Article ID: CBB964888680

The ‘Is’ and the ‘Ought’ of the Animal Organism: Hegel’s Account of Biological Normativity (2022)


This paper investigates Hegel’s account of the animal organism as it is presented in the Philosophy of Nature, with a special focus on its normative implications. I argue that the notion of “organisation” is fundamental to Hegel’s theory of animal normativity. The paper starts by showing how a Hegelian approach takes up the scientific image of organism and assigns a basic explanatory role to the notion of “organisation” in its understanding living beings. Moving from this premise, the paper turns to the group of accounts in contemporary theoretical biology known as “organisational accounts” (OA), which offer a widely debated strategy for naturalizing teleology and normativity in organisms. As recent scholarship recognizes, these accounts explicitly rely on insights from Kant and Post-Kantianism. I make the historical and conceptual argument that Hegel’s view of the organism shares several basic commitments with OAs, especially regarding the notion of “organisational closure”. I assess the account of normativity that such accounts advance and its implications for how we approach Hegel. Finally, I argue that the notion of “organisation” is more fundamental to Hegel’s theory of animal normativity than the Aristotelian notion of “Gattung” or “species”, which by contrast appears derivative – at least in the Philosophy of Nature and the Lectures – and does not play the central role in his account maintained by some scholars.

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Authors & Contributors
Ruse, Michael
Boucher, Sandy C.
Wells, Aaron
Brooks, Daniel S.
Gambarotto, Andrea
Zammito, John H.
Philosophy of biology
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
20th century, late
20th century

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