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Between Reinhold and Fichte

Ezequiel L. Posesorski


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  • 1 See: Fichte ga i-4, 317
  • 2 These were the 1797 Philosophische Briefe an Hrn. v. Briest in Nennhausen. Erster Brief. Ueber Pop (...)
  • 3 See: Fuchs 1978 ff., 6,1, 272
  • 4 See: Fichte ga iii-3, 37
  • 5 See: Schelling 1971, 1298
  • 6 Philosophische Fragmente, aus Hülsens literarischem Nachlaß, in: Hülsen 1971, 267-97. For Schellin (...)

1August Ludwig Hülsen (1765-1809) was a contributor to the emergence of German idealism. Notwithstanding, his name and works are up to this day almost entirely unknown to most scholars in the field. During the last five years of the 18th century, the short period of time in which he was active, some leading German philosophers considered Hülsen a prominent contributor to the development of critical philosophy. Fichte, whose standpoint Hülsen originally shared, emphatically recommended the reading of Hülsen’s only book as an introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre.1 Fichte’s Philosophisches Journal, one of the leading German journals of the time, became the vehicle of publication of two of Hülsen’s subsequent short essays.2 Fichte’s recognition of Hülsen’s achievement not only persuaded him to offer Hülsen to collaborate with him at the University of Jena,3 but also named him godfather of his son Immanuel Hermann.4 Schelling, to whom Hülsen was personally introduced by Fichte in 1797 on the occasion of Fichte’s first personal meeting with Schelling, rated Hülsen’s book as the expression of one of those “superior spirits” that “so uncommonly excel in the field of philosophy”.5 After Hülsen’s death in 1813, Schelling published and w rote the afterword to Hülsen’s Literarischem Nachlaß in his Allgemeine Zeitschrift von Deutschen für Deutsche.6

  • 7 These were the 1799 Ueber die naturliche Gleichheit der Menschen, and the 1800 Natur-Betrachtungen (...)
  • 8 See: Novalis, sch ii, 529, n. 25
  • 9 See: Schlegel, ka ii, 241-2
  • 10 For Schlegel’s letter, see: Schlegel, ka xxiv, 113

2Hülsen’s work also received a considerable amount of respect and interest from the early German romantics. From 1798 and until 1800, after some significant changes in his original philosophical position, Hülsen became a contributor to the Athenäum.7 Novalis reacted to Hülsen’s book in his logologischen Fragmente. He included Hülsen among the five members of the “philosophical directorate” of Germany.8 Friedrich Schlegel — by far, the most enthusiastic early romantic reader of Hülsen —, described his only book in Athenäum fragment 295 as an “extremely rare work in philosophy”; as “a work in the strictest sense or the word”, that is, as “a work or art”, only second to richte in dialectic virtuosity”.9 On March 25 1798, Schlegel reported to his brother August Wilhelm that he considered Hülsen a more important philosopher than Schelling.10 Both Schleiermacher and August W. Schlegel showed interest in Hülsen’s work and corresponded with him.

3In this dissertation only Hülsen’s Preisschrift, his only book, not his later essays in Philosophisches Journal or in Athenäum will be discussed, and Preisschrift only in so far as it relates to the history of early German idealism, especially the thought of Reinhold and Fichte during the 1790’s. The importance of Hülsen’s writings, including Preisschrift for the understanding of Schelling and Hegel and the early German romantics, especially Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis and Schleiermacher must be postponed for a later occasion.

  • 11 For the controversial situation of critical philosophy during the end of the 1780’s, see: Reinhold(...)
  • 12 See: Hülsen 1796, 37
  • 13 See: Flitner 1913, 26
  • 14 For Schwab, Reinhold and Abicht’s essays see: Schwab/Reinhold/Abicht 1971

4Preisschrift relates to the ongoing debate, which began in the 1790’s on the significance of Kant’s achievement. By the end of the 1780’s the Kritik der reinen Vernunft was the subject of intense controversy between Kantian and anti-Kantian philosophers.11 The situation had not changed dramatically by 1792. The ongoing rivalry among the contending parties prompted the Berlin Academy of Sciences to intervene. The academy’s intention was to end the controversies by bringing about “philosophical peace”.12 The academic authorities decided to organize a philosophical contest. Scholars were requested to discuss the progress that has been achieved in philosophy due to the conflict of the schools. The academy demanded that all discussions consider two fundamental concepts: (1) historical progress and (2) the history of philosophy. The organizers formulated these two requirements under the following task-question: What progress has metaphysics achieved since Leibniz and Wolf? Only a few essays reached the organizing committee. The authorities decided to postpone the contest. A new contest was announced in 1795.13 The second contest attracted the attention of the most outstanding thinkers of the time including Kant himself, who wrote but did not submit his own contribution. Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Johann Heinrich Abicht, and Johann Christoph Schwab were the three winners.14

  • 15 See: Krämer 2001, 287-8

5Hülsen, who had in 1792 already planned to take part of the event, seems to have handed in his essay for the second 1795 contest. Hülsen’s paper reached the organizing committee sometime after the stipulated dead line.15 In 1796, Hülsen added a preface and a supplementary section to his manuscript and transformed it into a book. It appeared in print under the title Prüfung der von der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin aufgestellten Preisfrage: Was hat die Metaphysik seit Leibniz und Wolf für Progressen gemacht? in 1796, J. F. Hammerich, Altona.

