Man as an irony within nature

Schelling and the
presence of evil

IMAGE: Color photograph of FWJ Schelling

Western philosophy after Augustine traditionally accorded to evil a merely negative ontological status. That is to say, evil was considered to be the result of a privatio boni, or privation of goodness. Evil’s essential feature thus appeared in this model as absence. One might well have asked: “What specifically is absent from evil?” — to which it would be answered that evil indicates a lack of the universal goodness contained in God’s original creation. Evil was thought to stem from the imperfections inherent in created substance and the negativity this entailed (“the so-called malum metaphysicum,” as Schelling chided),[1] a postlapsarian fragmentation resulting from the first act of moral evil, or sin.

This explanation was meant as a monistic solution to the theodical problem of the origin of evil. It aimed to preserve God’s predicate omnibenevolence without resorting to a Manichaean dualism.[2] This conception of evil further allowed for the development of modern theodicy, a genre perhaps best represented by Leibniz’s eighteenth century masterpiece.[3] For now the appearance of evil could be seen as only setting the stage, so to speak, for the realization/revelation of the greater glory of God. The drama of this struggle with evil was severely curtailed, however, for the divine victory (the apocatastasis) was already guaranteed from the beginning — or from eternity, rather. The faithful could rest at ease, assured that Providence would prevail.

There were, however, those who were not satisfied with the answer provided by Augustine and his successors regarding the nature of evil. To define evil as a simple lack or absence of the good would seem to rob it of its existential efficacy. Moreover, it runs counter to our experience of evil, in which it possesses a real and positively terrifying power. The conception of evil as an abstract negation, an ontological nothing, effectively neuters it of its energy. Evil is not simply a moment meant to be overcome, wholly subordinate to the triumph of the good. It has a force and a vitality all its own. Or, as the Bavarian theosophist Franz Xaver von Baader put it in an 1807 article, evil can be considered antithetic to the good “only in that positive sense [my italics] of a perversity and corruption in which one says that that which is human turns into that which is inhuman, nature turns into unnature, form and shape turn into that which is unshaped.”[4]

Echoing Baader’s claim, the prominent idealist philosopher F.W.J. Schelling took to answering the problem of evil in his 1809 treatise, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. The ontological quality (affirmative or negative) of evil was central to his exposition of mankind’s volitional apparatus.[5] For Schelling, true freedom would require not only that the good might be denied, but also that evil might be affirmed. “All other explanations of evil,” he wrote, “leave the understanding and moral consciousness equally unsatisfied. They all rest fundamentally on the annihilation of evil as a positive opposite […].”[6] The relegation of evil to abstract nothingness was preposterous to Schelling. For while surely evil can be called the negative of the good, no less can the good be called the negative of evil. This negativity is maintained only by virtue of its relation of opposition to its other, whereby each side is only determinately negative (to use Hegelian terms). Neither side is an abstract nothing; rather, it is a concrete (determinate) something. In other words, their mutual opposition implies their respective position, i.e., their positive status as existent. This is what Schelling means by conceiving “evil as a positive opposite.” It suggests that evil must not be simply thought of as the passive absence of God’s grace, but rather as the active presence of the dæmonic in Spirit.

However, if Schelling was to be so bold as to assert the reality of evil, whence could it be said to have come? Augustine’s explanation, for all its felt defects, nevertheless had the advantage of exonerating God from responsibility for the origin of evil in the world. Insistence upon a positive conception of evil’s reality would appear to compromise God’s infinite goodness, since (as the creator of all things that have been made) He would then be guilty of creating wickedness itself. If one wishes to maintain God’s moral perfection, the only alternative would seem to lie in following a strict dualism, wherein a separate (evil) reality would exist utterly unconditioned by the creative activity of God. But Schelling contended that this apparent double-bind is in fact a false dichotomy. It is possible, he maintained, to give an account of evil which does not fall into the “dualistic” traps of Manichaeanism or the “Kabbalistic” traps of Leibnizian philosophy. Philosophers who claim that no other options are available simply have not made an honest go of it.[7] Defending this assertion would prove no easy matter, however, as it demanded a fundamental overhaul of the established cosmotheological framework as it then stood. Yet Schelling’s systematic treatment of freedom seemed to hinge upon him making good on this claim.

