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

David Proud
38 min readJan 15, 2024

A Woman’s Life and Love — 2.

‘He, the most glorious of all’

by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838)

He, the most glorious of all,

O how mild, so good!

lovely lips, clear eyes,

bright mind and steadfast courage.

Just as yonder in the blue depths,

bright and glorious, that star,

so he is in my heavens,

bright and glorious, lofty and distant.

Meander, meander thy paths,

but to observe thy gleam,

but to observe in meekness,

but to be blissful and sad!

Hear not my silent prayer,

consecrated only to thy happiness,

thou mays’t not know me, lowly maid,

lofty star of glory!

Only the worthiest of all

may make happy thy choice,

and I will bless her, the lofty one,

many thousand times.

I will rejoice then and weep,

blissful, blissful I’ll be then;

if my heart should also break,

break, O heart, what of it?

‘Er, der Herrlichste von allen’

Er, der Herrlichste von allen,

Wie so milde, wie so gut!

Holde Lippen, klares Auge,

Heller Sinn und fester Muth.

So wie dort in blauer Tiefe,

Hell und herrlich, jener Stern,

Also er an meinem Himmel,

Hell und herrlich, hoch und fern.

Wandle, wandle deine Bahnen;

Nur betrachten deinen Schein,

Nur in Demuth ihn betrachten,

Selig nur und traurig sein!

Höre nicht mein stilles Beten,

Deinem Glücke nur geweiht;

Darfst mich niedre Magd nicht kennen,

Hoher Stern der Herrlichkeit!

Nur die Würdigste von allen

Soll beglücken deine Wahl,

Und ich will die Hohe segnen,

Segnen viele tausend Mal.

Will mich freuen dann und weinen,

Selig, selig bin ich dann,

Sollte mir das Herz auch brechen,

Brich, o Herz, was liegt daran.

What is a woman? is a question being asked in our time. Here is my initial answer:

‘A Perfect Scent’, 1897, Viktor Schramm

However, continuing with my series on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Philosophy of Nature’, ‘Organic Physics’ (the final section, we are nearing the end), what, from a philosophical point of view, might be said concerning the differences between the sexes? (I am assuming there are some, if in spite of biological makeup a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man there must be something about being a woman that cannot be said about being a man or about being a man that cannot be said about being a woman).


Trigger warning : In what follows I shall be citing feminist philosophers. That is where we are at now. I have never considered myself a feminist but considering the ease with which women are being erased and their rights trampled upon I have started looking at feminist philosophy in a new light.

So, where to begin? Well, a rather unlikely place, political organicism. William Shakespeare, in ‘Coriolanus’, has Menenius employ a body metaphor whereby Rome is just like a human body, the Senators are the belly since they’re the ones in charge of collecting the city’s grain before dispersing it to the common people of Rome, who are the body partsm and at one point, Menenius even says that the guy over there with the big mouth is like a grouchy big toe.


Either you must Confess yourselves wondrous malicious, Or be accused of folly. I shall tell you A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it; But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture To stale ‘t a little more.

First Citizen

Well, I’ll hear it, sir: yet you must not think to fob off our disgrace with a tale: but, an ‘t please you, deliver.


There was a time when all the body’s members Rebell’d against the belly, thus accused it: That only like a gulf it did remain I’ the midst o’ the body, idle and unactive, Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing Like labour with the rest, where the other instruments Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel, And, mutually participate, did minister Unto the appetite and affection common Of the whole body. The belly answer’d —

First Citizen

Well, sir, what answer made the belly?


Sir, I shall tell you. With a kind of smile, Which ne’er came from the lungs, but even thus — For, look you, I may make the belly smile As well as speak — it tauntingly replied To the discontented members, the mutinous parts That envied his receipt; even so most fitly As you malign our senators for that They are not such as you.

First Citizen

Your belly’s answer? What! The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye, The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier, Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter. With other muniments and petty helps In this our fabric, if that they —


What then? ‘Fore me, this fellow speaks! What then? what then?

First Citizen

Should by the cormorant belly be restrain’d, Who is the sink o’ the body, —


Well, what then?

First Citizen

The former agents, if they did complain, What could the belly answer?


I will tell you If you’ll bestow a small — of what you have little — Patience awhile, you’ll hear the belly’s answer.

First Citizen

Ye’re long about it.


Note me this, good friend; Your most grave belly was deliberate, Not rash like his accusers, and thus answer’d: ‘True is it, my incorporate friends,’ quoth he, ‘That I receive the general food at first, Which you do live upon; and fit it is, Because I am the store-house and the shop Of the whole body: but, if you do remember, I send it through the rivers of your blood, Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o’ the brain; And, through the cranks and offices of man, The strongest nerves and small inferior veins From me receive that natural competency Whereby they live: and though that all at once, You, my good friends,’ — this says the belly, mark me, —

First Citizen

Ay, sir; well, well.


‘Though all at once cannot See what I do deliver out to each, Yet I can make my audit up, that all From me do back receive the flour of all, And leave me but the bran.’ What say you to’t?

First Citizen

It was an answer: how apply you this?


The senators of Rome are this good belly, And you the mutinous members; for examine Their counsels and their cares, digest things rightly Touching the weal o’ the common, you shall find No public benefit which you receive But it proceeds or comes from them to you And no way from yourselves. What do you think, You, the great toe of this assembly?

First Citizen

I the great toe! why the great toe?


