DALIA NASSAR | The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy, 1795—1804 | University of Chicago Press 2014


By Richard Fincham 

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, the nature of ‘the absolute’ became a central issue of concern within philosophical discussion in Germany. Dalia Nassar suggests that this situation arose in response to wider debates concerning the possibility of moral action. This debate was triggered by Kant’s Copernican revolution, which instantiated a ‘two-world’ metaphysics in which phenomena were necessarily subject to laws of nature, while noumena were subject to moral laws. The realization of morality within nature appeared difficult to account for in terms of this two-world metaphysics. Kant’s Third Critique of 1790 acknowledged this difficulty and (influentially) pointed towards a ‘supersensible ground’ underlying both nature and freedom as a means for its solution. Nonetheless, in the eyes of many, Kant had ultimately left the problem unresolved. The overcoming of such difficulties seemingly necessitated a shift from Kantian ‘dualism’ in favour of something more akin to Spinozistic monism, thus producing the philosophical enterprise of explicating how nature and freedom could coexist within an absolute whole (Nassar, p. 258). Nassar’s monograph, The Romantic Absolute, provides a detailed account of how this enterprise manifests itself within the work of two of the leading figures of the ‘early German Romantic’ movement, namely, Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, and the German idealist most closely associated with Romanticism, F. W. J. Schelling. In the course of Nassar’s study, however, it is argued that the frequent categorization of the former as ‘Romantics’ and the latter as an ‘idealist’ instantiates a false dichotomy, which may in fact prove unhelpful for understanding the thought of all three thinkers.

Nassar effectively attempts to bring Schelling back into the Romantic fold for reasons which seemingly put her at odds with the highly influential reading of philosophical Romanticism provided by Manfred Frank. According to Nassar, Frank interprets the philosophical Romantics as critics of transcendental philosophy, who depart from the latter in a more sceptical direction (p. 9). He focuses upon elements of philosophical Romanticism which reflect contemporary philosophical debates concerning epistemology and self-consciousness, to argue that they were sceptical anti-idealists because they were anti-foundationalists who believed that being is unable to be grasped by consciousness. Accordingly, Frank conceives of the Romantic absolute as an epistemological notion, such as a regulative ideal or Fichtean transcendental self, which we can only approximate towards and never reach. Nassar, however, rejects Frank’s equation of idealism and foundationalism, first, because it overlooks the fact that “the romantics often called themselves idealists and termed their philosophical methodology ‘transcendental idealism’” (p. 9) and, secondly, because this equation reinforces the aforementioned false dichotomy between Romantics and idealists, which results in scholars overlooking the proximity of Novalis and Schlegel on the one hand and Schelling on the other. Indeed, according to Nassar, Novalis and Schlegel are not fundamentally opposed to, but rather share, Schelling’s interests in systematization and concern with formulating a coherent conception of the absolute (see p. 259).

A more recent interpretation of philosophical Romanticism, which Nassar seems to find equally problematic, is that put forwards by Frederick Beiser. Beiser also interprets the philosophical Romantics as critics of transcendental philosophy, but—seemingly in diametric opposition to Frank—sees them as departing from the latter in an (arguably) more dogmatic direction, to thus provide a decisive contribution to the tradition of absolute idealism which culminates in Hegel. He provides a historical reconstruction of the emergence of philosophical Romanticism, which argues that it was ultimately “a metaphysical project, concerned with understanding the nature of being or reality” (p. 1). Accordingly, Beiser conceives of the Romantic absolute as “a metaphysical idea, not unlike Spinoza’s substance” (p. 2). Beiser’s interpretation therefore does bring Schelling back into the fold of Romanticism, by effectively viewing Romanticism as an embryonic absolute idealism. Nassar, however, finds Beiser’s interpretation problematic for two reasons: First, she rejects Beiser’s quasi-Hegelian assumption that the tradition illustrates a linear developmental process from Novalis’s fragmentary reflections through Schlegel’s similarly fragmentary reflections before finally reaching its apotheosis in Schelling’s systematic presentations, on the grounds that this undermines the distinctive contributions of the former to effectively view ‘Romanticism as a whole’ through the lens of Schelling’s achievements alone (see pp. 10, 13);[1] and, secondly, she argues that Beiser underestimates the Romantics’ attachment to Kantian criticism to overestimate their attachment to Spinoza, since “they were never entirely sympathetic toward (and were at times outright critical of) his apparent dogmatism” (p. 12).

