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Epistemologies of rupture: the problem of nature in Schelling's philosophy.

IN HIS 1801 ESSAY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FICHTE'S AND SCHELLING'S System of Philosophy, Hegel set out that difference in terms of a contrast between reflective and speculative philosophy. Dichotomy, rupture [Entzweiung], he argued, gives rise to the need for philosophy, a rupturing which reflective philosophy both seeks to resolve and exasperates. The understanding strives to enlarge itself to the absolute, but, in its finitude, it only reproduces itself endlessly, positing oppositions within itself and its products, and so mocks itself. (1) The being of nature, in particular, is either dissolved into abstractions or remains but a deadly darkness within intellect. Although Fichte was Hegel's prime target here, much of contemporary philosophy was included in his critique. Hegel argued that the identity philosophy of Schelling, however, in which reason raises itself to speculation and provides a positive account of being, overcomes such finitudes and ruptures. The Critical Journal of Philosophy that Schelling and Hegel launched from Jena in 1802, critical of the limitations of proliferating contemporary philosophical systems, sought to establish an objective philosophical criticism based upon such a speculative use of reason. (2)

In Germany at the turn of the nineteenth century, all philosophy, and especially all philosophical criticism, began with reference to Kant's critical philosophy. In the "Preface" to his Difference essay, Hegel praised the spirit of Kantian philosophy, the speculative principle articulated in the transcendental deduction of the categories, but deprecated the "remainder"--the hypostatization of the thing-in-itself, the transformation of the categories into dead compartments of the understanding and their opposition to the empirical realm of sensation, the restriction of practical reason to what can be conceived by the understanding--all of which became fodder for reflective philosophy (Hegel, Differenz 5-6). Kant never had the opportunity to comment on the project of The Critical Journal of Philosophy, but his own critical project started from exposing the errors and contradictions of reason in its purely speculative use and arguing for its restriction to finite, empirical knowledge. Nevertheless, Kant's critical works were primarily preoccupied with the cognitive processes involved in the production of such knowledge, with the laws of reason that are the necessary conditions of possible experience, with interrogating how cognition in general is possible. Yet Kant left a problematic rupture in his critical examination of the conditions and sources of cognition, a rupture that he explicitly acknowledged and graphically represented in the "Introduction" to his 1790 Critique of Judgment as "an immense gulf [Kluft]" between the two domains of our cognitive powers, that in which understanding legislates through the concept of nature and that in which reason legislates through the concept of reason, the subjects of his first two critiques. (3) For Kant, this chasm leaves indeterminate not only how freedom was to be reconciled with the necessity of nature, but also how nature was to be comprehended as an organized system. We are left merely with reflective judgments of these relations, problematic acts of synthesis, rather than determinative judgments based upon the necessary laws of cognition. Kant also acknowledged a rupture in his attempt to determine the conditions and sources of cognition in his 1782 Critique of Pure Reason, when he referred the relation of sensory intuition and understanding to a "common," "unknown root [Wurzel]." (4) As Heidegger has argued, it is the transcendental imagination that acts as this "unknown root," unconsciously relating the concepts of understanding to the manifold of intuition in judgment. Indeed, it is the unconscious transcendental imagination that enacts the synthesis of the manifold of intuition, prior to apperception, to produce a unified representation of appearances for reflective consciousness in Kant's celebrated, if problematic, "Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding." (5) If Kant designated specific judgments as indeterminate and hence a problem for critical reflection in his Critique of Judgment, the unconscious role of the transcendental imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason means that even purportedly determinate judgments have an indeterminate basis. (6) Hegel and Schelling regarded reflection as an instrument for producing philosophical awareness of the unconscious synthetic activity of thought, but argued that only an intellectual intuition is able to overcome the dichotomizing inherent in reflection. (7) Indeed, intellectual intuition is purported to enact consciously what the transcendental imagination enacts unconsciously. The speculative philosophy Schelling and Hegel advocated around 1800 appears a less radical departure from Kant's critical philosophy when the central role of the transcendental imagination in the first critique is acknowledged.

Jena was the perfect site for Schelling and Hegel to launch The Critical Journal of Philosophy. The university was the center for post-Kantian philosophy at the end of the eighteenth century, with Reinhold, one of Kant's chief expositors, the Professor of Philosophy from 1787, only to be replaced on retiring by Fichte in 1794; and it was the home of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, the leading journal for the dissemination of Kantian philosophy from 1785 to 1803. If Kant drew attention to the extent to which our knowledge is dependent upon cognitive processes, he did not provide an account of our knowledge of those cognitive processes. Post-Kantian philosophy thus introduced a second order critique--it not only asked how knowledge is possible, but also asked how a critique of knowledge is possible. Fichte introduced his Wissenschaftslehre, the science of knowledge or theory of philosophy, as such a meta-critique that took the critical philosophy itself as an object, and posed the question of how we know the necessary conditions of cognition. (8) Fichte argued that we have an indubitable awareness of our own rational activity, of the activity of the I [Ich] in thinking. His claim was that the self-positing activity of the I is the "first, absolutely unconditioned principle of all human knowledge" (Grundlage 255; FsW 1: 91). Fichte further argued that this pure activity of the I can only become determinate and present for the self through the counterpositing of a not-I [Nicht-Ich] in opposition to the I. But as Hegel relentlessly made clear in his Difference essay, the not-I, if postulated to be a product of the activity of the I, remains an unconscious product. In attempting to provide a foundation for critical philosophy, Fichte's science of knowledge thus only transposed the rupture at the core of Kant's system of philosophy into a rupture within the self. In introducing the self-positing activity of the I as the foundation of all knowledge, Fichte only provided a subjective account of the relationship between the subjective and objective sides of knowledge, what Hegel described as a "subjective subject-object," in which the not-I remains unconscious, the problem of nature a darkness within consciousness.

In his Difference essay Hegel praised Schelling's philosophy, in contrast, for giving equal weight to our knowledge of the universe "as an organization intuited as objective and appearing as independent" and "the universe constructed by and for intelligence," to Naturphilosophie and transcendental idealism. (9) Such a complete philosophical system, Hegel maintained, is only possible when speculative philosophy makes the synthetic acts effecting the construction of nature as transparent to the intellect as those of its own activity, the project of Schelling's Naturphilosophie. Yet Schelling had difficulties living up to the promise Hegel saw in his philosophy. The persistent problem in all Schelling's various philosophical systems, a problem he never resolved to his lasting satisfaction, was how to give nature life by demonstrating its construction without destroying its positive presence. In the Naturphilosophie that Schelling developed from 1797, if he started from a construction of nature after Kant that sought to demonstrate the theoretical principles necessary for the possibility of nature, he applied the methods of critical philosophy more relentlessly than Kant, extending them even to the empirical concept of matter. The result was that all natural phenomena became problems for reflective judgment, and were conceived as complex organizations of formal and material principles, of activity and constraint, whose synthetic principle remained indeterminate. Moreover, his relentless critical construction of nature resulted in the positive presence of nature being dissolved into an abstract relation. Having thus abstracted the phenomena of nature into theoretical principles in his speculative physics, in his 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism Schelling turned his attention to tracing the genesis of all concepts of nature from the activity of thought according to the principles of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. He concluded that the problems plaguing transcendental idealism, the dichotomizing effect of the self's reflection on its own activity and the counterpositing of the I to the not-I that left the not-I as an unconscious element within consciousness, could only be resolved through art. Kant's critical philosophy remained important here, but now on the Critique of Judgment and its concern with the reflective judgment of organized nature and art. Schelling's interest in art was also influenced by the Jena Romantics--their critical reflections upon the fragmentation and incompletion of all art, their attention to process of artistic production, and their conception of the relationship between the fragmentary individual and the system in terms of potentiation. Schelling conceived organized nature in analogous terms. But in attempting to articulate an absolute principle as the foundation of the whole system of nature and art, of every potency of the real and the ideal, Schelling again found himself reduced to abstract formulations, attempting to conceive it through a paradoxical logic of indifference as the identity of identity and difference. Hegel appears to have been disturbed by this aspect of Schelling's identity philosophy--even in the Difference essay there is an implicit criticism of it as empty formalism. It is thus not surprising that soon after attempting a collaboration on The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, the philosophies of Hegel and Schelling developed in quite distinctive ways. In his 1807 The Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel would seal his separation from Shelling's mode of philosophizing by condemning it as falling back into "inert simplicity" and even expounding "reality itself in an unreal manner." (10)

But what Hegel saw as the failure of Schelling's philosophy is perhaps its most interesting aspect. Schelling is often represented as the grandest of metaphysical system builders. Yet developing his philosophy in the context of rigorous philosophical reflection and critique, reflection not only upon the conditions of knowledge but also upon the conditions of philosophy and critique, he encountered at every point the problem of rupture. Pursuing the ideal into its furthest reaches, he could only conceive it in terms of an abstract Band; pursuing the real, he either similarly theorized it into an abstract Band or was left with an incomprehensible dark presence. In his 1809 essay Philosophical Enquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom these problems are presented in stark and irresolvable terms. Dichotomy now extends even to God, who is conceived in terms of ground and existence. The ground of God, his impenetrable and unruly nature, persists in created nature as that which cannot be brought to order. And the absolute principle of indifference is now articulated only negatively, as nonground [Ungrund]. Thus a fundamental incompletion remained the core of each of Schelling's attempts at a philosophical system, an incompletion in which the problem of nature has a particular prominence. His unwillingness to publish after the Freedom essay perhaps was an acknowledgement of his inability to produce a complete philosophical system. (11) As he would argue late in life, in his Munich lectures of 1832-33:
 Nothing is easier than to displace oneself into the realm of pure
 thinking; but it is not so easy then to escape that realm. The
 world does not consist of mere categories or pure concepts, ... but
 of concrete and contingent things, and what must be considered is the
 illogical, the other, which is not concept, but its opposite, which
 only unwilling accepts the concept. It is here that philosophy must
 take its test. (12)


The Construction of Nature: Schelling's Naturphilosophie

When Schelling arrived in Jena in 1798 to take up the position of Professor of Philosophy, he was only twenty-three, yet he already had a considerable number of publications to his credit. He had completed two substantive works on Naturphilosophie, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature in 1797 and On the World Soul in 1798. He had also published several essays critically responding to Fichte's writings between 1794 and 1797. The engagement with Fichte's science of knowledge began when Schelling was a student at a seminary in Tubingen together with Hegel and Holderlin. But he had developed an interest in Naturphilosophie by the close of his studies in 1796, an interest he was able to pursue that autumn when, taking a position as a tutor to an aristocratic family, he traveled to Leipzig, an important center for the study of the natural sciences at that time. (13) At Leipzig Schelling engrossed himself in the study of contemporary physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine. His first works on Naturphilosophie also display a close reading of Kant's critiques and his 1786 Metaphysical Foundation of Natural Science. The Ideas introduced the project of Naturphilosophie through a precocious dialogue with this complex of formidable sources, and particularly Kant's philosophy of nature.

Schelling made clear that the concern of his Naturphilosophie was not to present a system of nature once it exists, but "the possibility of a nature"; that is, not how the connections of phenomena we call nature "have become actual outside us, but how they became actual for us," how those connections of phenomena attained the necessity in our representation in which we are compelled to think of them. (14) The terms are Kantian. Kant's critical philosophy was concerned to determine the forms of cognition that enable knowledge of objects. He argued that the possibility of nature, indeed the possibility of an object of experience, depends upon our concepts and representations, for only through such concepts is it possible to know anything as an object, or to know the necessary connections between phenomena--a priori concepts give our sensory intuitions determine meaning. But Schelling was critical of the appeal to the idea of a noumenal thing-in-itself in Kant, an idea he noted that Kant inherited through tradition, for to Schelling it was inconceivable what things external to us and independent of our representations might be. Such ideas make the separation between human beings and nature permanent, into "bottomless abysses" [bodenlosen Abgrunde]. (15) But Schelling did not seek unity in a metaphysical monism, whether of an infinite material substance, after Spinoza, or infinite divine spirit. His sought unity in a philosophy of nature in which nature would "not only express, but even realize, necessarily and originally, the laws of our mind, and that it is called nature only insofar as it does so" (Ideen 93). Schelling was thus truer to Kant's critical philosophy than its author, at least in his view, restricting the conditions of our cognition of nature to the cognitive phenomena of the finite human mind.

