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  • Schelling's Naturalism: Motion, Space and the Volition of Thought by Ben Woodard
  • Tyler Tritten
Schelling's Naturalism: Motion, Space and the Volition of Thought. Ben Woodard. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019. 256 pp. $29.95 paperback.

Ben Woodard's book, exemplarily erudite and so not for the faint of heart, guides the reader through all periods of F.W.J. Schelling's thought—a feat important in its own right given the burgeoning Schelling renaissance in the English-speaking philosophical universe. Woodard follows this trajectory not in order to periodize this giant of German philosophy but rather in order to demonstrate the continuity of Schelling's thought through the leitmotiv of naturalism. Schelling's naturalism, however, is not of the sort to which we have become accustomed. As Woodard rightly insists, for Schelling nature is "not some local part of the universe" (1) but instead names the universal (non-local) processes productive of (localized) existence. Thought, Woodard incisively argues, is just one of those local processes. Woodard's task, then, from which he never recoils, is to radically expose the consequences of conceiving thought as natural, as not distinct in kind from nature's other productions.

Accordingly, thought is conceived, per Woodard's reading of Schelling, as motion, a motion as natural as any other, thus refusing thought's reification as a [End Page 90] "product or substance" (26). If nature is not local, it cannot designate a special region of reality, or even the totality of all entities, but "nature" nominates the universal processes constitutive of local systems and the identities emergent within these systems. Rather than demarcating a field of experience "nature" names the a priori conditions productive not just of our experience of objects but of these very objects themselves. This, then, that nature alone is absolutely a priori, is the principal Schellingian insight that Woodard attempts to chase to its most radical conclusions. If nature is not an object or localized field of experience, but generative of the same, nature has a transcendental status.

Woodard formulates the transcendental problematic thusly, "Schelling asks himself how nature must be in order for us to exist and to be able to think of something like nature" (36). It is important to note two idiosyncrasies of this Schellingian formulation. First, the transcendental does not simply provide a priori conditions of experience, but it also asks, "how nature must be in order for us to exist." How must nature be such that a transcendental position can emerge within and as a product of nature itself? Nature is thus not a conditioned domain within experience but the condition of experience itself, both of the objects of experience and of the thought which thinks them. Second, if nature is productive of existents, nature itself must be, to employ Woodard's term, "inexistent" (see, for example, 47–52). In other words, for Schelling, Woodard artfully spies, nature, qua transcendental or absolutely a priori, is not a table of categories to be externally imposed upon the content of intuition in order that it can be cognized, but nature is productive of the very being of these existents, of the very content of intuition itself. A transcendental account is distinct from causal or physicalist accounts insofar as it seeks conditions that are not of the same domain as that which they condition. If existents are produced, then nature, qua transcendental, is a properly inexistent non-domain.

Given this account of nature as transcendental, Woodard distinguishes Schelling from Kant in the following manner: "Whereas Kant's systematic constraints were directed fundamentally to make sense of how we have experience at all, for Schelling the constraints on nature are sceptically constructed in order to explain how it is that there are things at all, given a nature which seems endlessly productive" (44). How is nature productive? Answer: production is identity-formation. Or, as Woodard states, "The question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' is essentially Schelling's way of asking why individuation occurs …" (221). A thing can only be said to be if it is as something or other. "As begins to become clear in Schelling's Essay on Human Freedom, and remains central...


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