The Religious Significance of the Science of Knowledge

The Religious Significance of the Science of Knowledge  (1799) 
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, translated by Adolph Ernst Kroeger

Original title: Rückerinnerungen, Antworten, Fragen (1799, unpublished).


The following fragments have been appended to this work in the hope that they might make more clear certain of its results.

They were occasioned by charges preferred against Fichte accusing him of teaching atheism. The clear manner in which these fragments set forth the religious significance of the science of knowledge, determined us to give them this place in the present work.




He who wishes to understand my doctrine of religion sufficiently to have a competent judgment respecting it, must accurately know, and, as I believe, possess the system of transcendental idealism, and the pure moralism inseparably united therewith.

I say, must possess it, that is, must occupy the transcendental stand-point. For, so far as I have been able to observe in my experience, though I would not definitely decide upon it, the mere historical knowledge of that system is not sufficient. For, whenever it is to be concretely applied, it is often forgotten, and those who talk about it as the only truth, suddenly let go their hold of it, and fall back upon the stand-point of realism.

I also say, he who wishes to understand it so as to have a competent judgment respecting it. Students may exercise themselves upon all parts of transcendental idealism, and seek to penetrate it from every side; but unless they have comprehended the complete series of grounds, and finished the whole extent of that system, they only understand it halfways, or historically. Perhaps they may be attracted by the system, may not find it so very uneven; but they have no decisive judgment respecting it, unless they have fully comprehended it in all its parts.

Add to this the many philosophical presuppositions from which critics start. Unless the critics first agree with us concerning the fundamental principles, we can not dispute with each other. It is only concerning the deductions that discussions may be entered into.

Was it necessary to remark this with reference to a discussion which has arisen concerning a part of a system which can not be understood except as part of a whole? It seems to me this ought to have occurred naturally to all critics. Or is it reasonable to pass judgment upon this one part, picked up out of the whole, without the least knowledge of the premises of that one part, or of the terminology used in its representation, or of the object which is determined by the whole only? Is it fair to place this isolated part into another utterly opposite system, to interpret its language by the meaning of that opposite system, and then—to pass sentence upon it? Or is it fair to complain about indefiniteness, when the simple meaning of the part can not be found, solely because the whole is unknown?

Is it true or not, that the first originators of this discussion had never read any thing from my pen but that single article; much less studied my system? Nay, did they not, in passing judgment upon my system, connect it with utterly different systems? Is it, therefore, to be wondered at, that my system has been so vastly misrepresented? But whose fault is it?

What none of my opponents evidently possesses, and yet what alone is decisive in this matter, is a knowledge of the true essence and tendency of critical or transcendental philosophy. (Both expressions here mean the same; for on this point Kant and the better Kantians surely agree with me.) I must again call to mind this tendency of transcendental philosophy, and would request the philosophical public to give me no occasion to do so again.

There are two very different stand-points of thinking, that of natural and ordinary thinking, from which objects are immediately thought, and that of so-called artificial thinking, from which thinking itself is thought, consciously and purposely. The former stand-point is occupied by ordinary life and science, (materialiter sic dicta;) the latter by transcendental philosophy, which, for that very reason, I have called science of knowledge.

The philosophical systems before Kant did not generally recognize their stand-point truly, and thus wavered between the two. The system of Wolf and Baumgarten, which immediately preceded Kant, placed itself with consciousness, on the stand-point of ordinary thinking, and had no less an object in view than to extend the sphere thereof, and to produce new objects of their ordinary thinking by the power of their syllogisms.

Now, to this system ours is absolutely opposed in this very matter, that ours utterly denies the possibility of producing, by mere thinking, an object valid for life and for (material) science; and that ours permits nothing to pass for real which is not grounded in an internal or external perception. And in this respect, that is, in so far as metaphysics are to be the system of some real knowledge produced by mere thinking, Kant and I utterly deny the possibility of a science of metaphysics. Kant boasts of having utterly eradicated metaphysics; and since as yet not one sensible and comprehensible word has been uttered to save that science, it doubtless has been annihilated for all times to come.

Our system is equally explicit in repudiating all extension of knowledge through mere thinking; and for its part merely proposes to exhaustively represent and comprehend that thinking. In thus thinking that ordinary and only real thinking, which it proposes to comprehend, our philosophical thinking signifies nothing, and has no content whatever; it is only the thinking, which is thought in it, which signifies and has content. Our philosophical thinking is merely the instrument wherewith we construct our work. When the work is finished, the instrument is thrown aside as useless.

We compose before the eyes of our spectators the model of a body from the models of its several parts. You interrupt us in the midst of our labors, and cry out: “Look at that skeleton! Is that a body?” No, my good people, it is not a body, nor is it intended to be one; it is merely to be a skeleton! It is simply because our teaching can be made comprehensible to others alone by thus joining part to part, that we have undertaken the work. If you wait a little, we shall clothe this skeleton with veins, muscles, and skin.

Then, when we are done, you cry again: “Why don’t you let your body move, speak, and its blood circulate? Why don’t you let it live?” You are again in the wrong. We have never pretended to possess this power. Only nature gives life, not art. This we know very well, and believe our system favorably distinguished from other philosophies by knowing it. If we shape any part otherwise than it is in nature, or if we add or leave out any part, then you have a right to complain. It is to this you must see, if you desire understandingly to applaud or reprove.

