Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11j With what does the Science of Logic begin?

My contention is that for philosophical and creative reasons, Hegel conflated the Neoplatonic hypostases with Proclus’ triad Being, Life and Intelligence which Proclus ‘suspended’ from the first hypostasis, the One.

Hegel’s philosophical reasons were that this triad of triads gave him the greatest potential for the development of Neoplatonic dialectics and that, with one stroke, it enabled him to obviate the impossibility of the cognition of the One. Now the entirety of the Neoplatonic system was open to the full development of ‘reason’.

Hegel’s creative motives were that by conflating the hypostases with Proclus’ triad and overlying the Christian Trinity across and weaving it into his use of it, every aspect of the Neoplatonic system could be illustrated and made more metaphorically rich – divine ‘mind’ and divine Being were now interchangeable with the Neoplatonic One and Absolute, with the Christian God, Father, Son and Spirit.1 Hegel used God, Christ and Spirit to symbolise every stage in the process of emanation and return.

By further anchoring Neoplatonism in the world through the coming of Christ and the Christian Spirit to it, Hegel aimed to make this austere, mystical philosophy more relevant to those who were drawn to the cultus he believed necessary for his time. In arguing thus, he also protected his career.

Hegel described the broad flow of his Science of Logic in Neoplatonic terms

The essential requirement for the science of logic is not so much that the beginning be a pure immediacy, but rather that the whole of the science be within itself a circle in which the first is also the last and the last is also the first.2

Despite writing that it must begin without presuppositions, Hegel then appeared to emphatically contradict himself

God has the absolutely undisputed right that the beginning be made with him3

Magee wrote of this

Hegel believed that before Christianity appeared philosophy could not have presented absolute truth in a fully adequate form. This leaves us with a troubling question: how can one square this claim about philosophy’s dependence on religion with Hegel’s claim that his philosophy is ‘presuppositionless’?…the thought that thinks the Logic is the thought of modern man shaped by Christianity, and much else. …Spirit had to undergo its encounter with Christianity in order to know the whole.4

But what did Hegel have to say of this beginning of his Science of Logic? That it must be made in pure knowing, without distinction; that it must be an absolute, that

it cannot contain within itself any determination, any content; for any such would be a distinguishing and an inter-relationship of distinct moments…The beginning therefore is pure being. …it is not truly known5


that which constitutes the beginning, the beginning itself, is to be taken as something unanalysable, taken in its simple, unfilled immediacy, and therefore as being, as the completely empty being.6 (all my italics)

These descriptions are philosophical not religious7 and are applicable not to the Christian God but to Plotinus’ One when brought into Intellectual-Principle, into the first element of Proclus’ triad – Being – and made the equivalent of that Being. Of the One Plotinus wrote

It is precisely because there is nothing within the One that all things are from it8

and Henry

The One is the One and nothing else, and even to assert that it ‘is’ or that it is ‘One’ is false, since it is beyond being or essence. No ‘name’ can apply to it; it eludes all definition, all knowledge9

While Hegel did argue that Christianity is the religion of absolute spirit – volume III of his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion is sub-titled ‘The Consummate Religion’ – his philosophy identifies the God that has the right that the Science of Logic begins with him and the religious basis for the presentation of absolute truth in ‘a fully adequate form’ as Neoplatonic.10 What Magee considers a ‘troubling question’ was, for Hegel – as he correctly wrote – a philosophical requisite.



1. ‘it is the abstract God, the supreme being, the Father, who dies in the death of the Son, and who is, as it were, reborn as concrete, world-encompassing Spirit.’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 53; ‘if pure being is to be considered as the unity into which knowing has collapsed at the extreme point of its union with the object, then knowing itself has vanished in that unity, (my italics)’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 73
2. ‘We begin with a knowing that cancels the distinction between subject and object – and we end with Absolute Idea, which is the unity of subjectivity and objectivity. …The end returns to the beginning, though the movement from beginning to end involves the self-specification of Absolute Knowing into the myriad forms of the Logic. The goal of the whole system (and, Hegel thinks, of reality itself) is implicit in the beginning and, in a way, known immediately: the sublation of subject and object.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 113
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 75, 78. Schlitt wrote that ‘the entire Hegelian system begins in the Encyclopaedia with God.’ Schlitt, Hegel’s Trinitarian Claim: A Critical Reflection, op. cit., 36
4. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 246-247
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 70-72
6. Ibid., 75; ’this emptiness is therefore simply as such the beginning of philosophy.’ Ibid., 78
7. Plant wrote that Hegel believed that a philosophical reinterpretation of religion would enable the achievement of community and argued that this is ambiguous, asking why religion would be needed by a community that had achieved the philosophical perspective. Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 196-197
8. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.2.1
9. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., liii-liv
10. ‘while the object or content of religion is the absolute, religion itself does not entail absolute knowledge of the absolute: that is the role of philosophy. The representational forms of religious expression, even of the Christian religion, must be “sublated” (annulled and preserved) in philosophical concepts. …Whether religion as such is to be superseded by philosophy is another question…’ Hogdson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 4

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

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