Schelling's Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom (Series in Continental Thought ; 8) Paperback – 31 Dec 1985
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About the Author
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) spent most of his career teaching at the University of Freiburg. His most prominent works include "Being and Time," "Discourse on Thinking," "Identity and Difference," "What Is Called Thinking?," and "Poetry, Language, Thought,"
Joan Stambaugh is a professor emerita of philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of "The Finitude of Being," "The Other Neitzsche," and "The Formless Self,"
Stambaugh is Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
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In 1936, Heidegger lectured on a treatise by the German idealistic philosopher Frederick Schelling (1775 -- 1854) called "The Essence of Human Freedom" (1809), itself a highly difficult work of some 90 pages. Schelling had been a college friend of both Hegel and the poet Holderlin. Hegel published his most famous work "The Phenomenology of Mind" in 1807, two years before Schelling's Treatise. In the "Phenomenology" Hegel attacked his friend's version of philosophical idealism for its alleged mystical, intuitive character. Schelling took the criticism hard, and the friendship ended. At the time Heidegger wrote, Schelling had been neglected for many years, even in Germany. Schelling's Treatise remains little read, due to its romanticism and its anthrophomorphism, qualities of which Heidegger was fully aware, in addition to its obscurity. This translation of Heidegger's lectures on Schelling's Treatise dates from 1985 and is by the American philosopher Joan Stambaugh. It is as readable and accessible as this text is likely to be.
Philosophers tend not to be the best interpreters of one another's work because their own thought gets in the way. Heidegger is notorious for his idiosyncratic readings of other thinkers to bend them to his own lights. Heidegger's s book on Schelling, while by no stretch a "neutral" evaluation of his predecessor is a sympathetic and plausible account of the Treatise. It aims for and achieves more. Reading Heidegger's lectures, I got the sense of struggling with both Schelling and Heidegger. The text convinced me that something important was being said, however obscurely. As with other Heidegger, much of this book is seeming gibberish. Impenetrable discussions are often followed by passages of great insight and respective clarity. Some of the difficulty may be due to the difficulty of transferring apoken lectures to the printed page. Frequently, after long obscure passages in this book, Heidegger will proclaim in his own voice that the discussion makes little sense. I felt frustrated, but I remembered that while speaking Heidegger probably delivered these really obscure analyses with a tone of irony in his voice that would not communicate to the page. Heidegger in fact appears to be a good as well as a charismatic lecturer. He organizes his material and repeats and summarizes what he has said when he moves from one section to another. He appears to try to make himself understood. The lectures are filled with asides, readily understood examples, and even touches of humor.
Heidegger's lectures, which exceed considerably Schelling's text in length, consist of opening remarks, and extended discussion of Schelling's own introduction to his text and a shorter and much more difficult discussion of the "Main Part" of Schelling's Treatise. Why lecture on Schelling's Treatise rather than on a different text? Here is Heidegger's response (p. 11)
"We stated that no further explanation was necessary why we have chosen this treatise -- unless in terms of the treatise itself. For it raises a question in which something is expressed which underlies all of man's individual intentions and aspirations, the question of philosophy as such. Whoever grasps this question knows immediately that it is meaningless to ask why and to what purpose we philosphize. For philosophy is grounded only in terms of itself- or else not at all, just as art reveals its truth only through itself."
Schelling was a philosopher of absolute idealism. Heidegger rejected absolute idealism although its impact on him was profound. His discussion of the nature of philosophical system building and of the aims of German idealism after Kant are deeply insightful. Schelling's Treatise was intended as both a tribute to and a refutation of the philosophical system of Spinoza. Heidegger thus engages in this work with Spinoza, something he was faulted for not doing in "Being and Time".
Heidegger saw himself as a philosopher of questioning and as a philosopher of Being. He engages with Schelling, more than with Hegel, because of the limitedlessness, poetical character of Schelling's thought. Heidegger wants to understand what philosophical Absolutism is, and how, if at all, it comports with freedom. Schelling had thought that the claimed absolutism of Spinoza resulted in fatalism. Heidegger then explores Schelling's treatment of the nature of evil. Philosophical idealism is frequently rejected on these two broad issues among others: 1. it leads to determinism and fatalism and 2. it cannot account for the existence of evil.
Heidegger offers a long and in places tortorous account of Schelling's idealism, understanding of human freedom, and understanding of evil. As an absolute idealist, Schelling tried to combine in a difficult way the Absolute and infinite with the individual. Heidegger rejects the absolute, but his own concept of Being appears to me to owe much to it. Heidegger is a philosopher of becoming, human finitude, and approaches to Being.
This book is a difficult commentary on a text which, if anything, is more difficult. Early in his study, (p 9), Heidegger quotes his subject as saying "It is a poor objection to a philosopher to say that he is incomprehensible." Readers without a strong background in Heidegger's "Being and Time" and in Kant and his successors will be unduly frustrated by this book. Readers with a passion for philosophical issues will be engaged by this work.
This book will also be of great interest for anyone interested in Schelling because it is a truly profound, and detailed commentary on what I think is probably Schelling's most profound and important work, his essay on the Essence of Human Freedom (for the reader interested in reading Schelling's essay along with Heidegger's commentary I recommend the translation contained in Philosophy of German Idealism: Fichte, Jacobi, and Schelling (German Library). I do not speak or read German but I have been told by a professor of mine, who was a Schelling scholar, that the translation in that volume is better than the translation put out by SUNY). Schelling's freedom essay presents a number of interpretive difficulties for the reader. The subject that Schelling is dealing with is inherently difficult (the ontological grounding of human freedom) and Schelling's writing can also be quite obscure at times. Schelling also frames the entire problem in theological language which can be off putting to the modern reader. It is often difficult, I think, for modern readers to take a philosopher seriously when he (or she) begins to describe the inner life of God. On a first reading it often seems as if Schelling is simply making ungrounded assertions in his freedom essay about the nature of the Absolute (or God) and is claiming knowledge for himself which no human being could possibly possess. We, of course, have known since Kant that human reason is incapable of providing us with knowledge of the Absolute as it exists in itself and it often seems as if Schelling is engaging in speculations beyond Kant's wildest dreams in his freedom essay (despite being a post-Kantian philosopher). What Heidegger sees clearly, I think, is that Schelling's essay is as much a work of ontology as it is of theology and Heidegger is able to detach, to some degree, Schelling's ontological insights from his theological language in this work. Heidegger in a sense 'modernizes' and 'demythologizes' Schelling's essay in this work. Heidegger also attempts to follow Schelling's train of thought in order to seek out the motivations behind his thought so that Schelling's claims no longer appear as merely ungrounded assertions about something that is inherently unknowable. One begins to get a sense of the inner movement of Schelling's thought which is much more important than simply appropriating Schelling's assertions without understanding the motivations behind those assertions.
Like all of Heidegger's works there are times in this work when Heidegger lapses into a nearly impenetrable obscurity but there are also moments (and quite a few of them) in which he is extremely lucid and clear in his presentations of Schelling's ideas.
The rest of my review will be a slightly more detailed summary of the general development that Heidegger traces in this work for those who are interested. I should emphasize that everything I say in this review should be considered very provisional. I am by no means an expert in Heidegger or Schelling so it is possible that a great deal of what I have written will have to revised in the future.
The goal of Schelling's essay, according to Heidegger, is to provide the grounds for a philosophical system which encompasses the whole of being and is at the same time capable of integrating human freedom. It is not enough to simply define human freedom (though this will certainly be a part of Schelling's task); one must also "establish the place of this concept in the system as a whole; that is, show how freedom and man's being free go together with beings as a whole and fit into them" (pg19). Why does Schelling's task appear precisely in this form? Heidegger believes that a new interpretation of Being, its determinability and its truth (pg32) arises in the modern period which makes the demand for a system, or the demand that knowledge be presented in the form of a system, an absolute necessity for German Idealism. There are a number of conditions which led to this notion of the system and the demand that knowledge be formulated in terms of the system. I will list what I think were the four most important (out of the six conditions Heidegger lists): "1. The predominance of the mathematical as the criterion of knowledge [which I already mentioned] 2. The self-founding of knowledge in the sense of this requirement as the precedence of certainy over truth [i.e. Descartes's method of radical doubt] 3. The founding of certainty as the self-certainty of the 'I think' 4. Thinking, ratio as the court of judgment for the essential determination of Being" (pg34). Knowledge must be grounded in certainty and certainty is only genuinely grounded in the certainty of the "I think". This ultimately leads to Kant's Copernican revolution in which Being is reinterpreted in terms of what it is possible for human thought to represent (i.e. the ratio becomes the court of judgment for the essential determinations of Being). Reason projects the system before it ever encounters beings, the system is a part of the architectonic of reason itself. As Heidegger writes, "According to Kant, reason posits a focus imaginarius, a focus in which all the rays of questioning things and of determining objects meet, or, conversely, in terms of which all knowledge has its unity. Reason is the faculty - we can say - of anticipatory gathering - logos, legein" (pg37).
This presents a difficulty though. There seems to be a contradiction in the idea of a system of human freedom which ultimately led Kant to posit his dualism between the phenomenal and noumenal and which seemed to lead to the impossibility of ever reconciling the first and second Critiques. Kant continued to work on this problem until his death and his third Critique seemed to point in the direction of a reconciliation which was taken up by the later German Idealists. Kant was still working on this problem in the Opus Posthumum which Heidegger quotes and in which Kant was especially concerned with the relation between God, the world, and the human being (the I Myself, or the existential self, or moral self). [As a sidenote: I think the mistake of ordinary theism is to think God as part of the world system which ultimately is a denial of God as Absolute which is why a theologian like Paul Tillich can say that it is just as atheistic to affirm God's existence as it is to deny it] But back to the work under discussion: the system seems to be based on the principle of sufficient reason. The Idea of unifying all knowledge in terms of the principle of sufficient reason is precisely the heuristic Idea necessary to guide the quest for human knowledge (and scientific knowledge in particular) in the first place even if this goal can never actually be attained. But the principle of sufficient reason (the grounding principle of the system) seems to rule out the possibility of human freedom. From the standpoint of the system human being and human freedom seem to be the great flaw in the diamond (to quote a line from Paul Valery's poem The Graveyard by the Sea; a line that Maurice Merleau-Ponty was especially fond of quoting). Human freedom seems to be precisely what resists the totalization of the system and yet Schelling has set himself the task of providing a system which will be capable of placing human freedom in its place in relation to beings as a whole.
Schelling's task is not entirely different from the task of the modern defenders of free-will who attempt to account for the place of human freedom in a world governed by mechanical laws. Modern thinkers are also attempting to think the place of humanity's freedom in relation to being as a whole. Schelling's task is not entirely identical to the modern theorists though. Schelling is less interested in securing a place for humanity's freedom in a world governed by mechanical laws (a vision of the world which Schelling does not share) and far more interested in securing a place for humanity's freedom in relation to the ground of Being as a whole (or God). This is a result of Schelling's pantheism. It is necessary to understand pantheism precisely though. Heidegger writes, "In its formal meaning, pantheism means: pan-theos, "Everything - God"; everything stands in relation to God; all beings are in relation to the ground of beings" (pg68). It is necessary to have something to contrast this view with. Ordinary theism views the relation between God and creation as a relation between an artisan and his product (with the difference that God did not have any pre-existent material to work with and so is the creator of both the material and the form while the artisan is merely the creator of the form). God according to this view is a self-subsistent being who is capable of existing whether or not the world, or creation, exists (we will see in a moment that Schelling disagrees with this notion of God which, I think, is why Heidegger is able to demythologize Schelling, or interpret Schelling in ontological rather than theological terms). Creation, according to the standard theistic view, is certainly a dependent form of being which depends on its