A Criticism of Philosophical Systems

A Criticism of Philosophical Systems
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by A. E. Kroeger

Partial translation of Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre. From The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 1 (1867): 80-87, 137-159.

Translated from the German of J. G. Fichte, by A. E. Kroeger.
[Note.—Below we give to our readers the translation of another Introduction to the Science of Knowledge, written by Fichte immediately after the one published in our previous number. Whereas that first Introduction was written for readers who have as yet no philosophical system of their own, the present one is intended more particularly for those who have set philosophical notions, of which they require to be disabused.—Editor.]

I believe the first Introduction published in this Journal to be perfectly sufficient for unprejudiced readers, i.e. for readers who give themselves up to the writer without preconceived opinions; who, if they do not assist him, neither do they resist him in his endeavors to carry them along. It is otherwise with readers who have already a philosophical system. Such readers have adopted certain maxims from their system, which have become fundamental principles for them; and whatsoever is not produced according to these maxims, is now pronounced false by them without further investigation, and without even reading such productions: it is pronounced false, because it has been produced in violation of their universally valid method. Unless this class of readers is to be abandoned altogether—and why should it be?—it is, above all, necessary to remove the obstacle which deprives us of their attention; or, in other words, to make them distrust their maxims.

Such a preliminary investigation concerning the method is, above all, necessary in regard to the Science of Knowledge, the whole structure and significance whereof differs utterly from the structure and significance of all philosophical systems which have hitherto been current. The authors of these previous systems started from some conception or another; and utterly careless whence they got it, or out of what material they composed it, they then proceeded to analyze it, to combine it with others, regarding the origin whereof they were equally unconcerned; and this their argumentation itself is their philosophy. Hence their philosophy consists in their own thinking. Quite different does the Science of Knowledge proceed. That which this Science makes the object of its thinking is not a dead conception, remaining passive under the investigation, and receiving life only from it, but is rather itself living and active; generating out of itself and through itself cognitions, which the philosopher merely observes in their genesis. His business in the whole affair is nothing further than to place that living object of his investigation in proper activity, and to observe, grasp and comprehend this its activity as a Unit. He undertakes an experiment. It is his business to place the object in a position which permits the observation he wishes to make; it is his business to attend to all the manifestations of the object in this experiment, to follow them and connect them in proper order; but it is not his business to cause the manifestations in the object. That is the business of the object itself: and he would work directly contrary to his purpose if he did not allow the object full freedom to develop itself—if he undertook but the least interference in this, its self-developing.

The philosopher of the first mentioned sort, on the contrary, does just the reverse. He produces a product of art. In working out his object he only takes into consideration its matter, and pays no attention to an internal self-developing power thereof. Nay, this power must be deadened before he undertakes his work, or else it might resist his labor. It is from the dead matter, therefore, that he produces something, and solely by means of his own power, in accordance with his previously resolved-upon conception.

While thus in the Science of Knowledge there are two utterly distinct series of mental activity—that of the Ego, which the philosopher observes, and that of the observations of the philosopher—all other philosophical systems have only one series of thinking, viz., that of the thoughts of the philosopher; for his object is not introduced as thinking at all.

One of the chief grounds of so many objections to and misunderstandings of the Science of Knowledge lies in this: that these two series of thinking have not been held apart, or that what belonged to the one has been taken to belong to the other. This error occurred because Philosophy was held to consist only of one series. The act of one who produces a work of art is most certainly—since his object is not active—the appearance itself; but the description of him who has undertaken an experiment, is not the appearance itself, but the conception thereof.[1]

After this preliminary remark, the further application whereof we shall examine in the course of our article, let us now ask: how does the Science of Knowledge proceed to solve its problem?

The question it will have to answer is, as we well know, the following: whence comes the system of those representations which are accompanied by the feeling of necessity? Or, how do we come to claim objective validity for what is only subjective? Or, since objective validity is generally characterized as being, how do we come to accept a being? Now, since this question starts from a reflection that returns into itself—starts from the observation, that the immediate object of consciousness is after all merely consciousness itself,—it seems clear enough that the question can speak of no other being than of a being for us. It would be indeed a complete contradiction, to mistake it for a question concerning some being which had no relation to our consciousness. Nevertheless, the philosophers of our philosophical age are of all things most apt to plunge into such absurd contradictions.

The proposed question, how is a being for us possible? abstracts itself from all being; i.e. it must not be understood, as if the question posited a not-being; for in that case the conception of being would only be negated, but not abstracted from. On the contrary, the question does not entertain the conception of being at all, either positively or negatively. The proposed question asks for the ground of the predicate of being, whether it be applied positively or negatively; but all ground lies beyond the grounded, i.e. is opposed to it. The answer must therefore, if it is to be an answer to this question, also abstract from all being. To maintain, a priori, in advance of an attempt, that such an abstraction is impossible in the answer, because it is impossible in itself, would be to maintain likewise, that such an abstraction is impossible in the question; and hence, that the question itself is not possible, and that the problem of a science of metaphysics, as the science which is to solve the problem of the ground of being for us, is not a problem for human reason.

That such an abstraction, and hence such a question, is contrary to reason, cannot be proven by objective grounds to those who maintain its possibility; for the latter assert that the possibility and necessity of the question is grounded upon the highest law of reason—that of self-determination (Practical legislation), under which all other laws of reason are subsumed, and from which they are all derived, but at the same time determined and limited to the sphere of their validity. They acknowledge the arguments of their opponents willingly enough, but deny their application to the present case; with what justice, their opponents can determine only by placing themselves upon the basis of this highest law, but hence, also, upon the basis of an answer to the disputed question, by which act they would cease to be opponents. Their opposition, indeed, can only arise from a subjective defect—from the consciousness that they never raised this question, and never felt the need of an answer to it. Against this their position, no objective grounds can, on the other hand, be made valid by those who insist on an answer to the question, for the doubt which raises that question is grounded upon previous acts of freedom which no demonstration can compel from any one.


Let us now ask: who is it that undertakes the demanded abstraction from all being? or, in which of the two series does it occur? Evidently, in the series of philosophical argumentation, for another series does not exist.

That to which the philosopher holds, and from which he promises to explain all that is to be explained, is the consciousness, the subject. This subject he will, therefore, have to comprehend free from all representation of being, in order first to show up in it the ground of all being—of course, for itself. But if he abstracts from all being of and for the subject, nothing pertains to it but an acting. Particularly in relation to being is it the acting. The philosopher will therefore have to comprehend it in its acting, and from this point the aforementioned double series will first arise.

The fundamental assertion of the philosopher, as such, is this: as soon as the Ego is for itself, there necessarily arises for it at the same time an external being; the ground of the latter lies in the former; the latter is conditioned by the former. Self-consciousness and consciousness of a Something which is not that Self, is necessarily united; but the former is the conditioning and the latter the conditioned. To prove this assertion—not, perhaps, by argumentation, as valid for a system of a being in itself, but by observation of the original proceeding of reason, as valid for reason—the philosopher will have to show, firstly, how the Ego is and becomes for itself; and secondly, that this its own being for itself is not possible, unless at the same time there arises for it an external being which is not it.

The first question, therefore, would be: how is the Ego for itself? and the first postulate: think thyself! construe the conception of thyself, and observe how thou proceedest in this construction.

The philosopher affirms that every one who will but do so, must necessarily discover that in the thinking of that conception, his activity, as intelligence, returns into itself, makes itself its own object.

If this is correct and admitted, the manner of the construction of the Ego, the manner of its being for itself (and we never speak of another being), is known; and the philosopher may then proceed to prove that this act is not possible without another act, whereby there arises for the Ego an external being.

It is thus, indeed, that the Science of Knowledge proceeds. Let us now consider with what justice it so proceeds.


First of all: what in the described act belongs to the philosopher as philosopher, and what belongs to the Ego he is to observe? To the Ego nothing but the return to itself; everything else to the description of the philosopher, for whom, as mere fact, the system of all experience, which in its genesis the Ego is now to produce under his observation, has already existence.

The Ego returns into itself, is the assertion. Has it not then already being in advance of this return into itself, and independently thereof? Nay, must it not already be for itself, if merely for the possibility of making itself the object of its action? Again, if this is so, does not the whole philosophy presuppose what it ought first to explain?

I answer, by no means. First through this act, and only by means of it—by means of an acting upon an acting—does the Ego originally come to be for itself. It is only for the philosopher that it has previous existence as a fact, because the philosopher has already gone through the whole experience. He must express himself as he does, to be but understood, and he can so express himself, because he long since has comprehended all the conceptions necessary thereunto.

Now, to return to the observed Ego: what is this its return into itself? Under what class of modifications of consciousness is it to be posited? It is no comprehending, for a comprehending first arises through the opposition of a non-Ego, and by the determining of the Ego in this opposition. Hence it is a mere contemplation. It is therefore not consciousness, not even self-consciousness. Indeed, it is precisely because this act alone produces no consciousness, that we proceed to another act through which a non-Ego originates for us, and that a progress of philosophical argumentation and the required deduction of the system of experience becomes possible. That act only places the Ego in the possibility of self-consciousness—and thus of all other consciousness—but does not generate real consciousness. That act is but a part of the whole act of the intelligence, whereby it effects its consciousness; a part which only the philosopher separates from the whole act, but which is not originally so separated in the Ego.

But how about the philosopher, as such? This self-constructing Ego is none other than his own. He can contemplate that act of the Ego only in himself, and, in order to contemplate it, must realize it. He produces that act arbitrarily and with freedom.

But—this question may and has been raised—if your whole philosophy is erected upon something produced by an act of mere arbitrariness, does it not then become a mere creature of the brain, a pure imaginary picture? How is the philosopher going to secure to this purely subjective act its objectivity? How will he secure to that which is purely empirical and a moment of time—i.e. the time in which the philosopher philosophizes—its originality? How can he prove that his present free thinking in the midst of the series of his representations does correspond to the necessary thinking, whereby he first became for himself, and through which the whole series of his representations has been started?

I answer: this act is in its nature objective. I am for myself; this is a fact. Now I could have thus come to be for myself only through an act, for I am free; and only through this thus determined act, for only through it do I become for myself every moment, and through every other act something quite different is produced. That acting, indeed, is the very conception of the Ego; and the conception of the Ego is the conception of that acting; both conceptions are quite the same; and that conception of the Ego can mean and cannot be made to mean anything but what has been stated. It is so, because I make it so. The philosopher only makes clear to himself what he really thinks, and has ever thought, when he thinks or thought himself; but that he does think himself is to him immediate fact of consciousness. That question concerning the objectivity is grounded on the very curious presupposition that the Ego is something else than its own thought of itself, and that something else than this thought and outside of it—God may know what they do mean!—is again the ground of it, concerning the actual nature of which outside something they are very much troubled. Hence, if they ask for such an objective validity of the thought, or for a connection between this object and the subject, I cheerfully confess that the Science of Knowledge can give them no instruction concerning it. If they choose to, they may themselves enter, in this or any other case, upon the discovery of such a connection, until they, perhaps, will recollect that this Unknown which they are hunting is, after all, again their thought, and that whatsoever they may invent as its ground will also be their thought, and thus ad infinitum; and that, indeed, they cannot speak of or question about anything without at the same time thinking it.

