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The prejudice is all too common. Engagement with the discipline of theology,
even philosophical theology, and, particularly, engagement with the idea of
revelation discounts one from being a free thinker. Inversely, rejecting accounts of
divinity and divine revelation is often thought to be the defining characteristic of
free thought. This can be evidenced by the fact that atheistic organizations market
themselves as The Free Thought Society, The Free Thinkers Society or, in
Germany, the Deutscher Freidenkerbund. In this essay, however, I will argue
against the coupling of the epithet of free thought with some particular creed or
doctrine, inclusive of atheism (and I am indeed identifying atheism as a creed, at
least as it appears in figures like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris
et al), but I will also argue that free thought cannot be extricated from all subject
matter whatsoever, as if free thought meant something like free-floating thought,
thought disengaged from any object of inquiry at all. More precisely, with the aid of
F.W.J. Schelling (but also with constant allusion to Martin Heidegger and his
question: what is called thinking?), I dispute the idea of free thought as pure
reasoning (Hegel), as purely autonomous (Kant) and as self-reflexive (Fichte). Free
thought is not a thinking that is bound by no object outside of itself, but it is a
thinking that is set at play by the very object of thought. As Schelling himself has
provocatively remarked, She who wants to think about thinking ceases to think.
This thinking, which makes itself into an object, cannot possibly at the same time be
an original thinking relating to the object itself and consequently is not true

thinking.1 Thought requires an object, that about which it might philosophize, even
if or even when the object of inquiry presumes to be something revelatory. Even
revelation must not necessarily captivate thought as a kind of dogmatism and
fetishism. Rather, thinking about a purportedly revelatory event, questioning it as it
gives itself, i.e. for what it claims to be, can become free thought if thinking
engages with this object properly. In other words, thinking, if it is to become free,
must first be liberated by the object of thought.

On the Conjunction of Thinking and Being

Thinking that would pretend that it could begin free from the grip of its object is
illusory because this thinking would be empty of content. As Schelling has
persuasively argued and, I think, Heidegger too almost a century thereafter all
genuine, or as Schelling stated it above, original and true, thinking, thinking
that does not lapse into mere formalism at best and empty tautology at worst,
cannot begin by thinking about thinking. In other words, contra Hegel, thinking
cannot begin with the science of logic, i.e. it cannot commence simply by thinking
about the laws and structure of thought itself. Genuine thinking is never reines
Denken but always a Nachdenken, and all Nachdenken, which I will translate as
speculative thinking, is a Nachdenken ber etwas. Thinking, to be thinking, must
think something apart from thought itself. If Heidegger contends that science does
not think, then Schelling contends that logic does not think! Note Schelling again:
to decide to think about thinking. That, at least, cannot be called genuine
1 Denn wer ber das Denken denken will, hrt eben auf zu denken. Dieses Denken, welches
sich selbst zum Gegenstande macht, kann unmglich ein ursprngliches, nmlich auf den
Gegenstand selbst sich beziehendes Denken zugleich, und folglich kein wahres Denken
seyn (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Einleitung in die Philosophie, Stuttgart, Frommann-Holzboog, 1989,
p. 14).

thinking. Genuine thinking is that wherein something that confronts thinking is

surmounted (berwunden).2 Thinking is only free in that venture by which it
grapples with its confrontation with being. To venture, then, to speculate, far too far
ahead and to wager a couple of premature statements, let it be noted that this
already hints at two other properly Schellingian propositions. (1) Thinking has an
object, because thinking is intentional or, more precisely, intended. Intentionality
here should not be construed in the Husserlian sense in terms of the intending of an
ego and certainly not a transcendental ego that finds the conditions of thought a
priori. This form of intentionality is rather a form of ontonomy a term I am
borrowing from Markus Gabriel3 which signifies that it is thinking that is intended
by being and not vice versa. My attempt is to point to the possibility of an inverted
intentionality, a notion which corresponds to Schellings umgekehrte Idee (inverted
Idea).4 Consciousness, the realm of thinking or, if one will, the transcendental and
epistemic domain, is the product of being; being is not the construction of the
autonomy of self-reflexive and self-positing thought.
If the importance of the doctrine of intentionality, as it is often understood, is
supposed to consist in its placing consciousness outside of itself by recognizing that
2 sich entschlieen ber das Denken zu denken. Das kann man aber wenigstens nicht
wirkliches Denken nennen. Wirkliches Denken ist, wodurch ein dem Denken
Entgegenstehendes berwunden wird (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Zur Geschichte der neueren
Philosophie, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (I/10), Stuttgart, Cotta, 1861, p.

