Introduction to Fichte's Science of Knowledge

Introduction to Fichte's Science of Knowledge  (1797) 
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by Adolph Ernst Kroeger

Original title: Erste Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre (1797)



[Note.—In presenting this “Introduction” to the readers of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, we believe we afford them the easiest means of gaining an insight into Fichte’s great work on the Science of Knowledge. The present introduction was written by Fichte in 1797, three years after the first publication of his full system. It is certainly written in a remarkably clear and vigorous style, so as to be likely to arrest the attention even of those who have but little acquaintance with the rudiments of the Science of Philosophy. This led us to give it the preference over other essays, also written by Fichte, as Introductions to his Science of Knowledge. A translation of the Science of Knowledge, by Mr. Kroeger is at present in course of publication in New York. This article is, moreover, interesting as being a more complete unfolding of the doctrine of Plato upon Method, heretofore announced.—Ed.]


De re, quae agitur, petimus, ut homines, eam non opinionem, sed opus esse, cogitent ac pro certo habeant, non sectae nos alicujus, aut placiti, sed ultilitatis et amplitudinis humanae fundamenta moliri. Deinde ut, suis commodis aequi, in commune consulant, et ipsi in partem veniant.—Baco de Verulamio.

The author of the Science of Knowledge was soon convinced, through a slight acquaintance with the philosophical literature since the appearance of Kant’s Critiques, that the object of this great man—to effect a total reform in the study of philosophy, and hence of all science—had resulted in a failure, since not one of his numerous successors appeared to understand what he had really spoken of. The author believed that he had understood the latter; he resolved to devote his life to a representation—totally independent from Kant’s—of that great discovery, and he will not give up this resolve. Whether he will succeed better in making himself understood to his age, time alone can show. At all events, he knows that nothing true and useful, which has once been given to mankind, is lost, though only remote posterity should learn how to use it.

Determined by my academical vocation, I wrote, in the first instance, for my hearers, with whom it was in my power to explain myself in words until I was understood.

This is not the place to testify how much cause I have to be satisfied with my efforts, and to entertain, of some of my students, the best hopes for science. That book of mine has also become known elsewhere, and there are various opinions afloat concerning it amongst the learned. A judgment, which even pretended to bring forth arguments, I have neither read nor heard, except from my students, but I have both heard and read a vast amount of derision, denunciation, and the general assurance that everybody is heartily opposed to this doctrine, and the confession that no one can understand it. As far as the latter is concerned, I will cheerfully assume all the blame, until others shall represent it so as to make it comprehensible, when students will doubtless discover that my representation was not so very bad after all; or I will assume it altogether and unconditionally, if the reader thereby should be encouraged to study the present representation, in which I shall endeavor to be as clear as possible. I shall continue these representations so long as I am convinced that I do not write altogether in vain. But I write in vain when nobody examines my argument.

I still owe my readers the following explanations: I have always said, and say again, that my system is the same as Kant’s. That is to say, it contains the same view of the subject, but is totally independent of Kant’s mode of representation. I have said this, not to cover myself by a great authority, or to support my doctrine except by itself, but in order to say the truth and to be just.

Perhaps it may be proven after twenty years. Kant is as yet a sealed book, and what he has been understood to teach, is exactly what he intended to eradicate.

My writings are neither to explain Kant, nor to be explained by his; they must stand by themselves, and Kant must not be counted in the game at all. My object is—let me say it frankly—not to correct or amplify such philosophical reflections as may be current, be they called anti-Kant or Kant, but to totally eradicate them, and to effect a complete revolution in the mode of thinking regarding these subjects, so that hereafter the Object will be posited and determined by Knowledge (Reason), and not vice versa; and this seriously, not merely in words.

Let no one object: “If this system is true, certain axioms cannot be upheld,” for I do not intend that anything should be upheld which this system refutes.

Again: “I do not understand this book,” is to me a very uninteresting and insignificant confession. No one can and shall understand my writings, without having studied them; for they do not contain a lesson heretofore taught, but something—since Kant has not been understood—altogether new to the age.

Censure without argument tells me simply that my doctrine does not please; and this confession is again very unimportant; for the question is not at all, whether it pleases you or not, but whether it has been proven. In the present sketch I write only for those, in whom there still dwells an inner sense of love for truth; who still value science and conviction, and who are impelled by a lively zeal to seek truth. With those, who, by long spiritual slavery, have lost with the faith in their own conviction their faith in the conviction of others; who consider it folly if anybody attempts to seek truth for himself; who see nothing in science but a comfortable mode of subsistence; who are horrified at every proposition to enlarge its boundaries as involving a new labor, and who consider no means disgraceful by which they can hope to suppress him who makes such a proposition,—with those I have nothing to do.

I should be sorry if they understood me. Hitherto this wish of mine has been realized; and I hope, even now, that these present lines will so confuse them that they can perceive nothing more in them than mere words, while that which represents their mind is torn hither and thither by their ill-concealed rage.


I. Attend to thyself; turn thine eye away from all that surrounds thee and into thine own inner self! Such is the first task imposed upon the student by Philosophy. We speak of nothing that is without thee, but merely of thyself.

