A quick skim through the "Inorganic Physics" section of Hegel's Encyclopedia shows 5 separate paragraphs with reference to Newton, and all of them are disparaging. If there's a real philosophical justification for the hate I cannot find it. No argument seems to come out of the criticism. But it's Hegel after all, so there's always the possibility of something more.

Why did Hegel oppose Newton so strongly? Can this shed any light at all on the Encyclopedia, or is it just a strange personal quirk?

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    Leibniz? Calculus. Goethe? Color. You can do a search for each of these men and Newton to capture the dispute/controversy; so Hegel took the German side. This is just a guess.
    – Gordon
    Apr 16, 2018 at 4:56
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    I'm not a big philosophy of science guy but I doubt this boils down to Hegel just preferring the Germans. On a quick skim of the passages, it's going to be about what the mathematicization of these phenomenon mean -- i.e. whether reduction captures everything or loses something but how that specifically relates to Newton (as opposed to someone else or something in general) for Hegel, I'm not sure.
    – virmaior
    Apr 16, 2018 at 5:16

3 Answers 3


Aside from specific criticisms that Hegel made of Newton his overriding reason was ideological, and he hated not so much Newton as "Newtonianism" which he saw as a motivation for "degrading" of philosophy. Collection of essays Hegel and Newtonianism explores the issue at length, see especially Gower's entry.

"Newtonian" philosophers, like Locke and Hume, abandoned search for "truth in thought itself", and viewed themselves as "underlaborers" (Locke's infamous "philosophy is a handmaiden of the sciences"), which of course was anathema to Hegel's anbitious view of philolosophy as "thought as such", Minerva's Owl ("the product of thinking, thought as such, is the subject matter of philosophy"), domain of the Spirit. Empirical origins, "concerned solely with things in nature" may stimulate our philosophical reflections, must be "excluded from the treatment" of "real philosophy" even despite attempts to "derive general principles from our experience of nature". It is Newton's method that is woefully inappropriate for philosophy of nature, according to Hegel, specifics are just illustrations of it. Truth about nature is not to be discovered by gathering useful facts about the world, it is to be discerned by intellect alone. As Hegel declares in Encyclopedia:

"There is a fundamental delusion in all of scientific empiricism. It employs metaphyisical categories of matter, force,... generality, infinity, etc.; following the clue given by these categories it proceeds to draw conclusions... And all the while it is unaware that it contains metaphysics - in wielding which it makes use of those categories and their combinations in a style utterly thoughtless and uncritical (§38)... Newton gave physics an express warning to beware of metaphysics, it is true; but to his own honor, be it said, he did not obey his own warning (§98)... Physical mechanics is steeped in an unspeakable metaphysics, which, contrary to experience and the Notion, has the said mathematical determinations alone as its source (§270).".

In his rejection of "lowly" empiricism, and at its root Newtonianism, Hegel followed in the footsteps of romantic movement as a whole. Another prominent hostility came from Goethe's challenge to Newton's theory of colors. Goethe, the author of Faust, was Hegel's long term philosophical ally and correspondent. He emphasized "experience" of color rather than its empirical manifestations, Schelling had similar feelings on a grander scale. Romantics found the empirical science of the day wanting and distasteful, and dreamed of another, better "Science", speculative for Hegel, intellectually intuitive for Schelling, but devoid of Newtonian "bean counting" for both.

This hostility survived Newtonianism vs romanticism, one can see it replayed in Carnap vs Heidegger, the two cultures of science and humanities, the debates over the "true subject" of philosophy, and the analytic/continental divide. For these 20th century controversies see D’Agostini's From a Continental Point of View: The Role of Logic in the Analytic­-Continental Divide:

"In fact, the wide interest in the nature of pure thought and pure theory (logic 2) for European philosophers (also neo-Kantians and neo-Hegelians) was partially connected to the effort made by philosophy to save its own primacy and identity while conserving its own ‘science of logos’ (logic 1) ­ an aim successfully accomplished for the moment... psychologism was finally foiled in the 1920s. However, it was not on behalf of pure thought that the battle was won.On he contrary, the very adjective ‘pure’ soon began to fade, and there search culminated (for Heidegger since the 1923 winter courses on Faktizität) with the victory of impure existential thought."


Hegel's "hate affair" with Newton dated from the early years of Hegel's career :

in 1801 Hegel came to Jena with the encouragement of his old friend Schelling. Hegel secured a position at the University as a Privatdozent (unsalaried lecturer) after submitting an inaugural dissertation : Dissertatio Philosophica de Orbitis Planetarium (Philosophical Dissertation on the Orbits of the Planets).

Hegel's starting point is the critique of Newton's "flawed" derivation of Kepler's law.

See : Mauro Nasti De Vincentis, Hegel's Worm in Newton's Apple with the reconstruction of Hegel's criticism, with reference to Louis Bertrand Castel's 1724 Traité de physique sur la pesanteur universelle des corps.

Compare Hegel's Dissertatio quote [page 236 of De Vincentis' paper] with Castel's Traité one [page 237].

See also into Frederick Beiser (editor), The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy (2008), the following chapters :

  1. Kenneth R. Westphal, Philosophizing about Nature: Hegel’s Philosophical Project

  2. Edward C. Halper, Hegel’s Criticism of Newton.


Hegel writes in that article:

As is well-known, the laws of absolutely free motion were discovered by Kepler, a discovery of immortal fame. Kepler proved them, too, in the sense that he found the general expression for the empirical data (cf § 145).

Since then it has become a commonplace that Newton first found the proofs of these laws. Not often has fame been more unjustly transferred from the first discoverer to another. Here I only want to point out what has basically already been admitted by mathematicians, namely:

(1) that the Newtonian formulas can be derived from Keplerian laws;

(2) that the Newtonian proof of the proposition that a body governed by the law of gravitation moves in an ellipse around the central body proceeds in general in a conic section, whereas the main point that was to be proven consists precisely in this, that the course of such a body is neither a circle nor any other conic section, but solely the ellipse. The conditions which make the course of the body into a specific conic section are referred back to an empirical condition, namely, a particular situation of the body at a specific point in time, and to the contingent strength of an impulse which it is supposed to have received at the beginning.

(3) Newton's 'law" of the force of gravity has likewise only been demonstrated inductively from experience.

Kepler is European, Newton is British. This seems merely another aspect of the infamous debate between Europeans and the Brits about who ought to get the lions share of the credit for the renaissance of physical science. Einstein, for example, thought it was Galileo. Personally, I'd go back to Aristotle; and even further back to Zarathrustha; for whilst he wasn't a scientist, he did think on the world as an aspect of mind, and this prompted Parmenides on the question of ontological change - which began the whole scientific adventure.

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