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. ↩