Kantian Journal

2019 Vol. 38. №3

Back to the list Download the article

Affection of Law: Fichte on the Place and Boundaries of Pure Ethics of the Imperative



In his popular 1806 lectures on religion Fichte considered five possible worldviews in the second of which, “the standpoint of legality”, one can readily recognise the ethics of law of the Stoical and Kantian type. Fichte stresses that in his youth he himself shared this worldview. However, he hastens to adduce a series of original arguments to show that this position is essentially incapable of delivering a pure and higher moral doctrine. I examine the substance of these critical arguments in the context of his later metaphysics. Fichte maintains that in the “second type” of worldview man himself feels and understands, respects and loves himself only as a subject of unconditional law, therefore the pathos and “affection of law” pervades all his assessments and motivations. This affects the impartiality of moral assessment if the requirements of the law are diverged from. The “man of law”, the Stoic and Kantian who is not conscious of direct violations of the law, can at most not despise himself, but he cannot, according to Fichte, positively respect himself: that would require surpassing the requirement of the law through action. Meanwhile the affection of the self-sufficient law conceals even this impossibility from such a person. Finally, I show that the ethics of the Stoical and Kantian type retains, according to Fichte’s diagnosis, a refined interest in preserving and indulging the sensual self and hence the idea of God as the warrantor of empirical happiness / bliss. Accordingly, the “overturn in the state of mind” sought by the Kantian himself implies “the highest act of freedom”, which is inaccessible to him and beyond which the perspective of the world as law is replaced for the subject by the perspective of the Kingdom of the Spirit in which the “selfhood” of each moral agent is practically overcome.


The Holy Bible, 21st Century King James Version (KJ21): 1994. Gary: Deuel Enterprises.
Fabbianelli, F., 2000. Fichte e il Jacobi dello “Allwill” e del “Woldemar”. In: F. Fabbianelli, 2000. Antropologia trascendentale e la visione morale del mondo. Il primo Fichte e il suo contesto. Milano: Guerini, pp. 183-207.
Fichte, J. G., 2005. The System of Ethics According to the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre. Translated and edited by D. Breazeale, G. Zöller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fichte, J. G., 1849. The Way towards the Blessed Life, or The Doctrine of Religion. Translated from the German by W. Smith. London: Chapman.
Fonnesu, L., 1999. Metamorphosen der Freiheit in Fichtes “Sittenlehre”. Fichte-Studien, Volume 16: Zur Enheit der Lehre Fichtes. Die Zeit der Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo. Edited by H. Girndt, J. Navarro-Peréz, M. Ivaldo, H. S. Villacañas. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, pp. 255-272.
Giovanni, G. di, 1997. The Early Fichte as Disciple of Jacobi. Fichte-Studien. Volume 9: Anfänge und Ursprünge. Zur Vorgeschichte der Jenaer Wissenschaftslehre. Edited by W. H. Schrader. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, pp. 257-273.
Ivaldo, M., 1992. Libertá e ragione. L’etica di Fichte. Milano: Mursia.
Ivaldo, M., 2002. Ethik der Inkarnation in J. G. Fichtes Vorlesungen über die Sittenlehre 1812. In: R. Mars-Zalka, I. Nowac-Juchacz, eds. 2002. Rozum jest wolny, wolnosć — rozumna: Philosophische Untersuchungen über die Gegenwärtigkeit einiger Traditionen. Marek Siemek zum 60. Geburtstag. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN, pp. 101-116.
Ivaldo, M., 2007. Il “concetto” morale come invito rivolto all’Io. Acta philosophica. Rivista internazionale di filosofia, 16 (2), pp. 361-365.
Kant, I., 2011. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. A German-English edition. Edited and translated by M. Gregor, J. Timmermann. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kosch, M., 2013. Formal Freedom in Fichte’s System of Ethics. In: J. Stolzenberg, F. Rush, eds. 2013. Internationales Jahrbuch des Deutschen Idealismus / International Yearbook of German Idealism 2011. Volume 9: Freiheit / Freedom. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 150-168.
Metzger, W., 1912. Untersuchungen zur Sitten- und Rechtslehre Kants und Fichtes. Heidelberg: Winter. 
Rametta, G., 2013. Fichte. Roma: Carocci.
Sudakov, A. K., 1997. Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Life and Philosophy. In: J. G. Fichte, 1997. Nastavlenie k blazhennoi zhizni [The Way towards the Blessed Life]. Translated from the German [into Russian] with Afterword and Notes by A. K. Sudakov. Мoscow: Kanon+, pp. 324-389. (In Rus.)
Sudakov, A. K., 1998. Absolutnaya nravstvennost’. Etika avtonomii i bezuslovnyi zakon [Absolute Morality. Ethics of Autonomy and Unconditional Law]. Moscow: Editorial URSS. (In Rus.)
Sudakov, A. K., 2018. Kant on His Way towards a Demonstration of God’s Existence, or One Unfortunate Postulate. Ethical Thought, 18(1), pp. 57-65. (In Rus.)
Valentini, T., 2015. La filosofia trascendentale come “scienza della libertà”: la prospettiva di Fichte nella Dottrina della scienza nova methodo (1796-1799). “Fogli di Filosofia” [Pubblicazione della Scuola Superiore di Studi in Filosofia — Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”], 7, pp. 23-59.
Wood, A. W., 2016. Fichte’s Ethical Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.