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Idealistic Studies

Volume 33, Issue 1, Spring 2003

Rolf Ahlers
Pages 83-113

Vitalism and System
Jacobi and Fichte on Philosophy and Life

This paper thematizes the crucial agreement and point of departure between Jacobi and Fichte at the height of the “atheism controversy.” The argument on the proper relationship between philosophy and existence or speculation and life had far-reaching consequences in the history of thought after Jacobi and Fichte in German Idealism on the one hand, primarly advocated by Schelling and Hegel, and on the other hand by existentialism and vitalism. The essay focuses first on Jacobi’s philosophy of life, which centrally influenced and attracted Fichte to Jacobi. Jacobi’s dualism between speculation, of which he was skeptical, and life, became Fichte’s dualism. Fichte’s transcendentalism, however, prioritized, contrary to Jacobi, both speculation and systematicity. Both of these elements became central for later forms of German Idealism. In the last part of the essay Hegel’s absolute idealism becomes the platform affording a critical perspective on Fichte’s transcendental philosophy.

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