Hegel. The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy

Exposition of Fichte’s System

The foundation of Fichte’s system is intellectual intuition, pure thinking of itself, pure self-consciousness, Ego = Ego, I am. The Absolute is Subject-Object, and the Ego is this identity of subject and object.[1]

In ordinary consciousness the Ego occurs in opposition. Philosophy must explain this opposition to an object. To explain it means to show that it is conditioned by something else and hence that it is appearance. Now, if empirical consciousness is shown to be completely grounded in, and not just conditioned by, pure consciousness, then their opposition is suspended as long as the explanation is otherwise completely shown – i.e., as long as it is not merely a partial identity of pure and empirical consciousness that has been shown. The identity is only a partial one if there remains an aspect of the empirical consciousness in which it is not determined by the pure consciousness, but is unconditioned. And as only pure consciousness and empirical consciousness are presented as the elements of the highest opposition, pure consciousness itself would then be determined and conditioned by the empirical consciousness so far as this was unconditioned. The relation would in this way be a sort of reciprocal relation, comprised of a mutual determining and being determined. It presupposes, however, an absolute opposition of the reciprocally effective terms; and then it would be impossible to suspend their dichotomy in absolute identity.[2]

For the philosopher, this pure consciousness originates because he abstracts in his thinking from all the extraneous things that are not Ego and holds on only to the connection of subject and object. In empirical intuition, subject and object are opposites; the philosopher apprehends the activity of intuiting, he intuits intuiting and thus conceives it as an identity. This intuiting of intuiting is, on the one hand, philosophical reflection and as such opposed both to ordinary reflection and to the empirical consciousness in general which does not raise itself above itself and its oppositions. On the other hand, this transcendental intuition is at the same time the object of philosophical reflection; it is the Absolute, the original identity. The philosopher has risen into freedom and to the standpoint of the Absolute.

His task is now to suspend the apparent opposition of transcendental and empirical consciousness; and, in general terms, this is done by deducing the latter from the former. Of necessity, the deduction cannot be a transition to something alien. Transcendental philosophy aims just to construct the empirical consciousness not from a principle external to it, but from an immanent principle, as an active emanation or self-production of the principle. Something that is not constructed out of pure self-consciousness can no more occur in empirical consciousness than pure consciousness can be distinct in its essence from empirical consciousness. They are distinct in form, in just this way: what appears to empirical consciousness as object opposed to the subject, will be posited, in the intuition of this empirical intuiting, as identical. Thus empirical consciousness will be made whole by that which constitutes its essence even though it has no consciousness of this essence.

This task can also be expressed as follows: philosophy is to suspend pure consciousness as concept. When it is placed in opposition to empirical consciousness, intellectual intuition, the pure thinking of itself, appears as concept, that is to say, it appears as an abstraction from the whole manifold, from all inequality of subject and object. Of course, intellectual intuition is nothing but pure activity, doing, intuiting; it is only present in the pure spontaneity which produced it and which it produces.[3] The act tears itself away from everything empirical, manifold, and opposite; it lifts itself to the unity of thinking, to Ego = Ego, to the identity of subject and object. But it has an aspect of opposition still; it is opposed to other acts. So it is capable of being determined as a concept, and it shares with its opposites a common higher sphere, the general sphere of thinking. Besides the thinking of itself, there is still other thinking, besides self-consciousness there is still a manifold of empirical consciousness, besides the Ego as object there is a variety of other objects of consciousness. The act of self-consciousness differs decisively from all other consciousness in that its object is the same as the subject. Ego = Ego is in this regard opposed to an infinite objective world.

Transcendental intuition fails to produce philosophical knowledge in this way. On the contrary, philosophical knowledge becomes impossible when reflection gets control of transcendental intuition, opposed it to other intuitings, and holds fast to this opposition. This absolute act of free self-activity is the condition of philosophical knowledge, but it is not yet philosophy itself. Philosophy posits the objective totality of empirical knowledge as identical with pure self-consciousness, so that the latter becomes totally suspended as concept or opposite, and with it the former too. It is asserted that the only consciousness that exists is pure consciousness, Ego = Ego is the Absolute; all empirical consciousness is taken to be nothing but a pure product of Ego = Ego, and it is flatly denied that empirical consciousness is, or originates, an absolute duality, or that a positing could occur in it that would not be the positing of an Ego for and by the Ego. With the Ego’s self-positing everything is posited and outside of it nothing. The identity of pure and empirical consciousness is not an abstraction from their original opposition. On the contrary, their opposition is an abstraction from their original identity.

Intellectual intuition is herewith posited as identical with everything, it is the totality. This identity of all empirical consciousness with pure consciousness is knowledge, and philosophy, knowing this identity, is the science of knowledge. Philosophy must show that empirical consciousness in all its manifoldness is identical with pure consciousness, and it must show this by its deed, through the real evolution of the objective out of the Ego.[4] Philosophy must describe the totality of empirical consciousness as the objective totality of self-consciousness. The whole variety of knowledge is given to philosophy in Ego = Ego. To mere reflection this deduction appears as the contradictory enterprise of deducing the manifold from unity, duality from pure identity. But the identity of the Ego = Ego is no pure identity, that is, it does not arise through reflective abstraction. If reflection conceives of Ego = Ego as unity, it must at the same time conceive of it as duality. Ego = Ego is both identity and duplication at once: there is an opposition in Ego = Ego. Ego is subject on the one hand and object and the other. But what is set against the Ego is itself Ego; the opposites are identical. Hence, empirical consciousness cannot be viewed as stepping out of pure consciousness. If it were so viewed, then, of course, a science of knowledge starting from pure consciousness would be nonsensical. The basis of the view that empirical consciousness has stepped right out of pure consciousness is the above abstraction in which reflection isolates its opposites. Reflection as intellect is in and of itself incapable of grasping transcendental intuition; and even if Reason has pushed through to self-cognition, reflection will, if it is given leeway, invert the rational into something opposite once more.

So far, we have described the purely transcendental side of the system, the side where reflection is powerless, but where Reason determines and describes the task of philosophy. Because of this genuinely transcendental aspect, it is all the more difficult either to apprehend the point of departure of that other side where reflection governs, or to hold on to it [as a whole]. For the retreat to the transcendental side remains always open for the propositions of the intellect into which reflection has inverted the rational. What we have to show, then, is that reflection does not have a subordinate place in the system, and that [on the contrary] the two standpoints, that of speculation and that of reflection, are absolutely necessary and without union at the center of the system. – In other words, Ego = Ego is the absolute principle of speculation, but the system does not display this identity. The objective Ego does not become identical with the subjective Ego; they remain absolutely opposed to one another. The Ego does not find itself in its appearance, or in its positing; it must annul its appearance in order to find itself as Ego. The essence of the Ego and its positing do not coincide: Ego does not become objective to itself.

In the Science of Knowledge Fichte has chosen to present the principle of his system in the form of basic propositions. We have already enlarged upon the awkwardness of this approach.[5] The first basic proposition is absolute self-positing of the Ego, the Ego as infinite positing. The second is absolute oppositing, or positing of an infinite non-Ego. The third is the absolute unification of the first two by way of an absolute dividing (Teilen) of the Ego and non-Ego and an apportioning (Verteilen) of the infinite sphere between a divisible Ego and divisible non-Ego. These three absolute basic principles set forth three absolute acts of the Ego. From this plurality of absolute acts it follows immediately that these acts and the principles are only relative. That is to say, the three acts, to the extent that they enter into the construction of the totality of consciousness, are merely ideal factors. Counterposed as it is to other absolute acts, Ego = Ego simply means pure consciousness as opposed to empirical consciousness. As such it is conditioned by abstraction from empirical consciousness, and the first basic proposition is as much a conditioned proposition as the second and the third. The very plurality of absolute acts immediately indicates this even if their content were entirely unknown. But it is quite unnecessary to comprehend Ego = Ego, the absolute self-positing, as something conditioned. On the contrary, we have viewed it above[6] in its transcendental significance as absolute identity (and not merely as an identity of the intellect). But in this form in which Ego = Ego is established as only one of several principles, it has no other meaning that that of pure consciousness as opposed to empirical consciousness, of philosophical reflection as opposed to common reflection.

[One might argue that] it is only for the sake of philosophical reflection that [Fichte] posits these ideal factors, that is, the pure positing and the pure oppositing. The point of departure for philosophical reflection is, to be sure, absolute identity; but precisely in order to describe the true essence of this identity, this reflection begins by setting forth absolute opposites and binds them together to form the antinomy; and this is the only way in which reflection can expound the Absolute, in order to take absolute identity out of the sphere of concepts at once, and to constitute it as an identity that does not abstract from subject and object but is the identity of subject and object. This identity cannot be so grasped that the pure self-positing and the pure oppositing are both activities of one and the same Ego. For then it would most assuredly not be a transcendental identity, but a transcendent one, in which the absolute contradiction of the opposites would be meant to subsist, and their union would be reduced to a union in the generic concept of activity. What is required is a transcendental union in which the contradiction of the two activities is itself suspended and a true synthesis, both real and ideal at once, is constructed out of the ideal factors. The third basic proposition gives this transcendental union: the Ego posits, within the Ego, a divisible non-Ego as opposed to a divisible Ego.[7] The infinite objective sphere, the opposite, is neither absolute Ego nor absolute non-Ego. Rather, it is that which envelops the opposites, that which is filled out by opposite factors whose relation is this: to the degree that the one is posited, the other is not; so far as the one rises, the other falls.

