Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13u

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

In his ambition to be recognised as the master of reason, of Vernunft, Hegel was not averse to using the tools of Verstand. He wrote

The syllogism, which is also threefold, has always been recognised as the universal form of reason1

and gave a chapter of his Science of Logic over to it, yet his ‘syllogism’ is nothing of the sort – it derives from Proclus’ triad of triads. When one reads that philosophy is a syllogism based on Logic, Nature and Mind2 and that ‘God…is that Being in whom Spirit and Nature are united’3, that a plant is a syllogism comprised of three further syllogisms of universal, particular and individual4, that everything is a syllogism5 or, to put it most simply, that the ‘absolute syllogism’ – ‘God as Spirit’ – addresses the unity of subject and object, of subject with itself6, surely one must ask “What is the ‘reason’, the ‘logic’ the ‘science’, the ‘syllogism‘ here?”

Two types of reason employ two triadic structures for reasoning which are used in completely different ways towards completely different ends – that of ‘analysis’ (Hegel’s Verstand) uses the syllogism as a means for the setting out and testing of formal logic, that of dialectic and ‘speculation’ (Hegel’s Vernunft) uses the Neoplatonic triad as a means for attaining and knowing God.

Hegel attributed the formal syllogism (that of ‘the understanding’) to Aristotle and distinguished such reasoning from Aristotle’s ‘speculative’ logic

Aristotle brought to light the ordinary logic of the understanding; his forms pertain only to the relationship of finite elements to one another. But it is notable that his own logic is not grounded in this, that he does not base it upon this relationship of the understanding, for he does not proceed according to these syllogistic forms. Had Aristotle taken this path, he would not be the speculative philosopher that we have recognised him to be. None of his theses or any of those speculative ideas could be framed or asserted, nor could they be valid, if one were to keep to those forms of thinking that are accessible to the understanding. We certainly must not suppose that Aristotle thought, proceeded, or carried out demonstrations according to this [formal] logic of his, according to these forms in the Organon. Had he done so, he would not have arrived at any speculative thesis.7

Hodgson summarised Hegel’s speculative thesis – his development of the Proclean triad of triads

The first figure of the syllogism, in which nature mediates between the logical idea and spirit, specifies the order of the philosophical system (logic, nature, spirit). In a valid syllogism (my italics – validity has no place in Neoplatonic logic), according to Hegel, each of the elements must in turn occupy the middle position. Thus in the second syllogism, spirit mediates between the logical idea and nature; and in the third, the logical idea mediates between nature and spirit. The basic assumption of Hegelian philosophy is that the logical idea functions as universal principle (Allgemeinheit) in the syllogisms, nature as particular quality (Besonderheit), and spirit as singularity or individuality (Einzelnheit). The result is speculative or absolute idealism, as opposed to subjective idealism (for which finite spirit or mind is universal principle) and naturalism or materialism (for which nature is universal principle). Absolute spirit, or infinite subjectivity, encompasses and unifies all three figures of the syllogism.8

With its long history of development, a sustaining consistency identifies Neoplatonism – from Plotinus, who initiated it, to Hegel, who completed it:

  • The Neoplatonic triad is a divine triad comprised of an ultimate principle, a principle of nous and a principle of nature or that which creates it
  • the elements of that triad comprise three aspects of a single, ‘true’ reality referred to as one divinity
  • each principle represents a step in a process of generation (the ultimate principle), division/outflow/unfolding (the second principle) and return to/enfolding and resolution in the source (the third principle)
  • the elements of the triad each imply the others as cause or consequent
  • each element predominates at a successive stage in the development, without excluding the others
  • the ‘secondary’ triad of Proclus – the ‘Trinity’ of Cusanus and Hegel – has its origins in the Enneads which also addresses ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’ (which Plotinus applied to the Forms in general). The development of this triad and that principle by later Neoplatonists exemplifies the development of Neoplatonism which Hegel completed within idealism.

