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

David Proud
75 min readJan 29, 2024

‘A Woman’s Life and Love’ — 8.

‘Now thou hast given me, for the first time, pain’

by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838)

Now thou hast given me, for the first time, pain,

how it struck me.

Thou sleepst, thou hard, merciless man,

the sleep of death.

The abandoned one gazes straight ahead,

the world is void.

I have loved and lived, I am

no longer living.

I withdraw silently into myself,

the veil falls,

there I have thee and my lost happiness,

O thou my world!

‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’

Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz gethan,

Der aber traf.

Du schläfst, du harter, unbarmherz’ger Mann,

Den Todesschlaf.

Es blicket die Verlass’ne vor sich hin,

Die Welt ist leer.

Geliebet hab’ ich und gelebt, ich bin

Nicht lebend mehr.

Ich zieh’ mich in mein Inn’res still zurück,

Der Schleier fällt,

Da hab’ ich dich und mein vergang’nes Glück,

Du meine Welt!

Schumann: Frauenliebe und -leben Op. 42–8. Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan:

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

As I said in the very first article in this series Hegel’s philosophy of nature can be used to inform present day discussions concerning our relation to nature, particular important in these times of climate change and so on, so I will spend the last two articles in this series on that topic. The ethical implications of an Hegelian philosophy of nature. Whatever forces nature develops and releases against man, cold, wild animals, water, fire, he knows means to counter them, and indeed he takes these means from nature and uses them against it, the cunning of his reason enables him to preserve and maintain himself by pitting other natural things against the powers of nature which threaten him, however, nature itself, in its universality, cannot be mastered in this manner, nor bent to the purposes of man.

‘In the practical relationship which man establishes between himself and nature, he treats it as something immediate and external; he is himself an immediately external, and therefore sensuous individual, who is nevertheless also justified in acting as purpose in the face of natural situations. Nature, viewed in the light of the relationship thus established, is seen from the finite teleological standpoint (§ 205) which is based on the correct supposition, that nature does not itself contain the absolute and ultimate end (§ 207–2II). Nevertheless, if this view is based on particular finite ends, it transforms them partly into presuppositions, the contingent content of which can, by itself, be insignificant and trivial. However, for itself, the teleological relationship demands a deeper manner of comprehension than that appropriate to external and finite relationships. It thus opens the way for the Notional point of view, which is universally immanent, and therefore also immanent within nature’.

‘In general, the practical approach to nature is determined by the self-seeking of appetite; need impels us to tum nature to our advantage, to exploit and harness and in short to annihilate it. Two further determinations are immediately apparent here. (a) The practical approach is only concerned with the individual products of nature, or with certain aspects of these products. Need and ingenuity have enabled man to discover endlessly varied ways of mastering and making use of nature. As Sophocles says:

παντοπόρος· ἄπορος ἐπ᾽ οὐδὲν ἔρχεται τὸ μέλλον·

Whatever powers nature develops and releases against him, cold, wild beasts, flood and fire, man knows how to counter them. He uses nature as a means to defeating nature; the nimbleness of his reason enables him to protect and preserve himself by pitting the objects of nature against the natural forces which threaten him and so nullifying them. Nature itself, as it is in its universality. cannot be mastered in this manner however. nor bent to the purposes of man. (b) The other aspect of the practical approach is that our purpose overrides the objects of nature. so that they become means. the determination of which lies not in themselves but in us. as for example when we turn food into blood. ( C) The outcome is our satisfaction and self-assertion. which had been disturbed by some kind of deficiency. The negation of myself, which is within me when I am hungry. is present at the same time as something to be consumed; I cancel this opposition by acting so as to make this other identical with myself; I sacrifice this something in order to restore my unity with myself.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

[Note: the interpretation of δεινός ranges from amazing, wondrous, tremendous, to frightening, (self-)disastrous, depending on what man does with the power bestowed upon him, and whether he puts his skills into good use. So, the first sentence (Sophocles, Antigone 332–333) can be translated as: ‘Nothing is as awesome as man(kind)’. The second verse (Sophocles, Antigone 360–361) makes better sense, when contextualized: παντοπόρος· ἄπορος ἐπ᾽ οὐδὲν ἔρχεται τὸ μέλλον· Man is resourceful and versatile; and as such, he faces (gazes, copes with) the future. Continuing to say that (verses 361–362): ‘Death (Hades) alone can man not escape…’

An Hegelian rationalist conception of nature has quite evident implications for how we think about our relation to the natural world, indeed Alison Stone, (1970- ), refers to ethical argument whereby in essence the ethical argument holds that Hegel’s rationalist conception of nature is more adequate than the rival scientific metaphysics because his rationalist conception uniquely allows us to recognize that all natural forms are intrinsically good precisely in virtue of the rationality that it deems them to contain. A principal advantage of an Hegelian metaphysics of nature is that unlike the metaphysics presupposed in empirical science, it is capable of re-enchanting the world construing it as suffused with value at all points.

Re-enchanting the world. A notion taken from Maximilian Karl Emil Weber, (1864–1920):

‘The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world. Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental’.

- ‘Science as a Vocation’

Hegel’s approach to nature connects with contemporary environmentalist concerns with its suggestion of the necessity for a philosophical re-description of nature that can recognize its intrinsic value and hence mould the foundation for a newly sustainable relationship of human beings to the natural environment. , so I begin with an anticipatory summary of its main stages. In the ‘Science of Logic’ Hegel presents an analysis of goodness as a general ontological structure that owes something to Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804).

‘Whether the predicate ought to be or not to be coupled with a certain subject appears at first only as problematic, and to this extent the indeterminateness falls on the side of the copula. The predicate has no determination to gain from this coupling, since it is already the objective, concrete universality. The problematic element falls, therefore, on the immediacy of the subject, which is thereby determined as a contingency. — But further, we must not for that reason abstract from the singularity of the subject; purified of such a singularity, the subject would be only a universal, whereas the predicate entails precisely this, that the concept of the subject ought to be posited with reference to its singularity. — We may not say, ‘the house or a house is good’, but, ‘so indeed it is in the way it is made’. — The problematic element in the subject itself constitutes its moment of contingency, the subjectivity of the fact it expresses as contrasted with its objective nature or its concept, its mere mode and manner or its constitution’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

‘The world that exists in and for itself is the determinate ground of the world of appearance and is this only in so far as, within it, it is the negative moment and hence the totality of the content determinations and their alterations that correspond to that world of appearance, yet constitutes at the same time its completely opposed side. The two worlds thus relate to each other in such a way that what in the world of appearance is positive, in the world existing in and for itself is negative, and, conversely, what is negative in the former is positive in the latter. The north pole in the world of appearance is the south pole in and for itself, and vice-versa; positive electricity is in itself negative, and so forth. What is evil in the world of appearance is in and for itself goodness and a piece of good luck’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

The point is made clearer elsewhere:

‘Now, self-consciousness holds that object to be good, and to possess intrinsic being, in which it finds itself; and that to be bad in which it finds the opposite of itself. Goodness is the likeness of objective reality to it, Badness, however, their unlikeness. At the same time, what for self-consciousness is good and bad, is intrinsically good and bad; for it is just that in which these two moments of intrinsic being, and of being for it, are the same. It is the actual Spirit of the objective realities, and the judgement is the proof of its power within them, a power which makes them into what they are in themselves. It is not how they are like or unlike directly in themselves, i.e. not abstract being in-itself or being-far-itself, that is their criterion and their truth, but how they are in the relation of Spirit to them: their likeness or unlikeness to Spirit. Spirit’s relation to them, in virtue of which they lose their initial status of objects and develop their own in-itself or intrinsic nature, becomes at the same time their reflection into themselves, through which they acquire an actual spiritual being; and what their Spirit is, comes to view. But just as their first immediate determination is distinct-from the relation of Spirit to them, so also will the third moment, their own proper Spirit; be distinct from the second. First of all, their second in-itself, which stems from the relation of Spirit to them, must, of course, turn out to be different from the immediate in-itself; for this mediation of Spirit rather acts on the immediate determinateness and makes it into something else’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Goodness attaches in the main to action from reason and thereby becomes derivatively a property of any entities or states of affairs that come to embody the effects of practical reason the implication being that natural and mental forms are good in proportion as they instantiate goodness as a general ontological pattern which is to say that natural and mental forms are good in proportion as they act from or embody the effects of action from reason, and this we can connect to the Hegelian substantive theory of natural development so then all natural forms instantiate goodness and furthermore they do this more and more well the further up they are in nature’s ontological hierarchy and on Hegel’s theory each natural form contains a conceptual element that strives to modify and manifest itself within the material element accompanying it. Accordingly the conceptual element in each natural form is acting in accordance with the requirements of rational necessity which is to say it is acting from reason and hence is in Hegelian terms good, and for as far as nature’s material dimension increasingly reflects its conceptual dimension this matter derivatively increases in goodness also and so an Hegelian rationalist metaphysics opens the way for the positing of ever increasing levels of intrinsic goodness throughout nature.

In environmental ethics the concept of intrinsic value is employed in numerous fashion. Non-instrumental value. And non-relational value deriving entirely from a thing’s intrinsic properties, a usage stemming from George Edward Moore (1873–1958). Objective value that actually exists and is not merely a function of valuations made by humans beings. Environmental ethicists principally wish to ground nature’s intrinsic value in the third sense as Hegel does in assigning non-relational goodness to the conceptual element in natural forms and relational goodness to their material element because this becomes good merely through the activity of the conceptual element upon it. Both types of natural goodness are intrinsic in the third sense, objective, so for Hegel’s all natural forms are intrinsically good whereby they are objectively valuable for their existence and character is good in themselves and not simply in relation to the feelings or projects of human beings.

The question remains as to why this ought to be regarded as rendering Hegelian metaphysics more adequate to nature’s being than science’s underlying view that nature is an intrinsically value-neutral domain and why consider Hegelian intrinsic goodness perspective as little more than a fabrication with consolatory intent. Well, perhaps sensible experience embodies a fundamental sense of nature’s intrinsic value that an adequate metaphysical conception of nature must articulate so in the end the Hegelian ethical argument interconnects with and depends upon the Hegelian phenomenological argument. The Hegelian rationalist conception of nature succeeds in living up to the phenomenological criterion of theoretical adequacy that he presents and this rationalist conception allows us to observe all nature’s component forms as intrinsically good and by no means implies that human beings have no responsibilities to preserve or respect natural entities though this requires looking into deeply to see that such an account of nature’s ethical status does not part from our putative fundamental sense of its intrinsic value that is considered to be incorporating a sense that natural entities in so far as they are intrinsically valuable are morally considerable in their own right. Hegel’s ethical argument establishes a theoretically adequate account of nature while articulating its intrinsic value and accommodate our sensibility, a perfect blending of theoretical adequacy criteria and rationalist metaphysics.

A rationalist conception of nature can be defended on ethical grounds given that intrinsic value is recognised throughout nature thereby allying the Hegelian philosophy of nature with many contemporary environmental who also desire to demonstrate that many features of the natural environment are good in themselves and not simply in virtue of their relation to human feelings, interests, or desires. The proposal that Hegel has common cause with contemporary environmentalism will probably surprise environmentalists and Hegel scholars alike. ‘The general tendency of Naturphilosophie [was] an attempt to transcend the attitude that nature existed only as an object of domination for man, an attitude that the philosophers of nature regarded as having become prevalent as a result of the enthusiasm generated by the natural sciences’, said William Leiss, (1939 — ). But it is true that Hegel has not been viewed as having taken part in the history of philosophical speculation on what kind of value natural entities have and whether and in what sense humans have moral obligations toward them. His mature system conveys the impression that his concern in nature was exclusively theoretical. And the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ when it gains the attention of scholars at all is treated as as purely theoretical. And even getting past this to reconstruct the text’s understated ethical themes it is still read as an endorsement of the narrowly anthropocentric view that natural things have no intrinsic value but attain value only through human beings working them over and imbuing them with humanness, an essentially nineteenth-century view that we find in J. S. Mill, (1806–1873), ‘On Nature’, 1874:

‘The word ‘nature’ has two principal meanings: it either denotes the entire system of things, with the aggregates of all their properties, or it denotes things as they would be, apart from human intervention. In the first of these senses, the doctrine that man ought to follow nature is unmeaning; since man has no power to do anything else than follow nature; all his actions are done through, and in obedience to, some one or many of nature’s physical or mental laws. In the other sense of the term, the doctrine that man ought to follow nature, or, in other words, ought to make the spontaneous course of things the model of his voluntary actions, is equally irrational and immoral. Irrational, because all human action whatever consists in altering, and all useful action in improving, the spontaneous course of nature. Immoral, because the course of natural phenomena being replete with everything which when committed by human beings is most worthy of abhorrence, any one who endeavoured in his actions to imitate the natural course of things would be universally seen and acknowledged to be the wickedest of men. The scheme of Nature, regarded in its whole extent, cannot have had, for its sole or even principal object, the good of human or other sentient beings. What good it brings to them is mostly the result of their own exertions. What soever, in nature, gives indication of beneficent design proves this beneficence to be armed only with limited power; and the duty of man is to cooperate with the beneficent powers, not by imitating, but by perpetually striving to amend, the course of nature — and bringing that part of it over which we can exercise control more nearly into conformity with a high standard of justice and goodness’.

- ‘On Nature’


‘Flora’, Mosè Bianchi, (1840–1904)

The babbelers with their thangas vain have been (confusium hold them!) they were and went; thigging thugs were and houhnhymn songtoms were and comely norgels were and pollyfool fiansees. Menn have thawed, clerks have surssurhummed, the blond has sought of the brune: Elsekiss thou may, mean Kerry piggy?: and the duncledames have countered with the hellish fellows: Who ails tongue coddeau, aspace of dumbillsilly? And they fell upong one another: and themselves they have fallen. And still nowanights and by nights of yore do all bold floras of the field to their shyfaun lovers say only: Cull me ere I wilt to thee!: and, but a little later: Pluck me whilst I blush!

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


flora: the plants; in Latin mythology, the goddess of flowers whose festival, the Floralia on 28 April, was an occasion for unbridled sexual licence and Matthew 6:28: ‘lilies of the field’.

faun : one of a class of rural deities; at first represented like men with horns and the tail of a goat, afterwards with goats’ legs like the Satyrs, to whom they were assimilated in lustful character and fauna — a collective term applied to the animals.

cull : to gather, pluck and call and yet still nowanights as all in nights of yore] do all the bold Floras floras of the field to their fauns shyfaun lovers say only: Cull me I am ere I wilt to thee, and but a little later: Pluck me ere whilst I blush.

wilt : Of plants or their parts: To become limp or flaccid, through heat or drought.


Hegel maintains that there is intrinsic value in all nature and looking into its ethical complexity we see that the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ is neither exclusively theoretical nor narrowly anthropocentric in its underlying ethical standpoint. Many environmental thinkers engaging with Hegel take his to be a narrowly anthropocentric ethical standpoint upon which natural entities only acquire value when subjected to the transformative activities of human individuals and two significant aspects of Hegel’s later system have ben cited to support such a narrowly anthropocentric reading. He believes nature to be organized hierarchically culminating in the generation of human beings which appears to suggest that humans are radically superior to nature. And furthermore:

‘The purpose of nature is to extinguish itself, and to break through its rind of immediate and sensuous being, to consume itself like a Phoenix in order to emerge from this externality rejuvenated as spirit. Nature has become distinct from itself in order to recognize itself again as Idea, and to reconcile itself with itself. To regard spirit thus, as having come forth from implicitness, and as having become a mere being-for-self, is however a one sided view. Nature is certainly that which is immediate, but as that which is distinct from spirit, it is nevertheless merely a relativity. As the negative of spirit, it is therefore merely a posited being. It is the power of free spirit which sublates this negativity; spirit is nature’s antecedent and to an equal extent its consequent, it is not merely the metaphysical Idea of it. It is precisely because spirit constitutes the end of nature, that it is antecedent to it. Nature has gone forth from spirit; it has not done this empirically however, for while it presupposes nature, it is already constantly contained within it. In its infinite freedom however, spirit allows nature freedom, and opposes it by exhibiting within it the action of the Idea, as an inner necessity; just as a free man is certain that his action constitutes the activity of the world’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Nature has made its peace by shifting into something higher that is, mind the goal of nature is to kill itself to burn itself up like a phoenix in order to step forth rejuvenated from this externality as mind and as human beings we occupy a special status in nature (not superior to nature because of course we are nature) by modifying nature to reflect our own plans and purposes we can morally elevate it imbuing it with our own special value. John Passmore, (1914–2004), discerns such an implication in saddling Hegel with the belief that nature ‘exists simply in order to be overcome, to be humanized. Man offers it liberty, frees it from its fetters, only by making it human, as he does, to use a favourite example of Hegel’s, when he eats plants and flesh’. John Passmore, (‘Attitudes to Nature’, 1995). And Beat Wyss (1849 — ) contends that Hegel finds no value at all in wild nature, only advocating its cultivation (‘Hegel’s Art History and the Critique of Modernity’, 1999). Wyss relates this to the scorn for natural scenery in Hegel’s diary of a 1796 walking holiday, ‘Travel Diary through the Bernese Alps’, 1796. John O’Neill credits Hegel with the view that natural entities have value only insofar as humans find their own powers reflected in them (‘Humanism and Nature’,1994). The poet Heinrich Heine, (1797–1856), describes in his memoirs how he as a young man met the famous philosopher Hegel at a dinner party in Berlin and following a satisfying repast and before retiring to the whist tables the two great figures of German letters found themselves beside each other looking out the window at the starry 19th century sky. Heine, enthusing about the stars, called them the abode of the blessed, to which Hegel grumbled: ‘the stars are only a gleaming leprosy in the sky’.

But what about this?:

‘The area around here is very bright, romantic, and fertile. We have wandered through it in many directions. A trip up the Neckar, surrounded by pleasant intermittent tree-covered mountains, affords the most beautiful of views, making for a most delightful riverboat excursion. In the other direction, toward the Rhine, there is a splendid plain, forming part of the fertile Palatinate. At the boundary between the plain and the mountain range-or rather directly at the canyon from which the Neckar flows into the valley-is located the mountain road-a continuous road with orchards on the softly rising hills-planted with vineyards, orchards, fruit, and so forth. Like people everywhere we of course have suffered from the inflation. But since I receive a portion of my pay in kind, the rising price of the foodstuffs I thus receive has more or less compensated for increases in the price of bread. Around here it has even been more expensive than anywhere in the area for quite a distance. I have visited Mannheim and Speyer with my wife. Schwetzingen is an especially pleasant spot’.

- Hegel, Letter to Christiane Hegel, Heidelberg, July 26, 1817.

And of course being in love changes our view of everything:

Come to mountain tops with me.

From clouds below tear yourself free;

Here in the clear air may we stand.

In Light’s colourless womb take my hand.

What opinion has in the mind injected

From truth and madness equally collected

Has as a lifeless mist lifted,

By the breath of life, of love, evicted.

The valley below of narrow nothingness,

Of vain exertion repaid in an exertion endless,

With dulled senses to desire bound-

There your heart never has been found.

Lifted out of this valley’s night by higher longing,

You beheld Good and Beauty self-revealing,

as from an inner light.

You took your path to the morning height.·

The mountain airs redden in the sun’s glow.

Vague foreboding, from what is taught or there to know,

Works on such vapours, which it weaves

Into the image to which longing cleaves.

But in this image no heartbeat is found.

As longing receives its own reflected sounds,

Soullessly it returns whatever echoes it does find,

Remaining to itself confined.

Feelings that have at yearning stayed

Are the breath of flattery to the self conveyed.

In this haze the soul must die, as if to choke

In a poisonous breeze, in sacrificial smoke.

See the altar here atop mountains,

On which Phoenix dies in a flaming fountain,

Only to rise in youth everlasting -

this fruit of its ashes endlessly winning.

Phoenix’s brooding, turned back on itself alone,

Was now preserved as merely its own.

The point of its existence shall vanish,

And the pain of sacrifice weigh on it in anquish.

But the feeling of striving immortal

Forces him beyond his self’s narrow portal.

May his earthly nature quake.

In flames this striving comes awake.

Narrow bands dividing us, fall away!

Sacrifice alone is the heart’s true way!

I expand myself to you, as you to me.

May what isolates us go up in fire, cease to be.

For life is life only as reciprocated,

By love in love is it alone created.

To the kindred soul abandoned,

The heart opens up in strength gladdened.

Once the spirit atop free mountains has flown,

It holds back nothing of its own.

Living to see myself in you, and you to see yourself in me,

In the enjoyment of celestial bliss shall we be.

- Hegel, letter to his fiancée, April 13, 1811.

But the view persists that it appears to Hegel that, to rework and humanize nature is to improve upon it. Elaine Miller discovers in Hegel the somewhat stronger thesis that ‘nature has a value only as known, conceptualized nature’ (‘The Figure of (Self-)Sacrifice in Hegel’s Naturphilosophie’) relating this to Hegel’s early poem about commanding and disciplining his dog: ‘Distichs on a Pet Dog’, 1798.

He runs in broad circles on the plane, we are his point of return.

He searches in the earth, he catches sight of me and already frolics back to me.

Where does he stay?

Now he has found playmates. They taunt, run from, and search for each other.

He who hunts is hunted in turn. But look, they now run too far away.

Here! The word tears him loose from instinct and compels him to return to the master.

But a bitch pulls him off again to the right.

Halt! Come back! He does not hear. The cane awaits you. I no longer see him.

He sneaks along the hedge, bad conscience slows his pace.

To me! You circle around me, and wag your tail, he must -

Do you still not see what ‘Must’ means?

Now you see it. He cannot help it.

You cry at the blows. Obey the commands of the master.

[Probably better in German .. but I can’t find it, nonetheless I don’t approve}

The impression persists the he is reflecting a look into the future of the kind we find in Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814):

‘Nature must gradually enter a condition which . . . keeps its force steady in a definite relation with the power which is destined to control it — the power of man. . . . Cultivated lands shall animate and moderate the inert and hostile atmosphere of primeval forests, deserts, and swamps. . . . nature is to become ever more transparent to us until we can see into its most secret core, and human power . . . shall control it without effort and peacefully maintain any conquest once it is made’.

- ‘The Vocation of Man’


‘Eine junge Schönheit als Pomona’, Nicolas Fouché, (1653–1733)

We seem to us (the real Us!) to be reading our Amenti in the sixth sealed chapter of the going forth by black. It was after the show at Wednesbury that one tall man, humping a suspicious parcel, when returning late amid a dense particular on his home way from the second house of the Boore and Burgess Christy Menestrels by the old spot, Roy’s Corner, had a barkiss revolver placed to his faced with the words: you’re shot, major: by an unknowable assailant (masked) against whom he had been jealous over, Lotta Crabtree or Pomona Evlyn.

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


crab tree : the wild apple tree; crooked, knotted and Crabtree, Lotta : 19th-century soubrette.

Pomona : Italian goddess of fruit and gardens, represented as a beautiful maiden with fruit in her bosom and a pruning knife in her hand.


The inclination towards humanly tampered with nature rather than nature in the raw appears to be displayed albeit indirectly in Hegel’s estimation of artistic over natural beauty a common enough indictment against Hegel by environmental thinkers for his preference for artistic beauty. For an opposing viewpoint we get this from David Hume, (1711–1776):

‘It is a great mortification to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature’s productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman, and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those pieces, which come from the hand of the master’.

- ‘The Epicurean’

But then of course we are a part of nature in which case isn’t the Sistine chapel ceiling, for instance, a product of nature? Still, we all know what is meant and ethical considerations upon nature that Hegel presents may seem of merely historical interest to environmentalists exemplifying a nineteenth-century proclivity for justifying unrestricted industrialization against romantic esteem for the natural world and so his work is given short shrift by environmental philosophers because of course of the very thing Hegel is always arguing against, one-sided thinking, to discern anthropocentric threads weaving their way through his work is to think one-sidedly, and neglecting to pay heed to the broader approach to the ethical evaluation of natural forms that in actual fact situate those forms as having moral status in their own right. The complexity of Hegel’s approach is frequently overlooked since it can be appreciated only given some familiarity with his substantive theory of the natural world. His notion that nature is organized gradually and hierarchically entails not only that human organisms standing at the pinnacle of the hierarchy have the greatest value but also that all other natural forms have intrinsic value relative to their place in the developmental scale implying a more exalted status for humans in respect of other natural beings only in degree and not in kind and no greater gap separates humans from other organisms in value than separates organisms from physical bodies, or physical bodies from matter and so on.

No dichotomy in value between humans and nature is established, rather the merely quantitative superiority that he allows to humans presupposes the presence of intrinsic value throughout all nature, organic and nonorganic. This is evident here:

‘For us mind has nature as its presupposition, though mind is the truth of nature, and is thus absolutely first with respect to it. In this truth nature has vanished, and mind has emerged as the Idea that has reached its being-for-self. The object of the Idea as well as the subject is the concept. This identity is absolute negativity, since in nature the concept has its complete, external objectivity, but this externalization of the concept has been sublated and the concept has, in this externalization, become identical with itself. And so the concept is this identity only so far as it is at the same time a return out of nature’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Albeit Hegel to begin with introduces mind as if it differed absolutely in kind from any natural form he makes clear that mind only distinguishes itself from nature across a gradual series of stages and that nature itself becomes increasingly mind-like across the sequence of its stages hence the transition of nature to mind is not a transition to something wholly other but only a coming-to-itself of the mind which is outside itself in nature.

‘What we have said already implies that the transition of nature to mind is not a transition to an out-and-out Other, but is only a coming-to-itself of the mind that is outside itself in nature. But equally, the determinate difference of nature and mind is not sublated by this transition; for mind does not emerge in a natural manner from nature. When we said in §222 that the death of the merely immediate, individual form of life is the emergence of mind, this emergence is not in the flesh but spiritual, it is not to be understood as a natural emergence but as a development of the concept, the concept that sublates the one-sidedness of the genus which does not reach adequate actualization, proving in death to be rather the negative power opposed to that actuality, and also sublates the opposite one-sidedness of the animal reality bound to individuality; both one-sidednesses are sublated in the individuality which is in and for itself universal or, what is the same thing, in the universal which is for itself in a universal manner, the universal that is mind’

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

And furthermore, insofar as Hegel postulates intrinsic value throughout nature, this is at odds with the claim that natural entities acquire value only when transformed by human agents, in fact his assessment of nature as intrinsically valuable opens up the possibility of concluding that human transformative activities reduce nature’s intrinsic value by disrupting the necessary hierarchy of its forms and albeit in the end such a conclusion is withstood the assessment of the morality of human modification of nature requires further investigation to support the unreflectively positivity environmentalist readers have supposed concerning it.

Hegel’s developed position on nature and morality contrary to the standard opinion is not narrowly anthropocentric since critically he insists on the intrinsic value of all natural forms and within this perspective the developed system foreshadows the concerns of recent environmentalists but it may be objected with regard to his discernment of intrinsic value throughout nature that the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ at no point explicitly states or puts forward such an ethical thesis in fact it seems exclusively preoccupied with the theoretical question of what forms the natural world contains and how they are most accurately described, the underlying ethical theme that pervades the Philosophy only coming to the surface upon resituating the work in the developed system in its entirety. The text has to be read in conjunction with the Logic and to a lesser extent the ‘Philosophy of Mind’ and especially the substantive theory of the natural world has to be read in light of the general conception of the good outlined in the Logic, and upon such a foundation it becomes evident how the substantive theory of nature is framed by the outlook that natural forms are all good in proportion as they embody practical reason which they do increasingly well as natural development unfolds,and the conception of the good in the Logic has some bearing upon the theory of the natural world.

Practical reason in the world, Hegel does not state explicitly the evaluative thesis implicit behind the account of natural development though there are suggestions concerning the worth of nature.

‘Our earlier explanation showed that logical thinking in general must not be interpreted merely in terms of a subjective activity, but rather as what is strictly universal and hence objective at the same time. It should be added that this applies to the understanding as well, which is the first form of logical thinking. The understanding must therefore be regarded as corresponding to what people call the goodness of God, where this is understood to mean that finite things are, that they subsist. For instance, we recognise the goodness of God in nature by the fact that the various kinds and classes, of both animals and plants, are provided with everything they need in order to preserve themselves and prosper. The situation is the same with man, too, both for individuals and for whole peoples, who similarly possess what is required for their subsistence and their development. In part this is given to them as something that is immediately present (like climate, for example, or the character and products of the country, etc. ); and in part they possess it in the form of aptitudes, talents, etc. Interpreted in this way, then, the understanding manifests itself everywhere in all the domains of the objective world, and the ‘perfection’ of an object essentially implies that the principle of the understanding gets its due therein’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

‘External nature too, like mind, is rational, divine, a presentation of the Idea. But in nature the Idea appears in the element of asunderness, is external not only to mind but also to itself, precisely because it is external to the inwardness that is in and for itself and which constitutes the essence of mind. This concept of nature, already enunciated by the Greeks and entirely familiar to them, is in complete agreement with our ordinary idea of nature. We know that what is natural is spatial and temporal, that in nature this stands next to that, this follows after that, in brief, that everything natural is mutually external, ad infinitum; further, that matter, this universal foundation of all formations to be found in nature, not only offers resistance to us, subsists outside our mind, but holds itself asunder against its own self, divides itself into concrete points, into material atoms, of which it is composed. The differences into which the concept of nature unfolds are more or less mutually independent existences; of course, through their original unity they stand in mutual relation, so that none can be comprehended without the others; but this relation is in a greater or less degree external to them. We rightly say, therefore, that not freedom but necessity reigns in nature; for necessity in its strictest meaning is precisely the merely internal, and for that reason also merely external, relation of mutually independent existences’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

We recognise the goodness of God in nature and external nature, like mind, is rational, divine but the theoretical background to these remarks is in need of explanation and the implicit thesis that all nature is intrinsically good has to be accessed through situating the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in relation to the conception of the good elaborated in the closing sections of the Logic where he discusses the good within the broader context of the examination of the form of thought which he calls the idea. The idea passes through three phases, existing first as life, second as cognition (Erkennen), and last as willing (Wollen) and it is with reference to the willing idea that the good is introduced, for the willing idea is good since it acts from rationality, an analysis implying that the conceptual dimension that imbues all nature is good because it acts to reshape and modify matter in whatever ways are rationally necessary to resolve the tensions internal to its previous modes of combination with matter, and the evaluation of the willing idea thereby suggests that through their conceptual element all natural forms are at the very least partly good and as a matter of fact become increasingly good as their conceptual element prevails over their material side resulting in a ranking of all natural forms on a scale of ascending goodness, an evaluative thesis that figures into the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ as we can discern from the general description of the logical idea and its development as found in the ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’ and at greater length in the ‘Science of Logic’.

The Logic delineates in abstract terms the ontological structures or patterns that are instantiated in the domains of nature and mind and the logical analysis of these structures or forms considers them in general,without reference to their specific modes of instantiation, and toward the close of the general analysis of this series of ontological structures a structure called the idea is brought in, defined as rational thought that fully pervades and infuses all the objective structures of reality and having defined the idea as rationality existing as the governing presence within the objective world Hegel directly infers that the idea can only fully realize its own character by existing in the guise of living organisms and in general he construes organisms as universal centres manifested within a set of thoroughly interconnected limbs and members. For instance:

‘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’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’ .

Rationality can only fully pervade objective reality if it takes the form of universal centres that animate real items and draw them into the deeper interconnectedness characteristic of organized members and this does not amount to the somewhat debatable view that the entire universe consists of organic structures for we have yet to see how the idea as an organic structure is concretely instantiated in nature and mind. An additional claim is now presented in the Logic which is to say that all organisms are sentient (empfindend) since sensibility is the automatic self-rediscovery of a universal centre within the web of objects it pervades as if these objects mirrored its image back to it.