These ideas for a philosophy of nature were made more precise in Shelling's 1799 Introduction to the Outline of a System of Naturphilosophie. Naturphilosophie is now defined as a speculative physics, in which "our knowing is changed into a construction of nature itself, that is, into a science of nature a priori." Schelling argued that we know objects only when we know the principles of their possibility, which means "a pure knowing a priori." It is only through a deduction from a priori principles that phenomena of nature are conceived with the necessity requisite of a science. (16) The basic conception remains Kantian. In the Metaphysical Foundations, Kant presented a construction of Newtonian laws of physics by reasoning a priori from categories. But Kant distinguished his metaphysical constructions from a purely speculative philosophy of nature by making such constructions dependent upon the injection of empirical concepts from contemporary science. (17) Schelling, in contrast, whilst insisting that we know nothing at all except through experience, also insisted that empirical physics is directed "only at the surface [Oberflache] of nature." Even experiment, he argued, is only a first step toward science. In putting a question to nature that it is compelled to answer, experiment contains an implicit a priori judgment of nature, making it what Schelling called a "production of nature," but experiment can never go beyond the forces of nature it uses as its tools of inquiry. A speculative physics was to have no such limitations. It was to be directed "at the inner spring-work [Triebwerk]" of nature. Accordingly, it was necessarily a subjective or purely theoretical science. If empirical physics is directed to what is "objective" in nature, it only "regards its object in being," as a finished product; a speculative physics, in contrast, is directed to what is "non-objective in nature"; it "regards its object in becoming," in its productivity (Einleitung 274-75, 282-83).

For Schelling, Kant's concept of matter is the physical correlate of his idea of the thing-in-itself. Representing the limits of human rationality, the impenetrable content of objects given to cognition, it acted in a similar way to the purported presence of some thing in experience that was the absolute other to all the mind's activity. But Schelling contended that no physical concept, no phenomena, no thing is in principle refractory to further rational analysis. In the Ideas he argued that any body, no matter how inert or minute, can be regarded as a system of yet smaller bodies. His argument was based upon a consideration of the simplest distribution of matter in space required to ensure an orderly and self-perpetuating motion in all its parts. His solution was that of an indefinite number of unequal bodies, each disposed in relation to the others so that they all would gravitate around an ideal center. In such an arrangement, any determinate set of bodies that achieved equilibrium around a center of gravity would also be gravitating as a unit around some other center as part of a larger system of bodies. On the other hand, the bodies within the first system could be conceived to consist of smaller bodies all forming a system around their own center. Schelling argued that to stop the analysis at any particular system of bodies would be arbitrary. Accordingly, he rejected the conception of matter as an impenetrable substratum endowed with attractive and repulsive forces. Neither Kant nor Newton before him, he argued, had been able to explicate how forces are supposed to inhere in this inert substratum, or what matter without forces or forces without matter might be conceived to be. Schelling rather argued that the material content of any phenomena must also be conceived as a system of attractive and repulsive forces. (18) "In resolving the problem of how matter in general is originally possible," he concluded, "the problem of a possible universe has also been solved" (Ideen 187). To state his point more modestly, the problem of understanding the nature of matter is no different from that of understanding the nature of the universe as a whole, or any organized body. Schelling thus broke down the difference in kind Kant had introduced in the Critique of Judgment between determinate judgments of inorganic bodies, in which phenomena are subsumed directly under the concept of mechanical causality, and reflective judgments of organic bodies or nature as an organized whole, in which the complex interrelationship of phenomena posed a problem for conception. For Schelling, all of nature and each part of nature was to be understood like an organism, and thus posed a problem for judgment.

Schelling also blurred the boundary between inorganic and organic phenomena through his treatment of chemistry. In his Metaphysical Foundations Kant had excluded chemistry from science proper, which "treat[s] its object according to a priori principles," because its "principles are ultimately merely empirical" (Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde 468). But some ten years on, the new French chemistry was widely accepted in Germany, providing investigators with the theoretical foundation for a science of chemistry, and new instruments and methods for the study of inorganic and organic phenomena, the results of which were widely disseminated in new journals and monographs, and by increased funding for chairs in chemistry and chemical laboratories at universities. (19) Schelling, fresh from his scientific studies at the University of Leipzig, gave chemistry a central place in the Ideas. If mechanics examines the motion of bodies under the impact of external forces, insofar as the parts of the bodies appear at rest, Schelling argued that chemistry examines how bodies supposedly inert become active under an external stimulus. He attributed the apparently spontaneous chemical reaction to the forces within bodies, which only need the stimulus of something extraneous to be excited into free play. If that stimulus should be continued, he contended, these new activities could become permanent. "Thus already in the chemical properties of matter actually lie the first seeds, albeit still quite undeveloped, of a future system of nature, which can unfold into the most diversified forms [Formen] and formations [Bildungen], up to the point at which creative nature seems to return into herself" (Ideen 190). Schelling argued that any chemical event is open to the conceptualization of mechanics, whilst mechanical events are liable to the conceptualization of chemistry--it is just a question of the perspective of one's analysis. Furthermore, chemistry lies at the juncture of mechanical and organic bodies, with the difference between mechanical, chemical, and organic phenomena conceived as a difference in degrees of activity and organization rather than a difference in kind. The Naturphilosophie that Schelling put forward in the Ideas was that all natural phenomena must be conceived as an interplay of attractive and repulsive forces in varying degrees of complexity and activity. These opposed forces were not introduced as empirical concepts, or as the physical grounds of explanation like some form of occult qualities, but as the necessary conditions for the possibility of a world system (Ideen 79-80).

If the Ideas extended the conception of natural phenomena as organized systems of opposed forces into matter infinitely and indefinitely, On the World Soul extended that basic conception in the opposite direction, through the organic world towards the appearance of mind in nature with the human form. In the 1798 work, rather than forces, Schelling referred to the more abstract notion of principles, representing the basis of life as contained in opposed negative and positive principles. The negative principle of life is the specific material condition lying within each individual being, which determines the differing degrees of receptivity to stimulus of the diverse forms of life (Von der Weltseele, SW 2: 503-5). Much of the World Soul is concerned with detailing these negative material conditions of life, by drawing upon contemporary research in chemistry and physiology, from the role of light and the elements of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in plant nutrition, to animal respiration and the influence of nutrition on irritability of muscles, with Schelling displaying an impressive command of the material. But he argued that these negative conditions alone are insufficient to account for the phenomena of life--the capacity of organs to develop and maintain their form and composition, the machinations preserving the animal fluids that animate the body, the contraction of muscles--all these processes are inconceivable without the assumption of a positive principle which disturbs the tendency of the negative conditions of life toward stasis. This positive principle lies outside the living individual; a single principle spread throughout the whole of creation, it penetrates each individual as the "common breath of life." But Schelling, in keeping with the project of Naturphilosophie, did not introduce this positive principle as a determinate entity and was critical of his contemporaries who appealed to a special force or Lebenskraft as a purported cause of the phenomena of life. Indeed, he even contended that language has no term for it, and hence made use of the poetic expression of the ancient philosophers, the "world soul," to indicate metaphorically what eluded conception (V on der Weltseele 502-4, 247, 529, 565-69). Life thus appears as the interaction of an indeterminate positive principle and material conditions that are also indeterminate, receding, as the Ideas showed, infinitely into ever smaller systems of interacting forces. When changing material phenomena become bound together in a product, something enduring is formed. But this product, as the combination of phenomena, is not anything real in itself but only the concept of a definite organization, and as dependent upon actual phenomena that are continually altering, is not anything enduring--it is only the union of both, of concept and phenomena, that gives rise to a living being. Schelling translated this representation of life directly into the terms given by Kant in the Critique of Judgment. Life, "organization is nothing other than an arrested stream of causes and effects ... a succession [of processes] that, enclosed within certain borders, flows back into itself." Such an organized being "we must consider as if it is both cause and effect of itself." (20) To express this concept of life Kant appealed to the notion of the Bildungstrieb or formative impulse, first introduced by Blumenbach to represent the formative activity of organic matter. For Schelling, the Bildungstrieb expresses the synthesis of positive and negative principles, activity and constraint, of freedom and lawfulness in all natural formations, but is not the explanatory ground of this union itself. (21) Thus in the World Soul Schelling represented life in terms of a concept of a relation between positive and negative principles, principles that are ultimately indeterminate and recede into infinity, but a concept without constitutive significance in itself.

These provocative aspects of the Ideas and On the World Soul are much more explicitly articulated in Schelling's 1799 First Outline of a System of Naturphilosophie and the subsequently produced Introduction to that work, both completed after his arrival in Jena. In these works Schelling stressed the infinite and indeterminate nature of the negative and positive principles and the abstract and indeterminate nature of their relation in any given natural product. These later works also place a greater emphasis on the activity of nature, with the positive principle characterized as pure productivity and the negative principle as its constraint. Schelling also emphasized that if the negative principle is to constrain the positive principle, pure productivity, it must be something positive itself--a counteracting tendency. It is in the space between these two principles, each receding beyond the horizon of our representations, that the phenomena of nature occur. Schelling depicted the products resulting from the concurrence of the pure productivity, the positive principle, and constraint, the negative principle, with the image of a whirlpool. "Where [a stream] meets resistance, there is formed a whirlpool; this whirlpool is nothing fixed, but something that in every moment is vanishing, and in every moment springing up anew" (Einleitung 289). Such a product appears finite, "but as the infinite productivity of nature concentrates itself within it, it must have the impulse to infinite development ... the empirical representation of an ideal infinity." In each such product, therefore, lies "the germ [Keim] of a universe" (Einleitung 290-91). The image of a whirlpool highlights the activity inherent in all natural phenomena. It also suggests the potential or potency of each natural product for further change and development, already suggested by his treatment of chemistry in the Ideas, what Schelling now termed its entelechy or potency [Potenz]. Again he emphasized that the difference between inorganic and organic products is only the degree of productivity enclosed within it. Of particular import is the synthetic aspect of these natural products. Schelling's discussion of the Bildungstrieb buried in the middle of World Soul thus now becomes highlighted, and the discussion in Ideas of the interplay of attractive and negative forces is supplemented with a discussion of their synthetic relation through gravity. The concept of gravity had acquired symbolic significance during the course of the eighteenth century as the representation of an actual relation whose nature remained unknown. It was appealed to throughout the sciences to justify the introduction of a conception of synthesis that could not be made specific, with Blumenbach introducing his notion of a Bildungstrieb by invoking the authority of the concept of gravity. (22) Schelling made the indeterminate nature of such syntheses explicit by referring to them abstractly as a third something, ein Dritte, "as something [etwas] which is mediated by the antithesis, and by which the antithesis is in turn mediated" (Einleitung 308). Nature is that "third" arising out of the dynamic opposition between negative and positive principles, each of which recede, indeterminately, into infinity; nature is that middle, das Mittel, between pure productivity and its constraint, between the free and the fixed, that middle which is ever in a state of formation, and whose formative or synthetic principle also remains indeterminate (Einleitung 299-300). For Schelling, this indeterminate relation between activity and constraint, form and matter, was not only a problem of organic bodies and the system of nature as a whole, as in Kant's Critique of Judgment, but of each natural product.

