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History of Philosophy
German Philosophy: The Kantians, The Romantic Movement, Fichte, Schelling
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

Kant's philosophy was opposed by the exponents of Wolffian dogmatism, such as Eberhard (1739-1809), by the sceptic Schulze (1761-1833), by the eclectic Herder (1744-1803), and by the Fideists, Hamann (1730-1788) and Jacobi (1743- 1819). It was defended and developed by Reinhold (1758-1823), who was successively a Jesuit novice, a member of the Barnabite order, a member of the staff of the Deutscher Merkur, and professor of philosophy at Jena and Kiel. With Reinhold are associated Salomon Maimon (1756-1800), Krug (1770-1842), who was Kant's successor at Konigsberg, and Beck (1761-1840), who, like Fichte, attempted to give greater systematic unity to the Kantian system. The poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) contributed to Popularizing the moral and aesthetic doctrines of Kant.


The romantic movement corresponded with the beginning of the era of national reconstruction in Germany and was not without effect on the development of philosophic thought in that country. It accentuated the importance of the spiritual life not only of the individual, but of the race, and even in a certain analogical sense of nature itself. Jean Paul Richter (1763-1825), whose dialogue on the immortality of the soul, entitled Kampanerthal, is less widely known than it deserves to be, is one of the first of the romanticists, or, as some prefer to consider him, a forerunner of the romantic movement. [1] After passing through different phases of subordination of individual spiritual progress to the general spiritual concept of nature, romanticism reached its final form in the writings of Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), author of Lucinde, turned ultimately from the cultus of genius to the profession of the Catholic faith, where he found that emancipation from the limitations of the commonplace which he had in vain sought in romanticism.
[1] Cf. Francke, Social Force: in German Literature (New York, 1897), pp. 402 ff.
It was Fichte who imparted to the Kantian system its highest systematic unity, and at the same time combined the many and diverse elements of romanticism in his assertion of the supremacy of the inner consciousness and inner spiritual life of the individual.


Life. Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born at Rammenau in Upper Lusatia in 1762. After studying at Meissen and at Pforta, he took a course of theology at Jena and Leipzig. From 1788 to 1790 he lived at Zurich as family tutor. In 1791 he went to Königsberg, and it was through Kant's influence that he was enabled to publish, in 1792, his Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung. After that he published several political treatises. In 1794 he obtained the chair of philosophy at Jena and published his Wissenschaftslehre. On being dismissed from the University of Jena, he lectured successively at Berlin, Erlangen, and, for a brief interval, at Königsberg. In 1808 appeared the famous Reden an die deutsche Nation, and when, in 1810, the University of Berlin was founded, Fichte was appointed to a professorship, which he held until his death in 1814.

Sources. Fichte's complete works were edited by his son, J. H. Fichte, in 1845-1846. Several of Fichte's more important treatises were translated by Dr. William Smith under the title, Fichte's Popular Works (fourth edition, London, 1889). The Wissenschaftslehre was translated by C. C. Everett (Fichte's Science of Knowledge, Chicago, 1884), and the Rechtslehre by A. E. Kroeger (The Science of Rights, London, 1889). Consult Adamson, Fichte (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics, Edinburgh and Philadelphia, 1892); A. B. Thompson, The Unity of Fichte's Doctrine of Knowledge (Boston, 1895).


