The Ages of the World (1811)
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The Ages of the World (1811)

F. W. J. Schelling, Joseph P. Lawrence

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eBook - ePub

The Ages of the World (1811)

F. W. J. Schelling, Joseph P. Lawrence

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In 1810, after establishing a reputation as Europe's most prolific philosopher, F. W. J. Schelling embarked on his most ambitious project, The Ages of the World. For over a decade he produced multiple drafts of the work before finally conceding its failure, a "failure" in which Heidegger, Jaspers, Voegelin, and many others have discerned a pivotal moment in the history of philosophy. Slavoj ĆœiĆŸek calls this text the "vanishing mediator, " the project that, even while withheld and concealed from view, connects the epoch of classical metaphysics that stretches from Plato to Hegel with the post-metaphysical thinking that began with Marx and Kierkegaard. Although drafts of the second and third versions from 1813 and 1815 have long been available in English, this translation by Joseph P. Lawrence is the first of the initial 1811 text. In his introductory essay, Lawrence argues for the importance of this first version of the work as the one that reveals the full sweep of Schelling's intended project, and he explains its significance for concerns in modern science, history, and religion.

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(3)1 The past becomes2 known, the present recognized, and the future divined.
The known becomes told, the recognized shown, the divined foretold.3
Up until now, the science of philosophy (Wissenschaft)4 has generally been understood as emerging simply from the development of its own thoughts and concepts. It should more properly be understood as the development of a living, actual being (Wesen)5 presenting itself in it.
It is an advantage of our own times that this self-disclosing being has been given back to philosophy and, as we might well assert, in a manner not to be lost again.6 It is not too harsh a judgment to say this: once the dynamic spirit has been awakened, any attempt to philosophize that does not draw its strength from it can be looked at as no more than a vain misuse of the noble gift of speaking and thinking.
The animating principle of the highest form of philosophy can only be the original living being itself (das Urlebendige), that being that has no being before it7 and is therefore the oldest of all beings, the very heart of reality as such (Wesen).
This original living being, since there is nothing before or outside of it from which it might be determined, can develop itself only freely, living out of itself and out of its own will and instinct. But for precisely this reason it develops itself not lawlessly, but in accord to its own inner law. There is in it no caprice. It is a nature in the most complete sense (4) of the word, just as human beings are a nature, not only irrespective of their freedom, but even more because of it.
After the science of philosophy has reached objectivity in terms of its subject matter, it seems natural enough that it would seek the same thing with respect to its form.
Why was or is this impossible up until now? Why can the highest form of knowledge not tell what it knows with the same straightforward simplicity of anything else that is known? What holds back the anticipated golden age when truth again becomes fable and fable truth?
Human beings must be granted a principle that stands outside and above the world. For how else could they alone of all creatures trace the long path of events back from the present into the deepest night of the past, they alone ascend to the beginning of the ages if in them there were not a principle from8 that beginning? Poured out of the source of all things and the same as it, the human soul has a participatory knowledge (Mitwissenschaft)9 of creation. In the soul lies the highest clarity of all things. She10 is not so much that which knows as herself the knowledge we draw on (und nicht sowohl wissend ist sie als selber die Wissenschaft).
But the principle that in the soul reaches up over the world (das ĂŒberweltliche Princip) no longer dwells freely as it did in its original lucid purity (Lauterkeit),11 for it is bound to another and much narrower principle. This other is itself something that has grown to be and is for this reason by its nature dark and unaware. It necessarily obscures the higher principle with which it is connected and within which there rests the memory of all things, of their original circumstances, how they came to be and what they mean. But this archetype of things slumbers in the soul as an image that, even if never completely effaced, has become obscured and forgotten. It would perhaps never have awakened again, except that, within darkness, there could also be found the intimation and yearning of perception (die Ahndung und Sehnsucht der Erkenntniß). Incessantly called on by a lower that seeks refinement (Veredlung), what is higher realizes that it has been bound with its inferior not in order to stay bound. Instead, it has been given this other so that it itself has something in which it can contemplate, express, and grow to understand itself. For within itself alone, everything resides without distinction, (5) simultaneously, as one. Only with the help of its other can it attain expression by analyzing and dissecting what in it is one. For this reason both principles strive equally for division (Scheidung):12 the higher, in order to return home to its original freedom and be revealed to itself; the lower, so that it can be impregnated by it, in order that it too, if in an entirely different way, might come to know.
This division, this doubling of ourselves, represents a clandestine intercourse in which there are two beings, one that questions and one that answers, one that knows—or is knowledge (Wissenschaft) itself—and one that, not knowing, always struggles for clarity. The real secret of the philosopher is this inner art of dialogue. Dialectic, its external correlate, derived its name from it, but is at best only its imitation. Where it becomes a mere form it is no more than a shadow and empty appearance.
Everything that is known can, in accord to its nature, be told. But what is known in this case is not something that has lain there finished and present at hand from the beginning, but rather something that first emerges from interiority. Before it can illuminate the outer world, the light of philosophy must first emerge through an inward process of division that sets it free. What we call philosophical science first begins as the struggle to regain awareness (Streben nach dem Wiederbewußtwerden).13 It is thus more a striving to know than knowledge itself. It is doubtlessly for this reason that that great man of the ancient world settled on the name philosophy.14 The cherished opinion that surfaces from time to time, according to which philosophy, by making dialectic its instrument, can finally transform itself into a genuine science of philosophy, betrays not just a little blindness, for the very existence and necessity of dialectic proves how far away it still is from that goal.15
