Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11b

11.3 Hegel’s speculative thinking and his poetic imagination

‘Speculative,’ dialectical philosophy cannot be other than poetic because it is the attempt to most accurately explicate the processes of the world – for the idealist, those of the ‘inner world’ of consciousness, for the materialist, those of the objective world of matter, which subsumes consciousness.

Hegel exemplified his recognition of that challenge when he wrote in his Philosophy of Nature

We have now to make the transition from inorganic to organic Nature, from the prose to the poetry of Nature.1

The poetry of nature for him was that of Life (the capitalisation indicates Hegel’s mystical understanding of the concept) which

can be grasped only speculatively; for it is precisely in life that the speculative has an existence. …Wherever inner and outer, cause and effect, end and means, subjectivity and objectivity, etc., are one and the same, there is life.2

and, I add following Hegel, there also is poetry.

He wrote in his Lectures on Fine Art that poetry, the most spiritual of the arts, is the point at which art dissolves into ‘the prose of scientific thought’ and that speculative thinking is akin to the poetic imagination

(Poetry) abides by the substantive unity of outlook which has not yet separated opposites…there is none of the Understanding’s dissection of that living unity in which the poetic vision keeps together the indwelling reason of things and their expression and existence3

Not only is the subject matter of poetry ‘the infinite wealth of the spirit’4 and of spiritual connectedness, as Magee and others have commented, the real power behind dialectic is imagination, which facilitates the utterance of what is inward.

In ‘The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism,’ written in 1796 or 1797 (ten years before he published his Phenomenology of Spirit) in Hegel’s handwriting and generally considered to be the expression of his views, Hegel wrote of philosophising as an aesthetic act and that great philosophy is a genre of poetry – ‘the art of philosophy’

I am now convinced that the highest act of reason, that in which it embraces all ideas, is an aesthetic act and that truth and goodness are siblings only in beauty. The philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet. Men without aesthetic sense are our literal-minded philosophers. The philosophy of spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. …

First of all I shall speak here of an idea which, so far as I know, has never occurred to anyone else – we must have a new mythology, but this mythology must be in the service of ideas, it must be a mythology of Reason.5

Responding to the creative vitalism of Neoplatonism, Hegel wrote

the poet is required to give the deepest and richest inner animation to the material that he brings into his work6

and that

in poetry the…rational is expressed…as vitalised, manifested, animated, all-determining, and yet at the same time expressed in a manner which lets the all-embracing unity, the very soul of the vitalisation produce its effect7

Hegel thought that both poetry and philosophy are a self-making (for the materialist, they are the product of the world reflecting on itself). The purpose of both is the liberation of the human spirit – synonymous with spirit’s coming to know itself as self-creative and self determining through artistic presentation. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel wrote that philosophy is thinking which is at the same time a ‘making’. As such

it is like poetry in being creative of that which is supremely beautiful; it is like poetry in being an activity whose product is itself.8

In writing of a poetical work of art, Hegel summarised his philosophy

It is now clear that every genuinely poetical work of art is an inherently infinite [i.e. self-bounded] organism: rich in matter and disclosing this matter in a correspondent appearance; a unity…a whole…which closes with itself into a perfect circle without any apparent intention; filled with the material essence of actuality…creating freely from its own resources in order to give shape to the essence of things9

In his Phenomenology of Spirit he referred to the source of this as

the many-named One. This One is clothed with the manifold powers of existence and with the ‘shapes’ of reality as with an adornment that lacks a self10

11.3.1 Speculative philosophy and metaphor

Not only was Jaspers correct to argue that metaphors are necessary to ‘speculative’ cognition, they are unavoidable – our language is full of them and our mutual understanding depends on them. Barfield wrote

Every modern language, with its thousands of abstract terms and its nuances of meaning and association, is apparently nothing, from beginning to end, but an unconscionable tissue of dead, or petrified, metaphors…A man cannot utter a dozen words without wielding the creations of a hundred named and nameless poets.11

Geary wrote that metaphors are ‘entombed in even the simplest words’12 and he quoted Emerson from his essay ‘The Poet,’ in which Emerson described language as ‘fossil poetry’

language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.13

Philip Wheelwright thinks that ‘three-fourths of our language may be said to consist of worn-out metaphors.’14

Metaphors appeal to the senses, particularly sight – itself a fundamental metaphor of mysticism. They allow thought greater abstraction and, as Verene noted, they always point to what is not present in the literal sense of words.15

11.3.2 Hegel and metaphor

Redding said that Hegel came out of an idealist tradition in which truth can be expressed in metaphorical and imagistic ways.16 I will argue not only that the use of metaphor was a major device in Hegel’s philosophical method but that he based his philosophy on a metaphor – just as Plotinus built his philosophy on the simile of a sculptor.17