  • 16 Existing research on Hülsen’s achievement is cursory. The most extensive studies of it are:
    – ... m (...)
  • 17 The systematization of the rational history of philosophy was the topic of some essays written ear (...)
  • 18 Although there is no direct evidence that Hülsen influenced Schelling and Hegel on any of the poin (...)

6Hülsen wrote Preisschrift under the strong influence of Fichte’s early idealism16, Fichte taught that critical or scientific philosophy (wissen schaft) must be self-conscious of itself and not have hidden or unjustified premises. Hulsen’s position was that one should make an inquiry into the transcendental possibility of grounding and solving the prize-question systematically; a point that the Academy of Sciences in its announcement completely overlooked. Hülsen also stressed the “spirit” (as opposed to the “letter”) of Fichte’s early idealism. One of Hülsen’s major purposes was to ground systematically the historical intellectual process that led to the Wissenschaftslehre. At a certain stage of his transcendental deduction, Hülsen “injects” an inherent temporal dimension to Fichte’s logical-dynamic a priori concept of rationality. For Fichte the transcendental system of all knowledge is an ever-existing system. What takes place in time is the philosopher’s personal self-reflective articulation or derivation. The rational being creates his own system, Fichte holds, by following the supra-historical producing course of action of the Absolute I. Hülsen expanded Fichte’s antinomic concept of reason into a historically developing agent. Hülsen’s position was that a system of knowledge is simultaneously produced and articulated in time. System to Hülsen appears as the final self-reflectively developed outcome of a universal history of reason, the necessary ending “chapter” of which contains the entire history of philosophy. Hülsen was the first post-Kantian idealist philosopher to resort to a logical method based on the resolution of contradictions to explain the causation of historical events. Hülsen’s inquiry into the systematic possibility of grounding and solving the prize-question pushes the topic intended by the academy into the background. His historically augmented version of Fichte’s system is his central topic.17 Although Hülsen’s own approach mainly concentrates on the systematization of the history of philosophy, it also contains brief explanations for the emergence of other rational-historical events such as mythological thought, the establishment of the family, and the genesis of social bonds.18

  • 19 See: Hülsen 1796, pp, i-ii
  • 20 In 1794, Hülsen enrolled at the University of Kiel, where Reinhold was prominent.
  • 21 See: Hülsen 1796, 199-200
  • 22 In 1795, Hülsen moved to Jena and became a student of Fichte.

7In the preface to Preisschrift, Hülsen claims that he had sketched ideas for a systematic approach to the history of philosophy in 1792. Three years later, however, Hülsen’s basic premises had undergone a radical change. By 1795, Hülsen was familiar with Fichte’s early idealism. Although Hülsen claims in his preface of 1796 that many of his early ideas had not survived this radical change,19 in the supplementary section of Preisschrift he makes a number of statements revealing his early philosophical convictions. What these statements disclose is the substantial role that Karl Leonhard Reinhold, one of Hülsen’s philosophy teachers,20 played in his philosophical education. In the appendix of Preisschrift, Hülsen argues that he spent many years studying Reinhold’s writings. His teacher’s thoughts, he adds, guided him in his careful reading of Kant’s Kritik. Owing to Reinhold’s philosophy, Hülsen improved his understanding of the “spirit” of critical philosophy. Reinhold’s concept of critical systematicity, and his systematic approach to the rational history of philosophy, seemed to satisfy Hülsen’s early demands.21 One of my basic conclusions is that Hülsen’s acquaintance with Fichte’s early idealism brought about a significant rethinking of many of these early convictions but not their complete rejection.22 In the appendix of 1796, Hülsen stressed that Reinhold’s early Elementarphilosophie played a significant influential role in the articulation of his historically enlarged Wissenschaftslehre. Hülsen writes:

  • 23 Hülsen 1796, 198

Hierin [i.e., in Reinhold’s philosophy] liegt überhaupt das Prinzip für alle Geschichte der Philosophie. Die Philosphie als Wissenschaft ist das reine Selbsterkenntniss in uns. Dieses in seiner empirischen Entwickkelung untersucht giebt uns den Geist aller Weiten und einzelnen Selbstdenker. Reinhold sahe schärfer als irgend einer der Kantianer seiner Periode. Er fasste den Begriff eines Systems und wandte ihn an auf die Vernunftkritik. Da leuchtete ihm ein, was noch immer nur wenigen einleuchten will, dass das keine Philosophie als Wissenschaft sey. Diese klare Einsicht brachte ihn zu Versuchen — und der Genius der Philosophie konnte ihn nicht besser führen, als dadurch, dass er ihn auf die Theorie des Bewusstseyns führte. Reinhold forderte Einheit [i.e., critical systematicity], und dadurch brachte er einen neuen Geist in das Studium der Kritik.23

8Existing research of Preisschrift does not discuss Reinhold’s significant influence on Hülsen. An adequate exposition demands, in my opinion, not only a very specific survey of Fichte’s early idealism, but also a scrutiny of those relevant aspects of Reinhold’s philosophy that conditioned Hülsen’s standpoint. I will attempt to prove that Hülsen was not only another “devotee” of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre. Through the idealistic influence of Fichte, Hülsen restructured and grounded many unjustified or rather uncritically established aspects of Reinhold’s system: in particular, his systematic approach to the rational history of philosophy. Thus, Hülsen succeeded in offering new solutions to some of Reinhold’s main concerns. It is in this context, as we shall see, that Hülsen’s Preisschrift emerges as a still unnoticed, though considerably relevant contribution to the emergence of German idealism.

  • 24 It should be recalled that the amendment of some Kantian positions, as well as the skeptical objec (...)
  • 25 See: Fichte, ga, i-2, 162
  • 26 See: Fichte, ga i-2, 252-4
  • 27 I will discuss this topic in section 2.7.

9The usual way to focus on the Wissenschaftslehre, and hence, on the emergence of German idealism, is as a “systematic response” of Fichte to the skeptical objections of Schulze-Aenesidemus to Reinhold’s Elementarphilosophie.24 Fichte’s “response”, as he himself recognized in 1798, was far from complete.25 In the preface to the 1794-5 Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre Fichte refers to his system as a plan. Fichte writes that he does not tell everything to his reader, that he wishes to leave him something to think about, that he encourages independent thought, and hopes that on further consideration, parts of his system continue to change and renew themselves. The plan of the Grundlage, Fichte adds, should provide the reader with a complete view of how to erect further systematic construction upon its foundations. Suggestions from other philosophical authors, he concludes, are welcome.26 Hülsen “picked up this gauntlet”. Hülsen directs his efforts at rearticulating and developing some significant, though critically deficient aspects of Reinhold’s system that Fichte left almost intact. Hülsen’s historical enlargement of the Wissenschaftslehre is an attempt to “fill” the “empty spaces” left by Fichte’s incomplete re- articulating of Reinhold’s early Elementarphilosophie. Traces of Fichte’s intention to develop the historical dimension of the Wissenschaftslehre are found in the so-called Programmschrift, i.e., the 1794 essay in which Fichte outlined the program of his forthcoming system.27

  • 28 This, as far as I know, is an unnoticed aspect of Fichte’s thought. I will discuss it in section 2 (...)
  • 29 Fichte, ga i-2, 317

10Both Fichte and Hülsen agree that the concept of the Wissenschaftslehre is not a “literal” but a “spiritual” concept, a standpoint that demands personal and independent explanation, or rather self-adaptable normative completion of its critical plan.28 Hülsen does not consider his divergent inclusion of an inherent temporal dimension in Fichte’s a priori concept of rationality as a step beyond the Wissenschaftslehre. Nor did it seem to be such to Fichte, who in his 1797 Annalen des philosophischen Tons comes to Hülsen’s defence against an hostile reviewer, and rates his Preisschrift as “Eine Schrift, die ich zur Erleichterung des Studiums der Wissenschaftslehre recht sehr empfehlen kann”.29 Although in some specific aspects the positions of Hülsen and Fichte do not entirely concord, they both mutually refer to each other as developers of the same philosophical project. Fichte’s identification of Preisschrift with the Wissenschaftslehre indicates that Fichte recognized Hülsen as a partner in the development of his incomplete system. The historical importance of Hülsen’s achievement is that it completed Fichte's attempt to overcome Reinhold’s standpoint, and contributed to the emergence of German idealism. This point has been entirely overlooked by scholars.

11Hülsen begins his inquiry in Preisschrift by discussing the human condition. Resistance to moral perfection characterizes the history of humanity. Nature and the rational being are engaged in a persisting heteronomous relation of self-contradiction. Although humanity has already achieved critical or “scientific” knowledge in the Wissenschaftslehre, most philosophers ignore this achievement. Ignorance of critical knowledge is the cause behind the rational being’s historical inability to determine his will autonomously. The Wissenschaftslehre taught that moral improvement demands personal striving after self-conscious determination or self-identity. Hülsen argues that self-interest, which is commonly called selfishness, or ignorance of critical knowledge gives vent to a widespread state of philosophical controversies. The latter take place among different disputing parties or sects. Their exclusive object of dispute is the true universal concept of philosophy. None of these rival factions can critically exhaust the derivation or justification of their respective foundational premises, for Hülsen a key distinctive feature of true philosophy. Ignorance of critical knowledge results in the simultaneous mistaken assertion of the particular standpoints of all these parties as the exclusive universal representatives of the only true possible philosophy, and hence, their irreconcilable disputes. Insight into the nature of disputes reveals that all rival factions share a common implicit goal: philosophy must be a “scientific” discipline. This means for Hülsen that all factions tacitly argue in favour of the overcoming of the state of disputes. Now, this historical state of discrepancy or disunity worsens humanities’ moral situation. For it prevents an integrative coordination among contending rivals. The recognition of the universal standpoint of the Wissenschaftslehre, of the true possibility of increasing self-determination, not only enables a dramatic improvement of the moral situation of man. If understood, it enables a universal consensus as to the undisputable concept of philosophy, the practical result of which will be a self-determined improvement of the communal relations of man.

12The purpose of Hülsen’s Preisschrift is pedagogic. Hülsen’s main intention is to teach his reader how to achieve moral perfectibility through self-determined coordinated consensus. For this, a reconstruction of the systematic possibility of consciousness is needed. Hülsen proves that the philosophical knowledge attained in the Wissenschaftslehre is the accurate tool for achieving this moral goal. Its self-determining insight, opens up the road for a self-conscious understanding of the efficacy of nature (Not-I) as an unendingly self-posited product of reason. Its universality, assures an exclusive and therefore unquestionable philosophical position. The Wissenschaftslehre consequently enables a withdrawal from the sphere of partisan disputes, namely the achievement of exhaustive philosophical consensus.

13Hülsen shares Fichte’s absolute holistic point of departure. Hülsen, like Fichte, is committed to the contention that philosophy must be based on a single first principle. Hülsen however holds that from a certain stage on, the system of all knowledge ceases to be a purely a priori or supra-historical system. It emerges as the necessary outcome of a simultaneous rational-temporal process of practical-theoretical development, the closing “chapter” of which steps through the history of philosophy. The critical reconstruction of reason’s history and of its concluding “chapter” is Hülsen’s way to justify (1) the necessary emergence as well as (2) the consensual overcoming of the morally adverse epoch of partisan disputes. The achievement of moral perfection in the broad sense of the word emerges as the true and inevitable spiritual-historical vocation (Bestimmung) of man.

14Hülsen’s reconstruction of human consciousness is: reason, a dynamic Geist, is in its original supra-historical moment a purely or absolutely self-posited agent; both its absolute positing and being coincide. Qua pure reason, reason immediately appears to itself as a self-identical agent. The emergence of consciousness (mediation) however demands that this original identity be limited or counter- posited. Hülsen hence holds that in its original proto-conscious moment, reason cannot recognize itself as the universal self-determined source of its absolutely self-posited being. Its pure immediacy prevents it from achieving real autonomy. That compels pure reason to develop a system of knowledge. Through it, reason will try to return to itself, achieve a mediated self-positing of itself as reason, and attain thereby critical self-determining knowledge of its originally and autonomously self-posited being. The innate self-pursuing, and hence self-reflective nature of reason’s practical-theoretical activity, determines the necessary circular-teleological character of its entire course of development.

15Reason’s next step is to oppose a determining Not-I to itself. Methodical considerations reveal that two additional simultaneous procedures are necessary to proceed with the construction of the transcendental system of knowledge: (1) counter-positing and (2) synthesis. One of the ensuing results of their establishment is the concrete emergence of the imaginative ability of intuitional representation. For Hülsen the system of all knowledge cannot be developed in abstracto. It is this actually developed theoretical ability to self-limit itself through the practical self-positing of a spatiotemporal determining object, which determines reason's abandonment of its pure supra-historical sphere and its inevitable entrance into the empirical realm of historical development. Reason now emerges as a necessary logical-historical developing agent. Pure reason is transformed into empirical or progressing reason (empirische or fortschreitende Vernunft). The actual procedure of self-limitation results in a simultaneous transformation of reason into a universally self-particularizing agent. Thus, the transcendental ground of all individuation is established. From this stage on, the general developing history of reason coincides with the epistemic historical development of the concrete individual.

16Reason first appears in history as a conditioned representing being (vorstellendes Wesen). Its empirical standpoint is characterized by a heteronomous determination of concrete objectivity, that is, by a NotI that is not yet perceived as a subjectively self-posited object. Progressing reason’s next step is to resort to the spontaneous self- reflecting activity of the imagination, and begin the logical-historical construction of a faculty of judgment. This transcendental faculty, judgment, enables the rational being to recognize, discursively, the theoretical efficacy of the Not-I as its own practically self-posited product. Expanding the sphere of its self-determining activity, the rational being frees himself from his first heteronomous historical situation. The activity of the imagination makes possible self-reflecting in concreto on an intuited object. Progressing reason accordingly subsumes the concrete stage of intuitional representation under its free self-positing power. It so determines the ground of the first real possible discursive knowledge. Progressing reason establishes all subsequent transcendental levels of the faculty of judgment by repeating this concrete self-reflective procedure. The three correlative discursive steps that progressing reason takes are the: (1) positing of concrete objective reality (thetic judgment), (2) counter-positing of concrete objective reality (anti-thetic judgment), and (3) synthesis of concrete objective reality (synthetic judgment). Each one of these concretely taken steps determines a logical-historical epoch in the discursive intellectual development of humanity.

17The faculty of judgment furnishes the ground of the first real discursive synthesis. Thus, the transcendental possibility of systematic thought is established. Humanity is now able to start the aforementioned “freeing” ascending systematization (discursive self-subsuming and unification) of the coercive action of the Not-I. The task of systematization, the logical-historical result of which will be critical or “scientific” knowledge, takes place through the concrete accumulative repetition of the judging stages of thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis. Each new judging stage appears as a higher self-posited form of systematic thought. Accordingly, each concrete systematic synthesis results in a higher concrete systematic thesis, the concrete counter-positing of which takes place through an ensuing systematic anti-thesis. Qualitatively, the logically- historically active faculty of judgment cannot develop any further.

18For Hülsen judgments or rather the concretely developing systematic positions enabled by them, are more than mere logical-historical acts of discursive self-positing. Every possible judgment simultaneously expresses a constitutive procedure of asking-answering; a conclusion that Hülsen reaches after a preliminary inquiry into the essential nature of questions and answers. All discursive self-reflective stages of this developing system emerge as answered questions, or rather as self- posited question-answer-standpoints of progressing reason. As in the case of judgment, every concrete synthetic question-answer-standpoint results in a higher concrete thetic question-answer-standpoint, the concrete counter-positing of which, takes place through an ensuing antithetic question-answer-standpoint. The establishment of the mechanism of judgment as a simultaneous mechanism of asking-answering opens a new epoch in the systematic history of progressing reason: the history of philosophy. Progressing reason is so transformed into “philosophizing reason” (philosophierende Vernunft).

19Hülsen’s reconstruction shows that the concrete or objective determining action of the Not-I affects philosophizing reason in a number of concrete quantitative ways. Personal intentionality, a particular or dissimilar empirical representation of reason’s being, establishes the possibility for the articulation of different philosophical systems. All systems of philosophy emerge as ascending and hence not entirely universally determined judging attempts of philosophizing reason at a definitive attainment of critical knowledge (self-consciousness). Each represents a partial self-reflecting stage of practical-theoretical development within a single, universal, and historically extended attempt of philosophizing reason at a production and portrayal of a system of knowledge. Methodical reconstruction furthermore shows that an empirically reachable, though not fully self-aware ideal of philosophical perfection orients philosophizing reason’s teleological course of evolution throughout the epoch of pre-critical thought.

20All systems of philosophy attain the status of representative stages of the philosophical progress of humanity as a whole. The fact that the same single universal agent strives through different concrete thinkers after critical knowledge confers a collective character to each possible particular effort in a rational history of philosophy. Accordingly, in their personal practical strivings, all finite rational beings meet the same historically emerging standpoints in philosophizing reason’s universal course of development. The ongoing practical activity of a reduced number of avant-garde philosophers opens up the road for the subsequent general progress of the human species. Progress however demands personal practical reproduction of this avant-garde philosophizing. The necessarily emerging self-conscious standpoint of critical philosophy is reproduced as a personal standpoint. In principle, to strive for oneself is tantamount as to strive for all other rational beings and conversely. So the systematic possibility for a simultaneous development of the intellectual histories of the concrete rational being and humanity is consolidated.

21In addition, reconstructive thought finds in the history of philosophy logical-historical ascending answers to the question of how metaphysics (or the system of all knowledge) is possible. Each personal answer emerges within the antinomically developing form of a rationally self-posited system of philosophy.

