Reply to Jason 1

Max Dupain, ‘Sunbaker’, 1937, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Max Dupain, ‘Sunbaker’, 1937, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Hi Jason,

thank you very much for your reply. There are two points regarding your first comment that I want to respond to.

The first, concerning the manner of the guards’ speech to the tethered boy in the first video is that the reason why they spoke as they did was because they knew they were being recorded.

In the Four Corners show on the ABC the guards several times referred to the cameras, asking if they were recording or telling the others that they were recording.

The second is with regard to what I might have brought from my own life to my perception of the abuse documented on those videos.

Because I believe that everything should be questioned and have lived to do so in areas that most interest me, I have, and immediately, come up and lived my life against basically the same authoritarianism meted out to those boys.

I have obviously made no secret on my blog of the bitterness I have felt as a result of some of those experiences, which have affected me very seriously in ways that you are not aware of and which have underlined to me the depth of petty, vicious, vindictive authoritarianism in this culture.

The same authoritarianism documented on the latest Four Corners.

It is why I call this culture a convict culture.

And I have given a great deal of thought to expressing, to releasing that bitterness.

Not only do I see it as a necessary step towards moving beyond it, that bitterness is aligned with an entirely justifiable call for accountability, not only with regard to myself but far more importantly where the impact of mysticism on Western culture is concerned (as I have often posted about), with regard to the most gross and deliberate failure in social responsibility by generations of ideologues, careerists, supremacists and assorted hacks.

They should be held to account so that the lessons of their failure can be addressed.

Even in how some of these people address mysticism now (a subject they would never go near prior to the decline of po-mo, itself suffused with mysticism) I see the words of Marx and Engels being borne out.

While they bathe daintily, weave cobwebs and crack fleas on the spiritual shoreline, they dare not acknowledge its revolutionary content, once Marx and Engels had stood the dialectics of Neoplatonism on a material basis – the content that now foretells the fall of the exploitative class they serve.

I do not and would not use the experience of the boys in the videos (or that of anyone else) as proxies or as a proxy for my own issues. That would be dishonest.

Having to think about my issues in relation to ‘authority’ and class domination has, however, given me a far greater sensitivity to and awareness of how ‘authority’ and domination are manifested, and how much damage they result in.

I have also come to recognise the depth of authoritarianism in sunny Australian culture – it functions through ‘decent,’ ‘laid-back,’ ‘nice’ and particularly through ‘egalitarian.’

The dictum is ‘Salute without question these concepts as they are interpreted in the dominant culture and you may be one of us.’

If this is ugly, the ugliness is not mine.

Best wishes as always,

Phil red-star


This is the Australia I know – a racist, authoritarian culture gagging on its ‘decency’

Video of the tear-gassing of a child in prison


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11e

11.3.10 Hegel infused the Trinity with Neoplatonic symbolism

As Hegel’s distortions through conflation in his discussions of the philosophies of Plotinus and Proclus in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy are reflected in his own conflated Neoplatonism (addressed in Chapter 7), so the Christian Trinity and his distortions of it provided him with a wealth of symbolism which he used to illustrate and enrich every aspect of his philosophy’s Neoplatonic process. God as a symbol for unity and difference

Most broadly, as Hodgson wrote

‘Father’ is not a divine person but a symbol designating the immanent Trinity, while ‘Son’ is a symbol designating the economic or worldly Trinity, and ‘Spirit’ is a symbol designating the inclusive or holistic Trinity.1

For Hegel, God symbolises the unitary source not only of emanation but of difference,2 Christ whose coming into the world entails the first negation symbolises the merger of the infinite Word with the plurality of the created, finite world and the Holy Spirit, actualised in the negation of that negation through the ‘death of God,’ the reunification of these first two terms. Hegel’s definition of ‘God’ is redolent with Neoplatonism

‘It (God) is also not an inert, abstract universal, however, but rather the absolute womb or the infinite fountainhead out of which everything emerges, into which everything returns, and in which it is eternally maintained. This basic determination is therefore the definition of God as substance.3 Christ as a symbol for unity in difference

the Son is other than the Father, and this otherness is difference – otherwise it would not be spirit. But the other is [also] God and has the entire fullness of the divine nature within itself.4

God, Christ and Holy Spirit all symbolise the unity-in-difference (unity-in-multiplicity) of Neoplatonic dialectics throughout the entire process, from emanation to return. Christ as a symbol for emanation

The kingdom of God – or spirit – is to move from the universal to determinacy, to pass over into actuality. This movement, the process of determining, takes place in the life of Jesus.5 Christ as a symbol for mystery

Christ was the ‘God-man’6 man mysteriously become one with God. Hegel blended Christian mystery with Neoplatonism for greater poetic effect. Christ as a symbol for the unity of divine and human

Christ’s coming to the world signified that the divine and the human are not intrinsically different – he represents the highest stage of the spiritual being of humanity. The kingdom of God is made actual through Christ. Likewise Soul in the Enneads is the intermediary between the ‘worlds’ of intellect and sense and the representative of the former in the latter. As our souls return to the One through the thinking of the second hypostasis and for Proclus, as our souls are infused with the gods, so in Christianity our souls return to unity with God through the ‘death of God’ and in the coming of a perspectival cultus of Spirit. Christ as a symbol for the unity of infinite and finite

Christ embodied the crucial Neoplatonic relationship between infinitude and the determinacy of finitude. Hegel used Christ to bring the relation between infinite and finite from theoretical abstraction into the lived world. The death of Christ reconciled the two (the finite individual with the infinite Absolute). Christ as a symbol for the unity of eternal and in time

(With Christ) The Neoplatonic timeless Trinity…at once remains timeless and yet actually enters into history.7 Christ as a symbol for the journey of the soul

The trials and tribulations of Christ are echoed in the trials and tribulations of the soul, exemplified in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

even the whole sharpness and dissonance of the suffering, torture, and agony involved in such an opposition, belong to the nature of spirit itself8 Christ as a symbol for the process of spirit and self-cognition

what this life of Christ brings to representation for us…[is] this process of the nature of spirit – God in human shape.9

With the ‘death of God’ spirit in humanity is reconciled with itself, thereby attaining true consciousness of itself. The goal of Neoplatonism is achieved. Christ as a symbol for contradiction

God’s suffering and death are the expression of his love. In dying (the death of death) he is resurrected into eternal life (the life of Spirit in the cultus, through God’s return to and eternal reconciliation with himself). Christ as a symbol for the process of negation

The death of Christ is the affirmative negation of the initial negation, his incarnation. Christ as a symbol for recollection

Because he physically dies, Christ can only live in the memories of the faithful. Plotinus wrote

At any time when we have not been in direct vision of (the Supreme), memory is the source of its activity within us10

Recollection, like a mirror, embodies higher ‘truth’ and since, for the Neoplatonist, it is closely related to love and desire, its activity (thinking or imaging) is the beginning of the soul’s ascent. Love for Christ in memory leads to desire for the return of one’s soul to union with God.

