Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 10a

Concepts, propositions, predication and the speculative sentence

10.1 Hegel, philosopher of concrete concepts

In bourgeois ideology Hegel is known as the philosopher of concrete concepts, the hard man, master and exemplar of reason. Whilst he agreed that we are always thinking – even in sleep – (something of immense importance that he never explored or allowed to influence his theorising) he believed that it is only in the waking state that ‘Intellect’ and ‘Reason,’ for him the modes of proper thought, are active and that conceptual thought is our essence.

Hegel equated ‘conceptual’ with ‘scientific’ – philosophy for him is the scientific grasp of Truth which could only be expounded as a conceptual system. Philosophy proceeded according to the categories of reason. This rigour supposedly gives us reasoned knowledge of the Idea and of fully concrete Spirit, a conceptual account of the Absolute and, above all, true self-knowledge.

10.2 Hegel’s concepts are spiritual, religious and open

Hegel’s concepts are, as is his philosophy, spiritual and religious – his system is the service of God the self and his concepts must be assessed on that basis

the content of philosophy, its need and interest, is wholly in common with that of religion. The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth. God and nothing but God and the explication of God. Philosophy is only explicating itself when it explicates religion, and when it explicates itself it is explicating religion. For the thinking spirit is what penetrates this object, the truth; it is thinking that enjoys the truth and purifies the subjective consciousness. Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion.1

For Hegel the activity of ‘reason,’ of forming concepts and dialectical thinking is the practice of religion. He described the conceptual grasp of an object Neoplatonically

The conceptual grasp of an object consists in fact in nothing but that the self makes the object its own, penetrates it and brings it to its own form.2

Further, the categories of logic, ‘the all-animating spirit of all the sciences’ comprise a ‘spiritual hierarchy,’3 a movement of concepts or thought determinations which, though expressed in language, is not reducible to language.4 Hegel wrote of a movement of ‘pure thought’5 – God ‘as he is in and for himself’ – ‘the pure thought of eternity.’6 Jaspers wrote

In this thinking concepts are not defined with logical cogency and are not related to one another, but denote guiding threads whose meaning is disclosed in the course of attempts at speculative thinking.7

Marcuse wrote

All fundamental concepts of the Hegelian system are characterised by the same ambiguity. They never denote mere concepts (as in formal logic), but forms or modes of being comprehended by thought.8

10.3 Speculative exposition preserves the dialectical form

Speculative reason looks for the principle of motion in an object that makes it what it is. The speculative proposition or, much better, sentence (spekulativer Satz) reflects the dialectical nature of consciousness in its self-development. In the dialectical movement of thought, every thing comprises a coexistence of opposed elements and speculative exposition preserves this form.

Findlay described the superficial view of the proposition of judgement as

an external connection of independently significant elements…(whereas) the speculative view…sees…the self-development, through complimentary differences, of a single significant content. …the fixed points of reference necessary for the former are lacking in the latter.9

The task of speculative reason is not the analysis of concepts but the development of them – speculative dialectic shows fixed (false, limited) distinctions of the understanding breaking down in their development. Speculative philosophy is a continual unfolding of consciousness to itself. Hence, for Hegel, categories develop themselves.

Hegel continued the Neoplatonic emphasis, established by Plotinus, on the metaphors of sight and mirror in his incorporation of the meanings of ‘speculative’ in his philosophy – from theoria ([divine] ’contemplation,’ ‘speculation,’ from theoros ‘spectator’), from speculum (‘mirror’) and speculatio (‘contemplation,’ ‘speculation’) – ‘reality’ and consciousness, infinite and finite, ultimately subject and object mirror and contemplate each other, developing conceptually through their relationship.

Cusanus placed the greatest importance on our ‘mind’s’ generation of concepts as an image of the working of God’s ‘Mind’ and his study of them as the ‘coincidence of opposites’ was, within idealist philosophy, fully, dialectically developed by Hegel. This aspect of Cusanus’ philosophy is one of the greatest debts Hegel owed to him (which I will discuss later).

