Schelling's On the True Concept rejects in no uncertain terms Eschenmayer's reduction of material qualities to various proportions of repulsive and attractive force. And yet, as suggested above, in this same text Schelling also comes to see the value of constructing qualities in a quasi-Eschenmayerian – that is, quantitative – fashion. Indeed, On the True Concept proposes that Eschenmayer's series of proportions might be supplemented with further series, thereby adding depth to Eschenmayer's single-dimensional, nature-philosophical construction: for Schelling, differences regarding the proportions of force constitute only the most basic stage or level of a more general, vertical series that extends from the dynamic to the qualitative and culminates in the organic. And if natural qualities, such as chemical properties, belong to a more complicated series of stages – ‘higher’ or ‘greater’ than the more basic, dynamic stage – then it is possible to conceive such qualities in terms of quantity. Schelling identifies the general stages or levels of reality as ‘potencies’ or ‘powers’, and in this chapter we consider Schelling's adoption and transformation of this concept, a concept that begins to take centre stage in his metaphysics, at least in part, thanks to the controversy with Eschenmayer.
The concept of potency at the end of the eighteenth Century
In his 1796 Der polynomische Lehrsatz, Carl Friedrich Hindenburg, the leading figure of the Leipzig combinatorial school – the ‘most influential’ mathematical movement in Germany during the 1790s– remarks on the introduction of the term ‘potentiation’ into his text as follows:
This is, as far as I am aware, a word that has, until now, been quite uncommon … but nonetheless seems exactly fitting. If only all neologisms in mathematical language were always so blameless and never harmed its precision and simplicity! – a wish that could be extended to many phenomena in the unsettled domains of letters.
It has been frequently remarked that Novalis (and consequently many of those he influenced in Jena during the late 1790s) owes the term ‘potentiation’ to Hindenburg. It is also likely that Eschenmayer was heavily influenced – directly or otherwise – by the combinatorial school when it comes to his own appropriation of the terminology of potency and potentiation.