Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature – Renewing the Speculative Idea

Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature – Renewing the Speculative Idea

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Man, because he is Mind, should and must deem himself worthy
of the highest; he cannot think too highly of the greatness and
the power of his mind, and, with this belief, nothing will be so
difficult and hard that it will not reveal itself to him. The Being
of the universe, at first hidden and concealed, has no power
which can offer resistance to the search for knowledge; it has to
lay itself open before the seeker—to set before his eyes and give
for his enjoyment, its riches and its depths.1
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

1. Approaching

With the exalted words mentioned above, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich HEGEL ended his inaugural speech as he became professor of philosophy at the university of Berlin on 22nd of October 1822. This excerpt reflects an optimistic tenderness towards the reasonable structure of the world. And this affirmative disposition was – undoubtful – the perseverative motive for his philosophical efforts to conceptualize the world.

To us, contemporaries of the 21st century, this eulogy to raison must sound absurd and fanciful – at least naive and dubious. In order to visualize the distance of time passed since these words were written, one could remember, that the first steam train was put in operation seven years after this cited inaugural speech. But the significance of this aphoristic comparison is little, because the philosophy of Hegel intends to express a timeless truth. Is it possible anyway to apply this keen access to knowledge under the present dominance of the empirical positive sciences?

One must consider the following points, which reveal that even the positive sciences are principally deficient. But this insight isn’t intended to deduce the necessity of philosophical approach by itself. This attitude would be a return to an outward cause or reflection. Just as an introduction, some pre-philosophical aspects shall be mentioned:

    1. The former world view goes in pieces: Our time is distinguished by an accelerated increase of positive knowledge about the nature. Moreover, the so-called factual knowledge and its additional state – abstract and mathematical – are associated with substantial contradictions. Accompanied with the appearance of neuro-sciences the time-honored idee of freedom becomes questioned. There are fractures between different subjects as well as fractions within the subjects: If one regards for example the intra-physical difficulties to combine the General theory of Relativity and the Quantum theory.


    1. On the one hand we can state a deepen spezialization of knowledge, but on the other side the metaphysical price to pay is the lost of a united view of the whole which becomes diffuse. That is to say: The lack of stringent rapport between sectoral knowledge causes its radical atomization. The feeling of forsakenness reflects thus the ongoing revolution in science.


  1. We must concede the lack of an independent and stringently exploring philosophy of Nature, which could provide the antecedent conceptualization of principles and notions on which a wider exploration of nature could be based. The absence of astonishment concerning this lack should astonish by itself. The systems theory and reductionism are no serious alternatives. On one side the reductionism suppresses matters which cannot be empirically explained. In brief: To cut down the sphere of matter is a negligent diminishment ot the whole. On the other side, we consider systems theory’s research of the formality of systems as its main lack. Because the material world is not involved.

The preceding descriptions of the state of modern sciences and their consequences are fragmentary. They are not at all connoted in a pessimistic way concerning the possibility of regained philosophical knowledge. Of course the world views of the past are gone forever and their overcoming is well-founded. The given points are the best conditions to reject any form of resignation and to face the challenge of an ongoing accumulation of knowledge. This is to be indicated in this paper.

A historical analogy could exemplify this idea: one can remember  that the classical Philosophy of the State written by Thomas HOBBES was hammered in the storm of the English Civil War. Ideas need fractures to appear. The empirical sciences are subject to this permanent change, that is why a comeback of philosophy is not impossible. In particular the philosophical thinking is assigned to raise its voice in the chorus of different spirits and to explore the notional unit in the empirical plurality. This task of re-gaining the philosophical lordship of the empirical insights is the pivotal duty of any kind of systematical philosophy of natur. The tendency to extrpolate one discipline is astonishing, does neuro-theology2 replace the striving for deeper truth and infinite valence? The thinking mind, the precious conditio humana, stands out of the sea of infinite particularities. Entering the world view of the German philosopher Hegel, a network of notions, principles and sequences of notions will emerge, which – in my opinion – shall be discussed. Its ability will be foreshadowed, not proved.

2. About accumulation of factual knowledge and the lack of notional relation

Does the fact of doubling the human knowledge within 5 to 7 years help this world to be more developped? A spontaneous negation of this question would be appropriate – but why? Thousands of articles are published each day and numberless books of  different interest overwhelm the libraries.

To make the necessity clearer of a well-founded structure, one could estimate the practical value of a disordered telephone directory. The order, we would impose on such an omnium-gatherum, does not emerge from the individuel elements or their sum but just from a higher position.

We can state – at least – that the present situation of the natural sciences and their knowledge are deeply ambivalent: On the one hand it is justified to underline that the progress made in describing the nature and the cosmos, their function and  the  results achieved are unexampled, but on the other hand the metaphysical price to pay is a fragmentation of knowledge since the 19th century, i.e. no system provides orientation for emerging questions of social or religious importance. The pure accumulation of sectoral knowledge creates a situation like the famous one Blaise Pascal mentionned:
„The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.“ 3

Knowledge without a more fundamental, i.e. underlaying principle is similar to a boring labyrinth. Sciences provide detailed knowledge about the world, the natur and the omnipresent cosmos, the results show scientific regularity and thus can be analyzed and reproduced in kind of schemes and formulars. Surprizingly, this already implies a metaphysical attitude – because they base upon the presumption that formulars represent something like the essence of natur and more in general: that there is regularity. This conclusing could just be avoided by being silent.

Thus this empirical triumph is ambivalent; the sciences are successful, but unable to hustify themselves. A holistic link, an underlying system is missing. Sure, the sciences of natur and their success reject any non-empirical approach but in fact – implicit – they imperatively base on it. This fracture is intensified by the accelerated accumulation of positive knowledge.

Furthermore, we have to state the multification of knowledge by splitting of subjects: biology is for example the superordinated concept for more bioinformatics, biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, neurobiology and so on. The ultimate justification of scientifical approach remains open and deepens the problem. Some reflections concerning the presumed regularity of natur might underline the outstanding problem.

If we do not want to reduce the ensemble of natural phenomenon to a chaotic spectacle, we are obligated to postulate a kind of unity or harmony – either a weak organization or a strong system. As we can see, the distinction between the notions of organization and system touchs an important question:  The notion organization or regularity represent an extrinsic unit whereas system refers to an intrinsic unit. The infrastructure of notions must be discovered, or: to make explicit what lays already implicitly in the used notions.

Another aspect is that our time is the so-called age of information – no other word could better express the hostility to the meaning of knowledge. To avoid decadence of pure information, knowledge must be founded and explained. This leads to science of science, or: philosophy.

The natural sciences need assistance; isolated from philosophical thinking, they tend to make their methode absolute. But one part of a whole is not able to replace the whole. Or inverted: The effort to do so would be a kind of „totalization“ – a wordplay to avoid the notion of totalitarian. To make it clear: Beyond mathematical calculus, formulars and schedules pulses a deeper sense in natur. Some scientists guess the lack of their methode and escape to a Theory of Everything. But this idea bases upon arguments which are taken from outward, so their theory is not self-sufficient: empirically aligned, the science use does not gain the notions of the whole or regularity. We have to formulate the conditions of natures exploration. Or: How to determinate the maximum application of scientical notions beyond an uncritical use of the empirical method? This is the crucial question. Are there any serious philosophical approachs to this challenge?

3. About the absence of philosophy of nature and the transdisciplinary approach

It appears that highly specialized branches of empirical science are missing a systematical center which could provide a theoretical background to interpret their concrete results. Not only appropriate theological explanations are missing, but also an independent philosophia naturalis, refusing to be the maidservant of science: „Our time is a time fundamentally without philosophy of nature“ 4

Traditionally, the question of a notional link were discussed in Philosophy of Nature. We must notice a radical driven out of any non-empirical approach and especially of metaphysics. But the limits of empirical theory become clearer: not more empirical, but a deeper thinking is needed. One could call it the superficial need to change the paradigma, but the core argument is more profound: A turn of method enables thinking to gain new insights. In my understanding the empirical method is mainly abstract, thus a renewed method must transcend empirism.

The positivism and its triumph is built on sand, on sandbanks moving with the tides if it can not provide an answer to the need of final justification of regularity. The recurring questions lead forwards to rethink the underlaying conditions of empirical approach. Simple to see, any science intends to explain more than an individual case. The unity in plurality is inquired. Pure empirical access does not transcend the „here“ and „now“ – whereas the interest of science focuses on the general essence. But how could be the idea of regularity – which centers implicit the science – founded? Non-empirical thinking, but with a strong affinity to reality, could reopen this perspective.

It can be argued prima facie that a transdisciplinary approach could methodological restore this missing perspective – but an uncritical usage of this term poses more questions like: what does this notion of transdisciplinary approach fully implies, how could its application be justified? Human thinking isn’t completed without specifying reasons which substantiate conclusions, i.e. ad-hoc-presumption must be proved or abandoned. The empirical approach demands posits or subjective presuppositions. What might be – kantian spoken – the condition of the possibility of a transdisciplinary approach?

The idea of transdisciplinary approach of dialogue – at least – complies with one condition: the unity of knowledge can not be deduced from one single science. But the most important question of a final justification of this thinking remains unsolved. In principle, some strategies of justification are possible. They are distinguished by the different inducement to argue.

    1. It could be considered as a subjective manner. A method was chosen which might prove its adequacy in the later procedure. There would be no need to consider this method as the imperative result of a more deeper infrastructure. This seems to be arbitrary and must remain provisorily. The motivation may come from modern times of democracy when the true/false configuration weakens and the idea of plurality appears. Transdisciplinary thinking would be one approach among others, all human beings would be allowed to have their own.


  1. Otherwise, one could postulate a system of knowledge which justifies itself and its principles. This would imply a hierarchic or non-hierachic structure of abilities to gain knowledge. Evidently, this system of knowledge in principle shall be self-sufficient to avoid a regressus ad infinitum.

The decision in favor of one justification bases upon other considerations – do we believe the whole world as a system of somehow regularity or does the searching person centers the process? The theoretical approach shall contain the following aspects as conditio sine qua non: Conceptually closed and self-sufficient, i.e. all needed principles must emerge from it. It shall be able to integrate and discuss the empirically generated results.

The project par excellence to fill these specifications had been created in the well-known German Idealism. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel did not write only the blueprint of a project of self-generating knowledge but also began to make it run.

4. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – philosoph of the seventh day5

His influence in the history of ideas goes far beyond the factual life time. Born in 1770, in the laid-back south of Germany, he witnessed two grand revolutions of modern time – the kantian revolution of epistemology and the French Revolution. After having studied theology at the „T¸binger Stift“, a former think-tank of protestantism, he struggled in the following years with the problem of the human alienation from God. By presenting the Phenomenology of the spirit, he became one protagonist of this ongoing change of philosophy. He entered the after-Kantian discussion of philosophy and claimed to reconcile the being and the self-concious reason. His oeuvre of a philosophical system was not finished, but nobody before and after him has vindicated more powerfully the idea of a system of knowledge. Hegel just finished the Grand Logic. For closing a system of whole knowledge in principles, philosophy needs as well statements about the nature and the spirit, they are just available as an accompanying text – with comments – of those lectures he gave: the Encyclopedie of Philosophical Science. Furthermore, one can shortly state: the whole text of the intended system is an  acting self-awareness of the Absolute, i.e. God. This can be seen as a  renunciation of the former metaphysics of the substance.
This grand concept of thinking renewed the philosophy. The thinking adventures the speculative comprehension of the idea which is omnipresent and timeless in God, the Absolute. Some more explanations must be given to make it more concret.

5. The speculative Philosophy of Nature

A few comments before: To enter the Hegelian world of ideas means to addict oneself. Here we see an extremly packed composition of thoughts, which are circulating and interlacing in themselves. Reflecting from an external point of view is hardly possible, since the thinking is always a participant of this.

An example may reveal this: In § 192 of the Encyclopedie of Philosophical Science, Hegel described the idea in the state of otherness.

„Nature has presented itself as the idea in the form of otherness. Since in nature the idea is as the negative of itself or is external to itself nature is not merely external in relation to this idea, but the externality constitutes the determination in which nature as nature exists.“6

Here, one can realize that the Hegelian approach of nature is embedded into widely spreaded net of notions. Without a systemical approach no deeper knowledge would be available. Isolated from a more extended structure, this description of nature remains diffus. Each notion used, like idea or otherness, is surrounded by an univers of notions. Hegel‘s use of the idea is platonic founded, but also revolutionary because in the idea adjustment of being and self is taking place. An abstract definition would thus be insufficient.

Consequently, an appropriate effort is not possible just basing upon prior understanding (German: „Vorverst‰ndnis“)7, the inherent thought must speak by itself. I base this argumentation on the memorable achievement made by Bernard Lakebrink.8 There are nearly no other texts which are more hostile to the fragmentation of the whole textual body. Besides, it is inevitable to come to an amicable understanding – that is to say: adaequatio intellectus et rei. An unilateral accentuation of the interpretation would destroy the filigree band of the notional structure. The meaning of the thoughts does not depend on the reader, because it is inherent. Thus, the appropriate method to approximate is to comment the text accurately. Although, no later reconstruction approaches the deepness of Hegel’s thoughts, their logical strictness and the singular use of terms. What one can achieve is to re-think these ideas which are engraved for eternity.

Furthermore, a fully literal reconstruction of Hegel’s thoughts is hardly achievable. Therefore it might be useful to comment some parts of his system in a more perspective view just in order to gain an idea of speculation, virtually involving the whole system of knowledge as the background.

The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences9 consists of three parts which are divided into succeeding paragraphs. The Logic involves the science of pure thinking and its emerging determinations, followed by the Philosophy of the Nature and the Philosophy of the Mind. These parts do not proceed unrelated, they rather constitue the ongoing processus of the idea, i.e. God, to gain absolute knowledge by passing through necessary steps of logical abstraction, natural otherness and spirtual overwhelming of the deficient alienation.

The abstract and pure justification of the absolute idea is positioned in the Logic. Hegelian Logic is different from the logic Aristotle once provided. This traditional logic turns around the formality of thoughts, whereas Hegel overwhelms this approach by an ontological concept, i.e. his concept of logic anticipates the categories of the reality/ substantiality (Wirklichkeit).

More generally spoken: In the totality of the Logic we found the succeeding proof/ evidence (Beweis) of God (the Absolute) gaining self-consciousness. Human research, thinking and all forms of mind are a necessary step for this processus of the Absolute.

Everything must be deduced from the logic‘s beginning, even the beginning and the principle of its own beginning, a stringent justification of itself, an absolute beginning. This system of the whole knowledge does not allow to take a position out of the system. Thus, the immanent principle of development justifies the stepped processus coming from the Logic to Nature and Mind.

The transition points are essentially important. As the idea reaches the point of absolute notion, it reverts into the nature. The determination of the pure thinking is finished, but this state is not sufficient for the idea. Different answers are provided to explain this fracture. The idea is completely developed and finished. Nevertheless it reverts into its otherness. The idea must pass its own negation – like god must died by and through his son. Thus – looking from another point of view – the necessity of nature can be proved – by the thinking mind, systematically taking a retrospective access, from the mind to nature. In Philosophy of Nature we discuss as well the idea, but its form (the otherness) and its contents (the idea) fracture. The nature is principally concordant with the idea but appears as the infinite succession of individual entities, which are alienated from a substantial unity. This constellation of natural deficiency can be considered as a challenge for the mind to overwhelm it and to find itself by doing so. Virtually the nature is the idea, too. This provides the ongoing processus of gaining knowledge as the nature is an eternal accompanying phenomenon of the idea.

Hegel himself described this system as circular figure, but it also contains the linear movement to the absolut knowledge, which falls back into the absolut beginning, thus circular. Moreover, philosophical science of reason must be a system – in its whole context each moment finds its justification by being embedded. Beyond this, we just can discover unrelated notions, leading to atomization of knowledge – as we can witness in contemporary science.

This system is an absolute processus – nothing is out or above it. The length of development and its fissures are not avoidable, but to sustain. Nevertheless individual notions can be quarried out of the acting sequence to moot with questions emerged in natural science. Certainly, even in this statical use of notions some insights can be gained.

6. Idealist Philosophy of Nature and the modern sciences

To illustrate the plentifulness of an idealist approach to nature, two debates will be alluded which venture the dialogue between Hegelian thinking and modern sciences: Max WUNDT 10 and Dieter Wandschneider11 demonstrated the explaining capacity of a renewal to the concepts Hegel once has provided. Certainly, to do so, one has to swin against the strem of contemporary philosophy.

Released with a remarkable translation and commentary of Hegels Philosophy of Nature by Michael John PETRY, and the studies of some more philosophers like Dieter Wandschneider or Ken FOLDES12, philosophical thinking of the Nature has turned back to Hegel. In the last decades of the 20th century one can state the fertile cooperation between science of nature and an idealistic inspired philosophy of nature. For example: by showing that the natural regularity – i.e. the constitution of the nature as an inherent lawful unit- can be considered as the essence („Wesen“) of the nature which refers to the eternal and timeless logic, some idealistic arguments are pleading for a rethinking of this tradition, if we want to avoid ad-hoc postulates. Nature appears as something like the idea in the state of otherness. Dieter Wandschneider brings forward the argument that by doing this the cartesian thinking of duality in nature is already overcome, but the natural sciences are missing awareness of it.

So, the idealist philosophy of nature calls arguments to overwhelm the duality traced back to french philosopher RenÈ DESCARTES: The idea in the alienated state of otherness is the source of the notion Nature – so we need two notions and their immanent dependence to identificate the notion of nature: the being idea and the negation, both fully explained by logic. The acting being of the idea is to be self-conscious (in the whole processus of knowledge) – here derivates the regularity, because regularity basically mean to determinate something. As Hegel has identified the idea with the reason, reason implies regularity. If the idea is involved – or its real derivates in the form of the otherness – regularity appears with necessity. It can be considered as the core of Logic. We can state the translucence of the (philosophical) idea of regularity into science.

For the unsolved question of understanding quantum theory it may be fertile to reactivate the system of Absolute Idealism involving the discussion of the ontological state of the categories of thinking. Max Wundt has pointed out 1949 in a small essay („Hegels Logik und die moderne Physik“)  that the wave-particle dualism is founded in the fact that the classical physics with its interest of describing the world is restricted to abstraction, i.e. the exploring subject is excluded per se. By using the classical categories we cannot match appropiate the new revolutionary insight. The rationalism is mainly based on this approach leading to an analysis of the nature, without being able to regain the unity of the nature. By understanding this, Max Wundt expressed an ontological affinity between Hegelian logic and quantum physics: Examinating the small entities of the reality influences directly this process. Shortly said: the emerging contradiction of wave and particle is something not to be avoided but a fundamental quality of being. This is to be uncovered by speculative thinking. He concluded that the structure of reason, from a rational version leading to dialectical and speculative might provide the necessary means to bridge this gap. But undoubtful: A strong and independent philosophy of nature – a fortiori also for its speculative version – must base on scientifically generated knowledge.

Important deficiency – mainly in the approach of Max Wundt – is the floating of insights insufficiently deduced. The Hegelian notions are quarried out of their living sequence of determination and introduced just ad hoc. Therewith – Hegelian spoken – the notions are just assumed, not finally justified. Imperative command to found categories of thinking is to follow the speculative thing in its inherent sequence.

The insights, Max Wundt offers – the restored unit of being and self, the positive lifted up principle of contradiction – are formally correct, but not systematically developed.

7. The philosophical idea of knowledge

Some paragraphs of the introduction of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830) are quoted now in order to commentate them. They constitute an approximation to the Hegelian idea of knowledge. These considerations insert an additional stage before logical effort begins. There, the idea of a system of knowledge is anticipated and we will go through these paragraphs using intellectual seven-league boots. Some ideas of the contemporary discussion concerning the transdisciplinary approach will underline the importance of Hegel’s ideas.

§ 1:  „(…) The objects of philosophy, it is true, are upon the whole the same as those of religion. In both the object is Truth, in that supreme sense in which God and God only is the Truth.(…)“

Like any scientifical effort, philosophy is constituted by giving a subject of interest and an appropiate method to handle with it. As biology examines the life empirically and cosmology examines (among other things) the structure of the space and time empirically, philosophy has its own matter: the truth and the speculative approach to it. Already on this step of argumentation the exceeding state of its matter becomes obvious: the truth is not comparable, it is not a single entity  among others. Its matter is not – anyway – finite. Certainly, the factual results of natural science are not finite, neither. But this infinity is more an endlessness, an infinite addition of the same, thus prosy. Hegel gave an impressive analysis of endlessness:

„There have been astronomers who liked to pride themselves on the sublimity of their science because it had to deal with an innumerable host of stars, with such immeasurable spaces and times in which distances and periods, already vast in themselves, serve as units which, in whatever multiples taken, are again abbreviated to insignificance. The shallow astonishment to which they surrender themselves, the absurd hopes of wandering in another life from one star to another and into immeasurable space to acquire fresh facts of the same kind, this they declare to be a cardinal factor in the excellence of their science — a science which is admirable not on account of such quantitative infinitude but, on the contrary, on account of the relations of measure and the laws which reason recognises in these objects and which are the infinite of reason in contrast to that other, irrational infinite.“13

On the contrary, in philosophy the truth is more an inherent infinity. With other words: in its highest form the idea of truth is God.

But the truth must be involved and discovered in the real world, too. If we consider about the Absolute, we also introduce anyway a non-Absolute (nature or mind). To be exact, the ontological state of the non-Absolute is to be deduced. The non-Absolute just derivates from self-negation of the Absolute as a passing phase of the Absolute; finally overwhelmed by the mind. Here we already see forestalled the trichotomical processus and its inner necessity of gaining knowledge: The truth in its pure state of thinking leads to its otherness in the nature and will be regained by overwhelming the natural negation.

Hegel emphasizes the crucial point – with this following quotation, one can discover the power of his arguments:

„Some acquaintance with its objects, therefore, philosophy may and even must presume, that and a certain interest in them to boot, were it for no other reason than this: that in point of time the mind makes general images of objects, long before it makes notions of them, and that it is only through these mental images, and by recourse to them, that the thinking mind rises to know and comprehend thinkingly.“ (§ 1)

Far away from refusing the results of experience, Hegel even integrated the necessity of experience as an important step in his process-related concept of knowledge. Philosophy receives insights from the empirically acting sciences (general ideas, natural laws etc.) and works with them, as we see later more detailed. Or reverted from a metaphysical point: The Absolute or God already translucences in nature and  in  human mind.

There are a lot of critics towards Hegelian thinking, mainly accusing that his concept was hostile to reality and the undoubted sciences. Evidently, this misunderstanding is the exact opposite of Hegel’s point of view. Bernulf KANITSCHEIDER, German philosopher of science, stated out:

„During the time of its prosperity, idealist philosophy postulated an independent approach to the essence of nature, able to avoid the observation of empirical phenomena.“14

This statement is diametrically opposed to the literal meaning of Hegel‘s argument above mentioned. Now, we may understand why Hegel has such a bad reputation.

§ 2: „(…) Philosophy, on the other hand, is a peculiar mode of thinking – a mode in which thinking becomes knowledge, and knowledge through notions. (…)“

The thinking is the main capacity of Man which distinguishes us from animals; by thinking Man takes part of the spiritual world. This thinking devides (German: „dirimiert“) itself into different forms, lifting up the empirical knowledge into philosophy. Gaining truth is thus an ongoing processus, principally achievable, but empirically endless. Even phenomena like feeling and belief can be localized in this progression – they take place at a lower level of thinking. The philosophical thinking does not depend on an outward entity to run, because here its contents and form converge. 

§ 3: „(…)and it may be roughly said that philosophy puts thoughts, categories, or, in more precise language, adequate notions, in the place of the generalised images we ordinarily call ideas (…)“

Hegel now states more precisely this processus. One content can be subject to different forms, so thinking will lift up the content into incremental more adequate form, from pure feelings, perceptions into ideas and notions. In order to give an example: The idea of God can be subject to religious belief as well to philosophy. This is the main task of philosophy to cultivate – one could say – the knowledge. By doing this, the general ideas become more concrete, overwhelming the initiale abstract state. Philosophical approach is inherently basing on every possible form of knowledge, providing an intermediate structure to coordinate them. Here, one can say, the structure of different levels of thinking may give a final justification for the transdisciplinary approach – as we were looking for.

Hence, the criticsm that speculation is alienated from the reality is all in all unjustified and mainly based on wrong understanding. But by using which means, philosophy can lift up  the empirical gained knowledge?

§ 6: „It is no less desirable, on the other hand, that philosophy should understand that its content is no other than actuality, that core of truth which, originally produced and producing itself within the precincts of the mental life, has become the world, the inward and outward world, of consciousness. (…) As it is only in form that philosophy is distinguished from other modes of attaining an acquaintance with this same sum of being, it must necessarily be in harmony with actuality and experience. In fact, this harmony may be viewed as at least an extrinsic means of testing the truth of a philosophy.“

§ 9: „As a species of reflection, therefore, which, though it has a certain community of nature with the reflection already mentioned, is nevertheless different from it, philosophic thought thus possesses, in addition to the common forms, some forms of its own, of which the Notion may be taken as the type. The relation of speculative science to the other sciences may be stated in the following terms. It does not in the least neglect the empirical facts contained in the several sciences, but recognises and adopts them: it appreciates and applies towards its own structure the universal element in these sciences, their laws and classifications: but besides all this, into the categories of science it introduces, and gives currency to, other categories.“

Hegel summarizes his concept of philosophical knowledge. Undoubtfully, speculation does not take place in a cleanroom separated from the reality, but depends on its working processus of gaining knowledge through experience and results the other single science made before. Temporally, science antecedes philosophy; conceptually, the ideas – as we have seen in the Logic – antecedes the science. We have to state that from the unity of idea which necessarily divides into different steps, the required final justification can be deduced.

Hegel did not deny the importance of empirical research, he even stressed out that the results of empirical science are the conditio sine qua non for deep speculative thinking.

Friedrich GRIMMLINGER described the relation between Philosophy of Nature and Science of Nature as intermediated.15 An absolute difference between them would imply no possibility of dialog – because they would be totally separated. An absolute identity would deny the need of dialog – because the science would be sufficient for explanation. Certainly, the relation must be well cleared. Wandschneider as well as Wundt pointed out, that philosophy of science succeeds science – like the Owl of Minerva. Consequently, new results of science must be the motivation to re-initiate Philosophy of Nature.

Non-empirical notions of knowledge have to be founded in a deeper attitude. The sciences  make research, exploring the whole cosmos and its parts. But other questions remain unsolved: Why is there at all being? Does this spectacle of Nature emerge without reason?

Not only religious orientation cannot accept this elusion. The notions once we have used are part of a bigger structure, their semantical dependence progresses to deepening. That is to say: Can the whole Nature be explained as an entity which is inevitable? For this the inductive approach to knowledge is principally insufficient. At this point of notional fracture thinking lifts up into speculation. But it remains always embedded in the empirical results. This relation might be named transdisciplinary. This was to be proved.

§ 11: „But while thus occupied, thought entangles itself in contradictions, i.e. loses itself in the hard and-fast non-identity of its thoughts, and so, instead of reaching itself, is caught and held in its counterpart. This result, to which honest but narrow thinking leads the mere understanding, is resisted by the loftier craving of which we have spoken. That craving expresses the perseverance of thought, which continues true to itself, even in this conscious loss of its native rest and independence, ‘that it may overcome’ and work out in itself the solution of its own contradictions.“

The whole system of knowledge is not fullfilled in its beginning. There is no Schelling-like immediate knowledge ( German: „unmittelbares Wissen“). It must be gained by the subject of knowledge – the self-conciousness gaining idea. Thus, the succession of thinking and its sequence of notions must be achieved. Hegel postulated ( and proved) that we can consider the contradictions of succeeding knowledge as the immanent cause for the thinking to progress. More vividly said: the „trick of reason“ (German: „die List der Vernunft“). In our time it is quite easy to enumerate different results of science which are examples of this contradictionary structure: the quantum particle/wave dualism or the body/mind dualism. It is to be concluded, that the effort of science to avoid contradictions has failed. Brian Greene tries to avoid the duality of particle/wave by providing the well-known theory of strings.16 This might deepen our insight, but the fundamental structure of the questioned duality cannot be overwhelmed by a theory, which is not self justificating.

By mentioning this immanent and necessary contradictions we advance to some paragraphs which – in my opinion – try to anticipate the core of Hegelian thinking, the speculation.

8. Philosophical Speculation

Referring to the paragraphs §§ 79 to 82, their main intention now can be resumed. These stages, which are shown there in abbreviation, manifest the trichotomical structure of the logical sphere, in which everything notional is founded. Mediated by this dependence on the logical structure, the its essence – the trichotomical structure of self-development – must be inherent in the sphere which follows the Logic, that is to say: Nature and Mind. These three sides or stages are just anticipated now and thus enumerated. Mostly important is to comprehend that this processus is logically founded. One could underline, that the christian trinity bases on the same structure: the Father is similar to the abstract logic, followed by his Son, who was born into this world ( the nature), died at the Cross and was reborn by the Holy Spirit. The greatness of Christianity expects us to dare this negation. As one could say that the trinity is essential to christianity, speculative rethinking is as well important for philosophy.

In order to avoid a schematical use of this stepped processus, this text proposes an access which comments the relevant passages by interlacing with the analyses of the notion of Man as a more concrete backdrop. Certainly, one could enumerate the stages of Logic and makes research on it – philological or historical. But these paragraphs are something like the notional lynchpin of Hegelian thinking – anticipated spoken the speculative method tends to reconciliate the contradictions. Evidently, at least an understanding (thus non-speculative) access does not reach the quality of speculation.

To clarify this processus of succession from understanding, dialectical and speculative thinking, we will substantiate it by following the contradictions and the reconciliation of the parts, the notion of Man divides itself into. In fact, it is to parallelize the development of Logic and its corresponding complement of the nature. Mainly important is to demonstrate that an inverted perspective could lead to the same result like philosophy. This reverted access bases on an idea Dieter Wandschneider has promoted:  by discovering some dialectical phases in an unhindered processus of natural science, the logical adequacy is demonstrated by a bottom-up method, more credible than the bottom-down method.17 Nota bene: these considerations do not intend to restore a materialist deformation of nature like Friedrich Engels, companion of Karl Marx, insisted on. According to Wandschneider, the absolute Idea is the basis and telos of everything, thus the nature. Therefore the notion of Man will be out into the field of logical power.

