“The time has come for the higher distinction or, rather, for the real contrast, to be made manifest, the contrast between Necessity and Freedom, in which alone the inner-most center of philosophy comes to view.” (VII, 333)


To Schelling, one the most important and critical problems concerning philosophy is the problem of freedom. Schelling’s previous work System of the Whole of Philosophy and of Naturphilosophie in Particular, aimed to outline a system, in particular a system of identity through which philosophy could be scientifically analysed. In this production of system Schelling seems initially to point out that ‘human freedom is essentially an illusion and is therefore not worth of serious philosophical treatment’ (White, 1983, 106), however the in Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom he aims to answer the question of freedom in specific relation to the concept of system, a question that, when analysed on the whole, can be looked at as fundamentally concerned with the philosophy of nature: ‘The author has limited himself entirely to the investigations in the Philosophy of Nature, after a first general presentation of his system (in the Journal for Speculative Physics)’ (VII, 333). The purpose of this essay is therefore initially to provide an explanation of Schelling’s concept of system, focusing briefly on his critique of Pantheism through which it will become clear how pantheists and other philosophers have commonly misunderstood the nature of identity. From this analysis I shall show how this lays the groundwork for the essence of freedom that Schelling lays out in the Inquiries and show how that relates to his previous system, in particular showing how it relates to his philosophy of nature as a whole.

Schelling opens the Inquiries with the statement that ‘Philosophical investigations into the nature of human freedom may, in part, concern themselves with the correct conception of the term […]. In part such investigations may be concerned with the relation of this concept to a whole systematic world view’(VII, 336). By ‘the correct conception of the term’ Schelling is referring to the idea of individual freedom which seems to be present within every human being, at least from the perspective of a pre-philosophical mind-set, each human being may naturally assume that they are free to govern their own actions. Conversely, to look at freedom in this sense seems to be looking at the opposite of a system, if we are to look at a systematic philosophical world view the common conception would be to look at it as deterministic or without freedom. However, Schelling argues that this distinction is not necessarily a fundamental one, indeed ‘here, as indeed everywhere, these two sides of the investigation coincide […]. This is especially the case in the conception of freedom, for if it has any reality at all it cannot be a merely subordinate or incidental conception but must be one of the dominant central points of the system’ (VII, 336). To produce a system without the conception of freedom is to produce an incomplete system, and to have freedom without a system is to have an incomplete concept of freedom. Freedom cannot be overlooked or ignored in relation to a wholly systemic philosophy; it must be one of the foundational cornerstones to be examined through which we can develop our understanding of nature as a whole.

Here Schelling analyses one of the prominent answers to the question of freedom, which is to look to Pantheism. Heidegger, in his commentary on Schelling’s Nature essay defines Pantheism as a systemic account of nature in that: ‘System is the structure of beings as a whole. This structure knows itself as absolute knowledge. This knowledge itself belongs to the system. Knowledge, too, constitutes the inner connectedness of beings’ (Heidegger, 1985, 62). However, Schelling argues that this first form of pantheism – the pantheism that states ‘everything is god’, produces a critical problem as it ‘is the only possible system of reason but is inevitably fatalism’ (VII, 338) meaning that if we are to produce to accept pantheism, we must accept the idea that nature is fatalistic and thus predetermined. A pantheistic account of system is therefore inconsistent with freedom. Indeed, he goes on to argue that the second form of pantheism describes that ‘every individual thing is god’ and in doing so creates another set of problems that need to be overcome. In fact, Schelling argues although Spinoza himself posits that all things are God, ‘a more complete differentiation of things and God can hardly be conceived than is made in the teachings of Spinoza’ (VII, 340). To Spinoza, God is the one thing in nature that is brought into being purely through itself; it is the sole being that is the cause of itself in itself. Thus every individual being must be identified with God, if it to exist in nature.

