Nature is Visible Spirit
Schelling's philosophy: Freedom, history and the "devouring ferocity of purity."
Adam Jacobs: Okay. Hi Chris. How are you? It's so good to have you here today. How are things going today?
Christopher Satoor: Things are going well, and thank you for having me here. I'm really excited to be here.
Adam Jacobs: It's my great pleasure. And let's start off like this. I've been a fan of your Twitter account for a long time, and I have noticed that you have a particular fascination, and I know this is a German pronunciation. I hope I'm saying it correctly, but with Schelling, is that how you say it?
Christopher Satoor: That's how you say it, exactly. Yeah.
Adam Jacobs: Okay. Friedrich Schelling, as far as I know. And so I've learned a lot about him and his thinking through you, but I wanted to just open up and ask, and I have a bunch of questions to ask you about his philosophy and people like him, but why are you so attracted to his philosophy? What is it that draws you to it?
Christopher Satoor: That's a really good question. So this is a kind of long question, but when I started my early learnings in university, I was already drawn to this movement. I was drawn to thinkers like Emmanuel Kant was born in 1724 and died in 1804, and Hagel. But I had never heard of, never heard of Schelling. I didn't hear of him until my PhD year. In my first year actually, my mentor, who was my supervisor for my dissertation, and I read his Freedom Essay, so in Germans pronounced Freiheit Shrift, and I was captivated by this text. It drew me in completely.
And at the same time, there were so many puzzling questions about it. There was just so much unique philosophical debates in the text and so much I needed to learn. And I had to study this text multiple times. I mean, I'm not sure how many times I've read it, but I've had to go over it with a fine toothcomb multiple times. And after that, I read about his biography, and he had a kind of tragic life. And it just hit me that he seems like such a normal individual, such a brilliant finger as well, and so different from the rest of the tradition. I hope that kind of sums him up.
Adam Jacobs: I don’t know much about his life, but I will say that comparing his before and after pictures, by the end of his life, he looks very worn, like very world-weary. And I don't know if you can tell that much from someone's image, but he looks like he's been through the wringer. And I guess I should, I'd like to learn about that. But I wanted to ask you something specific about his philosophy, and this is for the benefit of the audience, some of which will understand what these terms mean and others won't. And so let's try to spell it out to the best of our ability, the distinction between what's known as Idealism, which Schelling subscribes to, and the philosophy that opposes that, which is known as Realism in just a couple of paragraphs. Would you be able to explain what those terms mean?
Christopher Satoor: Of course. So Schelling is obviously writing. When we think of the word idealism, a lot of it gets misconstrued with the 16th and 17th-century enlightenment philosophy, rational, where philosophy is drawn, or philosophy or all absolute knowledge is kind of governed by reason. But in regards to Idealism, the Idealism that Schelling is speaking about in particular is the Idealism that Emmanuel Kant writes about. So this imagines the world in front of us conforming or being drawn to our capacities, to our understanding.
So we have a kind of interior understanding of the world. It's grasped through our faculties. That would be the best understanding of idealism. So we can understand the world, we can grasp it and its essence through a kind of ideal component. So conceptually speaking of Realism, I would say it is the belief that there is a world outside. There's a world outside of our head; there's a world outside of our understanding. It's there. And in the tradition of philosophy, it's usually, well, in analytic philosophy, it's usually spoken of as a space that contains furniture. And so Schelling kind of plays on these two specific disciplines. He'll say later on that idealism is the soul of philosophy and realism is its body, and only the two together can form a living whole.
Adam Jacobs: So it's funny you should say that. That's actually the first thing that I wrote down that I wanted to ask you about it. So you're exactly on track. But in considering that point, it seems to me like that those are the antecedents of the modern dichotomy between what I would call whatever doctrine we would want to call it meta-physicalism or transcendentalism or something. The idea that there's something beyond just the physical. So when he describes this dichotomy between the body and soul in these two kinds of philosophies, does he mean that literally, and I know that there was a certain amount of effort that he put into sort of synthesizing these two things, but this is a very old idea, body, soul, physical, non-physical. Is that what he's getting at? Or is he just saying that these are two kinds of ways of thinking about the world?
Christopher Satoor: No, I think that he's working through, as you said, these are very old ideas. He's working through that complex tradition, and he's essentially saying very profoundly in a sense that one-sided idealism misses something, and one-sided realism also misses something. So I'll give you an example you brought up. So the problem with just being a physicalist is that we start to see the world in physical terms, in all in material terms, and we tend to reduce everything down to materiality. I'm thinking of someone like the Chrchlands that they reduce all stimulus down to biological phenomena. So love is just a chemical imbalance.
