Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 9c

9.5 God is cognised in a perspectival community

A perspectival cultus is Neoplatonism’s end point. In it, the divine as eternal, infinite all-knowing lives amongst (with a Christian patina, is reconciled with) the multitude of a community, finite in their lives and knowledge.

The recognitive intersubjectivity in this cultus has, as previously discussed, its basis in the relation between subject and its object in consciousness.

The object is the subject’s means of self-completion. By uniting with it after a dialectical process in consciousness, the subject attains self-knowing. Knowing becomes perspectival in society where all, with different points of view, are subjects/objects in relation to others.

In his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel sets out the development, from a phenomenological ‘we’ watching the drama of consciousness unfold to thinking of ourselves as belonging to the recognitive structure of a community which is ultimately, on the basis of recollection, historical.

In recognising and knowing myself in others, and they in me and others again, we all attain self-completion (self-knowing) as a unity of finite perspectives that is a plurality neither holistic nor atomistic, but one in which our differences are reconciled.1

God’s process is our process, in our individual consciousness and in the cultus – this is so because God is within all. Both God and we find fulfilment in the perspectival community

God…beholds in this Other himself, recognises his likeness therein and in it (my italics) returns to unity with himself…it is the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and the Son, reaching its perfect actuality and truth in the community of Christians; and it is as this that God must be known if he is to be grasped in his absolute truth2

Plotinus’ primary aim was the same as Hegel’s – to move his readers to seek liberation from their ‘petty egos’ by returning to the unity-in-diversity of the divine All.

The spiritual universe Intellectual-Principle contains all ‘minds’ – forms or intellects which are ‘shadows’ of the universal or divine Mind and which mirror the whole of Intellect’s unity-in-multiplicity, but from their own individual perspective.3

Plotinus used the metaphor of viewing a painting to illustrate his perspectivism (Cusanus was to use the same idea for the same purpose in De visione Dei and De coniecturis)

Consider, even, the case of pictures: those seeing by the bodily sense the products of the art of painting do not see the one thing in the one only way4

He described the activity of a multiplicity in unity which, with a Christian overlay, became Hegel’s cultus – what is, in effect, a cultus of self

Self-intellection – which is the truest – implies the entire perception of a total self formed from a variety converging into an integral; every single unity in this variety is self-subsistent and has no need to look outside itself…Consciousness, as the very word indicates, is a conperception, an act exercised upon a manifold5

For Proclus, while the unparticipated knows all unconditionally, subsequent intelligences are perspectival

intellection embraces all things perpetually, and in all intelligences, but in each it delimits all its objects by a particular character. So that in the act of cognition and in the content known there must be some one dominant aspect, under which all things are simultaneously known and by which all are characterised for the knower.6

Cusanus maintained this position, adapted to Christianity – while God is infinite and omnivoyant (not bound to space and time), we are finite and restricted to perspectives. All viewing an icon of God will have the impression that they alone are being looked at by it, even though they view it from different positions.7 While all of our sights differ, their source Absolute Sight is perfect Sight.8

Of looking at a face he wrote

you contemplate the face not as it is [in itself] but in its otherness, according to your eye’s angle, which differs from [that of] all the eyes of other living beings. Therefore, a surmise (conjecture, speculation) is a positive assertion that partakes – with a degree of otherness – of truth as it is [in itself].9

Another device he used was to compare intellect in relation to truth to an increase in the angles of a polygon in relation to a circle – even if the former was comprised of an infinity of angles it could never equate with the latter.10

Cusanus described the perspectival Christian cultus in which all ‘minds’ partake of Divine Mind differently

For ‘church’ bespeaks a oneness of many [members] – each of whom has his personal truth preserved without confusion of natures or of degrees; but the more one the church is, the greater it is; hence, this church – [viz.] the church of the eternally triumphant – is maximal, since no greater union of the church is possible.11

