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

[Rough Draft] “The Re-Emergence of Schelling” – The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy

For a PDF of the entire essay, click The Re-Emergence of Schelling: Philosophy in a Time of Emergency.

The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy

 Early in his philosophical career while still a high school teacher in Nuremberg,116 Hegel suggested that, as a schoolmaster of philosophy, he is committed to the belief

that philosophy like geometry is teachable, and must no less than geometry have a regular structure.117

Many commentators on the philosophical dispute between Hegel and Schelling cite this statement to illustrate the nature of their disagreement: while Hegel was bent on the formalization of the system into a deductive science, Schelling all but transformed science into art in order to prevent the blind necessity of the system from subsuming the creative freedom and personality of its author.118 If the very next sentences of Hegel’s statement are included, however, it becomes apparent that he was not as unaware of the important role of individual creativity as the previous sentence lets on:

Philosophy…no less than geometry must have a regular structure. But again, a knowledge of the facts in geometry and philosophy is one thing, and the mathematical or philosophical talent which procreates and discovers is another: my province is to discover that scientific form, or to aid in the formation of it.119

The differences between Schelling and Hegel are important and should not be overlooked, but nor should they be overplayed. Despite either’s public criticism of the other’s ideas, their positions are often difficult to clearly distinguish without lapsing into caricature.120 Their personal lives from beginning to end took shape in the dialogical alembic of an intense and tumultuous friendship.121 They were both close students, perhaps the closest, of one anothers’ published texts. Hegel appropriated the historical-dialectical method brilliantly displayed in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) largely from what he learned in Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800).122 Indeed, the Phenomenology, a literary work of art, can be read as an attempt to make good on Schelling’s absolutization of aesthetics (=the study of appearance, i.e., phenomenology) and his prophesy of the coming of a poet who would sing society the new mythology of reason. On the other hand, the Phenomenology’s disingenuous dismissal of intellectual intuition, the keystone of Schelling’s early philosophy, had a pernicious effect on the public perception of his system, an effect that has lasted to this day.123

As Hegel’s own philosophical project developed and took form over the next few decades, the identification of the method of philosophy (=the science of logic) with that of geometry became increasingly important to him, backgrounding his earlier Schellingian acknowledgement of the irreducible role of the the creative discoverer in the eternally beginning life of the system. By 1831, Hegel’s creative genius, once capable of the revelatory poetry of the Phenomenology, had calcified into the formulaic certainty of the Encyclopedia.124

“Knowledge in geometry,” says Schelling,

is of a totally different nature than that in philosophy…Everyone who has reflected on the field of mathematics knows that geometry is a science of a logical character, that between the presupposition itself and its consequences there lies nothing else in the middle save mere thought.125

For Schelling, it is freedom that distinguishes the philosophical from the geometrical method. His discomfort with Hegel’s purely logical approach, however, was not a rejection of systematic coherence. On the contrary, Schelling praised Hegel for his attention to detail and steadfast adherence to the necessary movement of the dialectic as it worked its way to a genuinely completed system.126 Schelling eventually realized that such a purely rational philosophy, concerned as it was with the essence of things rather than their existence, was precisely only the negative part of the whole of philosophy. The other part, positive philosophy, does not begin already caught in the conceptual net of self-reflexive reason; it begins, instead, with the ecstatic experience of wonder, an experience that compels thought to acknowledge its dependence on what Schelling referred to as the unprethinkable (das Unvordenkliche):

that which just exists is precisely that which crushes everything that may derive from thought, before which thought becomes silent, and before which reason itself bows down.127

