Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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and to secure the sole mastery for clearness and knowledge.
This effort has been quite successful at least in this,
that it has completely revealed the nothingness of the
past. The impulse towards clearness should not be
rooted out, nor should dull acquiescence in dim feeling •
again obtain the mastery. Rather must this impulse be
developed still further and introduced into higher spheres,
so that when the Nothing has been revealed, the Some-
thing, the positive truth that sets up something real,
may likewise become manifest. The world of given and
self-forming existence, which arises from dim feeling, has
been submerged and shall remain below the surface.
The world, however, which arises from original clearnes^
the world of existence that is ever to be evolved from the,
mind, shall dawn and shine forth in its splendour.

38. Truly the prophecy of a new life in such forms
will probably seem strange to our age, which would
scarcely have the courage to take this promise to itself,
if it were to look solely at the tremendous difference
between its own prevailing opinions on these matters
and those which have been expressed as principles of
the new era. I wiU not speak of the education which
in the past, as a rule, only the higher classes received, as a

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privilege not to be extended to everyone, and which was
quite silent concerning any supersensuous world, and
strove merely to produce some skill in the affairs of the
sensuous world. It was obviously the worse kind of
education. But I will look only at what was popular
education and could also, in a certain very limited sense,
be called national education, which did not preserve com-
plete silence concerning a supersensuous world. What
were the doctrines of this education ? We put forward
as the fundamental assumption of the new education
that there is at the root of man's nature a pure pleasure

I in the good, which can be developed to such an extent
that it becomes impossible for him to leave undone what
he knows to be good and to do instead what he knows to
be evil. The existing education, on the other hand, has
not only assumed, but has also taught its pupils from
early youth onwards, that man has a natural aversion from
God's commandments, and, further, that it is absolutely

^ Limpossible for him to keep them. What else can be ex-
pected of such instruction, if it is taken seriously and
believed, than that each individual should yield to his
absolutely unchangeable nature, should not try to achieve
what has once been represented to him as impossible,
and should not desire to be better than he and all
others can be ? Indeed, he accepts the baseness attri-
buted to him, the baseness of acknowledging his natural
sinfulness and wickedness, because such baseness in God's
sight is represented to him as the sole means of coming to'
terms with Him. If perchance such a statement as ours
comes to his ears, he cannot but think that someone merely
wants to play a bad joke on him, because he has an ever-
present inward feeling, which to him is perfectly clear,
that this statement is not true, and that the opposite
alone is true. T We presuppose a knowledge, not dependent

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^on any given existence, but on the contrary itself giving
laws for that existence, and propose to immerse every
child of man in this knowledge from the very beginning,
and to keep him from that time onwards continually
under its rule. On the other hand, we regard that
nature of things which can be learned only from history
as an insignificant accessory that follows of itself. When
we do all this, then the ripest products of the old educa-
tion oppose us, reminding us that it is well known there
is no a priori knowledge, and saying they would like- to
know how there can be any knowledge except through
experience. In order that this supersenuous and a priori
world should not reveal itself in the place where this
seemed unavoidable, namely, in the possibility of a
knowledge of God, and that even in God Himself there
should be no spiritual spontaneity, but that passive sub-
mission should remain all in all — to meet this danger the
old education has hit upon the daring expedient of making
the existence of God an historical fact, the truth of which
is established by the examination of evidence. ^

So in truth the matter stands ; yet our generation
should not therefore despair of itself, for these and all
other similar phenomena are themselves not independent,
but only flowers and fruits of the uncultivated root of
the past. If only this generation submits quietly to the
grafting of a new, nobler, and stronger root, the old will
be killed, and its flower and fruits, deprived of further
nourishment, will of themselves wither and fall.' As yet
this generation cannot believe our words ; it is inevitable
that they seem to it like fairy tales. Nor do we want such /
belief ; we want only room to work and to act. After-
wards it will see, and it will believe its own eyes.

39. Everyone who is acquainted with the productions
of recent years will have noticed long ago that here again


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those principles and views are expressed which modern
German philosophy since its origin has preached again
and again, because it could do nothing else but preach.
It is now sufficiently clear that these sermons have
vanished without result into thin air, and the reason for
this is evident too. ^- A living thing affects only something
living ; but in the actual life of the age there is no rela-
tionship at all with this philosophy, which goes its own
way in a sphere that is not yet revealed to this age, and
which calls for sense-organs that it has not yet developed.
This philosophy is not at home in our age, but is an
anticipation of time, and a principle of life ready in
advance for a generation which shall first awake to light
in it. It must give up all claim on the present genera-
tion ; but, in order not to be idle until then, let it now
undertake the task of fashioning for itself the generation
to which it does belong. As soon as this, its immediate
:\ business, has become clear to it, it will be able to live in
peace and friendship with a generation which in other
respects does not please it. The education which we have
hitherto described is likewise the education for this
philosophy. Yet b a certain sense it alone can be the
educator in this education ; and so it had to be a fore-
runner neither understood nor acceptable. But the
-^' • time will come when it will be understood and received

with joy ; and that is why our generation should not
despair of itself.'
! 40. Let this generation hearken to the vision of an

"^ ancient prophet in a situation no less lamentable. Thus

:> says the prophet ^ by the river of Chebar, the comforter

I • ^ of those in captivity, not in their own, but in a foreign

I . ^ 1; land. '* The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried

me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the
^ [Ezekiel zzxvii. i-io. I have used the Authorised Version here.]


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midst of the valley which was full of bones^ and caused

me to pass by them round about : and, behold, there

were very many in the open valley ; and, lo, they were

very dry. And He said unto me. Son of man, can these

bones live*? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

Again He said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and

say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the

Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones.

Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall

live : and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up

flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath

in you, and ye shall live ; and ye shall know that I am

the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded : and

as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking,

and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And

when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon

them, and the skin covered them above ; but there was

no breath in them. Then said He unto me. Prophesy

unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the

wind. Thus saith the Lord God, Come from the four

winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they

may live. So I prophesied as He commanded me, and'

the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood

up upon their feet, an exceeding great army/'

, - Though the elements of our higher spiritual life may

(be just as dried up, and though the bonds of our national

unity may lie just as torn asunder and as scattered in

iwild disorder as the bones of the slain in the prophecy,

. though they may have whitened and dried for centuries

in tempests, rainstorms, and burning sunshine, the

, quickening breath of the spiritual world has not yet

\ ceased to blow. It will take hold, too, of the dead bones

of our national body, and join them together, that they

I may stand glorious in new and radiant life.

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41. We have said that the means of educating a new race
of men, which is being put forward in these addresses,
must first be applied by Germans to Germans, and that
it concerns our nation in a special and peculiar way.
This statement also requires proof ; and here, as before,
we shall begin with what is highest and most general,
showing what is the characteristic of the German as
such, apart from the fate that has now befallen him ;
showing, too, that this has been his characteristic ever
since he began to exist; and pointing out how this
characteristic in itself gives him alone, above all other
European nations, the capacity of responding to such an

42. In the first place, the German is a branch of the
Teutonicjrace. Of the latter it is sufficient to say here
that its mission was to combine the social order established
in ancient Europe with the true religion preserved in
ancient Asia, and in this way to develop in and by itself
a new and different age ajfter the ancient world had
j)erished. Further,it is sufficient todistinguishtheGerman
particularly, in contrast only to the other Teutonic peoples
who came into existence with him. Other neo-European
nations, as, for instance, those of Slav descent, do not seem
as yet to have developed distinctly enough in comparison


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with the rest of Europe to make it possible to give a
definite description of them ; whereas others of the same
Teutonic descent, as, for instance, the Scandinavians,'
although the main reason for differentiation (which will
be stated immediately) does not apply to them, are yet
regarded here as indisputably Germans, and included inr
all the general consequences of our observations.

43. But at the very outset the special observations
which we are now on the point of making must be pre-
faced by the following remark. As the cause of the
differentiation that has taken place in what was ori^nally
one stock I shall cite an event which, considered merely
as an event, lies clear and incontestable before the eyes
of all. I shall then adduce some manifestations of the
differentiation that has taken place ; and these manifesta-
tions, considered merely as events, could perhaps be
made just as clear and obvious. But with regard to the
connection of the latter, as consequences, with the
former, as their cause, and with regard to the deduction
of the consequences from the cause^ I cannot, speaking
generally, reckon upon being equally clear and con-
vincing to everyone. It is true that in this matter alsd
I am not making entirely new statements which no one
has heard of before ; on the contrary, there are among
us many individuals who are either well prepared for
such a view of the matter, or perhaps already familiar
with it. Among the majority, however, there arc in
circulation ideas about the subject of our discussion
which differ greatly from our own. To correct such
ideas, and to refute all the objections to single points
that might be raised by those who are not practised in
taking a comprehensive view of a subject, would far
exceed the limits of our time and our intention. I must
content myself with placing before such people, merely

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j( . as a subject for their further consideration, what I have

^' 'j • ! ; to say in this connection, remarking that in my system of

. I, , thought it does not stand so separate and detached as

' , ^ it appears in this place, nor is it without a foundation

• : ■ in the depths of knowledge. I could not omit it entirely,

y^^\ , partly on account of the thoroughness of treatment

\ \ demanded by my whole subject, and partly because of

^ I , its important consequences, which will appear later in

/ , ! . : the course of our addresses, and which are intimately

\\ \ f . connected with our present design.