Casarella wrote that the notion of perspective distinguishes Cusanus’ mysticism from that of Eckhart and from pantheism, and that he developed the concept ontologically in De visione Dei and epistemologically in De coniecturis

our knowing occurs always from a certain viewpoint, one that could be replaced by another one, and hence…it is intrinsically perspectival. The human mind never fully grasps reality…It remains a coniectura.12

9.6 Hegel’s perspectival community – the kingdom of God

As ‘minds’ in Intellectual-Principle are ‘aspects’ of the hypostasis’ unity-in-multiplicity, Hegel thought that every individual is an aspect of the Idea and that

It is only in (individuals) altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised. The individual by itself does not correspond to its notion.13

Put another way,

the relationship of men to (the world spirit) is that of single parts to the whole which is their substance.14

Hegel’s goal was the overcoming of dissonance and fragmentation through a communal and perspectival ‘unity of consciousness’ among people. This community, built on the negation (the return to unity of Father and Son with the crucifixion of Christ) of negation (God’s diremption in sending Christ into the world) was to embody a transfigured subjectivity of Spirit.

Founded on reconciliation and the consciousness of the unity of divine and human, of infinite and finite, this church was to generate the principles of political and civil life out of itself. Both God and mankind needed this cultus for self-completion

God achieves self-knowledge or self-consciousness in the community, i.e. in man’s knowledge of him. Thus God is not complete and fully formed independently of the world and of mankind15

Hodgson summarised this, writing of ‘the universal divine human being, the community.’16 Hegel’s kingdom of God was, with the overlay of Christian mythology removed, Plotinus’ ‘kingdom’ of Intellectual-Principle.

9.7 The cultus is the site of freedom

The freedom of reason, synonymous with self-knowledge, is central to Hegel’s philosophy – as it is to the other Neoplatonists. For Hegel, existence as free and rational beings depends on mutual recognition of each other as free and rational. In the cultus

This freedom of one in the other unites men in an inward manner (my italics), whereas needs and necessity bring them together only externally. Therefore, men must will to find themselves again in one another.17

Plotinus wrote that freedom is the activity of Intellectual-Principle’s unity-in-multiplicity where ‘minds’ are both independent and united ‘in an inward manner,’ and that the proposals emanating thence are the expression of freedom. He wrote that the contemplating intellect

is utterly independent; it turns wholly upon itself; its very action is itself; at rest in its good it is without need, complete, and may be said to live by its will; there the will is intellection…Will strives towards the good which the act of Intellectual-Principle realises.18

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

Plotinus’ search for the divine within himself and his doctrine of salvation from the world which he more than once referred to as a ‘flight’ seems to have been a result of disenchantment with aspects of the world. The Enneads concludes

This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.19

The Sage, having gone through a complex process of reasoning, is inward-oriented. Armstrong referred to this as the ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’.20

Of Proclus and the ‘late’ Neoplatonists, Chlup stated that they

(assumed) the role of priests and theologians besides that of philosophers. …they saw the endangered Hellenic cultural tradition as something to be treasured and admired21

Hegel, too, repeatedly wrote of thought taking flight into an ideal world22 and Hodgson well expressed Hegel’s motivating disenchantment

Our age is like that of the Roman Empire in its abandonment of the question of truth, its smug conviction that no cognitive knowledge of God can be had, its reduction of everything to merely historical questions, its privatism, subjectivism, and moralism, and the failure of its teachers and clergy to lead the people. It is indeed an apocalyptic time23

Hegel set out his ‘solution’ – a perspectival community of philosopher priests, isolated from the world

Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. …

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.24

The Neoplatonists emphasised the social nature of thought and creativity25 and all had the same concern for resolving the conflicts of their time in a religious community on the basis of Neoplatonism or, in the case of Cusanus and Hegel, Neoplatonism garbed in the Christian fable.



1. Redding wrote of ‘a “circular” intersubjective structure within which two self-consciousnesses recognise both their identity or like-mindedness, their “we-ness,” and their difference and opposition, their “I-ness.”…It is recognition of self in an objective yet intentional other which is the key to the reconciliation of opposites’ Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 114, 127
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 12
3. John Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xcv
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., II.9.16
5. Ibid., V.3.13. The root of ‘conscious’ is the Latin ‘conscius’ – knowing with others or in oneself.
6. Prop. 170 (‘Every intelligence has simultaneous intellection of all things: but while the unparticipated Intelligence knows all unconditionally, each subsequent intelligence knows all in one especial aspect.’) in Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 149
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), 1453, in Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialectical Mysticism, Text, Translation and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei, Trans, Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1988, 679-736, Preface, 3,4, 680-682
8. Ibid., I, 8, 683
9. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 57, 190
10. ‘the intellect is to truth as [an inscribed] polygon is to [the inscribing] circle. The more angles the inscribed polygon has the more similar it is to the circle. However, even if the number of its angles is increased ad infinitum, the polygon never becomes equal [to the circle] unless it is resolved into an identity with the circle. Hence, regarding truth, it is evident that we do not know anything other than the following: viz., that we know truth not,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I, 10, 8
11. Ibid., III, 261, 149
12. Peter J. Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, 83
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275
14. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 52
15. Michael Inwood in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, Trans., Bernard Bosanquet, Ed., Introduction and Commentary, Michael Inwood, Penguin, England, 2004, 190
16. Peter C. Hodgson in G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 136
17. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 171
18. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.8.6
19. Ibid., VI.9.11
20. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, William Heinemann, London, 1966-1988, Vol. VII, 345. Armstrong added in the note ‘These last words, in the common translation “flight of the alone to the Alone”, are the only words of Plotinus at all generally known and remembered.’ A damning indictment of Western philosophers.
21. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 186
22. ‘Philosophy, then, is the reconciliation of the decay that thought has initiated, a reconciliation taking place in an ideal world, one into which thought takes flight when the earthly world no longer satisfies it.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 68; ‘(When a people’s) best times are past and decay sets in…satisfaction resides then in the ideal realm. Spirit flees from the present and seeks a locus that is not present-day existence but instead a world apart from it, and that is the locus of thought. These are the times when we see philosophy come on the scene for a people.’ Ibid., 272-73. Just as Hegel tied Neoplatonism, which he believed to have been the consummation of Greek philosophy and the greatest flowering of philosophy to the decline of the Roman Empire, so he considered, consistently, his own Neoplatonic philosophy in relation to the entirety of philosophy and his time; ‘in the development of the state itself, periods must occur in which the spirit of nobler natures is forced to flee from the present into ideal regions, and to find in them that reconciliation with itself which it can no longer enjoy in an internally divided reality’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
23. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Editorial Introduction, 23
24. Ibid., 161-162
25. ‘Cusanus consistently emphasises that man’s creativity is not exercised simply on his own individual behalf and that his thoughts are not conceived in solitude, but rather that both the active and contemplative life are conducted in relationship to the needs and contributions of other men.’ Pauline Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1982, 231

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Comment by Anon

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars

Hi Mr. Stanfield,

When I was still a young boy who was convinced by the explanatory power of Science, I had thought that we only need Reason to understand the world.

Now looking back as a 23 years old graduate student, I cringe at the naivete of myself back then.

Had it not been for my own Communist-leaning tendency, I wouldn’t have discovered Dialectical Materialism and would have been a dogmatist who only believes in cold Reason and Scientific Method alone.

Those who have renounced God but believe in Reason alone are nothing but priests in disguise.

Those who have upheld the Scientific dogma of dissecting the Whole and eternal unchanging of Scientific Laws will never embark on the correct way of Truth, because the Truth lies within the Whole, which is forever flowing.

