Hegel and Nature


Alison Stone’s book on Hegel’s philosophy of nature (Petrified Intelligence, 2005) has an interesting set of conclusion, including one related to environmentalism:

As I have stressed, his work makes possible a sustained diagnosis of environmental problems as deriving, ultimately, from the defective metaphysical presuppositions that underlie modern empirical science as a whole. According to Hegel, science is unified—despite its variety and its ever-increasing sophistication—by the basic and enduring metaphysical assumption that nature is a realm of bare things. From Hegel’s perspective, this metaphysical conception of nature is inadequate, and so, by implication, is bound to issue in correspondingly inadequate accounts of natural forms and correspondingly damaging technological applications. In particular, for Hegel, empirical science’s metaphysics of nature is inadequate insofar as it is separated from our basic sense of nature as dynamic, elemental, and intrinsically valuable instead offering a misleading portrayal of natural forms as inert and inherently value-neutral. Given this inadequacy at the level of its metaphysical presuppositions, it is unsurprising that modern science should typically generate technologies that are poorly attuned to the real character of nature, on which they tend to exert destructive or damaging effects. [168]

In his lecture of the history of philosophy, when discussing early Greek philosophers with their odd physics, Hegel takes issue with science of the day claiming that it has no theoretical bias and a deals only with empirical facts. In this sense the recently departed “object-oriented ontology” is a form of vulgar scientism (despite all the open protestations against scientism and against science’s claim to do its own philosophy – “we, philosophers, can also do speculations about reality”). Nature here is the realm of bare objects.

Implicit within his mature work is a vision of a future recontextualization of scientific findings within a specifically philosophical theory of nature. Thus, Hegel in no way recommends the abandonment of science or its supersession by some spurious alternative. Rather, for Hegel, scientific research should continue, because its findings are informative; yet, paradoxically, these findings are always misleading as well, which makes it necessary that they succumb to ongoing reinterpretation in terms of a more adequate philosophical theory of nature. From Hegel’s point of view, it is this philosophical theory that should be authoritative in informing our interactions with nature; this should ensure that those interactions would assume a relatively benign and environmentally sensitive form. [168]

In order to regain its position vis-a-vis science, philosophy does not need to provide some competing theory of reality, some independent ontology. It only needs to do its work because science, despite explicit claims, does not have any ontological commitments of its own, it always sneaks in some ready-made ontological commitment under its guise of alleged objectivity and empiricism.

One thought on “Hegel and Nature

  1. Pingback: Hegel and Nature | Research Material

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