Fichte on the Vocation of the Scholar and the (Mis)use of History

Review of Metaphysics 63 (3):539-566 (2010)
Abstract
In his early Some Lectures concerning the Scholar’s Vocation, J. G. Fichte developed an account of the social role of the scholar. This role concerns the task of furthering human culture and progress, which Fichte considers to be a moral duty for the scholar. In these lectures, Fichte also outlined the capabilities and knowledge that the scholar needs in order to be able to fulfill the task in question, including the possession of historical knowledge. The article argues that the later Addresses to the German Nation represent an attempt on Fichte’s part to realize his earlier conception of the scholar’s vocation, because these addresses aim to help usher in a new, superior epoch in human history. Particular attention is paid to the use that Fichte makes of history in them. In effect, he instrumentalizes history, and justifies his doing this in terms of a higher purpose and the ‘merely’ empirical status of historical fact and evidence. This use of history is compared to some things that Nietzsche has to say about history in his essay On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life; and it invites questions concerning the possible dangers of such a use of history and its compatibility with Fichte’s idea that the vocation of the scholar is a moral one
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