Fichte's Science of Knowledge/Chapter VIII
|←Chapter VII||Fichte's Science of Knowledge
The Practical Solution of the Antimony
THE PRACTICAL SOLUTION OF THE ANTINOMY.
THE proposition which underlies the practical portion of the discussion is this: The I posits itself as determining the Not-me. At first this proposition was, it will be remembered, found to be unserviceable. We did not know whether there was in reality such a thing as the Not me. We have found that we cannot avoid the recognition of the Not-me, under however attenuated a form. We have now to ask whether the I can really determine it; and. if so, how and to what degree. Especially are we to ask whether, practically, we can reach the solution which, theoretically, is impossible.
From this point of view we can first really understand the nature of that antinomy which has haunted us through our whole discussion thus far. The comprehension of Fichte’s position will be helped by a reference to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason; for, in this first systematic presentation of his system, Fichte follows very closely the method of Kant, and his system can be best understood by a comparison with that of Kant.
The antinomy which we have been considering fills the same place in the system of Fichte that the antinomies fill in that of Kant. Like them, it rests upon a purely psychological basis. The antinomies in Kant have their origin in the fact that in the mind there are two distinct faculties or methods of action; namely, the understanding and the reason. These are, so to speak, on different planes; and in their workings and results are absolutely incommensurable. Each has its own laws and its own end. The two occupy an equal rank in our intellectual nature; thus neither can be subjected to the other. We must use both; we must trust to both; and yet, when we compare the results to which each would lead us, we find them mutually exclusive. So far as the understanding is viewed in relation to empirical results, its world is too small for the reason; but when the measureless sweep of its Categories is considered—the endless regressus on the line of Causation, the analysis that can find no point of rest—the world of the understanding is found to be too vast for the architectural unity which the reason demands.
The antinomy which plays so important a part in the system of Fichte rests also upon a psychological basis. The one side represents the practical reason, the activity of the ego, which presses into the infinite. The other side rests upon the theoretical reason. Intelligence and consciousness under any form are inconceivable without some limit. We have thus the infinite I and the finite I. face to face. The one will assert itself, and will, therefore, be absolute. The other will be intelligent and self-conscious, and must, therefore, be limited. We see thus the hopelessness of any attempt at solution. Both of these elements belong to the nature of the I. If either of them should be surrendered, the I would no longer remain. Both must be accepted. Yet to accept both is to remain in the presence of an unsolved contradiction, which would make philosophy impossible. At least, any theoretical solution, and thus any system of philosophy based upon theoretical considerations, is impossible. It may be, however, that practical considerations will, at least partially, remove the difficulty. If we cannot untie the knot, perhaps we can cut it. This was what Kant did. With an “It must be” he swept away all the difficulties which had made an “It is” impossible. This fact in the procedure of Kant may prepare us for the method which Fichte really adopts.
The antinomy, expressed in its most condensed form, is this: The I is both infinite and Unite. This proposition is self-destructive. It affirms and denies in the same breath. This proposition, however, is the outcome of all our analysis thus far. This analysis was based upon the most indisputable facts of consciousness. Each element of it has been deduced so carefully that it must be accepted as true. Vet, when we bring the elements together, they mutually destroy one another.
This contradiction has its roots deeper than would be implied by the statements already made. It is found in the very idea of the infinite I itself. The term I has no significance, except as an expression of consciousness or intelligence. If the infinite I be indeed an I, it must then he intelligent. It is, however, fundamental with Fichte that consciousness or intelligence implies limitation. The term, infinite I, is, therefore, equivalent to the term, limited infinite, which is obviously a contradiction.
The contradiction thus lies at the basis of our whole discussion. We might trace it, if it were worth while, step by step. Our first proposition was that the I posits itself. This appeared to be the I as unlimited. It came simply together with itself. It was an act of absolute self-assertion. But. as we have seen later, the Me cannot be posited without the Not-me. The royal act, then, by which the infinite I posits itself, is an act, to a certain extent, of abdication. The I cannot posit itself without limiting itself.
We thus see that the infinite I and the intelligent I are not in opposition. The latter is the ally of the former. It is through it, alone, that the infinite activity affirms itself. This, then, is the very root of the antinomy that we have been tracing. The I cannot affirm itself without affirming that which is not itself. The infinite cannot affirm itself without becoming finite. Finiteness is the only means for an end which ii contradicts.
From all this, it must not be supposed that the I is merely finite. It represents an infinite activity. It feds that all limitation is a narrowing and constraining of that which, without such limitation, would be limitless. The I is thus conscious of its infinitude, though the very consciousness is a limitation.
The contradiction seems thus absolute; absolute in itself and equally absolute in its necessity. It is the solution of this contradiction that we have now to seek.
The very absoluteness of the contradiction suggests the method of solution. If it cannot be weakened, it must somehow be avoided. The only method in which this can be done suggests itself naturally to the mind. If it is affirmed that A is B, and, at the same time, is not B, and if we accept the statement as true, we see at once that the terms must be used in two senses; that in one sense A is B, and in another sense it is not B. So if the I is at once infinite and finite, it must be infinite in one sense and finite in another. Only in this way can the two apparently contradictory statements stand together.
This we find to be the case. The I. in order that it may be intelligent—even in order that it may be an I—must recognize itself as limited. It must posit something that is not itself. In this it is finite. On the other hand, this positing of a limit is all that is required. The I is not limited as to the point where the boundary must be placed. It may put it wherever in infinity it may choose. Its finiteness consists in the necessity of a limit; its infinitude, in the power to place the limit where it will.
It may be well to explain and emphasize again the nature and the necessity of this limit. It is fundamental to the nature of the I that it should be intelligent. The condition of this intelligence is the positing of the Not-me; that is, the positing of a limit to itself. So long as the I is what it is, must it yield to this law of intelligence; thus, so long must it limit itself. In other words, it finds itself limited, and thereby intelligent. But a limit is all that is essential. This limit the I can push forward into the infinite. It, can never fully escape it, yet it may be, to infinitude, tending to escape it. It may always move in the direction of infinitude. It may always be becoming infinite. This is a goal toward which it may ever press. It is, however, a goal that can never be reached. It may ever press the limit further and further, but not till the end of eternity can the limit ever be wholly escaped.
