Johann Fichte’s Sun-Clear Statement 1801

Sun-Clear Statement 1801

by Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1762-1814, translated by Adolph Ernst Kroeger 1867 as published in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy Edited by William Torrey Harris, 1835-1909

To the Public at large concerning the true nature of the Newest Philosophy. An attempt to force the reader to an understanding,


Certain friends of transcendental idealism, or of the System of the Science of Knowledge, have attached to this system the name of the newest philosophy. Although this looks somewhat like a satire, and seems to presuppose in those who originated it a search after a very newest philosophy, and although the author of that system is clearly convinced that there is only one science of philosophy as there is only one science of mathematics; and that as soon as this only possible philosophy has been discovered and recognized no newer philosophy can arise, and all previous so-called philosophies will be regarded as only preliminary attempts to establish that science; he nevertheless has preferred the use of that expression in the title of a popular work like the present to the risk of using such unpopular names as “Transcendental Idealism,” or ”The Science of Knowledge.”

Many reasons make it necessary and proper to render an account to the public at large, which has not made the study of philosophy its particular business, concerning the latest attempts to raise philosophy to the dignity of a science. True, not all men are to devote their life to a study of the sciences, and hence not either to a study of the science of all other sciences — a scientific philosophy; and to cultivate this science successfully requires, moreover, a freedom of mind, an industry and a talent which can be found only in a few.

Nevertheless it is equally true that every one who claims but an ordinary intellectual culture should know what this science of philosophy is; should know — though himself not joining in its investigations — what it proposes to investigate,  should know the limit which separates its field from the field which he himself occupies, although he himself does not enter the field, lest he might apprehend danger threatening from that world so utterly foreign and unknown to him, to the world wherein he dwells.

He should know this, moreover, in order that he may not wrong scientific men, with whom he has, after all, to associate; or that he may not give bad advice to his friends, and dissuade them from a study the neglect whereof may be fraught with terrible consequences for them. All these reasons tend to show that men of culture should at least know what philosophy is not, what it does not propose to do, and what it cannot affect.

To produce this insight is not only possible but even an easy matter. Scientific philosophy, although rising above the natural view of things, and above common sense, nevertheless stands with its foot upon the field of common sense, and starts from it — in the course of its progress, however, leaving it far behind. To perceive this foot of philosophy resting upon the field of the natural way of thinking, or to watch this its start from ordinary consciousness, is possible for every one who has but common sense, and possesses the attention which may be properly presupposed in every man of culture.

Such a report is moreover indispensable for a system which was preceded in time by an eclectic system (still in existence), that had abandoned all claim to a scientific method and to scientific preparatory studies, and invited every one to participate in its investigations who was able to add two and two; and indispensable at a time when the unscientific public is but too ready to take advantage of this invitation, and cannot be dissuaded from the opinion that philosophizing is done in the same manner as eating and drinking, and that each one has a vote on philosophical subjects who has the faculty of speech — at a time when this opinion has resulted in great disaster, dragging philosophical propositions and expressions, which can be understood only in a scientific philosophical system, before the jurisdiction of unscientific common sense and nonsense, thereby bringing philosophy not inconsiderably into bad repute; and when it will be found difficult to pick out from amongst real philosophical writers, half a dozen who know what philosophy really is, while others, who seem to know it, whine piteously because philosophy is only philosophy and nothing else; and at a time when even the most thorough of book critics imagine that they have inflicted no little disgrace upon the newest philosophy, by assuring the people that it is after all far too abstract ever to become the ordinary mode of thinking.

The author of this has not hesitated, at various times and in the most varied forms, to make such statements to these pretended art-colleagues. It seems he did not succeed, for he is still compelled to listen to that same old song. He now intends to try whether he can succeed with that public which is not philosophical, as the writer of this understands that term; he intends to show again, in the most comprehensible manner that he finds possible, what he has already shown at various times, and, as he believes, very comprehensibly, in some of his articles.

Perhaps he may thus also succeed — at least mediately — in making himself understood to his colleagues of the faculty. Perhaps the honest and unprejudiced reader will become aware, having no philosophical professor’s or author’s celebrity to maintain, that philosophy needs certain abstractions, speculations and contemplations which he has never before made, and which, when he now tries to make them, do not turn out very satisfactorily; perhaps he will get the insight that this science of philosophy does not at all think or speak about what he ordinarily thinks or speaks; that it cannot contradict him, because it does not at all speak with, of, or concerning him; that all the words which he and that science use in common receive quite a different and, to him, utterly incomprehensible signification as soon as they enter the magic sphere of that science.

Perhaps this honest and unprejudiced man will henceforth abstain quietly from speaking of philosophical matters, precisely as he abstains from discussing trigonometry, or algebra, unless he has studied those sciences; perhaps he will now, whenever the discussion turns upon philosophy, say quietly, “Let the philosophers settle that among themselves, it is none of my business; I shall attend to my vocation.” When lay people shall have set an example of this fair abstinence, it may even be possible that men of learning will also cease to get indignant when they are told repeatedly not to talk about matters which they have not even read of.

In short, common opinion is that philosophy is inborn in man; and hence every one considers himself justified in discussing philosophical matters. How it may be with this inborn philosophy I shall not now investigate; suffice it to say, that my philosophy, which I surely ought to know better than any one, is not inborn, but must be acquired, learned ; and can be judged only by those who have learned it. The former I shall proceed to show; the latter is its evident result.

It seems hard, it is true, and it is a thing which has always been received with ungracious men, to deny to common sense the right to judge about matters which are also considered the ultimate end of philosophy — God, Freedom, and Immortality. Hence, also, the quoted example of mathematical (or any other positive) science, has always been rejected and denounced as improper.

