Schelling versus Hegel: from German Idealism to Christian Metaphysics. By John Laughland


Pp. 166 , Aldershot , Ashgate , 2007 , £45.00.

Laughland presents Schelling as the earliest transposer and completer of the Kantian revolution into Objective Idealism, extending the ethical simplification Fichte executed on the basis of Kant's own admission that, if intuitions of sense and the mind's a priori ideas fit together so marvellously, this must be because they ultimately stem from a common source. This can only be the subjective ‘I’, which thereby becomes an absolute ‘I’, and post-Kantian philosophy devolves into the task of demonstrating the necessity of the self's giving rise to the world we see around us. It was precisely Schelling's having participated in the completion of the Idealist project, however, that made his later criticism –‘from the inside’ so to speak – so devastating and his defection noteworthy. Hegel's ungenerous mockery, in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit (1806) of his earlier mentor and friend's ‘Identity Philosophy’ as having produced a ‘night in which all cows are black’ was not the cause for Schelling's departure; Laughland persuasively demonstrates that realist inclinations had been present from the beginning of Schelling's career, brooded during his infatuation with Fichte's astonishing transposition of Kantian philosophy, to later come to the fore in Schelling's ‘Nature Philosophy’ and more powerfully in his final ‘Philosophy of Revelation’. That is, although ‘Schelling's idealist heritage continued to shine through his thought right until the very death’ (p. 150), the later half of his long career (which lasted twenty years past Hegel's death) shows him clawing his way back to Realism and Christianity – with surprising honesty and courage in this northern Protestant thinker, towards a position close to that of Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church (with his strong critique of the individualism and subjectivism of German Pietism). Schelling wrote nothing after his ‘Freedom’ essay of 1809; this was not due to defeat but rather to his realization that the ‘genre’ of German philosophy must now pass from ‘System’ to ‘Phenomenology’, that is, the realization that the ‘system’could not be completed but rather lay in shambles all around, and that an honest philosophical effort must now concentrate on exploring the ‘facticity’ and ‘contingency’ of distinctive individual human experiences. Schelling is thus Janus-faced, and more prophetic and a harbinger of what is to come than were Hegel's immediate epigones, the Marxists. Still, there were heterodox elements in Schelling's outlook; he felt that God was not simple but must have a ‘ground’ which can run riot (On this theme Laughland omits from his bibliography Emil Fackenheim's excellent 1952 article on Schelling's Philosophy of Religion that appeared in the University of Toronto Quarterly). Perhaps most seriously, Laughland's appreciation gets sucked into Schelling's own stress on God's freedom as ‘utterly undetermined’ and ‘unpredictable’ (p. 129) (to protect it from the coils of ‘necessity’ in which Hegel tried to wrap it), which leads him towards an unbalanced voluntarism. Had Schelling given the ‘Good’ a greater prominence, his project of showing how God's creation and salvation could be simultaneously free and reasonable might have been rhetorically more powerful. God is the highest Good, and he appropriately loves himself most. The intensity of his self-love, however, constitutes no barrier to his love of others, but on the contrary leads him to want to share himself even beyond the godhead – that is, to create a being who could receive and appreciate the enormity of his gift. Egoism and altruism are directly – and not inversely – proportional in God. Still, for the depth and breadth of his scholarship, the elegance of style, the precision and wisdom of his selectivity, Laughland's study is currently the best thing on Schelling available in English.