining my own.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 13
  • That I should by necessity be either wise and good, or foolish or vicious, without having in one case or the other merit or fault — this it was that filled me with aversion and horror.The determination of my actions by a cause out of myself, whose manifestations were again determined by other causes — this it was from which I so violently revolted.The freedom which was not mine, but that of a foreign power, and, in that, only a conditional, half freedom — this it was with which I could not rest satisfied. I myself — that which in this system only appears as the manifestation of a higher existence, I will be independent, — will be something, not by another or through another, but of myself.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 21
  • Am I a free agent, or am I merely the manifestation of a foreign power? Neither appear sufficiently well founded.By the most courageous resolve of my life am I reduced to this! what Power can save me from it, from myself?
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 24

Knowledge[edit]

  • An act of the mind of which we are conscious, as such, is called freedom. An act without consciousness of action is called spontaneity. I by no means assume as necessary any immediate consciousness of the act, but merely, that on subsequent reflection thou shouldst perceive it to be an act. The higher question of what it is that prevents any such state of indecision, or any consciousness of the act, we may perhaps subsequently be able to solve. This act of the mind is called thought and it is said that thought is a spontaneous act, to distinguish it from sensation, in which the mind is merely receptive and passive.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 44
  • I: My consciousness of the object is only a yet unrecognised consciousness of my production of the representation of an object. Of this production I know no more than that it is I who produce, and thus is all consciousness no more than a consciousness of myself, and so far perfectly comprehensible. Am I in the right? Spirit. Perfectly so ; but whence then is derived the necessity and universality thou hast ascribed to these propositions, to that of causality for instance?
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 47
  • Of what I am, I know no more than that I am, but here no tie is necessary between subject and object. My own being is this tie, I am at once the subject knowing, and the object known of; and this reflection or return of the knowledge on itself is what I designate by the term I, if I have any determinate meaning.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 50
  • Spirit: Do not be deceived by sophists and half philosophers; things do not appear to thee by means of any representatives. Of the thing that exists, and that can exist, thou art conscious immediately ; thou, thyself, art that of which thou art conscious. By a fundamental law of thy being thou art thus presented to thyself, and thrown out of thyself.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 53
  • There is nothing enduring, permanent, either in me or out of me, nothing but everlasting change. I know of no existence, not even of my own. I know nothing and am nothing. Images — pictures — only are, pictures which wander by without anything existing past which they wander, without any corresponding reality which they might represent, without significance and without aim. I myself am one of these images, or rather a confused image of these images. All reality is transformed into a strange dream, without a world of which the dream might be, or a mind that might dream it. Contemplation is a dream; thought, the source of all existence and of all that I fancied reality, of my own existence, my own capacities, is a dream of that dream.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 60

Faith[edit]

