IN HIS 1801 ESSAY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FICHTE'S AND SCHELLING'S System of Philosophy, Hegel set out that difference in terms of a contrast between reflective and speculative philosophy. Dichotomy, rupture [Entzweiung], he argued, gives rise to the need for philosophy, a rupturing which reflective philosophy both seeks to resolve and exasperates. The understanding strives to enlarge itself to the absolute, but, in its finitude, it only reproduces itself endlessly, positing oppositions within itself and its products, and so mocks itself. (1) The being of nature, in particular, is either dissolved into abstractions or remains but a deadly darkness within intellect. Although Fichte was Hegel's prime target here, much of contemporary philosophy was included in his critique. Hegel argued that the identity philosophy of Schelling, however, in which reason raises itself to speculation and provides a positive account of being, overcomes such finitudes and ruptures. The Critical Journal of Philosophy that Schelling and Hegel launched from Jena in 1802, critical of the limitations of proliferating contemporary philosophical systems, sought to establish an objective philosophical criticism based upon such a speculative use of reason. (2)
In Germany at the turn of the nineteenth century, all philosophy, and especially all philosophical criticism, began with reference to Kant's critical philosophy. In the "Preface" to his Difference essay, Hegel praised the spirit of Kantian philosophy, the speculative principle articulated in the transcendental deduction of the categories, but deprecated the "remainder"--the hypostatization of the thing-in-itself, the transformation of the categories into dead compartments of the understanding and their opposition to the empirical realm of sensation, the restriction of practical reason to what can be conceived by the understanding--all of which became fodder for reflective philosophy (Hegel, Differenz 5-6). Kant never had the opportunity to comment on the project of The Critical Journal of Philosophy, but his own critical project started from exposing the errors and contradictions of reason in its purely speculative use and arguing for its restriction to finite, empirical knowledge. Nevertheless, Kant's critical works were primarily preoccupied with the cognitive processes involved in the production of such knowledge, with the laws of reason that are the necessary conditions of possible experience, with interrogating how cognition in general is possible. Yet Kant left a problematic rupture in his critical examination of the conditions and sources of cognition, a rupture that he explicitly acknowledged and graphically represented in the "Introduction" to his 1790 Critique of Judgment as "an immense gulf [Kluft]" between the two domains of our cognitive powers, that in which understanding legislates through the concept of nature and that in which reason legislates through the concept of reason, the subjects of his first two critiques. (3) For Kant, this chasm leaves indeterminate not only how freedom was to be reconciled with the necessity of nature, but also how nature was to be comprehended as an organized system. We are left merely with reflective judgments of these relations, problematic acts of synthesis, rather than determinative judgments based upon the necessary laws of cognition. Kant also acknowledged a rupture in his attempt to determine the conditions and sources of cognition in his 1782 Critique of Pure Reason, when he referred the relation of sensory intuition and understanding to a "common," "unknown root [Wurzel]." (4) As Heidegger has argued, it is the transcendental imagination that acts as this "unknown root," unconsciously relating the concepts of understanding to the manifold of intuition in judgment. Indeed, it is the unconscious transcendental imagination that enacts the synthesis of the manifold of intuition, prior to apperception, to produce a unified representation of appearances for reflective consciousness in Kant's celebrated, if problematic, "Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding." (5) If Kant designated specific judgments as indeterminate and hence a problem for critical reflection in his Critique of Judgment, the unconscious role of the transcendental imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason means that even purportedly determinate judgments have an indeterminate basis. (6) Hegel and Schelling regarded reflection as an instrument for producing philosophical awareness of the unconscious synthetic activity of thought, but argued that only an intellectual intuition is able to overcome the dichotomizing inherent in reflection. (7) Indeed, intellectual intuition is purported to enact consciously what the transcendental imagination enacts unconsciously. The speculative philosophy Schelling and Hegel advocated around 1800 appears a less radical departure from Kant's critical philosophy when the central role of the transcendental imagination in the first critique is acknowledged.
