Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14g


14.4  If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process?

There are five approaches to ‘god’ under discussion in this thesis: the Neoplatonic, that of the Hermetica, the Christian, the Böhmean and the Hegelian. I have shown through my use of quotations (14.1, 14.2) that the gods of the Hermetica and Christianity (of Eckhart and Cusanus) are complete – that although in these belief systems god creates process – the means of our acquiring knowledge and of our return to divinity – he, perfect and requiring nothing, is not part of that process other than being its desired goal. But the god of Böhme and Hegel is not only part of that process, he is the process. My argument in this thesis is that the source for this in Hegel’s philosophy (as in Böhme’s theosophy) could only be Neoplatonism, which itself was always a work in progress.

One reason for warranting its recognition as the greatest school of Greek philosophy is both the willingness and capacity of those who subscribed to it to absorb into and unite with it the thought of other schools and philosophers from across the breadth of Greek philosophy and beyond and to rework that philosophy itself. In addition to the primary influences of Plato and Aristotle1 on Plotinus (as on Hegel), Henry tells us

From all his adversaries, Peripatetics, Stoics, Middle-Platonist eclectics, even from the Gnostics, (Plotinus) borrows what he is perhaps overconfident in thinking that he can accommodate within his own restrained and concordant system.2

Hegel also recognised this willingness to absorb, describing Plotinus equally as a Neoplatonist and a Neoaristotelian3 and Neoplatonism as an ‘eclectic school’.4 While Neoplatonism was itself absorbed into Christianity,5 particularly, as Dodds noted, in the form of Proclus’ triad,6 it never lost its Greek rationality, retaining a key conceptual difference between the first element of that triad (Being) and the God of Christianity – where the sub-triad of the former is only completed at the end of the process of emanation and return, the latter is always the eternally perfect and complete goal of the process which He created.

Magee, implicitly recognising the developmental nature of Neoplatonism7 then wrote that

(For Plotinus) the One is in no way completed by the return. Proclus, however, follows the Hermetica in teaching that the One must emanate creation in order to be complete.8

Neither any requirement for god’s completion nor even mention of Proclus’ triad (of triads) is in the Hermetica – both these points exemplify Proclus’ obsession with and use of triadic conceptual structure (which Hegel retained) and the influence, as Chlup has argued, of the eastern Neoplatonists. Again, Magee repeats Hegel’s error in his discussion of Proclus on the one and the many9 – an error which, as I have argued (7.ff.), indicates what Hegel did in his own Neoplatonism (repeatedly referring to Being as the One and God and making it not merely the primary creative element in the second hypostasis as did Plotinus but, by conflating the first hypostasis into the second, the primary creative element in his all-encompassing system of knowledge). Proclus, however, followed Plotinus in keeping the first hypostasis distinct from the second, the One distinct from the many, as I have shown (7.2).

Even though Magee wrote both that Hegel (correctly) believed he had not modelled his philosophy on the Trinity, it being a ‘sensuous image’ and anticipation of true philosophy, as Böhme’s theosophy also was to him, and that Hegel ‘saw much of himself in Proclus’10 (as did Feuerbach11), he still weakly concluded

Of course, this may be an instance (of which there are many) of a philosopher failing sufficiently to understand himself.12


1. ‘(Plotinus) followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle’s Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire. …At the Conferences he used to have treatises by various authors read aloud – among the Platonists it might be Severus or Cronius, Numenius, Gaius, or Atticus; and among the Peripatetics Aspasius, Alexander, Adrastus, or some such writer, at the call of the moment.’, Porphyry, ‘On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of His Work’ in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., cii-cxxv, cxii. Porphyry tells a tale exemplifying Plotinus’ strong disagreement with the position that a student of philosophy should unreservedly submit to their teacher, Ibid., cxiii
2. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., lxxv
3. ‘We can call Plotinus a Neoplatonist and, with equal justification, call him a Neoaristotelian. With him we find multiple elucidations of one and the same main idea, quite in the Aristotelian manner. …The main thing is that we must not take him as being opposed to Plato and Aristotle. He also drew upon the thinking and the logos of the Stoics.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 334
4. ‘It is customary to use the name ‘eclectic school’ expressly for this Alexandrian school. …Neoplatonic or Alexandrian philosophy does not constitute one particular school over against the others; instead it united all principles within itself, but in a higher, authentic, way.’, Ibid., 330; ‘The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it. Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 202
5. ‘At the same time (Plotinus) is a mystic, and as such perhaps a greater inspiration for Western philosophy and for the Christian religion than even Plato himself. His whole oeuvre is infused with the powerful dynamism of “the desire of the soul for God”. This he may owe to the strong religious ethos of the time, partly to Near-Eastern influence, partly again to the pantheistic and “devout” trends in Stoicism…It was left to the Christian Church, the authentic heir to what is best in Plotinus’ teaching, to combine harmoniously in reflective thought the Biblical revelation, Plato’s interest in man as a member of society, and Plotinus’ interest in him as a person proceeding from God and striving towards oneness with the One.’, Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., lxxv
6. ‘The triad immanence – procession – reversion had a considerable history. Ps. Dion. applies it to the divine love (Div. Nom. 4. 14); Psellus to the Christian Trinity (C.M.A.G. VI. 165. 36 ff.)’, Dodds’ commentary to Prop. 35, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 221. Prop 35 reads ‘Every effect remains in its cause, proceeds from it, and reverts upon it. For if it should remain without procession or reversion, it will be without distinction from, and therefore identical with, its cause, since distinction implies procession. And if it should proceed without reversion or immanence, it will be without conjunction or sympathy with its cause, since it will have no communication with it. …’
7. ‘Hegel admires Proclus as a “profoundly speculative man” and states that with him the Neoplatonic philosophy “has at last reached a more systematic order” (LHP 2:434, 435; Werke 19:468, 469). What Hegel seems to admire chiefly in Proclus is his use of the dialectic and the triadic form.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 21
8. Ibid.
9. ‘Proclus attempts to demonstrate, according to Hegel, “the many as one and the one as many,”’, Ibid.
10. ‘In short, Hegel sees much of himself in Proclus.’, Ibid.
11. ‘What is imagination and fantasy with the neo-Platonists, Hegel has merely transformed into the concept, or in other words, rationalised. Hegel is not the “German or Christian Aristotle”; he is the German Proclus. “Absolute philosophy” is the reborn Alexandrian philosophy. According to Hegel’s explicit characterisation, it is not the Aristotelian nor the ancient pagan philosophy in general, but that of the Alexandrian school that is absolute (although still resting on abstraction from concrete self-consciousness) and Christian philosophy (albeit mixed with pagan ingredients).’, Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of Philosophy of the Future, 1843, Part II: Critique of Hegel, §29 Abstract and Concrete, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/feuerbach/works/future/future1.htm
12. ‘Hegel believed that he himself had not modelled his philosophy on the Trinity. He held that the true form of philosophy resembles the Trinity simply because the Trinity is an anticipation of true philosophy, in the form of a sensuous image. Of course, this may be an instance (of which there are many) of a philosopher failing sufficiently to understand himself.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit. 584

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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