Source – michaeltsarion.com
– “….For Schelling freedom is the absolute ground or basis of human nature….By way of our experience of freedom, we learn to get out of other people’s way and not hinder them as they journey toward Self-realization. In return for our virtue in this regard, other people learn to step out of our way, that we might more effectively attain the Self-knowledge”
THE FREEDOM OF MAN – By Michael Tsarion
|…the history of the world is nothing but the development of the idea of freedom – Georg Hegel|
|If one does not want to worship God, one is free to worship freedom. And why not? Freedom is the essence of essences and deserves veneration. Freedom lies behind our choice of gods and commitment to worship the one we like best. Freedom lies behind our worldly devotions. The people we love are loved because love is itself an expression and emanation of freedom. Without freedom neither God nor man can save us.|
Schelling was the first thinker to make freedom the basis of his philosophy. His other interests, about nature, cosmos, time, moral law, culture, death, evil, etc, were secondary to his interest in human freedom. In a letter to his one-time friend Hegel he said, The alpha and omega of all philosophy is freedom. In fact, as far as Schelling was concerned, freedom was the central premise behind German Idealism. Too bad that he and his great work on freedom has been dismissed by most later philosophers and schools of philosophy. Schelling has been dismissed and so have his many intellectual predecessors. In fact, the entire German Romantic movement has, since the end of the Second World War, been either summarily ignored or misinterpreted. Indeed, Hegel stands as the number one most misinterpreted philosopher who ever lived. In the place of Romanticism and Idealism we have been force-fed Utilitarianism, Transcendentalism, Existentialism, Positivism, Pragmatism, Deconstructionism, and all the rest of it. We have also been inundated with every conceivable variety of body- and world-denying Eastern mysticism.
Even more scandalously, in almost every encyclopedia entry on free will, determinism, and the controversies raging between advocates of the opposing schools on these fundamental matters, Schelling’s work is rarely if ever referenced. This is a strange omission, given that he was the philosopher who basically put problems of this kind to bed. Of course he does much more than resolve the question as to whether man’s actions are free or determined. His monumentally important ideas on freedom also outdo Kant’s brilliant reconciliation of Empiricism and Rationalism. Nevertheless, when atheists and proponents of “intelligent design” vociferously debate their issues, Schelling’s name is never raised. This makes their made-for-TV argy-bargy suspect and relatively pointless.
One philosopher who took a deep interest in Schelling’s writings on freedom was Martin Heidegger. In his 1936 lectures on Schelling, published under the title: Schelling’s Treatise: On the Essence of Human Freedom, Heidegger takes us through Schelling’s text on freedom step by step. These eloquent and profound lectures provide us with a cogent explanation of Schelling’s central ideas on freedom.
For Schelling freedom is the absolute ground or basis of human nature. He was more conscious of this fact than most philosophers, and was astonished that the question of freedom had been given so little attention. He, Fichte and Hegel had been driven to philosophy in their youth partly by the need to refute Kant’s agnostic philosophy which, figuratively speaking, leaves us at the door of the unobservable, unknowable “noumenal,” and the sign which said no further. As far as the three thinkers were concerned, this was not good enough. It was not acceptable to them that God’s existence could not be proven. Each man went about addressing the Kantian dilemma in different ways. As far as I am concerned Schelling’s project is the most interesting, legitimate and crucial for today’s world.
Like philosophers before his time Schelling understood that although man comes out of nature, he differs in crucial ways from the natural order of which he is certainly a part. But instead of addressing these differences in the manner of Plato, Kant, Descartes and Hegel, etc., Schelling framed the division between nature and man in terms of necessity versus freedom. The former was the condition of nature, the latter of man. Schelling could, like other philosophers, have phrased the dichotomy as subjects versus objects, mind versus matter, or noumenal versus phenomenal, etc. But no, for him it was a case of necessity versus freedom. As a quasi-Pantheist he was not inclined to use the term “mechanism” when referring to nature. Schelling did not regard nature as an essentially lifeless phenomenon, made up of randomly colliding material components. He did, however, realize that freedom was not an attribute of nature, at least not explicitly. If freedom and nature coincide, it is because of the human presence in nature. Humans are the bearers of freedom.