3 M. GABRIEL, Der Mensch im Mythos: Untersuchungen ber Ontotheologie,

Anthropologie und Selbstbewutseinsgeschichte in Schellings Philosophie der
Mythologie, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 2006, p. 6.
4 F.W.J. SCHELLING, Einleitung in die Philosophie der Offenbarung oder Begrndung der
positiven Philosophie, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/3), Stuttgart, Cotta,
1858, p. 162.

consciousness has always already begun outside itself or in-the-world this, at

least, is the Heideggerian appropriation then let that indeed signal the point of
departure. Consequently, the second premature Schellingian proposition to be
ventured runs as follows: Thinking has an object, i.e. there is intentionality, because
(2) there is only thinking because there is being and not being because there is
thinking. Inverted intentionality here becomes an inverted transcendentalism
insofar as being provides the condition sine qua non of thinking and knowledge, and
not the other way around. Schelling states, In this unity between being and
thinking priority is not on the side of thinking, but being is first, thinking only the
second or the consequent.5 Additionally, in a formulation that shows how prescient
Schelling was of Heidegger or, inversely, how indebted Heideggers turn really
was to Schelling, note: Being indeed has priority before knowing, as the latter is,
with respect to Seyn, only Da-seyn.6 If, in fact, it is fair to interpret this proposition
of Schellings in a proto-Heideggerian fashion, then one must understand it in the
sense of the post-Kehre Heidegger and decidedly not the Heidegger of Sein und
Zeit. It is not because Da-sein is da that Sein is da, but rather because being is first
sent or fated das Geschick des Seins in Heideggers terminology is there the
da of Da-Sein. In any event, this second, speculative Schellingian proposition cuts
straight to the Parmenidean question concerning the unity of thinking and being.
Thinking and being do indeed belong together, as Heidegger renders Parmenides
5 In dieser Einheit aber ist die Prioritt nicht auf Seiten des Denkens; das Seyn ist das
Erste, das Denken erst das Zweite oder Folgende (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Abhandlung ber die
Quelle der ewigen Wahrheiten, in (K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/1), Stuttgart,
Cotta, 1856, p. 587).

6 Das Seyn hat aber doch eine Prioritt vor dem Wissen; denn dieses ist nur das Da-seyn zu
dem Seyn (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Darlegung des wahren Verhltnisses der Naturphilosophie zu
der verbesserten Fichteschen Lehre, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke, (I/7),
Stuttgart, Cotta, 1860, p. 68).

statement, but in this co-belonging priority is always accorded to being and not to
These two prematurely grandiose propositions, (1) that being intends
thinking and (2) that there is thinking because there is being and not vice versa,
were to be audaciously ventured at the outset, because they incisively expose
Schellings anti-Hegelian point of departure. For Schelling thought cannot begin first
with the science of logic and the dialectical movement of reason alone because he
rejects, particularly in his latest period, the Hegelian dictum that the rational is real
and the real is rational. If thinking is to reach what is real, if it is to reach being,
then it must begin neither self-reflexively enclosed within its own dialectic nor
enclosed within Kants transcendental logic, but it must begin already as the
thinking of an object, as a thinking of being, where this of is to be taken in the
subjective sense, thinking which belongs to being. Note, too, once more against
Hegel at least as Schelling understands him that this is, in fact, also how logic
must begin should one really come to find oneself in a position to think logic as a
law of being rather than as the empty form of thought alone. Schelling critically
brandishes Hegelian logic for failing also to be a law of being, exclaiming, The a
priori is not, as Hegel took it, an empty logical domain, a thinking that only again
has thinking for its content, whereby genuine thinking comes to an end and he
also intermittently adds here in opposition to contemporary authors like Maurice
Blanchot and Jacques Derrida who would like to empty poetry of its secret, i.e. its
content just as poetry that is about poetry ceases to be poetry. Schelling
continues, The truly logical domain, the logical domain in genuine thinking, bears
within itself a necessary relation to being; it becomes the content of being and

necessarily transitions into the empirical domain. 7 This necessary transition into
the empirical domain is not to be thought as a reaffirmation of Hegels dictum that
the rational is real. It is rather, as shall be seen, a way of saving logic from empty
formalism and making it a law of being, but not the principle of being. Whatever is
cannot escape the strictures of logic although these logical laws still may not say
all there is to say about being 8 but this does entail that whatever is logical is also
real. Logic may form the borders of being, it may, so to speak, enframe being or
function as the house of being (as Heidegger contends of language in On the Way
to Language), but it is not the cause or principle of being.

On Metaphysical Empiricism
If genuine thinking is impossible in advance of its confrontation with being,
impossible as an empty formalism in advance of the matter of thought which not
only indicates Schellings departure from Hegel but also his departure from the
critical transcendentalisms of Kant and Fichte then what does this mean except
that thinking cannot occur a priori? Should one then return to a pre-Kantian point of
view and succumb to the pre-critical position of modern empiricism, which, as is
well known, resulted in Humes skepticism insofar as Hume drew all the skeptical
7 Denn das Apriorische ist nicht, wie Hegel es genommen, ein leeres Logisches, ein
Denken, das nur wieder das Denken zum Inhalt hat, womit aber das wirkliche Denken
aufhrt, wie mit der Poesie ber die Poesie die Poesie aufhrt. Das wahre Logische, das
Logische im wirklichen Denken, hat in sich eine nothwendige Beziehung auf das Seyn, es
wird zum Inhalt des Seyns und geht nothwendig ins Empirische ber (F.W.J. SCHELLING,
Einleitung in die Philosophie der Offenbarung oder Begrndung der positiven Philosophie,
in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/3), Stuttgart, Cotta, 1858, pp. 101-102).

