Johann Fichte’s “Right” as the Nature and Purpose of Human Existence

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“Right” exists beyond human existence as a point of transcendence that human existence uses as a means of measurement, self-actualization, and teleological significance. In this way, Right is what existence uses as a point of cosmic destination, which is transcendent to “being-Human.” Since Right is a transcendental idea, as Immanuel Kant argues in Critique of Pure Reason, it is a pure concept of reason.[1] The “pure” aspect to any concept, or object—that is, when it is a “transcendental idea”—is one predicated on a priori understanding of its “is-ness” and “there-ness” that which is Right. Because of this, being-Human conceives of Right as an object of understanding. As such, this kind of object of understanding is something that is represented, or objectified, prior to all experience—we apprehend[2] Right before actually experiencing it. This a priori concept, through the process of a more rigorous experiential objectification, according to Kant, “indicates the synthetic unity which alone makes possible an empirical knowledge of objects.”[3] What this means, then, is that, when human existence encounters Right as an object of understanding, in its transcendence, there is an initial knowledge of it as a “mere logical form” before there is a deeper, deliberative knowledge of it as an “empirical form.” Knowledge of an a priori object of understanding, as Kant argues, “[is] not to be obtained by mere reflection but only by inference.”[4] So, what arises here is the relationship between sense and reference,[5] where what can be logically inferred about an a priori object of understanding becomes an empirical point of reference. Not only do sense and reference come to bear upon what Right is, but there are the deontological dimensions of human existence that perceives, understands, and grasps Right, and there are ethics involved in the encounter between Right and being-Human. If it is possible to argue that Right is a transcendent object of understanding that we must be conceive, understand, and grasp, what kind of ethics do we use, if Right must fall into truth-related parameters. I would argue that this is a kind of natural law—it is something that is set up through the ascetic, deontological value of being-Human, and a recognition of its link to the “highest good.” What makes the “highest good” possible is, as Johann Fichte asserts in The Foundation of Natural Right, when “each free being makes it a law for himself to limit his freedom through the concept of the freedom of all others.”[6] Fichte’s idea of “each free being” is grounded on the universality of freedom. The nature and purpose of human existence are as being-Human through the intersection between Right and the “natural law” of “being-Human-in-the-world”—Fichte’s Right and being-Human are existentially-actualized in the “highest good” and natural law grounded on the purpose of the world, worldhood, and worldliness.

[1] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Translated by Norman Kemp Smith (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1929), 315.

[2] Here, “apprehends” is similar to “apperceives.”

[3] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Translated by Norman Kemp Smith (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1929), 315.

[4] Ibid., 308.

[5] I am thinking particularly of Gottlob Frege’s notions of “sense” and “reference,” which, of course, owe their theory and praxis to Kant. Gottlob Frege, “On Sense and Reference,” in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, eds. Peter Geach and Max Black (Oxford,UK: Basil Blackwell, 1960), 61.

[6] Johann Fichte, The Foundation of Natural Right, Translated by Michael Baur (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 85.

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