The Problem of Grounding: Schelling on the Metaphysics of Evil Articles uri icon



published in

publication date

  • June 2018

start page

  • 233

end page

  • 248


  • 57

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0038-1527

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-930X


  • Long neglected, Schelling's 1809 Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom has been the subject of renewed contemporary interest with scholars linking it to debates in ontology, psychology, and social philosophy. This paper argues, however, that its fundamental importance lies in bringing to our attention the way in which our moral categories are grounded in conceptions of metaphysics. To do so, it suggests that Schelling focuses on two questions: first, does evil have positive being? And second, why do some individuals commit evil acts while others do not? In response to the first, Schelling criticises Augustine's insistence that evil entails a privation of being by developing an original account of metaphysics and, by extension, evil that insists that being entails an autopoietic process whereby a dark, chaotic, differentiating abyss expresses itself in actual, empirical being. By associating evil with this dark abyss, Schelling holds that 'evil' not only has actual being but forms the differentiating foundation of actual existence. This brings him to the second question, namely, why some individuals choose to actualize this dark abyss while others do not. In contrast to Kant's appeal to an unknowable noumenal decision that can subsequently be altered, Schelling suggests that the choice of evil is an unconscious one that cannot subsequently be changed. The paper concludes by raising two critical questions about Schelling's analysis relating to the determinism inherent to his account of moral choice and whether it, in fact, actually explains why some moral agents choose evil and others do not.


  • schelling; evil; metaphysics; kant; augustine