In his 1799 works Schelling introduced a series of analogies, analogies between sensibility and magnetism, between irritability and electricity, between the Bildungstrieb and chemistry, each in turn represented in terms of opposed principles in different relations and potencies. Scientific details seem obfuscated by this overlaying of apparently fanciful speculations. But Schelling was very clear that he was not offering a system of nature but a system of speculative physics; his concern was not with natural products but with the principles for the construction of nature, the principles necessary for our knowledge of nature. Whereas Kant's construction of nature was dependent upon empirical concepts, upon some content given in experience that was not open to further analysis, Schelling critically questioned such restrictions, arguing that speculative physics cannot set out from some product, some "thing," but must extend to the unconditioned (Einleitung 283). The result was a construction of nature premised upon an opposition of positive and negative principles, both of which extended into infinity and so defied determinate representation. Between these opposites "all of nature lies" as some Dritte struggling to indifference, as an infinitely progressive formation, in which are found only relative mediating links of synthesis, never a lasting or an absolute synthesis. In any particular product there is both productivity and constraint, freedom and necessity, so that in even the simplest formation there is some element of freedom and the potential for further formation, and in even the highest formation some element of necessity. It would be a strange metaphysical system in which "outside this opposition nothing is." Schelling relentlessly questioned all foundations for a system of speculative physics so that in the end he was left only with this indeterminate opposition. But as he argued, "who cannot think activity or opposition without a substrate cannot philosophize at all" (Einleitung 308).

Schelling introduced his Naturphilosophie in 1797 by arguing: "Nature should be the visible mind [Geist], the mind the invisible nature. Here then, in the absolute identity of the mind within us and nature outside us, the problem of how a nature external to us is possible must be solved" (Ideen 93). In the Ideas he also included a chapter on the "First Origin of the Concept of Matter, from the Nature of Perception and the Human Mind," in which he provided a "transcendental discussion" of the concept of matter, tracing the origin of the concept in our minds after the method of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre (Ideen 213-23). Thus from the beginning of his engagement with Naturphilosophie, he was concerned with its relationship to idealism. Indeed, the positive and negative principles of his Naturphilosophie, pure activity and its constraint, were conceived as analogies of the activities of freedom and constraint in Fichte's analysis of the activity of thinking. On the completion of his three important works on Naturphilosophie, Schelling turned to the problem of the relationship of his Naturphilosophie to transcendental idealism.

The Natural History of the Mind: Transcendental Idealism

In his 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism Schelling offered a new conception of the natural history of the mind, depicting the emergence of nature from the mind by tracing the genesis of all intuitions and concepts of nature from the mind's activity according to the principles and method of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. Fichte's dominant presence in Jena no doubt stimulated Schelling shortly after his arrival there to reexamine Fichte's work with which he had engaged so productively as a student at Tubingen. Moreover, given the project of his speculative science to bring theory into the phenomena of nature, to examine the a priori conditions or the possibility of a nature, it became important to clarify its relationship to idealism. Schelling insisted that the two were quite separate sciences, starting from different bases and proceeding in different directions. Naturphilosophie ascends from experience and empirical laws to the pure principles prior to all experience; it sets out to idealize the real, to spiritualize all natural laws into the laws of thought. Transcendental idealism, in contrast, descends from pure subjectivity to empirical phenomena; it sets out to produce a realism out of idealism, to display phenomena as products of the mind. Thus although both offer constructions of nature, they do so in distinct ways. As opposed to Fichte, Schelling contended that a complete system of philosophy would need both. (23) His System of Transcendental Idealism was introduced as a complement to his earlier Naturphilosophie, and as a part of a complete philosophical system. Schelling also offered a different emphasis than Fichte in his treatment of transcendental idealism--whereas Fichte was principally concerned with finding a consistent definition of the principle of pure subjectivity and proving his system through immediate inference from that principle, Schelling claimed to offer a factual proof of transcendental idealism by demonstrating that it could actually derive the entire system of knowledge (System 377).

Fichte's science of knowledge is best understood as a reworking of Kant's critical philosophy, and its claim to examine the sources and conditions of cognition. As Schelling's Naturphilosophie subjected the empirical concepts that Kant took as a starting point for his construction of nature to further critical construction, so Fichte subjected the facts of consciousness that Kant took as the starting point for his critical philosophy to further critical analysis. Fichte objected, for example, to Kant resting the argument for practical reason upon an appeal to a fact of consciousness. He also maintained that Kant "by no means proved that the categories he set up to be the conditions of self-consciousness, but merely said that they were this." (24) Indeed, Kant left the synthesis of the manifold of intuition that constitutes the categories to the unconscious activity of the transcendental imagination (Critique of Pure Reason A778/B103). Fichte sought to examine the grounds for these facts [Thatsache] of consciousness by examining the activity of thinking giving rise to them, what he called the Act or active deed [Thathandlung]. (25) Rather than simply accepting that an "I think" accompanies all states of consciousness, Fichte demanded of his students and readers that they attend to the activity of thinking involved in thinking the I. He would thus claim to provide a better defense of Kant's philosophy than Kant himself gave, and in ways more consistent with the principles of critical philosophy.

In attending to the activity of one's I in thinking, Fichte cautioned against turning such activity of thinking into phenomena of consciousness requiring a distinct subject possessing awareness of that phenomena, resulting in an infinite regression of the subject's thinking of thinking. Such an error had been made by Reinhold, Fichte's predecessor at Jena. (26) In his Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge, published in 1794 for his first lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre in Jena, Fichte introduced the notion of self-positing [sich setzen] to avoid the self-alienating effect of the infinite regress of reflection upon the self's activity of thinking.
 The positing of the I through itself is thus its own pure
 activity.--The I posits itself, and by virtue of this mere
 self-assertion it is; and conversely, the I is [ist] and
 posits its being [Seyn] by virtue of its mere being. It is at
 once the agent [Handelnde] and the product of action [Handlung];
 the active [Thatige], and what the activity [Thatigkeit] brings
 about; action [Handlung] and deed [That] are one and the same,
 and hence the I am [Ich bin] expresses an Act [Thathandlung].
 (Grundlage 259; FsW 1: 96)


Fichte played with the double meaning of the word Seyn, as both the noun "being" and the verb "to be" or logical copula "is," to express the identity of the self's being and the activity of thought in self-positing. In the positing of itself, he argued, the I is both subject and predicate, subject and object of itself. For Fichte, philosophical reflection is concerned with the transformative activity of reflecting on the form of knowing, "through which the form becomes the form of the form as its content and returns into itself" (FsW 1: 67). But the Wissenschaftslehre is not solely a formal science of potentially unending reflection, of the self reflecting upon the form of its thought. The positing of the I determines the I, making its being present, and halting the infinity of reflection. The term Thathandlung expresses the identity of reflection and positing, of the form and content of the self's activity. (27) The judgment that something is something, that phenomenological awareness of something is connected to a concept, that act of thought, constitutes the being of the self as an active power or pure activity. The content of the self's activity is thus identical to its form. Fichte introduced this absolute [schlechthin], unconditioned self-positing of the I as the first principle of all philosophy.

Fichte thus foregrounds the identity of the self, the "I think" that Kant held accompanies all cognitive activities, making it the basis of all human knowledge. But, as Heidegger has noted, Kant held that the identity of the self that accompanies all cognition only becomes aware of itself through opposition [entgegensteht] to some object [Gegenstand] of thought or representation. (28) Fichte followed Kant here, oppositing or counterpositing [Entgegensetzen] to the positing [setzen] of the I [Ich] that of a not-I [Nicht-Ich] as the second principle of all human knowledge. The not-I acts as a check [Anstoss] or limit upon the I's infinite and unconditioned activity, reflecting it back upon itself and thus making it conscious of itself. Fichte used this strange expression not-I to indicate that all cognitive activity involves the I, that any phenomenon must be a phenomenon of consciousness for us to be aware of it as a phenomenon--a not-I. Like Schelling, Fichte found Kant's notion of a noumenal thing-in-itself completely separate from the activity of the I meaningless and uncritical. Yet this phenomenon of consciousness appears as something alien and unconscious to the pure, unconditioned activity of the I--a not-I. The opposition of the I and not-I led Fichte to introduce a third principle, that of a synthetic relation between these opposites. This third principle addresses the Kantian problem of how synthetic a priori' judgments are possible. Fichte argued that by regarding the pure activity of the I as quantitatively divided into an objective portion of the I, or not-I, opposed to a subjective portion of the I, their synthesis could be comprehended as grounded in the self-positing I as the basis of both. From these three principles--the pure, unconditioned activity of the I, the opposition within the I's activity of a not-I to the I, and the synthesis of the I and the not-I--Fichte claimed to be able to derive the entire form and content of cognitive activity.

Fichte's presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre is mind-numbingly convoluted, and it is hard to imagine his students thinking with him as he traced the supposed activity of the I through all aspects of its self-construction. Its complex formulation is in part due to its hasty composition and episodic publication as lecture notes, and in part due to Fichte's unusual modes of expression. Indeed, some have read him as postulating the production of the entire world from the absolute, unconditioned activity of the self, although it is unclear what that might mean. (29) But we should take seriously Fichte's claim that he was a Kantian, that he offered a critical examination of the cognitive activities of the finite human mind, and only went beyond Kant in offering a critical examination of elements of cognition left opaque by Kant. The close relationship between Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre and Kant's critical philosophy is particularly manifest in the "Deduction of Representation," the summary statement that concluded the first, theoretical part of the Foundations, and that was based on the argument and terminology of Kant's "Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding" in the Critique of Pure Reason (Fichte, Grundlage 369-84; FsW 1: 228-46). In Kant's treatment, the synthesis of intuitions into a unified representation, ready for recognition in a concept, is enacted by the transcendental imagination working unconsciously. As the "unknown," but "common root" of sensation and thought, the transcendental imagination has an essential but problematic place in Kant's architecture of pure reason. (30) Fichte, in contrast, argued that through philosophical reflection, all activity of the I could be attended to and traced genetically, including that of the imagination. Indeed, a science of knowledge must not only posit knowledge as the identity of intuition and thought, but show that identity by its Act (Hegel, Differenz 36). Fichte depicted the imagination as wavering between the opposite directions of the I's activity, its spontaneous, outward activity and the reversion of that activity back into itself through some extraneous check. The imagination thus posits an intuited [Anschauen], an "extuition [Hinschauen] of an indeterminate something [Etwas]," and has its wavering or transciency stabilized or brought to a stand [verstandigt] in a concept of the understanding [Verstand]. (31) Not only the intuited but also the intuitant is thus determined through reflection, in Fichte's version of Kant's argument for the unity of apperception. Indeed, all elements of Kant's presentation are found in Fichte's, including the synthesis of the now dichotomized intuition and concept through judgment, in which the activity of the I in the form of the imagination again enacts the synthesis, now rendered a conscious act through philosophical reflection. Hegel's critique of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre in his Difference essay was that this reflexive re-enactment of the immediate and unconscious activity of the I in fact separates the I from itself. Indeed, reflection can only conceive of the synthetic activity of the I by first dividing the I into subjective and objective portions, thus rendering its synthesis as merely relative and theoretical. Fichte's transcendental treatment of the I's unified activity does not provide the conditions of its possibility, Hegel argued, but rather makes it impossible (Differenz 34-40). In his attempt to explicate the aspects of cognitive activity Kant left unconscious and unexplicated Fichte has thus only multiplied the ruptures within the self--not only is the synthetic activity of thought comprehensible to philosophical reflection solely on the premises of a separation within the I of its subjective and objective parts, of the I from the not-I, but the immediate synthetic activity of the I is also separated from the reflective activity of the I.

