Amazing articles on just about every subject...

World's Great Philosophers:

 Hobbes And Locke


 Berkeley And Hume

 The Germans





 Read More Articles About: World's Great Philosophers

The Germans

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Kant's precise position in philosophy has been variously estimated, but all who have written of him have given him credit for being one of the most profound minds that has ever been produced by the human race. He has excited universal admiration. Probably every critique that has been written on philosophic topics has exalted Kant in words of the highest praise. When we regard the German thinker from a purely metaphysical point of view we must admit that few men have thought more deeply or have dived down more profoundly into consciousness and its substrata than has the sage of Königsberg.

But while this is true it is also true that Kant speculated upon subjects that were far remote from meta-physics. The range of his thought covered all being, and whatever may be the intricacies or the fallacies of his logic or its conclusions with regard to the truth, there can be no question that he saw nature in a clearer light than most of the men who had preceded him.

It is hard to say whether the great German finds more admirers among those who can see in metaphysics much that is to be regarded with value, or among those late comers who, thrusting metaphysics aside as being perfectly useless, as an organ of investigation, confine their attention altogether to those matters with which pure physical science deals. No one would accuse Professor Ernest Haeckel, the author of the "History of Creation," of being in any manner whatever inclined toward metaphysical speculation, and yet doubtless Kant will find few admirers more earnest than the Jena biologist.

In the work already alluded to, Professor Haeckel calls attention to the fact that Kant's was one of the first minds that thought out a complete theory, at least in general, of what might be termed the doctrine of descent. Of course the passages in Kant's works, in which he treats of this subject, are limited as compared with the volume of matter which he has written concerning other subjects; at the same time he said enough to adumbrate the theory of descent as it is now believed in by those who contend that the Darwinian theory of natural selection is true.

Kant's arguments in favor of the descent of all creatures living at present from one, two, or three primary forms of life are as well worked out as are those of any of the great naturalists who came after him. He gave us very good reasons why we should believe that not only all animals but man also might have been descended from some common ancestors. In fact, he goes into the subject with a carefulness and a caution that mark him in almost all of his writings. He leads his reader to believe at first that he is firmly convinced that the so-called monistic theory is the true one; that all the living animals we now see are closely related to each other in blood; that they are all derived from one, or at least a few, ancient ancestors; that the universe is governed by inexorable laws, and, going further, that all life itself may be derived from one great primordial source.

The theory of evolution is clearly indicated in the passages of Kant's works to which we have referred. Yet it seems odd that although this great theory, which has challenged admiration in all ages of thought, and to which are now devoted the brightest and best informed minds in scientific inquiry, presented itself to Kant's mind with a force which certainly must have moved him, the only conclusion to which he arrived was the simple rejection of it.

Among all the metaphysicians there is no more convinced theist than the originator of the Categories. In-deed, Kant seems to have bent his whole energy, to have brought all the ingenious and marvelous power of his intellect to bear upon the one problem of proving the existence of a, God. It has been well remarked that Kant invented his philosophy for the sole purpose of demonstrating that there is Deity. This fact will help us largely to understand his rejection of the theory of filiation, or descent, because he could not satisfy his mind that that theory could be true and yet at the same- time that a Creator or a God could exist. To-day the theory of evolution is not at all considered irreconcilable with the theory of a creative Deity. In fact there are those who contend that evolution itself may be used as à proof of the existence of some moving, creating, ruling, supreme power; but calm judgment of the German philosopher's speculations on these subjects will lead us inevitably to believe that in his own mind such a reconciliation was impossible.

Kant therefore rejects the mechanical or monistic theory to account for the existence of the world and of things, and replaces it with a theistic theory.

We have already said that Kant himself admitted that it was the reading of Hume's Works which roused him from his dogmatic slumbers. There is no doubt that this is perfectly true, for Kant's whole effort was directed toward proving that the English philosopher was wrong. It is said, and possibly wisely, that Kant did not originate a system. Those who say that the great German was an idealist have evidently not understood his position. It is true that the German idealists all spring from Kant; but there is no more reason to believe that Kant himself was an idealist than there is reason to believe that Socrates was a Cynic, a Skeptic, a Stoic, an Academician, or a Peripatetic; for, as the reader already knows, all these divergent schools, with their different, nay, even in some cases antithetic tenets, sprang from the orator of the Agora.

Whatever Kant might have been he was certainly not an idealist. He believed in the existence of matter, and he believed in the existence of mind, and, as if to prophetically protest against the charge of idealism, he repudiated in unmistakable words, the theory of Fichte, which, as was understood, was derived from his teachings, and this in Fichte's own life, when Fichte was supposed to have been the most brilliant pupil of Kant him-self.

Fichte, who sat at Kant's feet, proclaimed an idealism that is inscrutable to the ordinary mind or even to the extraordinary mind. Schelling and Hegel, who came after, developed this idealism until we find it in the total non-understandable and unknowable Absolute of the last named philosopher. The difficulty has been this; that Kant wrote in most involved style, touched upon subjects which were not at all germane to the leading concept of his thought, threw out lines of speculation into sciences which had nothing whatever to do with the Criticism which he proposed as the only true method of philosophizing, and in many other ways presented to his readers such a complicated mass of matter that he is one of the most difficult of writers upon meta-physical subjects to understand. Those who speak of Kant as a dreamer or a mystic have either not understood the German's thought or certainly do not know the meaning of the words they use.

Kant looked over all the systems of thought which were presented to his view, but none of them could satisfy his mind. It was only when he came into contact with the supreme skepticism of Hume that he was "roused," as he tells us, from his dogmatic slumbers. On the ruins which Hume had left of the philosophical and metaphysical studies that had been proposed up to his time, Kant suggested to himself the tremendous task of uprearing some structure of certainty and some sure basis of knowledge. In this position the question which thrust itself most forwardly upon his mind was the same question which had thrust itself upon all minds that had approached the problems of ontology from the same direction. That question was a question of Method. How was he to do it? Many methods were open for consideration. Of course, as Hume was the only metaphysician who had attempted to use the Baconian method as applied to philosophy, and as it was Kant's purpose to destroy Hume, it is not to be regarded as surprising that Kant should have rejected the Baconian method which Hume himself had used. Herein we find reason for giving to the mind of Kant all that praise which has been bestowed upon him since he first published his Criticism of the Pure Reason. We mean by this that Kant saw at a glance that Hume had exhausted the Baconian method so far as it could be applied to metaphysics; and that if the Baconian method was to be used in metaphysics at all, no conclusions other than those to which Hume came could possibly be drawn.

