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Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

The German idealist and romantic philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) developed a metaphysical system based on the philosophy of nature.

Born in Württemberg on Jan. 27, 1775, the son of a learned Lutheran pastor, F. W. J. von Schelling was educated at the theological seminary at Tübingen. He became friends with two older classmates, G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Hölderlin, and shared their ardent support of the French Revolution. Schelling read widely in the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. His first two treatises, Ü ber die Möglichkeit einer Philosophie überhaupt (1795; On the Possibility of a Form of Philosophy in General) and Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie… (1795; On the Ego as Principle of Philosophy), were influenced by Fichte's philosophy of the Absolute Ego. Indeed Fichte's critics mockingly referred to Schelling as the "street peddler of the Ego."

Philosophy of Nature

In the second phase of his thought Schelling turned against Fichte's conception of nature. He then claimed that nature was not a mere obstacle to be overcome through the moral striving of the subject. Nature rather was a form of spiritual activity, an "unconscious intelligence." This organistic, vitalistic conception of nature was developed in Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (1797; Ideas toward a Philosophy of Nature), in Von der Weltseele (1798; On the World Soul), and in several works on the physical sciences published between 1797 and 1803. Schelling's brilliance was quickly recognized; owing to J. W. von Goethe's influence, he gave up his position as private tutor and assumed the rank of full professor at Jena. He was only 23 years old.

Jena was the center of German romanticism. This prestigious circle included Ludwig Tieck, the folklorist; Novalis, the poet; Friedrich and August von Schlegel, the translators of Shakespeare; Caroline, August's wife; and in nearby Weimar, Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller. Schelling was briefly engaged to Caroline's daughter by her first marriage, but she died under mysterious circumstances. His affection quickly turned to Caroline, a woman of tremendous wit and intelligence. In 1803, after divorcing Schlegel, Caroline married Schelling.

In 1800 Schelling published the most systematic statement of his philosophy, System des Transzendentalen Idealismus (System of Transcendental Idealism). In this work and in Darstellung meine Systems der Philosophie (1801; An Exposition of My System), Schelling argued for the absolute identity of nature and mind in the form of reason. Although this third turn in Schelling's thought was probably influenced by Hegel's philosophy, it earned him only Hegel's scorn.

Munich Period

From 1803 to 1806 Schelling taught at the University of Würzburg. In 1806 he was appointed secretary to the Academy of Arts at Munich, a post that allowed him to complete his most interesting work and to lecture at Stuttgart. During this period his most important work was the Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der Menschlichen Freiheit (1809; Of Human Freedom). Schelling's emphasis on human freedom—"the beginning and end of all philosophy is freedom"—anticipates the major concerns of contemporary existentialism.

In just 14 years Schelling's kaleidoscopic philosophy had undergone several shifts. Hegel uncharitably remarked that Schelling "carried on his philosophical education in public." Schelling was, however, a rigorous thinker, although he never constructed a complete metaphysical system. Schelling wrote eloquent and impassioned prose, liberating German philosophy from its turgid, jargonistic style.

Later Period

Schelling's wife died in 1809, and that same year marked the rising prominence of Hegel. These two events dampened Schelling's philosophical enthusiasm and self-confidence. Schelling was remarried in 1812—to Pauline Gotter, a friend of Caroline's—but did not publish another book in the remaining 42 years of his life. From 1820 to 1827 he lectured at Erlangen, and in 1827 Schelling became a professor at Munich. Extremely bitter about the success of Hegel, he accepted a post as Prussian privy councilor and member of the Berlin Academy in order to quell the popularity of Hegel's disciples, the so-called Young Hegelians.

To combat further the influence of Hegel, Schelling lectured at Berlin for 5 years. His lectures on mythology and religion signaled the last stage in his thought, the opposition of negative and positive philosophy. God cannot be known through reason (negative philosophy), but He can be experienced through myth and revelation (positive philosophy). This relatively neglected aspect of Schelling's philosophy has aroused considerable interest among today's Protestant theologians. Never regaining his early prominence, Schelling died on Aug. 20, 1854, at Bad Ragaz, Switzerland.

Schelling was called the "prince of the romantics." With his immense charm, wit, and radiant spirit, he endeared himself to the coterie of intellectuals known as the German romantics. With them he celebrated, in both word and deed, the vision of artistic genius and the principles of organicism and vitalism in nature.

Further Reading

A short critical biography is in James Gutman's introduction to his translation of Schelling's Of Human Freedom (1936). Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (7 vols., 1946; rev. ed., 7 vols. in 13, 1962), provides a thorough exposition of Schelling's thought. Other accounts of the development of Schelling's later philosophy are in the introduction to Schelling's The Ages of the World (a fragment of Die Weltalter), translated by Frederick de Wolfe Bolman (1942), and in Paul Collins Hayner, Reason and Existence: Schelling's Philosophy of History (1967). Recommended for the background of idealism and romanticism are Josiah Royce, The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (1892), and Eric D. Hirsch, Wordsworth and Schelling (1960).