‘The single members o f the body are what they are only through their unity and in relation to it. So, for instance, a hand that has been hewn from the body is a hand in name only, but not in actual fact, as Aristotle has already remarked. -From the standpoint of the understanding life is usually considered to be a mystery, and in general as incomprehensible. But here the understanding only confesses its finitude and nullity. In fact, life is so far from being incomprehensible that on the contrary, we have the Concept itself before us in it, and, more precisely, the Idea that exists as the Concept, the immediate Idea. But this expresses at once the defect of Life, too. The defect consists in the fact that the Concept and reality still do not genuinely correspond with one another. The concept of life is the soul, and this concept has the body for its reality. The soul is, as it were, diffused into its bodily nature, and so it is still only sentient, not yet free being-for-itself. Hence, the process of life consists in the overcoming of the immediacy in which life is still entangled; and this process itself, which is once more a threefold one, results in the Idea in the form of judgment, i. e., the Idea as cognition’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

So it is inevitable that organisms possess a level of self-awareness but sentience is an inadequate type of self-awareness for merely sentient beings cannot apprehend their character in rational, conceptual, terms, the sentience into which organisms are cast is an intrinsically imperfect form of self-awareness pointing relentlessly forward to the conceptual modes of self-awareness that would complete it, albeit the Hegelian project is to articulate sensibility and this is a reflection of his belief that sensibility is proto-conceptual and hence fully realized only in its conceptual articulation. Originally sentient organisms have an endemic impulse to correct their deficiency by precisely conceptualizing themselves as present within objectivity, or by endeavouring to take up the objective world into conceptual determinations.

‘The universal finitude of cognition (the finitude that lies in the first judgment, in the presupposition of the antithesis [§ 224] against which its very own agency is the built-in contradiction) determines itself more precisely, in its own Idea, by giving the moments of this Idea the form of diversity from each other; and, since these moments are nevertheless complete, they come to stand in the relationship of reflection to each other, not in that of the Concept. Hence the assimilation of the material as something-given appears as its being taken up into conceptual determinations which at the same time remain external to it, and which likewise present themselves in diversity from one another. This is reason acting as understanding . By the same token, therefore, the truth that is reached by this cognition is only the finite [truth]; the infinite truth of the Concept is fixed as a goal that is only in-itself, or as a beyond for this cognition. But in its external agency this cognition stands under the guidance of the Concept, and the determinations of the Concept constitute the inner thread of its progression’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

This effort of organisms is to know the world and upon embarking on this sustained study of the objective world organisms advance indirectly toward conceptualizing themselves as the points of universality around which objective items are organized hence in order to realize itself the idea must not only assume the shape of organisms but also advance out of merely organic form to a second form as specifically cognitive organisms or what Hegel calls simply cognition (Erkennen) and this is a general ontological tendency and the question arises as to how it is actualized by natural and human organisms.

The idea comes to exist as cognitive organisms and their cognitive activity has to give way to practical activity since individuals have to make explicit the activity involved in their classification and categorization of objectivity by engaging in the openly practical activity of modifying objectivity, and cognition is already active in revealing the presence of freedom for inquirers can categorize objectivity in numerous ways to match their intellectual standpoint and needs, and hence just as sensibility anticipated conceptual self-awareness cognition anticipates properly practical activity, individuals are impelled to realize the proto-practical nature of cognition by beginning to act upon objectivity, according to their preexisting purposes, and the idea as embodied in cognitive individuals acquires the drive to realise itself, it aims to determine the world that it finds already there according to its own purpose [Zweck].

‘As what is in and for itself determinate and as a content that is equal to itself and simple, the subjective Idea is the good. Its drive to realise itself has the converse relationship to that of the Idea of the true and aims rather to determine the world that it finds already there according to its own purpose.-On the one hand, this willing has the certainty that the presupposed object is null and void-but, at the same time on the other hand, being finite, it takes the purpose of the good to be a merely subjective Idea and it presupposes the independence of the object’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Each individual’s purpose that is determined by the preceding course of logical development is to rediscover itself within the world, to discover in the world a reflection of itself, and this logically determined requirement becomes a purpose in the sense that it motivates individuals to the appropriate type of activity, the activity of modifying objectivity so that the organization thereby imposed upon it will reflect the agent’s character back to him or her and yet this purpose that motivates individuals into activity is rational for the urge to find oneself in the world has been rationally necessitated by the structure of sentient life. Agents have begun to act from rationality, or to put it another way, their rationality has become practically effective and in virtue of its newly discovered efficacy rationality has taken on the form of will and individuals now engage in and in fact are essentially defined by willing. The will with practical reason, as is evident with the claim that children and animals are not rational as they lack will.

‘Pure thinking is initially a self-effacing attitude, absorbed in the thing. But this activity necessarily becomes objective to itself as well. Since conceptual cognition is absolutely together with itself in the object, it must recognize that its determinations are determinations of the thing, and that, conversely, the objectively valid determinations, the determinations that are in being, are its determinations. By this recollection, by this withdrawal-into-itself of intelligence, intelligence becomes will. This transition is not of course present for ordinary consciousness; for representation, thinking and will fall apart. But in truth, as we have just seen, thinking is what determines itself into will and thinking remains the substance of the will, so that without thinking there can be no will, and even the most uncultured person is will only in so far as he has taken thought; the animal, by contrast, because it does not think, is also incapable of having a will’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

This analysis leads to the conclusion that the idea as embodied in agents has advanced from its cognitive guise into its third manifestation as willing.


‘Venus and Ceres’, Herman van der Mijn, (1684–1741)

Countlessness of livestories have netherfallen by this plage, flick as flowflakes, litters from aloft, like a waast wizzard all of whirlworlds. Now are all tombed to the mound, isges to isges, erde from erde. Pride, O pride, thy prize!

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


ashes to ashes : isge (Old English) : ice and gēs (Greek) and Earth and ice ages (icefloe).

erde : do dwell, live, to inhabit and Erde (German) = erde (Old English) — earth

… ‘the mighty food-giving Earth-mother, known by many names, Erda, Demeter, Pachamama, Dharitrî, but everywhere worshipped as the giver of life’ — ‘Tom Tit Tot, Edward Clodd (1840–1930).


And now the realm of value enters into ontology whereby with any will that motivates itself to action by its rationality that will is good, the will is simply the good that is self-activating.

‘Whereas the task of intelligence is simply to take the world as it is, the will, in contrast, is concerned to make the world finally into what it ought to be. The will holds that what is immediate, what is given, is not a fixed being, but only a semblance, something that is in-itself null and void. We encounter here the contradictions which, at the standpoint of morality, drive us from pillar to post. This is, in general, the standpoint of Kant with regard to human action, and also that of Fichte. The good ought to be realised; we have to work at this, to bring it forth, and the will is simply the good that is self-activating. But then if the world were as it ought to be, the result would be that the activity of willing would disappear. Therefore the will itself also requires that its purpose shall not be realised. This correctly expresses the finitude of willing. But we must not stop at this finitude, of course, and it is through the process of willing itself that this finitude is sublated, together with the contradiction that it contains. The reconciliation consists in the will’s returning-in its result-to the presupposition of cognition; hence the reconciliation consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical Idea. The will knows the purpose as what is its own, and intelligence interprets the world as the Concept in its actuality. This is the genuine position of rational cognition’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Any such will’s purpose, the objective it selects according to rationality, is also designated good. This determinateness contained in the concept and including within it the demand for an individual external actuality, is the good.

‘This determinateness which is in the concept, is equal to the concept, and entails a demand for singular external actuality, is the good. It comes on the scene with the dignity of being absolute, because it is intrinsically the totality of the concept, the objective which is at the same time in the form of free unity and subjectivity. This idea is superior to the idea of cognition just considered, for it has not only the value of the universal but also of the absolutely actual. — It is impulse, in so far as this actual is still subjective, self-positing, without at the same time the form of immediate presupposition; its impulse to realize itself is not, strictly speaking, to give itself objectivity, for this it possesses within itself, but to give itself only this empty form of immediacy. — The activity of purpose, therefore, is not directed at itself, is not a matter of letting in a given determination and making it its own, but of positing rather its own determination and, by means of sublating the determinations of the external world, giving itself reality in the form of external actuality’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

Furthermore any objective state of affairs brought about by the will and realizing its purpose is derivatively good too, the realised good is good by virtue of what it already is in the subjective purpose.

‘The realized good is good by virtue of what it already is in the subjective purpose, in its idea; the realization gives it an external existence, but since this existence has only the status of an externality which is in and for itself null, what is good in it has attained only an accidental, fragile existence, not a realization corresponding to the idea. — Further, since this good is restricted in content, there are several kinds of it; in concrete existence a good is subject to destruction not only due to external contingency and to evil, but also because of collision and conflict in the good itself. From the side of the objective world presupposed for it (in the presupposition of which consists the subjectivity and the finitude of the good, and which as a distinct world runs its own course), the realization itself of the good is exposed to obstacles, indeed, might even be made impossible. The good thus remains an ought; it exists in and for itself, but being, as the ultimate abstract immediacy, remains over against it also determined as a non-being. The idea of the fulfilled good is indeed an absolute postulate, but no more than a postulate, that is, the absolute encumbered with the determinateness of subjectivity. There still are two worlds in opposition, one a realm of subjectivity in the pure spaces of transparent thought, the other a realm of objectivity in the element of an externally manifold actuality, an impervious realm of darkness’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

Given that the will qua practical reason is good its purposes as well as any ensuing activities and states of affairs that realize those purposes are also good. Hegel is echoing Immanuel Kant’s view that as Christine Korsgaard puts it:

‘.. the good will is the only unconditionally good thing, [which] means that it must be the source and condition of all the goodness in the world; goodness, as it were, flows into the world from the good will, and there would be none without it’.

- ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’

A Kantian take on practical reason and moral worth is putting in an appearance and brought even more to the fore later in a discussion on how the will is concretely instantiated in human agents whereby the ethical consists in the will having for its purpose a universal content not subjective self-seeking content and yet such content is possible only in thinking and through thinking.

‘As will, the mind is aware of itself as reaching a conclusion within itself and fulfilling itself from out of itself. This fulfilled being-for-self or individuality constitutes the side of existence or reality for the Idea of mind; as will, the mind steps into actuality, as knowledge it is on the terrain of the universality of the concept. -ln giving itself the content, the will is together with itself, free in general; this is its determinate concept. — Its finitude consists in its formalism: its self-fulfilment is the abstract determinacy, its own determinacy in general, and is not identified with developed reason. The determination of the will that is in itself is to bring freedom in the formal will to existence, and therefore the purpose of the formal will is to fulfil! itself with its concept, i.e. to make freedom its determinacy, its content, and purpose, as well as its reality. This concept, freedom, essentially takes the form of thinking; the way of the will by which it makes itself objective mind is to rise to the thinking will- to give itself the content that it can only have as a will that thinks itself. [Remark] True freedom is ethical life, where the will has for its purposes a universal content, not subjective, i.e. self-centred content; but such content is only possible in thinking and through thinking; it is nothing less than absurd to want to exclude thinking from ethics, religion, lawfulness, etc.’

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Or to twist it round the other way when the power of self-possession and of the universal, or of theoretical or moral principles, is relaxed the earthy,that is, purely individual elements are set free, for this evil is directly present in the heart, because this, as immediate, is natural and selfish.