Plotinus’ Divine Triad – each hypostasis of which is divine – is comprised of the One or First Existent, Divine Mind or First Thinker and Thought and All-Soul or First and Only Principle of Life – the eternal cause of the existence of the sense-grasped universe. This Triad is a unity the divinity of which is conveyed or approached via any one of the hypostases

The Three Hypostases of the Supreme-Being are…quite frequently spoken of collectively as one transcendent Being or one Divine Realm: sometimes, even, where one of the Three is definitely named, the entire context shows that the reference is not to the Hypostasis actually named but to the Triad collectively or to one of the two not named9

Each of the hypostases is intimately bound to the others – all overflow outwards in one continual streaming, the second generated from the first, the third created by the second. At the same time the second and third look back to the One and Intellectual-Principle in turn. As so much in the Enneads that is implicit, was open to or required clarification or development, the origins of Proclus’ secondary triad in the second hypostasis lie there. Dodds wrote

The elaboration within this hypostasis of a subordinate triad…is in the main the work of (Plotinus’) successors, though a tendency in this direction is already observable in one or two passages of the Enneads – cf. V.4.2 init. and esp. VI.6.8. The motives governing this development seem to have been (a) the recognition that reality is logically prior to thought, since the thinker, in order to think, must first exist; (b) the desire to arrange causes in an ontological order corresponding to their degree of universality; (c) the post-Plotinian theory that all intelligibles have a triadic structure, mirroring at every level the fundamental triad (Greek) (prop. 35 n.) or (Greek) (props. 89-90 n.)10

VI.6.8 reads

At the outset we must lay aside all sense-perception; by Intellectual-Principle we know Intellectual-Principle. We reflect within ourselves there is life, there is intellect, not in extension but as power without magnitude, issue of Authentic Being which is power self-existing, no vacuity but a thing most living and intellective – nothing more living, more intelligent, more real – and producing its effect by contact and in the ratio of the contact, closely to the close, more remotely to the remote. If Being is to be sought, then most be sought is Being at its intensest; so too the intensest of Intellect if the Intellectual act has worth; and so, too, of Life.

First, then, we take Being as first in order; then Intellectual-Principle; then the Living-Form considered as containing all things: Intellectual-Principle, as the Act of Real Being, is a second.11



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 837
2. ‘(Philosophy is comprised of a syllogism) which is based on the Logical system as starting-point, with Nature for the middle term which couples the Mind with it. The Logical principle turns to Nature and Nature to Mind.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 314
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 8
4. ‘the process of the plant…splits up into three syllogisms, the first…is the universal process, the process of the vegetable organism within itself, the relation of the individual to itself in which the individual destroys itself, converts itself into its non-organic nature, and through this self-destruction comes forth into existence – the process of formation. Secondly, the organism has its other, not within it, but outside of it, as a self-subsistent other; it is not itself its non-organic nature, but it finds this already confronting it as object, an object which it seems to encounter only contingently. That is the specialised process towards an external nature. The third is the process of the genus, the union of the first two; the process of the individuals with themselves as genus, the production and the preservation of the genus – the destruction of the individuals for the preservation of the genus as production of another individual. The non-organic nature is here the individual itself, its nature, on the other hand, is its genus: but this too is also an other, its objective nature.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 321-322. Ideologues fail to recognise the parallels between the ‘syllogistic’ processes of the plant and those of the ‘Trinitarian’ God – the requirement for his ‘diremption’, thereby ‘coming forth into existence’ etc.
5. ‘Everything is a syllogism, a universal that through particularity is united with individuality; but it is certainly not a whole consisting of three propositions.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 669
6. ‘The import of the absolute syllogism…is that an object, a subject, or whatever it is, conjoins itself with itself – [and there results] a third element, which is the unity of the first two. God as Spirit is the [absolute] syllogism, or what conjoins itself with itself; [whereas] the syllogism of the understanding concludes from one determination to another. That [absolute] unity constitutes the essential moment of the speculative content, or the speculative nature of the rational syllogism.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 261
7. Ibid.; ‘Aristotle was the first to observe and describe the different forms, or, as they are called, figures of syllogism, in their subjective meaning: and he performed this work so exactly and surely, that no essential addition has ever been required. But while sensible of the value of what he has thus done, we must not forget that the forms of the syllogism of understanding, and of finite thought altogether, are not what Aristotle has made use of in his properly philosophical investigations.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 247
8. Hodgson in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 277
9. ‘Extracts from the Explanatory Matter in the First Edition’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xxxiv
10. Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 252
11. VI.6.8 from: http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0204-0270,_Plotinus,_The_Six_Enneads,_EN.pdf (Trans. MacKenna)

