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Transitions to and from Nature in Hegel and Plato

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2015

Gary K Browning*
Affiliation:
Oxford Brookes University
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Extract

The philosophical understanding of nature is a key concern of both Plato and Hegel. Their elaborations of the identity and status of nature within their respective philosophies exhibit significant affinities to which Hegel himself draws attention in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Hegel and Plato, indeed, are fundamentally at one in theorizing nature as both displaying and obscuring the principles of reason which they take as providing the foundations of a coherent explanation of reality. In his lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel takes great pains to emphasize the profundity of Plato's idealism as residing in its identification of the objectively real with the rational. Plato, according to Hegel, is to be revered, above all, for having “… grasped in all its truth Socrates' great principle that ultimate reality lies in consciousness, since according to him the absolute is in thought and all reality is thought.” The Timaeus, for Hegel, articulates how the world of nature is necessarily structured by reason, just as the Republic is seen by Hegel as providing a philosophical explanation of the rationality of the traditional, organic community of the Greek polis. Hegel's recognition of the Platonic foundations of his own version of “absolute” idealism in which the universality of thought assumes an explanatory priority over the material phenomena of nature as well as informing the spiritual activities of human beings has been noted, rightly, by a number of subsequent commentators. Michael Rosen, for instance, in his book, Hegel's Dialectic and Its Criticism, while carefully distinguishing between aspects of Hegel's and Plato's conceptions of nature, intimates the continuity of Hegel's idealism with Plato's by observing how Hegel's language in effecting a transition from the categories of pure thought in the Logic to the material world of nature constitutes an “… echo of Plato's Timaeus.” Certainly, Hegel's cryptic account of the transition from the Absolute Idea, the categorial terminus of the Logic's interrogation of the determinations of pure thought, to the externality and materiality of nature evokes Plato's construal of the construction of the world in the Timaeus, both by the indeterminate character of the God which is invoked, as well as by the clear subordination of material phenomena to a separately articulable order of reason. In the account of the construction of the world developed in the Timaeus, Plato deploys the image of the divine demiurge imparting order to the world by referring to a pre-existing pattern of ideas. Hegel conceives of the Absolute Idea which at the outset of the Philosophy of Nature he likens to God, as, “… freely releasing itself…” into the externality of space and time, in which movement the Idea is seen as suffering neither a transition within nor a deepening of its character such as the mediated categories of the Logic incur in the process of their integration within the Absolute Idea.

Type
Hegel's Metaphysics of Nature
Copyright
Copyright © The Hegel Society of Great Britain 1992

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References

1 Hegel, G W F Lectures on the History of Philosophy, trans Haldane, E S and Simson, F H, London & New York, 1982 Google Scholar.

2 Ibid, Vol 2, p 43.

3 Ibid, Vol 2, p 1.

4 Ibid, Vol 2, p 73.

5 Notable amongst these commentators are J N Findlay, M B Foster and Michael Rosen whose views are discussed in this paper.

6 Rosen, M Hegel's Dialectic and its Criticism, Cambridge, 1982, p 69 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Hegel's, Science of Logic, trans Miller, A V, London & New York, p 843 Google Scholar.

8 The following two studies provide the bases for these comparison. Foster, M B The Political Philosophies of Plato and Hegel, Oxford, 1935 Google Scholar. J N Findlay “Hegelianism and Platonism”, in Hegel and the History of Philosophy, eds J J O'Malley, K W Algozin and F G Weiss, The Hague, 1974. Findlay offers additional comparative observations on Hegel and Plato in the following studies. Findlay, J N Plato: The Written and Unwritten Doctrines, London, 1974 Google Scholar. Findlay, J N Hegel: A Reexamination, London & New York, 1957 Google Scholar.

9 J N Findlay “Hegelianism and Platonism”, op cit, p 62.

10 Ibid, p 69.

11 Ibid, pp 70-71.

12 Ibid, pp 70-71.

13 Ibid, p 71.

14 Ibid, p 72.

15 M B Foster The Political Philosophies of Plato and Hegel, op cit, p 128.

16 Ibid, pp 181-182.

17 Ibid, p 191.

18 Ibid, 196.

19 Ibid, p 137.

20 Plato Phaedo (64A), trans Tredennick, H, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed Hamilton, E and Cairns, H, Princeton, 1961, p 46 Google Scholar.

21 Ibid, p 46.

22 Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans Cornford, F M, London, 1941 and New York, 1945 (Book VII 517), p 231 Google Scholar.

23 Plato Timaeus, trans B Jowett, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, op cit (29C), p 1162.

24 Ibid (29A), p 1162.

25 Ibid (30A), p 1162.

26 Vlastos, GThe Disorderly Motion in the Timaeus ”, in Allen, R E (ed), Studies in Plato's Metaphysics, London & New York, 1967 p 389 Google Scholar.

27 Plato Statesman, trans J B Skemp, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, op cit (269C), p 1034.

28 Plato Laws, trans A E Taylor, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, op cit (896D), p 1452.

29 Plato Phaedo, op cit (84B), p 67.

30 Klosko, G The Development of Plato's Political Theory, New York & London, 1986, p 179 Google Scholar.

31 Hegel's Logic, trans Wallace, W, Oxford, 1975, p 185 Google Scholar.

32 M Rosen Hegel's Dialectic audits Criticism, op cit, pp 78-79.

33 Ibid, p 132. Rosen does add the qualification, though, that for Hegel thought is not to be conceived as a kind of separable mental space.

34 White, A Absolute Knowledge: Hegel and the Problem of Metaphysics, Athens & London, 1983, p 86 Google Scholar.

35 Hegel's Science of Logic, op cit, p 843.

36 Hegel's Philosophy of Mind, trans Wallace, W, Oxford, 1970, p 18 Google Scholar.

37 Ibid, pp 293-297.

38 For a concentrated review of Hegel's practice as an historian of philosophy in regard to Plato see Browning, G KHegel's Plato: The Owl of Minerva and a Fading Political Tradition”, Political Studies Vol XXXVI, 1988 Google Scholar.

39 G W F Hegel Lectures on the History of Philosophy, op cit. Vol 2, p 49.

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