Hegel’s treatment of Fichte
Fichte, Kant and the deduction of the categories (Logic $42 p. 69)
Kant, it is well known, did not put himself to much trouble in discovering the categories. ‘I’, the unity of self-consciousness, being quite abstract and completely indeterminate, the question arises, how are we to get at the specialised forms of the ‘I’, the categories? Fortunately, the common logic offers to our hand an empirical classification of the kinds of judgment. Now, to judge is the same as to think of a determinate object. Hence the various modes of judgment, as enumerated to our hand, provide us with the several categories of thought. To the philosophy of Fichte belongs the great merit of having called attention to the need of exhibiting the necessity of these categories and giving a genuine deduction of them.
Fichte and the Anstoss (Logic $60 p. 94)
After all it was only formally that the Kantian system established the principle that thought is spontaneous and self-determining. Into details of the manner and the extent of this self-determination of thought, Kant never went. It was Fichte who first noticed the omission; and who, after he had called attention to the want of a deduction for the categories, endeavoured really to supply something of the kind. With Fichte, the ‘Ego’ is the starting-point in the philosophical development: and the outcome of its action is supposed to be visible in the categories. But in Fichte the ‘Ego’ is not really presented as a free, spontaneous energy; it is supposed to receive its first excitation by a shock or impulse from without. Against this shock the ‘Ego’ will, it is assumed, react, and only through this reaction does it first become conscious of itself. Meanwhile, the nature of the impulse remains a stranger beyond our pale: and the ‘Ego’, with something else always confronting it, is weighted with a condition. Fichte, in consequence, never advanced beyond Kant’s conclusion, that the finite only is knowable, while the infinite transcends the range of thought. What Kant calls the thing-by-itself, Fichte calls the impulse from without — that abstraction of something else than ‘I’, not otherwise describable or definable than as the negative or non-Ego in general. The ‘I’ is thus looked at as standing in essential relation with the not-I, through which its act of self-determination is first awakened. And in this manner the ‘I’ is but the continuous act of self-liberation from this impulse, never gaining a real freedom, because with the surcease of the impulse the ‘I’, whose being is its action, would also cease to be. Nor is the content produced by the action of the ‘I’ at all different from the ordinary content of experience, except by the supplementary remark, that this content is mere appearance.
Appearance, subjective idealism and the common man (Logic $131 p. 188)
In the history of Modern Philosophy, Kant has the merit of first rehabilitating this distinction between the common and the philosophic modes of thought. He stopped halfway, however, when he attached to Appearance a subjective meaning only, and put the abstract essence immovable outside it as the thing-in-itself beyond the reach of our cognition.
For it is the very nature of the world of immediate objects to be appearance only. Knowing it to be so, we know at the same time, the essence, which, far from staying behind or beyond the appearance, rather manifests its own essentiality by deposing the world to a mere appearance. One can hardly quarrel with the plain man who, in his desire for totality, cannot acquiesce in the doctrine of subjective idealism, that we are solely concerned with phenomena.
The plain man, however, in his desire to save the objectivity of knowledge, may very naturally return to abstract immediacy and maintain that immediacy to be true and actual. In a little work published under the title A Report, Clear as Day, to the Larger Public touching the Proper Nature of the Latest Philosophy: an Attempt to force the Reader to understand, Fichte examined the opposition between subjective idealism and immediate consciousness in a popular form, under the shape of a dialogue between the author and the reader, and tried hard to prove that the subjective idealist's view was right.
In this dialogue the reader complains to the author that he has completely failed to place himself in the idealist's position, and is inconsolable in the thought that things around him are not real things but mere appearances. The affliction of the reader can scarcely be blamed when he is expected to consider himself hemmed in by an impervious circle of purely subjective conceptions. Apart from this subjective view of Appearance, however, we have all reason to rejoice that the things which environ us are appearances and not steadfast and independent existences; since in that case we should soon perish of hunger, both bodily and mental.
