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Nature and Realism in Schelling’s Philosophy

Emilio Carlo Corriero
Andrea Dezi

The Necessity of Contingency in the Late Philosophies of Schelling and Heidegger

Emilio Carlo Corriero

Texte intégral


  • 1 I have described this dynamics in my books Vertigini della Ragione. Schelling e Nietzsche, Torino: (...)

1When, in 1936, Heidegger states that a new beginning for western philosophy can only derive from the understanding of the dual failure of Schelling and Nietzsche, he emphasises that the crisis of the philosophical-rational project of modernity, which reached its peak in Hegel’s system, allows the definition of a philosophical form that considers the ways of Being in their historical context insofar as they derive from a source that is always free and indefinable, and escapes any reduction of an ontotheological type. This philosophical form will take shape of the Ereignis in Heidegger’s late theories, but it was already foreshadowed in the free dynamics of Nietzschean Wille zur Macht1 and in the Schellingian form of Absolute as such.

  • 2 It was exactly in 1936 that Heidegger worked on the project of the Beiträge zur Philosophie which i (...)

2It is known that Heidegger dedicated a seminar to Schelling’s Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (Philosophical Inquires into the Essence of Human Freedom) in Marburg in 1927-28 (immediately after the publication of Sein und Zeit) returning to this text during the course he taught in 1936 and again in 1941 with the lectures dedicated to the Metaphysics of German Idealism, during a period in which the theoretical foundations of what is known as the Kehre (the ‘turn’) with respect to the existentialist theories of the twenties were being laid.2

3It is not the intention of this paper to trace the stages of Heideggerian readings of Schelling’s Philosophical Inquires, but rather to highlight the theoretical affinity between the results of Schelling’s speculation and Heidegger’s late theories, which in my opinion, culminate in a form of “positive”, “historical” philosophy and in the definition of a post-metaphysical Absolute, that is beyond any form of onto-theology and needs the introduction of a mere contingency in order to explain the ‘passage’ to the manifestation of being.

4Specifically, the analysis that Heidegger carried out in the early forties on the Metaphysics of German Idealism was intended, amongst other things, to highlight through “comparison with and differentiation from” the philosophical project underlying the emergence of what the “history of being can think as Ereignis (event/appropriation)”. It is curious to note how, exactly when he considers Schelling’s philosophy of the Absolute, Heidegger feels the need to distinctly mark the separation from his Ereignis, almost as if the theoretical closeness of these ‘forms’ of thinking was manifested in a way that required clarification.

1. The Absolute and the Ereignis

5The philosophical step that leads Heidegger to the ‘turn’ with respect to the positions of Sein und Zeit lies in a change of perspective, which no longer begins from the being of man in order to understand the meaning of being in general, but speaks directly to the being, or better to the becoming and the evolution of the ‘history of Being’ in which, nonetheless, man is not to be seen as a passive spectator or as a mere tool of destiny.

  • 3 Heidegger traces a complete reconstruction of the ‘history of Being’ in the II volume of his work N (...)
  • 4 Although Heidegger conceives the world as “total organisation/im-position” (Gestell) as “a first ur (...)

6Within the ‘history of Being’ traced by Heidegger in the firm belief that this was based on the original oblivion of Being (Sein) in favour of the consideration of beings3(as entity; das Seiende), the Metaphysics of German Idealism, meaning the philosophical project that intends to reduce the Being to the will of the subject (powerful and knowing), reaches its maximum expression in the principal philosophical works by Hegel and specially in the Phänomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Spirit), where the essence of the transcendental consideration that reflects on the conditions of Being in nature and on the essence of the idea itself is shown unconditionally. Nevertheless, Heidegger himself emphasises that in Schelling’s response to the Phänomenologie des Geistes, that is to say in the Philosophical Inquires into the Essence of Human Freedom of 1809, German Metaphysical Idealism, being the metaphysics of the ‘unconditional representation’ (which, according to Heidegger, is expressed once again in this crucial work, by the tension of the mere will towards the Intellect), appears more radically in the figure of the self-conscious Absolute, in its becoming through ‘voluntary reason’. In this dynamics, however, Heidegger sees a dangerous overlapping with the concept of Being as Ereignis4; an immediate and rather interesting combination that he attempts to elude, although not very convincingly:

  • 5 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1809), Feick H. (ed.) (...)

The “matter [Sache] itself” (which metaphysics is to think) – writes Heidegger in his seminar notes from 1941-1943, edited by Hildegard Feick in the appendix to Schellings Abhandlung, published in 1971 – is “the Absolute”. Because the Absolute is thought as unconditional subjectivity (that is, subject-objectivity), as the identity of identity and non-identity, and subjectivity essentially as will-full [willentlich] reason and thus as movement, it looks as if the Absolute and its motion coincided with what the thinking of the history of Being thinks as Ereignis. But Ereignis is neither the same as the Absolute nor is it even its contrary, for instance, finitude as opposed to infinity.5

7The position expressed by Heidegger is certainly instrumental to his philosophical perspective, which identifies in Being as Ereignis the destiny that reaches its zenith in the ‘history of Being’, beyond the consideration of being as ‘presence’. Nonetheless the distance from Schelling’s Absolute, which Heidegger feels the need to mark so explicitly, is clearly based on a number of misunderstandings and simplifications of Schelling’s philosophical perspective.

8A careful reading of Schelling’s Absolute can clarify the affinity with Heidegger’s Ereignis  –  one of the focal points of contemporary philosophical thinking  –  and how this can (we would say must) be seen after all in continuity with Schelling’s Absolute, but also with the dynamics of Nietzsche’s Wille zur Macht, both, simply, thanks to the definition that Heidegger presents of the ontological difference (between das Sein and das Seiende), and in support of a philosophical intuition that otherwise runs the risk of being seen only beyond the confines of philosophical thinking as the penetration in a ‘mystical’ sphere, in a sort of negative theology. I think that the critical comparison of Schelling and Nietzsche, proposed by Heidegger in the Vorlesung of 1936, leads in the direction of a concept of absolute (ontological) Freedom, as the original foundation of Being and the entity and that in this sense Being seen as Ereignis prepares, on the one hand, to resume the indissoluble (coessential) bond with time and, on the other, to avoid a conception that sees Being still and only beginning with that which is present, rooted in the interpretation of the pure will that Heidegger reads, both in Schelling and in Nietzsche, in connection with the Ursein (primordial Being). This conceptual overlapping, however, is not to be understood  –  as Heidegger would wish  –  in the sense of a ‘metaphysics of will’, since this would mean assuming a ‘will’ that, subordinate to reason (Vernunft), finally coincides completely with it, restoring also a metaphysical principle that can be deduced starting from the being insofar as it is present. On the contrary, Schelling’s perspective (like that of Nietzsche) offers a totally different concept of ‘will’, which on the one hand certainly translates into the rational form that sees the being insofar as it is present (in this responds perfectly to the philosophical project of Idealism and presents itself as a relative ‘metaphysical principle’) but, on the other hand  –  a truly qualifying aspect of Schelling’s and later Nietzsche’s will  –  presents itself as over-realistic excess that can never be totally consumed in Reality (as beings objectively present) and in the concepts related to Reality: that is to say as a resource of the rational form itself, or as the Principle (absolutely) free and permanent of Being. That is, in effect, the very object of Schelling’s positive philosophy, as the philosopher states opening his Andere Deduktion der Principien der positiven Philosophy (Another Deduction of the Principles of Positive Philosophy).