‘Owing to the immediacy in which self-feeling is still determined, i.e. owing to the moment of bodiliness which in self-feeling is still undetached from the mind, and since too the feeling itself is a particular feeling, thus a particular embodiment, the subject, though educated to intellectual consciousness, is still susceptible to the disease of remaining fast in a particularity of its self-feeling, unable to refine it to ideality and overcome it. The fully furnished self of intellectual consciousness is the subject as an internally consistent consciousness, which orders and conducts itself in accordance with its individual position and its connection with the likewise internally ordered external world. But when it remains ensnared in a particular determinacy, it fails to assign that content the intelligible place and the subordinate position belonging to it in the individual world-system which a subject is. In this way the subject finds itself in the contradiction between its totality systematized in its consciousness, and the particular determinacy in that consciousness, which is not pliable and integrated into an overarching order. This is derangement’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Practical rationality, that is to say, will, is good since its purposes necessarily display universality or an absence of egoism implying an exhaustive disjunction between acting from rationality and acting from selfish sensible desires with rationality instituting an impartial standpoint which obstructs the agent’s pursuing purposes out of mere selfishness. The will as practical reason is good because it formulates its purposes from this strictly impartial standpoint. The equation of practical reason, free will, and goodness means that much of what qualifies as free will is nothing of the kind but is mere Willkür (arbitrariness), the capacity to select from among pregiven desires. Hegel’s term will (Wille) may thereby appear restricted, as we read elsewhere:

‘The finite will, purely with regard to its form, is the self-reflecting infinite ‘I’ which is with itself [bei sich selbst]. As such it stands above its content, i.e. its various drives, and also above the further individual ways in which these are actualized and satisfied. At the same time, since it is only formally infinite, it is tied to this content as to the determinations of its nature and of its external actuality (see § § 6 and II); but since it is indeterminate, it is not restricted to this or that content in particular. To this extent, this content is only a possible one for the reflection of the ‘I’ into itself; it may or may not be mine; and ‘Ii’ is the possibility of determining myself to this or to something else, of choosing between these determinations which the ‘I’ must in this respect regard as external. The freedom of the will, according to this determination, is arbitrariness, in which the following two factors are contained: free reflection, which abstracts from everything, and dependence on an inwardly or given content and material. Since this content, which is necessary in itself as an end is at the same time determined as a possible content in opposition to free reflection, it follows that arbitrariness is contingency in the shape of will’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

A Kantian conception of practical reason can be reconciled with a critique of Kant’s duty/desire antagonism albeit there is an to Kantian Moralität since it is excessively demanding since finite human individuals can only act at all insofar as they anticipate sensible gratification.

‘An action is both a purpose of the subject and also the subject’s activity which carries out this purpose; it is only because the subject is in this way in even the most unselfish action, i.e. because of its interest, that there is an action at all.-Urges and inclinations are sometimes contrasted with, on the one hand, the empty dream of a natural happiness, by which needs are supposed to find their satisfaction without the subject’s activity of producing conformity between immediate existence and his inner determinations. They are sometimes contrasted quite generally, on the other hand, with duty for duty’s sake, with morality. But urge and passion are nothing but the life-blood of the subject, by which the subject itself is in his purpose and the execution o f it. The ethical concerns the content, which as such is the universal, an inactive thing, that has its activating agent in the subject; the immanence of the content in the subject is interest and, if it lays claim to the whole efficacious subjectivity, passion’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

The moral life is only possible inasmuch as desires are socially cultivated to conform internally to rational requirements and the good human agent cannot be one who acts from duty alone because such human agents are an impossibility and yet must be someone who acts from desires that have been cultivated to accord with the strictures of reason/duty, nevertheless this is not necessarily to rub against a Kantian analysis of practical reason as a general ontological structure. Hegelian moral and political philosophy merely outlines how this structure is instantiated in finite human beings, imperfectly in light of their passional nature, and presents an account of the social institutions that can overcome this imperfection by cultivating the passions to agree with rational requirements.

On the matter of the good will in the Logic Hegel a general analysis of the character of any being that acts from will is provided the contention being that the will of such individuals is good since it is practically rational,and yet an analysis follows concerning an internal contradiction within the will and the rationally necessary purpose upon which the will acts is the purpose of transforming objectivity so that it manifests the agent as a locus of rationality, yet when objectivity comes to display rational order just in virtue of having succumbed to modification it in addition manifests the fact that this order is something it does not intrinsically possess, this actuality ranks as something intrinsically worthless [Nichtige] that must first receive its true determination and sole worth [Wert] through the purposes of the good.

But what the practical idea still lacks is the moment of real consciousness itself, namely that the moment of actuality in the concept would have attained for itself the determination of external being. — This lack can also be regarded in this way, namely that the practical idea still lacks the moment of the theoretical idea. That is to say, in the latter there stands on the side of the subjective concept — the concept that is in process of being intuited in itself by the concept — only the determination of universality; cognition only knows itself as apprehension, as the identity of the concept with itself which, for itself, is indeterminate; the filling, that is, the objectivity determined in and for itself, is for this identity a given; what truly exists is for it the actuality present there independently of any subjective positing. For the practical idea, on the contrary, this actuality constantly confronting it as an insuperable restriction is in and for itself a nullity that ought to receive its true determination and intrinsic value only through the purposes of the good. It is the will, therefore, that alone stands in the way of attaining its goal, because it separates itself from cognition and because for it external actuality does not receive the form of a true existence. The idea of the good can therefore find its completion only in the idea of the true’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

What agents need however is exactly that objectivity should intrinsically display rational order and so reflect them, indeed through their activity this existence is determined merely as an intrinsically worthless externality and so in it the good has only attained a contingent, destructible existence, not a realisation corresponding to its idea and the purpose which agents evince is in essence unrealizable, they need a spontaneously occurring state of affairs so of necessity cannot bring to pass this purpose through action, their very endeavour to do so means that whatever they bring about must differ in content from the purpose and because the purpose is unrealizable agents are irrational to espouse it yet at the same time they are rational to do so because only by espousing it can they hope to realize their inchoate self-awareness, the will’s purpose is an actual, that is, actualizable, purpose and at the same time merely possible, that is, unrealizable and fantastic.

‘The finitude of this activity, therefore, is the contradiction that the purpose of the good is being achieved and equally is not being achieved in the self-contradicting determinations of the objective world; that it is posited equally as an inessential purpose and an essential one, as an actual purpose and at the same time as a merely possible one. This contradiction presents itself as the infinite progress in the actualisation of the good, which is fixed in this progress as a mere ought. Formally the vanishing of this contradiction consists in the fact that the activity sublates the subjectivity of the purpose and hence the objectivity, the antithesis that makes both finite; it does not just sublate the finitude of this subjectivity but subjectivity in general: another similar subjectivity, i.e., the re-production of the antithesis, is not distinguished from the one that was supposed to be an earlier one. This return into itself is at the same time the recollection of the content into itself-a content which is the good and the identity in-itself of both sides. It is the recollection of the presupposition of the theoretical attitude (§ 224) that the object is what is substantial and true in it’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

In the Logic this is referred to as the finitude of the purpose, the fact that it cannot be realized, and hence stands always over against the world. The purpose therefore remains an ought (Sollen), for whose realization the agent strives endlessly, doomed to make infinite progress and this alludes to the Fichtean idea that agents insofar as they take themselves to be ontologically separate from the world, can only strive endlessly with no possibility of satisfaction to overcome their limitation by the world. The irrationality of willing activity calls for the emergence of a new and different form of the idea, in essence agents must not merely will but also recognize that will is already immanent within objectivity, like a mature person agents must come to embrace the providentialist outlook according to which the good has been reached in and for itself the objective world is in this way in and for itself the idea positing itself eternally as purpose and at the same time bringing forth its actuality through its activity.

‘As a result the truth of the good is posited-as the unity of the theoretical and the practical Idea : [the truth] that the good has been reached in and for itself-that the objective world is in this way in and for itself the Idea positing itself eternally as purpose and at the same time bringing forth its actuality through [its] activity.-This life, which has returned to itself from the difference and finitude of cognition, and which has become identical with the Concept through the activity of the Concept, is the speculative or absolute Idea’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

At the same time as acting agents have to take on the view that practical rationality already and independently pervades objectivity, more exactly they have to recognize that rationality suffuses the world not passively but actively, carrying out what it purposes, the final purpose of the world the good, only is because it constantly brings itself about.

‘What is null and vanishing constitutes only the surface of the world, not its genuine essence. This essence is the Concept that is in and for itself, and so the world is itself the Idea. Unsatisfied striving vanishes when we [re]cognise that the final purpose of the world is just as much accomplished as it is eternally accomplishing itself. This is, in general, the outlook of the mature person, whereas youth believes that the world is in an utterly sorry state, and that something quite different must be made of it. The religious consciousness, on the contrary, regards the world as governed by divine Providence and hence as corresponding to what it ought to be. This agreement between is and ought is not rigid and unmoving, however, since the final purpose of the world, the good, only is, because it constantly brings itself about; and there is still this distinction between the spiritual and the natural worlds: that, whilst the latter continues simply to return into itself, there is certainly a progression taking place in the former as well’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Agents have to come to recognise all objective items as inherently pervaded by practical rationality or the will and this is not an argument for quietism for the providentialist outlook provides practical activity with renewed feasibility and reasonableness and this outlook renders practical activity worthwhile once more because agents who hold to this outlook can aim to elicit the rational order that is already implicit in objectivity and is striving to emerge, hence the outlook that Hegel designates providentialism resolves the initial contradiction within willing activity by combining it with an outlook according to which the purpose of that activity is realizable being complemented by a convergent dimension of willing activity within the external world. Hegel goes on to say in the Logic: ‘Another way of regarding [its] defect is that the practical idea still lacks the moment of the theoretical idea’ and in the Encyclopaedia Logic: ‘The reconciliation consists in the will’s returning — in its result — to the presupposition of cognition; hence the reconciliation consists in the unity of the theoretical and practical idea’, and so the will returns to cognition insofar as it again supposes that rationality is to be found, potentially, within objectivity as it is prior to being affected by willing activity.

This is not to say that rational activity ought to be jettisoned but that it ought to be carried on from a certain optimistic standpoint hence we can say that action is good insofar as it is done from practical reason but to be fully rational this action has to be carried out on the further assumption that its purposes are broadly realizable. The analysis of goodness in brief is that it is a general characteristic of any practical activity that aims to transform the world to reflect the agent, an aim that is rationally necessary given the prior situation of the agent as a cognitive being, so practical activity is motivated by reason which, as a motivating force exists as will. An analysis of goodness with real concrete significance, it applies to any natural or human forms that instantiate the general characteristic of activity from reason, when any of these forms acts from reason, it is good, and the issue is which natural forms if indeed any instantiate this general structure and in what way an Hegelian abstract logical analysis bears upon the substantive account of natural development in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’.


‘Ivstitia’,18th-century painting in the Lisbon Court of Appeal. The painting is an allegory of Justice, as a sitting female figure, holding a set of scales and flanked by an ostrich (the ostrich feather is an allusion to the Ancient Egyptian goddess Maat, a personification of Truth and Justice.

— Yerds and nudes say ayes and noes! Vide! Vide!