This perspective was Schelling’s answer to his Idealistic predecessor Johann Fichte. According to the great Idealist, the Self or “I” is the supreme monad giving rise to any apparently external reality we perceive and conceive. The Self, in order to know itself, has the inherent ability to step outside itself, as it were. Selfhood implies the objectification of the Self by the Self. Schelling accepted this aspect of Fichte’s philosophy, but realized that during and after objectification occurs, the world of nature comes to be. It is the all-important background which gives the object its substantiality. However, the Self not only comes to itself by way of the passive background of nature, but constitutes what is known about nature. As we will see in Chapter Six, the supernal Will is the origin of the objectification process that leads simultaneously to awareness of Self and of nature. It is also the means by which we understand nature’s nature, implying that in our knowledge of nature there is inevitably a measure of Self-knowledge, which was Fichte’s focus. There is no pure objectivity about nature, which loomed into being because of the mysterious process by which Self knows Self, and can never be isolated from this epistemological process. As Otto Rank, the great twentieth century psychologist, might have put it, on the originary level human will and natural will meet as one. It is only later that we mistakenly consider nature to operate according to antithetical rules to human consciousness, or as Descartes and the materialists think, that mind and world are separate entities. In fact, given that nature is, as Schelling argued, the co-origin of consciousness and Selfhood – that Selfhood is an emanation of nature – nature therefore views and comprehends itself through human consciousness. As Schelling himself wrote, “Nature is visible Spirit, Spirit is invisible Nature.”
|To the Transcendental Philosophy, Nature is nothing but the organ of self-consciousness, and everything in Nature is only necessary because only through such a Nature can self-consciousness be achieved – Schelling|
|In this way Schelling expanded the rather solipsistic ideas of Fichte and refuted those espoused by Descartes and Kant. After all, whether God exists or not, nature certainly exists and serves not only as an instructor of physical possibility but as moral guide. What we know and do in the world is born from lessons learned from the world and in the world. Each aspect of what we are – personally and socially, physically and intellectually – is the consequence of nature’s presence and subtle, largely unrecognized instruction. In other words human will is profoundly shaped and rarefied by nature because the latter is an emanation and embodiment of Spirit. In fact, as said above, without nature providing the background there can be no question of Selfhood at all. Crucially this implies that the connection between man and nature is as ontologically essential as that between man and God. Man does not come to Selfhood by way of God’s Will alone, but also by way of nature. In fact we come to knowledge of God not directly but by way of nature. Without nature we are unable either to come to Selfhood or to knowledge of Spirit. This radical perspective was of great importance to Schelling.|
Understanding this takes us to the heart of the philosophy of Idealism. A primordial act of unconscious Will causes the psychic split by which consciousness becomes aware of itself. The process of objectification – the division of subject from object – is initiated by the Self which turns, as it were, to face and view itself. We can say, as Schelling did, that a “space” is formed between the Self and its idea of itself. Because of this bifurcation and Self-reflexivity, we as humans are not able to remain static beings. Instead we are compelled to evolve to higher levels of Self-consciousness and world-awareness. In that space between Self and Idea nature becomes a reality for us. It is the essential background on which the temporal process of Self-awareness occurs. So the Idealist is quite correct when he states that the apparently external world is not material but Ideal or mental. Nature’s apparent materiality is derivative of the Idea not the originary Self, because the former is itself the object or derivative of the latter.
