The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von
Edition of 1920. See also Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SCHELLING, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von, German philosopher: b. Leonberg, in Württemberg, 27 Jan. 1775; d. Ragaz, Switzerland, 20 Aug. 1854. He studied theology and philosophy at Tübingen and natural science at Leipzig. His philosophy of nature as presented in ‘Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur’ (1797) and in ‘Von der Weltseele’ (1798), gained for him an appointment as professor at the University of Jena (1798). There he became the leading philosopher of the "early romanticists" and was highly esteemed by Goethe. In 1803 he married Caroline, the former wife of A. W. Schlegel (q.v.), and accepted a professorship in Würzburg. From 1806 to 1820 he lived in Munich as a member of the Academy of Science and also (since 1809) as general secretary of the Academy of Arts. He resumed his academic work from 1820 to 1827 at Erlangen, and from 1827 to 1841 at Munich. The theosophical turn of his later works induced Frederick William IV of Prussia to call him to the University of Berlin (in 1841), as a counterweight against the radical left wing of Hegel's disciples. But his lectures on mythology and revelation met with scant success and he retired in 1846. Among the ever-changing phases of his philosophical evolution two main periods may be distinguished; the first, which found its consummation in his “system of identity,” is pantheistic in its general character; in the second period, beginning about 1806, he elaborates his “positive” philosophy, which rests on a theistic and theosophical basis.

Schelling had originally started as a disciple of Fichte's “Philosophy of the Ego,” but his study of Spinoza and his own love of nature soon induced him to attempt a vindication of the external world, which Fichte had degraded by defining it as the mere “Not-self.” In Schelling's Philosophy of Nature the external world is the preliminary stage (Vorstufe) of the Spirit. Nature is the unconscious side of the “Absolute” or “Infinite,” just as the Spirit is its conscious side. Like Fichte, he conceives the “Absolute” as a process, as an activity (not as a substance) which continuously ascends from lower to higher forms of development. In carrying out this scheme he made use of many of the new ideas and discoveries that were then revolutionizing the natural sciences. Polarity (as exhibited in the two poles of a magnet) appears to him as the principle of all phenomena of nature. Everywhere, he sees dualism and polarity: positive and negative factors which neutralize each other, leading up to and producing a new reality. By means of repeated steps from lower to higher potencies the “Soul of Nature” (Weltseele) unfolds itself. The primal dualism of expansion (“imponderable matter,” ether) and contraction (“ponderable matter,” gravity) reveals itself more distinctly in the magnetic, electrical and chemical phenomena of the inorganic world, and in the corresponding functions of reproduction, irritability and sensibility of living organisms.

In the phenomena of sensibility the external order of things reaches its culminating point. But the same processes of polarity and evolution appear again on a different plane in the inner world of conscious existence. In his ‘System of Transcendental Idealism’ (1800; extracts translated in Prof. Benj. Rand's ‘Modern Classical Philosophers,’ 1908) Schelling represented the “Epochs of Self-consciousness” as parallel to the successive stages in the development of nature. Finally, the objective and subjective side of ourself (or the theoretical and the practical attitude of the mind, or intellect and activity) are carried to their harmonious union in the world of art and poetry. In art the human mind achieves the actual synthesis of the conscious and the unconscious. Art is the organ of the true philosopher; his highest aim must be a new mythology, which is to unite philosophy and poetry in objective representation.

The first period of his philosophy found its final expression in his “system of identity,” as set forth in the ‘Darstellung meines Systems’ (1801), in the platonic dialogue ‘Bruno’ (1802) and in the ‘Methode des akademischen Studiums’ (1803). Merely comprehended by the analytical and formal faculty of the intellect, the universe divides itself into the two great regions variously denominated as Nature and Self, Matter and Spirit, Real and Ideal. But the connecting faculty of reason or “intellektuale Anschauung” (intellectual sight or perception, which is akin to the “intuition” of artistic genius) shows the antithesis of the two regions as only relative. Both are originally and essentially One; they are only two different forms of manifestation of the One Infinite. The Infinite or Absolute is the eternal Identity of the Real and the Ideal, which are the two poles of the Absolute. The process of the Universe consists in the splitting up of the original “absolute Indifference” into the opposites that were latent in it, and in the striving for a reunion of the “differences” in an ultimate absolute Identity. This active process of the Absolute, ascending from “indifference” through polar differentiation toward “identity,” is also conceived by Schelling, in this period, as identical with the evolution of God.

After 1806, Schelling gradually became convinced that this rationalistic pantheism, which he now stigmatized as “negative,” must find its counterpart and consummation in a “positive” system. The “thread of dialectical movement may be sufficient as a guide through the world of the purely rational but it breaks as soon as it takes the weighty step into reality,” into the world of empirical specification. Here the contingent must be added to the necessary, and rational knowledge must be supplemented by irrational, but definite, experience of a higher order, which acquires the character of “Revelation.” The creation of the World is now the free act of a supernatural and personal God; the actual or contingent world has come into existence by a mystical falling away from the original identity in which it lived in the bosom of the Absolute and Divine Being. Schelling's ‘Essence of Human Freedom’ (1809) shows clearly the influence of Jacob Böhme's theosophy. His ‘Philosophy of Mythology and of Revelation,’ published after his death, consists of mystical speculations about pagan mythology and Christian doctrines. He distinguishes a Petrine and a Pauline Christianity which are represented in the Catholic and Protestant churches. Both are dominated by the Johannine theology which is the highest form of Christianity.

As an eclectic of the highest order, Schelling assimilated and welded into an imposing synthesis such divergent types of human thinking as Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Fichte, Plato, Bruno, Böhme, Plotinus and the Gnostics. His philosophy of nature alone gained an immediate and powerful influence, not only in Germany, where Goethe, the romanticists and most of the scientists considered him as their philosophical spokesman, but in the rest of Europe also through disciples like Coleridge and V. Cousin. His conception of one continuous process of evolution which would embrace in successive steps the lifeless and the living world, was a great philosophical anticipation and did much to promote a scientific study of nature. But his method of reasoning by suggestive analogies and, in general, the artistic turn of his mind brought him into discredit among the younger school of exact scientists. For a time it was customary to deride him as the founder of “speculative physics.” But many of his leading ideas have since been vindicated before the scientific world.

Bibliography. — Bréhier, ‘Schelling’ (Paris 1912); Braun, O., ‘Schelling als Persönlichkeit’ (1908); ‘Caroline, Briefe aus der Frühromantik,’ edited by Erich Schmidt (2 vols., 1913); Fischer, Kuno, ‘Schelling’ (in ‘Geschichte der neueren Philosophie,’ Vol. VI, 3d ed., Heidelberg 1902); Fuchs, E. (ed.), ‘Schöpferisches Handeln,’ short selections (1907); Haym, R., ‘Die romantische Schule’ (1870; new ed., 1914); Plitt, G. L., ‘Aus Schellings Leben’ (3 vols., Leipzig 1869-70); Schelling's Sämtliche Werke,’ edited by his sons (14 vols., 1856-61); Taggi, ‘Schelling e la filosofia dell' arte’ (1909); von Hartmann, E., ‘Schelling's philosophisches System’ (Leipzig 1897); Watson, J., ‘Schelling's Transcendental Idealism’ (1882); Weiss, O. (ed.), ‘Schelling's Werke’ (Auswahl in 3 Bänden, Leipzig 1907).

Traugott Böhme.