Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (January 27, 1775 – August 20, 1854), later von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German Idealism, situating him between Fichte, his mentor prior to 1800, and Hegel, his former university roommate and erstwhile friend. Interpreting Schelling's philosophy is often difficult because of its ever-changing nature. Some scholars characterize him as a protean thinker who, although brilliant, jumped from one subject to another and lacked the synthesizing power needed to arrive at a complete philosophical system. Others challenge the notion that Schelling's thought is marked by profound breaks, instead arguing that his philosophy always focused on a few common themes, especially human freedom, the absolute, and the relationship between spirit and nature.
Schelling's thought has often been neglected, especially in the English-speaking world. This stems not only from the ascendancy of Hegel, whose mature works portray Schelling as a mere footnote in the development of Idealism, but also from his Naturphilosophie, which scientists have ridiculed for its "silly" analogizing and lack of empirical orientation. In recent years, Schelling scholars have attacked both of these sources of neglect.
After two years tutoring those youths, in 1798 at the age of only 23, Schelling was called to Jena as an extraordinary professor of philosophy. He had already contributed articles and reviews to the Journal of Fichte and Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer, and had thrown himself into the study of physical and medical science. In 1795 Schelling published Philosophische Briefe über Dogmatismus und Kritizismus (philosophical letters on dogmatism and criticism) consisting of 10 letters addressed to an unknown interlocutor that presented both a defense and critique of the Kantian system; in 1797 he published the essay Neue Deduction des Naturrechts (New deduction of natural law), which anticipated Fichte's treatment of the topic in the Grundlage des Naturrechts(Ground of natural law). His studies of physical science bore fruit in the Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Ideas to a natural philosophy) (1797), and the treatise Von der Weltseele (On the soul of world) (1798). In Ideen Schelling referred to Leibniz and quoted from his Monadology. During his natural philosophy period, he highly esteemed Leibniz and his view of nature.
Schelling's time at Jena (1798-1803) put him at the center of the intellectual ferment of Romanticism. Schelling was on close terms with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who appreciated the poetic quality of the Naturphilosophie, reading Von der Weltseele. As the prime minister of the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, Goethe invited Schelling to Jena. On the other hand Schelling was repelled by Friedrich Schiller's less expansive disposition, and was unsympathetic to the ethical idealism that animated Schiller's work. However Schelling presumably studied Schiller's aesthetic writings: later in his Philosophie der Kunst Vorlesung (Lecture on the Philosophy of Art, 1802/03), Schelling expressed disinterest in Schiller's achievement in literature, but in its "General Part", Schiller's theory on the sublime was closely reviewed with a deep respect.
In Jena, Schelling wrote and published numerous books and treatises. He was on good terms with Fichte at first, but their different conceptions, about nature in particular, led to increasing divergence in their thought. Fichte was not pleased that Schelling showed a deep interest in nature and advised him to focus on philosophy in its original meaning, that is, transcendental philosophy: specifically, Fichte's "Wissenschaftlehre". Schelling was initially optimistic about their differences and thought Fichte would eventually understand what Schelling was doing. Schelling considered his natural philosophy an important enhancement of Fichte's idealism. In 1800 Schelling published one of his most notable works System des transcentalen Idealismus (System of transcendental Idealism, 1800). In this book Schelling placed transcendental philosophy and nature philosophy as complementary to one another. Fichte reacted by stating that Schelling was working on the basis of a false philosophical principle: in Fichte's theory nature as Not-Self (Nicht-Ich = object) couldn't be a subject of philosophy, whose essential content is the subjective activity of the human intellect. The gap became unrecoverable in 1800, after Schelling published Darstellung des Systems meiner Philosophie (Description of the system of my philosophy). Fichte thought this title absurd, since philosophy could not be personalized in his opinion. Moreover, in this book Schelling publicly expressed his estimation of Spinoza, whose work Fichte had repudiated as dogmatism, and declared that nature and spirit merely differed in their quantity, but are essentially identical ("Identitaet"). Now, according to Schelling, the absolute was the indifference or identity, which he considered to be an essential subject of philosophy. Schelling, who was becoming the acknowledged leader of the Romantic school, had begun to reject Fichte's thought as cold and abstract. In Schelling's thought, the Romantics hailed a personality of the true Romantic type. Schelling was especially close to August Wilhelm von Schlegel and his wife, Karoline. A marriage between Schelling and Karoline's young daughter, Auguste Böhmer, was contemplated by both. Auguste died of dysentery in 1800, prompting many to blame Schelling, who had overseen her treatment. Robert Richards demonstrates in his book The Romantic Conception of Life that Schelling's interventions were not only wise but most likely irrelevant, as the doctors called to the scene assured everyone involved that Auguste's disease was inevitably fatal. Auguste's death drew Schelling and Karoline even closer. Schlegel had moved to Berlin, and a divorce was arranged (with Goethe's help). Schelling's time at Jena came to an end, and on June 2 1803 he and Karoline were married away from Jena. Their marriage ceremony was the last occasion Schelling met his school friend Hölderlin, who was already mentally ill at that time.
