Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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

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

Proclus (412-485)

Proclus (412-485)

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

Jakob Schlesinger, ‘Bildnis des Philosophen Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, Berlin 1831, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

Jakob Schlesinger, ‘Bildnis des Philosophen Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ (1770-1831), Berlin 1831, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin





1. Hegel and capitalist ideology

1.1 Hegel and Western supremacism

1.2 Paul Redding and Hegel’s Neoplatonism

2. The criticism by Hegel and Plotinus of their societies

3. Hegel and subjectivity

4. Hegel’s Reason

5. Hegel’s Neoplatonic world of God the self

6. Key elements in the Neoplatonism of Hegel and Plotinus

6.1 Plotinus’ phenomenology of spirit

6.2 Movement and rest

6.3 A life of creative dynamism

6.4 Plotinus’ sculptor

6.5 Emanation and return

7. Hegel conflated the Neoplatonic hypostases

7.1 in the philosophy of Plotinus

7.2 in the philosophy of Proclus

7.3 and in his own philosophy

8a/8. Subject and object

8.1 What is Neoplatonic thinking?

8.2 In knowing its objects, subject knows itself

8.3 How is the subject to know itself? Distinction, desire and possession

8.4 Hegel’s application of this Neoplatonic distinction

8.4.1 consciousness and its other, self-consciousness

8.4.2 The ‘I’ and its other, ‘Not-I’

8.4.3 God and his other, Christ

8.4.4 ‘Mind’ and its other, itself

8.4.5 being and its other, nothing

8b/8.5 Hegel’s recognitive theory of Spirit and his Neoplatonic cultus

8.6 God loves himself in his collective other

9a/9. Hegel’s cognition of God

9.1 What is cognised?

9.2 God is a Neoplatonic process

9.3 Plotinus and Cusanus: impressions become concepts

9b/9.4 Hegel’s Intuition

9c/9.5 God is cognised in a perspectival community

9.6 Hegel’s perspectival community – the kingdom of God

9.7 The cultus is the site of freedom

9.8 Flight of the alone to the Alone – a priesthood of philosophers

10a/10. Concepts, propositions, predication and the speculative sentence

10.1 Hegel, philosopher of concrete concepts

10.2 Hegel’s concepts are spiritual, religious and open

10.3 Speculative exposition preserves the dialectical form

10.4 Neoplatonic concepts are always dynamic

10.5 The importance of negation

10.6 Hegel used his concepts mytho-poetically

10b/10.7 Hegel and Plotinus rejected propositions of the understanding from their speculative philosophy

10.8 Proclus and Cusanus on propositions

10.9 Hegel’s ultimate concepts – beyond predication

10.9.1 God

10.9.2 Absolute

10.9.3 Spirit

10.9.4 Concept/Notion

10.9.5 Absolute Idea

11a/11. Hegel, prose poet

11.1 Language is the ‘mind’s’ perfect expression

11.1.1 The German language has many advantages

11.1.2 The sound of speech

11.2 On the importance of feeling to philosophy

11b/11.3 Hegel’s speculative thinking and his poetic imagination

11.3.1 Speculative philosophy and metaphor

11.3.2 Hegel and metaphor

11c/11.3.3 Hegel’s ‘Trinity’ – symbolism and allegory within a Neoplatonic metaphor

11.3.4 The Christian Trinity and Neoplatonism

11.3.5 Proclus’ triad: Being, Life and Intelligence

11.3.6 Hegel on Proclus’ triad

11.3.7 Hegel’s Neoplatonic Trinity

11.3.8 The Trinity is a metaphor that points to a truth beyond itself

11d/11.3.9 Core Neoplatonic metaphors Hegel used Emanation and return (including elevation and introversion) Light Mirror Sight

11e/11.3.10 Hegel infused the Trinity with Neoplatonic symbolism God as a symbol for unity and difference Christ as a symbol for unity in difference Christ as a symbol for emanation Christ as a symbol for mystery Christ as a symbol for the unity of divine and human Christ as a symbol for the unity of infinite and finite Christ as a symbol for the unity of eternal and in time Christ as a symbol for the journey of the soul Christ as a symbol for the process of spirit and self-cognition Christ as a symbol for contradiction Christ as a symbol for the process of negation Christ as a symbol for recollection Christ as a symbol for the means of return and unification The Holy Spirit as a symbol for the return to unity in knowledge The rose and the owl face each other

11f/11.3.11 The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Logic unite in the Enneads

11g/ The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Enneads The Phenomenology of Spirit: theatre of the ‘mind’

11h/ The Science of Logic and Neoplatonism

11i/ The Science of Logic is a theology

11j/ With what does the Science of Logic begin?

11k/ Being, being and nothing

11l/ God: conceptual and categorial

11m/ Metaphor and prose poetry

12a/12. Hegel and Proclus

12.1 Academics on Hegel, Neoplatonism and Proclus

12.2 Hegel on Neoplatonism and Proclus

12b/12.3 The philosophies of Hegel and Proclus

12.3.1 Neoplatonists are not philosophers

12c/12.3.2 The reconciliation of faith and ‘reason’

12d/12.3.3 The retreat into a philosophy of subjectivity – ‘ancient’ becomes ‘modern’

13a/13. Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa

13.1 The use of Neoplatonism

13.2 Philosophers who didn’t acknowledge those who influenced them

13b/13.3 ‘Cusa’s direct influence on Modern thought is small; an immediate common-bond is scarcely confirmable.’

13c/13.4 A Neoplatonist must never be acknowledged as the initiator of modern Western philosophy

13d/13.4.1 Hegel knew of Cusanus, in detail

13e/13.4.2 Some more writing on Cusanus that Hegel read

13f/13.5 What the academics refuse to acknowledge in Hegel they incorrectly attribute in Cusanus

13.6 Parallels between Hegel and Cusanus

13g/13.6.1 Both Hegel and Cusanus sought to reconstruct the grounds of philosophy and theology and the relationship between them

13h/13.6.2 Hegel followed Cusanus in structuring his Neoplatonism on Proclus’ triad of triads Further discussion of Proclus’ triad Proclus and Cusanus Cusanus and Hegel overlaid the Christian Trinity on Proclus’ triad, exploring its theological and philosophical potential How successful were both in bringing their treatment of the Trinity into sync with Proclus’ triad?

13i/13.6.3 Their philosophies are the world-valuing, intellectual mysticism of Neoplatonism

13j/13.6.4 The God of Hegel and Cusanus

13k/13.6.5 Infinity and the finite

13l/ ‘Understanding’, ‘reason’, finitude and infinity

13m/ The fundamental notion in philosophy, conflation and the Proclean triad

13n/ Measure, circles, spheres and God

13o/ The use to an absolute idealist of the historical Christ and of Christianity

13p/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’

13q/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13r/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13s/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13t/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13u/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13v/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

13w/13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (concluded)

14a/14. Magee on Hermeticism, Böhme and Hegel

14.1 Magee’s misrepresentation of the Hermetica

14b/14.2 But wait! Shockingly, there’s more!

14c/14.2 But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

14d/14.2 But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

14e/14.2 But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

14f/14.3 The influence of Neoplatonism

14g/14.4  If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process?

14h/14.4 If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process? (concluded)

15a/15. Conclusion

15b/15. Conclusion (continued)

15c/15. Conclusion (continued)

15d/15. Conclusion (continued)

15e/15. Conclusion (concluded)

Complete thesis with choice of colours for the title page:

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 8b

8.5 Hegel’s recognitive theory of Spirit and his Neoplatonic cultus

Hegel’s recognitive theory is the extension from and culmination of the process that takes place between subject and its object within the consciousness of an individual to what takes place between subject and object externally, between individuals in society. The end-point of divine unity in the former finds its fullest manifestation in the latter as a collective cultus.

The Enneads addresses not only the return to unity of one soul but the return to the unity-in-diversity of all souls which Plotinus believed we always are. He maintained that we are one and have the One God within us.

