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On the Nature of the Scholar/Lecture 7

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On the Nature of the Scholar by Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Lecture VII.. On the Finished Scholar in General

The true-minded Scholar looks upon his vocation—to become a partaker of the Divine thought of the universe—as the purpose of God in him; and therefore both his person and his calling become to him, before all other things, honourable and holy; and this holiness shows itself in all his outward manifestations. Such is the point at which we have now arrived.

We have hitherto spoken of the Progressive Scholar—the Student; and we have seen how the sense of the dignity conferred upon his person by this exalted vocation expresses itself in his life. How his conviction of the holiness of Knowledge pervades and influences his studies we have already noticed in one of the earlier lectures, and it is not necessary to add anything to what we have said upon this point.

And it is the less necessary since this reverence for Knowledge which is felt by the Student manifests itself chiefly in the appropriate estimation and consecration of his person and is therein exhausted; while it is quite otherwise in the Finished Scholar. In the Progressive Scholar, that which he strives after—the Idea—has yet to acquire a form and an independent life:—these it does not yet possess. As yet the Student does neither immediately possess, nor is he thoroughly penetrated by, the Idea; he reverences it only at a distance, and can comprehend it only by means of his personality, as the standard to which he ought to raise himself, the spirit by which he ought to be swayed. He can as yet do nothing directly in its service; he can only live for it indirectly, by consecrating and devoting his person to its use as its appointed instrument; preserving himself pure in sense and spirit because all impurity would mar and disqualify him for that function; by giving himself up entirely to its influence and pursuing and executing with unwearied industry everything which may become a means or opportunity of the Idea unfolding itself within him. It is otherwise with the Finished Scholar. As surely as he is such, the Idea has already commenced its proper and independent life within him; his personal life has now actually passed into the Life of the Idea, and is therein absorbed; an absorption of self in the Idea which was only striven after by the Student. As surely as he is a perfect Scholar, so surely is there now no longer in him any thought of self, but his whole thought is henceforth absorbed in the thought of the Idea. And thus the distinction which we originally made between the holiness of his person and the holiness of his vocation now becomes a point of transition from the contemplation of the Progressive to that of the Finished Scholar,—the portraiture of whom it is now my purpose to place beside that of the Progressive Scholar.

Hitherto we have considered the Progressive Scholar chiefly in the character of a Student at a University; and these two ideas have been almost constantly associated together in our previous lectures. Now, for the first time, when we have to accompany the Student from the Academy into Life, we must call to mind that the studies and character of the Progressive Scholar are not necessarily completed with his residence at the University; nay, farther on, we shall even perceive a ground upon which we may say that, properly speaking, his studies have their true beginning only after his academic course has closed. This much, however, remains true, as the sure result of what has been already said,—that the youth who during his residence at the University is not at least inspired with respect for the holiness of Knowledge, and does not at least learn to honour his own person to such an extent as not to render it unworthy of that high vocation, will never afterwards attain to any true sense of the dignity of Knowledge; and whatever part he may be called on to play in life, he will take to it as a common handicraft and with the sentiment of an hireling who has no other motive to his labour than the pay he is to receive for it. To say anything more of such an one lies beyond the boundaries of our present subject.

But the Student who is penetrated with the conviction that the essential purpose of his studies will be defeated unless the Idea acquire an intrinsic form and independent life within him, and that in the highest perfection,—he will by no means lay aside his studies and scientific labours when he leaves the University. Even if he be compelled by outward necessity to enter upon a secular employment, he will devote to Knowledge all the time and energy he can spare from that employment, and will neglect no opportunity which presents itself of attaining a higher culture. The discipline of his faculties in the pursuit of learning will be profitable to him even in the transaction of his ordinary business. Amid the brilliant distinctions of office, and even in mature age, he will restlessly strive and labour to master the Idea, never resigning the hope of becoming greater than he now is, so long as strength permits him to indulge it. Without this untiring effort, much true Genius would be wholly lost, for scientific talent usually unfolds itself more slowly the higher and purer its essential nature, and its clear development waits for mature years and manly strength.