  • Who am I? Subject and object in one — contemplating and contemplated, thinking and thought of. As both must I have become what I am.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 71
  • The voice in my soul in which I will have faith, and for the sake of which I have faith in all else, does not merely command me generally to act, but in every particular situation it declares what I shall do and what leave undone; it accompanies me through every event of my life, and it is impossible for me to contend against it. To listen to it and obey it honestly and impartially, without fear or equivocation, is the business of my existence. My life is no longer an empty I play without truth or significance. It is appointed that what I conscience ordains me shall be done, and for this purpose am I here. I have understanding to know, and power to execute it. By conscience alone comes truth and reality into my representations.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 77
  • It is the destiny of our race to become united into one great body, thoroughly connected in all its parts, and possessed of similar culture. Nature, and even the passions and vices of Man, have from the beginning tended towards this end. A great part of the way towards it is already passed, and we may surely calculate that it will in time be reached.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p. 88
  • Reason does not exist for the sake of life, but life for the sake of reason. An existence which does not of itself satisfy reason and solve all her doubts, cannot be the true one.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.94
  • The will is the living principle of the rational soul, is indeed itself reason, when purely and simply apprehended. That reason is itself active, means, that the pure will, as such, rules and is effectual. The infinite reason alone lies immediately and entirely in the purely spiritual order. The finite being lives necessarily at the same time in a sensuous order; that is to say, in one which presents to him other objects than those of pure reason; a material object, to be advanced by instruments and powers, standing indeed under the immediate command of the will, but whose efficacy is conditional also on its own natural laws.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.104
  • I believe it to be this; that my will, absolutely of itself, and without the intervention of any instrument that might weaken its effect, shall act in a sphere perfectly congenial — reason upon reason, spirit upon spirit; in a sphere to which it does not give the laws of life, of activity, of progress, but which has them in itself, therefore, upon self-active reason. But spontaneous, self-active reason is will. The law of the transcendental world must, therefore, be a Will.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.110
  • I veil my face before thee, and lay my finger on my lips. What thou art in thyself, or how thou appearest to thyself, I can never know. After living through a thousand lives, I shall comprehend Thee as little as I do now in this mansion of clay. What I can comprehend, becomes finite by my mere comprehension, and this can never, by perpetual ascent, be transformed into the infinite, for it does not differ from it in degree merely, but in kind. By that ascent we may find a greater and greater man, but never a God, who is capable of no measurement.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.115
  • Blessed be the hour in which I was first led to inquire into my own spiritual nature and destination! All my doubts are removed; I know what I can know, and have no fears for what I cannot know. I am satisfied; perfect clearness and harmony reign in my soul, and a new and more glorious existence begins for me. My entire destiny I cannot comprehend; what I am to become, exceeds my present power of conception. A part, which is concealed from me, is visible to the father of spirits. I know only that it is secure, everlasting and glorious. That part of it which is confided to me I know, for it is the root of all my other knowledge.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.120
  • Should it seem to me that truth has been put to silence, and virtue trampled under foot, and that folly and vice will certainly triumph; should it happen, when all hearts were filled with hope for the human race, that the horizon should suddenly darken around them as it had never done before; should the work, well and happily begun, on which all eyes were fixed with joyous expectation, suddenly and unexpectedly be turned into a deed of shame, — yet will I not be dismayed; nor if the good cause should appear to grow and flourish, the lights of freedom and civilization be diffused, and peace and good-will amongst men be extended, shall yet my efforts be relaxed.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.123
  • All life, Omnipotent Father, is thy life! and the eye of religion alone penetrates to the realms of truth and beauty. I am related to thee, and what I behold around me is related to me; all is full of animation, and looks towards me with bright spiritual eyes, and speaks with spirit voices to my heart.
    • Jane Sinnett, trans 1846 p.125

The Characteristics of the Present Age (1806)[edit]