The slightest self-observation must show every one a remarkable difference between the various immediate conditions of his consciousness, which we may also call representations. For some of them appear altogether dependent upon our freedom, and we cannot possibly believe that there is without us anything corresponding to them. Our imagination, our will, appears to us as free. Others, however, we refer to a Truth as their model, which is held to be firmly fixed, independent of us; and in determining such representations, we find ourselves conditioned by the necessity of their harmony with this Truth. In the knowledge of them we do not consider ourselves free, as far as their contents are concerned. In short: while some of our representations are accompanied by the feeling of freedom, others are accompanied by the feeling of necessity.

Reasonably the question cannot arise—why are the representations dependent upon our freedom determined in precisely this manner, and not otherwise? For in supposing them to be dependent upon our freedom, all application of the conception of a ground is rejected; they are thus, because I so fashioned them, and if I had fashioned them differently, they would be otherwise.

But it is certainly a question worthy of reflection—what is the ground of the system of those representations which are accompanied by the feeling of necessity and of that feeling of necessity itself? To answer this question is the object of philosophy; and, in my opinion, nothing is philosophy but the Science which solves this problem. The system of those representations, which are accompanied by the feeling of necessity, is also called Experience—internal as well as external experience. Philosophy, therefore, to say the same thing in other words, has to find the ground of all Experience.

Only three objections can be raised against this. Somebody might deny that representations, accompanied by the feeling of necessity, and referred to a Truth determined without any action of ours, do ever occur in our consciousness. Such a person would either deny his own knowledge, or be altogether differently constructed from other men; in which latter case his denial would be of no concern to us. Or somebody might say: the question is completely unanswerable, we are in irremovable ignorance concerning it, and must remain so. To enter into argument with such a person is altogether superfluous. The best reply he can receive is an actual answer to the question, and then all he can do is to examine our answer, and tell us why and in what matters it does not appear satisfactory to him. Finally, somebody might quarrel about the designation, and assert: “Philosophy is something else than what you have stated above, or at least something else besides.” It might be easily shown to such a one, that scholars have at all times designated exactly what we have just stated to be Philosophy, and that whatever else he might assert to be Philosophy, has already another name, and that if this word signifies anything at all, it must mean exactly this Science. But as we are not inclined to enter upon any dispute about words, we, for our part, have already given up the name of Philosophy, and have called the Science which has the solution of this problem for its object, the Science of Knowledge.

II. Only when speaking of something, which we consider accidental, i.e. which we suppose might also have been otherwise, though it was not determined by freedom, can we ask for its ground; and by this very asking for its ground does it become accidental to the questioner. To find the ground of anything accidental means, to find something else, from the determined ness of which it can be seen why the accidental, amongst the various conditions it might have assumed, assumed precisely the one it did. The ground lies—by the very thinking of a ground—beyond its Grounded, and both are, in so far as they are Ground and Grounded, opposed to each other, related to each other, and thus the latter is explained from the former.

Now Philosophy is to discover the ground of all experience; hence its object lies necessarily beyond all Experience. This sentence applies to all Philosophy, and has been so applied always heretofore, if we except these latter days of Kant’s misconstruers and their facts of consciousness, i.e. of inner experience.

No objection can be raised to this paragraph; for the premise of our conclusion is a mere analysis of the above-stated conception of Philosophy, and from the premise the conclusion is drawn. If somebody should wish to remind us that the conception of a ground must be differently explained, we can, to be sure, not prevent him from forming another conception of it, if he so chooses; but we declare, on the strength of our good right, that we, in the above description of Philosophy, wish to have nothing else understood by that word. Hence, if it is not to be so understood, the possibility of Philosophy, as we have described it, must be altogether denied, and such a denial we have replied to in our first section.

III. The finite intelligence has nothing beyond experience; experience contains the whole substance of its thinking. The philosopher stands necessarily under the same conditions, and hence it seems impossible that he can elevate himself beyond experience.

But he can abstract; i.e. he can separate by the freedom of thinking what in experience is united. In Experience, the Thing—that which is to be determined in itself independent of our freedom, and in accordance with which our knowledge is to shape itself—and the Intelligence—which is to obtain a knowledge of it—are inseparably united. The philosopher may abstract from both, and if he does, he has abstracted from Experience, and elevated himself above it. If he abstracts from the first, he retains an intelligence in itself, i.e. abstracted from its relation to experience; if he abstract from the latter, he retains the Thing in itself, i.e. abstracted from the fact that it occurs in experience; and thus retains the Intelligence in itself, or the “Thing in itself,” as the explanatory ground of Experience. The former mode of proceeding is called Idealism, the latter Dogmatism.

Only these two philosophical systems—and of that these remarks should convince everybody—are possible. According to the first system the representations, which are accompanied by the feeling of necessity, are productions of the Intelligence, which must be presupposed in their explanation; according to the latter system they are the productions of a thing in itself which must be presupposed to explain them. If anybody desired to deny this, he would have to prove that there is still another way to go beyond experience than the one by means of abstraction, or that the consciousness of experience contains more than the two components just mentioned.

Now in regard to the first, it will appear below, it is true, that what we have here called Intelligence does, indeed, occur in consciousness under another name, and hence is not altogether produced by abstraction; but it will at the same time be shown that the consciousness of it is conditioned by an abstraction, which, however, occurs naturally to mankind.

We do not at all deny that it is possible to compose a whole system from fragments of these incongruous systems, and that this illogical labor has often been undertaken; but we do deny that more than these two systems are possible in a logical course of proceeding.

