The Historical Character of
the Concept of Nature

András Gedö
Higher Party School, Budapest


More or less concurrent, yet separate from each other, three aspects of the historical character of the concept of nature seem, at present, to manifest themselves anew: the idea of the objective historical character of nature, implied by current theoretical approaches of physics and biology; the dawning recognition of the historical character of scientific knowledge of nature, accompanying the breakdown of the static, ahistorical conception of science; and the experience of the historical character of the appropriation of nature by social human beings, of their relationship to nature, an experience imposed by the effects of the scientific‑technological revolution and by the pressure of the ecological problems. In their totality, the three aspects bestow upon the historical character of the concept of nature its specific philosophical relevance, which is conditioned not only and not, in the first instance, by the status of the knowledge of nature, but also and above all by ideationally mediated social tendencies.

Major themes which dominated the philosophical controversies in the 1970s and 1990s on the historical character of the concept of nature, were reformulated from previous ones, [1] and called into question the "received view" of scientific theory by means of the historicizing interpretation of scientific revolutions (Kuhn 1962), the phrase "human history of nature." [2] Still, they did not become the focus of philosophical reflections and debates until later, when more intensely developed questioning about the historical character of the knowledge of nature and about the nature of the knowledge of history became intertwined with the "realism controversy," when determination of the historical character of science and technology was set apart, in fierce controversies, from theses regarding their congenital uncertainty and tendency toward crises, and when, moreover, the problem of the historical relationship to nature—and, [end of p. 129] thereby, also the problem of history itself—became salient. [3] All of this, in turn, was exposed to the attractiveness of the alternative, and of the complementarity, presented by positivist scientism, and life philosophy's critique of science.

Nevertheless, the connection of the three aspects of the historical character of the concept of nature remains, on that account, latent or is reflected only fragmentarily (although their relevance is due to that connection), because behind the three aspects lie differing motives, and those aspects do not come to light in a continuous conceptual field. The idea of the objective historical character of nature arises and is reproduced in areas of contact between scientific theories and philosophy; in doing so, these areas of contact are located not in the peripheral regions of both, but instead in the basic subject matter of those theories and in their philosophical reflection or, rather, in the categorical resources of philosophical theory. Historical consciousness of the scientific knowledge of nature is manifested in the medium of the history of science and the theory of knowledge, in the often intricate texture of philosophical interpretations and presuppositions of scientific knowledge. The present configuration of the social relationship to nature and its historical character, or historicity, are represented in the reports of the results of critical economic‑ecological studies and/or in panoramic depictions of historico‑philosophical myths of crisis.


If the appearance of insubstantiality and ambiguity adheres to the idea of the historicity of the concept of nature, this is so, first of all, insofar as the philosophical concept of nature and the category of historicity—which intersect in that idea—are resistant to the idea of the historicity of the concept of nature, are themselves incongruent and carry over their incongruence to the historicity of the concept of nature. This formulation is, to such an extent, foreign to the traditional and fixed neopositivist conception of science, that "history as challenge" (Ströker 1974, 27ff) must, at first, impose itself upon the philosophical understanding contained in "analytical," ahistorical custom. The concept of the reality of nature had fallen a victim to neopositivism's distrust of metaphysics; if it was perhaps allowed, it was only as an empirical correlate of physics, as with Schlick (1948, 27ff). As a result of his interpretation, the history of psychical subjectivity was given up. Parallel to the loss of the concept of objective historicity, the possibility of a historicity of concepts also vanished. Inasmuch as logical positivism accepted the doctrines of the early Wittgenstein (or, rather, the early Wittgenstein the ideas of Russell's positivist period)—"the [end of p. 130] facts in logical space are the world; the world divides into facts" (Wittgenstein 1969, 11)—the "world" and the "facts," the concepts and propositions expressed in discursive thinking, were simply located in the domain of unchangeable identity, of ahistoricity. The historicity of the concept of nature was subject to positivist prohibition: it not only was left out of consideration in the most comprehensive construction of logical empiricism—Carnap's work, The Logical Structure of the World [4]—it was also lost in Popper's falsificationism, which broke with earlier forms of positivism and appealed to the history of knowledge. [5]