Verene wrote

To the logical mind, the Understanding in Hegel’s terms, tropes are improper forms of speech because they are imprecise. Logic attempts to exclude all such figurative meanings. But from the standpoint of dialectic and Reason, tropes allow thought to enter into new stages of consciousness. Tropes are not arbitrary because the translatio presupposes the discovery of a similitudo that makes the transfer possible.18



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 270
2. Ibid., 274
3. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 973, 975
4. Ibid., 972
5. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 25-26
6. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 998
7. Quoted in Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet,’ op. cit., 8
8. Ibid., 13
9. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 996
10. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 419
11. Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973, 63, quoted in James Geary, I Is an Other, The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, HarperCollins e-books, Pymble, Australia, 2011, 46
12. Ibid., 49
13. Ibid., 50
14. Ibid., Cited in Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain: A Study in the Language of Symbolism, Bloomington and London, Indiana University Press, 1968, 181
15. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 24
16. Interview of Paul Redding on ‘Philosopher’s Zone,’ ABC Radio National 27.10.13
17. ‘The vivid images and metaphors used by (Plotinus) apparently did not just act as illustrations of mental concepts, but served rather to attune the mind to nondiscursive modes of grasping reality.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 180. Geary wrote that ‘a simile is just a metaphor with the scaffolding still up,’ Geary, I Is an Other, The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, op.cit., 36
18. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 22-23

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11a

Hegel, prose poet

11.1 Language is the ‘mind’s’ perfect expression

In his Philosophy of Mind Hegel wrote that the body is only the ‘mind’s’ first appearance, while language is its perfect expression.1 In his Science of Logic he wrote

The forms of thought are, in the first instance, displayed and stored in human language.2

He believed we cannot think without words (although as previously noted, he also wrote we are thinking all the time, including in sleep3) and that words give our thoughts their highest and truest existence which only becomes definite when we objectify them

(The existence of words) is absolutely necessary to our thoughts. We only know our thoughts, only have definite, actual thoughts, when we give them the form of objectivity4

For Hegel, what cannot be expressed in language has no reality. Such is the power of ideology and so strong the Siren call of possible joys in pandering to it that Hegel’s assertion regarding the necessity of language to thought and reality itself has been accepted almost unanimously.

But Hegel’s equating expression in language with reality is no less flawed than was his philosophical forebear’s banishing of poets from his ideal state in defence of fundamentally the same ‘rational principles’ – Plato, one of the most influential poets in the West being among those to suffer exclusion.

I will argue that Hegel was, as the consummate Neoplatonist, a great prose poet, that he employed a range of poetic devices to convey the content and meaning of his philosophy which always functions beyond the separation and definition of the Verstand he was so critical of and that Hegel’s philosophy can be neither fully understood nor appreciated without according it that recognition.

Not only did Lauer write

it is no more strange to entertain the notion of Hegel as poet than it is to consider the harsh things that Plato had to say about poetry and the poets and at the same time to claim that Plato himself is to be numbered among the greatest of the poets5

Hegel noted that

Plato philosophised in a mythological way. People praise him for making many things accessible in the form of representational images.’6

Franke wrote of Hegel’s philosophy

Since the rational is coextensive with language and all it can express, this means that what is not expressible in language simply has no reality. Yet Hegel’s writings also provocatively show the limits of this position and point to another possibility, a possibility of infinite difference, of something…that would remain forever inexpressible to Logos.7

11.1.1 The German language has many advantages

Benz wrote that the German language of the High Middle Ages did not reflect

the scholastic development of philosophy, theology, and the sciences – (it) was essentially poetic. …a language of images, allegories, parables (and) not a language of abstract concepts and philosophical and logical  terms.8

He stated that the great spiritual revolution in Germany was provoked by the ignorance of Latin of the German Dominican nuns to whom Eckhart, as the prior of the Dominican order, had to give sermons – he was compelled either to attempt to translate his abstract theology in Latin into the poetic imagery of the German of his time or to create a new terminology of abstraction improvised in German.

It was to this poetic richness of the German language that Hegel referred in his Preface to the second edition of his Science of Logic

German has many advantages over other modern languages; some of its words even possess the further peculiarity of having not only different but opposite meanings so that one cannot fail to recognise a speculative spirit of the language in them: it can delight a thinker to come across such words and to find the union of opposites naïvely shown in the dictionary as one word with opposite meanings, although this result of speculative thinking is nonsensical to the understanding.9

a thought he repeated

It is a delight to speculative thought to find in the language words which have in themselves a speculative meaning; the German language has a number of such.10

Central to his dialectic and exemplifying the above is the verb aufheben and its noun Aufhebung – concepts rich in contradictory meaning (to sublate, to lift or raise up, to seize, to retain, to preserve, to reverse [a judgement], to put an end to) and he drew on these meanings, in relation to both concepts and things, at the same time.

