In his attempt to reduce nature to a mere negative condition, a self-created object of thought, and to make spirit all in all, Fichte "turned the life of the spirit itself into something shadowy and spectral—a conflict with a ghost that could not be laid."
It is here that the need for Schelling's work arises to supplement the one-sided Idealism of Fichte. Contend as he might that what he meant was the absolute totality of consciousness, and strive as he would to enforce the doctrine that self-consciousness, which is the ultimate ground of reality, was not to be regarded as merely individual, he never succeeded in divesting his theory of a certain air of subjectivity. His absolute has no contents, and remains a mere barren form. He has nothing to say about the external world. His interest in it is only ethical, and Nature but serves as the sphere in which individuals realize themselves and fulfil their duty. But Nature refuses to be regarded simply as part of the non-ego. It demands a justification not less than thought as an element of the system of Reason. It was the indifference of Fichte to this side of the problem that compelled Schelling to undertake what he called his Durchbruch sur Realität, and to assert that the intelligence could find itself in Nature as well as in itself. According to Fichte, only knowledge by itself alone had existence, all that we are conscious of is our own thinking. Schelling maintained that if there be knowledge, there must also be something that is to be known: that, in short, if there be knowledge there must be existence. Schelling, therefore, sought to substitute for Fichte's formula, "the ego is everything" (Ich is Alles), the wider principle—"everything is the ego" (Alles ist Ich), by which he meant that one principle manifests itself in the natural and the spiritual world alike. "Nature is to be visible intelligence, and intelligence invisible nature."
In opposing an objective Idealism to Fichte's subjective Idealism, Schelling himself was led to reject Idealism altogether and to propound a philosophy of identity, in which the difference of nature and spirit was so completely merged that the reality of both was lost and the absolute became a pure point of indifference to be apprehended only by mystic contemplation or intuitive feeling.
Friederich Wilhelm Schelling was born at Leonberg in Württemberg in 1775. Endowed with remarkable precocity, he entered Tubingen University in his fifteenth year, where he was a fellow-student of Hegel. At the age of seventeen he wrote an essay on the Mosaic Account of the Fall. Towards the close of his college career, his first two philosophical works appeared, written from the Fichtian standpoint, On the possibility of a form of Philosophy in general and Of the Ego as a Principle of Philosophy. In 1798 he became tutor in Jena, and in the following year succeeded Fichte in the Chair of Philosophy. While in Jena he edited, afterwards in conjunction with Hegel, the Critical Journal of Philosophy. In 1803 ne was called to Würzburg, and a few years later he became a member of the New Academy of Munich, and after the death of Jacobi, its president. In 1841 he removed to Berlin, where he delivered several courses of lectures, particularly on the Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation. For many years he published nothing of importance. His works are comprised in fourteen vols., only ten of which were published in his lifetime. He died at Rogatz in Switzerland in 1854. Besides the works mentioned, the most important of his writings are his System of Natural Philosophy (1799) and his System of Transcendental Idealism (1800).
It is not an easy matter to present a clear outline of the philosophy of Schelling. It does not present a finished whole, but is rather a series of views which reflect the author's own mental development. It has been usual to group the productions of Schelling, as we have done, under three or four successive heads or periods. In the first, he was under the influence of Fichte. In the second and third the influence of Spinoza and Jacob Boehme is evident, while the fourth group is tinged with mysticism.
1st Period. Schelling, a disciple of Fichte. Schelling began as an adherent of Fichte, holding that the ego is the supreme principle of philosophy. The ego posits itself, and is conditioned only by itself. But in his work on the Ego, Schelling makes the transition to the absolute ego as the ground of the opposition between the ego and the non-ego. The existence of the objective world is as firmly believed in as the existence of the subjective; they are, indeed, both given in the same act. We cannot be conscious of ourselves without being aware also of something outside ourselves. Likewise we cannot know of the existence of any external object without at the same moment connecting it with a consciousness of ourselves. Hence we conclude that both exist, not separately, but identified in some higher power. The true principle of philosophy and the ultimate ground of all our knowledge is, therefore, The Absolute Ego. But this absolute being can only be comprehended by an intellectual intuition.
In his letters on Dogmatics and Criticism, Schelling controverts Kant's position that all knowledge is limited to phenomena, and affirms "a secret wonderful faculty which dwells in us all" of beholding the transcendental ground of all reality, which he calls "Intellectual Intuition," a faculty which corresponds to the Reason of Plato, Kant, and Spinoza, and has also some affinity with the "faith" of Jacobi.
