Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15c


15. Conclusion (continued)

In Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of Classical German Philosophy Engels wrote that just as idealism went through development, major discoveries in science necessitate the development of materialism – he discussed its progress from mechanical to dialectical1 – and that those developments in turn open up new areas of knowledge

idealism underwent a series of stages of development, so also did materialism. With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, it has to change its form; and after history was also subjected to materialistic treatment, a new avenue of development has opened here, too.2

Just as Marx and Engels applied the achievements of Hegel’s Neoplatonic study of consciousness to an understanding of the universe as a dialectical process, so the work being done in the knowledge of our brains (the organ that devised this method) – particularly of consciousness, of what it is to reason, of our emotions and of the brain’s wholistic functioning – now warrant a further review of the materialist theory of knowledge. The dialectical method should be used to guide science and structure its discoveries, and those ever deepening, more complex and contradictory discoveries require that this method reflect them.

In the Philosophy of Mind Hegel wrote that we are always thinking3 yet he believed that ‘thought proper’ can only be done consciously, with words.4 Marx (who, in his dissertation, described mysticism – the philosophical source of his epistemology – as ‘unfree’5) and Engels retained this same patriarchal commitment to the relationship between reason and words. Both Neoplatonism and modern research expose the inadequacy of this position.

Firstly, Neoplatonism has shown the necessity of the perspectival. No word or concept – however apparently tightly defined – can be divorced from it. To use a word or concept is to have a perspective on it – we have chosen that word or concept rather than any other. The personal is the silent aspect of a definition that completes that definition.

Secondly and related to this, the thinking that we are always engaged in subconsciously is the ground in our brains’ functioning on which our reason using words and concepts is based. What finds expression in words and concepts has usually undergone a long, subconscious process of non-linguistic thought. One can deliberately use this process to better inform that done consciously.6

Philosophising conceptually is at the heart of Hegel’s claim to the mastery of ‘reason’. His belief that this be done ‘speculatively’, which, as noted previously, he equated with ‘mystically’,7 rather than undermining that claim, carries the worth of his philosophy beyond his conceptually-based justification for it – Magee has pointed to Hegel’s mytho-poetic circumscription, which I have discussed throughout this thesis. Inseparable from this are both intuition which I have also discussed (see 9.4), pointing out the parallels between Plotinus and Hegel on the subject8 and to Hegel’s understanding of its application, leading to ‘a completely developed cognition’9 and the ineffable, the felt awareness of the unity of all things, of which Hegel wrote

what is ineffable is, in truth, only something obscure, fermenting, something which gains clarity only when it is able to put itself into words. Accordingly, the word gives to thoughts their highest and truest existence. …Just as the true thought is the very thing itself, so too is the word when it is employed by genuine thinking.10

Hofmannsthal addressed the relationship between the ‘mere fermentation’ of the obscure ineffable and words in ‘The Letter of Lord Chandos’

You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, ‘to compensate for the loss of our relationship.’ Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge.11

as did Hegel, no less, in the concluding words of his Phenomenology – his adaptation from Schiller’s Die Freundschaft,