In his Jena period, Schelling had a closer relationship with Hegel again. Thanks to Schelling's help, Hegel became a private lecturer (Privatdozent) at Jena University. Hegel wrote a book titled Differenz des Fichte'schen und Schelling'schen Systems der Philosophie (Difference of the system of the philosophy of Fichte and of Schelling, 1801), and supported Schelling's position against his idealistic predecessors, Fichte and (not mentioned in the title, though) Reinhold. Hegel and Schelling published a philosophical magazine as co-editors and published papers on philosophy of nature, but Schelling was too busy to keep getting involved into its editing and the magazine was mainly Hegel's publication, espousing a thought different from Schelling's. This magazine was abolished when Schelling moved from Jena to Würzburg.
From September 1803 until April 1806 Schelling was professor at the new University of Würzburg. This period was marked by considerable flux in his views and by a final breach with Fichte and Hegel. In Würzburg, a conservative Catholic city, Schelling had had many enemies among his colleagues and the government. He moved to Munich in 1806, where he found a position as a state official, first as associate of the academy of sciences and secretary of the academy of arts, afterwards as secretary of the philosophical section of the academy of sciences. 1806 was also the year Schelling published a book where he criticized Fichte openly, mentioning his name. In 1807 Schelling received Hegel's Phaenomenologie des Geistes (Phaenomenology of the Spirit) and got angry, finding satire directed squarely at his own philosophical theory. Hegel replied to Schelling in a soothing tone, apologizing that he had intended to mock Schelling's followers which lacked real understanding of his thought, and not Schelling himself. Hegel also pointed out that one of the satires, "darkness which makes every cow black," was just taken from Schelling's book describing this kind of superficial argument. But Schelling didn't accept Hegel's words as literal. In the same year, Schelling gave a speech about the relation between the visual art and the nature at the Munich academy of arts, and Hegel wrote a severe criticism about it to one of his friends. After that year, they criticized each other in lecture rooms and in books publicly until the end of their lives.
During the long stay at Munich (1806-1841) Schelling's literary activity came gradually to a standstill. The "Aphorisms on Naturphilosophie" contained in the Jahrbucher der Medicin als Wissenschaft (1806-1808) are for the most part extracts from the Würzburg lectures; and the Denkmal der Schrift von den göttlichen Dingen des Herrn Jacobi was drawn forth by the special incident of Jacobi's work. The only writing of significance is the "Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände" (Investigations of Human Freedom), which appeared in the Philosophische Schriften. vol. i. (1809), and which carries out, with increasing tendency to mysticism, the thoughts of the previous work, Philosophie und Religion (Philosophy and Religion, 1804). However different from the Jena period works, now the evil is not an appearance coming from the quantitative differences between the real and the ideal, but something substantial. This work clearly paraphrased Kant's distinction between intelligible and empirical character. Otherwise, Schelling himself called freedom "a capacity for good and evil."
