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1CINZIA FERRINI

F R O M G E O L O G I C A L TO A N I M A L N AT U R E
I N H E G E L’ S I D E A O F L I F E *

ABSTRACT: Die Abhandlung besteht aus einer theoretischen und


historischen Untersuchung der philosophischen Erkenntnis der
organischen Natur bei H. Ausgehend von einem systematischen
Standpunkt (§ 1) wird zunächst das Problem behandelt, was H. unter
der logischen Form des Lebens versteht. Befragt wird die
syllogistische Form des Lebensbegriffs als dynamisches Verhältnis
von Einzelnem und Allgemeinem hinsichtlich natürlicher
Individualität. Im Anschluß wird gezeigt, wie die allgemeine Form
mechanischer, physikalischer und organischer Körper progressiv in
steigendem Maße Selbstbestimmung (der Subjektivität als eines
Punkts der Einheit ihrer materiellen Teile) und in abnehmendem
Grade Zufälligkeit (Trennung und Isolierung von Teilen) präsentiert.
Das Augenmerk wird insbesondere auf die Dialektik chemischer
Prozesse gelegt (§ 1.4) und auf die Frage nach dem Übergang zum
Leben. Von einem historischen Standpunkt aus (§ 2) wird die
konstitutive Rolle von H.s Bestimmung der inneren Zweckmäßigkeit
für die Lebewesen im Lichte von Aristoteles, Kant und Cuvier
erörtert sowie die Entwicklung von H.s „Idee als Leben“ vor dem
Hintergrund ausgewählter wissenschaftlicher Literatur, die in H.s
Privatbibliothek vorhanden war. Gezeigt werden soll, wie H. an der
wissenschaftlichen Diskussion seiner Zeit beteiligt war und
inwieweit er sie beeinflußte. Verf.in behauptet, daß H. weder die
Auffassung späterer Lebensphilosophie, organisches Leben
„entstehe“ aus im wesentlichen lebloser Materie durch eine
plötzliche Produktivkraft der Generation (Lebenskraft), noch die
hylozistische Auffassung teilt, in den Teilen des Lebendigen sei
überall die Zeitlichkeit der Natur verwirklicht.
2 CINZIA FERRINI

My aim in this essay is to lead the reader through the complexity of


Hegel’s philosophical understanding of organic nature by
highlighting its distinctive theoretical features and by examining
these historically, both against the background of the approaches,
achievements and trends of the empirical sciences of his time and in
light of their scholarly reception.11 First, I focuss on Hegel’s
definition of the ‘universal form’ of life, pointing to what the
connection is, in his philosophy of nature, between the structure of
conceptual and living processes in the path to the individualization
of matter. Second, since Hegel calls animal life “the truth of
organics,”22 I shall try to explain how in the philosophy of nature the
Idea of life comes to differentiate itself into certain essential
characteristics of immediate, finite and individual animals, passing
through the stages of geological nature and vegetable organisms.

§ 1 The concept of life in Hegel’s system of nature

1.1. Conceptual and living processes

In his 1821/22 Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature Hegel


explains that the ‘ideal’ (logical) structure of life is that of the
‘organic,’ syllogistic movement of division, determination and
reintegration into unity of universality and individuality (Hegel
1*Research on this paper was made possible by an Alexander von
Humboldt grant in May 2008 at the University of Jena (thanks are due to
Klaus Vieweg for hosting me), and by a leave of absence from the University
of Trieste in 2008/09. All translations, both from primary and secondary
sources, are my own, with the exception of Aristotle, De part. anim. and
Cuvier 1997. §§ 1.1–1.3 of the present paper expand, integrate and articulate
§§ 1.1 and 1.2 of my contribution on the transition to Organics in Hegel’s
Philosophy of Nature forthcoming in The Blackwell Companion to Hegel (ed.
by S. Houlgate and M. Baur); the present § 2 extends and develops the
analysis began there. I wish to thank Stephen Houlgate and Kenneth
Westphal for their stylistic suggestions.
1 In this paper I will refer to a range of scientific literature, most of it present

in Hegel’s private library (see: Neuser 1987, 480–95): indeed, among others,
Hegel owned works by Ackerman, Autenrieth, Bichat, Blainville, Buquoy,
Cuvier, Damerow, Ideler, Meyer, Pohl, Robinet, Schelver, Schultz, Spix,
Trommsdorff, Werner, Winterl.
22 See: TWA 9, § 344Z: 374; § 349Z: 429. – On the animal organism as the
‘truth’ of organic nature because it fulfills all the logical determinations of the
idea of life, see: Bach 2004,181; cf. also Ilting 1987, 349–51 and Bach 2006a,
442.
3 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

2002, 168). As Annette Sell puts it, at the conclusion of her entry on
‘life’ (Leben) in the Hegel-Lexikon, life is the movement
characterised by division and reintegration into unity, which
expresses the moving relationship of individual and universal [das
bewegte Verhältnis von Einzelnem und Allgemeinen]” (Sell 2006,
305). This syllogistic reintegration into unity is distinctive of both
conceptual and living processes, for it is nothing but the very form
of ‘conceiving’ or the very type of pure conceptual thinking
(Burbidge 22008, 50–51).
In his 1823/24 Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature Hegel
states that “the concept is the master that keeps singularities
together” (Hegel 2000, 90), since even if the qualitative individual
natural existences have the basic form (Grundform) of mutual
independence, extrinsicality and indifference, their mutual
externality is only a semblance (Schein). This is why Hegel contends
that the syllogistic linkage is in general “a universal [i.e. conceptual]
form of all things [eine allgemeine Form aller Dinge]” (TWA 8, §
24 2Z: 84).33 The idea of the inner, essential, unity of universality
and activity that on Hegel’s views constitutes the ‘true’ life of
empirical natural bodies as well as their different parts or
apparatuses, therefore, is only of spiritual and conceptual nature,
resting on human consciousness and for our thought (Ferrini 2002,
72 and 2009, 106), whereas immediate nature as such does not bring
the necessity of its rational connection (the nous) to consciousness
(TWA 8, § 24 1Z: 82). In the speculative consideration of nature,
Hegel’s task is then to bring to consciousness, that is, to recognise,
the pure and abstract determinations of thought, which were his
object in the Logic, in the conformations of mind-independent
natural beings (TWA 8, § 24 2Z: 84).
33 For instance, chemistry is understood as the last extreme of the syllogism
of shape (Gestalt) which has as its first term only the abstract activity of
magnetism (the mere concept of the totality of form: the moment of
universality), then the middle term of electricity (the moment of
particularity), split into the two ‘moments’ of the particularization of the
Gestalt within itself (positive electricity), and of the opposition to its other
(negative electricity), and finally the concrete reality (the singularity) of the
self-realizing dynamic of the chemical process (TWA 9, § 326Z: 288). Given
the externality of nature in respect to the logic and within itself, note that the
conformity of chemistry to the thought-movement of the concept in turn
requires (TWA 9, § 328Z: 295–8) that we have a squared middle term, or a
tetrad in the whole, because of the particularization of the first abstract
extreme within itself (inner side) and against another (external side).
4 CINZIA FERRINI

In his 1821/22 Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature Hegel


makes also explicit that life is to be individuality as “the process of
leading the members back to identity” (Hegel 2002, 168).44 Through
this syllogistic process of reintegration, the individual living
organism acquires and preserves the form of a self. For instance, the
“sun” or center of the animal organism is the concept as “living
universality” (lebendige Allgemeinheit), which passes syllogistically
through its three determinations of shape as self-relation (Gestalt):
assimilation as opposition and relation to otherness, and finally
genus as self-relation within the other (TWA 9, § 352: 435). Finally,
in the opening paragraph of ‘Organic Physics’ Hegel introduces life
by referring to the “self-related negative unity” that natural
individuality has become. This is to say that life is the circular
infinite process of determining itself to particularity or finitude
(Besonderheit oder Endlichkeit) and equally negating this and
returning into itself, so that at the end of the process it re-establishes
itself to begin anew (TWA 9, § 337: 337). Within this frame, and
from the standpoint of Hegel’s general dynamic conception of the
universal forms of all natural things, ‘Mechanics,’ ‘Physics’ and
‘Organics’ show increasing degrees of self-determination
(subjectivity) and decreasing degrees of contingency (separation,
isolation).

1.2. ‘Mechanics:’ the solar system

Consider first the case of ‘Mechanics,’ a sphere that opens with the
simplest starting point possible: the mere ‘self-externality’
(Außersichsein) of space, which represents the abstract universal
determinateness of nature. Space, however, is only where the self-
external being differentiates itself through the generation of point,
line, surface; that is, through the negation of its immediate, abstract
lack of difference: a movement that contradicts its uninterrupted
continuity. The negativity of the self-differentiation of space that
gives rise to its dimensions is only formal or logical, however,
because point, line and surface are just ‘moments,’ devoid of any
44 Compare Hegel’s definition of the organic in 1805/06: “the organic is the
self, the force (Krafft), the unity of its own self and its negative. Only as this
unity has it force (Krafft) upon that one, and the connection (Beziehung)
makes actual what is in itself (an sich)” (GW 8, 109.21–24).
5 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

independent subsistence. By contrast, it is through the thorough self-


negation of externality, the ‘inwardness’ of time, that the negative,
the principle of self-differentiation, in nature receives its due. The
‘now’ is a real punctual, universal, dividing one, which joins the past
to the future. The three temporal dimensions are therefore
independent existences, that is, the singular being shows within
itself, in its own inwardness, the universality as its negativity.
‘Mechanics’ therefore is not to be seen as a ‘fixed,’ static realm of
mutually indifferent externality; with time, we have the ‘becoming’
of externality: by entering the dimension of the self-negation and
self-contradiction of indifferent externality we enter the dimension
of the process of ‘real’ things. This initial point is crucial to
understand the stages of the progressive transition from mechanism
to life in Hegel’s philosophy of nature. As Kisner has also recently
pointed out at a logical level, the specificity of life is not thought by
‘adding’ some sort of vital principle to mechanical determinacy, for
it is already implied in it, though cannot be accounted for in purely
mechanistic term:
We have only to think the determinacies implicit within the
concept of mechanism itself, which means undertaking the labor
of thought in rendering explicit every implication contained in the
standing contradiction that indifferent externality is. Then and
only then do we realize that life is rigorously irreducible to
mechanism, not because life is something else other than
mechanism and is set in contrast with the latter, but because of
what the category of mechanism itself turns out to be […]. In
living process, mechanistic determinacy in turn becomes reduced
to the status of an underdetermination – operative as a necessary
aspect of life but no longer as a guiding level of determinacy.
(Kisner 2008–09, 24–25)
Hegel discusses three kinds of mechanical movement: 1. purely
mechanical motion (uniform motion that results from external thrust
and is expressed by the simple relation of space to time: s/t), 2.
relatively free and conditioned motion (where motion changes, i.e.
accelerates uniformly, due to gravity: s=at2), and 3. absolutely free,
concrete, total motion (s3=at2). These three stages of ‘Mechanics’
show how a relatively homogeneous matter passes from passivity to
activity, from being set in motion by external thrust to having the
6 CINZIA FERRINI

principle of motion within itself.55 This sphere ends with the solar
system, as a system of self-moving matter, where matter is “free” –
meaning that it appropriates determinations as its own. As in the
1801 Dissertation on the orbits of the planets, Hegel states that for
us the solar system “is the primary knowable system of real
rationality (reale Vernünftigkeit) within the heavens” (TWA 9, §
268Z: 80). A syllogistic treatment of the solar system as the
manifestation of a thorough-going unity, however, may only occur
with the overcoming of external relations and the transition to the
individuality (quality) of matter in ‘Physics,’ that is, only when
matter is no longer conceived of as essentially composite, consisting
of discrete parts which all tend towards a centre but as inwardly self-
determining, and the sun is no longer regarded just as a body “which
on account of the predominance of its […] mass is the approximate
embodiment of the system’s centre of gravity” (Falkenburg 1993,
539), but according to its radiating nature of a star, which consists of
luminous matter.

1.3. ‘Physics:’ light and chemistry

‘Physics’ deals with ‘real’ matter, that is, in Hegel’s terms, with
matter that has a certain inner form and comes to manifest that form.
This inner form endows bodies with an individuality (and distinctive
quality or specificity) that bodies lack in so far as they are
understood as purely mechanical bodies (or mere quantities of
matter). At the outset of ‘Physics,’ therefore, matter already has
“individuality” (Individualität), in so far as it is determined and
formed “within itself” (an ihr) and has essentially the immanent
form of being-for-self (TWA 9, § 272: 109). ‘Physics’ begins with

55 As early as 1801 Hegel understood gravity as constituting matter


according to the principle of identity that posits difference within itself (Hegel
1801, 23.13–14), and criticizes the aconceptuality of a kind of mechanics
that understands its object as an inert matter always moved by an external
impulse, that is, by a force impressed from without which is alien to matter
itself (Hegel 1801, 22.26–23.3). He seems to refer to Kant’s metaphysical
foundation of the law of inertia in the section ‘Mechanics’ of his
Anfangsgründe (Prop. 3, Proof and Remark). Kant offered a proof that the
change of matter must always have an external cause because all matter as
such is lifeless and has no internal principle of activity (which can belong
only to life and thought); see: Kant, AA IV, 543–45.
7 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

what Hegel calls “matter in its first qualified state”: that is, light as
matter’s general and abstract appearance to and for others (not for
itself: TWA 9, § 275, § 275Z: 109, 113).66 Yet Hegel claims that light
is implicitly ‘self-determining,’ thus announcing a dimension
characteristic of the concept of life.77 In the Philosophy of Nature of
1805/06 (GW 8, 108.5–8) we find a clear assessment of how and
why with the physical dimension of light we reach the universal
form of ‘life:’ the key notion is the thorough co-penetration of all
parts by a unity of presence and actuality. In the case of light,
however, this unity is still that of space, externality and generality
(Falkenburg 1993, 539).
In the sphere of its qualitative particularization (Besonderung),
hetereogeneity and finitude, matter develops as its ‘self-form’
determines it to an increasing degree and comes to be more
explicitly the point of unity of all the material components of a body.
The highest point achieved in this process is the fully individual
matter (V 16, 139.6–7), that is, the individual material totality of the
single, independent body. This is why in ‘Physics’ Hegel offers a
reappraisal of the solar system, which in ‘Mechanics’ is treated
according to its free movement and material self-determination but
not yet as manifestation of the unity of substance. Indeed, “since
light is identified with luminous matter, it is embodied in the sun”
(Falkenburg 1993, 539); therefore, only at the level of ‘Physics’ have