According to Nassar, Frank and Beiser thus commit the same mistake of one-sidedly interpreting ‘the Romantic absolute’, even if they do so from diametrically opposed perspectives: The former interpreting it as a predominantly epistemological idea, and the latter interpreting it as a predominantly metaphysical idea. Nassar argues that the Romantic absolute is “both an epistemological and a metaphysical idea: a cognitive ideal and an existential reality”, that “the absolute must be conceived in both senses, and that the two senses of the absolute are necessarily interrelated” (p. 2). In other words, she argues that what unites Novalis, Schlegel and Schelling under the rubric of ‘philosophical Romanticism’ is that all three of them were concerned with articulating both how the cognitive and moral self was part of one absolute whole (so that all three of them were absolute idealists, as Beiser contends [see p. 12]) as well as how the cognitive ‘self’ may “perceive” and “present” this one absolute whole (in a way that does not ride roughshod over the critical insights laid down by Kant and Fichte). More specifically, Nassar argues that the thought of Novalis, Schlegel and Schelling shares a concern with addressing three simultaneously epistemological and metaphysical questions to the absolute, which each one of these thinkers nonetheless answered within a distinctive manner.

The first of these questions concerns ‘the relation between mind and nature’. Accordingly, the question concerns our cognitive grasp of the metaphysical view that both subject and object are parts of one absolute whole. Focusing upon the work he composed after his Fichte-Studien, Nassar demonstrates that Novalis answers this question by conceiving mind and nature as “integral halves” of “one essence”, in which the self is neither “outside” of nature (as it was for Kant) nor absolutely within it—a metaphysical picture which he justifies by claiming that it alone is able to explain both how we can know nature and how we can act morally (see pp. 15—79, esp. 50, 56, 66—7, and 78). She also finds a similar answer within the work of Schlegel, who, within his Jena Vorlesungen, argues that mind and nature are “opposite expressions” of one reality or absolute whole, which is constituted by two absolutely interdependent, reciprocally conditioning Urfakta (universal consciousness and infinite substance)—a metaphysical picture which is grasped through that intellectual intuition in which we realize our participation within that one universal consciousness underlying reality (see pp. 81—156, esp. 102 and 112—13). Likewise, she discusses in detail how intellectual intuition played a key role in Schelling’s various attempts “to understand and present the unity that underlies and determines both nature and mind” (p. 257): In his Vom Ich als Prinzip of 1795 and Fernere Darstellung of 1802 it takes the form of a non-discursive insight into a nonobjective whole, immanently realized within both the mind of the individual and the products of nature (see pp. 175—86, 244—8), whereas, within his System of Transcendental Idealism of 1800, it takes the form of an aesthetic experience of the product of genius, i.e. the work of art, in which the nonobjective absolute becomes objective (see pp. 221—4).

The second of these questions concerns ‘the relation between the one and the many.’ This question concerns how it is possible to “perceive” and “understand” the absolute whole as an “internally differentiated unity” (p. 5). Nassar argues that Novalis answers this question by articulating a “relational absolute”—conceived as nothing other than a sphere of mediation—that can be grasped by the non-discursive intuition (ruled out by Kant, but championed by Goethe) in which we view nature with the ‘eyes of an artist’ (and are thus as productive as nature itself) to thus grasp the absolute through its diverse members (see pp. 15—79, esp. 60, 64, 75, and 77). On the other hand, Schlegel’s similarly “relational absolute” is, it is argued, grasped through a method of historical thinking which seeks to perceive the individual as a part of an ongoing process of becoming within the absolute, which Nassar suggests may likewise have been “indirectly” influenced by Goethe’s scientific research (see pp. 81—156, esp. 95—6, 118, and 145—7). However, Nassar argues that Goethe’s work on plant metamorphosis had a direct influence upon the conception of ‘the one and the many’ found within Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, insofar as, in his Entwurf of 1799, he conceives of the absolute organically as an archetype constituting its parts, which is realized by an intellectual intuition that “gains insight into the whole through grasping the relations between the parts” (p. 202)—a conception which seems to be carried over into the Fernere Darstellung of 1802, in which it is argued that the task of philosophy is to realize the archetypal whole within differentiated particulars through an “archetypal cognition” (or intellectual intuition) (see. pp. 239—48).

