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Schelling's Critique of Hegel's "Science of Logic"

Author(s): Stephen Houlgate

Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Sep., 1999), pp. 99-128
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
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In his provocative and highly readable book, Schelling and Mod

ern European Andrew Bowie argues that "Schelling . . .
helps define key structures in modern phUosophy by revealing the
flaws inHegel inways which help set the agenda for phUosophy even
today."1 The claim that Schelling's critique of Hegel has exercised
considerable influence on subsequent
generations of ph?osophers is

undeniably true. Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Engels all heard Schell

ing lecture in the years after Hegel's death in 1831 and were receptive
to his critique of the HegeUan system.2 Furthermore, many leading
twentieth-century continental philosophers, including especially
Heidegger and Habermas, studied Schelling closely and have taken up
positions vis-?-vis Hegel which are recognizably ScheUingian in origin
and which have influenced other philosophers in turn.3 Schelling's cri

tique of Hegel is thus by no means merely of local interest to students

of German ideaUsm, but is of interest to all students of the continental
tradition in post-Kantian phUosophy for the simple reason that his cri

tique is one of the most important sources

of that very tradition.
Unfortunately, Schelling's Hegelkritik has received relatively lit
tle scholarly attention from commentators on German idealism or
continental philosophy, especially in the English-speaking world. An
drew Bowie is therefore to be commended for reminding us just how

Correspondence to: Department of PhUosophy, The University of War

wick, Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.
Andrew and Modern An In
Bowie, Schelling European Philosophy:
troduction (London: Routledge, 1993), 1.
2See Alan White, Absolute Knowledge: Hegel and the Problem of Meta
physics (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983), 7.
3See, for example, Edward Allen Beach, The Potencies ofGod(s): Schell
ing's Philosophy ofMythology (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994), 142.

The Review ofMetaphysics 53 (September 1999): 99-128. Copyright ? 1999 by The Review of

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influential Schelling's critique has been.4 What Iwish to dispute in

Bowie's claim, however, is the idea that Schelling succeeds in reveal

ing real flaws in Hegel's thought. In my

view, Schelling faUs to expose

any such flaws for two reasons.

the one hand, he passes
On judgment
on Hegel's system on the basis of certain assumptions about thought
and existence that Hegel does not share, and on the other hand, those
very assumptions lead him seriously to misrepresent what Hegel is

saying (at least from Hegel's point of view). To my mind, therefore,

Schelling's legacy to subsequent ph?osophers?from Kierkegaard to
Heidegger to Deleuze?is not the incisive and insightful criticism of
Hegel's system lauded by Bowie, but rather an interpretation that

begs the main question against Hegel and in so doing distorts the lat
ter's ideas.
The aim of this essay is to draw attention to the assumptions un

derlying Schelling's interpretation of Hegel and to show how they lead

him to misrepresent Hegel's claims in the Science of Logic. This aim
is a relatively modest one. I do not propose to provide a comprehen
sive defense of Hegel's system as a whole, nor do I propose to argue
that Hegel is immune to each and every criticism that can be leveled
at him. AU I propose to do is argue that Schelling's specific objections
to Hegel's phUosophy miss their mark, and that, consequently, subse

quent criticisms of Hegel that are indebted to ScheUing miss their

mark as well. This essay does not attempt, therefore, to prove conclu

sively that Hegel's account of the world is correct and should be pre
ferred over others in the phUosophical tradition (such as those of
fered by Leibniz or Spinoza). It simply sets out to show that there is
no good reason to assume from the outset, with Schelling and many of
his adherents, that Hegelian dialectical thought is fundamentaUy mis
In particular, as wiU become clear below, Iwish to show that
ScheUing and his foUowers are wrong to claim that Hegel's dialectical
thought is by its very nature incapable of doing justice to existence.
Of course, to challenge this assumption is to challenge one of the cen
tral tenets of continental phUosophy as a whole: for it is to challenge
the belief shared by many continental ph?osophers that, whatever

4The most
thorough English-language study of Schelling's Hegelkritik,
besides Bowie's book, is Alan White's Absolute Knowledge (cited above, note
2). An important recent German study of Schelling's relation to Hegel is to
be found in Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Die Grenzen der Vernunft. Eine Unter
suchung zu Zielen und Motiven des Deutschen Idealismus (Frankfurt am
Main: Anton Hain, 1991), 245-68.

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else is to be said about it, existence has to be construed as expUcitly

exceeding or disrupting dialectical thought as Hegel conceives it. The

precise impUcations for subsequent European phUosophy of this re
evaluation of Schelling's proto-existentialist critique of Hegel will
have to be explored on another occasion. What I hope wiU become
clear in the course of this essay, however, is that those implications
wiU be profound.


Schelling's critique of Hegel is set out in lectures on the history of

modern philosophy which he deUvered in Munich from 1827 to the
late 1830s.5 These lectures belong to the last period of Schelling's
philosophical development, the period of the so-caUed negative and

positive philosophy. Before we look at Schelling's Hegel critique di

rectly, therefore, a few words need to be said regarding this distinc
tion between negative and positive phUosophy, because it underlies all
of Schelling's critical remarks. My account of this distinction is based
on lectures Schelling gave in Berlin in 1842-3 on the introduction to
the phUosophy of revelation.6
The first thing that needs to be understood is that ScheUing has a
distinctive and quite restrictive conception of what can be known by
thought or reason alone. The role of reason, in his view, is merely to
determine what it is to be a certain kind of thing: what it is to be a
plant or a triangle or God. Schelling follows Descartes and Kant by

noting that understanding what it is to be something does not tell us

whether such a thing actually exists. "The concept of a thing," he says,

"only contains the pure What of that thing, but nothing of the That, of
existence."7 Human reason, for SchelUng, is by no means cut off from

5See F. W. J.
ScheUing, S?mmtliche Werke (hereafter USW'), ed. K. F. A.
SchelUng, Part I, 10 vols.; Part II, 4 vols. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1856-61), 10:126
64. For the English translation of these lectures, see F. W. J. Schelling, On
theHistory ofModern Philosophy (hereafter "OHMP"), trans. Andrew Bowie
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 134-63.
SW, 11/3:1-174. All translations from the lectures on the introduc
tion to the phUosophy of revelation are my own. Itmight, ?f course, be possi
ble to formulate alternative ScheUingian criticisms of Hegel based on earlier
texts of Schelling which do not address Hegel's philosophy expUcitly. In this
essay, however, I restrict myself to SchelUng's own direct critique of Hegel
and its background in the distinction he draws between negative and positive

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the truth altogether; it is quite capable of establishing from within it
self the true nature (or at least aspects of the true nature) of the ob
jects it considers. Yet it cannot determine by itself whether those ob
jects actually exist in the world.8 Reason can thus prove that a

triangle has three sides and angles adding up to 180 degrees, but by it
self it cannot determine whether there are actually any
shapes in the world. Similarly, "reason can under given circum
stances certainly know the nature of the plant from out of itself, but
never its actual, present existence (Dasein)."9 To understand what

something is, is thus never by itself to know that it exists. To know

whether something actuaUy exists, according to Schelling, we must

rely on something other than reason

alone, namely, sensuous or pure

Vorstellung?sensuous Vorstellung in the case of particular things in

nature and pure Vorstellung in the case of God or of other minds.10

Unfortunately, ScheUing does not provide a detaUed account of

the precise character of Vorstellung. It is clear from the way in which
he employs the term, however, that he understands Vorstellung to be
the direct consciousness or intuition of things, in contrast to the mere

thought of such things. Vorstellung does not merely form concepts of

things, therefore, but actuaUy brings existing things themselves be
fore the mind; it UteraUy places (stellt) existing things before (vor) us.
Vorstellung, for Schelling, is thus not the activity of representing or
picturing things in the mind, but rather the activity of rendering them
immediately present to the mind.11
In contrast to Vorstellung, rational thought does not and cannot
demonstrate that there are actually specific things in the world; it sim

7 aber von
SW, 11/3:83: unur das reine Was desselben enth?lt, nichts
dem Da?, von der Existenz." See also SW, 11/3:59.
8SW, 11/3:60 and 101-2.
QSW, 11/3:172.
Schelling's view that the existence of particular things in nature
can only be confirmed a posteriori by sensuous experience or Vorstellung,
see SW, 11/3:61-2,171, and 173. On his view that the existence of God (and of
other minds) can only be confirmed a posteriori by pure, nonsensuous expe
rience or Vorstellung, see SW, 11/3:113,169,171, and 173, and Beach, The Po
tencies ofGod(s), 148 and 172. Note that alongside the more famUiar sensu
ous empiricism, ScheUing thus propounds a theory of metaphysical
empiricism, according to which we can directly intuit that which is not given
to the senses; see SW, 11/3:114.
11The translation of Vorstellung would thus be "presenta
tion" rather than "representation." I have elected to leave the term untrans
lated in this essay, however, as the etymology of the German word itself pro
vides the clearest indication of its meaning for Schelling.

