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

David Proud
36 min readJan 30, 2024

‘Triumph of Existing’

by Edith Irene Södergran (1892–1923)

What do I fear? I am part of infinity. I am a portion of a cosmic force, a separate world within a million worlds, a star of the first magnitude, the last to die. The triumph of living, the triumph of breathing, the triumph of existing! The triumph of feeling time flow, glacial, through my veins and hear the silent stream of night and stand atop the mountain in the sun. I walk on sun, I stand on sun, I know of nothing but the sun.

Time — transformer, time — destroyer, time — enchanter, do you come with new intrigues, a thousand schemes, to offer me a life as a little seed, as a coiled serpent, as a rock out in the sea?

Time — you murderer — begone from me! The sun fills up my breast with lovely honey to the brim and she says: some day, all stars are bound to die, yet they always shine without dread.

‘Triumf är att finnas till…’

Vad fruktar jag? Jag är en del av oändligheten. Jag är en del av alltets stora kraft, en ensam värld inom miljoner världar, en första gradens stjärna lik som slocknar sist. Triumf är att leva, triumf att andas, triumf att finnas till! Triumf att känna tiden iskall rinna genom sina ådror och höra nattens tysta flod och stå på berget under solen. Jag går på sol, jag står på sol, jag vet av inget annat än sol.

Tid — förvandlerska, tid — förstörerska, tid — förtrollerska, kommer du med nya ränker, tusen lister för att bjuda mig en tillvaro som ett litet frö, som en ringlad orm, som en klippa mitt i havet?

Tid — du mörderska — vik från mig! Solen fyller upp mitt bröst med ljuvlig honung upp till randen Och hon säger: en gång slockna alla stjärnor, men de lysa alltid utan skräck.

‘Figure of a Woman’, 1904, Marietta Fauntleroy Minnigerode Andrews


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1881). ‘Philosophy of Nature’. ‘Organic Physics’.

So, as I reach the end I will put some finishing touches to where I left off concerning the morality of transforming nature. Concerning any issues in relation to the Hegelian assessment of human individuals’ moral responsibility toward natural entities (particular phenomena that instantiate universal forms or structures) one wonders about attributing intrinsic value to the natural hierarchy in its totality while denying that humans have any duties to respect or preserve natural entities by allowing their structures to remain intact, well, the Hegelian stance appears to be that human individuals have a positive duty to shape and transform natural entities without reserve even with regard to those natural entities that are positioned at the apex of the natural hierarchy, plants and animals, the comparatively high value of animals does not place an obligation on us to vegetarian (albeit I am one but although I would argue against the mistreatment of animals on ethical grounds I know better than to argue for vegetarianism on ethical grounds), or that the value of plants obliges humans to treat them with care or respect. It appears rather that the position of human beings is that they have an obligation to transform animals and plants as extensively as they like be it through breeding, disciplining, or consumption, and they have an obligation to transform natural entities of all kinds in accordance with their preferences.

From an ecological point of view a rejection of any obligation toward respecting or preserving natural entities is certainly troublesome but the apparent Hegelian contention that human beings have an unbounded obligation to transform natural entities rests uneasily alongside an Hegelian understanding of nature’s ethical status given our (Hegelian) conception of our fundamental sense of nature’s intrinsic value that assuredly incorporates a sense that nature’s constituent entities are morally significant in their own right, indeed the very expression of our moral phenomenology is dependent upon its underlying rationalist metaphysics. So let us clear up the issue of human individuals having some kind pf a moral obligation to transform natural entities without reserve. Within the point of view of numerous contemporary environmental philosophers a rejection of the notion that the intrinsic goodness of natural forms grants humans any obligations to respect the entities instantiating those forms appears profoundly counterintuitive for they take it for granted that the intrinsic value of individual natural entities imposes upon humans definite duties toward those entities. ‘To say that an entity has inherent worth [that is, intrinsic value] is to say that its good (welfare) is deserving of the concern and consideration of all moral agents and that the realization of its good is something to be promoted and protected as an end in itself’ explains Paul Taylor. But for Hegel an obligation is simply a course of action prescribed by practical reason and hence in virtue of his rejection of obligations arising from the intrinsic value or interests, rights, and so on of others and so there is no room a notion of obligations as debts owed to anyone or anything and so he can in all consistency assert intrinsic value is there in nature and yet oppose the view that human beings have obligations to natural entities. But a Kantian conception of obligation need not put obstacles in the way of the postulation of obligations with regard to nature, for instance practical reason may well legislate the preservation of endangered species without such preservation being owed to those species or their members. Such supposed obligations concerning nature are not the same as the obligations that Immanuel Kant classifies as obligations with regard to nature for Kant adduces the duty to treat animals kindly so as to develop one’s power to empathize with other human individuals and the content of this duty of kindness to animals refers directly only to humans, animals being involved only derivatively insofar as the duty of empathy with fellow humans calls indirectly for a certain mode of conduct towards animals. For now though the content of obligations concerning nature refers directly to nature.

