Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13d

13.4.1 Hegel knew of Cusanus, in detail

No direct connection has ever been established between Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa. It has been accepted by academics that Hegel did not know of him. In fact, there is the clearest evidence that he knew of him, and in detail.

Not only did Bruno, who Hodgson wrote Hegel was familiar with,1 refer to Cusanus in both The Ash Wednesday Supper and Cause, Principle and Unity as ‘divine’, cite De docta ignorantia,2 Cusanus’ most important work and raise key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy in them, the histories of philosophy by Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann (Geschichte der Philosophie, 11 vols., Leipzig, 1798-1819 [Geschichte]) and Johann Gottlieb Buhle (Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, 6 vols., Göttingen, 1800-1804 [Geschichte]3 and Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie und einer kritischen Literatur derselben, 8 vols., Göttingen, 1796-1804 [Lehrbuch]) which Hegel used for his Lectures on the History of Philosophy show the extent to which Hegel was aware of Cusanus.

Why did Hegel never even name him, in any of his writing4 – a man who was far more philosophical, and in the ‘Hegelian manner,’ than either Eckhart and particularly Böhme, of whom Hegel wrote that his articulation was ‘unmistakably barbarous’ and that he ‘grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion’?5

Hegel never named Cusanus, not only because he was so indebted to one who was and is known as a Neoplatonist (I have identified more than sixty parallels between Cusanus and Hegel and their philosophies6 several of which I will discuss in this thesis), but because to do so would immediately open to question the nature of Hegel’s philosophy, of his concepts and of the ‘reason’ he is held in capitalist ideology to be the master of. It would be the first step in exposing the pinnacle of Western conceptual reason as the pinnacle of Western mysticism,7 in exposing the most gross failure in social and intellectual responsibility by generations of academic ideologues in maintaining this lie and thereby in exposing the workings of the dominant ideology (a system of belief delimited by exploitative interests).

Of the three histories I refer to that Hegel used,8 in his review of the literature for his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, he only named two of themTennemann’s Geschichte and Buhle’s Lehrbuch – but Cusanus is discussed and repeatedly named in all three.

In Buhle’s Geschichte, vol. 2.1,9 he is discussed between pages 80-81

pp. 80-81

Another ardent anti-scholastic was Nicholas from Cusel [Cusa in Latin], a village in the district of Trier (Treves), where he was born in the early fifteenth century. He so distinguished himself by his brilliance, erudition and taste that he was made a doctor of theology, bishop of Brixen, and also a cardinal. In his De docta ignorantia praecisionis veritatis inattingibilis (On learned ignorance of the unattainability of exact truth) he attacked in particular the craze of the scholastics for debating any subject even if it utterly transcended the bounds of human reason. In his own philosophising he was closer to a skeptical attitude. In another work, De coniecturis (On speculation), he declared that any human proposition with real content was no more than a probable assumption. He also dealt with more particular metaphysical questions in other works.

This section is repeated in Buhle’s Lehrbuch, vol. 6.110 between pages 255-256.

The most thorough discussion of Cusanus’ philosophy by Buhle is between pages 341-353 in vol. 2.1.

pp. 341-353

The history of the Platonists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as described up to now, contains far more that is worthy of note than that of those of their contemporaries who were true Aristotelians. The latter were for the most part mere Latin translators of and commentators on Aristotle’s writings. What was particular to them, such as George of Trebizond, Gennadius Georgius Scholarius etc. in their dispute with the Platonists, has already been mentioned in the historical discussion of this dispute, where I also touched on the most important circumstances of their lives.

