The other primary reason for focusing on this comparative analysis was the fact that no work has been undertaken to explicitly link these two European thinkers, when it appears that their work contains fundamental parallels and conceptual similarities. Scarcely any attention has been paid to Ravaisson outside of France, except to acknowledge his influence on later and more widely studied French philosophers such as Bergson and Deleuze. Any analysis of Ravaisson is often historical in orientation and is primarily concerned with interpretation by and influence on others. Often his link to Schelling is passed over in a single paragraph, noting only that he attended Schelling’s lectures and that Schelling intended that he should translate his Philosophy of Mythology, which leaves unexamined the richness and depth of thought that links them. A close reading of Ravaisson’s short text Of Habit will bring to light its inherent Schellingian nature, and will reveal his indebtedness to Schelling. This does not detract from or override Ravaisson’s thought, but adds to a more complete understanding of his work. It also helps to rectify the neglect of Ravaisson’s work in the English speaking philosophical community. This project aims to help to rectify this gap at the heart of contemporary philosophy and provide a means to re-engage with these two philosophers at a fundamental level, opening up new lines for debate by offering a new thinker to the Speculative Realist table in the form of Ravaisson and his overlooked contribution to the philosophy of nature.
My dissertation will be divided into four chapters.
1. I begin by arguing that Ravaisson has a near identical cosmogony to Schelling. This claim of a similar cosmogony may be somewhat surprising, as the commentary preceding Ravaisson’s text argues that the Inorganic Realm gives the primary conditions of nature out of which organization occurs and life begins. Although it can be read in this way it can also be taken one step further. Of Habit offers the entire preconditions of nature itself. When analysed alongside Schelling’s grounding of the ground of nature, the Ungrund, the parallels between the two are startling. I will demonstrate that Ravaisson has a similar conception of, to use Schelling’s terms, Absolute identity fracturing into quantitative finite differences, or Absolute being self-differentiating into continuous infinite becoming. This occurs through a similar conception of primordial matter conceived as force or potency premised on dynamic antithetical activity, which is explained in the same way by both philosophers through the analogy of magnetic polarisation. In both philosophers work there exists a continuity that runs from the Inorganic to Organic nature. In Ravaisson, such continuity is expressed in the idea that the active movement originating within the inorganic -nature’s primordial beginning - is recapitulated and immanent within the whole of nature. This movement is spontaneous and immediate: where cause and effect, end and principle merge, lending the appearance of necessity. This is later expressed within nature as instinct and (it will be shown) exemplified as spontaneous freedom, as the freest activity that issues from itself according to itself. A linearity or genetic relation runs within Schelling’s nature: the dynamic activity of differing potencies operates through all levels of nature, where nature becomes the apriori condition, both producer and product of all that is, while remaining absolutely indifferent as to its products.
The Ungrund, conceived by Schelling as indifference is Absolute identities essence or form of being. It grounds the ground of identity. I will use ‘zero’ to signify it the Ungrund and its condition of non-being. It is the ‘no-thing’ out of which creation emerges, a point of harmony, balance or equilibrium or that which precedes all opposites and all predication. It cannot be described as prior to the ground of Absolute Identity for then it would be thought of as the ground of all existence, from which ground is consequent. This not-being is still no-thing, yet, not nothing. It is rather the not-being of any antitheses or put another way the being-not predicable or antithetical. As such it cannot be anything other than indifferent or neutral. I will argue that it is this zero that is morphogenetic or form forming. In Ravaisson it is present in the operations of habit and the life of the individual, acting as a centrum or locus, a point of equilibrium or oscillating middle term. This implies that there is an element of non-being or otherness that is carried from the primordial beginnings of the universe to the individual, a vestige of an indivisible irrational remainder that exceeds the individual’s capacities to be reconciled with it.
A discussion of time and God’s place in both philosophies will also be made.
2. The second chapter deals with their similar philosophies of nature. For both philosophers nature becomes the ground and condition of everything, composed of finite differences yet still remaining identity. What should be emphasised is the productivity of nature, its activity, for both philosophers. Both also have a conception of nature as embodying intelligence. For Schelling this occurs through man, where nature materialises the laws of the mind, of reason, where nature can then function auto-epistemically. For Ravaisson there is an unconscious, pre-reflective element to nature, or indistinct idea, which lies wholly in desire. I will highlight the place of the unconscious in both their philosophies of nature. Previously I had thought to give a Lacanian reading of Schelling, as Zizek does. However, I have since decided to integrate a Jungian reading of nature, as both philosophers discuss archetype [Vorblid – the pre-form]in their philosophies of nature]. Jung’s discussion in Archetypes is very much grounded in nature and seems certainly more Schellingian and fitting. I will argue that the archetype both Schelling and Ravaisson are discussing is the ‘zero’ – that which is not consequent but prior to the existence of that which it is an archetype of.
3. This chapter will deal with the place of the individual in nature. I will give a Lacanian reading of the individual and how they experience a lack of incomplete identity, which drives desire to try and overcome this. For both philosophers, nature is conceived as desire or yearning where nature’s continuous becoming is propelled forward by a degree of tension, antitheses, dissonance or conflict – a lack of complete Identity or complete being. Through the use of Lacanian topology, specifically the torus he employs to describe the individual, I will argue that the individual is similar to, the morphogenetic zero point found at the beginning of both Schelling and Ravaisson. It is not the zero per se, due to the fact that the individual cannot not be indifferent to its activity or its embodiment within the phenomenal world simply for its own survival. Yet the individual is described by Ravaisson as occupying that middle point, with the operations of habit oscillating and moving between two antithetical points – spontaneity/receptivity, activity/passivity, subject/object, real/ideal, where a slight degree of heterogeneity is always felt in any given situation to compromise experience for the individual. The subject always occupies a place between binary opposition. However, because the individual is an entity in the process of continuous becoming, and lacks complete and absolute identity, it has a void at the heart of itself – signified as the gap in the centre of the torus and the zero. It is this that constitutes the lack it feels. The individual, like its primordial archetype – the zero- contains and element of non-being, a space that allows for creative and continual development, but that also introduces an unconscious, dark, unknown, irrational element that cannot be reconciled entirely into reason. Thus the unconscious, chaotic, unruly aspect of the zero is carried through nature into the individual, which again implies a genetic linear relationship from the primordial conditions of the universe up nature’s highest product - man.
In his Freedom Essay Schelling talks about the individual perceiving itself to be something other than nature, when in fact it should understand its oneness with nature, the identity that encapsulates the whole of organic nature. This implies opposition, alterity and otherness which detracts from and causes spiritual sickness for the individual when it separates itself off from univocal totality, and from the recognition of its primordial origins.
4. The final chapter deals with freedom in nature. Schelling’s ontology of freedom arises from and is grounded in nature. He describes will as primal being. This means that freedom lies not in an ethics based on human will but in the primal conditions of nature. This will be examined from his Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom essay. Human freedom for Schelling means being grounded in one’s own act, in accord with the individual’s own essence. Man’s being is his activity. Again this accords with Ravaisson due to the fact that the law of being for him is the law of inertia and principle of habit - to be is to remain in accord with one’s essence, to persist and act in accordance with oneself. Both offer a vitalistic view of nature that unfolds through the logic of potency, removing the view that it is at all mechanical or deterministic. Nature becomes ethically determining, expanding outwards into freedom whose original primordial spontaneity found in the play between potencies in the inorganic realm is recovered in the operations of habit, which forms the individual and is the foundation from which freedom can develop, or difference is able to increase through repetition, or potentiality can be extended further than actuality – existence acquiring its existence through acting.