Schelling and the Satanic: On Naturvernichtung


  • Jason M. Wirth University of Seattle


In her unsettling book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert quotes Joseph Mendelson, a herpetologist at Zoo Atlanta: “I sought a career in herpetology because I enjoy working with animals. I did not anticipate that it would come to resemble paleontology.” Kolbert elaborates on Mendelson’s despair: Today, amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals; it’s been calculated that the group’s extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate. But extinction rates among many other groups are approaching amphibian levels. It is estimated that one third of all reef building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Artic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys. If you know how to look, you can probably find signs of the current extinction event in your own backyard."

At the heart of this natural catastrophe is perhaps the earth’s most problematic creature: ourselves. Schelling prophetically grasped this pandemic outbreak amid the earth’s natural systems when he warned of “the true annihilation [Vernichtung] of nature” (SW V: 275) and when he characterized modernity as constituted by the absence of nature because “it lacks a living ground” (SW VII: 361).

Author Biography

Jason M. Wirth, University of Seattle

Dr. Jason M. Wirth is professor of philosophy at Seattle University, and works and teaches in the areas of Continental Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy, Aesthetics, Environmental Philosophy, and Africana Philosophy. His recent books include Mountains, Rivers, and the Great Earth: Reading Gary Snyder and Dōgen in an Age of Ecological Crisis (SUNY 2017), a monograph on Milan Kundera (Commiserating with Devastated Things, Fordham 2015), Schelling’s Practice of the Wild (SUNY 2015), The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (SUNY 2003), a translation of the third draft of The Ages of the World (SUNY, 2000), the edited volume Schelling Now (Indiana 2004), the co-edited volume (with Bret Davis and Brian Schroeder), Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School (Indiana 2011), and The Barbarian Principle: Merleau-Ponty, Schelling, and the Question of Nature (SUNY 2013). He is the associate editor and book review editor of the journal, Comparative and Continental Philosophy. His forthcoming book is called Nietzsche and Other Buddhas (Indiana, spring 2019) and he is currently completing a manuscript on the cinema of Terrence Malick. He was ordained in 2010 in Japan as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage and is the founder and co-director of the Seattle University EcoSangha (