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Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1782–1814)

A key figure in the movement of German Idealism, J.G. Fichte is often read as a thinker who formed a bridge between the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant. and the speculative idealism of G.W.F. Hegel. The discovery of Kant’s philosophy, occurring shortly after Fichte terminated his studies in theology at the University of Jena, was a watershed moment in Fichte’s own intellectual development. His first book, An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792), published anonymously, achieved him fame when it was revealed that he was the author and not Kant, as many had presumed. Though inspired, Fichte was aware of the shortcomings of Kant’s enterprise, and sensitive to the critiques it received concerning various subjects, from the elusive ‘thing-in-itself’ to the distinction between theoretical and practical reason. His Foundations of Natural Right (1796/97) in particular developed a philosophy of law and social philosophy that emphasized the primacy of the latter category. Martial Gueroult explores the sources of Fichte’s concept of ‘nature’ in volume six of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, and Jacques Bouveresse develops a more substantial critique of this aspect of Fichte’s thought in the same volume. The last decade of Fichte’s life was his most productive and consisted of a series of courses delivered in Berlin; his Address to the German Nation (1808), given during the French occupation, would be a foundational text for the trajectory of German nationalism. At the core of Fichte’s thought was the primacy of the self-positing ego, a position developed in the ambitious Wissenschaftslehre, a doctrine of science grounded in the thorough-going subjectivity of the ‘pure I’, that Fichte revised throughout his career and in which he sought to ground all his writings. The auto-positional nature of Fichtean subjectivity, and its implications for a doctrine of science, is addressed in the Cahiers in a key article by Jacques-Alain Miller.and further developed - though Fichte remains unnamed - in François Regnault’s ‘Dialectque d’épistémologies’.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Martial Gueroult, ‘Nature humaine et état de nature chez Rousseau, Kant et Fichte’, CpA 6.1 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Jacques Bouveresse, ‘L’achèvement de la révolution copernicienne et le dépassement du formalisme (La théorie du droît naturel “réel” de Fichte’, CpA 6.7 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
François Regnault, ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’, CpA 9.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘Action de la structure’, CpA 9.6 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation, trans. Garrett Green. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
  • The Science of Knowledge, trans. and ed. Peter Heath and John Lachs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
  • Foundations of Natural Right, trans. Michael Baur, ed. Frederick Neuhouser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000