The third of these questions concerns ‘the relation between the infinite and finite’. From a metaphysical perspective, this question concerns how the absolute whole which is “outside of determination” can nonetheless be “the ground of determination” (p. 4)—a question famously left unanswered within Spinoza’s metaphysics (see. p. 238). From an epistemological perspective, it concerns how this relationship between the absolute whole and the parts that participate within it can be best presented within a philosophical system. It is in this regard, Nassar argues, that the Romantics rejected the Grundsatzphilosophie of Fichte’s first Wissenschaftslehre, to instead argue that ‘organic unity’ provides a more adequate model for the presentation of a system of knowledge. Nassar draws upon Novalis’s incomplete encyclopedia project of 1798—99 to argue that he responds to this question by arguing that nature is a harmonious plurality of finite products constantly transformed by both our moral actions and our knowledge of it, and that, as its infinite productivity is only adequately grasped insofar as we are productive ourselves, the best means for presenting a comprehensive system of knowledge involves a system of fragments (see pp. 15—79, esp. 75, 78).

She also draws upon Schlegel’s Jena Vorlesungen to show how he conceives the absolute as constituted by the infinite’s “desire” to “express” itself within a historically unfolding series of finite individuals (the infinite and the finite reciprocally determining the other; the former being immanently contained within the latter), and how, because of its necessary incompleteness, he argues, like Novalis, that such a “system” is best presented within a system of fragments and also within the form of a novel (see pp. 81—156, esp. 117—20, 126—7, and 139). The conception that the infinite is immanently contained within the finite is also found within Schelling’s work, where—in the years from 1797 to 1800—he endeavours to account for the genesis of finite products in terms of the encounter between two opposed infinite activities—one expansive and the other contractive (see pp. 199—207). Like Novalis and Schlegel, Schelling also argued at times (most notably within his System of Transcendental Idealism of 1800) that aesthetic intuition and the work of art (an “infinite object” [p. 250]) are the most adequate means for presenting the ultimate nature of the nonobjective absolute (see pp. 221–4), although, unlike the former figures, he never went so far as to doubt philosophical reason’s capacity to construct a philosophical system in the conventional sense, based upon the cognitive insight provided by intellectual intuition, which adequately reflects the organic nature of the absolute (see p. 245)—even if the frequent twists and turns of his position show how difficult such a system is to achieve.

Nassar’s monograph is clearly the product of meticulous and highly professional research. One is almost astonished by the manner in which she manages to discuss the contents of so many of—what must rank among—some of the most complex and—in some cases—painfully opaque texts within the history of philosophy in a manner that has the dual virtue of being both very clear and very concise. That said, however, I have some reservations about the book’s structure. The book consists of three parts dealing with Novalis, Schlegel and Schelling respectively, each presenting a—generally—chronologically ordered description of their philosophical—and, in some cases, literary—writings within the period from 1795 to 1804. These three parts are almost entirely self-contained, and the material in the Introduction and Conclusion that would unify this trichotomy is very thin, consisting of a mere 17—18 pages in total. If a joke is in order, one might almost say that the author demands of her readers an act of ‘intellectual intuition’ in order to discern the unity in and through the disparate parts. This structure is probably very advantageous for readers who are comparatively unfamiliar with the work of one or more of the three figures dealt with, but it does have its disadvantages.

First, we might note that it is somewhat peculiar that it is only at pp. 162—76, when discussing Schelling’s works from 1794—95, that Nassar briefly expounds Fichte’s philosophy of the same period; especially since, at pp. 19—38, when discussing Novalis’s Fichte-Studien, she presupposes her readers’ familiarity with Fichte. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, this structure runs the danger of undermining at least one of the book’s explicit aims, namely, that of showing that Schelling’s thought is not ‘radically distinguished’ from that of Novalis and Schlegel (as Frank suggests), but rather has a substantial “proximity” to the latter (p. 10, 13). Whereas Nassar’s treatment of Schelling is impressive for the way that she not only describes but also convincingly constructs arguments to account for his manifold shifts in position between 1794 and 1803, if considered as an attempt to counter Frank’s ‘exclusion’ of Schelling from the Romantic fold, it does not appear entirely successful. It is thus somewhat to be regretted that the third part of the book does not contain more of a historically-orientated account of Schelling’s interactions with the Jena Romantics and—more importantly—a more explicit discussion of the systematic parallels between his thought and that of Novalis and Schlegel.

