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

David Proud
60 min readJan 26, 2024

A Woman’s Life and Love — 5.

‘Help me, ye sisters’

by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838)

Help me, ye sisters,

friendly, adorn me,

serve me, today’s fortunate one,

busily wind

about my brow

the adornment of blooming myrtle.

Otherwise, gratified,

of joyful heart,

I would have lain in the arms of the beloved,

so he called ever out,

yearning in his heart,

impatient for the present day.

Help me, ye sisters,

help me to banish

a foolish anxiety,

so that I may with clear

eyes receive him,

him, the source of joyfulness.

Dost, my beloved,

thou appear to me,

givest thou, sun, thy shine to me?

Let me with devotion,

let me in meekness,

let me curtsy before my lord.

Strew him, sisters,

strew him with flowers,

bring him budding roses,

but ye, sisters,

I greet with melancholy,

joyfully departing from your midst.

‘Helft mir, ihr Schwestern’

Helft mir, ihr Schwestern,

Freundlich mich schmücken,

Dient der Glücklichen heute mir.

Windet geschäftig

Mir um die Stirne

Noch der blühenden Myrte Zier.

Als ich befriedigt,

Freudigen Herzens,

Dem Geliebten im Arme lag,

Immer noch rief er,

Sehnsucht im Herzen,

Ungeduldig den heut’gen Tag.

Helft mir, ihr Schwestern,

Helft mir verscheuchen

Eine thörichte Bangigkeit;

Daß ich mit klarem

Aug’ ihn empfange,

Ihn, die Quelle der Freudigkeit.

Bist, mein Geliebter,

Du mir erschienen,

Giebst du, Sonne, mir deinen Schein?

Laß mich in Andacht,

Laß mich in Demuth,

Mich verneigen dem Herren mein.

Streuet ihm, Schwestern,

Streuet ihm Blumen,

Bringt ihm knospende Rosen dar.

Aber euch, Schwestern,

Grüß’ ich mit Wehmuth,

Freudig scheidend aus eurer Schaar.


‘Opportunity makes the thief’, 1895, Giovanni Battista Quadrone

Stephen Houlgate, (1954 — ), begins his introduction to the edited volume, ‘Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature’, thus:

‘G.W.F. Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, which forms the second part of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817, 1827, 1830), has long been the object of ridicule and disdain. Karl Popper famously mocked Hegel’s account of sound and heat in The Open Society and its Enemies (first published in 1945); and one hundred years earlier (in 1844) the biologist Matthias J Schleidin, dismissed the entirety of human nature as a ‘string of pearls of the crudest empirical ignorance’ consisting of little more than ‘miserable criticism and excerpts put together without judgement’. As a result of such uncompromising condemnation, all that the name ‘Hegel’ has signified to many during the last century and a half is an arrogant and ignorant German philosopher who denied evolution and who (in 1801) ‘proved’ a priori that there could only be seven planets just as the asteroids were being discovered between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Jacob Bronowski, speaking to a television audience of millions in his series, The Ascent of Man, mentioned nothing at all about Hegel except the latter’s ‘proof’ that there could be no eight planet, and felt moved to confess that he ‘specifically detest[s]’ Hegel, in part no doubt because of the latter’s infamous ‘proof’. It seems that for many the only redeeming feature of Hegel’s philosophy of nature is that (unlike Schelling’s) it failed to exercise any significant influence whatsoever over practising natural scientists’.

— ‘Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature’.

Jacob Bronowski, (1908–1974), no doubt was a brilliant mathematician but he hadn’t done his homework as far as Hegel is concerned. The story that Hegel ‘proved’ by logic that there can only be seven planets just as an eighth planet was being discovered (Neptune, actually discovered in 1846, that is how the story is usually told, and not the discovery of asteroids which aren’t planets anyway), never happened. This has to be a great irony that in this series that is a celebration of the history of human achievement and scientific endeavour he dismisses with scorn a philosopher he hasn’t even read.

So what did Hegel actually say concerning the planets? I deal with it in one of my articles in this series, (and we now have access to the internet as Bronowski did not so we can do our fact checking and find out very quickly whether that oft told tale about Hegel is true or not).

In the Houlgate collection of papers on Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ three of them are devoted to ‘rehabilitating’ Hegel’s ‘Dissertation on the Orbits of the Planets’, long ridiculed because in it Hegel attempted to prove that there could be no planet between Mars and Jupiter just as the planetoid Ceres was being discovered between them. Mauro Nasti de Vincentis, (1937 — ), contends that the Dissertation does at least include a valid criticism of Isaac Newton’s proof of his generalised areal law (Johannes Kepler’s second law states that a planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times, that is, the area divided by time, called the areal velocity, is constant), which plays a central role in his Principia. De Vincentis suggests that Hegel in all likelihood drew on the related criticism of Newton’s proof by Louis-Bertrand Castel, (1688–1757), a contemporary of Newton. Cinzia Ferrini analyses Hegel’s shift from criticising his own Dissertation in the 1817 Encyclopaedia to omitting this criticism in 1827 and 1830 and she contends that this reflects his changing assessment of the relation between philosophy and mathematics whereby in 1817 Hegel thinks that empirical quantities in nature, for instance, the magnitudes in the solar system, are irreducible to law and so cannot be deduced as necessary by philosophy, later however he decides that these quantities can be captured by law in respect of their specific mathematical form.

In ‘The Ontological Foundations of Hegel’s Dissertation of 1801', Olivier Depré ‘rehabilitates’ the Dissertation by arguing that it reflects Hegel’s philosophical views of his Frankfurt period in particular, specifically in that it demonstrates Hegel to be repudiating ‘a certain conception of science which he considered to be an oppression of nature, while he … was seeking to conceive of nature as the free realisation of reason’. So Hegel opposes any approach which subjects nature to given authority rather than construing it as spontaneously expressing reason and one such oppressive approach according to Depré argues is that of quantitative science, science based upon mathematics and Hegel finds this exemplified in the ‘Titius-Bode’ law, which calculated the distances of the planets from the sun according to a rule of arithmetical progression. He substitutes an alternative progression which he considers more rational and which entails that there should be no planet between Mars and Jupiter and Depré stresses that the important point is Hegel’s concern to reinstitute a qualitative physics according to which nature is free and alive. Depre as it happens explicitly addressed the ethical status of nature and opened up some space for a dialogue between Hegel’s thought and that of later critics such as Theodor W. Adorno, (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer, (1895–1973), for whom mathematised science inherently dominates nature. Questions remain however as to why a mathematised conception of nature should be counted as dominating or subjecting nature to ‘positive authority, and why the idea that nature is intrinsically rational does not dominate it perhaps by denying its non-rational creativity or its fecundity.

In that same volume William Maker, (1949–2921), begins his contribution thus:

‘If we speak of ‘what is living and what is dead’ in Hegel, it is probably safe to say that nowadays, nothing is more dead than Hegel’s philosophy of nature. I shall examine and question this diagnosis, contending that the Philosophy of Nature has been subject to a premier burial. The Problem. While the expression ‘philosophy of nature’ may not be in vogue, it is nonetheless true that, since Hegel’s time, philosophers have continued to speak about nature and our knowledge of it in a wide variety of ways. So what is it about Hegel’s treatment of the topic that invites dismissal? Many have concluded that Hegel’s overall philosophical method — his systematic approach — led him into a metaphysical idealism which is patently incompatible with an acceptable view of nature and how we know it. Thu, just what Hegel sees as the distinctive mark of truth and superiority in his philosophy — its systematic character — appears to be what renders the Philosophy of Nature problematic. Before examining the justice of this view, we need to see why systematicity as Hegel construes it may seem to entail metaphysical idealism. Hegel claims that the scientific character of his system consists in the strictly immanent self-determination of its categories. According to him, the system is ‘absolute’ — it articulates unconditional, universal, and necessary truth — because it is radically autonomous and self-contained: lacking any external foundations, what comes to be established in it is unequivocally true because fully self-grounded, not conditionally dependent on anything outside of the system which stands in need of further legitimation or accounting. In conceiving of truth in this manner Hegel makes a radical break with the philosophical tradition, for this systematic approach means that we must abandon the view that truth can be founded on some already given determinacy. Instead we must see that truth which is demonstrable and legitimatible is truth construed as self-determination’.