Die Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters, as translated by William Smith (1847) Full text online
  • The determination to print them (his lectures), and to communicate them to the General Public, must also speak for itself; and should it not do so, any other recommendation of them would be thrown away. Thus, with respect to the appearance of this work, I have nothing further to say to the Public, than that I have nothing to say.
    • Preface
  • The End of the Life of Mankind on Earth is this,—that in this Life they may order all their relations with FREEDOM according to REASON.
    • p. 5
  • Instinct is blind;—a consciousness without insight. Freedom, as the opposite of Instinct, is thus seeing, and clearly conscious of the grounds of its activity.
    • p. 7
  • Among other men Reason awakes in another form—as the impulse towards Personal Freedom, which, although it never opposes the mild rule of the inward Instinct which it loves, yet rises in rebellion against the pressure of a stranger Instinct which has usurped its rights; and in this awakening it breaks the chains,—not of Reason as Instinct itself, but of the Instinct of foreign natures clothed in the garb of external power.
    • p. 8
  • Science raises itself above all Ages and all Times, embracing and apprehending the ONE UNCHANGING TIME as the higher source of all Ages and Epochs, and grasping that vast idea in its free, unbounded comprehension.
    • p. 11
  • An infirmity which affects the whole race, is no proper object for the scorn of an individual who belongs to that race, and who, before he could expose it, must himself have been its slave.
    • p. 12
  • Every other art,—as poetry, music, painting,—may be practised without the process showing forth the rules according to which it is conducted ;—but in the self-cognizant art of the philosopher, no step can be taken without declaring the grounds upon which it proceeds.
    • p. 14
  • The Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the THIRD, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberation—directly from the external ruling Authority, indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form; the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:–the state of completed sinfulness.
    • p. 16
  • The fundamental maxim of those who stand at the head of this Age, and therefore the principle of the Age, is this,—to accept nothing as really existing or obligatory, but that which they can understand and clearly comprehend. With regard to this fundamental principle, as we have now declared and adopted it without farther definition or limitation, this third Age is precisely similar to that which is to follow it, the fourth, or age of Reason as Science,—and by virtue of this similarity prepares the way for it. Before the tribunal of Science, too, nothing is accepted but the Conceivable. Only in the application of the principle there is this difference between the two Ages,—that the third, which we shall shortly name that of Empty Freedom, makes its fixed and previously acquired conceptions the measure of existence; while the fourth—that of Science—on the contrary, makes existence the measure, not of its acquired, but of its desiderated beliefs.
    • p. 19
  • The Age of Empty Freedom ... does not know that man must first through labour, industry, and art, learn how to know; but it has a certain fixed standard for all conceptions, and an established Common Sense of Mankind always ready and at hand, innate within itself and there present without trouble on its part;—and those conceptions and this Common Sense are to it the measure of the efficient and the real. It has this great advantage over the Age of Science, that it knows all things without having learned anything; and can pass judgment upon whatever comes before it at once and without hesitation,—without needing any preliminary evidence:—'That which I do not immediately comprehend by the conceptions which dwell within me, is nothing,'—says Empty Freedom.
    • p. 20
  • Each individual imagines that he can exist, live, think, and act for himself, and believes that he himself is the thinking principle of his thoughts; whereas in truth he is but a single ray of the ONE universal and necessary Thought.
    • p. 21
  • The Life according to Reason consists herein, -that the Individual forget himself in the Race, place his own life in the life of the Race, and dedicate it thereto;-the Life opposed to Reason, on the contrary, consists in this, that the Individual think of nothing but himself, love nothing but himself and in relation to himself, and set his whole existence in his own personal well-being alone: —and since we may briefly call that which is according to Reason good, and that which is opposed to Reason evil, so there is but One Virtue, to forget one's own personality;-and but One Vice,—to make self the object of our thoughts.
    • p. 33
  • We arrived at five great Epochs of the Earthly Life of the Human Race, which are the only possible Epochs thereof, and thoroughly exhaust the whole of this Life:–First, That in which human affairs are governed by Reason as Instinct without violence or constraint. Second, That in which this Instinct has become weaker, and now only manifests itself in a few chosen Individuals, and thereby becomes an External Ruling Authority in reference to all the rest. Third, That in which this Authority is thrown off; and, with it, Reason in every shape which it has yet assumed. Fourth, That in which Reason in the shape of Science appears among men. Fifth, That in which Art associates itself with this Science, in order to mold Human Life with a firmer and surer hand into harmony with Science, and in which the ordering of all the relations of Man according to Reason is, by means of this Art, freely accomplished, the object of the Earthly Life attained, and our Race enters upon the higher spheres of Eternity.
    • p. 64
  • How then does the Third Age acquire the kind of scoffing irony which serves it in place of Wit, and its measure of the Ridiculous! Thus:–it sets it down as indisputable that its Truth is the right Truth; and whatever is contrary to that must be false. Should anyone then take up the opposite position, he is of course in error, which is absurd: and hereupon it shows, in striking examples, how entirely different the opposite view is from its own, and that in no single point can they coalesce; which indeed may be true. This once laughed at, it readily finds those who will join the laugh, if it only apply to the right quarter. Assuming a scientific form, according to established custom, this principle of the Age is soon understood and dogmatically announced; and it now appears as an axiom to this effect, —that ‘Ridicule is the touchstone of truth, and consequently that anything may be at once recognised as false, without farther proof, if a jest can be raised at its expense, in the manner indicated above.
    • p. 75
  • The State may either attempt to change the opinions of its citizens for its own advantage; —and in this case, it partly undertakes a thing which it cannot accomplish, and partly shows that its laws are not adapted to the existing condition of the nation to which this system of opinion belongs; or, that the governing power is inadequate, and, being unable to trust to its own resources, needs the aid of a foreign power which can never be thoroughly incorporated with it. Or, the State may attempt, perhaps with the purest intentions, and from the warmest zeal on the part of its administrators for promoting the dominion of Reason, it may attempt to combat the prevailing opinions by means of external power;-and in this case it undertakes a thing in which it can never succeed, for all men feel that it then takes the form of injustice, and the persecuted opinion being thus to a certain extent established in its right, gains new friends by the injustice which it suffers, and by this conviction of the justice of its cause acquires a stronger power of opposition; and the matter ends by the State being obliged to yield, whereby it once more only shows its weakness.
    • p. 83
  • The true Christian knows no Covenant or Mediation with God, but only the Old, Eternal, and Unchangeable Relation, that in Him we live, and move, and have our being; and he asks not who has said this, but only what has been said;—even the book wherein this may be written is nothing to him as a proof, but only as a means of culture; he bears the proof in his own breast. This is my view of the matter…
    • p. 105
