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)

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