Friday, April 8, 2016

Schelling on Sexual Difference

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (fl. 1775-1854) describes, in The First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, how Nature configures its specie in qualitative opposition for the further propulsion of each species: the species must be divided within and opposed to itself in order for its opposed centrifugal forces to conjointly animate the species into the production of generations in time. Since the purpose of sexual difference and reproduction is thus for the universal species rather than any of its individual members, sexual differentiation and reproduction require the individual to be sacrificed as an instrumental medium for the purposes of the species. The self-organization of Nature thus proceeds, from one spherical self-opposition to the next, through an infinite succession of species, in successive unsuccessful attempts to represent, in and for themselves, the absolute synthesis of transcendental and natural philosophy.


The development of the absolute product in which the activity of Nature would exhaust itself is nothing other than an infinite progress of formation. The process of formation is nothing other than a configuration... Nature contests the Individual; it longs for the Absolute and continually endeavours to represent it. It seeks the most universal proportion in which all actants, without prejudice to their individuality, can be unified.

Throughout the whole of Nature absolute sexlessness is nowhere demonstrable, and an a priori principle requires that sexual difference is taken as point of departure everywhere in organic nature. Nature has either unified the opposing sexes in one and the same product and has developed simultaneously in different directions (as in many species of worms, where mating is always doubled, as well as in most plants), or Nature has distributed the opposed sexes into different stocks (individuals). Here the one-sided sexual division is again distinguished only at different stages of development.

The universal separation into opposed sexes must occur according to a determinate law, and indeed neither sex should be able to originate without the other simultaneously originating with it. We see that where both sexes are unified in one individual, they originate through one and the same formation. Therefore, the law which is observed in the latter must be extended over Nature as a whole.

Thus, if according to our principles, the production of various genera and species in Nature is only one production captured at different stages, then the formation of the opposite sexes in the same genus and species must be only one formation, one natural operation, such that the different individuals of the same genus amount to only one individual, but developed in opposite directions. It must be demonstrated that the separation into different sexes is just the separation which we have furnished as the ground of inhibition in the production of Nature. That is, it must be shown that Nature is actually inhibited in its production by means of this separation, without on that account ceasing to be active.

In other words, Nature will drive the individualization of the product to the extreme in both directions. Therefore, the most acute moment of individualization in each organism is also the most intense moment of natural activity in it... The opposing natural activities that are operative in the product toward opposite directions always become more independent from one another; the more independent from one another they become, the more the equilibrium is disturbed within the determinate sphere of Nature that they describe. If they arrive at the maximum point of mutual independence, then they greatest moment of disturbed equilibrium is also reached.

However, in Nature, the highest point of disturbed equilibrium is one and the same with the moment of the reestablishment of equilibrium. Between the two no time elapses. Those antithetical activities must, therefore, combine themselves according to a necessary and universal law of nature. The product will be a mutual one, constructed from both of the opposed directions (of the formative drive); Nature will in this way return by a circular course to that point from which it had departed; the product will, as it were, turn back on itself and will have adopted once more the general character of its stage of development... From this moment forward, since the joint product is secured, Nature will abandon the individual, will cease to be active in it, or rather it will then begin to exercise an antithetical effect upon it; from now on the individual will be a limit to its activity, which Nature labours to destroy.... The genus must appear as an end of Nature, the individual as a means – the individual would expire and genus remain – if it is true that the individual products in Nature ought to be seen as unsuccessful attempts to represent the Absolute.

This unimpugnable law of nature is most conspicuous, again, in the organisms which succeed to sexual development through perceptible metamorphoses. Flowers wilt, the transformed insect dies, just as soon as the genus is secured. The individual seems here almost to serve merely as a medium, only as a conduit, through which the organic vibration, the formative force (the spark of life) propagates itself. – But is this law of nature not also just as operative in the higher organisms, and does no the individual here too deceive us, seeming as if it were Nature’s end and not merely a means? We do not perceive as strongly in higher creatures that demise of organisms, after the point at which the peak of opposition is achieved, partly because it happens with very attenuated speed, and because the product that was a longer task for formative Nature is also a longer task for destructive Nature; partly because here the sexes are much more separated than at the lower stages. 

If one makes a general comparison of the proximity and distance between the sexes of various organisms, one finds that for the most long-lived organisms the sexes are the most separated, and on the other hand, the more ephemeral the product the closer the sexes are to each other. Where Nature seems to want to preserve the individual longer in one speciese, it breaks the sexes further asunder from one another, as it were, makes them flee from one another. How separated the sexes are in the higher animal species, how near in the flowering plants, where they are gathered in a single calyx (as in a bridal bed)! In conclusion we may suggest that the separation of the sexes happens against the will of Nature, as it were, and that because individual products originate only by means of this separation, these products are abortive experiments of Nature.

The individual passes away, only the species remains, but Nature never ceases to be active. However, since Nature is infinitely active, and since this infinite activity must present itself by means of finite products, Nature must return into itself through an endless circulation. We cannot leave our last proposition without mentioning the consequences that flow from it. The most important conclusion that proceeds from it is this: the variety of organisms is finally reducible just to the variety of the stages at which they separate themselves into opposed sexes.

Apparently paradoxical – but necessary. Nature is only one activity – therefore its product only one as well. Through the individual products it seeks to present just one – the absolute product. Thus its products can be distinguished only through the variety of stages. But many are already inhibited at the lowest level. The ones that stand at the higher stages must have had to pass necessarily through the lower, in order to succeed to the higher.

The formation of each organism will occur completely in step with the formation of all meaning organisms, up to the stage at which that separation occurs in it; the individual formation of every organism  first begins with the development of the sex. Now the joint entity that no single individual completely expresses, but all together express, is called the species. In organic natural products both species and individual are necessary... But Nature organizes to infinity, i.e., each sphere to which Nature is limited must again contain an infinity in itself. Within every sphere other spheres are again formed, and in these spheres other, and so on to infinity.

[Excerpts from the First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, Keith R. Peterson Translation, SUNY Press, 2004, pp.35-44]

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