• Marty
    Not too many people have studied Naturphilosophie, but perhaps some of you have and have read the material, and have a good sense of modern physics, biology and chemistry as well to see if its compatible. (Of course such a combination rarely comes.) But I am curious if anyone does understand Naturphilosophie, if they feel any of it is recoverable?

    I'm specifically talking about conceiving nature how the German Idealist did from the 19th century. Basically, conceiving nature as a organic, processual, teleological system that's preconditioned from immaterial, dynamic primal forces that were in constant struggle with themselves. The dynamical account of nature saw the normal conception of nature as a composite (present-at-hand) "things" derivative from such dynamic processes, such as expanding and condensing forces in interplay generating matter. For example, Kant refused to see matter as a form of res-extensa, but instead sought to find the preconditions of how matter was explained into existence in the first place. What was matter, and in what way did it occupy space? The project at it's core is a metaphysical deduction of space-time, matter and mechanics — a type of transcendental argument for why these type of things exist at all.

    In order to explain such a phenomenon, he did not presuppose matter's extension (or existence) in euclidean space as something given, but saw matter as a product of two primal forces acting on one another to create matter itself; thus, creating a dynamic account of matter. These were immaterial forces (analogical to pure concepts of understanding that are constitutive of our experiences, expect they were constitutive of nature instead). A force like repulsion: that is, matter infinitely expanding outwards, and a attractive force, where matter is infinitely pulled inwards to a point in unoccupied space. Both were necessary to create and differentiate matter. The forces would help differentiate bodies occupied in space because the two forces also operated as force-fields: In virute of one body occupying space, it also resisted (via the repulsive force) other bodies, while pulling its own body to certain points (via the contracting force). To be more precise, we differentiate objects merely where they occupy themselves in space, and the dynamic account of nature seeks to find how matter gets to occupy space itself. [We might point to laws in mechanics, or gravitational pull to explain all this, but the point is that these immaterial forces are the preconditions of those laws and forces (or perhaps the very notion of how gravity arises in the first place.)]

    But Kant's account is only the beginning of such a conception of Nature. In other accounts, Schelling too saw, what he called visible nature as a product of the interplay of primal forces in constant struggle which saw in all forms of nature:

    Visible Nature, in particular and as a whole, is an allegory of this perpetually advancing and retreating movement. The tree, for example, constantly drives from the root to the fruit, and when it has arrived at the pinnacle, it again sheds everything and retreats to the state of fruitlessness, and makes itself back into a root, only in order again to ascend. The entire activity of plants concerns the production of seed, only in order again to start over from the beginning and through a new developmental process to produce again only seed and to begin again. Yet all of visible nature appears unable to attain settledness and seems to transmute tirelessly in a similar circle. — Schelling

    There seem to be some aspects of Schelling's Naturphilosophie that is spot on to me, beginning from the idea that Nature ought to be captured as a type of process and struggle. Conceiving nature as primarily as a combination of this processes generating a product. However, the product is transient and instantaneous combination of invisible forces. Take for example an eddy in a stream:

    Think of a stream, which is itself pure identity. Where it meets resistance, it forms an eddy. This eddy has no permanence, but is constantly disappearing and reappearing. Originally nothing in Nature is differentiated; all that she produces is at that point unseen and dissolved in the general productive potential. Only when there are points of resistance are Nature’s products gradually precipitated out, emerging from the general identity. At every such point, the flow is broken up (so that productivity is destroyed), but at each moment a new wave arrives, which fills the sphere afresh. — Schelling

    A stream flows in a straight line forward as long as it encounters no resistance. Where there is resistance—a whirlpool forms. Every original product of nature is such a whirlpool, every organism. The whirlpool is not something immobilized, it is rather something constantly transforming—but reproduced anew at each moment. Thus no product in nature is fixed, but it is reproduced at each instant through the force of nature entire. (We do not really see the subsistence of Nature’s products, just their continually being-reproduced.) Nature as a whole co-operates in every product. — Schelling

    But such forces aren't typically explained in such a way in modern physics, or perhaps named differently Like how we don't use Aristotelian concepts such as "potency, act, formal-final causes" or, if we feel to use the more Greek terms, words like "entelechy". We might instead use words like "telenomy" (though rarely). However, these concepts do seem to represent something fundamental in nature when we observe biological phenomenon. And people typically attempt to tell us these aren't meant to be "physical" but "metaphysical".

