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Fichte on Skepticism DANIEL BREAZEALE REFERENCES TO SKEPTICISM are common in the writings of J. G. Fichte. Yet these same remarks display a puzzling ambiguity, alternating between outright hostility and grateful appreciation. For example, at the very outset of his career, in a letter written early in 1793, he could dismiss skepticism as "incontrovertibly refuted, ''~ and then, only a few months later, publicly acknowledge and praise it for its essential contribution to the progress of human reason in general and of philosophy in particular.' The aim of the following paper is to sort out these apparently conflicting remarks and to reassess Fichte's attitude toward skepticism. My task is to explain how and why he could, without contradiction, simultaneously praise it for its indispensable contribution to philosophy, reject it as a self-contradictory and ultimately impossible theoretical posture, and denounce it for its allegedly pernicious practical effects upon human life. I should, however, like to begin with three observations: First of all, I wish to emphasize that this investigation will be limited to the texts of Fichte's "Jena ' Letter to R. V. Reinhard, uo February 1793- (The reference here is specifically to Hume's skepticism.) Fichte'sletters are published in Reihe III ofJ. G. Fichte--Gesamtausgabe derBayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed. R. Lauth, H. Jacob, and H. Gliwitzky (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann, 1964- ). [Henceforth, this edition will be cited as AA, followed by section, volume, and page numbers.] This and all other letters from Fichte cited below are available in English translation in Daniel Breazeale, Fichte: Early Philosophical Writings (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988) [henceforth cited as EPW]. All translations are the author's own. 9 "If it is undeniable that philosophizing reason owes all the human progress it has made so far to the observations of skepticism concerning the insecurity of every resting place yet obtained by reason, and if, in the case of the recent, remarkable advance of philosophizingreason through its critical employment, its illustrious discoverer has himself explicitlyacknowledged this debt to skepticism; and if, nevertheless, the ongoing spectacle presented by the friends of this new philosophy, who become ever more divided among themselves the further they advance in their research, makes it apparent even to an uninformed observer that, even now, reason has not yet obtained its great aim of transforming philosophy into a science, however near it may be to this goal: then nothing is more to be desired than that skepticism might crown its labors and drive inquiring reason on to the attainment of its lofty goal" ("Recension des Aenesidemus," D794], AA,I,2:41 = EPW, 59). [427] 4e8 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ~9:3 JULY 1991 Period," which I would define as actually beginning in Zurich in the fall of 1793, that is, a year prior to his triumphant inauguration as Reinhold's successor at Jena, and ending in Berlin in the winter of 18oo/18Ol, a year after Fichte's public fall from grace and dismissal from Jena in the wake of the "Atheism Controversy." Secondly, I wish to address in passing a widespread myth, namely, the notion that post-Kantian German philosophers were so preoccupied with spinning their metaphysical webs and so busy building their grand systematic edifices that they neglected to consider whether such an enterprise was welladvised , or, indeed, even possible. According to this interpretation, German idealists simply ignore the sort of epistemological problems that have long preoccupied their Anglo-American colleagues--a good example of which would be the challenge of philosophical skepticism. One of the aims of the present study is to help lay such a myth to rest once and for all. To this end, allow me simply to quote the opening lines of the work that actually ushered in this controversial and colorful chapter in the history of philosophy, namely, Fichte's Concerning the Concept of the Wissenschaftslehre or of So-Called "Philosophy": Reading the modern skeptics, in particular Aenesidemus and the excellent writings of Maimon, has convinced the author of this treatise of something that already appeared to be most probable, namely, that despite the recent efforts of the most perspicacious men, philosophy has not yet been raised to the...


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