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Johann Gottlieb Fichte (Rammenau, Germany, 1762 – Berlin 1814) brought Kant’s anti-metaphysics to an even greater degree. Kant had said that behind the sensations lies a noumenon that produces them. Fichte tells Kant that it is contradictory to say that there is the noumenon and then to affirm that of this noumenon nothing can be known: then it means that the noumenon does not actually exist, it is our invention; what exists is only the sensations. But then where do the sensations come from? Fichte says that it is the I that produces sensations, they are not objects. Kant had said that we frame the things known in our mental categories; Fichte says that we don’t just frame the known things, but actually we create them completely; the I creates not only the sensations, but also the object that produces them. To realize Fichte’s way of thinking it can be useful to observe that he interprets our relationship with the world in the likeness of a dream. We can therefore translate his three fundamental statements into the comparison with dreaming.
1) Thesis: the I posits itself. As if to say: at the origin of our interpretation of how things are, we must say that there is an activity that we call “I”: it is an activity, not a metaphysical object. As if to say: at the start there is the dreaming of someone (who does not prove the existence of this someone: we only know that there is this dreaming).
2) Antithesis: the I opposes a non-I to itself. In other words: a person who dreams introduces certain contents into the dream; she invents a reality and puts it into the dream; she invents a world, an environment, other people and makes them exist within the dream. In fact, according to Fichte, the non-I that the I creates is created within itself, within the I.
3) Synthesis: the I opposes to the divisible I a divisible non-I. In the language of Fichte divisible means limited; limited means that receives resistance. To understand this concept we can consider some objections that could be made to the hypothesis of dreaming.
One could say: sometimes it can happen, for example, that I insert the keys in another person’s car that is identical to mine; then I realize that it is not mine and I go back to my car; so I was convinced that this was my car, and then reality forced me to admit that it wasn’t true. This shows that reality is not my invention, so much so that it often behaves differently from my expectations. Answer: even in dreams it happens that we meet realities that oppose our expectations, yet nobody doubts that those realities are nonetheless an invention of the one who is dreaming. This is the meaning of point 3: the I invents a non-I able to resist him, to oppose him; but it is anyway an invention of the I, as it happens in dreams.
Another similar objection could be that of the interest: if it is true that it is the I that invented reality, what interest could the I have in inventing a reality that so often for him is suffering, illness, difficulty? Answer: even in dreams it happens that we experience situations of malaise, situations from which we would like to go out, nightmares; what interest could our mind have in inventing a dream that makes us feel bad, a nightmare? And yet it happens.
We could even make a counter-objection: just like so many people deceive themselves, by believing that in dreams there is an external intervention, for example a dead person who dictates the numbers to bet or predicts the future, in the same way we can deceive ourselves by thinking that the reality that we have in front of us derives from something external, whereas instead, in the likeness of the dead person who gives us the numbers to bet, it is not an external fact, but we are inventing it on our own.
Once we understand this mechanism, we can understand that even the fact that the sensations of other people correspond to ours does not succeed in dismantling the dream hypothesis: we can just note that there is still the possibility that we are the ones representing other people having sensations in agreement or in disagreement with us; we can even dream of asking another: what are you seeing? Do you see what I see? But the fact remains that, both the other, as well as his answer, can continue to be an invention of us who are dreaming: I invent the other and also his answers.
In summary: it is not possible to prove that real life is not a dream. Indeed, for Fichte this is the best, most suitable way to understand it.