Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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one were inclined to assume that for the Greeks the basis
of this sensuous designation was certainly the rainbow and
similar phenomena, one would have to admit that their
sensuous perception had already advanced to the stage
of noticing this difference between things, viz., that some
reveal themselves to all or several senses and others to


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the eye alone, and that, besides, if the developed conception
had become clear to them, they would have had to desig-
nate it not in this way but in some other. Also their
superior mental clearness would then be evident as
' ' i compared, say, with that of another people which was

j . not able to indicate the difference between, the sensuous

1 and the supersensuous by an image taken from the

I deliberate waking state, but had gone to dreams to find

an image for another world. It would at the same time
be plain that this difference was not based on the greater
^. I or smaller strength of the sense for the supersensuous in

the two peoples, but solely on the difference between their
I sensuous clearness at the time when they sought to desig-
nate supersensuous things.

50. Thus all designation of the supersensuous is con-
1 ditioned by the extent and clearness of sensuous percep-

tion in him who gives the designation. The image is
clear to him and expresses to him in an entirely com-
prehensible way the relation of the thing conceived to
the mental instrument, because this relation is explained
to him by another, direct, and living relation to his
sensuous instrument. The new designation which thus
arises, together with all the new clearness which sensuous
perception itself acquires by this extended use of the sign,
is now deposited in the language ; and the supersensuous
perception possible in the future is now designated in
accordance with its relation to the total supersensuous
and sensuous perception deposited in the whole language.
So it goes on without interruption, and so the immediate
clearness and comprehensibility of the images is never
broken off, but remains a continuous stream. More-
over, since language is not an arbitrary means of com-
munication, but breaks forth out of the life of under-
'* standing as an immediate force of nature, a language

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continuously developed according to this law has also
the power of immediately affecting and stimulating life.
Just as things immediately present influence man, so
must the words of such a language influence him who
understands them ; for they, too, are things, and not an
arbitrary contrivance. Such is the case first in the
sensuous world. Nor is it otherwise in the supersensuous ;
for, although in the latter the continuous process of observ-
ing nature is interrupted by free contemplation and
reflection, and at this point God who is without image
appears, yet designation by language at once inserts the
Thing-without-image in the continuous connection of y
things which have an image. So, in thb respect alsoi
the continuous progress of language, which broke forth
in the beginning as a force of nature, remains uninter-^
rupted, and into the stream of designation no arbitrari-j
ness enters. For the same reason the supersensuous part
of a language thus continuously developed cannot lose
its power of stimulating life in him who but sets his
mental instrument in motion. The words of such av^
language in all its parts are life and create life. Now if,
in respect of the development of the language for what
is supersensuous, we make the assumption that the people
of this language have continued in unbroken communica-
tion, and that what one has thought and expressed has
before long come to the knowledge of all, then what has
previously been said in general is. valid for all who speak
this language. To all who will but think the image
deposited in the language is clear ; to all who really
think it is alive and stimulates their life.

51. Such is the case, I say, with a language which,
from the time the first sound broke forth among the same \
people, has developed continuously out of the actual I
common life of this people, and into which no element

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has ever entered that did not express an observation
actually experienced by this people, and, moreover,
an observation standing in a connection of wide-spread
reciprocal influence with all the other observations of
the same people. It does not matter if ever so many
individuals of other race and other language are incorpora-
ted with the people speaking this language ; provided
the former are not permitted to bring the sphere of their
observations up to the position from which the language
is thereafter to develop, they remain dumb in the com-
\' ) munity and without influence on the language, until

the time comes when they themselves have entered into
the sphere of observation of the original people. Hence
they do not form the language ; it is the language which
forms them.

52. But the exact opposite of all that has so far been
said takes place when a people gives up its own language
.and adopts a foreign one which is already highly developed
as regards the designation of supersensuous things. I
do not mean when it yields itself quite freely to the
influence of this foreign language and is quite content
to remain without a language until it has entered into
the circle of observation of this foreign language, but when
it forces its own circk of observation on the adopted
language^ .which^ when it develops from the ppsitiaa..iQ
which they found it, must thenceforward procted in this
circle of observation. In respect of the sensuous part
oFlhe "language, such an event, indeed, is without con-
sequences. For among every people the children must
in any case learn that part of the language just as if the
signs were arbitrary, and thiis recapitulate in this matter
the whole previous linguistic development of the nation.
But in this sphere of the senses every sign can be made
quite clear by directly looking at or touching the thing

