Making sense of Schelling

Schelling’s “Ages of the World” is a famously difficult, and to some non-sensical work. Never published during his lifetime, editors have their choice of 4 seperate versions, none of which Schelling was satisfied with.

It’s always been a ghost text for me, from the point I began to recognize to what extent Heidegger and Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology is prefigured in it. Schelling’s notion of a “beginning” which does not occur at one point in time, but “persists…is that which is the ground of a steady progresssion, not of an alternating  advancing and retreating movement”(20), is probably the earliest German sense of “beginning” which becomes so important to Heidegger’s work on the 1930s. However, what I find truly essential in Schelling is the notion of scission – for schelling, the world is created in a scission which is a beginning in his sense of an enduring beginning. The entire account of the schism in the absolute which gives rise to nature is very complex, but it’s worthwhile to look at one part.

To set this up, Schelling has just described how Godhead is  the concept outside being, that state “without nature”, that we “posit outside and beyond eternal nature”. However, since actual existence of god neither occurs in god nor outside of god, we must posit a second higher realm beyond the necessity of god which is eternal freedom, pure conotion. Now the neccesity of God stands over against eternal freedom as the kind of thing that neither has being nor does not have being, an ambiguity which is itself a kind of ambiguous existence.

Now, “in that eternally commencing life there lies the wish to escape from the involuntary movement and from the distress of pining. And through its simple presence, without any movement (since it is still pure conation itself), that which is higher, jagically, so to speak, rouses in that life the yearning for freedom. This obsession abates into yearning, wild desire turns into a yearning to ally itself, as if it were its own true or highest self, with the will that wills nothing, with eternal freedom”. (27-28).

So, as far as I can figure it, Godhead (as neccesity) is pining with respect to freedom, and in pain due to the flux of his condition (not at rest, neither having being nor not having being). God becomes obsessed with Freedom, and this “obsession abates into yearning… as if it were its own true or highest self, with the will that wills nothing, with eternal freedom”. The will that will’s nothing – we’ll hear that again in Nietzsche, stressed in Heidegger’s readings. However, here the issue is:
“yearning nature has no relation to that pure spirit except that pure spirit is the freedom to be and in as much as it, in comparison with all else, has being. In contrast, yearning nature has in itself the possibility to come to Being.”(28).

So, the yearning God differs from that for which he years. Fair enough.

“But only here one finds the following distinction. Nature is capable of the immediate relationship to the incomprehensible spirit only by virtue of that which  is spirit within it, is free, and is elevated in the same way over that which does not have being.”(28)

The effect of this: “that which is similar to the higher elevates itself but that what is less similar to it, that on account of which its elevation was inhibited, is cast down and lowered into the depths….This cision , this inner divergence, the work of true yearning, is the first condition of every rapport with the divine.”(28).

This passage is extremely confusion, mostly because it seems like the terms change halfway through. All of a sudden we are talking about nature instead of God – at first it was the neccesity of God pining, and now it seems that nature is splitting into two, what gives? As far as I can see, this confusion arises when on page 27 when describing the Godhead which neither has being nor does not have being, which means “it can stand only against everything else as having being”. Then, as a yearning thing, the name is simply changed to “yearning nature”.

This problem is solved when we see what the upshot of the argument is meant to be. The splitting of the upper from the lower, the yearning in the godhead for freedom, seperates apart the part of god which does not have being (Freedom) from the part that does, this “frees” the lower part – “the moment in whcih the earthly and the heavenly first divided”(28).  This beginning is then repeated as the condition for any earthly rapport with the divine, as a cision, which explains why man has a higher and a lower part.