- ‘The Very Idea of the Idea of Nature, or Why Hegel is Not an Idealist’

Maker’s essay is one of five in the collection addressing the opening sections of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and the puzzling transition to nature with which Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic’ concludes. In ‘The Very Idea of the Idea of Nature’, he starts off by rejecting metaphysical idealism, glossed as the view that reality is either a product of thought, identical to thought, or isomorphic with thought. For Maker metaphysical idealism unacceptably denies nature’s givenness and facticity and he proposes an alternative reading of Hegel’s philosophy as systematic and self-grounding whereby systematicity entails a concept of nature as radically other to thought and this is because the process of logical self-determination must grasp itself as a whole in contrast to something radically external to logic, hence Maker’s conclusion that Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ has been given a ‘premature burial’ and that the death certificate ought to be rescinded.

Maker thus presents a kind of argument also found in argument has certain parallels with that of Donald Philip Verene’s, (1937, ‘Hegel’s Nature’., whereby the transition from logic to nature should be read not literally as a description of nature’s emergence but ironically (?!) as professing Hegel’s abandonment of ‘metaphysical thinking’ for ‘philosophy of thinking’, the systematic reorganisation of the truths of the various sciences. Verene believes that once Hegel recognises nature’s robust reality, its ‘independence and unpredictability, he has to accept the need to learn about nature from the sciences, therefore he constructs a compendium of contemporary scientific findings. But somewhat by way of contrast Maker contends that Hegel’s concept of nature as radically other makes possible an ‘a priori account of nature … in terms of delineating and accounting for the general features of givenness as such’. According to Verene Hegel’s philosophy of nature is a posteriori and realistic, for Maker it is a priori and furthermore must be non-realistic given that any attempt to describe nature’s real structures is metaphysically idealistic and remains at the standpoint of consciousness, with its subject/object distinction. Maker of course is rejecting metaphysical idealism too readily by grouping several different positions under this heading for most assuredly nature may be described as containing or embodying conceptual structures without thereby reducing nature to thought, and Verene of course assumes too readily that real nature can only be appropriately described by science, it may be the case that nature really embodies conceptual structures and hence that it is best described in specifically philosophical terms.

And on the first page of the Introduction to her book, ‘Petrified Intelligence: Nature in Hegel’s Philosophy’, Alison Stone remarks:

‘The idea that Hegel’s philosophy of nature could speak to important social and philosophical problems is not a popular one. Ever since its initial publication in outline form in 1817, Hegel’s philosophy of nature has been dismissed, rejected, and ridiculed by most philosophers. As Terry Pinkard notes in his recent biography of Hegel, the philosophy of nature was ‘ignored for the most part in his own time . . . [and] it fell into complete disrepute immediately after his death and has rarely been looked at since by anybody other than dedicated Hegel scholars’. Indeed, even the majority of Hegel scholars have been distinctly unsympathetic toward his philosophy of nature. Alexandre Kojève, for example, castigates Hegel’s ‘absurd philosophy of Nature, his insensate critique of Newton, and his own ‘magical’ physics which discredited his system’. The reason so many readers have given the Philosophy of Nature short shrift is that they have perceived it to present a speculative, a priori, theory of the natural world that competes with standard scientific accounts. Most of Hegel’s readers agree that this presupposes an absurdly inflated assessment of the powers of pure a priori reasoning, which is in reality capable of generating only a tissue of fantastic imaginings about nature, as Hegel was inevitably left with’

- ‘Petrified Intelligence’

But as Hegel explains (and this is not that difficult):

‘Philosophical thinking knows that nature is idealised not merely by us, that nature’s externality is not an absolutely insuperable obstacle for nature itself, for its concept; but that the eternal idea dwelling in nature, or, what is the same thing, the implicit mind working within nature, brings about the idealisation, the sublation of the externality, because this form of mind’s existence conflicts with the interiority of its essence. Therefore philosophy has, as it were, simply to watch how nature itself sublates its externality, how it takes back its externality to itself into the centre of the idea, or lets this centre step forth into the external, how it frees the hidden concept from the covering of externality and thereby overcomes external necessity. This transition from necessity to freedom is not a simple transition but a series of stages [Stufengang] consisting of many moments, the presentation of which makes up the philosophy of nature.

- Hegel, ‘Philosophy of Mind’


‘Opportunity makes the thief’, 1895, Giovanni Battista Quadrone

Song: Go, lovely rose!

by Edmund Waller, (1606–1687)

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me,

That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts, where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

Then die! that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me,

That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts, where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

Then die! that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!


‘Bearing in mind the present misunderstandings and prejudices in regard to the philosophy of nature, it might seem appropriate to begin by setting out the true concept of this science. . . . What we are engaged on here is not a matter of imagination or fantasy; it is a matter of the concept and of reason’.

- Hegel, ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Two central questions dominate throughout the Houlgate collection. Firstly, what contributions do a priori and empirical knowledge, respectively, make to Hegel’s philosophy of nature? Houlgate says in his introduction that there are two interpretations of Hegel’s relationship to the empirical sciences whereby according to the first he develops the basic structure of his account of nature conceptually then fleshes out this structure with scientific findings which are thereby reorganised, reinterpreted, and revised as appropriate. According to the second interpretation Hegel begins from scientific knowledge and then develops a flexible conceptual framework for giving these results intelligibility, a reading defended in detail by John Burbidge in his ‘Real Process: How Logic and Chemistry Combine in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature’. Albeit both interpretations therefore understand Hegel’s account of nature to have a priori and empirical components they disagree over which component has priority. And the second key question that pervades this collection albeit less explicitly than the question of Hegel’s apriorism is whether or not he aims at ‘characterising the status of [natural] entities in themselves, quite apart from their relation to a potential observer or researcher’ as Daniel O. Dahlstrom puts it. Does Hegel’s philosophy of nature aspire to describe nature as it is in itself independently of its relation to us? Or is Hegel outlining a succession of categories through which we must think about or confer intelligibility upon nature?

So picture the notoriety and the subsequent declarations of philosophical death following Hegel’s 1801 Habilitation thesis in which in his early thirties and as yet hardly a man of the world supposedly demonstrates a priori that there could only be seven planets, the Habilitation being merely one reason Hegel has acquired such a bad reputation with the proponents of empirical science. Perhaps none of these reactions are that surprising in particular given that the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ begins with Hegel reflecting upon the science’s lifeless and ridiculous reputation and of course he proceeds to blame this reputation on his misguided peers most notably Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, (1775–1854):

‘It can perhaps be said that philosophy, in our time, enjoys no particular favour or affection; it is at least no longer recognized as the foundation which must constitute the indispensable introduction to all further scientific and vocational education. It may certainly be accepted as indisputably true however, that the philosophy of nature in particular is suffering from a very considerable lack of favour. I shall not concern myself very fully with the extent to which this particular prejudice is justified, although I cannot of course entirely overlook this question. Intense stimulation has had the effect that one might have expected, and looking at the way in which the Idea of the philosophy of nature has exhibited itself in recent times, one might say that in the first gratification which its discovery has afforded, it has been grasped by fumbling hands instead of being wooed by active reason, and that it is by its suitors rather than by its detractors that it has been done to death. For the most part it has been variously transformed into an external formalism, and perverted into a notionless instrument for superficiality of thought and unbridled powers of imagination. The details of the extravaganzas into which death-struck forms of the Idea have been perverted do not concern me here. Some years ago I expressed myself more fully on this subject in the preface to ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’. It need cause no surprise that the more thoughtful view of nature, in which perception has been guided by the Idea, as well as the crass empiricism of the external abstract understanding, should have shunned such a procedure, which is as grotesque as it is pretentious. Crude empiricism and travestied thought-forms, capriciousness of fancy and the flattest methods of proceeding according to superficial analogy, have been mixed into a complete chaos, and this stew has been served up as the Idea, reason, science, divine perception. A complete lack of system and scientific method has been hailed as the very peak of scientific accomplishment. It is charlatanry such as this, and Schelling’s philosophy is a prime example of it, that has brought the philosophy of nature into disrepute’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The general reactions in the literature are also of course not that surprising given the similar reactions almost verbatim to the status of Hegel’s speculative logic. But as Hegel continues:

‘To reject the philosophy of nature outright because of such bungling and misrepresentation of the Idea, is quite another matter however. Those possessed by a hatred of philosophy have often welcomed its misuse and perversion, which they have used in order to bring the science itself into discredit, and out of their established rejection of what is bogus, to fabricate nebulous evidence of their having called philosophy itself in question’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Those sympathetic to Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in the mainstream literature include Michael John Petry, (1933–2003), whose detailed and well researched commentary on the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in the 1970s assisted in the restoration of whatever good reputation it had in the first place and more recently Houlgate, also sympathetic to Hegel’s logic, Alison Stone and Elaine P. Miller are significant scholars of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ linking nature to spirit writing from a feminist standpoint although in addition writing on matters beyond the immediate scope of feminist concern in respect to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’. Nonetheless given the news of its supposed demise the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ is relatively ignored in Hegel scholarship. For instance the 1993 edition of the ‘Cambridge Companion to Hegel’ covers Hegel’s philosophy from ethics, to logic, to aesthetics, to religion and method and even features articles addressing the relationship between Hegel’s philosophy and Marxism, Hegel and analytic philosophy, but no article in that edition addresses Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’. Not much of a companion then. As for the 2009 Cambridge Companion this includes an article by Kenneth R. Westphal, (1955 — ), but that is less concerned with the philosophical status of Hegel’s text in terms of his overall project and more concerned to defend Hegel against accusations of charlatanism in relation to the sciences. (‘Philosophizing about Nature: Hegel’s Philosophical Project’). As a matter of fact most of the debates in the literature surrounding Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ focus upon the relationship between Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and the empirical sciences and a glance through the work does provoke the feeling that Hegel appears to be privileging a logical as opposed to an empirical approach to natural science. As Stone said: ‘Most of Hegel’s readers agree that this presupposes an absurdly inflated assessment of the powers of pure a priori reasoning, which is in reality capable of generating only a tissue of fantastic imaginings about nature’ which is an allegation Hegel levels against his own contemporaries and that Hegel was inevitably left with, and Stone herself directs Hegel scholarship in new directions in respect to Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ contending that his Nature has important implications for ethics and environmentalism while also sketching her positions chiefly in relation to the main debate in the literature, that over Hegel’s alleged hyper-rationalism arguing for a strong a priori account of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’.

But with Pluto having been demoted from its planetary status perhaps this just goes to show there is something to the Hegelian a priori deduction or at least scientists might have more a priori notions than they admit to. As Hegel explains:

‘The first thing to be noticed about this distinction between physics and the philosophy of nature and the mutual determination which exists between them, is that they are not so widely separated as they might seem to be at first. Physics and natural history are regarded as eminently empirical sciences, as belonging exclusively to observation and experience, and as therefore opposed to the philosophy of nature, the cognition of nature by means of thought. It has in the first instance to be pointed out however, that empirical physics contains much more thought than it will either realize or admit; that it is in fact better than it supposes, or if thought is considered to be a bad thing for it, that it is worse than it supposes. Physics and the philosophy of nature are therefore to be distinguished, not as perception and thought, but merely by the nature and manner of their thought. [die Art und Weise des Denkens] Both are a thinking cognition of nature’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Anyway, on to the topic for today. Plant sex.

Hegel’s grasp on the science of his day and measuring his understanding against contemporary understanding of scientific phenomena is beside the point albeit it is of philosophical import to show the scope and implications of an a priori approach as Stone does but in order to decide the meaning of the debate over Hegel’s a priorism or rationalism one must consider the status of Hegel’s logic in relation to his account of nature. As the ‘all-animating soul of the sciences’ logic gives to nature and to spirit the enlivening determinations that permit us to see the idea in natural guise amidst the literal and metaphorical debris in nature. And the text can and indeed has been (see previous article) read with an eye towards the emergence of natural sexual difference or the natural sex relation. This happens in the third section of the Nature, in the ‘Organics’, specifically in analogical mode in plant nature and in the emerging spiritual mode in the animal organism. There is a passage in Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ (given in previous article) concerning the the education of women and women being like plants which can have implications for an Hegelian reading of marriage albeit it is metaphorical so we should rather focus our attention on a close reading of plant nature. While some scholars like Houlgate aspire to give each of the parts of the Encyclopedia despite their bad reputations their equal due nearly all privilege one part of the Encyclopedia over the others either because they decide without a hearing that the disreputable part is dead, like Allen William Wood, (1942 — ), or because they appear to have imposed another set of values or standards onto Hegel which are not quite Hegel’s own, like Stone. We should though read each part of Hegel’s Encyclopedia evenly in spite of our extraneous object of interest, in this case sexual difference.

Feminist philosophers are sympathetic and antipathetic to the ‘Philosophy of Nature though there are a scant number of references to it in feminist literature in spite of philosophical accounts of nature have been a familiar object of feminist criticism for decades, there is indeed very little written in the English language feminist literature on Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’, though examples of the two principal volumes as indicators of the changing concerns in feminist scholarship on Hegel during the last twenty five years or so are ‘Feminist Interpretations of G.W.F. Hegel’, 1996, contains only some scattered references to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in an essay by Mary O’Brien who contends in a footnote that the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ harbours a ‘more developed misogyny’ which is ‘historicized in a romantic vision of prehistory’ (‘Man, Physiology, Fate’, but this is simply an unsubstantiated assertion.

‘Opportunity makes the thief’, 1895, Giovanni Battista Quadrone

And ‘Hegel’s Philosophy and Feminist Thought: Beyond Antigone’, 2010, contains one article by Alison Stone that focuses upon the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ alongside the ‘Philosophy of Right’ providing an account of Geshchlectsdifferenz, and another by Susanna Lindberg, (1966 -), that makes briefer and less systematic reference to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, and Elaine Miller in ‘The Vegetative Soul: From Philosophy of Nature to Subjectivity in the Feminine’ writes on plants and their associations with women, and on human sexual difference, but the majority of feminist scholarship on Hegel concentrates almost entirely upon Hegel’s accounts of the family.

With regard to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, Metaphysics, and the empirical sciences so-called the work opens with a series of introductory notes all of which are simply merely prefatory and not scientific in themselves and the propsition is put that we determine what philosophy of nature is by separating it off from the subject-matter with which it is contrasted and the subject-matter to which it is to be contrasted is physics (die Physik) or the natural sciences and we are informed that the philosophy of nature is not as far apart from physics as one might suppose. Physics (Die Physik) and natural history (Naturgeschichte) are called empirical sciences (empirische Wissenschaften) par excellence and they profess to belong entirely to the sphere of perception (Warnehmung) and experience (Erfahrung), and in this way to be opposed to the philosophy of nature (Naturphilosophie), that is to a knowledge of nature from thought (der Naturerkenntnis aus dem Gedanken) but the principal charge to be brought against physics is that it contains much more thought than it admits and is aware of and that it is better than it supposes itself to be or if, perhaps, all thought in physics is to be counted a defect then it is worse than it supposes itself to be. Hence physics and the philosophy of nature are not distinguished from each other as perception and thought but only by the kind and manner of their thought (sondern nur durch die Art und Weise des Denkens) and they are both a thinking apprehension of anture (denkende Erkenntnis der Natur).

Physics and natural history profess to be and are reputed to be purely empirical and this is the source of the notion that these empirical sciences are opposed to Naturphilosophie, which is in contrast, a knowledge of nature from thought, and here Hegel’s description reflects the contemporary debates concerning his philosophy of nature, and the charges against it that it is an unacceptably metaphysical as opposed to an empirical approach to nature. But then Hegel turns the tables with his contention that the empirical sciences themselves harbour much more thought than is generally supposed which is to say the empirical sciences are not purely empirical but rather smuggle in concepts, metaphysical presuppositions and everyday prejudices into their projects, thought for which the empirical sciences cannot account and depending upon one’s standpoint, the perhaps unconscious thought in the empirical sciences is a weakness or a strength and for Hegel it is both.

The thought contained in the putative empirical sciences is a weakness because this thought is unclarified thought, thought which cannot be thought through by the empirical sciences themselves, and the thought upon which the sciences unconsciously draw is not the metaphysics Hegel established in his speculative logic but rather the confused and vulgar thinking of everyday life and of scientific life, and to the extent that these sciences are not envigorated by Hegel’s properly deduced categories they are not genuine sciences. The strength of the thought contained in the empirical sciences is the very fact that it is thought and this thought prepared by physics awaits the intervention of Naturphilosophie. ‘The Philosophy of Nature’ takes up the material which physics has prepared for it empirically, at the point to which physics has brought it, and reconstitutes it, so that experience is not its final warrant and base, it thereby replaces the abstract universals which physics prepares with conceptually necessary determinations deduced by way of speculative logic, or to put it another way the philosophy of nature is in the best position to comprehend what the empirical sciences think they know because of the conceptual apparatus with which it comes equipped from speculative logic. Hegel then concludes that what distinguishes the philosophy of nature from physics is more precisely the kind of metaphysics used by them both, for metaphysics is nothing else but the entire range of the universal determinations of thought so to speak, ‘the diamond net’ (das diamantene Netz) into which everything is brought and thereby first made intelligible (verständlich).