Schelling would find this atrocious, but at the same time, it misses something from the picture. I don't want to use too much jargon to kind of be overbearing to your audience, but Schelling said something very early in his 1797 book ideas. He says nature is visible spirit. So there's the realism and spirit is invisible nature, there's the idealism and that the two together kind of join what is a living person. So a living person needs both. Its interior structure, its interiority, it's its understanding, its self-consciousness, and it also needs its realism, it needs its body, it needs this thing that's the world. So the two of them kind of come together and form this kind of complex synthesis for him.
Adam Jacobs: Well, I find that appealing personally, and it certainly comports with a lot of what the spiritual traditions out there would hold to be true. But let's drill down a little bit on Idealism. Why is it that so many German thinkers seem to be so captivated by it, and seemingly at the same time, did it become popular? Was it a fad? And so that's sort of part one and two is why would a traditional, a classical monotheist, maybe not like Idealism? And the reason I ask that is because there are certain, I'm thinking of a Catholic philosopher in particular who really rejects it and doesn't like it, but I don't exactly understand why. So the German part of the question and then the traditionalist question both framed around idealism.
Christopher Satoor: So this is a wonderful question. I hope you don't mind me being a little historical here.
Adam Jacobs: I don't.
Christopher Satoor: So in the medieval age, what we saw was a formation of two kinds of truths. There were biblical truths, so the truths that are found in the Torah and the New Testament. And then there were the truths of Plato and Aristotle. And during this time, those were the only forms of knowledge that we could grasp upon. So if you look at the Jewish tradition, Maimonides does the same thing, Philo of Alexandria; if you look in the Islamic tradition, Averroes does this sort of similar thing, but with Aristotle and in the Christian tradition, what you get is a series of thinkers, Latin thinkers working with these two forms of truth, the platonic, let's say platonic if we're working with Augustine and the Biblical, the New Testament. And the thing is, is that they came up with different understandings. So for this tradition, to have a thinker like Augustine and Aquinas coming up with didn't with new truths was problematic.
And so when we reached the modern world, so I'm talking about Descartes here, he wanted to find a method that could solve the problem, that could find all the truths, and he wanted to map that onto mathematics. And so this is really the start of where Idealism forms this Cartesian movement of the Cogito ergo sum or the, I think, therefore I am. And this whole kind of enlightenment philosophy of now we're going to try to find a new method, we're going to move away from the kind of ancient past and move forward to a kind of solid ground, an arched point.
But what happens is two formations, two schools form rational Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, and then empiricist form. So the physicists, the materialists, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Now out of this kind of odd parallelism between the two of them, Kant emerges, but Kant emerges because Hume challenges him first and foremost; Hume says something like human beings cannot understand causality because we anticipate things. So I'll give you an example. The fact that the sun's going, if I asked you a question, Adam, will the sun rise tomorrow?
Adam Jacobs: Very likely.
Christopher Satoor: Very likely. But how do you know that? Right? And he would basically say, well, we don't know that based on cause and effect; we know that by anticipating it. And then Kant also woke up from his dogmatic slumber with this idea that, according to Hume, there is no such thing as the self where just a bundle of sense data and Kant, is shaken by this, is he's shaken to his core in this very moment.
What do you mean there's no self? What does that even mean? And so he asks him this question, so if we are this bundle of sense data, as you say, what's doing all the bundling, what's synthesizing all of our experience? And this is what moves German Idealism forward. It's this one movement, it's this moment that wakes up Kant that makes him realize, okay, what can reason give us, how can pure reason help us understand the world and the experience of ourselves? So that's really the, I'm sorry I took you on this long journey, but that was…
Adam Jacobs: And that's his “critique of pure reason”, right?
Christopher Satoor: Exactly. Yes, yes. That's the critique of pure reason where he creates a new idealism called Transcendental Idealism, and it's called transcendental because, for Kant, he doesn't think that we can get into the whole. So what does that mean? The whole, well, say you decided to come and visit me in Toronto, and you wanted to come see York University or the University of Toronto, and you said, Chris, it's great to see you. I'd love to see U of T. So I take you to see the libraries, I take you to see here and there, but you're like, no, no, no, Chris, I want to see all of U of T. And the problem here is that we as human beings can only take in specific parts of the whole and console point is that in this kind of very fragmented form of knowledge, we can never really get at the things themselves.