Jena was the perfect site for Schelling and Hegel to launch The Critical Journal of Philosophy. The university was the center for post-Kantian philosophy at the end of the eighteenth century, with Reinhold, one of Kant's chief expositors, the Professor of Philosophy from 1787, only to be replaced on retiring by Fichte in 1794; and it was the home of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, the leading journal for the dissemination of Kantian philosophy from 1785 to 1803. If Kant drew attention to the extent to which our knowledge is dependent upon cognitive processes, he did not provide an account of our knowledge of those cognitive processes. Post-Kantian philosophy thus introduced a second order critique--it not only asked how knowledge is possible, but also asked how a critique of knowledge is possible. Fichte introduced his Wissenschaftslehre, the science of knowledge or theory of philosophy, as such a meta-critique that took the critical philosophy itself as an object, and posed the question of how we know the necessary conditions of cognition. (8) Fichte argued that we have an indubitable awareness of our own rational activity, of the activity of the I [Ich] in thinking. His claim was that the self-positing activity of the I is the "first, absolutely unconditioned principle of all human knowledge" (Grundlage 255; FsW 1: 91). Fichte further argued that this pure activity of the I can only become determinate and present for the self through the counterpositing of a not-I [Nicht-Ich] in opposition to the I. But as Hegel relentlessly made clear in his Difference essay, the not-I, if postulated to be a product of the activity of the I, remains an unconscious product. In attempting to provide a foundation for critical philosophy, Fichte's science of knowledge thus only transposed the rupture at the core of Kant's system of philosophy into a rupture within the self. In introducing the self-positing activity of the I as the foundation of all knowledge, Fichte only provided a subjective account of the relationship between the subjective and objective sides of knowledge, what Hegel described as a "subjective subject-object," in which the not-I remains unconscious, the problem of nature a darkness within consciousness.
In his Difference essay Hegel praised Schelling's philosophy, in contrast, for giving equal weight to our knowledge of the universe "as an organization intuited as objective and appearing as independent" and "the universe constructed by and for intelligence," to Naturphilosophie and transcendental idealism. (9) Such a complete philosophical system, Hegel maintained, is only possible when speculative philosophy makes the synthetic acts effecting the construction of nature as transparent to the intellect as those of its own activity, the project of Schelling's Naturphilosophie. Yet Schelling had difficulties living up to the promise Hegel saw in his philosophy. The persistent problem in all Schelling's various philosophical systems, a problem he never resolved to his lasting satisfaction, was how to give nature life by demonstrating its construction without destroying its positive presence. In the Naturphilosophie that Schelling developed from 1797, if he started from a construction of nature after Kant that sought to demonstrate the theoretical principles necessary for the possibility of nature, he applied the methods of critical philosophy more relentlessly than Kant, extending them even to the empirical concept of matter. The result was that all natural phenomena became problems for reflective judgment, and were conceived as complex organizations of formal and material principles, of activity and constraint, whose synthetic principle remained indeterminate. Moreover, his relentless critical construction of nature resulted in the positive presence of nature being dissolved into an abstract relation. Having thus abstracted the phenomena of nature into theoretical principles in his speculative physics, in his 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism Schelling turned his attention to tracing the genesis of all concepts of nature from the activity of thought according to the principles of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre. He concluded that the problems plaguing transcendental idealism, the dichotomizing effect of the self's reflection on its own activity and the counterpositing of the I to the not-I that left the not-I as an unconscious element within consciousness, could only be resolved through art. Kant's critical philosophy remained important here, but now on the Critique of Judgment and its concern with the reflective judgment of organized nature and art. Schelling's interest in art was also influenced by the Jena Romantics--their critical reflections upon the fragmentation and incompletion of all art, their attention to process of artistic production, and their conception of the relationship between the fragmentary individual and the system in terms of potentiation. Schelling conceived organized nature in analogous terms. But in attempting to articulate an absolute principle as the foundation of the whole system of nature and art, of every potency of the real and the ideal, Schelling again found himself reduced to abstract formulations, attempting to conceive it through a paradoxical logic of indifference as the identity of identity and difference. Hegel appears to have been disturbed by this aspect of Schelling's identity philosophy--even in the Difference essay there is an implicit criticism of it as empty formalism. It is thus not surprising that soon after attempting a collaboration on The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, the philosophies of Hegel and Schelling developed in quite distinctive ways. In his 1807 The Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel would seal his separation from Shelling's mode of philosophizing by condemning it as falling back into "inert simplicity" and even expounding "reality itself in an unreal manner." (10)
