The Vocation of Man Analysis
by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

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The Vocation of Man Analysis

The Vocation of Man (Die Bestimmung des Menschen) is a treatise published in 1800 by German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Fichte was a contemporary of Kant and an imitator of his style. His treatise is divided into three parts: 1.) Doubt 2.) Knowledge, and 3.) Faith.

In beginning of the first chapter, Fichte states, "I cannot truly say that I possess the slightest knowledge of my vocation" (16). Fichte then proceeds with that which he knows: that everything in Nature "is something" (such as a color, or another descriptive adjective) or "it is not something," and he concludes that "from nothing, nothing whatever can proceed" (22). Humans, too, are a part of nature; however, they are capable of thoughts that exist in as real a fashion as tangible objects ("[thought's] existence is absolute and independent" [28]).

In "Doubt," Fichte concludes that "my consciousness is the source of my limitation." This results in a paradox: man is subject to the limitations of Nature but also makes his own limitations. Fichte postulates: "Am I free and independent?—or am I nothing in myself, and merely the manifestation of a foreign power?" Neither, according to Fichte, is sufficient to explain mankind's complexity.

His chapter on "Knowledge" begins with an imagined dialogue between himself and an encouraging interlocutor called "The Spirit." This internal dialogue with "The Spirit" convinces Fichte that humans don't necessarily have control over their own thoughts. Additionally, "in [human] consciousness there is always a conclusion drawn from the effect in myself to a cause out of myself" (94). This section suggests that mankind and consciousness are not subject to a foreign power. This conclusion is reached through a Socratic dialogue.

The third section acknowledges mankind's search for "something beyond a mere presentation of conception" (113). In this section, Fichte reasons that humans are uniformly directed by a common, universal "Will." He states, "This Will unites me with himself; he also unites me with all finite beings like myself, and is the universal mediator between us all" (174). Ultimately, Fichte's philosophical treatise uses inductive reasoning (stemming from our own human thoughts) to intuit the existence of a benevolent higher power.


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Johann Gottlieb Fichte is a transitional figure in the history of German philosophy. His philosophical impetus came from Immanuel Kant, and his work began the modifications of Kant that ultimately resulted in the Absolute Idealism of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He had some trying experiences as a young man, finding himself in financial want during the latter days of his formal education and during the five years that passed between his engagement to his future wife and their marriage. He was forced to scrape along as a tutor during his early career, work that was not always satisfying and rewarding. However, during these early years as a private tutor, he came across the writings of Kant, and these provided him with background and inspiration for his career as a philosopher. In fact, his emergence from obscurity to national recognition almost overnight resulted from his being mistaken for Kant. A book of Fichte’s on philosophy of religion was published without his name appearing as author. The literary world assumed the book had been written by Kant himself. Kant then made it known that the book was from Fichte’s pen, not his own, and he also praised the work, thereby immediately making Fichte a national figure.

Fichte and Kant

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Fichte was attracted most strongly to the ethical views of Kant. He saw himself in his youth as a Spinozist, but he was not happy with philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s rigid determinism. He had considerable passion and enthusiasm, and he apparently also had a need to feel that his acts were subject to ethical appraisal in that he himself was a free and responsible ethical agent. In the Spinozistic world, of course, all acts followed from their causal antecedents in a necessary way. This...

(The entire section is 4,458 words.)