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

David Proud
55 min readNov 11, 2023

‘The muse’

by William Henry Davies (1871–1940)

I have no ale,

No wine I want;

No ornaments,

My meat is scant.

No maid is near,

I have no wife;

But here’s my pipe

And, on my life:

With it to smoke,

And woo the Muse,

To be a king

I would not choose.

But I crave all,

When she does fail —

Wife, ornaments.

Meat, wine and ale.

‘A young woman mourning a dead dove, a partridge, and a kingfisher is a painting’, 1620, Jacob de Gheyn II

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

A history of the Earth.

If you want to get into it you have to get out of it.

Hawkwind — ‘Utopia’:


Nature in Hegel’ embodies the necessary structures described in the ‘Science of Logic’ while extended out into space that is the realm of externality in contrast to human culture that develops by a complex process of internalizing its history through time, albeit regarding the dichotomy between matter and spirit in such a manner is much too much concealing its complexity given that nature incorporates its own modes of internalization and its own sort of external repetitive processes. Hegel was aware that the face of the earth had been formed by long-term geological processes that can be read in the current formations, and if rocks and hills have a temporal dimension then what is to be said regarding current natural kinds and the fossils discovered in those rocks?

Hegel rejected the theories of evolution current in his day yet was willing to accommodate the historical unfolding of the Idea of Nature… the philosopher of Spirit, the Absolute Idealist, whose concerns stretched from logic to society, and also paid a great deal of attention to nature and natural history. Why so? We ask having been told that nature is without a history. Hegel’s lectures discuss at length history, religion, spirit, and logic while nature is treated more briefly in the second part of the ‘Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences’ with additional notes drawn from student records of these lectures but they are not so well connected with one another and those who prepared Hegel’s lectures for publication after his death seemingly did not consider the lectures on nature to be in need of being assembled together whereas they assembled with varying degrees of success many years’ lectures upon history, art, and religion.

But Hegelian natural history is significant since with it an original way is presented on how to think about nature. And he was aligned with Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, (1775–1854), and other figures of German Romanticism who had creative theories of nature albeit he came to reject their overall views but his encounter with them left its impression upon him. And further, Hegel took an interest in the science of his day and was well informed concerning its developments and areas of dispute and perhaps he did not always align himself with what proved in the end to be the winning side but his observations upon them are still of interest and certainly penetrating. But as a philosophy of spirit, self-consciousness and culture there is not so much a romantic elation and jubilation of nature in itself nor does he follow Schelling in his endeavour to employ categories derived from nature to understand spirit and history. Hegel takes the dependence to proceed in the other direction whereby nature reveals to us structures and processes that reflect in primitive form the more developed processes disclosed through culture and history.

The Hegelian approach to studying Nature, his conceptual analysis of the natural world, is presented in his Encyclopedia and his ‘Science of Logic’, whereas to discover what it means to live in nature and to be confronted by its vigour and multifariousness one must delve into his texts on art and religion. The manner by which nature enters our lives is not to be expressed so as to sound like a romantic exaltation of nature nor are we to believe in an unreflective life in unity with nature the objective is rather not an connection that is immediate immediate but rather one that is a result:

‘This unity of intelligence and intuition, of the being-in-self of spirit and its relation to externality, must however be the goal not the beginning; it must be a unity which is brought forth, not one which is immediate. The natural unity of thought and intuition found in a child or an animal is no more than feeling, it is not spirituality. Man must have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he must have gone through the labour and activity of thought in order to be what he is, i.e. the subjugator of the separation of what is his, from nature. That immediate unity is therefore merely abstract, it is the being-in-self of truth, not the actuality of it; not only the content, but also the form must be true. The healing of the schism must have the shape of the form of the knowing Idea, and the moments of the healing must be sought in consciousness itself. It is not a matter of resorting to abstraction and vacuity and deserting knowledge; consciousness must preserve itself, so that ordinary consciousness may itself overcome the assumptions out of which the contradiction arose’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

We need to distance ourselves from any immediate feeling of unity and mythological identification with nature and then reintegrate ourselves with nature by studying it and finding there the lineaments of spirit hence we will be conducting a double study for the relation of the logical categories to nature have hitherto been incorrectly interpreted as the operation of a separate level of causality when instead their potency lies in defining the dispositions and potentialities of things. To begin with we derive through self-investigation of pure thought the logical categories necessary for thinking about any being on any level these being valid in both nature and culture and providing a metaphysical framework given that metaphysics is naught besides the entire range of the universal determinations a diamond net into which everything is brought and thereby first made intelligible:

‘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’

Every educated consciousness has its metaphysics an instinctive way of thinking the absolute power within us of which we become master only when we make it in turn the object of our knowledge and philosophy in general has as philosophy other categories than those of the ordinary consciousness, all education (Bildung) reduces to the distinction of categories and all revolutions in the sciences no less than in world history originate solely from the fact that spirit in order to understand and comprehend itself with a view to possessing itself has changed its categories comprehending itself more truly, more deeply, more intimately, and more in unity with itself and the result of the logical investigation is the absolute Idea which is the involuted final category that includes all the others as its moments and aspects of its self-referential unity. The content of the absolute Idea is its own self-development and the final section of the Logic reflects back upon the earlier sections and discerns the dialectical motions of its subsidiary concepts in particular the move from concepts describing simple immediate presence to kinds of mediated unities to self-differentiating unities that hold together unity and manifold variety.

Woman with a dead hare, 1675, Jacob Toorenvliet

‘Eternity is not before or after time, it is not prior to the creation of the world, nor is it the sequel to its disappearance; it is absolute present, the now, and has no before or after. The world is created, is now being created, and always has been created; this becomes apparent in the conservation of the world. The activity of the absolute Idea is created; like the Idea as such, the Idea of nature is eternal. (b) If one asks whether the world, nature, in its finitude, has a beginning in time or not, one has the world or nature in general before one’s mind, i.e. the universal; and it has already been shown that the true universal is the Idea, which is eternal. That which is finite is temporal however, and has a before and after; and if one has the finite as one’s object, one is within time. That which is fmite has a beginning, but not an absolute beginning; its time begins with it, and there is no time without finitude. Philosophy is the timeless comprehension of everything in general according to its eternal determination, and including time’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The key to understanding nature is a prior understanding of the internal distinctions and divisions within this complex conceptual unity, this is das Begriff, etymologically what grasps together, the standard German word for concept. The Concept or Notion as it is sometimes translated is not a single concept such as rabbit or cause but more like a whole set of categories with their complex internal connections mutually constituting one another and describing their own logical connections and transformations. And having derived categories that describe the way differing sorts of being and unity come together nature can then be studied as revealed by contemporary science for how it embodies the various moments of this complex movement. It begins with Logic, the basic categories are not derived from the always incomplete empirical sciences, one must begin from the Concept and even if perhaps the Concept is unable as yet to provide an adequate account of the abundant variety of Nature so-called one must nonetheless place one’s faith in the Concept albeit many details are as yet to be explained. What does it mean to explain everything anyway? Failure to do so is no reflection upon the Concept whereas in the case of the theories of the empirical physicists the position is the reverse given that they must explain everything for their validity rests only on particular cases but the Concept is valid in its own right; the particulars then will soon find their explanation.

‘In living existence, the higher natures are those in which the abstract moments of sensibility and irritability have a distinct existence; lower living existence is no more than reproduction, but in its higher natures it contains profounder differences and preserves itself in this more cutting diremption. Thus there are animals which are nothing but reproduction; they are an amorphous jelly, an active and intro-reflected slime, and in them there is as yet no distinction between sensibility and irritability. These are the general moments of animal being, but they are not to be regarded as properties, each of which acts in a particular way, as colour has a particular effect upon sight, and taste upon the tongue etc. It is true that nature also deploys the moments separately and in a state of reciprocal indifference, but it does this quite exclusively in the shape, i.e. in the dead being of the organism. Nothing in nature is as distinct in itself as is the animal, but as its nature is the speculative Notion, nothing is so difficult to grasp. Despite the animal’s having the nature of a sensuous existence, it still has to be grasped in the Notion. In sensation, living existence exhibits supreme simplicity, for everything else is a mutual externality of qualities. Yet at the same time, living existence is fully concrete, for it allows the moments of the Notion, which have reality in a single subject, to assume a determinate being. Lifeless existence is abstract however. In the solar system, the Sun corresponds to sensibility, comet and Moon constitute the moments of difference, and the planet is reproduction. In the system each body is an independent member however, while in the case of the animal, the members are contained in a single subject. This idealism, which recognizes the Idea throughout the whole of nature, is at the same time realism, for the Notion of living existence is the Idea as reality, even though in other respects the individuals only correspond to one moment of the Notion. In real, sensuous being, philosophy recognizes the Notion in general. One must start from the Notion, and even if it should as yet be unable to exhaust what is called the ‘abundant variety’ of nature, and there is still a great deal of particularity to be explained, it must be trusted nevertheless. The demand that there should be an explanation for this particularity is generally vague, and it is no reflection on the Notion that it is not fulfilled. With the theories of the empirical physicists the position is quite the reverse however, for as their validity depends solely upon singular instances, they are obliged to explain everything. The Notion holds good of its own accord however, and singularity will therefore yield itself in due course’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

It is possible to trace how nature approaches more closely to spirit’s unity-in-difference as we study more and more complex natural systems and organisms and we can works with a priori definitions of what it means to be a mechanism, a chemical unity, an organism while leaving it to empirical contingencies precisely what develops to fulfill these definitions. General categorial structure is to be distinguished from the contingent detail of nature and the Logic shows the general types that must be thought but no natural being appears as only a general type and what philosophy delivers is the general scheme so that we know for instance that an animal organism must have subsystems for mobility, perception, for gathering energy from its environment yet whether it has two legs or eight, one eye or a hundred, and what precise species of bird it is, these are contingent details.

And furthermore, how the organism came to have its particular features is an empirical question that is not of philosophical interest rather the investigation is somewhat akin to devising a periodic table of the elements than an evolutionary tree and in declaring that nature has no history what is meant is not that individual species were eternal but rather that the logical categories for nature’s general types were derived and valid in pure thought without reference to empirical history. Spirit aims at becoming fully self-present to and in its own complex unity and development and that development requires that each of the basic moments and aspects studied by the logic be explicitly brought forward to be posited more or less independently on its own and then be brought back into a bigger overarching unity. Spirit develops by having all its logically necessary moments and movements posited outside and then brought inside its self-awareness and in this development everything is interdependent despite initial appearances of separation and nothing stands purely on its own and everything is mediated through relations and processes with other aspects, moments, and things that in their turn are mediated.

Their interrelation may be simplified and mechanical yet there is forever interrelation and there are no simple units that can be fully just what they are without any connection to anything else and there is no level of fundamental totally independent atomic entities in nature nor in psychology, thought, or society. In every area theories that postulate a basic layer of isolated independent entities (material atoms, isolated sense data, pre-social rational individuals, self-contained concepts) with no necessary connections to one another and to larger unities are to be opposed. What is fundamental is the logical structure of the processes of mediation and interaction which led Hegel to deny the atomic theory of chemistry as it was proposed in his day and he was mistaken about that but correct in his emphasis for even then the atomic theory was no longer a theory of fundamentally self-sufficient independent entities. Newton’s theory of gravity compromised the strict independence of the atoms new observations of chemical and electric forces were undermining strict atomism and today atoms are even less independent and self-sufficient given that their particles are also waves and transform themselves into one another while quantum non-local effects and decoherence indicate further entanglements yet to be fully understood.

Nature’s levels of increasingly complex empirical interrelations can be viewed as developing over time though that is not of principle philosophical interest but what is is that Nature’s fertility operates both in the past and the corn is not so much to tracing the details of what developed from what but to demonstrate how the different logical moments of spirit’s processes were embodied externally in nature’s immense variety. Hegel understood the bountiful variety of nature and followed Aristotle in distinguishing the three broad categories of mineral, vegetable, and animal but he was also cognisant of the fact that the world revealed through the microscope showed vast new ranges of living things, among which of particular interest to him was was plankton and other tiny creatures that show the ocean to be a natural womb from which life constantly emerges, the fecundity of the Earth causes life to break forth everywhere and in every way.

‘The immediacy of the Idea of life consists of the Notion as such failing to exist in life, submitting itself therefore to the manifold conditions and circumstances of external nature, and being able to appear in the most stunted of forms; the fruitfulness of the earth allows life to break forth everywhere, and in all kinds of ways. The animal world is perhaps even less able than the other spheres of nature to present an immanently independent and rational system of organization, to keep to the forms which would be determined by the Notion, and to proof them in the face of the imperfection and mixing of conditions, against mingling, stuntedness and intermediaries. The feebleness of the Notion in nature in general,! not only subjects the formation of individuals to external accidents, which in the developed animal, and particularly in man, give rise to monstrosities, but also makes the genera themselves completely subservient to the changes of the external universal life of nature. The life of the animal shares in the vicissitudes of this universal life (cf. Remark § 392), and consequently, it merely alternates between health and disease. The milieu of external contingency contains very little that is not alien, and as it is continually subjecting animal sensibility to violence and the threat of dangers, the animal cannot escape a feeling of insecurity J anxiety and misery’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel also read reports regarding types of animals that differed from those alive today and he interpreted the fossil record as showing extinct species and experimental forms intermediate between the usual types and he claimed that these along with present-day intermediate forms such as the platypus disclose both nature’s fertility and its inability to embody precise categorical distinctions. Less almost than even than the other spheres of nature can the animal world exhibit within itself an independent rational system of organization or hold fast to the forms prescribed by the Concept, preserving them in face of the imperfection and medley of conditions from confusion, degeneration, and transitional forms.

‘Consequently, the infinity of forms exhibited by animal being is not to be pedantically regarded as conforming absolutely to the necessary principle of orders. The general determinations must be made to rule therefore, and the natural forms compared with them. If the natural forms do not tally with this rule, but exhibit certain correspondences, agreeing with it in one respect but not in another, then it is not the rule, the determinateness of the genus or class etc. which has to be altered. The rule does not have to conform to these existences, they ought to conform to the determinateness, and this actuality exhibits deficiency in so far as it fails to conform. Some Amphibia are viviparous for example, and like Mammals and Birds, breathe by means of lungs; in that they have no breasts, and their heart has a single ventricle, they resemble Fish however. If one is prepared to admit that the works of man are sometimes defective, it must follow that those of nature are more frequently so, for nature is the Idea in the mode of externality. In man, the basis of these defects lies in his whims, his caprice and his negligence, e.g. when he introduces painting into music, paints with stones in mosaics, or introduces the epic genre into drama. In nature, it is the external conditions which stunt the forms of living being; however, these conditions produce these effects because life is indeterminate, and also because it is from these externalities that it derives its particular determinations. The forms of nature cannot be brought into an absolute system therefore, and it is because of this that the animal species are exposed to contingency’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The variety of nature surpasses the set of categories that Hegel contended are the a priori structure of nature but rather than this undermining the categories it demonstrates that in its externality nature is not able to embody the full complexities of the logical concept.

