Cynthia D. Coe (Ed.): The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology

The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology Couverture du livre The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology
Cynthia D. Coe (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan Cham
Hardback 49,00 €
XVII, 590

Reviewed by: Luz Ascárate (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

In response of the increasingly overwhelming interest of today’s scholars in various forms of naturalism and realism, Cynthia D. Coe offers us a look at the opposite side of philosophy, that inhabited by German idealism and phenomenology. Theses traditions, as the editor states, “jointly provide a counterpoint to the veneration of a materialist worldview and empirical methods of investigating reality that have dominated not only the natural and social sciences but also analytic philosophy” (p. 1). We believe that it is important to make this counterpart since, in the face of these tendencies, the Husserlian phenomenological project of saving man from being treated as a fact (Husserl, 1979) cannot be more relevant today: there are indeed still reasons to defend human freedom in terms of an irreducibility of the humanity or the spirit to the material conditions of scientific and technological progress. Unfortunately, the defence of this irreducibility in both German idealism and phenomenology have been widely misunderstood, in the sense that these traditions are accused of flat intellectualism and forgetfulness of reality, to say nothing about the supposed obscurity of the language and theories of their exponents, who have certainly preferred theoretical rigour to clearness of expression.

Now, with respect to the links immanent to the development of the studies of these traditions, much has been said about the influence of thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Schelling or Fichte on the phenomenological proposals of Husserl (Steinbock, 2017, chapter 4), Heidegger (Slama, 2021), Fink (Lazzari, 2009) or Merleau-Ponty (Matherne, 2016), among others. However, this collective work offers us a vision of phenomenology either as a reappropriation, overcoming or continuation of the project of German idealism. Therein lies its importance. According to Cynthia D. Coe there would thus be a continuity to be emphasised between the preoccupation with consciousness in German idealism and the phenomenological preoccupation with first-person lived experience. This continuity is reviewed by the contributors to this book on different thematic fronts which articulate the 6 parts of this book: subjectivity, intersubjectivity and the other, ethics and aesthetics, time and history, ontology and epistemology, hermeneutics.

Throughout the contributions in these parts, we can identify the influence of German idealist thinkers on Husserl and on the phenomenological tradition in general. In addition, some contributors choose to point out the problems of interpretation of either Husserl or other phenomenologists with respect to the most representative texts of German idealism. In other contributions, the influence of the German idealist project on the conception of the phenomenological project can be seen. Finally, it can also be observed that the very definition of phenomenology for some representatives of this movement owes as much to Husserl as to German idealism. There remains, however, an interpretative line to be explored: in what sense phenomenology has been important not only for the reception of German idealism, but also for current studies of this tradition, contributing themes, angles, or interpretative nuances that the specialists of German idealist thinkers may not follow, but with which they discusse and dialogue. Although the importance of phenomenology for current studies in German idealism is a fact that we can ascertain (see for exemple Schnell, 2009), no author of this book cares to make this explicit. The directionality that the dialogue between these traditions thus takes is to start from German idealism to see its influence on phenomenology and to return to German idealism only if there is an error of interpretation to be criticised with respect to a specific problem. But let’s take a closer look at the content of the contributions in this book.

We would say that the concern with the concept of subjectivity can itself characterise both the idealist tradition and the phenomenological tradition. The contributions in the first part of this book are devoted to this common concern. Dermot Moran, in his paper entitled “Husserl’s Idealism Revisited” (pp. 15-40), drawing on Husserl’s understanding of the intentionality of consciousness, reveals that the place given to consciousness leads him to affirm a new kind of transcendental idealism. Husserl’s idealism, akin but not comparable to that of German idealism, gives intersubjectivity a fundamental character. But if Moran focuses exclusively on Husserl’s thought, the two following contributions in this part explore more closely the relationship between Husserlian phenomenology and German idealism.

Claudia Serban’s contribution (pp. 41-62) discusses the relation between the transcendental I and empirical subjectivity in both Kant and Husserl, differentiating their conceptions. The transcendental perspective is positioned here, in both authors, against the psychological and anthropological perspective regarding the concept of the inner man. First of all, the author opposes Husserl’s and Kant’s perspectives on internal and external experience within the horizon of the purely psychological perspective. Serban insists on defending Kant against some of Husserl’s criticisms. This opens the way to the Kantian distinction between the inner man and the outter man that appears in the context of his anthropology. Anthropology will try to be brought closer, by Husserl, to transcendental phenomenology. The paper thus shows how Husserl and Kant converge in the continuation of the transcendental perspective in an anthropology.

Federico Ferraguto, in his chapter (pp. 63-83), explores the relationship between Fichte and Husserl. Ferraguto begins with a reconstruction of Fichte’s influence on Husserl, and then points out the role of the self in the constitution of knowledge and thus in the conception of philosophy as a rigorous science for both authors. While it is clear that subjectivity is a fundamental theme of Husserlian thought, it is also present in other representatives of phenomenology. In this sense, even with regard to subjectivity, the last two contributions of this part follow closely the relationship between Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Paul Sartre and German idealism.

The article “Bodies, Authenticity, and Marcelian Problematicity” (pp. 85-106) by Jill Hernandez explores the influence of German idealism on Marcel’s thought, specifically with regard to the existentialist concept of incarnation and the ethical perspective of a life lived, by the self, in an intersubjective communion. This first part ends with Sorin Baiasu’s contribution (pp. 107-128), in which Sartre’s concept of freedom is established through dialogue and opposition with the Kantian perspective of freedom. Baiasu shows that the differences between the conceptions of these authors should not be understood, as is usually believed, as if the Sartrian view of freedom were an implausible radicalisation of the Kantian proposal.

The second part of this book deals with a perspective that is already present, albeit in the background, in the first part. It is about the importance, given by phenomenology, to intersubjectivity and the other. This importance leads us to the communicating vessels that phenomenology makes possible with social philosophy. The whole complexity here lies in identifying the influence that German idealism may have had on this phenomenological area of study. In some cases phenomenology will radicalise the perspective of German idealism in order to integrate the fundamental role of intersubjectivity, in other cases, the strategy will be to elaborate a critique of the tradition of German idealism against and its treatment of social problems, which will allow phenomenology to show itself as overcoming this tradition in response to these issues.

In his chapter (pp.  131-152), Jan Strassheim thus devotes himself to revealing the influence of the Kantian transcendental perspective on Alfred Schutz’s anthropology of transcendence, passing through Husserl’s critique of Kant’s anthropological theory. Strassheim shows that Schutz will insert intersubjectivity into his anthropological perspective inherited from Kant.  First, the author shows in what sense Schutz’s anthropology has a phenomenological basis. Next, a difference is established between Kant’s and Schutz’s perspectives on transcendence. For the latter, transcendence will not be that which persists beyond all possible human experience, but rather transcendence “is a category for various ways in which human finitude appears within experience” (p. 137). Transcendence will also be understood on the basis of the concept of meaning and the concept of types, which will allow him to enlarge the Kantian categorical perspective. Intersubjectivity will be inserted here in order to understand the formation of the self.

In the article entitled “Moving Beyond Hegel: The Paradox of Immanent Freedom in Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy” (pp. 153-172), Shannon M. Mussett reveals the influence of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit on Beauvoir’s conception of freedom as expressed in situations of oppression. Mussett argues that Beauvoir’s perspective is able to surpass the historical optimism of Hegelian dialectics by showing how immanent expressions of freedom can remain even in situations of oppression but in empty, abstract and ineffective behaviour. The paper begins by articulating the Hegelian notion of negative freedom by giving special attention to the dialectic of master and slave, which is for Beauvoir an instantiation of the optimism of the Hegelian system. Indeed, despite conditions of domination, the subject can, for Hegel, progress. Next, the author shows the ineffective forms of freedom according to Beauvoir, who not only radicalises the Hegelian perspective of freedom, but is capable of denouncing situations of oppression that only express themselves in empty social behaviour.

The last contribution in this part is that of Azzedine Haddour (pp. 173-199), who situates the dialogue between phenomenology and German idealism in the field of decolonial theory, also devotes special attention to the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave. However, this contribution focuses less on the notion of freedom implied in this dialectic than on the extra-philosophical conditions that make Hegel understand the issue of slavery in a particular way. Thus, the author of this chapter first analyses the position of the Hegelian dialectic vis-à-vis historical narratives that are read, by the system, in a teleological way, thus justifying slavery and infantilising people of colour. The Hegelian system is said to be founded on binary oppositions “premised on a Eurocentric and racialized view of the world” (p. 176). Haddour then draws a comparison between the Hegelian conception of slavery and Frantz Fanon’s decolonial theory. For Fanon, the fact that the world of the spirit is governed by rationality and that freedom is not one of its properties shows Hegel’s Eurocentrism. The Hegelian dialectic is dismantled then, in this paper, as counterintuitive.

If the second part of the book introduced social perspectives in the dialogue between phenomenology and German idealism, the third part of the book will deal with a central theme in order to clarify the deep constitution of the social: the theme of value, from an ethical and aesthetic perspective. David Batho’s contribution, entitled “Guidance for Mortals: Heidegger on Norms” (pp. 203-232), deals with the relationship between Heidegger and Hegel with regard to the normative constitution of the social. Batho argues with Robert Pippin, Steven Crowell and John McDowell, and defends that Heidegger’s concept of death as self-awareness of mortality is a necessary condition for grounding action in norms, which shows that Heidegger accounts for the self-legislation of agents as much as Hegel does.

