The Late Schelling: The Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation

  • Robert Gascoigne
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 105)


In 1841, at the invitation of the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the aging ScheUing came to Berlin to fulfil his own dream of once again initiating a new epoch in the history of philosophy, while at the same time attemting to satisfy the Prussian government by counteracting the subversive influence of the radical disciples of Hegel. The tenure of the professorship of philosophy gave Schelling every opportunity to present to an eager public the philosophy that he had been formulating ever since Hegel’s scathing critique of his system of identity, in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, had reduced him to silence. Convinced that Hegel’s philosophy had been shown to be infertile, ScheUing hoped to draw German cultural life back to the ‘path of true progress’.1


Religious Experience Pure Reason Divine Nature Positive Philosophy Prior Principle 
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  1. 1.
    In a letter written in 1832 Schelling had told a friend that he considered Hegel’s philosophy ‘in that which is peculiar to it, to be only an episode in the history of recent philosophy… and indeed a sad episode. Rather than continuing it, we must break with it completely and ignore it, in order to come back to the path of true progress.’ (Quoted in H.-J. Sandkühler, Freiheit und Wirklichkeit, Suhr-kamp Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 1968, p. 222.)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Schellings Werke, edited by M. Schröter, München, 1927. (Second edition, 1959) Vol. 6, p. 755. All references to Schelling’s works are to this edition.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ibid., p. 758.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 759.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Schellings Werke, 6th Ergänzungsband, p. 7.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 10.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 11.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 46.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., p. 57.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., p. 61.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., p. 61.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ibid., p. 64–65.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., p. 73.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., p. 73.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid., p. 80.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    In his 1827 lectures on the history of philosophy, Schelling had criticized the presuppositions of Hegel’s Logic. Hegel’s description of the logical movement away from pure being, for Schelling, ‘means nothing more than that the idea, which starts with pure being, feels the impossibility of remaining at this utterly abstract and empty level. The need to go beyond this has its origin purely in the fact that the idea is already used to a more concrete and fuller being, and thus cannot content itself with this thin fare of pure being. In the last instance it is only the circumstance that there is in fact a richer and fuller being, and the thinking mind is itself part of this. It is therefore not something about the empty concept itself, but rather a necessity inherent in philosophizing and its process of recollection, which does not allow it to remain at this level of empty abstraction.’ (Volume 5, p. 201)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    6th Ergänzungsband, p. 93.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid., p. 101.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., p. 114.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 124.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 125.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 127.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 131.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 131.Google Scholar
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  26. 26.
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    Ibid., p. 771. E. Fackenheim, in his Schelling’s Conception of Positive Philosophy (Review of Metaphysics VII, 1953–4), sums up the intentions of Schelling’s late philosophy as a rejection of dialectical necessity: ‘The absolute existent, as the Individual beyond all universality, must be outside all dialectic. The relationship can therefore be only one of free will. Free will in Schelling’s fundamental existential category.’ (p. 574) This absolute existent is the ground of all rationality, rather than vice versa. Fackenheim notes, however, a contradiction between Schelling’s relativized understanding of reason and his employment of idealist categories to grasp the totality of being: ‘The creation is by no means an empirical fact; it is an ideal construction. To validate this construction, the positive philosophy must presuppose precisely that absolute rationalism which the doctrine itself puts in question.’ (p. 578) For Fackenheim, this contradiction is related to Schelling’s failure to find any better solution to the problem of the relation between absolute existence and reason than that advanced in the essay Über die Quelle der ewigen Wahrheiten.Google Scholar
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    Volume 6, p. 347.Google Scholar
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  42. 42.
