. 4
( 12)


of consciousness” and thus involves itself with the complex ways in which we must understand
the manners in which the “subject”confers certain formal features on experience in order to
transform subjective states into “representations.” The move to idealism comes by re¬‚ecting not
simply on the fact that the representation is different from the represented object, but on the way
that this must function in the subjectivity of the agent. On the other hand, Ameriks™s charge that
Reinhold™s stress on creating a “foundationalist” version of Kantianism mistakes Kant™s own
views seems exactly on the mark.
 Reinhold, Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsverm¨gens, p. °.
The ±·°s: Jacobi and Reinhold ±°
laborious analysis and clear thinking, he thought, stood a chance of
making philosophy into the science it needed to be.
Reinhold became a star in the German ¬rmament, attracting as many
as °° students to his lectures in Jena (unheard of at the time); and, with
Reinhold™s fame, Jena, also the home of the Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung
and the Teutscher Merkur (the journal edited by Wieland and Reinhold),
became the intellectual epicenter of the “new philosophy,” and other
equally celebrated journals also edited and published at Jena quickly
sprang up in its environs. Reinhold™s own personality helped to cement
his attraction for students. He was patient, kindly (almost in a pastoral
way), and conveyed to all around him his own sense that his system was
a continuous work in progress, not “ despite its claims to be a science “
a ¬nished product that only needed to be proclaimed from the lectern.
Indeed, one of the things that made Reinhold so magnetic for students
was the clear sense that he projected that he was not so much interested
in promulgating his own views as he was at getting at the truth, and
that getting it right not only mattered to him, it mattered crucially for
the emerging modern world around him. There is hardly anything but
praise for Reinhold™s humanity in all personal descriptions of him, and,
staying true to his own claims, Reinhold kept continuously revising his
views. There is no doubt that the hordes of students coming to Jena to
hear Reinhold were captivated by the conviction that, in Kant™s and now
in Reinhold™s hands, philosophy had once again sprung to life and taken
its place as the way of thinking that engaged most deeply in those things
that ultimately mattered to humanity.
Reinhold™s own writings are ¬lled with impassioned pleas for the ne-
cessity of recognizing philosophy as a science and with his clear sense
that any failure to do this would leave all the important things up in
the air. Such rigorous, university-based philosophy is nothing less, as
Reinhold forthrightly put it, than what “is necessary for humanity.”
He bemoaned the waning in¬‚uence of philosophy in the culture at large
(at the same time that it was gaining in notoriety), noting that in his
own time particularly “for theology and jurisprudence, she is not recog-
nized as more than an old handmaiden,” and offered his own form of
philosophy as a way of arresting this degeneration.µ The sense among
the students of the day that they themselves were living unprecedented
lives and could not therefore look to the lives of their parents™ generation
 Reinhold, Uber die M¨glichkeit der Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, p. µ ( p. ±·, reprint). See also
¨ o
the “Preface” to Uber das Fundament des Philosophischen Wissens, p. xvi.
µ Reinhold, Uber die M¨glichkeit der Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, p.  ( p. ±·±, reprint).
¨ o
±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
for guidance, coupled with the feeling among Reinhold™s audience that
something new was in the air, provided the emotional background to
Reinhold™s impassioned search for a foundation for philosophy and phi-
losophy as a professionalized science. The experiential core animating
the enthusiastic reception of Reinhold™s explorations was the powerfully
felt but only barely articulated notion that without getting clear about
the basics, we would never get clear about what else was supposed to
follow from those basics, and with no ¬rm guidelines in the past to orient
us, it was all the more important to get all that right if we were to have
any clear direction about where we should be going in life. As German
intellectuals were struggling to free themselves from the hold of theo-
logical orthodoxy “ prior to the nineteenth century, disputes involving
university professors had almost always been about alleged violations
of some theological orthodoxy “ the Jena model of a “philosophical”
university came to seem more and more attractive. The “homelessness”
experienced so deeply by those intellectuals made Reinhold™s attempt
to create a new “home” (with secure “foundations”) for them within a
modernized university tremendously appealing, indeed exercising an at-
traction for them that went on at a deeper level than mere philosophical
doctrine ever could. Reinhold™s own life and the way he had recreated
himself from being a Jesuit novitiate and Catholic priest to being a mar-
ried Protestant professor and philosophical “scientist” itself was a model
for those who were unsure of their own lives and had their futures hang-
ing in the air. Reinhold™s attempt to provide the secure foundations of
a new “home” for the German intellectual public, at least at ¬rst, met
with an enthusiastic response.
° µ

The ±·°s: Fichte

In the hothouse atmosphere of Jena in the last part of the eighteenth cen-
tury (which Reinhold himself helped to create), Reinhold™s star rapidly
set about as fast as it rose. Although by ±·° he had become, after Kant,
the guiding light of German philosophy, by around ±°° he seems to
have been by and large forgotten. It should also be remembered that de-
spite Reinhold™s initial and meteoric success, not everybody among the
German intellectual public was completely happy with the post-Kantian
direction in which he was taking German philosophy. To many, the whole
apparatus of “transcendental idealism” itself seemed far-fetched, and,
despite Kant™s newly won prestige, there were rumblings to be heard
against it on all sides of the German intellectual spectrum.
These reached a new crescendo with the publication in ±· of
an anonymous piece chie¬‚y known by the abridgment of its title,
“Aenesidemus.”± At ¬rst the author was anonymous, although his identity
was quickly revealed to be that of G. E. L. Schulze, a professor of philos-
ophy at Helmst¨ dt. The literary conceit of the piece involved Schulze™s
adopting the pseudonym, Aenesidemus (a ¬rst-century  Greek skeptic),
who enters into a dialogue with Hermias, a so-called Kantian, so
that Aenesidemus“Schulze could demonstrate the bankruptcy of the
Kantian position. Offering a self-styled “Humean” attack on Kantianism
in general and on Reinhold in particular, “Aenesidemus” proved to
be devastating for Reinhold™s career. Although the piece covered quite
a bit of ground, its criticisms boiled down to roughly three: (±) both
Reinhold and Kant introduced the notion of a thing-in-itself as the
cause of representations or sensations in the thinking subject, a claim

± The full title is “Aenesidemus, or, On the Foundations of the Elemental Philosophy offered by
Professor Reinhold in Jena. Including a Defense of Skepticism against the Presumptuousness of
the Critique of Reason.” See Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Aenesidemus, oder, Uber die Fundamente der von
dem Herrn Professor Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementar-Philosophie: nebst einer Verteidigung des Skeptizismus
gegen die Anmaßungen der Vernunftkritik (ed. Manfred Frank) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, ±).

±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
which violated the strictures of both Kant™s and Reinhold™s theory;
() Reinhold™s alleged “fact of consciousness” was anything but such
a “fact”; some mental states, such as sensations of pain, did not ¬t the
model of “subject/representation/object” at all; () there was a massive
inconsistency in Reinhold™s account of self-consciousness, since Reinhold
required all consciousness to involve representations, and a self-conscious
subject therefore had to have a representation of itself, which, in turn, re-
quired a subject to relate the representation of the subject to itself, which,
in turn, implied an in¬nite regress. In effect, “Aenesidemus” kept alive
and underscored the interpretation of Kantian idealism as primarily an
attempt to refute skepticism; and, in response, it argued that Kant had in
fact not only not refuted the skeptic but also that Kant himself was only a
sort of “phenomenalist,” somebody who believed that we construct our
ideas about physical objects as hypotheses to explain our own sensations.
It concluded with the assertion that Hume (again, interpreted as a skeptic)
was right, that we have no real knowledge of things, only knowledge of
our subjective states.
Although “Aenesidemus” in some ways dealt a lethal blow to
Reinhold™s “Elemental Philosophy,” it also became the launching point
for his successor, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (±·“±±). The son of a
ribbon-weaver in Saxony, Fichte had been given the unexpected chance
for education when a local noble, fascinated by the eight-year-old Fichte™s
ability to recount afterward that day™s sermon in church, decided that it
would be better if the young boy were given a proper education. Fichte
was removed from his familial home (which by his own later accounts was
an emotionally cold environment) and eventually sent to a Gymnasium
(university preparatory school), where he was always made to feel acutely
aware of his social inferiority to the other students. Although Fichte
was able to attend university for a brief period, ¬nancial exigencies
forced him to withdraw. Toying with the idea of entering several dif-
ferent careers (including being a pastor), Fichte ended up journeying to
K¨ nigsberg to meet Kant, where in order to impress the master he wrote
a short piece, “An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation” (±·±); this led
to an astonishing piece of good luck, since when the piece was published
(with Kant™s assistance), the publisher “ inadvertently or purposefully, it
is not clear “ omitted Fichte™s name and Fichte™s preface, and, since the
piece was written with such a thorough command of the whole Kantian
apparatus, everyone assumed the author could only be Kant himself.
When it was revealed that the author was in fact Fichte, Fichte™s fame
was sealed. Another new star had joined the intellectual ¬rmament.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±°·
His newly found literary fame gave him the opening he needed, and
when Reinhold resigned from Jena in ±· to accept a much better pay-
ing position in Kiel, Fichte was designated to be his successor, with Fichte
arriving in Jena only shortly after Reinhold had departed. (The two
men never personally met, although they corresponded.) The Allgemeine
Literatur Zeitung commissioned the newly famous Fichte to do a review of
“Aenesidemus,” which ¬nally appeared early in ±·; that review served
only to raise his own status even further, and, quite inadvertently, helped
to lower Reinhold™s, since in the review he conceded many of the points
raised by Schulze against Reinhold™s views. However, he turned the
tables on both Schulze and Reinhold; to be sure, so Fichte conceded
to “Aenesidemus,” Reinhold™s “proposition of consciousness” only ex-
presses a “fact,” and, to be sure, it cannot make good on the basic claims
in Kantian thought. However, why should we assume, so Fichte argued,
that we have to begin with a “fact” of any sort at all? Since the basic, ¬rst
principle of the kind of philosophical “science” for which Reinhold was
striving had to be itself normative and not “factual” in character, that ¬rst
principle could not be a “fact” (a “Tatsache” in the German) but a kind of
“norm guided action” (a “Tathandlung,” literally a “deed-act”), a funda-
mental mode of doing something that serves as the basis of other norms.
The kind of “distinguishing” and “relating” that the subject is supposed
to do in Reinhold™s philosophy should be conceived along more truly
Kantian lines in terms of basic acts of synthesis according to normative
rules, not in terms of being derived from some fundamental “fact” of
any sort.
Building on that point, Fichte argued that Schulze™s major criticism
of Reinhold and Kant “ that they were internally inconsistent in posit-
ing things-in-themselves as the ground of our sensations of them “ was
itself misguided. Schulze concluded that we cannot know with certainty
anything of things-in-themselves; we can know with certainty only the
contents of our own mental states. Fichte argued, though, that it would
make more sense to admit that the whole notion of a thing-in-itself
(which Schulze shared with Reinhold) is only, as Fichte put it, a “piece
of whimsy, a pipe-dream, a non-thought.”
That rejection of things-in-themselves and what it entailed was elabo-
rated by Fichte in the ¬rst version of his own system of philosophy, given as
his initial lectures in Jena and published in ±· as simply, “The Foundations

 J. G. Fichte, “Review of Aenesidemus,” in Daniel Breazeale (ed. and trans.), Fichte: Early Philosophical
Writings (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, ±), p. ·±.
±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
of the Whole Doctrine of Science.” As is everything with Fichte™s highly orig-
inal writings, even the title is dif¬cult to translate. Fichte decided to call
his system the Wissenschaftslehre, literally “Doctrine of Science,” but the
overtones of the term have to do with its being a doctrine of all forms of
knowledge. (It is sometimes translated as “Science of Knowledge,” and
it could also be rendered as the “theory of knowledge” or the “theory of
scienti¬c knowledge,” but it is usually just left in the scholarly literature
in English as the sui generis term it is, “Wissenschaftslehre.”)
Fichte also considered his system to be a continual work in progress
and was forever revising it, adopting new terminology, new modes of
presenting its fundamental ideas, and in general feeling no particular
need to explain to readers where and why he had changed his mode
of presentation. This has made interpreting Fichte especially laborious;
there are sixteen different versions of the Wissenschaftslehre in his collected
writings, each differing from the other in crucial ways, and almost any-
thing one says in general about the Wissenschaftslehre as a whole can be
countered with some contrary passage in one of the versions. Moreover,
since, as Fichte explained it, the ±· version was itself printed merely to
relieve the students from the burden of taking lecture notes (and thereby
making it easier for them to concentrate on Fichte™s oral presentation of
the material), it was never intended to survive the kinds of close readings
that scholars (and Fichte™s contemporaries) have given it ever since.
Nonetheless, although Fichte insisted over and over again that his sys-
tem was never ¬nished and that each new elaboration of it was only a new
attempt to give adequate expression to what the ideal, completed system
would, if actually ¬nished, look like “ and although Fichte emphasized
that all readers should therefore take its continual work-in-progress status
seriously “ it is still possible to summarize its key points and arguments
if one keeps in mind that almost everything one says about it has to be
For Fichte, the key problem to be solved in completing the system that
Kant had begun was the problem of self-authorization, that is, of what
we have called the “Kantian paradox” (the paradox seemingly lying at
the core of what it means to say that we are subject only to those norms
for which we can regard ourselves as the author). The core insight at
the root of Fichte™s attempt to complete the Kantian system and “solve”
the problem of self-authorization had to do with what he saw as the

 For an insightful overview of Fichte™s development in Jena, see Daniel Breazeale, “Fichte in Jena,”
in Breazeale (ed. and trans.), Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±°
basic dichotomy at the root of the Kantian system. As Kant had shown,
in the world as we experience it, we encounter ourselves as subjects
(unities of experience, “points of view”) making judgments about objects
(as substances interacting causally with each other in space and time),
which, if true, answer to those objects that make them true. However, so
Fichte concluded, that dichotomy itself “ that core distinction between
subjects and objects “ was itself subjectively established; it was a normative
distinction that “subjects” themselves institute. As Fichte saw it, Kant
had shown that everything we encountered was either an object or a
subject; but the dynamic of Kant™s own thoughts should have shown
him that this distinction itself was subjectively established.
To elaborate this notion, Fichte drew on two other key ideas that he
wove into one overall conception: ¬rst, there was his reworking of a tra-
ditional rationalist insight. Second, there was his innovative adaptation
of the Kantian notion of autonomy to explain this rationalist insight.
The initial rationalist insight, in Fichte™s own reminiscences, came
to him all at once and concerned the notion of the relation of things-
in-themselves to thought about them, namely, that “truth consists in the
unity of thought and object.”µ That is, Fichte believed that the only pos-
sible account of justi¬cation had to see the mind as capable of grasping
certain necessary, a priori features of reality through an act of what he
called “intellectual intuition” (the term was Kant™s, although he could
just as easily have called it “rational insight”). In such intellectual intu-
ition we grasp or apprehend a necessary truth that can serve to justify
some other claim.· Fichte™s own examples of such intellectual intuition
 On this notion of one of the terms in a distinction being used to de¬ne the distinction itself, see
the similar notion in Robert Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of
Intentionality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, forthcoming °°).
µ These are not Fichte™s own words but as recounted by one of his students. Cited in Breazeale
(ed. and trans.), Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings, “Fichte in Jena,” p. ±.
 Fichte did not actually deploy the term, “intellectual intuition,” at ¬rst in his exposition of the
Wissenschaftslehre, but the basic idea is already contained in the very earliest formulations, and in
the “Review of Aenesidemus,” it is mentioned explicitly. On the use and development of Fichte™s
use of the term, “intellectual intuition,” see J¨ rgen Stolzenberg, Fichtes Begriff der intellektuellen
Anschauung: die Entwicklung in den Wissenschaftslehren von ±·/ bis ±°±/° (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta,
±); Stolzenberg very helpfully brings out the constructionist elements inherent in Fichte™s
· In the Critique of Judgment, Kant had entertained the thought of such intellectual intuition as that
which would be directly aware of the “supersensible basis” of nature and freedom, even though he
made it clear that in his system such intellectual intuition would be, strictly speaking, impossible
for human knowers. See Kant, Critique of Judgment, §··: “But in fact it is at least possible to consider
the material world as mere appearance, and to think something as [its] substrate, as thing-in-
itself (which is not appearance), and to regard this thing-in-itself as based on a corresponding
intellectual intuition (even though not ours). In that way there would be for nature, which includes
±±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
are geometrical (and resemble a Platonic conception of “noesis”): if we
have two sides of a triangle and are told to supply the missing side, we
immediately “see” that, necessarily, there is only one side that can com-
plete the triangle; this is a necessary truth about triangles themselves;
it is not a statement about our mode of apprehending them, nor is it a
statement about how we use words; it is rather an insight into the neces-
sary structure of things themselves. Another (non-Fichtean example) of
such intellectual intuition would be the apprehension of the truth that
no object can be both red and green all over; this too, along the lines of
Fichte™s account, would not be a statement about how we use the words,
“red” and “green,” nor would it be something true by de¬nition; rather,
it would be a truth about reality itself, having to do with the nature of
extensible surfaces in space. In intellectual intuition we are not, that is,
grasping our mode of apprehending reality or the way we use words; we are
apprehending the necessary structure of reality itself. Thus, our thought
about reality and the necessary structure of reality itself are in the case
of intellectual intuition one and the same, not because we subjectively
“make up” or “produce” the real world, but because intellectual intu-
ition gives us insight into the way that world necessarily is (that extended
bodies in space cannot, for example, be red and green all over).
In almost all of his writings, Fichte drove the point home that the basic
¬rst principle of all true “science” (which Reinhold had vainly sought
in his “proposition of consciousness”) can only be given in such an intel-
lectual intuition and that therefore no further justi¬cation can be given
nor should be sought for it. In his attempt at a popular presentation
of his system in ±°± “ carrying the ponderous and somewhat comical
title, A Crystal Clear Report to the General Public Concerning the Actual Essence
of the Newest Philosophy: An Attempt to Force the Reader to Understand “ Fichte
emphasized this point: our knowledge of a ¬rst principle can only occur,
he said, “in a fortunate ¬‚ash of insight, which, however, when found,