In this fact, Fichte finds, as he repeatedly insists, the basis of faith in immortality. The I has this impulse to infinitude. It is conscious of an infinite activity. The very term, conscious of infinite activity, as we have seen, involves also the consciousness of finiteness. Thus is the nature of the soul double. Thus does it find itself at first baffled and bewildered. It finds only contradiction. As, however, it rises to the real assertion of itself, as it claims that inheritance which it feels really belongs to it, it finds the limits give way. They seem, for the moment, to fall off from it. As soon, however, as it has tasted the joy of freedom, it finds itself again oppressed. The limit has been only pushed to a little greater distance, but it is there, as real and as solid as at the first. Again and again must this process be repeated with the same result. This is the very nature of the soul. It must continue the process till the end be reached. But not till eternity be exhausted would it be possible to reach the farthest limit of infinity. The process is endless; endlessness of time must therefore be postulated. The destiny of the soul is always accomplishing itself, and is, therefore, never fully accomplished. The I thus carries within itself the pledge of its own immortality. Should the end ever be reached, the I would become God. Let no one be startled by the statement. At the latest moment, the soul would be as far from the limit of infinitude as it is from the end of eternity; as far, thus, from both as it was at its earliest start; thus, though, if the process were fulfilled, it would become God, at the latest moment that we can conceive in eternity the soul would in fact be as far from being God as it is to-day. The finite is always infinitely removed from the infinite.
We have now reached the solution of the paradox that has haunted us so long; so far at least as, in the judgment of Fichte, a solution is possible. The difficulty has been to reconcile the positing of itself by the I, with the fact that it posits something foreign to itself. The former act implies absoluteness; the latter implies limitation. Both must be true, in spite of the apparent contradiction. The former is involved in the fact that the I is; the latter, in the fact that the I is intelligent. The reconciliation is found in the fact that, while the limitation must be assumed by and for the sake of the intelligence, as a reality, absolute freedom from limit exists as a postulate. This postulate is always accomplishing itself, though it is never accomplished.
Man feels that his destiny is to be wholly independent of that which is foreign to himself. The end and aim of his existence is thus to assert himself in the face of that outward universe which is, on its part, also self-asserting, and which is always invading the realm of the absolute personality. Man feels within himself the power to accomplish this end which his nature demands; he often feels, indeed, that he is accomplishing it. He feels that the barriers are moving before him, that the area of his freedom is becoming enlarged, that he is thus pressing into the infinite. These feelings are true. The fact is in accordance with them: but (he process is an eternal one, and its end will never be fully reached.
We have already enumerated four stages in the development of our thought in regard to the relation between the inner and the outer worlds. These stages were marked, it will be remembered, as Qualitative Realism, Qualitative Idealism. Quantitative Idealism, and Quantitative Realism. To these must now be added a fifth. The position now reached by Fichte, and maintained by him as his final one, he calls Critical Idealism.
We have here a complete revelation of the closeness with which Fichte, in the work which we are now studying, imitates the procedure of Kant. Kant, also, as we have seen, found himself face to face with antinomies. He found it impossible for thought to solve these. They are by their nature insoluble. Where thought failed, however, the moral sense succeeded. He was like a combatant who proposes to his adversary that they shall lay aside the swords with which they were contending. His opponent yields; and they stand, face to face, disarmed. The battle is a drawn one. Suddenly, however, he produces another weapon, a pistol, that he had carried concealed about him. His adversary stands unarmed and helpless before him. Such was the procedure of Kant. As the advocate of the truth of religious faith, he brought his adversary to a compromise. It was agreed that no arguing could prove either the positive or the negative of the great question at issue. So soon, however, as the truce is accomplished, by the aid of the postulate, the existence of which his adversary had not suspected, he wins an easy victory over his now disarmed opponent. For this reason the system of Kant is called critical. Each of his fundamental treatises is called a Kritik. All purely logical processes are shown to be powerless. The postulate of the practical reason alone remains. So Fichte calls his result also critical. We have a Critical Idealism, which is so called because it recognizes the powerlessness of the arguments, both of the common Idealism and of the common Idealism, the powerlessness even of that sublimated Idealism and Realism that he calls Quantitative. Neither of these is competent to explain what needs to be explained. By the postulate that has been described, however, he forces a positive result. It is Idealism still, but it is Critical Idealism.
We may notice, also, another point of resemblance between the procedure of Fichte and that of Kant. This is a resemblance that will become more and more distinct as we advance. It is, indeed, a resemblance which will ultimately lead to the completing of the one-sided and fragmentary results reached by Kant. It is this: The self-assertion of the I, which is here postulated by Fichte, will prove to be precisely the Practical Reason of Kant. The way in which the results of Fichte give completeness to those of Kant may be illustrated by the part which belief in immortality plays in each system. Immortality is demanded by Kant in order that some power, apparently outside both of man and his surroundings, should accomplish a relation between man and his environment which neither man nor the nature of things could bring about. Immortality is thus postulated as something which might be supposed to be foreign to man’s nature, and which is provided in order to give space for the working of a power also foreign. With Fichte no foreign element is recognized. Immortality is found to be implied by the very constitution and condition of the I itself. It furnishes a field for no outside power, but for the activity of the soul. The soul feels its infinitude. It feels also its limitation. By its very nature it demands that this infinitude should be realized. It feels itself to be in its normal condition when it is bringing about this realization. The work, however, is an endless one, and demands eternity. After this general view of the position of Fichte, we will return to the development of his system.
The sense of limit cannot be aroused without some means of comparison, by which the activity that is checked at the boundary that has been referred to, shall be seen to be inadequate to manifest the real nature of the I. Without some such comparison, the I might be seen by some spectator from the outside to be limited, but it would not itself recognize the limit. In fact, we never feel a limit which belongs to the constitution of our nature. No man feels, for instance, the limitation of his own judgment. We go through the world applying our verdict of good or bad, beautiful or ugly, with absolute confidence that we can trust implicitly to our own perception.
- “'Tis with our judgments as our watches: none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.”
- “'Tis with our judgments as our watches: none
If we feel such limitations at all, it is because our natures are more developed in certain directions than the}' are in others. We may have learned to trust the judgment of others in regard, for instance, to certain matters of taste, more confidently than we do our own. This sense of limitation is the result of comparison of the results of our own judgment in the past, with the results of the judgment of those whom we now respect as more to be trusted than ourselves. This procedure is, however, wholly superficial and arbitrary. We have simply learned the fact of our limitation; we; have no sense of it. We cannot see why everything is not precisely as it appears to us—the uninteresting, uninteresting, and the attractive, attractive. We know from experience that, to a better judgment, the appearance may be wholly changed. What is to us uninteresting may be to it beautiful. Though we may know this, the knowledge is, as has been said, superficial and meaningless. Thus there are many who go through life without even learning their limitations. They lay down their crude estimate of things with as much confidence as they did at the first. They are limited for others—that is, to the perception of others—they are not limited for themselves. Those who have learned the lesson, have learned it merely as if by rote. They are not limited for themselves; they have simply learned that in the view of others they are limited. We never recognize a limit that we have not in some sense or degree already passed. If we have partly passed the limit, and in part are restrained by it, then only are we really conscious of it. The animal is not conscious of its finiteness. It is, for reasons that can be better explained later, conscious of outward and physical limits. Of the limits of its own nature, it may be supposed to be unconscious, because it has no hint of anything that transcends these. It has no vision or divination that has pressed beyond them. With man, it is different. He runs, if the expression may be used, in advance of himself. His prophetic soul reaches vague suggestions of that which it has not yet attained. It thus becomes conscious of its limitations. It is not true merely that it presses toward the mark of its high calling, because it feels that it has not yet attained, and is not perfect. It is even more true that this sense of imperfection, and of the unattained, springs from the fact that the spirit is really pressing on, ever reaching out in advance of the position actually gained, and discovering thus that this position cannot be a final one, and that by tarrying there the spirit fails of its true end.
