Frederick W. Schelling: German Philosopher and Educator, Idealism, Naturphilosophie

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854)

Philosophy and brief biography of Frederick Wilhelm Schelling, German philosopher and educator of Idealism School. Contemporary of Hegel.

German philosopher Frederick Wilhelm Schelling tried to bridge the gap between subjectivity and objectivity engendered by Descartes, and not satisfactorily answered by neither Kant nor Spinoza in their day. His most important work is System of Transcendental Idealism (1800).

Life of Federick Wilhelm Schelling

Frederick Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling was born in Leonberg near Stuttgart, Germany, on 27 January 1775. In 1790, he attended a Protestant seminary in Tübingen until 1795, where he became friends with contemporary G. Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He moved to Leipzig, then to Jena, where he came into contact with the early Romantic thinkers, and through Johann Goethe’s influence, he took up his first professorship from 1798 to 1803. He moved to Berlin in 1841 and took up Hegel’s philosophy chair upon the latter’s death in 1831.

Schelling’s Philosophy

Schelling’s philosophy is the reconciliation of the subjective with the objective. He attempts to reconcile the objective (nature) with the subjective (ego or spirit), and as he argued, only in their agreement does true knowledge arise.

He makes a distinction between transcendental and natural philosophy:

  • transcendental philosophy is concerned with the fundamental elements of cognition and experience
  • natural philosophy is one which is ordinarily taken to be the external world.

Schelling claimed that the two are so interlinked that when one begins to occur, the phenomenon of the other should also be accounted for.

Rationale to Schelling’s Philosophy

According to Schelling, transcendental philosophy must begin with the subjective awareness of self, that is, in self-consciousness the self becomes both subject and object, which then becomes one and the same thing. He also sees the spiritual activity of self-consciousness as identical with the Absolute, or God.

Hegel, famous for his Phenomenology of the Spirit, criticized Schelling’s work as a “tangled mass of abstractions” and so did other post-Kantian philosophers. However, Schelling rebuffed them by claiming that the Absolute (God) or “World-Soul” is expressed through the dual aspects of nature and mind. That the Universe is a complete entity unfolding in time, and it is Absolute. He argues that the conscious self is itself the consciousness of the Universe (“World-Soul”), and through time, expresses itself.

Schelling’s Influence

Despite criticisms from Hegel and others, Schelling’s ideas were popular that time. Even his supporters admitted that his attempt to reconcile the subjective and objective was a failure. The tension in his philosophy during that time was derived from the need to overcome the perceived lack of a substantial account how nature and freedom come to co-exist in Kant’s philosophy.

However, Schelling’s ideas remained important for the influence it exerted on other philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.


  1. Biographical Dictionary, edited by Una Mcgovern, Chambers, 2002
  2. Illustrated Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Clark, London, Chancellor Press, 1994
  3. Philosophy, the Great Thinkers, by Philip Stokes, Capella, 2007