|…the physical world is “a world” only in relation to the individual subject, in virtue of the cleaving of consciousness into object and subject, a cleaving that results precisely from the “egoic” polarization of the soul – Titus Burckhardt (Mirror of the Intellect)|
|The objectified derivative Idea-self is bound to nature as it is to culture which in its own right, like nature, provides a background on which Self-realization occurs. By way of our domestic and social encounters, collaborations and conflicts, the Self’s apprehension of itself intensifies, progresses and matures. As Schelling and Hegel would have put it, Spirit in both subjective and objective form – in itself and for itself – attains the goal of Absolute Idea.|
|The Hegelian God as starting-point is at first being per se, and unconscious, only God as result is being ” for-self ” and conscious, is Spirit. That the attaining to being-for-self, the becoming an object to self is really a coming to consciousness, is clearly expressed by Hegel…The theory of the Unconscious is the necessary…presupposition of every objective or absolute Idealism, which is not unambiguously Theism – Eduard von Hartmann (Philosophy of the Unconscious)|
|We see then that Descartes certainly got it wrong. It is not a question of minds interacting with matter, but of Spirit interacting with itself in objectified form. In this way Schelling was able to reject Kant’s “noumenal” dimension and the conundrums it gives rise to. The so-called noumenal realm is unknown only because it is the ground from which Self-consciousness arises. Although it is unknowable to us, we know it exists. There is no need for religious beliefs and faith. The noumenal is the dark ground of being and will, and Selfhood is its sole proof.|
Whatever is perceived and conceived is constituted by naturalized Spirit, while the perceiving, conceiving mind exists by way of the same Spirit humanized. Spirit progresses and becomes more whole by way of this interactivity which, although it involves a bifurcation or splitting into subject and object, is not to be construed in hard dualistic terms. To think of the two poles of Spirit as essentially different leads to endless puzzles and problems from which there is no rational sustainable escape. It is their coherence and similarity that interested Schelling and other Idealists such as Hegel.
|Descartes confirmed existence by way of thinking: I think therefore I am. True enough. But for Schelling it would have been clearer to say I think about myself and that confirms my existence. I am in order to think, and objectively thinking of myself as thinker is what matters, leading to the rest of reality having existence and meaning.|
|On the deepest level, for Schelling, nature’s ordinances are as free as human consciousness. After all our own bodies which house consciousness are natural and of the world. Bodies are made of the same stuff as the world, and since a physical body is conscious and willful, there is no difficulty or inconsistency when we regard nature as a whole as conscious and willful. To deny nature such an identity is to simultaneously deny the body as an integral part of Self, which is certainly irrational and contradictory. Denigration of the body and world of nature is of course a central tenet of most Eastern traditions, and many Western ones also. However, by way of Schelling’s Idealism we see how bankrupt such ideas are.|
That nature is falsely regarded as an indifferent will-less mechanism only means that man’s thinking about nature has become insensitive, mechanistic, alienated and deranged. After all, if freedom is not inherent within nature, from where did freedom arise? How does man come to have freedom as the foundation of his being? Why does it undergird everything about man and his world? Why is man free to reject being free and turn away from Self-consciousness? Why is he free to deny freedom to others? Why is he free to discern how he differs from other people and the natural world? Why is he free to ignore questions about his fundamental nature and origin? Why is he free to accept unsustainable answers to such questions? Why is free to do evil and destroy?
|Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was the first of the great German Idealists whose work attempted to counter and rectify Immanuel Kant’s skeptical philosophy. He was probably the first thinker to place the Self at the center of reality. He, not Hegel, originated the Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis idea. He agreed with Kant and also equated God with freedom, virtue and moral action. His ideas were ruthlessly ridiculed by men such as Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, who had nothing substantial|
or coherent to put in place of his philosophy.
|According to Schelling, whether nature is implicitly free or not, man certainly is. This is because God made him so. That’s right. As far as Schelling was concerned, Kant knew the implications of morality, but was less emphatic on the matter than he should have been. Schelling emphasized how morality opened the way to the noumenal realm. Or, more correctly, the moral person alone experiences the noumenal in their phenomenal life. Kant correctly stated that living strictly according to the moral law suffices to bring us close to the noumenal, to God. But Schelling said that freedom takes us closer still. After all, in order to be moral, one must first be free to choose morality. One must be free to reject any part of it, or all of it. Since this is a capacity not bestowed by nature or the Self, it must be by way of God that man is essentially virtuous and free. As Kant, Fichte and Schelling knew, the non-virtuous man is indeed Godless. His actions are not based on a correct understanding of freedom’s origin and purpose. As a result, although he may believe in God, the virtueless man does not act in accordance with the spirit of God, as the virtuous man does. At the end of his days he finds himself ashamed and guilty of his unethical narcissistic behavior. He ignored the voice of his conscience time and again, denying it in favor of hedonic ends. To assuage inner shame he prefers the company of people as immoral as himself, and as a result he brings corruption to the world.|
Kant would no doubt have agreed wholeheartedly with Schelling, had he been alive to discuss the matter with him. Kant labored to show the limits of reason in his first masterpiece The Critique of Pure Reason, but went on to explain how morality connects us with God in his second work The Critique of Practical Reason. Evidently it is this text which inspired Schelling. Suggestively, this second treatise, on the connections between God and human virtue, is less read and discussed than Kant’s earlier book. It should be the first and foremost text read by anyone interested in philosophy, psychology, theology and ethics.