Proper excogitation of the issue required a rather involved digression into the origin of the universe. From this vantage, it might then be seen the place that evil occupies therein. For if evil could be said to exist in the world — a creation that is existentially dependent upon its creator — its essential possibility must be derivable from a principle contained within the first principle (the cosmotheological arché, God).[8]

A few remarks regarding Schelling’s methodology must be made before proceeding into the thick of his argument, however. Happily, the analysis of his approach will lead directly to the foundational distinction Schelling draws in the Philosophical Investigations. To begin with, one must recognize the latent import of Schelling’s earlier philosophy of identity on this later work (which, with an eye to the rest of his corpus, must be viewed as transitional). In this prior system, the ultimate unity of the manifold antinomies of philosophy was holistically posited in the Absolute. Subject and object, mind and nature, I and not-I, ideal and real, etc. — all these coincide in the eternity of the whole. Any metaphysics that took one of its sides to the exclusion of its other was deemed by Schelling to be “dogmatic” (following a line modified from Kant’s first Critique). Likewise, a metaphysics which purported to solve an alleged impasse within monistic philosophy by making a dualism between these sides absolute (like Manichaeanism) was equally unacceptable. Schelling compared the explication of a consistently monistic system to working one’s way through a Gordian knot: the latter (Manichaean) solution proved far too drastic, and was really no solution at all; in the end it would only sever the single rope into two incommensurable sides. It would be his task in the Philosophical Investigations to demonstrate the way in which the various folds of the knot all belonged to a single (universal) rope.[9] This would reveal the basic unity of the multiplicity, the universality of its particulars. Or, to use Schelling’s words, it allows for “the only correct dualism, namely that which at the same time permits a unity.”[10]

This brings us to the pivotal distinction of Schelling’s cosmotheological system in this work: the bifurcation of ground and existence within Being. The relevance of this distinction to his conception of evil will be revealed in the course of its unfolding. Schelling arrives at this while mapping the ontology of God’s existence. Indeed, this is the quandary endemic to existential explanations of the self-caused cause, or causa sui. With other objects (or entia, more properly) of experience, the relationship between ground and existence is unproblematic. For one can easily say that a possible ground existed in reality which subsequently gave rise to the object’s actual existence. But with God, seemingly intractable difficulties are introduced. “Since nothing is [my italics] prior to, or outside of, God,” Schelling writes, “[H]e must have the ground of [H]is existence in [H]imself.”[11] The copula “is” at the outset of this phrase is especially important, since it denotes existence as such. Nothing can be said to exist “before” God’s existence, yet this would seem to preclude the provision of an existential ground for His actual being. God, qua Being, would seem to require that ground and existence mutually entail one another. Heidegger, in his celebrated 1936 lectures on the freedom treatise, framed Schelling’s answer as follows: “The ground in God is that which God as [H]imself is not and which still is not outside of [H]im.”[12] Discrete qualities must be identifiable within God’s Being which would distinguish ground from existence and determine their relationship, but each reciprocally admits of a higher unity with its other. Schelling’s appreciation of this notion’s subtle intricacy seems to indicate the acute influence that the German mystic Jacob Boehme had begun to exercise over his works.[13]

One final caveat must be issued before continuing further. This concerns the spurious application of temporal notions of priority to the relation of God’s ground and existence. The Being of God, insofar as it is Absolute, is outside of categories pertaining to time. Time by its very nature implies serial differentiation, and such difference would vanish in the eternity of God’s existence. The precedence is better conceived as logical, but in a very specific sense. God’s existence cannot logically proceed from His ground with geometric (apodictic) necessity, as this would immediately lead to Spinozism.[14] Instead, it must be understood as following from the logic of God’s willful essence, which, as we shall see, is contained within His ground as “yearning.” Schelling himself anticipates this objection in the text, and duly preempts it. He makes the analogy of light’s relationship to gravity, in which gravity must be presupposed as light’s “dark ground,” which itself could not be conceived without assuming its illumination. Linking these analogues back to his conception of God, Schelling explains: “God has in [H]imself an inner ground of [H]is existence that in this respect precedes [H]im in existence; but, precisely in this way, God is again the prius of the ground in so far as the ground, even as such, could not exist if God did not exist actu.”[15]