The argument is: these conceptions are after all grounded in the natural way of thinking of mankind, and hence they are surely in a certain respect inborn.

Now it is to be remembered that, so far as the newest philosophy is concerned, it by no means denies to common sense the right to talk about those subjects, but rather vindicates to common sense that right more emphatically, it appears to me, than any previous philosophy has done; solely requiring of common sense to limit those discussions to its own sphere, and for its own mode of arguing; but on no account to assert them to be philosophically scientific since the philosophical sphere does not exist at all for common sense. Common sense has the perfect right to argue about those subjects, and perhaps may argue very correctly; but common sense cannot philosophize about them, for this is possible only to those who have learned to philosophize.

If, nevertheless, people are so anxious to retain that favorite expression “philosophy,” and to continue to glory in the celebrity of a “philosophical mind,” “philosophical lawyer,” “philosophical historian,” “philosophical newspaper-writer,” &c., let them adopt my repeated proposition, that scientific philosophy should abandon the name “philosophy,” and assume the name “science of knowledge.” Once assured of this name, our science will gladly assign that other name, “philosophy”, to all sorts of arguing.

Let the public at large, in that case, and all who have not thoroughly studied that science, consider it as some newly-discovered, unknown science, and have faith in our assurance that this science has nothing in common with what they call philosophy, and hence can never enter into conflict with it. Their philosophy shall retain all possible dignity and honor; we ask them only to allow us our claim to the natural freedom of all men, not to take any notice of their philosophy, and beg them likewise not to take any notice of our science in their so called philosophy.

The following is therefore the real  purpose of this work: not to secure any new sphere for the newest philosophy, but merely to secure a just place for it within its own limits. This work itself is not philosophy, in the true sense of the word, but merely argument.

Whoever has read and understood it from beginning to end has not thereby acquired a single philosophical conception, but solely a conception of philosophy; he has never stepped from the field of common sense, or into that of philosophy, but he has arrived at the limit which separates the two. If thereupon he desires to study this philosophy, he will at least know what he has to direct his attention upon, and what he has to look away from. If he does not desire to do so, he has at least gained the clear consciousness that he does not desire it, and never did desire it; and that hence he ought to disclaim all judgment regarding philosophical matters. He will also have become convinced that true philosophy can never interfere with or disturb his own peculiar sphere.


My reader, before you proceed to the reading of this work, let us come to a preliminary agreement.

That which you are going to read in this book has, it is true, been thought by me; but it matters not, either to you or to me, that you should know what I have thought. However much it may have been your habit to read works merely in order to know what their authors have thought and said, I still wish that you should proceed differently in respect to this book. I appeal not to your memory, but to your understanding.

My object is not that yon should remark what I have said, but that you should yourself think, and, if it pleases heaven, think precisely what I have thought.  Hence, if in the reading of this work it should happen to you —as so often happens to readers now-a-days — that you should continue to read, without continuing to think —that you should still be taking hold of the words, without, however, continuing to seize their meaning — desist, redouble your attention, and read over again from the sentence where your attention slipped off, or put the book aside for the day, and commence tomorrow with fresh vigor. Only on this condition on your part can I fulfill the proud promise on the title-page — to force you to an understanding. You must really come out with your mind and oppose it to mine for battle, and to this I cannot force you. If you bold back, I have lost the wager; you will understand nothing, just as you can see nothing if you close your eyes.

But if it should happen to you that from a certain point in this work you cannot in any manner, and by any exertion, convince yourself of the correctness of my assertions, put the book aside, and leave it unread for a considerable time. Continue to use your understanding in the accustomed manner, without thinking about the book and, perhaps, all of a sudden, without your intending it in any way, the condition of understanding it will come of itself, and you will after awhile comprehend quite readily and well what at present you cannot comprehend by any exertion. Such things have also occurred to us, who at present claim some power of thinking. But let me entreat you to give God the praise for it, and to keep utterly silent on this subject until the condition of understanding this work, and its comprehension, have arisen in you.

My argument is one uninterrupted chain of conclusions; each subsequent point if true only on condition of its preceding point having been found to be true by you.  If it has not been so found by yon, you cannot continue to think as I have thought, and hence your persisting to read would have no other result than to make you acquainted with what I have thought.

But this result has always been considered by me as very insignificant; and I have often marveled at the modesty of most men in placing such a high value upon the thoughts of others, and so little value upon their own, that they will rather spend their whole lives in making themselves acquainted with those, than generate any of their own—modesty which I desire should be utterly waived in the case of my thoughts.


By observing the external world, and his own internal self, each man of healthy senses receives a collection of cognition, experiences, and facts. These, the given of immediate perception, he can also renew in himself without that actual perception; he can reflect upon and can hold the manifold of the perception together; can hunt up that wherein the separates of the manifold agree, and that wherein they do not agree. In this manner, if a man has but an ordinary, healthy understanding, his knowledge will become clearer, be more definite and useful, will become a possession, which he can administer with complete freedom and agility — but on no account will his knowledge be increased by thus reflecting upon it.

He can reflect only upon what he has perceived or observed, and can compare it only with itself, but on no account can he produce new objects by mere thinking.

This collection of knowledge and a certain more or less superficial or thorough control over it by freely reflecting upon it, you and I and all men possess in common; and this is doubtless what is meant when people speak of a system or of propositions of common sense.


There did exist a philosophy which claimed that it could increase the above described collection by a mere drawing of conclusions, and which held that thinking was not only what we have just described it to be — a mere analyzing and recomposing of the given — but, at the same time, a producing and creating of something altogether new.

According to this system, the philosopher was exclusively possessed of certain cognitions which common sense could not attain. According to it, the philosopher could produce through argument, a God, and an immortality for himself, and could argue himself wise and good. If such philosophers are logical, they must declare common sense to be insufficient for the purposes of daily life — since, otherwise, their expanding system would become superfluous — and must invite all who bear a human face to become as great philosophers as they are themselves, so that all may likewise become as good and virtuous as these philosophers.


My reader, does a philosophical system, such as I have just now described, appear to you to be honorable to common sense and its interests — a system which insists of common sense that it should be cured of its inborn blindness in the school of the philosopher, and should there get an artificial light to replace its own natural light?

Now, if to this system there should oppose itself another system, claiming utterly to refute this pretension of a knowledge obtainable only through argument, but inaccessible  to common sense, and to show in the most convincing manner that we have no Truth and Reality except the experience which is accessible to all; that there is nothing for life except the above described system of common sense; that life can be learned only through life itself, but on no account through speculation; and that men do not argue themselves wise or good, but live themselves wise and good — would you, as the representative of common sense, consider this latter system your enemy or your friend, and would you believe its tendency to be to wrap new chains around you, or rather to liberate you from those wherein you have been entrapped?

Again: If this latter system were attacked, and charged with being hostile to you and threatening your ruin, and if this charge emanated from persons who had all the appearance of belonging to the party of the philosophers of the class first described, what opinion would you hold of the honesty of such persons, or, to use the mildest expression, of their acquaintance with the true position of things?


You are astonished, my reader. You ask whether these are really the facts of the case in the charges raised against the newest philosophy?

I am forced here to throw aside my character as author, and to assume my individual personality.

Whatever people may think and say of me, I am at least known to be not a mere copyist; and, so far as I know, the public is unanimous on this point — nay, many confer upon me the oft repudiated honor of holding me up as the originator of an utterly new system, unknown before me; and the man who would seem to be the most competent judge in this matter — Kant — has publicly renounced all participation in my system.

Let this be as it may, at any rate I have not learned from any one else what I teach; have not found it in any book before I taught it; and hence it is, at least in its form, altogether my property. I ought, therefore, to know best my own teachings. Doubtless I also desire to state them; for of what use could it be to me here publicly to declare something whereof any one might prove the contrary from my other writings?

I therefore publicly declare it to be the innermost spirit and soul of my philosophy, that man has nothing- but experience, and that he arrive at everything at which he does arrive, only through experience, only through life itself.

All his thinking, be it loose or systematic, ordinary or transcendental, proceeds from experience, and has again experience for its object. Nothing except life has unconditioned value and significance; all other thinking, imagining, and knowing, has value only in so far as it relates itself in some manner to life, proceeds from life, and tends to return back into life.

Such is the tendency of my philosophy. Such, also, is the tendency of Kant’s philosophy, which will not separate from me, at least on this point; and such, also, is the tendency of the philosophy of a contemporary of Kant— Jacobi — who would have little to complain of about my system if he would understand me on this one point. Hence, it is the tendency of all newer philosophy which understands itself and knows what it wants.

I have not to defend any of the others here; I speak only of my own, of the so-called newest. The standpoint, the method, the whole form of this philosophy, involves statements which may induce the belief that it does not tend towards the result just described, but towards its very opposite, namely: if its peculiar standpoint is lost sight of, and if that which is valid for it is held as valid for everyday life and common sense.

Hence, I need only to describe this standpoint accurately, and to distinguish it carefully from the standpoint of common sense, in order to make it appear clearly that my philosophy has no other tendency than the one just announced. If you, therefore, dear reader, should resolve to remain upon the standpoint of common sense, this work will give you full security on that standpoint against my own and all other philosophy; or should you desire to rise to the standpoint of philosophy, it will furnish you with the most comprehensible introduction to it.

I am desirous to be, for once, clearly understood in regard to the points which I have to treat of here, for I am tired of continually repeating what I have stated so often.

Nevertheless, I must ask the patience of the reader for a continuous argument, wherein I can assist his memory only by repeating propositions before proven, whenever new consequences are to be drawn from them.

First Conversation

The Author. Don’t be alarmed, my reader, if I seem to take a somewhat long route. I am anxious to make very clear to you certain conceptions which will be of importance in future, not for the sake of these conceptions themselves, which are but common and trivial, but for the sake of the results I propose to derive from them. Nor shall I analyze these conceptions further than is absolutely necessary for my purpose, as you may tell the book critic, who will perhaps expect here an analytical art work.

To begin, you surely know how to distinguish the really actual, that which the true fact of your present experience and life, or that which you actually live and experience, from the nonactual, the merely imagined.

For instance, you at this moment sit in your room, hold this book in your hand, see its letters, and read its words. This is doubtless the actual event and determinedness of your present life-moment. In thus sitting and continuing to hold this book, you doubtless can remember yesterday’s conversation with a friend, can represent this friend to yourself as if he actually stood before you, can hear him speak, can make him repeat what he said yesterday, &c., &c.

Tell me, is this latter, this appearance of your friend, equally the actual and true event of your present life-moment, with your sitting in your room and holding this book.

The Reader.  By no means.

The Author. But I should think something at least, even in this latter state, is an actual and real event of your life; for tell me, do you not in the meanwhile continue to live — does not your life pass away  in the meanwhile — is it not filled up with something?

Reader: I see; you are right. The true event of my life in the latter state is precisely my placing my friend before me, my making him speak, not his actual being with me.

This placing him before me is that wherewith I fill up the time which I live in the meanwhile.