For that, being one o’ the lowest, basest, poorest, Of this most wise rebellion, thou go’st foremost: Thou rascal, that art worst in blood to run, Lead’st first to win some vantage. But make you ready your stiff bats and clubs: Rome and her rats are at the point of battle; The one side must have bale.

- ‘Coriolanus’, Act 1, Sc. 1.

This is political organicism. An ideal state in which contradictions disappear and society, cured of division, becomes a whole body, a perfect community. Although of course to put the above in context the Tarquin kings have been expelled from Rome and there are riots in progress after stores of grain have been withheld from ordinary citizens, the rioters are particularly angry at Caius Marcius (Coriolanus) a Roman general whom they blame for the loss of their grain. And so patrician Menenius Agrippa is really just resorting to a bit of rhetorical blarney to calm them down while Marcius is openly contemptuous saying that the plebeians are not worthy of the grain because of their lack of military service (pride will prove to be his tragic flaw).


‘Two Roman women’, c. 1872, Wilhelm Kotarbiński.

According to Alison Stone, (1970 — ), given Hegel’s sexual symbolism the process he relates in his philosophy of nature whereby the concept re-emerges from matter and progressively remodels matter in its own image amounts to a progressive mastery of the female by the male. And the philosophy of mind which incorporates Hegel’s political philosophy relates the continuation of this process once the concept has assumed the form of mind therefore the progression of male citizens beyond the family and their entrance into spheres of economic and political life from which they exercise jurisdiction over the family represent a culminating stage in this progressive domination of female matter by male mind, and so in the end Hegel’s exclusion of women from civil and political existence reflects hierarchical gendered oppositions that are fundamental to his system, so Genevieve Mary Lloyd, (1941 — ), and Luce Irigaray, (1930), have contended albeit Stone differs in thinking that the key opposition that structures Hegel’s system of nature and mind is not between self-consciousness and life or subjectivity and alterity but rather between concept and matter.

Hegel’s Political Organicism. For Hegel modern states are organized into functionally differentiated subsystems in the same manner by which organisms are and in the ‘Philosophy of Right’ he defends this position through an immanent critique of contractarian views that derive the legitimacy of states from the consent actually or hypothetically given them by free individuals. Hegel begins from the contractarian premise that individuals have free will in the sense of the capacity to choose between options, including between their own desires.

‘The territory of right is in general the spiritual, and its more definite place and origin is the will, which is free. Thus freedom constitutes the substance and essential character of the will, and the system of right is the kingdom of actualised freedom. It is the world of spirit, which is produced out of itself, and is a second nature. Addition: Freedom of will is best explained by reference to physical nature. Freedom is a fundamental phase of will, as weight is of bodies. When it is said that matter is heavy, it might be meant that the predicate is an attribute; but such is not the case, for in matter there is nothing which has not weight; in fact, matter is weight. That which is heavy constitutes the body, and is the body. Just so is it with freedom and the will; that which is free is the will. Will without freedom is an empty word, and freedom becomes actual only as will, as subject. A remark may also be made as to the connection of willing and thinking. Spirit, in general, is thought, and by thought man is distinguished from the animal. But we must not imagine that man is on one side thinking and on another side willing, as though he had will in one pocket and thought in another. Such an idea is vain. The distinction between thought and will is only that between a theoretical and a practical relation. They are not two separate faculties. The will is a special way of thinking; it is thought translating itself into reality; it is the impulse of thought to give itself reality. The distinction between thought and will may be expressed in this way. When I think an object, I make of it a thought, and take from it the sensible. Thus I make of it something which is essentially and directly mine. Only in thought am I self-contained. Conception is the penetration of the object, which is then no longer opposed to me. From it I have taken its own peculiar nature, which it had as an independent object in opposition to me. As Adam said to Eve, ‘thou art flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone’, so says the spirit, ‘This object is spirit of my spirit, and all alienation has disappeared’. Any idea is a universalising, and this process belongs to thinking. To make something universal is to think. The ‘I’ is thought and the universal. When I say ‘I’, I let fall all particularity of character, natural endowment, knowledge, age. The I is empty, a point and simple, but in its simplicity active. The gaily coloured world is before me ; I stand opposed to it, and in this relation I cancel and transcend the opposition, and make the content my own. The I is at home in the world, when it knows it, and still more when it has conceived it.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

‘The will, which is at first only implicitly free, is the direct or natural will. The distinctive phases, which the self-determining conception sets up in the will, appear in the direct will, as a directly present content. They are impulses, appetites, inclinations, by which the will finds itself determined by nature. Now this content, with all its attendant phases, proceeds from the rationality of the will, and is therefore implicitly rational; but let loose in its immediate directness it has not as yet the form of rationality. The content is indeed for me and my own, but the form and the content are yet different. The will is thus in itself finite. Note. Empirical psychology enumerates and describes these impulses and inclinations, and the wants which are based upon them. It takes, or imagines that it takes this material from experience, and then seeks to classify it in the usual way. It will be stated below, what the objective side of impulse is, and what impulse is in its truth, apart from the form of irrationality which it has as an impulse, and also what shape it assumes when it reaches existence. Addition: Impulse, appetite, inclination are possessed by the animal also, but it has not will; it must obey impulse, if there is no external obstacle. Man, however, is the completely undetermined, and stands above impulse, and may fix and set it up as his. Impulse is in nature, but it depends on my will whether I establish it in the I. Nor can the will be unconditionally called to this action by the fact that the impulse lies in nature’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

And to go further then freedom requires private-property ownership through which the individual embodies and realizes his or her freedom in material things, something that in turn requires contractual relations in which property-owners recognize and respect one another as persons of equal standing.

‘Existence as determinate being is in essence being for another. One aspect of property is that it is an existent as an external thing, and in this respect property exists for other external things and is connected with their necessity and contingency. But it is also an existent as an embodiment of the will, and from this point of view the ‘other’ for which it exists can only be the will of another person. This relation of will to will is the true and proper ground in which freedom is existent. — The sphere of contract is made up of this mediation whereby I hold property not merely by means of a thing and my subjective will, but by means of another person’s will as well and so hold it in virtue of my participation in a common will. Remark: Reason makes it just as necessary for men to enter into contractual relationship — gift, exchange, trade, &c.-as to possess property — While all they are conscious of is that they are led to make contracts by need in general, by benevolence, advantage, &C., the fact remains that they are led to do this by reason implicit within them, i.e. by the Idea of the real existence of free personality, ‘real’ here meaning ‘present in the will alone’. Contract presupposes that the parties entering it recognise each other as persons and property owners. It is a relationship at the level of mind objective, and so contains and presupposes from the start the moment of recognition. Addition: In a contract I hold property on the strength of a common will; that is to say, it is the interest of reason that the subjective will should become universal and raise itself to this degree of actualisation. Thus in contract my will still has the character ‘this’, though it has it in community with another will. The universal will, however, still appears here only in the form and guise of community’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

Yet since property-owners will whenever possible try to obtain recognition without conferring it upon others, relations of right (Rechtsverhältnisse) are ever-liable to degenerate into crime.

‘In contract the principle of rightness is present as something posited, while its inner universality is there as something common in the arbitrariness and particular will of the parties. This appearance of right, in which right and its essential embodiment, the particular will, correspond immediately, i.e. fortuitously, proceeds in wrong to become a show, an opposition between the principle of rightness and the particular will as that in which right becomes particularised. But the truth of this show is its nullity and the fact that right reasserts itself by negating this negation of itself. In this process the right is mediated by returning into itself out of the negation of itself; thereby it makes itself actual and valid, while at the start it was only implicit and something immediate. Addition: The principle of rightness, the universal will, receives its essential determinate character through the particular will, and so is in relation with something which is inessential. This is the relation of essence to its appearance. Even if the appearance corresponds with the essence, still, looked at from another point of view, it fails to correspond with it, since appearance is the stage of contingency, essence related to the inessential. In wrong, however, appearance proceeds to become a show. A show is a determinate existence inadequate to the essence, the empty disjunction and positing of the essence, so that in both essence and show the distinction of the one from the other is present as sheer difference. The show, therefore, is the falsity which disappears in claiming independent existence; and in the course of the show’s disappearance the essence reveals itself as essence, i.e. as the authority of the show. The essence has negated that which negated it and so is corroborated. Wrong is a show of this kind, and, when it disappears, it acquires the character of something fixed and valid. What is here called the essence is just the principle of rightness, and in contrast with it the particular will annuls itself as a falsity. Hitherto the being of the right has been immediate only, but now it is actual because it returns out of its negation. The actual is the effectual; in its otherness it still holds fast to itself, while anything immediate remains susceptible of negation’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

Overcoming this problem requires that individuals learn to be moral, to heed the interests of others for their own sake and that depends upon individuals being morally educated by an appropriate set of social institutions, namely, the family, civil society, and the state, collectively called ethical life (Sittlichkeit) or ethical substance (sittliche Substantialität).

‘The right of individuals to be subjectively destined to freedom is fulfilled when they belong to an actual ethical order, because their conviction of their freedom finds its truth in such an objective order, and it is in an ethical order that they are actually in possession of their own essence or their own inner universality. Remark: When a father inquired about the best method of educating his son in ethical conduct, a Pythagorean replied: ‘Make him a citizen of a state with good laws.’ (The phrase has also been attributed to others.) Addition: The educational experiments, advocated by Rousseau in Emile, of withdrawing children from the common life of every day and bringing them up in the country, have turned out to be futile, since no success can attend an attempt to estrange people from the laws of the world. Even if the young have to be educated in solitude, it is still useless to hope that the fragrance of the intellectual world will not ultimately permeate this solitude or that the power of the world mind is too feeble to gain the mastery of those outlying regions. It is by becoming a citizen of a good state that the individual first comes into his right’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

Within the family individuals relinquish their sense of having purely individual interests and identify their good with the common good of the entire family. Individuals experience their identification with the family’s common good in the form of love for their family members hence the family instills in individuals a direct concern with the interests of others in the form of the interests of the family as a whole butthis kind of immediate identification with the common good is possible only in small-scale, emotionally intense communities such as nuclear families whereas modern societies are large and complex. Civil society therefore plays a critical role in educating individuals to pursue their personal economic interests in ways that profit the common weal and in turn the strictly political state is necessary since it educates citizens to consciously identify their interests with those of the whole community and to see themselves as essentially members of society.

‘Two Roman women’, c. 1872, Wilhelm Kotarbiński.

For Hegel this family/civil society/state grouping discernible more or less as fully realized in modern European societies, accords with right because it provides the conditions for secure contractual relations, therefore, secure property-ownership, and thus individual freedom. (Hegel is not offering a prescriptive account of the right form of society in the manner that for example Plato, (429?–347 B.C.E.), does in the ‘Republic’. According to Michael Hardimon Hegel is describing what he sees as the essential tendencies within modern European societies in a way that is intended to bring out the rationality of these tendencies hence the equation of the actual with the rational and so reconcile us contemporary Europeans to the societies we live in). Immanently criticizing contract theory Hegel establishes that voluntary relations between individuals and a fortiori between individuals and states can be coherently maintained only if those individuals already belong to and are educated by certain social institutions, institutions to which those individuals must thus belong non-voluntarily.

