Fichte: From Nature to Freedom ( System of Ethics §§ 9-13:)

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Fichte: From Nature to Freedom

(System of Ethics §§ 9-13:)
Allen W.Wood
Stanford University
Fichte’s overall aim in the Second Chapter of the System of Ethics is to derive the applicability of the moral principle he has deduced in the First Chapter. That principle was: To determine one’s freedom solely in accordance with the concept of self-determination (SW IV:59).1 To show that this principle can be applied is to derive its application from the conditions of free agency in which we find ourselves. In the section of the Second Chapter that will concern us, Fichte attempts to do this starting with our awareness of ourselves as organic beings of nature (as deduced in §§ 4-8), and deriving from this awareness our consciousness of the moral principle as an activity of our freedom, together with the general object of this activity, our interest in this activity, and some preliminary indications of the way we are to identify the particular objects and actions that fall under it. (The formal character of moral volition will be further explored in the first section of the Third Chapter, while the material of this volition is to be determined in the second and third sections.)

It is important to keep in mind that throughout this discussion, Fichte’s concern is not with deducing philosophical propositions from the transcendental standpoint (as was done in the First Chapter) but rather with comprehending, in the light of this, the standpoint of everyday or nonphilosophical consciousness. The aim will therefore be to help us recognize the transcendental source and estimate the significance for moral philosophy of such ordinary facts of practical consciousness as drive (Trieb), desire (Begehren), the ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ faculties of desire, our awareness of freedom, interest, conscience, the awareness of duty and of the moral demand (Forderung) of the categorical imperative. Many of the themes and theses are recognizably Kantian in origin and spirit, but Fichte’s aim will be to reinterpret them, challenging the Kantian account in some important respects – and especially attempting to maintain the fundamental unity of the active self in place of the Kantian divisions between reason and sense, duty and inclination.

§ 9: Organic existence, longing and drives

We find ourselves as living natural bodies or organic beings. In conceiving of ourselves as living or organic beings, we think of ourselves differently from the way we think of mere natural objects subject to mechanical causality. We think of ourselves as the source of active causality, not merely as responding to external forces (SW IV:124). Our organic life does result, to be sure, from a reciprocal relation of natural causes, but we conceptualize its unity as that of a “striving” (Streben) for self-preservation – not for the preservation of existence in general, but for the preservation of the particular arrangement of causes that constitutes us as organic beings (SW IV:123). Thus our organic life is constituted by a reciprocal causality between a mere arrangement of natural causes and this striving (SW IV:122). The product of this reciprocity is what Fichte calls a ‘drive(Trieb). The drive that constitutes our organic nature is therefore fundamentally unitary, even though subsequently it will show itself as having distinguishable and even opposed sides.

We become conscious of this original drive in the form of ‘longing’ (Sehnen) – an undetermined wanting that lacks any definite object (SW IV:125). Determinate desire or a determinate drive, having some definite object whose attainment produces satisfaction, can arise out of longing only by means of reflection (SW IV:126). Reflection, however, separates us from the drive, and to have our actions determined through a drive is therefore to have it determined by something that acts on and therefore through our freedom. “Thus freedom expresses itself already in desiring; for a free reflection falls between it and longing” (SW IV:127).

Fichte follows Kant in regarding organic purposiveness as inner rather than external. That is, it does not show itself in the achievement of the object of a conscious concept, but consists fundamentally in an unconscious striving to achieve the organic state of life, independently of any concept that the organism may have of this life (SW IV:129). Therefore, the most basic form taken by an organic drive is a desire that aims only at a certain subjective state of satisfaction or pleasure with no object beyond that. Drives that take this form, according to Fichte, are natural drives; they belong to what Kant called the “lower faculty of desire” (SW IV:127).

But Fichte draws a distinction between two kinds of organic wholeness that can be attributed to the living body: One is “organization” – consisting in the unconscious arrangment of causes standing in reciprocal causality to striving; the other, which he calls ‘articulation’, is the manifold relation of the body’s organic parts to freely chosen actions – including, but not necessarily limited to, those actions we perform in order to achieve the satisfaction of a natural drive (SW IV:129-130). As agents, we are not merely organized but articulated, so that our bodies and their parts become “tools of freedom” (SW IV:129). Even natural drives arise out of reflection, and they can be further reflected on and determined, which means they can be set opposed not merely to one another but more fundamentally to a different kind of drive arising from the subject of the reflection itself as an articulated being. From reflection there thus arises what Fichte calls the ‘pure drive’ or ‘spiritual drive’, that belongs to the ‘higher faculty of desire’ (SW IV:130-131).
§ 10: Freedom and the higher faculty of desire

The next task is to explore this new kind of drive and to see its connection to our freedom. Crucial to Fichte’s argument at this point is the way in which freedom is seen to belong already to our most basic organic drives or desires, simply because they belong to a living thing that is articulated and apprehends them as determinate solely through reflection. In relation to contemporary views what Fichte is saying is that actions are never caused, or adequately explained, merely by desires, even when combined with beliefs about how the desires are to be satisfied. This is because every desire is essentially something reflected on, that acts on us only through our capacity to determine ourselves freely. Every desire presents itself to us as something that can be resisted and acted against.

All action, as Fichte puts it, arises through a series of “leaps” (Sprüngen) (SW IV:134). At any point in a natural series where an action is to arise, there is a given member of the natural series “Think of such a series as determined, and call it A. But from A onward many things are possible: but not everything possible, but only the determinate part of it =X follows” (SW IV:134). Here Fichte uses ‘A’, as in mathematics, to represent something known (known because it is given as part of the situation in which we are to act). But what follows is signified by ‘X’, representing an unknown, or an as yet indeterminate result, unknown and undetermined because it is still something to be arrived at. Every action has the character of assigning a determinate value to such an unknown, and assigning it freely, through choice, not as something necessitated by an algebraic function or a causal process.

The undeterminedness of a free action, Fichte says a bit later, is “not a mere absence of determination = 0, but rather an undecided hovering or oscillation (Schweben) between several possible determinations (= a negative magnitude); for otherwise it could not be posited and would be nothing” (SW IV: 137). This undeterminedness is therefore not a mere absence (for example, an absence of knowledge, or ignorance of what is already determined by some existent but to us unknown cause of our future action).

This is Fichte’s real reply here to the fatalist objection (which he considers) that from our lack of awareness of the cause necessitating what we will do, it does not follow that there is no such cause, but only that we are ignorant of the cause (SW IV:136). Fichte’s first response to this objection is to say that it begs the question, assuming that our actions belong to the causal series of nature, and that this position has the transcendental disadvantage that no system of philosophy can be built on its dogmatic principle, while such a system can be built on the critical principle of freedom (SW IV:136). But since our standpoint here is not the transcendental one but the standpoint of ordinary consciousness, Fichte’s main point must be to show how the advantage of freedom over fatalism shows itself in the everyday acting consciousness, in the form of an “intuition” possessed by one who asserts freedom, while no corresponding intuition of being determined can be possessed by the fatalist (SW IV:136) This he does by indicating the way in which not merely the lack of a determining cause but the consciousness of the absence of one is given as the very condition of action. It belongs to the very nature of our consciousness of actions that a future action presents itself as only one of many possibilities which, if it is to exist, must be chosen by us from out of this multiplicity. Moreover, the last link of action to nature is given to us in the form of a drive (or desire). But a drive is given to us through reflection, as something separated from the reflecting subject, and as having no causality in us except through our action on it, which is again there for us only as something to be freely chosen.

The freedom Fichte has been defending here is, however, only what he calls “formal freedom” (SW IV:135). It provides us with action as possibility, but it does not determine a specific drive that can be contrasted with the drives of the lower faculty of desire, which is what we were left seeking at the end of § 9. Fichte now proposes to characterize this new drive as “the drive for freedom for the sake of freedom” (SW IV:139).

Fichte has argued for the necessity of such a drive, because it alone would make it possible for us to refrain from acting on a natural drive, and this possibility is given along with the very conception of a lower drive. But this gives us only an “indirect proof” of such a drive; it still remains, he says, for us to furnish a “direct proof” (SW IV 139-140). He does this by distinguishing two aspects of the reflection that constitutes a natural drive. There is, first, the reflection through which the natural drive arises out of longing and acquires a determinate object. But second, there is a reflection on this first reflection, which makes us aware of the I that performs it, and the spontaneous activity constituting the reflection. This second reflection stands in contrast to the first, since the object of the first reflection is a drive of which we are conscious as something merely given, and to which, if we act on it, we are conscious of yielding. But the second reflection displays us as something active in contrast to the natural drive, and this contrast takes the form of a drive to resist natural drives. This makes us conscious in the second act of reflection of a drive whose object is not merely given but posited by us insofar as we are active. And this is the pure drive, whose object is freedom for the sake of freedom.