The living body, which we artistically reconstruct, is common, real consciousness. The gradual composition of its parts are our deductions, which can only proceed step by step. Before the whole system is completed, all our work is but a part of it. Of course, the parts to which the last part is joined must already be completed, or there would be no method in our art; but it is not necessary that they should always be repeated, that we should put them into every book we write. We very properly presuppose a knowledge of those first parts from our former writings, for we can not say every thing at once. You have only to wait for what may follow after this our last part; unless, indeed, you know how to discover it yourself

But even when we shall have completed our whole work, and thus shall have advanced it to a complete representation of all real and common thinking, (we have done this in many regions of consciousness—in law, morality, etc.;[1] but not yet in the region of religion,) it will still be, in the manner in which it occurs in our philosophy, not itself a real thinking, but simply a description and representation of real thinking.

All reality arises for us only through not-philosophising, that is, when either men have never elevated themselves to philosophical abstraction, or when men have again suffered themselves to descend from its height to the mechanism of life, and vice versa, this reality vanishes necessarily as soon as men rise to pure speculation, because then they have torn themselves loose from that mechanism of thinking which reality is based upon. Now, life is object; and speculation is only the means. It is not even means to cultivate life, for speculation lies in an altogether different world, and life can only be influenced by what arises from out of life. Speculation is only means to know life.

That wherein we are bound up, or which we ourselves are, can not be known. To know it, we must go beyond it, take up a stand-point outside of it. This going beyond real life, this outside stand-point is speculation. Only in so far as these two stand-points are possible, it is possible for man to know himself. You may live, and perhaps live very rationally, without speculating, for you can live without knowing life; but you can not know life without speculating.

In short: the duplicity which extends throughout the whole system of reason, and which is grounded in the original duplicity of subject and object, is here seized in its highest form. Life is the totality of the objective rational being; and speculation is the totality of the subjective rational being. One is not possible without the other. Life, as an active surrendering to a mechanism, is not possible without the activity and freedom (otherwise speculation) which surrenders itself; though the latter may not arise to the clear consciousness of every individual; and speculation is not possible without the life from which it abstracts. Both life and speculation are determinable only through each other. Life is most properly not-philosophising; and philosophising is most properly not-life. This is a complete antithesis, and a point of union is here quite as impossible as it is to point out the X, which is the ground of the subject-object of the Ego. The only union is in the consciousness of the true philosopher, that both stand-points do exist for him.

No proposition, therefore, of a philosophy which knows itself, is, in that form, a proposition for real life. It is either a step in the system, to proceed from it to other propositions; or, if it is the final proposition of speculation concerning some particular branch of knowledge, it is a proposition to which perception and sensation must first be added, as comprehended in it, in order to be fit for use in real life. Even the completed system of philosophy can not give you sensation, nor replace it. Sensation is the only true inner principle of life. Kant already has stated this often enough, and it is the innermost soul of his philosophy. Jacobi, quite independent of Kant, nay, believing himself at variance with Kant in this, has also stated it often enough. So has Mendelssohn. I also have said it often enough, and as energetically as possible, ever since the first statements of my system were made public.

My opponents can not, therefore, but have heard it; but they can not get accustomed to it. They may have gotten hold of it as a historical proposition, but not as a rule of their judgments; for in all their judgments they seem to have forgotten it. They are the students of a philosophy which gets hold of new truths by reasonings; and hence, whenever they hear a philosophical proposition, they at once look to see what new truth may have been reasoned out by it.

What, then, is the use of philosophy, and what need is there of all the subtle preparations of that science, when it is confessed that philosophy can say nothing new for life, nay, can not even cultivate and develop life; that philosophy is only a science of knowledge, not a school for wisdom?

It might be sufficient to say, it is at least a possible branch of mental culture which should be developed, even though it had no other use. Being possible, it should also be realized, for man should realize all the possibilities of reason.

But the chief use of philosophy, as has been frequently stated, is negative and critical. What is usually called world-wisdom labors not under the difficulty of containing too little, but too much. The just mentioned reasoned out truths of former metaphysics have been carried into that general culture and mode of thinking; whereas they ought to have been separated therefrom. Transcendental philosophers propose to separate all those reasoned out truths from general culture, and to bring back that culture to its truly human, and hence, necessary and ineradicable basis. This was also all Kant proposed to do.

But indirectly, that is, in so far as its knowledge unites with the knowledge of life, it has also a positive use. Philosophy is pedagogical in the widest significance of this word, for the immediate practical life. Because this science has to teach us to comprehend the whole man, it shows from the highest grounds how men should be cultured, in order to make permanent in them moral and religious sentiments, and gradually to universalize these sentiments.

For theoretical observation, for the knowledge of the sensuous world, that is to say, for natural sciences, philosophy is regulative, showing what we must inquire of nature, and how we have to question her. But its influence on the sentiments of mankind in general consists chiefly in this, that it brings power, courage, and self-confidence in man, by showing him that he and his whole fate depend solely upon himself, or by placing him on his own feet.

