Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, 1743 - 1819

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi was a German philosopher whose interest to the New England Transcendentalists stemmed not so much from his thought as from his spiritual faith: his writings are characterized by poetic fancy and religious sentiment rather than by logical necessity.  New Englanders encountered Jacobi's philosophy mainly through the writings of Bronson Alcott, Theodore Parker, and Margaret Fuller--all of whom possessed and studied his works.  Alcott mentioned Jacobi in his Concord Days (1872).
Jacobi has been written about as follows by Octavius Brooks Frothingham, the first historian of American Transcendentalism.
The first important step in the direction of pure transcendentalism was taken by Frederick Henry Jacobi, who was born at Düsseldorf, January 25, 1743.  He was a man well educated in philosophy, with a keen interest in the study of it, though not a philosopher by profession, or a systematic writer on metaphysical subjects.  His position was that of a civilian who devoted the larger part of his time to the duties of a public office under the government.  His writings consist mainly of letters, treatises on special points of metaphysical inquiry, and articles in the philosophical journals.  His official position gave repute to the productions of his pen, and the circumstance of his being, not an amateur precisely, but a devotee of philosophy for the love of it and not as a professional business, imparted to his speculation the freshness of personal feeling.  His ardent temperament, averse to scepticism, and touched with a mystical enthusiasm, rebelled against the formal and deadly precision of the analytical method, and sought a way out from the intellectual bleakness of the Kantean metaphysics into the sunshine and air of a living spiritual world.  The critics busied themselves with mining and sapping the foundations of consciousness as laid by the philosopher of Königsberg, who, they complained, had been too easy in conceding the necessity of an outward world.  Jacobi accepted with gratitude the intellectual basis afforded, and proceeded to erect thereupon his observatory for studying the heavens.  Though not the originator of the "Faith Philosophy," as it was called, he became the finisher and the best known expositor of it.  "Since the time of Aristotle," he said, "it has been the effort of philosophical schools to rank direct and immediate knowledge below mediate and indirect; to subordinate the capacity for original perception to the capacity for reflection on abstract ideas; to make intuition secondary to understanding, the sense of essential things to definitions.  Nothing is accepted that does not admit of being proved by formal and logical process, so that, at last, the result is looked for there, and there only.  The validity of intuition is disallowed."
Jacobi's polemics were directed therefore against the systems of Spinoza, Leibnitz, Wolf--in a word against all systems that led to scepticism and dogmatism; and his positive efforts were employed in constructing a system of Faith.  His key-word was "Faith," by which he meant intuition, the power of gazing immediately on essential truth; an intellectual faculty which he finally called Reason, by which supersensual objects become visible, as material objects become visible to the physical eye; an inward sense, a spiritual eye, that "gives evidence of things not seen and substance to things hoped for"; a faculty of vision to which truths respecting God, Providence, Immortality, Freedom, the Moral Law, are palpably disclosed.  Kant had pronounced it impossible to prove that the transcendental idea had a corresponding reality as objective being.  Jacobi declared that no such proof was needed; that the reality was necessarily assumed.  Kant had denied the existence of any faculty that could guarantee the existence of either a sensual or a supersensual world.  Jacobi was above all else certain that such a faculty there was, that it was altogether trustworthy, and that it actually furnished material for religious hope and spiritual life: the only possible material, he went on to say; for without this capacity of intuition, philosophy could be in his judgment nothing but an insubstantial fabric, a castle in the air, a thing of definitions and terminologies, a shifting body of hot and cold vapor.
This, it will be observed, seemed a legitimate consequence of Kant's method.  Kant had admitted the subjective reality of sensible impressions, and had claimed a similar reality for our mental images of supersensible things.  He allowed the validity as conceptions, the practical validity, of the ideas of God, Duty, Immortality.  Jacobi contended that having gone so far, it was lawful if not compulsory to go farther; that the subjective reality implied an objective reality; that the practical inference was as valid as any logical inference could be; and that through the intuition of reason the mind was placed again in a living universe of divine realities.
Chalybäus says of Jacobi: "With deep penetration he traced the mystic fountain of desire after the highest and best, to the point where it discloses itself as an immediate feeling in consciousness; that this presentiment was nothing more than Kant said it was--a faint mark made by the compressing chain of logic, he would not allow; he described it rather as the special endowment and secret treasure of the human mind, which he that would not lose it must guard against the touch of evil-minded curiosity; for whoever ventures into this sanctuary with the torch of science, will fare as did the youth before the veiled image at Sais."  And again: "This point, that a self-subsisting truth must correspond to the conscious idea, that the subject must have an object which is personal like itself, is the ore that Jacobi was intent on extracting from the layers of consciousness: he disclosed it only in part, but unsatisfactory as his exposition was to the stern inquisition of science, his purpose was so strong, his aim so single, we cannot wonder that, in spite of the outcry and the scorn against his 'Faith or Feeling Philosophy,' his thought survived, and even entered on a new career in later times.  It must, however, be confessed that instead of following up his clue, speculative fashion, he laid down his undeveloped theorem as an essential truth, above speculation, declaring that speculation must end in absolute idealism, which was but another name for nihilism and fatalism.  Jacobi made his own private consciousness a measure for the human mind."  At the close of his chapter, Chalybäus quotes Hegel's verdict, expressed in these words: "Jacobi resembles a solitary thinker, who, in his life's morning, finds an ancient riddle hewn in the primeval rock; he believes that the riddle contains a truth, but he tries in vain to discover it.  The day long he carries it about with him; entices weighty suggestions from it; displays it in shapes of teaching and imagery that fascinate listeners, inspiring noblest wishes and anticipations: but the interpretation eludes him, and at evening he lays him down in the hope that a celestial dream or the next morning's waking will make articulate the word he longs for and has believed in."