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designated. At most, the result of this would be that
the first generation of a people which thus changed its
language would be compelled when adults to go back
to the years of childhood; with their descendants,
however, and with subsequent generations, everything
would doubtless be in the old order again. On the other
hand, this change has consequences of the greatest impor-
tance in respect of the supersensuous part of the language.
For the first possessors of the language this part was
formed in the way already described ; but, for those who
acquire the language later, the verbal image contains a
comparison with an observation of the senses, • which
they have either passed over long ago without the accom-
panying mental development, or else have not yet had,
and perhaps never can have, ^e most that they
can do in such a case is to let the verbal image and its
mental significance explain eadi uiliei ; ki-thi< way they
receive the. flat and dead history of a foreign culture,
but not in any way a culture of their owh.N Thejr'get
symbols which for them are neither immediately clear
nor able to stimulate life, but which must seem to them
entirely as arbitrary as the sensuous part of the language.
For them this advent of history, and nothing but history,-
as expositor, makes the language dead and closed in respect
of its whole sphere of imagery, and its continuous onward
flow is broken off. Although, beyond this sphere, they
may again develop the language as a living language in
their own way and so far as this is possible from such a
starting-point, nevertheless that element remains a
dividing wall at which, without exception, language in its
original emergence from life as a force of nature and the
actual language's renewal of contact with life are broken.
Although such a language may be stirred on the surface
by the wind of life and thus present the appearance of


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having a life of its own, nevertheless it has a dead element
deeper down, and by the entrance of the new circle of
observation and the breach with the old one it is cut off
from the living root.

53* We proceed to illustrate the foregoing by an
example, remarking incidentally that such a language,
at bottom dead and incomprehensible, very easily lends
itself to perversion and to misuse in glossing over every
kind of human corruption, and that this is not possible
in a language which has never died. I take as my example
the thyee notorious words^ Humanity^ Popularity, an d
XiEerality. When these words are used in speaking to
a German who has learnt no language but his own they
are to him nothing but a meaningless noise, which has
no relationship of sound to remind him of anything he
knows already and so takes him completely out of his
circle of observation and beyond any observation possible
to him. Now, if the unknown word nevertheless attracts
his attention by its foreign, distinguished, and euphonious
tone, and if he thinks that what sounds so lofty must
also have some lofty meaning, he must have this meaning
explained to him from the very beginning and as some-
thing entirely new to him, and he can only accept this
explanation blindly. So he becomes tacitly accus-
tomed to acknowledge as really existing and valuable
something which, if left to himself, he would perhaps
never have found worth mentioning. Let no one
believe that the case is much different with the neo-Latin
peoples, who utter those words as if they were words
of their mother-tongue. Without a scholarly study of
antiquity and of its actual language they understand
the roots of those words just as little as the German
does. Now if, instead of the word Humanity [Human-
itdt\ we had said to a German the word Menscblicbkeit^

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which is its literal translation, he would have understood
us without further historical explanation^ but he would
have said : ** Well, to be a man [Menscb] and not a )vild
beast is not very much after alL'^ Now it may be that)
no Roman would ever have said that ; but the German .
woi^ say it, because in his jaaguoge^inanfibad [Menstb^i
beii\ has remained an idea oi.the.sensfilonIy and has'
never become a symbol of a supersensuous idea as it did';
among the Rofnins. Our ancestors had taken note of
the separate human virtues and designated them symboli-
cally in language perhaps long before it occurred to them
to combine them in a single concept as contrasted with
animal nature ; and that is no discredit to our ancestors
as compared with the Romans. Now anyone who, in
spite of this, wished to introduce that foreign and Roman
symbol artificially and, as it were, by a trick into the
language of the Germans, would obviously be lowering
their ethical standard in passing on to them as distinguished
and commendable something which may perhaps be so
in the foreign language, but which the German, in accord-
ance with the ineradicable nature of his national power
of imagination, only regards as something already known
and indispensable. A closer examination might enabled
us to demonstrate that those Teutonic races which!
adopted the Latin language experienced, even in the
beginning, similar degradations of their former ethical
standard because of inappropriate foreign symbols ;
but on this circumstance we do not now wish to lay too]
great a stress.

^ Further, if in speaking to the German, instead of the
; words Popularity [Popularitat] and Liberality [Liber-
I alitZt]j I should use the expressions, ^' striving for favour
I with the great mob," and *^ not having the mind of a
I slave," which is how they must be literally translated,


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he would, to begin with, not even obtain a clear and vivid
f[ sense-image such as was certainly obtained by a Roman of

old. The latter saw every day with his own eyes the
flexible politeness of an ambitious candidate to all and
sundry, and outbursts of the slave mind too ; and those
words vividly re-presented these things to him. Even
from the Roman of a later period these sights were
removed by the change in the form of government and
the introduction of Christianity; and, besides, his own
language was beginning to a great extent to die away
in his own mouth. This was more especially due to
Christianity, which was alien to him, and which he
could neither ward off nor thoroughly assimilate. How
was it possible for this language, already half dead in its
own home, to be transmitted alive to a foreign people ?
How could it now be transmitted to us Germans ? More-
over, with regard to the symbolic mental content of
/ M both those expressions, there is in the word Popularity,

i even at the very beginning, something base, which was

y ' [ perverted in their mouths and became a virtue, owing to

y [ ! the corruption of the nation and of its constitution.

The German never falls into this perversion, so long as
it is put before him in his own language. But when
Liberality is translated by saying that a man has not
the soul of a slave, or, to give it a modern rendering, has
not a lackey's way of thinking, he once more replies that
to say this also means very little.

; Moreover, into these verbal images, which even in their
pure form among the Romans arose at a low stage of
ethical culture or designated something positively base,
there were stealthily introduced during the developnient
of the neo-Latin languages the idea of lack of seriousness
about social relations, the idea of self-abandonment, and
the idea of heartless laxity. In order to bring these

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things into esteem among us, use was made of the respect
we have for antiquity and foreign countries to introduce
the same words into the German language. It was done
so quietly that no one was fully aware of what was actually
intended. The purpose and the result of all admixture
has ever been this : first of all to remove the hearer from
the immediate comprehensibility and definiteness which
are the inherent qualities of every primitive language ;
then, when he has been prepared to accept such words
in blind faith, to supply him with the explanation that
he needs ; and, finally, in this explanation to mix vice
and virtue together in such a way that it is no easy matter
to separate them again. Now, if the true meaning of
those three foreign words, provided they have a meaning,
had been expressed to the German in his own words
and within his own circle of verbal images, in this way :
Mcnschenfreunilicbkeit (friendliness to man), Leuiselig'
keit (condescension or afifability), and Eielmut (noble-
mindedness), he would have understood us ; but the base
associations we have mentioned could never have been
slipped into those designations. Within the range of
German speech such a wrapping-up in incomprehen^
sibility and darkness arises either from clumsiness or
evil design ; it is to be avoided, and the means always
ready to hand is to translate into right and true German.
But in the neo-Latin languages this incomprehensibility is
of their very nature and origin, and there is no means of
avoiding it, for they do not possess any living language
by which they might examine the dead one; indeed,
when one looks at the matter closely, they are entirely 7
without a mother-tongue.

54. This single example will serve to demonstrate
what could with ease be followed up throughout the whole
range of the language and found present everywhere.

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It is intended to explain to you as clearly as is here
possible what has so far been said. We are speaking

[ of the supersensuous part of the language, and not
immediately or directly of the sensuous part. This super-

jTensuous part, in a language that has always remained
alive, is expressed by symbols of sense, comprehending
at every step in complete unity the siim total of the
sensuous and mental life of the nation deposited in the
language, for the purpose of designating an idea that like-
wise is not arbitrary, but necessarily proceeds from the
whole previous life of the nation. From the idea and
Tts designation a keen eye, looking back, could not fail
to reconstruct the whole history of the nation's culture.
But in a dead language this supersensuous part, which,
while the language was still alive, was what we have
described, becomes with the death of the language a
tattered collection of arbitrary and totally inexplicable ;
symbols for ideas that are just as arbitrary ; and with
both idea and symbol there is nothing else to be done
but just to learn them.

55. With this our immediate task is performed, which
was to find the characteristic that differentiates the
German from the other peoples of Teutonic descent.
The difference arose at the moment of the separation
of the common stock and consists in this, that the
German speaks a language which has been alive ever
since it first issued from the force of nature, whereas
the other Teutonic races speak a language which has

^ movement on the surface only but is dead at thfi r^ot.