History and historicity, accordingly, can find refuge only in mysteries and myths which are conceptually and scientifically inaccessible and in experiences which are rationally incomprehensible. Thus, there took shape that dichotomy of the categories of nature and history, which was conceptualized in the approach of Droysen, then prevailed as a principle in neo‑Kantian epistemology and in viewpoint of life philosophy from Dilthey and Yorck von Wartenburg to Croce and Collingwood, Heidegger and the "hermeneutic philosophy." It is likewise a feature of positivism, as its tacit premise or unexpressed conclusion; but it becomes clearly evident in historicist versions of positivism, especially where it inclines toward life philosophy's critique of scientific realism, toward an epistemological apology for the ahistorical, universal value of mythical accounts.

The actual historicity of the concept of nature can no more be situated in life philosophy's conception of historicity than in the ahistoricism of positivism. Following this tradition of historicism and radicalizing it, Heidegger's Being and Time attached the historical to Dasein, to existentially construed individual subjectivity (Heidegger 1972, 372ff) [6] Heidegger's late philosophy also upheld the thesis that "Only the ek‑sistent human being is historical. 'Nature' has no history" (Heidegger 1967, 85). [7] The idea of the "historicity of Being" did not nullify the disjunction between the concept of nature and historicity; rather, it brought it to the most extreme point. Already in the conception of the historicity of Dasein, historicity was divorced from real history; in the concept of the "historicity of Being," the separation became a profound rupture. If there is "Being" outside of "being," the "historicity of Being" is completely split off from events in nature and society, [8] to be suspended then in the twilight of attachment to "Being" and of the decision on truth. [9] Indeed, Heidegger's idea of the "historicity of Being" abandoned contact with actual history and the history of knowledge, while, from time to time, it [end of p. 131] also drew into its sphere of influence efforts that worked toward historicizing the concept of nature. Through the centrality of the concept of historicity in Heidegger's philosophy and through the iridescent ambiguity of this concept in the relations between "being‑there," "Being," and "the happening of truth," the fact that this concept dispensed with history was obscured. [10] For one thing, the relativizing, historicist critique of modem and present‑day natural science—which considers the latter's claim to objectivity as an indication of subjectivist philosophy, a technological attitude, and the "oblivion of Being"—for another, the conjuring up of the romantically interpreted "naturalness of nature" (Heidegger 1983, 144ff), ascribed to a prescientific, immediate perception, together strengthen the impression that Heidegger's philosophy offers the categorical possibility for understanding the historicity of nature and knowledge.

