Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14h


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

At every stage of god as process, what is recounted and asserted in the Hermetica and theosophised by Böhme is speculatively philosophised in Neoplatonism.1 Magee wrote ‘“Nothing may be revealed to itself without opposition,” Boehme tells us.’2 Hegel quoted Böhme

You should know that all things consist of Yes and No, that the One as the Yes is energy and life – it is the energy of God and is God himself. But this truth would itself be unknowable without the No. The No is a counterstroke to…the eternal love. Nevertheless the Yes is not sundered from the No; they are not two things alongside one another, but only one thing. …Without them both, all things would be nothing and would stand still. Without them there is no understanding, for understanding originates in distinctiveness within multiplicity.3

But Hegel knew that someone else had not only told us this but had discussed it in a detailed, speculative manner in his tractate ‘The Knowing Hypostases and the Transcendent’, 1300 years before Böhme. Plotinus begins by asking a question

Are we to think that a being knowing itself must contain diversity, that self-knowledge can be affirmed only when some one phase of the self perceives other phases, and that therefore an absolutely simplex entity would be equally incapable of introversion and of self-awareness?4

He then states the problem

Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition.5

and, after consideration, wrote

The intellective power, therefore, when occupied with the intellectual act, must be in a state of duality, whether one of the two elements stand actually outside or both lie within: the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity, and in the same way its characteristic objects (the Ideas) must stand to the Intellectual-Principle as at once distinct and identical.6

In this discussion is not only the basis of Böhme’s and Hegel’s ‘distinctiveness within multiplicity’ (which Plotinus expanded into thought on subjectivity7) and of their casting of a tripartite theme into many forms8 but the source of mystical negation and speculative development.

Hegel placed great importance on ‘speculative’, thinking this of his philosophy and defining it as

the positively rational (apprehension of) the unity of the determinations in their opposition, the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and in their transition.9

As previously stated, he equated it with ‘mystical’. He also used the concept in relation to the philosophies of Plato10 and Aristotle11 – the same influences of equal importance to his own philosophy as to Plotinus’ – and in relation to the Neoplatonists.12 Conceptual philosophical speculation, however, was what he thought Böhme’s ‘crude’, ‘barbaric’ theosophy reflected a profound craving for.13

Hegel believed that speculative logic in its dialectical, conceptual unfolding is the true vehicle for the account of the Absolute and therefore of self-knowledge. Magee wrote of this ‘science’

(Hegel’s) Logic requires a new form of conceptual thought that even avoids ‘applying‘ concepts to real-word examples, striving instead to understand concepts and their relations in as pure a manner as possible.14

That Hegel believed reason is both a faculty of ‘mind’ and objective in the world has its most abstract expression in this ‘system of pure reason, the realm of pure thought’15 which can be summarised as ‘the conceptual development of God within, manifest in his world without’. As Cusanus wrote in Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’)

The Divine Mind’s Conceiving is a producing of things; our mind’s conceiving is a conceptualising of things. …If all things are present in the Divine Mind as in their precise and proper Truth, then all things are present in our mind as in an image, or a likeness, of their proper Truth. That is, they are present conceptually, for knowledge comes about on the basis of [conceptual] likeness (my italics).16

Hegel’s linking of ‘philosophy’, ‘science’, ‘theology’, ‘religion’ and ‘reason’, finding its culminating expression in the closing quotation from the Metaphysics in his Encyclopaedia17 and his seamless move from a focus on ‘substance’ to one on ‘subject’18 reflects the influence of Aristotle within Neoplatonism, and comparatively very little – primarily the illustrative use of son as nature – that of the Hermetica and the theosophy of Böhme.

Hegel’s structuring his philosophy on Proclus’ triad of triads within a school always open to development, the equal significance to him and Neoplatonism of ‘speculative’ philosophy and the equal significance, again, to him and Neoplatonism of Plato and Aristotle all identify him as of that school, not, as Magee argues, of Hermeticism.