66 Cf. also V 15, 107.22–29 and pp. 232–3; Hegel 2000, 136 and TWA 9, §
275Z: 112 ff.
77 See: TWA 1, 382–83 for the spiritual and religious (Joh. 12,36) significance
of the identity of light and life. In the Logic the colorless light, together with
the pure self-identity of the Ego, is a determinate example of pure indifferent
(abstract) sameness in spatial extension, that is, of pure quantity (TWA 5,
214). It is worthy of note that, speaking of the “division of the original forces
of the soul from abstract self-consciousness,” the physician, anthropologist
and psychiatrist Ideler, who in his work explicitely acknowledges his debt
only to Kant, though departing from him, claims that the form of ‘light’ is the
simplest representation of the purest spiritual activity (Intelligenz, Erkennen)
by which the subject, the Ego, can grasp its being object to itself, for it is
unable to decompose this sameness into parts as with any other concept
(Ideler 1827, 23). Within this context, Ideler makes clear that in no way is
light a form of intuition of the external sense; rather he regards it as “the
purest and immediate expression of spirit […] the free self-representing
spiritual force, which as formative capacity takes up the alien material and
shapes it according to its highest laws, as it were, just as electricity, through
its irradiation, orders in determinate figures the dust on a resin disk” (ibid., p.
24, footnote). Hegel owned Ideler’s book: see: Neuser 1987, entry 104, 487.
8 CINZIA FERRINI

we the mutual mediation of our star as the moment of universality,


comets and the moon (which represent the moment of particularity),
and the singularity of the planets (the moment of the reflection in
itself, the unity of universality and particularity: (TWA 9, § 279Z:
129–30). Accordingly, as Hegel notes in 1819/20, in the sphere of
‘Mechanics’ the organism “does not allow itself to occurr
(geschehen)” (V 16, 139.18).88 Indeed, the structural form of the
organism already begins to appear in the ‘ideal’ point of unity that
governs the movement of free independent material parts in the solar
system: the sun in relation to the orbiting planets which carry the
principle of motion in themselves. Yet by being confined to
governing only the motion of parts (the planets) that remain external
to their center (the sun), the solar system is merely the “first
organism,” that is, only “the organism of mechanism” (TWA 9, §
337Z: 339).99 The wholly universal, the cosmic ‘life’ in which all
living nature participates, appears only when light is the complete
master of gravity (TWA 9, § 337Z: 339), that is, with the union of the
mechanical connections of the heavenly bodies with their physical
relation (TWA 9, § 279Z: 130).
Interestingly enough, in the Addition to § 353, Hegel defines the
idealistic task of knowing the Idea in the entirety of nature as
“realism,” drawing a parallel between the “syllogism of the solar
system” and the moments of the animal’s conformation: sensibility,
irritability and reproduction (TWA 9, 438): the impotence
(Ohnmacht) or the essential externality of immediate nature would
mean the feebleness of concept in nature (TWA 9, § 250, 34–36),

88 Note that in the Abhandlungen zur Erläuterung des Idealismus der


Wissenschaftslehre (SSW 1, 388; see: Beiser 2002, 484) as well as in the
System des transzendentalen Idealismus (Schelling 1992, 124–5, see:
Freiberger 1997,147–8), following his reading of Plato’s Timaeus, Schelling
draws no distinction between living and non-living “organization” in nature. In
the whole of organic nature intelligence must intuit itself as active, therefore
every stage of nature must possess ‘life,’ to which Schelling ascribed the
wider sense of having “an inner principle of motion within itself.” A detailed
account of the relation between individuality and quality in Schelling’s and
Hegel’s approaches to ‘Physics’ and chemistry is in Moiso 1986.
99 According to Filion (2007, 317–18), this feature reveals “the radicality of
an ontological reversal in the face of the modern mechanization of nature.”
For, if in its historical development science has acknowledged the real
presence of mathematics in acoustics and kinematics, “Hegel goes further in
recognizing the syllogistic moment of the concept within each regressive
(involutif) degree of nature.”
9 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

which in animal (and human) organisms will show itself as the


external contingency that hits the formation of the individuals (the
monstrosities), representing the side of the instability – danger,
insecurity, illness – of their lives.
Note that as early as 1801, Hegel holds that only the rationally
speculative approach of philosophy is able to grasp and cognize
matter’s immanent form of being-for-self, and properly to
distinguish ‘Mechanics’ from ‘Physics,’ which otherwise would be
distinguished only by the ‘nominal’ distinction between ‘Mechanics’
and dynamics (Hegel 1801, 23.7–10). It seems that Hegel’s approach
is not only directed against the insufficiency of Kant’s dynamics,
already highlighted by Schelling in 1798/99 (Beiser 2002, 531–32)
but also aimed at rendering meaningless and merely abstract, with
no real reference, Schelling’s use of the universal model of polarity
for his attempt to lead the phenomenon of universal gravity back to
physical causes starting with his 1798 Weltseele (SSW 1, 557).1010 In
a Remark to the Encyclopaedia Hegel writes against the formal
treatment and the abuse of the category of polarity, according to
which:
all bodies also bring from within to appearance this principle as it
exists in its rigid abstraction, i.e. as magnetism. It would be an
unphilosophical thought to try to show that a conceptual form is
so present in nature that it should universally exist in the
determinateness when it is as an abstraction. (TWA 9, § 312: 203,
my italics)
Pohl shared this view with Hegel, claiming in his 1821 essay
Versuche und Bemerkungen über den Zusammenhang des
Magnetismus mit der Electricität und dem Chemismus that
speculation was too weak to provide any true grasp of an “enigmatic
factuality” (rätselhafte Facticität) such as polarity, when its tool was
the formal intellect-representation (Verstandes-Vorstellung), able to
1010 In the 1799 Einleitung zu dem Entwurf eines Systems der
Naturphilosophie Schelling vindicated in terms of polarity the necessity for
dynamical ‘Physics’ to account for qualitative differences, not just differences
of density (Renault 2002, 70–72). In the Preface to the second (1832) edition
of Book I of the Science of Logic, Hegel praises the advance of culture that
has gradually brought into use higher relationships of thought in the natural
sciences such as the category of polarity instead of the ‘lower’ category of
force, though he criticizes the indiscriminate (à tort et à travers) use of the
former in connection with all phenomena (TWA 5, 21).
10 CINZIA FERRINI

grasp only in terms of absolutely mutually external moments an


opposition that in concreto is conjoined and only relatively
separated.1111 In the Preface to the 2nd edition of the Science of
Logic, modern physics is charged with using predominantly the
category of force (which implies the form of abstraction, identity
and alleged self-subsistence) to cognize the ‘higher’ reality of the
individualization and qualification of matter, which properly
requires the determination of a difference as an identity in which the
diverse terms are inseparably conjoned (the ‘rational’ category of
polarity).1212 In the Philosophy of Nature, Hegel places magnetism
within the sphere of ‘Physics,’ as the first extreme of the syllogism
of the natural ‘shape’ (Gestalt), where chemistry represents the
second extreme. This syllogism has the general abstract activity of
magnetism as its first term (that is, the allness of the universal as the
mere concept of ‘shape’), electricity (split inwardly into the two
opposites of positive and negative) as its middle term (i.e. the
moment of the particularization of the shape) and finally the
concrete finite reality (i.e. the singularity) of the self-realizing unrest
of the chemical process (TWA 9, § 326Z: 288).

1.4. The dialectic of chemical processes

The dynamic process through which universal matter is further


particularised and qualified can thus also be seen as the necessary
drive to make manifest within matter the unity of individuality, or
‘selfhood.’ The content of ‘Physics’ thereby becomes what Hegel

1111 Original text quoted in Engelhardt 1976, 122. – Indeed, the two main
features which Hegel appreciates in Pohl’s researches were the keen
awareness of the living activity of nature and the capacity to grasp the
general progression of the galvanic and chemical process as a totality of
natural activity (see: Petry 1986, 28). For a thorough comparison of the 1817,
‘27 and ‘30 versions of Hegel’s systematic treatment of chemistry see:
Engelhardt 1976, 137–83.
1212 The point returns in the ‘Organic,’ when Hegel contends that categories
adequately employed to the investigation of the case of a simple mechanical
cause-effect arrangement are not adequate to the case of that arrangement
considered as functionally subordinated to the organism-environment
relationship to which it belongs: “An important step forward to the true
representation (Vorstellung) of the organism is the replacement of the
operation of external causes by the determination of stimulation
(Erregtwerden) through external potencies” (TWA 9, § 359: 469).
11 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

calls “total free individuality” (TWA 9, § 273: 110; my italics). The


last sphere of ‘Physics’ treats different kinds of chemical process
(TWA 9, §§ 326–336: 287–336), in which the ‘inner necessity’ of the
activity and movement of individuality and being-for-self is
countered by the outward division and mutual indifference of the
chemical products (TWA 9, § 335: 333).1413 Elsewhere, I have
shown that it is precisely the material finitude of the particularized
body, what its natural being ‘is,’ that fails to endure in the chemical
process, and argued that in this respect the transition to ‘Organic
Physics’ should not be understood as caused merely by our
reflective assessment of chemical phenomena that considers them as
a totality.1514 What has been shown through the dialectic of the
chemical reality is that the thought of the ‘object’ as what is
‘independent from the subject’ and stands over against the concept,
proves with no residue to have been a semblance (Schein), for the
independent material subsistence of the properties of chemical
phenomena turns out to be “in itself null,” that is, not illusory but
completely limited, finite and transitory, even as regards what is
allegedly their most profound sensible characteristic (TWA 9, §
336Z: 334–35; § 336Z: 336). The demise (Untergang) of the
chemical body’s particular material configurations which
nevertheless exhibits the nature of the chemical substance itself
shows, at the same time and through the whole set of processes, the
persistence of the ideal side of that specific finitude: what is stable in
the individuality of chemicals is nothing but the point of unity of
their properties. The conceptual point at issue for Hegel is that for
thought the acquired material properties cease to define the
substance of the chemical, which comes to be ‘conceived’ as point

1314 Renault 2002, 128–35 has shown how Hegel supports the autonomy of
chemistry against the attempts to integrate it into a physics of molecular
attraction (Berthollet) or into a general theory of the dynamical process
(Schelling) when he conceives chemistry as the synthesis of magnetism and
electricity and as the “moment of totality,” thus rejecting any natural
transition among the stages of the section Physics. Engelhardt has pointed
out how Pohl (who taught mathematics and physics) shared with Hegel this
general interpretation of magnetism, electricity and chemism as different
forms of divided and conjoined activities (Engelhardt 1976,122–23).
1415 See: Burbidge 1996, 186; Houlgate 22005, 164; Burbidge 2007, 115. –
According to Filion 2007, 313, the “defect” of the inorganic nature consists in
the impossibility of assembling and coordinating the chemical process into
one unity.
12 CINZIA FERRINI

of unity, and its properties as momentarily appearances, reintegrated


into the essential unity of a persistent co-ordination of the parts (the
bond or connection: Beziehung). On my view, this third feature of
chemical matter logically points forward to life, in which this ‘point
of unity’ is an explicit and manifest feature of the purposive
unfolding process of a natural object itself as a self-maintaining
individuality, which is nothing but the real life of corporeal
individuality.1615 In immediate nature, life is what Hegel calls “the
soul [Seele] of the individuality” (TWA 9, § 336: 336) or “spiritual
bond” as an immediate, undivided, unitary existence, that is, a kind
of objectivity in which the internal necessity of the form is
purposively self-determining. Life is therefore causa sui (V 17,
169.5–6), Spinoza’s ‘adequate’ concept, that which reproduces itself
originating from itself.1716 What has been achieved is not merely the
abstract idea of life to which scientific thought can rise through its
tools, observation and description of phenomena and conditions (F.
Cuvier 1829, 79), since it is the Idea itself that has come to life.

§ 2 The Idea of life in its natural, scientific and philosophical context

2.1. Life external to itself

2.1.1. The Earth as the ‘crystal of life’

At the beginning, life is the organism “as the totality of the


mechanical and physical nature that exists as lifeless” (TWA 9, §
337: 337). In the opening paragraph of the section on ‘Organic
Physics,’ Hegel writes that “as the mere immediate Idea, life is thus
external to itself”; it is not life, but only the “corpse” of the living

1516 See: Kisner 2008–09, 26: “Purposive activity is then seen as being one
and the same thing as the self-negating mechanico-chemical process itself:
in purposive activity the self-negating character of mechanism becomes
explicit as such, and so such activity consists in letting the self-negating
mechanico-chemical process show itself to be that, viz. a self-negating
process whose truth is life, thereby establishing a semblance of its
independence and then canceling that semblance. With the full identity of
purposive activity and the self-negating mechanico-chemical process in the
living organism, we get a full identity of form and content”.
1617 See: Cuvier 1800, 7: “La vie ne naît que de la vie.”
13 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

process (ibid.).1817 In the Addition to § 337 he explains this sentence


with an even more cryptic statement:
Since life, as Idea, is its own movement, through which at first it
makes itself subject, it makes itself into its other, into its own
obverse [Gegenwurf]; it gives itself the form of being an object
in order to return and to have returned to itself. (TWA 9, § 337Z:
340)
This sentence is meant to justify the “prima facie surprising”1918
move of considering geological nature, as the “external system of
the Earth” (TWA 9, § 339: 343), in the first part of ‘Organics.’ Note
that in the Jena period (1805/06) Hegel had already included the
physics of the earth into the “Organics,” speaking of the terrestrial
body as a “mineralogical organism” (GW 8, 299).2019 In the
1718 In his 1812 Preliminary Discourse, Cuvier offers a survey of the
geological theories that went far beyond ordinary physics and chemistry, as
the one expounded by E. Patrin in his 1802–04 New Dictionary of Natural
History (Cuvier 1997, editorial note 44, 201), which drew from Kepler’s ideas:
“they assign vital faculties to the globe itself […] each of its parts is alive;
there is not the most elementary molecule that does not have an instinct, a
will, and that does not attract or repel according to sympathies. Each kind of
mineral can convert immense formations into its own nature, just as we
convert our food into flesh and blood” (Cuvier 1997, 201). Hegel offers a
conceptual proof of the falsity of this sort of approach.
1819 The expression is from Marmasse 2008, 292: he notes that Hegel states
the “caractère organique du géologique” since 1803/04 (note 51, 453).
Fritscher 2006, 199 remarks that from an historical point of view, Hegel is
one of the few philosophers to assign a distinct, proper place to the
metereological process and geological nature of the Earth in a system of
philosophy of nature.
1920 See on the point Rühling 1998 who also reconstructs the debate in Jena
between J. G. Lenz (curator of the ducal Naturalienkabinett), an enthusiastic
supporter of Werner’s Geognosie and Oryktognosie, and A. G. Batsch,
director of the Naturforschende Gesellschaft. Renault 2002 (note 129, 137)
recalls Rosenkranz’s 1868 criticism, according to which geology should have
been the final moment of “Physics,” and underscores that by this move
Hegel makes it possible to account for the “irriducible finitude” of ‘Physics’
(ibid., 137). On Hegel’s 1805/06 analogies between Earth and organic body
see: Büttner 2002, 85–86, for a parallel reading of Hegel’s different accounts
of geology from 1803/04 to the time of Spix’s and Martius’ journey to Brasil
in 1817–20 (recalled in TWA 9, § 303Z: 186, § 340Z: 358 and § 3462Z: 403)
see: Büttner 2002, 90–92. As far as I know, scholarship has provided no
reason for the change of terminology other than to suggest Hegel’s shifting
away from Schelling’s jargon (Rühling 1998, 364–65). In “From the physical
world to the habitat: biocentrism in Hegel’s interrelation of animal
14 CINZIA FERRINI

