The Practical I (Das Praktische Ich)

The deduction of the various representations reveals the various steps of our cognition:
The Sensory Intuition
Reproductive Imagination

The Spiritual Judgment

In the section on theoretical philosophy, Fichte did not explain why the I, hindering itself from going to the infinity of its own self, goes back to its self. In order that the consciousness or cognition is formed, it was necessary to “give” or “produce” within itself the first limitation or hindrance (Anstoß). By so doing, Sensation was produced, and on that basis Understanding through reflections, the objective world was “built” or produced. Unless, therefore, the I limits its own infinite activity, there would be no representation, nor objectivity itself.
Why does consciousness, representation, or the world exist at all? “Where did the primordial non-I come from? Where did the hindrance (Anstoß) come from which hinders the I from going to infinity and has it return to the I itself?”
As long as we remain within the domain of the theoretical I, we are not able to answer these questions. For the theoretical I itself was born from encountering that hindrance. This hindrance (der Anstoß) has to be deduced, which is only possible in the domain of the practical I. The Primacy of the Practical Reason that Kant emphasized will be able to do so.
To become the theoretical I by limiting itself is, for the I, to become the practical I. There are the ability of representation and the world of representation in the theoretical world because we, as the practical Is, provide ourselves with the possibility of fulfilling the moral obligation. Why we are Intellect is because we may be able to be Will. We exist and, in consequence, recognize (the world), because we must act, and morally act. (To will and to act, it is necessary to have its object to “act upon.”) To act means to give the form to its matter, to “process” and modify objectivity. The objective world is but the means to accomplish our moral end. Thus, “the objective world is the sensory matter for our moral obligation.” It is not possible for the practical I to act, unless there is the objective world to act on. In other words, unless there is a hindrance, unless there is the non I, the practical I cannot act. Thus, the hindrance (der Anstoß) is deduced.
Moral obligation is the one and the only one in-itself (das An sich) in the phenomenal world (the moral ought is the form!). That is to say, genuine reality in the phenomenal world is this moral ought. “The so called Being in itself (das An sich) of the thing is precisely that which we produce (as its form) from that very thing. Objectivity exists in order to be gradually abandoned, because objectivity exists to be processed and modified so that the activity of the I may reveal itself.
By means of the same explanation as the necessity of the external world becomes clear, it becomes apparent that the infinite I diverges itself into many empirical Is’ or into individuals. By the same token we now understand why the infinite I does not immediately actualize its own plan, but has the finite spirits do so as its means. In his later works, Fichte called this infinite I “the universal Life” (das allgemeine Leben) or “the Godhead” (die Gottheit). The moral act can only be performed by the finite, individual I. Without hindrance, i.e., resistance, there is no act, without war (=moral conflict), there is no morality, according to Fichte. Needless to say, this individuality must be overcome (and made into an infinite I) by the achievement of the moral act, for the very reason of which there must exist the individual.

Morality is to overcome both the inner and outer nature.

Now, what does Fichte mean by “nature?” In the practical I, there are to be clarified the various steps of impulse or drive (Trieb). This Trieb (impulse) is the inner nature. The practical I constitutes the system of necessary impulses just like the theoretical I did. According to Johann Fichte, the I is a infinite strife or endeavor (of activity) = ein unendliches Streben. When the endeavor is posited by the I itself as the inner, subjective one, it is called drive or impulse (der Trieb). When this Trieb arises solely out of the I, then this drive is related to and directed toward the I alone. However, the nature of the I consists in reflection, thus the I’s drive is the drive for reflection. The reflection needs its object and its drive is the drive for representation (der Vorstellungstrieb), whose activity does posit the object. That is, therefore, the drive to produce reality (der Produktionstrieb).
This drive for reality is called yearning (das Sehnen), it is thus, further, the drive for satisfaction (der Befriedigungstrieb). This is accomplished when there exists a harmony between the drive and the act. When not matched, dissatisfaction is felt. Sometimes the act to satisfy a particular drive itself a drive. That is the endeavor which discovers satisfaction in its own act itself and not by any consequence. This absolute drive (der absolute Trieb) is der Trieb um des Triebes willen, i.e., das Streben um des Streben willen. Fichte called this den sittlichen Trieb (=the moral drive or impulse). This is in itself the practical I itself. thus various drives are derived. Der kategorische Imperativ means the absolute Law for Law’s sake, “Du sollst…!

das Ich=das Streben
(I = striving)

der Trieb

(instinctive drive, which is the inner nature)

der Reflexionstrieb = der Vorstellungstrieb
(reflective drive = the drive for representation)

der Produktionstrieb
(das Sehnen)
(desire or productive drive, whose object is the outer nature)

(The drive for satisfaction)

der Trieb nach Harmonie zwischen Trieb und Handlung
(the drive for harmony between drive and action)
der absolute Trieb
der Trieb um des Triebes willen
(das Streben um des Strebens willen)

(The absolute drive or the drive for the sake of drive)

der sittlicher Trieb
(the ethical drive)

das praktische Ich
(the practical I)

The primordial I is the I that is striving for infinity. Thus, the practical I is the bridge, the mediator, between the theoretical I and the absolute, infinite I. That is, the I who is in itself not infinite is striving for becoming infinite.
Among obligations, there are universal obligations and mediated particular obligations.

unconditional or universal obligation
mediated particular obligation

By starting with the immediate, highest principle, the task of the Science of Knowledge is to overcome the dualism between the intuition and thinking, that between cognition and will. Thus, once it is accomplished, the Science of Knowledge is completed.

2. Morallity (Sittlichkeit) And Jurisprudence
In Fichte’s philosophy, the Non-I possesses a negative significance in that it’s role is to disturb or hinder the activities of the I. In Fichte’s system, in this sense, the Non-I or Nature cannot become a philosophical theme as such.
Therefore, there is no Philosophy of Nature in Fichte’s philosophy.
The areas to which the principles of the Science of Knowledge is applicable are such spiritual aspects of reality as Morality, Jurisprudence, History and Religion.

The principle of morality demands to govern the sensory impulse by means of the pure impulse, the absolute impulse (=the impulse for the impulse sake, conf. above). Our sensory impulse, being directed to the fulfillment of pleasure and leisure, makes us dependent on the object (= the external world, the outer nature, = the Non-I).
Contrary to this, the pure or absolute moral impulse, being directed to the self and the pure self satisfaction, pursues the industriousness labor and independence (of the outer nature). In our moral pursuit, the pleasure is not allowed to be the object of our behavior. Morality is the activity for the sake of activity. Just as Kant held, Fichte, too, maintained that, should our will or action produce pleasure by chance, such a will or action cannot be called “moral.” Our moral will or act must be pursued only for the sake of the moral ought.

Das radikale Böse ist die Trägheit!

Die Trägheit (laziness) is the volition which does not heighten itself to the clear consciousness of moral duty and freedom beyond the natural impulse of self preservation. For a truly moral agent, there is no such a thing as leisure (Trägheit) or rest. An moral action will incessantly arouse the next. The moral imperative would be:

Be Independent, behave autonomously and liberate oneself: Make sure that one ought to make each action in the series of actions such that such a series of action will ultimately result in the self’s becoming autonomous.

Fichte’s view of morality is well represented by Goethe’s words in Faust,

Werd’ ich beruhigt je mich auf ein Faulbett legen, So sei es gleich um ich getran!
[If I would soothingly lie on the easy chair, I would have finished!] (Faust I. 1692-1693)

The above is the formal, universal moral principle.
Now, needless to say, each individual moral person is given a task peculiar to oneself by the world order. Each individual person ought to do what only that individual person can and ought to do.

Do what is one’s own moral task, one’s own ethical share!

Going beyond the formality and abstractness of Kantian moral imperative, Fichte attempted to provide a more concrete imperative peculiar to each individual moral person by establishing the principle of the individual’s self independence.
In order for the self of a concrete moral individual person to attain the freedom, there are 4 stages:

1) At the beginning, freedom exists only in the consciousness of natural impulse. Namely, freedom comes into being, only if one reflects on various possible alternatives of action, this freedom is formal.
2) There is a condition (=freedom) in which one is able to escape from the natural impulse by means of the maxim (self-given law) of one’s own happiness.
3) In this higher stage, one becomes excited and in a sense blind such that one is to heroically sacrifice oneself. It is the condition in which one will act selflessly, i.e., nobly, out of simple inclination.
4) In this stage of the genuine morality, paying an attention to the moral principles, one will act out the moral duty out of the duty itself, and must steadily be conscious of morality.

In order for a human being to free oneself from the laziness (Trägheit) as the original sinn (das radikale Böse), one needs to have an ideal example of moral action. The ideal form of freedom by a genius individual is necessary to be shown to us.
Such an ideal example may be found among the founders of the great religions (e.g., Christ or Buddha). The moral conviction of a religious founder is widely circulated by the church, but the dogmas of the church are to be viewed rather as symbols and not as the doctrines themselves. Therefore, the church is a kind of convenient and temporal institution for morality and die Notkriche (this temporally necessary church) should be taken over by the Church of Reason (die Vernunftkirche) through our moral philosophy.
Fichte established a system of duties or moral obligations.
The end of the moral principles is Reason as such, whereby the purpose of the moral principles is to have the state or government of Reason appear in the midst of the world of sensibility. The means to fulfill this end is the particular, finite self or the empirical individual person. The realization of this purpose depends upon this means’ having the right constitution. Thus, the moral duties must be related both to the end and to the means.