This metaphysical diamond net, ‘the entire range of the universal determinations of thought;, was deduced in the logic books and in the absence of which we could not properly recognize the necessity and the genuine universality in protean spider-infested (I hate spiders) nature.

‘The philosophy of nature distinguishes itself from physics on account of the metaphysical procedure it employs, for metaphysics is nothing but the range of universal thought-determinations, and is as it were the diamond-net into which we bring everything in order to make it intelligible. Every cultured consciousness has its metaphysics, its instinctive way of thinking. This is the absolute power within us, and we shall only master it if we make it the object of our knowledge. Philosophy in general, as philosophy, has different categories from those of ordinary consciousness. All cultural change reduces itself to a difference of categories. All revolutions, whether in the sciences or world history, occur merely because spirit has changed its categories in order to understand and examine what belongs to it, in order to possess and grasp itself in a truer, deeper, more intimate and unified manner. The inadequacy of the thought determinations used in physics may be traced to two very closely connected points. (a) The universal of physics is abstract or simply formal; its determination is not immanent within it, and does not pass over into particularity. (b) This is precisely the reason why its determinate content is external to the universal, and is therefore split up, dismembered, particularized, separated and lacking in any necessary connection within itself; why it is in fact merely finite. Take a flower for example. The understanding can note its particular qualities, and chemistry can break it down and analyse it. Its colour, the shape of its leaves, citric acid, volatile oil, carbon, hydrogen etc., can be distinguished; and we then say that the flower is made up of all these parts’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Does Hegel deduces nature in any material sense? Does he fail to recognize the sheer thatness and givenness of Nature as Stone does in ‘Petrified Intelligence’. He deduces that there must be a nature, that the Idea must have existence but nature itself is not in any sense supposed to emanate from the speculative logic. If this were the case, everything including Krug’s pen (I bring this up a few articles ago) would need to be deduced which is not the case since there is much in nature which does not matter in respect to the concept, the veritable matter, such as spiders, rather nature is what confronts us in its overpowering thereness as we emerge from the hushed restfulness of the logic but having gone through the science of speculative logic with our metaphysical diamond net we are well equipped confronted by an intimidating proteus. The naked givenness of nature and its cast of colourful creatures and other phenomena are taken on board but let us not remain in a state of dizziness in the face of the teeming varieties in nature. Wonder is an unscientific disposition, ‘what we are engaged on here, is not an affair of imagination and fancy, but of the Notion, of Reason’. Despite the copious notes indicating a preoccupation with everything phenomenal from electricity to sea slime in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ which proceeds strictly by the concept, much of what one might find irreducible, fascinating, and worthwhile in nature drops out and the problem from an external viewpoint is not that Hegel reduces all of nature to the concept, it is rather that everything not amenable to the concept does not matter.

Hegel declares that ‘in the progress of philosophical knowledge, we must not only give an account of the object as determined by its Notion (Begriff), but we must also name the empirical appearance corresponding to it, and we must show that the appearance does, in fact, correspond to its Notion (Begriff)’ albeit the project in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ is more involved than this suggests but he alludes to the circling of the philosophical systems, the progress of philosophical knowledge. The Idea in nature is abstract and in the medium of pure thought no longer, it now is in existence, in an external and foreign element, and while in speculative logic with the Idea in the medium of pure thought the objective was to show the object in accordance with its concept (Begriff, concept or notion), in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ the objective is to properly consider what is given to us empirically and to recognize in it the conceptual, logical determinations. The difficulty in doing this rests in the sheer variety nature presents to us but not everything in nature will matter, rather simply that which manifests the concept counts as actual being, and if nature contains relations between the sexes and speculative logic ostensibly informs us that this is the case, if these relations are worthy of demonstration in the philosophy of nature then they will be demonstrated to exhibit the thought determination of the sex relation as deduced in speculative logic.

As a matter of fat the genus process of the animal organism, the third moment of the last part of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, ‘Organics’, exhibits the thought determination of the logical genus process but the sex relation does not make its first appearance in nature in the animal organism, rather it first shows up in the plant nature, albeit as an analogue (Analogon) of the sex relation, and the fact that plant sexual difference is not veritable sexual difference is key but plant sexual difference not being veritable sexual difference raises the question that if the philosophy of nature only concerns itself with those appearances in nature which exhibit the conceptual determinations deduced in the logic then why has the philosophy of nature to refer to the analogue of sexual difference exhibited in plant nature in the first place?

Indeed there is no conceptual determination in logic that corresponds to the analogue of sexual difference in plant nature unless we associate Hegel’s comparison of the logical chemical relation to the natural sex relation with the non-sex life of plants. Because the plant is an intermediate, ambiguous nature in general, between the chemical and the truly organic (the animal) perhaps we can associate the analogue of sexual difference in the plant and the ‘Chemism’ section of the Logic but the issue is whether the philosophy of nature can handle the ambiguities in sexual difference that muddy the waters with regard to the masculine-feminine distinction as the association with plants with the ‘Chemism’ section of the Logic highlights.

Women and the Spirits of Nature’, 1907, Janis Rozentāls

If the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ were merely about exhibiting those appearances in nature which manifest the conceptual determinations deduced in speculative logic the question arises as to how the determinations in particular the organic determinations acquire legitimacy on Hegel’s account. The divisions of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ are determined by the second section of the ‘Doctrine of the Concept’ in the ‘Science of Logic’ and the divisions of the concept in its objectivity in the ‘Science of Logic’ are ‘Mechanism’, ‘Chemism’, and ‘Teleology’, while the three primary divisions of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ are ‘Mechanics’, ‘Physics] which culminates in the chemical process, and ‘Organics’ which culminates in Hegel’s account of genuine teleological organism, the animal. Hegel had these divisions from the Logic in mind in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and since the three divisions of the ‘Doctrine of the Concept’ appear to correspond to each division of the entire Encyclopedia the connection between the Nature and the second moment of the ‘Doctrine of the Concept’ is even more plausible and this explanation of the relationship between the divisions appear to be something much akin to Hegel’s own view of the divisions. However, in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ Hegel does not appear to make a distinction between teleology and life. Teleology as a logical determination manifests itself in the ‘Organics’ section which treats life, in particular in the animal organism moment, in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’. In the ‘Science of Logic’ on the other hand teleology is the third moment of the concept in its objectivity, while life is the first moment of the concept as Idea. The relationship between the determinations in the Logic and those in the Nature is then not so evident even more so as to where Hegel the divisions to the ‘Organics’ section where sexual differences appear, comes from. The divisions are the geological organism (life in its immediacy), the plant nature (the moment of particularity in life), and the animal organism (the veritable organic subject) and these divisions should be determined by the logical concept but are not. Putting to one side the fact that in the Logic life does not quite correspond to the so-called logical divisions of the Nature remember that the three moments of life as the logical idea foreshadow the three divisions of the animal organism in the Nature. Life in its immediacy, the life process, and the genus process. And judging by the divisions of logical life one would expect the entire section on life in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ to merely display the three moments of animal life.

But what we find are the geological organism and the plant nature preceding the animal organism, not unreasonable, but how is the division of the ‘Organics] section justified on the basis of everyday familiarity with the division? How is it justified on the basis of some perception of external teleology: the earth is a means for the plant, the plant is a means for the animal? The division can only be based on an Hegelian account in the determinations of the concept but he seems not to do so. The conceptual determination corresponding to the plant nature and that of the geological organism is not deduced in the Logic and despite the predilection for plant metaphors Hegel ought not to be giving an account of the plant nature in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, the plant does not manifest a moment corresponding to a conceptual determination in the Logic and there appears to be no such moment in the relevant sections of the Logic hence it ought not be treated in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ but left to fall out of a purely rational account of nature. There is no need to deduce plant nature in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ any more than there is to deduce Krug’s pen or orange spiders but deduce plant nature he does. How is he able to logically to legitimate his account of plant nature? Why the need to address plant nature? Empirical or historical reasons do not satisfy.

