drawing of daggy looking johann fichte

Johann Fichte (1810)

Outlines of the Doctrine of Knowledge

Source: Outline of the Doctrine of Knowledge (1810). From The Popular Works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by William Smith, Pub: Trubner and Co., 1889. The whole of this essay is reproduced.


THE Doctrine of Knowledge, apart from all special and definite knowing, proceeds immediately upon Knowledge itself, in the essential unity in which it recognises Knowledge as existing; and it raises this question in the first place - How this Knowledge can come into being, and what it is in its inward and essential Nature?

The following must be apparent: - There is but One who is absolutely by and through himself, - namely, God; and God is not the mere dead conception to which we have thus given utterance, but he is in himself pure Life. He can neither change nor determine himself in aught within himself, nor become any other Being; for his Being contains within it all his Being and all possible Being, and neither within him nor out of him can any new Being arise.

If, therefore, Knowledge must be, and yet be not God himself, then, since there is nothing but God, it can only be God out of himself, - God's Being out of his Being, - his Manifestation, in which he dwells wholly as he is in himself, while within himself he also still remains wholly such as he is. But such a Manifestation is a picture or Schema.

If there be such a Schema - and this can only become evident through its immediate being, seeing that it is immediate - it can only be because God is; and, so surely as God is, it cannot but be. It is, however, by no means to be conceived of as a work of God, effected by some particular act, whereby a change is wrought in himself; but it is to be conceived of as an immediate consequence of his Being. It is absolutely, according to the Form of his Being, just as he himself is absolutely; although it is not he himself, but his Schema.

Again: - Out of God there can be nothing whatever but this; - no Being that is essentially independent, for that he alone is; - only his Schema can there be out of him, and thus a Being out of God signifies merely his Schema; - the two expressions mean precisely the same thing.


Further. - Since it cannot be overlooked by the Doctrine of Knowledge that Actual Knowledge does by no means present itself as a Unity, such as is assumed above but as a multiplicity, there is consequently a second task imposed upon it, - that of setting forth the ground of this apparent Multiplicity. It is of course understood that this ground is not to be derived from any outward source, but must be shown to be contained in the essential Nature of Knowledge itself as such; - and that therefore this problem, although apparently two-fold, is yet but one and the same, - namely, to set forth the essential Nature of Knowledge.


This Being out of God cannot, by any means, be a limited, completed, and inert Being, since God himself is not such a dead Being, but, on the contrary, is Life; - but it can only be a Power, since only a Power is the true formal picture or Schema of Life. And indeed it can only be the Power of realising that which is contained in itself - a Schema. Since this Power is the expression of a determinate Being - the Schema of the Divine Life - it is itself determined; but only in the way in which an absolute Power may be determined, - by laws, and indeed by determinate laws. If this or that is to become actual, the Power must operate in this way or that, subject to that determination.


Thus in the first place - There can be an Actual Being out of God only through the self-realisation of this absolute Power: - this Power, however, can only produce pictures or Schemae, which by combination become Actual Knowledge. Thus, whatever exists out of God, exists only by means of absolutely free Power, as the Knowledge belonging to this Power, and in its Knowledge; - and any other Being but this out of the true Being which lies hidden in God is altogether impossible.


Again, as to the determination of this Power by laws: - It is, in the first place, determined through itself, as the Power of Actual Knowledge. But it is essential to Actual Knowledge that some particular Schema should be realised through this Power; and then that through the same identical Power, in the same identical position, this Schema should be recognised as a Schema, and as a Schema not in itself independent, but demanding, as a condition of its Existence, a Being out of itself The immediate and concrete expression of this recognition, - which in Actual Knowledge never attains to consciousness, but which is elevated into consciousness only by means of the Doctrine of Knowledge, is Actual Knowledge itself in its Form; and, in consequence of this latter recognition, there is, of necessity, assumed an Objective Reality, wholly transcending the Schema and independent of Knowledge. Since in this knowledge of the Objective Reality, even the Schema itself is concealed, much more is the Power which creates it concealed and unseen. This is the fundamental law of the Form of Knowledge. So surely therefore as the Power develops itself in this particular way, it develops itself as we have described; not merely schematising, but also schematising the Schema as a Schema, and recognising it in its dependent nature; - not that it must unconditionally do this, but that only by means of this process can it attain to Actual Knowledge.

In consequence of this there is much that remains invisible in Actual Knowledge, but which, nevertheless, really is as the manifestation of this Power. If therefore this, and all other manifestation of this Power, were to be imported into Knowledge, then could this only occur in a Knowledge other than that first mentioned; and thus would the unity of Knowledge necessarily be broken up into separate parts, by the opposition of the law of the form of visibility to that law by which Knowledge perceives itself as a perfect and indivisible whole.


Further: - Within this its Formal Being, this Power is also determined by an unconditional Imperative. It shall recognise itself as the Schema of the Divine Life, which it is originally, and through which alone it has Existence; - consequent]y this is its absolute vocation, in which its efficiency as a Power is completely exhausted. It shall recognise itself as the Schema of the Divine Life, - but it is originally nothing more than a Power, although most assuredly it is this determinate Power of the Schema of God: - if it is to recognise itself as such a Schema in Reality, then it must make itself so actually, by the realisation of the Power - by its self-realisation.


The recognition of itself as a Power to which an unconditional Imperative is addressed, and which is able to fulfil that Imperative, and the actual realisation of this Power, should the latter come to pass, are distinct from each other; and the possibility of the latter is dependent on the previous accomplishment of the former.

It shall recognise itself as the Divine Schema, not by means of any Being inherent in itself, for there is no such Being, but by means of the realisation of the Power. It must therefore previously possess the knowledge that it is such a Power, and also by what marks it may recognise itself in its self-realisation, in order that it may direct its attention to these characteristic marks, and so be enabled to judge of the realisation which they denote.

Or it may be regarded thus - By means of the realisation of the Power there arises a Schema, and a consciousness of that which is contained in the Schema, and not more than this. (§ v.) The formal addition, which lies beyond the immediate contents of the Schema, - ie. that it is the Schema of God, - is not immediately contained in it; and can only be attributed to it in consequence of some characteristic mark perceived in the actual realisation of the Power. The characteristic mark is this - that the Power realize itself, with absolute Freedom, in accordance with the recognised universal Imperative.


If it shall recognise itself as a Power to which an unconditional Imperative is addressed, it must, previous to this definite recognition, have also recognised itself generally as a Principle; - and since it can only recognise itself by means of its own self-development, it must necessarily develop itself before being able to recognise itself immediately as the Principle in this development. The necessity for this is contained in the intuition that the Imperative shall become visible to it; and it may therefore be named a necessity of the Imperative - a shall of the shall - namely, a necessity of its visibility: - consequently this Imperative - this shall - lies in the primitive determination of the Power through its Being from God. Since, when it does not recognise itself generally as a Principle, it cannot, in the same position and at the same time, recognise itself in any more definite form, it is clear that these two modes of Knowledge are separate and distinct from each other. We call Knowledge by means of an immediate invisible principle - Intuition.


Since neither the Power itself as such, nor the Divine Life, is schematised in Intuition, by which indeed there is first introduced the practical possibility of such schematising, it is clear that there is nothing left remaining in Intuition but the mere Form of Power as given in its immediate expression. It is (§ V.) a Power of Contemplation, - and that indeed without direction towards the one Divine Life, which from this standpoint remains concealed; - an undefined, wholly indeterminate, and yet absolute Power, - and hence an Infinite. It therefore schematises itself as contemplating an infinity in one glance:- SPACE; it consequently thus also schematises itself as contracting and limiting itself, in the same undivided Intuition, to a point in that first infinity, a point which in itself is likewise infinitely divisible, a consolidated infinite Space within the other simple infinite Space, - or MATTER; - thus as an infinite Power of self-concentration, and consequently also as an unlimited Material World in Space: - all which, according to the fundamental law of Knowledge which we have already adduced (§ v.) must appear to it as actual, self-existent Being.

Further: - by virtue of its merely formal power of Being, it is an absolutely primitive Principle. In order to schematise itself as such in Intuition, it must antecedent to its actual activity, perceive a possible form of activity which - thus it must seem to it - it either might or might not be able to realize. This possible form of activity cannot be perceived by it in the Absolute Imperative, which to this point of view is invisible; hence it can only be perceived in a likewise blindly schematised Causality, which indeed is not an immediate Causality but only appears to become so through the apparent realisation of the Power. But such a Causality is an Instinct. It was necessary that the Power should feel itself impelled to this or that form of activity, but without the source of the impulse being immediately perceived, since such an immediate recognition would deprive it of the appearance of Freedom, which is here an indispensable characteristic.