us as well, a supersensible basis of its reality, though we could not cognize this basis” (p. ). Fichte
distinguished his view from Kant in that he took intellectual intuition to be directed at a mode
of acting “ the “Tathandlung” “ and took claims to something™s “being” (what we might just call
“existence”) to be justi¬ed only by sensible intuition. Intellectual intuition only justi¬es asserting
the existence of the “pure I” as self-positing activity: “Since the Wissenschaftslehre derives the entire
concept of being only from the form of sensibility, it follows that, for it, all being is necessarily
sensible being . . . The intellectual intuition of which the Wissenschaftslehre speaks is not directed
toward any sort of being whatsoever; instead it is directed at an acting “ and this is something
Kant does not even mention (except, perhaps, under the name ˜pure apperception™),” J. G. Fichte,
“Second Introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre,” in J. G. Fichte, Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre
and Other Writings (ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale) (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company,
±), p. µ.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±±
neither requires nor is capable of further proof, but makes itself im-
mediately clear,” and “is incapable of being proven. It is immediately
evident” “ it is the “absolute intuition of reason through itself.” In intel-
lectual intuition, our thought of things-in-themselves gets them exactly
right without any residue left over on their part.
However, although the results of such an intellectual intuition would be
necessary and absolutely certain, we ourselves as knowers must recognize
ourselves as fallible when it comes to mistaking a genuine intellectual
intuition for something that only seems to be one; we can, that is, think
that we are having an intellectual intuition, we can even be absolutely
certain about it, and we can still be wrong.±° Likewise, that the result of
an intellectual intuition gives us insight into the necessary structure of
reality does not imply that the proposition expressing it cannot itself be
a conclusion drawn from another set of premises; rather, the necessary
truth apprehended in an intellectual intuition does not require that it be
derived from any other premises for us to grasp its necessity. To all those
critics (there were many and there still are) who thought that such an
intellectual intuition was hopelessly obscure or simply so mysterious as
to be incredible, Fichte would reply that nothing could seem more clear
and less mysterious than that only one side could complete a triangle
for which we were already given the two other sides (or that something
could not be red and green all over), that we could apprehend that “fact”
 J. G. Fichte, A Crystal Clear Report to the General Public Concerning the Actual Essence of the Newest
Philosophy: An Attempt to Force the Reader to Understand (trans. John Botterman and William Rasch),
in Ernst Behler (ed.), Philosophy of German Idealism (New York: Continuum, ±·), pp. ·°, ·, °.
 The idea that we grasp things-in-themselves through an act of “intellectual intuition” is not
without controversy in Fichte scholarship. The more traditional reading sees Fichte as denying
that there are things-in-themselves at all. A sophisticated version of that reading is found in Wayne
M. Martin, Idealism and Objectivity: Understanding Fichte™s Jena Project (Stanford University Press,
±·). Martin argues (p. ·µ) that “the Wissenschaftslehre is best construed as renouncing existential
claims (whether positive or negative) about things-in-themselves. Such claims lie beyond the
self-imposed limits of its theoretical concerns.” The reading I am offering obviously argues that
opposite view. Martin™s view seems to impute a more Husserlian notion of the suspension of the
“natural attitude” to Fichte, which, I think, severely underplays the Platonist aspects of Fichte™s
±° By at least ±·, Fichte was already making this point quite clearly: “But one may never
claim infallibility. That system of the human mind which is supposed to be portrayed by the
Wissenschaftslehre is absolutely certain and infallible. Everything that is based upon this system
is absolutely true . . . If men have erred, the mistake did not lie in something necessary; instead,
the mistake was made by free re¬‚ective judgment when it substituted one law for another,”
J. G. Fichte, “Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre,” p. ±° in Fichte: Early Philosophical
Writings. Fichte was not always clear on this point; over and over, he would also claim that truths
apprehended in intellectual intuition were also certain; by that he seemed to mean that if they
were apprehended rightly, then they could not be reasonably doubted, since their very necessity
would exclude doubt. The tension between that and his fallibilism regarding them is obvious
but not fatal for his views.
±± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
and simply see that it was necessary. Look within yourself, Fichte kept
saying, and ask yourself if nothing could be more lucid than those types
of intuitions, and you will see that they are really no more “mysterious”
than ordinary perceptual judgments.
However, the necessity of such intellectual intuitions, coupled with
Fichte™s willingness to admit fallibility with regard to them, only raised
a more fundamental issue: was there something that was so basic, so
necessary, that the intellectual intuition of itself would serve to justify
other propositions that otherwise, although certainly seeming to be nec-
essary, might nonetheless rest on mistakes in our apprehension? Fichte™s
answer “ in his own rather daring reformulation of Kant™s notion of the
“fact of reason” “ turned out to be his real innovation. The traditional
rationalist solution to that problem had been to search for some object that
was appropriate for such rational insight (such as Plato™s forms, math-
ematical structures, God in his eternal nature, and so forth). However,
the Kantian revolution had shown that no such object could be found;
in essence, that had been Reinhold™s mistake “ to look for some fact
(of consciousness, or of anything else) that would serve as the a-priori,
necessary basis for justifying our normative commitments. Instead, noth-
ing other than our own spontaneity, our autonomy itself, could serve as
such a basis; and that very basic autonomy had to be itself construed
non-metaphysically, not as expressing any ground-level metaphysical fact
about some supersensible object, but as expressing some absolutely basic
norm, which itself could only be grasped in its necessity through an act of
rational insight, of intellectual intuition.±± That is, we simply had to grasp
through an act of “intellectual intuition” that our thought could be sub-
ject only to those norms of which it could regard itself the author. In many
ways, the rest of Fichte™s philosophy revolved around testing out the ways
to best express that norm while avoiding its most paradoxical aspects.
Fichte at ¬rst obscurely formulated this basic norm as “I = I.” In the
¬rst version of the Wissenschaftslehre, he tried to show how such a norm was
even more basic than the statement of identity, “A = A.” To understand
Fichte™s argument, it is important to note that he construed “A = A” as
equivalent to a conditional “ in his own words, “if A is posited, then A is
posited.” That is, a statement of identity is something more like what we
might nowadays call an inference license, something that (normatively)
entitles an agent to a particular type of performance (in this case, making
±± “This is not the domain of ˜facts of consciousness™; it is not part of the realm of experience,”
“[First] Introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre,” in Fichte, Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre and
Other Writings (ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale), p. .
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±
an inference).± Such inference licenses involve normative statuses, that
is, statuses that entitle one to do something (in this case, to infer from
“A” that “A”). Such normative statuses are not, however, to be found in
nature; indeed, to seek them in the physical world would be an instance of
what Fichte labeled “dogmatism.” From the physical standpoint, saying
“A = A” is just causing sound waves to be sent through the air; it is only
from the normative standpoint that it can be taken to mean anything.
(Signing a check, hitting a home run, making an assertion, shopping
at a sale are all other examples of normative activities that cannot be
captured in a purely physical or “naturalistic” description of them.) Such
statuses must therefore be instituted and not, as it were, discovered in the
world. As such they cannot be “facts” in any ordinary sense.±
Identity statements, whose necessity seems to be at ¬rst self-evident
when grasped in an act of intellectual intuition, in fact derive their neces-
sity from a prior inference license (“if A, then A”); if so, then even more ba-
sic than the identity statement itself must be the notion, so Fichte argued,
of issuing the license. The license involves authorizing an inference “
necessarily, if A, then A “ whose necessity seems to be derived from the
authorization itself; but, as Fichte clearly saw, that only raises the further
issue of what (and how) anything could acquire the authority to institute
such a license. (The intuited necessity of A = A turns out, Fichte was
claiming, to be derivative from the intuited necessity of something else
that is more basic.)
Since inference licenses (again, not Fichte™s own term) could only be
instituted by something that would be, to return to Fichte™s own ter-
minology, not itself a “fact” (a Tatsache) but an “act” (Tathandlung), and,
since natural things cannot be said to act (in any normative sense), the
subject that institutes the license must itself be such an “act,” indeed, an
act that somehow institutes the license and also simultaneously authorizes
± “Positing” (Setzen) was a term Fichte took over from eighteenth-century logic books; it can be
roughly rendered as attaching a “that” to a proposition. Thus, there is “P” and “That-P” or
“P-as-asserted.” The term also carries other senses to be found in the English, “posit”: such as
“to postulate,” or “to put forward for discussion.”
± Although I developed part of this manner of understanding normativity in terms of entitlements
and commitments in Terry Pinkard, Hegel™s Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason (Cambridge
University Press, ±), Robert Brandom™s important and in¬‚uential book, Making It Explicit:
Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
±) is not only the most well known, but also the best treatment of the topic. In this chapter,
I have adapted Brandom™s powerful use of the language here of commitment, entitlement, and
institution to make sense of Fichte™s idealist claims. Brandom himself has used these terms to
explicate idealist theses in Robert Brandom, “Negotiation and Administration: Hegel™s Account
of the Structure and Administration of Norms,” European Journal of Philosophy, ·() (August ±),
±± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
itself to institute such licenses.± This would be the apperceptive self, ex-
pressed in the necessary proposition, “I = I,” and the necessity for this
act of instituting licenses and authorizing itself to institute such licenses
is available only in an act of intellectual intuition, a necessity which can
itself “neither be proved nor determined.”±µ The self, that is, is not a nat-
ural “thing” but is itself a normative status, and “it” can obtain this status,
so it seems, only by an act of attributing it to itself. (Fichte, as we will see,
quali¬ed this in his writings on political philosophy and in later presen-
tations of the Wissenschaftslehre.) Outside of its own activities of licensing,
attributing statuses, and undertaking commitments, the thinking self is
quite literally nothing. There simply can be no deeper ground of the self
than this act of self-positing. One cannot give a causal, or, for that matter,
any other non-normative explanation of the subject™s basic normative
act of attributing entitlement to itself and to other propositions. (This is
why Fichte also continually identi¬ed the “I” with “reason” itself, since it
was as “reason” that it was authorizing itself to institute such normative
statuses; the basic normative fact, as it were, at the root of the “Kantian
paradox” was, so Fichte was arguing, not a “fact” at all, but a status,
something instituted by an act, that is, a Tathandlung.)
What struck Fichte™s readers as odd and what Fichte himself proudly
asserted was that this subject came into existence as it acted; prior to
the act of instituting norms, there simply is no “self,” no subject of en-
titlement, nothing that can be said to be responsible for its utterances,
nothing that can be “discovered” or encountered in empirical investiga-
tion. There may indeed be bodies equipped with brains, but there are no
normative statuses until the “I” attributes such statuses. This of course,
as Fichte clearly saw, raised the further issue: are there any criteria for
± Fichte™s notion of a Tathandlung might also be explicated in terms of the way in which normative
judgments have a semantics that is, as it were, midway between the semantics of imperatives and
declaratives, an idea worked up and developed in Mark Lance and John O™Leary-Hawthorne,
The Grammar of Meaning: Normativity and Semantic Discourse (Cambridge University Press, ±·).
On Lance™s and O™Leary-Hawthorne™s view, like declarative judgments, normative judgments
issue justi¬catory responsibilities for the content of what is asserted; and, like imperatives, they
issue an entitlement to act. Traditional prescriptivists erred in treating norms as imperatives and
thus made them immune from rational criticism; traditional objectivists (Lance and O™Leary-
Hawthorne misleadingly call them “transcendentalists”) took them to be declaratives (and there-
fore descriptive) that had the special property of licensing acts (which led them into the impasses