Encyclopaedia Hegel regards the Earth only as the “shape” (Gestalt)


of the whole organic system of individual terrestrial bodies (TWA 9,
§ 338: 342). Indeed, when he calls it the “system of life,” he warns
the reader that is so as a “crystal” which is like a “skeleton” (TWA 9,
§ 337: 340). What is the significance of the Earth as the “crystal of
life” (TWA 9, § 341: 360)? Perhaps Hegel’s analogy between the
Earth and a skeleton makes some biological sense since the skeleton
structurally supports the organs and functions of an animal, but
readers should wonder why Hegel compares the Earth to a ‘crystal
of life.’ Is this merely a fanciful similie or does Hegel have a point
here?
Note first that in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature there is a
continuity between inorganic crystalline formations and living
bodies, based on the equal presence, in both cases, of matter’s
‘selfhood.’ Crystals do not exhibit a way of ‘growing’ which
distinguishes them qualitatively from the growth processes of
organic beings (TWA 9, § 339Z: 349), because both of them have as
their internal point of unity the whole shape, the totality of the figure
(Gestalt):
The crystal has an outer as much as an inner conformation, as
two wholes of form. This double geometry […] is as it were
[gleichsam] concept and reality, soul and body. The growth
[Wachstum] of crystals occurs according to layers but the
cleavage [Bruch] compenetrates all the layers. (TWA 9, § 315:
219)
Nevertheless, Hegel also compares the manner in which crystals and
plants grow, which he distinguishes according to the general
difference between outer and inner: the crystalline formation of
layers grows as an addition from without, while a plant appears to
grow starting on its own from within (Levere 1986, 109–10). 2120
Note that by introducing within crystals a distinction between
subjectivity with its environment,” a paper delivered at the Jenaer Tagung
(4./5. December 2009) “Hegels Naturphilosophie,” I argue for an
‘environmental’ reason at the basis of Hegel’s shift to “geological nature” in
determining the first part of ‘Organic Physics.’ See how the use of the term
“geology” conveys the addition of the geographical and physical distribution
of organic beings (fossils) in the strata of the globe to pure mineralogical
considerations in Cuvier & Brongniart 1808, 422 (the essay was expanded in
the form of a book in 1811 and reviewed in one of Hegel’s favourite journals:
The Edinburgh Review, November 1812, vol. XX, n. XL, 369–86).
15 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

external addition of layers and organizing inner activity of the


cleavage, Hegel’s approach marks a distinctive position regarding
the debate about Bonnet’s version of preformism (in contrast to
epigenesis).2221 Kant had already paved the way, drawing analogies
between inorganic crystalline formations as intrinsically systematic
(chemical) products from a fluid state of matter, and living
organisms as natural products to be judged teleologically as ends in
themselves (Ferrini 2004, 284–99; Fritscher 2009, 254–55). By
contrast, following the results of von Haller’s studies on chicken
eggs – according to which the embryo is found already in the egg
and the ovary contains all that is essential to the fetus (Haller 1758,
186) – Bonnet had defined organization as the distinctive feature of
preformed organisms (Swammerdam, von Haller), the parts of
which had merely to enlarge by developing from seeds, by
“intussusception,” i.e. accretion; by contrast, the material parts of a
crystal were seen to arrange and unite themselves only according to
the laws of motion and contact, that is, by “juxtaposition” (Bonnet
1762, 175–77; Duchesneau 2006).2322
As Kant with his chemical-dynamical explanation of the process
of crystallization, Hegel rejects relegating crystal forms to the lower
level of the mechanical laws of motion and contact. As remarked
above, Hegel recognises in light the form of life, because of the
actual, thorough co-penetration of all parts of a transparent body.

2021 Hegel quotes from Schultz 1823 in TWA 9, § 343Z: 373. Hegel owned a
series works by Schultz published during 1822–31 (Neuser 1987, entries
204–09, 493–94).
2122 See Petry’s notes to 12.33 and 23.8 in Hegel 1970b III, 215–16 and 229–
32. See also Fritscher 2009, 245–9 for the modern state of art of mineralogy
and crystallography at Kant’s time (Wallerius, Cronstedt, Zedlers, Gehler). In
particular, Fritscher recalls the so-called Gesetz der Winkelkonstanz,
according to which the geometrical distinctive figures of the crystals do not
(externally) depend upon the number and magnitude of the single surfaces
but upon the angles which together form (internally) these surfaces (247).
2223 Interestingly enough, Robinet, in the name of the “law of uniformity”
between inorganic and organic nature, had spoken in 1761 of a suc, a
solution of minerals and salts in ground water as the universal fluid that
caused transportation, deposit, alluvional beds, evaporation etc. (Robinet
1761, Ch. XIV: 286–90), as well as of the “generation” of stones from stones
and from metals to metals (in this regard in perfect analogy with plant and
animal reproduction) in terms of “development of intussusception,” thus
claiming the existence of the germes fossiles (Robinet 1761, Ch. XIV: 290–
91). Hegel owned Robinet’s work (Neuser 1987, entry 183, 492).
16 CINZIA FERRINI

Already in the 1805/6 philosophy of nature Hegel had referred to


crystals as the result of the movement, from universality to
singularity, of the physical body which is totally light-penetrated in
its parts. In the Encyclopaedia Hegel states:
the inner determination of form is no longer pure determination
of cohesion, rather all parts belong to this form. Matter is
crystallized through and through (TWA 9, § 315Z: 219; italics
added).
Therefore, when we consider that ‘Organic Physics’ opens with the
Earth as crystal, or as the “dead product” of its relation and position
within the solar system (TWA 9, § 339 and Z: 342–44; § 341: 360),
that is, within the wholly cosmic life in which all living nature
participates (TWA 9, § 279Z: 130), we understand that the inorganic
planet Earth is to be ‘conceived’ as the opposite of living existence,
but equally that, as an habitable world, it is as such within and under
a higher unity, posited by the ‘judgment’ (in German: Urteil,
composed by ur, original, and Teil, part) of life itself, from the
standpoint of its own internal purposiveness, as its presupposition
(Voraus-Setzung) within the original division (Ur-Teil) of the
moments of its own process.2423 Just as, in the Logic, chemism is
subordinated to teleology (cf. Kisner 2008–09, 21), so geology is
subordinated to vegetable and animal life, which in turn depend
upon geology as their precondition (cf. Levere 1986, 108).
The internal necessity of this move thus could not emerge in
‘Physics,’ for it rests on the fact that the logical character of the Idea
as such is that of a process and that this ‘processual’ character of the
Idea comes into actual existence only with organic life.
As “the universality that is singularity” (Einzelheit: TWA 8, § 215:
372), the concept progresses in the third part of the Logic – the
doctrine of the concept – from its first one-sided subjectivity
(judgment and syllogism), via its counterposed one-sided objectivity
(mechanism, chemism, teleology), to its concrete reality and
intensive totality as Idea (of life, of cognition and finally as the
absolute idea). In § 215 of the Encyclopedia Logic it is clearly stated
that the Idea is “essentially process”.2524 The process-character of

2324 See: Büttner 2002,75–76 and 82–85.


2425See also V 10, 209.74–80, where Hegel clarifies that at the beginning the
Idea (essentially process, absolute negativity, dialectical) is the universal, the
17 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

the Idea results from the dialectical movement in which the concept
determines itself both to objectivity and to the antithesis, and then
takes back the totality of the particularizations and returns into itself
negatively as real subjectivity (§§ 213, 215). Indeed, Hegel warns
the reader not to take the systematic division of his philosophical
science to constitute a temporal sequence (TWA 8, § 18: 64), i.e. as if
the second part of the Encyclopaedia were simply ‘juxtaposed’ to
the first. Rather, the ‘Idea as nature’ is posited together conceptually
with its opposite, the ‘Idea as finite spirit,’ and expounded as the
first, ‘lower’ part of the twofold real section that in its entirety is the
outcome of the first, merely ideal (closed within thought) section of
the science of the Idea in and for itself. This is the case because:
the Idea proves itself to be as thought simply identical with itself
and this proves to be the activity of positing itself over against
itself to be for-itself – [the Idea in its being-other, Nature] – and
in this other to be only at home with itself [as philosophy of
spirit].” (TWA 8, § 18: 63)
As “Idea in the immediacy of being,” life is essentially purposive
self-mediating, self-grounding activity as subject and process that
establishes its own presupposition in order to be what it is. This kind
of reference can help us to explain the change of terminology from
the “mineralogical organism” of the Jena period to the “geological
nature” of the later philosophy of nature. In the 1804-05 Logic,
living organisms were conceived within the frame of the
“metaphysics of objectivity” and in terms of a movement from
absolute cognition to self-cognition; consistently, in the 1805/06
philosophy of nature, plastic organic nature immediately generates
“organic” mineral formations in the element of being as dead forms,
in contrast to the representational form of consciousness, which
mediates between concept and thing (GW 8, 119.5–8). In the
Encyclopaedia, the first immediate determination of Life is the
determination of its own relative and specific otherness: otherness
ceases to have the significance of an alien conditioning externality,
for externality is brought about as the means through which life

immediate, and thus nature (and in a determinate way is life), though this
immediacy is the Urteil (that is, both judgment and inner original self-
division) of the Idea: it is the Idea in its own externality, with life as the
highest degree of this being-out-of-itself.
18 CINZIA FERRINI

determines and sustains itself: it falls under the power of life as the
inorganic, geological nature that is necessary to its process.

2.1.2. The ‘lifeless’ shape of geology

One may well ask at this point: what empirical research does Hegel
want to ground here by regarding it as conforming to this atemporal
conceptual necessity? In the Additions to § 339 and § 340 Hegel
praises Werner’s scheme of “precipitation,” that is, his physical and
chemical theory of the deposition of strata, according to which the
origin and sequence of such strata are determined by the law of the
internal differentiation of the essential determinations of rocks
(Levere 1986,104); and he dismisses as “external” any manner of
explanation in geology that aims at determining only the temporal
succession of the order of stratification (with the granitic primitive
rocks as the deepest strata, and the “fletz-formations” having been
deposited at a later, more recent time). The order of stratification is
certainly capable of a purely temporal, mechanical explanation,
starting as it does with the conception of a series of parts existing
outside of and independent of one another. If this were the whole
truth of the matter, however, the external system of the earth in the
first part of ‘Organics’ would not be a ‘terrestrial organism,’ but a
mere aggregate of parts with no teleology at work.2625 On Hegel’s
view, this approach fails to recognise that the deep meaning and
rationality of the sequence (its Sinn und Geist) is Werner’s internal
‘organic,’ conceptual bond or necessary relation between these
inorganic formations (TWA 9, § 339Z: 348). This internal connection
“must depend upon the characteristic” (Beschaffenheit), the essential
qualitative content of these formations themselves, which governs
their occurrence in time, which as mere chronological (historical)
sequence of production would be of no philosophical significance
and interest (Kolb 2008, 101). Hegel’s judgment is thus in accord
with Cuvier’s assessment in his 1812 Preliminary Discourse (Cuvier
1997, 204):
The purely mineral part of the great problem of the theory of the
earth has been studied with admirable care by de Saussure, and

2526 See: Mérigonde 2007, 210.


19 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

since brought to striking development by Mr. Werner […] [who]


has fixed the law of succession of the formations: he
demonstrated their respective ages and followed each through all
its metamorphoses. (my italics)2726
Kolb remarks that Hegel did not favour the view (e.g. Hutton’s
uniformitarianism at his time), that the present set of rock types and
strata is only a stage in a continuing process and that present forms
have no permanence and no special finality, because for Hegel what
is important is the existing repertory of types and forms (Kolb 2008,
101–03). We may note, however, that the old Aristotelian view was
not in revival for regressive and reactionary reasons, for Hegel was
focussing on a “skeleton of basic types” at least as much as Cuvier
[see below: § 2.3.1]. Against this background it is worth noting that
a recent inquiry into the handbooks on natural science in use at the
University of Jena has drawn attention to the influence of Werner’s
Geognosie on the novelty introduced by the revival of the ancient
notion of historia naturae by F. S. Voigt’s Grundzügen einer
Naturgeschichte (1817).2827 By linking his work to Werner’s idea of
internal purposiveness, which orders from within the outer parts of a
terrestrial organism, Voigt’s aim was to continue the story of the
formation of the inorganic into the organic. In Thomas Bach’s
reconstruction, by raising the question of the Geogenie, i.e. the
development of the earth before the creation of vegetable and animal
nature, Voigt put forward a “combination of animal, systematic and
historical treatment of geology” that marked a new trend in Jena, so
that from 1829/30 J. C. Zenker lectured regularly on “General
Natural History, with special regard to Zoology and Geology” (Bach
2008, 206–11).
One should also consider the following passages by J. Hutton,
Werner’s main rival, from his 1795 Theory of the Earth. In contrast
to Werner, Hutton applies the idea of external teleology to conceive

2627 The editor’s note warns the reader that the word “metamorphoses”
here is employed in the sense of the modern term “metamorphism.”
2728 On Voigt’s contribution to zoology, under the influence of Blumenbach
and Cuvier and in contrast to Oken, see: Robin 2006, who cites the following
sentence from Voigt’s 1816 Von dem Werth der Naturgeschichte: “To draw
knowledge from nature there is a threefold route. Either one regards the
matter, or the form, or the spirit (Geist) and the life in nature” [Robin 2006,
181 misquotes ‘Seift’ instead of ‘Geist.’ I thank Thomas Bach for checking
the correct version in the original text].
20 CINZIA FERRINI

the terrestrial system as a whole – a living world, animated by fire as


an agent in mineral operations – that constitutes a machine, adapted
to a certain end (life) by the perfect wisdom of an intelligent design:
The laws of electricity and magnetism have been well examined
by philosophers; but the purposes of those powers in the
oeconomy of the globe have not been discovered. (Hutton 1795 I,
11; my italics)
A rock or stone is not a subject that, of itself, may interest a
philosopher to study […]. It is not, therefore, simply by seeing
the concretion of mineral bodies that a philosopher is to be
gratified in his intellectual pursuit, but by the contemplation of
that system in which the necessary resolution of this earth, while
at present it serves the purpose of vegetation, or the fertility of
our soil, is the very means employed in furnishing the materials
of future land. (Hutton 1795 I, 276–77)
Notable here is the conception of the earth as a habitable world
(Hutton 1795 I, 4) and an organized body (ibid.,16), governed by a
purposiveness that for Hutton lies outside the earth in the perfect
wisdom of the intelligent designer, and which in Hegel’s system
becomes internalized and is to be ‘conceived’ as grounded in (or
‘posited’ by) the conceptual moments of organic life as it is present
in nature. Moreover, Hutton aims at elevating fire’s operations from
the rank of an “accident of nature” to that of an essential agency,
“part of that design by which the earth, which is necessarily wasted
in the operations of the world, is to be repaired” (Hutton 1795 I,
279). Though Hegel never mentions Hutton, he draws on him
(Levere 1986, 107) when he recognizes as “essential,” but by
themselves one-sided and formal, both the principles of Hutton’s
vulcanism, later called ‘plutonism,’ and Werner’s rival theory of
neptunism (based on the agent water), 2928 by saying that “in the
crystal of earth fire is as effective [wirksam] as water: in volcanoes,
springs and in the meterological process in general” (TWA 9, §
2829 See Petry’s note at p.17,21 in Hegel 1970b III, 218–19 and Fritscher
2002 on Hegel’s scientific background against the developments of geology
and mineralogy in the period 1770–1830. On Werner’s Geognosie see: Faivre
1977 and Fritscher 2002, 63–68; on the Werner-Hutton controversy see:
Morello 1979, 169–176. Hegel owned Werner’s 1791 Neue Theorie von der
Entstehung der Gänge mit Anwendung auf den Bergbau (Neuser 1987, entry
227, 495).
21 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

339Z: 344; see: Kolb 2008, 100).