In this regard the philosopher finds himself16 in essentially the same situation as any other historian. For the historian too, while sifting through received records, must fully master the art of discrimination (Scheidungskunst) or critique. How else is he to distinguish true from false and what has been rightly conceived from what has been ill-conceived? It is also important, even urgently, that he be able to critique himself, for, just as one often hears, a historian must seek to free himself from the concepts and foibles (6) of his own time. Indeed, more is demanded of him in that regard than would be appropriate to detail here.
Everything, everything without exception, even what is by nature external, must be internalized before we can represent it externally or objectively. If the writer of history wishes to present a past age in a way that is vivid and true and alive, he will have to first assure that it springs to life inside himself. What would historical narrative be if an inner sense did not come to its aid?—presumably just what it is for so many who know the most about what happened, but not the least thing about history itself. And for that matter, the history of nature has its monuments just as much as the history of human events. In looking on the wide path of creation, we do well to assume that no stage has been abandoned without having left behind a distinguishing mark. And for the most part these monuments of nature are open to our view, having been repeatedly investigated and at times accurately deciphered. Yet, unless the moment comes when the entire sequence of actions and their products is brought to life inside us, they will not speak to us but will remain dead. All knowledge and comprehension begins when things become internalized.
Now, some have asserted that it is possible to abolish duality by setting such subordinate things aside and looking only into ourselves, with the goal of living entirely above and beyond the world (im Überweltlichen). And who can simply deny the possibility of transposing oneself into one’s own extra-worldly (ĂŒberweltliches) principle by channeling the forces of mind and soul upward into ecstatic vision (in’s Schauen)?
Every physical and moral whole needs, for its preservation, to be brought back from time to time into its innermost beginning. By awakening the feeling of the unity of one’s nature (Wesen), a person can be rejuvenated, becoming blessed anew. It is from this deep source that those who seek the highest form of knowledge continuously draw fresh strength. Not the poet alone, but philosophers too have their moments of ecstasy. They need them, too; to preserve themselves from the forced concepts of an empty dialectic void of all enthusiasm, they need to feel the indescribable reality of more sublime ideas.
It is another thing, however, to demand the constancy of this contemplative condition. This, after all, would conflict with the nature and determination of the (7) life that has been given us. For however else we may regard the relationship between life and contemplative vision, this much will always have to be conceded: what is given in vision as an indivisible unity is unfolded and at times broken into parts in everyday life. We do not live in rapture (im Schauen). Our knowledge is piecemeal; that is, it must be produced bit by bit, assigned to categories and ranked in order, none of which can take place without the help of reflection.
For that reason, the goal is not attained in pure vision. For vision, in and for itself, has no understanding. Although we all see more or less the same thing in the world outside ourselves, we are not all equally capable of saying just what it is we see. Each thing, brought to maturity by a series of different processes, one thing following and impinging on another, runs through certain moments to arrive at its completion. A farmer sees what unfolds in a plant, for instance, just as well as the botanist does. But, lacking the leisure to observe its moments separately, one apart from the other, as they unfold within the dynamic of their mutual opposition, he will not truly be aware of what he is looking at. It is just this way for people in general. They are able to experience running through themselves, and in apparent immediacy, a whole succession of processes through which an infinite manifold is produced out of the highest simplicity of the original living being (aus der höchsten Einfalt des Wesens). Indeed, to speak precisely, this is what they must experience in themselves. But all experience and feeling and gazing is in itself mute, in need of a mediating organ if it is to attain to expression.
A person who, caught up in rapturous intuition, lacks this organ, or in an attempt to speak directly from rapture itself, pushes it intentionally away, will lose all sense of proper measure. He will become so one with his object that, from the perspective of an outside observer, he will be just like the object itself. For precisely this reason, he will not be able to master his own thoughts. Completely lacking in assurance, he will find himself caught in a vain struggle to express what he himself experiences as inexpressible. What he gets right, he will get right, but he will remain unsure. He will be unable to hold his intuition steadily before himself so that he can review it in the understanding as in a mirror.
The external principle is thus not to be surrendered at any price, for everything must be brought to actual reflection if it is to achieve its highest exposition. This is where we find the boundary (8) between theosophy and philosophy. Anyone in love with knowledge should humbly refrain from crossing it. Theosophy, it is true, surpasses philosophy in depth, richness, and vibrancy of content in much the same way as an actual object surpasses a pictorial image, or nature as a whole its representation. This is particularly the case if one chooses for one’s object of comparison a dead philosophy that seeks to uncover the very heart of reality (Wesen) through forms and concepts alone. Over against philosophy so conceived, it is easy to understand why ardent souls will prefer theosophy. This is as easy to explain as why a person might prefer nature over art. For theosophical systems have had this one advantage over systems that have prevailed up until now, that in theosophy at least nature has a place, even if it is a nature that has little command of itself. In contrast, in other systems all we find is the vanity of artful construction, the antithesis of nature. This does not mean, however, that nature must remain inaccessible to art once art has been properly understood. In the same way, the fullness and depth of life turn out to be accessible to philosophy once this too has been properly understood. But to get this far, philosophy must move forward even more slowly, and in a more mediated fashion, a...

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