Saturday, 23 June 2012

The early Logic, Metaphysics and Philosophy of Nature

Here is a further summary of my reading of Karl Rosenkranz's Life of Hegel (1844), the first biography of Hegel from whom later biographers draw extensively. This post covers the start of chapter 19 of Part One, by far the longest chapter in the book describing Hegel's philosophical system and philosophy of nature prior to publication of the Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807.

Chapter 19

The System

Part of the reason I broke off this thread previously at this point was
because this is one of the longest chapters in Rosenkranz’s book. However,
it has a lot of interesting information from the standpoint of understanding
Hegel. Unfortunately, Rosenkranz places this chapter prior to the one on Hegel’s father’s death, although it deals with Hegel’s early system after his move to Jena around 1800 which was only permitted by his inheritance from his father. In other words, Rosenkranz has misdated Hegel’s Jena manuscripts to the earlier Frankfurt period. Rudolf Haym made the same  mistake in 1857. This of course, presupposes that the Jena dating now  accepted is correct. Osmo the translator refers to an article by Kimmerle in  Hegel-Studien 4 for the evidence for this conclusion.

The material concerned has since been published in English in the USA
(System of Ethical Life, Jena Logic and Metaphysics). However, as I
previously mentioned, it is significant for Hegel-reception that nineteenth
century writers already had access to it through Rosenkranz and this –
frankly speaking – in a much more accessible form than the modern English
translations. In addition, as far as I know the early philosophy of nature
has not been translated into English.

There is also some biographical and general interpretative material in this
chapter. Rosenkranz says that the ‘desire for system’ (which Haym later
condemned in Hegel) grew in him only slowly. Rosenkranz says he started from
concrete facts and only then sought principles.

Whilst in Frankfurt, he bought books by Schelling, Plato and Sextus
Empiricus. There has been come comment on this list about Schelling, but I
suppose the relations of the two men are well known, though it is perhaps
interesting to have evidence of Hegel’s continued engagement prior to 1800.
Hegel’s lectures on Plato are well known, but I find the interest in Sextus
Empiricus particularly interesting for the light it sheds on Hegel’s concept
of dialectic. There is certainly dialectic in Plato, but it is less of a
science than in Sextus as it sort of emerges ready made from Socrates’ mouth
and you never quite know if Socrates is showing all his cards as he steers
his dialogues. In his writings (Against the Logicians, Against the
Physicists, Against the Musicians, etc) Sextus distinguishes dogmatists
(e.g. Aristotle) who think they know, those who think knowledge impossible
and thus do not enquire, from sceptics proper, who think they do not know in
fact, but continue to enquire on the grounds that knowledge may be possible.
Kant uses something of this at the start of the Critique of Pure Reason
(1781) and the Germans knew scepticism quite well (there was a book on the
subject in 1794). It is worth knowing this as many English-language writers
seem to overlook Sextus in describing the sources of Hegel’s thought. Hegel
made use of his knowledge of him in his early essay on Ancient and Modern
Scepticism. Sextus describes numerous ‘tropes’ or arguments against the
reality of knowledge (e.g. that it involves an infinite regress of
unexamined assumptions) and these bear some resemblance to features of Hegel’s mature dialectic.

Rosenkranz continues that Hegel sought precision of expression more than
Schelling, trying to keep logic and mind apart conceptually and relating
them to nature. Hegel’s philosophy is not a critique based on a logic at
odds with common sense (a Neoplatonic theology with ‘the Concept’ as prime
mover). In fact, it is a philosophy of mind in the sense that this is
necessary for the emergence of a concept of nature and of the idea as
logical (the idea in this jargon being the content of philosophy). Hence the
young Hegel was not occupied with bringing facts under a logical scheme.
Instead, we find him interested in everything, but focussed on history as
the work of the mind and religion as the most universal expression of the
mind’s concept of its essence.