And thus a philosophy of religion is by no means the doctrine of religion, still less is it to replace religious sentiment; it is simply the theory of religion, and its object here is also both critical and pedagogical. It proposes to abolish incomprehensible, useless, and confusing doctrines about God, which by those very qualities afford a target for irreligiousness. These it abolishes by showing that they are nothing, and that none of them fit the human mind. It likewise shows how in the human heart religiousness is generated and developed, and thus how mankind can be educated to be religious; not by means of philosophy, which does not influence life, but only teaches a knowledge of it, but by awakening the true supersensual motive-powers of life.

The tendency of a philosophical system of religion can, therefore, not be correctly apprehended until it is completed, until it is an exhaustive picture of the whole sphere of human reason. Only then can it begin to be pedagogical.

I have begun a philosophy of religion[2] in the above meaning of the word, and in no other. But I have not completed that philosophy, having only laid down its basis. To thus complete it will now be my earnest labor, and I hope soon to be able to satisfy the public concerning it.

I said above: Transcendental philosophy proposes to systematically represent the real general knowledge, but it admits as valid only knowledge founded upon perception—rejecting all knowledge produced by argumentation. The reality of its knowledge that philosophy, therefore, always derives from perception; but in so far as it must comprehend the necessity and show the deductions of this knowledge, it does not appeal to facts; for, if it did, it would cease to be transcendental philosophy.

Hence, that philosophy can never come into dispute with common, natural consciousness, since it does not touch that consciousness at all, but moves in an utterly different world. It is only at variance with a new philosophy which pretends to think out new facts; and hence, whatsoever transcendental philosophy may contradict, belongs, since it is not to be found in a system of universal reason, to that new philosophy.

Now, my philosophy of religion is at variance with that new philosophy, partly concerning the origin of religion, which the former holds to be in a sentiment, the latter to be produced by argument; partly concerning the extent and content of religion, which the latter holds to consist of knowledges and doctrines, whilst I hold no such thing.

A great portion of our theology is such very philosophy, and a great portion of our religious educational books (catechisms, hymn-books, etc.) is theology. Hence, I am in conflict with these books, as far as they are theology—not so far as they are religion; in other words, so far as their theoretical content is concerned; the deduction whereof those books happily rarely attempt. My philosophy of religion can, therefore, also enter into no conflict with the religious feelings of man in common life, occupying, as it does, an utterly different sphere. Still, the pedagogical results of my philosophy might lead to such a conflict; but in that case they must first appear, and as yet they have not been established by me.

It is, therefore, absolutely irrational to judge of my system as a system of world-wisdom, and to attack it with world-wisdom. And yet most of my opponents have done this.

Amongst this may be classified all that has been said concerning a Fichteian God, a Jacobian God, a Spinoza God, etc. Fichte, Jacobi, and Spinoza are something different from their philosophy. The philosopher has no God at all, and can have none; he can only have a conception of the conception or of the idea of God. God and religion are only in life; but the philosopher as such is not the whole complete man, but is man in a condition of abstraction; and it is impossible that any one should be only philosopher. Whatsoever is posited through reason is absolutely the same for all rational beings. Religion and belief in God is thus posited through reason, and hence is posited in the same manner for all rational beings. In this respect there are absolutely no many religions, no many Gods; but there is simply one God. Only that in the conception of God, which all must admit and agree to, is the true; but that in their conception of God, (not the conception of the conception of God,) respecting which they disagree, is necessarily false. All are wrong in regard to those points, for the very reason that the points can be disputed. That which can thus be controverted has been derived through argumentation by a false philosophy, or has been memorized from a catechism based on a false philosophy. True religiousness says nothing about it.

Amongst this may also be classified the attempt to oppose my philosophy to Christianity, and to refute the one by the other. True, it has heretofore always been customary for the philosopher to make Christianity harmonize with his philosophy, and for the Christian to make his faith agree with his philosophical thinking; but this only proves that the men who undertook to do this knew neither philosophy nor Christianity. Our philosophy does not dream of such a thing. Christianity is wisdom of life, is popular philosophy in the true and highest sense of the word; and can not be any thing else without losing its rank and sinking down into the sphere of argumentation, and thereby admitting the validity of demonstration, and hence exposing itself to the dispute of philosophical systems. With Christianity as such original wisdom of life, our philosophy can not enter into a conflict; for our philosophy is only theory of that wisdom. Only the results of our philosophy might come into conflict with the results of Christianity; but let me ask, where are these results, and, I might add, where is true Christianity? Has it not in all cases, where it reaches us, passed through the crucible of that argumentative understanding?

Again, it is charged that, according to my system, God is not to be the Creator and Governor of the world, that my system discards a divine Providence! Why, you dear, good unphilosophers! For you the whole distinction, the whole opposition whereby one philosophical system asserts this and another denies it, does not at all exist. If you are really good and religious, continue to take it in the sense in which it is true. I was not addressing you at all, but was speaking to philosophers, who may be assumed to know that distinction, and who yet take those dogmas in the sense in which they are not true. I only wanted to contradict them; and they, at least, ought to have understood me. Wait yet awhile, and I shall get to the other side, and show the purely religious significance of these doctrines. And then I shall show that you are correct, and that I never was quarreling with you.

In short: my philosophy of religion can only be judged, disputed, or confirmed from a transcendental point of view. Let that reader who does not even yet know what the transcendental point of view is be convinced, at least, that he ought not to take part in the dispute[!]