2nd Period. Philosophy of Nature and Transcendental Idealism, 1796-1800. Here we find Schelling supplementing the Fichtian doctrine of the ego by showing that the whole of nature may be regarded as a process by which the spirit rises to a consciousness of itself—by which, indeed, Subjective Idealism may be supplemented by Objective Idealism.
It is in this period that Schelling first diverges from Fichte and creates a new departure in German philosophy. The new thought which Schelling now introduces is that Nature, not less than Mind, is a form of the revelation of the Absolute Ego. Both matter and mind are the two sides of a higher unity. Nature is visible spirit: spirit, invisible nature. The one is the counterpart of the other, and in nature the soul contemplates itself. In other words, nature comes to self-consciousness in spirit. There is something symbolic in everything material. Every plant and lower product of life may be regarded as an externalized beat of the heart. The entire system of the universe is an organism formed from the centre outwards, and rising from lower to higher stages of being. Nature, whose end is to reflect itself, or to reveal the spirit, attains its climax in man. The absolute Ideal and the absolute Real are the same. Nature and spirit are, indeed, but the two poles of the same knowledge. Hence in his system of Transcendental Idealism (1800) we find Schelling speaking of the two fundamental and complementary sciences—Transcendental Philosophy and Speculative Physics—which together constitute the whole of knowledge. The one starts with nature and seeks to rise to God; the other starts with thought and endeavours to deduce from it nature.
a. The Philosophy of Nature presents a picture of the Intellectual world in the forms and laws of the world of phenomena, and its object is to construct intelligence from nature.
Nature is always in a state of activity, and its central conception is life. The system of nature is, therefore, ruled by the thought that in it the objective reason struggles upwards from its material modes of manifestation through the multitude of forms to the organism in which it comes to consciousness. Nature pursues its goal by a process of duality, by the opposition of forces which negate each other in a higher unity. The two factors thus in constant antagonism are Productivity and the Product. Productivity is the active force which develops itself in all things. The Product is this activity arrested and solidified in a fact, which, however, is always ready to pass again into activity. Thus the world is a balancing of contending forces within the sphere of the Absolute.
Schelling divides the philosophy of nature into three parts: (1) Organic Nature, (2) Inorganic Nature, and (3) The Reciprocity of the two.
(1) Organic Nature is infinite activity, infinite productivity, which is, however, constantly checked by a retarding activity, with the result that a series of finite products is brought about. Nature is concerned not so much with the individual as with the genus, and is, therefore, in its productive activity always striving after higher forms.
The three ground-functions of organic nature are: (1) Reproduction. (2) Irritability. (3) Sensibility. Those forms of life stand highest in which sensibility or feeling prevails.
(2) Inorganic Nature is opposed to Organic, and while the elements of the latter are productive, those of the former are unproductive. While organic nature is concerned with production, the inorganic is occupied with individual products. Inorganic nature is mere mass, held together by outward causes. But like organic nature it too has its grades, which are: chemistry, electricity, magnetism.
(3) The Reciprocity of the Organic and Inorganic Worlds. These are related to and act on each other. As neither can exist apart, both must have a common origin. In nature as a whole there is an inner principle of life; a world-soul must dwell within which unites all the differences in one universal organism.
b. Transcendental Philosophy is the counterpart of the philosophy of nature. It begins at the other end and reconstructs the universe from the standpoint of intelligence. Here Schelling endeavours to develop a History of the Ego—in other words, to unfold the various stages of self-consciousness. The Transcendental Philosophy has three departments.
(1) Theoretic Philosophy, the object of which is to account for the inner world of self. It seeks to do this by showing the progress of intelligence in re-creating the life of the ego through sensation, perception, and reflection.
(2) Practical Philosophy. The principle of practical philosophy is the will or the free determination of self. The will seeks to realize itself in the world of moral action, in the individual, in the State, and in history.
(3) Aesthetic Philosophy or Art. In neither theoretic nor practical philosophy does reason, according to Schelling, reach its highest realization. This is only possible through the activity of the artistic genius.
3rd Period. System of Identity. The writings of this period are: System of Philosophy, Bruno, and Method of Academic Study.
At the head of this system he places the notion of the Absolute and defines it as absolute reason—the total "indifference" of subject and object. The absolute is represented by the symbol of the magnet. As it is the same principle which divides itself in the magnet into north and south poles, the centre of which is the Indifference-point, so in like manner does the Absolute divide itself into the real and ideal, and holds itself in this separation as absolute Indifference. Hence, Schelling's philosophy is frequently called the "Indifference Philosophy." Reason is the indifference-point. He who rises to it, attains to the true point of view. The highest reason, while it includes both subject and object, in another sense abstracts itself from both. It is the nature of philosophy to eliminate wholly space and time, all differences generally, and to see all things in the light of absolute reason. Knowledge, in other words, is a knowledge of things as they are. The highest law of reason is the law of absolute identity—A equals A—which is the principle of the universe itself.
