Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Von Schelling (1775-1854)


"All existence must be conditioned in order that it may be actual, that is, personal, existence. God's existence, too, could not be personal if it were not conditioned, except that he had the conditioning factor within himself and not outside himself....Man never gains control over the condition even though in evil he strives to do so; it is only loaned to him independent of him; hence his personality and selfhood can never be raised to complete actuality. This is the sadness which adheres to all finite life....Activated selfhood is necessary for life's intensity; without there would be complete death, goodness slumbering; for where there is no battle there is no life. The will of the depths is therefore only the awakening of life, not evil immediately and for itself....Whoever has no material or force for evil in himself is also impotent for good.....The time of merely historical faith is past, as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given."
                                                                                                            - Friedrich Schelling


The son of a Lutheran minister, Schelling was born in Leonberg in 1775. Advanced beyond his years, he entered Theological Seminary at the young age of fifteen. There, at the University of Tubingen, Schelling first met Hegel and Holderlin, who became his close friends. He obtained his doctorate in Philosophy, Theology and Classical Philology in 1792, and, between 1795 and 1798, continued his studies at Leipzig University, where he studied mathematics and the natural sciences. By 1798, Schelling was recommended by Fichte for an associate professorship at Jena University -- where he became acquainted with the likes of Fichte, Goethe, Schlegel, and Schiller. It was there that he also met his wife, Karoline, who was 12 years his senior. Karoline, already married to Schlegel, had to divorce in order to marry Schelling. The marriage caused a scandal, prompting the couple to move to Wurzburg. In 1806, Schelling moved on to Munich where he served as a member of the Academy of Science for 14 years. Karoline died in 1809, but Schelling remarried to Pauline Gotter. After teaching at Erlangen University and Munchen, Schelling became a member of the Academy of Sciences in Prussia per the invitation of Friedrich Wilhem IV. Schelling died at the age of 79 in 1854 in Ragarz, Switzerland.

Early on, Schelling greatly admired Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre, though he became more critical of Fichte in his later life, drawing on the work of Spinoza. Schelling's "Philosophical Investigations concerning the Nature of Human Freedom" (1809) is often seen as a major precursor to existential thought. In this work, he particularly draws on Jacob Boehme's work. In general, Schelling's thought greatly evolved over his lifetime, though he remains, along with Hegel, the quintessential architect of Idealist philosophy -- and always stayed close to the Romanticism which remained central to his thought.


Schelling, throughout all his years and throughout the major changes in his thought, always remained a champion of Romanticism. Thus, he advocated a philosophy which emphasized intuition over reason, and which held the aesthetic and creative imagination as the highest values. For Schelling, the promise of the Enlightenment, that reality can be grasped by reflection in the rational-cognitive mode, is an empty promise; rather, for Schelling, it is the creative imagination which holds the power to grasp reality. His influences over the years included: Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Herder, Spinoza, Bruno, Neo-Platonism, Boehme, Aristotle, and Gnosticism (i.e., Basilides, Valentinus) -- though Schelling became largely critical of Kant and Fichte for their emphasis on reason.

Schelling's Positive Philosophy shares many similarities to 20th century Existentialist thought. For Schelling, the Self emerges from Nature, and, unlike in Fichte's philosophy, is not separate from Nature. Rather, Nature is a necessarily step toward Self. Nature, as Schelling views it, is divided into three "stages": the organic, the inorganic and the universal. The Universal Nature, or World Soul, lies beneath the organic and inorganic natures. Nature arises from the productive Ground, and, eventually, becomes conscious of itself in the human being. In other words, Spirit evolves toward itself as the human being; thereby, the human being emerges as the coming to consciousness of Spirit out of Nature from the Primary Nature or Ground. Methodologically, therefore, the emphasis is placed on the 'subjective' as opposed to the 'objective', since the philosopher is the coming into being of Nature as conscious of itself. It follows that Schelling's philosophy constitutes a unique form of Idealism, known as Aesthetic Idealism. Schelling's Idealism is aesthetic because his thought views the aesthetic (following the theoretical as 'subjective' and the practical as 'objective') as the elimination of the subject-object opposition, since an object of beauty as art is the 'objective' form of 'subjectivity.'  Schelling's philosophy is always moving toward unity, and this unity is always constituted by an underlying unity as the Ground, as opposed to the inorganic and organic which emerge with increasing complexity and opposition. In 20th century existential-phenomenological thought, the subject-object split would become a central preoccupation of philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.

One can see Schelling's indebtedness to Boehme, particularly in his later writings, in his discussion of freedom (another preoccupation with later existentialsm). Like Boehme, Schelling sees the emergence of the sensory world as God's coming to awareness of itself -- thus, God comes to self-consciousness through the enfolding of phenomena in the world. For Schelling, "creation" constitutes the "Fall" wherein opposition arises -- things in the world become differentiated, thus moving away from the unity of the Ground. At the same time, there is an urge toward a return to original unity, which constitutes "history." The "God before God" is the undifferentiated Ungrund out of which opposition arises (creation) and towards which there is an urge to return (history).

Increasingly, in his later years, Schelling emphasized the irrational. For Schelling, the rational can only grasp universals, and, therefore, is unable to comprehend the particular, concrete individual. In this sense, Schelling can especially be viewed as a major influence on later existentialism, which would also emphasize the irrational and concrete over the rational and abstract.


Schelling, Friedrich: Virginia
Schelling: A Lecture
Schelling: Comparative
Schelling at
Schelling page (German)
German Idealism
Western Philosophical Concepts of God
System of Transcendental Philosophy by Schelling
Schelling's Criticism of Hegel, 1841
Engels on Hegel and Schelling, 1841
Schelling Commission
Schelling Links


Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (Texts in German Philosophy)
by F.W.J. Schelling, Peter Heath (Translator), Errol E. Harris (Translator)
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The Ages of the World (Suny Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy)
by F.W.J. Schelling, Jason M. Wirth (Translator)
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Idealism and the Endgame of Theory : Three Essays (Suny Series, Intersections : Philosophy and Critical Theory)
by F.W.J. Schelling, Thomas Pfau (Translator)
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On the History of Modern Philosophy (Texts in German Philosophy)
by F.W.J. Schelling, Andrew Bowie (Translator)
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System of Transcendental Idealism (1800)
by Peter Heath (Translator), F. W. J. Schelling
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The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World : An Essay (The Body, in Theory -Histories of Cultural Materialism)
by Slavoj Zizek, F. W. J. Von Schelling, Judith Norman (Translator)
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The Indivisible Remainder : An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters
by Slavoj Zizek
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The Concept of Irony With Continual Reference to Socrates Together With Notes of Schellings Berlin Lectures
by Soren Kierkegaard, Edna H. Hong (Editor), Howard Vincent Hong (Editor)
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Schelling and Modern European Philosophy : An Introduction
by Andrew Bowie
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Schelling and Swedenborg : Mysticism and German Idealism (Swedenborg Studies, No. 6)
by Friedemann Horn, George F. Dole (Translator)
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Schelling and the End of Idealism (Suny Series in Hegelian Studies)
by Dale E. Snow
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Schelling's Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom (Series in Continental Thought ; 8)
by Martin Heidegger
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The Difference Between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
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Introducing the German Idealists : Mock Interviews With Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Reinhold, Jacobi, Schlegel and a Letter from Schopenhauer
by Robert C. Solomon
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Mysticism and Guilt-Consciousness in Schelling's Philosophical Development.
by Paul Tillich
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The Potencies of God (S : Schelling's Philosophy of Mythology)
by Edward Allen Beach
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Quest for a Philosophical Jesus : Christianity and Philosophy in Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Schelling
by Vincent A. McCarthy
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Schelling's Idealism and Philosophy of Nature
by Joseph L. Esposito
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Copyright 1999, Brent Dean Robbins

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