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Cambridge University Press
Fichte: The System of Ethics

Fichte: The System of Ethics

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Fichte's System of Ethics, originally published in 1798, is at once the most accessible presentation of its author's comprehensive philosophical project, The Science of Knowledge or Wissenschaftslehre, and the most important work in moral philosophy written between Kant and Hegel. This study integrates the discussion of our moral duties into the systematic framework of a transcendental theory of the human subject. Ranging over numerous important philosophical themes, the volume offers a new translation of the work together with an introduction that sets it in its philosophical and historical contexts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521577670
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 11/17/2005
Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Daniel Breazeale is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky.

Günter Zöller is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich.

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The System of Ethics

Cambridge University Press
0521571405 - The System of Ethics - According to the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre - Translated and Edited by Daniel Breazeale and Günter Zöller

The System of Ethics

According to the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre

Table of contents

Introductionpage 7
Part I Deduction of the principle of morality19
Preliminary remark concerning this deduction19
§1 Problem24
Description of the principle of morality according to this deduction60
Transcendental view of this deduction61
Part II Deduction of the reality and applicability of the principle of morality65
Preliminary remark concerning this deduction65
§4 Deduction of an object of our activity as such76
§5 Second theorem82
§6 Deduction of the actual causality of a rational being87
§7 Determination of the causality of a rational being through its inner character91
§8 Deduction of a determinacy of the objects without any help from us98
§9 Conclusions from the preceding117
§10 Freedom and the higher power of desire126
§11 Preliminary explication of the concept of an interest136
§12 Principle of an applicable ethics140
§13 Subdivisions of the ethics145
Part III Systematic application of the principle of morality, or ethics in the narrower sense149
First section [of ethics in the proper sense of the term]: Formal conditions for the morality of our actions149
§14 The will in particular149
§15 Systematic presentation of the formal conditions for the morality of our actions155
§16 The cause of evil in a finite rational being168
Second section of ethics in the proper sense of the term: the material content of the moral law, or systematic survey of our duties196
§17 Introduction, or elucidation of our problem196
§18 Systematic elucidation of the conditions of I-hood in their relation to the drive for absolute self-sufficiency201
Third section of ethics in the proper sense of the term: Doctrine of duties in the proper sense of the term243
§19 Subdivisions of this doctrine243
§20 Universal conditioned duties248
§21 Particular conditioned duties259
Overview of universal immediate duties262
§22 Subdivisions262
§23 Duties regarding the formal freedom of all rational beings263
§24 Duties in the case of conflict concerning the freedom of rational beings285
§25 The duty to spread and to promote morality immediately298
Overview of particular duties308
§26 The relation of particular duties to universal ones; and subdivisions of the particular duties308
§27 Duties of human beings according to their particular natural estate310
Duties of human beings within a particular profession324
§28 Subdivisions of possible human professions324
§29 Duties of the scholar327
§30 Duties of the moral teachers of the people329
§31 Duties of the fine artist333
§32 Duties of the state official336
§33 Duties of the lower classes of the people341



I will begin by characterizing the task of philosophy as that of answering the following, familiar question: how can something objective ever become something subjective; how can a being for itself ever become something represented [vorgestellten]? No one will ever explain how this remarkable transformation takes place without finding a point where the objective and the subjective are not at all distinct from one another but are completely one and the same. Our system establishes just such a point and then proceeds from there. The point in question is "I-hood" [Ichheit], intelligence, reason - or whatever one wishes to call it.

This absolute identity of the subject and the object in the I can only be inferred; it cannot be demonstrated, so to speak, "immediately," as a fact of actual consciousness. As soon as any actual consciousness occurs, even if it is only the consciousness of ourselves, the separation [between subject and object] ensues. I am conscious of myself only insofar as I distinguish myself, as the one who is conscious, from me, as the object of this consciousness. The entire mechanism of consciousness rests on the various aspects of this separation of what is subjective from what is objective, and, in turn, on the unification of the two [IV, 2].


The first way what is subjective and what is objective are unified, or viewed as harmonizing, is when I engage in cognition. In this case, what is subjective follows from what is objective; the former is supposed to agree with the latter. Theoretical philosophy investigates how we arrive at the assertion of such a harmony. - [The second way what is subjective and what is objective are unified is] when I act efficaciously [ich wirke]. In this case, the two are viewed as harmonizing in such a way that what is objective is supposed to follow from what is subjective; a being is supposed to result from my concept (the concept of an end [Zweckbegriff ]). Practical philosophy has to investigate the origin of the assumption of such a harmony.