9The possibility of seeing Being as Ereignis is already clear in the ‘critical’ conclusions of Schelling and Nietzsche and this is essentially based on a concept of will that exceeds the idealistic attempts to saturate Reality (as Wirklichkeit) in the thought, i.e. in the concept of Reality itself. In Schelling, as in Nietzsche in fact, the will is never completely reduced to reason and forms of thought, nor can we speak of a will that coincides exactly with the ‘will’ of the ‘unconditional representation’. The excess of will (effective, alogical) with respect to the rational form that aims to grasp being insofar as it is existent and present, shows itself in the thinking of Schelling and Nietzsche, in the ‘gap’ that for both of them could be seen at the zenith of the movement determined by will itself, that is at the peak of an apparent ‘metaphysics of will’. At the extreme of metaphysical thinking, the exhaustion of the Ideal’s capacity to saturate in its expressions the inexhaustibility of Reality appears historically (seynsgeschichtlich) with the end of the onto-theology: in Nietzsche this determines the ‘death of God’ and in Schelling the inevitable division of philosophy into negative (or rational) and positive (or historical), a division that was already prepared by the introduction of the Un-grund (non-ground) in the Philosophical Inquires (but already in his first works of Naturphilosophie). From the Open space in the differences thus created, it was possible for the forgotten and denied primal Ungrund to emerge, which ‘happens’ historically (seynsgeschichtlich) in the thinking that can ‘think’ Being ‘as’ Ereignis: in Schelling’s will of love and Nietzsche’s will to power (in what we could call its ‘Dionysian’ meaning), insofar as they are extreme manifestations of will, Being exceeds the being present and shows an inexhaustible origin from which every destiny of Being derives.

10From this point of view, Being as Ereignis appears in its inevitable bond with time, not as if the event is a manner of being, nor vice-versa as if being is a manner of the event, but only in the sense that the event is what ‘makes happen’ and what destines the being (allowing it to be present), and what finally offers the time. Insofar as Being is event, the event is “what makes happen”; only this can be said of the event and of its inexhaustible origin without falling into the thinking that begins from a ground (Grund): Ereignis ereignet, “the event makes happen”. To understand Being in this way is to avoid the metaphysical fallout that confines our thinking in the form that perceives being starting with a ground, and above all it means highlighting the infinite freedom of Being. The fact that Schelling did not present a completed published work after his Philosophical Inquires, is due to the type of problem that he was working on, beginning with the treatise on freedom.

  • 6 See Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 4.

11Also Nietzsche, “the only essential thinker after Schelling”, failed in his main work, the Will to Power, for the same reasons. But this magnificent dual breakdown of these great thinkers is not a failure and should not be considered negatively: quite the contrary. It is the rise of that which is totally ‘other’: the spark of a new beginning. Anyone who truly knows the reason for these breakdowns  –  affirms Heidegger  –  and, knowing it, overcomes it, should become the founder of a new beginning of western philosophy.6

12More or less speciously, Heidegger, though he emphasises how in the respective breakdowns of Schelling and Nietzsche we can, or rather must, glimpse the spark of a possible new start for western philosophy, which we know could have been realized  –  for him  –  in the concept of Ereignis, allows Schelling’s ‘will’ and Nietzsche’s ‘will’ to coincide with the principle of the philosophical project of German metaphysical Idealism. In this, the critical innovation of the two philosophers would be completely resolved and saturated, to the point that therefore it becomes impossible to understand which step forward they have taken  –  even in their failure  –  beyond the metaphysical project of Idealism and the ‘history of Being’ in general. Vice-versa, the mere will placed in essential coincidence with Ursein  –  the primordial being which, insofar as it is ontological excess, is never wholly reduced to being as present, nor to the conceptual form that it means to represent  –  rather it bears witness to an ontological vision that binds together being and time in a dynamics freely regulated by a (necessarily) and not better-defined will, that acts as the inevitable and permanent Principle for the entire structure and conservation of the Absolute in its becoming. With respect to the complete saturation of Reality, foreshadowed as the metaphysics of Idealism in the form of a knowledge that proceeds according to an unconditional will to represent, in Schelling’s form of Idealism (which as we know always preserves in its ground a lively ‘realism’) and in Nietzsche’s ontological conception of Wille zur Macht (which is also firmly anchored to the absolute position of Being as eternal becoming), beyond the rational form to which Being delivers itself, the unresolvable excess of an alogical setting, which always precedes the concept and which is configured as mere will, is clearly evident.

  • 7 Theology generally means asking the original question about being in its totality and it has always (...)

13What we intend to show here is that metaphysics, in the Heideggerian sense of the ‘history of Being’ which thinks and structures being beginning from the consideration of the being as entity, and thinks every form of being always starting with a ground (in the sense of the philosophy as ontotheology),7 certainly reaches its completion in the nihilism of the Nietzschean vision, but this fateful landing place which allows us to see Being, beyond the ground, as Ereignis, is already to be seen in the alogical excess that Schelling sees as ontological freedom, that is the impossible ground (Un-Grund) of Being.

  • 8 See GA 79, 90.
  • 9 SW I/7, 359-60; tr. Gutmann 34.

14This indomitable excess, this previously inconceivable (unprethinkable: unvordenklich) lack of ground (Ungrund) of Being, must not be seen exclusively as a fixed and immobile residue. For Heidegger, at the zenith of metaphysics, the ‘history of Being’ finally, in the philosophical project of German Idealism, coincides with the will, which in Fichte, Schelling and Hegel is translated into the unconditional will to represent Reality in the concepts of reason; nevertheless, in the Philosophical Inquires into the Essence of Human Freedom Schelling identifies pure will as the primordial Being (Ursein) and at the same time introduces, before every differentiation, a non-ground (Ungrund), without predicates (“although not a nothingness or an inconsistent”) which nonetheless foresees the forms of being insofar as existent. This non-ground, absolutely in place, atopical place of the perfect Indifference, constitutes the possibility of the possibility of being, that is to say the potentia potentiae of Being, and by virtue of this is traced back to what Schelling calls the ‘pure will’ of the Grund, which, together with existence, derives from the ontological differentiation of the Wesen precisely into foundation and existence. Insofar as it is the source of the primitive movement of the state of Indifference, the Ungrund is not resolved once and for all in the ontological distinction and in the subsequent reconciliation thanks to love. It remains as a residue, as an unresolved (and unresolvable) excess, always capable of re-activating the process thanks to the Urwille (primordial will) which has always been a part of it (‘Wollen ist Ursein’). If it is true  –  as Heidegger says  –  that will is divided into biological will and intellectual will,8 this does not mean that it can be reduced to this scission: rather it remains as the inexhaustible ‘ontological-dynamic reserve’ of being, namely as the “incomprehensible basis of reality in things the irreducible remainder (der nie aufgehende Rest), that which with the greatest exertion cannot be resolved in the understanding” and that “unruly lies ever in depths as though it might break out again”.9

15The excess of Reality, which institutes and founds the process of becoming of being, is described by Schelling as pure will and, similarly, Nietzsche defines this alogical space, which presides over the form of the existent, as will to power in its Dionysian sense: expressions that are simply meant to make ‘humanly more comprehensible’ a sphere that is totally precluded to thought, which maintains within it a dynamics capable of passing from pure Being, absolutely placed, compact and impenetrable (blind), to the singular determinations of the existent, possible thanks to that coming together of being which shows, in the fracturing of being itself (Seinsfuge), the possibility of being in potency and therefore the existence of the beings (Seienden).

2. The free principle of the positive philosophy

  • 10 In particular in the Abhandlungen zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre, written b (...)

16In Schelling’s work, the concept of Ungrund certainly acts as the link between the philosophy of Identity and the later division in negative and positive philosophy. The Ungrund of the Philosophical Inquires, described as the original Indifference (not to be confused with the quantitative equivalent  –  Gleichgültigkeit  –  between the spiritual pole and the natural pole, since this is possible only within the development of the Identity), is initially introduced by Schelling in order to free the original Identity from the misunderstanding, according to which it  –  unjustly seen as sameness  –  is not legitimized to distinguish between the Real and the Ideal in the manifestation of the Absolute. In fact, however, the original Identity should not be seen as sameness, but rather as the dynamic Identity of Identity and Non-Identity. In this acquisition, which dates from the period of philosophy of Identity, although Schelling already foresaw an ontological priority to be assigned to the natural pole (and this was evident in the writings dating from the late nineties on the philosophy of Nature10), there was no evidence of a residue impenetrable for reason (or rather for the Spirit) placed at the start of the process and never totally consumable. Rather, he foresaw an organic development of the Absolute (as Gesamtorganismus) which at every turn, in every degree and stage, maintained a certain quantity of Spirit and a certain quantity of Nature, so that the prevalence of one never wholly annulled the other.

