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

David Proud
32 min readOct 27, 2023

‘I think I could turn and live with animals’

by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,

They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.

I wonder where they get those tokens,

Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?

Myself moving forward then and now and forever,

Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,

Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,

Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,

Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,

Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,

Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,

Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him,

His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return.

I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion,

Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them?

Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you.


‘Violet Fishing’, 1889, John Singer Sargent

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

Hegel’s Romantic contemporary the philosopher and poet Friedrich Schlegel, (1772–1829) articulated a hope that ‘after the chemical epoch an organic one would follow’ hence in considering the organism as the climax of his account of nature Hegel perhaps appears to be doing little else than following the fashion of his age. ‘This insistence on the primacy of organism was, I think, common to all of the Naturphilosophen, and can be taken as one of their distinctive characteristics as a group’ claims H. S. Harris. His account of the organism amounts to more than a mere fashionable trip into natural philosophy on the contrary his interest in the organism arises out of its approximation to the Notional model of the object from which his account of nature derives and it is as an exemplification of this model that the organism gains its significance and so a proper study of this section of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ will assist getting a hold upon the metaphysical abstractions of the Logic.

In the introduction to the third part of the Encyclopaedia, the ‘Philosophy of Mind’, Hegel briefly summarizes the development he has traced in nature from mechanism to organics and he contends that nature to begin with is the element of asunderness wherein all bodies and elements are self-subsistent and distinct from one another and he suggests that the planets and the four elements display exactly this kind of externality.

‘We rightly say, therefore, that not freedom but necessity reigns in Nature; for this latter in its strictest meaning is precisely the merely internal, and for that reason also merely external, connection of mutually independent existences. Thus, for example, light and the [four] elements appear as mutually independent; similarly the planets, although attracted by the sun and despite this relation to their centre, appear to be independent of it and of one another, this contradiction being represented by the motion of the planet around the sun’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

But the organism marks a decisive break from such mechanical structures since in the organism the differentiation of parts is grounded and pervaded by the same one universal as a consequence of which it has the structure of a genuine substantial unity:

‘An even more complete triumph over externality is exhibited in the animal organism; in this not only does each member generate the other, is its cause and effect, its means and end, so that it is at the same time itself and its Other, but the whole is so pervaded by its unity that nothing in it appears as independent, every determinateness is at once ideal, the animal remaining in every determinateness the same one universal, so that in the animal body the complete untruth of asunderness is revealed’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

This structure of the organism may be compared to the structure of the Notion wherein the individual nevertheless embodies a substance-universal as a consequence of which it comes to form a unity and in this way the organism turns out to be the highest realization of the Notion encountered at the level of nature. In order to see how Hegel arrives at this account of the organism we must start with the important transitional category of Teleology which comes between Chemism and Life in the Logic. Teleology is the final stage of Objectivity since in the teleological mode of thought we have begun to break away from the mechanical and chemical conception of the world as made up of externally related units and begun to conceive these units as parts of organized wholes thereby moving towards an organic conception of reality and this comes about in this way:

Teleological explanation, explanation in terms of ends, is characteristically introduced into the account of the world in order to explain the existence and structure of organized wholes, as Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) put it

‘In fact, if we desire to pursue the investigation of nature with diligent observation, be it only in its organized products, we cannot get rid of the necessity of adopting the conception of a design as basal.’

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

Hence the case for teleological explanation is that we cannot account for the nature and existence of an organized whole unless we take it to have some purpose or end and only if we add a final cause to any account in terms of efficient cause will the explanation of the organized whole be complete. Conversely if we are happy to take on board the method of teleological explanation with respect to those totalities that we find in Nature it becomes apparent that these totalities not as a random coming together of indifferent elements but as organized wholes in which the elements that make up the whole all play a determinate and important part. As Charles Taylor has put it: ‘Teleological explanation is explanation out of totality. The partial processes are explained by their role in the whole.’ Once we accept that a whole exists in order to fulfil a particular end we will be led to view the elements that make up that whole as more closely interrelated with one another in so far as they are explained primarily in terms of their contribution the the workings of the totality.

Hence the teleological approach gets us from the atomistic thinking of mechanics and chemistry to the holistic thinking of organics ans so in the Logic the account of teleology is succeeded by an account of Life and this discussion in the Logic foreshadows the account given of the organism in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ in the same way as the account of mechanics and chemistry given in the latter was also foreshadowed in the former so it is a requirement first to look at the treatment given of life in the Logic before turning to his more detailed account in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’.

While Teleology constitutes the final stage of Objectivity in the Logic life constitutes the first stage of the Idea and the Idea is described as the absolute unity of notion and objectivity.

‘The Idea is what is true in and for itself, the absolute unity of Concept and objectivity. Its ideal content is nothing but the Concept in its determinations; its real content is only the presentation that the Concept gives itself in the form of external thereness; and since this figure is included in the ideality of the Concept, or in its might, the Concept preserves itself in it’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

Or to put it another way at the level of the Idea the Notion is finally adequately realized in reality so that reality properly exemplifies this rational structure and life as the first level of the Idea is the first stage of this realization. Recall the structure of the Notion as presented, using the categories of the Logic, the Notion is defined as the unity of universal, particular, and individual, such that none of these moments stand outside one another but are dialectically interrelated. The universal is treated as a substantial form that is embodied in each determinate particular individual hence this individual has a fundamental unity by virtue of exemplifying this substance-kind and so the structure of the Notion involves the interpenetration of the two aspects of unity (universality) and difference (particularity) and the Notional totality is said to embody both these moments as the differentiated individual none the less exemplifies a unified substance-form.

‘Two Girls Fishing’, 1912, John Singer Sargent

Hegel contends that the living individual exemplifies this Notional structure of unity-in-difference and he identifies the moment of unity or universality with the soul, which is the substantial form exemplified by the organism as a whole and a a consequence of embodying this substantial form the material plurality of the body is said to be overcome as each apparently distinct part is none the less permeated and structured by this overarching universality as a consequence of which the individual constitutes an irreducible unity and only a mode of thinking capable of grasping this interpenetration of unity in difference will be capable of making sense of how the organism comes to form a totality in this way:

‘Life, considered now more closely in its Idea, is in and for itself absolute universality; the objectivity that it possesses is permeated throughout by the Notion and has the Notion alone for substance. What is distinguished as part, or in accordance with some other external reflection, has within itself the whole Notion; the Notion is the omnipresent soul in it, which remains simple self-relation and remains a one in the multiplicity belonging to objective being. This multiplicity, as self-external objectivity, has an indifferent subsistence, which in space and time, if these could already be mentioned here, is a mutual externality of wholly diverse and self-subsistent elements. But in life externality is at the same time present as the simple determinateness of its Notion; thus the soul is an omnipresent outpouring of itself into this multiplicity and at the same time remains absolutely the simple oneness of the concrete Notion with itself. The thinking that clings to the determinations of the relationships of reflection and of the formal Notion, when it comes to consider life, this unity of the Notion in the externality of objectivity, in the absolute multiplicity of atomistic matter, finds all thoughts without exception are of no avail; the omnipresence of the simple in manifold externality is for reflection an absolute contradiction, and as reflection must at the same time apprehend this omnipresence for its perception of life and therefore admit the actuality of this Idea, it is an incomprehensible mystery for it, because it does not grasp the Notion, and the Notion is the substance of life’.

- ‘Science of Logic’

And so in the structure of the organism externality is overcome as the universal form of the soul permeates the whole and constitutes a unity underlying the plurality of parts within the totality of the body therefore albeit the various parts of the organism may be distinguishable from one another they should not be treated as ontologically independent entities into which the whole can be reduced for this would be to overlook its fundamental unity. Nevertheless albeit the living individual is itself a unity a division is now brought in between the living individual on the one hand and the inorganic world on the other and finally in the genus process the individual faces a similar opposition between itself and other members of the same genus to which as instances of the same universal it is none the less related. But the relation individuals achieve is only the external one of copulation and not for instance the real unity achieved by citizens in the state and thus it follows that the genus is not a Notional totality but simply an external unity in which the individual cannot properly overcome its difference from other individuals. Hence in the genus process individuals as a matter of fact create another individual through the sex-relation which in turn stands opposed to them and this contradiction between the individual and the universal genus leads to the death of the former and with this we move from the concrete reality of nature to the level of consciousness and the Idea of Cognition.