‘Woman Scraping Carrots’, Gerrit Dou (1613–1675)

Outsides. Nature is the primal and ultimate outside whereby the different levels and types within nature exist spread out in space externally connected to one another and individual natural things in their turn display sets of properties that may have no necessary connections and the contradiction of the Idea arising from the fact that as nature it is external to itself is more exactly this, that on the one hand there is the necessity of its forms which is generated by the Concept and their rational determination in the organic totality while on the other hand there is their indifferent contingency and indeterminable irregularity. In the realm of nature contingency and determination from without has its right and this contingency is at its greatest in the realm of concrete individual forms that nonetheless as products of nature are concrete only in an immediate manner, and the immediately concrete thing is a group of properties external to one another and more or less indifferently related to each other and for that reason the simple subjectivity that exists for itself is also indifferent and abandons them to contingent and external determination, and this is the impotence of nature, that it preserves the determinations of the Concept only abstractly and leaves their detailed specification to external determination.

‘In so far as the contradiction of the Idea is external to itself as nature, one side of it is formed by the Notionally generated necessity of its formations and their rational determination within the organic totality, and the other by their indifferent contingency and indeterminable irregularity. In the sphere of nature, contingency and determinability from without come into their own. This contingency is particularly prevalent in the realm of concrete individual formations, which are at the same time only immediately concrete as things of nature. That which is immediately concrete is in fact an ensemble of juxtaposed properties, external and more or less indifferent to one another, to which simple subjective being-for-self is therefore equally indifferent, and which it consequently abandons to external contingent determination. The impotence of nature is to be attributed to its only being able to maintain the determinations of the Notion in an abstract manner, and to its exposing the foundation of the particular to determination from without’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Nonetheless this externality is not the complete picture rather the Hegelian picture of nature is a complex balance between individuals that display the different aspects of spirit and interactions that connect them into natural wholes and nature’s variety is not just a heap of completely separate items. Gravity unites separated bodies into physical systems, chemistry and electricity demonstrate how apparent independent beings intimately influence one another, different organisms form complex networks as they share space, rely upon and prey upon one another, yet these sorts of dependencies remain external and do not form a tight unity such as is found inside a single organism or in the history of self-aware individuals and cultures. Hegel desists from aligning himself with the Stoics for whom nature as a whole is a single living organism in which each thing keeps to its appointed role. Nature’s externality means that there will be many different unities and kinds of unity all expressing the Concept but unable to come together into a whole in the way spirit can unify and totalize itself in politics and community and more completely in art religion, and philosophy.

The entire Concept is there at every level of nature present but not in its fully explicit and mediated unity, for example in the abstract consideration of matter we observe both the self-division of the Concept in the separate points of space and its unity in the gravity that holds space and its contents together, and to demonstrate the different levels of unity in nature Hegel on several occasions compares the solar system with an animal organism whereby in the solar system different aspects of the Concept are embodied in the different motions of the planets, moons, and comets that exist as independent bodies externally related to one another and the unity of the system is expressed abstractly as the gravitational force that holds them together and concretely in the existence of the sun as the center of the system. The Sun, comets, moons, and planets appear on the one hand as heavenly bodies independent and different from one another yet on the other hand they are what they are only because of the determined place they occupy in the total system of bodies.

Their specific kind of movement as well as their physical properties can be derived only from their situation in the system and such interconnection constitutes them in the unity that relates their particular existence to one another and holds them together and yet the Concept cannot halt at this purely implicit unity of the independently existing particular bodies for it has to make real not only its distinctions but also its self-relating unity. And this unity now distinguishes itself from the mutual externality of the objective particular bodies and acquires for itself at this stage in contrast to this mutual externality, a real bodily independent existence. For instance in the solar system the sun exists as this unity of the system over against the real differences within it yet the existence of the ideal unity in this way is itself still of a defective kind for on the one hand it becomes real only as the relation together of the particular independent bodies and their bearing on one another and on the other hand as one body in the system.

‘In the world of nature we must at once make a distinction in respect of the manner in which the Concept, in order to be as Idea, wins existence in its realization. … higher natural objects set free the distinctions of the Concept, so that now each one of them outside the others is there for itself independently. Here alone appears the true nature of objectivity. For objectivity is precisely this independent dispersal of the Concept’s distinctions. Now at this stage the Concept asserts itself in this way: since it is the totality of its determinacies which makes itself real, the particular bodies, though each possesses an independent existence of its own, close together into one and the same system. One example of this kind of thing is the solar system. The sun, comets, moons, and planets appear, on the one hand, as heavenly bodies independent and different from one another; but, on the other hand, they are what they are only because of the determinate place they occupy in a total system of bodies. Their specific kind of movement, as well as their physical properties, can be derived only from their situation in this system. This interconnection constitutes their inner unity which relates the particular existents to one another and holds them together’.

- ‘Aesthetics’

‘Yet at this purely implicit unity of the independently existing particular bodies the Concept cannot stop. For it has to make real not only its distinctions but also its self-relating unity. This unity now distinguishes itself from the mutual externality of the objective particular bodies and acquires for itself at this stage, in contrast to this mutual externality, a real, bodily, independent existence. For example, in the solar system the sun exists as this unity of the system, over against the real differences within it. But the existence of the ideal unity in this way is itself still of a defective kind, for, on the one hand, it becomes real only as the relation together of the particular independent bodies and their bearing on one another, and, on the other hand, as one body in the system, a body which represents the unity as such, it stands over against the real differences. If we wish to consider the sun as the soul of the entire system, it has itself still an independent persistence outside the members of the system which are the unfolding of this soul. The sun itself is only one moment of the Concept, the moment of unity in distinction from the Concept’s real particularization, and consequently a unity which remains purely implicit and therefore abstract. For the sun, in virtue of its physical quality, is the purely identical, the giver of light, the Iight-body as such, but it is also only this abstract identity. For light is simple undifferentiated shining in itself.-So in the solar system we do find the Concept itself become real, with the totality of its distinctions made explicit, since each body makes one particular factor appear, but even here the Concept still remains sunk in its real existence; it does not come forth as the ideality and the inner independence thereof. The decisive form of its existence remains the independent mutual externality of its different factors’.

