On Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ : A Free Reflex of Spirit — part fifty eight.

David Proud
48 min readJan 26, 2024

A Woman’s Life and Love’ — 7.

‘At my heart, at my breast’

by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838)

At my heart, at my breast,

thou my rapture, my happiness!

The joy is the love, the love is the joy,

I have said it, and won’t take it back.

I’ve thought myself rapturous,

but now I’m happy beyond that.

Only she that suckles, only she that loves

the child, to whom she gives nourishment;

Only a mother knows alone

what it is to love and be happy.

O how I pity then the man

who cannot feel a mother’s joy!

Thou lookst at me and smiles,

Thou dear, dear angel thou

At my heart, at my breast,

thou my rapture, my happiness!

‘An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust’

An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust,

Du meine Wonne, du meine Lust!

Das Glück ist die Liebe, die Lieb’ ist das Glück,

Ich hab’ es gesagt und nehm’s nicht zurück.

Hab’ überglücklich mich geschätzt

Bin überglücklich aber jetzt.

Nur die da säugt, nur die da liebt

Das Kind, dem sie die Nahrung giebt;

Nur eine Mutter weiß allein,

Was lieben heißt und glücklich sein.

O, wie bedaur’ ich doch den Mann,

Der Mutterglück nicht fühlen kann!

Du schauest mich an und lächelst dazu,

Du lieber, lieber Engel, du!

An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust,

Du meine Wonne, du meine Lust!


‘Physician and a Woman Patient’, Jan Havickszoon Steen ( c. 1626 — c. 1679)

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). ‘Philosophy of Nature’. ‘Organic Physics’.

Having arrived at the stage of the animal organism the question of biological normativity (yes really) arises, albeit it has always been there in the background, the is and the ought of the animal organism so to speak. What account does Hegel give with regard to biological normativity in his account of the animal organism together with its normative implications given in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’? Organisation is a somewhat fundamental notion in Hegelian animal normativity given that the Hegelian approach takes up the scientific image of the organism and allots a foundational explanatory function to the notion of organisation in its understanding of living beings. And upon the basis of such a premise one can compare accounts in contemporary theoretical biology referred to as organisational accounts that present a widely talked about strategy for naturalizing teleology and normativity in organisms. Such accounts explicitly depend up on insights from Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), and post-Kantianism, but considered from an historical and conceptual point of view it is Hegel’s take of the organism that partakes in diverse fundamental commitments with organisational accounts in particular with respect to the notion of organisational closure and the account of normativity that such accounts put forward. The notion of organisation is more fundamental to Hegel’s theory of animal normativity than the Aristotelian notion of Gattung or species which as we have seen appears somewhat derivative in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, and does so also in the ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature’, and does not perform that much of a central role in his account.

Hegel’s account of the animal organism as it is presented in his ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and Lectures with its normative implications and how it addresses the question of the constitution of the living organism and its normativity is a key to unlock an understanding of the Hegelian response to the wider question of the relationship between norms and nature, an issue that has been central to a number of debates which extend beyond Hegel and have experienced enough import that they are now familiar. A common way of formulating the issue is in terms of the distinction made by Wilfrid Sellars, (1912–1989), between two logical spaces, a normative space of reasons and a non-normative realm of laws characterized by natural scientific explanation with the latter often equated with nature. ‘The naturalistic ‘thesis’ that the world can, ‘in principle,’ be described without using the term ‘ought’ or any other prescriptive expression, is a logical point about what is to count as a description in principle of the world’, explains Sellars.

The contemporary significance of Hegel’s take upon norms has emerged due to numerous readings of Hegel’s philosophy and resulting Hegelian theories of agency, conceptual content, judgment, and so on, directed by an understanding of the notion of Geist as a distinctly normative realm, and in more recent times scholars have more and more marked the fact that normativity for Hegel is not something exclusively restricted to the social or spiritual domain, indeed, he identifies various forms of normativity in nature that are manifested paradigmatically by the living organism. So to understand how norms can be considered a constitutive part of the natural domain needs particular attention on the animal organism and it is Hegel’s contention that organisation is a basic feature of living beings and reconstructing and shedding light upon this key insight will show how and why organisation is the central notion moulding Hegel’s take on organism and the natural normativity they display.

Hegel’s views on organisation are not simply a matter of historical interest and to bring to the fore their potential for the current debate around norms we can allow them to engage with a collection of accounts in contemporary theoretical biology, referred to as the organisational account or biological autonomy view, and the philosophical discussion surrounding them. Such theories present a particular take upon biological phenomena in particular organisms and in an endeavour to naturalize functions advocates a definition of natural normativity that has been widely discussed. At the same time there have been several recent endeavours to situate the genealogical origins of the organisational account biological tradition by placing Kant as its founder and a key proponent of its central concepts. Hegel as indeed putting forward an organisational approach and hence he is a part of this same tradition and organisational accounts allow for a deeper understanding of significant features of Hegel’s thought in particular its position on normativity in animal organisms.

The issue is the kind of normativity involved in the notion of organisation which is foundational for Hegel indeed the notion of organisation is pivotal for Hegel’s account of animal normativity and plays a more fundamental role than even the notion of Gattung or species, a reading that accords with recent analysis of higher forms of normativity in animal organisms such as expounded by Heikki Ikäheimo.

The organisational accounts conceptual framework and its status within the field of current theoretical approaches to the living organism can be briefly described before . Some key organisational account notions can be historically and conceptually connected to Hegel’s position and utilised to illuminate his views concerning biological phenomena including their normative dimensions. The organisational accounts’s strategy for naturalizing normativity and its main problems which have emerged in recent scholarship have to be considered, the Hegelian response to these issues specify his views and further define his account of natural norms.

Current scholarship on Hegel and normativity manifests two main interpretative lines, on the one hand many scholars emphasise that Hegel’s notion of geistig or spiritual refers to a domain of normative intelligibility that falls outside the descriptive scope of the natural sciences and consequently in an significant sense outside of nature (Robert Brandom, Robert Pippin, Terry Pinkard). Generally speaking such accounts hold that normative properties cannot be said to be natural in any relevant sense, they ‘are not inferior, just different’ Sellars explains. For such scholars attainment of a stance whereby we assess things normatively is a social achievement that involves ‘leaving nature behind’ claims Pippin. This view disregards Hegel’s motion that some natural phenomena in particular those tied to living beings constitutively involve some specific forms of normativity. And yet interpretations of Hegel that investigate the idea of natural norms do so from a particular perspective namely that of neo-Aristotelian naturalism, (Philippa Foot, Rosalind Hursthouse and Michael Thompson).

