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Foundations of Transcendental Philosophy (Wissenschaftslehre) nova methodo (1796/99).

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Foundations of Transcendental Philosophy (Wissenschaftslehre) nova methodo (1796/99). Edited and translated by Daniel Breazeale. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. x + 494 pp. $49.95--Fichte is one of the small handful of philosophers on the highest level. But he is still relatively unknown, even in Germany, for a variety of reasons. These include the difficulty of his thought and its expression, which impedes even native Germans; the relatively greater attention paid to Kant and Hegel, and perhaps even to Schelling; and the lack of a critical edition of his writings. In English-language philosophical circles, beyond these handicaps, knowledge of Fichte is further impeded by the persistent paucity of good, or even any, translations of important items in his bibliography.

In order to indicate why this work is important, a word about Fichte's career will be necessary. His career was determined by several incidents, including the early appointment of this gifted thinker to a chair in Jena when his initial text was mistaken for Kant's much awaited work on religion, and the need to have a text for his first series of lectures. Lacking a suitable manuscript, Fichte, who was in the process of elaborating his own position, chose to present it in the form of lectures whose text was printed and distributed to his students before each class. The result was Foundations of the Entire Science of knowledge (Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre) (1794), Fichte's best known and most influential text. Fichte was dissatisfied with the form of his work, composed in great haste. Much of his later writing consists in an ongoing effort to refine and restate his basic theory in acceptabie form.

The present translation contains texts belonging to Fichte's effort to restate his Wissenschaftslehre during the period 1796-1799. There is no original manuscript for this work. Instead, there are two detailed student transcripts. These transcripts were discovered accidentally in 1980 in a German library and one of them was published in German in 1982. The present volume consists in a deliberate conflation, or composite, based on the most important portions of both texts. As Breazeale points out, since we do not possess an original manuscript, anyone who desires to learn Fichte's view in this stage of his development should study both of the available transcripts.

Breazeale is obviously a gifted translator, and this is a superior piece of work. Even in the best of circumstances, Fichte is a difficult writer. Breazeale's translation is fluent, precise, and perhaps most important of all for those who need encounter this thinker in English only, it is readable. His main contribution lies in his unusual success in making an author whose German is already complex, difficult even for a native, speak an immediately accessible, readily intelligible English. This is a significant accomplishment, important for the development of any kind of following in English-language philosophical circles. In comparison to other translations of Fichte, Breazeale's renderings are slightly more vivid; further, he on occasion usefully decomposes Fichte's complex sentences--which other translators such as Heath and Lachs tend to preserve--into separate English sentences. The German-English glossary will be helpful for those who need to check the rendering of particular terms. Breazeale has provided a detailed, useful introduction in which he situates Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo in the development of Fichte's theory. This is an excellent translation by the ranking Fichte scholar working in English at present, accompanied by a full, useful scholarly apparatus, likely to be of interest to Fichte scholars and all those concerned with the development of German idealism.
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Author:Rockmore, Tom
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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