22The history of philosophy is so divided in epochs. In each one of these epochs, philosophizing reason synthetically counter-posits a determinate number of its ascending systems or products. In Leibniz’s epoch, one finds a synthetic counter-positing between the thetically self-posited Leibnizian system — the epoch-making system — and the anti-thetically self-posited systems of his contemporary opponents. Each thetically self-posited system appears as an unprecedented practical advancement of philosophizing reason towards the exhaustive determination of the system of all knowledge. Thetic systems inaugurate new logical-historical stages in the rational history of philosophy. They establish higher forms of synthetic unity, the self-reflected or self-subsumed objects of which are the synthetically given, though not entirely reconciled counter-positions of their preceding epochs. Apart from the universal and non-counter-positable system of critical philosophy, each new thetically posited system is counter-posited by its contemporary opponents; uncritical or non-universally determined representatives of the only true possible “science” as well. This inherent antinomic situation compels philosophizing reason to strive forward, and attempt to achieve the universal self-reconciling idea of philosophy.

23The antinomically developed character of all systems of philosophy was until Hülsen an unnoticed phenomenon. Throughout its history, philosophizing reason is not a self-conscious agent. It does not grasp itself as the universal relational agent behind its logical-historical production. Its synthetically counter-positing activity, as Hülsen tries to show, is mistaken for a non-contextually established opposition or contradiction among mutually excluding systematic positions, which appear to the observer only as atomic facts. That is the reason why what is found throughout this pre-moral epoch of humanity is a persisting dissociating state of philosophical disputes.

24According to Hülsen, the self-conscious insight of critical philosophy first enables an uncovering of the universally self-grounded character of philosophizing reason. Through it, the rational being attains concrete theoretical knowledge of how metaphysics or rather the logically- historically developed system of all knowledge has been established. He accordingly gains insight into the self-pursuing (teleological) ability of striving whereby reason has attained critical knowledge. All disputing systems first appear as relative self-posited products, or rather as antinomically developed stages of philosophizing reason’s exclusive and universally self-posited system of philosophy. The epoch of partisan disputes emerges as a historical material condition for the logical production and articulation of the system of all knowledge. The universal integrative insight of philosophy results in a contextual synthesis, the concrete object of which is philosophizing reason’s entire pre-critical production. Reason thus suppresses all possible partisan atomicity, a theoretical result of its multiple and disparate course of practical development, and thereby achieves reconciling self-unity.

25According to Hülsen, only the logical-historical qualitative evolution of the system of all knowledge, and hence of its inherently contained history of philosophy, is exhausted with the emergence of the distinctive self-conscious insight of critical philosophy. The regressive uncovering of the original and absolutely self-grounded I (reason), shows that no additional progressive instances of transcendental or qualitative cognition can be added. The logical-historical development of this qualitative conditions, is carried out, in each one of its concrete self-subsuming stages, through an ascending handling of a spatio-temporally expanding, though ultimately finite quantity (a Not-I). What develop are the logical-historical conditions of the system of knowledge but not their inherently self-posited quantities. This enables the systematic production and portrayal in concreto of the universal conditions of experience, that is, the transcendental grounding of critical philosophy. What remains is a quantitative expansion of these qualitative self-determining conditions for all possible posited objects of experience: a necessary ensuing procedure demanded for the completion of the self-subsuming of the coercive action of the Not-I. Quantitative expansion therefore is humanity’s empirical way to attempt to reach the originally, immediately, and identically self-posited foundational act of the Absolute I, and thereby achieve exhaustive autonomy. The inexhaustible holistic being of the Absolute I, compels an unending logical-historical striving task of quantitative self-determining approximation.

26A revised Wissenschaftslehre according to Hülsen enables an integration of philosophizing reason’s entire practical production with the universal qualitative unity of reason. All mutually excluding systems appear as logical-historical developing stages of a necessarily resulting reconciling concept of critical philosophy, which paves the way for an innovative systematic articulation of the history of philosophy as the inherent concluding “chapter” of the logically-historically developed system of all knowledge. The history of philosophy emerges as the “science of the becoming science” (die Wissenschaft von der werdenden Wissenschaft). Its self-reflective articulation enables an accurate reproduction of philosophizing reason’s entire course of production. The logical-historical epoch of partisan disputes is the only object of this concluding chapter. Neither achievement of self-determining autonomy, nor withdrawal from the subordinating sphere of partisan disputes, is possible prior to the articulation of the rational history of philosophy. This task of articulation is not fulfilled with the self-conscious insight of a revised Wissenschaftslehre. It demands that a universal concept be retrospectively employed as a reconstructive criterion in the analytic evaluation of each logically-historically emerged pre-critical standpoint.

27Since its entrance into the realm of historical development, reason is transformed into a universal self-particularizing agent. Philosophy’s standpoint is a general-personal expression of the logical-historical activity of reason. Philosophy emerges as a concretely self-determined manifestation of this practical-theoretical activity, which spontaneously appears to itself under the necessary discursive form of a self-related spiritual agent. The attainment of philosophical knowledge demands the personalized performance of a self-reflecting act. Only such an act assures that the only possible content of philosophy, the concretely developed system of knowledge, emerge as a real content. The universal character of philosophy cannot be divorced from one’s own personalized act of self-reflection, without which the theoretical character of the former is reduced to a mere abstraction. Philosophy is meaningless without its relation to the concrete individual. “Spirit” (Geist) is Hülsen’s term for this act. No philosophy must be possible without spirit. This means that no printed text can express true philosophical knowledge. No printed letter can convey this required personal spiritual act. Philosophical books have for Hülsen only a propaedeutic or instructive status. Their exclusive function is to teach readers how to begin their own spiritual series of logical-historical self-reflective production and reach concrete philosophical knowledge.

