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

David Proud
36 min readOct 21, 2023

‘The song of life’

by Otto Erich Hartleben (1864–1905)

Great is life and rich!

The eternal gods gave it to us.

full of smiling benevolence,

gave it to us, the mortals, to us who were created for joy.

But poor is the heart of man!

Quickly becoming despondent, it forgets the ripening fruits.

Ever anew with empty hands

the beggar sits beside the dusty street,

whereon Happiness with resounding wheels

shiningly drove by.

‘Gesang des Lebens’

Gross ist das Leben und reich!

Ewige Götter schenkten es uns,

lächelnder Güte voll,

uns den Sterblichen, Freudegeschaffenen.

Aber arm ist des Menschen Herz!

Schnell verzagt, vergisst es der reifenden Früchte.

Immer wieder mit leeren Händen

sitzt der Bettler an staubiger Strasse,

drauf das Glück mit den tönenden Rädern

leuchtend vorbeifuhr.

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

‘Organics’ — AN OVERVIEW.

In the ‘Organics’ section we pass from inorganic to organic nature a transition that is effected through the chemical process whereby organic matter passes through three stages:

- The geological organism, comprising the mineral kingdom, the geological earth is to be regarded not in fact as a living being but as a kind of grand corpse.

- The vegetable organism, the plant is a living organism and exhibits the partial reduction of the multiplicity of nature to a systematic unity nonetheless the parts are not held firm within this unity, they are in large part indifferent to one another, and one part of the plant may perform the functions of another part and there is not that systematic differentiation and integration that is finally found in:

- The animal organism, in animals the return of subjectivity makes itself definite in the form of consciousness and in humanity this subjectivity becomes free ego therefore the animal organism is the final form of nature and constitutes the transition to spirit.

There are some further sub-divisions of the philosophy of nature which I will cover later.

Organic Physics. The transition from inanimate to animate nature is so to speak the transition from the prose of nature to its poetry.

‘The chemical process itself is so constituted however, that it posits as negated these immediate presuppositions forming the foundation of its externality and finitude. Within it, the properties of bodies appearing as the results of a particular stage are changed by the process from one stage to another, so that these conditions are reduced to products. In general therefore, the chemical process posits the relativity of the immediate substances and properties. Corporality which subsists as being indifferent is posited as a mere moment of the individuality therefore, and the Notion is posited in the reality which corresponds to it. This concrete unity with self, which brings itself forth from the particularization of the different corporealities into a whole, and by its activity negates the one-sided form of its self-relatedness and leads the moments of the Notion back into unity while dividing and particularizing itself into them, is the organism. The organism is therefore the infinite self-stimulating and self-sustaining process. Addition. We now have to make the transition from inorganic to organic nature, from the prose of nature to its poetry. In the chemical process bodies do not change superficially, all aspects of them change, and every property of cohesion, colour, lustre, opacity, ring, transparency etc. is effaced. Even specific gravity, which appears to be the profoundest and simplest determination, fails to hold out. It is precisely in this flux of accidents within the chemical process, that the relativity of the apparently indifferent determinations of individuality is realized as essence; the body displays the transience of its existence, and this its relativity is its being. If one wants to say what a body is, one’s description of it will only be complete once the whole cycle of its changes has been presented; for the true individuality of the body does not exist in anyone of its states, and is only exhausted and displayed by the full cycle. It It is precisely because totality of shape is merely particular, that it is unable to survive, and as the individual body is finite, it receives its due and fails to endure’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

It has to be understood as the emergence of determinations of form in the organic, in a chemical reaction an object changes but the totality of shape does not endure’ in this process, but an organism is in essence characterized by its self-preservation as its own end and it is therefore distinguished by its ability to preserve its own form including its specific functions in the life process and similar to the way in which the general form of a poem is preserved through change of that poem’s lines, the flyishness of a particular fly, its genus-universal, is always preserved throughout the life process of such an organism.

‘The Flea’

by John Donne (1571 or 1572 –1631)

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,

How little that which thou deniest me is;

It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;

Thou know’st that this cannot be said

A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,

Yet this enjoys before it woo,

And pampered swells with one blood made of two,

And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, nay more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;

Though parents grudge, and you, w’are met,

And cloistered in these living walls of jet.

Though use make you apt to kill me,

Let not to that, self-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?

Wherein could this flea guilty be,

Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?

Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou

Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;

’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:

Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,

Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

‘Peasant Girl Catching a Flea’, circa 1715, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

As an individual, an organism is at the same time something universal ; and insofar as it is universal, it obtains what is in effect a conceptual character. Nature has here reached the determinate being of the concept.