- ‘Aesthetics’

‘The infinite divisibility of matter simply means that it is external to itself. It is precisely this externality which we first wonder at in the immeasurability of nature. Thoughts are not co-ordinated in nature, for Notionlessness holds sway here, and each material point appears to be entirely independent of all the others. The sun, planets, comets, elements, plants, animals, all exist as self-contained particulars. The sun is not one and the same individual as the earth, and is only bound to the planets by gravity. Subjectivity is first encountered in life, which is the opposite of extrinsicality. The heart, liver, eye are not independent individualities on their own account; the hand, severed from the body, decays. The organic body is still a whole composed of a multiplicity of mutually external members, but each individual organ subsists only in the subject, and the Notion exists as the power which unites them. In this way the Notion, which is something merely inward in Notionlessness, first comes into existence in life, as soul. The spatiality of the organism is completely devoid of truth for the soul; if this were not so, we should have as many souls as points, for the soul feels at every point. One should not allow oneself to be deceived by the appearance of extrinsicality; one should remember that the mutual externality constitutes only a single unity. Although they appear to be independent, the celestial bodies have to patrol a single field. Since unity in nature is a relation between apparently self-subsistent entities however, nature is not free, but merely necessary and contingent. Necessity is the inseparability of terms which are different, and yet appear to be indifferent. The abstraction of self-externality also receives its due there however, hence the contingency or external necessity, contrasting with the inner necessity of the Notion. In physics a lot has been said about polarity, and ills concept has marked a great advance in the metaphysics of physics, for as a concept it is nothing more nor less than the determination of the necessary relationship between two different terms, which, in so far as the positing of one is also the positing of the other, constitute a unity. Polarity of this kind limits itself only to the opposition; it is by means of the opposition however that there is also a positing of the return out of the opposition into unity, and it is this third term which constitutes the necessity of the Notion, a necessity which is not found in polarity. In nature taken as otherness, the square or tetrad also belongs to the whole form of necessity, as in the four elements, the four colours etc.; the pentad may also be found, in the five fingers and the five senses for example; but in spirit the fundamental form of necessity is the triad. The totality of the disjunction of the Notion exists in nature as a tetrad, the first of which is universality as such. The second term is difference, and appears in nature as a duality, for in nature the other must exist for itself as an otherness. Consequently, the subjective unity of universality and particularity is the fourth term, which has a further existence as against the other three. In themselves the monad and the dyad constitute the entire particularity, and the totality of the Notion itself can therefore proceed to the pentad’.

— ‘Philosophy of Nature’

In organisms there is no separate organ expressing unity as does the sun in the solar system, the unifying principle of the organism is present in every piece but not itself identified with any one of them hence the organism is a more complex expression of the logical process of unity in diversity and yet the animal organism is not yet fully unified for while animals have a sense of themselves as individuals they have no conceptual self-knowledge and what this comparison demonstrates is how Hegel is always looking for how the variety of nature expresses logically defined moments of the Concept as the externality of nature is overcome by more and more organic modes of unity and is understanding is top-down for the principles of unity are fully expressed only in the most developed levels whose development consists in expressing all the moments and their interrelations in their full concrete complexity.

In order to understand the lower grades one must note the developed organism because it is the standard or archetype for the less developed animal for in the developed animal every function has attained to a developed existence and it is therefore clear that it is only from this animal that undeveloped organisms can be understood. The treatment of the variety of nature is a combination of the a priori and the empirical and he was keen to read the latest discoveries regarding ocean creatures or geological features or chemical phenomena, yet on the other hand he does not endeavour to derive his categories for nature from these phenomena but rather to bring the categories already established in the logic to the phenomena and there may be a mutual cross-fertilization occurring as he revises the logic but the standard procedure of the system is that a set of categories derived on their own is to be the lens through which we observe and organize nature’s rich variety.

The infinity of forms of animal life is not to be rigidly conceived as if they conformed absolutely to a necessary principle of classification but rather it is the general determinations that must be made the rule and natural forms compared with it and if they do not tally with it but exhibit certain correspondences if they agree with it in one respect but not in another then it is not the rule the characteristic of the genus or class that is to be altered as though this has to conform to these existences but conversely it is the latter which ought to conform to the rule and insofar as this actual existence does not do so the defect belongs to it. Externality is nature’s defining characteristic but also its weakness and nature’s unities are not sufficiently inward to contain the full movements described in the Concept nor can nature keep to the strict divisions conceived in the logic. In the impotence of nature to adhere strictly to the Concept in its realization is the difficulty and in many cases the impossibility of finding fixed distinctions for classes and orders by an empirical consideration of nature. Nature everywhere muddies the waters with regard to the essential limits of species and genera by intermediate and defective forms that continually furnish counter examples to every fixed distinction and this even occurs within a specific genus that of the human being for example where monstrous births on the one hand must be considered as belonging to the genus while on the other hand, they lack certain essential determinations characteristic of the genus and in order to be able to consider such forms as defective imperfect and deformed one must presuppose a fixed, invariable type and this type however cannot be furnished by experience for it is experience that also presents these so-called monstrosities deformities, intermediate products, and so and the fixed type rather presupposes the self-subsistence and dignity of the determination stemming from the Concept and such impotence of nature is also its strength for nature’s overall role within the development of spirit is precisely to show forth externality, separation, and to provide the necessary framework and background on which Spirit can erect culture and history.

‘The difficulty, and in many cases the impossibility of finding clear distinctions for classes and orders on the basis of empirical observation, has its root in the inability of nature to hold fast to the realization of the Notion. Nature never fails to blur essential limits with intermediate and defective formations, and so to provide instances which qualify every firm distinction. Even within a specific genus such as mankind, monsters occur, which have to be included within the genus, although they lack some of the characteristic determinations which would have been regarded as essential to it. In order to classify such formations as defective, imperfect, or deformed, an invariable prototype has to be assumed, with the help of which we are able to recognize these so-called monsters’ deformities, and borderline cases. This prototype cannot be drawn from experience, but has as its presupposition the independence and worth of Notional determination’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘A woman returning from the hunt carrying various dead animals’, Marco Dente da Ravenna, (1493–1527)

Insides. Nevertheless the transition from Nature to Spirit is not a Cartesian leap from a purely external nature to a purely internal soul, the unity of an animal organism is already internalized in the sensations of the animal in particular in higher animals who feel their own individuality and assert their own individual habits and even magnetic and chemical phenomena demonstrate that natural beings have internal connections, there is no sudden jump from the final paragraphs about Nature in the Encyclopedia to the first paragraphs about Spirit. for the treatment of human spirit begins with animal feelings and environmental influences and only gradually builds up to self-conscious thought and on the social level, human culture develops by internalizing its earlier historical phases and different partial moments of what will become a fully developed rational society have their time in the limelight and then become subsidiary moments in more complex social formations. As opposed to nature where the different moments are scattered about spatially and continue to exist on their own in European history different moments succeed one another temporally whereby they appear as societies dominated by principles of unity and institutions based upon partial aspects of the Concept, autocracy, slavery, feudalism, democracy, and so on and they eventually change due to their internal contradictions and their principles of unity are retained as self-consciously secondary moments in new and more complex unities.

So the struggle to the death that is taken to be the initial form of the search for mutual recognition persists in modern society as the discipline in educational systems and absolute monarchical forms persist in a constitutional limited monarchy and older forms have their one-sidedness and claims of totality cancelled as they take their places in a more adequate unity so the past is taken up anew and Spirit’s ability to look back upon this history of its becoming completes its present-day self-understanding and this presentation of itself to itself is a key to its complete development.