Schelling’s opposition to Hegel’s system is not the result of its negative method, which if properly restricted to the sphere of logical possibility remains entirely valid. Schelling rejects only Hegel’s claim to have comprehended the fact of nature (=the existence of the actual world) solely through the purely logical and plainly demonstrable labor of reflective thought. Hegel’s ambitious philosophical project stumbles into error, according to Schelling, as a result of his reliance on two fundamental “fictions” to be considered in turn below: (1) the animism of the Concept, and (2) the transition, or release (Entlassens), of logic into nature.128 To be clear, these fictions are in a different way crucial components of Schelling’s own philosophical project. While Schelling is explicit about the aesthetic and speculative status of the “likely stories” (eikota muthon) he tells in the course of philosophizing beyond the edges of conceptual reality, Hegel tends to, as it were, fake his fictions. In his Philosophy of Religion (1827), for example, Hegel mimes the conceptual skeleton of Böhme’s magnificent vision of the Trinity, pretending to have digested the fruits of mystical intoxication while all the while really remaining bound to “the purest prose and a sobriety totally devoid of intuition.”129

Schelling’s fictions represent a sincere attempt to give voice to the silent mythos of nature, thereby raising her unconscious poetry to the power of awakened spirit. To the extent that Hegel claims to have grasped the Absolute once and for all through the purely logical exercise of clear and distinct ideas, his “fictions” lack deep feeling for the ancient darkness of nature and an aesthetic sensitivity to the irony of the mythopoeic discourse required to become acquainted with that darkness.130 It is as if Hegel, as the saying goes, enlisted the floodlight of reason to go in search of darkness, while Schelling patiently waited for his eyes to adjust to the night of nature’s abyssal past. As Schelling writes in The Ages of the World,

Since the beginning, many have desired to penetrate this silent realm of the past prior to the world in order to get, in actual comprehension, behind the great process…[I]f anything whatsoever checks the…entrance into this prehistoric time, it is precisely that rash being that wants rather to dazzle right from the beginning with spiritual concepts and expressions rather than descend to the natural beginnings of that life.131

1st Fiction: The animism of the Concept

In his Science of Logic (1812), Hegel attempts to pick up where the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) left off with the revelation of “Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit.”132 Having progressed through the entire historical series of Spirit’s self-negating forms of consciousness, Hegel no longer claimed the title of philosopher, or lover of wisdom, since he had now gained possession of wisdom itself.133 As a result of his self-initiation into Absolute Spirit, Hegel claimed to have stripped himself bare of the biological, psychological, and linguistic conditions of normal human subjectivity. Only after overcoming these prejudices did he believe it was possible to enter the domain of the pure science of logic, a domain wherein the certainty of the knower and the truth of what is known immediately coincide in the unity of the Concept:134

…the method which I follow in this system of logic–or rather which this system in its own self follows…is the only true method. This is self-evident simply from the fact that it is not something distinct from its object and content; for it is the inwardness of the content, the dialectic which it possesses within itself, which is the mainspring of its advance.135

Contrary to Hegel’s claim to have articulated (or rather to have been the instrument for the articulation of) “the only true method,” for Schelling, there can be no final and universally valid philosophy, since if such a system were to exist, it would effectively nullify the significance of free and irreducibly unique individuals, and thereby also render the possibility of moral action and genuine history meaningless.136 Schelling never denies the need for systematicity, but for him, the Absolute is not only a system, but also a life.137 The Concept is not self-grounding or independent of its existential conditions: “the concept ‘exists’ only in the individual personalities of human beings.”138 Schelling was forced in the course of his philosophical development to admit “how infinitely far everything that is personal reaches,” so far that the inner dialectic of knowledge is nearly reduced to the silence of its own impossibility.139

Hegel’s claim to have no subjective influence upon the dialectical method “which this system in its own self follows” is the main object of Schelling’s first criticism. Schelling’s commitment to a philosophy of freedom (“for true philosophy can start only from free actions”140) lead him to reject the notion of an impersonally animated Concept as a mere fiction. “The first presupposition of the philosophy that allegedly presupposes nothing,” says Schelling,

was thus that the pure logical concept has the property or nature, of itself (since the subjectivity of the philosopher should be totally excluded), to change into its opposite (to, so to speak, overthrow itself), in order to again change back into itself; a deed that one can think of a real, living being, but of a mere concept one can neither think nor imagine, but can really only assert.141