Now, in this act, which is arbitrary and in time for the philosopher as such, but which is for the Ego—which he constructs, by virtue of his just deduced right, for the sake of subsequent observations and conclusions—necessarily and originally; in this act, I say, the philosopher looks at himself, and immediately contemplates his own acting; he knows what he does, because he does it. Does a consciousness thereof arise in him? Without doubt; for he not only contemplates, but comprehends also. He comprehends his act as an acting generally, of which he has already a conception by virtue of his previous experience; and as this determined, into itself returning acting, as which he contemplates it in himself. By this characteristic determination he elevates it above the sphere of general acting.

What acting may be, can only be contemplated, not developed from and through conceptions; but that which this contemplation contains is comprehended by the mere opposition of pure being. Acting is not being, and being is not acting. Mere conception affords no other determination for each link; their real essence is only discovered in contemplation.

Now this whole procedure of the philosopher appears to me, at least, very possible, very easy, and even natural; and I can scarcely conceive how it can appear otherwise to my readers, and how they can see in it anything mysterious and marvellous. Every one, let us hope, can think himself. He will also, let us hope, learn that by being required to thus think himself, he is required to perform an act dependent upon his own activity, an internal act; and that if he realizes this demand, if he really affects himself through self-activity, he also most surely acts thus. Let us further hope that he will be able to distinguish this kind of acting from its opposite, the acting whereby he thinks external objects, and that he will find in the latter sort of thinking the thinking and the thought to be opposites (the activity, therefore, tending upon something distinct from itself), while in the former thinking both were one and the same (and hence the activity a return into itself). He will comprehend, it is to be hoped, that—since the thought of himself arises only in this manner (an opposite thinking producing a quite different thought)—the thought of himself is nothing but the thought of this act, and the word Ego nothing but the designation of this act—that Ego and an into itself returning activity are completely identical conceptions. He will understand, let us hope, that if he but for the present problematically presupposes with transcendental Idealism that all consciousness rests upon and is dependent upon self-consciousness, he must also think that return into itself as preceding and conditioning all other acts of consciousness; indeed, as the primary act of the subject; and, since there is nothing for him which is not in his consciousness, and since everything else in his consciousness is conditioned by this act, and therefore cannot condition the act in the same respect,—as an act, utterly unconditioned and hence absolute for him; and he will thus further understand that the above problematical presupposition, and this thinking of the Ego as originally posited through itself, are again quite identical; and that hence transcendental Idealism, if it proceeds systematically, can proceed in no other manner than it does in the Science of Knowledge.

This contemplation of himself, which is required of the philosopher in his realization of the act through which the Ego arises for him, I call intellectual contemplation. It is the immediate consciousness that I act and what I act; it is that through which I know something because I do it. That there is such a power of intellectual contemplation cannot be demonstrated by conceptions, nor can conception show what it is. Every one must find it immediately in himself, or he will never learn to know it. The requirement that we ought to show it what it is by argumentation, is more marvellous than would be the requirement of a blind person to explain to him, without his needing to use sight, what colors are.

But it can be certainly proven to every one in his own confessed experience that this intellectual contemplation does occur in every moment of his consciousness. I can take no step, cannot move hand or foot, without the intellectual contemplation of my self-consciousness in these acts; only through this contemplation do I know that I do it, only through it do I distinguish my acting and in it myself from the given object of my acting. Every one who ascribes an activity to himself appeals to this contemplation. In it is the source of life, and without it is death.

But this contemplation never occurs alone as a complete act of consciousness, as indeed sensuous contemplation also never occurs alone, nor completes consciousness; both contemplations must be comprehended. Not only this, but the intellectual contemplation is also always connected with a sensuous contemplation. I cannot find myself acting without finding an object upon which I act, and this object in a sensuous contemplation which I comprehend; nor without sketching an image of what I intend to produce by my act, which image I also comprehend. Now, then, how do I know and how can I know what I intend to produce, if I do not immediately contemplate myself in this sketching of the image which I intend to produce, i.e. in this sketching of the conception of my purpose, which sketching is certainly an act. Only the totality of this condition in uniting a given manifold completes consciousness. I become conscious only of the conceptions, both of the object upon which I act, and of the purpose I intend to accomplish; but I do not become conscious of the contemplations which are at the bottom of both conceptions.

Perhaps it is only this which the zealous opponents of intellectual contemplation wish to insist upon, namely, that that contemplation is only possible in connection with a sensuous contemplation; and surely the Science of Knowledge is not going to deny it. But this is no reason why they should deny intellectual contemplation. For with the same right we might deny sensuous contemplation, since it also is possible only in connection with intellectual contemplation; for whatsoever is to become my representation must be related to me, and the consciousness (1) occurs only through intellectual contemplation. (It is a remarkable fact of our modern history of philosophy, that it has not been noticed as yet how all that may be objected to intellectual contemplation can also be objected to sensuous contemplation, and that thus the arguments of its opponents turn against themselves.)

But if it must be admitted that there is no immediate, isolated consciousness of intellectual contemplation, how does the philosopher arrive at a knowledge and isolated representation thereof? I answer, doubtless in the same manner in which he arrives at the isolated representation of sensuous contemplation, by drawing a conclusion from the evident facts of consciousness. This conclusion runs as follows: I propose to myself to think this or that, and the required thought arises; I propose to myself to do this or that, and the representation that it is being done arises. This is a fact of consciousness. If I look at it by the light of the laws of mere sensuous consciousness, it involves no more than has just been stated, i.e. a sequence of certain representations. I become conscious only of this sequence in a series of time movements, and only such a time sequence can I assert. I can merely state: I know that if I propose to myself a certain thought, with the characteristic that it is to have existence, the representation of this thought, with the characteristic that it really has existence, follows; or, that the representation of a certain manifestation as one which ought to occur, is immediately followed in time by the representation of the same manifestation as one which really did occur. But I can, on no account, state that the first representation contains the real ground of the second one which followed; or, that by thinking the first one the second one became real for me. I merely remain passive, the placid scene upon which representations follow representations, and am on no account the active principle which produces them. Still I constantly assume the latter, and cannot relinquish that assumption without relinquishing my self. What justifies me in it? In the sensuous ingredients I have mentioned, there is no ground to justify such an assumption; hence it is a peculiar and immediate consciousness, that is to say, a contemplation, and not a sensuous contemplation, which views a material and permanent being, but a contemplation of a pure activity, which is not permanent but progressive, not a being but a life.

The philosopher, therefore, discovers this intellectual contemplation as fact of consciousness (for him it is a fact, for the original Ego a fact and act both together—a deed-act), and he thus discovers it not immediately, as an isolated part of his consciousness, but by distinguishing and separating what in common consciousness occurs in unseparated union.

Quite a different problem it is to explain this intellectual contemplation, which is here presupposed as fact in its possibility, and by means of this explanation to defend it against the charge of deception and deceptiveness which is raised by dogmatism; or, in other words, to prove the faith in the reality of this intellectual contemplation, from which faith transcendental idealism confessedly starts—by a something still higher; and to show up the interest which leads us to place faith in its reality, or in the system of Reason. This is accomplished by showing up the Moral Law in us, in which the Ego is characterized as elevated through it above all the original modifications, as impelled by an absolute, or in itself (in the Ego), grounded activity; and by which the Ego is thus discovered to be an absolute Active. In the consciousness of this law, which doubtless is an immediate consciousness, and not derived from something else, the contemplation of self-activity and freedom is grounded. I am given to myself through myself as something which is to be active in a certain manner; hence, I am given to myself through myself as something active generally; I have the life in myself, and take it from out of myself. Only through this medium of the Moral Law do I see myself; and if I see myself through that law, I necessarily see myself as self-active; and it is thus that there arises in a consciousness—which otherwise would only be the consciousness of a sequence of my representations—the utterly foreign ingredient of an activity of myself.

This intellectual contemplation is the only stand-point for all Philosophy. From it all that occurs in consciousness may be explained, but only from it. Without self-consciousness there is no consciousness at all; but self-consciousness is only possible in the way we have shown, i.e. I am only active. Beyond it I cannot be driven; my philosophy then becomes altogether independent of all arbitrariness, and a product of stern necessity, i.e. in so far as necessity exists for free Reason; it becomes a product of practical necessity. I can not go beyond this stand-point, because conscience says I shall not go beyond it; and thus transcendental idealism shows itself up to be the only moral philosophy—the philosophy wherein speculation and moral law are intimately united. Conscience says: I shall start in my thinking from the pure Ego, and shall think it absolutely self-active; not as determined by the things, but as determining the things.

The conception of activity which becomes possible only through this intellectual contemplation of the self-active Ego, is the only one which unites both the worlds that exist for us—the sensuous and the intelligible world. Whatsoever is opposed to my activity—and I must oppose something to it, for I am finite—is the sensuous, and whatsoever is to arise through my activity is the intelligible (moral) world.

I should like to know how those who smile so contemptuously whenever the words “intellectual contemplation” are mentioned, think the consciousness of the moral law; or how they are enabled to entertain such conceptions as those of Virtue, of Right, &c., which they doubtless do entertain. According to them, there are only two contemplations a priori—Time and Space. They surely form these conceptions of Virtue, &c., in Time (the form of the inner sense), but they certainly do not hold them to be time itself, but merely a certain filling up of time. What is it, then, wherewith they fill up time, and get a basis for the construction of those conceptions? There is nothing left to them but Space; and hence their conceptions of Virtue, Right, &c., are perhaps quadrangular and circular; just as all the other conceptions which they construct (for instance, that of a tree or of an animal) are nothing but limitations of Space. But they do not conceive their Virtue and their Right in this manner. What, then, is the basis of their construction? If they attend properly, they will discover that this basis is activity in general, or freedom. Both of these conceptions of virtue and right are to them certain limitations of their general activity, exactly as their sensuous conceptions are limitations of space. How, then, do they arrive at this basis of their construction? We will hope that they have not derived activity from the dead permanency of matter, nor freedom from the mechanism of nature. They have obtained it, therefore, from immediate contemplation, and thus they confess a third contemplation besides their own two.

It is, therefore, by no means so unimportant, as it appears to be to some, whether philosophy starts from a fact or from a deed-act (i.e. from an activity which presupposes no object, but produces it itself, and in which, therefore, the acting is immediately deed). If philosophy starts from a fact, it places itself in the midst of being and finity, and will find it difficult to discover therefrom a road to the infinite and super-sensuous; but if it starts from a deed-act, it places itself at once in the point which unites both worlds and from which both can be overlooked at one glance.

[Translators frequently use the term “intuition” for what I have here called “contemplation”; “deed-act” is my rendering of “That-Handlung.” A. E. K.]


  1. Note.—The same mistaking of one series of thinking in transcendental idealism for the other series, lies at the basis of the assertion, that besides the system of idealism, another realistic system is also possible as a logical and thorough system. The realism which forces itself upon all, even the most decided idealist—namely, the assumption that things exist independently and outside of us—is involved in the idealistic system itself; and is, moreover, explained and deduced in that system. Indeed, the deduction of an objective truth, as well in the world of appearances as in the world of intellect, is the only purpose of all philosophy.

    It is the philosopher who says in his own name: everything that is for the Ego is also through the Ego. But the Ego itself, in that philosopher’s philosophy, says: as sure as I am I, there exists outside of me a something which exists not through me. The philosopher’s idealistic assertion is therefore met by the realistic assertion of the Ego in the same one system; and it is the philosopher’s business to show from the fundamental principle of his philosophy how the Ego comes to make such an assertion. The philosopher’s stand-point is the purely speculative; the Ego’s stand-point in his system is the realistic stand-point of life and science; the philosopher’s system is Science of Knowledge, whilst the Ego’s system is common Science. But common Science is comprehensible only through the Science of Knowledge, the realistic system comprehensible only through the idealistic system. Realism forces itself upon us; but it has in itself no known and comprehensible ground. Idealism furnishes this ground, and is only to make realism comprehensible. Speculation has no other purpose than to furnish this comprehensibility of all reality, which in itself would otherwise remain incomprehensible. Hence, also, Idealism can never be a mode of thinking, but can only be speculation.