‘The chemical process now displays the dialectic by which all the particular properties of bodies are drawn into transitoriness however. It negates the immediate presuppositions which are the principles of its finitude. It is therefore solely the being-for-self of infinite form which endures, the pure incorporeal individuality which is for itself, and for which material subsistence is simply a variable. The chemical process is the highest expression of inorganic being, for it annihilates itself within it, and shows that its truth is nothing but infinite form. It is therefore through the sinking away of shape that the chemical process constitutes the transition to the higher sphere of the organism, in which infinite form assumes the reality of its nature. Infinite form is therefore the Notion, which here reaches reality. This transition is the raising of existence to universality. Nature has here reached the determinate being of the Notion therefore, and the Notion is no longer merely implicit, and submerged within the extrinsicality of its subsistence. This is the free fire (a) as purged of all materiature, and (b) as materialized in determinate being. The moments of that which subsists are themselves raised into this ideality, and do not fall back into limited subsistence, but have their being solely within it. It is thus that we have objective time, an imperishable fire, the fire of life. Heraclitus also said that the soul was of fire, and that dry souls are the best’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

An organism is in effect a concept become active and it is a subject albeit it goes without saying it is not yet one in the human sense and it is in view of the organism’s capacity for self-preservation qua preservation of genus universality hence its ability to preserve its specific essence together with its self-identity, for instance, the flyishness of a fly, that Hegel describes organisms as having a self-centred character, that is to say, as having the subjectivity that is characteristic of a self.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

For now let us focus upon the distinction between plant and animal that is essential to organic nature’s forms of appearance revealing as it does Hegel’s insights regarding the emergence of the psychical, that is to say the occurrence of organisms with sensory capacity. The conclusion to this section treats the transition from nature to spirit which is both the completion and the surmounting of nature itself and given the concept of self mentioned above Hegel provides the following typology for the forms of life

(1) geological organism: self-preservation without a self

‘The primary organism, in so far as it is initially determined as immediate or implicit, is not a living existence, for as subject and process, life is essentially a self-mediating activity. Regarded from the standpoint of subjective life, the first moment of particularization is that the organism converts itself into its own presupposition, and so assumes the mode of immediacy, in which it confronts itself with its condition and outer subsistence. The inward recollection of the Idea of nature as subjective life, and still more as spiritual life, is basically divided between itself and this unprocessive immediacy. This immediate totality presupposed by subjective totality, is simply the shape of the organism; as the universal system of individual bodies, it is the terrestrial body’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

(2) ‘vegetable organism’: self-preservation with a non-reflexive self.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

(3) ‘animal organism’: self-preservation with a reflexive self that is to say the self that is for itself.

‘Organic individuality exists as subjectivity in so far as the externality proper to shape is idealized into members, and in its process outwards, the organism preserves within itself the unity of selfhood. This constitutes the nature of the animal, in which the actuality and externality of immediate singularity is countered by the intra-reflected self of singularity or the subjective universality which is within itself (§ 163)’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Let us consider this systematic classification of life forms with particular regard to the characterizations of self that it involves.

Because the geologischer Organismus is without a self it is not an organism in the proper sense. The terrestrial body ( Erdkörper ), for instance, has the capacity for self-preservation but not as having the subjectivity and genus-universality that are otherwise essential features of organic life forms.

‘In the chemical process, the Earth is already present as this totality; the universal elements enter into the particular corporealities of the Earth, and are partly causes and partly effects ot the process (§ 328 Add. II. 185,34). This is simply abstract motion however, for the corporealities are merely particular. The Earth is now certainly a totality, but as it is only the implicit process of these bodies, the process falls outside its perenniating product. The content of this totality cannot lack any determination belonging to life, but as extrinsicality constitutes the mode of these determinations, this content lacks the infinite form of subjectivity. Consequently, as it is presupposed by life as its foundation, the Earth is posited as being unposited, for the positing is concealed by the immediacy. The other moment is then the self-dissolution of this presupposition’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘A Woman Picking Fleas By Candlelight’, Pehr Hilleströ

‘A Woman Picking Fleas By Candlelight’, Pehr Hilleströ, (1732–1816)

A familiar contemporary example videlicet our notion of an ecological system serves to clarifying what is meant by geological organism for like Hegel’s geological organism an ecological system is characterized in terms of self-preservation in this instance in terms of its maintaining a dynamical equilibrium that may also be overturned under changing conditions and transformed into a different balance. An ecological system is not yet a subject and what it lacks is in fact permanent control over its own form in the character of its form of a specific genus-universal by a self that is something like a subjective valuation system and it therefore lacks a subject-like system that as a matter of self-preservation existentially assesses and regulates everything that internally and externally concerns an organism in its proper sense. If a fly is threatened with respect to its existence as a fly then it flies away.