Fichte emphasizes that these two forms of reflection are always present together, in one and the same act. We cannot reflect on what is given to us as a drive without also reflecting on our own activity. Therefore, the natural drive and the pure drive are not simply two facts of consciousness given independently from one another, as Kant might think that inclinations are simply given in us through sense and the moral law is given (or self-given) in us through reason. Rather, the natural drive and the pure drive are two sides of one and the same striving that belongs to one and the same I (SW IV:14). To the two drives therefore correspond two necessarily connected and complementary forms of activity. The activity involved in the natural drive Fichte calls “real activity”, and that involved in the pure drive he calls “ideal activity” (SW IV:140). They correspond to the I’s existence as a subject-object, with real activity pertaining to the object side of the I, and ideal activity to the subject side.

Though the two drives, and the two forms of activity, represent only contrasting sides of the I, in ordinary consciousness we relate to them in very contrasting ways. I experience the pure drive as “higher”, since it elevates me above nature. Through it, I become aware of the natural drive as a propensity (Hang) of nature within me, which, however, does not, and should not, have power or authority (Gewalt) over me (SW IV:141). The pure drive therefore awakens respect (Achtung) in me for it – and, since it is nothing but my own activity, thereby also respect for myself, a sense of my own dignity (Würde) (SW IV:142).
§11: Moral interest

Before developing the concept of the pure drive further, Fichte pauses in this section to connect it further to the concept of an interest, and to the experience of conscience, introducing some important themes that he will develop further in § 15. Our feeling of respect for the higher drive, and of respect for our own dignity in connection with it, naturally leads to an account of the nature of the interest we take in this drive when we reflect on it. Fichte’s account of interest follows his attempt to reinterpret Kantian themes with a view to replacing Kant’s unexplained dualisms with a more unified account of the I. All interests, Fichte argues, derive from an awareness of the I, and express a sense of harmony within the I. More specifically, they express a felt harmony between the original I, with its ideal activity, and the actual or empirical I (SW IV:143). This felt harmony is found in the satisfaction of all drives, and considered in itself the striving for it constitutes what Fichte calls the “original drive” (Urtrieb) – in which both the natural and the pure drives are united (SW IV:145).

Clearly Fichte is modeling his theory of this felt harmony on Kant’s account of the harmony of the faculties present in aesthetic judgments about the beautiful. For he makes it responsible not only for all interest, but also for the possibility of aesthetic feeling in general (SW IV: 145). Fichte’s account is that when we take an interest in something indirectly or mediately, as when we see it as a means to something we desire, this always rests on an immediate interest in a harmony between the original and the actual I. We have an immediate interest in the satisfaction of our natural drives, because their satisfaction represents for us a harmony or union between the objective side of the I’s activity and its original activity. This is the transcendental meaning of the empirical enjoyment obtained in the satisfaction of natural drives (SW IV:143-144).

By the same token, however, there is equally an interest involved directly in our pure drive. The basis of this interest is not, as in the case of natural drives, an indeterminate and objectless longing (Sehnen), but rather an absolute demanding (Fordern) (SW IV:145). This interest is involved in feelings such as the approval and disapproval of actions, and in contentment, disgust or self-reproach directed at ourselves (SW IV:146). We reproach and despise ourselves when we are content to give in to our natural drives and let ourselves respond passively to them. This attitude of self-reproach “tears me away from myself, alienates me from myself” (SW IV:146). The feeling of harmony or disharmony between the original and actual I that is connected with this interest also has another name: conscience (Gewissen) (SW IV:147). Fichte understands conscience as “the immediate consciousness (Bewußtsein) of that without which there can be no consciousness at all, the consciousness of our higher nature and absolute freedom” (SW IV:147).

Here too Fichte is trying to solve a problem he sees in the Kantian moral philosophy. For Kant the moral feeling of respect is a feeling “self-effected” by the operation of reason on our sensible faculty (Groundwork, 4:402, Metaphysics of Morals, 6:399).2 Respect for Kant is necessarily a mixed or ambivalent feeling, because along with inspiring us with the dignity of our moral vocation, it also pains and frustrates us by limiting our self-love and striking down our self-conceit (Critique of Practical Reason, 5:73). The puzzle, however, is how on Kant’s account moral reason could have any effect on sensibility that could lead to a positive feeling of any kind. For Kant emphasizes that the moral law offers sensibility no lures or enticements; its only relation to sensibility seems to be one of frustrating and humiliating it. It is hard to see how moral reason could have any effect on sensibility that would give rise to a positive motive to act, or any feeling that could motivate or inspire sensibility to action. Fichte’s answer to the problem is to say that the interest created by natural drives and that created by the pure moral drive are really at bottom one and the same, or two equally necessary and complementary aspects of the same fundamental interest arising from the same original drive (Urtrieb).