Starting Point and Aim. Fichte is commonly said to hold to Kant and Spinoza the same relation that Plato held to Socrates and Parmenides. His immediate starting point is Kant's philosophy; his aim is to complete and unify what is incomplete and only partially unified in that system of thought. Kant was well aware that his theory of knowledge as expounded in the Critique of Pure Reason was incomplete and lacking in coherent unity, but he was not equally conscious of the lack of a logical and consistent transition from the conclusions of the first critique to the principles with which the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgment begin. It was Fichte's aim, as indeed it was the aim of Schelling and Hegel, to supply a single principle, an all-embracing formula, which should at once complete Kant's analysis of speculative thought and afford a systematic and logical basis for the analysis of the data of ethics and aesthetics. Such a principle Fichte found in the Ego, which takes the place of the thing-in-itself as the ultimate reality, and is, moreover, the ultimate in the practical as well as in the speculative order. For, in Fichte's doctrine of the Ego we find that self does not stand merely for self-consciousness, but also for duty. When he styled his most important constructive treatise Wissenschaftslehre he did not intend to convey the impression that his philosophy is merely an account of the methods of scientific research; he meant rather that it is a science of knowledge, understanding by knowledge the sum total of our experience as it presents itself in consciousness; so that philosophy may be defined as a rethinking in self consciousness of the experience which is presented as a completed whole in direct consciousness.

It is usual to distinguish the earlier and the later forms of Fichte's philosophical system.

Earlier Form. Here we may further distinguish Fichte's theoretical and practical doctrines.

A. Theoretical Philosophy. Thought cannot be reduced to being, but being can be reduced to thought. Similarly, thought cannot be derived from being, but being can be derived from thought. Kant was unsuccessful in his synthesis of knowledge because he tried to deduce the categories and other forms of thought from the logical relations of subject to predicate and, therefore, ultimately from experience. If, on the contrary, we deduce the forms of thought from the nature of consciousness, we shall find that experience and all its noumenal content (the thing-in-itself) are capable of being derived from the conscious activity of the Ego, -- from the deed-acts (Thathandlungen) of the thinking subject. Thus the thing-in-itself is absorbed, so to speak, in the subject, and instead of ultimate dualism we have idealistic monism. The Ego, and the Ego alone, is real. We need not go beyond experience to find the ultimate reality, but in our analysis of experience we abstract the Ego, which is, therefore, transcendental though not transcendent.

The three principles. Taking up now the deed-acts of consciousness, we find that in every act of self-contemplation we affirm, or posit, the identity of subject and object, -- the self as representing and the self as represented. We have, therefore, the first principle, -- "The Ego posits itself." It is hardly necessary to point out that by Ego Fichte does not mean the individual, but the universal self-consciousness, the I-ness (Ich-heit). Take the proposition A = A. It posits nothing about A; for A is for the Ego simply and solely by virtue of being posited by the Ego. Therefore the nexus between A and A is the position of the Ego, the affirmation that I am. [2] What, considered in the abstract, is the logical law of identity, is, in its application to objects, the (only) category of reality. But if we continue our examination of the facts of empirical consciousness, we find there a certain opposition, which may be expressed in the general formula Not-A is not equal to A (not to be confounded with Not-A = Not-A, which is a case of identity), and if we treat this proposition as we treated the first, we find that it means that in the Ego the non-Ego is opposed to the Ego. Here we have the second principle, -- "A non-Ego is opposed to the Ego." Now, since the Ego is the only reality, it is through the Ego that the non-Ego is posited and the Ego denied. Therefore the Ego both posits and negates itself. It is, however, as fundamental for Fichte as it was for Spinoza that all negation is limitation. Therefore the Ego in part negates the non-Ego, and the non-Ego in part negates the Ego, -- which is the third principle. In this thesis, antithesis, and synthesis we find the germ of the Hegelian triadism. It is important to note also that Fichte identifies the Ego with self-activity, and teaches that it exists not only for itself (für sich) but through itself (durch sich).
[2] Werke, I, 98.
From these principles Fichte deduces not only the fundamental laws of thought, but also the fundamental laws of being, -- the law of causation, the principle of sufficient reason, etc.

The question, however, remains to be answered, Why does the Ego interrupt the unbroken activity by which it posits itself? Why does it posit the non-Ego? Fichte, we have already said, regards the idea of duty as no less essential to the Ego than the idea of self-consciousness. Taking up, therefore, the moral aspect of the Ego, he answers that effort and struggle are necessary for the attainment of the highest good. The Ego posits the non-Ego in order to make effort and struggle possible; the Ego is theoretical, in order to be practical: it represents a non-Ego in order to act upon it, to overcome its limitations, and thus to make it disappear in the Ego. This consideration is the basis of practical philosophy.