More attention is due to Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, not so much as a true Aristotelian, but as an original writer who had educated himself by the methods of Aristotelian philosophy. He had primarily occupied himself with the study of mathematics and hence applied his mathematical concepts to metaphysical subjects, in particular theology. But his mathematical concepts are just as incomprehensible in themselves as is his metaphysical application of them, and for this reason Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy, insofar as it is original, might be termed a kind of mathematical mysticism. Apart from writings specifically devoted to mathematics and theology, his most important philosophical works are the following: De docta ignorantia liber I (On learned ignorance [three books]); Apologia doctae ignorantiae liber I (Defence of learned ignorance [one book]); De coniecturis libri duo (On speculation [two books]); De sapientia libri III (On wisdom [three books]).11 The contents of the first of these are quite different from what one would expect from its title. A metaphysic is constructed on the idea of the absolute maximum, which is simultaneously absolute oneness, from which Nicholas ultimately seeks to explain also the positive dogmatics of religion and the mysteries of the Trinity and the Redemption. The docta ignorantia (learned ignorance) consists in the recognition that the absolute maximum or absolute oneness is unknowable per se, because all knowledge must be mediated through a number, yet this maximum is greater than any number. Hence the result of this recognition is a learned ignorance.12 Nicholas does not here undertake to investigate how we attain to the idea of the maximum or absolute oneness; he merely assumes that it is presupposed by all men and is the end of their rational endeavour. Only an imperfect, symbolic knowledge of the maximum is possible; the symbol is drawn from mathematics. The maximum is absolute oneness and thus coincides with the minimum; it is absolutely necessary, eternal, and the eternal foundation of the world.13 It passes first into the Trinity. The maximum as absolute Oneness is God; this oneness repeats itself or begets equality with itself (the divine Son), and the union of oneness with its equality constitutes the third person of the divinity (the Holy Spirit). Ab unitate gignitur unitatis aequalitas; connexio vero ab unitate procedit et ab unitatisaequalitate.14 (Equality of oneness is begotten from oneness, but union proceeds from oneness and from equality of oneness.) The world is maximality contracted or made finite, and the diversity of things arises from the differing kinds and degrees of contraction of maximality.15 However, in order to understand the maximum in its relation to the world, we must first, as Nicholas expresses it, have purged our understanding of all concepts of circles and spheres. It will then be found that it is not the most perfect body, like the sphere; nor a plane figure, like the circle or triangle; nor a straight line; but is raised above all of these, as it is above everything that can be comprehended by the senses, the imagination and the reason with material attributes. The maximum is the simplest and most abstract understanding; it contains all things and one; the line is at once triangle, circle and sphere; oneness is trinity and conversely; accident is substance; the body is mind; motion is rest etc. But unless we realise that the oneness of God must necessarily be a trinity as well, we have not yet completely purged our understanding of concepts of mathematical figures. Nicholas demonstrates this by an example borrowed from human understanding. The oneness of human understanding is nothing else than that which understands, that which is understandable, and the act of understanding. If we wish to ascend from that which understands to the maximum (that which understands infinitely), without adding that this is at once also the highest understandable and the highest act of understanding, we will not have a correct concept of the greatest and most perfect oneness.16 Nicholas applies the concept of the trinity of the primal maximum to the world as well, which as an image of that maximum must also express a threeness. This threeness of the universe manifests itself (1) in the mere possibility thereof or the primal material, (2) in the form, and (3) in the world soul or world spirit, which inheres in all things as well as in the whole. The primal maximum also expresses the contracted maximum; creator and creation are one.17 Nicholas believed (missing words in German text – I am drawing attention to the fact that the German sentence is incomplete: its construction does not ‘add up’. The intended meaning is something like ‘N. believed one/he could find in the contracted maximum…the principal kinds of worldly creatures…’ Trans.) in the contracted maximum and its relation to the divine the principal kinds of worldly creatures, which differ in their degree of perfection, as Ficino had assumed. He too placed man on the intermediate level, as a link between the lower, lifeless organic and animal world on the one hand and the world of the angels and the divine on the other. But in these premises he also found—as Ficino had not—the explanation of the mystery of the incarnation of god as man. God wished to raise his work, the essence of creation, to perfection, and this could only be done by himself becoming a creature (created thing). As this creature he chose man, because man occupies the middle position in the order of worldly beings and is therefore the bond of his connection with the whole. God, who exists omnipresent in all things, assumed physical humanity and could do so without coming into contradiction with his own being; for considered absolutely, creator and creation are in any case one.18