10.4 Neoplatonic concepts are always dynamic

Neoplatonism has shown that concepts have life. Cusanus and particularly Hegel explored the potential of concepts in their inter-relationship and development. Verene wrote that in the speculative proposition the subject is not separate from the predicate but

is extended into the predicate and the meaning of the predicate must ultimately be found by returning from it into the subject term.10

Findlay wrote of

a logical flux, a passing of contents tracelessly into one another…In a given exercise we both can and should preserve comparative clarity, distinctness, and fixity, but the thought-material we are coercing never fully acquiesces in our fixations, and forces endless revision upon us no matter how we seek to withstand this.11

10.5 The importance of negation

For the Neoplatonists, ‘the true is the whole.’ Magee set out Hegel’s position

each standpoint in Hegel’s dialectic is ‘false’ because each, taken on its own, is only a part of the whole. Taken in abstraction from the whole, each part is, in a way, misleading. For instance, each category of the Logic is a ‘provisional definition’ of the Absolute. Each on its own terms, is false as a definition – but each is part of the entire system of the Logic, which constitutes the complete articulation of the nature of the Absolute. (my italics)12

But ‘the whole’ is not something bounded, it is a process the essential, unrelenting aspect of which is negation, the driver of the dialectic. Hegel, who wrote

Everything concrete, everything living contains contradiction within itself; only the dead understanding is identical with itself13

concluded his explication of God in his Science of Logic with his most ‘concrete’ concept Absolute Idea. With it, we are to accept that negation has now found completion, when surely the primary lesson of the Science of Logic, which documents the movement of incompatibles in their never ending unrest is the opposite

To hold fast to the positive in its negative…this is the most important feature in rational cognition14

Negation in the process of emanation and return drives the Enneads no less than it does Hegel’s use of the Christian myth (God goes into the world/first negation, God dies and returns to self/negation of that negation) and his Science of Logic. Just as the second hypostasis negates the first (because agent, object and movement are introduced) so the first hypostasis negates the second (because agent, object and movement disappear). The third hypostasis negates the second by lighting and ordering the world which engagement is in turn negated by Soul’s return to the second hypostasis.

Further, Plotinus wrote of his second hypostasis, Hegel’s mystical ‘reason-world’

In that Intellectual Cosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: it is identity and difference, movement and rest, the object moving and the object at rest, essence and quality. All There is pure essence…and therefore quality is never separated from essence.15

10.6 Hegel used his concepts mytho-poetically

Magee wrote that Hegel was less interested in the truth of statements than in the ‘truth’ or meaning of concepts and that Hegel’s form of speculation is identical with mytho-poetic circumscription

Hegel rejects propositional thought, which would define the Absolute, and instead ‘talks around’ or ‘thinks around’ the Absolute, revealing at each point some aspect or part of it. The totality of Hegel’s philosophical speech is the Truth, the Absolute itself. …His is truly a mythology of reason: a new myth-form made of ideas16

Hegel’s philosophy is not ‘a new myth-form made of ideas’ nor does he employ concepts in a ‘radically different way,’17 his philosophy is the highest development of an ancient form in the expression of ideas which has been treated as pornography by generations of career-building, time- and ideology-serving academics – Neoplatonism.

Just as concepts (particularly the hypostases themselves) were stepping-stones to be ‘thought around’ for Plotinus and the Neoplatonists prior to Hegel, from and to spiritual unity with their highest concept the One-Absolute, so Hegel, following particularly Plotinus, Proclus and Cusanus used his concepts in the same way from and to spiritual unity with his God/One/Absolute. What makes Hegel’s philosophy ‘mythical’ is his overlay of the Christian myth across his Neoplatonism.

Hegel rejected the definition and propositional thought of Verstand both because he correctly saw their deadening limitations and because he faced the challenge confronted by all Neoplatonic philosophers and by those inspired by Neoplatonism and mysticism – how best to express and evoke, to draw their audience into the dynamic subtleties and spiritual flux of ‘reality.’ Inevitably he employed the devices of poetry including images, metaphors and symbols – myth, in Christian form, being the most important of them – Christian mythology provided Hegel with images, metaphors and symbolism.