creator for its existence, but once created it also tends to follow laws of its own. These laws may be derived from the nature of God or may have been instituted by God but they are not identical to God; the beings in creation are not in a direct relationship to God but are in direct relation to the laws of the universe. In the Aristotelian universe taken over by St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, fire rises because it has a certain place within the cosmos which it naturally tends to move towards and not because God determines it to do so (God is not the efficient, formal, material, or teleological cause in this case). Humanity's place in nature is also determined by God, but once determined tends to follow rules of its own. God has endowed the human being with a soul and with the faculty of reason which is what allows us to transcend the laws of nature and to be self-determining (i.e. free). The fact that the soul is conceived as a created being which has a relatively autonomous existence in relation to God means that the problem of human freedom in relation to God does not arise in as acute a form for traditional theism as it does for pantheism (this is somewhat oversimplified since traditional theism does encounter the same problem in relation to the notion of Providence since God is supposed to be using the laws of the universe to guide the universe towards a pre-determined end and this raises the whole problem of predestination, etc. but this is not directly relevant to Schelling's essay). By attempting to think of being in its relation to the Absolute or God pantheism has a real problem providing for the possibility of freedom in relation to the Absolute. As Schelling writes, "Absolute causal power in one being leaves nothing but unconditional passivity for all the rest" (quoted in Heidegger, pg69). Pantheism does seem to place causality in the Absolute which seems necessarily to swallow up the possibility for any relative independence of nature or created being in relation to the Absolute. The question of how to ground human freedom in a system, therefore, becomes a problem about the relation between God and his creation which means that Schelling must rethink the nature of creation (and of God) and it is here that Schelling's genuine originality and relevance for the present lie. What Schelling winds up doing is providing a new ontology of becoming; not in terms of a naive conception of a 'temporal flow'; but rather in terms of the movement of revelation (the dialectical belonging together of ground and existence in every being, specifically in the form of the will). This is very similar to Heidegger's understanding of Being as unconcealment which, I think, is why Heidegger was so interested in Schelling in the first place. But I am getting ahead of myself.
To return to the problem of pantheism. Pantheism is often defined as a position which holds that "God is the world". Schelling, and Heidegger, do not deny that this is a true conception of pantheism but everything turns on how one understands the copula 'is' in that sentence. This is precisely the point where Schelling's treatise turns away from being a merely theological discussion (theology in the sense of the science of the divine or God) and becomes ontology (the science of Being, the nature of the 'is'). The problem with the traditional understanding of the formula "God is the world" is that it understands the copula in terms of an inadequate notion of identity as mere identicalness (i.e. there is no difference between God and the world, they are identical). Heidegger writes that for Schelling "identity is truly not a dead relation of indifferent and sterile identicalness, but 'unity' is directly productive, 'creative', and progressing toward others" (pg79). He also writes, "the correct concept of identity means the primordial belonging together of what is different in the one (This one is at the same time the ground of possibility of what is different)" (pg78). This is a difficult idea to grasp but it is the same idea that Heidegger takes up in the little volume Identity and Difference (see my review and my discussion of the belonging together of thought and Being as the correct understanding of identity as well as my discussion of the transitivity of the 'is' in the sentence "the Being of beings means Being which is beings"). Another problem with pantheism as it is traditionally understood is that it tends to view 'thingness' as the fundamental nature of reality as it is in itself (or it determines the Being of beings as 'thinghood'; this is as true of finite beings as it is of God). As Schelling writes, "The error [of the pantheist]...is by no means due to the fact that he posits all things in God, but to the fact that they are things...[and that God] is also a thing for him" (quoted in Heidegger, pg89). Schelling is thinking particularly of Spinoza here. Heidegger goes on to write, "That means the error is not a theological one, but more basically and truly an ontological one. In general and as a whole, beings are understood in terms of the being of things, of natural objects, and only thus" (pg89). The problem is not that beings are thought in their relation to God, or as belonging together, the problem is with our ontological conception of beings in the first place. The problem with Spinozism is that beings are determined as 'things' (as we shall see Schelling determines the Being of beings in terms of a unity between ground and existence which reaches its highest level, the level of Spirit, in man and provides the ground for the possibility of evil and, hence, for human freedom). Schelling believes that 'becoming' is the only adequate ontological determination of the Being of beings (but again he does not conceive of becoming in the naive sense suggested by the image of a river flowing but rather in terms of a process of revelation, and this to me is the most exciting aspect of this book and Schelling's essay ).
