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

David Proud
17 min readOct 27, 2023

‘My song of love! I sing you out’

by Jenny Blicher-Clausen (1865–1907)

My Love Song of Praise! I sing you out

from the prison walls,

Let you rise with the mist to the sky

and glide in the sunshine over the city!

You cannot be caught in cages!

Even if dripping blood marks your way,

And anguish was given to thee,

Thou shalt not lose the least spark of thy joy,

Of the jubilant, singing song of praise,

in which thou didst leap to life!

My love’s song of praise, you cannot die!

I will let you stay,

flutter around the lighthouse in lonely evenings,

And then in the full moon’s luminous spring

to write my eternal saga!

Do you think, Wanderer, who walks in the evening

around the ring fortress wall,

That the sound whispers so strangely at thy foot,

and the roses shed their red blood,

and there is a song in nature,

- my love’s song of praise, I know it is you!

You are singing out there,

singing from the sea to the castle on the island,

trembling in leafy spindles along the whispering lake

and swell in the sails of every ship!

When the heart may glow in a woman’s breast

and laugh in its behaviour,

it cannot hold back the flood of emotion,

it feels it could love itself to death,

then you capture life and spirit!

No years can destroy you, as many as they are,

no hatred can suffocate you!

A love as strong and true as mine

Will always find its singing ground

deepest in women’s souls -!

‘Min Kærligheds Lovsang! Jeg synger dig ud’

Min Kærligheds Lovsang! Jeg synger dig ud

fra Fængselets Mure,

lader dig stige med Taagen mod Sky

og glide i Solglansen ind over By!

Du kan ikke fanges i Bure!

Om dryppende Blod end tegner din Vej,

og Kval blev dig givet,

Du taber ej ringeste Gnist af din Fryd,

af den jublende, syngende Lovsangslyd,

hvori Du sprang ud til Livet!

Min Kærligheds Lovsang, Du kan ikke dø!

Jeg lader dig blive,

flagre om Fyret i ensomme Kvæld,

for siden i Fuldmaanens lysende Væld

min evige Saga at skrive!

Synes Du, Vandrer, som ganger i Kvæld

om Ringfæstningsmuren,

at Sundet hvisker saa sært ved din Fod,

og Roserne fælde det røde Blod,

og der er som Sang i Naturen,

— min Kærligheds Lovsang, jeg ved det er dig!

Du aander derude,

synger fra Havet mod Slottet paa Ø,

skælver i Løvspind langs hviskende Sø

og svulmer i Sejl af hver Skude!

Naar Hjærtet maa gløde i Kvindebryst

og le i sin Vaande,

kan ikke dæmme for Følelsens Væld,

føler, det kunde sig elske ihjel,

da fanger Du Liv og Aande!

Ej Aar kan dig øde, saa mange de er,

ej Had kan dig kvæle!

En Kærlighed, stærk og tro som min,

vil altid finde sig Sangbund fin

dybest i Kvinders Sjæle — !

Peder Severin Krøyer (1851–1909) and Marie Krøyer (1867–1940) ‘Dobbeltportræt af Marie og P.S. Krøyer’, (‘Double portrait of Marie and P.S. Krøyer’), 1890. The couple made this portrait on their honeymoon travel, Marie portrayed Peder, and he portrayed Marie, one out of about forty portraits.

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

Nature and Unity.

In his ‘Metaphysics’ Aristotle confronts the difficulty that the part–whole constitution of living things appears to pose for his claim that plants and animals are substances, the fact that organic bodies are divisible into parts appears to threaten their unity as individuals upon which his account of them as substances depends and Aristotle answers this difficulty by pointing out that none of the parts of the organism can exist as living entities on their own so that the elements of the body lack the ontological independence necessary if they are to be treated as substances in their own right to which the individual is reducible hence it is justifiable to treat the individual as an indivisible totality and not as a complex of self-subsistent parts.

‘Evidently even of the things that are thought to be substances, most are only potencies,-both the parts of animals (for none of them exists separately; and when they are separated, then too they exist, all of them, merely as matter) and earth and fire and air; for none of them is a unity, but as it were a mere heap, till they are worked up and some unity is made out of them. One might most readily suppose the parts of living things and the parts of the soul nearly related to them to turn out to be both, i.e. existent in complete reality as well as in potency, because they have sources of movement in something in their joints; for which reason some animals live when divided. Yet all the parts must exist only potentially, when they are one and continuous by nature,-not by force or by growing into one, for such a phenomenon is an abnormality. Since the term ‘unity’ is used like the term ‘being’, and the substance of that which is one is one, and things whose substance is numerically one are numerically one, evidently neither unity nor being can be the substance of things, just as being an element or a principle cannot be the substance, but we ask what, then, the principle is, that we may reduce the thing to something more knowable. Now of these concepts ‘being’ and ‘unity’ are more substantial than ‘principle’ or ‘element’ or ‘cause’, but not even the former are substance, since in general nothing that is common is substance; for substance does not belong to anything but to itself and to that which has it, of which it is the substance. Further, that which is one cannot be in many places at the same time, but that which is common is present in many places at the same time; so that clearly no universal exists apart from its individuals. But those who say the Forms exist, in one respect are right, in giving the Forms separate existence, if they are substances; but in another respect they are not right, because they say the one over many is a Form. The reason for their doing this is that they cannot declare what are the substances of this sort, the imperishable substances which exist apart from the individual and sensible substances. They make them, then, the same in kind as the perishable things (for this kind of substance we know) — ‘man-himself’ and ‘horse-itself’, adding to the sensible things the word ‘itself’. Yet even if we had not seen the stars, none the less, I suppose, would they have been eternal substances apart from those which we knew; so that now also if we do not know what non-sensible substances there are, yet it is doubtless necessary that there should he some.-Clearly, then, no universal term is the name of a substance, and no substance is composed of substances’.

- ‘Metaphysics’

Most so-called substances are really only potencies for instance the parts of animals, or earth, air, and fire. A substance must be one, that is have unity, and not just be a heap. But the parts of living things may seem more than potencies, but have complete actuality, they have a source of movement within them, hence some animals can live when divided. Even if the front half of an earthworm is capable of growing into a complete earthworm if it should be severed from the rear half that does not count as an actual substance while it’s still just a part of the whole. One, like being, is said in many ways so neither is the substance of anything, both may seem more substantial than principle, element, or cause, but none of them is substance since nothing that is common is substance. And Platonic Forms? Their proponents say that a Form is separate and a One over Many that is a universal. If Forms are substances they are separate but if they are universals they aren’t separate and for Aristotle the Platonists are placing incompatible requirements upon the Forms. No universal is a substance. No substance is composed of substance.

‘Self Portrait of the Artist Painting His Wife’, 1628. Giulio Quaglio I

Like Aristotle Hegel adopts a metaphysical model of the individual as an irreducible unity, since he treats the object as an exemplification of a substance-universal, he argues that it cannot be broken down into a plurality of sensible properties or attributes but must constitute an indivisible substance by virtue of being of such and such a kind, and like Aristotle Hegel must demonstrate how this model can be defended against the reductionist and atomistic account of material objects, which treats them as complex unities composed of distinct and self-subsistent parts. Hegel contends along Aristotelian lines that in the case of genuine substances like the animal organism the parts cannot exist as living entities independently of the whole that must therefore be treated as an irreducible unity.

‘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. Addition. 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’

‘The Sun and the members of the solar system are independent, and present us with a spatial and temporal interrelatedness, not one which accords with the physical nature of these bodies. If animal being is now also a sun, then the stars are after all interrelated within it in accordance with their physical nature; they are taken back into the sun, which holds them within itself in a single individuality. In so far as the animal’s members are simply moments of its form, and are perpetually negating their independence, and withdrawing into a unity which is the reality o( the Notion, and is for the Notion, the animal is the existent Idea. If a finger is cut off, a process of chemical decomposition sets in, and it is no longer a finger. The unity which is produced has being for the implicit unity of the animal. This implicit unity is the soul or Notion, which is present in the body in so far as the body constitutes the process of idealization. The subsistence of the mutual externality of spatiality has no significance for the soul. The soul is incomposite and finer than any point, but incongruously enough, attempts have been made to locate it. There are millions of points in which the soul is omnipresent, yet it is precisely because the extrinsicality of space has no significance for it, that the soul is not present in any of them. This point of subjectivity is to be firmly adhered to; the other points are merely predicates of life. This is not yet the pure and universal subjectivity which is for itself however, for it is only aware of itself through feeling and intuition, not through thought. This means that it is only in that singularity which is posited as of an ideal nature when it is reduced to simple determinateness, that this subjectivity is conjointly reflected into itself. It is only objective to itself in a determinate and particular manner, and is the negation of any such determinateness, without transcending it. It therefore resembles sensual man, who can indulge in every appetite without rising above this indulgence and grasping the thought of his universality’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

And compare what he says elsewhere:

‘The single members of the body are what they are only through their unity and in relation to it. So, for instance, a hand that has been hewn from the body is a hand in name only, but not in actual fact, as Aristotle has already remarked. From the standpoint of the understanding life is usually considered to be a mystery, and in general as incomprehensible. But here the understanding only confesses its finitude and nullity. In fact, life is so far from being incomprehensible that on the contrary, we have the Concept itself before us in it, and, more precisely, the Idea that exists as the Concept, the immediate Idea. But this expresses at once the defect of Life, too. The defect consists in the fact that the Concept and reality still do not genuinely correspond with one another. The concept of life is the soul, and this concept has the body for its reality. The soul is, as it were, diffused into its bodily nature, and so it is still only sentient, not yet free being-for-itself. Hence, the process of life consists in the overcoming of the immediacy in which life is still entangled; and this process itself, which is once more a threefold one, results in the Idea in the form of judgment, i. e., the Idea as cognition’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

And Aristotle again:

‘The truth has indeed now been stated, but still let us state it yet more clearly, taking up the question again. The parts of the formula, into which the formula is divided, are prior to it, either all or some of them. The formula of the right angle, however, does not include the formula of the acute, but the formula of the acute includes that of the right angle; for he who defines the acute uses the right angle; for the acute is ‘less than a right angle’. The circle and the semicircle also are in a like relation; for the semicircle is defined by the circle; and so is the finger by the whole body, for a finger is ‘such and such a part of a man’. Therefore the parts which are of the nature of matter, and into which as its matter a thing is divided, are posterior; but those which are of the nature of parts of the formula, and of the substance according to its formula, are prior, either all or some of them. And since the soul of animals (for this is the substance of a living being) is their substance according to the formula, i.e. the form and the essence of a body of a certain kind (at least we shall define each part, if we define it well, not without reference to its function, and this cannot belong to it without perception), so that the parts of soul are prior, either all or some of them, to the concrete ‘animal’, and so too with each individual animal; and the body and parts are posterior to this, the essential substance, and it is not the substance but the concrete thing that is divided into these parts as its matter:-this being so, to the concrete thing these are in a sense prior, but in a sense they are not. For they cannot even exist if severed from the whole; for it is not a finger in any and every state that is the finger of a living thing, but a dead finger is a finger only in name. Some parts are neither prior nor posterior to the whole, i.e. those which are dominant and in which the formula, i.e. the essential substance, is immediately present, e.g. perhaps the heart or the brain; for it does not matter in the least which of the two has this quality. But man and horse and terms which are thus applied to individuals, but universally, are not substance but something composed of this particular formula and this particular matter treated as universal; and as regards the individual, Socrates already includes in him ultimate individual matter; and similarly in all other cases. ‘A part’ may be a part either of the form (i.e. of the essence), or of the compound of the form and the matter, or of the matter itself. But only the parts of the form are parts of the formula, and the formula is of the universal; for ‘being a circle’ is the same as the circle, and ‘being a soul’ the same as the soul. But when we come to the concrete thing, e.g. this circle, i.e. one of the individual circles, whether perceptible or intelligible (I mean by intelligible circles the mathematical, and by perceptible circles those of bronze and of wood),-of these there is no definition, but they are known by the aid of intuitive thinking or of perception; and when they pass out of this complete realization it is not clear whether they exist or not; but they are always stated and recognized by means of the universal formula. But matter is unknowable in itself. And some matter is perceptible and some intelligible, perceptible matter being for instance bronze and wood and all matter that is changeable, and intelligible matter being that which is present in perceptible things not qua perceptible, i.e. the objects of mathematics’.

