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Notes and Discussions A RE-INTERPRETATION OF HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE Hegel's treatment of the natural sciences is widely regarded as an arcane and derivative interpretation of Schelling's speculative Naturphilosophie. Consequently , Hegel's criticisms of the conventional metaphysical foundations of Newtonian science in the Logic and Philosophy of Nature are perceived as holding little importance for his larger "system." With few exceptions, this material is virtually ignored in the conventional treatments of Hegel's philosophy.' I offer an interpretation of Hegel's philosophy of nature which suggests its close affinity with a unique variation of teleological explanation--termed "organic mechanism"--first outlined by Alfred North Whitehead in his Lowell Lectures of 192 5 in order to account for those relativistic and quantum phenomena which comprised the central problem of modern physics. * Like Whitehead, Hegel was concerned to overcome the arbitrary "bifurcation" of An earlier version of this paper was read for the Society for the Study of Process Philosophies in March, 1982. I am indebted to Prof. George L. Kline of Bryn Mawr College for numerous helpful suggestions and criticisms. ' For example, this subject recieves a scant lo89 unsympathetic and uninspired pages in Charles Taylor's lengthy and otherwise thorough treatment of Hegel's system [Hegel (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1975), 35o-61l and hardly more than this in J. N. Findlay 's historic "re-examination" [Hegel:A Re-examination(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), 267-87]. On the other hand, R. G. Collingwood found ttegel's philosophy of nature important and suggestive, claiming that it represented a transition to the "modern view" of natural science [The Idea of Nature (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1945), 121-32]. More recently, Errol E. Harris has promoted a vigorous re-evaluation of Hegel's Naturphilosophie.See "The Philosophy of Nature in Hegel's System," Review of Metaphysics 3 0949), 213-28; "Hegel and the Natural Sciences" in BeyondEpistemology:New Studies in Hegel'sPhilosophy,ed. Frederick G. Weiss (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), 129-53; and "The NaturphilosophieUpdated," Owl of Minerva, lO, no. 2 (December 1978), 2- 7. While my "Whiteheadian" interpretation differs from Harris in many respects, I am deeply indebted to his work. ' For an account of the limited influence of quantum theory on Whitehead, however, consult Abner Shimony, "Quantum Physics and the Philosophy of Whitehead," in Philosophyin America,ed. Max Black (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965), ~4o-61. [~o3] lo 4 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 22:1 JAN ~984 nature implicit in Cartesian and Kantian dualism, was similarly persuaded of the serious inadequacies in determinism and what Whitehead termed "materialistic mechanism "3 for this purpose, and likewise rejected the alternative of vitalism. My interpretation suggests a sound basis for the comparisons frequently drawn between the larger speculative systems of both philosophers , 4 and presents an intelligible reading of a notoriously obscure region of Hegel's philosophy. I In the course of his survey of the history of modern science and his description of the conceptual dilemmas facing physicists in the early twentieth century , Whitehead formulated a tentative metaphysical synthesis in response to those dilemmas, which he labeled with the unfortunate and somewhat misleading oxymoron, "organic mechanism." While elements of this first metaphysical synthesis in Science and the Modern World do survive in his highly technical (and similarly-titled) "philosophy of organism" in Process and Reality , "organic mechanism" must, in general, be sharply distinguished from that later, more esoteric doctrine. 5 The behavior of such entities as concern modern physics, Whitehead asserted, no longer can be adequately accounted for in terms of the older explanatory model of Newtonian-Laplacian mechanism, with its rigidly deterministic interpretation of causality and its notion of inert substance or matter at a "simple location." Instead, the rudimentary features of the physical world once subsumed under the category of "inert, self-subsistent matter " are, in the revised view of the world which relativity and quantum theory present, more appropriately described using the category of "organism ." Atomic and sub-atomic particles, for example, may be conceptualized as "organisms" in a manner analogous to biological organisms: all are finite centers of self-directed, purposive activity characterized primarily by perpeThis is Whitehead's sweeping...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 103-113
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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