In this synthesis, however, the objective Ego is not identical with the subjective Ego. The subjective Ego is ego, the objective is Ego + non-Ego. This synthesis is not an exposition of the original identity: pure consciousness, Ego = Ego, and empirical [consciousness], Ego = Ego + non-Ego, with all the forms in which the latter constructs itself, remain opposites. The incompleteness of this synthesis expressed by the third basic proposition is necessary if the acts of the first and second basic propositions are activities absolutely opposed one to the other; or in other words, no synthesis is basically possible at all. The synthesis is possible only if the activities of positing and of oppositing are posited as ideal factors. But it certainly does seem to be self-contradictory to treat activities that are quite strictly not supposed to be concepts, simply as ideal factors. It makes no difference either in itself or with respect to a system whose principle is Identity, whether what is to be united, Ego and non-Ego, the subjective and the objective, are expressed as activities – positing and oppositing – or as products – objective Ego and non-Ego. Their being characterized as absolutely opposed to each other stamps them immediately as something merely ideal, and Fichte does recognize their pure ideality. He takes the opposites to be entirely different before the synthesis from what they are after the synthesis. Before the synthesis they are supposed to be “merely opposites and nothing else; the one is what the other is not, and the other is what the one is not [..] a mere thought without any reality and what is worse, a thought of mere reality.[8] As one comes in, the other goes out. But the one can only come in with the predicate of being the contrary of the other. Hence, where the one concept comes in, the other one comes in too, and nullifies it. So not even this one can come in, and nothing at all is present.” Only “a beneficent deception of the imagination, which foisted a substratum upon the mere opposites, without being noticed” made it possible to think about them.[9]

It follows from the ideality of the opposite factors that they are nothing apart from the synthetic activity; only the latter posits them and their being opposite,[10] and their opposition is used only for the purpose of philosophical construction in order to make the synthetic faculty understandable. Productive imagination would be absolute identity itself, absolute identity represented as activity which, simply by positing the product, the boundary, posits at the same time the opposites as the bounding agents. It would only be valid to conceive the imagination as a synthetic faculty conditioned by opposites from the standpoint of reflection, which begins from the opposites and conceives intuition only as their union. But, in order to characterize this view as a subjective one pertaining to reflection, philosophical reflection would simultaneously have to establish the transcendental standpoint by recognizing that with respect to the absolute identity those absolutely opposed activities are nothing but ideal factors, thoroughly relative identities. In the absolute identity empirical consciousness is no less suspended than its antithesis, pure consciousness, which, as abstraction from the empirical, has an antithesis in it. It is only in this sense that the Ego is the transcendental center of both opposed activities and indifferent toward both. Their absolute opposition is significant only with respect to their ideality.

However, the synthesis expressed in the third proposition is imperfect. The objective Ego here is an Ego + non-Ego. This in itself already arouses the suspicion that the opposed activities [of the first two basic propositions] are not to be taken merely as relative identities, as ideal factors; though they can be so regarded if one considers only their relation to the synthesis, and abstracts from the title of absoluteness that both activities carry with them just as the third one does.

This, however, is not the relation which the self-positing and the oppositing are meant to have mutually and towards the synthetic activities. Ego = Ego is absolute activity; in no respect shold it be regarded as relative identity and as ideal factor. To the Ego = Ego a non-Ego is something absolutely opposed. Yet their union is necessary, and is the unique concern of speculation.[11] What union is possible, though, once absolute opposites are presupposed? Strictly speaking none at all, obviously. Or [to put the point another way] since the absoluteness of their opposition must be removed at least partially, and the third basic proposition must necessarily come in, even where opposition remains basic, only a partial identity is possible. Absolute identity is, of course, the principle of speculation; but like its expression, Ego = Ego, this principle remains only the rule whole infinite fulfillment is postulated but no constructed in the system.

The main point must be to prove that self-positing and oppositing are activities absolutely opposed to one another within the system. Fichte does say this directly, in so many words.[12]But this absolute opposition is just meant to be the very condition which alone makes productive imagination possible. Productive imagination, however, is the Ego only as theoretical faculty which cannot raise itself above the opposition. For the practical faculty, the opposition falls away; and it is only the practical faculty that suspends it.[13] So [to prove our claim] we have to show that the opposition is absolute for the practical faculty too, and that even in the practical faculty Ego does not posit itself as Ego: on the contrary, here again the objective Ego is an Ego + non-Ego and the practical faculty does not penetrate to Ego = Ego. Putting it the other way round: the absoluteness of opposition emerges from the incompleteness of the highest synthesis offered in the system. Opposition is still present in the highest synthesis.

Dogmatic idealism maintains its monism (Einheit des Prinzips) by denying the object altogether: it posits one of the opposites, the subject in its determinateness, as absolute. Likewise, the dogmatism which in its pure form is materialism, denies the subjective. If it is only the need for an identity of this sort that lies at the basis of philosophizing – the need for an identity that can be brought to pass by denying, and absolutely abstracting from, one of the opposites – then it does not matter which of the two is denied, the subjective or the objective. Their opposition is in consciousness, and the reality of the objective, just as much as that of the subjective is founded in consciousness. Empirical consciousness offers no more and no less warrant for pure consciousness than for the thing in itself of the dogmatist. Neither the subjective nor the objective alone exhausts consciousness. The purely subjective is just as much an abstraction as the purely objective. Dogmatic idealism posits the subjective as the real ground of the objective, dogmatic realism the objective as the real ground of the subjective. Consistent realism denies consciousness as spontaneous self-positing activity altogether. But even when the object, which the realist takes to be the real ground of consciousness, is expressed as non-Ego = non-Ego, when he exhibits the reality of his object in consciousness, and is therefore validly challenged by the identity of consciousness as something absolute over and against his objective serialization of finites running on and on; then he must certainly abandon the form of his principle of pure objectivity. As soon as the realist admits that there is thinking, the analysis of thinking will lead to Ego = Ego. This is thinking expressed as a proposition; for thinking is a spontaneous activity of connecting opposites and the connection is the positing of the opposites as identical. Still, just as idealism validly asserts the unity of consciousness, so realism can validly assert its duality. The unity of consciousness presupposes a duality, connecting presupposes an oppositeness. Ego = Ego is opposed by an equally absolute proposition: the subject is not the same as the object. Both propositions are of the same rank.

Some of the forms in which Fichte has presented his system might mislead one into believing that it is a system of dogmatic idealism denying the opposite principle. Indeed, Reinhold overlooks the transcendental significance of the Fichtean principle which requires one to posit the difference of subject and object in Ego = Ego at the same time as their identity. He regards Fichte’s system as a system of absolute subjectivity, that is, a dogmatic idealism.[14] But precisely what distinguishes Fichte’s idealism is that the identity which it establishes is one that does not deny the objective but puts the subjective and the objective in the same rank of reality and certainty; and that pure and empirical consciousness are one. For the sake of the identity of subject and object I posit things outside myself just as surely as I posit myself. The things exist as certainly as I do. – But if the Ego posits things alone or itself alone – just one of the two terms or every both at once but separately – then the Ego will not, in the system, come to be Subject-Object to itself. True, the subjective is Subject-Object, but the objective is not. Hence subject is not equal to object.

As theoretical faculty, the Ego is unable to posit itself with perfect objectivity, and escape from the opposition. “Ego posits itself as determined by non-Ego"[15] is that part of the third basic proposition, whereby the Ego constitutes itself as intelligence.[16]Now, the objective world has shown itself to be [not a substance but] an accident of intelligence and the non-Ego, which intelligence posits itself as determined by, has shown itself to be something undetermined – every determination of it is a product of intelligence. But still, there remains one side of the theoretical faculty from which it is conditioned. To wit, the objective world, in its endless determinacy through intelligence, still remains a something for intelligence which is at the same time undetermined for it. The non-Ego has no positive character, to be sure; but it does have the negative character of being something other, i.e., something opposite in general. As Fichte expresses this: intelligence is conditioned by an impact, but the impact is in itself entirely undetermined.[17] Because the non-Ego expresses only the negative, something undetermined, even this character pertains to it only through the Ego’s positing. The Ego posits itself as not posited. The positing of the opposite in general, the positing of something that is absolutely undetermined by the Ego, is itself a positing of [and by] the Ego. In this move the immanence of the Ego even as intelligence is asserted in respect of its being conditioned by something other = X. But this only gives the contradiction another form; it has now become immanent itself. The Ego’s positing of the opposite and its positing of itself contradict each other, and the theoretical faculty is not able to extricate itself from this opposition which therefore remains absolute for it. Productive imagination is a hovering between absolute opposites; it can synthesize them at the boundary, but cannot unite their opposite ends.

Through the theoretical faculty, the Ego does not succeed in making itself objective to itself. It does not penetrate to Ego = Ego. Instead, the object originates for it as Ego plus non-Ego. Or in other words, pure consciousness is not shown to be equal to empirical consciousness.