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13t

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

Plotinus asked ‘What art is there, what method, what discipline to bring us there where we must go?’1 and answered that it is not ‘all that coil of premises and conclusions called the art of reasoning’2 – that of Aristotelian and Stoic logic – but ‘authentic science’3, ‘supremely precious’4 Platonic dialectic, which deals not with propositions and rules, but with truths of difference and identity, motion and rest, knower and known5 – of unceasing negation in emanation from the source to return to it by a process of increasingly comprehensive conceptualisation, concluding in the absolute

It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things – what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.6

As did Plotinus, Cusanus7 and Hegel8 also rejected the ‘laws of thought’ (those of identity [a = a], non-contradiction [a thing cannot be both a and -a] and the excluded middle [either a or -a]) from their method of knowledge, making contradiction its centrepiece. In so doing, Cusanus set the precedent of freeing God’s omnipotence from qualification9

He believed that the highest mysteries of the Trinity couldn’t be attained as long as one held that opposites are mutually exclusive

The oppositeness of opposites is oppositeness without oppositeness, just as the End of finite things is an End without an end. You, then, 0 God, are the Oppositeness of opposites, because You are infinite. And because You are infinite, You are Infinity. In Infinity the oppositeness of opposites is present without oppositeness.10

He applied this subtle manner of thinking to the world

Now, hot things are originated from the beginning of heat. Therefore, the beginning of heat is not hot. Now, in the cold I see that which belongs to the same genus (as does the hot) but which is not the hot. The situation is similar regarding other contraries. Therefore, since in the one contrary the beginning of the other contrary is present, their transformations are circular, and there is a common subject for each contrary. Thus, you see how it is that receptivity is transformed into actuality.11

Hegel wrote

Positive and negative are supposed to express an absolute difference. The two however are at bottom the same: the name of either might be transferred to the other. …Positive and negative are therefore intrinsically conditioned by one another, and are only in relation to each other. …In opposition, the different is not confronted by any other, but by its other.12

Both recognised that contradiction is the moving principle of the world13

as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.14

Cusanus also preceded Hegel in recognising, better than Eckhart, ‘how much depends on defining the relation between the terms and how little on the terms taken by themselves’15.

Without a theology of contradiction, God could only be worshipped as Father, not considered philosophically as infinitude. Since, for Cusanus and Hegel, God is the coincidence (the unity) of opposites and God is all things, all things including God could now be incorporated into their method – this considered ambivalently by Cusanus, the development of which consideration Hegel completed. As I have argued, they illustrated and conveyed metaphorically and mytho-poetically their Neoplatonic system through their use of the Trinitarian myth – Hegel doing so in an overtly non-Christian manner

For Cusanus, speculative philosophical thinking and the Christian faith merge into one. …that which has been conceived in terms of philosophical speculation, and which Cusanus regards as consistent with the thinking of the Greek philosophers, is suddenly identified, as though this were the most natural thing in the world, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.16

Magee wrote of ‘speculation’ and ‘dialectic’

Speculation, in fact, is reason in its ‘positive’ aspect. …Dialectic, for Hegel, is reason in its ‘negative’ aspect: it identifies contradictions inherent in the understanding’s view of things. What is involved in speculation, again, is insight into the whole – which is what actually makes possible the supersession of opposing terms, and of one standpoint (e.g a definition of the Absolute) by a more adequate one.17

Cusanus and Hegel knew that speculative truth can only be sought through contradiction