[Translated from the German of J. G. Fichte, by A. E. Kroeger.]
[Note.—The following completes Fichte’s Second Introduction to the Science of Knowledge, or his Criticism of Philosophical Systems. In the first division of what follows, Fichte traces out his own transcendental standpoint in the Kantian Philosophy, and next proceeds, in the second division, to connect it with what was printed in our previous number, criticising without mercy the dogmatic standpoint. By the completion of this article, we have given to the readers of our Journal Fichte’s own great Introductions to that Science of Knowledge, which is about to be made accessible to American readers through the publishing house of Messrs. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia. Our readers are, therefore, especially prepared to enter upon a study of Fichte’s wonderful system, for none of these Introductions, as indeed none of Fichte’s works of Science, have ever before been published in the English language. In a subsequent number we shall print Fichte’s “Sun-clear Statement regarding the true nature of the Science of Knowledge,” a masterly exhibition of the treatment of scientific subjects in a popular form. We hope that all who have read, or will read these articles, will also enter upon a study of the great work which they are designed to prepare for; the study is worth the pains.—Editor.]


It is not the habit of the Science of Knowledge, nor of its author, to seek protection under any authority whatever. The person who has first to see whether this doctrine agrees with the doctrine of somebody else before he is willing to be convinced by it, is not one whom this science calculates to convince, because the absolute self-activity and independent faith in himself which this science presupposes, is wanting in him.

It was therefore quite a different motive than a desire to recommend his doctrines, which led the author of the Science of Knowledge to state that his doctrine was in perfect harmony with Kant’s doctrine, and was indeed the very same. In this opinion he has been confirmed by the continued elaboration of his system, which he was compelled to undertake. Nevertheless, all others who pass for students of Kant’s philosophy, and who have spoken on the subject—whether they were friends or opponents of the Science of Knowledge—have unanimously asserted the contrary; and by their advice, even Kant himself, who ought certainly best to understand himself, asserts the contrary. If the author of the Science of Knowledge were disposed towards a certain manner of thinking, this would be welcome news to him. Moreover, since he considers it no disgrace to have misunderstood Kant, and foresees that to have misunderstood him will soon be considered no disgrace by general opinion, he ought surely not to hesitate to assume that disgrace, especially as it would confer upon him the honor of being the first discoverer of a philosophy which will certainly become universal, and be productive of the most beneficial results for mankind.

It is indeed scarcely explicable why friends and opponents of the Science of Knowledge so zealously contradict that assertion of its author, and why they so earnestly request him to prove it, although he never promised to do so, nay, expressly refused, since such a proof would rather belong to a future History of Philosophy than to a present representation of that system. The opponents of the Science of Knowledge in thus calling for a proof, are certainly not impelled by a tender regard for the fame of the author of that Science; and the friends of it might surely leave the subject alone, as I myself have no taste for such an honor, and seek the only honor which I know, in quite a different direction. Do they clamor for this proof in order to escape my charge, that they did not understand the writings of Kant? But such an accusation from the lips of the author of the Science of Knowledge is surely no reproach, since he confesses as loudly as possible, that he also has not understood them, and that only after he had discovered in his own way the Science of Knowledge, did he find a correct and harmonious interpretation of Kant’s writings. Indeed, that charge will soon cease to be a reproach from the lips of anybody. But perhaps this clamor is raised to escape the charge that they did not recognize their own doctrine, so zealously defended by them, when it was placed before them in a different shape from their own. If this is the case, I should like to save them this reproach also, if there were not another interest, which to me appears higher than theirs, and to which their interest shall be sacrificed. The fact is, I do not wish to be considered for one moment more than I am, nor to ascribe to myself a merit which I do not possess.

I shall therefore, in all probability, be compelled to enter upon the proof which they so earnestly demand, and hence improve the opportunity at present offered to me.

The Science of Knowledge starts, as we have just now seen, from an intellectual contemplation, from the absolute self-activity of the Ego.

Now it would seem beyond a doubt, and evident to all the readers of Kant’s writings, that this man has declared himself on no subject more decisively, nay, I might say contemptuously, than in denying this power of an intellectual contemplation. This denial seems so thoroughly rooted in the Kantian System, that, after all the elaboration of his philosophy, which he has undertaken since[1] the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason, and by means of which, as will be evident to any one, the propositions of that first work have received a far higher clearness and development than they originally possessed;—he yet, in one of his latest works, feels constrained to repeat those assertions with undiminished energy, and to show that the present style of philosophy, which treats all labor and exertion with contempt, as well as a most disastrous fanaticism, have resulted from the phantom of an intellectual contemplation.

Is any further proof needed, that a Philosophy, which is based on the very thing so decidedly rejected by the Kantian System, must be precisely the opposite of that system, and must be moreover the very senseless and disastrous system, of which Kant speaks in that work of his? Perhaps, however, it might be well first to inquire, whether the same word may not express two utterly different conceptions in the two systems. In Kant’s terminology, all contemplation is directed upon a Being (a permanent Remaining); and intellectual contemplation would thus signify in his system the immediate consciousness of a non-sensuous Being, or the immediate consciousness (through pure thinking) of the thing per se; and hence a creation of the thing per se through its conception, in nearly the same manner as the existence of God is demonstrated from the mere conception of God;—those who do so must look upon God’s existence as a mere sequence of their thinking. Now Kant’s system—taking the direction it did take—may have considered it necessary in this manner to keep the thing per se at a respectful distance. But the Science of Knowledge has finished the thing per se in another manner; that Science knows it to be the completest perversion of reason, a purely irrational conception. To that science all being is necessarily sensuous, for it evolves the very conception of Being from the form of sensuousness. That science regards the intellectual contemplation of Kant’s system as a phantasm, which vanishes the moment one attempts to think it, and which indeed is not worth a name at all. The intellectual contemplation, whereof the Science of Knowledge speaks, is not at all directed upon a Being, but upon an Activity; and Kant does not even designate it, (unless you wish to take the expression “Pure apperception” for such a designation). Nevertheless, it can be clearly shown where in Kant’s System it ought to have been mentioned. I hope that the categorical imperative of Kant occurs in consciousness, according to his System. Now what sort of consciousness is this of the categorical imperative? This question Kant never proposed to himself, because he never treated of the basis of all Philosophy. In his Critique of Pure Reason he treated only of theoretical Philosophy, and could therefore not introduce the categorical imperative; in his Critique of Practical Reason, he treated only of practical Philosophy, wherein the question concerning the manner of consciousness could not arise.

This consciousness is doubtless an immediate, but no sensuous consciousness—hence exactly what I call intellectual contemplation. Now, since we have no classical author in Philosophy, I give it the latter name, with the same right with which Kant gives it to something else, which is a mere nothing; and with the same right I insist that people ought first to become acquainted with the significance of my terminology before proceeding to judge my system.

My most estimable friend, the Rev. Mr. Schulz—to whom I had made known my indefinite idea of building up the whole Science of Philosophy on the pure Ego, long before I had thoroughly digested that idea, and whom I found less opposed to it than any one else—has a remarkable passage on this subject. In his review of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, he says: “The pure, active self-consciousness, in which really every one’s Ego consists, must not be confounded—for the very reason because it can and must teach us in an immediate manner—with the power of contemplation, and must not be made to involve the doctrine that we are in possession of a supersensuous, intellectual power of contemplation. For we call contemplation a representation, which is immediately related to an object. But pure self-consciousness is not representation, but is rather that which first makes a representation to become really a representation. If I say, ‘I represent something to myself,’ it signifies just the same as if I said, ‘I am conscious that I have a representation of this object.’”

According to Mr. Schulz, therefore, a representation is that whereof consciousness is possible. Now Mr. Schulz also speaks of pure self-consciousness. Undoubtedly he knows whereof he speaks, and hence, as philosopher, he most truly has a representation of pure self-consciousness. It was not of this consciousness of the philosopher, however, that Mr. Schulz spoke, but of original consciousness; and hence the significance of his assertion is this: Originally (i.e. in common consciousness without philosophical reflection) mere self-consciousness does not constitute full consciousness, but is merely a necessary compound, which makes full consciousness first possible. But is it not the same with sensuous contemplation? Does sensuous contemplation constitute a consciousness, or is it not rather merely that whereby a representation first becomes a representation? Contemplation without conception is confessedly blind. How, then, can Mr. Schulz call (sensuous) contemplation (excluding from it self-consciousness) representation? From the standpoint of the philosopher, as we have just seen, self-consciousness is equally representation; from the standpoint of original contemplation, sensuous contemplation is equally not representation. Or does the conception constitute a representation? The conception without contemplation is confessedly empty. In truth, self-consciousness, sensuous contemplation, and conception, are, in their isolated separateness, not representations—they are only that through which representations become possible. According to Kant, to Schulz, and to myself, a complete representation contains a threefold: 1st. That whereby the representation relates itself to an object, and becomes the representative of a Something—and this we unanimously call the sensuous contemplation (even if I am myself the object of my representation, it is by virtue of a sensuous contemplation, for then I become to myself a permanent in time); 2d. That through which the representation relates itself to the subject, and becomes my representation; this I also call contemplation (but intellectual contemplation), because it has the same relation to the complete representation which the sensuous contemplation has; but Kant and Schulz do not want it called so; and, 3d. That through which both are united, and only in this union become representation; and this we again unanimously call conception.

But to state it tersely: what is really the Science of Knowledge in two words? It is this: Reason is absolutely self-determined; Reason is only for Reason; but for Reason there is also nothing but Reason. Hence, everything, which Reason is, must be grounded in itself, and out of itself, but not in or out of another—some external other, which it could never grasp without giving up itself. In short, the Science of Knowledge is transcendental idealism. Again, what is the content of the Kantian system in two words? I confess that I cannot conceive it possible how any one can understand even one sentence of Kant, and harmonize it with others, except on the same presupposition which the Science of Knowledge has just asserted. I believe that that presupposition is the everlasting refrain of his system; and I confess that one of the reasons why I refused to prove the agreement of the Science of Knowledge with Kant’s system was this: It appeared to me somewhat too ridiculous and too tedious to show up the forest by pointing out the several trees in it.

I will cite here one chief passage from Kant. He says: “The highest principle of the possibility of all contemplation in relation to the understanding is this: that all the manifold be subject to the conditions of the original unity of apperception.” That is to say, in other words, “That something which is contemplated be also thought, is only possible on condition that the possibility of the original unity of apperception can coexist with it.” Now since, according to Kant, contemplation also is possible only on condition that it be thought and comprehended—otherwise it would remain blind—and since contemplation itself is thus subject to the conditions of the possibility of thinking—it follows that, according to Kant, not only Thinking immediately, but by the mediation of thinking, contemplation also, and hence all consciousness, is subject to the conditions of the original unity of apperception.

Now, what is this condition? It is true, Kant speaks of conditions, but he states only one as a fundamental condition. What is this condition of the original unity of apperception? It is this (see §16 of the Critique of Pure Reason), “that my representations can be accompanied by the ‘I think’”—the word “I” alone is italicised by Kant, and this is somewhat important; that is to say, I am the thinking in this thinking.