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ply proves that things have to be conceived in a certain way and that,
insofar as they can indeed be conceived coherently, their existence is

possible. Thought is thus concerned with the mere possibility of a

thing's existence, with its potential being?being that can but need not
become actual.12
Now negative phUosophy is philosophy that seeks to determine in
a systematic manner aU that is a priori conceivable and possible. It
starts from the bare idea of infinite possibility or potential as such?
"die unendliche Potenz des Seins"?and seeks to determine how all
the manifold possibilities of being follow necessarily from this infinite
potential.13 Exactly how negative philosophy proceeds, according to

Schelling, need not concern us here.14 What is important is that such

philosophy seeks insight through pure reason alone and that, as a re

sult, it is restricted to determining what is conceivable by thought and

so possible. Negative philosophy is thus able to show us what can ex

ist, but it can never show us by itself that anything it understands does
exist. Nor can a priori
it prove that anything must exist by virtue of
what it is understood to be, whether that thing be a triangle, a plant or
indeed God. The actual existence of what is conceived by negative
phUosophy can only ever be demonstrated by something other than

negative phUosophy itself, namely Vorstellung.

Negative philosophy reaches its culmination, Schelling explains,
when it considers the final possibility that can be conceived. This is
the possibUity which we can only entertain when aU the various possi
ble modes of being have been considered?the one that thus lies at the
furthest remove from the thought of sheer possibility as such, with
which negative philosophy begins. According to Schelling, this final
conceivable possibUity can be none other than the one in which there
is no longer any possibility as such to think. It is thus the possibility of
that being that is not itself merely possible being, but rather pure act

Actus) or pure actuality (reine Wirklichkeit). Such pure actu

ality, ScheUing tells us, is nothing other than being itself?"das
Seiende selbst."15 Negative phUosophy comes to an end, therefore,

12 hat eben nur mit der M?glichkeit, der Po

SW, 11/3:161: uDas Denken
tenz zu tun."

l3SW, 11/3:165,148.
14For a lucid account of see Beach, The
Schelling's negative phUosophy,
Potencies of God(s), 95-146. See also John Burbidge, "Contraries and Con
tradictories: Reasoning in Schelling's Late PhUosophy," The Owl of Minerva
16, no. 1 (faU 1984): 55-68.
SW, 11/3:104,149, and 155.

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when it considers the possibUity of sheer, irreducible being, actuality,
or existence as such.16
As Schelling goes on to explain, however, negative phUosophy
cannot in fact culminate in the thought of the mere possibUity of pure
actuality, because such pure actuality itself cannot be thought to be a
mere possibUity; it can only be thought to be actua?ty. Negative phi
losophy culminates, therefore, in the thought ofthat which must actu
ally exist. Let us look more closely at why this should be.

Schelling conceives of being itself, in the manner of Parmenides,

as sheer being. It must be thought, he says, as being that only ever is
and "in which there is nothing whatsoever of nonbeing."17 Now, if
there is nothing of nonbeing in sheer being, then sheer being cannot
ever be merely possible or potential being, because potential being is
being characterized precisely by nonbeing: it is being that is not yet
fuUy actual. Being that excludes aU nonbeing thus cannot ever be
mere possibility or potentiaUty, but can always and only be being, ac
tua?ty in the fuUest sense. By virtue of ruling out its own mere possi
bility in this way, Schelling tells us, being itself is that which undoubt
edly exists?"das unzweifelhaft Existierende."18 Potential being
remains in doubt because it can, but need not, become actual. Being
itself can never be merely potential being, however, and so its exist
ence is never in doubt in this way. Being itself is never anything other

16In this in using these terms interchange

essay I wiU foUow ScheUing
ably, whether I am discussing Schelling himself or Hegel. Distinctions w?l
be drawn between necessary and contingent existence, and between the
mere thought of existence and the Vorstellung of existence, but no signifi
cant distinctions wiU be drawn between existence, being and actua?ty. In
the Science of Logic Hegel distinguishes these terms very carefuUy, but the
logical distinctions he draws between them are not relevant to the topic of
this essay. The terms "existence" and "actuaUty" should thus be understood
here, not in their distinctive HegeUan sense, but rather as equivalent to "be
ing itself" or "sheer being." (Schelling argues that Hegel's concept of sheer?
or pure?being faUs woefuUy short of what Schelling himself understands by
"being itself." As wiU become apparent later, however, I beUeve, contra
Schelling, that Hegel's concept of pure being comes much closer to what
Schelling has in mind than Schelling aUows.) For Hegel's own, highly nu
anced account of pure being, existence and actuality, see G. W. F. Hegel,
"Wissenschaft der Logik" (hereafter "WL"), ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl M.
Michel, 2 vols., Theorie Werkausgabe, Vols. 5 and 6 (Frankfurt am Main: Su
hrkamp Verlag, 1969), 1:82; H: 125-47 and 200-17. Eng?sh translations taken
from Science of Logic (hereafter "SL"), trans. A V. MUler (Atlantic High
lands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989), 82, 481-98, and 541-53.
17SW, 11/3:149: "gar nichts von einem Nichtsein."
1SSW, 11/3:158-9.

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than actual be-ing and exist-ing. By virtue of the fact that it only ever

is, being is thus simply necessary, according to ScheUing. Being is

"das einfach-notwendig Existierende."19
The necessity which attaches to being itself is not necessity as it
is usually conceived, however. For Kant, for example, "necessity is

just the existence which is given through possibUity itself."20 A neces

sary being is thus one whose very possibUity makes it actual. For

Schelling, however, being cannot be necessary in this way, because it

can never be preceded by its own mere possibUity and so cannot fol
low with necessity from that possibUity. The necessity of being itself,
for Schelling, Ues not in the fact that its very possibUity requires it to
be, but rather in the fact that it can never be merely possible in the
first place. The necessity of being, in other words, Ues in the fact that
it can only ever be actual. Being itself is thus that which necessarily
exists because it excludes its own mere possibUity by preceding all

possibUity.21 This means that the necessity of being itself is not one
that is grounded in possibility, but one that is without any prior
ground. It is the groundless necessity of being's simply being and hav

ing no other option apart from being.

Such necessary existence, which cannot be understood to foUow
from any prior possibility, is conceived by Schelling as that which is "a
priori incomprehensible,"22 for such existence cannot be explained by
being derived from something prior to it. Existence does not occur
because of some prior ground which would necessitate it, but exists

simply of itself.23 It exists necessarily because there is no other possi

bUity for it than existence. This needs to be borne in mind when con

sidering ScheUing's Leibnizian question: "why is there anything at all?

why is there not nothing?"24 In asking this question ScheUing appears

SW, 11/3:167.
20 Immanuel
Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (hereafter UCPR," with
references to pagination in the first [A] and second [B] German editions) ed.
Raymund Schmidt (Hamburg:Felix Meiner Verlag, 1990),A122/B111; English
translations taken from Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith
(London: MacmUlan, 1929), 116.
21 . . .m?ssen wir von dem ausgehen, was
SW, 11/3:160: ueben darum
ich das blo? Existierende genannt habe, von dem unmittelbar, einfach not
wendig Seienden,"
das notwendig ist, weil es aller Potenz, aller M?glichkeit
zuvorkommt, 166: "Eben darum ist es das notwendig Existierende, weil es
alle vorg?ngige M?glichkeit ausschlie?t, weil es allem K?nnen zuvorko

22SW, 11/3:165: "das a priori Unbegreifliche."

23SW, 11/3:168: "von selbst."

