Concluding our coverage of The Vocation of Man (1799), Books II and III. This continues from part one of the discussion.
This preview gets into the foundations of ethics for Fichte. Conscience serves as the primary datum we as humans receive that might induce us to believe that we’re free and that everything matters. The dictates of conscience are apparently always clear and correct, at least in the general moral principles it urges us to follow, which are of course Kant’s: Treat everyone as an end in themselves, and not merely as a means to your own ends. But Fichte admits that there’s a lot of vice in the world, and those listening to their consciences often disagree about which moral imperatives are most important, and ego and pride enter in such that we all want everyone else to follow our lead on the good efforts that we’re most invested in. But part of faith is believing that these disagreements will iron themselves out eventually, that we (as a species and as individuals) learn from our mistakes, and so there will eventually be a single world culture united in mutual respect and good will.
Does this view make Fichte an imperialist? Yes, it does, though with the caveats that the world culture should and will bring in the best practices from every culture it subsumes, and also that this individual-respecting culture will not be hyper-conformist in the nightmarish ways you’re probably picturing. We don’t get in this work specific political solutions such as a prediction that the final culture will be in any way democratic, but that’s a reasonable position to read into Fichte. The important (and puzzling) thing is that this utopian society will be structured so that dishonesty and other vice will no longer pay. So this to me implies that there’s no money or other private property, because so long as society respects such things, there’s always the possibility and temptation to steal or otherwise immorally acquire them.
I’m calling this whole episode “theology” because that ends up being the end point and ontological basis of Fichte’s morality, metaphysics, and epistemology. There is still objectivity in Fichte’s idealism not just because we as individuals externalize objects in a consistent way, but that the mind which does the building of objects is not primarily an individual one, but is a point of view within the mass consciousness that we may as well call God. This divine nature that connects us all is exactly what we hear when the voice of conscience speaks.