The characteristics of a [Fichtean] transcendental deduction of an objective world can now be stated. Ego = Ego is the principle of speculation or of subjective philosophical reflection which is opposed to empirical consciousness. It must prove itself objective as the principle of philosophy, and the proof will consist in the suspending of its opposition to empirical consciousness. This suspension must occur when pure consciousness produces out of itself a manifold of activities that is identical with the manifold of empirical consciousness. Thus Ego = Ego would show itself to be the immanent real ground of the totality of objects in their externality to one another (des Aussereinander der Objektivität). In empirical consciousness, however, there is an opposite, an X; and pure consciousness, since it is a positing of itself, can neither produce this X from itself nor conquer it; instead, it must presuppose it. The question is this: is it the case that the absolute identity, insofar as it appears as theoretical faculty, cannot abstract entirely from subjectivity and from the opposition to empirical consciousness? Within the sphere of the theoretical faculty can it not become objective to itself, A = A? Our own answer must be: No.] For this theoretical faculty, the Ego positing itself as Ego determined by the non-Ego is not a purely immanent sphere at all. Even within it every product of the Ego is also something not determined by the Ego. In so far as it produces the manifold of empirical consciousness out of itself, pure consciousness appears for this reason with the character of defectiveness. This primordial defectiveness of pure consciousness is accordingly what constitutes the possibility of a deduction of the objective world in general, and in the deduction the subjectivity of pure consciousness becomes most clearly apparent. The Ego posits an objective world because in positing itself it recognizes its own defectiveness, and consequently the absoluteness of pure consciousness falls away. The relation that is taken to hold between objective world and self-consciousness is that the former is the condition of the latter. Pure consciousness and empirical consciousness condition one another mutually, one is as necessary as the other. As Fichte puts it, the advance to empirical consciousness is made because pure consciousness is not a complete consciousness.[18] – In this reciprocal relation pure consciousness and empirical consciousness remain absolutely opposed. The identity which can come about is a highly incomplete and superficial one. Another identity is necessary, an identity which grasps both pure and empirical consciousness within itself and yet suspends them both as what they are.

We shall speak later of the form which the objective (or nature) gets in a deduction of this sort.[19] But the subjectivity of pure consciousness which results from the form of deduction that we have just discussed provides the key to another form of it, in which the production of the objective is taken as a pure act of free activity. If self-consciousness is conditioned by empirical consciousness, then empirical consciousness cannot be a product of absolute freedom. The free activity of the Ego would become only one factor in the construction of the intuition of an objective world. That the world is a product of the freedom of intelligence is the determinate and express principle of idealism. If Fichte’s idealism has not succeeded in constructing a system upon this principle the reason for its failure will be found in the characteristic way in which freedom appears in this system.

Philosophical reflection is an act of absolute freedom. It lifts itself out of the sphere of givenness by an act of absolutely free choice (mit absoluter Willkür) and produces consciously what, in the empirical consciousness, intelligence produces non-consciously so that it appears to be given. In the sense in which the manifold of necessary ideas arises for philosophical reflection as a system produced by freedom, the non-conscious production of an objective world is not asserted to be an act of freedom, for in this aspect empirical and philosophical consciousness are both the identity of self-positing. Self-positing, the identity of subject and object, is free activity.

In the above exposition of the production of the objective world out of pure consciousness or self-positing, an absolute positing of the opposite necessarily turned up.[20] If, now, the objective world is to be deduced as an act of freedom, this absolute positing of the opposite comes into view as a self-limiting of the Ego by itself; and productive imagination will be constructed from two factors, the indeterminate activity that moves toward the infinite, and the limiting activity that aims at finitization (Verendlichung). If the reflecting activity is likewise posited as an infinite one, then it, too, can be posited as an act of freedom, and the Ego limits itself freely. And it must be so posited because it is an ideal factor here, i.e., it is an absolute opposite. In this way, freedom and limit would not oppose each other, but would posit themselves as infinite – and as finite, which is just what appeared above as the opposition of the first and second basic proposition.[21] But now the limitation is something immanent, for it is the Ego that limits itself. The objects are only posited in order to explain this limitation; and the self-limiting of intelligence is the only real. Thus the absolute opposition which empirical consciousness set up between subject and object is suspended; but it is transferred in another form into intelligence itself, and intelligence finds itself closed in by incomprehensible limits;[22] its law of self-limitation is absolutely incomprehensible to it. Yet it is precisely the incomprehensibility for ordinary consciousness of the opposition present in it, that is the spur to speculation. But the incomprehensible element still remains in the system in the form of the limits posited by intelligence itself. Yet to break out of this circle is the sole concern of the philosophical need.-

If freedom is set up against the limiting activity as self-positing against oppositing, then freedom is conditioned, which must not happen; whereas if the limiting activity is posited as an activity of freedom [too] – as both self-positing and oppositing were transferred into the Ego above[23]- then freedom is absolute identity but it contradicts its appearance, which is always something that is not identical, something finite and unfree. In the system freedom does not succeed in producing itself; the product does not correspond to the producing. The system, which starts out from self-positing, leads intelligence to its conditioned condition in an endless sequence of finitudes, without reestablishing it [as self-positing] in and through them.

Speculation cannot completely reveal its principle, Ego = Ego, in non-conscious productive activity; the object of the theoretical faculty necessarily contains something not determined by the Ego. We are therefore directed to the practical faculty.[24] The Ego cannot succeed in positing itself as Ego = Ego or intuiting itself as Subject = Object through its non-conscious production; so the demand is still present that the Ego should produce itself practically as identity, as object. This supreme demand remains, in Fichte’s system, a demand. Not only is it not dissolved into an authentic synthesis, it is fixed in the form of a demand; so that the ideal is absolutely opposed to the real and the supreme self-intuition of the Ego and Subject-Object is made impossible.

It is impossible for the Ego to reconstruct itself out of the opposition between subjectivity and the X that originates for it in a non-conscious producing, and so becomes one with its appearance. This impossibility is what is expressed in the fact that the highest synthesis revealed in the system is an ought. Ego equals Ego turns into Ego ought to equal Ego. The result of the system does not return to its beginning.

The Ego ought to nullify the objective world, it ought to have absolute causality with respect to the non-Ego. This is found [by Fichte] to be contradictory, for it would imply suspending the non-Ego; and the positing of the opposite, the positing of a non-Ego, is absolute.[25] So, the connection of pure activity with an object can only be posited as striving.[26] Because it represents Ego = Ego, the objective Ego that equals the subjective Ego, has at the same time an oppositing, and hence a non-Ego opposed to itself. The former is the ideal, the latter is the real; and these two ought to be the same. This practical postulate of the absolute ought, expresses no more than the thought of a uniting of the opposition; it does not unite it in an intuition. It expresses only the antithesis between the first and second basic proposition.

At this point Ego = Ego has been abandoned by speculation and has fallen prey to reflection. Pure consciousness no longer functions as absolute identity; in its highest dignity it is [now] opposed to the empirical consciousness.

This makes the character of freedom in Fichte’s system clear: it is not the suspension of the opposites, but the opposition to them, and in this opposition it gets fixed as negative freedom. Reason constitutes itself through reflection as a unity that is absolutely opposed by a manifold. The ought expresses this standing opposition; it expresses the non-existence of the absolute identity. The pure positing, free activity, is posited as an abstraction, in the absolute form of something subjective. The transcendental intuition, from which the system starts, was, in the form of philosophical reflection which raises itself through absolute abstraction to the pure thinking of itself, something subjective. To get hold of transcendental intuition in its true formlessness it was necessary to abstract from this character of subjectivity; speculation had to detach this form from its subjective principle in order to raise this principle to the true identity of subject and object.[27] Instead, transcendental intuition as it pertains to philosophical reflection, and transcendental intuition as being neither subjective nor objective, still remain [in Fichte] one and the same. The Subject = Object does not get away anymore from difference and reflection. It remains a subjective Subject = Object to which appearance remains absolutely alien and which does not succeed in intuiting itself in its appearance.

The practical faculty of the Ego can no more achieve absolute self-intuition that its theoretical faculty could. Both alike are conditioned by an impact which, as a [brute] fact, cannot be derived from the Ego; the deduction of it amounts to a demonstration that it is the condition of the theoretical and practical faculty. The antinomy remains an antinomy and is expressed in striving, which is the ought as activity. Now there is no way in which reflection can get hold of the Absolute except by antinomy; but the antinomy we have here is not the form in which the Absolute appears to reflection. On the contrary, this antinomical antithesis is what is fixed, it is the Absolute. As activity, namely as striving, it is supposed to be supreme synthesis, and the Idea of the infinite is to remain an Idea in the Kantian sense, i.e., it is something absolutely opposed to intuition.

This absolute opposition of Idea and intuition, and their synthesis which is nothing but a self-destructive demand, since it postulates a union which still must not happen – all this is expressed in the infinite progress. Absolute opposition is thus shoved into the form it had at a lower standpoint which had for a long time passed current as the true suspension of opposition and the highest solution of the antinomy by Reason. Existence prolonged into eternity involves both the infinity of the Idea and intuition within itself, but in forms which make their synthesis impossible. The infinity of the Idea excludes all manifoldness. Time, on the contrary, immediately involves opposition, extraneousness (ein Aussereinander). What exists in time is something that is opposed to itself, a manifold; and infinity is outside of time. – Space is similarly a [realm of] posited self: externality (ein Aussersichgesetztsein), but because of its type of opposition it may be said to be an infinitely richer synthesis than time.[28] The preference that time acquires in that progress is supposed to take place in it, can only be grounded in the fact that striving is posited as something absolutely opposed to an outer world of sense and as something inward. Thus the Ego is hypostatized as absolute subject, as the unity of a point, and in popular parlance, as a soul. – [But] if time is to be totality, as infinite time, then time itself is suspended, and it was not necessary to take refuge in its name and in a progress of the lengthened existence. The true suspension of time is a timeless present, i.e. eternity, and in it striving falls away, and absolute opposition loses its standing. The lengthening of existence simply palliates the opposition in a synthesis of time, the poverty of which, instead of being fully supplied, just becomes more conspicuous as a result of this palliative union with an infinity that is absolutely opposed to it.