Of what “I” does Kant speak here? Perhaps of the Ego, which his followers quietly heap together by a manifold of representations, in no single one of which it was, but in all of which collectively it now is said to be. Then the words of Kant would signify this: I, who think D, am the same I who thought A, B and C, and it is only through the thinking of my manifold thinking, that I first became I to myself—that is to say, the identical in the manifold? In that case Kant would have been just such a pitiable tattler as these Kantians; for in that case the possibility of all thinking would be conditioned, according to him, by another thinking, and by the thinking of this thinking; and I should like to know how we could ever arrive at a thinking.

But, instead of tracing the consequences of Kant’s statement, I merely intended to cite his own words. He says again: “This representation, ‘I think,’ is an act of spontaneity, i.e. it cannot be considered as belonging to sensuousness.” (I add: and hence, also, not to inner sensuousness, to which the above described identity of consciousness most certainly does belong.) Kant continues: “I call it pure apperception, in order to distinguish it from the empirical (just described) apperception, and because it is that self-consciousness, which, in producing the representation ‘I think’—which must accompany all other representations, and is in all consciousness one and the same—can itself be accompanied by no other representation.”

Here the character of pure self-consciousness is surely clearly enough described. It is in all consciousness the same—hence undeterminable by any accident of consciousness; in it the Ego is only determined through itself, and is thus absolutely determined. It is also clear here, that Kant could not have understood this pure apperception to mean the consciousness of our individuality, nor could he have taken the latter for the former; for the consciousness of my individuality, as an I, is necessarily conditioned by, and only possible through, the consciousness of another individuality, a Thou.

Hence we discover in Kant’s writings the conception of the pure Ego exactly as the Science of Knowledge has described it, and completely determined. Again, in what relation does Kant, in the above passage, place this pure Ego to all consciousness? As conditioning the same. Hence, according to Kant, the possibility of all consciousness is conditioned by the possibility of the pure Ego, or by pure self-consciousness, just as the Science of Knowledge holds. In thinking, the conditioning is made the prior of the conditioned—for this is the significance of that relation; and thus it appears that, according to Kant, a systematic deduction of all consciousness, or, which is the same, a System of Philosophy, must proceed from the pure Ego, just as the Science of Knowledge proceeds; and Kant himself has thus suggested the idea of such a Science.

But some one might wish to weaken this argument by the following distinction: It is one thing to condition, and another to determine.

According to Kant, all consciousness is only conditioned by self-consciousness; i.e. the content of that consciousness may have its ground in something else than self-consciousness; provided the results of that grounding do not contradict the conditions of self-consciousness; those results need not proceed from self-consciousness, provided they do not cancel its possibility.

But, according to the Science of Knowledge, all consciousness is determined through self-consciousness; i.e. everything which occurs in consciousness is grounded, given and produced by the conditions of self-consciousness, and a ground of the same in something other than self-consciousness does not exist at all.

Now, to meet this argument, I must show that in the present case the determinateness follows immediately from the conditionedness, and that, therefore, the distinction drawn between both is not valid in this instance. Whosoever says, “All consciousness is conditioned by the possibility of self-consciousness, and as such I now propose to consider it,” knows in this his investigation, nothing more concerning consciousness, and abstracts from everything he may believe, further to know concerning it. He deduces what is required from the asserted principle, and only what he thus has deduced as consciousness is for him consciousness, and everything else is and remains nothing. Thus the derivability from self-consciousness determines for him the extent of that which he holds to be consciousness, because he starts from the presupposition that all consciousness is conditioned by the possibility of self-consciousness.

Now I know very well that Kant has by no means built up such a system; for if he had, the author of the Science of Knowledge would not have undertaken that work, but would have chosen another branch of human knowledge for his field. I know that he has by no means proven his categories to be conditions of self-consciousness; I know that he has simply asserted them so to be; that he has still less deduced time and space, and that which in original consciousness is inseparable from them—the matter which fills time and space—as such conditions; since of these he has not even expressly stated, as he has done in the case of the categories, that they are such conditions. But I believe I know quite as well that Kant has thought such a system; that all his writings and utterances are fragments and results of this system, and that his assertions get meaning and intention only through this presupposition. Whether he did not himself think this system with sufficient clearness and definiteness to enable him to utter it for others; or whether he did, indeed, think it thus clearly and merely did not want so to utter it, as some remarks would seem to indicate, might, it seems to me, be left undecided; at least somebody else must investigate this matter, for I have never asserted anything on this point.[2] But, however such an investigation may result, this merit surely belongs altogether to the great man; that he first of all consciously separated philosophy from external objects, and led that science into the Self. This is the spirit and the inmost soul of all his philosophy, and this also is the spirit and soul of the Science of Knowledge.

I am reminded of a chief distinction which is said to exist between the Science of Knowledge and Kant’s system, and a distinction which but recently has been again insisted upon by a man who is justly supposed to have understood Kant, and who has shown that he also has understood the Science of Knowledge. This man is Reinhold, who, in a late essay, in endeavoring to prove that I have done injustice to myself, and to other successful students of Kant’s writings—in stating what I have just now reiterated and proved, i.e. that Kant’s system and the Science of Knowledge are the same—proceeds to remark: “The ground of our assertion, that there is an external something corresponding to our representations, is most certainly held by the Critique of Pure Reason to be contained in the Ego; but only in so far as empirical knowledge (experience) has taken place in the Ego as a fact; that is to say, the Critique of Pure Reason holds that this empirical knowledge has its ground in the pure Ego only in relation to its transcendental content, which is the form of that knowledge; but in regard to its empirical content, which gives that knowledge objective validity, it is grounded in the Ego through a something which is not the Ego. Now, a scientific form of philosophy was not possible so long as that something, which is not Ego, was looked for outside of the Ego as ground of the objective reality of the transcendental content of the Ego.”

Thus Reinhold. I have not convinced my readers, or demonstrated my proof, until I have met this objection.

The (purely historical) question is this: Has Kant really placed the ground of experience (in its empirical content) in a something different from the Ego?

I know very well that all the Kantians, except Mr. Beck, whose work appeared after the publication of the Science of Knowledge, have really understood Kant to say this. Nay, the last interpreter of Kant, Mr. Schulz, whom Kant himself has endorsed, thus interprets him. How often does Mr. Schulz admit that the objective ground of the appearances is contained in something which is a thing in itself, &c., &c. We have just seen how Reinhold also interprets Kant.

Now it may seem presumptuous for one man to arise and say: “Up to this moment, amongst a number of worthy scholars who have devoted their time and energies to the interpretation of a certain book, not a single one has understood that book otherwise than utterly falsely; they all have discovered in that system the very doctrine which it refutes—dogmatism, instead of transcendental idealism; and I alone understand it rightly.” Yet this presumption might be but seemingly so; for it is to be hoped that other persons will adopt that one man’s views, and that, therefore, he will not always stand alone. There are other reasons why it is not very presumptuous to contradict the whole number of Kantians, but I will not mention them here.

But what is most curious in this matter is this—the discovery that Kant did not intend to speak of a something different from the Ego, is by no means a new one. For ten years everybody could read the most thorough and complete proof of it in Jacobi’s “Idealism and Realism,” and in his “Transcendental Idealism.” In those works Jacobi has put together the most evident and decisive passages from Kant’s writings on this subject, in Kant’s own words. I do not like to do again what has once been done, and cannot be done better; and I refer my readers with the more pleasure to those works, as they, like all philosophical writings of Jacobi, may be even yet of advantage to them.

A few questions, however, I propose to address to those interpreters of Kant. Tell me, how far does the applicability of the categories extend, according to Kant, particularly of the category of causality? Clearly only to the field of appearances, and hence only to that which is already in us and for us. But in what manner do we then come to accept a something different from the Ego, as the ground of the empirical content of Knowledge? I answer: only by drawing a conclusion from the grounded to the ground; hence by applying the category of causality. Thus, indeed, Kant himself discovers it to be, and hence rejects the assumption of things, &c., &c., outside of us. But his interpreters make him forget for the present instance the validity of categories generally, and make him arrive, by a bold leap, from the world of appearances to the thing per se outside of us. Now, how do these interpreters justify this inconsequence?

Kant evidently speaks of a thing per se. But what is this thing to him? A noumenon, as we can find in many passages of his writings. Reinhold and Schulz also hold it to be a noumenon. Now, what is a noumenon? According to Kant, to Reinhold, and Schulz, a something, which our thinking—by laws to be shown up, and which Kant has shown up—adds to the appearance, and which must so be added in thought;[3] which, therefore, is produced only through our thinking; not, however, through our free, but through a necessary thinking, which is only for our thinking—for us thinking beings.

But what do those interpreters make of this noumenon or thing in itself? The thought of this thing in itself is grounded in sensation, and sensation they again assert to be grounded in the thing in itself. Their globe rests on the great elephant, and the great elephant—rests on the globe. Their thing in itself, which is a mere thought, they say affects the Ego. Have they then forgotten their first speech, and is the thing, per se, which a moment ago was but a mere thought, now turned into something more? Or do they seriously mean to apply to a mere thought, the exclusive predicate of reality, i.e. causality? And such teachings are put forth as the astonishing discoveries of the great genius, who, with his torch, lights up the retrograde philosophical century.

It is but too well known to me that the Kantianism of the Kantians is precisely the just described system—is really this monstrous composition of the most vulgar dogmatism, which allows things per se to make impressions upon us, and of the most decided idealism, which allows all being to be generated only through the thinking of the intelligence, and which knows nothing of any other sort of being. From what I am yet going to say on this subject, I except two men—Reinhold, because with a power of mind and a love of truth which do credit to his heart and head, he has abandoned this system, (which, however, he still holds to be the Kantian system, and I only disagree with him on this purely historical question,) and Schulz, because he has of late been silent on philosophical questions, which leaves it fair to assume that he has begun to doubt his former system.

But concerning the others, it must be acknowledged by all who have still their inner sense sufficiently under control to be able to distinguish between being and thinking and not to mix both together, that a system which thus mixes being and thinking receives but too much honor if it is spoken of seriously. To be sure, very few men may be properly required to overcome the natural tendency towards dogmatism sufficiently to lift themselves up to the free flight of Speculation. What was impossible for a man of overwhelming mental activity like Jacobi, how can it be expected of certain other men, whom I would rather not name? But that these incurable dogmatists should have persuaded themselves that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was food for them; that they had the boldness to conclude—since Kant’s writings had been praised (God may know by what chance!) in some celebrated journal—they might also now follow the fashion and become Kantians; that since then, for years, they, in their intoxication, have be-written many a ream of valuable paper, without ever, in all this time, having come to their senses, or understood but one period of all they have written; that up to the present day, though they have been somewhat rudely shaken, they have not been able to rub the sleep out of their eyes, but rather prefer to beat and kick about them, in the hope of striking some of these unwelcome disturbers of their peace; and that the German public, so desirous of acquiring knowledge, should have bought their blackened paper with avidity, and attempted to suck up the spirit of it—nay, should even, perhaps, have copied and recopied these writings without ever clearly perceiving that there was no sense in them: all this will forever, in the annals of philosophy, remain the disgrace of our century, and our posterity will be able to explain these occurrences of our times only on the presupposition of a mental epidemic, which had taken hold of this age.

But, will these interpreters reply: your argument is, after all—if we abstract from Jacobi’s writings, which, to be sure, are rather hard to swallow, since they quote Kant’s own words—no more than this: it is absurd; hence Kant cannot have meant to say it. Now, if we admit the absurdity, as unfortunately we must, why, then, might not Kant have said these absurdities, just as well as we others, amongst whom there are some, of whom you yourself confess the merits, and to whom you doubtless will not deny all sound understanding?

