NATURE, PHILOSOPHY AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE Thoughts Occasioned by Hegel's Philosophy of Nature1

Nature has presented itself as the idea in the form of otherness. So Hegel's text here begins. Otherness, one must note, is a specified notion from the Logic, which forms the first part of the Encyclopaedia. There is thus direct continuity. All the same McTaggart, great admirer of Hegel's system of logic, could exclaim of his nature philosophy, "What rot it is!"2 Since in nature the idea is as the negative of itself or is external to itself nature is not merely external in relation to this idea, but the externality constitutes the determination in which nature as nature exists. Here, in 192, and in the next three paragraphs we are given the "preliminary concepts". It is the reverse of empiricism and, some have said, absurd. They, however, miss Hegel's implicit project, viz. to give the divine viewpoint on things. This is the objective and true viewpoint, by definition, and hence mandatory in philosophy, he considers. It is even thus mandatory if there be no God since, it is shown, Mind cannot be thought as other than absolute. This principle is more basic than its corollary, viz. that Mind is absolute. For this "is", and existence in general, are finite categories of the dialectic in process, as thought is not. Spirit, that is, Mind, is found to be the dialectic's absolute end and termination. As such it is uniquely absolute, is "The Concept", as in an older philosophy God is his own act and so not a being at all. The Concept. The Idea, giving in Nature "the negative of itself". This, in Hegel's philosophy, corresponds to ex nihilo creation in religion and is thus, in Aristotle's sense, a theology. Selfnegation followed by reintegration or Aufhebung is a version of the Patristic-Thomistic exitus and reditus, determinative now of the whole system, i.e. the system which philosophy as a whole historically constitutes. This is the only system Hegel was interested in, though of course he makes no claim to have given final or perfect expression to it. Thus it is not a system as imposed but a view of the whole development of thought. This includes a view of history both sacred and profane as having its own inner, unshakeable necessity called, in religion, divine providence.3 If the Idea is "external in itself" (this defines nature) it has yet been already established in the logic that "the outside is the inside" and vice versa. "I came out from my Father and I go to my Father". Hegel the theology student will have known and meditated life-long on this and other Johannine texts. The moment of nature is necessary in the economy of the Absolute.


In particular by the "Preliminary" to Part II ("Philosophy of Nature") of Hegel's Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (ed. Behler, Heidelberg 1817, as at…, translated Steven A. Taubeneck), paragraphs 192 to 196. 2 So Peter Geach reports in his study of McTaggart, Truth, Love and Immortality, Hutchinson, London 1979. One might think from this text that that is all McTaggart ever had to say about the middle part of Hegel's system. Perusal of his Hegelian writings should correct that impression, however. 3 See §193, end.