The Neoplatonic focus on self and the goal of unity to be found between two elements of self (self -consciousness and now, self-consciousness in its otherness) is clear in Hegel’s theory

Self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness. …A self-consciousness exists for a self-consciousness. Only so is it in fact self-consciousness; for only in this way does the unity of itself in its otherness (my italics) become explicit for it.1

Redding set out Hegel’s recognitive theory as Hegel wished it to be understood

from X’s particular perspective, Y is presented as an objective Subject-Object, that is, an objective being with intentionality. Because X can see its own intentional desire reflected back to it in Y’s action, it can grasp itself as the subject of that intention. But it can only recognise Y.’s behaviour as intentional because that behaviour is directed toward an object, and X itself is that object. So X.’s recognition of Y’s behaviour as intentional, a recognition that is a precondition for grasping its own subjectivity, also implies that X must grasp its own objectivity.2

But Redding unintentionally points to the basis of Hegel’s argument – that relationships between subject-objects function Neoplatonically. Redding did this by stating that for Hegel, the concepts of recognition and spirit are linked and by sandwiching his discussion between references to Neoplatonic speculative reason (Hegel’s Vernunft), to Cusanus’ Neoplatonic coincidentia oppositorum, to Neoplatonic perspectivism and to the Neoplatonic interest in the relation between finite and infinite – the finite being the individual subject and the infinite being Plotinus’ unity-in-diversity of perspectival souls – Hegel’s cultus – thus, an infinite unity-in-diversity of finite subject-objects

Here again we encounter Hegel’s own version of the Cusan ‘identity of opposites’…the ‘contradiction’ works here at the level of the ‘indexicality,’ ‘subjectivity,’ or ‘point of view’ from which the intentions are held, not at the level of any propositional content: it arises when an intention is common to subjects facing each other from opposed points of view. …It is thereby that each Subject-Object becomes self-conscious of itself as Subject-Object, or, to use the Cusan term, as a ‘finite-infinite.’3

Redding quoted Hegel’s well-known description in his Phenomenology of Spirit of what encapsulates his cultus

the experience of what Spirit is – this absolute substance which is the unity of the different independent self-consciousnesses (my italics) which, in their opposition, enjoy perfect freedom and independence: ‘I’ that is “We’ and ‘We’ that is ‘I’4

and continues his discussion on the progression from subject to subject-objects by employing the Plotinian tropes of mirror and seeing,5 later used by Eckhart (quoted by Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.6) and Cusanus in De visione Dei

The problem of the self-mirroring mirror or the self-seeing eye is overcome by postulating a structure engaging two Subject-Objects in which each is simultaneously ‘mirror and eye.’ And this act, at the same time, furnishes that ‘turning point’ of nature into spirit7

8.6 God loves himself in his collective other

Hegel wrote

(In saying that God is love) the consciousness of the One is to be had only in the consciousness of the other. God is conscious of himself, as Goethe says, only in the other, in absolute externalisation.8

By distinguishing himself from himself, the God of the consummate religion Christianity makes himself an object for himself. Infinite spirit reveals itself to finite humans through Christ who is both infinite and finite. With Christ’s death and God’s return to self, the consciousness of the many individuals in the community is transfigured in a cultus of Spirit, embodying the unity of infinite and finite in the world and symbolising the reconciliation of God with humanity. Thus the kingdom of Spirit is established on earth and the concept of religion is brought to completion.

Strip away the Christian terminology and the pattern for God and individuals is the same. There is the necessity of distinction – for God, by his diremption in the world, for individuals, another individual in a society of individuals. The goal of the process is not the ‘reconciliation’ of one with another but the completion of one self in another and, taken to the fullest extent, with others in a cultus – in that other and those others I behold myself.9 The content of this completion, this unification, is Plotinus’ Absolute

the content of the subjectivity which reconciles itself with itself in another is here the Absolute itself: the Spirit which only in another spirit is the knowing and willing of itself as the Absolute and has the satisfaction of this knowledge.10

Of Hegel’s words, which culminate in overt Neoplatonism

This other, because it likewise exists outside itself, has its self-consciousness only in me, and both the other and I are only this consciousness of being-outside-ourselves and of our identity; we are only this intuition, feeling, and knowledge of our unity.11

Redding wrote

Hegel seems to be saying that the modern God only exists in a particular form of interaction in modern society.12

His words regarding Nietzsche, whose philosophy was also profoundly influenced by Neoplatonism point, though yet again with a total absence of development, to the correct source

This idea of living individuals all caught up in a network of relationships with each other looks like a dynamic version of Leibniz’s monadology and this goes back to Neoplatonism.13



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 110
2. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 112
3. Ibid., 111-112; ‘The ability to recognise the self in the other clearly includes a hermeneutic dimension: one must be able to recognise the other as an objective but intentional being, a being who is in one’s world but in it as a being like oneself with recognisable beliefs and desires about that world. That is, one has to recognise the other not only as a being within one’s perspectivally disclosed world but also as at the apex of another world-disclosing perspective.’ Ibid., 100
4. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 110
5. Plotinus wrote of the relationship between subject and object ‘In the pure Intellectual…the vision and the envisioned are a unity; the seen is as the seeing and seeing as seen.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.8
6. ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and he in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would he.’ In Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 347-348
7. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 114
8. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 193
9. ‘The process is a battle. I cannot be aware of me as myself in another individual, so long as I see in that other an other and an immediate existence: and I am consequently bent upon the suppression of this immediacy of his.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 171. The aggressive language Hegel employs to describe this process is not Neoplatonic – it most probably is sourced in the writing of Böhme. I see it as a means for Hegel of creatively flavouring the broth of his Neoplatonic process just as he used the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ repeatedly to the same effect.
10. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 540
11. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 276
12. Redding, from slide for lecture 9, ‘German Philosophy: Leibniz to Nietzsche,’ the University of Sydney 2010
13. Redding in his lecture at the University of Sydney, 18.10.10. Redding did not expand on this assertion.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Greed, lies and theft are to be expected in a convict culture

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1. Lindsay Murdoch, ’Thousands of East Timorese besiege Australian embassy in Dili’The Sydney Morning Herald, 23.03.16

Bangkok: More than 10,000 Timorese besieged the Australian embassy in Dili on Tuesday to protest Australia’s refusal to negotiate with East Timor on a permanent sea boundary in the oil- and gas-rich Timor Sea.

East Timor’s former president and prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, called on Timorese to rope in 10 other people to attend the protest, one of the largest in the waterfront capital since the country voted to break away from Indonesia in 1999.

In a speech on the eve of the protest Mr Xanana, a hero of East Timor’s independence revolution, said Timorese must “stand firm and raise one voice” to demand that Canberra negotiates with East Timor.

East Timor claims it has lost some US$5 billion (nearly $6.6 billion) in royalties and tax revenue in the Timor Sea since independence, enough to fund its entire budget for three years.

The fledgling half-island nation asserts the vast majority of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea – worth about US$40 billion in royalties and tax alone – would lie in its territory if sea borders reflected the norms of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, a contention Australia rejects.1

Organisers of the protest included student leaders and veterans of East Timor’s long struggle for independence.

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Many former East Timorese activists from Australia have also been involved in planned protests this week in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur to mark the anniversary of the date Australia withdrew its recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

Protesters shouting “hands off Timor oil” and “negotiations now” demanded the case be bought back to the court as Timorese security forces guarded the embassy.

“As a big and powerful country in the region, Australia shouldn’t be using its power to continually steal our future from the Timor Sea,” said Juvinal Dias, a protest organiser from the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea.

“Australia should come to the table with good faith to negotiate with Timor-Leste [East Timor]”.

Protest supporters recalled the sacrifices East Timorese made to help Australia during World War II. “Think about it Australia. Over 40,000 East Timorese died in WWII to help fight the Japanese navy…the East Timorese want nothing more than what’s fair,” Alex Tilman, an official in the office of East Timor’s prime minister, wrote on his Facebook page.

Australia’s Ambassador in Dili, Peter Doyle, said of the protest: “Australia believes in the right to peaceful protest and is confident that the Government of Timor-Leste will ensure the safety and security of the embassy, its staff and any visitors”.

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A complex series of revenue-sharing agreements have allowed some oil and gas developments in the Timor Sea to proceed even though Australia has no settled maritime boundary with East Timor.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month offered to hold “frank and open” discussions with East Timor about the boundary but stopped short of Dili’s request for formal and discrete talks to settle the impasse.

Mr Turnbull said Australia’s long held position was to support treaty arrangements that underpin the current resource sharing in the area and were negotiated in “good faith” and “consistent with international law”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek announced this year that a Labor government would negotiate a new boundary in “good faith” and submit the dispute to international adjudication if bilateral talks failed to produce a result.

Labor’s shift ended a bipartisan consensus on the maritime border issue, a major irritant in Australia’s relations with East Timor.

1. U.S. toady Australia demands that China accepts the same convention with regard to the South China Sea. Australia is one of the richest nations in the world, East Timor one of the poorest. 


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2. Karl Quinn, ’John Cleese may sue Australian company behind “utterly shameless” Fawlty Towers’ rip-off’, The Sydney Morning Herald 23.03.16

John Cleese is threatening to take legal action against an Australian theatre company over claims it has ripped off some of the former Monty Python man’s most famous work.

The Faulty Towers Dining Experience is slated to run at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from April 12 at the Aegean restaurant in Fitzroy, as it has in previous seasons of the festival. This version will be just one of nine iterations of the show that are being staged around the world by Interactive Theatre International, a company founded by New Zealander Alison Pollard-Mansergh in Brisbane in 1999.

Tickets to a recent season at the Sydney Opera House cost up to $195 for dinner and show. The London season runs until September, with tickets costing up to £59. But John Cleese and his co-writer on the two seasons of the Fawlty Towers TV series, ex-wife Connie Booth, receive not a penny.

“I had absolutely no idea this was going on until about a year ago,” Cleese told Fairfax on Wednesday from New Zealand. “I think people will find that very hard to believe, but if people don’t tell you, how do you know?”

Cleese said ITI and associated entities had never sought permission to use the characters, situations and name – albeit with marginally different spelling.

“If they’ve been going for 20 years without paying us a penny, they could well owe us a very significant amount,” he said.

Cleese told Fairfax that over the years many student and amateur productions had sought and been granted permission to stage Fawlty Towers-inspired shows. However, the fact that one of them was making in the region of £1 million a year put it in a completely different category.

“They didn’t ask our permission and we didn’t know it was happening on this scale,” he said. “If little groups are making some money that’s not a problem, but this is entirely different.”

Ms Pollard-Mensargh, founder and artistic director of Interactive Theatre International, which producesFaulty Towers The Dining Experience, responded to Fairfax’s detailed list of questions on the legal status of her show with a short emailed statement.

“We understand that John Cleese has made a comment to the media concerning dinner theatre,” she said.

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“We do not know if his comments were intended to be directed at our show, which has been running for nearly 20 years. If his comments were directed at us we reject them – they are misleading and inaccurate. We are huge fans of his work and wish him all the best with his new show.”

Cleese said he was considering taking legal action to protect the interests of investors in the stage version of his show, Fawlty Towers Live, which will make its world premiere in Sydney in August.

“Now that Fawlty Towers is about to happen as a proper stage show and producers are investing money in what is a risky enterprise, we certainly don’t want other shows out there confusing people.”

That’s a position the producers of Faulty Towers the Dining Experience should be able to identify with. Their website includes a “legal” page, complete with the following warning:

“[We have] a genuine commercial interest to protect. [We] have successfully taken and will continue to take legal action when or if another company brands a similar show closely styled relative to [our] long-running show in such a way that any innocent party wishing to book/commission [our] services or purchase tickets for a show could be misled into thinking that the two outfits were one and the same.”

This reporter reviewed the Melbourne season of the show two years ago, and judged it to be “impersonation, not re-creation, though there are nods to the show’s most famous scenes”. The three characters in the live show are Basil, Manuel and Sybil, and are all clearly derived from the TV series Fawlty Towers, which first aired on the BBC in two seasons in 1975 and 1979.

“These people are completely brazen, utterly shameless,” said Cleese on Wednesday. “The awful thing about our society is that shameless people get away with things – look at [Donald] Trump.

“They take our concepts, they take our characters, they take our characters’ names and then they change the W to a U and say it’s got nothing to do with our show.”

Despite all that, Cleese was still able to appreciate the irony in the situation.

“These people are shamelessly ripping off Connie Booth and myself, and they are publishing aggressive threats against anyone else who would seek to rip them off in the same way,” he said. “It’s absolutely wonderful!”


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 8a

Subject and object

8.1 What is Neoplatonic thinking?

It is the divine activity of a ‘subject’ generated from unity dialectically engaging with its other, its ‘object’. As a result of what develops from that first distinction, (self-)knowledge is finally attained and spiritual reunion achieved. In Hegel’s philosophy, subject comes to unite with its objects in the consciousness of the individual just as self comes to unite with its others in the social cultus.

Plotinus defined thinking as a soul’s

kind of seeking its substance and its self and what made it, and…in turning back in its contemplation and recognising itself it is at that point rightly and properly Intellect.1

For Hegel

Thought’s occupation with itself is a self-producing…Thought brings itself forth, and what it produces in this way is philosophy.2

8.2 In knowing its objects, subject knows itself

Plotinus wrote that self-intellection begins with the need for self-knowledge and asks whether the subject can know its objects without knowing itself, arguing that self and content must be simultaneously present

it is obvious that the Intellectual-Principle must have knowledge of the Intellectual objects. Now, can it know those objects alone or must it not simultaneously know itself, the being whose function it is to know just those things? Can it have self-knowledge in the sense (dismissed above as inadequate) of knowing its content while it ignores itself? Can it be aware of knowing its members and yet remain in ignorance of its own knowing self? Self and content must be simultaneously present3

He emphasised that the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle/Intellect/Divine Mind – Hegel’s ‘reason-world’ – and the objects themselves are all identical activity comprising knower, knowing and known, seer, seeing and seen.

the Intellectual-Principle, its exercise of intellection, and the object of intellection all are identical. Given its intellection identical with intellectual object and the object identical with the Principle itself, it cannot but have self-knowledge: its intellection operates by the intellectual act, which is itself, upon the intellectual object, which similarly is itself. It possesses self-knowing, thus, on every count; the act is itself; and the object, seen in that act-self, is itself.4

8.3 How is the subject to know itself? Distinction, desire and possession

For Plotinus, Intellect requires distinction within itself in order that there be/that it have knowledge

Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition.5

He notes the ‘strange phenomenon’ of a distinction in one self but continues

Unless there is something beyond bare unity, there can be no vision: vision must converge with a visible object. …in so far as there is action, there is diversity. If there be no distinctions, what is there to do, what direction in which to move? An agent must either act upon the extern or be a multiple and so able to act upon itself: making no advance towards anything other than itself, it is motionless, and where it could know only blank fixity it can know nothing.6

Not only must there be diversity but that diversity must be in identity as well

The intellective power, therefore, when occupied with the intellectual act, must be in a state of duality, whether one of the two elements stand actually outside or both lie within: the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity7

In describing Hegel’s method, Magee unintentionally summarised the Neoplatonic position

when the subject wishes to know itself, it must split itself into a subjective side, which knows, and an objective side, which is known.8

Fuelled by recollection, desire by the subject (and Soul) to unite with its object (and source) motivates subject (and Soul) in its passage through multiplicity to that union whereby subject dissolves object within itself.9 Hegel expressed the complex process from distinction to unity in the closing words of his Philosophy of Mind in a quotation from the Metaphysics

thought…becomes an object of thought in coming into contact with and thinking its objects, so that thought and object of thought are the same. For that which is capable of receiving the object of thought, i.e. the substance, is thought. And it is active when it possesses this object.10

8.4 Hegel’s application of this Neoplatonic distinction

8.4.1 consciousness and its other, self-consciousness

This is the distinction between ‘me’ and ‘myself’

Consciousness essentially involves my being for myself, my being object to myself. …this absolutely primal division, the distinction of me from myself11

Consciousness develops into self-consciousness which then has consciousness for its object. This is the subject of the Phenomenology of Spirit in which consciousness undergoes development through stages towards becoming aware of its ‘essence,’ attaining ‘absolute knowing.’

what consciousness examines is its own self…For consciousness is, on the one hand, consciousness of the object, and on the other, consciousness of itself12

8.4.2 The ‘I’ and its other, ‘Not-I’

The ‘I’ distinguishes itself from itself, becoming its opposite. Self-consciousness confronts itself as another ‘I.’ Hegel wrote

I am aware of the object as mine; and thus in it I am aware of me. The formula of self-consciousness is I = I …as it is its own object, there is strictly speaking no object, because there is no distinction between it and the object.13

Plotinus addressed this problem of identifying an object (and a world) in the ‘I,’ long before Hegel

Then, again, in the assertion ‘I am this particular thing’, either the ‘particular thing’ is distinct from the assertor – and there is a false statement – or it is included within it, and, at once, multiplicity is asserted: otherwise the assertion is ‘I am what I am’, or ‘I am I’.

If it be no more than a simple duality able to say ‘I and that other phase’, there is already multiplicity, for there is distinction and ground of distinction, there is number with all its train of separate things.14

8.4.3 God and his other, Christ

In order to fully know himself, God must dirempt himself through Christ’s appearance in the world. God’s revelation is the first negation in the process of self-knowing. His reunion with himself in his other through Christ’s death and resurrection is the negation of that.