Most assuredly is religion a proper concern for all men, and every one may properly speak and argue about it. It is the destination of man to come to an agreement on this, the final object of reason. But a philosophy of religion is not religion, and is not written for all men, and for the criticisms of all men. Religion itself is living and powerful; the theory of religion is dead in itself Religion fills us with feelings and sentiments; the theory of religion only speaks of them; it neither destroys them nor seeks to create new ones.

The true seat of the misunderstanding of my philosophy, and of its controversy with opposite doctrines, which are more or less conscious of this opposition, is concerning the relation of cognition to actual life. The opposite systems make cognition the principle of life; and believe that by a free, arbitrary thinking they can generate certain knowledges and conceptions, and implant them in men by argumentation, by which conceptions they believe feelings may be produced, desires excited, and thus the activity of man determined. Hence, they hold cognition to be the higher, and life the lower, utterly dependent upon cognition. But my philosophy holds precisely the reverse. It makes life, the system of feelings and of desire, the highest, and allows to cognition only a looking on of their working. This system of feelings is throughout determined in consciousness, and involves an immediate cognition, not derived from conclusions or from a free argumentation. Only this immediate cognition has reality, and is, therefore, alone the moving principle of life, being itself generated in life. Hence, when the reality of a cognition is to be proven through philosophy or through argumentation, a feeling must first be shown up—I shall call it feeling for the present, until I more definitely account for the use of this word—with which this cognition immediately connects. Free argumentation can only penetrate and sift the contents of this feeling, separate and connect the manifold of it, and thus facilitate the use of it, and bring it under the power of consciousness; but argumentation can not increase that content, can not extend or change its sphere. Our cognition is given us at once, for all eternity; and hence we can in all eternity only develop it as it is. Only the immediate is true; the mediated is only true in so far as it is grounded in the immediate; beyond it lies the sphere of chimeras and dreams.

Now, one of the latest defenders of that opposite system, Mr. Eberhard, asks me: “Are not moral feelings dependent upon the culture of reason?” As if there were but one answer to his question, and as if I could not but admit it! It would need more space than I can spare now to show up all the errors which are involved in that simple and plausibly sounding sentence. But let me ask: What does it mean to make feelings dependent upon the culture of reason? It means that you want to produce the above immediate through argumentation, to force upon others and yourself through syllogisms what neither you nor the others originally feel or possess. Well, try and make yourself and others weep and laugh through syllogisms as much as you please.

I, therefore, reply to his question, and adopting his meaning of the word “reason,” by no means! That reason of which you speak is theoretical reason, is the power of cognition! But this reason says only that and how something be; but says nothing of an activity, and of a shall, which determines that activity. (Nothing of a conscience which tells you: You shall do this or that!—Translator.)

Mr. E. proceeds: “Why are moral feelings coarse in the uncultured man, and in the cultured and educated man correct, fine, and extensive? Is it not because the former is empty of conceptions, and the latter rich in correct, clear, and effective conceptions?”

Tell me, what does this mean—coarse[3] feelings? Mr. E. will please pardon me. But according to my conceptions of feeling, the adjective coarse can not be applied to feeling in any manner; and until I have the connection explained, I can not well discuss this part of the subject.

“They are correct in the cultured man!” Here I can at least suppose what Mr. E. means. The judgment concerning an object of morality may be correct or incorrect, but by no means the moral feeling itself, which as a feeling is an absolute simple, and expresses no relation whatever. But what, then, is the criterion of the correctness of a judgment? Perhaps a logical criterion, derived from former premises? It may be that Mr. E. so conceives it. But what, then, is the original premise? Also a logical one? I have not time here to point out all the absurdities.

His feeling is, moreover, “fine.” Now, in popular language, one may well say of a man: His moral tact is fine, that is, he has acquired a facility of quickly and correctly judging moral matters; but it can never be used as signifying: The original and true moral feeling (which, being absolute, can not be increased nor diminished, and which only says, this shall be, or this shall not be!) may be raised to a higher degree of perfection. But this facility of judgment, is it acquired from life or from idle speculation, and is its criterion a theoretical principle, discovered through argumentation? I suppose Mr. E. will say yes; but I do not say yes, from reasons which every one will find in my Science of Morality.

Feeling is, moreover, to be extensive. Now, moral feeling extends to all men equally, and is directed upon all objects of free activity. The man of theoretical culture—for we only speak of such a culture, and not of practical culture through the cultivation of virtue—differs in this respect from the uncultured man only in the extent of his sphere of action, but not as such, not in intensity of moral feeling or strength of moral will, unless, indeed, Mr. E. should prove that theoretical culture can produce and increase moral will. It is true this would be the result of his premises, but we hesitate to hold him responsible for such an assertion, until he confesses it expressly.

Mr. E. proceeds: “Why have the horrors of superstition disfigured the doctrine of morality?” If he really means what he says, his question implies: Why do wrong conclusions follow from wrong premises? But if he means to say: Why have those horrors disfigured morality? then I ask him again: Why has superstition darkened and sullied the conception of God, which sullied conception could not but influence moral judgment, not morality itself? And I answer: Undoubtedly by virtue of a false theoretical argument concerning that conception of God!

Hence, if a weak-minded, superstitious, religious fanatic should assist in burning a heretic, and appeal to his moral feelings for justification, ought we not to restore those moral feelings, or those original conceptions, and free them from the wrong direction given to them by false argumentation? Moral feeling (conscience) is correct, and can never be otherwise than correct, if not led astray by argumentation. Or does Mr. E. seriously mean to say that there is a variety of moral feelings for different individuals, and that amongst these there is, for instance, one which incites to the burning of heretics?

Now, what is that feeling upon which our faith in a Divinity is grounded and shown up as real?

Let me first make a distinction of the word feeling. Feeling is either sensuous—feeling of a bitter, red, hard, cold, etc.—or it is intellectual. Mr. E., and all the philosophers of his school, seem utterly to ignore the latter class, and to be unaware that without the latter class consciousness can not be made comprehensible.

Now, in these pages I am not speaking of sensuous, but of intellectual feeling. It is the immediate feeling of the certainty and necessity of a thinking. Truth is certainty. Now, how do the philosophers of the opposite school believe, to know that they are certain in a particular case? By the general, theoretical insight that their thinking agrees with the laws of logic? But this theoretical insight is itself only a certainty of a higher degree; how can they be certain that they do not err in their certainty of that agreeing? By another still higher theoretical insight? But whence do they get that? And so on ad infinitum. It is just as impossible to obtain certainty in this manner, as it is impossible to explain the feeling of certainty. Moreover, is that certainty an objective or a subjective condition? And how can I perceive such a condition except through an absolutely primary immediate feeling?

But what is this feeling? It is clear that this feeling only accompanies my thinking, and does not enter without a thinking and without a particular content of that thinking. How could it have, indeed, such a content or a truth in itself?

It is, therefore, evident that, if the feeling of certainty is inseparable from a thinking and from the content thereof, and if this thinking contains in itself the condition of all mediated certainty or rationality, all men must agree as to this feeling. It is to be presupposed in every human being, though you might, perhaps, only make a person conscious of it, and not make him acknowledge it theoretically; as, indeed, is impossible, seeing that it is an immediate.

This feeling is, therefore, not only intellectual feeling in general, but it is the first and most original intellectual feeling and ground of all certainty, of all reality, and of all objectivity.

It accompanies the thinking, that in the realization of the absolute object proposed for us by our moral nature, namely, absolute self-determination of reason, there is a steady progress possible; and that the condition of this progress is the absolute fulfillment of our duty in every position of life, solely for duty’s sake. (The absolute obedience to the voice of conscience, or to the voice of absolute reason, or to the voice of God.—Translator.) And this feeling of certainty accompanies such thinking necessarily, being itself an integral part of that object proposed for us; it is, moreover, inseparable from the consciousness that we must propose that object to ourselves; in fact, it is in truth only the immediate expression of this consciousness.

Let us analyze further what this may involve:

I think: it is possible that reason does constantly approach and get nearer its ultimate object. This might, perhaps, be regarded as an arbitrary thinking, a mere problematical positing, which has no other advantage than its own possibility. But as such it must not be viewed. This thinking shows itself up to be, in a certain connection, as a necessary thinking, without which consciousness would not be possible; and hence, that which results from this thinking by logical necessity, that is, by mediation, is equally necessary.

Now, if I posit in my acting an object, then I also posit that object as realized in some future time. This is a necessary, logical sequence. But, viewing the matter simply in its logical sequence, I might as well turn that sentence around and reverse its relation. This has often been done in the following statement: it shall and can not propose to myself the final object of morality, unless I am already convinced that it can be realized in some future time. But then, again, I might say, I can not be convinced that it is capable of being realized unless I first simply propose it to myself. But why shall I propose it to myself at all?

In short, in the mere logical relation each is certain only under condition, and not in itself. Each link refers us to the other, but the original certainty of that consciousness is not explained.

This certainty can, therefore, only live in the immediateness of a feeling, and in this feeling these two links are originally one in this manner: I shall absolutely posit that moral object for myself, and shall consider it as possible of realization; I shall consider it possible of realization, and hence posit it. Neither is, in truth, the sequence of the other, but both are one. It is one thought, not two thoughts; and it is true and certain, not by virtue of a thinking which draws that conclusion, but by virtue of a necessity which I only feel.

Since, therefore, certainty is only immediate and feelable, it can not be demonstrated to any one, but can certainly be presupposed in every one, since those who have it, and who, moreover, reflect concerning the connection of human knowledge, must recognize that every other knowledge is only grounded upon it, and that every one, who knows any thing with certainty, has started from that knowledge, although, perhaps, unconsciously.

Remark this: you do not require any one to produce this knowledge, but simply to find it in himself. Every mediated certainty presupposes an original certainty. In the consciousness of every one, who is convinced of any thing at all, that certainty exists also; and every one can arise to that certainty from any conditioned and mediated knowledge.

I may here allude to another misunderstanding of my system. It is charged that, in my system, faith in God exists only for the moral, not for the immoral man. This is very correct when it means that faith is true only for man, in so far as he is moral; but not when it is interpreted that faith exists only for those men who are moral.

For where, then, is the personified, absolute immorality? It is an impossibility. Man can only be, and be self-conscious, in so far as he stands on the field of reason. Without any morality man is but an animal, but a product of organization, even in his theoretical knowledge.

