On the most deliberate, profound failure in social and intellectual responsibility by academic ideologues

Plotinus 204/5-270

Plotinus (204/5-270)

I quote Lloyd Gerson and Christian Wildberg from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, who both point to the immeasurable significance of Plotinus. In my thesis I argue for a developmental continuum from Plotinus via Hegel to Marx who ‘inverted’ that mystical current and stood it on its material feet. Where Marx had no interest in mysticism other than recognising it in Hegel’s philosophy, once this continuum has been acknowledged, it can be mined – particularly its weaknesses – to further develop dialectical materialism.


Porphyry’s edition of Plotinus’ Enneads preserved for posterity the works of the leading Platonic interpreter of antiquity. Through these works as well as through the writings of Porphyry himself (234 – c. 305 C.E.) and Iamblichus (c. 245–325 C.E.), Plotinus shaped the entire subsequent history of philosophy. Until well into the 19th century, Platonism was in large part understood, appropriated or rejected based on its Plotinian expression and in adumbrations of this.

Proclus (412-485)

Proclus (412-485)

The theological traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all, in their formative periods, looked to ancient Greek philosophy for the language and arguments with which to articulate their religious visions. For all of these, Platonism expressed the philosophy that seemed closest to their own theologies. Plotinus was the principal source for their understanding of Platonism.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), detail of relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St. Peter’ on his tomb by Andrea Bregno, church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), detail of relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St. Peter’ on his tomb by Andrea Bregno, church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

Through the Latin translation of Plotinus by Marsilio Ficino published in 1492, Plotinus became available to the West. The first English translation, by Thomas Taylor, appeared in the late 18th century. Plotinus was, once again, recognized as the most authoritative interpreter of Platonism. In the writings of the Italian Renaissance philosophers, the 15th and 16th century humanists John Colet, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Thomas More, the 17th century Cambridge Platonists, and German idealists, especially Hegel, Plotinus’ thought was the (sometimes unacknowledged) basis for opposition to the competing and increasingly influential tradition of scientific philosophy. This influence continued in the 20th century flowering of Christian imaginative literature in England, including the works of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

Lloyd Gerson, ‘Plotinus,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


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. Through Augustine (354–430) in the West and the 4th-century Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus) in the East as well as the pseudo-epigraphic writings of Dionysius the Areopagite (early 6th century), Neoplatonism profoundly influenced the emergence of mainstream and not so mainstream Christian theology (John Scotus Eriugena, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Meister Eckhart). In addition, by way of a pseudo-epigraphical treatise entitled Theology of Aristotle, Neoplatonic thought facilitated the integration of ancient philosophy and science into both Islam (especially through Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Avicenna [Ibn Sina]) and Judaism (Maimonides).

Hegel (1770-1831) with his Berlin students, Sketch by Franz Kugler

Hegel (1770-1831) with his Berlin students, Sketch by Franz Kugler

…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.

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

…Perhaps another reason that this kind of thinking strikes the general public as arcane and alien may that the Abrahamic religions, even if they too posit a single divine principle as the source of all being, conceive of this principle as a person and maker. This vestige of pre-philosophical anthropomorphism bypasses the difficult questions that the last pagan thinkers so arduously struggled to answer when they sought to explain the existence of the diverse and complex physical world from a non-material principle that they assumed to be nothing but One.

Christian Wildberg ‘Neoplatonism,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 


From my thesis ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’: ‘there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa’ (Magee, quoting Walsh)


In his Introduction in Volume I of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-1826 (Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009), Hegel named nine of his sources (pp. 99-101).

In that order (I use the details from the Bibliography), I exemplify references to Cusanus below the title:

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie für den akademischen Unterricht, 3rd edn., ed. Amadeus Wendt (Leipzig, 1820) 


From Contents

Thomas Stanley, Historia philosophiae vitas opiniones resque gestas et dicta philosophorum sectae cuiusuis complexa… (Leipzig, 1711) (Latin translation from English)

Hegel wrote ‘Its dominant viewpoint is that there are only ancient philosophies, and the era of philosophy was cut short by Christianity. So this treatise only contains the ancient schools…’

Jacob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae, 4 vols. (Leipzig, 1742-4). (Hegel owned the 1756 edn.)


From page 360 of vol. 4.1

Dieterich Tiedemann Geist der spekulativen Philosophie  6 vols. (Marburg, 1791-7). (Hegel owned vols. i-iii)


Page 321 of vol. 5

Dieterich Tiedemann Dialogorum Platonis argumenta, expounded and illustrated 12. vols. (Zweibrücken, 1786)

This text, as its title indicates, is a study of the Platonic dialogues.

Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie und einer kritischen Literatur derselben, 8 pts. in 9 vols. (Göttingen, 1796-1804)


From page 101 of vol. 6.1

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, 11 vols. (Leipzig, 1798-1819)


Contents of vol. 9

Friedrich Ast, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie (Landshut, 1807)



From page 315

Thaddä Anselm Rixner, Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie zum Gebrauche seiner Vorlesungen, 3  vols. (Sulzbach, 1822-3)

Hegel wrote ‘Most worth recommending is Rixner’s Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie in 3 volumes (Sulzbach, 1822-3)…he is a man of intelligence who provides a particularly useful selection of key passages…the accuracy of the citations and the other features make it highly commendable.’


From page 164 of vol. 2

Most importantly, Hegel did not name the other history by Buhle that he usedGeschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, 6 vols. (Göttingen, 1800-4). Brown, the editor, showed in his Notes that Hegel paid close attention to it with regard to his writing on Bruno (see vol. III, The Second Period: Medieval Philosophy, Notes 102, 104, 126, 129).

The most thorough discussion of Cusanus’ philosophy in comparison to Hegel’s sources above is in volume 2.1 of this history by Buhle, between pp. 341-353 (the Notes refer to both 2.1 and 2.2).


From page 342 of vol. 2.1

Cusanus’ texts referred to in volume 2 of Buhle’s History

De concordantia catholica (On Catholic Concordance, 1434)

De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance, 1440 – Buhle discusses)

De coniecturis (On Surmises, 1441-2 – Buhle discusses)

De Ignota Litteratura (On Unknown Learning, 1442-3 – Johannes Wenck)

De quaerendo Deum (On Seeking God, 1445)

De dato patris luminum (On the Gift of the Father of Lights, 1446)

Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (A Defence of Learned Ignorance from One Disciple to Another, 1449)

(Idiota) de sapientia (The Layman of Wisdom, 1450 – Buhle discusses)

Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles Against the Bohemians/Hussites, 1452)

De visione Dei (On the Vision of God, 1453)

De mathematica perfectione (On Mathematical Perfection, 1458)

Cribrationes Alchorani (Cribratio Alkorani, A Scrutiny of the Koran, 1461)

De venatione sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom, 1463)

De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation, 1464 – Cusanus’ last work)


From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B


Second email to the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Sydney

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 5.24.02 pm

Bust of Socrates. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 4th century BC. From the Quintili Villa on the Via Appia.


Hello Professor Smith,

On 21.04.15 I sent an email to Professor Benitez who was then the Chair of Philosophy to explain why I failed to submit my Honours thesis. I also made the strongest criticism of the Department and of academic philosophers with regard to your failure over a very long period to teach mysticism and its profound impact on Western culture – even as it is now, with the decline of postmodernism, finally and increasingly taught in other sections of your University and at other universities in Australia.

I processed of my experience of Kerry Sanders who teaches at the University’s Centre for Continuing Education, who now not only teaches mysticism, and in a range of areas, having described in class a person who questioned Derrida about the possibility of Neoplatonism’s influence on him as a ‘complete fuckwit’, but also friendship and truth. I copied that email to others in your Department and in the University, including the Vice-Chancellor, and received no reply from any, other than an acknowledgement of receipt on behalf of the latter.

As the current Chair of Philosophy, I want you to know that I have not only kept my word – to complete my thesis (in which I argue that Hegel was the consummate Neoplatonist) and make it available on the web (I have attached copies of it, with two versions of the title page, below) – but I have far exceeded that promise, having processed one of not 12,000 words but 125,000.

