Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich

Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich,

1743–1819, German philosopher. Although educated for commerce, he early gave up business and became in 1770 a member of the council for the duchies of Berg and Jülich. A brilliant personality, he attracted to his home near Düsseldorf a notable literary and philosophic circle. His later years were spent in Holstein and in Munich, where he was appointed (1807) president of the newly founded Academy of Sciences. His collected works were published in 1812–25. Among them are Briefe über die Lehre des Spinoza (1785) and David Hume über den Glauben; oder, Idealismus und Realismus (1787). Jacobi criticized both Kant and Spinoza, arguing that philosophy cannot maintain distinct realms of existence and that it must be consistent and consider everything in the same cause and effect sequence. If this is done, however, then the originality and individuality of our experiences are lost. Jacobi's solution involved a unity and consistency based entirely on faith. He felt that even immediate sense perception is miraculous. Reason, then, must be restricted to its immediate material, and the ultimate reality is to be intuitively sensed.

Jacobi, Friedrich Heinrich


Born Jan. 25, 1743, in Düsseldorf; died Mar. 10, 1819, in Munich. German writer and idealist philosopher; a proponent of the philosophy of feeling and faith.

Jacobi, a friend of J. W. von Goethe and C. M. Wieland, was the author of the philosophical novels Edward Allwill’s Collected Letters (1775–76) and Woldemar (1779). He was president of the Bavarian Academy of Science from 1807 to 1812. In a dispute with M. Mendelssohn about B. Spinoza’s pantheism (1785), Jacobi opposed the “discursive” rationalism of the Enlightenment—of which, in his judgment, Spinozism was the classic example. According to Jacobi, “rational thought” is incapable of revealing the original and indisputable source of man’s individuality and its inherent freedom, and it leads inevitably either to naturalism, atheism, and determinism—as in Spinoza—or to Kant’s subjective idealism. Criticizing Kant, Jacobi revealed the basic contradiction in the latter’s theory: without the assumption of the thing-in-itself one cannot understand Kant’s philosophy, but one cannot retain this assumption and remain a Kantian.

Following D. Hume, Jacobi assumed that the actual existence of things is immediately given to man’s consciousness. The terms he used for this immediate authenticity were “faith,” “revelation,” and “feeling,” as well as “reason,” which he contrasted to “rationality.” For Jacobi, faith consisted of both the reality of the sensate world of earthly things and the reality of the absolute and eternal, where man feels that he is absorbed in the absolute and at the same time succeeds in retaining his original subjectivity.

To the Kantian categorical imperative, Jacobi opposed the individual’s moral autonomy rising above the rigorousness of moral commandments. He criticized J. G. Fichte, F. W. von Schelling, and G. Hegel, perceiving in the development of post-Kantian idealism certain tendencies toward pantheism and “nihilism” (a term that Jacobi himself introduced). Jacobi’s irrationalist philosophy anticipated many of the themes of the philosophy of life and of existentialism.


Neue Gesamtausgabe der Werke, des Nachlasses und des Briefwechsels (in 14 volumes). Darmstadt, 1968—.
In Russian translation:
“O transtsendental’nom idealizme.” In Novye idei v filosofii, sb. 12. St. Petersburg, 1914.


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Feuerbach, L. “Iakobi i filosofiia ego vremeni.” In his Istoriia filosofii, vol. 2. Moscow, 1967.
Lévy-Bruhl, L. La Philosophie de Jacobi. Paris, 1894.
Bollnow, O. F. Die Lebensphilosophie F. H. Jacobis. Stuttgart-Berlin, 1966.
Baum, G. Vernunft und Erkenntnis: Die Philosophie F. H. Jacobis. Bonn, 1969.