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God and Nature in Hegel's Logic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

Cinzia Ferrini*
Universität Konstanz
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The aim of this essay is to cast light on the puzzling transition from logic to nature that is stated at the end of Hegel's Science of Logic. The passage is summed up by the famous intriguing sentence about the absolute idea freely resolving to let itself go.

Firstly, I shall sketch the, so to speak, “divine” features of the absolute philosophical knowing that is to be developed in the Encyclopaedia system. My point is to account for the relationship between the standpoint reached by the Phenomenology of Spirit and the content of the Logic, regarded as the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence.

Secondly, I shall focus attention on the way in which the developed idea of philosophical knowing is systematically displayed in the Encyclopaedia. My point is now to account for: i) the mutual relationships among the three parts of philosophical science (science of logic, philosophy of nature, philosophy of spirit); and ii) the relationship between these parts and the whole of philosophy.

Thirdly, I shall examine the two main and opposite standard interpretations of the transition from the first to the second part of the Encyclopaedia. My point here is to challenge the conceptual presuppositions of the readings under consideration, by means of a close examination of the revised editions of Hegel's text.

Fourthly, I shall argue for a different view. My last point is to focus on the character of the absolute idea's self-determination. It involves letting the determination of the distinction exist as something independent, so that the “other” obtains the determinacy of “other-being”, of an actual entity. Therefore it must be distanced from the divine way of generating (the Father-Son relationship) that is the form of love. I shall conclude by discussing the implications of Hegel's use of the notion of “creation” and his paradoxical definition of nature as being the Son and not the Son of God.

Hegel's Logic and Metaphysics
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 1999

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1 Hegel's, Science of Logic, trans. Miller, A. (1969) (Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press, 1989)Google Scholar, (hereafter SL,), 49. In square brackets, my revision of the English translation. For the German text, see Hegel, , Werke in zwanzig Bänden, ed. Moldenhauer, Eva und Michel, Karl Markus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969ff)Google Scholar, (hereafter W), 5, Wissenschaft der Logik I, 43. “Der Begriff der reinen Wissenschaft und seine Deduktion wird in gegenwärtiger Abhandlung also insofern vorausgesetzt, als die Phänomenologie des Geistes nicht anderes als die Deduktion desselben ist. Das absolute Wissen ist die Wahrheit aller Weisen des Bewußtseins, weil, wie jener Gang desselben es hervorbrachte, nur in dem absoluten Wissen die Trennung des Gegenstandes von der Gewißheit seiner selbst vollkommen sich aufgelöst hat und die Wahrheit dieser Gewißheit sowie diese Gewißheit der Wahrheit gleich geworden ist. Die reine Wissenschaft setzt somit die Befreiung von dem Gegensatze des Bewußtseins voraus. Sie enthält den Gedanken, insofern er ebensosehr die Sache an sich selbst ist, oder die Sache an sich selbst, insofern sie ebensosehr der reine Gedanke ist”.

2 See White, A., Absolute Knowledge: Hegel and the Problem of Metaphysics (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983), 2223 Google Scholar.

3 W 3, Phänomenologie des Geistes, 589-590. For the question of the significance that the structure of self-consciousness can have for the philosophy of nature, see Kalenberg, T., Die Befreiung der Natur. Natur und Selbstbewußtsein in der Philosophie Hegels (Hamburg: Meiner, 1997)Google Scholar.

4 Ibidem, 591. For the view that the Phenomenology “culminates not in the identity of thought and object, but rather in their complete collapse into an indistinguishable indeterminacy which offers no determinate residue whatsoever”, see Maker, W., “The Very Idea of the Idea of Nature, or Why Hegel is Not an Idealist”, in Houlgate, S., ed., Hegel's Philosophy of Nature (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1998), 5 Google Scholar. See also Maker, , Philosophy Without Foundations: Rethinking Hegel (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

5 See Harris, H. S., Hegel's Ladder, II, The Odyssey of Spirit (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 749 Google Scholar: “The goal of philosophy is ‘the revelation of the Deep, and this is the absolute Concept’. The darkness of the deep is to be turned into a visible extended surface. When this is achieved scientifically the surface illuminated will be a conceptual sphere, the conceptually organized and comprehended ‘extension’ of Real Philosophy”.