But this necessitates another important revision in Kantian doctrine, since the separateness of reason from sense is what grounds Kant’s rejection of Stoical eudaimonism, his insistence on the ultimate separateness and divergence of morality from prudence, or the value of virtue from that of happiness (Critique of Practical Reason, 5:110-113). Fichte’s ultimately unitary conception of the willing self implies a rejection of Kant’s view on this point, and a return to a (very modified) kind of Stoic position, something Fichte makes explicit elsewhere (SW VI:299-301).

§ 12: The antinomy of the pure and natural drives

Fichte’s account so far might leave us with a puzzle, or even two related puzzles. First, it is difficult to see how the pure drive, as Fichte has arrived at it, could have any determinate content, or how action on the basis of it could count as moral action, or even rational action at all. For thus far, the pure drive has been characterized only as the active I’s drive to resist coercion by its natural drives, in the interest of asserting the dignity of agency over against them. This drive appears to have no positive content of its own, and this calls in question its capacity to represent the dignity of our rationality, or indeed to stand for anything else. Thus far, the pure drive could easily look to us like nothing but a puritanical, morbid or perverse desire to frustrate all our natural needs to no good purpose at all. Second, having been given no content, the pure drive also seems to give rise to no determinate moral laws, and thus to render impossible the principal aim of this entire section of the System of Ethics, which is to deduce the applicability of the principle of morality.

Fichte is perfectly well aware of these difficulties, however, and he himself poses the problem quite clearly in the form of an antinomy. The thesis of the antinomy is the proposition that the free activity of the I has a drive for freedom merely for the sake of freedom (SW IV:147). The antithesis is that all actual volition is necessarily directed toward acting, and all acting is directed on a determinate object, so that it necessarily takes the form of a natural drive (SW IV:148). The contradiction lies in the fact that the pure drive must be distinct from, and an even more authentic expression of, the free I than, any natural drive, but it appears that there can be no volition or action at all except one determined by natural drives. The pure drive, therefore, seems to be both necessary and impossible (SW IV:149).

The key to Fichte’s solution to this antinomy was provided by the apparent digression in §11, where Fichte argued that the ground of both the pure drive and natural drives, as well as of all interest, whether moral or nonmoral, is the same – lying in the harmony of the original I and the actual I. What this means is that the pure drive distances or alienates itself not from the content of natural drives, but only from the form of passivity and enjoyment merely for enjoyment’s sake that is implied in letting them rule over our freedom. The truth contained in the antithesis is that even the pure drive has content only insofar as that content is supplied by a natural drive directed at some determinate object. The truth contained in the thesis is that the pure drive seeks this content not for the sake of mere enjoyment, but because an action toward that determinate object is, in the agent’s circumstances, the truest exercise of freedom, because that object is to be pursued solely for freedom’s sake. Fichte’s standpoint here has much affinity with (and should be regarded historically as the principal source of) the view that the ethical life consists in the free choice of the self one already is, and the taking over through freedom of the “aesthetic” side of one’s nature, that is found in the second volume of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

Fichte points out that when we say that the moral drive demands “freedom for the sake of freedom”, the term ‘freedom’ is being used in two different senses. In its first occurrence, it means a kind of acting, while in the second occurrence it refers to an end of action. In the sense meant by the first occurrence, ‘freedom’ means an action done from the pure drive, while in the second occurrence, ‘freedom’ refers to an end or content, which must be given through a natural drive, yet having a content that also accords or agrees with the pure drive (SW IV:153). Acting from the pure drive, in other words, does not preclude action with a content or end. Further, ends given through natural drives themselves constitute “freedom” when they admit of being pursued from the pure drive.

In this way, the two sides of the antinomy can be reconciled and do not contradict each other. The moral drive, properly speaking, is therefore a “mixed drive.” “From the natural drive it receives the material, or its object…But its form it has solely from the pure impulse” (SW IV:152). The criterion by which we determine the object to be pursued solely for the sake of freedom is, once again, the feeling of harmony between the original and actual I. As will become clear later in § 15, this feeling of harmony modeled on the Kantian conception of aesthetic judgment, is conceived by Fichte as a general criterion of theoretical certainty, playing a role in Fichte’s epistemology something like that played by clear and distinct perception in Descartes’ epistemology – except that the basis for this harmony, especially in moral cognition, must be both coherentist and intersubjective: we arrive at a feeling of certainty regarding our duty in some particular matter only through free communication with others and careful reflection both on their moral judgments and on our own other moral judgments (SW IV:163-168). The result, however, will always be that this feeling of harmony or moral certainty (a feeling closely allied to conscience), picks out a content or object that is already given by some natural drive.