— Let Eivin bemember for Gates of Gold for their fadeless suns berayed her. Irise, Osirises! Be thy mouth given unto thee! For why do you lack a link of luck to poise a pont of perfect, peace? On the vignetto is a ragingoos. The overseer of the house of the oversire of the seas, Nu-Men, triumphant, sayeth: Fly as the hawk, cry as the corncrake, Ani Latch of the postern is thy name; shout!

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


‘Let me fly like a hawk, let me cackle like a goose, let me lay always like the serpent-goddess Neheb-ka’ — ‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead’

corncrake: a name (originally Scottish) of the bird also called Landrail, Crex pratensis, found in summer in the British Islands; it lives concealed among standing corn and the grass of the hayfields, whence its harsh grating voice may be heard and Ulysses.15.2183: ‘Elijah’s voice, harsh as a corncrake’s’.

Ani : Egyptian scribe, subject of the ‘Papyrus of Ani’ (‘The Book of the Dead’) and ALP and Anne Lynch’s Dublin tea.

postern : a back door; a private door; any door or gate distinct from the main entrance and Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857–1934): ‘The Book of the Dead’ ch. CXXV: in it the deceased is obliged to name all parts of the Hall of double Maāti (Judgement Hall), including doors, posts, locks, pillars, posterns, etc., before he is permitted to pass through.

The Prayer of Ani: My heart, my mother; my heart, my mother! My heart whereby I came into being! May nought stand up to oppose me at [my] judgment, may there be no opposition to me in the presence of the Chiefs (Tchatchau) (‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead’).

Budge: ‘The Book of the Dead’ xvii: ‘The very title “Book of the Dead” is unsatisfactory… it is no rendering whatsoever of their ancient Egyptian title… “Chapters of Coming Forth by Day”’ and Budge: ‘The Book of the Dead’ ch. LXIV: ‘I am the Lord… who cometh forth out of the darkness’.


With regard to the goodness of nature one must understand how Hegelian abstract studies of logical structures bear upon the concrete accounts of natural or human forms in his Realphilosophie and the suggestion is that each logical form is to be understood as in a one-to-one match with a corresponding natural and human form so that for instance being corresponds to externality in nature and spatial intuition in mind, nothingness corresponds to negativity in nature and temporal intuition in mind, and so on.

‘Now, in the first place, as regards the relation of the understanding or concept to the stages presupposed by it, the determination of the form of these stages depends on which science is being considered. In our science, which is pure Logic, they are being and essence. In Psychology, the stages preceding the understanding are feeling and intuition, and then representation generally. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, which is the doctrine of consciousness, the ascent to the understanding is made through the stages of sensuous consciousness and then of perception. Kant places ahead of it only feeling and intuition. But, for a start, he himself betrays the incompleteness of this progression of stages by appending to the Transcendental Logic or the Doctrine of the Understanding a treatise on the concepts of reflection — a sphere lying between intuition and understanding, or being and concept’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

Such parallels are not immediately evident as passages from various texts diverge from what we find in others, for instance the ‘Philosophy of Mind’ does not begin with intuition, and furthermore some logical structures such as contingency are instantiated throughout nature and mind not appearing only at one particular phase in their development so the endeavour to correlate logical with natural structures one-to-one is not straightforward. Furthermore one must examine whether the analysis of practical activity and goodness is intended to apply to any natural forms at all and parts of the Logic suggests that under discussion are structures taken to be concretely instantiated only by the human mind. For instance, the cognitive idea exists as thinking, mind, self-consciousness.

‘The concept is for itself as concept inasmuch as it freely and concretely exists as abstract universality or a genus. As such, it is its pure self-identity that internally differentiates itself in such a way that the differentiated is not an objectivity but is rather equally liberated into subjectivity or into the form of simple self-equality; consequently, the object facing the concept is the concept itself. Its reality in general is the form of its existence; all depends on the determination of this form; on it rests the difference between what the concept is in itself, or as subjective, and what it is when immersed in objectivity, and then in the idea of life. In this last, the concept is indeed distinguished from its external reality and posited for itself; however, this being-for-itself which it now has, it has only as an identity that refers to itself as immersed in the objectivity subjugated to it, or to itself as indwelling, substantial form. The elevation of the concept above life consists in this, that its reality is the concept-form liberated into universality. Through this judgment the idea is doubled, into the subjective concept whose reality is the concept itself, and the objective concept which is as life. — Thought, spirit, self-consciousness, are determinations of the idea inasmuch as the latter has itself as the subject matter, and its existence, that is, the determinateness of its being, is its own difference from itself’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

These are all characteristics that are the differentia specifica of human beings and the discussion of cognition is the logical counterpart to the concrete account of the various stages of mind enumerated in the ‘Philosophy of Mind’.

‘In the stipulation the substance of the contract is distinguished from the real expression in the performance, which is reduced to its consequence. Similarly a distinction is thereby posited in the thing or performance between its immediate specific constitution and its substance or value, in which the qualitative constitution changes into quantitative determinacy; a property thus becomes comparable with another, and can be equated to what is qualitatively wholly heterogeneous. It is thus posited in general as abstract, universal thing’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Furthermore there is an evident philosophical basis for such claims, if practical reason presupposes cognition and natural forms do not consciously entertain thoughts then it seems that natural forms can be neither cognitive nor practically rational and it seems that nature can instantiate only the general structures of life and sentience but not those of cognition or will. However a principle premise of Hegel’s theory of nature is that all natural forms incessantly transform themselves in line with rational requirements and the conceptual element in natural forms is the locus of their agency. In the introduction to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ reference is made to this conceptual element as the component of universality in natural forms, stating that it does not remain opposed to the individuality of things, but while it relates itself negatively against things and assimilates them to itself, it equally elicits their individuality, leaves them alone, and allows them to determine themselves freely within it:

‘Into nature’s inwardness’-

Oh ! you philistine !-

‘No created spirits steal.’

I ask you never to remind

Me and mine

Of sayings of this kind.

We think: and here and there

We fmd the centre everywhere.

‘The sweet of mortal blessedness

Is to taste the outer peel !’

For sixty years they’ve told it me,

I’ve learnt to curse them silently;

But tell me till the shadows fall:

30 All riches from its bounty pour,

Nature has neither rind

Nor core,

But everything is found in all.

Look to yourself, and only find

Whether you are core or rind.

‘When this inwardness is grasped, the one-sidedness of the theoretical and practical approaches is transcended, and at the same time justice is done to both determinations. The one contains a universality without determinateness, the other a particularity without universality. Notional apprehension stands between the two, where universality is not personal and so opposed to the particularity of objects, but relates itself negatively to things and assimilates them, and while eliciting their particularity, leaves them alone, and allows them to determine themselves freely within it. Notional comprehension is therefore the unity of the theoretical and practical approaches ; the negation of particularity, as negation of the negative, is affirmative universality, which gives subsistence to the determinations, for true particularity is at the same time universality in itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Each natural form contains elements of universality and individuality, that is, discrete, individuated, matter and in each case the universality aspires to assimilate this matter by purposefully shaping it into specific forms eliciting its individuality so that it comes to manifest universality. This purposeful activity is rational because as the overall account of natural development demonstrates the manifestation of universality in matter is rationally necessary to resolve a tension that, otherwise, universality is not fully present within the matter that it possesses and this element of universality or conceptuality in natural forms acting in accordance with rational necessity to manifest itself within its material parts seems to instantiate the logical structure of practical activity as the activity of rationally transforming objectivity to reflect the agent.

It may be objected that the Hegelian logical analysis demonstrates that practical rationality is only possible through cognitive activity which it presupposes and it appears to suggest that natural forms could only instantiate practical agency if they were conscious as well the for there are possible objections to a Hegelian conception of nature as intrinsically rational. And yet because natural forms are not conscious it appears as if they can instantiate the general structure of practical activity not entirely adequately yet it does not follow though since natural forms do not instantiate the structure of cognition they cannot instantiate that of practical rationality either. Nature as petrified intelligence would suggests otherwise and in the Logic he equates cognition with mind as the differentia specifica of human beings but he adds that that all natural forms are implicitly mental …..

‘Nature is implicitly a living whole; more closely considered, the movement through its series of stages consists of the Idea positing itself as what it is implicitly, i.e. the Idea passes into itself by proceeding out of its immediacy and externality, which is death. It does this primarily in order to take on living being, but also in order to transcend this determinateness, in which it is merely life, and to bring itself forth into the existence of spirit, which constitutes the truth and ultimate purpose of nature, and the true actuality of the Idea’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

… or are shapes in which mind exists albeit outside itself:

‘But it is already evident from our discussion so far that the emergence of mind from nature must not be conceived as if nature were the absolutely immediate, the first, the original positing agent, while mind, by contrast, were only something posited by nature; it is rather nature that is posited by mind, and mind is what is absolutely first. Mind that is in and for itself is not the mere result of nature, but is in truth its own result; it brings itself forth from the presuppositions that it makes for itself, from the logical Idea and external nature, and is the truth of the logical Idea as well as of nature, i.e. the true shape of the mind that is only within itself, and of the mind that is only outside itself. The semblance of mind’s being mediated by an Other is sublated by mind itself, since mind has, so to speak, the sovereign ingratitude of sublating, of mediatizing, that by which it seems to be mediated, of reducing it to something subsisting only through mind and in this way making itself completely independent. -What we have said already implies that the transition of nature to mind is not a transition to an out-and-out Other, but is only a coming-to-itself of the mind that is outside itself in nature. But equally, the determinate difference of nature and mind is not sublated by this transition; for mind does not emerge in a natural manner from nature’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

The proto-mental element in nature is identified with the concept or idea inhabiting it

‘It is as a positing of that which it is implicitly, that the development of the Notion in accordance with its determination is to be grasped. This determination might be regarded as its goal or purpose. In the development, these determinations of its content come into existence and are manifested, not however as independent self-sufficient being, but as posited moments of an ideal nature, which remain within its unity. This positedness can therefore be grasped as an expression, protrusion, exposition, or self-externalization in so far as the subjectivity of the Notion loses itself in the juxtaposition of its determinations. It preserves itself within them as their unity and ideality however; and seen from the opposite side therefore, this outward movement of the centre towards the periphery is just as much an internal resumption of that which is outward; it is a reminder that it is the Notion which exists in what is expressed. Beginning with the externality in which it is first contained, the progress of the Notion is therefore a turning into itself in the centre, i.e. the assimilation into subjective unity or being-within-self of what is, to the Notion, the inadequate existence of immediacy or externality; not so that the Notion withdraws from this existence and leaves it as an empty shell, but so that existence as such is immanent within itself, or adequate to the Notion, and so that being-within-self, which is life, itself exists. The Notion wants to break the rind of externality in order to become itself. Life is the Notion which has reached its manifestation and stands displayed in its clarity; at the same time however it is the most difficult for the understanding to come to terms with, because the understanding finds it easiest to grasp whatever is simplest, abstract, and dead’.