What we can basically get are brief packets of the conditions of all possible experience. And so conflicts that the world conforms to how our mind understands everything. So the faculties, so he'll give an example that some of the faculties are quality, quantity, relation, and modality. Now, I'm not trying to overbear us with concepts, but this is important. So think about the room that you're in right now. So the first category of that under the faculties is quantity. How many objects are in that room that are filled up with space that your mind kind of absorbs, that takes in qualities, the colors, the textures, and sounds that you're hearing around you.
And the third relation is how you're related to the chair you're sitting in or the table that you're at. And modality is how you think about that. So all of that diversity and knowledge is being siphoned into your mind and kind of synthesized really nicely. And so this is what makes it transcendental that there's this kind of barrier, but not really in a sense it's there, the world is there, but we can't really get our hands on it. We can't fully get at it is what Kant is essentially saying. So we have intuitions about the world, and those intuitions follow with concepts, and those concepts have content. So now this leads us to the second part of the question.
Adam Jacobs: I just wanted to make a comment, which is that it's so clear to me what you're saying, I don't see how anyone could possibly challenge the idea that nature is fragmented and that all we can possibly perceive is a piece of it at a time. And quantum physics certainly seems to suggest that who is it that has such a grasp of reality that they can take in the totality of it? I don't think anyone would suggest that. So it would be surprising to me that anyone would find fault with that idea.
Christopher Satoor: Well, they do. So Kant is actually silenced by the Prussian king because of three things. So this gets back to your question about your Catholic friend or Catholic philosopher that was discussing. I find a majority of Catholic philosophers, somehow modern Catholic philosophers are somewhere in between Thomism, so Thomas Aquinas and they'll think through someone like Heidegger or some kind of phenomenologist. The problem here is that for K,ant concepts like God, the immortality of the soul, and freedom, we have concepts of them, but those concepts are kind of empty. Now, I don't mean empty in the sense they don't mean anything; they mean so much to us, but we have no empirical data of them. When I teach this to my students, I often say, how many of you have experienced God? And I don't mean feeling, I mean experienced empirically.
And then I say, what Kant is saying is it's not that there is no God, is that we don't have empirical data of God, and yet we have this kind of concept with no content. And so what he says essentially is we have to bracket that concept and put it to a side. It means something to us, but we have no grounds for it. So it becomes a transcendental illusion, but he holds onto it because he is unable to grasp the conception of God. He's in the supersensible, and the same thing applies with the immortal soul. But let me give you an even better example for freedom. He'll say the same thing, freedom is too abstract, it's too theoretical, and we have a concept of it, but its content lacks. It lacks in the real world. And so freedom needs to be actualized.
So I experienced my freedom by recognizing you as the other, recognizing my duty to you to have this conversation with you, and recognizing you as an end in yourself. So this is how he breaks down these three kinds of illusions that are a part of his program. So God is worked out through the Antinomies of the first critique, the immortality of the soul and the practical element are done through his second critique, and freedom and judgment, and all of these other elements are done through the third critique and his critique of judgment. Sorry if I went a little too far there…
Adam Jacobs: You're breaking open so many critical questions, and this is what I love about philosophy it just dives right into the heart of what matters. And I wish there was more of a general appreciation for it. I think it's taken a backseat to the scientific method as the only true way of investigating reality. But it's my subjective feeling that science always terminates in philosophy. Once you start analyzing what the data means, which seems like it's a different realm, but be that all as it may, a concept like freedom and whether or not you can even experience it when we have people who are debating day in and day out, whether you are free at all or whether it's simply illusory, how would you even know that you were free when you have scientific principles in physics saying it's impossible for you to actually be free?
You may believe that you do, but that's not real on the one hand. And if you want to take that to a much greater abstraction there like you said, that there's God, can you experience God? Well, I might argue, of course, we're experiencing it at all times and at all moments, you're breathing, aren't you? that’s an experience of God, you have a sense of love, that's an experience of God. You ate this morning, and you were satisfied by it. That's God, a godly thing.
And other people would say, what are you talking about, all of that's purely physical. And so it seems like the debate goes on, and that's that dichotomy that we recognized at the very beginning. The body versus the soul is still raging. But if I am understanding what you're saying in terms of the Catholic appreciation or not, or lack of appreciation of Idealism, is it fair to say that it's simply not based in scripture and, the fact that it's devoid of that content that you're talking about is objectionable in the mind of the Catholic thinker? Is that basically it?
