Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Schelling's "Philosophy and Religion"

At the end of this week, the graduate students in philosophy at the University of Ottawa will be hosting a conference on German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies. I will be giving a plenary address on Friday night on Schelling's absolute idealism and the recently translated Philosophy and Religion. What follows is a short synopsis of my talk.

If we are going to talk about the legacy of the work of F.W.J. Schelling, especially if we are going to talk about his work prior to the Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, we must confront two difficulties: first, we need to demonstrate the falsity of the caricature of Schelling as a protean thinker; and second, we need to bring some clarity to the relative obscurity of his thought during the period of absolute idealism or identity-philosophy. Both of these difficulties can be overcome if we can identify the threads in Schelling's thought that repeatedly emerge through his transition from his early attempts to mediate between Fichte and Spinoza, through his absolute idealism, to his philosophy of freedom or revelation.

I have discussed Schelling's persistent interest in the philosophy of art elsewhere. In my talk tomorrow, I will look at how he thinks, and rethinks, the problem of the transition from the infinite to the finite from the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism (1795-1796), the Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801), to Philosophy and Religion (1804)

I will argue that once he rejects the subjective idealism of his work through 1800, Schelling finds it necessary to reconceptualize the ‘transition from the infinite to the finite’ that had been crux of his distinction between criticism and dogmatism. In the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, Schelling (like Jacobi before him) argues that philosophy cannot speculate on the transition from the infinite to the finite; however, unlike Jacobi, he argues that critical idealism’s emphasis on practical reason provides an account of how the infinite can be intuited in the finite as a categorical imperative, which for Schelling is the realization of freedom (I: 314-316). This, he argues in 1795-1796, avoids the so-called dogmatism of Spinoza, but in 1801, how can Schelling avoid reconsidering the relation of the infinite and finite when he announces a system of absolute idealism (or identity-philosophy) that takes Spinoza as its explicit forerunner “in terms of content or material and in form” (IV: 113)?

I will argue that in Philosophy of Religion Schelling develops several important aspects of the solution to this contradiction that anticipate those in Of Human Freedom. In Philosophy and Religion, Schelling argues that the only a “leap” can accomplish the transition from the infinite to the finite. This leap is conceptualized as a series of falls: “there is no continuous transition from the absolute to the actual; the origin (Ursprung) of the phenomenal world is conceivable only as a complete falling-away from absoluteness by means of a leap (Sprung)” (VI: 38). First, nature—the phenomenal world—falls away from the absolute and the ideas, and second, the fall of man occurs so that human freedom emerges, which opens the possibility of finitude's reconciliation with the Absolute (VI: 43). The concept of the fall, especially as the fall of humanity, plays an important role in Of Human Freedom. We will see that, far from being a protean thinker who repeatedly takes up questions only to quickly abandon them, or who develops them without a logical aspect, that Schelling rigorously pursues the consequences of thinking the relationship between freedom, ground, and system.

No comments: