Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854), together with J.G. Fichte and G.W.F. Hegel, is considered to be one of the three key figures of German Idealism. His philosophical oeuvre is most commonly divided into his (1) early period (1794-1800), (2) his Philosophy of Identity (1801-1809), (3) his middle period (1809-1827), and, finally, (4) the Positive and Negative Philosophy, and his critique of Hegel in his late period (1827-1854). His early period is broadly motivated by the systematic question of Kant’s third Critique, that is, of the unity between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom which Schelling approaches from the perspective of both the subject (Transcendental Philosophy) and object (Philosophy of Nature). Schelling pursues the same question in his Philosophy of Identity but his method in this period resembles a neo-Platonic self-division of an independent ground of freedom and nature, the absolute identity of freedom and necessity. In his middle period, Schelling adds to his earlier view of absolute freedom (freedom that is identical with necessity) the view of freedom as a capacity for both good and evil. In his late period, he criticizes Hegel’s system according to which thought exhausts the whole reality (Negative Philosophy) and argues for the primacy of being over thought (Positive Philosophy).
Although neglected for many years in the Anglophone world, Schelling’s thought remains very much present with us today. Schelling’s view that there are aspects of the self that continuously escape self-consciousness indicates the ongoing relevance of Schelling’s philosophy for psychoanalysis. By assigning a unique place to art, a place that was traditionally assigned to logic in the history of philosophy, namely, art as the “organon” or instrument of philosophy, Schelling admits the limitations of philosophy, which for him is no longer a self-sufficient practice. Schelling’s understanding of identity between mind and nature resonates in the mind-body debates of contemporary analytic philosophy, especially the works of Geach and Davidson. His grounding of our agency in a reality that exceeds the grasp of reason anticipates the later “existentialist” tradition. And finally Schelling’s view that being precedes all reflection entails the idea of historical and empirical contingency which paved the way to Marxist materialism and to some more recent European philosophies that are keen on emphasizing the limits of our rationality.
The key works of Schelling’s early period are Of the I as the Principle of Philosophy or on the Unconditional in Human Knowledge (1795) [, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature as Introduction to the Study of this Science (1797) [von Schelling 1988], and System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) [von Schelling 1978]. The most important works of his Philosophy of Identity are Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801) [Schelling 2001] and The Philosophy of Art (1802-3) [Schelling 2008]. The two central works of his middle period are Of Human Freedom (1809) [Schelling et al 2006] and The Ages of the World (1811-15). And finally the key works of his late period are Foundations of the Positive Philosophy (1832-3) [Schelling & Wirth 2007], Philosophy of Revelation (1841-2), and Philosophy of Mythology (1842) [Schelling & Wirth 2007].
Online encyclopedia articles: Andrew Bowie, “Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling” [Bowie 2008]. Book-length introductory works: Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy: An Introduction [Bowie 1993]; Manfred Frank, Eine Einfuehrung in Schellings Philosophie [Frank 1995].
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