Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15d


15. Conclusion (continued)

Engels, failing to recognise Hegel’s Neoplatonism, wrote

(Hegel) was compelled to make a system and, in accordance with traditional requirements, a system of philosophy must conclude with some sort of absolute truth. Therefore, however much Hegel, especially in his Logic, emphasised that this eternal truth is nothing but the logical or the historical process itself, he nevertheless finds himself compelled to supply this process with an end, just because he has to bring his system to a termination at some point or other.1

Yet he pointed to a profound contradiction in that system

the whole dogmatic content of the Hegelian system is declared to be absolute truth, in contradiction to his dialectical method, which dissolves all dogmatism. Thus the revolutionary side is smothered beneath the overgrowth of the conservative side.2

This contradiction is sourced in the tension between Plotinus’ first and second hypostases, between the greatest activity and stillness of the One Absolute and the dialectical unity-in-multiplicity of Intellectual-Principle. Hegel’s conflation of the first and second hypostases and use of Proclus’ triad Being-Life-Intelligence as his ‘reason-world’, in a superficially Christian model, both compounded and concentrated the problem. Being, the first element of the triad of triads now became One, God and Absolute.

This Absolute entails ‘the end of history’, an expression which, contrary to Magee’s claim,3 Hegel used three times in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History,4 and ‘the end of philosophy’.5

With all philosophers it is precisely the ‘system’ which is perishable; and for the simple reason that it springs from an imperishable desire of the human mind — the desire to overcome all contradictions. But if all contradictions are once and for all disposed of, we shall have arrived at so-called absolute truth — world history will be at an end. And yet it has to continue, although there is nothing left for it to do — hence, a new, insoluble contradiction. As soon as we have once realised — and in the long run no one has helped us to realise it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realise that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone ‘absolute truth’, which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking. At any rate, with Hegel philosophy comes to an end; on the one hand, because in his system he summed up its whole development in the most splendid fashion; and on the other hand, because, even though unconsciously, he showed us the way out of the labyrinth of systems to real positive knowledge of the world.6

Hegel, Marx and Engels all used dialectics with regard to the future – Hegel by implication, wrote of the present in relation to it (that self-knowledge had been attained in his time),7 Marx and Engels of the future in relation to the present (socialist revolution and communism) – on this, too, I disagree with Magee.8

Plant, pointing to the fundamental contradiction in Hegel’s system, argued that it is impossible to give an ‘absolute’ characterisation – one which would be closed to future analysis – of any period of history

If Hegel’s philosophy is supposed to embody an Absolute standpoint in which Geist comes to full self-consciousness this would seem to require the claim to be true that nothing which happens in the future will fall outside the conceptual structure which Hegel has developed. Everything which happens subsequently can be rendered fully intelligible in terms of the concepts articulated in Hegel’s philosophical system. This claim, to be true, must require in some sense the foreclosure of the future. As such it embodies a particular judgement about the nature of the future which many would regard as absurd9


such a view of history is incompatible with the freedom and self-transcendence with which Hegel credits human nature10

As Hegel used the Neoplatonic Absolute to justify ‘the end of history’, so he did with ‘the end of philosophy’ – an ‘end’ on which he, Marx and Engels were in agreement, for different reasons. Where Magee wrote that Hegel aimed to end philosophy by capturing all reality in a circular speech11 (claiming this ‘speech’ is Hermetic), Marx wrote that ‘philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought’ and to be condemned.12

Plant wrote

Unless dialectical change comes to an end the achievement of Reason will always be a mere ought to be13

The contextualisation and clearest understanding of the contradictions and problems of Hegel’s philosophy are impossible without recognising both that it is the consummate expression of Neoplatonism and that those contradictions and problems were bound with Neoplatonism’s potential through the long history of its development. Again, since this is the philosophy Marx and Engels used to make materialism dialectical, that contextualisation and clearest understanding are also necessary to the further development of materialism.

The willingness to let go of all definitions, to negate all its own formulations, opens thought to what is moving within it, beyond or beneath the definitive grasp of words and concepts. Philosophy at this level is not merely cognitive but also shades into and merges with other dimensions of human experience and being, such as the affective and conative. In the ancient world, notably among the Neoplatonists, philosophy was so understood as a spiritual exercise involving all the human faculties of intellection and sensibility and praxis.14


1. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, op. cit., Part 1: Hegel, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch01.htm
2. Ibid.
3. ‘Today, Kojève is most famous for his so-called “end of history” thesis, which he claimed to find in Hegel (a claim disputed by many Hegel scholars).’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 7, ‘as many Hegel scholars have pointed out, there is little basis for the idea that there is an “end of history” in Hegel’s texts’, Ibid., 107
4. ‘the true nature of the ultimate end of history, the concept of the spirit.’, G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, Trans., H.B.Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, 74, ‘From the point of view of religion, the aim of both natural existence and spiritual activity is the glorification of God. Indeed, this is the worthiest end of the spirit and of history.’, Ibid., 149-150, ‘World history travels from east to west; for Europe is the absolute end of history, just as Asia was the beginning.’, Ibid., 197
5. ‘Of the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result, that only in the end is it what it truly is…the spontaneous becoming of itself.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 11
6. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, op. cit., Part 1: Hegel, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch01.htm
7. ‘Hegel believes that he stands at a privileged point in history – able to look back at the course of human events and see that they were aiming at a goal which, to all intents and purposes, has been reached in his own time: self-knowledge’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 165.
8. ‘It is worth noting that one of the most important ways in which Marx departs from Hegel is in insisting that dialectic can be used as a tool to predict the next phase of history.’, Ibid.
9. Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 233; ‘To arrest the process of dialectical development in history…is itself undialectical in the sense that it is inconsistent with the absolute or infinite negativity of the dialectic. The whole tendency of the dialectic is to dissolve and negate every fixed content’, Ibid., 237. Hegel himself must have recognised what Plant referred to as ‘a deep inconsistency’ (239) when he described America as ‘the world of the future’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 215
10. Ibid., 237
11. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 13; ‘philosophy, for Hegel, is at one and the same time self-knowledge and knowledge of the whole. Thus it satisfies the two classical Greek definitions of wisdom. …The ultimate consummation of the love of wisdom occurs when, as discussed earlier, self-knowledge and knowledge of the whole become one and the same in a philosophy that demonstrates that self-knowledge is the purpose of existence itself. Of course, an implication of this claim is that Hegel’s system constitutes, in a real sense, the end of philosophy. Although Hegel does not say this outright, he makes remarks which come close to it, and such a claim is a clear implication of his thought.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 177-178.
12. ‘Feuerbach’s great achievement is: (1) The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned…’, Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy in General, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/hegel.htm
13. Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 238; ‘But how can any thought be final? Is not the very life of thinking invested in constant displacements of every achieved formulation?’ William Franke, A Philosophy of the Unsayable, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2014, 159; Verene shows that Hegel fundamentally contradicted himself at the ending of his Phenomenology ‘with an image, an image of the inability of the divine to bring its own creation and its own being to a point of rest.’, Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 7
14. Franke, A Philosophy of the Unsayable, op. cit., 200

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