In defense of bad infinity

Hegel’s very first acknowledged publication was, among other things, an attack on Fichte.1 In 1801, Hegel was still laboring in almost complete obscurity, while Fichte was an international sensation, though already somewhat past the peak of his meteoric career. In the 1801 Differenzschrift, Hegel cut his teeth by criticizing Fichte’s already widely-criticized Wissenschaftslehre, and by demonstrating that Schelling’s philosophical system was not simply to be equated with it. Fichte himself never bothered to respond to Hegel’s criticisms; indeed he never publicly acknowledged their existence. This was not because he was unconcerned with criticisms of his views; quite the contrary. But at the time he had bigger fish to fry. He responded to Jacobi’s criticisms, and to Schelling’s; he replied in great detail to critical questions raised by Reinhold, and with vituperative intensity to objections raised by skeptics and purportedly loyal Kantians. But Hegel’s Differenzschrift was left without a Fichtean rebuttal. This is a pity, both because of the missed opportunity to illuminate by controversy central issues at stake in the post-Kantian period, but also because it made it easier for Hegel simply to reiterate his youthful criticism as if it were the last word. And reiterate it he did: in one form or another Hegel’s early criticisms of Fichte reappear at every subsequent stage of his career: in the Phenomenology, in the Science of Logic, in the Encyclopaedia, as the final chapter in Hegel’s History of Philosophy, and in countless other minor works and documents from the Nachlass and correspondence.
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