I am quite confused how Fichte's ideas (and Schelling's ideas) and Hegel's ideas differ. There seem to be some common elements, but I am unsure how to pinpoint the difference between Hegel's and Fichte's.

  • 3
    What are you precisely talking about? Idealism? Logic? Sep 4, 2012 at 9:13

3 Answers 3


Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel were divided in most significant respects by their views about realism and naturalism, the status of subject-object identity, and the nature of rationality and intellectual intuition. The differences between Fichte and Schelling are explored in depth in Hegel’s Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie (for a more contemporary review of the issues you might look into The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence, 2012, edited by Michael Vater and David Wood).

To state things crudely, the main difference is that Fichte upholds a more or less Kantian interpretation of the subjective status of transcendental idealism, whereas Schelling and Hegel defend an objective interpretation of absolute idealism. In particular, Schelling and Hegel criticize in different ways the Cartesian tradition of foundationalist epistemology, where we need to begin philosophy from the presuppositionless starting point of the knowing subject or res cogitans. For Schelling and Hegel, however, this involves an unacceptable form of solipsism or dualism that is created by falsely abstracting the knowing subject from nature itself.

Roughly put, if we start from the subject and work outwards toward nature we are forced to postulate an unbridgeable gap of intelligibility between subject and object. The problem being that the transcendental ego cannot reach outside itself to make contact with an externally standing reality. In order to escape this both Schelling and Hegel attempted to reconceive the knowing subject in terms of the natural history of consciousness; the ultimate end of the organic powers of nature. Their claim boils down to the idea that if the subject is internal rather than external to nature then all of nature is contained within itself; a notion similar to Spinoza's substance.

Apparently, this form of idealism is called objective and absolute since subjectivity emerges from a pre-existing objectivity which is dissolved in a relation of self-identity; meaning that self-consciousness coalesces out of nature and returns to nature in order to become something that is neither nature nor self-consciousness alone, but is rather the undifferentiated unity of the absolute.

  • what is the transcendental ego? Sep 23, 2012 at 19:25
  • The transcendental ego is what came to replace God as the foundation of knowledge in modern philosophy. The idea can be traced back to the "I think" of the Cartesian cogito, but is more commonly understood in the context of Kant's transcendental deduction in the First Critique. To say that the ego or subject is "transcendental" is to indicate the underlying conditions or formal possibility of empirical knowledge, rather than an object of knowledge itself. The cogito is in this sense an example formal essences, a priori cognition, and the "categories" or pure thought and being. Sep 24, 2012 at 1:03

A very simple and schematic explanation would be the following:

Fichte is a subjective idealist, meaning nature is constructed by (minimally: dependent on) the (personal, finite) subject.

Schelling is an objective idealist, meaning nature is thought of as being the (creative) subject.

Hegel is an absolute idealist, meaning both nature and the personal subject are created by the absolute idea (read: absolute subject), which thus underlies both nature and the personal (finite) subject.

According to this scheme, absolute idealism is the synthesis of subjective and objective idealism.

The main question for all three is "What is the generative principle of the world?" Fichte saw it in the personal I, Schelling in nature (as subject) and Hegel in the absolute idea as a principle similar to the personal ego but all-encompassing and thus being the ground of both nature and subjective spirit.

  • Yes, but Hegel's idealism isn't a world-soul idealism, like Schelling. When Hegel critiques Schelling's objective idealism he means his idea that Nature is in a colloquial sense "spiritual" (which Hegel doesn't deny as far as the idea isn't corrupted by Schelling's mysticism). He doesn't synthesize Fichte and Schelling in this way, because he thinks Schelling already has shown Fichte's thought to be one-sided.
    – user71009
    Jan 15 at 17:40

Fichte rejected Kantian thing-in-itself. For him the foundation of philosophy is the ego. The ego is limited by non-ego, which is nature. Nature is a sort of byproduct of the human mind (it is not mystically created by it, that would be nonsense, rather it's only definition is it being that which limits the ego), we can say it exists outside us, but who cares.

Schelling thought that Fichte's dismissal of nature with it's infinite beauty and diversity is a gross mistake, and he brought back nature to the centre stage. Nature is just as important as the mind. However, for Schelling nature is irrational at it's most fundamental level (Schopenhauer developed this idea further in his "World as will and idea"), and we can only know it's deepest mysteries through mystical intuition.

Hegel thought that Fichte and Schelling were both on the right track, but Schelling's view that the absolute cannot be rationally arrived at is wrong. Hegel developed a system that unified Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, and Hegel method was rational and logical, unlike Schelling's.

This is why Kant and Hegel are so famous, while Fichte and Schelling are half forgotten. The guy who starts and the guy who finishes are always more famous than the guys in between.

  • The answer starts with a wrong (or at least misleading) statement. Fichte did not reject the thing-in-itself. He just did not believe that it is not knowable. Also, the foundation of his philosophy is not the ego, it is the self-identity of A = A (literally: the judgement of the identity of the self with itself, ie. the process/event/judgement of self-recognition). I do agree with the rest of the answer by and large. Your last paragraph basically is the main message of The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy by Förster.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 13, 2023 at 7:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .