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Fichte’s Reversal of Reflection into Revelation

The historical impact and contextual relations of the revival of Fichte by Dieter Henrich along with his students and followers in the Heidelberg School is reconstructed and assessed in its scope and importance by

Fichte’s Absolutization and Overcoming of Reflection 165

Manfred Frank.[1] Moving against the postmodern trend proclaiming the death of the subject and thereby marginalizing all investigation into the subject’s self-consciousness, Frank has documented in detail the subsequent history of this problematic of self-reflexivity in extensive anthologies of classical readings, as well as in detailed analyses of his own. Frank turns thinking back self-reflexively to the subject, which was supposedly liquidated by the post-structuralist turn, and he finds crucial models for an alternative to secular scientific epistemology in Romantic thinkers such as Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, who were among Fichte’s most zealous converts.

In this interpretive light, it has become possible to see Fichte as not a continuation and radicalization of the philosophy of self-consciousness inherited from Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant but rather as their radical reversal. Fichte’s essential insight—to repeat—is that “I’’-consciousness cannot be constructed reflexively because it is always already presupposed by every act of reflection. The nature of consciousness, so conceived, cannot be philosophically analyzed and broken down into subjective and objective components. It is something rather of the order of revelation. In his The Way towards the Blessed Life or The Doctrine of Religion (Anweisung zum seligen Leben oder auch die Religionslehre, 1806), Fichte thinks of God in apophatic terms as “conceivable inconceivability” (“begreifliche Unbegreiflichkeit”) and as “Being beyond the concept” (“Seyn jenseits des Begriffes”). Already in his Wissenschaftslehre in 1804, Fichte had emphasized the annihilation of the concept through the pure light of consciousness.

Fichte thinks the Kantian subjectivist premises of knowing so radically that he reverses their subjectivity into an absolute and essentially revelatory form of knowing. He points us back from reflection toward knowing as revelation—as does Dante. Again, Moevs’s seeing revelation

in Dante as unmediated consciousness is strikingly similar—except for his emphasis on its selflessness. Sharing in the same secular breakthrough to infinite individual freedom, Fichte, like Dante, manages to think its unity with apophatic theological revelation—or non-revelation. In either case, it is the impasse to reflection that becomes revealing and puts the self into relation with something sacred in the form of a (w)hol(l)y Other.

Fichte takes his essential insight in an explicitly religious and apophatic direction that turns it against the Cartesian, scientistic model of self-reflection. In The Way towards the Blessed Life, which bends his rational philosophy toward a mystical wisdom, Fichte finally gives up the project of self-reflection completely, since it can produce only images and not reach being itself. Leaving behind reflection, man knows himself as “the Absolute itself” (“das Absolute selber”) by a purely mystical intuition. This takes place through love, the source of all certainty, truth, and reality (“Die Liebe ist die Quelle aller Gewißheit; und aller Wahrheit und aller Realität”).[2]

However, even this mystical transcendence of self-reflection remains still apophatically grounded in seif-relation. It consists essentially in the inability of self-reflection to grasp its own inalienable source and structure, which consists in a vocation or a calling. The “I” still sets itself into relation with and answers to the not-I, which, to this extent, falls within the I’s relation to itself. Such a relation is understood psychoanalytically as a relation of answering to a superego consisting in internalized social norms or to an unconscious “big Other.”11

  • [1] Manfred Frank, “Welche Gründe gibt es, Selbstbewusstsein für Irreflexiv zu halten?” Proto-Sociology—Essays on Philosophy, 1-21. Downloaded 6/15/2016 from ProtoSociology: An International Journal and Interdisciplinary Project: www. 2 Manfred Frank, Selbstbewußtseinstheorien von Fichte bis Sartre (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), which includes his own “Fragmente einer Geschichte der Selbstbewußtseins-Theorie von Kant bis Sartre,” 413-599. 3 Most important in this regard are Frank’s Die Unhintergehbarkeit von Individualität. Reflexionen über Subjekt, Person und Individuum aus Anlaß ihrer postmodernen' Toterklärung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1986) and Einführung in die frühromantische Ästhetik: Vorlesungen (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989), as well as his Das Problem “Zeit” in der deutschen Romantik: Zeitbewusstsein und Bewusstsein von Zeitlichkeit in der frühromantischen Philosophie und in Tiecks Dichtung (Munich: Winkler, 1972). 4 Fichte, Anweisung zum seligen Leben (1806), in Johann Gottlieb Fichtes sämmtliche Werke (subsequently “SW”), ed. J. H. Fichte, vol. 5 (Berlin: Verlag von Veit und Comp., 1845/46), 453f. 5 Wissenschaftslehre (1804), 4. Vortrag, SW X, 146.
  • [2] Fichte, Anweisung zum seligen Leben (1806), SW V, 541 2 Dominik Finkeide, “Die Transzendenz der reinen Selbstbeziehung. Zu einer Denkfigur bei Lacan und Fichte,” in Die Frage nach dem Unbedingten: Gott als genuines Thema der Philosophie, ed. Felix Resch and Martin Klinkosch (Dresden: Text & Dialog, 2016), 513.
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