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Hegel, Analogy, and Extraterrestrial Life

Part of the Advances in Astrobiology and Biogeophysics book series (ASTROBIO)

Abstract

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel rejected the possibility of life outside of the Earth, according to several scholars of extraterrestrial life. Their position is that the solar system and specifically the planet Earth is the unique place in the cosmos where life, intelligence, and rationality can be. The present study offers a very different interpretation of Hegel’s statements about the place of life on Earth by suggesting that, although Hegel did not believe that there were other solar systems where rationality is present, he did in fact suggest that planets in general, not the Earth exclusively, have life and possibly also intelligent inhabitants. Analogical syllogisms are superficial, according to Hegel, insofar as they try to conclude that there is life on the Moon even though there is no evidence of water or air on that body. Similar analogical arguments for life on the Sun made by Johann Elert Bode and William Herschel were considered by Hegel to be equally superficial. Analogical arguments were also used by astronomers and philosophers to suggest that life could be found on other planets in our solar system. Hegel offers no critique of analogical arguments for life on other planets, and in fact Hegel believed that life would be found on other planets. Planets, after all, have meteorological processes and therefore are “living” according to his philosophical account, unlike the Moon, Sun, and comets. Whereas William Herschel was already finding great similarities between the Sun and the stars and had extended these similarities to the property of having planets or being themselves inhabitable worlds, Hegel rejected this analogy. The Sun and stars have some properties in common, but for Hegel one cannot conclude from these similarities to the necessity that stars have planets. Hegel’s arguments against the presence of life in the solar system were not directed against other planets, but rather against the Sun and Moon, both of which he said have a different nature from Earth and planets. Although he did not explicitly discuss the possibility of life on comets, the fourth type of body in his theory of the solar system, it is clear that he rejected the views of Bode and Johann Heinrich Lambert, who did defend this possibility. Again, Hegel’s critique of the use of analogical argument is important here. The Sun, comets, and moons are not analogous to the Earth or to the planets; these are four different bodies with different forms of motion and different physical constitutions. Only planets have completeness according to Hegel because only they have water, air, earth, and light, and completeness in this sense is necessary for life. Hegel discerned a need to make distinctions in nature rather than to consider superficially different realities as fundamentally similar. Celestial bodies should not be considered, according to Hegel, as all of one type or nature, as one kind.

Keywords

  • Solar System
  • Celestial Body
  • Analogical Argument
  • Analogical Reasoning
  • Heavenly Body

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All translations from Greek and German sources are by the author. Citations to works by Aristotle and Plato use the Bekker number and Stephanus pagination, respectively.

  2. 2.

    See also Ernst Cassirer’s treatment of Giacomo Zabarella (Cassirer 1911, Bd. 1, 136–140).

  3. 3.

    For a discussion of analogy in Newton’s thought and its influence on eighteenth-century philosophy and science, see Gilardi (1988).

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Ross, J.T. (2013). Hegel, Analogy, and Extraterrestrial Life. In: Vakoch, D. (eds) Astrobiology, History, and Society. Advances in Astrobiology and Biogeophysics. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-35983-5_4

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