March 25, 2019
Thinking The Pulse of Life (Poster here)
Schellingian approaches to issues in contemporary thought
With a newfound urgency, the concept of life is drawing more and more attention : ontological inquiries call upon notions of organisms, vitality, and life-processes ; critical social philosophies turn their focus on forms-of-(human)-life ; ecology-influenced approaches attempt to re-evaluate the supervenience and centrality of the human living being, while accounts of the mind dig deeper into non-reductionist understandings of biology. Since any consensual term relies on an equivocity allowing disparate concepts to proliferate without explicit dissensus, the growing interest in the spectrum of life-related concepts cannot but attract scrutiny : be it towards its explanatory claims, its descriptive reach or its socio-political background, 'Life' sorely requires philosophical dissection.
In order to bring forth an understanding from which this project might be elaborated, we here propose instead to turn ourselves to the complex yet rich philosophy of Friedrich Schelling, where the questions of nature and life are given an unique philosophical weight, and the potential unity of nature and spirit – and perhaps, their eventual and irredeemable disjunction – is articulated. A central figure in post-kantian, idealistic and romantic thought, Schelling is also one of the main references for the paradigmatic shift towards the concept of life that Western philosophy took in the 19th century, not only with respect to philosophy of nature and biology, but also regarding materialism and political and social theory. During the event we shall therefore focus on different moments of Schelling's production and relate them to the debates and problems that currently stir the philosophical discourse.
10:00 - 10:30 Introduction
10:30 - 11:30 Life, sexuality, and authenticity / Martijn Buijs (UC Santa Barbara)
11:45 - 12:45 Life of Thought and Life-thought / Louis Morelle (Paris I)
13:00 - 14:00 Lunch break
14:00 - 15:00 Not all cows. A reassessment of Schelling's approach to subjectivity and unconsciousness / Giacomo Croci (Freie Universität Berlin)
15:15 - 16:15 Contingency as the Principle of Freedom in Schelling / Mahmoud Rasmi (American University of Beirut)
16:30 - 17:30 Closing Debate and Discussion
Life, sexuality, and authenticity / Martijn Buijs (UC Santa Barbara)
The project of Schelling's Naturphilosophie is a deduction of nature as a self-manifesting force that progressively articulates itself from inorganic categories through to the organic and ultimately to consciousness. As consciousness achieves itself only when it reaches its own freedom, nature itself must for Schelling already be said to strive for freedom. Sexual difference emerges as a structuring principle of this account already in the first stirrings of inorganic nature. But if nature and spirit are not rigidly opposed, but rather manifestations of the same underlying freedom, then sexual difference is at least an enabling condition of freedom.
This question of sexual polarity does not disappear from Schelling's thought after the radicalization his philosophy of freedom undergoes in the Freiheitsschrift. Though there is little discussion of sexuality on the plane of concrete human experience, I argue this results from Schelling's refusal to engage in normative ethics as such – not an incidental lapsus, but a result of a concept of freedom that lies not in the rational autonomy of the subject, but rather in keeping open the possibility of the originary irruption beyond autonomy. If Schelling is nevertheless a thinker of modernity, and if modernity for him means no less the embrace of freedom as self-determination, then such self-determining freedom is best understood as authenticity.
Buijs is a scholar of 19th and 20th century European philosophy, with a particular focus on German Idealism and Phenomenology. In 2017 he completed his dissertation Freedom and Revelation: A Systematic Reconstruction of Schelling's Late Philosophy in the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. His current research at UC Santa Barbara is on the concept of love in its ethical, political, and metaphysical dimensions in the work of contemporary philosophers such as Jean-Luc Marion, Alain Badiou, and Giorgio Agamben.
Life of thought and Life-thought / Louis Morelle (Paris-I)
Thinking, as a kind of activity partaken in by living beings, seems to oscillate between a genetic dependency with regards to its organic conditions, and a claim to an autonomy of expression that extends beyond the dictates of life and immediacy. Philosophical idealism, in trying to specify the metaphysical basis for the operation of thinking to be rendered intelligible, entails a fundamental homology between the structure of thinking and processuality as such, from which can be derived an equivocation as to which pole of the equation enjoys conceptual primacy : either an intellectualization of being, sensation, and life, or a materialization, a vitalization of abstract thought.
Furthermore, the only way to assert the primacy of either side, « thought » or « life », is to posit one as conditioned, and the other as unconditioned, or, more specifically, as self-legislating. This elevation of either life or thought to the rank of causa sui, either through universal intelligibility or universal productivity, does not seem to be understood apart from its genealogy into theological speculations into the divine as prime Legislator, as omnipotence.
By circulating between three orders of conceptual determination, metaphysical, noetic, and theological, and attempting to articulate them, we hope to show how thinking can affirm the separateness of its interests from those of life without recourse to a specious theology of reason. This will entail, respectively, an examination of the historical conceptions of a life-of-thought, originating in Neoplatonism : an inquiry into the conceptualization of the nexus of living and thinking as variations on a pre-organic pulsion (Trieb) in German Idealism : and an analysis, in the theologico-political mode, of the constraints upon the concept of life as inherited from the circulation of being between the poles of the Trinity.
Morelle is a PhD student at Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne. His research centers on Naturphilosophie as a transhistorical project linking togethers figures from Eriugena and Spinoza, through Schelling and German Idealism, to Whitehead and process philosophy.
Not all cows. A reassessment of Schelling's approach to subjectivity and unconsciousness / Giacomo Croce (Freie Universität Berlin)
Among the German Idealists, Schelling is often misconceived as a representative of irrational currents in philosophical thinking, not only by critics but also by those who aim at a positive reevaluation of his work. His philosophy is thus relegated to the corner of an obscure vitalism and a reactionary plea for immediacy, opposed to conceptual understanding. In my talk I aim to correct this narrative by focusing mainly on Schelling's System of transcendental idealism (1800) and on his understanding of subjectivity.
Contrary to the mainstream interpretation – according to which Schelling dissolves in a reductionist fashion self-conscious subjectivity into unconscious, pre-subjective, natural processes – I shall offer an alternative view. First, I will argue that Schelling's concept of the unconscious doesn't refer to a pre-subjective, chaotic background of consciousness, but to a moment of self-consciousness, which is furthermore not to be located only in natural processes, but also in the second-natural realisation of human mindedness, i.e. its social, institutional, historical feature. Following the critique to the irrationality-interpretation, I shall assess in a more precise way how he positively conceptualises the self, with respect to its temporal and interactive constitution. To do so, I will stress Schelling's praxeological approach to the mind and reconstruct his arguments that, moving from the concept of possible action, outline what in the System is called the sense of the present, the grounding temporal structure of the self. I shall argue that its pulsating nature, far from being a concession to vitalistic views, is better explained as a pragmatist, processual and temporal approach to self-consciousness. Thirdly, I will conclude by relating Schelling's take on subjectivity to present-day theories in the philosophy of mind.
Croci is a PhD candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin. His research focuses on German Idealism, Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. He is currently working on the relationship between theories of historical and processual subjectivity and the concept of the unconscious, referring mainly to the early Schelling and the early Heidegger. He is also interested in Freudian and Lacanian Psychoanalytic Theory.
Contingency as the Principle of Freedom in Schelling / Mahmoud Rasmi (American University of Beirut)
In this paper I will first focus on two key concepts that figure in Schelling's writings. These two concepts constitute the backbone of the argument that aims to construct a philosophy of freedom the condition of possibility of which is (absolute) contingency. The first concept is that of the Ungrund which “reveals the contingency of being as such" (Gabriel 2013). The second concept is that of the unprethinkable as what is already there but which cannot be thought precisely “because we trivially change the world through our thoughts and actions" (Gabriel 2013).
The conclusion of such an odyssey will be to show that, at the bottom of it, and in order to understand Schelling's philosophical project, we have to bear in mind that (1) he is attempting to create a myth of creation which cannot be accessed apriori, (2) the result of such an attempt, whose features appear as early as in the freedom essay, is the utilization of such concepts as god, freedom, ungrund, and the unprethinkable, (3) underlying this stream of thought is one fundamental proposition which forms the basis of Schelling's philosophical endeavor without which neither (1) nor (2) could be well founded: that is, the principle of contingency.
Rasmi is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. He completed his PhD in philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Salamanca. In his PhD dissertation titled “Mythopoesis, Aesthetics and Artistic Creation: Towards a Tautegorical Interpretation of the Cinematic Image," he focused on aesthetics and the philosophy of mythology of the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling. In his thesis, he argued for a tautegorical interpretation of the cinematic image, taking as an example the films of the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. His research interests include Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, and 19th century philosophy.
This Aporia event is under the Philosophy Aesthetics and Critical Theory Colloquium Series supported by FAS and the Provost Office and hosted by the Philosophy Department.