6 SL, 53; W 5, 49.

7 SL, 54; W 5, 50: “Dies erhellt für sich schon daraus, daß sie von ihrem Gegenstande und Inhalte nichts Unterschiedenes ist; — denn es ist der Inhalt in sich, die Dialektik, die er an ihm selbst hat, welche ihn fortbewegt. Es ist klar, daß keine Darstellungen für wissenschaftlich gelten können, welche nicht den Gang dieser Methode gehen und ihrem einfachen Rhythmus gemäß sind, denn es ist der Gang der Sache selbst”.

8 SL, 37; W 5, 27: “die tiefere Grundlage ist die Seele für sich, der reine Begriff, der das Innerste der Gegenstände, ihr einfacher Lebenspuls, wie selbst des subjektiven Denkens derselben ist. Diese logische Natur, die den Geist beseelt, in ihm treibt und wirkt, zum Bewußtsein zu bringen, dies ist die Aufgabe”.

9 As it is stated in § 2 of the Encyclopaedia: see Hegel, The Encyclopaedia Logic, Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences with the Zusätze, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, H. S. Harris (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1991) (hereafter EL), 24-25; WS, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften I, 42.

10 SL, 50; W 5, 44: “die Darstellung Gottes ist, wie er in seinem ewigen Wesen vor der Erschaffung der Natur und eines endlichen Geistes ist”.

11 White, 71. See also de Vos, L., “Gott oder die absolute Idee”, Hegel-Studien, 29 (1994): 107 Google Scholar.

12 See EL, 38; W 8, 59-60: “ist wesentlich System, weil das Wahre als konkret nur als sich in sich entfaltend und in Einheit zusammennehmend und -haltend, d. i. als Totalität ist und nur durch Unterscheidung und Bestimmung seiner Unterschiede die Notwendigkeit derselben und die Freiheit des ganzen sein kann […]. Ein Philosophieren ohne System kann nichts Wissenschaftliches sein”.

13 See Kainz, H. P., Dialectic and System (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988), 9397 Google Scholar.

14 EL, 42; W8, 64.

15 EL, ibidem; W 8, 63.

16 Presenting the three syllogisms, I refer in part to my study La funzione del sillogismo nel sistema enciclopedico di Hegel”, Paradigmi, XII, 34 (1994): 5475 Google Scholar, with ample bibliography.

17 See Ferrini, C., “Logica e filosofia della natura nella Dottrina dell'essere hegeliana (II)”, Rivista di storia della filosofia, 1 (1992): 103124 Google Scholar.

18 See for instance the analysis of: Hösle, V., Hegels System. Der Idealismus der Subjektivität und das Problem der InterSubjektivität, I, Systementwicklung und Logik (Hamburg: Meiner, 1987), 214216 Google Scholar and Wölfle, G. M., Die Wesenslogik in Hegels “Wissenschaft der Logik”. Versuch einer Rekonstruktion und Kritik unter besonderer Beräcksichügung der philosophischen Tradition (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1994), 101108 Google Scholar. See also Baur, M., “Sublating Kant and the Old Metaphysics: a Reading of the Transition from Being to Essence in Hegel's Logic”, The Owl of Minerva, 29, 2 (1998): 148149 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The point has been recently stressed by Lugarini, L., Orizzonti hegeliani di comprensione dell'Essere. Rileggendo la Scienza della logica (Milano: Guerini, 1998), 220221 Google Scholar.

19 On the theoretical relevance of the problems arising from the three final syllogisms for the systematic form of Hegel's philosophy, see Nuzzo, A., Logica e sistema. Sull'idea hegeliana di filosofia (Genova: Pantograf, 1992), 187, 341 (note 11), 461 Google Scholar. On the difference between the 1817 (§§ 475-477) and the 1830 (§§ 575-577) version of the final syllogisms (the 1827 edition of the Encyclopaedia ended with § 574), see Geraets, T., “Les trois lectures philosophiques de l'Encyclopédie ou la réalisation du concept de la philosophie chez Hegel”, Hegel-Studien 10 (1975): 236 ff.Google Scholar See also Jarczyk, G., Système et liberté dans la logique de Hegel (Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1980), 277 Google Scholar.