-’Philosophy of Nature’

… that is to say with nature’s conceptual element and tis conceptual element exists as mind that is outside itself, petrified, its rationality immediately poured out in its activity, retaining no interiority and so the rationality of natural forms is exclusively practical, unaccompanied by any distinct dimension of interiority or conscious thought and with regard to this lack of interiority nature’s conceptual element fails to instantiate the logical structure of cognition but it is exactly the character of natural forms that they do still act according to rationality continuously transforming themselves in line with rational requirements despite their lack of conscious rational thoughts and it is also characteristic of natural forms to instantiate the structure of practical rationality but not that of cognition.

More specifically the theory of nature implies that the conceptual element in all natural forms instantiates the structure of practical reason, and thereby introduces some intrinsic goodness into all these forms. This implicit account of nature’s intrinsic goodness is compatible with the idea that ultimately human beings instantiate practical activity more perfectly since they consciously entertain the rational purposes from which they act and thus better instantiate the whole complex of logical relations between cognitive and practical activity. However the account of nature’s intrinsic goodness does raise a question concerning the ethical status of the earliest natural forms, externality, negativity, and material bodies, as these do not yet contain any conceptual element distinct from their materiality while at the same time these forms still change from rational necessity and so too must be good, acting from practical reason. Since these forms are immediately conceptual they can transform themselves as reason demands, at the physical stage this conceptual element that is the locus of nature’s practical rationality/goodness, becomes more independent and so the physical stage can be taken to exemplify the overall way that intrinsic goodness penetrates the natural world.

Any matter that comes to realize fully the purpose motivating its conceptual centre through qualitatively manifesting that centre is derivatively good, for instance the homogeneous matter of light is good because it adequately manifests light’s universality.

‘Light contains the moment of unity with self, and displays an absence of elision or finitude, consequently it was one of the first objects to be venerated, and has been regarded as the element in which mankind has become conscious of the absolute. It is the contrast between thought and being, subject and object, which exhibits the highest opposition however, and this was not to be found in light. The posited opposition between man and nature belongs only to the fullest form of self-consciousness. The religion of light is more sublime than that of the Indians or Greeks, but it is also the religion in which man has not yet risen to an awareness of opposition, to self-knowing spirituality’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Not many value judgments are passed upon particular natural forms for we are well associated with the general ontological thesis that objects are what they ought to be when their reality corresponds to their concept.

‘Truth is understood first to mean that I know how something is. But this is truth only in relation to consciousness; it is formal truth, mere correctness. In contrast with this, truth in the deeper sense means that objectivity is identical with the Concept. It is this deeper sense of truth which is at issue when we speak, for instance, of a ‘true’ State or a ‘true’ work of art. These objects are ‘true’ when they are what they ought to be, i. e., when their reality corresponds to their concept. Interpreted in this way, the ‘untrue’ is the same as what is sometimes also called the ‘bad’. A bad man is one who is ‘untrue’, i. e., one who does not behave in accord with his concept or his destination. But without any identity at all between Concept and reality nothing can subsist. Even what is bad and untrue can only be because its reality conforms to some extent with its Concept. Precisely for this reason, what is thoroughly bad or contrary to its concept disintegrates inwardly. It is by virtue of the Concept alone that things in the world have their own standing, to use the language of religious representation, things are what they are only because of the divine and hence creative thought that dwells within them’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

So goodness of nature’s material dimension increases in proportion as it progressively manifests the universality within it and the hierarchical vision of nature implicates all natural forms in being arranged on a scale of ascending goodness and at the same time Nature’s ontological progression is a value progression toward the realization of the good. Because the material aspects of natural forms are good only inasmuch as they disclose universality they must be bad inasmuch as they do not and any actual thing no doubt shows in itself what it ought to be, yet it may equally show that its actuality only imperfectly corresponds to this concept, that it is bad.

‘In the concrete things, together with the diversity of the properties among themselves, there also enters the difference between the concept and its realization. The concept has an external presentation in nature and spirit wherein its determinateness manifests itself as dependence on the external, as transitoriness and inadequacy. Therefore, although an actual thing will indeed manifest in itself what it ought to be, yet, in accordance with the negative judgment of the concept, it may equally also show that its actuality only imperfectly corresponds with this concept, that it is bad. Now the definition is supposed to indicate the determinateness of the concept in an immediate property; yet there is no property against which an instance could not be adduced where the whole habitus indeed allows the recognition of the concrete thing to be defined, yet the property taken for its character shows itself to be immature and stunted. In a bad plant, a bad animal type, a contemptible human individual, a bad state, there are aspects of their concrete existence that are defective or entirely missing but that might otherwise be picked out for the definition as the distinctive mark and essential determinateness in the existence of any such concrete entity. A bad plant, a bad animal, etc., remains a plant, an animal just the same. If, therefore, the bad specimens are also to be covered by the definition, then the empirical search for essential properties is ultimately frustrated, because of the instances of malformation in which they are missing; for instance, in the case of the physical human being, the essentiality of the brain is missing in the instance of acephalous individuals; or, in the case of the state, the essentiality of the protection of life and of property is missing in the instance of despotic states and tyrannical governments. — If the concept is maintained despite the contradicting instance and the latter is declared, as measured by the concept, to be a bad specimen, then the attestation of the concept is no longer based on appearance. But that the concept stands on its own goes against the meaning of definition; for definition is supposed to be the immediate concept, and can therefore derive its determinations of the subject matter only from the immediacy of existence and justify itself only in what it already finds there. — Whether its content is in and for itself truth or contingency, this lies outside the sphere of definition; but for this reason, because the singular subject matter under consideration may well be a bad specimen, formal truth, or the agreement of the concept subjectively posited in the definition and the actual subject matter outside it, cannot be established’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

Albeit matter gains in goodness as we ascend nature’s ontological ladder the gain is offset by a prevalence of badness lower down the scale leaving nature as a whole with roughly equal quantities of goodness and badness…. which is as it happens not the conclusion Hegel arrives at, rather even the poorest natural form has a wholly good conceptual dimension so that even though its matter is wholly bad not manifesting universality at all, nature still begins with an equal division of goodness and badness. In Hegel’s theory this form is evidently externality or empirical space whose discrete material constituents do not manifest at all the universality with which they are fused. Goodness only preponderates ever more as nature’s trajectory unfolds and so to an Hegelian nature is a predominantly good realm.


‘Hygeia, Goddess of Health’, 1615, Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Something of a sidesplitting nature must have occurred to westminstrel Jaunathaun for a grand big blossy hearty stenorious laugh (even Drudge that lay doggo thought feathers fell) hopped out of his wooly’s throat like a ball lifted over the head of a deep field, at the bare thought of how jolly they’d like to be trolling his whoop and all of them truetotypes in missammen massness were just starting to spladher splodher with the jolly magorios, hicky hecky hock, huges huges huges, hughy hughy hughy, O Jaun, so jokable and so geepy, O, (Thou pure! Our virgin! Thou holy! Our health! Thou strong! Our victory! O salutary! Sustain our firm solitude, thou who thou well strokest! Hear, Hairy ones!

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


Johnny Magories: to the Irish of the central and eastern counties, ‘a hip or doghaw, the fruit of the dog-rose’

hic, haec, hoc; hujus, hujus, hujus; huic, huic, huic (Latin) @ this (male, female and neuter nominative; male, female and neuter genitive; male, female and neuter dative; as repeated in schools) + Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus (Latin) — ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (prayer) and (laughter).

‘Toi seule es jeune, ô Cora; toi seule es pure, ô Vierge; toi seule es saine, ô Hygie; toi seule es forte, ô Victoire’ (French:’Thou alone art young, O Cora; thou alone art pure, O Virgin; thou alone art healthy, O Hygieia; thou alone art strong, O Victory’)

Genesis 27:11: ‘Esau… is a hairy man’.


All natural forms are to varying degrees intrinsically good which is to say they are good not only as a function of any human interests in or feelings about them but also in themselves by virtue of the objective relation between their conceptual and material elements and the way this instantiates the general structure of practical reason. This is a somewhat Kantian strategy for asserting intrinsic goodness in all natural forms whereby yo uphold their value goodness is first located in practical rationality and then practical rationality is extended into all natural forms, a strategy for re-enchanting nature albeit intrinsic value has traditionally been denied to nature in virtue of it being thought to lack the practical or theoretical rationality deemed criterial of intrinsic value and through extending practical rationality to nature Hegel differs markedly from many environmental ethicists who revalue nature not by contesting its non-rationality but by identifying in it qualities other than rationality that they take as criterial of its intrinsic value.

Hegel’s account of nature’s value compares with such recent approaches in this way. Most environmental thinkers do not believe themselves to share any common ground with Hegel’s account of nature but rather associate Hegel with the view that humanity is radically superior to nature through its placement at the top of the ontological hierarchy, and Hegel does hold this view, the value-hierarchy at the top of which he positions humanity already invests all nature with value so human superiority to nature is only of degree not of kind, on this, Hegel concurs with some recent environmental philosophers who consider humans superior to animals in the extent of their interests or capacities just as animals exceed plants in theirs, plants exceed minerals, and so on.

But recent advocates of intrinsic value in nature do not share Hegel’s conviction that practical rationality is the locus or criterion of value, alternative candidates h proposed being life, the subject-of-a-life, exhibition of a telic structure, or possession of interests. Such varying criteria lead different thinkers to attribute intrinsic value to different ranges of forms, higher mammals on the subject-of-a-life criterion, all organisms on the life or telic structure criteria, or all natural forms of which interests can reasonably be predicated, including species and ecosystems on the interestedness criterion. None of these theories extend intrinsic value as far as natural forms that are neither organic nor share the self-interested structure of organic life, forms such as rivers, mountains, soils, air, or seas. Other environmental philosophers have sought moral standing beyond the organic or quasi-organic, notably through either Aldo Leopold’s, (1887–1948), land ethic or deep ecology, but Leopold’s land ethic whereby ‘a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise’ extends moral standing to the biotic community understood, again, as quasi-organic. Deep ecology affirms the moral status of all natural entities by adopting a strong holism which denies firm ontological boundaries between things, so that we cannot distinguish ourselves from the world and can realize ourselves only by promoting the self-realization of the world too. Critics have noted that this approach remains anthropocentric and, indeed, egoistic, appealing to our concern for our own well-being.

This separates these theories from that of Hegel in which intrinsic goodness imbues all nature not only organisms or proto-organic forms and taking intrinsic goodness to adhere to practical reason and then extending practical reason to all nature allows for the postulation of goodness everywhere in it even in non-organic forms such as those chemical and electrical processes, sounds, colours, elemental qualities and rhythms, and even the passage of time and the vastness of space, nonetheless natural forms possess greater levels of value the higher they come hierarchically so that plants for example have greater value than the earth and animals greater value than plants and albeit all natural forms to have intrinsic value they do so to varying degrees, the organic being privileged over the nonorganic.

