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

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

2 thoughts on “Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 9c

  1. Hi, Phil. Nice to know the lively frontiers of modern thought and feeling, of what is “human and divine”, having been played out – and so concisely laid out. Thanks, Tach.

    Liked by 1 person

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