Of these twin aspects of God’s Being, His ground and existence, Schelling begins by detailing the former. A number of symbols (the “initial darkness,” “anarchy,” “disorder,” etc.) are used interchangeably to represent the ground. In this sense, God’s ground is not unlike the apeiron, the primal chaos of Greek cosmology. Its nature is fundamentally entropic. Yet within the “wave-wound, whirling sea”[16] of the ground there essentially emerges a desiring will, “the yearning the eternal One feels to give birth to itself.” This yearning is not identical with its object (self-birth) or the subject (the One) of which it is an affect, but “is after all co-eternal with [the One],” as Schelling indicates. It is a will without understanding, purely unconscious, naïvely erotic; or, as Dale Snow beautifully put it, it is an “inchoate longing,”[17] striving after “unfathomable unity.”[18] The ground, in giving birth to itself, is thus presented as the abysmal matrix (in its original sense, qua womb) from which the radiance of God’s existence is eternally begotten. Nowhere is Boehme’s impact on Schelling’s thought more noticeable. For Boehme, the eternal beginning is in fact an “eternal nothing” which is nothing less than “a craving for something,” or a “will to something.” This will, as a desire and an attraction (Boehme’s language is marked by a distinct eroticism), “becomes desirous in itself” and “is thus magical and impregnates itself as with spirit.”[19] God’s ground can therefore been seen to be the eternal Theotokos to which Mary is the historical counterpart. In relation to God’s existence qua His actuality, the ground may be regarded as His potency,[20] or, to use the feminine equivalent specific to our conception of the ground, its own fertility.

Opposed to, yet rooted in, God’s ground for Being is His brilliant existence. By contrast with its antinomy, the divine actuality is symbolized by “rule, order, and form.” God’s existence has its own will, the will of the understanding, set against the will As Schelling realized, God’s existence could only be conceived by way of its conception in the darkness, i.e., its birth. He offers a string of stunning analogies in support of this contention, drawing parallels between the human experience of birth and cognition in order to make sense of God’s Being. In this sense, Schelling’s theogeny is radically anthropological, since it is clearly patterned after human examples. Regardless, Schelling would probably say that the inverse holds equally true, and that his analogies are simply didactic in their (human) point of departure. The illustrations Schelling provides are, in any case, scarcely less than poetry. He writes:

All birth is birth from darkness into light; the seed kernel must be sunk into the earth and die in darkness so that the more beautiful shape of light may lift and unfold itself in the radiance of the sun. Man is formed in the maternal body; and only from the obscurity of that which is without understanding (from feeling, yearning, the sovereign mother of knowledge) grow luminous thoughts. Thus we must imagine the original yearning as it directs itself to the understanding, though still not recognizing it, just was we in our yearning seek out unknown and nameless good…[21]

The void of the ground is itself the impetus for God’s existential issuing-forth. The seed is submerged into the dark earth. The embryo lies wrapped in the black infinity of the womb. Thoughts take shape in the emptiness of ignorance. From these meager germs, however, a blinding luminosity floods the depths of the abyss. So is the relation of God’s ground to His existence and vice versa. The two sides are indissolubly bound in the Oneness of their absolution, just as all distinctions converge harmoniously for Plato’s demiurge, at home in its eternity — indivisible, seamless, unchanging.[22]

But all that has been hitherto discussed is atemporally self-contained in God’s eternal Being, a unity which allows for no chronological differentiation. However, corresponding to the static changelessness of Being, there appears the delineated reflection of God’s dark ground in the “primordial nature” of Becoming. This is intended to account for the world of objects, since “the concept of becoming is the only one appropriate to the nature of things.”[23] The dialectical shift seems sudden, but it is justified by the logic immanent to Schelling’s prior distinctions. For the realization of God’s existence in the actuality of Being gives rise to “an inner, reflexive representation” of His Being, the so-called divine logos or Word. This representation is simultaneously God’s intellect, which radically differentiates amorphous nature into the temporal unfolding or gradual self-revelation of His providential will. This is the moment of creation, the swing from Being to Becoming, which is but an imperfect representation of the former.[24]