God has revealed that his nature consists in having a Son, i.e. in making a distinction within himself, making himself finite, but in his difference remaining in communion with himself15

Magee, to his credit and very rare for an academic, argues that Hegel was an Hermetic thinker and that Jakob Böhme was a crucial influence on Hegel. He wrote that the notion of a process of development and actualisation in God is perhaps the most significant point of influence on Hegel by Böhme

the ‘other’ is necessary for God’s self-consciousness. Without self-consciousness God would not be God, for His knowledge would be incomplete.16

But there are errors and points of contention in Magee’s forceful argument that strangely discounts any consideration of the influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel or the relationship between Hermeticism and Neoplatonism. I will address Magee’s argument in detail later but discuss a couple of the more salient points here.

He wrote that two of the doctrines of the Hermetica that became enduring features of the Hermetic tradition are ‘God requires creation in order to be God’ and ‘God in some sense “completed” or has a need fulfilled through man’s contemplation of Him.’17 Not only did I find neither in the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, I found the opposite in them

in the all there is nothing that he is not…For god is all.18

Then, so great and good was he that he wanted there to be another to admire the one he had made from himself, and straightaway he made mankind, imitator of his reason and attentiveness. God’s will is itself perfect achievement since willing and achievement are complete for him at one and the same moment of time.19

Nothing in this situation is stable, nothing fixed, nothing immobile among things that come to be in heaven and earth: the lone exception is god, and rightly he alone, for he is whole, full and perfect in himself and by himself and about himself.20

he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are. Rather let us worship him by giving thanks, for god finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.21

Böhme’s words

No thing may be revealed to itself without contrariety. If it has no thing that resists it, it always goes out from itself and does not go into itself again. If it does not go into itself again, as into that out of which it originally came, it knows nothing of its cause.22

are essentially the same as of those of Plotinus, quoted above. Magee shows no awareness of or interest in this nor does he consider even the possibility of the influence of Neoplatonism on Böhme and Hegel.

8.4.4 ‘Mind’ and its other, itself

‘Mind’ is a distinguishing of itself from itself on the Neoplatonic model of knower, knowing and known

mind as such, is Reason which sunders itself, on the one hand, into pure infinite form, into a limitless Knowing, and, on the other hand, into the object that is identical with that Knowing.23

‘Mind’ is only actual through the subject seeing in its object what it lacks, what is essential to it and overcoming its Other, thereby making explicit the implicit identity of subject and object

this relation to the Other is, for mind, not merely possible but necessary, because it is through the Other and by the triumph over it, that mind comes to authenticate itself and to be in fact what it ought to be according to its Notion…The Other, the negative, contradiction, disunity, therefore also belongs to the nature of mind.24

8.4.5 being and its other, nothing

In his Science of Logic Hegel utilised all his skill as a prose poet, arguing that being and nothing comprise the first relationship in all that is to develop from there, and that they are reconciled by becoming in determinate being.

Nothing is, therefore, the same determination, or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as, pure being.25

Theorising on this first dialectical relationship in Intellect runs right through the Neoplatonic tradition. After considering what first emanates from the One, Plotinus wrote

We may take it as proved that the emanation of the Transcendent must be a Not-One, something other than pure unity26

Proclus showed a subtlety equal to Hegel in his discussion of being, non-being and the negation of being

with respect to non-being itself, with which there is also a negation of beings, at one time considering it as beyond being, we say that it is the cause and the supplier of beings; but at another time we evince that it is equivalent to being; just as I think…that non-being is in no respect less, if it be lawful so to speak, than being27

Cusanus likewise when writing about the relation between creation, being and nothing in De docta ignorantia

Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist? For it seems that the creation, which is neither God nor nothing, is, as it were, after God and before nothing and in between God and nothing—as one of the sages says: “God is the opposition to nothing by the mediation of being.” Nevertheless, [the creation] cannot be composed of being and not-being. Therefore, it seems neither to be (since it descends from being) nor not to be (since it is before nothing) nor to be a composite of being and nothing.28

and again between Being, being and not-being in De possest

So, in order that I may now tell you the things you asked me concerning negation, let us take the negation which seems to be the first of all negations: viz., “not-being.” Doesn’t this negation both presuppose and deny?

…For through the negation [“not-being”] you see—by a simple intuition from which you exclude everything subsequent to not-being—that the presupposed [being], which precedes not-being, is the eternal being itself of all being.29

Neoplatonic negation, not the Christian Trinity, is the engine of a process of self-knowing both philosophical and religious that is generated from unity, that develops creatively in multiplicity and as a result of that development returns to unity, to the greatest activity in the greatest stillness of consciousness. This development in Intellect, in Mind, in the ‘reason-world’ begins with a necessary first distinction and dialectical relationship between two elements – consciousness/self-consciousness, ‘I’/‘Not-I,’ God/Christ, Mind/itself, being/nothing, and irrespective of the terminology used to analyse that process, follows the Neoplatonic model.



1. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. VII, VI.7.37
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 45
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.1
4. Ibid., V.3.5
5. Ibid., V.3.1
6. Ibid., V.3.10
7. Ibid.
8. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 69-70
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 166
10. Metaphysics xii, 7, 1072b in Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 315
11. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 178
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 54
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 165
14. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.10
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 17
16. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 38
17. Ibid., 13
18. Hermetica, Trans., Brian, P. Copenhaver, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000, XII, 23
19. Asclepius, Ibid., 8
20. Ibid., 30
21. Ibid., 41
22. Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), ‘The Seventh Treatise/The Precious Gate/On Divine Contemplation (1620)’ in The Way to Christ (1624), Trans., Peter Erb, Paulist Press, New York, 1978, 196
23. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 179
24. Ibid., 15
25. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 82
26. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.15
27. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. II, Ch. V
28. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,2,100
29. Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), op. cit., 66-67

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 7

Hegel conflated the Neoplatonic hypostases

7.1 in the philosophy of Plotinus

In his discussion of Plotinus’ philosophy in Lectures on the History of Philosophy, having written of nothing other than the One and unity with it, Hegel continued

What is characteristic in Plotinus is his great enthusiasm for the elevation of spirit to the Good and True – to what has being in and for itself. …The main thing is to raise oneself up to the representation of pure being, for that is the simplifying of the soul through which it is transposed into blissful stillness, because its object too is simple and at rest. …In general, and according to its principal moments, this content is that what is first is essential unity, is essential being [Wesen] as such, as primary. The principle is not things as subsisting, not the apparent multiplicity of existence; on the contrary, it is strictly their unity. …The defining of the One is what matters most. …The first being [Sein] overflows…Plotinus designates this bringing forth as a going-forth, a procession. …God or the Good1 is what engenders…So what is first is what we call the absolute being [Wesen]. Understanding, nous, or thinking consists then in the fact that by returning to itself the primary being beholds itself; it is a seeing and something seen [ein sehendes Sehen]. …These are the main definitions for Plotinus. The first aspect, [that] of dunamis or energeia, is the positing by means of the idea’s returning into itself.2

Hegel’s fundamental ‘error’ repeatedly exemplified in the above – among several ‘errors’ – was to conflate Plotinus’ first and second hypostases – the One/the Good with Intellectual-Principle/Intellect/Divine Mind/Being.

Not only did Plotinus hold the One to be beyond the definition, beyond the seeming conceptual clarity so important to Hegel, the main thing for Plotinus, the goal of his philosophy, is for us to raise ourselves beyond the unity-in-multiplicity of the second hypostasis (nous/Being) and to return to unity with the One – beyond that which creates to the highest consciousness in that which generates. Plotinus wrote

It is precisely because there is nothing within the One that all things are from it: in order that Being may be brought about, the source must be no Being but Being’s generator, in what is to be thought of as the primal act of generation. Seeking nothing, possessing nothing, lacking nothing, the One is perfect and, in our metaphor, has overflowed, and its exuberance has produced the new: this product has turned again to its begetter and been filled and has become its contemplator and so an Intellectual-Principle.3

Any discussion of God’s ‘Mind’ or our ‘mind,’ of the activity of thinker, thinking and thought, of seer and seeing (which require a subject and its object – i.e. distinction) and of Ideas4 pertains to the second hypostasis – they play no part in the first

Generative of all, The Unity is none of all; neither thing nor quantity nor quality nor intellect nor soul; not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not in time: it is the self-defined, unique in form or, better, formless, existing before Form was, or Movement or Rest, all of which are attachments of Being and make Being the manifold it is.5

7.2 in the philosophy of Proclus

After his discussion of Plotinus’ philosophy, Hegel went on to that of Proclus, of whom he wrote that his main work is ‘On Plato’s Theology’. He continued

He finds it necessary to show the Many as One and the One as Many – to lead back to unity the forms that the Many assumes.6

In fact, the person who found it necessary to show the Many as One and the One as Many in the philosophy of Proclus was Hegel. Proclus was utterly consistent with Plotinus on the relationship between the One and the many – for both, the One is distinct and ‘the many’ refers to the unity-in-multiplicity of the second hypostasis, generated by the One.

