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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph°

SCHELLING, FRIEDRICH WILHELM JOSEPH° (1775–1854), German philosopher. Constantly moved by new insights beyond a position before having adequately stated it, Schelling is generally remembered only as a link between the philosophies of Johann Gottlieb *Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich *Hegel, a view doing justice neither to his profundity nor to his originality.

Schelling embraced absolute idealism (see *Philosophy, Jewish) before Hegel, and *existentialism before Søren Kierkegaard, who attended Schelling's 1841 lectures. His main periods of thought were: philosophy of nature (1797–99), aesthetic idealism (about 1800), absolute idealism (1801–04), philosophy of freedom (about 1809), "positive philosophy of revelation" (after 1815; N. Hartmann's periodization). Schelling believed that nature is an organism independent of experience. No lapse into pre-Kantian realism, this position drives Schelling beyond Fichte's ethical into an aesthetic idealism. Fichte's nature is non-self for the moral self; Schelling's is pre-self prior to and independent of self, an "unconscious artist" becoming self-conscious in art and philosophy.

Schelling believed that realistic philosophy of nature and aesthetic idealism are to be viewed as finite standpoints, to be united in absolute idealism as an absolute standpoint is attained. "The Absolute" becomes problematical, however, as freedom and evil, asserting themselves against it, fall outside it. Gradually the gulf widens between "essence" and "existence," and absolute idealism becomes a mere "negative" philosophy – an idealized system abstracted from existence – the preliminary to a new "positive" philosophy which leaps from the absolute to the existential standpoint, confronting existence and "narrating" the confrontations. Negative philosophy constructs the idea of God. Positive philosophy confronts God Himself in His historical revelations.

Although well-versed in Hebraic studies, Schelling had no room for or contact with Judaism prior to abandoning absolute idealism. This is partly due to his romanticism and pantheism (ways of thought out of sympathy with Judaism), largely because his absolute idealism, unlike Hegel's, tends to dissipate particularity in the Absolute, thus giving scant respect to history. Moreover, even when he deals with history, he divides it into pagan and Christian; Christ is "the peak and end of the world of the ancient gods," the Jewish God presumably included, and, "empiricism" being excluded from speculative theology, any "seed of Christianity… in Judaism" is denied (Werke, 1 (1856), 292, 296, 303). In line with his turn toward existentialism, however, Schelling's view of Judaism changed. Christian "neglect" of the Hebrew Bible is "almost indecent," for it is divinely revealed; e.g., the tetragrammaton – a name, not a concept – expresses the "divine substance" which is per se inexpressible, and as such referred to by Elohim (Werke, 2 (1856), 271–2). To the end Judaism remains, not "mythology," which expresses man's unredeemed condition, but the indispensable, revealed "ground" of the Christian revelation, Israel being its chosen bearer.

Jewish thinkers indebted to Schelling's earlier thought include Solomon *Formstecher who, however, subordinates the aesthetic to the ethical and also rejects absolute thought as "sublimated… gnosticism" (Guttmann). Franz *Rosenzweig's Stern der Erloesung (1921) reflects close affinity with Schelling's later thought, especially his Ages of the World.


S. Formstecher, Religion des Geistes (1841); J. Guttmann, in: F.W.J. Schelling, Of Human Freedom (1936), introd. and notes; Guttmann, Philosophies, index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.