Volume 49, 2021
The Enigma of Fichte’s First Principles (Das Rätsel von Fichtes Grundsätzen)
The First Principle of Philosophy in Fichte’s 1794 Aenesidemus Review
In Aenesidemus, G.E. Schulze adopts the skeptical voice of Aenesidemus and engages in critical dialogue with Hermias, a Kantian, in the hopes of laying bare what he views as the fundamental issues of K.L. Reinhold’s version of critical philosophy. While some attacks reveal a deep misunderstanding of Reinhold’s Elementarphilosophie on Schulze’s part, others hit their mark. In the Aenesidemus Review (1794), J.G. Fichte at times agrees with criticisms raised by Aenesidemus and at times defends Reinhold against them. On Fichte’s view, Schulze succeeds in proving that the first principle of Reinhold’s Elementarphilosophie, the principle of consciousness (Satz des Bewußtseins), is neither self-evident nor self-determining. Therefore, it cannot be the first principle of philosophy. However, Schulze fails to dissuade Fichte from viewing Reinhold’s principle of consciousness as the pithiest expression of human consciousness of the time. For these reasons, Fichte holds that Reinhold’s principle of consciousness must be deduced from an even higher principle. The goal of this paper is to assess whether Fichte puts forth his own candidate for the first principle of philosophy in his Aenesidemus Review.