Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11l God: conceptual and categorial

As previously observed (, logic for Hegel is the ‘scientific’ exposition of God – not of the ‘thoughts of God’ as Plant claimed,1 but of God himself – of a system of ‘pure reason’. That reason is purportedly strictly conceptual2 and manifested in the dialectical development of Hegel’s categories.

Plotinus wrote

It is because there is something before (Being) that it has an object of intellection; even in its self-intellection it may be said to know its content by its vision of that prior.3

Being, in thinking itself, is in a way comprehending what it had from the vision of its prior. This is very similar to Cusanus for whom our ‘minds’ create conceptually as they model the ‘mind’ of God in his creation of the world

The Divine Mind’s Conceiving is a producing of things; our mind’s conceiving is a conceptualising of things. …If all things are present in the Divine Mind as in their precise and proper Truth, then all things are present in our mind as in an image, or a likeness, of their proper Truth. That is, they are present conceptually, for knowledge comes about on the basis of [conceptual] likeness (my italics).4

For Hegel, since there is no prior to divine Being, the exposition of the generation of concepts and the development of categories is the exposition of God himself in his activity of thinking, of producing. It is still no less a recollection of Spirit’s source and processes than the activity in Plotinus’ second hypostasis.5 To know the categorial infrastructure of God is to know the ‘formal’ structure of both reality and of our thought, thus giving knowledge of God the self.

Just as the process of Intellectual-Principle describes a circle going from unity through unity-in-multiplicity back to unity

From this Principle, which remains internally unmoved, particular things push forth as from a single root which never itself emerges. They are a branching into part, into multiplicity, each single outgrowth bearings its trace of the common source.6

so does that of the Science of Logic

the science exhibits itself as a circle returning upon itself, the end being wound back into the beginning, the simple ground…logic, too, in the absolute Idea, has withdrawn into that same simple unity which its beginning is; the pure immediacy of being in which at first every determination appears to be extinguished or removed by abstraction7

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.8

Just as Plotinus expounded, on the basis of an initial impetus from the One, the Platonic doctrine of the categories of the intelligible world – being, rest, motion, same and other – arguing that they operate in thought to produce endless movement, change and variety, so Hegel’s Science of Logic, begun from an absolute without content and driven by negation is the systematic unfolding of the final category in the Science of Logic, Absolute Idea – all the categories prior to it being provisional ‘definitions’ of it.

Just as Idea is All in the Enneads

…nothing had part in the making but Being and Idea…The Exemplar was the Idea of an All…Thus nothing stood in the way of the Idea, and even now it dominates, despite all the clash of things: the creation is not hindered on its way even now; it stands firm in virtue of being All.9

so in the Science of Logic

(The Idea is) an eternal creation, eternal vitality, and eternal spirit … (but) it forever remains reason. The Idea is the dialectic…which brings the diversity back to unity. …the Idea is the eternal vision of itself in the other10

And just as in the attainment of Hegel’s Absolute Knowing (of Absolute Idea) – the telos of Spirit – there is no difference between knower, knowing and known, between subject and object, so in Plotinus’ philosophy

The First…is no duality – or rather, no manifold consisting of itself, its intellective act distinct from itself, and the inevitable third, the object of intellection. No doubt since knower, knowing, and known are identical, all merges into a unity: but the distinction has existed and, once more, such a unity cannot be the First; we must put away all otherness from the Supreme which can need no such support; anything we add is so much lessening of what lacks nothing.11

This concluding unity of knower, knowing and known, of subjectivity and objectivity is ‘the First’ in Hegel’s philosophy, because he conflated Plotinus’ One with Being in his use of Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence – a triad comprised of three aspects of a single reality which are also three successive stages in the unfolding of reality, finding completion not in re-enfolding but in reunion.



1. ‘Hegel regarded the categorical structure of The Science of Logic as the thoughts of God before the foundation of the world.’ Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 236
2. I have argued, following Magee, that Hegel’s use of concepts is mytho-poetic circumscription (10.6).
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.40
4. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 72, 543
5. ‘The Hegelian Logic is…a recollection…of the thought-forms which underlie the acts of Spirit. Spirit comes into its own when it consciously appropriates and understands these thought-forms as a system.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 175
6. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.3.7
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 842
8. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 113
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.8.7
10. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 278
11. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.41

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