Hegel tracks the unfolding of nature from its initial appearance in utter asunderness and complete abstraction, differences without internal unity, subsisting in indifferent separation, barely if at all, in respect to one another starting with space and time in the ‘Mechanics section’ through the moment of particularity in the ‘Physics’ in which reality acquires determinateness with difference contained within itself, to, finally, ‘Organics’, wherein life appears, life, the harbinger of spirit. ‘Organics’ is divided into three moments, ‘Geological Nature’, ‘The Plant Nature’, and ‘The Animal Organism’ and these three moments show life emerging in an increasingly organic unity, a unity in which differences as individual parts are ultimately sublated in the fiery soul of the animal while retaining their independence in oneness, in a full-blooded, literally, organism:

‘Irritability is stimulation by an other, and the reaction of self-preservation in the face of this; conversely and to an equal extent, it is active self-preservation, and in this it submits itself to another. Its system consists of: (a) Muscle in general, which is abstract (sensible) irritability, and the simple conversion of receptivity into reaction. As a division of immediate self-relatedness, the muscle finds an outer hold on the skeleton, differentiating itself initially into extensor and flexor, and subsequently into the further special systems of the extremities. (b) Pulsation, which is inward activity, or irritability differentiated for itself in the face of another, and concretely self-related and contained. Pulsation is living self-movement, the material of which can only be a fluid, or living blood. This movement can only be circulatory, and initially specified into particularity in accordance with origin, it is in itself a circulation which is duplicated and at the same time orientated outwards. As such, it constitutes the pulmonary and portal systems, in the first of which the blood animates itself within itself, and in the second of which it kindles itself against another. © The irritable self-coalescing totality, by which puIsation constitutes the circulation which returns into itself from its centre in the heart, through the differentiation of arteries and veins. It is precisely as such that this circulation is an immanent process, in which there is a general supply of blood for the reproduction of the other members, and from which these members draw their nourishment’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

… the parts of the whole are its members held together in a mediated, subjective unity….

‘That which has been posited in the Notion however, is that the process displays the individuality which returns into itself, and shows that the parts, which in the first instance are individuals, also belong to the mediation, and are transient moments within it. Consequently, it also exhibits the sublation of the immediate singularity and extrinsicality of vegetable life. This moment of negative determination is the basis of the transition to the true organism, the exterior formation of which accords with the Notion in such a way, that the parts have an essential existence as members, and subjectivity exists as the one which pervades the whole’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The first moment of ‘Organics’, the geological organism, is life in-itself, merely as immediate Idea or non-life.

‘The real nature of the body’s totality constitutes the infinite process in which individuality determines itself as the particularity or finitude which it also negates, and returns into itself by reestablishing itself at the end of the process as the beginning. Consequently, this totality is an elevation into the primary ideality of nature. It is however an impregnated and negative unity, which by relating itself to itself, has become essentially self-centred and subjective. It is in this way that the Idea has reached the initial immediacy of life. Primarily, life is shape, or the universal type of life constituted by the geological organism. Secondly. it is the particular formal subjectivity of the vegetable organism. Thirdly. it is the individual and concrete subjectivity of the animal organism. The Idea has truth and actuality only in so far as it has subjectivity implicit within it (§ 215). As the mere immediacy of the Idea, life is thus external to itself, and is not life, but merely the corpse of the living process. It is the organism as the totality of the inanimate existence of mechanical and physical nature. Subjective animation begins with the vegetable organism, which is alive and therefore distinct from this inanimate existence. The parts of the individual plant are themselves individuals however, so that the relations between them are still exterior. The animal organism is so developed however, that the differences of its formation only have an essential existence as its members, whereby they constitute its subjectivity. In nature, animation certainly disperses into the indeterminate plurality of living beings, but these are intrinsically subjective organisms, and it is only in the Idea that they constitute a single animate and organic system’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

From the standpoint of the plant at least the geological organism is the ground of plant nature while from the standpoint of the animal as Elaine Miller stresses the plant is destined to sacrifice itself to the higher organism and to be consumed by it.

‘The plant is a subordinate organism, destined to tender itself to its organic superior and be consumed by it. The light in the plant’s colour is a being-for-other, and the aerial form of the plant itself constitutes odour-for-other. Similarly, the etheric oil of the fruit concentrates itself into the combustible granularity of sugar, and becomes a fermented liquid. At this juncture the plant reveals itself as the Notion, which has materialized the principle of light, and converted the aqueous element into the essence of fire. The plant itself is the movement of the igneous element within itself, and passes over into fermentation. The heat which it gives out is not its blood however, but its destruction. This animal process is higher than the nature of the plant, and constitutes its destruction. As the stage of flower-life is merely that of an external relationship, while life consists of a self-related distinctness, the contiguity within the flower, whereby the plant posits its individuality, constitutes its death, for it violates the principle of the plant. This contiguity is a positing of individual being; it posits the singular as being identical with the universal. In this way the singular is degraded however, no longer immediately, but merely through the negation of its proper immediacy. It is thus that it is raised into the genus, which now comes into existence within it. With this however, we have reached the higher Notion of the animal organism’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Since the perfection of the animal organism is the human organism which is not a distinct fourth moment in the ‘Organics’ section it would appear that human being even merely as animal organism has greater claim to the fruits of plant sacrifice than do less developed animal organisms. The plant is between the geological organism and the animal organism and is in other ways a transitional, intermediary being. Philosophy of nature, culminating with the emergence of the Idea into existence in the form of Life (see above), is at its penultimate dialectical movement with the plant. The plant is between the geometrical shape of the crystal and the free shape of the organism that supersedes it, it is between mineral and animal, between the Understanding that barely struggles to cognize the straight shapes prevalent in the merely mechanical sphere, and Reason, to which the whole ‘Philosophy of Nature’ turns, with life, in its subjective aspect.

‘Goethe’s ‘Metamorphosis of Plants’ marks the beginning of a rational conception of the nature of the plant, for it has forced attention away from a concern with mere details, to a recognition of the unity of a plant-life. In the category of metamorphosis, it is the identity of the organs which predominates. The other necessary aspect of this substantial unity is however the determinate differentiation and the special function of the members, by which the life-process is posited. The physiology of the plant is necessarily more obscure than that of the animal body, because it is simpler, its assimilation passes through fewer intermediaries, and change occurs as immediate infection. As in every natural and spiritual life-process, the crux of the matter in both assimilation and secretion, is the substantial change, i.e. the general immediate transformation of one external or particular material into another. A point occurs at which the tracing of this mediation as either a chemical or mechanical series of gradations breaks down and becomes impossible. This point is omnipresent and pervasive, and it is ignorance of this simple identification and of this simple diremption, or rather the failure to acknowledge them, which makes a physiology of living being an impossibility. Interesting particulars concerning the physiology of the plant are given in the work of my colleague Prof. C. H. Schultz (‘The Nature of the Living Plant, or Plants and the Vegetable Kingdom’ 2 vols.). I mention this work in particular, because some of the special characteristics of the life-process of the plant mentioned in the following paragraphs are taken from it’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Similarly, Hegel contends that the plant’s juices are “midway between chemical and animal matter, (the plant is, for example, bloodless.

‘The spiral-vessels perform the primary function of absorbing the moisture which is presented to the plant as an immediacy. The secondary function is therefore the organization of this moisture into sap. In accordance with the nature of the plant, this organogenesis takes place in an immediate manner. The plant has no stomach etc., as the animal has. The sap circulates throughout the whole plant. It is because the plant is alive, that this tremulation of vitality within itself, this restlessness of time, is one of its features. It corresponds to the circulation of the blood in animals’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The bond that holds together the fluid parts of the plant is not yet spiritual, plant juices have not yet developed beyond the stage at which chemistry and chemical analysis are adequate to their composition. The section on plant nature starts off with some general descriptive remarks and in Paragraphs 343–346 and in the corresponding Zusätze he presents an overview of plant nature from the standpoint of the plant and also and particularly in the Zusatz to 344 foreshadows the standpoint of the animal organism by expounding the nature of the plant with reference to the animal and by this means throughout e section anticipates the animal organism. All but one, 349, of the remaining paragraphs in this section, 346a-348, detail three processes peculiar to the plant: the process of formation, 346a, the process of assimilation, 347, and the genus-process, 348. Here as in other aspects of the vegetable organism, these processes have not yet attained to the separation, distinction, and independence from one another they achieve in the animal organism, these processes are not so distinguished as they are in the animal, but coincide.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The fuzzy overlap of these processes is ‘the source of the difficulty in expounding the nature of the vegetable organism’, and while in general, as the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ unfolds, the Understanding finds itself less and less at home in Nature, the emergence of plant being is the most acute moment of this un-homeliness in the text, while with the plant, life comes into existence most properly for the first time and the Understanding all the more falters in its ability to comprehend this being, on the other hand the genuine transition to Reason is yet to come with Nature’s destruction or liberation at the completion of the explication of the animal, and so the task of comprehending plant being cannot easily be handed off to Reason.

