The Letter and the Spirit: Kant’s Metaphysics and Fichte’s Epistemology
In this chapter, I defend Fichte’s characterization of the Wissenschaftslehre as an extension of Kantian idealism. On Fichte’s view, Kant had not carried his own insights into the subjective conditions for the possibility of experience far enough. Kant showed that the extent of our knowledge is limited to the objects of consciousness and that we cannot make speculative claims beyond those epistemic limits. Fichte argues that Kant goes beyond these limits when he explains appearances by referring to the thing in itself as their cause. For Fichte, the reality of the world, apart from human perception, can, like the reality of God, freedom, and immortality, be established only on practical grounds, as a necessary condition of moral agency. Rather than deny the existence of a mind-independent world, Fichte justifies the belief in its reality in a way that, although it contradicts the letter of Kant’s philosophy, is more consistent with its spirit, specifically Kant’s critique of dogmatic metaphysics.