But the most scandalous aspect of Fichte's account for Hegel is his account of the not-I. The I's spontaneous activity must be checked and reflected by something alien to its act. Into the infinity beyond the check and reflection of the I, there is posited a product of the imagination, "through a dark, unreflected intuition that does not reach consciousness. ... This product is the not-I." (32) That the not-I remains unconscious means, however, that although the activity of the transcendental imagination that was left as unconscious and unknown in Kant is now explicated through Fichte's philosophical reflection upon the activity of the I, something unconscious and inexplicable nevertheless remains in his science of knowledge in the guise of the not-I--an alien element, a dark spot, a negation of being at the heart of being. Hegel complained that "the objective world, in its endless determinacy through intelligence, still remains a something for intelligence that is at the same time undetermined for it. The not-I has no positive character, to be sure; but it does have the negative character of being something other, that is, something opposite in general" (Differenz 42). For Fichte, Hegel argued, pure consciousness, since it is a positing of itself, cannot produce the not-I from itself nor conquer it, rather it must presuppose it, and yet in doing so it recognizes its own primordial defectiveness. From the standpoint of the I's activity "nature has the character of absolute objectivity or of death" (Differenz 51).

Fichte, having recognized such problems in his discussion of theoretical philosophy, attempted to resolve them in his discussion of practical philosophy in the third and final part of the Foundations. That practical philosophy appeared at the end of his work belies its import for Fichte. When Fichte first became engaged with Kant in 1790 whilst preparing for a tutoring position, it was Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and its argument that any understanding of human beings must start from the fact and experience of freedom that affected him most profoundly. His experience with censorship shortly thereafter made him a public and strident defender of freedom and the French Revolution. (33) And as a teacher in Jena he continually demanded that his students display freedom of thought, that they think for themselves, arguing that the science of knowledge could not be learned by transmission from another but only by attending freely and critically to the activity of thinking in oneself. In the concluding part of the Foundations Fichte argued that practical reason was a necessary condition of theoretical reason, that self-consciousness was grounded in self-autonomy. The philosophical reflection that enabled awareness of all activity of thinking, of all acts of the I, is an act of absolute freedom. Philosophical reflection lifts itself out of the sphere of givenness by an act of free choice [Willkur] and thus produces consciously what in empirical consciousness intelligence produces unconsciously so that it appears to be given. But Fichte reconciled the absolute, infinitely free activity of the I in philosophical reflection with finite empirical consciousness by appeal to the notion of striving [Streben]. Rather than positing a complete determination of the not-I by the free activity of the I, Fichte ascribed to the I a striving toward determination. The subject's absolute independence from its object, the I's complete conquest of the not-I, remains a demand [Forderung] of practical reason. As Hegel critically noted, the practical faculty of the I is not able achieve absolute self-intuition any more than the theoretical faculty, but can only progress infinitely towards it. (34) The not-I remains eternally opposed to the I.

Fichte attempted a new presentation of his Wissenschaftslehre in his Jena lectures from 1796 to 1799, in which freedom became the starting point for his exposition. He now even allowed that the first principle of philosophy, whether the highest condition of philosophy is regarded as the thing-in-itself or the self-positing I, is a matter of free choice, although he did go on to argue that only the latter choice could produce a complete and consistent philosophical system. (35) Fichte began his new sequence of lectures by describing self-positing as a transition from spontaneous activity to self-intuition, an act of free self-determination that is at the same time an immediate intuition of the I. Fichte now used the expression intellectual intuition for this immediate self-consciousness, in which the self-reverting activity of the intellect is at the same time the original intuition of the I. The intuition is intellectual as its object is the activity of the I as opposed to an object extraneous to the I--the object of consciousness is the subject of consciousness. But this immediate consciousness does not provide conceptually mediated awareness of the I's activity; "immediate consciousness is no consciousness at all." In Fichte's new version of the Wissenschaftslehre reflection is still needed to trace genetically the initial free activity of the I, and bring it to repose or stability in a fixed concept. Free self-determination is the I's real activity, its practical activity, its actual doing, its striving. Reflection on this real activity is the I's ideal activity, its theoretical activity, the activity that produces the concept of the I. "An image of this real activity is that of a river that continues to flow even while it mirrors ourself in our eye. What our eye does when it observes the river corresponds to the ideal activity." (36) But if real or practical activity took precedence in Fichte's 1796/99 Wissenschaftslehre, it is a practical activity that is intellectual; free self-determination is intuitable only as a determination to become something, with a concept of a goal underlying each free act, as an ideal, a model [Vorbild] or a reason for acting, and thus making free activity possible. This intellectual restriction of practicality also appeared in Fichte's discussion of willing; willing freely restricts thinking to a particular direction, and is at the same time a kind of thinking in its determination of that direction. (37) Thus Fichte's I retains its duplicitous nature--the I is a subject-object, both real and ideal activity, free self-determination and reflection, willing and thinking.

After a couple of years in Jena, Schelling redirected his energy to the philosophy of his earlier mentor and more recent colleague, and became concerned to find a way to relate Fichte's idealism to his recent work in Naturphilosophie. His 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism was introduced as such a complement to Naturphilosophie. Schelling opened the System by rehearsing Fichte's arguments for the need for an ultimate principle of all human knowledge in the form of immediate self-consciousness or intellectual intuition. Schelling then proceeded to derive "the entire system of knowledge" from this principle, with each representation being depicted as a product of the synthesis of the free activity of the I and its limitation by the not-I. For the I itself, each synthetic act is a single, instantaneous, unconscious act of productive intuition grounded in the original act of immediate self-consciousness. Philosophical reflection can, however, analyze these unconscious acts into a sequence of acts that can be traced consciously and progressively in time. But although thus closely following the method of Fichte's transcendental idealism, Schelling's System contained significant criticisms of and clear departures from its explication of human subjectivity. In Schelling's presentation philosophical reflection remains alienated from the original activity of the I by its reflexive observation of the I's activity. If the transcendental philosopher recognizes the principle of the harmony between subjective and objective, conscious and unconscious activities of the I lies within the I, "The I itself does not see this" (System 610). The philosopher in fact can only present a temporal narrative of a progressive revelation of identity through the seemingly endless conflict of original duplicity within the self. (38) Fichte had gone to great lengths to eliminate the alienating or dichotomizing effect of self-reflection, the precise problem he criticized in Rheinhold's presentation of a first principle of philosophy, by claiming the identity of "I am" and "I think" in self-positing, the identity of real and ideal activity of the I in intellectual intuition, and that the I only exists in self-awareness. But it is difficult to retain a unitary notion of the I when it is intuitant and intuited, and the activity of intuiting, and when the I's awareness of itself as such only arises through philosophical reflection. Fichte himself was aware of these problems, and would make yet another presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre in 1801 in an attempt to resolve them. (39) This dichotomizing and alienating effect of reflection, to which Hegel had drawn attention in his Difference essay, is directly criticized by Schelling in the System. Manfred Frank argues that it was such problems with Fichte's transcendental idealism that led Schelling in his writings subsequent to the System to posit an absolute spirit [Geist] extraneous to the finite individual consciousness as the ultimate determinant of the finite I. (40)

Certainly in the philosophy of identity that Schelling developed in the early nineteenth century he introduced an idea of the absolute, as pure identity and indifference of ideality and reality, as the ultimate principle of a complete system of philosophy, claiming thus to overcome the shortcomings of transcendental idealism. But for Schelling in the System, as for Hegel in 1801, it was the inability of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre to illuminate nature, the counterpositing of a not-I to the I that remained opaque to consciousness, that made it an incomplete philosophical system. (41) In the 1796/ 99 formulation of the Wissenschaftslehre Fichte retained his postulate that "one cannot grasp the concept of the I which comes into being by determinate activity without determining this concept by means of an opposed Not-I"; "ideal activity is possible only as constrained activity" ([Wissenschaftslehre] Nova Methodo 67, 174). Indeed, the not-I must be something real if it is to constrain the free activity of the I. Hence Fichte gave it the designation being, a being that annihilates the actual doing and striving of the I. But he again rehearsed his argument that it is absurd to treat the not-I as a thing-in-itself, for although it is something opposed to the activity of the I, and intuited by the I, it can be nothing actual unless related to acting on the part of the I. Thus the not-I is but another way of looking at the I.

And if arguing that the not-I is not nothing, Fichte provided no further characterization of it than a negative magnitude or privation of the I, a darkness within the I. As a real negation of the I's activity or striving, it is itself a suppressed activity or drive [Trieb], whose actual being remains concealed ([Wissenschaftslehre] Nova Methodo 131-33, 169-80). In his new presentation of the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte still only offered what Hegel had criticized as a subjective subject-object, and the problem of nature remained. As Schelling argued in an 1801 essay, "Over the True Concept of Naturphilosophie," what remains but a negative presence of the not-I in Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre are activities to be explicated, which is the task of Naturphilosophie. (42) Fichte, in fact, appears simply to have ignored Schelling's first works on Naturphilosophie. But he did communicate to Schelling his objections to Schelling's presentation of the relations between Naturphilosophie and transcendental idealism in the "Introduction" to the System and in his 1801 Presentation of my System of Philosophie, arguing that "there is no special idealism, or realism, or Naturphilosophie ... there is everywhere only one science, this is the WissenschaftsL[ehre]." (43) It was these differences regarding the place of nature in a philosophical system that led to the collapse of their intended collaboration on The Critical Journal of Philosophy, and Schelling enlisting Hegel instead. After the appearance of Hegel's Difference essay, relations between Fichte and Schelling eroded sharply, with each criticizing the other's philosophical system with growing acrimony in publications and in public lectures. (44)

The direction that Schelling's philosophical system would take over the next years was indicated in the last sections of the System. Schelling emphasized here, as he had in his Naturphilosophie, that the highest construction of nature is that of organic nature or an organized system, and then introduced the argument that the highest construction of free human activity is that of art. Schelling's model was clearly Kant's Critique of Judgment. He concluded the System by representing the problem of the relation of Naturphilosophie and transcendental idealism as the problem of the relation between a philosophy of organism and a philosophy of art. Schelling accepted the main argument of Kant's "Critique of Teleological Judgment," that nature as a product must appear as purposive, as an identity of the concept of purposiveness with the concept of an object or of the concept of freedom with the concept of identity, but that it cannot be purposive in its production. He argued that nature can be comprehended thus only intellectually, that the organism is only a monogram [Monogramm], an intricate sketch [verschlungen Zug] or reflection [Reflex], of an act of synthesis within the I (System 611). For Schelling the problem then became how to represent this identity enacted in thought objectively and to others. Rather than turning, like Kant, to the productive use of such judgments by physicians like Blumenbach in their observations and experimental activities, Schelling turned to art, proposing a much more intimate relationship between the two parts of the Critique of Judgment than presented by Kant.

Schelling argued that through artistic production the dichotomy between the original productive intuition of the I and philosophical reflection can be resolved, for in it productive intuition or imagination is taken to its highest power, and its action brought to consciousness. Aesthetic intuition has the ability "to bring together that which exists in separation in the appearance of freedom and in intuition of the natural product; namely identity of the conscious and the unconscious in the I, and consciousness of this identity" (System 612). Artistic production begins with an opposition between conscious and unconscious activities, with "a feeling of a seemingly irresolvable contradiction," but it reaches a point where production must stop, where all conflict is resolved, and where conscious and unconscious activity merge into one, and so ends "in the feeling of infinite harmony" (System 617) Moreover, in the art product the identity breaks free from the intelligence in which it was produced to become totally objective to intelligence. "Intelligence will therefore end with a complete recognition of the identity expressed in the product as an identity whose principle lies in intelligence itself; that is, it will end in a complete intuiting of itself." "That which the philosopher allows to be divided even in the first act of consciousness, and which would otherwise be inaccessible to any intuition, comes, through the wonder of art, to be reflected back from the products thereof." "The aesthetic intuition simply is the intellectual intuition become objective." Schelling thus concluded his examination of transcendental idealism with the claim that "art is the only true and eternal organon and document of philosophy" (System 615, 625, 627-28).

