A Brief on Sellars and Schelling

As I see it Sellars’s distinction between the manifest image and scientific image which he would eventually reduce to a synoptic vision of the man-in-the world[1]is comparable, at least, in method, to Schelling’s distinction between the ideal and the real.[2]In his early text (which presumably belonged to his identity-philosophy period), Schelling proposes the concept of difference in the indifference between the ideal (where there is quantitative difference, say, between A and B) and the real (where there is only quantitative indifference between the two, such that A is B, with A as the indifference of the difference that B can posit: thus, B is A, with A as the indifference of any expressive potency, such as B).[3]This somehow resonates in Sellars. On the one hand, the manifest image is where A and B can be quantitatively differentiated, such as between competing theories of observations and observations about theories concerning an object under study[4]). On the other hand, in the scientific image both terms are reduced to a universal plane of indifference (each position is regulatively negated, or rather, positively schematized in the Kantian sense, in favor of understanding the higher levels of nature). The latter calls physics to mind which, at least, for Sellars, has the credential to pursue a synoptic vision of the world. In terms of his speculative physics, this is also Schelling’s vision of the world, albeit, with an additional refinement – the physics of the world is the idealism of Nature itself.

It is how Nature thinks – the laws of the mind are the visible laws of invisible Nature (which is Mind made visible).[5]Still, speculative physics remains a general expression of potency (through the manifest image in Sellars) vis-à-vis the indifference of the difference between the real and the ideal (the difference between the two is of mutual indifference from the standpoint of absolute potency). As general expressions of potency, both ideal and real, manifest and scientific, can only arrive at quantitative difference. Not that there is qualitative difference to discover ‘out there’. Outside of quantitative indifference or general expression of potency is absolute potency where presumably evolution occurs in infinite velocity that no intuition can access.[6]

But if there is absolute potency such that we are allowed to posit here, it may also suggest that evolution is not infinite from a restricted standpoint of the scientific image, the last or successor image to the manifest, as Sellars would put it. [7]As for Schelling, this is where physics, ennobled partly by Kant’s gesture, seeks to fill in the room of speculative cognition, but not, as Kant did, with practical postulates – God, for instance,[8]but rather with the level of speculation it intrinsically requires, i.e., to mathematize the idealism of Nature that is the one thinking in this process. (This is where Meillassoux comes in[9]). The mathematizability of the Idea is the artificial expression of an absolute potency snatched from the pre-intuitive dimension of the real.

Nevertheless, nothing happens in mathematics. To snatch evolution from infinity requires that mathematics becomes a part of a living cognition. For mathematics to become part of the idealism of Nature (to become a livable, albeit, inhibited expression of absolute potency qua intuition of infinite evolution), that is to say, to become a scientific image, mathematics has to make contact with the physical, the ages of the world. Here, it acquires the motion it thus previously lacked.

The ages of the world belong to the realm of physics, with geology providing their primary mathematizable expression. Already, we are speaking of speculative philosophy as geostory in the fundamental sense of Nature’s idealism.

[1]See Peter O’Shea, Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007) for a concise understanding of Sellar’s concepts of the manifest image and the scientific image. 

[2]See F.W.J Schelling, “Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801)” in J.G. Fichte/F.W.J. Schelling, The Philosophical Rupture between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Correspondence(1800-1802), trans. and ed. Michael Vater and David Wood (New York: State University of New York University Press, Albany: 2012), 141-205.


[4]O’Shea,Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn, 123-124.

[5]See F.W.J. Schelling, Ideas for A Philosophy of Nature, trans. Errol E. Harris and Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 41-42.

[6]See F.W.J. Schelling, First Outline of A System of the Philosophy of Nature,trans. Keith R. Peterson (New York: State University of New York Press, Albany), 16.

[7]See O’Shea, Wilfrid Sellars: Naturalism with a Normative Turn,116.

[8]See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner Pluhar (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1996), 25; Bxxi.

[9]See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 113.

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