Therefore, we find that the very first matter with which Kant concerns himself is a matter of Method. How shall we approach this subject? he asks. The method which Hume adopted is evidently useless for the purpose for the reason that by its use Hume has landed himself in a maze of hopeless skepticism. We will there-fore try what may be done with the method of criticism. Thus the Criticism of the Pure Reason, or, as its title is more popularly known, the Critique of Pure Rea-son, constitutes the rock of the Kantian metaphysics; but, after all, this rock is only a Method as the title of the work implies. It seeks a way of resolving the origin and abstract validity of the principles of knowledge, but not the application of those principles to the knowledge of nature. Such an application of the critical method had yet to be applied, and this application Kant provided in 1786 in his Metaphysical Elements of Physics, supplementary to which were many minor publications on subjects of physics, philosophy, or history, and the science of races, or ethnology.

In 1788 Kant produced the second part of his great philosophical work, the Critique of Practical Reason. In this he develops his morality, which is really, after all, the central motive of his work. In 1785, he published his Groundwork of Ethics, and in 1790, his Critique of Judgment. Before the publications of the last three critiques the thought of Kant had already produced a tremendous impression in Germany, and had not only revolutionized German thought, but had also given it an impulse which was to carry it to an extent undreamed of before the appearance of Kant upon the scene. But not only in Germany was the Kantian philosophy taken up, defended, developed, and taught. This influence spread over the whole Continent, and the Königsberg professor found in England ardent adherents of his doctrines.

Any adequate exposition of the philosophy of Kant is manifestly impossible within the narrow limits of this work. For the ordinary reader we may well say that the metaphysics of Kant is utterly caviar; but apart from his very great importance as a philosopher and the tremendous influence his mind exerted not only upon the age in which he lived but which was also to descend to generations to come long after him, Kant was a most interesting personality. He has been well ranked with Descartes, Leibnitz, Locke, Hume, Spinoza, and the greatest of the metaphysicians who lived about that time.

He was born in April, 1724, at Königsberg, a city of German-Prussia. About the town was a flat, feature-less country, cold, damp, and foggy, and in the heart of the town rose an ancient university. His early days were spent in solitude and in deep thought. His later days as professor of logic and metaphysics in the university where he was educated.

It is said that this, one of the deepest thinkers of any age, never traveled farther than forty miles from the spot where he was born. It may interest those who regard Hume, Reid, Stewart, and Hamilton as among the brilliant minds in the history of philosophy, that the originator of the critical method was a Scotchman by descent. The name was originally spelled Cant, and his grandfather was a full-blooded Scotchman, who settled in Germany. The father of Kant himself was John George Kant, an humble saddler in the city where the philosopher was born. The University of Edinburgh in the time of Charles II had a president whose name was Cant, and in the reign of the same monarch, a preacher of that name was equally celebrated for his zeal and fire. Thus Presbyterians can justly claim that the prime philosopher of Germany had some of the old Covenanter spirit in his soul.

The future philosopher was the fourth child of a very large family, of whom none achieved fame except himself. His parents were deeply religious, and determined that the life of Immanuel should be devoted to theology and to preaching. His boyhood education was received in Frederick's Gymnasium at Königsberg under a distinguished evangelical minister of the city. As a student in the Academy his favorite authors were Horace and Virgil. It was in this gymnasium that young Immanuel became acquainted with Ruhnken, who afterward achieved a celebrated reputation. as a philologist.

Kant did never forego his love of the classics, and it was said that he derived much pleasure from reading the Roman poets throughout his life. At sixteen he entered the university as a student of theology, and had the pleasure of studying under Dr. Schultz, who had been his teacher in the Academy. As a collegian he showed great fondness for mathematics and the physical sciences, but did not for a long time turn his attention to metaphysics. Indeed, the gain of Kant for meta-physics has been the loss of physics. We have already called attention to his profound speculations as to the theory of descent, but Kant originated also a theory of physical science, which is to-day considered one of the grandest generalizations of the human mind. That theory is more familiarly known by the name of nebular hypothesis or nebular theory, and the credit for its origination is usually given to Laplace, the distinguished French astronomer.

It is true that Laplace, with his intimate knowledge of the structure of the solar system, was able to elaborate the theory in more detail and present it with more plausibility than was the cruder mind of the German. At the same time if any man is to be given praise for having thought of the theory first, that praise belongs to Immanuel Kant. Kant did not reject the nebular theory after he had thought it out, as he did the theory of filiation, presuming, perhaps, that the nebular theory would not be in conflict with his theological contentions. It has been said that this theory is, after all, as much of a "guess" now as it was in the time of Laplace or of Kant, but aside from the merits of this question, there is no doubt that the generalization which is known as the nebular hypothesis is one of the boldest and most beautiful conceptions based upon the observation of natural phenomena.

It is difficult to imagine the ponderous intellect of a Kant preparing a sermon to preach to common people, to the friends of his father's humble family, and to persons whom he had known as boys and girls in his own child-hood, yet this is precisely what he did. Even as a theological student he gave sermons in the churches about the neighboring country, but it is not odd that the philosopher found little success as an exhorter or a pulpit orator. In fact, ecclesiastical life was anything but to his liking, the more so that it would seem that his mind was disturbed by certain theological notions which were not precisely in line with the leading doctrine of his creed. Once having come into this state of mind he promptly abandoned all of his preparatory work for a theological career, and decided that he would there-after devote himself solely to teaching in the university and to philosophy.

In 1745 Kant's father died, and he was compelled to face the problem of earning a living. He solved it by taking the position as a tutor in a private family. For nine years the philosopher lived in this capacity, teaching elementary studies to boys and girls, and earning a poor pittance upon which to support himself. This, for those who admire Kant, may always be regarded with pleasure, for it was while he was engaged in the simple duties thus involved that his mind busied itself within the speculations out of which was to emerge his system.

