December 21st, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Iain Hamilton Grant: Reconstructing Schelling's Naturephilosophy for Contemporary Philosophy

" is an argument of this book, as it was of Schelling’s, that metaphysics cannot be pursued in isolation from physics."
     - Iain Hamilton Grant

I'm enjoying my late night readings of Schelling's original works on naturephilosophy, which was instigated recently by the enlightening, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, by Iain Hamilton Grant, which with its lucid, engaged, and... shall I say it - engrossing style continues to amaze me by the simplicity and power of its argument regarding the need for a contemporary revival of Schelling's naturephilosophy as both a goad and a project. These are just a few notations from my careful perusal of Grant's work. It's more of a notebook of his ideas rather than a commentary on them, and will hopefully consolidate certain motifs within my current understanding of his unique philosophical  reconstruction of Schelling's naturephilosophy in the light of postkantian philosophies.

Grant abrogates the whole post-Cartesian philosophical heritage that has not only eliminated the concept of 'nature' from its horizon, but from its veritable 'existence', too. [1] He tells us that at the heart of our contemporary philosophical debate between speculative realism and anti-realism (or correlationism) "are two models of metaphysics: a one-world physics capable of the Idea, and an eliminativist practicism. The contrast could be neither more overt nor more pressing: ethicism is purchased at the cost of the elimination of nature" (ix). 

Grant notes that Schelling's naturephilosophy was "synthetic with regard to the departments of the special sciences entails not that naturalists’ work submitted to the imperatives of their philosophical master’s ‘encyclopaedism’, but rather that naturalistic enquiry is indissociable from philosophizing" (ix). He sets out to "rescue Platonism from modern anti-physics"; reconstruct Schelling's dynamic physics as seen through his use of Kant and Fichte, as well as Oken and Carus; and, trace the problem-sources of transcendentalism in naturephilosophy through the perspective of both philosophers and physicists; as well as, explore the diverse conceptions that derive from Schelling's inquiries into nature and intelligence. In a final chapter he explores the work of Schelling in light of Gilles Deleuze's naturephilosophy.


We are always and at all times bound to the Void. With each exposition we generate the possibilities of nature from within the unconditioned ground of its generative potentiality. Like nautical pilots of some philosophical starship we launch our thought experiments from within the "universal and impersonal" medium of the Absolute. This is done through a generative, not demonstrative, process "through which productive nature itself acts on, or produces, itself: "To philosophise about nature means to create nature" (1). Nature becomes the ground of our philosophical musings, and all philosophical thought is constrained by a 'naturalistic and physicalist' ground of philosophy (2). There is no need for a transcendental subject, or big 'Other', behind the manifold workings of Nature, instead "Schelling arrives at a conception of ‘nature as subject’ ...: this infamous characterization is not a ‘senseless . . . Romantic anthropomorphism’ ..., but affirms the autonomy of nature; nature, then, not as it appears to Mind, but nature itself"(2)

Naturephilosophy is "a naturalistic ‘empiricism extended to the absolute’" (5). Schellingianism "is resurgent every time philosophy reaches beyond the Kant-inspired critique of metaphysics, its subjectivist-epistemological transcendentalism, and its isolation of physics from metaphysics" (5). Grant affirms the proposition that we should not consider Schelling’s own works the exhaustion but rather the inception of naturephilosophy, ‘Schellingianism’ designates the philosophical project of unconditioning the metaphysics of nature" (6).


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