This, then, is our result: Absolute certainty and conviction (not mere meaning, opinioning, and wishing) of the possibility—not to determine one’s self, that is, one’s will by the conception of duty, for this we recognize as possible by doing it, but—to promote the object of reason by thus determining our will through the conviction of duty, even beyond our will, is the immediate of religion, and is grounded in the soul of man in the manner we have shown.

Here I must insert a remark concerning the use of language which I can no longer postpone without making myself ambiguous, and exposing myself again to old objections.

The word being signifies always immediately an object of thinking, a thought. Now, either to this word is also applied the predicate of an existence, a permanent and lasting, in sensuous perception outside of thinking, and in that case it signifies real being, and when applied to an object means, that object is—or to that word is applied no other predicate of being, but its thinking—and, in that case, the significance of such being is purely logical; and the word is only signifies the logical copula in which the manifold of predicates is fixed by thinking in a unity of the logical subject. In that case, you can not say of an object “it is,” but it is to be thought as this or that. There are further distinctions to be made here, of which I shall speak afterward.

There are other words related to the expression “being,” which have also these two significations: The word “principle,” for instance, which I have used, signifies, in a system of real being, a first, from which I can calculate a second and third, even without sensuous perception and with categorical certainty, thereby anticipating experience. But in this sense of the word the intelligible principle, freedom, is never principle of a real cognition, is never ground of an explanation and anticipation, that is, you can not foresee what will become actual through freedom. We only know through perception what is actual; and for the very reason that we do not recognize the product of freedom as a link of a comprehensible chain of causes and effects—it being an absolute first, and partially cognizable only in perception—do we say, freedom is a principle. Not principle in the actual sense, as ground of an immediate and necessary factical determinedness, but in the logical sense, as principle of possibilities.

It is the same with the word law. In the sensuous world law signifies that determination of power from which, as principle, the consequences can be deduced in the manner just stated. But when applied to the finite beings—who are free in the empirical sense of the word, that is, who are thought as simply determinable, and not determined—the word law means a shall, a categorical imperative, that is, a determinedness of freedom through freedom, and, therefore, no mechanical, no immediate determinedness. But when applied to the infinite, or to reason, κατ' έξοχήν—to which the empirical freedom just now mentioned can not be ascribed, as itself the result of finity—the word law signifies simply the necessity to always expect from that reason a determined content, determined (not materialiter, for in so far it is absolutely unknown to us, and, a priori, not to be deduced, but) formaliter, or determined through its object, the ultimate object of reason—to expect from it always an infinite, inexhaustible content of freedom for all rational individuals; [4] although no existing determinedness can be shown up from which it might mechanically result, since we are here not in the sphere of the objective, but at the absolute ideal source of spirit. The word law has, therefore, here also no actual significance from which external and necessary results might be derived, but only logical significance, as gathering together that infinite content of freedom of the individuals into one conception.

It is the same with the word world. In its actual significance it means a finished whole of existing objects, in a reciprocal determination of their being, each of which being what it is, because all others are what they are, and vice versa; a whole, wherein, with a perfect knowledge of the laws of the world, we could determine the nature of each particular from that of all others. When applied to rational beings, that word signifies also, it is true, a totality, an influence of all upon each one, and of each one upon all; but not an influence which can be determined in advance, as it can be in nature, because in the world of rational beings this influence has its ground in being. Hence, the word world has here also only a logical, not an actual, significance.

The expression, order of a supersensuous world, has also been used; nay, I have often used it myself. But this expression is misapprehended, when it is understood as if the supersensuous world were before it had order, and as if order were thus but an accidence of that world. On the contrary, that world only becomes a world by being ordered.

Hence, whenever the purely intelligible is spoken of, all these and similar conceptions, that is, all conceptions which are derived from being and only determine it further, are used only in their logical, not in their actual significance.

I state this to put an end to a reproof frequently made, that I make use of the same words which I condemn in others; but I must use them to make myself understood, and I must take them from language in their accepted significance. But I use them in another sense than my opponent uses them, as ought to be evident from the deduction of the conceptions which they designate.

In stating our final result, we have stated the manner in which only the philosopher views religion; not exactly as a transcendental philosopher, but generally as an abstract thinker, precisely as he seizes also the conceptions of duty, morality, etc., only in their abstraction. The command of duty can never appear in its generality to man in actual life, but only in concrete determinations of the will. In so far as a man truly and always determines his will by that command of duty, (conscience,) he is a moral man, and acts morally.

In the same way religion never appears to man in actual life in general, but only in so far as in each special case, when he determines his will by conscience, he is firmly convinced (and this conviction is a result of that determination) that what he so wills and does is also outside of his individual will, absolute object of universal reason; that it will occur and must occur simply because it is involved in that absolute object of reason, and that his individual will, in determining itself by the command of duty, is but the tool of that absolute object. Only in having this conviction is man religious. Hence the man who, in all the conditions of his life, acts and thinks in so acting, “I thereby promote that which shall be, that is, the absolute object of reason,” is a perfectly virtuous and religious man, even though he might stop at that simple thought and never combine the manifold of what shall be into the unity of absolute reason.

But even the ordinary acting of life compels men to unite the similar of their experience, and thus to shape general rules out of general conceptions. As soon as this is done in any region of knowledge, it is done in all its regions, and hence certainly in the region of religion and morality, if morality and religion are dear to men.