Nicholas of Cusa’s system is once again a pantheism which was at the same time intended as a theism, and thereby destroys itself. It betrays a bizarre mixture of mathematical and logical concepts. The divinity to Nicholas, as to Ficino, was really the logical concept of the highest order, conceived through the mathematical concept of the absolute (not relative) maximum, which precisely because it excluded all plurality therefore coincided with the concept of the absolute minimum, the absolutely simple and, insofar as it must include the highest being, absolute perfection; yet it was no more and no less than a purely logical concept, to which nothing objective corresponded. Hence the concern that Nicholas expresses that we may not understand his concept of the maximum in sufficiently pure and abstract terms; hence too his advice first to purge ourselves of all circles and spheres, that is, of all material attributes. He must surely have suspected that notwithstanding all his purges, the understanding yet cannot conceive the maximum bereft of material attributes as something real, for without them the concept dissolves into nothingness. But for Nicholas this suspicion did not really crystallise in a clear form. As long as he expresses his concept of God and his identity with the world in mathematical terms, his theology sounds even more pantheistic than Ficino’s; in essence, his and Ficino’s system are the same, as one can see from the relation in which he places God to the world—an equally theistical one. Thus the same errors underlie his system and Ficino’s.

Nicholas’ ideas as presented here also dominate the other works mentioned above. Some clarifications of them can be found in the Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (Defence of learned ignorance by a student to a student), appended to Nicholas’ De docta ignorantia (On learned ignorance).19 It is addressed by a student of Nicholas to a fellow-student, against a work published by Wenck under the title Ignota literatura (Unknown learning), which argued with great passion against the nature of Nicholas’ conceptions. We may regard it as a production of Nicholas himself, as the author merely relates to his fellow-student Nicholas’ reaction to Ignota literatura and his judgements on the objections it contains. Possibly it is in fact Nicholas’ work, in which case it is the form in which he chose to defend himself.