    But there are some fundamental difficulties with these. While Aristotle didn't think there were things like "empty space", Kant, Schelling and Hegel did. They specifically differentiated matter from space — something I'm not sure many people in modern physics do anymore. Though, the German idealist do seem to have dependency/interdependent relationships that might be able to overcome that, but I'm just not sure how that'd all work. Physics is a pretty big field. The German Idealists for sure didn't have non-euclidean geometry, didn't know what time-dilation was, didn't know about the curvature of space-time.

    Anywho, I hope I'm not talking crazy here and hope someone understands me.
  • Terrapin Station
    What's recoverable is that nature is processual. And you could add "organic" as long as we're talking about living things or carbon. ;-)
  • Galuchat
    But such forces aren't typically explained in such a way in modern physics, or perhaps named differently Like how we don't use Aristotelian concepts such as "potency, act, formal-final causes" or, if we feel to use the more Greek terms, words like "entelechy". We might instead use words like "telenomy" (though rarely). However, these concepts do seem to represent something fundamental in nature when we observe biological phenomenon. — Marty

    I find Aristotle's concepts of actuality (objects and events) and potentiality (possibility and capability) provide a suitable foundation for constructing a model of the human mind, and that his concept of causality provides a suitable foundation for constructing a model of actualisation.

    Also, I think these concepts can be modernised by substituting the following terms: data for matter, code for form, message for substance, action for motion, and information for actuality. In effect, substituting empirical communication for actualisation.
  • Mww

    Sure was a messed-up time, wasn’t it? Kant had just set the world on fire, with half a century of paradigm-shifting speculative philosophy, and all the others with any hope of becoming metaphysicians or natural philosophers themselves had to cope with the depth of his thinking. But, as with anything else, people found things to argue about, found things to disprove or diminish somehow or another, either within the Critiques or “The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science”, in order to get published, which was just as important then as it is now.

    So Schelling took one of the things Kant had explained well enough, but perhaps not the case necessarily, to wit: on the one hand, given the deterministic nature of Nature, how can any apodectic certainty come of it, by means of something so uncertain as a transcendental “I”, the thinking subject, the object of consciousness, and on the other, given a thing so absolutely necessary as a thinking subject, how can something so indiscriminate as the alledged “thing-in-itself” be permitted because of it. Such dualism has been the matter of discussion ever since, at least up to the mid-20th century, when neuroscience/neurobiology got in the way

    Kant unified reason with natural science within a logical and lawfully articulated theory and to this day, no one has succeeded in separating them, or even positing they should be so separated. This was Schelling’s problem: Kantian dualism, parts of which he accepted because he had no choice, parts of which he attempted to refute with “Naturphilosophie”, “On the I As Principle of Philosophy”, and “System of Transcendental Idealism”.

    How well he succeeded in these forays into the sublime remains open to debate.
  • Marty
    My reading of Kant is actually anti-dualistic. I'm not sure to what extent the latter German Idealist actually captured Kant's thought correctly. I see Kant's system as a dual-aspect theory with both aspects not being an ontological divide, and most of the criticisms of Kant to be really bad. This is why Neo-Kantians are still around, imho. But this story I think is familiar to most people by now.

    But any way, it doesn't matter. The interesting thing to me is, as you said, is unifying reason with nature and positing possible preconditions of nature. As well, as re-enchanting nature to include certain historical approaches.
  • Mww

    Sorry to detract from Schelling and other post-Kantian German idealists, but how would you go about seeing Kant’s system as dual aspect theory without ontological divide?
  • Marty
    This seems like the only salvageable reading of Kant purported by Henry Allison in Kant's Transcendental Idealism. The divide is an epistemic divide, where the phenomenon and noumenon are just two aspects of the same world. Thus, the noumenon isn't a positive entity existing outside of the phenomenal one, with it's own separate ontological status. To make it a positive entity like that is to commit the transcendental illusion.
  • Mww

    OK. Thanks.

    Was just wondering if you were going with the phenomenon/noumenon dualism, or the analytic/synthetic, the a priori/a posteriori, or even the empirical/transcendent types. There’s enough of them to choose from, no doubt.

    Agreed, the only non-illusory noumenon is the negative.
  • Marty
    Yeah, I guess there'd also those dualisms too. But I mean, other the general problematic of transcendental philosophy, what's the issue with the other ones?
  • Wayfarer
    Schelling too saw, what he called visible nature as a product of the interplay of primal forces in constant struggle which saw in all forms of nature:Marty

    ‘Strife is the father of all things’ ~ Heraclitus

    I think what you’re driving at could be described as ‘panentheism’ which is the belief that whilst the Universe is in some sense animated by the divine, the divine also transcends all forms. So this escapes the trap of pantheism which simply says that ‘everything is the divine’ because in this understanding, whilst everything is of or from the divine, it is not the divine considered in its individual nature. (So, no, there’s nothing inherently miraculous about dog shit.)

    Actually an important and relevant book is Dermot Moran’s study of John Scotus Eirugena’s influence on German idealism (via the medieval mystics such as Elkhardt and Suso). Eirugena produced some of the first translations of the seminal Greek mystical texts of ‘pseudo-Dionysius’ (much to the astonishment of his contemporaries who wondered how this rustic monastic from the far-flung colonies could have attained such vast erudition.) If you read the entry on Eirugena on SEP, which is also by Dermot Moran, it’s a good primer on the topic. (I confess his book remains in my ‘unread PDFs list’).

    I’m not sure I at all agree with your interpretation of Kant, but interpretations of Kant tend notoriously towards prolixity and interminable argument. But there’s a beautiful phrase in the SEP entry on Schopenhauer, whom I’m sure you will agree is in the lineage of Kant, to whit:

    It is a perennial philosophical reflection that if one looks deeply enough into oneself, one will discover not only one’s own essence, but also the essence of the universe. For as one is a part of the universe as is everything else, the basic energies of the universe flow through oneself, as they flow through everything else. For that reason it is thought that one can come into contact with the nature of the universe if one comes into substantial contact with one’s ultimate inner being.

    This is, of course, just the kind of sentiment that lends itself to comparison between Schopenhauer (and also Kant) and Indian philosophies - something which I find quite congenial. But another line of analysis would be this same kind of insight was preserved by underground and counter-culural Western philosophies such as Hermeticism, and were arrived at independently from any influence from the Orient.

    Schelling, who was the main proponent of ‘nature philosophy’ was obviously a vein of profound insights, but again he too was inclined to the fabulous verbosity which typified the German idealists. There are insights there to be gleaned but the risk of falling into an abyss of pseudo-profundity always lurks.
  • Mww

    Oh hell, everybody and his Auntie Sue has had something to say about these dichotomies. Quine, 1951 on rejection of analyticity hence eviscerating the possibility of synthetic a priori truths, Schopenhauer, 1819, rejects the Kantian version and function of schemata hence the value and necessity of the categories, and the whole Catholic Church dumped Kantian morality in the crapper for its requirement for an autonomous freely determinate will. ‘Course, he didn’t do himself any favors, by stating for the record a real free will down here was a hellava lot more believable as a law-giver than that which resides in the far-away abstract mystical Heavens and its Divine occupant.

    Other than? Nothing, actually. They’re all part and parcel of it, so issues with the problematic transcendental philosophy itself will be grounded by one or another of them.

    Why should I investigate Schelling? What would I acquire from him?
  • Marty

    Well, that was my question to the forum! If Naturaphilosophie is dead in the water, then the only thing we can take from Schelling would be his views on freedom, identity philosophy, art, mythology, etc.
  • Marty

    So having read more now, I think the German Idealist's account of causation seem to be dead on right. The dynamic theory of causation seems pretty prominent in all scientific discussions. That, and having read more processual ontology, that seems to be pretty legit for a lot of things: like identity in biology is something like the self-organization of certain processes working in tandem. That is, if certain processes are working harmoniously (or rather working homogeneously towards something) it seems to be indicative of a biological identity. Pretty sure this would work for the rest of Nature too.
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