Even Hegel’s description in his Encyclopaedia Logic of his system as one of conceptual circles of reason

Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles.19

echoes Plotinus’ description of his own system

The total scheme may be summarised in the illustration of The Good as a centre, the Intellectual-Principle as an unmoving circle, the Soul as a circle in motion, its moving being its aspiration: the Intellectual-Principle possesses and has ever embraced that which is beyond being; the Soul must seek it still20

Hegel, again echoing Plotinus, with his ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’, believed that ‘nobler natures’ should ‘flee into ideal regions’21 and practise in a religious community of philosopher priests, apart from the world (see 9.8). Magee wrote

Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel concerns the (Hermetic) initiation process…(whereby) initiation seems to fall into two parts, one dealing with self-knowledge, the other with knowledge of God. It can easily be shown, simply on a theoretical level, that these two are intimately wedded. To really know one’s self is to be able to give a complete speech about the conditions of one’s being, and this involves speaking about God and His entire cosmos.22

But here, too, Chlup puts the Neoplatonic position, writing that the main function of their theurgy was initiatory.23 Of Proclus’ Platonic Theology he stated

One scholar (Rappe 2000: 170-1) has even attributed an initiatory quality to the text: ‘the system that it supposedly conveys is more like a ritual invocation or theurgic rite than a handbook of metaphysics…Like the statues of the theurgists, this text is meant to become enlivened through the invocations of the gods that form its itinerary.’24

Why has Magee argued as he has, misrepresenting the Hermetica and utterly refusing to consider the possibility that Hegel may have been other than an Hermeticist, a Neoplatonist? Hegel’s philosophy, though (as Magee wrote) mytho-poetic, is far more than myth – its range and the Logic are evidence of this. It fully develops and fleshes out the system of conceptual artistry that is the Enneads, drawing on the same Greek philosophical tradition of detailed rationality.

Magee’s use of the time-worn description of Marxism as Hegel’s ‘bastard’ points to a motive – that Neoplatonism always was the school that best explicates the world of change – prior to Marx, that in consciousness and after, in objective reality. I will pass, Magee will pass, the bourgeoisie that employs him will pass – individually and as a class. Nothing remains but material change…and nothing can stop it.

The heyday of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘Modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’ (equally aimed at undermining our trust in our senses and our belief that we know the world) have passed and the ideologues of the bourgeoisie have been forced, under the very pressure of change that produced Hegel and saw the absorption of his philosophy into materialism, now dialectical, to address mysticism. Hermeticism and other similar ‘esoteric’ belief systems25 offer them yet another way out – philosophy as myth, as account, as subjectivity, as sacred, ancient authority – philosophy still suffused with ‘God’, still focussing on consciousness, on what is secondary.