  • The Doctrine of a Perfect God; in whose nature nothing arbitrary or changeable can have a place; in whose Highest Being we all live, and in this Life may, and ought at all times to be, blessed;—this Doctrine, which ignorant men think they have sufficiently demolished when they have proclaimed it to be Mysticism, is by no means Mysticism, for it has an immediate reference to human action, and in deed to the inmost spirit which ought to inspire and guide all our actions. It can only become Mysticism when it is associated with the pretext that the insight into this truth proceeds from a certain inward and mysterious light, which is not accessible to all men, but is only bestowed upon a few favourites chosen from among the rest:—in which pretext the Mysticism consists, for it betrays a presumptuous contemplation of personal merit, and a pride in mere sensuous Individuality.
    • p, 122-123
  • History is mere Empiricism; it has only facts to communicate, and all its proofs are founded upon facts alone. To attempt to rise to Primeval History on this foundation of fact, or to argue by this means how such or such a thing might have been, and then to take for granted that it has been so in reality,is to stray beyond the limits of History, and produce an a priori History; just as the Philosophy of Nature, referred to in our preceding lecture, endeavoured to find an a priori Science of Physics.
    • p. 140
  • The nature of the Absolute State consists herein, -that all individual powers be directed towards the Life of the Race,—in place of which Race, the State puts the aggregate of its own Citizens. It therefore becomes necessary, first, that all Individuals, without exception, should be taken into equal consideration by the State; and second, that every Individual, with all his individual powers, without exception or reserve, should be taken into equal consideration. In a State so constituted, where all, as Individuals, are dedicated to the Race, it follows at the same time, that all without exception, with all the Rights which belong to them as component parts of the Race, are dedicated to all the other individual members of the State.
    • p. 150-151
  • The purpose of the State is, as we have already shown in our last lecture, no other than that of the Human Race itself:-to order all its relations according to the Laws of Reason. It is only after the Age of Reason as Science shall have been traversed, and we shall have arrived at the Age of Reason as Art, that the State can reflect upon this purpose with clear consciousness. Till then it constantly promotes this purpose, but without its own knowledge, or free pre meditated design; prompted thereto by the natural law of the development of our Race, even while it has a totally different purpose in view;—with which purpose of its own, Nature has indissolubly bound up the purpose of the whole Race.
    • p. 168
  • What the Greeks sought, and what they obtained, was Equal Rights for all Citizens. In a certain sense, we might even say Equal Privileges, for there was no race favoured by the constitution more than another;—but there existed a great inequality of power, which indeed arose only by accident and not by the constitution of the State, but which nevertheless the State could not remedy;—and in so far there did not exist Equal Privileges.
    • p. 186
  • It was these Romans who reunited in one State the Culture which had now been produced by the intermixture of different races, and thereby completed the period of Ancient Time, and closed the simple course of Ancient Civilization. With respect to its influence on Universal History, this nation, more than any other, was the blind and unconscious instrument for the furtherance of a higher World-Plan; after having formed itself, by its internal des tiny indicated above, into a most fit and proper instrument for that purpose.
    • p. 192
  • That which the God devoted man may not do for any consideration, is indeed also outwardly forbidden in the Perfect State; but he has already cast it from him in obedience to the Will of God, without regard to any outward prohibition. That which alone this God-devoted man loves and desires to do, is indeed outwardly commanded in this Perfect State; but he has already done it in obedience to the Will of God. If, then, this religious frame of mind is to exist in the State, and yet never to come into collision with it, it is absolutely necessary that the State should at all times keep pace with the development of the religious sense among its Citizens, so that it shall never command anything which True Religion forbids, or forbid anything which she enjoins. In such a state of things, the well-known principle, that we must obey God rather than man, could never come into application; for in that case man would only command what God also commanded, and there would remain to the willing servant only the choice whether he would pay his obedience to the command of human power, or to the Will of God, which he loves before all things else. From this perfect Freedom and superiority which Religion possesses over the State, arises the duty of both to keep themselves absolutely separate, and to cast off all immediate dependence on each other.
    • p. 197
  • This tendency towards a Christian-European Universal Monarchy has shown itself successively in the several States which could make pretensions to such a dominion, and, since the fall of the Papacy, it has become the sole animating principle of our History. We by no means seek to determine whether this notion of Universal Monarchy has ever been distinctly entertained as a definite plan …. Thus each State either strives to attain this Universal Christian Monarchy, or at least to acquire the power of striving after it;-to maintain the Balance of Power when it is in danger of being disturbed by another; and, in secret, for power, that it may eventually disturb it itself.
    • P. 213-214
  • "Before God we are all Equal,” say many;— and they readily admit that in another life we shall actually be placed upon an Equality, because they cannot dispute this certainty. Nevertheless, he who is dependent upon the inequality of men in this life, maintains this inequality with all his power, and endeavours to draw from it the greatest possible advantage to himself. The principle of Equality must therefore be applied to the earthly relations of men, if it is to become the source of true, active Good Manners among them. This can only be effected through the influence of the Perfect State, which penetrates all men in the Same manner, each in his own place, and employs them all as its instruments. Thus it is not the mere ideal dominion of Christianity, but the dominion which it acquires by means of the State, and which is realized in the State, which is true Good Manners; and the idea of such Good Manners may now be further defined in this way:-Each Individual is recognised as a member of the Race when we regard him as an instrument of the State, and desire to be so regarded by him; when we treat him as such, and desire to be so treated by him in return. We must desire to be so considered and so treated by him, I have said; but we are not entitled to expect or demand from him any error in this judgment, and therefore we must actually be, and desire to be, instruments of the State, and that to the same extent as he, although, it may be, in another sphere.
    • p. 234
  • True Religion does not manifest itself outwardly, and impels man to no course of external conduct which he would not otherwise have adopted, but that it only completes his true In ward Being and Dignity. It is neither an Action, nor an incentive to Action, but a Thought:—it is LIGHT, and the One True Light, which bears within it all Life and all the forms of Life, and pervades their innermost substance. Once arisen, this Light flows on spontaneously forever, spreading itself forth without term or limit;-and it is as idle to bid it shine, as it would be to address such a command to the material sun when it stands in the noon-day heavens. It does this without our bidding; and if it shine not, then has it not arisen. At its uprising, Darkness, and the brood of spectres and phantasms which are born of Darkness, vanish of themselves.
    • p. 264
  • ‘This atmosphere of the Spirit-World, this creating and combining element, is Light—this originally: Warmth, if it do not again exhale, but bear within itself an element of duration, is but the first manifestation of this Light. In the Darkness of mere earthly vision, all things stand divided from each other; each individual thing isolated by means of the cold and unillumined Matter in which it is embraced. But in this Darkness there is no Unity. The Light of Religion arises!—and all things burst forth and rush towards each other in reciprocal order and dependence, and float on together, as a united Whole, in the One, Eternal, and All-embracing flood of Light. This Light is mild, silent, refreshing and wholesome to the eye. In the Twilight of mere Earthly vision the dim shapes which crowd in confusion around us are feared, and therefore hated. In the Light of Religion all things are pleasing, and shed around them calmness and peace. In it all unlovely shapes disappear, and all things float in the glowing Ether of Love.
    • p. 268