I To this circumstance alone, to life on the one hand and

> death on the other, we assign the difference ; but we
are not in any way taking up the further question of
the intrinsic value of the German language. Between
life and death there is no comparison ; the former has

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infinitely more value than the latter. All direct com*
parisons between German and neo-Latin languages are
therefore null and void, and are obliged to dis(;uss things
which are not worth discussing. If the intrinsic value of
the German language is to be discussed, at the very least
a language of equal rank, a language equally primitive,
as, for example, Greek, must enter ^the lists ; but such a
comparison is far beyond our present purposev

56. What an immeasurable influence on the whole
human developmenrof^a people the character of its Ian- '
guage may have — ^its language, which accompanier the-in-
dividual into the most secret depths of his mind in thought
and will and either hinders him or gives him wings, which
unites within its domain the whole mass of men who speak
it into one single and common understanding, which is
the true point of meeting and mingling for the world
of the senses and the world of spirits, and fuses the ends
of both in each other in such a fashion that it is impossible
to tell to which of the two it belongs itself — how different
the results of this influence may prove to be where the
relation is as life to death, all this in general is easily
perceived. In the first place, the German has a means
of investigating his living language more thoroughly (^
by comparing it vnih the closed Latin language, which
differs very widely from his own in the development of
verbal images ; on the other hand, he has a means of
understanding Latin more clearly in the same way. This
is not possible to a member of the neo-Latin peoples,
who fundamentally remains a captive in the sphere of
one and the same language. Then the German, in learn-
ing the original Latin, at the same time acquires to a
certain extent the derived languages also ; and if he should
learn the former more thoroughly than a foreigner does,
which for the reason given the' German will very likely

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be abk to do, he at the same time learns to understand

thi§_foreigncr's own language far more thoroughly and

to possess it^ar mui e hilliiiately than does the foreigner

himself who speaks it. Hence the German, if only he

' makes use of all his advantages, can always be superior >

, to the foreigner and understand him fully, even better

than"tHeTor cigac i' u u JcibUuJb himself, and can translate

* the foreigner to the fullest extent. On the other hand,

the foreigner can never understand the true German

«/ ' without a thorough and extremely laborious study of

^ > J ' the German language, and there is no doubt that he will

'j ' ' leave what is genuinely German untranslated. The things

. ^ ? in these languages which can only be learnt from the

foreigner himself are mostly new fashions of speech

^ due to boredom and caprice, and one is very modest when

>■ {'/ one consents to receive instruction of this kind. In most

* ^ . cases one would be able, instead, to show foreigners how

^1 ' , . they ought to speak according to the primitive language

, ' and its law of change, and that the new fashion is worth-

y " less and offends against ancient and traditional good usage.

57. In addition to the special consequence just men-
tioned, the whole wealth of consequences we spoke of
comes about of itself.

It is, however, our intention to treat these consequences

\ X • as a whole, fundamentally and comprehensively, from

\ I the point of view of the bond that unites them, in order

^ I ^ to give in this way a thorough description of the German

in contrast to the other Teutonic races. For the present

I briefly indicate these consequences thus : —

^ (i) Where the people has a living language, mental

culture influences life ; where the contrary is the case,

^ mental culture and life go their way independently of

'^ • ^ each other.

(2) Fox the same reason^ a people of the former kind


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\ is really and truly in earnest about all mental culture
I and wishes it to influence life ; whereas a people of the ^
I latter kind looks upon mental culture rather as an ingeni-
. ous game and has no wish to make it anything more.

(3) From No. 2 it follows that the former has honest
diligence^ and earnestness in all things, and takes pains ;^^
whereas the latter is easy-going and guided by its happy

(4) From all this together it follows that in a nation
of the former kind the mass of the people is capable of
education, and the educators of such a nation test their
discoveries on the people and wish to influence it;
whereas in a nation of the latter kind the educated classes
separate themselves from the people and regard it as
nothing more than a blind instrument of their plans.
The further discussion of the characteristics indicated I
reserve for the next address.

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r*' .^ 58, With the object of describing the characteristic

quality of the Germans we have pointed out the funda-
mental difference between them and the other peoples
of Teutonic descent, viz., that the former have remained
1 in the uninterrupted flow of a primitive language which

develops itself continuously out of real life, whereas the
latter adopted a language which was foreign to them and
which under their influence has been killed. At the end
of the previous address we indicated other manifestations
among these peoples, who differ from each oth^ in the
way we have shovni. To-day we shall deal more fully
with these manifestations, which are a necessary conse-
quence of that fundamental difference, and establish them
more firmly on their common foundation.

An investigation which endeavours to be thorough can
rise too high to be involved in many disputes or to arouse
much jealousy. Our method of investigation in the
present instance will be the same as it was in the one to
which this is a sequel. We shall take the fundamental
difference that has been indicated, and deduce its con-
sequences step by step ; our sole concern will be to see
that this deduction is correct. Whether the various

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 7 of 22)