In G. Anthony Bruno (ed.), Schelling’s Philosophy: Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity. Oxford University Press. pp. 93-115 (2020)

Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University
On 6 January 1795, the twenty-year-old Schelling—still a student at the Tübinger Stift—wrote to his friend and former roommate, Hegel: “Now I am working on an Ethics à la Spinoza. It is designed to establish the highest principles of all philosophy, in which theoretical and practical reason are united”. A month later, he announced in another letter to Hegel: “I have become a Spinozist! Don’t be astonished. You will soon hear how”. At this period in his philosophical development, Schelling had been deeply under the spell of Fichte’s new philosophy and the Wissenschaftslehre. The text Schelling was writing at the time was the early Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie, though his characterization of this text would much better fit the somewhat later work which is the focus of the current paper: Schelling’s 1801 Darstellung meines System der Philosophie (hereafter: Presentation). The Presentation is a text written more geometrico, following the style of Spinoza’s Ethics. While Spinoza’s influence and inspiration is stated explicitly and unmistakably in Schelling’s preface, the content of this composition might seem quite foreign to Spinoza’s philosophy, so much so, in fact, that Michael Vater—the astute translator and editor of the recent English translation of the text—has contended that “despite the formal similarities between Spinoza’s geometrical method and Schelling’s numbered mathematical-geometrical constructions, Schelling’s direct debts to Spinoza are few”. The Presentation is an extremely dense and difficult text, and while I agree that at first glance Schelling’s engagement with the concept of reason (Vernunft) and the identity formula ‘A=A’ seems to have little if anything to do with Spinoza (especially since Spinoza’s key terminology of ‘God’, ‘causa sui’, ‘substance’, ‘attribute’, and ‘mode’ is barely mentioned in the Presentation), I suspect that at a deeper level Schelling is attempting to transform Spinoza’s system by replacing God, Spinoza’s ultimate reality, with reason. Though this might at first seem bizarre, I believe it can be profitably motivated and explained upon further reflection. It is this transformation of Spinoza’s God into (the early) Schelling’s reason that is the primary subject of this study. I develop this paper in the following order. In the first part I provide a very brief overview of Schelling’s lifelong engagement with Spinoza’s philosophy, which will prepare us for my study of the 1801 Presentation. In the second part, I consider the formal structure and rhetoric of the Presentation against the background of Spinoza’s Ethics, and show how Schelling regularly imitates Spinoza’s tiniest rhetorical gestures. In the third and final part I turn to the opening of the Presentation, and argue that Schelling attempts there to distance himself from Fichte by developing a conception of reason as the absolute, or the identity of the subject and object, just as the thinking substance and the extended substance are identified in Spinoza’s God
Keywords Spinoza  Schelling  Geometric method  Reason  God  German Idealism  Axiomatization
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