Author: Hence, there must be a common somewhat in your sitting there and holding the book and in your placing your friend before you, recalling his conversation, &c., by means of which common character you judge of both cases, that they are actually real events of your life. On the other hand, that yesterday’s actual conversation and presence of your friend must also not have this common character — which would warrant you to consider it as actually occurring — in the connection of time wherein you place it to-day by recalling it. Nay, it has, probably, an opposite to this common character, which causes you today to declare it to be not actually occurring.

Reader: It certainly must be so. My judgment must have a ground; a similar judgment must have a similar ground; an opposite judgment an opposite ground, or the absence of the former ground.

Author: What may this ground be?

Reader: I do not know.

Author: But you judge every moment of your life concerning actuality and non-actuality, and judge correctly, in conformity with other rational beings. Hence, the ground of those judgments must be always present to you; you only do not become clearly conscious of it in your judgment. As for the rest, your answer,’I do not know,” signifies only: “Nobody has yet told me.” But even if it were told you, it would avail you nothing ; you must find it yourself.

Reader: However much I resolve the matter in my mind, I cannot get at it.

Author: Nor is it the right way to be guessing at it and looking around for it. It is in this way that those systems arise which are purely imaginary. Neither can you get at it by drawing conclusions. But try to become thoroughly conscious of your procedure in this judgment concerning actuality and non-actuality; look into yourself, and you will at once become conscious of the ground of your procedure, and will internally contemplate it. All that can be done to assist you is to guide you in the right direction, and this guidance is indeed all that can be obtained from philosophical teaching.

The presupposition must always be that you have within yourself, and contemplate and observe, that towards which the teacher guides you. Otherwise, you will only be listening to the narrative of another’s observation, and not of your own; and, moreover, to an incomprehensible narrative, for that upon which all depends cannot be described in words as composed of things already known to you, but is an absolutely unknown, which can become known to you only through your own internal contemplation, and can be characterized by anything sensuously known only in the way of analogy, which characteristic, therefore, receives its full significance only through contemplation.

Remember this, once for all, when similar cases arise in the future, and try to spread it amongst our celebrated writers who do not know it, and who speak very awkwardly concerning the relation of philosophy to language. But to the point:

When you are engaged in the reading of this book, in the observation of this object, or in the conversation with your friend, do you reflect upon your reading, observing, hearing, seeing, or feeling of the object, or your speaking to your friend?

Reader: By no means. I think not at all upon myself. I forget myself utterly in the book, in the object, in the conversation. Hence, people use the expressions: “I am engaged in it,” “immersed in it,” “lost in it.”

Author: And this, by the bye, all the more, the more intense, full, and lively your consciousness of the object is. That half dreamy and listless consciousness, that inattention and thoughtlessness, which is a characteristic of our age, and the most unconquerable obstacle to a thorough philosophy, is precisely the condition wherein men do not utterly abandon themselves to the object, do not bury and forget themselves in it, but always flutter and waver between the object and their own consciousness.

But how is it in the case when you place before you an object not held by you as actual in the present connection of time; for instance, yesterday’s conversation with your friend? Is there also something in this case to which you abandon yourself wherein you forget yourself?

Reader: Certainly. Precisely this placing the absent object before me is that wherein I forget myself.

Author: You stated a short while ago, that in the former condition it is the presence of the object, and in the latter condition the re-presenting of the object to your mind, which constitutes the true reality of your life, and at present you state that you forget yourself in both. Here, then, we have found the looked for ground of your judgment concerning actuality and non-actuality. The self-forgetting is the characteristic of actuality, and in each condition of life, the focus wherein you throw and forget yourself, and the focus of actuality, are one and the same. That which tears you from yourself is the actually occurring, which fills up your life-moment.

Reader: I do not quite understand you.

Author: I was forced to establish this conception so much in advance, and have in the meanwhile characterized it as clearly as possible. But if you will only keep up attentive conversation with me, I hope it will become very clear to you in a short while. Can you also represent again the representation just now made by you of yesterday’s conversation with your friend?

Reader: Doubtless. Nay, this is the very thing I have done during our reflection on that representation. I did not so much represent that conversation as rather the representing of that conversation.

Author: Now, tell me what in this representation of the representing do you hold to be the real factical or that which fills up the fleeting moments of your life?

Reader: Precisely this representing of the representing.

Author: Now let us retrace our steps. In the representation of yesterday’s conversation — please become thoroughly conscious of it, and look into your consciousness — how was that conversation related to your consciousness, and to the real factical which filled your consciousness?

Reader: The conversation, as I have already stated, was not the actual event, but merely the reconstructing of the conversation.

Nevertheless, the event was not a mere reconstructing in general, but the reconstructing of a conversation and, moreover, of this particular conversation. The reconstructing, as the chief point, was accompanied by the conversation; and the latter was not the actual, but the modification, the general determination of the latter.

Author: And in the representing of this representation?

Reader:  In the representing of the representation, that representing was the actual event; the representation the further determination of it, since it was not a representing in general, but the representing of a representation; and the conversation, finally, was the further determination of the (represented) representation, since the representing had for its object not a representation in general, but a determined representation, namely, that of a determined conversation.

Author: Hence, each reality, each true and actually occurring event in life is that wherein you forget yourself. This is the beginning and real focus of life, whatever further subordinated determinations this focus may involve, because it happens to be such a particular focus. I wish and hope that I have made myself quite clear to you, and am sure I have been successful, if during this investigation you have only been always within yourself, looking into yourself, and attending to yourself. Tell me, whilst you represented yesterday’s conversation, or — since I prefer not to assume a mere fiction, but to place you right into your present condition of mind — whilst you just now argued with me, thereby filling up your life and throwing into it yourself, you doubtless hold that many other things have moved and happened outside of your own self and mind.