Christopher Satoor: Yes. It's funny because Schelling was, later on in his life, influenced by a Catholic philosopher named Franz von Boder. And he inspired him in this tradition of Catholicism. So he started making him read people like Nicholas of Coza and Meister Eckhart, which are influences to Schelling, but he has so much other influence as well. But yeah, so when I find there are brilliant Catholic thinkers, and there are thinkers that are kind of stuck to the tradition and they won't really kind of go out of that tradition.
So they're very Thomas or I'm thinking of, there's Jean-Luc Marion, a Catholic philosopher that's brilliant, that works through the tradition of phenomenology, brings up Levinas, brings up Hegel, brings up other people like that. So there are different elements of it, but I would say especially when it comes to a thinking theologian or a thinker that's in a tradition, they're always going to stay very close to that tradition, and they tend not to branch away from it.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, because do you see anything incompatible with Idealism and traditional religion? Because as I look into it, and I'm coming from a classical monotheistic perspective, I'm not bothered by it at all so far. In fact, it seems to be describing an important aspect of reality. Truthfully, does it have to be incompatible?
Christopher Satoor: I don't think it has to be. However, I consider myself an idealist. For me, I think a lot of it comes down to the institution. So Schelling, for example, was a great kind of revolutionary inspirer of the liberal education. And I don't mean liberal, I mean the ability to study who we want to study and read, who we want to read. And at the time, there was so much censorship and so much closure on what you could read.
And there were theologians reading Kant theologically, and there was so much dogma. So at the early phases of their careers, even Fichte had to resign his position from Yena because he didn't have a fundamental concept of God, and so they accused him of atheism. So I don't think it's incompatible, but I think when it comes to belief, you'd have to separate belief from the institution. So the Catholic church or some kind of elaborated church or synagogue or a mosque.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, fine. So that was a lot on idealism, and that was very good. And you answered a lot of my questions,
Christopher Satoor: Let me say I am not opposed to any kind of religious ideas. So I'm one of those people that I would watch the debates between the so-called four horsemen of the apocalypse, the four atheists, Hitchens Harris, and them. And I always found them unacceptable when they came to philosophical debate because they would debate a rabbi or they'd debate a priest, and they would take one paragraph out of context and just, well, this proposition's false based on this. And that's not how you understand an argument inside and out. Sorry, I didn't mean to…
Adam Jacobs (25:30): No, I've had that experience as well. So I know very well what you're talking about, and that's correct. And it's still going on Twitter, for instance, all over the place, which is not the best forum actually for a philosophical discussion. But it is interesting how people try to encapsulate into these tiny spaces all these very big ideas.
But okay, let's talk about nature, which I know that Schelling was very into. You quoted him before, you said '“nature is visible spirit and spirit is invisible nature.” Okay, so what I wanted to ask you about that is given that nature itself is both beautiful, which many people appreciate and love, and also is rather brutal; there are countless examples, and I was going to bring a specific one about this, some insect which devours these other insects and these horrible ways and lives inside of it and controls it. It's like, I think they're called Zombie Ants. Anyway, we tend to focus on what's beautiful and pleasurable about nature, and we tend to ignore what's really harsh and brutal. I think that's the right word. So what would that aspect of nature teach us about spirits in Schelling's way of thinking about things?
Christopher Satoor: Very good question. So just to elaborate on what you were saying, Schelling was a young boy coming to the Tubingen seminary. He was 15, and he started hanging around people like Friedrich Hölderlin, Hagel, Shiller, Novalis, Schleiermacher, the Schlegel brothers, Dorothy White, Caroline Schlegel, all of these great romantic thinkers that were opposed to how we see the world, how it's mechanical, how it's atomized according to the Cartesian enlightenment understanding of the world, even Kant, was fighting against this to a certain point was fighting against the kind of Newtonian element of the cosmos. But when Schelling starts talking and discussing with Goethe and all of these wonderful thinkers, he realizes that no nature can't be this dead productivity. It can't just be this dead product. It's not a substance. We understand nature relationally speaking so horizontally as opposed to vertically. And how can nature be spirit?
