Observation of Natureby Hegel
The Observation of Nature
WHEN the unreflective consciousness speaks of observation and experience as being the fountain of truth, the phrase may possibly sound as if the whole business were a matter of tasting, smelling, feeling, hearing, and seeing. It forgets, in its zeal for tasting, smelling, etc., to say that, in point of fact, it has really and rationally determined for itself already the object thus sensuously apprehended, and this determination of the object is at least as important for it as that apprehension.
It will also as readily admit that its whole concern is not simply a matter of perceiving, and will not allow, e.g,. the perception that this penknife lies beside this snuff-box to pass for an “observation”. What is perceived should, at least, have the significance of a universal, and not of a sensuous particular “this”.
The universal, here regarded, is, only in the first instance, what remains identical with itself; its movement is merely the uniform recurrence of the same operation.
The consciousness, which thus far finds in the object merely universality or the abstract “mine”, must take upon itself the movement peculiar to the object; and, since it is not yet at the stage of understanding that object, it must, at least, be the recollection of it, a recollection which expresses in a universal way what, in actual fact, is merely present in a particular form.
This superficial way of educing from particularity, and the equally superficial form of universality into which the sense element is merely taken up, without the sense element having in itself become a universal — this description of things is not as yet a process effected in the object itself.
The process really takes place solely in the function of describing. The object as it is described has consequently lost interest, when one object is being described another must be taken in hand and ever sought, so as not to put a stop to the process of description.
If it is no longer easy to find new and whole things, then there is nothing for it but to turn back upon those already found, in order to divide them still further, break them up into component parts and look out for any new aspects of thinghood that still remain in them.
There can never be an end to the material at the disposal of this restlessly active instinct.
To find a new genus of distinctive significance, or even to discover a new planet, which although an individual entity yet possesses the nature of a universal, can only fall to the lot of those who are lucky enough.
But the boundary line of what, like elephant, oak, gold, is markedly distinctive, the line of demarcation of what is genus and species passes through many stages into the endless particularization of the chaos of plants and animals, kinds of rocks, or of metals, forms of earth, etc., etc., that only force and craft can bring to light. In this realm where universality means indeterminateness, where particularity now approximates to singleness, and again at this point and that even descends to it entirely, there is offered an inexhaustible supply of material for observation and description to deal with. Here, where a boundless field is opened up, at the boundary line of the universal it can have found not an immeasurable wealth, but instead, merely the limitations of nature and of its own operation. It can no longer know whether what seems to have being per se is not a chance accident. What bears the impress of a confused or immature feeble structure, barely evolving from the stage of elementary indeterminateness, cannot claim even to be described.
Φ 246. While this seeking and describing seem to be concerned merely with things, we see that in point of fact it does not continue in the form of sense-perception. Rather, what enables things to be known is more important for description than the range of sense properties still left over, qualities which, of course, the thing itself cannot do without, but which consciousness dispenses with. Through this distinction into what is essential and what is unessential, the notion rises out of the dispersion of sensibility, and knowledge thereby makes it clear that it has to do at least quite as essentially with its own self as with things. This twofold essentiality produces a certain hesitation as to whether what is essential and necessary for knowledge is also so in the case of the things. On the one hand, the qualifying “marks” have merely to serve the purpose of knowledge in distinguishing things inter se; on the other hand, however, it is not the unessential quality of things that has to be known, but that feature in virtue of which they themselves break away from the general continuity of being as a whole, separate themselves from others and stand by themselves. The distinguishing “marks” must not only have an essential relation to knowledge but also be the essential characteristics of the things, and the system of marks devised must conform to the system of nature itself, and merely express this system. This follows necessarily from the very principle and meaning of reason; and the instinct of reason — for it operates in this process of observation merely as an instinct — has also in its systems attained this unity, a unity where its objects are so constituted that they carry their own essential reality with them, involve an existence on their own account, and are not simply an incident of a given particular time, or a particular place. The distinguishing marks of animals, for example, are taken from their claws and teeth; for, in point of fact, not only does knowledge distinguish thus one animal from another, but each animal itself separates itself off thereby; it preserves itself independently by means of these weapons, and keeps itself detached from the universal nature. A plant, on the other hand, never gets the length of existing for itself; it touches merely the boundary line of individuality. This line is where plants show the semblance of diremption and separation by the possession of different sex-characters; this furnishes, therefore, the principle for distinguishing plants inter se. What, however, stands on a still lower level cannot of itself any longer distinguish itself from another; it gets lost when the contrast comes into play. Quiescent being and being in a relation come into conflict with one another; a “thing” in the latter case is something different from a “thing” in the former state; whereas the “individuum” consists in preserving itself in relation to another. What, however, is incapable of this and becomes in chemical fashion something other than it is empirically, confuses knowledge and gives rise to the same doubt as to whether knowledge is to hold to the one side or the other, since the thing has itself no self-consistency, and these two sides fall apart within it.