    For W. Schulz, in his Die Vollendung des deutschen Idealismus in der Spätphilosophie Schellings (W. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart und Köln, 1955) Schelling’s Potenzen ‘are not only, or more precisely they are not at all primarily cosmic powers and forces, to be discussed as part of a metaphysical picture of the cosmic process, but they are also and before all else fundamental categories of pure reason’, (p. 16). Yet Schelling’s doctrine seems finally to emphasize the demiurgic and ultimately trinitarian character of the Potenzen over their role as categories: ‘Our principles of being would be completely misunderstood, if they were to be regarded as mere categories. One might wish to say that that which we have called the potency to be (das Seynkönnende) is nothing other than the universal category of the possible, applicable to everything, even the most particular and concrete thing. Or that which we have called ‘pure being’ is the Kantian category of ‘reality’, and the ‘ought to be’ is the universal rational category of necessity. But all this would be a complete misunderstanding. This potency to be is not the universal concept of possibility, applicable to the totality of the concrete, but, on the contrary, something highly particular: it is that unique and incomparable possibility, possibility as such, primal possibility, the ground of all becoming and thus of all created being.’ (6th Ergänzungsband, pp. 245–5)Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Volume 6, p. 369.Google Scholar
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  45. 45.
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  51. 51.
    H. Fuhrmans, in his ‘Der Gottesbegriff der Schellingschen positiven Philosophie’ (in Schelling Studien, Festgabe für M. Schröter, München-Wien, 1965) stresses that ‘the question concerning the freedom of God, his freedom in relation to the world, became the most urgent question of the late Schelling, the crowning of his long wished-for “system of freedom” against every “system of necessity”, (pp. 33 - 34) Divine freedom creates the world from an act of will, not through emanation: ‘God is already and in himself spirit since spirit is that which is self-sufficient and free of constraint. This was Schelling’s radical renunciation of all those forms of thought which attempted to understand the world as the result of a need or necessity in God’, (p. 19) Fuhrmans grants, however, that the spirit of Schelling’s philosophizing remains thoroughly permeated with idealism and with notions of theogony in particular: ‘For Schelling, too, there is a “becoming” of God. First of all a pre-cosmic becoming, which grants him decisive self-knowledge — but also a cosmic becoming. But it is not the Father who “comes to himself” in the world, but rather the Son and the Holy Spirit which first become themselves in the cosmic process.’ (p. 47)Google Scholar
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    6th Ergänzungsband, pp. 264–5.Google Scholar
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  64. 64.
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  65. 65.
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  66. 66.
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  69. 69.
    Ibid., p. 440–52.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
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  71. 71.
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  72. 72.
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  73. 73.
    Ibid., p. 113–4.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Ibid., p. 120.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Ibid., p. 124.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Ibid., p. 725.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    Volume 5, p. 718.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    H.-J. Sandkühler, in Freiheit und Wirklichkeit, notes that Schelling made no liberal critique of the Karlsbad decrees of 1819. (p. 220) His objection to them was simply that they would unite all the forces of the Enlightenment in opposition. In the conflict between the king and the estates in Württemberg, Schelling took the part of the traditional estates, in opposition to Hegel. Schelling witnessed the 1848 revolution in Berlin with great anxiety, attributing it fundamentally to public boredom. For him, it showed the need ‘to strive all the more to forget the present through philosophy’, (p. 225) He expected ‘a new, even more frightful and more penetrating revolution… which will make the present so disheartening, that one will have to withdraw completely into an interior world’. (p. 228) The rough drafts of Schelling’s lectures, according to Sandkühler, reveal that he knew of and criticized the early socialist movements.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Werke, volume 5, pp. 730–1.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Ibid., p. 731.Google Scholar
  81. 81.
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  83. 83.