The reason Schelling argues that Spinoza’s view constitutes a ‘complete differentiation’ is that finite beings necessarily exist only because of the concept of God. In whatever way finite beings may be related to God, it is not possible for them to exist other than as a derivative of the original concept of God through which they acquire their existence: ‘God alone is independent and primary and self-affirming, all else being related to it only as what is affirmed or as the consequence to the antecedent’ (VII, 340). The problem of pantheism thus arises for Schelling, in that as there is a difference between God and finite beings (because God is the fundamental antecedent to the consequent of finite beings, finite beings are thus always derived from the concept of God), the sum of all individual, finite beings cannot equate to God ‘since no kind of combination can transform that which is by nature derived into that which is by nature original’ (VII, 340) – this is Schelling’s law of antecedence. The law of antecedence therefore means that the subject, in its being prior to and the basis of the predicate (i.e. its antecedent), grounds the predicate’s possibility of being. So if we are to apply this to the problem of God in pantheism we can see that, to look at an object as a modified version of God, (in that the sum of finite objects has been derived from, i.e. grounded by God but also equates to God), is to make a fundamental error; it does not understand ‘God in the real, distinctive sense; this one addition puts things back in their place which ever-lastingly distinguishes them from God’ (VII, 341).

Therefore, to Schelling, the misunderstanding of fatalism is not merely derived from pantheism’s confusion with the law of antecedence but is also ‘found in the general misunderstanding of the law of identity or the meaning of the copula in judgement’ (VII, 341). What Schelling therefore wants to produce is an ontology through which the nature of freedom is not inconsistent with the law of identity, an idea that had been misinterpreted by many of his predecessors (i.e. Spinoza). The law of identity is one of the basic, fundamental principles of Schelling’s philosophy, it is the ‘basic law for all things as they truly are’ (White, 1983, 109). So the law of identity represents the role of the copula in judgements but also, in his earlier work Presentation of My System of Philosophy, Schelling defines the law of identity as being concerned with the notion absolute identity in itself: ‘Absolute identity has surely never ceased being identity and everything that is, is considered in itself – not just the appearance of absolute identity but identity itself’ (Vater, 2001, 353). Indeed, Heidegger describes that as judgement is essentially the vital form through which thinking occurs, and judgement consists of the connection of subject and predicate, which is formed by the copula, ‘it is not strange that Schelling, too clarifies and decides the ontological question with reference to the proposition and the copula’ (Heidegger, 1985, 76). In other words, is-ness is the law of identity but it must also coincide with the law of antecedence, unless the judgement is referring to absolute identity in which there is no antecedent, the ‘is’ is itself the only thing that can be identical to it.

When trying to pinpoint the misunderstanding of the law of identity Schelling uses a series of examples, the first of which is concerned with the proposition ‘This body is blue’. To Schelling, subject (s) predicate (p) statements do not necessarily express immediate connection of the subject to the predicate: ‘“This body is blue,” does not mean that the body in and by reason of its being a body is also a blue body, but only that the object designated as this body is also blue though not in the same sense’ (VII, 341). In other words, it is not a necessary condition of the subject, i.e. a body, that it contains the predicate i.e. blueness, an idea that ‘can readily be made comprehensible to a child’ (VII, 341).

However, he argues this is a mistake that other philosophers make consistently when attempting to apply the law of identity, especially when considering more complex sentences such as ‘the Perfect is Imperfect’. Schelling argues that the misinterpretation of this judgement would be to analyse it as meaning that ‘perfection and imperfection are equivalent, everything is one and the same’ (VII, 341). Or in other words, the copula in the statement expresses that the subject and predicate cannot be differentiated; it essentially accords to the formula A is A, where the copula, the ‘is’, represents what Heidegger refers to as ‘empty sameness’. Whereas, to Schelling, the application of the law of identity in this case signifies that the imperfect is, the perfection which it contains, or as Heidegger summarises ‘what the sentence really means is expressed in the correct intonation: not the perfect is the imperfect, but the perfect is the imperfect’ (Heidegger, 1985, 78).