Whether such obligations exist and what content they have is to be gleaned from the evaluations upon which the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ hinges, and a clear account of human duties including any obligations concerning nature have to be incorporated into a systematic theory of the human mind that establishes how it is rational for human individuals to act. Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Mind’ delivers such a systematic theory of mind deriving the series of necessarily interconnected phases through which the human mind develops and critically the course of mental development that human individuals undergo constrains them to take a direction that forbids their obtaining obligations to respect or preserve natural entities, rather humans are conditioned to attain an obligation to transform natural entities, individuals would in actual fact be acting immorally by leaving natural entities untouched as we can see if we follow his train of thought through the relevant section of his account of mind that reveals where his understanding of obligation fits into this account of mind leading to the conclusion that human individuals are morally obliged to remodel nature.

Here explains how humans acquire duties to transform nature, beginning with an account of the desire to destroy and consume natural entities that forms the preparation to the struggle for recognition that terminates in the Lord/Bondsman dialectic.

‘Self-consciousness, in its immediacy, is an individual and desire-the contradiction of its abstraction which is supposed to be objective, or of its immediacy, which has the shape of an external object and is supposed to be subjective. For the certainty of itself that has emerged from the sublation of consciousness, the object is determined as a nullity, and for the relation of self-consciousness to the object its abstract ideality is likewise determined as a nullity’.

‘Self-consciousness, therefore, is aware of itself implicitly in the object, which in this relation is conformable to the urge. In the negation of the two one-sided moments as the I’s own activity, this identity comes to be for the I. To this activity the object, which in itself and for self-consciousness is the selfless, can offer no resistance; the dialectic of self-sublation, which is the object’s nature, exists here as this activity of the I. In this process the given object is posited subjectively, just as subjectivity divests itself of its one-sidedness and becomes objective to itself’.

‘The product of this process is that I joins together with itself, and is thereby satisfied for itself, actualized. On the external side it remains, in this return, determined initially as an individual, and has maintained itself as such, because its relation to the selfless object is only negative, hence the object is only consumed. So desire in its satisfaction is in general destructive, as it is in its content self centred, and since the satisfaction has only happened in the individual case, and this is transitory, the desire reproduces itself again in the satisfaction’.

‘But the self-feeling which the I gets in the satisfaction does not, on the inner side or in itself, remain in abstract being-for-self or in its individuality; as the negation of immediacy and of individuality the result involves the determination of universality and of the identity of self-consciousness with its object. The judgement or diremption of this self-consciousness is the consciousness of a free object, in which I has awareness of itself as I, but which is also still outside it’.

‘There is a self-consciousness for a self-consciousness, at first immediately, as one thing for another. In the other as I, I immediately behold my own self, but I also behold in it an immediately real object, another I absolutely independent in face of myself. The sublation of the individuality of self-consciousness was the first sublation; self-consciousness is thereby determined only as particular. -This contradiction supplies the urge to show itself as a free self, and to be there as a free self for the other, — the process of recognition’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’


‘On Foot I Had to Cross the Solar System’

by Edith Irene Södergran (1892–1923)

On foot

I had to cross the solar system

before I found the first thread of my red dress.

I sense myself already.

Somewhere in space hangs my heart,

shaking in the void, from it stream sparks

into other intemperate hearts.

Till fots

fick jag gå genom solsystemen,

innan jag fann den första tråden av min röda dräkt.

Jag anar ren mig själv.

Någonstädes i rymden hänger mitt hjärta,

gnistor strömma ifrån det, skakande luften,

till andra måttlösa hjärtan.


‘The process is a combat; for I cannot be aware of myself as myself in the other, in so far as the other is an immediate other reality for me; I am consequently bent on the sublation of this immediacy of his. Equally I cannot be recognized as an immediate entity, but only in so far as I sublate the immediacy in myself, and thereby give reality to my freedom. But this immediacy is at the same time the bodiliness of self-consciousness, in which, as in its sign and tool, self-consciousness has its own self-feeling, as well as its being for others and its relation that mediates between itself and them’.

‘The combat of recognition is thus a life and death struggle; each of the two self-consciousnesses puts the other’s life in danger, and exposes itself to it- but only in danger, for each is equally bent on maintaining his life, since it is the embodiment of his freedom. The death of one, which dissolves the contradiction in one respect by the abstract, therefore crude, negation of immediacy, is thus in the essential respect, the reality of recognition which is sublated together with the death, a new contradiction and a higher one than the first’.

‘Because life is as essential as freedom, the combat ends initially as one-sided negation with an asymmetry: one of the combatants prefers life, maintains himself as individual self-consciousness, but surrenders his chance of recognition, while the other holds fast to his relation to himself and is recognized by the first in his subjugation: the relationship of mastery and bondage’.

‘On the one hand, this relationship is a community of need and of care for its satisfaction, since the means of mastery, the bondsman, must likewise be maintained in his life. In place of the brute destruction of the immediate object there ensues acquisition, preservation, and formation of it, as the intermediary in which the two extremes of independence and non-independence join together; — the form of universality in satisfaction of need is a permanent means and a provision that takes care of and secures the future’.