|A materialist will refute Kant’s and Schelling’s ideas on freedom and say that men are free by way of human convention. But this is clearly false. Freedom is ontological and not the creation of culture. One is free regardless of what tribe and tradition they come from. Whether one is a Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Jain, Jew, Muslim or Christian is beside the point. It has nothing to do with the fact of freedom. This was understood by Heidegger. Schelling and Heidegger addressed freedom for man, not as a “this” or “that,” but as a dasein or human, pure and simple. What someone from a specific background does with their freedom is their business. They can awe it or abuse it as they see fit. After all, they are free to do so. Indeed, if a person chooses to equate God and freedom, they are free to do so. If that seems unpalatable, as it does to an atheist, that is fine also. The atheist who properly esteems freedom can forgo relating to it in metaphysical or mystical terms. He worships that which is most important, which is what counts. His antagonism with the theist fizzles on this matter. As long as freedom is venerated, as a god or a principle, all is well. This of course does not exonerate a person who, under a religious guise, abuses rather than esteems freedom. And there is no doubt that freedom and religion are not normally strongly associated. Religion is for the most part the antithesis of freedom. It is about impositions, fixity and blind obedience. But again, the slave is free to obey whatever master he sets above himself. He is also free to rebel against his master and topple him to the ground if the need arises. Each person in the world is free to limit himself in whatever manner seems appropriate at the time, and free to back out of those same limits when the time is right.|
|Something is only known, or even felt, to be a restriction…if one is at the same time beyond it – Hegel (The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences)|
|Our lives are from moment to moment a delimiting and return to freedom. Every interest we have, every hobby, occupation and skill constitutes a period of delimitation and exclusion. If we focus on this flower, the landscape around us disappears. When we focus on this tree, the forest vanishes. From birth to death this is the process a human experiences and is rarely aware of. It’s a process that also occurs psychologically. We are this person today and someone different tomorrow. How is this change achieved? Today we avoid that person, tomorrow he’s a great mate. We say, I chose to make the change. I felt like it. But we never say or marvel at the fact that freedom made it possible. We never recognize that freedom is what truly links one man to another. And freedom, as we said, exists regardless of what hat one wears. Regardless of what creed, caste or class one comes from or subscribes to, and regardless of one’s level of intelligence, one is ontologically free, and can never be anything else.|
So is our freedom a bestowal of God? Is it the principle by which we know the noumenal, which according to Kant’s first Critique is unknowable? According to Schelling the answer is yes. Even our will is referred to as “free will.” The means by which I become who I am, and by which I effect changes within myself and in the world, even if limited in some way (as Fichte supposed), still emphasize my basic freedom. Imposed limits are imposed by consciousness on itself but only so that freedom is directed positively. They are imposed by nature and society for the same reason. These limits exist because without them the Self cannot be circumscribed and identified. Nor can the world of nature or other people. It is all a blur, so to speak. As Fichte, Schelling and Hegel understood, a limit on the will makes one more conscious of the way they do things. And that opens the door to individuation. Everyone is capable of being aware of their actions, but few are aware of the manner in which they do what they do. The latter is the truly moral being, the true image of God in the world.
As said, the supremely important fact for Schelling was that freedom is the essential condition of humanity. It is not a bestowal of the materialist’s blind nature or the result of culture. Culture is itself the result and expression of freedom. As William Blake showed, the society of a psychopath reflects his deviant relationship to freedom. If he feels himself free to abuse and destroy, he will build his culture so that these vices are considered normal. But given that his culture contains other people like himself, they have chosen – freely chosen – to enjoy and perpetuate the status quo. So even the most perfidious culture exists by way of free choice.
We see then that freedom is the common denominator of all human activity. As a bestowal from God, it stands as a proof of God’s existence, but not in a way most theists readily acknowledge. As we said, God and freedom may be one, but religion and freedom have never enjoyed each others company. Heidegger was aware that Schelling’s God is a far cry from that claimed by religion. It is not a metaphysical God we are talking about. One confuses the matter by calling freedom “God.” Of course, they are free to do so. They are free to anthropomorphize freedom if that is their preference. But freedom stands even if God does not. Hegel knew this was the right attitude, even though he was compelled by circumstance to pretend he was speaking of a theistic deity when he referred to Geist or Spirit. Schelling did believe in God, and we know why. His mystical predecessors – men such as Meister Eckhart, Jacob Bohme, Nicholas of Cusa, Franz von Baader, Friedrich Oetinger, Matthaus Hahn, and others – were likewise believers. They were men of faith, and by faith they overcome Kant’s dilemma in the manner suggested by Kant himself. Schelling, however, wanted to go further. And he succeeded where everyone else failed. What he gave the world was man’s true God.
|Since freedom is unthinkable in opposition to omnipotence, is there any other escape from this argument than by placing man and his freedom in the divine being, by saying that man exists not outside God but in God, and that man’s activity itself belongs to God’s life? From this very point of view, mystics and religious temperaments in all ages have come to believe in the unity of man with God , a belief which seems to appeal to our inmost feelings as much as, or even more than, it does to reason and speculation – Schelling|
…philosophy teaches us that all the properties of Spirit exist only through Freedom. All are but means of attaining Freedom; all seek and produce this and this alone. It is an insight of speculative philosophy that Freedom is the sole truth of Spirit…Freedom is itself its own object of attainment and the sole purpose of Spirit. It is the ultimate purpose toward which all world history has continually aimed – Georg Hegel (Reason in History)
|If one wishes to cloak freedom in metaphysical or theological trappings, it is their own affair. They have the freedom to do so. But we need not bother with all that, if we don’t want to. As Heidegger understood, Schelling gives us something that is at once metaphysical but also indelibly and profoundly phenomenological. Indeed, most of what we get when we grasp the meaning of freedom is as practical and vivid as anything could be. This is because freedom is under the direct care of humans. It is to be grasped, protected, cared for and cherished by humans here in this world. It is the instrument by which man is man as a Being-in-the-World. Even if a man wishes to end his days moving in the world as a master or slave, subject or object, individual or collectivist, he expresses his free will by doing so. If he never gives his ontological freedom a second thought, he is also free to do so. Nothing changes except his own quality of life.|
So freedom need not be metaphysicalized. Its essential nature changes not regardless of whether its origins are considered natural or supernatural. The striking fact is that as God, freedom has been in our hands all along. And should freedom actually be the bestowal of a theistic or transcendent God, it follows that he is the author of man and nature. The process of how nature came into being subject to the laws of necessity, and how humankind came into being subject to freedom, is explained in detail throughout Schelling’s major works. His account is similar to that of Jacob Bohme and other earlier German mystics. In short, man arises as a conscious and then Self-conscious being due to nature’s unconscious processes, themselves inaugurated and set in motion by God’s Will. The creation of nature opens the way for the possibility of conscious life to arise. For Schelling, man is nature made conscious. Indeed, man is God made conscious. His is a being made by God by way of nature. We see that it is therefore quite wrong to think of nature as will-less. It is the creation of a willful being, i.e., God, and is the means (as well as the background) by which God in human form becomes Self-aware and Self-directing. This is why Schelling did not think of nature as dead or mechanical. He understood that nature’s processes are akin to what we refer to as “thought” or “reason” because it is possible that nature not only preceded these attributes, but gave rise to them by way of a more primordial unconscious movement. Crucially, without nature’s influence man is unable to attain Self-consciousness, the necessary state required for knowledge of Spirit to arise. We see then that for a relationship between man and God to commence, nature must be midwife.
