Accidental Existence

I’m reading Schelling’s First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, which will be playing a central role in my thesis (I was originally thinking his Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature would be playing a larger role, but after reading it, it seems like he didn’t really care about organics until the Outline although it would be interesting to find out what prompts this “turn to biology”. . .). One of the aspects that I’m really drawn to in this work, as opposed to some of the later Schelling (the Freedom Essay in particular) is that it seems as if he’s saying that existence (that is, the existence of matter) is entirely accidental.

I’ve mentioned before the idea that matter / objects / things are somehow retarded or stunted, simply those places where the process of Nature gets stopped up. Nature (as flow) somehow works against itself and those points where flows intersect are points of existence. He puts it as such in the Outline:

The absolute activity of Nature should appear as inhibited to infinity. This inhibition of the universal activity of Nature (without which “apparent products” would never once come to be) may be represented, at any rate, as the work of opposed tendencies in Nature. (Let one force be thought, originally infinite in itself, streaming out in all directions from one central point; then this force will not linger in any point of space for a moment (thus leaving space empty), unless an energetic activity opposing (retarding) its expansion did not give it a finite velocity.) However, as soon as one undertakes to carry out the construction of a finite product from these opposed tendencies, one encounters an irresolvable difficulty. For if we let both coincide at one and the same point, then their effects toward one another will reciprocally be canceled, and the product will be = to 0. Precisely for this reason, it must be assumed that no product in nature can be the product in which those opposed activities absolutely coincide, i.e., in which Nature itself attained rest. One must, in a word, simply deny all permanence in Nature itself. One has to assume that all permanence only occurs in Nature as object, while the activity of Nature as subject continues irresistably, and while it continually labors in opposition to all permanence. The chief problem of the philosophy of nature is not to explain the active in Nature (for, because it is its first supposition, this is quite conceivable to it), but the resting, permanent. Nature philosophy arrives at this explanation simply by virtue of the presupposition that for Nature the permanent is a limitation of its own activity. So, if this is the case, then impetuous Nature will struggle against every limitation; thereby the points of inhibition of its activity in nature as object will attain permanence. For the philosopher, the points of inhibition will be signified by products; every product of this kind will represent a determinate sphere which Nature always fills anew, and into which the stream of its force incessantly gushes. (Schelling, First Outline, 17-18.)

What’s interesting about this in relation to the work of 1809 (Freedom) and 1813 (Ages of the World) is that in the latter works, things come to be based on a cosmic (free) decision (of some sort). Prior to there being anything, there is the Abyss that freely actualizes itself in the decision (an inaccurate, because no one decides, and things are only constituted by the decision. . . as such the decision becomes the always already). Ultimately, Schelling will say that Nature wants to be conscious of herself, so consciousness (Spirit) emerges in Nature, by Nature, for Nature, in the human being so nature can know herself entirely.

Here however, things comes to be purely by accident; Nature works against herself, things emerge, those things decay and return to the flowing process of Nature. I’d be interested to find out where the cosmic teleology comes in. I have a feeling it has to do with the fact that around three years later Schelling’s philosophy becomes overtly Christian (the earliest I can find in English at least is an essay from 1802). The rest of his career is marked with a strange Christianity, stained with the teleology his later work is known for.

Maybe the reason I’m more comfortable with his earlier works is this seeming lack of teleology. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the greatness of the Middle or Late period Schelling (these are the works that influenced people like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger), but the Early formulations of Nature are much more at home with my own vitalist tendencies. I guess I’ve developed some sort of teleology-allergy.


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