Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13w


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

Cusanus’ contribution to Neoplatonism, as discussed (13.6.2), was based on his overlay of the Trinitarian myth across Proclus’ triad, which triad and adaptation Hegel used in his philosophy to both disguise and illustrate the stages of the Neoplatonic process, better anchoring Neoplatonism in the world, to maximise the mytho-poetic potential of his philosophy1 for the optimal conveyance of its content and to fully explore its potential in conceptual, representational and logical language.

Just as Hegel discussed the syllogism in his Science of Logic, Cusanus did so in De venatione sapientiae

This art [of the syllogism] the master-inventor handed down to an obedient student and gave instruction that he construct syllogisms in accordance with all the modes set before him. To some extent, perhaps, the artistry of the world is like this.2

It would appear from this that Cusanus subscribed to ratio – Hegel’s Verstand. Further, Hopkins wrote in a note to this

Every complete syllogism consists of three propositions: two premises and a conclusion. Each of the propositions has both a subject-term and a predicate-term. The two premises must have one term in common (either both subject-terms or both predicate-terms or the subject-term of one and the predicate term of another) so that altogether there are only three different terms. …3

Yet in the second last paragraph of the final chapter – Chapter 39, ‘Summarising conclusion’, Cusanus indicated how different from academic analysis was the nature of his reasoning

All men, not unjustifiably, praise the great Plato, who ascended [inferentially] from the sun unto wisdom by way of a likeness. Thus too [proceeded] the great Dionysius, who ascended [inferentially] from fire unto God, and from the sun unto the Creator, by means of likenesses-of-properties which he expounds. Likewise also Gregory the Theologian, in his theological orations against the Eunomians, urges that [this ascent] be made, because in this present world—where we know in part and prophesy in part—we must ascend by means of a mirror and a symbolism, as the divine Paul reports.4

Cassirer correctly wrote that

(To formal logic Cusanus objected that the absolute and unconditioned can never be caught in the net of syllogistic logic. …On this basis) every kind of ‘rational’ theology is refuted – and in its place steps ‘mystical theology’.5

Weeks’ point that the tri-unity of God is fundamental to German mysticism6 can be seen in Cusanus’ triad – modelled on that of Proclus

Divinity is Infinite Oneness, Infinite Equality, and Infinite Union—in such a way that in the Oneness there are Equality and Union, in the Equality there are Oneness and Union, and in the Union there are Oneness and Equality.7

The triads of Proclus, Cusanus and Hegel – as does Plotinus’ Intellectual-Principle in its working – all conclude in a perspectival cultus. While absolute truth is beyond one person’s grasp, an infinity of finite ‘minds’ embodies it. It is not we ourselves who know, but rather it is God who knows in us. Cusanus wrote towards the end of De docta ignorantia

Therefore, this union is a church, or congregation, of many in one—just as many members are in one body. each member existing with its own role. (In the body, one member is not the other member; but each member is in the one body, and by the mediation [my italics – cf. Hegel] of the body it is united with each other member. No member of the body can have life and existence apart from the body, even though in the body one member is all the others only by the mediation [my italics] of the body.) Therefore, as we journey here below, the truth of our faith can exist only in the spirit of Christ—the order of believers remaining, so that in one Jesus there is diversity in harmony. …The church cannot in some other way be more one. For “church” bespeaks a oneness of many [members]-— each of whom has his personal truth preserved without confusion of natures or of degrees; but the more one the church is, the greater it is; hence, this church—[viz.J the church of the eternally triumphant— is maximal, since no greater union of the church is possible. …8

Hegel wrote towards the end of his Encyclopaedia Logic

Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea…It is only in (individuals) altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised.9

Of the Idea he wrote

The idea as a process runs through three stages in its development. The first form of the idea is Life: that is, the idea in the form of immediacy. The second form is that of mediation or differentiation; and this is the idea in the form of Knowledge, which appears under the double aspect of the Theoretical and Practical idea. The process of knowledge eventuates in the restoration of the unity enriched by difference. This gives the third form of the idea, the Absolute Idea: which last stage of the logical idea evinces itself to be at the same time the true first, and to have a being due to itself alone.10

Being, Life, Intellect. Science of Logic (Being, Essence, Concept), Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics, Physics, Organics), Philosophy of Mind/Spirit (Subjective Mind/Spirit, Objective Mind/Spirit, Absolute Mind/Spirit). Emanation, perspectival development and return. The roots of the ‘syllogism’ of the German Proclus are not traced through any structure of validity but through Cusanus’ Trinity and Proclus’ triad of triads to Plotinus’ contemplation on the relation between Being, Intellectual-Principle and Living Form.11



1. Magee wrote: ‘Hegel claims that the results of theology (true theology) turn out to be indistinguishable from those of philosophy: God is revealed to be the Absolute, and the Christian Trinity to be a figurative way of speaking about the three moments of the Absolute: Logic (or the account of the Absolute Idea), nature and Spirit.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 245-246; again, ‘The Trinity, for Hegel, is a kind of mystic representation of the three moments of speculative philosophy.’, Ibid., 52. ‘Hegel conceives the first moment, the Christian “Father,” as “God in-Himself,” in potentia. God is the eternal Logos; hence, Logic. Exactly as do Eckhart, Cusa, Böhme, and Goethe, Hegel conceives the second moment, the “Son,” as Nature. Through the third moment, Spirit, God achieves full actuality as “objective” and “absolute” Spirit…Spirit is the most adequate “embodiment” of God.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 122. Magee joins Hegel in disguising the influence of Proclus’ triad, of Neoplatonism – in Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, the ‘second moment’ is not the Son (‘Christ’ doesn’t even occur in Book II) but the universe into which is contracted the Trinity (see De docta ignorantia II,127,7 [‘The trinity of the universe’] 75), Christ being the subject of the third book. Hegel’s distortion, as I have discussed (, is in his wordplay ‘Nature is the son of God, but not as the Son, but as abiding in otherness’ (my italics), Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14. Understood literally, these words are neither Neoplatonic nor Christian. ↩
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 10,4, 1286. The Chapter title is ‘How one is aided by an example from the art of logic.’ ↩
3. Ibid., n. 25, 1359-1360 ↩
4. Ibid., 115,39, 1349 ↩
5. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 12-13 ↩
6. Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 34 ↩
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II,173,17, 252 ↩
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,256,12, 146 ↩
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275 ↩
10. Ibid., 279 ↩
11. Of Hegel’s ‘divine triangle fragment’ of 1804-5 Magee wrote: ‘It seems clear that in this fragment…Hegel is developing the outlines of his philosophical system. And to do so, he is employing the language and style of Boehme. Hegel’s first triangle, “God the Father,” is analogous to the later Logic (with its threefold structure of Being-Essence-Concept), while the second triangle, of the Son or earth (my italics), corresponds to the Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics-Physics-Organics). And the relationship between the two triangles is strikingly similar to the relationship between Hegel’s Logic and Nature: it is the telos of Idea to become embodied as the natural world. (In Hegel’s words, the “Idea of God” becomes “the universe of God.”) In the third triangle, God intuits the Son, or earth (my italics), as himself, and achieves self-consciousness, a moment that approximates the role played by Spirit in Hegel’s mature system. Spirit—human Spirit—brings the system, and reality itself, to completion when it recognises that it itself is the embodiment of Idea, and that all of nature (as well as history) is intelligible as a kind of progressive unfolding of its own being.
What is particularly odd about the triangle fragment is that it is so close to Hegel’s own description in the Lectures of Boehme’s Trinity. We know that during roughly the same period in which he wrote the triangle fragment, Hegel altered his philosophical system from four divisions to the familiar triad of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit—the same triad seemingly depicted in mythic, Boehmean style in the fragment. I would like to suggest the possibility that Hegel’s study of Boehme’s Trinity played a role in helping him to formulate his system as tripartite. I do not mean that Hegel got from Boehme merely the idea of a three-part system. Rather, I am suggesting that it may have been Boehme’s peculiar interpretation of the Trinity that helped Hegel to see specifically how his own system could be unified in a tripartite form.
To put things in the starkest possible terms (and at the risk of repetition), the tripartite system that Hegel eventually arrived at in Jena:
1. begins with the Logic, which expresses a self-related Idea that is nevertheless mere Idea; an inchoate reality (“God in himself”), which then,
2. “freely releases itself” as nature, a scale of forms (described in The Philosophy of Nature), imperfectly expressing or embodying Idea, culminating in,
3. Spirit (the subject of The Philosophy of Spirit), which understands itself as the final flower of all that has gone before—as the fully adequate embodiment of Idea; self-related Idea made flesh in the form of living, human self-awareness.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit. Magee’s description of Hegel’s triangle fits the order and philosophical development of both Proclus’ triad and Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia – both of which Neoplatonic parallels Magee, in his determination to argue the influence of Böhme on Hegel, ignored. I will discuss Magee’s views regarding Hegel, Böhme and Hermeticism next. ↩

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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