But in the philosophy of art presented in the System, Schelling has not actually removed the unconscious element, the darkness or rupture, at the heart of transcendental idealism, but only displaced it and renamed it. Schelling contended that artists bring an element of necessity to their free creations in that they are involuntarily driven to create their works and in producing them satisfy an irresistible urge of their own nature. It is this incomprehensible gift granted by nature that endows their productions with objectivity (System 616-19). Thus, some notion of the unconscious not-I that he criticized in Fichte's transcendental idealism remains. Schelling has introduced an unconscious drive into artistic production, an element of necessity that he leaves unexplicated, simply likening it to rite.

Identity Philosophy as Negative Philosophy: Art, Nature, and the Absolute

It was not only through Kant's Critique of Judgment that Schelling came to see the import of aesthetics. Aesthetics was second only to critical philosophy as a preoccupation of those based in Jena at the turn of the nineteenth century. This preoccupation was due not only to the presence of Schiller, and of Goethe and Herder in nearby Weimar, but also the small group of early romantic writers and critics that gathered in Jena from 1798 to 1800. Soon after arriving in Jena, Schelling began associating with this romantic group, frequently meeting with them at the home of August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel, and becoming progressively involved with Caroline. When Schelling decided to give lectures on the philosophy of art from 1802 to 1805, he turned to August Wilhelm for information about the empirical details of art and its history; he managed to maintain cordial relations despite his affair with Schlegel's wife. But it was Friedrich Schlegel, and to a lesser extent Novalis, who had the most profound influence on his philosophy of art. Influenced by the philosophical debates taking place around them in Jena, they regarded an awareness of rupture as the heart of the modern consciousness, arguing that modern poetry is distinguished by containing its own critique and thus reflection upon its fragmentation and incompletion, in contrast to the sense of natural form and perfection in classical poetry. But if critique, stimulated by philosophical reflections of the time, opened up a sense of rupture even within works of art, for these Jena Romantics it was only through artistic production or poesy that the possibility of bridging that gap lay. The romantic concept of poetry not only contained its own theory and critique, but theory and critique were in turn conceived as poetry. Schlegel in fact argued for a union of art and philosophy, that "poetry and philosophy should become one." (45) By 1800 Schelling was convinced. As he worked out a new philosophical system in the first years of the nineteenth century that would give equal place to the real and ideal, and that would attempt to resolve the problem of their relationship, his philosophy of identity, it was the conception of art of the Jena Romantics, and its attendant conceptions of reflection and critique, that increasingly informed his idea of the ideal.

Benjamin has offered a helpful interpretation of the concept of art critique of the Jena Romantics in the terms of the meta-critique and philosophical reflection articulated by Fichte. For Fichte, reflection has reference to the I; it is a thinking that produces its own object, so that the form and content of thinking, intellect and intuition, are identical. The romantics, in contrast, remained with pure reflection, pure intellect, a thinking that produces its own form and thus in which thinking is infinite, rising to ever higher levels of reflection--the thinking of thinking of thinking, and so on. For Fichte, the pure activity of the I is limited and determined by means of opposition to a not-I. The romantics, contrarily, allowed reflection to expand infinitely without limit or check, so that rather than the not-I, the absolute becomes the counter-I to the activity of the I. Yet attention is thus not directed to the substance of the absolute, but to the unfolding of the absolute, as revealed in the medium of reflection. For the romantics, the infinity of reflection was not simply an infinity of continued advance, but an infinity of connectedness. Interconnection is grasped in a mediated way from the infinitely many stages of reflection, and from the way everything hangs together in an infinitely manifold manner or systematically. Novalis described the movement in the medium of reflection as "romanticizing," thus indicating it as essential to romanticism: "Romanticizing is nothing but a qualitative potentiation. The lower self becomes identified with the higher self through this operation." (46)

As Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy have argued, romantic criticism draws attention to the reflective excess of poetry or literature in relation to itself, to its demand for completion and perfection beyond of any finite instance of it. Schlegel's 1800 Conversations over Poesy, a critical dialogue that mirrors the exchanges of the Jena group, raised the question of what is romantic poetry, to the point of demonstrating its impossibility. The characters have all devoted themselves to poetic composition. Yet only one character, Lothario, who corresponds to Novalis, promises to deliver a work, repeatedly; a promise he never delivers, but merely repeats at the dialogue's end. They are characters waiting for the work, characters waiting for a view of the work; thus romanticism occupies the place of the absence of the work. Reflective criticism results in the infinitization of poetry by demonstrating the impossibility of actually producing the perfect work that it promises, but thus directing attention to the process of production. (47) That the negative space of romantic poetry resulting from its containing its own critique, the absence of work in every work, that this rupture is filled by the productive act which ever relates the finite product to the absolute, is perhaps most clearly expressed in Athenaeum fragment 116:
 Romantic poetry is a progressive, universal poetry. Its aim isn't
 merely to unite all the separate species of poetry and put poetry
 in touch with philosophy and rhetoric. It tries to and should mix
 and fuse poetry and prose, inspiration and criticism.... And it
 can also--more than any other form--hover at the midpoint between
 portrayer and portrayed, free of all real and ideal self-interest,
 on the wings of poetic reflection, and can raise that reflection
 again and again to a higher power, can multiply it in an endless
 succession of mirrors.... Other kinds of poetry are finished and
 are now capable of being fully analysed. The romantic kind of
 poetry is still in the state of becoming; that, in fact, is its
 real essence: that it should forever be becoming and never be
 perfected. (Philosophical Fragments AF 116)


Criticism becomes essential to romantic poetry as the reflection that raises poetry to an ever higher power, but in the process criticism becomes poetic. Hovering at the midpoint between the ideal and its realization, it finds itself in the space of production, of the formation of form, the domain of poesy. The absence of form in form necessitates the formation of form. It is only through criticism that poetry penetrates to the heart of the formative process that constitutes it.

This critical reflexivity is clearly manifested in the romantic genre of the fragment. The fragment is not unique to romanticism, and most generally designates a work that has no pretence of completion, but rather that indicates that incompletion can and even must be published. The romantic fragment, however, makes incompletion essential to every work of art. The fragment thus becomes the projection of what it incompletes, and identical to the romantic project expressed in Athenaeum fragment 116 of a "progressive universal poetry," a poetry that is "forever becoming and never perfected." But the individuality of the fragment also suggests an organic wholeness. "A fragment, like a miniature work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and to be complete in itself like a porcupine" (AF 206). Yet individual fragments, if like singular organic totalities or systems in miniature, because of their incompletion, remain only seeds or germs of future systems. "Aren't all systems individuals just as all individuals are systems at least in embryo and tendency? Isn't every real entity historical? Aren't there individuals who contain within themselves whole systems of individuals?" (48) In an age of system building, the fragment was the only possible system that the romantics could conceive. But if failed expressions of totality, fragments critically point "toward the heart of things," the productive center of each system, each individual, for what makes an individual is its capacity to hold itself together, the internal Bildungstrieb that enables it to produce itself. "The genre of the fragment is the genre of generation." (49) The fragment thus captures the event character of a system, the relation of parts into a whole that occurs in each individual formation, the formative act essential to every work of art. It is here that the romantic project expressed in Athenaeum fragment 116 lies.

The argument of the Jena Romantics that critique and reflection can only be checked by the absolute, their attention to the medium of reflection and process of formation, their conception of the relationship between the individual and the system, the finite and infinite, in terms of potentiation--all these ideas can be found within Schelling's philosophy of identity. In a series of works published in the early 1800s, Schelling argued that the entire system of mind and nature must necessarily have reference to the absolute or God as a first principle, as the absolute identity or indifference [Indifferenz] of ideality and reality. Schelling insisted that this identity was original, rather than being the result or synthesis of sublated opposites; yet, to account for otherness and difference, it must have a principle of difference built into it. As Schelling articulated this problem in his 1802 work Bruno or On the Natural and Divine Principle of Things, "we must define this supreme identity as the identity of identity [Einheit] and opposition [Gegensatz], or the identity of the self-identical [selbst Gleiche] and the non-identical [Ungleiche]. (50) But what is indifferent in the absolute appears to us as separation, as the sundering of the ideal and the real. If the absolute is the identity or indifference of the ideal and the real, phenomena are distinguished by differences of emphasis or preponderances of ideality or reality, what Schelling termed potencies [Potenzen].
 [Potency] refers to the general doctrine of philosophy regarding the
 essential and inner identity of all things and of that which we are
 able to distinguish in general. There is actually and essentially
 only One essence, One absolute reality, and this essence, as
 absolute, is indivisible such that it cannot change over into other
 essences by means of division and separation; since it is
 indivisible, diversity among things is


only possible to the extent that this indivisible whole is posited under various determinations. (Philosophie der Kunst, SW 5: 366)

In his 1802 Presentation of my System of Philosophy, Schelling represented these concepts in mathematical terms (SW 4: 137f):

[sup.+]A = B A = [B.sup.+]/A = A

The mathematical formula illustrates how each phenomenon, A = B, is an image of the absolute identity, A = A, and how the entire absolute informs [einbilden] itself into every potency, but with a preponderance of ideality or reality, an imbalance toward one pole or the other. There are no real or ideal entities as such, only relative identities of the real and ideal. Indeed, each potency is always correlated with and reflects its opposite. And each individual potency of the real and the ideal has its identity only through its relation to absolute identity or indifference. Schelling regarded the system thus constructed to have a completeness lacking in his System of Transcendental Idealism; the whole, whilst containing all difference, has a perfect balance between ideality and reality, and thus is itself total indifference.

In his identity philosophy Schelling retained the privileging of art and organic nature found in the System. Art, as the highest potency of the ideal, is the identity or indifference of knowledge and action, unconsciousness and consciousness, necessity and freedom; the organism, as the highest potency of the real or nature, is the identity or indifference of matter and form, corporeality and activity. What is essential to art, as well as to the organism, is the productive activity of relating the real and ideal. "All art is the direct expression of the absolute act of production or the absolute self-affirmation." Indeed, "poesy [Poesie], that is creating [Erschaffung]," "can be viewed as the essence of all art" (Philosophie der Kunst 631-32). Within art, this creating occurs through artistic genius, the presence of the universal mind in the individual mind, as in his or her product, the individual art product, the infinite is present. But whilst in the System, Schelling had regarded genius an "exceptional human being," in whom "that unalterable identity, on which all existence is founded, had laid aside the veil with which it shrouds itself in others," in his lectures on Philosophy of Art, it became the "daemon" [Genie or Genius], the creative spirit or "indwelling element of divinity" that is part of the nature of all human beings (System 616; Philosophie der Kunst 460). Within nature, this productive activity takes different forms in different potencies or different natural phenomena. In his 1799 works, Schelling had added to the construction of matter through positive and negative principles the necessity of a third principle of construction, gravity or even more metaphorically that third [Dritte] which is "a striving after indifference, a striving which is conditioned through difference itself, and through which difference in turn is conditioned" (SW 3: 309). In On the World Soul, the formative activity relating the positive and negative tendencies within the organism had been represented by the concept of the Bildungstrieb. In his 1806 supplement to that work, "On the Relation of the Real and the Ideal," this synthetic relation becomes the Band, the Dritte, enacting the identity or indifference of the real and ideal that makes each a potence of absolute. In the Ideen Schelling had claimed that "in resolving the problem of how matter in general is originally possible, the problem of a possible universe has also been solved" (Ideen 187). In his 1803 supplement to the construction of matter in the Ideas, Schelling argued that "matter is the general seed-corn [Samenkorn] of the universe, in which is hidden all that unfolds in later developments." Or, as he argued in 1799, in each natural product lies "the germ [Keim] of a universe" (Ideen [1803] 223-24; Einleitung 290-91). As Friedrich Schlegel made his similar point: "Aren't all systems individuals just as all individuals are systems at least in embryo and tendency?" (Philosophical Fragments AF 242).

