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

David Proud
32 min readNov 14, 2023

‘He who made the world formed’

by Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585)

He who made the world formed

In the breadth of his own perfect image,

Crowning it with the vaults of his temple,

Commanded me, by fate, to be your slave.

Like the spirit which is born in holy fashion

Just to see its God, when it looks on His face

For all its troubles no greater payment

Than to see Him is given to it ;

Just so I lose my accustomed pain

When in long draughts I drink in the light

Of your fair eye, an unequalled masterpiece.

That is why, wherever it is,

I always despite myself turn towards it

As a marigold turns to the rays of the sun.

‘Celuy qui fit le monde façonné’

Celuy qui fit le monde façonné

Sur le compas de son parfait exemple,

Le couronnant des voustes de son temple,

M’a, par destin, ton esclave ordonné.

Comme l’esprit qui saintement est né

Pour voir son Dieu, quand sa face il contemple,

De tous ses maux un salaire plus ample

Que de le veoir ne luy est point donné;

Ainsi je pers ma peine coustumiere,

Quand à longs traits j’œillade la lumiere

De ton bel œil, chef-d’œuvre nompareil.

Voylà pourquoy, quelque part qu’il sejourne,

Tousjours vers luy maugré-moy je me tourne,

Comme un soucy aux rayons du soleil.


Γυναίκα πλένεται δίπλα στο ποτάμι. ‘Girl Washing by the River’, Nikolaos Gyzis (1842–1901)

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

The Process of Formation.

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

— ‘Philosophy of Nature’

It may be worth our while at this stage to tie together several anthropological and Naturphilosophische themes in order to re-examine the place of the philosophy of nature in the system as a whole for as far as Hegelian anthropology is concerned one might suppose that that philosophy of nature has for its subject not nature as such but nature as cognized by Spirit or Geist hence the identity of these two natures is only constructed by Spirit itself retroactively a difference the origin of which may be traced back to the revolutionary moment which instituted Hegel’s anthropology that is not a transition from nature to Spirit but a pure break or new beginning culminating in the creation of the conceptual world of nature as philosophers of nature know it with the consequence that the philosophy of nature does not precede but follows from the anthropology and the philosophy of Spirit whereby the natural foundation is retroactively replaced by the philosopher with the anthropological one.

One might endeavour at an analysis of where precisely the philosophy of nature begins through some anthropological dismantling to see how the parts fit together and operate in conjunction with each other for the issue of the beginning of the philosophy of nature and consequently its place within the ‘Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences’ leads to an important recognition, that is to say for Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, (1775–1854), Naturphilosophie has to do directly with the real Hegel’s philosophy of nature has for its subject not nature as such but rather spiritual nature or nature as cognized by Geist and the narrative of the identity of these two natures is not something given but rather something constructed by Spirit itself retroactively. The origin of this difference between nature-as-it-is and nature-as-Spirit can be located to the revolutionary moment that occurs at the outset of the philosophy of Spirit and institutes Hegel’s anthropology that is to say his doctrine of the human soul and its exposition in the first section of the philosophy of Spirit that immediately fills and maintains the gap between the real and the spiritual. The anthropology culminates in the birth of consciousness and the creation of a philosophical nature first as an external world of objects and then as the conceptual world of nature as the philosophers of nature) know it whereby the philosophy of nature’s nature is in essence human nature whereas nature-as-the-real remains consequently a no-where demoted to the sidelines of te Naturphilosophie that the philosopher replaces instead with an anthropological foundation for the human is revolutionary but nature as such is not or rather the human revolutionizes, among other things the natural existing state of affairs itself and the philosophy of nature is the outcome of this revolution.

