Schelling on the University


Schelling’s text On University Studies (or on the Method of Academic Study) is a peculiar text. It’s a series of lectures notes that Schelling gave at the age of 27 on the concept of studying at university and studying philosophy in particular. At the moment I’m reading this text in a course on German Idealism with an emphasis on systematicity. Because of this, it’s been paired (in a sense) with Kant’s discussion of the faculties. Schelling’s take is far less bureaucratic than Kant’s but Schelling also remains fairly non-committal when it comes to firming up the proper place of philosophy while at the same time guaranteeing its intellectual rule over the sciences. The text has an odd tone and, in the introduction, X states that its one of Schelling’s last ‘happy texts’ as after this he took up lecturing at Wurzburg and then to Munich and then his wife Caroline became ill and died prior to the publishing of the Essay on Freedom which is, an unmistakably a dark text.

But even in the sunny text on the University Schelling makes several pessimistic comments about the university which seem extremely relevant. First off, Schelling reiterates the importance of philosophy having a relationship to the sciences in which philosophy reminds science of its relation to the absolute as to not get bogged down in the minute of disciplined research for the sake of research. Schelling repeatedly indexes the absolute (as knowledge) as a kind of primordial (or one could say organic – he uses the image of a world tree) knowledge. Ultimately Schelling has fairly high hopes for the young student of the University:

“The task every student should set himself as soon as he takes up philosophy is to strive for the one truly absolute knowledge, which by its nature includes knowledge of the absolute, to strive for it until he has perfectly grasped the whole as unity. In the absolute, free from all oppositions which limit it subjectively or objectively,philosophy discloses not only the realm of the Ideas but also the true fountainhead of all knowledge of nature, which is itself only the organ of the Ideas.\ I have shown earlier that the modern world is ultimately destined to formulate a higher, truly comprehensive unity. Both science and art are moving in that direction, and it is precisely in order that this unity may exist that all oppositions must be made manifest” (69). Yet, at the same time, Schelling is aghast at the assumptions that philosophy is a threat to state or religion, or that the state might make the universities into industrial training schools (23). Schelling also notes, in SR friendly terms, how Kant’s focus on morals made many afraid of speculation (72) but then puts limits on that speculation:

“The subject of philosophy is primordial knowledge itself, but it is the science of this knowledge only ideally. An intelligence that could in a single cognitive act apprehend the absolute whole as a system complete in every part, including both the ideal and real aspects, would thereby cease to be finite, would apprehend all
things as actually one and, for this very reason, would not apprehend anything as determinate” (75).

What’s interesting about the text overall is that Schelling manages to simultaneously discuss philosophy while doing philosophy on the problem of philosophy, though to a limited extent as it is a lecture and not a text. The form of the university serves as a kind of break (or maybe structuralized, however imperfectly) point of indifference from which Schelling can discuss the threat to philosophy. Though, in Schelling’s time, it is a little difficult imagining what could appear so threatening to speculative philosophy in the early days of German Idealism. One has to wonder if the virtual university is a dissolution of the business strata of the university towards more universal forms, and maybe the virtual university, or into invisible academies. The difficulty is, like most treatises on education, to educate students to think for themselves, which is something that seems to be harder and harder to do at the university level. Which is why Schelling says you cannot teach someone to think about the universal or the absolute directly. But the university has run out patience with the indirect.

There’s a post on teaching at university over at An und fur sich.

Also Philosophy under attack at Northampton. Nina has details.

More on Schelling soon.


2 Responses to “Schelling on the University”

  1. 1 Aleksandar Matkovic

    hey do you have that text in .pdf perhaps? I’d love to read it! I’ve been reading Schelling a lot lately, and am interested in critical approaches to the idea of popular education. Nietzsche has some interesting lectures on this as well, I was surprised to find Schelling had it, too.

    In case you have an electronic version of this, you can send it to me at


  2. I second Alek’s request. Do you have a PDF of these lectures? If so, I’d be thrilled if you could send it my way:


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