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Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie

Ed. by Horn, Christoph / Serck-Hanssen, Camilla

Together with Mercer, Christia

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In Defense of Fichte’s Account of Ethical Deliberation

1Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky

Citation Information: . Volume 94, Issue 2, Pages 178–207, ISSN (Online) 1613-0650, ISSN (Print) 0003-9101, DOI: 10.1515/agph-2012-0008, October 2012

Publication History:
Published Online:
2012-10-25

Abstract: Fichte’s ethical theory (as presented in his 1798 System der Sittenlehre) has often been characterized as an unsound and extreme expression of moral rigorism, even “moral fanaticism”. It has long been simultaneously criticized both as too formal and abstract and as too subjective and arbitrary. After considering these criticisms as they were first formulated by, among others, Schelling and Hegel, a more recent version of a similar criticism is also considered: namely, the charge that Fichte is unable to provide a successful account of moral deliberation and substantive self-determination that preserves both the autonomy of the moral agent and the universality and objectivity of the moral law. In order to respond to these criticisms one must explain how Fichte’s ethics is grounded in the larger account of agency contained within the entire Jena Wissenschaftslehre, and, more specifically how that “determinate pure willing”, which was posited in the Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo as the “highest synthesis” necessary for the very possibility of empirical self-consciousness, becomes the moral law when it is related, as it must be, to finite, natural consciousness. There follows an interpretation of Fichtean moral deliberation as a distinctive form of reflective judgment, the “product” of which is the deliberative agent’s recognition, not of the moral law per se, but rather of precisely what one ought to do in any and every situation. Taken together, these considerations would appear to absolve Fichte’s ethics of at least some of the more serious charges that have been made against it.

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