In thw individuals can have freedom of choice only if they also have what Frederick Neuhouser, (1957 — ), designates social freedom, the freedom to act in accordance with social roles and positions (for instance the role of a family member) that they embrace as essential to their identities. And furthermore individuals can attain social freedom only if the social order is structured into the interlocking set of basic institutions, family, civil society, state, that are present or emergent in contemporary European societies. And a social order that is structured into these distinct but mutually supporting spheres is organized organically.

An organism is here taken to be an entity that has its own purposes, above everything it aspires to reproduce itself, and articulates itself into specialized subsystems, for instance the digestive system, the reproductive organs that support one another so that they collectively realize the organism’s purposes.

‘In order to establish what this concept is, we must indicate the determinacy by which the Idea takes the form of mind. But every determinacy is a determinacy only in contrast to another determinacy; the determinacy of mind in general stands in contrast initially to the determinacy of nature; the former is, therefore, to be grasped only together with the latter. As the distinguishing determinacy of the concept of mind we must designate ideality, that is, the sublation of the otherness of the Idea, the Idea’s returning, and its having returned, into itself from its Other; whereas the distinctive feature of the logical Idea is immediate, simple being-within-itself, while for nature it is the self-externality of the Idea. A more detailed development of what was said in passing in the Zusatz to §379 about the logical Idea, would involve too wide a digression here; more necessary at this point is an elucidation of what has been indicated as the characteristic of external nature, for it is to nature, as already remarked, that mind has its immediate relation’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Every organism is self-determining which is to say free in the sense that it develops and articulates itself in accordance with its own inbuilt purpose or plan so individuals cannot have freedom of choice unless they first have social freedom and they can achieve social freedom only within a social order that is itself free in the sense of being organically articulated. Societies ordered in this way are to be found more or less fully developed in modern European countries and the descriptions of the elements of the modern social order within the ‘Philosophy of Right’ takes it to be the case that this kind of social order is a living system:

‘As a living spirit pure and simple, the state can only be an organized whole, differentiated into particular agencies, which, proceeding from the one concept (though not known as concept) of the rational will, continually produce it as their result. The constitution is this overall articulation of state-power. It involves the determinations of the way in which the rational will — in so far as in individuals it is only in itself the universal will- firstly, comes to consciousness and understanding of itself and is found, and is, secondly, posited in actuality, through the agency of the government and its particular branches, and maintained in actuality, and also protected against the contingent subjectivity both of these governmental departments and of individuals. The constitution is existent justice, as the actuality of freedom in the development of all its rational determinations’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

As living spirit, the state exists only as an organized whole, differentiated into particular functions which proceed from the single concept of the rational will and continually produce it as their result, the word state here meaning a structured social order as a whole. The overall purpose of the modern social order is to reconcile people’s sense of having individual interests and correspondingly their sense of being different from one another as individuals with concern for others and commitment to the collective good corresponding to a sense of unity with others and as a purposive entity the social order has to be subdivided into specialized spheres each with a function and character that stem from the purpose of the social order as a whole.

In particular the social order has to be subdivided as in modern European states into three spheres. A sphere that promotes a strong sense of unity between people, the family, a sphere that promotes a strong sense of difference between people, civil society, a sphere that reconciles the two, the state. Such an organicist conception of modern society appears to suggest that the individual should have access to all three spheres since each sphere represents an essential aspect of membership in a modern society but Hegel believes that women should participate only in the familial sphere.

‘The difference in the physical characteristics of the two sexes has a rational basis and consequently acquires an intellectual and ethical significance. This significance is determined by the difference into which the ethical substantiality, as the concept, internally sunders itself in order that its vitality may become a concrete unity consequent upon this difference. Thus one sex is mind in its self-diremption into explicit personal self-subsistence and the knowledge and volition of free universality, i.e. the self-consciousness of conceptual thought and the volition of the objective final end. The other sex is mind maintaining itself in unity as knowledge and volition of the substantive, but knowledge and volition in the form of concrete individuality and feeling. In relation to externality, the former is powerful and active, the latter passive and subjective. It follows that man has his actual substantive life in the state, in learning, and so forth, as well as in labour and struggle with the external world and with himself so that it is only out of his diremption that he fights his way to self-subsistent unity with himself. In the family he has a tranquil intuition of this unity, and there he lives a subjective ethical life on the plane of feeling. Woman, on the other hand, has her substantive destiny in the family, and to be imbued with family piety is her ethical frame of mind’.

[‘The difference in the physical characteristics of the two sexes has a rational basis and consequently acquires an intellectual and ethical significance’. Was Hegel a biologist then? How triggering that statement would be in this current political and ethical climate].

Allen Wood explains Hegel’s view on women thus: ‘differentiated institutions require a social differentiation among individuals. Each principle [that is, each sphere] must have its proper representative and guardian’. Given specialized institutions certain individuals have to be permanently based in and responsible for each of them a conclusion that follows from Hegel’s notion that contemporary societies are rightly structured like organisms whereby each of the functionally specialized subsystems within an organism is realized by a specific range of organs, for example the stomach, bowels, and so on realize the digestive system, the gonads, genitals, and so on realize the reproductive system, and each social subsystem has to be populated and maintained by a dedicated set of people serving as its organs or functionaries.

One might reasonably raise the question that granted there have to be some people who are permanently based in and responsible for their families why does it automatically follow that such people always have to be women. Why should it be contrary to right for men to perform this role in some families and women in others depending upon preferences of the individual? In response to such a question Hegel brings in an additional notion of women as a sex having to play the familial role because their bodily and psychical nature uniquely suits them to do so, as he puts it: ‘The natural determinacy of the two sexes acquires an intellectual and ethical significance’. Hegel’s theory of natural sex difference has not generated as much discussion as it warrants, feminist philosophers however frequently bring it up. Luce Irigaray, ‘Speculum of the Other Woman’, Simone de Beauvoir, ‘The Second Sex’, Tina Chanter, ‘Ethics of Eros: Irigaray’s Rewriting of the Philosophers’, though they do not place the theory of sex difference more broadly in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’.

‘Most philosophies have taken sexual differentiation for granted without attempting to explain it. The Platonic myth has it that in the beginning there were men, women, and androgynes; each individual had a double face, four arms, four legs, and two bodies joined together; one day they were split into two ‘as one would split eggs in two’, and ever since then each half seeks to recover its other half: the gods decided later that new human beings would be created by the coupling of two unlike halves. This story only tries to explain love: the differentiation of sexes is taken as a given from the start. Aristotle offers no better account: for if cooperation of matter and form is necessary for any action, it is not necessary that active and passive principles be distributed into two categories of heterogenic individuals. Saint Thomas declared that woman was an ‘inessential’ being, which, from a masculine point of view, is a way of positing the accidental character of sexuality. Hegel, however, would have been untrue to his rationalist passion had he not attempted to justify it logically. According to him, sexuality is the mediation by which the subject concretely achieves itself as a genus. ‘The genus is therefore present in the individual as a straining against the inadequacy of its single actuality, as the urge to obtain its self-feeling in the other of its genus, to integrate itself through union with it and through this mediation to close the genus with itself and bring it into existence — copulation’. And a little further along, ‘The process consists in this, that they become in reality what they are in themselves, namely, one genus, the same subjective vitality’. And Hegel then declares that in order for the process of union to occur, there has to be differentiation of the two sexes. But his demonstration is not convincing: the preconceived idea of locating the three moments of the syllogism in any operation is too obvious here. The surpassing of the individual toward the species, by which individual and species accomplish themselves in their own truth could occur without the third element, by the simple relation of genitor to child: reproduction could be asexual. Or the relation to each other could be that of two of the same kind, with differentiation occurring in the singularity of individuals of the same type, as in hermaphroditic species. Hegel’s description brings out a very important significance of sexuality: but he always makes the same error of equating significance with reason. It is through sexual activity that men define the sexes and their relations, just as they create the meaning and value of all the functions they accomplish: but sexual activity is not necessarily implied in the human being’s nature’.

- ‘The Second Sex’

It is especially the case that such natural determinacy if such it be is that women’s nature is to embody an immediate unity of self and other both corporeally and psychically while men’s nature is to embody difference between self and other which Hegel expands upon in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ from which we may clear up the issue of how precisely natural sex difference becomes translated into a socio-political differentiation in roles.

‘Flirtation’, 1885, Anders Zorn

Difference between the Sexes. The natural determinacy of the two sexes arises out of life in its totality as the actuality of the species and its process’

‘Marriage, as the immediate type of ethical relationship, contains first, the moment of physical life; and since marriage is a substantial tie, the life involved in it is life in its totality, i.e. as the actuality of the race and its life-process. But, secondly, in self-consciousness the natural sexual union — a union purely inward or implicit and for that very reason existent as purely external — is changed into a union on the level of mind, into self-conscious love. Addition: Marriage is in essence an ethical tie. Formerly, especially in most systems of natural law, attention was paid only to the physical side of marriage or to its natural character. Consequently, it was treated only as a sex relationship, and this completely barred the way to its other characteristics. This is crude enough, but it is no less so to think of it as only a civil contract, and even Kant does this. On this view, the parties are bound by a contract of mutual caprice, and marriage is thus degraded to the level of a contract for reciprocal use. A third view of marriage is that which bases it on love alone, but this must be rejected like the other two, since love is only a feeling and so is exposed in every respect to contingency, a guise which ethical life may not assume. Marriage, therefore, is to be more precisely characterised as ethico-legal (rechtlich sittliche) love, and this eliminates from marriage the transient, fickle, and purely subjective aspects of love’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

This refers us to the discussion of the species-process (Gattungsprozess) which is to say reproduction.

‘This relationship is a process which begins with a need, for while the individual as a singular being is not adequate to the immanent genus, it is at the same time the identical self-relation of the genus in a single unity. It therefore feels this deficiency. Consequently, the genus is present in the individual as a strain opposed to the inadequacy of its single actuality; it is present as an urge to attain its sentience in the other of its genus, to integrate itself through union with this other, and by means of this mediation to bring the genus into existence by linking itself into it. This constitutes generation’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’.


‘not adequate to the immanent genus’: Addition to the first edition, ‘this inadequacy still falls into an external reflection’.

‘feels this deficiency’: Addition to the first edition, ‘and constitutes natural sexual differentiation’.

‘This constitutes generation’: First and second edition, ‘and through this mediation, the concrete universal is linked up with itself, and assumes singular actuality’.