B. Practical Philosophy. Without conflict there is no morality. Activity is, therefore, the essence of morality, and inertness is the radical evil. Man should strive to become self-dependent and thereby attain independence and freedom. To this general maxim is added the special rule of conduct for each individual: Always follow the inner necessity which urges you to attain to freedom through action; fulfill your vocation; act according to your conscience. [3]
[3] Cf. Höffding, op. cit., II, 158.
Besides this internal necessity (conscience), Fichte admits an external necessity, namely right, which has exclusive reference to external conduct, just as conscience refers to internal disposition. Although right is external, it originates from the Ego; for as in general the Ego, in positing itself, posits also the non-Ego, so the practical Ego, in positing itself as a free agent, posits the other-self, the thou, as another free agent. From the coexistence of free agents arises the limitation of the freedom of the Ego, imposed by the necessity of respecting the freedom of others: this necessity is right. The law of right is, therefore, So limit thy freedom that others may be free along with thee. When this limitation is not observed and the freedom of others is infringed, it is the duty of the State -- not of the individual who is injured -- to interfere and enforce the observance of the limitations of freedom. And, as it is the duty of the State to safeguard the rights of its subjects, it is the mission of the Church to impress on all men, by means of symbols, the limitations of the individual, and by so doing to deepen and strengthen moral convictions. [4]
[4] Op. cit., II, 160.
Later Form of Fichte's philosophy. During the last years of his life Fichte devoted special attention to the political and religious aspects of his philosophy of self-consciousness. His Addresses to the German Nation contributed much to the growth of the national ideal among his fellow-countrymen, an ideal which was realized in the educational and political reconstruction of the country during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the later expositions of the Science of Knowledge, he developed his religious philosophy, bringing out into special prominence the truth that in the Deity there is something more than self-consciousness, that in piety there is something more than moral conduct, and that religion is, therefore, something more than philosophy and ethics; for it is peace and life and blessed love. The Ego, which he had identified with God, he now regards as an image of the Absolute (God). Here we see, on the one hand, the influence of Spinoza's pantheism, and, on the other, that of the Christian doctrine of the Logos.

Historical Position. Fichte's system is the first of a series of post-Kantian efforts to reduce the incomplete synthesis which Kant had effected to a more compact and coherent form -- by substituting the unity of a single formula for the Kantian trinity of idea, thing-in-itself, and subject. The formula which Fichte proposed was the Ego. From this he deduced all thought and all being, including the thing-in-itself; and from the Ego he derived all reality, as the Neo-Platonists had derived it from the one, and Spinoza from the substance. His philosophy is, therefore, monistic. It may be styled a system of subjective idealism, or pan-egoism, if when we use the term pan-egoism we remember Fichte's protest against identifying the Ego with individual self-consciousness. Fichte's relation to Kant and his place in the romantic movement are evident in his doctrine of the essentially ethical aspect of the activity of the Ego, -- the inclusion of duty, or spiritual activity, as well as conscious representation, in the notion of self.


Life. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph (von) Schelling was born at Leonberg, in Würtemberg, in 1775. At the age of sixteen he entered the theological seminary at Tübingen, where he studied theology, philosophy, and philology. He spent the years 1796-1797 at Leipzig, where, while fulfilling his duties as tutor to a young nobleman, he studied mathematics and natural science and published his first work, Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur. In 1798 he was appointed to lecture at Jena, where he had Fichte for colleague. From 1803 to 1841 he taught successively at Würzburg, Erlangen, and Munich. In 1841 he was made member of the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and lectured at the university for several years. He died at Ragatz in Switzerland in 1854.

