The Idea of Nature as a Structure

A Few Thoughts on Schelling’s Naturphilosophie


  • Terrence Thomson


Naturphilosophie, German Idealism, structure, nature, Kant, Schelling


In this essay I provide a reading of Schelling’s idea of nature, exploring how it points to a common structure iterated in both the organic and inorganic world. I explore the meaning and constitution of this structure through its reorientation of the subject/object divide and its logic of symbiotic “involution.” I then reflect on one of the popular images of this structure in Naturphilosophie, the whirlpool. I explore how the whirlpool expresses the dynamic at the core of Schelling’s idea of nature and explore some of its potential shared ground with some more contemporary views.

Author Biography

Terrence Thomson

Currently studying for an M.A in European Philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP). My B.A was in Fine Art obtained from Central Saint Martins in 2010.

I am 29, living and working in London.


Abbott, EA. 1998. Flatland. A Romance of Many Dimensions. New York: Penguin Books.

Asmuth, C. 2002. “Natur als Objekt – Natur als Subjekt. Der Wandel des Naturbegriffs bei Fichte und Schelling.” In Neuzeitliches Denken edited by G. Abel et al, 305-21.

Beiser, F. 2008. German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781–1801. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Bowie, A. 2008. Introduction to German Philosophy. From Kant to Habermas. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cho, YJ. 2006. “Natur als Subjekt. Schellings Naturphilosophie und ihre ökologische Bedeutung.” PhD diss., Universität Kassel.

Corriero, EM. 2020. “Beyond the Process After Schelling. Freedom and Creativity.” Rivista di Estetica 74: 39-59.

Dallmayr, F. 2011. Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Danowski, D and Viveiros de Castro, E. 2017. The Ends of the World. Translated by R. Nunes. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Deacon, T. 2013. Incomplete Nature. How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Descola, P. 2014. Beyond Nature and Culture. Translated by J. Lloyd. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Esposito, J. 1977. Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Ferraris, M. 2013. “Sum ergo Cogito. Schelling and the Positive Realism.” In Nature and Realism in Schelling’s Philosophy edited by EC. Corriero and A. Dezi, 187-201.

Fisher, N. 2017. “The Epistemology of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 34(3): 271-90.

Förster, E. 2018. Die 25 Jahre der Philosophie: Eine systematische Rekonstruktion. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

Franks, P. 2020. “From World-Soul to Universal Organism. Maimon’s Hypothesis and Schelling’s Physicalization of a Platonic-Kabbalistic Concept.” In Schelling’s Philosophy. Freedom, Nature and Systematicity edited by A. Bruno, 71-92.

Garcia, LF. 2021. “Nature at the Core of Idealism: The Birth of Two Strands of Post-Kantian Philosophy.” Idealistic Studies 51(1): 27-49.

Gare, A. 2011. “From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization.” Cosmos and History 7(2): 26-69.

Goethe, JW. 1988. Scientific Studies. Translated by D. Miller. New York: Suhrkamp.

Grant, IH. 2008. Philosophies of Nature After Schelling. London: Continuum.

Heidegger, M. 1988. Gesamtausgabe. Abteilung: Vorlesungen 1919-1944. Band 42. Schelling: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1809). Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

Hegel, GWF. 1986. Werke 2. Jenaer Schriften 1801-1807. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Kohn, E. 2013. How Forests Think. Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Latour, B. 2021. Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. Translated by C. Porter. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marder, M. 2013. Plant-Thinking. A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 2003. Nature. Course Notes from the Collège de France. Translated by R. Vallier. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible. Followed by Working Notes. Translated by A. Lingis. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1967. The Structure of Behaviour. Translated by AL. Fisher. Boston: Beacon Press.

Morton, T. 2007. Ecology without Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nail, T. 2021. Theory of the Earth. California: Stanford University Press.

Nassar, D. 2010. “From a Philosophy of Self to a Philosophy of Nature: Goethe and the Development of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 92(3):304-321.

Novalis. 1978. Werke, Tagebücher und Briefe Friedrich von Hardenbergs. Band 2. München: Carl Hanser Verlag.

Ortega y Gasset. J. 2010. Meditaciones del Quijote. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra.

Pita, O. 1999. “Der Prozeß als Prinzip. Von der Transzendental- zur Naturphilosophie Schellings.” In Una Mirada a la Filosofía de Schelling edited by AL. Coello, 91-6.

Richards, RJ. 2002. The Romantic Conception of Life. Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Satoor, C. 2022. “Becoming-Dynamic: The Early Schelling and the Production of Nature.” Environment, Space, Place 14(1): 70-92.

Schelling, F. 2020. On the True Concept of Naturphilosophie and the Correct Way of solving its Problems. In The Schelling-Eschenmayer Controversy, 1801 translated by J. Kahl and D. Whistler, 46-62.

Schelling, F. 2006. Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. Translated by J. Love and J. Schmidt. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schelling, F. 2004. First Outline of a System of Naturphilosophie. Translated by K. Peterson. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schelling, F. 2001. System of Transcendental Idealism. Translated by P. Heath. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Schelling, F. 1995. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature. Translated by E. Harris and P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schelling, F. 1994. System of Philosophy in General and of the Naturphilosophie in Particular. In Idealism and the Endgame of Theory translated by T. Pfau, 141-94.

Schelling, F. 1980. Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism. In The Unconditional in Human Knowledge translated by F. Marti, 156-96.

Serres, M. 2015. Statues. The Second Book of Foundations. Translated by R. Burks. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Snow, D. 1996. Schelling and the End of Idealism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Sturma, D. 2000. “The Nature of Subjectivity: The Critical and Systematic Function of Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature.” In The Reception of Kant’s Critical Philosophy edited by S. Sedgwick, 216-31.

Thomson, T. 2022. “From Cosmogenesis to Naturphilosophie: Tracing a Path Between Kant’s Allgemeine Naturgeschichte and Schelling’s Erster Entwurf.” Idealistic Studies 52(1): 73-92.

Uexküll, J. 2010. A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans. With a Theory of Meaning. Translated by JD. O’Neil. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Vercellone, F. 2020. “Goethe, Schelling and the Melancholy of Nature.” Rivista di Estetica 74: 191-200.

Warren, D. 2010. “Kant on Attractive and Repulsive Force: The Balancing Argument.” In Discourse on a New Method. Reinvigorating the Marriage of History and Philosophy of Science edited by M. Domski and M. Dickson, 193-241. Chicago: Open Court.

Westphal, K. 2009. Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wieland, W. 1975. “Die Anfänge der Philosophie Schellings und die Frage nach der Natur.” In Materialien zu Schellings philosophischen Anfängen edited by M. Frank and G. Kurz, 237-79. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Woodard, B. 2020. Schelling’s Naturalism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.




How to Cite

Thomson, T. (2022). The Idea of Nature as a Structure: A Few Thoughts on Schelling’s Naturphilosophie. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 18(2), 1–21. Retrieved from