The mechanics of this operation might still seem obscure. Some review and further elucidation is perhaps appropriate. At first, the universe resides in the swirling chaos of the divine ground, in God, yet not “He Himself.” The intellect (God’s understanding, the Word), driven by a yearning directly opposite to the yearning of the ground (which itself strives after “unfathomable unity”), in turn engenders an irrepressible differentiation and ordering of primal nature. As it was for Anaxagoras, the Mind (Nous) of God enters into the ataxic apeiron of the ground and rends it asunder. The blind, shapeless chaos of the ground which at first dominates the dark expanse of creation is fractured and molded into definite forms. Time is born; the earth learns the modulation of midday and twilight, of dusk and dawn. Objects acquire determinate length, height, and depth. But the darkness of the ground in nature is not annihilated completely. It persists in “the incomprehensible base of reality in things, the indivisible remainder.”[25] Catastrophe and disruption are merely tempered by apparent uniformity and regularity. The planets roll on in the black void of space, dark orbs spinning along their elliptical itineraries. Universal law just barely masks the original entropy of creation.

The struggle of these two rival forces, now firmly situated within Becoming, eventually gives birth to their mirror-image, in which they are sundered. Out of the germ of the understanding placed in the ground of creation, there arises an irony within nature, a heightened spirituality — in short, mankind. “[T]hrough advancing mutation and division of all forces, the deepest and most inner point of initial darkness in a being is finally transfigured wholly into the light.”[26] From nature itself an intellect surfaces and shatters the naïve homogeneity of the world. Schelling characterizes this as an “awakening,” in which “the innermost bond of forces loosens itself only in a gradually occurring unfolding.”[27] The soul of man enters in upon the stage of world history. His is the particularized will cast in the image of the universal will of God. This will is the spiritual token of his freedom, symbolizing his inescapable capacity for individuation. It is the “divine panorama of life, locked up within the depths, which God beheld as he fashioned the will to nature.” By virtue of his birth in the ground of God’s existence, man enjoys moral autonomy independent of God’s will, and is thus the author of his decisions.[28]

Furthermore, the ontological ground and existence of God are reconstituted in the soul of man, as spirit, albeit in a modified sense. It is the nature of this modification that reintroduces us to our discussion of the subject of evil. For the particular will of man is the mirror opposite of the universal will of God; the inseparable quality of darkness and light (ground and existence) in the divine Being is thus inverted. Schelling notes that it is only this inversion that makes possible God’s revelation at all. “The same unity that is inseverable in God,” he writes, “must therefore be severable in man — and this is the possibility of evil.”[29] This notion is not an entirely Schellingean invention. It surely finds prior expression in Plato’s Timaeus, for example, where the demiurge proclaims to his creation that “[t]hose works whose father I am, being created by me, are indissoluble without my consent. Anything bonded together can of course be dissolved, though only an evil will would consent to dissolve anything whose composition and state were good.”[30] Man is capable of such wanton evil only because he belongs to a higher spiritual order than the rest of creation. The possibility of evil exists precisely because man possesses a moral will which may freely affirm the darkness over the light. Only this vitiating power befits the dignity of man’s freedom, which may choose evil just as positively as it can choose the good.[31]

Having now traced, at long last, the origin of evil according to Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations, what else can be said of its qualities? How can we describe its presence? It would exceed the scope of this essay to recapitulate the complexities of Schelling’s apologia for free will, but some elaboration on the points of these questions might be allowed before we arrive at our conclusion. The positive essence of evil (qua existent, real) can be investigated with relative economy.

Schelling describes the evil in creation as falling under two basic metaphysical categories. The first of these he terms “general evil[,] which, if not exactly of the beginning, is first awoken in the original revelation of God by the reaction of the ground.” This is natural evil, having not yet attained to spirit. Evil as privation might be understood as falling under this category, since it “never becomes real, yet continually strives toward this end.”[32] This evil appears as the meaningless brutality of primordial nature, the nameless suffering of beasts without mind. Its activity is essentially indeterminate. There is no rhyme or reason to it, only absence of purpose.

