The Method and Structure of Schelling’s Late Philosophy

Thomas Buchheim


The period of Schelling’s final mature philosophy started with his appointment to Berlin (1840), where he undertook a profound revision of his Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (which he still considered to be purely “positive” during his time in Munich). The chief concern of the later Schelling is a philosophically legitimate knowledge, that is, a knowledge established under the conditions of the Kantian critique, of the actuality of a first principle of things, a principle the tradition referred to as “God” and recent philosophies up until that time as “the absolute.” Before Schelling’s latest period, philosophy—including Schelling’s own philosophy— proceeded in three paths towards one goal of metaphysical knowledge, none of which, however, fully overcame the Kantian critique or led to possible knowledge of the real:

1. As a practical postulate of classic but now critically obsolete metaphysical certainties;
2. As speculative ways for mobilizing internal structures of reason itself (e.g.,Schelling’s intellectual intuition of absolute identity or Hegel’s theory of the speculative proposition);
3. As (pace Kant) a critically purified way to legitimately connect the upshot of the cosmological argument, i.e., the proof of an ens necessarium of a completely unknown kind, with the goal of the ontological argument, thatis, a rich concept of God (ens realissimum).

Schelling’s new and different path can be described as a strategy of “divide et impera” of philosophical thinking itself. As long as philosophical thinking undertakes to bring the principle to knowledge as a factual actuality in one go, it must fail according to the standards of the critique. However, if philosophy splits itself in two consistently different movements of thought, which are not connected by inner coherency or logic, but only through the external circumstances of those who entertain these lines of thought, philosophy can win back a rational claim to knowledge regarding the factual actuality of the principle in question and can defend itself in every aspect against the Kantian critique. These essentially different movements of thought are Schelling’s “negative philosophy” on the one hand and his “positive philosophy” on the other.

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