17The introduction of Ungrund served, however, at the same time, to guarantee the first level ontological difference, so to speak, between the Absolute as such and the manifestations of the same. If in the philosophy of Identity, Schelling stated that the development (described in the ‘doctrine of the powers’) exclusively concerned the sphere of the manifestation (of the finite), while the Absolute, insofar as it is infinite, could not be understood starting from the ‘doctrine’ of the powers, the Ungrund, as absolute Indifference (original non-distinction), guaranteed the ‘description’ of an antepredicative Being capable of ‘giving rise to’ the dynamic development of the Absolute and at the same time refraining from the manifestation: rather, a Being that showed itself as such, as antipredicative, absolutely un-differentiated and standing at the Beginning of Everything, only to start from the dynamic process itself which would then show its purely contingent nature, instrumental, so to speak, to the “free” necessity of the process itself.

18We can say that the Ungrund in some ways anticipates the concept of the unvordenkliches Seyn that Schelling clarified, also on the logical-formal plane, by turning to the thinking of Aristotle.

  • 11 Aristotle, Met. 1026b-1027a.

19In the Another Deduction of the Principles of positive Philosophy, Schelling considers the philosopher’s duty to be the identification of the Principle that stands above all else. Now, the unprethinkable being is certainly ‘before’ everything else insofar as it is purely contingent, but it cannot be configured as the Beginning of Everything, since it, insofar as it exists simply actu, does not preserve a dynamic capacity to act as the Principle, but only as the ‘essential presupposition’, which further more appears only in this manner a posteriori in the process already underway. In fact, if the unprethinkable being is to be defined as purely contingent it must be possible to oppose it to something that can be altered, or something “with regard to which […] it can behave as something contingent” (according to the aristotelian definition).11

  • 12 SW II/4, 338.
  • 13 SW II/3, 101; tr. Matthews, 160.

20“The existent necessarily only actu […] is the existent necessarily only contingently”,12 since this excludes ‘what simply can be’ (das Seinkönnende) as antecedens (due to the fact that in its existing insofar as it is absolute Reality, it precedes every possibility) but not in the absolute sense. As known, the Kantian pre-critical doctrine of being as absolute Setzung, of which the later Schellingian speculations avail themselves, is integrated by means of the Aristotelian perspective and this contributes on the one hand to justifying the logic of the Philosophical Empiricism and, on the other, to confirming the dynamic perspective that Schelling finds he must definitively introduce with question of (ontological) freedom of the Beginning. Schelling therefore avails himself of the Aristotelian doctrine of the potency and of the act, in effect overturning it and integrating it through the introduction of the concept of the purely contingent. After having emphasised how the true merit of Aristotelian philosophy lies in the profound bond that it establishes between the thought and the being, so that even the a priori (field of negative philosophy) is not, as it was with Hegel as “something empty, logical, a thinking that again has as its content only thinking”.13 In Aristotle, logic, in its effective thinking, speaks to potency, but this is only insofar as it is led to ‘leap into being’, that is to pierce the act of existence. In this sense, the a priori knowledge speaks directly to that which pierces the being and therefore presents itself as empirical knowledge. Moreover, this is in effect the course taken by Aristotle, just as his doctrine makes possible the passage from the logical to the empirical, also it creates a path from the empirical to the logical, that is to say a way to reach the logica, which for Aristotle is “innate and inherent in nature”.

  • 14 SW II/3, 103; tr. Matthews, 161-162.

21Schelling traces the Aristotelian doctrine in an attempt to show that even Aristotle at the height of his empirical philosophy reached the ultimate outcome of negative philosophy, colliding with that limit. Starting from the potency which for him corresponds to the beginning, Aristotle comes to the act, in which the oppositions, which are still enveloped in potency, are resolved into pure entelechy, “out of the womb of indeterminacy and infinitude of potency, of what is possible, nature elevates itself step by step towards its end from which it is attracted”.14 At the culmination of this gradual progress from potency to the act, Aristotle places God as the End, that which actually exists (das wirklich Existierende). As such, however, that which actually exists is not a member of the series, but it is what it is above and indipendent of the entire series:

  • 15 SW II/3, 104; tr. Matthews, 162.

Aristotle has this as that which actually exists (not merely as an idea as in the negative philosophy)  –  and here lies the distinction  –  but he employs this as that which actually exists as the final telos only because it grounds his entire science in experience.15

22Although Aristotle considers the world, the object of his rational philosophy, as existing, yet he still does not possess the existence, since this has for his philosophy a merely contingent nature. According to Schelling, since for Aristotle the true purpose of thinking is the essence of things, their what-is, existence is welcomed as a simple presupposition. Consequently, the End, that which actually exists, as pure act, is the End of rational philosophy and Aristotle cannot make use of it, which in fact qualifies it as the ultimate end, as the immobile motor, which is the cause of the movement, but it does not pass through an impulse or an action, but rather through a desire that the inferior natures feel towards that which is higher.

  • 16 SW II/3, 104-105; tr. Matthews, 163.

Aristotle so insists that the End is act that God, for him, […] is no longer mere potency of thought. For him, God is the pure incessant actus of thinking (but of no thought without content). As it is difficult for him to say what God is thinking […], he decides on this basis that God perpetually thinks only himself.16

23But a “God” thus described cannot be used by Schelling as an absolutely free creator, dispenser of being; he therefore avails himself of the definitions of the Aristotelian doctrine, in effect distorting them: that is to say, beginning from the “God” that is not described either as pure potency or simply as act, but rather as a dynamic articulation that has as presupposition the actus purus of the unprethinkable being, which can nevertheless be described as such only if what can be (das Seinkönnende) is opposed to it. This opposition is however possible, according to Schelling, only thanks to an essential unity with the unprethinkable being.

24In this idea, which Schelling takes up step by step in the Another Deduction of the Principles of positive Philosophy, the purely contingent nature of what exists is preserved, in fact it is taken up as an inevitable presupposition that is never described as necessary nature (this is  –  as Schelling emphasises  –  the error that Spinoza continues to make with regard to his Substance), although like the purely contingent, which as such finally guarantees the absolute freedom of the dynamics that develops: a truly original freedom that still precedes the divine freedom and which coincides with the pure and original freedom described by Schelling in the Ungrund of the Philosophical Inquires: in that Nothingness before God that Schelling, like Heidegger, cannot describe, but which preserves in itself all the potential (das Mächtige) of Being. In fact, already in 1927/28, in his preparatory notes for the seminar on the Philosophical Inquires, Heidegger emphasised that the Ungrund was introduced by Schelling as that “Positive that precedes every contrast”.

  • 17 SW II/4, 338.

What simply can be as such (das Seynkönnende) would have no right to exist; however, once the sheer actu, i.e. once the merely contingent necessity is, the merely possible may assert its demands just as unprethinkable Being first makes it possible that the potency appears.17

25This means, according to Schelling, that what can be, which appears later, with respect to the unprethinkable being, is not something different from it, but solely and only “the same as the merely existent”: between the two there must be a unity that Schelling defines as necessary nature, which, independently from the actus of existing, is “that which necessarily exists in its nature and in its essence.”

26The true Principle that Schelling’s philosophical research seeks is therefore this necessary nature which is made up of a ‘becoming’ organised in three fundamental moments whose ontological relationship is only described starting from its original and permanent dynamics. While Schelling can distinguish in it: 1) the unprethinkable being, insofar as it is purely contingent, 2) what simply can be other as necessary opposition, 3) the free fluctuation, insofar as it is pure spirit, between one and the other, he can only do so starting from a dynamics already underway, since otherwise it would not make sense to speak of a juxtaposition between that which is contingent (the unprethinkable being) and that which is ‘freely’ necessary (what simply can be). On the basis of this dynamic organisation, Schelling therefore tries to construct a post-metaphysical Principle: a free ground of Being that preserves in its permanent dynamics the being in its complexity.

3. Physis as source of being

27The Being of the Absolute that can the being of the ‘relations of thought’ (and it is however always beyond this as an inexhaustible reserve) is finally that absolute and original Freedom that stands (beyond any form of onto-theology) as the ‘impossible ground’ of everything, as the permanent and dynamic principle of Being. From here the idea of a free and over-realistic dynamics that ‘commands’ the ontology, since it is only starting from this that it is possible to define, for example 1) the subject as a μὴ ὄν opposed to the Being of the Absolute, 2) the unvordenkliches Seyn as the purely contingent, 3) the cause that sets itself against it as what simply can be.