Gasche's reading of Benjamin's reading of the Jena Romantics, in his essay "On the Sober Absolute: On Benjamin and the Early Romantics," finds in Benjamin's marginal comments and notes the extent to which he was disturbed by Schlegel's suggestion. By his failure to pay attention to the difference between the absolute and individuality Benjamin contended that Schlegel illegitimately mixed levels of thought. Dissolving the single work of art into the medium of reflection not only renders the finite absolute, it also relates the absolute to the finite, to the tangible and profane. Not only is the absolute the basis for the potentiation of the individual work of art, it is also thus opened to the possibility of abasement. The absolute is tainted by lower forms, the infinite by the terrible signature of nature and fate. (51) Benjamin might have been even more disturbed if he had read Schelling, with his explicit discussion of not only potentiation but also depotentiation, of not only how everything which appears to us as particular has its essence in the absolute as pure identity but also how the absolute "expands itself into the particular, so that in the absolute embodiment [Einbildung] of its infinity into the finite itself, it may take back the latter into itself, and in it both are One act" (Ideen [1803] 65). The absolute informs each real and ideal product, providing the basis for its identity, the basis for its potency, and yet to be this basis, in Schelling's disconcerting formulation, the absolute cannot be unitary, but must retain some aspect of both the real and the ideal, even if indifferently, within itself. The absolute, the infinite, is in some sense informed by the finite.

Indeed, Hegel's criticism of Fichte's science of knowledge, that the identity of the I's activity can be grasped in philosophical reflection only by first sundering it into oppositions, applies as forcefully to Schelling's attempts to characterize absolute identity or God.
 The absolute ... is necessarily pure identity; it is just
 absoluteness and nothing other, and absoluteness is only equal to
 itself: but it does indeed also belong to the idea of that, that
 this pure identity, independent of subjectivity and objectivity, as
 this, is itself matter and form, subject and object. (Ideen
 [1803] 62)


As Michael Vater has argued:
 Schelling is forced by his logic of indifference to forego any
 positive metaphysical characterization of the absolute. In essence,
 the absolute is the 'neither ... nor ...' of all contrasting
 predicates, in form their 'both ... and ...' It hardly needs mention
 that the coexistence of both aspects is formally a paradox. If the
 absolute can be indicated at all, it is solely in terms of logical
 relations, not in terms of metaphysical predicates. (Vater,
 "Introduction" 29)


The further Schelling pursued the paradoxical play between identity and difference in his impossible logic of indifference, the more it defied positive conceptualization. Constrained to express himself with the concepts of rational philosophy, within the language of dualistic metaphysics, even as he attempted to overthrow them, Schelling tried to express what cannot be expressed in such language--neither simply identity nor difference, but somehow both at once. Even the metaphors to which he turned in articulating the construction of nature or the construction of art--formative impulse, Dritte, striving, daemon--dissolve as Schelling retreated further into the purified logic of indifference. Fichte's abstraction of the being of the I into the synthetic activity of thought is now further abstracted so that only a copula, a Band, remains, which Schelling denied can even be conceived as a synthetic relation of the real and the ideal, but must rather somehow be conceived as their indifference. The result is an absence of being at the heart of all real and ideal being, an abtruse band that extends even into the absolute, an abstract identity with no content. In Schelling's philosophy of identity the notion of rupture has become fundamental. Schelling's penetrating critical examination of contemporary philosophical systems, from philosophies of nature to transcendental idealism, ended in his own attempt at a complete system of philosophy, his philosophy of identity, but in which his critical principles prevented him from founding that system through the presence of some being. It thus remained an epistemology of rupture, a philosophy in which there remains an indifference, an identity yet difference, in every potency of the ideal and the real and in the absolute itself, a rupture that can only be traversed through a purely abstract notion of a copula or Band. It is for this reason that Schelling would describe his philosophy of identity as a negative philosophy. And it was for this reason that Hegel criticized Schelling's philosophy of identity as empty formalism.

From God to Ground to Ungrund: The Elusiveness of Being

The years following Schelling's sojourn in Jena were marked by a series of losses. The community of early romantic writers and critics who had been gathering at the home of August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel began to fragment in the first years of the nineteenth century. A growing tension within the group was the love affair developing between Schelling and Caroline Schlegel. August Wilhelm behaved with extraordinary forbearance during this affair, but early in 1801 he departed for Berlin. Novalis, after a period of increasing illness, died in 1801. Friedrich Schlegel, having failed to get a position at the university, left Jena in 1802, travelling first to Paris, then Cologne, and eventually settling in Vienna. Fichte had been dismissed from the university in 1799 under charges of atheism and was now in Berlin. When Schelling left Jena in 1803 to take up an invitation to teach at the University of Wurzburg, he left under a cloud of scandal. He had originally planned to go to Berlin in 1800 to further his medical studies, but he changed his plans because Caroline had become ill, and he instead travelled with her to Bamburg for treatment. Then Caroline's daughter, Auguste, became very ill and died suddenly in July. Schelling, who had arranged Auguste's treatment with the local doctors, was accused of culpability in her death in an anonymous pamphlet attacking the "new philosophy" written in the summer of 1802 by a Wurzburg theologian Franz Berg; an obscure pamphlet that achieved prominence by being reviewed in the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. (52) After the Napoleonic invasions of 1806, Schelling sought refuge from the embattled north in Munich together with a small group of followers of his Naturphilosophie. In 1807 Schelling's precocious philosophical stardom was eclipsed by the appearance of Hegel's formidable The Phenomenology of Spirit. Then in 1809 Caroline died. Throughout these years of personal losses, of personal crises, Schelling struggled to bring his identity philosophy to completion. But the Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom that he published in 1809, his last major published work, appears rather to demonstrate the impossibility of that task. God, the absolute principle in his identity philosophy, is given prominence in the Freedom essay, but in a complex yet necessary relation to God's revelation, to created nature and to the human individual and his freedom, and to God's own ground, in a way that elaborates and further problematizes the identity and difference of the infinite and the finite, the ideal and the real, freedom and necessity.

The Freedom essay, ostensibly concerned with the problem of the apparent contradiction between the concept of freedom and the concept of system--how freedom is possible in connection with the conception of a scientific order of the world or with the system present at least in divine understanding--in fact rehearsed a theme found throughout the varied permutations of Schelling's philosophy, the significance of the real, the import of nature, and the inadequacy of idealism due to its "abhorrence [Abscheu] of everything real" (Philosophische Untersuchungen uber das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit, SW 7: 356). As Schelling argued in the Freedom essay, idealism treats freedom as the mastery of the spirit over the sensory, of reason over desires, and thus as the freedom from nature and natural necessity. Its conception of freedom is accordingly merely empty formalism. By the dissolution of all being into the idea, idealism becomes groundless; as nature does not exist for it, idealism lacks a living ground. Schelling, in contrast, sought the real ground of freedom. But the concern of the Freedom essay was not nature as the system of the real, it was not how freedom is the fundamental potentiating act through which nature raises itself to intellect and will, the being of nature in its various stages as the coming to be of human freedom, the object of his Naturphilosophie. Rather, its concern was nature in the ideal, the real as the ground and means for idealism to actualize itself and assume flesh and blood. Yet Schelling argued that the two concerns--the nature [Wesen] of nature [Natur] and the nature of freedom--are not unrelated. Indeed, he found it curious that whilst in the Critique of Practical Reason Kant treated freedom and independence of time as correlative concepts, and in the Critique of Pure Reason distinguished things-in-themselves from appearances through their independence of time, Kant did not think "to transfer this sole possible positive concept of in-itself [An-sich] to things," and to make freedom part of the conception of in-itself in general (Freiheit 352, 356). As Heidegger articulates Schelling's argument in his commentary on the Freedom essay, "where nature is understood, not as what is merely to be overcome, but as what is constitutive [Mitbestimmende], then it joins in a higher unity with freedom" (Heidegger, Schelling 145).

Having established the real ground or nature of freedom as the central problem of his essay, Schelling proceeded to use a basic principle of Naturphilosophie, the distinction between being [Wesen] insofar as it exists and being insofar as it is the ground of existence, to understand freedom and to understand the nature of God and the relationship of God to nature as the foundation of a system of freedom or of the understanding of the concept of freedom in connection with the concept of system. Schelling thus began the main body of his essay with a discussion of the ground or nature of God.
 This ground of his existence, which God has within himself, is not
 God absolutely considered, i.e. insofar as he exists; for it is
 only the ground of his existence, it is nature [Natur]--in God; a
 being [Wesen] actually inseparable from him, yet still
 distinguished from him. (Freiheit 358)


Ground, nature, being, essence [Grand, Natur, Wesen]--these are terms with which Schelling attempted to indicate the real in God as the foundation of God. But as he elaborated on his meaning, it only became more elusive. As the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the ground of God cannot be resolved in understanding, and yet it is that from which understanding is born. It is the striving for the self-revelation of God, but a striving, a longing without understanding, an unruly ground that always already threatens to break through, even once brought to order, thus making it appear as though order and form are not original. It is the positive presence that cannot be penetrated, the dark ground, without which God and the whole of creation could not exist, could have no reality. It is the necessary inheritance, the indivisible remainder, of being. As if to compound ambiguity with ambiguity, Schelling argued that although the ground of God has precedence over the existence of God, in some sense acting as its basis, this precedence does not constitute a priority in time or a priority in essence. "Since nothing is before or outside God, he must have the ground of his existence within himself." "God has within himself an inner ground of his existence, which in this respect precedes him as to his existence; but likewise God is prior to the ground, as the ground, as such, could not be if God did not exist in actuality" (Freiheit 358). It is the same paradoxical logic that Schelling utilized in his identity philosophy in characterizing God. David Clark highlights the problematic nature of Schelling's "strange and self-estranged God":
 Neither 'inseparable' nor 'distinguishable,' but both at once: this
 Grund, this 'irreducible remainder' ... shimmers before our gaze,
 simultaneously there, distinct from God, and not there, [a] spectral
 presence/absence ... How can God be divided by a difference that
 does not differentiate, his determined identity deferred by the
 'irreducible remainder' that makes it possible? ("'The Necessary
 Heritage of Darkness'" 87)


Schelling struggled with the limits of philosophical language of his time to articulate thinking that violated its categories. At first he turned to the language of Naturphilosophie, to Kant's philosophy of the organism that informed On the World Soul, in which "all things mutually presuppose each other" or are cause and effect of each other. "In the circle out of which all things become, it is not a contradiction that what produces one thing is itself generated by it" (Freiheit 358). God might be better understood, Schelling suggested, through this notion of becoming. God's existence comes to be from his ground; but this ground is the cause as well as the effect of God's existence, so that what God is is best understood as this relation of becoming, as the formative process linking ground and existence. As Heidegger elaborates this notion, "the Being of God is a becoming to himself out of himself." But it is the "not-yet-existing [Nochnichtexistente]" of the ground that ultimately, and positively, makes existence possible; the "not-yet for itself" is that from which that which emerges from itself begins (Heidegger, Schelling 195-96). Schelling tried again; remaining within the language of Naturphilosophie, he now expressed the relationship between the ground and the existence of God through an analogy with the interplay between gravity and light. Gravity, as the absolute identity viewed in a specific potency, precedes light as its eternally dark ground, but does not exist in actuality itself. Schelling here referred to his more detailed discussion of the relationship between gravity and light in his Journal for Speculative Physics, but his discussion elided between the scientific and the metaphorical or mythical. Gravity, as the dark ground, "flees into the night when light (the existing) dawns" (Freiheit 358). The dark, unruly ground, like a surging sea or Plato's matter, incapable of forming something lasting in itself, requires the eternal act of God's self-revelation to bring rulelessness to order. Schelling's language was that of the Protestant mystics to whom he had been introduced as a youth growing up near Stuttgart and who he began to read seriously around 1804--Schwabenvater, such as Friedrich Oetinger, and the seventeenth-century theosophist Jacob Bohme--as well as Plato's mythical theogony and cosmogony in the Timaeus. (53) Schelling then tried yet again. The being of God might be more accessible to the human being [dieser Wesen menschlich naher bringen], he argued, if expressed in anthropomorphic terms. The ground of God is "the longing felt by the eternal one to give birth to itself" (Freiheit 358). But too sophisticated a philosopher to linger long with a simplistic idiom of personification, Schelling immediately translated the notion of God's longing for existence into the language of Fichte's 1796/99 lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre, tracing the production of determinate representation from indeterminate striving. Schelling, like Fichte, conceived longing or willing as a kind of thinking: as "a will of the understanding, namely its longing and desire; not a conscious, but a prescient willing, whose prescience is understanding" (Freiheit 359). It is a striving to understanding, aroused by understanding, but not yet determinate understanding. Schelling presented the actualization or self-revelation of God as a reflexive representation engendered within God, as a counterpart to the indeterminate longing, through which God beholds himself in his own image, having no other object but himself. This self-reflexive act is analogous to that in human thought, through which unconscious and indefinite longing is raised by understanding into the unity of an idea, imagined into something comprehensible, singular, determinate. In Fichte's terms, the I determines itself, the activity of the intellect becomes aware of itself, by becoming an image for itself ([Wissenschaftslehre] Nova Methodo 151-52). Yet Schelling littered this detour into the language of transcendental idealism, as he did that into the language of Naturphilosophie, with obfuscating metaphors. "All birth is birth from darkness into light.... The human being is formed in the womb, and from the darkness of non-understanding (from feeling, longing, the glorious mother of knowledge) lucid thoughts first grow." This representation is "the word of this longing"--"in the sense that one says: the word of [the solution to] a riddle"--the resolution of obscure longing into meaning. The eternal spirit utters the word, as understanding combined with longing, and "becomes freely creating and omnipotent will and informs the initially ruleless nature" (Freiheit 360-61). In a few packed pages, in a disturbing confusion of tongues, Schelling strove to articulate the being of God.

What Schelling did manage to convey is that the only way for us to conceive of God is through his others. Schelling argued that the "consequence [Folge] of things from God is God's self-revelation" (Freiheit 347). Thus the actualization of God, the transformation from ground to existence, from indeterminate longing to representation or self-revelation, is the act of creation, through which the unruly ground or nature becomes the natural world ordered in a series of potencies culminating in human nature. To consider the nature of things is to consider them in relation to God, to consider the becoming of things from God or the process of creation. But to understand the nature of things as becoming is to understand them as presenting the stages and manner of emergence of divine being into existence. Thus things reveal the being of God. Moreover, if things become in and through God, they are also different from God, for things become in that in God which is not God himself, that is, in the ground in God (Heidegger, Schelling 201-5, 212-14). Schelling's argument here is provocative. "The process of creation comes to light only in the inner transmutation or transfiguration of the initially dark principle" (Freiheit 362). This dark principle which originates in the ground is the created being's self-will; to the extent to which it is not raised to or does not grasp its unity with light, the principle of understanding, it is a blind craving. Opposed to the self-will of the creature is the universal will--understanding, light, what brings unruly craving to order. Each singular being comes to be from both. But it is the ground in God, that nature which is distinct if inseparable from him, which becomes the basis for the separate nature of created beings, a self-craving that stands against the universal will of understanding to order and unity.

The implications of Schelling's argument are only fully realized in the case of human beings. In human beings the deepest point of initial darkness is transfigured completely into light in one being--in them are the whole power of the principle of darkness and the principle of light, "the deepest abyss and highest heaven" (Freiheit 363). Like all natural beings, human beings arise from the ground, and thus have within them a principle independent of God. But in human beings the word is completely articulate; only in human beings is the image of God, which God first beheld in his own longing, apprehended and brought to light, and the becoming of nature brought to rest. The unique consonance of principles in human beings elevates them above other creatures as spirit, and enables human selfhood to act freely in accord or in discord with universal will. This freedom is the condition of the possibility of evil; evil is the proclamation of self-will above universal will. As Heidegger presents Schelling's contention, evil consists in "a reversal of the unity of the divine world in which the universal will stands in harmony with the will of the ground" and thus the becoming of a "reversed god [umgekehrten Gottes], of the counter spirit [Gegengeistes]," in which "the ground elevates itself into existence and puts itself in the place of existence" (Heidegger, Schelling 246-48). As Slavoj Zizek notes, with "speculative audacity ... Schelling locates the split which opens up the possibility of Evil in God Himself." (54) Evil has its ground in the ground within yet independent of God, in the primal will that has emerged to separate selfhood. Since "every being can be revealed only in its opposite," there must be an other for God. This other is the human being; the human being is necessary for God to be revealed. But the revelation of the existing God as the free human being is at the same time the condition for the possibility of evil. Thus evil is "necessary for the revelation of God" (Freiheit 373).

It seems that Schelling's appeal to Naturphilosophie and transcendental idealism was not just analogical. Since God is only revealed, only exists, in his creation, the being of God can only be known through his creation. In Schelling's Naturphilosophie the opposition in natural beings between dark and light principles, between the real and the ideal, is what gives them activity and life, their existence as real living entities, in contrast to the deadly abstractions of idealism. In the Freedom essay, Schelling argued that God too is "a life." The unity of ground and existence in God is a necessary unity, but Schelling insisted it could not be conceived as a logical necessity; rather God is "the living unity of forces" (Freiheit 399, 394-95). As Clark argues, "God's being is primordially a conflictual site ... that is constituted rather than compromised by otherness" ("'Necessary Heritage of Darkness'" 89). As in his identity philosophy, in his Freedom essay Schelling appears to have collapsed the distinction between divine and created life, the infinite and finite. But not only is God thus "incorporated" ("'Necessary Heritage ...'" 86, 109-11) there is also an element of the ground of God, that basis of freedom, in all of nature. This dark ground, as an unruly or irrational principle, resistant to light, understanding, unity and order, like Plato's matter, is the basis for dissonance and contingency in nature. This unruly ground can never be fully overcome; the human being never attains complete control over this condition, and even in God it remains relatively independent, although God is able integrate it into himself (Freiheit 399). If this ground of freedom only rises to evil in human selfhood, in other natural beings, such as organic being, it provides the basis for varied formations and deformations (Freiheit 250-52). Freedom for Schelling is thus not found in the triumph of the ideal over natural necessity, as he portrayed his idealistic predecessors, but in the dark, unruly, real basis of nature. (55) Nature thus "by no means exists through the capacity of mere geometric necessity; not sheer, pure reason, but personality and spirit are in nature (just as we distinguish between the rational and ingenious [geistreichen] author)" (Freiheit 395). In all of nature freedom, spirit and self-will is combined with the necessary in the formation of being.

The distinction of ground and existence in all being, in God as well as his creatures, leaves the problem of their relation. Schelling began his essay by conceiving this relation in terms of becoming--the becoming of creation from God, the becoming of the existence of God from his ground. This becoming, in Heidegger's terms, is the joining of ground and existence, is the essence [Wesen] or jointure of Being [Seynsfuge], the in-itself of all being, what all being is (Heidegger, Schelling 185-90, 205-15). In the last few pages of his essay, Schelling returned to this central problem, and attempted to articulate the being [Wesen] before all ground and all existence, before any distinction or duality--"how can we name it other than as the primal ground [Urgrund] or rather nonground [Ungrund]" (Freiheit 406). Preceding all oppositions, it is not the identity of opposites, or the product of opposites, but their indifference. Schelling appears at first to have appealed again to the paradoxical logic of his identity philosophy, the indifference that is neither identity nor difference but the identity of identity and difference, the two principles predicated by the Ungrund as nonopposites [Nichtgegensatzes], in disjunction and each for itself. But in these last pages of his Freedom essay, he pushes this impossible reasoning even further, claiming that the Ungrund is "a being [Wesen] of its own, separated from all opposition, off which all oppositions rebound, which is nothing other than just their non-being [Nichtseyn], and which thus has no predicate except lack of predicates, without therefore being nothingness [Nichts] or an absurdity [Unding]" (Freiheit 406). The ultimate essence, before or behind even the ground and existence of God, the non-being beyond all differentiated being and yet not nothing, this absolute that Schelling sought to make the positive essence of all, he could only negatively express as Ungrund. "About the Ungrund ... nothing can be said. Or next to nothing, since, remarkably, he strains in the same sentence to make shades of negative discrimination where, strictly speaking, none should be possible." The Ungrund "is neither the void of nothingness or the nonsense of nonentity"; it is "nothing but nothing" ("'Necessary Heritage of Darkness'" 130). Clark here reads Schelling through Derrida: "How to avoid speaking (of the Ungrund)? That is, both "how not to speak?" and how, in speaking, "to avoid an inexact, erroneous, aberrant, improper form? How to avoid such a predicate, and even predication itself?" (56) What Heidegger conceived as the jointure of being becomes for Schelling an abyss of negativity [Fuge--joint, gap]. A positive expression of being eluded Schelling once again.

Indeed, no sooner had Schelling attempted to articulate what defies all positive expression, to think the unthinkable, then he appears to have conceded defeat, and concluded his Freedom essay with a retreat into the familiar vocabulary of idealism. Schelling surprisingly allowed that the duality that comes to be in Ungrund, if at first becoming one in love as the combination of ground and existence, eventually resolves into an absolute duality, as all that is true and good in the ground or longing is raised to luminous consciousness and all that is false and impure in the ground is eternally locked in darkness to remain "as the caput mortum of its life process." The duality that he had just denied as a predication of the Ungrund now becomes its end. The one essence of all finally divides itself into two, into the purely ideal and the excluded, expelled ground. The ground continues to exist, but not to act, as an irreducible remainder, debased now to eternal excrement (Freiheit 408).

Then, as if himself shocked at what he had written, in the last lines of his Freedom essay Schelling turned back once more to nature, that unarticulated presence that portends all.
 We have an older revelation than any written one--nature. It
 contains the prototypes [Vorbilder] that no human being has yet
 interpreted, whereas those of the written ones have long received
 their fulfilment and interpretation. The sole true system of
 religion and science would appear, if the understanding of this
 unwritten revelation were disclosed, not in the wretched state
 pieced together out of a few philosophical and critical concepts,
 but appearing at once in the full radiance of truth and nature.
 (Freiheit 415-16)


York University, Canada

(1.) G. W. F. Hegel, Differenz des Fichte'schen und Schelling'schen Systems der Philosophie, in Gesammelte Werke, ed. Otto Poggeler, 21 volumes (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1968-89) 4: 12-13.

(2.) G. W. F. Hegel, "Einleitung. Ueber das Wesen der Philosophischen Kritik uberhaupt, und ihr Verhaltniss zum gegenwartigen Zustand der Philosophie insbesondere," in Hegel, Gesammelte Werke 4: 117-28. Although Hegel is the author of the introduction, it was written in consultation with Schelling.

(3.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. W. S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987) 175-76. Page numbers refer to the Akademie edition of Kants gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5, which are also given in the Pluhar translation.

(4.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. N. Kemp Smith (London: MacMillan, 1933) A15/B29 and A835/B863.

(5.) Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A98-100. See Martin Heidegger, Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik, 4th edn. (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1973).

(6.) These arguments are developed in Joan Steigerwald, "Instruments of Judgment: Inscribing Organic Processes in late Eighteenth-Century Germany," Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Bio-medical Sciences 33 (2002): 79-131.

(7.) Hegel, Differenz 16-19 and 27-28; and F. W. J. Schelling, System des transcendental Idealismus, in Schellings Sammtliche Werke, ed. K. F. A. Schelling (Stuttgart: J. G. Gotta'scher Verlag, 1856-61) 3: 397-629; hereafter cited as SW.