Φ 247. In those systems where the elements involve general self-sameness, this character connotes at once the self-sameness of knowledge and of things themselves as well. But this expansion of these self-identical characteristics, each of which describes undisturbed the entire circuit of its course and gets full scope to do as it likes, necessarily leads as readily to its very opposite, leads to the confusion of these characteristics. For the qualifying mark, the general characteristic is the unity of opposite factors, viz. of what is determinate, and of what is per se universal. It must, therefore, break asunder into this opposition. If, now, on one side the characteristic overmasters the universality in which its essence lies, on the other side, again, this universality equally keeps that characteristic under control, forces the latter on to its boundary line, and there mingles together its distinctions and its essential constituents. Observation which kept them apart in orderly fashion, and thought it had hold there of something stable and fixed, finds the principles overlapping and dominating one another, sees confusions formed and transitions made from one to another; here it finds united what it took at first to be absolutely separated, and there separated what it considered connected. Hence, when observation thus holds by the unbroken self-sameness of being, it has here, just in the most general determinations given-e.g. in the case of the essential marks of an animal or a plant-to see itself tormented with instances, which rob it of every determination, silence the universality it reached, and reduce it again to unreflective observation and description.
Φ 248. Observation, which confines itself in this way to what is simple, or restricts the sensuously dispersed elements by the universal, thus finds its principle confused by its object, because what is determined must by its very nature get lost in its opposite. Reason, therefore, must pass from that inert characteristic which had the semblance of stability, and go on to observe it as it really is in truth, viz. as relating itself to its opposite. What are called essential marks are passive characteristics, which, when expressed and apprehended as simple, do not bring out what constitutes their real nature — which is to be vanishing moments of its process of withdrawing and betaking itself into itself. Since the instinct of reason now arrives at the point of looking for the characteristic in the light of its true nature — that of essentially passing over into its opposite and not existing apart by itself and for its own sake — it seeks after the Law and the notion of law. It seeks for them, moreover, as existing reality; but this feature of concrete reality will in point of fact disappear before reason, and the aspects of the law will become for it mere moments or abstractions, so that the law comes to light in the nature of the notion, which has destroyed within itself the indifferent subsistence of sensuous reality.
Φ 249. To the consciousness observing, the truth of the law is given in “experience”, in the way that sense existence is object for consciousness; the truth is not given in and itself. If, however, the law does not have its truth for in the notion, it is something contingent, not a necessity, in fact, not a law. But its being essentially in the form of a notion does not merely not contradict its being present for observation to deal with, but really gives it on that account necessary existence, and makes it an object for observation. The universal in the sense of a rational universality is also universal in the sense implied in the above notion: its being is for consciousness, it presents itself there as the real, the objective present; the notion sets itself forth in the form of thinghood and sensuous existence. But it does not, on that account, lose its nature and fall into the condition of immovable subsisting passivity, or mere adventitious (gleichgültig) succession. What is universally valid is also universally effective: what ought to be, as a matter of fact, is too; and what merely should be, and is not, has no real truth. The instinct of reason is entirely within its rights when it stands firm on this point, and refuses to be led astray by entia intellectus which merely ought to be and, qua ought, should be allowed to have truth even though they are to be met with nowhere in experience; and declines to be turned aside by the hypothetical suggestions and all the other impalpable unrealities designed in the interest of an everlasting “ought to be” which never is. (1) For reason is just this certainty of having reality; and what consciousness is not aware of as a real self (Selbstwesen), i.e. what does not appear, is nothing for consciousness at all.
