Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

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Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, painting by Christian Friedrich Tieck, ca. 1800
Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling, painting by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1835
Friedrich Schelling, Daguerreotype by Hermann Biow, Berlin, 1848

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (* 27 January 1775 in Leonberg, Duchy of Württemberg; † 20 August 1854 in Bad Ragaz in the Canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland) was a German philosopher and one of the main representatives of German idealism. In 1812 he was raised to the peerage.

Schelling and Anthroposophy

Like Fichte and Hegel, the young Schelling is judged positively by Rudolf Steiner as an idealist. The mysticism of the late Schelling was judged more unfavourably by the young Steiner, but positively by the later Steiner.

„Schelling appears almost like Fichte, not with such force, but with such a way of thinking. We see very soon, however, that Schelling's spirit expands. Just as Fichte talks of I and non-I and of all sorts of similar abstract things, Schelling also talks in his youth and inspires people with it in Jena. But this leaves him at once, the mind expands, and we see ideas entering it, albeit imaginative ones, but again almost aiming at imaginations. It goes on for a while, then he delves into such spirits as Jakob Böhme, describes something that is quite different in tone and style from his earlier work: the basis of human freedom, a kind of reawakening of Jakob Böhme's ideas. We then see how Platonism almost revives in Schelling. He writes a Weltanschauungsgespräch (World View Conversation) "Bruno", which is really reminiscent of Plato's conversations, which is very forceful. Another interesting piece of writing is "Clara", in which the supersensible world plays a major role.

Then Schelling remains silent for a terribly long time. He was considered by his fellow philosophers, I would say, to be a living dead man, and then only published the extraordinarily significant work on the Samothracian Mysteries, - again an expansion of his mind. But for now he still lives in Munich, until the King of Prussia calls him to lecture at the Berlin University on the philosophy that Schelling says he has worked out in the silence of his solitude over the decades. And now Schelling appears in Berlin with the philosophy that is then contained in his later works as the "Philosophy of Mythology" and the "Philosophy of Revelation". He does not make a great impression on the Berlin audience, because the tenor of what he speaks in Berlin is actually this: With all thought, man achieves nothing at all in relation to world views; something must come into the human soul that lives through thought as a real spiritual world. Suddenly, instead of the old rationalistic philosophy, there appears in Schelling a reawakening of the old philosophy of the gods, of mythology, a reawakening of the old gods, and indeed in a way that is on the one hand quite modern; but from everything one sees: there is an old spirituality at work. It is quite strange [...]

And so one could have the following picture: Let us say, first of all, down in the physical world, Schelling, who went through his manifold fates in life, who, as I have said, had a long loneliness among these fates, who was treated in the most manifold ways by his fellow men, sometimes with enormous, magnificent enthusiasm, sometimes ridiculed, mocked, this Schelling, who actually always made a significant impression when he appeared in person again, he, the short, stocky man with the tremendously expressive head, the eyes still sparkling with fire at a late age, from which the fire of truth spoke, the fire of knowledge, this Schelling, one can see quite clearly the more one goes into him: he has moments when inspiration falls into him from above.“ (Lit.:GA 238, p. 97ff)

Schelling and Tycho de Brahe

According to Rudolf Steiner, Schelling was inspired by the spiritual individuality of Tycho de Brahe. The philosopher and theologian Jakob Frohschammer also received similar impulses:

„When I was really able to follow Schelling's biographical development, but not clearly - this only became clear much, much later, when I wrote my "Riddles of Philosophy" - I was able to perceive - as I said, not quite clearly - how much of Schelling's writings was actually only written down by him under inspiration, and that the inspirer was Julian Apostata-Herzeloyde-Tycho de Brahe, who did not appear again himself on the physical plane, but who had worked tremendously through Schelling's soul. And in the process I became aware that this Tycho de Brahe in particular had progressed in an eminently strong way after his Tycho de Brahe existence. Only a little could pass through Schelling's corporeality. But once you know that Tycho de Brahe's individuality hovers over Schelling as an inspiration, and then you read the brilliant flashes in the "Deities of Samothrace", the brilliant flashes especially at the end of the "Philosophy of Revelation", with Schelling's interpretation of the ancient mysteries, which is magnificent in its way, and especially if you delve into the language that Schelling uses there, into the language that is so strange, then you soon don't hear Schelling talking, but Tycho de Brahe. And then one becomes aware of how, among other spirits, this Tycho de Brahe, who was also an individuality in Julian Apostata, has contributed a great deal to the emergence of many things in the newer spiritual life, which have nevertheless had such a stimulating effect that at least the outer forms of expression for what is anthroposophical are sometimes taken from them.“ (Lit.:GA 238, p. 101f)


„A sentence uttered by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854) in his "Naturphilosophie" (Philosophy of Nature) seems like a flash of light that has an illuminating effect backwards and forwards within the development of the world view: "To philosophise about nature means as much as to create nature". This sentence gives monumental expression to what Goethe and Schiller were imbued with: that the productive imagination must have its share in the creation of the world view. What nature gives us voluntarily when we observe, look at and perceive it does not contain its deepest meaning. Man cannot absorb this meaning from outside. He must create it.