In order to get the gears of his logical system turning without any presuppositions, Hegel must attempt to perform a magic trick, a “logical creatio ex nihilo.”142 Hegel begins his trick with what at first seems to be immediate being. This simple being, in its indeterminateness, turns out in fact to be empty and so is equivalent to nothing. Upon further reflection, what at first seemed to be immediate being-nothing is understood to have all along been “the result of reflection’s negation of its own self-relation.”143 In other words, the negation of immediate being by non-being, in its truth, is always already mediated, an expression of the self-reflexivity of the Concept. Immediate being’s negation into non-being is itself doubly negated, revealing that the self-negating activity of the Concept had been at work behind the scenes all along.144 The logic is supposedly able to animate itself as a result of the unstable tension generated through the negation of a negation. Hegel’s trick is to prove that mediation is in the end the truth of immediacy.

Schelling is quite willing to commend Hegel for patiently following the logic of double negation to its objective conclusion,145 but he remains unconvinced of the status of its origin in so-called “immediate being.” From Schelling’s perspective, there is no way to comprehend such an immediate being but through an act of intuition. Such an intuition would grasp that which genuinely comes before reflection and serves as its ground. For the first moment of his logic to have any content, Hegel must presuppose outside the Concept what he thinks he has derived from within its process of self-negation.146

Even if Hegel could trick his logic into its self-animating progression without the presupposition of intuited being, Schelling maintains that the completed system could only pronounce upon the essence or whatness of things, without for that reason having anything definite to say about the contingent existence of actual things. Hegel’s logic, according to Schelling,

was only about the content of what is real, but regarding this content, the fact that it exists is something purely contingent: the circumstance of whether it exists or not does not change my concept in the least.147

Just as Kant showed concerning the ontological argument for the existence of God, Hegel’s logic of essences leaves actual existence underdetermined. Even if, as Leibniz argued, from God’s essence as the highest being existence necessarily follows, this formula can tell us only that if God exists, God’s existence would be necessary a priori. Whether God, or the purely logical content of any concept, actually exists cannot be known but through experience.148 The underdetermination of Hegel’s logic vis-à-vis existence leads us into his next fiction.

2nd Fiction: The release (Entlassen) of logic into nature

   Hegel describes his Absolute system, which includes the spheres of logic, nature, and spirit, as “a circle of circles” wherein each sphere holographically contains the others as parts of the Whole within itself.149 Accordingly, the links between each of these spheres are said not to be the result of any real process of transition, since taken separately, the true content of any one sphere is nothing more than the result of its antecedent and an indication of its successor.150 Despite his ideal desire for the holographic circulation of the spheres of the Absolute system, Hegel must begin his actual exposition within the circumference of a singular sphere. The paradigmatic idealist, Hegel of course decides to begin with the science of logic, which he describes as

the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence, before the creation of nature and a finite mind.151

Schelling’s die Weltalter project was also an attempt to peer into the nature of God before creation; but unlike Hegel, he is concerned to account not only for the structure of God’s internal necessity, but for God’s willingness to risk his eternal essence in the creation of a physical universe endowed with genuine freedom. Strictly speaking, there can be no reason for such a risk, since this would immediately draw it back into the sphere of necessary logical determinations.152 Schelling’s claim is that God is not only a logic, but a life–not just a law-like system, but a loving personality.153 The difficultly of philosophically grounding such a claim is borne out by Schelling’s repeated failure to compose a definitive and complete version of The Ages of the World; on the other hand, the very incompletion of this project could be read as a justification of its core insight into the inscrutability of God’s eternally beginning nature, a nature before which

there would remain only the growing silent that the helplessness and faint audibility of language really seeks to approach.154