If the concept of nature is subsumed under the conception of historicity molded by life philosophy, it is subjectivized by that conception: the concept of nature pays for this historicizing with the severance of its relationship to objectively real nature. Collingwood, orienting himself above all on Croce's historicism and without knowing and accepting the radicalism of Heidegger's "philosophy of Being," diametrically excluded nature from the concept of history and, in conjunction with the temporal events of nature, the processes of the biological existence of human beings, as well. [11] He equated history with those thought processes of the past, which were devoid of all law‑governed connections and which the soul of the historian experienced. The concept of nature is integrated into this category of history; as a result, "nature depends for its existence on something else;" "natural science is a form of thought that depends for its existence upon another form of thought" (Collingwood 1965, 176). This conception exhibited the factor which the ahistoricism of positivism left out of account: observation of nature and scientific theories are "historical facts," the understanding of which, according to Collingwood, admits of neither a history of nature (which, in his view, cannot exist) nor a material history of society (which likewise is denied). "Natural science as a form of thought exists and always existed in the context of history, and it depends on historical thinking for its existence. From this I venture to draw the conclusion that one can never understand natural science unless one understands history, and that one cannot answer the question what nature is unless one knows what history is" (Collingwood 1965, 177). Life philosophy's point of view, today shaped more by Nietzsche and Heidegger than by Croce, provides, of course, its interpretation of the [end of p. 132] historicity of the concept of nature—nowadays that interpretation is even attractive to some versions of the positivist understanding of science—however, it reaffirms, in the final analysis, the dichotomy, essential to it, between historicity and the concept of nature. Confronted with current trends and problems in the historicizing of the concept of nature, Gouhier, from the perspective of a religious‑existentialist life philosophy, sees "the crisis of the concept of nature" springing up. He transposes historical developments in the social appropriation of nature, ecological pressures and dangers, into an abstractly anthropological sphere, in which Christian conceptions, interpreted along the lines of life philosophy, are at home: that of reason distorted by hubris and beckoning into the abyss—"the understanding has brought homo faber to this paradoxical state of affairs: the point in time comes when human beings have to defend nature against human beings"—and that of evil incarnated in nature—"there even has come the point in time when human beings ask themselves whether there is not a principle of evil in it" (Gouhier 1975, 6ff). As the final word, there remained the traditional, absolute separation, and opposition between real historicity and the concept of nature of the sciences, by means of which the understanding "eliminates everything that was historical in the events of nature and transforms nature into a world of concepts and laws" (Gouhier 1975, 9ff). [12] Real historicity is characteristic merely of existing human individuality, whose irrational, imaginative action transcends nature and the scientific knowledge of nature.


When the historicity of the concept of nature, in particular that of the relationship of human beings to nature, is discussed, the fires of life philosophy's critique of civilization and science, inspired by Nietzsche and Spengler, Klages, and Ernst Jünger leap upward; on the other hand, however, a suppressed stock of ideas also penetrates into philosophical consciousness. An indication of this is that, for example, in Ernst Oldemeyer's "Outline of a Typology of the Human Relationship to Nature"—for which Marxist ideas hardly form a basis; dialectical materialism (including the "application of dialectical thinking to the processes of nature" in Engels and Lenin) is ranked among the approaches which understand "nature as an open, comprehensive total system," among the conceptions where tendencies are noticeable which "reach beyond a counterconceptual demarcation, a mechanistic objectivism, and a transcendental conception of nature as the not‑I [Nicht‑Ich‑Auffassung]" (Oldermeyer 1983, 35ff). There emerges the need [end of p. 133] and the necessity for a philosophical concept of nature, which is neither inclined to project a picture of nature standing opposed to, or replacing, the natural sciences, nor endeavors to delineate either a synopsis of scientific theories or a more abstractly rendered compendium of them, but, indeed, nurtures itself on them and, in turn, influences them, while preserving, however, its sui generis content in the correlation of philosophical problems and categories.

This concept of nature reflects the state of, and the historical change in, the scientific knowledge of nature and, at the same time, the social‑practical interchange with nature, its conditions and consequences, the genetic and structural relations of the history of nature and of the social history of human beings. The philosophical concept of nature, which comprises the material historicity of nature and the historicity of the material and spiritual relationship of social human beings to nature, presupposes a history which is not contrary in conception to that of law, as, likewise, the recognition of the historicity of real objects and of knowledge does not stand in a disjunctive relation to theoretical knowledge. This category of history is not limited to the history of human beings: if it construes the history of human beings in its particular objectivity, it should neither naturalize human history nor anthropomorphize nature, in order not only to include the idea of the laws of human history but also to reflect the historicity of nature. "Precisely as in mathematics, the structures implicitly contained in fundamental physical laws are incomparably much richer than what is explicitly expressed in the formulation of the fundamental laws" (Treder 1974, 2). This probably holds true even more for philosophical laws and categories; the concepts of nature and history condense elements of other categories, of special scientific knowledge and of practical‑spiritual experiences.


The objectively real aspect of the historicity of the concept of nature becomes evident after the development of the Darwinian revolution, of the synthesis of the theory of evolution with genetics in the fundamental domains, as well, of physics. The course of development of the idea of historicity is, in a sense, an inversion of material historicity. In the historical epoch of scientific knowledge since the seventeenth century, that idea evolved, in the first place, in the consideration of social human beings (Kroeber 1960, 5ff), then—after the idea of historicity penetrates into geology—in comprehension of the world of living organisms; it manifests itself, [end of p. 134] lastly, in the knowledge of physical reality. The biological conception of development presupposed, nevertheless, a definite historicizing of the picture of nature (Bowler 1984, 4ff). As early as the middle of the eighteenth century, Kant's cosmogonic hypothesis anticipated the idea of the historicity of nature, and the history of science records approaches to historicizing the knowledge of nature—not only in biology—around the turn of the eighteenth century (Baron and Sticker 1963). In the nineteenth century, at the time when the physics shaped by Newton was being consummated, the time of the comprehensive extension and realization of the mechanistic interpretation, the idea of the physical historicity of nature developed, in the first case, in thermodynamics, while it presaged the transcending of that same mechanical point of view. Boltzmann's physical ideas and philosophical reflections—from the standpoint of a historically minded, scientific materialism and in disagreement with the positivism of that time—suggested far‑reaching associations of that idea of historicity in connection with the new significance and the transformation of the philosophical categories functioning immanently in physical knowledge. [13] In Boltzmann's thought, the idea of objective historicity implied by thermodynamic view was interlocked with consciousness of the historicity of scientific knowledge of nature, among other things, with the all‑important question about the relationship of this historicity to the structure of physical theories, or with a historical, nonapriori consideration of the logical laws of thought.

A domain in which, at present, the idea of the objective historicity of nature finds expression is that of irreversible thermodynamics based upon quantum theory, which thus implies more radical changes than those of which Boltzmann could have had some notion. In the opinion of Prigogine, this irreversible thermodynamics represents a novelty even in relation to the concept of time in quantum theory. A consequence of the principle of irreversibility, which engenders a change in the physical picture of nature (the appearance of a new solution to equations with a critical value in the physics of irreversible processes), "introduces history, as it were, into physics" (Prigogine 1979, 118; Prigogine and Stengers 1981, 285ff). Prigogine's conception does not restrict the idea of the historicity of nature—which he links with the concept of "oriented internal time"—to thermodynamics; the two revolutionary renovations of physics in the twentieth century. quantum theory and relativity theory, also arrive at the same idea. [14] Cosmology is the other place where the idea of the objective historicity of nature prevails. The general theory of relativity, [end of p. 135] affirms the historicity of physical systems, [15] and therefore "the general properties of matter are endowed with historicity" (Treder 1974, 61). This idea of historicity involves new problems regarding physical knowledge, including the problem of the relationship between historicity and the universal validity of fundamental laws of nature (Treder 1974, 59ff) or fundamental constants (Dirac 1973). The same trend becomes apparent, likewise, in attempts (leading, at times, into philosophical embarrassment) to rethink the concept of time (Fraser 1982), in efforts to rediscover and refashion the relational conception of time, in endeavoring to temporalize formal logic (Weizsäsker 1981, l7ff).

In their description of the historicizing of knowledge, "of the discovery of time," Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, in the middle 1960s, drew the conclusion that the "eternal stability" of physical laws becomes problematic. It is supposed to be a task of investigation to discern the historical possibility of modification of natural laws and constants or their possible historical modifications, and therefore "we may find ourselves on the threshold of the greatest of all scientific revolutions" (Toulmin and Goodfield 1965, 264ff). [16] The comprehension of historically developing knowledge—and, through this, of the historicity of the reality of nature and human society—necessarily tended toward dialectics and occasionally approximated it—among other things, with regard to the historicity of the laws of nature. That representation accepted, to be sure, the method of reasoning of Heraclitus, but disregarded the history and the theoretical outcome of dialectics. The misconstruing and rejecting of this theoretical outcome resulted in a certain vagueness, indeed confusion, in grasping the connection of continuity and its interruption. In considering the historicity of the laws of nature, the problem of the laws of history receded. A teleological propensity was imputed to materialist dialectics; thus, no attention was paid to the fact that materialist dialectics, putatively focused teleologically, overcame, by means of the formulation of objective laws of historical movement, the teleological interpretation of human history and explained the inherent teleological factor of human activity—particularly its basic form, labor—nonteleologically.

Guided by that dialectical‑materialist way of thinking, Engels, more than a century ago, formulated the idea of the historicity of the laws of nature: "Eternal laws of nature are more and more transformed into historical ones . . . this theory [the point here is "the general formulation of the theory of the transformation of energy"—A. G.] itself changes with its consistent extension to all natural phenomena in a historical representation of the changes [end of p. 136] occurring successively in a world‑system from its origin until its end, hence in a history in which, at every stage, other laws, that is, other types of phenomena of the same universal movement, predominate and, therefore, nothing remains thoroughly universal but—the movement" (Marx and Engels 1962, 20:505ff). This insight, which was far in advance of the state of the natural sciences of that time, followed from the new philosophical conception of history, which Marx effectuated and elaborated in the discovery of the appropriate method of political economy, especially that of bourgeois society. The concept of historicity was able here—as was repeatedly the case in the historical process of cognition—to anticipate the further course of natural science, because, as a philosophical category, it did not represent a mere derivative of scientific knowledge but moved in the context of a characteristic generalness, in characteristic relations, yet not incorporated in them (its relationship to the natural sciences formed part of these relations).

If thinking reflects the current historicizing motives of the natural sciences, if it wrestles with the concept of historicity, then it develops philosophical content or assimilates it. The penetration of historicity into the concept of nature brings with it the curtailment or the upsetting of assertions previously held to be immutable. As at the beginning of the century, so today the possibility of an idealist interpretation emerges, where the urgency of a philosophical theory of dialectics makes itself known (Wheeler 1976; Wheeler 1980). (And if the issue concerns the historicity of nature in physics, in particular in cosmology, then, in addition, theology announces its claim to an anthropomorphic, creationist interpretation and, thereby, to its scientific validation [Yourgrau and Breck 1977]). It is, first of all, life philosophy which offers a formulation of historicity opposed to materialist dialectics; and with natural scientists whose thinking reflects the historicizing of the concept of nature, dialectical insights, and ideas of a Heideggerian or Bergsonian provenance stand side by side and/or the two are commingled. [17]


The idea of the objectively real historicity of nature implies a certain historicizing of the cognition of nature; [18] from the conscious realization of the latter, however, there only follows, in any case, the idea of the objectively real historicity of nature, when the historical transformation of the knowledge of nature brings that idea into prominence. Yet, the pattern of the objectively real historicity of nature is itself, in these cases, not identical with the pattern of [end of p. 137] the history of the historicity of the knowledge of nature. The history of cognition of nature is the process of the reflection of nature existing in its historicity; but the same history cannot be reduced to the history of nature or incorporated into the biological history of nature. The cognition of nature is, nevertheless, to be subsumed under a category of historicity common, in the last analysis, to nature. If the idea of the real historicity of nature contains, concomitantly, the factor of its knowledge, the specific problem of that historicity of knowledge—the relationship of historicity and objectivity, the dialectics of truth—refers to the real historicity of nature. The knowledge, which reflects the historicity of the knowledge of nature, looks for the relation between laws and historicity, for the historicizing of the laws of cognition and knowledge, as well as for the laws of the history of knowledge. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Schelling seems to have formulated this idea in his Lectures on the Method of Academic Study, through which he anticipated much later developments:

"To the movements of the external world correspond, according to a necessary law, the more silent, yet, on that account, no less fundamental metamorphoses which occur in the spirit of man himself. To believe that spiritual changes, scientific revolutions, the ideas which engender them, and works themselves in which a definite scientific or artistic spirit has been expressed are without necessity and do not come into being according to law but by chance, is the highest barbarism" (Schelling 1856, 5:226).

