God as the Eternal "No" - Illness, Disease and Catastrophe in The Ages of the World

Posted by | Chris | 2.1.13 | 3 Comments

The module taught by Iain Grant on UWE's MA in European Philosophy is Past-Kantian Philosophy. This year we read Hegel's Difference essay followed by Schelling's Ages of the World (subsequently WA). Since Alex has recently resurrected this blog, I thought I might write up the notes from my recent MA presentation to share some of my research.

I want look at destruction and disorder, or, in the terms Schelling uses, illness, disease and catastrophe. There are two main reasons for this. The first is personal and stylistic: some of the most striking passages in the WA concern the dark primordial forces of life. The second is philosophical: to be able to account for chaos is necessary. Extinction and ecological disaster are just two examples and if your philosophy is incapable of explaining or at least accounting for these forces then it is inadequate to the world we find ourselves in. I also have in mind that Schelling's account of life poses problems autopoetic biology and I'm expanding this line of thinking in my essay. There is also a third reason for looking at the dark powers in Schelling's work, an understanding of which came to me only after I had begun this research: chaos lies at the heart (literally and metaphorically) of Schelling's metaphysics and an investigation of it take us to the most interesting questions posed by his work.

To begin, I had a question that stuck with me: why is God necessarily the eternal “No” before he is the eternal “Yes”? First, there is a important distinction between God and Godhead. The Godhead is the source and God the consequent nature. As the source the Godhead is absolute freedom and the infinite and eternal power to be anything. There is nothing that it cannot be, for were it to be limited in any way it would not be infinite and eternal and it would become a necessary being. As such it contains all contradictions, or rather it is the source of all possible contradictions.

The Godhead can also be linked with Schelling's concept of “unprethinkable being”. This unprethinkable being is a concept, and therefore thought, but also the being which precedes all thought and is therefore totally unthinkable. The absolute freedom of such being is necessary, because this freedom includes the potential to become anything without limit. If anything is made necessary about this being, whether transcendentally or dialectically, then it becomes thinkable and simply another limited object for thought which is thereby not the absolute.

The Godhead is that which both does and does not have being. It is not Being because were it so then its contradiction would become eternally actual. It is existent but not actual – it is potential - and nothing in it could compel it to actualisation (since it is absolute freedom). It is the infinite power to be.

Describing such a concept of unprethinkable being or the Godhead brings about an almost absurd question: What brought the Godhead to revelation? Schelling answers:
if the Godhead assumed Being and actively revealed itself through Being (which we must discern as actually having happened), then the decision for that could only come from the highest freedom. (WA: 74)
Two concepts must be unpacked in this quote. We discern - we recreate in the present - revelation as happening and as having happened. There is decision – a cutting apart of itself. This revealed being is of the Godhead and a part of it, but no longer the Godhead. This is the first moment of revelation of the nature of God.

The first moment is the eternal “No”. The No is an attracting force which draws Being toward it and consequent upon which the Yes or affirmative force is brought forth. Why is the No first? The No is first because it ensures the consequent freedom of God. The first force of God's revelation becomes the ground on which God may act freely.
God is, in accordance with its nature, a consequently, necessarily self-revelatory being (WA: 79)
  • God has a nature – it has a ground from which it acts.
  • God is self-revelatory – the becoming of God reveals itself to itself.
  • This self-revelation is consequent – upon the original cision of the Godhead and the ground which God gives itself.
  • Self-revelation is consequently necessary – the force which draws Being to itself is a necessary ground of Beings revelation.
There is no revelation without ground. The alternative to this would be the free affirmative prior and then consequently the negatively determined. This Schelling describes as “incomprehensible” (WA: 12) The traditional Christian concept of God as having all the predicates of perfection is a self satisfied stasis in which no development is possible. Such a God can only spit out copies and real creation is unthinkable.

What is interesting is the language that Schelling uses to describe the first force of God: dark, primordial, blind.
In accord with its ground, therefore, nature comes out of what is blind, dark and unspeakable in God. Nature is the first, the beginning of what is necessary in God. The attracting force, the mother and receptacle (WA: 21)
It is also fascinating that God is not originarily good.
God himself moved only in accordance with his nature and not in accordance with his heart or in accordance with love (Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (subsequently FS): 55-6)
Freedom depends upon the dark force as its ground. The Yes comes in response to the No and Love subordinates the chaos which is primordial and necessary in God.

The tension of the forces brings about the systole and diastole of life. This is the living tension through which beings are maintained. The intensification of the forces is an element of Schelling's work which I need to understand better. In particular, the way in which the positive and negative forces may be intensified through the powers. The former brings the tension of forces into a unity, the latter brings the dissolution of unity and a return to chaos.

The dissolution of unity is important, because no unity can ever be an absolute unity. Only the Godhead has the power to absolutely unify opposing powers and the dissolution of the tension of potencies in any being would be its death. Thus, the unification of the dark force in any being is not the end of that force. It is, as Schelling describes it, the sublimation of that force. As sublimated the dark force lies within order and:
the unruly lies ever in the depths as though it might break through, and order and form nowhere appear to have been original, but it seems as though what had initially been unruly had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason but always remains in the depths (FS: 34)
This is order from chaos, always with the possibility of a return of the sublimated forces and a return to chaos. It is this element of Schelling's work that I'm writing on now in relation to autopeosis.