This second line of interpretation is directed by a concentration on the commonsense conception of life and organism and scrutinizes our ‘ordinary, natural or pre-scientific thought of things as alive’ as Thompson explaind, it thereby performs ‘a kind of exposition of certain aspects of the ‘manifest image’’. This assumption is also has its difficulties and in contrast with Hegel because he does not appear to be singularly interested in the commonsense conceptual framework of our thoughts about living organisms, indeed he appears to pursue a different project searching for a proper understanding of the natural scientific concepts of life and this explains the Hegel’s strenuous endeavour to remain up-to-date on contemporaneous research in the life sciences such as physiology and comparative anatomy as well as his efforts to incorporate the categories employed in such studies into his work. (C. Ferrini, Olaf Breidbach (1957–2014) and Hugo Tristram Engelhardt Jr. (1941–2018). Hegelian insights on the organism can be recovered through referring to current scientific categories in particular coming from biological theory.

On the matter of organism ans organisation in biology in recent decades issues have emerged concerning neo-Darwinian and standard evolutionary theory leading led biologists and philosophers of biology to give renewed attention to the notion of organism that has come back into the lexicon of biological theory as a significant unit of analysis. Traditionally considered a derivative category subordinate to the notion of adaptation organism has become a central player in biological theories with theoretical biologists and philosophers advocating for its theoretical relevance and defending the need to put it back on the agenda. Though it played virtually no role in evolutionary discussions in particular in the formation of the Modern Synthesis new interest is now being directed towards organisms instead of primarily on supra-organismal units, populations, or sub-organismal entities, genes.

‘La Tendresse conjugale’, Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845)

Modern synthesis: Since its origin in the early 20th century, the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution has grown to become the orthodox view on the process of organic evolution its principle defining feature being the prominence it grants to genes in the explanation of evolutionary dynamics but from the beginning of the 21st century the Modern Synthesis theory has been subject to repeated and sustained challenges, by and large empirically driven. In the last couple of decades evolutionary biology has seen unprecedented growth in the understanding of those processes that underwrite the development of organisms and the inheritance of characters and the empirical advances usher in challenges to the conceptual foundations of evolutionary theory.

The extent to which the new biology challenges the Modern Synthesis has been the subject of vigorous debate with many current commentators believing that the new biology of the 21st century calls for a revision, extension, or wholesale rejection of the Modern Synthesis Theory of evolution, but supports of the Modern Synthesis theory insist that the theory can accommodate the new advances in biology. Evolutionary biologists, philosophers of science, and historians of biology hold a wide range of views, from those that contend that the Modern Synthesis theory can rise to the challenges of the new biology, with little or no revision required, to those that call for the abandonment of the Modern Synthesis theory.

Upon such insights acquiring a foothold a set of theoretical models has emerged that makes the claim that organisms cannot be accounted for merely by looking at their parts rather we should view them as particular kinds of systems, a change in perspective that has come to be associated with a distinct line of inquiry in biology. According to its proponents Matteo Mossio and Leonardo Bich:

‘ … unlike the evolutionary approach, the organisational one puts more emphasis on the internal dimension of living systems rather than on external influences’.

- ‘What makes biological organisation teleological?’, 2017.

Within this theoretical context organisms are frequently understood as particular kinds of adaptive systems understood in terms of biological autonomy, biological self-organisation, and biological self-determination. As Wayne David Christensen and Mark H. Bickhard explain:

‘Autonomy is a property of widespread biological significance; living organisms in general are autonomous systems, as are reproductive lineages, species, and some kinds of biological communities’.

- ‘The process dynamics of normative function.’

Philosophical discussions around this framework pose questions concerning the ontological definition of the organism, epistemological questions concerning the conditions for its identification, and conceptual questions concerning its defining properties. A family of views then with one prominent member, the organisational account that represents the most recently developed and fully elaborated view. The organisational account is inspired by the idea of autopoiesis previously put forwarded by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and aims to develop some underexplained notions of that earlier account while also solving some of its basic conceptual problems, no need though to go into the issue of the compatibility of organisational and evolutionary accounts however.

As a matter of fact the organisational account not only delivers an account of the organism but also strives to naturalize teleology, normativity, and functionality. In the words of its proponents Cristian Saborido and Alvaro Moreno in the autonomous perspective an organisation is by definition closed and functional and beginning with this insight the organisational account claims it can ‘adequately naturalize teleology and normativity’. Such proponents have emphasised the relevance of Kantian insights in particular the notions of Selbstzweck and organisation to this approach and have presented the organisational account as offering a well-defined and viable definition of the animal organism and against this background it becomes more evident why the conceptual issues surrounding the organisational account are not only interesting in themselves but may also prove productive for approaching Hegel’s theory of organism and his notion of natural normativity at the level of animal life.

The organisational account can be summed up as follows. The pivotal notion underlying organisational accounts is that organisms are a particular typebof self-maintaining system and what distinguishes them from other self-maintaining systems present in nature is that their basic properties are ‘inherently related to self-determination’ as Moreno & Mossio put it. Self-determination is thereby critical for it ‘remains the conceptual core of autonomy’ and the question arises as to what the notion of autonomy means here and how it is to be spelled out in naturalistic terms. Proponents of the organisational account insists that biological self-determination is characterized by two fundamental properties, which they designate as organisational differentiation and organisational closure.

Organisational differentiation is a property of systems that are constituted by topologically different localizable structures or components, some of which are generated by the system itself. The distinction is inspired particularly by the conceptual distinction between material causes and efficient causes drawn by Robert Rosen (1934–1998). The pivotal insight underlying this second distinction is relatively straightforward in that some parts of an organized system play the role of constraints when they act upon a given process, that is to say exert a causal role on it, and maintain a certain degree of independence with respect to the process itself during the relevant time scale during which the process occurs. Constraints are elements that enable the occurrence of a process but are ‘not altered by (i.e. [are] conserved through) that process at the scale at which the latter takes place’ as Montévil & Mossio explain. Montévil and Mossio as it happens gives a more formal account of the notion which specifies the role of constraint in terms of symmetries while processes instead get specified in terms of thermodynamic flow.

The paradigmatic examples of the notion of constraint that are fundamental to the development of the whole model are metabolic processes, that is to say processes in which enzymes prompt a catalytic reaction, and considered at the right level of description enzymes can be observed to play a causal role in the process of a particular chemical reaction, that is to say, enable the reaction to occur without being consumed or altered by the reaction itself. Metabolic reactions display an additional feature that makes them paradigmatic: functioning as constraints with regard to processes, enzymes are in addition generated by the organism via processes that are in turn constrained by some other element that is not altered in the process.

They act upon processes (enzymes catalyse reactions) and, at the same time, they are produced by other efficient causes (enzymes are produced by other metabolic processes within the cell). As for other constraints involved, as Montévil and Mossio explain: ‘

‘Let us consider the production of an enzyme. As discussed above, an enzyme acts as a constraint on the reaction it catalyses. In turn, enzymes are themselves produced by and within the cell, through the translation process: ribosomes build the primary sequence of the future protein on the basis of the messenger RNA (mRNA) sequence, without consuming it. Since the ribosomes and the mRNA play a causal role while being conserved during this process, they both act as constraints (at a specific time scale) on the production of the enzyme. Consequently, the relationship between the enzyme, the ribosomes and the mRNA can be pertinently described as a dependence between constraints (in which the enzyme depends on both ribosomes and mRNA), insofar as all these entities satisfy the definition of constraint at specific time scales, which are considered jointly’

- ‘Biological Organisation As Closure Of Constraints’.

Enzymes are foundational for the organisational account because they exemplify a basic feature of constraints, they depend upon each other and contribute to the maintenance of a system. The relation among constraints is spelled out in the organisational account in diverse ways, sometimes in terms of dependence, sometimes in terms of ‘conditions of existence’ (Bich, Cristian Saborido) or ‘reciprocal presuppositions’ (Saborido and Moreno). It is from this notion of a mutual dependence of constraints or presupposition among them that the core notion of organisational theoretical accounts emerges, namely the notion of organisational closure. Moreno and Mossio define ‘organisational closure in terms of the mutual dependence which exists among a set of entities that fulfill the role of constraints within a system. Closure is a property of a system in which ‘the existence of each constraint depends on the existence of the others, as well as on the action that they exert on the dynamics. In this kind of situation, the set of constraints realizes self-determination as organisational closure’.

When constraints collectively contribute to the maintenance of the system, and each constraint depends on at least one other constraint, there is closure. In this regard, metabolic reactions are again paradigmatic. Metabolic organisation consists of a network of reactions, finely regulated by their highly complex material components (enzymes), and regenerated by the very network that they control in an organisationally closed way. The proponents of this view propose closure as the benchmark or criterion for differentiating biological systems from their environments. The distinction between processes and constraints is the principle self-proclaimed innovation of the organisational account which is understood to improve upon previous accounts of biological autonomy and this differentiates it from other frameworks that understand cohesion as the key notion for the identification of life, (Christensen and Mark Bickhard for instance).

A third property central to the organisational account conceptual framework is interactive openness. For the proponents of organisational account ‘autonomy should not be confused with independence: an autonomous system must interact with its environment in order to maintain its organisation’ as (Moreno and Mossio explain, a contention premised upon the notion that such systems need energy to maintain themselves, that is to say they are far-from-equilibrium not equilibrated thermodynamic systems.

‘La Tendresse conjugale’, Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845)

And so, the conceptual distinction between constraints and processes enables the organisational account view to distinguish between closure and interaction in the these terms: while biological systems are (by hypothesis) closed at the level of constraints, they are undoubtedly open at the level of the processes, which occur in the thermodynamic flow. Autonomous systems are then, in this view, organisationally closed and thermodynamically open. According to its proponents, this model can be of explanatory use for a wide range of phenomena, because it is relatively simple while at the same time providing a blueprint for approaching various forms of biological complexity. The model has also been extended to supra-organismal systems, such as symbiotic systems and ecosystems. What has interested philosophers concerning this model is how advocates have seen it as yielding a new account of the normativity of functions, proponents of the organisational account have defended the notion that function attribution and its normative import in biological systems are best accounted for in terms of the roles different elements play within regimes of organisational closure.

Closure is then what grounds functionality within biological systems: constraints do not exert functions when taken in isolation, but only insofar as they are subject to a closed organisation.unctions when taken in isolation, but only insofar as they are subject to a closed organisation. As it is put, for each given class of self-maintaining systems, the primary function Fp of T is the contribution of T to the self-maintenance of S that is subject to closure in the more basic regime of self-maintenance.

The organisational account has emerged as one of the leading groups of approaches to describing functions and their normativity, ot identifies the function of a trait in terms of the role that trait plays in a self-maintaining, closed system, in brief ‘constraints subject to closure correspond to biological functions’ as Mossio and Bich explain, and the normativity implied by functional attribution (what an item ought do) therefore derives from the basic intuition that without the feature’s performance of its attributed function the organisationally closed self-maintaining system would collapse. According to this view, closure is the circular causal regime that adequately grounds intrinsic teleology and, consequently, normativity. In this manner the organisational account endeavours to naturalize functionality and normativity in a well-defined and scientifically viable account of biological systems whose constitutive feature is a self-maintenance that underwrites function ascriptions as well as ought-ascription. And according to proponents such as Saborido and Moreno the ought-ascriptions thus performed are objective because they represent a form of ‘non-observer-dependent normativity’.

Hegel and the organisational account of the organism. In recent years proponents of the organisational account have looked to history in various ways in attempt to locate the origins of their view which has led to the identification of a series of episodes in what advocates call the ‘prestigious history in philosophy of science and theoretical biology’ as Mossio and Bich describe it in which organisation was examined in an effort to naturalize normativity and the one to figure most frequently in these genealogical reconstructions is Immanuel Kant who is frequently given the title of its founder of founding father. The standard narrative that appears in most writing by proponents of the organisational account presents a lineage of organisational thinkers that usually starts with Kant and includes Claude Bernard, some figures in the cybernetics tradition, and Jean Piaget, the first to explicitly formulate the notion of closure, and then continues through the work of Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela and Hans Jonas and their insights on biological autonomy, and the theories developed by Robert Rosen and Stuart Kaufmann, who are considered the main representatives of the organisational account.

As a matter of fact Kant’s notion of Selbstzweck and related views on self-organisation have attracted quite a bit of attention from both philosophers of biology and historians (H. Ginsborg, J. Kreines, P. McLaughlin, S. Kauffman). The notion of organisation and reconstructions of how organism emerged as a central notion in modern biological accounts of life has an intriguing history but for now my concern is with how Hegel similarly takes up and develops some key organisational account insights and the question to be asked is whether or not the organisational account can assist in shedding some light upon Hegel’s views and the type of organisational position we can attribute to him.

Several of the organisational account views given above can assist in interpreting important issues in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ thereby illuminating some critcal features that Hegel attributes to organisms, the organisational account especially allows us to observe Hegel as isolating a level of normativity that precedes his discussion of Gattung, that is, genus or species, which we can see through some of the key features of Hegel’s account of organisms and a demonstration of how they can be illuminated by organisational account insights. To begin with the notion of process plays a vital role in Hegel’s understanding of biological phenomena, indeed he defines living beings as basically processual in nature claiming that organisms are essentially process and the organism is the infinite self-stimulating and self-sustaining process.

‘The chemical process itself is so constituted however, that it posits as negated these immediate presuppositions forming the foundation of its externality and finitude. Within it, the properties of bodies appearing as the results of a particular stage are changed by the process from one stage to another, so that these conditions are reduced to products. In general therefore, the chemical process posits the relativity of the immediate substances and properties. Corporality which subsists as being indifferent is posited as a mere moment of the individuality therefore, and the Notion is posited in the reality which corresponds to it. This concrete unity with self, which brings itself forth from the particularization of the different corporealities into a whole, and by its activity negates the one-sided form of its self-relatedness and leads the moments of the Notion back into unity while dividing and particularizing itself into them, is the organism. The organism is therefore the infinite self-stimulating and self-sustaining process’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel seems to embrace a basic processual ontology of the organism. In his early Jena fragments on life he already defines the basic ontology of the organism as processual and discusses the living individual as constituted by an absolute organic process, the process of the individual, (absoluter organischer Proceß der Proceß des Individuums). And he adds that this process should be understood as a form of self-differentiation, that is, as a process in which the organism organizes itself into various parts. Although this process only becomes explicit and fully developed in what Hegel considers the highest organismal form, the animal organism, he identifies differentiation as a mark of life and property that can be found in all forms of living organisation, including ‘lower’ forms such as plants which organize themselves into mutually distinct parts.

‘The subjectivity by which organic being has singularity develops into an objective organism in the shape of a body, which articulates itself into mutually distinct parts. In the plant, which is merely subjective animation in its primary immediacy, the objective organism and its subjectivity are still immediately identical. Consequently, the process whereby vegetable subjectivity articulates and sustains itself, is one in which it comes forth from itself, and falls apart into several individuals. The singleness of the whole individual is simply the basis of these, rather than a subjective unity of members; the part-bud, branch, and so on, is also the whole plant. A further consequence is that the differentiation of the organic parts is merely a superficial metamorphosis, and that one part can easily assume the function of the other’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Geological organisms are only metaphorical organisms lacking organic existence.

‘In the system of the heavenly bodies however, all particular moments of the Notion exist freely for themselves as independent bodies which have not yet returned into the unity of the Notion. The first organism was the solar system; it was merely implicitly organic however, it was not yet an organic existence. The gigantic members of which it is composed are independent formations, and it is only their motion which constitutes the ideality of their independence. The solar system is merely a mechanical organism. Living existence posits all particularity as appearance however, and so holds these gigantic members within a unity’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

On organisational differentiation as a marker of the organism all organic being differentiates itself within itself, and maintains the unity of multiplicity.

‘It is in this way that the process of formation, and of the reproduction of the single individual, coincides with the process of the genus, and is a perennial production of new individuals. The individualized universality of the subjective unit of individuality does not separate itself from the real nature of particularization, but is merely submerged within it. As the plant is not yet a self-subsistent subjectivity distinct from its implicit organism (§ 342), it is unable to determine its place freely and so move from its site. What is more, it is not self-subsistent in the face of the physical particularization and individualization of its implicit organism, so that its nutrition is a continuous flow, not an intermittent intussusception, and it relates itself to the universal elements, not to individualized inorganic being. It is even less capable of animal warmth and sensibility, for its members are themselves individuals, and tend to be mere parts, and it is not the process which leads them back into a simple negative unity’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

For Hegel self-differentiation in living beings must ultimately be understood as ontologically derivative and dependent on process and referring to the material parts of a system he observes that their existence is the process in itself they do not exist outside of it.

‘The deficiency in this display of organic being, and in immediate organic being in general, consists in the Notion’s still being immediate. Here the Notion is merely internal fulfillment within the element of indifference, but its moments are physical realities which are not intro-reflected, and which do not form a unity in the face of this indifference. As the universal fulfillment pervades these moments however, it returns into self; their indifference is the one-sided moment which draws itself together into negativity as an individual. Substance divides itself into absolute opposites, not only into differences. Each of these is a totality, for it is intro-reflected, indifferent to the other, and essentially a unit. This unity is not only essential however, for the reality of these opposites is itself this oneness or negativity i.e. their existence in itself constitutes the process’.

-’Philosophy of Nature’


Alternative — mass control

Diversification and guilt

Jealousy prejudice

The courage to be themselves…

Often hated

Aims to make individual freedom

Spiritual bounds mental shackles

To heal the wound of separation

To question the unquestioning of the mind

Offers an alternative to mass control

The center of the information war


We have progressed

Physically as far as we can go…

Next stage mental

The process is you

Justification decentralized by conditioned guilt

Fear responses

RealizeFor individuals who wish to acquire

Sigil to the will

Give the mind before which is a function of the self to react

And this focusing releases a tremendous energy

Skinny Puppy: The Process:


And furthermore Hegel emphasises that such parts change and that some can appear and vanish in different time scales, the members are destroyed as well as engendered.

‘Nevertheless, in so far as the singular is already presupposed here, it links its own universality, which is the genus, to particularized universality. This latter is one extreme, and becomes absolute particularity and singularity by being taken up into the absolute genus. Here we have the particular parturition of the moment of individuality. This is the becoming of the individuality which enters into the process as already in being. Nothing emerges from the process but what is already there. It is the process of self-digestion, the division of its members, and the formation of its moments. The members are destroyed as well as engendered, and the soul is the simple being which persists within this general activity. In this process the individual is able to break away from the soul by means of the genus. It is precisely the process within the genus which makes it into a unified being which has negativity within it, and which is therefore opposed to the genus as the universal’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

For Hegel as for Kant self-differentiation in the living organism is not reducible to mere material complexity but rather it corresponds to a form of what the organisational account terms the organisational differentiation and these differentiated parts are characterized primarily in terms of their roles in the process, not by their material compositions or topologies. These four features help define Hegel’s conception of the notion of organisation and provide a clearer understanding of his contention that organisation is the hallmark of the living being. ‘This organic unity and perfect organisation is the animal’, he says.

How does Hegel specify the roles involved in such animal organisation? The organisational account together with Kantian insights can be drawn from here directing our attention to some key elements of Hegel’s account. The first is that when Hegel examines the internal differentiation of an organism he distinguishes between two kinds of items: ‘the internal has means and has material … these means are … the organs, the members’. Hegel considers the individuation of differentiated parts a matter not of epistemic observation so much as of ontological individuation, ‘the differentiation embodied in those organs is not one that pertains just to external reflection; such organs are rather the vital point of animal individuality’.

His description refers to parts of systems that act upon certain material and identifies the products of such activity as in turn involved in other processes and in his 1828 ‘Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature’ he exemplifies the point thus: ‘Every organ secretes and what is secreted is taken up from other organs, the other organs nourish themselves from the secretions, every organ is Zweck und Mittel… so is the life of an organ in itself this activity. … Through this process every organ is maintained as a member of the whole’. This distinction is not necessarily recognizing some functionally organized processes that Hegel calls Material acted upon by an element that plays a role analogous to that of a constraint, what he calls Mittel.

The interdependence of such Mittels and the structure of Hegel’s account of self-maintenance. The place of Mittels within Hegel’s description of the organism as it is presented in his ‘Philosophy of Nature’: Hegel’s general account of the animal organism distinguishes between three of its dimensions, its shape process or process of formation which corresponds to the internal or physiological structure of the organism, its process of assimilation which accounts for the organism’s relation with its environment or its interactive openness, and its genus process (Gattungsprocess) which involves reproduction in terms of the preservation of a particular species. Hegel’s discussion of organisationally closed inner structures and components of living systems mainly takes place in relation to the first dimension, shape (Gestalt).

