The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

3
THE PHILOSOPHY OF
NATURE OF KANT,
SCHELLING AND HEGEL

Dieter Wandschneider

Translated by Patrick Leland


Introduction

Man, though himself a child of nature, is – in Herder’s words – a freed man of nature. Through reason he is able to disentangle himself from natural compulsions and adapt nature to his needs. Admittedly, that also means his relation to nature is not thoroughly determined by nature but rather is precariously open. Reason is thus continuously required to clarify and justify anew man’s relation to nature. In other words, it is constitutive of man that he has a concept of nature and hence also a fundamental need for a philosophy of nature. It is no accident that in the Ionian world the philosophy of nature was “the form in which philosophy as such was born” (Wahsner 2002: 9).

In this respect, it is surprising that the present age, which more than any previous era is determined by the results and applications of scientific research, has not developed a thoroughgoing philosophy of nature. Instead, it is the philosophy of science, or philosophical reflection on the foundations of natural science, which – prepared already in the second half of the nineteenth century – has attained a truly epochal status during the twentieth century and continues to dominate contemporary philosophy. As the latter has allowed the philosophy of science to supersede the philosophy of nature, it has neglected to develop a concept of nature adequate for our time. Yet the sheer number of popular publications on cosmogony, elementary particle physics, chaos theory, etc., up to theories of biogenesis, evolution, ecology, neurophysiology, and brain science (even including freedom of the will) are all indicative of an immense epistemic need. But popular scientific commentary, however interesting and commendable, does not amount to a philosophy nature. It reports and explains the results of scientific research, but it is not a philosophical reflection on the “principle nature.”

In this situation, it is only natural that our gaze turns back so as to inquire of the philosophical tradition and to clarify the extent to which the enormous intellectual

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