Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von

(frē`drĭkh vĭl`hĕlm yō`zĕf fən shĕ`lĭng), 1775–1854, German philosopher. After theological study at Tübingen and two years of tutoring at Leipzig, he became in 1798 a professor at Jena, where he helped found the romantic movement in philosophy. There he was closely associated with August and Friedrich von Schlegel and J. G. FichteFichte, Johann Gottlieb
, 1762–1814, German philosopher. After studying theology at Jena and working as a tutor in Zürich and Leipzig, he became interested in Kantian philosophy.
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, from whom he drew apart when he left Jena for a professorship at Würzburg in 1803. He later taught at the Univ. of Berlin. Schelling's early essays were a development of the Fichtean science of knowledge, though in Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797, tr. 1988) he had already differed somewhat in holding that nature cannot be subordinated to mental life. The difference between the forces of nature and mind must be only a matter of degree or level, and the problem of knowledge is absorbed in the ultimate unity of mind and matter in the Absolute. In his later period, Schelling maintained that history is a series of stages progressing toward harmony from a previous fall and that differences are aspects of this development. He argued that God also partakes of this process of development; that deity, to have personality, must hold within itself the limiting factors that define personality. Schelling's essay Of Human Freedom (1809, tr. 1936) anticipated existentialist themes, including that of individual freedom seen as the capacity to determine one's own essence. Among Schelling's other works is Die Weltalter (1854; tr. by Frederick Bolman, The Ages of the World, 1942).


See E. D. Hirsch, Wordsworth and Schelling (1971); A. White, Schelling: An Introduction to the System of Freedom (1983); W. Marx, The Philosophy of F. W. J. Schelling (1984).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Von


Born Jan. 27, 1775, in Leonberg; died Aug. 20, 1854, in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland. German philosopher, representative of German classical idealism.

Schelling studied at the theological seminary at Tübingen from 1790 to 1792; two of his fellow students were Hölderlin and Hegel. He was a professor in Jena from 1798 to 1803, where he became friendly with a romantic circle that included August von Schlegel and Friedrich von Schlegel. He moved to Munich in 1806; he was a professor at the universities of Erlangen from 1820 to 1826, Munich from 1827, and Berlin from 1841.

Several distinct periods may be distinguished in Schelling’s philosophy: the philosophy of nature (from the mid-1790’s), transcendental or aesthetic idealism (1800–01), the philosophy of identity (to 1804), the philosophy of freedom (to 1813), and positive philosophy, or the philosophy of revelation (until the end of his life).

Schelling was strongly influenced by J. H. Fichte, to the interpretation of whose ideas he devoted his first philosophical works. Proceeding from Fichte’s teaching about nature, which was regarded as a means to the realization of a moral end, Schelling set himself the task of revealing consecutively all the stages of development of nature on the way to this lofty goal, that is, examining nature as an expedient whole, as a form of the unconscious life of reason, the purpose of which is to engender consciousness. The problem of correlating consciousness and the unconscious is predominant at all the stages of Schelling’s development. Unlike Fichte, nature for Schelling ceases to be merely a pure means, a material on which practical reason tests its forces, and becomes instead an independent reality—intelligence in the making. The dialectic method used by Fichte in analyzing the activity of the self is expanded by Schelling to include an analysis of natural processes; every natural body is interpreted as a product of the work of a dynamic principle, the interaction of opposing forces, including positive and negative electrical charges and positive and negative magnetic poles. In this regard, Schelling was influenced by the discoveries of Galvani, Volta, and Lavoisier in physics and chemistry and the work of Haller and Brown in biology. Schelling’s philosophy of nature was antimechanistic. The principle of expediency, the basis of the living organism, became for him a general principle for explaining nature as a whole; inorganic nature appeared to him as an underdeveloped organism. His philosophy of nature had an important influence on many naturalists, including H. Steffens, C. G. Carus, and L. Oken, and on such romantic poets as L. Tieck and Novalis. Even in this period Schelling was closer to the traditions of Neoplatonism (On the World Soul, 1798) than to the ethical idealism of Fichte.

Schelling regarded the philosophy of nature as an organic part of transcendental idealism, which showed how the development of nature was complete with the appearance of the conscious ego. This organic part has to be supplemented with another part that explores the development of the ego itself. Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800; Russian translation, 1936) was devoted to this theme. The activities of the ego can be broken down, according to Schelling, into theoretical and practical spheres. The former begins with sensation, proceeds to reflection, conception, and judgment, and finally reaches the highest level—reason—the point at which the theoretical ego recognizes itself as independent and enterprising, that is, it becomes the practical ego, or will. Will, in turn, passes through a series of developmental stages, the highest of which is moral activity, which has itself as its goal. If in the theoretical sphere consciousness is determined by the unconscious activity of the ego, then in the practical sphere, on the contrary, the unconscious depends on consciousness and is determined by it. For Fichte, these two diverse processes coincide only at infinity, to which the realization of the cognitive and the moral ideal is also ascribed. Relying on Kant’s Critique of Judgment and the aesthetic teaching of F. Schiller, Schelling regarded art as that sphere wherein the opposition of the theoretical and the moral-practical is overcome; the aesthetic principle appears as a balance: the total harmony of conscious and unconscious activity, the coincidence of nature and freedom, the identity of sensible and moral principles. In artistic activity and in works of art, infinity is reached—an ideal unattainable in either theoretical cognition or moral activity. The artist, in Schelling’s opinion, is a genius, that is, an intelligence that functions like nature; a contradiction insurmountable by any other means is resolved in the artist. Accordingly, philosophy of art for Schelling is an “organon” (implement) of philosophy and its conclusion. Schelling developed these ideas further in Philosophy of Art (published 1907; Russian translation, 1966), a work that expressed the outlook of the Jena romantics.

The concept of intellectual intuition, allied with aesthetic intuition, became one of Schelling’s central concepts. In the philosophy of identity he viewed intellectual intuition as no longer the self-contemplation of the ego, as he had done earlier following Fichte’s example, but as a form of self-contemplation of the Absolute, which was presented now as the identity of subject and object. This idealist teaching was developed most clearly in his dialogue Bruno, or the Divine and Natural Principle of Things (1802). Since the Absolute is the identity of the subjective and the objective, it is neither spirit nor nature, according to Schelling, but an indifference of both (like the point of indifference of the poles in the center of a magnet)—a nothing that contains the possibility of all determinations. The complete development or realization of these potencies, according to Schelling, is the universe; it is the identity of the absolute organism and the absolute work of art. The Absolute engenders the universe to the same extent that it creates the universe as an artist would: emanation and creation merge here in the indifference of oppositions. In this system of aesthetic pantheism, which goes back to Neoplatonism, Schelling was close to the pantheism of German mysticism (Eckhart).

In his Philosophy and Religion (1804), Schelling raised questions that led him beyond the philosophy of identity: How and by virtue of what was the world born out of the Absolute? Why was that balance of the ideal and the real that exists at the point of indifference disturbed, with the result that the world emerged? In Of Human Freedom (1809; Russian translation, 1908), Schelling stated that the genesis of the world from the Absolute cannot be explained rationally; it is an irrational primary fact rooted not in reason but in will and its accompanying freedom. Following J. Boehme and F. X. von Baader, Schelling distinguishes in god both god himself and his indefinable ground, which he calls the abyss, or the ungrounded, and which is something unreasonable and dark—unconscious will. It is because of the presence of this dark ground that the division of the Absolute occurs, an act of assertion of free will, a separation from the universal divine principle—an irrational fall that is impossible to understand using the laws of reason and nature. The act of the fall is a supratemporal act; unconscious will operates before any consciousness, and on a metaphysical level man is guilty even at the moment of his birth. The expiation of this original guilt and reunion with the Absolute, and thereby the reunion of the Absolute itself, is, according to Schelling, the goal of history.

Insofar as will as a primordial irrational desire is an inscrutable primary fact, it cannot be an object of philosophy comprehended as a rational deduction of everything real from an initial principle. Calling this rationalistic philosophy (including his philosophy of identity and the philosophy of Hegel) negative, Schelling considered it necessary to supplement it with a positive philosophy that examines the primary fact—irrational will. The latter is comprehended empirically, in an experience identified by Schelling with mythology and religion, in which the revelation of god was given to consciousness in history. In this philosophy of revelation, Schelling essentially left philosophy proper and approached theosophy and mysticism. The lectures on positive philosophy, or the philosophy of revelation, that he began in 1841 in Berlin were not a success with audiences; the young F. Engels, for example, wrote a series of pamphlets against Schelling.

Schelling’s philosophy greatly influenced European thought of the 19th and 20th centuries; as European thought passed through its stages of development, different aspects of Schelling’s teaching were accepted. His effect on Russian philosophy was significant—through the natural philosophers D. M. Vellanskii, M. G. Pavlov, and M. A. Maksimovich, the Moscow Liubomudry circle (V. F. Odoevskii, D. V. Venevitinov, and A. I. Galich), the Slavophiles, and P. Ia. Chaadaev, who was personally acquainted with and corresponded with Schelling. In the 20th century Schelling’s irrationalistic ideas were developed in the philosophy of existentialism. The founders of Marxism valued Schelling first and foremost for the dialectics of his philosophy of nature and for his teaching about development, that is, those elements that exerted the greatest influence on the formation of Hegel’s philosophy.


Sämtliche Werke, part 1 (vols. 1–10) and part 2 (vols. 1–4). Stuttgart-Augsburg, 1856–61.
In Russian translation:
“Filosofskie pis’ma o dogmatizme i krititsizme.” In Novye idei v filosofii, collection 12. St. Petersburg, 1914.
“Ob otnoshenii izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv k prirode.” In Literaturnaia teoriia nemetskogo romantizma. Leningrad, 1934.


Fischer, K. Istoriia novoi filosofii, vol. 7. St. Petersburg, 1905.
Asmus, V. Ocherki istorii dialektiki v novoi filosofii, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930. Pages 121–38.
Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943. Pages 172–210.
Kamenskii, Z. A. “F. Shelling v russkoi filosofii nachala 19 v.” Vestnik istorii mirovoi kul’tury, 1960, no. 6.
Lazarev, V. V. Shelling. Moscow, 1976.
Hartmann, E. von. Schellings philosophisches System. Leipzig, 1897.
Bréhier, E. Schelling. Paris, 1912.
Knittermeyer, H. Schelling und die romantische Schule. Munich, 1929.
Jaspers, K. Schelling: Grösse und Verhängnis. Munich, 1955.
Schulz, W. Die Vollengdung des deutschen Idealismus in der Spätphi-losophie Schellings. Stuttgart, 1955.
Schelling-Studien. Edited by A. M. Koktanek. Munich-Vienna, 1965.
Jähnig, D. Schelling, vols. 1–2. Pfullingen, 1966–69.
Schneeberger, G. F. W. J. Schelling: Eine Bibliographic Bern, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. The Ages of the World.