De coniecturis, in two books, is not, as one might expect, concerned with speculations or with probabilities and their bases, but contains a theory of the human cognitive faculty in general, considered from the viewpoint which Nicholas adopted, appropriate to his metaphysical system. Absolute truth is unattainable to man; praecisio veritatis inattingibilis, as Nicholas puts it; thus all human knowledge is merely probable, a speculation; and an investigation of the principle of speculation in the human mind is therefore an investigation of the cognitive faculty in general. Here too Nicholas’ philosophical language is the same mathematical–mystic language as in De docta ignorantia. In my opinion his idea of the human cognitive faculty can be best grasped from the following passage, which I quote here in his own words: Coniecturas a mente nostra, uti realis mundus a divina infinita ratione, prodire oportet. Dum enim humana mens, alta Dei similitudo, fecunditatem creatricis naturae ut potest participat, ex se ipsa, ut imagine omnipotentis formae, in realium entium similitudinem rationalia exerit. Coniecturalis itaque mundi humana mens forma existit, uti realis divina.—Ut autem mentem coniecturarum principium recipias, advertas oportet, quomodo ut primum omnium rerum atque nostrae mentis principium unitrinum ostensum est, ut multitudinis, inaequalitatis, atque divisionis rerum unum sit principium, a cuius unitate absoluta multitudo, ab aequalitate inaequalitas, et a connexione divisio effluat; ita mens nostra, quae non nisi intellectualem naturam creatricem concipit, se unitrinum facit principium rationalis suae fabricae. Sola enim ratio multitudinis, magnitudinis ac compositionis mensura est; ita ut ipsa sublata nihil horum subsistat. — Quapropter unitas mentis omnem in se complicat multitudinem; eiusque aequalitas omnem magnitudinem; sicut et connexio compositionem. Mens igitur unitrinum principium; primo ex vi complicativae unitatis multitudinem explicat; multitudo vero inaequalitatis atque magnitudinis generativa est. Quapropter in ipsa primordiali multitudine ut in primo exemplari magnitudines et perfectiones integritatum, et varias et inaequales, venatur; deinde ex utrisque ad compositionem progreditur. Est igiturmens nostra distinctivum, proportionativum, atque compositivum principium. — Rationalis fabricae naturale quoddam pullulans principium numerus est. Mente enim carentes, uti bruta, non numerant. Nec est aliud numerus, quam ratio explicata.20 (It must be the case that speculations originate from our minds, even as the real world originates from Infinite Divine Reason. For when, as best it can, the human mind [which is a lofty likeness of God] partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, which are made in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a speculated rational world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world. …In order that you may recognise that the mind is the beginning of speculations, take note of the following: just as the First Beginning of all things, including our minds, is shown to be triune (so that of the multitude, the inequality, and the division of things there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth), so our mind (which conceives only an intellectual nature to be creative) makes itself to be a triune beginning of its own rational products. For only reason is the measure of multitude, of magnitude, and of composition. Thus, if reason is removed, none of these will remain. …Therefore, the mind’s oneness enfolds within itself all multitude, and its equality enfolds all magnitude, even as its union enfolds all composition. Therefore, mind, which is a triune beginning, first of all unfolds multitude from the power of its enfolding-oneness. But multitude begets inequality and magnitude. Therefore, in and through the primal multitude, as in and through a first exemplar-multitude, the mind seeks the diverse and unequal magnitudes, or perfections, of each thing as a whole; and thereafter it progresses to a combining of both multitude and magnitude. Therefore, our mind is a distinguishing, a proportioning, and a combining beginning. …Number is a certain natural, originated beginning that is of reason’s making; for those creatures that lack a mind, e.g. brute animals, do not number. Nor is number anything other than reason unfolded.) — We see here the reason why Nicholas chose to describe his philosophical system in mathematical terms: he found in numbers and numerical relations the principles of the cognitive faculty itself. It would take up too much space here to detail the manner in which he developed these principles. In doing so, too, Nicholas often loses himself so deeply in his mathematical mysticism that his theory, at least to me, becomes quite incomprehensible. However, anyone who wishes to study Nicholas’ system in its full internal detail and relations must regard De coniecturis as preparatory to it, even though Nicholas himself places it after his metaphysics and to some extent bases it on the latter.

De sapientia, a work in three books, is a commentary on De coniecturis. It is in dialogue form, an imitation of the similarly titled dialogue of Petrarch.21 A Layman and an Orator (professor of rhetoric) meet in the Roman Forum; the former scoffs at scholastic learning, the latter defends it. The author makes a third person, describing the external setting of the dialogue. In the third book a fourth person makes his appearance, a renowned philosopher from outside Rome, present there for the Jubilee, whom the Orator meets by chance. Nicholas, speaking in the person of the Layman, presents in a popular form his theory of the numbers as the beginnings of knowledge. He begins with the observation that the people in the Roman Forum are counting money, weighing goods, measuring out commodities. How are they able to do this, he asks the Orator. And he proceeds to expound his philosophical system of numbers in its application to God, the world, and the soul. These dialogues demonstrate once again that the gift of setting out philosophical concepts in a comprehensible, popular manner was one utterly denied to Nicholas. Before long the Layman is speaking in such mathematically mystical terms that the Orator would be fully justified in throwing back at him the rebukes he himself suffered for his scholastic learning at the beginning of the dialogue. How much more appropriate and interesting is the Petrarchian dialogue that Nicholas is seeking to imitate! That Nicholas gives himself the role of the Layman is not so much due to contempt for scholastic learning, which Petrarch indeed shared, but to Nicholas’ desire to present his philosophy as one of non-knowing, as merely the outcome of speculation, as he called it, and thus opposed to the supposititious knowledge of the rhetoricians and philosophers of his time; for the renowned foreign philosopher too is brought by the Orator to the Layman and has to submit to his teaching.

Nicholas deals in particular with the numbers as the most appropriate signs of the nature of objects in a treatise of which the compendium has been transcribed;22 as he further expounds his theology in the treatises De visione Dei (On the vision of God), De Dato Patris luminum (On the gift of the Father of lights), De quaerendo Deum (On seeking God), De venatione sapientiae (On seeking for wisdom), and De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation).23 These last treatises differ from the aforementioned in being even more thickly interwoven with Alexandrine mysticism; in them Nicholas adopts much of the mystical theological enthusiasm of Dionysius the Areopagite, one of his favourite authors (as he is of most philosophers of the Middle Ages as well as of Nicholas’ own day), whom he follows almost without reserve. Nicholas further shows himself a fiery zealot on behalf of Christian Catholicism against the Muslims and the Bohemian Hussites. In a separate work he undertakes a comparison of Christianity with the religion of Mohammed,24 proves the Koran a forgery, and defends Christianity against the reproaches of the Moorish philosophers, in some cases from passages of the Koran itself. The Bohemians or Hussites are the target of four Epistles. His remaining works are concerned with mathematics, astronomy and physics.25

Cusanus is also named in the section of vol. 2.2, pages 703-856 in which Buhle discusses Bruno, which section Brown referred to26 and Hegel used.27 Buhle also named Bruno’s Cause, Principle and Unity and The Ash Wednesday Supper, to which I have referred, on 768 and 769 respectively.

pp. 753-755

The first of these, de Lampade combinatoria Lulliana [On the lamp of combinations according to Lull] is dedicated to the Academic Senate of Wittenberg. As well as a eulogy of Raymond Lull and his art, through the study of which Nicolas of Cusa, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim and others had trained themselves as outstanding philosophers, the lengthy dedicatory epistle includes a series of acknowledgements to the Senate and all its members, listed individually by name, for the kindness with which B. had been received and favoured by them.…

In his Lehrbuch vol. 6.1, Buhle set out the contents on p. 101 of Cusanus’ three folio Opera published in Basel in 1565

p. 101

Works of Nicolas of Cusa, Basel, 1565 fol. Three volumes. The first volume contains: De docta ignorantia praecisionis veritatis inattingibilis ad Iulium Cardinalem libb. III cum Apologia [On learned ignorance of the unattainability of exact truth, [dedicated] to Cardinal Julius, in three books, with a Defence]; de conjecturis, sive omnem humanam veri positivam assertionem esse conjecturam, libb. II. [On surmises, or, that any positive human statement of the truth is a surmise]; dialogorum libri IV  [Dialogues, in four books] (in the first two books, de sapientia [on wisdom]; in the third, de mentis natura [on the nature of mind]); Compendium sive directio speculandae veritatis [Compendium, or a guide to the search for truth]; dialogus de possibilitate sive materia universi [Dialogue on possibility, or the substance of the universe]; de venatione sapientiae [On the pursuit of truth]. Nicolas’ other works are more concerned with theology, natural science, and mathematics.

I will soon publish on my blog a translation of the section in Tennemann’s Geschichte in which he discussed Cusanus and his philosophy.



1. ‘Hegel was familiar with Bruno through Schelling’s work as well as that of J.G.Buhle and F.H.Jacobi’, Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 274
2. The Ash Wednesday Supper, Third Dialogue
3. This history was translated into French and Italian by 1816, which places further emphasis on the need to question the silence of Hegel and the German idealists regarding first-hand knowledge Cusanus.
4. The following quotes from Hegel may be in reference to Cusanus, particularly the first: ‘In the Middle Ages, for example, there were plenty of naïve chroniclers, but they were monks rather than statesmen. Admittedly, there were learned bishops among them who had been at the centre of affairs and were familiar with the business of state, and who [were therefore] themselves statesmen…’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 15; ‘Philosophy was revivified in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the spirit of the peoples was no longer satisfied in the way it had been previously’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 248; ‘Speculative philosophy has…been more in evidence in the Catholic Church than in the Protestant’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 132
5. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 vol. III, op. cit., 103; ‘…Jacob Boehme, whose philosophy goes deep, but into a turbid depth’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 114
6. See my post ‘Cusanus, Buhle and Hegel’ https://philipstanfield.com/2015/07/08/cusanus-buhle-and-hegel/#top2. One example: ’Hegel’s own chief interest is in the principle of the unity of the universe as a ‘coincidence of opposites’ (which, incidentally, is a key theme in the thought of Nicholas Cusanus – 1401-64 – a predecessor of Bruno and a major figure in his own right, whom Hegel does not discuss in these lectures).’ Brown in Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 66, Note 117
7. Hegel was accused of mysticism during his lifetime
8. The specific volumes which I cite are referred to repeatedly in the notes by the Editor Robert F. Brown as having been used by Hegel
9. Vol. 2 of the Geschichte was published in 1800
10. Vol. 6 of the Lehrbuch was published in 1800
11. Besides the above-mentioned edition of the works of Nicholaus of Cusa (Basel 1565, 3 folio volumes), two other editions exist. The first was published in Germany, probably at Basel, and is lacking several of Nicholas’ works. See Hamberger’s Nachrichten von den vornehmsten Schriftstellern, vol. IV, P. 768. The second is more complete. As the dedicatory letter shows, it was prepared by Jacob Faber of Estaples. Its description reads: Haec accurata recognitio trium voluminum operum clarissimi P. Nicolai Cusae Card. ex officina Ascensiana recenter emissa est; cuius universalem indicem proxime sequens pagina monstrat. Vaenundantur cum caeteris eius operibus in aedibus Ascensianis; III Voll. fol. (This careful revision of three volumes of the works of the famous Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, was recently issued by the Ascensian Press, of which a complete catalogue appears on the next page. They are available together with the rest of his works from the Ascensian Publishing House; Three folio volumes), with no indication of the year and place of printing. At the end of De mathematica perfectione (On mathematical perfection) in volume 3 there is a note that the entire collection was printed at Paris in 1514. To this work in volume 3 is appended the De concordantia catholica (On Catholic concordance). This edition is the one I have before me.
12. Nicol(aus) Cus(a), De docta ignor(antia), Book 1, ch. 1–3, Vol. 1, fol. 2.
13. Ibid. Book I, ch. 4–8.
14. Nicholas also expresses this as follows: Quemadmodum generatio unitatis ab unitate est una unitatis repetitio; ita processio ab utroque est repetitionis illius unitatis, sive mavis dicere, unitatis et aequalitatis unitatis ipsius unitio. Ibid. Book II, ch. 6. Vol. I fol. 4. (Just as generation of oneness is one repetition of oneness, so the procession from both is oneness of the repetition of this oneness—or, if you prefer the expression – is oneness of oneness and of the equality of this oneness. [Trans. The reference is incorrect, which is the reason I was at first unable to identify this quote: the source is De docta ignorantia, Book I, ch. 9])
15. Ibid. Book II, ch. 6. Vol. 1 fol. 16.
16. Ibid. Book I, ch. 10. Oportet philosophiam, ad trinitatis notitiam ascendere volentem, circulos et spheras evomuisse. Ostensum est in prioribus unicum simplicissimum maximum; et quod ipsum tale non fit nec perfectissima figura corporalis, ut est sphera, aut superficialis, ut est circulus, aut rectilinealis, ut est triangulus, aut simplicis rectitudinis, ut est linea. Sed ipsum super omnia illa est. Itaque illa, quae aut per sensum, aut imaginationem aut rationem cum naturalibus appendiciis attinguntur, necessario evomere oportet, ut ad simplicissimam et abstractissimam intelligentiam perveniamus, ubi omnia sunt unum; ubi linea sit triangulus, circulus, et sphera; ubi unitas sit trinitas, et e converso; ubi accidens sit substantia; ubi corpus sit spiritus; motus fit quies et caetera huiusmodi. Et tunc intelligitur, quando quodlibet in ipso uno intelligitur unum, et ipsum unum omnia, Et per consequens quodlibet in ipso omnia. Et non recte evomuisti spheram, circulum, et huiusmodi, si non intelligis, ipsum unitatem maximam necessario esse trinam. Maxima enim nequaquam recte intelligi poterit, si non intelligatur trina. Ut exemplis at hoc utamur convenientibus: Videmus unitatem intellectus non aliud esse, quam Intelligens, Intelligibile et Intelligere. Si igitur ab eo, quod est Intelligens, velis te ad maximum transferre