Against this Schelling sets the particular, determinate evil of mankind. This is, in some sense, simply a more radical (spiritualized) perversion of the generality of natural evil.[33] Schelling narrates this within his cosmotheology as follows: “Once evil had been generally aroused in creation by the reaction of the ground to revelation, man apprehended him from eternity in his individuality and selfishness, and all who are born are born with the dark principle of evil within even if this evil is raised to self-consciousness.”[34] This inborn wickedness (or “natural propensity to evil”) amounts to what Kant had coined “radical evil” in his 1794 treatise Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.[35] But in contrast to its natural (general) antipode, spiritual (particular) evil, as part of the moral psychology of man, is teleological (i.e., it involves purposive actions). This accounts for the truly terrifying quality of moral (or anthropological) evil. For man is doubtless a product of the natural world, yet he stands in higher spiritual relation to God. He is thus able to direct his rational energies to evil ends, to try and bend the natural world to his selfish will. Acts of moral evil can certainly be said to have a rationale, just as with acts of goodwill. Man’s spiritual capacity for rational reflection holds him above the amoral expanse of dumb nature. Schelling seized upon this notion from Baader’s article, in which the latter wrote: “Man can unfortunately only stand above or under animals.”[36] To call wicked acts “bestial” or “brutish” is therefore a misnomer. “Animals are never able to emerge,” Schelling asserts, “from unity [of dark and light forces], whereas man can voluntarily tear apart the eternal bond of forces.” Nature is guiltless in its darkest moments; conversely, man is guilty in even his most minor transgressions. After all, one’s acts can only be called inhuman if he is human to begin with.

Such are the formal grounds for the particularity of moral evil, concentrated in the principle of darkness in man. But this does not exhaust its description. Of what does evil properly (existentially) consist? Schelling answers this question emphatically. The root of all evil action can lies in man’s striving “to elevate [his selfhood] into the ruling and total will and, conversely, to make the spiritual within himself into a means.”[37] In other words, the particular will of an individual tries to raise itself to the status of the universal will, which can in actu belong only to God. This is the result of man’s hubris, his “overweening pride,” as Schelling puts it. It represents a reversal of the principle of movement by which his individuality was first made manifest:

[t]he will that steps out from its being beyond nature, in order as general will to make itself at once particular and creaturely, strives to reverse the relation of the principles, to elevate the ground over the cause [God’s revelation in actuality, or nature], to use the spirit that it obtained only for the sake of the centrum [God’s existential will in nature] outside the centrum and against creatures; from this results collapse within the will and outside it.[38]

Thus it appears that the form of all moral evil is ultimately satanic, in that it is driven by the conceit of the will that would subordinate all of creation to its self. This evil is inextricably bound to the self-affirmation (note the positivity) of a particular will which, in its vanity, seeks to rule over the world. Man’s original act of vanity was disastrous for all of creation and his place therein; the “collapse within the will and outside it” alludes to the Fall, whereby the spirit of the world was alienated from the will of God (the centrum). Schelling’s stance on this matter again betrays the influence of Boehme, for whom positive egoism was the root of all moral evil. For it was Boehme who wrote that “each will desires a purity in the other being [anything not itself] without turba, but itself possesses the turba in itself and is also the loathing of the other…And all violence of the world originates due to and from this so that each one rules over the other.”[39]

Having discovered the positive root of moral evil, Schelling reiterates his ardent opposition to the impotent view of evil as the privatio boni put forth by Augustine. The categorization of the good under that “lifeless concept of the positive according to which only privation [in this model, evil] could oppose it” was philosophically defunct. Taking an opposite route, starting from the position of moral evil, the proper understanding of sinfulness can be seen to lie in man’s affirmation of the unity of his self, in which the multiplicity of difference that surrounds him is supposed to vanish.[40] The wickedness of man cannot be thought so banal as to result from his mere frailty — the notion that he passively succumbs to his sensuous nature.[41] Kant had already demonstrated the poverty of this conception.[42] “[I]t is necessary,” Schelling writes, “that a kind of being be in evil as well as in good, but in the former as that which is opposed to the good, that which perverts the temperance of the good into distemperance.”[43]

The logic of our thesis can be seen to have come full circle. Schelling granted to evil its proper recognition as a positive (that is to say, existent) property of creation. It sprang from the dark recesses of the ground encompassed by God’s Being, ripped from its eternal unity with the existential light therein by the spirit of man. Evil is not a lack but is rather constitutive of the nature of the created world. It is coextensively present alongside the good, embodied in the egoistic (satanic) self-affirmation of the particular will over the universal will of God. Oppositely, mankind’s salvation rests in the spiritual submission of its particularity to the centrum of God’s will in nature. The struggle of these existent forces within the static eternity of God’s Being-in-Himself and the dynamic temporality of His creation (His Being-in-another) obtains throughout as the defining conflict of the cosmos.