20 Léonard, A., “La structure du système hégélien”, Revue philosophique de Louvain 69 (1971): 495524 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Bodei, R., Sistema ed epoca in Hegel (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1975), 316 Google Scholar.

22 With reference to the history of interpretations, we can also recall Hermann Braun's view, for whom not only the moment of otherness of the idea was no longer a logical relationship, nature confronting the idea as something independent, but the categories of nature were not to be deduced from the idea. His view has been read as proposing a sort of “creatio ex nihilo”: see his “Zur Interpretation der hegelschen Wendung: frei entlassen” in Hegel. L'esprit objectif. L'unité de l'histoire (Lille: Association des publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Lille, 1970), 51-64. On this point see Wandschneider u, D.. Hösle, V., “Die Entäusserung der Idee zur Natur und ihre zeitliche Entfaltung als Geist bei Hegel”, Hegel-Studien 18 (1983): 173181 Google Scholar (for their reading of Braun, see note 5,175).

23 Bodei, 309.

24 On this point see Horstmann, R.-P., “Logifizierte Natur oder naturalisierte Logik? Bemerkungen zu Schellings Hegel-Kritik”, in Horstmann, R.-P. and Petry, M.J. (eds.), Hegels Philosophie der Natur (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1986), 290308 Google Scholar.

25 On this point see White, 43-90. For a comprehensive account of the late Schelling's criticism of Hegel's speculative logic, see Dttsing, K., “Spekulative Logik und positive Philosophie. Thesen zur Auseinandersetzung des späten Schelling mit Hegel”, in Henrich, D. (ed.), Ist systematische Philosophie möglich? (Bonn: Bouvier, 1977), 117128 Google Scholar.

26 See Wandschneider, D., “Die Stellung der Natur im Gesamtentwurf der hegelschen Philosophie”, in Petry, M. J. (ed.) Hegel und die Naturwissenschaften (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1987), 3385 Google Scholar.

27 Ibidem, 42-43.

28 EL, 41; W 8, 63.

29 Harris, H.S., Hegel's Ladder, I, The Pilgrimage of Reason, 213214 Google Scholar.

30 See Cook, D. J., Language in the Philosophy of Hegel (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 2839 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Moreover, by means of the “killing” of the immediate reality of the sense-particular's being in speaking, we had the transition from it to its higher form of existence in spiritual life (on this point, see my Forma e natura nei presupposti della logica come scienza in Hegel”, II Pensiero XXVI, 2 (1985): 137163)Google Scholar. This is the reason why, as Harris correcdy stresses, in the Phenomenology it was pointless to look for supplementary devices in order to help our language to express the richness of concrete experience.

32 Cf. SL, 842; W 6, Wissenschaft der Logik II, 572.

33 SL, 843; W 6, 573: “Indem die Idee sich nämlich als absolute Einheit des reinen Begriffs und seiner Realität setzt, somit in die Unmittelbarkeit des Seins zusammennimmt, so ist sie als die Totalität in dieser Form: — Natur”.

34 That is to say, at the level of the opposition between subject and object that characterizes consciousness.

35 That is to say, at the level of Befreiung an sich from that opposition, at the level of pure thought in so far as it is the Sache an sich selbst and vice versa.