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to suggest that logicaUy there could just as easily be (or could just as
easily have been) nothing rather than being. Yet that is by no means
the principal point of the question. For as we have seen, Schelling
thinks that existence as such is actually necessary; the logical possi

bility of nothing is thus not really a possibUity after all. The main
point of Schelling's question, therefore, is not to raise the purely logi
cal possibUity of nothing, but to make us aware that no reason can be

given for the existence that actually and necessarily is. In asking his

question Schelling is thus actually giving expression to the fact that

existence is groundlessly necessary. Why is there something rather
than nothing? ScheUing asks. The answer is that there is no reason;
there is simply the sheer necessity of existence itself?the fact that
existence as such must be. Neither in the order of knowing nor in that
of being is there first the possibility of being, or the essence or con

cept of being, and then, following from this, the fact of being. As
Spinoza saw, there is first
existence, being, and actuality itself which
exists out of sheer necessity.25
Pure actuality or indubitable existence thus constitutes the one

glaring exception to Schelling's golden rule that thought can never

know that
something must and does exist simply by virtue of under

standing what it is. The reason why it should constitute an exception

is clear to see. In every other case (including that of God as fully God,

Schelling maintains), the concept of what something is identifies the

character or essence that that thing must have to be the thing that it

is, whether or not it actually exists. It tells us that, whether or not

there are such things as triangles and unicorns, and whether or not
there is a God, a triangle has three sides, a unicorn is a white horse
with a horn on its head, and God is the creator of all things. By them
selves, such concepts indicate that triangles, unicorns and God are at
least conceivable and so could possibly exist, but they cannot prove
that such objects must or do exist; that can only be established by
sensuous or pure Vorstellung. Indeed, Schelling maintains, the mere

possibUity of a thing's existence is never sufficient to prove that the

24 and Modem Philoso

SW, 11/3:7. See also Bowie, Schelling European
phy, 162.
25 is nec
SW, 11/3:166. This is not to say that nature or the human world
essary, but only that existence as such is necessary. Insofar as nature and
the human world are contingent (because they are freely created) and so do
not have to exist, "there could exist nothing at all" (SW, 11/3:59). There could
not, however, be no existence whatsoever; there could not be absolutely
nothing. On the contingency of nature, see notes 36 and 45 below.

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thing itself exists. Thus when Schelling claims that we can never
know that something exists simply by understanding what it is, he is
asserting above aU that the actual existence of something can never be
shown to follow from its mere possibUity.
In the case of pure actua?ty or existence as such, however,
ScheUing does not claim that its necessity foUows from itsmere possi
bility. This is because pure actua?ty is precisely that which can never
be merely possible in the first place, but is always and only actua?ty.
There can thus never be the mere possibUity of sheer actuality from
which its actua?ty as such
can follow. The necessity of sheer actua?ty
stems not from any prior possibUity, but from the fact that it can only
ever be pure and simple actuality and so excludes from itself the very

possibUity of its own nonbeing and of its own mere possibUity.

The fact that there is and must be existence as such thus cannot
be said to follow from what existence is conceived to be, if by this we
mean that the necessity of existence as such is enta?ed by its mere

possibUity. This is because sheer existence is not preceded by any

possibUity that is estabUshed by its essence or what it is; existence is,
rather, "the merely ... in which there is as yet nothing of an
essence, a What, to be conceived."26 Yet in another sense, of course,
the fact that there is and must be existence as such does foUow from
what existence is conceived to be. For what existence is in itself is

nothing other than the actuality of existing: "the existing is here itself
the concept and the essence."27 To know what existence is, is thus au
tomaticaUy to know that it exists?not because any prior essence or

possibUity of existence (or indeed our concept of existence) makes

existence necessary, but because existence itself cannot but exist.28

Negative philosophy thus understands a priori that there cannot

just be potential and possibUity, but that there must be existence as

such. However, Schelling maintains that negative phUosophy gets no
further than the mere thought of this necessary existence. Further
more, it comprehends this necessary existence in an expUcitly nega
tive way: it understands that existence is necessary quite simply be
cause it cannot not be.29 Negative philosophy culminates, therefore,

SW, 11/3:167.
SW, 11/3:167.
^SeeSW, 1/10:17; OHMP, 51-2; SW, 11/3:156.
29 11/3:70: "Die Veraur?/?, wenn gleich ihr letztes Ziel und Absehen
nur das Seiende ist, das Ist, kann es doch nicht anders bestimmen, sie hat
keinen Begriff f?r dasselbe, als den des nicht nicht Seienden."

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in the mere idea of necessary existence, indeed in the merely negative
concept of such existence.30 Insofar as it stops at the mere idea or
concept of existence, however, negative does not come
into full possession of that which it conceives. It does not bring di
rectly before the mind the rea?ty which it thinks. For it only thinks
that which can be found within thought itself?the concept of abso
lutely necessary existence?but does not touch existence itself. Phi
losophy only touches existence itself when it becomes positive philos
Positive philosophy retains the same a priori conception of exist
ence as such or pure actuality as negative It under
stands such existence to be that which is expUcable through no prior
reason, but which simply and necessarily is?that which is prior to aU
possibUity and so cannot but be actual. Yet positive phUosophy not
only understands the concept of such existence, it brings before the
mind such existence itself. It does so, Schelling explains, by ceasing
to be the work of pure thought alone and becoming the expUcitly co

operative activity of both thought (or reason) and Vorstellung. That is

to say, in positive
philosophy thought frames
concept the of neces
sary existence, wh?e pure Vorstellung intuits such existence and
places it directly before the mind.
As a result of such cooperation, Schelling argues, thought is itself
subtly transformed, because it comes to understand existence as such
in a new way. At the culmination of negative philosophy, existence as
such is understood above aU to be that which is comprehensible
within thought. In positive phUosophy, by contrast, existence is rec

ognized to be that which is directly accessible to pure Vorstellung

alone and in that sense to be that which
exceeds, and so Ues outside,

thought.33 In positive phUosophy, therefore, "reason can posit being,

in which there is nothing of a concept, nothing of a What, only as an
absolute outside-itself."34 This is not to say that positive thought
abandons the idea that, from within itself, it can comprehend the ne

cessity of existence as such. Positive thought retains this idea; yet it

adds to it the recognition that existence is not just something compre

30SW, 11/3:70,160, and 171.

SW, 11/3:153, 164, and 171. For a brief but helpful account of ScheU
ing's positive philosophy, see Beach, The Potencies ofGod(s), 147-62.
32SW, 11/3:128: uDenn a priori ist das wovon sie ausgeht."
SW, 11/3:173.
34SW, 11/3:162-3: "ein absolutes Au?er-sich."

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hensible, but also something present, actual, and intuitable outside

and apart from thought. Once thought comes to understand existence
as such in this way, it becomes the thought of that which exceeds it. It
is thus taken outside of itself and, in Schelling's words, becomes "ec
static."35 This does not mean that positive thought now acquires the

capacity to intuit, or bring before the mind, existence as such, but sim

ply that it becomes the expUcit thought of that which Ues outside
thought, of that which is directly ava?able to pure Vorstellung alone.
There are, therefore, in Schelling's scheme of things three differ
ent levels of thought, two of which faUwithin negative phUosophy and
one of which characterizes positive phUosophy. At the first level,
thought conceives of what a thing must be if it is to exist, that is, of the
possibUity of that thing. At the second level, thought conceives of the
necessity of existence as such. At both these levels, the object of

thought remains whoUy within the realm of thought itself, within the
realm of that which can or must be conceived: the object is either the
conceived possibility of a thing or the conceived necessity of exist
ence as such. At the third level, however, the object of thought falls
outside the realm of thought itself, even though it stiU remains the ob
ject of thought. This is because thought now thinks of existence as
such as that which is expUcitly exterior to and other than thought it
self. Note that at none of these
levels does thought itself bring exist
ence as such
directly thebefore
mind; only Vorstellung can do that.
Yet at the third level?found in positive philosophy alone?thought
expUcitly recognizes that existence as such is what cannot be intuited

by thought itself.Consequently, at the third level, in contrast to the

other two, thought becomes positive; that is ta say, it becomes the

thought of that which it knows it cannot bring before the mind by it

It is important to remember that even though existence as such or

pure actua?ty is the sheer outside of thought, such existence is not al

together unthinkable. Indeed, according to Schelling, it is in fact the

first authentic object of thought; for it is the first content entertained
by thought that is not just something conceived within thought. Pure
actuality or existence itself is not unthinkable, because it can be

thought to be outside thought. Nevertheless, the thought of such an

outside is only the beginning of real thought for Schelling. This is be
cause it is merely the prelude to discovering that such excessive,

SW, 11/3:163.