Schelling is also critical of previous attempts to define freedom in German Idealism because he believes they provide only the formal definition of freedom (self-determination in conformity with the law of one's own being) and fail to provide an account of the specific nature of human freedom which is a freedom for good and evil. This is another way in which Schelling differs from modern thinkers in relation to the question of free-will. Those who attempt to defend free-will today are simply attempting to defend (usually) some form of indeterminism within the strict determinism of nature. Good and evil are purely anthropomorphic predicates and have no relation to objective Being. It is not, therefore, necessary to provide an ontological ground for the specific human faculty for good and evil. It is enough to defend the existence of a certain form of indeterminism the effects of which can be interpreted in terms of good and evil by certain beings (namely, human beings). Heidegger is aware of the possibility of criticizing Schelling in terms of anthropomorphism but this is a very involved question that I do not have space to go into here. Suffice it to say that Schelling does believe it is necessary to provide an ontological ground for the possibility of evil (which means the freedom essay is also about theodicy). While I cannot entirely defend Schelling from the charge of anthromorphism here I would point out that good and evil are certainly a part of our everyday experience of the world and Schelling's ontology is, therefore, in a sense closer to our everyday life-world than the purely objective value-free ontologies of philosophers like Spinoza or even the ontologies implicit in modern science.
To ground the possibility of evil ontologically means, within the language of Schelling's thought, to ground it in God. So we must examine God. The reason that Schelling's thought can be demythologized is due to the fact that Schelling does not view God as a being; he is not a traditional theist (indeed, some modern commentators have gone so far as to consider Schelling a materialist). Heidegger attempts to elucidate Schelling's understanding of God when he writes, "the determination of beings in the sense of the presence of something objectively present is no longer adequate at all to conceive this Being. Thus 'existence' is understood beforehand as 'emergence-from-self' revealing oneself and in becoming revealed to oneself coming to oneself. For Schelling, existence always means a being insofar as it is aware of itself" (pg109). God is as Existent Spirit or as his own self-revelation. God is not a thing but a process of self-revelation. According to Schelling every being is composed of 'ground' and existence'. Ground is conceived as substratum or the basis of a being and existence is understood in its etymological sense as what emerges from itself and in emerging reveals itself. God is his ground but not yet as himself. As Heidegger writes, "The ground in God is that in God in which God himself 'is' not truly himself, but is rather his ground for his selfhood" (pg110). This is a difficult concept to grasp and one I am not entirely sure I have completely understood but what is important is that the identity between God and his ground is not merely the unity of a thing composed of two constituents but is rather the dialectical unity which determines the "essential laws of God's becoming in his Being as God" (pg110). It is a dialectical unity because God's ground and existence are not merely identical but the ground is the opposite or the condition which is necessary for God's self-revelation. We can think of this as analogous to the necessity of darkness in order for light to exist. In order for there to be light and illumination it is necessary for there to be a ground of darkness. This darkness does not necessarily exist first in a temporal sense but is always simultaneous with the existence of light and provides the ground for the existence of light. Light could not exist if there were no darkness within which to manifest itself. Similarly God's ground provides the necessary condition for God's existence as illumination, Spirit, or love. Schelling calls the ground in God which is not God himself nature and determines it as longing. Schelling expresses the nature of the longing in this way, "turning toward the understanding, indeed, though not yet recognizing it, just as we longingly desire unknown, nameless excellence. This primal longing moves in anticipation like a surging, billowing sea, similar to the 'matter' of Plato, following some dark, uncertain law" (pg122). This is beautiful and rather poetic language and it expresses God in his dual nature. A longing which reaches towards the understanding unknowingly and a light which descends to illuminate that longing. God is precisely this movement of revelation.