I completed my thesis both because my criticisms, while they would have been in no way invalidated, would have rung exceedingly hypocritical if I had not done so and because of what I believe so well exemplifies a key aspect of the significance of Neoplatonism – the contrast between the reason of Plotinus and the claims for it used to justify Western patriarchy and supremacism, both regarding and in the philosophy of the ‘master of conceptual reason’, Hegel.


Philip Stanfield

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B




Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15e


15. Conclusion (concluded)

With the decline of modernism followed by that of postmodernism, a profound shift is taking place in the ideology of the bourgeoisie – a growing preparedness to consider the impact of mysticism – fundamental to both modernism and post-modernism – on Western culture. The primary Western form – Neoplatonism – has been treated by generations of academics as the pornography of modern Western philosophy, even as its Siren call has met an eager response.

The task of the ideologues, while maintaining the façade of a smooth continuum in ‘scholarship’, is to explore mysticism without threatening to undermine gods, expose lies, damage the reputations and careers of those who were and are complicit in denying the influence of mysticism on modernism and postmodernism – in rationalising it – and to do so without laying bare a cultural arrogance and mass self-delusion that we in the West are the champions of reason, while others stare at their navels or are obsessed with filial piety – not a good look with the rise of Asia and the growing dominance of China. The consummate Neoplatonist Hegel, author of the Science of Logic and upholder of Western supremacism,1 is one such ‘god’.

The response by generations of learned spokespeople to Plotinus’ philosophy and to the current he initiated is a most unforgivable failure of scholarship. Why this failure? Because of its revolutionary dialectical core, explored by the Neoplatonists, and because of its all-embracing implications – brought by Marx and Engels from the subjective world within to the objective world without. Of its relevance for science Casarella wrote

Cusanus derives by a strictly speculative form of argumentation a new idea of the cosmos…In its implications Cusanus’s idea is much more far-reaching than the physical models of Copernicus and Galileo. Einstein with his theory of relativity will be the first to develop a physical model of the universe that also denies every centre of the universe.2

This ‘new idea’, like so many others, was Plotinusnot Cusanus’. The denial of every centre as of every claim to permanence other than the absolute of change are in the Enneads. This most powerful philosophy, now the materialist method reflecting objective reality, is also the most complex, subtle and aesthetic – reflecting what flows eternally, as Hegel wrote, from ‘inner life and self-movement’.

It is a current with the deepest belief in human potential, perspective and creativity

every mind…is a perfect and living image of the Infinite Art3

Magee4 and Smith5 wrote of Hegel’s and Marx’s achievements regarding our self-creation but this recognition, too, was not Hegel’s and Marx’s to claim but that of one to whom their debt was equally immense

But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.6


1. See 1.1
2. Regine Kather, ’The Earth is a Noble Star’, in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 226-244, 236
3. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 13, 149, 582
4. ‘(Hegel believed he was) the first philosopher to discover the rational order within history…history is the tale of our gradual self-creation, and of our realisation that it is our nature to be self-creating.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 106
5. ‘Those old mystics had probed the contradictory structure of self-creation, but only in its heretical-religious form. How could they do anything more under the conditions of their time? Hegel took this much further, attempting to systematise that knowledge. Marx, living in the last stage of alienation, is able, in his critiques of religion, the state, philosophy and political economy, to pose the problem in the form in which its practical solution can be discerned: the communist revolution. Instead of the mystical loop, ‘God making humanity making God’, Marx must express an even more sharply contradictory movement, that of ‘human activity or self-change’: humans make their own conditions of life, which in turn make humanity what it is. In its estranged shape, labour produces capital, which in turn enslaves labour.’, Cyril Smith, ‘Karl Marx and Human Self-creation’, 2002, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/alteration/ch06.htm
6. Plotinus, The Enneads, I.6.9, op. cit., 54

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

To those interested: I will now edit and collate my thesis (which hopefully won’t take too long) and make it available as a free download. I will publish a post notifying you when I have done this.

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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15b


15. Conclusion (continued)

Both Marx and Engels referred to Hegel’s philosophy as mystical. Because of their hostility to mysticism, neither had any interest in recognising that it was the consummate achievement of a long process of development within Neoplatonism.1 For them, it was simply Hegel’s mystical philosophy, the dialectic of which suffered because of its mysticism.

