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

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Notes

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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