Φ 250. The true nature of law, viz.: that it essentially is reality, no doubt again assumes for consciousness which remains at the level of observation, the form of an opposite over against the notion and the inherently universal; in other words, this consciousness does not take such an object as its law to be a reality of reason; it thinks it has got there something external and foreign. But it contradicts its own idea by actually and in fact not taking its universality to mean that all individual things of sense must have given evidence of the law to enable the truth of the law to be asserted. The assertion that stones, when raised from the ground and lot go, fall, does not at all require us to make the experiment with all stones. It means most likely that this experiment must have been tried at least with a good many, and from that we can by analogy draw an inference about the rest with the greatest probability or with perfect right. Yet analogy not only gives no perfect right, but, on account of its nature, contradicts itself so often that the inference to be drawn from analogy itself rather is that analogy does not permit an inference to be drawn. Probability, which is what analogy would come to, loses, when face to face with truth, every distinction of less and greater; be the probability as great as it may it is nothing as against truth. The instinct of reason, however, takes, as a matter of fact, laws of that sort for truth. It is when reason does not find necessity in them that it resorts to making this distinction, and lowers the truth of the matter to the level of probability, in order to bring out the imperfect way in which truth is presented to the consciousness that as yet has no insight into the pure notion; for universality is before it there merely in the form of simple immediate universality. But, at the same time, on account of this universality, the law has truth for consciousness. That a stone falls is true for consciousness, because it is aware of the stone being heavy, i.e. because in weight, taken by itself as such, the stone has that essential relation to the earth expressed in the fact of falling. Consciousness thus finds in experience the objective being of the law, but has it there in the form of a notion as well; and only because of both factors together is the law true for consciousness. The law, therefore, is accepted as a law because it presents itself in the sphere of appearance and is, at the same time, in its very nature a notion.
Φ 251. The instinct of reason in this type of consciousness, because the law is at the same time inherently a notion, proceeds to give the law and its moments a purely conceptual form; and proceeds to do this of necessity, but without knowing that this is what it seeks to do. It puts the law to the test of experiment. As the law first appears, it is enveloped in particulars of sense, and the notion constituting its nature is involved with empirical elements. The instinct of reason sets to work to find out by experiment what follows in such and such circumstances. By so doing the law seems only to be plunged still further into sense; but sense existence really gets lost in the process. The inner purport of this investigation is to find pure conditions of the law; and this means nothing else (even if the consciousness stating the fact were to think it meant something different) than completely to bring out the law in conceptual shape and detach its moments entirely from determinate specific existence. For example, negative electricity, which is known at first, say, in the form of resin-electricity, while positive electricity comes before us as glass-electricity — these, by means of experiments, lose altogether such a significance, and become purely positive and negative electricity, neither of which is bound up any longer with things of a particular kind; and we can no longer say that there are bodies which are electrical positively, others electrical negatively. In the same way the relationship of acid and base and their reaction constitute a law in which these opposite factors appear as bodies. Yet these sundered things have no reality; the power which tears them apart cannot prevent them from entering forthwith into a process; for they are merely this relation. They cannot subsist and be indicated by themselves apart, like a tooth or a claw. That it is their very nature to pass over directly into a neutral product makes their existence lie in being cancelled and superseded, or makes it into a universal; and acid and base possess truth merely qua Universal. Just, then, as glass and resin can be equally well positively as negatively electrified, in the same way acid and base are not attached as properties or qualities to this or that reality; each thing is only relatively acidulate and basic; what seems to be an absolute base or an absolute acid gets in the so-called Synsomates (2) the opposite significance in relation to an other.
The result of the experiments is in this way to cancel the moments or inner significations as properties of specific things, and free the, predicates from their subjects. These predicates are found merely as universal, and in truth that is what they are. Because of this self subsistence they therefore get the name of kinds of “matter”, which is neither a body nor a property of a body; certainly no one would call acid, positive and negative electricity, heat, (3) etc., bodies.
Φ 252. Matter, on the contrary, is not a thing that exists, it is being in the sense of universal being, or being in the way the concept is being. Reason, still instinctive, correctly draws this distinction without being conscious that it (reason), by the very fact of its testing the law in every sense-particular, cancels the merely sensuous existence of the law; and, when it construes the moments of the law as forms of matter, their essential nature is taken to be something universal, and specifically expressed as a non-sensuous element of sense, an incorporeal and yet objective existence.
Φ 253. We have now to see what turn its result takes, and what new shape this activity of observation will, in consequence, assume. As the outcome and truth of this experimentation we find pure law, which is freed from sensuous elements; we see it as a concept, which, while present in sense, operates there independently and unrestrained, while enveloped in sense, is detached from it and is a concept bare and simple. This, which is in truth result and essence, now comes before this consciousness itself, but as an object; moreover, since the object is not exactly a result for it and is unrelated to the preceding process, the object is a specific kind of object, and the relation of consciousness to it takes the form of another kind of observation.