Upon outlining the background to Hegel’s account as it appears in the Logic it is now possible to trace the main outlines of his argument in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ where after giving an account of the terrestrial organism (the earth) which forms the ground and basis of life.

‘In the first instance, it is geological nature which constitutes the life that presupposes itself as its own other, and which is therefore merely the ground and basis of life. It certainly ought to be life, individuality, and subjectivity, but it is not the true subjectivity which leads its members back into unity. The moments of individuality, and of return or subjectivity, certainly have to be present as they are in life, but because of their immediacy, they are necessarily separate aspects, and so fall outside one another. Individuality is one aspect, and its process is another. Individuality does not yet exist as active and idealizing life, for it is the inert animation opposed to living activity, and has not yet determined itself as singularity. It also contains activity, but this activity is in part simply implicit, and in part external to it. The process of subjectivity is divorced from the universal subject itself, for at this stage we still lack an individual which would be implicitly active within itself Consequently, life in its immediacy is self-alienated, and is therefore the inorganic nature of subjective life. All exteriority is inorganic; to the individual for example, the sciences of his inorganic nature are inorganic in so far as he is not yet aware of them, and they simply function within him and constitute his implicit rationality, which he merely has to make his own. The Earth is a whole, and is the system of life, but as a crystal it resembles a skeleton, which may be regarded as being dead, for its members still seem to have a formally separate subsistence, and its process falls outside it’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature

And yet which is itself lacking in animation. Following on from this is a discussion of the vegetable organism that is a truly living being, as such it is the shape which has substantial form dwelling within it.

‘The plant is the primary subject which is for itself, and yet still has its origin in immediacy. It is however the feeble and infantine life which is not yet intrinsically differentiated. As with every living being, it lies in the nature of a plant to be particularized. The particularity of the animal is at the same time so constituted however, that the subjectivity which is opposed to it as soul is also universal, while the particular being of the plant is identical with its general animation in an entirely immediate manner. This particular being is not a state which might be distinguished from the internal life of the plant, for the quality of the plant completely pervades its general vegetative nature, and is not distinct from it, as it is in the animal. The members of the plant are only particular in relation to one another therefore, not in relation to the whole. These members are wholes in their own right, as they are in the inanimate organism, where they are also still external to one another in stratifications. As the plant now posits itself as its other, and so perpetually idealizes this contradiction, this is merely a formal separation however. That which it posits as the other is not truly another, for it is the same individual as the subject’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Neverthelesss taking an idea familiar from systems theory, Arthur Koestler (1905–1983 for instance and holons, something simultaneously a whole in and of itself as well as a part of a larger whole, self-reliant units possessing a degree of independence and can handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions, that is they have a degree of autonomy, Hegel contends that the plant cannot form a genuine unity as each part is too easily capable of becoming a self-subsistent individual in its own right and as such it can always be removed from the integrated system making the system itself unstable. Upon these grounds Hegel denies that the plant represents a genuine substantial unity and does not allow that it truly embodies a universal substance-form:

‘The growth which predominates in vegetable being is therefore self augmentation as a change of form. Animal growth is merely a change in size however, in which at the same time there is a persistent unity of shape, for the totality of the members is taken up into the subjectivity. The plant assimilates the other being into itself as it grows, but as self multiplication, this assimilation is also a self-emergence. It is not the individual coming to itself, it is a multiplication of individuality, in which the single individuality is merely the superficial unity of the many. The singularities remain a mutually indifferent and separated plurality; the substance from which they proceed is not a common essence. This is why Schultz, in his ‘The nature of the living plant’ vol. I p. 617, says that ‘the growth of plants is an incessant formation of new and additional parts which were not previously present.’ Consequently, as the parts of the plant do not relate themselves to one another as inner qualitative differentiations, their homogeneity entails their falling asunder. In other words, this organism is not systematized into viscera. Although it produces itself in externality, it still grows entirely out of itself, and is not a sort of external crystalline accretion’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘Young woman charming the fish’, 1911, John William Waterhouse

And so only when the parts are ontologically subordinate to the whole can the totality be treated as a substance and hence as a realization of the Notion and this subordination occurs in the animal organism and it is the animal organism that best fits the model of the object which Hegel had put forward in his doctrine of the Notion, and in contrast to the external relatedness of bodies in the solar system the animal embodies an ideal moment which constitutes its unity, this moment of unity is the soul.

‘It is here therefore that gravity is first truly overcome, for the centre has been filled, has itself as object, and has therefore initiated its true being-for-self. 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’

Hence the animal organism displays a Notional structure in which the unity of the individual is constituted by the universality and identity of the soul which forms its essential nature and this understanding of the structure of the animal organism is a crucial feature in this account, first there is a discussion of the organism in terms of the three functions of sensibility, irritability, and reproduction, and in this Hegel was following the lead of the other Naturphilosophen such as F. W. J. Schelling, (1775–1854), and Carl Friedrich von Kielmeyer, (1765–1844). The first two functions were brought to prominence by the biological speculations of Albrecht von Haller, (1708–1777), who defined those parts of the body as irritable which contracted when touched and those parts as sensible whose stimulation is consciously noticed by the subject:

‘I call that part of the human body irritable, which becomes shorter upon being touched; very irritable if it contracts upon a slight touch, and the contrary if by a violent touch it contracts but little. I call that a sensible part of the human body, which upon being touched transmits the impression of it to the soul; and in brutes, in whom the existence of a soul is not so clear, I call those parts sensible, the irritation of which occasions evident signs of pain and disquiet in the animal’.

-‘A Dissertation on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals’

Haller contended that only those parts of the body that are supplied with nerves possess sensibility while irritability is a property of muscular fibres and in this way he clearly distinguished sensibility and irritability and contested that they should be identified with distinct parts of the body.

‘I proceed now to irritability, which is so different from sensibility, that the most irritable parts are not at all sensible, and vice versa, the most sensible parts are not irritable. I shall demonstrate, that irritability does not depend upon the nerves, but on the original fabric of the parts which are susceptible of it’.

-‘A Dissertation on the Sensible and Irritable Parts of Animals’

However Haller’s account gave rise to controversy and it was contended by biologists like Robert Whytt, (1714–1766), that the two functions should not be so definitely distinguished from one another. Given his holistic account of the animal organism and his aversion to the division of such a Notional unity into self-subsistent component parts of course Hegel supports this criticism of Haller and in particular he contends against Haller that no one part of the organism can be exclusively identified with one of the functions of life but rather that sensibility and irritability are found in each part of the whole. Hence while he accepts a basic identification of sensibility with the nervous system, irritability with the circulatory system, and reproduction with the digestive system, nevertheless he insists that this identification be made more complicated in order that each of these systems also contains within itself a further determination into moments of sensibility, irritability, and reproduction.

Hence for instance albeit we might associate the nervous system with sensibility it also involves a moment of irritability whereby the nervous system reacts to an external impulse.

‘These three moments of the Notion are (b) not merely implicitly concrete elements, for they have their reality in three systems, i.e. the nervous system, the system of the blood, and the digestive system. As totality, each of these systems differentiates itself internally in accordance with the same Notional determinations. (i) Thus the system of sensibility determines itself into: (a) The extreme of abstract self-relation, which is at the same time a transition into immediacy, into inorganic being and absence of sensation. This remains an incomplete transition however, and it constitutes the osseous system, which encloses the entrails. Outwardly this system is the firmness protecting the entrails from without. (b) The moment of irritability, i.e. the cerebral system and its further diffusion in the nerves, which also have an inner and outer reference as nerves of sensation and motion. © The system pertaining to reproduction, which contains the sympathetic nerves together with the ganglia, and in which there is merely a subdued, indeterminate and involuntary sentience. (ii) Irritability is stimulation by an other, and the reaction of self-preservation in the face of this; conversely and to an equal extent, it is active self-preservation, and in this it submits itself to another. Its system consists of: (a) Muscle in general, which is abstract (sensible) irritability, and the simple conversion of receptivity into reaction. As a division of immediate self-relatedness, the muscle finds an outer hold on the skeleton, differentiating itself initially into extensor and flexor, and subsequently into the further special systems of the extremities. (b) Pulsation, which is inward activity, or irritability differentiated for itself in the face of another, and concretely self-related and contained. Pulsation is living self-movement, the material of which can only be a fluid, or living blood. This movement can only be circulatory, and initially specified into particularity in accordance with origin, it is in itself a circulation which is duplicated and at the same time orientated outwards. As such, it constitutes the pulmonary and portal systems, in the first of which the blood animates itself within itself, and in the second of which it kindles itself against another. © The irritable self-coalescing totality, by which puIsation constitutes the circulation which returns into itself from its centre in the heart, through the differentiation of arteries and veins. It is precisely as such that this circulation is an immanent process, in which there is a general supply of blood for the reproduction of the other members, and from which these members draw their nourishment. (iii) As a system of glands, together with skin and cellular tissue, the digestive system is immediate and vegetative reproduction. In the intestinal system proper however, it is a mediating reproduction’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Hegel also elsewhere assails Haller’s account for being too rigid in its division of the organic systems.

‘It is the other aspect, where the simple moments of the Notion of organism are compared with the moments of the outer structure, that would first furnish the genuine law expressing the true outer as a copy of the inner. Now, because those simple moments are pervasive fluid properties, they do not have in the organic thing such a separate, real expression as what is called an individual system of the shape. Or, again, if the abstract Idea of the organism is truly expressed in those three moments, merely because they are not static and are only moments of the Notion and of movement, the organism, on the other hand, as a structured shape, is not exhaustively dealt with in the three specific systems into which it is analysed by anatomy. In so far as such systems are supposed to be found actually existing, and to be authenticated by being so found, it must also be borne in mind that anatomy presents us not only with three such systems but with a good many more. Furthermore, apart from this, the system of sensibility as a whole must mean something quite different from what is called the nervous system, the irritable system something different from the muscular system, the reproductive system something different from the intestinal mechanism of reproduction. In the systems of shape as such, the organism is apprehended from the abstract aspect of a dead existence; its moments so taken pertain to anatomy and the corpse, not to cognition and the living organism. In such parts, the moments have really ceased to be, for they cease to be processes. Since the being of the organism is essentially a universality or a reflection-into-self: the being of its totality, like its moments, cannot consist in an anatomical system; on the contrary, the actual expression of the whole, and the externalization of its moments, are really found only as a movement which runs its course through the various parts of the structure, a movement in which what is forcibly detached and fixed as an individual system essentially displays itself as a fluid moment. Consequently, that actual existence as it is found by anatomy must not be reckoned as its real being, but only that existence taken as a process, in which alone even the anatomical parts have a meaning’.

- ‘Philosophy of Spirit’

And so it is evident how no one corporeal system or shape is exclusively related in a lawlike way with any one function of life but rather that each function interpenetrates the others and is present throughout the system hence in anser to Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus’s, (1776–1837), observation that

‘… all animal bodies may be analysed into three different constituents of which all their organs are compounded, i.e. cellular tissue, muscular fibre, and nerve pulp’.

- ‘Biologie, oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur für Naturforscher und Aerzte’.

Hegel remarks:

‘Sensibility, irritability, and reproduction also have existences of their own; the first as the nervous system, the second as the system of the blood, and the third as the digestive system. Consequently, ‘all animal bodies may be analysed into the three different constituents of which all their organs are composed, i.e. cellular tissue, muscular fibres, and nerve pulp’. These are the simple abstract elements of the three systems. However, as these systems are equally undivided, so that each point contains all three in an immediate unity, they do not constitute universality, particularity and singularity, which are the abstract moments of the Notion. On the contrary, each of these moments exhibits the totality of the Notion in its determinateness, the other systems being present as existences in each of them. Blood and nerves are present everywhere, as is also the lymphatic and glandular element which constitutes reproduction. The unity of these abstract moments is the animal lymph, from which the internal members of the organism develop. Along with its internal self-differentiation, this unity also envelopes itself in skin, which constitutes its surface, or the general relation of the vegetable organism with inorganic nature. Now although each system is the developed whole, and as such contains the moments of the other systems, the single form of the Notion remains predominant in each of them. The immediate shape is the dead and quiescent organism which constitutes the inorganic nature of organic individuality. As the organism is this quiescent being, the self or Notion is not yet actual, and its production is not yet posited; one might say that it is merely an inner self, and that it is we who have to grasp it. In its determination, this exterior organism constitutes a relation with equally indifferent shapes; it is the mechanism of the whole, a whole which is articulated into its distinct parts’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

‘A Woman Fishing’, 1884, Georges Seurat

So again Hegel’s Notional model leads him to a rejection of any discourse concerning analysis and composition and to insist that any proper account of the organism as a totality has to acknowledge that its parts are not ontologically independent of one another and prior to the whole and from the assertion that the organs and limbs of the body have to comprise elements of all three functions of sensibility, irritability, and reproduction, Hegel goes on to contend that in a developed organism the regions of the body as well as its organs cannot be exclusively identified with any one function but in actual fact each displays them all, hence while in the case of the insect for instance we may be able to distinguish the head, thorax, and abdomen, on the grounds that they are centres of sensibility, irritability, and reproduction respectively, in the case of a more developed organism these functions all involve one another and the associated organs can be found throughout the body.

‘Brought together concretely in the whole shape, sensibility, irritability and reproduction form the outer figuration of the organism, the crystal of animation. (a) In the first instance these determinations are merely forms, and are sharply separated from one another, as they are in insects. As this determinateness, or in this single form, each moment constitutes a total system. Thus, the head is the centre of sensibility, the thorax of irritability, and the abdomen of reproduction. These centres contain the organism’s most important viscera, its inner functions, while the extremities such as hands, feet, wings, fins etc., marks its relation with the outer world. (b) In the second instance, these centres are also developed totalities, so that the other determinations are not merely determined as forms, but are displayed and contained in each of these totalities. As each abstract system permeates them all, and is connected with them, and each exhibits the whole shape, the systems of nerves, veins, blood, bones, muscles, skin, glands etc. each constitute a whole skeleton. This establishes the contexture of the organism, for at the same time as each system is interlaced into the domain of the other, it maintains the connection within itself In the head and brain there are organs of sensibility, bones, and nerves; but all the parts of the other systems, blood, veins, glands, skin, also belong there. It is the same with the thorax, which has nerves, glands, skin, etc. © In addition to the two distinct forms of these totalities, there is a third form, which belongs to sensation as such, and whose main feature is the link up with the soul. These higher unities assemble the organs of all the totalities about themselves, and have their point of unity in the sentient subject. They present considerable difficulties of a new kind. They constitute connections linking the particular parts of one system with those of this or that other system. The connections are made on account of their functions however, partly by their forming a concrete centre, and partly by their having the implicitness of their associations, or rather, their more basic determination, in the sentient creature. They are soul-like nodes so to speak. As a self-determining entity, the soul is present in the body in a general way, it does not merely conform to the specific connectedness of the corporality’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Again the Notional account of the organism to imply that the organic whole cannot be broken down into self-subsistent and distinct parts, but must be treated as a systematic unity and finally from the discussion of the relation between the functions and shapes of the body we turn to the process of formation itself as it occurs in the animal organism. Given that each bodily organ is essentially interpenetrated by all three functions of life none of these organs can maintain any of those functions without the others, as a consequence the parts of the organic being are essentially related to the system as a whole and cannot function when separated from that system. From the process of formation we pass to the second of the three processes of life, the process of assimilation where the argument is that chemistry alone cannot explain how nutriments are transformed in the process of digestion and that the process involves more than simply decomposition of food into its chemical elements for in being broken down the nutriments are changed completely and do not remain the same as they were when they formed a unity.