This confusion happens similarly with the example of ‘the Good is the Evil’: ‘Evil has no power to exist in itself; that which is real in it, considered in itself, is good’ (VII, 341). So, this means that evil does not have the ability to be in itself, it needs the good to become what it is. So for Schelling, what does not exist within evil is not. Evil, as such, is ‘nonexistent’, insofar as it exists as non existence. However, Schelling does not give any specific account of what defines the Good. Evil therefore consists in its non-existence, of which the act itself is what exists, meaning that through this act we can determine evil as being consequent as ‘to act’ is always to be consequent in relation to its grounding. Therefore, as evil exists only in this act it is not grounded in the good itself, it is autonomous from it yet identical to it. However, he argues again that it may not commonly be understood that the good is the necessary condition of Evil, instead it is commonly looked at as meaning that there is no difference between Good and Evil, logically speaking they constitute the same thing; they constitute empty sameness to those who do not truly understand the law of identity.

When considering the implications concerning the law of identity Heidegger summarises four essential points. The first being that to understand the ‘is’ is to understand the identity of the subject and the proposition in a particular judgement; the second being that we must understand identity in a higher sense, i.e. the sense beyond merely logical sameness; thirdly the previous misunderstanding of identity understands identity as mere identicalness; finally that the true law of identity means the ‘belonging together’ of two differences in the one, in which the one is, at the same time, the grounds of the possibility of what is different (Heidegger, 1985, 78). If we are to take these summaries into account we can see how the commonly held, fundamental mistake in the logic of identity becomes even more apparent for Schelling when considering the question of freedom in relation to necessity i.e. system.

Schelling’s exposition of necessity and freedom stands as an argument in favour of the idea that is present in the laws of his system, the idea that identity essentially entails duplicity: ‘Schelling attempts to establish this by showing that all judgements, including apparent tautologies, actually express relations of ground to consequent’ (White, 1983, 110). Whereas he describes that the idea ‘freedom and necessity are one’ is also commonly misinterpreted in that it is taken to mean that freedom is something that exists in nature and is therefore subject to the systemic, mechanistic laws of nature. The correct reading would instead be: ‘if […] it is explained that necessity and freedom are one, meaning that in the last instance the essence of the moral world is also the essence of the world of nature’ (VII, 342). From this dense quote we begin to see how it is that system, or necessity, is compatible with freedom. When considering that the belonging together of two differences in the one, in which the one is, at the same time, the grounds of possibility of what is different, we can see that to assume the truth of the statement ‘apparent necessity can itself be the case of freedom’ (VII, 342) is in fact to misunderstand the law of identity; it is look at necessity and freedom as having the ‘empty sameness’ that Heidegger distinguished in his commentary. Thus, tautological statements, even though they are fundamentally contradictory in pre-Schellingian analysis, are united in their relationship of identity: ‘even a tautological statement, if it is not to be altogether meaningless retains this relationship [the relationship between antecedent and consequent] (VII, 342).

In conclusion, in this introduction to the Inquiries, what is fundamental when considering the nature of freedom and necessity for Schelling is the possibility of the convergence of opposites when considering the nature of nature itself. Schelling’s analysis of the problems posed in the pantheistic tradition lead him to a brilliant explication of the logical laws of antecedence and identity which in turn provide the grounding for the rest of his philosophy. What is important to note is that this exploration of pre-existing logical laws and the misinterpretations upon which they are based are what lead Schelling to develop his concept of the fully fledged inquiry into the essence of human freedom that takes place later on in the book; the introduction outlined in this essay is therefore fundamentally important in understanding Schelling’s desire to produce an ontology and thus a Naturphilosophie that can extend to explaining the most fundamental questions of philosophy in a manner never previously accomplished: The question of how system and freedom can coexist together.


Heidegger, Martin (1985), Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Schelling, F. W. J. (1992), Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom. Trans. James Gutmann. La Salle: Open Court. (VII)

Schelling, F. W. J. (2001), ‘Presentation of my System of Philosophy (1801)’. Trans. Michael G. Vater. XXXII, 4, The Philosophical Forum.

White, Alan (1983), Schelling: An Introduction to the System of Freedom. New Haven CA: Yale University Press.

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