'To philosophize about nature is to create nature.' As I now finish the task allotted me by the Hegel Society of editing this priceless relic from the wealth of material Hegel has left us, it is only fitting that I should begin by quoting the man who really planned the revival of the philosophy of nature. It is with the consummate energy of enthusiasm, and the supreme confidence of thinking cognition, that this sentence expresses the point of view which the divine twins of modem science held four decades ago, and which they defended triumphandy against the philosophy of reflection and everything associated with it. Their friendship developed in early youth, and gathered strength in their public activity at Jena, and the publication of the 'Critical Journal of Philosophy'. It was this friendship which won the ground on which Hegel was able to erect the sciences into a structure which is unsurpassable in its comprehensiveness, and which has its like only in the writings of Aristotle. If the sunny day of victorious truth now rises into the heavens of science after that bright and glorious dawn with which the century began, we shall enjoy in these lectures on the philosophy of nature one of the choicest fruits to have ripened from the garland of blossoms then in bud.

One could regard this statement of Schelling's as presumptuous, and take it as evidence of the self-deification with which philosophy is so often charged at present. The poet says that it is the concern of philosophy 'to think again the great thoughts of the creation' however, and if we express the thought in this way. it seems to be less outrageous. What in fact can be our object in philosophizing about nature, if it is not to reproduce its intelligible essence or generative ideas by thinking them forth from our spiritual inwardness? In this connection I should like to draw attention to the end of these lectures, where Hegel brings out the creative activity of spirit in nature in a similar way.

It is generally asserted however, that as experience is the only basis of scientific cognition, and most certainly the only basis of natural science, the whole business of a philosophy of nature, which is the comprehension of nature through thoughts, is idle and utopian. One cannot deny of course that the philosophy of nature would never be able to think about nature unless it could draw upon experience, but experiences are in no way conducive to the discovery of ideas, unless these ideas flow from an inner source. It can be seen only too often, that the continuous and unorderly accumulation of empirical data, instead of furthering our knowledge of nature, merely gives rise to further confusions and contradictions. Consequently, when the attempt is made to introduce a systematic consistency into natural science, this is said to be a useless and impossible task, and even the empirical scientists themselves will admit that it is doomed to failure. Yet this continual hoarding of fresh discoveries must be motivated by the fundamental assumption that there is a final result to be reached, and that at some time or another there will be a breakthrough from the phenomena to the essence of nature. As an excuse for the perpetual postponement of tIns, it is always pointed out that everything has not yet been discovered, — as if the goal which research of this kind has before it were not being continually shifted into the distance, for there is no end to what may be discovered. It is not surprising therefore, that when a philosophy of nature also enters the field, and attempts, as it must, to present the idea of the whole, it is passed by with a shrug of the shoulders, and a commiserating smile.



Karl Ludwig Michelet (1801–1893)

We can say therefore, that natural science still fmds itself with the following difficulty: 'If we concern ourselves with understanding, noting particularities, exact observation, and distinguishing one thing from another, we shall tend to regard whatever arises from an idea and leads back into it, as to some extent a burden to us. We shall be at home in our labyrinths in our own way, and will not feel the need for a line of enquiry that might lead us more rapidly throughout the whole. If we are able to survey wider areas of science however, the danger is that we shall be tempted to despise detail, and to force that which depends for its life upon separation, into a stifling universality.' If we now enquire into the attempts that have hitherto been made to break out of this difficult situation, a balanced and all-round understanding will seem to be even more of an impossibility.