Relevant to Christ’s death and ascension, Plotinus perceptively wrote

Memory, of  course, must be understood not merely of what might be called the sense of remembrance, but so as to include a condition induced by the past experience or vision. There is such a thing as possessing more powerfully without consciousness than in full knowledge; with full awareness the possession is of something quite distinct from the self; unconscious possession runs very close to identity11

Such a recollection of Christ all the more powerfully illustrates the process of Neoplatonic return. Christ as a symbol for the means of return and unification

Hegel wrote that a single historical individual should enable the activity of reconciliation through his death and ascension, thereby actualising a universal self-consciousness of community, a unity of members in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit as a symbol for the return to unity in knowledge

Reconciliation occurs in the Holy Spirit – the third ‘moment’ of the Trinity, the unity of ‘Father’ and ‘Son.’ God, ‘completed,’ is now in his community.

Inspired by their mysticism, the Neoplatonists have always had a strong interest in the world. Chlup wrote of Proclus’ philosophy that while the Soul can never enter the realm of the One, it can open up to the gods and be filled with their power – the gods can come to it.12 This was Hegel’s intention in his use and distortions of the Christian myth and Trinity.

At every point in his use of the Christian myth and Trinity (comprised of the allegorical characters of ‘Father,’ ‘Son’ and the reunion of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ – Holy Spirit) and in his distortions of them, Hegel used them to more deeply anchor Neoplatonism in the world – God, needing completion, comes to the world, he finds and therefore we find (because we are God) completion through his participation in it, in us – ‘salvation’ lies in a philosophical community.

Hegel also used the Christian myth and Trinity and his distortions of them to poetically flavour and enrich his Neoplatonic philosophy – myth and Trinity are always present in his conceptual development, however abstract – myth, Trinity and Neoplatonic process flow out and return interlaced, but always the last sustains the other two. The rose and the owl face each other

In the Preface to his Philosophy of Right Hegel wrote of ‘the rose of reason,’13 a mystical metaphor he acknowledged he had used of the Rosicrucians to unintentionally point beyond ‘reason’ itself – the concept he had laid claim to – and which metaphor he used again in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion14 and of the flight of the owl of Minerva at dusk, as it philosophically reviews the course of human events.15



1. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 247
2. ‘The Christian God is…the triune God who contains difference within himself’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 44-45
3. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 374. Cf. ‘The Good…is the Fountain at once and Principle of Beauty: the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty’s seat is There.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.6.9
4. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 311-312
5. Ibid., 123
6. Ibid., Hodgson in note 229, 149
7. Emil L. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, Indiana University Press, London, 1971, 172
8. G.W.F.Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, Volume I, Trans. T.M.Knox, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2010, 537
9. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 132
10. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.5
11. Ibid., IV.4.4
12. ‘Plotinus already saw the highest aim in one’s unification with the One, in which the distinction between subject and object melts down entirely. Late Neoplatonists followed suit, though they differed from Plotinus in their understanding of what this unification means and how exactly it is to be reached. Once again (as with the henads), we are approaching an area of Neoplatonism where philosophy passes into the realm of religion. …For Proclus, to unify with the One does not mean to leave one’s ontological station and ascend from the level of soul to that of the First Principle. (The late Neoplatonists believed that) the boundaries between levels of reality are penetrable in one direction only (- from higher to lower. So) while human Soul can never really enter the realm of the One, it can open up to the gods and act in unison with them, becoming their extension, as it were, and being filled with their power.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 163
13. ‘To comprehend what is, this is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason. …To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to enjoy the present, this is the rational insight which reconciles us to the actual, the reconciliation which philosophy affords to those in whom there has once arisen an inner voice bidding them to comprehend,’ G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Trans. T.M.Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, 11-12
14. ‘In the 1824 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, the same metaphor occurs: “in order to pluck reason, the rose in the cross of the present, one must take up the cross itself.” Most commentators agree that Hegel is making a reference to the imagery of the Rosicrucians, whose symbol was a rose blooming from the centre of a cross. Hegel himself makes it clear that he was referring to the Rosicrucians, in a review essay published in 1829. …In the Preface, prior to the “rose in the cross” image, Hegel refers to the reason inherent in nature as der Stein der Weisen, or, as it is usually translated into English, “the philosopher’s stone.” These are equivalent metaphors in the Preface: both the rose in the cross and the philosopher’s stone represent, for Hegel, reason, which he is calling upon his readers to discern in the present day. Given that the Rosicrucians were widely known as alchemists, Hegel could not have been ignorant of the connection between these two metaphors’ Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 263
15. ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, op. cit., 13. Verene wrote that this has practically become the emblem and seal of Hegel’s thought. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 26

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11d

11.3.9 Core Neoplatonic metaphors Hegel used Emanation and return (including elevation and introversion)

The metaphor of an outgoing stream of consciousness and its return to unity underlies Hegel’s philosophy and he illustrated this with further metaphors in his discussion of it

To philosophical cognition, the progression (of consciousness) is a stream flowing in opposite directions, leading forward to the other, but at the same time working backward, so that what appears to be the last, founded on what precedes, appears rather to be the first – the foundation.1

Hodgson expressed it in a slightly different way

the rise of finite consciousness to the absolute is at the same time the return of absolute spirit to itself.2

Plotinus also drew on the metaphor of a fluid gushing from Intellectual-Principle, writing of life being

poured copiously throughout a Universe, engendering the universal things and weaving variety into their being, never at rest from producing an endless sequence of comeliness and shapeliness, a living pastime.3 Light

‘Light,’ ‘the activating and animating agent in Nature’4 is no less a mystical, spiritual concept for Hegel than it is for Plotinus – it is ‘simply Thought itself.’5 Light, the sun, is a

pure force, an intensive life which holds itself within itself, the celestial sphere which has withdrawn into itself…in whose flux and reflux every distinction is extinguished.6

