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Recent debates about Hegel's theoretical philosophy are marked by a surprising lack of agreement, extending all the way down to the most basic question: what is Hegel talking about? On the one hand, proponents of ‘metaphysical’ interpretations generally read Hegel as aiming to articulate the overall structure or organisation of reality itself, and the nature of a highest or most fundamental being. Particularly influential is the idea that Hegel is reviving and modifying a form of Spinoza's metaphysical monism, according to which the organised whole of everything is the highest being, providing a ground or reason for everything real. On the other hand, proponents of ‘non-metaphysical’ interpretations argue Hegel's topic is something else entirely. The idea is that Hegel agrees with Kant in finding pre-critical forms of metaphysics to be uncritical or dogmatic. And the topic of Hegel's positive project is supposed to be not the nature of reality itself, nor any most fundamental being, but rather ‘forms of thought’ akin to Kant's categories and the objectivity, legitimacy, or normative authority of those forms of thought.
This is of course only a rough sketch of the most basic recent debate, about which there is more to say than can fit in this paper. My focus here is on what Hegel has to say about nature and natural kinds, in ‘Observing Reason’ from the Phenomenology, and also in similar material from the Logic and Encyclopedia. I intend to argue that this material suggests a surprising way of stepping beyond the fundamental debate sketched above. There can of course be no question of elaborating and defending here a complete interpretation of Hegel's entire theoretical philosophy. I will have to restrict myself to arguing for the unlikely conclusion that there is an approach that can combine and integrate the strongest points made by both sides in the most basic debate shaping recent Hegel interpretation.