Additional Sources

Seidel, George J. (George Joseph), Activity and ground: Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, Hildesheim; New York: G. Olms, 1976.

Snow, Dale E., Schelling and the end of idealism, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

White, Alan, Schelling: an introduction to the system of freedom, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. □

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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (frē´drĬkh vĬl´hĕlm yō´zĕf fən shĕ´lĬng), 1775–1854, German philosopher. After theological study at Tübingen and two years of tutoring at Leipzig, he became in 1798 a professor at Jena, where he helped found the romantic movement in philosophy. There he was closely associated with August and Friedrich von Schlegel and J. G. Fichte, from whom he drew apart when he left Jena for a professorship at Würzburg in 1803. He later taught at the Univ. of Berlin. Schelling's early essays were a development of the Fichtean science of knowledge, though in Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797, tr. 1988) he had already differed somewhat in holding that nature cannot be subordinated to mental life. The difference between the forces of nature and mind must be only a matter of degree or level, and the problem of knowledge is absorbed in the ultimate unity of mind and matter in the Absolute. In his later period, Schelling maintained that history is a series of stages progressing toward harmony from a previous fall and that differences are aspects of this development. He argued that God also partakes of this process of development; that deity, to have personality, must hold within itself the limiting factors that define personality. Schelling's essay Of Human Freedom (1809, tr. 1936) anticipated existentialist themes, including that of individual freedom seen as the capacity to determine one's own essence. Among Schelling's other works is Die Weltalter (1854; tr. by Frederick Bolman, The Ages of the World, 1942).

See E. D. Hirsch, Wordsworth and Schelling (1971); A. White, Schelling: An Introduction to the System of Freedom (1983); W. Marx, The Philosophy of F. W. J. Schelling (1984).

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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von (1775–1854) German philosopher. His early work, System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), attempted to develop J. G. Fichte's science of knowledge alongside a philosophy of nature. His philosophy of idealism, with its stress on the perfection of the Absolute, became the blueprint for Romanticism.

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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

SCHELLING, FRIEDRICH WILHELM JOSEPH VON

German philosopher of the romantic school; b. Leonberg (Württemberg), Jan. 27, 1775; d. Ragaz, Switzerland, Aug. 20, 1854.

Life and Works. As a student at Tübingen his promise won him the patronage of the luminaries of the romantic movement, J. W. von goethe, J. G. fichte, Novalis (17721801), and F. schlegel. On Goethe's nomination he was made extraordinary professor at Jena. His earliest writings constitute a defense of Fichte, whose influence is apparent in Schelling's Erster Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie (Jena-Leipzig 1799).

The chief document from this phase of his thought quickly followed: System des tranzendentalen Idealismus (Tübingen 1800). When accused of atheism, he left Jena for Würzburg, entering a new phase of philosophical activity inspired by an interest in B. spinoza. At Würzburg he produced two important works: Darstellung meines Systems (1801) and Vorlesungen über die Methode des akademischen Studiums (1803), the latter containing the most rigorous presentation of his doctrine of the Absolute as the undifferentiated unity of oppositesthe concept whose derisive criticism in the Phenomenology of Mind caused his alienation from G. W. F. hegel. The influence of the mystic J. bÖhme initiated a third phase of his thought and inspired the last document of his early activity: Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (Landshut 1809). He left teaching, and a long decline in his work followed. In 1841, at the suggestion of Schlegel, he was called to the chair at Berlin; there he delivered the lectures published posthumously as Philosophie der Mythologie and Philosophie der Offenbarung.

The romantic philosophers were divided, from the point of view of method, between the intuitive and the dialectical. Schelling adhered to the former, the essential note of which was the postulation of some immediacy at the basis of every speculative construction. In his case, the immediacy was that of the Absolute; for him, the constructive work of philosophy must proceed within the ambit of this intuition, which remains unmediated. (Hegel, by contrast, espoused the dialectical method of total mediation, in which all immediacies and presuppositions are resolved in the creation of a system of reason.) The development of Schelling's thought may conveniently be treated under three periods: the philosophy of nature and transcendental idealism, the philosophy of identity, and the philosophy of freedom and existence.

Nature and Transcendentalism. The philosophy of nature represents the fusion of the romantic sentiment of nature and Schelling's scientific interests. Its problem is to integrate the philosophy of the pure object with that of the pure subject, which had appeared opposed in the thought of Fichte. Schelling achieves this integration by suggesting that the absolute principle of the real is the absolute unity of subject and object. Nature, the objective pole, represents the unconscious product and action of this principle and deploys itself in three powers, the first of which appears in gravity; the second, in light, magnetism, and chemical processes; and the last, in organic life. In sensibility, the unity of the principle is revealed as spirit stirring in nature. The history of nature and the unconscious is succeeded by the history of self-consciousness in its three powers of knowledge, action, and aesthetic intuition.