He wrote of sublation

To sublate, and the sublated (that which exists ideally as a moment), constitute one of the most important notions in philosophy. …‘To sublate’ has a twofold meaning in the language: on the one hand it means to preserve, to maintain, and equally it also means to cause to cease, to put an end to. …what is sublated is at the same time preserved; it has only lost its immediacy but is not on that account annihilated. …Something is sublated only in so far as it has entered into unity with its opposite11

11.1.2 The sound of speech

Hegel regarded poetry as the most perfect art because it is the means for the richest expression of spiritual freedom. He thought of poetry as the articulation of inner life and ideas in language, particularly when spoken – the art of sound as speech.

When the poet attended to ‘the choice, placing, and sound of words,’12 the result would be the most perfect art given expression by ‘the freest, and in its sound the most perfect instrument the human voice, which unites in itself the character of wind and string instruments’.13 Küng quoted Bloch – ‘Hegel’s language proves to be Luther’s German set to music’14

Hodgson wrote

(With regard to his speculative philosophy, Hegel) is not offering empirical descriptions but imaginative constructions. For this purpose the medium of oral lectures was ideally suited, and it is notable that Hegel was reluctant to constrain the fluidity of speech through publication.15

11.2 On the importance of feeling to philosophy

Hegel criticised the Enlightenment for its lack of ‘old fashioned’ religious feeling and he argued for the importance of ‘feeling.’ In ‘The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason’ (1822) he wrote ‘Only in the region of feeling can the impulse to truth take refuge.’16 In Lectures on the Philosophy of World History he wrote

the Christian…worships truth in symbolic form…the philosopher…immerses himself in eternal truth through rational thought. …the feelings themselves are one and the same.17

Hegel would have endorsed Lauer’s words

philosophy cannot dispense with emotion, not only in the sense that the human spirit’s relation to truth is emotional but also in the sense that only when significant truth is allied to beauty is it genuinely compelling, because authentic philosophy is an activity of whole human persons18

I will argue in this chapter that Hegel built his use of words and language so that a feeling for the Absolute becomes knowledge of it – as did Plotinus.



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 147
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 31
3. ‘it is also inadequate to…(say) vaguely that it is only in the waking state that man thinks. For thought in general is so much inherent in the nature of man that he is always thinking, even in sleep. In every form of mind, in feeling, intuition, as in picture-thinking, thought remains the basis.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 69
4. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 221
5. Quentin Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ in History and System: Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Ed., Robert L. Perkins, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1984, pp. 1-14, 1
6. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 284
7. William Franke, A Philosophy of the Unsayable, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014, 26
8. Ernst Benz, The Mystical Sources of German Romantic Philosophy, Trans., Blair R. Reynolds and Eunice M. Paul, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2009, 8. Eckhart introduced new philosophical and theological terms into German. Benz wrote that it was with him that philosophical speculation in German began, further developed by Jakob Böhme. ‘All the ontological terms, for example, Sein, Wesen, Wesenheit, das Seiende, das Nichts, Nichtigkeit, nichtigen, all the terms such as Form, Gestalt, Anschauung, Erkenntnis, Erkennen, Vernunft, Vernünftigkeit, Verstand, Verständnis, Verständigkeit, Bild, Abbild, Bildhaftigkeit, entbilden, all the concepts such as Grund, Ungrund, Urgrund, ergründen, Ich, Ichheit, Nicht-Ich, entichen, Entichung, are the creations of German mystical speculation’ Ibid., 10
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 32
10. Ibid., 107
11. Ibid.
12. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 969
13. Ibid., 922
14. Hans Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, Trans., J.R.Stephenson, Crossroad, New York, 1987, 193
15. Peter C. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 230-252, 232
16. Hegel in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 164
17. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 45
18. Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ in History and System: Hegel’s Philosophy of History, op cit., 13

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

The benefits of being boring – the ideology of ‘the lucky country’


The article below is designed to crush at its centre creative vision – the concept most vital to the spiritual growth of any community.

Vision and the questioning that goes with it threaten authoritarians, the ‘decent’ comfortable and the status quo; it is also a necessity that inspires, that can give a direction that can be believed in and committed to and in that process, unite.

Instead of Australians finding their core values in a stoic response to loss, failure and defeat and to the suffering and waste of lives in the service of dominant powers, they should find them in vision – in eagerly looking forward, not back.

