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Hegel's ontological pluralism: rethinking the distinction between Natur and Geist.

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN a human social world and a natural world governed by immutable laws has been decisive for modern philosophy. Some have even suggested that this dichotomy is itself constitutive of what it means to be modern, or at least of modernity's self-understanding. (1) Of course, there are many important variations in how exactly we should think through this distinction--from Descartes's res cogitans and res extensa to Rousseau's nature and civil society to Kant's realm of freedom and realm of necessity--and these differences have significant repercussions. Nevertheless, most modern philosophers work within some form of differentiation between the world of nature which is the proper object of the natural sciences and the human, minded, and sociohistorical world, and Hegel is no exception. Hegel is distinctive, however, in his attempt to both articulate the truth of such a difference and simultaneously to overcome it by showing the continuity or unity between the human world and the natural world. The goal of this paper is to argue for how Hegel's account of the relationship between nature and spirit (Natur und Geist) is an attempt both to preserve and to overcome this modern dichotomy. This task is important because some of the recent secondary literature on Hegel appears to suggest a false alternative: either Hegel follows Kant's distinction between the natural realm of necessity and the realm of human freedom, or he returns to a precritical rationalist monism wherein nature is nothing but an emanation of the Idea. I will argue that if we are able to reconstruct Hegel's account of how to think both the difference and the unity between the natural and human world, not only do we move beyond this false dichotomy, but we also end up at the surprising conclusion that Hegel is an ontological pluralist who believes that entities exist in many different ways.

Accounts of Hegel's idealism have wavered between two opposing interpretive poles for some time now. One general line of interpretation, historically the more traditional one, sees in Hegel's philosophy the expression of a robust metaphysical rationalism, while another draws his idealism closer to Kant's critical philosophy and its various restrictions. (2) While this is not always made explicit, these different readings have repercussions for how we interpret the relationship between the human historical world of spirit and the realm of nature within Hegel's philosophy. The metaphysical interpreters tend to see nature as a "manifestation" of Geist, and read the Natur/Geist distinction as somehow unified or overcome speculatively, while the nonmetaphysical readers emphasize the distinction until it almost becomes a Kantian dichotomy. In his classic study, for example, Charles Taylor describes Geist as an elaborate and historically mediated "cosmic spirit" (3) at work in and through everything, including nature. (4) On this reading, Hegel's rationalism implies that everything is somehow grounded in or an emanation of the Concept (der Begriff). What we end up with is a fairly exuberant form of monistic rationalism in which all of existence derives from the thinking activity of a cosmic substance, or in Taylor's words: "For the inner truth of things is that they flow from thought, that they are structured by rational necessity.., the Concept is an active principle underlying reality, making it what it is." (5) Even the supposedly contingent products of nature are expressions or emanations of Geist. Of course, Hegel is presented as having an elaborate defense of this position, and it does not have to be crude or cartoonish in the way I have just presented it. In fact, many commentators have successfully attempted to refine and defend this picture of Hegel as a monistic rationalist, sometimes by showing how this monism is actually quite epistemologically sophisticated, (6) or by demonstrating how it was historically motivated by the necessity of uniting Fichte's notion of freedom with Spinozistic naturalism and substance monism. (7)

At the same time, another general line of interpretation has developed that wishes to eliminate the alleged metaphysical excesses of Hegelian metaphysics and to reconstruct him as a nonmetaphysical thinker, whether it be as a category theorist, (8) a neo-Kantian idealist, (9) or a defender of the social-normative dimension of rationality. (10) For these readers, the ontological claims that appear to belie Hegel's reversion to precritical metaphysics can be reinterpreted or deflated once one aligns Hegel's philosophy with the Kantian block on the metaphysical pretensions of transcendental realism and dogmatism in all its forms. Hegel is seen to largely agree with Kant that, in Robert Pippin's words, "contrary to the rationalist tradition, human reason can attain nonempirical knowledge only about itself, about what has come to be called recently our 'conceptual scheme,' and the concepts required for a scheme to count as one at all." (11) The metaphysical pretensions of the Hegelian program are curbed so that they become compatible with Kantian humility. One of the notorious difficulties with the post-Kantian or nonmetaphysical interpretations is how to reconstruct Hegel's philosophy without either disregarding significant aspects of his system or ignoring the clearly metaphysical positions he expounds, especially in regards to the rationality and conceptuality of nature. One possible strategy would be to discard aspects of Hegel's system that exceed the nonmetaphysical interpretation, as Hartmann sometimes suggests: "one might, for example, discard parts of the philosophy of nature: the richness of natural phenomena is such that no convincing single-file perusal can be offered." (12) Once one is finished trimming Hegel of all his metaphysical excesses, however, one wonders whether what is left over bears any resemblance to Hegel's actual self-understanding of his own project.

In many ways, much of this debate between the nonmetaphysical and the metaphysical interpretations centers on the issue of how exactly to think the relationship between nature and spirit within Hegel's idealism. The metaphysical interpretation, as we have seen, tends to understand nature as some form of emanation of spirit, in line with Hegel's infamous claims that the Idea "externalizes" itself or "freely releases" itself into nature. (13) The nonmetaphysical interpretations, on the other hand, minimize and deflate the importance of nature for Hegel, focusing instead on the distinction he makes between the spheres of spirit and nature. Robert Pippin goes so far as to suggest that we "leave nature out of it and accept and work within a basic distinction between spirit and nature, Geist and Natur." (14) Hegel is seen as primarily preoccupied with Geist, understood as the realm of human practice and a relatively autonomous sphere of normativity--a form of "social space" as Terry Pinkard puts it:
   Spirit--Geist--is a self-conscious form of life--that is, it is a
   form of life that has developed various social practices for
   reflecting on what it takes to be authoritative for itself in terms
   of whether these practices live up to their own claims and achieve
   the aims that they set for themselves. Put more metaphorically,
   spirit is a form of "social space" reflecting on itself as to
   whether it is satisfactory within its own terms. (15)

On this reading, even though Hegel does say many interesting (and often extravagant) things about nature, these claims are inconsequential for his philosophy of spirit, which is what really matters for Hegel in the end. After all, it is only within spirit that the Concept comes into its own and becomes self-conscious. We are better served by leaving nature behind and maintaining a largely post-Kantian reformulation of the dichotomy between the self-conscious realm of autonomy and the natural realm of heteronomy and natural necessity.

I argue, however, that this debate between the metaphysical and nonmetaphysical interpretations of Hegel gains traction by means of dilemma Hegel would see as a false one: either Hegel is a metaphysical monist or he is a post-Kantian nonmetaphysical thinker. James Kreines, in his excellent "Metaphysics without Pre-Critical Monism," (16) has begun to open up a third line of interpretation by claiming that Hegel could hold a metaphysical or ontological position without returning to a precritical monism. According to Kreines, Hegel rejects rationalist monism because, following Kant, he rejects metaphysical rationalism: "Hegel entirely rejects all forms of metaphysical rationalism, including rationalist monism. He holds that there is no single ground providing a complete reason for everything real." (17) Hegel continues to have metaphysical pretensions, however, just not of the kind that was critically undermined by Kantian transcendental philosophy. In this paper I follow Kreines in reading Hegel's philosophy as involving substantive ontological commitments, while denying that this must necessarily commit him to a rationalist metaphysics. I argue that such an interpretation is more consistent with Hegel's own understanding of the relationship between spirit and nature. This is because, I hope to show, Hegel is surprisingly committed to a position of ontological pluralism. By ontological pluralism I understand the philosophical position that believes there are different modes of being--that existence cannot be adequately grounded in one thing, say, Reason or the Idea, because things exist in radically different ways. So Hegel is not an ontological monist (18) or an absolute rationalist, not because he believes we only have access to our "conceptual schemes" or that we are trapped within the bounds of human experience, but because he is ontologically committed to the idea that there are some things in reality that exist in such a way that resists rational grounding or intelligibility, and that entities resist this in different ways and to different degrees. This position, I hope, will allow us to reconstruct Hegel's distinction and unity between nature and spirit in a manner that is both more faithful to Hegel's own texts and simultaneously philosophically fruitful.


The Dichotomy between Nature and Spirit. The most general distinction between ontological levels of intelligibility is articulated by Hegel through the difference between Natur and Geist, or nature and spirit. Against the view that Hegel is a monist, the nonmetaphysical interpretation is correct to insist on the fact that nature is not exhausted by conceptual determination and that there is an important distinction between the realm of Geist as the realm in which complete rational self-determination is possible and nature as the realm in which the Concept is constantly at a loss. This is to insist that Hegel believes that there is much in nature that is without reason or irrational. As is well known since Herr Krug asked Hegel to deduce his pen from the Idea, Hegel believes that there are contingent aspects to nature that escape rational grounding: "This impotence of Nature sets limits to philosophy [Jene Ohnmacht der Natur setzt der Philosophie Grenzen] and it is quite improper to expect the Notion to comprehend--or as it is said, construe or deduce--these contingent products of Nature." (19) According to Hegel, the manifold forms in which nature expresses itself cannot be conceptually grasped because nature's multiplicity outstrips conceptual determination. He directly implies that there are aspects of nature that are irrational, both in the sense of being nonconceptual (begrifflose) and without reason (Vernunftlose):
   This is the impotence of nature, that it cannot adhere to and
   exhibit the strictness of the Notion and runs wild in this blind
   irrational multiplicity [begrifflose blinde Mannigfaltigkeit]. We
   can wonder at nature's manifold genera and species and the endless
   diversity [unendlichen Verschiedenheit] of her formations, for
   wonderment is unreasoning [ohne Begriff] and its object the
   irrational [Vernunftlose]. (20)

Against the rationalist interpretation, there are several moments in which Hegel contradicts quite explicitly any understanding of natural entities as emanations of the Concept, instead insisting on nature's irrationality and contingency--which he calls its impotence (Ohnmacht). Individual entities in the finite natural world succumb to what he calls "unchecked contingency [zugellose Zufalligkeit]" and lack an immanent conceptual or rational determination: "In Nature, not only is the play of forms a prey to boundless and unchecked contingency, but each separate entity is without the Concept of itself." (21) As is well known, this aspect of nature is contrasted by Hegel with the self-determination and rationality of spirit. (22)

So the nonmetaphysical or post-Kantian readings appears to be correct in maintaining that even if Hegel reformulates it, he is still working mutatis mutandis within the Kantian distinction between the realm of freedom and the realm of necessity. The sphere of self-determination is set up in opposition to nature, which Hegel articulates by calling nature the "other" of spirit: "Such an other, determined as other, is physical nature; it is the other of spirit." (23) In contrast to the unchecked contingency and irrationality that are sometimes found in nature, conceptuality and self-consciousness is the sole property of the Geistig realm: "the Concept that is self-conscious and thinks pertains solely to Spirit." (24) However, there is an extremely important difference in the manner in which Hegel differentiates between nature and spirit, and this difference should be enough to exclude Hegel from any neo-Kantian interpretation. The distinction between the normative realm and the natural realm is not an ontological distinction for Kant and neo-Kantians--human subjects are embedded in the world of natural necessity while simultaneously having the possibility of moral freedom; the distinction is a transcendental one not having to do with the nature of the object. For Hegel, however, the distinction between the two is actually present in the nature of the object in question, and this difference will have significant philosophical consequences. In order to bring to focus on what is distinctive about the Hegelian differentiation between Natur and Geist, I will briefly contrast it to the way the Baden or Southwest school of neo-Kantianism attempted articulate this distinction. While this detour into a largely forgotten school of Kant-interpretation may at first appear strange, I think it will become clear that the normative reading of German Idealism that one finds evident in Pippin's account of the distinction between nature and spirit is, as Frederick Beiser has correctly pointed out, a repetition of central themes found in the Baden neo-Kantians. (25) If this is so, as I hope to show, then the compatibilist, normative, and nonontological reading provided by Pippin is essentially Kantian rather than Hegelian.