Sources. Besides the Ideen, Schelling wrote several treatises on the philosophy of nature. He contributed to the philosophy of religion and of mythology several important treatises. The most systematic of his works is Der transcendentale Idealismus, published in 1800. His works were collected and published in fourteen volumes by his son (Stuttgart and Augsburg, 1856 ff.). Consult Watson's Schelling's Transcendental Idealism (Griggs' Philosophical Classics, Chicago, 1882).


General Character of Schelling's Philosophy. While Schelling was a student at Tübingen, his favorite authors were Kant, Fichte, and Spinoza; later he came in contact with Hegel, and was impelled, by way of reaction against Hegel's naturalism, to turn for inspiration to the mysticism of the Neo-Platonists and of Jakob Böhme. Herder and Giordano Bruno also left traces of their influence on his philosophy. Schelling was at first a disciple of Fichte, but he subsequently transferred his allegiance to different schools in succession, and since, as Hegel said, he "carried on his studies in public," he expounded successively at least five different systems.

First System. Previously to the publication of the Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797) Schelling adhered to the doctrines of Fichte.

Second System. During the years 1797-1800, the most productive period of his literary life, Schelling expounded a philosophy of nature and a transcendental philosophy of spirit.

1. Philosophy of Nature. Fichte regarded nature as merely a limitation of the Ego, as at most a means to the exercise of man's spiritual and moral activity; Schelling advocates the recognition of nature as a source of spiritual activity. He teaches that nature is not merely object but also subject, not indeed a subject fully conscious, or completely awake, but semi-conscious and slumbering. We should therefore study nature in order to discover the laws by which spirit is developed out of nature into self-consciousness. For nature is not the antithesis of spirit, both being the products of a higher principle which posits nature (wherein it reflects itself imperfectly) and through nature attains to spirit (where it reflects itself consciously, and to that extent adequately). [5]
[5] Cf. Falckenberg, op. cit., p. 364 (English trans., p. 448).
Empirical physics regards nature as mere being, or product; speculative physics (the philosophy of nature) looks upon nature as becoming, or productive. But, just as Fichte recognized the limitations of the activity of the Ego, Schelling limits the productivity of nature by positing its essential polarity. If, he observes, there were no arrest of productivity, nature would continue striving towards the Infinite, and there would be no product; there is, therefore, a retarding as well as a stimulating force. All nature is dual; the magnet, with its union of opposite polar forces, is the symbol of the life and productive activity of nature. In an essay entitled On the World-Soul (1798), Schelling developed the idea of an animated nature pervaded by an organizing principle, which originates and maintains the conflict of contending forces. Hence the inorganic is to be explained by the organic, and, in general, the lower by the higher.

2. Transcendental Philosophy of Spirit. The philosophy of spirit concerns itself with the phenomena of the spirit as they manifest themselves in representation, action, and artistic enjoyment. We have, therefore, three divisions of transcendental philosophy.

(a) Theoretical philosophy. Here we start with self-consciousness and proceed to explain how it is that we represent to ourselves certain images of external reality, or, in other words, how it is that in the act of representation we feel compelled, as it were, by an external something, to represent in a certain manner. The general explanation is that there are two opposing forces, the one real and the other ideal, which by their alternate action limit the spirit to the state of sensation, then to that of reflection, and finally to that of volition, which is at once the culmination of the theoretical life and the beginning of the practical life of the spirit.

(b) Practical philosophy. Here we start with impulse, which arises from the theoretical activity of the spirit positing the distinction between self and not-self, and which differs from that theoretical activity by a mere difference of degree. Progress in moral life means the gradual overcoming of the non-ego, and the final goal of moral striving is complete independence of the ego as will. It is only in the initial concept of nature as reproduced, not produced by the ego, and in the "supplementary" considerations on law, state, and history, that Schelling differs from Fichte in his practical philosophy; both identify moral life with independence.

