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from: Idealism and the Endgame of Theory

Three Essays by F. W. J. Schelling

Translated and Edited, with a
Critical Introduction
by
Thomas Pfau

STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS 1994

System of Philosophy in General
and of the
Philosophy of Nature in Particular
(1804, based on posthumous manuscripts)

Note on the Text

139
The text translated here constitutes the first part of Schelling's 1804 lec­tures at Würzburg. Schelling's brief period of lecturing activities at Würzburg (1803—1806) was compromised by a less sophisticated audience than he had enjoyed at Jena, as well as troubled and, at times, virtually brought to a halt by the intense and protracted academic and political quarrels with colleagues and members of the Catholic clergy—which domi­nated the administrative and curricular governance of the university at Würzburg, and which clearly did not favor the appointment of the Protes­tant Schelling. Other distractions and interruptions were caused by a series of projects carried out simultaneously, albeit with little success or hope for their longevity (among them Schelling's plan, never realized, to establish a Yearbook for Medical Science (Jahrbücher der Medizin] and by estrangements from former friends. For a detailed account of Schelling's intellectual and private life during his years at Würzburg, see Briefe und Dokumente, vol. I, pp. 279-347.

Meanwhile, Schelling continued to develop his System of Identity (Identitätssystem), which had become the focal point of his philosophical con­cerns since 1801 and which he continued to develop in various texts between 1801 and 1804. The present lectures, culled from his posthumous manuscripts by his son, Karl Friedrich Anton Schelling, are widely considered to be Schelling's most definitive and lucid presentation of his conception of identity and of the possibility and internal logic of a philosophical "system" in general. Notwithstanding their epigrammatic style and their densely, almost compul­sively organized appearance—a format Schelling had begun to cultivate as early as 1801, e.g., in his Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie—these lectures, presented by Schelling during the winter semester of 1803—1804 (see Briefe, vol. I, p. 301), constitute Schelling's only fully developed formulation of the


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so-called Ideal Part of his Identitätssystem, his "philosophy of spirit." The text of the 1804 lectures was not published until after Schelling's death.

The second part of these lectures, which comprises a revised and up-dated presentation of Schelling's philosophy of nature, has not been trans­lated here because that part largely reproduces materials already available to an English audience in the very fine, recent translation of Schelling's 1797 Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature as well as in the recent, partial translations of Schelling's 1805 "Aphorisms." Still, these two texts ought to be consulted by any reader who wishes to develop a sense of the complementary relation that Schelling envisioned between his "general" and "particular" philosophies. The inserted pagination once again follows K. F. A. Schelling's Sämmtliche Werke.

Contents I. First part: One Philosophy in general

Of supreme knowledge in general 141

A. The idea of the absolute or God 148

B. The general relation between existence and the absolute

  1. Deduction of the concept of totality from the idea of God 161

  2. Relation of objects to totality (= God)

  1. Distinction between ideas = essence of objects and

  2. appearance = nonessence of objects 169

  3. Deduction of the concepts of reflection (= determinations

  4. of the concrete object) 179

  5. The Real in the individual object = the reflex of totality 182

C. On the derivation of the particular with regard to its kind (not, though,

with regard to its universal status as appearance) from the idea of God.


  1. Specification of this task 183

  2. Deduction of the Real and the Ideal universes; their relation to one

another and to the absolute universe (the powers = mode of appearance

in a state of difference) 185

141 System of Philosophy in General


I. First Part or Philosophy in General
However different its manifestation in each individual subject, the first impulse for philosophy involves fundamentally only one presupposition that can be exacted of us solely through a reflection on knowledge itself. To endow this presupposition with its own reality, to explore its full significance, and to present it from all angles as true, all these together define, properly speaking, the subjective and concealed motivation [Impuls] of philosophy in general. Whenever this presupposition fails to come to life in a given person, be it through himself or through others, this [person] will not even touch the realm of philosophy but, instead, will completely lack the genuine impulse for it.

Let me, therefore, announce this presupposition without further delay and postulate it as the first proposition of our inquiry:



(1) The first presupposition of all knowledge is that the knower and that which is known are the same.

I shall first explain and then prove this proposition.

In our first reflection on knowledge, we believe to have distinguished in it a subject of knowledge (or knowledge when conceived of as an act) and the object of knowledge, [i.e.,] that which is known. I purposely say: we believe to have discriminated, for precisely the reality of this distinction is at issue here, and it will become readily apparent that this very distinction between a subject and an object in knowledge constitutes the fundamental error in all knowledge. Once that distinction has been made, it is attempted once again

at the same low level of reflection to reconcile the subject and the object; the truth of knowledge, for instance, is located in its correspondence with its object, or truth is explained as the correspondence of the subjectivity and objectivity in knowledge. It is claimed that only a knowledge corresponding to its object constitutes genuine knowledge; a knowledge without any corresponding ob­ject is no knowledge but mere thinking. Such reflections occur even in ordi­nary consciousness. It is evident that, by explaining truth as a correspondence of subjectivity and objectivity in knowledge, subject and object are already assumed to differ from one another, for only different [entities] may corre­spond [whereas] nondifferent ones are inherently one.

