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.

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