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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von (1775–1854)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC068-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Like the other German Idealists, Schelling began his philosophical career by acknowledging the importance of Kant’s grounding of knowledge in the synthesising activity of the subject, while questioning his establishment of a dualism between appearances and things in themselves. The other main influences on Schelling’s early work are Leibniz, Spinoza, J.G. Fichte, and F.H. Jacobi. Schelling adopts both Spinoza’s conception of an absolute ground, of which the finite world is the consequent, and Fichte’s emphasis on the role of the I in the constitution of the world. At the same time he seeks both to overcome the perceived fatalism entailed by Spinoza’s monism, and to avoid the sense in Fichte that nature only exists as the object of the I. After adopting a position close to that of Fichte between 1794 and 1796, Schelling tried in his various versions of Naturphilosophie from 1797 onwards to find new ways of explicating the identity between thinking and nature, claiming that in this philosophy ‘Nature is to be visible mind, mind invisible nature’. In his System des transcendentalen Idealismus [System of Transcendental Idealism] (1800) he advanced the idea that art, as the ‘organ of philosophy’, shows the identity of what he terms ‘conscious’ productivity (mind) and ‘unconscious’ productivity (nature) because it reveals more than can be understood via the conscious intentions that lead to its production. Schelling’s ‘identity philosophy’, which is another version of his Naturphilosophie, begins in 1801, and is summarised in the assertion that ‘Existence is the link of a being as One, with itself as a multiplicity’. Material nature and the mind that knows it are different aspects of the same ‘Absolute’ or ‘absolute identity’, in which they are both grounded. In 1804 Schelling becomes concerned with the transition from the Absolute to the manifest world in which necessity and freedom are in conflict. If freedom is not to become inexplicable, he maintains, Spinoza’s assumption of a logically necessary transition from God to the world cannot be accepted. Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit [Of Human Freedom] (1809) tries to explain how God could create a world involving evil, suggesting that nature relates to God somewhat as the later Freud’s ‘id’ relates to the developed autonomous ‘ego’ which transcends the drives that motivate it.

The philosophy of Die Weltalter [The Ages of the World], on which Schelling worked during the 1810s and 1820s, interprets the intelligible world, including ourselves, as the result of an ongoing conflict between expansive and contractive forces. He becomes convinced that philosophy cannot finally give a reason for the existence of the manifest world that is the product of this conflict. This leads to his opposition, beginning in the 1820s, to Hegel’s philosophical system, and to an increasing concern with theology that tries to answer Leibniz’s question of why there is something rather than nothing. Hegel’s system claims to be without presuppositions, and thus to be self-grounding, following the rationalist notion of substance as necessary being. While Schelling shares with Hegel the idea that the relations of dependence between differing aspects of knowledge can be articulated in a dynamic system, he thinks that this only provides a ‘negative’ philosophy, in which the fact of being is enclosed within thought. What he terms ‘positive’ philosophy tries to come to terms with the facticity of ‘being which is absolutely independent of all thinking’ (2 (3): 164). Schelling endeavours in his Philosophie der Mythologie [Philosophy of Mythology] and Philosophie der Offenbarung [Philosophy of Revelation] of the 1830s and 1840s to establish a complete philosophical system by beginning with ‘that which just exists … in order to see if I can get from it to the divinity’ (2 (3): 158), which leads to a historical account of mythology and Judeo-Christian revelation. This system does not, though, overcome the problem of the ‘alterity’ of being, its irreducibility to a philosophical system, which his critique of Hegel reveals. The direct and indirect influence of this critique on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Rosenzweig, Levinas, Derrida, and others is evident, and Schelling must be considered as the key transitional figure between Hegel and approaches to ‘post-metaphysical’ thinking. His ideas are also increasingly being associated with the idea that the ecological crisis is revealing how humankind’s relationship to non-human nature needs to be radically rethought.

Citing this article:
Bowie, Andrew. Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von (1775–1854), 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC068-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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