Introduction to The New Schelling

In Judith Norman & Alistair Welchman (eds.), The New Schelling. London, UK: pp. 1-12 (2004)
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Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) is often thought of as a “philosopher’s philosopher,” with a specialist rather than generalist appeal. One reason for Schelling’s lack of popularity is that he is something of a problem case for traditional narratives about the history of philosophy. Although he is often slotted in as a stepping stone on the intellectual journey from Kant to Hegel, any attention to his ideas will show that he does not fit this role very well. His later philosophy suggests a materialism and empiricism that puts him outside of idealism proper; his connection with the romantic movement suggests an aestheticism that challenges traditional philosophy as such; and his mysticism allies him with medieval, pre-critical philosophies considered antiquated by the 19th century. And if Schelling was not entirely at home with his contemporaries, he seems, on the face of it, to have fared little better with his future: there has been no Schelling school, he has had no followers. No historical trajectory announces Schelling as its point of departure. And yet Schelling’s influence has been an extraordinary one. He has inspired physicists, physicians, theologians, historians and poets. A wildly diverse set of philosophers have claimed that their ideas have resonance with his. Perhaps the question of Schelling’s influence can be approached by looking at what Kant says about works of genius -- that they should give rise to inspiration, not imitation. Paradoxically, to imitate genius is not to produce an imitation but a new creative work. Whether or not Schelling should be strictly viewed as a genius, Kant’s notion suggests a sense in which Schelling should be understood as a “philosopher’s philosopher”; he inspired creativity, not repetition. In this perspective, the lack of a “Schelling school” is a sign of strength; Schelling is continually being rediscovered, and his works have retained a fresh and untimely character. If Schelling does not have any obvious historical successors, it is because his influence cannot be charted by the usual methods. New philosophical tools are needed in order to understand his philosophical significance, his impact on contemporary thought and relevance for contemporary concerns.
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