Schelling's mind was particularly predisposed to such creativity. In him, all the spiritual forces strove towards the imagination. He is an unparalleled inventive mind. But his imagination does not produce images, as artistic ones do, but concepts and ideas. Through this way of thinking, he was called to continue Fichte's train of thought. The latter did not possess the productive imagination. With his demand for truth, he had reached the spiritual centre of the human being, the "I". If this is to be the source of the world view, then the one who stands on this standpoint must also be in a position to arrive from the ego at thoughts about the world and life that are full of content. This can only happen with the help of the imagination.... He demands for the one who wants to arrive at a world view "a completely new inner sensory tool, through which a new world is given, which does not exist at all for the ordinary human being".... Schelling sees in the thoughts that his imagination places before his soul the results of this higher sense, which he calls intellectual imagination. He, who thus sees in what the spirit says about nature a product that the spirit creates, must above all be interested in the question: How can that which comes from the spirit be the real lawfulness that rules in nature? He turns with sharp expressions against those who believe that we only "transfer our ideas to nature", for "they have no idea of what nature is and ought to be for us, ... For we do not want nature to coincide with the laws of our mind by chance (for instance, through the mediation of a third party), but that it itself necessarily and originally - not only expresses but itself realises the laws of our mind, and that it is nature and is called nature only in so far as it does so... Nature is to be the visible spirit, the spirit the invisible nature. Here, then, in the absolute identity of the spirit in us and the nature outside us, the problem of how a nature outside us is possible must be resolved." Nature and spirit are therefore not two different entities at all, but one and the same entity in two different forms [...]

Now there are two ways to describe the one being that is spirit and nature at the same time. One is: I show the laws of nature that are active in reality. Or I show how the spirit does it in order to arrive at these laws. Both times I am guided by one and the same thing. The one time shows me the lawfulness as it is active in nature; the other time shows me what the spirit begins to do in order to imagine the same lawfulness. In the one case I am doing natural science, in the other spiritual science. Schelling describes in an attractive way how these two belong together: "The necessary tendency of all natural science is to come from nature to the intelligent. This and nothing else underlies the endeavour to bring theory into natural phenomena. The highest perfection of natural science would be the perfect spiritualisation of all laws of nature into laws of observation and thought. The phenomena (the material) must disappear completely and only the laws (the formal) remain. Hence it comes about that the more the lawful breaks forth in nature itself, the more the shell disappears, the phenomena themselves become more spiritual and finally cease completely. The optical phenomena are nothing but a geometry whose lines are drawn through the light, and this light itself is already of ambiguous materiality. In the phenomena of magnetism all material trace already disappears, and of the phenomena of gravity, which even naturalists thought they could comprehend only as a directly spiritual influence" - an effect in the distance - "nothing remains but its law, the execution of which is in great measure the mechanism of the celestial movements. The consummate theory of nature would be that by virtue of which the whole of nature dissolved itself into an intelligence [...]

Schelling entangled the facts of nature in an elaborate network of thoughts, so that all its phenomena stood before his creative imagination like an ideal harmonious organism. He was animated by the feeling that the ideas that appeared in his imagination were also the true creative forces of natural processes [...]

As his thinking progressed, Schelling's contemplation of the world became a contemplation of God or theosophy. He was already fully grounded in such a contemplation of God when he published his "Philosophical Investigations into the Nature of Human Freedom and the Objects Connected with it" in 1809. All questions of worldview now presented themselves to him in a new light. If all things are divine, how is it that there is evil in the world, since God can only be perfect goodness? [...]

The result of things from God is a self-revelation of God. But God can only be manifested to himself in that which is like him, in free beings acting out of themselves; for whose being there is no reason but God, but who are as God is." If God were a God of the dead, and all the phenomena of the world were only a mechanism whose processes could be traced back to him as their mover and original cause, one would only need to describe the activity of God, and one would have understood everything within the world. One could understand all things and their activity from God. But this is not the case. The divine world has independence. God created it, but it has its own being. Thus it is divine; but the divine appears within an entity that is independent of God, within a non-divine. Just as light is born out of darkness, so the divine world is born out of the non-divine existence. And from the non-divine comes evil, comes the selfish. God, therefore, does not have the totality of beings under his control; he can give them the light, but they themselves emerge from the dark night. They are the sons of that night. And what is darkness in them God has no power over. They must work their way up through the night to the light. That is their freedom. You can also say that the world is God's creation out of the ungodly. The ungodly is therefore the first and the divine only the second [...]