This extension of degrees of intrinsic goodness to all natural forms is allowed if we begin from the metaphysical view that all these forms act from requirements of rational necessity and for the most part environmental ethicists will not judge such a metaphysical view to be a viable place to begin from which to revalue the environment and yet this metaphysical view of nature is more adequate than the competing scientific paradigm in virtue of giving us a robust way of positing goodness in all nature, and while contemporary environmental ethicists are inclined to believe that a viable theory of nature’s intrinsic value has to be minimally reliant upon debatable metaphysical presuppositions, this judgment can be put into reverse whereby an Hegelian metaphysical conception of nature makes possible a robust account of nature’s intrinsic value and renders that metaphysical conception particularly adequate, indeed a metaphysical rethinking of nature will be particularly fruitful for environmentalism insofar as such rethinking will encourage recognition of intrinsic value in natural forms.

Such a rationalist metaphysics combines with a Kantian conception of moral worth to engender a conclusion whereby that the natural world is predominantly good and this makes this rationalist metaphysics more adequate than that presupposed in empirical science, to be clear Hegelian metaphysics engenders an ethical conclusion that renders it more adequate than the scientific view that it opposes to the extent that it does oppose it though it may be objected that the unusual ethical implication of Hegel’s metaphysics of nature merely confirms that this metaphysics is a fantasy giving birth to a fantastic view of nature that may well be pleasing and consoling while not contributing much to the illumination of nature’s real character.

Klaus Schulze, ‘The Unspoken Thing’:


Which brings us to the issue of sensibility and the intrinsic value of nature, this metaphysical conception of nature is distinguished from the scientific conception in that its rationalism enables us with its underlying Kantian understanding of goodness to attribute intrinsic goodness to all natural forms while the metaphysics presupposed in empirical science holds that natural forms are bare things acting only by virtue of external laws, things that are in themselves wholly value-neutral, intrinsically bereft of moral significance. And from the perspective of this scientific metaphysics,natural entities can only acquire value in relation to the interests or projects of human beings and to suppose that nature can possess intrinsic value would be to project into nature in itself a value it can have only relative to us. Hence Hegelian rationalist metaphysics enables us to challenge the narrowly anthropocentric assessment of nature’s ethical status that is incorporated into empirical science at least when that science is understood as presupposing a metaphysical view of natural forms as bare things.

And so Hegelian metaphysics is made more adequate than that of science, and we can see why through comments addressing the value of nature and its relation to sensible experience and that provide in outline an explanation for why the ethical implications of Hegel’s metaphysics make it most adequate. That outline is as follows. Our basic sensible which is to say preconceptual) experience of nature embodies a sense of its intrinsic value that an adequate conception of nature must be able to articulate and so the Hegelian ethical argument is supported and his metaphysics is most adequate since it can identify nature as intrinsically good with an additional phenomenological argument that this renders his metaphysics most adequate since it means that it can remain continuous with our sensible experience of nature as valuable on its own terms.

There is a requirement for a philosophical standpoint,or metaphysics that recognizes nature’s intrinsic worth. ‘The Spirit of Christianity’ (1798–1799) contains remarks to this effect the preoccupation being with the problem of human domination of nature. For instance the claims is made that natural beings should be recognized as having ‘life, rights, [worthiness of] love for itself’ and such a view is contrasted to a putatively Judaic position that nature is hostileand had to be mastered (beherrscht). Abraham thought that the world in itself was a nullity (Nichts) acquiring meaning only from God but having no intrinsic significance or value the Judaic view in general is that ‘everything is matter . . . a stuff, loveless, without rights, something which . . . they treat as accursed and then assign to its proper place if it attempts to stir’ an outlook to be superseded, and which in his ‘Differenzschrift’, 1801, he discovers restated in a modern guise by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and he objects that in Fichte’s thought ‘the living is torn apart into concept and matter and nature comes under servitude [Botmäßigkeit]’. By way of contrast Hegel affirms our ‘[n]eed for a philosophy which would reconcile nature for the mishandling which it [also] suffers in Kant’s and Fichte’s systems’ and this philosophy has to be premised on a kind of reason that ‘forms itself into nature’, a new philosophy predicated upon a metaphysical outlook that recognizes that reason is present in nature and so nature has intrinsic value, a position that reconciles nature for its former mishandling. Such are the views found in early Hegel anyway, but they foreshadow Hegel’s later claims that modern culture ‘mishandles nature and denies its right and that this modern denial of nature’s right, that is, of its intrinsic worth, must be transcended by a philosophical standpoint that rejects the opposition of nature to reason.

‘Now the pictorial and external side, which is just as necessary to the Ideal as the inherently solid content, and the manner of their interpenetration, brings us to the relation between nature and the ideal artistic representation. For this external element and its configuration has an association with what in general terms we call ‘nature’. In this connection the old, ever-recurring dispute whether art should portray external objects just as they are or whether it should glorify natural phenomena and transfigure them is not yet settled. The right of nature and the right of the beautiful, the Ideal and truth to nature-in such prima facie vague words we can hear argument going on unceasingly. For ‘the work of art should of course be natural’, but ‘there is also an ordinary ugly nature, and this should not be reproduced’, ‘but on the other hand’-and so it goes on without any end or definite result.

- ‘Aesthetics’

As Jere Paul Surber observes the ‘Differenzschrift’ remains in the background to Hegel’s later thought: it ‘provides what can . . . be called a ‘metaphilosophical’ viewpoint which seems to remain constant throughout the rest of his [Hegel’s] life’. In the ‘Aesthetics’ there is an indication that the denial of nature’s intrinsic value that occurs in science and in certain post-Enlightenment philosophical views is connected to the disengagement of these views from our sensible experience and these perspectives that deny nature’s right are thinking about it abstractly and this means that they drain nature of its colour, noisiness, and qualitative richness in general.

‘The more thought predominates in ordinary perceptiveness, so much the more does the naturalness, individuality, and immediacy of things vanish away. As thoughts invade the limitless multiformity of nature, its richness is impoverished, its springtimes die, and there is a fading in the play of its colours. That which in nature was noisy with life, falls silent in the quietude of thought; its warm abundance, which shaped itself into a thousand intriguing wonders, withers into arid forms and shapeless generalities, which resemble a dull northern fog. Both these determinations are opposed to both practical ones, and we also find that the theoretical approach is inwardly self-contradictory, for it appears to bring about the precise opposite of what it intends. We want to know the nature that really is, not something which is not, but instead of leaving it alone and accepting it as it is in truth, instead of taking it as given, we make something completely different out of it. By thinking things, we transform them into something universal; things are singularities however, and the lion in general does not exist’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Scientific and classical Enlightenment views of nature represent it as bereft of the qualities including value-qualities that we sensibly understand to be present within it and in this scientific and Enlightenment views are abstracted from sensibility, the modern picture of nature is detached from sensible experience in virtue in part of its disenchantment for sensibility embodies a basic understanding of nature as intrinsically valuable, as having its own right. There is a need for a philosophical recognition and conceptualization of nature’s intrinsic value and this conceptualization is necessary to reintegrate philosophy with sensible experience. The ideal of Bildung commits us to the general principle that a philosophy is justified insofar as it retains continuity with sensible experience yet philosophy can be adequate only if it articulates sensibility and especially it has to articulate our sensible experience of nature as valuable in itself for the Hegelian metaphysical conception of nature is uniquely adequate since it can articulate this experience by attributing intrinsic goodness to all natural forms.

We must recognise nature’s right. The ethical defence of the metaphysics is supported by the phenomenological argument. Hegelian metaphysics is justified by articulating a basic understanding of nature’s intrinsic value, which approaches closely the view that moral theory must be directed by intuitions, particular allegedly universal and fundamental intuitions about the goodness of nature, a coherent set of intuitions about nature’s ethical status is present if we are open to them, intuitions we can rely upon and take on board, albeit Hegel opposed at least one contemporary moral theory with some affinities with later intuitionism, the ethics of conviction of Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773–1843). Fries presented his theory as a development of Kant whereby conscientious convictions provide our best guide as to the content of the moral law so that in acting from conscience one is acting with good will, even when as can regularly happen one’s convictions are misguided. Hegel’s funny polemic against Fries prefaces the ‘Philosophy of Right’, an attack on the morality of conscience but I won’t go into that here as much as I would like to.

So perhaps in light of that response to Fries it appears unlikely that Hegel would endorse a moral theory granting a similarly privileged status to intuitions, but Hegel’s position on the need to articulate sensibility differs from any kind of intuitionism in two ways, only our sense of nature’s value should receive conceptual articulation and not all our everyday moral intuitions or convictions deserve to be taken seriously, indeed many diurnal intuitions will need substantial overhaul in light of a proper apprehension of nature’s ethical status. Our basic sense of nature’s value holds special status among these various intuitions since it is a fundamental element in all experience not merely the internalized reflex of a contingently dominant social norm as most intuitions are.

And secondly, the Hegelian stance differs from intuitionism for the proposition is not that our sense of nature’s value should be straightforwardly accepted but rather that it should receive conceptual articulation into a cogent metaphysical position. In the ‘Differenzschrift’ he says that reason should not ‘renounce itself’ or ‘become a hollow imitator of nature’ but ‘form itself into nature out of an inner strength’. Which is to say this new philosophy should conceptualize nature, coherently, in a way that recognizes its intrinsic value and our basic sense of this value,being nonconceptual is too inchoate and amorphous to provide a basis for moral judgment prior to conceptual articulation and so the Hegelian stance is not one akin to intuitionism.


‘La maga Circe’, Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, (1609–1681)

— There is some thing more. A word apparting and shall the heart’s tone be silent. Engagements, I’ll beseal you! Fare thee well, fairy well! All I can tell you is this, my sorellies. It’s prayers in layers all the thumping time, begor, the young gloria’s gang voices the old doxologers, in the suburrs of the heavenly gardens, once we shall have passed, after surceases, all serene through neck and necklike Derby and June to our snug eternal retribution’s reward (the scorchhouse). Shunt us! shunt us! shut us! If you want to be felixed come and be parked. Sacred ease there! The seanad and pobbel queue’s remainder. To it, to it!

- ‘Finnegans Wake’


Gloria : a name for each of several formulæ in Christian liturgical worship and gloria (Latin) : praise, honor.

gang : any band or company of persons who go about together or act in concert

voice : to express in words or with the voice

doxology : a short formula of praise to God, esp. one in liturgical use and doxologia (Greek) — laudation, praising.

Suburra (Latin) : red-light district of Imperial Rome and suburbs.

surcease : the action, or an act, of bringing or coming to an end; cessation, stop; esp. a temporary cessation, suspension, or intermission and Circe.

all serene : a slang phrase for ‘all’s well’, ‘all right’


Hegelian rationalist metaphysics of nature is more adequate than the metaphysics presupposed in empirical science since it can recognize nature’s intrinsic value thereby articulating our basic, sensible, mode of experience a glorious ethical argument for a rationalist conception of nature.

But what need I for such intricate abstract arguments for nature’s given my love for nature’s glory, my muse, the dear One, to whom I dedicate everything I do?

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day

When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May

I guess you’d say What can make me feel this way

My girl, my girl, my girl

Talkin’ ‘bout my girl

My girl I’ve got so much honey

The bees envy me I’ve got a sweeter song

Than the birds in the trees …

Coming up next:

More on nature’s rights.

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.