|The common postulation of an eternal spirit first, then a material world consciously created or produced by it, is by him reversed – matter being to him first and spirit supervening with growing subjectiveness, until pure and perfect ideality is reached, but such spirit, in this late sense, not being Creator of the world. In this way infinite nature came to objectivize itself in its own perfected works. The Absolute is, in all the real products of nature, identical with these, its products – identical with the material world. The real and the ideal are, in the Absolute, identical – James Lindsay (The Philosophy of Schelling)|
|This is in short the case for Pantheism. For the Pantheist it is unthinkable that nature, with its negentropic or self-organizing powers, is not the origin and ultimate ground of man, God and freedom. If nature serves as the medium through which our existence and free will come to be, it cannot not be the ultimate origin of all. However for Schelling it is also logical to suppose that the consciousness of God preceded nature. In this case nature is an emanation of God’s Will, and the means by which he himself becomes Self-conscious. What existed with God before nature is unanswerable. We know God, Nature and Self, but, being last in line, we are unable to know what existed previously to the first. What we know is that God created nature and man by acts of his free supernal Will, and it is this freedom that provides us with our direct inviolable connection to the divine mind. God imparts to man what he himself is. He imparts freedom because freedom is his foundation, as it becomes man’s foundation, with the laws of nature serving to amplify the same. We know God as creator and know nature as the means by which he first objectified himself, moving thence to create free beings. But we cannot know how God himself became free. We can only speculate and presume God to be his own ground. What we can be sure of is that our freedom is not the bestowal of nature which is locked into fixed laws. Consequently we must be emanations of a free willful being.|
We are now able to comprehend how the laws of necessity, inherent in nature, coexist alongside freedom as embodied by humans. We resolve the age old mystery when we understand that Spirit is the origin of both nature and humanity. Again, if the ordinances of nature are fixed but God and man are free, it follows that nature was created by something essentially free not fixed. This is logical and not problematic. After all, do our own free conscious or unconscious acts not bring about unintended consequences and effects? Do our free and willful thoughts and actions not often lead to fixed unchangeable outcomes?
|In freedom there shall be necessity…Through freedom itself, and in that I think to act freely, there shall unconsciously, i.e., without my assistance, come to pass what I did not intend – Schelling (The System of Transcendental Idealism)|
|When we view ourselves objectively in a mirror or through interactions with other people, do we think of it as proof of God’s existence? Schelling did.|
|We see from this that Will is originary. It comes first, and the obstacles and limits on the Will come second. They arise because of the Will but are nevertheless derivative. Take this scenario up to the ontological level and the order remains. Nature’s fixed laws must also be derivative of the activity of Spirit.|
Nature not only yields to and accommodates free acting beings, but reinforces those acts, serving to delineate the capacity and efficacy of free acts in this or that situation encountered in time and the natural world. We see then that nature is a consequence of God’s free creative act, and serves as the living theater in which man acts and develops as a free being, thereby understanding himself not only as a free being, but finally as a moral being. To act as an unfree being is unthinkable because such an autistic being could not become a rational Self to subsequently conceive of something greater than itself, be it nature or God. As Hegel and Schelling knew, our rational thought or idea of God is itself the substantial proof of his existence. More correctly, the thinking itself is the divine – the Spirit or Logos – in action. Thinking does not require proof of God because it is the proof. The very act of objectification (a free act of the embodied Self) as a primary act of Spirit, is also evidence of God’s existence. We simply replicate the original objectification of God’s Self which is the cause and substance of our existence and identity. Whereas we each inhabit a physical body, God’s “body” is total reality, including each being in it.
