Fichte, Johann Gottleib

(1762–1814)
German idealist . Educated in theology then philosophy at Jena, Fichte became known partly because his first book, published anonymously in Königsberg, was mistakenly attributed to Kant . This was his Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung (1792, trs. as the Critique of All Revelation ), a celebration of the sovereignty of the moral law, on the strength of which he gained a chair at Jena. His combination of rigorous moralism, support for the French revolution, and Spinozistic downgrading of revealed religion, led to the kind of controversy that Fichte seemed to attract: he both unwisely tried to suppress the student fraternities, and by lecturing on Sundays alienated the local clergy. Fichte's belief that God is identical with the moral world order, even if this is in turn the ground of all cognition and the ‘only absolutely valid objective reality’, seemed little more than atheism, and in 1799 the Atheismusstreit or academic row over this issue involved many contemporary German thinkers, and culminated in his effectual dismissal from Jena.
Metaphysically Fichte was the first to strip the transcendental element from Kant, arguing that consciousness is the sole ground for the explanation of experience, and that all consciousness directed towards anything else has consciousness directed towards itself as its origin. This was conjoined with Kant's conception of the moral life as an infinite pursuit of an unattainable goal, so that all existence becomes the insatiable striving of the ego, which posits the external world as an obstacle to its own completion. This dynamic, active idealism, coupled with the elevation of self-consciousness, laid the groundwork for Hegel, and can be seen as an early transition from the philosophy of Kant to that of absolute idealism . Fichte's work is well seen in Bestimmung des Menschen (1800, trs. as The Vocation of Man, 1848); his Reden an die Deutsche Nation (1807–8, trs. as Addresses to the German Nation, 1922) are sometimes cited as one of the first expressions of nationalistic totalitarianism.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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