This is related to: How do non-theist idealists account for laws of physics?

But I'm narrowing down this question specifically to Hegel. If reality is Geist (which is something like mind/spirit), and if reality changes with time... what's the relationship between Geist and the laws of physics? Hegel talks about the changing of Geist alongside the changing of society. But the laws of physics seem to be constant. Does Hegel agree they are constant? And if Geist is changing and Geist is ALL of reality, why do the laws of physics remain fixed?

What's the role of Geist in seemingly purely physical phenomena like an earthquake or supernova etc.? Is Hegel some kind of animist?

2 Answers 2


As with all that is Hegel, it is not really that clear.

As a matter of fact, there developed two strands of Hegelians due to that ambiguity: the rightist (conservative) people and the leftist (progressive) people. Both claimed that they embody the true nature of Hegel's philosophy.

In all fairness, I suspect that both kind of are right but most of them for reasons different from those they claim. If we look, for example, at his political philosophy, it becomes clear that he writes in a way that strongly suggests that he considered the Prussian state to be pretty much the realisation of the idea of a state, ie. that there won't be much of a progress possible. In the same mindset, he speaks about physics and chemistry as been 'discovered', assuming that it won't change anymore. Thus, Hegel was more rigid in his opinions than his philosophical framework would suggest. But let me explain:

Having the terminology in mind, one can understand how both strands are correct: Hegel himself obviously believed that there is such a thing as the idea of something in the (divine! remember his philosophy is theist in a sense) Weltgeist. And arguably, that is eternal. But the realisations of this idea, its instantiations and ways of being, are imperfect and (ideally) progressively closer to the ideal. Therefore, Hegel "in pure" is pretty much a fancy twist on Plato, throwing Aristotle into the mix - Idealism developed that way after Leibniz. Thus, there is the idea of marginal approximation towards an endpoint, ie. both change and something unchanging are involved

On the other hand, there is an epistemological problem in Hegel which he dodged: We cannot really know whether the instantiations of ideas are developing towards the eternal idea, nor how far we are away from it (the Owl of Minerva is their favourite picture in Hegel). This opens up a space for progressive thought arguing that it brings us closer to the ideal or, rather the idea of the progressive Hegelians, we need constant progression of reality so that the self does not collapse into an in-itself, ie. they simply endorse the part that Weltgeist has to solicit itself into ever different and new instantiations in order to be in the first place. It is its mode of being to realise itself in ever new ways (see this question for an elaboration of this).

Hence, we can easily see (regardless of the strand of Hegelianism one adheres to) how the reality of laws of physics is possible to progress/change within Hegel's original framework. Hegel himself (prematurely and contrary to his own philosophy) believed that in many things human, the epitome of knowledge had already been reached at his time.


This is only intended as hints and not as a complete answer as that would require extensive discussion and references.

If the dialectic process (according to Hegel) is an "immutable" law of the world, why can't others be as well (possibly stemming from applications of the dialectic process itself)?

This is only a hint at how one could possibly accomodate (immutable?) physical laws into dialectics.

It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed they can be reduced in the main to three:

  • The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;
  • The law of the interpenetration of opposites;
  • The law of the negation of the negation.

[..]We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics, but only with showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of development of nature, and therefore are valid also for theoretical natural science.

Engels, Dialectics of Nature

When two bodies act on each other so that a change of place of one or both of them results, this change of place can consist only in an approach or a separation. They either attract each other or they repel each other. Or, as mechanics expresses it, the forces operating between them are central, acting along the line joining their centres. That this happens, that it is the case throughout the universe without exception, however complicated many movements may appear to be, is nowadays accepted as a matter of course. It would seem nonsensical to us to assume, when two bodies act on each other and their mutual interaction is not opposed by any obstacle or the influence of a third body, that this action should be effected otherwise than along the shortest and most direct path, i.e. along the straight line joining their centres. It is well known, moreover, that Helmholtz (Erhaltung der Kraft [The Conservation of Force], Berlin, 1847, Sections 1 and 2) has provided the mathematical proof that central action and unalterability of the quantity of motion are reciprocally conditioned and that the assumption of other than central actions leads to results in which motion could be either created or destroyed. Hence the basic form of all motion is approximation and separation, contraction and expansion - in short, the old polar opposites of attraction and repulsion.

Engels, Dialectics of Nature

Engels, for example, although accepts that "water boils at 100 degrees Celsius" as a physical law, he makes clear that this law is only valid when additional variables are also at specific values (eg Pressure, etc..) . So a consequence is that, if conditions are such that pressure, for example, does not have a suitable value, the law "water boils at 100 degrees Celsius" ceases to actually happen.

PS: It is of value to note that Hegel's dissertation was on planetary orbits and how the laws governing these orbits (eg Kepler's laws) could be derived philosophically.

De orbitis planetarum (Hegel's dissertation)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .