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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