Hegel didn’t build a conceptual argument but wove a dense mystical tapestry using concepts as focal or anchor points. He wrote that speculative thinking is from one point of view akin to the poetic imagination and he used words and concepts to create a rationalised feeling for the Absolute, rather than to attain a literal cognition of it. In his philosophy, God comes to know himself Neoplatonically – most importantly, he does so dialectically.



1. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 152-153
2. Quoted in Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 144
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 40
4. Dale M. Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., 37
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 843
6. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 187
7. Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, Ed., Hannah Arendt, Trans., Ralph Manheim, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1966, 128
8. Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, Routledge, London, 2000, 25
9. Findlay in Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 503
10. Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1985, 23
11. Findlay in Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., Foreword xv-xvi
12. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 251-252
13. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 192-193
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 834
15. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.9.10. ‘Plotinus in particular…radically modified the ancient discipline of dialectic by prioritising the thinking of differences in identity and identities in difference. By setting the categories of identity and difference at the centre of dialectic, Plotinus fashioned a powerful dialectical mode of contemplation that was influential throughout the Middle Ages, with Nicholas of Cusa representing perhaps the last and best known example’ Andrew Cole, The Function of Theory at the Present Time, The Chicago Blog, 07.12.15, http://pressblog.uchicago.edu/2015/12/07/hegel-and-the-birth-of-theory.html 
16. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 95
17. Ibid.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

2 thoughts on “Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 10a

  1. Coming to know ourselves through neoplatonic thought is a beautiful process; one that I feel personally engaged in. My understanding of Hegel is wishy-washy but I appreciate his discipline and focus. Your ending certainly wraps things up rather well: God comes to know himself Neoplatonically – most importantly, he does so dialectically.

    It is often through my dreams that I experience the numinous but when I awake to pen my thought to paper the words fail me. In my opinion, my ideas dissipate because I’ve yet to really submerge myself in virtue; the dialectical process requires conscious effort and keen concentration; flabby thinking muscles don’t make the cut it seems. On the other hand, I sometimes have flashes of insight that don’t stay with me for very long. For instance it will become clear to me that all the people on our planet (and every other planet for that matter, as well as from the other domains) are not really separated individuals. It then becomes like a dream of sorts and a very ludicrous one, as though I’ve isolated myself in a fish bowl in-order to see myself in a multitude of varieties and to the degree that I am able to accept everybody’s madness, then my own madness or separation goes away. Sometimes it baffles me as to why we are so good at pretending that we are really separated agents, as though gravity, old age and death will pardon us because we are intoxicated with mind numbing distractions or cognitive distortions. If I am god, why would I allow myself to be dispersed into an infinite multiplicity so as to hit rock bottom and discover that I have no other choice but to turn around and look back to myself from within a dense level of conscious being… what is the good of being here within the far reaches or the outer crust of consciousness if not to find some way to bring soul and beauty into the deep… as billions of sperm gravitate towards the egg, it only takes one of us to penetrate the mystery before we enter into new life. Why can’t we accept that we might be the one. Correction: Why can’t I (Phil Stanfield) just accept the truth that the rest of us are waiting for him to cross over, to wake up, to realize that he really is the One… why doesn’t he just wakeup and stop playing with words to explain the unexplainable… what is this fear and duplicity that keeps him in the freezing chains of the Furies… why does he wait for others to validate his existence, when he himself is the one to validate himself… to know thyself… In the Flesh!!!

    So ya
    Thought ya
    Might like to go to the show.
    To feel the warm thrill of confusion
    That space cadet glow.
    Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
    Is this not what you expected to see?
    If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes
    You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jason,
      thank you for your thoughtful comment. I have not a shadow of doubt that the current initiated by Plotinus (a current that draws on the thought of many philosophers) and taken to its highest point of development so far by Marx is our epistemological way forward.

      Our knowledge of the world deepens and the contradictions become more frequent. Bourgeois philosophy cannot cope with these contradictions and is increasingly an impediment.

      You point to our unity-in-multiplicity, another key contribution by Neoplatonism.

      Congratulations on your videos on Neoplatonism and best wishes as always,

      Liked by 1 person

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