Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant

‘The begetting of the gods out of one another is itself a symbol of the way the ideas inhere in and issue from one another. The absolute idea or God, for example, encompasses all ideas within itself…they are begotten of him.’1

The question that underlies all others is ‘Which precedes the other? Which therefore is the product of the other – matter (the philosophical concept for objective reality) or consciousness and its manifestation in thought?’2 The referent of the ‘metaphysics’ of ‘metaphysical matter’ is not, as is commonly believed, Aristotle’s writing that came after his Physics, but what lies beyond the processes and change of the physical world – which nothing does.

At the core of First Philosophy, at the core of what Aristotle called the Science of Theology3 was and is an understanding of and orientation to ‘god’. Recognising the primacy of objective reality over consciousness and thought, my approach to the subject will be materialist.

To write thus avoids pitfalls – that the world can be known both metaphysically and ’empirically’ – with the latter’s exaggeration of the role of the senses and its deduction of knowledge not from reason on the basis of sensory experience and the testing of that reason in practice, but from mere experience.

In particular, it avoids the pitfall of being caught up by competing idealisms and philosophies which amounted to struggles within an argument (that consciousness and thought are primary to or independent of matter, that consciousness to any degree precedes that which is independent of it and especially, that the world cannot be known or that there are limitations on our knowledge of the world).

Kant expressed strong criticism of prior metaphysicians and claimed to offer something new. Schelling strongly criticised Kant, advancing his solution to the problems he identified. Nietzsche, the arch-rhetorician, made even stronger criticisms of Kant and metaphysics, pointing us to Dionysus and his ‘higher man’.

Yet, despite the assertions by all three that they were putting forward something fundamentally new, my argument will be that not only are there several strong continuities between Kant, Schelling and Nietzsche, those continuities – which were anchored in a long tradition from Platonism, through Neoplatonism and Christianity – and differences – can best be understood on a materialist basis.

As the Neoplatonists argued that the One in its unity cannot be known, so Kant argued that the one world in its unity, that ‘thing in itself’ of which we have representations, cannot be known – ‘appearance’ being the barrier.4 He denied that we can go from a knowledge of objects presented to us in consciousness to knowledge of ‘things in themselves’.

The Neoplatonism implicit in Kant’s earlier writing became explicit in The Critique of Judgement – what was possibly his attempt to overcome the dichotomies of his earlier work.5 Schelling and Nietzsche were to build their philosophies, in particular, on Neoplatonism.

Part one/to be continued…


1. Friedrich Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, Trans., D.W.Stott, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 44, #36. This quotation exemplifies one of my arguments – in its compactness can be found the influences of Platonism, Neoplatonism and Christianity – all rolled into One. It echoes ‘For God so loved the world…’

2. At the very end of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant, under the heading ‘The History of Pure Reason’, discussed early developments regarding this question, in Greek philosophy – between ‘sensualists’ (represented by Epicurus) and ‘intellectualists’ (represented by Plato). ‘Those of the former school maintained that reality is to be found solely in the objects of the senses, and that all else is fiction; those of the latter school, on the other hand, declared that in the senses there is nothing but illusion, and that only the understanding knows what is true.’ Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan Education, London, 1987, p. 667 A 854. Epicurus, following Democritus, went much further than Kant’s division between bodies that sense and the objects they sense – he held that everything, including sensing bodies and their objects, is made of atoms moving continuously. Plato’s philosophy is also more complex.

3. Hegel wrote of ‘the science of religion’ ‘The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth, God and nothing but God and the explication of God. …Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion. …The linkage between them is nothing new. It already obtained among the more eminent of the church fathers, who had steeped themselves particularly in Neopythagorean, Neoplatonic, and Neoaristotelian philosophy.’ Georg Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Clarendon, Oxford, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 152-153

4. Regarding his transcendental unity of apperception: again, it is not a unity of a thing, rather an abstract unity of ourselves as thinkers and the world as we think it.

5. ‘the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation, and preserves it in this state.’ Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Trans., James Creed Meredith, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, p. 94. Also ‘The mind feels itself set in motion in the representation of the sublime in nature; whereas in the aesthetic judgement upon what is beautiful therein it is in restful contemplation.’ Ibid., p. 107. The junctures of ‘the sublime’ and movement and of contemplation and rest are the two great pathways to ‘god’ in our culture – both in the sense of well-trodden and what has been created on that basis. They appear in Schopenhauer, and in Nietzsche where they recur as the Dionysiac and the Apolline, blended in The Birth of Tragedy for even greater effect. The linking of the sublime and movement is a core tenet of Romanticism. Again, cf. ‘the highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which each person must beget in his own consciousness…(and this) may more appropriately be called the ideal of the beautiful. While not having this ideal in our possession, we still strive to beget it within us’ (ibid., pp. 75-76). Compare with the central simile of the sculptor in The Enneads (I.6.9). As with in vino veritas, so often writing on art gives a similar result.

2 thoughts on “Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant

    • Hello Charles,

      Philosophy, rather than some abstract ‘love of wisdom’ should be a critical practice – of never accepting ‘at face value’ a person’s statements (particularly those of a philosopher – one who lays claim to ‘reason’) but of always analysing those statements, looking for the inconsistencies, for what is really being argued, seeking to understand how it is being argued – and of developing one’s own argument in response.

      This should be all the more so in the case of Nietzsche, who was a master rhetorician, and more broadly, with regard to the impact of mysticism on Western culture. Mysticism (its primary Western form Neoplatonism) and theosophy – both in disguised form – have provided the theoretical justification and tools for what many philosophers have presented as the achievements of the most rigorous thought, the most punctilious ‘reason’.

      Nietzsche is exemplary of what happened in philosophy, particularly after the late eighteenth century, in response to the rise of science. In a nutshell, God was brought from heaven and placed – concealed – within. Nietzsche himself identified a concealed priesthood in philosophy1 – a priesthood Hegel overtly argued for in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.2 Nietzsche and Hegel themselves were of that priesthood.

      Unless one is familiar with mysticism (how it is expressed, its theory and developments on it) one cannot fully appreciate its pervasive influence. Nietzsche’s philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy (in which he repeatedly referred to the Primal Oneness and paraphrased the core simile of the sculptor in The Enneads) to his final published work The Will to Power (which contains, in its final ‘aphorism,’ a synopsis of The Enneads) is suffused with the influence of mysticism – particularly Neoplatonism.

      Nietzsche was through and through a man of ‘god’ (he came from a family of Lutheran pastors and was referred to when he was young as ‘the little pastor’). He told us that the Christian God (which he hated, not least, because he was so damaged by it) was dead (he got the ‘death of god’, as did Hegel, from a Lutheran hymn) only so his god, a Dionysian Übermensch’, similarly tortured and sacrificed like Christ (whom Nietzsche loved), could appear centre stage.

      He, like many before and after on this matter, feared the disapproval of his fellow educated. Safranski wrote that, wanting to read the writing of Max Stirner (Johann Caspar Schmidt – Marx and Engels referred to him in The German Ideology as ‘Saint Max’), Nietzsche sent one of his students (Adolf Baumgartner) to the Basel library in 1874 to get it. On another occasion, Safranski reports, he was quoted by his friend Ida Overbeck as saying that she would not let on that he was familiar with Stirner’s writing.

      Nietzsche was accused of not only having been influenced by Stirner but of having plagiarised him. Safranski quotes one contemporary of Nietzsche’s having written that Nietzsche would have been ‘permanently discredited in any educated milieu if he had demonstrated even the least bit of sympathy for Stirner’. (Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography, Trans., Shelley Frisch, Granata Books, London, 2002, 126)

      Similarly, the lyricism, the centrality of creativity and the progression towards unity in the philosophy of Plotinus (and developments on it) became absorbed into Nietzsche’s philosophy (as it had been into Hegel’s – and then ‘stood on its feet’ in Marx’s dialectical materialism) as an anchor for a Romanticism that had outlived its time, against the rising tide of the Common Man.

      Once the learned and deep thinkers who had so thoroughly rejected the Neoplatonic vitalism of the outcast Nietzsche’s philosophy came to appreciate its usefulness (as they did Bergson’s equally vitalist Neoplatonism around the same time) against the rise of science, against the acknowledgement that we can and do know the world and particularly against materialism with its recognition of the primacy of objective reality (‘matter’) over consciousness and thought – their response changed and Nietzsche’s ascent – in memoriam – was underway.

      Other examples: the same secrecy and denial was held by many with regard to their avid study of the writing of Spinoza and by Schelling, likewise, with regard to Swedenborg. And it is all in the same area – of ‘subjectivism’ (pantheism, mysticism etc.) vs. the mighty lie and cultural delusion of philosophic ‘reason’.

      In hiding and denying this influence, academic philosophers – who have arrogated behind cloistered walls what Socrates practised on the streets of Athens and gave his life for – have utterly failed in both social and intellectual responsibility.

      I have set up this blog to contribute to exposing and addressing their failure. I should also add that with the passing of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘modernism’ and increasingly, ‘postmodernism’, some academics are slowly coming to acknowledge and engage with this ‘unpleasant’ – and dangerous ‘subjectivism’ (‘dangerous’ because to do so threatens to expose not only so much dishonesty – particularly by philosophers – but the central cultural arrogance they serve – that we in the West are the bearers of a Reason that is supreme, exact, linguistic and propositional and it is this Reason that has enabled us to achieve all that we have).

      To recognise the immense contribution mysticism has inspired in Western culture, to understand its ‘reason’ and to stop appropriating achievements made on that basis to a Reason foreign to it – I refer to the Neoplatonic distinction between the reason of dynamic unity and that of static analysis, between that which was for Hegel ‘speculative’ and that which separates, which pulls apart – would only be to the great benefit of philosophy.

      Magee wrote ‘an appreciation of the role of mystical ideas in the thought of Hegel and other modern thinkers opens new vistas, new paradigms for the history of modern philosophy and for the philosophy of history. Modernity is a project, a social and historical movement with a linear trajectory: from unreason to reason, superstition to science, domination by nature to domination over it, mastery and slavery to universal freedom, darkness to light.’3

      I strongly recommend Stephen MacKenna’s magnificent translation of The Enneads (abridged) and William Franke’s 2 volume anthology On What Cannot be Said, which exemplifies the extent to which mysticism has shaped and continues to shape Western culture and its ‘reason’. Phil


      1. ‘The decisive sign that reveals that the priest (-including the concealed priest, the philosopher) has become master not only within a certain religious community but in general is that décadence morality, the will to the end, counts as morality in itself, is the unconditional value everywhere accorded to the unegoistic and the hostility accorded the egoistic.’

      Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo 1908, Trans. R.J.Hollingdale, Introduction Michael Tanner, Penguin, 2004, 66-67

      2. ‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

      Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

      G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

      Plotinus wrote ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’

      Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

      3. Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 253-280, 280


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