Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11f

11.3.11 The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Logic unite in the Enneads

Epitomising the centrality of ‘seeing’ to mysticism, Hegel believed that philosophy unites in a ‘simple spiritual vision’ raised to ‘self-conscious thought’ the visual immediacy and poetry of art with the ‘mental’ pictures of religion. As Lauer noted, what in Hegel’s view is of supreme interest and importance to the human spirit is expressed in art, religion and philosophy together, not in philosophy alone –

we are speaking of interrelation wherein none is all that it is without the others1

This coming together in a ‘simple spiritual vision’ embodying the three manifestations of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit – the artistically sensuous, the religiously pictorial and the union of them in the philosophically conceptual2 – was given expression by Plotinus in his resonant metaphor of a sculptor (quoted at 6.4) perfecting his soul by shaping it to become vision of the Good.3

The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Logic function as the two elements of a unit, detailing the process of this Neoplatonic shaping of consciousness, of ‘reason,’ of self.4 As I have previously argued, Hegel pulled apart the philosophical strands in the Enneads for detailed treatment in different texts – where the Phenomenology is a study of consciousness, the Logic is a metaphysics and an ontology – a study of Being and its product, being.

But the metaphor of ‘shaping’ sustains both – from the development of the ‘shapes’ of consciousness  in the former to that of the ‘shapes’ of the categories in the latter, culminating in that of Absolute Idea, ‘defined’ by the entirety of the argument in the Logic.5

The Neoplatonic process of return to unity is begun in the Phenomenology with the rise from sense-certainty, and the development within the stage covered by the Phenomenology concludes with ‘absolute knowing’. This movement is the equivalent of Soul’s return to the level of the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle – a higher level of being than that of the third hypostasis, Soul (All-Soul, Universal Soul, Soul of the All).6

The Logic then takes over, detailing the development within what was for Plotinus Intellectual-Principle, the realm of unity-in-multiplicity, which development concludes with the attainment of Absolute Idea – the unity of subjectivity and objectivity.7

Negation drives the process, giving us in turn the development both in the processes of consciousness in the Phenomenology and in the processes of the ‘mind’ of God in the Logic. ‘Crises’ in the former become ‘inadequacies’ in the latter. Where ‘events’ unfold dialectically in the attempt to make the content determinate in the Phenomenology (determinations of consciousness), concepts unfold likewise dialectically in the Logic (determinations of logic).8 ‘Shapes’ gain more precise definition.

As the Phenomenology gives us the ‘lived content’ of ‘reality’ through a series of metaphors, the Logic gives us the ‘formal structure’ of that ‘reality’. First, reason as consciousness in the Phenomenology rises to an initial unity of subject and object – ‘absolute knowing’ – now as ‘pure reason’ in the Logic it engages with a multiplicity in that unity, with all that is. Soul having attained ‘absolute knowing’ becomes the activity of ‘pure knowing’ in the pursuit of unity.

Based on recollection, the enmeshed philosophical strands in the guided ascent to the philosopher’s God that is the Enneads was reproduced, expanded on and very substantially developed by Hegel in two parts – the Phenomenology followed by the Logic.9 Self-knowing, incomplete in the former becomes perfect in the latter. For Plotinus and Hegel, just as Soul is the principle of Life, Divine Mind is the principle of Idea.10



1. Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ op. cit., 12
2. ‘This science is the unity of Art and Religion. Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a totality, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought. Such consciousness is thus the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessary as free.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 302
3. Cusanus wrote ‘suppose that a slab of wax were conceived of as being in-formed with a mind. In that case, the mind existing within the wax would configure the wax to every shape presented to that mind—even as the mind of an artisan endeavours to do now, when mind is applied from outside the object.’ Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 557, 101
4. ‘we must strike for those Firsts, rising from things of sense which are the lasts. …we must ascend to the Principle within ourselves; from many, we must become one…We shape ourselves into Intellectual-Principle; we make over our soul in trust to Intellectual-Principle and set it firmly in That; thus what That sees the soul will waken to see: it is through the Intellectual-Principle that we have this vision of The Unity’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.3
5. Hegel employed the Neoplatonic metaphor of ‘shape’ in both his Phenomenology and Logic, in which he applied it to his overarching category ‘Absolute Idea’: ‘the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth. It is the sole subject matter and content of philosophy. Since it contains all determinateness within it, and its essential nature is to return to itself through its self-determination or particularisation, it has various shapes, and the business of philosophy is to cognise it in these. (my italics) Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824
6. ‘First, consciousness has to enter into itself, it has to become concrete, become what it is in itself; hence it starts from immediacy, and through the sublation of this immediacy it elevates itself to thinking. This means that its true nature is to abandon its immediacy, to treat it as a state in which it ought not to be’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 201-202
7. ‘For the soul when looking at things posterior to herself, beholds the shadows and images of beings, but when she converts herself to herself she evolves her own essence, and the reasons which she contains. And at first indeed, she only as it were beholds herself; but when she penetrates more profoundly into the knowledge of herself, she finds in herself both intellect, and the orders of beings. When however, she proceeds into her interior recesses, and into the adytum as it were of the soul, she perceives with her eye closed, the genus of the Gods, and the unities of beings. For all things are in us psychically, and through this we are naturally capable of knowing all things, by exciting the powers and the images of wholes which we contain.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. I, Ch. III; ‘For whereas reason descends unto the senses, the senses return unto reason. And in this regard notice the stages-of-return: the senses return unto reason; reason returns unto intelligence; intelligence returns unto God, where Beginning and Consummation exist in perfect reciprocity,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 36, 180
8. ’Just the same dialectic that we have first seen operative among shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology and among categories or thought-determinations in the Logic can be observed,’ Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit.; ‘The soul…a traveller, re-ascends through the power of dialectic’ Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., li; ’dialectic analysis…orders the soul and prepares it for the influx of intellective light from above. In this way, the structures of being that dialectic has traced discursively may come alive within us and be transformed into one complex vision of intelligible reality.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 160-161
9. To think that the Logic, with Hegel’s claim of its rigorous conceptual reason is where he does ‘proper’ philosophy is erroneous and is the ideological, academic position. ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit was conceived as an introduction or propaedeutic to the tripartite system of Logic-Nature-Spirit.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 244-245; ‘absolute knowing is the standpoint to which Hegel has hoped to bring the reader in this complex work. This is the standpoint of science, the standpoint from which philosophy proper (my italics) commences, and it commences in Hegel’s next book, the Science of Logic.’ Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit. To recognise that the Phenomenology and the Logic form a developmental whole is the philosophical position – but to hold that would first require acknowledging Hegel’s Neoplatonism.
10. ‘As in Soul (principle of Life) so in Divine Mind (principle of Idea) there is this infinitude of recurring generative powers; the Beings there are unfailing.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.7.3

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