The true Atheism is not a mere discarding of God, because something will just appear in place of his/her void, but the recognition that God is Nature in its totality, in its contradiction, in its never ending process of changing, developing and evolving.

Of course I don’t deny the importance of Science, but blind faith in just Science is not so different from the Religion which scientists mocked.

I must confess that when I grasped the method of Dialectics the first time, it had struck me like a divine revelation.

All the dogmas, which I had believed in, shattered like a castle of sand.

The correct way to understand the world is not standing far away from it, trying to become an objective watcher without emotion, but to immerse oneself in the world, to put yourself in the perspective of others, or as great mystics usually said, to become one with the Divine.

And Goethe had also said through the words of the devil: “All theory is grey, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.”

I often despair over the inability of scientists to grasp the method of Dialectics. Even people who called themselves “Marxists” didn’t understand Dialectics too.

Some are just repeating the word of Marx, Engels, Lenin… but when it comes into modern science, they readily accept anything coming from the scientists, not knowing that the bad philosophy of those scientists is a direct attack on Dialectical method.

But your blog has always reminded me that people like me are not alone, and one day, mankind will come to understand the method of their ancient ancestors, on a higher level.

Thank you for all your posts.


Hi Anon,

thank you very much for your thoughtful and generous comment which I will make a post.

I do not doubt that just as dialectical materialism was the development of mechanical materialism, enabled by the incorporation of the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel’s philosophy, stood ‘the right way up,’ so developments on dialectical materialism are the way forward epistemologically (materialism, like the world it reflects, could never be a finished project).

These developments require above all, honesty

• the honesty to acknowledge (as Marx did) that his epistemology was profoundly indebted to mysticism, via Hegel

• the honesty to acknowledge that Hegel was obviously a mystic and a Neoplatonist and

• the honesty to pursue where these acknowledgements lead

A careful review of this entire current is necessary, from Plotinus to Marx and beyond because as well as drawing on Neoplatonism’s mighty potential, Marx incorporated important flaws and limitations of Neoplatonism in his own theory.

This was inevitable, because the orientations of Plotinus and Marx were diametrically opposed – Plotinus to the ‘world’ within, Marx to the world without.

Furthermore, as developments in science benefited Marx and Engels and were a stimulus to them, so the increasingly rapid growth in this knowledge now as it pushes ever more urgently against the constraints of bourgeois ideology should provide both benefit and stimulus to those eager to build on what they achieved.

My very best wishes to you,




Spectators watching a Wall of Death performance featuring a lion in a sidecar, Revere Beach, MA; ca. 1929

Mr. “Fearless” Egbert taking his five year-old lion for a ride on the Wall of Death at Mitcham fair. (Source)

What was the lion thinking?

From the excellent blog of Miep von Sydow

via “Spectators watching a Wall of Death performance featuring a lion in a sidecar”, Revere Beach, MA; ca. 1929 — I hope to be remembered for my atrocities!


Big, tough, egalitarian, laid-back Australia – spying, thieving and bullying

Australian Embassy, Dili

Tom Allard, ’East Timor takes Australia to UN over sea border’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.04.16

East Timor has called in the United Nations to help resolve its bitter dispute with Australia over a permanent sea border in the oil-rich Timor Sea.

The tiny nation on Monday informed Australia that it would trigger conciliation proceedings under the UN’s Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) where the merits of a new boundary and where it should lie will be considered by a panel of five experts.

The move was sharply criticised by the Australian government, with a spokesperson for foreign minister Julie Bishop saying it contravened previous agreements between the two nations.

Last month, there were mass protests in Dili over the unresolved maritime border, with more than 10,000 people rallying outside the Australian embassy in the Timorese capital.

East Timor believes that a permanent boundary determined under international law would see the vast bulk of an estimated $US40 billion ($53 billion) in oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea fall within its territory.

It also believes it has lost about $US5 billion ($6.6 billion) in revenue due to the current temporary arrangements, enough to fund the entire East Timor government budget for about three years.