Once this is understood we are still left with the need to explain God’s origin, if that is possible. Schelling was influenced in this inquiry by his great German predecessors, Jacob Bohme, Nicholas of Cusa, Meister Eckhart, and others who spoke of God’s inability to fathom the depths of his own “unconscious,” and know the ultimate nature of the ground which preceded him. However, speculation aside, the crucial and obvious fact is that God imparts freedom to beings in the world. If we fail to see God’s existence and nature’s laws in context of human freedom – if we fail to see that necessity and freedom are two expressions of a single supernal Logos – it is because we have become fixed within narrow cognitive limits and lost sight of freedom’s implications. Freedom is the gift we give back to nature as we construct healthy human cultures. Freedom gives rise to and infuses our art, poetry, music and architecture, and instructs each human mind and heart regardless of whether religions exist or not. As far as Heidegger was concerned, freedom is the sacred aspect of Being. But no shrines need be built to it, and no priesthoods need hammer it into a creed. No one need die in the name of freedom.
For Schelling, belief in God means nothing, and has no philosophical value whatsoever. Such beliefs serve only to soothe the anxieties of people who relate to the world primarily on an emotional level. They need God in the same way they need mothers and fathers, which is why priests are also required, as stand-ins for the God of belief. What mattered to Schelling, and to Kant before him, is that one lives a virtuous life. This alone is Godly, because one’s morality is the outward expression of freedom, which is in turn the means by we are directly connected to God, a connection that exists in this world, here and now. Belief therefore serves no useful purpose, except to artificially divide men who should require neither belief nor emotional placation. Since the moral law is an extension of human freedom, which is the divine made flesh, good men need nothing more to serve God. In fact, in their virtue they are God.
The reason so many balk at this apparently heretical idea should be obvious; virtue requires work, whereas belief requires none. Virtue requires Self-knowledge, and believers recoil from this exercise more than anything else, taking refuge in belief because it provides salvation from having to look within and take responsibility for every thought and deed. If a single person acts in this way the consequences are negligible. However, when a culture acts in this way evil soon becomes the order of the day. As William Blake and other sages warned, it is by way of a malignant culture that the deadliest evils come into being. The deviant culture breeds one deviant person after another. A look at our present world confirms this fact. The religions, sciences and political and psychiatric institutions work overtime to fill the minds of children and adults with “Mysteria” or pernicious fictions about being, Self, nature and existence. Each exist to “fix” the broken man who is actually their product. Each work to dehumanize, infantilize and enslave human beings. In the grip of these “Satanic Mills,” and poisoned by their creeds, man loses touch with his conscience and will. He loses himself in his occupations and recreations, but knows little of vocation. He is not permitted to use his own judgment or question authority, or meant to discover why his life is mediocre and meaningless. Spiritually desolate and infatuated with domestic minutiae, he comes to rely on his imperious misleaders more and more. In fact he becomes addicted to their voices, depending on the stabilizers they provide to keep him from drowning in the psychic abyss within. To win their approval he unhesitatingly gives up what is left of his individuality and free will. In the end, such a docile specimen inwardly craves annihilation. He and his culture succeed only in producing the next generation of immoral or amoral deviants craving ever-increasingly demented and violent titillation.
The Scottish philosopher David Hume proved that causality does not exist in the phenomenal world. Causes and effects are hypothetical principles mentally imposed upon the world and its objects and happenings. Kant did not disagree with this, but showed that the law of causality does exist on the moral dimension, as all truly moral people know. Indeed, the evil man will at some point in his hedonistic career be paid back for his immoral or amoral deeds. So whether causes and effects are perceived in the real world or not, they exist for people aware of what their actions as moral or immoral Beings-in-the-World yield.
Now as Heidegger pointed out, freedom may lie at the base of our being, but why? Freedom is always active both in thought and deed, and must be directed toward a purpose. Free beings are able to do good or evil acts. But since freedom can hardly be both of God and for the purpose of evil, it must be of God and for the purpose of doing only good. We are driven to then ask, what is the highest good? This is a question that has been asked and answered by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and every other philosopher concerned with man’s true purpose. Heidegger was not inclined to think of answers in a metaphysical sense. Man was for him a Being-in-the-World, in touch with other beings and entities here and now.
If a man does evil, it is because his relationship with himself and the real, with virtue and freedom, is a deviant one. His evil manifests itself when he stands in the way not only of himself, but of other people, who as moral beings must strive against him and his ways. This striving against what one is not, against what contradicts or expunges what one is, gives special importance to being and its ontological attributes. It makes us all the more conscious of what we are, and of what it means to be and do good, personally and culturally. In this sense evil can be seen as the force which violates identity and nullifies consciousness of Self as Self. Since the Self is free, we see that evil is that which opposes rather than engenders freedom. But the source of evil does not lie outside man or God. Indeed, as Schelling emphasized, evil exists at the foundation of God and man, as freedom does. One cannot exist without the other. By evil’s negation of identity, identity is strengthened. As Nietzsche said: That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. Schelling was aware of this edict long before Nietzsche’s day.
This interpretation of evil’s purpose is confirmed when we examine its workings on the social or cultural level. The abuser of freedom is the one who fails to see himself as the other, that is he fails to understand that his relationship with other people posits his own identity. His negation of the existence and rights of others (of the moral law) reflects his impoverished Self-image and being. His “evil” lies in this, that unlike God in relation to man – one knowing himself in the other – the evil man sees nothing of himself in the other, because there is nothing to see or know. The evil man has pathologically retreated within himself to the extent that the world of people and their moral law no longer substantially or meaningfully exist. But this retraction from culture is not a move toward authentic Selfhood. On the contrary, it is a negation of Selfhood which requires the world of other people (the Mitwelt) to be and act creatively and holistically. Evil acts serve to separate one from the very source of Selfhood and being. Evil is therefore a pathological move away from personal and cultural unity. And the main cause of this retraction? As we said above, it is a deviant culture.
Paradoxically, it is the evil man who, despite his inner struggle, can do the greatest good for his culture. By negating his evil will, and not acting on his urges and impulses, he can seek instead to discover evil’s origin. After he realizes that the source of evil is his culture, he is motivated to proactively change the latter for the better. In this way he finds his vocation and thereby overcomes his depression, futility and hostility. As Hegel and others understood, it is men of this sort that must be put in charge of the culture. In time, a culture formed and guided by such men becomes a culture that makes this Self-healing possible. Eventually evil itself passes away.
The reality and presence of evil makes us vividly aware that each living creature arises from the same source to become the differentiated identity it usually does not wish to renounce. What allows me to know myself by knowing you? How do you know yourself through me? That a person can know and love themselves through another means that each person’s Selfhood is rooted in a common primordial ground. Evil is also rooted in this same ground, but as Schelling said, the ground expresses itself both as a life-creating force, and as the desire to remain as it is. It is also the place which calls all things to return and lose their identity in the dark origin from which they sprang. Evil is, therefore, nothing more than this regressive urge and negation of being and Selfhood, a violation of one’s true essence; freedom.
The evil man – as an abuser of the moral law – suffers as a result of his regressive tendency. As Kant pointed out, he who wins all the world, but gains what he has immorally, is not a happy person at the end of his life. He is certainly not free. On the contrary, he is inwardly ashamed at the way he attained his riches and success. And no God or man can make him whole again. The evil man can only hope to fill the world with immoral or amoral people such as himself, and in that way justify his malignant behavior. But even if he succeeds in this enterprise, he won’t find happiness. As Kant and Schelling show, the moral law is always an extension of freedom. It serves as a limit, but one that emphasizes the opposite of limitation. Moral law is therefore rational and sane. One conforms to it not out of fear or oppressive duty, but from care for oneself and others.
The limit imposed on my will by the moral law, opens a space for others to express their will. As civilized people we give each other room, and do so freely. We do so because we venerate freedom for itself. That is the mark of a authentic dasein or human being. Establishing the moral law creates the space whereby we express our true Selves. In that space we are able to create, discover, interact and grow. By way of our freedom we are able to commune with beings like ourselves, and know ourselves in ways not available to us in the wild. By way of our experience of freedom, we learn to get out of other people’s way and not hinder them as they journey toward Self-realization. In return for our virtue in this regard, other people learn to step out of our way, that we might more effectively attain the Self-knowledge that can only be actualized by free beings in the world they learn to relate with purely and justly. And should we fail now and again, we have, as Schelling emphasized, our own history, personally and collectively, to remind us in no uncertain terms what not to do.
|History as a whole is a progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the Absolute – Schelling|