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necessary existence is the existence, not of nature and the finite

things in it, but of the God who freely creates nature?a fact which
Schelling beUeves canonly be estab?shed a posteriori, through fur
ther Vorstellung, during the whole course of human experience. Posi
tive phUosophy, which does not just remain within the realm of the
conceivable and the possible, thus begins with the thought of sheer
being and existence as such
(and with the accompanying pure Vor
stellung of such existence), and then shows how this sheer, necessary
existence raises itself to Godhood as it freely and continuously cre
ates nature and human history. Positive phUosophy turns out, there

fore, to be an a posteriori account of the actual work, self-revelation,

and indeed self-constitution, of God in nature and history. Yet it be

gins not with God as fully God, but with God as simple, necessary ex

istence, as sheer That (Da?).36

According to Schelling, existence as such?which faUs outside

thought, precedes thought, can be explained through no prior ground

or concept, and so is groundlessly necessary?is what Hegel fails to

acknowledge. Hegel also fails to bring before the mind the existence
or thatness of particular, contingent, created things in nature. This is
because for Hegel the object of thought is to be found nowhere but
within thought itself. In other words, Hegel fails to recognize (in
thought) or bring before the mind (through Vorstellung) the very that

36Note that beUef that necessary existence can be shown to

be the existence of God is quite compatible with his denial that we can prove
the existence of God a priori by means of the ontological argument (or in
deed any other argument). ScheUing insists that we can know a priori that
existence as such is necessary, because sheer existence is all that existence
can be; it can never not be, nor can itmerely be potential being. But he de
nies that we can prove a priori that the existence of God (as the perfect be
ing) is necessary, because he rejects the idea that existence is necessarily en
tailed by perfection; see SW, 1/10:15; OHMP, 50. Schelling accepts, however,
that we can show a posteriori that sheer, necessary existence is in fact itself
the existence of God; see SW, 11/3:131,157-9, and 169, and Beach, The Poten
cies of God(s), 107. This commits Schelling to the foUowing position: what
can be shown to be necessary is not God's existence as God?as the perfect
creator of all things?but God's existence as sheer, necessary existence
alone. For ScheUing, God's Godhood or Divinity as such cannot be shown to
be necessary, and cannot be necessary, because God freely raises himself
into his Godhood as he creates the world; see SW, 11/4:353. God must exist as
sheer existence, as sheer Da?, therefore; but qua this Da? he freely makes
himself into God as such, into God the creator?a fact that we discover a
posteriori by coming to recognize nature and human history as the work of a
free creator. See also note 44 below.

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of necessary or contingent existence, because his phUosophy is

geared whoUy to determining what can be conceived.37


Schelling's extended discussion of Hegel is found in his lectures

on the history of modern phUosophy de?vered in the decade before
the lectures on the philosophy of revelation. Schelling's own position
in the 1830s is not quite that adopted in the 1840s?particularly as re
gards the role of the subject?but the distinction between negative
philosophy, which sets out merely what can be thought, and positive
philosophy, which brings to mind what is, is already weU established.

"Cognition is the Positive," Schelling says, "and only has being (das
Seiende), rea?ty (das Wirkliche), as its object, whereas thinking just
has the possible ... as its
Hegel's philosophy, for Schelling, is at bottom an example of

merely logical or negative philosophy, because "Hegel estab?shed pre

cisely as the first demand on phUosophy that it should withdraw into
pure thinking."39 His aim is thus to unfold what can be found within
thought, or what is conceivable. Hegel shows that what is conceivable

ultimately has the structure of the "concept," "idea," or self-determin

ing reason. As far as ScheUing is concerned, therefore, the true lesson
of Hegel's phUosophy is that the concept is the structure of the very
possibUity of things?that if there is to be such a thing as a world, it
must be structured conceptuaUy or rationally. Schelling acknowl

edges that Hegel would not have been the target of such strong criti
cism if he had stuck to the idea that the concept merely contains the
structure of what is possible. He would have failed to bring to mind

existence, but his negative phUosophy could nevertheless have served

as a prelude to Schelling's own positive phUosophy, which does bring
existence before the mind and so show that "there is . . . something
other and something more than mere reason in the world."40 Unfortu

nately, however, Hegel goes much further than Schelling thinks he

ought to have gone and declares that there is in fact nothing more than
reason in the world because the concept is everything there is. The

SW, 11/3:164.
SW, 1/10:127;OHMP, 134.
SW, 1/10:126,141; OHMP, 134,145.
40 147.
SW, 1/10:143^1; 0#MP,

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concept is thus not just the structure of possible being for Hegel; it is
what is ultimately actual and real: "das einzig Reale"41 Furthermore,
the concept, for Hegel, is the real ground of nature and the human
world, because it is that which externalizes itself as nature and re
turns to itself as conscious spirit. Hegel thus does not keep his Sci
ence of Logic within the limits of negative phUosophy, but sees it as
the self-sufficient source of positive understanding of existence it
Why Schelling should object to this understanding of the concept
should be obvious. What Hegel has done, from Schelling's point of
view, is equate pure actua?ty with reason or the concept. Hegel thus
misses what is aU-important for Schelling: the fact that being itself or
pure actua?ty is not just reason, but
existingsheeras such, the sheer

necessity of the "is." Schelling explains that he has no objection to

the idea that what is logical or rational wiU turn out to be an irreduc
ible aspect of existence?"that without which nothing could exist."
What he does object to, however, is the idea that the logical is ulti
mately aU that there is and that "everything only exists via what is log

ical," because this overlooks the fact that ultimately existence as such
occurs groundlessly of itself.43

Schelling also objects to the fact that Hegel understands nature

to be grounded in the rational necessity of the concept and to be noth

ing but a mode of being of the concept itself, because this conflicts
with Schelling's view that nature is created by the free activity of God,
that is, by the free activity of groundless, necessary existence which
raises itself to expUcit Godhood through its activity of creation.44 In
addition, Schelling objects to (what he takes to be) Hegel's assertion
that every aspect of being as such and nature can be deduced and
known whoUy from within thought, because this goes against the

Schellingian claim that aU existence, whether necessary or contin

gent, Ues outside of thought and can only be reached by Vorstellung

and understood when thought is taken outside itself and becomes ec

static. In Schelling's interpretation, therefore, the problem with Hegel

is that he is an irredeemably panlogicist?or indeed, logocentric?phi
losopher, who conflates existence with what is simply conceivable.

SW, 1/10:126-7,141; OHMP, 134,146.
SW, 11/3:80.
SW, 11/3:163.

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Schelling's view that Hegel reduces being to the concept and so

fails to think existing or being as such, underlies his critique of the be

ginning of Hegel's Logic. SchelUng notes that Hegel wants to show

that the concept, idea, or "absolute" is that which emerges as the re
sult of philosophical thought. He points out that Hegel's Logic cannot
therefore begin directly with the concept itself, but must begin with
the least that can be thought and progress graduaUy to the thought of
the concept as such. The thought which is the furthest away from the
concept itself is, according to Hegel, the thought of pure being.45 As
far as Schelling is concerned, however, this HegeUan thought of pure
being is definitely not the positive thought of das Seiende selbst or ex
istence as such which lies outside thought, nor is it the pure Vorstel

lung of such existence. It is simply the thought of the least that can be
conceived. It is the thought ofthat which, within thought, "behaves in
relation to what foUows it as a mere minus, as a lack, an emptiness."46
From Schelling's point of view, indeed, the HegeUan thought of pure
being is one in which nothing is actuaUy thought; it is an "un

thought."47 The proposition advanced by Hegel himself that "pure be

ing is nothing" is thus for ScheUing reaUy a tautology, because what it
actually says is "nothing is nothing." Schelling admits that he is not in
the least surprised by this tautology; but he is surprised by that to
which it is supposed to serve as a transition. Hegel claims that the

proposition "pure being is nothing" leads on to further propositions,

such as "being is becoming," "being is determinate being," and so on.

44 For ScheUing, existence as such?

SW, 1/10:159-60; OHMP, 159-60.
das Seiende selbst or the pure Da??is groundlessly necessary, but nature is
not necessary in any sense, either rationaUy or groundlessly. Groundlessly
necessary existence, in Schelling's view, is the primordial existence of God;
that is to say, it is God insofar as he is sheer, irreducible existence, sheer that
ness, but not yet God as such. See SW, 11/1:586-7; see also "On the Source of
the Eternal Truths," trans. Edward AUen Beach, The Owl ofMinerva 22, no. 1
(FaU 1990): 64-5. This pure Da? freely creates nature and in the very same
act freely raises itself to expUcit Godhood. God as sheer Da? thus raises it
self (himself) to expUcit Godhood precisely by becoming the free creator of
nature. See SW, n/4:353, and Beach, The Potencies of God(s), 156: "Only in
the execution of the world's creation does this Da? reveal its true character.
This is why Schelling insists that God in himself did not, properly speaking,
exist prior to the creation, but simply had the status of the infinite Prius, or
?berseiende. Hegel's reduction of God to the Concept blinds him, in ScheU
ing's view, to this free activity whereby God both creates nature and becomes
fuUy God at one and the same time. See also note 36 above.
SW, 1/10:129; OHMP, 136.
SW, 1/10:137; OHMP, 143.
SW, 1/10:133; OHMP, 140.