The awareness of the historicity of the knowledge of nature does not establish the abstract property of changeableness; it leads to the idea of the law‑governed connections between real history, the history of cognition and theoretical knowledge.

The knowledge of nature accompanies, as an ingredient, the historical process of society, of its relationship to nature, [19] which—itself a texture of material and consciousness‑related factors—is neither derivable from the historicity of nature nor reducible to the historicity of the knowledge of nature. In the Marxist understanding of the "natural‑historical processes" of society (Marx and Engels 1983, 14), the expression "natural‑historical process" is more than a metaphor, less than an absolute definition. The history of society continues the history of nature, being based upon the latter. Its objectivity, together with the necessity immanent in it, is not "weaker" than that of the history of nature; the totality of the movement of society is no less nonteleological. According [end of p. 138] to Marx, the objective process of society is a function of teleologically deployed actions, and the social appropriation of nature in the labor process is, at the same time, the production and reproduction of objective social relations, which are devoid of any materiality of nature. Even the technological process of production, in which human beings as socially evolved, natural beings interact with extra‑human nature, cannot be reduced to events of nature. "Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railroads, electric telegraphs, self‑acting mules, etc. They are products of human industry: natural material changed into agents of human volition concerning nature or of its activity in nature" (Marx and Engels 1981, 582).


Marx's philosophy and political economy superseded the naturalism and historicism of classical bourgeois thought, overcoming the dichotomy therein. The dependence of historical human beings on nature and the historicity of nature, which Goethe insisted upon with the entire strength of his artistic creation and theoretical thought, are, with Marx, embodied—in a heightened manner [aufgehoben‑enthalten]and extended within a new context of knowledge. "Nature—We are surrounded and embraced by it—unable to step out of it and unable to come more deeply into it. Without invitation or warning, it takes us up into the cycles of its dance and sweeps onward with us, until we are exhausted and fall from its arms" (Goethe 1981, 12:10ff). Goethe's naturalism went far beyond the fiction of the bon sauvage, of the primordial, natural human being. His historicized naturalism and naturalized historicism probed the possibility of surmounting the dualism of naturalism and historicism. The "Faust" theme suggested elements of life and experiences in thought, which could not themselves be situated within the framework of Goethe's historicized naturalism and which resulted from the social entanglement of individual destinies, from social collisions, and from correlations of actions, experiences, and ideas that, of course, did not stand apart from dependence on nature, but were not generated by that dependence.

In his Economic‑Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx grappled with classical bourgeois naturalism, especially with that of Feuerbach, while making use, in part, of Feuerbach's conceptualization in a still unfinished process of overcoming him. Marx and Engels also later adhered to the idea that the history of human society is a continuation of the history of nature. "The fact that the physical [end of p. 139] and spiritual life of human beings is connected with nature has no other meaning than that nature is connected with itself, for human beings are a part of nature" (Marx 1974, 157). While his basic preoccupation was with understanding that which is social, Marx put this sentence into a stated perspective rising above the traditional naturalism: "Therefore, social character is the general character of the entire movement: as society itself produces human beings as human beings, so is it produced by them" (Marx 1974, 186). Here began a movement of thought which grasped the dialectics of dependence upon, and appropriation of, nature by social human beings, of their continuing ties to nature, and of their social historicity, which, indeed, rests upon nature but goes beyond it. Thus, this movement got to the root of, and critically explained, the semblance of naturalness in antagonistic relations, above all in bourgeois ones.