IV. Between the object—(we shall call the explanatory ground of experience, which a philosophy asserts, the object of that philosophy, since it appears to be only through and for such philosophy)—between the object of Idealism and that of Dogmatism there is a remarkable distinction in regard to their relation to consciousness generally. All whereof I am conscious is called object of consciousness. There are three ways in which the object I can be related to consciousness. Either it appears to have been produced by the representation, or as existing without any action of ours; and in the latter case, as either also determined in regard to its qualitativeness, or as existing merely in regard to its existence, while determinable in regard to its qualitativeness by the free intelligence.

The first relation applies merely to an imaginary object; the second merely to an object of Experience; the third applies only to an object, which we shall at once proceed to describe.

I can determine myself by freedom to think, for instance, the Thing in itself of the Dogmatists. Now if I am to abstract from the thought and look simply upon myself, I myself become the object of a particular representation. That I appear to myself as determined in precisely this manner, and none other, e.g. as thinking, and as thinking of all possible thoughts—precisely this Thing in itself, is to depend exclusively upon my own freedom of self-determination; I have made myself such a particular object out of my own free will. I have not made myself; on the contrary, I am forced to think myself in advance as determinable through this self-determination. Hence I am myself my own object, the determinateness of which, under certain conditions, depends altogether upon the intelligence, but the existence of which must always be presupposed. Now this very “I” is the object of Idealism. The object of this system does not occur actually as something real in consciousness, not as a Thing in itself—for then Idealism would cease to be what it is, and become Dogmatism—but as “Iin itself; not as an object of Experience—for it is not determined, but is exclusively determinable through my freedom, and without this determination it would be nothing, and is really not at all—but as something beyond all Experience.

The object of Dogmatism, on the contrary, belongs to the objects of the first class, which are produced solely by free Thinking. The Thing in itself is a mere invention, and has no reality at all. It does not occur in Experience, for the system of Experience is nothing else than Thinking accompanied by the feeling of necessity, and can not even be said to be anything else by the dogmatist, who, like every philosopher, has to explain its cause. True the dogmatist wants to obtain reality for it through the necessity of thinking it as a ground of all experience, and would succeed, if he could prove that experience can be, and can be explained only by means of it. But this is the very thing in dispute, and he cannot presuppose what must first be proven.

Hence the object of Idealism has this advantage over the object of Dogmatism, that it is not to be deduced as the explanatory ground of experience—which would be a contradiction, and change this system itself into a part of experience—but that it is, nevertheless, to be pointed out as a part of consciousness; whereas, the object of Dogmatism can pass for nothing but a mere invention, which obtains validity only through the success of the system.

This we have said merely to promote a clearer insight into the distinction between the two systems, but not to draw from it conclusions against the latter system. That the object of every philosophy, as explanatory ground of Experience, must lie beyond all experience, is required by the very nature of philosophy, and is far from being derogatory to a system. But we have as yet discovered no reasons why that object should also occur in a particular manner within consciousness.

If anybody should not be able to convince himself of the truth of what we have just said, this would not make his conviction of the truth of the whole system an impossibility, since what we have just said was only intended as a passing remark. Still in conformity to our plan we will also here take possible objections into consideration. Somebody might deny the asserted immediate self-consciousness in a free act of the mind. Such a one we should refer to the conditions stated above. This self-consciousness does not obtrude itself upon us, and comes not of its own accord; it is necessary first to act free and next to abstract from the object, and attend to one’s self. Nobody can be forced to do this and though he may say he has done it, it is impossible to say whether he has done it correctly. In one word, this consciousness cannot be proven to any one, but everybody must freely produce it within himself. Against the second assertion, that the “Thing in itself” is a mere invention, an objection could only be raised, because it were misunderstood.

V. Neither of these two systems can directly refute the other; for their dispute is a dispute about the first principle: each, system if you only admit its first axiom—proves the other one wrong, each denies all to the opposite and these two systems have no point in common from which they might bring about a mutual understanding and reconciliation. Though they may agree on the words of a sentence, they will surely attach a different meaning to the words.

(Hence the reason why Kant has not been understood and why the Science of Knowledge can find no friends. The systems of Kant and of the Science of Knowledge are idealistic—not in the general indefinite, but in the just described definite sense of the word; but the modern philosophers are all of them dogmatists, and are firmly resolved to remain so. Kant was merely tolerated, because it was possible to make a dogmatist out of him; but the Science of Knowledge, which cannot be thus construed, is insupportable to these wise men. The rapid extension of Kant’s philosophy—when it was thus misunderstood—is not a proof of the profundity, but rather of the shallowness of the age. For in this shape it is the most wonderful abortion ever created by human imagination, and it does little honor to its defenders that they do not perceive this. It can also be shown that this philosophy was accepted so greedily only because people thought it would put a stop to all serious speculation, and continue the era of shallow Empiricism.)

