Tag Archives: Bulgakov

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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alt.history philosophy

Graham Harman at Object-Oriented Philosophy has a couple of interesting thought experiments up regarding alternate history of philosophy. I particularly enjoy the idea of Bergson catching on instead of Husserl (then again, I do have some significant Vitalist tendencies). I actually have a substantial alt.history to play with in this game that I thing could add to Graham’s own Bergsonian-experiment.

My current work is entirely focused on the early work of F.W.J. Schelling, which, for my own purposes, means roughly his work from about 1794-1806. A keen eye will note that this means everything before Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit came and took the world by storm. I think as a good Schellingian (or at least a scholar of Schelling at this point), I have to ask, “What if Schelling had taken off in place of Hegel, or perhaps more plausibly, what if Schelling had risen to stardom in opposition to Hegel?”

Schelling was of course destined for greatness, considered a philosophical prodigy, disciple of Fichte, a hero of German Romantics. After the rise of his former roommate and friend Hegel however, Schelling only published his Essay On The Essence of Human Freedom (1809) before his death in 1854. While Schelling did have followers (Nikolai Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov in Russia, and of course Heidegger was a fan), Hegel was right to say that no school of thought really formed around Schelling, but what if a school had formed?

How does this relate to Graham’s own little thought experiment regarding Bergson? Well, one of Schelling’s followers was Félix Ravaisson, whose own student, Jules Lachelier, went on to teach a young Henri Bergson. So it would seem likely that had Schelling taken off, his students would have been more successful and been taken more seriously, and maybe Bergson himself would have taken off as well. So the last question I have then is how the rise of Schellingian and Vitalist (Bergsonian) thought would have altered subsequent thought.

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