The nature of the relation which has just been indicated in a general sense, is described by Fichte in a more abstract way. In connection with this abstraction, he uses mechanical illustrations which give to the statements an air of scientific precision, but which are merely figures of speech, by which we may represent to ourselves the principle under consideration. Such a mechanical and figurative presentation was that of the impingement, from which, as we have already seen, the I receives the impulse to posit the Not-me, and thereby the Me. Such mechanical illustrations will occur, not infrequently, as we advance.
The statement of Fichte is, briefly, this: The I is the source of two forms of activity. The one stops, say at the limit, c, the other presses beyond c, into the infinite. Being so unequal, the two forces can be compared, and thus recognized by the I. Though their inequality is thus the means of their recognition, yet, since the I is one, its activities should he one. The I, therefore, cannot rest content with this inequality, but demands that it should be removed. Since the infinite force represents the reality of the I, the I demands that the other should be made equal to it. This is impossible, since this would imply an infinite extension. It remains, then, a postulate that is never perfectly fulfilled.
We will now analyze this presentation, and make its application more clear. The facts that need explanation and illustration are these. The I feels its limit because it presses beyond it; and it presses beyond the limit because it divines something to which it has not yet fully attained. For these results, are needed different forms of activity that can be compared between themselves, and some basis or standard for this comparison. In order to make the discussion more easily understood, we should, perhaps, define more carefully the terms used. We have to ask, then, What is meant by the limit with which the I finds itself confronted? The limit is the world of objects within which the soul seems to be inclosed. These form a limit, because they do not follow the wish and will of the I. They are not precisely what it would have them. They are thought of as representing a force outside the I. This force and its results are compared with the ideal of the I, and found wanting.
Although these objects are regarded as the products of a foreign force, they are really the products of the I. As we have seen in discussing the antinomy of the Not-me, the fact that we are conscious of them shows that they are really within the consciousness. We may call the activity that posits them, the objective activity of the I. With this, and with the external force which it posits, is to be compared another activity of the I. which goes beyond this objective limit, and thus makes it an object of consciousness. The need of this basis for comparison is found in the fact that nothing is recognized by us, except in contrast with something else. This is assumed by our common speech, according to which, to see a remote object, and to distinguish it, are one and the same thing.
We have then to ask. What is the nature of that activity of the I, which is contrasted with the objective activity? To this question there can be but one answer. The I has only two forms of activity. One is the objective activity just described; the other is the absolute activity, by which it affirms itself. The objective activity, as the name implies, is limited. It goes as far as the object, and there stops. The other is described as pressing beyond this limit, out into the infinite. The contrast between the two is what makes it possible to recognize each. The I would know nothing of its infinite activity, if it were not for its finite, objective activity; and the reverse. Without the Not-me, there would be no consciousness of the Me; without that of the Me, there would be none of the Not-me.
These two forms of activity are wholly independent of one another. They have nothing in common, except in the fact that each is a force, and that each belongs to the I. How then shall they be compared? The object posited makes the comparison possible. It serves as an index, to show just how far the objective force reaches, and thus that the infinite force presses beyond it.
The I brings these forces into comparison. If they are thus brought into relation, they should be absolutely equal. This equality is demanded by the fact that the I is one. It can tolerate, therefore, no difference within itself. All its activity must be one. The act of positing the object is its activity. Therefore the I, comparing this activity with its infinite activity, demands that the two shall be equal and alike. If they are not, there is found to be a discord in the I itself. But so surely as an object must be posited, the two forms of activity are not equal and alike; for the object itself, by its very existence, implies a limitation. The objective activity of the I is, therefore, limited; that by which it affirms itself is absolute. The two are, therefore, utterly unlike. As we have seen, however, the I demands their equality. They must be absolutely equal. Since, however, they are really not equal, but must be made so, the question arises, Which of the two shall be made to correspond to the other, and which shall be assumed to furnish the ground or standard to which both must conform? It is easy to see how this question must be answered. The I must be absolutely independent, while all must be dependent upon it. Thus the object must correspond to the I. It must conform itself to that; and it is the absolute I, which, by reason of its absoluteness, demands this.
Fichte attempts to make the matter clear by another form of presentation. The activity, Y, is given. This represents the objective activity of the I, or, more concretely, as manifesting this activity, it represents the object itself. With this activity, the fundamental and absolute activity of the I is brought into relation. In order that the two may be compared, we suppose another object outside the I, equal to —Y, which represents the absolute activity of the I, and is thus its equivalent. We have thus two objects over against the I, each representing one form of its activity. Y is the real object, or what we recognize as such. It is the Not-me, which is posited by the I, and which forms its limit. It is the world with which we stand in relation. On the other hand, —Y is an object that has no existence, except in thought. It lies in a world in which all the activity of the I is really one, in which there is no discord or difference. In other words, —Y is an ideal, and exists only in an ideal world. Thus Y and —Y are not in accord; they stand, on the contrary, in contrast with one another.
From this relation of difference, two results of the highest importance spring. One is the demand of the I that the two shall be alike, that Y shall be made similar to —Y, that the real shall be made absolutely one with the ideal. The second result is the recognition of the object itself. The object is known as such, because it stands in contrast with the absolute activity of the I. If there were not this contrast, then there would be no object. The I would be all in all, and precisely for that reason it would be nothing; for without the object, the I would be unable to posit itself.
The importance of the position which we have now reached, so far as the system of Fichte is concerned, is obvious. We are at the heart of the system. We have reached the point where the various lines of thought meet, and from which we must start afresh for future investigations. It is, therefore, essential, for the comprehension of Fichte, that this position be thoroughly understood. It is important that one should not only be able to repeat the formulae by which the thought of Fichte is uttered, but that one should see the real meaning of these formulae. Only thus can one see the truth that underlies them, and can thus judge whether this truth has been forced to yield results which are not really contained in it.