The tract Über die Gottheiten zu Samothrace appeared in 1815, ostensibly a portion of a greater work, Die Weltalter (The Ages of World), frequently announced as ready for publication, but of which little was ever written. Schelling planned Die Weltalter as three part books, describing the past of the world, or the age of the being possible or can-being (Das Seinkoennende), the present of the world, or the age of the will-being (Das Seinwollende) and the future of the world, or the age of the should-being (Das Seinsollende). Schelling initiated however only the first part, and rewritten it even several times and kept it unpublished at last. Other two parts were left only in program. It is possible that it was the overpowering strength and influence of the Hegelian system that constrained Schelling, for it was only in 1834, after the death of Hegel, that, in a preface to a translation by H. Beckers of a work by Cousin, he gave public utterance to the antagonism in which he stood to the Hegelian, and to his own earlier conceptions of philosophy. The antagonism certainly was not then a new fact; the Erlangen lectures on the history of philosophy of 1822 express the same in a pointed fashion, and Schelling had already begun the treatment of mythology and religion which in his view constituted the true positive complements to the negative of logical or speculative philosophy.
In his own view, Schelling's philosophy fell into three stages:
At all stages of his thought he called to his aid the forms of some other system. Thus Fichte, Spinoza, Jakob Boehme and the mystics, and finally, the great Greek thinkers with their Neoplatonic, Gnostic, and Scholastic commentators, give respectively colouring to particular works. But Schelling did not merely borrow, rather, he shaped his materials into one and the same philosophic effort and spirit.
The function of Naturphilosophie is to exhibit the ideal as springing from the real, not to deduce the real from the ideal. The incessant change which experience brings before us, taken in conjunction with the thought of unity in productive force of nature, leads to the all-important conception of the duality, the polar opposition through which nature expresses itself in its varied products. The dynamical series of stages in nature, the forms in which the ideal structure of nature is realized, are matter, as the equilibrium of the fundamental expansive and contractive forces; light, with its subordinate processes--magnetism, electricity, and chemical action; organism, with its component phases of reproduction, irritability and sensibility.
Just as nature exhibits to us the series of dynamical stages of evolutionary processes by which spirit struggles towards consciousness of itself, so the world of intelligence and practice, the world of mind, exhibits the series of stages through which self-consciousness, with its inevitable oppositions and reconciliations, develops in its ideal form. The theoretical side of inner nature in its successive grades from sensation to the highest form of spirit, the abstracting reason which emphasizes the difference of subjective and objective, leaves an unsolved problem which receives satisfaction only in the practical, the individualizing activity. The practical, again, taken in conjunction with the theoretical, forces on the question of the reconciliation between the free conscious organization of thought and the apparently necessitated and unconscious mechanism of the objective world. In the notion of a teleological connection and in that which for spirit is its own subjective expression, that is, art and genius, the subjective and objective find their point of union.
Along two distinct lines Schelling is to be found in all his later writings striving to amend the conception, to which he remained true, of the absolute as the ultimate ground of reality. It was necessary, in the first place, to give to this absolute a character, to make of it something more than empty sameness; it was necessary, in the second place, to clear up in some way the relation between the actuality or apparent actuality of nature and spirit (Natur und Geist). Unlike Schelling's fellow philosopher and erstwhile friend Georg Hegel, Schelling did not believe that the absolute could be known in its true character through rational inquiry alone. A transcendent apprehension through artistic creativity, or a mystical intuition through religious experience (especially evident in his writings of, and after, the year 1809), was instead required to realize the reality of the "Godhead" that is the absolute, primal ground of all being.
The briefest and best account by Schelling himself of Naturphilosophie is that contained in the Einleitung zu dern Ersten Entwurf (S. W. iii.). A full and lucid statement of Naturphilosophie is that given by K Fischer in his Gesch. d. n. Phil., vi. 433-692.
