1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fries, Jakob Friedrich

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FRIES, JAKOB FRIEDRICH (1773-1843), German philosopher, was born at Barby, Saxony, on the 23rd of August 1773. Having studied theology in the academy of the Moravian brethren at Niesky, and philosophy at Leipzig and Jena, he travelled for some time, and in 1806 became professor of philosophy and elementary mathematics at Heidelberg. Though the progress of his psychological thought compelled him to abandon the positive theology of the Moravians, he always retained an appreciation of its spiritual or symbolic significance. His philosophical position with regard to his contemporaries he had already made clear in the critical work Reinhold, Fichte und Schelling (1803; reprinted in 1824 as Polemische Schriften), and in the more systematic treatises System der Philosophie als evidente Wissenschaft (1804), Wissen, Glaube und Ahnung (1805, new ed. 1905). His most important treatise, the Neue oder anthropologische Kritik der Vernunft (2nd ed., 1828-1831), was an attempt to give a new foundation of psychological analysis to the critical theory of Kant. In 1811 appeared his System der Logik (ed. 1819 and 1837), a very instructive work, and in 1814 Julius und Evagoras, a philosophical romance. In 1816 he was invited to Jena to fill the chair of theoretical philosophy (including mathematics and physics, and philosophy proper), and entered upon a crusade against the prevailing Romanticism. In politics he was a strong Liberal and Unionist, and did much to inspire the organization of the Burschenschaft. In 1816 he had published his views in a brochure, Vom deutschen Bund und deutscher Staatsverfassung, dedicated to “the youth of Germany,” and his influence gave a powerful impetus to the agitation which led in 1819 to the issue of the Carlsbad Decrees by the representatives of the German governments. Karl Sand, the murderer of Kotzebue, was one of his pupils; and a letter of his, found on another student, warning the lad against participation in secret societies, was twisted by the suspicious authorities into evidence of his guilt. He was condemned by the Mainz Commission; the grand-duke of Weimar was compelled to deprive him of his professorship; and he was forbidden to lecture on philosophy. The grand-duke, however, continued to pay him his stipend, and in 1824 he was recalled to Jena as professor of mathematics and physics, receiving permission also to lecture on philosophy in his own rooms to a select number of students. Finally, in 1838, the unrestricted right of lecturing was restored to him. He died on the 10th of August 1843.

The most important of the many works written during his Jena professorate are the Handbuch der praktischen Philosophie (1817-1832), the Handbuch der psychischen Anthropologie (1820-1821, 2nd ed. 1837-1839), Die mathematische Naturphilosophie (1822), System der Metaphysik (1824), Die Geschichte der Philosophie (1837-1840). Fries's point of view in philosophy may be described as a modified Kantianism, an attempt to reconcile the criticism of Kant and Jacobi's philosophy of belief. With Kant he regarded Kritik, or the critical investigation of the faculty of knowledge, as the essential preliminary to philosophy. But he differed from Kant both as regards the foundation for this criticism and as regards the metaphysical results yielded by it. Kant's analysis of knowledge had disclosed the a priori element as the necessary complement of the isolated a posteriori facts of experience. But it did not seem to Fries that Kant had with sufficient accuracy examined the mode in which we arrive at knowledge of this a priori element. According to him we only know these a priori principles through inner or psychical experience; they are not then to be regarded as transcendental factors of all experience, but as the necessary, constant elements discovered by us in our inner experience. Accordingly Fries, like the Scotch school, places psychology or analysis of consciousness at the foundation of philosophy, and called his criticism of knowledge an anthropological critique. A second point in which Fries differed from Kant is the view taken as to the relation between immediate and mediate cognitions. According to Fries, the understanding is purely the faculty of proof; it is in itself void; immediate certitude is the only source of knowledge. Reason contains principles which we cannot demonstrate, but which can be deduced, and are the proper objects of belief. In this view of reason Fries approximates to Jacobi rather than to Kant. His most original idea is the graduation of knowledge into knowing, belief and presentiment. We know phenomena, how the existence of things appears to us in nature; we believe in the true nature, the eternal essence of things (the good, the true, the beautiful); by means of presentiment (Ahnung) the intermediary between knowledge and belief, we recognize the supra-sensible in the sensible, the being in the phenomenon.

See E. L. Henke, J. F. Fries (1867); C. Grapengiesser, J. F. Fries, ein Gedenkblatt and Kant's “Kritik der Vernunft” und deren Fortbildung durch J. F. Fries (1882); H. Strasosky, J. F. Fries als Kritiker der Kantischen Erkenntnistheorie (1891); articles in Ersch and Gruber's Allgemeine Encyklopädie and Allgemeine deutsche Biographie; J. E. Erdmann, Hist. of Philos. (Eng. trans., London, 1890), vol. ii. § 305.