This generally holds true for both religious and secular philosophy up to the 19th century, including Enlightenment philanthropism.

[1] Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated and introduced by Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 2006). Pg. 36.

[2] “Evil is not a nature if it is that which is contrary to nature. Yet you [Manichaeans] claim that evil is a certain nature and substance…[I]f you are willing to put aside all obstinacy, you will see that evil is that which falls away from essence and tends to non-being.” St. Augustine of Hippo. The Catholic and Manichaean Ways of Life (De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae et de Moribus Manichaeorum). Translated by Donald A. Gallagher and Idella J. Gallagher. (The Catholic University of America Press. Washington, D.C.: 1966). Pgs. 66-67.

[3] Leibniz was in complete agreement with Augustine when it came to the ontological status of sin: “The explanation of the cause of evil by a particular principle, per principium maleficum, is of the same nature [as any spurious causal explanation of essentially negative phenomena]. Evil needs no such explanation, any more than do cold and darkness: there is neither a primum frigidum nor principle of darkness. Evil itself comes only from privation; the positive enters therein only by concomitance.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. Translated by E.M. Huggard, edited and introduced by Austin Farrer. (Open Court Publishers. LaSalle, IL: 1985). Pg. 219, §153.

[4] Franz Xaver von Baader. “On the Assertion that there can be No Wicked Use of Freedom.” From Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated and introduced by Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 2006). Pg. 101.

[5] “[T]he real and vital concept is that freedom is the capacity for good and evil.” Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 23.

[6] Ibid., pg. 35.

[7] “[I]n order to prove that there are only two manners of explaining evil — the dualistic, according to which there is assumed an evil fundamental being, no matter with which modifications, under or next to the good one, and the Kabbalistic, according to which evil is explained through emanation and distancing — and that every other system therefore must abolish the distinction between good and evil; in order to prove this, nothing less would be required than the full power of a deeply thought-out and thoroughly developed philosophy.” Ibid., pg. 73.

[8] Ibid., pg. 40.

As developed in his 1800 System of Transcendental Philosophy and other works. Anyone familiar with Hegel’s philosophy will recognize the similarity this bears to his approach.

[9] “To transfer an absolute dualism of good and evil to history whereby the one or the other principle prevails in all manifestations and works of the human spirit, whereby there are only two systems and two religions, one absolutely good and another simply evil; further, the opinion that everything began in purity and simplicity and all subsequent developments…were only decay and falsification — while this whole view serves critique as a powerful sword of Alexander with which to chop the Gordian knot in two everywhere, it introduces into history, however, a thoroughly illiberal and highly reductive point of view.” Ibid., pg. 74.

[10] Ibid., pg. 30n.

[11] Ibid., pg. 27.

[12] Martin Heidegger. Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated by Joan Stambaugh. (Ohio University Press. Athens, OH: 1985). Pg. 111.

[13] Mentioning this fact has become something of a platitude in Schelling scholarship, but its truth is undiminished by such complaints. For almost two hundred years earlier, the latter, in his obscure and fragmentary Mysterium Pansophicum, Boehme had written that “[w]hereas two beings have thus been from eternity, we cannot say that one stands next to the other and takes hold of itself, that one seizes the other, and we also cannot say that one stands outside of the other and that there is by no means a parting.” Jacob Boehme. Mysterium Pansophicum, or Thorough Report on the Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium. From Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated and introduced by Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 2006). Pg. 89.

[14] Against Spinoza’s pantheism, which treated God or Nature (deus sive natura) as if it were a cadaver to be dissected, Schelling famously claimed that “[i]n the divine understanding there is a system; yet God himself is not a system, but rather a life.” Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 62.

[15] “[A]s far as this precedence [of ground to existence] is concerned, it is to be thought neither as precedence according to time nor as a priority of being.” Ibid., pgs. 27-28.

[16] Ibid., pg. 30.

[17] Dale Snow. Schelling and the End of Idealism. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 1996). Pg. 163.

[18] Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 28.

As with God the Father’s relation to the Son in the Nicene articulation of the Trinity. However, for

Schelling and Boehme, the ground appears to be (at least symbolically) feminized.

[19] Boehme, Mysterium Pansophicum. Pgs. 85-87.