Such necessity, however, is one with the freedom which is infinity, the Logic would make plain. Such externality is itself absolute or objective and not merely how nature is to be viewed "in relation to the idea". This is the ruin and chaos of nature as it "exists". Yet this is again a finite category, from "the doctrine of essence", suggesting in its very etymology a going out (from home). In nature no existent individual, and of such it is composed, measures up to its concept, which is or itself (even) "exists as an inward entity" (193). The individuals constitute "determinations" of the Concept and nothing else. Yet they appear isolated from one another in "an indifferent subsistence". Subsistentia, we may recall, when "in a rational nature", was the Scholastic definition of Person, which yet in Hegel here is connected with "appearance" merely, at least as regards the things of nature. We recall the original meaning of persona as a mere appearance or mask in the antique theatre. This is important as, I would argue, indicative of an implicit transcendence of notions of individual personality in a true view of immortality or of what is ever our true being, or idea rather, delivered from finite and temporal views, where we are "members one of another". This is not at all a reduced view of immortality, nor is it novel. Thus in religion life in Christ or, by extension, in the community or "mystical body", has ever been seen as richer by far than life in one's individual self, which is saved by being lost, i.e. we go beyond it. What else is Hegel talking about? He himself says that philosophy "accomplishes" religion. What religion tends to present as arbitrariness in the divine action finds here its rationale and appropriate necessity. "Before Abraham was I am." It is because the Concept exists as an inward entity that nature "exhibits no freedom… but only necessity and contingency." Nature, that is, has no truth, though it is indeed the given for us. Mind, though, in ascending out of it destroys its fancied truth, as in the Ontological Argument for God's existence. This "sovereign ingratitude of Reason" of which we read in the Logic in connection with this "proof" is an Hegelian constant. Reason is the reality emerging from among shadows. As touching immortality, the platitude that the dead live on in our memory takes on new life in the Hegelian philosophy. It even coincides with our intuition of immortality, adequately. For the way we live anyway is as "members one of another". We thus "beget one another". 4 Each I is one with the we, in absolute subjectivity, and thought is prior to being. Memory has no limits because Reason is absolute, memory the "dark pit" supporting absolute knowledge. Hence, and this is his immediate, prophet-like reaction upon his own thinking, "nature… is not to be deified." He appears thereby even to deny that natural things are the "works of God", but he denies only that they would be this in a sense "more excellent than human actions and events." Events are equally God's "works", we may note. Nature indeed in itself or "in the idea" (note the equivalence) "is divine". Yet "in the specific mode by which it is nature it is suspended." As St. Paul put it, it "groans and travails, waiting for redemption", and Hegel was surely thinking of this dramatic text from Romans. "As it is, the being of nature does not correspond to its concept." Here we have again the direct inversion of the usual correspondence theory of truth, adaequatio mentis rebus, leading to Hegel's concluding that "its existing actuality", i.e. nature's, which he in a sense concedes, yet "has no truth". Again we have to return to St. Paul (though also Plato) for anything similar. "The things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal." All that is seen, therefore, is external, "temporal", less than ideal and so untruth, to be overcome. Such is nature, out of which we mentally make a harmony, gardening enshrining in itself, however, the "noospherical" transformations of technology, of Reason rather, life yielding to the Idea it had attempted to first embody. Thus we discover the content, Reason,

Cf. Theron, "Begotten not Made", The Downside Review, January 2006, pp. 1-21.

mind thinking itself purely, in art, in religion, in, finally, philosophy. Such thinking "means a liberation… As existing in an individual form, this liberation is called I… free Spirit… Love… Blessedness." Such is Hegelian "rationalism".5 This nature though is nature without the dust: Nature in itself in the idea is divine, but in the specific mode by which it is nature it is suspended (193). This is why "the ancients conceived of matter in general as the non-ens." Its "absolute essence is the negative", Hegel says of the being of nature in general. In nature the Idea "is as the negative of itself", i.e. it is "external to itself", not merely "in relation to this Idea", as we might think of the first Trinitarian procession, in Hegel's view of it, but an externality proper to nature as a suspended existence. By use of this term "suspended" Hegel wishes to speak absolutely of nature as "time-conditioned". For since time is, via the mediation of space, the determination of nature as nature Hegel cannot without circularity say that this process is time-conditioned. Time, rather, is the sign or manifestation of suspension. "The things which are seen are temporal" or, as Plato put it, they "both are and are not". In this externality the determinations of the concept have the appearance of an indifferent substance and isolation in regards to each other (193, my stress). Sight, therefore, as seeming to posit substance inherently, qua outward sense, pretends to "brake" the dialectic6, which is impossible, a contradiction. Hence Hegel, in his psychology (Philosophy of Spirit, Enc. III), will place hearing above sight as more in harmony(!) with the inwardness of the concept, which "exists as an inward entity". To the sense of individuality belongs that subjectivity which, as purely selfdemonstrating subjectivity, is tone (281, 1817 text). Hegel writes this while still speaking of an animal life merely. Here we see the identity of the whole tripartite dialectic with an absolute subjectivity which is in fact the "I". Such universal participation is specifically and alone immortality. It is the true and abiding self, in other words, as the "individual" is not. Indeed, the individual is not, simply, so there is no loss or restriction here. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians). Hegel will have had this famous kenosis text, to which he often refers, in mind. The "self-emptying", the Aufhebung of individuality, in love, simply is (the passing over to) the exaltation to "lordship", to freedom. The "lord", unlike the "master" of the Phenomenology, is free, as "all in all" having no subjects, "free among the dead". It is after all through hearing and tone that language is born and so Hegel will give priority to spoken language over written, as he will to alphabetic (a remembered phonology specifically) over hieroglyphic writing. Nature has "no freedom in its existence" just because it is not "inward". The concept, that is to say reality, ultimately exists, is actual, as inward (192). Inward to what, in such case? Well, here we see the finitude of spatial metaphor, such that the outside is inward, the truth of nature is there to be seen on the surface. Truth itself, we might more generally say, as being's sheen, is the reality (the truth) of being, as inward, as spoken even. That is, reality is self5