This activity demanded by Instinct can only be an activity exercised on the Material World. Hence the Instinct to activity comes into view in immediate relation to material existences; these are consequently recognised in this immediate relation, and acquire, through this relation, not merely extension in Space, but, even more, their internal qualities: - and by this remark we have completed the definition of material existences, which was before left incomplete.

Should the Power, by means of this Instinct and the consequent appearance of self-determination, perceive itself as in a state of real activity, then, in the perception of this activity, it would be associated with the Material World in the same undivided Form of Intuition; and hence in this Intuition, thus uniting it with the Material World, it would perceive itself as a material existence in a double relation to the Material World: - partly as Sense, that it might feel the relation of that world to its Instinct, - partly as Organism, that it might contemplate its own activity therein.

In this activity it now beholds itself as the same identical Power in a state of self-determination; but as not exhausted in any form of its activity, and as thus remaining a Power ad infinitum. In this perception of its unlimited Power there arises before it an Infinity; not in one glance, like that first mentioned, but an Infinity in which it may behold its own infinite activity; - an infinite series of successive links:- TIME. Since this activity can be exercised ad infinitum only on the Material World, Time is likewise transferred to that world in the unity of Intuition, although that world already possesses its own peculiar expression of Infinitude in the infinite divisibility of SPACE and of all its parts.

It is obvious that the position in which the Power gives itself up wholly to the contemplation of the Material World and is exhausted therein, is distinct from that in which it becomes cognisant of its Instinct towards activity in this previously recognised World, - that nevertheless there remains, even in the latter position, a Schema of present and necessary Existence, in order that it may be possible for the Instinct to enter into relations with such Existence: - and this forms the connection between these two separate and distinct positions of Intuition.

This whole domain of Intuition is, as we said, the expression and Schema of mere Power. Since Power, without the Schema of the Divine Life, is nothing, while here it is nevertheless schematised in this its nothingness, - this whole domain is consequently nothing in itself, and only in its relation to Actual Being does it acquire significance, the practical possibility of the latter being dependent upon it.


There is further contained in the Power an original determination to raise itself to the perception of the Imperative, the practical realisation of which is now rendered immediately possible by the recognised Existence of the whole domain of Intuition. But how and in what way can this elevation be accomplished ? That which abides firmly in Intuition, and is indeed the very root of it, is Instinct; - by its means the Power itself is made dependent on Intuition, and is imprisoned within it. The condition and the only means for the now possible realisation of the Power, is therefore the liberation of itself from Instinct, and the abolition of the latter as the invisible and blind impulse of schematising, - and in the abolition of the principle, the consequence of it - imprisonment in Intuition - is likewise abolished. Knowledge would then stand forth in its primitive unity, as it is perceived at first by the Doctrine of Knowledge; - in this its essential unity it would manifest itself as dependent, and as requiring a substratum - a unity which shall exist absolutely through itself. Knowledge in this form is no longer Intuition, but Thought; - and indeed Pure Thought, or Intelligising.


Before proceeding further, we must from this central point indicate a distinction hitherto unnoticed in the sphere of Intuition. Only through blind Instinct, in which the only possible guidance of the Imperative is awanting, does the Power in Intuition remain undetermined; where it is schematised as absolute it becomes infinite; and where it is presented in a determinate form, as a principle, it becomes at least manifold. By the above-mentioned act of Intelligising, the Power liberates itself from Instinct, to direct itself towards Unity. But so surely as it requires a special act for the production of this Unity, - (in the first place indeed inwardly and immediately within the Power itself, because only under this condition could it be outwardly perceived in the Schema), - so surely was the Power not viewed as One in the sphere of Intuition, but as Manifold; - this Power, which now through perception and recognition of itself has become an Ego - an Individual, - was, in this sphere, not one Individual, but necessarily broken up into a world of Individuals.