The "System of Transcendental Idealism" takes up this theme at a more sophisticated level. The unity of the

principle of spirit and naturesubject and object, interiority and exteriorityand the processes by which these are first differentiated and then synthesized in the transcendental self, first stated dogmatically, are here subjected to direct analysis. The point of departure is a seeming contradiction between an objective world to which man's representations correspond and representations rising freely within man that effectively pass over into nature. Schelling suggests as a first resolution a preestablished harmony, and then seeks to account for this. An accounting can be made, in his view, only if the activity by which the objective world is produced is the same as that manifested in the interior movements of life: representation and willunconscious in the former, but free and conscious in the latter. This unity of principle is the self. The demonstration embraces two aspects, the "how" of this production, and the "why" or logical necessity. It advances significantly by the discovery within consciousness of a moment, the aesthetic, in which conscious and unconscious interpenetrate. Art thus becomes the universal organon of philosophy in constructing the system of reason. On the pattern of aesthetic activity, philosophical analysis of the self reveals its passageby the dialectic of finite and infinite, unlimited and act of limitationto the positing of the Absolute, God. In God all differences are resolved in a fundamental unity that is not a vacuum but a plenum including all differences within itself.

Identity. The high point of Schelling's speculative achievement is the philosophy of identity. Taking its point of departure in the Absolute established by transcendental idealism, it proceeds in an opposite direction and seeks to establish the reason and the process by which the Absolute gives origin to the differentiated realms of spirit and nature. The philosophy of identity has been called the biography of God, in which is revealed the process and necessity of His generation of the world. Its first questionWhy does the system of differences arise from the basic lack of differentiation in the Absoluteis answered by a principle already available in the philosophy of idealism: the infinite can establish its infinity in a self-conscious mode only by positing itself as its own opposite, as a limit. Since the Absolute is no vacuum of indifference, but rather an indifference that is compacted of all differences when brought to their unity of principle, it can be seen as Absolute only if such differences are explicated in relation to their synthesis. But the principle of difference is the other, the limit; hence the process of reality as a system of reason must be the self-limitation and differentiation of the Absolute. The "how" of this question is answered in the doctrine of powers; these are the paradigms on which the Absolute proceeds in its own self-realization through the dialectic of limitation and transcendence of limits. Since the Absolute is a plenum, the first of the powers is affirmation, in which it grasps itself as affirming, as the affirmed, and as their unity; to these correspond, in turn, the real, the ideal, and their unity; and to these, in turn, thought, action, and their unity. Finally, to these moments of the divine life correspond the ideas of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Philosophy is the pure mode of the self-conscious of the Absolute, consciousness that is pure unity in and through the total explication of all limits and differences.

Freedom and Existence. The life of the Absolute as so depicted is still abstract, removed from the concrete texture of existence as it is experienced in nature and in history. It remains to be shown how it is precisely in these existential processes that the great dialectical processes speculatively depicted transpire. This is the task that Schelling now undertakes. Man experiences life under two supreme rubrics that are inseparable: freedom and evil. Schelling spurns any mode of unification that relegates these wholly to the realm of the finite, for then the reconciliation at the level of the Absolute is an empty one; it is of such a unification that he accuses Hegel. Reconciliation can be effected only by showing that the struggle and burden of existence and of freedom and evil are aspects of the intimate life of the Absolute. The principle on which this is established is that the Absolute, to find realization as Absolute, must raise itself to the status of personal consciousness. This it does immanently in man, who in his personal existence, with its tensions, etc., thus constitutes a precise moment in the life of the Absolute, the moment in which the Absolute achieves concrete personal consciousness and existence. Therefore, in his experience of existence, of freedom and its perils, and of evil, man does not discover his alienation from the Absolute, but rather precisely the principle and the form of his unity with and in the Absolute. The term of this process of existence is transcendence: the emergence of God as personality. In this transcendence, the consciousness of man, wherein the struggle of freedom and evil takes place, is negated, only to be taken up in the order of revelation at a higher level. It is in revelation, the process that most clearly reveals the unity of man and the Absolute, that the tensions of freedom, the irrational, and evil are resolved. Reason and revelation are thus united according to the most exacting demands that are made by each.

See Also: idealism; romanticism, philosophical.

Bibliography: Works. Sämmtliche Werke, ed. k. f. a. schelling, 14 v. (Stuttgart 185658); The Ages of the World, tr. f. de w. bolman (New York 1942); Of Human Freedom, tr. and ed. j. gutmann (Chicago 1936). Studies. w. wieland, Schellings Lehre von der Zeit (Heidelberg 1956). w. schulz, Die Vollendung des deutschen Idealismus (Stuttgart 1955). h. fuhrmans, Schellings Philosophie der Weltalter (Düsseldorf 1954). s. drago del boca, La filosofia di Schelling (Florence 1933). r. gray-smith, God in the Philosophy of Schelling (Philadelphia 1933).

[a. r. caponigri]

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