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pure force, an intensive life which holds itself within itself, the celestial sphere which has withdrawn into itself…in whose flux and reflux every distinction is extinguished.6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

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