The relation of right to morality in Fichte's Jena theory of the state and society

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I argue that despite the various ways in which Fichte separates right from morality in his 1796/97 Foundations of Natural Right, he nevertheless suggests in the writings from the period of his professorship at the University of Jena that there is a reciprocal relation between them. This requires, however, reading the Foundations of Natural Right in the light of The System of Ethics, which was published in 1798, especially the account of the ethical duties deriving from a person's membership of a profession that Fichte gives in this work. Although this approach allows us to attribute to Fichte a different conception of the state to the amoral one found in the Foundations of Natural Right, I argue that the separation of right from morality developed in this work remains valid and amounts to one of Fichte's main achievements, namely, his identification of the different dispositions that may characterize an individual's relation to the society in which he or she lives. This point is developed by comparing Fichte's amoral conception of the state to Hegel's account of civil society as the 'state of necessity'. This does not involve an attempt to turn Fichte into Hegel but to show how the insights contained in Fichte's distinction between right and morality can be illuminated with reference to Hegel's theory of civil society and can be retained in the face of a powerful criticism that Hegel makes of the kind of contract theory of the state offered by Fichte. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




James, D. (2009). The relation of right to morality in Fichte’s Jena theory of the state and society. History of European Ideas, 35(3), 337–348.

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