1. ‘unlike the ancient theologians of Israel and Egypt, the Neoplatonists did not think that the universe could spring from the deity directly and in a way that surpasses all understanding, for example by being thought and spoken into existence. Their more refined view was that reality emerged from “the First” in coherent stages, in such a way that one stage functions as creative principle of the next.’, Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/ op. cit.; ‘the Plotinian path is indeed a philosophy, and not only a form of mysticism, insofar as this process of purification is an arduous intellectual and ethical path’, Gwenaëlle Aubry, ‘Plato, Plotinus, and Neoplatonism’, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 191-222, 209-210
2. Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 532
3. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 102
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.1
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., V.3.10
7. ‘Then, again, in the assertion “I am this particular thing”, either the “particular thing” is distinct from the assertor – and there is a false statement – or it is included within it, and, at once, multiplicity is asserted: otherwise the assertion is “I am what I am”, or “I am I”.’, Ibid. See 8.4.2. Magee relayed Hegel’s discussion of Böhme’s theology on this point: ‘The Son is the great Separator, who takes the qualities and powers that are bound into one within God the Father and “separates” them so that God comes face-to-face with himself. …(quoting Hegel) “This is the highest profundity of thought of Jacob Boehme. …Indeed Boehme has here penetrated into the entire depth of the divine being; evil, matter, or however it is called, is the I=I, the being-for-self – this is the true negativity.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, 587-588; Magee wrote ‘As a Hermeticist…Hegel regards God before creation as incomplete. To complete himself, God must know himself, and the immediate self-cognition God possesses before creation is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge requires mediated re-cognition. It requires that the self see itself reflected in another and recognise itself there.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 257; again, ‘Fichte, in his Foundations of Natural Right (1797), argued that opposition is a necessary condition of self-consciousness—specifically the opposition of other self-conscious human beings. So, it is unlikely that Hegel derived this view from Böhme’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 586-587. Magee elsewhere claimed that Fichte and Hegel ‘are merely Böhme’s followers in this regard’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 138
8. ‘Boehme says: “Heaven and Hell are as far from each other as are Ichts and nothing (ens and non ens), as day and night.” He casts this theme into many forms’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 101. The Note adds ‘Hegel…probably has in mind Philo and Plotinus’, Ibid., Note 46
9. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 268
10. ‘Plato’s speculative dialectic – something that originates with him – is the most interesting but also the most difficult [element] in his work; those who study Plato’s writings often do not become versed in it.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 198
11. ‘this is where Aristotle becomes properly philosophical and at the same time highly speculative.’, Ibid., 233; ‘This, then, is the pinnacle of the Aristotelian metaphysics – the most speculative thought there can be.’, Ibid., 254
12. When discussing the philosophy of Proclus Hegel wrote ‘In its proper sense “mystical” means “speculative”. The mystical or speculative [task] consists in comprehending as a unity these distinctions (i.e. Proclus’ three triunities) that are defined as totalities, as gods. The expression “mystical” does in fact occur frequently in the Neoplatonists for whom (Greek word) means none other than “to consider speculatively”. The religious mysteries too are secrets to the abstract understanding, and it is only for rational, speculative thinking that they are object or content.’, Ibid., 344-345; ‘Hegel here has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80.
13. ‘we cannot fail to see the profound craving for speculation which existed in this man.’, quoted in Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589; ‘Hegel…stated in print that he and Baader shared the goal of translating Böhme’s eccentric, sensualistic theosophy into “scientific” terms.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 48
14. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit,. 189
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 50
16. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 72, 543
17. ‘Hegel speaks of Absolute Idea as ‘the Idea that thinks itself’ (EL #236), and he explicitly likens it to Aristotle’s concept of God. ‘This is the noesis noeseos [thought thinking itself] which was already called the highest form of the Idea by Aristotle (EL #236 A).’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 100
18. ‘In Absolute Knowing the drive to totally grasp the object, and to annul the subject-object distinction will be realised. Absolute Knowing will be the total grasp of the only true, unique individual there is: the Absolute. In Aristotelian terms, it is the grasp of true being or substance. But in Hegel’s thought substance has become subject: “what seems to happen outside of [the self], to be an activity directed against it, is really its own doing, and substance shows itself to be essentially subject” (MIller, 21; PG, 28).’, Ibid., 171
19. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., §15
20. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.16
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
22. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 10-11
23. ‘Conspicuous as the external theurgic operations might have been, for the Neoplatonists they were the less significant part of their hieratic art. Its main function was transformative and initiatory. Theurgy played a part in the ascent of the soul, allowing the induction of higher states of consciousness unattainable by pure philosophy.’, Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 173
24. Ibid., 38
25. ‘“Esotericism” refers to a number of theories, practices, and approaches to knowledge united by their participation in a premodern, largely pagan worldview. …Further, esotericists typically believe that (their) truths and practices are of the greatest antiquity – perhaps once widely disseminated and openly proclaimed, but now (and for a great many centuries) hidden and preserved by a few special individuals or schools. Discovery in esotericism is almost always rediscovery.’, Magee, Editor’s Introduction, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 19-83, 57-58

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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