The Vocation of Man Questions and Answers
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

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Explain the relation between the vocation of humanity and the vocation of the scholar in Fichte.

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Fichte connects the question of the scholar’s vocation to that of man’s vocation in society, which, in turn, depends on the answer to the question of man’s absolute vocation.We see this especially in his lectures The Vocation of the Scholar (1794).

Fichte says that the ultimate goal of man is to subject all the irrational to himself. However, it is unattainable. Not only this, but it is proper to man that this goal must be unattainable. Otherwise, man would cease to be man and would become God. But he should endlessly move towards this goal. And this unceasing approximation to this goal is man’s true vocation. Fichte says the following about this dialectic:

...perfection is the highest unattainable end of man, whilst eternal perfecting is his vocation. He exists, that he may become ever morally better himself, and make all around him physically, and, if he be considered as a member of society, morally better also, and thus augment his own happiness without limit (Lecture 1).

However, the condition in which each man finds himself presently is, according to Fichte, slavery and “the lowest grade of imperfect humanity.” (Lecture 2) The philosopher refers to man’s impulse to enslave other men, which must be replaced with a free unification of all members of society in order to attain the common good and the good of each individual.

Co-operation is the true vocation of man in society. But this is only possible through “progressive improvement”, because men can unite only in relation to their ultimate goal. “We may therefore say that mutual improvement—improvement of ourselves by the freely admitted action of others upon us, and improvement of others by our reaction upon them as upon free beings—is our vocation in Society.” (Lecture 2)

In view of the aforesaid, what is then the vocation of the scholar? It is proper to each scholar to expand his knowledge. This is characteristic of him, just as of any other man. But in him, this desire is stronger. His successes determine successes in other areas of human knowledge. The scholar should be a ground-breaker, to lead others. He should incessantly explore his domain and give himself no rest until he has expanded his knowledge. The relationship between the scholar and society is well summed up in the following statement:

The Scholar is destined in a peculiar manner for society: his class, more than any other, exists only through society and for society: it is thus his peculiar duty to cultivate the social talents, an openness to receive, and a readiness to communicate knowledge, in the first place and in the highest degree (Lecture 4)

He needs to apply the knowledge that he has gained for the benefit of society. But in so doing, he does not have to make others scholars. Nor do other classes need to apply themselves to scholarly pursuits. The way his knowledge is to be disseminated is through confidence in his honesty. The scholar can count on this trusting attitude from others if he has earned it in a proper way.

The scholar should be a teacher of humanity. He perceives not only the present but also the future. It is in this respect, that the scholar emphatically needs to be under the obligations of the moral law. “He acts upon society; it is founded on the idea of freedom; it, and every member of it, is free; and he dares not approach it otherwise than by moral means.” (Lecture 4) Again, “the ultimate purpose of each individual man, as well as of all society, and consequently of all the labours of the Scholar in society, is the moral elevation of all men.” (Lecture 4)

But no one can succeed in the moral elevation of humanity unless he himself is a moral person. Since we all teach not only by words but also by example, and the power of example arises from our living in society, “how much more is this due from the Scholar, who ought to be before all others in every branch of human culture?” (Lecture 4)

Fichte concludes by saying that the scholar should be morally the best person in his generation. He should represent the highest possible degree of humanity’s moral development.

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