Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was a German philosopher, a pupil of Immanuel Kant, from whose dualism he subsequently dissented. He became a professor of philosophy at Jena in 1794, but was accused of atheism and dismissed. He subsequently lectured in Erlangen and Berlin.
He is the first representative of what has been called “German idealism” which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. He precedes both Friedrich Schelling, who was considered his disciple until their final break, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Fichte was also the originator of thesis–antithesis–synthesis, an idea that is often erroneously attributed to Hegel. Though his philosophical system grew out of Kant’s, it has the distinguishing feature that the thinking self, or ego, is seen as the only reality. This ego, in defining and limiting itself, creates the non-ego, the world of experience, as its opposite, the medium through which it asserts its freedom. He expounded this doctrine of ‘subjective idealism’ in his principal work, Wissenschaftslehre (1794: Doctrine of Knowledge), which greatly influenced German Romanticism.
Shocked by the humiliation of Prussia and its army by Napoleon in 1806–7, he became increasingly interested in the idea of nationhood, and sought reality, not in the ego but in the notion of a divine idea lying at the base of all experience, of which the world of the senses is the manifestation. His Reden an die deutsche Nation (1814: Speeches to the German Nation) attempted to foster a patriotic sense of German nationhood among his contemporaries under foreign occupation.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge studied his work in the context of German idealism and makes critical observations in Biographia Literaria. Fichte’s view of history as the biography of its heroes greatly influenced Thomas Carlyle, particularly in the latter’s lectures On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1841), as did his idealism. In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle uses Fichte’s idea of the world of Appearances as a garment under which lies the essence or Divine Idea.