In nuce – because the final prove must be the following system of the developping idea – one could find here something like the core of Hegelian thinking. Why and how must the sciencifical use of reason („Verstand“) be lifted up („Aufhebung“) into a dialectical and speculative moment? What do we gain with the discovering of this hierarchy of thinking?

§ 79: „In point of form Logical doctrine has three sides: [a] the Abstract side, or that of understanding; [b] the Dialectical, or that of negative reason; [c] the Speculative, or that of positive reason. These three sides do not make three parts of logic, but are stages or’moments’ in every logical entity, that is, of every notion and truth whatever.“

Here are the stages mentioned, everything – entities and processus – must pass through. We can speak of something like an ontological affinity between idea and its derivates – but this description does not reproduce the necessity of succession.

Subsequently, Hegel reveals that the totality of the use of logical sequence includes itself, too. We can explore the sequence of logical stages by understanding, by dialectical and by speculative approach. As the first both stages are inherently insufficient, just speculative thinking is appropriate. In the order to specify, we must state, that the failure of an understanding approach to speculation is inevitable. But, to judge that a thinking approach would not be possible at all, is a wrong conclusion.

§ 80: „Thought, as Understanding, sticks to fixity of characters and their distinctness from one another: every such limited abstract it treats as having a subsistence and being of its own.“

The understanding thinking on Man has reached the point of irreconcilable contradictions – on the one side the Man can be – in a materialist manner – as the totalized function of animate and complex matter. Those, who follow this attitude, have a monistic view of Man, but main parts are missing – the subjective level, thinking and all the other non-materialist phenomenon. If one fixate this approch, he must abstract the other subjective qualities. This is the meaning of understanding approch – taking a whole notion or entity, one must distance from the other. Or to try to dissolve the level of mind.

And vice versa, an undestanding approach, concentrating on the spiritual stage, would abstract the material condition of Man as a natural being.

Thus, the understanding, i.e the science approach, must be abstractly and thus insufficient. The grandeur of Hegelian thinking based on the optimistic idea, that by abstracting, the contradictions must intensify in a manner that leads to overwhelm his deficient phase.

§ 81: „In the Dialectical stage these finite characterisations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites.(…) But by Dialectic is meant the indwelling tendency outwards by which the one-sidedness and limitation of the predicates of understanding is seen in its true light, and shown to be the negation of them. For anything to be finite is just to suppress itself and put itself aside. Thus understood the Dialectical principle constitutes the life and soul of scientific progress, the dynamic which alone gives immanent connection and necessity to the body of science; and, in a word, is seen to constitute the real and true, as opposed to the external, exaltation above the finite.“

A commentary of this excerpt follows the sequence of science – exploring the notion of Man, the understanding access becomes aware of both possible, but contradictionary explanations: The Man is part of Nature and a part of Mind. There is anyway no possibility to deduce one from the other, both have their own right to constitute Man. Dialectic leads to the idea that the one-sidedness of understanding  is just the beginning. The finit must lift up itself. There is no truth in the understanding stage. Both, the natural and the spiritual structure of Man are correct, but not its final truth.

§82: „The Speculative stage, or stage of Positive Reason, apprehends the unity of terms (propositions) in their opposition – the affirmative, which is involved in their disintegration and in their transition.“

One could remain at the state of contradictions or to find a deeper truth which overarches the formal contradictions. There emerges a unity which closes the gap of abstract one-sidedness. Hegel calls it the affirmative. And as a concrete individual the Man is not irreconcilably ambivalent. The ambivalence is the determination on the abstract stage. The speculation is interested in the truth which has overwhelmed the contradictions. In our example, it becomes evident, that the notion of spirit closes the gap between body and mind. Thus, the spirit is the truth of Man.

Here method and object, self and matter converge – the state of the other is overwhelmed. By thinking of speculation, the thinking is speculative – the self is present in its matter. Thus, it is a regained, reconciliated unity, therefore freedom, because freedom essentialy means to be by-itself in the other of itself.

Hence, the trichotomical sequence – or religious spoken: the trinity – offers a frame of reference to solve the contempory task to justify transdisciplinary approach. The reason (German: „die Vernunft“) does not figure as regulative principle, furthermore it is true justification of the world and of human possibility to apprehend it. This means to restore philosophy.

One cannot define or schematize speculation – here we find an amicable adjustment between self and matter, abstractly they remain separated. How could the acting processus, with its unity of self and matter, be  possible to reveal? The use of language to translate the restless thoughts might abut on its limits. Because the language bases on otherness. The question remains open.

9. Conclusion

The sectoral knowledge of science won’t be completed by an infinite accumulation of information. This strategy of gaining knowledge just extrapolates the one-sidedness of understanding science – spoken with Hegel.

This result of empirical knowledge must be characterized as a principal failure – even ongoing research will not provide a solution, because qua method of abstraction some notions cannot proved by it. The notion of regularity must antecede – for example – its later empirical application. Certainly, the role of empirical research is an essential part of the whole processus in order to gain knowledge. It has to be accepted as useful – within its valid frame. There are ever non-empirical categories involved – like the regularity of nature.

