Deus sive Vernunft: Schelling’s Transformation of Spinoza’s God


Deus sive Vernunft: Schelling’s Transformation of Spinoza’s God

March 18, 2015 / 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm / Add to Google
282 Dwinelle Hall

Yitzhak Melamed, Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University

On January 6th 1795 the twenty-year-old Schelling, still a student at the Tübinger Stift, wrote to his friend and former roommate, Hegel: “I am now receiving the beginning of the detailed exposition by Fichte himself, the Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre … Now I am working on an Ethics a la Spinoza. It is designed to establish the highest principles of all philosophy, in which theoretical and practical reason are united.” A month later, he announced in a letter to Hegel: “I have become a Spinozist! Don’t be astonished. You will soon hear how.” The text Schelling was writing at the time was the early Vom Ich als Princip der Philosophie, though his characterization of this text would have equally fit the somewhat later text which is the focus of the current paper: Schelling’s 1801 Darstellung meines System der Philosophie. The Presentation is a text written more geometrico, following the style of Spinoza’s Ethics. But, though Spinoza’s influence and inspiration is stated explicitly and unmistakably in Schelling’s preface, the content of this composition may seem quite foreign to Spinoza, to the extent that Michael Vater, the astute translator and editor of the recent English translation of text, has contended that “despite the formal similarities between Spinoza’s geometrical method and Schelling’s numbered mathematical-geometrical constructions, Schelling’s direct debts to Spinoza are few.” While I agree that on the surface Schelling’s engagement with the identity formula ‘A=A’ seems to have little if anything to do with Spinoza, I suspect that at a deeper level what Schelling was attempting to achieve at the beginning of the Presentation was a certain transformation of Spinoza’s absolute, by replacing God, Spinoza’s ultimate reality, with Reason [Vernunft] and Identity. Though this attempt may seem utterly bizarre for the Spinozist (at least at first glance), I believe it can be motivated and explained upon further exploration.

Yitzhak Melamed is a Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. He holds an M.A. in philosophy and the history of science and logic from Tel Aviv University, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University (2005). He had been awarded the Fulbright, Mellon, and American Academy for Jewish Research Fellowships. He is currently working on his forthcoming book on Spinoza and German Idealism.

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