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Creating the Past: Schelling’s Ages of the World

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image of Journal of the Philosophy of History

F.W.J. Schelling’s Ages of the World has just begun to receive the critical attention it deserves as a contribution to the philosophy of history. Its most significant philosophical move is to pose the question of the origin of the past itself, asking what “caused” the past. Schelling treats the past not as a past present (something that used to be a ’now’ but no longer is) — but rather as an eternal past, a different dimension of time altogether, and one that was never a present ’now’. For Schelling, the past functions as the transcendental ground of the present, the true ’a priori’. Schelling’s account of the creation of this past takes the form of a theogeny: in order to exist, God needed to separate the past from the present. By grounding the creation of the past in a free decision of God, Schelling tries to conceptualize temporality so as to preserve the sort of radical contingency and authentic freedom that he considers essential features of history. In so doing, he opens up a way of viewing time that avoids the pitfalls of the Hegelian dialectic and anticipates some of the 20th century developments in phenomenology.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy and Classics, University of Texas San Antonio, Email:; 2: Department of Philosophy, Trinity University San Antonio, Texas, Email:


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