Hegel, Encyclopaedia, The Science of Logic (tr. Wallace), 159, wrapping up the doctrine of essence. Regarding the Logic, paragraph numbers etc. are from the second edition of 1827, ten years after the original Encyclopaedia appeared which is used here for the philosophy of nature. 6 Cf. Jacques Derrida (1971), "Speech and Writing according to Hegel", in G.W.F. Hegel, Critical Assessments, ed. Robert Stern, Routledge, London 1993.

manifestation, re-velation. Hence a Wordsworth naturally passes from nature's dust and disintegration to its inside as "the thoughts of one mind". We ourselves are nothing if abstracted from the air we breathe, the greenery we see, the wind we hear, the fruit and flesh we eat. Ideally, we consume the world, each one of us, taking the whole for our portion. Sumit unus sumunt mille.7 But because even in this element, nature is a representation of the idea, one may very well admire in it the wisdom of God. (193) Yet "the slightest fancy of the mind", "every word" is superior to it as a proof of Spirit, of God. In nature "each figure for itself lacks the concept of itself." Final reality, however, consists of forms, persons, each perceiving self and all others in inward transparency (which is freedom), an identity in differentiation (the mark of Spirit, as of Trinity) of all with all. ********************************** Life is nature's highest attainment. Yet life "runs away" in that self-contradiction that marks all finitude. Life therefore is "entangled" with externality, "with an individual vitality which is other to it", a "war of all against all", a "society of animals" (Phen.Sp.). It falls short of "free universal self-relation", the mark of Spirit. So nature is properly, again, "suspended". It "groans and travails". Its "redemption", however, in that text, is a figure for (our) coming to see it, dialectically, for what it really is or, rather, is not. Thus for Aquinas nature, animals or plants, have no place in the resurrection alongside the "beauty of the bodies of the redeemed". For, as Hegel puts it, the body is the sign, the manifestation, of the soul or spirit (only seen as soul where the body is taken, improperly, as more than sign). It is that essentially or properly. So, concludes Hegel, art-works are superior to nature and its products. They "contain a higher level of life" precisely as representing it. The Providence that governs nature in all its contingency is more apparent, is "closer" in human affairs and self-consciousness, even as moving the free will and even, again, where this "leads to evil". Such drama is "infinitely higher" than the innocence of the plants.8 Nature, however, "is to be viewed as a system of stages" (194), "though not in such a way that the one would naturally generate the other". Rather it is "in the inner" idea that such viewing takes place. This inner idea "constitutes the ground of nature" philosophically viewed, i.e. in its truth as the Idea itself going freely forth and yet remaining contained in the Idea, in nous, as at home in its other. The stages are dialectical and so, here too, moments superseded in and by the final result, absolute Spirit as "all in all" for ever and ever, that is to say eternally or timelessly. Time is a moment, a category even (in so far as of our thought) within Nature, the first "determination" mediated by Space as itself Nature's immediate determination. So time itself cannot be a medium of the stages arising one from the other, as if this process itself were "natural generation" within Nature and not requiring to be explained dialectically or from a higher and truer standpoint. This standpoint is presumed to any discourse about nature as such. Mind, as free, cannot be within nature or have a "place" therein. The truth of mind, moreover, entails the untruth of nature. We have not a dualism here, as of two realities. The stage which "necessarily arises from the other" "is the truth closest to the other from which it results". It replaces it. The theory of evolution represents an incipient or partial fusion

Literally of course Aquinas reverses the thought here. Where one consumes all (a thousand) consume, and that will be equally true. All in each and each in all. "I in them and they in me." "In" is a clear spatial metaphor for identity. Coinherence rather than substitution and much more than "imputation". 8 This exactly harmonises with the earlier scholastic notions of the praemotio physica.