28The description of the unvordenkliches Seyn as ‘purely contingent’ allows Schelling to present a dynamic, physical Principle (from the Greek term φύσις that Heidegger translates, in his Einführung in die Metaphysik (Introduction to Metaphysics), as “the emerging sway, the standing-there-in-itself, constancy”), which, realising itself only through the opposition of what simply can be, certainly overcomes the limits of an onto-theological principle (insofar as the ground always denies itself as such, as antecedens), and at the same time preserves an ontological excess (the inexpressible Being of the Absolute) which, remaining extraneous to the process and being able to ‘choose’ to pass to the process or to abstain from it, makes the aforementioned Principle capable of persisting in time, guaranteeing the possibility of every new free beginning.

29The theoretical reasons for Heidegger’s resistance to overlaying his Ereignis on Schelling’s Absolute, which we explained at the start of this essay, probably lie in the Heideggerian idea that Schelling does not in fact overcome “the history that thinks Being starting from a ground”, but remains substantially bound with a concept that posits the φύσις as the ontological ground of Being.

  • 18 GA 88, 138.

Seen in a more original manner this fundamental trait of his philosophy [that is Schelling’s passage to the ‘positive’, which for Heidegger precedes, insofar as it is Ungrund, every possible duality and contrast; cfr. HSS, 324], without knowing it, goes to the φύσις-ἀλήθεια, to the clarifying itself and the persisting in self; to the initially and correctly thus defined Ex-sistierendes, that originated from itself. Nevertheless, and this is decisive, Schelling sees only that reason cannot be brought into play here as pre-thinking, although blindly, that is to say that here it must simply welcome, accept. He does not however seek the ἀλήθεια and the essential permanence (Wesung) of this essence as οὐσία; he seeks the presence in its being present  –  the existence (Dasein) in the common meaning.18

  • 19 In Vertigini della ragione, I already emphasised that the ontological excess shown as an absolutely (...)

30Nevertheless, Schelling’s Absolute can be described as φύσις only when the latter is read, in close connection with the Nothingness of the Beginning, in the sense of origin, source of Being: an inexhaustible origin that escapes, in its elusive dynamics, the being to which it gives itself in all its forms and determinations. In Schelling’s overall plan, the Absolute cannot in fact be seen as the totality of the being (and already in this it goes beyond the metaphysical conception), which posits itself and knows itself persisting in its position (Setzung)19. The fact that in the epistemological sphere the idea of totality is historically (that is in the ‘history of Being’) defined as impossible, aporetical, marks an impossibility which is first of all of an ontological nature, since the Schellinghian Absolute (but actually any honest attempt to consider the Absolute in post-metaphysical terms) is not merely the totality of the existent, since it is possibly always becoming and moreover is permanently connected to the absolutely free Principle from which it derives.

31Beginning from the hidden dynamics of this Principle which is only clarified speculatively and only a posteriori in the supra-relation to Nothingness, which ‘characterises’ that ontological excess from which it takes its cue, we understand how Schelling’s Absolute can be read as φύσις: that is to say as a Nature that lets (makes) the various forms of being be through its dynamics; that is after all (with a speculative expression) as an original and permanent dynamics that commands an ontology.

32Being based on the Nothingness of the primal freedom that resists being and that stands not simply as μὴ ὄν, which would mean accepting the theory of a potency (a relative Nothingness) that acts and is finally destined to run out, but as οὐκ ὄν, the Schellingian Absolute cannot be read in the metaphysical terms to which Heidegger’s interpretation relegates it.

  • 20 GA 88, 138-139.
  • 21 GA 88, 143.

33Although he recognises that Schelling, with his positive philosophy, goes well beyond the Hegelian ‘rationalism’, Heidegger seems to want to trace the Schellingian Positive to the mere being (as entity) that is objectively present and is perceived;20 Heidegger recognises that the elusive origin of the ‘positive’ lies in the Freedom, since in reading Schelling’s Another Deduction of the Principles of positive Philosophy, he states that (before the free will of God, insofar as it is necessary nature) the opposition of what simply can be to the unvordenkliches Seyn (unprethinkable being) is possible only thanks to the ‘will of what is absolutely Free’ and this reality (Wirklichkeit), which precedes every possibility, cannot be thought a priori (that is to say through rational philosophy) but rather starting from eternity.21

34Such freedom cannot, however, be seen as the freedom of an entity, nor as the freedom of the Supreme Entity, which is given only at a later time. The absolute Freedom, which permits the opposition to the unvordenkliches Seyn and therefore the potency and the concrete existence of that which is, constitutes the ‘ultimate essence’ of that dynamic Principle that Schelling means to present in his speculation beyond every relapse on this side of the so-called onto-theology.

35As we have said, this Freedom can only be indissolubly linked to Nothingness, since only in this supra-relation can there be the dynamics that derives from it, and it is possible, apart from the various determinations of being, also for that extreme definition of being as Nothingness mentioned by Schelling in the Darstellung des philosophischen Empirismus (Exposition of the philosophical Empiricism), which is, after all, the nub of the Heideggerian conference of 1929 Was ist Metaphysik?

4. Ereignis as making happens

  • 22 Since this would mean introducing a ground and therefore thinking again within an onto-theological (...)

36Heidegger’s need to differentiate Being as Ereignis from Schelling’s Absolute was after all dictated by the incurable theoretical affinity, which thrusts its roots essentially into the overrealism (or speculative realism) that links Heidegger and Schelling (and obviously, I believe Friedrich Nietzsche too) in the conclusive phases of their respective philosophical parabolas and which, in trying to consider being (and the ‘truth of Being’) beyond the presence, inevitably concentrates on the ontological-dynamic development and on the original ‘giving of self’ of the forms of what exists. In effect, the impossibility of conceptually dealing with the Beginning, the indomitable initial excess from which every possible form of being, insofar as existent, historically (seynsgeschichtlich) derives leads Heidegger to consider Being as Ereignis. Since Heidegger cannot qualify the ‘giving of self’ of the event itself as energheia, or as actualitas  –  to use the expressions proper to metaphysical thinking, which, according to Heidegger, while it believes it is speaking to the Being, in fact is still speaking to the existent  –  and since he cannot trace a Subject (the Es of Es gibt) that gives the forms in which it presents itself22, Heidegger turns to the ‘giving of self’ as such attempting the theoretical path of Being as Ereignis. In this sense, confronting the consideration of Schelling’s Absolute, Heidegger insists on the distance from the ontological nature of Ereignis, insisting that the Absolute is the ‘matter (Sache) itself’ insofar as it is unconditional subjectivity, conceived, in its essential nature, as ‘voluntary reason’, and that it is precisely here that the motility of the Absolute itself lies, which only apparently can coincide with that which “the history of Being thinks as Ereignis”. Nevertheless, Heidegger states,

Being itself is experienced in Ereignis as Being, not as a being and not at all posited as the unconditional being and the highest being, although Being presences, after all, as that which alone “is”. The Absolute, on the contrary, is what it is in terms of the abandonment of Being of beings like every “being”, yes, even more essentially than every being, only that precisely in the subjectivity of the Absolute the abandonment of Being is most of all hidden and cannot appear.

  • 23 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

The “Absolute” is beings as a whole in such a way that knowledge of beings as a whole, and as such knowledge which knows itself to be such, constitutes the “Being” of beings. Beings “are” there as this knowledge and “are” beings in the “element” of the (unconditional) concept.23

  • 24 ‘The potencies therefore only give themselves within the sphere of appearances, of the phenomena; a (...)

