Darwinian Hegelianism

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For many people, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is nothing but a faint memory from an era long since overcome. On the Continent, German Idealism was eventually challenged by Existentialism, then by Stucturalism, which eventually morphed into Post-Structuralism. Meanwhile, in the Anglophone world, the Analytic tradition based itself on the explicit rejection of supposedly obscurantist philosophies. No single philosopher has been subject to as much scrutiny from the Analytic school as Hegel. A thinker who supposedly reveled in self-contradition had no place in a world of formal logic.

Not only was Hegel himself discarded, but many of his academic descendents have also been set aside as outdated relics. The so-called "Right Hegelians" are of little interest outside of theology, and are otherwise only mentioned so as to define the Young Hegelians. Meanwhile, the generation of thinkers inspired by Ludwig Freuerbach have been given a mixed bag of reactions. Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalysts adjacent to him are respected for their place in the history of psychology, but are considered outdated. Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche are at best seen as edgy curiosities, and as worst seen as dangerous. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, when they are not merely considered wrong, are explicitly demonized as inspirations for totalitarianism in much of the world.

However, there is a notable exception to this trend: a Hegelo-Freuerbachian who is not only still respected, but who has been elevated to common sense. This figure is none other than Charles Darwin. The bad news is that not being aware of the influence of Hegel on Darwin removes a key component of Darwinism. The good news is that, once this connection has been reestablished, we can use Darwin as a way to illustrate Hegelian concept to modern audiences.

Let us begin with what is perhaps the single most infamous element of Hegel's philosophy: the Triad, popularly redered as "theses, antithesis, synthesis." Even if we ingore the fact that the popular formulation doesn't even come from Hegel (it instead comes from Fichte), the triad sets itself up for criticism. How is it that we can produce a meaningful synthesis from a thesis and its antithesis? Perhaps clearer is Hegel's own triadic formulation. This is the formula of "abstract, negative, concrete." People who are in the know will often throw this at anyone criticizing the Fichtean formulation as a much more self-explanatory interpretation of the Triad. The thing is, it still comes across as mystical to many people.

Here's where Darwin comes in: instead of dealing with concepts, we shall deal with biological species in an analogous manner. In this case, the abstract is a given species, as it currently exists. The negative is some sort of challenge to the survival of the species. For example, the negative could be a predator species, a parasite, a change in the surrounding environment, or something else of the sort. According to Darwin's principle of natural selection, organisms that are better suited to dealing with these challenges are more likely to survive. Therefore, the next generations of the species will have a higher proportion of descent from the organisms who could deal with the challenge. Over time, the species as a whole is said to adapt to the challenge, where overcoming it becomes relatively passive. The concrete is therefore the species after it has evolved to overcome the given challenge.

Here's another application of a particularly infamous Hegelian concept: Aufhebung, which is itself linked to the Triad from earlier. "Aufhebung" is notorious for the multitude of different senses, often contradictory, that it can be translated to in English. If we were to literally translate the word, piece by piece, then "Auf-" becomes "up-" and "-hebung" becomes "-heaving," so "Aufhebung" means "upheaving." However, as for how it is used, Aufhebung can be used to mean maintaining something, or to mean abolishing it, or that it is sublated. This last translation is perhaps best, given that the English word "sublate" comes from the Latin "SVBLATVM," the past participle of "SVFFERO," which has as a possible connotation that of holding something up.

What aspect of natural selection can simultaneously account for maintaining, abolishing, and sublating/upheaving? The answer is natural selection itself! The evolution of a species at once maintains its existence and replaces it with a new species, and this entire process can be neatly summed up as upheval.

This article is currently unfinished.