et dicere, maximum esse maxime Intelligens, et non adiicias, ipsum etiam esse maxime Intelligibile et maxime Intelligere; non recte de unitate maxima et perfectissima concipis. (Philosophy, desiring to ascend unto a knowledge of this Trinity, must leave behind circles and spheres. In the preceding I have shown the sole and very simple Maximum. And I have shown that the following are not this Maximum: the most perfect corporeal figure (viz., the sphere), the most perfect surface figure (viz., the triangle), the most perfect figure of simple straightness (viz., the line). Rather, the Maximum itself is beyond all these things. Consequently, we must leave behind the things which, together with their material associations, are attained through the senses, through the imagination, or through reason—so that we may arrive at the most simple and most abstract understanding, where all things are one, where a line is a triangle, a circle, and a sphere, where oneness is threeness (and conversely) where accident is substances, where body is mind, where motion is rest, and other such things. Now, there is understanding when (1) anything whatsoever in the One is understood to be the One, and the One (is understood to be) all things, and consequently, (2) anything whatsoever in the One (is understood to be) all things. And you have not rightly left behind the sphere, the circle, and the like, unless you understand that maximal Oneness is necessarily trine—since maximal Oneness cannot at all be rightly understood unless it is understood to be trine. To use examples suitable to the foregoing point: We see that oneness of understanding is not anything other than that which understands, that which is understandable, and the act of understanding. So suppose you want to transfer your reflection from that which understands to the Maximum and to say that the Maximum is, most greatly, that which understands; but suppose you do not add that the Maximum is also, most greatly, that which is understandable, together with being the greatest actual understanding. In that case, you do not rightly conceive of the greatest and most perfect Oneness.)
17. Ibid. Book II, chh. 7–10, Vol. 1, fol. 17–20.
18. Ibid. Book III, ch. 2f. Vol. 1. fol. 25.
19. Nic. Cus., Opera (Works), Vol. 1, p. 35.
20. Nic. Cus. de coniect. Book I, ch. 3.4, Works Vol. I, fol. 42
21. The opening of the dialogue is just like Petrarch’s, except that the Layman and the Orator, as the author notes, go to a barber shop to continue their philosophical discussion undisturbed (Vol. 1, fol. 75). I would draw attention to the following passage of the dialogue: ORATOR. Quomodo ductus esse potes ad scientiam ignorantiae tuae, cum sis Idiota? IDIOTA. Non ex tuis, sed Dei libris. O. Qui sunt illi? I. Quos suo digito scripsit. O. Ubi reperiuntur? I. Ubique. O. Igitur et in hoc foro. I. Immo etiam dixi, quod sapientia clamat in plateis. O. Optarem audire quomodo? I. Si te absque curiosa inquisitione affectum conspicerem, magna tibi panderem. O. Potesne hoc brevi tempore efficere, ut qui(d) velis degustem? (ORATOR: Since you are a Layman, how are you able to be led to a knowledge of your ignorance? LAYMAN: Not from your books but from God’s books. O.: Which books are they? L.: Those that He wrote with his finger. O.: Where are they found? L.: Everywhere. O.: Therefore, even in this Forum? L.: Yes, indeed! I have already said that wisdom proclaims itself in the streets. O.: I would like to hear how it does so. L.: If I saw that you were not motivated by idle curiosity, I would disclose to you important matters. O. Can you at this moment bring it about that I sense what you mean?) — We see that the Layman speaks as the scholar ought to speak, and the scholar as the Layman ought to. In Petrarch the converse is the case. In the second book or dialogue the Rhetorician goes looking for the Layman, finds him circa templum aeternitatis (near the Temple of Eternity), and the conversation resumes. In the third dialogue the Rhetorician meets the Philosopher, a stranger, on a bridge over the Tiber and takes him to the Layman, who is carving wooden spoons in the basement of a house. The Layman is of the opinion that if the stranger is a true philosopher he will not despise his occupation. The Philosopher replies that Plato too is said to have painted now and then.—Nicholas appends to each dialogue the time it took to complete. The first was written in one day in July 1465, the second in two days in early August, and the third and longest near the end of August.
22. Vol. 1, fol. 169.
23. Ibid. fol. 99, fol. 193, fol. 197, fol. 201, fol. 219.
24. Cribrationes Alchorani libb. III (A Scrutiny of the Koran) (3 books)], Vol. I, fol. 126ff.
25. Nic. Cus., Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles against the Bohemians), Works, Vol. III, fol. 5.
26. Brown in Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 62, Note 108
27. Hegel wrote ‘The fullest information about him is to be found in Buhle’s history of philosophy’, Ibid., 62. Examples of the close attention Hegel paid to Buhle (notes by Brown): 61, Note 102 ‘For this quotation, see Buhle (Lehrbuch 6, pt. 1:364-5; Geschichte 2:859-60). Hegel’s abridged version follows both Buhle’s choice of words and his erroneous attribution (p.858) of the passage to the autobiography…’; 61, Note 104 ‘Bruno was born in 1548. The following somewhat incomplete account of his life follows very closely that of Buhle (Geschichte 2, pt. 2:704-12)…’; 69, Note 126, ‘…More likely Hegel has in mind a passage in Buhle (Geschichte 2, pt. 2:734)…’; 71, Note 129, ‘These last five sentences are taken almost word for word from Buhle (Geschichte 2, pt. 2:731-2)…’, Ibid.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

4 thoughts on “Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13d

    • Hello Erik,

      Certainly academic grandiloquence is abundant in Hegel’s philosophy (I wish I could remember where I read in Lenin’s writing his similar criticism of Marx!).

      I think the key to Hegel becoming much more ‘readable’ is to recognise that he was a mystic and specifically, to recognise that he was the consummate Neoplatonist – that he took Neoplatonism to its highest point of development (prior to Marx standing it on its material feet).

      That Hegel could write with utter clarity is clear from his Lectures on the History of Philosophy.


      • Hi Erik,

        May I suggest that you first acquaint yourself with Neoplatonism (so that you can recognise its presence in Hegel’s writing).

        Have confidence in your thinking on his philosophy and don’t be intimidated by Hegel’s often deliberate verbosity or that of his academic proselytisers – push past them.

        They are ideologues and salespeople whose job it is to argue that Hegel was the master of conceptual reason not the reason of Neoplatonism.

        These are the ‘experts’ who, during the periods of ‘modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’ didn’t dare go near mysticism, or, at best, treat it seriously – even though it permeates what they taught and wrote on.

        The overwhelming majority of them still don’t dare to acknowledge it.

        The rewards, if you love knowledge, are great – the influence of the current that runs from Plotinus, through Hegel, to Marx is everywhere in our culture and the current itself, now become materialist, is the epistemology of the future.


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