The moral duties
I) conditioned or mediated duties (the means)
I-i) universal moral duties
I-ii) particular moral duties
II) unconditional or immediate duties (the purpose)
II-iii) universal moral duties
II-iv) particular moral duties

I-i) The universal, conditional moral duty:
This is each individual’s moral duty and yet it must be universal.

In order for an individual to live and work as the means for the moral principles, the self preservation of the individual is necessary as a moral duty.
There is a great difference between the self preservation as the right and the self preservation as the moral duty. The former consists in the self preservation to attain the consequences or pleasures of an action, while the latter consists in the self preservation in order to morally act in accordance with the principles of morality, utterly independent of the consequences or pleasures of an action.
Therefore, suicide, for example, is against the principles of morality. (System der Sittenlehre, S. 263-8) According to Fichte, suicide is regarded as unethical (not from the religious reason).

I-ii) The particular, conditional moral duties:

These are moral duties related to each particular individual. In order to act for the end of Reason, one ought not to simply act, but act systematically (plannmässig), i.e., one ought to choose the conditions appropriate to oneself ( in accordance with one’s social standing, e.g. one’s vocation and position, circumstances and class), thus in the moral world, it is one’s particular moral duty to choose one’s own standing and vocation, and yet it ought not be chosen by others or by one’s inclination, but by oneself out of pure duties.

II-iii) The universal, unconditional moral duty:

The moral duties which are immediately related to the ultimate, moral ends. They are universal. In the world of sensibility, Reason must govern each individual individually. They are the duties to others as the humans. Thus,

Behandele den anderen seiner moralischen Bestimmung gemäß!

In other words, this means, “One must not harm others!” For the primary condition of the morality is freedom, so to treat others as moral entities means to treat them as freebeings. In order to treat others as moral agents, one must consider to not harm others’ lives and properties. This is the universal, unconditional moral duty.

Do not harm others’ lives and properties!

II-iv) The particular, unconditional moral duties:

They are the moral duties in regards to the ultimate end and yet they are particular. They are particular, as long as they are concerned about the social standing, vocation. Fichte discussed in detail about the duty of the married couple, between parents and children, that of the scientist (=the service to the science with love of truth, i.e., honesty), of the priest (=the ideal example of moral actions), of the artist (= not to be an artist, unless you are a genius, for no moral imperative can command the aesthetic feeling) and of the bureaucrat (=justice). Fichte distinguished among the vocations, the high and the low vocations, namely

  • the lower vocations are those which work on nature such as producers (farmers, miners, fishermen, hunters), manufacturers (craftsmen) and merchants, while
  • the higher vocations are scholars, priests, artists and bureaucrats, who work on the group of Rational beings.

Regarding his philosophy of law, Fichte held the law of nature quite independent of morality (Kant held the same position, although Fichte’s Grundlage des Naturrechts (The Foundations of the Natural Law – 1798) appeared before Kant’s book on the natural law).
According to Fichte, the jurisprudence cannot be deduced from moral laws. The moral law can sanction a certain concept of jurisprudence and yet it cannot produce it.
A law is valid quite independently of morality. While a law allows to exercise a certain right under any circumstance, morality sometimes forbids it. While the moral law under any circumstances requires good will and would not allow anything else than posited by good will, the law is valid without good will. Jurisprudence is concerned with expression of freedom in the sensible world. That is, such an expression is an external behavior, to which the law is related.
The law can coerce, while morality cannot. The law is concerned about the behavior in the world of senses and is not concerned with “intention” (die Gesinnung) which constitutes the core of morality (and not the consequence or pleasure that the action will bring about).
For philosophical justification, it is necessary to deduce the law as the necessary behavior of the I, namely as the condition for the self-consciousness. According to Fichte, the I must posit itself as a finite Individual, i.e., must posit itself as being related to the finite individuals. By so doing, as a finite individual, I must set itself in legal relation to the other rational, individual beings. In other words, I as finite, particular individuals, a finite I and the other finite Is recognize each other’s freedom and accordingly act responsibly.
A finite rational being cannot posit itself, unless it acknowledges its own freedom in the external sensory world. In order to acknowledge one’s own free activities, it is necessary to further recognize other finite rational beings and other’s free activities as well: That means, a finite rational I is in legal relation to the other rational Is.
Secondly, it means further that a finite I recognizes its material corporeal body to itself and acknowledges itself as being under the influence of the others.
The community of the finite free individual beings is the condition for the individual self consciousness, and yet in order that such a community of the free agents may be possible, the principle of juris.

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