28The systematic articulation of the history of philosophy is a personal spiritual task, to be pursued exclusively by “scientifically” cultivated men. Ignorance of critical philosophy precludes the recognition of the teleological direction of philosophizing reason. Prior to the emergence of the revised Wissenschaftslehre, neither the establishment of systematic order among philosophizing reason’s unilateral products, nor the attainment of an accurate idea of its contextual condition is possible. All systems of philosophy emerge as atomic facts. Only critical insight enables a clear apprehension of the true systematic idea of the inherently self-posited history of philosophy. Self-determination is the result of a personal critical understanding of the logical-historical spiritual relation of philosophy to all its general-personal evolutionary stages, and hence, the resulting self-determined ability to reach universal coordinated consensus.

29Articulation requires that each single philosopher employ his spiritually attained concept of philosophy as a retrospective, universal and reconstructive criterion. Comparison and contrast enables a personal evaluation of the proportional amount of developing truth contained in each logical-historical pre-critical standpoint of philosophizing reason. Personal evaluation assures that all antinomically developed outcomes gain a definitive logical location within a systematic portrayal of reason’s historically extended course of development.

30According to Hülsen, his revised Wissenschaftslehre is the common universal outcome of all the previous disputed strivings of philosophizing reason for critical philosophy. Personally attained self-conscious insight reveals the spontaneously self-grounded character of reason. The true spiritual concept of philosophy fits the concept of an unendingly self-determining or morally improving subject. Heteronomously determined logical-historical relations are transformed into autonomously self-determining relations. The consensual character of philosophy makes possible the unanimous coordination of all “scientifically” educated men in the infinite spiritual task of quantitative approximation. Hülsen combines Kant’s concept of the “categorical imperative” (moral perfection) with his own concept of practical progression after regulative theoretical self-determination (self-identity). As the opposite of heteronomy, the latter attains the status of an autonomously expanding self-harmony -happiness for Hülsen. The resulting possibility of moral improvement is furthermore characterized as an unprecedented epoch of increasinghighest good”, a synthesis of moral virtue and happiness. The unending attainment thereof appears as the inevitable spiritual vocation of man. The qualitative end of the history of philosophy opens an unprecedented epoch of moral perfection.

  • 30 See: Baum 1974, 86 18

31According to Hülsen, “scientific” knowledge has additional implications for the role of self-determination and for the scope of personal philosophical independence. The general-particular character of all rational activity assures the universal validity of personally attained autonomy. Hülsen characterizes each autonomously self-determining subject as a “self-thinker” (Selbstdenker), a well-known Aufklärung epithet that designated those thinkers who by appealing to reason’s universality determined their own autonomous stances and extended the personal scope of their philosophical independence.30 Hülsen’s argument for a necessary autonomous production and articulation of a logically-historically developing system of all knowledge is a clear exposition and development of this independent spirit of the Aufklärung. The particularly expressed universal spiritual nature of the rational being, which is the exclusive object of all philosophical self-reflection, enables an identification of the concepts of “man” and “philosopher”. To be a philosopher is tantamount to fulfilling one's own practical spiritual nature and conversely. This identification by Hülsen makes philosophical knowledge concrete and available to all human beings, and in this specific sense, “popularizes” it. Full intellectual autonomy transforms academic freedom into a real not formal concept. Academic affiliation is not a necessary requirement for a self-thinker, and morality compels self-thinkers to avoid any subordination of their wills to academic institutions. Still the established possibility of purposive self-determined coordination enables Hülsen to sketch the idea of a true academy of sciences; a modern institution in which self-determined members autonomously congregate to achieve a joint coordinated striving after regulative morality. One of the roles that the self-thinker will play within this institution is to instruct uncritically educated students. As the ethically best man of his time, his pedagogic mission is to promote and facilitate the personal, independent, and spiritual self-knowledge of his pupils. The self-thinker is the true moral educator of humanity. It is as a plea for a “popularizing philosophical education” that the Preisschrift should be interpreted.


1 See: Fichte ga i-4, 317

2 These were the 1797 Philosophische Briefe an Hrn. v. Briest in Nennhausen. Erster Brief. Ueber Popularität in der Philosophie, and the 1798 Ueber den Bildungstrieb.

