The absolute thesis

«Criticism can be spared the reproach of [327] fantastication [Schwarmerei] just as little as can dogmatism, if, like the latter, it transcends the vocation of man and tries to represent the ultimate goal as attainable. But allow me to review matters a little.

If an activity no longer limited by objects, and wholly absolute, is no longer accompanied by consciousness; if unlimited activity is identical with absolute repose; if the supreme moment of being is closest to not-being; then criticism is bound for self-annihilation just as much as dogmatism is. If dogmatism demands that I vanish in the absolute object, then criticism must demand, on the contrary, that everything called object shall vanish in the intellectual intuition of myself. In either case, every object is lost for me, and therewith also the consciousness of myself as subject. My reality vanishes in the infinite reality. These conclusions seem to be inevitable as soon as we presuppose that both systems are intent upon the dissolution of that contrast [Widerspruch] between subject and object, upon absolute identity. I cannot do away with the subject without at the same time doing away with the object as such, and, on the same account, with all consciousness of self; and I cannot do away with the object without also doing away with the subject as such, that is, with all its personality. Yet that presupposition is absolutely inevitable. It is inevitable because all philosophy demands absolute thesis as the goal of all synthesis.* Absolute thesis, however, is thinkable only through absolute identity. [328] Hence both systems necessarily strive for absolute identity. There is the difference, though, that criticism is intent immediately upon absolute identity of the subject, and only mediately upon conformity of the object with the subject, while dogmatism is immediately intent upon the identity of an absolute object, and only mediately upon conformity of the subject with the absolute object. Criticism, faithful to its principle, tries synthetically to connect happiness with morality; dogmatism’s effort is to connect morality with happiness. The dogmatist says: insofar as I strive for happiness, for conformity of my subject with the objective world, I am also striving, mediately, for the identity of my essence: I act morally. On the contrary says the critical philosopher, insofar as I act morally I strive immediately for the absolute identity of my essence, and thereby mediately also for the identity of the objective and subjective in me, for bliss. Still, in both systems morality and happiness are two different principles, which I can unite only synthetically (as ground and consequence)** only as long as I am still approaching the ultimate goal, the absolute thesis. If I should ever reach it, then the two lines on which the infinite progressus runs, morality and happiness, would meet in one point; they would cease to be morality and happiness, that is, two different principles. They would be united in one principle which must, therefore be higher than the principle either of absolute being or of absolute beatitude. [329] If both systems strive for the perfecting of human knowledge by one absolute principle, this must be the point of agreement between both systems. For if all controversy ceases in the absolute, the controversy between different systems must cease in it too, or rather all systems must terminate in it; they must vanish in it as contradictory systems. If dogmatism is the system that turns the absolute into an object, then it necessarily terminates where the subject ceases to be subject, that is, ceases to be opposed to the object. The original opposition between the two principles of dogmatism and criticism has always been revealed in the particular systems of philosophy. But the point of agreement between the two opposite fundamental systems has not always been grasped. Having grasped it in the result of our abstract investigation, we can now descend to those particular systems; they will confirm our result.

He who has reflected upon Stoicism and Epicureanism, the two most opposite moral systems, has readily found that both meet in the same ultimate goal. The Stoic who strove for independence from the power of objects strove just as much for beatitude as the Epicurean who thrust himself into the arms of the world. One made himself independent of sensuous needs by satisfying none, the other by satisfying all of them. The one sought to attain the ultimate end—absolute beatitude — metaphysically, by way of abstraction from all sensuality; the other physically, by complete satisfaction of sensuality. But the Epicurean turned metaphysicist because his task of gaining bliss by successive satisfaction of single needs was infinte. The Stoic turned physicist because his abstraction from all sensuality could come to pass only gradually, in time. The one wanted to reach the ultimate goal by regressus, the other by progressus. Still, both of them were striving for the same end, the end of absolute beatitude and total contentment.