Schelling continues to describe the cause of this “splitting apart of the world egg”:

“since enternal nature first spots that against which it becomes Being, the merely expressiboe and can therefore suddenly give up, in all its forces, the expressing potency, being that which has being, and because this awakens within it the yearning to escape the annular drive and to reach continuance and rest; and furthermore because the highest is the standard by which the lower principle knows its lowliness and the higher principle knows its dignity. But yearning turns the mere beginning and only the first inner effort into the cision. Only when the relationship to the highest actually emerges into being on account of this inner beginning is the cision first confirmed; and it first becomes abiding only when eternal nature, p0laced iinto freedom by the confirmed cision itself, is able to decide. And now, by virtue of an eternal wanding or decision, it eternally and inseperably allies itself ot the highest as its immedate subject and becomes its unwavering Being, its abidign substratum. Hence, in itself, nature does not become less lively or less being. Rather it is because it is first elevated to ture blessed, ordered life that it becomes Being with respcet ot he highest.”(29)

“…that dark, inscrutable, and inexpressible being becomes the All in a subjugation and cision taht does nnot happen once and for all, but in a moemnt that is eternally, always, and still happening.”(29)


Possible SSHRC/OGS grant application

Starting a PhD from scratch, I really have no idea what I want to work on. This is a problem when it comes time to write grant applications, however, because these are mostly graded on the current state of your research proposal. That’s ok, insofar as you can make one up. Here’s what I’m thinking right now.

“There never was a non-ontological ethics”. There is the appearence of a divide between non-moral virtue ethics and moral virtue ethics, as the distinction between modern and ancient accounts. In Darwall, the distinction is between those virtue theories which concern “character concerned with choice” but “does not relate to any conception of a moral law under which all are accountable as equals”(2). Heidegger draws this same distinction in his reading of Aristotle, when he claims that “one cannot force Greek ethics into a mode of questioning of modern ethics” because “an ethical consideration for them the very outset outside of the points of view we know today…the consideration of human existence was oriented purely toward the meaning of being itself”(Plato’s Sophist 122).

It is my contention in relation to Darwall, it is absurd to exclude as “amoral” any ethics that concerns choice but which does not relate to a super judicial law which takes us all as equals. But more importantly, I wish to argue that this sort of mistake is only possible through the misinterpretation of modern ethics as seperated from the question of being. We can see this the clearest in Kant, when he states in the Groundwork that moral action always takes human existence, personhood, or the being of the human being, as its end. While this is often confused with the need to aid in other’s projects, it properly means that since all rational beings have dictated by practical reason themselves as their own ends, it is not possible for their final ends to diverge. Just as this is explicit in Kant, however, it is implicit in modern deontology, and especially, consequalialist moral theories.

It will be my task then to make explicit what is implicit, to show the extent to which any worthwhile moral theory must in giving reasons for acting, appeal to the being of the human being, and show how the imperative towards certain actions arises out of propriety with respect to the proper being of the human. It will be my task to show that this cannot be avoided, but rather can only appear to be avoided, by appealing to externally grounded principles such as “contract” or “the greatest good”.]

The upshot of this would be a) to bring ethics into its original relation with metaphysics, and b) to locate metaphysics with respect to human action.The provisional assumption is that this relation is transcendental, in the sense that a field is transcendental to a particle: the meaning of being provides the field upon which ethics can be practiced, and confusion about the field leads to moral blockages.

*to some extent what I wish to pursue is a metaphysical level account of the kind of description Slajov Zizek pursues psychologically/cultural-historically.

I declare today to be “getting things done day” day!

After over a year of construction, my “Benoto” bike is officially up and running, thanks to the bikechain’s helpful help getting the crank properly set and tightened. It will be excellent to have wheels to get around the cube, and hopefully outside of it. Also, for quick nips down the street to Futures, and to spend time with my new everyday friend.
Riding a bike again, however, has made me pause and reflect on the ethics of bike behavior. Specifically, I’m referring to the “liberties” cyclists take with respect to traffic law. Cyclists in my experience (especially myself) take advantage of traffic law when it benefits them (i.e. gives them more rights), and break it when its to their advantage (i.e. cyclists seize the right to run late yellows, to pass through pedestrian reds, to make illegal left turns, to ride far more quickly than is safe in close quarters etc…) This behavior certainly must, on the odd instance, cause traffic accidents (although it is likely that far more often the cyclist is injured). Still, what worries me is that this behavior is generally condoned by the cycling community, and especially by its advocates who tend to be close with the cycle courier community (probably the worst offenders of these kinds of problems).

Do people have opinons on this?