He was writing even, and in 1747, almost at the beginning of this phase of his life, he brought out his first work, Thoughts on the True Measure of Living Forces, which is an able examination of the teachings of Leibnitz. In 1755 he entered the university and took up the position of privat-docent, at the same time pre-paring himself for his degree of doctor of philosophy. That degree he won easily with two theses, one on physics and the other on metaphysics, but in neither of them did he indicate aught of the original thought which he was to evolve.

He was a humble lecturer for fifteen years in the university; in the very first of which he published his Theory of the Heavens, a work in which he outlines a development of the solar system on the principle of gravitation laid down by Newton. In this he predicted the discovery of additional planets, which were afterward actually discovered, and are now known by the names of Uranus and Neptune.

The French astronomer, Lambert, was so struck with the work that he sought out the anonymous author, who, by the way, had dedicated the book to Frederick the Great, and astronomer and metaphysician were thereby led to a delightful correspondence. Herschel likewise recognized the genius of Kant in astronomical speculations.

It was not until 1762 that Kant made his appearance as a logician with his treatise on the False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures. During the fifteen years of his university teaching he produced a great quantity of literature, all of which was interesting, and' all of which was well received and made a good impression. Given the opportunity of taking the chair of poetry in 1764 at Königsberg, he declined it, but accepted the position of librarian to the Royal Library, to which was attached a small salary. In 1770 he was elected to the chair of logic and metaphysics at Königsberg, which had been the ambition of his life, and for which he had declined offers from Erlangen and Jena. This chair Kant occupied for twenty-seven years.

Kant's life as an author did not close with his critiques. Physics, history, politics, and anthropology were discussed in various articles and treatises in the interval between 1790 and his death in 1804, but the most capable works of this closing period are those which relate to natural theology and to the theory of religion. The first part of his work, Religion within the Bounds of Pure Reason, was published in 1792. The novelty of the views presented in the treatise created much adverse comment and occasioned a collision on matters of theology between Kant and the Prussian Government. The latter in condemning the opinions of the author for-bade the remainder of the work to be published, however. This was not a last resort, for some of the German universities had a right of appellate jurisdiction in cases of this peculiar kind. Kant took advantage of his opportunity to appeal, and referred the case to the theological faculty of his own school.

It is not to be wondered at that the university which he had already so richly endowed with his genius and tremendous intellect decided in his favor, and the remainder of the whole work appeared in 1793.

The purpose of this book is to represent the moral and spiritual part of Christianity as an element independent of the history and metaphysical doctrines with which it is associated, and thus permanently to reconcile with reason all essential religious belief or feeling by placing this last above the advantages and chances of historical controversy. Kant did not deny the fact of a miraculous revelation. He confines himself to the discussion of its possibility, at the same time calling attention to the fact that the only final and positive proof of its truth must lie in the harmony of its content with reason and conscience.

The controversy was, on the whole, unfortunate for the celebrated author, for it attracted to him the displeasure of the King, who demanded from him a pledge that he would refrain in future from lecturing or writing on questions of theology, a pledge which he observed until the death of the monarch in 1797, which event he considered as having set him free from his promises. He then reverted to his theory of religion, but with no good effects to his peace of mind, for he was ever after more or less troubled with the perturbation of spirit which the acerbity and asperity of the conflict had produced within him.

In 1797 he withdrew altogether from the society of men and resigned his position in his beloved university, with which he had been connected either as instructor or professor since 1755. His life was now one of retirement and easy living. He refrained from much writing, and, in fact, one of his last efforts as an author was a criticism of his new and zealous pupil, Fichte, whose system, popularly supposed to have been founded upon Kant's philosophy, and possibly believed by Fichte himself to be an outgrowth of his master's system, was already rising in fame.

About this time the old professor's mind and body began to feel the weight of their years, his memory began to fail him, and he suffered much from restlessness, irritation, and insomnia. He died on the 12th of February, 18o4, within a few weeks of his eightieth year. His body was buried in the academic vault of Königsberg, and the whole faculty of the University and all of its students, together with a great crowd of visitors from all parts of Prussia, were present at the interment.

Kant was never married. He lived a life of regularity necessary for the fulfillment of the vast work which he did vast in consideration of his rather weak physique. He was small and thin, and his constitution was feeble, but he never neglected his health, never indulged in any dissipations of any kind or overtaxed his strength in any manner, and during the eighty years of his restlessly industrious life, he was never ill for a single hour. The habits which he formed in his youth he clung to in his middle life and in his old age.

He was accustomed to wake up every morning in the year at a quarter before five; very soon after that he break-fasted. He then read and meditated until seven o'clock, and then went to his lecture. His habits of lecturing were for the most part extemporaneous, using here and there a few jottings written on slips of paper or on the backs of envelopes. These lectures were the most celebrated that were then being delivered in Europe, for although Kant's books are ponderous reading and are written in a most involved style, difficult to understand, his lectures were smooth, flowing, easy, consistent, and simple, and were readily understood and appreciated by men of ordinary intellect or culture.

After his lecture he retired to his study, where he remained until one o'clock in the afternoon. At that hour he dined and almost invariably had some congenial friends to join with him, among whom were to be found young students who might be brilliant, physicians, professors, merchants, ecclesiastics and foreigners who, coming to Königsberg, and, having heard of the fame of its wonderful metaphysician, had some desire to meet him.

On such occasions as these Kant was by no means the philosopher, but the congenial friend. He positively for-bade discussions of metaphysics at his table, but loved to talk politics, science, new discoveries in physics, astronomy, and such other subjects as would make an interesting and agreeable topic, while at the same time an intelligible one to the heterogeneous company that assembled at his board.

He was not niggardly with his time when his dinner began, and he loved to sit for hours after the meal had been finished talking with his friends. When the day was far spent he pre. pared himself for a solitary walk. He took it alone, and no change of weather or season, foul or fair, ever stopped him. On his return he read news-papers, and this part of the day he usually loved to devote to the discussion of politics and contemporaneous history with the people whom he met. The evening until ten o'clock was given to meditation and then to light reading, by which he invited sleep. This is a daily account of the life of the author of the famous Critiques.

