“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Schelling’s Naturephilosophy and Hegel’s Exclusion of Geology

Will commented on “Schelling’s Geocentric Realism” to defend the position of Nature in Hegel’s Logic from its realist inversion. I wanted to make Iain Hamilton Grant‘s position on the matter available (from “Schellingianism & Postmodernity: Towards a Materialist Naturphilosophie“):

As a shorthand for his synthetic programme, as opposed to the Hegelian system as to mechanical reduction, Schelling offers, in his Philosophical Inquiries “potentiated”, “intensified” or “vitalised Spinozism”, from which, he goes on, “there developed a Philosophy of Nature” (1989: 22-3). Schelling “intensifies” Spinozist nature by dynamizing it, introducing dark, unconscious forces into its production that extend even to mind’s self-production as a natural product. Just as Spinoza’s Deus sive natura, ‘God and/or nature’, consitutes an inclusive disjunctive synthesis, so the intensified Spinozism of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie is “merely one of [philosophy’s] parts”, a part which must be conjoined with the “philosophy of the idea” as laid out in the System of Transcendental Idealism. The crucial difference between this conjunction and Hegel’s global misconstrual of Kantian local synthesis is that Hegel will view the philosophy of nature as a teleological step towards the absolution of mere objecthood in mind’s self-recognition, whereas Schelling’s local and dynamic synthesis deploys the conjunction at the point of the loss of the idea’s conscious production as mind. In other words, if for Hegel, the identity of production and product is mind, for Schelling, the recognition of nature as product entails the isolation of the production of conscious mind, appearing to mind as the cessation of its own production. In Kantian terms, we might say that the recognition of the final form of the categorical imperative in the power of desire to manufacture the world confronts in nature the limitations of reason’s industrial jurisdiction. At the same time, however, natural production remains continuous and unconscious, so that the antinomy is one for consciouness alone. This break with phenomenological adequation, coterminous with the noumenal positing of nature as unconscious production (extending, it should be said, from the point of view of the philosophy of nature, even to the production of mind itself, so that in producing itself as mind, the mind is unconscious of itself as production; from these two senses of, we may derive the Freudian distinction between the dynamic and the descriptive, as the appendices to The Ego and the Id [Standard Edition XIX] call them), amounts simultaneously to the materialisation of this unconscious production as the dynamics of nature. Named by turns das Regellose (the unruly), evil, the basis, the primal chaos or ataxia of forces, this “irreducible remainder that cannot be resolved into reason” (1989: 34), this point marks the synthesis between mind and nature as antinomy (to be resolved, in concert with Kant, through the practical effort of will) and rulelessness, respectively. To take the materialist route cannot therefore be a metaphysical error, but can only be a practical one, an error which Schelling calls the “exalt[ation] of the basis over the cause” (1989: 41). But the price of maintaining what, for ease of exposition if too swiftly to be remotely accurate, we may call the Idealist route, is the perpetuation of the unresolvably antimonic chiasmus between nature and mind in unconsciousness. Schellingian idealism, then, does not entail the annihilation of materialism (on which the preface to the Critique of Pure Reason insists), but the regionalisation of mind with respect to matter, and the simultaneous explanation of the former in terms of the latter. For Schelling, mind does not represent nature, it confronts it as a product that antinomically cuts mind off from its own production.

Mind cannot comprehend Nature as an object, because Nature is not just a product or thing, but is the same productivity that makes possible our own consciousness of it as such. Nature is not mere externality; it is full of dynamic intention. Nature is creative, just as creative as the productive imagination underlying our conscious perception of an ordered, rational world. In fact, for Grant, productive Nature is the ground of human Nature, the source of our experience of produced nature (be it subjective/psychic or objective/somatic). Does this mean that the philosophical Absolute—rather than identification with object or subject, externality or internality, Nature or Spirit—is identification with productivity in general (be it human or natural)?

Grant points to Hegel’s “stupefying judgment” in S 339 of the Encyclopedia that geology has no philosophical relevance (p. 41, The Speculative Turn, 2011). Schelling’s generative naturephilosophy reveals Nature to be more than a present appearance, but a developmental process whose anterior layers of materialization, though hidden, condition subsequent layers. “If the actual involves genesis, then at no point do presently actual objects exhaust the universe” (ibid., p. 43). By arguing that Eternity excludes the past and the future, but is fully present now, Hegel turns the anteriority of the earth into into an abstract idea, rather than the condition of our present consciousness of it:

“Geology isn’t simply philosophically irrelevant to Hegel, but fatal to the eternity of the world, precisely because it necessarily posits an anteriority even to the becoming of the planetary object” (ibid., p. 44).

