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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