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Yet for Schelling there is no way that a dead tautology which simply
repeats nothing can yield theidea of becoming or any other determi
nation. For Schelling, therefore, whatever necessity leads from pure
being to further concepts in the Logic cannot be a necessity that Ues
in the opening thought of pure being itself, because that thought is
empty and completely immobUe.48
Yet if Hegel cannot move from the concept of being to further
concepts through some dialectic immanent in the thought of pure be
ing itself, how does he progress in his Logic? The only explanation
Schelling can come up with is that the compulsion to move on from
the concept of being Ues within the phUosopher who is doing the
thinking. This compulsion, Schelling teUs us, lies in the fact that
"thought is already used to a more concrete being, a being more full of
content, and thus cannot be satisfied with that meager diet of pure be

ing in which only content in the abstract but no determinate content is

thought." The HegeUan phUosopher cannot stay with pure being,

therefore, because he knows "that there reaUy is a more rich being
which is more fuU of content" and, having withdrawn to the most min
imal content possible, he now feels the need to regain that rich being
once more. What always tacitly leads the progression in Hegel's Logic
is thus "the terminus quern,ad the real world, at which science fi

naUy is to arrive" (or, at least, what the HegeUan phUosopher under

stands of the real world).49
The specific transition from being to becoming in the Logic is ex

plained by Schelling in the foUowing way. First of all, the Hegelian

phUosopher anticipates the goal of fuU being (as concept, idea, and ul
timately nature) and judges that the meager concept of pure being,
with which the Logic begins, falls short of that goal. The proposition
"Pure being is nothing" is thus reread as saying that "Pure being is still

(noch) nothing" or that "it is not yet (noch nicht) real being."50 By be
ing recast as not yet real being in this way, pure being is understood
not just as nothing but as harboring the possibUity for real being
which is yet to be fulfiUed, that is, as being in potentia. With the in
terpolation of the word yet (noch), Schelling maintains, pure being is
thus understood as lacking, but also as promising, something which
has yet to be. That is to say, pure being is thought as pointing beyond

SW, 1/10:132;OHMP, 138.
SW, 1/10:131-2; Oi?MP, 138.
50 141.
SW, 1/10:135; O?MP,

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itself and as heralding real being which is to come. In this way, ScheU
ing claims, the transition is made by the HegeUan phUosopher from
the thought of pure being to the thought of coming to be or becoming.
One moves from pure being to becoming, therefore, not by under
standing pure being as pure being, but by understanding it as not yet
real being and so as pointing forward to the future coming of that real

being itself. In Schelling's view, it is only "with the help of this yet
(noch) [that] Hegel gets to becoming."51 Hegel's dialectic develops,
therefore, because pure being is understood already to be the concept
in its abstract form, though not yet the fuU concept to come.
From Schelling's point of view, Hegel thus perpetrates a double
deception at the beginning of his Logic. He pretends that the concept
of pure being is something that moves itself, when itwould in fact lie
completely immobile if itwere not for the thinking subject; and he pre
tends that the Logic is driven forward by a necessity immanent within
the concept of pure being alone, although it obviously has a goal that it
is striving toward, namely real being.52

Schelling's interpretation of the Logic has been hugely influential,

even on critics of Hegel who do not expUcitly acknowledge their debt
to Schelling. The idea that Hegel's dialectic moves forward "thanks to
the play of the already and the not-yet" governs the whole of Derrida's

reading of Hegel in Glas, for example.53 It iswhat enables Derrida to

suggest that at every stage in its development Hegelian spirit is always
already what it is, but also not yet what it is, and so is never actuaUy at
one with itself but always, as it were, both ahead of and behind itself.
The idea that Hegel acknowledges no genuine other or outside of

thought underlies Levinas's critique of Hegel;54 and the idea that Hegel
abstracts from existence?existence which he must nevertheless pre
suppose?is to be found in Kierkegaard.55 It is clear then, as Andrew

SW, 1/10:135; OHMP, 141.
SW, 1/10:132; OHMP, 138-9.
Jacques Derrida, Glas (Paris: ?ditions Deno?l/Gonthier, 1981), 281:
ugr?ce au jeu du d?j? et du pas-encore." For an English translation see Glas,
trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Ne
braska Press, 1986), 201.
See, for example, Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay
on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University
Press, 1969), 289: "The Hegelian dialectic is all powerful to reduce this indi
viduality of the tode ti to the concept." See also, Emmanuel Levinas, "Ethics
as First PhUosophy," in The Levinas Reader, ed. Sean Hand (Oxford: BasU
Blackwell, 1989), 78: "The labor of thought wins out over the otherness of
things and men."

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Bowie says, that Schelling's critique of Hegel has set the agenda for
much subsequent phUosophy. But if Schelling has set the modern
agenda in this way, what would be the consequence if Schelling had
actuaUy misunderstood what Hegel had to say? Might not the modern
imperative to go beyond Hegel lose some of its urgency? So just how
accurate is Schelling's reading of Hegel?


The first thing to note when evaluating Schelling's critique of He

gel is that Schelling starts from an assumption about thought which
he does not justify and which Hegel himself does not share. As we
have seen, Schelling contends that thought through itself only under
stands what is conceivable and possible?what something would be,
were it to exist. From within thought, therefore, we can only compre
hend the concept of a thing, in which the thing's possibUity is con
ceived. We bring before
cannot the mind the very existence of the
For that, Schelling we need Vor
thing itself, its very thatness. says,
stellung. Even in the case of existence as such (also caUed pure actu
a?ty or being itself), which is understood to be not just possible but
necessary, thought can only entertain the concept of such existence
and can never bring the thatness of such existence before the mind by
itself. This iswhy Schelling thinks that thought must cooperate with
Vorstellung and become ecstatic, if it is to discover anything positive
about being itself or existence as such. If thought remains within the
realm of what can or must be conceived, it can never come to know

being itself; it thus has to direct its attention outward, to what is vorg
estellt and so other than itself, in order to learn what being or exist
ence actuaUy entails. Being itself is thus understood by Schelling to
be an absolute outside of thought, to be absolutely independent of

thought and prior to it.56Hegel fails to think of this outside, according

55 Post
See, for example, S0ren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific
script, trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1968), 75: "The speculative result is in so far iUusory, as the
existing subject proposes qua thinker to abstract from "the fact that he is oc
cupied in existing, in order to be sub specie aeterni. Kierkegaard is con
cerned to highUght the existence of the subject, rather than existence as
such. Nevertheless, his interpretation of Hegel is simUar to?and, indeed, in
part indebted to?that of ScheUing.
56 11/3:164.

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to Schelling, because he thinks that what is conceivable is aU that
there is. He simply understands being as the concept and so fails to
think of, or to bring before the mind through Vorstellung, the sheer
that of being and existing.
The problem with Schelling's criticism is that Hegel does not
share the assumption from which Schelling starts. SpecificaUy, Hegel
does not accept Schelling's view that thought can only arrive through
itself at what is conceivable and possible (or at what ismerely thought
to be necessary and actual). He thus does not accept that being as
such has to be thought of as exceeding the reach of thought. In He
gel's view, thought through itself is already the consciousness or intu
ition of being and existing. It is within itself not just the thought of
what being hypothetica?y would be (or of what itmust be), but the di
rect awareness of existence itself, the direct awareness that there is.

