On Matter: Schelling’s Anti-Platonic Reading of the Timaeus

Tyler Tritten


This essay contrasts the so-called emanationism of Neoplatonism, particularly Proclus’s, with the naturephilosophy of F.W.J. Schelling. The contention is that Schelling’s thought is Neo-Platonist because thoroughly Platonist (albeit not at all Platonic, that is, dualistic), except that his project stands Neoplatonism on its head by inverting the order of procession. Schelling agrees with Neoplatonism that matter is the lowest and most inferior of the hypostases—not even constituting a proper hypostasis itself, because incapable of self-reversion—but he differs in viewing matter as cosmologically prior to intellect, soul, the demiurge and so forth. The question concerns not the hierarchical but the ontological ordering of matter. For Schelling, procession is not a descent into being (and eventually non-being) from a one beyond being, but an elevation (Steigerung) and intensification of being, which precludes the need for return (έπιστροφή [epistrophē]). This is the trademark of Schelling’s late distinction between positive and negative philosophy. Positive philosophy is progressive, beginning with the inferior as the most original in order to ascend to the superior through a consequent intensification of being, while negative philosophy is regressive, beginning with the inferior only as something already derived in order regressively to retrace its descent back up to the superior one. Being, for Schelling, is not constituted as an eternal circle but the irretrievable temporality of the line, because no level of reality reverts upon itself without remainder. In order to elucidate how Schelling’s inversion of Neoplatonism forged his later distinction between positive and negative philosophy this essay begins with his reading of the role of “matter” in Plato’s Timaeus and then offers an experimental reading of Proclus’s Elements of Theology.

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