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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 148

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The Vocation of Man is the author's way of trying to explain the true purpose of all human beings. Fichte (the author) divides the book into three parts: "Doubt," "Knowledge," and "Faith." In the first part, the author argues that human beings lie to themselves by thinking that they have free will; people act because they are subject to the laws of cause and effect. For the second part, "Knowledge," the author talks about natural existence and how human beings shape their reality through what they know. In the final and perhaps most important part, the author talks about faith. Human beings are guided by a higher power beyond themselves, he argues. The spirit gives people hope. Therefore, serving God and doing everything according to God's will should be the ultimate purpose of every human being, even if they have to go through suffering when they do it.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

Johann Gottlieb Fichte begins his search for the source of human knowledge with “Doubt,” the title of his first section. We humans, he argues, infer the existence of objects in the natural world from sensory impressions and from thoughts about those impressions. Everything in nature, including humans, obeys a universal law of cause and effect and is the product of an unwavering necessity. Because all we know is the product of thought, we can know only what occurs or exists in our consciousness. It is in the nature of humans to think, and we are free to choose how we think, but the way we think is determined by our nature. We cannot be other than what we are, just as objects in nature cannot be something else. From this analysis of the human intellect, Fichte arrives at two conflicting views of human existence: Humans are subject to the cause-and-effect laws of nature, yet their ability to reason will raise humans above the strict necessity that controls the natural world.

In the second section, “Knowledge,” Fichte seeks to resolve this dilemma. He does so by conducting a dialogue between “I,” representing his own, questioning self, and “Spirit,” who guides him in his quest for truth and understanding of the nature and activity of human consciousness. Through meticulous analysis of inner experience and the processes of thought, he concludes that humans synthesize mental activities, which consist of spontaneous thinking and the passive receptivity of sensation. We infer the existence and behavior of objects in the external world by combining sensation with the law of causality, but because this mental activity never extends beyond the intellect and the laws of our nature, we can never know more than ourselves. Sensation produces an image of an external object, but how we see this image is determined by the laws of our intellect, and therefore what we “see” is only ourselves “seeing.” Human consciousness is the result of this combination of reception, inference, and intuition. Our understanding of the external world grows because reasoning enables us to apply what we already know to new experiences. In this way, what we know is determined by what we already know, yet this knowledge has no actual reality. It is only an abstraction existing in our mind.

In the final section of the book, “Faith,” Fichte asserts that humans must act on the belief that knowledge has validity and that other humans exist in the external world, which is the arena of our actions. Further, we must accept others as independent beings and respect their freedom to act and think as they choose. Faith includes the belief that we share a bond with all other rational beings in the world of spirit. Fichte’s faith also compels him to believe that a universal, benevolent will directs all existence and speaks to him through his moral conscience. Remaining steadfastly true to this will, he flows toward spiritual perfection. Progress toward this ideal is not achieved all at once, however; rather, it evolves as humans improve their understanding of nature. In time, humans will lose their temptation to do evil, developing cultures that benefit both nature and humankind. As these cultures expand their influence, they will ultimately encompass all of existence.

Evil exists in the world because humans have not yet achieved a universal community of good will, but they will, for a divine will directs everything toward everlasting goodness; even evil serves this purpose, for eventually its futility and destructiveness will teach humans to embrace only goodness.

To give meaning and purpose to his life, Fichte accepts on faith the existence of a higher power who wills goodness for all things. The natural world is bound by endless repetition that has no meaning for him. The fact that humans possess reason and spirit makes them a part of the spiritual world. Fichte has finally found his vocation: While on earth he shall resolutely and unwaveringly obey the divine will, which tells him how to act at every moment. The faith that his reason discovers not only explains the relation of the spiritual world of the mind to the world of the senses but also turns despair into hope and joy by convincing him that the spirit underlying all existence leads to eternal life and spiritual perfection. While on earth, he will continue to experience pain and illness, for he inhabits a physical world in which suffering and other misfortunes are inescapable, but his faith in the goodness of the universal will and in the existence of an eternal spiritual life enables him to look on evil and suffering in the physical realm without dismay or dread. Even death is not fearful to him, for he regards it as a transition from the world of the senses into the spiritual world of everlasting goodness.

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