It was because of such an absence of spirit as Glover exemplifies in this article that Jørn Utzon and many others have left this country – a country yet to rise to the lesson of the necessity for vision.

Richard Glover is prominent in the Sydney media.


Richard Glover, ‘The benefits of being boring in our two-party race,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 07.06.16

I’m so bored with people saying they are finding this election boring. “Boring election, eh?” has become the “hello-how-are-you” of Australian life. You can’t get in and out of a shop without both parties nodding in furious agreement and letting loose huge disappointed sighs.

Well, can I make one tiny point? It’s better than the alternative.

The Americans are about to have an exciting election, with the polls showing a slight edge for the man recently described as “looking like the guy who would play the President in a porno”.

Trump wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico and ban all Muslims from visiting the United States, with the possible exception of the new mayor of London – whom he likes on the grounds they both equally dislike British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Oh, and he also wants to see criminal charges against women who have an abortion. Or did so until he was asked about it a second time.

Now that’s exciting.

The British, too, are about to have an exciting vote. In less than a fortnight, they may vote to leave the European Union – the urge to leave bolstered by the current anxiety about what is seen as “uncontrolled migration”.

If they leave, the Scots say they’ll demand a fresh referendum on independence because they’d rather stay with Europe, and frankly don’t mind the idea of a few more migrants in their sparsely populated uplands.

Once all that happens, Scotland will surely fill with Polish plumbers and Bulgarian butchers, at which point the English can rebuild Hadrian’s Wall. Donald Trump could lend them the construction diagrams.

Again, you’d have to say: it’s exciting. If the English vote to leave Europe, there will be a material shift in people’s lives, perhaps not as great as the scaremongering on either side, but still sharp and real. Migration might slow down; but so will the economy. Depending on which box you tick, your life will alter.

In contrast, when we wake up on July 3, nothing much will have changed. If Shorten wins, negative gearing will be somewhat restricted; if Turnbull wins, superannuation will be somewhat restricted. That’s about as dramatic as it gets.

In fact, you feel the need for a calculator and a spreadsheet before you can even consider the policies on offer. Talk for more than a minute about the government’s superannuation changes, and you’ll be uttering the phrase “a 15 per cent earnings tax due to an arrangement change on the Transition to Retirement Income Stream (or TRIS) pension scheme”.

Try dropping that at your next barbecue. Actually, do drop it because in the right crowd it will go gangbusters.

And so we all complain: “It’s so boring”. “Why can’t we have some vision?” “Why can’t they both be a bit more exciting?”

Well, if you want excitement in politics, try Austria where they have just come within a few thousand votes of electing a far-right president. Yeah, I know: a short, fascist Austrian, what could possibly go wrong?

Or try Argentina, where the new right-wing government has sacked 154,000 government workers, and yet also reinvigorated the country’s main export industries – industries that had been effectively taxed into oblivion by the previous left-wing government.

In places like Argentina, the government changes, and then everything else changes. Each swing of the pendulum is like a wrecking ball for whoever isn’t in sweet with those in power.

For those who live there, it’s certainly exciting.

I understand the hunger for vision in politics, for radical change. The trouble is that one person’s breath of fresh air is another person’s tsunami of unfair consequences.

So, in American politics, the only two politicians who have generated excitement are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – both representing policies that would be first, often impossible to implement, and second, an anathema to half the population if their implementation proved remotely possible.

Are these men selling radical change, as their fans argue, or just packaging anger without locating a real way forward?

In Britain, meanwhile, the next election may well offer the choice of Boris Johnson on one side and Jeremy Corbyn on the other – two men who are like caricatures of their respective sides of politics. They are like cartoons made flesh: the blond-haired, Eton-educated daffy toff on one side, willing to say anything to win an argument; on the other, the thin-lipped Hamas-loving socialist, with a willingness to tolerate anti-Semitism.

And so we are back with our boring campaign. Two decent people – Turnbull and Shorten. Both well equipped for the job. Both smart, honest, and yes – even articulate. Both dedicated to winning the middle ground; to finding policies that most of us can live with.

I don’t like everything they stand for; you don’t like everything they stand for. But it’s not a winner-takes-all contest. Australia will still be there, enjoying the things we’ve enjoyed under both sides of politics: 25 years of continuous economic growth, a mostly achieved balance between freedom and fairness, the rule of law, multiculturalism, a fondness for each other.

Boring? Yes. Lucky, aren’t we?



Images: top/bottom

Recommended: Richard Glover, ‘Bruce Ruxton is right: we should embrace the legends of defeat’

 Robert Poposki, ‘Why Australians Aren’t as friendly as You Think’