Fichte: Freedom, Philosophy, and the Self
In the fevered aftermath of the French Revolution, Johann Gottlieb Fichte developed his philosophy as a “system of freedom” which “first establishes man as an independent being.” Taking his inspiration from Kant’s transcendental philosophy, Fichte’s philosophy is indeed the intellectual bridge between Enlightenment thought and the post-Kantian systems of Schelling and Hegel. He developed a revolutionary metaphysical theory of subjectivity and self-consciousness—of what he called the “self-positing I”—which aimed to unify our cognitive and conative capacities, knowing and willing, theory and practice, into a self-grounding and self-sufficient system of human reason and freedom. Radical in its time, Fichte’s idealism continues to incite intense philosophical debate. Can consciousness be grounded in nothing other than itself? How can we reconcile human freedom with a world of causally determined objects? And if humans are free, why are they bound morally to respect the freedom of others? What is the nature of human dignity? What is the meaning of recognition?
In this course we will survey Fichte’s groundbreaking philosophical works of the 1790’s from the earliest elaboration of his system in the Foundation of the Entire Science of Knowledge to his exploration of morality in The System of Ethics. We’ll be concerned to understand Fichte’s thought on its own terms as well as the ways in which it served to inspire both the Jena Romantics like Novalis and the Schlegel brothers and the later German Idealists like Schelling and Hegel. Among other things, we will ask: How does Fichte’s theory of the “self-positing I” develop out of Kant’s conception of transcendental subjectivity? How does he attempt to unify reason in both its theoretical and practical employments? Is Hegel’s critique of Fichtean idealism as overly “subjective” fair? How does his moral and political philosophy expand his conception of the self to include intersubjectivity and interpersonal relations? What is his understanding of the relation between the individual I and (to paraphrase Günther Zöller) the “other I” and the “collective I”—that is, the You and the We?
Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ETJanuary 30 — February 20, 2024