Up until now only the first of these questions, the one concerning how we might come to assert the correspondence of our representations with things that supposedly exist independently of those representations, has been raised. Philosophy has as yet not even so much as wondered about the second point, that is, about how it might be possible to think of some of our concepts as capable of being presented [darstellbar] and, in part, as actually presented in nature, which subsists without any help from us. People have found it quite natural that we are able to have an effect upon the world. That is, after all, what we do all the time, as everyone knows. This is a fact of consciousness, and that suffices.


Ethics [Sittenlehre] is practical philosophy. Just as theoretical philosophy has to present that system of necessary thinking according to which our representations correspond to a being, so practical philosophy has to provide an exhaustive presentation of that system of necessary thinking according to which a being corresponds to and follows from our representations. It therefore behooves us to consider the question just raised and, first of all, to show how we ever come to take some of our representations to be the ground of a being, and second, to indicate the specific origin of that system of those of our concepts from which a being is simply supposed to follow necessarily [IV, 3].

The goal of this introduction is to summarize briefly, from a single viewpoint, what will be presented in detail concerning these issues in the inquiry that follows.


I find myself to be acting efficaciously in the world of sense. All consciousness arises from this discovery. Without this consciousness of my own efficacy [Wirksamkeit], there is no self-consciousness; without self-consciousness, there is no consciousness of something else that is not supposed to be I myself. Anyone desiring a proof of this assertion will find a detailed proof of it in Chapter Two, below. This assertion is here presented merely as an immediate fact of consciousness, in order to connect it with our further reasoning.

What manifold is contained in this representation of my efficacy? And how might I arrive at this manifold?

Let us provisionally assume that the representation of my own efficacy includes the following: a representation of the stuff [Stoff ] that endures while I am acting efficaciously and is absolutely unchangeable thereby; a representation of the properties of this stuff, properties that are changed by my efficacy; and a representation of this progressive process of change, which continues until the shape that I intend is there. And let us also assume that all these representations contained in the representation of my efficacy are given to me from outside (an expression which, to be sure, I do not understand), i.e., that this is a matter of experience, or however one may express this non-thought. Even if we make this assumption, there still remains something within the representation of my efficacy which simply cannot come to me from outside but must lie within myself, something that I cannot experience and cannot learn but must know immediately: namely, that I myself am supposed to be the ultimate ground of the change that has occurred.

"I am the ground of this change." This means the same as, and nothing other than, the following: that which knows about this change is also that which effectuates it; the subject of consciousness and the principle of efficacy are one. But what I assert at the origin of all knowledge concerning the knowing subject itself - what I know simply by virtue of the fact that I know anything whatsoever [IV, 4] - this is not something I could have drawn from some other knowledge. I know it immediately; I purely and simply posit it.

Accordingly, insofar as I know anything at all I know that I am active. Consciousness of myself, that is, consciousness of myself as an active subject, is contained and thereby immediately posited in the mere form of knowledge as such.

Now it might well be that this same mere form of knowledge also contains, if not immediately, then mediated by the immediate knowledge just indicated, all of the remaining manifold that lies in the above-mentioned representation of my efficacy. Should this prove to be the case, then we would rid ourselves of the awkward assumption that this manifold comes from outside, and we could do this simply by virtue of the fact that we could explain this in another, more natural way. By deriving the necessity of such an assumption immediately from the presupposition of any consciousness whatsoever, we would answer the question raised above concerning how we come to ascribe to ourselves efficacy in a sensible world outside of us.

We will endeavor to determine whether such a derivation is possible. The plan for this derivation is as follows. We have just seen what is contained in the representation of our efficacy. The presupposition is that this representation is contained in consciousness as such and is necessarily posited along with it. Our point of departure is therefore the form of consciousness as such. We will derive things from this, and our investigation will be concluded when the path of our derivations returns us to the representation of our sensible efficacy.


I posit myself as active. According to what was said above, this means that I make a distinction within myself between a knowing subject and a real force [reelle Kraft], which, as such, does not know but is; and yet I view the two as absolutely one. How do I come to make this distinction? How do I arrive at precisely this [IV, 5] determination of what is being distinguished? The second question is likely to be answered by answering the first one.

I do not know without knowing something. I do not know anything about myself without becoming something for myself through this knowledge - or, which is simply to say the same thing, without separating something subjective in me from something objective. As soon as consciousness is posited, this separation is posited; without the latter no consciousness whatsoever is possible. Through this very separation, however, the relation of what is subjective and what is objective to each other is also immediately posited. What is objective is supposed to subsist through itself, without any help from what is subjective and independently of it. What is subjective is supposed to depend on what is objective and to receive its material determination from it alone. Being exists on its own, but knowledge depends on being: the two must appear to us in this way, just as surely as anything at all appears to us, as surely as we possess consciousness.

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

Part I. Deduction of the Principle of Morality; Part II. Deduction of the Reality and Applicability of the Principle of Morality; Part III. Systematic Application of the Principle of Morality, or Ethics in the Narrower Sense.

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