From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegel's Idea of Life

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    IN CORSO DI PUBBLICAZIONE SU HEGEL-S T UDIE N 44 (MARZ O 2010)

    CINZIA FERRINI

    FROM GEOLOGICAL TO ANIMAL NATUREIN HEGELS IDEA OF LIFE *

    ABSTRACT: Die Abhandlung besteht aus einer theoretischen undhistorischen Untersuchung der philosophischen Erkenntnis derorganischen Natur bei H. Ausgehend von einem systematischenStandpunkt ( 1) wird zunchst das Problem behandelt, was H. unterder logischen Form des Lebens versteht. Befragt wird diesyllogistische Form des Lebensbegriffs als dynamisches Verhltnisvon Einzelnem und Allgemeinem hinsichtlich natrlicherIndividualitt. Im Anschlu wird gezeigt, wie die allgemeine Formmechanischer, physikalischer und organischer Krper progressiv insteigendem Mae Selbstbestimmung (der Subjektivitt als eines

    Punkts der Einheit ihrer materiellen Teile) und in abnehmendemGrade Zuflligkeit (Trennung und Isolierung von Teilen) prsentiert.Das Augenmerk wird insbesondere auf die Dialektik chemischerProzesse gelegt ( 1.4) und auf die Frage nach dem bergang zumLeben. Von einem historischen Standpunkt aus ( 2) wird diekonstitutive Rolle von H.s Bestimmung der inneren Zweckmigkeitfr die Lebewesen im Lichte von Aristoteles, Kant und Cuviererrtert sowie die Entwicklung von H.s Idee als Leben vor demHintergrund ausgewhlter wissenschaftlicher Literatur, die in H.sPrivatbibliothek vorhanden war. Gezeigt werden soll, wie H. an derwissenschaftlichen Diskussion seiner Zeit beteiligt war undinwieweit er sie beeinflute. Verf.in behauptet, da H. weder die

    Auffassung spterer Lebensphilosophie, organisches Lebenentstehe aus im wesentlichen lebloser Materie durch einepltzliche Produktivkraft der Generation (Lebenskraft), noch diehylozistische Auffassung teilt, in den Teilen des Lebendigen seiberall die Zeitlichkeit der Natur verwirklicht.

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    CINZIA FERRINI2

    My aim in this essay is to lead the reader through the complexity ofHegels philosophical understanding of organic nature byhighlighting its distinctive theoretical features and by examiningthese historically, both against the background of the approaches,achievements and trends of the empirical sciences of his time and inlight of their scholarly reception.1 First, I focuss on Hegelsdefinition of the universal form of life, pointing to what theconnection is, in his philosophy of nature, between the structure ofconceptual and living processes in the path to the individualizationof matter. Second, since Hegel calls animal life the truth oforganics,2I shall try to explain how in the philosophy of nature theIdea of life comes to differentiate itself into certain essentialcharacteristics of immediate, finite and individual animals, passingthrough the stages of geological nature and vegetable organisms.

    1 The concept of life in Hegels 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 theorganic, syllogistic movement of division, determination andreintegration into unity of universality and individuality (Hegel2002, 168). As Annette Sell puts it, at the conclusion of her entry onlife (Leben) in the Hegel-Lexikon, life is the movement

    *Research on this paper was made possible by an Alexander von Humboldt grant in May2008 at the University of Jena (thanks are due to Klaus Vieweg for hosting me), and by a leaveof absence from the University of Trieste in 2008/09. All translations, both from primary andsecondary sources, are my own, with the exception of Aristotle, De part. anim.and Cuvier 1997. 1.11.3 of the present paper expand, integrate and articulate 1.1 and 1.2 of my contributionon the transition to Organics in Hegels Philosophy of Nature forthcoming in TheBlackwellCompanion to Hegel(ed. by S. Houlgate and M. Baur); the present 2 extends and develops theanalysis 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 Hegels

    private library (see: Neuser 1987, 48095): indeed, among others, Hegel owned works byAckerman, Autenrieth, Bichat, Blainville, Buquoy, Cuvier, Damerow, Ideler, Meyer, Pohl,Robinet, Schelver, Schultz, Spix, Trommsdorff, Werner, Winterl.

    2See: TWA 9, 344Z: 374; 349Z: 429. On the animal organism as the truth of organicnature because it fulfills all the logical determinations of the idea of life, see: Bach 2004,181; cf.also Ilting 1987, 34951 and Bach 2006a, 442.

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    From Geological to Animal Nature in Hegels Idea of Life 3

    characterised by division and reintegration into unity, whichexpresses the moving relationship of individual and universal [dasbewegte Verhltnis von Einzelnem und Allgemeinen] (Sell 2006,305). This syllogistic reintegration into unity is distinctive of bothconceptual and living processes, for it is nothing but the very formof conceiving or the very type of pure conceptual thinking(Burbidge 22008, 5051).

    In his 1823/24 BerlinLectures on the Philosophy of NatureHegelstates that the concept is the master that keeps singularitiestogether (Hegel 2000, 90), since even if the qualitative individualnatural existences have the basic form (Grundform) of mutualindependence, extrinsicality and indifference, their mutualexternality is only a semblance (Schein).This is why Hegel contendsthat the syllogistic linkage is in general a universal [i.e. conceptual]form of all things [eine allgemeine Form allerDinge] (TWA 8, 24 2Z: 84).3 The idea of the inner, essential, unity of universalityand activity that on Hegels views constitutes the true life ofempirical natural bodies as well as their different parts orapparatuses, 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,Hegels task is then to bring to consciousness, that is, to recognise,the pure and abstract determinations of thought, which were hisobject in the Logic, in the conformations of mind-independentnatural beings (TWA8, 24 2Z: 84).

    In his 1821/22 BerlinLectures on the Philosophy of Nature Hegelmakes also explicit that life is to be individuality as the process of

    3For 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 thetotality 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 Gestaltwithin itself(positive electricity), and of the opposition to its other (negative electricity), and finally theconcrete 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 theconformity of chemistry to the thought-movement of the concept in turn requires (TWA 9, 328Z: 2958) that we have a squared middle term, or a tetrad in the whole, because of theparticularization of the first abstract extreme within itself (inner side) and against another(external side).

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    CINZIA FERRINI4

    leading the members back to identity (Hegel 2002, 168).4Throughthis syllogistic process of reintegration, the individual livingorganism acquires and preserves the form of a self.For instance, thesun or center of the animal organism is the concept as livinguniversality (lebendige Allgemeinheit),which passes syllogisticallythrough its three determinations of shape as self-relation (Gestalt):assimilation as opposition and relation to otherness, and finallygenus as self-relation within the other (TWA9, 352: 435). Finally,in the opening paragraph of Organic Physics Hegel introduces lifeby referring to the self-related negative unity that naturalindividuality has become. This is to say that life is the circularinfinite process of determining itself to particularity or finitude(Besonderheit oder Endlichkeit) and equally negating this andreturning into itself, so that at the end of the process it re-establishesitself to begin anew (TWA 9, 337: 337). Within this frame, andfrom the standpoint of Hegels general dynamic conception of theuniversal forms of all natural things, Mechanics, Physics andOrganics 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 thesimplest starting point possible: the mere self-externality(Auersichsein) of space, which represents the abstract universaldeterminateness 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, abstractlack of difference: a movement that contradicts its uninterruptedcontinuity. The negativity of the self-differentiation of space thatgives rise to its dimensions is only formal or logical, however,

    because point, line and surface are just moments, devoid of anyindependent subsistence. By contrast, it is through the thorough self-

    4Compare Hegels 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 u