In his two Logics, touted by academic ideologues and careerists as masterpieces of the most rigorous conceptual reason, Hegel’s mysticism when writing of ‘light’ is undeniable

Essence…is Being…a seeming or reflected light – Essence accordingly is Being thus reflecting light into itself. The Absolute is the Essence.7

one pictures (Hegel’s appropriate italics) being to oneself, perhaps in the image (my italics) of pure light as the clarity of undimmed seeing8

and for added prose poetic effect, he equated the dispersal of Light with Christ’s crucifixion

Pure Light disperses its (God’s) unitary nature into an infinity of forms, and offers up itself as a sacrifice to being-for-self9 Mirror10

Inwood wrote that for self-consciousness to develop, another is required as a mirror, reflecting oneself.11 Hodgson expanded

(For Hegel) Reality is…a mirror of consciousness; but consciousness is also a mirror of reality. ‘Speculation’ (from the Latin speculum, ‘mirror’) involves a relationship of double mirroring in which a reversal in the flow of meaning occurs – from object to subject as well as from subject to object. The condition of possibility for this reversal is that subject and object, self and world, participate in, are moments of, of an encompassing whole, which Hegel calls variously ‘truth,’ ‘actuality,’ ‘the universal,’ ‘the absolute,’ ‘spirit’ – or ‘God.’12 Sight13

The spiritual activity of ‘seeing’ (which equates with knowing) is the culmination of the Neoplatonic process. As previously argued (8.5), Hegel’s recognitive theory of Spirit finds completion in a cultus comprised of perspectival Subject-Objects, all simultaneously seeing/knowing ‘mirror’ and ‘eye.’

Once again indicative of his concentrated prose poetic style, Hegel brought the metaphors of emanation, light, mirror and sight together in his illustration of the Neoplatonic vitalism of idea, also drawing on Plotinus’ One as the source which remains present within itself

all the emergent components in the living individual and their systematic arrangement proceed from the one idea, because all these particulars are simply mirror and images of this one vitality. They have their actuality only in this unity, and all their distinctions or diverse characteristics together are themselves just the expression of the idea and the form contained within it. So the idea is at once central point and periphery, the light source that in all its diffusion does not come outside itself but instead remains present and immanent within itself.14



1. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, note 115, 227
2. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 236
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.2.15
4. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 106
5. Ibid., 93
6. Ibid., 87. Plotinus made frequent use of the metaphor of light to express the unity of subject and its object of contemplation: ‘shining down upon all, the light of godlike Intellection’; ‘The only reasonable explanation of act flowing from it lies in the analogy of light from a sun…the One shines eternally, resting upon the Intellectual Realm’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.6.5 and V.3.12 
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 162
8. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 93. Hegel’s discussion of being and nothing in this section is metaphorical.
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 420
10. See also 8.5 and 9.5, 10.3 and 11.3.5,6,7
11. Inwood in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, xix
12. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 234-235. As previously quoted, Plotinus wrote of the relationship between subject and object ‘In the pure Intellectual…the vision and the envisioned are a unity; the seen is as the seeing and seeing as seen.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.8 
13. See also 8.5 and 10.3. Exemplifying the significance of ‘sight’ in philosophy, Geary noted that ‘Idea’ comes from the Indo-European root weid, meaning ‘to see,’ that ‘intuition’ derives from the Latin in (at) and tueri (to look) and ‘speculate’ derives from the Latin speculari (to watch, examine or observe). Geary, I Is an Other, The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, op.cit., 42
14. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 175; Plotinus wrote ‘The only reasonable explanation of act flowing from it (the Good) lies in the analogy of light from a sun. The entire intellectual order may be figured as a kind of light with the One in repose at its summit as its King: but this manifestation is not cast out from it – that would cause us to postulate another light before the light – but the One shines eternally, resting upon the Intellectual Realm; this, not identical with its source…is seeing, self-knowing, the primal knower.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.12

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Marx acknowledges his debt to mysticism – and its potential

NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula

NGC 7635: The Bubble Nebula

‘I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything, being in its very essence critical and revolutionary.’

Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, pp. 102-103


Contra sacerdotes latentes


Tulika’s comment and my reply

The Swirling Core of the Crab Nebula. While many other images of the famous Crab Nebula nebula have focused on the filaments in the outer part of the nebula, this image shows the very heart of the Crab Nebula including the central neutron star — it is the rightmost of the two bright stars near the centre of this image. The rapid motion of the material nearest to the central star is revealed by the subtle rainbow of colours in this time-lapse image, the rainbow effect being due to the movement of material over the time between one image and another.

The Swirling Core of the Crab Nebula. While many other images of the famous Crab Nebula nebula have focused on the filaments in the outer part of the nebula, this image shows the very heart of the Crab Nebula including the central neutron star — it is the rightmost of the two bright stars near the centre of this image. The rapid motion of the material nearest to the central star is revealed by the subtle rainbow of colours in this time-lapse image, the rainbow effect being due to the movement of material over the time between one image and another.


I think I have been lucky to have, overall, had a good brand of Christianity passed on to me. I have come across people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who grew up in very unwholesome environments (Catholic or Protestant) and are very much haunted by memories – you cannot blame them. I value the spirit of skepticism (I myself have plenty of doubts) – though feel that most human beings require some kind of closure/certitude to build up a cohesive community. So perhaps constant and unlimited questioning has a downside.

Regarding Creator/Creation: From what I have read and observed, most cultures did not carefully distinguish between nature and supernature – this was something worked out in detail in medieval Christian Europe and may have aided the development of the physical sciences. There are two reasons: (1). Because God the Creator was transcendent here, nature was stripped of divine status and therefore, could be experimented upon. (2). Because nature was thought to have been “created rationally”, it was deemed intelligible and therefore, could be understood by the human mind. Take India, where nature was considered divine, there was no proper culture of physics, chemistry or biology until the arrival of the Europeans. Maths, yes, but not physical science. People were too busy worshipping nature to be able to analyse it. I see people thinking of Galileo and Darwin and immediately jumping to the conclusion that Christianity was an obstacle to scientific progress. The bigger question is — why did people like Galileo and Darwin only emerge out of a Christian framework and not out of any other? Of course, one cannot discount the scientific legacy of Greece and Rome but the Biblical worldview is far more important than most people realise and has its own place in the development of Western science…and world culture in general. Even non-believers can agree.

