Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13b

13.3 ‘Cusa’s direct influence on Modern thought is small; an immediate common-bond is scarcely confirmable.’

Jasper Hopkins, who has specialised in the writing and thought of Cusanus wrote

Just as Nicholas does not anticipate, prefigure, foreshadow, etc., Kant, so also he does not anticipate Copernicus or Spinoza or Leibniz or Berkeley or Hegel. …Nicholas is not the first Modern thinker. For his ‘Modern themes’ are not sufficiently developed for him to warrant this title. …Nicholas must be regarded as a transitional figure some of whose ideas (1) were suggestive of new ways of thinking but (2) were not such as to conduct him far enough away from the medieval outlook for him truly to be called a Modern thinker. ….Emerich Coreth’s judgment remains cogent: ‘Cusa’s direct influence on Modern thought is small; an immediate common-bond is scarcely confirmable.’

  Nicholas’s intellectual influence on his own generation and on subsequent generations remained meagre. …Looking back on Cusa, we find in his corpus of writings certain ideas that were developed by his Modern successors, without his having directly influenced most of those successors through his own writings, of which they had scarcely any firsthand knowledge. …(Cusa) does not help ‘legitimate’ the Modern Age…Instead, the reverse is true: the Modern Age helped ‘legitimate’ certain of his ideas1

He quoted Jaspers

Karl Jaspers assesses the historical influence of Nicholas’s thought as minimal: ‘Through the contents of his philosophy Cusa also exercised no influence except upon a few monks. On the pathways of the Occident – the Reformation, the New Catholicism, Absolutism, the Enlightenment, the modern scientific disciplines – Cusa was nowhere to be found.’2

Beck wrote

If any stream of thought can be traced, even intermittently, back to Nicholas it was that of the philosophy of nature, theosophy, and Protestant mysticism; and this stream did not lead to the most significant work in philosophy.3

On the possibility of Cusanus having directly influenced Hegel, Hopkins quoted Hans Gerhard Senger

let there be no unclarity about the fact that we are no longer dealing with the question of Cusanus’ direct historical influence. On the contrary, we must always remain conscious of the fact that with such a comparison (e.g. between Cusanus and Hegel) we are reconstructing a narrative of Cusanus’ discernible historical influence – a narrative that cannot with historical accuracy be characterised in just that way.4

Michael Inwood wrote ‘Nicholas of Cusa (whom Hegel surprisingly never mentions)…’5, Glenn Alexander Magee wrote ‘Hegel never mentions Cusa anywhere in his published writings or in his lectures’ and in the footnote Magee expressed a standard view ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno.’6

It would seem my contention that Hegel knew of Cusanus – and in detail – has been smashed and sunk without trace. How could the experts be wrong?



1. Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, Renaissance and Early Modern Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 26 (2002), 13-29, 28-29
2. Jasper Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa’s Metaphysic of Contraction, Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1983, 3-4
3. Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969, 71
4. Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa’s Intellectual Relationship to Anselm of Canterbury’ in Peter J. Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, 54-73, 55
5. Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 140
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28

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