8 (The world) contains a preponderant mass of unreason, so that one can nearly say that
the rational is only the accidental. [Sie enthlt eine berwiegende Masse von Unvernunft,
sodass man beinahe sagen knnte, das Rationale sei <nur> das Accidens.] (F.W.J.
SCHELLING, Die Grundlegung der positiven Philosophie: Mnchner Vorlesung WS 1832 33
und SS 1833, Torino, Bottega dErasmo, 1972, pp. 99 100).

conclusions from Lockes doctrine of the associationism of ideas? No, I think not! A
simple return to modern empiricism is just as untenable as a return to pre-critical
rationalism, if not more so. How, then, to begin if thinking commences neither from
the a priori, as it is normally construed, nor from the a posteriori, i.e. the empirically
given? Schellings solution is astonishingly elegant. Thinking occurs per posterius.
As Kant had already shown, for thinking to begin a priori, in advance of intuition, is
empty and for thinking to begin a posteriori, i.e. naively, with the merely sensibly
given is blind. Moreover, thanks to Hume and as already mentioned, the latter
results in the very skepticism that awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber. Schelling
only rarely employs the term per posterius; therefore, it will prove beneficial to
quote him at length where he does discuss it in detail.
If positive philosophy [genuine thinking] does not proceed from experience,
then nothing precludes that it advances to experience and thus proves a
posteriori what it has to proveAdmittedly, if positive philosophy does not
proceed from experience, then it must be an a priori sciencebut the prius
from which it proceeds is not merely prior to all experience, such that it would
necessarily carry over into experience, but it is above all experience and it is
for this same reason thus not a necessary transition into experience. From
this prius it, in a free [emphasis added] thinkingderives the a posteriori, or
that which occurs in experience, not as something possible, as negative
philosophy does, but as something actual 9
This lengthy passage requires a fair amount of explanation. First, genuine thinking
or positive philosophy as it is here called is not so much an effort to think what is

9 Aber wenn die positive Philosophie nicht von der Erfahrung ausgeht, so verhindert nichts,
da sie der Erfahrung zugehe, und so a posteriori beweise, was sie zu beweisen hat
Freilich, wenn die positive Philosophie nicht von der Erfahrung ausgeht, so mu sie
apriorische Wissenschaft seyn...aber das Prius, von dem sie ausgeht, ist nicht blo vor aller
Erfahrung, so da es nothwendig in diese fortginge, es ist ber aller Erfahrung, und es ist fr
dasselbe daher kein nothwendiger Uebergang in die Erfahrung. Von diesem Prius leitet sie in
einem freien Denkendas Aposteriorische oder das in der Erfahrung Vorkommende, nicht
als das Mgliche, wie die negative Philosophie, sondern als das Wirkliche ab (F.W.J.
SCHELLING, Einleitung in die Philosophie der Offenbarung oder Begrndung der positiven
Philosophie, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/3), Stuttgart, Cotta, 1858, pp.

given which also means not to be dogmatically fixated by the given object but it
is an effort to think that which gives or the act of giving itself by means of what is
given. It attempts to think a priori, which in this context means as much as from the
prius forth, but by means of the consequent, the posterius. Second, since that which
gives is not a logical antecedent that implicitly contains its consequent within it, the
movement from antecedens to consequens is not a necessary transition, i.e. not a
logically necessitated transition. This marks Schellings rupture with Spinozism,
where Spinozism is understood as the necessary, i.e. analytical, transition from the
subject infinite substance to the predicate the attributes and modes which are
contained in the subject/substance. While Spinoza holds that all truths are analytic,
Schelling holds that all real, i.e. emphatic, propositions are synthetic. As nonSpinozistic, the prius is not merely prior or antecedent, but it is above its would-be
consequent, i.e. free to bring it about or not. The freedom of the prius freedom
itself instead of that which is given within experience is the true object of thought
and so the thinking that corresponds to it must also be a free thinking.
Thinking strives beyond the given; in its confrontation with the given, it
surmounts the given. It is an effort to think the prior by means of the posterior, the
prius by means of the posterius. In this way, when the inquiry concerns the
revelatory, e.g. the revelation that the Christ-event purports to be, the actual object
of thought is not the empirical or a posteriori, i.e. the words and deeds of Jesus of
Nazareth, but the prius of these consequents. The issue concerns the being of the
antecedent, whether or not the consequent words and deeds indicate a man
merely, a peculiar prophet or the Christ. As will be discussed in more detail later,
this type of thinking is something we already do when we think about a free agent,
a person. A person is only known by means of their consequent words and deeds;

yet, that to be known, that toward which thinking strives, is the supersensible will
precedent to these deeds, their prius or anterior. Schelling explains the structure of
this kind of thinking, i.e. his methodology, in a lengthy footnote as follows:
Customarily, one understands by a posteriori that recognition by which one
concludes from the effect back to the cause. The order of the proof is thereby
the inverse of the order of things; for, an effect is always only a result, only a
consequent, while the cause is that which precedes, the antecedent. In such
an inference, then, that which according to its nature is consequent is
artificially accepted as the proofs footing, as the logical antecedent, and,
inversely, that which according to its nature is antecedent, the cause,
becomes, in the proof, the logical result, the consequent. Now, in positive
philosophy, however, this is not an a posteriori proof in the ordinary sense of
the word because advance is made not from the effect to the cause but, to
the contrary, from the cause to the effect. The cause, as that which according
to its nature precedes, is here also the prius of the proof10
Directionality, in fact, is what marks the difference between positive and negative
philosophy for Schelling. While negative philosophy regresses from the consequens,
effect or posterius back to the antecedens, cause or prius, positive philosophy
progresses, it leaps from the origin in an attempt speculatively to narrate a history
commensurate to the actual order of things. Schellings later positive philosophy is
a philosophy of mythology and revelation, i.e. a narrative philosophy (erzhlende
Philosophie) that presages Heideggers philosophy in terms of the history, not
historiography, of being.