that ¬nally motivated the “error” theories of normatives to see them as based on non-existent,
metaphysically “queer” entities). Fichte™s colorful metaphor of the “deed-act” expresses this
“midway semantics” perfectly.
±µ J. G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge (ed. and trans. Peter Heath and John Lachs) (Cambridge
University Press, ±), p. ; S¨ mtliche Werke (ed. Immanuel Hermann Fichte) (Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, ±·±), ©, p. ± (hereafter SW ).
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±µ
attributing such statuses outside of what the “I” itself “posits” or could
the “I” posit anything? Fichte™s answer: there can be no ultimate criteria
for positing except that which is entailed by the necessity of such positing
in the ¬rst place, by whatever is necessary to maintaining a normative
conception of ourselves.
In a rather dense and compressed series of arguments, Fichte con-
cluded something like the following. To adopt any kind of normative
stance at all is to commit oneself necessarily to the possibility of negation,
of asserting not-A. Since normativity involves doing something correctly
or incorrectly, there must exist the possibility of denying or af¬rming
an assertion™s correctness. (This involves, as Fichte put it, the notion of
“inherent correctness” which at the opening level of abstraction of talking
about the I™s positing itself necessarily “remains problematic.”± ) Thus,
for a subject, an “I,” to be said to be issuing inference licenses in the
¬rst place, it must be able to entertain both “A” and “not-A.” Otherwise,
it will never be able to commit itself to any particular inference license
at all. Negation, like normativity in general, is not a part of the natu-
ral world but is the result of subjects instituting certain normative sta-
tuses, and this act of negation is, like the ¬rst principle of “I = I,” “an
absolutely possible and unconditional act based on no higher ground.”±·
Since the “I” at ¬rst attributes (“posits”) a normative status to itself “
indeed, attributes to itself that it is nothing more than a normative status “
it must be able to entertain the notion of there being a “not-I,” some-
thing whose normative status does not consist in its being attributed by
the “I.” So Fichte thought, that means that the “I™s” self-authorizing acts
must be conceived as constrained by something that is not the result of its
own self-authorization (otherwise, it could authorize anything, including,
“I authorize X and do not authorize X”). Thus, the most basic inference
to which we are entitled would be the conjunction that “I am by virtue
of positing myself, and there is something whose normative status is not
posited by me.”
This clearly involves a contradiction. Fichte took it to imply some-
thing like: “All normative status is instituted by the ˜I,™ and the ˜I™ must
(at least possibly) institute some things as not having their normative sta-
tus instituted by the ˜I™.” How is this apparent contradiction to be recon-
ciled? Fichte™s so-called third principle involves postulating an “in¬nite
task” of coming to grips with the necessity to understand why certain
± Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, p. ±°; SW, p. ±°.
±· Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, p. ±°; SW, p. ±°.
±± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
“posits” “ that is, the whole complex of entitlements to assert this or
that, commitments to certain norms, attributing authority or responsi-
bility or entitlements to others “ are indeed necessary and why some
are not necessary. More prosaically put, it would be the “in¬nite task”
of sorting out which propositions really are necessary “ which may be
grasped as the proper objects of an intellectual intuition “ and which only
seem to be necessary. The only way to do that, so Fichte thought, was
by the foundationalist project he called the Wissenschaftslehre: ultimately,
everything that involves necessary truths “ even mathematics and logic
themselves “ should be shown to follow from the more basic principles
involved in assertion and negation, and those areas should be sharply
delimited from non-necessary, empirical truths.± The activities of as-
sertion and negation themselves, moreover, must be derived from the
necessity of a self-conscious subject™s coming to think of itself as having
an absolute normative status that it confers on itself “ “absolute” in the
sense that nothing else except it itself could confer that status on itself.
In the rest of his ±· Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte went on to argue how this
activity of self-consciousness (as an act of normatively positioning oneself
and authorizing oneself to attribute such positions to oneself ) is the man-
ner through which the “I” constitutes itself as a cognitive, thinking self “
as constituting itself through the acts of assuming a set of justi¬catory
± The overall characterization of Fichte™s project as “foundationalist” has been notably challenged
and rejected by Tom Rockmore, who argues that, at least in spirit, if not in letter, Fichte should
be seen as an anti-foundationalist. Rockmore™s position has been elaborated in a number of his
works, but he gives a nice summary of his views and his defense of them in Tom Rockmore,
“Fichte™s Anti-Foundationalism, Intellectual Intuition, and Who One Is,” in Tom Rockmore and
Daniel Breazeale (eds.), New Perspectives on Fichte (New Jersey: Humanities Press, ±), pp. ·“.
Rockmore bases this claim on several notions. One of them “ “I see no way around Fichte™s own
argument, at the beginning of the Wissenschaftslehre, that if a principle is to be ¬rst, then it cannot
be derived from any other principle and also cannot be shown to be true” (p. ±) “ seems to me
to beg the issue, since Fichte did not include the claim “and also cannot be shown to be true”
in the passage Rockmore cites from him to support that claim. (Fichte™s passage goes: “Our task
is to discover the primordial, absolutely unconditioned ¬rst principle of all human knowledge.
This can be neither proved nor de¬ned, if it is to be an absolutely primary principle,” Fichte,
The Science of Knowledge, p. ; SW, p. ±. Obviously the issue at stake is whether something can
be shown to be true without our having to derive it from anything else.) Second, he takes it that
Fichte™s emphasis on the “¬nitude” of the thinking subject (its being limited by other factors than
its own positing) makes Fichte™s theory anti-foundationalist; but that may point more toward
a tension in Fichte™s own thought, rather than to a strong anti-foundationalist commitment.
Finally, he argues that the term “intellectual intuition” ¬rst appears in Fichte™s “second period,”
which he admits points in a “foundationalist” direction, and he then tries to show how this is
compatible with Fichte™s own earlier anti-foundationalism where, he says, this term did not occur.
Yet already in the “Aenesidemus review,” Fichte was clear about such “intellectual intuition”:
“If, in intellectual intuition, the I is because it is and is what it is, then it is, to that extent, self-positing,
absolutely independent and autonomous,” Fichte, “Review of Aenesidemus,” in Daniel Breazeale
(ed. and trans.), Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings, p. ·µ.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±·
responsibilities with respect to the various assertions one makes.± In par-
ticular, he argued that our ordinary experience of a “given” world does
nothing to undermine this transcendental idealist picture of things. To
take a non-Fichtean example to make his point: in ordinary perception,
we see, for example, a tree, and no act of will can change the fact that
the tree just presents itself to us and causes a belief (“there is a tree”)
to arise in us; there is no activity, so it seems, on our part. The world,
in fact, seems to offer up a series of such “checks” or “stimuli” (Anst¨ße)
to us in the forms of experiential data whose status is not posited by us.
Fichte agreed, pointing out that something can function as a piece of
“given” data only to the extent that we take it up as data, as having some
kind of cognitive potential: as he quite succinctly put it, “no activity of
the self, no check.”° Fichte™s point was that everything that has been
said to exist “ the Greek gods, natural objects, sensations, monarchies “
is to be regarded as a “posit” and what we ultimately take to exist has to
do with which set of inferences are necessary in order to make the most
sense of those “checks” found in our consciousness.±
± One of the most in¬‚uential readings of Fichte™s work on self-consciousness has been Dieter
Henrich™s “Fichtes Urspr¨ ngliche Einsicht,” in Dieter Henrich and Hans Wagner (eds.), Subjektivit¨ t
u a
und Metaphysik: Festschrift f¨ r Wolfgang Cramer (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, ±). Henrich ar-
gued that Fichte saw that all “doubling” accounts of self-consciousness are doomed to failure “ ac-
counts that see the self as aware of itself as an object of awareness “ since they will beg the question
or lead to an in¬nite regress. Henrich famously concluded that Fichte nonetheless failed to draw
the correct conclusion from this, namely, that we must have an immediate, non-propositional
“Vertrautheit ” (familiarity) with ourselves that de¬es any “subject/object” scheme. The notion of
self-awareness as “normative positioning” sidesteps these dif¬culties. In any event, even if it is
true that we have a certain “familiarity” with ourselves, it need not be “immediate” in any robust
sense. We can be directly aware of things (for example, in perceptual cases), and that kind of
direct awareness can be immediate (non-inferential) in the sense that we do not make any infer-
ences while engaged in them. (I can see a tree as a tree without making any inferences about it.)
However, I could not have those kinds of direct awareness without already being in possession
of a whole host of other abilities to make inferences. Thus, an “immediate” awareness can, in
fact, presuppose a set of (mediated) abilities. This is at least what I take to be rudiments of the
arguments made by Wilfrid Sellars in Science, Perception and Reality (London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, ±); and Science and Metaphysics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, ±). Something
like this view of “normative positioning” is attributed to Fichte by Robert Pippin in his Hegel™s
Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, ±), chapter .
° Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, p. ±±; SW, p. ±.
± G¨ nther Z¨ ller displays a certain ambivalence in his attempt to explicate and defend Fichte on
u o
this point: He speaks of the “I” “¬nding” that it is checked, and that its positing of the “Not-I” is
a “re¬‚ection” of its ¬nitude. There is certainly something to that, but it severely underplays the
unconditioned, absolute nature of authorization and licensing, the way in which the “checking”
has to be something not merely “found” but spontaneously posited by the “I.” This tension in
Fichte between “positing” the “Not-I” as that to which it is also responsive, and the demands
that the “I” be subject only to laws of which it can regard itself as the author is essential to
understanding of Fichte™s attempt at dealing with the “Kantian paradox.” See G¨ nther Z¨ ller,
u o
Fichte™s Transcendental Philosophy: The Original Duplicity of Intelligence and Will (Cambridge University
Press, ±).
±± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
However, Fichte quickly became disenchanted with this way of pre-
senting his Wissenschaftslehre and began almost immediately to revise it.
In particular, two types of misunderstanding arose. Some took him to be
saying that “I” creates the empirical world by “positing” it; and certainly
his language and mode of exposition easily suggested that that was what
he meant. Others took him to be claiming that one could “deduce” from
the mere concepts of identity and negation all of the a priori concepts
concerning knowledge, action, and the objects of experience. (In ±·,
Kant published an open letter to Fichte, accusing him of just that and
complaining that Fichte™s Wissenschaftslehre thereby violated all the basic
principles established in the Critique of Pure Reason; this especially stung
Fichte, since during his Jena period he had always claimed his system
was no more than Kant™s critical idealism puri¬ed and re¬ned.) To avoid
those misunderstandings, Fichte had by ±·· dropped his earlier man-
ner of exposition of his basic principles, and, in a newly published set
of introductions and new ¬rst chapter, he avoided his earlier discussions
of assertion and negation, focusing instead on the way the subject of
thinking and doing is a normative status established in the very act of
positing itself and its other. He tried to make it clear that the ordinary use
of “I” should not be confused with the transcendental “I.” In its ordinary
usage, it makes perfect sense for someone to introspect themselves to see
what they really think or really feel; however, one cannot introspect and
discover oneself engaged in this original act of positing “ in the act of
licensing norms and authorizing oneself to perform such licensing “ since
such “positing” is presupposed in all acts of consciousness itself (including
self-consciousness as self-introspection). The intentionality of conscious-
ness “ its character of being “about” anything, including itself and objects
in the natural world “ has its original source in a self-bootstrapping act
of self-authorization, and without this act there would be no conscious-
ness to introspect (or no act of introspection itself ). (Fichte himself spoke
of “original consciousness” rather than “original intentionality.” ) By
focusing so straightforwardly on self-consciousness, Fichte was trying to
get his readers to grasp the common Kantian“Fichtean point that the
“transcendental self ” was not an “item” within experience but a norma-
tive status that made conscious and self-conscious experience possible in
the ¬rst place and could therefore not be found in any act of introspec-
tion. (This was the root of Hume™s mistake when he famously noted that,