For Hegel, the link between God and creation, or between logic and nature, should be “perfectly transparent”; all that needs to be said about it is that God “freely releases [himself] in [his] absolute self-assurance and inner poise.”155 For Schelling, this depiction amounts to a non-answer that shirks the difficulty of narrating the awesomeness and sheer facticity of nature’s coming-into-existence.156 The profundity of the link between divinity and nature cannot be so easily “released.” The link–Plato’s “secret band”157–holding One and All in communion with the Whole is precisely that which can never be released but only ever re-bound. Schelling says of secular modern philosophy, including Hegel’s, that its “main weakness” is its lack of appreciation for the supreme importance of intermediate concepts between such extremes as spirit v. matter, morality v. mechanics, creator v. cosmos. Intermediate concepts such as life between mind and matter, or human between universe and divinity are “the only concepts that actually explain anything in all of science.”158

Though Hegel claims that the free release of nature from the Mind of God is only a figurative expression, his science of logic depends upon this release being a conceptual category, since otherwise the real which was released would no longer be the rational. Schelling calls his bluff by asking what “the astounding category of the release (Entlassen)” actually explains.159 The question remains: is there, or is there not a truly extralogical realm of nature that is not always already swallowed back up by spirit into the Mind of God? If something has been released from God, what is it? Hegel offers too little in response to such questions.

In the theosophy of Jakob Böhme, fantastic expressions concerning the emergence of creation from God are at least the result of genuine intuitions and “the predilection for nature as opposed to art,” while in the dry systems of the Hegelian type, “there is but unnatural and conceited art.”160 Hegel’s dialectical logic makes itself the beginning of everything, the source even of nature.

In The Ages of the World, Schelling attempts (whether successful or not) to pass through and beyond (über etwas hinaus) the dialectical science of logic into a way of knowing nature no longer forgetful of her status as the primordial beginning of all things.161 While Hegel claims his science of logic explains the essence of God and the existence of nature, Schelling’s argues that the nature of the link between Creator and creation cannot be explained according to a geometrical method of demonstration. To know nature as she comes-into-being, the philosopher must come to know his own self-generation through her. The proper form of expression for such generative philosophy is mythpoeia, or imaginative narration, since it transforms what would otherwise remain ideal reflection upon an abstract copy of the eternal beginning of nature into autophusis philosophia, or “nature itself philosophizing.”162

As long as this age restricts itself to the interior and to the Ideal, it lacks the natural means of an external presentation. Now, after having long gone astray, it has again developed the recollection of nature and of nature’s former oneness with science. Yet it did not abide by this. Hardly had the first steps in reuniting philosophy with nature occurred when the old age of the physical had to be acknowledged and how it, very far from being the last, is, rather, the first from which everything begins, even the development of divine life. Since then, science no longer begins from the remoteness of abstract thoughts in order to descend from them to the natural. Rather, it is the reverse…Soon the contempt with which only the ignorant still look down on everything physical will cease and once again the following saying will be true: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.163

Schelling’s Positive Philosophy

   Schelling’s pursuit of a physics of divinity is a result of his attendance to the non-rational dimensions of existence. Though he admitted that a negative philosophy like Hegel’s, bound to circle within the necessary and demonstrable proofs of logic, should remain the philosophy of the Academy, he also called for a positive philosophy to complement the negative by making it adequate to actual life. Positive philosophy is an emphatic knowing that overcomes doubt, not through the certainty of science, but through the free decision to love the world.164 Schelling’s emphatic way of knowing re-unifies the powers of feeling and thinking torn asunder by the dualism inherent to modern epistemology, revealing in the soul an instinctual moral connection to the physical ground of God.165

As the Eleusinian mysteries were divided between a minor and a major rite, so too must philosophy be divided into the negative and the positive, where the latter presupposes initiation into the former.166 It is precisely through the recognition of the limits of negative philosophy–of its inability to account for a living God or for the actual creation of the world–that the need for a positive philosophy is realized. Such a positive account would no longer be simply mythic, since unlike myth, it would not be oriented exclusively to the past, but would open up into an unprethinkable (Unvordenklichkeit) future intimated only by the activity of free individuals and the loving communities to which they belong.167


116 Hegel was headmaster from 1808-1816.

117 Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel Bd I, trans. Matthews, 138.