In reflections, which regarded society as "the completed, essential unity of human beings with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of human beings and the realized humanism of nature" (Marx 1974, 1986), transitional stages of that movement of thinking became evident. They paved the way for the idea of the connection between the history of nature and the history of society, for the concept that society is based upon nature, a concept which, in the later stages of the same movement of thinking, was detached from the idea of the "true resurrection of nature." In addition, the unity of materialist dialectics with regard to nature, society, and knowledge, including the concretely historical, primarily economic analysis of the particular law‑governed nature of society, took the place of the union of naturalism and humanism. If, according to the outcome of this movement of thinking, human beings with their activity remain a part of nature, if, in this respect, their relationship to their own determination by nature and to extra‑human nature is situated within the totality of nature, still the relationship of social human beings to nature within the framework of their special historicity, which is no longer determined by nature, is not an internal relationship of nature.

The changes in this relationship to nature form, nevertheless, an aspect of the historicity of the concept of nature; the historicity of the relationship to nature mediates between objectively real events of nature and knowledge of nature. The concept of the relationship of social human beings to nature is linked, at the same time, to the concept of the historicity of nature, although it is not derivable from the latter and comprises, in a certain sense, the historicity of [end of p. 140] the knowledge of nature. The three aspects of the historicity of nature branch out united in a categorical correlation, which is positioned in the context of the philosophical theory of dialectics.


1.  See, among others, Toulmin and Goodfield (1965). [—> main text]

2.  See, among others, Moscovici (1968). [—> main text]

3.  See, among others, Rapp (1980) and Grossklaus and Oldemeyer (1983). [—> main text]

4.  "The positivist search for 'the logic' of science was actually a search for an unchangeable and enduring structure of the 'essence' of science" (Caton 1975. 655). Carnap's The Logical Structure of the World, in which philosophy was equated with the "pure formal statements" of logical syntax, permitted neither the concept of nature nor the possibility of comprehended historicity. [—> main text]

5.  It is a consequence of Popper's falsificationism that "strictly speaking . . . the history of a science [is] a rubbish heap—Popper would want to express it perhaps more reverently: a graveyard of rejected theories. . . . If we pursue the matter further, we must recognize that a melancholy outlook on the future corresponds to indifference toward the past. What, at the moment, is represented so heroically as construction of a new system of hypotheses and theories is, at bottom, nothing but a veritable labor of Sisyphus; for, with the next falsification, everything, after all, will again collapse" Dosch (1982, 55). [—> main text]

6. It is traditional in philosophy to use in English the capitalized term Being to denote the philosophical category of being as distinct from being as a mere object. "Dasein has been widely used in German philosophy to mean the 'existence' (or Das‑sein, 'that it is') as opposed to the 'essence' (or Was‑sein, 'what it is') as a thing, state of affairs, person or God. The word connotes especially the existence of living creatures. . . . and most notably of human beings." (Krell 1976, 48n). [—> main text]

7. Heidegger uses the term Ek‑sistenz to incorporate a quality of freedom in regard to human existence.—Ed. [—> main text]

8. "If every ground for each criterion in being has become [end of p. 141] ineffectual and 'only' the abruptness of the clearing of Being, the uniqueness of an occurrence, is, in that case there is history," Heidegger declares in a manuscript from the late 1930s. "For this history, there is no reckoning of time and no eternality of an In‑itself. History—not because something, because this and that, happens, but inasmuch as the 'that‑it‑is' of the being of Being, and, before that, Being, is" (quoted in Pöggeler 1983, 158). [—> main text]

9.  "History signifies here . . . the occurrence of a decision about the essence of truth" (Heidegger 1981, 21). [—> main text]

10.  Otto Pöggeler, a historian closely aligned with Heidegger and an interpreter of his philosophy, states this concerning his late philosophy: "The occurrence of something no longer means, now, a historical event but the fact that what enters into its Being as its own, is united to it. In addition, destiny is no longer understood primarily from history" (Pöggeler 1983, 166) [—> main text]

