The young student Fichte was a devotee of Spinozist determinism. His conversion to philosophical idealism came about only later after reading Kant's Critiques.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Kant was Fichte’s Dantean Virgil. Fichte’s The Vocation of Man has stages of doubt, understanding and faith that correspond with the stages of Dante’s pilgrimage. There is a pedagogical parallel between the master (Virgil = Kant) and adept (Dante = Fichte), a learning process which ends when Fichte ascends from Spinozism into philosophical idealism (Purgatory into Paradise).
Fichte was aware of the depths from which he had ascended intellectually. So far as dogmatism can be consistent, Spinozism is its most logical outcome... (For dogmatism read materialism.)
True thinkers on the political Right will commonly have made the switch from Marxism to the Right. (A mere move from Marxism to liberalism in any of its variants or vice versa is no move.)
Any move to the Right from Marxism will be analogous to the one made by Fichte from Spinozism to idealism. In a way that mirrors the oppositional tension from which the absolute I must emerge, one has to know that to which one is opposed before one can claim to know the truth.
After reading Kant, Fichte turned Spinoza on his head. He saw in Kant’s work the rebuttal of Spinozist determinism. Kant pointed the way to freedom. Fichte wrote:
I have been living in a new world ever since reading the Critique of Pure Reason. Propositions which I thought could never be overturned have been overturned for me. Things have been proven to me which I thought could never be proven, for example, the concept of absolute freedom, the concept of duty, etc. and I feel all the happier for it. It is unbelievable how much respect for mankind and how much strength this system gives us. (Letter dated August-September 1790 of Fichte to his friend Weisshuhn.)
The great Spinozist presupposition was no longer exterior to the individual i.e. the One, Ein Sof, of which man is merely one mode amongst the multiplicity of modes. Rather, the Absolute I is the presupposition and all else resides there.
The Absolute Ego of the first principle is not something (it has no predicate and cannot have any); it is absolutely what it is, and this cannot be further explained. But now, by means of this concept, consciousness contains the whole of reality; and to the not-self is allotted that part of it which does not attach to the self, and vice-versa. Both are something; the not-self is what the self is not, and vice- versa. As opposed to the Absolute-self...the not-self is absolutely nothing; as opposed to the limitable self is a negative quantity... (Science of Knowledge)
F. H. Jacobi, an obsessive Spinozist, saw in Spinoza’s ‘novel conception of God, the way toward a new religion or religiousness which was to inspire a wholly new kind of society, a new kind of church’. Jacobi was blinded to an appreciation of the significance of Fichte’s inversion of Spinoza, and yet his criticism of Fichte was unknowingly astute. He claimed that Fichte's position was nothing more than an inverted Spinozism, and that the concept of the Absolute I played the same role in Fichte's system as the concept of Substance played in Spinoza’s. What he failed to appreciated was that whereas Spinozism starts and finishes in materialism, Fichte's system starts and finishes with thought. The inversion changed everything.
With Fichte we pass from passivity to activity, from slave to ruler. Fichte pitted man as creator, doer and producer against Spinozist determinism, necessitarianism and fatalism. Clearly, everything changed. Humanness and the imagination are one. The creative imagination once more became the defining factor of the whole human enterprise.
The Science of Knowledge is of a kind that cannot be communicated by the letter merely, but only through the spirit; for its basic ideas must be elicited, in anyone who studies it, by the creative imagination itself; as could not, indeed, be otherwise, in a Science that penetrates back to the ultimate grounds of human knowledge, in that the whole enterprise of the human spirit issues from the imagination, and the latter cannot be grasped save through the imagination itself. (Science of Knowledge)
Renaissance man was reborn. There had been a death and resurrection of the self. The crown and mitre awarded to Dante’s pilgrim before entering Paradise were assumed again.
Fichte had superseded Spinoza’s secularised kabbalistic Judaism with a secularised capax Dei, God incarnated in man.
However, Fichte’s secularised rebuttal of secularised Judaism was not welcomed in establishment circles. Fichte lost his professorship in Jena in 1799 after he was accused of atheism, a charge he vehemently denied.
Fichte’s Appeal to the Public against the Charge of Atheism, and the Judicial Answer to the Charge of Atheism attacks the vulgar-Spinozism of his accusers. He derided his opponents for regarding God as a particular Substance. Substance meant for them ‘a sensible being existing in time and space.’ This God, extended in time and space, they deduced from the sense-world.
© John Dunn.