The previous consideration brings us to another (possible) deficiency with this study. When one reads Frank, one repeatedly finds very clear definitions and formulations of what was essential to early German Romantic thinking. These formulations are cogently consolidated by Elizabeth Millán-Zaibert in the following passage:

[I]dealism [is understood] as “the conviction … that consciousness is a self-sufficient phenomenon, one which is still able to make the presuppositions of its existence comprehensible by its own means.” In contrast, the early German Romantics are convinced that “self-being owes its existence to a transcendent foundation”, which cannot be dissolved by consciousness. According to this view of the primacy of Being, the foundation of self-being becomes a puzzle that can no longer be handled by reflection alone, for reflection alone cannot grasp Being—it needs something more. What is this something more? Our experience of the beauty of art. (Introduction to Frank 2004:19)

Now, Nassar seemingly follows Beiser in rejecting this sharp distinction between post-Kantian idealism and early German Romanticism, to instead argue that the latter is in fact a species of the former (Nassar, p. 12). What seems to be lacking in her study, however, is an attempt to clearly outline the essential differences between a romantic absolute idealism and a non-romantic absolute idealism. Thus, whereas we can very clearly point to the precise reasons for why Frank claims that Schelling was not a Romantic (even while, at the same time, acknowledging that his privileging of ‘aesthetic intuition’ around the turn of the century does indeed show a “kinship” with Romanticism [see Frank 2004:55–6]), it is not so easy to point to the precise reasons for Nassar’s counterclaim that he should be considered as one. I can think of three reasons that Nassar might evoke for why we should consider Schelling as an early German Romantic, but none of them appear wholly unproblematic.

First, from the fact that her discussion of Schelling concludes with his Lectures on the Philosophy of Art of 1802—3 we might suppose that it is his (occasional) privileging of the work of art that convinces her that Schelling should be considered a Romantic. But, since Frank acknowledges that on these occasions Schelling does indeed show Romantic ‘leanings’, this would not seem to be enough to counter Frank’s claim that on the whole “Schelling was no Romantic” (Frank 2004:25). Secondly, Nassar might want to claim that it is an ‘organic’ model of the absolute, grasped by an intuitive understanding of the unity underlying particularity, which constitutes the essential feature of Romanticism, and thus makes Schelling a Romantic. But then we might wonder whether the appellation ‘Romanticism’ might also be justifiably applied to other absolute idealists like Hegel and K. C. F. Krause. Thirdly, Nassar might respond by claiming that it is the articulation of an “inherently relational” conception of the absolute which is the essential feature of early German Romanticism (p. 12). This would seem to be the most promising line to take. But do we find such a conception of the absolute articulated within Schelling’s Vom Ich als Prinzip or his Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie? Surely the opposite conclusion is the case. In short, therefore, one regrets that Nassar does not consider providing a simple and straightforward definition of early German Romanticism that would enable us to clearly see who or what should be considered as constituting part of this movement.

One interesting theme that does run through the three relatively self-contained parts of the study is the attention given to the influence of Goethe’s scientific work on optics and botany (which was methodologically conceived as an application of Spinoza’s idea of scientia intuitiva, and thus challenged Kant’s assumption that the human understanding is only ever discursive) upon the work of all three thinkers, although, as Nassar herself admits, in the case of Schlegel this influence seems to have only been “indirect” (p. 145). Accordingly, we might say that Nassar does for Novalis, Schlegel and Schelling what Eckart Förster, in his The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy, does for Hegel, i.e., showing how Goethe had a formative impact upon them. It is worth noting, however, that Förster seems to implicitly rule out the possibility that Schelling was influenced by Goethe—or, at least, suggests that he was certainly not influenced by him to the same extent as Hegel. Thus, whereas Nassar emphasizes their similarities, Förster seems to regard Schelling and Goethe’s thought as fundamentally distinct. Förster thus writes:

Whereas Schelling works with an abstract schema which he repeatedly ‘potentiates’ in order to explain the wealth of nature on its basis, Goethe’s procedure—and the procedure of an intuitive understanding in general—is always concrete and follows the empirical phenomena. (Förster 2012:265)

In this connection, Förster cites a letter Schelling received in 1803 from his then disciple, Franz Joseph Schelver, which criticizes Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants for resting content “with the worst kind of empirical necessity” and for being “a very unimpressive abstraction” (cited in Förster 2012:289). From this we may at least conclude that, if Schelling was decisively influenced by Goethe then this was not perceived at the time, even by those closest to him. However, any doubts that we might have about Goethe’s importance for Schelling are immediately dispelled by the textual evidence which Nassar supplies, namely, Schelling’s letter to Goethe from 1801 which claims that “your presentation of the metamorphosis of plants has proven indispensable to me for understanding the emergence of all organic beings” (cited in Nassar, p. 193) and the fact that his Von der Weltseele of 1798 approvingly cites Goethe’s understanding of growth as taking place through the opposed forces of expansion (Ausdehnung) and contraction (Zusammenziehung) for revealing the fundamental law of all natural development (see p. 194). In this connection, I would only add that perhaps this influence can be seen even earlier than Nassar suggests, in, for example, Schelling’s claim in 1797 that “the world itself consists only of this continual expansion and contraction [Expansion und Contraction] of the spirit [Geist]” (Schelling 1978ff., I, 4:123).