‘Animation is a process, and to the same extent as it is singleness, this process has to explicate itself into the triad of processes. As it accords with the simple nature of vegetativeness itself, the inner process of the plant’s relation to itself is at the same time a relation to externality, and an externalization. One side of this process is its substantiality, it is an immediate transformation, partly of the nutritive infIuxions into the specific nature of the plant species, and partly of the internally transformed fluidity of the vital sap into formations. The other side of the process is its self-mediation. This begins (a) with the simultaneously outward direction of the diremption into root and leaf, and with the inner abstract diremption of the general cellular tissue into wood-fibre and life-vessels. The wood-fibre also relates itself externally, and the life-vessels contain the internal circulation. The self-mediating preservation which occurs here is (b) growth as a production of the new formations. It is diremption into abstract self-relation, into the induration of wood (which reaches petrifaction in tabashir and suchlike formations) and of other parts, and into the permanent foliaceousness of the bark. © The gathering of self-preservation into unity is not unification of the individual with itself, but the production of a new plant-individual, the bud’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

For Hegel, parts are organized in three anatomically distinct but integrated sub-systems, each of which has material components which Hegel calls the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the digestive system.

‘These three moments of the Notion are (b) not merely implicitly concrete elements, for they have their reality in three systems, i.e. the nervous system, the system of the blood, and the digestive system. As totality, each of these systems differentiates itself internally in accordance with the same Notional determinations. (i) Thus the system of sensibility determines itself into: (a) The extreme of abstract self-relation, which is at the same time a transition into immediacy, into inorganic being and absence of sensation. This remains an incomplete transition however, and it constitutes the osseous system, which encloses the entrails. Outwardly this system is the firmness protecting the entrails from without. (b) The moment of irritability, i.e. the cerebral system and its further diffusion in the nerves, which also have an inner and outer reference as nerves of sensation and motion. © The system pertaining to reproduction, which contains the sympathetic nerves together with the ganglia, and in which there is merely a subdued, indeterminate and involuntary sentience. (ii) Irritability is stimulation by an other, and the reaction of self-preservation in the face of this; conversely and to an equal extent, it is active self-preservation, and in this it submits itself to another. Its system consists of: (a) Muscle in general, which is abstract (sensible) irritability, and the simple conversion of receptivity into reaction. As a division of immediate self-relatedness, the muscle finds an outer hold on the skeleton, differentiating itself initially into extensor and flexor, and subsequently into the further special systems of the extremities. (b) Pulsation, which is inward activity, or irritability differentiated for itself in the face of another, and concretely self-related and contained. Pulsation is living self-movement, the material of which can only be a fluid, or living blood. This movement can only be circulatory, and initially specified into particularity in accordance with origin, it is in itself a circulation which is duplicated and at the same time orientated outwards. As such, it constitutes the pulmonary and portal systems, in the first of which the blood animates itself within itself, and in the second of which it kindles itself against another. © The irritable self-coalescing totality, by which puIsation constitutes the circulation which returns into itself from its centre in the heart, through the differentiation of arteries and veins. It is precisely as such that this circulation is an immanent process, in which there is a general supply of blood for the reproduction of the other members, and from which these members draw their nourishment. (iii) As a system of glands, together with skin and cellular tissue, the digestive system is immediate and vegetative reproduction. In the intestinal system proper however, it is a mediating reproduction’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘La dolce attesa’, (‘The sweet wait’), Robert Fontana, (1844–1907)

The key to understanding the functional nature of the components of these systems is their particular kind of dependence on each other and Hegel draws upon Kant’s insights. In Hegel’s formulation the logical relation among parts is described using the vocabulary of purpose: all members are reciprocally momentary means as much as momentary purposes.

‘The immediate Idea is life. The Concept is realised as soul, in a body. The soul is the immediate self-relating universality of the body’s externality; it is equally the particularising of the body, so that the body expresses no distinctions in itself other than the determinations of the Concept; and finally it is singularity as infinite negativity: the dialectic of the body’s scattered objectivity, which is led back into subjectivity from the semblance of independent subsistence. [This happens] in such a way that all of the body’s members are reciprocally both means and purposes for each other from moment to moment, and that life, while it is the initial particularising of the members, becomes its own result as the negative unity that is for-itself, and in the dialectic of corporeity it con-eludes itself only with itself.-Thus, life is essentially living being,b and in its immediacy it is This Singular living being. In this sphere, the determination of finitude is that, because of the immediacy of the Idea, soul and body are separable; this constitutes the mortality of what is alive. But it is only insofar as it is dead that these two sides of the Idea are diverse components’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Hegel says the organism ‘belongs, as universal concept to the logical treatment’ (‘gehört als allgemeiner Begriff in die logische Betrachtung’). Hegel’s examples in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ assist in shedding light on this view and demonstrate that something like a relation of causal dependence is central to what Hegel calls the ‘internal activity (inner Tätigkeit)’ of a living system in the sense that the effects of some organs enable the occurrence of some processes upon which other organs (Mittels) can then act. Organisms thereby seem to exhibit a property similar to a closure of constraints.

In his 1821/22 Lectures, Hegel writes: ‘Every member, every part of organism maintains itself, and it does so at the expense of the others, so that it takes from other parts of the organism, what it needs for itself’. In a manner analogous to the organisational account the functional nature of the items involved is defined not only in terms of their mutual dependence but also in terms of their contribution to the self-maintenance of the organism as a whole and Hegel stresses that the various systems and their parts constituting the organism are defined in terms of their capacities to jointly contribute to the general self-maintenance of the organism and the point is made by stating that the systems of sensibility and irritability together with their material components and structures are subordinate to those of reproduction with ‘reproduction’ in this context meaning ‘regeneration’ or self-maintenance (Selbsterhaltung). ‘Sensibility, Irritability and reproduction. The first two are abstract moments, the last one is the infinite combination (unendiches Zusammenfassen) of both’.

So a particular causal regime is distinctive of organisms whose parts depend upon each other in a way that constrains various processes or materials in order to enable self-maintenance. And so organic being is actual being which is self-maintaining, and which runs through the process in its own self. These parts bring forth the whole.

‘This crystal of life, this inanimate organism of the Earth, which has its Notion in the sidereal connection outside it, 30 but has its own peculiar process pre-supposed as its past, is the immediate subject of the meteorological process. As the implicit being of the totality of life, this inanimate organism is no longer fertilized by this process into individual formation (see §287), but into animation. The land, and to a greater extent the sea, are therefore the real possibility of life, and at every point they are perpetually breaking out into punctiform and ephemeral animation. The land breeds lichens and infusoria, the sea immeasurable multitudes of phosphorescent points of life. It is precisely because the generatio aequivoca has this objective organism external to it however, that it is confined to the organization of these points; it does not develop within itself into determinate members, nor does it reproduce itself (ex ovo)’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Looking at the detailed structure of self-maintenance in this way enables us to articulate what Hegel means by his references to organisms creating themselves or producing themselves in a way that seems less troublesome than a causa sui model of self-creation or a vital force model but Hegel does not understand organisations merely in terms of operational closure, that is, as a circular interaction or coupling among organs that each perform their own activities, but rather as a form of mutual generative dependence between components as Bich would put it and the activity of some components is framed as a condition for the generation of others and this use of the language of conditions is borrowed directly from the scientific discussions of his time and points toward a deeper interdependence among constraints. The language of conditions of existence was used extensively by George Cuvier one of Hegel’s inspirations to define the specific form of organisation in animals.

