Feeling, Drive, and the Lower Capacity of Desire

In Stefano Bacin & OwenEditors Ware (eds.), Fichte’s System of Ethics: A Critical Guide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 66–84 (2021)

Owen Ware
University of Toronto, Mississauga
Part II of Fichte’s System of Ethics is titled “Deduction of the Reality and Applicability of the Moral Law.” In this chapter, I argue that what motivates Fichte’s new deduction is a concern to avoid what he calls “empty formula philosophy,” that is, a philosophy which fails to explain how willing an object is possible. Fichte sets out to avoid this shortcoming by offering a complex theory of the drives, focusing first on what he calls our “lower capacity of desire.” I argue that the key to understanding this section of the System of Ethics lies in Fichte's attempt to derive the character of our “natural drive” (Naturtrieb) from how we represent the system of “nature“ (Natur) as a whole. At the centre of this derivation we find Fichte drawing upon an organicist model of nature, according to which all the parts of natural systems reciprocally interact for the sake of the whole, and vice versa. While largely overlooked by scholars, I contend that this organicist model gives Fichte the resources to present an original theory of desire as an activity of “forming and being formed” by natural objects, in a way that foreshadows what he later calls our “ethical drive” (sittlicher Trieb) to unite with others, both cooperatively and reciprocally, in rational community.
Keywords Fichte  19th Century Philosophy  German Philosophy  Ethics  History of Ethics  Drive Theory  Fichte's Moral Philosophy
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