Every being other than God has its being in the ground of God or nature and is a unity of the two principles in some way. In human beings this unity is at its highest point which is also the point of greatest separation. Human beings are the only beings in which the two principles can separate and in which the will of the ground can come to dominate the universal will (the will of love) and this is precisely the possibility of evil. This is why the inclination to evil can be said to pre-exist human beings; but the longing in itself is not evil until human beings exist and chooses to make this principle dominant. What is truly interesting, and I think most relevant, about Schelling's ontology is the way in which he determines the Being of beings as this unity between ground and existence. In Schelling's ontology beings are no longer conceived as 'things' but they are not dissolved into a formless becoming either. As Heidegger writes, "becoming is rather understood as a way of Being. But Being is now understood primordially as will. Beings are in being according to the joining of the factors 'ground and existence' belonging to the jointure of Being in a willing being" (pg123). In other words the Being of beings is determined as will; specifically the will of the ground, or longing, which is the longing for the self-revelation of God. Every being is determined, has its particular place in being, in accordance with the degree to which it expresses the unity between these two principles. As Heidegger writes, "Being...cannot be understood as the brute existence of something manufactured, but must be understood as the jointure of ground and existence. The jointure is not a rigid jungle gym of determinations but - itself presenting in itself in the reciprocal relation - presences as will" (pg135). This means there is a continuity between human beings and the rest of nature and being. Human beings are the highest beings in creation in the sense that they express the highest unity of these two principles, of the jointure of ground and existence in the will, but they are not an entirely distinct kind of being (mind as opposed to matter for example; or soul as opposed to body). Human beings are this unity between will and existence just as atoms are but at a different level or stage of development (we could say that the mechanical view of nature is precisely a view from outside; it allows us to manipulate reality but it does not reach the Being of beings which is will, the longing for an unknown Good and existence as emergence from self or unoncealment in Heidegger's terms). The ground that Schelling describes is very similar to Heidegger's notion of Being as nothing (or the unground) which provides the ground for unconcealment.
I could keep going but that is a basic overview of Schelling's ontology as it is presented in this book. I should point out that Heidegger, at the very end, believes that Schelling's project fails precisely because he remains committed to the idea of system. According to Heidegger freedom is incomprehensible because "freedom transposes us into the occurrence of Being, not in the mere representation of it" (pg162). And Being is always finite being (pg161-162). We can see Heidegger's existentialism at work here. Heidegger no longer conceives the entire movement from the standpoint of system which would be a standpoint from outside of the world, or from the standpoint of God. Rather, as Heidegger says, human thinking possesses a continual relation to human existence (pg163). Heidegger conceives of the movement of Being from the standpoint of finite human being rather than from the standpoint of the Absolute. Heidegger will also no longer conceive of Being as a being (ontotheology) and so it is not necessary to talk about God or the Absolute. Being is always finite and the process of revelation (or unconcealment) is ungrounded or grounded in a ground that is not a ground (both Schelling and Heidegger are borrowing Jacob Boehme's notion of Ungrund).
In summary this is a very enlightening book for anyone interested in Schelling or Heidegger. I learned a lot about both philosophers through a close reading of this book and it receives my highest recommendation!
P.S. For the reader interested in Schelling I would also highly recommend a book called The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (Suny Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy) by Jason Wirth. I am not an entirely unbiased reader since Dr. Wirth was a professor of mine and we did an independent study together on Schelling's freedom essay. But since Dr. Wirth's book is excellent any way you slice it I do not think my bias matters much. It is an excellent work for anyone who is interested in Schelling's relevance to contemporary Continental philosophy.
Further, the text's final critical assesment of Schelling has very little weight outside of Heideger's own thought...in fact, the criticism is little more than an assertion that Schelling's theological thoughts must be attributed to man rather than any religious or philosphical god. Heidegger tries to preserve Schelling's anthropological insights apart from the foundation they require, but can offer no compeling reason why the one should not be rejected with the other.
Thus, this text offers the student two things: a valuable though flawed discussion of Schelling, and a chance to see Heidegger's willingness to present only what is convenient for his appropriation of western philosophy.