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Abstract

This dissertation provides an account of the broad, holistic theory of mind with which Johann Gottlieb Fichte and his contemporaries thought about the interrelation of the manifold dimensions of human experience. The first half of the project offers a reappraisal of Fichte’s philosophy. Challenging the received view of Fichte as a theorist of subjectivity, I argue that he is best understood as a thinker who put forth an expansive view of how individuals contend with the diverse totality of experience and ultimately find their place within this totality by means of their moral action. In the second half of the dissertation, I outline first how Wilhelm von Humboldt uses Fichte’s holistic conception of human experience to develop a general theory of art and language. Fichte’s theory of mind, I argue, provided Humboldt with the terms he needed in order to describe artistic and linguistic activity as instances of human self-expression. Then, in the last chapter of the dissertation, I turn to the German Romantic poet Novalis and his transformation of Fichte’s theory of mind into a theory and practice of the imagination. I show how Novalis adopts Fichte’s holistic, mind-centered perspective on experience so that he can illustrate in his fragments and his poetry the ways in which imaginative thinking transforms our mundane involvement with the world into an experience of the absolute freedom of mind. This study on Fichte and two of his contemporaries draws attention to the remarkably holistic nature of post-Kantian German Idealist thought and clearly outlines the expansive, mind-theoretic framework that subtends their diverse intellectual projects.

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