For Hegel philosophy was a whole (as in Plato) and this was the origin of
the idea of system. A theosophic starting point was soon torn apart by
dialectic. By the end of the Swiss period, we find extracts from the Rhenish
mystic Meister Eckhardt and others amongst his papers. He moves from
symbolism of triangles and squares to the Christian Trinity as a fundamental
aspect of Christianity. If I might interject here, this sounds like Hegel
moving away from his earlier Life of Jesus in which Jesus is a sort of
Kantian prophet towards a more orthodox understanding of the Gospels. The
concept of mind requires outward representation and the ideas of love and
mind itself vie in the manuscript material as forms of representation. Well
that is what I took from the rather vague semi-theosophical musings of
Rosenkranz here at any rate.

I now turn to his presentation of Hegel’s manuscripts, which are of great interest.

The content of the manuscripts

The manuscripts that Rosenkranz now describes are on:

- Logic and Metaphysics (102 sheets of paper)
- System of Ethical Life (30 sheets of paper)

However, the first of these includes some philosophy of nature. Hegel
identifies philosophy with the self-knowledge of the Absolute which he
distinguishes into Pure Idea, realisation in nature and the return to
greater self-knowledge in mind. I did not take a note of any justification
for this identification when reading this chapter, so I will simply set it
aside as a putative piece of knowledge and note that it affects the
vocabulary of the following sections. My feeling is that knowledge is in
the first place an aspect of practical creaturely activity. At this time,
Hegel mixes phenomenological elements with his expositions. He only tried to
separate them with publication of the Phenomenology.

Nature is thus conceived by Hegel at this point as the Other of Mind. the
reading of meaning into Nature is a kind of self-overcoming of Mind at a
theological level on the model of the German mystics. Mind realises itself
in Nature, but does not do so as mind. It realises itself as life, but only
comes to self-knowledge through history. There is a certain amount more in
this vein that I will spare you.

Logic and Metaphysics

Hegel begins his text with the Logical Idea. At this time he distinguished
a logic of understanding (Aristotle) from a logic of reason, which he calls
Metaphysics. In this latter metaphysical logic, he distinguishes:

1. Categories of being
2. Relation
3. Proportion (of thought and being)

1. His notion of Being includes quality (determinacy/indeterminacy),
limitation and quantity. Rosenkranz relates this to Plato’s Philebus, in
which the limited and unlimited give rise to measure. There is also an
influence of Kant here, though Hegel places quality before quantity and
undertakes to deduce quantity from quality, whilst in Kant they are taken to
be elementary categories existing side-by-side. An opposition of ideal and
real at this point would produce the idea of limit in which the Idea is
present only as a beyond or Ought.

2. Moving on to relation, Hegel discusses substance, causality and
reciprocal action in a discussion that draws on Kant, Fichte and Schelling’s
responses to Hume. He does not take the notions of subject and predicate
for granted, as does ordinary logic. He sees in reciprocity a link between
the ontological and the logical. Whilst Spinoza began with substance and
applied categories of understanding in an external manner, for Hegel
substance is subject. There is a kind of contest of subject and predicate.
There is a notorious ambiguity of logical and psychological subject here.

3. Moving on to proportion, Hegel writes here of method, in which he
includes definition, division and proof. I warmed slightly to this, as
these subjects are neglected in the logic I learned and are better presented
in Aristotle in their practical bearings.

Rosenkranz states that Hegel operates with an idea of Absolute or Supreme
being as something by which finite judgements are found wanting. However,
he admits that the wording of the text is “ very obscure ”. I have to say,
I read the English translation of the text Rosenkranz is summarising about
twenty years ago and understood virtually nothing of it beyond individual
words and what was borrowed from Kant, so to get anything at all out of
these texts is an achievement of Rosenkranz.

