Johann Gottlieb Fichte represents one of the founders of the philosophical movement known as German idealism.
We will travel through the life of this author to learn more about the most relevant episodes of his biography as well as his contributions to philosophy as one of the most relevant European thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. century.
Brief biography of Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born in 1762 in Rammenau, a German commune located in Bautzen, Saxony., Then territory of Upper Lusatia, in the electorate of Saxony.
He came from a family whose economic situation was extremely precarious. This meant that he had to collaborate from an early age in his parents’ activities as farmers, so it was no surprise that Johann had to take care of the geese.
His childhood and early years
From an early age, Johann Gottlieb Fichte proved that he had a great intelligence and a talent for studies which, unfortunately, his family could not afford. But everything changed thanks to a fantastic coincidence.
It is said that a baron named Freiherr von Miltitz visited the village to attend mass at the local church, but when he arrived it was already over. However, some villagers told him about a boy from the village who memorized everything and he could surely repeat the pastor’s sermon completely. Von Miltitz was looking and Johann Gottlieb Fichte got the job done. The baron, impressed with such an ability, immediately decided to bear the costs of his education, because he was aware that this talent could not be wasted in any way.
This is how Johann Gottlieb Fichte moved to live with the family of Rev. Krebel, in the commune of Niederau, near the town of Meissen, which meant that since then contact with his family would be very limited. His education was mainly based on knowledge of the works and authors of classical, Greek and Roman antiquity.
His studies continued from 1774 in one of the most prestigious institutions of the time, the Schulpforta school., In the town of Naumburg. Some of the greatest German authors have passed through this institute, such as the writer Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, better known as Novalis, the brothers August Wilhelm Schlegel and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel and a few decades later Friedrich himself. even.
Thanks to his years in this institution, Johann Gottlieb Fichte obtained an education within the reach of very few. The downside is that it was a school with a lifestyle similar to that of a monasterySo their social relations with equals were not as abundant as they might have been elsewhere. Perhaps this favored Fichte as an independent person with a tendency for introspection, characteristics which would later become apparent in his works.
Studies in Theology and Interest in Philosophy
In 1780, Johann Gottlieb Fichte had already completed his training at Schulpforta. He decided to continue his training, this time through theology, for which he moved to the University of Jena, although the following year he moved to the University of Leipzig. However, there was a problem.
Although Baron von Miltitz continued to provide him with financial support, he became less and less so. Eventually, von Miltitz died, so Fichte couldn’t afford his studies and had to drop out of college.
A stage of precariousness begins for Johann Gottlieb Fichte and he is forced to seek a way to obtain an income. His excellent education enabled him to become a tutor for some wealthy families, looking after and educating their children. After several years he moved to Zurich, where he would spend the next two years, forming the children of a humble local family. However, from there, several things would happen that would change his life forever.
First of all, he met Johanna Rahn, to whom he got engaged very soon. He also met the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. It was at this time, in 1790, that Johann Gottlieb Fichte became interested in the work of Emmanuel Kant. She contacted him, but the first meeting was not very successful. However, Fichte focused on creating an essay that did not go unnoticed by Kant, and he did. It is the “attempt to criticize any revelation.” It was in 1792.
As soon as he read it, Kant asked his editor to publish it. In this process, an unforeseen thing happened, and that is that the work was published without the name of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, so that the public attributed the responsibility to Immanuel Kant, as they considered that he alone was able to write such a high quality essay. After the incident, Kant will publicly admit the confusion, letting it be known that the real culprit was Fichte.
This led to the dismissal of Johann Gottlieb Fichte in academia as well as a great reputation. So much so that the University of Jena offered him to become a professor and teach philosophy in this institution. Another important fact that occurred in 1793 is Fichte’s entrance to a masonry pavilion known as the Modesty cum Libertate, An entity that allowed him to get closer to Johann Wolfgang Goethe, one of the most important authors in Germany of his time.
University of Jena and atheistic conflict
As professor of philosophy at the University of Jena, Johann Gottlieb Fichte start teaching his theories about the so-called transcendental idealism. The content of his courses has been compiled in the work entitled La vocation du savant. The success of his talks was unstoppable. But something happened that was going to change everything. Fichte published an essay titled Based on Our Belief in a Divine World Government. It was the fuse that ignited the so-called atheism dispute.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s work has been called an atheist, Which, in a deeply religious society, posed a serious problem. The first repercussion was his immediate dismissal from the chair he held at the University of Jena. But his work was nothing more than the beginning, because through the challenge of atheism, many authors have decided to participate in the public debate, whether they support one or the other position.
For example, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi wrote an open letter comparing philosophy, especially the one Fichte had developed, with what he called nihilism, being the first time this concept was used and would later be developed by others. authors, as already mentioned Friedrich Nietzsche.
The University of Jena has received pressure from politicians to dismiss Fichte or not allow students from their respective areas of influence to enroll. However, Johann Gottlieb Fichte claimed that in reality politicians they did not persecute him for his words about atheism, but for other works in which he had shown his support for the ideals of the French Revolution., Which had taken place a few years ago.
Indeed, it would be shown that it was as Fichte claims. In reality, the fear of the governments was that the works on which this movement supported would take too much force and would trigger revolutions similar to that which the Gallic country had known. For this reason, personalities from Russia, Saxony or Austria were among those who exerted the most pressure on the University so that this author immediately stops teaching there.
Transfer to Berlin and the last years
This pressure resulting from the dispute over atheism not only led to the departure of Johann Gottlieb Fichte from the University of Jena, but also he had to move to Berlin, then belonging to the Kingdom of Prussia, Because it was one of the few Germanic territories where he did not pursue him. In Berlin, he was able to make friends with other great contemporary authors.
He also continued his introduction to Freemasonry, in this case thanks to Hungarian clergyman Ignaz Aurelius Fessler. It was in the Pythagorean Lodge of the Burning Star. At first, the two authors professed a great friendship. However, over time, they became rivals. Fichte then published two lectures on the relationship between philosophy and Freemasonry.
In 1800, Johann Gottlieb Fichte published an extensive philosophical work in which he analyzed the concept of property in addition to other economic issues. Five years later he returned to academia, with the University of Erlangen offering him a professorship. Unfortunately, the Napoleonic Wars forced Fichte to move to Königsberg until 1807, when he would return to Berlin.
With the final fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Fichte was responsible for creating the discourses on the German nation., A document which sought to lay the foundations of a new state, bringing together the Germanic peoples. He became the figure who encouraged the inhabitants of these regions against Napoleon’s invasion.
After these events he began teaching at the new University of Berlin, where he became rector, although he soon resigned due to differences of opinion with other academics. Unfortunately, the war led to an increase in the number of patients in hospitals. Johann Gottlieb’s wife Fichte was a nurse and was infected with typhus, a disease that was said to be transmitted to Fichte and would cause his death in 1814, when he was only 51 years old.
- Breazeale, D. (2001). Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Oncina, F. (2013). Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Complete work. Library of great thinkers. Madrid: Editorial Gredos.