First. Idealism cannot refute Dogmatism. True, the former system has the advantage, as we have already said, of being enabled to point out its explanatory ground of all experience—the free acting intelligence—as a fact of consciousness. This fact the dogmatist must also admit, for otherwise he would render himself incapable of maintaining the argument with his opponent; but he at the same time by a correct conclusion from his principle, changes this explanatory ground into a deception and appearance, and thus renders it incapable of being the explanatory ground of anything else since it cannot maintain its own existence in its own philosophy. According to the Dogmatist, all phenomena of our consciousness are productions of a Thing in itself, even our pretended determinations by freedom, and the belief that we are free. This belief is produced by the effect of the Thing upon ourselves, and the determinations, which we deduced from freedom, are also produced by it. The only difference is, that we are not aware of it in these cases, and hence ascribe it to no cause, i.e. to our freedom. Every logical dogmatist is necessarily a Fatalist; he does not deny the fact of consciousness, that we consider ourselves free—for this would be against reason;—but he proves from his principle that this is a false view. He denies the independence of the Ego, which is the basis of the Idealist, in toto, makes it merely a production of the Thing, an accidence of the World; and hence the logical dogmatist is necessarily also materialist. He can only be refuted from the postulate of the freedom and independence of the Ego; but this is precisely what he denies. Neither can the dogmatist refute the Idealist.

The principle of the former, the Thing in itself, is nothing and has no reality, as its defenders themselves must admit, except that which it is to receive from the fact that experience can be explained only by it. But this proof the Idealist annihilates by explaining experience in another manner, hence by denying precisely what dogmatism assumes. Thus the Thing in itself becomes a complete Chimera; there is no farther reason why it should be assumed; and with it the whole edifice of dogmatism tumbles down.

From what we have just stated, is moreover evident the complete irreconcilabilty of both systems; since the results of the one destroy those of the other. Wherever their union has been attempted the members would not fit together, and somewhere an immense gulf appeared which could not be spanned.

If any one were to deny this he would have to prove the possibility of such a union—of a union which consists in an everlasting composition of Matter and Spirit, or, which is the same, of Necessity and Liberty.

Now since, as far as we can see at present, both systems appear to have the same speculative value, but since both cannot stand together, nor yet either convince the other, it occurs as a very interesting question: What can possibly tempt persons who comprehend this—and to comprehend it is so very easy a matter—to prefer the one over the other; and why skepticism, as the total renunciation of an answer to this problem, does not become universal?

The dispute between the Idealist and the Dogmatist is, in reality, the question, whether the independence of the Ego is to be sacrificed to that of the Thing, or vice versa? What, then, is it which induces sensible men to decide in favor of the one or the other?

The philosopher discovers from this point of view—in which he must necessarily place himself, if he wants to pass for a philosopher, and which in the progress of Thinking, every man necessarily occupies sooner or later,—nothing farther than that he is forced to represent to himself both: that he is free, and that there are determined things outside of him. But it is impossible for man to stop at this thought; the thought of a representation is but a half a thought, a broken off fragment of a thought; something must be thought and added to it, as corresponding with the representation independent of it. In other words: the representation cannot exist alone by itself, it is only something in connection with something else, and in itself it is nothing. This necessity of thinking it is, which forces one from that point of view to the question: What is the ground of the representations? or, which is exactly the same, What is that which corresponds to them?

Now the representation of the independence of the Ego and that of the Thing can very well exist together but not the independence itself of both. Only one can be the first, the beginning the independent; the second by the very fact of being the second, becomes necessarily dependent upon the first, with which it is to be connected—now which of the two is to be made the first? Reason furnishes no ground for a decision; since the question concerns not the connecting of one link with another, but the commencement of the first link, which as an absolute first act is altogether conditional upon the freedom of Thinking. Hence the decision is arbitrary; and since this arbitrariness is nevertheless to have a cause, the decision is dependent upon inclination and interest. The last ground, therefore, of the difference between the Dogmatist and the Idealist is the difference of their interest.

The highest interest, and hence the ground of all other interest, is that which we feel for ourselves. Thus with the Philosopher. Not to lose his Self in his argumentation, but to retain and assert it, this is the interest which unconsciously guides all his Thinking. Now, there are two grades of mankind; and in the progress of our race, before the last grade has been universally attained, two chief kinds of men. The one kind is composed of those who have not yet elevated themselves to the full feeling of their freedom and absolute independence, who are merely conscious of themselves in the representation of outward things. These men have only a desultory consciousness, linked together with the outward objects, and put together out of their manifoldness. They receive a picture of their Self only from the Things, as from a mirror; for their own sake they cannot renounce their faith in the independence of those things, since they exist only together with these things. Whatever they are they have become through the outer World. Whosoever is only a production of the Things will never view himself in any other manner; and he is perfectly correct, so long as he speaks merely for himself and for those like him. The principle of the dogmatist is: Faith in the things, for their own sake; hence, mediated Faith in their own desultory self, as simply the result of the Things.

But whosoever becomes conscious of his self-existence and independence from all outward things—and this men can only become by making something of themselves, through their own Self, independently of all outward things—needs no longer the Things as supports of his Self, and cannot use them, because they annihilate his independence and turn it into an empty appearance. The Ego which he possesses, and which interests him, destroys that Faith in the Things; he believes in his independence, from inclination, and [seizes] it with affection. His Faith in himself is immediate.

From this interest the various passions are explicable, which mix generally with the defence of these philosophical systems. The dogmatist is in danger of losing his Self when his system is attacked; and yet he is not armed against this attack, because there is something within him which takes part with the aggressor; hence, he defends himself with bitterness and heat. The idealist, on the contrary, cannot well refrain from looking down upon his opponent with a certain carelessness, since the latter can tell him nothing which he has not known long ago and has cast away as useless. The dogmatist gets angry, misconstrues, and would persecute, if he had the power; the idealist is cold and in danger of ridiculing his antagonist.