In contrast to the geological organism a plant is a genuine organism and as such it is determined by a self that aims to preserve the organism under changing external conditions and in accordance with the Hegelian conception of an organism a plant possesses the kind of subjectivity by which it teleologically strives to preserve its genus-universality also in view of obstacles none of which can be experienced by the organism here at issue. The plant does not possess sentience [ Selbstgefühl] it is not yet subjectivity that is for itself.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

While the plant’s vegetable self is in fact related to the organism as a whole it is not yet related to itself as well so the vegetable self is without reflexivity and corresponds morphologically to a rather loose form of organic unity according to which the process of articulation and self-preservation of the vegetable subject is one in which it comes forth from itself, and falls apart into several individuals as happens for instance, when a part of a plant, a scion, can again become the whole plant. (See above). What a plant still lacks is realized in an animal’s structure of subjectivity. A plant is a subject, but an animal also exists as a subject.

‘Organic individuality exists as subjectivity in so far as the externality proper to shape is idealized into members, and in its process outwards, the organism preserves within itself the unity of selfhood. This constitutes the nature of the animal, in which the actuality and externality of immediate singularity is countered by the intra-reflected self of singularity or the subjective universality which is within itself (§ 163)’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The subjectivity of an animal is thus present to the animal itself. Essential to this self-presence of animal subjectivity is the emergence of the self that is for the self.

‘In the animal, light has found itself, for the animal checks its relationship with an other. The animal is the self which is for the self, it is the existent unity of differences, and pervades their distinctness. The plant’s tendency towards being-for-self gives rise to the plant and the bud, which are two independent individuals, and are not of an ideal nature. Animal being consists of these two posited in unity. The animal organism is therefore this duplication of subjectivity, in which difference no longer exists as it does in the plant, but in which only the unity of this duplication attains existence. True subjective unity exists in the animal therefore; it is an incomposite soul, which contains infinity of form, and is deployed into the externality of the body; what is more, it has a further relation with an inorganic nature, an external world. Nevertheless, animal subjectivity consists of bodily self-preservation in the face of contact with an external world, and of remaining with itself as the universal. As this supreme point of nature, animal life is therefore absolute idealism. This implies that it contains the determinateness of its corporeality in a completely fluid manner, and that it has incorporated this immediacy into subjective being, and continues to do so’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

That is to say the self that so to speak encounters itself, here at issue is the distinctive self-for-self structure as something first realized in animal subjectivity.

‘In the animal the self is for the self, and the immediate consequence of this is that the differentia specifica or absolute distinguishing feature of the animal, is the completely universal element of its subjectivity, the determination of sensation. The animal’s self is of an ideal nature, it is not effused and immersed in materiality, but is merely active and present within it. At the same time however, it finds itself within itself This ideality, which constitutes sensation, also constitutes the supreme bounty of nature’s existence, for everything is included within it. It is true that joy and pain etc. also form themselves corporally, but the whole of their bodily existence is still distinct from the simple being-for-self of the existence into which they are taken back as feeling. When I see and hear, I am simply communing with myself, and this is merely a form of the pure perspecuity and clarity that is within me. Although this awareness is punctiform, it is infinitely determinable, and as it has itself as its object, the subject of which is the ego=ego of sentience, it maintains the lucidity of its simplicity. The animal is related theoretically to another by means of sensation. The plant’s relation with externality is either practical or a matter of indifference however, and in the first instance it does not allow the object to subsist, but assimilates it. It is certainly true that the animal, like the plant, treats externality as something which is of an ideal nature. At the same time however, this other is left alone as a persistent subsistence, although in this way is still related to the subject, and does not remain indifferent to it. It is a relatedness which makes no demands. Because of its sensation, the animal is inwardly satisfied, for it is modified by an other, and it is precisely this inner satisfaction which establishes the theoretical relationship. That which enters into a practical relationship is not satisfied inwardly, for an other is posited within it. It has to react to this modification posited within it, sublate it, and make it identical with itself, for it was a disturbance. In its relationship with the other, the animal is still satisfied inwardly however, because it can bear the modification brought about by externality, by simultaneously positing the ideality of its nature. The other merely consists of the consequences of sensation.