All the further developments of what is contained in the striving, and all the syntheses of the oppositions that arise from the development carry within them the principle of non-identity. The further working out of the system belongs as a whole to consistent reflection; speculation has no part in it. Absolute identity is present only in the form of an opposite, namely as Idea. The incomplete causal relation is the ground of every synthesis of the Idea with its opposite. The Ego that posits itself in opposition, or in other words limits itself, is called the subjective Ego; and the Ego that tends toward the infinite is called the objective Ego. The joining of the two consists in this: the self-determining of the subjective Ego is made in accordance with the Idea of the objective Ego, of absolute spontaneity, of infinity; and the objective Ego, absolute spontaneity, is determined according to this Idea by the subjective Ego. Their determination is reciprocal. The subjective, ideal Ego receives, so to speak, the material of its Idea from the objective Ego; that is to say, it receives absolute spontaneity, indeterminateness. On the other hand, the objective, real Ego, the Ego tending toward the infinite, is bounded by the subjective Ego. But since the subjective Ego does its determining according to the idea of infinity, it suspends the bounding once more. While it makes the objective Ego finite in its infinity, it simultaneously makes it infinite in its finitude. In this reciprocal determination the opposition of finitude and infinity, of real determination and ideal indeterminateness endures. Ideality and reality remain disunited. In other words, the Ego is both ideal and real activity, the distinction being merely a matter of direction; it has united these different directions in particular incomplete syntheses such as drive and feeling, as will be shown below;[29]but it does not achieve a complete exposition of itself in them. In the infinite progress of its lengthened existence it endlessly produces more parts of itself, but it never produces itself in the eternity of intuiting itself as Subject-Object.

The Ego remains a subjective Subject-Object because the subjectivity of transcendental intuition is held fast. This is most strikingly apparent in the relation of the Ego to nature.[30] We can see it both in the deduction of nature and in the sciences founded on that deduction.

Because the Ego is subjective Subject-Object, there is a side from which it continues to have an object that is absolutely opposed to it and from which it continues to be conditioned by the object. As we have seen, the dogmatic positing of an absolute object is transformed in this idealism into a self-limiting that is absolutely opposed to free activity.[31]This being posited by the Ego is the deduction of nature, and it is the transcendental viewpoint. We shall see how far it goes and what its significance is.

As condition of intelligence[32] [Fichte] postulates a primordial determination [i.e., limitation]. Because pure consciousness is not complete consciousness, this appeared above[33] as necessity to proceed towards empirical consciousness. The Ego is to bound itself absolutely, to oppose itself absolutely; it is subject, and the limit is in and through the Ego. This self-bounding becomes a bounding both of the subjective activity, that is, of intelligence, and of the objective activity. The bounded objective activity is drive;[34] the bounded subjective activity is the concept of purpose. The synthesis of this twofold determination is feeling. Feeling unites cognition and drive; but at the same time it is something merely subjective.[35]It appears, to be sure, as something in general determinate in antithesis to the indeterminate, the Ego = Ego, and indeed as something subjective in antithesis to the objective Ego. It appears as something finite in general, as against bot the infinite real activity and the ideal infinity, and in relation to the latter it appears as something objective. But [this Fichtean deduction does not work, for] in itself feeling is characterized as synthesis of the subjective and the objective, of cognition and drive, and because it is a synthesis, its antithesis to something indeterminate vanishes, whether the indeterminate opposite is an infinite objective or an infinite subjective one. Altogether, feeling is finite only from the point of view of reflection which produces this opposition of the infinite. In itself it is, like matter, something subjective and objective at the same time; it is identity insofar as identity has not reconstructed itself into totality.

Feeling as well as impulse appear as bounded, and “the manifestation of the bounded and the bounding in us is drive and feeling. The original and determinate system of drives and feelings is nature. Consciousness of them[36] obtrudes on us and, at the same time, the substance in which this system of boundaries is found is supposed to be the substance which freely thinks and wills, and which we posit as ourselves. So the nature that obtrudes is our nature."[37] and Ego and my nature constitute the subjective Subject-Object: my nature is itself in the Ego.

What have to be distinguished here, however, are two kinds of mediation of the opposition of nature and freedom, of the originally limited and the originally unlimited; and it is essential to show that mediation occurs [in these] in different ways. This will show us the distinction between the transcendental standpoint and the standpoint of reflection in a new form; it is because the latter displaces the former that there is a difference between the starting point of this system and its result.

On the one hand, [the starting point is] Ego = Ego; freedom and drive are one and the same. This is the transcendental standpoint. “Part of what pertains to me is to be possible only through freedom, while another part is to be independent of freedom, just as freedom is independent of it; yet the substance to which both [the free and the non-free] pertain is all one and the same and is so posited. I who feel and I who think, I who am driven and I who make a decision with free will, am one and the same."[38] – “From the transcendental standpoint, my drive as natural being, and my tendency as pure spirit are the basic basic drive (Urtrieb), the drive that constitutes my being; but it is viewed from two distinct aspects;"[39] the distinction exists only in appearance.

On the other hand, [in the result] freedom and drive are distinct, one is the condition of the other, one dominates over the other. Nature as impulse must, of course, be thought as determining itself through itself; “but it is characterized by its antithesis to freedom. [...] Nature determines itself must be translated into, nature is determined by its essence, formaliter, to determine itself; nature can never be indeterminate, as a free being can very well be; and materialiter too, nature is determined [to determine itself] just in one way and no other; unlike a free being, it does not have the choice between a certain determination and its opposite."[40] The synthesis of nature and freedom provides now the following reconstruction of identity out of dichotomy into totality: I, as intelligence, as the undetermined – and I who am driven, Ego as nature, as the determined, shall become the same through the raising of impulse into consciousness. For then drive “comes within my control. [...] In the region of consciousness the drive does not act at all; I act or do not act according to it."[41] – That which reflects is higher than what is reflected: the drive of him who does the reflective that is, of the subject of consciousness, is called the higher drive.[42] The lower drive, that is, nature, must be placed in subservience to the higher, that is, to reflection. This relation of subservience which one appearance of the self has to the other is to be the highest synthesis.

However, this latter identity and the identity of the transcendental viewpoint are totally opposed one to the other. Within the transcendental scope Ego = Ego, that is to say, the Ego is posited in a relation of substantiality or at the least in a relation of reciprocity. By contrast in [Fichte’s] reconstruction of identity one Ego dominates and the other is dominated; the subjective is not equal to the objective. They stand in a relation of causality instead; one of them goes into servitude, and the sphere of necessity is subordinated to that of freedom. Thus the end of the system is untrue to its beginning, the result is untrue to its principle. The principle was Ego = Ego; the result is Ego not = Ego. The former identity is an ideal-real one; form and matter are one. The latter is merely ideal, form and matter are divided; the identity is a merely formal synthesis.

This synthesis by way of domination comes about as follows. Pure drive aims at determining itself absolutely toward activity for the sake of activity. It is confronted by an objective drive, a system of limitations. In the union of freedom and nature, freedom surrenders some of its purity, and nature some of its impurity. In order for the synthetic activity to be pure and infinite still, it must be thought as an objective activity whose final purpose is absolute freedom, absolutely independence from all of nature. This final purpose can never be achieved; [it turns into] an infinite series through whose continuation the Ego would become absolutely equal to Ego.[43] Or in other words, the Ego suspends itself as object and therewith also as subject. But it should not suspend itself. There remains, then, for Ego only time, indefinitely extended, filled with limitations and quantities; our old friend the infinite progress must help out. Where one expects the supreme synthesis one finds always the same antithesis between a limited present and an infinity extraneous to it. Ego = Ego is the Absolute, is totality; there is nothing outside the Ego. In the system, however, the Ego does not get that far, and it never will, once time is to be mixed in; the Ego is absolutely infected with a non-Ego, and can only ever posit itself as a quantum of Ego.

It follows that both in the theoretical and in the practical respect Nature is something essentially determined and lifeless. In the theoretical aspect, nature is self-limitation intuited, that is to say, it is the objective side of self-limitation. Inasmuch as it is deduced as condition of self-consciousness, and posited in order to explain self-consciousness, nature is simply something that reflection posits for the sake of the explanation, it is a [merely] ideal result. Since self-consciousness is shown to be conditioned by nature, nature is accorded the dignity of an independent standing equal to that of self-consciousness; but its independence is nullified again, because it is only posited by reflection and its fundamental character is oppositeness.

In the practical respect, it is the same story. Here the terms of the synthesis are self-determination without consciousness and self-determination by way of a concept, i.e., of natural drive and the drive toward freedom for freedom’s sake.[44] In the synthesis nature becomes something that the causality of freedom produces as a real result. The outcome is that the concept is supposed to be causal with respect to nature, and nature is supposed to be posited as absolutely determined.

