Schelling’s Philosophical Letters on Doctrine and Critique

In María Del Del Rosario Acosta López & Colin McQuillan (eds.), Critique in German Philosophy: From Kant to Critical Theory. SUNY Press. pp. 133-154 (2020)
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Kant’s critique/doctrine distinction tracks the difference between a canon for the understanding’s proper use and an organon for its dialectical misuse. The latter reflects the dogmatic use of reason to attain a doctrine of knowledge with no antecedent critique. In the 1790s, Fichte collapses Kant’s distinction and redefines dogmatism. He argues that deriving a canon is essentially dialectical and thus yields an organon: critical idealism is properly a doctrine of science or Wissenschaftslehre. Criticism is furthermore said to refute dogmatism, by which Fichte means Spinozism. Schelling repudiates Fichte’s position in his Philosophical Letters by reviving Kant’s distinction. First, ‘critique’ for Schelling names a canon that is valid for all systems—including Spinozism—and thus favours none—not even the Wissenschaftslehre. Second, Schelling coins ‘dogmaticism’ to refer to what Kant calls ‘dogmatism’: reason’s uncritical claim to doctrine. Hence, he says all systems—even Fichte’s—are susceptible to the ‘enthusiasm’ of mistaking themselves for doctrines or ‘objects of knowledge’, instead of subjectively valid ‘objects of freedom’. I reconstruct Schelling’s argument for reviving Kant’s distinction, while noting two consequences for German idealism. First, if criticism favours no system, a system’s origin cannot be an act of knowledge, e.g., intellectual intuition, but only an act of endorsement. Second, if dogmaticism entails enthusiasm, a system’s goal cannot be absolute knowledge, but only infinite striving. Hence, by retrieving Schelling’s notion of dogmaticism, we can both gain a better understanding of the Letters and register the impact of a core Kantian distinction on the German idealist project.

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G. Anthony Bruno
Royal Holloway University of London


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