Marx acknowledged his great debt to Hegel – and thereby, to Neoplatonism. He also put his finger on why the ideologues of the bourgeoisie – particularly in philosophy – have been and are so fearful of acknowledging this current, now materialist, and of according it its rightful position as our method of knowing

I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything, being in its very essence critical and revolutionary.2

In his Dialectics of Nature Engels summarised what was involved in his and Marx’s inversion of Hegel’s philosophy

This mystical in Hegel himself, because the categories appear as pre-existing and the dialectics of the real world as their mere reflection. In reality it is the reverse: the dialectics of the mind is only the reflection of the forms of motion of the real world, both of nature and of history.3

Cyril Smith wrote importantly that Marx had demystified mysticism without rejecting it.4 In other words, Marx had demystified mysticism by retaining and using what had been developed within it.

In his eleven short Theses on Feuerbach of 1845, Marx discussed fundamental materialist precepts, distinguishing between them and idealism. In the first, he distinguished between contemplative activity and sensuous activity/practice. He wrote

the active side, in contradistinction to materialism, was set forth by idealism – but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such.5

Neoplatonism, with its emphasis on creativity and dynamic, dialectical development was ‘perfectly’ suited to ‘set forth the active side’ within idealism.

In his second thesis, Marx wrote that the question of truth is a practical question

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which isolates itself from practice is a purely scholastic question.6

In his eighth thesis Marx wrote that the solution to questions of mystical theory is to be found in practice and in the comprehension of this practice.7

Materialist dialectics is a philosophical method for investigating nature and society.8 It holds practical activity to be the basis of our relations with the world and therefore of cognition. Praxis is thus a criterion of knowledge. Only when practical activity confirms the coincidence of ideas and hypotheses with reality can it be said that they are true. Since practical activity is relative to the level of technological development, truth can never be that absolute ardently sought and equally trembled before by the idealists, rather, it is a deepening relative in relation to an absolute which can only ever be theoretical. Lenin wrote

From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature’9

Contradiction is the chief category of materialist dialectics. It expresses the inner source of all motion and development and is the essence of objects, the basis of their self-development.

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. …The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.10

Every concept and category is historical by nature and therefore warrants investigation.

Engels put the excellent argument that scientists should know dialectics

Until the end of the last century, indeed until 1830, natural scientists could manage pretty well with the old metaphysics, because real science did not go beyond mechanics…Now, however, everything is quite different. Chemistry, the abstract divisibility of physical things, bad infinity – atomistics. …and finally the identity of the forces of nature and their mutual convertibility, which put an end to all fixity of categories. Nevertheless, the bulk of natural scientists are still held fast in the old metaphysical categories and helpless when these modern facts, which so to say prove the dialectics in nature, have to be rationally explained and brought into relation with one another. …Dialectics divested of mysticism becomes an absolute necessity for natural science11

In standing the philosophy of the consummate Neoplatonist on its material feet, Marx and Engels enabled the fruits of that current’s long development to flourish, not least those of its perspectival unity – a development from the unity-in-multiplicity of Plotinus’ ideal second hypostasis to the unity-in-multiplicity of Cusanus’ ideal Christian cultus to the unity-in-multiplicity of Hegel’s ideal philosophical cultus to the unity-in-multiplicity of the brains of an infinite number of finite individuals

Just as the infinity of knowable matter is composed of the purely finite things, so the infinity of the thought which knows the absolute is composed of an infinite number of finite human minds, working side by side and successively at this infinite knowledge, committing practical and theoretical blunders, setting out from erroneous, one-sided, and false premises, pursuing false, tortuous, and uncertain paths, and often not even finding what is right when they run their noses against it.12


