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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC092-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Naturphilosophie refers to a philosophical movement that began in Germany during the 1790s, characterised by a holistic, dynamic, and organic approach to the study of nature. The German term is conventionally left untranslated in English, for the most obvious rendering, ‘philosophy of nature’, fails to capture the ambitions evoked by the original. The proponents of Naturphilosophie, including Karl Friedrich Kielmeyer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, F.W.J. von Schelling, and G.W.F. Hegel, attempted to supplant previous modes of philosophy by advancing a holistic conception of nature in which matter, the celestial system, organic bodies, and the mind feature within a single, self-organising process.

The core of Naturphilosophie can be defined by its distinctive metaphysical and epistemological commitments. In terms of metaphysics, its proponents were convinced that new research in magnetic, electrical, chemical, and biological phenomena could not be reduced to the mechanical interaction of particulate matter. They argued that natural science requires a new conception of nature in which the whole is prioritised over the parts. In terms of epistemology, proponents of Naturphilosophie argued that because nature is self-organising, it must be understood philosophically. This did not mean that empirical inquiry should be subordinate to philosophy but rather that experiments and observations should be interpreted speculatively, for the development of nature exhibits a rational structure.

Naturphilosophie fell out of favour during the mid-nineteenth century with the rise of a mechanistic and materialist movement in natural science. Yet significant currents of Naturphilosophie persisted throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and several aspects remain pertinent in contemporary philosophy.

Citing this article:
Cooper, Andrew. Naturphilosophie, 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC092-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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