Hence, we notice here an important speculative consideration which, from the foregoing, can be inferred about the Maximum: viz., that the Maximum is such that in it the Minimum is the Maximum, and thus the Maximum infinitely and in every respect transcends all opposition.18

Cusanus considered how contradiction functions in the process of speculation, ‘utterly failing’ Aristotle on this point

Although more than all the other [philosophers] Aristotle is held to be the most careful and most acute reasoner, I think that he and all the others utterly failed in regard to one point. For since the beginnings are contraries, [those philosophers] failed to arrive at [a correct understanding of] that third, assuredly necessary, beginning [viz., privation]. This [failure occurred] because they did not believe it to be possible that contraries coincide in that [third] beginning, since contraries expel one another. Hence, from [a consideration of that] first principle which denies that contradictories can both be true at the same time, the Philosopher showed that, likewise, contraries cannot be present together.19

Not only are our concepts images of what God creates, speculative thought itself is a contracted reflection of infinite divine being.20 Cusanus’ exploration of concepts preceded Hegel’s more dynamic and integrated process of aufheben (see 11.1.1). Coincidentia oppositorum is

a state or condition in which opposites no longer oppose each other but fall together into a harmony, union, or conjunction…a unity of contrarieties overcoming opposition by convergence without destroying or merely blending the constituent elements…it…sets forth the way God works, the order of things in relation to God and to each other, and the manner by which humans may approach and abide in God21

Similarly, his neologism of God as ‘Not-other’, the aspects of which are both ‘negative’ (not one of finite, created others) and ‘positive’ (not other than any finite, created other or all of them and divine and infinite)

Not Other is not an other, nor is it other than any other, nor is it an other in an other—for no other reason than that it is Not Other, which can in no way be other, as if it something were lacking to it, as to an other. For an other which is other than something lacks that than which it is other. But Not Other, because it is not other than anything, does not lack anything nor can anything be outside it.22

Particularly, though ‘Not-Other’ can be thought, it cannot be conceived – like coincidentia oppositorum, it functions beyond the literal meaning of words.23

Redding linked Hegel to Cusanus in relation to the coincidence of opposites

(Hegel) again (my italics) follows a Neoplatonist precedent, that of Nicholas of Cusa: within ‘the One’ we have to think of opposites as coinciding.24

He adds in a note

Extracts from Bruno’s, De la Causa, which reproduced key arguments of Cusanus’ On Learned Ignorance concerning the identity of the absolute maxima and minima were appended to Jacobi’s Über die Lehre des Spinoza, and this seems (my italics) to be the transmission route for the Cusan conception of ‘coincidentia oppositorum’ into German Idealism.25

What Redding failed to add was that as well as discussing key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy in that text, Bruno also referred to26 the ‘divine’ Cusanus (‘the Cusan’), ‘the inventor of geometry’s most beautiful secrets’, relying on him as his guide (see 13.4). 

Both Cusanus and Hegel had the same profound appreciation for contradiction and both took the same pleasure in speculatively exploring its complexity and manifestation. Both saw it as not only the engine of the world but, together with ‘speculative’ philosophy, the method of knowledge.

Yet even though Cusanus was the Neoplatonist who most thoroughly explored, prior to Hegel, the relationship between contradiction, concepts and speculation and how to convey his ‘conjectures’ on that basis, positioning coincidentia oppositorum as the way to God, rather than those of silence, apophasis and predication, his philosophising remained programmatic rather than, as was Hegel’s, systematic. Hopkins wrote

Nicholas advances considerations that cohere with his overall viewpoint in De Visione Dei, but these considerations do not connect into a chain in which each link of reasoning is presumed to depend necessarily upon the preceding links.27

and Jaspers

One defect in Cusanus’ philosophising is that he does not distinguish between contradiction and such related concepts as difference, polarity, and opposition. Nor does he put his thinking to test categorically and systematically (we have to go to Hegel to gain clarity on this point). He sometimes identifies opposition (oppositio) with contradiction (contradictio).28

Hegel recognised that the systematic development of Cusanus’ speculative use of coincidentia oppositorum, of his focus on the unfolding and enfolding of concepts in the triadic structure of the Neoplatonic model and his metaphorical style – mytho-poetic circumscription in Hegel’s hands – was the way to best serve his own philosophical purposes, completing the growth within idealism of the potential of Neoplatonism and thereby preparing the epistemological ground for the continuation of its development within materialism.



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.3.1
2. Ibid., I.3.4
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., I.3.5
5. ‘Thus the Primals (the first ‘Categories’) are seen to be: Intellectual-Principle; Existence; Difference; Identity: we must include also Motion and Rest: Motion provides for the intellectual act, Rest preserves identity as Difference gives at once a Knower and a Known, for, failing this, all is one, and silent.’ Ibid., V.1.4
6. Ibid., I.3.4
7. ‘Cusanus’ theology abandons Scholastic logic, the logic of generic concepts, dominated by the principle of contradiction and of the excluded middle; but it demands in its place a new type of mathematical logic, one that does not exclude but, in fact, requires the possibility of the coincidence of opposites, and requires the convergence of the Absolute-Greatest with the Absolute-Smallest as the firm principle and the necessary vehicle of progressing knowledge.’, Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 14
8. ‘The several propositions which are set up as absolute laws of thought, are, therefore, more closely considered, opposed to one another, they contradict one another and mutually sublate themselves. If everything is identical with itself, then it is not different, not opposed, has no ground. Or, if it is assumed that no two things are the same, that is, everything is different from everything else, then A is not equal to A, nor is A opposed to A, and so on. The assumption of any of these propositions rules out the assumption of the others. The thoughtless consideration of them enumerates them one after the other, so that there does not appear to be any relation between them…(it ignores) their other moment, positedness or their determinateness as such which sweeps them on into transition and into their negation.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 411
9. ‘For Cusanus, the law of contradiction itself qualifies God’s freedom and omnipotence. By making God the coincidence of opposites, he nullifies the law of contradiction as a criterion for God’s potentia absoluta and thereby extends his conception of God’s absolute power beyond that of the scholastics.’, Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op. cit., 46-47
10. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op, cit., 13,55, 705
11. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 46-47, 813
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 173
13. ‘Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract ‘either-or’ as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. …Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world’, Ibid., 174
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, 439
15. Louis Dupré, ‘The Question of Pantheism from Eckhart to Cusanus’ in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 74-88, 80
16. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 145, 148
17. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 221
18. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,16,43, 25
19. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 40, 810
20. ‘Our conjectures are said to arise in our mind, in the same way that the created external world arises in the infinite divine ground. Speculative thought is thus itself a contracted reflection of the infinite divine being.’, Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 115
21. Bond, in Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, op. cit., 335-336
22. Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On Not-Other’), 1461-2, 6,20, 1118, quoted by Clyde Lee Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa]’, op. cit.
23.Not-other may be called the Absolute Concept, which is indeed seen mentally but which, notwithstanding, is not conceived. …since every concept is not other than a concept, in every concept Not-other is whatever is conceived. But, without doubt, the concept Not-other remains inconceivable.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On Not-Other’), 1461-2, 20,94, 1152-1153
24. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 153
25. Ibid. Hegel used ‘coincidence’ in his philosophy: ‘the inseparability of the Notion’s determinations is posited; for as negation of the negation it contains their opposition and at the same time contains it in its ground or unity, the effected coincidence of each with its other.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 620; ‘Truth…lies in the coincidence of the object with itself, that is, with its notion.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 237
26. As he also does in The Ash Wednesday Supper/La Cena de le ceneri in which he also cited De docta ignorantia. I repeat that Hodgson wrote Hegel was familiar with Bruno: ‘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. See 13.4.1
27. Hopkins in Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialectical Mysticism, Text, Translation and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei, op. cit., 43
28. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 258

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Pick a galaxy, any galaxy


Galaxy Cluster Abell 370 and Beyond


Dark Matter Ring Modelled around Galaxy Cluster CL0024+17


Images: top/bottom

‘Scruton, mysticism and music’