1. ‘dialectics has so far been fairly closely investigated by only two thinkers, Aristotle and Hegel.’, Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 43
2. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, 103. Redding wrote of Marx’s ‘inversion’ of Hegel’s mystical philosophy of history ‘(Hegel) is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account that was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of an historical development culminating in communism.’, Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/, op. cit.
3. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 203
4. ‘In demystifying mysticism without rejecting it, Marx shows how humanity can bring about its own emancipation.’, Cyril Smith, Karl Marx and Human Self-creation, 2002, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/alteration/ch06.htm
5. Karl Marx, First thesis, ’Theses on Feuerbach’, 1845 in The German Ideology, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 618
6. Ibid.
7. ‘Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.’, Ibid., 620
8. ‘dialectics…offers…the method of explaining, the evolutionary processes occurring in nature, inter-connections in general, and transitions from one field of investigation to another.’, Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 41
9. V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.
10. Ibid., ‘On the Question of Dialectics’, 357-361, 357
11. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 203-204
12. Ibid., 234

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15a


15. Conclusion

Recognising Hegel to have been a Neoplatonist is to take the first step in recognising the philosophical current that ran and underwent continual and ultimately profound development from Plotinus to Marx and Engels. The next step is to review the entirety of that current in order to further develop it as the method for knowledge.

Neoplatonism was never a fixed set of beliefs – rather, it was always a ‘work in progress’ which absorbed every philosophical influence that could contribute to explicating the content and developing the potential of the unsystematic Enneads.

Plotinus set down the original beliefs in his fifty four tractates – his was literally the ‘big vision’. Proclus gave that vision detailed triadic structure and definition and in so doing, advanced it. Cusanus explored the subtleties of contradiction and wrote that knowledge results from our conceptualising, which reflects God’s productive activity – but he wrote of these in static relations, not in their dialectical development. Hegel combined the work of all three, systematically developing every aspect of Neoplatonism on the basis of its unity, dynamism and vitalism.

Just as Hegel regarded Christianity as the consummate religion in the sense that it brought the concept of religion to consummation and completion, so he did with Neoplatonism. Its development could not be taken any further within idealism. Marx and Engels then took what Hegel had achieved and stood it on its material feet, making materialism dialectical and praxis fundamental in cognition.

Redding stated that after Hegel’s death his supporters split into two camps – those who thought he was advocating a traditional Christian view of existence and those who thought he was advocating a secular humanist view of human existence. He added ‘But it might be that Hegel was introducing an entirely new perspective on human existence that is reducible neither to traditional theism or modern atheism. This view is a consequence of his key concept of “recognition”.’1 Not only was Hegel’s fundamentally an ancient perspective on human existence, reducible neither to traditional theism nor modern atheism, his key concept of ‘recognition’ was also a consequence of it – of Neoplatonism.

Hegel’s ‘Trinity’ is not a Christian Trinity – it is Proclus’ triad, the broad outlines of which appear in Cusanus’ theology. Yet the Trinity served Hegel’s Absolute and Cusanus’ Absolute Maximum equally well. As Buhle astutely observed of Cusanus

The divinity to Nicholas, as to Ficino, was really the logical concept of the highest order…He must surely have suspected that notwithstanding all his purges, the understanding yet cannot conceive the maximum bereft of material attributes as something real, for without them the concept dissolves into nothingness.2

Hegel advocated the intellectualist humanism of Neoplatonism, a belief in human worth and a theoretical perspectival unity in an individualist philosophy, which unity he saw as the solution to a perceived lack of community. Yet his lived solution, following the recommendation of Plotinus, was the ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’, to a community of philosopher-priests (see 9.8).3

As Proclus did to Plotinus’ philosophy, so ‘the German Proclus’ did to both of theirs – as he did to that of Cusanus. Both drawing on and responding to what they had philosophised and achieved,4 he developed to its furthest point within idealism a tremendously rich, dynamic and dialectical system with creativity at its core – which current has made such an enormous contribution to all aspects of Western culture, including science.


