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


In those few public utterances in which a feeling for the difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s systems of philosophy can be recognized, the aim seems to be more to hide their distinctness or to get round it than to gain a clear awareness of it. Neither the systems as they lie before the public for direct inspection, nor among other things, Schelling’s answer to Eschenmayer’s idealistic objections against the philosophy of nature have brought the distinctness of the two systems out into open discussion.[1]On the contrary, Reinhold, for example, is so far from an inkling of it that he takes the complete identity of both systems for granted.[2]So his view of Schelling’s system is distorted in this way too [as well as in other ways]. The occasion for the following treatise is this confusion of Reinhold’s, rather than his revolution of bringing philosophy back to logic – a revolution that he has not merely threatened us with, but has proclaimed as already accomplished.[3]

The Kantian philosophy needed to have its spirit distinguished from its letter, and to have its purely speculative principle lifted out of the remainder that belonged to, or could be used for, the arguments of reflection. In the principle of the deduction of the categories Kant’s philosophy is authentic idealism; and it is this principle that Fichte extracted in a purer, stricter form and called the spirit of Kantian philosophy.[4] The things in themselves – which are nothing but an objective expression of the empty form of opposition – had been hypotanized anew by Kant, and posited as absolute objectivity like the things of the dogmatic philosopher. On the one hand, he made the categories into static, dead pigeonholes of the intellect; and on the other hand he made them into the supreme principles capable of nullifying the language that expresses the Absolute itself – e.g., “substance” in Spinoza. Thus he allowed argumentation to go on replacing philosophy, as before, only more pretentiously than ever under the name of critical philosophy. But all this springs at best from the form of the Kantian deduction of the categories, not from its principle or spirit. Indeed, if we had no part of Kant’s philosophy but the deduction, the transformation of his philosophy [from speculation into reflection] would be almost incomprehensible. The principle of speculation is the identity of subject and object, and this principle is most definitely articulated in the deduction of the forms of the intellect (Verstand). It was Reason (Vernunft) itself that baptized this theory of the intellect.

However, Kant turns this identity itself, which is Reason, into an object of philosophical reflection, and thus this identity vanishes from its home ground. Whereas intellect had previously been handled by Reason, it is not, by contrast, Reason that is handled by the intellect. This makes clear what a subordinate stage the identity of subject and object was grasped at. The identity of subject and object is limited to twelve acts of pure thought – or rather to nine only, for modality really determines nothing objectively; the nonidentity of subject and object essentially pertains to it.[5]Outside what is objectively determined by the categories there remained an enormous empirical realm of sensibility and perception, an absolute a posteriori realm. For this realm the only a priori principle discovered is a merely subjective maxim of the faculty of reflecting judgment.[6] That is to say, nonidentity is raised to an absolute principle. Nothing else was to be expected, one the identity, i.e., the rational, had been removed from the Idea, which is the product of Reason, and the Idea had been posited in absolute opposition to being. Reason as a practical faculty had been presented as it must be conceived by finite thought, i.e., by the intellect: not as absolute identity, but in infinite opposition, as a faculty of the pure unity [typical] of the intellect. Hence there arises this contrast: there are no absolute objective determinations for the intellect [i.e., in critical philosophy], but they are present for Reason [i.e., in speculative philosophy].

The principle of Fichte’s system is the pure thinking that thinks itself, the identity of subject and object, in the form Ego = Ego.[7]If one holds solely and directly to this principle and to the transcendental principle at the basis of Kant’s deduction of the categories, one has the authentic principle of speculation boldly expressed. However, as soon as [Fichte’s] speculation steps outside of the concept that it establishes of itself and evolves into a system, it abandons itself and its principle and does not come back to it again. It surrenders Reason to the intellect and passes over into the chain of finite [acts and objects] of consciousness from which it never reconstructs itself again as identity and true infinity. Transcendental intuition, the very principle [of speculation], thereby assumes the awkward posture of something that is in opposition to the manifold deduced from it. The Absolute of the system shows itself as apprehended only in the form in which it appears to philosophical reflection. This determinacy which is given to the Absolute by reflection is not removed – so finitude and opposition are not removed. The principle, the Subject-Object, turns out to be a subjective Subject-Object. What is deduced from it thereby gets the form of a conditioning of pure consciousness, of the Ego = Ego; and pure consciousness itself takes on the form of something conditioned by an objective infinity, namely the temporal progression ad infinitum. Transcendental intuition loses itself in this infinite progression and the Ego fails to constitute itself as absolute self-intuition. Hence, Ego = Ego is transformed into the principle ‘Ego ought to be equal to Ego.’ Reason is placed in absolute opposition, i.e., it is degraded to the level of intellect, and it is this degraded Reason that becomes the principle of the shapes that the Absolute must give itself, and of the Sciences of these shapes.[8]

There are the two sides of Fichte’s system. On the one hand it has established the pure concept of Reason and of speculation and so made philosophy possible. On the other hand, it has equated Reason with pure consciousness and raised Reason as apprehended in a finite shape to the status of principle. That these two sides should be distinguished must be shown to be an inner necessity of the problem itself (die Sache selbst), even though the external occasion for making the distinctions is a need of the time and is now provided by a bit of contemporary flotsam in time’s stream, namely Reinhold’s Contributions to a Survey of the State of Philosophy at the Beginning of the New Century. In these Contributions the aspect of authentic speculation and hence of philosophy in Fichte’s system is overlooked;[9] and so is the aspect of Schelling’s system that distinguishes it from Fichte’s – the distinction being that in the philosophy of nature Schelling sets the objective Subject-Object beside the subjective Subject-Object and presents both as united in something higher than the subject.