Reader: Doubtless. The hand of the clock, for instance, has moved, so has the sun, &c.

Author: Have you seen or experienced this moving of the hand of the clock?

Reader: How could I, since I was arguing with you, throwing my whole self into it, and filling up my life with it?

Author: How, then, do you know concerning the movement of the clock — to stop at this example?

Reader:  I looked at it before, and noticed the place pointed out by the hand. I now look at it again, and find that the hand has moved to another place. I draw the conclusion from the arrangement of the clock, which was previously known to me, likewise through perception, that the hand has gradually moved whilst I was arguing.

Author: Do you assume that, if instead of arguing with me, you had occupied the same time in looking at the clock, you would have actually perceived the movement of the hand?

Reader: Most certainly do I assume it.

Author: Hence, both your arguing and the movement of the clock are, according to what you say, true and actual events of the same moment of time; the latter, to be sure, is not an event of your life, since you lived something else during the time, but it might have become an event of your life, and would have become so necessarily, if you had paid attention to the clock?

Reader:  Yes.

Author: And the hand of the clock has actually and in fact moved without your knowledge and activity?

Reader:  That is the assumption, certainly.

Author: Do you believe that if you had not argued — just as you did not look at the clock — your argument would also have moved on without your knowledge or activity, like the hand of the clock?

Reader:  On no account. My arguing does not move of itself; I must carry it on, if it is to be carried on.

Author:  How does this apply to the representing of yesterday’s conversation? Does that also come to you without any activity of your own, like the movement of the clock, or must you produce it yourself, like the Argument?

Reader:  If I consider it carefully, I do not know. True, just at present I am convinced that I actively produced it, because you asked me to do so; but since it often happens that images crowd through my brain, and come and go without any cooperation of my own, just as the hand of the clock moves, I cannot decidedly say whether that representation might not have come into my head without any activity of my own, and without your request.

Author:  With all the respect which an author owes his reader, and which I really entertain towards you, let me tell you that this confusion of yours is of bad augury for the continuation of our conversation. I hold that men should dream only in their sleep, but should not when waking allow images to crowd of themselves into their brain. The absolute freedom arbitrarily to give a determined direction to your mind, and keep it in that direction, is an essential condition, not only of philosophical, but even of healthy common thinking. But in the hope that you will, at least during our present investigation, keep these foreign images away from your mind, and resist that blind operation of an association of ideas, I will drop this doubtful point of sensuous representation, and solely make use of your confession concerning the freedom of argument.

It seems, then, that there are two kinds of actuality, which are both equally actual, but of which the one makes itself, while the other must be made by him for whom it is to be, and is not unless he so makes it?

Reader:  So it appears.

Author:  Let us consider the matter a little. You say the hand of the clock has actually moved during your argumentation. Would you be able to say this, would you know this, unless you had looked again at the hand after your argument, and had now drawn your conclusion from the actual perception that it occupied another place?

Reader: Certainly not.

Author:  Do not forget this; it is very important to me.

All reality of the first kind — however much it may proceed in its course without your knowledge and cooperation, or may exist in itself i.e. unrelated to any possible consciousness, a point which we shall not discuss here — all such reality is at least for you and as an event of your life, only in so far as you at some time direct your attention to it, throw yourself into it, and take hold of that reality with your consciousness.

When we consider this well, your assertion that the hand of the dock has moved from one place to another, from the time of one of your perception to that of a second perception — without which latter perception the hand would never have come into your consciousness again — and daring this intermediate time while you did not observe it, can only signify: you would have perceived the hand moving if you had directed your attention to it.

Hence, by this assertion of an event outside of your life, you only assert a possible event within your life, a possible continuous flow of this life from the first perception of the hand to the second perception. You supply and add a series of possible observations between the end points of your two actual observations. Now, if I pledge you my word that I shall always speak only of a reality for you, and never replace it by a reality unrelated to you, nor speak or assert anything of this latter sort of reality, will you then allow me to consider the continuation of an external reality, without any act of your own, as merely the continuation of your own possible consciousness and life, since you have seen that it becomes reality for you, after all, only in this manner?

A Reader (who, perhaps, may even be a celebrated philosopher).  I will bear nothing more of such stuff. Have I not sufficiently hinted to you that this is pure insanity? I always proceed from a reality in and for itself, from an absolute being. I cannot go higher, and will not. The distinction which you make between a reality in itself and a reality for us, and the abstraction in the former which you undertake, and which, as I now apprehend, is the cornerstone of your system, you must first demonstrate to me!

Author:  Indeed? You are able to speak of a reality without knowing of it, without seizing it, at least dimly, in your consciousness, and relating it to your consciousness? You can do more than I can. Put down the book; it is not written for you.

A second and fairer Reader. I will accept your limitation to speak only of a reality for us on condition that you remain true to it, and speak of reality in itself neither good nor evil. But as soon as you transcend your limits and draw a conclusion to the disadvantage of the latter, I also shall leave you.

Author:  Not more than fair. If we then presuppose this view, that only our relation to reality and actuality is to be considered, our consciousness would appear about as follows: All reality, whatever name it may have, becomes reality for as only through our immersing and forgetting ourself in certain determinations of our life, and this forgetting of yourself is precisely that which gives to these determinations wherein we forget ourselves the character of reality, and which gives us life at all.

Thus there result certain fundamental and primary determinations (the next following opposite will make clear these expressions, which I entreat yon to consider maturely,) of our life, as its true roots, which make and continue themselves, and to which we only need to surrender ourselves and allow them to take hold of our being, in order to appropriate them and make them our actual life; and the continuous chain whereof, no matter if they are dropped at certain links, can always be arbitrarily taken hold of again, and be supplied backward or forward from every point.

I say we only need to surrender ourselves to them, for even these fundamental determinations cannot pull us irresistibly towards them; we having, moreover, the faculty to pull ourselves (a fact which was forgotten in those determinations) loose again from them, and to create freely out of ourselves a higher series of life and actuality for ourselves.

We can, for instance, think and sense ourselves as the knowing in that fundamental consciousness, or as the living in that fundamental life; or we can rise to the second degree of life, if we call the remaining within the fundamental determinations the first degree of life ; or we may again sense ourselves as the thinking in that thinking of original knowledge as the contemplating of our own life in that positing of it, which would result in a third degree of life ; and so on ad infinitum.

The whole distinction between that first degree and the higher degrees, between the previously given life — which was presented to us, and which we need only to accept in order to make it our actual life — and that life which is not given to us, but which must be produced by our self-activity, is probably this: that from each of the higher degrees you can look down and descend into a lower one; whereas from the lowest one you cannot look down, because it is itself the deepest, and cannot go lower except into the realm of nothingness; that hence we are conditioned in regard to the descent by the lowest one, but not in regard to the ascent through reflection; and that this lowest one is, therefore, the real foot and root of all other life. Hence, I called it the primary and fundamental determination of all life.

For us, let it be here sufficient, conformably to our agreement, to consider this sphere of the first degree as the sphere of such fundamental determinations of our life, but on no account as the sphere of things in and for themselves, a view which we here discard. Be they ever so much the latter, in and for themselves, for us they exist only as determinations of our life, or by our living and experiencing them, and we are content here to speak of them only in relation to us. The content of this sphere is often more specially called reality,  fact of consciousness, or experience.

Know, reader, that hereafter we shall reflect solely upon this system of the first degree. Do not forget this for a single moment, but separate whatsoever belongs to the higher degrees from it

I include in this system of the first degree all that which we perceive through our external senses in space, or through our internal sense in our soul. In regard to the latter, this sphere includes also what I have termed higher degrees, not as regards their content, but as regards their form, namely: the laws which it observes, for these laws belong to the facts of the internal sense, and are perceived when we carefully observe ourselves in those proceedings of the soul.

The chief object of the present conversation, my reader, was this:

that you should (but quite arbitrarily, and only to suit my future purpose, separate all the occurrences of your consciousness into two classes, and should clearly comprehend the distinction of what belongs to the one and what to the other class; that you should separate that which is product of freedom, and which therefore belongs to the higher classes, and should look to that only which I have called the first degree.

Only in so far as you have clearly seen this distinction, and hold to it, can you correctly seize that which will be the subject of our other conversations.

Second Conversation

Author: Do not forget, my reader, the distinction we have drawn between two fundamental determinations of all possible consciousness, but keep in mind that I shall speak only of the former of the two which I have called the fundamental and primary determination of all life. Let us now renew our conversation, without any fear on your part as to how we can return to our argument.

Let us consider the interior of a mechanical work of art; for instance, of a watch. You observe many wheels of various kinds joined together in it, likewise springs, chains,&c. Your observation goes from one object to another in its perception of the manifold of the machinery. Tell me, does it make any difference to you in this, your observation, whether you commence with the upper or lower part of the machinery, with the right or left side of it?

Reader: Certainly not. I can complete my observation of the parts in all these directions.

Author: But perhaps, instead of guiding your observation by the sequence of the parts, you direct it by other characteristics, as, for instance, their external similarity and equality?

Reader: This also is a matter of indifference to my observation.

Author: Nevertheless, just as sure as you have observed the separate parts, you have observed them in a certain order of sequence; let us say from the upper part downward. Why, since there were many sequences possible for your observation, did you then choose this particular sequence and none other?

Reader: I cannot even say that I did choose it I did not even consider that many sequences were possible. I immediately hit upon the one I followed. It was by chance, as we say when we can assign no ground.

Author:  The manifold of the above described fundamental determinations of consciousness in general doubtless observe also an order of sequence in your consciousness?

Reader: Assuredly. I observe in the world before me at present this, next that ,next that, &c. &c.

Author:  Does it strike you at the first glance, that this sequence of your observation is necessary, or do you hold that the sequence might have been otherwise?

Reader: I hold that other sequences might have been possible, and, moreover, that I did not choose those observations which did occur in my consciousness with freedom, but that they came into me by chance, like the sequence of my observation of the manifold elements in the watch.

Author:  At present, let us return to this watch and your observation of its separate parts.

In examining each separate part, this wheel and this spring, each by itself, and finding it altogether determined in a certain manner, of a certain size and a certain form, &c, does it seem impossible to you that it might be otherwise, or can you conceive that it might be otherwise, latter or smaller, in the most manifold manner?

Reader: I hold that each separate piece, considered in and for itself, might well be infinitely otherwise as such separate piece. But all these pieces are to work together, and to produce a single result in their union; and if I take this view of the subject, all the pieces must, in my judgment, fit together and reciprocally work upon each other.

If I take this view, it is certainly possible to make another whole, e. g. another and larger watch, or to make the machinery of the watch serve other purposes besides its proper own; and in this case, the separate wheel which I observed not only could be otherwise, but would necessarily have to be otherwise.

