Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Philosophical investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom

FWJ Schelling

Synopsis: For our purposes, it seems worth understanding that Schelling is trying to rehabilitate theodicy as a project, which he sees as threatened on the one hand by a very anemic understanding of evil as lack (Leibniz, Augustine, etc), created to fit within a system, and, on the other hand, the question Kant’s more robust understanding of radical evil raises of how a human can be both “inclined” toward evil and free. He wants to deny the idea that evil is simply lack, and to claim that it is something positive, namely the tendency of the darker ground/subjectivity of selfhood to try to create a false unity and totality by subordinating the principle of light to itself. This is basically Kant’s argument in Religion within the Boundary of Mere Reason; evil lies in the effort of sensuality to subordinate action to its desire. The difference is that Schelling expands this, so this tendency is not simply segregated to the moral realm; rather, it is a metaphysical struggle.

All of existence, even God, involves this tension between the dark and light principles. There is a perpetual struggle between the tendency toward revelation and love in God, and the impulse toward concealment. This struggle between light and dark is “general evil,” and produces love as its opposition. In man, this translates to the struggle between the active self to preserve its particularity and the universalizing tendency of the good. A unique combination of these forces, man must necessarily choose. He makes a decision outside of time who he wants to be, and all of his actions within time are the necessary unfolding of that decision. Man is action, so in making this decision he posits himself. Ultimately, the struggle in these forces - God, man, etc - is necessary and perpetual. Without evil, there could be no love, and, properly speaking, evil - particular evil - is only really a problem once it tries to impose false unity, instead of accepting the equilibrium produced by its subordination to love.

Everything which has come prior to this piece has been, at most, the intuition of a system, and while perhaps one could piece together a whole out of it, admirers have been too slow and critics too hostile to do so.

Schelling begins by laying out the assumptions he will have to counter. First, that “the concept of freedom is in fact said to be completely incompatible with system, and every philosophy making claim to unity and wholeness should end up with the denial of freedom” (9). Such an assertion seems true, he argues, if one begins with a specific notion of the system which has limitations built in to preclude the possibility of freedom. That, however, is simply a way of avoiding the problem. Alternately, though, if the opinion is that the concept of system generally opposes the concept of freedom, that means that freedom could not be at all compatible with the world as conceived as whole, even if that whole is only accessible to a divine perspective.

“The connection of the concept of freedom with the whole of a worldview will likely always remain the object of a necessary task without whose resolution the concept of freedom would teeter while philosophy would be fully without value” (10). Reason here is aligned with necessity, and freedom with irrationality/emotion, etc. So one has to try and reconcile freedom with a view of the whole, otherwise your philosophy will be irrational but free, or rational and deterministic, both of which are inadequate ways of dealing with the world.

Next Schelling turns to pantheism. He wants to define it as the “doctrine of the immanence of things in God,” saving it from charges of fatalism. He seems to think some form of pantheism is the inevitable end of all thought, but wants to resist equating it to mechanistic, deterministic spinozistic pantheism. He thinks a form of pantheism is the only way to preserve human freedom, because if we maintain that human action exists somehow outside of God, our autonomy will be dwarfed by his omnipotent will, in the way that the sun blots out all other sources of light in the sky.

He also insists that it’s a mistake to think that pantheism necessarily involves reducing everything to undifferentiated oneness. To claim that means to misunderstand the principle of identity. Schelling thinks there is a tendency to equate the subject to the predicate, when logic proves that move to be nonsensical. He uses the example of the statement “the body is blue.” That doesn’t mean that blue and the body are identical; rather, the thing which is the body is the same thing which is blue, but in a different way; the two aren’t synonymous. Identity is not sameness. So in terms of God and the finite, the finite exists only through God, but God isn’t identical with the finite or the sum of the finite. Rather, there is a qualitative difference between the infinite and finite. The infinite exists in itself and is only understood for itself; the finite exists in reference to God. Even though the finite exists in God, a qualitative difference exists between the infinite and the finite, in the way that blue and body are qualitatively different predicates, even if they refer to the same thing.

None of this is to say that Schelling is invested in labeling himself a pantheist. He thinks such categories are too crude to be useful. Nonetheless, he’s both setting up the logical framework for his understanding of the divine possessing two natures, without being dualistic, and doing a certain amount of damage control; if people insist on labeling his thought as a sort of pantheism, he needs to set out why pantheism does necessarily lead to fatalism or to reducing everything to a vague, undifferentiated unity.

The real issue Schelling worries about is the denial of freedom. He thinks that there has not been a robust notion of freedom until very recently, with the advent of German Idealism; any number of systems, which have nothing to do with pantheism, also share this fault. Thus, the denial of freedom can’t follow from the principles of pantheism. Dependence on and existing within the divine do not preclude freedom, any more than existence within a body precludes the eye from growing filled with pus and blood and ultimately exploding all over your prom date (18). No, denial of freedom comes from the mechanistic notion of the system popular for so long. Spinoza , for example - the great bogey man here - is a determinist, not because he has a system, but because he think of it as a system of inert things, rather than as will.