Similarly the organism itself should not be thought of as simply compounded from these self-subsistent chemical substances as it has a greater unity than that to be found in any such compound. As for the production of the blood:

‘It is on this immediate transition and transformation that all chemical and mechanical explanations of the organism founder and find their limit. The precise reason for this is that their explanations are merely based on a datum which already possesses exterior equality. The truth is however, that both sides in their determinate being are completely free with regard to each other. Bread in itself for example, has no connection with the body, the chyle, or the blood, for it is something quite different. Try as they will, neither chemistry nor mechanics can trace empirically the transformation of the nutriment into blood. Chemistry certainly displays something similar in both of them; albumen perhaps, and certainly iron and suchlike, as well as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen etc. It will certainly extract matters from the plant that are also present in water. Wood, blood and flesh do not remain the same thing as these matters however, because, quite simply, both sides are at the same time something else. Blood which has been broken down into such constituents is no longer living blood. It is quite impossible to trace similarity any further and to find continuity here, for the existing substance completely disappears. By decomposing a salt, I obtain again the two matters which had combined to form it; consequently, this combination accounts for the salt, and the matters within it have not become something else, but have remained the same. In organic being however, the existing substances are posited as becoming something else. However, as inorganic being is merely a moment which is sublated in the organic self, It comes into consideration not in accordance with its determinate being, but in accordance with its Notion. Yet in accordance with its Notion it is identical with organic being’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

And furthermore:

‘… the chemist e. g. places a piece of flesh in his retort, tortures it in many ways, and then informs us that it consists of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, etc. True: but these abstract matters have ceased to be flesh’.

- ‘Encyclopaedia Logic’

The point is that it is an error to treat an organic substance like blood as nothing more than a compound of unchanging chemical elements that can be separated and united without being fundamentally altered, blood is more of an organic unity and cannot be understood as just an external composition of the sort of distinct substances that were discussed at the level of chemistry. From the assimilative process we pass to the generic process wherein each individual endeavours to overcome the opposition between self and other that was implicit in the assimilative process. Nevertheless whereas in the latter the other was inorganic nature in the generic process the other is another organic individual and each individual feels itself to share a common universal essence with other individuals and so they come together in the sex-relationship (chance would be a fine thing):

‘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. The animal has an object with which it feels an immediate identity; this identity is the moment of the first process (of formation), which is added to the determination of the second process (of assimilation). The relation of one individual to another of its kind is the substantial relationship of the genus. The nature of each permeates both, and both find themselves within the sphere of this universality. Both are implicitly a single genus, the same subjective vitality, and in the process they also posit this as being so. At this juncture, the Idea of nature is actual in the male and female couple; up till now their identity and their being-for-self merely had being for us in our reflection, but they are now experienced by the sexes themselves in their infinite reflection into each other. This feeling of universality is the supreme moment of the animal’s capabilities, but within it, its concrete universality never occurs for it as a theoretical object of intuition. If it did, it would be thought or consciousness, in which alone the genus attains to free existence. Consequently, a contradiction occurs; the universality of the genus, which is the identity of the individuals, is different from the particular individuality of these individuals. The individual is only one of the two individuals, and exists merely as a singularity, not as their unity. The animal sublates this difference by its activity. The basic genus constitutes the one extreme of the syllogism, for every process is syllogistic in form. The vitality which wants to bring itself forth, finds itself placed within the genus. The genus is the driving subjectivity and essence of the individuals, and by straining in opposition to the inadequacy of their singular actuality, it constitutes the mediation or middle term of the syllogism. It is precisely this that drives the individuals to realize their sentience only within another of their kind. As the actuality assumed by the genus has the form of an immediate existence, it is of course only a single actuality. By means of it, the genus links itself up with the other extreme of singularity’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

Nevertheless at this stage the individuals cannot reconcile this unity with the sense of their particular difference from one another and this contradiction explains their finitude and consequent deaths but prior to discussing the death of the individual an account of illness and its cure is presented in which it is argued that illness in essence involves the destruction of the unity of the organism as one of the organs sets itself up in opposition to the whole.