But what Hegel saw as the failure of Schelling's philosophy is perhaps its most interesting aspect. Schelling is often represented as the grandest of metaphysical system builders. Yet developing his philosophy in the context of rigorous philosophical reflection and critique, reflection not only upon the conditions of knowledge but also upon the conditions of philosophy and critique, he encountered at every point the problem of rupture. Pursuing the ideal into its furthest reaches, he could only conceive it in terms of an abstract Band; pursuing the real, he either similarly theorized it into an abstract Band or was left with an incomprehensible dark presence. In his 1809 essay Philosophical Enquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom these problems are presented in stark and irresolvable terms. Dichotomy now extends even to God, who is conceived in terms of ground and existence. The ground of God, his impenetrable and unruly nature, persists in created nature as that which cannot be brought to order. And the absolute principle of indifference is now articulated only negatively, as nonground [Ungrund]. Thus a fundamental incompletion remained the core of each of Schelling's attempts at a philosophical system, an incompletion in which the problem of nature has a particular prominence. His unwillingness to publish after the Freedom essay perhaps was an acknowledgement of his inability to produce a complete philosophical system. (11) As he would argue late in life, in his Munich lectures of 1832-33:
Nothing is easier than to displace oneself into the realm of pure thinking; but it is not so easy then to escape that realm. The world does not consist of mere categories or pure concepts, ... but of concrete and contingent things, and what must be considered is the illogical, the other, which is not concept, but its opposite, which only unwilling accepts the concept. It is here that philosophy must take its test. (12)
The Construction of Nature: Schelling's Naturphilosophie
When Schelling arrived in Jena in 1798 to take up the position of Professor of Philosophy, he was only twenty-three, yet he already had a considerable number of publications to his credit. He had completed two substantive works on Naturphilosophie, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature in 1797 and On the World Soul in 1798. He had also published several essays critically responding to Fichte's writings between 1794 and 1797. The engagement with Fichte's science of knowledge began when Schelling was a student at a seminary in Tubingen together with Hegel and Holderlin. But he had developed an interest in Naturphilosophie by the close of his studies in 1796, an interest he was able to pursue that autumn when, taking a position as a tutor to an aristocratic family, he traveled to Leipzig, an important center for the study of the natural sciences at that time. (13) At Leipzig Schelling engrossed himself in the study of contemporary physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine. His first works on Naturphilosophie also display a close reading of Kant's critiques and his 1786 Metaphysical Foundation of Natural Science. The Ideas introduced the project of Naturphilosophie through a precocious dialogue with this complex of formidable sources, and particularly Kant's philosophy of nature.
Schelling made clear that the concern of his Naturphilosophie was not to present a system of nature once it exists, but "the possibility of a nature"; that is, not how the connections of phenomena we call nature "have become actual outside us, but how they became actual for us," how those connections of phenomena attained the necessity in our representation in which we are compelled to think of them. (14) The terms are Kantian. Kant's critical philosophy was concerned to determine the forms of cognition that enable knowledge of objects. He argued that the possibility of nature, indeed the possibility of an object of experience, depends upon our concepts and representations, for only through such concepts is it possible to know anything as an object, or to know the necessary connections between phenomena--a priori concepts give our sensory intuitions determine meaning. But Schelling was critical of the appeal to the idea of a noumenal thing-in-itself in Kant, an idea he noted that Kant inherited through tradition, for to Schelling it was inconceivable what things external to us and independent of our representations might be. Such ideas make the separation between human beings and nature permanent, into "bottomless abysses" [bodenlosen Abgrunde]. (15) But Schelling did not seek unity in a metaphysical monism, whether of an infinite material substance, after Spinoza, or infinite divine spirit. His sought unity in a philosophy of nature in which nature would "not only express, but even realize, necessarily and originally, the laws of our mind, and that it is called nature only insofar as it does so" (Ideen 93). Schelling was thus truer to Kant's critical philosophy than its author, at least in his view, restricting the conditions of our cognition of nature to the cognitive phenomena of the finite human mind.
These ideas for a philosophy of nature were made more precise in Shelling's 1799 Introduction to the Outline of a System of Naturphilosophie. Naturphilosophie is now defined as a speculative physics, in which "our knowing is changed into a construction of nature itself, that is, into a science of nature a priori." Schelling argued that we know objects only when we know the principles of their possibility, which means "a pure knowing a priori." It is only through a deduction from a priori principles that phenomena of nature are conceived with the necessity requisite of a science. (16) The basic conception remains Kantian. In the Metaphysical Foundations, Kant presented a construction of Newtonian laws of physics by reasoning a priori from categories. But Kant distinguished his metaphysical constructions from a purely speculative philosophy of nature by making such constructions dependent upon the injection of empirical concepts from contemporary science. (17) Schelling, in contrast, whilst insisting that we know nothing at all except through experience, also insisted that empirical physics is directed "only at the surface [Oberflache] of nature." Even experiment, he argued, is only a first step toward science. In putting a question to nature that it is compelled to answer, experiment contains an implicit a priori judgment of nature, making it what Schelling called a "production of nature," but experiment can never go beyond the forces of nature it uses as its tools of inquiry. A speculative physics was to have no such limitations. It was to be directed "at the inner spring-work [Triebwerk]" of nature. Accordingly, it was necessarily a subjective or purely theoretical science. If empirical physics is directed to what is "objective" in nature, it only "regards its object in being," as a finished product; a speculative physics, in contrast, is directed to what is "non-objective in nature"; it "regards its object in becoming," in its productivity (Einleitung 274-75, 282-83).
For Schelling, Kant's concept of matter is the physical …