The so-called Baden neo-Kantians sought to properly distinguish the theoretical goals of the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften) from the historical sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) in a Kantian manner. Following Windelband's differentiation between idiographic and nomothetic tendencies in conceptual formation, Heinrich Rickert produced an influential formulation of the distinction between nature and history in The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science. (26) Rickert develops Kant's dichotomy into what he calls "a logical opposition between nature and history." (27) What is important for our purposes is that nature and history do not delineate different ontological realms since to a certain extent, everything "is" in nature; rather they name two different orientations an inquiry can have towards one and the same empirical reality. The study of natural science involves abstraction from empirical reality in order to comprehend universal and general concepts such as laws; these sciences are thereby nomological. (28) In looking at a particular specimen of bacteria under a microscope, the natural scientist is not trying to comprehend the singularity and individuality of this bacteria, but to understand what general characteristics or properties this individual has by virtue of being part of a class of things called pneumococcus, or bacteria, or living organism, and so on. The limit of concept formation in the natural sciences lies for Rickert in the gap between general concepts used to comprehend reality and the same reality understood as a singular individual. What is left out of the natural account of an object "is nothing but unique empirical reality itself." (29) If we want to comprehend the unique reality of an individual, we will have to turn to the historical sciences. So while the same object, say, the individual "Napoleon Bonaparte," may be understood as a part of nature or as a part of history, the former comprehension will involve placing the individual under general natural laws while the latter will involve the understanding of a historical singularity. For Rickert, it does not matter whether the object under investigation is a virus, a human, or a stone--if it is understood under the standpoint of natural science, then its object is ahistorical, atemporal, and universal; if understood historically, it is taken as an individual: "Each leaf on a tree, every lump of sulfur a chemist puts in his retort, is an individual. As such, it can no more be subsumed under a natural scientific concept than any great personality of history." (30)

What I want to single out as distinctively neo-Kantian in this approach is that it refuses to see the difference between Natur and Geist as involving some difference in the object or entity under investigation. For Kant, what differentiates a transcendental distinction from an ontological one is the fact that it does not directly relate to the object in itself: "I entitle transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (31) Insofar as Rickert's distinction between nature and history has to do merely with the mode of our relation to objects, it remains transcendental. The tendencies towards conceptual generalization and conceptual singularization are logical or transcendental, and happen "regardless of which part of the invariably perceptual and individual real world in which we live is under consideration." (32) Rickert goes so far as to claim that for natural science there can be no essential distinction between Goethe and a piece of sulfur, since the distinction here is a transcendental one, not involved with the being of objects but rather with our mode of cognizing them:
   As a complete empirical reality, Goethe is no "more complex" than
   any given fragment of sulfur in its complete empirical reality.
   That is because the manifold of both realities is infinite. As long
   as only empirical reality as such is in question, to speak of one
   as being more or less complex than the other is senseless. A "man
   of history" is incomprehensible for natural science, not as a
   complicated personality but rather as a unique individual, a
   distinctive construct that will never recur. (33)

Pippin's attempt to rearticulate the distinction between nature and spirit as a distinction between the normative and the natural follows the neo-Kantian pattern. This reading similarly understands the movement from nature to spirit as a shift that is not between different ontological realms or entities, but simply as differently related to our own conceptual schemes:
   Natural beings accomplish this new position towards and relation to
   nature, and soul just is that accomplishment. The conceptual claim
   is that, while representing no new ontological object, such
   relations introduce a sort of capacity for which the explanatory
   norms at home in the natural world of immediacy, externality, and
   particularity are now incomplete if also still in some sense
   possible. (34)

While Pippin's account is certainly not identical to Rickert's, and involves sustained attention to the ways in which the historical and the social play a crucial role in the development of the normative sphere, they both share the Kantian belief that interpreting the distinction in ontological terms is inappropriate: "The distinction is itself a normative and historical one, not an ontological one." (35)

Against the logical or transcendental mode of distinguishing Natur from Geist, the Hegelian strategy will involve identifying something in the object that makes it distinctive, that gives it a capacity or incapacity for self-determination. There are aspects of nature that are incomprehensible not only because of our incapacity to judge otherwise than through the universality of concepts. Nature's very nature is to withdraw from conceptual grasp, which for Hegel means that nature does not measure up to complete conceptuality. Hegel distinguishes his own account from the more Kantian strategy in the following manner:
   Such an other, determined as other, is physical nature; it is the
   other of spirit. This its determination is thus at first a mere
   relativity by which is expressed, not a quality of nature itself,
   but only a relation external to it. However, since spirit is the
   true something and nature, consequently, in its own serf is only
   what it is as contrasted with spirit, the quality of nature taken
   as such is just this, to be the other in its own self, that which
   is external to itself [das Andere an ihr selbst, das
   Auiger-sich-Seiende]. (36)