For the many so far as many, and the one so far as one are different from each other. And so far as neither is from neither, they have no sympathy with each other.7

the one itself will not be different from itself; for it would be many and not one. Nor will it be the same with itself. For this thing which is same is in another, and same is not the one itself. For the one is simply one, because it is not many.8

The one therefore is exempt from the many. The many however subsist primarily in the summit of the first intellectual Gods, and in the intelligible place of survey, as we are taught in the second hypothesis. The one, therefore, entirely transcends an order of this kind, and is the cause of it.9

Further, in both On the Theology of Plato and in his Elements of Theology, Proclus’ writing again repeatedly exposed Hegel’s fundamental ‘error’ in his discussion of Plotinus’ philosophy by restating Plotinus’ position regarding the relationship between the One and being

there is a certain one prior to being, which gives subsistence to being, and is primarily the cause of it; since that which is prior to it is beyond union, and is a cause without habitude with respect to all things, and imparticipable, being exempt from all things.10

the First Principle…has unity only, which implies that it transcends Being11

Hegel continued his conflation of the first and second hypostases into his discussion of Proclus’ triad in the second hypostasis. Hegel wrote ‘As for the definition of the triad, its three moments are the One, the Infinite, and the Limit.’ Again, the One is distinct from this triad. Proclus wrote

Hence it is necessary to arrange the one prior to the one being, (my italics) and to suspend the one being from that which is one alone. For if the one and the one being were the same, and it made no difference to say one and being (since if they differed, the one would again be changed from the one being,) if therefore the one differs in no respect from the one being, all things will be one, and there will not be multitude in beings, nor will it be possible to denominate things, lest there should be two things, the thing and the name.12

7.3 and in his own philosophy

Hegel’s conflation of the hypostases in his discussion of the philosophies of Plotinus and Proclus is repeated in his own system which he then structured under a Neoplatonic reading of the Christian Trinity. For maximum philosophical and creative potential, Hegel collapsed the first hypostasis down into the second – he made Being the first ‘definition’ of the Absolute13 and used ‘One’, ’God,’ ‘Being’ and ‘Mind’ interchangeably. He wrote in his Encyclopaedia Logic ‘the One forms the presupposition of the Many: and in the thought of the One is implied that it explicitly make itself Many.’14

Where Proclus sought to bridge a perceived gap between the transcendent, unparticipated One and the beings it generated by using participated henads, three of the most important uses of Christianity to Hegel (in addition to its poetic potential as metaphor and allegory) were that he both solved this problem, with Christ as God’s participation in the world – the reverse of the world participating in its creator – and, in the process had his first necessary negation and with Christ’s death and resurrection, its negation.15

Hegel also brought the third hypostasis Soul and its product the material world up into this realm. As if in response to Plotinus asking

what reflection of that world could be conceived more beautiful than this of ours? What fire could be a nobler reflection of the fire there than the fire we know here? Or what other earth than this could have been modelled after that earth? And what globe more minutely perfect than this, or more admirably ordered in its course, could have been conceived in the image of the self-centred circling of the World of Intelligibles?16

Hegel argued that

The sensible in general has as its fundamental characteristic externality, the being of things outside each other. Space-time is the externality in which objects are side by side, mutually external, and successive. The sensible mode of consideration is thus accustomed to have before it distinct things that are outside one another. Its basis is that distinctions remain explicit and external. In reason this is not the case.17

In the realm of reason, of Neoplatonic Life, ‘the perfect life, the true, real life’ is unity-in-multiplicity where

the simple substance of Life is the splitting-up of itself into shapes and at the same time the dissolution of these existent differences; and the dissolution of the splitting-up is just as much a splitting up and a forming of members. With this, the two sides of the whole movement which before were distinguished, viz. the passive separatedness of the shapes in the general medium of independence, and the process of Life, collapse into one another.18



1. While both Plotinus and Proclus did refer to the One as ‘God,’ Plotinus also wrote ‘We must therefore take the Unity as infinite not in measureless extension or numerable quantity but in fathomless depts of power. Think of The One as Mind or as God, you think too meanly; use all the resources of understanding to conceive this Unity and, again, it is more authentically one than God,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.6
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 334-337
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.2.1
4. ‘What is new (in Plotinus’ system)…is the notion of making the ‘Ideas’ states of being of the Intellect and no longer distinct objects, of bringing the very subject of thought into the intelligible world, of considering the hypostases less as entities than as spiritual attitudes. His theology is a synthesis of cosmogony (world) and psychogony (soul).’ Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., li-lii.
5. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.3; ‘we know the divine Mind within, that which gives Being and all else of that order: but we know, too, that other, know that it is none of these, but a nobler principle than anything we know as Being; fuller and greater; above reason, mind, and feeling; conferring these powers, not to be confounded with them.’ Ibid., V.3.14
6. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 341-342. In the footnote, the editor wrote ‘The dialectic of the One and the Many is its (The Elements of Theology) opening theme: “Prop. 1. Every manifold in some way participates in unity”…’ Proclus, as I show, was absolutely clear on this point. The unity to which he was referring in Prop. 1 was not that of the One but the unity-in-multiplicity of the second hypostasis. Not only does the editor quote Prop. 5 ‘Every manifold is posterior to the One,’ Prop. 4, which he failed to quote is ‘All that is unified is other than the One itself.’
7. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, Trans., Thomas Taylor, 1816, The Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1995, Bk. II, Ch. I
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., Bk II, Ch. XII. Of Proclus’ The Elements of Theology, Helmig and Steel wrote ’The work is a concatenated demonstration of 217 propositions, which may be divided into two halves: the first 112 propositions establish the One, unity without any multiplicity, as the ultimate cause of reality…,’ Christoph Helmig, Carlos Steel entry, ‘Proclus,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
10. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. III, Ch. III
11. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans. E.R. Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, Prop. 115. Redding noted ‘Proclus…wanted to say that the One couldn’t be thought of as a type of knowable object, couldn’t even be thought of as having being.’ University of Sydney tutorial 17.09.10
12. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. III, Ch. XX. This ‘one being’ became the Divine Mind and Being that creates being of Cusanus and Hegel. More on this later.
13. ‘If we enunciate Being as a predicate of the Absolute, we get the first definition of the latter. The Absolute is Being.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 125. Inwood wrote that Cusanus was the first to use ‘Absolute’ as a noun (in De docta ignorantia), Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, 27. Plotinus used ‘Absolute’ repeatedly as a noun: ‘Certainly this Absolute is none of the things of which it is the source,’ III.8.10 [in the tractate ‘Nature, Contemplation, and the One,’ translated by Creuzer in 1805]; ‘a defined One would not be the One-Absolute: the absolute is prior to the definite.’ V.3.12; ‘And how does the secondarily good (the imaged Good) derive from The Good, the Absolute? What does it hold from the Absolute Good to entitle it to the name?’ V.3.16, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit. Inwood, like so many academics – particularly in philosophy – would benefit in so many ways from studying the writing of Plotinus, a philosopher every bit the equal of and as important as Plato and Aristotle (Hegel described Alexandrian Neoplatonism as ‘the consummation of Greek philosophy’ [Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol I, 202]) – but that would mean confronting his careerism and ideological prejudice – both challenges beyond academic lovers of wisdom and truth. 
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 142
15. ‘God…is the foundation, the beginning point, the point of departure, though at the same time it is simply the abiding unity and not a mere soil out of which the distinctions grow. Instead all distinctions remain enclosed within this universal.’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 374; ‘(God distinguishes) himself from himself while [remaining] at the same time the eternal sublation of the distinction.’ Ibid., vol. III, 278
16. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., II.9.4. Cusanus also conflated the hypostases. Hence his brilliant pronouncements on the world in De docta ignorantia were based in metaphysics not science.
17. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 280
18. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 108; ‘…we must think of it as a quiet, unwavering motion; containing all things and being all things, it is a multiple but at once indivisible and comporting difference.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.5. The reference for the second last quote in the text is Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, I.4.3 

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 6

Key elements in the Neoplatonism of Hegel and Plotinus

6.1 Plotinus’ phenomenology of spirit

Plotinus’ austere phenomenology, written more than one thousand five hundred years before Hegel’s, is a study of Soul’s emanation from and journey back to the philosopher’s god, to itself in its own activity –  rediscovering itself in the process – and to unity with other Souls in their One true source; a study of consciousness, as it thinks outwards and continues to develop in return through its levels or hypostases, energised by desire and recollection.