I reply: to be the inventor of a system is one thing, and to be his commentators and successors, another. What, in case of the latter, would not testify to an absolute want of sound sense, might certainly evince it in the former. The ground is this: the latter are not yet possessed of the idea of the whole—for if they were so possessed, there would be no necessity for them to study the system; they are merely to construct it out of the parts which the inventor hands over to them; and all these parts are, in their minds, not fully determined, rounded off, and made smooth, until they are united into a natural whole. Now, this construction of the parts may require some time, and during this time it may occur that these men determine some parts inaccurately, and hence place them in contradiction with the whole, of which they are not yet possessed. The discoverer of the idea of the whole, on the contrary, proceeds from this idea, in which all parts are united, and these parts he separately places before his readers, because only thus can he communicate the whole. The work of the former is a synthetizing of that which they do not yet possess, but are to obtain through the synthesis; the work of the latter is an analyzing of that which he already possesses. It is very possible that the former may not be aware of the contradiction in which the several parts stand to the whole which is to be composed of them, for they may not have got so far yet as to compare them. But it is quite certain that the latter, who proceeded from the composite, must have thought, or believed that he thought, the contradiction which is in the parts of his representation—for he certainly at one time held all the parts together. It is not absurd to think dogmatism now, and in another moment transcendental idealism; for this we all do, and must do, if we wish to philosophize about both systems; but it is absurd to think both systems as one. The interpreters of Kant’s system do not necessarily think it thus as one; but the author of that system must certainly have done so if his system was intended to effect such a union.

Now, I, at least, am utterly incapable of believing such an absurdity on the part of any one who has his senses; how, then, can I believe Kant to have been guilty of it? Unless Kant, therefore, declares expressly in so many words, that he deduces sensation from an impression of the thing, per se, or, to use his own terminology, that sensation must be explained in philosophy, from a transcendental object which exists outside of us, I shall not believe what these interpreters tell us of Kant. But if he does make this declaration, I shall consider the Critique of Pure Reason rather as the result of the most marvellous accident than as the product of a mind.

But, say our opponents, does not Kant state expressly that “The object is given to us,” and “that this is possible because the object affects us as in a certain manner,” and “that there is a power of attaining representations by the manner in which objects affect us, which power is called sensuousness.” Nay, Kant says even this: “How should our knowledge be awakened into exercise if it were not done by objects that touch our senses and partly produce representations themselves, while partly putting our power of understanding into motion, to compare, connect and separate these representations, and thus to form the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge which is called experience.” Well, these are probably all the passages which can be adduced by our opponents. Now, putting merely passages against passages, and words against words, and abstracting altogether from the idea of the whole, which I assume these interpreters never to have had, let me ask first, if these passages could really not be united with Kant’s other frequently repeated statements, viz., that it is folly to speak of an impression produced upon us by an external transcendental object,—how did it happen that these interpreters preferred to sacrifice the many statements, which assert a transcendental idealism, to these few passages, which assert a dogmatism, than vice versa? Doubtless because they did not attempt the study of Kant’s writings with an impartial mind, but had their heads full of that dogmatism—which constitutes their very being—as the only correct system, which they assumed such a sensible man as Kant must necessarily also hold to be the only correct system; and because they thus did not seek to be taught by Kant, but merely to be confirmed by him in their old way of thinking.

But cannot these seemingly opposite statements be united? Kant speaks in these passages of objects. What this word is to signify, we clearly must learn from Kant himself. He says: “It is the understanding which adds the object to the appearance, by connecting the manifold of the appearance in one consciousness. When this is done, we say we know the object, for we have effected a synthetical unity in the manifold of the contemplation, and the conception of this unity is the representation of the object = X. But this X is not the transcendental object (i.e. the thing per se), for of that we know not even so much.”

What, then, is this object? That which the understanding adds to the appearance, a mere thought. Now, the object affects—i.e. something which is a mere thought affects. What does this mean? If I have but a spark of logic, it means simply: it affects in so far as it is; hence it is only thought as affecting. Let us now see what Kant means when he speaks about the “power to obtain representations by the manner in which objects affect us.” Since we only think the affection itself, we doubtless only think likewise that which is common to the affection. Or: if you posit an object with the thought that it has affected you, you think yourself in this case affected; and if you think that this occurs in respect to all the objects of your perception, you think yourself as liable to be affected generally—or, in other words, you ascribe to yourself, through this your thinking, receptivity or sensuousness.

But do we not thus assume, after all, affection to explain knowledge? Let me state the difference in one word: it is true, all our knowledge proceeds from an affection, but not an affection through an object. This is Kant’s doctrine, and that of the Science of Knowledge. As Mr. Beck has overlooked this important point, and as Reinhold does not call sufficient attention to that which makes the positing of a non-Ego possible, I consider it proper to explain the matter in a few words. In doing so I shall use my own terminology, and not Kant’s, because I naturally have my own more at my command.

When I posit myself, I posit myself as a limited; in consequence of the contemplation of my self-positing, I am finite.

This, my limitedness—since it is the condition which makes my self-positing possible—is an original limitedness. Somebody might wish to explain this still further, and either deduce the limitedness of myself as the reflected, from my necessary limitedness as the reflecting; which would result in the statement: I am finite to myself, because I can think only the finite;—or he might explain the limitedness of the reflecting from that of the reflected, which would result in the statement: I can think only the finite, because I am finite. But such an explanation would explain nothing, for I am originally neither the reflecting nor the reflected, but both in their union; which union I cannot think, it is true, because I separate, in thinking, the reflecting from the reflected.

All limitedness is, by its very conception, a determined, and not a general limitedness.

From the possibility of an Ego, we have thus deduced the necessity of a general limitedness of the Ego. But the determinedness of this limitedness cannot be deduced, since it is, as we have seen, that which conditions all Egoness. Here, therefore, all deduction is at an end. This determinedness appears as the absolutely accidental, and furnishes the merely empirical of our knowledge. It is this determinedncss, for instance, by virtue of which I am, amongst all possible rational beings, a man, and amongst all men this particular person, &c., &c.

This, my limitation, in its determinedness, manifests itself as a limitation of my practical power (here philosophy is therefore driven from the theoretical to the practical sphere); and the immediate perception of this limitation is a feeling (I prefer to use this word instead of Kant’s “sensation,” for feeling only becomes sensation by being related in thinking to an object); for instance, the feeling of sweet, red, cold, &c.

To forget this original feeling, leads to a bottomless transcendental idealism, and to an incomplete philosophy, which cannot explain the simply sensible predicates of objects. Now, the endeavor to explain this original feeling from the causality of a something, is the dogmatism of the Kantians, which I have just shown up, and which they would like to put on Kant’s shoulders. This, their something, is the everlasting thing per se. All transcendental explanation, on the contrary, stops at the immediate feeling, from the reason just pointed out. It is true, the empirical Ego, which transcendental idealism observes, explains this feeling to itself by the law, “No limitation without a limiting;” and thus, through contemplation of the limiting, produces extended matter, of which it now, as of its ground, predicates the merely subjective sensation of feeling; and it is only by virtue of this synthesis that the Ego makes itself an object. The continued analysis and the continued explanation of its own condition, give to the Ego its own system of a universe; and the observation of the laws of this explanation gives to the philosopher his science. It is here that Kant’s Realism is based, but his Realism is a transcendental idealism.

This whole determinedness, and hence also the total of feelings which it makes possible, is to be regarded as a priori—i.e. absolutely, without any action of our own—determined. It is Kant’s receptivity, and a particular of this receptivity is an affection. Without it, consciousness is unexplainable.

There is no doubt that it is an immediate fact of consciousness—I feel myself thus or thus determined. Now, when the oft-lauded philosophers attempt to explain this feeling, is it not clear that they attempt to append something to it which is not immediately involved in the fact? and how can they do this, except through thinking, and through a thinking according to a category, which category is here that of the real ground? Now, if they have not an immediate contemplation of the thing per se and its relations, what else can they possibly know of this category, but that they are compelled to think according to it? They assert nothing but that they are compelled to add in thought a thing as the ground of this feeling. But this we cheerfully admit in regard to the standpoint which they occupy. Their thing is produced by their thinking; and now it is at the same time to be a thing per se, i.e. not produced by thinking.

I really do not comprehend them; I can neither think this thought, nor think an understanding which does think it; and by this declaration, I hope I have done with them forever.


Having finished this digression, we now return to our original intention, which was to describe the procedure of the Science of Knowledge, and to justify it against the attacks of certain philosophers. We said, the philosopher observes himself in the act whereby he constructs for himself the conception of himself; and we now add, he also thinks this act of his.

For the philosopher, doubtless, knows whereof he speaks; but a mere contemplation gives no consciousness; only that is known which is conceived and thought. This conception or comprehension of his activity is very well possible for the philosopher, since he is already in possession of experience; for he has a conception of activity in general, and as such, namely, as the opposite of the equally well known conception of Being; and he also has a conception of this particular activity, as that of an intelligence, i.e. as simply an ideal activity, and not the real causality of the practical Ego; and moreover, a conception of the peculiar character of this particular activity as an in itself returning activity, and not an activity directed upon an external object.

But here as well as everywhere it is to be well remembered that the contemplation is and remains the basis of the conception, i.e. of that which is conceived in the conception. We cannot absolutely create or produce by thinking; we can only think that which is immediately contemplated by us. A thinking, which has no contemplation for its basis, which does not embrace a contemplation entertained in the same undivided moment, is an empty thinking, or is really no thinking at all. At the utmost it may be the thinking of a mere sign of the conception, and if this sign is a word, as seems likely, the mere thoughtless utterance of this word. I determine my contemplation by the thinking of an opposite; this and nothing else is the meaning of the expression—I comprehend the contemplation.

Through thinking, the activity, which the philosopher thinks, becomes objective to him, i.e. it floats before him, in so far as he thinks it, as something which checks or limits the freedom (the undeterminedness) of his thinking. This is the true and original significance of objectivity. As certain as I think, I think a determined something; or, in other words, the freedom of my thinking, which might have been directed upon an infinite manifold of objects, is now, when I think, only directed upon that limited sphere of my thinking which the present object fills. It is limited to this sphere. I restrict myself with freedom to this sphere, if I contemplate myself in the doing of it. I am restricted by this sphere, if I contemplate only the object and forget myself, as is universally done on the standpoint of common thinking. What I have just now said is intended to correct the following objections and misunderstandings.

All thinking is necessarily directed upon a being, say some. Now the Ego of the Science of Knowledge is not to have being; hence it is unthinkable, and the whole Science, which is built upon such a contradiction, is null and void.

Let me be permitted to make a preliminary remark concerning the spirit which prompts this objection. When the wise men, who urge it, take the conception of the Ego as determined in the Science of Knowledge, and examine it by the rules of their logic, they doubtless think that conception, for how else could they compare and relate it to something else? If they really could not think it, they would not be able to say a word about it, and it would remain altogether unknown to them. But they have really, as we see, happily achieved the thinking of it, and so must be able to think it. Yet, because according to their traditional and misconceived rules, they ought to have been unable to think it, they would now rather deny the possibility of an act, while doing it, than give up their rule; they would believe an old book rather than their own consciousness. How little can these men be aware of what they really do! How mechanically, and without any inner attention and spirit, must they produce their philosophical specimens! Master Jourdan after all was willing to believe that he had spoken prose all his lifetime, without knowing it, though it did appear rather curious; but these men, if they had been in his place, would have proven in the most beautiful prose that they could not speak prose, since they did not possess the rules of speaking prose, and since the conditions of the possibility of a thing must always precede its reality. Nay, if critical idealism should continue to be a burden to them, it is to be expected that they will next go to Aristotle for advice as to whether they really live, or are already dead and buried. By doubting the possibility of ever becoming conscious of their freedom and Egoness, they are covertly already doubting this very point.