I also feel the idea of “divinity as something outside nature” has helped diffuse political and social power (to a great extent) within human society. Because God was thought to be removed from (but intimate with) all of nature, human beings could be valued equally (slaves too) and be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny (masters too). Hope I’m making sense! The current culture of human rights in the West has quite a lot to do with the Judeo-Christian legacy I guess — though that doesn’t mean that other traditions have nothing to offer in this field.


Hi Tulika,

thank you for your thorough and excellent reply!

Similar to the significance of Christianity to the rise of science in the West, I think mysticism has also shown the same significance.

In addition to the influence Neoplatonism had on Christianity, I think it influenced Copernicus’ heliocentrism (he thought the divine light is at the centre and without Copernicus there would have been no Darwin) and it certainly influenced Kepler (that the world is imperfect is reflected in his discovery of the elliptical orbits of the planets).

Particularly, having been ‘stood on its feet’ by Marx by his incorporating it into materialism (making materialism dialectical), Neoplatonism has brought immense, necessary potential to our knowing the world.

Just as Plotinus encouraged the recognition of the wonder of the world, Neoplatonism also focuses on the worth of each individual and was central to the rise of humanism in the Renaissance.

Neoplatonism in particular has had the most profound effect on creativity in the West – only one example is its formative influence via Bergson on Cubism.

I think not only that dialectical materialism, which has contradiction at its core, is the epistemological way forward in a world which has contradiction at its core (the latter is reflected in the former), there are still lessons to be learnt from mysticism itself – both from its theory and practice.

Best wishes,

Filippo del mondo


Tulika’s website


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11c

11.3.3 Hegel’s ‘Trinity’ – symbolism and allegory within a Neoplatonic metaphor

Hegel’s philosophy is not Christian. Nor is his treatment of the Trinity consistent with Christian Neoplatonism – with Christian belief deeply influenced by Neoplatonism, as was that of the cardinal Cusanus.1 His philosophy does establish him as the consummate Neoplatonist.2

Hegel believed that the doctrine of the Trinity is the basis of Christianity and it is held in academia, as Hegel wished it to be known, that this Christian Trinity is reflected in his tripartite division and ordering of (his) philosophy – Logic, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Mind.3

Given the significance of the concept ‘Trinity’ to Hegel it is necessary for me to first discuss this in some detail.

Hegel’s ‘Trinity’ and the three primary divisions that underlie the entirety of his philosophy reflect not the Christian Trinity but the first triad in Proclus’ second hypostasis Intellect – Being, Life and Intelligence, thus making the relations and processes of the Christian Trinity and Hegel’s tripartite division of philosophy metaphors for the relations and processes of Neoplatonism.

In Hegel’s use of the Trinity God, Son and Spirit symbolise the key aspects of Neoplatonic process – unity, emanation and return (Hegel wrote about this in multiple ways – from unity to ‘diremption’ to ‘reconciliation’; from universality to particularity to individuality; from self-identity to self-differentiation to self-return).

The Christian myth based on the Trinity is also an allegory – God, Son and Spirit function as characters for aspects of the soul in its spiritual origin, struggles and development, further anchoring Neoplatonism in this world and in Hegel’s ‘reason-world’ of consciousness.

At every point, the Christian myth both disguises and reinforces Hegel’s Neoplatonism through enrichment by its prose poetic effect. His conflation of the first and third hypostases into his adaptation of the Proclean triad in the second (following a similar use Cusanus made of Proclus’ triad in De docta ignorantia), together with the influence of Eckhart and Böhme adds to and intensifies the same philosophical and creative effect.4

11.3.4 The Christian Trinity and Neoplatonism

In his lectures on the philosophy of religion Hegel said

the Trinity may have entered Christian doctrine from the Alexandrian school, or from the Neoplatonists. …that doctrine is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian religion.5

The editor added that F.A.G.Tholuck, with whom Hegel corresponded

was convinced…that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is closely linked with Neoplatonism.6

In his commentary on Prop. 176 (‘All the intellectual Forms are both implicit each in other and severally existent’) in Proclus’ The Elements of Theology Dodds wrote of the Neoplatonic unity-in-distinction – Hegel’s mystical ‘reason-world’

A perfect system of knowledge would be a perfect type of organic unity: each part would involve, and be involved in the existence of every other part, yet without any blurring of the articulations which keep each part distinct and unique. In the content of a well-ordered human mind we may see an approximation to such a (unity-in-distinction)…The most elaborate discussion of the concept of (unity-in-distinction) is to be found in the Parmenides commentary, 751. 15ff. From Pr. it was taken over by the Christian Neoplatonists, who made use of it to explain the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. ps.-Dion…Nic. Cusan. de docta ignorantia 38. 24 Hoffmann-Klibansky).7

In the section Dodds referred to in Book I of De docta ignorantia Cusanus, using the figure of a triangle as a metaphor, seeks to clarify the Trinity’s triune unity-in-distinction

Furthermore, you can be helped to understand the foregoing if you ascend from a quantitative triangle to a non-quantitative triangle. Clearly, every quantitative triangle has three angles equal to two right angles. And so, the larger the one angle is, the smaller are the other two. Now, any one angle can be increased almost but (in accordance with our first premise) not completely up to the size of two right angles. Nevertheless, let us hypothesise that it is increased completely up to the size of two right angles while the triangle remains [nonetheless a triangle]. In that case, it will be obvious that the triangle has one angle which is three angles and that the three angles are one.8

11.3.5 Proclus’ triad: Being, Life and Intelligence

Chlup noted that the late Neoplatonists in antiquity tended to think in triads and thought that being must come before the thinking subject. Proclus exemplified both these in his philosophy – the former with a degree of obsession echoed by Hegel and the latter in his ‘inner’ triad within the second hypostasis which, I will argue, is the source of the basic structure of Hegel’s philosophy.