‘Secondly, in line with the distinction between them, the master has in the bondsman and his service the intuition of the validity of his individual being-for-self; and he has it by means of the sublation of immediate being-for-self, a sublation, however, which occurs in another.-But this other, the bondsman, works off his individual will and self-will in the service of the master, sublates the inner immediacy of desire and in this alienation and in the fear of the master he makes a beginning of wisdom- the transition to universal self-consciousness’.

‘Universal self-consciousness is the affirmative awareness of oneself in the other self. Each self as free individuality has absolute independence, but i n virtue o f the negation of its immediacy or desire it does not distinguish itself from the other; it is universal and objective; and it has real universality in the form of reciprocity, in that it is aware of its recognition in the free other, and is aware of this in so far as it recognizes the other and is aware that it is free’.

‘This unity of consciousness and self-consciousness involves in the first place the individuals as shining into each other. But in this identity the distinction between them is a wholly indeterminate diversity or rather a distinction which is no distinction. Hence their truth is the universality and objectivity of self-consciousness which are in and for themselves- reason’.

‘Reason is the truth that is in and for itself, and this is the simple identity of the subjectivity of the concept with its objectivity and universality. The universality of reason, therefore, signifies the object, which in consciousness qua consciousness was only given, but is now itself universal, permeating and encompassing the I. Equally it signifies the pure I, the pure form overarching the object and encompassing it within itself’.

‘Self-consciousness is thus the certainty that its determinations are objective, are determinations of the essence of things, just as much as they are its own thoughts. Hence it is reason, which, since it is this identity, is not only the absolute substance, but the truth as awareness. For truth here has, as its peculiar determinacy, as its immanent form, the pure concept existing for itself, I, the certainty of itself as infinite universality. This truth that is aware is the mind’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Then Hegel discusses an obligation to modify natural entities that arises arises with the institution of private property (this will be enlarged upon in the ‘Property’ section of the ‘Philosophy of Right’

‘Mind, in the immediacy of its freedom, the freedom that is for itself, is an individual, but an individual that is aware of its individuality as absolutely free will; it is a person, the self-awareness of this freedom, an intrinsically abstract and empty self-awareness that does not yet have its particularity and fulfillment in itself, but in an external thing. This thing, as an entity devoid of will, has no right against the subjectivity of intelligence and wilfulness, and subjectivity makes it an accident of itself, the external sphere of its freedom-possession’.

‘The predicate of mine, which the thing obtains through the judgement of possession initially in the external appropriation, is for itself merely practical, but here it has the meaning that I put my personal will into the thing. Through this determination the possession is property, which as possession is a means, but as embodiment of personality is an end.

‘In property the person is joined together with himself. But the thing is an abstractly external thing, and the I in it is abstractly external. The concrete return of me into myself in the externality is this: I, the infinite relation of me to myself, am as a person the repulsion of me from myself, and have the embodiment of my personality in the being of other person, in my relation to them and in recognition by them, which is thus reciprocal’.

‘The thing is the mean by which the extremes, the persons who, in the awareness of their identity as free, are at the same time mutually independent, join together. For them my will has its determinate discernible embodiment in the thing by the immediate physical seizure of possession, or by my forming the thing or even by the mere designation of it’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Concerning the account of our obligations to transform nature as sketched within his treatment of private property, the account of the obligation to transform nature as it arises within the context of private property represents a final well thought out assessment of the true range of our obligations with regard to nature. The conduct towards nature played out by individuals inclined towards such has merely conditional legitimateness because it occurs in the transition between natural human existence and the truly ethical condition, it occurs in a world where a wrong is still right.

‘If we hold firmly to the view that the human being in and for himself is free, we thereby condemn slavery. But if someone is a slave, his own will is responsible, just as the responsibility lies with the will of a people if that people is subjugated. Thus the wrong of slavery is the fault not only of those who enslave or subjugate people, but of the slaves and the subjugated themselves. Slavery occurs in the transitional phase between natural human existence and the truly ethical condition, it occurs in a world where a wrong is still right. Here, the wrong is valid, so that the position it occupies is a necessary one’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

But of course the ‘Philosophy of Right’ describes the social institutions Hegel judges ideally rational and legitimate, institutions that have become realized in post-Enlightenment Europe, and these institutions include private property and the modification of nature practiced under its description therefore in offering his account of this duty to modify nature Hegel presupposes that it has absolute validity and truly exhausts human moral responsibility concerning natural entities. The connection of private property with the modification has a strangeness about it but property has an active dimension: ‘Behind the seeming thinglike fixedness that property has as an object of the will, lies . . . the movement, the . . . process of the active preparation of nature, with which it gets transformed into an object of the will’ explains Joachim Ritter. In the ‘Philosophy of Right’ Hegel brings in private property on the heels of free will presuming free will to be a familiar phenomenological datum in need of no further explanation.

‘The freedom of the will can best be explained by reference to physical nature. For freedom is just as much a basic determination of the will as weight is a basic determination of bodies. If matter is described as heavy, one might think that this predicate is merely contingent; but this is not so, for nothing in matter is weightless: on the contrary, matter is weight itself. Heaviness constitutes the body and is the body. It is just the same with freedom and the will, for that which is free is the will. Will without freedom is an empty word, just as freedom is actual only as will or as subject. But as for the connection between the will and thought, the following remarks are necessary. Spirit is thought in general, and the human being is distinguished from the animal by thought But it must not be imagined that a human being thinks on the one hand and wills on the other, and that he has thought in one pocket and volition in the other, for this would be an empty representation. The distinction between thought and will is simply that between theoretical and practical attitudes. But they are not two separate faculties; on the contrary the will is a particular way of thinking -thinking translating itself into existence, thinking as the drive to give itself existence’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

But he also suggests that those who do look an explanation will locate it in his ‘Philosophy of Mind’ wherein free will is the rationally necessary consequence of theoretical intelligence which individuals acquire at a certain point in their mental development and intelligent individuals originally believe themselves to acquire concepts by passively receiving stimuli from external objects but the fact is that in thinking we are necessarily active the content of what is thought is something mediated, something posited by our activity.

‘The will determines itself, this determination is primarily of an inward nature, for what I will I represent to myself as my object. The animal acts by instinct, it is impelled by something inward and is therefore also practical; but it has no will, because it does not represent to itself what it desires. It is equally impossible to adopt a theoretical attitude or to think without a will, for in thinking we are necessarily active. The content of what is thought certainly takes on the form of being; but this being is something mediated, something posited by our activity. These distinct attitudes are therefore inseparable: they are one and the same thing, and both moments can be found in every activity, of thinking and willing alike’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’



by Edith Sodergran, (1892–1923)

My soul was a light blue dress the colour of the sky;

I left it on a rock by the sea

and naked I came to you, looking like a woman.

And like a woman I sat at your table

and drank a toast in wine, inhaling the scent of some roses.

You found me beautiful, like something you saw in a dream,

I forgot everything, I forgot my childhood and my homeland,

I only knew that your caresses held me captive.

And smiling you held up a mirror and asked me to look.

I saw that my shoulders were made of dust and crumbled away,

I saw that my beauty was sick and wished only to — disappear.

Oh, hold me tight in your arms so close that I need nothing.


Min själ var en ljusblå dräkt av himlens färg;

jag lämnade den på en klippa vid havet

och naken kom jag till dig och liknade en kvinna.

Och som en kvinna satt jag vid ditt bord

och drack en skål med vin och andades in doften av några rosor.

Du fann att jag var vacker och liknade något du sett i drömmen,

jag glömde allt, jag glömde min barndom och mitt hemland,

jag visste endast att dina smekningar höllo mig fången.

Och du tog leende en spegel och bad mig se mig själv.

Jag såg att mina skuldror voro gjorda av stoft och smulade sig sönder,

jag såg att min skönhet var sjuk och hade ingen vilja än — försvinna.

O, håll mig sluten i dina armar så fast att jag ingenting behöver.

‘Ariadne’, Sir John Lavery, (1856–1941)


Individuals have to own their role in actively framing concepts to fit objects and intelligence, knowing itself as the determinant of the content is will.

‘Intelligence, which as theoretical appropriates the immediate determinacy, is, now that it has completed taking possession, in its own property; by the last negation of immediacy it is implicitly posited that for the intelligence the content is determined through the intelligence. Thinking, as the free concept, is now also free in the content. When intelligence is aware of itself as what determines the content, which is not only determined as being but is also intelligence’s own content, it is will.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Will differs from intelligence in that it is thinking translating itself into existence, thinking as the drive to give itself existence and mind assumes the shape of will when its rationality becomes practical, when it starts to act from rational needs, in this case the need to discover conceptual organization in the entities of the external world, and this transition from theoretical intelligence to free will instantiates the transition from cognition to will in the ‘Science of Logic’ whereby in both cases cognition or intelligence transmutes into will insofar as it must realize its already implicitly practical character by starting to modify the world practically, to translate itself into existence according to its own purposes. So human individuals have identify rationality in physical entities and yet this involves cognitive activity that they have to acknowledge through the explicit activity of imposing conceptual organization upon objects, and human individuals become rationally obliged to transfigure objects both their own bodies and the natural entities around them and individuals’ activity in transforming objects has to take place under a particular social form, the appropriation of objects including one’s own body as private property and this connection with private property arises through the modifying of natural entities upon which agents are importing into them new forms of organization so the entire object in both its conceptual and material aspects becomes the material for disclosing a new form or concept superimposed by the human agent.

In coming to display such organization an entity comes to bear witness to the agent’s activity upon it and so to his or her will insofar as this is evinced in her activity and this manifestation of will in thing occurs through my conferring upon the thing a purpose other than that which it immediately possessed a soul that is, locus of organization other than that which it previously had.