Our own proposition states the opposite of this; namely, that there exists neither a subject as subject nor an object as object, but that what knows and what is known are one and the same, and consequently no more subjective than objective. That this be indeed the first presupposition of all knowledge, i.e., the presupposition without which knowledge would remain forever in-conceivable, this we can prove only indirectly; namely, by demonstrating that knowledge remains inconceivable under any other possible presupposition. If, indeed, we assume that the knower and what is known differ, only the follow­ing alternatives are left. Either the knower is absolutely separated from what is known, and no relation exists between the two. Or a relation between the
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two does take place. If no relation between the two exists, how could there even obtain that correspondence which is postulated by common reflection? How can knowledge be knowledge, [and how can] the known [be] something known? If we were to say that the two be united by something outside of knowledge and the known, this would merely amount to an assumption for the benefit of the explanation, one that does not constitute knowledge itself. For how can I have knowledge of what lies outside of knowledge?

Hence, a relation between the two does exist. Once again, two scenarios are possible, the one unilateral and the other bilateral. By the former we mean that either the subject is determined by the object, or the object by the subject. The first assumption, namely, that the knower is determined by that which is known, is indeed the construct most frequently employed for explaining the correspon­dence between subjectivity and objectivity. To this I would merely like to object that, if knowledge is effected by that which is known, the latter will not be known as it is in itself but strictly by virtue of its effect. Even if we did not take into account this [objection] and did not ask how what is known, the object, can ever result in knowledge—which is its opposite—such a relation could involve the transferral of only the effect of the object, not, though, that of the object itself; thus it would also be merely this effect, not the object itself that would occur in the subject, or in the knowledge of the [object]. In short, in positing knowledge as the effect of that which is known, nothing whatsoever can be thought.

The other possible, unilateral relation—according to which the object is determined by the subject—proves no less incomprehensible. For either the [object] would be absolutely determined by the subject and, independent of the latter, would be nothing at all; in this case, and precisely for that reason, it would not be an object qua object: it would merely be the subject, in fact, not even that, because the subject is a subject only in opposition to an object. Or the determination of the object by the subject is only relative. In that case, however, it is knowledge only insofar as it is determined by the subject, it would be something unknown, [similar to] Kant's thing in itself, something ineffable that, in turn, is but a mere thought. Thus only a reciprocal effectiv­ity would remain [possible]. Consequently, what is known as well as knowl­edge itself would have to be products of a reciprocal effect between subject and object; the known would take one part of its determination from the object and another from the subject; the same would apply to knowledge. However, it is readily apparent that this notion, being but a combination of the former two, can only be a compound version of their difficulties. It implies (1) a determination of the subject by the object because it conceives knowl­edge as the product of a reciprocity between the two; and (2) it implies a determination of the object by the subject because it conceives of the known itself as a [subject]. Hence, it is inconceivable to the extent that a determina­tion of the subject by the object and of the object by the subject remain themselves inconceivable; in short, this combination, too, is null and void.
System of Philosophy in General 143
If the first distinction between knowledge and the known is grounded in entirely inadequate notions, such as render knowledge itself impossible, it is imperative for any initial presupposition about knowledge in general to state that this very distinction is erroneous; for if the knower and that which is known were to differ, knowledge itself would be inconceivable, and indeed impossible.

This much said, we now abandon forever that sphere of reflection that discriminates between the subject and the object, and our subsequent investi­gation can only be the development and exploration of the presupposition that the knower and that which is known are the same.1



That distinction itself is already a product of our subjectivity and thus of our finitude. Precisely these two, however, will have to disappear for us in the course of philosophy. In truth, there does not ever nor anywhere exist a subject, a self, or any object or nonself. To say; I know or I am knowing already [posits] the proton pseudos. I know nothing, or my knowledge, to the extent that it is mine, is no true knowledge.2 Not I know, but only totality knows in me, if the knowledge that I consider my own is to be a real, true knowledge. Yet this One that knows is also the only thing known, and neither difference nor correspondence exist here, for the knowing and the known are not different but the same.

  1. Now this one that knows and is known is necessarily the identical One [dasselbe Eine] in all possible situations of knowledge and being known; hence, there exists necessarily and everywhere only one knowledge and one known. (The first proposition was entirely general; it made claims not about this or that knowl­edge, but it claimed for all knowledge, without further specification, that it be inconceivable that the thinking and knowing [agency] and that which is thought and known, respectively, should even differ from one another.)