The Student who is penetrated with deep respect for the holiness of the Scholar's vocation, will be guided by that respect in his choice of a civil profession; and, particularly, in the province of learning, if he do not feel a profound conviction of his ability to fulfil its highest duties, he will choose a subordinate occupation, restrained from assumption by his reverence for the dignity of Knowledge. But a subordinate Scholar-occupation is one in which the ends to be attained have been prescribed by some other intellect possessed with a knowledge of the Idea, and in which the capacities which have been acquired through study pursued for the attainment of the Idea, are employed only as means to fulfil those purposes which have thus been prescribed from without. His person is thus not degraded into a passive instrument; he is for ever secured against that by the general view he takes of human life and its significance; he serves God alone in spirit and in sense; and, under the guidance of his superiors, whom he leaves to answer for the direction which they give to his actions and their results, he promotes God's purposes with men, which must embrace all forms of human activity. Thus does he proceed in his choice of a secular employment as surely as he has been inspired in his youth with respect for the dignity of the peculiar vocation of the Scholar. To undertake such an employment without the consciousness of possessing the needful power and cultivation is to profane it, and manifests a want both of delicacy and of principle. And it is impossible that he should fall into error on this point; for if he has passed through his academic course in a creditable manner, then he has certainly acquired, in some degree, a perception of what is worthy, and has obtained a standard by which he can take his own intellectual dimensions. If a conscientious course of study at a University secured no other advantage than that of presenting to youth a picture of the dignified calling of the Scholar as a model for life, and of repelling from this sphere those who are not endowed with the requisite power, such a course would, on account of this advantage alone, be of the utmost importance to the Student.

We have thus generally described the nature of a subordinate Scholar-occupation. It does not require in him who pursues it the immediate possession of the Idea, but only that knowledge which is acquired in striving after such possession. It is to be understood that in this again there are higher and lower grades, according as the occupation requires a wider or narrower range of knowledge,—and that, in this respect too, the conscientious man will not undertake anything which exceeds his powers. It is unnecessary to describe these subordinate Scholar-occupations in detail. The higher and peculiar calling of the Scholar may be described so as to exhaust all its particular forms, and it is then easy to draw this consequence:—"All those pursuits which are usually followed by educated men, but which do not find a place in this all-comprehensive delineation of the higher calling of the Scholar, but are excluded from it, are subordinate Scholar-occupations." We have therefore only now to lay before you this perfect delineation.

In our first lecture we have already definitely characterized the life of him in whom Learned Culture has fulfilled its end:—his life is itself the creative and formative life of the Divine Idea in the world. In the same place we have said that this life may manifest itself in two forms;—either in actual external Being and Action, or only in Idea; which two distinct modes of manifestation together constitute the peculiar vocation of the Scholar. The first class comprehends all those who are called to lead on human affairs, through their own strength and according to their own idea, to new and progressive harmony with each succeeding age; who, originally, as the highest free Leaders of men, direct their social relations, and the relation of the whole to passive nature;—not those only who stand in the higher places of the earth, as kings, or the immediate councillors of kings, but all without exception who possess the right and calling, either by themselves or in concert with others, to think, judge, and resolve independently concerning the original disposal of these affairs. The second class embraces the Scholars, properly and pre-eminently so called, whose vocation it is to maintain among men the knowledge of the Divine Idea, to elevate it unceasingly to greater clearness and precision, and thus to transmit it from generation to generation, ever growing brighter in the freshness and glory of renewed youth. The first class act directly upon the world, they are the immediate point of contact between God and reality; the second are the mediators between the pure spirituality of thought in the God-head, and the material energy and influence which that thought acquires through the instrumentality of the first class; they are the trainers of the first class, the enduring pledge to the human race that the first class shall never fail from among men. No one can belong to the first class without having already belonged to the second, without always continuing to belong to it.

The second class of Scholars is again separated into subdivisions according to the manner in which they communicate to others their conceptions of the Idea. Either their immediate object is, by direct and free personal communication of their ideal conceptions, to cultivate in future Scholars a capacity for the reception of the Idea, so that their pupils may afterwards lay hold of it and comprehend it for themselves: and then they are educators of Scholars, Teachers in the higher or lower schools; or, they propound their conceptions of the Idea, in a complete and finished form, to those who have already cultivated the capacity to comprehend it. This is at present done by books,—and they are thus—Authors.

