Cusanus, Buhle and Hegel

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

That Hegel knew of Cusanus and in detail via Johann Gottlieb Buhle’s Geschichte der neuern Philosophie is as certain as the denial by academics that he had this knowledge (see my earlier posts ‘Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel’ and ‘Hegel, mystic’ ).

What obviously warrants questioning is why Hegel never even named Cusanus1 and why this detailed knowledge of Cusanus by Hegel, who cited Buhle’s history, has ‘gone without notice’ by those who have otherwise pored over his every word.

My contention in my thesis will be that Hegel was, like Cusanus, a Christian Neoplatonist – obviously a mystic (Cusanus’s priesthood overt, Hegel’s concealed), that for Hegel to acknowledge his profound debt to Cusanus, to Proclus (noted by Feuerbach) and particularly to the genius Plotinus would have exposed his philosophy for the mysticism it is (noted by Marx) and forever ‘condemned’ his most determined claim to the mastery of ‘reason’ – a claim central to the justification of both Western patriarchy and particularly, Western supremacism.2

The suppression of the knowledge of the profound, living influence of mysticism on Western culture by those in positions to be the upholders of that culture (see William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot Be Said) – a most gross failure of social and intellectual responsibility – is on the back of an ideologically driven lie which, with the exponential development of science (our knowledge of the world) post-Marx, is increasingly an impediment to the structuring, development and application of that knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.

Generations of time-serving academics in particular should be held to account for their complicity in this – even as those now, with a more attuned weather-eye, shamelessly, carefully update their post-modernism, post-pomo hymnals.

Instant experts on what they never dared to touch previously – even though it was all around them.

Below, in no particular order, are 60 of my working-points I have identified in relation to Cusanus and Hegel which I am exploring and will be writing about in my thesis.

  • both were Christian Neoplatonists
  • the philosophies of both are very complex
  • the two ‘reasons’ (what Hegel referred to as Verstand and Vernunft)
  • on God: God is the beginning and end of all things/God as a creative force/God is not transcendent but immanent
  • how God can be known
  • oneness/otherness?
  • the universe is an ensemble of relational constructs
  • many of their key terms are used without clear definition
  • the mysticism of both is intellectual
  • the systems of both were an attempt to address a perceived challenge to unity
  • both used devices: metaphor, paradox etc.
  • the triune Trinity
  • the world and everything in it is an image of the divine source
  • both their enquiries tie philosophy to Christian faith
  • both of them applied mathematical concepts to metaphysical subjects
  • subject/object: the unity of knower/knowing/known, seer/seeing/seen
  • Christ become man is the link between God and world
  • God is a logical concept
  • what knowledge is/all knowledge is ‘speculative’
  • the philosophies of both are inaccessible for the non-scholarly
  • their position on the syllogism/formal logic
  • circles
  • freedom
  • negation/negation of negation
  • for both, Being (God) is primary to being and non-being
  • for both, philosophy is theology
  • both sought to reconstruct the grounds of philosophy and theology and the relationship between them
  • both stressed the active role man plays in the formation of his history and culture
  • both thought their philosophies represented a break from previous philosophy
  • both believed man was estranged from God
  • self-knowledge is at the core of man’s experience
  • man’s creativity is social
  • God cannot be predicated
  • on the intellect, the object of desire
  • the world originates in (divine) Reason
  • on the relation between being and not-being
  • our ‘minds’ are models of ‘the mind’ of God – what his ‘mind’ does is replicated by ours conceptually
  • God is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness
  • on a and not-a
  • on order
  • on modality
  • on beginning and end
  • same concepts:

– absolute

– being and nothing

– coincidence (coincidentia oppositorum)

– contraction

– contradiction

– emanation and return (from the One to the many and return)

– enfolding/unfolding

– finite/infinite

– modes of apprehending

– magnitude (maximum/minimum)

– rational ground

– posse

  • modes of being
  • Plotinus’ sculptor
  • truth/Absolute Truth
  • humanism
  • their society
  • the starting point in the creation of their philosophical systems
  • Cusa was far more philosophical than either Eckhart or Böhme
  • science for both
  • their metaphysical understanding of the world
  • the eye that sees its other etc.
  • the importance of ‘community’ in their philosophies
  • their views on language
  • on sense experience
  • the world is change
  • Catholicism
  • nature
  • their method



1. I think the following words by Hegel refer to Cusanus: ‘In the Middle Ages, for example, there were plenty of naïve chroniclers, but they were monks rather than statesmen. Admittedly, there were learned bishops among them who had been at the centre of affairs and were familiar with the business of state, and who [were therefore] themselves statesmen…’ G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, Trans., H.B.Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, 15

2. G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy, Together With the Introductions from the Other Series of These Lectures, Trans. Robert F.Brown and J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009

‘No philosophy in the proper sense, however, can be found (in the Oriental world).’ 89

‘In the West we are on the proper soil of philosophy…One epoch is Greek philosophy and the other is Germanic philosophy, or philosophy within Christendom as related to the Germanic nations…’ 91

‘Oriental philosophy remains impoverished, arid, and just a matter for the understanding. For this reason we find, on the part of Orientals, only reflections, only arid understanding, a completely external enumeration of elements, something utterly deplorable, empty, pedantic, and devoid of spirit, an elaboration of logic similar to the old Wolffian logic. It is the same with Oriental ceremonies.
This is the general character of Oriental religious representations and philosophy. There is, as in their cultus, on their one hand an immersion in devotion, in substance, and so the pedantic detail of the cultus – a vast array of the most tasteless ceremonies and religious activities – and on the other hand, the sublimity and boundlessness in which everything perishes.
There are two Oriental peoples whom I wish to mention, the Chinese and the Indians.’ 106

‘On the whole we have only two periods in the history of philosophy, namely, Greek philosophy and Germanic philosophy, together with their dissemination to other peoples. …Insofar as the European peoples belong to the world of thought, we can call them “Germanic peoples.”’ 232


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’ 285


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003

‘Negroes are to be regarded as a race of children…They are sold, and let themselves be sold, without any reflection on the rights or wrongs of the matter. …They cannot be denied a capacity for education; not only have they, here and there, adopted Christianity with the greatest gratitude and spoken movingly of the freedom they have acquired through Christianity after a long spiritual servitude, but in Haiti they have even formed a State on Christian principles.’ 42-43

‘The Mongols, on the other hand, rise above this childish naïveté; they reveal as their characteristic feature a restless mobility which comes to no fixed result and impels them to spread like monstrous locust swarms over other countries and then to sink back again into the thoughtless indifference and dull inertia which preceded this outburst.’ 43

‘the Chinese…have no compunction in exposing or simply destroying their infants. It is in the Caucasian race that mind first attains to absolute unity with itself. …and in doing so creates world-history.’ 44

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’ 45


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s