Jacobi, Fredrich Heinrich
Jacobi, Fredrich Heinrich one of Germany's most eminent philosophers, was born at Düsseldorf January 25,1743. His father was a wealthy merchant, and, anxious to be assisted by his son. he designed him for the mercantile profession. When only sixteen years old, Jacobi was sent to Frankfort on the Main to learn the business. But he daily evinced fondness for a literary profession, and a short time after, having removed to Geneva, he was further incited to study by association with learned men, among whom was the great mathematician Le Sage. The death of his father obliged him to return to Düsseldorf, to look after the business interests of the family. He, however, at the same time, continued his studies, which were now becoming multifarious, not to say contradictory, and, according to one of his biographers, "presented the strange appearance of a philosophical composite, including in his single personality the quadruple variety of an enlightened 18th century man, a mystic, an atheist, and a theist." Appointed a member of the Exchequer, he had much more leisure afforded him than while at the head of his father's business, and he now not only gave himself up to study, but also to authorship, to which he had been encouraged by his literary associates, among whom figured some of Germany's most noted names. His first productions were a collection of letters by an imaginary person named Allwill, and a romance called "Woldemar" (1777, and often), which, like some of the productions of his friend and present associate Gothe, incorporated the philosophical opinions of the writer. Brought more prominently to the notice of the government, he was honored with a financial position in the state's service, and lie removed to Munich. But his unhesitating exposures of the imprudence and injurious tendency of the Bavarian system of finance made him many enemies and he retired to his estate at Pempelfort, near Düsseldorf, where his hospitable nature soon gathered about him "celebrated guests from all quarters of the cultivated world," and it was only natural that he should now continue his literary productions. Among other literary enterprises which he ventured upon was a controversy with Mendelssohn (in Briefe'iber d. Lehre d. Spinoza [Bresl. 1785, and often]) on the doctrines that had been advocated by the pantheist Spinoza, whose philosophy had at this time been almost forgotten. This he further and most ably prosecuted in Wider Mendelssohus Beschuldigungen (Lpz. 1786); (comp. Kahnis, Hist. of German- Protestantism, p. 156 sq.). It was this controversy with Mendelssohn, which had originated with the discovery by Jacobi that the friend of the former, Lessing, the author of Nathan, was a Spinozi, which Mendelssohn was determined to refute, but which actually laid even the latter open to the charge of advocating pantheistical doctrines, that first brought clearly to light the philosophical opinions of Jacobi, and stamped him as the "philosopher of faith." The points of Jacobi's position are thus stated by Schwegler (History of Philosophy, transl. by Seelye, p. 272): "(1.) Spinozism is fatalism and atheism; (2.) Every path of philosophic demonstration leads to fatalism and atheism; (3.) In order that we may not fall into these, we must set a limit to demonstrating, and recognize faith as the element of all metaphysical knowledge." Principles like these, advocated at a time when atheism was enthroned all over Germany and France, naturally-enough aroused universal opposition in the philosophical world. "It was charged upon him that he was an enemy of reason, a preacher of blind faith, a despiser of science and of philosophy, a fanatic and a papist." To controvert these opinions, he determined to develop his principle of faith or immediate knowledge; he published David Hume uber d. Glauben, oder Idealismus u. Realismus (Bresl. 1787, 8vo). This brought down upon him the followers of Kant, and shortly after he also estranged the admirers of Fichte by his Sendschreiben an Fichte (1799). His controversial opponents, however, never failed to acknowledge the great abilities of Jacobi, and the sincerity of his character and opinions. When the troubles arising out of the French Revolution extended to Germany, Jacobi retired to Holstein, whence he removed successively to Wandsbeck and Hamburg; from the latter he was called, in 1804, to Munich, to assist in the formation of the new Academy of Sciences, of which he was in 1807, appointed president. In 1811 he further involved himself in a controversy with another philosophical school, that of Schelling, by the publication of a work Von d. gottlichen Dingen u. ihrer Ogenbarung (Lpz. 1811). This time the dispute was waged rather bitterly; but, notwithstanding the unfavorable estimate which Schelling drew, in his reply, of the literary and philosophical merits of Jacobi, the latter continued to maintain a-high rank among sincere and honest inquirers after truth; and even if it must be confessed that Jacobi was exclusively occupied with detached speculations, and that he rather prepared than established a system of philosophy, yet it remains undisputed that the profoundness and originality of his views have furnished-materials of which more systematic minds have not scrupled to avail themselves for the construction of their own theories. Jacobi died at Munich March 10,1819. Besides the philosophical productions already mentioned, he wrote Ueber d. Unternehmenu d. Kriticismus d. Vernumft z. Verstande zu bringen (Bresl. 1802, 8vo). All his works were published collectively at Leipzig in 1812. "Jacobi stood to the philosophy of his day, as it had flowed down from Kant to Schelling, in a very peculiar relation. He was incited by each of these systems; he learned from each, and on each of them he exercised his strength. But he was not satisfied by either of them; yet he was most strongly repelled by pantheism whether the earlier pantheism of Spinoza, whom he highly esteemed as a mark or its later form in Schelling's natural philosophy ... Jacobi did not despise reason; he rather pleaded for it; but reason was not to him a faculty for the creation, discovery, or production of truth from itself. By reason he meant, according to the derivation of the word, that which perceives, the inmost and original sense. He did not regard reason and faith as being in conflict with each other, but as one. Faith inwardly supplies what knowledge cannot gain. Here Jacobi united with Kant in acknowledging the insufficiency of our knowledge to produce a demonstration of God and divine things.
But the vacant place which Kant had therefore left in his system for divine things Jacobi filled up by the doctrine of faith (Hurst's Hagenbach, Ch. Hist. 18th and 19th Cent. 2, 238 sq.). The whole philosophy of Jacobi is perhaps best stated thus: "All demonstrative systems must necessarily lead to fatalism, which, however, is irreconcilable with man's consciousness of the freedom of his rational nature. The general system of nature, indeed, and man himself, so far as he is a part of that system, is pure mechanism; but in man there is unquestionably an energy which transcends and is superior to sense, or that faculty which is bound up with and regulated by the laws of nature. This higher energy is liberty or reason, and consequently sense and reason reveal to man two distinct spheres of his activity — the sensible or visible world, and the invisible or intelligible. The existence of these worlds no more admits of demonstrative proof than that of sense and reason themselves. Now sense and reason are the supreme and ultimate principles of all intellectual operations, and as such legitimize them, while they themselves do not receive their legitimization from aught else; and the existence of sense and reason necessarily implies the existence of sensible and intelligible objects about which they are conversant. But this existing system of things cannot have originally proceeded either from nature or from man's intellect or reason, for both nature and the human mind are finite and conditionate, and there must be something infinite and unconditionate, superior to and independent both of nature and man, to be the source and principle of all things. This being is God. Now as man's liberty consists in his personality or absolute individuality, for this constitutes his proper essence, while the mechanism of nature is hereby distinguished from man, that none of its members are individual of character, therefore that which is superior both to nature and to man must be perfectly and supremely individual; God consequently is one only, and strictly personal. Moreover, as the ground of all subsistence, he cannot be without subsistence; and as the principle of reason, he cannot be irrational. Of the existence of this divine intelligence, however, all direct proof is as impossible as a demonstration of existence simply. Generally, indeed, nothing can be known except upon testimony, and whatever rests on testimony is not certainty, but faith, and such a faith or belief, when its object is the existence of a good and supreme being, is religion." It is apparent, then, that Jacobi may appropriately be looked upon as an advocate of religion, but by no means can he be admitted to have been a Christian philosopher; for, although he believed in a revelation of God, he was "far from taking sides with the believers of revelation, in the ecclesiastical sense of the word." If it is proper to class the influence of Jacobi's philosophy with that of Fichte and Schelling, as Farrar (Critical History of Free Thought, p. 238) does, it is well at least to concede that these philosophical systems all together certainly "formed one class of influences, which were operating about the beginning of the 18th century, and were tending to redeem alike German literature and theology." "Their first effect was to produce examination of the primary principles of belief, and to excite inquiry; and, though at first only re-enforcing the idea of morality, they ultimately drew men out of themselves into aspirations after the infinite spirit, and developed the sense of dependence, of humility, of unselfishness, of spirituality. They produced, indeed, evil effects in pantheism and ideology, but the results were partial, the good was general. The problem, What is truth? was through their means remitted to men for reconsideration; the answers to it elicited from the one school, It is that which I can know; from the other, It is that which I can intuitively feel, threw men upon those unalterable and infallible instincts which God has set in the human breast as the everlasting landmarks of truth, the study of which lifts men ultimately out of error." One of the most celebrated advocates of these views of Jacobi we find in 'Schleiermacher (compare Hagenbach, 2, 332 sq.; 339), though, of course, the former only prepared the way for the latter; and indeed, this "faith philosophy," "with some slight modifications in each case, consequent upon their philosophical system," is the theory not only of Jacobi and of Schleiermacher, but also of Nitzsch, Mansel (author of "Limits of Religious Thought;"), and probably, also, of the Scotch philosopher Hamilton (compare Cocker, Christianity and Greek Philosophy, p. 70 sq.). See Herbst, Biographie in the Bibliothek christlicher Denker (Leipz. 1830), 1; Max Jacobi, Briefwechsel zwischen. Gothe u. Fr. II. Jacobi (Leipz. 1846); Gervinus, Geschichte d. poet. Nat. Lit. d. Deutschen (3rd edit.), 4:556 sq.; Chalybaeus, Hist. Specul. Phil. p. 60 sq.; Ersch u. Gruber, Allyem. Encyklop.; English. Cyclop. s.v.