In this regard, one has to consider that an animal in contrast to a plant,must move and find its orientation within its environment and this is in view when Hegel refers to animal self-mobility and interrupted intussusception as well as to the animal’s nervous system. albeit he does not go into the details regarding the import of the considerations just mentioned for the structure of the animal self. However to bring to the fore this import we merely need to follow the following line of argument in connection with some early considerations on cybernetics put forward by W. Ross Ashby, (1903–1972).

An organism must regulate its biochemical functions whether its regulative function requires a central organ or is distributed over its entire biochemical system and this instance of regulative function can be referred to as an organism’s function-self . Since a plant has to regulate only its internal biochemical functions its form of self-regulation is limited to that of the function-self but an animal must also be in control of its actions within its external environment hence in addition to the function-self the animal organism requires an arrangement of nerves and sensory organs corresponding to a form of self-regulative activity that oversees and controls an animal’s actions in view of its self-preservation which is what Dieter Wandschneider refers to as an action-self.

The crucial thing to notice here is that the action-self of the animal organism remains reflexively bound to the function-self because an animal’s actions must be existentially purposive in the sense that they have to be in keeping with the organism’s needs and as a consequence all such actions are subject to existential evaluations on the part of the function-self. As Hegel expressed this thought during his Jena period the animal organism is ‘as the unity of two selves — first, a whole as individual, as self-sensing in desire; then, a whole that excludes from itself this abstract I , a whole for which another exists’. This characterization is of note given Hegel’s distinguishing between two selves that he otherwise speaks of in an undifferentiated manner and we have here the unity of the function-self (as the self that evaluates and senses the internal state of want) and the action-self (which perceives an external object).

What this means in concrete terms we can see through an instructive example of what happens if you touch a hot stove whereby the externally perceived tactile impression is first presented to the function-self and is thereby subjected to existential assessment and this is given back to the action-self and blended into its outer perception. Hence as the sensation of pain it is therefore the immediate unity of being and of that belonging to it [die unmittelbare Einheit des Seins und des Seinen]’.

‘Sense is the immediate unity of being and of that belonging to it. Initially it is feeling, which is the non-objective union with the object, in which however the object is also withdrawn to an equal extent into being-for-self. This unity has two aspects therefore: it is the sense of shape as shape, and the sense of heat. It is only a subdued differentiation which occurs here, because the other is only a generality, and is devoid of any intrinsic difference. The moment of difference-positive and negative-consequently falls apart as figure and heat. Feeling is therefore the sense of the earthy element, of matter, of that which offers resistance, of that in accordance with which I have immediate existence as an individual. The other also communicates with me as an individual material being, the being-for-self of which also corresponds to my awareness of it. Matter aspires towards a centre, and the primary satisfaction of this aspiration is the animal, which has its centre within itself What I am sensible of is precisely this impulsion of matter which is devoid of self, towards an other. The particular ways of offering resistance, such as softness, hardness, elasticity, and smoothness or roughness of surface, also belong here. Figure and shape are also nothing more than the manner in which this resistance is limited spatially. These determinations, which we dealt with in various spheres, are bound together in feeling as in a bouquet; for as we saw above (Addition to 20 § 355 III. 128, 8), it is precisely sentient nature which has the power of binding together many widely separated spheres’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

While this characterization is Hegel’s play on words his meaning is that perception in this form is no longer concerned only with the animal organism’s external situation ( das Sein ) it in addition makes the organism’s own internal evaluative condition ( das Seine ) something that can be experienced that is something fundamentally new. Perception which first of all is directed externally, has hereby achieved an internal dimension hence sensation may be characterised as a finding of oneself within oneself (Sich-selbst-in-sich-Finden) designates inner sensation’s appearance on the perceptual stage, which is made possible by the structure of the double self that is distinctive of the animal subject.

‘The Flea Hunt’, 1621, Gerrit van Honthorst, censored by me, well, putting together these articles takes time you know, so I can do without the risk of breaching ‘guidelines’ and only myself being able to see my article.

