Absolute Organicism in German Idealism: Kant, Fichte and Schelling



One of the major concerns of the texts that are collected under the term of German idealism, as well as those classified as ‘romantic’, is their sustained attempt to formulate the question of the whole. The nature of wholeness or unity is scrutinised with considerable urgency, in a manner that is far from taking its meaning for granted. Indeed even the meaning of meaning itself is intertwined with this question, as is made clear in an exchange that occurs early in August Wilhelm Schlegel’s fictional dialogue ‘The Painting’, published in 1799 in the Athenaeum:

Reinhold: Every craft is blessed with a particular language that is provided with useful abbreviations [nützliche Abbreviaturen] in which one can quickly make oneself understood.

Waller: Unfortunately this specialised language is too often abused, so that one plays at being a connoisseur, while actually only proving that one knows one’s alphabet.

Louise: The descriptions such glib, shoulder-shrugging connoisseurs give of the most elevated and divine matters, are in truth skeletons — images that are struck dead and subsequently hung up to dry in the vaporous store-rooms of their brains [totgeschlagne Bilder, in der Vorratskammer ihrer dürren Köpfe in den Rauch gehängt].1


Systematic Unity Hierarchical Organisation Organic Unity Pure Reason Object Dichotomy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    A. W. Schlegel, ‘Die Gemälde’, 14, in Athenaeum: Ein Zeitschrift von August Wilhelm Schlegel und Friedrich Schlegel, volume II (edited by Curt Grützmacher, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1969); my translation.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust/Part One (translated by Philip Wayne, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1981), 952Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (translated by Norman Kemp, London: Macmillan, 1929), 22Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    According to Thomas McFarland, although ‘we should beware of underestimating the continuity of the organic tradition, at least as far back as Leibniz and actually as far as classical antiquity, it was Kant who most authoritatively channelled this underground current into the great river that flowed into the historical ocean of Romanticism’ (Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Modalities of Fragmentation [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981], 36).Google Scholar
  5. James Benziger (see his ‘Organic Unity: Leibniz to Coleridge’, in Modern Language Association of America, Volume 66, Number 2, March 1951, 24–48)Google Scholar
  6. Ernst Cassirer (cf. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment [translated by Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979], 28–36).Google Scholar
  7. Susan Meld Shell, The Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit, Generation and Community (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Nicolai Hartmann, Die Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1974), 4,Google Scholar
  9. Martin Heidegger, Schellings Abhandlung über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1971), 42 ff.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Timothy Webb (ed.), English Romantic Hellenism, 1700–1824 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982), 124–7.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Immanuel Kant, Opus Postumum (edited by Eckart Förster, translated by Eckart Förster and Michael Rosen, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Immanuel Kant, (Opus Postumum, volume II, in Gesammelte Schriften, volume XXII [Berlin: Königlich Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1938], 548).Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals (translated by Mary Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 16.
    See F. W. J. Schelling, Bruno, or, On the Natural and the Divine Principle of Things (translated by Michael G. Vater, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 150–1 and 177.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    F. W. J. Schelling, The Philosophy of Art (translated by Douglas W. Stott, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 157Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    J. G. Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, volume II, 7 [edited by Reinhard Lauth and Hans Gliwitzky, Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1989];).Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    J. G. Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings (translated and edited by Daniel Breazeale, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Dieter Heinrich, ‘Fichtes ursprüngliche Einsicht’, in Dieter Heinrich and Hans Wagner (eds.), Subjektivität und Metaphysik: Festschrift für Wolfgang Cramer (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1966).Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Walter Benjamin, The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, translated by David Lachterman, Howard Eiland and Ian Balfour, in Selected Writings, volume 1 (edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    Fichte, Early Philosophical Writings [translated and edited by Daniel Breazeale, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988]).Google Scholar
  21. J. G. Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, volume I, 2 (edited by Reinhard Lauth and Hans Jacob, Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1965).Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    J. G. Fichte, Gesamtausgabe, volume I, 5 [edited by Reinhard Lauth and Hans Gliwitzky, Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1977].Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    (de Man, ‘Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics’, 101, in Aesthetic Ideology [edited by Andrzej Warminski, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996]).Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    Fichte, The Vocation of Man (edited by Roderick M. Chisholm, translated by William Smith, New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1956), 82 and 76; translation modified.Google Scholar
  25. Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte’s Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 143 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 40.
    G. W. F. Hegel, Differenz der Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1962), 73.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles I. Armstrong 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BergenNorway

Personalised recommendations