Freedom and Ground

A Study of Schelling's Treatise on Freedom

By Mark J. Thomas

Subjects: Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, German Idealism, History Of Philosophy, Spirituality
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Hardcover : 9781438493008, 356 pages, May 2023
Paperback : 9781438492995, 356 pages, November 2023

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Table of contents


1. Ground and the Question of a System of Freedom
The Concept of System
The Principle of Ground and the Concept of System
Jacobi and the Conflict between System and Freedom
Two Predominant Metaphors for System
Conclusion: Heidegger and the Alleged Failure of a System of Freedom

2. Identity, Ground, and the Meaning of the Copula in Judgments
Pantheism and the Nature of Identity
Explication of Schelling’s Four Accounts of the Copula
Conclusion: The Unity of Schelling’s Account of the Copula?

3. The Creative Unity of the Law of Identity
The Unity Expressed by the Law of Identity
The Co-originality of the Laws of Identity and Ground
The Transformation of the Law of Ground
Divine Grounding and the Possibility of Freedom

4. Schelling’s Fundamental Distinction between Ground and What Exists
General Characterization of the Distinction
The Distinction in Relation to the Doctrine of Potencies
The Distinction within the Distinction
The Grounding Character of the Ground of Existence
Grounding Relations in a System of Freedom

5. Evil and the Irrational
The Ground of Evil
Evil as a Ground of Revelation?
The Irrational and the Irreducible Remainder
The Living Character of Schelling’s Rationalism

6. The Ungrund as the Ultimate Origin
The Context of Schelling’s Treatment of the Ungrund
The Ungrund as the Wesen of the Two Principles in God
Characteristics of the Ungrund and Its Relation to Schelling’s Previous Descriptions of the Absolute
Indifference and the Grounding Character of the Ungrund
The Ungrund and the Relationship between Essence and Form

7. Freedom, Necessity, and Self-Grounding
The Formal vs. the Real Concept of Freedom
The Unity of Freedom and Necessity beyond Appearance
The Intelligible Deed
Self-Grounding and the Concept of Causa Sui

Conclusion: Ground in a System of Freedom

A new interpretation of Schelling's 1809 treatise on freedom, demonstrating how the work is an answer to the problem of ground.


This book is a new interpretation of Schelling's path-breaking 1809 treatise on freedom, the last major work published during his lifetime. The treatise is at the heart of the current Schelling renaissance—indeed, Heidegger calls it "one of the most profound works of German, thus of Western, philosophy." It is also one of the most demanding and complex texts in German Idealism. By tracing the problem of ground through Schelling's treatise, Mark J. Thomas provides a unified reading of the text, while unlocking the meaning of its most challenging passages through clear, detailed analysis. He shows how Schelling's implicit distinction between senses of ground is the key to his project of constructing a system that can satisfy reason while accommodating objects that seem to defy rational explanation—including evil, the origins of nature, and absolute freedom. This allows Schelling to unite reason and mystery, providing a rich model for philosophizing about freedom and evil today.

Mark J. Thomas is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Central College.


"In this extraordinary book, Mark Thomas takes the question of ground as central to Schelling's philosophy, especially to his famous treatise on human freedom. Thomas shows how the theme of ground provides a means by which to understand such concepts as freedom, reason, existence, and evil. The book displays exemplary precision as well as original and profound insights into Schelling's thought. Thomas explains in detail the way in which all of Schelling's writings come together in his project of a system of freedom. Finally, Thomas shows how Schelling's concept of ground represents a challenge to classical metaphysics and both anticipation and critique of several major issues in contemporary philosophy. Thomas's book is—and will no doubt remain—a landmark in the interpretation of Schelling's philosophy." — John Sallis, Boston College

"With this thoroughly researched and carefully argued book, Mark Thomas sets a new standard for rigor in Schelling studies. I anticipate that within the next few years everyone doing serious work on the Freedom Essay will be expected to read and comment on this book." — Christopher Lauer, author of The Suspension of Reason in Hegel and Schelling