The so-called philosophers of nature have certainly attempted to think over a great deal of empirical material. They have however been only too ready to apply the rigidly worked out schemata which were given currency by Eschenmayer under the name of potencies, in order to ravage and obliterate the bright abundance and infinite multifariousness of nature, and transform it into the drabbest of uniformities. Their turbid mixture of thought and empiricism was all the rage forty years ago, and one can hardly blame the empirical physicists for the forthright way in which they have rejected it. Our worthy friend Link passed judgement upon it, and we quote him with approbation, 'There is very little research to be done if one is prepared to accept the pronouncements of certain physiophilosophers. They tell us for example that a plant is the product of light, earth, and attraction. According to Kieser, the plant in its integrity is the organic magnet, and shows this both in its entirety and in its parts. One runs across the holy triad of undiffcrentiation in differentiation everywhere. Nature has never been so abused. Speculation of this kind can offer us nothing but vague relationships and superficialities; it never touches the inexhaustible profusion of actuality, and instead of interpreting the actual world, offers us hieroglyphics.' This philosophy of nature certainly applied the principle of creating nature through thought in a most unfortunate manner, for the figments of cognition it dealt with were merely the products of an eccentric imagination.

Can we say however that empiricism has helped to close the gap which divides it from philosophy? If we note some of the views now being expressed by natural scientists, we shall have good reason to believe that Hegel's polemic against the atomistic and materialistic interpretations of nature is beginning to take effect. 'Resonant matter' has already been discarded, and even Newton's theory of colour has not remained unquestioned, although the wave-theory which is replacing it seems to be even more materialistic. It has even been said quite recently that electricity is merely a direction, which sounds idealistic enough. These developments should not be overrated however, for if atoms are transformed in a cheap way into molecules, physicists will still swear by them, as they will by pores, caloric and its latency, magnetic fluid and many of the other odd names given to artificial concepts of the understanding. These names are also figments of cognition, and are in no way superior to the schemata of the philosophers of nature.

I have heard it objected that Hegel was tilting at windmills. Physics itself is said to be capable of accepting the proposition that heat, electricity, atoms, and magnetic fluidity etc., are merely modifications of matter and not independent essences, without the help of philosophy. It is added moreover, that these expressions are essential to communication and the discovery of further phenomena; physics is said to make use of them as heuristic concepts, which it then attempts to confirm by means of experiment. One might reply to this as follows.

Philosophy should be grateful for the concession implicit in the point about the windmills, for as it was behind these windmills that the giant of empiricism had hidden himself, the fact that Hegel was knighted for combat of this kind should not detract in any way from his reputation. With regard to the second point, it should be remembered that even if this metaphysic of forces, matter, substances, and atoms etc. is only accepted as an hypothesis, it will still distort our initial assessment of experiments. It is impossible to interpret experiments soundly if ftxed preconceptions of this kind are read into them, and one then deludes oneself into thinking that they conflI1ll these preconceptions. The way in which we speak is never a matter of indifference, for thoughts cleave to expressions. Philosophy and physics have hitherto spoken different languages, and I am convinced that this is the root cause of their being unable to understand one another.

I can see no reason why we should regard this as an insuperable obstacle however, and by offering this book to the general public, I believe that we shall be helping to overcome it, for it is here that the divine language of Hegel's rational dialectic already approximates to many of the modes of human speech used by the understanding. The French and English are mainly to blame for the labyrinths of complicated theory that have been introduced into physics, and Hegel was only too justifted when he blamed our physicists for relying too heavily upon the ways of thinking which predominate beyond the Rhine and the Channel (II. 2I2). It is surely not unreasonable to expect our physicists to draw upon their German cultural resources, or at least to show that they are willing to negotiate with German philosophy, and to correct it should it fall into error. A state of mutual understanding is one of the essential conditions of any future peace treaty however. Each side will have to be aware of the other's method of comprehension, for it is only by mastering an opposing point of view that one is fully qualifted to refute or accept it. It cannot be denied that Hegel's attacks were strongly tinged with bitterness, and as he improvised upon his notes in the lecture room, the sharpness of his remarks was often involuntarily heightened. I beg the physicists to remember the noble passion for truth which characterized the deceased however, and to take into consideration the conscientiousness with which I have attempted to given an account of what was communicated. Whatever has gone wrong among the living has either been put right already or is still open to rectifIcation however; and here we are striving for reconciliation, not fresh dissensions.


