natural philosophy

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natural philosophy

(now only used in Scottish universities) physical science, esp physics
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Natural Philosophy


the philosophy of nature; a speculative interpretation of nature viewed in its [nature’s] entirety. Throughout the history of philosophy, the distinction between natural science and natural philosophy (as well as the latter’s place in philosophy) has often changed.

The most important period of natural philosophy was in classical antiquity. Natural philosophy was the first historical form of philosophy. Ancient Greek natural philosophers advanced a number of hypotheses that played an important role in the history of science; the most important hypothesis was that of the atomists. Later, natural philosophy was usually referred to as physics or physiology, that is, teachings about nature. The term “natural philosophy” (philosophia naturalis) was introduced by the Stoics (Seneca).

During the Middle Ages, when philosophy sought to substantiate the geocentric theory of the universe, natural philosophy underwent a period of almost total decline. Individual elements of classical natural philosophy were adapted to creationistic ideas of Christian, Muslim, and Judaic theology.

The Renaissance philosophers’ awakened interest in nature led to a revival of natural philosophy, which was associated with G. Bruno, B. Telesio, T. Campanella, G. Cardano, Paracelsus, and F. Patrizi. The natural philosophy of the Renaissance was based on pantheism and hylozoism. The principle of the identical nature of the microcosmos and macrocosmos was particularly widespread. Renaissance natural philosophy advanced the principle of the integral study of nature as well as a number of profound dialectical theses, for example, the thesis of the struggle between opposing elements as a source of change. However, on the whole, the Renaissance natural philosophers’ understanding of nature was to a large extent fantastical and included astrological and alchemical concepts. Intense efforts to master the forces of nature led to an interest in magic, cabalism, and Pythagorean number-mysticism.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, during the era of the rapid progress of mechanistic natural science, when analytic methods and the metaphysical method of examining nature prevailed, natural philosophy declined in importance. In German classical philosophy, natural philosophy again emerged as one of the principal philosphical disciplines, particularly in the philosophy of F. W. J. von Schelling, who attempted to summarize the achievements of contemporary natural science from the standpoint of objective idealism. Schelling introduced the dialectical concept of polarity, which he defined as the principle of the differentiation of the primary unity of nature. He proposed that higher forms represent, in a manner of speaking, the raising of lower forms to a higher power. Schelling’s natural philosophy was continued by L. Oken (Germany) and D. M. Vellanskii (Russia), as well as by natural scientists, including the physicist H. C. Oersted, the geologist H. Steffens, the biologists G. Treviranus and C. G. Carus, and the psychologist G. Schubert.

Marx and Engels highly valued the importance of “old natural philosophy”; however, they demonstrated its historical limitations. Describing natural philosophy, Engels wrote that it put “in place of the real but as yet unknown interconnections ideal, fancied ones, filling in the missing facts by figments of the mind and bridging the actual gaps merely in imagination. In the course of this procedure, it conceived many brilliant ideas and foreshadowed many later discoveries, but it also produced a considerable amount of nonsense, which indeed could not have been otherwise. Today, when one needs to comprehend the results of natural scientific investigation only dialectically, that is, in the sense of their own interconnection, . . . natural philosophy is finally disposed of” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, pp. 304–05).

Attempts to revive natural philosophy were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by W. Ostwald, H. Driesch, T. Lipps, and others. These men sought to overcome, by means of natural philosophy, the crisis of modern natural science. Elements of idealistic natural philosophy are present in the theory of emergent evolution and in the philosophy of A. Whitehead.

Dialectical materialism, proceeding from the Leninist delineation of the philosophical concept of matter and its natural scientific investigation, denies the possibility of natural philosophy as a separate philosophical discipline which dominates and directs the progress of the natural sciences.


Dingier, H. Geschichte der Naturphilosophie. Berlin, 1932.
Holländer, A. Vom Wesen der Natur: Einführung in die traditionelle Naturphilosophie. Vienna, 1948.
Bense, M. Der Begriff der Naturphilosophie. Stuttgart, 1953.
Naturphilosophie: Von der Spekulation zur Wissenschaft. Edited by H. Hörz, R. Lother, and S. Wollgast. Berlin, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(50) See Dalia Nassar, "From a Philosophy of Self to a Philosophy of Nature: Goethe and the Development of Schelling's Naturphilosophie", Achive fur Geschichte der Philosophie, 92, 2010: 304-321.
(43) While Aristotle's proofs of the First Mover are totally tied to his cosmology of the spheres, Aquinas attempts to liberate the demonstration from its less valid assumptions and to present a more coherent and well-argued philosophy of nature, as being somehow that of Aristotle.
F., Hegel's Philosophy Of Nature, Being Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, 1830, trans.
Magnetism is one of the determinations which inevitably became prominent when the concept was suspected in specific natural phenomena, and the idea of a Philosophy of Nature was grasped.
philosophy of nature. In developing his physical theory he
The debate itself, focused on the understanding of the causes of ecological crisis, becomes connected to the distinction between the philosophy of nature and transcendental nature-teaching (Lauth, 1984).
(14) In looking for conceptual resources to elaborate an environmental ethics, I primarily draw on Schelling's four 1794-6 essays where he first distances himself from Fichte and gravitates around Spinoza, before developing his own constructive naturphilosophie in the 1799 First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature. I also draw on Schelling's more mature, and hence often clearer and more refined presentations of his fusion of Fichte and Spinoza into a naturphilosophie in the 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism (which despite its title already presupposes Schelling's philosophy of nature), the 1809 Philosophical Inquiries into the Essence of Human Freedom, and the 1811 Clara, or On Nature's Connection to the Spirit World.
Thus, the Epicurean art of living is based on a materialist philosophy of nature, serving the purpose of freeing human beings from god-fearing superstition and god-worshiping religiosity:
Clearly we need a contemporary philosophy of nature, and B.
Janos's migration finds a perfect counterpart in his transcultural and comparative works, among which are Bifocal Vision: Novalis' Philosophy of Nature and Disease (University of North Carolina Press, 1971), The Emancipation of Music from Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), The Fin-de-Siecle Culture of Adolescence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), Cultural History After Foucault (1999), and History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe (2007).
"Introduction to the Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature." In First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, 193-232.
The Encyclopedia contained three parts, namely the Science of Logic ([section][section] 19-244), the Philosophy of Nature ([section][section] 245-376), and the Philosophy of Spirit ([section][section] 377-577).

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