Nature does not perform such self-aware retrospection and so in this sense also nature has no history, tribes and peoples do not have a history until they begin to reflect on themselves as a people and record unified narratives of their own development, a chronicle of events is not yet a history, primitive tribes and nomads developed through a sequence of events but had no self-aware history. In external nature the more complex builds upon the simpler hence more primitive kinds of natural unities do get taken up into more complex systems and yet the simpler also remains independent and as we ascend the scale of nature toward the animal organism we observe simpler levels of nature incorporated, for example upon hydraulic and chemical processes being domesticated into the higher purposes of an organism. Nevertheless there remain other free hydraulic and chemical processes occurring spatially scattered about on their own and Nature never comes together neither spatially nor temporally and while Hegel is not a dualist nature can be tied to outside and space and culture to inside and time.

‘Woman Plucking a Duck’, 1645, School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Inside out. Nature’s Time. But the external/internal division is not as clear cut as it appears for there is spatial externality in culture and there is a sort of external history in nature. In his account of world history different cultural units are seen to be remaining spatially exterior to one another. The Chinese, the Indians, the Africans are seen as having become frozen at earlier stages of spiritual development. Why did such cultures fail to progress? How did these dispersed cultural species deal with one another? The expansion of European capitalism and colonialism transformed the older cultures as they are brought into the fold of the worldwide market and civil society and anyway the relations between different cultural units show a spatial externality of different moments of spirit’s development scattered around the globe similar to the mutual externality of natural phenomena.

On the other hand nature includes its own modes of internalization and its own kind of temporality and when Hegel was writing in the 1820s it was becoming apparent that the earth had developed over a long time with great variations in its organic populations and geological forms and observing the developments in the new science of geology Hegel contended that they showed a demonstrated long period, and in the matter of years one can be generous during which the current geological face of the earth had been shaped by slow processes whose sequence can be read in the current formations.

‘There is something profounder in this sequence however. The significance and spirit of the process is the intrinsic connection or necessary relation of these formations, and here succession in time plays no part. The universal law of this sequence of formations may be understood without reference to its historical form, and this law is the essence of the sequence. It is only rationality which is of interest to the Notion, and at this juncture this consists of understanding the dispositions of the Notion within the law. The great merit of Werner is that he has drawn attention to this sequence, and on the whole assessed it correctly. The intrinsic connection exists at present as a juxtaposition, and must depend upon the constitution or content of these formations themselves. The history of the Earth is therefore partly empirical, and partly a conclusive ratiocination from empirical data. The point of interest is not to determine the conditions prevailing millions of years ago (and there is no need to stint on the years), but to concentrate upon that which is present in the system of these various formations. As an empirical science it is extremely diffuse. One is unable to grasp everything in this corpse by means of the Notion, for it is riddled with accidence. Philosophy has a similarly minimal interest in acquainting itself with rational and systematic legislation in the dismal condition of chaos, or in getting to know the temporal sequence and external causes by which this legislation has come into being’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

If the strata written in rocks and hills show a temporal dimension a question arises concerning the fossils found in those rocks and albeit Hegel rejected the theories of evolution current in his day he did leave room for historical unfolding of the Concept. His principle concern is in natural phenomena as examples for a table of necessary types and features yet given the empirical evidence he was ready to consider the possibility that different systems and levels of complexity may have appeared in history at different times. Hegel was aware of contemporary theories of evolution whereby unlike Darwin’s they employed teleological descriptions of nature as moving from indefinite beginnings to highly differentiated organisms, culminating in humans and albeit Hegel did not accept these theories he conceded that it was possible that animal species emerged sequentially and his view of the role of contingency in nature allows for flexibility in the handling of natural history.

Hegel did not believe that contemporary biology proved or disproved evolution but considered the origin of species to be an empirical question that did not impact upon the critical investigation of just what logical categories were necessary to comprehend nature for even if organisms did evolve through a series of stages that fact was not of philosophical interest. How things developed is a contingent matter our interest is in what they are and the necessary conceptual moments of the Idea. The concept continually and in a universal manner posits all particularity in existence and it is an entirely vacuous thought to represent species as developing successively one after another in time as chronological difference has no interest whatever for thought, if it is only a question of enumerating the series of living species in order to show the mind how they are divided into classes either by starting from the poorest and simplest terms and rising to the more developed and richer in determinations and content or by proceeding in the reverse fashion this operation will forever have a general interest, it will be a way of arranging things as in the division of nature into three kingdoms; this is preferable to jumbling them together but it must not be imagined that such a dry series is made dynamic or philosophical, or more intelligible or whatever you like to say by representing the terms as producing each other.

‘The view that natural things are useful is true in that it denies that they are absolute purpose in and for themselves. This negativity is not however external to them, but is the immanent moment of their Idea, which brings about their mutability and transition into another existence, but at the same time their transition into a higher Notion. As the Notion posits all particularity within existence at once, it does so in a universal manner. To think. of the genera as gradually evolving themselves out of one another in time is to make use of a completely empty concept; the time-difference is quite devoid of interest for thought. If it is merely a matter of enumerating the genera in order to show in a convenient way how the series of living being divides itself into general classes, from the simplest to those richer in determinations and content, or the other way about, this will always be of general interest. It is a way of ordering things, as is the division of nature into the three kingdoms, and is better than mixing everything up, which tends to repel the intuitive Notion in general intelligence’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Theories of evolution in Hegel’s time conceived of a goal-directed movement from undifferentiated to differentiated organisms and Hegel rejected this albeit his logic agreed that beginnings in any sphere were relatively undifferentiated, his point against evolution was that the concepts of the fuller more differentiated natural systems could be developed on their own in the Logic they were not just variations of more primitive systems.

‘But one must not think one makes such a dry series dynamic, philosophical, more comprehensible, or what you will, merely be using the concept of emergence. The animal world is the truth of the vegetable world, which in its tum is the truth of the mineralogical world; the earth is the truth of the solar system. In a system, the most abstract term is the first, and the truth of each sphere is the last; it is at the same time only the first term of a higher stage however. The completion of one stage out of the other constitutes the necessity of the Idea, and the variety of forms has to be grasped as necessary and determinate. A land animal has not proceeded by a natural process out of an aquatic animal, and then flown into the air, neither has the bird returned to the earth again. If we want to compare the stages of nature with one another we are perfectly justified in observing that this animal has one ventricle, while that has two; but we cannot go on to say that parts have been added, as if this had actually taken place. Nor should we use the category of an earlier stage in order to explain a later one; it would be a formal howler to say that the plant constituted the carbon, and the animal the nitrogen pole’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel was aware that the earth had once supported quite different types of animals and his overriding interpretation of this was that nature in its impotence and inability to adhere to categorically necessary divisions had produced monsters and unsuccessful mixed forms some of which have failed and some of which exist even now as do the platypus and marine mammals yet there is more to be said for nature does recapitulate itself externally. One way is in the animal organism yet we can observe that recapitulation clearly in the rocks, there we observe an external internalization, geological formations are made out of older formations and current formations display that sequence. In the case of the strata revealed on a hillside admittedly it has taken eons for the geological formations to achieve that present form and admittedly their chronology can be read from the formations and since the different kinds of rocks and different geological formations express different necessary moments of the Concept contemporary geological features sum up the necessary moments. In the study of geology we must begin by focussing our attention upon the general mass of rocks and the Concept of the moments rather than thoughtlessly enumerate the different kinds at once converting a small difference into a fresh genus or species, what is most important is to follow the transitions from one layer to another.

