Fichte, Johann Gottlieb

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (yō´hän gôt´lēp fĬkh´tə), 1762–1814, German philosopher. After studying theology at Jena and working as a tutor in Zürich and Leipzig, he became interested in Kantian philosophy. He received public recognition for his Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung [critique of all revelation] (1792), which was at first attributed to Kant himself, who highly commended the work. As professor of philosophy at Jena (1793–99), Fichte produced a number of works, including the Wissenschaftslehre [science of knowledge] (1794). Charges of atheism forced him to leave Jena for Berlin where he restated his views in Die Bestimmung des Menschen (1800, tr. The Vocation of Man, rev. ed. 1956). His Reden an die deutsche Nation (1808, tr., Addresses to the German People, 1923) established him as a leader of liberal nationalism. After several brief professorships, he served (1810–12) as rector of the new Univ. of Berlin. Fichte's dialectic idealism attempted unification of the theoretical and practical aspects of cognition that had been set apart by Kant. He did this by rejecting the noumenal realm of Kant and by making the active indivisible ego the source of the structure of experience. From there his dialectical logic led to the postulation of a moral will of the universe, a God or absolute ego from which all eventually derives and which therefore unites all knowing. Fichte's philosophy had considerable influence in his day, but later he was remembered more as a patriot and liberal. Although he was in political disrepute in his own day and after the reaction of 1815, he became a hero not only to the revolutionaries of 1848 but also to the conservatives of 1871. His political theory had socialistic aspects that influenced Ferdinand Lassalle. His son, Immanuel Hermann von Fichte, 1797–1879, edited Fichte's works, wrote a biography of him, and also did original philosophical work.

See biography by H. E. Engelbrecht (1933, repr. 1968).

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