‘Spirit, which has apprehended itself, also wants to recognize itself in nature, to make good again the loss of itself It is only by this reconciliation with nature and actuality that spirit is truly liberated, and sheds the particularity of its modes of thought and intuition. This liberation from nature and its necessity constitutes the Notion of the philosophy of nature. The shapes of nature are merely shapes of the Notion, although in the element of externality; it is true that their forms are grounded in the Notion as the stages of nature, but even where the Notion collects itself into sensation, it is still not yet present to itself as Notion. It is precisely because material being is so intractably opposed to the unity of the Notion, and because spirit has to deal with an ever increasing wealth of detail, that the philosophy of nature is so difficult. In spite of this difficulty however, reason must have confidence in itself, confidence that in nature the Notion speaks to the Notion, and that the true shape of the Notion, which lies concealed beneath the extrinsicality of infinitely numerous shapes, will reveal itself to it.-Let us briefly survey the field we have covered. In the primary sphere of gravity, the Idea was freely deployed into a body which has the free heavenly bodies as its members. This externality then shaped itself inwardly into the properties and qualities belonging to an individual unity, and having an immanent and physical movement in the chemical process. Finally, in animation, gravity is released into members possessing subjective unity. The aim of these lectures is to convey an image of nature, in order to subdue this Proteus: to find in this externality only the mirror of ourselves, to see in nature a free reflection of spirit: to understand God, not in the contemplation of spirit, but in this His immediate existence’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

It is because the plant is in general between the chemical and the animal, between the geometrical and free shape and between Understanding and Reason that its nature is elusive, the plant is subjective vitality in its immediacy.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Unlike the geological organism from which in one sense it proceeds, the plant lives but unlike the animal organism plant being is not yet subjectivity proper and is not the veritable organism that is the animal since the process whereby the plant differentiates itself into distinct parts and sustains itself is one in which it comes forth from itself and falls apart into a number of individuals, the whole plant being rather the basis for these individuals than a subjective unity of members; the part — bud, branch, and so on, is also the whole plant. In coming forth from itself, the plant does not return into itself from out of itself as does the animal organism, it instead merely multiplies its parts which are not, strictly speaking, members of an organic whole, but are rather themselves only additional individuals. Plant nature has not developed genuine organs which would be both wholly pervaded by life and able to subsist in unity in mutual independence.

‘This division of the universal and self-external organism, and this merely punctiform transitory subjectivity, raises itself by virtue of the implicit identity of its Notion, to the existence of this identity, which is the vitalized organism, the subjectivity which constructs its members within itself. This subjectivity excludes from itself the purely implicit organism of physical nature in its universal and individual forms, and confronts it. But at the same time, it has these powers as the condition of its existence, and the stimulus as the material of its process’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


Women and the Spirits of Nature’, 1907, Janis Rozentāls

‘The Sensitive Plant’ (excerpt)

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,

And the young winds fed it with silver dew,

And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.

And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,

Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;

And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast

Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

But none ever trembled and panted with bliss

In the garden, the field, or the wilderness,

Like a doe in the noontide with love’s sweet want,

As the companionless Sensitive Plant.

The snowdrop, and then the violet,

Arose from the ground with warm rain wet,

And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent

From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.

Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,

And narcissi, the fairest among them all,

Who gaze on their eyes in the stream’s recess,

Till they die of their own dear loveliness; ….


Instead plant parts can indifferently pass over into one another: the leaf in particular seems to harbour all other forms, parts, or stages of the whole plant.

‘It is in this way that the whole production of the plant displays the same uniformity and simple development, and this unity of form is the leaf. Consequently, one form can easily be acquired by another. Even the seed has the implicit character of a kind of leaf, for its cotyledons or seed-Iobelets are merely unelaborated leaves consisting of a cruder material. The transition here is to the stem, from which leaves sprout forth. These leaves are often pinnate, and so approximate to flowers. When this has continued as a prolongation for some time (as it has in Conferva), the cauline-Ieaves develop nodes. Leaves develop from these nodes; lower down a stem they have a simple form, higher up they are incised, distinct, and divided. In those lower down the stem, the periphery or margin is still unformed. In this description which he gives of an annual plant, Goethe therefore continues as follows, ‘Yet the further formation of the plant spreads continuously from node to node by means of the lea£ In appearance, the leaves are now more jagged, deeply incised, composed of several leaflets ; in the latter instance they present us with complete branches in miniature. The Date-palm provides us with a striking example of such a successive and extreme diversification of the most simple leaf-shape. The midrib moves forward in a series of several leaves; the simple flabelliform leaf is torn and divided, and a highly compound leaf is developed which closely resembles a branch.’ (Goethe loco cit. p. II). The leaves are now more finely elaborated than the cotyledons, for they draw their sap from the stem, which already has an organization (ibidem p. 12)’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

For instance the heart of an animal is not interchangeable with its intestines and yet plant a tree upside down and its branches will become roots while its upended roots will grow into branches, and this is not an advantage of the plant but rather it is a defective characteristic of plant being reminiscent of the way dioecious plants switch sex, one which must be superseded in the form of the animal organism, it is as if the plant cannot decide definitively once and for all what it is, vegetative ambivalence one might say, foreshadowing plant sexual difference ambiguity. Hegel compares plant life to the life of human infants, as a matter of fact in the ‘Anthropology’ section of ‘Philosophy of Mind’ he analogizes the life of the child in the womb to life in a vegetable state. The plant, as the first self-subsistent subject that still has its origin in immediacy, is, however, the feeble, infantile life that has not yet developed within itself the moment of difference.

‘The plant is the primary subject which is for itself, and yet still has its origin in immediacy. It is however the feeble and infantine life which is not yet intrinsically differentiated. As with every living being, it lies in the nature of a plant to be particularized. The particularity of the animal is at the same time so constituted however, that the subjectivity which is opposed to it as soul is also universal, while the particular being of the plant is identical with its general animation in an entirely immediate manner. This particular being is not a state which might be distinguished from the internal life of the plant, for the quality of the plant completely pervades its general vegetative nature, and is not distinct from it, as it is in the animal. The members of the plant are only particular in relation to one another therefore, not in relation to the whole. These members are wholes in their own right, as they are in the inanimate organism, where they are also still external to one another in stratifications. As the plant now posits itself as its other, and so perpetually idealizes this contradiction, this is merely a formal separation however. That which it posits as the other is not truly another, for it is the same individual as the subject’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The plant itself does not develop the moment of difference within itself, it does not harbour genuine organs, rather the moment of difference comes forth with the transition to the animal or the sacrifice of the plant to this higher organism. We can only speak of the plant as being “nfantile life that has not yet developed within itself the moment of difference by anticipating the animal organism, which does in fact contain the moment of difference especially the moment of sexual difference the plant lacks and likewise the plant is feeble since its subjective vitality lacks the power to hold together in unity the different members of the plant which are not quite members but are rather only parts which have no independent identity of their own. And furthermore in Hegel’s description of the potent seed lodged in the earth there is another significant analogizing of plant life to infant human life:

‘The germ is that from which the whole Notion of the plant unfolds; it is the nature of the plant, but as it still lacks reality, it is not yet Idea. The plant occurs in the grain of seed as a simple and immediate union of the self and the genus. On account of the immediacy of its individuality therefore, the grain of seed is an indifferent entity. It falls into the earth, which constitutes its universal power. When we say that a soil is good, we simply mean that it has this open organic power or possibility; just like a good head, it has potential. The essential power of the seed, which comes of its being in the earth, sublates its terrestriality, and actualizes itself. However, this is not the opposite of indifferent existence, as it is of its inorganic nature. The placing of the seed in the earth means that the seed constitutes power. This fostering of the grain of seed in the earth is therefore a mystical, magical action. It shows that the seed contains secret powers which are still dormant, and that in reality it is something other than what it is as it lies there. It resembles the child, which is not merely a helpless human shape giving no indication of reason, but which is the implicitness of the power of reason, and something quite distinct from this being which can neither speak nor perform any rational action. Baptism moreover is precisely the solemn recognition of the child’s admission into the realm of spirits. The magician who infuses an entirely distinct significance into this grain which I crush in my hand, and for whom a rusty lamp is a mighty spirit, is the Notion of nature. The grain is the force which conjures the earth and masters its power’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

This hiding of the seed in the earth (Dies Bergen des Samenkorns in die Erde) is therefore a mystical, magical act (mystische, mahische Handlung) which signifies that in it there are secret forces (geheime Kräfte) which are still slumbering, that, in truth, the seed is something quite other than what it is as it lies there: just as the infant (das Kind) (neuter noun) is not only this helpless human shape which gives no indication of Reason, but is in itself the power of Reason (die Kraft der Vernunft), something quite other than this creature which cannot speak or perform any rational action; and baptism is precisely this solemn recognition of fellowship in the realm of spirits. The magician (Der Magier) who endows this seed, which I crush in my hand, with quite another significance, he for whom a rusty lamp is a mighty spirit (mächtiger Geist) this magician is the Notion of Nature (Begriff der Natur), the seed is the power (das Korn ist die Macht) which conjures the earth to serve it with its power … here Hegel emphasise that though the helpless human shape of das Kind seems utterly bereft of any rational capacity or feature, still, like the seed, the infant is not all it appears. The infant already harbours within itself the power to overcome its merely implicit form and to grow to achieve its full maturity and through the ceremony of baptism the infant is acknowledged not in his immediate fettered and feeble state but rather as what he has the potential to become what he or she already is in him or herself and insofar as the human infant is implicitly a rational being, he or she belongs in fellowship with other rational beings, and baptism recognizes this tacit fellowship. It is as though baptism protects the merely implicit status of the infant as potential rational being by forestalling attempts in the meantime to treat the infant as if it were only ever what it is in itself, as if it were only ever like a feeble plant, baptism admits the infant into community with its spiritual fellows before it can actually enter into this community, and the seed apparently does not require baptism.

In addition Hegel analogizes plants to men in society with one another, in the plant, therefore, the body with its members is not yet the objectivity of the soul; the plant is not yet objective to itself therefore for the plant, the unity is something external, just as the process of the organism falls outside of it, and this outer, physical self of the plant is light towards which it strives, in the same way that man seeks man.

‘All organic being differentiates itself within itself, and maintains the unity of multiplicity. Animal life is the truth of organic being however, and as such advances to a higher determinate difference, of which the difference pervaded by substantial form is merely one aspect, the other being the self-subsistent substantial form, which is distinguished from this submergence. Consequently, the animal feels. The plant has not yet advanced to this internal difference however; if it had, the unifying point of selfhood and the organic crystal would already constitute the two aspects of its life. The vital principle of the animal is its soul, but the vital principle of the plant is still submerged in a process of mutual externality. In the animal on the contrary, there is one animation, and it is present in a dual manner (a) as an indwelling vitalization, and (b) as the incomposite existence of the unity of selfhood. It is true that both moments, as well as their relation, also have to be present in the plant; one part of this difference falls outside its existence however, while animal being has sentience, which is the absolute return of living being into itself. A plant existence on the contrary, is merely the one bodily organism, within which the pure unity of self-identity is still not of a real nature, but because it has not yet become objective, is only present in the Notion. Consequently, the articulated body of the plant is not yet the objectivity of the soul; the plant is not yet objective to itself. The unity here is therefore external to the plant, and resembles the process of the terrestrial organism, which falls outside the Earth. Light is the external physical self of the plant, towards which it strives in the same way as the lonely person seeks company’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

However the analogy is not perfect since the plant does not make a veritable return into itself as does the animal, from the standpoint of nature but rather grows by reaching outwards from itself in a mere increase of its being, it is not directly in community with other plants. The plant does not strive towards other plants because its unity is not within itself but is rather in light, in the sun, which is something external to it. In contrast, men/women seek other men/women directly for instance in civil society not through an external godlike source, men/women seek recognition in other men/women because not only, unlike the plant, are men/women selves, but they are also self-conscious and in this way, men/women supersede the natural standpoint.

Nonetheless on this analogy it would appear that because plants are indirectly together in a sun-community there would then be an analogue of baptism, a baptism that would by way of anticipation acknowledge seeds as in implicit and indirect sun-community with one another and such an analogue would serve to acknowledge the plant as more than what it immediately is, as what it will become. The absence of the baptism analogue is thus noteworthy, t is as though in light of the lack of a baptism analogue tacit membership in the sun-community of plants does not require protection prior to actual initiation into this community as does implicit membership in rational, human society. The sun-community of plants is a merely immediate community, perhaps if human females were in community with one another, there is no feminine analogue of exclusively masculine civil society in Hegel, it might resemble the sun-worshiping community of plants. But from a more comprehensive view of Hegel’s philosophy we know that plants, and animals too, cannot be members of community in the more robust, spiritual sense in which human beings can since they are unthinking, merely natural beings and for Hegel plants and animals are without right (albeit I draw upon Hegel’s philosophy to argue for animal rights, see my articles The Struggle for Recognition: On Animal Rights parts one to ten, I don’t believe plants have rights but I am prepared to be persuaded) and this renders the seedling/infant human analogy somewhat asymmetrical.

‘Moça no trigal’, (‘Girl in the wheat’), 1916, Eliseu Visconti

Feminist philosophers have discerned another reason for Hegel in analogizing the seed to the human infant (das Kind) referring to baptism. Patricia Jagentowicz Mills and Heidi M. Ravven contend that membership in human community is in its strictest sense restricted to men so if girls do not grow up to enter into spiritual fellowship of any kind with boys grown into men then they need not be baptized or their baptism cannot have the meaning it does for boy Kinder. There is no analogue of baptism for seeds and that in this respect the analogy to human infant boys does not hold but in the sunlight of the detail that girls and the feminine more generally are repeatedly associated with plants in Hegel’s work perhaps the reason for Hegel’s reference to baptism in the context of a complex seed-infant analogy which bears no analogue to baptism is that now like girls rather than like men in community with one another plant life need not be baptized. Maybe it is then for the sake of consistency with the more or less unconscious but persistent analogization of women to plants that Hegel refrains from providing an analogue of baptism for plants or includes a reference to human baptism when there is no plant analogue, baby girls like seeds need not be baptized and seeds like baby girls need not be baptized but baby boys unlike girls and seeds have to be baptised and with its neuter connotations the German das Kind covers over the problem and so the analogy of girls to plant life appears more consistent in Hegel than the one of (boy) infants to plant life. Hegel details four characteristics of the plant in general which follow from the fact that the plant is not properly a self.

First since the plant is not a veritable self, because it is not self-related but is rather negative selfhood, it is not yet a purely non-sensuous being, and for the plant, this means that it cannot negate and posit anew its place but is instead bound, unlike the animal, to a specific place of which it cannot rid itself, the space of the plant is still an abstract space and the plant cannot therefore voluntarily move.

‘We have noticed that the subjective unit of the plant now coincides completely with its quality and particularization, so that the plant’s negative selfhood is not yet self-relating. Consequently, this self also continues to fall short of the existence of the purely non-sensuous being we call soul; it is still sensuous, no longer as a sensuous material plurality it is true, but as a sensuous unity of material beings. The sensuous element now remaining for this unity is space. Consequently, as the plant cannot yet completely nullify that which is sensuous, in itself it is not yet pure time. It therefore occupies a determinate place, which it is unable to annul, although it unfolds itself within it. It is as process however that the animal relates itself to place and nullifies it, although it then also posits it anew. This is precisely the way in which the ego wills a change of place, by moving itself as a point, and so changing its immediate sensuous subsistence as point. Here the ego, as the ideality of the unit, wills its distinctness from its sensuous unity’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel cites apparent counter-evidence to cast doubt upon the assertion that plants do not voluntarily move but insists that though plants do move in a sense, their movement is not voluntary, the latter kind of movement being what distinguishes animals from plants, he frequently cites seeming exceptions from contemporary scientific literature and then rules them out as exceptions.

Secondly the plant has an uninterrupted relationship with the outer world, which means that the plant does not work up and create its environment in the way that the animal can. The elements act on the plant, the plant does not take sips of water.

‘If the plant broke off its relation to that external to it, it would exist as a subjective being, and so establish its self-relatedness. Consequently, the precise reason for the plant’s intussusception being continuous, is that the plant does not have the nature of true subjectivity; its individuality is perpetually falling apart into its particularity, and is therefore unable to hold on to itself as an infinite being-for-self. Only the self as self excludes externality, and it is precisely as a self-relatedness that it constitutes the soul of this relation. In the self-relatedness, the self forms both sides of this relationship, which is therefore an internal circuit of the soul, keeping itself aloof from inorganic nature. As the plant has not yet attained to this selfhood however, it lacks the inwardness which would be free of external relatedness. Thus air and water are perpetually acting upon the plant; the plant does not sip water’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Third the plant has no internalized heat, because plants are devoid of this internal inflammatory process, this interior fire which constitutes animal life, in contrast, the animal has its own heat, the principle of which resides precisely only in the blood and this reinforces the previous reference to the fact that plant juices are not yet spiritual, but rather retain something more chemical than not.