At first, to determine nature as incapable of raising itself to rational determination involves merely a relation between external conceptual determination and nature--our concepts are met with resistance when we attempt to conceptualize nature. Nature is irrational (or, perhaps, radically individual and contingent) only relative to the universalizing tendencies of human thought. This is the position that Pippin defends: "The truth about nature, about what nature is and what it isn't, isn't itself a manifestation of nature." (37) Hegel warns us, however, not to remain in this position by adding a next step to this dialectic. In the second moment we must move to a view in which we understand this resistance or externality not as a logical mismatch between concepts and the infinite manifold, but as a quality of nature itself. When Hegel contrasts nature and spirit, what he means is that spirit is the realm in which conceptual self-determination is possible, while nature designates an entire field of objectivity which is, by its very nature, external to itself: "Nature is not merely external in relation to this Idea (and to its subjective existence Spirit); the truth is rather that externality constitutes the specific character [Bestimmung] in which Nature, as Nature, exists." (38) It is not the generalizing tendencies of our concepts or the bounds of human experience that sets limits on our knowledge of nature, but it is actually nature that sets limits to philosophy: "This impotence of Nature sets limits to philosophy [Jene Ohnmacht der Natur setzt der Philosophie Grenzen]." (39) The distinction between the Kantian and the Hegelian approach becomes clear once one notices that it is not our conceptual schemes that are limiting our knowledge of nature, but nature's own resistance to conceptual grasp, which Hegel understand as nature's own incapacity (Ohnmacht).

So we have seen that on the one hand, Hegel continues to articulate the distinction between the realm of freedom and the realm of necessity opened up by Kant, even if rephrased as internality and externality, but on the other hand, he does so in a decidedly un-Kantian manner. One sense of nature in Hegel is this: nature is the other of spirit, since it is by its very determination (Bestimmung) externality as such. Our concepts cannot adequately grasp the natural world because nature singularizes itself into multiplicities that defy perfect rational determination: "Nature everywhere [allenthalben] blurs the essential limits [wesentlichen Grenzen] of species and genera by intermediate and defective forms, which continually furnish counter examples to every fixed distinction." (40) This sense of nature, however, nature as externality, does not exhaust what Hegel means by nature, since leaving it at this standpoint would involve acknowledging an unbridgeable dichotomy between two ontological realms. Nature is not, for Hegel, globally irrational, since in it we find "traces of conceptual determination [Spuren der Begriffsbestimmung]." (41) Hegel's point is that we can conceptualize nature only in a limited manner, but our conceptual grasp can never completely determine the being of the natural entity under investigation, since "these traces do not exhaust its nature." (42) These traces of conceptual determination in nature are the manifestations of self-determination that are present at different ontological levels, but here the distinction between nature and spirit becomes more fluid and complex, or in the very least no longer involves a strict dichotomy. As Willem A. deVries has argued, "although he distinguishes nature and spirit, it would be a major mistake to think that that is the end of the matter." (43) Hegel attempts to articulate an understanding of the continuity and unity between nature and spirit, which will give us a more complete account of his position.


The Continuity between Nature and Spirit. Even though it can be said that in the precise sense outlined above, nature is the externality of the Concept, its outermost point and negation, there are also traces of conceptuality present throughout nature. Despite admitting to the distinction outlined above between nature and conceptuality, Hegel sees different ontological levels of nature as capable of conceptual self-determination and intelligibility to different degrees. These levels of conceptual self-determination allow for a passage or continuity between nature and spirit. At the lowest ontological level of intelligibility we have the inorganic realm, in which mechanical explanations generally dominate, a sphere in which nature is at its most external. However, nature is able to organize itself to different degrees, and this ability of parts to join in self-organized wholes is already understood by Hegel as some form of prespiritual self-determination. This point is suggested by James Kreines at the end of his essay on "The Logic of Life," where he argues that Hegel does not subscribe to "organic monism" because he sees reality articulated into different Stufen or Gattungen: "Reality has a differentiated structure insofar as there are many different kinds or levels of phenomena which differ in real and important ways from biological phenomena and from one another."" Since both Kreines and deVries have argued elsewhere for ways of thinking about these different ontological levels, I will not go into detail here. (45) Suffice it to say for our purposes that Hegel understands nature as articulated at different levels of intelligibility, from the merely mechanical, to the chemical, magnetic, all the way to the organic, and that these degrees of intelligibility depend on the particular entity's capacity for self-organization. It might be helpful, following deVries, (46) to think of the "higher levels" as supervening on the "lower levels," so that while the chemical is also mechanical, it is not merely mechanical, and while the organic also involves chemical and mechanical reality, it simultaneously has organic serf-organization that supervenes on its inorganic existence. While the language of supervenience or of emergent properties is certainly too anachronistic to do justice to Hegel's conceptual articulations, it does capture the way in which each of these Gattungen of reality are articulated in ontologically different ways. In saying that the Concept is implicit throughout nature, Hegel implies that these levels of self-organization are lower-order manifestations of the Concept's self-unfolding.

Readers may become worried at this point that this description of nature as protoconceptual returns us to the more philosophically extravagant positions of Hegel's idealism, implying both panlogicism and panpsychism (that everything is rational and everything is conceptual). Hegel at times appears to suggest that these different levels of self-organization, say, in a chemical reaction's tendency towards stability, the Concept is already implicitly at work. Take, for example, his account of how a stone overcomes its own limitation:
   The Concept which it is implicitly [der Begriff, der er an sich
   ist] contains the identity of the stone with its other. If it is a
   base capable of being acted on by an acid, then it can be oxidized,
   and neutralized, and so on. In oxidation, neutralization and so on,
   it overcomes its limitation of existing only as a base, it
   transcends it. (47)