Finite and infinite (Logic $94 p. 138)
No doubt philosophy has also sometimes been set the task of finding an answer to the question, how the infinite comes to the resolution of issuing out of itself. This question, founded, as it is, upon the assumption of a rigid opposition between finite and infinite, may be answered by saying that the opposition is false, and that in point of fact the infinite eternally proceeds out of itself, and yet does not proceed out of itself. If we further say that the infinite is the not-finite, we have in point of fact virtually expressed the truth: for as the finite itself is the first negative, the not-finite is the negative of that negation, the negation which is identical with itself and thus at the same time a true affirmation.
The infinity of reflection here discussed is only an attempt to reach the true infinity, a wretched neither-one-thing-nor-another. Generally speaking, it is the point of view which has in recent times been emphasised in Germany. The finite, this theory tells us, ought to be absorbed; the infinite ought not to be a negative merely, but also a positive. That ‘ought to be’ betrays the incapacity of actually making good a claim which is at the same time recognised to be right. This stage was never passed by the systems of Kant and Fichte, so far as ethics are concerned. The utmost to which this way brings us is only the postulate of a never-ending approximation to the law of Reason: which postulate has been made an argument for the immortality of the soul.
On the object and God (Logic $194 p. 260)
As Fichte in modern times has especially and with justice insisted, the theory which regards the Absolute or God as the Object and there stops, expresses the point of view taken by superstition and slavish fear. No doubt God is the Object, and, indeed, the Object out and out, confronted with which our particular or subjective opinions and desires have no truth and no validity. As absolute object, however, God does not therefore take up the position of a dark and hostile power over against subjectivity. He rather involves it as a vital element in himself. Such also is the meaning of the Christian doctrine, according to which God has willed that all men should be saved and all attain blessedness. The salvation and the blessedness of men are attained when they come to feel themselves at one with God, so that God, on the other hand, ceases to be for them mere object, and, in that way, an object of fear and terror, as was especially the case with the religious consciousness of the Romans. But God in the Christian religion is also known as Love, because in his Son, who is one with him, he has revealed himself to men as a man among men, and thereby redeemed them. All of which is only another way of saying that the antithesis of subjective and objective is implicitly overcome, and that it is our affair to participate in this redemption by laying aside our immediate subjectivity (putting off the old Adam), and learning to know God as our true and essential self.
Just as religion and religious worship consist in overcoming the antithesis of subjectivity and objectivity, so science too and philosophy have no other task than to overcome this antithesis by the medium of thought. The aim of knowledge is to divest the objective world that stands opposed to us of its strangeness, and, as the phrase is, to find ourselves at home in it: which means no more than to trace the objective world back to the notion - to our innermost self. We may learn from the present discussion the mistake of regarding the antithesis of subjectivity and objectivity as an abstract and permanent one. The two are wholly dialectical. The notion is at first only subjective: but without the assistance of any foreign material or stuff it proceeds, in obedience to its own action, to objectify itself. So, too, the object is not rigid and processless. Its process is to show itself as what is at the same time subjective, and thus form the step onwards to the idea. Any one who, from want of familiarity with the categories of subjectivity and objectivity, seeks to retain them in their abstraction will find that the isolated categories slip through his fingers before he is aware, and that he says the exact contrary of what he wanted to say.
Sections of Fichte
(Fichte to Jacobi, In Logic p. 305
“My absolute Ego is obviously not the individual: that explanation comes from injured snobs and peevish philosophers, seeking to impute to me the disgraceful doctrine of practical egoism. But the individual must be deduced from the absolute ego. To that task my philosophy will proceed in the “Natural Law”. A finite being – it may be deductively shown –can only think itself as a sense-being in a sphere of sense beings, on one part of which (that which has no power of origination) it has causality, while the other part (to which it attributes a subjectivity like its own) it stands in reciprocal relations). In such circumstances it is called an individual, and the conditions of individuality are called rights. As surely as it affirms its individuality, so surely does it affirm such a sphere – the two conceptions indeed are convertible. So long as we look upon ourselves as individuals – and we always so regard ourselves in life, though not in philosophy and abstract imagination – we stand on what I call the ‘practical’ point of view in our reflections (while to the standpoint of the absolute ego I give the name ‘speculative’). From the former point of view there exists for us a world independent of us – a world we can only modify; while the pure ego (which even on this altitude does not altogether disappear from us) is put outside us and called God. How else could we get the properties we ascribe to God and deny to ourselves, did we not after all find them within us, and only refuse them to ourselves in a certain respect, i.e. as individuals? When this ‘practical’ point of view predominates in our reflections, realism is supreme: when speculation itself deduces and reorganizes that standpoint, there results a complete reconciliation between philosophy and common sense as premised in my system.
For what good, then, is the speculative standpoint and the whole of philosophy therewith, if it be not for life? Had humanity not tasted of this forbidden fruit, it might dispense with all philosophy. But in humanity there is a wish implanted to behold that region lying beyond the individual; and to behold it not merely in a reflected light but face-to-face. The first who raised a question about God’s existence broke through the barriers, he shook humanity in its main foundation pillars, and threw it out of joint into an intense strife which is not yet settled, and which can only be settled by advancing boldly to that supreme point from which the speculative and the practical appear to be at one. We began to philosophise from pride of heart, and thus lost our innocence, we beheld our nakedness, and ever since we philosophise from the need of our redemption’
Ego, non-ego and Anstoss (From Fichte’s Werke quoted in Logic (Wallace) p. 314-5))
“The principle of life and consciousness, the ground of its possiblity, is certainly contained in the Ego: yet by this means there arises no actual life, no empirical life in time – and another life is for us utterly unthinkable. If such an actual life is to be possible, there is still need for that a special impulse (anstoss) striking the Ego from the Non-ego. According to my system, therefore, the ultimate ground of all actuality for the Ego is an original action and reaction between the Ego and something outside it, of which all that can be said is that it must be completely opposed to the Ego. In this reciprocal action nothing is brought into the Ego, nothing foreign imported; everything that is developed from it ad infinitum is developed from it solely according to its own laws. The Ego is merely put in motion by that opposite, so as to act; and without such a first mover it would never have acted; and, as its existence consists merely in action, it would not even have existed. But the source of motion has no further attributes than to set in motion, to be an opposing force which as such is only felt.”
“My philosophy therefore is realistic. It shows that the consciousness of finite natures cannot at all be explained, unless we assume a force existing independently of them, and completely opposed to them – on which as regards their empirical existence they are dependent. But it asserts nothing further than such an opposed force, which is merely felt, but not cognised, by finite beings. All possible specifications of this force or non-ego, which may present themselves ad infinitum in our consciousness, my system engages to deduce from the specifying faculty of the Ego.”
Absolute totality (p. 300- 301)
“The ground of all certainty, of all consciousness of fact in life, and of all demonstrative knowledge in science, is this: In and with the single thing we affirm (and whatever we affirm is necessarily something single) we also affirm the absolute totality as such…only in so far as we have so affirmed anything, is it certain for us – from the single unit we have comprehended under it away to everything single thing in the infinity we shall comprehend under it, from the one individual who has comprehended it to all individuals who will comprehend it…without this absolute ‘positing’ of the absolute totality in the individual, we cannot (to employ a phrase of Jacobi’s) come to be and board”
“Obviously therefore you enunciate not the judgement of a single observation, but you embrace and ‘posit’ the sheer infinitude and totality of all possible observations – an infinity which is not at all compounded out of finites, but out of which, converesely, the finites themseves issue, and of which finite things are the mere always-uncompleted analysis. This – how shall I call it, procedure, positing, or whatever you prefer – this ‘manifestation’ of the absolute totality, I call intellectual vision. I regard it – just because I cannot in any way get beyond intelligence – as immanent in intelligence, and name it so far egoity (Ichheit), not objectivity and not subjectivity, but the absolute identity of the two: an egoity, however, which it was to be hoped would not be taken to mean individuality…”