Takashi Yoshikawa (pp. 233-255) focuses on Husserl’s Kaizo articles in order to point out the contribution of transcendental idealism to moral philosophy. Yoshikawa shows the influence of Kant and Fichte on the Husserlian idea of practical reason. In fact, Kaizo‘s ethical perspective shows, according to Yoshikawa, that as in German idealism, Husserl does not reduce reality to subjectivity. Rather, the transcendental idealism of Kant, Fichte and Husserl is not incompatible with empirical realism if we argue that the world exists independently of us. In fact, Kaizo‘s ethical perspective shows, according to Yoshikawa, that as in German idealism, Husserl does not reduce reality to subjectivity. Rather, the transcendental idealism of Kant, Fichte and Husserl is not incompatible with empirical realism if we argue that the world exists independently of us. In ethical terms, this translates into the defence of the virtue of modesty in the face of the incompleteness of our perception and the dependence of our action on the surrounding world.

María-Luz Pintos-Peñaranda discusses, in her chapter intitled “The Blindness of Kantian Idealism Regarding Non-Human Animals and Its Overcoming by Husserlian Phenomenology” (pp. 257-278), the issue of non-human animals. This subject, which would be indifferent to Kantian idealism, can be understood within Husserlian phenomenology. In this sense, the latter represents a real improvement of the idealist perspective. Pintos-Peñaranda first concentrates on Husserlian critique of Kant’s naturalistic logic, and then unveils the affinity of the concept of transcendental consciousness with non-human animals. Insofar as this concept is constituted on the basis of a pre-reflexive understanding that precedes it, animality occupies an important place in the unveiling of the origin of consciousness. Important implications of this are to be found in the phenomenological understanding of will, lived space and the capacity for spatialisation.

The contribution of Íngrid Vendrell Ferran, “Aesthetic Desinterestedness and the Critique of Sentimentalism” (pp. 301-322), explores the relationship between the Kantian tradition of aesthetics and the phenomenological perspectives of Moritz Geiger and José Ortega y Gasset. The absence of interest with which Kant characterises judgements of taste by emphasising the form of the work of art to the detriment of the content is here opposed to sentimentalism as a defect in aesthetic appreciation. Geiger and Ortega y Gasset are equally opposed to sentimentalism in aesthetics following Kant, but the former emphasises aesthetic value while the latter emphasises the formalism of aesthetics.

The fourth part of this book touches on a fundamental theme for both phenomenology and German idealism. This is the one concerning temporality and historicity, which implies going through the concept of memory. Some of the authors in this part argue for a convergence of perspectives between phenomenology and German idealism, while others oppose them, and still others dispute the erroneous readings of German idealism by representants of phenomenology.

Thus, Jason M. Wirth’s contribution (pp. 325-341) brings Schelling and Rosenzweig into dialogue with regard to the time of redemption. On the basis of a cross-reading between the two philosophers, Wirth argues that idealism is redeemed when truth is located between philosophy and theology, between the side of the intellect and that of revelation. In this sense, what is eternal is realised within the concrete completeness of time. Markus Gabriel, in his chapter entitled “Heidegger on Hegel on Time” (pp. 343-359), first reconstructs the reading of Hegel in Being and Time, and then answers it on the basis of a reading of the Hegelian texts. Finally, he criticises Heidegger’s existentialist perspective on temporality. Gabriel argues that Heidegger does not attend to the methodological architecture of the Hegelian philosophical system because he assumes that this system is a historicised form of ontotheology, which is totally inaccurate. In fact, the Heideggerian reflection on time in general fails with respect to the relation between nature and history.

In her paper, Elisa Magrì (pp. 361-383) explores the relationship between Hegel and Merleau-Ponty with regard to sedimentation, memory and the self. Firstly, sedimentation is understood, in Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, as inseparable from the institution as a process of donation of meaning. Magrì interprets this understanding as a revised version of Hegelianism. Hegel’s concept of absolute knowledge is comprehended here as a process of sedimentation that implies a process of institution. The Hegelian concept of absolute knowledge is finally related to a kind of ethical memory that reactivates potential new beginnings in history and society as a form of critique. This contribution closes by pointing out the ethical value of memory for contemporary debate. On the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s and Hegel’s thought, we can understand memory, according to Magrì, as the constant institution of the self, and not as its neutralisation. Memory thus helps to avoid repeating mistakes and to germinate a new dimension for collective reflection and action.

Zachary Davis focuses his contribution (pp. 385-403) to Max Scheler’s idea of history and shows how it has been influenced by German idealism. Davis explores the different periods of Scheler’s thought. The first period, strongly phenomenological, is marked by discussions with the Munich circle and their views on history. In this period, Scheler shares with Hegel the belief that there is an idea in history which develops in the life of culture. However, Scheler criticises the Hegelian perspective that would see history solely as the realisation of the spirit and historical progress as the realisation of absolute knowledge. Historical progress is seen by Scheler as the socialisation of material conditions and the individualisation of spiritual values. Scheler opposes Hegel’s impersonal view to a personalistic view of the spirit. In the last, anthropologically oriented period of his philosophy, Scheler refers to Schelling’s thought. Contrary to Schelling’s internalist view, Scheler argues that there are external material conditions for the realisation of history.

The fifth part of this book unveils the ontological and epistemological discussions that phenomenology entertains with German idealism. The latter appears, in these phenomenological perspectives, sometimes as a presence, sometimes as something to be overcome, sometimes as a persistence. The contributions gathered here focus exclusively on the non-Husserlian approaches of phenomenology. Thus, Mette Lebech, in her article entitled “The Presence of Kant in Stein” (pp. 407-428), focuses on the questions of idealism and faith in Edith Stein and how these relate to Kant’s influence on her phenomenological approach. Lebech articulates Stein’s engagement with Kant through Kant’s influence on Reinach and Husserl. This allows him to elaborate an idea of phenomenology as an extension of the Kantian understanding of the a priori and to oppose Husserl whom he labels a metaphysical idealist. Finally, Lebech argues that Kant signifies, in Stein, the beginning of a philosophical thought that can be articulated with faith. For his part, M. Jorge de Carvalho (pp. 429-455) makes us reflect on Heidegger’s interpretation of Fichte’s three principles. These principles will be understood here in an existentialist key with regard to the question of finitude. For Heidegger, Fichte’s preoccupation with constructing a system of knowledge prevents him from exploring the temporal and existential problems of Dasein analysis.

Jon Stewart (pp. 457-480) explores the relationship between the phenomenological method in Hegel and the later movement of phenomenology. Although it is known that Hegel and Husserl do not share the same concept of phenomenology, according to Stewart, some of the post-Husserlian phenomenologists know Hegel well. The question this article attempts to answer is therefore whether they attempt to approach the Hegelian sense of phenomenology. The article begins by showing the meaning of phenomenology for Hegel and then sets out the Husserlian critique of Hegel, before pointing out Hegel’s influence on French phenomenology, specifically on Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Stewart concludes that while there are differences between the latter’s and Hegel’s sense of phenomenology, we find in the phenomenology of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty a clear Hegelian influence because of the importance they gave to Hegelian thinking, unlike Husserl.

The paper by Stephen H. Watson, entitled “On the Mutations of the Concept: Phenomenology, Conceptual Change, and the Persistence of Hegel in Merleau-Ponty’s Thought” (pp. 481-507) somewhat extends the reflections of the previous chapter. Taking as evidence the Hegelian influence on Hegel’s thought, Watson identifies the ideas of Hegel, both systematic and metaphysical, that Merleau-Ponty draws on to elaborate his theory of behaviour and perception in his early thought. We then participate in the resolution of some paradoxes that, in the period of Merleau-Ponty’s expression of thought, appear regarding the relation between system and subjectivity. Finally, Watson shows the influence of Schelling and Hegel on Merleau-Ponty’s last period in which a new ontology is formulated.

Interpretation being one of the fundamental themes of the phenomenological movement, which has made possible the formation of a hermeneutic variant of phenomenology, a final part of this book seeks to identify the influences of German idealism for the proposals of three exponents of this variant: Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur. However, this part of the book escapes the question of whether there would be a real continuity between the phenomenological project and the hermeneutic project, and whether hermeneutics would not have its own origin in the philological sciences and in the interpretation of sacred texts, disciplines that precede the birth of phenomenology. In any case, the question at issue here is whether the hermeneutics that takes place within the phenomenological movement has been influenced by German idealism.