‘All things can become the property of human beings, because the human being is free will, and, as such, exists in and for himself, whereas that which confronts him does not have this quality. Hence everyone has the right to make his will a thing or to make the thing his will, or, in other words, to supersede the thing and transform it into his own; for the thing, as externality, has no end in itself, and is not infinite self-reference but something external to itself. A living creature (the animal) is also external in this way and is to that extent a thing. The will alone is infinite, absolute in relation to everything else, whereas the other, for its part, is merely relative. Thus to appropriate something means basically only to manifest the supremacy of my will in relation to the thing and to demonstrate that the latter does not have being in and for itself. This manifestation occurs through my conferring upon the thing an end other than that which it immediately possessed; I give the living creature, as my property, a soul other than that which it previously had; I give it my soul. The free will is consequently that idealism which does not consider things as they are, to be in and for themselves, whereas realism declares them to be absolute, even if they are found only in the form of finitude. Even the animal has gone beyond this realist philosophy, for it consumes things and thereby proves that they are not absolutely self-sufficient’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

By having come to incorporate a constitutive reference back to the agent’s will this item has become a piece of his or her property, his or her presence having become encoded within its structure and as a consequence human transformation of nature of necessity occurs under the rubric of the appropriation of entities as private property. Putting to one side the intricacies of the Hegelian justification of private property it may appear that a linear, individualistic, justification of private ownership as the necessary consequence of labour upon objects is being presented but in fact private property already presupposes a determinate socio-historical context of mutual recognition among human individuals, a thing can successfully incorporate one individual’s will only if others recognize it as doing so otherwise those others will simply re-appropriate that thing for themselves. ‘Recognition as a property owner . . . involves an act of forbearance whereby the recognizing person refrains from interfering with the recognized person’s enjoyment’, explains Michel Rosenfeld.

By the Hegelian account of mind transformative activity is the rationally necessary consequence of human theoretical intelligence rendering explicit the activity presupposed in the latter and being required in response to the deficiency of theoretical intelligence the activity of transforming nature is rational so that in pursuing it human individuals have begun to act from practical reason, hence they are now said to possess will which is defined as practical reason and furthermore since it is rationally necessary for humans to transform nature this activity is morally obligatory for them, we arrive here through a rationalistic somewhat Kantian understanding of obligation whereby action from reason is good such that whatever practical reason prescribes is obligatory.

‘The relation of the good to the particular subject is that the good is the essential character of the subject’s will, which thus has an unqualified obligation in this connection. Because particularity is distinct from the good and falls within the subjective will, the good is initially determined only as universal abstract esse1ltiality — i.e. as duty. In view of this determination should be done for the sake of duty. The essential element of the will for me is duty. Now if I know nothing apart from the fact that the good is my duty, I do not go beyond duty in the abstract. I should do my duty for its own sake, and it is in the true sense my own objectivity that I bring to fulfilment in doing so. In doing my duty, I am with myself and free. The merit and exalted viewpoint of Kant’s moral philosophy are that it has emphasized this significance of duty’.

‘Since action for itself requires a particular content and a determinate end, whereas duty in the abstract contains nothing of the kind, the question arises: what is duty? For this definition, all that is available so far is this: to do right, and to promote welfare, one’s own welfare and welfare in its universal determination, the welfare of others. This is the very question which was put to Jesus when someone wished to know what to do in order to gain eternal Iife. For the universal aspect of good, or good in the abstract, cannot be fulfilled as an abstraction; it must first acquire the further determination of particularity’.

-Philosophy of Right’

So the good is the essential element of the subject’s will which thus has an unqualified obligation in this connection and the essential element of the will is obligation and insofar as practical reason prescribes the transformation of nature through its private appropriation then it is an obligation to possess things as property.

‘In the field of appearance right and duty are initially correlates: to a right on my part corresponds a duty in someone else. But, as to the concept, my right to a thing is not merely possession, but as possession by a person it is property, lawful possession, and it is a duty to possess things as property, i.e. to be a person. When this is posited in the relationship of appearance, of relation to another person, it develops into the duty of the other to respect my right. The moral duty in general is, in me as a free subject, at the same time a right of my subjective will, of my disposition. But in morality there arises the divergence between the merely inner determination of the will (disposition, intention) , which has its reality only in me and is only subjective duty, and the actuality of that determination, which involves a contingency and imperfection that constitute the one-sidedness of the merely moral standpoint’.

- ‘Philosophy of Mind’

Duties (I prefer obligations myself but I won’t go onto that now) as courses of action prescribed by reason added to the notion that individuals are rationally required to transform nature leads to the conclusion that any individual who strives to transform nature is acting dutifully or evincing good will. Let us not read too much of Kant into this for it is not the Hegelian position that human individuals can act solely from reason or duty which appears at odds with the suggestion that he establishes the absolute validity of obligation to transform nature from its rationality and yet the psychological impossibility of purely rational action for human individuals affects neither the basic conception of obligation nor his account of the content of obligations, it simply means that as well as outlining the content of our duties one must also outline the series of social institutions that will cultivate desires so that these duties can be carried out and a rejection of the notion that finite individuals can act from duty alone does not contradict the contention that remodelling nature is an absolutely valid obligation but simply demonstrates that Bildung is necessary for individuals to be able to discharge such an obligation. Which of course makes it evident that duty is not the correct concept here for the focus is upon our right or liberty to modify nature albeit the wider systematic context that our activity in modifying natural entities instantiates the general ontological structure of action from practical reason, that is to say, from good will or duty which is compatible with a right to private property, one must have the right to do one’s duty,

So human individuals have the duty to modify nature, an affirmation of the absolute right of appropriation which human beings have over all things, ‘all things can become the property of human beings because the human being is free will’ and matter is devoid of rights:

‘The sphere of right is not the soil of nature — certainly not of external nature, but also not of subjective human nature, insofar as human will, determined by human nature, is in the sphere of natural needs and instincts. On the contrary, the sphere of right is the spiritual sphere, the sphere of freedom [Sphäre der Freiheit]. It is true that nature also has a place in the realm of freedom, to the extent that the idea of freedom expresses itself and gives itself existence [Existenz], but freedom remains the foundation, and nature only enters in as something dependent’.

