Characteristics of the Present Age

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Characteristics of the Present Age  (1806) 
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by William Smith

Original title: Die Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (1806).


Lecture   I. Idea of Universal History,     .    .    .   page 1
  The End of the Life of Mankind on Earth is this,—that in this Life they may order all their relations with Freedom according to Reason. This Earthly Life may be divided into Five Principal Epochs.
II. General Delineation of the Third Age,     .    .    .   page 15
  To which of these Epochs does the Present Age belong? Fundamental principle of the Third Age:—Innate Common Sense serves it as the measure of all Reality. General description of its Secular and Religious system consequent on this principle. Its elevation of Experience as the highest criterion—its Scientific Scepticism—its Artistic, Political, Moral and Religious principles.
III. The Life According to Reason,     .    .    .   page 35
  The Life according to Reason in contrast with the life of such an Age consists in this,—that the Life of the Individual should be dedicated to that of the Race, or to Ideas. An experiment on the minds of the audience,—whether they can withhold their approval, admiration and reverence from such a Life. What necessarily follows from the successful result of such a test.
IV. The Life According to Reason,     .    .    .   page 51
  Continuation of the experiment. Description of the enjoyment of the Life in the Idea by any one who truly and in reality lives this Life.
Lecture   V. Farther Delineation of the Third Age,     .    .    .   page 69
  In order thoroughly to understand an Age such as the present, assuming it to belong to the Third Epoch, it is necessary to begin with a study of its Scientific Condition. The Form of this condition. Feebleness in pursuit and communication of Knowledge. Weariness which it seeks to relieve by Wit, which is however inaccessible to it.
VI. Scientific Condition of the Third Age,     .    .    .   page 85
  Description of the Scientific Condition of the Third Age in its Material. Ideas of Intellectual Freedom and of Public Opinion. Superfluity of Writing and Reading. Literary Journals. Art of Reading.
Earlier Condition of the Scientific or Literary
World, and its Ideal Condition
    .    .    .  
page 105
  How the Printed Letter acquired the high value it possesses in the Third Age. How, in contrast with such an Age, the Scientific and Literary World ought to be constituted.
VIII. Mysticism as a Phenomenon of the Third Age,     .    .    .   page 123
  The Reaction of the Third Age against itself by the setting-up of the Incomprehensible as its highest principle. How does this phenomenon arise,—viz., the setting-up of a specific and defined formula of the Incomprehensible? Definition of Mysticism, especially of Scientific Mysticism.
IX. The Origin and Limits of History,     .    .    .   page 141
  The remaining characteristics and peculiarities of any Age depend upon its Social Condition, and especially upon the State, and are to be defined thereby. Hence, before farther delineation of the Third Age, it must first be ascertained to what stage of its development the State has attained in this Age. This can be done only by means of History, and therefore we must in the first place set forth generally our view of History. Exposition of this view.
X. The Absolute Form of the State,     .    .    .   page 159
  The Idea of the State in its Absolute Form. Three possible fundamental forms of the actual State in its progress towards perfection. Distinction between Civil and Political Freedom.
Lecture   XI. Farther Definition of the Idea of the State,     .    .    .   page 175
  Material of the Absolute State.
XII. Historical Development of the State,     .    .    .   page 191
  How the State had its beginning in Central Asia, and how it attained in Greece and Rome to Equality of Right for All, as its second stage of development. Union of the whole existing Culture in one single State in the Roman Empire.
XIII. Influence of Christianity on the State,     .    .    .   page 209
  Destruction of the Roman Empire, and the creation of a New State as well as an entirely New Era by means of Christianity.
XIV. Development of the State in Modern Europe,     .    .    .   page 225
  Freer development of the State after the fall of the Spiritual Central Power in the several States of the one and undivided Christian Republic of Nations. This development ensured by the necessary care of each individual State for its own preservation in the general struggle for aggrandizement. Establishment of Equality of Rights for All. The effort of the State to make all its Citizens, in the highest possible degree, the instruments of its purposes, may be taken as the fundamental political characteristic of the Age.
XV. Public Morality of the Present Age,     .    .    .   page 241
  General and Public Manners of the Age.
XVI. Public Religion of the Present Age,     .    .    .   page 257
  Religious characteristics of the Age.
XVII. Conclusion,     .    .    .   page 271
  Concluding Lecture on the true purpose and possible result of these Lectures.

Note.—The reader will do well to bear in mind that the ‘Present Age’ characterized in these lectures was the great transition period of Modern Europe,—the Age of Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and the Encyclopaedists on the one hand, and of Lessing, Kant, Goethe and Schiller on the other.—Tr.

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This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.