The second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle is the universe of Spirit, the unity-in-multiplicity of Divine Mind and of all ‘minds’. Everything that is in the sensory universe – including ‘matter’, now immutable – is in this universe, but mutually inclusive, far more alive and eternal.

6.2 Movement and rest

Movement that is spiritual, moral, rational and dialectical is the primary life of the Enneads. It is a marker of Neoplatonism that this movement is both activity and rest. Plotinus wrote of

a movement not spatial but vital, the movement of a single living being whose act is directed to itself, a being which to anything outside is at rest, but is in movement by dint of the inner life it possesses, the eternal life.1

Of his second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle (Intellect, Divine Mind, First Thinker and Thought) he wrote

(Intellect) is both at rest and in motion; for it moves around Him [the Good]. So, then, the universe, too, both moves in its circle and is at rest.2

The greatest activity and stillness are those of God, the One, which Cusanus excellently illustrated in De possest3 with the metaphor of a spinning top – the faster it rotates, the more it is at rest. Hegel drew on this Neoplatonic relationship between activity and rest when he wrote

Reason in and for itself is eternal and at rest, but it is likewise activity, and its actions are exclusively rational. It produces itself from within itself4

6.3 A life of creative dynamism

Creation for the Neoplatonists (most importantly, of self) is a by-product of contemplation, of thought thinking itself. Many times Plotinus gave poetic expression to his vitalism. Particularly, given the importance of infinity to Hegel and his fellow Neoplatonists, Plotinus asked

How is that Power present to the universe?

As a One Life.

Consider the life in any living thing; it does not reach only to some fixed point, unable to permeate the entire being; it is omnipresent. If on this again we are asked, How?, we appeal to the character of this power, not subject to quantity but such that though you divide it mentally for ever you still have the same power, infinite to the core…Conceive it as a power of an ever-fresh infinity, a principle unfailing, inexhaustible, at no point giving out, brimming over with its own vitality.5

Life apart from God is only a shadow. Hegel often gave the same lyrical expression

The fecundity of the Earth causes life to break forth everywhere and in every way6

to the same dialectical vitalism

The things and developments of the natural and spiritual world constitute manifold configurations, and endlessly multiform existence7

As Beethoven concluded his Ninth Symphony with a paean by Schiller to Neoplatonic unity, Hegel concluded his Phenomenology of Spirit with a paean by Schiller to Neoplatonic vitalism.8

6.4 Plotinus’ sculptor

But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.9

Neoplatonism, the philosophy of purification, perfection and unification – of self-making and self-knowing – is built on this simile which recurs in the writing (and in the case of Michelangelo, his sculpture!) of the Neoplatonists.10 In Hegel’s philosophy the work of this sculptor of the soul can be traced as a spiritual movement through the Phenomenology of Spirit then through the Science of Logic, finding completion in Absolute Idea and again as the complete movement of emanation and return through the Trinity of the Encyclopaedia. As one gains in (self-)knowledge, one makes and shapes oneself spiritually. For Hegel, we are self-creating as a species, and history is the mark of Spirit’s struggle to know itself. Spirit too, is Artist.11

the spirit contrives to perceive itself and to know itself as an existent world, and to have itself as its own object. As such, it is like an artist who is impelled to project is own being outside himself and to satisfy himself in his own work.12

6.5 Emanation and return

The Enneads are built on a process of emanation from unity, to distinction and the development of multiplicity, to the resolution of that multiplicity in the return to unity. Hegel maximised the number of ways he could explore this process by laying his Neoplatonic reading of the Trinity (to which I will return) over and weaving it into what he stated in the Introduction to his ‘lesser’ Logic are the three subdivisions of philosophy

I. Logic: the science of the Idea in and for itself.

II. The Philosophy of Nature: the science of the Idea in its otherness.

III. The Philosophy of Mind: the science of the Idea come back to itself out of that otherness.

In his ‘lesser’ Logic he wrote

(The Idea is) an eternal creation, eternal vitality, and eternal spirit…it forever remains reason. The Idea is the dialectic which again makes this mass of understanding and diversity understand its finite nature and the pseudo-independence in its productions, and which brings the diversity back to unity.13

in his Philosophy of Nature

the eternal divine process is a flowing in two opposite directions which meet and permeate each other in what is simply and solely one.14

in his Philosophy of Mind

the ‘I’ sets itself over against itself, makes itself its own object and returns from this difference, which is, of course, only abstract, not yet concrete, into unity with itself.15

Of God he wrote

“God creates the world.” In other words, God posits the world as something that is other, distinct from him (hence something naturally posited); [yet] the world is [also] what continues to belong to God and to be posited by him, so that it has the movement of betaking itself back to him.16

of the Absolute

The Absolute is the universal and one idea, which, by an act of ‘judgement’, particularises itself to the system of specific ideas; which after all are constrained by their nature to come back to the one idea where their truth lies.17

of Spirit

Spirit’s development is a mutual separation and, by means of it, a coming-to-itself. …Whatever takes place in heaven and on earth takes place only in order to attain this goal, which is spirit’s eternal life, its finding itself, its coming to be for itself, its coming together with itself. In its forward movement there is an estrangement, a cleavage. But it is spirit’s very nature to become estranged from itself in order to find itself once again.18

of consciousness

consciousness on its onward path from the immediacy with which it began is led back to absolute knowledge as its innermost truth. This last, the ground, is then also that from which the first proceeds19

of history

What takes shape is a multiplicity or abundance of determinations, with the unity of course remaining, but determining itself within itself, deepening itself internally. The deepening itself internally is by the same token a going-outside-itself, but one that maintains the determinations in unity.20

Even when writing of the ‘four elements,’ he discussed them using the Neoplatonic model, sustained by the implication of Christ’s coming into the world and crucifixion

In the same way that Nature displays itself in the universal elements of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth: Air is the enduring, purely universal, and transparent element; Water, the element that is perpetually sacrificed; Fire, the unity which energises them into opposition while at the same time it perpetually resolves the opposition; lastly, Earth, which is the firm and solid knot of this articulated whole, the subject of these elements and of their process, that from which they start and to which they return21

Using different concepts, every one of these quotations describes the same Neoplatonic process of emanation and return in the ‘world’ of consciousness, in the ‘world’ of the ‘I.’

The systematic philosophy that Plotinus presented unsystematically in his fifty-four tractates is a study of spiritual and moral development, of the One and the Good, a logic of divine thought, a philosophy of nature and of ‘mind.’ Hegel pulled these strands apart and reworked the same Neoplatonic process in each.

He wrote that philosophy is ‘a going-within-itself, a becoming more internally profound’22 and that the point of departure and goal of philosophy is to know that truth is only one, ‘to know it as the source from which all else, all laws of nature, all phenomena of life and consciousness, just issue forth, and to know that they are only reflections of it.’23 Plotinus’ philosophy, as does Hegel’s, holds that that truth is the whole.24 While the philosophy of the latter is much more detailed, that detail was, far more often than not, a development on what was already present or implicit in that of the former.