Frank Schalow thus focuses, in his chapter (pp. 511-528), on the importance of Kantian transcendental philosophy for Heidegger’s hermeneutics, which would be a radicalisation of certain Kantian theses, specifically with regard to the power of the imagination. The chapter begins by showing the relationship between the cognitive sense of imagination in Kant and its linguistic and temporal sense. Schalow then shows how Heidegger deconstructs the rationalist tradition of German idealism with his reinterpretation of the Kantian imagination and extends his critical view of Kantian metaphysics to the realm of ethics. Besides, Heidegger’s reading of Kant allows him to distinguish himself from German idealism, in terms of the dialectical method, the metaphysical implications and the place of language in all this. It is here that Heidegger’s hermeneutics finds its specificity, in terms of a deconstructive imagination in which language plays an essential role, as opposed to the systematising rationality of German idealism. Particular attention is given here to Kant’s influence on Heidegger’s aesthetic theory, which also allows him to return to a particular exponent of German idealism, Hörderlin, in order to rediscover the confluence between poetry and truth.

Theodore George’s paper entitled “Gadamer, German Idealism, and the Hermeneutic Turn in Phenomenology” (pp. 529-545) concentrates on the fundamental hermeneutic concepts of facticity, history and language. In contrast to Husserl and Heidegger, Gadamer considers that in Hegel and German idealism we find philosophical perspectives that can be integrated into his hermeneutics, although in order to do so we would have to break with a neo-Kantian reading of this tradition. The author first locates the place of the hermeneutic turn of phenomenology in Gadamer’s thought. Like many students of his generation, Gadamer, according to George, found in both existentialism and phenomenology an alternative way to escape Neo-Kantianism. Later, he was strongly influenced by “Heidegger’s hermeneutical intervention against Husserl’s phenomenology” (p. 534). But if Gadamerian hermeneutics certainly begins with a critique of the inherited forms of consciousness that we receive from German idealism and the Romantic tradition as forms of alienation, we find in it, paradoxically, a positive reception of Hegel. Hegel allows Gadamer to articulate the role of history and language in the hermeneutics of facticity.

Robert Piercey’s contribution shows that Ricoeur’s relation to Hegel is paradoxical since we find different versions of Hegel in Ricoeurian thought. Hegel appears here in methodological, ontological and metaphilosophical form. In fact, the author argues that renouncing Hegel, for Ricoeur, does not mean renouncing dialectical thought altogether or renouncing all Hegelian ontological tendencies. On the contrary, it is a matter of avoiding only unrealistic promises that dialectical thought believes it can keep. It is therefore a critique of a particular metaphilosophy. Although Ricoeur criticises Hegelianism, Hegel is an important philosophical source for his hermeneutical thinking.

The book concludes with a reflection by Cynthia D. Coe (pp. 547-575) that attempts to situate the different historical contexts of German idealism, on the one hand, and phenomenology, on the other, showing that both traditions still have much to offer for the current historical context that is ours. From enviromental ethics to the relationship between life and technology, the sense of humanity and its relationship to the world that we forge through the study of these traditions still has much to offer. We can only invite those interested in these traditions, but also those interested in the various philosophical disciplines, to immerse themselves in the timeless and fruitful dialogue that this book establishes, by many voices, between phenomenology and German idealism.


Husserl, Edmund. (1970). Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, David Carr (trans.), Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Lazzari, Riccardo. (2009). Eugen Fink e le interpretazioni fenomenologiche di Kant, Milan: Franco Angeli.

Matherne, Samantha (2016). “Kantian Themes in Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Perception”, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 98 (2):193-230.

Slama, Paul. (2021). Phénoménologie transcendantale. Figures du transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger, Cham: Springer, coll. “Phaenomenologica”, vol. 232.

Schnell, Alexander. (2009). Réflexion et spéculation. L’idéalisme transcendantal chez Fichte et Schelling, Grenoble: J. Millon, coll. “Krisis”.

Steinbock, Anthony. (2017). Limit-Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd.

Gregory S. Moss: Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics

Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity Couverture du livre Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Gregory S. Moss
Hardback £120.00

Reviewed by: Alessandro De Cesaris (Università degli Studi di Torino)

In the contemporary philosophical landscape, Gregory S. Moss’s book stands out for many different reasons, and even though it should be considered a major contribution to the understanding of Hegel’s logic, its worth cannot be limited to the narrow boundaries of Hegelian scholarship. In this review I would like to illustrate some of the merits of this book, and I will try to show why Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics can be read as an autonomous philosophical work, an exciting occasion to continue and renew the debate on some fundamental philosophical questions.

The Author’s first monograph on Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms addressed the question of the autonomy of language. While dealing with partially different issues – the nature of language and the philosophy of culture – this book already discusses some topics that are the main focus of Moss’s philosophical work, and shows methodological elements that remain unaltered in his second book. Aside from the general interest in the history of German thought, the book already deals with the problem of autonomy and of universality, discussing the relationship between language and logic and introducing the question about interculturality.

More importantly, in Ernst Cassirer and the Autonomy of Language Moss already showed his deeply theoretical approach to the analysis of the authors of the past. His reconstruction of Cassirer’s philosophy of language does not simply aim at offering an accurate sketch of the author’s thought, but rather it is an attempt to show how that theory can still find a place in the contemporary debate.

Following the same methodological inspiration, Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics offers a monumental reconstruction of Hegel’s metaphysics, often underlining some aspects of his thought that have been lost in the most successful trends of the Hegelian research in the English-speaking world. However, it is also a striking attempt to show why Hegel’s metaphysics continues to be relevant. This may be the greatest achievement of Moss’s work: it does not just illustrate Hegel’s own position, but also and foremost shows what it means to have a Hegelian approach to philosophy today.

Despite its remarkable internal coherence, the impressive size of the book – around 500 pages – makes it almost impossible to provide a comprehensive summary of its content. Instead of doing so, I will start by introducing the main focus of the book – the relation between singularity and absoluteness. After that, I will discuss some pivotal elements of Moss’s interpretation of Hegel’s thought. Finally, I will try to point out some issues that remain open at the end of the analysis, in the attempt to show how this book can be understood as the starting point for a productive debate on Hegel, on the contemporary debate, and on the future of philosophy.

1. Philosophy’s Paradoxical Stance Toward Singularity

Since Plato, the relationship between philosophy and singularity has been complicated, even paradoxical. On the one hand, philosophy has been constantly presented as the kind of knowledge that addresses the universal rather than the singular. The tradition offers us a bunch of formulas in order to clarify this taxonomy: while philosophy is knowledge of the universal, art or history address what is singular. While thought only grasps the universal, only intuition has access to individual things.

On the other hand, however, philosophy has always been obsessed with singularity. The greater part of the philosophical effort since Plato and Aristotle is devoted precisely to understand how singular being (ta ekasta) are structured, how they are generated, how we think and say things about them, how they relate to each other. While the singular is banned from the domain of philosophy, nonetheless philosophy’s main task has always been the discovery and the elaboration of the structure of singularity in itself.

But what is singularity? Even this question, along with the distinction between singular and universal, is quite problematic. We are accustomed to identify singularity as the lower limit of thought, namely as what lies beyond any possible specific difference in the great taxonomy of genera and species. Yet, what is singular is also what lies beyond the upper limit of thought, namely what exceeds any possible genus: it is epekeina tes ousias, to use Plato’s formulation. In a sense, “singular” is the opposite of “universal”; in another sense, it is the opposite of “plural”. I know it is a schematic oversimplification, but this could account for the main difference between Aristotle and Plato: according to Plato, ideas are the true “singulars”: there is only one Beauty, it is one, eternal, and determinate, whereas sensible things are always plural, changing, indeterminate and temporal. In this context, what is most universal is at the same time utterly singular. On the contrary, Aristotle’s attempt to “save phenomena” – a formula used by Simplicius – is precisely the attempt to think sensible things as singular, determinate beings. Universals are plural, they are instantiated and thus have specific, but not numeric unity. Only individual things – both sensible and supra-sensible – are singular. For the sake of discussion, this oversimplification could be useful to identify this basic difference between a Platonic and an Aristotelian attitude towards singularity: on the one side, the singular is the absolute; on the other side, the singular is first and foremost finite, individual being.

2. Hegel’s Thought as a New Theory of Singularity

Now, how do we place Hegel’s philosophy in this frame? First of all, it’s worth mentioning that Hegel’s thought has traditionally been accused of having a complete lack of interest in singularity. Hegel is the “philosopher of universality” par excellence. Universality, necessity and subjectivity are the three key notions that structure most traditional interpretations of Hegel’s idealism, in which singularity, contingency and objectivity are therefore accounted for only as partial and lower steps of a more comprehensive dialectical process.

Already right after Hegel’s death, his first commentators criticized his disregard for singularity. According to Ludwig Feuerbach, the distinction between logical and sensible being is the inescapable mark of Hegel’s failure in thinking the individual: «Die Sprache gehört hier gar nicht zur Sache. Die Realität des sinnlichen einzelnen Seins ist uns eine mit unsern Blute besiegelte Wahrheit» (Sämtliche Werke, II, 212). This is Hegel’s major fault, not recognizing that „reality of singular sensible being” that we cannot help but feel as an immediate truth.

The strongest critic of Hegel’s philosophy of singularity, however, is Kierkegaard, who polemically used the term “Einzelheit” in his philosophy precisely to rescue the singular from Hegel’s monistic and universalistic account. Since idealism is “abstract thought”, Kierkegaard’s aim is to highlight the philosophical significance of existence, whereas what exists is precisely that singular being that abstract thought keeps overlooking.

This interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy has survived up to contemporary philosophy. In particular, French thought used the term “singularity” in order to develop an anti-Platonic and anti-Hegelian concept of individuality. Gilles Deleuze is the philosopher who expresses this critique in the most explicit way: «Hegel substitutes the abstract relation of the particular to the concept in general for the true relation of the singular and the universal in the Idea» (Difference and repetition, 10). Quite ironically, while Hegel is one of the first philosophers to use the word “singularity” as a technical term, clearly distinguishing between a commonsensical and a speculative use of the notion, the whole post-structuralist tradition uses the term “singular” as an anti-Hegelian device, tracing it back to Spinoza in contraposition with Hegelian dialectic.

A second element that is useful to point out, in order to understand the novelty of Gregory S. Moss’s approach, is that this criticism of Hegel’s notion of singularity goes along with a critique of Hegel’s systematic and anti-foundational idea of philosophy. Feuerbach and Kierkegaard, but also many other early commentators of Hegel’s system, such as Karl Werder, Kuno Fischer, Schelling, and Friedrich A. Trendelenburg, criticized Hegel’s disregard for the individual and at the same time stated the impossibility to obtain a complex categorical structure starting from the absolute simplicity of being. In other terms, the impossibility to get difference starting from identity.

Now, this close connection between systematic metaphysics and the problem of singularity is at the core of the theoretical analysis of Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics. The so-called Hegel-renaissance in the English-speaking world has already rediscovered the importance of Hegel’s account of individuality. Paul Redding highlighted in the clearest way how the Pittsburgh school – Robert Brandom in particular – has managed to read Hegel’s philosophy as a semantic theory of individuation. However, these interpretations have systematically underplayed the systematic aspect of Hegel’s thought, along with its strictly metaphysical character. Following the oversimplified frame that I’ve proposed before, Robert Brandom’s inferentialism is – in a way – an Aristotelian reading of Hegel’s theory of singularity, since it understands singular beings only as finite, individual objects.

In this context, Gregory Moss’s book offers a timely and original reading of Hegel’s logic, since it finally highlights some aspects of Hegel’s philosophy that have been structurally neglected by many commentators. Three aspects are particularly worth mentioning.

In the first place, the author clarifies that Hegel’s notion of singularity not only refers to individual, finite beings, but also – and foremost – to that peculiar singular being that is the Absolute. In a way, therefore, Hegel’s speculative use of the notion of singularity overcomes the difference between the Platonic and the Aristotelian approach.

Secondly, Moss shows how it is impossible to understand Hegel’s use of the notion of “singularity” without taking into account the necessary relationship between these two dimensions. There is no account of the singularity of finite being without addressing the singularity of the Absolute, and any account of the Absolute that does not illustrate the metaphysical status of singular finite being is incomplete and partial.

Finally, the book puts a very strong accent on necessity to highlight the general aim of Hegel’s philosophical enterprise. It is impossible to understand Hegel’s use of the notion of “singularity” without considering the metaphysical character of his logic. Here it is important to grasp Hegel’s own understanding of what metaphysics is, rather than applying some contemporary use of the term to the Hegelian text, which forces Hegel into a theoretical frame that does not have much to do with his own methodology.

As I will point out later, these three elements also identify three problematic aspects of Moss’s theoretical and interpretative framework, or at least three questions that are still open after reading the book. However, before going deeper into the critical analysis, I will briefly illustrate the main structure of the book.

3. Thinking the Absolute

One of the most striking elements of Moss’s book is that it emphasizes the strict relationship between infinite and finite thought. While tradition generally accepted that we cannot think the Absolute in the same way we think finite being, one of the key contributions of Classic German Philosophy is the idea that if we fail to think the Absolute, even thinking finite being becomes impossible. If I’m not misunderstood, this is what is at stake in what Moss calls the “problem of nihilism”. I won’t go into it in detail, but a general consequence of this approach is precisely Moss’s attempt to show how Hegel’s philosophy is a unification of Plato’s and Aristotle’s approaches: if the Absolute is absolute, and therefore there is nothing outside of it, then it is impossible to differentiate between two faculties or two different methods, as if, for instance, understanding were to be identified with the faculty of finite being, and reason with the faculty of the Absolute. So, by developing a critical discussion of how the Absolute has been thought in the metaphysical tradition, we are at the same time questioning the way we think finite being. This traditional view is what the Author calls the “duality of principles”, the idea that knowledge – and reality – cannot be grounded on one principle, but rather require at least two: intuitions and concepts, matter and form and so on. Against this position, the Author defends a strongly monistic account of Hegel’s metaphysics, according to which the true Singular – the Absolute – self-differentiates in a way that can be compared to the Neoplatonic One.

The thesis of the duality of principles is grounded on another assumption, namely the impossibility of self-reference. If there is only one principle, then identity and difference must stem from the same source, and this source has no external matter on which to operate. According to Moss, the history of Western thought has mostly rejected this idea because of the undisputed adherence to the principle of non-contradiction. If identity generates difference, then the same thing is at once identical and different, namely contradictory.

These three metaphysical assumptions, the principle of non-contradiction, the rejection of self-reference, and the duality of principles, are presented by the Author as the fundamental argumentative structure that undermines at the basis the very possibility to think the Absolute, and that can be found in the history of Western metaphysics from Plato up to Kant.

For this reason, Moss’s analysis starts with a critical assessment of some basic problem of traditional metaphysics. While the author does not have philological or reconstructive interests, his confrontation with some authors of the past is extremely useful in order to grasp his fundamental orientation. For instance, while Plato, Aristotle and Kant are examples of the duality of principles approach, the brief but intense reconstruction of early German idealism aims at showing that Fichte’s and Schelling’s objective was precisely to overcome Kant’s dualism, and to re-introduce a self-referential first principle as the metaphysical and epistemological ground of a new philosophy. At the same time, this approach is strongly connected by Moss to Plotinus and Neoplatonic philosophy, with a long and dense excursus on ancient philosophy that reveals the Author’s tendency to offer a somewhat Neoplatonist interpretation of Hegel’s logic.

After having offered a critical reconstruction of these three metaphysical assumptions, Moss shows how they inevitably lead to five paradoxes that can be found throughout the history of philosophy.

The Problem of Instantiation: if particulars and universals are indebted to different (epistemological/ontological) principles, it’s impossible to clarify their relationship.

The Missing Difference: if conceptuality is not the source of its own differentiation, then the source of this differentiation is non-conceptual. «The essential difference that distinguishes one thing from another cannot be accounted for by appealing to what the thing is ‘in virtue of itself’» (165).

Absolute Empiricism: since the differentiated content of the conceptual dimension is not conceptual, the source of conceptuality is entirely empirical.

The Problem of Onto-Theology: the most universal notion is indicated as both universal and particular.

The Third Man: if the Concept is not self-differentiating, then every instance of the Concept, as a particular concept, cannot be the Universal Concept. Every attempt to find the universal concept leads to new particular concepts.

The largest part of the book’s first section is devoted to the historic and theoretical analysis of these paradoxes. The second section, instead, shows how – by positing the Concept as one self-referential and dialetheic principle – Hegel’s logic manages to overcome them.

Surprisingly, the book does not use the classic difference between understanding and reason as an instrument throughout this analysis. The question of the difference between understanding and reason is of course present, but it is not always clear whether these issues could be addressed as the result of an intellectualistic and non-speculative understanding of the domain of conceptuality. For instance, and here I’m forcing and radicalizing the issue in order to facilitate the discussion, the problem of the missing difference could be analysed as a specific formulation of a more general issue that concerned British and Italian idealism for a long time, namely the insufficient and contradictory nature of the forms of judgment. In fact, since every judgment, as Kant states, is in the form “The singular is universal”, and since the singular is not universal, an intellectualistic approach to the nature of conceptuality already finds itself entangled in a contradiction.

However, rather than appealing to this methodological instrument, the Author prefers addressing these problems systematically, retracing their origin in the three metaphysical assumptions listed above. This choice gives a very strong conceptual unity to the book, even though it could lead to some forced passages, in particular when it comes to analysing these issues through examples taken from the history of philosophy.

For instance, the first two paradoxes – the problem of instantiation and the missing difference –  are addressed by quoting many passages from Plato’s Parmenides and the Book B of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Now, while these passages are in fact very good examples of the problems the Author is discussing, both the Parmenides and Metaphysics Beta are, so to say, “partes destruentes”, critical preliminary moments of a new theory. In other words, it is possible to find already in Aristotle’s and Plato’s work – as Hegel himself recognizes in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy – speculative solutions to the problems they raise in some of their texts.

The difference between intellectualistic and speculative thought seems to be a very good way to account for this internal evolution in Plato’s and Aristotle’s thought.  For instance, Plato’s generative account of the koinonia ton genon in the Sophist does not look to be still subject to these paradoxes. In it, for instance, the self-referential character of ideas is no longer problematic, but at the same time it is not trivialized through the reference to empirical concepts as it happens in the Parmenides. Another example is Aristotle’s philosophy: following Ferrarin, Moss concedes that Aristotle’s metaphysics is speculative and belongs to the domain of the concept. But then, how can we integrate this idea with the paradoxes of Aristotle’s account of conceptuality? Isn’t this account, as it is presented in the book, utterly intellectual rather than speculative?