‘Animal existence maintains itself in its otherness, but this is an actual difference, and at the same time there is a positing of the ideal nature of the animal’s system of members. This constitutes the initiation of the living subject, soul, etheriality, the essential process of articulation into members and expansion. This formation is posited immediately in time however, and the difference is timelessly retracted into its unity. Fire releases itself into members, and is ceaselessly passing over into its product, which is ceaselessly led back to the unity of subjectivity, so that there is an immediate absorption of its independence. Animal life is therefore the Notion displaying itself in space and time. Each member has the entire soul within it, and is only independent through its being connected with the whole. Sensation, which is the faculty of finding oneself within one-self, is the highest determination of this sphere, and first occurs here; it is the persistence of self-identity within determinateness, a free self-communion within determinateness. The plant is not aware of itself within itself, because its members are independent and opposed individualities. Animal nature constitutes the explicated Notion of life; prior to this there is no true animation present. These three forms constitute life’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Given this structure it also becomes possible for the existential assessments performed by the function-self to be subject to perceptual experience and qualities such as hot, sweet or disgusting are in fact significant factors in organismic self-preservation and in actual fact the animal soul and self-preservation in essence walk hand in hand and it is in the co-operation of function-self and action-self that an inner dimension is spanned for the self forms both sides of this relationship which is thus an internal circuit of the soul, keeping itself aloof from organic nature. As the plant has not yet attained to this selfhood, however, it lacks inwardness.

‘If the plant broke off its relation to that external to it, it would exist as a subjective being, and so establish its self-relatedness. Consequently, the precise reason for the plant’s intussusception being continuous, is that the plant does not have the nature of true subjectivity; its individuality is perpetually falling apart into its particularity, and is therefore unable to hold on to itself as an infinite being-for-self. Only the self as self excludes externality, and it is precisely as a self-relatedness that it constitutes the soul of this relation. In the self-relatedness, the self forms both sides of this relationship, which is therefore an internal circuit of the soul, keeping itself aloof from inorganic nature. As the plant has not yet attained to this selfhood however, it lacks the inwardness which would be free of external relatedness. Thus air and water are perpetually acting upon the plant; the plant does not sip water. At night, or during the winter, the action of light is of course interrupted or weakened externally, but this is a difference which is external to the plant, and is not part of the plant itself. Consequently, it is possible gradually to, change the plant’s activities by placing it in a lighted room at night, and in a darkened room during the day. It was in this way that de Candolle changed the dormant periods of Mimosas and various other plants in a matter of a few nights. He did it by keeping lamps burning. The rest of plant behaviour depends upon the seasons and 10 the climate; northern plants, which are dormant during the winter, gradually change this characteristic in southern regions. Similarly, the plant does not yet relate itself to individual being, and this is also because it is not the self-relatedness of a self. Its other is not an individual therefore, but elemental inorganic being’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

One can perceive what is specific to behaviour regulated by sensation by comparing programmed robotic actions with the bare reflex actions of an animal organism for a robot lacking a self is deprived of the existential dimension of self-preservation it simply does what it has been programmed to do as the result of its programmer’s intentions and on account of its lack of that existential dimension it does not worry about its own being since only a living existence senses deficiency.

‘The process which is of a real nature, or the practical relationship with inorganic nature, begins with the self’s internal diremption, the awareness of externality as the negation of the subject. The subject is, at the same time, positive self-relatedness, the self-certainty of which is opposed to this negation of itself. In other words, the process begins with the awareness of deficiency, and the drive to overcome it. The condition which occurs here is that of an external stimulation, in which the negation of the subject which is strung in opposition, is posited in the form of an object’.

‘Remark. Only a living existence is aware of deficiency, for it alone in nature is the Notion, which is the unity of itself and its specific antithesis. Where there is a limit, it is a negation, but only for a third term, an external comparative. However, the limit constitutes deficiency only in so far as the contradiction which is present in one term to the same extent as it is in the being beyond it, is as such immanent, and is posited within this term. The subject is a term such as this, which is able to contain and support its own contradiction; it is this which constitutes its infinitude. Similarly, when reference is made to finite reason, reason shows that it is infinite, and precisely by thus determining itself as finite; for negation is finitude, and is only a deficiency for that which constitutes the sublated being of this finitude, i.e. for infinite self-reference (cf. § 60 Rem.). Through lack of thought, no advance is made beyond the abstraction of the limit, so that even where the Notion itself enters into existence as it does in life, there is a failure to grasp it. This thoughtlessness keeps to the determinations of ordinary thought, such as impulse, instinct, need etc., and does not ask what they are in themselves. An analysis of the way in which these determinations are regarded would show that they are negations posited as contained within the affirmation of the subject itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

In contrast to this an organism’s reflex action an action defending the organism against danger, for instance, is existentially determined through and through, and it should therefore not be confused with any robotic action. However an organism’s reflex action does exhibit something robot-like to the extent that it lacks sensation and in this case the existential assessment of perception is not fed back into perception as something to be integrated into it in which case it would be sensation but instead goes directly into triggering a motoric action. With such an Hegelian interpretation of sensation we now arrive at an important pathway for approaching the so-called mind-body problem yet if sensation is not properly understood as the most elementary form of the psychical it would seem that there is little hope of illuminating the far more complex connections involved in our higher mental processes (the place of the mental in the systematic framework of Hegel’s philosophy of spirit).

