Hegel and Proclus
12.1 Academics on Hegel, Neoplatonism and Proclus
The response of academics to the influence of Proclus the Follower on Hegel is exemplary of that by them to the profound relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism generally. Despite their repeated and clearest acknowledgement of that influence and relationship, the former within the latter, their analysis of them, setting out the debt Hegel owed to both Proclus and Neoplatonism and how he further developed Neoplatonism on the basis of that debt is still lacking.
On the pervasive influence of Neoplatonism on the German idealists, Redding wrote, with a gross understatement
It is common within recent accounts of the emergence of German Idealism to find stressed the impact of Spinozism on the generation to which Schelling and Hegel belonged, but it is less common (my italics) to find discussion of the neoplatonic aspects of their thought, despite the fact that this was commonly noted in the 19th century. …Both early Schelling and Hegel were clearly attracted to Plotinian thought, and especially the particular role Plotinus had given to the processes of life.1
With Proclus (the) dialectic of the one and the many had reached the most developed phase capable of antique thought, but with Fichte, this neo-platonic dialectic was now reproduced at the level of individual, actual consciousnesses.2
While the direct connection of Neoplatonic dialectic to Fichte is correct, Redding’s interpretation of it is erroneous. The Neoplatonic dialectic of the one and the many always functioned at the level of individual, actual (whatever that means) consciousness. The individual consciousness and soul is the focus of Plotinus’ system – Neoplatonic perspectivism is built on this. Fichte is simply one more philosopher who never acknowledged his profound debt to Neoplatonism, who claimed the fruits of Neoplatonic philosophy, which he rebadged, as his own great invention.3
Of the influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel specifically
in contrast to Aristotle, Hegel’s ‘theology’ insists on the ‘incarnation’ of God in man, symbolised in the divinity of Jesus. Thus Hegel might be said to have been a Christian Aristotelianised Platonist, but his is a form of Christianity in which…there is no ‘transcendent’ place for the God of Augustine.4
Findlay correctly wrote of Hegel, in his Foreword to the Encyclopaedia Logic no less
Those who are unwilling to see Hegel as an ontologist and First Philosopher, or as a theologian in the sense of Aristotle or Proclus, will never be able to make more than a partial use of his brilliant insights5
and Redding noted that Feuerbach described him as ‘the German Proclus’6 writing
Hegel showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus…Importantly it was these neo-platonist, and especially Proclean features, that would be central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity7
The influence of Proclus on Hegel was both direct and indirect. Cusanus, who was also of the greatest importance to Hegel – a direct influence on him that has never been acknowledged by any academic – and whose philosophy bears so many similarities with Hegel’s had made a study of the philosophy of Proclus.8 Most important of all, as I have argued (11.3.4ff.), Proclus’ Being/Life/Intelligence triad provided the basic structure of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, recurring in that of Hegel’s non-Christian Trinity.
Where is Redding’s or any other academic’s thorough explication of these ‘important’, ‘clearly observed’ features of Neoplatonic and Proclean thought, these direct influences so ‘central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity’?
Yet, with the decline of that stage of capitalist ideology known as ‘post-modernism’, there has been a small but growing recognition in academia of the immense philosophical and cultural importance of Neoplatonism – but even with that recognition, rather than acknowledging and analysing the direct influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel (for example), the acknowledgement is understated and the analysis is primarily of the relationships between him and those philosophers to whom he responded (particularly Kant, Fichte and Schelling) – all influenced by Neoplatonism – with Neoplatonism contained, like a dangerous philosophical tiger in an academic cage, in a secondary position.
It has been my intention throughout this thesis to argue for the direct relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism and key Neoplatonists and to argue that his philosophy is Neoplatonism’s consummate achievement.
12.2 Hegel on Neoplatonism and Proclus
For Hegel, Neoplatonism was the ‘greatest flowering of philosophy’9 and the consummation of Greek philosophy, which brought it to a close
So Greek philosophy has the thinking that determines itself within itself. It develops itself into a totality of the idea (the world spirit does nothing by half measures). Its consummation10 comes in Neoplatonic philosophy, with which the history of Greek philosophy draws to a close.11
Again, noting that Neoplatonism incorporated all earlier forms of Greek philosophy, Hegel wrote
The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it.12
and continued by stating that Proclus was the culmination of this consummation
Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.13
There could not be clearer statements of the superlative regard which Hegel held for Neoplatonism and particularly Proclus.14
1. Redding, ‘Mind of God, Point of View of Man, or Spirit of the World? Platonism and Organicism in the Thought of Kant and Hegel’, op. cit., 9,10. Also see 1.2 ↩
2. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13 ↩
3. It is interesting that in a discipline that prides itself on honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’, that holds honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’ to be at its basis, there is so much dishonesty and pretence. ↩
4. Redding, ‘The Metaphysical and Theological Commitments of Idealism: Kant, Hegel, Hegelianism’, op. cit., 18-19 ↩
5. Findlay in G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., xxvi ↩
6. ‘the Neoplatonic characteristics of Hegel’s thought came to be widely acknowledged during the nineteenth century, Feuerbach, for example, describing Hegel as “the German Proclus” (PPF: 47),’ Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 137 ↩
7. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 6 ↩
8. ‘The real rediscovery of Proclus started in the Italian Renaissance, mainly thanks to Marsilio Ficino who followed Proclus’ influence in his Platonic commentaries and even composed, in imitation of Proclus, a Christian Platonic Theology on the immortality of the soul. Before Ficino, Nicolaus Cusanus had already intensively studied Proclus in translations. Proclus continued to enjoy wide interest at the turn of the 18th century. Thomas Taylor (1758–1835) translated all of Proclus’ works into English (reprinted by the Prometheus Trust [London]) and tried to reconstruct the lost seventh book of the Platonic Theology.’ Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy op. cit. ↩
9. ‘The revival of the ancient Greek philosophy was tied to the decline of the Roman Empire, which was so vast, wealthy, and splendid, but inwardly dead; the greatest flowering of philosophy, the Alexandrian philosophy, emerged only then.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 69 ↩
10. Hodgson in his Editorial Introduction to volume III of Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion explained Hegel’s use of the concept ‘consummate’, which Hegel also, consistently, applied to his Neoplatonic version of Christianity: ‘Christianity is the “consummate” religion in the sense that the concept of religion has been brought to completion or consummation in it; it simply is religion in its quintessential expression.’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 4. In referring to Hegel as the consummate Neoplatonist I use ‘consummate’ in the same sense – his philosophy brought Neoplatonism to completion and in so doing, is the most developed instance, the highest achievement of it’ ↩
11. Ibid., 162-163 ↩
12. Ibid., 202 ↩
13. Ibid. ↩
14. Redding wrote in his Stanford Encyclopedia article on Hegel that ‘Plato, and especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy’, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, contradicting this elsewhere, referring to ‘what for Hegel was the most developed form of Greek philosophy, late-antique neo-platonism’, Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13; Helmig and Steel wrote ‘In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, in the chapter on Alexandrian Philosophy, Hegel said that “in Proclus we have the culminating point of the Neo-Platonic philosophy; this method in philosophy is carried into later times, continuing even through the whole of the Middle Ages. […] Although the Neo-Platonic school ceased to exist outwardly, ideas of the Neo-Platonists, and specially the philosophy of Proclus, were long maintained and preserved in the Church.”’, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit. ↩