Hegel's Philosophy of Nature: Preliminaries 1817

Reflections Occasioned by These

Essay, 2009
7 Pages

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Thoughts Occasioned by Hegel's Philosophy of Nature

Nature has presented itself as the idea in the form of otherness.[1]

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. Self-negation 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. 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, 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).


[1] 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 http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/he…, 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.

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

[5] 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.

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Hegel's Philosophy of Nature: Preliminaries 1817
Reflections Occasioned by These
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Dr. Stephen Theron (Author), 2009, Hegel's Philosophy of Nature: Preliminaries 1817, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/126940


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