10 Gewhnlich versteht man unter aposteriorischer Erkenntni diejenige, bei der man z.B.
von der Wirkung auf die Ursache zurckschliet. Die Ordnung des Beweises ist hierbei die
umgekehrte von der Ordnung der Sache, denn die Wirkung ist berall nur Folge, nur
Consequens, die Ursache aber ist das Vorausgehende, das Antecedens. In einem solchen
Schlu wird also knstlich das, was seiner Natur nach das Consequens ist, zum Behuf des
Beweises als logisches Antecedens angenommen und umgekehrt das, was seiner Natur nach
das Antecedens ist, die Ursache, wird hier im Beweise zur logischen Folge, zum Consequens.
In der positiven Philosophie nun aber ist nicht dieser im gewhnlichen Sinne des Worts
aposteriorische Beweis; denn nicht von der Wirkung zur Ursache, sondern umgekehrt, von
der Ursache wird zu der Wirkung fortgeschritten; die Ursache, wie sie der Natur nach das
Vorausgehende ist, so ist sie hier auch das Prius des Beweises (F.W.J. SCHELLING,
Einleitung in die Philosophie der Offenbarung oder Begrndung der positiven Philosophie,
in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/3), Stuttgart, Cotta, 1858, p. 130, note 1).

Schellings objective is to seek out, i.e. speculate about, a path of thinking

appropriate to the fact of the matter, namely, the freedom of the prius. Here, then,
does the commitment of free thinking make itself manifest. The thinking of positive
philosophy operates per posterius because this is the only avenue for thinking
freedom as the freedom to be or not to be, what Schelling terms das Seyn- und
Nicht Seynknnende. Speculative thinking hereby reveals its utmost presupposition
or, perhaps better, its defining conviction: it is convinced that what there is to be
thought, being, is the revelation of freedom! If Schelling is right, then to deny
freedom and commit oneself rather to a form of necessitarianism is to commit
oneself to no longer thinking, to content oneself with the mere givenness of the
given, deaf to the giving of the given. Necessitarianism, or in fact any position or
discipline that precludes inquiry into the free, is not a science that has uncovered all
the reasons and causes of the universe, but rather a prejudice that commits itself to
the belief that the universe lacks any grounds prior to givenness. There is really
nothing to be dis-covered; everything already bares all there is to say about it. The
surface of things tells all or there is no further profundity than the superficial. In
other words, necessitarianism, far from being free thinking if it is thinking at all
has preemptively closed itself off to the possibility of freedom. Consequently, it has
also thereby excluded, not de facto but rather de jure, the very possibility of
revelation; for, what is revelation but the manifestation of something unknowable in
advance of its givenness and actuality, i.e. the manifestation of freedom?

Free Thinking as Speculation about Freedom

The object of genuine thinking, per Schelling, is freedom, which can neither
be known a priori, i.e. in advance of its actuality, nor a posteriori, i.e. as something

sensibly given. Freedom, e.g. the will of a person, can only be known if revealed,
thus revelation is only ever the revelation of freedom. Now, for thinking to admit
that freedom is unknowable a priori, in advance of its posterior manifestation, does
not mean that thinking falters on the un-thinkable. Thinking is rather entsetzt
note, in this context, how thinking also does not begin in neutral contemplation but,
more precisely, from something like the Schrecken and Scheu of the post-turn
Heidegger11 by the un-pre-thinkable. Das Unvordenkliche, far from unthinkable
lest Schelling have fallen indeed into an incomprehensible mysticism is only postthinkable or nachdenklich. This, however, says nothing more than what has already
been learned, namely, that genuine thinking functions neither a priori nor a
posteriori, but per posterius. Thinking, in its effort to think das Unvordenkliche, is
11 Schelling uses the terms entsetzt and Entsetzung when discussing Platos remark that
philosophy begins in wonder, . While Schelling himself does not view this as a way
of distancing himself from Plato, it could be argued that Entsetzung in Schelling corresponds
to Erschrecken in Heidegger, for whom this does constitute a break with . It is
noteworthy that Schellings defines Entsetzung as follows:Ecstasisnamely, our ego is set
outside itself, i.e. outside its placeonly in this self-sacrifice can the absolute subject
emerge for the egojust as we catch a glimpse of this even astonishment. This is perhaps
the weaker expression, of which the milder Plato makes use when he says: Before all else
this is the affect of the philosopher astonishment, , and adds that no other
beginning to philosophy is given apart from amazement. [Ekstase Nmlich unser Ich wird
auer sich, d.h. auer seiner Stelle, gesetzt. Nur in dieser Selbstaufgegebenheit kann ihm
das absolute Subjekt aufgehenwie wir sie auch in dem Erstaunen erblicken. Dieses ist
etwa der sanftere Ausdruck, dessen sich der milde Platon bedient, wenn er sagt: "Vor allem
ist die der Affekt des Philosophen - das Erstaunen, , und hinzusetzt: denn es
gibt keinen andern Anfang der Philosophie als das Erstaunen.] (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Erlanger
Vortrge (Aus dem handschriftlichen Nachla) in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke,
(I/9), Stuttgart, Cotta, 1861, pp. 229-230).
Here he both aligns this with Plato, but also admits that Platos expression is milder. For
Schelling, it is not just perplexity or bemusement, but a shock and jolt, i.e. a displacement,
that marks the origin of philosophy. Such displacement, however, can also be detrimental,
rather leading one away from philosophys noble task. He writes,
Every removal or displacement from a position is ecstasis. It depends upon whether
something is removed from a place appropriate and befitting or from one that is
unbefitting. In the latter case it is a salvific ecstasis, which leads to contemplation
and sensibility, while the other leads to senselessness. [Nmlich jede Entfernung oder
Entsetzung von einer Stelle ist Ekstase. Es kommt nur darauf an, ob etwas entfernt
wird von einer ihm zukommenden, gebhrenden Stelle, oder von der ihm nicht
gebhrenden Stelle. Im letzteren Fall ist es eine heilsame Ekstase, die zur Besinnung
fhrt, whrend die andere zur Sinnlosigkeit fhrt.] (Ibid., p. 230)

