Notes on Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature

Here follow some brief notes on a few sections of Hegel’s Encylopedia Philosophy of Nature. These are for a local reading group which is focusing on the animal organism. Given these are but notes and impressions gained from a reading, they don’t present any arguments. But I’d love to hear any comments or questions – as this is where the arguments will unfold.

Notes on Hegel – Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature

(reading group Sem 2 2015)

Trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford 1970)

First session: Intro Zuzatz, s.245, ss.350-352

The introductory comments note the lack of regard for philosophy of nature as a legitimate field of study. Reference to Schelling. Referred to the Preface of the Phenomenology.

Some interesting comments about Physics containing thought, more than it admits (3). Both physics and philosophy are a “thinking apprehension of nature”. What matters is the kind and manner of thinking.

“Ways of considering nature”

Nature is attractive and repellant: attractive insofar as it presages spirit, repellant in its alien form.

A methodological reflection on the nature of the question ‘what is nature’ (sounds rather like Heidegger here to me). ‘Is’ can refer to a name, to a perception, to a status; but the is of nature is different. The is of nature is something to be grasped – an Idea – across various specifications. Thus one proceeds through the history of considering Nature in order to gather the idea.


The first approach to nature is practical, immediate, external. Just as man is an external, sensuous being, that makes of objects a means for his own ends. The ends are contingent. But the ‘end-relationship’ demands a deeper treatment, one that pushes beyond the merely external.


Practical need refers to appetite, and thus the annihilation of nature. Three points:

  1. Humanity concerns herself with individual prducts of nature; nature is used against itself
  2. Natural objects are converted to means
  3. The achievement here is self-feeling, satisfaction

Man’s use of natural objects is external to nature; but the notion of end is also imminent to the natural thing. The seed has an end-relationship to the whole plant. Thus Aristotle speaks of the particular activity of an organism as the nature of a thing. The ‘finalism’ of nature? (Merleau-Ponty’s analysis).

Note on method here: The proper method is the one that regards nature as free in her own particular vital activity.

350-352 The Animal Organism


The organic individual demonstrates a subjectivity insofar as:

  • the external being is idealized in its members.

This seems to mean that the members are nothing without their connection to the internal unity of the whole. See the contrast with the bud and the finger in the Zuzatz.

  • The outwards process preserves the internal unity.

This seems to mean that the physical activity of the organism (interaction, feeling, satisfaction of want) directly contributes to the maintenance of the inner unity, the ‘soul’. It is self-aware, but only in feeling and intuition. A reflected self; while the external is of an immediate singularity.

Interesting comment regarding the difference between the plant and the animal with respect to process of duplication: The plant is merely duplicated in its parts; whereas the animal is duplicated in its inner unity, its reflected self. This ideality of the animal is its ‘soul’ – it is silly to try and locate the soul in a part, as ideality does not refer to spatiality.


The spontaneity of the animal – this is its freedom of self-movement. The animal moves for itself because it is freed of gravity and place in its ideality. Hegel connects this freedom to the voice of the animal, which is a free ‘vibration’ within the creature (this notion of voice is precisely what Derrida makes use of in developing his account of consciousness as ‘hearing-oneself-speak’). This refers, “above all”, then, to feeling (Gefühl): which is the immediate universal for itself (recall s.245 where the first encounter with nature referred to self-feeling and satisfaction).

Sensation, then (Empfindung) is the “absolutely characteristic feature of the animal”. The animal is satisfied in its sensation, and thus entertains only a disinterested relation to the other. This last conclusion seems doubtful to me – what of animals that take up and construct tools?

The comments on voice (see Zusatz) here are important to me (for the link to Derrida). Note how Hegel regards it a “high privilege of the animal” (could compare notes on bird song to Rousseau) and “the voice is the closest to Thought” (354-5). The latter is precisely what Derrida wants to contest.


Description of the animal organism as the Notion. Three processes:

  1. Process of self-relation as inward coalescence
  2. Relationship with its non-organic nature through inwardly ideal assimilation
  3. Relationship with another of its kind – the Genus process.

“The animal organism is the microcosm, the centre of Nature which has achieved an existence for itself in which the whole of inorganic nature is recapitulated and idealized” (Zusatz, p.356).

The human organism is the perfect animal.


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