3 See: Fuchs 1978 ff., 6,1, 272

4 See: Fichte ga iii-3, 37

5 See: Schelling 1971, 1298

6 Philosophische Fragmente, aus Hülsens literarischem Nachlaß, in: Hülsen 1971, 267-97. For Schelling’s afterword see: Schelling 1971, 1 298-302

7 These were the 1799 Ueber die naturliche Gleichheit der Menschen, and the 1800 Natur-Betrachtungen auf einer Reise durch die Schweiz.

8 See: Novalis, sch ii, 529, n. 25

9 See: Schlegel, ka ii, 241-2

10 For Schlegel’s letter, see: Schlegel, ka xxiv, 113

11 For the controversial situation of critical philosophy during the end of the 1780’s, see: Reinhold 1963, 1-68

12 See: Hülsen 1796, 37

13 See: Flitner 1913, 26

14 For Schwab, Reinhold and Abicht’s essays see: Schwab/Reinhold/Abicht 1971

15 See: Krämer 2001, 287-8

16 Existing research on Hülsen’s achievement is cursory. The most extensive studies of it are:
– ... meine Philosophie ist kein Buch: August Ludwig Hülsen (1765-1809), Leben und Schreiben eines Selbstdenkers und Symphilosophen zur Zeit der Frühromantik (2001) by Ulrich Krämer,
August Ludwig Hülsen und der Bund der freien Männer (1913) by Willy Flitner,
August Ludwig Hülsen: Seine Schriften und seine Beziehungen zur Romantik (1910) by Karl Obenauer.
Manfred Frank’s Unendliche Annäherung (1998), Alfred Langewand’s Moralische Verbindlichkeit oder Erziehung (1991), Dieter Klawon’s unpublished Geschichtsphilosophische Ansätze in der Frühromantik (1977), Helmut Girndt’s Die Differenz des fichteschen und hegelschen Systems in der hegelschen „Differenzschrift“ (1965), and Rudolf Haym’s Die romantische Schule (1870) dedicate some pages to the discussion of Hülsen’s system. — Preisschrift is also the topic of the following articles:
August Ludwig Hülsens erster Beitrag zur philosophischen Frühromantik (1998) by Guido Naschert,
Geselligkeit und absolutes Sein (199o) by Christoph Jamme,
Ansätze des Prinzips der Einheit von Logischem und Historischem im Übergangsfeld der fichteschen Transzendentalphilosophie zum objektiven Idealismus: J.G. Fichte—A.L. Hülsen (1984) by Klaus Freyer and Jürgen Stahl,
Das romantische Bild der Philosophiegeschichte (1926) by Hans Hess.
Passing references to Preisschrift are also found in Dimensionen der Transzendentalphilosophie (1990) by Steffen Dietzsch, Was soll die Schweiz dem Athenäum (1988) by Friedrich Strack, Geschichte der kant’schen Philosophie (1987) by Karl Rosenkranz, August Ludwig Hülsen 1765-1809 (1983) by Christian Tillitzki, Hülsens idealistische Romantik (1979) by Martin Oesch, and Studien zur Wirkungsgeschichte Fichtes als Pädagoge (1970) by Rudolf Lassahn.

17 The systematization of the rational history of philosophy was the topic of some essays written earlier than Preisschrift. The most prominent among these works are Reinhold’s Ueber den Begrif der Geschichte der Philosophie: Eine akademische Vorlesung (1791), Salomon Maimon’s Über die Progressen der Philosophie (1793), and Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann’s Uebersicht des Vorzüglichsten, was für die Geschichte der Philosophie seit 1780 geleistet worden (1795). What distinguishes Preisschrift from its forerunners is the innovative possibility of logical-historical progress.

18 Although there is no direct evidence that Hülsen influenced Schelling and Hegel on any of the points discussed in this paragraph, the history of ideas could still record Hülsen’s Preisschrift as a predecessor of Schelling’s System des transcendentalen Idealismus and of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes. The discussion of these interesting topics, however, transcends the limits of this monograph.

19 See: Hülsen 1796, pp, i-ii

20 In 1794, Hülsen enrolled at the University of Kiel, where Reinhold was prominent.

21 See: Hülsen 1796, 199-200

22 In 1795, Hülsen moved to Jena and became a student of Fichte.

23 Hülsen 1796, 198

24 It should be recalled that the amendment of some Kantian positions, as well as the skeptical objections posed to Kant by Salomon Maimon, played an important role in Fichte’s re-structuring of critical philosophy. The discussion of these interesting topics, however, transcends the limits of this monograph.

25 See: Fichte, ga, i-2, 162

26 See: Fichte, ga i-2, 252-4

27 I will discuss this topic in section 2.7.

28 This, as far as I know, is an unnoticed aspect of Fichte’s thought. I will discuss it in section 2.9.

29 Fichte, ga i-2, 317

30 See: Baum 1974, 86 18


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