As I hope is clear by now this is not how I interpret it but we will run with it to see where it leads. The idea is that there exists a tension in Hegel’s system between the philosophy of Nature and the philosophy of Spirit leading to two possible readings of their relationship, a prospective one and a retrospective one, the former reading having been the standard since Hegel himself placed the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ as the second volume of the Encyclopedia coming after the Logic and before the ‘Philosophy of Spirit’ and in this reading there is a continuous logical progression from inorganic matter through the animal to the human soul and then consciousness so that between the philosophy of Nature and the philosophy of Spirit, the former is ontologically prior and transitions seamlessly into the latter and philosophically grounds it. Slavoj Žižek, (1949- ), upon the basis of such an assumption has spoken of Hegel’s materialism with regard to the anthropology’s alleged origin in the philosophy of nature. But the logic here can be questioned with the retrospective kind of reading whereby the suggestion is that we ought to read Hegel’s Encyclopedia backwards in order to see implications and assumptions inherent in his Naturphilosophie that might otherwise remain unnoticed and in such a reading the philosophy of Nature does not precede but rather follows the anthropology and the latter’s transition into the phenomenology within the philosophy of subjective Spirit taking its impetus from within the philosophy of Spirit. In accordance with this the prospective narrative itself implicit in Hegel’s situating of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in the middle of the system is not the originary or absolute one but a retroactive product of Spirit and philosophical knowledge and if there is a materialism to Hegel’s thought of Nature and Spirit it is either materialism-as-embodiment or an implicit materialism of the real that remains in the sidelines of the system a philosophical no-where that opens the door for the Hegelian speculative idealism to unfold.

In the shadow of René Descartes, (1596–1650), there is a Cartesian perspective within which a philosophy of Nature can only be done within the Hegelian framework by Spirit be it absolute or finite no matter how we understand the two whether theologically or purely anthropologically so that the possibility of a Naturphilosophie presupposes a particular pneumatology or a philosophy of Spirit. As a matter of fact a philosophy of Nature is as part of philosophy altogether a human endeavour for think of philosophy’s place in the philosophy of absolute Spirit the consummate section of the Encyclopedia that has to do with the highest manifestations of human spiritual activity and yet for a philosopher to think nature, to arrive at conceptual thinking at all, he or she must to begin with as an individual do so by means of a certain self-transformation, the path of this transformation is that which the anthropology traces and as such the philosophy of Nature is as yet logically impossible at the beginning of the anthropology and remains until the human individual becomes the thinking I of the phenomenology and Hegel refers to this event of thinking as at the same time a creation of the cognizable natural world.

Hence Hegel stresses that it is Geist that cognizes Nature and furthermore a true philosophy of nature can only get off the ground when we approach Nature geistig liebend which is to say in a spiritually loving way or with spiritual love.

‘Taken alone and by itself, the ego in its asserted supremacy is an empty negation, and not spirit. The ego is certainly an absolute moment of spirit, but not to the extent that it isolates itself. There is little more to be said here about the body of individuality, and that which follows is nothing more than the explication of this individuality. We are concerned here with the abstract determination of it. It is the property of the Earth or of organic being to digest the completely universal astral powers which appear to have independence as heavenly bodies, and to bring them under the sway of individuality, so that these gigantic members reduce themselves to moments. Quality, in its totality, is individuality, as the infinite form which is one with itself. If there is any talk of pride of place, it must be this our Earth which we regard as supreme. If one reflects quantitatively, one can certainly let the Earth sink away beneath one as, ‘a drop in the ocean of infinitude’; size, however is a very external determination. We now come to stand upon the Earth therefore, which is not only our physical, but also our spiritual home’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The love is spiritual because it proceeds immanently from Spirit and culminates in a unity that is to say the philosophy of Nature that is spiritual and hence immanent to Spirit and the “pneumatology from which the philosophy of Nature begins can be taken to mean either a theology in which case we get nature as cognized by the absolute spirit)or an anthropology nature as cognized by the finite spirit but for Hegel these two options are essentially one and the same since not only does the philosophy of subjective Spirit logically evolve into the philosophy of absolute Spirit but the former also has its beginning in the absolute Spirit’s activity so that Geist closes in on itself, and further the anthropology as spiritual is rendered logically possible by the Incarnation, it is in the Christ-event that the definition of Spirit as this one becomes possible.

‘If God is all sufficient and lacks nothing, how does He come to release Himself into something so clearly unequal to Him? The divine Idea is just this self-release, the expulsion of this other out of itself, and the acceptance of it again, in order to constitute subjectivity and spirit. The philosophy of nature itself belongs to this pathway of return, for it is the philosophy of nature which overcomes the division of nature and spirit, and renders to spirit the recognition of its essence in nature. This then is the position of nature within the whole; its determinateness lies in the self-determination of the Idea, by which it posits difference, another, within itself, whole maintaining infinite good in its indivisibility, and imparting its entire content in what it provides for this otherness. God disposes therefore, while remaining equal to Himself; each of these moments is itself the whole Idea, and must be posited as the divine totality. Distinctiveness can be grasped in three forms; the universal, the particular, and the singular; firstly it is preserved in the eternal unity of the Idea, i.e. the eternal son of God as it was to Philo. The other of this extreme is singularity, the form of finite spirit. Singularity, as return into self, is certainly spirit, but as otherness to the exclusion of everything else, it is finite or human spirit, for we are not concerned with finite spirits other than men. In so far as the individual man is at the same time received into the unity of the divine essence, he is the object of the Christian religion, which is the most tremendous demand that may be made upon him. Nature is the third form with which we are concerned here, and as the Idea in particularity, it stands between both extremes. This form is the most congenial to the understanding. Spirit is posited as contradiction existing for itself, for there is an objective contradiction between the Idea in its infinite freedom and in the form of singularity, which occurs in nature only as an implicit contradiction, or as a contradiction which has being for us in that otherness appears in the Idea as a stable form. In Christ the contradiction is posited and overcome as life, passion and resurrection. Nature is the Son of God, not as the Son however, but as abiding in otherness, in which the divine Idea is alienated from love and held fast for a moment. Nature is self-alienated spirit; spirit, a bacchantic god innocent of restraint and reflection has merely been let loose into it; in nature, the unity of the Notion conceals itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hence the Incarnation becomes foundational for the entire anthropology to say that the philosophy of nature presupposes a theology but not an anthropology can simply mean that it is written from the standpoint of the pre-Incarnational God which is to say from the standpoint of the past but there is a significant reason that this kind of statement is quite dubious within the systemic context of the Encyclopedia and the kind of theology that it implicates.

Fransk landskap. C. 1910, Ivar Kamke


In the third volume of the Encyclopedia the philosophy of Spirit takes its beginning from the anthropology, from Hegel’s examination of the individual human soul that appears to pick up right where the philosophy of Nature has ended but the emphasis at the beginning of the anthropology is inconsistent with that kind of logic of continuity insofar as he considers the anthropology as a new beginning and not an evolution of that which ostensibly precedes it and the anthropology begins like almost everything in Hegel with a negation though there are many ways in which Hegel uses the term negation but the one we encounter at the outset of the anthropology is possibly the most radical and even revolutionary of them all it is the absolute negativity….

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

‘For this reason formally the essence of mind is freedom, the concept’s absolute negativity as identity with itself. In accordance with this formal determination, the mind can abstract from everything external and from its own externality, from its very life; it can endure the negation of its individual immediacy, infinite pain, i.e. it can maintain itself affirmatively in this negativity and be identical for itself. This possibility is its intrinsic abstract universality, a universality that is for itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

… an emergence that takes place when an individual human body emerges from the body of the world, and when an individual soul, individual power of sensation,is born, still captivated by the sheer power of the world that Hegel calls the world soul, still asleep and yet already defined by an opposition to it. In actual fact the world soul does not actually exist it is only there as a virtual common substance it is an excess of power that is immaterial only insofar as it is virtual thereby Hegel breaks away from any traditional notion of immateriality), and “substantial” only insofar as it is foundational for any actual, singular soul body. It is a common virtuality from which every human soul is born.

‘The soul is not only immaterial for itself. It is the universal immateriality of nature, its simple ideal life. Soul is the substance, the absolute foundation of all the particularizing and individualizing of mind, so that it is in the soul that mind finds all the stuff of its determination, and the soul remains the pervading, identical ideality of this determination. But in this still abstract determination, the soul is only the sleep of mind-the passive nous of Aristotle, which is potentially all things’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

‘The universal soul must not be fixed, in the form of a world-soul, as a sort of subject; for the universal soul is only the universal substance, which has its actual truth only as individuality, subjectivity. Thus it presents itself as an individual soul, but immediately only as a soul which just is, with natural determinacies in it. These determinacies have, so to speak, behind their ideality a free existence: i.e. they are natural objects for consciousness, though the soul as such does not respond to them as external objects. Rather, these determinations are natural qualities which it has in itself’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Just as light shatters into a countless multitude of stars so the universal soul of nature, too, shatters into a countless multitude of individual souls with the distinction that, while light appears to have a persistent existence independent from the stars, the universal soul of nature comes into actuality solely in the singular souls.

‘Just as light splinters into an infinite host of stars, so too the universal natural soul splinters into an infinite host of individual souls, only with the difference, that whereas light has the semblance of a subsistence independent of the stars, the universal natural soul attains actuality only in the individual souls. Now since the diverging universal qualities considered in the first section, are taken back, as we said above, into the unity of the individual human soul, instead of the form of externality they acquire the shape of natural alterations of the individual subject who persists in them. These alterations, which are also both mental and physical, emerge in the course of the stages of life. Here the difference ceases to be an external one. But it is in the sexual relationship that the difference becomes actual particularization, real opposition of the individual to itself. From this point on, the soul in general enters into opposition to its natural qualities, to its universal being, which, by this very fact, is reduced to the Other of the soul, to a mere aspect, to a transitory state, namely, to the state of sleep. Thus originates natural waking, the opening out of the soul. But here in Anthropology we have not yet to consider the fulfilment that accrues to waking consciousness but waking only in so far as it is a natural state’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

This virtual common substance has its actual truth only as singularity (Einzelheit).

‘From this relationship of opposition, or of real particularization, soul now returns, in the third section, to unity with itself, by removing from its Other too the fixity of a state, and dissolving the Other in the soul’s ideality. Soul has thus progressed from merely universal individuality, which is only in itself, to actual individuality that is for itself; and in doing this it has progressed to sensation. Initially, we have to deal here only with the form of sensing. What the soul senses is to be specified only in the second part of Anthropology. The transition to this part is formed by the expansion of sensation within itself to the boding soul’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

And further because the soul is the first form of Geist and because it cannot exist actually as the world soul but only as a multitude of singular soul-bodies that means that Geist also has its first actual existence only as an anthropological multitude of embodied individualities all born from within the world body. As the first and most fundamental or substantial form of Spirit the mode of its emergence as an individual’s body the anthropology is the embodied pre-reflectivity of Geist and these anthropological points are pre-reflective and at the same time belong in the absolute for self-reflection is not an inextricable property of the absolute in the character of being the absolute beginning. This starting point is blind to itself and yet it is already Geist. And this is precisely the paradox: that spirituality is introduced by Hegel as a blind spot, an individual blind spot belonging in the absolute, and therefore a blind spot of the absolute. In this, Hegel goes beyond the Cartesian transparency of self-reflection.

The kind of negation that is the birth of a human soul is described by Hegel in his lectures on the philosophy of Spirit as a saltus a leap from Nature to Geist rather than a seamless continuity a leap to the immediate spirit that must be grasped as spirit.

‘Mind, developing in its ideality, is mind as cognitive. Cognition, however, is conceived here not merely as a determinacy of the logical Idea (§223), but in the way in which the concrete mind determines itself to cognition. Subjective mind is: (A) In itself or immediate: a soul or natural mind- the theme of Anthropology. (B) For itself or mediated: still as identical reflection into itself and into the other: mind in relationship or particularization: consciousness- the theme of the Phenomenology of Mind. © Mind determining itself in itself, as a subject for itself-the theme of Psychology’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

The dividing line in the Encyclopedia between the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and the ‘Philosophy of Spirit’ is not so much a transition which is the traditional way of seeing it but rather a pure difference a gap between nature and Geist between the seemingly unchangeable status quo of nature and the possibility of new life and knowledge and the fructifying hiatus between the philosophy of Nature and the philosophy of Spirit acts to suspend the natural order in order to inaugurate the radically new spiritual one related to the former as an absolute negativity, and even the most basic foundation of human individuality the natural soul not to be mistaken with the world soul as the soul of nature has already left the original realm of nature behind and nature-as-origin now lies behind. The soul has inherited some of the natural changes and qualities even as it has decisively broken away from the world body and yet those are now incorporated into a radically new whole where they acquire a spiritual meaning.