Generic process, death, and transition to spirit. Having the capacity for self-preservation is a constitutive property for being an organism and as previously explained an organism is self-identically preserved through all internal and external changes to which it is subject so as an individual an organism is at the same time a universal an instance of a species. The inner tension between singularity and universality finds its basic expression in the sexual differentiation to which higher forms of the organic are subject and the singular individual cannot in the capacity of being singular be the truth of species universality but insofar as it is nonetheless related to its species as a whole it has in the most elementary form) the instinct (Trieb) driving it towards unification with another instance of its species.

The natural basis for this instinctual drive is the differentiation of individuals into the male and female principle which in each individual gives rise to a feeling of deficiency (Mangel). The singular individual is hence subject to the drive to attain its sentience (Selbstgefühl ) 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, sexual copulation (Begattung) ok I have your attention now.

‘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’

‘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’

‘The Flea’, Giuseppe Maria Crespi Lo Spagnuolo, (1665–1747)

This realization of the species in the unification of male and female individuals, which in higher animals gives rise to a feeling of universality.

‘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’

And this is he supreme moment of an animal’s capabilities.

‘Since the ideality of inorganic nature is posited through the process with it, the animal has consolidated its sentience and objectivity in its own self. This is not merely implicit sentience, but a sentience which is existent and animated. In the separateness of the two sexes, the extremes constitute totalities of sentience, and in its sex-drive, the animal produces itself as a sentience, as a totality. In the nisus formativus, organic being became a dead product; it was certainly freely released from organic being, but it was only a superficial form imposed upon an external material, so that this externality was not objective to it as a free and indifferent subject. This case bears a resemblance to the process of assimilation however, for both sides are now independent individuals. The difference is that they are not related to each other as organic and inorganic beings however, for they are both organic beings belonging to the genus, and they therefore exist only as a single kind. Their union is the disappearance of the sexes, in which the simple genus has come into being’.

-Philosophy of Nature’

It is in effect a genetically anchored and most primitive form of intersubjectivity by which individual separation is overcome and species-universality is realized and since the natural result of sexual generation is always yet another individual, this process of propagation issues forth into a spuriously infinite progression.

‘The universal type of the animal determined by the Notion, lies at the basis of the various forms and orders of animals. This type is exhibited by nature partly in the various stages of its development from the simplest organization to the most perfect, in which nature is the instrument of spirit, and partly in the various circumstances and conditions of elemental nature. Developed into singularity, the animal species distinguishes itself from others both in itself and by means of itself, and has being-for-self through the negation of that from which it 10 has distinguished itself. In this hostile relation to others, in which they are reduced to inorganic nature, violent death constitutes the natural fate of individuals’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

At the same time however the individuals involved have fulfilled their determination in the process of generation and must pass on to death in so far as they have no higher determination and their very inadequateness to universality therefore is their ‘original disease and inborn germ of death.

‘Universality, in the face of which the animal as a singularity is a finite existence, shows itself in the animal as the abstract power in the passing out of that which, in its preceding process (§ 356), is itself abstract. The original disease of the animal, and the inborn germ of death, is its being inadequate to universality. 10 The annulment of this inadequacy is in itself the full maturing of this germ, and it is by imagining the universality of its singularity, that the individual effects this annulment. By this however, and in so far as the universality is abstract and immediate, the individual only achieves an abstract objectivity. Within this objectivity, the activity of the individual has blunted and ossified itself, and life has become a habitude devoid of process, the individual having therefore put an end to itself of its own accord’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Nonetheless superseding this death of nature proceeding from this dead husk, there rises the finer nature of spirit.

‘Superseding this death of nature, proceeding from this dead husk, there rises the finer nature of spirit. Living being ends with this separation, and this abstract coincidence with itself. The one moment contradicts the other however, for (a) that which coincides is necessarily identical, so that Notion or genus and reality, or subject and object, are no longer separated; and (b) that which has repulsed and sundered itself is for that very reason not abstractly identical. Truth consists in their unity as distinct moments. It is because of the implicit identity of those moments therefore, that it is precisely and exclusively their formal opposition which has sublated itself in this coincidence and separation; similarly, it is because of their separation, that it is only their formal identity which has negated itself. This may be expressed more concretely in the following way. The Notion of life, the genus, life in its universality, expels from itself its reality, which has become a totality within it. It is however identical with this reality, and because it is Idea, absolute in its self-preservation, the Divine, the Eternal, it abides within it. That which has been sublated is only the form, the natural inadequacy, the merely persistent abstract externality of time and space. In living being, the Notion certainly exhibits the highest mode of its existence in nature; but here also, the Notion is merely implicit, for the Idea exists in nature as a singular. By moving from one place to another, the animal has certainly released itself completely from gravity; it is aware of itself in sensation and hears itself in voice; the genus exists in the generic process, but also only as a singular. Now as this existence is still inadequate to the universality of the Idea, the Idea has to break out of this sphere, and draw breath by shattering this inadequate existence. Consequently, instead of the third moment of the generic process lapsing again into singularity, the other side, which is death, constitutes the sublation of the singular, and is therefore the proceeding forth of the genus, of spirit. This is so because the negation of the immediate singularity of natural being consists in the positing of the universality of the genus, and moreover in the form of the genus. In spiritual individuality, this movement of the two sides is the self-sublating progression which results in consciousness, i.e. the unity which is in and for itself the unity of both, and which is this as self, not merely as genus in the inner Notion of the singular. It is in this way that the Idea exists in the independent subject, which as an organ of the Notion, finds everything to be fluid and of an ideal nature, i.e. it thinks, appropriates to itself all that is spatial and temporal, and so contains universality, i.e. itself. As the universal now has being for the universal, the Notion is for itself. This is first manifest in spirit, in which the Notion objectifies itself, although by this, the existence of the Notion is posited as Notion. As this universal which has being for itself, thought is immortal being, while mortal being consists on the universality of the Idea being inadequate to itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘Inasmuch as spirit is the universal which exhibits itself as universal. Individuality is not a universal, and is therefore unable to divide its self in this way. It is this general inadequacy which establishes the separability of soul and body; spirit is not mortal but eternal however, for as it is truth and therefore constitutes its own object, it is inseparable from its reality, i.e. the universal which exhibits itself as universal. In nature however, universality makes its appearance only in this negative way, which involves the sublation of the subjectivity within nature. It is precisely the form in which this separation comes about that constitutes the consummation of the singular being which assumes a universal character, but is unable to sustain this universality. In life, the animal certainly maintains itself in the face of its inorganic nature and its genus, but in the long run the universality of the genus retains its supremacy. As living being brings about the infusion of its living reality into its body, it dies as a singularity in the habitude of life. In that its activities become universal, animation endows itself with a universality which is for itself, and within this universality, it is precisely animation which dies. It does not survive, because it is a process which needs opposition, and at this juncture, the other which it had formerly to overcome, is no longer an other. The physical sphere resembles the spiritual therefore, in which to an ever increasing extent, old people settle down within themselves and their genus, steadily becoming more set in their general attitudes, and less aware of anything particular; as a result of this, there is also a dying away of tension or interest, (i.e. to be between) however, so that they are satisfied with this habitude devoid of process. The lack of opposition to which the organism progresses constitutes the stillness of dead being, and the repose of death overcomes the inadequacy of disease, which was therefore the primary origin of death’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Nature’s immanent tendency towards idealization here reaches its conclusion and the universal that is realized through spirit no longer has the organism’s spatio-temporal and material mode of being, as logical and ideal spirit is something non-spatial, super-temporal and immaterial. It is, then, immortal, the divine, the eternal.

‘The identity with the universal which is achieved here is the sublation of the formal opposition between the individuality in its immediate singularity and in its universality; it is however the death of natural being, which is only one side, and moreover the abstract side of this sublation. In the Idea of life however, subjectivity is the Notion, and implicitly therefore, it constitutes the absolute being-in-self of actuality, as well as concrete universality. Through this sublation of the immediacy of its reality, subjectivity has coincided with itself. The last self-externality of nature is sublated, so that the Notion, which in nature merely has implicit being, has become for itself. — With this, nature has passed over into its truth, into the subjectivity of the Notion, whose objectivity is itself the sublated immediacy of singularity, i.e. concrete universality. Consequendy, this Notion is posited as having the reality which corresponds to it, i.e. the Notion, as its determinate being. This is spirit.-’

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Spirit, the apprehension of the universal as universal and hence the possibility of objective cognition rests upon the capacity for thinking as distinguished from the subjectively tinted cognitive forms of perception and animal sensation and in its cognition of the laws that determine nature as nature’s underlying ideal essence spirit accomplishes something that nature itself is not in a position to achieve. For the essence of nature, nature’s immanent logic of natural laws, is not itself a natural entity rather it is of an entirely different order of being, a trans-natural mode of being, so to speak, nature merely is and it knows nothing thereof only spirit is capable of accomplishing that which nature is incapable of doing namely achieving knowledge of nature.

In natural science spirit grasps the ideal that underlies nature in the form of natural laws, an Hegelian natural philosophy comprehends spirit itself as the highest manifestation of this ideal. And so nature’s development towards spirit as the realization of its underlying ideal essence can be summarized as follows. The basis of nature’s development lies in fundamental logic, in its completion as the absolute idea, the logical is determined as unconditioned, which is to say, as absolutely independent of the non-ideal. But precisely in virtue of logic’s absolute independence and unconditioned character the non-ideal is co-posited as the other of the idea namely as nature and in so far as nature is as this other of the idea it remains related to and determined by the latter. The expression of this relatedness and determination is the lawfulness of nature understood as the ground of nature’s immanently self-realizing tendency towards idealization, a tendency that culminates in spirit and hence in the reflective self-comprehension of the logical idea.

But what this means is that nature as the necessary accompanying phenomenon of the idea is unavoidably determined to develop towards the emergence of spirit or to put it another way the laws of nature must be such that the existence of spirit is both possible and actually achieved in nature and this is precisely what is asserted by the so-called anthropic principle that has been discussed chiefly by physicists for the past four or five decades albeit scientific discussion of the anthropic principle has it may be contended yielded no solid results to date. Anthropic principle: first proposed by Robert Henry Dicke (1916–1997), the range of possible observations that could be made about the universe is limited by the fact that observations could happen only in a universe capable of developing intelligent life, or the cosmological principle that theories of the universe are constrained by the necessity to allow human existence.

On its objective-idealistic interpretation however nature is comprehensible as the development towards spirit and therefor as the full-circle return to the idea and from the encompassing metaphysical perspective of objective idealism the question of whether nature, phusis, could fail to achieve such a goal is not posed since the idea must find its way back to itself by way of the stages of nature and spirit. So, a detour from the logical idea through nature to spirit and back again to the idea, because the idea cannot simply remain by itself (bei sich) since nature is dialectically co-posited with it and so the detour through nature cannot be avoided but if there is nature then nature must be given as the idealizing tendency that is directed towards the anthropic goal called spirit.

This is the end in which nature finds both its completion and its self-transcendence in the human being which is to say in the type of being that is able to survey and comprehend nature’s systematic connectedness in its totality and observed from a fundamental viewpoint Hegelian philosophy provides the most well-considered concept of nature in the entire tradition of natural philosophy, and given its foundation in the system of objective idealism, Hegel’s philosophy of nature has a theoretical grounding that is superior to other approaches to natural philosophy be it the Leibnizian, the Kantian or the Schellingian metaphysical systems of nature, for instance, and by setting out from the objectively binding character of logic which can only be called into question at the cost of self-contradiction this philosophy of nature obtains a rationally supportable foundation, and proceeding from this foundation it frames a fascinating overall picture of nature and in doing so it makes possible a holistic view of reality in which nature and spirit essentially belong together precisely in and through their opposition. And furthermore, this is a philosophy of nature that opens up new perspectives, new options for the philosophical interpretation of relativity theory, for instance, or for the explanation of the emergence of the psychical in nature, and more generally it leads to the further advancement of the Hegelian project of providing comprehending knowledge of nature in the form of an elaborated dialectic of nature.

‘Woman Catching Fleas’. 1630s, Georges de La Tour

Dedicated to my lovely one. You are my life. My shun. You make me shine 😎❤️

Once all alone I was lost in a world of strangers No one to trust On my own, I was lonely You suddenly appeared It was cloudy before but now it’s all clear You took away the fear And you brought me back to the light

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world You are my life

Now I wake up everyday With this smile upon my face No more tears, no more pain ’Cause you love me You help me understand That love is the answer to all that I am And I’m, I’m a better man Since you taught me by sharing your life

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world

You gave me strength When I wasn’t strong You gave me hope when all hope is lost You opened my eyes when I couldn’t see Love was always here waiting for me

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world

You are the sun You make me shine Or more like the stars That twinkle at night You are the moon That glows in my heart You’re my daytime, my nighttime, my world

You are my life

Michael Jackson, ‘You Are My Life’:


Coming up next:

A history of the Earth.

It shouldn’t take us long.

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.