Fichte views the pure drive as a striving after absolute freedom or independence that takes the form, at each point in the history of an agent, of that determinate action, and determinate object, that are given by the natural drive that is uniquely felt by the agent as harmonizing the original I with the actual I. Fichte depicts the actions picked out in this way as constituting a determinate series or moral pathway, which it is the duty of the moral agent to follow. An action is a duty “if it lies in a series through the completion of which I would have to become independent” (SW IV:149).

This series, Fichte insists, is infinite – it will never be completed. Yet Fichte hastens to answer the objection that we cannot make progress toward an infinitely remote goal. Looking at the progression from side of the infinitely distant goal, of course, this would make no sense; but it does make sense from our standpoint, since at each point in time we can identify some determinate action as our next step in the direction of absolute freedom or independence, and therefore performing this action may be viewed as making progress along an endless path toward a goal we can never reach (SW IV:150).

Here again Fichte is defining his position in relation to Kant’s, and providing a different solution to an essentially Kantian problem. The idea of an infinite moral progression is, of course, Kantian, but the Kantian problems Fichte is really addressing lie elsewhere. For Kant, what we ought to do is commanded by the law of reason, entirely independently of any inclination. The actions commanded are in no case determined by natural desires or their objects, but are instead solely those actions conforming to maxims with legislative form, maxims that can be willed as universal laws. Fichte, however, was among the first to regard Kant’s formula of universal law as merely formal, empty and incapable of specifying the content of duty or determining which actions we should perform. The charges of “empty formalism” later brought against Kant by Hegel, and by others even less sympathetic to Kantian ethics than Hegel is, are all merely derivative from Fichte. But Fichte had a better appreciation of the (very limited) extent to which Kantian ethics is damaged by such criticisms, and also of how it can be modified in constructive ways to accommodate them. For Fichte, accordingly, the moral principle can have content or applicability at all only through reconciling the pure drive with the natural drive. Duty, and the objects of actions done from duty, can be recognized only through the feeling of harmony between two activities of the I.
§ 13: Fichte’s rigorism

Thus far, in the contrasts we have seen between Fichte and Kant, it seems that Fichte’s is the side of humanity, harmony and reconciliation. Where Kant sets lawgiving reason and sensuous inclination in mere opposition, Fichte is concerned to demonstrate their common source. Where Kant insists that natural desire offers no enticements to morality, Fichte tries to show that the pure drive to resist inclinations is really only another side of the fundamental drive from which natural inclinations themselves arise. Where Kant must discover a moral criterion that is purely formal lying entirely in reason, Fichte locates the content of moral duty in the objects of natural drives, and makes the criterion of selection among these drives the harmony between the original or ideal I and the empirical or actual I. In this way, Fichte integrates natural drives into the content of morality in a way that Kant is both unable to do and unwilling even to attempt. In the end, however, Fichte’s approach leads him to conclusions that are at odds with Kant’s in other ways that make Fichte appear the inhuman moral fanatic, and Kant, by contrast, to be the representative of humane and reasonable moderation concerning the demands of morality.

Kant distinguishes actions that are in conformity with duty (pflichtmäßig) from those that are also done from duty (aus Pflicht) (Groundwork 4:397). Actions are in conformity with duty whenever their maxims accord with the law of reason, even if they are chosen for some nonmoral motive, such as sympathy or love of honor. Only actions done from duty have true moral content or moral worth and deserve esteem (Hochschätzung), but actions that are in conformity with duty are not wrong or contrary to morality, and deserve praise and encouragement even when they are not done from duty (Groundwork 4:398). For Kant, it is evident that an action can be morally blameless and even deserve praise without being done from duty.

