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Max Ferdinand Perutz
Max Ferdinand Perutz
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Important personalitiesBack

Johann Gottlieb Fichte19.5.1762

Wikipedia (11 Apr 2013, 12:47)
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (German: [ˈjoːhan ˈɡɔtliːp ˈfɪçtə]; May 19, 1762 – January 27, 1814) was a German philosopher. He was one of the founding figures of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. Fichte is often perceived as a figure whose philosophy forms a bridge between the ideas of Kant and those of the German Idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Recently, philosophers and scholars have begun to appreciate Fichte as an important philosopher in his own right due to his original insights into the nature of self-consciousness or self-awareness. Like Descartes and Kant before him, he was motivated by the problem of subjectivity and consciousness. Fichte also wrote works of political philosophy and is considered one of the fathers of German nationalism.


Fichte's philosophy

In mimicking Kant's difficult style, his critics argued that Fichte produced works that were barely intelligible. "He made no hesitation in pluming himself on his great skill in the shadowy and obscure, by often remarking to his pupils, that 'there was only one man in the world who could fully understand his writings; and even he was often at a loss to seize upon his real meaning.' " This remark was often mistakenly attributed to Hegel. On the other hand, Fichte himself acknowledged the difficulty of his writings, but argued that his works were clear and transparent to those who made the effort to think without preconceptions and prejudices.

Fichte did not endorse Kant's argument for the existence of noumena, of "things in themselves", the supra-sensible reality beyond the categories of human reason. Fichte saw the rigorous and systematic separation of "things in themselves" (noumena) and things "as they appear to us" (phenomena) as an invitation to skepticism. Rather than invite such skepticism, Fichte made the radical suggestion that we should throw out the notion of a noumenal world and instead accept the fact that consciousness does not have a grounding in a so-called "real world". In fact, Fichte achieved fame for originating the argument that consciousness is not grounded in anything outside of itself. The phenomenal world as such, arises from self-consciousness; the activity of the ego; and moral awareness.


Central theory

In his work Foundations of Natural Right (1796), Fichte argued that self-consciousness was a social phenomenon — an important step and perhaps the first clear step taken in this direction by modern philosophy. A necessary condition of every subject's self-awareness, for Fichte, is the existence of other rational subjects. These others call or summon (fordern auf) the subject or self out of its unconsciousness and into an awareness of itself as a free individual.

Fichte's account proceeds from the general principle that the I must set itself up as an individual in order to set itself up at all, and that in order to set itself up as an individual it must recognize itself as it were to a calling or summons (Aufforderung) by other free individual(s) — called, moreover, to limit its own freedom out of respect for the freedom of the other. The same condition applied and applies, of course, to the other(s) in its development. Hence, mutual recognition of rational individuals turns out to be a condition necessary for the individual 'I' in general. This argument for intersubjectivity is central to the conception of selfhood developed in the Doctrine of Science (German: Wissenschaftslehre). In Fichte's view consciousness of the self depends upon resistance or a check by something that is understood as not part of the self yet is not immediately ascribable to a particular sensory perception. In his later lectures (his Nova Methodo), Fichte incorporated it into his revised presentation of the very foundations of his system, where the summons takes its place alongside original feeling, which takes the place of the earlier Anstoss (see below) as both a limit upon the absolute freedom of the I and a condition for the positing of the same.

The I (Das Ich) itself sets this situation up for itself (it posits itself). To 'set' (setzen) does not mean to 'create' the objects of consciousness. The principle in question simply states that the essence of an I lies in the assertion of ones own self-identity, i.e., that consciousness presupposes self-consciousness. Such immediate self-identity, however, cannot be understood as a psychological fact, nor as an act or accident of some previously existing substance or being. It is an action of the I, but one that is identical with the very existence of this same I. In Fichte's technical terminology, the original unity of self-consciousness is to be understood as both an action and as the product of the same I, as a fact and/or act (Tathandlung), a unity that is presupposed by and contained within every fact and every act of empirical consciousness, though it never appears as such therein.

The 'I' must posit (setzen) itself in order to be an 'I' at all; but it can posit itself only insofar as it posits itself up as limited. Moreover, it cannot even posit for itself its own limitations, in the sense of producing or creating these limits. The finite I cannot be the ground of its own passivity. Instead, for Fichte, if the 'I' is to posit itself off at all, it must simply discover itself to be limited, a discovery that Fichte characterizes as a repulse or resistance (Anstoss; German: Anstoß) to the free practical activity of the I. Such an original limitation of the I is, however, a limit for the I only insofar as the I posits it out as a limit. The I does this, according to Fichte's analysis, by positing its own limitation, first, as only a feeling, then as a sensation, then as an intuition of a thing, and finally as a summons of another person. The Anstoss thus provides the essential impetus that first posits in motion the entire complex train of activities that finally result in our conscious experience both of ourselves and others as empirical individuals and of the world around us.

Though Anstoss plays a similar role as the thing in itself does in Kantian philosophy, unlike Kant, Fichte's Anstoss is not something foreign to the I. Instead, it denotes the I's original encounter with its own finitude. Rather than claim that the Not-I is the cause or ground of the Anstoss, Fichte argues that non-I is set up by the I precisely in order to explain to itself the Anstoss, that is, in order to become conscious of Anstoss.

Though the Wissenschaftslehre demonstrates that such an Anstoss must occur if self-consciousness is to come about, it is quite unable to deduce or to explain the actual occurrence of such an Anstoss — except as a condition for the possibility of consciousness. Accordingly, there are strict limits to what can be expected from any a priori deduction of experience, and this limitation, for Fichte, equally applies to Kant's transcendental philosophy.

According to Fichte, transcendental philosophy can explain that the world must have space, time, and causality, but it can never explain why objects have the particular sensible properties they happen to have or why I am this determinate individual rather than another. This is something that the I simply has to discover at the same time that it discovers its own freedom, and indeed, as a condition for the latter.


Other works

Fichte also developed a theory of the state based on the idea of self-sufficiency. In his mind, the state should control international relations, the value of money, and remain an autarky. Because of this necessity to have relations with other rational beings in order to achieve consciousness, Fichte writes that there must be a 'relation of right,' in which there is a mutual recognition of rationality by both parties.


Nationalism

Fichte made important contributions to political nationalism in Germany. In his Addresses to the German Nation (1808), a series of speeches delivered in Berlin under French occupation, he urged the German peoples to "have character and be German"--entailed in his idea of Germanness was antisemitism, since he argued that "making Jews free German citizens would hurt the German nation." Fichte answered the call of Freiherr vom Stein, who attempted to develop the patriotism necessary to resist the French specifically among the "educated and cultural elites of the kingdom." Fichte located Germanness in the supposed continuity of the German language, and based it on Tacitus, who had hailed German virtues in Germania and celebrated the heroism of Arminius in his Annales.

In an earlier work from 1793 dealing with the ideals and politics of the French Revolution, Beiträge zur Berichtigung der Urteile des Publikums über die Französische Revolution (Contributions to the Correction of the Public's Judgment concerning the French Revolution), he called Jews a "state within a state" that could "undermine" the German nation. In regard to Jews getting "civil rights," he wrote that this would only be possible if one managed "to cut off all their heads in one night, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which should contain not a single Jewish idea."

Historian Robert Nisbet thought him to be "the true author of National Socialism".


Women

Fichte argued that "active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands."

   
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