Schelling’s Pantheogenic Naturphilosophie

In his bok The Origin and Goal of History, Karl Jaspers’ claims that Schelling “clung with complete conviction to the theory that the creation of the world took place six thousand years ago, whereas today no one doubts the bone finds which prove man’s life on earth to have gone on far more than a hundred thousand years” (288). As I’ve come to understand Schelling’s thought, it seems rather obvious to me that he believes no such thing. He may be a creationist of sorts, since for him nature is the self-revelation of God, but his Naturphilosophie is explicitly evolutionary. From the very beginning of his public philosophizing, he recognized the full reality of contingency in nature, including its development through unfathomably long epochs of history (see On the World Soul, 1798). His was not a form of intelligent design. Deity and nature, in Schelling’s system, are free of necessary design, since they are as dark and chaotic as they are cosmically manifest. Schelling’s God is no abstract systemizer; in fact, God is a living actuality, a free and loving personality striving to give birth to itself in the course of natural history. Nature is slumbering spirit; in the course of its evolution, it has realized itself as human nature. As human, the spirit in nature first begins to awaken to itself as myth. Eventually, spirit begins to philosophize, to tell the story of stories. Soon after the birth of philosophy, so the story goes, the spirit in the human becomes self-conscious and history comes to an end as eternity enters fully into time. In this way, Schelling attempts to integrate Greek Philosophy, Christian Revelation, and Modern Science.

Jaspers’ dismissive mischaracterization (misunderstanding?) of Schelling’s pantheogenic cosmology reveals the one-sided modern attitude toward religion. Schelling’s philosophical scheme presents an alternative to both the Enlightenment and Romantic mentalities. Perhaps the alternative he provides for today’s post-secular philosophy is one reason for his resurgence of late.

In the closing paragraph of his Freedom essay of 1809, Schelling writes (transl. Bruce Matthews):

We entertain the greatest respect for the profound significance of historical investigations;… we believe that truth lies nearer to us and that we should first seek the solution for the problems that have become vital in our time among ourselves and on our own soil, before we wander to such distant sources. The time of merely historical faith is past as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given. We have an earlier revelation that any written one–nature. It contains archetypes that no one has yet interpreted, whereas the written ones have long since received their fulfillment and exegesis. If the understanding of that unwritten revelation were inaugurated, the only true system of religion and science would appear, not in the miserable garb pieced together out of a few philosophical and critical conceptions, but at once in the full significance of truth and of nature.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason Hills says:

    You were aware that Heidegger wrote a commentary on the Human Freedom text?

  2. sam says:

    I always enjoy your posts on Schelling, and I adore Jaspers, who is far too fond of the Buddha, Confucius, Kierkegaard, et al., to be a secular modern. In any case, I have a rather pedestrian question. How old did Schelling think the world is?

    1. I think “Buddhism” is easier for “secular moderns” to swallow than the Abrahamic relgions, if you’ll forgive the vague use of terms. Sam Harris comes to mind.

      I’ve yet to come across an estimate of exactly how old Schelling thinks the world is, but he hints that its age is greater than we can hope to measure using the number of times earth has gone around the sun (this in On the World Soul). Elsewhere, in Ages of the World, he speaks of the deep past as though it leads only to the doorstep of eternity, and so could not properly be spoken of as ever having begun at all, or at least, time can only be understood as eternally beginning.

      1. sam says:

        Thanks! Those are interesting answers. The point about the eternality of the universe reminds me of a cross between Aristotle’s beginningless cosmos and the Levinas/Derrida encounter with the past that has never been present, but everything reminds me of them.

        In any case, if Schelling thought the age of the universe is greater than we can imagine in terms of years (whether because the universe is too big or math too feeble, or both), then I suppose Schelling wouldn’t be too impressed with the number 13.7 billion. Billions of years in the making, and we haven’t even started yet!

      2. The notion of a past that has never been present is precisely what Schelling explores in the unfinished drafts of Ages of the World.

        I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the big bang theory in light of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie. I don’t think he would be happy with the idea of a beginning in a past which once was present. Schelling’s cosmos is eternally beginning, so it wouldn’t make sense to him to set a “date” in the past when creation first occurred. Creation is always occurring.

        I don’t think this means he’d prefer a “steady-state” or “continuous creation” model of the universe over a big bang model. He’d probably argue that reality cannot finally be modeled at all, but that both of these models might capture some aspect of the reality without grasping the whole truth.

      3. sam says:

        Nice. I guess it’s not just that creation is always occurring, but that it’s always already occurring, inheriting the past that’s never been present. And that past is always interrupting the continuity of creation, maybe in the same way that chora interrupts creation in the Timaeus (and the way that the dialogue itself is constituted by a series of interruptions, which break the continuity of the dialogue by referring to earlier beginnings). I’m sure that Schelling’s writings on chora would be relevant here. As I remember, his discussion of chora helped spark the resurgence of choric thinking in the twentieth century, with folks like Whitehead, Deleuze, Derrida, and Irigaray. To adapt a familiar phrase, I wonder if, one day, this century will be known as Schellingian.

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