For Fichte, however, the difference between morality and immorality is not that actions conforming to morality accord with the form of law, while immoral actions fail to conform to law. On the contrary, the content of both moral action and immoral action is always given by some natural drive. Fichte infers that the only difference between a dutiful action and one contrary to morality is whether the action is done for the sake of the enjoyment of the natural drive and its satisfaction, or done from the pure drive, for the sake of freedom. From this Fichte thinks it follows that the difference between moral and immoral actions lies solely in which drive is expressed by the action. An action with the same content is duty if done from the pure or moral drive, but contrary to morality if done from the natural drive. There are no actions, therefore, that conform to duty without being done from duty. Such actions have legality, but they are contrary to morality. Fichte does allow that some natural drives (such as sympathy, compassion, love of humanity) can sometimes be expressions of the moral drive, but when they are not this but only natural drives, then morality may not praise, but must blame, the actions that proceed from them. “For it contradicts morality, and is immoral, to let oneself be blindly driven… Whoever acts from these drives [of sympathy, compassion, love of humanity], acts legally but absolutely not morally, but to that extent contrary to morality” (SW IV:154).

Closely related to this is another rigoristic Fichtean doctrine that contrasts with the relative latitude (Fichte might say ‘laxity’) of Kant’s moral philosophy. Kant subscribes to a “rigorism” that holds it proper for morality to admit as little indifference (in actions or human characters) as possible (Religion 6:22). He does, however, admit some moral indifferents nonetheless (obviously because he thinks in some cases it would be impossible or unreasonable not to admit them). In particular, Kant holds that many of our ethical duties are wide or meritorious duties, about which there is latitude (Spielraum) concerning which actions we ought to do in fulfillment of them (Metaphysics of Morals 6:390). He condemns those moral enthusiasts who admit nothing that is morally indifferent: “That human being can be called fantastically virtuous who allows nothing to be morally indifferent (adiaphora) and strews all his steps with duties, as with mantraps; it is not indifferent to him whether I eat meat or fish, drink beer or wine… Fantastic virtue would turn the dominion of virtue into a tyranny” (Metaphysics of Morals 6:409).

Fichte appears to be a proponent of just this species of fantastic virtue. In every case of action, even in keeping a promise or doing something beneficent, blamable immorality is ready to hand if I act from a natural drive (such as humanity or sympathy) rather than from the pure drive. Further, in every case, it is my duty to seek out precisely that action in which the original I agrees with the actual I, and be guided at every moment by the concept of the unique action open to me that belongs to the endless series of possible actions leading toward absolute freedom or independence.

“I am to act in general with reflection and consciousness, not blindly and according to mere impulses, and in particular I am to act with consciousness of duty just as certainly as I act; never to act without having held my action up to this concept. -- There are consequently no indifferent actions at all; just as surely as they are actual actions of an intelligent being, the moral law relates to them, if not materialiter, then quite certainly formaliter” (SW IV:155).
This is not an isolated passage, or a merely carelessly exaggerated remark on Fichte’s part. Expressions of Fichte’s terrifying rigorism are repeated over and over in the course of the System of Ethics (SW IV: 56, 166, 206-207, 209, 259-260, 264, 323). It is a point on which Fichte even seems to be proud of the fact that his uncompromising doctrines are likely to shock and offend his readers: “If anyone thinks this doctrine of morals austere and painful, he cannot be helped, for there is no other” (SW IV:216).

Yet it is not clear that Fichte’s other modifications of Kantian doctrine really commit him to this extreme rigorism. The feeling of harmony between the original and actual I enables us to identify certain actions and ends given by natural drives as actions and ends that accord also with the pure or moral drive. It seems defensible to regard these actions as worthy of special esteem when the pure drive is what motivates the agent to do them, but the actions would seem to conform to duty, and hence not to be immoral, even if they are done merely from natural drives. Further, there is no obvious reason why the feeling of harmony between the original and actual I must generate only a single series of actions, with every alternative to each of them treated as contrary to duty, instead of distinguishing among possible acts between the forbidden, the required, the permissible and the meritorious, as is done in the Kantian theory of duties. At least, if there are arguments in Fichte’s system that compel him to be the extreme rigorist he often shows himself to be, those arguments do not appear in §§ 9-13 of the System of Ethics.

1 Fichte’s text will be cited in the edition of Fichte’s sämmltiche Werke, edited by I. H. Fichte (Berlin: Walter deGruyter, 1971) (abbreviated as SW and cited by volume:page number). Some may prefer the text of the more recent J.G. Fichte-Gesamtausgabe. Edited by Reinhard Lauth and Hans Gliwitzky. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann, 1962-. But since the SW citations are given in the margins of the more recent edition, it is convenient to cite the text in SW.

2 Kant’s writings will be cited by title and volume:page number in Kants Schriften, Akademie Ausgabe (Berlin Walter deGruyter, 1902-).

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