Having just mentioned Johan Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) again, I owe him a dedicated note. Along with Karl Reinhold (1757 – 1823), Fichte played a major role in promoting the philosophy of Kant, and helped shape the further development of German idealism, but Kant studiously avoided endorsing his interpretation. Recent scholarship has greatly enriched the historical picture of Fichte’s development.

In the early works for which he is best known, Fichte strove to simplify and systematize the Critical philosophy. In so doing, he made a number of important changes that have affected the reception of Kant ever since. For one thing, influenced by Reinhold, he wanted to derive everything from a single, simple principle. For Fichte, this was a transcendental Subject or “I” endowed with very strong unity and infinite freedom. Contrary to Kant, he suggested there could be a limited kind of intellectual intuition, applying only to the Subject. Meanwhile, he denied the reality of the “thing in itself” that Kant always insisted on. He also presented himself as a sort of polar opposite of Spinoza.

These moves gave him a reputation for extreme subjectivism, but recent scholarship has shown that Fichte at least worked very hard to avoid this sort of consequence. His “I” was supposed to be universal and to incorporate all sorts of epistemological scruples, and in spite of rejecting a thing-in-itself, he also wrote extensively about a “not-I” that the “I” was supposed to recognize. He partly anticipated Hegel’s later notion of mutual recognition, but Hegel also famously criticized any simple opposition of “I” and “not-I”.

Assuming that Fichte successfully avoided crude subjectivism, he still stands as an archetype of a subject-centered philosopher, very far from the vision pursued here of doing full justice to subjectivity without postulating a foundational Subject.