‘The product is the negative identity of differentiated singularities, and as a resultant genus, an asexual life. In its natural aspect, it is merely the implicitness of this product which constitutes this genus however. This differs from the singular beings whose differentiation has subsided in to it, and is itself an immediate singular, although it has the determination of developing itself into the same natural individuality, and into a corresponding sexual differentiation and transience. This process of propagation issues forth into the progress of the spurious infinite. The genus preserves itself only through the perishing of the individuals, which fulfil their determination in the process of generation, and in so far as they have no higher determination than this, pass on to death’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


‘whose differentiation has subsided in to it: First edition, ‘the singular beings which have subsided into it’.

‘in so far as they have no higher determination than this, pass on to death’: First edition, ‘However, within this new life, in which the singularity is sublated, the same subjectivity is at the same time positively preserved. This constitutes the return of the genus into itself. Within it, the genus as such has entered into the being-for-self of its reality, and hast transcended nature.’

These passage discuss reproduction without referring to sex difference, an account of sex difference is provided in an addition, the additions to the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ were put together by Hegel’s editor Jules Michelet, (1798–1874), from various sources including student transcripts, Hegel’s Heidelberg and Berlin lecture notes on nature extending from 1819 to 1830 and his Jena lecture notes on nature and mind from 1805 to 1806 so it is from the Heidelberg, Berlin, and in particular the Jena notes that Michelet drew Hegel’s account of sex difference.

‘Addition: As the different sexes constitute the sex-drive as differentials, there must be a difference in their formation; their mutual determinateness must exist as posited through the Notion. The implicitness of both sides is not merely neutral, as it is in chemism however, for on account of the original identity of their formation, the same type underlies both the male and female genitals. The difference is however, that in one or the other of these genitals, one or the other part is essential; in the female this is necessarily the undifferentiated element, while in the male it is the sundered element of opposition. This identity is most conspicuous in the lower animals. ‘In some Grasshoppers, such as the Gryllus verruccivorus, the large testicles, which consist of fascicularly coiled vessels, resemble the ovaries, which are equally large, and which consist of oviducts coiled in a similarly fasciculate manner. Similarly, in the male Gadfly, the testicles not only have precisely the same general outline as the thicker and larger ovaries, but also consist of delicate vesicles, which are almost oviform and oblong, and which stand on” end on the substance of the testicles, like ova on an ovary. The identification of the female uterus in the male parts has presented the greatest difficulty. The_ scrotum has ineptly been mistaken for it, for it is actually the testicle which apparently corresponds to the female ovary. In the male, it is however the prostate which corresponds to the female uterus; in him therefore, the uterus is reduced to a gland, an indifferent generality. Ackermann has demonstrated this very well from his hermaphrodite, which has a uterus, although the formation of its other organs is male. This uterus not only occupies the position of the prostrate however, for the ejaculatory ducts also pass through its substance, and open into the urethra at the crista galli. What is more, the lips of the female pudendum are shrunken scrota, which accounts for the labia pudendi of Ackermann’s hermaphrodite having been filled with a kind of testicular formation. Finally, the medial line of the scrotum is split in the female, and forms the vagina. From this, it is quite understandable that one sex should change into the other. On the one hand, the uterus in the male is reduced to a mere gland, while on the other, the male testicle in the female remains enclosed within the ovary, fails to emerge into opposition, and does not become an independent and active cerebrality. The clitoris moreover, is inactive feeling in general; in the male on the other hand, it has its counterpart in active sensibility, the swelling vital, the effusion of blood into the corpora cavernosa and the meshes of the spongy tissue of the urethra. The female counterpart of this effusion of blood in the male consists of the menstrual discharges. Thus, the simple retention of the conception in the uterus, is differentiated in the male into productive cerebrality and the external vital. On account of this difference therefore, the male is the active principle; as the female remains in her undeveloped unity, she constitutes the principle of conception’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

And so we are to interpret Hegel’s later conception of men, women, and their social roles based upon passages for the most part composed of material dating back to 1805–6 but given that he did not include an account of sex difference in the main paragraphs of the later ‘Philosophy of Nature’ no did he in this late stage give sex difference the same prominence as he did at the time of his Jena drafts for example sex difference is mentioned only very briefly in the transcript of Hegel’s 1823/24 nature lectures made by K. G. J. von Griesheim suggests that he recognised no requirement concerning qualifying or revising his Jena account of sex difference and one supposes he rested satisfied with this account as is also suggested by the fact that the Jena account ties in with comments on sex difference made during the Berlin and Heidelberg years as well as with his treatment of women in the ‘Philosophy of Right’ so we conclude the addition cited above does give us Hegel’s considered and continuing view of sex difference.

The context of this view is Hegel’s account of sexual relationships (Geschlechtsverhältnisse) the reproductive activities of animals, including human beings considered solely in respect of the characteristics they share with animals. Sexual relationships arise upon one animal encountering another of the same species (so far so good) and such encounters are the first case discoverable within nature where there exists a relationship of one subject to another in essence a primary and nonconscious relationship of mutual recognition and in any such encounter the animal senses that the two are both identical insofar as they belong to the same species and different as individuals. The animal senses a tension between the identity and the difference: it has the feeling of this defect [or tension]. The species [Gattung] is therefore present in the individual as a straining against the inadequacy of its single actuality.

The animal acquires an urge to realize the identity of the two animals by copulating with the other and producing offspring in which this identity will be embodied:

‘In the natural state the identity of the sexes is . . . a third, that is, produced, in which both sexes intuit their identity as a natural actuality’.

