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Volume 49, 2021

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

David Sommer
Pages 32-58

General Logic and the Foundational Demonstration of the First Principle in Fichte’s Eigene Meditationen and Early Wissenschaftslehre

In this paper I inquire into the role of general logic in Fichte’s early formulations of his first principle. This inquiry contains three main parts. First, I summarize the role of general logic in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, as well as Gottlob Schulze’s critical claims regarding their relation in Reinhold’s Elementarphilosophie. Second, I examine the first three sections of Fichte’s private notes on the Elementarphilosophie, called the Eigene Meditationen, and closely follow his early attempts to provide a basic principle that is systematically prior both to Reinhold’s principle of consciousness, as well as the logical principle of contradiction. I examine Fichte’s struggles with relating the principles of a foundational transcendental philosophy to those of general logic, in order to emphasize his own doubts in systematically motivating the use of logical rules in the exhibition of his first principle. In the third section, I examine the manner in which these principles are introduced in the 1794 Wissenschaftslehre via the logical principles of identity and contradiction, and argue that Fichte’s procedure is problematic given the programmatic constraints on general logic put forward in the meditations on the philosophy of the elements. I conclude by briefly relating Fichte’s doubts in such a procedure, as well as an alternative procedure he already proposed in his private notes, to the method that he would later adopt in the Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo.