"Die Willkuer der Ichsucht": Jean Paul's "Clavis Fichtiana" and the critique of German idealism
Nelson, John William
Doctor of Philosophy
It was no coincidence that the dawning of the Romantic movement in Germany occurred simultaneously with the emergence of the philosophical idealists. The attempt to expand upon Kant's Critical Philosophy resulted in the development of a number of ambitious philosophical systems, all of which claimed to be the completion and ultimate culmination of Kant's ideas. For the early German Romantics the most influential among Kant's successors was Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Much has been made of Fichte's speculative philosophy and its subjective foundations as being the major. factor that contributed to the unbridled subjectivity of the Romantics as well as their own penchant for speculation. While the literature of the time abounds with examples of Fichte's influence, the following study analyzes a direct confrontation with Fichteanism by a popular author of the period, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. Although he may have shared the Romantic fascination with Fichte's philosophy, Jean Paul was anything but a devotee---nor was he inclined for that matter to number himself among the Romantics. Deeply influenced by the Gefuhlsphilosoph Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, he remained critical of Kantianism and post-Kantian idealism throughout his life. And for Jean Paul, it was Fichteanism that best exemplified the inherent danger in any philosophy that granted reason sovereignty over all other human faculties and elevated the intellectual powers of the subject to such an extent that it threatened to displace the Deity. In 1800 he published a satirical tract, the Clavis Fichtiana seu Leibegeberiana , with which he hoped to counteract Fichte's growing influence. Through the fictitious character of Leibgeber, an enthusiastic Fichtean eventually driven mad by his own philosophy, Jean Paul tried to demonstrate the absurdity that resulted from following Fichte's principles through to their logical conclusion. The ultimate effectiveness of his parody, however, is mitigated by his own selective understanding of Fichte's philosophical system. Nonetheless, Jean Paul's satire remains a powerful testament to the intensity of the philosophical debates of the time, and it is with an eye towards its historical significance that I have also provided the first complete, annotated English translation of the Clavis.
Germanic literature; Philosophy