Such a paradigm may be located in Hegel and so the Hegelian idea of functionality and normativity comes into view resonating with the spirit of the organisational account and in the organisational account functional attribution can be performed on parts that are members of an organized closed system, that is to say, are dependent upon other constraints in a closed network and because their performance is vital to the self-maintenance of the system one can recognize this performance as the proper function of the element or what the item ought to do.

The notion of conditions for self-maintenance plays an significant role in the organisational account insofar as it grounds both functional attribution and its normative import, in the absence of a given performance the system would collapse so performance is what the element or constraint ought to do or to put it another way this performance constitutes a proper function. Proponents of the organisational account contend that this view ‘generates a criterion for determining what norms the system is supposed to follow: the system must behave in a specific way, otherwise it would cease to exist’ as Mossio and Bich explain. And as Moreno & Mossio elaborate:

‘The closure of biological organisation provides the relevant grounding in which the concept of function can be adequately naturalised. In particular, it generates the norms that the traits subject to closure must fulfill in order to be functional: as we claimed, the organisational approach identifies these norms as the conditions under which the whole organisation…, and consequently each of its constituents, can exist. Thus, functional traits are all those whose causal effects contribute to the maintenance of the whole organisation’.

- ‘Biological Autonomy: A Philosophical and Theoretical Enquiry’

They underscore that this definition is embedded in a natural-scientific account of living beings and the upshot for a theory of normativity is that already at this level it is possible to individuate a basic form of functionality and normativity that is taken to be natural and that can be objectively identified without yet taking into account either the organism’s interaction with the environment or its reproduction as a member of a species. And if Hegel can be read as sharing some key commitments with this theory then his account of natural normativity in animal organisms might not prima facie involve reference to the notion of species or Gattung which in fact is addressed in a separate stage of his analysis. This type of normativity precedes and is independent from that of the Gattung because it does not depend ‘on the contribution that that feature makes to the survival and reproduction of the species’ as N. Mills explains. (‘Hegel on the Normativity of Animal Life’). Rather it depends upon the contribution that a certain feature makes to a closed organisation, that is, to the self-maintenance of the organism and in fact we can observe this line of thought running through the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and the Lectures which suggests a distinct Hegelian account of norms in nature.

This part of Hegel’s account of the organisational level of normativity is not as some commentators including Mills argue ‘historical’ it is also more fundamental than various other forms of normative activity in the organism and both Hegel’s theory and current organisational account views raise further questions concerning how far can one go with this attribution of normativity to organized systems based on the notion of organisational closure and conditions of existence and concerning what kinds of phenomena can this sort of view capture and which can it not for there are problems here.

Hegel’s focus on organisation and the normativity tied to it is fundamental to his thought and more prominent than his insistence on the notion of species but there are criticisms to be made of the organisational account regarding the limited scope for the attribution of functionality and normativity. The first question concerns the scope of normative attributions within this framework. To what kinds of things can we attribute functionality and normativity? Defining the normativity and functionality of an item in terms of its contribution to an organisationally closed system under the condition that without such a contribution the system would cease to exist appears to restrict the set of things that can have functions and ought to work in a certain manner and this in turn precludes ascribing functionality to other things usually thought of as having a function.

As a matter of fact there are many parts of an organism that do not seem to contribute to self-maintenance as necessary conditions but which we nonetheless take to be functional. An animal organism, like the human one, cannot self-maintain without a heart pumping blood, this is the standard example used in the organisational account, but it can exist without eyes or ears. However according to the organisational account if eyes are not essential to self-maintenance or part of an organisationally closed system we are not in a position to say that they have a function or ought to work in a certain way. This seems counterintuitive and in response the organisational account brings in the notion of basic regimes of self-maintenance to refer to the minimal conditions for a system to exist and this enables it to distinguish between primary and secondary functions whereby the former are essential constraints whereas the latter are tied to more complex forms of organisation.

Does such an explanation suffice? And furthermore on the face of it, it counters the fact that some parts of the system are maintained even if they do not perform any activity, ‘my body would keep maintaining my ears even if they stopped performing any activity (for instance, in deaf people)’ explains M. Artiga. Attribution of functionality to such elements therefore may be in need of some additional conceptual resources such as reference to some notion of species in terms that can account not only for the presence of such parts but also for their proper functions, how they ought to operate. But Hegel does not appeal to the notion of species or to species-specific considerations to account for these aspects. When he discusses the functionality of some part of an organism, he refers to what he calls the universal type of the animal framing this type as defining the normativity and functionality of existing bodily parts, in many animals, there are rudiments of organs which belong only to the universal type.

‘The universal type of the animal determined by the Notion, lies at the basis of the various forms and orders of animals. This type is exhibited by nature partly in the various stages of its development from the simplest organization to the most perfect, in which nature is the instrument of spirit, and partly in the various circumstances and conditions of elemental nature. Developed into singularity, the animal species distinguishes itself from others both in itself and by means of itself, and has being-for-self through the negation of that from which it has distinguished itself. In this hostile relation to others, in which they are reduced to inorganic nature, violent death constitutes the natural fate of individuals’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘In many animals, there are rudiments of organs which belong only to the universal type, not to the particularity s of these creatures, and which have not yet developed, because they are not needed by the animal’s particularity. What is more, they can be understood only by means of higher organisms, not by means of these lower organisms. For example, Reptiles, Snakes and Fish will be found to have the rudiments of feet, which are quite superfluous; similarly, the Whale has teeth which are not developed, and which, as they are merely rudimentary and hidden in its jaw-bones, serve no purpose. On the other hand, man has many features which are only necessary in lower animals; he has in his neck the so-called thyroid gland for example, the function of which, as it is actually obliterated and defunct, cannot be discovered; in the pre-natal foetus however, and still more in inferior species of animals, this gland is an active organ’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘And furthermore it is in and from this type that the significance of the undeveloped organism may first be ascertained and assessed. The first process is that of the self-relating, self-embodying organism, which contains its other. The second process is directed against inorganic nature however, against the otherness of its implicit being, and is the basic division and active Notion of living existence. The third process is higher, for it is the process of singularity and individuality, or of the individual opposed to itself as the genus with which it is implicitly identical. These processes are developed in the fullest and clearest way in the human organism, which is the perfect animal. In general therefore, a universal type is present in this supreme organism, and it is in and from this type that the significance of the undeveloped organism may first be ascertained and assessed’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

This universal type however is not defined in terms of some Aristotelian nature but rather as a particular form of organisation.