nachdenklich; genuine thinking, speculative thinking, is not pure thinking but

Nachdenken ber...

As nachdenklich, thinking is also, as Heidegger has argued,

both an Andenken and Vordenken.12 Thinking, as that which is entsetzt which I

prefer to translate with a constellation of terms from the startling and shocking
to dehiscence, dephasing and deposited, although perhaps best translated as
set free by the unforeseeable and, hence, the sudden (das Pltzliche/das
Unversehene) is not just an anamnesis that only reaches back to the prius, but,
having done so, it must also become an attempt to think forward, to think futurally
from the perspective of that which will be, to progress from the prius forth.
Freedom, in Schelling, freedom itself, which indicates the incipient name of God, is,
according to Schellings rendering of Exodus 3:14, that which will be (das was sein
wird). Thinking only thinks what is to come through remembrance and it only
recollects through speculative bemusement on future possibility. As Schelling
comments, Speculation means to browse about for possibilities by which a
determinate aim can be achieved in knowledge. 13 To think on the free means to
think on the ground of thought, that which is antecedent to thinking as that from
which thought leaps, as a possibility toward which thinking stretches. It means to
think the origin prior to its advance into the originated. It means to get in front of
being, to think being in advance of beings. It means to think the origin as possibility
to be, as the contingency of being and as something still futural.
12 See M. HEIDEGGER, On the Basic Principles of Thinking, in Bremen and
Freiburg Lectures: Insight into That Which Is and Basic Principles of Thinking,
Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2012.
13 Speculiren heit, sich nach Mglichkeiten umsehen, durch welche ein gewisser Zweck in
der Wissenschaft erreicht werden kann. (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Andere Deduktion der
Principien der positiven Philosophie in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke, (II/4),
Stuttgart, Cotta, 1858, p. 345).

Schelling explains the futural concept of God/abyss of freedom thusly: That which
will be is just for this reason not yet being, but is yet not nothing and so it is beyng
itself [das Seyende], thought purely as such, indeed not yet being but therefore not
nothing. It is surely that which will be14 What lies between, or rather before,
being and nothing if not the potency to be or not to be, the utter undecidability
between being and nothing, which shows that both being and nothing are but utter
contingencies? If, however, being somehow holds sway over nothing which is in
fact the case then what can this mean expect that the undecidable has been
decided? Every day that being continues to preside over nothingness lends further
credence to the thesis that chance is not at play here, but free decisiveness. Beyng,
in this way, reveals itself as personal. That which both can be and can not-be is
more appropriately to be thought as he who can be or can not-be, he who,
considered from his own perspective, will be or, perhaps, will not-be. Schelling
glosses at length:
Now, this first leads us to the highest concept of God insofar as he is
determined as he who is beyng itself [der Seyende selbst]. We see that a free
relation of God to being is expressed in this, that he is determined as he who
is not simply free from being(everything which is a beingdoes not have
the choice to be or not to be). God is in this sense outside of being, above
being, but he is not merely free from being as such, a pure Wesen, but he is
even free against being, i.e. free to be or not to be a pristine freedom, to
accept being or not to accept being, which lies in the phrase: I will be who I
will be. One can translate this as whom I will to be I am not the necessary
beingbut the sovereign of being15
14 Das, was seyn wird, ist zwar eben darum noch nicht seyend, aber es ist doch nicht
Nichts, und so ist das, was das Seyende selbst ist, rein als solches gedacht, zwar noch nicht
seyend, aber darum nicht Nichts; denn es ist ja das, was seyn wird (F.W.J. SCHELLING,
Der Monotheismus, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/2), Stuttgart, Cotta,
1856, p. 32).

