Roots of German Philosophy, Part Eight: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854)
November 3, 2008
John Fichte and Fred Schelling were minor philosophers in that they did not have the attributes of major philosophers. That is, I never heard of them until recently. Those who regard them as major are guilty of exaggeration. If they had lived in, say, Iceland or Ecuador, they would have been major by default, since there wasn’t anyone else. But Germany has always been overpopulated with philosophers, so there are bound to be minor ones as well as major ones. Of course, no philosopher ever wants to admit that he’s minor (just as no Canadian poet ever wants to admit that he’s minor, even though they’re all minor). But if you are one, your consolation lies in the fact that you’re still higher up than a major accountant, major janitor, or major telemarketer. Fichte and Schelling were the Mutt and Jeff of German philosophy, since they seemed to make a natural pair. They both taught at Jena and Berlin and were frequently seen together strolling on campus, smoking their pipes, and carrying on conversations that were deep, albeit ultimately pointless. Fichte is regarded as the “bridge” between Kant and Hegel. But since he is almost never mentioned, most commuters must be taking the tunnel instead. If you should ever see anyone actually reading Fichte, they may be getting ready to jump from the bridge, so you must stop them. Fichte got a lucky boost early in his career with his first book, Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792). It was accidentally published without his name on it, and everyone thought it had been written by Kant, because it was a load of gibberish in Kant’s style. When people found out Fichte had written it, he was instantly hailed as a brilliant philosopher. Fichte originated the argument that consciousness is not grounded in anything outside itself, which, I think you’ll agree, is pretty stupid, even for a minor philosopher. I mean, just try that out at a job interview. “Hi, I’m Jack Smith, and my consciousness is not grounded in anything outside myself.” Good luck. In Foundations of Natural Right (1796) he wrote that self-awareness requires the existence of other rational subjects — i.e., other self-aware people. That’s also pretty stupid. I live in a neighborhood of brain-dead idiots, and I manage to be self-aware without their help. In 1808, Fichte gave speeches in Berlin to promote German nationalism, so he is considered by some people to be the “father of German nationalism.” (The mother, of course, would be Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S.) Now, I’m sure Fichte meant well, but a philosopher should never give speeches on political subjects, because people might think he knows what he’s talking about, which is rarely the case. This is why philosophers are kept closeted in universities, away from the real world, so that they do not do any harm to others or to themselves. Fichte was Schelling’s mentor for a while, until they had a falling out. Blame Schelling for that. He couldn’t take criticism. And anyone who goes around with four names is obviously masking an inferiority complex. Schelling’s roommate in seminary was Hegel, which proves my point. Schelling was very handsome, and Hegel was ugly. But Schelling was insecure about his attractiveness to women, so he needed an ugly roommate, get it? But ugly or not, Hegel was a terrible influence. If Schelling could have found a roommate like Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner — the two greatest Americans of the 20th Century — he not only would have learned some useful philosophy, but he would have learned how to make money, too. Instead, his mind made a hard left turn on the Road to Enlightenment and careened into a ditch. Schelling developed a “philosophy of identity,” in which subject and object become one. This is much like Fichte’s philosophy, and it’s a non-starter. Now, boys and girls, Uncle Crad would like to clear up this whole business once and for all, so you don’t waste your time reading a lot of bad philosophy. An “object” is something that exists independently of any perception of it, and whose attributes are inherent to it and independent of any perception of them. A “subject” is something that is perceived, and its attributes are those that are perceived. That’s it. End of lecture. Two sentences and you know all you need to know. Of course, our Muslim enemies don’t make any distinction between subject and object. If a cartoon offends them, we are infidels and deserve to die. Needless to say, there have never been any Muslim philosophers. Schelling also said that matter was “spirit in equilibrium,” and spirit was “matter in the process of becoming.” This is an example of the Boldly Meaningless school of philosophy. Schelling really should have done better, since he liked to go out and enjoy nature — trees, flowers, birds, and that sort of thing. Fichte criticized him for that. He said, “Stay out of the park. Concentrate on philosophy.” And then they disagreed on Spinoza. Schelling liked him; Fichte hated him. And they argued about beer, women, and football. In 1806, Schelling published a book in which he criticized Fichte by name. But the following year, when Hegel published a book that poked fun at Schelling’s philosophy, he blew a gasket, just like some dickhead Canadian poet (“Hey, I thought we were friends! Why did you give me a bad review?”). Schelling’s main books were Ideas For a Philosophy of Nature (1797) and System of Transcendental Idealism (1800). Both have been translated by David Bowie for Cambridge University Press. American philosopher Ken Wilber of East Texas Baptist University has called Schelling one of the two most influential philosophers since Plato, but he was drunk when he said it and now wishes he hadn’t. There is an unused hockey rink in Bebenhausen named after Schelling, and there is a pub in Jena that is said to be haunted by Fichte’s ghost. Glasses fall on the floor for no reason, and the men’s room has a bad smell. These are not exactly the sort of things a philosopher would want to be remembered by, but if you’re a minor one, they’re not too bad.
1. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling — Minnow Among the Whales, by Ermentrude Maulwurf, 1961, Univ. of Tasmania Press.
2. Sparks From the Torch: Essays on German Idealism, by Tie Domi, 1997, Bangalore Publishing.
3. Under the Avalanche, by Nigel Rinde-Clamato, 1980, Pterodactyl Press.
Copyright@ 2008 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org