Having studied Hegel's philosophy, as it is epitomized in the Encyclopaedia, many scholars would be in agreement with David G Ritchie who, in his book on Darwin and Hegel (1893), remarked: “Everywhere in Hegel we read about Entwickelung; but of Evolution he does not speak in so friendly a manner.” Bearing in mind the distinction between “Entwicklung” (“development”) and “evolution” and recalling Hegel's criticism of conceptions of natural evolution in the initial section of the Philosophy of Nature, it is certainly not immediately evident why a serious scholar like John N Findlay should maintain that “if any philosopher is a philosopher of evolution, that philosopher is Hegel.”
It can hardly be denied, however, that more recent studies in Hegel's philosophy can be used to support Findlay's statement to a certain extent. Not only has the relevance of Hegel's philosophy for an adequate understanding of organic life and its evolution been strongly emphasized; it has even been asserted that Hegel had at his disposal a concept of evolution essentially determining the methodic approach of his philosophy of nature.
Now I would not venture to ascertain whether or not Hegel's concept of evolution is of present relevance for our understanding of nature and even less would I dare to decide on the hypothetical question whether or not Hegel, if he “had lived a little later, … would have given us an evolutionary, teleological theory of Nature as he did of mind in history.” In my paper, I would like to deal with a subject matter of more limited scope. Discussions concerning the systematic importance and present relevance of Hegel's concept of evolution tend to be somewhat vague and abstract as long as the meaning of “evolution” in Hegel's philosophy is anything but unequivocal. Therefore, I am going to attempt to outline a systematic reconstruction of the function of Hegel's concept of evolution within the conceptual framework of Hegel's encyclopaedic Philosophy of Nature. More precisely, I will try to elucidate: 1) the question whether or not Hegel's criticism of philosophic and scientific concepts of evolution led him to his own positive concept of evolution; 2) the question in what sense a specific Hegelian concept of evolution is relevant for the understanding of the notional development taking place between the logical “absolute Idea” and “subjective spirit”.