Nature keeps to this order only in a general way and numerous variations occur, although the basic features of the order persist. J. L. Heim, (1741–1819), with a truly philosophical view of the matter, has very clearly exhibited this transition, the breaking forth of one rock in another.

‘The granite masses constitute the primary formation, and are the highest. The other rocks rest on the granite in such a way that the highest always occupy the lowest position, and the others in their turn rest upon these. The rock-structures closest to granite are modifications of it, for they are the further eductions of one of its aspects, in which the preponderance of the two aspects varies from place to place. Granite rocks are surrounded by beds of gneiss, syenite, mica-schist etc., which are clearly lighter transmutations of it. Ebel says that, ‘A species of rock constituting one flag shades into that of another by a gradual change in composition. It is in this way that compact granite passes into veined granite and gneiss. Similarly, it is by a series of relationships between its constituents that the hardest gneiss shades off into the softest kind of mica-schist, which passes in its turn into primitive argillaceous schist.’ etc. These latter rocks occur very close together, so that it is easy to see the transition. Consequently, the primary object of geological studies is to grasp the lay-out of the general masses, and the Notion of the moments. The thoughtless enumeration which proclaims a new genus or species as soon as any small difference is discovered, is to be avoided. It is most important to follow the nature of the transitions from one stratification to another. Although nature only keeps to this order in a general way, and produces numerous diversifications of it, its basic features are persistent. Although nature deposits these features in indifferent juxtaposition as parts of the whole, it indicates necessity through the transition of the various stratifications into one another. It does not do this merely by means of a gradual diminution however, for even for the intuition, the variety of the species occurs in precise accordance with Notional distinction. Nature specifies these transitions as a mixture of the qualitative and quantitative, demonstrating in this way that it is by both that species are differentiated from one another. As the orbicules, nests, and centres of one rock begin to form another, they are partly intermingled, and also partly dissevered externally. Heim in particular has shown a truly philosophical attitude while drawing attention to this transition, in which one rock breaks out in another. Syenite stands in close relation to granite, for instead of mica, it contains only hornblend, which is more argillaceous than mica, but resembles it. Mica-schist initiates determinate flattening out. Quartz almost dwindles into imperceptibility, and the prevalence of clay increases until in argillaceous schist, which is the general slate-formation and the next change of form, foliation and clay predominate completely, and the specific nature of quartz, felspar, mica and hornblend formations dissolves and disintegrates. This dissolution allows formlessness to predominate, for it initiates the progressive transformation of granite. There is much besides that belongs here, but only as a dwindling of the determinations of granite. Mica-schist is changed into porphyry, which consists mainly of clay, and of other masses such as hornstone, and which still contains grains of Jelspar and quartz. Primordial porphyry still belongs to the primitive rocks. Schist has various aspects; it becomes harder and more quartz-like in its siliceous form, while in greywack-slate and greywack it becomes sandier, so that clay is no longer predominant. In the Harz for example, greywack is an inferior reproduction of granite, looks like sandstone, and is a mixture of quartz, argillaceous schist, and felspar. This is even more the case with greenstone, which consists of hornblend, felspar, and quartz, hornblend being its main constituent. The whole of the further development of the trappean formation, which is however more mixed, and which is the limit of these absolute rocks, is directly related to these formations’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel’s desire to see all the moments of the Concept revealed and summed up in contemporary geological formations means that he attributed more unity to those formations then we would do and he also believed that whatever the empirical processes may have been they are finished now that they have produced an essentially complete repertory of species and geological forms.

‘All this is a matter of history, and has to be accepted as a fact; it is not the concern of philosophy. If we want to explain this fact, we have to acquaint ourselves with the way in which it has to be dealt with and considered. The history of the Earth took place in former times and has now reached a state of quiescence. It is a life which once fermented within itself and embodied time; it is the spirit of the Earth, which has not yet reached opposition. It is the movement and dreams of a being that sleeps, until it awakes and acquires its consciousness in man, and so stands over against itself as immobile formation. The main interest of the empirical aspect of this former state of the Earth is taken to be the determination of time by the science of geognosy i.e. in designating the oldest stratum of rocks etc. The geological organism is usually grasped mainly by determining the order of succession of its various formations, but this is only an external explanation. The granitic primitive rocks which constitute the deepest strata, and which were formed one after the other, are said to be the first, and to be followed by regenerated granite, which has disintegrated and been deposited. The upper strata, such as fletz-formations, are supposed to have been deposited at a later date; solution is said to have run into the fissures etc. These are mere occurrences however, and display nothing but a temporal difference. Nothing whatever is made comprehensible by the succession of stratifications, which is in fact completely devoid of the necessity which characterizes comprehension’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Let us not connect this with the much discussed end of history albeit Hegel appears to believe that whatever the defects of actual European societies of his day the general principles of a fully rational and free society have now been developed and history has ended in the sense that all the dimensions of social life have been revealed but this does not mean that events will not continue as nations rise and fall yet the stage is fully set and no new principles are required. Similarly nature has revealed all its essential moments ans what matters are those moments whether or not they developed in history is not as crucial to nature as it is to culture so we can take or leave evolution depending on the empirical evidence yet even if we take it the present is not merely one contingent stage in an ongoing process of change. David Kolb, (1939 — ), has discussed Hegel omission concerning uniformitarianism in geology

These different geological moments do not interact as do the necessary subsystems of an organism and older formations are simply adjacent to one another or have been deformed to lie on top of one another or new formations been made out of fragments of the older and they incorporate one another, rest upon and support one another, get folded into mountains, and show the transition from one rock type to another. And the hillside thus presents an external summation and history, the various moments and necessary kinds of rocks are scattered about in contingent ways but together the contemporary landscape reveals all the essential types and the mountain is not aware of the way it is composed of fragments of previous geological formations or of the way in which the different geological strata and formations express different moments in the processes of spirit and yet that unity and those processes are there externally united and recapitulated open to be read and already formed into a historical text. There is no historian for this external text yet there is a sequence as nature recapitulates its own temporality in an exterior history shown by coexistence and reuse in geology and by organic unity in the plant and animal kingdoms and this is not a history as written by a self-consciousness but it supports some comparison to the non-history of those tribes and peoples who went from one event to another without proper recollections or self-awareness

And so in summing up Hegel’s treatment of nature’s forms and levels does not yet enter into what has become a grand discussion from Charles Darwin, (1809–1882) and and Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), onward concerning how natural and social forms might emerge contingently without either teleological guidance or conceptual necessity and for these thinkers externality invades the spiritual sphere and Hegel’s play of externality and internalization goes on yet but the ways in which later natural and cultural formations incorporate and reuse earlier forms tend to resemble loose unities of external geological accumulations rather than tight conceptual unities.

‘The Cook’, 1574, Joachim Beuckelaer


Divertimento 5: The Preface to the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ (continued).

An occasional diversion upon some central features of Hegelian philosophy that makes it distinctive and that must continually be borne in mind if we are to properly understand what is going on.

[Continued from On Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’: A Free Reflex of Spirit, part Thirty Seven]

The unity of form and content in philosophy. In the preface to the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ Hegel’s concern is primarily what philosophy is not rather than what it is albeit we will discover positive remarks regarding philosophy therein but these latter are quite general and by no means a guide to Hegelian method nor a good introduction to the nature and content of the system of science as Hegel designates his garnering and developing the contents of philosophy in a systematic way. A reading of secondary works on Hegel may convey the impression that Hegel has a method and that this method is named dialectic or speculative dialectic. Terry Pinkard, (1947 — ), and Michael N. Forster, (1957 — ), have endeavoured to describe this alleged method. A work by Clark Butler, (1944 — ), is called ‘The Dialectical Method: A Treatise Hegel Never Wrote’. Hegel never wrote treatises and certainly never one on method.

Hegel insisted that philosophy cannot have a special method over and above its content and in every one of the prefaces to his four published books Hegel observes that the distinguishing feature of philosophy is that its content is inseparable from its form which is to say the method of philosophy is inseparable from the subject matter of philosophy and so method cannot be isolated and discussed on its own. Philosophy is thinking (form) about thinking (content) and upon revealing more of the content more of the method is revealed. Hegel has no specialized method. William Maker, (1949–2021), has argued that Hegel does not have a method in how that word is usually understood, as has Stephen Houlgate, (1954 — ), Richard Dien Winfield, (1950 — ), has written on Hegel’s presuppositionless logic and the inseparability of method from content. Glenn Magee, (1966 — ), also points out that endeavours to formalize Hegel’s dialectic are misguided.

As Hegel discourses upon it dialectical movement through determinate negation is not a method, not something we apply to thinking to make it work in a different way than it normally does, rather the nature of thinking itself is the dialectic.

‘The insight that the very nature of thinking is the dialectic, that, as understanding, it must fall into the negative of itself, into contradictions, is an aspect of capital importance in the Logic. When thinking despairs of being able to bring about, from its own resources, the resolution of the contradiction in which it has put itself, then it returns to the solutions and appeasements in which the spirit has participated in its other modes and forms. But it was not necessary to let this return degenerate into misology, an experience which Plato already confronted; thinking does not need to conduct itself polemically against itself, which is what happens when a so-called immediate knowing is asserted to be the exclusive form of the consciousness of truth’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

By contrast Francis Bacon, (1561–1626), and René Descartes, (1596–1650), explicitly formulated new methodological rules for the philosopher manqué to follow because they believed that the human mind left to its own devices leads into error. Indeed Descartes authored ‘Rules for the Direction of the Mind’ and Discourse on Method’. Hegel on the other hand and this may be the source of his difficulty for the modern reader challenges the basic orthodoxy of modern philosophy that thinking has to be corrected, rather, take thinking as it is, albeit not in a piecemeal way but as a whole. As Angelica Nuzzo explains: ‘For Hegel progress is made by staying where one is, not by looking away, aiming at something else’.

This is part of why Hegel’s work endeavours to garner and submit to inquiry every major expression of thinking from algebra to zoology, from arguments for God’s existence to the history of painting while intentionally and with purpose including the study of modes of thinking that have fallen out of favour and that are regarded as riddled with error like alchemy, animal sacrifice, or phrenology and seeks to uncover the rational impulse from which they spring so as to connect up the whole history of thought’s self-expression. Hegel is interested in such disparate topics not because he is a Richard Dawkins, (1941 — ), who feels the need to shoot his mouth off about everything regardless of the fact that he knows nothing about them but because they are all ways of thinking and given that philosophy is thinking about thinking he takes seriously the fact that he himself has to think about all the kinds of thinking that there are and since methods are ways of thinking that direct us toward certain things rather than others no single specialized method can lead through all the ways of thinking.

Hence Hegel foregrounds negation as a methodologically neutral catalyst for the self-unfolding content of philosophical thinking, negation does not need to be invented or added into thinking by the philosopher it is already there, it does not need to be learned from a preface but a preface might issue reminders about it. Anatomy and history can adopt artificial forms or pre-established methods to meet various practical ends but philosophy as the search for truth or the knowing of knowing itself is not satisfied with being useful.

Anatomy and history are contrasting examples that demonstrate more interest in practical results than insightful reasons.

On anatomy:

‘It is customary to preface a work with an explanation of the author’s aim, why he wrote the book, and the relationship in which he believes it to stand to other earlier or contemporary treatises on the same subject. In the case of a philosophical work, however, such an explanation seems not only superfluous but, in view of the nature of the subject-matter, even inappropriate and misleading. For whatever might appropriately be said about philosophy in a preface-say a historical statement of the main drift and the point of view, the general content and results, a string of random assertions and assurances about truth-none of this can be accepted as the way in which to expound philosophical truth. Also, since philosophy moves essentially in the element of universality, which includes within itself the particular, it might seem that here more than in any of the other sciences the subject-matter itself, and even in its complete nature, were expressed in the aim and the final results, the execution being by contrast really the unessential factor. On the other hand, in the ordinary view of anatomy, for instance (say, the knowledge of the parts of the body regarded as inanimate), we are quite sure that we do not as yet possess the subject-matter itself, the content of this science, but must in addition exert ourselves to know the particulars. Further, in the case of such an aggregate of information, which has no right to bear the name of Science, an opening talk about aim and other such generalities is usually conducted in the same historical and uncomprehending way in which the content itself (these nerves, muscles, etc.) is spoken of. In the case of philosophy, on the other hand, this would give rise to the incongruity that along with the employment of such a method its inability to grasp the truth would also be demonstrated’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

On history:

‘As regards historical truths-to mention these briefly it win be readily granted that so far as their purely historical aspect is considered, they are concerned with a particular existence, with the contingent and arbitrary aspects of a given content, which have no necessity. But even such plain truths as those just illustrated are not without the movement of self-consciousness. To cognize one of them, a good deal of comparison is called for, books must be consulted, in some way or other inquiry has to be made. Even an immediate intuition is held to have genuine value only when it is cognized as a fact along with its reasons, although it is probably only the bare result that we are supposed to be concerned about’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

Philosophy’s aim is more total and more fundamental and more ambitious an ambition inherent in the long-standing task of philosophy itself for while in other forms of study we employ thinking for this or that end in philosophy we think about thinking itself and thus philosophy at least since Plato has been both praised and vilified as useless. Consider the parable offered by Plato:

‘Kitchen still life with figure’, 1645, Balthasar Huys


Imagine then a fleet or a ship in which there is a captain who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better. The sailors are quarrelling with one another about the steering — every one is of opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary. They throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them; and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard, and having first chained up the noble captain’s senses with drink or some narcotic drug, they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores; thus, eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage in such a manner as might be expected of them. Him who is their partisan and cleverly aids them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain’s hands into their own whether by force or persuasion, they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman, and abuse the other sort of man, whom they call a good-for-nothing; but that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not-the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling. Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?

Of course, said Adeimantus.

Then you will hardly need, I said, to hear the interpretation of the figure, which describes the true philosopher in his relation to the State; for you understand already.


Then suppose you now take this parable to the gentleman who is surprised at finding that philosophers have no honour in their cities; explain it to him and try to convince him that their having honour would be far more extraordinary.

I will.

Say to him, that, in deeming the best votaries of philosophy to be useless to the rest of the world, he is right; but also tell him to attribute their uselessness to the fault of those who will not use them, and not to themselves. The pilot should not humbly beg the sailors to be commanded by him — that is not the order of nature; neither are ‘the wise to go to the doors of the rich’ — the ingenious author of this saying told a lie — but the truth is, that, when a man is ill, whether he be rich or poor, to the physician he must go, and he who wants to be governed, to him who is able to govern. The ruler who is good for anything ought not to beg his subjects to be ruled by him; although the present governors of mankind are of a different stamp; they may be justly compared to the mutinous sailors, and the true helmsmen to those who are called by them good-for-nothings and star-gazers.

Precisely so, he said.

For these reasons, and among men like these, philosophy, the noblest pursuit of all, is not likely to be much esteemed by those of the opposite faction; not that the greatest and most lasting injury is done to her by her opponents, but by her own professing followers, the same of whom you suppose the accuser to say, that the greater number of them are arrant rogues, and the best are useless; in which opinion I agreed.


And the reason why the good are useless has now been explained?


- ‘Republic’


If the philosopher does not give thinking a new method then what the philosopher adds is merely the manner of presentation for the contents of philosophy and the individual thinker is responsible not for correcting thinking itself but for finding out how we can unfold the total contents of thinking in a necessary sequence from a single starting point but then this in no Hegelian quirk rather it also describes the basic structure of any book, to unfold from the first sentence to the last a meaningful sequence that at best seems necessary and at the very least is not arbitrary and leaves nothing essential out.

In the first preface to the ‘Science of Logic’ Hegel refers back to his 1807 preface to the Phenomenology and reaffirms what has just been outlined here:

‘The essential point is that, in general, we are concerned with a new concept of scientific procedure here. Philosophy, insofar as it should be science, cannot, as I have noted elsewhere [in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit], borrow its method from a subordinate science, like mathematics; still less can it be left to the categorical assurances of inner intuition or serve rationalizations based on external reflection. By contrast, it can only be the nature of the content that moves scientific knowing, for it is the innate [eigene] reflection of the content that first sets forth and produces its determination’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

Albeit Hegel refers to the unity of form and content here as a new concept of scientific procedure this is to be understood in the context of philosophy having already exhibited this form-content unity throughout its history yet it has done so without full awareness and what is new here is the explicit awareness of what has been implicitly active and this is not a new method but rather an ancestral practice brought to fresh awareness. Hegel calls out three practices that obstruct our access to self-moving content, first, borrowing a method from subordinate sciences, second, leaving method up to immediate assurances, and third, using whatever method best achieves some external aim, and by falling into any of these methodological snares we will find ourselves pursuing faux philosophy. Our inquiry may concern a philosophical content, the essence of God for instance, or the concept of quantity, but the inquiry will be conducted in a manner that fails to let the content develop itself and so the resulting presentation will be faux philosophical even as the content taken in itself is legitimately philosophical.

External reflection [äußere Reflexion] is contrasted with innate reflection [eigene Reflexion], thinking as a means to an end is contrasted with thinking as an end in itself. External reflection offers justifications for some content based upon an outside consideration, principle, or rule, innate reflection allows for the free play of self-justification and self-undermining that belongs to any living changing moving or developing content as it presents itself and expresses its many sides in thinking.

Innate reflection albeit undertaken by you or I is not about you or I it is always about the thought content itself and what it becomes on its own hence philosophy has to be presented as an activity for its own sake. We are so used to treating sentient beings or some selection of them that we do not kill, eat, enslave, exploit, or disregard as autonomous and what prevents us from thinking about philosophical content in the same manner? For philosophy to become a science, for its method to be joined with its content, we must learn to think about every philosophical thought content as self-moving. Indeed the word Selbstbewegung, self-movement appears nine times in the 1807 preface. For instance:

‘Thus the life of God and divine cognition may well be spoken of as a disporting of Love with itself; but this idea sinks into mere edification, and even insipidity , if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative. In itself, that life is indeed one of untroubled equality and unity with itself, for which otherness and alienation, and the overcoming of alienation, are not serious matters. But this in-itself is abstract universality, in which the nature of the divine life to be for itself, and so too the self-movement of the form, are altogether left out of account. If the form is declared to be the same as the essence, then it is ipso, facto a mistake to suppose that cognition can be satisfied with the in-itself or the essence, but can get along without the form-that the absolute principle or absolute intuition makes the working-out of the former, or the development of the latter, superfluous. Just because the form is as essential to the essence as the essence is to itself, the divine essence is not to be conceived and expressed merely as essence, i.e. as immediate substance or pure self-contemplation of the divine, but likewise as form, and in the whole wealth of the developed form. Only then is it conceived and expressed as an actuality’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

We must learn to think of a syllogism as we think of an organism. Hegel compares plant growth and the act of concluding or making a judgment:

‘But the Concept as such does not abide within itself, without development (as the understanding would have it); on the contrary, being the infinite form, the Concept is totally active. It is the punctum saliens of all vitality, so to speak, and for that reason it distinguishes itself from itself. This sundering of the Concept into the distinction of its moments that is posited by its own activity is the judgment, the significance of which must accordingly be conceived of as the particularisation of the Concept. Indeed the Concept is in-itself already the particular, but the particular is not yet posited in the Concept as such; it is still in transparent unity with the universal there. So, as we have already noted (§ 160 Addition), the germ of a plant, for instance, already contains the particular: root, branches, leaves, etc., but the particular is here present only in-itself, and is posited only when the germ opens up; this unclosing should be regarded as the judgment of the plant. Consequently, the same example can also serve to make it obvious that neither the Concept nor the judgment is found only in our heads and that they are not merely formed by us. The Concept dwells within the things themselves, it is that through which they are what they are, and to comprehend an object means therefore to become conscious of its concept. If we advance from this to the judging of the object, the judgment is not our subjective doing, by which this or that predicate is ascribed to the object; on the contrary, we are considering the object in the determinacy that is posited by its concept’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Susan Hahn has written on Hegel’s conception of organic life in its relation to logic.

On the syllogism: Where is it going? What does it want? What is the source of its life and movement? How might this thought be connected in an evolutionary or developmental chain with other thoughts? What kind of life governs them all and governs the transitions between them?

That’s about as far as there is anything like an Hegelian method.

After all that I am hungry my lovely One …. give me some gravy ….

Come on baby I need gravy Give me, give me Give me, give me gravy tonight

I know you dance the mashed potato fine But that don’t show me that you’re really mine Once start dancin’ we’re now romancin’ So put that sucker on extra on the line

Gravy On my mashed potatoes, give me Gravy Come and treat me right Gravy You’re the greatest, so Give me, give me Give me, give me gravy tonight

I think it’s twisted but I want some more There’s something missing now we’re on the floor Come on baby I want some gravy A little kiss is what I’m waiting for

Gravy On my mashed potatoes, give me Gravy Come and treat me right Gravy You’re the greatest Give me, give me Give me, give me gravy tonight

Work out baby work out All that huggin’ and kissin’ is why I’ve got to have something else

Now when the mashed potato is finally through There’s lots of groovy, gravy things to do Lots of lovin’, kissin’, huggin’ I wanna ride that gravy train with you

Gravy On my mashed potatoes, give me Gravy Come and treat me right Gravy Hey baby you’re the greatest Give me, give me Give me, give me gravy tonight, give me

Gravy On my mashed potatoes, give me Gravy Come and treat me right Gravy Oh baby come on honey Give me, give me Give me, give me gravy tonight

Gravy On my mashed potatoes, give me Gravy All that huggin’ and kissin’ is great That I like Yeah, what about gravy on it

And dumplings:

No matter what state your stomach is in:


Coming up next:

Earth life.

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.