of natural necessity with logical necessity. Thus animals have "developed" sensitivity to light (the eye) in four or more separate occurrences, as if necessarily, while light itself, the "existing self of matter", is the Idea's first re-appropriation of itself from its selfexternalisation in nature. "It is through the light that nature refers to itself, manifests itself to itself", comments Derrida: Light is the first ideality, the first auto-affirmation of nature. In light nature for the first time becomes subjective.9 But the evolutionary "view" of nature itself belongs to the dialectical system of nature's stages and is thus on a par with light itself as nature's first intrinsic reality. It cannot finally explain or situate the ideality. This is so even if we extend the idea of development beyond presupposition of the reproductive mechanism, now after DNA's discovery, to include development of this mechanism itself and even of earth's atmosphere, the solid bodies and so on. For development itself, thus viewed, is a time-bound category. Time itself though, or therefore, clearly does not "develop" in nature, but is a stage in our thinking it. Thinking is not itself temporal but such a thought takes its "place" in a relational reality only caught if viewed "all at once". Not only is a day as a thousand years "with the Lord" but days and years are superseded altogether and hence are not. So when we admire a house we do not need to think of the temporal necessity of first laying the foundations, the lower storey. They were laid precisely to make possible their real supersession in a unified structure reaching to the heavens. Thus the structure of nature necessitates that "one day" the petrified bones of extinct animals shall be discovered and understood, as transmuted vegetable remains yield petroleum. Here knowledge is not reduced to utility but utility is itself delivered from its contradictions, to become itself a form of opening consciousness. Useful for what? For this, "alone desirable for itself" (Augustine), a little of which is worth all the rest (Aristotle). By petrol as by knowledge we are enabled to further wonder and praise, in accelerating progression. Neither process, however, is an explanation of nature, this ambience of externality, of partes extra partes, through which our thought passes from its putative first inception. Nor can thought itself, again, have any place within what is a representation of its alienation from itself. It is not that Mind is not a natural product but that such productivity is itself untruth and false conception (Auffassung). The external is in itself opposed to the actual. Belief in God, for example, is the simple realisation of this. In nature the initiation of any transition "is relegated to the darkness of the past" (194). Thus differences "fall apart", unity in difference is lost. We have an appearance of "existences indifferent to each other", which science then takes as its task to piece together. But the dialectical concept "emerges only in the spirit" for "Mind has set all in order" (Anaxagoras). This is much more than a confirmation of religious monotheism, we begin to see. The true being of nature itself is ideal. "In God we live and move and have our being." But God can have no parts.10 Teleology, for example, should not "be focused only on external purposiveness", where it will be found to supersede itself. This leads straight into that synthesis of paradigms of subjectivity vis à vis objectivity which yields the Idea and spirit as freedom from all "vapid" finite and natural purposes, as Hegel shows in the Logic.11 It is no use for "exhibiting the wisdom of God", does not yield final transparency, we might say.

Hegel, Aesthetics. Cf. Daniel Kolac, I am You, Springer, New York 2004, especially the "Preliminary Acknowledgements" and the citation there from E. Schrödinger, p. xv. 11 Cf. Enc. 204-212.