The Way Towards The Blessed Life or the Doctrine of Religion 1806[edit]

translated by William Smith (1847)
  • These Lectures, conjoined with those which have already appeared under the titles of “The Characteristics of the Present Age," and “The Nature of the Scholar,” in the latter of which the tone of thought that governs the present course is applied to a particular subject, form a complete scheme of popular instruction, of which the present work exhibits the highest and clearest summit; and, taken together, they are the result of a process of self-culture, unceasingly pursued during the last six or seven years of my life, with greater leisure and in riper maturity, by means of that Philosophy in which I have been a partaker for thirteen years, and which, although, I hope, it has changed many things in me, has nevertheless itself suffered no change whatever during that period.
    • Preface
  • Show me what thou truly lovest, what thou seekest and strivest for with thy whole heart when thou hopest to attain to true en joyment of thyself—and thou hast thereby shown me thy Life. What thou lovest, in that thou livest. This very Love is thy Life, the root, the seat, the central point of thy being. All other emotions within thee have life only in so far as they are governed by this one central emotion.
    • P. 3
  • As Being and Life are one and the same, so are Death and Nothingness one and the same. But there is no real Death and no real Nothing ness, as we have already said. There is, however, an Apparent Life, and this is the mixture of life and death, of being and nothingness.
    • P. 4
  • While all these are disturbed and divided by the multifarious objects to which their thoughts must be applied, the Philosopher pursues, in solitary silence and in unbroken concentration of mind, his single and undeviating course towards the Good, the Beautiful, and the True; and that is his daily labour, to which others can only resort at times for rest and refreshment after toil.
    • P. 17
  • The Scientific discourse extracts truths from the errors which surround and oppose it on all sides and in every form; and, by demolition of these opposing views as error, and as impossible to true thought, shows the truth as that which alone remains after their withdrawal, and therefore as the only possible truth:--and in this separation of opposites, and elucidation of the truth from the confused chaos in which truth and error lie mingled together, consists the peculiar and characteristic nature of the Scientific discourse. This method creates and produces truth, before our eyes, out of a world full of error.
    • P. 26-27
  • An ancient philosopher maintained that the animals had arisen from the earth; “as happens,” he added, “even to the present day in miniature, since every spring, particularly after a warm rain, we may observe frogs, for example, in whom some particular part, perhaps the fore-feet, may be quite perfectly developed, while the other members still remain a rude and undeveloped clod of earth.” The half-animals of this philosopher, although they scarcely afford sufficient evidence of what they were designed to prove, yet present a very striking illustration of the spiritual Life of ordinary, men. The outward members of this Life are in themselves perfectly formed, and warm blood flows through in the extremities; but when we look to the heart, and the other nobler organs of life, which, in themselves: according to the law, are indeed there, and must necessarily be there, since otherwise even the outward members themselves could not have been, –in these organs, I say, they are found to be still unsentient clods—frozen rocks.
    • P. 41
  • There is nothing whatever in Existence but immediate and living Thought:—Thought, I say, but by no means a thinking substance, a dead body in which thought inheres,—with which no-thought indeed a no-thinker is full surely at hand:—Thought, I say, and also the real Life of this Thought, which at bot tom is the Divine Life; both of which—Thought and , this its real Life—are molten together into one inward organic Unity; like as, outwardly, they are one simple, identical, eternal, and unchangeable Unity.
    • P. 56
  • The Divine Existence (Daseyn),—his Existence, I say, which, according to the distinction already laid down, is his (Manifestation and Revelation of himself—is absolute- only through itself, and of necessity, LIGHT:—namely, y the inward and spiritual Light. This Light, left to itself, separates and divides itself into an infinite multiplicity of individual rays; and in this way, in these individual rays, becomes estranged from itself and its | original source. But this same Light may also again concentrate itself from out this separation, and conceive and comprehend itself as One, as that which it is in itself,-the Existence and Revelation of God; remaining indeed, even in this conception, that which it is in its form,-Light; but yet in this condition, and even by means of this very condition, announcing it-to self as having no real Being in itself, but as only the, Existence and Self-Manifestation of God.
    • p. 78
  • I have distinctly announced the grounds upon which I regard the Apostle John as the only teacher of true Christianity:—namely, that the Apostle Paul and his party, as the authors of the opposite system of Christianity, remained half Jews, and left unaltered the fundamental error of Judaism as well as of Heathenism, which we must afterwards notice. For the present the following may be enough: —It is only with John that the philosopher can deal, for he alone has respect for Reason, and appeals to that evidence which alone has weight with the philosopher—the internal. “If any man will do the will of him that sent me, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” But this Will of God, accord ing to John, is, that we should truly believe in God, and in Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. The other promulgators of Christianity, however, rely upon the external evidence of Miracle, which, to us at least, proves nothing.
    • P. 96-97

Addresses to the German Nation (Reden an die deutsche Nation) 1808[edit]

First Address of Fourteen[edit]

  • Time is taking giant strides with us more than with any other age since the history of the world began. At some point within the three years that have gone by since my interpretation of the present age that epoch has come to an end. At some point self-seeking has destroyed itself, because by its own complete development it has lost its self and the independence of that self; and since it would not voluntarily set itself any other aim but self, an external power has forced upon it another and a foreign purpose.
    • Introduction p. 1
  • No nation which has sunk into this state of dependence can raise itself out of it by the means which have usually been adopted hitherto. Since resistance was useless to it when it was still in possession of all its powers, what can such resistance avail now that it has been deprived of the greater part of them?
    • Introduction p. 9-10
  • By means of the new education we want to mould the Germans into a corporate body, which shall be stimulated and animated in all its individual members by the same interest.
    • Introduction p. 15

Second Address[edit]

  • He who must still exhort himself, and be exhorted, to will the good, has as yet no firm and ever-ready will, but wills a will anew every time he needs it. But he who has such a stable will, wills what he wills for ever, and cannot under any circumstances will otherwise than he always wills. For him freedom of the will is destroyed and swallowed up in necessity.
    • General Nature of New Eduction p 21
  • This education, therefore, results at the very outset in knowledge which transcends all experience, which is abstract, absolute, and strictly universal, and which includes within itself beforehand all subsequently possible experience. On the other hand, the old education was concerned, as a rule, only with the actual qualities of things as they are and as they should be believed and rioted, without anyone being able to assign a reason for them. It aimed, therefore, at purely passive reception by means of the power of memory, which was completely at the service of things. It was, therefore, impossible to have any idea of the mind as an independent original principle of things themselves.
    • General Nature of New Eduction p. 28

Third Address[edit]

  • This method of mental training is, therefore, the immediate preparation for the moral; it completely destroys the root of immorality by never allowing sensuous enjoyment to become the motive. Formerly, that was the first motive to be stimulated and developed, because it was believed that otherwise the pupil could not be influenced or controlled at all.
    • General Nature of New Eduction contiunued p. 31
  • Education to true religion is the final task of the new education.
    • General Nature of New Eduction p. 38
  • The divine life that underlies all appearance reveals itself never as a fixed and known entity, but as something that is to be; and after it has become what it was to be, it will reveal itself again to all eternity as something that is to be.
    • General Nature of New Eduction p. 45