But it is not necessary that they should rise to the highest abstraction, to a conception which unites all others of the same kind, and from the unity of which all others may be derived; for this would require a systematic, philosophical thinking. As a general rule, men are content to reduce the manifold to several forms and fundamental conceptions.

The basis of religious faith was the conviction of an order or a law, by virtue of which from obedience to the command of duty must certainly result the absolute object of reason, and hence the actual attainment and realization of which each individual in his moral acts can but strive to attain.

Let us analyze what is contained in this conviction: Firstly, that which exclusively and absolutely depends upon my own will, namely, to determine it by the voice of duty. Secondly, the religious faith that in thus determining my will something is achieved which lies beyond the province of my individual moral will.

The second is connected with the first by religious faith. The moral sentiment is completed in the first, but we shall soon see that it can only arrive at a rational and confident assertion in the second; and that thus morality can only be confidently realized in religion. It is therefore an unjust reproach to say that our theory utterly cancels religion and leaves it but its name, replacing it by morality.

Indeed, I can not will, except, by the law of my finity, (I must always will a determined, limited somewhat,) that is, except I divide my in itself infinite will into a series of finite will-determinations. Hence, in the demand that I should will as duty commands, is also involved the demand that I should will a determined somewhat. That this determining of the will through the voice of conscience (not through argumentation as regarding the possible result of my will) can never deceive is known through faith, is known immediately, not mediately, through argumentation. Here, therefore, is the first connecting link between pure morality and religion.

From that determination of the will an act results, and from this act, again, other consequences result in the world of rational beings; for I see only this world, the sensuous world being simply a means for me—consequences which I can neither foresee nor calculate. In fact, these consequences are no longer in my control, and yet I have faith that they are good and conformable to the absolute object of reason. And this faith I hold with the same original certainty which impelled me to the first act; nay, I could even not act unless this faith always accompanied me. Now, this is religion. I believe in a principle by virtue of which every determination of the will through duty assuredly effects the promotion of the object of reason in the universal connection of things. But this principle is utterly incomprehensible in regard to the mode and manner of its working; and yet it is absolutely posited with the same originality of faith which pertains to the voice of conscience. Both are not one, but both are absolutely inseparable.

Let us proceed with our analysis. The determination of the will is always only the present, and contains what depends upon us alone. But for its own possibility it is at the same time accompanied by the presupposition of a something past, and by the postulate, that a future something, modified by it, will be its result.

It is accompanied by a presupposition. Not the fact that I have a duty by which to determine my will, for that is the result of pure reason; but the fact that I have this determined duty as mine is the result of my position in the whole world of reason. Did I not exist or were I another, which, of course, is an absurdity, or were I existing in another community of rational beings, then such a determined duty would not enter at all as mine. But, occupying the position I do, I am bound to act according to the voice of my conscience; and this I can not do without presupposing at the same time that this very position of mine is taken into the account of the ultimate object of reason, and is the result of the causality of that absolute principle. Hence, the faith in my conscience involves also the faith that the world of reason, which must be presupposed for the acts of all individuals, is equally produced and ordered by that principle. Expressing this popularly, or illustrating it by the analogies of our finite consciousness, it means: the world of reason is created, maintained, and governed by that absolute principle. It is accompanied by a postulate, that is, by the postulate of a future something, which is the continued causality of that determination of our will to promote the final object of reason, and hence the maintenance and equable development of all rational beings in the identity of their self-consciousness; everlasting progress of all toward the ultimate object of reason. All rational beings must, therefore, be maintained in their eternal existence, and their fates directed toward blessedness, that is, toward their liberation through pure morality.

It is clear that we here think only acts, events, a flow of action, but no being, no dead permanency; a creating, maintaining, governing, but by no means a creator, maintainer, governor. The faith we have spoken of does not enter upon these theoretical questions. It rests upon its own basis with firm conviction, and there is not the least ground for going beyond it.

The confession of faith now reads as follows: I, and all rational beings, and our relations to each other, in so far as we do distinguish ourselves, are created by a free and intelligent principle, which maintains them and leads them toward an ultimate object; and whatsoever does not depend upon our action to realize that object is done without our interference by that world-governing principle itself.

Still, the principle of which those many predicates are asserted is to be but one. I can not, by the laws of my thinking, proceed from one of these predicates to the other, without presupposing a permanent substrate to which these predicates belong, or without generating that substrate by this my very thinking. I do not, however, look upon this substrate as my production, for the simple reason that I produce it necessarily by virtue of the laws of my thinking. Now, this thinking of the one principle which unites the manifoldness and the distinction of the predicates is itself the permanent; and hence, we have in the one act two determinations which always accompany each other as opposites, but each of which is only through the other, and which only in this opposition form the act of thinking; namely, one thinking which is always the same, that of the unity of the principle; and one flowing and changeable thinking, that which proceeds from the one predicate of the principle to its other predicates. These predicates have arisen in me immediately together with my moral resolve, and with the original certainty which accompanies that resolve. But the oneness of the principle arises in me only when, by abstracting from that moral requirement which contents itself with the certainty of the predicates, I proceed to reflect upon the separation of those predicates from their moral relation.

The oneness I get merely by mediation; the predicates themselves I have immediately.