Yet when Hegel says the dialectical concept or interior "emerges only in the spirit" (194) he intends criticism of teleology, as also of a spirit "viewed… as if it were entangled in finite and natural purposes", as if these "existed" on the same level as the eternal spiritual realities. Teleology, he says more than once, "confronts a presupposed object", i.e. the notion here does.12 It refers itself "to the object that stands over against it".13 What Hegel aims at is the ultimate identification of notion or subjectivity and the Object. The Object is the notion, and vice versa. The transition of forms seen as "external, actual production" is "an awkward conception". The darkness of the past is such because time is itself unreal, as externality is product of the form of space which time imitates. Darkness lies in the very conception of a past, product of the understanding only and not of reason, like the deist conception of God, he says, or our "formal" way of viewing the syllogism, which actually, when more adequately viewed, yields the Object and the whole truth of the dialectic. Here any absoluteness is simply denied to Nature, to "the things which are seen". The dialectical concept has to be freed from this essentially adventitious confrontation. Teleology, however, focuses only on external purposes, as if God has still to achieve "ends", and by finite means at that. This however is only "the cunning of reason", which makes things appear so to us. Thus teleology as it were prepares reconciliation of subjectivity and the Object, despite "the vapidity of such finite purposes". All such things however are nothing more real than dialectical stages, due for "transformation into a higher concept". Externality "is death", mirror-image of life, which must become spirit, "which is its truth". What we have, absolutely, is not nature but "the idea as nature", as "outside of itself", i.e. a dialectical moment. The true being of nature itself is ideal, we said. But things are not so simple as in, say, Leibniz's philosophy of perfect contradiction,14 child of his preference for the hieroglyph or objectified sign over the spoken and dialectically flowing sound or word, braking (suspending) neither time nor the dialectic. The sign in fact is in time as itself naturally temporal in the sense of exhibiting time's qualities and even producing them. For time is merely abstract except where it is "the time of the sign". The sign, speech, is prior even to persons conceived of as within nature. The word itself, as other-directed sound, and not they, is first signifier, before all theories of meaning and reference. It is in the time of the sign, under the aegis of the sign which is time, that all our thinking, dependent upon the memory of words, occurs. In memory, the "dark pit", words once heard enshrine significances, the corpses of life-giving spirit, like a series of funereal pyramids. The likeness is Hegel's.15 Thus history, time, evolution, the narrative beginnings of oral and literate culture, are the implicit ground of the appearance of actual thought as essentially or intrinsically result, the finished end. This end defines presence and all actuality, where dialectic terminates and, as means, is not "left behind", not even suspended, but taken up. What is implicit though is neither abstractly objective nor abstractly subjective, but prior to both as their unity. In spirit, in absolute reality, there can be no words and no judgements are made. This is the sense in which "everything is a syllogism". The multiple identity posits itself in comprehension of an exitus and reditus not to be conceivable temporally since time itself is a mere dialectical stage therein. It belongs to thought itself, to thought thinking itself, to be the result, again, the final issue and implication of this dialectical stage. It is though the famous cunning of reason that makes us see it as a parousia at the end of time, since time itself is taken up into it eternally and there
12 13

Ibid. 205. Enc. (Logic), 194 (subtext). I.e. not the paragraph to which we have been referring in the 1817 text of the Encyclopaedia (philosophy of nature). 14 Ibid. 194. 15 Enc. 454ff.

is no past in which time was. How could there be? All is eternally "accomplished", telos itself a mere figure, a nod to this deception. Tetelestai, wrote a Jew in Greek, but someone, we would thereby be led to believe and/or imagine, first spoke it, in Aramaic presumably. "It has been accomplished". This end, like the finis ultimus of life, of the vita humana, determines and makes real every action or series of actions, every moment of life in fact. In this ontology, which negates ontology, nature as a whole, inclusive of human emergence, is a stage of thought merely. Thus also Aristotle argues for the pre-eminence of form as spirit, taking up the biologically "conceived" psyche into itself, as essential or final reality (Metaphysics VII). In so far as he means reality of the human this "human" itself is superseded, as a dialectical moment at the interface between bios and nous. If it is the distinctively human to see the universal in the particular, yet this does not depend upon what is composite in the human but on the (concrete) universals themselves as they are known to God or universally and only as such worth knowing or, indeed, knowable. In this sense, we may take it, does Hegel argue for the merely symbolic or, rather, semiotic character of any possible evolutionary thinking set alongside as distinguished from the dialectic. Outside the dialectic nature as inclusive whole, as a way of thinking the whole, has no validity. Here the Lewisian term (I refer to C.S. Lewis's argument against "naturalism" in his Miracles) reaffirms itself against Anscombe's ultimately specious objections in the famous Oxford debate between them of 1947. Lewis was more Hegelian than he knew. It is properly at this "stage" that all scientific thinking, as "representation", takes place, presupposing matter to be elucidated. Finally, however, eternally, thought is its own object and playfellow. "The notion is pure play." But just as the Logic encapsulates the whole of Spirit in advance, so Nature, its moment, time itself, is eternally held in what has intrinsically to be viewed as its result. Just therefore is it thus held. It is only Thought itself, pure subjectivity, that annihilates it in the act of understanding it. Philosophy, said Wittgenstein, leaves everything as it is. Yet this says no more than that it belongs exclusively to philosophy to know how it is. It is thus, in this knowing, that it "leaves" it.