') "' . 44. The first and immediately obvious difference

^^ , : • between the fortunes of the Germans and the other

branches which grew from the same root is this : the
i former remained in the original dwelling-places of the
r i ancestral stock; whereas the latter emigrated to other

, 1- '. . places ; the former retained and developed the original

^ ) ! language of the ancestral stock, whereas the latter adopted

! a foreign language and gradually reshaped it in a way of

their own. This earliest difference must be regarded as
the explanation of those which came later, e.g.^ that in
the original fatherland, in accordance with Teutonic
primitive custom, there continued to be a federation of
States under a head with limited powers, whereas in the
foreign countries the form of government was brought
more in accordance with the existing Roman method,
and monarchies were established, etc. It is not these
later differences that explain the one first mentioned.
' 45. Now, of the changes which have been indicated,
the first, the change of home, is quite unimportant.
Min^a^ily ^<»^^^e Ti;nr^«^plf ot home under any sky^ and the
National characteristic, far from being much changed
by the place of abode, dominates and changes the latter
after its own pattern. Moreover, the variety of natural
influences in the region inhabitated by the Teutons is

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not very great. Just as little importance should be
attached to the fact that the Teutonic race has inter-
mingled with the former inhabitants of the countries it
conquered ; for, after all, the victors and masters and
makers of the new people that arose from this inter-
mingling were none but Teutons. Moreover, in the
mother-country there was an intermingling with Slavs
similar to that which took place abroad with Gauls,
Cantabrians, etc., and perhaps of no less extent; so
that it would not be easy at the present day for any one
of the peoples descended from Teutons to demonstrate
a greater purity of descent than the others.

46. More important, however, and in my opinion the
cause of a complete contrast between the Germans and
the other peoples of Teutonic descent, is the second »/
change, the change of language. Here, as I wish to point
out distinctly at the very beginning, it is not a question
of the special quality of the language retained by the one
branch or adopted by the other ; on the contrary, the
importance lies solely in the fact that in the one case
something native is retained, while in the other case /
something foreign is adopted. Nor is it a question ^of
the previous ancestry of those who continue to speak an
original language ; on the contrary, the importance
lies solely in the fact that this language continues to be
'[Spoken, for men are formed by language far^morcthan^"'
I language is formed by men.

"^ 47. In order, to make clear, so far as explanation is
possible and necessary in this place, the consequences of
such a difference in the creation of peoples, and to make
clear the particular kind of contrast in national character-
istics that necessarily follows from this difference, I must
invite you to a consideration of the nature of language
in generaL

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Language in general, and especially the designation
of objects in language by sounds from the organs of
speech, is in no way dependent on arbitrary decisions
and agreements. On the contrary there is, to begin with,
a fundamental law, in accordance with which every idea
becomes in the human organs of speech one particular
sound and no other. Just as objects are represented in
the sense-organs of an individual by a definite form,
colour, etc., so they are represented in language, which is

/the organ of social man, by a definite sound.' It is not
really man that speaks, but human nature speaks in him
>'. ., . and announ£e&-it&elf to others ot his kind. Hence one

' \ ^ ' should say : There is and caa be bttt-oae^Ogle language.

\ Now indeed, and this is the second point, language

! I in this unity for man, simply as man, may never and no-

■' I where have arisen. -Everywhere it may have been further

/ j changed and formed by two groups of influences ; firstly,

tliose exerted on the organs of speech by the locality
and by more or less frequent use, and, secondly, those
exerted on the order of the designations by the order
in which objects were observed and d<esignated. Never-
theless, in this also there is no chance or arbitrariness,
but strict law ; and in an organ of speech thus affected by
the conditions mentioned there necessarily arises, not
the one pure human language, but a deviation therefrom,
and, moreover, this particular deviation and no other.