The classes which we have now enumerated, whose several occupations are not necessarily portioned out to different individuals, but may readily be united in one and the same person, comprise all true and proper Scholars, and exhaust the whole vocation of those in whom Learned Culture has fulfilled its end. Every other function, whatever name it may bear, which the Educated Man[1] (who may be distinguished by this title from the True Scholar) is called upon to fulfil, is a subordinate Scholar-occupation. The Educated Man continues in it, only because he has not by his studies been able to attain to the rank of the True Scholar, but nevertheless finds here a useful purpose to which the capacities and knowledge which he has acquired may be applied. It is by no means the object of Learned Culture to train subalterns, and no one should study with a view to the office of a subaltern; for then it may happen that he shall not attain even to that rank. Only because it was certain that a majority of Students would fall short of their proposed destination, have subordinate occupations been set apart for them. The subaltern receives the direction of his activity from a foreign intellect; he must exercise judgment in the choice of his means, but in respect of the end only the most punctual obedience. The acknowledged sacredness of the peculiar vocation of the Scholar restrains every honest 'Educated Man' who is not conscious of the possession of the Idea, from undertaking it, and constrains him to content himself with a subordinate office:—this and nothing more have we to say of him, for his business is no true Scholar-employment. We leave him to the sure guidance of that general Integrity and faithfulness to Duty which already during his studies have become the innermost principle of his life.

Such an one, by renunciation of the peculiar calling of the Scholar, shows that he looks upon it as sacred; he also, who with honesty and a good conscience accepts this calling in any of its forms, shows by his actions and by his whole life that he looks upon it as sacred. How this recognition of the Holy specially manifests itself in each particular department of the Scholar's vocation, as these have now been set forth,—of this we shall speak in succession in the subsequent lectures. To-day we shall confine ourselves to showing how it manifests and reveals itself in general—i.e. to that form of its manifestation which belongs in common to all departments of the Scholar's vocation.

The true-minded Scholar will not admit of any life and activity within him except the immediate life and activity of the Divine Idea. This unchangeable principle pervades and determines all his inward thoughts; it also pervades and determines all his outward actions. With respect to the first, as he suffers no emotion within him that is not the direct emotion and life of the Divine Idea which has taken possession of him, so is his whole life accompanied by the indestructible consciousness that it is at one with the Divine Life, that in him and by him God's work shall be achieved and His Will accomplished; he therefore reposes on that Will with unspeakable love, and with the immovable conviction that it is right and good. Thus does his thought become holy, enlightened, and religious; blessedness arises within him, and in it, abiding joy, peace and power, as these may in like manner be acquired and enjoyed by the unlearned, and even the lowliest among men, through true devotion to God and honest performance of duty viewed as the Will of God. Hence these are no exclusive property of the Scholar, but are noticed here only with the view that he too may become a partaker in this religious aspect of life, and that by the appointed way.

This principle pervades the conduct of the True Scholar. He has no other purpose in action but to express his Idea, and embody the truth which he recognises in word or work. No personal regard, either for himself or others, can impel him to do that which is not required by this purpose, no such regard can cause him to neglect anything which is demanded by this purpose. His person, and all personality in the world, have long since vanished from before him, and entirely disappeared in his effort after the realization of the Idea. The Idea alone impels him; where it does not move him, he rests and remains inactive. He does nothing with precipitation, hurried forward by disquietude and restlessness; these may well be symptoms of unfolding power, but they are never to be found in conjunction with true, developed, mature and manly strength. Until the Idea stands before him clear and breathing, finished and perfect even to word or deed, nothing moves him to action; the Idea rules him entirely, governs all his powers, and employs all his life and effort. To its manifestation he devotes his whole personal being without reserve or intermission, for he looks upon his life as only the instrument of the Idea.

Would that I could make myself intelligible to you, would that I could persuade you, touching this one point which we now approach on every side! Whatever man may do, so long as he does it from himself as a finite being, by himself, and through his own counsel, it is vain, and will sink to nothing. Only when a foreign power takes possession of him, and urges him forward, and lives within him in room of his own energy, does true and real existence first enter into his life. This foreign power is ever the power of God. To look up to it for counsel, implicitly to follow its guidance, is the only true wisdom in every employment of human life, and therefore most of all in the highest occupation of which man can partake, the vocation of the True Scholar.

  1. Germ. " Studirte," one who has studied,—contrasted with " Studirende," one who studies. We have no single equivalent for " Studirte " in English.—Translator.