EDIT: My frickin crank came frickin loose again, I guess I have to go frickin repair it again at the bike chain. However, this might indicate I need a new crank altogether. Frickin.

Happy in Toronto

I realize I havn’t written in a while, but now that the school year has begun, I hope to post more often. I’m happily settled in Toronto, in a PhD program, living in an awesome house. Also, I feel that I have a lot of friends in Toronto now, something that is a welcome change from generally feeling alianated in the past. However, this blog shouldn’t generally be about my personal exploits, but rather about topical philosophical issues. As such, it seems like a good time to reflect on the state of my academic exploits.

Beginning a PhD program after having been in graduate school already for 3 years is a time for new beginnings. Although I have a significant background in Heidegger, it’s not neccesarily what I want to write my dissertation on . Therefore, I’m trying to expand my horizons. This term I’m taking courses in Virtue Ethics and on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Virtue Ethics is roughly a return to an Aristotelian way of doing ethics because of shortcomings which neither deontology nor consequentialism can overcome. I’m unconvinced by most of these “shortcomings” such as moral schizophrenia, and the supposed unpleasantness of anyone “perfectly moral” by either deontic or consequentialist standards. I should write a post specifically on this issue, and perhaps I shall. For me, the crucial critique of deontic and consequentialist morality concerns those moralities qua impositions of external standards. In other words, Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity in Geneology of Morals and elsewhere. To get this clear, it’s worth drawing a clear schema of what Nietzsche’s critique is in GM.

Like usual, most things people say about Nietzsche (and any other worthwhile philosopher) are either gross misstatements or the precise opposite of what he says. Take the “rejection of Christianity” for example, it might be generally said on the street or in a Coffee shop that Nietzsche rejects Christianity and endorses a morality of “nobility” and strength. This isn’t exactly the opposite of the truth, but its close. In fact, Nietzsche criticizes Christianity for imposing on us an arbitrary and external moral standard, but praises it for making that standard absolute – Nietzsche is in fact opposed to the contingency of the Nobleman’s actions (who acts from himself, but always differently, heteronomously). So, for Nietzsche Christianity is good insofar as it is absolute, but a failure insofar as it imposes a moral standard from outside – and noble morality is good insofar as it affirms the rightness of actions from within but a failure insofar as that very inner confirmation makes morality a matter of pure contingency.

So, how does Virtue Ethics respond to the critique of morality as external standard? By placing the emphasis not on law, legality, what is “morally permissible”, but on “Virtues” – inner habits, which can be cultivated, and which in turn encourage us to do good. The habit forming aspect of V.E. can be understood as an attempt to keep the physis like character of moral action from becoming utterly contingent, but it still leaves the problem, how do we know which virtues are good, which should we cultivate? The obvious answer as a Heideggarian is those virtues which are appropriate to the human being, to its essence, which is nothing permanent, nor nothing contingent either. Perhaps Leibniz’s notion of drive as neither passive nor active is a model for understanding this.

As for the Aristotle class, I am responding to Heidegger’s demand that we leave his class and study Aristotle for 10 to 15 years, (which I plan to do also in the V. E. class by re reading Nichomachean ethics). So, if there is a question for my study this term it is: What does Aristotle have to say to us today? What does Aristotle’s retrieve of ancient Greek dasein light up for us about a) the nature of retrieve b) the nature of philosophy c) the possibilities for thinking, and retrieve today? The background question remains – What is the other beginning? How does Aristotle bear on the first beginning both has retrieving it and opening up its possibilities, taken up in “metaphysics”? And finally, what is “metaphysics”, perhaps the question I can address most specifically in a class on Aristotle’s “metaphysics”, what is metaphysics? Is the other beginning a departure or a repetition of metaphysics? What is the dangorous character of metaphysics (the tyranny of eidos over physis) which is to be “overcome” in the Other Beginning?

And (again), finally, the pragmatic question, is it possible to write a dissertation on Heidegger, the other beginning, and Aristotle? And if so, what would such a dissertation have to say about “ethics”, virtue or otherwise? Heidegger does after all say that “virtue ethics” concerns Greek dasein, and cannot be offered as an “alternative” to deontic or utilitarian accounts.