This indeed does not occur in the Form of Intuition itself. The original schematising principle, and the principle which recognises this Schema immediately and in the very act of its production as a Schema, are of necessity numerically one, not two; and thus also, in the domain of Intuition, that which immediately contemplates its Intuition is a single, self-inclosed, separate principle, in this respect inaccessible to any other: - the individuality of all men, who, on this account, can each have but one separate individuality. But this separation of Individuals must certainly take place in that Form in which alone unity also is produced, - namely, in that of Thought; - hence the individuality we have described, however isolated it may appear in the immediate Intuition of itself, yet, when it comprehends itself in Thought, perceives itself, in this Thought, as an Individual in a world of Individuals like itself; which latter, since it cannot behold them as free principles like itself in immediate Intuition, can only be recognised by it as such, by an inference from the mode of their activity in the World of Sense.

From this farther definition of the sphere of Intuition - that in it the Principle, which through its Being in God is One, is broken up into Many - there follows yet another. This division, even in the One Thought, and the mutual recognition, which nevertheless is necessarily found in connection with it, would not be possible were not the Object of the Intuition and of the Activity of all, one and the same, - a like World to them all. The Intuition of a World of Sense existed only in order that through this World the Ego might become visible to itself as standing under the Law of an Absolute Imperative. For this nothing more was necessary than that the Intuition of such a World should simply be; - the manner of its being is absolutely of no importance, since for this purpose any form of it is sufficient. But the Ego must besides recognise itself as One in a given Multiplicity of Individuals; - and to this end it is necessary, besides the general determinations of the World of Sense already mentioned, that this World should be the same to each beholder: - the same Space, and the same filling up of it for all; - notwithstanding that it is still left to individual Freedom to apprehend this common filling up in its own particular order in Time - the same Time, and the same filling up of it by sensible events for all; - notwithstanding that it still remains free to every one, so far as his own thought and action are concerned, to fill it up after his own fashion. The necessity for the Imperative becoming visible (§ VIII.) as it proceeds from God, is assuredly contained in the One Principle, since there is but One Principle that proceeds from God; and thus, in consequence of the unity of the Power, it is possible for each Individual to schematise his World of Sense in accordance with the law of that original harmony; - and every Individual, under the condition of being found on the way towards the recognition of the Imperative, must so schematise it. I might say: - Every Individual can and must, under the given condition, construct the True World of Sense, - for this indeed has beyond the universal and formal laws above deduced, no other Truth and Reality than this universal harmony.


Let us return to Pure Thought or Intelligising (§ I). By it Knowledge is perceived as its only possible Schema of the Divine Life. In this Thought I do not possess knowledge immediately, but only in a Schema; still less do I possess in it the Divine Life immediately, but only in a Schema of the Schema, - in a doubly ineffectual conception. I reflect, - and a power of so reflecting must, for the reason to be given presently, be contained in the general Power, - I reflect that I perceive this Knowledge; that therefore I can perceive it; that since, according to the insight thus obtained, Knowledge is the expression of God, this Power itself is likewise his expression; that the Power exists only that it may be realised; and that consequently, in virtue of my Being from God, I shall perceive it. Only by means of this reflection do I arrive at the insight that I shall, absolutely: - but I shall, besides, attain this insight; - hence, - this must surely be now apparent - there must, likewise in virtue of my Being from -God, be an absolute Power of this reflection contained in the general Power. The whole sphere which we have now described thus reveals itself as an Imperative of perception- - that I, - the Principle already perceived in the sphere of Intuition, - that I shall. In it, the Ego, which through. mere reflection is immediately visible as a Principle, becomes the Principle of the Schema, - as is apparent in the insight of Knowledge in its unity, and of the Divine Life as its substratum, which we have already adduced; - to which I may now add, by virtue of this immediate reflection- - I think this, - I produce this insight. This Knowledge, by means of a Principle which is immediately visible as a Principle, is Pure Thought, as we said; - in contradistinction to that by means of an immediate invisible Principle - Intuition.

These two, Pure Thought and Intuition, are thus distinguished from each other in this, - that the latter, even in its very principle, is abolished and annihilated by the former. Their connection, on the other hand, consists in this, - that the latter is a condition of the practical possibility of the former, - also that the Ego which appears in the latter, still remains in the former in its mere Schema, and is there taken into account, although in its Actuality it is abolished along with Instinct.