- ‘Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science’

‘Man is master over everything in nature’ (marginal note to the ‘Philosophy of Right’), individuals may if they so choose show their supremacy over natural things by destroying them, even animals have no right to their life, because they do not will it.

‘I have these limbs and my life only in so far as I so will it; the animal cannot mutilate or destroy itself, but the human being can. Addition: Animals are indeed in possession of themselves: their soul is in possession of their body. But they have no right to their life, because they do not will it’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

In hunting the means whereby I take wild animals in my possession is to kill them.

‘Herein lies the imperfection of laws, because physical seizure is highly insignificant in terms of its scope (i.e., what I can grasp with my body), and I cannot go on holding things in detention, in bodily possession, indefinitely. If I have a stick in my hand, it is not only the part that I am grasping that is mine, but the whole stick, by virtue of the external connection, the external physical relation, to the part of which I have taken possession — from this [stems] the accessio [accession]. Under this head belongs hunting, in that wild animals are res nullius. I must kill them; in other words, taking possession of them, the means whereby I take them in my possession, is to kill them — an external action, one that is external to itself in that, like the external thing, it [has] on its own account a multiplicity of parts’.

- ‘Lectures on Natural Right and Political Science’

Furthermore nature does not ‘have the end in itself in such a way that we have to respect it, as the individual human has this end in himself and hence is to be respected’ so in spite of the position evinced in the ‘Philosophy of Nature’ that all natural entities are intrinsically good in virtue of the goodness of their internal structures, Hegel in the ‘Philosophy of Right’ there is a denial that humans have any duties to respect or preserve those entities, rather we have a positive obligation to transfigure those entities as extensively as we like, an obligation that is not and never becomes limited or qualified by any countervailing obligations of respect. Private appropriation for its still incomplete socialization is critiqued, listing the array of progressively deepening social duties that individuals have to assume while none of these obligations concern other human agents or ever impinge upon individuals’ foundational duty to transform natural entities. It is neither rational nor good for individuals to respect natural entities in virtue of their intrinsic goodness on the contrary on the contrary individuals have reason to modify these entities regardless of their degree of goodness, so despite an ethical conception of nature together with its phenomenological grounding our moral responsibilities toward the environment are connected to his more foundational phenomenological and ethical arguments.


‘At Nietzsche’s Grave’

by Edith Sodergran, (1892–1923)

The great hunter is dead…

His grave I drape with warm flower curtains…

Kissing the cold stone, I say:

here is your first child in tears of joy.

Elusive I sit on your grave

Like a mockery — more beautiful than you dreamed

Strange father!

Your children will not let you down,

they are coming across the earth with the footsteps of gods,

rubbing their eyes: where am I?

No, really … here is my place,

here is my father’s ruined grave…

Gods — keep eternal vigil in this place.

‘Vid Nietzsches grav’

Den store jägaren är död…

Hans grav draperar jag med varma blomgardiner…

Kyssande den kalla stenen, säger jag:

här är ditt första barn i glädjetårar.

Gäckande sitter jag på din grav

såsom ett hån — skönare än du drömt dig.

Sällsamma fader!

Dina barn svika dig ej,

de komma över jorden med gudasteg,

gnuggande sig i ögonen: var är jag väl?

Nej, riktigt … här är min plats,

här är min faders förfallna grav…

Gudar — hållen evigt vakt på detta ställe.

‘I bersån’, (‘Sitting under the Arbour’), c. 1880, Hugo Birger


The account of the rationality of transforming nature is incorporated into the general theory of the development of mind and of its necessary transition from cognitive to practical and then social existence so the rationale for the transformation of nature is solidly embedded into the encyclopaedic system tied together with the systematic theory of the development of the natural world. From an ethical point of view the assertion of our obligation duty to transform natural entities is also closely bound up with the evaluation of all nature as intrinsically good, an evaluation dependant upon the premise that action from reason which is discernible throughout natural forms is good though the same premise leads to the notion of it being good for human individuals to act in ways that resolve their internal contradictions and hence to resolve the internal contradiction of theoretical intelligence by beginning to modify natural entities. The value of nature and of the scope of human responsibility to natural entities accounts presuppose the same metaphysics of rationality and ethical point of view on which practical reason is good and the claims that all natural entities are intrinsically valuable and that humans have no obligations to respect or preserve them really these two claims are incorporated into the system.

Alison Stone, (1970 -), asks us to consider a scenario whereby human individuals:

‘acting rationally modify natural entities in such a deep-rooted way that those entities can no longer arise or regenerate themselves in their spontaneous form. This disrupts nature’s ontological hierarchy, since it eliminates one or more of the forms which are supposed to figure necessarily within it. Yet nature’s internal order is the necessary condition of the emergence of human individuals themselves — for humans emerge as the rational solution to tensions within organic life, in which natural development culminates. In dislocating nature’s internal order, then, human agents appear to be acting irrationally, for the order that they are dislocating is the condition of possibility for their own existence. It appears that their disruption of natural order irrationally erases the very condition that makes it possible. Doesn’t the possibility of this scenario reveal that, after all, Hegel ought not to affirm our duty to modify nature without restraint?’

- ‘Petrified Intelligence’

He avoids this problem by denying that the scenario is possible. Certainly, he agrees that we can modify natural entities in deep-seated ways. He distinguishes between modifying entities in relatively superficial ways — by merely adding new structures to those they already possess — and altering these entities internally, at a deep level. This involves penetrating inside their existing structures to rearrange the relations between their constituent elements.

‘- The control and external possession [of things] thus becomes, in infinite ways, more or less indeterminate and incomplete. Matter, however, is never without an essential form, and it is only by virtue of this form that it is something. The more I appropriate this form, the more I come into actual possession of the thing. The consumption of foodstuffs is a penetration and alteration of their qualitative nature by virtue of which they were what they were before they were consumed. The training of my organic body in various skills, like the education of my spirit, is likewise a more or less complete penetration and taking possession thereof; the spirit is what I can appropriate most completely. But this actuality of taking possession is different from property as such, which is completed by the free will. In face of the free will, the thing does not retain any distinct property for itself” even if possession, as an external relationship, still retains an external aspect. The empty abstraction .of a matter without attributes which, in the case of property, is supposed to remain external to me and the property of the thing itself, is something which thought must get the better of’

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

A process called the formation of entities through which the effects which I have on a natural thing do not remain merely external but are assimilated by it.

‘To give form to something is the mode of taking possession most in keeping with the Idea, inasmuch as it combines the subjective and the objective. Otherwise, it varies infinitely according to the qualitative nature of the objects and the variety of subjective ends. — We must also include here the giving of form to the organic. The effects which I have on the latter do not remain merely external, but are assimilated by it, as in the tilling of the soil, the cultivation of plants, and the domestication, feeding, and conservation of animals; further examples are the measures we employ in order to utilize raw materials or the forces of nature, or the influence which we cause one substance to exert upon another, and so on’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’.

The breeding of new types of animal and plant are adduced and the conversion of soil into fertile land but gestures toward a potentially infinite range of methods by which natural entities can be internally altered but this alteration cannot affect the forms that the entities being acted upon instantiate, for instance we cannot alter elemental forms such as air and water we can only alter isolated portions of these elements.

‘Given the qualitative differences between natural objects differences, there are infinitely varied senses in which one can take control and possession of them, and doing so is subject to equally varied kinds of limitation and contingency. In any case, the generic and elemental aspects of something are not as such the object of personal individuality; in order to become such an object and be taken possession of, they must first be individuated (e.g. as a breath of air or a drink of water). With regard to the impossibility of taking possession of an external genus as such, or of the elemental, the ultimate consideration is not the external physical impossibility of doing so, but the fact that the person, as will, determines himself as an individual and, as a person, is at the same immediate individuality; hence he is also related, as a person, to the external world as to individual things’.

‘Fichte has raised the question of whether the matter also belongs to me if I give it form. From what he says, it follows that, if I have made a cup out of gold, anyone else is at liberty to take the gold provided that he does not thereby damage my handiwork. However separable the two may be in terms of representation, this distinction is in fact an empty piece of hair-splitting; for if I take possession of a field and cultivate it, not only the furrow is my property, but the rest as well, the earth which belongs to it. For I wish to take possession of this matter as a whole: it therefore does not remain ownerless or its own property. For even if the matter remains external to the form which I have given to the object, the form itself is a sign that the thing is to be mine; the thing therefore does not remain external to my will or outside what I have willed. Thus, there is nothing there which could be taken possession of by someone else’.

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

No amount of such modification of particular entities can impact upon he universals or forms, the genera, which these particular entities instantiate hence it is not possible for the activities of finite human individuals to impact upon the internal order of nature albeit environment has borne a thorough goiing reconstitution since the early 1800s but the impermeability of nature’s internal order has a philosophical basis in the general metaphysical conception of nature. whereby the order of natural forms is rationally necessary, generated not in time, through contingent physical processes, but within the inner idea.

‘Nature is to be regarded as a system of stages, the one proceeding of necessity out of the other, and being the proximate truth of that from which it results. This is not to be thought of as a natural engendering of one out of the other however, but as an engendering within the inner Idea which constitutes the ground of nature. Metamorphosis accrues only to the Notion as such, for development is nothing but the alteration of the same. In nature the Notion is however partly a mere inner principle, and partly an existence which is simply a living individuality; existent metamorphosis is therefore limited solely to this individuality’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’

The order is impervious to any contingent actions that human individuals may carry out regardless of those actions, the order itself will be forever regenerated through the force of rational needs hence the fact that natural order is rationally necessary means that it cannot be disrupted by human activities thus individuals are in no danger of negating the conditions of their own possibility however radically they interfere with the natural entities around them and so we have an unlimited obligation to transform nature and all its forms are intrinsically good both claims dependent upon the same rationalist metaphysics and the same rationalist understanding of good action. The revaluation of nature extends to a property, practical rationality, which is traditionally supposed to be the prerogative of human beings and to be opposed to matter as its superior counterpart and nature needs to possess this property to have value for matter and rationality are hierarchically ranked opposites presupposing that albeit matter is discrete and inert rationality is synthesizing and active in a manner defining it as intrinsically valuable whereas matter is not. Nature is revalued by being brought out of the sphere of mere matter and conceived as marinated in rationality. Hegel frees nature from servitude by viewing it as implicitly identical to mind as Manfred Gies puts it.