from the chalice of this realm of spirits

foams forth for Him his own infinitude.12


1. ‘The materialism of the last century was predominantly mechanical, because at that time, of all natural sciences, only mechanics, and indeed only the mechanics of solid bodies — celestial and terrestrial — in short, the mechanics of gravity, had come to any definite close. Chemistry at that time existed only in its infantile, phlogistic form. Biology still lay in swaddling clothes; vegetable and animal organisms had been only roughly examined and were explained by purely mechanical causes. What the animal was to Descartes, man was to the materialists of the 18th century — a machine. This exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processes of a chemical and organic nature — in which processes the laws of mechanics are, indeed, also valid, but are pushed into the backgrounds by other, higher laws — constitutes the first specific but at that time inevitable limitations of classical French materialism.
The second specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development. This was in accordance with the level of the natural science of that time, and with the metaphysical, that is, anti-dialectical manner of philosophising connected with it.’, Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, op. cit., Part 2: Materialism, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch02.htm
2. Ibid.
3. ‘it is also inadequate to…(say) vaguely that it is only in the waking state that man thinks. For thought in general is so much inherent in the nature of man that he is always thinking, even in sleep. In every form of mind, in feeling, intuition, as in picture-thinking, thought remains the basis.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 69
4. ‘Intellect and Reason, the modes of thought proper, are active only in the waking state.’, Ibid., ‘To want to think without words as Mesmer once attempted is…a manifestly irrational procedure’, Ibid., 221
5. ‘everything collapses that is transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining mind. On the other hand, if that self-consciousness which knows itself only in the form of abstract universality is raised to an absolute principle, then the door is opened wide to superstitious and unfree mysticism.’, Karl Marx, ‘The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.’, 1841, Part II, Chapter 5, http://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/marx/works/1841/dr-theses/ch08.htm
6. I was asked to explain my use of ‘contemplation’. After I gave a reply that I was not happy with, I decided to think about my response non-linguistically by consigning the issue to my subconsciousness, by giving up control of the process (through language) and just ‘sitting with it’, letting it run its course. Several times my thoughts on the subject ‘rose’ into my consciousness (as shards and snippets, very likely due to my conditioned desire to control the process) but I stopped them from forming beyond single words, immediately sending those shards and snippets back into the workings of my subconscious brain. I simply got on with my day. I focused on other matters. I knew that the process was developing and could feel it was so – intellectually (I knew, by the briefest glimpses, as though quickly opening an oven door the slightest amount, that my thoughts were taking shape) and, inseparable from this, emotionally (I felt good that I could deliberately initiate and be conscious of this subconscious process). I left the process to itself. The next night I sat down at my computer, brought to my consciousness what had developed in my subconsciousness by considering in language how to explain my use of ‘contemplation’, composed and again posted my reply. My response which a day before had seemed so difficult to express and inadequate, came easily. ‘Sitting with it’ in one’s subconsciousness is no less a form of thought, of reason than is conscious reason using language – the reason of patriarchy and control (‘Here-comes-a-sentence-that-can-be-written-down-now.’). Yet the former is far more fluid and creative, in which the impossible is possible – to draw from Zamyatin, it is a process in which trotting chairs and fluttering wings can freely mingle. It is a form of reason (delicate, dynamic, intuitive, sensitive, poetic, profoundly rich and complex – historically, in the West, consigned to ‘the feminine’) that is active all the time. This is the ‘thinking all the time’ that Hegel referred to, which linguistic reason can easily dominate, drown out but never silence, precisely because the latter has to be defined, measured, structured – limited. It is most probably the same as what we employ when we have a problem and ‘sleep on it’, waking at 4am at the ‘Eureka!’ moment – ‘I have spent ages thinking about this problem (linguistically) and couldn’t solve it – but now, in my sleep, I have!’. Lucid dreaming also has this potential for non-linguistic reason in sleep. The test of any form of reason is praxis
7. ‘Speculative truth, it may also be noted, means very much the same as what, in special connection with religious experience and doctrines, used to be called Mysticism. …the reason-world may be equally styled mystical’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 121
8. Both made the same distinction between ‘mindless’ (sensuous consciousness) and ‘mindful’ (thinking religiously) intuition, both referred to the latter as ‘mental vision’, both wrote of thinking’s ‘pure unity with itself…(which) can also be called pure intuition…such that between the subject and object there is no [difference]…Thinking is simply knowing.’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 190
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 200; ‘Dialectical materialism regards intuition as immediate knowledge, as living contemplation in its dialectical connection with the mediated knowledge and rejects any attempts to treat it as a super-rational, mystical cognitive ability. Intuition must not be considered as a kind of fundamental deviation from the usual ways of knowing the truth; it is a natural form of their manifestation based on logical thinking and practice. Behind the ability “suddenly” to grasp the truth, are, in reality, accumulated experience and knowledge acquired before. The psychological mechanism of intuition is not studied enough’, Dictionary of Philosophy, Ed., I. Frolov, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984, 201.
10. Ibid., 221
11. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ein Brief, (‘The Letter of Lord Chandos’), 1902, http://depts.washington.edu/vienna/documents/Hofmannsthal/Hofmannsthal_Chandos.htm
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 493

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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