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Volume 49, 2021

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

Philipp Schwab
Pages 94-118

Difference within Identity? Fichte’s Reevaluation of the First Principle of Philosophy in §5 of the Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre

The aim of the article is to discuss a reevaluation of the first principle in §5 of Fichte’s Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre. The article makes the case that this reevaluation takes place in an attempt to resolve the key systematic issue of a transition from identity to difference, which can be traced back to the very first draft of Fichte’s system in the Own Meditations on Elementary Philosophy. Especially as Fichte, in §1 of the Foundation, conceptualizes the principle of the I as pure identical self-positing, it proves deeply questionable how any proper transition can take place from this immanent self-relation to any other element of the system. While the first sections of the Foundation do not address this issue directly, it is in §5 that Fichte truly approaches the problem. In this light, §5 of the Foundation shall be interpreted as Fichte’s quite dramatic struggle with the absolute I, and as a complex back and forth movement: On the one hand, even more clearly than in §1, Fichte repeatedly stresses that the absolute I must have the structure of absolute identity. Yet on the other hand, he thereby realizes that it is indeed impossible to construct a plausible transition from pure identity to difference, and that he thus has to modify his first principle. Ultimately, Fichte outright sacrifices the idea of a first principle of identity, and rather inserts difference into the identity principle, unfolding a much more complex structure of I-hood than before.