 J. G. Fichte, An Attempt at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (±··/), in Fichte, Introductions
to the Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings, p. ±±; SW, p. µ.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±
whenever he introspected, he found only a “bundle of perceptions” and
nothing he could call the “self.”)
In the later introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte stressed that
his major point was that “I can be conscious of any object only on
the condition that I am also conscious of myself, that is, of the con-
scious subject. This proposition is incontrovertible.” He now claimed
that this self-consciousness was an example of “self-reverting activity” “
“in sich zur¨ ckgehende T¨ tigkeit,” literally “activity returning back into it-
u a
self ” “ and was a form of “immediate consciousness,” an act of intellec-
tual intuition. By that Fichte meant to argue not that we were immedi-
ately conscious of our internal mental states, but that the necessity of this
act of licensing and self-authorization could only be grasped in an act of
intellectual intuition. It was “immediate” (non-inferential) because the
possibility of making any inference at all itself depended on this original
act of constituting oneself as a subject of thought and action; and the
possibility of being such a “subject” itself had to be unconditioned by any
natural object, since only in terms of our ability to assume such a norma-
tive stance could we be conscious of such objects. Thus, all consciousness
is conditional on our acquiring the ability to make inferences, and the
ability to make inferences is conditional on our self-authorization, on a
type of self-relation we freely establish to ourselves, and the necessity and
nature of this self-relation (as authoring the norms by which it is bound)
can only be grasped in an act of intellectual intuition.
In ±· and ±··, Fichte published two volumes “ Foundations of Natural
Law according to Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre “ in which he elaborated
on and quali¬ed his assertions about what he meant in claiming that
the “I posits itself absolutely.” He gave it a new turn: self-consciousness,
he argued in Foundations, requires positing other self-conscious entities.µ
The existence of a world independent of our conscious activities and ex-
perience of it is itself a condition of self-consciousness and is therefore one
of the necessary “posits” that the thinking subject is required to make.
 Fichte, An Attempt at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (±··/), in Fichte, Introductions to the
Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings, p. ±±; SW, pp. µ“µ·.
 Fichte, An Attempt at a New Presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (±··/), in Fichte, Introductions to the
Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings, p. ±±; SW, p. µ.
µ Fichte claims outright “that a rational creature cannot posit itself as such a creature with self-
consciousness without positing itself as an individual, as one among many rational creatures,”
J. G. Fichte, Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (±·), p. ; SW, ©©©.
 Three citations among many that could be cited should make it clear that Fichte does not claim
that the existence of the world is something created by us. Fichte asserts in his highly abstract
terminology, for example, that “by means of such activity is the requisite self-consciousness
possible. It is something that has its ultimate ground in the rational creature itself and as such
±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
However, that world must exercise a certain in¬‚uence (Einwirkung) on and
make a solicitation (Aufforderung) to the subject that prompts him to real-
ize himself as a free agent possessing a certain effectiveness (Wirksamkeit)
in the world. (In the legal sense, an Aufforderung would also be a “provo-
cation.”) As Fichte put it in his System of Ethics According to the Principles
of the Wissenschaftslehre (±·), “freedom is the sensuous representation
of self-activity (Selbstt¨ tigkeit)”· “ or, to put it in other terms, freedom
is the ability of the agent effectively to respond to his (ultimately self-
authorized) normative commitments by acting in the ways required by
those commitments.
Crucially, however, Fichte claimed (although his arguments for the
claim are often quite dif¬cult to follow) that this can come about only
if it is another free agent that performs this solicitation. The relation
between cognition and practice therefore is, as Fichte describes it, “circu-
lar,” by which he meant that the nature of our normative commitments
(epistemic or otherwise) can only be cashed out insofar as acknowl-
edgment of those commitments results in some kind of performance
(making an assertion in the epistemic case, acting or transforming the
world in the more obviously practical case), and that characterizing
something as a performance requires that we have a prior understanding
of what would entitle us to characterize something as being that kind of
performance. The circle, that is, consists in the following: we cannot
attribute a commitment (for example, a belief ) to somebody except on
the basis of some performance (such as his making an assertion) that
would make it appropriate to attribute that commitment; but we cannot
is only to be posited through the possible opposition of that which does not have its ground
in it [the rational creature].” He also says, “The existence of a world external to us . . . has
been demonstrated to be a condition of self-consciousness . . . Each rational creature originally
behaves accordingly and so doubtlessly does the philosopher.” Finally, he asserts, “The reality of
the world “ it is obvious that for us, i.e., for all ¬nite reason “ is the condition of self-consciousness;
for we could not posit ourselves without positing something external to us, to which we must
attribute the same reality that we attach to ourselves,” Fichte, Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien
der Wissenschaftslehre (±·), pp. °, , °. That leaves the question completely open, of course,
as to whether any of this actually follows from what he has asserted; but it does clear up his
intentions as to what at least he thought he was committing himself to.
· J. G. Fichte, Das System der Sittenlehre nach den Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre, SW, ©, p. .
 That Fichte™s attempt in the Wissenschaftslehre to resolve the “Kantian paradox” would thus carry
over into his practical philosophy should not be surprising. The importance of Fichte™s practical
philosophy for understanding his theoretical philosophy (and its importance for understanding
the way in which Fichte is then taken up by later idealists) is defended by Violetta L. Waibel,
H¨lderlin und Fichte: ±·“±°° (Paderborn: Ferdinand Sch¨ nigh, °°°). This is also argued by
o o
Martin, Idealism and Objectivity.
 As Fichte puts it: “What does it mean to be free? Obviously, to be able to carry out the grasped
concept of his action,” Fichte, Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (±·),
SW, ©©©, p. µ±.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±±
understand something as a performance (for example, an assertion) ex-
cept by attributing prior commitments (such as beliefs) to the agent. The
solicitation to effective freedom of which Fichte speaks “ the ability both
to form normative commitments and to perform the appropriate actions
in light of those commitments “ is thus, as Fichte explained, “what one
calls education,” that is, a social activity in which other agents “solicit”
an agent to such freedom. Thus, Fichte claims, “All individuals must
be educated into being persons (Menschen), otherwise they would not be
persons.”° In the ±·· versions of the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte had written
that “the kind of philosophy one chooses thus depends on the kind of per-
son one is . . . Someone whose character is naturally slack . . . will never
be able to raise himself to the level of idealism.”± Although the “I” is a
self-authorizing entity, it nonetheless becomes one only through acts of
mutual (social) recognition and through education, never through some
miraculous act of self-positing out of nowhere. However, the dependence
of philosophy on character does nothing to undermine the “absolute”
truth, Fichte thought, of his own post-Kantian idealism; it only has to
do with whether one can be in a position to acknowledge it.
So, Fichte thought, the relation to other rational, embodied agents
would therefore itself have to be construed not as a causal relation but as
itself a normative relation, one of recognition (Anerkennung). (The English
term, “recognition,” is ambiguous on this point; in Fichte™s, and later,
under his in¬‚uence, Hegel™s, usage, it should be taken in the sense of at-
tributing or conferring a normative status on someone or something, as
when two states diplomatically recognize each other, or when an individ-
ual is awarded a medal in recognition of her service.) The other, through
recognition and education, confers a normative status on the human or-
ganism, which, in turn, solicits from him the development of his natural,
° Ibid., p. . Fichte™s term for “education” is “Erziehung.”
± J. G. Fichte, “[First] Introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre,” in Fichte, Introductions to the Wissenschafts-
lehre and Other Writings (ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale), p. °; SW p. .
 Many have tried to see this as an example of Fichte™s proto-existentialism. Two of the most
prominent exponents of this view are Tom Rockmore and G¨ nter Z¨ ller. This seems mistaken
u o
to me; Fichte never held that the truth of a philosophical position was the result of one™s character,
only that the choice of a philosophy depended on one™s character; and as the citation makes clear,
“bad” (or “slack”) characters make bad choices, not merely different ones. See Tom Rockmore™s
essay, “Fichte™s Anti-Foundationalism, Intellectual Intuition, and Who One Is,” and the essays
collected in Z¨ ller, Fichte™s Transcendental Philosophy: The Original Duplicity of Intelligence and Will. Both
Rockmore and Z¨ ller stress the element of “¬nitude” in Fichte™s account of subjectivity and take
Fichte™s arguments for the intersubjective basis of the “I” to be arguments for this kind of pre- or
proto-existentialism in Fichte™s thought. Nonetheless, it does seem true that Fichte™s insistence
on being a certain kind of person was fateful for the circle of people “ especially and crucially
the early Romantics, such as Novalis, Schleiermacher, and Schelling “ who heard his lectures or
were in¬‚uenced by his writings.
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
human abilities to “posit himself,” to undertake and attribute commit-
ments and to act on the basis of his commitments. Indeed, it seems to
follow from what Fichte says that one™s very status as a free agent cannot
be a matter of individual self-authorization (to attribute such freedom to
oneself ), as he had at ¬rst seemed to be saying, but rather a matter of
social authorization. As Fichte formulates his principle: “I can ask of a
determinate rational creature that he recognize me as a free agent only to
the extent that I treat him as such a free agent.” (It is, of course, another
matter as to whether Fichte™s rather dense arguments for this principle
actually support such a claim; but at least the claim itself should be rel-
atively clear.) Fichte™s talk in this context of each agent™s “compelling”
(n¨tigen) the other to such recognition, of agents “binding” each other to
such recognition, of each not merely privately but only through public
action bestowing such recognition, is fairly strong evidence that freedom
for him “ or, more generally construed, agency itself “ is a normative sta-
tus that is sustained only by some type of mutual sanctioning. Indeed,
he says explicitly that this kind of mutual expectation of recognition is a
condition of self-consciousness itself, and is even a presupposition of the
concept of personal individuality itself.µ Fichte explains mutual recog-
nition in terms of the mutual attribution of normative commitments,
themselves taken to be acts of mutual “judging” (richten, “judging” in
the legal sense) in which we keep accounts of each other in terms of the
normative commitments that we each take ourselves as being obligated
to share. Without such mutuality, there are no “selves” at all; the in-
tentionality that is most basic turns out not to be an individual “I™s”
self-authorization but something more like a social authorization; and
without such reciprocal authorization, there is no “I” on either side to
refuse or accept such authorization.· The necessity for a normative
constraint that is both posited by the “I” and yet not posited by it (the
animating problem of the ±· Wissenschaftslehre) was thus reformulated
into a doctrine of mutual recognition and sanctioning, of each agent con-
straining the content of the other™s commitments. Fichte thought of this
in a pair-wise way, of two agents mutually recognizing each other such
that each agent becomes for the other the normative “Not-I” that serves
to limit and constrain the normative commitments the other undertakes.
 Fichte, Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (±·), SW, ©©©, p. .
 µ Ibid., p. .  Ibid., p. µ°.
See for example, Ibid., pp. µ, ·.
· Fichte puts his conclusions on this matter rather unequivocally: “That therefore that original
relationship is already an interaction. However, prior to that in¬‚uence I am in no way an I; I have
not posited myself, for the positing of myself is indeed conditioned by this in¬‚uence and is only
possible through it,” ibid., p. ·.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±
This conception of agency and the fact that we are necessarily em-
bodied agents yields a basic principle of “right” (Recht), which Fichte
formulates as “limit your freedom so that the others around you can also
be free,” and that principle in turn yields a “primordial right” (Urrecht) “
a phrase Fichte claims is to be preferred to the potentially misleading
notion of “natural right” (despite the title of his book) “ which, in turn, at-
tributes to people the entitlement to sanction the performances of others
who violate the “primordial right” (and what follows from it). Interest-
ingly, the “primordial right” is not that of property but of a particular
form of freedom, expressed as the ability to be the “cause” of what takes
place around oneself and not the “effect” of other™s actions. From that,
so he argued, one can derive certain fundamental property rights, fur-
ther rights to sanction performances from others (when they violate your
rights), and so on.
It follows, so Fichte thought, that the state should be construed as
the institution that embodies the common will and is thereby in the
appropriate position to “judge” all of the citizens and sanction them
accordingly. The state functions as the “objective” viewpoint that pre-
cipitates out of the various subjective viewpoints of the citizenry as they
each keep score on each other. The problem, so Fichte thought, has to
do with whom in the state would ever be in a position to make such
judgments, since allowing the state-as-the-common-will to be the judge
in those cases where it is opposed to the will of some individual citizen
would violate the most elemental principle of justice, namely, that no
man should be a judge in his own case. Therefore, besides executive
and legislative powers, there must be a third, impartial evaluative power,
which Fichte called the Ephorat. The Ephorat of the state is to observe
the various activities of the branches of the state and government to see
if they comply with the basic principles of “right” and the laws of the
land; they are not, however, judges in the ordinary judicial sense, and
they “must be able to have absolutely no other interest than that of fur-
thering the common purpose.”° Since they cannot actually issue any
 This is expressed in a typically turgid Fichtean way: “The primordial right is consequently the
absolute right of the person to be only a cause in the empirical world (quite simply never to be
that which is an effect [Bewirktes]).” He also speaks of “an enduring interaction between his body
and the empirical world, determined and determinable, merely by its freely drafted concept of
those items,” Ibid., pp. ±±, ±±.
 Fichte picked that term because it was the title given to (±) the ¬ve highest of¬cials of ancient
Sparta who were chosen yearly; () the title given in Germany to the heads of the various
Protestant seminaries; () the position of deacon in the German reformed churches “ in other
words, supposedly men of only the highest moral and intellectual standing in the community.
° Fichte, Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (±·), p. ±.
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
judicial sanctions, they have only the power of making public the abuses
of “right” they have discovered, and in the most extreme cases they can
issue a “state-interdiction” (on the model, Fichte says, of a church inter-
diction) to declare in effect that the of¬cials have departed from the true
teachings of basic right. At that point, the “people” (das Volk) must be as-
sembled to discuss the matter, at which point they have the choice either
to ignore their interdiction (thus showing that they think everything is in
order) or to stage an uprising. That, and only that, Fichte thought could
possibly ensure the rule of rightfully established law in a modern state.
Fichte was not entirely consistent in everything he said with taking this
radical normative stance. One example will suf¬ce. He took up the ques-
tion of women™s rights, the issues surrounding which, he said, constituted
“a pressing need . . . in our times” since there were clearly increasingly
many voices raising the issue and winning over others through their ar-
guments about the necessity of granting women full political rights.±
( Jena in particular had a number of gifted women intellectuals living in
it at the time.) Women could not be denied such rights, Fichte agreed,
simply on the basis of bodily weakness, and the argument that they were
culturally unsuited to them was too easily countered by the obvious obser-
vation that even if such a charge against women were true, it was so only
because men had forcefully prevented women from acquiring higher
education. Was there then any reasons at all not to grant women full
and equal rights? Fichte claimed that, despite all the counter-arguments,
there were indeed powerful reasons not to do so. His reasoning (so he
thought) was both simple and decisive: women were either daughters
(virgins, as Fichte put it) and therefore under the authority of their fa-
thers; or they were wives and therefore under the authority of their
husbands (indeed, they could have their “own dignity,” as he put it, only
in their capacity as wives); thus, the issue of granting equal rights to
women had to be out of the question. That wives are subordinate to
husbands is a necessary feature since the wife “is subordinated through
her own enduring, necessary wish, conditioning her morality, that she be
subordinated.” This does not mean, of course, that the wife is without
rights; her husband represents her in matters of the state, he has a moral
duty to discuss his decisions on these matters with her, and thus she does,
in effect, get representation on the state level through him. Moreover,
women get back through the “affection of their husbands all and even
more than they have lost” in such an arrangement, so there is also no

± 
Ibid., p. . Ibid., p. µ.
The ±·°s: Fichte ±µ
ground for complaint. As for those women who seek “celebrity” by at-
tempting to becomes authors and painters, they are “degenerate.” The
basis for all this is that “the spirit of both [men and women] by nature
has a wholly different character.”µ Facing the obvious counter-example
of unmarried women without fathers (widows, divorcees, never-married
women), Fichte simply bit the bullet and noted that such women must
be entitled to equal rights to political representation, although he made
it clear that he thought it was obvious that the number of women who
would choose to exercise these rights would always be minuscule, since
no woman in her right mind would actually want to put herself in such
a compromising situation; but he immediately quali¬ed that by adding
that no public of¬ces could in principle be open to women, since the
“exclusive condition” under which women could serve in them would
rest on a “promise never to marry” which “no woman can rationally
do” since “women are destined to love . . . [something] which does not
depend on their free will.” Thus, Fichte thought, he had once and for
all settled the issue of women™s rights.

As a youth, Fichte had experienced being valued solely for his intellect “
even his own parents gave him up so that he could be educated “ and
those experiences put a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life. What
counted for him, in his own self-conception, was simple love of the truth
and a keen mind, and this gave him an edgy, combative character that
immensely appealed to the youths of the ±·°s. Against the background
of the manners of eighteenth-century Germany, Fichte was a breath
of fresh air; for him, being a philosophy professor was not a matter of
teaching orthodoxy; indeed, it was not even a job “ it was a vocation,
a true calling. Fichte was, clearly, no old-fashioned courtier, nor did he
have any obvious aspirations to become one; with Fichte, there were no
social affectations, no pretense, only a sense of uncompromising hon-
esty and seriousness of purpose. Against the stulti¬ed background of the
social conventions of the time, Fichte followed his course with a dedi-
cated and obvious passion that his listeners picked up. Fichte himself “ a
charismatic personality, a forceful orator, a powerful thinker, and a well-
known champion of the French Revolution “ thus became a celebrity
professor at Jena. People actually stood on ladders at the windows of his
lecture hall (the hall was always packed) to hear him discourse on phi-
losophy. The difference between himself and Reinhold only underlined
  Ibid., p. ·. µ Ibid., p. µ±.
Ibid., p. µ.
 These extraordinary passages can be found in Ibid., §§µ“·, pp. “µ°.
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
that appeal: Reinhold, always kindly, pastoral, and patient, nonetheless
could not tolerate being contradicted; Fichte, on the other hand, actu-
ally courted such confrontation, always secure in his own mind that he
was not only right but that he could personally and successfully counter
any attack thrown at him. Unfortunately, Fichte™s reaction to all those
who still publicly opposed his line of thought in print was almost always
haughty, accusatory, and moralistic; only laziness or ill will, he tended
to think, could explain those deviating from his views, and those who
attacked his views could, he concluded, only be motivated by the basest
of motives, such as love of glory, desire for status, or just plain malice
(instead of being motivated, as he saw himself to be, out of pure love of
the truth).
Fichte™s refusal to compromise, his accusatory tone, his earnest moral-
ism, and his ever-ready willingness to attribute the worst to his oppo-
nents did not exactly endear him to many people, and it eventually cost
him his position (and contributed to continuing widespread misinterpre-
tations of his thought). This all came to a head in ±·“±· when Fichte
was accused by his opponents of “atheism.” Countless pamphlets and
documents were produced on both sides of the controversy, and even
Jacobi joined the fray, publishing an “Open Letter to Fichte” in which
he made his usual charge that all such rationalism and demands for ¬-
nal proofs can only lead to atheism and nihilism. The atheism charges
themselves were obviously trumped-up and were intended simply to
bring Fichte down; however, Fichte, typically, did more than haughtily
dismiss the charges; while defending himself, he managed to alienate just
about every powerful person who had anything to do with the university
and even told the relevant ducal of¬cials that any censure of him of any
type whatsoever (including the toothless invocation simply to be more
careful about what he said in the future that was concocted by the au-
thorities to save face and cool things down) would necessarily force him
to resign. Goethe, who could not have cared less about Fichte™s alleged
atheism, himself became fed-up with Fichte™s obstinacy and refused to
defend him; the Duke unfortunately took him at his word, issued a mild
rebuke, and then accepted his resignation on the spot. With that, Fichte™s
meteoric career in Jena abruptly came to an end. Fichte, who demanded
the world take him on his own terms, suddenly found that his world had
decided not to take him at all.
Fichte moved to Berlin where he made a living off his publications and
by giving private lessons on the Wissenschaftslehre (to wealthy merchants,
among others) until he was chosen to be the ¬rst philosophy professor at
The ±·°s: Fichte ±·
the newly formed Berlin university in ±°; in ±±±, he became Rector,
quickly proceeded to alienate almost all of the faculty, and, after the
faculty refused to support him in a disciplinary case, he resigned in a huff.
(Given the facts of the case, one has to take Fichte™s side: a Jewish student
had been attacked by other non-Jewish students who hoped to provoke
him into a duel at which he could then be killed; Fichte insisted on severely
punishing the attackers, only to have in¬‚uential faculty members dismiss
the incident as a kind of “boys will be boys” case.)
The fundamental tensions in the Wissenschaftslehre began to emerge as
Fichte worked on new versions of it. Still angry with the way he thought
he had been maliciously misinterpreted, he never published any of these
new versions in their elaborated form (despite several aborted plans to do
so). Doubtlessly in response to the sting of having lost his position because
of the “atheism controversy” (as Fichte™s ordeal at Jena became called),
Fichte also came to be more and more interested in how the philosophy
of religion ¬t into his scheme, and, as he began to work out the new
versions of the Wissenschaftslehre in his private writings and lectures, the
tensions inherent in Kant™s view, in Reinhold™s adaptation of it, and in
Fichte™s own views reappeared, with the old Kant-versus-Spinoza debate
resurfacing again in those unpublished works. Were the various modes
in terms of which we described ourselves and the world “ both as free
and as naturalistically determined “ in fact compatible with each other?
Or were they simply different, incompatible aspects of one underlying
reality or different descriptions of that one reality? Was the “Kantian
paradox” to be resolved by claiming that each side of the paradox was
only an appearance of some deeper underlying unity?
Moreover, there was the related and underlying issue about whether
there could be a non-normative basis of the normative, which Fichte
himself had ¬rst introduced into the debate. Was there, as Reinhold
thought, a “factual,” positive foundation for the various norms that Kant
had asserted? The early versions of the Wissenschaftslehre, obsessed with
elaborating the “Kantian paradox,” had taken a radical, normative-all-
the-way-down stance toward that problem, arguing in effect that the
difference between the normative and the factual (the non-normative)
was itself a normative issue about how we ought to treat things. Although
Fichte never fully abandoned that idea, he began to rethink it. Fichte™s
later versions of the Wissenschaftslehre became more and more complex,
even a bit introverted, as Fichte sought to integrate his own religious
thoughts into his scheme. Some things changed radically: in his ±°±
Crystal Clear Report, he still emphatically declared that the “science of
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
knowledge” (Wissenschaftslehre) was indeed science: “It cannot make man
wise, good, or religious by demonstration, as little as any of the preceding
philosophies could; but it knows that it cannot, and it will not do what it
knows it cannot.”· However, in a very short piece, “The Wissenschaftslehre
in its General Outlines” published in Berlin in ±±°, he concluded on a
much different note: “Thus the Wissenschaftslehre ends . . . in a doctrine of
wisdom . . . sacri¬cing itself to actual life; not to that life exhibited in its
nothingness of blind and unintelligible impulses, but rather to the visibly
obligating divine life that is coming-to-be.”
In the even later versions of the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte also dropped
much of his earlier language and began experimenting with the idea of
our grasp of the world as a “picture” or “image” (in German, a Bild )
of its ultimate reality and with how this “picturing” could possibly pic-
ture itself so that we in our picturing activities could see the necessity
involved in the very form of picturing itself. In that new version, the
vocabulary of seeing and sight, and of the seeing that cannot see itself
seeing, came to predominate.µ° In particular, Fichte focused more and
more on the notion of the human capacity (Verm¨gen) for knowledge and
volition, and on how he thought that, although such a capacity was still
to be understood in normative terms, it itself required explanation in
terms other than those of human “positing.” Fichte found himself ask-
ing: why must human organisms ultimately take up the normative stance,
since if the necessity to do so is based on satisfying any kind of factual,
simply given desire, then the idea that it is “normative all the way down”
collapses? To answer that question, as Fichte explained it, we must ulti-
mately grasp that “the expressed ˜must™ lies in the intent that the ˜ought™
is to become visible to him; for that reason one can call it the ˜ought™ of
the ˜ought,™ namely, an ˜ought™ of its visibility: therefore this ˜ought™ lies
in the original determination of the capacity [of understanding] through
· Fichte, A Crystal Clear Report to the General Public Concerning the Actual Essence of the Newest Philosophy,
p. ·.
 J. G. Fichte, Die Wissenschaftslehre in ihrem allgemeinen Umrisse, SW, ©©, §±, pp. ·°“·°.
 Fichte™s later writings have been explored much less (indeed, hardly at all) in comparison with
the large amount of work concerned with his Jena Wissenschaftslehre. They also form some of the
most dense writing he did. For example, from the ±± lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre: “In this
absolute identity of concept and intuition “ the absolute concept is the concept of the picture and
the absolute intuition is the being of the picture “ consists the innermost essence of the absolute
intellect (Verstandes) itself, which does not come to be but quintessentially exists, as appearance
exists, i.e., as God exists,” SW, , p. .
µ° Much of the later versions of the Wissenschaftslehre can also be found to be pre¬gured in Fichte™s
last Jena version of his Wissenschaftslehre, subtitled “nova methodo.” See J. G. Fichte, Foundations of
Transcendental Philosophy: Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo (±·/) (ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale)
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, ±).
The ±·°s: Fichte ±
its being from God.”µ± This “divine ground” empirically manifests it-
self to us as a “force” (Kraft) that sets ¬rst our impulses and then that
normative “ought” into motion, and “becomes its higher determining
principle.”µ In turn, our acceptance of this “ought” presents us with an
“in¬nite task” to achieve what we ought to be, which, in turn, points to
the will as the ¬nal reality, as “that point, in which active intellect and
intuition or reality inwardly interpenetrate each other.”µ
Finally, in such “picturing” of the world and itself, the “I” comes to
understand that it is only “seeing” the manifestation of God himself in
its acts.µ In picturing itself, the self is also picturing God as the founda-
tion of its own being. Of course, this raised its own series of questions,
which, because of his sudden death in ±±, Fichte never got around
to addressing. Fichte died in ±± of typhoid contracted while serving
as a chaplain to German troops in the anti-Napoleonic wars. (His wife
served as a nurse and also became ill with typhoid but survived.) In
his earlier writings, Fichte had followed Kant in identifying God with
the “moral order” of the world. His later writings on religion clearly
went on a different track. Had Fichte™s doctrine turned out after all to
be Spinozism combined with Kantian transcendentalism, an attempt to
somehow unite Kantian spontaneity with pre-Kantian metaphysics? Or
was this a way of pointing to a metaphysical “fact” of divinity that would
supposedly ground our normative commitments and resolve (if that is
the right word) the Kantian paradox by putting the originary reasons in
the hand of the revealed God? That is, was Fichte suggesting that what,
in Kant™s words, was “neither nature nor freedom and yet is linked with
the basis of freedom, the supersensible” was in fact the Christian God™s
being “pictured” in our own activities?µµ The original idea of building
µ± Fichte, Die Wissenschaftslehre in ihrem allgemeinen Umrisse, SW, ©©, §, p. ·°°.
µ Ibid., §±, p. ·°.
µ Ibid., §±, p. ·°. “Active intellect” translates Fichte™s neologism, “Intelligiren.”
µ For a sympathetic defense of Fichte™s ¬nal ±± presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre (which got
cut short because of the Napoleonic wars), see C. Jeffery Kinlaw, “The Being of Appearance:
Absolute, Image, and the Trinitarian Structure of the ±± Wissenschaftslehre,” in Tom Rockmore
and Daniel Breazeale (eds.), New Perspectives on Fichte, pp. ±·“±. Kinlaw™s presentation does not,
to my mind, however, resolve the “factual” versus “normative” issue in those lectures. Kinlaw
notes, “absolute self-positing leads to the recognition that in one™s absoluteness one has nonethe-
less a theological foundation” (p. ±); but the issue is, of course, the nature of that “theological
foundation” “ is it a metaphysical fact or is it itself a norm? Part of the traditional theological
answer was to say that it was both “ that the apprehension of God, like the apprehension of the
Good in Plato, was itself enough to motivate one, since one, as it were, fell in love with that vision
on beholding it. However, as Kant quite clearly saw, that kind of metaphor of vision would give
one only a hypothetical and never a categorical imperative.
µµ Kant, Critique of Judgment, §µ.
±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
up a new world based on “reason alone” as a replacement for the pre-
modern, “dogmatic” world seemed to be foundering on the worry that
“reason alone” was not enough, and that the promise of modernity, as
expressed in the Kantian notions of spontaneity and autonomy, was suf-
fering from an anxiety as to whether reason was really up to the tasks it
had set for itself and that the modern public had set for it.
° 

