In his System des transzendentalen Idealismus, Schelling describes the philosophy of art as the "key stone" of the entire "arch" of the system.(1) The purpose of the following essay is to explore why this is so, why Schelling's idea of philosophy led him to take up the question of "art" not only as philosophically interesting, but as the key to understanding his system as a whole.
That this is an issue in understanding Schelling's System des transzendentalen Idealismus is obvious--in several passages he clearly states that the relation between transcendental reflection and the philosophy of art is decisive. Transcendental philosophy can reach its ultimate goal only when it is in a position to understand the essence of art. Yet what philosophy is actually looking for in art, and what it finds there, is not altogether clear. What does it mean that philosophy, within its own movement of self realization, seeks out something like art, finds it and makes it its own?
In order to answer this question it is necessary to engage in methodological considerations having to do with system building, something already suggested by the architectonic metaphor of "Gewolbe"--that is, considerations of how theoretical and practical philosophy are to be presented as an organic, thus systematic whole. We will leave aside the question of the extent to which in the end such an organic whole is achieved, and instead focus on the philosophical mode as such, the activity of constructing the system. In this way our guiding question will be the origin of transcendental philosophy according to Schelling. This, I believe, is where the key lies in understanding the relation between the philosophy of art and the system as a whole.
The basic thesis runs thus: the reason why the philosophy of art is so important has to do with the mode of reflection that establishes transcendental idealism as a project of thinking. Specifically, the activity of transcendental reflection is comparable to the production of a work of art; thus the task posed by a reflection on "art" is not only that of understanding the aesthetic world, but of understanding philosophy itself.
The "Inner City" and the "I." However important the role of art may be in the System des transzendentalen Idealismus, the same is not the case when we turn to Schelling's so-called "identity philosophy," first formulated in 1801. Though the philosophy of art is by no means rejected, it no longer has the decisive significance it had in 1800. This in no way implies, however, that the philosophy of identity has nothing to tell us about the role of art in the 1800 system. The opposite is rather the case, and as illustrative let us cite two passages that express succinctly two themes essential in the interpretation of the System des transzendentalen Idealismus.
The first passage is found in the lectures Schelling held in 1803 under the title Vorlesungen uber die Methode des akademischen Studiums. It appears near the beginning of the fourteenth lecture, which deals with the place of the "sciences of art" in a philosophically grounded curriculum.(2) Right away Schelling confronts what in the philosophical tradition would appear to be the most virulent objection against the inclusion of the study of art in education: Plato's banishment of the poem from the ideal city in the Republic. What can art teach us--so Plato--when it itself, as we philosophers well know, proffers only a false account of the truth? "It is essential," Schelling replies, "to recognize the particular standpoint from which Plato passes this judgment against the poets," namely that Plato is speaking from the standpoint of the "historical, not the philosophical, opposition" between poetry and philosophy. Historically, the poet as educator is the proponent of a "poetical realism," and this is what Plato reacts against: poetics as realism, or the claim that "truth" is itself something sensible, a part of the sensible world. …