It will be remembered that, as we have already seen, Fichte refers to a passage in Kant’s Introduction to the Critique of Judgment as suggesting the point from which he started in his independent thought. The passage from Kant, here referred to, is that in which he recognizes the practical and the theoretical reason as standing over against one another, as having different systems of laws, and as being, to our thought, irreconcilable. Kant intimates, however, the possibility that there may be some unity in which this antagonism is solved. This principle of unity he recognizes as the supernatural. It was this recognition, by Kant, of the fundamental antinomy of our nature, and its possible solution, that fired the thought of Fichte. In this statement, we have the definite problem, which he undertook to solve, and we have reached the point in the discussion where his solution of the problem is given.
We have recognized, all along, the antinomy between the practical and the theoretical reason. The practical is represented by the absolute I, which posits itself, which will recognize no contradiction, which will be all and in all. Wherever it finds opposition to itself, it demands conformity. It will lay down the law for the universe. It compares with its own ideal the actual reality that surrounds it, and demands that this reality conform to it. Its ideal, being an object, is, so far as its form is concerned, foreign to itself; but, so far as its content is concerned, it is one with itself. This ideal, as a mirror, reflects the I; so that, when the I surveys it, it contemplates itself. The I would have the real objective world also as its mirror, so that it may find itself in this as well as in its ideal. This is the demand which it makes of the universe. It is a demand which it makes without reason or justification. The only reason is that this demand springs from its essential being, and it cannot go behind that. When we prove anything, we simply bring the statement we would prove, to the test of the fundamental law of our own nature; and this demand that the outward should correspond to the inner, this demand on the part of the I for absolute independence and self-assertion, is that fundamental nature which furnishes the test for all else, but which itself is absolute, admitting of proof or justification as little as it admits of disproof or confutation. This demand represents the practical reason of Kant. Fichte claims to have shown, as no one else had shown or had undertaken to show, the real nature of this demand of the practical reason. Kant recognized the categorical imperative, but he had not shown its true nature or basis. Fichte claims to have shown this, by recognizing, as the absolute postulate, that all things should conform to the pure I—a postulate which is based upon the recognition, by the I, of its absolute nature, through which all is posited, or, if not, should be. Only because the I thus posited is itself absolute, has it the right to make an absolute postulate. Since this is the only possible basis of the categorical imperative, Fichte claims that the position of Kant must have been, at bottom, the same as his own—that Kant tacitly recognized that infinite nature of the I upon which Fichte confessedly bases his philosophy. Kant himself refused to recognize the identity between his system and that of Fichte. None the less have we reached the point where the system of Fichte touches most closely that of Kant, and where he seeks to bring to absolute completion the system of Kant.
Over against this Practical Reason—the positing of itself by the I, or the demand for this perfect positing of itself—we have the Theoretical Reason. These two, Fichte has brought into a sharper antithesis than Kant had done. and. from the nature of his system, could do. Kant simply saw the two as distinct, and guessed only that they might be united in some supernatural unity. With Fichte the two are antithetical. We may even call them polar to one another. The Practical Reason is the positing of itself by the I; the Theoretical is the positing of that which is not itself. The two, as we have seen so often, are mutually contradictory and exclusive.
To trace the antithetical relation between two elements is the first step to a reconciliation. Two elements that we know simply as different, cannot be harmonized. We know too little of them and of their relation to one another to know where to look for any principle of harmony. When, however, we have brought them into the relation of a direct antithesis, then we see that our knowledge of this relation is complete and final. We know just where to seek for the principle of unity. Moreover, we have at least an indication of the nature of this unity. If we have found that X and Y stand in a relation of polarity to one another—that is, a relation of direct and absolute antithesis, so that the one is simply the opposite of the other—then we know that the one is absolutely dependent upon the other. When we have reached this point of absolute divergence, so that unity seems impossible, all at once the unity is reached. If X is polar to Y, then without X there is no Y, and without Y there is no X. The positive and negative poles of a magnet, the north and south poles of the magnetic needle, are directly contradictory to one another. We may literally apply the common phrase and say that they differ toto coelo, for they point to opposite extremes of the heavens; yet they are bound together as no merely harmonizing elements can be. If X and Y stand in a polar relation to one another, then X has its real being in Y, and Y has its real being in X, just as the north pole has its being in the south, and the south pole in the north, for, without X, Y would be an impossibility, and the reverse.
The statements that have just been made are merely formal. We know that, under the circumstances described, X and Y must stand in the relation of mutual dependence, so that each is merely in and through the other, but we do not see the nature of this relation. We know, however, enough of the nature of the practical I and the theoretical I, to take a step further, and comprehend the nature of their mutual dependence. The relation between the two. therefore, is not merely formal; it has a content which we can study. The nature of this relation we have already seen. The I would posit itself absolutely: by its very nature it is driven to do this. This is, however, to demand an impossibility. The I cannot posit itself without positing that which is not itself, for this positing of itself is an act of consciousness; and consciousness, according to Fichte, is impossible without the limitation of the Not-me. We thus see how the Practical Reason is dependent upon the Theoretical. On the other hand, the Theoretical Reason is equally dependent upon the Practical. The object which the Theoretical Reason, by its very nature, recognizes, would not be recognized by it, if it were not for the contrast between the object and the ideal which is demanded by the Practical Reason. If the world actually corresponded to the ideal, so that the I should find only itself in it: or if, on the other hand, there were no ideal with which to compare the actual,—in either case the object would not be perceived. The Practical Reason and the Theoretical Reason would be alike empty of content.
Thus that unity between the theoretical and the practical reason, the possibility of which Kant recognized, Fichte claims to have found. This principle of unity would be, according to Kant, the supernatural; with Fichte, the I is the supernatural. Thus the three absolutes which, according to Fichte, Kant recognized—namely, the Practical Reason, the Theoretical Reason, and the Supernatural Principle of Unity Fichte claims to have reduced to one. The Principle of Absolute Unity is found. This unity, however, is a postulate rather than a fact: it is continually accomplishing itself, but is never accomplished. Thus, not only do we have the three absolutes of Kant reduced to one; in this one Absolute, we find the source and the nature of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and, through it, that of the Postulate of Immortality which was based upon it by Kant. The relation of this solution of the problem to Kant’s Postulate of the Divine Existence we shall consider later in speaking of the system of Fichte in its theological aspect.
