Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 May 2021
This chapter deals with Fichte’s distinction between “formal” freedom and “material” freedom, on which hardly any interpretive consensus has been reached. The chapter argues that formal freedom is characteristic of the unconditioned, spontaneous activity of the I as such, that is, of the “pure I”: it underlies and makes possible both the freedom of conscious reflection and the freedom of practical willing and acting, including the freedom to determine not only the means toward one’s ends but also these ends themselves. The latter constitutes full material freedom. However, these two senses admit of different degrees, and Fichte himself is committed to the view that reaching full material freedom depends on a process of ongoing cultivation. In this process, the chapter argues, one achieves concrete material freedom of choice only by reflecting upon one’s own underlying formal freedom as an I.
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