Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14x


14.x The influence of Neoplatonism

On the profound influence Neoplatonism has had and continues to have on Western culture, Wildberg wrote

It is an undeniable fact, although nowadays rarely acknowledged, that the general outlook and the principal doctrines of the Neoplatonists proved exceedingly influential throughout the entire history of western philosophy. …During the Renaissance, ancient Greek learning, and Neoplatonism in particular, experienced a dramatic revival in the West in the wake of the work of Gemistus Plethon (1355–1452), Bessarion (1403–1472) and, above all, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), whose translation and interpretation of Plato and Plotinus in the second half of the 15th century influenced not only the philosophy, but also the art and literature of the period. It may even be true to say that even more than the writings of Plato and Aristotle themselves Neoplatonic ideas have continued to influence Western thinkers of the idealist persuasion, such as the Cambridge Platonists (who were really Neoplatonists), Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin, to name but a few.1

With regard to the influences on the Hermetica, van den Broek wrote

the philosophical Hermetica were all written in the first centuries of our era, under a strong influence of Greek philosophy and Jewish and Egyptian mythological and theological speculation.2

Chlup expanded

The distinction between the highest principle and Intellect as the first hypostasis derived from it originally appeared in Speusippus, re-surfacing in Platonism around the first century AD possibly under the influence of Neopythagorean speculations (cf. Whittaker 1969 and 1973). Extensive, though thoroughly unsystematic use of this idea was made by the platonising Hermetic treatises (e.g. Corp. Herm. II 14; XI 4; XII 1; XII 14), most of which probably originated in the second century AD.3

In Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper we read

the Hermetica attributed to (Hermes Trismegistus) are certainly of late Alexandrian origin, dating from the time of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics (i.e., the second to the fourth century A.D.). This correct dating of the Hermetica, accomplished by Isaac Casaubon in 1614, accounts for the heavily Platonic and Neoplatonic tone of the Hermetic corpus.4

Magee also acknowledged a significant influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism

(Plotinus claimed) that we possess an astral or aetherial body, which was to become a major tenet of the later Hermetic philosophy and of the contemporary “New Age.”5

In An Introduction to Jacob Boehme there are a number of references to the influence of Neoplatonism on Böhme and theosophy

‘These resonances, in conjunction with perceived pantheistic elements, have prompted suggestions that Boehme drew ultimate inspiration from an ancient theology that embraced currents of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Christian adaptations of the Jewish Kabbalah.’6

‘Taken together, these mediated and directly encountered textual and oral sources explain the other-wise problematic presence in the corpus of a non-university educated shoemaker of sophisticated mystical, apocalyptic, alchemical, astrological, and seemingly Gnostic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic ideas’7

‘Just as writings under the name Paracelsus may have been a conduit for Gnostic vestiges, so too did they channel streams of Neoplatonism. Running from Plotinus through the Florentine Platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), this Neoplatonic current may, in its appropriation and adaptation, partially account for Boehme’s elaboration of a process of emanation during the creation as well as what certain commentators regard as a pantheistic imbued conception of nature.’8

‘The notion of divine powers in nature is Neo-Platonic and patristic. …Nor are Boehme’s multiple worlds new. Nicholas of Cusa, Johannes Reuchlin and Agrippa von Nettesheim could have served as precedents’9

‘It is clear that his (Böhme’s) writings can be located within broader currents: alchemy and alchemical medicine; apocalypticism and prophecy; astrology; heterodox writings; utopian literature; mystical theology, with a particular emphasis on Neoplatonic authors; and spiritual contemplation.’10

On the subject of Hegel’s Idea ‘freely releasing itself’, Magee quotes Schelling having implied that the inspiration for this came from Böhme

most amusingly, we must note the words of Schelling. In a lecture given in the 1830s, Schelling remarks disdainfully, “Jacob Boehme says: divine freedom vomits itself into nature. Hegel says: divine freedom releases nature. What is one to think of this notion of releasing? This much is clear: the biggest compliment one can pay to this notion is to call it ‘theosophical.’”11

Surely less amusing for Magee if he were to consider it – given the singular force of his argument – should be his own view that we must equally note

Notoriously, Hegel employs Neoplatonic emanation imagery to describe the transition from Logic to Philosophy of Nature, saying that the Idea “freely releases itself.” This sort of approach is to be found in Eckhart as well.12

Redding recognised the importance and long-standing influence of Neoplatonism in Germany prior and up to Hegel’s time. He writes of a commentary by the nineteen-year old Schelling on Plato’s Timaeus

This work, only recently discovered, has added weight to the thesis of the importance of Platonism and Neoplatonism for the development of the post-Kantian idealism of Schelling and Hegel. …popular forms of Christianity in the German states had long had a deep-running Neoplatonic pantheistic-tending stream which had found expression in heterodox thinkers like Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Jacob Böhme (1575-1624)… In the 1780s Böhme had been taken up by the Catholic philosopher Franz von Baader, and in the 1790s Plotinus himself was being read under the urging of Novalis, who had stressed the proximity of Plotinus’ views to those of Kant and Fichte (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-88).13

On the relationship between Romanticism and Neoplatonism Hannak wrote

In their search for a deeper dimension of being not beyond but rather within reality itself, the Romantics were fascinated by Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic  texts as well as by contemporary Mesmerism.14


1. Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/
2. Roelof van den Broek, ‘Hermetism and Gnosticism’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit. 201
3. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., Note, 14
4. Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner in Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), op. cit., 105
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit.,, 118
6. Ariel Hessayon and Sarah Apetrei, ‘Introduction: Boehme’s Legacy in Perspective’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 30-79, 33
7. Ariel Hessayon, ’Boehme’s Life and Times’, Ibid., 80-178, 146
8. Ibid., 150
9. Andrew Weeks, ’Radical Reformation and the Anticipation of Modernism in Jacob Boehme’, Ibid., 179-262, 197-198
10. Ariel Hessayon, ’Jacob Boehme’s Writings During the English Revolution and Afterwards: Their Publication, Dissemination, and Influence’, Ibid., 344-434, 374
11. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 1024
12. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 266
13. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 126
14. Kristine Hannak, ’Boehme and German Romanticism’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 701-776, 726

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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