    Ibid., p. 734. For Sandkühler in Freiheit und Wirklichkeit, Tor Schelling, the political is a real and necessary part of the system and yet theoretically only a negative by-product of the system… The political… is the perennial symptom of that fall of man from the absolute which is necessary for the revelation of the absolute’, (pp. 31–2) In Schelling’s hands ‘the philosophy of the deed became metaphysics once again, “the knowledge of the ideas or the eternal forms”… In the balance at the end of the philosophical revolution, in the denial of the liberation of man from nature for his own history, the insight into the fundamental connection between knowledge and liberation is written off as a loss’, (p. 104) For Schelling, ‘the individual is near to reconciliation, but only in an immediate relationship to God and beyond the sphere of public life’, (p. 243) For Sandkühler, Schelling’s philosophy played a role similar to that attributed to Comte by H. Marcuse in his Reason and Revolution (New York, 1954): ‘Positive’ philosophy is thought which legitimizes the historically given and represses criticism — Schelling’s emphasis on the metaphysical elucidation of the unchanging structure of being ignored the ‘praxis-character of knowledge’ and the radical consequences of a union of theory and praxis that Hegel and Young Hegelians had explored. The contrast between Schelling and the Young Hegelians is clear, but a distinction between Schelling and Hegel in terms of the ‘praxis-character of knowledge’ cannot be made so readily. Sandkühler’s interpretation attributes to Hegel’s thought a radicalism that the Young Hegelians themselves could not find in its explicit formulations.Google Scholar
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    Werke, volume 5, p. 771.Google Scholar
  85. 85.
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  86. 86.
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  87. 87.
    These themes are explicitly developed in Hegel’s Fragmente über Volksreligion und Christentum (1793–4) and also in Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus (1796 or 1797). The authorship of the latter piece is still a matter of scholarly dispute, as summarized on pp. 48–49 of H. Zeltner, Schelling Forschung seit 1954, Darmstadt, 1975. Whether or not Schelling wrote the ältestes Systemprogramm, one can ascribe an interest in these three tasks of religion to him as well as to Hegel, although his own awareness of political questions in particular always remained negligible. Schelling’s first work was a study of mythology, the essay Über Mythen, historische Sagen und Philosopheme der ältesten Welt (1793) and mythology was the chief theme of the Systemprogramm. (See F.G. Nauen, Revolution, Idealism and Human Freedom. Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel and the Crisis of Early German Idealism. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1971.)Google Scholar
  88. 88.
    Schellings Werke, volume 6, 712.Google Scholar
  89. 89.
    Schelling and Revelation: Critique of the latest attempt of reaction against the free philosophy, in Marx and Engels Collected Works (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1975), volume 2, p. 207.Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Telegraph für Deutschland, No. 207, December 1841, in M.E.C.W., vol. 2, p. 186.Google Scholar
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  93. 93.
    Ibid., p. 227.Google Scholar
  94. 94.
    Ibid., p. 199.Google Scholar
  95. 95.
    Letter to Feuerbach, 3/10/1843, in L. Feuerbach, Briefwechsel, (Leipzig, Reclam, 1963), p. 179.Google Scholar
  96. 96.
    Ibid., p. 180.Google Scholar
  97. 97.
    Letter to Marx, 25/10/1843, Briefwechsel, p. 182.Google Scholar
  98. 98.
    L. Feuerbach, Das Wesen des Christentums, (3rd Edition 1849, Reclam, Stuttgart, 1974), p. 160.Google Scholar
  99. 99.
    Ibid., p. 155–157.Google Scholar
  100. 100.
    6th Ergänzungsband, p. 381.Google Scholar
  101. 101.
    A summary of Schelling’s system of myth, as interpreted through the Potenzenlehre, is on pp. 382–410, 6th Ergänzungsband.Google Scholar
  102. 102.
    K.O. Müller, Introduction to a Scientific System of Mythology, (English translation 1844), p. 158.Google Scholar
  103. 103.
    For K. Jaspers, in his Schelling: Grösse und Verhängnis (München, 1955), the stimulating and profound questions that Schelling asked were rarely complemented by rigorous philosophical execution: ‘Where have we got to with Schelling’s questions? From the sovereignty of a great philosophical quest, from a stance on the frontiers of thought, to the murky and restricted domains of gnosis, which claims an objective knowledge of the transcendent, and thus of being itself, through contemplation and story and which experiences this knowledge as the salvation of the soul’ (p. 130). ‘What he lacked is shown by Kierkegaard and Marx, by the reality of the sciences, by the political thought and events of his day. Schelling is blind to all of these, remaining ignorant in his apparently illuminating declarations, since he does not penetrate to reality itself’ (p. 253).Google Scholar
  104. 104.