Hence, what philosophy a man chooses depends entirely upon what kind of man he is; for a philosophical system is not a piece of dead household furniture, which you may use or not use, but is animated by the soul of the man who has it. Men of a naturally weak-minded character, or who have become weak-minded and crooked through intellectual slavery, scholarly luxury and vanity, will never elevate themselves to idealism.

You can show the dogmatist the insufficiency and inconsequence of his system, of which we shall speak directly; you can confuse and terrify him from all sides; but you cannot convince him, because he is unable to listen to and examine with calmness what he cannot tolerate. If Idealism should prove to be the only real Philosophy, it will also appear that a man must be born a philosopher, be educated to be one, and educate himself to be one; but that no human art (no external force) can make a philosopher out of him. Hence, this Science expects few proselytes from men who have already formed their character; if our Philosophy has any hopes at all, it entertains them rather from the young generation, the natural vigor of which has not yet been submerged in the weak-mindedness of the age.

VI. But dogmatism is totally incapable of explaining what it should explain, and this is decisive in regard to its insufficiency. It is to explain the representation of things, and proposes to explain them as an effect of the Things. Now, the dogmatist cannot deny what immediate consciousness asserts of this representation. What, then, does it assert thereof? It is not my purpose here to put in a conception what can only be gathered in immediate contemplation, nor to exhaust that which forms a great portion of the Science of Knowledge. I will merely recall to memory what every one, who has but firmly looked within himself, must long since have discovered.

The Intelligence, as such, sees itself, and this seeing of itself is immediately connected with all that appertains to the Intelligence; and this immediate uniting of Being and Seeing the nature of the Intelligence consists. Whatever is in the Intelligence, whatever the Intelligence is itself, the Intelligence is for itself; and only in so far as it is this for itself is it this, as Intelligence.

I think this or that object! Now what does this mean, and how do I appear to myself in this Thinking? Not otherwise than thus: I produce certain conditions within myself, if the object is a mere invention; but if the objects are real and exist without my invention, I simply contemplate, as a spectator, the production of those conditions within me. They are within me only in so far as I contemplate them; my contemplation and their Being are inseparably united.

A Thing, on the contrary, is to be this or that; but as soon as the question is put: For whom is it this? Nobody, who but comprehends the word, will reply: For itself! But he will have to add the thought of an Intelligence, for which the Thing is to be; while, on the contrary, the Intelligence is self-sufficient and requires no additional thought. By thinking it as the Intelligence you include already that for which it is to be. Hence, there is in the Intelligence, to express myself figuratively a twofold—Being and Seeing, the Real and the Ideal; and in the inseparability of this twofold the nature of the Intelligence consists, while the Thing is simply a unit—the Real. Hence Intelligence and Thing are directly opposed to each other; they move in two worlds, between which there is no bridge.

The nature of the Intelligence and its particular determinations Dogmatism endeavors to explain by the principle of Causality; the Intelligence is to be a production, the second link in a series.

But the principle of causality applies to a real series, and not to a double one. The power of the cause goes over into an Other opposed to it, and produces therein a Being, and nothing further; a Being for a possible outside Intelligence, but not for the thing itself. You may give this Other even a mechanical power, and it will transfer the received impression to the next link, and thus the movement proceeding from the first may be transferred through as long a series as you choose to make; but nowhere will you find a link which reacts back upon itself. Or give the Other the highest quality which you can give a thing—Sensibility—whereby it will follow the laws of its own inner nature, and not the law given to it by the cause—and it will, to be sure, react upon the outward cause; but it will, nevertheless, remain a mere simple Being, a Being for a possible intelligence outside of it. The Intelligence you will not get, unless you add it in thinking as the primary and absolute, the connection of which, with this your independent Being, you will find it very difficult to explain.

The series is and remains a simple one; and you have not at all explained what was to be explained. You were to prove the connection between Being and Representation; but this you do not, nor can you do it; for your principle contains merely the ground of a Being, and not of a Representation, totally opposed to Being. You take an immense leap into a world, totally removed from your principle. This leap they seek to hide in various ways. Rigorously—and this is the course of consistent dogmatism, which thus becomes materialism;—the soul is to them no Thing at all, and indeed nothing at all, but merely a production, the result of the reciprocal action of Things amongst themselves. But this reciprocal action produces merely a change in the Things, and by no means anything apart from the Things, unless you add an observing intelligence. The similes which they adduce to make their system comprehensible, for instance, that of the harmony resulting from sounds of different instruments, make its irrationality only more apparent. For the harmony is not in the instruments, but merely in the mind of the hearer, who combines within himself the manifold into One; and unless you have such a hearer there is no harmony at all.

But who can prevent Dogmatism from assuming the Soul as one of the Things, per se? The soul would thus belong to what it has postulated for the solution of its problem, and, indeed, the category of cause and effect would thereby be made applicable to the Soul and the Things—materialism only permitting a reciprocal action of the Things amongst themselves—and thoughts might now be produced. To make the Unthinkable thinkable, Dogmatism has, indeed, attempted to presuppose Thing or the Soul, or both, in such a manner, that the effect of the Thing was to produce a representation. The Thing, as influencing the Soul, is to be such, as to make its influences representations; God, for instance, in Berkeley’s system, was such a thing. (His system was dogmatic, not idealistic.) But this does not better matters; we understand only mechanical effects, and it is impossible for us to understand any other kind of effects. Hence, that presupposition contains merely words, but there is no sense in it. Or the soul is to be of such a nature that every effect upon the Soul turns into a representation. But this also we find it impossible to understand.