Cross-generational traits. A related issue pertains to one specific sub-class of elements whose effects do not seem to play any role in the self-maintenance of individual systems: so-called cross-generational traits. Ruth Millikan’s paradigmatic example of sperm is the most cited one in this context, sperm does not contribute to the self-maintenance of the organism it belongs to, but we do think it has a function or we might want to say that it does and can we ground such an attribution in an organisational perspective? Or should we accept rather a dividing account whereby the notion of function for these cases gets defined in a different way?

‘Kicked Out’, 1883, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Yaroshenko

The organisational account is not amenable to such a shift and answers the challenge by stating that cross-generational traits can be well accounted for by the existing notion of organisation. Organisational account theorists defend the idea of using ‘the very same criterion of individuation of functional traits both for intra-generation and cross-generation ones’ as Mossio and Saborido state it, and what changes, they contend, is the relevant system under consideration, in the case of cross-generational traits the system in question is not the individual organism but rather a broader one that includes both the reproduced and the reproducer. As a matter of fact the two individuals and the relation between them can be seen as constituting a particular kind of unitary, organisationally closed system involving ‘a chain of constraint dependences that unfolds in time beyond the boundaries of a single generation’ in Mossio and Saborido words and according to this view a succession of organized beings can be described ‘as a continuous chain of organized systems connected through constraint dependencies’ explain Mossio & Pontarotti. The organisational account’s move thereby constitutes an extension of the notion of organisation to encompass multiple organized systems unfolding in time which are seen as forming a higher-order, ‘cross-generational organisation’ and if such an organisation is closed then we have cross-generational closure and hence functionality and in this manner traits that do not contribute on the face of it to the intra-generational organisation and self-maintenance of an individual system such as ears and sperm can be seen as contributing to the wider, cross-generational organisation a system that includes offspring.

A viewpoint that needs qualification as questions arise concerning how to conceptually distinguish among kinds of organisation, namely, what differentiates an intra-generational organized system from a cross-generational one, and how to establish the relevant time scale to identify a cross-generational organisation, the number of generations required. Organisational account theorists insist that a cross-generational organisation ‘continuously sets the conditions enabling its own reestablishment’ adding that ‘because of the enduring influence on its own conditions of existence, it is legitimate to claim … that a particular biological organisation never ceases to exist’. This kind of structure can be of use in interpreting Hegel’s logical notion of temporality involved into cross-generation.

The notion of malfunction has to be addressed given the difficulty it poses for the organisational account. By defining function in terms of an actual contribution to an individual regime of self-maintenance the organisational account has difficulty distinguishing malfunctioning from not having a function at all or to put it another way distinguishing having a function from performing that function and this is due to its framework suggesting that if an item stops performing its proper activity we should strictly speaking say that it no longer has a function, not that it is malfunctioning. In this context the definition of an appropriate contribution to the system becomes highly problematic and the need for further theoretical elaboration reappears. To this objection organisational account theorists respond by employing the notion of various configurations or regimes of self-maintenance, they empathise that a system is capable of adopting various regimes according to different demands, and in each of these regimes the constraints can operate differently …

To cite Mossio, Saborido and Moreno:

‘Not every functional trait contributes to all possible regimes of self-maintenance of a given class, which means that an individual system can sometimes compensate for the breakdown of a component by shifting to a different regime of self-maintenance, in which the defective trait is no longer required. In contrast, some functional traits are indispensable, in that they are required for all regimes of self-maintenance that a member of a class could possibly adopt’.

- ‘An organisational account of biological functions.’

‘Not every breakdown of a specific regime of self-maintenance will inevitably lead to the collapse of the system, and some biological traits may make a contribution to the maintenance of a self-maintaining organisation, even when these effects do not fulfill the functional presuppositions of the rest of the components’.

- ‘Biological Autonomy: A Philosophical and Theoretical Enquiry’

… this is called adaptivity and the point is that the process of adaptation is made possible by the fact that a trait can work with a specific range of variations, ascriptions of normativity depend upon this range such that when a trait works outside of the range in a way that inhibits or hinders adaptivity it can be said to be malfunctioning. ‘A malfunctional trait is a structure unable to display the range of functional processes that other functional traits of the system presuppose, and, as a result, the system acts within a range of viability that is narrower than the range of viability that the system’s organisation presupposes’ explain Saborido and Moreno.

This idea of various regimes of self-maintenance is not without its problems but it assists in understanding Hegel who also incorporates a notion of adaptivity in his theory. So what is Hegel’s organisational response to these criticisms and what is the resulting view of norms? What is the Hegelian take on norms and organisation? As a matter of fact Hegel’s reply places the notion of organisation at its core. First, he states that an organism is constituted by a multiplicity of systems and uses this idea to address the problem of malfunctioning then he refers to the notion of the universal type of the animal.

‘Итальянка, ожидающая ребенка’ (‘Italian woman expecting a baby’), Karl Bryullov, (1799–1852)

In other words Hegel’s response to the problem of malfunctioning invokes the central role played by his definition of the organism as a system of systems, in Hegel’s perspective it is one of these sub-systems that can be said to be malfunctioning not their single parts and this occurs when the sub-system in question operates in a way that fails to contribute to the maintenance of the whole organism or perhaps even hinders such maintenance. Here is Hegel’s definition:

‘In the two relationships considered above, the self-mediation of the genus with itself is the process of its diremption into individuals and the sublation of its differences. However, as the genus also (§ 357) assumes the shape of an inorganic nature which is opposed to the individual, it brings forth its existence within it in an abstract and negative manner. The determinate being of the individual organism is therefore involved in a relationship of externality, and while the organism preserves itself by returning into itself in its genus, it may also, and with equal facility, fail to correspond to it (§ 366).-The organism is in a diseased state when one of its systems or organs is stimulated into conflict with the inorganic potency of the organism. Through this conflict, the system or organ establishes itself in isolation, and by persisting in its particular activity in opposition to the activity of the whole, obstructs the fluidity of this activity, as well as the process by which it pervades all the moments of the whole’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The notion of regime clarifies this point. In Hegel’s account malfunction is understood as a particular configuration not of a single organ but rather of a particular sub-system such that the sub-system does not contribute to or even obstructs the global self-maintenance of the organism. This malfunctioning in turn alters the succession of functions.

‘Health can only be restored by a succession of activities, but although this disruption is harmful to it, it does not drive it out of the organism. Health consists of the whole process, and its abnormality is not implicit in or relative to the form of disease or the system; it is relative only to this succession. This motion now constitutes fever. Consequently, fever is disease in its purity, or rather the ailing individual organism, freeing itself from its specific disease in the same way as the healthy organism frees itself from its specific processes. As fever constitutes the pure life of the diseased organism therefore, it is actually only when fever is present that the diagnosis of a distinct disease becomes possible. As fever is both the constitution and fluidification of this succession of functions, the disease is simultaneously sublated by it, i.e. digested by its motion. This sublation constitutes an interior circulation opposed to the inorganic nature of the organism, a digestion of medicines. Consequently, although fever is certainly a morbid state and a disease, it is also the means by which the organism cures itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

This insight on the face of it maintains the notion of organisational closure as a basic feature of the organism and enables us to distinguish malfunctioning, when a member is part of an system that does not contribute to general self-maintenance, from being not functional, when the item is not part of an organisationally closed system in the first place. Towards this end Hegel introduces the idea of a right kind of interdependence among sub-systems that is distinguishable from a wrong kind that obstructs the general self-maintenance of the organism. ‘Illness is basically the isolation of a system, of a mode of activity’. Whatever the advantages of this view in solving the issue of malfunctioning Hegel’s approach to malfunction needs to be differentiated from an account of defectiveness in terms of the correspondence of an item to a particular Gattung or species understood in an essentialist fashion and as a matter of fact his definition of malfunctioning especially in the paragraphs regarding sickness does not appeal to the notion of species but rather centres upon the contribution of a particular system to the general self-maintenance of organisms in terms of functional closure.