The Perseus Cluster Waves

Here is the download link for my essay ‘Scruton, mysticism and music’

Philip Stanfield: ‘Scruton, mysticism and music’ PDF



‘Henri Bergson and the Cubist Aesthetic’


Georges Braque, Violin and Pitcher, 1910, oil on canvas, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland

Here is the download link for my working essay on Bergson, Neoplatonism and Cubism

Philip Stanfield:Henri Bergson, Neoplatonism and the Cubist Aesthetic PDF



Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13s

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

The problems of language and epistemology are closely related. Cusanus gave a great deal of thought to how language frames and directs considerations of the latter. Believing that learned ignorance required a new kind of logic, he thought that coincident language and method in theology reconciles opposites and mediates between the infinite and the finite and that to attain knowledge, just as sensory reasoning has to be transcended, so too the sensory meanings of words – the limits of conceptual thinking. He subscribed to ‘non-conceptual insight’1 and held that the function of language in mystical theology is to kindle and rouse the soul. I have addressed this same fundamental aspect of Hegel’s philosophy throughout this thesis, using Magee’s apt expression ‘mytho-poetic circumscription’, particularly at 10.6.2

Cusanus was acutely aware of the imprecision of words

it is not the case that words are precise and thus that a thing cannot be named by a more precise word. For the form which a man conceives is not the thing’s essential form, which precedes each thing. If anyone knew the name of that form, he would name all things correctly and would have a most perfect knowledge of all things.3

Yet, while fully aware of the constraints of concepts, he also recognised their philosophical necessity (they are the vehicles for truth) and their speculative potential (the exploration of them in their unfolding is ‘mind’s’ means of movement). In his writing on both these points he far more than laid the groundwork for Hegel’s far more systematically dialectical conceptual philosophising.

As discussed (9.3,, God’s ‘Mind’ is the exemplar for our minds. As infinite ‘Mind’ (‘the totality of the truth of things’4) moves itself by conceiving, so does ‘mind’ (‘the totality of the assimilation of things’5). Where divine ‘Mind’ produces things, our ‘minds’ (as images of God’s), conceptualise in the unfolding and enfolding of their world – conceptualisation itself being the production of knowledge. ‘Mind’, the image of the Trinity and that of ‘a second god’6 is the always living, self-moving triunity of intellectual life that gives rise to the ‘rational operations’7 of its understanding.

As dealt with previously (13.4.1), Buhle, in vol. 2.1 of his Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, one of the histories Hegel is known to have used as sources for his Lectures on the History of Philosophy – but which history he did not name – discussed and quoted in detail Cusanus’ theory of cognition in his De coniecturis. For Cusanus, Christ, as the Word of God, is the centre of the conceptual structure of the world, the embodiment of the Concept of all concepts – the crucial bond between infinite and finite.8 When ‘mind’ functions as the image of God by producing concepts, God shines forth in it.

‘Definition’ (not that of ratio but of intellectus) was extremely important to Cusanus. In defining the concept as ‘the unfolding of the word’9, he implied that he considered its meaning to be a developmental process. It is both that which is first and, in its unfolding, defines (develops) itself and what grows from it

not only [must it be the definition of itself], but also all things must be defined through it, since they cannot exist unless they exist and are defined through it.10

For Hegel, God had the ‘presuppositionless’ right (! see that the Science of Logic (and Hegel’s entire system) began with him.11 Both his Logic and Encyclopaedia conclude with Absolute Idea which Hegel equated with Aristotle’s concept of God.12 Magee was not correct in writing that Absolute Idea is defined by the development leading to it13 because ‘God’, both the source and entirety of that Neoplatonic process, defines it. For Cusanus and Hegel, ‘God’ is his (its) own definition.14

The academic position – i.e. the position of those employed to maintain capitalist ideology and domination – is that German philosophy after Kant developed in response to him not that all of them developed in response to Neoplatonism, in response to a philosophy with ‘the tremendous power of the negative’15 at its core

