Between Heidegger’s 1936 Lecture on Schelling and Schelling’s 1809 Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom Lies a Secret Hegel


Author: Rajesh Sampath
Page Range: 35-72
Published in: International Journal of Ethics, 17#1
ISSN: 1535-4776

Table of Contents


Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) predates Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit by seven years, and in many respects has many structural components that would appear in the Phenomenology even though we know Hegel mounts his critique against Schelling (and therefore Fichte and Kant before him), raises the stakes of the Western philosophical project in general, introduces new terms and a method, and takes us to realms deep in the Phenomenology on ‘revealed religion’ and ‘absolute knowing’ that Schelling or others could not go; and in fact those sections in Hegel, over two hundred years ago, still remain mysteries that no one has really expanded to the depths Hegel himself attempted but cut short in the final chapter we received as ‘absolute knowing.’ Yes, that is the Hegel we know. And he, more than anyone else in his time (and thereafter some can argue), made the metaphysical problem of time, movement, and history more complex than it had ever been posed before. But then two years after the Phenomenology, another Schelling emerges in 1809 with his most mysterious and untimely work on the Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. As Hegel builds the abstract system and secures his own immortality through the Science of Logic (1812, 1816) and the Encyclopedia (1817), the other Schelling ages, some may say as a proto-postmodern in so far as he taught the first great critics of incipient Western modernity, namely Kierkegaard and the early Marx. Reflections on freedom, finitude, the mystery of time and becoming, and the self-revelation of the Absolute may not be a pure foreshadowing of Nietzsche’s later works to come: that is the ‘genealogical’ destruction of everything and the ‘highest thought of the eternal return.’ It’s certainly not dogmatic Trinitarian Christian theology with which we can compare and contrast. Nevertheless, brave as he was, Schelling appears decades before Nietzsche at a moment when the known Western European world was not ready for such an abandonment of all that had been thought in Western philosophy up to that age. And he, Schelling, is the absent bridge, the suspended bridge, cast into oblivion, between Hegel who culminates the Western metaphysical tradition while pointing to some Other and all post-Hegel attempts to reckon Hegel without truly escaping from his grasp despite all announcements that ‘Hegel is dead.’ The following reflection will not ask whether Schelling’s 1809 response to Hegel’s 1807 response to Schelling’s 1800 work is correct. This is not a scholarly reflection on the merits of either Schelling or Hegel to tackle the question of the Absolute, Spirit, Notion, Truth in post-Kantian German Idealism and its metaphysical aspirations.

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