A great question. So what he means essentially is that nature, like human beings have, interiority have this interior element to them. You want to call that soul; you want to call that spirit. But for him, spirit really means the potent or the potency that lies dormant in a leaf, let's say. So we don't see the element of photosynthesis within a plant. We don't see trees sending messages in the dirt through fungal, like a fungal network. So we don't see this element. And that's Yes, yes, thank you, thank you. So we don't see this kind of interior element of nature. And when we tend to philosophize about nature, we tend to compartmentalize it. We tend to cut it up; we tend to talk about the materiality of it. And Schelling wanted to talk about this great interior element that lies dormant within nature, just like within humanity.
Adam Jacobs: And is that a material thing like photosynthesis? Is it a material process, or is it a spiritual thing?
Christopher Satoor: So at the time, he called it his speculative physics, which is interesting. It's a speculative philosophy, but at the same time, it's dynamic. So yes, it is material; it's a material process. Let's just talk about the actual process here. And essentially, he's not a vitalist. A lot of people kind of paint him as a vitalist. He's not a vitalist; he's an animist; he's a dynamist. So he's looking for the dynamic interaction between the material and the spiritual. So you're right; photosynthesis is 100% a material process. And a lot of this is, a lot of these processes are material, and it's not about he's trying to draw, oh look, there's a kind of spiritual element to nature. What he's trying to say is that nature really has reason. Nature really has its own ground. It has its own kind of spirit in the sense of its own kind of power. Its potency is what he's trying to get across. I don't know if I'm being clear, I'm sorry.
Adam Jacobs: Well, why is he interested in that? What difference does it make?
Christopher Satoor: That's a good question. It means that nature isn't just some regenerated degenerated process nature is alive; nature is okay. So he calls nature in his first treatises on nature, the unconditioned in German. The un-thing. It's this absolute product of product, sorry, the process of productivity. And that in this absolute process of productivity, what happens is sometimes he'll give this a great example of a river, when a riverbed is going down, it hits edges and turns and twists, and it's inhibited.
And this action of inhibition stops this absolute flow of productivity. And what we get our products out of that, what he wants to show is that within this moment of absolute productivity, we have the infinite written in the finite. So everything, including nature, has this infinite spark of productivity in its own individual product, in its own kind of individual productive self. So it's it, it's finite, it's infinite in the finite form essentially. So he's trying to deal with that debate between the infinite, the finite, the actual, and the potential is what he's trying to essentially get to that nature has its own kind of fundamental reason. Nature has its own kind of ground, it has its own interiority, but at the same time, it's a part of this wonderful productive structure that is life. And that's his kind of inner dynamism, in a sense.
Adam Jacobs: So is that dissimilar to what I'm saying? Is that dissimilar from saying God is in the natural world? If you're saying the infinite is within the finite, are those just different words for them for that basic concept?
Christopher Satoor: So this is okay, so I will say yes and no. So it's funny because, in these texts, God is kind of missing. He's the kind of missing element in this. I totally
Adam Jacobs: I noticed that, and I was reading some last night, and they talk around and around and around it, and they keep talking about it without ever saying it. Exactly. It's actually quite wild.
Christopher Satoor: So it's funny because by 1800, the word God will come into the picture, but it's slightly missing. I don't want to add God to the sorry, I don't want to add God at this moment, this element moment because he doesn't use the term, but the unconditioned is really meant to be this kind of undifferentiated absolute product. It's this kind of later on Schelling kind of has a Christian pantheism that's sort of aligned with Spinoza and his Spinosa kind of monism.
Yeah. So he animates it later on, and he realizes that what he's trying to do is when he creates this nature philosophy, he realizes that this is one element of the whole other element is the transcendental idealism. And he writes a transcendental idealism. So his first books are these two side halves of one whole.
So problematically the tradition calls nature a thing in itself, but at the same time, will give nature theology. We don't really know nature in and of itself, however, we can self-reflectively think that it's somehow organized. This is what inspires all the romantics, Fichte calls, nature, the not I self. And so there's this, you leave nature, this thrown to the wayside, and it takes people, the kind of anti systematic thinking of people like Novalis and Schlager who are anti systematic. They don't like systems to bring nature to the fore again. And what Schelling is wrestling with he's wrestling really is this tradition of concert critique of Goethe's metamorphosis. And so he's kind of bringing these two together for this treatise, for his treatises, sorry. And he'll work with it until about 1803. And then, he finally puts it down and starts working with his identity philosophy.