Hegel derives the basic outlines of his account of self-driving reason from Kant. Kant divided human rationality into two faculties: the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of reason. The understanding uses concepts to organise and regularise our experiences of the world. Reason’s job is to coordinate the concepts and categories of the understanding by developing a completely unified, conceptual system, and it does this work, Kant thought, on its own, independently of how those concepts might apply to the world. Reason coordinates the concepts of the understanding by following out necessary chains of syllogisms to produce concepts that achieve higher and higher levels of conceptual unity. Indeed, this process will lead reason to produce its own transcendental ideas, or concepts that go beyond the world of experience. Kant calls this necessary, concept-creating reason “speculative” reason (cf. Critique of Pure Reason, Bxx–xxi, A327/B384). Reason creates its own concepts or ideas—it “speculates”—by generating new and increasingly comprehensive concepts of its own, independently of the understanding. In the end, Kant thought, reason will follow out such chains of syllogisms until it develops completely comprehensive or unconditioned universals—universals that contain all of the conditions or all of the less-comprehensive concepts that help to define them. As we saw Hegel’s dialectics adopts Kant’s notion of a self-driving and concept-creating “speculative” reason, as well as Kant’s idea that reason aims toward unconditioned universality or absolute concepts. …

Hegel adopts Kant’s dialectical conception of reason, but he liberates reason for knowledge from the tyranny of the understanding. Kant was right that reason speculatively generates concepts on its own, and that this speculative process is driven by necessity and leads to concepts of increasing universality or comprehensiveness. Kant was even right to suggest—as he had shown in the discussion of the antinomies—that reason is dialectical, or necessarily produces contradictions on its own. Again, Kant’s mistake was that he fell short of saying that these contradictions are in the world itself. He failed to apply the insights of his discussion of the antinomies to “things in themselves” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35). Indeed, Kant’s own argument proves that the dialectical nature of reason can be applied to things themselves. The fact that reason develops those contradictions on its own, without our heads to help it, shows that those contradictions are not just in our heads, but are objective, or in the world itself. Kant, however, failed to draw this conclusion, and continued to regard reason’s conclusions as illusions. Still, Kant’s philosophy vindicated the general idea that the contradictions he took to be illusions are both objective—or out there in the world—and necessary. As Hegel puts it, Kant vindicates the general idea of “the objectivity of the illusion and the necessity of the contradiction which belongs to the nature of thought determinations” (SL-M 56; cf. SL-dG 35), or to the nature of concepts themselves.16

I could not believe that this mix of key elements in Kant’s philosophy, all found in Neoplatonism, did not come from Neoplatonism, particularly via Cusanus (see 13.4) or from others influenced by it – the two ‘reasons’, how concepts are created and used in a dialectical conception of self-driving reason – a ‘speculative’ process of necessity leading to concepts of increasing universality or absolute concepts and syllogisms that produce concepts that achieve higher levels of conceptual unity (which I will soon address).17 Above all is the importance of theology to Hegel’s theory of knowledge.



1. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 139
2. Magee himself engaged in his own mytho-poesis: ’the Absolute is literally embodied in the pure aether of thought. Hegel’s philosophical speech is not an account of the Absolute, it is the concrete, “aetherial” realisation of the Absolute itself.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 95. How an ‘aetherial’ realisation of the Absolute is ‘concrete’ is known only by Magee.
3. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 33 (‘The meaning of a word’),97, 1339; ‘just as human reason does not attain unto the quiddity of God’s works, so neither does a name. For names are imposed by the operation of reason. For we name one thing by one name, for a certain reason; and [we name] the very same thing by another name, for another reason. Moreover, one language has names that are more suitable, whereas another language has names that are cruder and less suitable. In this way, I see that since the suitability of names admits of more and less, the precise name [of a thing] is not known.’, Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 2,58, 536
4. Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa], op. cit.
5. I.e. ‘likeness of truth’. Ibid.
6. ‘note that Hermes Trismegistus states that man is a second god. For just as God is the Creator of real beings and of natural forms, so man is the creator of conceptual beings and of artificial forms that are only likenesses of his intellect, even as God’s creatures are likenesses of the Divine Intellect.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 7, 794; ‘For man is god, but not unqualifiedly, since he is man; therefore he is a human god. Man is also world, but he is not contractedly all things, since he is man; therefore man is a microcosm, or a human world’, Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II,14,143, 236
7. ‘mind brings forth from itself rational operations, [or rational movement]. Thus, mind is the form of moving.’ Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 15,157, 587
8. ‘As often before, the Word is the term for the unity of the created and uncreated worlds. However, with Cusanus the old mysticism of the cosmic Word is combined with new and remarkably modern theories of the universe.’, Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 111
9. ‘Aristotle asserted that the light of knowledge is in the definition, which is the unfolding of the word.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 33,98, 1339
10. ‘Dionysius saw these points very clearly in the chapter on the Perfect and the One, in The Divine Names, where he says: “That One—the Cause of all—is not a one out of many; rather, it is prior to everything one, prior to all multitude, and is the definition of every one and of all multitude.”…the trine and one God is the Definition defining itself and all other things.’, Ibid., 14,39-40, 1303-1304
11. ‘God has the absolutely undisputed right that the beginning be made with him’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 75, 78.
12. ‘now the idea comes to be its own object. This is the noesis noeseos which Aristotle long ago termed the supreme form of the idea.’, §236, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 292
13. ‘the entirety of the Logic is the “definition” of Absolute Idea’, ‘Hegel speaks of Absolute Idea as “the Idea that thinks itself” (EL #236), and he explicitly likens it to Aristotle’s concept of God.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 24, 100
14. ‘NICHOLAS: I ask you, then, first of all, what is it that most of all gives us knowledge?
FERDINAND: Definition.
NICHOLAS: You answer correctly, for the definition is the constituting ground (oratio seu ratio). But on what basis is [definition] called definition?
FERDINAND: On the basis of defining, since it defines everything.
NICHOLAS: Perfectly correct. Hence, if definition defines everything, then does it define even itself?
FERDINAND: Certainly, since it excludes nothing.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On the Not-Other’), 1461-2, in Nicholas of Cusa on God as Not-other, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1999, 1108-1166, 1,3, 1108-1109
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 19
16. Julie E. Maybee, ‘Hegel’s Dialectics,’, op. cit.
17. Consider Kant’s perspectivism and his transcendental unity of apperception, a ‘pure original unchangeable consciousness’ (Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, A 107, 136). Redding said Schelling ‘developed Kant’s hints about a type of Neoplatonic unity of the world of things-in-themselves by identifying this world with the totality of things in their interconnection. He identifies the world of appearances with this totality, as it were, grasped from within’, lecture, University of Sydney, 04.10.10. Plotinus ‘solved’ Kant’s phenomenal/noumenal dilemma – 1,500 years before Hegel: ‘Consider sense-knowledge: its objects seem most patently certified, yet the doubt returns whether the apparent reality may not lie in the states of the percipient rather than in the material before him; the decision demands intelligence or reasoning. Besides, even granting that what the senses grasp is really contained in the objects, none the less what is thus known by the senses is an image: sense can never grasp the thing itself; this remains forever outside. (my italics)

…The only way to this is to leave nothing outside of the veritable Intellectual-Principle which thus has knowledge in the true knowing (that of identification with the object), cannot forget, need not go wandering in search. At once truth is there, this is the seat of the authentic Existents, it becomes living and intellective: these are the essentials of that most lofty Principle; and failing them where is its worth, its grandeur?

Thus veritable truth is not accordance with an external; it is self-accordance (my italics); it affirms nothing other than itself and is nothing other; it is at once existence and self-affirmation.’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.5.1-2. Magee, to repeat, wrote, quoting Beck and without expansion, that Schelling read Cusanus. ‘Beck also makes the claim that the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as theosophy and Protestant mysticism, have their roots in Cusa’ (Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 28)

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