Their objection might therefore be summarily put aside, since it contradicts, and thus annihilates itself. But let us see where the real ground of the misunderstanding may be concealed.

All thinking necessarily proceeds from a being, say they. Now what does this mean? If it is to mean what we have just shown up, namely, that there is in all thinking a thought, an object of the thinking, to which this particular thinking confines itself, and by which it seems to be limited, then their premise must undoubtedly be admitted; and it is not the Science of Knowledge which is going to deny it. This objectivity for the mere thinking does doubtless also belong to the Ego, from which the Science of Knowledge proceeds; or, which means the same, to the act whereby the Ego constructs itself for itself. But it is only through thinking and only for thinking that it has this objectivity; it is merely an ideal being.

If, however, the being, of their above assertion, is to mean not a mere ideal, but a real being, i.e. a something, limiting not only the ideal, but also the actually productive, the practical activity of the Ego—that is to say, a something permanent in time and persistent in space—then that assertion of theirs is unwarranted. If it were correct, no science of philosophy were possible, for the conception of the Ego would be unthinkable; and self-consciousness, nay, even consciousness, would also be impossible. If it were correct, we, it is true, should be compelled to stop philosophizing; but this would be no gain to them, for they would also have to stop refuting us. But do they not themselves repudiate the correctness of their assertion? Do they not think themselves every moment of their life as free and as having causality? Do they not, for instance, think themselves the free, active authors of the very sensible and very original objections, which they bring up from time to time against our system? Now, is then this “themselves” something which checks and limits their causality, or is it not rather the very opposite of the check, namely, the very causality itself? I must refer them to what I have said in §v. on this subject. If such a sort of being were ascribed to the Ego, the Ego would cease to be Ego; it would become a thing, and its conception would be annihilated. It is true that afterwards—not afterwards as a posteriority in time, but afterwards in the series of the dependence of thinking—we also ascribe such a being to the Ego, which, nevertheless, remains and must remain Ego in the original meaning of the word; this being consisting partly of extension and persistency in space, and in this respect it becomes a body, and partly identity and permanency in time, and in this respect it becomes a soul. But it is the business of philosophy to prove, and genetically to explain how the Ego comes to think itself thus, and all this belongs not to that which is presupposed, but to that which is to be deduced. The result, therefore, remains thus: the Ego is originally only an acting; if you but think it as an active, you have already an Empirical, and hence a conception of it, which must first be deduced.[4]

But our opponents claim that they do not make their assertion without all proof; they want to prove it by logic, and, if God is willing, by the logical proposition of contradiction.

If there is anything which clearly shows the lamentable condition of philosophy as a science in these our days, it is that such occurrences can take place. If anybody were to speak about mathematics, natural sciences, or any other science, in a manner which would indicate beyond a doubt his complete ignorance concerning the first principles of such a science, he would be at once sent back to the school from which he ran away too soon. But in philosophy it is not to be thus. If in philosophy a man shows in the same manner his complete ignorance, we are, with many bows and compliments to the sharp-sighted man, to give him publicly that private schooling which he so sadly needs, and without betraying the least smile or gesture of disgust. Have, then, the philosophers in two thousand years made clear not a single proposition which might now be considered as established for that science without further proof? If there is such a proposition, it is certainly that of the distinction of logic, as a purely formal science, from real philosophy or metaphysics. But what is really the true meaning of this terrible logical proposition of contradiction which is to crush at one stroke our whole system? As far as I know, simply this: if a conception is already determined by a certain characteristic, then it must not be determined by another opposite characteristic. But by what characteristic the conception is originally to be characterized, this logical theorem does not say, nor can say, for it presupposes the original determination, and is applicable only in so far as that is presupposed. Concerning the original determination another science will have to decide.

These wise men tell us that it is contradictory not to determine a conception by the predicate of actual being. Yet how can this be contradictory, unless the conception has first been thus determined by the predicate of actual being, and has then had that predicate denied to it? But who authorized them to determine the conception by that predicate? Do not these adepts in logic perceive that they postulate their principle, and turn around in an evident circle? Whether there really be a conception, which is originally—by the laws of the synthetizing, not of the merely analyzing reason—not determined by that predicate of actual being, this they will have to go and learn from contemplation; logic only warns them against afterwards again applying the same predicate to that conception; of course also, in the same respect, in which they have denied the determinability of the conception by that predicate.

But certainly if they have not yet elevated themselves to the consciousness of that contemplation, which is not determined by the predicate of being, (for that they should unconsciously possess that contemplation itself, Reason herself has taken care of,) then all their conceptions, which can be derived only from sensuous contemplation, are very properly determined by the predicate of this actual being. In that case, however, they must not believe that logic has taught them this asserted connection of thinking and being, for their knowledge of it is altogether derived from their unfortunate empirical self. They, standing on the standpoint of knowing no other conceptions than those derived from sensuous contemplation, would, of course, contradict themselves if they were to think one of their conceptions without the predicate of actual being. We, on our part, are also well content to let them retain this rule for themselves, since it is most assuredly universally valid for the whole sphere of their possible thinking; and to let them always carefully keep an eye on this rule, so that they may not violate it. As for ourselves, however, we cannot use this their rule any longer, for we possess a few conceptions more, resting in a sphere over which their rule does not extend, and about which they can speak nothing, since it does not exist for them. Let them, therefore, attend to their own business hereafter, and leave us to attend to ours. Even in so far as we grant them the rule, namely, that every thinking must have an object of thinking; it is by no means a logical rule, but rather one which logic presupposes, and through which logic first becomes possible. To think, is the same as to determine objects; both conceptions are identical; logic furnishes the rules of this determining, and hence presupposes clearly enough the determining generally as a part of consciousness. That all thinking has an object can be shown only in contemplation. Think! and observe in this thinking how you do it, and you will doubtless find that you oppose to your thinking an object of this thinking.

Another objection, somewhat related to the above, is this: If you do not proceed from a being, how can you, without being illogical, deduce a being? You will never be able to get anything else out of what you take in hand than what is already contained in it, unless you proceed dishonestly and use juggler tricks.

I reply: Nor do we deduce being in the sense in which you use the word, i.e. as being, per se. What the philosopher takes up is an acting, which acts according to certain laws, and what he establishes is the series of necessary acts of this acting. Amongst these acts there occurs one which to the acting itself appears as a being, and which by laws to be shown up, must so appear to it. The philosopher who observes the acting from a higher standpoint, never ceases to regard it as an acting. A being exists only for the observed Ego, which thinks realistically; but for the philosopher there is acting, and only acting, for he thinks idealistically.

Let me express it on this occasion in all clearness: The essence of transcendental idealism generally, and of the Science of Knowledge particularly, consists in this, that the conception of being is not at all viewed as a first and original conception, but simply as a derived conception; derived from the opposition of activity. Hence it is considered only as a negative conception. The only positive for the idealist is Freedom; being is the mere negative of freedom. Only thus has idealism a firm basis, and is in harmony with itself. But dogmatism, which believed itself safely reposing upon being, as a basis no further to be investigated or grounded, regards this assertion as a stupidity and horror, for it is its annihilation. That wherein the dogmatist, amongst all the inflictions which he has experienced from time to time, still found a hiding place—namely, some original being, though it were but a raw and formless matter—is now utterly destroyed, and he stands naked and defenceless. He has no weapons against this attack except the assurance of his hearty disgust, and his confession, that he does not understand, and positively cannot and will not think, what is required of him. We cheerfully give credence to this statement, and only beg that he will also place faith in our assurance, that we find it not at all difficult to think our system. Nay, if this should be too much for him, we can even abstain from it, and leave him to believe whatever he chooses on this point. That we do not and cannot force him to adopt our system, because its adoption depends upon freedom, has already been often enough admitted.

I say that the dogmatist has nothing left but the assurance of his incapacity, for the idea of intrenching himself behind general logic, and conjuring the shade of the Stagirite, because he knows not how to defend his own body, is altogether new, and will find few imitators even in this universal state of despair; since the least school knowledge of what logic really is, will suffice to make every one reject this protection.

Let no one be deceived by these opponents, if they adopt the language of idealism, and admitting with their lips the correctness of its views, protest that they know well enough that being is only to signify being for us. They are dogmatists. For every one who asserts that all thinking and consciousness must proceed from a being, makes being something primary; and it is this which constitutes dogmatism. By such a confusion of speech they but demonstrate the utter confusion of their conceptions; for what may a being for us mean, which is, nevertheless, to be an original not-derived being? Who, then, are those “we,” for whom alone this being is? Are they intelligences as such? Then the statement “there is something for the intelligence,” signifies, this something is represented by the intelligence; and the statement “it is only for the intelligence,” signifies, it is only represented. Hence the conception of a being, which, from a certain point of view, is to be independent of the representation, must, after all, be derived from the representation, since it is to be, only through it; and these men would, therefore, be more in harmony with the Science of Knowledge than they believed. Or are those “we” themselves things, original things, things in themselves? How, then, can anything be for them; how can they even be for themselves, since the conception of a thing involves merely that it is, but not that the thing is for itself? What may the word for signify to them? Is it, perhaps, but an innocent adornment which they have adopted for the sake of fashion?


The Science of Knowledge has said, “It is not possible to abstract from the Ego.” This assertion may be regarded from two points of view—either from the standpoint of common consciousness, and then it means, “We never have another representation than that of ourselves; throughout our whole life, and in all moments of our life, we think only I, I, I, and nothing but I.” Or it may be viewed from the standpoint of the philosopher, and then it will have the following significance: “The Ego must necessarily be added in thought to whatever occurs in consciousness;” or as Kant expresses it, “All my representations must be thought as accompanied by—I think.” What nonsense were it to maintain the first interpretation to be the true one, and what wretchedness to refute it in that interpretation. But in the latter interpretation the assertion of the Science of Knowledge will doubtless be acceptable to every one who is but able to understand it; and if it had only been thus understood before, we should long ago have been rid of the thing per se, for it would have been seen that we are always the Thinking, whatever we may think, and that hence nothing can occur in us which is independent of us, because it all is necessarily related to our thinking.


“But,” confess other opponents of the Science of Knowledge, “as far as our own persons are concerned, we cannot, under the conception of the Ego, think anything else than our own dear persons as opposed to other persons. Ego (I) signifies my particular person, named, for instance, Caius or Sempronius, as distinguished from other persons not so named. Now, if I should abstract, as the Science of Knowledge requires me to do, from this individual personality, there would be nothing left to me which might be characterized as I; I might just as well call the remainder It.”