118 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 57-58.

119 Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel Bd. I, trans. Matthews, 138.

120 Christopher Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 174.

121 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

122 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 78, 95.

123 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 586.

124 Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1831).

125 Schelling, Grundlegung der Positiven Philosophie: Münchener Vorlesung WS 1832/33 and SS 1833, ed. Horst Fuhrmans, trans. Matthews, 97.

126 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 150.

127 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, II/3, 161.

128 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 59; Schellings sämtliche Werke, I/10, 212-213.

129 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 176; Schelling goes on: “One forgives the individual who staggers when he is actually drunk with intuition, but not one who by nature is actually sober and only wishes to appear as if he too is staggering.”

130 See Grant, “Philosophy Become Genetic,” The New Schelling, 139-142 for a discussion of the role of mythic discourse in Plato’s Timaeus (a text studied closely by Schelling),wherein likely stories allow him to approach topics unreachable by dialectical logic, like the “difficult and dark idea of matter” and the “fabrication” of the World Soul.

131 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 63.

132 Hegel, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 122.

133 Hegel, Hegel Selections, ed. Jacob Loewenberg, trans, J.B. Baillie, 5.

134 Lauer, Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 102.

135 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 176.

136 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 57.

137 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, 7/403.

138 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 49.

139 Schelling, Ages of the World, trans. Manfred Schröter, 103.

140 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, I/1, 243.

141 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, I/10, 212.

142 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 60.

143 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

144 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

145 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Matthews, II/3, 173.

146 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 61.

147 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 130.

148 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 199-201.

149 Hegel, “Encyclopedia Logic,” Sec. 15, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 138.

150 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Ch. 3, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 249.

151 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Intro., The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 176.

152 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 163.

153 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 5-6.

154 Schelling, Schellings sämtliche Werke, trans. Wirth, II/1, 312.

155 Hegel, “Science of Logic,” Ch. 3, The Hegel Reader, trans. Houlgate, 250; That the personal pronoun here is masculine is purely a convention; the essential point is that it be personal, rather than the impersonal “it.”

156 Lauer, The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling, 164.

157 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 23.

158 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 64.

159 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 175.

160 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxix.

161 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxvii.

162 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 188.

163 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xl.

164 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 79.

165 Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay, 82-83.

166 Schelling, The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Matthews, 198.

167 Matthews, “Introduction,” The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, 66-67.


7 responses to “[Rough Draft] “The Re-Emergence of Schelling” – The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy”

  1. Finishing up research paper on Schelling’s Contemporary Re-Emergence « Footnotes 2 Plato Avatar

    […] The Difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy    26 […]

  2. Kant, Fichte, Schelling: The Absolute (Part III) « inthesaltmine Avatar

    […] David Segall has recently uploaded a draft of a very, very brilliant essay (see here), in which he contrasts the Hegelian and Schellingian perspectives on Philosophy through a […]

  3. inthesaltmine Avatar

    Thank you very, very much. I’ve cited your work here, and I think you may find my additions interesting:


    (Sorry if this is a double post)



  4. […] David Segall has recently uploaded a draft of a very, very brilliant essay (see here), in which he contrasts the Hegelian and Schellingian perspectives on Philosophy through a […]

  5. Roy Reynolds Avatar
    Roy Reynolds

    I just skimmed and paused to read portions. What I read is excellent, and I will save this paper as a resource. As you might suspect, I am a longtime student of process theology, and I practice contemplative spirituality. Appreciatively, Rev. Roy Reynolds (UU), Atlanta GA. 031617

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by, Roy.

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