From the standpoint of life, within the “terrestrial organism,” fire
and water are “elements of differentiation” which then become
integrated into the process whereby life confronts itself as self-
determining and ‘subjective,’ having within its own self a stabilised
formation. Apparently, Hegel’s account did not remain without
echoes in the scientific world of his time. In 1827, Karl Wilhelm
Ideler sketches the “general concept of nature” to introduce the
physiological part of anthropology by making historical reference to
the recent development of the natural sciences and treating
mechanics, dynamics and chemistry as three sides of the process of
life: “all three should be (sollen … sein) only different expositions of
one fundamental being (eines Grundwesens)” (Ideler 1827, 172).
Against this background, Ideler claims that one can regard the body
of the Earth as a “terrestrial organism (tellurischer Organismus)”
only in so far as it is considered in its totality, together with the
atmosphere, and because its changes are subjected to a “universal
rule” which alone makes possible “the existence of plants and
animals” (Ideler 1827, 182–83).
Placing the ‘dead surface’ of the terrestrial organism3029 under the
self-differentiating movement whereby life grounds itself, Hegel
may hold the view that though the strata are deposited by nature as
parts that follow one another in time and in so doing are indifferent
to one another, geology is nevertheless not confined to a thoughtless
enumeration that simply elevates any minor difference to the rank of
a new species of rock. In an addition in Michelet’s edition of the
1830 Encyclopaedia, we read a reference to J. L. Heim’s
Geologische Beschreibung to support the claim that the rational part
of geology, the part that is of philosophical interest, highlights the
logical necessity that nature displays in the transition of the various
stratifications into one another.3130 Michelet drew this reference

2930 In TWA 9, § 341, p. 360 Hegel speaks of der totliegende Organismus der
Erde.
3031 Heim, who at the outset aims to consider the entire bed (Lager) of the
Thuringian Mountains as a proper totality (ein eignes Ganzes) (Heim 1803,
Sect. III, § 1: 6), writes: “in general an entire proper manner of transition and
change of form governs [herrscht] the entire mountain chain – namely a
universal tendency to a dense granular shape [dichtkörnigte Gestalt]” (Heim
1803, Sect. III, § 10: 120).
22 CINZIA FERRINI

from the 1805/6 Philosophy of Nature,3231 though in the Berlin


Philosophy of Nature of 1819/20 Hegel, in line with the change of
terminology recalled above, stresses how geology must avoid
thinking just in terms of chemical (that is, external) conditions in the
case of hot springs and volcanoes, for they are phenomena of
terrestrial ‘galvanism:’ the mountainous strata are different “but they
are not dead, rather they are members [Glieder] of a galvanic chain”
(V 16, 144.202–08, my italics). We can make sense of this cursory
and rather cryptic remark, which has escaped the attention of the
interpreters. Only very recently has Kolb restated the issue of how
physical processes relate to conceptual necessities in Hegel’s
philosophy of nature by raising two questions, one about how
typological necessity arises through contingent processes, and the
other about what ‘external determination’ produces the detailed
specification of natural things (also for living beings). Kolb points to
“processes that have no mechanical intermediaries,” for they present
instead “the direct action of the earth as a whole” (such as, for
instance, the origin of springs, the origin of veins of metallic ores,
the spontaneous generation of lower life forms etc.: Kolb 2008, 107–
08). Against this interpretive background, it is worth recalling that
galvanism is the science of the peculiar action of different
conductors of electricity upon each other, originally stemming from
the phenomenon, observed by Galvani in 1789, of the contraction of
muscles and nerves of an animal which, upon application of metals,
are stimulated by electricity.3332 At the turn of the XIX century,
however, the galvanic influence was no longer considered as
existing only in living animal organs. Referring to the researches of
Fabroni, Dr. Ash and Creve, in 1801 Humphrey Davy accounted for
inorganic galvanism as follows:
But the discovery of the peculiar action of metals in contact with
each other upon water, demonstrated the production of it in
arrangements composed wholly of dead matter, and laid the
foundation for a new class of investigations, which have

3132 See: TWA 9, § 340, p. 354. See Petry’s note to 27,33 in Hegel 1970b III,
235–36. The end of the Addition § 340 (see: TWA 9, 359–60) presents the
same text of GW 8, 118–19.
3233 The discovery was first published in Aloysii Galvani, De Viribus
Electricitatis in Motu Musculari Commentarius. Bononiae, 1791.
23 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

intimately connected the galvanic phenomena with known


physical effect. (Davy 1839, 189; italics added)3433
Davy also describes the discovery of the accumulation of the
galvanic influence, the general connection between the excitement
of galvanic electricity and chemical changes, and the discovery of
the chemical agencies of galvanism. This led to the galvanic
arrangements of perfect and less perfect conductors of electricity, so
that they could be in contact with each other, forming circles (Davy
1839, 190–91), or rings of a chain. Some years later, in his Der
Process der galvanischen Kette, Pohl summarizes his researches of
“many years” (xi) as the individuation of the ‘proper soul’ of the
activity of nature in polarity, with which matters causally operate “as
members of the closed chain” (als Glieder der geschlossenen Kette),
as in the case of combustion and in the process of crystal formations
(Pohl 1826: xiii, 399 and 420–26). The ‘chain’ represented nothing
but the unity that is able to bring together diverse phenomena by
showing their essentiality and necessity (Pohl 1826, 309–10).

2.2. Life internal to itself: Subjectivity

2.2.1. The way to subjectivity: the individuality of vegetable life

As remarked earlier, the specific characteristics and properties of a


living being are not simply acquired in and through the entire cycle
of chemical relations to something other. In organic nature, an
individual is determined as ‘this particular’ in relation to a center,
which has the form of the self, of the subject (TWA 9, § 337: 337). In
the Philosophy of Nature of 1825/26 this feature is highlighted
because it marks the difference between physical and organic
individualization (V 17, 169.11–14). What is organic is no longer a
pure Individuum, composed by the differentiated parts in which the
form exhibits itself, and which can fall apart indifferently. The
finitude of the chemical process means that, in concreto, the relation
among the body’s sensible properties is unstable: its configuration
(Gestalt) has no real unity because of the variation of the reactions it
undergoes, due to the change of the reagent, so that even its
3334 Davy’s historical sketch of galvanism was first published in the Journals
of the Royal Institution, vol. i., 1802.
24 CINZIA FERRINI

allegedly most profound and stable determinations fail to be


preserved and the true individuality of the body does not exist in any
one of its states.3534 By contrast, the “posited negativity” of the self-
developed form makes the organism a subject, since the material
‘parts’ (Teile) exist only as members (Glieder) whose own
independence has been negated. The chemical bond, instead, is a
mere possibility of different affinities and different products, for the
chemical reaction between substances is nothing but the action of
moments that in themselves remain different and separated (Hegel
1959, 350; see: Burbidge 2007,115).3635
This is exactly the criterion Hegel uses to place vegetable nature
at the simpler, “infantile weak” stage (TWA 9, § 343Z: 372) of the
internal differentiation of natural life, still close to the products of
the chemical process and to a geometrical and mechanical
arrangement of forms (TWA 9, § 345: 380).3736 The organic being of
plants, though the first subject that is for itself, does not achieve true
subjectivity, as animal life does.3837 In §§ 343–49 Hegel makes clear
that the unifying point of selfhood remains external to plants: the
plant depends wholly on light, air, and water outside it and so is not
yet truly self-relating. Consequently, plants lack inwardness and do
not have feeling and sentience; they cannot master the externality of
space with autonomous motion; in sum, plants’ individuality shows

3435 Cf. Davy 1840, 69–70: “it is a general character of chemical


combination, that it changes the sensible qualities of bodies […] Bodies
possessed of little taste or smell often gain these qualities in a high degree
by combinations […]. The forms of bodies, or their densities, likewise usually
alter; solids become fluids, and solids and fluid gases, and gases are often
converted into fluids or solids.”
3536 According to Marmasse 2008, 290–91, on Hegel’s view the return into
itself that distinguishes the autonomy of the organism in respect to the
chemical product and its inner finality is to be conceived on the basis of “the
sole resources of nature.” The self-mediation is “perfectly authorized by the
principles of the systematic progression of nature” and “does not require a
spiritual activity.”
3637 For a thorough and specific account of the difference between plants
and animal, with special regard to the diverse role played of sexual
reproduction, against the background of, among others, Buffon, Girtanner,
Schelver on the side of natural science, and Kant and Schelling on the
philosophical side, see: Bach 2004.
3738 On the lack of subjectivity in the process of plants’ configuration and on
the difference between vegetable and animal assimilation, see: Frigo 2002,
109–12.
25 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

a residual indifferentiation (Illetterati 1995a, 387–93), which is


reflected into the nature of their ‘alleged’ sexual difference, the
notorious criterion of Linné’s classification. In the Encyclopedia
Hegel refuses to assign a proper sexual difference to plants, but
grants only an “analogical” animal sexuality to them, for it does not
co-penetrate the entire corporeal disposition of the individuals. 3938
Hegel shared this view with Schelver, the director of the Jena
botanical garden.4039 In short: plants allow some of their parts
(wood, branches, leaves) to die or fall apart in indifference, showing
no full unity of Gestalt and individuality. The second of the three
syllogisms of the vegetable organism is a process which exhibits
deficiency of subjectivity as incapacity for the plant to make
inorganic nature its own:
The living [plant] has not its other within itself [an ihm selbst],
but as an independent other; it is not itself its own inorganic
nature, but nature is found as an object, which the living
encounters with the semblance [Schein] of contingency. This is
the specified process in the face of an external nature (TWA 9, §
346Z: 395).
In the organic realm, however, we conceive the body as no longer
determining itself essentially in relation to another, as in the
chemical process, but on its own. Hence, empirical evidence
confirms what the concept determines to be the case: that the plant is

3839 Retracing the same orientation in an 1801 text (Hegel’s first Jenaer
Systementwurf), two years before Schelver’s arrival in Jena, Bach
underscores that there is no reason to speak of any immediate dependence
of Hegel’s position on Schelver’s theories and sees the origin of the former in
an independent philosophical appraisal of Linné (Bach 2006b, 75–76).
Illetterati 1995a, note 166, 393 remarks the accord with Aristotle’s view on
the sexuality of the plants in De gen. an. I, 731a 1 and 731a 25–29.
3940 In the early years of the XIX century, Schelver had addressed an early
criticism to Linné’s clavis systematis sexualis, but did not publish it until
1812, on Goethe’s advice (Bach 2004: 187). Both Schelver and Hegel,
however, may have drawn from a common earlier source: W. Smellie’s
account of the sexuality of plants (translated into German by E. A. W.
Zimmermann in 1791), which reports the experimentally controlled
objections of Dr. Hope of the botanical garden of Edinburgh to Linné’s
criterion of classification (Ferrini 2009, note 35, 120). Hegel owned many
works by Schelver published during 1803–1823 (Neuser 1987, entries 189–
97, 492–93).
26 CINZIA FERRINI

unable to maintain itself as an infinite being-for-self.4140 By


contrast, in a “true,” fully developed organism, “the parts exist
essentially as members [Glieder], and subjectivity exists as the one
that co-penetrates the whole [die durchdringende eine des
Ganzen]”. (TWA 9, § 349: 429). The plant, therefore, is an organism
that falls short of being the “true organism,” instantiated by animal
life.

2.3. Life’s unity of inwardness and outwardness

2.3.1. Function and Organ in Animal Life

Since the 1807 Phenomenology, Hegel was publicly always very


appreciative of scientific investigations into the ‘substantial form’ of
the animal Typus4241 (GW 9, 140.32–36; Ferrini 2009, 97–98). In the
Philosophy of Nature of the 1830 Encyclopaedia he remarks:
After five, ten, or twenty years, one says, the organism has no
more of itself within it, all the material components (alles
Materielle) are consumed, only the substantial form persists.
(TWA 9, § 356Z: 461, my italics)
In 1812/13 Hegel develops the idea of the “substantial form” of
living organisms by making explicit that “reason provides [macht] a
basis for the fundamental determination [Grundbestimmung] of the
animal” (V 15, ad § 49: 143.31–32b). There he refers to the

4041 Buquoy 1822, § 36: 123 stresses that the “vegetative sphere” does not
reach the “purpose of activity.” By contrast, the vital activity of the living
beings urges to dominate (strebt […] zu beherrschen, beherrschen is
emphasized in the original text) chaos and lack of form according to its own
formative impulse. Hegel owned a series of works by Buquoy published
during 1817–25 (Neuser 1987, entries 38–41, 482–83), among which Buquoy
1817 and 1822.
4142 Goethe advances his notion of Typus based on comparative anatomy in
the 1795 Erster Entwurf einer allgemeinen Einleitung in die vergleichende
Anatomie, ausgehend von der Osteologie, where he takes partial distance
from Kant, polemizing against final causes in the light of Spinoza (Giacomoni
1998, 200–10). See: Moiso 1998b, 317–25 on his discovery of os
intermaxillare based on the principle of the continuity and metamorphosis of
the living forms one into the other. Moiso underscores the accord between
Goethe’s principle of ‘useful harmony’ among functionally interrelated organs
and Cuvier’s principle of the correlations of organic forms (321–22).
27 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

definition that proceeds from the animal’s properties to its essential


distinguishing marks and then to the whole of the “universal type,”
which structures from within all its individual parts, all its bones and
members according to its genus.4342
In the part of the 1830 Philosophy of Nature on zoology, Hegel
repeatedly and extensively refers to Cuvier’s laws of the correlation
of organs with the environmental conditions of existence (§ 365Z, §
368, § 368Z), quoting entire passages from his Recherches sur le
ossements fossiles de quadrupèdes in the Addition to § 368 (TWA 9,
505–06). Indeed, in 1812, Cuvier had published his famous
“Discours préliminaire” to the Recherches, where he claims that
naturalists could attain the same success as the astronomers who
unveiled the mechanism of the world:
But after Anaxagoras came the Copernicuses and the Keplers,
who cleared the way for Newton; so why should not natural
history also have its Newton one day? (Cuvier 1997, 185)
In 1812 Cuvier proposes the principle of the correlation of forms in
organized beings as the undivided unity of parts and functions.
According to this principle, a part cannot change without a
modification of the whole, in which the unity of the parts constitutes
their aim: that is, the purpose of a specific organ is to carry out a
certain function within the organism as a whole. This is a principle:
by means of which each kind of being could be recognized, at a
pinch, from any fragment of any of its parts. Every organized
body forms a whole, a unique and closed system, in which all the
parts correspond mutually, and contribute to the same definitive
action by a reciprocal reaction. None of its parts can change
without the others changing too; and consequently each of them,
taken separately, indicates and gives all the others. (Cuvier 1997,
217)
In introducing the method of comparative anatomy, Cuvier seems to
suggest that he regards it as a response to Kant’s claim in § 75 of the
1790 Critique of Judgment that for us, ‘organism’ has a meaning of
its own that is wholly irreducible to that of ‘mechanism,’ thus
rejecting as “absurd” the possibility that some day another Newton