As to the need of the times, Fichte’s philosophy has caused so much of a stir and has made an epoch to the extent that even those who declare themselves against it and strain themselves to get speculative systems of their own on the road, still cling to this principle, though in a more turbid and impure way, and are incapable of resisting it. The most obvious symptoms of an epoch-making system are the misunderstandings and the awkward conduct of its adversaries. However, when one can say of a system that fortune has smiled on it, it is because some widespread philosophical need, itself unable to give birth to philosophy – for otherwise it would have achieved fulfillment through the creation of a system – turns to it with an instinct-like propensity. The acceptance of the system seems to be passive but this is only because what it articulates is already present in the time’s inner core and everyone will soon be proclaiming it in his sphere of science or life.

In this sense one cannot say of Fichte’s system that fortune has smiled on it.[10]While this is partly due to the unphilosophical tendencies of the age, there is something else that should be taken into account. The greater the influence that intellect and utility succeed in acquiring, and the wider the currency of limited aims, the more powerful will the urge of the better spirit be, particularly in the more openminded world of youth. A phenomenon such as the Speeches on Religion[11]may not immediately concern the speculative need. Yet they and their reception – and even more so the dignity that is beginning to be accorded, more or less clearly or obscurely, to poetry and art in general in all their true scope – indicate the need for a philosophy that will recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered in Kant and Fichte’s systems, and set Reason itself in harmony with nature, not by having Reason renounce itself or become an insipid imitator of nature, but by Reason recasting itself into nature out of its own inner strength.

This essay begins with general reflections about the need, presupposition, basic principles, etc. of philosophy. It is a fault in them that they are general reflections, but they are occasioned by the fact that presupposition, principles, and such like forms still adorn the entrance to philosophy with their cobwebs. So, up to a point it is still necessary to deal with them until the day comes when from beginning to end it is philosophy itself whose voice will be heard. Some of the more interesting of these topics will be more extensively treated elsewhere.[12]

Jena, July 1801.


1. K.A. Eschenmayer, “Spontaneität = Weltseele oder das höchste Prinzip der Naturphilosophie,” and F. W. J. Schelling, “Anhang zu dem Aufsatz des Herrn Eschenmayer,” in Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik II, 1-68 and 109-46; see Schelling, Werke (1856-63) IV, 79-103

2. See K. L. Reinhold, Beyträge I (Hamburg, 1801), especially pp. 85-89 and 135-54.

3. Reinhold believed the revolution was accomplished in the work of C. G. Bardili, Grundriss der Ersten Logik (Stuttgart, 1800). The full title of this work was: “Outline of Primary Logic purified from the erros of previous Logics generally, and of the Kantian logic in particular; not a Critique but a medicina mentis, to be employed mainly for Germany’s Critical Philosophy.”

4. Compare Fichte: “That our proposition [-The Ego originally and absolute posits its own being-] is the absolutely basic principle of all knowledge was pointed out by Kant in his deduction of the categories; but he never laid it down specifically as the basic principle.” (Foundation of the Science of Knowledge [1794], Werke [1845] I, 99; Heath and Lachs, p. 100.) For the claim that this principle is the “spirit of Kantian philosophy” see Fichte, Werke I, 186 n., 479 (Heath and Lachs, pp. 171 n., 52). This last passage, in the “Second Introduction to the Science of Knowledge” (1797), occurs in the context of a discussion (Werke I. 468-91; Heath and Lachs, pp. 42-62) that is very important for the understanding of what “intellectual intuition” means to Schelling and Hegel.

5. For Kant’s table of categories see Critique of Pure Reason B 106. The triad of modality is: 1. Possibility/Impossibility; 2. Existence/Non-existence; 3. Necessity/Contingency. As to the peculiarity of modality compare A 74 (B 100) and A 219 (B 266).

6. For the maxim of reflecting judgment see Critique of Judgment, Introduction section IV, and sections 75-76 (Akad. V, 179-80, 397-404).

7. See especially the first section of the Science of Knowledge (Fichte, Werke I. 95-100; Heath and Lachs, pp. 97-101).

8. Ihrer Wissenschaften: ihrer may refer either to the “shapes” or to “this degraded Reason.”

9. Hegel plays on Reinhold’s use of Übersicht. In his “Contributions to an Overview” Reinhold manages to overlook the most important points.

10. Compare Fichte, “Ueber den Begriff der Wissenschaftslehre” (1794), Werke I, 34-36.

11. [Friedrich Schleiermacher], On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (Berlin, 1799).

12. This promise suggests that Hegel was already looking forward to his work as a contributor to the Critical Journal. The most obvious and important publication in which it was fulfilled is Faith and Knowledge (trans. Cerf and Harris [Albany: State University of New York Press, 1976]).


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