Kant was not much of a reader. His collection of books was said to have been very small. He liked to do his own thinking, and it was possible the deep lesson which he learned from Hume that there was little to be found in books that was worth knowing, lasted him throughout his life. He lived in the simplest style. The furniture of his house was commonplace, and his dress was plain, but always clean. There is no man, with the possible exception of Herbert Spencer, who has lived a life that was more purely intellectual than was that of the Königsberg thinker.


Johann Gottlieb Fichte, although repudiated by his master, was without doubt the greatest name of the pupils of Immanuel Kant. In reading the life and doctrines of Fichte it is hard to say which be the more interesting, the romantic details of his life or his strange philosophy of the ideal. He was born at Rannenau in Upper Lusatia on May 19, 1762. His father was a very poor man but of a high and noble character. That Fichte inherited all of his father's goodness is apparent to anyone who has ever read his "Life of the Scholar and Its Manifestations," or any-one who has in any measure tried to understand what he means when he attempts to convey to the mind of his pupil or of his reader the concept involved in what he describes as the "Divine Idea." He was not only a philosopher and an Idealist. He was also a patriot and lover of man, a hero in mind and character, a loving heart, and an intellect with which there are few we can compare in all the history of philosophy.

He has been not unfitly called the soldier of philosophy. With Fichte, individuality is the one dominant sentiment, and throughout all his life ever appears in strong, clear, pulsating light, that individuality which was undoubtedly his own. He not only thought his philosophy, he felt it. Had he not attracted the attention of a noble German, the Baron von Miltitz, it is probable that Fichte had never been able to achieve what he did in the realm of thought and education. But the Baron was a kind friend to the thoughtful, sentimental, meditative boy, and by the help of this gentleman Fichte was enabled to acquire a liberal education and become himself a teacher of the young.

At the early age of nine we find Fichte wandering away from his home out into the country, looking up at the blue sky, listening to the rush of the winds in the trees, or perhaps to the babble of some brook that flowed at his feet, looking into its clear depths and watching the pebbles, trying to gather lessons of wisdom from them; marveling at the strange feelings stirring within his breast; thinking of God, of love, of humanity; ever dreaming, ever visionary, ever unpractical.

He was never popular with the boys of whom he should naturally have been the playmate and companion. While they, perhaps, played at marbles or other such games as were common at that time, Fichte was thinking of other things. These odd characteristics caused many per-sons to apply to him peculiar sobriquets, descriptive of his way. Wonderful as it would seem in a boy of this kind, Fichte, when fourteen, resolved to become a second Robinson Crusoe. The excuse for this bizarre conception on the part of dreamy and solitary youth is best explained by the fact that he had been ill treated, or that some other injustice had been administered to him, in the College of Schulpforte. With Fichte, thought was action, and once having made up his mind that he could no longer associate himself with persons who had such small sense of what was just and honorable, he left the college and started out on his way to Hamburg, to find some ship which would carry him to the island where he would not be troubled by contact with people who did not know right from wrong, and where he could look at the sky and the sea and the stars to his heart's content, and think out all his little thoughts just as he pleased. But in the journey toward the sea coast he thought of his mother, and that thought caused him to renounce his plans and to return.

It has been said of him that he was destined to be a Robinson Crusoe of metaphysical science, and this is perhaps true in every sense. If we except this romantic and adventuresome incident, Fichte was a diligent student. As a mere boy he read all the books in the German language which came within his reach, and it is probable that he forgot none of them. His first university was Jena, where he commenced his career as a student of higher things, and his second was Leipsic, and his last Wittenberg. In the middle of his university career the death of his noble patron forced him to look out for himself, and Fichte took up the only occupation which could be open to a man of that character at that time; that was the inevitable tutor-ship, and nine years he spent in teaching, principally at Zurich. It was in that famous institution that the originator of the "Divine Idea" met with the educator, Pestalozzi. In Fichte's later work as an educator he conformed largely to many of the ideas which he had learned from his famous friend.

It was at Zurich, too, that Fichte met a lady who was a niece of Klopstock, and who was afterward to become his devoted wife. In 1790 he returned to Germany with the intention of finding some employment which would be more congenial to his nature than that of a teacher of elementary knowledge, but this trip was disastrous, and after having traveled into Poland, he wandered back until he found himself at Königsberg, where Kant was now ruling the intellectual world from his supreme throne. To Kant Fichte went immediately, as was perfectly natural in a man of his kind. He told Kant his story and besought him for aid, but it is said that the philosopher not only received the young man in a manner to discourage all efforts of a closer acquaintance, but that he also refused to even give him a few cents for the relief of very urgent and immediate wants. Later, however, the great Critic treated his pupil with more consideration.

Fichte was just thirty years of age when his first production appeared in print. The title of it is an index to his character. It is "An Attempt at a Critique of all Revelation." Revolutionist though Kant had been, this was a sort of revolution bolder than any that had ever occurred to the mind of the founder of Criticism. It was the correlative in philosophy of the political sentiment which then burned in the breast of the future Idealist, for Fichte was an enthusiast of the great movement that was then stirring the heart of the world in Paris and in France that revolution which was to shake Europe and cause the world to stand in horror at atrocities as unutterable as Rome ever knew.

To Fichte's credit be it said that at this time, when he was preaching in favor of the French Revolution, that movement had not yet taken on the phase which was to cause the streets of Paris to be dyed with the blood of innocent people and which was to horrify humanity with its September massacres and its drownings in the Loire.

In 1794 Fichte accepted the professorship of philosophy at Jena, and this accession determined the whole course of his life and his thought.

The founder of German Idealism became the editor of a philosophical journal, with his friend Mitthamer as coeditor, in which he published an essay that brought upon him the charge of atheism. This charge is ridiculous when Fichte's philosophy and teachings are considered, but, as we have seen, it is those philosophers who are most profoundly convinced of the absolute necessity for the existence of a Deity that are always the first and most fiercely to be accused of not believing in any Deity what-ever.

Of course he repudiated the charge, and did his utmost to convince the world that he was guiltless of it, which he really was. But the calumny spread, took root, and hard as he fought against it, he was at last forced to succumb, and he resigned his professorship.

