Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature II

In tracing the origins of the genealogical and hermeneutic approaches, we can now jump the early eighteenth century and the work of Giambattista Vico (Kingdom of Naples, 1668-1744).

The New Science

Paragraph 357

Book One

These philological proofs enable us to see in fact the institutions we have meditated in idea as touching this world of nations, in accordance with Bacon’s method of philosophizing, which is “think and see”. Thıs it is that with the help of the preceding philosophical proofs, the philological proofs both confirm their own authority by reason and at the same time confirm reason by their authority.

Vico is here drawing on  philosophy of Francis Bacon (England, 1561-1626), head of the judicial system and chief minister, as well as a writer on science, philosophy, and politics, so again we see some intersection of ideas about nature and ideas about the human world of texts and history, though Vico’s own work is certainly overwhelmingly devoted to the history of civil institutions so that he is a forerunner of social science and a social science approach to history. His approach to history is modelled on an approach to knowledge of nature, which claims to be between a purely deterministic approach (as promoted by ancient Stoics) and a purely aleatory, chance based, approach (as promoted by ancient Epicureans).

Jumping on now to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831, Duchy of Württemberg/Kingdom of Prussia), his work is most studied for its contribution to the understanding of historical, political, social, and cultural topics. However, there was a large element of philosophy of nature based around the idea that nature was rational and law bases according to categories present to the human mind, and that it existed as a dynamic interactive whole rather than a mechanism.

Unfortunately the myth has become very widespread that he believed that philosophy tells us before any empirical observation how many planets there are in the solar system. This is completely false and is the opposite of his approach which was to emphasise that nature exists according to dynamic conflicts which exceed attempts at reduction of nature to claims such as those which suggest the number of planets refers to some mathematical ratio.

Hegel did not try to restrict the number of planets, as the quotation below demonstrates

Philosophy of Nature 

Section Two. Physics.

A. The free physical bodies

3. The Planet as the Body of Individuality

There are a number of earths or planets which together form an organic unity; many correspondences are resemblances can be adduced in connection with them, though this has not yet been achieved in entire conformity with the Idea. Schelling and Steffens have likened the series of planets to the series of metals in a clever and ingenious fashion. This mode of representation is an old one: Venus bears the sign of copper, Mercury of quicksilver, the earth of iron, Jupiter of tin, Saturn of lead; as the sun and moon bore the names of gold and silver respectively. There is something natural about this, for the metals are the most compact, solid, self-subsistent bodies to be found on earth. The planets, however, belong to another sphere from the metals or the chemical process. Such allusions and analogies are external comparisons which decide nothing. Knowledge is not advanced by their means; only non-philosophical thinking is dazzled by them.

Hegel’s understanding of nature is not generally considered to be his most important work, and it generally believed he went too far in thinking nature could be described according to his categories of thought and reason. It should however be understand that he was completely against the idea that nature could be restricted to a priori claims about particular laws and physical systems.


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