In other words, while the author manages to provide a strikingly coherent and dense systematic account of some fundamental metaphysical issues, a more extensive analysis of Plato’s and Aristotle’s own solutions to these problems, along with a comparison with Hegel’s own interpretation of their works, could give the chance to highlight how there is more than one way to think speculatively. The author does discuss Aristotle’s solutions to some of the problems he listed in Metaphysics Beta, but the historical reconstruction of Aristotle’s approach is not the main focus of Moss’s research, and it is only mentioned in order to highlight some aspect of Aristotle’s thought that the author recognizes in Hegel’s work.

However, given the book’s size, focusing on the systematic aspect of the issue has been a wise choice: this remark only aims at pointing out, once again, that this monumental book must not be interpreted as the end of a research, but rather as an exciting proposition for a new approach to the study of Hegel’s logic, of the history of philosophy and of metaphysics in general.

Four Open Problems

With this spirit in mind, I would like to point out some specific issues that I find of particular importance in Moss’s book. Of course, as already mentioned, this is a monumental piece of scholarship, and there are many topics worth discussing. There are many arguments and analyses that deserve a much deeper discussion than I can provide here. Nevertheless, I will try to avoid discussing specific matters or individual passages of the book, since I would like to keep the debate on a more general and fundamental level, and discuss some structural aspects of Moss’s proposal rather than specific topics. In particular, I will try to propose a brief critical assessment of four questions that remain open.

4a. What Kind of Metaphysics?

In the final part of his critical analysis, the Author thoroughly discusses different metaphysical and non-metaphysical accounts of Hegel’s logic. In particular, he also highlights Hegel’s intention to reform metaphysics beyond any dogmatic understanding of it. The interpretation of Hegel’s own understanding of metaphysics is deeply connected with the relationship between logic, nature and spirit. While Moss does not expressly analyse this aspect of Hegel’s system, the passage from logic to nature is a crucial point of his reading.

As we know, one of the main arguments of the book is that Hegel’s logic introduces a self-referential and self-differentiating account of the Concept. As Roberto Morani has shown in his monumental book on the evolution of Hegel’s dialectics, this aspect of Hegel’s philosophy is also the main focus of the auto-reformation of his own logic in the Second Edition of the Doctrine of being, when he stresses that objective logic already is subjective logic in disguise. This issue is closely related to the question of the “formal” character of logic. According to Hegel, logic is not formal because it has logical forms as its own content: logical forms are at the same time form and content of the logical process, that in this way is truly noesis noeseos:

But logical reason is itself the substantial or real factor which, within itself, holds together all the abstract determinations and constitutes their proper, absolutely concrete, unity. There is no need, therefore, to look far and wide for what is usually called a matter; it is not the fault of the subject matter of logic if the latter seems empty but only of the manner in which this subject matter is grasped. (SL, trans. Di Giovanni, 28)

Elena Ficara has stressed the importance of this passage, which shows Hegel’s opposition to any formalistic understanding of logic as a discipline. However, Moss radicalizes this aspect and points out how this unity of form and matter generates a self-determining progression. But what is the limit of this activity?

The logic is a self-generating process, through which the concept determines itself as concept: while we discover a great variety of conceptual determinations, these determinations never become empirical. In other terms, the logical development of the category of quality never generates the concept of “colour” or of “green”. In other words, what does never happen is what Fichte talks about in his lectures on the Tatsachen des Bewusstseins: if we radicalize this monistic self-generating activity, then everything must be deduced starting from the first principle, even this singular blade of grass. It is the same conception of systematic metaphysics that Wilhelm Traugott Krug presents as a critic to Idealism, and that Hegel ridicules. For instance, when Hegel talks of the ontological proof, the point is that the Concept has logical objectivity. Nevertheless, Moss is right to highlight how important it is to understand the Concept as a creative activity, and by doing so he defends a strong metaphysical interpretation of Hegel’s logic that many passages in Hegel’s work seem to confirm. While the author recognizes that the creative activity of the Concept does not entail the deterministic deduction of all empirical content, establishing the precise nature and the limits of this self-particularizing activity is one of the tasks that remain open after having read his analysis, and it is a crucial element to test the hermeneutical validity of his interpretation.

4b. What Kind of Singularity?

I would like to go back to the notion of singularity, which is the main focus of the book as a whole. In Moss’s book it is clearly stated that each category of the logic cannot be used exclusively to think the Absolute, since the Absolute is not separated from finite being. Therefore, singularity does describe both “limits” of thought—the Absolute and finite being. Nevertheless, Moss’s reconstruction strongly privileges the “Platonic” side of the analysis. In other words, the Author seems to be much more interested in showing how singularity expresses the logical structure of the Absolute, rather than explaining how the same notion can be used to describe the nature of finite being. For instance, Hegel writes that singularity is the principle of every “individuality and personality” (SL, 547). In order to complete the analysis of Hegel’s use of the notion of singularity, it would be very interesting to integrate Moss’s interpretation with a focus on this dimension.

This does not mean, of course, that Moss’s reading is a Platonic one. As I’ve already highlighted, if it is true that Platonism and Neo-Platonism play a pivotal role in the development of his reading of Hegel, Moss aims at showing both the Platonic and Aristotelian aspects of Hegelian dialectics, in particular by emphasising the importance of Aristotle’s notion of the «self-particularizing universal». This interpretation of Aristotle’s notion of Form is also quite interesting, and it would be worth discussing it in a further analysis of Hegel’s own historical sources.

4c. Syllogism

One of the most surprising aspects of Moss’s book is his analysis of syllogism. Usually judgment and syllogism are analysed as logical developments of the abstract concept, and Hegel also expressly indicates them as such in the Science of Logic. Nevertheless, the Author seems to understand judgment and syllogism as a logically impoverished form of the first section, identifying them with a «self-alienated» form of the Concept (374). While this strong accent on the Concept is quite original, it is very hard to explain Hegel’s own statement at the beginning of the section on the syllogism, where he writes that «the syllogism is the completely posited concept; it is, therefore, the rational» (SL, 588). More generally, Hegel repeatedly highlights the syllogistic character of his system: the end of the Encyclopaedia is maybe the strongest example.

This issue leads to another question on the relationship between syllogism and inference. Moss’s critique of Robert Brandom’s account of Hegel’s philosophy as a form of inferentialism is very convincing, and does show the partiality of neo-pragmatist, non-metaphysical readings of Hegel. Nevertheless, by criticizing Brandom, the Author seems to share with him one core assumption, namely that syllogism is inference, and that when Hegel speaks about syllogism, he’s always talking about a formal structure of reasoning. This identification could be the main reason for Moss’s scepticism against the importance of syllogism in Hegel’s thought. For instance, in the Science of Logic Hegel expressly writes that «All things are a syllogism, a universal united through particularity with singularity; surely not a whole made up of three propositions» (SL, 593). Of course, Hegel does heavily criticize the form of inference (even in his Lectures on history of philosophy), but this passage seems to show that we must distinguish the subjective form of inference from the logical, objective form of syllogistic unity. For this reason, while Moss’s interpretation of the relationship between the concept and syllogistic forms is quite original and in some cases very convincing, it does need further discussion.

4d. Contradiction

Finally, I would like to briefly discuss the question of contradiction. One of the structural aspects of the book is to show that, in order to think the Absolute, we must accept dialetheism, namely the position according to which some contradictions are true. In the case of Hegelian thought, this question is closely connected with the meaning of the term “speculative” as Hegel uses it throughout his work. While it is hardly debatable that only speculative thought is able to grasp the Absolute in its concrete and actual form, the question is whether such a way of thinking necessarily entails a violation of the principle of non-contradiction (PNC) in its Aristotelian formulation.

A good start for illustrating the issue is a passage quoted by the Author while analysing the relationship between speculative thought and contradiction:

Speculative thought consists solely in holding on to the contradiction, and thus to itself. Unlike representational thought, it does not let itself be dominated by the contradiction, it does not allow the latter to dissolve its determinations into other ones or into nothing/ (SL, 383)

Right after this passage Hegel does give some examples, and his choice are determinations of relation – above/under, father/son – that can hardly be seen as violation of Aristotle’s PNC. The interpretation of this passage is very contentious and I won’t go into it. Instead, I would like to argue that there are two possible interpretations of the nature of speculative thought. According to the first, speculative thought is necessarily dialetheic, since it requires to accept that the same x is and is not P. Here it is important to clarify that “not being P” is not the same than “being non-P”.

According to the second interpretation, speculative thought generates a new understanding of the predicates and of their reciprocal relationship. In this case, x can be P and non-P, according to a meaning of non-P that does not entail not being P.

For instance: the proposition “the particular is universal” is contradictory only as long as we assume that “being universal” entails “not-being particular”. This implication is different from the simple fact that universal and particular are different concepts, namely that “universal” is not “particular”. I do believe that it is possible to make the case that, in his subjective Logic, Hegel shows how universality, particularity and singularity, as conceptual determinations, are not reciprocally exclusive.

