Darkly Dreaming Subjects (Outside Looking In)

Ben has a new post up, I’m assuming based on his reading of Grant’s book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling.

It’s the following paragraph that I want to focus on:

“The question becomes then, for Schelling, what is the new chain of events brought about by the freedom of man following from the sublation of nature, if ridden of Christian spirit? What becomes the metaphysical purchase of human extension whether symbolic, technological et cetera, if that extension is capable of warping the transcendent production of nature?”

We have to understand first of all what Schelling means first by Freedom, but also the relation of Spirit and Nature, and thus what Schelling means by Consciousness and Unconsciousness. We also need to know something about Schelling’s relation to Christianity.

Freedom is the ground (grund) of Schelling’s metaphysics, made explicit post-1809 with the publication of the Freiheitsschrift and seen in the Weltalter. In these works, Freedom appears as a drive, as the culmination in the drives for contraction and expansion. In the Freiheitsschrift, which is a theogony, Schelling explores the connections between good and evil, the Fall, and God’s emergence from the Abyss through (self-)revelation. Assuming a relationship of macrocosm and microcosm, we can see that this theogony is repeated in the human being through the birth of subjectivity as the emergence of consciousness in nature. What is important is that Schelling maintains the Kantian notion of Freedom as noumenal, that is, existing outside of space and time. Freedom in the Freiheitsschrift is the Freedom of self-creation prior to existence proper, that is, the decision (de-cision) of the self into a before (unconscious) and after (conscious). This self-creation is a throwness, launching the self into the world as either good or evil, a decision which can only ever be understood as unconscious (although more accurately, it is the decision which creates the division).

Prior to the development of the philosophy of freedom, Schelling’s was an ontology of Geist, or Spirit; the language was still of consciousness and unconscious. Schelling will say in 1803 (the new Introduction to his Ideas) that Nature is Unconscious Spirit: Nature images human freedom. The great struggle in Schelling’s early work is his attempt to understand Kant’s Critique of Judgment, specifically, the idea that Nature appears teleological, that it appears free. What Schelling will conclude in his Naturphilosophie is that Nature is a Subject (see his Introduction to Speculative Physics), but is entirely unconscious. While the human being is the product of Nature able to turn back on itself and inspect it’s freedom, the rest of Nature remains unaware. In the First Outline (and again in the Introduction to Speculative Physics), Schelling will use the Spinozist terminology of natura naturans and natura naturata, or, “nature as process” and “nature as product.” While we are able to “warp the transcendent production of nature,” we remain simply products who are aware of natural production. Nature continues producing all around us. It is not as if with the birth of consciousness in the human being, nature shrugs off all responsibility, giving it to the human being. We remain products caught in the flows of Schelling’s metaphysics. Schelling says that all products continue the production of nature in microcosm, that is, the human being is not alone in its freedom, it is simply the only product (that we know of) able to say “I am free.” Again though, this is a noumenal freedom, a freedom outside of all space and time, and therefore outside of the realm of products of nature, existing in the realm of production (I am able to shape myself, but only ever unknowingly).

What I find most curious about Ben’s post is the “if ridden of Christian spirit.” Perhaps he can explain it to me, but Schelling, and his philosophy, is deeply Christian. While it is only made explicit by 1802 (to my knowledge), Schelling was educated by the Pietists, his father having taught the theology of Oetinger and Bengel, both followers of Jakob Bohme, whom Schelling is also almost entirely indebted to. If you can find a copy, Robert Brown’s book The Later Philosophy of Schelling shows clearly the influence of Bohme on the post-1809 work, while I am working now on the influence on the early work (although Hegel and Hermeticism is excellent for understanding Schelling’s education and religious background). What must be understood though is that Schelling is most certainly a Christian, a Christian philosopher, and a follower of Bohme. In 1802, Schelling will even claim that a proper Naturphilosophie can only be Christian and Sergei Bulgakov, in his Philosophy of Economy, makes quite explicit the connection between the two.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Darkly Dreaming Subjects (Outside Looking In)

  1. Ben Woodard

    I am still very much still learning Schelling, but I feel as if Christianity and God function in a very different way in his later work. In The Grounding of Positive Philosophy he seems to use spirit to save humanity from the dreariness of a purposeless. But my knowledge of Schelling is connected to Grant and focuses on his earlier texts.

    My question about technology is not meant to imply that nature ends and freedom or man begins – clearly we are always contained within nature – though I think I am confused as Schelling’s relation between thought and freedom – doesn’t material being precede both?

    My question is what is the metaphysical weight of technology if it can seriously hamper nature’s productivity – or does it matter if human freedom can lead the technologically mediated destruction of the possibility of being itself (and hence the generation of thought)?

    I dont know, maybe that is still messy…?

  2. From what I understand of Schelling’s later work he simply becomes more explicit of his Bohmian Christianity, as can be seen in the Freedom Essay, the Stuttgart Seminars, and in the Ages of the World. I have yet to seriously tackle The Grounding of Positive Philosophy (since my research is restricted to pre-1806 works), but I would be very surprised if he breaks at all with his Bohmian form.

    As for Freedom and the relation of materia and thought, in the early works (the First Outline for example), what is primary is the Process of Nature, that is, the infinite drives which attempt to actualize the infinity of Nature but ultimately fail and thus create matter. In the middle period (1809-1815 or so) he characterizes this ‘process’ as Freedom itself, moving from his Philosophy of Identity to a Philosophy of Freedom where Spirit = Freedom. From my understanding, thought exists everywhere for Schelling (as in Spinoza), but it is mostly unconscious thought.

    I think the answer to your final question is the same answer provided by Heidegger’s philosophy of technology (Heidegger was a Schellingian of some sort), that is, Nature always wins. I talked about this in my last entry; the human being, for all of its efforts, can never supplant or ultimately affect the infinity of Nature for we are small and lacking true power. So while our freedom allows for our own self-destruction (Cf. Schelling’s account of Lucifer and the Fall in the Freedom Essay where Evil is explicitly given as egoism to the point of self-annihilation), this has really no affect on Nature Itself.

  3. Mark Crosby

    Michael, probably you’re already aware of the 1999 issue of PLI largely devoted to Schelling’s philosophy of nature. Christopher Groves’ article, “Ecstasy of Reason, Crisis of Reason: Schelling and Absolute Difference” at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/philosophy/pli_journal/pdfs/groves_pli_8.pdf seems to offer an overview of how Schelling bounced around between his early, middle, and late periods, largely in arguing against Fichte’s absolute subject. (I don’t have nearly enough background to assess this 😉

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