In conclusion, I would like to reflect upon how, although Nassar professes to try and forge a ‘middle-way’ between the more-or-less opposed interpretations of Romanticism given by Beiser and Frank, I cannot help but feel that she ends up being far more sympathetic to the former than the latter. Frank’s influential interpretation does not seem to receive an especially fair and impartial hearing, and is sometimes criticized for containing problems which seem to me to be non-problems. Nassar identifies two problems with Frank’s interpretation. The first of which she describes in the following manner:

[T]he most striking [problem] concerns the ambiguity surrounding [Frank’s] understanding of the romantic notion of the absolute and its relation to “being”. Frank appears to waver with regard to the ontological or existential status of the absolute. […] [H]e claims that the romantics begin with “original being” and emphasizes that this being has an “existential meaning” or “reality”. Yet he also states […] that for the romantics “pure being” is an “unreachable idea in the Kantian sense”. (p. 9)

This “ambiguity” seems to be no more severe than the ‘tension’ that we find between Kant’s claims that (a) appearance (Erscheinung) implies some X which appears and that (b) any such X cannot be cognized by the human understanding. Now, admittedly, this ‘tension’ was seen as a problem for Kant by some of his critics, like Jacobi; but considering that Frank is claiming that the Romantics were ‘good Kantians’ who did not (necessarily) reject the notion of something transcending consciousness, but whose innovation consisted in claiming that it could only be approached by non-conceptual means, I confess that I do not see any ambiguity here.

The second difficulty which Nassar finds within Frank’s interpretation is described in the following terms:

A second, more obvious difficulty with Frank’s interpretation concerns his distinction between romanticism and idealism. To begin with, the romantics often called themselves idealists and termed their philosophical methodology “transcendental idealism”. Furthermore, Frank’s division between romanticism and idealism is in large part based on the question of first principles and systematicity. While it is true that Schelling sought to ground the system of knowledge in first principles, this does not mean that the romantics (Novalis and Schlegel) were anti-idealists. Idealism, in other words, is not equivalent to foundationalism. (p. 9)

This criticism opens up some interesting interpretive issues. But, just as Nassar’s conception of ‘Romanticism’ seems ill-defined, here she seems to use the term “idealism” as such a broad catch-all term that it confuses issues which are otherwise worth serious enquiry. I would contend that (discounting the ’empirical idealism’ of Berkeley) we can in fact identify three kinds of ‘idealism’ at work within the period under discussion, namely:

a. Kant’s transcendental or critical idealism

b. The Grundsatzphilosophie of Reinhold’s Elementarphilosophie and Fichte’s first Wissenschaftslehre

c. A ‘Spinozistic’ absolute idealism, found in Schelling’s work from Vom Ich als Prinzip onwards

a is most certainly not foundationalist. b and c are foundationalist, although in different ways: b takes as its foundation a Grundsatz from which results can be synthetically deduced, whereas c takes as its foundation a Prinzip from which results are not synthetically deducible. Frank clearly and convincingly argues that the Romantics were strident critics of b precisely because of their commitment to a, and in that sense he would clearly have no problem with the view that one can be a transcendental idealist without being a foundationalist. Where Frank’s interpretation may be mistaken is in not doing enough to distinguish between b and c, to thus argue that Romanticism should be understood to be just as much opposed to c as it is to b. The difference between b and c is, I think, illustrated by the circumstances surrounding Schelling’s Antikritik of 1796. Schelling wrote the Antikritik to respond to a highly negative review of Vom Ich als Prinzip written by Novalis’s “real friend”, Johann Benjamin Erhard (see Frank 2004:25). Schelling clearly detected within the review the same kind of criticisms that “good Kantians” (committed to a) directed against Grundsatzphilosophie (b), and was thus at pains to distinguish his own kind of ‘idealism’ (c) from the latter (b). Concerning his aims within Vom Ich als Prinzip, Schelling writes:

[T]he aim of the author was nothing other than this: to free philosophy from the paralysis into which it must fall as a result of the unhappy investigations concerning a first axiom [ersten Grundsatz] of philosophy—to prove that true philosophy could only begin with free actions and that abstract axioms [Grundsätze] at the pinnacle of this science are the death of all philosophizing. The question: from which axiom [Grundsatze] must philosophy begin? seemed to him to be unworthy of a free man […].—Since he holds philosophy to be the pure product of the free human being, to be an act of freedom as it were, he believed himself to have higher concepts of it than many a miserable philosopher, who derived the terror of the French Revolution and all the unhappiness of humanity from the disagreement of his colleagues, but wanted to rectify this unhappiness with an empty—insignificant—axiom in which he thought the entirety of philosophy was, as it were, contained. (Schelling 1978ff., I, 3:123; cf. I, 2:113)

In commenting upon this episode, Frank claims that Erhard’s review “rattled and angered Schelling to such an extent that, in an aggressive reply, Schelling even denied that in this work he had aimed at a philosophy from a highest principle” (Frank 2004:47). This is, however, to claim that there is something highly disingenuous about this reply, which, in contrast, appears to me to be a passionate attempt to clarify that the foundation of his philosophy is a free spirit as opposed to a dead, abstract axiom. And Schelling would indeed quite genuinely be making these claims if, as Nassar suggests, he had argued in Vom Ich als Prinzip—just as much as in his Darstellung meines Systems—that (i) the difference between subject and predicate in the principle of identity cannot grasp the identity of the absolute itself (see Nassar, pp. 228—31) and that (ii) the corresponding difference between subject and object within self-consciousness differs from the “original productive activity” of the absolute (p. 233), to therefore argue that—in Nassar’s words—“the absolute cannot be reduced to a relation or form of identity and thus cannot be equated with self-consciousness” (p. 234).

That Schelling did indeed argue this way within his Vom Ich als Prinzip can be seen in (i) his distinction between the materially original form of the I’s pure identity and the formal form of positing within the I (such as the principle of identity) which the latter makes possible (see Schelling 1978ff., I, 2:146—7 and Nassar, pp. 169—70) and (ii) his claim that “self-consciousness presupposes the danger of losing the I” (Schelling 1978ff., I, 2:104; cited in Nassar, p. 174). In this way, Schelling does indeed seem to distance himself from the kind of ‘Cartesian’ idealism (b) we find in Fichte’s first Wissenschaftslehre, which would seek to counter the threat of scepticism by establishing as its foundation a Grundsatz with the formal certainty of the principle of identity (A = A) and the material certainty of self-consciousness (I am I), to instead promulgate a more ‘Spinozistic’ idealism (c) in which neither the principle of identity nor self-consciousness can grasp the absolute. But we only need cast a cursory glance at Hölderlin’s Urteil und Sein or, indeed, no. 1 of Novalis’s Fichte-Studien, both of which Frank interprets as sceptical criticisms of (b) Fichtean Grundsatzphilosophie, to realize that, in this regard, they possess strong parallels with (c) the kind of ‘Spinozistic’ idealism we find in Schelling’s contemporaneous reflections. In this sense, therefore, I think that we can reconcile Frank’s claims concerning Romanticism’s sceptical dimension with Beiser and Nassar’s claims that Romanticism is a species of absolute idealism, that is, an idealism that claims that the absolute precedes and is irreducible to the principle of identity and self-consciousness.


[1] She also remarks that “a consideration of the relatively frequent transformations in Schelling’s thought—transformations which concern his conception of the absolute and the means by which the absolute can be known and presented—makes evident the difficulties underlying any attempt to conceive the absolute. Thus, Schelling’s philosophy is not so much the culmination of romanticism, but a thorough display of its challenges”. It is this, which if anything, “distinguishes Schelling from the other romantics”, according to Nassar (p. 158).


Förster, E. (2012), The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy: A Systematic Reconstruction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP).

Frank, M. (2004), The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, trans. E. Millán-Zaibert (Albany, NY: SUNY Press).

Schelling, F. W. J (1978ff.), Historisch-kritische Ausgabe (Stuttgart: Frommann Holzboog).

© Richard Fincham, 2015.

Richard Fincham is a graduate of the University of Warwick, England, where he obtained his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 2004. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Fincham specialises in Kant and 19th century German philosophy and has published in, among others, the Journal of the History of Philosophy (here and here) and Fichte-Studien. He is currently working on a book manuscript provisionally entitled Transcendental Idealism and Humean Skepticism.