The concept of a transdisciplinary approach can be considered as an important alternative draft, because it refuses the exclusive prerogative of interpretation by one single science. But it needs to be founded strictly from an exceeding point of view.

In my opinion, this theme can be solved by a system of knowledge, which determinates apriori the extent, the final justification and the principle of self-developpement of any possible knowledge. That is to say: This concept does not provide or substitute empirical knowledge, but spans the notions an access on which positive knowledge must be based. The Hegelian system of philosophy was one effort to provide this.

The absolute Idealism defines the frame of reference to discuss – a risky thesis – all possible questions, because every question draws on the use of notions and the justification of notions is the main object of this system. Why – to give another example – the access to knowledge about the natur is divided into different disciplines? By using the speculative method the one-sidedness of positive sciences and their contradictions are not only solved, but even explained with reasons. It is an important progress compared with attitudes which consider this constellation just as a pitiable aberrance of the mind. (One may examine if the disrupted state of harsh contradictions is not a possible end of science)

We could formulate some arguments to underline the plentifulness of speculative thinking combined with a discussion of a real problem. The points of view, we found by rethinking the speculation, match the idea of transdisciplinary approach, but make also the necessity of an underlaying system clearer. We found out that thinking of the thinking is the way to overwhelm the one-sidedness and the abstraction of understanding science.

Some difficulties have to be faced: in addition to the necessity of being up-to-date in sciences and at least concerning their main results, we need to have an appropriate access to Hegelian thinking of absolut idealismus. In other words: The thinking of the speculative method must be also speculative. How could this be? To possess a skill which is to be gained. The answer must be given, virtually the system provides already all categories and methods. In my opinion one of the main problem we have to consider.

Certainly, if the speculation is introduced by definition or understanding, even its application in the philosophy of the nature remains diffus and pending. The danger of schematism appears and leads to its total denial – as a wrong consequence. This keen objective to regain a system of knowledge cannot be achieved by historical or critical research about Hegel. Contemporary philology examines the isolated words, not the spirit of philosophy. Thus a large range of research is not able to serve this necessity of our time, of all times. Thus, speculative philosophy is divine service – as Hegel proclamed after finishing his studies at the T¸binger Stift: Empire of God.


*Acknowledgment: I would like to thank my wife, Magali, to have helped me with infinite patience.



1 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, inaugural speech as he became professor of philosophy at the university of Berlin on 22nd of October 1822, cit. In: Friedrich Heer, Hegel, p. 68 – 69

2  Even some scientists feel displeasing with this term and its goal: „”Neurotheology“: A semantic trap set by pseudo-science for the unwary scientist.“ By: Milind N. Ovalekar, http://www.cns.res.in/neurotheology.html

3 I will indicate in notes the original quotations, so in French Blaise Pascal wrote: „Le silence Èternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.“ Blaise Pascal: Pensees, Fragment 187, Edition Gallimard (1977)

4 „Es ist festzustellen, dafl unsere Zeit im Grunde eine Zeit ohne Naturphilosophie ist.“
cit. Dieter Wandschneider: Die Bedeutung Hegels f¸r eine zeitgem‰fle Naturphilosophie, p. 261, in: Dietmar H. Heidemann, Christian Krijnen (edit): Hegel und die Geschichte der Philosophie, 2007

5 Friedrich Heer, op.  cit., p. 7

6 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, 1st edition, § 192.

7 For some terms of Hegelian thinking, their German origins will be indicated in quotation marks as one can translate it literally , but the meaning remains clearer.

8 see: Sprache und Denken, in: Bernhard Lakebrink, Kommentar zu Hegels „Logik“, p. 21 – 26

9 I will refer to the 3rd edition of the Hegelian Encyclopedie of Philosophical Science (1830), an English translation is available on:

10 Max Wundt, Hegels Logik und die moderne Physik, 1949

11 An review of his work is available here: http://phaidon.philo.at/asp/wandsch.htm#wa

12 Ken Foldes examines in a remarkable analysis the theory of Big-Bang from a Hegelian approach: Hegel’s Deduction Of Matter: And The Untenability of The Big-Bang Theory, available on: http://www.gwfhegel.org/Nature/kf.html

13  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Science of Logic, translated by A. V. Miller, George Allen & Unwin, 1969, original first published in 1812, 1813, 1816, The Quantitative Infinite Progress, Remark 1: The High Repute of the Progress to Infinity

14 German translation: „In der Bl¸tezeit der idealistischen Naturphilosophie glaubte man noch, dafl es einen autonomen, spekulativen Weg zum Wesen der Natur g‰be, der nicht den Umweg ¸ber die beobachtbaren Ph‰nomene nehmen m¸flte.“ Bernulf Kanitscheider, Im Innern der Natur, p. 11

15  Friedrich Grimmlinger, Zur Methode der Naturphilosophie bei Hegel, available on: http://sammelpunkt.philo.at:8080/589/1/NPhil.pdf

16  Brian R. Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
Brian R. Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

17 Dieter Wandschneider calls it a „dialectic of phenomena“, in order to contrast it to a „dialectic of notions“, in: Dieter Wandschneider, Raum, Zeit, Relativit‰t