[330] He who has reflected upon idealism and realism, the two most opposite theoretical systems, has found by himself that both can come to pass only in the approach to the absolute, yet that both must unite in the absolute, that is, must cease as opposite systems. One used to say that God intuits the things in themselves. If this were to signify anything reasonable, it would mean that in God is the most perfect realism. Yet realism, conceived in its perfection, necessarily and just because it is perfect realism, becomes idealism. For perfect realism comes to pass only where the objects cease to be objects, that is, appearances, opposed to the subject—in short, only where the representation is identical with the represented objects, hence where subject and object are absolutely identical. Therefore that realism in the deity by which it intuits the things in themselves is nothing else than the most perfect idealism, by which the deity intuits nothing but itself and its own reality. Both idealism and realism are subdivided into objective and subjective. Objective realism is subjective idealism, and objective idealism is subjective realism. This distinction must disappear as soon as the contradiction disappears between subject and object, as soon as I do not posit as merely ideal in myself that which I posit as real in the object, and as merely ideal in the object that which I posit as real in myself, in short, as soon as object and subject are identical.*

He who has reflected upon freedom and necessity has found for himself that these two principles must be united in the absolute: [331] freedom, because the absolute acts by unconditional autonomy [Selbstmacht], and necessity, because it acts only according to the laws of its own being, the inner necessity of its essence. In the absolute there is no longer any will that could have reality independently of those acts. Absolute freedom and absolute necessity are identical.**

Thus it is confirmed throughout that all contesting principles are unified and all contradicting systems become identical as soon as one rises to the absolute. All the more urgent becomes your question, Wherein does criticism excel dogmatism, if both meet anyway in the same ultimate goal, in the last aim of all philosophizing?

Still, my dear friend, is not your question answered already in that very result? Or does that result not yield quite naturally this further conclusion, that in order to differ from dogmatism criticism must not proceed along with dogmatism as far as the attainment of the ultimate goal. Dogmatism and criticism can hold their own as contradicting systems only while approaching the ultimate goal. On this very account, criticism must regard the ultimate goal merely as the object of an endless task. Criticism itself necessarily turns into dogmatism as soon as it sets up the ultimate goal as realized (in an object), or as realizable (at any particular time).

The absolute, if represented as realized (as existing), becomes objective; it becomes an object of knowledge and [332] therewith ceases to be an object of freedom. And nothing is left for the finite subject but to annihilate itself as subject in order to become identical, through such self-annihilation, with that object. Philosophy is abandoned to all the horrors of ecstasy [Schwarmerei].

And if criticism represents the ultimate goal as realizable, then, though it does not set up the absolute as an object of knowledge, yet it must leave a free hand to the faculty of imagination, which always anticipates actuality [Wirklichkeit], and which, standing halfway between the cognitive and the realizing faculty, takes a hand at the point where cognition ceases and realization has not yet begun. The faculty of imagination,* in order to represent the absolute as realizable, must now represent it as realized, thus lapsing into the same enthusiasm [Schwarmerei] which produces the apparent mysticism.

Criticism, therefore, differs from dogmatism, not in the ultimate goal which both of them set up, but in the approach to it, in the realization of it, in the spirit of criticism’s own practical postulates. And philosophy inquires into the ultimate aim of our human vocation only in order to be able to answer the much more urgent question as to our vocation [Bestimmung] itself. Only the immanent use which we [333] make of the principle of the absolute in practical philosophy for the knowledge of our vocation gives us the right to proceed unto the absolute. In this matter of the ultimate end, even dogmatism, by its practical intention, is distinguished from blind dogmaticism, which uses the absolute as a constitutive principle for our knowledge, while dogmatism uses it merely as a constitutive principle for our vocation.

How do the two systems differ in the spirit of their practical postulates? This, dear friend, is the question from which I started and to which I now return. And this is the result of this whole investigation: quite like criticism, dogmatism cannot attain the absolute as an object through theoretical knowledge, because an absolute object tolerates no subject beside it, and theoretical philosophy is based upon the very conflict between subject and object. Therefore nothing is left for both systems except to make the absolute, which could not be an object of knowledge, an object of action, or, to demand the action by which the absolute is realized.* In this necessary action both systems unite.

[334] This action as such, therefore, cannot in turn distinguish dogmatism from criticism. They can differ only in the spirit of the action and only insofar as this spirit demands the realization of the absolute as an object. Now, I cannot realize any objective causality without abrogating, in turn, a subjective causality. I cannot posit any activity in the object without positing passivity in myself. What I convey to the object I take away from myself, and vice versa. All these are propositions which can be proved most rigorously in philosophy, and of which everyone can give illustrations in the most common (moral) experience.

Consequently, if I presuppose the absolute as object of my knowledge, it exists independently of my causality, that is, I exist as dependent on its causality. Its causality annihilates mine. Whither shall I flee from its power? Only by assuming absolute passivity in myself is it possible to take for real an absolute activity of an object, but then all the horros of enthusiasm befall me.

In dogmatism my vocation [Bestimmung] is to annihilate all free causality in me; to let absolute causality act in me, but not to act myself; to narrow more and more the limits of my freedom in order more and more to widen those of the objective world; in short, my destiny is the utmost unlimited passivity. While dogmatism solves the theoretical conflict between subject and object by [335] demanding that the subject cease to be subject for the absolute object, that is, that it cease to be something [implicitly or explicitly] opposed to it,’ criticism on the other hand must solve the conflict of theoretical philosophy by the practical demand that the absolute cease to be object for me. This demand I can fulfill only through an infinite striving toward the realization of the absolute in myself, only through unlimited activity. Now, every subjective causality does away with an objective one. Whereas I determine myself through autonomy, I determine objects through heteronomy. In positing activity in myself, I posit passivity in the object. The more subjective, the less objective!

Hence, if I posit all in the subject, I thus deny all of the object. Absolute causality in me does away with all objective causality as objective for me. In widening the limits of my world, I narrow those of the objective world. If my world as mine no longer had any limits, then all objective causality as such would be annihilated for me (by mine).* I should be absolute. However, criticism would deteriorate into is if it should represent this ultimate goal as attainable at all (even though not as attained). Therefore it makes a mere practical use of the idea for the determination of the moral being. If criticism stops there, it is certain to be eternally distinct from dogmatism. In criticism, my vocation is to strive for immutable selfhood, unconditional freedom, unlimited activity. Bel is the supreme demand of criticism.**


Let us rejoice in the conviction of having advanced to the last great problem to which any philosophy can advance. We feel freer in our spirit if we now return from the state of speculation to the enjoyment and exploration of nature without fear that an ever recurring anxiety of our unsatisfied spirit might lead us hack into that unnatural state. The ideas to which our speculation has risen cease to be objects of an idle occupation that tires our spirit all too soon; they become the law of our life, and, as they themselves change into life and existence and become objects of experience, they free us forever from the painful enterprise of ascertaining their reality by way of speculation a priori.

We shall not complain, but be glad finally to have reached the crossroad where the parting of our ways is unavoidable, glad to have penetrated the mystery of our spirit, by virtue of which the just becomes free by himself, while the unjust trembles by himself in fear of a justice which he did not find in himself and had to assign to another world, to the hands of an avenging judge. Henceforth, the wise man will never have recourse to mysteries wherein to hide his principles from profane eye . It is a crime against humanity to hide principles which are universally comunicable. But nature herself has set bounds to this communicability. For the worthy she has reserved a philosophy that becomes esoteric by itself because it cannot be learned, recited like a litany, feigned, nor contained in dead words which secret enemies or spies might pick up) This philosophy is a symbol for the union of free spirits, a symbol by which they all recognize each other, and one that they need not hide, since for them alone it is intelligible, whereas for others it will be an eternal riddle.»
– Schelling, “The Unconditional in Human Knowledge”, 9th and 10th letters, p.186-196.


Chinese Socrates


The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.»

– Lao Tsé, Tao Te Ching

When seeing too concretely means not seeing at all

As early as March 1796, Schelling pointed out the fundamental mistake of a theology or philosophy that

«…takes refuge in a God outside everything that exists, a God the idea of whom is nothing but a composite of general abstractions»

«This idea (to which Christianity lent its countenance owing to and in contrast with the Christian habit of seeing things very concretely) got such a hold of men’s minds that they could no longer understand the ancient philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, nor the later ones, Descartes (who already had a few predecessors among the Scholastics), his pupil Spinoza, Malebranche, and still later the best interpreter of Spinoza, Jacobi, and finally Kant.»

– Schelling (1775-1854), letter to Obereit, 12 March 1796.

L’Εחfaחt Saυνage

“L’Εחfaחt Saυνage” (1970) avec Jean-Pierre Cargol. Βased οn a real life case, recοrded in Jean-Μarc Gaspard Ιtard’s “Μemοire et Rappοrt sυr Victοr de L’Ανeyrοn, The WiΙd ChiΙd” (1806). Françοis Trυffaυt himseΙf plays Dr. Jean Ιtard.

«Doctor, I know he doesn’t understand us, but can he hear us?

He hears us but he doesn’t listen, just as he sees without looking.

We’ll teach him to look and to listen. (…)

In the village, I’ve seen him turn around when a nut was cracked behind him.

Write this: “Indifferent to loud noises whereas he turns around when a nut is cracked behind him. (…)

“He often turns when someone speaks behind him.


As if he placed the sound. Especially the sound “O”. (…) We have agreed to exercise his attentiveness to the sound of “O”. (…)

I must awaken his hearing, which is understandably dull. Before, his ears served only to alert him to falling fruit or the approach of a dangerous animal.»

«Look at him, Madame Guêrin. This morning I moved the objects.

Have you noticed, Doctor? He has a passion for order.

That proves his memory can be trained. (…)

I shouldn’t have neglected his natural inclination for order. (…)

«When he succeeds, I reward him. When he fails, I punish him. Yet I can’t say I have inspired a sense of justice in him. He obeys me and corrects himself out of fear or hope of reward and not out of a sense of moral order. To obtain less ambiguous results, I must do an abominable thing. I will test Victor’s heart with a flagrant piece of injustice by punishing him for no reason
after he succeeds right before my eyes. By putting him forcibly in the dark closet, I shall administrate punishment as odious as it is unjust precisely to see if his reaction is one of rebellion. (…) To the closet! Go, Victor! Go! Go, Victor! You’re right. You’re right to rebel. I wish that my pupil could have understood me at this moment. I would have told him that his bite filled my soul with joy. How could I rejoice half-heartedly? I had evidence that what is just and unjust was no longer alien to Victor’s heart. By provoking the sentiment, I had elevated the savage man to the stature of a moral being by the most noble of his attributes.»

I want to avoid Victor making each arrangement by memory, and I achieve this by constantly
changing the drawings around.»

«For the present his emotions appear unaffected. Despite the ill-treatment he endured
at the institute, no one ever saw him cry.
– Doctor, it’s hot enough. I couldn’t stand it.
– He can. You should’ve seen him pick up glowing embers with his fingers.
– I’m afraid he’ll melt like a piece of sugar.
– I want to soften him up. What he’ll lose in strength he’ll gain in sensitivity. (…)

– It’s the first time I’ve seen him sneeze.
– Me too.
– It must be the first time. Look how frightened he is. (…)

– What’s wrong? He’s exhausted.
– Doctor, his nose is bleeding. (…) You make him study from morning to night. You turn his only pleasure into exercises. His meals, his walks, everything. You want him to catch up
in one fell swoop. He works ten times more than a normal child. (…)

Today, for the first time, Victor wept.»

«Nothing gives him more joy than to roam in the countryside. (…) It is curious and moving to see the joy in his eyes at the sight of hills and woods. The windows barely seem wide enough for his eager gaze. (…)

Victor has always shown a marked preference for water and the way he drinks it shows he finds great pleasure in it. He stands by the window gazing upon the countryside as if in this delectable moment this child of nature sought to reunite the two blessings to survive his loss of freedom – a drink of pure water, the sight of sunlight on the countryside. (…)

For an interminable moment I thought what I’d dreaded since Victor came to live with us had happened. That his fancy for the freedom of the fields had prevailed over his newfound needs
and burgeoning affection. (…)

I can affirm to His Excellency he had full use of his senses. He furnished constant proof
of attention and memory. He could compare, discern and judge, and apply his understanding
to objects used in his instruction. This child of the woods endured the confinement of apartments and all the happy changes came about in nine months. (…)

My boy has come home all by himself!»