The ±·°s after Fichte:
the Romantic appropriation of Kant (I):
H¨lderlin, Novalis, Schleiermacher, Schlegel

 °¬ ¦ ¬¦-®©µ® ®¤
°-«®©® ®©©
Among the many clich´ s about Romanticism is that there is no de¬nition
of it since, as a movement of rebellion, it always immediately rebelled
against any proposed de¬nition of itself and was thus forever keeping
itself out of reach of all those who would pin it down and catalog it.
However, like all such clich´ s, it is a clich´ precisely because it captures
e e
a central truth about its subject; and, although it means that all gen-
eralizations about Romanticism ought to be expressed with so many
qualifying clauses as to make the generalization dif¬cult to enforce, it
does not rule out looking for at least some general family resemblances
in the movement.
Romanticism effectively began in Germany in the late eighteenth
century “ the term was even coined there, in Jena, most likely by Friedrich
Schlegel “ and it was at ¬rst propagated and developed among a group
of young men and women who knew each other and at least for one
brief period lived next to each other in Jena or Berlin. It spread from
there to England, France, and the rest of Europe (although “ again,
exceptions need to be noted “ Wordsworth was a contemporary of the
German Romantics, not their successor). One of the most well-known
and often repeated characterizations was made by Hegel, who person-
ally knew the individuals involved while he was in Jena, and who, while
rejecting their approach, at the same time incorporated large chunks of
it into his own system. The early Romantics, according to Hegel, rad-
icalized a traditional European and Christian conception of purity of
heart as a “beautiful soul” into a self-undermining focus on one™s own
subjectivity and feelings: they thus ended up either as psychologically
lamed agents unable to act because doing so would deface their un-
tainted inner unity of soul, or as hypocritical ironists unable to commit

± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
themselves to anything except the smug assertion of their own moral and
aesthetic superiority. In tandem with Hegel™s rather negative characteri-
zation is the traditional charge that the Romantics were simply a rebellion
against the Enlightenment, who aspired to re-enchant nature and replace
the Newtonian picture of nature as a giant piece of clockwork with an
“organic” picture of nature as alive with various life-forces and as
ultimately responsive to human wishes and plans.±
With some quali¬cations, both those characterizations capture some-
thing true about the Romantics. There is, however, another part to the
aspirations of the group that has come to be called the German “early
Romantics” (a group that included those who gathered around Jena in the
late eighteenth century and who either edited or published in the journal,
Athen¨ um, between ±· and ±°°). Among this group were the brothers
August and Friedrich Schlegel (both literary critics); the theologian,
Friedrich Schleiermacher; the writer and critic, Ludwig Tieck; the
philosopher, Friedrich Schelling; Caroline Michaelis B¨ hmer Schlegel
Schelling; Dorothea Mendelssohn Veit Schlegel; and the poet, Friedrich
von Hardenberg (who wrote under the pen-name, Novalis). Others, like
the poet, Friedrich H¨ lderlin, were associated with the group at one time
or another and shared some key ideas with them (although H¨ lderlino
himself is not best characterized as an early Romantic). Others, like the
author and statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt, associated at some times
with them, although they were not part of the circle. Almost all of them
were born around ±··° (as was Beethoven, another key ¬gure of that
Part of their aspirations had been shaped by the ongoing in¬‚uence
of Johann Gottfried Herder (±·“±°), who had in fact been Kant™s
student (although there was later to be a famous break between them),
and a great in¬‚uence on Goethe in the ±·°s and ±··°s, and who had
published several in¬‚uential pieces long before Kant™s ¬rst Critique had
even ¬rst appeared. Herder™s in¬‚uence in German culture ran wide and
deep: he was the “father” of any number of different movements in
German thought, ranging from the study of folklore (which he famously
did in tandem with Goethe, collecting German folksongs in Alsace), to
the philosophy of history, linguistics, theories of culture, and so forth.
Herder™s writings were crucially important in the Romantic transforma-
tion of the dominant metaphor of nature from that of the “machine”
to that of “life” (in other words, away from the mechanical, Newtonian
± See Peter Gay, The Naked Heart for a treatment of Romanticism (European in general) as both the
exploration of subjective interiority and as a re-enchantment of nature.
The ±·°s: H¨lderlin, Novalis, Schleiermacher, Schlegel ±
worldview to the more Romantic, organic worldview). Likewise, Herder
was crucial in fashioning a view of agency as “expressivist,” rather than
mechanical: what distinguishes human agency, so Herder argued, is its
capacity for meaning, for which the use of language is crucial, and no
naturalistic, mechanical account of language is adequate to capture that
sense of meaning. What we mean by words depends on an irreducible
sense of normativity in their use, and our grasp of such normativity itself
depends on our immersion in a way of life (a “culture”), which functions
as a background to all our more concrete uses of language. Since mean-
ing and the expression of meaning is critical to understanding agency,
and meaning is irreducibly normative, no third-person, purely objec-
tive understanding of agency is possible; one must understand both the
agent™s culture and the agent himself as an individual from the “inside,”
not from any kind of external, third-person point of view. This also
led Herder to propose that we should understand human history as a
succession of ways of life, or “cultures,” whose standards for excellence
and rightness are completely internal to themselves and which become
expressed in the distinctive language of the culture; each such way of
life represents a distinct type of human possibility and a different mode
of collective and individual human excellence. No culture should there-
fore be judged by the standards inherent to another culture; each should
be taken solely on its own terms. Moreover, the de¬ning mark of a
“culture” or a people is its language (a notion that was to play a large
role, in a manner completely unintended by Herder, in later nation-
alist movements), and the duty of poets, for example, is to re¬ne that

 This reading of Herder™s thought as arguing for the irreducibility of the normative is carried out
by one of the best interpreters of Herder, Charles Taylor, in his “The Importance of Herder,” in
Charles Taylor, Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ±µ), pp. ·“
. Herder has also been interpreted as a naturalist (although, crucially, as rejecting mechanical
explanations for organic nature and human agency in particular) by Frederick Beiser, The Fate of
Reason, ch. µ, pp. ±·“±. Although Taylor™s reading seems to me to be the better grounded of
the two (and certainly accounts for the kind of in¬‚uence Herder had on the Romantics and on
Hegel), it would take us too far a¬eld to argue for that here. To be fair, though, Herder, who is not
always as rigorous in his arguments as one might like, often seems to want it both ways, that is, to
argue for the irreducibility of the normative and for a naturalist account of mentality, thus leaving
both lines of interpretation open. Some think that Herder™s in¬‚uence is the crucial in¬‚uence on
people like Hegel. In his widely (and deservedly) in¬‚uential book, Hegel, Charles Taylor makes
such a case. See Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge University Press, ±·µ). An even more emphatic
case for Herder™s in¬‚uence is attempted by Michael Forster, Hegel™s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit
(University of Chicago Press, ±).
 This was to have a profound in¬‚uence on later historians, such as Leopold von Ranke, and on
Hegel, although Hegel was decisively to reject the notion that we were con¬ned to judging cultures
purely in terms of their own standards, since Hegel argued we should understand them all as
engaged in a progressive series of attempts at actualizing freedom.
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
language and to create the works of art that display that culture in its
Another of the great in¬‚uences on the early Romantics was Friedrich
Schiller, whose poetry and criticism (and his highly in¬‚uential discussions
of Kant™s philosophy) shaped that entire generation; in particular, his
overall notion that beauty was crucial to the cultivation of the moral life,
since only beauty (on Schiller™s view) could shape or evince the necessary
harmony between sensibility and reason (that is, between inclination and
duty) which can provide us with the crucial motivation for the moral life
(and which, both to Schiller and many others, was somehow missing in
Kant™s own alleged “rigorism” regarding moral motivation). That beauty
could be crucial to freedom and morality meant that the artist who creates
a beautiful work contributes something decisive to the formation and
education of humanity; this elevation of the artist as the “educator” of
humanity without a doubt exercised a strong in¬‚uence on the thought of
the early Romantics. That Schiller himself was ¬rst at Jena, then later at
Weimar ( just a few miles away), also helped to bolster Schiller™s in¬‚uence
on the early Romantics.
However, Herder™s and Schiller™s authority aside, the major in¬‚u-
ence on this group was the post-Kantian debate taking place in Jena
itself, both at the university and in the journals of opinion (such as the
Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung) located there. Fichte™s in¬‚uence was particu-
larly important for this group, although it, too, can be overstated. To
be sure, they took a good part of their inspiration from Fichte, but, for
the most part, they hardly became Fichteans; indeed, what lent a cer-
tain common shape to their shared aspirations and programs had to
do with the two ways in which they reacted to and rejected (or at least
took themselves to be rejecting) Fichte™s thought. (Schelling™s own re-
action to Fichte and his independent development of Romantic views
was more obviously a major in¬‚uence on this group, but Schelling re-
quires a separate treatment.) Alienated from their surrounding world,
they found that Fichte™s emphasis on human spontaneity, on nothing
“counting” for us unless we somehow bestowed some kind of status
on it, exactly expressed their own feelings of estrangement from the
world of their parents and their own desire to make their lives anew.
On the other hand, they simply could not buy into what they saw as
Fichte™s one-sidedness, on “nothing” counting for us unless we somehow
“posited it” or “made it” count; for them, there had to be some things
that simply counted on their own, for us, without our having to make them
The ±·°s: H¨lderlin, Novalis, Schleiermacher, Schlegel ±µ
Although the “Kantian paradox” never played the obvious role for the
early Romantics that it did for Fichte or for Hegel, it certainly was in the
background of their works and thoughts, and many of the ideas found
in their writings are obviously attempts to come to terms with it. This
became expressed in two types of concerns. Their ¬rst great concern
had to do with their tendency to want both sides of the Kantian coin.
They learned the lesson from Fichte (and from Kant™s third Critique) that
we do not simply mirror the world in our descriptions of it; the world,
that is, does not uniquely determine that we describe it or evoke it in one
particular way or another. The way in which we describe or evoke the
world is the result of human acts of spontaneity, indeed, even of creative,
imaginative acts, and the early Romantics thereby tended to generalize
Kant™s views on aesthetic judgment to our encounters with ourselves and
the world in general: we do not begin with a set of rules and then apply
them to things; instead, we encounter particulars, and we then search for
the concept that will subsume them, with that “search” being a creative
endeavor guided by the imagination. Nonetheless, in those acts, we are
also responding to the world, not just creating our descriptions of it without
regard to the way the world really is. In particular, in aesthetic judgments
(and experiences), we are getting at something deeper even than our own
spontaneity, something that is, again in Kant™s words, “neither nature nor
freedom and yet is linked with the basis of freedom, the supersensible.”
That is, we are neither simply imposing our own “form” on the world,
nor simply taking in the raw data that the world offers us; we are, in a
sense, doing both, imaginatively (and therefore freely) creating modes
of description that nonetheless take their bearing from an experience
of the way the world really is, even if that bearing cannot be given a
¬nal discursive, conceptual formulation. Fichte™s own way of putting
that issue “ in terms of the “I” positing the “Not-I” “ seemed to them
to put too much emphasis on the “creative” side and not enough on the
“responsive” aspect of experience, since Fichte™s “absolute I” was the
origin of all licensing and authorization, even for the “Not-I.” The basic
part of the Romantics™ aspirations and their program formed around
these two sets of issues: ¬rst, how we could hold two thoughts together “
those of spontaneous creativity and responsiveness to the way the world
really is “ and, second, how we could integrate the unity of those two
thoughts about spontaneity and responsiveness into Kant™s own barely
articulated idea in the Critique of Judgment that we are always oriented

 Kant, Critique of Judgment, §µ.
± Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians


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