‘In the two relationships considered above, the self-mediation of the genus with itself is the process of its diremption into individuals and the sublation of its differences. However, as the genus also (§ 357) assumes the shape of an inorganic nature which is opposed to the individual, it brings forth its existence within it in an abstract and negative manner. The determinate being of the individual organism is therefore involved in a relationship of externality, and while the organism preserves itself by returning into itself in its genus, it may also, and with equal facility, fail to correspond to it (§ 366).-The organism is in a diseased state when one of its systems or organs is stimulated into conflict with the inorganic potency of the organism. Through this conflict, the system or organ establishes itself in isolation, and by persisting in its particular activity in opposition to the activity of the whole, obstructs the fluidity of this activity, as well as the process by which it pervades all the moments of the whole’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The suggestion is that this stage of illness is the most dangerous as at this stage the very unity of the organic whole is threatened by the isolation of the diseased organ but at the next stage of the illness the disease becomes a fever that passes through the whole body and infects the entire organism and at this stage a cure is relatively straightforward as the original site of the disease no longer stands outside the unity of the body in that the whole of the organism is now affected and hence fever makes possible a return to the original organic unity and therefore restores the body to health.

‘Fever facilitates recovery on account of its motivating the totality of the organism into activity. Once motivated in this way, the organism as a whole is animated, and lifts itself out of its submergence in a particularity. It rises above the particular activity before also excreting it, and by reasserting itself in this way, recovers the universality obstructed by the disease. In the first instance, its determinateness changes into motion, necessity and total process, and this in its turn changes into the whole product. Likewise, by means of this, and because this product is a simple negativity, the organism assumes the wholeness of its selfhood’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The account of nature concludes with the death of the individual of its own accord that occurs when the body finally breaks down into a plurality of merely chemical substances and processes and the unity of the soul is no longer present in the organism and with the collapse of natural being the transition to spirit is undergone thus bringing to a conclusion the account of how the Notion is realized in nature the significance of which account is to be looked into later.

‘A Woman Fishing’, 1884, Georges Seurat

Dedicated to my lovely One. My life-saving medicine. 💊💊💊💊💊❤️

And I feel like I’m losing my mind Banging my head up against the wall Staring at nothing cause I can’t sleep at night Can’t make it stop, yeah I think too much What do I do? Falling apart I need a shock straight to my heart No one would want to be in my shoes right now, oh

I don’t reach for the bottle of whisky (Straight on the rocks) But you won’t see me popping the pills (Po-po-po-popping the pills) Cause if I want the pain to go away In a second make it fade You’re the only thing that will You’re my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine

You know you’re an expert at complicating things That’s how I’m wired, believe me it’s no fun But you make the war seem like such an easy game Keeps me and my arguments come under Down in the trenches, you are the white flag Make me surrender Want you so bad Baby don’t stop what you started Don’t ever be done, oh

I always throw the bottle of whisky (straight on the rocks) But you won’t see me popping the pills (po-po-po-popping the pills) Cause if I want the pain to go away In a second make it fade You’re the only thing that will You’re my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine

You make it all better, better You make me feel home You make it all better, better You make me feel home

I don’t reach for the bottle of whisky No you won’t see me popping the pills Cause if I want the pain to go away In a second make it fade You’re the only thing that will You’re my my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine, medicine Ma-ma-my medicine

You make it all better, better You make me feel home You make it all better, better You make me feel home You make it all better, better You make me feel home You make it all better, better You make me feel home You’re my my medicine


Jennifer Lopez — ‘Medicine’:

Coming up next:

Nature and unity.

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.