Now, what is the real meaning of this objection, so boldly put forth? Does it speak of the original real synthesis of the conception of the individual (their own dear persons and other persons), and do they therefore mean to say, “there is nothing synthetized in this conception but the conception of an object generally—of the It, and of other objects (Its)—from which the first one is distinguished?” Or does that objection fly for protection to the common use of language, and do they therefore mean to say, “In language, the word I (Ego) signifies only individuality?” As far as the first is concerned, every one, who is as yet possessed of his senses, must see that by distinguishing one object from its equals, i.e. from other objects, we arrive only at a determined object, but not at a determined person. The synthesis of the conception of the personality is quite different. The Egoness (the in itself returning activity, the subject-objectivity, or whatever you choose to call it,) is originally opposed to the It, to the mere objectivity; and the positing of these conceptions is absolute, is conditioned by no other positing, is thetical, not synthetical. This conception of the Egoness, which has arisen in our Self, is now transferred to something, which in the first positing was posited as an It, as a mere object, and is synthetically united with it; and it is only through this conditional synthesis that there first arises for us a Thou. The conception of Thou arises from the union of the It and the I. The conception of the Ego in this opposition; hence, as conception of the individual, is the synthesis of the I with itself. That which posits itself in the described act, not generally, but as Ego, is I; and that which in the same act is posited as Ego, not through itself, but through me, is Thou. Now it is doubtless possible to abstract from this product of a synthesis, for what we ourselves have synthetized we doubtless can analyze again, and when we so abstract, the remainder will be the general Ego, i.e. the not-object. Taken in this interpretation, the objection would be simply absurd.

But how if our opponents cling to the use of language? Even if it is true that the word “I” has hitherto signified in language only the individual, would this make it necessary that a distinction in the original synthesis is not to be remarked and named, simply because it has never before been noticed? But is it true? Of what use of language do they speak? Of the philosophical language? I have shown already that Kant uses the conception of the pure Ego in the same meaning I attach to it. If he says, “I am the thinking in this thinking,” does he then only oppose himself to other persons, and not rather to all object of thinking generally? Kant says again, “The fundamental principle of the necessary unity of apperception is itself identical, and hence an analytical proposition.” This signifies precisely what I have just stated, i.e. that the Ego arises through no synthesis, the manifold whereof might be further analyzed, but through an absolute thesis. But this Ego is the Egoness generally; for the conception of individuality arises clearly enough through synthesis, as I have just shown; and the fundamental principle of individuality is therefore a synthetical proposition. Reinhold, it is true, speaks of the Ego simply as of the representing; but this does not affect the present case; for when I distinguish myself as the representing from the represented, do I then distinguish myself from other persons, and not rather from all object of representation as such? But take even the case of these same much lauded philosophers, who do not, like Kant and like the Science of Knowledge, presuppose the Ego in advance of the manifold of representation, but rather heap it together, out of that manifold; do they, then, hold their one thinking in the manifold thinking to be only the thinking of the individual, and not rather of the intelligence generally? In one word: is there any philosopher of repute, who before them has ventured to discover that the Ego signifies only the individual, and that if the individuality is abstracted from, only an object in general remains?

Or do they mean ordinary use of language? To prove this use, I am compelled to cite instances from common life. If you call to anybody in the darkness “Who is there?” and he, presupposing that his voice is well-known to you, replies, “It is I,” then it is clear that he speaks of himself as this particular person, and wishes to be understood: “It is I, who am named thus or thus, and it is not any one of all the others, named otherwise;” and he so desires to be understood, because your question, “Who is there?” presupposes already that it is a rational being who is there, and expresses only that you wish to know which particular one amongst all the rational beings it may be.

But if you should, for instance—permit me this example, which I find particularly applicable—sew or cut at the clothing of some person, and should unawares cut the person himself, then he would probably cry out: “Look here, this is I; you are cutting me!” Now, what does he mean to express thereby? Not that he is this particular person, named thus or thus, and none other; for that you know very well; but that that which was cut was not his dead and senseless clothing, but his living and sensitive self, which you did not know before. By this “It is I,” the person does not distinguish himself from other persons, but from things. This distinction occurs continually in life; and we cannot take a step or move our hand without making it.

In short, Egoness and Individuality are very different conceptions, and the synthesis of the latter is clearly to be observed. Through the former conception, we distinguish ourselves from all that is external to us—not merely from all persons that are external to us—and hence we embrace by it not our particular personality, but our general spirituality. It is in this sense that the word is used, both in philosophical and in common language. The above objection testifies, therefore, not only to an unusual want of thought, but also to great ignorance in philosophical literature.

But our opponents insist on their incapability to think the required conception, and we must place faith in their assertions. Not that they lack the general conception of the pure Ego, for if they did, they would be obliged to desist from raising objections, just as a piece of log must desist. But it is the conception of this conception which they lack, and which they cannot attain. They have that conception in themselves, but do not know that they have it. The ground of this their incapability does not lie in any particular weakness of their thinking faculties, but in a weakness of their whole character. Their Ego, in the sense in which they take the word—i.e. their individual person—is the last object of their acting, and hence also the limit of their explicit thinking. It is to them, therefore, the only true substance, and reason is only an accident thereof. Their person does not exist as a particular expression of reason; but reason exists to help their person through the world; and if the person could get along just as well without reason, we might discharge reason from service, and there would be no reason at all. This, indeed, lurks in the whole system of their conceptions, and through all their assertions, and many of them are honest enough not to conceal it. Now, they are quite correct as far as they assert this incapacity in respect to their own persons—they only must not state as objective that which has merely subjective validity. In the Science of Knowledge the relation is exactly reversed: Reason alone is in itself, and individuality is but accidental; reason is the object, and personality the means to realize it; personality is only a particular manner of manifesting reason, and must always more and more lose itself in the universal form of reason. Only reason is eternal; individuality must always die out. And whosoever is not prepared to succumb to this order of things, will also never get at the true understanding of the Science of Knowledge.


This fact that they can never understand the Science of Knowledge unless they first comply with certain conditions, has been told them often enough. They do not want to hear it again, and our frank warning affords them a new opportunity to attack us. Every conviction, they assert, must be capable of being communicated by conceptions—nay, it must even be possible to compel its acknowledgment. They say it is a bad example to assert that our Science exists for only certain privileged spirits, and that others cannot see or understand anything of it.

Let us see, first of all, what the Science of Knowledge does assert on this point. It does not assert that there is an original and inborn distinction between men and men, whereby some are made capable of thinking and learning what the others, by their nature, cannot think or learn. Reason is common to all, and is the same in all rational beings. Whatsoever one rational being possesses as a talent, all others possess also. Nay, we have even in this present article expressly admitted that the conceptions upon which the Science of Knowledge insists, are actually effective in all rational beings; for their efficacy furnishes the ground of a possibility of consciousness. The pure Ego, which they charge is incapable of thinking, lies at the bottom of all their thinking, and occurs in all their thinking, since all thinking is possible only through it. Thus far everything proceeds mechanically. But to get an insight into this asserted necessity—to think again this thinking—does not lie in mechanism, but, on the contrary, requires an elevation, through freedom, to a new sphere, which our immediate existence does not place in our possession. Unless this faculty of freedom has already existence, and has already been practised, the Science of Knowledge can accomplish nothing in a person. It is this power of freedom which furnishes the premises upon which the structure is to rest.

They certainly will not deny that every science and every art presupposes certain primary rudiments, which must first be acquired before we can enter into the science or art. “But,” say they, “if you only require a knowledge of the rudiments, why do you not teach them to us, if we lack them? Why do you not place them before us definitely and systematically? Is it not your own fault if you plunge us at once in medias res, and require the public to understand you before you have communicated the rudiments?” I reply: that is exactly the difficulty! These rudiments cannot be systematically forced upon you—they cannot be taught to you by compulsion! In one word, they are a knowledge which we can get only from ourselves. Everything depends upon this, that by the constant use of freedom, with clear consciousness of this freedom, we should become thoroughly conscious and enamored of this our freedom. Whenever it shall have become the well-matured object of education—from tenderest youth upwards—to develop the inner power of the scholar, but not to give it a direction; to educate man for his own use, and as instrument of his own will, but not as the soulless instrument of others;—then the Science of Knowledge will be universally and easily comprehensible. Culture of the whole man, from earliest youth—this is the only way to spread philosophy. Education must first content itself to be more negative than positive—more a mutual interchange with the scholar than a working upon him; more negative as far as possible—i.e. education must at least propose to itself this negativeness as its object, and must be positive only as a means of being negative. So long as education, whether with or without clear consciousness, proposes to itself the opposite object—labors only for usefulness through others, without considering that the using principle lies also in the individual; so long as education thus eradicates in earliest youth the root of self-activity, and accustoms man not to determine himself but to await a determination through others—so long, talent for philosophy will always remain an extraordinary favor of nature, which cannot be further explained, and which may therefore be called by the indefinite expression of “philosophical genius.”

The chief ground of all the errors of our opponents may perhaps be this, that they have never yet made clear to themselves what proving means, and that hence they have never considered that there is at the bottom of all demonstration something absolutely undemonstrable.

Demonstration effects only a conditioned, mediated certainty; by virtue of it, something is certain if another thing is certain. If any doubt arises as to the certainty of this other, then this certainty must again be appended to the certainty of a third, and so on. Now, is this retrogression carried on ad infinitum, or is there anywhere a final link? I know very well that some are of the former opinion; but these men have never considered that if it were so, they would not even be capable of entertaining the idea of certainty—no, not even of hunting after certainty. For what this may mean: to be certain; they only know by being themselves certain of something; but if everything is certain only on condition, then nothing is certain, and there is even no conditioned certainty. But if there is a final link, regarding which no question can be raised, why it is certain, then, there is an undemonstrable at the base of all demonstration.

They do not appear to have considered what it means: to have proven something to somebody. It means: we have demonstrated to him that a certain other certainty is contained, by virtue of the laws of thinking, which he admits, in a certain first certainty which he assumes or admits, and that he must necessarily assume the first if he assumes the second, as he says he does. Hence all communication of a conviction by proof, presupposes that both parts are at least agreed on something. Now, how could the Science of Knowledge communicate itself to the dogmatist, since they are positively not agreed in a single point, so far as the material of knowledge is concerned, and since thus the common point is wanting from which they might jointly start.[5]

Finally, they seem not to have considered that even where there is such a common point, no one can think into the soul of the other; that each must calculate upon the self-activity of the other, and cannot furnish him the necessary thoughts, but can merely advise how to construct or think those thoughts. The relation between free beings is a reciprocal influence upon each other through freedom, but not a causality through mechanically effective power. And thus the present dispute returns to the chief point of dispute, from which all our differences arise. They presuppose everywhere the relation of causality, because they indeed know no higher relation; and it is upon this that they base their demand: we ought to graft our conviction on their souls without any activity on their own part. But we proceed from freedom, and—which is but fair—presuppose freedom in them. Moreover, in thus presupposing the universal validity of the mechanism of cause and effect, they immediately contradict themselves; what they say and what they do, are in palpable contradiction. For, in presupposing the mechanism of cause and effect, they elevate themselves beyond it; their thinking of the mechanism is not contained in the mechanism itself. The mechanism cannot seize itself, for the simple reason that it is mechanism. Only free consciousness can seize itself. Here, therefore, would be a way to convince them of their error. But the difficulty is that this thought lies utterly beyond the range of their vision, and that they lack the agility of mind to think, when they think an object, not only the object, but also their thinking of the object; wherefore this present remark is utterly incomprehensible to them, and is indeed written only for those who are awake and see.

We reiterate, therefore, our assurance: we will not convince them, because one cannot will an impossibility; and we will not refute their system for them, because we cannot. True, we can refute it easily enough for us; it is very easy to throw it down—the mere breath of a free man destroys it. But we cannot refute it for them. We do not write, speak or teach for them, since there is positively no point from which we could reach them. If we speak of them, it is not for their own sake, but for the sake of others—to warn these against their errors, and persuade these not to listen to their empty and insignificant prattle. Now, they must not consider this, our declaration, as degrading for them. By so doing, they but evince their bad conscience, and publicly degrade themselves amongst us. Besides, they are in the same position in regard to us. They also cannot refute or convince us, or say anything, which could have an effect upon us. This we confess ourselves, and would not be in the least indignant if they said it. What we tell them, we tell them not at all with the evil purpose of causing them anger, but merely to save us and them unnecessary trouble. We should be truly glad if they were thus to accept it.