But if you ask me to speak only of this particular watch before us, then I must say it is absolutely necessary that this wheel should be precisely as it is, and not a hairsbreadth different, for the very reason that the whole is as it is, or rather because all other pieces in the watch are as they are. Again:

If I commence my observation with this single piece, I must say: If this piece is once given as a piece of such a mechanism, then it is necessary that all other pieces be precisely as they are, if they are to form a whole with it.

Author:  Hence, if you only properly understand the mechanism of this work of art, you will not need at all, as we assumed at first, to observe one part of the machinery after the other in actual perception, but after you have seen and correctly comprehended the one part, you can by its means supply all the others without actually perceiving them; you can replace them by mere conclusions from the construction of the one part, and these mere conclusions will show you all the other parts needed for the completion of the machinery.

Reader: Undoubtedly.

Author:  Is it all the same for this purpose what particular piece of machinery I give to yon for examination?

Reader: All the same, for all the others must fit each possible piece; hence from each possible part it is possible to conclude how all the others must be constructed, in so far as they are to be determined through the mere mechanism of the work.

Author:  Now assume the possible case, that — in respect to a certain sphere, and to a certain extent, which this is not the place to define more closely — there is, in the manifold parts of the above- described fundamental determinations of all consciousness, such a connection, similar to the mechanical one just pointed out, and that hence each separate part of that manifold object must fit to and be determined by all other parts, and vice versa. In that case, would it not be possible to discover, by means of mere conclusions drawn from each separate part of actual consciousness, how all other consciousness must be— although that other consciousness do not become actual — precisely as you held yourself able to state from your observation of one wheel the construction of all others although not actually observing them?

Assume, moreover, that philosophy, or, if you prefer, the science of knowledge, consists in this very hunting up of the manifold elements of consciousness, by means of conclusions drawn from the given to the construction of the not-given, and you have already a very clear conception of that science.

That science is the demonstration, or the deduction, of all consciousness, of course in its primary and fundamental determinations, from some given determination of actual consciousness; precisely as you undertook a demonstration or deduction of the whole watch from one of its given wheels. That science is a demonstration of this consciousness utterly independent of actual perception in consciousness; precisely as you need not actually perceive all the other parts of the watch in order to know how they are, and necessarily must be, in actuality, if the watch is properly constructed.

Reader: Very true, if I reflect only in a superficial manner on what you say, and accept the comparison without objecting. Bat if I reflect closer, your conception appears to me to be self-contradictory. The science of knowledge, you say, furnishes me with a consciousness of the fundamental determination of my consciousness, without these determinations actually occurring in consciousness. How is that possible? Do I not become conscious of what the science of knowledge teaches?

Author: Undoubtedly; precisely as you become conscious of the wheels, the existence whereof in the machine you assert from a mere conclusion, but not conscious, as if you saw or felt them. It ought to have become clear to you ere this, that there is a distinction in the modes of becoming conscious. I shall define them more clearly after a while, for the purpose of our investigation. At present, let not this deter you from accepting our assumption.

Reader: Truly, I have no great desire to go on and investigate what might result if the merely possible should become actual, or the impossible possible; and your presupposition of a systematic connection amongst the fundamental determinations of our consciousness seems, indeed, to belong to these impossibilities.

Author: I trust I shall be able to remove your objections to the impossibility of my presupposition. For the present, please draw only one conclusion with me from that assumption — a conclusion which I cannot too speedily draw for the sake of annihilating misunderstandings of another description, and of removing their secret effects upon your mind.

If you examine a separate piece of the watch, and proceed to draw your conclusions according to the well-known laws of mechanics as to the construction of the other necessary parts, in order to give to that one part, which you actually perceive, the whole determinateness which you perceive belongs to it, do you, in this your function of drawing conclusions, actually see and feel, or perceive with your external senses, those other parts?

Reader: By no means. To use the illustration used by you in the first conversation: these other parts are not related to my consciousness like this book which I hold in my hand, but like the representation of yesterday’s conversation with a friend. The real factical in this operation, that wherein I immerse and lose myself, is not the existence of wheels, but my representing of them, my— not so much re-constructing, as pre-constructing them.

Author: Do you, or does any rational man, claim such a representation, such an internal tracing out of a piece of machinery to be the actual working machinery of real life? And does any one say, after having, for instance, described and demonstrated to you such a watch, “Now put this watch into your pocket; it will go right; you can pull it out whenever you choose, and see by it what time it is”?

Reader: Not that I know, unless he be a complete fool.

Author: Take care and do not say so. For this was precisely what that philosophical system says, of which I spoke in the introduction, and against which the so-called newest is chiefly directed. That system pretended its demonstration of a watch, and moreover an incorrect demonstration, to be a real, and even a most excellent watch.

But if any one, to whom you have demonstrated a watch, should finally say: “How can this help me? I do not see that I shall thus get possession of a watch, or that your demonstration -will be able to show me what time it is;” or if he should moreover accuse you of haying spoiled his actual watch by your demonstration, or of haying demonstrated it out of his pocket, what would you say of such a one?

Reader: That he was as much of a fool as the first one.

Author: Take care and do not say so. For precisely this — this insisting on a real watch, when you have only promised them a demonstration of one — is the most weighty objection that has yet been raised against the newest philosophy — and has been raised, moreover, by the most respectable professors and most thorough thinkers of our time. Upon this mistaking of the actual thing for its mere demonstration are grounded, indeed, all misapprehensions to which that philosophy has been exposed. I say emphatically, are grounded all objections and misapprehensions. For why should I not, instead of continuing to presuppose what that science may be, historically state what that science really is to its originators, who undoubtedly know something about it.


