Immunity and duplicity:

biopolitics in a dual extensive world

Sharing my paper (20-minute presentation) for the

International Conference Immunity and Contagion: Philosophical and Biopolitical Approaches Toward the Pandemic

29-30 September 2022, Vilnius


In his early attempt to win the favour of Fichte, Schelling, at a ripe philosophical age, expanded one of Fichte’s intellectual concepts to propose a theory of nature. This involved the concept of the problematic relation of freedom to nature and vice-versa as one forged on the cusp of what he called identity in duplicity.[1] In the end, Fichte and Schelling disagreed on the state where the relationship can be fully comprehended. On the one hand, Fichte put down his philosophical roots in intellectual intuition. On the other hand, Schelling proposed the transcendental function of art to understand this complicated relationship by trading Fichte’s intuition for a more creative designation, calling it productive intuition.

In 1800, Schelling completed his work on a parallel designation that unites freedom and nature. In the System of Transcendental Idealism, Schelling declared that art is the true organon of philosophy.[2] By philosophy, he meant more specifically the achievements of transcendental Idealism inaugurated by Kant. The only drawback of transcendental Idealism is its reductive treatment of nature, relegating it to an impotent status. For the Kantian tradition that sustained this Idealism, any attempt to infuse nature with consciousness and self-activity is equivalent to a fatal relapse into dogmatic habits of thought. For Schelling, who was hoping to repair Spinoza’s label as a dogmatic thinker, our understanding of nature cannot help but be speculative in its starting point. Still, the speculative kernel of philosophy must be pursued according to a productive line of thought – a thought that produces, not a thought that merely reflects.

In this sense, Schelling followed the Fichtean concept of duplicity by partially reconfiguring Spinoza’s monism but leaving the reciprocal relation between mind and nature to a co-materialization of natural laws (imbued with freedom) (STI, 14). Accordingly, this revitalizes the idea of nature as capable of self-activity operating in a parallel movement to the activity of consciousness – both mind and nature are co-materializing in the reciprocal sense. Philosophy ceases to be a reflective activity and becomes a productive intuition of nature that translates into nature’s laws, which, in this sense, nature and mind co-construct and create.

The concept of original duplicity

But in this context, nature can only act upon the mind with negative determination, which, on account of this negativity, must be posited as equal to its positive, the unconditioned necessity of nature. This ‘equal’ designation summons an idea of identity. Yet, already as a negative inflexion of the positive, it is only an identity in duplicity (which, incidentally, is a property of determinability absent in Spinoza).

Despite its overarching power, nature cannot touch anything not already infused with activity in the realm of potency– in this sense, Schelling proposed the concept of organic activity (including consciousness) that is both excitable and a free-determining agent. The whole idea of representing this organic activity of ‘matter, body, organism, etc.’, what Hermann Krings, from whom Schelling borrowed the idea of the construction of matter by philosophical means, called ‘a logo-genesis’, however, is not meant to ‘explain’ nature.[3] Rather, as Schelling argues, ‘it is a logic of nature, i.e., a doctrine of those absolute rules to which a nature, and not only a nature, but also consciousness and self-consciousness, art and history can be thought, but not explained, as a whole constructing itself in ever higher potencies’ (in FO, 243-244). Schelling expanded this idea of construction as follows: ‘Because to philosophize about nature means as much as to create it, we must first of all find the point from which nature can be posited into becoming’ (FO, 5).

One way to resonate with this representation of nature is to look at how organic activities relate to the final source of life via the ‘two factors of excitability’ (FO, 169), namely sensibility and irritability. Sickness or disease is a concrete example of the varying magnitudes of excitability in terms of affection from the outside (this is the whole notion of excitability) or no affection at all (which is unthinkable). Schelling argued that these factors are differentiated only in the phenomenon of disease. Incidentally, the material/organic expression of the separation of these two magnitudes echoes Schelling’s pronouncement in the Philosophy and Religion and the Freedom essay, which came after his nature philosophy corpora, noting its parallel constructibility in terms of evil – evil is co-temporal with creation. In the Freedom essay, Schelling states:

The most fitting comparison here is offered by disease which, as the disorder having arisen in nature through the misuse of freedom, is the true counterpart of evil or sin. Universal disease never exists without the hidden forces of the ground having broken out [sich auftun]: it emerges when the irritable principle, which is supposed to rule as the innermost bond of forces in the quiet of the depths, activates [aktuiert] itself.[4] (p. 34)

But this activation happens only ‘through (indirect) affection of the final source of life’ itself (FO, 170). It should be underscored that ‘sensibility’ mediates these affections. In the next section, I will try to correlate this mediating function with the concept of immunity, partially returning to Spinoza via Catherine Malabou.

Immunity and the dual external world

In light of the reciprocal duplicity of mind and nature, cognition and natural productivity take place ‘only on the border of two worlds’ (FO, 107). This border cannot be cancelled as long as the organism exists. Thus, the border performs as the organism’s immunity from internal collapse or self-destruction and the absolute takeover of natural excitability (which would mean death in individual terms and extinction on matters of scale). This is known as the notion of the dual external world.

This irrefragable border attends to two functions of immunity: 1) nature’s immunity from the organism and 2) the organism’s immunity from nature. But given our negative excitable relation to the final source of life, it is also [a form of immunity] far apart from the practical realities of the existential condition. It is a modality of immunity that pretty much involves a choice, albeit it ‘cannot be understood as long as knowledge continues to be thought as something subjective.’[5] 

In short, this immunity must also be understood as a modal intervention, which can be described in two varying magnitudes: 1) on the one hand, the immunity of nature from the organism indicates that nature has a property of freedom, but one that is not subjectively originated (in the sense of a reflective agency); 2) on the other hand, the immunity of the organism from nature whose freely determined exception from excitability is an outcome of choice, a freely determined ‘identity by subtraction’ from a plenitude of potencies (Nature) that no reflection can master. The former exercises its freedom as unconscious production; the latter as conscious reflection.

If you look at this difficult parallelism between mind and nature by the factor of immunity that we have placed in between them, Spinoza would be irritated at its inability to close the loop. The immunity factor does not allow for substance monism, keeping the parallel equation intact from closure, finality, or even a credo. In his earlier works, Schelling gave beauty the function of keeping this reciprocal tension secured from transcendental reduction, calling it a ‘reciprocal yielding in contest’ where neither one of the terms of the equation submits to another.[6] Incidentally, if we invite Catherine Malabou to supply a description of this reciprocation of immunity across a landscape of difference, we would immediately hear the word ‘plasticity’,[7] which defines its openness to the annexations of life through the ethico-political schema of freedom, or biopolitics broadly construed.

Though indebted to Spinoza, a monist to the core, Malabou would emphasize the destructive potential of this plasticity, which deems unwelcome any monistic intervention upon the two worlds, mind and matter, or cognition and natural production. Even so, for Malabou, returning as she would on many occasions to Spinoza, the destructive potential of plasticity is approbative of the conatus of life, but more so, its synthetic use for biopolitics. Malabou argues:

Plasticity … refers to the possibility of being transformed without being destroyed: it characterizes the entire strategy of modification that seeks to avoid the threat of destruction (OA, 44).

From this inflexion point, we can discuss the biopolitical implications of this plasticity, which, as we have briefly covered, originated from the paradox of the dual external world.

Schematizing the border of the two worlds

In a passage from the Freedom essay, focusing on the factor of containment, which I will try to expand as a correlative aspect of the biopolitical, Schelling went about explaining the intricacies of disease in that, as he argues, ‘were that which is contained in another [which is] not itself alive, there would be containment without [anything] being contained, that is, nothing would be contained’ (PHF, 18). I would like to flag this concept of containment in light of Schelling to connect it to one of the conceptual schematics of biopolitics. Incidentally, Roberto Esposito, in an old essay, summed up these schematics as follows:

[T]he idea of biopolitics appears to be situ­ated in a zone of double indiscernibility, first because it is inhabited by a term that does not belong to it and indeed risks distorting it. And then because it is fixed by a concept, precisely that of zoē, which is stripped of every formal con­notation. Zoe itself can only be defined problematically: what, assuming it is even conceivable, is an absolutely natural life?[8]

Esposito’s queries convey a nuanced connection to dual exteriority, conceived by Schelling, which is too relatable to pass up. One thing that resonates with a Schellingian register in Esposito’s thinking of the biopolitical is the way he questions how ‘little problematized’ life is in the conceptual elaboration of biopolitics in terms of its epistemic constitution (EB, 381). In a nutshell, the idea of life seems uncontained in the explication of biopolitics yet simultaneously contains it by maximizing its indiscernibility. Esposito argues:

Does there exist a simple life – a bare life – or does it emerge from the beginning as formed, as put into form by something that pushes it beyond itself? (EB, 381).

In this context, Haraway, in her contribution to the biopolitics discourse, argued that the term had become a mixture of ‘myth, laboratory, and clinic.’[9] This kind of discursive heterogeneity culminates in the object of biopolitics as a ‘coded text’ (BPB, 283) but also, in the process, creating what Haraway called the ‘cyborg subject … capable of sustaining oppositional and liberatory projects’ (BPB, 284). The point I am raising here is the negativity of relating to the definitive source of life, which, as I have posited in view of the immunity equation, makes immunity itself not only too fraught a term to inflect an interpretative conceit in biopolitics but also what makes biopolitics a sustainable modal operation. Echoing Haraway’s idea of the immune system, ‘[i]ts specificities are indefinite if not infinite, and they arise randomly; yet these extraordinary variations are the critical means of maintaining individual bodily coherence’ (BPB, 291).


Accordingly, the inability of knowledge to resolve the dualism of nature and human, matter and mind, etc., is embedded within the excitable plasticity of being (echoing Malabou and Schelling). Yet, this inability is part of the sustainable immunity from the complete inhibition of nature from being, even beings that remotely exhibit the shadow of the organic. We may extend this immunity factor to the idea of the ‘indivisible remainder’, which Schelling asserted remains ‘eternally in the ground’ (PHF, 29). The ground is the intersection of mind and matter, life and nonlife, cognition and nature, etc., which creates fraught possibilities of agency construction, even identity substitution/consubstantiation as in the case of hybrids (in the Latourian sense, as ‘compromises between modes of existence,’[10] material or fictional, social or natural). These possibilities point to modal interventions on the ‘ground’, as a schema of freedom, vis-à-vis the necessity that first demands survival. But, having clung to life in the wake of the first primitive cries of freedom, a ‘reciprocal yielding’ between the harbingers of the events of immunity – mind and nature itself – comes to light in service of human flourishing. The latter, however, is not independent of the multispecies or actant/n/uated spectrum of the ‘good life’, shattering the ethics of transcendence that always assumes an anthropocentric bias.

Incidentally, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri called biopolitics an event insofar as the ‘production of life’ enables an ‘act of resistance, innovation and freedom’[11] – precisely the modal schema of life (that we mentioned) or alternative productions of subjectivity (p. 241). In Schellingian terms, this notion of biopolitics is disguised in a kind of pharmacology, as in the dual extensive nature of poison. As a way to conclude, let me quote from Schelling this rather odd poisonous alternative, which sumps up (to use a neologism) the actant/n/uated nature (switching between actuation and attenuation in a fraught condition of determinability) of the schema of biopolitics:

[P]oison is only poison by virtue of the fact that the organism directs its activity against it, strives to assimilate it (FO, p. 56).


[1] F.W.J. Schelling, ‘On philosophical construction or the way to exhibit all things in the absolute,’ in Vater, M. and Wood, D. (eds.), The Philosophical Ruptures between Fichte and Schelling: Selected Texts and Correspondence (1800-1802), p. 218. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany. See also Zöller, Günter, Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy: the Original Duplicity of Intelligence and Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

[2] F.W.J. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism. (P. Health, trans.). Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 2012, p. 231; henceforth, STI.

[3] F.W.J. Schelling, First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature. (K.R.Peterson, trans.). New York: State University of New York Press, Albany, p. 243; henceforth, FO.

[4] F.W.J. Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. (J.Love and J. Schmidt, trans.). New York: State University of New York Press, Albany, 2006, p. 34; henceforth, PHF).

[5] F.W.J. Schelling, “System of Philosophy in General and of the Philosophy of Nature in Particular (1804),” in Pfau, T (ed.), Idealism and the Endgame of Theory: Three Essays by F.W.J. Schelling. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany, 1994, p. 142.

[6] F.W.J. Schelling, The Unconditional in Human Knowledge: Four Early Essays, trans. F. Marti (London: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1980), p. 157; henceforth, UHK.

[7] Catherine Malabou, Ontology of Plasticity: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (C. Shread, trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012; henceforth, OA.

[8] Roberto Esposito, ‘The Enigma of Biopolitics,’ in T. Campbell and A. Sitze (eds.). Biopolitics: A Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 352; henceforth, EB.

[9] Donna Haraway, ‘The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse,’ in T. Campbell and A. Sitze (eds.). Biopolitics: A Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 276; henceforth, BPB.

[10] Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns (C. Porter, trans.). Cambridge and Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 201e, p. 146.

[11] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, ‘Biopolitics as Event,’ in T. Campbell and A. Sitze (eds.). Biopolitics: A Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 241.

V.A.Rivas @2022


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