- ‘Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science: The First Philosophy of Right, Heidelberg 1817–1819, with Additions from the Lectures of 1818–1819’

In the end however reproduction (Begattung) is futile since the offspring are still individual animals who differ from their parents as yet more separate individuals and who will become driven to pass back through the same reproductive process in their turn, and an understanding of how such an account of sex difference flows from the particular theory of reproduction depends upon particular assumptions made at this juncture albeit they are not explicit but they render intelligibility to the logic of the forthcoming sex difference. The assumption is that in any reproductive process the two participant animals must play different roles, reproduction is a process with a purpose, the purpose of producing a third entity that incarnates the identity of the two animals who have contributed to it,and similar to every purposive organism having toarticulate itself into specialized subsystems in the same manner the two individuals who are carrying out the purposive activity of reproduction must assume specialized roles within that process whereby the entity to be produced must be a third, different from the parents, and so one parent must be responsible for producing the child as a distinct individual and yet the offspring is in addition to be nothing more than an embodiment of the identity between the parents and in this regard the offspring has itself to be identical with the parents (or parent?) and it falls to the second parent to produce the offspring as something that is identical with the parents.

‘Flirtation’, 1885, Anders Zorn

Each parent animal develops a specific reproductive anatomy that enables it to play one or the other of these roles, the formation, that is, anatomical shape of the differentiated sexes must be different, their determinacy against each other which is posited by the concept, that is, which is rationally required, must exist, and Hegel does not believe that different animals play different roles in reproduction since they have different anatomies, rather there are different roles in reproduction of which each animal must assume one,and the anatomy of each animal develops accordingly. Sex difference is primarily not a biological difference but rather a difference in reproductive role where reproduction (Begattung) is conceived, in metaphysical rather than narrowly biological terms, as the process of resolving the difference between individual and species (Gattung) by producing a third in whom this difference is, temporarily, imperfectly, overcome, and because reproduction is this metaphysical process of joining the individual and the universal sex difference also is ultimately a metaphysical difference and is only secondarily anatomical.

With respect to the reproductive anatomy of male (männliche) animals Hegel contends that by lying on the body’s exterior these genitals embody the moment of duality [das Entzweite], of opposition. It is distinctive of male genitals that they are located primarily on the outside of the body and external organs and limbs in general enable animals to engage and interact with items in the external world and the outward development of an animal’s anatomical shape reflects its connection with an other outside it.

‘Uniform duplication is not a complete duplication however. Occupation, habit, activity and intelligence generally, will modify this equality of shape into inequality again, especially in human beings. As a spiritual being, man tends to concentrate his activity upon a single point, and to screw himself up to speak. Unlike the animal, he does not only do this with his mouth in order to take in animal nourishment however, but shapes his form by orientating his individuality outwards, and in a special way concentrating his bodily power into a single point of his body, deploying it in a certain direction, and for particular purposes. He will disturb the equilibrium of this power in order to write for example. In human beings therefore, the right arm and hand are used more than the left. This is of course due to their connection with the whole, for as the heart is on the left, this side of the body is always held back and defended by the right. Similarly, people rarely hear equally well with both ears, and one eye is often sharper than the other. In human beings, the cheeks of the face are seldom quite similar in shape. This symmetry remains much more definite in animals. Thus, there is equality in the strength and form of the limbs, but variation in their agility. However, exercises in which intelligence only plays a small part preserve symmetry in their movements. ‘Animals leap with the greatest skill from crag to crag, where the very slightest slip would send them toppling into the abyss, and move with astonishing precision on surfaces scarcely as wide as the extremities of their limbs. Even the ungainliest of animals do not stumble so often as man. In them, the equilibrium in the motor organs of both sides’ is even more rigidly maintained than it is in man, who voluntarily introduces inequality. When people acquire spiritual and other kinds of aptitudes, and develop a fluent style, ability in music and the fine arts, technical skills, the art of fencing etc., the equilibrium is lost. On the other hand, cruder and purely bodily exercises such as drill, gymnastics, running, climbing, tight-rope walking, jumping and vaulting, preserve this equilibrium. Activities such as these are not conducive to aptitudes of the first kind however, and as they tend to be devoid of thought, they are generally obstacles to mental composure’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


‘As a spiritual being, man tends to concentrate his activity upon a single point, and to screw himself up’: well, this seems at least one incontrovertible point by Hegel anyway. I certainly screw myself up. (Ok I know it is a translation so the joke which isn’t actually a joke doesn’t work, I don’t have the German text to hand, I will look for the German expression translated thus).

The other to which male animals are related in the reproductive process is the species as-it-is-to-be embodied in the offspring, hence male genitals have the form they do since these genitals enable the animal to play the role of relating to its offspring as to something that is other to or different from it and it is not that males so relate to their offspring because their anatomy causes them to adopt certain attitudes but rather that it is in the nature of any reproductive process that one of its participants has to relate to its offspring as to a different individual and these participants develop male reproductive anatomy as the necessary expression and realization of their reproductive role and this anatomy enables male animals to contribute to the offspring in a way that treats that offspring as something different from the male parent by expelling it outside that parent’s body as semen.

But those animals whose role it is is to produce the offspring as something identical with them develop female (weibliche) anatomy, the female genitals are located on the inside of the body, the male testicle remains enclosed in the ovary in the female, does not emerge into opposition. The females’ internal anatomy allows them to contribute to their offspring in a way that treats the offspring as something identical to them, a part of their own bodies, and to retain their offspring in their wombs, within their own bodies, as part of their own bodily processes, hence the female remains in her undeveloped unity.

This is a picture of sex difference whereby in one or other of these genitals one or the other part is essential, in the female this is necessarily the undifferentiated element [das Indifferente], in the male, the moment of opposition.