But you're right; could this unconditioned be God in a sense? later? It will be later. This whole process, this whole kind of mythical tension of God brought in by his readings of the Kabbala and mystical writers and he's also reading the theologian Oetinger who was really absorbed and Jewish mysticism in Kabbalah. And there was always this kind of, all processes have this moment of contraction and expansion.
And so he says the same thing in nature. So nature has its own. So you were talking about what about these ants that these zombie ants that are killing or whatever. And so these processes, the process of absolute productivity, still has this moment of inhibition and contraction and expansion. So this is part of his philosophy. He realizes that it's not just one gigantic Monism, and it's not just one kind of dynamic harmony, but there has to be strife; there has to be struggling. And he sees all phenomena in nature as actins. He calls them dynamic monads in a sense they're actors. So when you see a tree being blown by a wind, there's two actors there. The wind and the tree itself, I'm sorry if I'm going off on tangents here.
Adam Jacobs: No, I love it. And these are things obviously that I've spent not nearly as much time as you have, but thinking about maybe in different ways and uncovering them within the world of philosophy is really exciting. And what I'm finding is that things that I'm aware of are expressed in all these different forums, and it's sort of rewarding to come across them and to sort of hash them out and to try to drill down into the essence of it.
And in this particular instance, I found it interesting that don't, not so explicit with the drilling down. However, at the same time, I do appreciate what they're doing, and I see the need for it, and I appreciate the struggle. I think that's very honest, and I think that's very real. But in the interest of time, let me ask, and I could talk about nature for a long time, but I think that one is really interesting. But let's talk about history from Schelling's perspective. So I have another quote, which is “history as a whole is a progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the absolute.” Now to me, that's a very grand statement and actually an exciting one at that. My question for you is why does he think this, and what are some examples that he might bring to bear on that concept?
Christopher Satoor: Oh, this is my favorite element of Schelling. So I'm always asked to speak about nature, which is so funny, and that's one element of his work. But the work that you're talking about now is my favorite. So Schelling kind of goes through a depression. His wife passes, his wife Caroline, and at the time, he's kind of smothered in Catholic Bavaria, and he's hanging around philosophers that kind of bring back his kind of boyhood thinkers like Johann Albrecht Bengel, this another thinker that was influenced by Jakob Boehme . He starts reading this 16th century, no, 17th, I'd say he's, he's relatively close to day card as well. Thinker that Jakob Boehme was this brilliant philosopher that was rethinking Lutheranism but was friends with so many Jewish thinkers at the time and centers and brought in alchemy and Kabbalah and all of these wonderful elements into rethink the process of creation and revelation.
And that God actually, and he gets a lot of this from the Torah, a lot of this is structure and pain and struggle that God is going through. So Schelling takes this very kind of dynamic reading of from Boehme , and he starts rethinking what is history, what is revelation, and what is our relationship to the absolute? And this becomes his major project from, let's say, 1809 onward. And it's to rethink that. And I would say that history, so history is spirit in a sense. We can go over that freedom and personality, they're all part of this, but just as we struggle in our life, God also struggles. So in the freedom essay, shelling gives us this beautiful reading of the creation of the world in a kind of Neoplatonic but also kind of Jewish mystic kind of element. There's this element that God is kind of, there's the “Tzimtzum”, the contraction inward, pulling out this pomp, creating the receptacle, and there's this kind of division of God's essence. The iron and we got these two principles are beautiful. He really, really elegant, elegantly written; where does he write this? In the freedom essay, actually.
Adam Jacobs: Okay, now I have to read it,
Christopher Satoor: You do have to read it. And someone like Franz Rosenzweig , who's another wonderful thinker, reads Schelling's Ages of the World, which I'm going to get to in a second, and writes it, rewrites the end of it. And he says, look, the way that Schelling writes this, it's not a Jewish creation, it's not a Christian creation, it's creation, it's a joint share of the two. And this is why I love him so much that he really brings together the religious monotheism of the traditions. He's not one of those thinkers in Germany that is just Christianity, this Christianity that no, there is a reason to this process. And so, for him, he's thinking through this element of Kabbalah and alchemy and neoplatonism and bringing them in so nicely. And so, what is history here? History is this moment where we as human beings can colonize this knowledge of the logos.
So this is going to sound very weird, but essentially when this creation happens, when God creates the cosmos, he creates in this ground, this kind of dark ground. That dark ground is just empty, but it's Co-eternal with God. And so this is the kind of historical element, this is the first peoples without monotheism. You could think in a sense when the logos enters the ground, you can think of that biblically speaking. You can think of that either in terms of Adam and Eve, or you can think of that as Moses getting the laws, the commandments from God. And so, for him, revelation is a dual point. It's the point that comes from the Jewish people, which is the law, the ground, and then, of course, the incarnation of that law in personality, which would be Christ. So he gets very religious at the end of his era, but history is so important when it comes to self-consciousness.
He's not saying that we weren't conscious before monotheism. He's essentially saying that revelation is the history of God being brought to us, the story, the mythos of it, which is very compelling for me because, I went through a period where I had to reread all of these great religious texts again and rereading them through this kind of animated voice, shelling's voice in his kind of poetic voice as well. It's like enrapturing so drawn to the image, and he sees all of these stories as being a part of how our consciousness is constructed, not in a union sense, but in a sense of how we understand personality, how we understand good and evil, how we understand what a decision is, what a choice is. And even that term decision, God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. He says that it was God's conscious decision.
There's the splitting of his essence. You had this deciding to create, but always creating. So the Godhead or God himself, the Father is always eternally creating, always going through this struggle. And so Schelling is not trying to give us some kind of harmonious theodicy here; he's rethinking theodicy via history and revelation. So for him, revelation, of course, has to do with the factum or the fact of God's existence or God's knowledge or our knowledge along with this great kind kind of great story. I don't want to call it a story. I know it's a religion. They're both religions here being applied, but it's the knowledge kind of is built. It indwells us. It's kind of an indwelling of it. We go along with these kinds of morals, these kinds of stories, this whole from the prophets onward.
So he finds that we need to radically rethink religion. And this happens between 1806, sorry, 1804 to his last writings in the 1850s, where he's rethinking these traditions and not just Christianity, but Judaism as well and other forms. He's interested in the process of mythology. So he's interested in Egyptians, the Indians, Chinese as well. And he's one of the first to be reading people like, oh my gosh, why can't I think of that person's name? He's reading things like the Bubba [inaudible] reading many mythologies. But mythology represents necessity. It doesn't represent the concept of freedom and personality. And there's this element that history kind of maps on to revelation that really gives us two concepts, freedom, and personality. By freedom, he means radical freedom. So not just, can I pick up this pen or not? For Schelling, freedom is this kind of creation of your personality.
It happens in eternity. So what makes you Adam and what makes me Chris, he gives this line about Judas selling Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And he says, look, the act is not sin that act. So when we sin, not the act of sin is not a sin. What is a sin is our kind of character. The fact that we have chosen this element of ourselves, we took this dark ground, and we subordinated inside of ourselves over a universal principle, which is, according to the universal principle, the principle of seeing people as ends in themselves. Sorry, I was all over the place there, I apologize.
Adam Jacobs: No, it was awesome, and we've gone over time, but that's because I'm enjoying myself. And so, I want to just take the opportunity to ask you one final question.
Christopher Satoor: We can go as long as you'd like.
Adam Jacobs: Well. So we have a goal for how long these are supposed to be, but I don't mind going; we're going a little over by asking this one, which is fine. The last quote has to do with approaching God, I would say, and I thought it, it's so interesting and so familiar. Well, he says “the Godhead is not divine nature or substance, but the devouring ferocity of purity that a person is able to approach only with an equal purity since all being goes up, as in if flames, it is necessarily unapproachable to anyone, still embroiled in being.”
Now that there's so much wrapped up into that, the entire notion of prophecies, Sears and mystics, and the notion of approaching the infinite on its terms and not ours, and then, therefore, having to take certain steps to prepare yourself for such an encounter. So for people out there who say like, Hey, if God is so pervasive and so powerful, so where is it how I have no experience of it, as you said, he may, does nature show you?
Does history show you? Can you have an actual palpable experience of the divine? I love the fact that he comes along and says, no, you know what? You have to change if you want that understanding. And if you want that experience from your vantage point, our consciousness is too narrow, our understanding is too limited, and therefore you have to do what you have to do to be able to approach this process. So my question is, what is that? What would he expect us to do tangibly in order to be able to approach the devouring ferocity of purity, as he calls it?
Christopher Satoor: Are you getting that quote from the Ages of the World?