[20] “[I]n the initial creation, which is nothing other than the birth of light, the dark principle had to be as ground so that the light could be raised out of it (as from mere potency to actuality).” Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 44.

[21] Ibid., pgs. 29-30.

[22] Schelling was admittedly influenced by Plato’s Timaeus, which had appeared in fresh translation by “the sturdy Böckh.” Ibid., pg. 41n.

The passages pertaining to the demiurge’s “eternally unchanging nature” can be found in the Timaeus. Plato. Timaeus. From Timaeus and Critias. Translated, introduced, and appended by Desmond Lee. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1977). Pgs. 40-41.

[23] Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 28.

[24] Ibid., pgs. 29-30.

[25] Ibid., pg. 29.

[26] Ibid., pg. 32.

[27] Ibid., pg. 31.

[28] “Because he [man] emerges from the Ground (is creaturely), man has in relation to God a relatively independent principle in himself; but because precisely this principle — without it ceasing for that reason to be dark in accordance with its ground — is transfigured in light, there arises in him something higher, spirit.” Ibid., pg. 32.

[29] “[I]f God as spirit is the inseverable unity of both principles [light and dark, existence and ground], and this same unity is only real in the spirit of man, then, if the principles were just as indissoluble in him [man] as in God, man would not be distinguishable from God at all; he would disappear in God, and there would be no revelation and motility of love.” Ibid., pg. 41.

[30] Plato, Timaeus. Pg. 57.

[31] “[S]elfhood could separate itself from the light; or self-will can strive to be as a particular will that which it only is through identity with the universal will…For this reason there thus emerges in the will of man a separation of selfhood having become animated by spirit (since spirit is above the light) from the light, that is, a dissolution of the principles which are indissoluble in God.” Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 33.

[32] Ibid., pg. 47.

[33] “[E]vil is surely nothing other than the primal ground of existence, to the extent this ground strives toward actuality in created beings and therefore is in fact only the higher potency of the ground [my italics] active in nature.” Ibid., pg. 44.

[34] Ibid., pg. 53.

[35] One should note that Kant does not mean by “natural propensity” that man is not morally responsible for this evil. It belongs to him as a moral agent, and is the product of his rational actions. The evil act simply flows from the naturally evil moral character of the agent, not from his sensuous nature. Immanuel Kant. Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Translated, introduced, and annotated by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson. With an additional essay by John R. Silber. (Harper & Row. New York, NY: 1960). Pg. 32.

[36] Baader, “On the Assertion.” Pg. 100.

Schelling asserts his agreement with Baader on this point: “Fr. Baader is right to say it would be desirable that the corruption in man were only to go as far as his becoming animal ; unfortunately, however, man can stand only above or below the animals.” Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 40.

[37] Ibid., pg. 54.

[38] Ibid., pg. 34.

[39] Boehme, Mysterium Pansophicum. Pg. 91.

[40] Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 38.

[41] “According to these [false] notions [of our era], the sole ground of evil lies in sensuality or in animality, or in the earthly principle…For the weakness or ineffectualness of the principle of understanding can indeed be a ground for the lack of good, yet it cannot be a ground of positively evil ones and those adverse to virtue.” Ibid., pg. 39

[42] “[T[he ground of evil cannot be placed, as is so commonly done, in man’s sensuous nature and the natural inclinations arising therefrom.” Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. Pg. 30.

[43] Schelling, Philosophical Investigations. Pg. 38.


Augustinus, Aurelius (Augustine of Hippo). The Catholic and Manichaean Ways of Life (De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae et de Moribus Manichaeorum). Translated by Donald A. Gallagher and Idella J. Gallagher. (The Catholic University of America Press. Washington, D.C.: 1966).

Heidegger, Martin. Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated by Joan Stambaugh. (Ohio University Press. Athens, OH: 1985).

Kant, Immanuel. Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Translated, introduced, and annotated by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson. With an additional essay by John R. Silber. (Harper & Row. New York, NY: 1960).

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. Translated by E.M. Huggard, edited and introduced by Austin Farrer. (Open Court Publishers. LaSalle, IL: 1985).

Plato. Timaeus. From Timaeus and Critias. Translated, introduced, and appended by Desmond Lee. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1977).

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph. Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated and introduced by Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 2006).

Snow, Dale E. Schelling and the End of Idealism. (State University of New York Press. Albany, NY: 1996).

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