Then he went to Prussia and in 1805, he secured the appointment to the chair of philosophy at Erlangen. This part of Fichte's life belongs more to the patriot than the philosopher. He wrote his famous book, "Addresses to the German Nation," which is perhaps the most eloquent of all his writings, eloquent though they all are, and which breathes his personality and the fiery zeal of his character in words that may well be compared with the best examples of this kind of writing in literature. Fleeing from the troubles that came upon the country and of which he was a large part, he went to Berlin and decided that he would stay there. At that time the now famous university had just been launched, and Fichte was offered a position in the new school. It was while he was teaching at Berlin that he developed that great Ideal System, which more than all others, not even excepting that of Berkeley, may be compared with the philosophy of Gautama, for it must be remembered that Berkeley was the pure metaphysician, while the very basis and life of the Fichtian philosophy may be said to be involved in its moral doctrines.

Fichte's lectures in Berlin were largely attended, and he was regarded with positive love by the numerous students who listened to him. He lived in lectures. He addressed himself not only to the intellect of his hearers, but to their hearts. His intense personality, his passionate style of delivery, his supreme earnestness, together with his brilliant diction, enslaved all who heard him. During the War of the German Liberation the philosopher was one of the foremost of the patriots. It has been well said of him that if he did not actually gird on the sword and fight, he flashed, himself a sword, before the eyes of his countrymen.

An incident is related in this connection which will bear repetition. Fichte is before his class about to begin his lecture, which was announced to be that day upon the subject of Duty. The lecture proceeds to the sound of rolling drums without, which frequently drowns his voice. Inspired by that sound, he devotes his entire attention to the subject of Duty, it is true, but duty to country. He tells his hearers many truths which they already know, but which, when uttered by his lips, assume new importance.

At the end of his speaking he said: "This course of lectures will be suspended till the end of this campaign. We will resume them in a free country or die in the attempt to recover her freedom." This speech was received with wild enthusiasm, and he left the hall to become a soldier in the great campaign of 1813.

He lived just one year thereafter. His wife, who was a woman of a noble character and worthy of her noble spouse, had become a nurse in the army and had been kind, with many other ladies, to the poor soldiers without regard to their nationality. While engaged in these duties she caught the hospital fever which she communicated to her husband. Frau Fichte recovered, but her husband died. His death took place on the 28th of January, 1814, at the zenith of his power, of his fame, and of his glory.

If Kant was a weak man, physically, Fichte was a strong one. He had a wide, deep chest, muscles as rugged as those of a lion, a clear, sure, firm eye, unusual strength of arm and the tread of a gladiator. His moral character has been said to have been perfect. Certain it is that no one could ever lay any charge against him which might not be laid against the best of men.

Fichte's principal works are these: On the Conception of the Science of Knowledge, or socalled Philosophy (1794), Foundation of the Entire Science of Knowledge (1794), The Natural Life of the Scholar (1794), Foundation of Natural Right According to the Principles of the Science of Knowledge (1796), Statements of the Science of Morals (1798), Characteristics of the Present Age (1805), Way of the Blessed Life; or, Theory of Religion (1806). In this last book will be found Fichte's religious system, or rather his conception of what morality should be. In it we find the key-note to the practices of his daily life. That strong morality, that tremendous Faith which he so loved to teach and of which he himself was such an exemplar, find many enthusiastic adherents to-day, not only in the country of his birth, but in many other places and climes.

As we have already said, Fichte no doubt believed that his system of Idealism was founded upon the philosophy of Kant. Yet we know Kant deliberately repudiated Fichte and his Idealism, and went to the trouble of writing a book to do it. Therefore, it may be just to here say that the best judge of the facts in the case as to whether Fichte really founded his philosophy upon that of Kant was the Königsberg man himself, but even had Kant not repudiated his pupil's philosophy, any adequate study of the Critical method and its results will satisfy us that Fichte made a new departure and borrowed nothing from his master.

In the metaphysics of Fichte one purpose seems to be ever present. That purpose is the elucidation of the doctrine that things, that is to say, all the outside world, are merely Out-Being (Dasein), as he calls it, from the mind (Sein). That is to say, things do not exist except inasmuch as they project from the mind. This is the celebrated Idealism of Fichte. It is not to say, however, that the out-side world is a phantom or that the outside world has no existence whatever. That is one thing. The doctrine that Things are ideal leaves no room for doubt as to the reality of the things. The things are real enough, but they are real only in the mind. Fichte cannot disassociate mind from Things and Things from mind. He repeatedly says that Things are but the Out-Being, or the Existence, of the mind.

This matter may be a little difficult to understand, be-cause it is hard for those who are not accustomed to meta-physics to bring themselves to. the belief that objects can exist only in the mind and not in themselves. The ordinary man thinks that he knows that the apple which he holds in his hand is something entirely distinct and separate from himself, has an existence independent of him, and that it would continue to exist were his mind obliterated. We have seen that Bishop Berkeley held much the same thing as Fichte held. But the difference between Berkeley's Idealism and that of Fichte lies in the fact that Berkeley approached the subject in a very cool, deliberate manner and discussed it with all the caution and deliberation of the microscopist who is making an examination of a number of minute organisms under his glass. Through Fichte's Idealism runs a living stream of religious faith. This is not to say that Fichte is not logical, but it must be admitted that he is by no means the philosopher that was Berkeley.

He looked about him for the truth. To Fichte, as to all other thinkers, one fact presented itself when he first set his mind to the problems of Ontology. That fact was the fact of the existence of Self and something that was not, apparently, Self; Ego and non-Ego. He sought an explanation of these things, and he believed that he found a way, as did Locke, deep down in his own mind and there alone. Can the truth be known ? asked Fichte. He thought it could, and he believed he had found a way.