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.8
2. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. II, II.2.3. Plotinus also referred to the ‘static activity’ of Intellect (II.9.1)
3. ‘God, who is not only maximal motion but also minimal motion (i.e., motion which is most at rest),’ Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), 1460, in A Concise Introduction to the Philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1986, 914-954, 10, 18-19
4. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 209. Again, drawing on Plotinus’ One, ‘(Science exists solely in) the self-movement of the Notion which pulsates within itself but does not move, inwardly vibrates, yet is at rest. It is self-identical, for the differences are tautological; they are differences that are none.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 100 
5. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.5.12
6. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 416
7. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 369. From the notes of one person who attended Hegel’s lectures: ‘The law of the vitality of things is what activates nature. But this law is only in the inner being of things; in space and time it exists only in an external manner, for nature knows nothing of the law.’ Ibid., 384
8. ‘from the chalice of this realm of spirits/foams forth for Him his own infinitude,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., #808
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.6.9
10. ‘For the wise thought as if [along the following line]: a craftsman [who] wants to chisel a statue in stone and [who] has in himself the form of the statue, as an idea, produces – through certain instruments which he moves – the form of the statue in imitation of the idea,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), 1440, in Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance, A Translation and an Appraisal of De Docta Ignorantia, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1990, 3-151, II, 151; ‘Finally, there remains within yourself a pathway of seeking God, viz., [the pathway] of removing boundaries. For when in a piece of wood a craftsman seeks the face of a king, he removes all things bounded otherwise than is that face. For through faith’s conceiving, he sees in the wood the face that he seeks actually to behold with his eye. For to his eye that face is future—[that face] which, in his intellectual conception, is present to his mind by faith. Therefore, when you conceive God to be something better than can be conceived, you remove all that is bounded and contracted,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De Quaerendo Deum (‘On Seeking God’), 1445, in A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 314-330, V, 49. Of ‘The living work of art’ Hegel wrote ‘Although each individual knows how to play the part of at least a torch-bearer, one of them comes forward who is the patterned movement, the smooth elaboration and fluent energy of all the participants. He is an inspired and living work of art that matches strength with its beauty; and on him is bestowed, as a reward for his strength, the decoration with which the statue was honoured, and the honour of being, in place of the god in stone, the highest bodily representation among his people of their essence.’ (my italics) Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 438. The philosophy of Nietzsche was profoundly influenced by Neoplatonism – from The Birth of Tragedy to the final ‘aphorism’ in The Will to Power which, beneath the Nietzschean drama, is a synopsis of the Enneads – ‘Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: the artistic power of the whole of nature reveals itself to the supreme gratification of the primal Oneness amidst the paroxysms of intoxication. The noblest clay, the most precious marble, man, is kneaded and hewn here, and to the chisel-blows of the Dionysiac world-artist there echoes the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries, “Do you bow low, multitudes? Do you sense the Creator, world?”,’ Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music, (1872), Trans., Shaun Whiteside, Ed., Michael Tanner, Penguin, London, 1993, 18. 
11. Ibid., 424
12. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 101
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 278
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 26
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 11
16. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 323
17. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275
18. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 215
19. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 71
20. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 266
21. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 300
22. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 174
23. Ibid., 172
24. ‘The authentic and primal Cosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle…(it is) a life living and having intellection as one act within a unity: every part that it gives forth is a whole; all its content is its very own, for there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest, and therefore nowhere is there any wronging of any other, even among contraries. Everywhere one and complete,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.2.1

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 5

Hegel’s Neoplatonic world of God the self

Hegel wrote that ‘an individual man is God, and God an individual man.’1 More precisely, the kingdom of God lies within and a process which is both a withdrawal inwards and an ‘ascent’ to it is required to gain knowledge of it. Plotinus’ system provided Hegel with his model for a conjunction of the mystical and the metaphysical, the religious and the philosophical.2 It is a model for ‘strong individuals who reach god by their own internal effort.’3

That world within is created by thinking

thinking that strikes home within itself, going within itself, spreading out from there and creating its world from within.4

Plotinus described it as God giving birth to a universe within himself

The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour5

The universal of this world of consciousness6 develops from the power of a singularity – the Neoplatonists used metaphors of seed and tree to describe it. Plotinus compared it with a tree

The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.7

Cusanus compared it with a seed and a tree

For when we take note of a very small grain of mustard and behold its power and might with the eye of our intellect, we find a vestige [of God], so that we are aroused unto marvelling at our God. For although the grain is so small in physical size, nevertheless its power is endless. In this piece of grain there is present (1) a large tree with leaves and branches and (2) many other grains in which, likewise, this same power is present beyond all numbering.8

as did Hegel, never missing an opportunity for metaphor, as well as drawing on the One – the wholly simple that contains not-yet existent multiplicity

The entire tree is contained within the seed. Nothing comes forth from the seed that is not in it, and this seed is simple, is a point. …It is essential to know that there is something wholly simple that contains multiplicity within itself, but in such a way that the multiplicity does not yet exist.

A more important example is the ‘I’. When I say ‘I’, this ‘I’ is something wholly simple; it is the wholly abstract universal, common to everyone. Yet it is the manifold wealth of the individual’s representations, impulses, desires, and the like. Each ‘I’ is a whole world, and this whole world is contained within this simple point, within the ‘I’, which has in itself the energy of all that comes forth from it.9

The activity, the thinking within this immaterial ‘mind’10 is utterly self-referential – it is the exploration by self of itself.

Thinking is movement within self, but pure reference to self, pure identity with self. …Thinking is…at the same time also mediation with itself11

In exploring itself, the ‘I’ creates and knows or assimilates its objects. Self-knowledge is knowledge of the whole

I know everything as mine, as ‘I’, that I grasp every object as a member in the system of what I myself am, in short, that I have in one and the same consciousness myself and the world, that in the world I find myself again, and, conversely, in my consciousness have what is, what possesses objectivity. This unity of the ‘I’ and the object…constitutes the principle of mind12

For Hegel and his fellow Neoplatonists, the completion of the process of emanation and return to the most profound unity entails the fullest consciousness and activity.13 Given his stated aim to cognise the only object of philosophy – God, Hegel’s acknowledgement of what previous Neoplatonists achieved in this regard could not be more significant

the dialectic is none other than the activity or vitality of what thinks itself within itself. The Neoplatonists look upon this connection as exclusively metaphysical, and through it they have come to cognitive knowledge of theology, the unfolding of the mysteries of the divine essence.14



1. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 534
2. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., li
3. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 261
4. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 230
5. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.8.12
6. ‘each of us is an Intellectual Cosmos,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit,. 169; ‘(human nature) enfolds intellectual and sensible nature and encloses all things within itself, so that the ancients were right in calling it a microcosm, or a small world.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), 1440, in Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance, A Translation and an Appraisal of De Docta Ignorantia, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1990, 3-151, III,3,198; ‘Outside there is the natural world; inwardly there is our world, where we are,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. I, op. cit., 258; ‘the world…of consciousness,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 8
7. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.8.15
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De quaerendo Deum (‘On Seeking God’), 1445, in A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 314-330, III, 44
9. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, vol. I, op. cit., 50; ‘(Spirit) seeks to…fulfil and realise its own true nature…just as the seed bears within it the whole nature of the tree and the taste and form of its fruits, so also do the the first glimmerings of spirit contain virtually the whole of history,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 53. Another Neoplatonist, Bergson, whose philosophy influenced some of the most creative artists and writers of the first half of the twentieth century wrote in Creative Evolution ‘…life is tendency, and the essence of a tendency is to develop in the form of a sheaf, creating, by its very growth, divergent directions among which its impetus is divided.’ In H. Larrabee, ed. Selections from Bergson. New York, 1949, 72.
10. ‘Mind is just this elevation…above the material,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op, cit., 179
11. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 111; ‘(the soul) can be an object of consciousness to itself. …(in Neoplatonism) the ‘self’ which is thus known is not an isolated individual, but contains in potentia the whole range of reality. …to know the self truly is to know it as actually one though potentially all things, and thus as divine,’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 203
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op, cit., 165
13. A.H.Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, William Heinemann, London, 1966-1988, vol. I, xxvii
14. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 207

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 4

Hegel’s Reason

Hegel’s claim to a mastery of conceptual ‘reason’ is the core of his philosophy. His status, on the back of its acceptance, is a major element in capitalist ideology and Western supremacism. Many a career has been and continues to be built through a servile pandering to it. That we in the West are the bearers of patriarchal ‘reason’ has been and continues to be used, particularly since the rise of capitalism, as a justification for all forms of domination, exploitation and abuse – the noble white man goes forth to benefit assorted savages.

That Hegel is not recognised as a Neoplatonist shows both the power of ideology and the most determined ignorance of the pervasive philosophy that proves his mysticism by generations of academic guardians. Hegel himself, despite his demand that he be recognised as the master of conceptual reason, who showed how God can be cognised could not, short of openly declaring his Neoplatonism and thereby immediately putting an end to his career, have made the reality more obvious.

Where Divine Reason is the beginning and end for Plotinus1 it is the Alpha and Omega for Hegel.2 Where Plotinus wrote of ‘a stationary wandering, a wandering within “the Meadow of Truth”,’3 Hegel wrote of ‘an eternal realm of truth, a realm of eternal stillness, eternal rest.’4

Using the mystical device of simile, he theorised ‘Reason’ as a Neoplatonic development from unity to multiplicity

Reason is present here as the fluid universal Substance, as unchangeable simple thinghood, which yet bursts asunder into many completely independent beings, just as light bursts asunder into stars as countless self-luminous points5

and not only stated that his philosophy is true ‘reason,’ distinct from ‘the understanding,’ but that it is ‘speculative.’ He repeatedly used these concepts in relation to logic,6 the mystical, the religious, God, the divine – and to Neoplatonism itself. And so he should have. All of this is Neoplatonism

The expression ‘mystical’ does in fact occur frequently in the Neoplatonists, for whom (word in Greek) means none other than ‘to consider speculatively’. The religious mysteries too are secrets to the abstract understanding, and it is only for rational, speculative thinking that they are object or content.7

The distinction Hegel made between (the feminine) ‘die Vernunft’ and (the masculine) ‘der Verstand’ is exactly that which Plotinus made between the reason of contemplation8 and discursive reason, that Proclus made9 and that Cusanus made between ‘intellectus’ and ‘ratio’. The former pertains to Plotinus’ universe of Intellect – what Hegel referred to as ‘the reason-world,’10 the other to the universe of the senses.