(8.) Harris, "Introduction to the Difference Essay," in G. W. F. Hegel, The Difference Between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy, trans, by H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf (Albany: SUNY Press, 1977) 13-14; and Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987) 7. Fichte sought to raise philosophy to a science [Wissenschaft]. See J. G. Fichte, Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre (1794), in Gesammtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, eds. Reinhard Lauth, Hans Jacob, and Hans Gliwitzky, 35 volumes to date (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann, 1964-) 1: 251. The pagination of the 1845-46 edition Johann Gottlieb Fichtes sammtliche Werke, hereafter cited as FsW, is also given in the Gesammtausgabe (FsW 1: 86).

(9.) Hegel, Differenz 6-7 and 27-28. Although Hegel's criticisms of Fichte in this essay are solely directed at his Wissenschaftslehre (1794), they also apply to his later lectures on the science of knowledge.

(10.) Hegel, Die Phanomenologie des Geistes, in Gesammelte Werke 9: 18.

(11.) On this failure, see Martin Heidegger, Schelling: Vom der Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit, in Gesamtausgabe, ed. Ingrid Schussler (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1976-) 42: 4-6; and David Clark, "'The Necessary Heritage of Darkness': Tropics of Negativity in Schelling, Derrida, and de Man," in Intersections: Nineteenth-Century Philosophy and Contemporary Theory, ed. Tilottama Rajan and David L. Clark (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995) 81-82.

(12.) Schelling, Zur Grundlegung der Positiven Philosophie, cited in Clark, "'The Necessary Heritage of Darkness'" 79.

(13.) Schelling's early interest in Naturphilosophie is revealed in a fragment from a 1796 essay, "Oldest System Programme of German Idealism," in Andrew Bowie, Aesthetics and Subjectivity from Kant to Nietzsche (New York: Manchester UP, 1990) 265-67. Although the authorship of the essay is uncertain, with Hegel and Holderlin also appearing to have had a hand in it, the emphasis on nature is likely Schelling's. See Manfred Frank, Eine Einleitung in Schellings Philosophie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985) 13; and W. Schmied-Kowarzik, "Thesen zur Enstehung und Begrundung der Naturphilosophie Schellings," in Die Naturphilosophie in Deutschen Idealismus, ed. K. Gloy and P. Burger (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1993) 73, no. 10.

(14.) F. W. J. Schelling, Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur, in Historisch-Kritische Ausgabe, ed. Hans Michael Baumgartner, Wilhelm G. Jacobs, and Hermann Krings (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1992-) 5:69 and 84-85.

(15.) Schelling, Ideen 71-72 and 87. The apology for Kant appears only in the second 1803 edition of Ideas. See Schelling, Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Nature, 1803 edition, in SW 2: 33. The first edition attributed this dichotomizing to speculative philosophy; the second edition referred instead to reflective philosophy.

(16.) Schelling, Einleitung zu dem Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie. Oder uber den Begriff der speculativen Physik und die innere Organisation eines Systems dieser Wissenschaft, in SW 3: 275-80.

(17.) Immanuel Kant, Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Naturwissenschaft, in Kants gesammelte Schriften (Berlin: Koniglichen Preuschen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1908-13) 4: 469-70; and Gerd Buchdahl, Kant and the Dynamis of Reason: Essays on the Structure of Kant's Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992) 32-36 and 222-35.

(18.) Schelling, Ideen 78-83 and 183-97. See George di Giovanni, "Kant's Metaphysics of Nature and Schelling's Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature," Journal of the History of Philosophy xvii (1979): 207-9.

(19.) On these changes to the German chemical community, see Karl Hufbauer, The Formation of the German Chemical Community (Berkeley: U of California P, 1982).

(20.) Von der Weltseele, 349, 519-20. See also the Introduction to Ideen 40-44.

(21.) Von der Weltseele, 527-30. See Kant, Critique of Judgment 424; and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Uber den Bildungstrieb und das Zeungungsgeschafte (Gottingen: Johann Christian Dietrich, 1781).

(22.) Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Uber den Bildungstrieb, 2nd ed. (Gottingen: Johann Christian Dietrich, 1789) 24-26.

(23.) Schelling, System 340-42; and Einleitung 271-72. Schelling would repeat this argument in numerous essays in the early nineteenth century.

(24.) Fichte, "Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre," in Gesamtausgabe 1.4: 230, and FsW 1: 479.

(25.) The term Thathandlung is derived from the term Thatsache [fact], but replaces Sache [thing] with Handlung [action].

(26.) Fichte, "Aeneisdemus, oder uber der von dem Hrn. Prof. Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementar-Philosophie," in Gesamtausgabe 1.2: 41-67; FsW 1: 3-25. See Beiser, Fate of Reason, ch. 8; and Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990) 69-75.

(27.) See Walter Benjamin, "Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik," in Walter Benjamin Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhauser, 7 volumes (Frankfurt: Surkamp, 1974-89) 1.1: 18-25; and Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of Aesthetic (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) 126-33.

(28.) Heidegger, Kant 65-81, especially 69-71; and Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A104.

(29.) Neuhouser attributes such "popular" readings of Fichte as due to a misreading of his use of the term absolute [schlechthin]. Fichte used the term to refer to the unconditioned activity of the I, rather than to claim that the I was an absolute being productive of all other being. See Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity 46.

(30.) Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A98-100 and A15/B29. See Heidegger, Kant 33-35, 130-36 and 155.

(31). Fichte, Grundlage 371 and 373-74; FsW 1: 230 and 233. Although the transcendental imagination has only a very implicit role in Kant's "Transcendental Aesthetic," Heidegger gives it emphasis in the formation of intuitions in his reading of Kant. See Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A40/B57; and Heidegger, Kant 41-48.

(32.) Fichte, Grundlage 375; FsW 1: 235. See also Michael G. Vater "The Construction of Nature 'Through a Dark, Unreflected Intuition,'" Fichte Studien 11 (1997): 1-1-11.

(33.) See Daniel Breazeale, "Editor's Introduction," in J. G. Fichte, Foundations of Transcendental Philosophy (Wissenschaftslehre) Nova Methodo (1796-99), ed. Daniel Breazeale (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992) 1-49; and Frederick C. Beiser, Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern German Political Thought, 1790-1800 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992) 58-73.

(34.) Fichte, Grundlage 396-401; FsW 1: 261-66; Hegel, Differenz 43-45; and Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity 50-51.

(35.) Fichte, "Versuch einer neuen Darstellung der Wissenschaftslehre," in Gesamtausgabe 1.4: 190-202; FsW 1: 428-43.

(36.) Fichte, (Wissenschaftslehre) Nova Methodo 142 and 143. See also "Zweite Einleitung in die Wissenschaftslehre," in Gesamtausgabe 1.4: 216-44; FsW 1: 463-91.

(37.) Fichte, (Wissenschaftslehre) Nova Methodo 147-53 and 277-307; and Gunter Zoller, "Thinking and Willing in Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity," in New Perspectives on Fichte, ed. Tom Rockmore and Daniel Breazeale (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities P, 1996) 10-11.

(38.) For a discussion of the important role of time in Schelling's System, see Thomas Pfau, "Critical Introduction," in Idealism and the Endgame of Theory: Three Essays by F. W. J. Schelling, ed. and trans, by Thomas Pfau (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994) 29-36.

(39.) Indeed, in some presentations of his Wissenschaftslehre Fichte does not escape this problem at all. See in particular his 1796 publication "Vergleichung des vom Herrn Prof. Schmid aufgestellen Systems mit dem Wissenschaftslehre," in Gesamtausgabe 1.3: 235-66; FsW 2: 421-58. For critical examinations of Fichte's attempts to resolve these difficulties, see Dieter Henrich, "Fichtes ursprungliche Einsicht," in Subjektivitat und Metaphysik, ed. Dieter Henrich and Hans Wagner (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1966) 188-32; and Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity 114-16.

(40.) Frank argues that it was Holderlin, the close friend of Schelling and Hegel in Tubingen, who first identified these problems with Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. See Frank, Einleitung in Schellings Philosophie.

(41.) See, for example, Schelling's letter to Fichte of 19 November 1800, in Schelling, Briefe und Dokumente, ed. Horst Furhmans (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1973) 2: 294-302.

(42.) Schelling, "Ueber den wahren Begriff der Naturphilosophie und die rightige Art ihre Probleme aufzulosen," in SW 4:88 and 92.

(43.) Fichte-Schelling, Briefwechsel, ed. W. Schlulz (Frankfurt, 1968) F 126.

(44.) H. S. Harris, "Skepticism, Dogmatism and Speculation in the Critical Journal," in Between Kant and Hegel: Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism, trans, and ed. George di Giovanni and H. S. Harris (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985) 252; and Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik, "Das Problem der Natur. Nahe und Differenz Fichtes and Schellings," Fichte Studien II (1997): 211-33.

(45.) Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991) CF no. 117.

(46.) Novalis, Novalis Schriften, ed. Richard Samuel, Hans-Joachim Mahl and Gerhard Schulze (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 4965-68) 2: 304; and Benjamin, "Begriff der Kunstkritik" 26-40.

(47) See Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism, trans. P. Bernard and C. Lester (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988) 83-92, 101-5.

(48.) AF 242. See also Novalis, Schriften 2: 463.

(49.) Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, Literary Absolute 49, 39-58, 90-93; Rodolphe Gasche, "Foreward: Ideality in Fragmentation," in Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments xi-xiii; and Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments 1, no. 155.

(50.) Schelling, Bruno oder uber das gottliche und naturliche Prinzip der Dinge, SW 5:236. See also Michael G. Vater, "Introduction," in Schelling, Bruno or On the Natural and Divine Principle of Things, ed. and trans. M. G. Vater (Albany: SUNY Press, 1984) 24-26.

(51.) Rodolphe Gasche, "The Sober Absolute: On Benjamin and the Early Romantics," SiR 31 (Winter 1992): 433-53.

(52.) On this incident see Urban Wiesing, "Der Tod der Auguste Bohmer: Chronik eines medizinischen Skandals, seine Hintergrunde und seine historische Bedeutung," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 11 (1989): 275-95; and Werner E. Gerabek, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling und die Medizin der Romantik: Studien zu Schellings Wurzburger Periode (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) 105-11.

(53.) See Clark, "'Necessary Heritage of Darkness'" 88-100; Werner Marx, Schelling: Geschichte, System, Freiheit (Munich: Alber, 1977) 106-9; and Robert Brown, The Later Philosophy of Schelling: The Influence of Bohme on the Works of 1809-1815 (London: Associated University Press, 1977). On the historical background to this protestant mysticism, see S. R. Morgan "The Palingenesis of Ancient Wisdom and the Kingdom of God: Towards an Historical Interpretation of Schelling's Earliest Philosophy" (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 1995).

(54.) Slavoj Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters (New York: Verso, 1996) 61.

(55.) Perhaps Schelling is not so far from his idealistic predecessors here as he claims. For Fichte, in his (Wissenschaftslehre) Nova Methodo (1796/99), also regarded freedom as based in the unconscious striving of the self, the real side of the self, as opposed to the conscious and ideal. And insofar as the not--I was a product of the I, it too constrained and concealed this element of the real striving of freedom.

(56.) Jaques Derrida, "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials," trans., Ken Frieden, in Derrida and Negative Theology, ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992) 85. Cited in Clark, "'Necessary Heritage of Darkness'" 130-31. See also Clark, "Heidegger's Craving: Being-on-Schelling,' Diacritics 27.3 (1997): 8-33.

JOAN STEIGERWALD is an Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Science in the Division of Humanities at York University, Toronto. Recent publications include: "Goethe's Morphology: Urphanomene and Aesthetic Appraisal," Journal of the History of Biology 35 (2002): 291-328; and "Instruments of Judgement: Inscribing Organic Processes in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany," Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (2002): 79-131. She is currently working on a study of Naturphilosophie in the romantic period.
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