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Existentialism, Idealism, and Fichte's Concept of Coherence WALTER E. WRIGHT EXISTENTIALPHILOSOPHERS 1 HABITUALLYACCUSEIDEALISMof deserting the human perspective for the perspective of the absolute, and of losing the concrete richness of life in the barren abstractions of thought. For them, idealism is a form of ideology, alienated from its roots in rived experience. Fichte's philosophical writings present a particularly baroque and unappetizing exterior . His contorted grammar and artificialities of vocabulafly surround all the versions of his system with an air of mystification.2 Even the order of exposition followed in the most widely studied version of his Science oJ Knowledge veils its true significance. 3 Written as an outline for lectures on the system delivered at Jena, this book often defies clear interpretation. The difficultyof Fichte's style, more than anything else, is responsible for his relative obscurity. But in the final analysis Fichte's Science of Knowledge is not so remote as it appears. The underlying motive of the Wissenschcqtslehre is Lebenslehre. If it is to be understood, and if it is to communicate something of value to us, then his system must be read as an analysis of human finitude. The central problematic of Fichte's thinking is the question of the sense and aim of man's existence. Impressed by the irreconcilable conflict of idealistic and realistic accounts of knowledge, Fichte sought in the practical sphere for a reconciling principle which could illuminate man's moral destiny. This search for reconciliation dominates both his theoretical and his practical philosophy. That human existence enjoys the central place in Fichte's thought which I have assigned to it can be shown by examining the problem of philosophical evidence. This issue can be approached as a special case of the general problem of providing support for our claims to knowledge. For the most part we are not confused about what sorts of things and activities ought to count as evidence. In order to decide whether his new move in the Meran Variation is sound, the chess player tries it in tournament games. To discover whether a film is worth seeing, I read reviews or consult with people of whose tastes I approve. Only rarely in the conduct of life do we face questions about evidence which present difficulties in principle. Not surprisingly, the situation is different in philosophy. Philosophical questions are characteristically "framework" questions. They have to do with the most pervasive and x Kierkegaard and Marcel are two notable examples. 2 Whilehispopular booksare lessobscure, their "purple" passagesare almost equally offensive. s Grundlage der Gesamten WL als Handschrift fiir Seine Zuh6rer (1794). Translated in John Lachs and Peter Heath, Fichte: Science of Knowledge (Wissenschaftslehre) (NewYork: Century Philosophy Source Books, 1970). Specificreferences to Fichte's works will be to the Gesamtausgabe of I. H. Fichte (1834-1846), Siimmtliche Werke (SW).Works not translated by Laths and Heath are my own versions. [37] 38 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY elemental features of our experience. Hence, whether we view philosophical statements as reflective of the structure of language, or of "the way things are," or in some other way, such statements do not usually allow of direct confirmation or disconfirmation. Instead, they define the context within which all other confirmations and disconfirmations can occur. Since most philosophers agree that philosophical statements, whatever else they are, are not factual statements, some account must be provided of how we know them to be true. Whether a philosopher appeals to reasoned argument, phenomenologieal description, the facts of language, or perhaps even denies the possibility of any evidence in philosophy, the way he settles the problem of evidence for philosophical claims will be diagnostic for the content of his own views. Idealism, both as a critique of perception and as the belief in "the presence of rational system in the cosmos,TM usually incorporates a rationalistic account of philosophical evidence. The rationalist theory of evidence is by no means simple, and I do not propose to unravel all its mysteries here. For my purposes it will suffice to point out two of its chief forms: the Cartesian doctrine of the "clara et distincta perceptio" and the ideal of coherence. The first form of rationalism seeks to ground knowledge...


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