    Quoted in W. Lowrie, Kierkegaard (Harper Torchbooks, 1962), volume 1, p. 234.Google Scholar
  105. 105.
    W. Schulz, in his Die Vollendung des deutschen Idealismus in der Spätphilosophie Schellings, considers Schelling’s Potenzenlehre to be an essentially idealist doctrine, not offering any justification for classifying him as an existentialist avant la lettre. For Schulz, Schelling’s late philosophy had much more in common with Hegel than with his critics of the 1840’s: Schelling’s critique of Hegel’s absolute idealism was an intra-idealist critique, aimed at a successful interpretation of the relationship between God and reason. For Schulz, Schelling did not attempt to set up a polarity of reason and existence, reason and nature, in a way similar to the thought of Kierkegaard or Feuerbach: he did not intend to criticize idealism ‘from the side of life’, but to correct it by stressing the absolute self-possession of God and the consequent relativity of human reason. ‘… to presuppose God as the existing subject of reason. He is the real power which stands above reason as its possibility, and thought must be subordinated, subjected, down-cast (unterworfen) before him. Before God, knowledge is non-being.’ Schulz emphasizes that for Schelling ‘God is not real in a sphere of reality which has nothing to do with reason, but rather reason is the locus of God… God is the transcendent made into the content of reason. The more one attempts to understand the whole of Schelling’s late philosophy, the more indubitable it becomes that we are dealing here with an idealist system’, (pp. 89–90). Yet Schelling does, for Schulz, emphasize the finitude of human subjectivity and of human reason, which are grounded in an act of divine existence: ‘The “that” of unintelligibility separates God, who is pure self-mediation, from reason, since it relates them to each other as opposites. If this “that” was not put between them, then God would fall back into reason: we would be back with the pantheism of Hegel.’ (p. 289) It was this emphasis on the dependence of rational subjectivity on a non-rational ground, for Schulz, which was to be developed by Kierkegaard and Heidegger.Google Scholar
  106. 106.
    For K. Löwith, in his From Hegel to Nietzsche (Constable, London, 1965), ‘In Schelling, the problem of being in the anti-Hegelian movement arrived at the point where Heidegger once more took it up. For who could deny that the ‘facticity’ of Dasein, which lies in the brute fact of Dass-Sein, that Geworfenheit and Entwurf correspond to ‘immediate existence’ and ‘breaking away’ from this necessary accident? The difference with Schelling lies in the fact that Heidegger erects upon Kierkegaard’s basis a ‘system of existence’ (Dasein) which lacks Schelling’s tension between the negative and positive philosophy of ‘reason’ and ‘existence’, (p. 118)Google Scholar
  107. 107.
    For J. Habermas, in his ‘Dialektischer Idealismus im Übergang zum Materialismus — Geschichtsphilosophische Folgerungen aus Schellings Idee einer Contraction Gottes’ in Theorie und Praxis (Luchterhand, Neuwied am Rhein and Berlin, 1963), Schelling’s granting of a relative cognitive status to ‘negative’ philosophy meant that he could never convincingly demonstrate ‘positive’ philosophy’s superiority to it: if ‘negative’ philosophy was something more than subjective idealism, then it could not be said to be unable to grasp existence, to unite essence and existence. It was Kierkegaard who saw much more clearly that ‘the claim of positive philosophy had to be ratified by a relinquishing of negative philosophy’. For Habermas, Schelling’s late philosophy was the first attempt at an existentialist critique of idealism, which was developed by Kierkegaard and completed by Heidegger: ‘It was Heidegger who first achieved what Schelling thought he had reached by splitting the system: the unity of the ontological question with the practical need for a reversal of the corrupt age… In this conviction, that the devoted knowledge of being and the evocation of salvation are a unity, idealism still lives within the overcoming of idealism. This bifurcation has been inherited from Schelling by contemporary philosophy.’ (p. 149)Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Robert Gascoigne

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