He says : "I have found that organ by which to apprehend all reality. It is not the understanding, for all knowledge supposes some higher knowledge on which it rests, and of this ascent there is no end. It is Faith, voluntarily reposing on views naturally presenting themselves to us, because through these views alone we can fulfill our destiny, which sees our knowledge and pronounces that it is good, and raises it to certainty and conviction. It is no knowledge but a resolution of the will to admit this knowledge. This is no mere verbal- distinction, but a true and deep one, pregnant with the most important consequences. Let me forever hold fast by it. All my conviction is but faith, and it proceeds from the will and not from the understanding. From the will also and not from the understanding must all true culture proceed. Let the first only be firmly directed toward the Good. The latter will of itself apprehend the True. Should the latter be exercised and developed, while the former remains neglected, nothing can come of it but a facility in vain and endless sophistical subtleties refining away into the absolutely void inane. I know that every seeming truth, born of thought alone, and not ultimately resting on faith, is false and spurious; for knowledge, purely and simply stated, when carried to its utmost consequences, leads to the conviction that we can know nothing. Such knowledge never finds anything in the conclusions which it has not previously placed in the premises by faith, and even then its conclusions are not always correct. Every human creature born into the world has unconsciously seized on the reality which exists for him alone through this intuitive faith. If in mere knowledge in mere perception and reflection we can discover no ground for regarding our mental presentations as more than mere pictures, why do we all nevertheless regard them as more, and imagine for them a basis, a substratum independent of all modifications? If we all possess the capacity and the instinct to go beyond this natural view of things, why do so few of us follow this instinct, or exercise this capacity? nay, why do we even resist with a sort of bitterness when we are urged toward this path? What holds us imprisoned in these natural boundaries? Not inferences of our reason; for there are none which could do this. It is our deep interest in reality that does this in the good that we are to produce in the common and the sensuous we are to enjoy. From this interest can no one who lives detach himself, and just as little from the faith which enforces itself upon him simultaneously with his own existence. We are all born in faith, and he who is blind follows blindly the irresistible attraction. He who sees follows by sight and believes because he will believe."

With this organ of Faith Fichte proceeds to develop his Idealism. We have said that his individuality runs through all his philosophy, and his entire system of Ideal-ism is nothing but the expression of the highest individualism. Berkeley was willing to admit that objects might exist independent of any individual mind, but not. independent of mind altogether. Fichte individualized this thought, and held that the non-Ego was no more or less than the Ego itself; that Things did really exist, but that they existed only as part of the mind. His philosophy is universal. It takes in the infinite, and one cannot but feel in reading it the poetic nature of the author, for Fichte was a poet without question.

His metaphysics leads him straight to God, and there is involved here, without any question or doubt, a Pantheism as noble as that of Spinoza, Bruno, or of any of the Pantheists that ever wrote. Plato's philosophy has been called poetical. We have seen that however much poetry there may be in them, when we generalize the doctrines of Plato and do not consider the processes of ratiocination by which he arrived at his conclusions, those processes were of a character the most rigorously logical. The Good, the Beautiful, the True, the Sublime all this sounds poetical at least, but when we consider the method by which Plato derived these categories we will see that it had as little sentimentality in it as it well could. And although Fichte was logical (or at least used logical methods) there is a fire of feeling running through his entire works. He feels his philosophy as much as he lived his lectures.

Fichte deserved the charge of atheism as little as did Spinoza, Bruno, Socrates, Averroes, or any, other of the great speculators who refused to be bound by the narrow limits of a creed. Fichte not only believed in a God, but he believed that he himself was God, and that every other man was God; and, therefore, he tells us that in any human form, however so poorly clothed, we should see that part of God and of ourselves which is equal with ourselves and equal with God. He did not attempt to prove the existence of a God, and in this he was perhaps more circumspect than was Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Spinoza, or Bruno. He writes : "God must be believed in, not inferred. Faith is the ground of all conviction, scientific or moral. Why do you believe in the existence of a world? It is nothing more than the incarnation of that which you carry within you, yet you believe in it. In the same way God exists in your conscience, and you believe in him. He is the moral order of the world. As such we can know him, and only as such. For if we attempt to attribute to him Intelligence or Personality we at once necessarily fall into anthropomorphism. God is infinite; therefore beyond the reach of our science which can embrace only the finite, but not beyond our faith."

The last sentence defines precisely the position of many different schools of thought most widely divergent in their doctrines. Among them we may place the celebrated, and possibly much misunderstood, school of Agnosticism.

Fichte insists upon duty. To understand the relations of men in such manner as will enable us to realize the supreme moral necessity of living up to the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, and then to carry out that understanding in practice, is the total result of all of Fichte's speculation and thought. We know of no more compact, concise, and perfect description of Fichte's theory of morals (and, we may say, of his politics, religion, and philosophy) than is to be found in the closing sentence of Herbert Spencer's "Social Statics" : "No one can be perfectly free until all are free, no one can be perfectly moral until all are moral, no one can be perfectly happy until all are happy." This freedom, this morality, and this happiness Fichte proposes to achieve by the idealization and realization of duty.

When a man has found what Fichte calls the "Divine Idea," his conception of this duty will be perfectly clear, and he cannot live but in one way. For him all questions of morality, religion, and truth have been answered.

He has realized perfect Faith. But what is this "Divine Idea"? How can we know it? Can we define it? Is it possible for one man to teach it to another? Fichte does not seem to believe that an affirmative answer can be given to the latter question. Indeed, it is very plain that he was convinced that it was impossible for him to more than indicate the existence of the possibility of arriving at the "Divine Idea"; else he had made the attempt at a better definition. He says that the "Divine Idea" is to be had by all men. But the best he can do to teach us how to reach it is to tell us to try. You will know it, he says, when you have been adequately pre-pared for its reception. There can be no mistaking it. It will place you at once en rapport with the Good, the Beautiful, the True, the Infinite, the Divine. He there-fore (and he very explicitly states this) places the Divine Idea without the realm of knowledge or science, and this necessarily so, for were this great desideratum to be achieved by science there would be no necessity for faith. Try, therefore, to bring your faith to its only satisfying and all-inclusive material. When you have done so you will be happy.

If this is philosophy or morality of any kind, it is the philosophy and the morality of Mysticism. We are perfectly justified in classifying Fichte more with the Mystics than with the Idealists. Who can explain what Fichte means by "Divine Idea"? He admits him-self that it cannot be explained; but that it was a mere pretension upon his part no one who has read the man's writings or who has pondered over his intensely honest and pure character, can believe. It might have been an illusion. He might have confounded feeling with thought. He might have mistaken the symbols of ideas for ideas themselves. He might have been a very unscientific and uncertain psychologist. But that he believed in himself and in the truth of what he felt or thought, there is not any room for doubt. He will ever remain one of the most fascinating of the Mystics. As such let us leave him here.