Hegel accepts Schelling's claim against Fichte that being is not merely
there for consciousness, but that it exists prior to consciousness. In
that sense, Hegel agrees with Schelling that being is independent of
thought. But he insists against Schelling that thought is directly aware
from within itself of the very thatness of being. Indeed, for Hegel,
thought is precisely this awareness of being from the very beginning.
It is the awareness that there is and must as such, and it
be existence
is the awareness of particular,
contingent things as existing.57
It is through thinking, therefore, that we are conscious of the par
ticular things we see before us as actuaUy being there. As Hegel notes
in the Encyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit, what we see is, as such,

merely a determination of our sensibUity. We see bluely or redly, as it

were, but there is no awareness in our simple seeing of the red that the
red we see is there. For Hegel, it is "the reflection of the soul into it

self, the I, [which] separates this material from itself and gives it ini
tiaUy the determination of being."58 We see red, therefore, but we un
derstand that red to be there, and without thought and understanding
we would have no consciousness of being at aU. Thought thus knows
that what is thought, is, because it knows that being can only be un
derstood to be there.59

57For of the absolute necessity of being as such, and

Hegel's discussion
of the contingency of finite things, see WL, 11:200-17; SL, 541-53. See also Di
eter Henrich, "Hegels Theorie ?ber den ZufaU," inHegel im Kontext (Frank
furt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971), 157-86, and Stephen Houlgate, "Ne
cessity and Contingency in Hegel's Science of Logic," The Owl ofMinerva 27,
no. 1 (FaU 1995): 37-49.

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Note that Hegel does not claim that thought can prove by itself
that certain particular things?such as Herr pen?have to exist
(though he does believe it can prove that there is and must be being as
such). He claims, rather, that thought is what enables us to under
stand the particular, contingent things which we do encounter, not
merely to be something seen or heard, but to be something actuaUy
existing. For Hegel, thought must be able to think existence from
within itself, because it is thought that conceives of there being any
thing in the first place. Now to the extent that thought is aware
through itself that there is being, being cannot be absolutely other
than thought and utterly exceed the reach of thought. Hegel's refusal
to regard being as ultimately exceeding thought is thus not the result
of any desire to reduce everything there is to the concept, but is the
result of his beUef that thought itself, through itself, is what is first
conscious that there is anything at aU.
It should be noted, by the way, that when Hegel turns to consider
nature, he does not conceive of it as that which Ues utterly outside
thought, either. Nature is conceived as being outside of itself, as

Au?ersichsein, not as being utterly outside of thought.60

This, indeed,
is what gives rise to the concept of space as sheer externality. Once

again, this does not mean that nature is a mere posit of thought for
Hegel. Nature is independent of and prior to thought. But it is not to
be thought of as utterly outside thought?as utterly exceeding
thought?because thought is directly aware through itself of the very

self-externa?ty that nature is.

58G. W. F. der philosophischen

Hegel, Enzyklop?die Wissenschaften
im Grundrisse (1830). Dritter Teil: Die Philosophie des Geistes. Mit den
m?ndlichen Zus?tzen, ?418; ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl M. Michel
(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), [Werke in zwanzig B?nden
10]; Philosophy of Mind: Being Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the
Philosophical Sciences (1830), trans. WUUam WaUace, together with the
Zus?tze in Boumann's text (1845), trans. A V. MUler (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1971), 159. I have amended the translation.
59 der philosophischen im Grun
Hegel, Enzyklop?die Wissenschaften
drisse (1830). Dritter Teil: Die Philosophie des Geistes, ?465;Philosophy of
Mind, 224.
60 See G. W. F. der philosophischen Wissen
Hegel, Enzyklop?die
schaften im Grundrisse (1830). Zweiter Teil: Die Naturphilosophie. Mit
den m?ndlichen Zus?tzen, ?254; ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl M. Michel
(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), [Werke in zwanzig B?nden 9];
Philosophy of Nature: Being Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philo
sophical Sciences (1830) with the Zus?tze inMichelet's text (1847), trans. A.
V. MUler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 28.

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In contrast to Hegel, ScheUing beUeves that it is through Vorstel
lung, not thought, that we are conscious of particular things as exist

ing, and that thought merely teUs us what it is that is given to us. The
role of thought, therefore, is not to understand a sensuous content as

existing, but to take something that is already given as existing and to

determine or identify it (or, indeed, to identify what something would
be, were it to exist). Now Hegel readUy acknowledges that thought
determines and identifies what is given to it through sensation. His

point is simply that things are not given to us as existing by sensation

(or by Vorstellung) as such, but have to be understood to exist by the
very same thought and understanding that determines what they are.61
The principal difference between Hegel and Schelling is thus that
Hegel understands thought to be a form of intellectual intuition,
whereas Schelling understands thought to be primarily discursive.
Like Kant, ScheUing takes thought to be essentially the discursive ac

tivity of judgment (Urteilen) or of forming propositions.62 This is the

main reason why Schelling believes that thought's fundamental role is
to determine via the use of predicates (or concepts) what it is to be

something. It is also the main reason why he believes that thought, in

its activity of determining, cannot bring before the mind existence,
whether necessary or contingent. The act of determining something
in a proposition is the act of attributing a predicate (or concept) to a
subject and thereby saying of X what X is. But Schelling iswell aware
of Kant's claim in the Critique of Pure Reason, that "'being1 (Sein) is
obviously not a real predicate,... is not a concept of something which
could be added to the concept of a thing."63 Being, for Kant, as for

Schelling, is thus not part of what something is; it is not a possible

61For account of thought and its activity, see Hegel, Enzyk

lop?die der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1830). Dritter
Teil: Die Philosophie des Geistes, ??465-7; Philosophy ofMind, 224-7.
62 not
Strictly speaking, Kant only identifies understanding (Verstand),
thought as a whole, with the faculty of judgment (Verm?gen zu urteilen); see
CPR, A108-9/B93-4; pp. 105-6. Theoretical reason (Vernunft) depends on
the activity of judgment, however, insofar as it seeks "to discover the univer
sal condition of its judgments];" see CPR, A345/B364; p. 306. Bowie con
firms at various points in his book that Schelling understands thought to be
primarily discursive and predicative; see, for example, Schelling and Modern
European Philosophy, 26: "knowledge has a subject-object, prepositional
structure"; and 63: "Manfred Frank suggests that Schelling conceives of being
as the 'transitive relationship of a subject to its predicates.'" See also Peter
Dews, The Limits of Disenchantment: Essays on Contemporary European
Philosophy (London: Verso, 1995), 140-1.

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characteristic of a thing which can be stated in a predicate. The being

of a thing is, as Kant puts it, simply the positing of that thing?"die Po
sition eines Dinges.9964 In stating what something is, we thus do not
think that it is, but merely what itwould be, if itwere to exist?a point
Kant famously deployed against the ontological argument and re

peated by ScheUing.65 For SchelUng, therefore, to the extent that

thought determines in propositions what it is to be X, it can never
bring before the mind the very thatness of existing. To think of actual
existence?whether necessary or contingent?thought must suspend
its activity of determining and conceiving in propositions, and simply
posit existence as something outside itself?"als ein absolutes Au?er
"m even when it does does not ac
sich setzen. Of course, that, thought
tually intuit existence itself; it only thinks of existence itself. That is
to say, it posits existence as something that can be encountered di

rectly not by thought itself but only by Vorstellung.

In contrast to both Kant and ScheUing, Hegel does not accept that
primary or proper function is to judge or form propositions.
He argues that metaphysical phUosophy has often equated thinking
with but he asks whether we should not question this equa
tion. he asks, should not one of the first duties of a truly criti
cal philosophy be precisely to question "whether the form of the judg
ment could be the form of truth?"67 For Hegel, thought in its proper
is not primarily judgment or predication, but is the
thought of being, the thought or consciousness that there is. This is
not to say that thought does not entaU judgment at aU. Hegel wiU
show in the Logic that thought involves determining, thinking quanti
tatively, judging, and so on. But before it is the activity of determining
or judging, it is above aU the intellectual intuition of being as such?

64CPR A572/B626* p. 504.

CPR, A567-75/B620-30; pp. 500-7, and SW, U/S: 156-7, 168-9. On
the subtle differences between Kant and Schelling concerning the ontologi
cal argument, despite the similarity of their approaches, see SW, 1/10:12-17;
OHMP, 48-52.
SW, 11/3:163.
67G. W. F. der philosophischen
Hegel, Enzyklop?die Wissenschaften
im Grundrisse (1830). Erster Teil: Die Wissenschaft der Logik. Mit den
m?ndlichen Zus?tzen, ?28; ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl M. Michel (Frank
furt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), [Werke in zwanzig B?nden 8]; The
Encyclopaedia Logic: Part One of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sci
ences with the Zus?tze, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris
(Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1991), 66.

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which is why Hegel begins the Logic by talking interchangeably of
pure thought and intuition.68
Of course, to point out that Hegel thinks of thought as inteUectual
intuition does not prove that he is right to do so. It is not my aim in
this essay, however, to prove conclusively that Hegel is right and

Schelling wrong. It is simply to show that Schelling cannot confi

dently claim to have
exposed basic flaws in Hegel's phUosophy, be
cause he proceeds from assumptions about thought that Hegel does
not share. A much more detailed study of Hegel's conception of
thought would be needed to address the question whether Hegel is
right to regard thought as inteUectual intuition. All Iwish to do here is
note that, from Hegel's point of view, Schelling's assumptions about
the Umits of thought are at least questionable, and that consequently

Schelling cannot prove on the basis of those assumptions that Hegel is

patently in error. The unquestioning confidence with which thinkers
such as Kierkegaard accept the main thrust of ScheUing's critique of
Hegel is thus also much less weU founded than is often believed.
I should note, by the way, that in arguing that Hegel understands
thought to be the inteUectual intuition of being, I am taking a position
that is at odds with that adopted by Alan White who has presented the
most comprehensive defense of Hegel against ScheUing in his book,
Absolute Knowledge: Hegel and the Problem ofMetaphysics. I fully
endorse White's
understanding of Hegel's dialectical method, as will
become clear in a moment, but I do not agree with his interpretation
of the status of Hegel's ontological claims. White claims that Hegel's

philosophy is in fact much more purely an example of negative philos

ophy than ScheUing himself realizes. For White, therefore, Hegel's po
sition is simply "that thinking ... can discover certain of its own char
acteristics that must unavoidably come into play if it is to think of

anything at all."69 The Logic does not purport to think being, there
fore, but simply the determinations of thought through which any be
ing which might exist must be characterized: what White calls the
"categories fundamental to all possible worlds."70 Robert Pippin takes
a similar line when he claims that the Logic sets out the structure of

intelligibility, but not the structure of being itself. For Pippin, there
fore, Hegel's claim in the section on determinate being in the Logic is

WL, 1:82-3; SL, 82.
White, "Hegel or ScheUing?" Bulletin of the Hegel Society of
Great Britain 30 (Autumn/Winter 1994): 16.
White, Absolute Knowledge, 86.

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simply that "any being [must] be characterized 'contrastively;'" it is

not that beings themselves actuaUy oppose one another and negate
each other.71 By contrast, my position here is that, for Hegel, thought
thinks and brings before the mind being and existing. I thus take He
gel's Logic to unfold, not just the structure of the way being must be
thought, but the determinacy, negation, and opposition that is intrin
sic to being itself.
It is important to bear inmind that, for Hegel, thought thinks and
intuits being itself, when one considers ScheUing's critique of the be
ginning of the Logic. Schelling conceives of Hegel's pure being as
simply the most minimal concept that can be entertained?as an
empty concept, a mere lack, an un-thought that is equivalent to the

thought of nothing. For this reason, he can see no principle of imma

nent progression?no Ufe?at the start of Hegel's Logic, but only the
dead tautology "pure being [that is to say, nothing] is nothing" from
which nothing further can emerge by itself.72 But, from Hegel's point
of view, the initial concept of pure being in the Logic is not originaUy
the thought of nothing at aU. It is originaUy the thought or intuition of
being. Indeed, it is the inteUectual intuition of the very being itself
which Schelling talks of in his 1842-3 lectures on the introduction to
the phUosophy of revelation. Schelling says there that the ground of
all possibility is "das ganz Seiende," inwhich there is nothing of not
being, but only sheer being, actua?ty, and existing?sheer necessary
existence.73 Furthermore, this being must not be thought of as some
determinate thing that exists, but simply as existing as such. It is ex
isting, in which no essence, concept, or what?no determinacy?is
yet thought.74
But this is precisely what Hegel begins with in his Logic: being,
pure being, without any further determination. The only difference
between Hegel and Schelling is that Schelling conceives of such being
as lying wholly outside thought, as brought before the mind by pure
Vorstellung alone, and as known by thought only when it works to

gether with Vorstellung and becomes ecstatic, whereas Hegel con

ceives of such being as that which thought thinks and brings before

Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Conscious
ness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 188.
72SW, 1/10:134; OHMP, 140.
SW, 11/3:149.
74 . . . , in dem noch nichts von
SW, 11/3:167: udas blo? Eocistierende "
einem Wesen, einem Was, zu begreifen ist. See also SW, 11/3:162^3.

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the mind through itself. Dialectical movement is generated, according
to Hegel, by the fact that this pure being without a what is itself expe
rienced by thought first as nothing whatsoever and then as becoming.

Schelling is thus right to note that the dialectical development in the

Logic depends not just on the concept of pure being alone, but on that
concept's being thought by a philosopher. However, pure being does
not turn out to be becoming because it is conceived by the Hegelian as
the promise of real being to come. Pure being turns out to be becom
ing because it is experienced by thought as immediately vanishing
through its utter
indeterminacy?into the thought of nothing. Indeed,
pure being is experienced as nothing but this very vanishing or transi

tion, and, for that reason, is thought as sheer transition or becoming.75

Similarly, the thought of nothing is experienced as immediately van

ishing into that of pure being, because as sheer and utter nothing it is
found to havean immediacy of its own. The Logic progresses, there
fore, not because of any desire on the part of the Hegelian philosopher
to get to real being, but because pure being?which, as ScheUing puts
it, is without an essence or a what?slips away into nothing and
thereby comes to be experienced as nothing but that slipping away,
and because sheer nothing, similarly, comes to be experienced as

nothing but the passing over into, or becoming of, being. As Alan
White correctly notes, the Logic thus "makes its own way" and deter
mines its own path, without anticipating a goal which it is trying to
reach.76 Pace Schelling, the Logic does not obviously have a goal that
it is striving towards, and is not obviously trying to get anywhere.77 It

slips forward in trying to stand still, in trying to stick with sheer being.
Interpreted in this way, Hegel's analysis of being is clearly not

subject to SchelUng's critique. On the contrary, it shows that the very

idea (or Vorstellung) of pure being or sheer existence as such, which

Schelling himself draws on to accuse Hegel of panlogicism, is ulti

mately unsustainable. This is not to say that for Hegel there is no such

thing as being after all, but rather that being or existence proves to be
not just being, but also becoming, determinacy, quantity, substance,
and eventually reason and nature. From Schelling's perspective, He

gel may be a logocentric philosopher who aUows nothing to exist out

side of the concept and who thus overlooks the sheer necessary (and

WL, 1:83,113; Si, 83,106.
White, Absolute Knowledge, 57.
SW, 1/10:132;OHMP, 139.

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indeed contingent, particular) existence that exceeds thought and
which his own thought must always presuppose. From per
spective, however, Schelling's criticism that Hegel is logocentric re
Ues itself on the questionable assumption that thought in itself is re
stricted to what is conceivable and possible, as weU as on the
insufficiently determinate?and so abstract?concept (or Vorstel
lung) of sheer existence as such (das Seiende selbst) outside thought.
For Hegel, being itself does not merely reside outside thought,
but is brought before the mind or intuited by thought itself. Further
more, thought recognizes by itself that such being is not just pure and
simple being, but becoming, determinacy, quantity, substance, reason,
and nature. Schelling, of course, also acknowledges that being itself
or existence as such is more than sheer being or existence. In his
view, such existence turns out
to be the free, creative activity of God.