In this manner Dogmatism proceeds everywhere, whatever phase it may assume. In the immense gulf, which in that system remains always open between Things and Representations, it places a few empty words instead of an explanation, which words may certainly be committed to memory, but in saying which nobody has ever yet thought, nor ever will think, anything. For whenever one attempts to think the manner in which is accomplished what Dogmatism asserts to be accomplished, the whole idea vanishes into empty foam. Hence Dogmatism can only repeat its principle, and repeat it in different forms; can only assert and re-assert the same thing; but it can not proceed from what it asserts to what is to be explained, nor ever deduce the one from the other. But in this deduction Philosophy consists. Hence Dogmatism, even when viewed from a speculative stand-point, is no Philosophy at all, but merely an impotent assertion. Idealism is the only possible remaining Philosophy. What we have here said can meet with no objection; but it may well meet with incapability of understanding it. That all influences are of a mechanical nature, and that no mechanism can produce a representation, nobody will deny, who but understands the words. But this is the very difficulty. It requires a certain degree of independence and freedom of spirit to comprehend the nature of the intelligence, which we have described, and upon which our whole refutation of Dogmatism is founded. Many persons have not advanced further with their Thinking than to comprehend the simple chain of natural mechanism, and very naturally, therefore, the Representation, if they choose to think it at all, belongs, in their eyes, to the same chain of which alone they have any knowledge. The Representation thus becomes to them a sort of Thing of which we have divers examples in some of the most celebrated philosophical writers. For such persons Dogmatism is sufficient; for them there is no gulf, since the opposite does not exist for them at all. Hence you can not convince the Dogmatist by the proof just stated, however clear it may be, for you can not bring the proof to his knowledge, since he lacks the power to comprehend it.

Moreover, the manner in which Dogmatism is treated here, is opposed to the mild way of thinking which characterizes our age, and which, though it has been extensively accepted in all ages, has never been converted to an express principle except in ours; i.e. that philosophers must not be so strict in their logic; in philosophy one should not be so particular, as for instance, in Mathematics. If persons of this mode of thinking see but a few links of the chain and the rule, according to which conclusions are drawn, they at once fill up the remaining part through their imagination, never investigating further of what they may consist. If, for instance, an Alexander Von Joch tell them: “All things are determined by natural necessity; now our representations depend upon the condition of Things, and our will depends upon our representations: hence all our will is determined by natural necessity, and our theory of a free will is mere deception!”—then these people think it mightily comprehensible and clear, although there is no sense in it; and they go away convinced and satisfied at the stringency of this his demonstration.

I must call to mind, that the Science of Knowledge does not proceed from this mild way of thinking, nor calculate upon it. If only a single link in the long chain it has to draw does not fit closely to the following, this Science does not pretend to have established anything.

VII. Idealism, as we have said above, explains the determinations of consciousness from the activity of the Intelligence, which, in its view, is only active and absolute, not passive; since it is postulated as the first and highest, preceded by nothing, which might explain its passivity. From the same reason actual Existence can not well be ascribed to the Intelligence, since such Existence is the result of reciprocal causality, but there is nothing wherewith the Intelligence might be placed in reciprocal causality. From the view of Idealism, the Intelligence is a Doing, and absolutely nothing else; it is even wrong to call it an Active, since this expression points to something existing, in which the activity is inherent.

But to assume anything of this kind is against the principle of Idealism, which proposes to deduce all other things from the Intelligence. Now certain determined representations—as, for instance, of a world, of a material world in space, existing without any work of our own—are to be deduced from the action of the Intelligence; but you can not deduce anything determined from an undetermined; the form of all deductions, the category of ground and sequence, is not applicable here. Hence the action of the Intelligence, which is made the ground, must be a determined action, and since the action of Intelligence itself is the highest ground of explanation, that action must be so determined by the Intelligence itself, and not by anything foreign to it. Hence the presupposition of Idealism will be this: the Intelligence acts, but by its very essence it can only act in a certain manner. If this necessary manner of its action is considered apart from the action, it may properly, be called Laws of Action. Hence, there are necessary laws of the Intelligence.

This explains also, at the same time, the feeling of necessity which accompanies the determined representations; the Intelligence experiences in those cases, not an impression from without, but feels in its action the limits of its own Essence. In so far as Idealism makes this only reasonable and really explanatory presupposition of necessary laws of the Intelligence, it is called Critical or Transcendental Idealism. A transcendent Idealism would be a system which were to undertake a deduction of determined representations from the free and perfectly lawless action of the Intelligence: an altogether contradictory presupposition, since, as we have said above, the category of ground and sequence is not applicable in that case.

The laws of action of the Intelligence, as sure as they are to be founded in the one nature of the Intelligence, constitute in themselves a system; that is to say, the fact that the Intelligence acts in this particular manner under this particular condition is explainable, and explainable because under a condition it has always a determined mode of action, which again is explainable from one highest fundamental law. In the course of its action the Intelligence gives itself its own laws; and this legislation itself is done by virtue of a higher necessary action or Representation. For instance, the law of Causality is not a first original law, but only one of the many modes of combining the manifold, and to be deduced from the fundamental law of this combination; this law of combining the manifold is again, like the manifold itself, to be deduced from higher laws.