Reflection may set up its analysis of the Absolute wholly in terms of an antinomy. One term of this antinomy is the Ego, i.e., indeterminateness, or self-determination, and the other is the object, determinateness. Since reflection recognizes both terms as original, it asserts of both that they are relatively unconditioned, and so also relatively conditioned. But now reflection cannot get beyond this reciprocity of mutual conditioning. It reveals itself as Reason by establishing this antinomy of the unconditioned that is conditioned. For through this antinomy reflection points towards an absolute synthesis of freedom and natural impulse; and in doing so, it has not maintained but nullified the opposition and the standing of the two terms or of either of them, and it has not maintained but nullified [the claim] that it is itself the Absolute and the eternal; it has thrown itself into the abyss of its perfection. On the other hand, if reflection asserts that it itself and one of its opposites is the Absolute and if it holds fast to the relation of causality, then the transcendental viewpoint and Reason have succumbed to mere reflection and to the intellect; the intellect has succeeded in fixing the rational as an absolute opposite in the form of an Idea. For Reason itself nothing is left but the impotence of self-suspending requirements and the semblance of a formal mediation of nature and freedom by the intellect through the mere Idea of the suspension of the antitheses, the Idea of the independence of the Ego and of absolute determinacy of nature which is posited as something to be negated, something absolutely dependent. But the antithesis itself has not vanished. On the contrary, it has been made infinite; for as long as one of its terms has standing the other has too.

From this highest standpoint [of reflection] nature has the character of absolute objectivity, that is, of death; only from a lower standpoint does nature, as Subject-Object, have the semblance of life. Just as the Ego does not lose the form of its appearance as subject, when viewed from the highest standpoint [that Fichte reaches], so the character of nature as Subject-Object becomes a mere illusion, and absolute objectivity becomes its essence.

For nature is the non-conscious production by [or of] the Ego and [any] production by [or of] the Ego is a self -determining, so that nature itself is Ego, it is Subject-Object. “And just as my nature is posited, so there is also nature outside mine, for my nature is not the whole of nature [...] Nature outside myself [...] is posited in order to explain [...] my nature. Since my nature is determined as a drive, a determining of self by self, nature outside myself must also be determined in the same way, and this determination outside myself is the ground of the explanation of my nature."[45]

The products of reflection, such as cause and effect, whole and part, etc. must now be predicated in their antinomy of this [unconscious] determining of self by self. In other words, nature must be posited as cause and effect of itself, as being whole and part at once, etc. In this way nature takes on the semblance of being alive and organic.[46]

However, this standpoint of the faculty of reflecting judgment, from which the objective is characterized as something alive, turns out to be a lower standpoint.[47] For the Ego finds itself as nature only so far as it intuits just its original boundedness, and posits the absolute limitation of the basic drive objectively, or in other words when it posits itself objectively. From the transcendental standpoint, however, the Subject-Object is only acknowledged in pure consciousness, i.e., in unlimited self-positing; but this self-positing is confronted by an absolute positing of the opposite, which is thus determined as the absolute limit of the basic drive. Insofar as the Ego qua drive does not determine itself according to the Idea of infinity, and hence posits itself as finite, there is this finitude, there is nature;[48] [but the Ego] qua Ego is at the same time infinite and Subject-Object. Since the transcendental viewpoint posits only the infinite as Ego, it thereby separates the finite from the infinite. It extracts the subject-objectivity from what appears as nature, and there remains nothing to nature but the dead shell of objectivity. Nature, which was the finite-infinite before, is now deprived of its infinity and remains pure finitude opposed to Ego = Ego. What was Ego in it is pulled over to the subject. The transcendental viewpoint proceeds from the identity, Ego = Ego, in which there is neither subjective nor objective, to their differentiation, which continues to be [conceived] as oppositing contrasted with self positing, or with Ego = Ego; and as the transcendental viewpoint determines the opposites ever further, it, too, comes to a standpoint from which nature is posited for itself as Subject-Object. It should not be forgotten, however, that [for Fichte] this view of nature is only a product of reflection at a lower standpoint. In [his] transcendental deduction [of nature] the limits of the basic drive (posited as object, that is, nature) remains a pure objectivity absolutely opposed to the basic drive, the true being which is Ego = Ego, Subject = Object.

This opposition is the condition in virtue of which the Ego becomes practical: [for as practical] the Ego must suspend its opposite. The suspension is thought of in such a way that one of the opposites is made dependent on the other. With respect to the practical sphere, nature is posited as absolutely determined by the concept. Insofar as nature is not determined by the Ego, the Ego has no causality, in other words, it is not practical. The standpoint which posited nature as living, disappears again; for the essence, the In-itself of nature, must now be nothing but a limit, a negation. From this practical standpoint, Reason is nothing but the dead and death-dealing rule of formal unity, given over into the hands of reflection which puts subject and object into the relation of dependence of the one on the other, the relation of causality. So it comes about that the principle of speculation, identity, is wholly set aside.

In the exposition and deduction of nature, as it is given in [Fichte’s] System of Natural Law the absolute opposition of nature and Reason and the domination of reflection reveal themselves in all their harshness.[49]

For any rational being (Vernunftwesen) must take unto itself a sphere for its freedom; it ascribes this sphere to itself. But it is only by antithesis that it is itself this sphere; the sphere is constituted only insofar as the rational being posits itself exclusively in it, so that no other person can have any choice within it. In ascribing the sphere to itself, the rational being essentially sets it over against itself also. The subject qua the Absolute, spontaneously active, and determining itself to the thinking of an object – sets up its own sphere of freedom outside itself, and posits itself divorced from it. Its connection with its sphere is merely a having. The basic character of nature is to be a world of the organic being, an absolute opposite; the essence of nature is atomistic lifelessness,[50] matter more or less fluid, or more or less tough and durable, matter which is a variety of ways is reciprocally cause and effect.[51] The concept of reciprocity does little to the total opposition of that which is merely cause or merely effect. Matter now becomes mutually modifiable in a variety of ways, but even the force for this impoverished union lies outside matter. Both the independence of the parts in virtue of which they are supposed to be organic whole themselves, and the dependence of the parts on the whole, make up the teleological dependence on the concept; for the articulation [of matter] is posited in behalf of another being, the rational being who is essentially divorced from it. Air, light, etc. turn into atomistic, shapeable, moldable matter; and matter here is meant in a quite ordinary sense, i.e., it is something strictly opposed to that which posits itself.

By this route, Fichte comes closer than Kant to managing the antithesis of nature and freedom and exhibiting nature as an absolute effect and as dead. In Kant, too, nature is posited as absolutely determined. But it cannot be thought of as determined by what Kant calls understanding (Verstand),[52] for the variety of particular phenomena are left undetermined by our human discursive understanding; so they must be thought of as determined by another understanding. However, this determination by another understanding is to be taken merely as a maxim of our reflecting judgment.[53]Nothing is asserted about the actual existence of this other understanding. Fichte does not need this detour, this idea of a separate understanding that is other than human, in order to let nature become determined. Nature is determined immediately by and for intelligence.[54] The latter sets absolute limits to itself and this self-limiting cannot be derived from Ego = Ego. It can only be deduced from it:[55] its necessity is to be shown from the deficiency of pure consciousness. The intuition of this absolute limitedness of intelligence, of this negation, is objective nature.

Because of its consequences, nature’s relation of dependence on the concept, the opposition of [nature to] Reason, becomes even more striking in the two systems of the community of men.[56]

This community is conceived as a community of rational beings, a community forced to take the detour through the dominion of the concept. Any rational being has a double aspect for any other: (a) it is a free, rational being; (b) it is modifiable matter, something that can be treated as a mere thing (Sache).[57] This separation is absolute and once it has, in all its unnaturalness, been made basic, there is no longer the possibility of a pure mutual connection in which the original identity could present and recognize itself. Rather, every connection is one of dominating and being dominated according to the laws of a consistent intellect. The whole edifice of the community of living beings is built by reflection.

The community of rational beings appears as one conditioned by the necessary limitation of freedom; freedom gives itself the law of self-limitation.[58] This concept of limitation constitutes a realm of freedom where every truly free reciprocal relation of life, every relation that is infinite and unlimited for itself, that is to say, beautiful, is nullified; for the living [being] is rent into concept and matter and nature goes into servitude.

Freedom is the characteristic mark of rationality; it is that which in itself suspends all limitation, and it is the summit of Fichte’s system. In a community with others, however, freedom must be surrendered in order to make possible the freedom of all rational beings living in community. Conversely the community is a condition of freedom. So freedom must suspend itself in order to be freedom. This again makes it clear that freedom is here something merely negative, namely, absolute indeterminateness, i.e., it is a purely ideal factor as the self-positing was shown to be above:[59] freedom regarded from the standpoint of reflection. This freedom does not come upon itself as Reason, but as the rational being,[60] that is to say, in a synthesis with its opposite, a finite being. This synthesis of personality already includes the limitation of one of the ideal factors, which is what freedom here is. Reason and freedom in the rational being are no longer Reason and freedom but a singular entity. Hence the community of a person with others must not be regarded as a limitation of the true freedom of the individual but essentially as its enlargement. Highest community is highest freedom, both in terms of power and of its exercise. But it is precisely in this highest community that freedom as an ideal factor and Reason as opposed to nature disappear completely.