Philosophy, therefore, dear reader — or, since this word might lead to dispute, — the science of knowledge first of all utterly abstracts from all that we have above characterized as higher degrees of consciousness and limits itself with its assertion, which we shall directly state, to the primary and fundamental determinations of consciousness, altogether in the sense stated above.


In these fundamental determinations the science of knowledge makes a further distinction between that whereof each rational being asserts, that it is the same for each other rational being or valid for all reason; and that whereof each confesses that it exists only for our race, for mankind or perhaps only for this particular individual. The science of knowledge abstracts also altogether from this second class of determinations of consciousness, and hence only the former class constitutes the substance of its investigations.

If any reader should remain in doubt concerning the ground and the laws of this latter distinction, or if he should not be able to make it as clear to himself as the primary distinction between determinations of consciousness in general, this would not interfere with any of the results we intend to establish in this work; nor would it interfere with the obtaining of a correct conception concerning the science of knowledge. In that science itself, to which we do not propose to introduce the reader here, the distinction between those two classes arises of itself.

For those who are acquainted with philosophical terminology, we add the following : That class of fundamental determinations of consciousness, which is valid for all reason, and which alone is the object of philosophy, is what Kant calls the a priori or primary; and the other class of determinations, valid only for the race, or for the individual, is what the same author terms the a posteriori . The science of knowledge does not need to make this distinction in advance of its system, since it is made and grounded in the system itself; in the science of knowledge those expressions, a priori and a posteriori have quite a different meaning.


The science of knowledge presupposes, for the purpose of gaining an entrance for itself and a definite problem for itself, that there may be a systematic connection in the manifold elements of those fundamental determinations, by means of which connection, if one is, then all the rest must also be, and be precisely as it is; and hence that those fundamental determinations within the described sphere constitute a system complete in itself.

I say, that science presupposes for itself this in advance. For, first, it is not yet a science, but only becomes such through that presupposition; and, secondly, it only presupposes, but does not prove it at first. Those fundamental determinations are known, let us say, to the teacher of the science of knowledge; whence? It does not matter here; he hits upon the thought — how? it does also not matter here — that there may be a systematic connections  between them. He does not as yet maintain this connection, nor does he claim to furnish immediate proof of it, and still less does he claim to prove anything else by his presupposition. His thought may be merely an assumption, an accidental notion, which is therefore to signify nothing more as yet than any other notion.


By virtue of this presupposition, the teacher of the science of knowledge now proceeds to the attempt to see whether, from some one fundamental determination of consciousness — this is not the place to say from which — he can deduce all others as necessarily connected with it and determined through it. If the attempt fails, it does not prove that it may not succeed another time, or that the presupposition of a systematic connection is false. It retains its validity as a problem. If the attempt succeeds — if really all the fundamental determinations of consciousness, except the presupposed one, can be completely and exhaustively deduced from it, then the presupposition has been proved by the fact. But even this presupposition, thus proved, is foreign to us in a description of the science of knowledge. The business of that deduction is the science of knowledge itself; where it begins the science begins, and where it ends the science ends.

This, then, my reader, consider settled and fixed between you and me: The science of knowledge is the systematic deduction of an actual, of the first degree of consciousness; and that science is related to this consciousness as the above demonstration of a watch is related to the real watch. Being mere science of knowledge, it has no pretensions to be anything else, or anything besides; and would rather not be than be anything else than what it is. Every one who claims anything more or else for it does not know that science.

The objects of the science of knowledge are the fundamental determinations of a consciousness, as such — i. e. as the determinations of a consciousness—and on no account as things actually existing outside of consciousness. We shall see after awhile that both may be one and the same in and for that science, but we shall also see why the science can take only the former view. At present it suffices to state it as a fact.

Now these fundamental determinations of consciousness, which the science of knowledge has for its object, also occur in actual perception — or rather those determinations themselves are perceptions; but the science of knowledge has them for its object in quite a different manner from that in which perception has them. Precisely as the consciousness of the real presence of your friend was related to the representation of that presence, or as the actual watch was related to the demonstration of a watch, so actual consciousness is related to the science of knowledge. When we philosophize we immerse ourself not into these fundamental determinations themselves, but into the reproducing and reconstructing of them.

Hence the science of knowledge, without paying any attention to actual perception, deduces a priori what it asserts ought to occur in perception, and hence a posteriori.

This sphere the science of knowledge has adopted ever since its first existence – nay, has clearly indicated it by its very name. It is scarcely to be comprehended why people will not believe that science to be what it states itself to be.

Limiting itself to this sphere, the science of knowledge can allow every other philosophy to be what it pleases: love of wisdom, wisdom, world-wisdom, life-wisdom, or whatever other kind of wisdom there may be. But that science makes the fair request that itself should not be taken for the equal of those other sciences, and should not be judged and refuted from their standpoint; and the authors and professors of that science only ask that they shall not be compelled to become co-laborers in those other philosophies, or to take notice of them. As for the dispute, what this one or that one may consider philosophy to be, the science of knowledge takes no cognizance of it. It appeals to its right to select its own problem; and if anything but the solution of this problem is to be called philosophy, then it does not choose to be called philosophy.

I hope, my reader, that this description of the science of knowledge, as a mere historical description, is altogether clear and comprehensible, and admits of no ambiguity whatever. I merely wish to request you to remember this description, and not to forget it at the first opportunity; and to believe me that I am serious in this description, and that it is to last forever, I repudiating whatsoever may contradict it.

The Sun-Clear Statement, by Johann Gottlieb Fichte 1762-1814, Published 1801
The Journal of Speculative Philosophy Edited by William Torrey Harris, 1835-1909 Published 1867

All Six Conversations are available on WikiSource


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