We cannot hope to succeed without this understanding, but no matter how earnestly we attempt to create it, we shall achieve nothing unless we have the objective support of a mediating principle, and both empiricism and the philosophy of nature are unable to provide this. If this medius terminus is to be a true middle term, it will have to display two aspects, so that both extremes occur within it. I should now like to suggest that Goethe's sense of nature in its bearing upon experience, and this work of Hegel's in its bearing upon philosophy, constitute the mediating principle required.

Although Goethe takes experience as his starting point, he does so in a different way from the natural scientists, for instead of concentrating upon an investigation of the remotest and subtlest relationships, in which phenomena are obscured and distorted by their multifarious connections, he concentrates upon the purest, simplest, and most basic form of a phenomenon, analyses this basic datum of experience, and without making use of any preconceived terminology, merely describes it. He therefore presents the distinct and basic aspects of a phenomenon, or the thought of their relationship. We may say therefore that Goethe's archetypal phenomena constitute the immediately intuited ideas of experience, and that they may only be readily discovered in experience by those in command of the sure procedure of an instinctively rational genius. Goethe's fine sense of nature enabled him to discover the archetypal phenomena of colours, plants, and bones etc. He was proud of a presentation from Alexander von Humboldt which confirmed this, and which was accompanied by, 'a flattering characterization, in which he suggested that poetry might also be able to lift the veil of nature' .... 'If von Humboldt acknowledges this, who will deny it?'

Goethe's archetypal phenomenon is the idea which constitutes the factual nature of an appearance. If this idea is not discovered by any kind of obscure drive, but is grasped consciously by the precise procedure of the self-motivating progression of dialectical thought, it constitutes the Hegelian method, which develops the Idea of space, time, motion, and matter etc., out of the logical Idea. Although these entities are only discovered because the philosopher has prior experience of them, they are quite independent of this experience, and are in no way determined by its content. Philosophy certainly does not make an immediate deduction of the shapes of nature as such, it merely deduces certain of the thoughtrelationships characteristic of nature, and then discovers the intuitions which correspond to them in the sphere of natural phenomena. In this second a posteriori procedure, it places space at the apex, for it is the intuition we call space which corresponds most exactly to the simplest form of the Idea of nature to issue forth from logical development. However, philosophy does not anticipate this placing of space by means of a priori deduction. When we make the transition from the Idea of space to the second Idea of nature, we fmd that this has its closest corresponding intuition in time, so that this recognition of our concept in an intuition repeats itself, as it does throughout the philosophy of nature. It cannot be said of this procedure that the Idea is extracted from the intuition, for if the individual deduction had allowed the Idea of space to be followed by the subjective thought-determination that ,the second Idea of nature corresponded more exactly to the intuition of motion or even of the plant, then the philosopher would have rejected time, and placed this intuition next to space in the series of natural forms.

Consequently, before he enters upon metaphysical determinations of this kind, the philosopher will have to make a preliminary survey of natural phenomena, in order to assess their relative worth and comparative development. Only the dialectical development of the Ideas themselves can decide where intuitions such as space and time should be placed however, and therefore what general order should be adopted; for it would be preposterous to assert that the graded series of forms had also been created out of nature, as it is certain that they are all in nature together. If an Idea is derived a priori, and no corresponding intuition is forthcoming, we may proceed in either of two ways. To a certain extent we may be justified in assuming that the empty place contains a phenomenon which has not yet been discovered empirically, but although Oken frequently made use of this expedient, it is not to be recommended. The other procedure open to us is to throw the thought back into the melting-pot of the dialectic, and then to raise it once more from the productive mine of reason into the daylight of consciousness, for there is every possibility that despite the universally creative thought which slumbers in every breast, and which can guide us only along the correct path, our idiosyncrasies will have caused us to go astray in our thinking.

It is literally true therefore, that Hegel's philosophy of nature creates the entire system of nature's productive Ideas out of its own freedom. Schelling says in effect that Hegel's logical Idea precipitates itself into nature. As the logical Idea remains a matter of thought, it is difficult to see what he means by this. The logical Idea has no need 'to take the first difficult step into actuality', because its thought coincides with the true actuality of nature. How can it be said then that philosophy is 'limited' because it can 'only produce thoughts,' and not 'a single blade of grass'? Are we to regard it as limited because it produces the universal, the abiding, and the exclusively valuable, instead of the individual, the sensuous, and the transitory? If the limitation of philosophy is supposed to consist not only of its being unable to constitute individuality, but also of its being unaware of how individual things are constituted, one has to reply that this 'how' is inferior to knowledge, not superior to it, and that knowledge cannot therefore be circumscribed by it. Consequently, knowledge goes by the board when we ask 'How this transformation of the Idea into reality' etc., the precise reason being that nature is the unconscious Idea, and that knowledge is unnecessary to the growth of a blade of grass. The true creation is that of the universal, which remains securely within philosophic cognition itself.


Hegel's philosophy of nature also does full justice to experience however, by which the speculative course of its Ideas must always be regulated. I am therefore convinced that in its purest speculative development, thought will coincide most completely with the results of experience, and on the other hand, that the full capabilities of a mature sense of nature based on experience will yield nothing to supersede an insight into the embodiments of Ideas. It seems to me therefore, that Goethe and Hegel are the two geniuses destined to direct the course of the speculative physics of the future, for it is these two men who have pointed the way towards the reconciliation of speculation with experience.

This work displays a wide range of empirical knowledge, and it is probably for this reason that it will first attract attention, for it was in these lectures that Hegel's speculations underwent their severest test. I have made every possible effort to avoid the introduction of errors, by carefully consulting sources, and by making use of the expert advice of my colleagues, which has always been given willingly, and for which I should now like to thank them. I am certain therefore that if any errors remain, they are not important enough to have a disturbing effect upon the Ideas which sought their corresponding intuitions in experience. It can always be said of course that Hegel was unaware of certain discoveries, but as his Ideas are rooted in their own validity, this has no bearing upon their soundness, and when they undergo a further inner development, there is always a corresponding increase in the room available for the new intuitions which might present themselves from without. If one attacks Hegel by saying, 'that is it impossible to approach actuality with that which is purely rational', it has to be replied that although that which is rational in the actual phenomena of nature is stunted and distorted in various ways by the form of externality, it is always present there in a purer form than it is in the extremely sketchy systems of those who want to draw a sharp dividing line between that which is purely rational, and that which is actual.

It now remains for me to indicate the procedure I have employed in editing these lectures, and to give an account of the sources I have drawn upon, which consist of Hegel's own lecture notes, and of notes taken down by those who attended his courses. Hegel lectured on the philosophy of nature eight times in all: once at Jena between 1804 and 1806, once at Heidelberg in the summer of 1818, and six times at Berlin in 1819-1820, 1821-1822, 1823-1824, 1825-1826, 1828 and 1830. From the Jena period we have a complete note-book of Hegel's in quarto. The first edition of his 'Encyclopaedia' (1817) was the basis of his lectures at Heidelberg, and he interleaved it with notes he had written down on sheets of paper. At Berlin, the first two series oflectures were based upon yet another complete note-book in quarto. He prepared a new introduction for the lectures of 1823-1824, and added a new supplementary notebook, both of which were in folio. For these and the later lectures he also made use of his earlier note-books however, even the one from Jena. The second edition of his 'Encyclopaedia' appeared in 1827, and was also used for the last two series oflectures. The third edition only appeared towards the end of 1830. The autographic sources I have used also include the numerous and copious notes he interpolated from time to time as the lectures were repeated. I have also made use of the following sources: (1) notes which !took during the winter course of 1821 - 1822; (2) three sets of notes from the winter course of I823-1824, taken down by Captain von Griesheim, my worthy colleague Professor Hotho, and myself; (3) notes taken by Vice-principal Geyer in the summer of 1830.

There is no need for me to describe the method I have employed in making use of these sources, because it is essentially the same as that I used in editing Hegel's 'History of Philosophy', and I have explained it in detail in the preamble to that work. I should add however, that when lectures are brought out in book form, many obvious alterations have to be made. As I have had to present the reader with material from all
periods of Hegel's activity as a writer, I feel that I should give some account of Hegel's own note-books, and of the printed versions of them which appeared in the various editions of the 'Encyclopaedia'.


The general arrangement of the material in Hegel's Berlin note-books differs very little from that of the second edition of the 'Encyclopaedia' and the third edition introduced no changes. In the: note-books, part of the theory of colours is placed differently however, and attention has been drawn to this in a note (II. 378). These note-books, and the lectures delivered from them, were still based upon the first edition of the 'Encyclopaedia', where much of the material was arranged differently. Hegel became aware of the shortcomings in the ordering of its material soon after he had published .this book, but its arrangement approximates to that of his later work more than it does to that of the Jena notes, and it is therefore an important link in the history of his development. The main fault .in the first edition was that the higher relationships of a sphere were regarded as the premises of the lower relationships. In mechanics for example, universal gravitation is said to give rise to pressure, fall, impact, and inertia. In physics, the individual physics of shape has the more finite relationships of specific gravity, cohesion, sound, and heat worked into it. Thus the mathematics of space and time constitute section one of the whole; in section two, physics is subdivided into the triad of absolute and .finite mechanics, elementary physics, and individual physics; and section three deals with organics. In the second edition however, for the first time, the abstract moments of a whole such as shape are no longer introduced in the sphere of their totality, but are allowed to precede in logical progression as the stages of its becoming, though shape is also the true prius of these stages (II. 92-93).

The Jena note-book still takes the basic division of objectivity in the 'Logic' as its point of departure, and the philosophy of nature is therefore divided into mechanics, chemism, and life as teleology. Its mechanics include space, time, place, motion, mass, and the celestial sphere. The first sub-division of chemism is 'figuration', and presents light, inertia, fall, projection, pendulum, pressure, elasticity, impact, sound, cohesion, magnetism, the crystal, and electricity. The second sub-division is 'The chemical process', which begins with heat, passes to the four physical and the four chemical elements, then to the meteorological process, and concludes with odour, taste, and colour as the particular characteristics of bodies, together with their particular existence as metal, sulphur and salt. The third sub-division is 'The chemism of physically individual bodies', and covers the actual chemical processes of fire and water, and galvanism. In this note-book, the only essential change in the arrangement of the 'Organics' occurs in the unique and somewhat clumsy ordering of the three universal organic processes (III. 41-44), the first two divisions of which cover the processes of nutrition and formation.

This note-book has many passages which bear the marks of Hegel's struggle to complete the dissolution of empirical material into logical thought, and in particular to maintain the strictness of the dialectical transitions from one matter to another. I could draw attention to several passages illustrating this, and despite the efforts I have made to round off their phrases and clarify their thought, the reader will still be aware of the laboured awkwardness with which their profundity was first expressed. Other passages are still brightly coloured with the full poetry of the philosophy of nature, and even its method of drawing ingenious parallels has not completely disappeared. The pervasive thoughtfulness of mature Hegelianism already shines through this glitter however, for even at the beginning of his career, Hegel's mastery in dialectic goes hand in hand with the whole breadth of empirical knowledge, and it is this combination which breaks forth into his weighty and illuminating thoughts. I did not want to suppress these passages, their style distinguishes them clearly enough from the rest of the writing, and the reader will have no difficulty in picking them out by the genuine poetry with which they touch the true nature of the subject matter.