“Freedom is the capacity for good and evil” (23). This does seem to pose a problem for immanence, because that means that either evil is incorporated within God, making him imperfect, or that evil must be denied as something unreal. Even if one takes the idea that the evil force was originally good, the question of how that first came to strive against God remains; it always seems arbitrary. The argument that evil is possible in this world because man has become estranged from God - either because God has cast us off, something neutral has estranged us, or man has estranged himself - still only defers the question of how the estrangement/introduction of evil could occur (25). In essence, Schelling wants a positive conception of evil, thinking the idea of evil as a lack is basically a dodge, which fails to adequately account for the world as we perceive it. He also wants to avoid the idea of imperfection in God.

To do so, he begins to elaborate the ideas he will later pick up in Ages of the World. Essentially, God must have given birth to himself. “God has in himself an inner ground of his existence that in this respect precedes him in existence; but, precisely in this way, God is again the prius [what is before] of the ground insofar as the ground, even as such, could not exist if God did not exist in actu” (28). He argues his way to this conclusion through means of finitude. Since the finite is qualitatively different from the divine, it is impossible that they could come to being within God. However, as nothing is outside of God, that means that they must have their ground in something within God that is not God. That means there must be a contradiction within God.

This is what he talks about when he says that out of the stillness of non-contradiction in eternity there arises a blind longing for eternity to give birth to itself, for this dark principle to come to know itself. Therefore, a principle of light emerges. However, light and darkness are turned against each other, and this contradiction is evil (44). The spirit of love then emerges to oppose this incessant striving/combat/evil. There are two moments of emergence here; first, light emerging from the initial darkness of non-contradiction, absolute indifference, and, second the emergence of love in opposition to the struggle of evil. God becomes personal, God as we conceive of it, with the emergence of love. His will is to universalize love, however love is at every most aroused in response to the internal struggle of general evil. God is essentially split; the initial ground of darkness desires hiddenness, while to ecstatic force of light desires to reveal itself. Evil is a necessary result of God’s self-revelation and emergence from darkness. To reproach God for evil is to reproach him for creation. “Every essence can only reveal itself in its opposite, love only in hate, unity only in conflict. Were there no severing of principles, unity could not prove its omnipotence; were there no discord, love could not become real” (41).
In this creation there exists a tension between necessity and freedom. The initial urge to give birth to itself is necessary; the will of love, which is a conscious will, is free (59).

Man, however, is unique. As I understand it, man too has his roots in the ground of God, not God, and has in more finite form this struggle between the ground and love. Evil is not a lack - after all, animals cannot be evil, thus it must be a sign of power and excellence in man - but rather the struggle of the ground. “Man, even if born in time, is created into the beginning of creation (the centrum)” (51). However, existing in this centrum, existing as a finite, particular creature, is extraordinarily difficult; thus, man is drawn to move away from it, to emphasize his particularity, to allow his particularity to try and subordinate all of these universal forces. This is the particular evil of man, in contrast of the general evil of light and dark battling each other.

Man is in a state of indecision, but he must choose. However, as a creature created with the advent of everything, this decision takes place outside of time, in the moment of creation, and affects his behavior throughout his entire life. His action is eternal by nature; his finite, temporal actions are merely the unfolding of this decision in eternity. Schelling here is advocating a type of predestination, quite explicitly (52-53). However, it is not the sort where God damns one person and saves another, destining them to act in a particular way. The problem with that is it presupposes a being prior to action. For Schelling, man is action. There is nothing prior to his will or action. In a sense, then, man damns or saves himself in an utterly free act of will outside of time.

Man’s finitude lies in this; while God can come to terms with this inaccessible ground of being and subordinate it through love, man “Man never gains control over the condition, although in evil he strives to do so; it is only lent to him, and is independent of him; hence, his personality and selfhood can never rise to full actuality. This is the sadness which clings to all finite life” (62). Even in God there is a source of sadness which can never come to full actuality, but, rather, exists only for the joy of overcoming.

Man is always on he verge of falling. He needs an active selfhood, because without struggle there would be no good, but the active selfhood always strives to tear itself away from the annihilating light of the universal good. “Only the selfhood that has been overcome, and thus brought back from activity to potentiality, is the good” (63).

The final thing to note is that Schelling sees “love and goodness” as overcoming “absolute inwardness” (65). In this, he seems halfway between Hegel and Kierkegaard. He is like Hegel, in that he sees the necessity of overcoming the internal, the potential, in favor of creating the external, the revealed, the good, but he is like Kierkegaard in that he sees the internal as necessarily preserved. The internal is overcome, but not abolished or sublated.

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