Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism

By Dieter Henrich; David S. Pacini | Go to book overview

14
The Science of Knowledge
(1794–1795)

Fichte's philosophy has the reputation of being one of the most paradoxical and opaque undertakings in the history of Western thought. I am convinced, however, that we can make sense of this philosophy, but only by way of a genetic analysis of the conceptual constellations out of which the idealistic positions emerge. Such an analysis allows us to understand the conditions under which Fichte generated his philosophy, the intentions he held that underlie his arguments, and the various attempts he made to structure his theory. Once we have gained some familiarity with this background, it becomes possible for us to move more freely inside Fichte's system. Apart from such knowledge, we would doubtless recur to the caricatures of Fichte's philosophy that derive from the paralyzing effects of its paradoxical theorems, its unstable terminology, and its apparently unjustified premises.

Once we leave the critics of Kant and begin to engage Fichte, the density of philosophical thoughts and the preoccupation with systematic concerns increase significantly. Fichte is, after all, the first philosopher who tried to carry through an idealistic system of philosophy. At the very least, we owe him credit for the novelty of his program. I think, as well, that we must grant him some leeway in light of the external pressures that were brought to bear on him regarding publication. Fichte was well aware that these pressures prompted the premature presentation of his system, which he very much regretted. Despite these regrets, Fichte would claim a decade later that the Science of Knowledge, if read in the right way, already contained everything for a complete interpretation of an idealistic system of philosophy. Such pressures and revisionist thinking notwithstanding, Fichte was, nonetheless, the first philosopher after Kant to conceive of a

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