15 Und dieses fhrt uns nun eigentlich erst auf den hchsten Begriff Gottes,
inwiefern er als der Seyende selbst bestimmt wird. Nmlich wir sehen, da darin ein
freies Verhltni Gottes zu dem Seyn ausgedrckt ist, da er bestimmt ist als der
nicht blo vom Seyn noch freie(alles, was ein Seyendes istes hatnicht die

Schelling, prior to Heidegger in Sein und Zeit, has here remarked that there is a kind
of possibility that is higher than actuality, higher than being. This possibility, i.e. this
contingency higher than necessity, is the perfect equipollence between being and
nothing; it is the undecidable, the contingent par excellence. Accordingly, if the
undecidable has been decided, if a decision has been revealed, then, i.e. only post
factum, is the one who is this possibility of being or nothing, the one who will be or
will not be, first posited. Accordingly, this is not to posit a first actuality, but it is to
posit primal possibility itself as something in actu or as actus purus. Against the
tradition of ontotheology, this actus purus is certainly not a first ground, first being
or first cause; for, it is only he who will be if in fact this is what is willed, i.e. if in fact
this is what is decided. Beforehand it is only the not yet decided, i.e. not yet
excluded, contingency between being and non-being. This indicates that God, as the
one who will or will not be, is not simply only known if revealed, but only even first
decidedly is in this revelation, in the de-cision (Ent-Scheidung) of beyng itself. This,
and nothing more, is all that Schelling means by the notion that actuality precedes
possibility. Or, that which will or will not be is not a description of chance but of the
need for a decision, a deed, an act, which constitutes the very personhood of beyng
To recapitulate, thinking thinks on being; thinking is a confrontation and
surmounting of being. To think being, however, is to think freedom, to think before
and above being. To think freedom is to think what can only be known if first
Wahl zu seyn oder nicht zu seyn). Gott ist in diesem Sinne auer dem Seyn, ber
dem Seyn, aber er ist nicht blo an sich selbst frei von dem Seyn, reines Wesen,
sondern er ist auch frei gegen das Seyn, d.h. eine lautere Freiheit zu seyn oder nicht
zu seyn, ein Seyn anzunehmen oder nicht anzunehmen; was auch in dem: "Ich
werde seyn, der ich seyn werde" liegt. Man kann die bersetzen: der ich seyn will ich bin nicht das nothwendig Seyendesondern Herr des Seyns. (Ibid., p. 33)

revealed rather than remaining concealed, as any free person can, by deciding, for
example, not to speak and not to act remain in concealment. Thinking, then, free
thinking, does not determine its object in advance and exclude possibilities a priori,
but by thinking from the prius forth, i.e. from freedom forth, it speculates. It
searches for possibilities not yet thinkable. It must do this because it is an effort to
think being as what is original and, as Schelling explains, Original is that which we
first conceive as possible through the fact that it is actual, from which we thus first
conceive possibility through actuality. 16 One might imagine ones first viewing of
the Venus de Milo, whereby one perhaps found oneself thinking that one would not
have even imagined that such art were possible were it not for the fact that one
indeed sees that it is actual. This expresses all that is meant by Schellings notion
that actus precedes potentia. It has nothing to do with the positing of a first
actuality, a first actualitas. The original presents never copies of a previously given
model, but it reveals the unforeseeable, sudden and novel, the unprethinkable and
un-pre-given, which means that thinking cannot suffice with explanations
sufficient in other domains. Thinkings task is to think without precedent, to think
the im-possible, to think what is not yet possible, to think that which is prior to
potentia and actualitas both, i.e. actus purus. Thinkings task, in short, is
speculation and adventure. It ventures to think that which precedes the very
domain of reasons itself, to think being in advance of its supplementation with
thinking/reason, where the principle of sufficient reason falters or is rather not yet
operative. The unprethinkable is that which reason alone or thinking which only
thinks about thinking, namely, logic, remains always unable to think. Simple logical
16 Originell ist das, was wir als mglich erst begreifen dadurch, dass es wirklich ist; wovon
wir also die Mglichkeit erst durch die Wirklichkeit begreifen (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Die
Grundlegung der positiven Philosophie: Mnchner Vorlesung WS 1832 33 und SS 1833,
Torino, Bottega dErasmo, 1972, p. 128).

thinking is effete and ephemeral because the content of such thinking is never
actus but only potentia. Logic thinks only on what is not impossible, only on what is
non-contradictory and thus only on formal possibility, but it cannot touch the actual.

On Thinkings Freedom Against Truth and Falsity

Although thinking the revelatory requires rogue and speculative narratives in order
to provide an account of an actuality that is startling because never the
instantiation of a pre-given possibility, it is nevertheless an enterprise that requires
no more justification than any other science. Schelling, speaking of the startling and
scandalous event that would be the Christian revelation, contends,
It is not concerned with orthodoxy I repudiate this notion, because it would
provide an entirely false standpoint for the philosophy of revelationit is not
the task of the philosopher to fall in line with any dogma whatsoever. For me
it only has something to do with the comprehension of Christendom in its
propriety and actuality17
Schelling elsewhere exclaims, Christianity is for philosophy not so much an
authority as an object18 Just as there is a difference, for example, between
feminist philosophy and philosophy of the feminine or philosophy of gender, and
just as there is a difference between historical philosophy and the philosophy of
history (of which neither is equivalent to the history of philosophy), so there is
17 Aber nicht um Orthodoxie ist es zu thun - ich weise die von mir ab, weil es einen ganz
falschen Standpunkt fr die Philosophie der Offenbarung geben wrdees ist nicht die
Aufgabe des Philosophen, mit irgend einer bereinzustimmen. Mir ist es nur um das
Verstndni des Christenthums in seiner ganzen Eigentlichkeit zu thun] (F.W.J. SCHELLING,
Die Philosophie der Offenbarung: Zweiter Theil, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche
Werke, (II/4), Stuttgart: Cotta, 1858, p. 80).