If the community of rational beings were essentially a limitation of true freedom, the community would be in and for itself the supreme tyranny. But only freedom as indeterminacy, and as ideal factor is being limited at this point [in Fichte], so that tyranny does not yet arise in the community directly from this idea by itself. But it does arise in the highest degree from the way that freedom is to be limited, in order to make possible the freedom of the other rational beings. For freedom is not supposed to lose, through the community, its form of being something ideal and opposite; on the contrary it is going to be fixed in this form and made dominant. Through a genuinely free community of living connections the individual renounces his indeterminacy [which is what Fichte calls] his freedom. In a living connection there is only freedom in the sense that it includes the possibility of suspending itself and entering into other connections. That is to say, freedom as an ideal factor, as indeterminacy, disappears. In a living relation, insofar as it is free, the indeterminate is nothing but the possible, it is neither something actual made dominant, nor a concept that commands. In the System of Natural Law, however, this suspension of indeterminacy is not what is understood as the freedom limitation of one’s freedom. On the contrary, when limitation by the common will is raised to the status of law and fixed as a concept, true freedom, the possibility of suspending a determinate connection, is nullified. The living connection can no longer be indeterminate, so it is no longer rational but absolutely determined and made fast by the intellect. Life has given itself up to servitude. Reflection dominates it and has gained the victory over Reason.

This state of indigence and necessity[61] is asserted to be natural law. The assertion does not, of course, carry any implication that the highest goal would be the suspension of this state and the construction through Reason of an organization of life free from all bondage to the concept, an organization that takes the place of this non-rational community of the intellect. On the contrary, the state of indigence and its infinite extension over all the stirrings of life is accepted as an absolute necessity. This community under the dominion of the intellect is not presented [by Fichte] as one that is bound to make it its supreme law to suspend this indigence of life in which it is placed by the intellect, and to suspend this endless determination and domination in the true infinity of a beautiful community where laws are made superfluous by customs, the excesses of an unsatisfied life of activities directed toward great objects. But instead the lordship of the concept and the bondage of nature are made absolute and extended infinitely.

The intellect is bound to fall into the making of endless determinations. This exhibits in the most direct way the defectiveness of its principle, which is domination through the concept. Even [Fichte’s] Need State[62] does entertain the aim of preventing its citizens from doing harm rather than avenging it when it is done. It follows that it must not only forbid the actual commission of offenses under [threat of] punishment, but it must obviate the possibility of offenses. And to this end it must prohibit “actions which, though they will hurt no one and seem entirely indifferent, will yet make the harming of others easier, and their protection or the discovery of the guilty more difficult."[63] Now, on the one hand, man submits to the State with no other desire but that of employing and enjoying his resources as freely as possible. But, on the other hand, there is simply no action at all from which the State could not with abstract consistency calculate some possible damage to others. And it is this endless possibility which the preventive intellect and its coercive authority, the police, have to deal with.[64] So in this Ideal of a State there is no doing or stirring that is not bound to be subject to some law, subject to direct supervision and duly noticed by the police and the rest of the rulers; so that “in a State whose constitution is established on this principle, [...] the police know pretty well where very citizen is at any time of day and what he is doing"* (see page 155 of the second part [of Fichte’s Natural Law]).[65\]

The determining and being determined are self-suspended in the infinity of the series to which they must proceed. The bounding of freedom must itself be infinite. This is the antinomy of a boundedness that is unbounded, in which the limitation of freedom and the State have disappeared. The theory has nullified its own principle, determination, by extending it to infinity.

[According to Fichte] ordinary States are inconsistent in that they extend their policing authority (Ober-Polizei-Recht) to just a few types of possible offenses. For the rest, they entrust the citizens to themselves. They do this in the hype that a citizen does not first have to be barred (beschränkt) from modifying another citizen’s modifiable matter through a concept and by means of a law. Yet every one of them could quite properly do so, for as a rational being he must in conformity with this freedom posit himself as determining the non-Ego and ascribe to himself the faculty of modifying matter in general. Imperfect States are imperfect because they must fix some antithesis or other; they are inconsistent because they do not follow their [chosen] antithesis through all [social] ties. But to make the antithesis which splits man absolutely into rational being and modifiable matter, infinite [as Fichte does] and then make determination endless, is a consistency that is self-suspending. So this inconsistency is what is most perfect in the imperfect States.

As a result of the absolute antithesis between pure drive and natural drive [Fichte’s] Natural Right offers us a picture of the complete lordship of the intellect and the complete bondage of the living being. It is an edifice in which Reason has no part and which it therefore repudiates. For Reason is bound to find itself most explicitly in its self-shaping as a people (Volk), which is the most perfect organization that it can give itself. But that State as conceived by the intellect is not an organization at all, but a machine;[66] and the people is not the organic body of a communal and rich life, but an atomistic, life-impoverished multitude. The elements of this multitude are absolutely opposed substances, on the one hand the rational beings as a lot of [atomic] points, and on the other hand a lot of material beings modifiable in various ways by Reason, I..e, by intellect, the form in which Reason is here present. The unity of these elements is a concept; what binds them together is an endless domination. This absolute substantiality of the points makes the basis for an atomistic system of practical philosophy in which, as in the atomistic system of nature, an intellect alien to the atom becomes law in the practical sphere under the name of Right. This Right is a concept of totality which must confront every action as its opposite, for every action is a determined one; a concept that is to determine every action and thus kill the living element of true identity in it. Fiat justitia, pereat mundus is the law, and not even in the sense that Kant gave it: “let right be done though all the scoundrels in the world perish."[67] But rather in this sense: right must be done, even though for its sake, all trust, all joy and love, all the potencies of a genuinely ethical identity, must be eradicated root and branch, as we say.

We move on now to the system of the ethical community of man.

It is common ground for [Fichte’s] Ethics and his Natural Law alike, that the Idea must absolutely dominate over drive, that freedom must dominate nature. What distinguishes them is this: in the Natural Law, the subservience of free beings to the concept is strictly the absolute end in itself[68] so that the fixed abstraction of the general will must here subsist apart and far from the individual, and have coercive authority over him. In the Ethics, on the other hand, concept and nature must be posited as united in one and the same person. In the State, Right alone is to govern, while in the realm of morality, duty will only have power insofar as the individual’s Reason acknowledges it as law.

Now, of course, it seems preferable to be one’s own lord and bondsman than to be bondsman to a stranger. But if in ethical life the relation of freedom and nature is supposed to become one of subjective lordship and bondage, a suppression of nature by oneself, then this is much more unnatural than the relation in the Natural Law where the commanding power appears as something other, as something outside the living individual. In this relation, the living being has always a certain independence looked up within it; what is not at one with it (einig) is excluded from the self; the antagonist is an alien might. And even if faith in the oneness of the inner and the outer falls away still faith in one’s inner harmony, an identity of character (eine Identität als Charakter) can endure; the inner nature is true to itself. In the Ethics, however, once the commander is transferred within man himself, and the absolute opposition of the command and the subservience is internalized, the inner harmony is destroyed; not to be at one, but to be an absolute dichotomy constitutes the essence of man. He must seek for unity; but with absolute non-identity at his very basis only a formal unity remains for him.

The formal unity of the concept, which is to govern, contradicts the manifold of nature (and vice versa); and the tug of war between them soon produces a significant drawback. The formal concept is to dominate. But the formal concept is empty, it must get its content through connection with [natural] drive; thus there arises an infinite number of possibilities to act. On the other hand, if science [i.e., here, practical philosophy] maintains the concept in its unity, then it has not achieved anything with an empty formal principle such as this.

The Ego is to determine itself to suspend the objective world, according to the Idea of absolute spontaneity. It is to have causality with respect to the objective Ego with which it therefore forms ties. The ethical drive becomes a mixed one[69] and hence it becomes a manifold as the objective drive itself, with the result that a great number and variety of duties arise. Their number can be greatly reduced if one sticks to the universality of concepts, as Fichte does; but in that event one has only formal basic propositions again. Opposition among the manifold duties occurs under the name of “collisions” and this leads to an important contradiction. If the duties deduced are absolute, they cannot collide. Yet they collide necessarily because they are opposite. Because the duties are equally absolute, choice is possible, and because of their collision, choice is necessary; and there is nothing present to do the deciding, except whim. If whim were to be excluded, the duties could not have the same degree of absoluteness. In that case we would have to say that one duty is more absolute than the other. This contradicts the concept, for every duty is, as duty, absolute. Yet where there is such a collision, if one must act, absoluteness has to be given up and one duty preferred to another. So, if self-determination is to be possible, everything depends on finding the way to decide which concept of one’s duty is to be preferred to the other, and on choosing among the conditional duties according to one’s best insight. If whim and the contingency of inclinations are excluded from the self-determination of freedom through the highest concept, then self-determination now passes over into the contingency of insight and hence into sheer unawareness of what it is that decides a contingent insight. Kant, in his “Doctrine of Ethics,” adds casuistic questions to every duty established[70] as absolute. Since we cannot suppose that, in doing this, he genuinely meant to scoff at the absoluteness of the duties he had established, we must obviously take it that he was rather seeking to indicate the necessity of casuistry in his “Doctrine of Ethics” and hence the necessity of not trusting one’s own insight, because that is, of course, completely contingent. But it is precisely contingency that should be suspended by a “Doctrine of Ethics.” Simply to exchange the contingency of inclinations for the contingency of insight cannot satisfy the ethical impulse which aims at necessity.

In Systems of Ethics and Natural Law like these [of Fichte] there can be no thought of a synthesis [of nature and freedom] or an indifference point;[71] for the polarity of nature and freedom is fixed and absolute. Transcendentiality gets lost in appearance, and in the intellect which is the faculty of appearance. Absolute identity cannot find or establish itself here. Opposition remains absolutely fixed, even in its palliative, the infinite progress. It cannot be truly dissolved either for the individual in the indifference point which is the beauty of the soul and of the work [of art]; or for the complete and living commonweal of individuals in a [religious] community (Gemeinde).