36 This duplicity may well be taken as the source of the characterization of nature (in §§ 245-250 of the Encyclopaedia) as the “unresolved contradiction” (§ 248), as something intrinsically problematic (ibidem): on the one hand, it “appears” as the realm of the unending, multifarious, vanishing transformations (the Proteus), on the other hand, we are certain that our determinations of thought constitute also what is permanent and substantial in it, its truth and actuality. This complex relationship is at the origin of both our victories and defeats in confronting nature. On the one hand, there is our success in forcing the Proteus into a mould, retracing the universal in it (force, laws, genera) as well as in providing a philosophical deduction of the essential organization of the finite, namely of the systematic unity of relations within which the phenomena occur. On the other hand, there is our failure in: i) apprehending nature as a direct expression of the presence of God; ii) ascribing external reality to ideal constructions such as forces, classifications, schemes, systems of degrees and so on, which in no way have a phenomenal counterpart in sense-experience. (At most, nature shows “traces” [Spuren] of the conceptual determinations, the universals that inwardly rule appearances. This means that externality characterizes nature not only with respect to the absolute idea's self-determination of distinction [in its proper diversity], but in respect of itself. In other words, the determinations of nature are also external to one another. This is the reason why Hegel speaks either of the “impotence” [Ohnmacht] of nature or of its “imperfection”: the natural world is relative, it is appearance, not only for us, but also in itself); iii) finding natural forms which are immediate objectifications of reason; iv) pretending to provide particular phenomena with a philosophical deduction (as Hegel had made clear since the time of his polemics against King's challenge).

37 51,759; W 6, 468.

38 After quoting the passage where the idea is said to decide to release freely from itself nature, Giuseppe Varnier writes: “Diese Stelle gehört zu den bekanntesten im Werke Hegels, bleibt jedoch heute wie damals rätselhaft. Der ‘absolut-idealistische’ Ansatz erscheint hier in extremer, befremdlicher Form”, see Varnier, G., “Naturphilosophie, Identitätsphilosophie, vernichtende Logik. Natur und Geist beim Jenaer Hegel”, in Vieweg, K. (ed.), Hegeh Jenaer Naturphilosophie (München: Fink, 1998), 57 Google Scholar.

39 At that time the Philosophy of Nature was preceded by Logic and Metaphysics. Hegel had not yet developed the positive significance of the dialectical method and the Jena Logic carries out a negative task in respect of the fixed and mutually independent determinations of finite reflections, showing their immanent one-sidedness and self-collapsing into “bad infinity”. Metaphysics; instead, develops the moment of spirit (Geist) that reflecting upon its content, finds itself in otherness. Hegel called this absolute circle of reflection a Zurückkehren. In its turn it appeared to knowing itself as a return to the immediacy of the simple connection to oneself that characterizes the most external form of being. Nature then was not posited at the end of the Logic, as judged by the absolute idea as what was other than the idea itself, but it was conceived of as a development of Geist at the end of Metaphysics within its absolute circle of reflection.

40 Wolfgang Neuser starts from the following Hegelian statement of the Jena period: Die Natur ist gesetzt nur als Begriff, in dem die idealen Momente der Idee als wesentlich, und das Leben nur als ideales Moment dieser Wesentlichkeiten, und nur das Gemeinschaftliche derselben ist” (GW 7, 185)Google Scholar and comments: “Die Vorstellung, daß Natur nur als Begriff gesetzt ist, hat für die gesamte weitere Entwicklung der Naturphilosophie Hegels Bedeutung: Natur, die Gegenstand der Naturphilosophie ist, ist die begriffene Natur und nicht die äußere Natur. So sind Entwicklungen in der Naturphilosophie immer Entwicklungen von Begriffen, niemals etwa von Lebewesen oder realen Gegenständen”. See Neuser, W., “‘Das System der Sonne’. Zur Konstruktion der Hegeischen Naturphilosophie von 1804/05 in Jena” in Hegels Jenaer Naturphilosophie, 285 Google Scholar.

41 W17, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion II, 222 Google Scholar. Volumes 16-17 of W are a mere reprint of the second (1840) edition of the Lectures, prepared by Bruno Bauer, who used new material in contrast to the first (1832) edition by Marheineke: notably, the first lecture series (Henning's transcript), Hegel's own handwritten lecture manuscript and his miscellaneous papers: see on this point Hegel, , Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, I, Introduction and The Concept of Religion, ed. Hodgson, P. C., trans. Brown, R. F. et al. (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984) (hereafter LPR), 24-30 and 32 Google Scholar. The passage quoted here is similar in the Lectures of 1827 and has been partially translated in the following way (see LPR, III, 1985, note 71, 276): “God is love: he is this distinguishing and the nullity of the distinction, a play of distinctions in which there is nothing serious, distinction precisely as sublated, i. e. the simple, eternal idea”.