18 Das Christenthum ist aber fr die Philosophie nicht sowohl Autoritt als Gegenstand
(F.W.J. SCHELLING, System der Weltalter: Mnchner Vorlesung 1827/28 in einer Nachschrift
von Ernst von Lasaulx, Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann, 1990, p. 13). He also adds,
Christianity has reality in just the same degree as nature. [(D)as Christenthum hat ebenso
gut Realitt als die Natur.] (Ibid.).

likewise a difference between Christian philosophy and what one might call the
philosophy of Christianity or the philosophy of Islam, Buddhism etc. The latter is
able to become free thought rather than being constrained by dogma as long as it
begins simply by taking the Christ-event (or any other historically transformative
event) as well as the narrative(s) that precede and post-date the event as its object
of inquiry without yet pronouncing a judgment concerning its truthfulness or falsity.
Such an approach does not proselytize, although it may serve as a propaedeutic to
these endeavors. This approach by no means demands adherence, only that no
phenomenon may be dismissed out of hand. By this means the exclusionary
question of whether a phenomenon is to be judged true or false is superseded by
the question concerning the meaning of a phenomenon and whether it bears
universal significance. Philosophical commentary on such a phenomenon or
historical event would not consist in the elucidation of a dogma, but it would
philosophize over the nature of a fact, just as the philosophy of science which is
not to be confused with scientistic philosophy takes science, its methods, results,
political influence and sociological effects, as its object of study.
In this context much can be learned from the way Schelling approaches the history
of mythology, which, in fact, is no different from his approach to the Christian
revelation, i.e. the Christ-event. As Schelling surmises,
Am I to take it as truth or not? As truth? If I could do that, then I would not
have posed the questionIn the question, How am I to take it?, is already
entailed that the questioner does not find oneself in a position to see truth in
mythological storiesor actually given realities in the mythological depictions
19 Habe ich es zu nehmen als Wahrheit oder nicht als Wahrheit? - Als Wahrheit? Knnte ich
das, so htte ich nicht gefragtIn der Frage, wie habe ich es zu nehmenliegt daher schon,
da der Fragende sich auer Stand fhlt, in den mythologischen Erzhlungenin den
mythologischen Vorstellungen selbst Wahrheit, wirkliche Begebenheiten zu sehen (F.W.J.
SCHELLING, Historisch-Kritische Einleitung in die Philosophie der Mythologie, in K.F.A.
SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/1), Stuttgart: Cotta, 1856, p. 10).

Even a mythological fact is still a fact, even if only a fact of consciousness, the
meaning of which demands comprehension and is, in any event, neither something
to which adherence must be given nor something immediately to be explained away
by dismissing it as phantasmal or dangerous. In this respect, Schelling's approach to
mythology and revelation in his mature thought might appear similar to a
phenomenological approach except that he does not bracket the truthfulness or
validity of the phenomenon in advance of the inquiry. He rather shows how any
doubt concerning the truthfulness of a fact can only arise once that fact is already
no longer taken as fact and has become dubious. To question something's
truthfulness is already to treat it differently than a given to be comprehended. To
question the verity of a fact is already to have decided upon criteria according to
which the object is to be judged. Such an approach, therefore, could no longer
speculate because criteria and rules of procedure would already be in place. This
sort of criticism, then, far from being free and without presupposition, has rather
already decided against certain possibilities, while genuine thinking, however, treats
its object not merely as neither true nor false, but, in fact, in advance of this very
dichotomy, before either are even thought as possible, as each of these judgments
truth and falsity both is already only the product of a prior doubt. (Of course,
viewed pre-thematically or pre-judgmentally, i.e. before the epistemological
question of truth arises, facts are accepted as fact and, in this sense, as true. This
truth, however, is not yet the truth of a cognitive judgment.) The approach of
Schellings genuine thinking or speculative philosophy is much closer to the ideal
of free inquiry than a phenomenological thinking that must set all its objects in
before it can commence. The phenomenological maneuver of placing the
object of thought in is only helpful if one is already confronted by

epistemological doubts and, concomitantly, the constraints of truth and falsity. This
maneuver is required only where one is no longer in a position to view the object of
thought as a fact, before which one feels no more compelled to deem it true rather
than false. The true and the false pronouncement both presuppose a question
How am I to take this? that is foreign to the way one approaches the factually
To return, then, to the notion of intentionality, it is not the subject that places the
world in , an approach which always grants the subject a transcendental
status, whereby it is displaced from the world and its engagement with actual and
factual objects. Rather, because being intends thought and not vice versa, it is not
only unnecessary but also impossible for the subject to extricate itself from the
world, for thought to operate a priori from a transcendental locus. Moreover, verity
and falsity are here judgments leveled upon the world by the subject, but if the
intentional relation first moves from being to the subject, then a domain of inquiry is
possible, however short this window might be, in advance of the imposition of truth
and falsity on the part of the subject.

