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Schelling's romantic Spinozism

Tuesday, 11 Aug 2020

Schelling on Dr John Dunn. In naming freedom as the central struggle of tragedy, Schelling (left) identifies the core of individuality as that which is ‘unconditioned and absolute in his person’. The hero’s actions must originate from this unconditioned core and not be ‘an effect of nature or chance’. 

Having established this in his Philosophy of Art, Schelling nevertheless wavers later in the same work by stating.

Necessity and freedom, in as much as they are universal concepts, must in art necessarily appear symbolically. Since only human nature is subjected tonecessity on the one hand, yet capable of freedom on the other, both concepts must be symbolised in and through human nature, which itself must be represented by by individuals who - as just such natures in which freedom and necessity are bound to one another - are called persons.

Freedom and necessity are here bound to one another. Freedom cannot be bound, so where does this oxymoron originate? How can the individual’s unconditioned core be bound by anything?

Of freedom as tragedy, Schelling writes in The Philosophy of Art:

This is the most sublime idea and the greatest victory of freedom: voluntarily to bear the punishment for an unavoidable transgression in order to manifest his freedom precisely in the loss of that very same freedom, and to perish amid a declaration of free will. 

This, as presented here as well as in my own Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, is the innermost spirit of the Greek tragedy. This is the basis for the reconciliation and harmony residing in that tragedy, the reason it does not devastate us, but rather leaves us feeling healed and, as Aristotle says, cleansed. 

Freedom cannot exist as mere particularity. This is possible only insofar as it elevates itself to universality, and thus comes to an agreement with necessity concerning the consequences of guilt. Since it cannot avoid the unavoidable, it imposes the consequences on itself.

Key words here are:
• Unavoidable
• Reconciliation
• Harmony
• Healed
• Universality

This is the language of Oneness into which the individual is subsumed. This ultimately is where the ‘unconditioned and absolute’ core of the individual is surrendered. This is the suicide of the self.

Schelling ultimately is a Spinozist, i.e. holds a worldview best summed up by the Spinozist credo that freedom is the recognition of necessity.

In Schelling’s romantic Spinozism there is heroism in standing up to necessity, but there is tragedy in succumbing to the inevitable.

Quotes taken from F. W. J. Schelling, The Philosopy of Art, trans. D. W. Stott, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989.

© John Dunn.

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