9 Jan 2013

Pt3.Ch8.Sb3 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘Hegel and Evolution.’ summary

Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Deleuze Entry Directory]
[Henry Somers-Hall, Entry Directory]
[Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation, Entry Directory]

[Note: All boldface and underlining is my own. It is intended for skimming purposes. Bracketed comments are also my own explanations or interpretations.]


Henry Somers-Hall


Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation.

Dialectics of Negation and Difference


Part 3: Beyond Representation

Chapter 7: Hegel, Deleuze, and the Structure of the Organism

Subdivision 3: Hegel and Evolution

Brief Summary:

Hegel’s ideas on the dialectical movement in nature might suggest a compatibility with evolutionary theory, even though Hegel’s thinking precedes Darwin. However, evolution as a theory precedes Hegel. For Hegel, the dialectical movement in nature is not to be seen as something unfolding in time. So Hegel’s philosophy of nature is not easily seen as compatible with evolutionary theory.


Previously we saw how for Hegel, the organism expresses the identity of difference and identity in the movements of nature, because it is a multiplicity of organs that make a unified organism.

Now we turn to Hegel on the topic of evolution. The idea of the transformation of species goes back to Lamarck especially, whose work predates Hegel and Darwin. We will now examine the relation between evolution and Hegel’s thinking. (214)

We saw that Hegel’s genetic account of the categories solves problems in Kant’s and Aristotle’s systems. Each category emerges from prior ones, and some commentators have described this as an evolutionary motion. Harris thinks Hegel’s dialectic is preeminently evolutionary, because it exhibits two essential features of evolution: “process, in the form of the movement between finite forms, and direction, in the form of necessary dialectical transformations.” (215) Evolution is thus a progression that is is both immanent and purposive. So Spencer merely gives an evolutionary taxonomy of creatures, but he does not give an account of the evolutionary movement itself, “it cannot explain why the taxonomical structures take the forms that they do.” (215)

We saw how Kant derives his categories by tracing their relationships to empirical logic. Hegel found this to be an arbitrary way to determine the categories. Hegel proposes instead his his genetic account which shows “how the categories could be seen as developing immanently from one another.” (215) But this is merely a logical understanding of development. Philosophy of Nature in a similar way tries to “derive categories that govern the fundamental structure of nature.” (215) But the development of the stages is not temporal, it happens just in the “ ‘inner Idea which constitutes the ground of Nature’. (PN, § 249).” (215) So whatever development we find in nature will “necessarily fall outside of tl1e Notion.” (215)

That is, Hegel's developmental account cannot be taken to he an evolutionary account as precisely those parts of the account that carry explanatory weight in Hegel's system, the development of the Notion, form the structure of nature itself and are not developed temporally within nature. (215)


So Hegel does not discuss a Darwinian sort of evolution. However, he does discuss two other explanations for how species are generated: emanation and evolution, which are both serial progressions. (216a)

[1] Evolution:

Evolution starts from ‘the imperfect and formless.’ First there was just water and aquatic life forms. There then evolves plants, polyps, mulluscs, then fishes. The fishes then evolve into land animals, and out of the land animals humans evolve.

[2] Emanation:

Here instead of less perfect beings giving rise to more advanced ones, we begin with the most perfect being who creates a lesser one, who creates a lesser in turn, all the way down to negative being, or matter, and the extreme of evil.
Note how both these explanations describe a quantitative variation between species, being either increasing or decreasing perfection. [But this means there is one type of thing, perfect being, under quantitative and not qualitative variation.]

Such accounts, according to Hegel, favor identity over difference, as they operate according to only one principle or type. The idea of qualitative divisions in the natural world is therefore key to Hegel's account, and he argues that we should "reject such nebulous, at bottom, sensuous ideas, as in particular the so called origination . . . of the more highly developed animal organisms from the lower" (PN, § 249 Rem.). (216)


So Hegel does not see there being a dialectical understanding of evolution. However, we might still wonder if Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature is compatible with evolutionary theory.

Hegel writes that "it is a completely empty thought to represent species as developing successively, one after the other, in time. Chronological difference has no interest for thought" (PN, § 249, Add.). (216)

So if we are looking for compatibility between Hegel and evolution, we need to think that ‘no interest for thought’ here refers to dialectical thought and not thought in general. Somers-Hall in fact thinks that “Hegel's account of the structure of the organism entails an antievolutionary account of species”. (217) He explains:

This approach has three advantages. First, it takes us away from Hegel's somewhat cursory remarks on evolutionary theory to some of his more substantive discussions. Second, it allows us to look in more detail at Hegel's relationship to contemporaries on this issue. And third, it allows us to relate Hegel's account to Deleuze's, through an analysis of the Cuvier-Geoffroy debate of the 1820s and 30s in French anatomy. (217)



Somers-Hall, Henry (2012) Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. Dialectics of Negation and Difference. Albany: SUNY.

No comments:

Post a Comment