Moss does provide an exhaustive analysis of many different interpretations of Hegel’s account of contradiction. Again, his criticism of Robert Brandom’s strong coherentist reading is very compelling. Nevertheless, while it is clear that, according to Hegel, speculative thought somehow “deals” with contradictions, this statement must be compatible with other two explicit Hegelian theses: that contradiction is a defining aspect of finite being and finite concepts, and that contradiction itself is used throughout the system as a criterion to identify the finite and false character of the categories.

This could mean, in a way, that the Absolute cannot be contradictory in the same way finite concepts and beings are. Moss’s analysis of the difference between explosive and non-explosive contradictions could be a way to express this fundamental difference. However, it seems clear that Hegel’s foundation free metaphysics is an exciting contribution to a debate that is still open and is impossible to close simply by choosing one option over the other, be it coherence or contradiction.

5. Conclusion

At the end of this brief critical assessment of some aspects of the book, there would be much more worth mentioning. Gregory S. Moss’s book offers a compelling reconstruction of Hegelian metaphysics as a form of strong monism and shows how it can be profitably used to discuss some contemporary philosophical positions. Moss is also the translator of the English edition of Markus Gabriel’s Why The World Does Not Exist, and Gabriel’s pluralistic metaphysics is one of the main critical references throughout the book. By using Hegel’s philosophy to debate with Alain Badiou, Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Priest, Robert Brandom and others, Moss brilliantly shows how the study of Classic German Philosophy can still offer a valid contribution to the contemporary debate on metaphysics.

Another aspect that resonates throughout the book is Moss’s interest for intercultural philosophy, as well as for the mystic tradition. There is no doubt that this book is a vital and promising contribution to the contemporary debate on Hegelian philosophy. However, it is also much more than that, since it provides a very compelling theoretical framework for the discussion of many different questions in contemporary continental metaphysics. Finally, it also offers a profitable exchange between philosophy, theology, and the study of other cultures.

Despite its remarkable size, Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics does offer an extremely coherent and well-argued account of some of the most important theoretical issues in the history of metaphysics. By doing so, it succeeds at showing the ground-breaking nature of Hegel’s approach to logic and provides a very original interpretation of the Doctrine of the Concept. It is an ambitious example of Hegelian scholarship, but it is also a very good example of a truly Hegelian approach to philosophy today.

Martin Heidegger: The Metaphysics of German Idealism, Polity, 2021

The Metaphysics of German Idealism: A New Interpretation of Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Matters Couverture du livre The Metaphysics of German Idealism: A New Interpretation of Schelling's Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Matters
Martin Heidegger. Translated by Ian Alexander Moore, Rodrigo Therezo
Hardback $35.00

Cynthia D Coe (Ed.): The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021

The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology Couverture du livre The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology
Cynthia D Coe (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardback 187,19 €
XIII, 774

Kirill Chepurin, Alex Dubilet (Ed.): Nothing Absolute, Fordham University Press, 2021

Nothing Absolute: German Idealism and the Question of Political Theology Couverture du livre Nothing Absolute: German Idealism and the Question of Political Theology
Perspectives in Continental Philosophy
Kirill Chepurin, Alex Dubilet (Ed.)
Fordham University Press
Paperback $35.00

Daniel Breazeale (Ed.): J. G. Fichte: Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre and Related Writings, 1794-95, Oxford University Press, 2020

J. G. Fichte: Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre and Related Writings, 1794-95 Couverture du livre J. G. Fichte: Foundation of the Entire Wissenschaftslehre and Related Writings, 1794-95
Daniel Breazeale (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £110.00

G. Anthony Bruno (Ed.): Schelling’s Philosophy: Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity

Schelling's Philosophy: Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity Couverture du livre Schelling's Philosophy: Freedom, Nature, and Systematicity
G. Anthony Bruno (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £55.00

Reviewed by: Dennis Vanden Auweele (Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven)

Schelling’s philosophy seems to be breaking free from its long-term neglect. While the earliest Schelling has always been recognized as a valuable intermediary between Kant and Hegel, the traditional reception saw his middle philosophy as an unfortunate step into Romanticism and his latest philosophy as a retreat into Christian orthodoxy. The last decade or two has shown renewed interest in Schelling’s philosophy in its own right, and tries to read Schelling not merely as a philosopher on the way to Hegel, but as someone who offers valuable arguments himself. This volume is a welcome contribution to this renewed interest in Schelling’s thought, specifically because it aims to discuss Schelling’s “contribution to and internal critique of the basic insights of German idealism, his role in shaping the course of post-Kantian thought, and his sensitivity and innovative responses to questions of lasting metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, aesthetic, and theological importance” (2).

This volume follows the trend of dividing Schelling’s trend in ever-increasing periods: early idealism, philosophy of nature, philosophy of freedom and late philosophy. While such a periodization can be helpful for fleshing out the exact meaning and context of Schelling’s argument, it does risk obfuscating the developmental nature of Schelling’s thought as such. Some of the contributors do point out how certain periods of thought follow naturally from previous premises and arguments, in such short contributions, an idea of the whole of the development of Schelling cannot be provided. The chapters of this book are thus concerned with fairly specific topics narrowed down to a specific period in Schelling’s philosophical development. Though attempts are made to spread the attention evenly to all periods of his thought, there does seem to be more attention paid to his earlier thought up to 1809 (the first 15 years of his career) rather than Schelling’s very latest philosophy up to 1854 (the last 45 of his career). On a whole, the contributions are well-crafted, clearly structured and well-argued. The editor maintained a firm hand in streamlining the different chapters, which made for that a singular style pervades all different chapters.

The first set of chapters deal with Schelling’s earliest idealism, mostly in relationship to two contemporaries: Kant and Novalis. In her opening essay ‘Nature as the World of Action, Not of Speculation’, Lara Ostaric proposes a reading of Schelling’s ‘Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism’ where Schelling’s engagement with Kant in that essay is geared towards interpreting Kant in the spirit rather than the letter of his idealism. At the time, the Tübingen theologians saw Kant’s practical postulates as a way to speak of revelation again, while for Kant, Schelling argues, it signals that God is known through freedom and action, not thought. Ostaric’s purpose is then to show that Schelling is in greater proximity to Kant in his earliest development than is usually believed. In my view, Ostaric gives too much credit to the theological reading of Kant’s postulates (e.g. Storr). In fact, Schelling’s reading of Kant’s postulates seems to be in line with Kant’s text, not just the spirit of that text. Ostaric’s approach to Kant’s argument seems to miss the constitutive difference between a ‘proof’ and a ‘postulate’ of God. She supports her reading by turning to the first Critique, while it would be better to investigate the development of this issue in the third Critique. The second chapter in this series, by Joan Steigerwald titled ‘Schelling’s Romanticism’, traces certain overlapping concerns between Novalis and Schelling. Her approach is speculative rather than historical. The point is that Novalis and Schelling start both from a discontent with how Fichte’s idealism is too focused on the activity of the I, and so tends to forget the world and nature. Both philosophers then seek to come to a more organic relationship between world and the I. Both Novalis and Schelling see this in term of opposing forces of ‘lowering’ and ‘raising’. While the set-up of this paper is very interesting, its speculative nature makes it so that it hovers over texts rather than deals with these in more detail and nuance. Here, a more specific focus might have been more enlightening.

The second set of papers, four in total, deals with Schelling’s philosophy of nature. In the first essay in this series ‘Freedom as Productivity in Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature’, Naomi Fisher takes a look at Schelling’s view of freedom prior to writing his famous Freedom-Essay. Her point is that Schelling is trying to make sense of two things: (1) Nature acts freely; (2) Human freedom is yet an escape from nature. The key to understanding this conundrum is ‘lawful productivity’. This paper offers a sustained, systematic discussion of how Schelling treats with productivity, freedom and determinism, which is very helpful to understanding how Schelling came to his famous argument in Freedom-Essay. In the second essay in this series ‘From World-Soul to Universal Organism’, Paul Franks aims to offer a reading of a part of Schelling’s philosophy of nature which is unpalatable to many scholars, namely his views of a world-soul. In accordance with his usual erudition, Franks shows how discussion regarding certain Cabbalistic notions, most importantly tsimtsum, was widespread at the time and how Maimon paved the way for Schelling’s views of a world-soul. Schelling came to his own views regarding the world-soul by blending his reading of Maimon with his understanding of Plato. In the third essay in this series, ‘Deus sive Vernunft. Schelling’s Transformation of Spinoza’s God’ Yitzhak Y. Melamed offers the obligatory discussion of Spinoza’s impact on Schelling’s philosophy of nature. He offers a reading of the Darstellung (1801) where Schelling transforms Spinoza’s God into reason. After offering a, rather hasty, overview of how Schelling became increasingly critical of Spinoza in his later thought (without mentioned Freedom-Essay!), Melamed aims to show that Schelling retains an appreciation for Spinoza throughout his work. Then, Melamed moves to show the formal and stylistic similarities between Schelling’s Darstellung and Spinoza’s Ethics – a point which is rather obvious and does not really enhance the claims in this paper. After that the paper turns to showing how in Schelling reason takes over the role of God in Spinoza’s thought. Regrettably, this does not move beyond a mostly formal discussion. In the final essay in this series, ‘Schelling on Eternal Choice and the Temporal Order of Nature’, Brady Bowman asks whether we can call Schelling a naturalist. The question, of itself, seems rather anachronistic and does not do justice to the complex meaning of the term nature in Schelling’s thought – 1800s and contemporary views of nature are quite distinct. In order to elucidate this, Bowman turns to Schelling’s notion of eternal choice, which undergirds Schelling’s naturalism. While Bowman warns against reading Schelling as a naturalist in our contemporary sense, he does not take into consideration other ways of thinking about naturalism which would more naturally blend with Schelling’s thought.

The third series of essays deal with Schelling’s views of freedom, mostly in Schelling’s Freedom-Essay and The Ages of the World. In the opening essay ‘Schelling on the Compatibility of Freedom and Systemacity’, Markus Gabriel offers a sustained and very helpful discussion of how Schelling thinks freedom and systematicity can be compatible. He does this by means of a reconstruction of Schelling’s discussion of the law of identity and the copula. Regrettably, the discussion is cut short towards the end when the ethical and religious consequences of this new understanding of freedom come up for discussion. In the second essay in this series ‘The Personal, Evil, and the Possibility of Philosophy in Schelling’s Freiheitsschrift’, Richard Velkley gives what is mostly an overview of the general argument of Schelling’s Freedom-Essay, focused mostly on the ground of God as a will to revelation. Velkley does make some interesting notes towards the end on how Schelling interacts with Kant’s notion of radical evil. In the third essay in this series, ‘Nature, Freedom, and Gender in Schelling’, Alison Stone turns to a much-neglected topic in Schelling’s scholarship, namely his views of gender. Schelling entertains, Stone argues, a gendered duality in a number of his works, which tends to associate ‘reason’ with masculinity and ‘nature’ (or receptiveness) with femininity. He seems not to argue for this association and merely assumes this duality, because of his philosophical pedigree. While critical of the way gender is portrayed in Schelling’s thought, Stone does recognize the ambiguity of a simplistic sense of male supremacy in Schelling’s philosophy. Nature does always precede reason in Schelling, and so the female precedes the male as well. In the final essay in this series ‘The Facticity of Time’, G. Anthony Bruno, also the editor, discusses Schelling’s attack on Hegel (how reason is unable to ground itself) from the perspective of The Ages of the World. He insightfully argues how Schelling views the Past and Future as necessary conditions for the possibility of reason, while for Kant and idealism generally, reason was seen as the condition for time.

The last series of essays deals with Schelling’s last philosophy. In the first essay in this series  ‘Thought’s Indebtedness to Being’, Sebastian Gardner offers a very complex, speculative take on the Schelling-Hegel debate by offering two ways of reading one of Kant’s pre-critical essay ‘The Only Possible Proof for the Existence of God’. In the final essay in this series ‘An Ethics for the Transition’, Dalia Nassar discusses how Schelling can solve a difficulty in environmental ethics. Schelling namely offers a diagnosis for our problematic relationship to nature and a means by which environmental ethics can be spurred into action.

While some essays are better crafted than others, the papers in this volume are generally very insightful and helpful towards a variety of issues in Schelling’s philosophy. While some topics, mostly of the latest Schelling, are left out (such as revelation, metaphysical empiricism, etc.) the papers that did appear in this volume will ignite further discussion on Schelling’s philosophy

Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Routledge, 2020

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Couverture du livre The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.)
Hardback £190.00

Fausto Fraisopi (Hrsg.): Mathesis, Grund, Vernunft: Die philosophische Identität Europas zwischen Deutschem Idealismus und Phänomenologie, Nomos – Ergon Verlag, 2019

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Studien zur Phänomenologie und praktischen Philosophie, Band 50
Fausto Fraisopi (Hrsg.)
Nomos-Ergon Verlag
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F. W. J. Schelling: The Ages of the World (1811)

The Ages of the World (1811) Couverture du livre The Ages of the World (1811)
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
F. W. J. Schelling. Translated and with an introduction by Joseph P. Lawrence
SUNY Press
Hardback $95.00

Reviewed by: Dennis Vanden Auweele  (Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven)

Schelling published his masterful essay Philosophical Investigations into the Nature of Human Freedom in the same year that he lost his wife Caroline (1809). One might speculate that the latter event provoked Schelling’s own descent into the abyss of being, a journey that he would try to articulate for over two decades afterwards. Up until 1833, Schelling would namely lecture and draw up drafts for a work entitled The Ages of the World (Weltalter). Most of these drafts, along with Schelling’s unpublished manuscripts, were regrettably lost when the Munich archive was bombed during World War II (1944).

Horst Fuhrmans reports there were about twenty drafts of this work, most extensively developing the first part of the work dealing with “the past.” Schelling never published any of these drafts in his lifetime. Though, he did prepare the first draft in 1811 for publication, he decided to rescind his agreement for publication after the reception of the proofs. The same happened to a second draft in 1813. Shortly after his father’s death, Schelling’s son published the most extensive draft in 1815 with some extant editorial revisions. It is this last draft that is most well-known and has been translated into English several times, most notably by Jason Wirth in 2000.

In his introduction to that work, Wirth calls for the urgent translation of the 1811 draft. The drafts of 1811 and 1813 differ in a particular way from the one of 1815. While the last draft was heavily edited by Schelling’s son—with several omissions, the inclusion of section headings and some extant corrections—the two earlier drafts were only published much later by Manfred Schröter with less of an editorial impact and thus appear, on the whole, more reliable. But it is very hard to judge the editorial reach of Schelling’s son. Because of the abovementioned destruction of the Munich archive, Schröter could not attend to publishing the drafts written between 1815 and 1833. The draft of 1813 appeared in English translation by Judith Norman in 1997 and was accompanied by a tantalizing essay by the contemporary philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. In the English-speaking world, Žižek’s essay is seminal for the interpretation of Schelling’s Weltalter. Scholars had to wait a long time for an English translation of the 1811, the urgency of which should be apparent. This is now provided for a first time by Joseph Lawrence.

The present works contain the translation of Schelling’s 1811 draft of The Ages of the World. The translator, Joseph Lawrence, offers an extensive introduction which situates the work historically and thematically, as well as justifies some of his choices when translating Schelling’s often peculiar use of German into English. Alongside the text for which Schelling rescinded publication permission , the book also contains Schelling’s extensive notes and fragments for this draft and its second chapter. Lawrence is upfront about the impact of his own Schelling-interpretation on his activity as a translator. This impact is not limited to certain choices of translation as next to these, Lawrence decided to include several section and division headings, but also adds thirty-five clarifying footnotes. These notes most often provide extra information about Schelling’s meaning and sources, but occasionally engage the existing literature on the proper interpretation of Schelling’s text.

I will not judge whether this is appropriate when translating a text—at the very least, Lawrence is entirely upfront about the matter (see 47 ff.). Rather, I found Lawrence’s editorial work helpful and the sectional division unproblematic and even helpful in manifesting a textual hidden structure. The English translation reads as Schelling would have intended: engaging, penetrating, provocative and occasionally mystifying. In his translation, Lawrence succeeded in capturing something of the enigmatic spirit of the work.

The actual text is preceded by an extensive introduction (some fifty pages). There, Lawrence provides historical context about the different drafts of The Ages of the World and their academic reception. Missing from this extensive introduction are an overview of Schelling’s argument (Lawrence takes this for granted), contextualization within Schelling’s thought (between early and later), and western philosophy (transitioning between modern and postmodern paradigms of thought). The period in which Schelling wrote his drafts for The Ages of the World coincides with his own transitioning from his earlier thought—usually called the philosophy of identity and the nature-philosophy—towards his later philosophy, where he engaged mostly with positive philosophy, revelation and metaphysical empiricism. For a very long time, Schelling was known only through his earlier work. This was due to that Schelling’s later philosophy was only available in lecture form and that those who had eagerly attended his Berlin lectures (1841 and onwards) were thoroughly disappointed. The same Schelling who boldly divinized humanity and nature, who defended pantheism, and spoke so lyrically about the abyss of reason, now sang the praises of what appears to be a relatively orthodox Christian philosophy. It is not hard to imagine how Schelling’s failure to complete The Ages of the World provoked his move from his earlier to his later paradigm. As such, the decisive locus of failure in that work offers a window into Schelling’s philosophical development.

It would have been very interesting to read Lawrence’s take on the ideological place of The Ages of the World in Schelling’s development, and to gain some insight into why Schelling abandoned the project. This remains unclear to scholars, though most agree that Schelling failed to conceptualize a transition from “the past” to “the present” through an act of freedom. This is where the three known drafts were arrested in their deveopment, and where there is an ample sum of diversity. The 1811 draft was a first attempt at thinking this through, though Schelling ultimately abandoned the answer provided here; an answer that is, compared to the other known drafts, the closest to his views in Freiheitsschrift (1809).

Lawrence does give a cogent defense of the more general philosophical relevance of Schelling’s The Ages of the World. He does this not primarily from a historical angle, but from the perspective of its unique contribution to various contentious areas in contemporary philosophical discourse. Taking issue with Žižek’s influential reading of Schelling’s work, Lawrence provides a deliberately non-psychological reading of Schelling’s Weltalter. First and foremost, Schelling would look for “a compelling alternative to the mechanical conception of time as something stretched out into infinity, with neither beginning nor end” (5). Indeed, central to Schelling’s pre-occupation at the time of writing Weltalter was the concern to do full justice to a new, non-reductive sense of time. Lawrence’s emphasis on this topic of time is undeniably correct, but it might overshadow some of the equally important ontological and theological questions that Schelling engages at that time.

When he conecptualized The Ages of the World, Schelling was convinced that it was paramount for philosophy to think of God as an entity more than in its modern configuration, namely a rationalized and abstract idea. Schelling then provocatively suggests that God must become God; a position that can only do justice to a robust sense of time and to the vast panoply of horror and suffering that scars the world. Lawrence turns to the topic of God towards the end of his introduction (30-38), but seems mostly invested in showing how Schelling’s nature-philosophy is not atheist but a renewal of Christianity. Implicit in Lawrence’s reading of Schelling’s critique of atheism would be the attempt to transition more smoothly from the nature-philosophy towards the more overtly Christian Spätphilosophie of mythology and revelation. This might be true, but not because Schelling feared atheism; rather, he feared a kind of theology that sapped the life out of God.

What is interesting is how Lawrence connects Schelling’s work to innovations in modern science, such as those of Einstein and Heisenberg (17-20), and his reflection on the trajectory of human history and its relationship to capitalism and communism (20-30). These reflections can get preachy at times—lamenting the influence of capitalism on the university—but serve as an honest and provoking attempt at making Schelling’s abstract thought more palatable to contemporary concerns.

Schelling was namely concerned with a number of basic questions that remain unsolved to this day. One of the central points of argument in The Ages of the World is that there can be nothing outside primordial matter, because it is a dense singularity, disabling anyone form explaining the emergence of life from any outside influence. There can be no external agent that impacts primordial life in such a matter that life, time and intelligence come to be. This immediately invalidates the traditional Christian understanding of creation. Life must be self-creative. Especially in the 1811 draft, Schelling follows the metaphor of pregnancy very closely, thinking of the self-fertilization of the divine substance in moments of contraction. This parthenogenesis was his first attempt to explain how a primordial matter could give birth to itself.

To summarize, Schelling wrote an introduction for The Ages of the World which stays almost entirely unchanged throughout the drafts of 1811, 1813, and 1815. The well-known but enigmatic opening sentence of this introduction is, “the past becomes known, the present recognized, and the future divined” (55), which at the very least signals that the three “ages” are known in distinct ways. Schelling intended to write three parts which respectively deal with the eternal past, the eternal present and the eternal future, but never managed to write a substantial part beyond the first age of the world. In that part, the question is asked what happened before God became God in the act of the creation. Schelling’s argument—to many a scandalous one—was that God must become himself from the Lauterkeit (translated by Lawrence as lucid purity) of a pre-temporal, pre-conscious existence. Almost all of the material known of the Weltalter attempts to investigate, on the one hand, what was going on in the pure being of God before creation and, on the other hand, how and why God would abandon that position. It is this second issue upon which the various drafts of Weltalter dramatically differ. Schelling seemed thoroughly dissatisfied with his answer to the how and why of creation.

The mood is set by the introduction. Schelling aims for a science that is “the development of a living, actual being” (56), which has at that time finally become possible because a sense of spirit (Geist) has been brought back to philosophy. There, Schelling calls attention to the dialectical turn in philosophy, most overtly in his own nature-philosophy and Hegel’s idealism. Dialectical philosophy allows for the subject to recognize himself as part of a larger process, where it can then find within his own soul the different steps of the protohistorical process in which the universe came to be. It is clear that Schelling is still mulling over Hegel’s powerful critique in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Yet, Hegel claimed that Schelling’s philosophy starts as if “by the shot of a gun” out of “the night in which all cows are black.” In other words, Hegel indicted Schelling with arguing that we move from absolute unknowing to absolute knowing without much of a real, timely transition.

Taking Hegel’s criticism seriously, Schelling became more interested in conceptualizing a proper sense of time and history. For instance, Schelling emphasizes that our knowledge is piecemeal, in a stage of becoming, and never complete (e.g. 61). Time must come to be and it must have an absolute beginning. If one would entertain a more mechanical conception of time—of an infinite series—there would be no such things as novelty or unicity because everything is caught within that infinite series. For something to have a past, a real past, it has to come to be through an act of separation or division (Scheidung). There is a point of beginning, the moment where the present starts and the past ends, but the question then becomes what precedes the moment of beginning. This is what Schelling would call the relative and absolute prius in his positive philosophy.

This beginning before the beginning must be an original purity, Lauterkeit. This lucid purity is conceptualized by Schelling in more or less blissful and simple terms. There is a peaceful self-rumination in the original state (which would change drastically in later drafts of Weltalter, especially the 1815 one). This stage of purity is somehow lost through a movement within God before he is God himself, namely a desire to intuit or represent himself. This can only happen via a contraction of himself, a contracting of being and becoming determinate. This brings out a duality of willing in God, namely purity and contraction. Unlike the future drafts, Schelling does not figure this duality in strongly dialectical terms (more in dualistic terms). For instance, he uses the following image: “Heaven is his throne and the earth his footstool” (79). Rather, this is seen as the quite peaceful interplay between two different wills which results in a spiritualized sense of matter, a so-called golden age.

Only later would Schelling discuss how this interplay leads to frustration, namely when these two wills start to strive for independence. This leads to an inner antagonism in the primal being: “This is the dire fate of all life, that to become comprehensible to itself, it seeks constriction, demanding narrowness over breadth. But after constricting itself and discovering what it feels like to be, it demands once again to return into openness” (93). Schelling is attentive to a number of objections that could be made to this view, namely that it would involve a deification of nature, whether this can be taken as a systematic representation of being and whether this does not regard matter too highly. Schelling’s response is unapologetic and emphasizes that such a pantheist self-rumination is the repressed past of the world. It seems that Schelling moved away from this point of view in his Spätphilosophie.

This leads Schelling to what Schröter and Lawrence view to be the second part of this draft, namely the move beyond the past. This cannot happen through a force from the outside, since there is no outside to the original pantheist unity. The move beyond the past happens through the Father begetting the Son (contraction, giving birth), the other through which the Father can come to know himself. While there is opposition—the Son is not the Father—their opposition is not absolute, but actually paves the way for a higher, now cognized, unity: “They are brought to a higher unity precisely by that which tears them apart, insofar as, once they have been divided from one another, they are able to embrace anew, mutually dissolving into one another with the entire wealth of their content” (126). That unity is not fixed at any point, but is in a constant state of becoming. This was put forward by all religions—or so claims Schelling—and especially in the Christian understanding of the trinity: three personalities in one person. Yet, this point is something that reason finds difficult grappling and might have been complete unable to reach without the light of revelation: “Without the light of revelation a scholarly researcher would never be in the position to follow with natural ease the inner going forth of the first divine actions, guided by concepts that are as straightforward and human as they need to be” (130). Philosophers that close off from revelation will “simply become more and more entangled in their own thoughts, losing themselves in the end in what is vacuous and sterile” (ibid.).

For Schelling, this introduces a new sense of time into philosophy, in opposition to three previous understandings of time. First, the mechanical sense of time where time constitutes an actual infinity (without beginning or end). Second, the idea that time is not needed to understand the becoming of the world or that all happens in “one fell swoop.” Third, a partial subjectification of time while allowing something of an objective time (Kant’s position). Schelling believes that there is no objective time, only the subjective time of the thing itself. Time exists because God slows down his revelation; he does not force things to happen instantly. Things develop organically becomes God holds back his self-exposure. This second part ends with a number of disparate and largely unfinished reflections on the relationship between pantheism and dualism (in dialogue with Schlegel); the freedom that enables the world to be, which happens not for the Father but for the Son; the limitations of knowledge, a point of self-professed ignorance, where philosophy runs up against the boundaries of what is can legitimately say.

After this translation of the draft, Lawrence included just under one-hundred of pages of notes and fragments belonging to this draft. Schelling never intended these to be published and their German editor, Schröter, admits that his work on these notes was hasty. Due to their destruction, he did not have the opportunity to check his work. These notes can offer a helpful view into the process through which Schelling composed this first draft of The Ages of the World.

For the most part, this is a matter of wording rather than content. Joseph Lawrence provided as service to Schelling-studies by supplying a well-structured, readable translation of the 1811 draft of Weltalter. The fluent translation reflects the spirit and content of the original text, while some of his choices are slightly infelicitous. For instance, Schelling’s confounding use of Sein and Seiendes is rendered by Lawrence respectively as “being” and “that which is.” While this translation is correct, it loses the simplicity of Schelling’s terms. Elsewhere, this couple is rendered respectively as “being” and “existing being.” The English language has no simple word pair as the German does. The choice to translate Scheidung as scission should be applauded. It is more conventional than the usage of “cision” and keeps the connection with the German Entscheidung (de-cision). For Schelling, separation happens through a free decision, not through a natural sense of decay. This is one term he uses that distances himself from his erstwhile roommate, Hegel.

On a whole, Lawrence’s translation is a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of Schelling studies. For the first time, English readers of Schelling can now read and compare the three remaining drafts of The Ages of the World.