Early Life

(19th-Century Biographies)

0111206084-Schelling.jpg Friedrich Schelling (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.

Life’s Work

(19th-Century Biographies)

Schelling’s life’s work as a philosopher and teacher began at the University of Jena, the academic center of Germany. At Jena, he became a colleague and friend of the famous Fichte, at the time Germany’s leading philosopher. Fichte, who had been one of Schelling’s idols, had read and strongly approved of Schelling’s early philosophical work. Schelling and Hegel, both Idealist philosophers, coedited the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie. Even though Hegel was five years older than Schelling, he at this time was thought of as Schelling’s disciple; his first book compared the philosophies of Schelling and Fichte.

Jena at this time was also the center of German Romanticism, and in nearby Weimar Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German dramatists and poets, were at the height of their careers. Schelling knew both and was profoundly influenced by the Romantic movement. German Romanticism, in turn, was influenced by Schelling’s philosophy, which emphasized the importance of the individual and the values of art. German Romanticism and Schelling’s Idealist philosophy are both characterized by the “inward path” to truth, the quest for the totality of experience, and the desire for unity and infinity. Schelling’s career falls into two periods: the first, from 1795 to 1809, and the second, which was less productive but no less significant, from 1809 to 1854.

Schelling’s peers at Jena—Goethe, Schiller, the Romanticists Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel, the writer/critic Ludwig Tiech, and Hegel—constituted a close group of friends who strongly influenced one another’s work. For convenience, Schelling’s philosophy can be divided into four stages: the subjective Idealism or his work before Jena; the philosophy of nature; the philosophy of identity; and the philosophy of opposition between negative and positive. The two middle stages belong to his first period of productivity, while the fourth stage belongs to his final period. The second stage, his most famous and influential, began with his Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Nature (1797; partial translation as Introduction to the Philosophy of Nature, 1871). In opposition to Fichte’s idea of the world as a product of ego, Schelling on the one hand argues that the world of nature is as important as the ego and on the other finds a common ground between the two in the essence of matter, which he defines as force. In his Von der Weltseele, eine Hypothese der höheren Physik zur Erklärung des allgemeinen Organismus (1798; on the world soul, a hypothesis of advanced physics for the interpretation of the general organism), Schelling argues that the interpretation of the unity of nature was the basic aim of science and thus that the object of scientific study was force, of which mechanical, chemical, electrical, and vital forces were merely different manifestations. This theory is similar to the unified field theory sought by Albert Einstein and now being convincingly proposed by modern physicists such as John Hagelin. In 1799, Schelling published another book on natural philosophy, defining force as pure activity. He believed that nature realized itself in finite matter through an infinite self-referral that never reached completion. This theory he considered parallel to Immanuel Kant’s idea of reason forever striving toward an...

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(19th-Century Biographies)

Brown, Robert F. The Later Philosophy of Schelling: The Influence of Boehme on the Works of 1809-1815. London: Associated University Presses, 1977. A comprehensive analysis of Schelling’s ontology and doctrine of God as influenced by Jakob Böhme’s mysticism. Deals with philosophical and theological problems, such as the immutability of God, and the stages in which Schelling incorporates Böhme’s ideas. Contains bibliography of German and English secondary texts.

Esposito, Joseph L. Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature. London: Associated University Presses, 1977. Analysis of Schelling’s philosophy of nature and its influence on nineteenth century science. Also traces the influence of Schelling’s idealism in America and provides a modern vindication of objective idealism against those who criticize Schelling for the lack of a guiding vision. Contains selected bibliography of secondary sources, mainly in German.

Marx, Werner. The Philosophy of F. W. J. Schelling: History, System, and Freedom. Translated by Thomas Nenon, with a foreword by A. Hofstadter. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. Explores Schelling’s conception of history as the relationship between freedom and necessity, then compares this conception with the contemporary theory of history developed by J. Habermas, showing how the latter first renounces and then proceeds to incorporate the categories of the former. Also treats...

(The entire section is 429 words.)