Philosophy of Nature

In discussing nature, Hegel tries to deduce it from mind, for he sees mind
rather than the Idea as a concrete totality. Rosenkranz notes that Hegel
struggles with words here. He cites texts where Hegel speaks of the mind as
applying ideas such as causality, substance, reciprocity, quality, quantity,
infinity to a being Other than itself – i.e. nature – and introduces the
theme of life. He distinguishes a philosophical way of viewing nature from
an ordinary way, but in highly abstract terms. Rosenkranz thinks Hegel is
borrowing here from the Timaeus of Plato and that his thought has relatively
little to do with Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, in fact only what is common
ground with the empirical science of the day. Schelling focuses on dynamics
and chemistry, but Hegel starts with the Whole and Mechanics. Absolute Mind
presents itself as Ether (which Encke and Hansen conceived of as a constant
medium). Hegel describes it instead as an infinite elasticity. This is a
technical term from Newton.

The presentation begins with infinite space and homes in on earth. The stars are an infinite plurality. Hegel says:

"The contraction of the native purity of the ether is the first moment of a negative, of the point, the star, simple equality with itself suppressing all difference, light diffusing itself absolutely.The stars are only the formal expression of the concept of infinity, an absolute plurality, whilst their quantity is an unlimited movement towards the outside. Their infinity is a negative beyond, a plurality of unities without unity just as much as a quantity without totality. This infinity is in itself irrational, a sublimity, as empty as its marvelling contemplation is void of thought. [The stars] represent  in mute hieroglyphics an eternal past that has its present and its life only  in cognition of this writing."

This shows that Hegel’s antipathy to the false infinite arose fairly early
in his life. At this time Hegel thus distinguished the Philosophy of Nature

- System of the Sun
- System of Earth

The System of the Sun sees time and space as moments of motion. If I might
interject here, this seems to come from Aristotle’s idea that time is the
measure of motion and it makes sense to me to see the origin of abstract
ideas in more concrete phenomena. It is at least an intelligible
intellectual project. In the solar system, he discusses the sun, comets,
moon and planet by their distinctive kinds of motion. He compares them to a
syllogism with the sun as the universal middle term. The idea of the stars
as other suns seems to be lacking.

In the system of the earth, he distinguishes mechanical, physical and
organic phenomena. Under mechanical, he discusses body, impact, fall and as
kinds of motion, ballistics, the pendulum and the lever. This strikes me as
admirably encyclopaedic, but it is not clear what the philosophical
contemplation is supposed to add to an empirical classification.
Under physical phenomena he applies the idea of a process. Within this
general idea he discusses azote, phlogiston (which Rosenkranz explains is
oxygen), hydrogen and carbonic gas. He invokes the Timaeus and Aristotle’s
oppositions of air, fire, earth and water. The four elements also feature
in discussions of sea, volcano, atmosphere and solid earth. He identifies
oppositions in salt, sulphur, metal and clay. Rosenkranz describes this
essay as “ ardent, enthusiastic, audacious and poetic “, though less kind
words might be as appropriate. He says:

"There is nothing more false than the idea of a Hegel who would base himself
entirely on Schelling in the Philosophy of Nature."

Hegel became more prudent and precautionary in his later writings on nature.
Rosenkranz cites Hegel’s description of the role of fire in the natural
world to illustrate the power of his prose and his manner of attributing
significance to natural phenomena. Fire emerges as an absolute dryness that
goes beyond crystallisation to combustibility and Hegel invokes the comet,
lightning, ordinary combustion and volcano as different instances and
degrees and combinations of it. Rosenkranz sees in this a speculative

After this, from granite and clay emerges soil, which is the ground of
organic life, in which metal, sulphur, salt and earth are present. He
mentions chalk and flint. He interprets metals by their specific gravity
and reaction to oxygen, as in rust. The earth as the combination and result
of all these processes is a universal individual and it has a history
(meaning geology presumably).

All in all, Hegel combines qualitative and quantitative concepts and the
result of a kind of poetic speaking to empirical classifications and
observations of natural phenomena, with some effort at a logical
classification of the material. My feeling is that Hegel is blinkered in
seeing the stars and their sublimity only from a subjective standpoint.
There was in fact a debate in his day on the plurality of worlds that he
might have taken up more creatively. These passages would be of interest to
those interested in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature as it shows his ideas in an
earlier stage of development than in the later Encyclopaedia.

The manuscripts now turn to ethical life.