Australia disputes the contention, arguing a boundary set under UNCLOS principles would likely see most of the massive Greater Sunrise oil and gas deposit lie in Indonesian territory.

Either way, Australia’s ongoing refusal to negotiate a permanent boundary has infuriated East Timor (also known as Timor Leste). It believes Australia exploited its vulnerability as an economically weak nation state recovering from mass violence in the wake of Indonesia’s occupation.

“Establishing permanent boundaries is a matter of national priority for Timor Leste as the final step in realising our sovereignty as an independent state,” said Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo.

While temporary revenue sharing agreements between the two countries were forged in 2002 and 2006, East TImor views them as unfair, not least because Australia spied on East Timor’s negotiators in 2004.

Under the latter treaty, known as the Treaty of Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), East Timor received 90 per cent of revenue from a “Joint Petroleum Development Area” and a half share of Greater Sunrise, most of which lies outside the JPDA.

The treaty also included a clause stipulating a 50-year freeze on negotiating a permanent maritime boundary.

“We stand by the existing treaties, which are fair and consistent with international law,” the spokesperson for Ms Bishop said in a statement.

“These treaties have benefited both our countries and enabled Timor Leste to accumulate a Petroleum Fund worth more than $16 billion.

“Timor Leste’s decision to initiate compulsory conciliation contravenes prior agreements between our countries not to pursue proceedings relating to maritime boundaries.”

In the espionage operation, Australian Secret Intelligence Service agents pretended to be aid workers repairing East Timor’s government offices. The spies inserted listening devices into the wall cavity of East Timor’s cabinet office where its CMATS negotiating team met.

Australia’s conduct earned it a rare and remarkable rebuke from the International Court of Justice, which ordered Australia cease spying on East Timor.

The outcome of the UN conciliation process is non-binding because Australia controversially exited the jurisdiction of UNCLOS two months before East Timor became a nation state in 2002.

However, East Timor’s Minister of State Agio Pereira said the process was worthwhile.

“It’s fair. It’s neutral. It allows both parties to have a deeper understanding of the merits of the arguments under international law, under politics … and the impact of the treaties as well,” he told Fairfax Media.

The conciliation will lead to a report after 12 months. Both sides can appoint two members of the panel. The chair of the conciliation has to be agreed by both sides. If Australia declines to participate, the UN will intervene to appoint experts.

While Australia refuses to negotiate a new sea border, East Timor and Indonesia have committed to formal talks on the boundary.

Mr Pereira said East Timor would continue to pursue a separate, binding arbitration underway in the Hague to have CMATS annulled because it was negotiated in “bad faith” due to the spying in 2004.


Highly recommended: Paul Cleary, Shakedown – Australia’s grab for Timor oil, Allen and Unwin, 2007

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 9b

9.4 Hegel’s Intuition

Hegel mocked Romantic intuition1 and Schelling’s black cows of the Absolute.2 He wrote

If…the True exists only in what, or better as what, is sometimes called intuition, sometimes immediate knowledge of the Absolute, religion or being…then what is required in the exposition of philosophy is, from this view-point, rather the opposite of the form of the Notion. For the Absolute is not supposed to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited3

Yet not only, as Engels noted, did Hegel have absolutely nothing to say about his own Absolute Idea,4 the philosophy of this man of Science, of the concrete, of the concept, of fully articulated cognition is built no less on Neoplatonism, the pornography of academic philosophers, than were Romanticism and Schelling’s philosophy.

