Fichte, Johann Gottlieb°

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FICHTE, JOHANN GOTTLIEB ° (1762–1814), German philosopher. Fichte was the founder of ethical idealism, a philosophy which may be described as idealism in that it denies the independent existence of the world, and as ethical in that the reality of the world is determined by man's moral purpose. In his courageous Reden an die deutsche Nation (Berlin, 1808; trans. into Eng. as Addresses to the German Nation, 1922), originally delivered in Berlin then occupied by the French, he demanded that the foundation of the German national state be based on moral convictions. To achieve this goal, all Germans must be made aware of their moral obligations. These addresses some years later engendered the enthusiasm for the fight against Napoleon, and influenced the European national movements of the 19th century, including Zionism. Fichte's attitude toward Jews and Judaism was complex. Manifesting a reverent attitude toward the Bible, Fichte, in his Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre (Leipzig, 1794), calls the biblical story of creation "an ancient document, worthy of respect, which contains profound and exalted wisdom and reaches conclusions to which all of philosophy must finally return." By contrast he completely rejected the Jewish religion. The Talmud contains, as he states in his Kritik aller Offenbarung (Koenigsberg, 1792), "ludicrously childish conceptions of God." Fichte was against awarding the rights of citizenship to Jews as long as the Jews manifested a strong resistance to the general love of mankind, and as long as they (so he held) believed in two sets of moral laws, one for Jews and another for non-Jews. Distinguishing between human rights and rights of citizenship, he held that "human rights must be granted tothem [Jews] even though they do not grant them to us, for they are human beings and their injustice does not give us the right to be like them; but they must be denied the rights of citizens as long as even one Jewish idea remains with them" (for full text see Beitrag zur Berechtigung des Urteils ueber die franzoesische Revolution, Berlin, 1793).

This negative attitude toward Jews in general must be distinguished from his attitude toward individual Jewish philosophers, particularly Solomon *Maimon. In his Ueber den Begriff der Wissenschaftslehre (Leipzig, 1794), Fichte acknowledges the influence which Maimon's writings had exercised on his own philosophy, describing Maimon as "one of the greatest thinkers of our period."


S.H. Bergmann, The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon (1967), ch. 12. A new edition of Fichte's works, sponsored by the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, has been in progress since 1962. It has excellent indices. add. bibliography: A. Pfahl-Traughber, "Aufklaerung und Antisemitismus – Kants, Lessings und Fichtes Auffassung zu den Juden," in: Tribuene, 158 (2001), 168–81; P.R. Sweet, "Fichte and the Jews – A Case of Tension between Civil Rights and Human Rights," in: German Studies Review, 16:1 (1993), 37–48; M. Voigts, "Fichte as Jew-hater' and Prophet of the Zionists," in: lbiyb, 45 (2000), 81–91; E. Fuchs, "Fichtes Stellung zum Judentum," in: Fichte-Studien 2 (1990), 160–77; W. Grab, "Fichtes Judenfeindschaft," in: Zeitschrift fuer Religionsund Geistesgeschichte, 44:1 (1992), 70–75; M. Voigts, "J.G. Fichte und das Judentum," in: Judaica, 57:4 (2001), 284–92.

[Samuel Hugo Bergman]