An Ideal Solution to the Problem of What to Do on a Rainy Afternoon and its Dissolution
What ought a person do, anyway? Fichte answers this question by first examining the relationship between a human and the world, concluding the sensual world and all knowledge thereof is strictly knowledge of the self (i.e., ideas). What is more, this knowledge depends on the assent of will for its validity. Will is the basis for knowledge, not vice versa. The sensual world, then, is created by a person's will, and in such a system, what a person wills must of necessity come to pass. However, the way of the world seems independent of human intentions, good or ill, so there must be "an invisible and unknown Power" which overrules the will of humans and works toward its own end. It appears this nullifies the commandment of moral law. Fichte denies this, though, maintaining what willing to follow moral law does indeed have real consequences.
a reasonable being, before whom a purpose must be set solely
by its own will and determination, I cannot act without a motive
and without and end... if the voice which demands this obedience
be really that of creative reason within me, and not a mere fanciful
enthusiasm invented by my own imagination... then this obedience
must have some consequence and must serve some end...it does not
serve the purpose of the world of sense; hence there must be a
supersensual world whose purposes it does serve.
So there is another world where obedience to moral law gets the desired results, even if one is thwarted in the sensual world. The World Spirit which rules the sensual world also rules the supersensual one, and it gives us the freedom to choose between conforming to its will or not. That the condition of the world is improving (according to Fichte) demonstrates this Spirit's benevolence toward humanity. Our vocation, then, is to voluntarily conform to the World Spirit's will, to cultivate purity of heart, and to hearken to the command of our conscience.
There are, however, a few difficulties with Fichte's system. The first one may be phrased thus: If that which is called the sensual world is a product of one's will, and one never perceives objects external to himself, how does one ever become aware of the existence of other independent wills? As truly independent beings, surely they are external to oneself, but if this is so and all one perceives is modifications of oneself, then perception of them in the first place becomes impossible. That which Fichte perceives as an independent being he recognizes as phenomena to which he transfers the idea of himself. His conscience bids him to treat these phenomena as independent beings, and to honor their purposes, but does that make them so? Fichte replies that to treat or even regard them as anything but independent is to disregard one's calling, namely to follow one's conscience, but that is to leave the question begging. Does treating water as earth make it earth? The first step across a lake will tell.
Observing a phenomena and detecting a rationality in it which he did not author, a person concludes that this phenomena is an independent being. This conclusion is reached on the assumption that one is aware of what one's self wills (and hence what one does). A rational act not willfully executed by oneself must be performed by another. This assumption, though is not as well grounded as it seems. An adult may will to walk and talk simultaneously, and do so, but if he finds his conversation particularly engaging he may become oblivious to the fact he is still walking, and only be reminded of this when he collides with a lamppost.
The crux of the difficulty is the relationship between will and knowledge. Reason by itself cannot produce knowledge, as the process of reasoning out a conclusion turns into an infinite regress in search of a premise. A person has to start with something, so he willfully chooses a set of premises and with these uses reason to arrive at the conclusion, the latter's certainty depending on her logic and conviction in the former. For something to qualify as knowledge, he has to believe it, but, unfortunately, this is not enough. For something to be knowledge, it must also be true. If a philosopher believes Brown is in Barcelona, when Brown is in fact in Coem, he cannot be said to know Brown is in Barcelona because it is not true. By analogy, if this person believes the world is a product of will, and that whatever is willed must of necessity come to pass, he still cannot be said to know it unless it is true. Whether it is true remains to be seen; if people cannot see beyond their own perceptions, and thus the existence of external objects that are the origin of their perceptions remains a conjecture, neither can they see beyond their own perceptions to note the absence of these postulated external objects. The boundary between the noumenal and the phenomenological is still intact.
Fichte's supersensual world is logically demanded by his premises concerning will and knowledge, but the analysis of the relationship between the two is incomplete, and so his argument for the existence of such a world is left wanting. Likewise can his arguments for the existence and nature of a World Spirit be treated, and thus it remains an open question as to the proper vocation of man, as Fichte's conclusion relies on his having correctly adduced God and the Eternal realm.