Schelling and Human Self-Will as the Origin of Evil


22.6 Schelling and the Metaphysics of Evil

Schelling’s remarkable attempt to solve the problem of evil in a Christian context deals directly with some of the avenues a solution might be sought that are implicit in the Catholic view, which primarily derives from Aquinas. If Epicurus’ argument can be controverted, it has to be in the way Epicurus’ assumes the being of omnipotence or perfection. At the same time human self-will is still the assumed origin of evil, and one of the guiding assumptions Schelling retains. However in Schelling “will” becomes precisely the name for the being of things in general, not simply human being, or even only animate being.

Since human self-will, for Schelling, differs from Divine will precisely in its ability to intend evil, it is only via this will-to-evil that the pure goodness of God’s will can be known. This comes back, though, to the phrase “God’s pleasure” in Aquinas. How is the demonstration of God’s goodness, if it requires evil in order to differentiate itself from it, not a selfish will? Schelling’s answer is that the ability to intend evil was not itself willed by the living God. Through a complex series of speculations, Schelling is able to posit the origin of the “who” of human being, the will of each human being itself, precisely in God, or more specifically, the ground of God, the dark ground that God Himself cannot know. It is this origin, for Schelling, which gives us our sense that we have always been who we are.

This series of speculations thus leads to the startling conclusion, from the Christian perspective, that the source of human self-will is simultaneously the cause of God coming out of His ground and becoming the living God of creation, and that human Self will, though limited, is free in a sense that God’s will is not.

The question unanswered, though, is how self-will intends evil. Self-will intends various things, for the most part in a pragmatic, coping fashion. Every aspect of the Self, at the same time, is partial. We only partially understand, we are only partially with-others, etc. Going back to the early definitions of evil as something disproportionate, something not of a proper measure, when the Self wills evil what the self wills in a disproportionate way is determination itself. The living God of creation lacks precisely the ability to determine, hence the ability to will evil.

Things are things by being-determined, but in avoiding the uncanniness of the world we are tempted to determine things inappropriately. This inappropriateness can be due to insistently determining something or someone via a preconception, a prejudice that is held onto against experience. It can also occur by holding a partial determination that is not equal to the being as a full determination, creating a reduction in the potential meanings inherent in the being. Finally it can occur by ending a being’s potentials prematurely, thus fully determining something that in itself had further determinations to come. The ontology of evil demonstrates evil to be, essentially, an evil ontology. In over-willing our ability to determine things we will their determination to their end, including our own. This will-to-determine-to-the-end is what is seen, albeit dimly, in Freud’s “death drive”, that is it wills everything to be determined in such a way that it no longer is. It is thanatic ontology, a deathly ontology. Its thanatic nature is exposed via its totalizing quality.

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