Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi

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Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819), a German philosopher of the Enlightenment, emphasized the philosophic dimensions of feeling and faith in opposition to the claims of pure reason.

On Jan. 25, 1743, F. H. Jacobi was born in Düsseldorf, the son of a wealthy sugar manufacturer. He prepared at Geneva for a business career and succeeded his father as head of the firm from 1764 to 1772. Friedrich retired in favor of a political career, first as a member of the governing council of two duchies and eventually as privy counselor to the Bavarian court. His household became an important center of German literature.

With his older brother, Johann Georg (1740-1814), a well-known romantic poet, Jacobi edited a journal and wrote several philosophical novels inspired by his studies of Jean Jacques Rousseau, C. A. Helvétius, and the 3d Earl of Shaftesbury. Jacobi's activities brought him into personal and literary contact with most of the central thinkers and writers of the German Enlightenment, including Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, and J. W. von Goethe. In 1804 he became president of the Academy of Sciences in Munich, where he remained until his death on March 10, 1819.

The point of departure for Jacobi's thought is the antinomy, or seeming contradiction, between realism and idealism. Baruch Spinoza was a dogmatic realist who drew out the logical consequences of the traditional definition of substance as that which is the cause of itself. According to this view, there could be only one substance, an infinite eternal being of which the world of nature is only a partial but determinate modification. The meaning of Spinoza's pantheism, or the identification of God with nature, was a subject of other disputes throughout the 19th century. Jacobi sided with those who thought that Spinoza was, in fact, an atheist who had reduced God to a logical, mathematical, and mechanistic concept of nature. Other writers and philosophers such as Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Lessing, and Mendelssohn held that Spinoza was the first religious thinker to seriously develop the philosophic dimensions of the concept of an infinite being. Largely through Jacobi's instigation the major figures of the Enlightenment produced an extensive literature of books, inquiries, and couterinquiries about Spinoza.

Jacobi saw in Spinoza the elimination of real subjectivity and in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant an opposite "nihilism of objects." Kant was the first to raise the critical question of how subjective consciousness arrives at a knowledge of things, and he concluded that ultimately we can know of things "only what we have placed in them." Thus for Kant, human experience is simply the appearance of the way things seem and are thought about according to the subjective conditions of the mind. Objects as things-in-themselves are unknowable.

The point of these criticisms was to show that if reason begins with objects it is unable to account for subjectivity and a subjective perspective annihilates objectivity. The conclusion which Jacobi drew was that the enterprise of human reason itself rests on faith. Man's immediate certainty that there are real objects, which produce passive sensations, rests on faith. And if the concept of objective nature depends on faith, then man's feelings and intuitions of freedom, moral principles, and religious certainties need not defer to rational skepticism.

Further Reading

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobis Werke, 6 vols. (1812-1825), has never been translated. The only secondary source available in English is Alexander W. Crawford, The Philosophy of F. H. Jacobi (1905). For general background see Frederick J. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 6: Wolff to Kant (1964).

Additional Sources

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Faith & knowledge, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977. □

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German philosopher of faith and feeling; b. Düsseldorf, Jan. 25, 1743; d. Munich, March 10, 1819, where he had become president of the Bavarian Academy of Science. Influenced by J. J. rousseau and Lord Shaftesbury, Jacobi opposed the rationalism of the enlight enment. He was closely associated with many significant men of his day, among them Goethe; J. K. Lavater; C. M. Wieland; M. Claudius; the later bishop of Regensburg, J. M. Sailer; Prince A. von Gallitzin; and especially J. G. herder and J. G. hamann, who exerted a strong influence over him. Jacobi made a sharp distinction between knowledge and faith. Under the influence of I. Kant, he had come to regard the thing-in-itself as unknowable; consequently, knowledge leads ultimately to nihilism. It leads also to atheism in that the comprehension of the Absolute and of metaphysical principles is equally impossible. To him, B. Spinoza's philosophy was a case in point. He also criticized the notion of the thing-in-itself in Kant's philosophy, remarking that without this supposition one could not enter into Kant's system and with it one could not remain there. He charged J. G. fich te and F. W. J. schelling with being Spinoza in reverse. Jacobi himself built his thesis upon faith. For him the organ of faith is reason, which allows man to perceive the outer world as well as beauty and moral good, even the divine. The true essence of man consists in his spiritual nature, which stems immediately from God and finds its fullest expression in the heart. Jacobi thus termed himself "a heathen in the understanding and a Christian in feeling." He accepted the great truths of ChristianityGod, freedom, and immortalitybut he was of the opinion that these could not be conceptualized. Yet Christianity embraces more truths than Jacobi would admit, and if those truths he did admit were accessible only to the heart, they would be purely subjective. Jacobi exerted considerable influence over J. C. F. Schiller, the romantics, F. D. E. schleiermacher, and the Catholic school at Tübingen.

Bibliography: Works. Gesamtausgabe, 6 v. (Leipzig 181225). New critical ed. by the Bavarian Academy in preparation. Über die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn M. Mendelssohn (Breslau 1785; enl. ed. 1789). D. Hume über den Glauben, oder Idealismus und Realismus (Breslau 1787). Sendschreiben an Fichte (Hamburg 1799). Über dan Unternehmen des Kritizismus, die Vernunft zu Verstande zu bringen (Hamburg 1801). Von den göttlichen Dingen (Leipzig 1811). o. bollnow, Die Lebensphilo-sophie F. H. Jacobis (Stuttgart 1933). a. hebeisen, F. H. Jacobi: Seine Auseinandersetzung mit Spinoza (Bern 1960). r. knoll, J.G. Hamann and F. H. Jacobi (Heidelberg 1963).

[j. hirschberger]

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Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, 1743–1819, German philosopher. Although educated for commerce, he early gave up business and became in 1770 a member of the council for the duchies of Berg and Jülich. A brilliant personality, he attracted to his home near Düsseldorf a notable literary and philosophic circle. His later years were spent in Holstein and in Munich, where he was appointed (1807) president of the newly founded Academy of Sciences. His collected works were published in 1812–25. Among them are Briefe über die Lehre des Spinoza (1785) and David Hume über den Glauben; oder, Idealismus und Realismus (1787). Jacobi criticized both Kant and Spinoza, arguing that philosophy cannot maintain distinct realms of existence and that it must be consistent and consider everything in the same cause and effect sequence. If this is done, however, then the originality and individuality of our experiences are lost. Jacobi's solution involved a unity and consistency based entirely on faith. He felt that even immediate sense perception is miraculous. Reason, then, must be restricted to its immediate material, and the ultimate reality is to be intuitively sensed.