Proclus set out this triad in On the Theology of Plato and in Prop. 101 in The Elements of Theology

All things which participate intelligence are preceded by the unparticipated Intelligence, those which participate life by Life, and those which participate being by Being; and of these three unparticipated principles Being is prior to Life and Life to Intelligence.9

He argued

For in the first place, because in each order of existence unparticipated terms precede the participated, there must be Intelligence prior to things intelligent, Life prior to living things, and Being prior to things which are. …Being will stand foremost; for it is present to all things which have life and intelligence (since whatever lives and shares in intellection necessarily exists)…Life has the second place; for whatever shares in intelligence shares in life…The third principle is Intelligence; for whatever is in any measure capable of knowledge both lives and exists. …Being stands foremost, next to it Life, and then Intelligence.10

Triads are very common in On the Theology of Plato and it is extremely difficult if not impossible to fully understand how Proclus positioned them and the function he accorded them all. It seems that for him the same triad Being/Life/Intelligence is also subordinate within the third hypostasis, Soul, but I think its initial existence in his second hypostasis was of the most interest to Hegel because that second hypostasis is the site of his ‘reason-world.’

Dodds stated that Proclus insisted the Being/Life/Intelligence triad is not comprised of hypostases like the primary hypostases but are three aspects of a single reality, each implying the others as cause or consequent11 and as successive stages in the unfolding from the One – each predominates at a certain stage of the development, without excluding the others. Being becomes Life by procession, which becomes Intelligence by reversion.

While procession is creative, reversion is dependent on will – this is consistent with Plotinus (The Enneads III.2-3 and VI.8, ’On Free Will and the Will of the One’).

Dodds writes that the triad is mirrored in each of its terms12 and that

The motives governing this development seem to have been (a) the recognition that reality is logically prior to thought, since the thinker, in order to think, must first exist; (b) the desire to arrange causes in an ontological order corresponding to their degree of universality; (c) the post-Plotinian theory that all intelligibles have a triadic structure, mirroring at every level the fundamental triad.13

This relationship between the parts within a triadic structure, with the dialectical potential now available – something Hegel thought was lacking in the relations between the hypostases14 – was of most interest to him. He summarised this in his Science of Logic 

Everything is a syllogism, a universal that through particularity is united with individuality; but it is certainly not a whole consisting of three propositions.15

The same obsessive triadic structuring of his philosophy has been noted by many commentators.16 Helmig and Steel wrote of Proclus’ philosophy

(This) triadic structure must be understood as expressing an intrinsic and essential relation between successive levels of being. The intimate relation between Being, Life, and Intellect is the origin of the basic structure uniting all causes to their effects, namely the relation of immanence, procession and reversion…This triad has been called the “triad of triads,” the underlying principle of all triadic structures17

11.3.6 Hegel on Proclus’ triad

Hegel acknowledged that Proclus elaborated in detail and specificity on Plotinus’ philosophy and he expressed superlative praise for his trinity18

What is most definite and most excellent in Proclus is the more precise definition of the idea in its three forms, the trinity. He…calls these three ‘gods’. …he considers the three abstract determinations in turn, each on its own account as a totality of the triunity…he grasps each of the three determinations of the absolute in turn as totality, and by doing so he obtains a real trinity. We must look upon this as an advance, as an outlook that is perfectly correct.19

Hegel then wrote

As for the definition of the triad, its three moments are the One, the Infinite, and the Limit. These are the abstract moments presented in his ‘Platonic Theology’20

As I have argued previously, Hegel’s conflation of the hypostases of Plotinus and Proclus when discussing their philosophies indicated how he himself expressed his Neoplatonism, for both philosophical and poetic effect, by conflating and concentrating the hypostases – into the primary triad in Proclus’ second hypostasis – Intellect.

Proclus appended that triad from the One, which forms no part of it.21 Consistent with Plotinus who set out the relationship between the One, Intellectual-Principle and Being, the primary element in Proclus’ triad is Being, not the One. The One generates Intellectual-Principle, the function of which is to create and which

by its intellective act establishes Being, which in turn, as the object of intellection, becomes the cause of intellection and of existence to the Intellectual-Principle…now while these two are coalescents, having their existence in common, and are never apart, still the unity they form is two-sided; there is Intellectual-Principle as against Being, the intellectual agent as against the object of intellection; we consider the intellective act and we have the Intellectual-Principle; we think of the object of that act and we have Being.22

In On the Theology of Plato Proclus referred to the elements or gods of his triad as bound (meaning Being), infinite and (as Hegel correctly noted) ‘mixed’

Such therefore, is the first triad of intelligibles, according to Socrates in the Philebus, viz. bound, infinite, and that which is mixed from these. And of these, bound indeed is a God proceeding to the intelligible summit, from the imparticipable and first God, (my italics) measuring and defining all things, and giving subsistence to every paternal, connective, and undefiled genus of Gods.23

Each element of this triad is comprised of a further triad of the same elements, which is another way of saying that each element mirrors the other two in its functioning. As Hegel wrote

the whole is the process of these three totalities positing themselves identically in one another. To this extent Proclus is much more definite and has gone much further than did Plotinus, and we can say that in this regard his work contains what is most highly developed and most excellent in the Neoplatonists.24

Hegel continued

Defined more specifically and concretely, the One is substance; the Infinite is life as such, and the Limit is nous or understanding. For what is concrete, for the unity of opposites, Proclus follows Plato by using the expression ‘the mixed’; but this is an unsatisfactory expression.25

To repeat, Hegel is indicatively and importantly incorrect with regard to the place and function of the One here – it has no part in this triad. For Plotinus and Proclus, the One is not substance, is not Mind, is not Being, does not think, does not create and is not many. All of these which Hegel attributed to their philosophies he applied in his philosophical and prose poetic conflation of them – as well as taking the same position as Plotinus and Proclus on the One, denying that it can be known.26

This primary triad – Being, Life and Intelligence (nous) – as with the hypostases, is also the site of emanation and return. As Dodds wrote, Being becomes Life by procession which becomes Intelligence by reversion.