Fourth Address[edit]

  • In the first place, the German is a branch of the Teutonic race. Of the latter it is sufficient to say here that its mission was to combine the social order established in ancient Europe with the true religion preserved in ancient Asia, and in this way to develop in and by itself a new and different age after the ancient world had perished
    • The Chief Difference Between The Germans And The Other Peoples Of Teutonic Descent p. 52
  • Idea or Vision, in its sensuous meaning, would be something that could be perceived only by the bodily eye and not by any other sense such as taste, hearing, etc.; it would be such a thing as a rainbow, or the forms which pass before us in dreams. Idea or Vision, in its supersensuous meaning, would denote, first of all, in conformity with the sphere in which the word is to be valid, something that cannot be perceived by the body at all, but only by the mind; and then, something that cannot, as many other things can, be perceived by the dim feeling of the mind, but only by the eye of the mind, by clear perception.
    • The Chief Difference Between The Germans And The Other Peoples Of Teutonic Descent p. 59
  • I take as my example the three notorious words, Humanity, Popularity, and Liberality. When these words are used in speaking to a German who has learnt no language but his own they are to him nothing but a meaningless noise, which has no relationship of sound to remind him of anything he knows already and so takes him completely out of his circle of observation and beyond any observation possible to him. ... Further, if in speaking to the German, instead of the words Popularity [Popularitdt] and Liberality [Liberalitat], I should use the expressions, " striving for favour with the great mob," and " not having the mind of a slave," which is how they must be literally translated, he would, to begin with, not even obtain a clear and vivid sense-image such as was certainly obtained by a Roman of old.
    • The Chief Difference Between The Germans And The Other Peoples Of Teutonic Descent p. 64

Fifth Address[edit]

  • What is the use of all knowledge, if one does not act in accordance with it? This remark implies that knowledge is regarded as a means to action, and the latter as the real end. One could put the question the other way round and ask: How can we possibly act well without knowing what the Good is? This way of expressing it would regard knowledge as conditioning action. But both expressions are one-sided, and the truth is that both, knowledge as well as action, are in the same way inseparable elements of rational life.
    • Consequences of the Difference p. 75
  • The Teutons believed that the only possible way to get rid of barbarism was to become Romans. The immigrants to what was formerly Roman soil became as Roman as they possibly could. But in their imagination the term "barbarous" soon acquired the secondary meaning of " common, plebeian, and loutish," and in this way "Roman," on the contrary, became synonymous with " distinguished."
    • Consequences of the Difference p. 81
  • A living language can stand on a higher level of culture in comparison with another, but it can never in itself attain that perfection of development which a dead language quite easily attains. In the latter the connotation of words is fixed, and the possibilities of suitable combinations will also gradually become exhausted. Hence, he who wishes to speak this language must speak it just as it is; but, after he has once learnt to do this, the language speaks itself in his mouth and thinks and imagines for him.
    • Consequences of the Difference p. 85

Outline of the Doctrine of Knowledge (1810)[edit]

