Agency and Evil in Fichte’s Ethics

Philosophers' Imprint 15 (11) (2015)
Abstract
This paper examines Fichte's proof of evil in §16 of the System of Ethics. According to the majority of commentators, Fichte was mistaken to consider his proof Kantian in spirit (Piché 1999; Kosch 2006, 2011; Dews 2008; and Breazeale 2014). For rather than locate our propensity to evil in an act of free choice, Fichte locates it in a natural force of inertia. However, the distance between Kant and Fichte begins to close if we read his concept of inertia, not as a material force, but as a tendency to resist the work of agency and autonomy. There are, I argue, both textual and conceptual reasons in support of a figurative interpretation. In the course of presenting these reasons, I also uncover an important insight guiding Fichte's analysis of evil in the System of Ethics: namely, his claim that we can never fully step back from ourselves in reflection. In the concluding sections of the paper, I argue that Fichte's insight may solve a particular skeptical threat facing recent Kantian accounts of normativity.
Keywords Fichte  Kant  Evil  Agency
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