(c) AEsthetic philosophy. In the theory of art Schelling introduces Kant's notion of the beautiful, modifying it, as he modified Kant's teleological concept, to suit the needs of his more compact idealistic system. The beautiful, he teaches, is the perfect realization of the union of the sublective and oblective, -- a union to which history approximates, but which art accomplishes. In art the antithesis between the real and the ideal, between action and representation, between impulse and reflection disappears. Art is, therefore, the solution of all the problems of philosophy. [6]
[6] Cf. op. cit., p. 370 (English trans., p. 456).
Third System. So far Schelling may be said to have extended and modified the subjective idealism of Fichte by distinguishing the philosophy of nature from that of spirit, and by recognizing as the prius of both nature and spirit a common ground or principle from which both are deduced. In his third system he emphasizes the importance of this principle, which he calls the Absolute, and which he defines as the identity of the real and the ideal. [7] Here the line of thought and even the method and manner of exposition are Spinozistic. To the philosophy of nature and the transcendental philosophy of spirit, which still remain as integral portions of the system, there is added the philosophy of identity, in which all things are viewed sub specie aeterni, and are thus led back to the Absolute, God, in Whom they are identified. It is important, however, to note that the identification of the real and the ideal in the Absolute is complete, not because of the power of the Absolute to develop the real and the ideal, but because of its indetermination . On account of this indetermination Schelling's Absolute was compared by Hegel to the night in which all cows are black.
[7] Cf. Windelband, History of Philosophy (trans. by Tufts, New York, 1901), p. 608.
In the derivation of the real from the Absolute we are to distinguish three moments: gravity, light, and organization. The organic concept of nature is, however, preserved; for even in the first moment organization is present, inasmuch as the inorganic is the residuum of the organic, -- that which failed to attain complete organization.

Fourth System. In the fourth system Schelling, after the manner of the Neo-Platonists, accounts for the origin of the universe by a "breaking away," or "falling off," from the Absolute. In the previous system the world was swallowed up, so to speak, in the indifference of the Absolute; now it is placed in striking contrast with it, and the independence of the Absolute is emphasized. We find in this fourth system a fuller and deeper realization of the problem of evil, and at least an implied confession of the inability of monism to account satisfactorily for the existence of evil in the world.

Fifth System. This may be briefly described as a theogony and cosmogony after the manner of Jakob Böhme. [8]
[8] Cf. Höffding, oo. cit., II, 171, 172.
Historical Position. Schelling's philosophy is deserving of careful study both by reason of its intrinsic importance and of the influence, direct and indirect, which it exerted on other systems. It offers, however, more than usual difficulty because of the wealth of imaginative power which Schelling brought to bear on even the most abstruse problems of metaphysics, and also because of the successive change of view in the five periods into which his mental history is divided. Taking the third system, the philosophy of identity, as the most typical stage in the development of Schelling's thought, we may describe it as a system of idealistic monism in which subject and object are identified in the indifference of the Absolute. Thus it stands contrasted, on the one hand, with the subjective idealism of Fichte, and, on the other, with the dynamic idealism of Hegel, who identified subject and object in an Absolute which is universal, not because it is indifferent, but because in it all differences are immanently contained.

Before we pass to the study of Hegel, mention must be made of the disciples and co-workers of Schelling, who represent different phases of his philosophy of nature and his philosophy of religion. Among the naturalists influenced by Schelling are Steffens (1773-1845), Oken (1779-1851), Schubert (1780-1860), and Carus (1789-1869), all of whom were distinguished in their day as biologists, physicists, or psychologists. Among the philosophers of religion whom Schelling influenced, the two best known are Baader (1765-1841), who, from the Catholic standpoint, attempted a religio-philosophical synthesis of Neo-Platonism, Scholasticism, post-mediaeval mysticism, and German transcendental philosophy, and Schielermacher (1768- 1834), who, from the Protestant standpoint, endeavored to combine the most varied elements in an eclectic philosophy of religion.


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