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Fichte, Johann Gottlieb

  1. Dean Moyar

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee489

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Moyar, D. 2013. Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) is one of the founders of the philosophical movement known as German idealism. He is most often discussed as a transitional figure between Immanuel Kant (see Kant, Immanuel) and G. W. F. Hegel (see Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), but he deserves to stand in his own right as one of the greatest innovators in modern ethical philosophy. He was an uncompromising advocate of human freedom and a relentless systematizer who inaugurated a new method of philosophical idealism. Elevated by a wealthy benefactor from a working-class background to an education with Saxony's elite at the famous Pforta school in Leipzig, the school attended later by Friedrich Nietzsche (see Nietzsche, Friedrich), Fichte struggled to establish his own intellectual and professional position until his reading of Kant's critical philosophy in 1790 (especially the Critique of Practical Reason) inspired him to develop his own philosophy of freedom. In 1792 he burst onto the philosophical scene as a result of his first work, Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation, which was published anonymously and widely mistaken, initially, as authored by Kant himself. Fichte would go on to have an enormously influential stint as a professor at the University of Jena (1794–9); this period came to an end with his dismissal for alleged atheism. He continued to teach and write in Berlin, and he would eventually become the first elected rector of the newly founded university in Berlin (later the Humboldt University). Fichte's philosophical system, which he called the Wissenschaftslehre (the “Doctrine of Science”), continued to evolve throughout his career, but it had its most lasting influence in the versions taught and published while he was in Jena (see La Vopa 2001 for a good account of Fichte's development and Jena career). The following discussion focuses on the Jena period writings, and in particular on his System of Ethics of 1798.


  • ethics;
  • agency;
  • conscience;
  • freedom