‘The characteristic feature of disease is that the identity of the whole organic process1 exhibits itself as the successive course of the vital motion, i.e. as fever. It therefore exhibits itself through sensibility, irritability and reproduction, which are the distinct moments of this course. As a course which is inherent in the totality of the organism however, and which is opposed to the isolated activity, fever constitutes to an equal extent, the organism’s incipient inclination towards recovery’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

As he states in the 1819–1820 Lectures, when a particular function works against the general maintenance of the organism, this is sickness. ‘A system goes outside too much in his activity, so is it sickness’. (Tritt den System so sehr in Tätigkeit für sich heraus so ist Krankheit da).As a part of his definition of the right kind of functionality, Hegel introduces the notion of the universal type of the animal as the standard against which we can normatively assess not only sickness but also various forms of animality in nature from the simplest to the most perfect, the notion, however, is defined once more in terms of a particular kind of organization.

‘The universal type of the animal determined by the Notion, lies at the basis of the various forms and orders of animals. This type is exhibited by nature partly in the various stages of its development from the simplest organization to the most perfect, in which nature is the instrument of spirit, and partly in the various circumstances and conditions of elemental nature. Developed into singularity, the animal species distinguishes itself from others both in itself and by means of itself, and has being-for-self through the negation of that from which it has distinguished itself. In this hostile relation to others, in which they are reduced to inorganic nature, violent death constitutes the natural fate of individuals’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Again the notion of organisation appears to be fundamental so much so that for Hegel the universal type of the animal should guide the inquiry of the natural scientist. Sometimes Gattung or species appears to be defined in terms of this notion.

‘As the different sexes constitute the sex-drive as differentials, there must be a difference in their formation; their mutual determinateness must exist as posited through the Notion. The implicitness of both sides is not merely neutral, as it is in chemism however, for on account of the original identity of their formation, the same type underlies both the male and female genitals. The difference is however, that in one or the other of these genitals, one or the other part is essential; in the female this is necessarily the undifferentiated element, while in the male it is the sundered element of opposition’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel also considers cross-generational relations among individuals in terms of Gattung but whether Hegel’s notion of Gattung can be completely spelled out in terms of a higher-order cross-generational organisation that is as a continuous organized chain of reproducing and reproducing beings is uncertain. Generally speaking the relative absence of Gattung in the discussion of normativity in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and the little time Hegel spends on it in the text and in his Lectures as well as in the Logic is notable when compared to his discussion of organisational aspects for on occasion he seems to consider the distinctions among species in the animal realm to be primarily an empirical matter. In the Logic he states that it is not in the concept of animal in general that ‘one can find the determinations according to which animal in general is divided into mammal, bird, etc., and these classes are then divided into further genera. Such determinations are taken from elsewhere, from empirical intuition; they come to those so-called concepts from without’.

‘The abandoned woman’, 1852, Octave Tassaert

Hegel not only maintains that classification of the animal realm into various species will never be complete but sometimes as in this passage appears to go so far as to suggest that the content of the notion of species is largely grounded in contingent empirical facts. What does the idea of Gattung add to his account of the animal organism? The presence of some elements or traits in animal life cannot be accounted for in terms of organisational closure and instead require a different level of description that involves the relation between a specimen and the species to which it belongs. But the notion of species is not the central concept in Hegel’s understanding of life and its normativity and Hegel attributes organisation and the kind of normativity it entails a more basic role in his account. Klaus Brinkmann says that Hegel’s entire account of organism ‘seems to agree well with what we would expect in a modern biology course book’ albeit many of Hegel’s views on animal organism sound strange to many and there is a conceptual centre animating the Hegelian account of organism that is of interest. Hegel’s view assigns a constitutive role to the notion of organization and can be identified as belonging to the philosophical tradition that make organisation a crucial property of the living and Hegel’s views are both historically and conceptually tied to some views in current theoretical biology in particular to the organisational account which endeavours to conceive of organisms as organisationally closed systems that assimilate external material in order to fuel their metabolic processes and structures of self-maintenance.

Such contemporary views help shed some light on particular passages in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and account for some normative properties that characterize a particular sort of biological organisation, as a matter of fact reference to the organisational account can guide us to certain critical points in Hegel and assist us in seeing that the emphasis in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ on organisation as a constitutive mark of life is fundamental to Hegel’s account of biological normativity including his views on malfunctioning and sickness. If the organisational account proves sufficiently explanatory in this regard then it might represent a strategy for isolating a particular kind of normativity involved in contemporary natural scientific discourse that is Hegelian in spirit, a view one could build upon to construct a Hegelian account of other forms of normativity, such as practical one highlighted by Ikäheimo .

Such an account may enfeeble Sellars’ naturalistic thesis that the world can ‘in principle, be described without using the term ‘ought’ or any other prescriptive expression’ assist in the move towards a perspective in which a particular kind of normativity is involved in at least some sorts of biological complexity as demonstrated by explanatory frameworks like the organisational account while on the other hand taking heed of Hegel can allow us to grapple with and improve some of the disputes surrounding the organizational accounts by raising some intriguing challenges to these views for example by pointing to the relevance of the idea of Gattung or species, and in this manner the organisational account may provide helpful resources for bringing such Hegelian insights to bear upon contemporary discussions on nature and norms.

‘The abandoned woman’, 1852, Octave Tassaert


Ah, nearing the finishing line for the philosopher of nature for which I thank my muse and best friend ❤️and when all is said and done:

… If I could make a wish I think I’d pass

Can’t think of anythin’ I need

No cigarettes, no sleep, no light, no sound

Nothing to eat, no books to read

… Making love with you

Has left me peaceful, warm, and tired

What more could I ask

There’s nothing left to be desired

Peace came upon me and it leaves me weak

So sleep, silent angel

Go to sleep

… Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe

And to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

Yes, to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

… Peace came upon me

And it leaves me weak So sleep, silent angel Go to sleep

… Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe

And to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

Yes, to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

… Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe

And to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

Yes, to love you

All I need is the air that I breathe

And to love you

The Hollies — ‘The Air That I Breathe’:-

Coming up next:

Some ethical implications.

It may stop but it never ends.



David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.