Hegel wrote of this triad

Thus the limit goes forth from the One…the point to which all essentially reverts…just as this is presented in Plotinus too. …The second moment is then the going-forth, the progression. Subsisting is what is first…it is at the same time the going-forward or the Infinite, and so, when concretely defined, it is life. Life contains within itself the subsisting, or ousia. It is itself the entire totality in the form of the Infinite or the indeterminate, so that it is a manifold. But it also contains within itself the Limit or the reversion whereby it is perpetually made conformable to the principle, to ousia, and brings an intellectual circle to completion. …The third substance is thinking as such…It has as its object what is posited in the form of the Infinite, namely, life. This intellectual multiplicity that life is it contains within itself. Life is a moment of this third substance, but, at the same time, thinking is what leads the intellectual world back to the substance; it is what posits the unity of the circle of life with the first or absolute unity.27

This triad of triunities is the source of Hegel’s tripartite division of his philosophy in his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1830) into the Logic, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit. As he wrote

All of this is just one idea – the abiding, the progressing, and the returning. Each of them is totality on its own account, but the last is the totality that brings everything back into itself. These three triunities make known in a mystical fashion the absolute cause of all things, the first substance. In its proper sense ‘mystical’ means ‘speculative’. The mystical or speculative [task] consists in comprehending as a unity these distinctions that are defined as totalities, as gods.28

11.3.7 Hegel’s Neoplatonic Trinity

In his editorial introduction to volume III of Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (which Hegel delivered four times between 1821 and 1831), Hodgson noted that Hegel had structured his ‘philosophical redescription’29 of the Christian religion in two triads, one within the other. Where the outer triad is one of analysis applied to the previously addressed determinate or finite religions, the inner triad sets out the representation of the Christian God – the idea of God in and for itself (the immanent Trinity), the idea in diremption (the creation of the world) and the appearance of the idea in finite spirit (which includes estrangement, redemption and reconciliation).

Hodgson wrote that what this offered, rather than a trinitarian structure

is a philosophical triad, (my italics) drawn from the three branches of philosophy – the logical idea, nature, and (finite) spirit and recapitulated in Hegel’s depiction of “the revealed religion” in #567-570 of the Encyclopaedia. It has the peculiar result that the “Son”…occupies the third moment of the triad rather than the second. (my italics) The third trinitarian moment, the “Spirit,” becomes a kind of appendage, treated under Sec. C of the outer triad, “Community, Cultus.”30

He added that for Hegel to give an adequate account of the Christian idea of God he needed to substantially modify this from a syllogism comprised of universal, particular and individual to the kingdoms of Father, Son and Spirit, which he did in later lectures.

Yet Hegel saw his entire system in terms of universal, particular and individual, where the logical Idea is the principle of universality, nature the principle of particularity and finite Spirit the principle of singularity. Hodgson wrote

Each of these, in turn, mediates between the other two; together they constitute the structure of Hegel’s entire philosophical system.31

In his The Elements of Theology, Proclus not only named the elements of his triad – Being, Life and Intelligence and set out their sequence – there must be Being to create Life and there must be Life for there to be Intelligence, he argued that in that sequence of emanation and return, each element ‘mirrors’ the other two in its functioning. As stated above, Dodds argued that Life is the product of procession and Intelligence of reversion.

The processes of emanation, mediation and return between the elements in Hegel’s Trinity replicate the processes of emanation, mediation and return between the elements of Proclus’ inner triad – Proclus’ Being is replicated in Hegel’s God/Being/Mind, his Life is replicated in Hegel’s nature and his Intelligence, as the unity of the other two, is replicated in Hegel’s finite Spirit, which finds completion in a perspectival cultus.32

Hegel’s philosophical Trinity is encapsulated in the three books of his Encyclopaedia. Organised in that order, these books embody the process of Neoplatonic emanation and return – from God as a dialectical process in the Logic to Section III in the Philosophy of Spirit which deals with Absolute Spirit (Art, Religion and finally Philosophy), concluding with

The eternal Idea, in full fruition of its essence, eternally sets itself to work, engenders and enjoys itself as absolute Mind.33

It is, to state it again, a testament to the power of ideology and the attractions of careerism, particularly in a subject the practice and history of which is so intertwined with religion, that the fundamentals of Christianity should be confused with those of a pagan philosophy. The Christian God requires no ‘diremption’ in order to be ‘fully realised’ and to achieve a self-knowledge he already has through his engagement with humanity – he is perfect and omniscient. Hegel not only questioned this,34 he denied it. We read in the Philosophy of Nature

God, as an abstraction, is not the true God, but only as the living process of positing His Other, the world, which, comprehended in its divine form is His Son; and it is only in unity with His Other, in Spirit, that God is Subject.35

Of God’s ‘diremption’ into the world, Hodgson correctly wrote ‘Here Hegel’s affinity with Neoplatonism and German mysticism is evident.’36 Magee wrote

Notoriously, Hegel employs Neoplatonic emanation imagery to describe the transition from Logic to Philosophy of Nature, saying that the Idea “freely releases itself.” This sort of approach is to be found in Eckhart as well.37

For the Christian, nature is not ‘the son of God.’38 There is no mystical equation between Christ and the world in the following

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour39

It is no surprise that Cusanus is readily recognised as a Christian Neoplatonist while Hegel, with his prominent position in both patriarchal capitalist ideology and Western supremacism (‘the man-master of Reason’), not at all so, yet the religious belief of Cusanus was consistent with Christianity where Hegel’s philosophical belief was not.

The former believed God to be perfect and made that aspect of his belief central to his philosophy40 he believed that God sent Christ into an imperfect world41 to be the Saviour of those who followed him, not for his Father’s self-knowledge and self-completion and yet, as with Plotinus’ appreciation for the beauty of the world,42 Cusanus also believed that the earth is a ‘noble star,’ quite distinct from Paul’s belief that it was groaning with pain.

Hegel employed the Christian Trinity and myth to poetically enrich his philosophy, to disguise his Neoplatonism (one of many philosophers who have done this) to present it as something new and to protect his career – he wrote of a dirempted, vital Spirit that is

estranged from itself; in Nature, Spirit lets itself go, a Bacchic god unrestrained and unmindful of itself43

The organisational structure of Hegel’s Trinity, reflected in the three books of his Encyclopaedia, is the same as that of the three books of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia – the first book of which is concerned with God, the second with his creation the universe and the third, as Hodgson noted of Hegel’s philosophical triad in his lectures on the philosophy of religion, with Jesus, and the, again, culmination in a perspectival church of the Spirit.44 The Trinitarian expositions of Hegel and Cusanus both follow the Neoplatonic order and process of emanation and return in Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence, Hegel’s account being much more developed dialectically than the other two.45

11.3.8 The Trinity is a metaphor that points to a truth beyond itself

Redding wrote

for Hegel, religion is superseded by philosophy and…philosophy expresses adequately in terms of concepts what religion expresses less adequately in terms of images or pictures. (When he) talks of “God” or when he uses any other part of the vocabulary of religion (we must understand him as speaking) ‘metaphorically’. Religious discourse is for Hegel a façon de parler which is not meant to be taken literally.46

Redding presents an accepted view – that Hegel’s use of the religious imagery of the Christian myth is figurative and that the content of this finds full expression in Hegel’s conceptual language. Magee made the same point – that Hegel’s Trinity is

a figurative way of speaking about the three moments of the Absolute: Logic (or the account of the Absolute Idea), nature and Spirit.47

The Christian myth and the Christian Trinity are not only metaphors for Hegelian conceptualisation, but just as they ‘point beyond themselves to the truth that they do not literally express,’48 so, likewise do Hegel’s concepts, dialectics and the primary divisions of his philosophy – Logic, Nature and Spirit which he found in Proclus’ ‘trinity’ Being, Life and Intelligence. They point to the philosophical truth of Neoplatonism, to the the unity of subject and object, of subjects and objects, of philosophical souls finding their true selves – in a Neoplatonic community.