11.  "The processes of nature can be described as sequences of mere events, but those of history cannot. They are not processes of mere events but processes of actions, which have an inner side consisting of processes of thinking; and precisely what the historian is looking for is these processes of thinking. All history is the history of thought" (Collingwood 1980, 215) [—> main text]

12.  If, in distinction to the existentialist interpretation, nature is anthropomorphized in a neoromantic fashion, human beings are looked upon as "those living beings" "in whom nature articulates itself and becomes historical," and the concept of history is given a Heideggerian interpretation ‑in this view, "history is not our history but that of nature in the human species" (Meyer‑Abich 1982, 170)—then life philosophy's dichotomy between historicity and scientific concept of nature is not removed but, rather, radicalized "in a historicity‑of‑being manner" ["seinsgeschichtlich"]. [—> main text]

13.  Boltzmann, however, did not reshape the fundamental philosophical categories in order to eliminate them. Neither consciousness of unsolved problems of physics and philosophy, nor insight into the novelty of the statistical mechanics being formed at the time, abolished the relevance of the category of conformity to law: according to Boltzmann, "the conformity to law of events of nature is the fundamental condition of all knowability" (Boltzmann 1905, 354). The idea, in the offing here, of the historicity of physical [end of p. 142] knowledge rested upon the materialist principle that "we must not intend to derive nature from our concepts; rather, our concepts must conform to nature" (355). [—> main text]

14.  "Quantum theory is concerned with elementary particles and their transformations, and that is, first of all, a problem of time. . . . Relativity theory was, to begin with, a geometrical theory, and today it essentially has to do with the history of the cosmos." ("There is no actual evolution, if everything is given" (Prigogine 1982, 121ff)). [—> main text]

15.  "It is one of the most fundamental and elementary experiences in physics that all macroscopic bodies, especially the stars and apparently also the visible part of the cosmos, have a history. This means, in the first place, that the state of any macroscopic body changes irreversibly in time, so that its state depends upon its whole history. Moreover, it means that there exists a well‑defined direction of time in the cosmos from the past to the future" (Treder 1970, 253). [—> main text]

16.  Here, Toulmin still unequivocally disapproved of the natural theology of the seventeenth century, with its idea of a law‑giving God, an idea antithetical to the historical point of view. Later, he pleaded for a return to the natural theology of the seventeenth century (Toulmin 1982). [—> main text]

17.  This is the case in C. F. von Weizsäcker's book The History of Nature, where the bold approach of the idea of the historicity of nature was framed with Heideggerian ideas and elements of the theological tradition. Prigogine appears to keep separate his reflections on the historicity of nature from references, first of all, to Heidegger, and then to Bergson and Whitehead. The discrepancy between particular problems and the ideas of life philosophy alluded to at a given time is also more noticeable insofar as, among other things, Prigogine's breaking with Heidegger's philosophy hardly altered his own problematic and the direction of his thought; in addition, they were not essentially shaped by references to Heidegger. For Prigogine's views in a philosophical context, see Zelený (1985). [—> main text]

18.  On this subject, see, among others, Burrichter (1979). On current philosophical controversies from a Marxist view point, see Buhr (1984). See, also, Kröber (1984). [—> main text]

19.  On the Marxist consideration of the present‑day problems of the socio‑historical appropriation of nature, see, among others, Kim (1981), Buhr and Steigerwald (1981, 79ff), Ökologie (1984), and Holz (1982, 155ff). [end of p. 143] [—> main text]


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SOURCE: Gedö, András. "The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature," Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1987), pp. 129-146.

© 1987 Marxist Educational Press. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with the permission of Marxist Educational Press.

András Gedö — Vita (Bibliography)

Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy by András Gedö

"The Contemporary Attack on Science" by András Gedö

"Why Marx or Nietzsche?" by András Gedö

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

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