‘… the simple retention of the conception in the uterus, is differentiated in the male into productive cerebrality and the external vital. On account of this difference therefore, the male is the active principle; as the female remains in her undeveloped unity, she constitutes the principle of conception. Conception must not be regarded as consisting of nothing but the ovary and the male semen, as if the new formation were merely a composition of the forms or parts of both sides, for the female certainly contains the material element, while the male contains the subjectivity. Conception is the contraction of the whole individual into the simple self-abandoning unity of its representation. The seed is precisely this simple representation; it is a wholly singular point, as is its name and its entire self. Consequently, conception consists of nothing but the unification of these opposed and abstract representations’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The idea is that female bodies are organized by a principle of self/other unity and female anatomy reflects and realizes a reproductive role in which the mother and her offspring form an undifferentiated unity with no firm boundary cordoning off the mother’s body from that of her offspring. The female body embodies immediate unity between self and other, the male body for its part embodies difference between self and other. And furthermore, since the other to whom both animals are related is, as well as being a distinct individual, the species, the self/other unity around which the female body is organized is simultaneously a unity of individual and species and this implies that the female body is placed at the service of the species in a way that the male body is not, a position to be found in Simone de Beauvoir’s Hegel influenced account of woman’s alterity whereby woman undergoes subordination to the species and in no other mammalian female is enslavement of the organism to reproduction more imperious:

‘Overlapping women’s specifically sexual differentiations are the singularities, more or less the consequences of these differentiations; these are the hormonal actions that determine her soma. On average, she is smaller than man, lighter; her skeleton is thinner; the pelvis is wider, adapted to gestation and birth; her connective tissue retains fats, and her forms are rounder than man’s; the overall look: morphology, skin, hair system, and so on is clearly different in the two sexes. Woman has much less muscular force: about two-thirds that of man; she has less respiratory capacity: lungs, trachea, and larynx are smaller in woman; the difference in the larynx brings about that of the voice. Women’s specific blood weight is less than men’s: there is less hemoglobin retention; women are less robust, more apt to be anemic. Their pulse rate is quicker, their vascular system is less stable: they blush easily. Instability is a striking characteristic of their bodies in general; for example, man’s calcium metabolism is stable; women both retain less calcium salt and eliminate it during menstruation and pregnancy; the ovaries seem to have a catabolic action concerning calcium; this instability leads to disorders in the ovaries and in the thyroid, which is more developed in a woman than in a man: and the irregularity of endocrine secretions acts on the peripheral nervous system; muscles and nerves are not perfectly controlled. More instability and less control make them more emotional, which is directly linked to vascular variations: palpitations, redness, and so on; and they are thus subject to convulsive attacks: tears, nervous laughter, and hysterics’.

‘Many of these characteristics are due to woman’s subordination to the species. This is the most striking conclusion of this study: she is the most deeply alienated of all the female mammals, and she is the one that refuses this alienation the most violently; in no other is the subordination of the organism to the reproductive function more imperious nor accepted with greater difficulty. Crises of puberty and of the menopause, monthly ‘curse’, long and often troubled pregnancy, illnesses, and accidents are characteristic of the human female: her destiny appears even more fraught the more she rebels against it by affirming herself as an individual. The male, by comparison, is infinitely more privileged: his genital life does not thwart his personal existence; it unfolds seamlessly, without crises and generally without accident. Women live, on average, as long as men, but are often sick and indisposed’.

‘These biological data are of extreme importance: they play an all-important role and are an essential element of woman’s situation: we will be referring to them in all further accounts. Because the body is the instrument of our hold on the world, the world appears different to us depending on how it is grasped, which explains why we have studied these data so deeply; they are one of the keys that enable us to understand woman. But we refuse the idea that they form a fixed destiny for her. They do not suffice to constitute the basis for a sexual hierarchy; they do not explain why woman is the Other; they do not condemn her forever to this subjugated role’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Kimberly Hutchings explains: ‘Beauvoir follows Hegel’s analysis of sexual difference in his Philosophy of Nature, in which male sexual and reproductive roles are associated with a principle of activity and individuation and female sexual and reproductive roles with passivity and species identification. Moreover, Beauvoir argues that the individual/species alienation is carried into the lives of women as an experienced reality’. (‘Hegel and Feminist Philosophy’, 2003).

To be continued (well we don’t want to peak too early) …

‘A flirtatious couple’, Jean-Henri de Coene (1798–1866)

Dedicated to my lovely muse ❤️my gorgeous one🌹

Pretty woman, walkin’ down the street

Pretty woman the kind I like to meet

Pretty woman I don’t believe you, you’re not the truth

No one could look as good as you, mercy

Pretty woman won’t you pardon me

Pretty woman I couldn’t help but see

Pretty woman that you look lovely as can be

Are you lonely just like me

Pretty woman stop awhile

Pretty woman talk awhile

Pretty woman give your smile to me

Pretty woman yeah, yeah, yeah

Pretty woman look my way

Pretty woman say you’ll stay with me

’Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right

Come with me baby, be mine tonight

Pretty woman don’t walk on by

Pretty woman don’t make me cry

Pretty woman don’t walk away, hey,

OK If that’s the way it must be,

OK I guess I’ll go on home, it’s late

There’ll be tomorrow night, but wait

What do I see? Is she walkin’ back to me?

Yeah, she’s walkin’ back to me

Oh, oh, pretty woman …

Coming up next:

More about sex differences.

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.