Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Two

In his Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature Schelling, particularly in response to Kant’s philosophy, wrote that through philosophy, man had placed himself in opposition to the external world, had separated himself from his natural processes, making himself his object – thereby creating divisions between ‘mind’ and body, reason, emotions and sensuality, above all between himself and Nature and that with this separation, from the world and from himself as an active whole, he had begun to reflect on both.1

Reflection is a preoccupation with dissection, dismemberment and the evocation of chimeras which as things in themselves, lie beyond reason, intuition and imagination and are therefore impossible to fight. It is a spiritual sickness which kills man’s highest being, his spiritual life – which comes only from Identity between particular as self and universal as Nature.

By asking how ideas of external things arise in us, philosophers did away with the identity of object and idea, positing things as independent of us. The understanding endlessly divides. Yet, our ideas only have substance because of our assumption of agreement between them and things.

In asking how we have ideas, we raise ourselves above those ideas and become beings in ourselves, the counter of things in themselves. ‘Mind’ and matter are thereby permanently divorced. Utilising Kant’s assertion of our freedom, Schelling argued that on this basis I can raise myself above the interconnection of things, existing only for myself. He asked what drove philosophers to forsake common ways of thinking to invent arcane philosophical structures.

Where Plato set matter against God, Spinoza was the first who recognised ‘mind’ and matter as one. Both Leibniz and Newton also recognised this unity – the former in the pre-established harmony of the spiritual world, the latter with regard to the equilibrium of forces in the material world.

Where Leibniz and Newton diverge, it is to be hoped, thought Schelling, that the mid-point of our ‘universe of knowledge’ can be found such that the systems of Leibniz and Newton can appear either the same or as different aspects of the same.

To resolve the divisions and return man to identity and equilibrium within himself and with Nature, Schelling proposed a philosophy of Nature in which philosophy performed the function of religion – when we engage in philosophy, when we employ the appropriate concepts and ideas, we have the same purpose as that of religion.

In his Philosophy of Art he argued for the deification of nature, the infusion of religion, mythology and the gods in both nature and society, and for art and fantasy (which, with imagination can unite the Absolute with particularity in an image) to supplant reflective science, which is premised on the separation of knower from objectified known and is therefore incapable of expressing the Absolute in its unity.

Where Schelling responded to Kant, Nietzsche derided and condemned him. He banded Christianity and priests with philosophers and attacked Kant as exemplary of both with concepts such as ‘reason’, rationality (at any price), caution and opposition to the instincts. Kant (‘an underhanded Christian’2) was motivated similarly to the Christian – both devalued this world as ‘appearance’ to argue for a false ‘true world’ beyond that ‘appearance’ – ‘a mere reflex of the faith in the ego as cause.’3

Philosophers believe that they cannot perceive that which has being because the senses (the body) lie. Nietzsche argued that this world of ‘appearance’ is the only world and that just as the senses show becoming and do not lie, the ‘true’ world of Kant and the Christians is a lie.

Echoing Schelling’s terminology in his writing on the Kantian schism between ourselves and things in themselves, Nietzsche wrote that to devalue this world is a sign of decadence and the decline of life – a will to slander it. With equal relevance to Kant and the Christian, life comes to an end where the ‘true’ world (for Kant the unknowable, for the Christian, the ‘kingdom of God’) begins.

Kant’s distinction between appearance and the noumenal thing in itself was the basis for his holding that we are free agents and as such can be first causes. Nietzsche rejected this, believing that our actions take place in causal chains. Again, Nietzsche tied the free will of Kant, functioning in the shadow of his moral imperative, to Christianity – considering both as the attempt through the imputation of guilt to make mankind dependent on the theologian.

Nietzsche wrote that the reasons why this world has been characterised as apparent are the very reasons that justify its reality, that the criteria of ‘true being’ amount to naught. Most probably thinking of Kant, he wrote that the ‘true world’ is a promise ‘for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man’.4

Displaying ironic facility, he wrote that it is at least unattained and therefore unknown. It is an idea no longer good for anything. In abolishing the ‘true world’ the apparent one is also abolished…the briefest shadow…incipit Zarathustra!5

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

1. To exemplify the significance of Kant to Schelling: ‘With that separation, reflection first begins; he separates from now on what Nature had always united, separates the object from the intuition, the concept from the image, finally (in that he becomes his own object) himself from himself.’ Friedrich Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, Trans., E.E.Harris and P.Heath, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988, p. 172

2. F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, from The Portable Nietzsche, Trans, W.Kaufmann, New York, Penguin, 1976, p. 484, section 6

3. Ibid., p. 495, section 3 

4. Ibid., p. 485

5. Ibid., p. 486

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