Until 1950s, Schelling was almost a forgotten philosopher even in his country, Germany. In 1910s and 1920s, philosophers of neokantianism and neohegelianism, like Wilhelm Windelband or Richard Kroner tended to describe Schelling as an episode connecting Fichte and Hegel. His late period tended to be ignored, and his philosophy of nature as well as philosophy of art in 1790s and 1800s were mainly focused. In this context Kuno Fischer characterized Schelling's early philosophy as "aesthetic idealism", focusing his 1900 argument where he ranked art as "the sole document and the eternal organ of philosophy". From socialist philosophers like György Lukács, he received criticism as anachronistic antagonist.
One exception in that age was Martin Heidegger who treated Schellings On Human Freedom in his lecture in 1936. Heidegger found there the central themes of Western ontology - the issues of being, existence and its freedom. In the 1950s, situations began to change. In 1954, the 100 year anniversary of his death, an international conference on Schelling was held. Several notable German speaking philosophers, including Karl Jaspers gave presentations about Schelling, the uniqueness of his thought and actuality of his thought - the interest of philosophers shifting toward his late period thought in which Schelling focusing being and existence, or precisely the origin of existence. Schelling was the subject of the 1954 dissertation of the eminent 20th century German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas. In 1955, the next year of this conference, Jaspers published a book titled Schelling, representing him as a forerunner of existentialists. Walter Schultz, one of organizers of the 1954 conference, published a book too and claimed that Schelling had made the German Idealism complete with his late philosophy, particularly with his Berlin lectures in 1840s. Schultz presented Schelling as the person who resolved philosophical problems which Hegel had left incomplete, in contrast of contemporary thought that Schelling had been overcome by Hegel much earlier and outdated.
In 1970s nature was again one of philosophical interests in relation to environmental issues. Schelling's philosophy of nature, particularly his intention to construct a program which covers both nature and the intellectual in a same system and method and attempt to pick up the nature as a central theme of philosophy has been reevaluated in the contemporary context. His influence and relation to German art scene, particularly to Romanticism literature and visual art, has been a scientific interest since late 1960s, in relation of those past activities including Philipp Otto Runge to the contemporary like Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys.
Also in relation of psychology, Schelling was considered the first philosopher who themed "unconsciousness". The Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalytic theorist Slavoj Zizek has written two books on Schelling, attempting to integrate Schelling's philosophy, mainly his middle period works including Weltalter, with the work of Jacques Lacan.
"History as a whole is a progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the Absolute." (System of Transcendental Idealism, 1800)
"Now if the appearance of freedom is necessarily infinite, the total evolution of the Absolute is also an infinite process, and history itself a never wholly completed revelation of that Absolute which, for the sake of consciousness, and thus merely for the sake of appearance, separates itself into conscious and unconscious, the free and the intuitant; but which itself, however, in the inaccessible light wherein it dwells, is Eternal Identity and the everlasting ground of harmony between the two.” (System of Transcendental Idealism, 1800)
“Has creation a final goal? And if so, why was it not reached at once? Why was the consummation not realized from the beginning? To these questions there is but one answer: Because God is Life, and not merely Being.” (Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, 1809)
"Only he who has tasted freedom can feel the desire to make over everything in its image, to spread it throughout the whole universe." (Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, 1809)
"As there is nothing before or outside of God he must contain within himself the ground of his existence. All philosophies say this, but they speak of this ground as a mere concept without making it something real and actual." (Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, 1809)
"[The Godhead] is not divine nature or substance, but the devouring ferocity of purity that a person is able to approach only with an equal purity. Since all Being goes up in it as if in flames, it is necessarily unapproachable to anyone still embroiled in Being." (The Ages of the World, c.1815)
"God then has no beginning only insofar as there is no beginning of his beginning. The beginning in God is eternal beginning, that is, such a one as was beginning from all eternity, and still is, and also never ceases to be beginning." (Quoted in Hartshorne & Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1953, p. 237.)