Moreover, there is nothing degrading in the matter itself. Every one who to-day charges his brother with this incapacity, has once been necessarily in the same condition. For we all are born in it, and it requires time to get beyond it. If our opponents would only not be driven into indignation by our declaration, but would reflect about it, and inquire whether there might not be some truth in it, they might then probably get out of that incapacity. They would at once be our equals, and we could henceforth live in perfect peace together. The fault is not ours, if we occasionally are pretty hard at war with them.

From all this it also appears, which I consider expedient to remark here, that a philosophy, in order to be a science, need not be universally valid, as some philosophers seem to assume. These philosophers demand the impossible. What does it mean: a philosophy is really universally valid? Who, then, are all these for whom it is to be valid? I suppose not to every one who has a human face, for then it would also have to be valid for children and for the common man, for whom thinking is never object, but always the means for his real purpose. Universally valid, then, for the philosophers? But who, then, are the philosophers? I hope not all those who have received the degree of doctor from some philosophical faculty, or who have printed something which they call philosophical, or who, perhaps, are themselves members of some philosophical faculty? Indeed, how shall we even have a fixed conception of the philosopher, unless we have first a fixed conception of philosophy—i.e. unless we first possess that fixed philosophy? It is quite certain that all those who believe themselves possessed of philosophy, as a science, will deny to all those who do not recognize their philosophy the name of philosopher, and hence will make the acknowledgment of their philosophy the criterion of a philosopher. This they must do, if they will proceed logically, for there is only one philosophy. The author of the Science of Knowledge, for instance, has long ago stated that he is of this opinion in regard to his system—not in so far as it is an individual representation of that system, but in so far as it is a system of transcendental idealism—and he hesitates not a moment to repeat this assertion. But does not this lead us into an evident circle? Every one will then say, “My philosophy is universally valid for all philosophers;” and will say so with full right if he only be himself convinced, though no other mortal being should accept his doctrine; “for,” he will add, “he who does not recognize it as valid is no philosopher.”

Concerning this point, I hold the following: If there be but one man who is fully and at all times equally convinced of his philosophy, who is in complete harmony with himself in this his philosophy, whose free judgment in philosophizing agrees perfectly with the judgment daily life forces upon him, then in this one man philosophy has fulfilled its purpose and completed its circle; for it has put him down again at the very same point from which he started with all mankind; and henceforth philosophy as a science really exists, though no other man else should comprehend and accept it; nay, though that one man might not even know how to teach it to others.

Let no one here offer the trivial objection that all systematic authors have ever been convinced of the truth of their systems. For this assertion is utterly false, and is grounded only in this, that few know what conviction really is. This can only be experienced by having the fullness of conviction in one’s self. Those authors were only convinced of one or the other point in their system, which perhaps was not even clearly conscious to themselves, but not of the whole of their system—they were convinced only in certain moods. This is no conviction. Conviction is that which depends on no time and no change of condition; which is not accidental to the soul, but which is the soul itself. One can be convinced only of the unchangeably and eternally True: to be convinced of error is impossible. But of such true convictions very few examples may probably exist in the history of philosophy; perhaps but one; perhaps not even this one. I do not speak of the ancients. It is even doubtful whether they ever proposed to themselves the great problem of philosophy. But let me speak of modern authors. Spinoza could not be convinced; he could only think, not put faith in his philosophy; for it was in direct contradiction with his necessary conviction in daily life, by virtue of which he was forced to consider himself free and self-determined. He could be convinced of it only in so far as it contained truth, or as it contained a part of philosophy as a science. He was clearly convinced that mere objective reasoning would necessarily lead to his system; for in that he was correct; but it never occurred to him that in thinking he ought to reflect upon his own thinking, and in that he was wrong, and thus made his speculation contradictory to his life. Kant might have been convinced; but, if I understand him correctly, he was not convinced when he wrote his Critique. He speaks of a deception, which always recurs, although we know that it is a deception. Whence did Kant learn, as he was the first who discovered this pretended deception, that it always recurs, and in whom could he have made the experience that it did so recur? Only in himself. But to know that one deceives one’s self, and still to deceive one’s self is not the condition of conviction and harmony within—it is the symptom of a dangerous inner disharmony. My experience is that no deception recurs, for reason contains no deception. Moreover, of what deception does Kant speak? Clearly of the belief that things per se exist externally and independent of us. But who entertains this belief? Not common consciousness, surely, for common consciousness only speaks of itself, and can therefore say nothing but that things exist for it (i.e. for us, on this standpoint of common consciousness); and that certainly is no deception, for it is our own truth. Common consciousness knows nothing of a thing per se, for the very reason that it is common consciousness, which surely never goes beyond itself. It is a false philosophy which first makes common consciousness assert such a conception, whilst only that false philosophy discovered it in its own sphere. Hence this so-called deception—which is easily got rid of, and which true philosophy roots out utterly—that false philosophy has itself produced, and as soon as you get your philosophy perfected, the scales will fall from your eyes, and the deception will never recur. You will, in all your life thereafter, never believe to know more than that you are finite, and finite in this determined manner, which you must explain to yourself, by the existence of such a determined world; and you will no more think of breaking through this limit than of ceasing to be yourself. Leibnitz, also, may have been convinced, for, properly understood—and why should he not have properly understood himself?—he is right. Nay, more—if highest ease and freedom of mind may suggest conviction; if the ingenuity to fit one’s philosophy into all forms, and apply it to all parts of human knowledge—the power to scatter all doubts as soon as they appear, and the manner of using one’s philosophy more as an instrument than as an object, may testify of perfect clearness; and if self-reliance, cheerfulness and high courage in life may be signs of inner harmony, then Leibnitz was perhaps convinced, and the only example of conviction in the history of philosophy.


In conclusion, I wish to refer in a few words to a very curious misapprehension. It is that of mistaking the Ego, as intellectual contemplation, from which the Science of Knowledge proceeds, for the Ego, as idea, with which it concludes. In the Ego, as intellectual contemplation, we have only the form of the Egoness, the in itself returning activity, sufficiently described above. The Ego in this form is only for the philosopher, and by seizing it thus, you enter philosophy. The Ego, as idea, on the contrary, is for the Ego itself, which the philosopher considers. He does not establish the latter Ego as his own, but as the idea of the natural but perfectly cultured man; just as a real being does not exist for the philosopher, but merely for the Ego he observes.

The Ego as idea is the rational being—firstly, in so far as it completely represents in itself the universal reason, or as it is altogether rational and only rational, and hence it must also have ceased to be individual, which it was only through sensuous limitation; and secondly, in so far as this rational being has also realized reason in the eternal world, which, therefore, remains constantly posited in this idea. The world remains in this idea as world generally, as substratum with these determined mechanical and organic laws; but all these laws are perfectly suited to represent the final object of reason. The idea of the Ego and the Ego of the intellectual contemplation have only this in common, that in neither of them the thought of the individual enters; not in the latter, because the Egoness has not yet been determined as individuality; and not in the former, because the determination of individuality has vanished through universal culture. But both are opposites in this, that the Ego of the contemplation contains only the form of the Ego, and pays no regard to an actual material of the same, which is only thinkable by its thinking of a world; while in the Ego of the Idea the complete material of the Egoness is thought. From the first conception all philosophy proceeds, and it is its fundamental conception; to the latter it does not return, but only determines this idea in the practical part as highest and ultimate object of reason. The first is, as we have said, original contemplation, and becomes a conception in the sufficiently described manner; the latter is only idea, it cannot be thought determinately and will never be actual, but will always more and more approximate to the actuality.


These are, I believe, all the misunderstandings which are to be taken into consideration, and to correct which a clear explanation may hope somewhat to aid. Other modes of working against the new system cannot and need not be met by me.

If a system, for instance, the beginning and end, nay, the whole essence of which, is that individuality be theoretically forgotten and practically denied, is denounced as egotism, and by men who, for the very reason because they are covertly theoretical egotists and overtly practical egotists, cannot elevate themselves into an insight into this system; if a conclusion is drawn from the system that its author has an evil heart, and if again from this evil-heartedness of the author the conclusion is drawn that the system is false; then arguments are of no avail; for those who make these assertions know very well that they are not true, and they have quite different reasons for uttering them than because they believed them. The system bothers them little enough; but the author may, perhaps, have stated on other occasions things which do not please them, and may, perhaps—God knows how or where!—be in their way. Now such persons are perfectly in conformity with their mode of thinking, and it would be an idle undertaking to attempt to rid them of their nature. But if thousands and thousands who know not a word of the Science of Knowledge, nor have occasion to know a word of it, who are neither Jews nor Pagans, neither aristocrats nor democrats, neither Kantians of the old or of the modern school, or of any school, and who even are not originals—who might have a grudge against the author of the Science of Knowledge, because he took away from them the original ideas which they have just prepared for the public—if such men hastily take hold of these charges, and repeat and repeat them again without any apparent interest, other than that they might appear well instructed regarding the secrets of the latest literature; then it may, indeed, be hoped that for their own sakes they will take our prayer into consideration, and reflect upon what they wish to say before they say it.


  1. Critique of Practical Reason; Critique of the Power of Judgment; and Critique of a Pure Doctrine of Religion.—Translator.
  2. For instance—Critique of Pure Reason, p. 108: “I purposely pass by the definition of these categories, although I may be in possession of it.” Now, these categories can be defined, each by its determined relation to the possibility of self-consciousness, and whoever is in possession of these definitions, is necessarily possessed of the Science of Knowledge. Again, p. 109: “In a system of pure reason this definition might justly be required of me, but in the present work they would only obscure the main point.” Here he clearly opposes two systems to each other—the System of Pure Reason and the “present work,” i.e. the Critique of Pure Reason—and the latter is said not to be the former.
  3. Here is the corner stone of Kant’s realism. I must think something as thing in itself, i.e. as independent of me, the empirical, whenever I occupy the standpoint of the empirical; and because I must think so, I never become conscious of this activity in my thinking, since it is not free. Only when I occupy the standpoint of philosophy can I draw the conclusion that I am active in this thinking.
  4. To state the main point in a few words: All being signifies a limitation of free activity. Now this activity is regarded either as that of the mere intelligence, and then that which is posited as limiting this activity has a mere ideal being, mere objectivity in regard to consciousness.—This objectivity is in every representation (even in that of the Ego, of virtue, of the moral law, &c., or in that of complete phantasms, as, for instance, a squared circle, a sphynx, &c.) object of the mere representation. Or the free activity is regarded as having actual causality; and then that which limits it, has actual existence, the real world.
  5. I have repeated this frequently. I have stated that I could absolutely have no point in common with certain philosophers, and that they are not, and cannot be, where I am. This seems to have been taken rather for an hyperbole, uttered in indignation, than for real earnest; for they do not cease to repeat their demand: “Prove to us thy doctrine!” I must solemnly assure them that I was perfectly serious in that statement, that it is my deliberate and decided conviction. Dogmatism proceeds from a being as the Absolute, and hence its system never rises above being. Idealism knows no being, as something for itself existing. In other words: Dogmatism proceeds from necessity—Idealism from freedom. They are, therefore, in two utterly different worlds.

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This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.