From the point which we have reached, another characteristic of Fichte’s philosophy becomes more distinctly seen than was possible before. The system recognizes nothing but activity. It is purely dynamic. Further, this activity is purely of the spirit. According to the ordinary view of the world, the spirit is largely passive. It finds itself in the midst of a thousand objects which force themselves upon it. They invade it, they control it, they impress themselves upon it; and through this impression of things upon the soul comes sensation; and through sensation comes thought. Then at last does the soul react upon the outward world. The initiative, however, has been all along with the outward world. That is the reality, upon which the soul is dependent. The soul is the wax, the outward world is the seal: or at best the soul is the instrument which the stroke of the outward world smites into music. With Fichte, all this is different. The soul, or the I, is pure activity. It is nothing save by its own act. Its very being is the positing of itself; thus, through this act alone, it has being. Through this activity, it recognizes also the object. If it were not for this infinite activity, there would be to it no object. The lake, resting in the bosom of the hills, might fail to recognize the unchanging circle which shuts it in. The stream, however, if we may suppose it to have any capacity for consciousness, cannot fail to recognize the rocks that stand in its way, and past which it rushes in its impetuous course. The Me and the Not-me—the self and the object recognized as the opposite of the self—are both the product of the infinite activity of the I. Should it rest, it and its universe would perish together. Rest, however, it cannot. It may become more torpid than its true being would demand, but inaction is the very opposite of itself. It must ever press on, seeking the ocean which it shall never reach.
Perhaps some of these last statements may be so far removed from our common thought as to be to many not merely incredible, but meaningless. That our knowledge of the outward world should be dependent upon our own activity, and yet more directly upon the fact that we have an ideal with which to compare the outward fact, may seem one of the most extravagant utterances of Fichte—one of the most extravagant, because it concerns that which is so familiar in our lives that its extravagance may be distinctly seen, while other statements may have seemed so far away and vague that their extravagance is hardly noticed. We may have attached too little meaning to them to be really surprised by them. So far as the relation of the activity of the I to the act of perception is concerned, we may perhaps be helped by recognizing the fact that the mind is never passive. We are apt to think of perception as a state of passivity in which the mind is merely acted upon. We often contrast this passive condition of the mind in perception, with its activity in judgment. Even Kant has sometimes been understood to make this distinction. The mind is, however, never more active than in perception. Never does it apply the Categories with more authority, although it applies them unconsciously. By means of the Categories, it makes sensation into perception. It constructs, by the productive imagination, the objects which it sees. Even sensation is not a matter of passivity alone. The mind is constructive even here. The wax is simply receptive when it takes the stamp of the seal. Such passive receptivity is wholly foreign to the mind. That is pure activity. It may shape its activity according to some suggestion from without; but it is active and autonomic still.
Even this result, however, is only a step toward the position of Fichte. According to this, not merely is the mind active in perception. It is by means of the comparison between its own ideal and the objective reality, that this latter becomes an object, of consciousness. Let us see whether we can attach any meaning to this statement.
The objector admits that a contrast is necessary in order that anything may be consciously perceived—that what we recognize is relation, and especially change of relation. But changes of relation, he may urge, are taking place without our act. The world changes about us. First one object of the environment, and then another, affects us. Sounds, colors, forms, are ever varying. The world is a kaleidoscope which is always turning; and the transformations thus produced are sufficient to awaken our consciousness, and to give to it a content, without reference to that ideal which Fichte makes essential to any consciousness of the objective world. I will not undertake to defend or maintain absolutely the position of Fichte, but will simply adduce one or two familiar conceptions, which may point in this direction, and show that the position of Fichte may be less extravagant than it at first appears. I will ask, then, What constitutes for us the reality of the external world? I think that the answer generally, if not universally, given will be that the world has reality to us through our recognition of the principle of Causation. This binds its parts together, and makes it one; and through this unity it is real. Thus Kant claims that the idea of causation cannot be derived from experience, for experience depends upon it. I ask next, What do we mean by causation? The ordinary answer to this question would be that it is a manifestation of force. One object acts upon another and produces some change in its structure or condition. This is what we mean by causation, and this is what we call the manifestation of force. My next question is, How do we obtain the idea of force? The common answer to this question would be, that we obtain the idea of force through the manifestation of power by ourselves. We are conscious of using energy. We, ourselves, produce change in the objects about us. We do this consciously, and with a purpose. Our consciousness consists in the fact that our purpose is not accomplished merely by a thought—that we have to make an effort, greater or less. This consciousness of effort is what gives us the idea of force, and thus of a causation that is something more than mere sequence, however unvarying the sequence may be. This idea of force we extend to the relation of objects in the outer world, and thus reach the notion of a universe that is bound together by the principle of causation. A further question is, Why do we attempt to make a change in the relation of objects to ourselves and to each other, and thus gain the idea of force, and that of causation? The answer to this question is, that we seek to change the relation of objects because we are not wholly satisfied with them as they are. This dissatisfaction with them as they are, implies the notion of some possible disposition of the objects about us that would please us better than the actual arrangement. We have thus, in some sort, an ideal, to which we seek to make the actual conform. This ideal is, however, so far as we have yet reached, very low and very superficial. Still it is a kind of ideal that is always present with us; and one cannot rest long without being moved by such an ideal to some work of change. These ideals of which I now speak, are low and superficial, because the suggestion of them comes largely from the world of objects itself. We have little in view save some change in the arrangement of these; and this new arrangement we shall shortly seek to better in some respects. All these lower and superficial ideals point, however, to the ideals which may be absolutely so called—those of truth, goodness, and beauty. These differ from the ideals just described, in that they are wholly of the soul. They correspond to what Fichte calls thetic propositions, in distinction from those that are antithetic and synthetic. Through these, the I seeks to impress itself wholly upon the outward world, to make the outer world wholly conformed to itself. Through these, the I seeks thus complete independence and self-assertion. These, however, are infinite, corresponding to the infinite nature of the I.
It was just stated that the lower and superficial ideals point to these absolute ones. It is because man cannot be satisfied till these higher ideals are fulfilled, that he pursues so restlessly the lower ideals.
- “The fiend that men harries
Is love of the best.”
- “The fiend that men harries
It is this love of the best which leaves man no peace till the ideal of the best has offered itself to him as the direct object of pursuit. When this has been fairly seen, there comes only with it an inspiration to yet more unwearied activity. The struggle has now a lofty peace which was before packing, but it allows as little pause.
- “The Lethe of Nature
Can’t trance him again,
Whose soul sees the perfect
Which his eyes seek in vain.”
- “The Lethe of Nature
The course of thought which has thus been followed is designed to lead the common apprehension of the outer world to something more akin to the position of Fichte. We have seen that, even to this common apprehension, the reality of the world is found in that of causation. Causation is another name for force. The idea of force is gained from the consciousness of our own activity in regard to the outward world. This activity grows out of our recognition of its imperfection. This recognition of imperfection springs from the fact that we have an idea of something that seems to us better than the actual, and these lower ideals point to and suggest, if they do not indeed imply, the highest ideals. Thus, it is through our ideals that we reach the recognition of the reality of the external world.
By this reasoning, in which I have assumed certain views to be commonly held, and have not advanced them as those which I should maintain without qualification, we have seen that our recognition of the reality of the external world may be shown to be dependent upon the ideals according to which we shape our action. We may take a step further, and affirm that it is through our own impulse to activity, and thus mediately through the ideal which is the source of this impulse, that we recognize the reality of the objects by which we are directly surrounded. The impulse to activity postulates the reality of the objects upon which we are moved to act. If we were surrounded by what we knew to be phantasms of our own brain, we certainly would not use physical powers to rid ourselves of the annoying presence. We are so constituted as to be ever active. We have ideals which we are impelled to accomplish. In Fichte’s very interesting work on the Vocation of Man, and, indeed, in his ethical writings generally, he shows how our belief in the outward world is the postulate of our active impulse. With him, this active impulse assumes the form of the moral sense, and of the categorical imperative which springs from this. Moral action differs from other action, however, simply in its purity. It is the pure activity of the I that is so far independent of any objective environment. This demands a field for itself, and we thus postulate the outward realities.
Yet further it is true that we receive our most vivid, if not, indeed, our only real, notion of the actual existence of the things that surround us, from the resistance which they offer to our attempts to modify them. When we undertake to do this, we are confronted by the unyielding nature of our environment. We are continually finding ourselves face to face with some obstacle which is either immovable or can be moved with difficulty. We can here apply literally Fichte’s formula; namely, that only through the ideal do we reach the knowledge of the real. Here we see how our purpose outruns our performance, and thus shows us the limits within which we are confined, which otherwise would not be perceived by us. Thus it is to a sturdy, active nature that the world seems most real. To a dreamy and contemplative nature, content with the inner realm of its own thoughts and fancies, the world might easily seem to be more or less of a dream-world.
By such illustrations we may put a real meaning into the formula of Fichte; namely, that without the ideal there would be no real, as without the real there would be no ideal. We must continually bear in mind the fact that the system of Fichte rests upon this recognition of the essential activity of the nature of the I, and of the dependence of all things upon that. There is no relation recognized by the system, that is static. All is dynamic. All manifests the play of the infinite life, which alone is. At the same time, although Fichte himself uses, to some extent, the kind of illustration just indicated, this does not fairly represent his own inmost thought. Really the only activity of the I, which he recognizes, is that of positing. The only field which is open to our thought, as we study his system, is that of consciousness. The absolute activity of the I is that of self-recognition. This is interrupted by the recognition of that which is not the self. This introduces the antinomy that has followed us through our whole study. The solution of this antinomy is found in making the Not-me, which interrupts self-consciousness, really reflect self-consciousness, by manifesting the nature of the I—in other words, by making it conform to the ideal of the soul. This can never be perfectly accomplished, for the Not-me, by its very nature, remains the Not-me. The solution of the contradiction may thus, as we have seen, be always approached, but never reached. It is a postulate, not a reality.
Since the I thus demands a result that can never be absolutely accomplished, we find in it rather a tendency than a fulfilment. We find, manifested by it, a striving toward that which cannot be reached. The only relation of the pure activity of the I to any possible object, is, then, a striving, and, according to what we have already seen, an infinite striving. This infinite striving is the condition of the possibility of the recognition of the objective world. If there were no striving, there would be no object.
In the thought of Fichte, the two-fold activity of the I, by which alone the object is posited, is of fundamental importance. If the I could, by a simple act, posit the external world, the whole aspect and meaning of life would be different. We should here have the basis of that form of fatalism which may be represented by the system of Spinoza. This system Fichte considers to have been, before the critical philosophy, the most self-consistent system possible in regard to the human will. According to this, we should recognize in finite beings, no more activity than is manifested by them. There could be no infinite power of activity, because no such pure activity manifests itself. According to this view, finite beings would be wholly finite. They would be, once for all, what they are. They would be wholly dependent upon some power outside of themselves. By this power that is not themselves, they would be fixed within the limits in which they found themselves. This is because they would have no power to enlarge the sphere of their being. They would be surrounded by a single line of limitation. If we recognize, however, as has been done in the discussion that we have just followed, the fact that the positing of its environment by the I is dependent upon its striving to realize something which is as yet, and may always be, beyond its reach; if we realize that without this ideal there would be for us no real; without this striving, no object; the whole aspect of things changes. There is introduced the element of freedom. Freedom becomes, indeed, the basis and the goal of all activity. The limits within which the soul finds itself are no longer, in the strict sense of the term, limits, for it is already beyond them, and is constructing a world for itself in the outlying regions of infinitude.
Such a system of fatalism could only avail in regard to our thought of God—that is, of an infinite being, which would be in absolute accord with itself, whose pure activity would involve the positing of its own being. Such a thought, however, is considered by Fichte to be extravagant and unmeaning, the basis of his whole discussion being the necessity of this two-fold activity; namely, that of the real and that of the ideal, for any consciousness.
On the other hand, Stoicism, according to Fichte, failed to recognize the limitation of the individual. Therefore is the Stoic sage complete in himself, and unlimited. All the predicates are ascribed to him that belong to the pure I, or God. According to the ethics of the Stoics, we are not to become like God, but we are God. Stoicism is refuted, by showing that it does not explain the possibility of consciousness. Between these views stands the Science of Knowledge, recognizing, as it does, the two factors of human nature, its infinite being, and its finite existence.
The striving, which has been already referred to, is so important to the whole system of Fichte, that it demands a somewhat more careful consideration. This striving involves, by its very nature, a certain contradiction. It is causality which does not attain to causality. If it were not causality, it would produce no effect, even upon the consciousness. It would be nothing. But if it actually attained to causality—that is, if it fulfilled its nature—it would be not a striving, but an accomplishment. We strive to do that which we, at least as yet, find ourselves unable to accomplish. The striving that is here spoken of is absolutely such. It is an infinite striving—that is, it can never become transformed to an accomplishment. That which is the object of the effort is infinite. It is thus at every stage of accomplishment which may be attained, infinitely removed from complete satisfaction. This infinite striving is what we have found to be the condition of the positing of the object.