Subject and object being thus identical, the absolute Identity is the absolute Totality. There can be no difference except a quantitative difference between subject and object. In all things both are mixed in different degrees. A preponderance on the one side or other Schelling calls a "Potence," and the Absolute is the Identity of all Potences. If we could behold all that is in its totality, we should see a perfect equality. On the side of nature, weight is the first potence. Light is the second, and the third is the common product of both light and weight, viz.—the organism. As in the material world, so in the ideal sphere; the Potences here are: Knowledge, action, and reason; reason being the union of knowledge and action. These three potences represent the true, the good, the beautiful.
It is in this period, and especially in his lectures on academic study, that Schelling first brings Christianity into the realm of his philosophy.
Corresponding to the antithesis of real and ideal, of Nature and History, there is a similar antithesis in history itself. The ancient world with its naturalistic religions represents the preponderance of Nature, while in Christianity the ideal is revealed. In the progress of history we may detect three stages: the period of Nature, which reached its bloom in Greek poetry and religion; the period of Fate, at the end of the ancient world; and the period of Providence, which began with Christianity. God became objective for the first time in Christ. The Incarnation is not, however, to be regarded as a mere fact in time: it is an eternal act. Christ sacrifices in his Person the finite, in order to admit of the advent of the Spirit as the light of a new world. The fundamental dogma of Christianity is the Trinity.
At the same time, the Bible must be regarded as the principal hindrance of Christendom. As the repository of superstition and legend it perpetuates ignorance and obscures the light of reason. The regeneration of Christianity is to be brought about by Speculative Knowledge alone, in which religion and poetry will be united in a higher form of truth.
4th Period. In the final phase of his philosophy, Schelling tends to mysticism under the influence of Neoplatonism and Jacob Boehme. The writings which represent this period are Philosophy and Religion, Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, and his posthumous lectures on The Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation.
In his work on Freedom he deals with the relation of man's will to the Divine will. He now conceives of God as the basis or Urgrund, in which all beings, including man, have their cause. We cannot really know what God is—He is a dark, blind will or eternal yearning, which is ever seeking to reproduce itself. God only attains to a consciousness of Himself by the yearning taking the form of thought. Thus yearning and thought are one in God, the Almighty Will which creates all things.
In man also these two principles are united as the principle of Nature and the principle of Light. According to the principle of Nature man is to be regarded as possessing a will or impulse of his own: as gifted with understanding he is the organ of the Universal Will.
In these two impulses or tendencies lies the distinction between Good and Evil—the presupposition of human freedom. The preponderance of man's particular will is Evil. Only through God can the particular and the universal will be reunited. This takes place by God assuming man's nature. On the stage of the world's history we have enacted the conflict between the particular and the universal will. Christ is the middle-point of history. Christ becomes man, suffers and dies to secure human freedom and reunite humanity with God.
In his lectures on Mythology and Revelation Schelling would appear to give up the attempt to reach the unity after which all the earlier stages of his speculation were striving. Here he develops the difference between a positive and negative philosophy. Reason, he says, can only yield the form of Reality, and a speculative system is at best but an outward order or arrangement of truth. After all, it is in the sphere of actuality, by the activity of the will that we attain to knowledge.
Thought has no power to create reality. The will alone postulates an actual God. This longing for the actual God is religion. Philosophy, therefore, leads to faith, and is completed by it. Hence the true progress of philosophy is revealed first in mythology and afterwards in revelation. Schelling proceeds to trace the evolution of the idea of God in history, showing that it passes from Pantheism or Monotheism to Polytheism, and thence to the Trinitarian God of Revelation. The history of the world may be regarded as God coming to Himself.
In closing the lectures on this subject, Schelling glances at the history of the Church. He distinguishes three great periods, and names them after the three chief apostles— Peter, Paul, and John. The first two periods—the Petrine and the Pauline—represent Catholicism and Protestantism. These have already had their day. The third—the Christianity of John, which is to rise on the ruins of the two former—belongs to the future.