If we give the name of People to men whose- organs of
speech are influenced by^tliesame ext^nal conditions,
whclive together, and who develop their language in
continttotts communication with each other, then we
must say : The language of this people is necessarily
just what it is, and in reality this people does not express
its knowledge, but its knowledge expresses itself out of
the mouth of the people.

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48. Despite all the changes brought about, as the
language progresses, by the circumstances mentioned
above, this conformity with law remains uninterrupted ;
and indeed, for all who remain in uninterrupted com-
munication, and who all hear in due course whatever
any individual for the first time expresses, there is one
and the same conformity with law. After thousands of
years, and after all the changes undergone in that time
by the external manifestation of the language of this
people, it ever remains nature's one, same, living power
of speech, which in the beginning necessarily arose in the
way it did, which has flowed down through all conditions
without interruption, and in each necessarily became what
it did become, which in the end necessarily was what it
now is, and in time to come necessarily will be what it
then will be. ; The pure human language, in conjunction
first with the speech-organ of the people when its fint
sound was uttered, and the product of these, in conjunc-
tion further with all the developments which this fint
sound in the given circumstances necessarily acquired —
all this together gives as its final result the present language
of the people. For that reason, too, the language always
remains the same language. Even though, after some
centuries have passed, the descendants do not understand
the language of their ancestors, because- for them the
transitions have been lost, nevertheless there is from, the
beginning a continuous transition without a leap, a
transition always imperceptible at the time, and onty
made perceptible when further transitions occur and the
whole process appears as a leap forward. There has^ never
been a time when contemporaries ceased to understand
each other, for their eternal go-between and interpreter
always was, and has continued to be, the common power
of nature speaking through them all. Such is the con-

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dition of language, considered as the designation of objects
Ij ^ directly perceived by the senses; and in the beginning

j^ "^ ' all human language is this. ^When the people raises

itself from this stage of sensuous perception to a grasp
of the supersensuouSy then, if this supersensuous is to
be repeated at will and kept from being confused with the
sensuous by the first individual, and if it is to be com-
municated to others for their convenience and guidance,
the only way at first to keep firm hold of it will be to
designate a Self as the instrument of a supersensuous
world and to distinguish it precisely from the same Self as
the instrument of the sensuous world — to contrast a soul,
a mind, etc., with a physical body. As all the various
objects of this supersensuous world appear only in and
exist for that supersensuous instrument, the only possible
way of designating them in language would be to say
that their special relation to their instrument is similar
to the relation of such-and-such particular sensuous
objects to the sensuous instrument, and in this relation
to compare a particular supersensuous thing with a
particular sensuous one, using this comparison to indicate
by language the place of the supersensuous thing in the
supersensuous instrument. In this sphere language has
^> no further power ; it gives a sensuous image of the
V I supersensuous thing, merely with the remark that it is

an image of that kind ; he who wishes to attain to the
thing itself must set his own mental instrument in motion
according to the rule given him by the image. Speaking
generally, it is evident that this designation of the super-
sensuous by means of sensuous images must in every
case be conditioned by the stage of development which
the power of sensuous perception has reached in the
people under consideration. Hence, the origin and pro-
gress of this designation by sensuous images will be very

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different in different languages and will depend on the
difference in the relation that has existed and continues
to exist between the sensuous and intellectual develop*
ment of the people speaking a language.

49. We shall next illustrate this observation^ clear
though it is in itself, by an example. Anything that arises,
according to the conception of the fundamental impulse
explained in the preceding address, directly in clear
perception and not in the first place in dim feeling —
anything of this kind, and it is always a supersensuotU y/
object, is denoted by a Greek word which is frequently ^ '
used in the German language also ; it is called an Idea
[German, Iiee\ ; and this word conveys exactly the same
sensuous image as the word Gesicht in German, which
occurs in the following expressions in Luther's translation
of the Bible : Ye shall see visions \Gesichu\ ye shall
dream dreams. Idea or Vision, in its sensuous meaning,
would be something that could be perceived only by the
bodily eye and not by any other sense such as taste,
hearing, etc. ; it would be such a thing as a rainbow, or
the forms which pass before us in dreams. /Idea or
\^sion, in its supersensuous meanings would denote,
first of all, in conformity with the sphere in which the
word is to be valid, something that cannot be perceived
by the body at all, but only by the mind ; and then,
something that cannot, as many other things can, be
perceived by the dim. feeling of the mind, but only by the
eye of the mind, by clear perceptionT^^ Further, even if

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 6 of 22)