We have thus found that the I has two forms of activity. One we have called infinite, because it is aimed at that which can never be reached. The other we have found to be limited. It is that which we have called the objective activity of the I, because it consists in the positing of the object. It is limited because it is objective, the object in every case forming or implying a limit. The first form of activity, which was just named, should, by its very nature, stand in direct antithesis with this finite activity. If the finite activity is objective, the infinite should have no object. Indeed if it have an object, it cannot be infinite.
We are here met by a contradiction. This infinite striving, which has been spoken of because it is a striving, is related to an object. It seeks to accomplish something, and its object is that which it seeks to accomplish. We have, then, two objective activities, one infinite and the other finite. The very statement is contradictory; for an infinite objective activity is inconceivable. We have, then, to ask, How can we conceive of an infinite objective activity? or, what practically amounts to the same thing. How shall these two objective activities be distinguished from one another?
Our first suggestion in regard to this latter question would be that the finite objective activity of the I has to do with the real object, while the infinite striving is directed toward an imaginary object. This is certainly true, but it does not help us. We find ourselves simply in a circle; for if we ask how we shall distinguish from one another the real and the imagined object, we are pointed back to the activities with which each stands related.
If one objective activity is infinite, it must be infinite only in a certain sense, while in another sense it is finite. Further, since the striving has, like the objective activity, an object, the objects must, in the two cases, be of different natures. We find this difference in the fact that the object of the finite activity is absolutely determined. The activity is in turn determined by the object. It is dependent upon it, and limited by it. The ground of the limitation of the objective activity—that is, its object—lies outside of it. This object, because it is thus external and fixed, is called a real object. The infinite striving is not limited in this way. It goes beyond the limit which this object would fix. It does not have to do with the real world which is manifested by some external activity. It has to do with a world such as it would be, if all reality were dependent upon the I. Thus it has to do with an ideal world which is dependent wholly upon the I, and which in no sense manifests the activity of the Not-me. The fixedness of its object, then, distinguishes the objective from the ideal activity.
The striving is, then, finite, so far as it is directed to an object; for every object implies a limit. It is at the same time infinite; for in the case of the ideal object, the limit is wholly dependent upon the I. The I recognizes no condition, except that it must set a limit somewhere; but it can press this limit into the infinite as it will. The ideal involves, at every moment, a limit; but this limit must change every moment. The absolute striving is infinite; but, as such, it never comes to consciousness; for consciousness implies reflection, and reflection implies determination. So soon as this activity comes to consciousness, it becomes finite. So soon, however, as the spirit discovers that it is finite, it enlarges its bounds; but so soon as it asks whether it is not now, at last, infinite, it becomes finite, and so on forever.
Thus the terms infinite and objective are contradictory. The contradiction cannot be removed, except in a completed eternity. If the object should ever be thus pushed to infinity, it would be no longer an object. The idea of infinitude would be realized, which is a contradiction.
The idea of such an infinity which is to be accomplished by us, does, in spite of its unattainableness, hover before us. It is bound up in our very being. We must solve the contradiction, although we cannot conceive its solution to be possible, and though we foresee that in no moment of eternity can we conceive it to be possible. But this is the stamp which shows our nature to be destined to eternity.
Thus are the contradictions in the I solved, so far as is possible. The I is infinite, but merely through its striving. If it were not striving—that is, if it had absolute causality—it would be no I; it would be nothing. Did it not have this infinite striving, it could not posit itself; for it could recognize nothing over against itself. In this case, again, it would be no I, and, therefore, it would be nothing. From both these points of view, therefore, this infinite striving is necessary to the very being of the I.
The striving which we have thus considered, implies a resistance. If the I could posit itself absolutely, if it had thus free scope for all its activity, this activity would not be a striving. Our whole discussion involves, then, the idea of something heterogeneous which is found by the I within itself. If found at all, it must be found within the I, because the I cannot go out of itself. Its activity is, however, interrupted; this interruption is recognized; it is ascribed to the Not-me, which the I, therefore, posits. This being so, the I must, in some sense, have left itself open for this invasion. It must, by its very nature, by the primal conditions of its being, have a place for this heterogeneous element. A perfectly smooth and hard ball would give no opportunity for the entrance of any foreign body. It might be broken, but then it would cease to be what it was. The I continues to be an I, and yet finds this foreign element within itself. It must, therefore, of itself furnish the conditions for the entrance of this element. Further, we have seen that by this foreign element, the activity of the I that is pressing out into the infinite, is deflected, and turned back upon itself. How came the I by this outward-pressing activity? The I is simply self-affirming; this outward activity seems the opposite of self-affirmation. What relation has the one aspect of the I to the other? It would seem, at the first glance, that since self-affirmation is the fundamental characteristic of the I, the outward-pressing activity must hold a secondary position—that is, that it must, in some way, be derived from, or involved in, the self-affirmation. This we shall find to be the case.
The I posits itself absolutely. This involves simply a relation to itself. If we think of this relation as an active one. we can say that the direction of the force of the I is inward. In other words, the direction of its force is purely centripetal. But a centripetal force cannot be conceived of as existing by itself alone. In this case we should have only a mathematical point. If the I had only this direction toward itself, it would be what any lifeless body is. The lifeless bodies outside us we regard as possessing, in some sort, each a relation to itself. Each thus preserves its identity according to the formula, A = A. This force by which each is held together is, in some sort, static. There is no action or reaction. In other words, the bodies exist simply for us; they do not exist for themselves. Each is thus lifeless and soulless, and no I. The I must not merely be posited for others; it is posited by and for itself. It must therefore have within itself the principle of life and of consciousness. Therefore the I must have within it a principle of self-reflection. Thus we have to regard the I as existing originally under two relations. It is reflecting and so far the direction of its activity is centripetal. It is, however, not merely reflecting; it reflects itself. It is the object as well as the subject—the material as well as the form of the reflection. So far as it is that which is reflected, the direction of its activity is centrifugal. If its activity were merely centripetal, it would have nothing to reflect. So far, then, as it is self-reflective, the centripetal activity must be complemented by a centrifugal. The I is, however, posited as containing all realities. Thus the centrifugal activity must be supposed to be infinite. These two activities of the I are separated only by our own thought. In themselves they exist as one, or rather they would so exist if this harmony were not in some way broken. Thus, if we should strive to comprehend the divine consciousness, this would be possible only through the assumption that God reflects His own being. In this case, that which is reflected would be all and in all, and that which reflects would be all and in all. The consciousness and the object of consciousness could not be distinguished. Consciousness, however, under such conditions, or under such lack of conditions, is, according to Fichte, not conceivable by us. We have in this illustration only an illustration of the relation of the I to itself, where the I exists in absolute and uninterrupted completeness, when it would cease to be an I.
