The atheism dispute (German: Atheismusstreit) was an event in German cultural history that lasted between 1798–1800 which had an effect on the German philosophy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
In 1798, Johann Gottlieb Fichte was accused of atheism after publishing that year his essay "Ueber den Grund unsers Glaubens an eine göttliche Weltregierung" ("On the Ground of Our Belief in a Divine World-Governance") which he had written in response to Friedrich Karl Forberg's essay "Development of the Concept of Religion" in his Philosophical Journal. Forberg had claimed that unbelievers could be moral if they act as if an all-seeing and punishing God exists. In his brief essay, Fichte attempted to sketch some of his preliminary ideas on philosophy of religion formulated within his Wissenschaftslehre (doctrine of science). He characterized God as the living moral order of the world.
“On the Ground of Our Belief in a Divine World-Governance” provoked the publication of anonymous essay that accused both Fichte and Forberg of atheism and called for Fichte's dismissal from his post at the University of Jena. In the wake of the dispute, many essays were published in defense and against Fichte, as well as defense by Fichte himself. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi eventually published his famous open letter to Fichte, which saw the first use of the word nihilism, and in which he equated philosophy in general and Fichte's transcendental philosophy in particular with "nihilism."
This dispute caused German authorities to suppress the original essay as well as threaten the University of Jena itself with preventing enrollment. Fichte was eventually forced to resign his position at Jena and to flee to Berlin as a result of previously made statements in which he threatened to resign if he were subjected to official government reprimand.
- J. G. Fichte: "On the Ground of Our Belief in a Divine World-Governance"
- F. K. Forberg: "Development of the Concept of Religion"
- Anonymous: "A Father's Letter to his Student Son about Fichte's and Forberg's Atheism
- Frederick Augustus I of Saxony: "Saxon Letter of Requisition to the Weimar Court"
- Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: "Weimar Rescript to the University of Jena"
- J. G. Fichte: "Appeal to the Public" ("Appellation an das Publikum über die durch Churf. Sächs. Confiscationsrescript ihm beigemessenen atheistischen Aeußerungen. Eine Schrift, die man zu lesen bittet, ehe man sie confsicirt"), 1799
- K. L. Reinhold: "Letter to Fichte"
- J. G. Fichte: "Juridical Defense"
- Ernst Ludwig II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen: "Gotha Rescript to the University of Jena"
- Students of the University of Jena: "First Petition to Karl August of Saxony–Weimar–Eisenach"
- Karl August: "First Reply to the University of Jena"
- Students of the University of Jena: "Second Petition to Karl August of Saxony–Weimar–Eisenach"
- Karl August: "Second Reply to the University of Jena"
- J. G. Fichte: "From a Private Letter"
- F. H. Jacobi: "Letter on Fichte"
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