Volume 49, 2021

The Enigma of Fichte’s First Principles (Das Rätsel von Fichtes Grundsätzen)

Jason M. Yonover
Pages 3-31

Fichte’s First First Principles, in the Aphorisms on Religion and Deism (1790) and Prior

The idea of a “first principle” looms large in Fichte’s thought, and its first real appearance is in his “Aphorisms on Religion and Deism” (1790), which has received little attention. I begin this paper by providing some context on that piece, and then developing a reconstruction of the position presented within it. Next, I establish that Fichte’s views at the time of writing, and for some years prior, are those of the “deist,” and clarify why he sensed he had to leave this stance represented in the “Aphorisms” behind. I conclude that understanding Fichte’s shift away from “deism,” a species of what he would eventually call “dogmatism,” can also help us understand Fichte’s critique of the latter kind of thinking and so shed light on Fichte’s better-known views; and I emphasize that Fichte’s transition from a strict rationalism to a form of Kantianism may be of interest not only to scholarship on Fichte and the period, but likewise to work on rationalism in contemporary metaphysics. Finally, in an appendix I supplement the paper with a first English translation of the entire text of the “Aphorisms,” complete with annotations.