- ‘Metaphysics’

In this way the rejection of atomism and reductionism at the metaphysical level, in this ontological model of the object, leads towards an account of natural phenomena that emphasizes their holistic structure hence Hegel comes to oppose the pluralistic conception of things as being divisible into stable and independent units, and it is the dominance of this conception that his ‘Philosophy of Nature’ is designed to counter. In this second part of the Encyclopaedia Hegel contends that nature contains certain concrete individuals (such as animal organisms) which cannot be explained as the combination of independently existing elements, but must be treated as irreducible wholes, in a way that only his ontological model of the object allows. Hegel endeavours to claim that natural phenomena have a holistic structure are ineffective and many of his endeavours to justify his position using evidence from the science of his period have not merely an historical interest and furthermore (see David Lamb, ‘Hegel: From Foundation to System’) his ideas have found an echo in the principle of organicism adopted by many biologists and philosophers of biology in the first half of the twentieth century leading to the development of systems theory. A study of the place of organicism can be found in the work of the biologists Ross G. Harrison, Joseph Needham, and Paul Weiss, the theory of organicism in modern biology and an account is worth serious investigation.

‘Rembrandt and his wife Saskia’, 1636, Rembrandt van Rijn

The systems view treats the organism as a whole as the ontologically primary entity and argues that it cannot be reduced to a plurality of self-subsistent parts and in consequence this approach holds that the parts of the organism cannot be understood outside the context of the totality in which they exist and it is a mistake to subject the totality to a reductionist analysis. As biologist Paul Weiss has noted:

‘ … we can assert definitely and incontrovertibly, on the basis of strictly empirical investigation, that the sheer reversal of our prior analytic dissection of the Universe by putting the pieces together again, whether in reality or just in our minds, can yield no complete explanation of the behaviour of even the most elementary living system’.

- ‘Within the Gates of Science and Beyond’

This conception of things is one with which Hegel’s metaphysics is very much in accord and is one that seems to be increasingly influential in modern biology as well as in some of the other sciences. Which is not to say that we have Hegel to thank for systems theory (not my area of expertise anyway), or that he prefigured the more holistic outlook that has emerged in the new physics albeit some have claimed as much. Sean Kelly has claimed that ‘Hegel is the founder of what is commonly referred to as the new science’ but although there are most certainly parallels between Hegelian thought and the new physics let us not get carried away and claim he exercised significant influence upon it. Modern science has independently given us an account of reality that is amenable to his metaphysical thinking while such a picture appears to be at odds with the atomism and reductionism of the position he was opposing. And science itself would seem to confirm the validity of Hegel’s holistic and non-reductionist metaphysical paradigm thereby supplementing the programme of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in an unexpected way and making the claims of the latter more cogent.

Throughout his ‘Philosophy of Nature’ Hegel sets the holistic model of the object that he adopted in the Logic against the reductionist and atomistic picture of reality offered by physics and chemistry and his position is that the individual is the embodiment of a substance-universal hence he develops an ontology in which objects are taken to have an intrinsic unity that cannot be reduced to the plurality of atomistic entities which are treated as fundamental by Newtonian science. In this way Hegel’s metaphysics contrasts the pluralistic view which takes all things to be constituted out of a manifold of distinct and self-subsistent elements and this pluralistic view was precisely that adopted by Immanuel Kant who treated the object as a combination of atomistic intuitions brought together by the synthesizing subject and Kant’s fundamentally atomistic conception of the object is therefore in contrast to the holistic model developed by Hegel in his Logic and ‘Philosophy of Nature’. The break between Kant’s subjective idealism and Hegel’s absolute idealism can be traced back to this divergence in their accounts of the structure and realization of the external world.

‘Portrait of the Artist and his Wife’, 1496, Unknown Master, Flemish (active around 1500 in Antwerp.

For the One … united in love forever.

So united

It isn’t always easy We’ve been through a few hard times But when we stick together There’s no mountain we can’t climb, ooh, babe

With all that we’ve been through And everything we’ve done Nothing comes between us, we stand as one

there’s nothing we can’t rise above (United in love) oh, whatever happens to us (United in love) we’ll always be united in love So united

And if you reach your hand out But your dreams just seem too far (too far, too far) Stand upon my shoulders And you can touch that star

Oh, the road that we are on May lead into the night But we will walk together into the light

there’s nothing we can’t rise above (United in love) oh, whatever happens to us (United in love) we’ll always be united in love, united

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh As sure as day follows night No matter who is wrong or right No matter what we do or say We always come away

there’s nothing we can’t rise above (United in love) oh, whatever happens to us (United in love) we’ll always be united in love, oh

And if we stand by each other Always respect one another, ayy (United in love) oh, yeah There’s nothin’ we can’t do, no There’s nothin’ we, we won’t get through No, no, no, no, (united in love) whoo-ooh We’re so united

The Commodores — ‘United in Love’:


Coming up next:


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.