Hegel wrote of the immediate ‘knowledge’ of God

‘We know God immediately; this knowledge is a revelation within us.’ That is an important principle to which we must essentially hold fast. …Plato’s ancient saying is apropos here: that we learn nothing, but only recollect something that we originally bear within ourselves.5

and wrote that thinking

is pure unity with itself…(and) can also be called pure intuition…such that between the subject and object there is no [difference] and, properly speaking, subject and object are not yet present…the content is only the universal itself.6

This universal of thinking where there is not yet a distinction between subject and object, where the subject has not yet created its object is precisely the original unity of Plotinus which Hegel noted in his discussion of the former’s philosophy

What gets stressed…is the situating of oneself in the central point, in pure intuition or pure thinking, in spirit’s pure unity with itself…So one begins here by placing oneself at this standpoint and by awakening it inwardly as a rapture7

Both Plotinus and Hegel made the same distinction between ‘mindless’ (sensuous consciousness) and ‘mindful’ (thinking religiously) intuition. Where Plotinus wrote

we are continuously intuitive (my italics) but we are not unbrokenly aware: the reason is that the recipient in us receives from both sides, absorbing not merely intellections but also sense-perceptions.8

Hegel wrote

Mindless intuition is merely sensuous consciousness which remains external to the object.9

Of ‘mindful, true intuition,’ in which ‘we are immersed in the contemplation of the object,’10 and which enables one ‘to apprehend the spiritual bond unifying all the details’11 Hegel wrote that it

apprehends the genuine substance of the object. …It is, therefore, rightly insisted on that in all branches of science, and particularly also in philosophy, one should speak from an intuitive grasp of the subject-matter12

This process begins with a Neoplatonic unity of thinking in which there is no distinction (which Hegel calls ‘immediate intuition’) then, inspired ‘with wonder and awe’ by the object, the philosopher engages in cognising it, stripping away ‘the inessentials of the external and contingent,’ employing ‘the pure thinking of Reason which comprehends its object…(possessing) a perfectly determinate, true intuition.’ This is the Neoplatonic process of emanation and return – from unity to distinction between subject and its object in the process of the latter’s cognition, to unity again in the source, but now made ‘true (my italics) intuition.’13 Hegel wrote

intuition forms only the substantial form into which (my italics) (the) completely developed cognition concentrates itself again. In immediate intuition, it is true that I have the entire object before me; but not until my cognition of the object developed in all its aspects (my italics) has returned into the form of simple (my italics) intuition does it confront my intelligence as an articulated, systematic totality.14

Recognise that intuition and this process are material and based in praxis and you have excellent philosophy – I have an intuition, I think about it linguistically as thoroughly as possible, testing it and my reasoning about it – and conclude the process having cognised that intuition in its fullness (having linguistically reasoned to a conclusion on the basis of practice what arose from my sub-consciousness).

Weeks wrote of Kepler (who referred to Cusanus as ‘divine’ in his Mysterium Cosmographicum published in 1596 and 1621)

Johannes Kepler regarded his initial intuition concerning the structure of the solar system to be a divine revelation of the divine plan of creation. Hence, his intuition can justifiably be called mystical. But in pursuing this intuition, he proceeded as a scientist and mathematician, not as a mystic.15

While Plotinus did think that intuition is the immediate unity of subject with its object, with that unity, as for Hegel, comes knowledge.16 Plotinus equated intuition with knowledge17 – and that knowledge, held with the highest degree of Neoplatonic consciousness, is attained after a complex process of dialectical thinking.