4243 Gattung: see: V 15, 281–82 (editorial note to 143.17–22); cf. Breidbach
2004, 212–14, 219–20.
28 CINZIA FERRINI

might arise who would explain organic life through natural laws
unordered by any intention (AA V, § 75: 400, my italics). 4443
Famously, in 1755 Kant had regarded just as “highly problematic”
the full explanation of a simple organism by conceiving its parts as
effects of (blind) mechanical causes, projecting it into an
indeterminate future (AA I, 230.14–20). After 1763, Kant felt
increasingly uneasy about the basic inadequacy of mechanical causal
explanations of the generation and the inner structure of plants,
animals and also crystals (AA II, 114.5–6; Ferrini 2000). The
“absurdity” Kant notes in 1790 marks a radicalization of his pre-
critical view, also due to his reappraisal there of Blumenbach’s
formative power (Bildungstrieb).4544 Kant argues that we must
judge something to be an organized product of nature only when:
“everything [within it] is end and reciprocally means as well.
Nothing in it is gratuitous, purposeless or to be ascribed to a blind
mechanism of nature” (AA V, § 66: 376). Kant admits that parts of
an animal body could be understood according to purely mechanical
laws, yet the cause which provides the appropriate matter, modifies,
forms and deposits it in the proper place, “must always be judged
teleologically” (AA V, § 66: 377). In an organized and self-
organizing being, which is also able to repair itself when disordered,
the connection of efficient causes could at the same time be judged
as an effect through final causes, as being in itself a natural end. This
is because the organism has a self-reproducing, formative power
(sich fortpflanzende, bildende Kraft) and so, unlike a machine, does
not just have a motive force within itself (AA V, § 65: 374).4645
4344 For an extensive study of Kant’s critical interpretation of Blumenbach’s
notion and the influence it had, in turn, on Blumenbach himself, cf. Fabbri
Bertoletti 1990, 10–47.
4445 Look has pointed out how Kant rejects important features of the
formative drive (Bildungstrieb), such as its vitalistic aspect of being a form of
energy that acts as an efficient cause of reproduction, its being constitutive
of matter, its not being anything like a Kantian ‘supersensible ground’ for
both mechanical and teleological modes of explanation. Look concludes that
“Yet from Kant’s perspective, Blumenbach could not be the ‘Newton for a
balde of grass’ – for there still can be no such a figure” (Look 2006, 371–72;
see also: Chiereghin 1990, 204–05).
4546 The English translators of the third Critique render Kant’s adjective
fortpflanzend with propagating (Kant 2000, 246). This rendering may sound
misleading against the background of the scientific use of the term at
Hegel’s time. Note that e.g. Schultz translated propagatio sive evolutio by
Vermehrung, while Fortpflanzung rendered generatio (Schultz 1828, § 3.3).
29 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

Moreover, especially in the First Introduction to the Critique of the


Judgment, Kant holds that, despite the ground of nature’s inner
purposivess is “beyond the sphere of the insights into nature that are
possible for us” (AA XX, 218), nature proceeds freely in a technical
manner in case of external shape or inner structure that are so
systematically constituted that their possibility must be grounded in
an idea of them in our judgment. Against this background,
Chiereghin sees Kant’s absolute rejection (de jure) of the possibility
of a Newton of the Organics as depending upon the impossibility of
comprehending how any organism can be produced by mechanical
(blind) natural laws, unordered by any intention (Chiereghin 1990,
204–05).4746
Cuvier’s ideas are similar to, but also significantly different from
Kant’s position. In his Lectures on comparative anatomy first
delivered at the end of 1795, Cuvier openly quotes Kant, endorsing
his view that the ratio essendi of any single part of a living body
rests “on the whole,” since “each part has in itself the general
movement;” i.e., each part intrinsically participates in the common
movement produced by its union with the other parts and which
constitutes “the essence of life” (Cuvier 1800, 5–6). However,
Cuvier cautiously does not ground his principle metaphysically on
Kant’s supersensible idea of the action of a formative natural power
or procreative capacity.4847 He claims only to be able to provide “an
empirical exposition and not a rational [raisonné] system” (Cuvier
1800, 9). In the first published volume of his Lectures (1800),

4647 Chiereghin also points out the aporetic implications of the Kantian
paradigmatic notion of techne in the First Introduction to the Critique of
Judgment: its failure to account for the formative power, its reconstruction,
from the outside, of the connection among analytically isolated elements of
the organism – so that the activity governing the organic process falls again
under the heading of external purposiveness (cf. Chiereghin 1990, 136–38,
142–45, 152–53, 201–07; 225–26).
4748 A classification of the three mineral, plant and animal kingdoms based
on the criterion of the Fortpflanzungsvermögen (reproductiveness) is to be
found in Willdenow 1792, § 3: 2: minerals have no reproductive parts
(Willdenow calls Zeugungstheile what 36 year later were called
Generationsorgane: Schultz 1828, § 2: 2), they can generate only mixtures
and not their own kind; vegetables are endowed with a great lot of them, but
they lose these parts before death; by contrast, animals keep their
Zeugungstheile until they die. Michelet’s edition of the 1830 Encyclopaedia
reports extensive quotations from the 6th edition (1821) of Willdenow 1792 in
the Additions to §§ 344–348; see: Petry 1986, p. 20.
30 CINZIA FERRINI

Cuvier acknowledges that the “tissues and the mixture [mélange] of


their elements” were “in a way” the result of the action of “vital
forces,” but that there was no way to shed light on these forces apart
from examining the composition of the bodies. More importantly,
Cuvier made it clear that on his view those forces could have their
source and foundation only in the tissues and the mixture of their
mechanical and chemical elements (Cuvier 1800, 7). Cuvier
individuates the general characteristics of organized bodies in their
origin by generation, growing by nutrition, and death (Cuvier 1800,
10) and then specifies what constitutes in particular the animal
versus the vegetable economy of life: voluntary motion and
sentience, digestion, respiration through gills or lungs, not
throughout the entire body’s surface (Cuvier 1800, 11–17). These are
particular functions that are exerted by specific organs, which in turn
modify the performance of the general functions common to all the
organized bodies. Indeed, his model was a three-order functionally
integrated animal machine (Cuvier 1800, 18–19): the first order is
constituted by the set of the animal functions ruled by sentience and
motion; the second order by living functions (digestion, absorption,
circulation, breathing, transpiration, excretion) which constitute an
“internal principle of maintenance and reparation” and which
distinguish the animal machine from an artificial one; the third is the
order of generation.4948
Hence, Cuvier seemed to undertake his own Copernican
revolution against the Kantian reflective judgment, by turning vital
forces which Kant understood as the rational ground of the
phenomena of life into vital forces which are empirically grounded
in organic phenomena themselves.5049 Note, however, that in 1784
Kant had made reference to Kepler’s unexpected success in bringing

4849 Cuvier makes these claims in the First article (‘General sketch of the
functions exerted by the animal bodies’) of the First Lecture (‘Preliminary
considerations on animal economy’), of Volume I of his Leçons d’anatomie
(Paris, 1800–1805).
4950 In the 1807 Phenomenology, Hegel carries out the transition from
‘Perception’ to ‘Force and Understanding’ when consciousness moves to an
unconditioned, supersensible, self-identical universality as the inner,
productive ground of the manifold properties of the object. That is,
consciousness moves to ‘force’ as ‘form that is purposive activity,’ which
makes itself into what the thing is in itself, developing its parts and
properties, bringing the inner nature of perceived things to actuality (on the
implicit anti-Kantianism of this move see: Ferrini 2005, 340–45).
31 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

phenomena under determinate laws as well as to Newton’s


explanation of those laws by a natural universal cause, against the
background of his quest for reconstructing the history of the human
genus as a whole by recognising (at least) a natural purpose in the
apparent irregular and incoherent phenomena of human actions,
given the unaccessibility to knowledge of their rational ground (the
noumenal freedom of the human will). Kant’s first thesis in the Idee
zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte was the (biological) principle of the
necessary (destined) full development in time of all the original
dispositions (Naturanlagen) of the corporeal organisation of a
creature to fulfill its own ends, so that a ‘useless’ organ is a
contradiction to the teleological doctrine of nature (AA VIII 17–18).
Likewise, Cuvier confines himself to phenomenological laws (see:
Cuvier 1997, editor’s note 15, 185), claiming that “he who possesses
rationally the laws of organic economy would be able to reconstruct
the whole animal.” Cuvier seems to regard himself as the Laplace of
natural history, for he understands this reconstruction in terms of
“equations”: “the form of the tooth entails the form of the condyle;
the forms of the shoulder blade and the claws, just like the equation
of a curve, entail all their properties” (Cuvier 1997, 219).5150 This
feature was highlighted by Spix who emphasized the analogy
between the “internal necessity of the architectonic plan of nature”
that Cuvier exhibited by “drawing from a single bone the entire
articulation of a body,” and the necessity in the mathematical
procedures of drawing “unknown quantities from the known” (Spix
1811, § 34: 132–33).5251

5051 The text continues: “Just as taking each property separately as the basis
for a particular equation, one would find both the ordinary equation and all
the other properties of any kind, so likewise the claw, the shoulder blade, the
condyle, the femur, and all the other bones taken separately, determine
[donnent] the teeth, and each other reciprocally.” In his 1792/93 Der Versuch
als Vermittler von Obiect und Subiect Goethe had taken the mathematical
method of the algebraic formulas à la D’Alembert as the method which could
follow the continuity of nature, avoiding the extremes of the arbitrary unity
and the analytical fragmentation, see: Moiso 1998b, 298–311.
5152 Spix also sets the limits of the new anatomy: it takes into account only
the most visible organs (this criticism will be also levelled at Cuvier by
Blainville 1847 III, 398) and does not think of the properties of the soul
(Seeleneigenschaften) of the animals (in the same vein as Linné), that is of
the integration of the functions by the nervous system which coordinates the
active relations of the animal body to externality. Hence, one should progress
towards a new conception of zoology, constituted by physiology and
32 CINZIA FERRINI

2.3.2. The constitutive dynamism of internal purposiveness

Hegel’s appraisal of Cuvier is grounded on his critical appreciation


of Kant’s concept of internal purposiveness. 5352 Hegel praises Kant
for having awoken the Idea and in particular the idea of life, taking
it as the revival, though “in subjective form,” of the Aristotelian
concept of nature as entelechia, as that which reproduces itself.5453
Hegel conceives the key feature of this idea of life to be the
“determination of purpose as the internal determination of natural
things themselves.”5554
The centrality of internal purposiveness in Hegel’s idea of life and
his immanent standpoint, however, should not to be confused with a
sort of ‘internalization’ of the power of life à la Herder. In Ch. IV of
Part II of the Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit,
Herder examines the external figure, functional coordination and
structural arrangement of all the members of a living being, as well
as the actions and behaviours of an animal. Herder understands the
cause of “this wonder” to be a “living, organic force (eine lebendige,
organische Kraft),” which in the title of the chapter is called die
genetische Kraft, that is, the “mother of all the formations on the
earth.” Herder claims to ignore its origin and substantial inner
nature, but he “undeniably” sees its presence, sees that it is alive,
endowing itself with organic parts from the chaos of a homogeneous
matter (HSW, XIII, 273–74, italics added; Proß 1994). In the
Addition to § 339 of the 1830 philosophy of nature, Hegel seems to
refer to positions like that of Herder when he remarks: “in general
one expounds the production of the living as a revolution out of
psychology (Spix 1811, § 36: 149); see: Poggi 2000, 468–71. Hegel owned
Spix 1811 (Neuser 1987, entry 218, 494).
5253 See the detailed assessment in the Science of Logic, within the frame of
the treatment of chemism: TWA 6, 440–3. In the 1831 Lectures on Logic,
when Hegel stresses the difference between mechanical and chemical
products (as the ends which differ from what was present at the beginning of
the processes) and the inner finality of the germ which already contains
within itself all the determinations to be produced, he mentions only
Aristotle’s Entelechie: V 10, 205.934–43.
5354 See: Hegel 1959, 341–42, 344. Cf. the parallel passage in § 154 of the
1817 Encyclopaedia.
5455 des natürlichen Dinges selbst: Hegel 1959, 342.
33 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

chaos, where vegetable and animal life, organic and inorganic had
been in one unity,”5655 and reacts vehementely against the
presupposition of the temporal existence of something like a “living-
in-general” that then divides itself into plants, animal and human
races; he criticizes this view in terms of “a representation of the
empty force of imagination” (TWA 9, 349).5756
In the logic of ‘life’ in § 165 of the 1817 Encyclopaedia Hegel
recasts Kant’s view in an Aristotelian, speculative frame, pointing
(in a manner characteristic of post-Kantian thought) to the
constitutive, not merely subjectively reflective, dimension of the
transience, negativity or ideality of the parts as ‘moments’ of the
process of life.5857
In the 1830 Remark to § 360 Hegel reaffirms his appreciation of
Kant’s revival of the Aristotelian idea of the inner purposiveness of
the living being, though he still hints at the insufficiency of its
merely heuristic status in the Critique of Judgment,5958 and develops

5556 See Petry’s note to 23,8, Hegel 1970b III, 229: Petry sees here a
reference to Caspar Wolff’s Theoria generationis, not to Herder’s Ideen.
5657 Rühlig 1998, 360 remarks that Hegel distances himself from
metaphysical philosophy of nature which holds that all matter is alive in the
vein of Jacobi’s pronouncement “Everything in nature lives. Nothing is
completely dead”. In the Jena period Hegel had already supported the view
that “the concept […] is not the discourse on a general life of nature in the
sense that [dass] nature is living everywhere; rather it speaks of the essence
of life. Nature is to be grasped [begreiffen] and explained in the moments of
its actuality or totality, and these moments have to be shown” (GW 8,
119.10–13). In my forthcoming paper in S. Houlgate & M. Baur, The Blackwell
Companion to Hegel, I have argued that the transition from inorganic to
organic nature hinges on conceptual inner necessity, not directly on what
nature does, and that Hegel holds neither the vitalistic view that life
‘emerges’ from an essentially lifeless matter by means of the sudden
appearance of a natural productive power of generation (Lebenskraft), nor
the hylozoic view that in temporal existence nature is everywhere really
alive.
5758 Bach 2004, 180 draws attention to the comparison between §§ 165–168
of the 1817 Encyclopaedia and §§ 64–66 of Kant’s third Critique from the
standpoint of the genus process, analysing Kant’s example of the tree.
5859 As Zammito puts it, “Kant remained adamant that the ultimate origin of
“organization” required a metaphysical, not a physical account” (Zammito
2006, 349; cf. AA VIII, 179). On how Hegel develops against this critical
background his own concept of life as “speculative ontology” see:
Stanguennec, 1990. In the Science of Logic Hegel counterbalances the
insufficiency of Kant’s appraisal with the “position” he gives to teleology: a
connecting middle (being ascribed to a judgment) between the universal of
34 CINZIA FERRINI