Friedreich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling drew most of the inspiration that led to his philosophy of the Unconditioned from Fichte when the latter was a professor at Jena. Schelling and Hegel are always mentioned together, and perhaps with good reason, for although they pretended to elaborate systems which differed from each other, it must be admitted that it is hard for anyone who is not well versed in Mysticism to conceive any great dissimilarity between the doctrines of the two men.

Schelling was the son of a country clergyman and was born in 1775 at Leonberg in Würtemberg. He too, was a very precocious child and possibly with a quicker intellect than that of his master in the way of grasping abstractions. He was such an unusually intellectual boy that he was enabled to enter the university of Tübingen when only fifteen years old. It was at this school that he made the acquaintance of Hegel, and the two worked together for many years, loving each other now, disagreeing with each other then, and finally separating. At so early as the age of seventeen Schelling proposed to himself to win the highest honors in philosophy in the university. To accomplish this purpose he wrote a Latin thesis The Origin of Evil as Laid Down in the Third Chapter of Genesis. His mind seemed to have been seriously taken up with questions of religion as related. to philosophy, rather than with questions that concerned themselves with philosophy alone, for we see him in 1795 publishing an essay on , Marcion, the Corrector of the Pauline Epistles.

From Tübingen he removed to Leipsic and there engaged himself for a small space to be the tutor to a German nobleman. Wandering from Leipsic he came to Jena, which at this time was probably the foremost university of Germany. At Jena he found Fichte, and we can readily believe that the intellectual youth of Wurtemberg soon fell under the spell of the patriot philosopher and supreme Idealist. On entering Jena Schelling took up the study of medicine and philosophy, preferring these two branches of learning to the others that were taught in the university. As a student of philosophy he attended the lectures of Fichte, became one of his most ardent disciples, and managed so well to assimilate the views and copy the manners of the German of strong heart, that when Fichte left the chair at Jena he was succeeded by Schelling.

His lectures attracted wide-spread attention, and he came to be discussed in the intellectual debate of Europe. His fame went abroad, and he was invited to Würtemberg, there to occupy the chair of philosophy. This was in 1803. So well had his ability as a teacher impressed itself upon high and low alike that the King of Bavaria was moved to ennoble him. For that reason, possibly, we find him in Munich in 1807, where he remained until 1841. The University of Munich was founded in 1827, and Hegel there filled the duties of a professor of philosophy until, at Jacoby's death, he was made the principal of the Academy of Sciences. He lived at Erlangen for a time, still lecturing upon his favorite subject, and in 1841 he was called to the chair of philosophy at Berlin.

So poorly had the friendship of Hegel and Schelling thrived during the interim, that it was to lecture against the philosophy of Hegel, now dead, that he was called to the Capital. Hegelianism had meanwhile sprung up with the strength of a living blaze that was spreading everywhere. There was but one man in Europe at that time who was capacitated to contend against the founder of the Absolute school, and that was Schelling. But if Schelling deposed the system of Hegel, it does not appear in the results that followed. At Berlin Schelling's lectures were not well attended. He was fighting Hegelianism. He had to fight it with its own weapons. Those weapons, possibly, were familiar to his hand, but it is a fact that as he continued to fill the chair of philosophy the expression of his thought became more obscure, more prolix and more mystic. He died in 1854, and the last years of his life were spent in retirement.

It would be utterly impossible, even though our space were unlimited, to describe the philosophy of Schelling. It cannot be done; or, at least, no man has yet appeared who seems to have been able to accomplish the task in any manner satisfactory to anyone but him-self. Schelling was probably the most prolific philosophical writer of Europe, if we make exception of some of the scholastics. We can describe, however, his leading doctrine.

If we admit that there are two kinds of truth, one absolute truth, or truth as it exists by and in itself; another, truth as it is considered in relation to our own minds, we will be prepared to understand the position which Schelling took in the matter of knowledge. The first kind of truth described is called the Unconditioned; the second, the Conditioned. Many philosophers, then, as well as now, contend that the mind is capable of understanding only those truths which stand in relation to each other and in relation to the mind. This tenet is now generally described by the use of the term "the Relativity of Knowledge." These philosophers say that the mind, in its very nature, is incapable of understanding the Unconditioned. Therefore, the Conditioned, or the relative, is the only proper material of speculation or investigation.

Schelling took up the position the very reverse of this. He taught that the only proper sphere and object of philosophy was truth Unconditioned. He taught that the pursuit of truth as it stands related to pure intellect, that is to say, to intellect considered universally and not considered in any of its modifications or specializations, is the business of philosophy. He held that truth is absolute and Unconditioned, and that it is possible for a man's intellect to know the truth as such.

Of Schelling's system Morrell, in his Modern German Philosophy, says: "The latter phases of Schelling's philosophy are chiefly characterized by unavailing attempts to reconcile the Pantheistic standpoint which he first assumed, with the notion of a personal Deity and with the fundamental dogmas of the Catholic faith. In doing this he lost the freshness and charm of his first philosophic principles on the one hand, without settling the problems of religion or satisfying the practical religious requirements of humanity, on the other. He merely glided step by step into a strained, unintelligible Mysticism, and, without acknowledging it, became a foe to all purely philosophical speculation and a tacit abettor of an antique romanticism."


George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel has had a more widely extended and deep-seated influence upon the actual living life of the Nineteenth Century than any other man who can properly be called a philosopher, for, although in Hegel's many books which he wrote to expound his philosophy of pure intellect and the Absolute there is to be found very little which one could apply properly to the life of a tradesman, the outcome of that philosophy has been very practical and is still with us.

Hegel attempted to define, in the course of his ponderous volumes, what he understood by the Absolute; in fact that was the test of his whole system. But he does not seem to have explained it for any but a few, even among the intellectual. Hegelians of today have small influence upon the world at large. But it is not in his metaphysics that Hegel lives to-day. It is in the practical, political, and economic results of the movement which he set up in Europe that these effects are to be seen.