1. ‘Such minds, when they give themselves up to the uncontrolled ferment of [the divine] substance, imagine that, by drawing a veil over self-consciousness and surrendering understanding they become the beloved of God to whom He gives His wisdom in sleep; and hence what they in fact receive, and bring forth to birth in their sleep, is nothing but dreams.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 6
2. ‘To pit this single insight, that in the Absolute everything is the same, against the full body of articulated cognition, which at least seeks and demands such fulfilment, to palm off its Absolute as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black – this is cognition naïvely reduced to vacuity.’ Ibid., 9
3. Ibid., 4
4. ‘In his Logic, he can make this end a beginning again, since here the point of the conclusion, the absolute idea — which is only absolute insofar as he has absolutely nothing to say about it – “alienates”, that is, transforms, itself into nature and comes to itself again later in the mind, that is, in thought and in history.’, Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Part I: Hegel, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch01.htm
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 412
6. Ibid., vol. III, 190. ‘pure thinking…is…absolute power…the blissful intuition of absolute truth.’, Hegel in Peter C. Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 227
7. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 335
8. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.3.30
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 199
10. Ibid., 204
11. Ibid., 200
12. Ibid., 199
13. Ibid., 200
14. Ibid.
15. Andrew Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1993, 8
16. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.3
17. ‘But, we need not record in memory all we see; mere incidental concomitants need not occupy the imagination; when things vividly present to intuition, or knowledge (my italics), happen to occur in concrete form, it is not necessary – unless for purposes of a strictly practical administration – to pass over that direct acquaintance, and fasten upon the partial sense-preparation, which is already known in the larger knowledge.’ Ibid., IV.4.8

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 9a

Hegel’s cognition of God

Hegel wrote that, contrary to the view of the church and the Enlightenment that we can know neither God nor truth, not only can we know God and truth, to do so is our highest duty

we should know God cognitively, God’s nature and essence, and should esteem this cognition above all else.1

Philosophy for Hegel is the cognition of what flows from God, of His nature in its manifestation and development. Divine cognition is the knowledge of what an object’s determinations are, of

what its content is, so that our knowing is a fulfilled and verified knowledge in which we are aware of the necessary connectedness of these determinations.2

Cognition isa judging or dividing, a self-distinguishing within oneself (my italics).’3 Truth for Hegel and the Neoplatonists is the identity of thinking or knowing with its object. Plotinus’ words, that truth occurs in the coalescence of seeing subject with seen object, in the identity of object known with the knowing act or agent4 are repeated in those of Hegel

(Kant’s disparaging statement that truth is) the agreement of cognition with its object (is) a definition of great, indeed of supreme, value.5

9.1 What is cognised?

It would seem that there is an unbridgeable difference between Plotinus and Proclus on the one hand and Hegel on the other with regard to what can be known. For Plotinus and Proclus the One is beyond knowledge and the second hypostasis is the realm of true knowledge. Hegel argued that God can and must be cognised.

But the words of Plotinus describing Intellectual-Principle could be Hegel’s describing his ‘reason-world’

(it is) a multiplicity striving towards unity; that is to say, a One-that-is-many.6

As I have argued earlier, Hegel’s incorrect conflation of the hypostases in his discussion of the philosophies of both Plotinus and Proclus point to what he did with the hypostases in his own philosophy – conflating them, giving a One/God/Mind/Being, and replacing them in his ‘reason-world’ with his Neoplatonic version of the Christian Trinity.

Plotinus and Proclus themselves blurred the division between the first two hypostases and laid the ground for the conflation of them in their discussion of knowledge in relation to priors and their sequels. Plotinus wrote of the One

We do not, it is true, grasp it by knowledge, but that does not mean that we are utterly void of it; we hold it not so as to state it, but so as to be able to speak about it. …we are, in fact, speaking of it in the light of its sequels; unable to state it, we may still possess it.7

Proclus wrote similarly in his Elements of Theology

All that is divine is itself ineffable and unknowable by any secondary being because of its supra-existential unity, but it may be apprehended and known from the existents which participate it: wherefore only the First Principle is completely unknowable, as being unparticipated.8

9.2 God is a Neoplatonic process

The Neoplatonic Supreme thinks himself. He is the activity, the process of the Neoplatonic knowledge of self, of subject contemplating its object. For Plotinus, the second hypostasis is both thought (thinking being) and the objects created in that activity. Thought is the things it knows – knowledge is undifferentiated from its objects

The Intellectual-Principle…is the things it knows…it resides with its objects, identical with them, making a unity with them; knowledge of the immaterial is universally identical with its objects.9

Hegel added the philosophical and prose-poetic device of a Christian patina to his Neoplatonism – now God as Being, as actus purus, eternally constituted distinctions within Himself and took them back into himself, not Intellectual-Principle. Christ perfectly justified and symbolised differentiation within sameness.

