- Petrified Intelligence: Nature in Hegel’s Philosophy
Petrified Intelligence describes itself as a critical introduction to Hegel's metaphysics and philosophy of nature. In fact, it is far more than an introduction, although it probably depicts itself as such to indicate that it is not going to be overly exegetical. In fact, the book provides a comprehensive reading of Hegel's philosophy of nature that not only gives the reader a clear sense of the entirety of Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, but also ties that work importantly to Hegel's more well-known major works such as the Logic, the other parts of the Encyclopedia, [End Page 65] and the Phenomenology of Spirit. Just to do this is an impressive accomplishment, but Alison Stone does not stop here. She goes on to indicate ways in which Hegel's philosophy of nature can provide a significant critique of modern science in the service of environmental philosophy.
This book is important, too, in that it takes on widely influential contemporary readings of Hegel's philosophy of nature. Stone outlines the attempt among Hegel scholars of the late twentieth century to combat the traditional, negative image of the philosophy of nature as essentially a priori and thus excessively speculative. Among those commentators who would defend what Stone calls a "weak a priori" version of Hegel's philosophy of nature, perhaps the most prominent is Michael J. Petry, who attempted to show that Hegel's philosophy of nature was not intended to oppose the findings of science, but to reconstruct and reorganize them in light of his own philosophy. Such a reading, Stone counters, tends to reduce Hegel's philosophy of nature to a historical document, of interest only to historians of the science of the nineteenth century. Stone also argues against a "nonmetaphysical" reading of Hegel's philosophy of nature that would contend that his philosophical system sets out to describe, not the world as it really is, but only—following Kant—the set of categories through which we necessarily confer intelligibility upon our experience. Rather, Stone defends—very convincingly—the controversial strong a priori reading of Hegel's philosophy of nature, according to which the forms of thought that make up the Hegelian "idea," on which all other existents depend, are not merely subjective categories, but "primarily exist as objective structures embodied in both nature and mind" (24). At the same time Stone demonstrates that such a position does not entail either that Hegel must dismiss the empirical claims of the modern science of his time or that his philosophy cannot adapt itself to the transformations of new scientific discoveries. Hegel believes, Stone argues, that science should continue its activities, which are necessary in order to describe the contingent features of natural forms, but that philosophy should respond to the inevitable inadequacy of this description by "engag[ing] in ongoing reinterpretation of scientific findings in terms of rationalist metaphysics" (88–89).
According to the strong a priori reading of Hegel's philosophy of nature that Stone defends, a full vision of nature, although constructed according to a theory that does not take into consideration empirical findings, nevertheless can only be fully fleshed out in its continuity with sensuous experience and scientific discoveries. The first half of Petrified Intelligence outlines the contours of this strong a priori view that also embraces the findings of science, defending it against other interpretations of Hegel's philosophy of nature, while at the same time acknowledging the lack of clarity in Hegel's own statements of his position that has allowed for so many conflicting readings of it. Stone reconstructs Hegel's theory of natural development in an extended comparison with the theory of consciousness outlined in the Philosophy of Mind in order to confirm not only that his theory of nature is a priori but also that nature, as Hegel conceptualizes [End Page 66] it, is imbued with, or inseparable from, rational thought considered...