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  • Fichte, Johann Gottlieb

    lang=EN-US style='font-size:10.5pt;font-family:"Meridien-Medium","serif"; color:black'>(17621814)

    philosopher

    A philosopher responsible for contributing to the

    rise of a new aggressive German nationalism

    Fichte, Johann Gottlieb 375

    during the second half of the 19th century, Fichte

    thought that individual freedom could be

    attained only by identification with the nation.

    His belief in ethical idealism did not include a personal

    God, but the concept of an infinite ego.

    Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born the son of a

    Saxon weaver in Rammenau on May 19, 1762.

    Adoption by a nobleman provided him with educational

    opportunities otherwise denied to the

    poor. Initially attending school at Pforta, he later

    studied theology at the Universities of JENA, Wittenberg,

    and LEIPZIG. After his patron died, he

    obtained a tutorship in Zurich, where in 1794 he

    married Johanna Rahn. To gain the attention of

    KANT, he sent him the manuscript of his Critique of

    All Revelation, which gained Kants praise. He published

    it, making Fichtes reputation. GOETHEs recommendation

    obtained him a professorship at the

    University of Jena, where he became a dynamic

    teacher and where he met Friedrich SCHILLER, the

    SCHLEGEL brothers, and Wilhelm von HUMBOLDT.

    During the next five years he expounded his ideas

    in a number of treatises. Because of his radical

    political ideas and unorthodox theological teaching

    that there can be no doubt that the notion of

    God as a separate substance is impossible and contradictory,

    he was dismissed from Jena in 1799

    on the grounds of atheism. After a few years in

    BERLIN he in quick succession taught one semester

    each at Erlangen University and then Königsberg.

    In 1810 he was appointed rector of the University

    of Berlin. Survived by his wife, he died of

    typhus on January 27, 1814, contracted during

    Napoleons siege of Berlin.

    The three foundations of his philosophy were

    the Pantheism of Spinoza, the concept of striving

    of LESSING, and the concept of duty of Kant.

    Contrary to the mechanistic explanations in

    Western science, earlier German thinking on the

    conception of the universe formulated by

    PARACELSUS, LEIBNIZ, HERDER, and Goethe held

    that it was a living organic process with which

    man must collaborate in order to realize its

    divine purpose. The dualism between nature

    and spirit had thus been overcome but was

    destroyed by a new dualism projected by Kant

    between the knowing mind and the unknowable

    thing-in-itself. Fichte took this dualistic philosophy

    a step further, arguing that the world

    outside the individual mind exists only to provide

    materials for the self-creative activity of the

    ego. The world can only be known, Fichte

    thought, to the extent that the knowing subject

    is continually involved in its creation. The youth

    of the romantic age saw in Fichtes creative ego,

    as presented in his Science of Knowledge (1794),

    not only a release from the bondage of the world

    but a call to action.

    Fichte is among the disciples of Herder who

    began to change the character of German

    NATIONALISM after 1800. The differences between

    his concept of nationalism and that of Herder

    were in part due to his reaction to the French

    invasions of Germany and particularly to PRUSSIAs

    humiliation by Napoleons armies. That

    occasion in 1806 prompted his famous series of

    lectures, Addresses to the German Nation, delivered

    in the winter of 180708, in which he called for

    a system of national education in Germany that

    would ultimately result in the moral regeneration

    of the German people. He thought that education

    should make Germans aware of their

    unique national character and teach them to

    love the Fatherland, enabling them to liberate

    themselves from the French. In describing the

    kind of spirit that should prevail in a time of

    national crisis, Fichte wrote, [it is] not the spirit

    of the peaceful citizens love for the constitution

    and the laws, but the devouring flame of higher

    patriotism, which embraces the nation . . . for

    which the noble-minded man joyfully sacrifices

    himself, and the ignoble man, who only exists

    for the sake of the other, must likewise sacrifice

    himself. Unlike Herder, however, Fichte

    attributed to the Germans an originality and a

    genius not possessed by other peoples. The Germans,

    he believed, were uncorrupted by civilization

    and therefore an original people.

    Whereas the Latin peoples had a civilization

    derived from a Roman heritage, the Germans

    both occupied an original homeland and used a

    language uncorrupted by importations. In the

    same vein he encouraged the Germans to throw

    off the political and cultural yoke of the French.

    376 Fichte, Johann Gottlieb

    In his earlier works Fichte was concerned

    with the problem of individual freedom, and initially

    looked to the French Revolution to free

    mankind. Yet he became critical of the revolutionary

    emphasis on achieving individual liberty

    through the recognition of natural rights. He

    thought that recognition of natural rights limited

    the states real sphere of action to give positive

    content to human freedom. Fichte, therefore,

    advocated a state socialism, not as a welfare

    institution, but to promote general education

    and communal work inspiring the highest ethical

    development of its citizens. The state also had

    to be restored as the lawgiver, not as the dictate

    of a ruler, but rather as an expression of the collective

    will of the German people.

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