For if the knower and that which is known are generally the same in knowledge, then the knower and the known will also be the same in each particular instance of knowledge. This One, then, recurs as the One that knows and is known in general in each particular instance of knowledge, and as this One (which knows in general, etc.) it is self-identical. Yet if it is self-identical, then neither a knower nor something known can ever exist as such in knowledge; consequently, the same One is necessarily only one knowledge and one known throughout all [instances of] knowledge.

  1. Hence, the supreme knowledge necessarily implies that the self-sameness of the subject and the object becomes itself something known; or, because this self-sameness consists precisely in the identity of the knower and the known, it is that knowledge wherein the eternal self-sameness comes to recognize itself.3 This is self-evident and requires no further proof.

  2. This knowledge in which the eternal self-identity recognizes itself is rea­son. For either reason is at no point knowledge, or it is knowledge of the eternal [and] immutable in knowledge. Yet there is nothing eternal, immu-


44 Essays
table in knowledge except for this very identity of subject and object; while both of these may vary, as we conceded earlier, the identity itself remains. Hence, by coming to know what is immutable [and] eternal, reason can come to know only that eternal self-identity, and because, according to this very principle, the knowing is necessarily also the known, the self-knowledge of that eternal identity occurs only in reason.

My demonstration of proof assumes that reason is knowledge of the immutable and eternal. This claim itself, if it was not accepted freely, as ought to be generally expected, could be proven only through the opposition be­tween reason and all other cognition. For example, the universality of the understanding remains at all times only a relative universal, as indeed it is capable of uniting the manifold of sensibility only in a relative unity. Mean-while, the imagination can rise to a totality only by proceeding from the sensible world.

We have to consider yet another conception that proves of extreme importance for all of philosophy. We claim that reason is the self-knowledge [Selbsterkennen] of the eternal identity. With this proposition, we have simul­taneously defeated forever all subjectivization [Subjektivirung] of rational knowledge.

I shall explain what is meant by subjectivization:

We claim that only one [thing] is immutable and eternal in all subjec­tive and objective knowledge; namely, the identity of the two itself. Subjective philosophy cannot oppose this claim except by asking: "Who, then, is to know this eternal identity of subject and object? If you reflect yourself in the [act of] knowledge, you will realize (a) that it is only you who knows that identity, (b) that this knowledge does not enable you to transcend yourself either, moreover (c) that you do not know anything in itself, and, (d) finally, that this identity, too, is once again a product of your knowledge and conse­quently only a mere object of thought for you.4 No doubt, anyone speaking in this manner simply has not yet attained the level of rational cognition. In reason all subjectivity ceases, and this is precisely what our proposition argues. In reason, that eternal identity itself is at once the knower and the known—it is not me who recognizes this identity, but it recognizes itself, and I am merely its organ.5 Reason is Reason precisely because its knowledge is not subjective; instead, an identity in it comes to recognize itself as the self-same [weil in ihr das Gleiche das Gleiche erkennt], thereby reconciling the opposition between subjectivity and objectivity in its highest power. In fact, we could offer this counterargument to the aforementioned subjectivization of reason: "You claim," I might respond, "that the knowledge of the eternal unity is once again only my knowledge, and you ask me to reflect on myself in order to discover that this is so. However," I would continue, "I will simply ask you to consider that this reflection, whereby you render that knowledge your knowledge and thus render it subjective, is only your reflection, and that thus one subjectivity


System of Philosophy in General 145
cancels out the other.6 Hence, you will have to admit that the knowledge of the absolute identity, irrespective of the reflection by which you effect it, is neither your knowledge nor that of any other person, but that it is precisely absolute knowledge, a knowledge free of any further determination." If our spirit did not involve a [form of] knowledge completely independent of all subjectivity and no longer the knowledge of the subject as subject but a knowledge of that which exists in strict autonomy ([i.e., a knowledge] of the unconditionally One), we would indeed have to abandon all philosophy; our entire thinking and knowing would leave us eternally trapped within the sphere of subjectivity, and we would have to consider and adopt the result of Kant's and Fichte's philosophy as the only possible one.