Christian theology…conceives of God, that is, of Truth, as spirit and contemplates this, not as something quiescent, something abiding in empty identicalness but as something which necessarily enters into the process of distinguishing itself from itself, of positing its Other, and which comes to itself only through this Other, and by positively overcoming it – not by abandoning it.10

9.3 Plotinus and Cusanus: impressions become concepts

Neoplatonism was never a fixed system of belief. Others after Plotinus, such as Proclus and Cusanus, developed and contributed to what he had first set out in his Enneads. The subject of the cognition of God is an example of this. For Plotinus Intellectual-Principle and Soul (Universal Soul) are the knowing hypostases. Intellectual-Principle, in its very effort to unite with the One, creates and accumulates a multiplicity of successive ‘impressions.’ In knowing that multiplicity of ‘impressions,’ it knows the One

Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.11

Inspired by recollection of and desire to reunite with its source, Intellectual-Principle creates a subject/object distinction, then that which is distinguished develops into a unity-in-multiplicity. Through knowing (‘taking cognisance of’) that multiplicity, Intellectual-Principle comes to know the Transcendent, intuitively – ‘realised as an eye possessed of its vision.’ Just as God as Spirit is only fully realised for Hegel in the cultus, Intellectual-Principle is only fully realised when it has completed its process.

It is now Intellectual-Principle since it actually holds its object, and holds it by the act of intellection: before, it was no more than a tendance, an eye blank of impression: it was in motion towards the transcendental; now that it has attained, it has become Intellectual-Principle12

Here, in the philosophy of Plotinus, further developed and clarified by Cusanus in this crucial area, is the basis for Hegel’s vaunted conceptual development – the conceptual development that Hegel believed enables us to cognise God. Cusanus wrote that our ‘minds’ are images of God’s ‘mind’ and as He creates the world, our ‘minds’ create conceptually

It must be the case that surmises originate from our minds, even as the real world originates from Infinite Divine Reason. For when, as best it can, the human mind (which is a lofty likeness of God) partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, [which are made] in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a surmised [rational] world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world.13

just as God is the Creator of real beings and of natural forms, so man is the creator of conceptual beings..And so, man has an intellect that is a likeness of the Divine Intellect, with respect to creating.14

The Divine Mind’s Conceiving is a producing of things; our mind’s conceiving is a conceptualising of things. …If all things are present in the Divine Mind as in their precise and proper Truth, then all things are present in our mind as in an image, or a likeness, of their proper Truth. That is, they are present conceptually, for knowledge comes about on the basis of [conceptual] likeness (my italics).15

The cognition of God’s activity as He eternally resolves self-generated contradictions, expressed conceptually, entails the cognition of God. Hegel believed that God as process – God himself – was set out in his Science of Logic

God…is absolute activity, creative energy, and his activity is to posit himself in contradiction, but eternally to resolve and reconcile this contradiction: God himself is the resolving of these contradictions.16

This God is Neoplatonic, not Christian.



1. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 88
2. Ibid., 162
3. Ibid., vol. III, 301
4. ‘(In perfect self-knowing) the object known must be identical with the knowing act (or agent), the Intellectual-Principle, therefore, identical with the Intellectual Realm. And in fact, if this identity does not exist, neither does truth…Truth cannot apply to something conflicting with itself; what it affirms it must also be.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.5
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 593
6. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.15
7. Ibid., V.3.14
8. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., Prop. 123
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.4.2
10. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 12
11. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.11
12. Ibid.
13. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), 1441-2, in Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Vol. 2, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2000, 163-257, 5, 164
14. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), 1458, in Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, 792-827, 7, 794
15. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 72, 543
16. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 271

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