In his discussion of the duties of the various classes, Fichte does, to be sure, add a sort of last appendix to moral theory in which he speaks of the duties of the aesthetic artist.[72] He treats the aesthetic sense as a unifying bond between intellect and heart. Unlike the scholar who appeals only to the intellect and the [moral] folk teacher who appeals only to the heart, the artist addresses himself to “the whole mind in the unison of all its faculties."[73] Fichte therefore ascribes to the aesthetic artist and to aesthetic education “a supremely effective connection with the promotion of the rational purpose."[74]

Now, to begin with, it is incomprehensible, how in a science which is based, like this System of Ethics, on absolute opposition, there can be talk of a bond that unifies intellect and heart, or of the wholeness of the mind. For, after all, absolute determination of nature according to a concept is the absolute domination of the intellect over the heart, a domination that is predicated on the suspension of their union. But then, too, the quite subordinate role that is allotted to aesthetic education shows how little it counts on the whole toward the completion of the system. Art is credited with a supremely effective connection with the promotion of the rational purpose, because “it prepares the soil for morality, so that when morality comes on the scene, it finds that half of its work is already done. Man has freed himself from the fetters of sensibility."[75]

It is remarkable how Fichte can express himself so well about beauty, when what he says is inconsistent with regard to his system; and he does not apply what he says to his system at all, but immediately proceeds to apply it wrongly to the idea of the ethical law.

“Art,” Fichte says, “makes the transcendental point of view into the ordinary one. [...] From the former the world is made, from the latter it is given: from the aesthetic point of view the world is given as it is made."[76] – Through the aesthetic faculty we acknowledge a true union of the productive activity of the intelligence with the product that appears to it as given, of the Ego that posits itself as unlimited with the Ego that posits itself as being limited, or rather, a union of intelligence with nature, where, precisely for the sake of this possibly union, nature has another side than that of being a product of intelligence.[77]The acknowledgment of the aesthetic union of producing and product is something quite different from the positing of the absolute ought, the absolute striving, and the infinite progress. For these latter are concepts, which, as soon as this highest [aesthetic] union is acknowledged, announce themselves to be antitheses or only the syntheses of subordinate spheres, which are therefore in need of a higher synthesis.

The aesthetic view is further described as follows. “The given world, nature, has two sides: it is the product of our [self] limiting; and it is the product of our own free, ideal action. [...] Every shape in space should be viewed [...] as an utterance of the inner fullness and force of just the body that has that shape. But one who accepts the first viewpoint[78] sees nothing but forms that are distorted, oppressed, fear-ridden; he sees ugliness. He who accepts the second viewpoint sees vigorous fullness of nature, life and aspiration; he sees beauty."[79] – The action of intelligence in [Fichte’s] Natural Law only produced nature as modifiable material; so it was not a free, ideal action; it was the action of intellect, not of Reason.

The aesthetic view of nature is now applied to the ethical law; and certainly, the capacity for being regarded as beautiful cannot be an advantage that nature has over the ethical law. “The ethical law commands absolutely and crushes all natural inclinations. He who looks at it in this fashion, relations himself to it like a slave. But the ethical law is still, at the same time, the Ego itself, it comes out of the inner depth of our own being (Wesen); and if we obey it, we obey in the end only ourselves. He who looks upon it thus, sees it aesthetically."[80] ‘We obey ourselves’ means ‘our natural inclination obeys our ethical law.’ But in the aesthetic intuition of nature as the “expression of the inner fullness and force of bodies” the sort of sundered condition that belongs to obedience does not occur at all; while we do find it in ethical life, according to this system, because in self-obedience we intuit natural inclination as bounded by its neighbor Reason, and drive as subservient to concept. This necessary viewpoint of [Fichte’s] Ethics, far from being aesthetic, is precisely the one that reveals distorted, fear-ridden, oppressed forms, or ugliness.

If the ethical law demands autonomy only in the sense of a determination by and through concepts; if nature can receive its due simply through a limiting of freedom according to the concept of the freedom of many rational beings; if these two types of oppression are the highest modes in which man constitutes himself as man, then there is no place for the aesthetic sense either in its pure form, as unlimited self-enjoyment, or in its limited appearances, that is to say, in civil justice (bürgerliche Rechtlichkeit) and in morality. For the aesthetic sense must be taken in its largest scope, as the perfected self-shaping of the totality within the union of freedom and necessity, of consciousness and the non-conscious; and in the aesthetic sense all determination according to concepts is so thoroughly suspended that all this business of the intellect (verständige Wesen) with domination and determination is ugly and hateful to it (hässlich und zu hassen) wherever it comes across it.


1. Hegel’s exposition is based mainly on the Grundlage der gesamten Wissenchaftslehre of 1794. But Fichte’s first explicit statement that “intellectual intuition” is the foundation of the system occurs in the “Second Introduction to the Science of Knowledge,” § 5, Werke I, 463-8 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 38-42). “Intellectual intuition” is the identity of thought and being. Thus Cogito ergo sum becomes: “Whatever is aware of itself as thinking, knows itself as being”; or “In thinking, thinking thinks itself, and in thinking itself as thinking it knows itself thinking, thinking thinks itself, and in thinking itself as thinking it knows itself as being.” This is expressed as “the identity of thought and being”; and since thought (das Denken) is on the side of the subject, being is put on the side of the object. Thus the identity of thought and being is expressed also as “the identity of subject and object.” To these identities of identities – (thought = intuition) = (thinking = being) = (subject = object) – the next paragraph adds the identity of pure consciousness with empirical consciousness, which by implication Kant did not reach, and which Fichte will be accused of having failed to reach also.

2. Die Entzweiung in absoluter Identität zu heben: in absoluter Identität answers the question “Where?.” “Whither” would require in absolute Identität. So heben must here be equivalent to aufheben.

3. Hegel here writes only die sie hervorbringt, which can be taken either way and is presumably meant both ways (as in the translation).

4. This programme for philosophy appears to have originated with Schelling rather than with Fichte. On pp. 129-30 below Hegel speaks as if the language, at least, come directly from Fichte. But we have not been able to trace his reference at that point either. The passage that Lasson refers to here (Fichte, Werke I, 43) can hardly be the source of anything that Hegel says either here or below.

5. See above pp. 103-9.

6. See pp. 119-22 ff.

7. See Fichte, Werke I, 110 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 109-10).

8. Fichte: “a thought of mere relation.”

9. Werke I, 224-5 (Heath and Lachs, p. 200).

10. The German text allows also the following translation: “only the latter posits their being opposite and their ideality itself” (cf. Méry, p. 114).

11. Compare pp. 90-1 above.

12. See Fichte, Werke I, 214-7 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 192-5).

13. Compare pp. 132-4 ff below.

14. Compare Beyträge I, 77, 82 ff., 124-5.

15. Fichte, Werke I, 127 (Heath and Lachs, p. 123). In his initial statement of the third or grounding principle (Werke I, 125-6, Heath and Lachs, p. 122) Fichte speaks of Ego and non-Ego as limited (beschränkt) by one another. But he shifts here to “determined” (bestimmt).

16. i.e., as vorstellend, as representing (or as having ideas of...). Cf. Werke I, 227-46, 248 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 203-17, 219-20).

17. See Fichte, Werke I, 210-7, 248-51 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 189-96, 219-22).

18. We have not been able to find this phrase in Fichte. The reference that Lasson gives (Werke I, 168 [Heath and Lachs, pp. 156-7]) does not contain it. The closet parallel that we have found is in the “Second Introduction” (1797): “This [intellectual] intuition, however, never occurs in isolation, as a complete act of consciousness; any more than sensory intuition occurs singly or renders consciousness complete” (Werke I, 463-4 [Heath and Lachs, p. 38]). Professor C. K. Hunter has kindly found for us the following passages dealing with the “completion” of consciousness or the “advance” to empirical consciousness: Werke I, 178 (Heath and Lachs, p. 164); Werke IV, 92 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 95); Werke VI, 313 (Smith, I, 172-3).

19. See below, pp. 135-42.

20. See above, p. 129.

21. See pp. 123-5.

22. Here again einmal appears to be superfluous and we have omitted it (compare p. 95 above).

23. See p. 128.

24. For the discussion that follows (down to p. 135) see, in general, Fichte, Werke I, 246-85 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 218-51). We have given a few more precise indications (specifically those suggested by Bunchner and Pöggeler). But these more specific indications are neither definitive nor exhaustive.

25. Compare Fichte, Werke I, 250-2, 254 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 221-2, 224-5).

26. Compare Fichte, Werke I, 261-2 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 230-1).

27. This was what Schelling did.

28. The parts of space are coexistent while the moments of time are not. Hence Spinoza speaks of “the face of the whole universe” as “the immediate infinite mode of extension”; whereas “duration” is always finite. This may be what Hegel has in mind here. We should note, in any case, that he certainly struggled to achieve a richer concept of time in his own later work.

29. See pp. 136-7.

30. For this part of Hegel’s discussion (down to p. 142 below) see, in general, Fichte, Werke I, 285-322 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 251-81) and the System der Sittenlehre (1798), §§ 4-5 (Werke IV, 76-88; Kroeger, Ethics, pp. 79-91).

