FICHTE, JOHANN GOTTLLEB: German philosopher; b. at Rammenau, near Bischofswerda (20 m. e.n.e. of Dresden), May 19, 1762; d. in Berlin Jan. 27, 1814. The son of a poor weaver, he attended the public school at Meissen and the charity school at Schulpforta. Later he studied at the universities of Jena and Leipsic. For a number of years he was private tutor in Leipsic, Zurich, and Warsaw. In 1792 he went to Königsberg to hear Kant, whose transcendentalism he had now adopted. Here he wrote in four weeks his Versuch einer Kritik aller 0ffenbarung (Königsberg, 1792), which appeared anonymously and was taken for a work of Kant's. When the authorship of the book became known, Fichte's reputation as a philosopher was made. After a short residence in Zurich, he entered upon a professorship in philosophy at Jena in 1794. Here he published Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre ( Jena, 1794), his new system of philosophy; Die Bestimmung des Gelehrten (1794); Grundlage des Naturrechts (2 parts, 1796; Eng, transl., The Science of Rights, Philadelphia, 1869, new ed., London, 1889); and System der Sittenlehre (1798; Eng. transl., The Science of Ethics, London, 1897). Both his writings and lectures made a deep impression; but they also created a suspicion of atheism. In 1798 he published a little essay entitled Ueber den Grund unsers Glaubens an eine göttliche Weltregierung, in which he declared that the moral order of the world is God, and that there is no other God. Despite Fichte's strenuous denial of the charge of atheism he was dismissed from the university a few months later. In June, 1799 he went to Berlin where, except for a summer at Erlangen in 1805 and a visit to Königsberg in 1806-07, he spent the remainder of his life. In this period falls Die Bestimmung des Menschen (Berlin, 1800); Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (1806), lectures delivered at Berlin in 1804-05; Ueber das Wesen des Gelehrten (1806), lectures delivered at the University of Erlangen in 1805; and Reden an die deutsche Nation (1808), a famous course of lectures delivered at Berlin in the winter of 1807-08. He took a prominent part in the establishment of the University of Berlin and was professor of philosophy in the new institution from its opening (1810) till his death. The fruits of his academic work there will be found in Die Wissenschaftslehre in ihrem allgemeinen Umrisse (1810; Eng. transl., The Science of Knowledge, Philadelphia, 1868, new ed., London, 1889); and in Die Thatsachen des Bewusstseins (Tübingen, 1817). Fichte's popular writing will be found in English translation in The Popular Works of J. G. Fichte (2 vols., London, 1848-49; 4th ed., 2 vols., 1889), including, The Vocation of the Scholar, The Nature of the Scholar, The Vocation of Man, Characteristics of the Present Age, The Way towards the Blessed Life, and Outlines of the Doctrine of Knowledge. Fichte's Sämmtliche Werke (8 vols., Berlin, 1845-46) were edited by his son I. H. Fichte.


Fichte derives all philosophical knowledge from the one principle of the consciousness of the indivisible Ego, which posits its own being in distinction from a divisible non-Ego. His ethics is based on the absolute freedom of this Ego as an intelligent being. Religion is by him reduced to faith in the moral order of the universe, and this leads to the positive assertion of immortality on the ground that no ego which by the act of consciousness has become real can ever perish. While Fichte's subjectivism was soon superseded by other metaphysical views, his influence as a moral reformer is felt in Germany even to-day. See IDEALISM; RELIGION, PHILOSOPHY OF.