Adam Jacobs: I should have written it down. And I wrote down some of the other quotes where they came from, but I didn't for this one, so I'm not sure that's…
Christopher Satoor: Okay. It sounds like the ages of the world. And it sounds like he, he's paraphrasing God is the devouring flame or the devouring fire. He wants to show that written in all life. All life is a kind of dual process, but the dual leads to the third or the trio that at first there's darkness and then there's light. And he will always bring up these two principles that there's darkness and light. And what he is trying to say is that if you're looking for this in a sunrise, if you're looking for this in, if you're looking for this over the, I can't think of it right now. It's in Arizona, the Grand Canyon, sorry. Yeah, the Grand Canyon. If you're trying to look for it in the kind of Freudian oceanic, you're not going to find it. You're going to find it in darkness; you're going to find it in light.
You're going to find it in this dual process because just like we struggle in daily life, so does the, does God the Father, according to Schelling that he says at the end of the freedom essay, which to this day, when I go to conferences, and we talk about this essay, people call it deliciously confused, or people are just blown away what at the end of the freedom essay, he says, what's higher than spirit? So what's higher than spirit love and spirit is accordingly history. What do you mean by love? What is this element of love that you're talking about?
Well, love is the attractive principle. It's the principle that draws two people together. It's the principle that you know don't need the other, but want to be with the other. So it's this kind of, so out of the dynamic potencies of contraction and expansion, now we get attraction. We get this attracting force that's supposed to be this kind of cleaning force, this cleaning force, sorry, that is supposed to help us understand and realize the Godhead here. When I was once speaking with another about this, and I was telling them, and they looked at me shocked when I said this, but when you open up the Torah, and you're reading Genesis, and you see God hovering over the void, I always tell people, that's not God. God's not there. God's an eternity. He's not in time. Well, it…
Adam Jacobs: Says it's the spirit of God that is hovering.
Christopher Satoor: Exactly. Yeah. So the spirit, we have this spirit, we have this kind of Godhead here hovering over the void like a demiurge in Neoplatonic turns, creating this world, creating this whole thing, creating this kind of, creating the cosmos, bringing everything together. And so there's a whole structure here. There's a creation element; there's a transcending, transcendent, and imminent element to this whole kind of understanding. But it's also, what I love about it is that it's not too abstract, you know, can think of yourself choosing things, being in love with people, having relationships, et cetera. And the same thing is happening to the eternal father. The father has created this, I'm kind of going on a tangent here, and I apologize. That's okay. Okay. Okay. The point is it's to make us realize that the God that we're talking about is a living God. It's not a dead God.
It's not an abstract concept. It's not a supersensible on a cont terms, we're talking about real processes. So when people want to look for these signs in the world, shelling would be perfectly fine with that as long as you're not just looking at it in a rainbow or something, but you're looking at it in both processes, he'll say all birth is formed in all birth is formed in darkness. It must first be formed in the darkness and then kind of gravitating towards the light and the light in the darkness. Once you're in the light, it's not just you're in the light, the sun comes up, and then it comes back down. You're back in the dark. So it's a process, it's a dynamic process. There's always this struggle, and you never really get away from it. And at the end of that wonderful, the end of the text of the Ages of the World, we see this, the beauty of the Ages of the World is the narrator takes us through God's struggle.
So the first element of the book is God's struggle. So God's understanding of what the “Tzimtzum”is, this contraction and making the receptacle to be the God, the Godhead kind of forming within that, hovering over the void. And then from that, forming itself and then creating the world, which is beautiful. It's a beautiful element. You see, he gives us that which is cognizable. And this is another element I should have brought up. Shelling has this wonderful concept at the end of his work called The Unthinkable. And the reason why it's unthinkable is that being comes before thought. So the beginning of the world, the creation of the cosmos was something that was unthought. Yes. Because it was being created. Wow. I sound like there is being and being. And so it's something that's cognizable. And so he calls it this because it's un cognizable, but it's there. And the fact of the matter that it's there is that there's a world around us. There's a world in front of us. I'm sorry, Adam. I went all over the place.
Adam Jacobs: That was good. I was very good. And you know what? I think your students are very lucky to have you as a teacher, and I wish I was in your class. But thank you, Dr. Chris, for being here today, taking the time to speak with me. I want to encourage people to follow you on Twitter and wherever else you would like them to. And also to check out beyondbelief.blog, where we upload all of our videos and podcasts, and written content, and we have a lot more where this came from. And thank you again for being here. Encourage everybody to be part of all that we have coming up.
Christopher Satoor: Thank you so much.
Adam Jacobs: Thank you!