1. ‘popular forms of Christianity in the German states had long had a deep-running Neoplatonic pantheistic-tending stream which had found expression in heterodox thinkers like Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Jacob Bohme (1575-1624) who had often been associated with the heresies of “free thinkers” as well as with populist social movements. This, as we have seen in the case of Schiller, had especially been the case in the German region in which the 3 seminarians (Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin) were born and educated, the Duchy of Wurttemberg. Moreover, at the time, this movement seemed to be undergoing a revival. In the 1780s Bohme had been taken up by the Catholic philosopher Franz von Baader, and in the 1790s Plotinus himself was being read under the urging of Novalis, who had stressed the proximity of Plotinus’ views to those of Kant and Fichte (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-88). …Kant’s already idiosyncratic Christian-Neoplatonic (“Augustinian”) interpretation of Plato’ etc. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 126, 127
2. ‘His repeated profession of allegiance to the Lutheran faith ought not to be taken as a brief of Trinitarian orthodoxy.’ from the Foreword by Louis Dupré, in Cyril O’Regan, The Heterodox Hegel, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1994, x; from the SUNY Press blurb for this book: ‘(Hegel) made no secret of his filiation with the esoteric strands of Christian mysticism and this was clearly the way he was understood by F. C. Bauer, as well as Feuerbach, Engels, Marx and many of his immediate successors. It has always struck me as a major lacuna in Hegel scholarship that such a study had not appeared. Now it has been filled in considerable measure.’ David Walsh, The Catholic University of America
3. ‘It is no coincidence that the three parts of the Encyclopaedia – Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit – correspond to the structure of the trinity’ Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 10; ‘Interestingly, Hegel draws a parallel between the three parts of his system – Logic, Nature, Spirit – and the three persons of the Christian Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 227-228; ‘(For Hegel the primary triad is Logic-Nature-Spirit) which in turn is patterned after the Christian Trinity.’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 178; ‘Finally, and most extravagantly, Hegel sometimes draws an analogy between the three sections of his system, Logik, Naturphilosophie and Geistesphilosophie as analogous to the doctrine of the Trinity.’ Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 134
4. ‘(The idea of the Trinity) properly belongs to church history. The main features are as follows: First, the Father, the One, is the abstract element that is expressed as the abyss, the depth (i.e., precisely what is still empty), the inexpressible, the inconceivable, that which is beyond all concepts…it is the negative of the concept, and its conceptual character is to be this negative’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 288
5. Ibid., vol. I,157
6. Ibid.
7. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 291-292
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,38,23
9. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 91
10. Ibid.
11. Prop. 103. All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature: for in Being there is life and intelligence; in Life, being and intelligence; in Intelligence, being and life; but each of these exists upon one level intellectually, upon another vitally, and on the third existentially. Ibid., 93
12. Cf. the net of Indra
13. Dodds in Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 252-253
14. ‘In the work of the Neoplatonists we saw the idea in its universality. But they did not show that three-in-oneness or trinity is what is true – and one must become conscious that this alone is what is true. …A dialectical mode comes into play too, since the antitheses, which are taken as absolute, are brought back to their unity.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 17
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 669
16. ‘In Spirit, the fundamental form of necessity is the triad.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 19; Inwood wrote of Hegel’s triads ‘a Hegelian triad, like the Neoplatonic triad, is a return journey, and, as in Proclus, the triadic scheme reappears at successive levels.’ Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 297; ‘A numerology pervades Hegel’s system, in particular a fascination with Proclean triads’, ‘(In Hegel’s philosophy) each major subdivision of each science is a triad of enneads, “nines” (meaning that each science is an ennead of enneads). …(Hegel’s) system is a triad of triads of triads of triads of triads.’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 122, 101 
17. Christoph Helmig, Carlos Steel, ‘Proclus,’ Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
18. It is noteworthy that Hegel referred to Proclus’ triad as a trinity, with the implication of persons rather than things.
19. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 342
20. Ibid.
21. ‘this first triad subsisting from, and conjoined with the one,’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. III, Ch. XIII and as previously quoted ‘Hence it is necessary to arrange the one prior to the one being, (my italics) and to suspend the one being from that which is one alone. For if the one and the one being were the same, and it made no difference to say one and being (since if they differed, the one would again be changed from the one being,) if therefore the one differs in no respect from the one being, all things will be one, and there will not be multitude in beings, nor will it be possible to denominate things, lest there should be two things, the thing and the name.’ Ibid., Bk. III, Ch. XX.
22. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.I.4
23. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. III, Ch. XII
24. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 342
25. Ibid., 343
26. Hegel’s One is clearly flexible ’Insofar as (my italics) the One is the absolute One, unknowable of itself and undisclosed, what is sheerly abstract, then it cannot be known.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 343
27. Ibid. 343-344
28. Ibid., 344
29. Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 11
30. Ibid., 12
31. Ibid., 273
32. ‘The truth of the Trinity is most adequately grasped in purely speculative, logical categories as the dialectic of unity, differentiation, and return. It is a mystery, but a rational mystery – the mystery of reason, of thought itself.’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 16
33. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 315
34. ‘If God is all-sufficient and lacks nothing, why does He disclose Himself in a sheer Other of Himself?’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14
35. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 13. Magee wrote ‘On its own, logic (or the logos) is formal and one-dimensional. To be fully realised, the Idea must “express itself” in the world of space and time. Thus, the Logic must be supplemented by the Philosophy of Nature,’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 190
36. Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 17
37. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism,’ op. cit., 266
38. ‘Nature is the son of God,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14
39. John 3.16, The Good News Bible, American Bible Society, New York, 1976, 127
40. ‘For, as Dionysius concludes at the end of The Mystical Theology: “above all affirmation God is the perfect and unique Cause of all things; and the excellence of Him who is unqualifiedly free from all things and is beyond all things is above the negation of all things.”,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,1,24; of Christ ‘we have in Him complete perfection…“He is the Image of the Invisible God”,’ Ibid., III,4,204
41. ‘For He is the Form of being, or the Form of every formable form. But the creation, which is not what it is able to be, does not exist in an unqualified sense of “exist.” God alone exists perfectly and completely.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), op. cit., 14
42. ‘And we must recognise, that even in the world of sense and part, there are things of a loveliness comparable to that of the Celestials – forms whose beauty must fill us with veneration for their creator and convince us of their origin in the divine,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., II.9.17
43. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14
44. ‘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.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,12,261
45.On Learned Ignorance devotes its first book to God, the second to the universe and a third to the God-man, Jesus Christ. While its order mirrors the outflow from God and return to him, this book does not distinguish philosophy and theology as contemporary thinkers might, but unites them in a single overview of Neoplatonic Christian reality.’ Clyde Lee Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa],’ Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
46. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 133
47. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 246
48. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 105

