Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was born in Leonberg, Württemberg, where his father, Joseph Friedrich Schelling, was an erudite Lutheran pastor. In 1777, his family moved to Bebenhausen near Tübingen, where his father became a professor of Oriental languages at the theological seminary. Schelling was educated at the cloister school of Bebenhausen, apparently destined for the ministry by family tradition. A gifted child, he learned the classical languages by the age of eight. From 1790 to 1792, he attended the theological seminary at Tübingen, where he met Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Hölderlin, the great Romantic poet. The Tübingen Evangelical Theological Seminary, located in the buildings of an old Augustinian monastery, is idyllically set over the Neckar River on a cliff, ensconced in green hills, with a view of the snow-topped craggy Alps in the distance. Good friends while students at Tübingen, Schelling, Hegel, and Hölderlin were partisans of the French Revolution and spent many hours discussing philosophy: the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza, the pure concepts of Immanuel Kant, and the Idealist system of Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
For several years after finishing at Tübingen, Schelling was a tutor for the sons of a noble family in Leipzig. He was a precocious and passionate thinker and progressed more quickly in his career than the older Hegel. His first published philosophical work was Über die Möglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie überhaupt (1795; on the possibility and form of philosophy in general). This text was followed by Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795; of the ego as principle of philosophy) and the article “Philosophische Briefe über Dogmatismus und Kritizismus” (1796; philosophical letters on dogmatism and criticism). The basic theme of these works is the Absolute, which Schelling interpreted not as God but as the Absolute ego. This ego is transcendental and eternal and can be experienced through direct intuition, which Schelling defined as an intellectual process. In 1798, at the exceptionally young age of twenty-three, Schelling became a professor of philosophy at the University of Jena, where Hegel taught as an unsalaried lecturer between 1801 and 1807, and where in October, 1806, Napoleon I defeated the Prussian army and thus conquered Prussia, the most powerful state in Germany.