37In the interpretation presented by Heidegger ( Schelling’s) Absolute is to be seen as an entity amongst others, or rather as the unconditional entity which, in absolute subjectivity (Urständlichkeit), reveals in an even more essential manner (with respect to the other entities) the abandonment of Being in favour of the beings. The description of Schelling’s Absolute responds, however, to a somewhat simplified scheme that reduces it to the subjectivity of a supreme being, that knows itself (and so the being as a whole) through its ‘voluntary reason’. The development of the idea of an Absolute, which matures in Schelling halfway between the conclusions of the philosophy of the Identity (we are thinking particularly of the System der gesamten Philosophie of 1804) and the problem of freedom in the Philosophical Inquires, leads to the distinction of the Essence in Wesen insofar as it is existence and in Wesen insofar as it is ground, on the basis of an original Indifference: an Un-grund (non-ground) that can be described as the Absolute par excellence. This must not be seen as the sudden (though delayed, with respect to the formulation of the concept of Identity strongly opposed by Hegel) introduction by Schelling of an expedient that could save the overall validity of his discourse. In effect, already in the writings of the period of Philosophy of Identity, there was a clear ontological distinction between the Absolute as such and its propositions, manifestations: forms, potencies of the Absolute. The essential difference lies precisely in the fact that the ‘doctrine of the potencies’ (Potenzenlehre) which was meant to describe the ‘manifestation’ or the dynamic development of the Absolute, including its self-knowledge, did not concern the Absolute as such and always, still, highlighted an excess that could never be totally resolved in the dynamics proposed, nor even in a conceptual synthesis. The absolute subjectivity of which Heidegger speaks is not in fact to be seen as the position of a Subject empowered to the point that it coincides with the Object; in Schelling the Absolute (or the absolute subjectivity) is rather the Urständlichkeit that can never be understood objectively or rather can never be construed as an object of the thought. It remains as an absolute ‘position’ from which, however, the movement of the totality of the entities and the forms of being (insofar as they can be described through a ‘doctrine of potencies’)24 do not descend simply in a conceptual manner. It is therefore evident that it is not possible to think of Schelling’s Absolute as the concealment of the oblivion of being in favour of the “presence”: the Absolute as such by Schelling offers (insofar as it is potentia potentiae) the forms of being in which the Absolute itself is manifested, but it always remains beyond them as an inexhaustible residue always capable of re-generating (seynsgeschichtlich) the movement of Being and its dynamics.

  • 25 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.
  • 26 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

38In his attempt to mark the distance of Being as Ereignis from Schelling’s Absolute, Heidegger then adds, even if only briefly, a particularly significant consideration that is worth looking into. Again in the seminar notes from 1941-1943, he writes that “the Absolute is beings as a whole (das Seiende im Ganzen) in such a way that knowledge of beings [entities] as a whole, and as such knowledge which knows itself to be such, constitutes the Being of beings”.25 Such as statement is possible only in the binding conviction according to which the Absolute is that which exists as a whole, or the totality of that which it is insofar as it is existent; as we already said, however, such a presumed totality could not include the residual sphere which, on the one hand, resists the passage into the being as it is existent and, on the other hand, guarantees its constant renewal. Heidegger then adds that the knowledge (Wissen) of this being in its totality precisely constitutes the “Being of beings” (as entities), since this knowledge naturally coincides with the motility of the Absolute insofar as it is the Absolute’s will-to-know-self. In this point of view there is no gap and everything is resolved in a closed future, commanded by a will that translates everything into knowledge : “beings ‘are’ this knowledge and ‘are’ beings in the ‘element’ of the (unconditional) concept”26.

  • 27 In the Formschrift, 1794 and in Of the I as Principle of Philosophy (1795) Schelling seeks to find (...)
  • 28 SW II/4, 337.

39According to this statement, knowledge assumes the total character of logical science and the System of knowledge can be traced to the unconditional Concept and its movement; but this is exactly what Schelling perceives as impossible from the very first stages of his philosophy of Nature and, particularly, in consideration of the apparently asystematic results of his Philosophical Inquires, which would instead lead him to reconsider, first of all through the attempts of the Weltalter, the possible System of philosophy as a dynamic System, and, subsequently, to organise the distinction between negative philosophy and positive philosophy. Moreover, in the reading of the Absolute suggested by Heidegger, the central aspect of Schelling’s philosophy, from the time of the essay Über die Möglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie überhaupt (On the possibility of a form of philosophy in general) published in 1794, is neglected; that is the identification of a principle of knowledge from which it is possible to ‘deduce’ (ab-leiten) all the forms of being: a principle that Schelling progressively realizes he must identify in what exceeds the sphere apparently dealt with by Kantian categories27 (acquisitions that Schelling considers valid, but which require a principle that justifies them and organizes them in a System). Schelling’s Absolute must therefore certainly be read as that which exists as a whole, but in an essential unit with a (dynamic) principle that overcomes the ‘Being of beings’ insofar as it is knowledge and it appears precisely as a non-deducible Principle of the becoming of Being (into beings and their conceptual forms). In this same tense, lies also the progress of the Another Deduction of the Principles of positive philosophy written by Schelling in 1839, in which it is again emphasised that the true task of Schelling’s philosophy is after all “to find […] the true Monad, that is what is permanent, the principle that stands above all things.”28 In these terms, it would seem we are dealing with a metaphysical principle in the sense expressed by Heidegger, that is a form of onto-theology that conceives being starting from a ground and with the language typical of a certain ‘history of Being’. In truth, and we will see this in the specific, in this brief essay Schelling moves with great care over the terrain of the ultimate principle, in continuity with the concept of Ungrund, cautiously avoiding formulations of a metaphysical kind; and it is precisely in this tense, that we could call postmetaphysical, it is possible to grasp the affinity (that Heidegger himself notes, although as a danger, rather than as a resource) with Being as Ereignis that comes as an epilogue to ‘the history of Being’.

40In effect, the definition of Ereignis is somewhat problematic and directly involves Heidegger’s entire ontological conception; nonetheless, I believe I can state that a certain approximation to what Heidegger means by Ereignis – in particular since he feels obliged to separate this idea from assimilation with the conception of the Absolute (and with the coincidence with the Gestell of the technique) – can be given by the content of the conference Time and Being broadcast on the radio on January 29th 1962, and read by Heidegger at the University of Freiburg two days later. One passage from this lecture is quite illuminating with regard to the questions we are considering and the possibility of identifying a possible proximity between Ereignis and the Absolute:

  • 29 GA 14, 9-10; Heidegger M., On Time and Being, tr. Stambaugh, University of Chicago Press, 2002, 6.

To think Being itself explicitly requires disregarding Being to the extent that it is only grounded and interpreted in terms of beings and for beings as their ground, as in all metaphysics. To think Being explicitly requires us to relinquish Being as the ground of beings in favour of the giving which prevails concealed in unconcealment, that is, in favour of the It gives [Es gibt]. As the gift of this It gives, Being belongs to giving. As a gift, Being is not expelled from giving. Being, presencing is transmuted. As allowing-to-presence, it belongs to unconcealing; as the gift of unconcealing it is retained in the giving. Being is not. There is, It gives Being as the unconcealing; as the gift of unconcealing it is retained in the giving.29

41Heidegger insists on the fact that Ereignis must not be confused with a way of being, since this would mean assuming this concept within the confines of metaphysical thinking. We must rather consider Ereignis as making happen. In this sense, however, Heidegger tends to introduce a certain prudence since, in stating this, he perilously skirts a typically metaphysical sphere.The historical nature of the history of Being is determined, states Heidegger, only starting from the way in which Being happens (geschieht) that is the way in which Being gives itself; from this point of view, the ‘giving’ is described as sending (Schicken) the being, in which both the Who sends and the sending itself abstain in a X that can never be grasped.

42In reconstructing the ‘history of Being’ supplied by Heidegger, western philosophy neglected the “It” that gives (the Es in Es gibt) in favour of the gift (the being insofar as it is present) that is given by the “It”.

43The technical nub of the lecture we are considering lies in the question that intends to investigate the possibility of identifying the roots of sending and the Who of this ‘action’; it is immediately evident that this can become the central problem only thanks to the essential merging of being and time, a problem that already characterised – in what we could call a propaedeutic form – Sein und Zeit, although starting from quite different theoretical positions, and how the question can hardly be resolved by the identification of a subject to which the ‘responsibility’ (clearly a metaphysical concept that directly refers to a ground identifiable on the basis of the principle of sufficient reason) of the sending can be attributed.

  • 30 GA 14, 22; tr. Stambaugh, 17.

The destiny in which It gives Being [Es gibt Sein] lies in the extending of time. Does this reference show time to be the “It” that gives Being? By no means. For time itself remains the gift of an “It gives” [Es gibt] whose giving preserves the realm in which presence is extended. Thus the “It” continues to be undetermined, and we ourselves continue to be puzzled.30

44The enigmatic nature of Es gibt (the impersonal form that in German introduces what is objectively present, what there is) cannot therefore be clarified by the overlapping with ‘time’, almost as if it were the Subject that gives the being; the time is rather constituted together with the being in the same giving of the Es gibt.

45In Heidegger’s language, which is quite different from the terminology and the arguments of the metaphysics of German idealism, we find the Schellingian problem of the creation in time and of the Beginning, as a supra-temporal ‘passage’ from the infiniteness of the Absolute to the finite determinations of being.

46The solution suggested coincides with the introduction of the Ereignis, which, in its rich etymological articulation appears to be capable, in Heidegger’s view, on the one hand, of describing a ‘relation’ that is no longer metaphysical between being and time and, on the other, to emphasise the destinal nature of the ‘history of Being’.

  • 31 GA 14, 24; tr. Stambaugh, 19.

In the sending of the destiny of Being, in the extending of time, there becomes manifest a dedication, a delivering over into what is their own, namely of Being as presence and of time as the realm of the open. What determines both, time and Being, in their own, that is, in their belonging together, we shall call: Ereignis, the event of Appropriation. Ereignis will be translated as Appropriation or event of Appropriation. One should bear in mind, however, that “event” is not simply an occurrence, but that which makes any occurrence possible.31

47In this overlapping, constituted of the Ereignis, which essentially characterises being and time, nevertheless, we note the theoretical need to displace, beyond the character proper to “being as presence” and “time as the realm of the open”, the aim of the philosophical discourse, which becomes ever more clearly the giving self of the Es gibt : that is the ‘authentic’ and ultimate potential of the original and permanent Being as Beginning.

  • 32 GA 14, 24; tr. Stambaugh, 19.

In the expressions «Es gibt Sein» and «Es gibt Zeit», the Es that gives in “It gives Being,” “It gives time,” proves to be Appropriation. The statement is correct and yet also untrue: it conceals the matter at stake from us; for, unawares, we have represented it as some present being, whereas in fact we are trying to think presence as such.32

48The Es can therefore be traced to the Ereignis, nevertheless, this course, formally correct in terms of philosophical language, still moves in the direction of the metaphysical thinking of onto-theo-logy, since the Ereignis is conceived as a sort of (primal) Cause (Ur-sache) that determines the forms and the fate of being. After all, however, not even the (Schellingian) Absolute can be said to ‘determine’ its forms in a causal chain. The Unprethinkable placed at the start of the process cannot in fact be represented as the origin, as a sort of prime cause: in the becoming dynamics described by Schelling in the Another Deduction of the Principles of positive philosophy, we in effect witness the formulation of a thought, that we could also call post-Heideggerian, scrupulously careful not to reason in ‘metaphysical’ terms (in the Heideggerian sense of the expression) and designed to show, making use of the resources of Aristotelian thinking on the relationship between the contingency and the necessary, the ultimate possibility of positive philosophy which conceives beings starting from Being itself.

  • 33 SW II/4, 337.

49The Es of Heidegger’s Ereignis and the unprethinkable being of Schelling are to be intended as “that which, no matter how early we come on the scene, is already there”.33 Both the Es of the Ereignis and the unprethinkable being are not to be intended as a Principle in the form of a metaphysical cause: their absolute position that precedes any possible thought about them coincides with their common pure contingency. This aspect is to be read in connection with the Nichts (Nothingness) as unexhausted source of being that allows the absolutely free ‘position’ of dynamical and over-realistic Principles, that can determine every form of being and can allow the knowledge of them.

5. The nature of contingency

50The necessity of introducing a form of mere contingency (that characterizes both the Es of the Es gibt in the Ereignis and the unvordenkliches Seyn) in order to overcome the limits of onto-theology does not allow Schelling and Heidegger to clearly trace the dynamic ground that determines the ‘happening’ of the being. Nonetheless, both of them curiously allude (in a speculative way) to a sort of force (Kraft) that (as potentia potentiae) lets/makes happen the being.

  • 34 SW I/4, 145.

51In his Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie (Exposition of my System of Philosophy, 1801) Schelling affirms that “the essence of absolute identity, insofar as it is the immediate ground [Grund] of reality [Realität], is force [Kraft]”34.

  • 35 In particular, Frank refers to aphorism XXXIV in Schelling’s Aphorisms on the philosophy of Nature (...)

52Schelling’s statement must be read with the understanding that the absolute Identity is to be seen as the absolute Wirklichkeit of being, that is to say Being which, insofar as it is an absolute ‘position’, determines in its dynamics (always becoming) the successive (in ontological, not chronological order) distinction of the various realities (Realitäten), forms, of being. Moreover, it must be observed that Schelling seems to introduce between the Reality of the absolute Identity and the reality of beings, the ‘relation’ of causality (using the word Grund); nonetheless, this relation is totally extraneous to the principle of sufficient reason since the adjective immediate excludes a causal chain describable in time and introduces, instead, the concept of ‘force’ insofar as it is inherent in the absolute Identity. In fact, Schelling adds, shortly afterwards, that “the absolute Identity as the immediate foundation of the reality of A and B is force”. If X is the absolute Identity, A and B are then ‘determined’ by X insofar as it is force or “inherent foundation of reality”. But not even the verb ‘to determine’ can clarify the formula that ‘imposes’ the reality of A and B beginning from the X of the absolute Identity. This formula, as Manfred Frank shows, lies in the transitive meaning of the copula: X ‘is’ (in the transitive sense)35 A and B. In this the primal identity of X, which exists in both A and B is preserved, and at the same time we see the internal differentiation of the absolute Identity of X, which in itself (that is without any differentiation) is not, or is equal to Nothingness.

  • 36 SW II/3, 221.
  • 37 SW II/3, 355.
  • 38 “The potentia pura, the beginning of negative philosophy was not able to be potency […]. Uniquely t (...)

53In my opinion we can extend the concept of ‘force’ to the ‘speculative’ dynamics inside the Principle of the positive philosophy. Schelling affirms in fact that the rein Seyende and the Seynkönnende “are the same thing in substantial identity36 and according to the definition of the essence of identity given in 1801, only a force can be the ‘ground’ of the distinction and tense that determine the possibilities of the various realities of being. The unvordenkliches Seyn and the Seynkönnende together with the zwischen beiden frei Schwebende constitute in their tension the unity of the natura necessaria, that allows every single existence. Yet, what really allows every distinction (‘before’ the natura necessaria) is the same tension between the unvordenkliches Seyn and the Seynkönnende: “Anfangen (to begin) and Anziehen (to attract) are already equivalent concepts in their literal aspect: in the attraction is the beginning”.37 Although this description of the beginning concerns the existence of the entities determined by the will of God (as natura necessaria), it is necessary to emphasise that for Schelling ‘the beginning’ presupposes in any case, an attraction, a force that holds and makes possible the beginning: this aspect cannot be ignored in the ‘authentic’ primordial beginning of the process that opposes (in the Principle of positive philosophy) the Seynkönnende to the unvordenkliches Seyn: in their tension and free unity lies that force that, insofar as it is potentia potentia,38can the being and finds its formulation through the transitive meaning of the copula, that in my opinion is to be traced back to the natural roots of being, as Schelling seems to allude in the first pages of his Philosophical Inquires (1809), where he introduces  –  as we will see  –  the ‘dialectic’ meaning of the copula in relation to the question of pantheism, probably as an answer to the definition of ‘speculative sentence’ given by Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit two years before.

  • 39 SW II/4, 344-345.

54We know anyway that Schelling does not express this clearly and this conclusion remains hard to be proved, and moreover here we are in the sphere of the positive philosophy, that is in the ambit of the speculative philosophy, and any assertion has to be read only as a possibility, that needs to be proved.39

55In support of our somewhat daring conclusions, with regard to the Heideggerian perspective and its affinity with the late theories of Schelling, it may be useful to consider what Heidegger wrote, in the Letter on Humanism:

  • 40 GA 9, 316-317; Heidegger M., Pathmarks, McNeill W. (ed.), Cambridge University Press, 1998, 242.

Being is the enabling-favoring [das Vermögend-Mögende], the “may be” (das Mög-liche). As the element, being is the ‘quiet power’ [stille Kraft: ‘tacit force’] of the favoring-enabling, that is the possible […]. When I speak of the stille Kraft des Möglichen I do not mean the possible of a merely represented possibilitas, nor the potentia as essentia of an actus of existentia; rather, I mean being itself, which in its favoring presides over thinking, and hence over the essence of humanity and that means over its relation to being [which is to say on thought].40

56To see, as Heidegger does, “the possible” as that which can the being and the concept of being is to shift our attention to the being that flees from the presence and that in its capability ‘ lets/makes begins’ (in the sense of ereignet) the being and its forms: this Being “is” (west; while the entity ist) in the transitive meaning of the copula insofar as it is Ereignis : it is not, however, we repeat, a manner of being, it is rather that which can (in its ‘tacit force’) the being itself and which shows itself only in the process, in the gibt of the Es gibt (in the giving of the ‘it gives’), that is when it happens; this is where its unprethinkable and pure original contingent (and therefore unforeseeable) nature originate from.

  • 41 “[The] difficulty lies in language. Our Western languages are languages of metaphysical thinking, e (...)
  • 42 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 95; Stambaugh, 78.

57Yet, this ‘tacit force’ which can the being also determines its logical-metaphysical happening and therefore also the grammar which is expressed beginning with the copula, that states at the same time the free ‘passage’ from the infiniteness of Being to the finitude of the single manifestation of beings and their essential identity. In this consists the main difficulty in arguing about Being that withdraws from the presence41 since the latter “freely” derives from the former, and the relationship that links the Being with beings (entities, insofar as they are present) can be expressed, for example by Schelling, through the copula but only through speculative sentences like “God is everything”, whose understanding is possible only for those which are able to understand the identity (expressed in this kind of proposition) in its dialectic meaning and its “creativity”.42

  • 43 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 95; tr. Stambaugh, 78-79.

58As we know, in the Philosophical Inquires of 1809 Schelling, in an attempt to clarify how the question of authentic pantheism can only rest on Freedom, shows how the question cannot be dealt with as a simply theological problem, but is above all an ontological question, based on a dialectic conception of the principle of Identity. This aspect is also well highlighted by Heidegger in his Vorlesung of 1936, where he clarifies that pantheism is to be considered an ontological question and how it appears incomprehensible only to those who  –  as Schelling observes  –  persist “in the general misunderstanding of the law of identity or the meaning of the copula in judgement”. Heidegger correctly observes that Schelling poses the ontological question of the concept of being starting from the meaning of the copula ‘is’ and consequently, since the copula of the judgement is a constitutive element of the proposition (of the predication in general), the proposition becomes ‘the leitmotiv’ of the ontological question, starting from the principle of Identity. This principle should obviously not be read in the ‘common’ sense of sameness, since this prevents adequate understanding of Identity: Schelling can say that “identity is truly not a dead relation of indifferent and sterile identicalness, but ‘unity’ is directly productive, ‘creative’, and progressing toward others”,43 and with these words, in my opinion, traces back the meaning of the copula to the philosophy of nature and its constructive process:

  • 44 SW I/7, 345-346; tr. Gutmann, 18.

For if, at first glance, it seems that freedom, unable to maintain itself in opposition to God, is here submerged in identity, it may be said that this apparent result is merely the consequence of an imperfect and empty conception of the law of identity. […] The unity of this law is of an intrinsically creative kind. In the relation of subject to predicate itself we have already pointed out the relation of ground and consequence; and the law of sufficient reason is therefore just as ultimate as the law of identity. The Eternal as such, must, on this account, also be this ground, without mediation. That for which the Eternal is by its nature the ground, is, to this extent, dependent and, from the point of view of immanence, is also conceived in the Eternal.44

  • 45 “Only Schelling went beyond Fichte and took the step to this complete, general essential concept of (...)

59The formal concept of freedom insofar as it is “independence as standing within one’s own essential law” can be grasped if and only if nature is not understood as “what is merely to be overcome [as would wish Kantian doctrine], but as what is constitutive [and] joins a higher unity with freedom”.45

  • 46 SW II/4, 344-345.
  • 47It is precisely because thinking starts in nature from the actuality of which thought is part that (...)

60But nature cannot be conceived as a mere antecedens of a consequence, since its primordial and perpetual freedom cannot be described trough the principle of sufficient reason. The need to introduce contingency in order to explain the process that originates from the freedom of nature is only a manner to deal with the beginning of Being adopting logical resources in an ambit that can only be described through speculations,46 but these resources are inadequate to describe this natural (and primal) realm, since the latter precedes and produces in his process (as natura naturans) the former always in a relation of identity, insofar as it is “the common root of their emergence”.47 The difficulties to deal with the copula and its transitive meaning have their roots in the natural essence of the copula, that emerges clearly in Schelling’s Freiheitsschrift.

61The necessity of contingency is simply a logical necessity, but this cannot explain the actual dialectic of the copula, that traduces the real dynamics from which freely derives any form of beings:

  • 48 Schelling 1993, 168.

There is actual dialectic uniquely in the realm of freedom; uniquely it allows to solve every riddle.48

62The dynamics from which Schelling’s ontology originates cannot be described exclusively, as Heidegger’s simplification would have it, from the metaphysical concept of an Absolute as φύσις-ἀλήθεια (“as clarifying itself and persisting in itself”, GA 88, 138), since an ontological-dynamic excess is introduced into it, which always precedes the process and, from the absolute Nothingness that it was (X = 0, ‘before’ any A or B), becomes, thanks to the free natural dynamics that activates the process itself, the indefinable and permanent ‘reserve’ for the forms of being. The same ontological-dynamic excess is present in the Heideggerian Ereignis, and both the (logical) necessity to introduce contingency to explain the ‘passage’ from Being to beings, and the elusive allusion to a ‘tacit force’ of the possible seem to prove the closeness to Schelling’s Absolute as such, he seeks distinctly to deny.

63May be, we can say, that both Schelling and Heidegger draw a form of postmetaphysical Absolute (beyond any form of onto-theology), that can be described as φύσις if the latter is read, in close connection with the Nothingness of the Beginning, in the sense of unconceivable (through logical resource) and creative origin and perpetual source of being, and in relation of identity with the thinking upon it and its forms.


1 I have described this dynamics in my books Vertigini della Ragione. Schelling e Nietzsche, Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 2008, and Volontà d’amore. L’estremo comando della volontà di potenza, Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 2011.

2 It was exactly in 1936 that Heidegger worked on the project of the Beiträge zur Philosophie which is probably the other cornerstone  –  together with Sein und Zeit  –  of Heideggerian thinking.

3 Heidegger traces a complete reconstruction of the ‘history of Being’ in the II volume of his work Nietzsche. To summarise the process we can say that Plato’s concept, according to which the being appears as idea, or as an intelligible entity whose truth (seen as the revelation-concealing of self), presents itself as the appearance of the being in the presence, and the Aristotelian concept of being as energheia, as being in action, that is effectively present (a concept that dominates, according to Heidegger, throughout the Latin Middle Ages in the translation of actualitas above all attributed to God) blend together in the conviction of Descartes that the true being has the fundamental characteristic of certainty.
For Descartes, only that which is certain is real and the existence of the subject is above all certain. Descartes’ diminution of true being to the certainty of the subject is nothing more than a diminution of things (of entities) to self by the Ego. This diminution can at the end be read as the reduction of the being to the will of the subject. Starting from this idea, according to Heidegger, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel built their great philosophical systems which can be summarised in a general diminution of the being to the will of knowing, of representing; a diminution that led to Nietzsche’s will to power.

4 Although Heidegger conceives the world as “total organisation/im-position” (Gestell) as “a first urgent spark of Ereignis”, this certainly does not reduce the meaning of Ereignis to the world as Technik as the phenomenon that describes the unfolding and the achievement of metaphysics: “What it indicates happens only in the singular [in the system as Gestell], no, not in any number, but uniquely. What we experience in the frame as the constellation of Being and man through the modern world of technology is a prelude to what is called the event of appropriation (Ereignis)”. However this latter does not necessarily linger on its prelude, since in the event/appropriation it announces the possibility that it overcomes the mere dominion of the system in a more initial happening (Beginning) ( Heidegger M., Gesamtausgabe [GA], Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann,1975-; here in GA 11, 45-46; tr. Stambaugh 36-37). We pursue our present discourse, and the parallel to Schelling’s Absolute, by taking up, in particular, this most essential meaning of Ereignis.

5 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung über das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1809), Feick H. (ed.), Tübingen: Niemeyer Verlag, 1971, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

6 See Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 4.

7 Theology generally means asking the original question about being in its totality and it has always been the essence and the proceeding of philosophy, since the philosophical question is always  –  for Heidegger  –  in itself twofold: philosophy is onto-theo-logy, since every philosophy is theo-logy in the original sense that the conceptual understanding (logos) of the being as a whole places the question of the ground of Being and this ground (Grund) is called God (Theos) (see Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 98).

8 See GA 79, 90.

9 SW I/7, 359-60; tr. Gutmann 34.

10 In particular in the Abhandlungen zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der Wissenschaftslehre, written between 1796 and 1797 we can see considerably in advance the development that would then mature in the Philosophical Inquires, since the real activity (placed in a priority position with respect to the ideal activity) corresponds to ‘pure will’ as the source of Selbstbewusstein (SW I/1, 401).

11 Aristotle, Met. 1026b-1027a.

12 SW II/4, 338.

13 SW II/3, 101; tr. Matthews, 160.

14 SW II/3, 103; tr. Matthews, 161-162.

15 SW II/3, 104; tr. Matthews, 162.

16 SW II/3, 104-105; tr. Matthews, 163.

17 SW II/4, 338.

18 GA 88, 138.

19 In Vertigini della ragione, I already emphasised that the ontological excess shown as an absolutely free Principle lay in the possibility of reading Schelling’s philosophy (and with it also that of Nietzsche) as post-Heideggerian thinking: “The false unity through which freedom was harnessed in the Wissen and which for Schelling represents the Hegelian experiment intended to enclose reality within the circle of rationality, corresponds to the Nietzschean perspective of the Apollonian will to power which, in the attempt to include freedom within its interpretation, discovers that knowledge does not know how to go beyond itself and must therefore yield to a new beginning, which is discovered in the abyssal and Dionysian basis of the existent: in the eternal Macht of the Wille, in the eternal power of the will. The hidden danger of the false unity is the ever-looming danger of nihilism, a risk that Schelling accepts and overcomes placing the eternal Freedom at the basis of the becoming Absolute. Schelling, having discovered the falsity and the limits of the logical foundation, welcomes ante litteram the announcement of the ‘death of God’ and the Heideggerian reading of this event, renouncing the ‘position’ of a stable and definitive Grund, in favour of an elusive and unlimited freedom. In this sense it is possible to understand the definition suggested by Luigi Pareyson of Schelling as a post-Heideggerian thinker: although I suggest we should also include Nietzsche, precisely thanks to that affinity with Schelling that we have emphasised in these pages, as post-Heideggerian thinker, in the sense that also Nietzsche overcomes metaphysics certainly considering the will to power as the new Grund from which to start again, but not in the metaphysical, too metaphysical perspective in which Heidegger means it” ( Corriero E.C., Vertigini della ragione, 195).

20 GA 88, 138-139.

21 GA 88, 143.

22 Since this would mean introducing a ground and therefore thinking again within an onto-theological view.

23 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

24 ‘The potencies therefore only give themselves within the sphere of appearances, of the phenomena; and the differences in the potencies are mere differences of a quantitative nature, not of Essence (Wesen) of the relation itself; the Absolute itself is beyond any potency’ (SW I/6, 211-212).

25 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

26 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 231; tr. Stambaugh, 191.

27 In the Formschrift, 1794 and in Of the I as Principle of Philosophy (1795) Schelling seeks to find in the Kantian categories of Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) the principle for their overall deduction, while already in the Abhandlungen of 1796/97 he sees in freedom the unique possible starting point both for the theoretical philosophy and for the moral philosophy (SW I/1, 335-403).

28 SW II/4, 337.

29 GA 14, 9-10; Heidegger M., On Time and Being, tr. Stambaugh, University of Chicago Press, 2002, 6.

30 GA 14, 22; tr. Stambaugh, 17.

31 GA 14, 24; tr. Stambaugh, 19.

32 GA 14, 24; tr. Stambaugh, 19.

33 SW II/4, 337.

34 SW I/4, 145.

35 In particular, Frank refers to aphorism XXXIV in Schelling’s Aphorisms on the philosophy of Nature which we partially quote here: “The difficulty most philosophers find in perceiving the unity of the infinite with the finite, or that that is immediately this, derives from their lack of understanding of the absolute identity […]. In the theory A is B, Nothingness is stated other than that A is the esse (the essence) of B (which, for this reason is not therefore for itself; but is thanks to the link with A). This is precisely the sense of the proposition: God is everything; which in Latin should be expressed not as est res cuntae, but rather (invita latinitate) as est res cunctas. (The way things are elevated from the passive to the active, is shown by comparing aphorism VII with aphorism XX)” (SW I/7, 205). See Frank M., Natura e Spirito. Lezioni sulla filosofia di Schelling, Corriero E.C. (ed.), Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 2010, 71.

36 SW II/3, 221.

37 SW II/3, 355.

38 “The potentia pura, the beginning of negative philosophy was not able to be potency […]. Uniquely the pure Being (rein Seiende) is the “may-be” (das Mächtige) of potency and, since it cannot be potency of Actus, it is already material potentia potentiae.” ( Schelling 1993, 165).

39 SW II/4, 344-345.

40 GA 9, 316-317; Heidegger M., Pathmarks, McNeill W. (ed.), Cambridge University Press, 1998, 242.

41 “[The] difficulty lies in language. Our Western languages are languages of metaphysical thinking, each in its own way. It must remain an open question whether the nature of Western languages is in itself marked with the exclusive brand of metaphysics, and thus marked permanently by onto-theo-logic, or whether these languages offer other possibilities of utterance-and that means at the same time of a telling silence. The difficulty to which thoughtful utterance is subject has appeared often enough in the course of this seminar. The little word “is,” which speaks every-where in our language, and tells of Being even where It does not appear expressly, contains the whole destiny of Being-from the ἔστιν γὰρ εἶναι of Parmenides to the “is” of Hegel’s speculative sentence, and to the dissolution of the “is” in the positing of the Will to Power with Nietzsche.” (GA 11, 79; tr. Stambaugh, 73)

42 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 95; Stambaugh, 78.

43 Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 95; tr. Stambaugh, 78-79.

44 SW I/7, 345-346; tr. Gutmann, 18.

45 “Only Schelling went beyond Fichte and took the step to this complete, general essential concept of freedom”, Heidegger M., Schellings Abhandlung, 101; tr. Stambaugh, 84.

46 SW II/4, 344-345.

47It is precisely because thinking starts in nature from the actuality of which thought is part that a philosophy of nature must oppose the idea that nature is identical with its concept”, Grant I.H., “How nature came to be thought: Schelling’s paradox and the problem of location”, in Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, volume 44, number 1, 2013, 24-43, here 24.

48 Schelling 1993, 168.


Research Fellow at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici of Naples and adjunct Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Turin. In his works he has evidenced the philosophical affinities between Schelling and Nietzsche, and he is currently completing a book on the Ground after Heidegger. Amongst his books Vertigini della Ragione. Schelling e Nietzsche (Rosenberg & Sellier, 2008) Volontà d’amore. L’estremo comando della volontà di potenza (Rosenberg & Sellier, 2011), Libertà e Conflitto. Da Heidegger a Schelling, per un’ontologia dinamica (Rosenberg & Sellier, 2012).

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