a line of argument that strongly suggests a point of contact between


this Kantian reappraisal and Cuvier’s work. In another Remark
Hegel mentions the ‘judicious,’ sensible way in which the French
school considers nature, and in particular he highlights the way that
school restores Aristotle’s fundamental classification of animals on
the basis of the essential characteristic of the absence or presence of
the backbone.6059 Hegel then turns to Cuvier and praises his
understanding of the essential universal nature of the entire animal
as a connection that determines the construction of all the parts
(aller Teile):
the singular structure of the Habitus, which has been regarded as
the connection determining the construction of all the parts, has
been made the chief point; so that Cuvier, the great founder of
comparative anatomy, could be proud that from a single bone he
could know [erkennen] the essential nature of the entire
animal.6160 […] it is precisely by means of this that it [– the
universal type [allgemeine Typus] of the animal –] has been lifted
out of particularity [Besonderheit], and raised into its universality
[Allgemenheit]. (TWA 9, § 368: 501)
In 1807 Hegel had written that when the object to be observed is an
organic unity, reason has before itself in its object the connection or
bond (Beziehung) between inward essentiality (universality) and
reason and the singular of sensible intuition (TWA 6, 443).
5960 This approach is not original to Hegel. In 1811 Johannes Spix had
already spoken of “animals with or without vertebrae (Wirbel)” as the first
major change introduced by the French Scharfsinn (Hegel’s sinnige
Naturbetrachtung: TWA 9, § 368: 500) into the Linnean classification of
animals based on the old criterion of the absence or presence of blood, and
remarked that: ‘Aristotle had already made this distinction,’ just before
accounting for Cuvier’s Elements of Natural History and Letures of
Comparative Anatomy (Spix 1811, § 35: 136).
6061 Interestingly enough, Blainville (1847 III, 398) criticizes the reliability of
Cuvier’s proud claim, remarking that the principle was true for the general
form of the animal, and also for deducing the form of muscles from the shape
and proportion of the skeleton (since in this case two organs were produced
together to perform the same function), but in the case of the teeth of a cat,
it would have been impossible to deduce the skeleton of the animal. In a
Kantian teleological vein, reporting this criticism, Paul Janet notes that even if
it were correct: “an harmonic bond (une liaison harmonique), though reduced
to the most general condition of organization, would be infinitely higher
(infiniment au-dessus) than the forces of a purely blind nature” (Janet 1876,
615).
35 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

externality (singularity). To express such a connection would require


laws which distinguish between inner ground and outward
manifestation, but at the same time immediately possess the
processual character of the concept (its syllogistic dynamic or
“restlessness”) and for that reason state the relation between the
internal and external sides to be necessary (GW 9, 156.28–32).
Interpreters have charged Hegel with denying the existence of any
law in organics (Borzeskowski 2006, 199) or even denying their
very possibility (Wahsner 2006, 225), but it seems to me that we
have sufficient evidence to conclude that Hegel views Cuvier’s law
of the correlation of forms in organized beings as the modern
empirical theory that conforms both to Aristotle’s speculative
principle6261 and to the syllogistic linkage of the concept.
Hegel believes that the Aristotelian concept of internal
purposiveness expresses the ‘infinity’ of the true philosophical idea
of life.6362 Referring to Aristotle, Hegel notes that this idea is lost
when the organic is understood simply through mechanical or
chemical relations, or fully explained on the ground of ‘general
6162 See Cuvier’s Espèces de quadrupèdes (1801): “number, direction and
shape of the bones composing each part of the body determine the
movements that that part can make, and consequently the functions it can
fulfill […]. For example, when the teeth of an animal are such as they must
be, for the animal to feed the flesh, we can be sure without further
examination that the whole system of its digestive organs is adapted for this
kind of food […]. In effect, these relations are the necessary conditions of
existence of the animal, and it is evident that if things were not so this
animal could not subsist” (Cuvier 1997, 50; my italics). Compare with
Aristotle, De part. anim. I (A).1.642a 5–13: “There is, however, a third mode
of Necessity: it is seen in the things that pass through a process of formation;
as when we say that nourishment is necessary, we mean ‘necessary’ in
neither of the former two modes [absolute necessity, which regards only
primary elements, heavenly bodies and material or mechanistic necessity –
C. F.], but we mean that without nourishment no animal can be. This is,
practically, ‘conditional’ necessity. Take an illustration: A hatchet, in order to
split wood, must, of necessity, be hard; if so, then it must, of necessity, be
made of bronze or of iron. Now the body, like the hatchet, is an instrument;
as well the whole body as each of its parts has a purpose, for the sake of
which it is; the body must therefore, of necessity, be such and such, and
made of such and such materials, if that purpose is to be realized” (Peck tr.,
76–77).
6263 See: V 8, 76, 53–54: “this that we call end (Zweck), telos, is the
energeia, efficacy (Wirksamkeit), Aristotle’s entelechia.” Cf. Phys. II 8; see:
Ilting 1987, 354–56. For an account of Hegel’s appropriation of Aristotle’s
notion of constitutive inner finality (Selbstzweck) as the true concept of ‘life’
and his divergence from Kant’s regulative assessment of it, see: Frigo 2004.
36 CINZIA FERRINI

external relationships’ (V 8, 76.141–46). In an Addition to § 363


Hegel mentions a series of attempts to explain organic functions
mechanically: the process of assimilation, the circulation of blood,
the action of nerves (as strings or globules, either quivering or
exerting pressure), digestion (through impact and pumping), and
chemically: the analysis of the brain and digestion (as neutralization
of acid and alkali). Hegel does not deny that mechanics and
chemistry play a role, he denies that the very nature of the organic
process under consideration is either mechanical or chemical,
emphasizing that the animal “is the absolute one-with-itself of
vitality, not a composite [Zusammengesetztes]” (TWA 9, 479).6463 In
the Remark to § 334, he claims that the nature of animal and
vegetable substances “can so little be understood from the chemical
process, that rather it is destroyed therein, where we grasp only the
manner of their death” (TWA 9, 328). When the individual under
consideration is something neutral, such as a salt, then chemistry is
successful: “it manages for itself to exhibit the sides themselves,
since the unity of the difference is only a formal unity, which
collapses on its own.” But when chemical decomposition treats
something organic “then it sublates not only the unity, but also what
one wants to know” (TWA 9, § 281Z, 135). In ‘Organics’ Hegel
emphasizes this finitude:
The living body is always on the verge of passing over into the
chemical process. Oxygen, hydrogen, salt […] are always about
to emerge, but they will be always superseded, and the chemical
process can only assert itself in death or sickness. (TWA 9, §
337Z: 338)6564

6364 See a later criticism of the exclusive use of mechanical causality in


physiology to account for a flow of saliva that follows an electrical stimulus
applied to the tongue: “the category employed is adequate to the
investigation of the case of a simple mechanical arrangement, but not to the
case of that arrangement considered as a normal function of the organism to
which it belongs” (Haldane, R. B. & Haldane, J. S. 1883, 54).
6465 On the pathologies of the superior organisms and on the role of
medicine and therapy see the informative Liccioli 2008, 230–42. See on the
point Kisner 2008–09, 28: “When the organic articulations are separated they
reduce to the mechanical sphere, no longer aspects of life or, more precisely,
no longer aspects of organic unity they once maintained. The body
disintegrates into parts that revert to mechanico-chemical process – that is,
the body decays. But this shows that in their manifold externality they are
still in some sense contrary to the unity that life is, and yet at the same time
37 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

Hegel recognises that internal purposiveness is a constitutive logical


principle of any living being, the inward formative dynamic of any
organic structure that forms with its members and its environment a
self-conserving system. (It is not a principle through which the
existence of natural forms can be deduced metaphysically.) This
immanent purposiveness or ‘ideal,’ conceptual and infinite unity, can
be recognised empirically by the dissection of the internal
components of the organism and confirmed theoretically, though not
‘rationally explained,’ by the controlled method of comparative
anatomy.6665 In this way the factual and the experimental, which
belong to the province of science, are proved to be ‘true’ under a
higher-level theory, which logically grounds a priori the
phenomenological results of natural science (Ferrini 2002, 80–
81).6766 Therefore, on my view, it is likely that Hegel had Cuvier in
their externality is the objectification of purposive activity through which life
is a unity in the first place. This generates a contradiction in the category of
life”. See also ibid., 37: “Death is not merely an eventuality that befalls the
organism at some point, as if it were an external contingency that life might
otherwise do without. To be sure, it is external, but as such it is the
organism’s own externality. This is why death cannot be something other
than life; it is an inherent part of living process, marking life as intrinsically
finite”. Interestingly enough, this speculative appraisal of death was the most
challenged aspect of Hegel’s philosophy of nature by his early critics, for
they viewed it as coalescing with the determination of externality and thus
as the leading concept for the thorough clarification of the entire nature in
the light of the becoming of spirit. According to them, death made nature (as
well as its sciences: physics, chemistry, astronomy, botanics, zoology etc.)
“simply untrue in itself,” that is, intrinsically “devoid of value, actuality,
presence,” a simple transition moment to the true dimension of Geist (see:
Schubart and Carganico 1829, 137–44). Hegel owned this work (Neuser
1987, entry 200, 493), which he severely and polemically reviewed in the
last 1829 issue of the Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik (cf. Schubart
1830).
6566 Spix emphasizes the point that finally zoology can order living beings
not on the ground of merely external characteristics, because with Cuvier we
know the internal as much as the external (see: Spix 1811, § 34: 132; §
35:144).
6667 As Ilting 1987, 352 rightly remarks, according to Hegel’s Logic, it is not
the reflective relation between Essence and Appearance but the threefold
relation ‘Appearance-Essence-Thought’ that enables us to grasp in the whole
‘what is’ (das Seiende). It is interesting to compare Hegel’s attitude to
Schopenhauer’s contemporaneous approach to similar scientific sources.
According to Segala 2009, 265 Schopenhauer is aware that science does not
offer any definite, conclusive knowledge, therefore a transition from science
to philosophy is justified only providing that changes in scientific results
bring philosophical argumentation into question.
38 CINZIA FERRINI

mind when in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, after


placing Aristotle’s idea of internal purposiveness higher than the
modern idea of external purposiveness (à la Hutton), he made the
following remark:
that the most recent times have produced once again the rational
comprehension of this matter is nothing but a revival
[Wiedererweckung] and justification [Rechtfertigung] of the
Aristotelian idea. (Hegel 1959, 342, my italics)

2.3.3. Animal subjectivity and its environmental relations

Hegel’s distinctive point, however, is that the “posited negativity” of


the self-developed form of the individual makes it a subject. Not
only, therefore, do its material ‘parts’ exist only as members whose
independence has been negated, but so too does the outward
‘inorganic’ nature that confronts the individual. 6867 Hegel
summarizes this move from the standpoint of the concept, by saying:
“the concept is no longer existing in itself [in sich seiend], no more
submerged in its mutually external subsistence
[Außereinanderbestehen]” (TWA 9, § 336Z: 336). Hence what
characterizes the single living animal fundamentally is to be the
universal power (allgemeine Macht) over the external nature that
stands against it. That animal life governs externality does not
signify therefore a mere independence from external causes in self-
production: the animal organism makes externality its own, it “must
posit what is external as subjective, appropriate it, and identify it
with its own self” (TWA 9, § 357Z: 464). On this point Kisner
comments:
The living process of an organism drives it outward into the
presupposed external multiplicity of its environment only to make
6768 The discontinuity of this feature is stressed by the analysis of the 1817
Encyclopaedia by Illetterati 1995a, 394–99, who defines its fulfilment in the
animal organism as “the burst (l’irruzione) of subjectivity” and notes how in
the first edition of the Philosophy of Nature “the concept of freedom”
appears for the first time in the context of the animal organism (396 ff.).
Note, however, that in the Addition to § 273 of the 1830 edition, free
individuality emerges already from the chemical process as die Herrin über
die Formunterschiede (TWA 9, 110).
39 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

that environment explicit as a life support system for the


organism itself. It is here that external multiplicity in the sense of
a presupposed externality outside of organic unity is itself seen to
be necessary for that very organic unity, and thereby is taken back
into the latter as part of its own living dynamics. (Kisner 2008–
09, 32)
Hegel’s conception of animal life aims not just to fully restore the
notion of internal purposiveness against Kant’s ‘subjective’
insufficiencies,6968 but by considering organized beings as means
towards their own ends, Hegel raises the question of the manner of
production of their existence, which Cuvier saw as reflected in the
structure of the Habitus.7069 This is why he focusses on the activity
of the organism, the purposiveness of which is evident in the process
whereby it attains its end and then discards its means, as happens in
excretion as the conclusion of the process of assimilation (TWA 9, §
365 and Z: 480–97).
Indeed, commenting upon Cuvier’s work, and in line with Spix,
Hegel makes clear that it is a matter not just of conceiving a living
body as a functionally integrated whole, whose parts are organised
according to an immanent principle, but also of the intrinsic
connection, at the same time, between inner and outer, between the
shaping of the structure of a singular self and its environment as the
condition of its existence:

6869 Chiereghin has pointed out the aporetic implications of the Kantian
paradigmatic notion of techne in the First Introduction to the Critique of
Judgment: its failure to account for the formative power, its reconstruction,
from the outside, of the connection among analytically isolated elements of
the organism, so that the activity governing the organic process falls again
under the heading of external purposiveness (cf. Chiereghin 1990, 136–38,
142–45, 152–53, 201–07; 225–26).
6970 See Cuvier’s assessment of the principles of identification in his 1812
Preliminary Discourse: “if the intestines of an animal are organized in such a
way as to digest only flesh – and fresh flesh – it is also necessary that the
jaws be constructed for devouring prey; the claws, for seizing and tearing it;
the teeth, for cutting and dividing its flesh; the entire organs, for detecting it
from afar; and it is even necessary that nature should have placed in its
brain the instinct necessary for knowing how to hide itself and set traps for
its victims. Such are the general conditions of the carnivorous regime; every
animal adapted for this regime unfailingly combines them, for its species
could not have subsisted without them” (Cuvier 1997, 217).
40 CINZIA FERRINI

A chief aspect of this consideration is the knowledge


[Erkenntnis] of the way in which nature forms [anbildet] and
adapts this organism to the particular element in which it casts it,
to the climate, the cycle of nutrition, and in general, the world
[Welt] in which the organism is born. (TWA 9, § 368: 501)7170
The process of assimilation is thus ‘conceived’ to be an eternal
struggle of a subjective individual to preserve itself through taking
away elements of its environment, digesting its external objectivity,
positing its immediate self-identity and reproducing itself in this
self-preservation; and only the Idea can grasp how and why in
satiation we feel that completeness has overcome a previous
deficiency.7271 Indeed, Hegel states that only a living existence feels
deficiency (Mangel), because in nature it alone is the ‘concept,’
which is the unity of itself and its determinate opposite (TWA 9, §
359: 469).
On this point the Logic and the Philosophy of Nature converge:
The living being confronts an inorganic nature to which it relates
as the power [Macht] over it, and which it assimilates. (TWA 8, §
219Z: 375)
The self-feeling [Selbstgefühl] of singularity [Einzelnheit] is to
the same extent immediately exclusive, however, and is in tension
with an inorganic nature which stands over against it as its
external condition and material.7372 (TWA 9, § 357: 464)

