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Anticipating New Materialisms through Schelling's Speculative Physics

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Abstract

At the turn of the 19th century, theories of nature were fiercely debated. These debates emerged from a wider dispute between formalist theories of matter such as Newton’s and dynamic theories of matter inspired by Spinoza. In the midst of this debate, German philosopher Friedrich Schelling composed a series of texts under the banner of Naturphilosophie. In these texts, Schelling advances a framework he calls speculative physics. Speculative physics argues that the most basic substrate of nature is not matter, but unlimited activity. For Schelling, nature is this activity, and matter is a temporary limitation or inhibition of activity. This claim was a bold challenge to the prevailing view, exemplified by Kant, which took material nature to be merely the sum of all that could be articulated by immutable laws.
In my paper, I outline some of the key features of Schelling’s speculative physics in the context of new materialist philosophies: In the first part of the paper I briefly discuss some of the central claims and motivations in new materialism. This establishes the context for my analysis of Schelling, which forms the main part of the paper. I conclude with a brief discussion of Jane Bennet’s vibrant materialism, and where Schelling may fit into such a landscape.