Schelling insists, however, that this can only be shown a posteriori by

further Vorstellung, beyond the initial Vorstellung of being or exist
ence as such?a position which impUes that, without the testimony of
such further Vorstellung, the idea (or pure Vorstellung) of sheer being
or existence as such could be sustained by itself. Hegel, by contrast,
claims to demonstrate in the Science of Logic that the idea (or intel
lectual intuition) of sheer, pure being cannot be sustained by itself,
because pure being is known a priori by thought to be becoming, de
terminacy, reason, and nature. From a HegeUan perspective, there
fore, it is not Schelling who points to significant flaws in Hegel's /Sci
ence of Logic, but rather the Logic which undermines the very
position from which Schelling launches his critique of Hegel.
Whether or not Hegel does successfuUy undermine Schelling's
position, it should at least be evident that ScheUing misrepresents the
development of the Logic as Hegel understands it, because of the as

sumption he makes about the limits of thought. For Hegel, thought

begins by thinking pure being but immediately sees that thought or in
teUectual intuition of being vanish into the thought of nothing.
Thought is thus led by the thought of being itself to the thought of
such being as vanishing or becoming. For ScheUing, however, pure
being cannot be brought before the mind by thought alone; only Vor
stellung can do that. The concept of pure being with which Hegel be
gins his Logic thus does not constitute consciousness of being at aU,
but is simply the thought of sheer abstraction and emptiness, that is,
of sheer nothing. Since the Logic already begins with the thought of
nothing for Schelling (albeit dressed up as the consciousness of be

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ing), there can be no real vanishing or transition of the thought of be

ing into the thought of nothing. That is to say, the initial thought with
which the Logic begins cannot lead by itself to the thought of transi
tion or becoming. The only way Hegel can get from the initial thought
in the Logic to the thought of becoming, therefore, is by anticipating
the idea of real, concrete being and claiming that the initial thought of
whoUy abstract being (that is, of nothing) contains the promise of real
being to come.
From the Hegelian point of view, this Schellingian reading of the
beginning of the Logic clearly misrepresents what is actuaUy going on
in the Logic. Nowhere, to my knowledge, does Hegel state or even im

ply that the concept of becoming is introduced because with the con
cept of being "something to come which has yet to be is already prom
ised." He consistently maintains that, as he understands it, "being ...
sublates itself and is... the transition into nothing."78 It is clear, how
ever, that ScheUing has to misrepresent the development of the Logic
in the way he does, because he cannot accept that Hegel does actuaUy
begin with the direct thought or inteUectual intuition of being. This is
because thought can never be intuitive in that way, in Schelling's view.
For Schelling, therefore, there can be no real transition from being to

nothing in Hegel's Logic, and so no immanent emergence of the

thought of transition itself, or becoming, from that of being.

To repeat what I noted earlier: nothing I have said in this essay
proves conclusively that Schelling's conception of the relation be
tween thought and being is wrong and that Hegel is right to regard
thought as the inteUectual of being
intuition itself. What is evident,

however, is that Schelling's assumption that thought cannot bring be

ing before the mind by itself means that he cannot but misrepresent
what (at least, according to Hegel) is happening in the Logic. In par

ticular, Schelling has to deny that the development in the Logic is gen
erated immanently by the initial concept, and he has to claim instead
that that development only gets going once the goal has been antici

pated and the initial concept has been judged to faU short of?and so
not yet to be?but also to contain the promise of?and so in a sense al

ready to be?what is ultimately to come. Now it is, of course, possible

that Schelling is right about the relation between thought and being
and that as a result the Logic cannot proceed immanently, as Hegel
claims it does, from the thought of being as such. But there is also

SW, 1/10:135; OHMP, 141, and WL, 1:112; SL, 106.

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another possibUity: that the Logic does proceed immanently from the
thought of being as such and that Schelling is incapable of grasping
this because he has simply assumed from the outset that thought by it
self cannot bring being as such before the mind.
I have to acknowledge that the immanent interpretation of He

gel's Logic that I am recommending is not a popular one today. It is

not accepted by aU Hegel scholars and it is certainly not prominent
amongst continental readers of Hegel.79 The orthodoxy amongst con
tinental readers of Hegel is that he clearly anticipates the goal of the
dialectic from the very outset and that his is thus a closed phUosophi
cal system which already knows from the very beginning where it is
going to end up. Wittingly or unwittingly, the orthodox continental in

terpretation of Hegel thus follows that advanced by Schelling. My ac

count of Schelling's critique of Hegel in this essay has without doubt
been too cursory and has left many questions unanswered and many

things unexplained. But if it has at least shown that Schelling's cri

tique of Hegel is a questionable one, and that the current orthodox in

terpretation of Hegel amongst continental philosophers (to the extent

that it is indebted to Schelling) is also questionable, I shall be more
than content.

It is easy to think, when considering the ScheUing/Hegel debate,

that aU this talk of thought and being is somewhat rarefied and really
makes Uttle difference to the concrete problems of life. I almost agree
with this judgment. The most interesting material in Hegel is certainly

Apart from Alan White and myself, other English-speaking commenta
tors on Hegel who accept that Hegel's dialectic develops immanently out of
itself, without being, as itwere, pulled forward by any presupposed goal, in
clude Richard Dien Winfield and WiUiam Maker. See, for example, Richard
Dien Winfield, Reason and Justice (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1988) and Wil
Uam Maker, Philosophy Without Foundations: Rethinking Hegel (Albany,
N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994). See also Stephen Houlgate, Freedom, Truth and
History: An Introduction toHegel's Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1991),
41-76. It should be noted, however, that despite our broad agreement con
cerning Hegel's method, White, Winfield, Maker, and I do not agree about the
relation between thought and being in Hegel. As I understand it, I am the
only one of the four who maintains that Hegel's Logic provides an ontologi
cal account of the basic structure of being as such, rather than a mere cate
gory theory or theory of determinacy.

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not to be found at the beginning of the Logic, but later in the text, as
well as in the ph?osophies of nature and spirit. There is nevertheless
an important reason for studying ScheUing's critique of Hegel, because
that critique has introduced a twofold suspicion of Hegel that lingers
to the present day and often overshadows the whole of his system.
First, it is often assumed that Hegelian thought is thought which
progresses by already knowing where it is headed and by drawing
whatever it encounters into a systematic development which it can al
ready foresee. Second, Hegel is often accused of failing to think a cer
tain outside which is the very condition of his own speculative
thought because he absorbs all exteriority into the interiority of what
can be thought. I have tried to show that both of these worries about
Hegel are unfounded, or at least open to serious question. As Alan
White argues, Hegelian thought does not already know where it is
headed, nor does it, as Heidegger maintains, proceed "in accordance
with a predetermined idea of being."80 Rather, HegeUan thought, and
in particular the Logic, makes its own way, and the speculative
thinker in the process of determining the categories does not know
where, if anywhere, he is headed. HegeUan thought thus does not pur

port to be the closed economic system described, for example, by Der

rida, which already knows where it is going and which always seeks to
appropriate whatever exceeds it (such as the gift, or diff?rance) as a
moment in its ineluctable journey back to itself.81 Furthermore, Hegel
does not simply absorb exteriority into the interiority of what can be
thought. It is true that Hegel does not see the externa?ty of nature as

absolutely external to thought, but this is not because he simply re

duces externality to a mere category. It is because he beUeves that

thought itself is precisely what opens up for us the space of genuine

externa?ty. Thought, for Hegel, does think and intuit genuine exter

na?ty, therefore; but just because thought does think such externa?ty,
that externa?ty cannot Ue simply outside of thought.
It is important to counter Schelling's suspicions regarding Hegel's
system, not simply because they distort the argument of the Logic and
so get in the way of an appreciation of the subtlety of that text, but

White, Absolute Knowledge, 57; and Martin Heidegger, Hegel's
Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Blooming
ton: Indiana University Press, 1988), 82.
81For a
critique of Derrida's reading of Hegel, see Stephen Houlgate,
"Hegel, Derrida, and Restricted Economy: The Case of Mechanical Memory,"
Journal of theHistory of Philosophy 34, no. 1 (January 1996): 79-93.

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also because they a? too often constitute the unshakable presupposi

tions guiding the interpretation of Hegel's thought as a whole and so

prevent people from studying the deta?s of Hegel's whole system in

an open-minded way. (Readers aU too often approach Hegel's politi
cal phUosophy, for example, already suspecting that Hegel fails to al
low for diversity, difference and otherness in po?tical and social life
before they have even read a word of his text.) Challenging Schell
ing's critique of Hegel does not, of course, prove that Hegel's accounts
of nature, right, morality, the state, art, or reUgion are either insightful
or correct. But it does demonstrate that there is no a priori reason for

being suspicious of Hegel's whole system. My purpose in engaging

with ScheUing, therefore, is not to secure the truth of Hegel's whole

system in advance, but to undermine a reading which commits its ad

herents from the outset to the erroneousness, or the intrinsicaUy lim
ited character, of Hegel's system. My purpose, in other words, is to

urge readers of Hegel not to assume from the start that they know al

ready that Hegel's system is nothing outside what Schelling conceived

it to be.82

University of Warwick

82This con
paper was originaUy given at a conference entitled Schelling
tra Hegel which was held at the University of Warwick on May 9, 1997. I
should Uke to thank aU those who commented on the paper at the confer
ence, and to acknowledge a particular debt of gratitude to Edward Beach for
the very helpful remarks he made both during the day's proceedings and in
writing after the conference.

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