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Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) was the founding figure of the philosophical movement known as German idealism, a branch of thought which grew out of Kant's critical philosophy. Fichte's work formed the crucial link between eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought and philosophical, as well as literary, Romanticism. Some of his ideas also foreshadow later nineteenth- and twentieth-century developments in philosophy and in political thought, including existentialism, nationalism and socialism. This volume offers essays on all the major aspects of Fichte's philosophy, ranging from the successive versions of his foundational philosophical science or Wissenschaftslehre, through his ethical and political thought, to his philosophies of history and religion. All the main stages of Fichte's philosophical career and development are charted, and his ideas are placed in their historical and intellectual context. New readers will find this the most convenient and accessible guide to Fichte currently available. Advanced students and specialists will find a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of Fichte.
Reflection upon the relationship between the essence, the being, and the form of absolute identity reveals a crucial difference between the essential qualitative indifference of subjective and objective factors in absolute identity considered with respect to its Wesen or essence and the quantitative difference of these same factors that is implicit in its very form or mode of being. The uncompromising abolition of the opposition between thought and being, which is and has always been the goal of both theoretical cognition and practical striving is the starting point of F.W.J. Schelling's new Philosophy of Identity. Philosophy displays the same unity that mathematics does, the unity of the finite and the infinite, of being and of thinking, but it has the more difficult task of intuiting this unity immediately in the essence of the eternal itself and exhibiting it in reason.
This chapter draws on Kant's key term, “critique”, and its relation to Kant's central concern with the possibility of knowledge and the status of metaphysics in order to present the basic character, the overall orientation and the general strategy of Kant's mature work in theoretical philosophy. In line with the introductory intent of the chapter, Kant's train of thoughts is not presented in its intricate details and technical terminology but in the form of a broadly conceived argumentative reconstruction of Kant's project that seeks to avoid partisan interpretations and is intentionally kept free of scholarly discussions, interpretive controversies and exegetical minutiae.
The primary texts underlying the portrayal of Kant's critical stand on knowledge and metaphysics are the prefaces and introductions of the first and second editions of the Critique of Pure Reason (CpR A vii–xxii and 1–16; CpR B vii–xliv and 1–30) along with §14 of the first Critique (contained in both editions of the work but so numbered only in the second one; CpR A 92–4; CpR B 124–9) and the introduction along with §§57–60, entitled “On the Determination of the Boundary of Pure Reason”, of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (4:350–65), a popularly cast companion piece that Kant published between the first and the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. For the Prolegomena, refer to Kant (2004a).
In 1785 the German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86) published his last work to appear during his lifetime, Morgenstunden oder Vorlesungen über das Daseyn Gottes (Morning Hours or Lectures on the Existence of God). As Mendelssohn himself conceded in the Preface, the work was written in virtual ignorance of the recent writings in metaphysics, including the critique of traditional metaphysics by the “all-crushing Kant” (des alles zermalmendenen Kant). Mendelssohn's apparently anachronistic attempt at a demonstration of the existence of a personal God by rational means belongs into the specific context of an intellectual dispute that shook the German lands in the 1780s.
In 1783 the writer and philosopher, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819), had stated in a communication to Mendelssohn, which he made public in 1785, that the writer and philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–81), had confessed to Jacobi toward the end of his life to not being able to believe in a personal God any longer and to have become a pantheist or Spinozist. Jacobi considered Lessing's confession as evidence of the impossibility to safeguard the belief in a personal God by rational means and sought support for his own theistic religious convictions in a leap of faith that defied reason. Confronted with the dilemma of Lessing's alleged pantheistic atheism and Jacobi's professed irrationalist fideism, Mendelssohn retreated in Morning Hours to the very position of a rationalist theism that had been rendered obsolete by Kant's principal limitation of valid theoretical cognition to objects of sense and specifically by his systematic refutation of the traditional rationalist arguments for the existence of a personal God.
Occasioned by the reception of his earlier essay, Of the Different Races of Human Beings (1775, 2nd edn. 1777), which is also contained in the present volume, Kant's second essay on the natural history of the human species, entitled Bestimmung des Begriffs einer Menschenrace (Determination of the Concept of a Human Race), appeared in November 1785 in issue no. 11 of the Berlinische Monatsschrift (Berlin Monthly), pp. 390–417. While Kant's earlier essay had addressed the unity of the human species and its differentiation into subspecies (“races”) in a fairly detailed geographical context, his second essay on the same topics focuses on conceptual issues and stresses that the elucidation of a concept such as that of a human race cannot be based on observation alone but needs to be guided by a preliminary determination of what to look for.
Kant's methodological clarification and the corresponding alternative presentation of his earlier account of the natural history of the human species in the second essay seek to redress the one-sided reception of the first essay, which had concentrated exclusively on Kant's hypothetical account of the actual differentiation of the human species over time and space and neglected to pay attention to his chief philosophical concern with developing the very concept of a subspecies – as possessing physical characteristics that are passed on unfailingly both within one and the same subspecies and across different subspecies.
After Of the Different Races of Human Beings (1775; 2nd edn 1777) and Determination of the Concept of a Human Race (1785), both of which are contained in the present volume, Kant published his third and final essay on the natural history of the human species, entitled Über den Gebrauch teleologischer Principien in der Philosophie, in January and February of 1788 in the Teutscher Merkur (German Mercury), issues nos. 1 and 2 (1st quartal, pp. 36–52 and pp. 107–36). The immediate occasion was the publication of an essay in the same journal in two installments in the fall of the previous year (October 1786, pp. 57–86 and November 1786, pp. 150–66), entitled Noch etwas über die Menschenracen. An Herrn Dr. Biester (Something Further on the Human Races. To Dr. Biester). The author of the critical essay was Georg Forster (1754–94), who had accompanied his father, Johann Reinhold Forster, on Captain James Cook's second voyage around the world in 1772–5, later assumed a professorship in natural history in Vilnius, Lithuania (at the time part of the Russian Empire) and who had moved to Mainz, Germany, in late 1788, where he was to turn into a fervent supporter of the French revolution. Forster's essay contained objections to Kant's concept of a human race, along with a mention of and two passing references to Kant's slightly earlier essay, Conjectural Beginning of Human History (1786), which had also appeared in the Teutscher Merkur and which is also contained in the present volume.