Schilling's system as a whole can scarcely be regarded as an advance upon that of Fichte, though there are certain departments neglected by Fichte to which Schelling has given prominence, in particular we may mention that of Nature and of Art. With regard to the latter, though his treatment is in general artificial and formal, there is much that is suggestive of which later writers, and especially Hegel and Schopenhauer, have availed themselves. If Fichte set out from Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, it may be said that Schelling made the Critique of Judgment his starting point. Many of Kant's ideas as to the Sublime and Beautiful are developed by Schelling. The idea of the distinction between Nature and Art as a distinction between conscious and unconscious production is common to both. Nature has the appearance of design without being the conscious product of design. In Art, which is the product of inspiration, we have the embodied ideal which the moral life is ever striving to reach, but only approximately attains to. The aesthetic faculty may be said to take the place in Schelling's system which the moral impulse occupies in Fichte's. In his practical philosophy Schelling holds generally the same ground as Fichte. Fichte's idea of "Anstoss" or opposition is for Schelling also the starting point; and even in his later philosophy, when treating of the will, he is still in substantial agreement with the notion that fredom is obtained by the conquest of man over the limitations of his lower self.
Both philosophers deal with religion, and it is significant that each in his own way seeks to find a justification and rationale of the Christian faith. But while with Fichte Christianity comes in as a kind of addendum, and is not an integral part of his system, with Schelling it is a necessary factor and stage in the evolution of the world's life.
In general, while both Fichte and Schelling occupy the same fundamental position and regard experience as the total of reality, the philosophy of Fichte may be said to be static, while that of Schelling is dynamic. The one views the universe as stationary, the other as a movement. Fichte starts with an eternal fact, Schelling with an endless becoming. The one system is an involution, the other an evolution. While Fichte analyses the elements of consciousness, Schelling elaborates the history of its contents. Schelling felt that the eternal fact in which Fichte summed up the universe must be unfolded on its objective as well as its subjective side. Philosophy must proceed from the abstract fact to reveal the riches of intelligence both in nature and history. To show the inner connection and development of the whole world was the task which Schelling essayed, and which Hegel took up. Schelling speaks of the "dynamic process of nature," and while he treats of nature in the form of an emanation, he regards intelligence, on the other side, as an evolution, beginning with intellectual perception and closing with aesthetic reason.
Fichte's system is clear, exact, cold; Schelling's hazy and mystical, yet full of colour and warmth. Fichte delights in subtle distinctions and minute differences: Schelling is ever seeking after analogies and identities: Fichte is the stern moralist: Schelling the genial romanticist. Fichte's style is vigorous, but hard and dry: Schelling's is poetical and flowing.
When all is said, the absolute identity of Schelling does not materially differ from the universal ego of Fichte. His absolute reason consists in an equilibrium or "indifference" of subject and object. There is no real distinction between the two. It is a unity akin to that of Spinoza in which all life and variety are quenched in blank identity. It is to little purpose that Schelling calls the absolute "reason," so long as he proceeds to treat it as a predicateless identity—an identity in which subject and object are regarded as two elements that completely coincide, or as two forces which annihilate one another. To say that reason equally manifests itself in both is equivalent to saying that it does not manifest itself at all. If the absolute unity becomes a pure "indifference point" it is in effect reduced to an empty form, a mere name.
In conclusion, Schelling's philosophy may be divided into three main divisions—the philosophy of nature, the philosophy of identity, and the antithesis of Positive and Negative philosophy.
With regard to the first, Schelling's chief contribution is, that in opposition to Fichte he is led to emphasize the position of nature as well as of spirit in the total development of self-consciousness. Nature is not merely a limitation by which the activity of the spirit realizes itself. Nature is to be conceived as the manifestation of thought. But it is something concrete and positive, having its own structure and features. Nature and Spirit are distinct, but in both the principle of development is essentially thought. In the one case—the case of Nature—it is thought struggling towards consciousness; in the other—that of Spirit—it is thought advancing from mere sensation to reflection. The philosophy of nature and the philosophy of mind are, therefore, at once parallel and complementary. But now the question to which Schelling's view of nature and spirit naturally led was, what is the one principle which expresses itself in both ? Both point to a common basis. The attempt to find this common substratum gave rise to Schelling's Philosophy of Identity. His speculations at this point drew forth the adverse criticism of Hegel, who compared his neutral ground to the nighttime, in which all cows are black. Schelling's method of explaining particularity—as a more or less, a preponderance on one side or the other, resembles, says Hegel, the effort of a painter who possesses only two colours, green and red, and applies to his picture now more of the one, and now more of the other.
In his search for a more adequate expression of the absolute, Schelling has recourse to mysticism, using at one time the ideas of Neoplatonism, and at another the language of Jacob Boehme. He is constrained to distinguish in the absolute two factors—one a dark, indeterminate element, the other a form of activity by means of which the world, as we know it, comes forth into being.
It will thus be seen that the philosophy of Schelling ends in a dualism. While subjective idealism only attained a unity at the expense of one of the factors, Schelling only escapes the one-sidedness of Fichte by establishing a formal abstract identity in which the differences are affirmed, but not finally harmonized.