A God who is pure, unadulterated reason appears like personified mathematics; a God, on the other hand, who cannot proceed according to pure reason in his creation of the world, but must continually struggle with the undivine, can be regarded as "a completely personal, living being". His life has the greatest analogy with the human. As man seeks to overcome the imperfect in himself and strives towards an ideal of perfection: so such a God is imagined as an eternally struggling one whose activity is the progressive overcoming of the undivine [...].

A personal God, as Schelling imagined him in his later time, is incalculable. For he does not act according to reason alone. In the case of an arithmetical experiment, we can determine the result in advance by mere thinking; but not in the case of the acting human being. With him we must wait and see what action he will decide to take at a given moment. Experience must be added to the knowledge of reason. The pure science of reason was therefore not sufficient for Schelling's view of the world or of God. In the later form of his worldview, he therefore calls everything gained from reason a negative knowledge that must be supplemented by a positive one. Whoever wants to know the living God must not merely abandon himself to the necessary conclusions of reason; he must immerse himself with his whole personality in the life of God. Then he will experience what no conclusions, no pure reason can give him. The world is not a necessary effect of the divine cause, but a free act of the personal God. What Schelling believed to have seen not through rational contemplation, but as free, incalculable acts of God, he set forth in his "Philosophy of Revelation" and his "Philosophy of Mythology". He did not publish either of these works himself, but only based their content on the lectures he gave at the University of Berlin after Frederick William IV appointed him to the Prussian capital. They were not published until after Schelling's death (1854).“ (Lit.:GA 18, p. 212ff)

Schelling says: To know nature is to create nature. - Anyone who takes these words of the bold natural philosopher literally will probably have to renounce all knowledge of nature for the rest of his life. For nature exists once, and in order to create it a second time, one must recognise the principles according to which it came into being. For the nature that one wanted to create first, one would have to copy the conditions of its existence from the already existing one. But this learning, which would have to precede creation, would be the recognition of nature, even if, after learning, creation were to cease altogether. Only a nature that does not yet exist could be created without first recognising it.

What is impossible with nature: creation before recognition; with thinking we accomplish it. If we wanted to wait with thinking until we had recognised it, we would never get to it. We have to think resolutely in order to arrive afterwards at its cognition by means of the observation of what we do ourselves. We ourselves first create an object for the observation of thinking. The existence of all other objects has been provided for without our intervention.“ (Lit.:GA 4, p. 48f)

On the nature of human freedom

„Jakob Böhme certainly read a great deal about questions of world view and also absorbed a great deal in other ways through the educational paths that offered themselves to the simple man of the people in the German development of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but the best that pulsates in Jakob Böhme's writings in such an unlearned way is a popular path of knowledge, is a result of the popular mind itself. And Schelling has raised to the level of intellectual contemplation what this popular mind has seen in Jakob Böhme's unlearned but enlightened soul. It is one of the most marvellous observations one can make in world literature to see Jakob Böhme's elementary view of mind shining through the philosophical language in Schell'mg's treatise "On the Nature of Human Freedom". In this elementary view of the mind there is the profound insight that no one can arrive at a satisfactory world view who takes only the means of thinking comprehension with him on his path of knowledge. Something more comprehensive, more powerful than this thinking comprehension, beats into the periphery of what is thinking comprehension from the depths of the world. But not more powerful than what the soul can experience within itself, if thinking comprehension appears to it only as a member of its own being. If one wants to comprehend something, one must understand how it is necessarily connected with another. The things of the world, however, are necessarily connected on their surface, but not in the deepest depths of their being. Freedom prevails in the world. And only he understands the world who sees in the necessary course of the laws of nature the operation of free supersensible spirituality. Freedom as a fact can always be refuted on logical grounds. Whoever understands this, no refutation of the idea of freedom makes any impression on him. - Jakob Boehme's primordial, healthy way of knowing, his original folk-sensual knowledge of the mind, saw freedom as permeating and working through all necessity, even that which is natural. And Schelling, rising from a spiritual view of nature to a spiritual view, felt himself in harmony with Jakob Böhme.“ (Lit.:GA 20, p. 43f)


