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Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich
Romane I: Eduard Allwill. Texte. Hrsg. v. C. Götz u. W. Jaeschke.
Hamburg: Meiner; Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog 2006. 246 S. m. 3 Taf. gr.8° = Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Werke, 6,1. Lw. EUR 136,00. ISBN 978-3-7873-1374-7 (Meiner); 978-3-7728-1969-8 (Frommann-Holzboog).
George di Giovanni
Neben dem angegebenen Titel in dieser Rezension besprochen:
Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich: Kleine Schriften I (1771–1783). Texte. Bearb. v. M.-G. Dehrmann, C. Goretzki u. W. Jaeschke. Hamburg: Meiner; Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog 2006. VIII, 428 S. gr.8° = Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Werke, 4,1. Lw. EUR 178,00. ISBN 978-3-7873-1372-3 (Meiner); 978-3-7728-1967-4 (Frommann-Holzboog).
These two volumes are the latest additions to the critical edition of J.’s Werke that Meiner Verlag is in the process of publishing in cooperation with Frommann-Holzboog. The edition is divided into four series, Werke, Briefwechsel, Nachlaß, Dokumente, the first three further divided into two sub-series, Text and Kommentar. So far, seven volumes of text are available in the Werke series, of which the two above represent the fourth and the sixth respectively; also available are nine volumes in the Briefwechsel series, six of text and three of commentary, and one volume in the Dokumente series. This critical edition was long overdue. The presence of J. as a protagonist in the German intellectual scene of the late Enlightenment and early Romanticism has long been known. But it is especially of late that the full weight of the influence that he exercised in the development of that scene – as independent scholar, occasionally creative thinker, and most of all as polemicist – has been recognized. The fateful event of 1774, when Goethe handed over to J. his manuscript of the Prometheus, could have remained just one more incident in the personal life of two great men. But in fact, because of J.’s religious preoccupations and the complex dynamics of his personality, it precipitated a series of other events that brought Spinoza to the centre of philosophical discussion in Germany. Spinoza was already known in Germany, at least since Mendelssohn’s Philosophische Gespräche of 1755, but J. injected him in the middle of the revolution that Kant had just initiated in philosophy and, improbable as it might seem, Spinoza came to shape the course that the revolution was to take. Schelling was eventually to declare himself a Spinozist, at least in one period of his long philosophical career. But more to the point, in 1778, as ardent a promoter of the supremacy of the subject as Fichte could produce a system of ethics in which Spinoza was methodically re-done on a Kantian register, with the aim of remedying the formalism of Kant’s moral philosophy precisely by importing Spinoza into it. And, this is the crucial point, Fichte never tired to repeat that he considered himself a follower of J.
But how could Fichte ever make any such claim? Here is where the importance of this critical edition comes in full view. The fact is that J. was not a philosopher of one piece. Beneath his overriding interest in defending a personalist God, J. did undergo changes – radical changes which, however, one would never be able to tell from the 1812–1825 edition which he personally oversaw before his death. At that late time J. had fallen in line with the moral and religious positivism of the likes of Jakob Fries and Friedrich Bouterwek, whom he had originally influenced, and was at pains to gloss over, among other things, the earlier vitalist theory of reason which he had sketched in the 1787 dialogue David Hume. This was an exciting but dangerously naturalistic theory. Fichte’s insistence that he was walking in the footsteps of J. would not sound as improbable as it otherwise does if viewed in light of it. But one would never recognize it in its surreptitiously obfuscated 1812 version, and it is this version, indeed the whole1812–1825 edition of the Werke, that has been at the basis of the common but simplistic picture of J. as just a fideist. This new edition will now make it easier to form a more complex opinion of this in fact intellectually very complex figure.
The two recent additions are cases in point. The great merit of the volume on Allwill is that it makes available under single cover the two versions of the novel which J. produced first in 1776 and then in 1792. Now one can easily see for oneself how the Herzensmensch of 1776 turned into the seductive, even demonic, character of 1792. Had J. learned in between that the ›heart‹ can be just as abstractive a power as reason and, therefore, just as insidious a source of self-deception? The other volume contains the occasional pieces that J. produced between 1771 and 1783, before his dispute with Mendelssohn was to fix his philosophical persona in the public eye. For the non-specialist, all these pieces need historical contextualization, and one can only hope that the promised corresponding Kommentar volume will be quick in coming. As they stand, however, they do convey a vivid picture of J.’s wide and diverse range of interests and also illustrate how, at this early stage, J. could run the risk of cutting the figure of dilettante and social gadfly. There is J. the elegant author writing to a Lady; J. the naturalist outdoing Herder in the knowledge of animal behaviour and also obliquely criticizing him for his a priori method of construing theories; J. at once the defender of liberal political values and of traditional institutions, the latter against what he thought was the tyranny of abstract reason; J. the polemicist, not hesitating to break up his erstwhile friendship with Wieland on a point of principle; J. defending mercantilism, in two pieces that were the final product of a highly unsuccessful excursion on his part into public office; J. manipulating the press to advertize himself and score a point. There is a lot to discover and to enjoy in J. and the society which he mirrors so admirably. And now that his texts are available to us in such beautiful editions, we have no reason for not doing it.