1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: German Writers of the 19th Century: Schelling; Followers of Schelling; Hegel; Schopenhauer; Von Baer.

(Part 19)


Schelling.—In the earlier writings of Schelling, containing the philosophy of identity, existence is represented as a becoming, or process of evolution. Nature and mind (which are that two sides, or polar directions, of the one absolute) are each viewed as an activity advancing by an uninterrupted succession of stages. The side of this process which Schelling worked out completely is the negative side, that is, nature. Nature is essentially a process of organic self-evolution. It can on be understood by subordinating the mechanical conception to the vital, by conceiving the world as one organism animated by a spiritual principle or intelligence (Weltseele). From this point of view the processes of nature from the inorganic up to the most complex of the organic become stages in the self-realization of nature. All organic forms are at bottom but one organization, and the inorganic world shows the same formative activity in various degrees or potencies. Schelling conceives of the gradual self-evolution of nature in a succession of higher and higher forms as brought about by a limitation of her infinite productivity, showing itself in a series of points of arrest. The detailed exhibition of the organizing activity of nature in the several of the organic and inorganic world rests on a number of fanciful and unscientific ideas. Schelling’s theory is a bold attempt to revitalize nature in the light of growing physical and physiological science , and by so doing to comprehend the unity of the world under the idea of one principle of organic development. His highly figurative language might leave us in doubt now far he conceived the higher stages of this evolution of nature as following the lower in time. In the introduction to his work Von der Weltseele, however, he argues in favour of the possibility of a transmutation of species in periods incommensurable with ours. The evolution of mind (the positive pole) proceeds by way of three stages—theoretic, practical, and aesthetical activity. Schelling’s later theosophic speculations do not specially concern us here.

Followers of Schelling.—Of the followers of Schelling a word or two must be said. Heinrioh Steffens, in his Anthropologie, seeks to trace out the origin and history of man in connexion with a general theory of the development of the earth, and this again as related to the formation of the solar system. All these processes are regarded as a series of manifestations of a vital principle in higher and higher forms. Oken, again, who carries Schelling’s ideas into the region of biological science, seeks to reconstruct the gradual evolution of the material world out of original matter, which is the first immediate appearance of God, or the absolute. This process is a upward one, through the formation of the solar system and of our earth with its inorganic bodies, up to the production of man. The process is essentially a polar linear action, or differentiation from a common centre. By means of this process the bodies of the solar system separate themselves, and the order of cosmic evolution is repeated in that of terrestrial evolution. The organic world (like the world as a whole) arises out of a primitive chaos, namely, the infusorial slime. A somewhat similar working out of Schelling’s idea is to be found in Oersted’s work entitled The Soul in Nature (Eng. Trans.). Of later works based on Schelling’s doctrine of evolution mention may be made of the volume entitled Natur und Idee, by G. F. Carus According to this writer, existence is nothing but a becoming, and matter is simply the momentary product of the process of becoming, while force is this process constantly revealing itself in these products.

Hegel.—Like Schelling, Hegel conceives the problem of existence as one of becoming. He differs from him with respect to the ultimate motive of that process of gradual evolution which reveals itself a in nature and in mind. With Hegel the absolute is itself a dialects which contains within itself a principle of progress from difference to difference and from unity to unity. "This process (Mr Wallace remarks) knows nothing of the distinctions between past and future, because it implies an eternal present." This conception of an immanent spontaneous evolution is applied alike both to nature and to mind and history. Nature to Hegel is the idea in the form of hetereity ; and finding itself here it has to remove this exteriority in a progressive evolution towards an existence for itself in life and mind. Nature (says Zeller) is to Hegel a system of graduations, of which one arises necessarily out of the other, and is the proximate truth of that out of which it results. There are three stadia, or moments, in this process of nature—(1) the mechanical moment, or matter devoid of individuality ; (2) the physical moment, or matter which has particularized itself in bodies—the solar system ; and (3) the organic beings, beginning with the geological organism—or the mineral kingdom, plants, and animals. Yet this process of development is not to be conceived as if one stage is naturally produced out of the other, and not even as if the one followed the other in time. Only spirit has a history ; in nature all forms are contemporaneous.1 Hegels’s interpretation of mind and history as a process of evolution has more scientific interest than his conception of nature. His theory of the development of free-will (the objective spirit), which takes its start from Kant’s conception of history, with its three stages of legal right, morality as determined by motive and instinctive goodness (Sittlichkeit), might almost as well be expressed in terms of a thoroughly naturalistic doctrine of human development. So, too, some of his conceptions respecting the development of art and religion (the absolute spirit) lend themselves to a similar interpretation. Yet while, in its application to history, Hegel’s theory of evolution has points of resemblance with those doctrines which seek to explain the world-process as one unbroken progress occurring in time, it constitutes on the whole a theory apart and sui generic. It does not conceive of the organic as succeeding on the inorganic, or of conscious life as conditioned in time by lower forms. In this respect it resembles Leibnitz’s idea of the world as a development ; the idea of evolution is in each case a metaphysical as distinguished from a scientific one.2 Hegel gives a place in his metaphysical system to the mechanical and the teleological views ; yet in his treatment of the world as an evolution the idea of end or purpose is the predominant one.

Of the followers of Hegel who have worked out his

FOOTNOTE (p.762)

(1)Hegel somewhere says that the question of the eternal duration of the world is unanswerable : time as well as space can be predicated of finitudes only.

(2) Mr Wallace (Logic of Hegel, Proleg. Pp. 48, 49) speaks of Hegel’s system of evolution as having been in a sense the transformation into a philosophic shape of the biological of evolution as suggested by Treviranus and Lamarck. Yet this relation is b no means obvious.

peculiar idea of evolution it is hardy necessary to speak. A bare reference may be made to Rosenkranz, who in his work Hegel’s Naturphilosophie, seeks to develop Hegel’ idea of an earth-organism in the light of recent science, recognizing in crystallization the morphological element.

Schopenhauer.—Of the other German philosophers immediately following Kant, there is only who calls for notice here, namely, Arthur Schopenhauer. This writer, by his conception of the world as will which objectifies itself in a series of gradations from the lowest manifestations of matter up to conscious man, gives a slightly new shape to the evolutional view of Schelling, though he deprives this view of its optimistic character by denying any co-operation of intelligence in the world-process. In truth, Schopenhauer’s conception of the world as the mechanical rather than a spiritualistic and teleological theory. Moreover, Schopenhauer’s subjective idealism, from viewing this process as a sequence of events in time. Thus he ascribes eternity of existence to species under the form of the "Platonic ideas." As Ludwig Noiré observes,1 Schopenhauer has no feeling for the problem of the origin of organic beings. He says Lamarck’s original animal is something metaphysical, not physical, namely, the will to live. "Every species (according to Schopenhauer) has of its own will, and according to the circumstances under which it would live, determined its form and organization,—yet not as something physical in time, but as something metaphysical out of time."

Von Baer.—Before leaving the German speculation of the first half of the century, a word must be said of Von Baer, who not only reached those ideas of individual and serial development which are at the basis of the modern doctrine of organic evolution, but who recognized in the law of the universe as a whole. In his Entwickelungschichte der Thiere (p. 246) he distinctly tells us that the law of growing individuality is "the fundamental thought which goes through all forms and degrees of animal development and all single relations. It is same thought which collected in the cosmic space the divided masses into spheres, and combined these to solar systems ; the same which caused the weather-beaten dust on the surface of our metallic planet to spring forth into living form." Von Baer thus prepared the way for Mr Spencer’s generalization of the law of organic evolution as the law of all evolution.

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