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Engels on the exaltation of man

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

Michelangelo, ‘David’, marble, 1501-1504, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Florence)

So much is certain: comparative physiology gives one a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals. At every step one is forced to recognise the most complete uniformity of structure with the rest of the mammals, and in its main features this uniformity extends to all vertebrates and even – in a less distinct way – to insects, crustaceans, tapeworms, etc. The Hegelian business of the qualitative leap in the quantitative series is also very fine here. Finally, among the lowest infusoria one reaches the primitive form, the simple, independently existing cell, which in turn is not to be distinguished by anything perceptible from the lowest plants (fungi consisting of single cells – the fungi of the potato and the vine diseases, etc.) or from the germs of the higher stages of development up to the human ovum and spermatozoon inclusive, and which also looks just like the independent cells within the living body (blood corpuscles, the cells of the epidermis and mucous membranes, the secretion cells of the glands, kidneys, etc.)…

Engels to Marx in London, Manchester, July 14, 1858, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 102

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss. Colour enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear in its active state. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichen and damp moss. They require water to obtain oxygen by gas exchange. In dry conditions, they can enter a cryptobiotic state of desiccation, known as a tun, to survive. In this state, water bears can survive for up to a decade. This species was found in moss samples from Croatia. It feeds on plant and animal cells. Water bears are found throughout the world, including regions of extreme temperature, such as hot springs, and extreme pressure, such as deep underwater. They can also survive high levels of radiation and the vacuum of space. Magnification: x250 when printed 10cm wide.

Tardigrade or water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) in moss


Images: top/bottom

Thoughts recommended by Yi Ping Wang

Omega Nebula

Omega Nebula

The Paradoxical Commandments (by Kent M. Keith)

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred, love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives, do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies, succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow, do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable, be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds, think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs, fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight, build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them, help them anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you will get kicked in the teeth, give the world the best you have anyway.

In the Embers (by Sleeping at Last)

We live and we die

Like fireworks

Our legacies hide

In the embers

May our stories catch fire

And burn bright enough

To catch God’s eye

We live and we die

Like fireworks

We pull apart the dark

Compete against the stars

With all of our hearts

Till our temporary brilliance turns to ash

We pull apart the darkness while we can

May we live and die

A valorous life

May we write it all down

In cursive light

So we pray we were made

In the image of a figure eight.


Quotes from Erich Fromm

‘There is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers.’

‘One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.’

‘Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.’

‘Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?’



Lenin: On the question of dialectics

The 'indivisible' atom. 'With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form' (Engels)

The ‘indivisible’ atom. ‘With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form’ (Engels)

*   *   *

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III, “On Cognition,” in Lasalle’s book on Heraclitus1) is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).

The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples [“for example, a seed,” “for example, primitive communism.” The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation…”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral.

In mechanics: action and reaction.

In physics: positive and negative electricity.

In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.

In social science: the class struggle.

The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self – movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” – movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.

In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz., the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the Σ2 of its individual parts. From its beginning to its end.

Such must also be the method of exposition (i.e., study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics). To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with any proposition: the leaves of a tree are green; John is a man: Fido is a dog, etc. Here already we have dialectics (as Hegel’s genius recognised): the individual is the universal. (cf. Aristoteles, Metaphisik, translation by Schegler, Bd. II, S. 40, 3. Buch, 4. Kapitel, 8-9: “denn natürlich kann man nicht der Meinung sin, daß es ein Haus (a house in general) gebe außer den sichtbaren Häusern,” “ού γρ άν ΰείημεν είναί τινα οίχίαν παρα τχς τινάς οίχίας”).3 Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other.

Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a “nucleus” (“cell”) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the “aspect” of the matter (it is not “an aspect” but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.

*  *  *

Knowledge is represented in the form of a series of circles both by Hegel (see Logic) and by the modern “epistemologist” of natural science, the eclectic and foe of Hegelianism (which he did not understand!), Paul Volkmann (see his Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge,4 S.)

“Circles” in philosophy: [is a chronology of persons essential? No!Ancient: from Democritus to Plato and the dialectics of Heraclitus. Renaissance: Descartes versus Gassendi (Spinoza?) Modern:   Holbach—Hegel (via Berkeley, Hume, Kant). Hegel—Feuerbach—Marx.

Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade)—here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with “metaphysical” materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to the Bildertheorie,5 to the process and development of knowledge.

Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, überschwengliches (Dietzgen)6 development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is (“more correctly” and “in addition”) a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man. (NB this aphorism)

Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voilà the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscrutantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.



1. See p. 348 of this volume—Ed.

2. summation—Ed.

3. “for, of course, one cannot hold the opinion that there can be a house (in general) apart from visible houses.”—Ed.

4. P. Volkmann, Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge der Naturwissenschaften, Leipzig-Berlin, 1910, p. 35.—Ed.

5. theory of reflection—Ed.

6. The reference to the use by Josef Dietzgen of the term “überschwenglich,” which means: exaggerated, excessive, infinite; for example, in the book Kleinere philosophische Schriften (Minor Philosophical Writings), Stuttgart, 1903, p. 204, Dietzgen uses this term as follows: “absolute and relative are not infinitely separated.”

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