The soul rebels against their givenness their immediacy and aspires to idealize, assimilate and transform, them for Spirit, says Hegel elsewhere, can only begin from spirit and as soon as a soul-as-body arises from nature,it ceases to be of nature, becoming Geist, a materiality that is Spirit.

‘So Spirit is only that which it attains by its own efforts; it makes itself actually what it always was potentially. — That development (of natural organisms) takes place in a direct, unopposed, unhindered manner. Between the Idea and its realization — the essential constitution of the original germ and the conformity to it of the existence derived from it — no disturbing influence can intrude’.

-’Lectures on the Philosophy of History’

But in relation to Spirit it is quite otherwise whereby there is a striving, a play of the absolute spirit with itself as Hegel put it to stress its independent objective character on the part of an aspect of the world body to break away from its host, Geist operating from within the real but not as part of it, bodily yet in revolt against the world body and thence the absolute Spirit replaces Nature as the real par excellence the new radically real and Hegelian anthropology becomes in a significant sense a theory of revolution wherein Geist determines itself as being-otherwise, an unconscious will towards the new a striving to be the absolute negativity and absolute newness against the natural status quo It is in this revolutionary act that spirit as this One spirit as bodily singular is born and shaped and the location of this struggle is exactly at the level of the human the anthropological and indeed such is the Hegelian truth held by Left Hegelian orthodoxy.

‘The process of formation is linked directly to the second process, which is that of self-specification in accordance with externality. The seed only germinates when it is stimulated from without. What is more, the diremption of the plant-form into root and leaf, is itself a diremption directed towards the earth and water, and towards the light and air. In the first instance it is concerned with the absorption of water, in the second, with the assimilation of this water, as well as light and air, by means of leaf and bark. The result of the return-into-self in which assimilation terminates, is not sentience, or the inner subjective universality of the self opposed to externality. It is rather, that light draws the plant out of itself by constituting its external self, so that the plant strives towards it, and branches out into a plurality of individuals. The plant in itself draws from light the specific animation and invigoration which constitute its aromatic properties, the volatility of its scent and savour, the lustre and depth of its colour, and the compactness and vigour of its structure’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


The bud blossoms beautifully forth. Such a sort of anthropological revolution as a new beginning as well as a revolt against or break from the natural state of things may be compared to Hegel’s account of revolution elsewhere, for instance in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ and the ‘Philosophy of Right’ and the lectures on the ‘Philosophy of History’. Here also the new spirit begins as an absolute negativity or absolutely negative freedom over and against the old regime.

‘It is inherent in this element of the will that I am able to free myself from everything, to renounce all ends, and to abstract from everything. The human being alone is able to abandon all things, even his own life. The animal cannot do this; it always remains only negative, in a determination which is alien to it and to which it merely grows accustomed. The human being is pure thinking of itself, and only in thinking is he this power to give himself universality, that is, to extinguish all particularity, all determinacy. This negative freedom or freedom of the understanding is one-sided, but this one-sidedness always contains within itself an essential determination and should therefore not be dismissed; but the defect of the understand in is that it treats a one-sided determination as unique and elevates it to supreme status. This form of freedom occurs frequently in history’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

But here there are no explicit connotations of death not until the start of the Phenomenology where the abstract world of Verstand is described as that of death. The anthropological revolution is not abstract it is on the contrary a revolution of life and likewise the individual spheres destroyed by the French Revolution are here first constructed and defined and the revolution has significant consequences for the philosophy of Nature indeed do not be led astray by the characterization of nature as pointing towards or bearing witness to Geist.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Any such pointing only occurs retroactively by Spirit itself that builds a narrative a philosophy of Nature after the revolution has already occurred and Geist’s antagonistic relationship to the totality of the real that it originally proceeds from may on the other hand appear hard to reconcile with the injunction to approach Nature geistig liebend and we may well ask how do we build a true philosophy of Nature if Nature is other to Spirit and the latter emerges in a revolutionary break from the former? How do we connect together Nature’s otherness and its immanence to spirit? We could always read the Encyclopedia in reverse hence Hegel’s stress upon Nature’s otherness to Spirit and the apparent dualism therein implicated discovers its resolution in the detail that it is only Spirit that can philosophize about Nature and dig up the concept hidden within it albeit completely hidden from Nature itself. Nature-as-it-is is entirely other but this otherness gets sublated as Spirit gets to know and idealize the primordial world body to the point of mastering it completely and replacing the first Nature with the second retroactively establishing their identity in Spirit.

Geist is the absolutely first with regard to Nature (see above) means precisely that and it is in this significant sense that the philosophy of Spirit is prior to the philosophy of Nature albeit the former follows the latter within the architecture the system and in order to trace this different kind of path not from Nature to Spirit but from Spirit to Nature one needs in brief to regard the underlying mechanism of the anthropology itself that establishes Spirit’s birthright in relation to Nature and this mechanism is idealization, generating not one but rather two natures, nature-as-the-real from which Spirit revolts and Nature-as-Spirit that Spirit freely cognizes.


Divertimento 6: 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 Forty Four]

Thinking as an end in itself. We may get some idea of what the natural self-movement of thinking looks like from the beginning of the ‘Science of Logic’ whereby thinking moves naturally from the thought of being to the thought of nothing a movement similar to the opening realization of the Phenomenology that immediate intuition ‘Sense Certainty’ is unable to express what it means, that is to say the thought of pure being is empty. This is so since the thought of being is so general and so empty of specificity it appears like nothing determinate at all and such opening movement is not the operation of a specialized thing termed Hegelian dialectic but a widespread experience one can discover in for instance students for the first time coming across ontology whereby they may inquire what is this being thing being talked about and whatever the response might be, whatever is or everything or whatever allows beings to be, will amount to saying being names the most abstract kind of thinking that you can think of and the most abstract thought is the completest in one sense it incorporates the thinking of every other thought content as potential but it is also the emptiest it lacks all actualization through development and internal differentiation among the thought contents.

And so being appears vast in range but empty like nothingness and nothingness is not hereby brought in but emerges on its own in particular in a comparatively untrained stream of thought and the study of ontology seems appears either absurd or tedious to many as they see more or less immediately that being is nothing, that is to say nothing worth exploring or talking about because it is so abstract and empty so removed from all concrete projects and practical commitments and the absence of interest itself is an instance of the thought of being turning into the thought of nothing but if the term being is required to do specific work in an argument one is not at liberty merely to observe it move into nothingness on its own but would constrain it to follow the terms one lays out for it hence a reader with a more determinate task for thought in hand, for instance someone authoring a cogently argued text defending a metaphysical thesis would be unable to observe the flow of thinking.

And so throughout the 1807 preface is the suggestion that philosophy is both natural to us and completely unfamiliar, unfamiliar because we are accustomed to approaching thinking as an implement that we can use to get something done not as an end in itself with its own nature for the thought itself does not normally interest us much as whether or not the thought gets us nearer to what we are after and one prevalent instance of this takes place when we do not care if our speech is really understood in detail as long as it achieves its desired effect. If the audience laughs the comic does not normally question them to make sure they understood each part of the gag and frequently we are content with the gist of someone’s speech because we merely need to know what this person wants not what is ultimately true. And when Plato’s Socrates asks a question his interlocutors frequently believe there is some particular response that he has in mind that will impress him and they give less regard to the question or thought content itself and more to the practical aim of winning a reputation for wisdom and this focus upon the utility of thought makes authentic philosophical inquiry impossible as the Platonic dialogues repeatedly demonstrate. There are strong prejudices leading us to treat thinking as an implement hence Hegel’s anxiety at being misread and caveat follows upon caveat and the preface ends with a brief account of why in spite of his endeavours he will still be misread for philosophy must follow the self-movement of the concept and that what most people believe is completely opposed to this.

‘Since I hold that Science exists solely in the self-movement of the Notion, and since my view differs from, and is in fact wholly opposed to, current ideas regarding the nature and form of truth, both those referred to above and other peripheral aspects of them, it seems that any attempt to expound the system of Science from this point of view is unlikely to be favourably received’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

The self-movement of the concept relates to what Plato or Aristotle mean when they discuss philosophy as knowing for its own sake and if we inquire into knowing not to use it but merely to understand how it works we must allow thinking to show itself to us on its own terms and these terms are the self-movement of the concept and they will be explicated in the ‘Science of Logic’ exploring how the structure of thinking develops toward and beyond syllogistic reasoning employing its own powers. Beneath all this discourse concerning knowing for its own sake and thinking about thinking and unity of form and content is the experience that thinking has a life of its own whereby it does not merely do as we order it to and if we want to get to know it we will have to take a more observational approach.


Pan is my name I live outside the door I have to keep the score of things around you

Fire and air Water I prepare I am the piper at the gates of dawning

It’s not magic it’s not madness Just the elements I style And I guarantee faithfully I will never go Until all is said and done In a twinkling I’ll be gone Well excuse me I have so much more to do

Fancy I fell A childlike tap I’ll steal Look twice my friend it’s not the wind at all

You’ll never see What you refuse to be The power in the seeing is believing

It’s not magic it’s not madness Just the elements I style And I guarantee faithfully I will never go Until all is said and done In a twinkling I’ll be gone Well excuse me I have so much more to do

It’s not magic it’s not madness Just the elements I style And I guarantee faithfully I will never go Until all is said and done In a twinkling I’ll be gone Well excuse me I have so much more to do

Flower Power, Power Flower, Flower Power, Power of Love Power Flower, Flower Power, Power Flower, Flower of Love

He’s a power flower yeah, oh Protecting all the flowers, yeah, oh He’s a flower’s power, yeah Through earth, wind, fire, showers, yeah, oh, oh, oh, oh Oh, oh, oh, oh

He’s a power flower yeah, oh Protecting all the flowers, yeah, oh


‘Consequently, the plant now brings forth its light from itself, as its own self. It does this in the blossom, in which the chromatic neutrality of green is specifically determined for the first time. The generic process is the relationship of the individual self to the self, and as a return into itself, it checks the growth of sprouting from bud to bud, which is for itself unlimited. The plant does not attain to a relationship between individuals as such however; it merely attains to a difference, the sides of which do not in themselves, and at the same time, constitute the complete individuals, and are not determinative of the whole individuality. Consequently, this difference is also no more than a beginning and intimation of the generic process. The germ is to be regarded here as one and the same individual, the vitality of which runs through this process, and which, by returning into itself, has not only advanced to the maturity of a seed, but has likewise preserved itself. This progression is on the whole superfluous however, for in its producing of fresh individuaIs, the process of formation and assimilation is itself already a reproduction’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


The Obstacles to Philosophy. Upon taking a closer look at the possible obstacles to philosophy the things that prevent us from simply taking it easy and observing thinking we observe that they interconnect in significant ways and the themes of the preface illuminate each other as the problem with prefaces assists us in seeing the problem with edification which assists us in seeing the problem with formalism which assists with understanding the problem with propositions which assists us in returning to the problem with formalism at a more profound level and all such interconnecting faux philosophical approaches indirectly point the way toward the thinking that is genuinely philosophical and this kind of thinking cannot be defined or summarized in a preface, it has no set rules, or single method, and no one philosopher can claim it or make it his or her own and yet we can begin to appreciate free thinking difficult as it is to describe directly by looking at the ways that thinking can become unfree.

The preface does not concern rival philosophical positions but rather forms of thought that obstruct philosophical knowing due to their familiarity and there is no endeavour here to distinguish his point of view from other philosophers’ views and the second paragraph of the preface addresses this directly but its force has probably not been sufficiently felt by Hegel’s readers.

‘Furthermore, the very attempt to define how a philosophical work is supposed to be connected with other efforts to deal with the same subject-matter drags in an extraneous concern, and what is really important for the cognition of the truth is obscured. The more conventional opinion gets fixated on the antithesis of truth and falsity, the more it tends to expect a given philosophical system to be either accepted or contradicted; and hence it finds only acceptance or rejection. It does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees in it simple disagreements. The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of the whole. But he who rejects a philosophical system, (i.e., the new philosopher) does not usually comprehend what he is doing in this way; and he who grasps the contradiction between them [i.e. the historian of philosophy] does not, as a general rule, know how to free it from its one-sidedness, or maintain it in its freedom by recognizing the reciprocally necessary moments that take shape as a conflict and seeming incompatibility’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

