Schelling's Philosophy of Identity and Spinoza Ethica more geometrico

Michael Vater, Marquette University

Published version. "Schelling's Philosophy of Identity and Spinoza Ethica more geometrico," in Spinoza and German Idealism. Eds. Eckart Förster and Yitzhak Y. Melamed. New York: Cambridge University Press, September 2012: 156-174. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139135139.010. © Cambridge University Press 2012. Used with permission.


Schelling is one of the most historically minded philosophers to work in modern philosophy. Though Hegel decisively came to his philosophy while lecturing on the history of philosophy at Jena, Schelling’s style of appropriating the past varied throughout his long career. At times he simply reproduces past contributions; at others, he actively combats the settled views of such figures as Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant. While I am tempted to suggest that Schelling’s many philosophies trace an ellipse determined by the twin foci of Kant’s and Spinoza’s thought, that is too simple a picture. I suggest instead that Spinoza is a lens or a filter for all of Schelling’s appropriations of past thinkers, but one that would not stayed fixed. Perhaps, as for his friend and mentor, Goethe, from whom Schelling borrowed the text of the Ethics while working out his Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801), Spinoza functioned as a ‘strange attractor’ for Schelling’s speculation as it veered from version to version in its attempt to embody both poles of Kant’s ambiguous heritage: the view that critical philosophy must take the form of a system of human knowledge while maintaining a rigorous theoretical silence on that which is most worthwhile in human reality, the apparent endowment of freedom.

As with all the German Idealists and Romantics who struggled to incorporate into transcendental idealism Spinoza’s view that freedom is illusory in a cosmos both unitary and fractured along lines of perfectly traceable causal determination, Schelling’s appropriation of Spinoza is mediated by the celebrated 1780 conversations on Spinoza between G. E. Lessing and F. H. Jacobi. These are variously reported in Moses Mendelssohn’s Morning Hours and Jacobi’s Doctrine of Spinoza. What came down as the watchword of those rich (or ironic) conversations was the epitome: “there is no leaving the absolute,” or no transition between the infinite and the finite. In his early philosophical essays (1794–1796), where he presented a metaphysical version of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, Schelling argued the converse: there is no ascent to the absolute from the finite, i.e., no cosmological demonstration of God’s reality.