Romanticism, German

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC094-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 16, 2021, from

6. Naturphilosophie

One of the characteristic products of early Romanticism was Naturphilosophie, which flourished in the first decade of the nineteenth century (see Naturphilosophie). Its chief representative was Schelling, but it is important to see that he was only one figure in a much wider movement. Other important Naturphilosophen include Carl August Eschenmeyer (1771–1852), Lorenz Oken (1779–1851), Franz von Baader (1765–1841), Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776–1810) and Gotthilf Schubert (1780–1860). It would be wrong to see all these thinkers as forming a single school, for they usually worked independently and were often critical of one another. Nevertheless, they did have some common characteristics: the vision of humans and nature as a unity, the attempt to see all the various phenomena of nature (magnetism, gravity and electricity) as manifestations of a single fundamental force, and a rejection of the old mechanical physics. The impetus for Naturphilosophie came from several sources: Kant’s dynamic concept of nature, Herder’s vitalistic pantheism, Goethe’s natural investigations, and the vital materialist tradition of the English freethinkers and French philosophes (see Herder, J.G.; Goethe, J.W.).

Naturphilosophie developed from the Romantic concern to overcome the alienation between humans and nature. It saw the fundamental expression for this alienation in the Cartesian mental–physical dualism. The ultimate source of this dualism lay with the concept of matter and the mechanical model of explanation of Cartesian physics. According to Descartes, the essence of matter consists in inert extension; and we explain matter only if we show how the motion of one body is caused by the motion of another body upon it. This concept of matter and paradigm of explanation seemed to make the explanation of the mind impossible according to natural laws. Consciousness is not within space, and hence we cannot explain its changes by the impact of other bodies on it. If we follow Descartes’ paradigm of explanation, the only options then seem to be dualism or materialism (see Descartes, R. §8).

Responding to this dilemma, Schelling developed a dynamic concept of matter, according to which the essence of matter consists in living force or power. The advantage of this concept of nature is that it seemed to surmount the dualism between the mental and the physical: they are now simply differing degrees of organization and development of living force. Mind is the highest degree of organization and development of the living forces of matter, while matter is simply the lowest degree of organization and development of the living forces of the mind (see Panpsychism).

For Schelling, the fundamental category of Naturphilosophie is that of an organism. He extends this metaphor to all nature, so that we should regard all nature as one vast organism, and mechanism itself as only an appearance of it. In his 1798 Von der Weltseele (Of the world-soul) Schelling explicitly revived the ancient Stoic doctrine of a single soul pervading all of nature. His general vision of nature could be described as a vitalistic monism or as a monistic vitalism.

Citing this article:
Beiser, Frederick. Naturphilosophie. Romanticism, German, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC094-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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