10 Jan 2013

Pt3.Ch8.Sb8 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘Contingency in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature’. summary

Corry Shores
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[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 8: Contingency in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature

Brief Summary:

To explain evolution, we need an account of accidental, contingent variations. These can be seen either positively or negatively. A theory of anatomy like Cuvier’s or Hegel’s is teleological, meaning that it identifies anatomical parts in terms of their functionality, their purpose in the function of the organism. This means that if there were to be a deviation, a slight mutation, then this changes the structure of the organism’s functioning and thus degrades its functioning. Geoffrey’s homological theory of anatomy does not regard anatomical parts in terms of their purposes but rather in terms of how their interrelations correspond isomorphically to an abstract or transcendental model. This means that parts can change both form and function so long as their structural relations match the mold. A deformity then is the model expressing itself in another way, so this would be a positive account of variation rather than a negative one. This notion of homologous variation is central to evolution which is a process of the natural selection from a pool of variations.


Previously we saw how Geoffroy’s homology theory of anatomy, or unity of composition, is central to the development of evolution theory, and it is also like Deleuze’s Idea. Cuvier’s teleological theory of anatomy however, is antithetical to evolutionary theory.


This is partly because Cuvier’s theory does not allow for contingent, accidental traits to appear. A slight change in one anatomical part changes the structure of functional relations of all parts, which would too radically change the organism’s overall functioning. Hegel’ position is not as extreme.

Hegel writes that "nature everywhere blurs the essential limits of species and genera by intermediate and defective forms, which continually furnish counter examples to every fixed distinction" (PN, § 250, Rem.) [233]

Also, humans have organs that are remnants of earlier forms, and Hegel thought “less differentiated forms can contain organs belonging to higher species, as for instance snakes are characterized by Hegel as possessing vestigial legs.” (233) But Hegel understands these variations in negative terms.

"In order to be able to consider such forms [of monstrous birth] as defective, imperfect, and deformed, one must presuppose a fixed, invariable type" (PN, § 250, Rem.) [233]

But, Hegel notes, these deviations could be positively a difference in organization rather than an impotence of nature. But if we are using a teleological theory, this means that if structure changes, then functionality reduces.

As Darwin notes, such a view is not possible on a teleological account, as the correlation of structure to purpose means that a reduction in the purposive role is correlated to a degradation in structure. (233)

And, if an organic structure is dialectically intelligible, it is understood teleologically. But as we saw, teleology cannot explain homology, thus Hegel’s notion of the contingency of deformation does not make his theory compatible with homology and thus also with evolution.

Further, while Hegel may give greater latitude than Cuvier to contingency, it is still the case that insofar as an organic structure is dialectically intelligible, it is understood in terms of the teleological account. Thus, while it may be possible to explain deformations on Hegel's account, the homology, a correspondence vital to the evolutionary account, cannot be explained dialectically. (233)

Thus we cannot have a positive study of deviations and aberrations in Hegel, a science of teratology; and yet, teratology is a necessary precondition for evolutionary theory. (233-234) Thus Somers-Hall concludes:

Ultimately, I believe, the idea of a compatibilism between evolutionary theory and Hegelian dialectic therefore fails. (234a)


Note also the relation of part whole in terms of individual and species. In order for the Notion to become present for itself, the animal's singular finite existence must be connected with its species, the universal. This involves the finite passing into the infinite, and the relation can be seen as between bad and true infinite. First consider the spurious infinite in the relation between species and individual: the genus maintains itself because individuals continually reproduce and repeat the form. Species is here understood as the repetition of the individual (234-235) But, as we examine increasingly differentiated species, we get the sense that the species is the animal’s essential determination. More differentiated species [more advanced/complex species] have the feeling of unity with the genus/species. Thus mammals have breasts [to link up and sustain other members of the species] and they look after their young. This feeling of unity increases with differentiation.  Then in human beings, the feeling of unity is replaces with the universality of thought itself. (234) “It is thus in man that the Notion truly becomes aware of itself as the unity of finite subject and infinite, universal, species.” (234) [The individual has a finite life span the but the species itself continues with reproduction.]

Deleuze’s problem with Hegel’s notion of the individual species relation, according to Somers-Hall, is that it sees organism as a closed unity. For Deleuze, the species is a transcendental illusion, and we should focus instead on the genesis of the individual. The organism is open. [Perhaps this is saying that the individual does not repeat a form; it is free to be whatever it evolves into, and a ‘species’ is merely a categorizing designation given after the genesis of the individual. Or the organism is not a self-contained system. I’m missing the point here, so I will just quote it.]

While Hegel ultimately sees in the structure of the species the structure of the infinite, Deleuze once again introduces the concept of a transcendental illusion: "It is not the individual which is an illusion in relation to the species, but the species which is an illusion--inevitable and well founded, it is true--in relation to the play of the individual and individuation" (DR, 250). Deleuze's point here, I take it, is that just as the homology requires reference to a moment of virtuality, a focus on the actual species ignores the importance of the dynamic generation of the organism. As Ansell Pearson notes, if we take as central the organization of the organism, we tend to be led to a conception of the organism as a closed unity. In contrast to this approach, Deleuze brings in the possibility of seeing the organism as essentially open when he argues that the species is ultimately a transcendental illusion and focusing on the conditions of genesis of the individual itself. Ansell Pearson addresses these points in relation to the theory of autopoiesis, which attempts to reintroduce a notion of teleological unity into modern conceptions of the organism as a counterweight to mechanistic conceptions of Darwinism:

Although autopoiesis grants a high degree of autonomy to a living system it ultimately posits systems that are entropically and informationally closed. In defining what constitutes the system as 'open' by placing the stress on operational closure, which can only conserve the boundaries of the organism, it blocks off access to an appreciation of the dynamical and processual character of machinic evolution and is led to present a stark choice between either entropy | or maximum performance. In placing the emphasis on living systems as guided solely by concerns with survival and self-maintenance, even though these are to be understood as endogenously driven and monitored, the theory of autopoiesis too much resembles the theory it seeks to supersede, namely orthodox Darwinism with its focus on discrete units of selection. (235-236)

We now turn to Deleuze and Guattari and transversal moments in the genesis of the organism. [Autopoiesis is the theory that organisms are systems that produce the materials and structures that support themselves, like how cells work. but] Autopoiesis  does not explain how different types of systems serve each other, their symbiosis. So for example, although the mitochondria are organelles that produces materials for the cell, they were originally separates cells that later came to be incorporated into a larger cell structure. Also [we cannot say that organisms are self-contained and not transversally related to other organisms because] bacteria often exchange genetic material and “bacterial DNA forms a substantial part of the genetic code of higher organisms.” (236) [Organisms affect and alter one another, and coevolve symbiotically. We need this concepts for explaining the generation of variety that can be selected from in evolutionary development.]

Through these transversal connections, an element of variability is introduced into the organism. This element of variability is essential to an evolutionary account, since we need to be able to explain not only selection from a variety of organisms, but also the generation of this variety in the first instance. (236)

So we also need an account of how organism's boundaries become disintegrated in order to explain evolution. We need both virtual and actual [because actualization only explains how structures are as they are, but virtuality explains how they can become other than they are. I’m not sure if this is right, because this is all Somers-Hall says.]

These examples point to the need not only to recognize the relative integrity of the organism but also that the disintegration of the boundaries of the organism is an essential moment in the formation of organisms and species. Deleuze argues that it is only with an account that incorporates both virtual and actual moments that we are able to achieve this. (236)


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

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