31. See above pp. 130-1

32. Compare n. 16 above.

33. See pp. 122-8

34. See System der Sittenlehre, Werke IV, 105-7 (Kroeger, Ethics, pp. 109-11).

35. Compare Fichte, Werke I, 289 (Heath and Lachs, pp, 254-5).

36. Derselben may refer either to “drives and feelings” or to “nature”

37. Fichte, Werke IV, 109 (Kroeger, Ethics, 113-4).

38. System der Sittenlehre, Werke IV, 108 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 112).

39. Ibid., p. 130 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 135).

40. Ibid., pp. 112=3 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 117).

41. Fichte, Werke IV, 125-6 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 130-1).

42. Fichte, Werke IV, 131 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 136).

43. Compare Fichte, Werke IV, 149 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 157-8).

44. Each of these two basic drives tends towards a goal: the Naturtrieb tends toward enjoyment (Genuss), and the Trieb der Freiheit tends towards freedom itself. See especially Fichte, Werke IV, 128-31, 139-42 (Kroeger, Ethics, pp. 133-7, 145-9).

45. Fichte, Werke IV, p. 113 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 118).

46. Compare Fichte, Werke IV, 113-5 (Kroger, Ethics, 118-9).

47. Compare pp. 151-4 below; also Hegel’s criticism of Kant in Faith and Knowledge, pp. 85-92.

48. The German text reads Insofern ich als Trieb... sich endlich setzt, ist dieses Endliche, die Natur. This is what we have translated. However, if one were to delete the comma after Endliche, one would have “this finite is nature” (cf. Méry). And if one were to read ist [es] dieses Endliche, die Natur, one would have “it [the Ego] is this finite, [it is] nature.” Either of these emendations makes good sense in this sentence, which confronts “Ego qua drive” with “Ego qua Ego”

49. For this part of Hegel’s discussion (down to p. 144 below) see in general Fichte, Werke III, 23-29, 56-85 (Kroeger, Rights, pp. 40-48, 87-125).

50. Hegel is here criticizing Fichte’s deduction of the body as a necessary condition of a person’s being the subject of rights. His complaint is that, because of its opposition to the Ego qua Ego, the body (and the organic in general) is for Fichte no more than a piece of atomistic matter, however complex the “articulation” (Fichte’s word for organic structure) of the body may be.

51. Compare Fichte, Werke III, 68-70 (Kroeger, Rights, pp. 103-4).

52. We follow the model of all or almost all English translators of Kant in rendering his Verstand as understanding. But the reader should remember that he word is the same as that which in its Hegelian use is here rendered throughout as intellect.

53. See above, note 6.

54. In the Science of Knowledge Fichte defines “intelligence” as “the Ego positing itself as vorstellend” (Werke I, 228; Heath and Lachs, p. 219). This is the theoretical Ego, the Ego that posits itself as limited or determined by the non-Ego. In Fichte’s Science of Rights this theoretical Ego is the Vernunftwesen, or rational being. Once he has taken this first step in the self-limitation of the absolute Ego, Fichte makes a further descent to “persons” and finally to “individuals” (as persons having bodies).

55. Hegel does not explain this distinction between Ableitung and Deduktion (i.e., “transcendental deduction” à la Fichte) anywhere. But by Ableitung he probably means a simply and direct cognitive operation based on some elementary logical relation such as entailment or implication; whereas Deduktion is a complex and indirect cognitive operation in which teleological and moral necessities are mixed with logical necessity through the use of the conveniently ambiguous German verb sollen. Thus for instance: if perfect moral autonomy is to be (soll), then such and such requirements must be (soll) fulfilled. And perfect moral autonomy ought to (soll) be. Therefore these requirements are necessarily (soll) fulfilled.

56. The “two systems” are the “Systematic Applications” of the Science of Rights (Fichte, Werke III, 92-303; Kroeger, Rights, pp. 137-387) and of the System of Ethics (Fichte, Werke III, 157-365; Kroger, Ethics, pp. 167-378).

57. Compare Fichte, Werke III, 86-87 (Kroeger, Rights, pp. 127-8).

58. Compare Fichte, Werke III, 86-93 (Kroeger, Rights, pp. 128-38).

59. See p. 133 and the subsequent discussion.

60. See note 54 above.

61. Stand der Not: this condition is illustrated and discussed in Hegel’s Early Theological Writings (e.g. Nohl, p. 262, Knox and Kroner, p. 208; and Nohl, pp. 373-4).

62. Notstaat: i.e., the State based on the conception of our natural condition as an “estate of need” (Stand der Not).

63. Fichte, Werke III, 294 (Kroeger, Rights, p. 377). Compare Hegel, Philosophy of Right, section 183.

64. Hegel actually says “its Gewalt, the duty of the police.”

*Just how these determinations and their purpose get lost in their own endlessness will best be made clear by some examples. The whole variety of crimes possible in imperfect States is prevented by making the police more perfect. Thus with respect to counterfeit bills of exchange [cashable by bearer upon his own signature] and money, we see how, on pp. 148 ff. [Werke III, 297-8; Kroeger, Rights, p. 381]: “Anyone handing in a check must prove through his passport that he is this definite person, where he can be found, etc. The recipient [...] then simply adds on the back of the check to the name of the signer, ‘With passport from such and such authority.’ – Just two additional words to write and one or two additional minutes to inspect pass and person; otherwise the transaction is as simple as before.” (Or rather simpler, for a cautious man will probably be on his guard and not accept a check, though it appears quite all right, from a man he does not know; and to inspect a pass and a person is infinitely more simply than to get to know him a bit in some other way.) – “In case the check still turns out to be bad, the person will soon be found when the investigation has established who it is. Nobody is permitted to leave a place; he can be stopped at the gate.” (The fact that our villages and many of our cities have no necessity of gates is herewith deduced.) “The traveler must state his destination, and this will be entered in the town’s register with his pass” (which entails the postulate that the gate attendant will be able to distinguish each traveler from all the other folk passing through the gate) – “The traveler will nowhere be received and accepted except at the destination entered in his pass. In the pass there is a factual description of the man (p. 146 [i.e., Werke III, 295; Kroeger, Rights, p. 379]) or, since descriptions must always remain ambiguous, a good portrait in its place in the case of persons who are important, and therefore able to pay for it” (in our case, persons capable of issuing bad checks). “The pass is made out of specially manufactured paper [...] exclusively owned and supervised by the highest authority and the subordinate authorities which have to account for the paper consumed. This paper will not be imitated, for there is need of only one pass for a false check, and that one pass would require too many preparations and the cooperation of too many arts.” (Here it is postulated that in a well-ordered State the need for more than one single counterfeit passport could not arise. Factories for counterfeit passports, which are occasionally discovered in ordinary States, would find no customers.) Another State institution would also assist in preventing the counterfeiting of the privileged paper (p. 152 [i.e., Werke III, 299-300; Kroeger, Rights, pp. 382-3]). This is the institution aimed at “preventing the counterfeiting of coins; [...] since the State owns the monopoly of metals, etc., the State must not distribute the metals to the retailers without proof as to whom and for what use the received metals were issued.” In the Prussian army a foreigner is supervised by only one trustee. In Fichte’s state every citizen will keep at least half a dozen people busy with supervision, accounts, etc., each of these supervisors will keep at least another half dozen busy, and so on ad inifinitum. Equally, the simplest transaction will cause an infinite number of transactions. [Hegel marked the quotations by using spread type, but they are sometimes rather free.]

65. Hegel refers to the first edition of 1798. See Fichte, Werke III, 302 (Kroeger, Rights, p. 386).

66. Compare Hegel’s “German Constitution” essay (Knox and Pleczynski, pp. 159-63) and his Philosophy of Right section 183.

67. Perpetual Peace, Akad. VIII, 378; Beck, On History, p. 126.

68. Or: “subservience... to the concept in general is the absolute end in itself.”

69. For the distinction between “pure” and “objective” (or natural) drive, and for the ethical drive as a mixture of both, see Fichte, Werke IV, 141-2, 151-2 (Kroeger, Ethics, pp. 148-9, 160-1).

70. Part II of the Metaphysik der Sitten (see, for example, Akad. VI, 422-3, 425, 427); The Doctrine of Virtue, translated by M. J. Gregor, pp. 86-7, 89-90, 91-2.

71. The metaphor of the “indifference point” derives from the phenomena of magnetism. The crucial fact to keep in mind is that if a simple bar magnet is broken at the “point of indifference” we obtain two magnets each with its own indifference point. The old indifference point is now the North pole of one magnet and the South pole of the other.

72. In the remainder of this section Hegel quotes liberally from section 31 of Fichte’s System of Ethics (Werke IV, 353-6; Kroeger, Ethics, pp. 367-70).

73. Fichte, Werke IV, 353 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 367).

74. Fichte, Werke IV, 354-5 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 369).

75. Fichte, Werke IV, 354-5 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 369).

76. Fichte, Werke IV, 353-4 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 367-8). Hegel marked this quotation himself by the use of spread type.

77. The text could also be translated: “nature has another side, as being a product of intelligence” (Compare Méry, p. 137). But compare the following quotation from Fichte.

78. Fichte: “to view every shape in space as limitation by the adjacent bodies” (Werke IV, 354; Kroeger, Ethics, p. 368).

79. Fichte, Werke IV, 354 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 368).

80. Fichte, Werke IV, 354 (Kroeger, Ethics, p. 368). Hegel marked this qutation himself by the use of spread type.


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