It may appear that Hegel has contradicted his previous account of nature as lacking its own concept when he claims that something inorganic is implicitly the Concept. To say that the Concept is implicitly at work in nature, however, does not imply that consciousness or self-consciousness is at work in the stone, since what Hegel means by the Concept is not coextensive with what we would today mean by conceptual. Hegel very clearly denies any form of sentience or sapience to the stone: "Because the stone does not think, does not even feel, its limitedness is not a limitation for it, that is, is not a negation in it for sensation, imagination, thought, etc., which it does not possess." (48) A stone cannot have the problems of consciousness and self-consciousness because it lacks the capacity for sensibility and thought, and thus the capacity to sense and know its limitations--this is related to that incapacity Hegel called the Ohnmacht of nature. Hegel's account of nature actually stresses the fact that thinking concepts must be imposed on inorganic matter, because not everything has its concept "within itself." For Hegel, it is only when self-consciousness is possible, only when the object thought and the object thinking coincide, that the concept can truly be self-determining: "A stone does not have this inconvenience; when it is to be thought or judged it does not stand in its own way. It is relieved from the burden of making use of itself for this task; it is something else outside it that must give itself this trouble." (49) In sum, to say that there are different levels of self-organization and intelligibility in nature is not to imply that there is some form of ideal consciousness manifesting itself in inorganic entities and making them what they are.

Things become more complicated, however, when we move from the inorganic realm to the organic. A stone cannot have negative self-relation because it cannot even relate to itself, in any full sense of the term. Once the organic arises out of the inorganic, Hegel describes nature as capable of organizing itself and relating to itself through sentience, and once there is the capacity for negative self-relation, there is already an explicit (although not yet fully self-determining) manifestation of the Concept:
   If, however, an existence contains the Concept not merely as an
   abstract in-itself, but as an explicit, self-determined totality,
   as instinct, life, ideation, etc., then in its own strength it
   overcomes the limitation and attains a being beyond it. The plant
   transcends the limitation of being a seed, similarly, of being
   blossom, fruit, leaf; the seed becomes the developed plant, the
   blossom fades away, and so on. The sentient creature, in the
   limitation of hunger, thirst, etc., is the urge to overcome this
   limitation and it does overcome it. It feels pain, and it is the
   privilege of the sentient nature to feel pain; it is a negation in
   its self [es ist eine Negation in seinem Selbst] and the negation
   is determined as a limitation in its feeling, just because the
   sentient creature has the feeling of its self, which is the
   totality that transcends this determinateness. (50)

The conceptual self-relation we get fully developed in self-consciousness is for Hegel already prefigured in other forms of negative self-relation, such as hunger, thirst, and pain. The capacity of organic, sentient beings to sense their own limitations puts them in a different "stage" than the inorganic world. For Hegel, the distinction between life and nonlife is arguably more important than any other distinction, since organic existence is the point at which the inorganic world reaches such a complex level of self-organization as to sublate itself and turn into spirit. It is in life and organic nature in general that Hegel sees serf-determination arising: "In nature life appears as the highest stage, a stage that nature's externality [ihrer Ausserlichkeit] attains by withdrawing into itself and sublating itself in subjectivity [sich in der Subjektivitdt aufhebt]." (51) Organic existence is not something imposed on nature as if from the outside, but something that nature attains by an immanent process of self-organization. The idea of life is therefore the point at which nature itself becomes spirit, in which subjectivity emerges out of the animal organism:
   In the idea of life, subjectivity is the Concept, and it is thus in
   itself the absolute being-within-itself of actuality and concrete
   universality. Through the sublation of the immediacy of its reality
   just demonstrated, subjectivity has coalesced with itself, the last
   self-externality of Nature has been sublated and the Concept, which
   in Nature is present only in itself, has become for itself. (52)

Since what it means for the Concept to arise out of its externality, to gain consciousness of itself, to be not merely in itself but also for itself, is what Hegel means by Geist, we have in the idea of life something like a limit between nature and spirit, or something that is both natural and beyond nature.

However, since the determinate character of nature was precisely its incapacity for immanent self-organization, Hegel understands this immanent development as a form of self-overcoming or self-sublation. nature's externality, understood as its capacity for unbridled variation and multiplicity and incapacity for conceptual self-organization, is overcome by nature's own withdrawal into life, consciousness, and finally subjectivity. Hegel gives us a passage from nature to the spiritual realm, which he calls nature's self-sublation: "Nature, having reached this Idea from the starting point of its externality [ihrer Ausserlichkeit], transcends itself; its end does not appear as its beginning, but as its limit [Grenze], in which it sublates itself [sich selbst aufhebt]. (53) Difficulties can arise from the fact that Hegel is switching between two senses of nature. On the one hand, the determinate character of nature is externality as such, so the idea of life is already a limit to nature, already beyond nature and a work of spirit; on the other hand, nature is also this self-negation and self-overcoming, and thereby that which is already implicitly spiritual. As is usually the case with dialectical thinking, Hegel wants to have it both ways: the very definition of nature and spirit involves their opposition to one another while at the same time there is no absolute gulf to be bridged between the two. Organic existence, and life in particular, is the fulcrum (or, if you will, the pineal gland) between these two positions:
   In spirit, however, life appears partly as opposed to it, partly as
   posited as at one with it, this unity being reborn as the pure
   offspring of spirit. For here life is to be taken generally in its
   proper sense as natural life [natuirliches Leben], for what is
   called the life of spirit [Leben des Geistes] as spirit, is its
   peculiar nature that stands opposed to mere life [ist seine
   Eigentumlichkeit, welche dem blossen Leben gegenubersteht]; just as
   we speak, too, of the nature of spirit, although spirit is not a
   natural being, and is rather the opposite of nature [der Gegensatz
   zur Natur ist]. (54)

spirit is both something already happening in nature as the process of life, and something that stands opposed to "mere life," to mere natural life.

This duplicity of life, its being both opposed to spirit and at one with it, can be better explained by separating this speculative unity into its different moments. For Hegel, nature is that which by its very peculiar nature resists self-organization. Parts of nature (the organic), however, are able to sublate this externality and raise themselves to the point of self-organizing and self-relating wholes. In this manner, nature has negated its peculiar character, and this negative self-relation is its elevation to a higher stage of existence. This process moves internally until, according to Hegel, it produces internal death, sentience, disease, and other signs of self-negating activity. Finally, it proceeds to become for-itself, producing self-sustaining universality and subjectivity. In saying that nature negates itself and rises above itself, Hegel is therefore utilizing two senses of nature: nature as negated is the nature qua externality, while the negating nature is already the work of self-organizing self-transcendence, and thus already the work of spirit. Since the "peculiar nature" of Geist is precisely to stand opposed to this mere natural existence, what has happened here is that in its negative self-relation nature has become Geist. Of course, it cannot know itself to have done just that, since merely organic life is not self-conscious, but for Hegel the Concept has already emerged at this ontological level: "Life, or organic nature, is the stage of nature [Stufe der Natur] at which the Concept emerges, but as blind, as unaware of itself and unthinking; the Concept that is self-conscious and thinks pertains solely to Spirit." (55) It becomes a matter of indifference whether one calls life's overcoming of inorganic nature a work of nature or of spirit, because it is simultaneously spirit and nature--the self-overcoming of nature is nature's overcoming of itself and also the coming-to-be of spirit. The level or stage designated by life and the organic is both natural and spiritual, it "constitutes a stage [Stufe] of nature as well as of spirit. (56) It may initially appear that Hegel is contradicting himself, at times saying that nature as life is already spirit and at times saying that the life of spirit is opposed to nature. This is, as we have seen, because he is working with two distinct accounts of the relationship between nature and spirit--while the "peculiar nature" of Geist and Natur is their opposition, their actual immediate existence involves the passage from one to the other at various continuous levels. In the latter sense, the Concept is at work everywhere, but it is at work to different degrees and in different ways, giving rise to different levels of intelligibility.

Because of this continuity, the same duplicity we have found in the concept of nature---nature as externality and nature as implicitly spiritual--is replicated within the realm of spirit. As we have seen Hegel claims that the peculiar nature of spirit is to stand opposed to mere natural life. However spirit only becomes what it is through this negative relation to its own natural existence. Spirit arises out of nature as its condition, but does so by negating the natural within itself:
   To begin with, human consciousness and will are immersed in their
   unmediated natural life [in ihr unmittelbares naturliches Leben
   versenkt]; their aim and object, at first, is the natural
   determination as such. But this natural determination comes to be
   infinitely demanding, strong and rich, because it is animated by
   Spirit. Thus Spirit, within its own self, stands in opposition to
   itself. (57)

Hegel describes the development of human history as a gradual attempt to overcome the natural existence which is its condition and origin. This overcoming is described as a process of liberation--a liberation that Hegel once again presents as developing in different levels or stages: "world history presents the stages [Stufengang] in the development of the principle whose content is the consciousness of freedom." (58) The process is determined by spirit's immersion in its natural condition, and its gradual "tearing away" (Losreissen) (59) from its natural origin. The process of spirit's development is nothing but this movement, so that in a certain way spirit is nothing but the attempt to raise itself above its natural existence. From the standpoint of its process, it is always already dependent on this natural existence as its condition.

These different levels or stages of spirit's development can be singled out for scientific study. In its immediate existence within nature qua external, spirit is can be understood anthropologically: "The Concept that is for itself is necessarily also in immediate existence; in this substantial identity with life, as submerged in its externality [Versenktsein in seine Ausserlichkeit], it is the subject matter of anthropology." (60) Anthropology studies spirit in its identity to its own natural element, where "it lives as a natural spirit in sympathy with Nature." (61) Hegel here mentions all the unconscious and material influences on the human mind, including not only dreams but also physical effects on "the brain, the heart, the ganglia, the liver, and so forth." (62) Once spirit reaches the level of consciousness, it estranges itself from its own natural existence as if from an other, and its entanglement with objectivity and otherness is the process Hegel identifies with the phenomenology of spirit: "This stage is the subject matter of the phenomenology of spirit--a science which stands midway between the science of natural spirit and spirit as such." (63) Once this otherness is internalized, that is, converted from its external existence and transformed into an otherness internal to spirit, we get to the philosophy of spirit properly speaking. (64) These different levels of serf-organization that Hegel describes at the end of the Science of Logic map quite adequately onto the philosophy of spirit as articulated in his Heidelberg encyclopedia. There, the anthropology first deals with the physical, feeling, and actual soul ([section] 388-[section] 412), then we move to the phenomenology of spirit ([section] 413-[section] 439), in which spirit attains consciousness and self-consciousness, leading up to Geist both in its psychological and practical aspects ([section] 440-[section] 482) and finally to its objective existence in morality, laws, and ethical substance ([section] 482[section] 552). (65) Even if spirit's particular determination is to stand opposed to nature, this opposition is an activity in constant development. An investigation into these different levels of development shows how spirit is continuous with nature, arises from nature, and is entangled with nature, even as it is historically attempting to liberate itself from this conditionality.


Conclusion: Hegel's Ontological Pluralism. Hopefully I have shown that Hegel's distinction between nature and spirit does not involve an unbridgeable dichotomy, but rather different levels continuously related to one another. Different parts of nature are conceptual to different degrees, and different parts of spirit are submerged within nature to different degrees. Moreover, there is a developmental account in which spirit arises out of nature, even if in a process of negating nature. However, one could easily object to my characterizing these levels as different ways of being and ascribing to Hegel some form of ontological pluralism. Is not Hegel really saying, critics might ask, that everything that exists is somehow (implicitly or explicitly) spiritual, but is so to different degrees? Is not this simply the rehashing of a great chain of being, with human self-consciousness as the standard against which all entities are ontologically determined? On this view, stones aim at consciousness and self-consciousness, but not only are they incapable of achieving this, but they are so incapable as to not even sense their incapacity as a lack; or in Hegel's theological language: "God does not remain petrified and dead; the very stones cry out and raise themselves to Spirit." (66) Organic beings are slightly more capable of raising themselves to human self-consciousness, but it is only humanity, especially in its social interactions, that can truly free itself from nature. Hegel, on this view, simply reserves the name "nature" (as externality) to that general incapacity on the part of entities to reach the level of existence and self-consciousness humans can reach. Each entity exists less to the extent that it embodies self-determining and self-conscious activity in lesser ways. While it is undeniable that there are certainly passages in Hegel that may give such a reading credence, this position would make it difficult to explain how Hegel can believe in the actual existence of contingent natural entities. As we have seen, Hegel believes that there are natural entities that are not conceptual or rational, and that entities can be conceptual to different degrees and in different stages. While the Concept does function as some form of normative standard against which other entities are evaluated, it is not the determining factor of existence-claims. Furthermore, the Concept and spirit are not coextensive ideas, for as we have seen, the Concept is at work throughout spheres, such as mechanism and chemism, where spirit is strictly absent according to Hegel. This is why Hegel, as we have seen, accepts that there are contingent manifestations of nature that are nonconceptual and without reason.

In other words, to say that certain entities are more or less intelligible or more or less self-organizing or more or less self-conscious is not necessarily to say that they exist more or less. A plausible solution here is to accept that entities exist in different ways--to accept ontological pluralism--while maintaining that these different ways of being may display different capacities and possibilities. Whether these are determined as capacities or incapacities is of course fixed from the normative dimension retrospectively imposed by Geist. From the standpoint of conceptuality and universality, the "particular determination" of nature as capable of endless and contingent variability is seen as an incapacity. Nevertheless, each of these ontological levels involves an entity that is capable of raising itself above its own immediate natural existence to different degrees--to expect an insect to attain self-consciousness would be as unreasonable as expecting a stone to sense its own limitation. Hegel constantly mocks the Leibnizian-Wolffian tradition precisely on these points:
   In this connection we may mention a seemingly ingenious fancy of
   Leibniz: that if a magnet possessed consciousness it would regard
   its pointing to the north as a determination of its will, as a law
   of its freedom. On the contrary, if it possessed consciousness and
   consequently will and freedom, it would be a thinking being.... so
   that the single direction to the north would be rather a limitation
   on its freedom, just as much as being fixed to one spot would be a
   limitation for a man although not for a plant. (67)

The determination of the magnet (its pointing-north) is not "in itself' an imperfect expression of freedom that is immanent to the magnet. Hegel claims that if the magnet had the capacity for freedom, then it would be "a thinking being," that is, a different type of entity altogether. On the ontological level, Hegel maintains that there are different modes of being, which is why he is not offering a panlogicist and panpsychist "great chain of being" ontology.

In sum, Hegel does maintain some form of distinction between spirit and nature, as well as distinctions between things that think and those that do not. However, these must be understood from within an ontological context that includes several other distinctions: between things that live and those that do not, things that live but do not have consciousness and those that do, those that have consciousness but no self-consciousness, and so on. The distinction between Geist and Natur is certainly there, but it is there not in a Kantian manner that makes the object in question independent of the distinction. Rather, an entity is natural or spiritual depending on the type of being that it is, and on the capacities that arise from being that type of entity. Goethe is certainly more complex than a lump of sulfur, not because we take him now as an agent in the moral realm rather than as a physical entity fully determined by mechanical laws. Rather, Goethe has the capacity to do things a lump of sulfur cannot, and the types of mechanical and chemical explanations that may suffice for a stone would be reductive and insufficient if applied to an entity that in addition to its inorganic and organic existence, can intend, think, and write great poetry.

St. John's College, Santa Fe

Correspondence to: Raoni Padui, St. John's College, 1160 Camino Cruz Blanca, Santa Fe, NM, 87505.

(1) Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

(2) Some classic formulations of metaphysical interpretations can be found in Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Die Grenzen der Vernunft. Eine Untersuchung zu Zielen und Motiven des Deutschen Idealismus (Frankfurt am Main: Anton Hain, 1991) and Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975). For nonmetaphysical or post-Kantian readings, see Klaus Hartmann. "Hegel: a Non-metaphysical View," in Heael: A Collection of Critical Essaus, ed. Alasdair MacIntyre, (Notre Dame: University Notre Dame Press, 1972), 101-24, and Robert Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfaction of Self-Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

(3) Taylor, Hegel, 80.

(4) For Taylor, the self-determination of the concept is at work everywhere, "for everything is an emanation of the Concept" (ibid., 301).

(5) Ibid., 298.

(6) Rolf-Peter Horstmann, "Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit as an Argument for a Monistic Ontology," Inquiry 49.1 (2006): 103-18.

(7) Frederick Beiser, Hegel (New York: Routledge, 2005), 53-71.

(8) See Hartmann, "Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View," 101-24.

(9) See Pippin, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfaction of Self-Consciousness.

(10) Terry Pinkard, Hegel's Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

(11) Pippin, Hegel's Idealism, 8.

(12) Hartmann, "Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View," 111.

(13) G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, tran. A. V. Miller (Amherst: Humanity Books, 1998), 843; Wissenschaft der Logik II. Werke 6, 573. All Hegel citations will be to English translations followed by German Werke in zwanzig Banden (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1969).

(14) Robert Pippin, "Leaving Nature Behind, or Two Cheers for 'Subjectivism'," in Reading McDowell: On Mind and World, ed. Nicholas Smith (New York: Routledge, 2002), 70.

(15) Pinkard, Sociality of Reason, 8-9.

(16) James Kreines "Metaphysics without Pre-Critical Monism: Hegel on Lower-Level Natural Kinds and the Structure of Reality," Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 57/58 (2008): 48-70.

(17) Kreines, Metaphysics without Pre-Critical Monism," 50.

(18) Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of Hegel holding some form of epistemological monism--when it comes to questions of normativity or explanation, Hegel's position might be described as a form of holism. In other words, to say the true is the whole is not to say that being is a totality.

(19) G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), [section] 250, Remark, 23; Werke 9, 35.

(20) Hegel, Science of Logic 607; Werke 6, 282.

(21) Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, [section] 248, Remark, 17; Werke 9, 28.

(22) This is, of course, a striking first distinction between Kant and Hegel--for Kant the natural world is inhospitable to the human because it is governed by universal mechanical laws, while for Hegel it is because it is irrational and contingent--without the Begriff.

(23) Hegel, Science of Logic, 118; Werke 5, 127.

(24) Ibid., 586; Werke 6, 257.

(25) Frederick Beiser, "Normativity in Neo-Kantianism: Its Rise and Fall," International Journal of Philosophical Studies 17.1 (2009): 10.

(26) Heinrich Rickert, The Limits of Concept Formation in the Natural Science, trans. Guy Oakes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(27) Ibid., 34.

(28) Ibid., 40: "We know that these nomological sciences cannot have the purpose of encompassing the concrete actuality and individuality of reality within its theories. Like the content of every concept of natural science, the content of a nomological concept is general."

(29) Ibid., 40.

(30) Ibid., 56.

(31) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965), 59; A11/B25.

(32) Rickert, The Limits of Concept Formation, 37.

(33) Ibid., 57-58.

(34) Robert Pippin, Hegel's Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 52.

(35) Ibid., 61. On the same page he continues: "There is thus no 'missing ontology' in such a position. The argument is that the issue itself is miscategorized if we begin searching for an ontologically distinct being." I generally agree with much of Pippin's final position; however, I think that Hegel gets to it only through substantive ontological commitments, ones that do not introduce a neo-Kantian dichotomy between the normative and the ontological. Pippin reproduces Rickert's dichotomy by placing the historical, social, and normative on one side, and the natural and ontological on the other. The passage cited above continues: "The distinction is itself a normative and historical one, not an ontological one; it depends on a social norm we have collectively formulated over time and bound ourselves to and it is thereby also flexible, historically malleable." However, to claim that all that is "ontological" is "not historical" or "inflexible" and not "malleable" presupposes a deterministic and ahistorical view of nature and ontology, precisely the picture of nature Hegel (following Schelling) was keen to overcome.

(36) Hegel, Science of Logic, 118; Werke 5, 127.

(37) Pippin, Hegel's Practical Philosophy, 46.

(38) Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, [section] 247, 14; Werke 9, 24.

(39) Ibid., [section] 250, Remark, 23; Werke 9, 35.

(40) Ibid., [section] 250, 24; Werke 9, 36.

(41) Ibid., [section] 250, 23; Werke 9, 35.

(42) Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, [section] 250, 23; Werke 9, 35.

(43) Willem A. deVries, Hegel's Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), 36.

(44) James Kreines, "The Logic of Life: Hegel's Philosophical defense of Teleological Explanation in Biology," Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth Century Philosophy, ed. Frederick Beiser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 376.

(45) See Kreines, "Metaphysics without Pre-Critical Monism," 48-70 and deVries, Hegel's Theory of Mental Activity, 33-52.

(46) deVries, Hegel's Theory of Mental Activity, 42-45.

(47) Hegel, Science of Logic, 134; Werke 5, 146.

(48) Ibid., 134; Werke 5, 145.

(49) Ibid., 778; Werke 6, L 2 490.

(50) Ibid., 135; Werke 5, 146.

(51) Ibid., 762; Werke 6, 471.

(52) Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, [section] 376, 443; Werke 9, 536. Translation modified. In light of many passages such as these, I find it difficult to maintain the reading that Pippin suggests: "Nature itself, that is, does not 'develop into spirit.' Thinking through accounts of nature can be said to lead one to spirit's own standards ('for itself') of account-giving, and therewith to the nature of normative authority in general," Hegel's Practical Philosophy, 49. I see Hegel instead as giving an account of the origin of subjectivity and inwardness from within nature, thus the natural emergence of the capacities that allow for such account-giving and normativity that Pippin describes. This does not have to imply that these developed capacities are reducible to their natural origins, as in some form of reductionistic physicalism.

(53) Hegel, Science of Logic, 762; Werke 6, 471.

(54) Ibid., 762; Werke 6, 471.

(55) Ibid., 586; Werke 6, 257.

(56) Ibid., 586; Werke 6, 257.

(57) G. W. F. Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, trans. Leo Rauch (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1988), 58; Werke 12, 76.

(58) Ibid., 60; Werke 12, 77.

(59) Ibid., 60; Werke 12, 77.

(60) Hegel, Science of Logic, 781; Werke 6, 494-95.

(61) Ibid., 781; Werke 6, 495.

(62) Ibid., 781; Werke 6, 495.

(63) Ibid., 781; Werke 6, 495.

(64) Ibid., 782; Werke 6, 496.

(66) G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), Werke 10.

(66) Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, [section] 247, 15; Werke 9, 25.

(67) Hegel, Science of Logic, 135; Werke 5, 147.
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Title Annotation:Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Author:Padui, Raoni
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Essay
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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