Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11m Metaphor and prose poetry

Redding acknowledged the function of metaphor and analogy in Hegel’s Science of Logic

I have argued elsewhere that Hegel’s ‘being-logic’ in fact describes the categorial structure of a type of pre-predicative thought which relies on analogy and metaphor to form its basic statements. In contrast to the  categorial structure of the ‘essence-logic’ of book 2, being-logic lacks the conceptual resources to differentiate any underlying substrate from its properties. The closest it can come to predication is to (metaphorically) identify the different as in the ‘passing over’ of its categories into their contraries.1

But because Hegel’s philosophy is dialectical, and all the more so because it is mystical, the problem faced by his ‘being-logic’ is fundamentally that faced by his philosophy in its entirety. As I have argued previously (10ff.), Hegel rejected propositional argumentation and the predication of Verstand because they separate subject from predicate and keep ‘each determinate content…immovable…(and) rigidly for itself…’2

One difficulty which should be avoided comes from mixing up the speculative with the ratiocinative methods, so that what is said of the Subject at one time signifies its Notion, at another time merely its Predicate or accidental property. The one method interferes with the other, and only a philosophical exposition that rigidly excludes the usual way of relating the parts of a proposition could achieve the goal of plasticity.3

Metaphor, as I have argued (11.3.1ff.), is not only necessary to ‘speculative’ philosophy, it is unavoidable – our language is full of metaphors and our mutual understanding depends on them. Hegel’s philosophy is built no less on metaphor – the metaphor of sculpting and ‘shaping’ – of consciousness and soul in the Phenomenology4 and of the ‘formal structure of reality,’ of God the self in the Science of Logic – than is Plotinus’ (6.4)

Shape here is only an image; so that which underlies it is also only an image. But There the shape is true shape, and what underlies it is true too.5

The shaping that is begun in the Phenomenology (including a specifically sculptural reference in ‘The living work of art’6) is completed with Hegel’s most developed and comprehensive category in the Science of Logic – Absolute Idea – of which he not only wrote of its various ‘shapes’ but further described it, again necessarily metaphorically, Neoplatonically

…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.7

What does the ‘shaping,’ the ‘creating,’ is the Notion

the Notion…as absolute negativity…is the shaper and creator…8

A philosophy professor said to me ‘In the Science of Logic there is not a poetic phrase to be found – it is just how one concept is derived from another.’ To show the error of this ideologically motivated assertion that obstructs the full appreciation of both Hegel’s art and his subject, I highly recommend reading a few times aloud and listening to yourself as you do so the following two quotations from the Science of Logic – the first on being and nothing, the second on cause and effect.

Without analysing the texts, ask yourself what you have taken from this exercise. Isn’t the first point the rhythm of each? Don’t rhythm and metaphor carry you irresistibly from beginning to end? Isn’t ‘rhythm’ itself a metaphor for movement and the passage of the concepts into their other? And what of how profoundly interwoven are the elements of each pair with its other, to the point of their disappearance into it? To convey the nature of dialectics is to convey above all a feeling for it, is to necessarily employ art. Nothing other than the poetry of dialectics can reflect the poetry of reality

in so far as being and nothing, each unseparated from its other, is, each is not. They are therefore in this unity but only as vanishing, sublated moments. They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments, which are still distinct but at the same time are sublated.9

though the cause has an effect and is at the same time itself effect, and the effect not only has a cause but is also itself cause, yet the effect which the cause has, and the effect which the cause is, are different, as are also the cause which the effect has, and the cause which the effect is.

But now the outcome of the movement of the determinate causal relation is this, that the cause is not merely extinguished in the effect and with it the effect, too, as in formal causality, but that the cause in being extinguished becomes again in the effect, that the effect vanishes in the cause, but equally becomes again in it. Each of these determinations sublates itself in its positing, and posits itself in its sublating; …Causality…conditions itself.10

In pointing to the superiority of poetry and metaphor over the prose of Verstand Hegel wrote

If, for instance, we say ‘the sun’ or ‘in the morning’, the meaning is clear to us, although there is no illustration of the sun or dawn. But when the poet says: ‘When in the dawn Aurora rises with rosy-fingers’, the same thing is expressed, but the poetic expression gives us more, because it adds to the understanding of the object a vision of it, or rather it repudiates bare abstract understanding and substitutes the real specific character of the thing.11

Prose poetic philosophy and the use of metaphor were central to Hegel’s mytho-poetic circumscription in his ‘scientific’ exposition of ‘the real specific character’ of Absolute Idea, of God thinking himself.



1. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 146
2. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 185
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 39
4. ‘…by passing through a series of shapes (Spirit must) attain to a knowledge of itself.’ Ibid., 265; ‘In this knowing, then, Spirit has concluded the movement in which it has shaped itself, in so far as this shaping was burdened with the difference of consciousness [i.e. of the latter from its object], a difference now overcome.’ Ibid., 490
5. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. II, II.4.5
6. ‘This undisciplined revelry of the god must bring itself to rest as an object, and the enthusiasm which did not attain to consciousness must produce a work that confronts it, as in the previous case the statue confronts the artist; as a work, moreover, that is equally complete, but not, however, as an intrinsically lifeless, but as a living, self. …Man thus puts himself in the place of the statue as the shape that has been raised and fashioned for perfectly free movement, just as the statue is perfectly free repose. Although each individual knows how to play the part of at least a torch-bearer, one of them comes forward who is the patterned movement, the smooth elaboration and fluent energy of all the participants. He is an inspired and living work of art that matches strength with its beauty; and on him is bestowed, as a reward for his strength, the decoration with which the statue was honoured, and the honour of being, in place of the god in stone, the highest bodily representation among his people of their essence.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 438
7. ‘…(Absolute Idea) embraces those shapes of real and ideal finitude as well as of infinitude and holiness, and comprehends them and itself.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824
8. Ibid., 603
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 105
10. Ibid., 565-566. Hegel’s writing on contradiction is comparable with the subtlety of that of Cusanus but he more vitally explored contradiction as a process of negation than did the latter. Here is Cusanus on enfolding and unfolding: ‘…if you consider [the matter] carefully: rest is oneness which enfolds motion, and motion is rest ordered serially. Hence, motion is the unfolding of rest. In like manner, the present, or the now, enfolds time. The past was the present, and the future will become the present. Therefore, nothing except an ordered present is found in time. Hence, the past and the future are the unfolding of the present. The present is the enfolding of all present times; and the present times are the unfolding, serially, of the present; and in the present times only the present is found. Therefore, the present is one enfolding of all times. Indeed, the present is oneness. In like manner, identity is the enfolding of difference; equality [the enfolding] of inequality; and simplicity [the enfolding] of divisions, or distinctions.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,3,106
11. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 1002

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