42 w 17, 223; Eng. tr. in LPR, III, note 93,284: “We say that God eternally begets his Son, that God distinguishes himself from himself […]. God does this, and is utterly present to himself in the other whom he has posited (the form of love)”.

43 W 17, 242-243. Cf. the same passage in the Lectures of 1827 (LPR, III, 292): “The other is to this extent defined as ‘Son’ […]. In the idea as thus specified, the determination of the distinction is not yet complete, since it is only abstract distinction in general. We have not yet arrived at distinction in its own proper form; [here] it is just one determinate characteristic. The distinguished elements are posited as the same; they have not yet come to be defined so that they are distinctly determined”.

44 W 17, 242. Cf. the same passage in the Lectures of 1827 (LPR, III, 291-292): “What is distinguished is defined in such a way that the distinction immediately disappears, and we have a relationship of God, of the idea, merely to himself. The act of differentiation is only a movement, a play of love with itself, which does not arrive at the seriousness of other-being, of separation and rupture”.

45 Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, trans. Miller, A. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), (hereafter PN), 14 Google Scholar. For the German text, see W 9, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften II, 25 Google Scholar. To show that nature is recognised by Hegel as genuinely other “in an immanent but still nonreductive fashion” is also the line of inquiry pursued by Maker in “The Very Idea of the Idea of Nature” following another line of argument; see especially pp. 7-13.

46 Hegel, , Die Vorlesungen von 1819/20, ed. Iltng, K. and Gies, M. (Napoli: Bibliopolis, 1980), 8, I. 30 Google Scholar.

47 See also Hegel's, Lecture Manuscript in LPR III 87 Google Scholar, especially note 79, where it is underlined that any “crude pantheism” is consistently avoided by Hegel.

48 I refer to my “Framing Hypotheses: Numbers in Nature and the Logic of Measure in the Development of Hegel's System”, in Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, 283-310.

49 W 17, 243. Cf. the same passage in the Lectures of 1827 (LPR, III, 292): “Only the absolute idea determines itself and is certain of itself as absolutely free within itself because of this self-determination. For this reason its self-determination involves letting this determinate [entity] exist as something free, something independent, or as an independent object. It is only for the being that is free that freedom is; it is only for the free human being that an other has freedom too. It belongs to the absolute freedom of the idea that, in its act of determining and dividing, it releases the other to exist as a free and independent being”. See also Hegel's, Lecture Manuscript in LPR III, 86 Google Scholar.

50 This point may answer H. S. Harris, II, 746: “The strange sentence at the end of the Logic about ‘the Idea resolving to let itself go,’ should be interpreted in terms of the ‘leap of faith’ and the ‘comprehension’ of Religion. But I am thankful to be able to set aside the task of interpreting that sentence here”.

51 See for instance the following passage: “Der Verstand bestimmt und hält die Bestimmungen fest; die Vernunft ist negativ und dialektisch, weil sie die Bestimmungen des Verstands in nichts auflöst; sie ist positiv, weil sie das Allgemeine erzeugt und das Besondere darin begreift” (W 5, 16).

52 PN, 17; W 9, 28.

53 See EL, 29; W 8, 47.

54 See SL, 36; W 5, 26.

55 See W 17, 243-244. The passage is similar in the Lectures of 1827. See LPR III, 293: “The truth of the world is only its ideality — for it is not true that it possesses genuine actuality. Its nature is to be, but only in an ideal sense; it is not something eternal in itself but rather something created, whose being is only posited. For the world, to be means to have ‘being only for an instant’, so to speak, but also to sublate this its separation or estrangement from God. It means to return to its origin, to enter into the relationship of spirit, of love — to be this relationship of spirit, of love, which is the third element. The second element is, therefore, the process of the world in love by which it passes over from fall and separation into reconciliation”.

56 Die Vorlesungen von 1819/20, 7, II.23-25.