It is here, then, that our philosophy is demarcated from these two systems for which no knowledge of anything in itself is possible. We must admit, however, that philosophy is of no value whatsoever unless it offers us genuine guidance to that which is in itself, eternal, [and] immutable. How such knowledge is possible cannot be understood as long as knowledge con­tinues to be thought as something subjective, as though it did not belong, as it were, to the world itself. Then that circle, in which Fichte thought the human spirit to be caught, would indeed prove inescapable; that [circle] consists in the in-itself, the absolute being always only for myself: "For it is myself," Fichte states, "who thinks and intuits; hence, the [in-itself] exists only in my knowl­edge and not in independence from it. Yet already any conceptions of the in-itself or the absolute imply that it be independent from me, independent from my knowledge. Hence, its cognition is entirely impossible.7 This con­clusion merely contains one mistake, namely, that it presupposes that it is necessarily me who comes to know the in-itself, that it is my knowledge whereby it becomes known. Another passage reveals this proton pseudos with yet greater distinctness, as Fichte argues:
As finite beings, we are compelled to explain all consciousness and its corresponding finitude by means of an in-itself, that is, by means of something independent from us; yet that explanation, too, follows the laws of our finite nature, and as soon as we reflect on this circumstance, that independent something outside ourselves is once more converted into a production of subjectivity.8
This conclusion, too, fails only in one respect, namely, to sustain the reflec­tion that it is precisely and only our finite nature that prompts us to infer, from the finite, an in-itself as the ground for the explanation of appearances (hence, to place the in-itself only in a relation); to be sure, this [procedure] can never result in a knowledge of the in-itself.

If, because that mode of cognition which is proper to our finitude per­mits no knowledge of the in-itself, we are now to infer that no knowledge of

146 Essays
the [in-itself] whatsoever be possible, then our inherent finitude must first be posited as a genuine reality that admits of no way out, i.e., reason itself must be negated, for reason would obliterate all finitude and subjectivity.

The same is the case with the much-discussed dilemma concerning the possibility of a knowledge of the in-itself: either the in-itself is in me or outside myself. In me, [it is] merely known subjectively, [hence]' the product of my cognition,. Outside my self, [it is] strictly unknowable. This conclu­sion, too, is based upon an extremely rigid opposition of subjectivity and objectivity. The in-itself is by virtue of its very nature neither in me nor outside myself. The entire distinction hinges on the premise that it is myself who knows in all cognition, and that there exists no self-knowledge of the in-itself, i.e., no reason in which the selfhood and its opposite would disappear.

I have purposely dwelt on this matter, for this insight into the essence of reason and the possibility of an absolute knowledge, unconditional in every respect, constitutes the proper center or ground of all philosophy. Let us now proceed. We argue that the supreme knowledge is one wherein this eternal identity of the subject and the object comes to be known or (as an identity) comes to know itself as the substance of all knowing and all knowledge. Furthermore, we argue that this self-knowledge = reason.

(5) Hence the fundamental law of reason and of all knowledge, to the extent that it is rational knowledge, is the law of identity or the proposition A = A. For reason is the self-knowledge of that eternal identity and nothing else. This self-knowledge, then, finds its expression in the proposition A = A. Here we must explain the following subordinate proposition of our demonstration:9

All knowledge is nothing but an affirmation; all affirmation involves something affirming and something affirmed. That which affirms in knowledge is the subjective, and that which is affirmed is the objective. Both are one in knowledge, and the absolute affirmation of its unity is itself the highest knowledge, the highest cognition. This absolute affirmation, then, finds its expression in the proposition A = A, regardless of whether we understand it according to its formal aspect or according to its real meaning. When consid­ered with response to its form, the proposition A = A absolutely identifies subject and predicate. Yet what, then, is the relation between subject and predicate? The predicate is only posited by the subject; hence, the subject = that which predicates; e.g., the circle is round. I only posit "round" to the extent that a circle is being posited. However, in the proposition A = A subject and predicate are being identified absolutely; thus it is claimed that the affirming and the affirmed [dos Affirmirte ] are eternally identical, that they are one and the same. Hence, the proposition A = A is already, with respect to its form, the expression of the absolute identity of the affirming and the affirmed, of the subjective and the objective; it is itself the expression of the highest of all rational cognition, which is nothing other than the affirmation of that identity.
System of Philosophy in General 147
That proposition appears as a real expression of rational cognition when use consider the following: Taken in an absolute sense, the proposition A = A does not claim that A [exists] at all, nor that A [exists] as subject or as predicate. [It does not state] that A exists at all, because it could be a mere fiction or an impossibility. (Already here, we can notice the strict contin­gency as to what, in this proposition, corresponds to the subject and what to the object.) Yet neither does the proposition A = A claim that A exists as subject or as predicate. In fact, it states the opposite: that A does not exist as predicate and not as subject in particular, but only that their identity exists. Hence, this proposition allows us to abstract from everything, from the reality of the A as well as from its reality as one of a subject and predicate; the only

thing from which we cannot abstract, and which remains as the only reality in this proposition, is the self-sameness or the absolute identity itself, which consequently constitutes the true substance of knowledge in this proposition. The latter, then, states nothing but the eternal and necessary identity of the affirming and the affirmed, the identity of subject and object; and it is only here that the self-knowledge of the eternal identity, and thus the highest knowledge of reason, finds its expression.



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