Hence, even Critical Idealism can proceed in a twofold manner. Either it deduces this system of necessary modes of action, and together with it the objective representations arising therefrom, really from the fundamental laws of the Intelligence, and thus causes gradually to arise under the very eyes of the reader or hearer the whole extent of our representations; or it gathers these laws—perhaps as they are already immediately applied to objects; hence, in a lower condition, and then they are called categories—gathers these laws somewhere, and now asserts, that the objects are determined and regulated by them.

I ask the critic who follows the last-mentioned method, and who does not deduce the assumed laws of the Intelligence from the Essence of the Intelligence, where he gets the material knowledge of these laws, the knowledge that they are just these very same laws; for instance, that of Substantiality or Causality? For I do not want to trouble him yet with the question, how he knows that they are mere immanent laws of the Intelligence. They are the laws which are immediately applied to objects and he can only have obtained them by abstraction from these objects, i.e. from Experience. It is of no avail if he takes them, by a roundabout way, from logic, for logic is to him only the result of abstraction from the objects, and hence he would do indirectly, what directly might appear too clearly in its true nature. Hence he can prove by nothing that his postulated Laws of Thinking are really Laws of Thinking, are really nothing but immanent laws of the Intelligence. The Dogmatist asserts in opposition, that they are not, but that they are general qualities of Things, founded on the nature of Things, and there is no reason why we should place more faith in the unproved assertion of the one than in the unproved assertion of the other. This course of proceeding, indeed, furnishes no understanding that and why the Intelligence should act just in this particular manner. To produce such an understanding, it would be necessary to premise something which can only appertain to the Intelligence, and from those premises to deduce before our eyes the laws of Thinking.

By such a course of proceeding it is above all incomprehensible how the object itself is obtained; for although you may admit the unproved postulates of the critic they explain nothing further than the qualities and relations of the Thing: (that it is, for instance, in space, manifested in time, with accidences which must be referred to a substance, &c.) But whence that which has these relations and qualities? whence then the substance which is clothed in these forms? This substance Dogmatism takes refuge in, and you have but increased the evil.

We know very well: the Thing arises only from an act done in accordance with these laws, and is, indeed, nothing else than all these relations gathered together by the power of imagination; and all these relations together are the Thing. The Object is the original Synthesis of all these conceptions. Form and Substance are not separates; the whole formness is the substance, and only in the analysis do we arrive at separate forms.

But this the critic, who follows the above method, can, only assert, and it is even a secret whence he knows it, if he does know it. Until you cause the whole Thing to arise before the eyes of the thinker, you have not pursued Dogmatism into its last hiding places. But this is only possible by letting the intelligence act in its whole, and not in its partial lawfulness.

Hence, an Idealism of this character is unproven and unprovable. Against Dogmatism it has no other weapon than the assertion that it is in the right; and against the more perfected criticism no other weapon than impotent anger, and the assurance that you can go no further than itself goes.

Finally a system of this character puts forth only those laws, according to which the objects of external experience are determined. But these constitute by far the smallest portion of the laws of the Intelligence. Hence, on the field of Practical Reason and of Reflective Judgment, this half criticism, lacking the insight into the whole procedure of reason, gropes about as in total darkness.

The method of complete transcendental Idealism, which the Science of Knowledge pursues, I have explained once before in my Essay, On the Conception of the Science of Knowledge. I cannot understand why that Essay has not been understood; but suffice it to say, that I am assured it has not been understood. I am therefore compelled to repeat what I have said, and to recall to mind that everything depends upon the correct understanding thereof.

This Idealism proceeds from a single fundamental Law of Reason, which, is immediately shown as contained in consciousness. This is done in the following manner: The teacher of that Science requests his reader or hearer to think freely a certain conception. If he does so, he will find himself forced to proceed in a particular manner. Two things are to be distinguished here: The act of Thinking, which is required—the realization of which depends upon each individual’s freedom,—and unless he realizes it thus, he will not understand anything which the Science of Knowledge teaches; and the necessary manner in which it alone can be realized, which manner is grounded in the Essence of the Intelligence, and does not depend upon freedom; it is something necessary, but which is only discovered in and together with a free action; it is something discovered, but the discovery of which depends upon an act of freedom.

So far as this goes, the teacher of Idealism shows his assertion to be contained in immediate consciousness. But that this necessary manner is the fundamental law of all reason, that from it the whole system of our necessary representations, not only of a world and the determinedness and relations of objects, but also of ourselves, as free and practical beings acting under laws can be deduced. All this is a mere presupposition, which can only be proven by the actual deduction, which deduction is therefore the real business of the teacher.

In realizing this deduction, he proceeds as follows: He shows that the first fundamental law which was discovered in immediate consciousness, is not possible, unless a second action is combined with it, which again is not possible without a third action; and so on, until the conditions of the First are completely exhausted, and itself is now made perfectly comprehensible in its possibility. The teacher’s method is a continual progression from the conditioned to the condition. The condition becomes again conditioned, and its condition is next, to be discovered.