The only fitting parallel to that immediateness and mediating thinking is furnished by the thinking of our soul, (mind, or what you will call it.) My feeling, desires, thinking, willing, etc., I know of immediately by accomplishing those acts. They come into my consciousness by no act of mediation, but only by my positing them, by my being in them; they are the immediate κατ' έξοχήν. So long as I remain in this consciousness, as I am wholly practical, wholly life and deed, I only know my feeling, desiring, willing, etc., as they occur one after the other, but I do not expressly know myself as the unity and as the principle of these various determinations. It is only when I elevate myself above the reality of these distinctive acts, and, abstracting from their difference, gather them together in me only in their commonness, that the consciousness of the unity arises in me as the principle of these manifold determinations; and this product of our abstracting and comprehending thinking is what we call our soul, mind, etc.

Now, if I am but ripe for that abstraction, that is, if I take it from out myself, and do not accept it traditionally, then that one principle can only be thought as a for itself existing and working principle, but not as a mere quality or predicate, inherent to some substance or another. It will, therefore, have to be described not as spirituality pertaining to some substance, which, being not spirit itself, could thus only be thought as matter, but as pure spirit; not as a substantiated world-soul, but as a pure, for itself existing being; not as a creating, maintaining, and governing, but as creator, maintainer, and governor. And this very properly and in accordance with the laws of our thinking, if we are once resolved to rise from the immediateness of life and activity to the field of theoretical abstraction.

Let it not be forgotten both conceptions have arisen only through thinking and through an abstract, not through a necessary or concrete, thinking. They are, therefore, not related to perception, but are only logical subject. They are by no means real subject, or substance.

Only the predicates of both conceptions occur in perception, and hence contain a necessary, real thinking, that is, in sensuous perception various predicates occur in a sensuous, objective connection; and in this respect it may be said that the subject or substrate of these sensuous predicates belongs to the realm of real thinking. But this can not be said with reference to those supersensuous subjects, the soul or the creative spiritual principle.

What, then, may these conceptions involve? Evidently nothing but the predicates of the perception, from which they have arisen by an abstracting thinking. Thy soul is nothing but thy thinking, feeling, etc. God is nothing but the creating, governing, etc.

You may draw conclusions from the conception of the real substance, but never from that of the logical subject. Through the former our knowledge may be expanded, not through the latter. If something is real substance, it comes under the conditions of sensuous perception; is somewhere and at some time, is accompanied by sensuous predicates. But none of these determinations can be applied to these conceptions.

Even the conception of pure spirit can not assist in such further conclusions. Even the determinations, borrowed from our soul, do not suit that conception. We ascribe them to our soul, not through mediating thinking, but through immediate consciousness. But concerning God immediate (moral) consciousness says only what has been stated. And to draw conclusions from this beyond it, we have no ground, and there is no possibility to do it.

What I have here stated is transcendental philosophy, not life-philosophy. From it the regulatives for the construction of a life-wisdom must first be deduced. Only that which proceeds from life has a retroactive effect on life—mode of thinking, of acting, etc. Life gives birth only to the immediate faith I have mentioned; but not to the logical subject, and its erroneous further determinations.

That immediate faith is, therefore, to be preeminently cultivated, and held as the main thing. The logical part will come of itself, and is correct, proper, and not dangerous only in so far as it thus forms itself of itself. That faith, however, is not to be cultivated by argumentation, but by practice in life and moral development.

Only through the culture of this immediate faith do men arise to religious faith, though they may not know it; for it alone is the true and universally valid origin of the religious faith. This, of course, is only proved by the investigations of a thorough transcendental philosophy.

The pedagogical rules for a religious education of the people are, therefore, as follows:

Religious culture can not be begun by teaching religion; for religion without morality is utterly incomprehensible; and, since people try at least to comprehend it, leads to superstition. It can only begin in a culture of the heart, and ingrafting in it pure virtue and morality.

Through virtuous sentiments religion creates itself; and all the teacher needs to do is to call attention to this faith of religion, which accompanies all moral consciousness, and neither needs proof, nor is capable of proof, because it announces itself as the most original part of our being. Religious culture, indeed, must not be regarded as something which is to be placed into a man—for whatever thereof you place into him is surely false—but as something, which is already in him, and needs only to be developed, of which he is only to be reminded.

Hence, there is to be no teaching of religion at all, but merely a developing of that original, religious consciousness.

But least of all should such teaching begin with pretended doctrines of the existence of God. We are only immediately aware of his relations to us, and you must begin with these. The “existence” will then come of itself, and will be truly believed only when it has thus developed itself.

Nor is the being of God to be determined, characterized, and its specific mode of existence to be pointed out; for this our thinking can not do, as we have abundantly shown. We are only to speak of his acts, and to vivify, strengthen, and keep in consciousness always the faith in them. The conception of God can not be determined by categories of existence, but only by predicates of an activity.


  1. Fichte had already completed a science of rights and science of morality; a science of religion [Philosophy of Religion] he purposely abstained from for years.—Translator’s Note.
  2. Alluding to the article: “Concerning the Ground of our Faith in a Divine World-Government.”
  3. Original: Rau, (raw.)
  4. Or, in other words, the necessity to expect from infinite reason that it should ever manifest itself in the conscience of all individuals, and thus render them free, moral beings, or at least furnish them the content of that freedom.—Translator’s Note.

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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.