Epistemologies of Rupture: The Problem of Nature in Schelling's Philosophy

By Steigerwald, Joan | Studies in Romanticism, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Epistemologies of Rupture: The Problem of Nature in Schelling's Philosophy


Steigerwald, Joan, Studies in Romanticism


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. …

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