In other words, “no planet, no geology.” The geogenesis of the earth has provided the conditions making consciousness possible (Grant lists several of these conditions: “meteorological metastasis, chemical complexification, speciation, neurogony, informed inquiry…” [ibid., p. 45]).




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6 responses to “Schelling’s Naturephilosophy and Hegel’s Exclusion of Geology”

  1. Will Avatar

    For Hegel, as for Plato, the Idea in and for itself, the Absolute lies at the foundation of Nature and finite spirit. What Grant calls the unconscious (amorphous matter) at the bottom of Nature that moves it into production/product even manifesting mind as self-producing, seems to be simply a poorly conceived Absolute Idea that Hegel makes explicit in his philosophy.

    For Hegel, Mind arises out of Nature, not due to Nature itself in its productive mode, but to the implicit Idea (that is Nature) and that sublates Nature in its rise to its own explication of itself as Spirit, the Idea in and for itself. The Absolute Idea/God is never fully comprehended by finite spirit either in Nature or in the various stages of spiritual development. It only reaches its fullnes in the sublation of finite spirit in God, the Absolute Idea which forms the basis of the entire development, the movement of which is at the same time the Absolute Idea itsef but not completed during any moment of its journey.

    Schelling’s attempt at philosophy was an immature stage in the development of philosophy from Kant to Hegel. He got as far as what is called the Identity philosophy, where a object/subject confronted a subject/object that were yet identical to each other except in degree. In other words, Nature or realphilosophy exhibited a more objective degree than subjective degree in itself, whereas idealphilosophy exhibited more a subjective than objective degree. But they were essentially identical except for this ‘degree.’

    Grant only considers the naturalphilosophy aspect but mentions that it is but a part of philosophy without developing it further, at least in the article you referred to. Schelling, of course, developed his ideal philosophy in addition to a realphilosophy. Hegel did this as well, but he showed the flaw in Schellings two incomplete systems that were formally identified with each other to encompass the whole.

    Grant seems to want to prsent the whole within Nature as production/product. But freedom seems to be missing in his presentation, unless he means to claim that self-producing mind as an evolute of Nature’s production is self-determined or free. If that is the case then that unconscioussness that lies at the bottom of Nature has within it the potentiality to manifest freedom. IN that case, only free Spirit can have that potentiality. Then we are back to Hegel’s/Plato’s Idea.

    Most non-Hegelians pervert Hegel’s philosophy in order to present something they think is original to establish themselves on their footing. They are unwilling to be a mere footnote to Hegel or Plato. It is hard to appreciate such egoism, especially when a humility and truthfulness would be actually frutful and helpful in coming to a philosophical understanding that serves to bring freedom to the yearning soul who seeks to overcome the alientation of a world that is wholly other than oneself.

    For the finite soul who attains freedom there is always a residue left over (a he is only finite), but that residue is impersonal for those who try to conceive it as matter, and God for those who know it as personal. For the latter, that residue is overcome by surrender in love, dedication and devotion, a oneness in which distinction is preserved. For the impersonlist it only ends in merger into oblivious unconsciousness or eternal alienation. Hegel and Plato both emphasize the inhernet personality that is characteristic of the rational Idea.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      That Schelling was just an “immature stage in the development of philosophy from Kant to Hegel” is still the standard story, but I think the re-emergence of Schelling in the 90s, including Zizek’s commentary on “The Ages of the World” (1997?), marks the beginning of a re-interpretation of this history. Schelling is becoming a more compelling figure capable of standing on his own. He took transcendental philosophy in a different direction than Hegel, primarily as a result of taking seriously the discoveries of deep time and species extinction by 19th century geology and paleontology. These discoveries pose big problems for any kind of idealism, since on empirical grounds, they reveal that nature preceded the human consciousness of nature. Schelling responds to this problem not by denying the transcendental, but by locating it in the productivity of nature itself, which can never be brought to the level of representational consciousness, since productivity is always in excess of its phenomenal products (be they things or thoughts). Consciousness can recognize, however, that its ideation is the self-articulation of nature.

      I don’t think Grant is trying to pervert Hegel’s philosophy; rather, he is arguing that Schelling’s thought offers a different response to Kantian problematics. Hegel was clearly a genius, but there is more than a little irony in calling out the egoism of those who think otherwise when Hegel himself perhaps prematurely claimed to have surpassed philosophy by having attained wisdom itself.

  2. mary Avatar

    Consciousness emerges in the non-contradictory difference (freedom) between the Absolute and geogenesis:
    Geogenesis IS the rational Idea

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