7071 See ibid., 217–18: “But within these general conditions there exist
particular conditions, relative to the size, species, and habitat [séjour] of the
prey to which the animal is adapted, and each of these particular conditions
results in some detailed circumstances in the forms that result from the
general conditions. Thus it is not only the class that finds expression in the
form of each part, but the order, the genus, and even the species.”
7172 See Buquoy’s comment on the “unmistakable Typus” (Buquoy 1817,
289–90): “The phenomenon of life [Lebenserscheinung] not only escapes
comprehension [unbegreiflich], is inexplicable according to its ultimate
principles and motive causes, but it is also indescribable, escaping any
definition. It can only be grasped [aufgefaßt] as Idea.”
7273 On Schelling’s relation between organism and external environment as
drawn from the basic relation of opposition-complementarity between
outwardness and inwardness, receptivity and activity, see: Moiso 1998a, 76–
79.
41 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

The deepest sense of Hegel’s characterization of the organism in


terms of ‘ideality’ is that the enduring action of life is “absolute
idealism”:
If life were realistic, it would have respect for what is external to
it, but it always inhibits [hemmt] the reality of the other, and
transforms it into its own self. (TWA 9, § 337Z: 338).
Such ‘transforming’ universal power of self-preservation (a sort of
‘infection’)7473 exhibits itself in the higher form of organism as the
theoretical (§ 358) and practical (§ 359) process of assimilation (see:
Bach 2006a, 443–44). The “truth of bile and pancreatic juice” is not
to be found in mechanics or chemistry. Only for the understanding
can the entire process be explained in those external terms:
The beginning is to take possession in a mechanical way
[mechanische Bemächtigung] of the external object. The
assimilation itself is the overturning of the externality into the
unity of selfhood [die selbstische Einheit]. Since the animal is
subject, simple negativity, this assimilation can be neither of a
mechanical nor of a chemical kind [Natur], for in these
processes, the materials, as well as the conditions and the activity,
remain external to one another, and lack the absolute living unity.
(TWA 9, § 363: 479)
Within this frame (§§ 363–366), Hegel praises Spallanzani’s and the
new physiology’s researches on digestion, which focus on the living
being’s own means to draw its nourishment from food. He
appreciates how the new biology challenges the Vorstellung that
digestion functions as a purely mechanical, fictitious secretion and
excretion of parts which are already ready and usable, or as a
chemical process. The principal and conceptual aspect of digestion
is indeed: “the immediate efficacy of life as the power [Macht] over
its inorganic object” (TWA 9, § 365: 481); what is living is able
purposively to transform and place what comes from the outside
within its own sphere and warmth, thus acting as the universal that is
able to continue and to maintain itself in otherness, and to produce

7374 The term is used at each stage of the Philosophy of Nature: with regard
to magnetism (§ 314), vegetable nature (§§ 345–46), animal process of
assimilation (§ 354, §§ 364–65), animal disease (§ 371) and in the § 402
Philosophy of Spirit with the significance of ‘magic dominion’ over the world.
42 CINZIA FERRINI

its own means from without: “life is where inner and outer, cause
and effect, end and means, subjectivity and objectivity etc. are one
and the same” (TWA 9, § 337Z: 339). With this position Hegel
distances himself from attempts to extend the distinctive characters
of organic life (to be a unitary, indivisible co-ordinated whole which
is constantly maintaining and reproducing itself in an external
world), indifferentiately to the whole of nature, inorganic and
organic (à la Treviranus), as well as from the attempt to see an
analogy and continuity between the activity of the magnetic and
chemical process of inorganic nature and the process of life (à la
Oken).

2.4. Hegel’s ‘life’ in context: alternative views in German biology

The first kind of attempt is represented by Treviranus’s biology from


1802. Treviranus makes reference to Kant’s basic notion of attractive
and repulsive forces in the Metaphysische Anfangsgründe
(Treviranus 1802, 26–27), and sets out a view in line with
Schelling’s Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur, a system in which
nature’s continuous universal activity is provided by degrees of
powers and advanced levels of balance between opposing forces
(Treviranus 1802, 33). Treviranus writes that we can think of “force”
only as something finite, but that no force is finite by nature but only
in so far it is limited by the counteraction of an opposed force.
Hence “where we think of force, we must (wir müssen) assume a
force opposed to it” (Treviranus 1802, 32).
This leads to a reassessment of Kant’s dynamics, the simple
relation of attraction and repulsion is replaced by the production of a
relation of relative balance, where we can think of the antithesis of
forces as producing a quiescent, uniform state (based on the key
notion of equilibrium: Gleichgewicht), together with the production
of the opposite relation, where we can think of the antithesis of
forces as producing a state of continuous conflict (and variations),
based on the key notion of discord, Streit. On the basis of this
‘organic dynamics,’ Treviranus proposes a notion of life, the
distinctive character of which is the “uniformity [Gleichförmigkeit]
of the phenomena [Erscheinungen] in the face of discordant
influences of the external world” (Treviranus 1802, 38): this active
maintenance, therefore, includes variation, provided that in the
43 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

variation the unity of life is maintained (as in the case of an


organism adapting to new circumstances). This capacity of self-
maintenance despite the non-uniform influences of the environment
is assured by the mutual integration of the organs into one whole
(Poggi 2000, 446–49). This organic approach to force, which
conceives any single force as at the same time cause and effect of all
the others, leads Treviranus to point out the superfluity of
Schelling’s hyperphysical hypothesis of a World Soul to assure the
continuity of motion and life (Poggi 2000, 444), as well as to
criticize the subjective and objective limits of Kant’s position in § 66
of the third Critique. According to Treviranus, not only do we affirm
“with full certainty” that we are determined to act from an internal
principle, but also that despite the diversity and change of influences
any plant or animal body “will remain in its own unchanged
activity,” and not because of the Kantian impenetrability or
lifelessness matter, but just because of life (Poggi 2000, 444–45).
Indeed, from Treviranus’s perspective “there is nothing inorganic in
the entirety of nature, and everything is organic” (Treviranus 1802,
41; Köchy 1995). This is just because, as Poggi puts it, “nature itself
is an enormous organism grounded on the action of continuously
interacting forces” (Poggi 2000, 445).
The second of the two kinds of attempt mentioned above is found
in the work of Oken. Magnetism and chemism play a paradigmatic
role in Oken’s explanation of the origin of life. In 1805 Oken
published his Die Zeugung on the primary causes of generation,
where the basic constituents of higher vegetable and animal
organisms are not elements but elementary organic units, that is,
lower but specific and primordial organisms (Infusorien) present
from the moment of creation, which constitute the higher (vegetable
and animal) living bodies as members of a system ruled by an
internal and living organizing principle.7574

7475 Poggi recalls the criticism levelled in 1838 by C. G. Ehrenberg’s Die


Infusionsthierchen als vollkommene [sic!] Organismen (Leipzig) against the
alleged simple structure of the Infusorien, which supported creationism (Poggi
2000, note 35, 536) and the clarity of the sketch of Oken’s theory provided in
1844 by C. Güttler, Lorenz Oken und sein Verhältnis zur modernen
Entwickelungslehre: “the originary state of the organic is a mucosa or foam
constitued by a spheric conglomerate of organic units. Its fluid and solid parts
come to clash under the action of oxidation forming a blister that is solid at the
border and fluid at the center and where the three fundamental processes of
nutrition, digestion and putrefaction come together” (Poggi 2000 note 36,
44 CINZIA FERRINI

Oken’s personal reappraisal of Leibniz’s monadological approach


and entelechia consists in the different structures which follicles or
blisters (Bläschen) might assume, into which sperm is injected, thus
giving rise to different species. He writes that the form of the
follicles is not to be thought as an empty model, as if it were a
mould. On the contrary, nature penetrates vitally the deepest
interiority of the atoms of matter and from within them brings out
their specific geometrical forms (angles and rings), “as the magnetic
current gives regular direction to iron fillings or chemistry makes
saline solution into a crystal” (Oken 2007, 142). On the basis of this
parallelism, between magnetic or chemical and vital action, Oken
conducted researches on the physiology of plants in joint venture
with D. G. Kieser, in line with Goethe’s idea of metamorphosis.7675
Hegel explicitly charges the Schellingian Oken with the
“schematism of the old philosophy of nature” in the second Addition
to § 346 of his 1830 philosophy of nature (TWA 9, 402). The same
charge of an easy ready-to-use aconceptual formalism, involving
magnetic polarity, the difference between magnetism and electricity,
the sensuos matter of chemistry, and finally the stimulus-response
theory for organics is levelled by Hegel in the Remark to § 359
(TWA 9, 471).7776 Interestingly enough, Hegel’s criticism is once
again in line with Cuvier’s approach. In his 1812 Preliminary
Discourse Cuvier offers a critical survey of the reproduction in
Germany of the “fanciful speculative ideas” on the origins
expounded by Bertrand de Maillet in his Talliamed, where he
posited a single unit of vegetable-animal life, the organic molecule
(Wilson 2006, 379):
they say that everything was fluid in origin; that the fluid
generated animals that at first were very simple, such as monads
or other microscopic species of infusoria; that in the course of
time and by taking up diverse habits, the races of these animals

536).
7576 See: Poggi 2000, 471–84 on Kieser’s works; 512–6 on the kind of research
behind the review Archiv für den thierischen Magnetismus (Kieser,
Eschenmayer and Nees von Esenbeck); 485–88, 490–93, 495–96 on the use of
relations of polarity to understand the internal and external structures of the
plants in botanics (C. G. Nees von Esenbeck). On the problem of the
experimental procedures of the Romantic science see: Schulz 1993.
7677 See Petry’s note at p. 140,20 in Hegel 1970b, III 328–29.
45 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

became more complex, and diversified to the point where we see


them today. (Cuvier 1997, 200: my italics)

2.5. The vitality of Hegel’s ‘life’

As biology was becoming an autonomous science, the issue at stake


around 1800 was “to elevate the doctrine of living nature to the rank
of a proper science, at the same level [as the doctrine] of lifeless
nature,” which required determining the conditions for all natural
forms and appearances, laws and causes (Treviranus, 1802, 4),7877
as well as finding the adequate conceptual tools to grasp this kind of
reality. This is the background against which we must consider
Hegel’s Idea of life, keeping in mind that reductionists stressed that,
in general, both animal and human bodies have the universal
(mechanical) properties of bodies, such as extension,
impenetrability, divisibility, and gravity (see: Autenrieth 1801, § 4:
3). These reductionists thus recast the (Aristotelian) idea of the
intentional formation of organs into the idea of the “diversity of
form from an uniform ground” (Autenrieth 1801, § 5: 3–4).7978
By contrast, anti-reductionists emphasised the existence of vital
forces which could not be brought under the known laws governing
the physical forces of inorganic nature. 8079 This trend received a

7778 See: Illetterati 1992, 427 ff.


7879 In Ferrini 2009, 107–08 I have shown that from books owned by Hegel
(Ackermann 1805, Meyer 1805; see: Neuser 1987, entry 2, 480 and entry
140, 489) and present in Jena’s libraries we can see how he responded to a
line of the natural science of his time that sought to identify the cause of the
motion of the body parts (that is, the cause of what they called ‘life;’
Autenrieth 1801, §§ 82–83) within the realm of physical forces (Ackermann
1805, xvi) and to determine the laws of organic life according to fundamental
physical principles (Ackermann 1805, xii). This trend denied the existence of
either a “vital force” (Lebenskraft) or a “principle of life” (Lebensprinzip:
Meyer 1805, § 27). There I also examine Hegel’s 1807 criticism of both
Kielmeyer’s account of the outward aspect of the organic forms through laws
of compensation based on direct or inverse quantitative relations, and H.
Steffens’s Schellingian attempt to extend analogically to organics the
decomposing and interactive model of the “newest chemistry” (Lavoisier).
7980 Brandis 1795 § 7: 15, 23; and: § 8: 29. See Engels 1994 on the attempt
to clarify the significance and use of the concept of “Lebenskraft,” as
metaphysical construction or methodological instrument, in German biology
and medicine around 1800.
46 CINZIA FERRINI

significant impulse from Bichat’s 1799/1800 Recherches. In § 354Z


and § 355 Hegel cites and praises Bichat’s distinction between
sensibility and irritability, the two orders of functions present in the
organic and animal life, paying attention in the Addition to Bichat’s
account of them.8180 Bichat opened his work with what he himself
calls an abstract, general definition of life: “life is the set of
functions that resist death” (Bichat 1955, 1). Within animal life, the
first order of living functions runs from outwardness to inwardness
and is constituted by the sensitive external organ sending
information to the brain; the second order runs from inwardness to
outwardness, and is constituted by the brain sending information to
the agents of locomotion and utterance (Bichat 1955, 4–8).
Focussing on the existence of vital forces, Bichat underscores the
totally different character and organization of the organic compared
to the inorganic (Bichat 1955, 83), and points to the “immense
interval” separating physics and chemistry from the science of
organic bodies. This ‘interval’ arises not because the phenomena of
the first two sciences are ruled by laws and the others not, but
because the same (uniform) laws governed the phenomena of
physics and chemistry,8281 whereas the variations and instability of
vital forces inhibits any purely chemical analysis (Bichat 1955, 82–
83).
In 1822, Blainville summarized the previous 20 years of research
on organic nature and life as follows:
by organs (organa, instrumenta) we understand, according to the
etymology […], a sort of tool, whose work, or combination of
functions, gives rise to that incomprehensible phenomenon that
we call life.8382 (Blainville 1822, § 4: 15)

8081 See: TWA 9, § 355Z: 455–59; cf. Hegel 1970b III, 126–27. D’Hondt has
shown that Hegel quotes from the first edition of Bichat’s Recherches and
does not use the 1822 edition with the notes of his pupil Magendie, who
challenged exactly Bichat’s distinction between organic and animal nature. It
was Michelet who referred to the later edition; see: D’Hondt 1986, 143. On
the methodological problem represented by Michelet’s 1842 editing of the
Addition to Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, “who simply conflated all the
material he had available, some of which dated as early as 1805, and some
from as late as 1830,” see: Petry 1986, 18.
8182 Bichat 1955, 84; see: Illetterati 1995b, 201–02.
8283 “Incompréhensible” is not in italics in the original text.
47 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

Blainville then refers to Bichat’s and Cuvier’s definitions of life. He


remarks that the former is trivial in its certainty, amounting to the
claim that “life is not death,” whereas the latter is closer to the truth
(Blainville 1822, 15). In his Lectures Cuvier claimed that “the force
that keeps together the molecules despite the external forces which
tend to separate them” modifies our ideas of the phenomenon of life:
in the place of a constant union within the molecules, we have to
see a continuous circulation from outwardness to inwardness and
from inwardness to outwardness, constantly enduring and hence
fixed between certain limits. (Cuvier 1800,4–5)
Following Cuvier’s own notion of “foyer” (Cuvier 1800, 5),
Blainville writes:
a living body is a sort of foyer chimique where at any moment
there is an ingress of new molecules and an egress of old ones;
where the combination is never fixed […] but always in nisu, so
to speak; hence the continuous motion and occasional warmth.
Life is then the result of a sort of chemical combination, or better,
the moment of the tendency to combination that repeats itself for a
longer or shorter time and with a greater or lesser degree of
energy. (Blainville 1822, § 4: 16, my italics)
We know that Hegel was aware of the fact that to define life in terms
of a “tendency to chemical combination” was the major trend of the
“sensible” (sinnige) consideration of nature characteristic of the
French school,8483 for Blainville’s book was in his private library
(Neuser 1987, entry 27, 482). Nevertheless he introduced explicit
and extensive reference to Bichat only in the third edition of the
Encyclopaedia and, as we have seen, he proved it to be
philosophically necessary that in life animal processes always
sublate – that is, incorporate as negated – mechanical and chemical
processes.8584
To my knowledge, it has not been noticed that the physician and
8384 On the chemical trend in Germany that rejected the use of any
constitutive principle of inner finality for the study of the living being, see:
Poggi 2000, 481–82 on Link’s botanic research.
8485 In the 1817 Encyclopaedia there is only a cursory mention of Bichat’s
distinction between organic and animal forces and life, usually ascribed by
mistake to Biot: see D’Hondt 1986, 143. Hegel owned the first edition of
Bichat’s Recherches; cf. Neuser 1987, entry 27, 482.
48 CINZIA FERRINI

naturalist Schultz8685 claimed that his discovery of the circulation of


the “vital sap” in plants in analogy with the circulation of blood in
animal organisms was “in perfect accord with Hegel’s philosophy of
nature” (Schultz 1823, § 11: 11). His work stands as an example of
the direct influence that Hegel’s ideas had on some original German
biological trends of his time, in so far as he could provide
philosophical ground and justification to a move in the direction of
subordinating chemistry to the higher, dynamic, order of inner vital
relations of organisms, and of asserting a constitutive immanent
relationship between the inside and outside of organic beings
through purposiveness.
In turn, as is the case with Pohl, Hegel believed to find
confirmation from empirical research which claimed that scientific
theory conformed to the necessary determination of the concept. In
the philosophy of nature, Hegel accounts for Schultz’s “highly
important discovery” that the nutriment of the plant, by means of the
cellular tissues and the spiral vessels of the wood, is transported into
the circulatory system, so that the sap moves once it is assimilated
(TWA 9, § 346Z2: 405–06). Hegel ‘conceives’ the plant’s wood-
fibres or spiral vessels to result from the plant’s own division of
itself into interior formations, “organs,” which Schultz had the merit
to call “life-vessels”:
Professor Schultz is so exacting in his empirical research (in
seiner Empirie) as he philosophically grounds the point at issue
(die Sache).” (TWA 9, § 3462Z: 400; cf. V 17, 179.326–27)
Moreover, in his work Schultz challenges the “external power”
(äußere Gewalt) of the analysis of the different basic chemical
components of plants, or of the separation of muscles, nerves and
blood from their functions in animal organisms due to the prevailing
quest for the identification and isolation of their ultimate chemical
components (Schultz 1823: x–xi). In this way, Schultz shows how to
endorse a holistic approach and to pursue “a rational knowledge of
the truth of nature” (Schultz 1823: xii) redirecting his own research
in botany, against his teacher’s view (Schultz 1823: xiv). In 1828, he
supports the reintroduction of purposiveness in botany as a real,
objective principle of explanation (Schultz 1828, § 40: 129),

8586 Schultz, who earned his Habilitation in Berlin in 1822, may have
attended Hegel’s 1819/20 course (his first in Berlin) on Naturphilosophie.
49 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

implicitly challenging Kant’s heuristic teleological judgment (AA V


§ 64: 370–71). Schultz raises the question whether the purpose of
the tree is the leaf or the tree itself, describes the sequence of the
development of the plant which ends with the wood, and stresses
how it looks evident from the observation of the vital period of the
tree that the final shape actually realizes the purpose constitutively at
work since the beginning (Schultz 1828, § 40: 129). What is
interesting here is that Schultz reinforces and exemplifies his view
by referring to the unity of teleology and physiology advanced by
Carus in the Versuch einer Darstellung des Nervensystems (1814),
who states as the goal of physiology to find the necessary connection
of single organs to the entire organism, on the basis of their utility.
An example of this quest for unity, typical of the time, is Heinrich
Damerow’s effort. Damerow, one of the most important German
psychiatrists of the XIX century, tried to unify the empirical sciences
of the three natural kingdoms, mineralogy, botanics, and zoology by
pointing to the joint venture between natural researchers and
physicians (Damerow 1829, 224–27). Medicine was seen as the
science able to pursue a comprehensive genetic account according to
the harmony of human nature (Damerow 1829, 228). A new two-
fold line of medical research was seen as the most promising: to
unify psyche and body according to the genetic development of the
psyche (the true natural history of the soul) on the one hand, and the
quest for the harmony of outwardness and inwardness on the other
(Damerow 1829, 287–88), thus envisaging the future fortune of
psychiatry as an anthropological medical art (Damerow 1829, 382–
83).8786 In this context, note that Damerow regards Hegel’s
Naturphilosophie as the real philosophically scientific answer to the
quest for knowing the whole, das Ganze (Damerow 1829, 222),
which is able to prove the inadequacy of the empty formalism of a
philosophy of nature based on analogies and quantitative relations
(Zahlenverhältnisse) (Damerow 1829, 288).8887 In short,

8687 Engelhardt 2005, 110 recalls that a general feature of the time (he
refers to a period that runs from M. A. Weickard’s Der Philosophische Arzt
(1773–75, 21798) to W. Griesinger’s 1845 Pathologie und Therapie der
psychischen Krankenheiten is that the evaluation of mental disease always
implied also a philosophical judgment.
8788 In Ferrini 2009, 110–11. I made the point that Hegel clearly endorsed
key features of Trommsdorf’s (a chemist) criticism of the Schellingian
approach (charged with mixing idealism and materialism and substituting
50 CINZIA FERRINI

Damerow’s approach is influenced by the anti-romantic ideas of


Hegel, a distinctive feature often overlooked.

§ 3 Conclusions

In light of contemporary theoretical concerns, in 2005 Stephen


Houlgate drew attention to Paul Davies’ claim that life succeeds in
so far as it “evades chemical imperatives.” According to Houlgate,
Hegel’s account of the relation between chemistry and life is “in
striking accord” with such modern biological thinking (Houlgate
22005, 164).8988 In a similar vein, in 2007 Filion reevaluated
Hegel’s quest for the “truth” of nature and contrasts it favourably
with the current epistemological interest in nominalist limitations of
knowledge, seeing in Hegel’s work a model of rationality that
escapes the extremes of quantitative formalism and technology on
the one hand, and religious dogmatism on the other (Filion 2007,
319–22). More recently, Wendell Kisner has initiated a debate about
whether Hegel’s “epistemological and ontological” account of the
category of life in the Science of Logic ought to be relevant to

poetry for experimental research), presenting himself to the Jena academic


scene not as a mere “mouthpiece” of Schelling (as he was commonly
regarded in 1801–03), but as someone who could provide working scientists’
reasons with a proper conceptual, speculative ground. Hegel owned
Trommsdorf’s 1802–04 works (Neuser 1987, entries 221–23, 495) and
Damerow 1829 (Neuser 1987, entry 52, 483).
8889 Note that in 1794, Alexander von Humboldt, following the Edinburgh
school of chemical physiology, defined life as a force (always bound to a
certain part of caloric) in opposition to chemical relations. He thinks of a
Lebenskraft which contrasts the free organization of the material
components of a body, as it happens in putrefaction (Fäulnis), where “the
elements acquire their own right” (A. von Humboldt 1794, § 2: 9) and
dissolve chemical bonds: “we call inert, inanimate matter, that matter the
components of which are mixed according to the laws of chemical affinity, by
contrast (hingegen) we call animated and organized bodies those which,
notwithstanding a ceaseless effort, are hindered by a certain inner force to
change their shape (Gestalt) (A. von Humboldt 1794, § 1: 3). ‘We call force of
life (Lebenskraft) that inner force which dissolves the bonds of chemical
affinity and hinders the free union of the elements into the bodies” (A. von
Humboldt 1794, § 2: 9). Humboldt revised his position on the concept of vital
force soon after Galvani’s discovery, abandoning it in 1797/98: for an
account of the German debate on Galvanism (Humboldt, Ritter) at the turn of
the century, against the background of the debate between mechanism and
vitalism, see: Segala 2009, 211–12.
51 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

environmental ethics. He derives from Hegel’s ‘onto-logos’ a


normative framework, according to which ecosystems do not have
an instrumental but an intrinsic value, though avoiding the
subjective, anthropocentric extension of ‘human rights’ to living
beings, habitats and biological diversity (Kisner 2008–09; Stone
2008–09).
From the historical point of view, recent interpretations of Hegel’s
philosophy of nature emphasise his belief in the inadequacy of the
metaphysics that underlies the natural science of his time, claiming
that according to him the central assumption behind science is that
natural forms are bare things. In contrast, Hegel’s own metaphysical
view would seem to be that natural forms are “rational agents, which
act and transform themselves in accordance with rational
requirements” (Stone 2005, xii). From this standpoint, however,
Hegel’s relationship with the empirical sciences is seen to be merely
that of incorporating, reinterpreting, redescribing and relocating
scientific claims. This in turn risks neglecting Hegel’s own impact
on scientific quests, trends and development, as though unlike
Schelling, who is widely acknowledged to have been engaged in the
scientific debate of the time, Hegel had confined himself to
observing and judging that debate. This kind of reading also risks
missing the point that working scientists were themselves aware of
the theoretical implications of their approaches and tools, and often
turned to philosophy, including Hegel’s philosophy of nature, to
oppose the analogies, arbitrariness of imagination and formalism of
Romantic philosophy of nature – a move that is sometimes
(mistakenly) dismissed as one based only on spiritual, scientifically
misguided concerns – as well as to avoid the pitfalls of
reductionism. In my view, to reconstruct the context, to update the
research on his sources and to highlight the distinctive theoretical
features of Hegel’s Idea of natural life means to recognise that Hegel
makes a significant – and specifically anti-Romantic and anti-
vitalistic – contribution to a functional, environmental integration of
biosphere, geology and ‘self-world’ of organisms, which influenced
the working scientists of his time.
Take for instance the quest for connecting physiology with
philosophy and for showing the interconnectedness of (apparently)
isolated phenomena within an articulate ideal whole, as advanced by
the biologist and physiologist Johannes Müller in his 1824 Von dem
Bedürfniß der Physiologie nach einer philosophischen
52 CINZIA FERRINI

Naturbetrachtung (von Engelhardt 1992, 92–93).9089 Interpreters


have generally referred back this approach to a romantic holistic
heritage and in particular to the living totality of Schelling’s natura
naturans and anima mundi as well as to Goethe’s sense of nature (cf.
Moiso 1998a, 79–89). Nevertheless, in 1992 von Engelhardt had
already pointed out how Müller attended Hegel’s Berlin courses in
the Winter Semester 1823/24 and kept the 1827 edition of Hegel’s
Encyclopaedia in his own library (von Engelhardt 1992, 87–88). In
retracing Hegel’s influence on Müller, however, von Engelhardt
seems to rely more on his own interpretive skills, for in documenting
his claim he cites a sentence reported by du Boys-Reymond in a
footnote of his Memoir of Müller: “Hegel philosophiam me docet”.
As a matter of fact, such a record, taken from Müller’s curriculum ,
seems to acknowledge a generic debt to Hegel’s teaching in respect
to a complementary, integrative, though important aspect of Müller’s
broadly cultural, not strictly professional, development. Apparently,
von Engelhardt quotes from the second (1887) edition of du Boys-
Reymond’s Gedächtnissrede auf Johannes Müller (von Engelhardt
1992, 88, note 6). However, in the first edition the sentence runs:
“Hegel philosophiam naturae me docet” (my italics: Du Boy-
Reymond 1860, 37, note 18). This more specific and professionally
relevant version of the acknowledgment casts more objective,
unquestionable light on the debt Müller owes to Hegel regarding his
criticism of the formalistic romantic application of the physical
notions of “polarisation and axes” to living nature, his reaction
against any “mystic [Platonic] physics,” and his criticism of any
holistic account which blurs distinctions (von Engelhardt 1991, 92–
93).
In short, Hegel’s multifaced contribution deserves fundamental
reconsideration of its complexity, engagement with scientific debate
and scholarly reception.

REFERENCES

8990 In Ferrini 2009 I have provided further references to scientists who had
begun to conceptualize experience around 1800. I wish to thank Peter
Mclaughlin to have pointed to my attention von Engelhardt’s research on
Hegel and Müller.
53 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

ABBREVIATIONS

AA
Immanuel Kant: Gesammelte Schriften. Herausgegeben von der
Königlich Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Berlin 1900 ff.
AA I: Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels
(1755). – In: Vorkritische Schriften I (1747–1756), 215–368.
AA II: Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration
des Daseins Gottes. – In: Vorkritische Schriften II (1757–1777),
63–164.
AA IV: Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaften
(1786), 465–566.
AA V: Kritik der Urtheilskraft (1790), 165–486.
AA VIII: Kleine Schriften (1784–1800).
AA XX: Erste Einleitung in die Kritik der Urtheilskraft (1790),
195–281.

De part. anim.
Aristotle: Parts of Animals. Engl. tr. by A. L. Peck. London /
Cambridge, Ms. 1955.

GW
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Gesammelte Werke. In Verbindung
mit der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft herausgegeben von der
Rheinisch-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Hamburg
1968 ff.
GW 8: Jenaer Systementwürfe III (1805/06). Herausgegeben von
Rolf-Peter Horstmann, 1976.
GW 9: Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807). Herausgegeben von
Wolfgang Bonsiepen und Reinhard Heede, 1980.

HSW
Johann Gottfried Herder: Sämtliche Werke. B. Suphan (Hg.).
Hildesheim 1967 (repr. 1881).
HSW XIII: Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit.
Part I, 1784; Part II, 1785.
54 CINZIA FERRINI

SSW
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: Sämmtliche Werke. Karl
Friedrich August Schelling (Hg.). Stuttgart 1856–1861.
SSW 1: 1792–1797, 1856.

V
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Vorlesungen. Ausgewählte
Nachschriften und Manuskripte. Hamburg 1983 ff.
V 8: Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. Teil 3.
Griechische Philosophie. II. Plato bis Proklos. Herausgegeben
von Pierre Garniron und Walter Jaeschke. Hamburg 1996.
V 10: Vorlesungen über die Logik. Berlin 1831. Nachgeschrieben
von Karl Hegel. Herausgegeben von Udo Rameil unter Mitarbeit
von Hans-Christian Lucas (†). Hamburg 2001.
V 15: Philosophische Enzyklopädie. Nürnberg 1812/13.
Nachschriften von Christian Samuel Meinel und Julius Friedrich
Heinrich Abegg. Herausgegeben von Udo Rameil. Hamburg
2002.
V 16: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Natur. Berlin
1819/20. Nachgeschrieben von Johann Rudolf Ringier.
Herausgegeben von Martin Bondeli und Hoo Nam Seelmann.
Hamburg 2002.
V 17: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Natur. Berlin
1825/26. Nachgeschrieben von Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.
Herausgegeben von Karol Bal, Gilles Marmasse, Thomas
Siegfried Posch und Klaus Vieweg. Hamburg 2007.

TWA
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Werke in
zwanzig Bänden. Auf der Grundlage der Werke von 1832–1845 neu
edierte Ausgabe. Redaktion Eva Moldenhauer und Karl Markus
Michel. Frankfurt a. M. 1970.
TWA 1: Frühe Schriften
TWA 5: Wissenschaft der Logik I.
TWA 6: Wissenschaft der Logik II.
55 From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel’s Idea of Life

TWA 8: Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im


Grundrisse I (1830). Mit den mündlichen Zusätzen.
TWA 9: Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im
Grundrisse II (1830). Mit den mündlichen Zusätzen.

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