Dissertation, University of Toronto (2013)

What conditions the possibility of existentially valuable experience? Against nihilism, the threat that philosophical cognition undermines the very idea of purposiveness, German idealism posits that we are unconditionally conditioned by life, construed as the infinite purposive activity of reason. I reconstruct Schelling’s critique of this project as defending the idea that death conditions or puts into question our rational activity. Scholars tend to read the idealists as rejecting Kant’s idea of an unknowable thing in itself by grounding philosophy on a knowable first principle and tend to situate Schelling as a phase between or a late attack on Fichte and Hegel. Part I gives a systematic account missing on the former, arguing that idealism is an instance of immortalism, which holds that life is the unconditioned condition of rational activity, while death is unconditionally conditioned. Part II gives a historical account missing on the latter, arguing that Schelling is an early and continual critic of idealism on behalf of mortalism, which holds that death unconditionally conditions rational activity. My first argument modifies typical readings of German idealism, revealing a deep connection between its rejection Kant’s idea and its refusal to let death put us into question. My second complicates typical readings of Schelling, casting his mortalism as rehabilitating the idea that something radically outstrips rational activity while representing a regulative ideal. Although Schelling’s mortalism anticipates Heidegger’s, they differ: Schelling aligns death with the goal of systematic knowing, Heidegger with taking over one’s history as care. But Schelling overcomes immortalism, enabling Heidegger’s idea of death. Part III shows this idea is structurally analogous to Kant’s idea of the thing in itself. Immortalism’s failure leaves unsolved two antinomies I argue are formally identical and only solvable by thinking these ideas as boundary concepts the thought of which is necessary for the unity, respectively, of finite being and finite understanding. By reconstructing the role of death in Schelling’s internal critique of German idealism, then, my thesis also brings into closer contact Kant’s transcendental and Heidegger’s existential projects.
Keywords Schelling  German idealism  mortality  life  Fichte  mortalism  immortalism  thing in itself
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