If form and content are inseparable in a philosophical work no single expression of philosophy for instance Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ or Baruch Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ can be separated from other expressions of philosophy and we ought not merely compare and contrast philosophical works as if they were independent for we frequently fall into the habit of contrasting Plato and Aristotle or Descartes and Locke or Kant and Hegel and these oppositions clarify boundaries and produce a potent précis for academic debates but what they fail to do is sustain inquiry into the essential nature of philosophy insofar as it is one single activity that expresses itself through these different presentations and the typical way of approaching philosophy in university courses fixes differences instead of making them fluid which is the most pressing task of all genuine philosophy in the modern era.

‘The fact that the object represented becomes the property of pure self .. consciousness, its elevation to universality in general, is only one.aspect of formative education, not its fulfilment — The manner of study in ancient times differed from that of the modern age in that the former was the proper and complete formation of the natural consciousness. Putting itself to the test at every point of its existence, and philosophizing about everything it came across, it made itself into a universality that was active through and through. In modern times, however, the individual finds the abstract form ready-made; the effort to grasp and appropriate it is more the direct driving-forth of what is within and the truncated generation of the universal than it is the emergence of the latter from the concrete variety of existence. Hence the task nowadays consists not so much in purging the individual of an immediate, sensuous mode of apprehension, and making him into a substance that is an object of thought and that thinks, but rather in just the opposite, in freeing determinate thoughts from their fixity so as to give actuality to the universal, and impart to it spiritual life. But it is far harder to bring fixed thoughts into a fluid state than to do so with sensuous existence. The reason for this was given above: fixed thoughts have the ‘I’, the power of the negative, or pure actuality, for the substance and element of their existence, whereas sensuous determinations have only powerless, abstract immediacy, or being as such. Thoughts become fluid when pure thinking, this inner immediacy, recognizes itself as a moment, or when the pure certainty of self abstracts from itself-not by leaving itself out, or setting itself aside, but by giving up the fixity of its self-positing, by giving up not only the fixity of the pure concrete, which the ‘I’ itself is, in contrast with its differentiated content, but also the fixity of the differentiated moments which, posited in the element of pure thinking, share the unconditioned nature of the ‘P. Through this movement the pure thoughts become Notions, and are only now what they are in truth, self-movements, circles; spiritual essences; which is what their substance is’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

The opinion that holds to the antithesis of true and false grasps the difference between philosophical systems not so much as the progressive development of truth, but rather in the difference it sees only contradiction hence Hegel’s references remain so general throughout the preface for he is not endeavouring to call out specific philosophers, books, or claims he is attempting to problematize widespread familiar expectations about how philosophy is best expressed. Faux philosophical forms of presentation obstruct philosophical knowing so explanation has no place in philosophy and prefaces to philosophy are to be looked upon critically and philosophy derails so easily into edifying discourse particularly with the advent of modernity, formalism and system are confused, hence it is assumed that philosophical thinking ought to be presented in a strict and rigid way rather than in an organic and fluid way.

A phenomenology of spirit ought not be regarded as philosophy proper but rather a preparation for philosophy. What is a concept? What is a self? What is negation? And so on. Why can philosophy not model itself upon mathematical demonstration? What forms of presentation bring to the fore individual propositions as bearers of truth and how do they obstruct us from recognizing the speculative qualities of our own thinking? Why should philosophical thinking not be presented as the work of single individuals? All questions to be later addressed.

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

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’


Dedicated to my lovely One. My kindred Spirit. 👻❤️ 👻

Let me take you baby, down to the river bed Got to tell you somethin’, go right to your head Cause I got a line on you, babe I got a line on you

Gotta put your arms around me With every bit of your love If you know what to do, I’ll make love to you Cause you got the right line to make it through these times I got a line on you babe I got a line on you babe I got a line on you babe

I got a line on you I got a line on you babe You know my winter’s almost over My summer, she’s comin’ on strong

I can love you, love you, love you Love you all year long I got a line on you babe I got a line on you I got a line on you babe I got a line on you I got a line on you babe

Spirit. ‘I Got A Line On You’:


Coming up next:

Idealization of Nature.

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.