Thursday, August 15, 2013

Romanticism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Johann Fiche represents a warning of how history may yet repeat itself.

Fiche began as a typical 18th century Enlightenment liberal, but ended his life as a rabid German nationalist. After Napoleon invaded Germany, Fichte found himself agreeing with Herder that a man was made by other men through education, language and tradition; that it is culture which shapes and influences men. It then follows that culture is more important than an individual; it is culture that makes men French or German. To destroy or replace German language and German art with French language and French art was to destroy the German nation. Therefore, the common good requires nations to take a collective interest in the activities of individual citizens.

Fiche was among the first to argue self-consciousness is determined by social phenomenon. He agreed with David Hume that the human self could not be found through introspection, that if we were to search for a 'self' we would only find a mixture of emotion and sensations. But this is because we only become self-aware through meeting resistance or by being impacted (what he termed 'Anstoss') by other rational beings.  For example, when we watch an excellent film at the cinema, we lose our self-awareness because we are so engrossed. But if we are disturbed by noisy cinema goers then we immediately become self-aware again.  It is these impacts and restrictions that create our self-awareness.

The meaning of life, thought Fiche, is found through action and art, not contemplation. Knowledge is an instrument provided by nature for the purpose of an effective life of action. Such knowledge reveals how to live and how to adapt things to our use. External matter restrains us but with the correct knowledge, matter is just clay in our hands to be molded for our creations. Things are the way they are because we make them so. "I am not determined by the ends, the ends are determined by me."

This doctrine can become very sinister when combined with the collective ethics of nation or a religion or a sect. Freedom for such groups is the freedom from obstacles and from restraints; it is the imposition of group values upon individuals and other groups.

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