I should also like to draw attention to the fact that in this early notebook, Hegel began the philosophy of nature with ether. This principle has recently found great favour with physicists, and if I now have to dampen the enthusiasm with which they have accepted it, this is merely because I do not wish to lay Hegel open to the censure of having regarded it in the same way as they do. The words he uses when discussing it indicate a philosophy of nature which is still closely related to the striving Fichtean idealism which Schelling built into his first sketch of a systematic philosophy of nature. Hegel begins in the following way: this is in fact the first transition he made from the logical Idea to nature, 'As the determinate being which has gone back into its Notion, the Idea may now be called absolute matter or ether. It is evident that this has the same significance as pure spirit, for this absolute matter is in no way sensuous, but is the Notion as pure Notion in itself. As such this is existent spirit. It is called ether in so far as spirit is not being thought of, the one name replacing the other for the same reason. Ether in its simplicity and self-equality is therefore the indeterminate soul of spirit; it is motionless quiescence or the essence which is perpetually returning into itself from otherness. It is the substance and being of all things, as well as the inftnite elasticity which has rejected and dissolved every form and determinateness within it, but which for that very reason constitutes the absolute pliability and potentiality of all form. Ether is therefore being, and although it is not ubiquitous in its penetration, it constitutes everything. It has nothing external to it, and does not change, for it is the dissolution of everything, the simple purity of negativity, the fluidity of undisturbable transparency. By having returned into the self-equality of being, this pure essence has eradicated and left behind difference as such, and has become opposed to it. Ether is therefore the implicitness which has not displayed its becoming, in difference, as this essence. It is merely the teeming matter which is in itself the absolute motion of the fermentation which is certain of itself as the whole truth, and which remains in itself and equal to itself in this free independence of the moments which have preserved the truth within it. In so far as it is said to be ether or absolute matter, it is in itself, or pure self-consciousness, and is this as general being, not as determinate being nor as being of a determinately real nature. This determinateness of non-determinate being passes over into determinate being however, and the element of reality is the universal determinateness in which spirit has its being as nature. The inner essence or ether is not present there, and one might say that the inwardness of its being-in-self is not its truth; it is in precisely the same way that the determination of implicit being expresses the essence of ether, which is opposed to form'.

This philosophic encyclopaedia of the natural sciences now awaits the judgement of philosophers and scientists. The considerable range of empirical material it covers is not taken for granted, and is often presented with a certain predilection. This is by no means out of place in academic discourses of this kind however, for although the professionals are sufficiently aware of the facts, Hegel was not always able to assume that this basic knowledge was already present in the minds of his students, and as it was indispensable for the understanding of his ideas, he was forced to present it to them.

History is rich in the decrees of fate, and the appearance of this work together with the arrival of Schelling at Berlin, is certainly one of them. The man who planned the philosophy of nature, but was unable to do more than lay its foundations, will fmd the building completed in this work. In this book he may hail the genius of one who 'later became' his friend, for he is the father of the science developed here, and he of all men living is most to be honoured for it. Yet if he believes it to be his mission, 'to lead philosophy out of the undeniably difficult position in which it fmds itself at present', and to save if from, a 'terrible shipwreck, and the destruction of all noble convictions', in order to, 'really break through into the promised land of philosophy'; he will have to undertake a scientific refutation of these legitimate children of his own philosophizing, for without this he cannot hope to return from his long exile, and to grasp again the sceptre of philosophy. The 'page in the history of philosophy' which be began to write forty years ago has been 'fmished' by his followers, and it is some years now since it was turned, and its conclusions drawn and generally acknowledged. The history of philosophy has not yet failed to fmd expression because Schelling has kept quiet. Philosophy is not without 'a free, untroubled, and completely unhindered movement', merely because Schelling's 'inner nature' causes him to feel constrained and embarrassed by the strictly scientific procedure of a dialectical method. 'It is in this metropolis that the fate of German philosophy will have to be decided,' but if Schelling merely repeats the promises he has made for forty years; if the whole world is still said to have misunderstood him, and his first philosophy merely to have contained the injunction 'to avoid absence of thought', while his second philosophy is attempting to draw all its positive content from beyond rationality; then despite the most solemn assurances that this is not the case, he will have shown that he has abandoned the true freedom of a scientific philosophy, and will most certainly come to grief in the shadow of the giant he is trying to overreach. In any case, we now await him here on this field of battle, where many of the heroes of modern German philosophy are still to be found. He is by no means 'a burden' to us, nor are we unable to 'accommodate' him, for we welcome the opportunity of accounting for the necessity of his relapse into a philosophy of revelation, and we shall therefore give careful consideration to his reasons for having found it impossible to keep to the giddy height which formed the intellectual intuition of his youth.

Berlin, Michelet.
December 10, 1841.