Matter and rationality are distributed between nature and humanity and rationality has value and the account of nature peaks with an account of the generation of human individuals as practically rational to quite a degree while the more material rationality of nature can place no restrictions upon the obligations practical reason foists upon human agents, humans are obliged to modify natural entities without reserve for human rationality sets the standard of intrinsic value which is behind the revaluation of nature but as for the rationalist conception of nature and the phenomenological basis upon which it is defended the rationalist conception entails our lack of moral responsibility to preserve or respect natural entities that grates against our moral sensibility and what is required is a conception of nature that expresses our sense of its intrinsic value and the rationalist conception attains to this given its discernment of goodness in all natural forms.

Our sense of nature’s intrinsic value is expressed in terms of its rationality generates an understanding of its goodness entailing we have no responsibilities to protect, preserve, or respect natural entities yet nature’s constituent entities are morally considerable in their own right, a natural entity is morally considerable is to say that ‘we may not treat it in just any way we please: we are morally obliged to give weight [to it] in our deliberations . . . because [it has] moral importance in [its] own right’ as Mary Anne Warren explains. Kenneth Goodpaster has defined moral considerability as meaning ‘that something falls within the sphere of moral concern, that it is morally relevant, that it can be taken into account when moral decisions are made’, differentiating moral considerability from moral significance, which means ‘how far [a thing] should be taken into account, its relative weighting in situations of moral conflict’.

There is a conceptual connection between the idea that natural entities are valuable in themselves and the idea that these entities deserve moral consideration, that in deliberating on what to do we must take into account how our actions will affect these entities, for their own sake and if natural entities are intrinsically valuable this fact must impact upon our consideration and not simply refer to our own requirements in resolving contradictions but must in addition make independent reference to natural entities in virtue of the value intrinsic to them. Having a sense of intrinsic value implicates an accompanying sense that this value suggest the requirement to take natural entities into account for their own sake in deciding how to act.

A rationalist conception in line with experience is more adequate than the scientific view of nature since it better articulates sensibility and we have established a plausible set of criteria that an adequate conception of nature has to meet while a scientific understanding of nature is incapable of giving expression to our ethical sensibility. Science presupposes that natural forms are bare things thereby entailing that the whole of nature is intrinsically value neutral but with an adequate metaphysical view of nature in tune with our ethical sensibility we have the foundation for believing that we require an alternative particularly philosophical, conception of nature distinct from the scientific conception and we have the foundation for believing that an adequate philosophical reconceptualization of nature has to reject its interpretation as a domain of bare things in the absence of which nature must be seen as value-neutral, the argument for giving expression to sensibility opens the door to a philosophical rethinking of nature that accommodates our sense of its intrinsic value.


‘The Stars’

by Edith Sodergran, (1892–1923)

When night comes

I stand on the steps and listen,

stars swarm in the yard

and I stand in the dark.

Listen, a star fell with a clang!

Don’t go out in the grass with bare feet;

my yard is full of shards.


När natten kommer

står jag på trappan och lyssnar,

stjärnorna svärma i trädgården

och jag står ute i mörkret.

Hör, en stjärna föll med en klang!

Gå icke ut i gräset med bara fötter;

min trädgård är full av skärvor.

‘A Woman on a Balcony at Night’, British (English) School


‘The aim of these lectures has been to give a picture of nature in order to subdue this Proteus: to find in this externality only the mirror of ourselves, to see in nature a free reflex [or reflection] of spirit: to understand God, not in the contemplation of spirit, but in this His immediate existence’.

- ‘Philosophy of Nature’



To the One.. our journey goes on ❤️

Ain’t no guy in town

a-Who would ever try to put me down

When I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel,

’cause every guy mm I see

Is a-wishin’ that-a he were me

When I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel…(angel)

Oh-ho-ho a-when we’re strollin’ hand in hand

I’m as happy as can be

Ho-ho-ho, she’s the prettiest girl in town

And everyone can see she belongs to me

Well I feel, mm so proud

Well It’s as good as walkin’ on a cloud

When I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel

— (Music Interlude) —

Oh-ho-ho, when we’re strollin’ hand in hand

I’m as happy as can be

‘cau-au-ause she’s the prettiest girl in town

And everyone can see she belongs to me.

Well I feel, mm so proud

Well It’s as good as walkin’ on a cloud

When I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel

Mm, when I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel.

(fading out)

M-m Yeah, when I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel …..

(fading out) ……..






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.