Conclusion: Dogmatism or the Doctrinal?

While, on the one hand, dogmatism is the fervor by which one clings to a
belief for which one has no epistemic justification or, as Kant would have it, even
epistemic access the doctrinal, on the other hand, that to which Schelling had
already provided hints earlier in his career as a new dogmatism (in his
Philosophische Briefe ber Dogmatismus und Kriticismus (1795)), indicates the way
in which an object is broached entirely in advance of the question of epistemic
access, in advance of the judgments of true or false. This new dogmatism or the

doctrinal regards all facts in the same way, namely, as facts, as opposed to
allegories that are merely intended to point to some other truth normally a truth of
science than their own actuality, some other truth apart from how they are
factically given. Schelling explains,
There is an identity between the doctrinal and the historical [actual] just as
this has been shown to be the case in mythology. This identity must now also
be shown for Christianity. Just as mythology is to be understood throughout
as genuine and real and the true meaning, the truly doctrinal, is to be sought
in that which is understood genuinely or literally, not in that which is
explained allegorically, just in this way does Christianity also operate 20
Christian Danz, an under-appreciated commentator on the later Schelling, provides
the following gloss on this theme, writing of the Biblical texts,
[I]f one observes these texts as primary historical documents, then one can
no longer understand them allegorically but only, as Schelling terms it,
genuinely and actually. This, however, means that the primary document as
primary document qualifies an intelligibility that it makes into the outstanding
medium of the understanding of inner history and indeed in such a way that
the meaning is not other than the form in which this meaning is expressed.
Content and form are identical. Just as the content, the doctrinal element, is
expressed, so is it also intended21
Although the doctrinal cannot be fully clarified here and drawn into relation
with the other elements of Schellings philosophy of revelation, e.g. his running
20 Diese Identitt des Doktrinellen und Geschichtlichen, wie sie in der Mythologie
aufgezeigt worden, mu nun auch im Christenthum festgehalten werden. Wie die Mythologie
durchaus eigentlich zu verstehen ist, und der wahre Sinn, das wahre Doktrinelle, eben in der
eigentlich oder wrtlich verstandenen, nicht etwa in der allegorisch erklrten zu suchen ist,
gerade so verhlt es sich mit dem Christenthum. (F.W.J. SCHELLING, Die Philosophie der
Offenbarung: Erster Theil, in K.F.A. SCHELLING (ed.), Smtliche Werke (II/3), Stuttgart:
Cotta, 1858, p. 196).

21 Betrachtet man diese Texte als historische Urkunden, so kann man sie nicht mehr
allegorisch verstehen, sondern nur noch wie Schelling es nennt, eigentlich. Dies nun aber
bedeutet, dab der Urkunde als Urkunde eine Klarheit eignet, die sie zum hervorragenden
Medium des Verstehens der inneren Geschichte macht; und zwar so, dab die Bedeutung
nicht eine andere ist als die Form, in der sich diese Bedeutung ausspricht. Inhalt und Form
sind identisch, d. h. so wie sich der Inhalt, das Doktrinelle, ausspricht, so ist es auch
gemeint. (C. DANZ, Die philosophische Christologie F.W.J. Schellings, Stuttgart-Bad
Cannstatt, Frommann-Holzboog, 1996, p. 36).

proof of God or his Christology, it is my opinion that the foundation has at least
been laid for the possibility of a doctrinal philosophy. This philosophy would not find
itself in opposition with but rather in agreement with speculative thinking, what
Schelling calls positive philosophy. This manner of thinking repudiates the purported
syllogisms of natural theology in favor of a philosophy of revelation, which never
deduces but always searches and scavenges for unforeseeable possibilities. This
manner of thinking is not dogmatically captivated by its object, but it is the nature
of its object to liberate the inquisitor, to set her on an adventure of free speculation.
Yet, this manner of thinking also does not become disengaged from its object by
preemptively setting it in suspension or . It thinks its object in advance of the
judgments of true or false. Free thinking, in other words, is not in need of special
justification, but it is free to commence without prior legitimation, just as the natural
scientist must not first wait upon further philosophical and methodological
underpinnings. To return, then, at last, to the two Schellingian propositions
prematurely ventured at the beginning of this presentation, only if being were
intended by thinking and only if being were there because thinking were there first
would it be necessary to demonstrate the epistemic access to being before one
could engage in speculative thought. Instead, thinking is the intention of being.
There is only thinking/reason/intelligibility because there is being and not vice
versa, which precludes the need for epistemic access. Access to being has always
already been granted, or one can now take a step before Kant (or rather one should
return to the writings of the pre-critical Kant!) and the modern erection of
epistemology as first philosophy. One is free to speculate, to formulate an eikos
mythos, as Plato expressed himself in the Timaeus, because the modern paradigm

is wrong; thinking is not trapped in self-reflexivity. Thinking only is thinking as the

venture of, from and into being.