If the presupposition of Idealism is correct, and if no errors have been made in the deduction, the last result, as containing all the conditions of the first act, must contain the system of all necessary representations, or the total experience;—a comparison, however, which is not instituted in Philosophy itself, but only after that science has finished its work.

For Idealism has not kept this experience in sight, as the preknown object and result, which it should arrive at; in its course of proceeding it knows nothing at all of experience, and does not look upon it: it proceeds from its starting point according to its rules, careless as to what the result of its investigations might turn out to be, the right angle, from which it has to draw its straight line, is given to it; is there any need of another point to which the line should be drawn? Surely not; for all the points of its line are already given to it with the angle. A certain number is given to you. You suppose that it is the product of certain factors. All you have to do is search for the product of these factors according to the well-known rules. Whether that product will agree with the given number, you will find out, without any difficulty, as soon as you have obtained it. The given number is the total experience; those factors are: the part of immediate consciousness which was discovered, and the laws of Thinking; the multiplication is the Philosophizing. Those who advise you, while philosophizing, also to keep an eye upon experience, advise you to change the factors a little, and to multiply falsely, so as to obtain by all means corresponding numbers; a course of proceeding as dishonest as it is shallow. In so far as those final results of Idealism are viewed as such, as consequences of our reasoning, they are what is called the a priori of the human mind; and in so far as they are viewed, also—if they should agree with experience—as given in experience, they are called a posteriori. Hence the a priori and the a posteriori are, in a true Philosophy, not two, but one and the same, only viewed in two different ways, and distinguished only by the manner in which they are obtained. Philosophy anticipates the whole experience, thinks it only as necessary; and, in so far, Philosophy is, in comparison with real experience, a priori. The number is a posteriori, if regarded as given; the same number is a priori, if regarded as product of the factors. Whosoever says otherwise knows not what he talks about.

If the results of a Philosophy do not agree with experience, that Philosophy is surely wrong; for it has not fulfilled its promise of deducing the whole experience from the necessary action of the intelligence. In that case, either the presupposition of transcendental Idealism is altogether incorrect, or it has merely been incorrectly treated in the particular representation of that science. Now, since the problem, to explain experience from its ground, is a problem contained in human reason, and as no rational man will admit that human reason contains any problem the solution of which is altogether impossible; and since, moreover, there are only two ways of solving it, the dogmatic system, (which, as we have shown, cannot accomplish what it promises) and the Idealistic system, every resolute Thinker will always declare that the latter has been the case; that the presupposition in itself is correct enough, and that no failure in attempts to represent it should deter men from attempting it again until finally it must succeed. The course of this Idealism proceeds, as we have seen, from a fact of consciousness—but which is only obtained by a free act of Thinking—to the total experience. Its peculiar ground is between these two. It is not a fact of consciousness and does not belong within the sphere of experience; and, indeed, how could it be called Philosophy if it did, since Philosophy has to discover the ground of experience, and since the ground lies, of course, beyond the sequence. It is the production of free Thinking, but proceeding according to laws. This will be at once clear, if we look a little closer at the fundamental assertion of Idealism. It proves that the Postulated is not possible without a second, this not without a third, &c., &c.; hence none of all its conditions is possible alone and by itself, but each one is only possible in its union with all the rest. Hence, according to its own assertion, only the Whole is found in consciousness, and this Whole is the experience. You want to obtain a better knowledge of it; hence you must analyze it, not by blindly groping about, but according to the fixed rule of composition, so that it arises under your eyes as a Whole. You are enabled to do this because you have the power of abstraction; because in free Thinking you can certainly take hold of each single condition. For consciousness contains not only necessity of Representations, but also freedom thereof; and this freedom again may proceed according to rules. The Whole is given to you from the point of view of necessary consciousness; you find it just as you find yourself. But the composition of this Whole, the order of its arrangement, is produced by freedom. Whosoever undertakes this act of freedom, becomes conscious of freedom, and thus establishes, as it were, a new field within his consciousness; whosoever does not undertake it, for him this new field, dependent thereupon, does not exist. The chemist composes a body, a metal for instance, from its elements. The common beholder sees the metal well known to him; the chemist beholds, moreover, the composition thereof and the elements which it comprises. Do both now see different objects? I should think not! Both see the same, only in a different manner. The chemist’s sight is, a priori; he sees the separates; the ordinary beholder’s sight is a posteriori; he sees the Whole. The only distinction is this: the chemist must first analyze the Whole before he can compose it, because he works upon an object of which he cannot know the rule of composition before he has analyzed it; while the philosopher can compose without a foregoing analysis, because he knows already the rule of his object, of reason.

Hence the content of Philosophy can claim no other reality than that of necessary Thinking, on the condition that you desire to think of the ground of Experience. The Intelligence can only be thought as active, and can only be thought active in this particular manner! Such is the assertion of Philosophy. And this reality is perfectly sufficient for Philosophy, since it is evident from the development of that science that there is no other reality.

This now described complete critical Idealism, the Science of Knowledge intends to establish. What I have said just now contains the conception of that science, and I shall listen to no objections which may touch this conception, since no one can know better than myself what I intend to accomplish, and to demonstrate the impossibility of a thing which is already realized, is ridiculous.

Objections, to he legitimate, should only be raised against the elaboration of that conception, and should only consider whether it has fulfilled what it promised to accomplish or not.

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

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.