Outline of the Doctrine of Knowledge (1810), as translated by William Smith
The Power liberates itself from Instinct, to direct itself towards Unity.
Every Individual can and must, under the given condition, construct the True World of Sense, — for this indeed has beyond the universal and formal laws above deduced, no other Truth and Reality than this universal harmony.
A Will, clear and intelligible to itself and reposing upon itself without wavering or perplexity, is possible, — to return wholly into Actual Life; — not into the Life of blind and irrational Instinct which we have laid bare in all its nothingness, but into the Divine Life which shall become visible to us.
  • The Doctrine of Knowledge, apart from all special and definite knowing, proceeds immediately upon Knowledge itself, in the essential unity in which it recognises Knowledge as existing; and it raises this question in the first place — How this Knowledge can come into being, and what it is in its inward and essential Nature?
    The following must be apparent: — There is but One who is absolutely by and through himself, — namely, God; and God is not the mere dead conception to which we have thus given utterance, but he is in himself pure Life. He can neither change nor determine himself in aught within himself, nor become any other Being; for his Being contains within it all his Being and all possible Being, and neither within him nor out of him can any new Being arise.
    • I.
  • Since it cannot be overlooked by the Doctrine of Knowledge that Actual Knowledge does by no means present itself as a Unity, such as is assumed above but as a multiplicity, there is consequently a second task imposed upon it, — that of setting forth the ground of this apparent Multiplicity. It is of course understood that this ground is not to be derived from any outward source, but must be shown to be contained in the essential Nature of Knowledge itself as such; — and that therefore this problem, although apparently two-fold, is yet but one and the same, — namely, to set forth the essential Nature of Knowledge.
    • II.
  • This Being out of God cannot, by any means, be a limited, completed, and inert Being, since God himself is not such a dead Being, but, on the contrary, is Life; — but it can only be a Power, since only a Power is the true formal picture or Schema of Life. And indeed it can only be the Power of realising that which is contained in itself — a Schema.
    • III.
  • Only through blind Instinct, in which the only possible guidance of the Imperative is awanting, does the Power in Intuition remain undetermined; where it is schematised as absolute it becomes infinite; and where it is presented in a determinate form, as a principle, it becomes at least manifold. By the above-mentioned act of Intelligising, the Power liberates itself from Instinct, to direct itself towards Unity.
    • XI.
  • There is but One Principle that proceeds from God; and thus, in consequence of the unity of the Power, it is possible for each Individual to schematise his World of Sense in accordance with the law of that original harmony; — and every Individual, under the condition of being found on the way towards the recognition of the Imperative, must so schematise it. I might say: — Every Individual can and must, under the given condition, construct the True World of Sense, — for this indeed has beyond the universal and formal laws above deduced, no other Truth and Reality than this universal harmony.
    • XI.
  • I know now that I shall. But all Actual Knowledge brings with it, by its formal nature, its schematised apposition; — although I now know of the Schema of God, yet I am not yet immediately this Schema, but I am only a Schema of the Schema. The required Being is not yet realised.
    I shall be. Who is this I? Evidently that which is, — the Ego gives in Intuition, the Individual. This shall be.
    What does its Being signify? It is given as a Principle in the World of Sense. Blind Instinct is indeed annihilated, and in its place there now stands the clearly perceived Shall. But the Power that at first set this Instinct in motion remains, in order that the Shall my now set it (the Power) in motion, and become its higher determining Principle. By means of this Power, I shall therefore, within its sphere, — the World of Sense, — produce and make manifest that which I recognise as my true Being in the Supersensuous World.
    • XIII.
  • The Power is given as an Infinite; — hence that which in the World of Thought is absolutely One — that which I shall — becomes in the World of Intuition an infinite problem for my Power, which I have to solve in all Eternity.
    This Infinitude, which is properly a mere indefiniteness, can have place only in Intuition, but by means in my true Essential Being, which, as the Schema of God, is as simple and unchangeable as himself. How then can this simplicity and unchangeableness be produced within the yet continuing Infinitude, which is expressly consecrated by the absolute Shall addressed to me as an Individual?
    If, in the onflow of Time, the Ego, in every successive moment, had to determine itself by a particular act, through the conception of what it shall, — then in its original Unity, it was assuredly indeterminate, and only continuously determinable in an Infinite Time. But such an act of determination could only become possible in Time, in opposition to some resisting power. This resisting power, which was thus to be conquered by the act of determination, could be nothing else than the Sensuous Instinct; and hence the necessity of such a continuous self-determination in Time would be the sure proof that the Instinct was not yet thoroughly abolished; which abolition we have made a condition of entering upon the Life in God.
    • XIII.
  • Thus then does the Doctrine of Knowledge, which in its substance is the realisation of the absolute Power of intelligising which has now been defined, end with the recognition of itself as a mere Schema in a Doctrine of Wisdom, although indeed a necessary and indispensable means to such a Doctrine: — a Schema, the sole aim of which is, with the knowledge thus acquired, — by which knowledge alone a Will, clear and intelligible to itself and reposing upon itself without wavering or perplexity, is possible, — to return wholly into Actual Life; — not into the Life of blind and irrational Instinct which we have laid bare in all its nothingness, but into the Divine Life which shall become visible to us.
    • XIV.

Quotes about Fichte[edit]

  • We cannot hope to give here a final clarification of the essence of fact, judgement, object, property; this task leads into metaphysical abysses; about these one has to seek advice from men whose name cannot be stated without earning a compassionate smile—e.g. Fichte.
  • Fichte, by his stubbornness in pursuing an idea, blind to nature and facts, was swept away into increasingly abstruse abstractions.
    • Hermann Weyl, "Erkenntnis und Besinnung (Ein Lebensrückblick)" Studia Philosphica (1954) GA IV, as quoted/translated by Erhard Scholz, "Philosophy as a Cultural Resource and Medium of Reflection for Hermann Weyl" (2004).
  • "Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished" in The Impact of Science on Society (1952), SCIENTIFIC TECHNIQUE IN OLIGARCHY. NEW YORK, AMS PRESS, 1968, p. 50.

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