‘Many investigations have been made into the thermic qualities of plants and a great deal of controversy has developed. Hermbstadt in particular has devoted much attention to this subject. It has indeed been claimed, that a slightly higher specific temperature has been detected in plants than in their environment, but this is not conclusive. Heat is a conflict of altered cohesion; plants do not exhibit this change in cohesion however, and are devoid of the ignition of internal fire which constitutes animal life. It is certainly true that a thermometer placed in a hole bored through a tree has indicated a significant difference between the temperature outside and that inside’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Fourthly Hegel contends that the plant unlike the animal has no feeling, a consequence of the fusion of the subjective One with the quality, the plant’s own particularization and, conversely, since the plant has no (self-)feeling, the plant cannot confront itself or, to put it another way, cannot confront its fellow plants as other(s), a prerequisite for genuine sexual difference. The plant cannot, furthermore, because of its lack of self-feeling, assimilate it (its other) and venture into conflict with other individualities and there is then no analogue of war amongst plants, since war or at least its analogue presupposes the kind of (exclusively male?) self-relatedness that would enable symmetrical conflict between like self or within the (selfsame) self so it would also appear that plants would at least need to be sexed beings in order to be able to war with one another and this is consistent with what was said about plants living in indirect community with one another through the sun and once again undermines the analogy of plants to men in civil society.

‘The plant’s lack of sensibility may also be attributed to the coincidence between its subjective unity and its quality and particularization; unlike that of the animal, its being-within-self is not yet a nervous system which is independent of external being. Only that which has the faculty of sense can endure itself as other, assimilate this opposition by the resilience of its individuality, and venture into conflict with other individualities. The plant is the immediate organic individuality, in which the genus preponderates, and reflection is not individual. The individual plant does not return into itself as such, it is an other, and it therefore lacks sentience. The sensitivity of certain plants is merely a mechanical elasticity. It is not an example of sentience, and resembles the dormant state of plants, in which the relationship to light is the active principle’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

This fourth point is significant since in contrast to ‘Philosophy of Nature’, in ‘Philosophy of Right’ Hegel implicitly attributes feeling to plants in his discussion of women and plants. To return to the three processes belonging to the plant or more accurately to the threefold process of plant life, the moments of which are more indistinct than not Hegel discusses first the process of formation, then the process of assimilation, and finally the genus-process none of which correspond to those described in their logical aspect in the ‘Science of Logic’. The process of formation exhibits two sides. There is the substantial process or the process’ immediate side and there is the self-mediated side of the process which itself contains three moments. The substantial process is on the one hand the immediate transformation by the plant of absorbed nutriment into the fleshy matter that constitutes the specific nature of the plant species and on the other hand the immediate transformation by the plant of the plant’s vital sap which is not quite animal fluid but something more than chemical into its so-called organs.

The first moment of the self-mediated aspect of the process is a process of diremption which itself splits up in a twofold way. There is an outward diremption into root and leaf and then an inner diremption of the general cellular tissue into woody fibre that relates the plant directly to the outerworld and the vital vessels which pertains to the plant’s internal circulation without however constituting anything as developed as the circulatory system in animals. The second moment of the self-mediated aspect as the preservation of the plant in this self-mediating process is growth.

‘In higher plant-forms, and particularly in shrubs, immediate growth occurs at once as a division into twigs and branches. In the plant we distinguish between roots, stem, branches and leaves. Nothing is more generally realized however, than that each branch and each twig constitutes a complete plant, which has its root in the plant as it does in the soil, and that when a branch or twig is broken off and layered, it puts forth roots and constitutes a whole plant. This also happens when individualized parts of a plant are accidentally severed from it’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The plant grows fresh formations, the wood hardens, in bamboo in fact it petrifies, and other parts also harden.

‘The process of wood-formation in its further details is very simple. Link describes it in his ‘Principles’ (pp. 142–146) as follows, ‘There is a considerable difference between the inner structure of the stem in monocotyledons, and in dicotyledons. In the former, the rings of wood which separate the pith from the bark are absent; the wood fascicles are scattered throughout the cellular tissue, sparsely in the middle, and more densely near the bark. In the dicotyledons, the disposition of all the wood-fascicles is circular. Nature never draws precise boundaries however, and such scattered fascicles are found in Cucurbitaceae, and a few other plants. It is generally the case that the cellular tissue is accompanied by bast, yet in some cases there are fascicles of very narrow, elongated cellular tissue or bast, which occur in the stem at some distance from the vascular bundles. For example, some Labiatae have such bundles of bast in the four corners of the stem, and many umbelliferous plants have them in their protruding edges. In monocotyledons, the growth of the stem and the formation of the layers of wood occurs in a simple and ordinary manner. Not only do the parts become longer and more extended, but new parts form between the old; cells form between cells, vessels between vessels. The cross section of an older stem resembles that of a younger stem in every respect. In dendriform Grasses, the parts harden in an extraordinary manner.’ Willdenow notes (loc. cit. p. 336) that, ‘Silica has been found in many 15 grasses, such as Bamboo-cane (Bambusa arundinacea) etc., and in Hemp and Flax for example, is also a constituent of the plant-fibre. It also appears to be present in the wood of the Alnus glutinosa and the Betula alba, for when their wood is turned on the lathe, it often emits sparks.’’

- Philosophy of Nature’

The third moment of the process of formation is the unification (of the moments) of self-preservation and significantly this unification is not a union of the individual itself but is rather the production of a fresh plant-individual, the bud.

‘This production is simultaneously bound up with the internal resumption of individuality, and this constitutes the engendering of the bud. The bud is a new plant on the old one, or at any rate the simple resumption implicit in the primordium of a new plant. Each bud puts forth a foliate twig, and at the base of each petiole there is another bud. This is the way in which growth in general takes place. Yet the development from bud to bud would continue indefinitely were it not that each bud withers as soon as it has produced blossom, and the blossom and fruit have matured. The opening of the flower, and of the fruit which follows it, constitutes the necessary limit to the growth of the twigs. The blossom is thus an annual plant. With this, the process of the plant preserves itself by reproducing itself, and at the same time producing another plant. The process is therefore mediated by the moments indicated; with regard to production, it is still the formal process in which there is a simple bursting forth of that which was involved as the main germination began’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

To put it another way unlike the animal the plant does not return into itself to develop itself internally acquiring self-feeling and viscera, for instance but remains in immediate relationship with the outer world, the plant grows by multiplying its members which are all immediately related to the outer world, instead of bringing them into spiritual unity with one another as veritable organs in the inner side of the plant.

‘Portet pani z wyką’, (‘Portrait of a lady with a vetch’), Eugeniusz Marcin Kazimirowski

To be continued ….. I have approached the character limit, I was so carried away by the sex life of plants I didn’t realise how long it was getting, my article I mean.. I will continue it in my next article, but happily I have space enough left for my dedication to my lovely muse, a rose for my rose 🌹

Rose, Ro-ose, Ro-o-ose This is the last time I’’ll walk into this gar-arden All alone without the one I lo-ove For today is the day I’’m gonna bring Rose back to stay Oh I’’ve waited patiently Now the time is right for me So I’ll reach dow-ow-own Right to the grou-ou-ound

And pick a rose for my Ro-ose ’Cause somehow I know she know-ows This love deep in my heart is still ali-ive I’ ll pick a rose for my Rose ’Cause today I’’m gonna go And bring her back to stay right by my side

I’’m comin’ Ro-o-ose, I’’m comin’ Ro-ose Years ago-o when I was just a poor boy And her weathly parents didn’’t fancy me-ee So they sent my Rose away to a far off lonely place But when it was time to lea-eave My Rose cried out to me-ee Remember me-ee-ee That’’s why you see-ee-ee

I will pick a rose for my Rose ’Cause somehow I know she know-ows This love deep in my heart is still ali-ive I’ll pick a rose for my Rose ’Cause today I’’m gonna go And bring her back to be right by my side

I’’m comin’ Ro-o-ose, I’’m comin’ Ro-ose Now that I-I walk slowly from this garden A train ticket held tightly in my ha-and And somewhere patiently My Rose is waiting there for me So then we’ll be alone And I’ll bring my baby home and be arou-ou-ound For her surpri-ise

I’’ll pick a rose for my Rose ’Cause somehow I know she knows That this love deep in my heart is still ali-ive I’ll pick a rose for my Rose ’Cause today I’’m gonna go And bring her back to be right by my side

I’m comin’ Ro-ose, I’m comin’ Ro-ose ’Cause this love deep in my heart is still ali-ive-a

Marv Johnson, ‘I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose’:

Coming up next:

The sex life of plants.

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.