But the activity of the I, pressing out, as we have seen, into the infinite, impinges at a certain point, upon a limit. At this point the activity of the I is, in part, reflected. It thus does not fill out the infinite. The demand, however, of the I, that it should fill out infinitude, remains. The question whether this demand is fulfilled, and the discovery that it is not, give the possibility for the distinction between the two directions. Thus the consciousness of the centripetal direction arises only through this interruption, and we can therefore understand why it should be ascribed to some foreign element.
We have thus found how the original striving after absolute causality is derived from the nature of the I itself; namely, from its tendency absolutely to reflect itself. Hence comes the demand for causality in general. To use the figure that we have already adopted, we have seen how the centrifugal activity of the I, and, through this, the possibility of the collision with something that is not itself, are grounded in the nature of the I. Further, the demand of the I to reflect itself, cannot be fulfilled without such interruption. It cannot, indeed, be perfectly fulfilled with it, for the interruption shows that it does not perfectly reflect itself. Its activity has been interrupted; and, so far as it reflects an interrupted activity, it does not perfectly reflect itself. But, on the other hand, this self-reflection cannot really be accomplished in any degree without an interruption. The self-reflection is only actual when the I posits itself as self-reflecting, for in this self-positing is found the reality and fulfilment of the self-reflection. This positing, however, as we have seen, cannot be effected by itself alone. The Me cannot be posited without the Not-me. Thus, in this tendency of the I toward absolute self-reflection, we have the source of the centrifugal activity which gives the possibility to the interruption that has been described; and in the demand for self-reflection, we have the indication of the part which this impinging is to fill in the accomplishing of this result.
We have thus considered in their most general aspects the elements that enter into consciousness, and their relation to one another. We have found, so far as analysis alone can show us, what is the nature and source of the absolute activity of the I. We have found the contradiction that is involved in the demand of the I that it shall posit itself as absolute. This implies a conscious reflection which cannot be accomplished without limitation. This limitation must be imposed upon the I from without, for it is contrary to its nature to limit itself. This limit is found in that impinging which gives occasion to the I for the limitation of itself. This limit is not the reality of what we know as object. Our objective world stands in no relation with it. The I has simply taken occasion from it to construct the objective world.
This limit, which is the real Thing-in-itself, involves also contradictions. How can it, being foreign to the I, affect it? How can the I obtain any knowledge of its existence? What can there possibly be in common between the two? Further, the necessity of the Thing-in-itself for the conscious self-reflection of the I, is found in the nature of the I. It is assumed only for the sake of the I. We can predicate of it, then, no existence except in relation to the I. The I is forced to recognize it by its thought and for its thought. It is in thought, then, that it is thus recognized. It is thus a thing of thought. In all this we have to do only with the I itself. Thought is within our own mind; and whatever is there, is of the mind as well as for it. If thought, then, is dependent upon the Thing-in-itself, this latter is dependent upon thought. It is assumed as something foreign to the self, but the very assumption makes it a part of the self.
This latter contradiction may be illustrated at greater length. We may assume the notion A to be in the mind. This breaks up the absoluteness of the I, and we must seek a cause for this interruption. We find it in B. The activity of the I, coming into collision with B, is moved to the modified activity which produced A. B has thus become a thought of the mind, and we must seek in turn for its occasion, which we may call C. This process may go on forever. As soon as we think of anything as extra mentem, it becomes, by the very act of thinking, in mente. The Thing-in-itself is thus everywhere and nowhere. We see it before us; we put our hand upon it, and it is gone; yet again it stands before us as at the first. On the other hand, if we can never reach it, we can never escape the necessity of assuming it. It must always be recognized as an essential element in the development of any conscious nature.
We here find, in an active form, that contradiction which in a fixed form has been found in Kant. Kant, as we have already seen, while denying the validity of the Category of Causation except as connecting phenomena among themselves, assumes the Thing-in-itself as the ground or cause of phenomena. Fichte recognizes both sides of the contradiction. He sees that the mind goes beyond its right in assuming anything outside itself, yet that it is by its nature forced to do this. He is content to let the matter remain thus, and to find a solution of the antinomy only in a postulate that can never be fully satisfied.
In fact, however, the idea of a limit which may be expanded but not escaped, is carried by Fichte through all his philosophy. The nature of this limit will be discussed later when we come to speak of the ontology of Fichte.
We can now decide more perfectly than before as to the nature of the system of Fichte. As we have already seen, he called it a Critical Idealism. He insists further that it may be called an Ideal Realism or a Real Idealism. In other words, it accepts the fundamental dogma of both realist and idealist. It is realistic in so far as it insists upon the dependence of the I for self-consciousness upon something foreign to itself. It is idealistic in so far as it recognizes the impossibility of thinking this Thing-in-itself without making it enter into the realm of the mind. It is critical in so far as it recognizes the impossibility of any theoretical solution of this antinomy; and thus, the fact that the only solution must be a practical one.
We can now see also more distinctly than before the inspiration which this system carried with it. Where we begin our career, it tells us, is something wholly beyond our power of determination. We must begin somewhere. We find limits which we must accept. To one they may be narrower, to another vaster. This is not a matter of choice, and thus it is a matter of neither praise nor blame. But while the starting point is thus fixed for each, the path which each will follow through all eternity is subject to his own will. Each is master of himself and thus of his real destiny.
We understand also the place which the Postulate of Morality holds in the system. This is the demand for the absolute independence of the I. It is the demand that all limit should be done away with, and that the absolute nature of the I should be supreme. The demand that the I shall become absolute, is not, it must be noticed, a demand for the independence of the I considered as an individual. Individuality implies limitation. The individual I becomes absolute, only so far as individuality is laid aside. That the I should become absolute, implies that it should become one with the Absolute. It would then, as we have seen, cease to be an I. The absolute I is a contradiction in terms; it is something that has never been and will never be. It is. however, none the less the ideal which should be the aim and the inspiration of every life, and a life is glad and triumphant as it draws near to this. This approach is indeed in appearance only. The goal flees as we approach it. It is always, and through eternity will always be, infinitely in advance of the most earnest seeker. Yet none the less is every advance a gain. Thus there is open to the soul a career of joy and of victory that shall know no limit.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 246, et seq.
- Kant’s Werke, Rosencrantz’ edition. II. 335 and 376.
- Sämmtliche Werke. I, 270.
- Fichte’s Sämmtliche Werke, IV (Sittenlehre), 151.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 261.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 263.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 278. Fichte seems not to notice that with the Stoics, the sage, like the infinite I, was ideal, not actual.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 270.
- Sämmtliche Werke, I, 273.