In the thought thus described I merely conceive of Knowledge as that which may be the Schema of divine Life, and, - since this possibility if the expression of God and is thus founded in Being, - as that which shall be the Schema of the Divine Life; - but I myself by no means am this. To be this actually no outward power can compel me; as before no outward power could compel me even to realise the Intuition of the true Material World, or to elevate myself to Pure Thought, and therefore to an actual although empty insight into the absolutely formal Imperative. This remains in my own power; nut now, since all the practical conditions are fulfilled, it stands immediately in power.

If, setting aside on the one hand mere void Intuition, and on the other empty Intelligising, I should now, with absolute freedom and independence of these, realise my Power, what would ensue? A Schema; - a Knowledge therefore which, through Intelligising, I already know as the Schema of God; but which, in the knowledge thus realised, immediately appears to me as that which I absolutely shall; - a Knowledge, the substance of which proceeds neither from the World of Sense, for this is abolished, - nor from contemplation of the mere empty Form of Knowledge, for this too I have cast aside; - but which exists through absolutely as it is, just as the Divine Life, whose Schema it is, is through itself absolutely as it is.

I know now that I shall. But all Actual Knowledge brings with it, by its formal nature, its schematised apposition; - although I now know of the Schema of God, yet I am not yet immediately this Schema, but I am only a Schema of the Schema. The required Being is not yet realised.

I shall be. Who is this I? Evidently that which is, - the Ego gives in Intuition, the Individual. This shall be.

What does its Being signify? It is given as a Principle in the World of Sense. Blind Instinct is indeed annihilated, and in its place there now stands the clearly perceived Shall. But the Power that at first set this Instinct in motion remains, in order that the Shall my now set it (the Power) in motion, and become its higher determining Principle. By means of this Power, I shall therefore, within its sphere, - the World of Sense, - produce and make manifest that which I recognise as my true Being in the Supersensuous World.

The Power is given as an Infinite; - hence that which in the World of Thought is absolutely One - that which I shall - becomes in the World of Intuition an infinite problem for my Power, which I have to solve in all Eternity.

This Infinitude, which is properly a mere indefiniteness, can have place only in Intuition, but by means in my true Essential Being, which, as the Schema of God, is as simple and unchangeable as himself. How then can this simplicity and unchangeableness be produced within the yet continuing Infinitude, which is expressly consecrated by the absolute Shall addressed to me as an Individual?

If, in the onflow of Time, the Ego, in every successive moment, had to determine itself by a particular act, through the conception of what it shall, - then in its original Unity, it was assuredly indeterminate, and only continuously determinable in an Infinite Time. But such an act of determination could only become possible in Time, in opposition to some resisting power. This resisting power, which was thus to be conquered by the act of determination, could be nothing else than the Sensuous Instinct; and hence the necessity of such a continuous self-determination in Time would be the sure proof that the Instinct was not yet thoroughly abolished; which abolition we have made a condition of entering upon the Life in God.

Through the actual and complete annihilation of the Instinct, that infinite determinability is itself annihilated and absorbed in a single, absolute determination. This determination is the absolute and simple Will which makes the likewise simple Imperative the impulsive Principle of the Power. Even if this Power should still flow forth into Infinitude, as it must do, the variety is only in its products, not in itself: - it is simple, and its purpose is simple, and this purpose is at once and for ever completed.

And thus then the Will is that point in which Intelligising, and Intuition or Reality, thoroughly interpenetrate each other. It is a real principle, - for it is absolute, irresistibly determining the Power, while it also maintains and supports itself, - it is an intelligising principle, - for it penetrates itself, and recognises the Imperative. In it the Power is completely exhausted, and the Schema of the Divine Life elevated to Actuality.

The infinite activity of the Power itself is not for its own sake, and as an ultimate end; but it is only for the sake of evidencing, in Intuition, the Being of the Will.


Thus then does the Doctrine of Knowledge, which in its substance is the realisation of the absolute Power of intelligising which has now been defined, end with the recognition of itself as a mere Schema in a Doctrine of Wisdom, although indeed a necessary and indispensable means to such a Doctrine: - a Schema, the sole aim of which is, with the knowledge thus acquired, - by which knowledge alone a Will, clear and intelligible to itself and reposing upon itself without wavering or perplexity, is possible, - to return wholly into Actual Life; - not into the Life of blind and irrational Instinct which we have laid bare in all its nothingness, but into the Divine Life which shall become visible to us.