In Defense of Conscience

Fichte-Studien 45:113-132 (2018)
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Abstract

First in the Phenomenology and then in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel rejects Fichte’s notion of conscience on the grounds that it leads to despair. He also criticizes Fichtean conscience as purely “formal” and “abstract” and compatible with any content, which it can obtain only arbitrarily from the manifold of one’s natural drives and inclinations. For Hegel, there is an unresolvable tension between the claimed “universality” of a conscientious deed and the natural particularity of every moral agent, which ultimately leads to ethical egoism and hypocrisy. The aim of this paper is to show, first, that Hegel misrepresents key aspects of Fichte’s position and, second, that Fichte possesses the resources to respond successfully to most of Hegel’s criticisms. In order to grasp this one must closely examine Fichte’s subtle and often misunderstand account of moral deliberation and conscientious decision-making and the relation of the same to his larger account of I-hood.

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Daniel Breazeale
University of Kentucky

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