It is a fact that it was the influence of Hegelianism upon two young, ardent, and intensely philanthropic Germans that produced what is known to-day as Social-ism. When one reads the three-volume work of Karl Marx, Capital, and considers the matter-of-fact manner in which he deals with matter-of-fact things; his theories of production, distribution, wages, value, and other questions which are purely the material of that very dry science, Economics; or when one reads the works of Ferdinand Lassalle or regards his mighty efforts at political and economic revolution ; when we consider the Red International Workingmen's Association or look over the celebrated manifesto of the Socialists; or when we view the political condition of Germany today, where the Socialists are the strongest party in the Empire, with a tremendous influence in the Reichstag; when we contemplate the almost interminable mass of literature upon Socialistic subjects with which the world has been latterly covered in almost all the languages of Europe; when we think of these things and learn that they are the outgrowth the direct outgrowth of Hegel's genius, the mind seems willing to reject the notion and refuse to believe it. Yet this is the sober truth.

To the "Young Hegelians" (chiefly Marx, Lassalle, and Bernays,) alone can be attributed the first definite formulation of Socialistic doctrines, and the first practical or effectual attempt at their propaganda. Were there no reason but this, Hegel should be to us an interesting man. He was born on the 27th of August, 1770, at Stuttgart. His father was an officer in the civil service of Wurtemberg, and he came from a long line of Carinthian and Swabian ancestors, who had long occupied a very respectable position in the bourgeoisie. He, like his friend, Schelling, had the precocity that indicated what he was to be in later life. It is said that when he was in his early teens his gravity was so great, his mind busied itself with such profound topics, and he felt so concerned about matters with which people in general, who are much older, care very little, that he was given the name of "the old man." Very early he entered the University of Tübingen, and at once struck up an intimacy with Schelling. The two youthful philosophers lived and slept in the same room, and this early friendship gave promise of something more lasting and permanent than that which followed, as we have seen. When he took his degree at Tübingen Hegel accepted a position as a private tutor in Switzer-land. There he remained for some time, and then sought a more agreeable connection of a similar kind at Frankfort.

His father died in 1799 and the small fortune thus left was taken by Hegel to Jena, where he set himself up in a condition of ease with regard to income that he had never known before. With a living assured him, he could afford to go into the university as a privat-docent without too much dependence upon such attendants as he might be enabled to get. While at Jena Hegel be-came acquainted with Wieland, Goethe, and Schiller. These distinguished men lived at Weimar, and about them clustered the most brilliantly intellectual society that Germany, or even the Continent in that time, could afford. That society gave an open door to the young tutor of the university, and it is readily imagined that this period of his life was one of unalloyed joy.

Even as early as this time Schelling had evolved his mystic philosophy, which was founded upon the Ideal-ism and the Mysticism of Fichte. Hegel fell in with the new ideas with great enthusiasm, and the two young men worked together in the most congenial way; Schelling helping Hegel to the best of his ability, and Hegel suggesting to Schelling thoughts which no doubt the elder of the two had no hesitation in using or at least in developing. He remained at Jena until 1807, having meanwhile published an essay on the Difference Between the Systems of Fichte and of Schelling. He and Schelling published a philosophical journal, Hegel continuing his lectures in the big school. It would seem that about this time he turned his attention to politics, for he was offered the position as editor of a political journal at Bamberg, which he accepted, but soon relinquished. The gymnasium at Nürnberg made him its principal in 1808. There he remained for eight years, teaching religion and philosophy, when the University of Heidelberg offered him a subordinate chair in his specialty. Two years later Berlin called him to its chair of philosophy, which had not been filled since the death of Fichte.

Of his style of lecturing Rosenkranz said: "Utterly careless about the graces of rhetoric, thoroughly real and absorbed in the business of the moment, ever pressing forward and often extremely dogmatic in his assertions, Hegel enchained his students by the intensity of his speculative power. His voice was in harmony with his eye. It was a great eye, but it looked inward; and the momentary glances which it threw downward seemed to issue from the very depth of Idealism, and arrested the beholder like a spell. His accent was rather broad, and without sonorous ring, but through its apparent commonness there broke that lofty animation which the might of knowledge inspires, and which, in moments when the genius of humanity was adjuring the audience through his lips, left no hearer unmoved. In the sereneness of his noble features there was something almost calculated to strike terror to the beholder. A peculiar smile bore witness to the purest benevolence, but it was blended with something harsh, cutting, sorrowful, or rather ironical. His, in short, were the tragic lineaments of the philosopher, of the hero whose destiny it is to struggle with the riddle of the universe."

In this description of Hegel's personality and of the power he had of winning men over to his peculiar views, even though at times they did not know what those views were, is found the key to the almost incredible phenomena of the rise of Modern Socialism under the influence of his burning thought.

Hegel died in 1831 of cholera. It was remarked as a peculiar fact that the disease affected his brain more than it did his intestines.

We have said that Hegel's philosophy is very much like that of Schelling in so far as either can be understood. Schelling taught that the proper object of human thought was Unconditioned truth. Hegel taught that it was Absolute truth. The Absolute, if it means anything in Hegel, can be illustrated in this manner. Let us suppose five men, each of whom is capacitated in only one of his senses. Thus, the one with the optical sense could see; the one with the olfactory sense could smell; the one with the gustatory sense could taste; the one with the auditory sense could hear; the one with the tactile sense could understand the sensation of touch. The sensations in all of these men would be, it is clear, different. The intellect of each would know only the peculiar sensation which dwelt in him. He would have one sensation, and that "oneness" would be the common element of all. And that "oneness" is the Absolute. This "oneness" is intelligible to all and is alone the object, the body, the material, and the substance of the function of thought. This idea is developed through Hegel's philosophy; or, rather, let us say, that in all of his works he attempts to develop it. His two important categories are Number and Being. In a word, it is doubtful if any man has understood the philosophy of Hegel, and it may be doubted if he under-stood it himself. To our view the most important result which has flowed from the life and the activity of this truly great and truly profound, if obscure and mystic man is the marvelous and protean scheme of life which has been called Modern Socialism.

Home | More Articles | Email: