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Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling - Biography

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was born January 27, 1775 in Leonberg, Germany and died August 20, 1854 in Bad Ragatz, Switzerland. He was a German Philosopher.

After having obtained his elementary education at a seminary in Bebenhausen, he was then educated at a Latin School in Nürtingen, where he met Friedrich Hölderlin. Despite his young age, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schellingwas admitted at a Lutheran seminar in Tübingen, in 1790. There he, sharing a room with Friedrich Hölderlin and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for the first time discovered philosophy.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling graduated in 1795. His dissertation was entitled, De Marcione Paullinarum epistolarum emendatore. In the same year Schelling, inspired by Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, finished his first philosophical work: Über die Möglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie überhaupt (On the Possibility and Form of Philosophy in General), which, highly praised by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, earned him minor fame. Soon after this work, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling composed Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie, oder über das Unbedingte im menschlichen Wissen (Of the Ego as Principle of Philosophy, or on the Absolute in Human Knowledge). Both of these early works anticipate his later conception of the “Absolute”.

He then relocated to Leipzig, where he served as a tutor for an aristocratic family for two years. In 1795, he wrote Philosophische Briefe über Dogmatismus und Kritizismus (Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism), which was concerned with Immanuel Kant's philosophy, and two years later wrote, Neue Deduction des Naturrechts (New Deduction of Natural law).

It is often said that his time in Leipzig marked a watershed moment for Schelling. Being allowed to attend lectures at the University of Leipzig, he soon became interested in physics and chemistry as well. As opposed to Johann Gottlieb Fichte, who regarded nature as mere object, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling developed a philosophy of nature (Naturphilosophie), which was reflected in his Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (Ideas concerning a philosophy of nature, 1797). His Naturphilosophie takes the view that nature must not be opposed to the intellect, but instead requires a reality of itself. Consequently, nature and the transcendental, that which cannot become an object of knowledge, do not contradict each other, rather, they are equal. The ideal is thus rooted in the real, just as practice and theory require each other.

However, for Schelling, both the subjective and the objective are unified within the Absolute, which in itself is an expression of their fundamental unity. Being a final reality, this Absolute cannot be known either through intellect or spirit alone, but only through a means of art, for it is through art, and art alone, that the natural and the transcendental can be reconciled and the unconscious can represent itself.

Having gained prominence among the Romantic philosophers, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was appointed extraordinary professor at the University of Jena in 1798, the intellectual centre of Romanticism. There he met Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who was highly impressed his Naturphilosophie, as well as Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis. For certain, the following five years Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling spent in Jena were his most productive. It was in Jena where he published the System des transcendentalen Idealismus (System of Transcendental Idealism, 1800), considered to be one of the most important works of German idealism.

In System des transcendentalen Idealismus, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling attempts to combine his Naturphilosophie with Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Transzendentalphilosophie. In contrast to Fichte’s conception of the absolute as “ego,” he conceives of history as a “progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the absolute. Hence one can never point out in history the particular places where the mark of providence, or God himself, is as it were visible”. The evolution of the Absolute, he accordingly states, “is also an infinite process, and history itself a never wholly completed revelation of that Absolute which, for the sake of consciousness, and thus merely for the sake of appearance, separates itself into conscious and unconscious, the free and the intuitant; but which itself, however, in the inaccessible light wherein it dwells, is Eternal Identity and the everlasting ground of harmony between the two”. Evidently, Johann Gottlieb Fichte did not approve of these theories, and after Schelling’s Darstellung des Systems meiner Philosophie (Description of the system of my philosophy, 1800), where he, defending Baruch Spinoza, again argues in favour of a fundamental unity of nature and spirit, their falling out was fated.

During his time in Jena, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel became reacquainted and with the support of Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was appointed a lecturer at the University of Jena. In the fellow philosopher’s text Differenz des Fichte'schen und Schelling'schen Systems der Philosophie (Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's Systems of Philosophy, 1801), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel clearly takes a stance for his friend and colleague. The two worked closely together between 1802 and 1803, editing the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie (Critical Journal of Philosophy). The project was given up when Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schellingwent to Würzburg. And soon thereafter Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel turned away from Schelling’s thought. In his Phänomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology of Spirit), published in 1807, he criticizes Schelling’s conception of the Absolute and subsequently, their friendship ended.

Over the next three years, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schellingworked as a professor at the University of Würzburg. He was not as well received there as he was the in Jena and eventually relocated to Munich in 1806. There he first worked as a secretary for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts then later at the Academy of Sciences. While maintaining his residence in Munich, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schellingalso held a short-term appointment as lecturer in Stuttgart and, beginning in 1820, he served as a lecturer in Erlangen.

In Philosophie und Religion (Philosophy and Religion, 1804), Schelling, for the first time, distinguished between “negative” and “positive” philosophy. In this, much of his later theories are anticipated. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling states that philosophy, concerned with an explanation of the finite world, can only result in a negative philosophy (nothingness) and that, in turn, it has been separated from (positive) reality.

Schelling’s second period is considered to have begun in 1809, lasting roughly 20 years. During this time he worked on Die Weltalter (Ages of the World), which was neither finished nor published during his lifetime. In it, he attempts to give an overview of the three ages of the world, in the course of which God becomes conscious of himself. He writes: “Since all Being goes up in it as if in flames, it is necessarily unapproachable to anyone still embroiled in Being.” Another notable work of this time is Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände (Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, 1809), in which Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling addresses the question of evil. It is conceived as a form of negativity and, as understood by Schelling, required in order to obtain real freedom. As already stated in his Transcendental Idealism, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling conceives of the appearance of freedom as ”necessarily infinite”.

In 1841 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling went back to Berlin to teach at the University of Berlin, where he, ironically, inherited Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s chair of philosophy. In his lectures, which were attended by thinkers such as Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Friedrich Engels, and Alexander von Humboldt. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was the first to provide an elaborated critique of Hegel or Hegelianism, which had clearly dominated the school of philosophy. He also continued on with the concepts and ideas begun in his Philosophy and Religion, which were not very successful in Berlin. A few years later, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling gave up teaching and retired to Munich.

Being one of the most prominent figures of German Idealism, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling is mostly regarded as an intermediary between Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. His later works never attracted much interest and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling is often simply regarded only by his early work, Naturphilosophie. Furthermore, it was not until the 1950’s that the importance of his work was rediscovered through a conference held on his work. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling did have an impact on Karl Theodore Jaspers, Martin Heidegger and Jürgen Habermas, who dedicated his dissertation to Schelling’s thought.

Other important publications of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling include, Abhandlungen zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre (Essays in Explanation of the Idealism of the Doctrine of Science, 1796/7); Über den wahren Begriff der Naturphilosophie und die richtige Art, ihre Probleme aufzulösen (On the True Concept of the Philosophy of Nature and the Right Way to Solve its Problems, 1801); Philosophie der Kunst (The Philosophy of Art,1802/03); Über die Gottheiten zu Samothrake (On the Deities of Samothrace, 1815); Philosophie der Mythologie (Vorlesung) (Philosophy of Mythology, 1842); and Philosophie der Offenbarung (Philosophy of Revelation 1842/43).

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was a German Philosopher. (January 27, 1775 - August 20, 1854)