Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Friedrich Schelling

What was Friedrich Schelling’s major thesis?

Schelling believed that the entirety of Nature, physical as well as mental, was Mind on the way toward consciousness. But consciousness, or the human self, is the creator of nature. Life cannot be explained in mechanistic or inert terms.

Schelling resurrected a type of alchemical thought whereby “magnetism,” which is the general form of particular existence, either becomes evident in light or maleness, or else becomes evident in heavy inertia, or femaleness. In ordinary language (although there was nothing ordinary about this belief) the alchemists believed that things that exist are all made up of a magnetic something that can manifest itself in either lightweight and airy (or male) beings, or else in heavy and dense (or female) beings.

He believed that existent reality became separated from the Absolute in a spontaneous act of freedom, which created time itself, along with the world as we know it. That is, there occurred in the Absolute a spontaneous burst of freedom that resulted in the separation of what we perceive as reality from the Absolute. Another consequence was the appearance of time. This is to say that the Absolute exists outside of time.

Schelling had a following among Romantics in the sciences, as well as in the arts because Romantics in the nineteenth century, as today, loved quasi-mystical explanations of the world. Lorenz Oken (1774–1851), for example, postulated that all of life in Schelling’s sense in which nature is unconscious mind, originated in “primeval slime.” The connection between Oken’s idea and Schelling’s thought is not at all clear, except to indicate how one wild set of ideas is capable of inspiring others.


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