„Did Schelling also teach in Jena, who then, out of a similar striving as Fichte, really got through, as I have often emphasised, to a quite profound conception of Christianity, indeed of the Mystery of Golgotha, who virtually turned towards a kind of theosophy, which he then expressed, though without being understood by his contemporaries, in his "Philosophy of Mythology" and in his "Philosophy of Revelation"? but which was already alive in that treatise which he wrote, following Jakob Böhme, on human freedom and other related subjects, already alive in his talk "Bruno or on the Divine and the Natural Principle of Things", especially alive in his beautiful treatise "On the Deities of Samothrace", where he rolled up a picture of what, in his opinion, really lived in those ancient Mysteries. " (Lit.: GA 273, p. 61)

"One of the best remarks in Schelling's "Philosophy of Revelation" is that he points out that Christianity is less concerned with any doctrine than with the conception of a fact. What happened at the starting point of Christianity is a fact. If one speaks only of a doctrine, then one can very easily be tempted to dogmatise on the basis of this doctrine. But if one is clear about the development of humanity, one must say to oneself: doctrines are in living development; doctrines, like humanity itself, progress. Facts naturally stand at the point of historical development at which they have occurred.“ (Lit.:GA 332a, p. 143)


  • Über die Möglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie überhaupt (1794),
  • Vom Ich als Princip der Philosophie oder über das Unbedingte im menschlichen Wissen (1795), (online; PDF; 440 kB)
  • Abhandlung zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre (1796),
  • Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (1797),
  • Von der Weltseele (1798),
  • System des transcendentalen Idealismus (1800),
  • Über den wahren Begriff der Naturphilosophie und die richtige Art ihre Probleme aufzulösen (1801)
  • Philosophie der Kunst (Vorlesung) (1802/1803)
  • Vorlesungen über die Methode des akademischen Studiums (1803) (Digitised copy and full text)
Nachdruck: Hamburg: Meiner, 1974 (Phil.Bibl.275)
  • System der gesammten Philosophie und der Naturphilosophie insbesondere (Nachlass) (= „Wurzburger-“ oder „1804system“) (1804)
  • Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1809),
  • Clara – Über den Zusammenhang der Natur mit der Geisterwelt. Ein Gespräch, Fragment (Aus dem handschriftlichen Nachlass, wohl zwischen 1809 und 1812)
  • Weltalter (1811: es gibt noch andere Versionen dieser Schrift),
  • Darstellung des philosophischen Empirismus (1830, nur aus dem Nachlass bekannt),
  • Philosophie der Mythologie (Vorlesung) (1842),
  • Philosophie der Offenbarung (Vorlesung) (1854).
  • Philosophie der Kunst (1859) (Digitised copy and full text)
New editions
  • Vorlesungen über die Methode (Lehrart) des akademischen Studiums. Hrsg.v. Walter E. Erhardt. Meiner, Hamburg 1990. ISBN 3-7873-0972-1
  • Das Tagebuch. Hrsg. v. Hans Jörg Sandkühler. Meiner, Hamburg 1990. ISBN 3-7873-0722-2
  • System des transzendentalen Idealismus. Hrsg. v. Horst D. Brandt u. Peter Müller. Meiner, Hamburg 2000. ISBN 3-7873-1465-2
  • Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit und die damit zusammenhängenden Gegenstände. Hrsg. v. Thomas Buchheim. Meiner, Hamburg 2001. ISBN 3-7873-1590-X
  • Zeitschrift für spekulative Physik. Hrsg. v. Manfred Durner, 2 Bde. Meiner, Hamburg 2002. ISBN 3-7873-1694-9
  • Bruno oder über das göttliche und natürliche Prinzip der Dinge. Ein Gespräch. Hrsg. v. Manfred Durner. Meiner, Hamburg 2005. ISBN 3-7873-1719-8
  • Philosophie der Offenbarung. Hrsg. v. Manfred Frank, Frankfurt/ Main: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 181, 1977. ISBN 3-518-27781-2
  • Historisch kritische Ausgabe, 40 Bände (Reihe I: Werke, II: Nachlass, III: Briefe). Hrsg. im Auftrag der Schelling-Kommission der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften v. Thomas Buchheim, Jochem Hennigfeld, Wilhelm G. Jacobs, Jörg Jantzen u. Siegbert Peetz. Frommann-Holzboog, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1976 ff., ISBN 978-3-7728-0542-4
  • Die Weltalter, mit einem Essay von Slavoj Žižek, im Laika-Verlag als Slavoj Žižek / Friedrich Wilhelm J. von Schelling: Abgrund der Freiheit, ISBN 978-3-942281-57-7


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