Hegel wrote that Vernunft is ‘speculative’ because it is reasoning that is dialectical, that recognises that contradiction is the engine of thought, that thought develops on that basis. This is Neoplatonism. He wrote that Verstand is dead because it holds separate what is contradictory – it holds concepts apart, overlooking their connectedness. This dichotomy of ‘reasons’ is Neoplatonic.

 Of Hegel’s use of the concept ‘speculative’ – Plotinus founded the Western speculative school of philosophy that provided a ‘rational’ account of the mystical,11 of which school Hegel was its consummate member. Proclus frequently used the concept ‘speculative’ as did Cusanus, both in the same way as Hegel, in the same set of conceptual relationships. This is Neoplatonism.

The Neoplatonic dependence of speculation on recollection plays a decisive role in the development in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and the Neoplatonic, speculative sublation of ‘either-ors’ functions both within the thinking of an individual and within the community of individual perspectives comprising Spirit’s cultus. Magee correctly wrote ‘Hegel here has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa.’12



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.2.15
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 19
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.13
4. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 259
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 212
6. ‘what explains Hegel’s choice of the title Logic is the word’s derivation from the Greek logos, a favourite topic of the German mystics, especially Eckhart. The ascent to the Absolute Idea of the Logic closely parallels the classical mystic ascent to the Logos or the Universal Mind.’ Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 266
7. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 345. Hegel followed Plotinus in using space and time to exemplify the externality of the sensible world of the understanding, of Verstand.
8. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 212
9. ‘the divine is an object neither of opinion nor of discursive reason,’ Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R.Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, Prop. 123, 109
10. ‘the reason-world may be equally styled mystical,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 121
11. ‘(Plotinus) is the last great philosopher of antiquity, and yet in more than one respect, and notably in the stress which he places on the autonomy of spirit, he is a precursor of modern times.
He is in the West the founder of that speculative mysticism which expresses in intellectual or rather supra-intellectual and ‘negative’ categories the stages and states of union with the Absolute. It is a mysticism wholly philosophical, transposed into a new key which is specifically Plotinian’ Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., xlii; Chlup points out that ‘Eastern Neoplatonism…(attempted) not to capture all things all at once in their complexity, but rather to analyse this complexity into a network of exactly defined relations.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 20
12. Glenn Alexander Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, Continuum, London, 2010, 203. In this section I have only briefly discussed Hegel’s Neoplatonic use of the concept ‘reason.’ I wanted to introduce it as early as possible, given its importance. I will discuss various other aspects of his reason including his use of concepts, of language and the syllogism later.

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 3

Hegel and subjectivity

Hegel thought that the great advance in modern philosophy was the recognition of the importance of subjectivity.1 While Descartes was most important to this development, Hegel correctly traced a line from Aristotle’s Metaphysics with its ‘First Science of Theology’ and particularly its theorising the divine activity of thought thinking itself to Neoplatonism, which philosophy was then absorbed into the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,2 enabling Hegel to reinforce the process, spirituality and immanence of his Neoplatonism.3 Hegel believed that modern philosophy had resumed the primary current in philosophy which had been interrupted by the Middle Ages.

Schlitt wrote that Hegel’s philosophy of religion is a movement of divine subjectivity.4 His entire philosophy is such

The proper subject matter of religion is not the sensibility and feeling of the finite subject, which abandons any cognition of God, but the infinite self-consciousness of the absolute subject, which encompasses finite subjects within itself.5

In his Science of Logic he gave that movement poetic Neoplatonic expression

Each new stage of forthgoing, that is, of further determination, is also a withdrawal inwards, and the greater extension is equally a higher intensity. The richest is therefore the most concrete and most subjective, and that which withdraws itself into the simplest depth is the mightiest and most all-embracing.6

Not only is subjectivity the essential nature of Spirit, it reconciles itself with itself – in another, giving the Absolute. This ‘principle of the modern age,’ one’s own subjectivity, was explored in the first phenomenology, the Enneads. Hegel wrote

If I now go further (than the standpoint of ‘empirical’ understanding) and seek to view consciousness from a spiritually higher standpoint, I find that I am no longer observing. I forget myself in plunging into the object. I immerse myself in it as I seek to cognise and to conceive God. I surrender my particularity in it, and if I do this I am no longer in the relationship which, as an empirical consciousness, I wanted to maintain. …if God is no longer a beyond for me, then I no longer remain a pure observer, I become interwoven with the thing instead.7

The utter self-focus of Hegel’s Neoplatonic philosophy, expressed in mystical language, is clear

It is I who produce that beyond; the finite and the infinite are equally my product, and I stand above both of them, both disappear in me. I am lord and master of this definition: I bring it forth. They vanish in and through me – and thus the second position is established: that I am the affirmation which at first I placed outside in a beyond; the infinite first comes into being through me. I am the negation of negation, it is I in whom the antithesis disappears; I am the reflection that brings them both to naught.8



1. ‘Modern philosophy is the philosophy of subjectivity, or simply subjective idealism.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 236
2. ‘God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 15
3. The kingdom of God is an ‘ascent into pure inwardness,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 367
4. Dale M. Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, University of Scranton Press, London, 1990, xvi
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Editorial Introduction, 24
6. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 840-841
7. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 283-284
8. Ibid., 295

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 2

The criticism by Hegel and Plotinus of their societies

Plotinus and Hegel thought of us as fragmented – spiritually and socially. Hegel’s criticisms were multiple – of vain, power-hungry priests who had abandoned their flocks, of the Deistic Enlightenment, of the ‘subjective feeling’ which holds that God cannot be cognised and denies the reconciliation of reason and faith. He wrote

The Spirit shows itself as so impoverished that, like a wanderer in the desert craving for a mere mouthful of water, it seems to crave for its refreshment only the bare feeling of the divine in general. By the little which now satisfies Spirit, we can measure the extent of its loss.1

Hegel and Plotinus believed we have forgotten our true nature, resulting in self-alienation and an acquisitiveness for material things. Both believed that philosophy can make us spiritually whole again, within a cohesive community infused with divine spirit.

Consistent with Neoplatonism, Hegel equated philosophy with theology, which he called ‘the intellectual science of God’.2

This linkage between (philosophy and religion) is nothing new. It already obtained among the more eminent of the church fathers, who had steeped themselves particularly in Neopythagoreanism, Neoplatonic, and Neoaristotelian philosophy.3

Philosophy, a continual divine service,4 urges its disciples5 to ascertain the inner unity of all existence, to gain a cognitive knowledge of the eternal and non-worldly6 – of what God is. The philosophies of Hegel and Plotinus set out the pathway for our return to God, both an ascent and a journey within, fuelled by desire and remembrance, to the core of our being. Plotinus’ last words were ‘Strive to bring back the god in yourselves to the Divine in the universe.’7

He believed that upon restoring ourselves to Intellect, we again become creators of everything, again become God. This core Neoplatonic commitment to creativity is reflected in Hegel’s Absolute Spirit in which he intended philosophy to give the highest expression conceptually to the metaphorical, mythical and image-making potential, to the ‘picture-thinking’ of the other two sensuous forms of Spirit – art and religion.8



1. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 5
2. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. II, 252. Plotinus and Hegel made the same distinction between ‘sense-knowledge’ and ‘authentic science.’ Proclus defined ‘theology’ as the science of the Gods. In Eastern Neoplatonism ‘the philosopher became a priest and a theologian at the same time,’ Radek Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012, 32
3. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 153
4. G.W.F.Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, Trans., T.M.Knox, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2010, 101
5. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 171
6. Expressing a deep dissatisfaction with the societies in which they lived, Plotinus and Hegel developed a philosophy oriented to the ‘non-worldly’.
7. Paul Henry ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’ in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, lii
8. ‘This science is the unity of Art and Religion. Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a totality, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought.’ G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 302. Plotinus’ simile of a sculptor perfecting his soul (The Enneads I.6.9) embodies the three forms of Absolute Spirit.

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