1. Slide for University of Sydney lecture 04.10.10
2. Buhle, Geschichte, op. cit., vol. 2.1. See 13.4.1
3. ‘And – so Hegel concludes – philosophic thought has no choice but to become a “separate sanctuary,” inhabited by philosophers who are an “isolated order of priests.” They cannot “mix with the world, but must leave to the world the task of settling how it might find its way out of its present state of disruption.” What an incredible, what a shattering turn of thought!’, Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, op. cit., 235; also, to illustrate how profoundly the notion of ‘flight’ is associated with Neoplatonism: ‘From so fragmented a world (as that of the twentieth century) the Hegelian philosophy would be forced to flee, as surely as Neoplatonism was forced into flight from Imperial Rome. Only thus could it maintain itself as a serene unity of thought free of fragmentation.’, Ibid., 236; ‘Whether the ethics of the Neoplatonic sage had a Proclean or Plotinian form, it always created a clear divide between philosophers and laymen. …No doubt the sage could still significantly influence the actions of laymen: his superhuman moral integrity turned him into a powerful ethical model that others could admire and imitate at least partially and imperfectly.’, Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 247
4. To exemplify, I recommend reading the Chapter Titles of the Books of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia

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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

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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

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14e


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (concluded)

Hegel not only gave very high praise to Böhme for his recognition of the Trinity as a universal principle and of the necessity of ‘contrariety’, he also repeatedly made the strongest criticisms of his theosophy, for two fundamental reasons – Böhme’s failure and inability to appreciate the conceptual nature of philosophy, manifest in his dependence on sensory imagery1 – a claim which could equally be made of Hermeticism

(Böhme’s articulation of his main thoughts) is unmistakably barbarous, and in order to put his thought into words he employs powerful, sensuous images such as Salitter, Tincture, Essence, Qual, Schrack, and the like.2

and, on this conceptual basis, Böhme’s primitive grasp of the nature of contradiction

Böhme grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion3

Magee, following Hegel, also made the same fundamental criticisms of Böhme,4 further writing

Hegel treats the parallels between his thought and Boehme’s as merely, it would seem accidental: Boehme anticipates much in modern, speculative philosophy. But Hegel never once says anything that would indicate that he is indebted to Böhme or that Böhme in some way influenced him.5

Despite these criticisms and Hegel’s never once acknowledging any debt to Böhme, Magee persists in arguing for that debt and, as he sees it, its extent, but completely fails to explore and expand on his most significant references to Cusanus – another whom Hegel not only never expressed any debt to but even knowledge of, despite the far greater number of parallels between their work (see 13.6 for a summary of them), including their equal emphasis on the abstract, conceptual nature of philosophy, their exploration of contradiction on that basis, their equal regard for Proclus and their Trinitarian triad of triads, none of which are Hermetic or in Böhme’s theosophy.

Magee cites Rosenkranz having pointed out Hegel’s interest in medieval German Christian mystics, starting from his time in Berne,6 and Magee over and again positions Schelling as the link of influence between Böhme and Hegel

Schelling was, of course, an enthusiastic reader of Böhme and Oetinger and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest in theosophy.7

But with regard to the relationship between Schelling and Cusanus, and the possibility of a far greater significance to Hegel of Cusanus than Böhme, Magee, simply quoting Beck,8 made this extraordinary comment

‘Schelling…we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas (my italics).’ Beck also makes the claim that the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as theosophy and Protestant mysticism, have their roots in Cusa.9

Other than Beck and Magee, all the academics tell us that neither Hegel nor any of the German idealists knew of Cusanus – then suddenly, en passant, Magee tells us that Schelling not only knew of him and read him, but was influenced by him! How, logically, might his then close friend Hegel and their intellectual milieu which Schelling was at the centre of have been influenced as a result of Schelling’s reading of Cusanus? Magee doesn’t even question this – he only offers us a further enticement in a footnote.10 Simply…nothing more. Why so profuse on Böhme and so brief on Cusanus?

It should have been all the more pressing for Magee to investigate this relationship between Schelling and Cusanus since he named Cusanus in his discussion of speculation – a core concept for Hegel – writing not only that Cusanus associated the word with the Latin ‘speculum’, for mirror,11 that ‘Schelling and Hegel…picked up the term (from whom?) and both use it in a positive sense’,12 but that in his use of the concept, Hegel

has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.13

Likewise, Cusanus’ use of Absolute in his philosophy

Schelling’s use of ‘Absolute’ is remarkably similar to Cusa’s. For Schelling, the Absolute is the ‘indifference point’ beyond the distinction of subject and object, or any other distinction.14

It is as though Schelling’s (and Hegel’s) use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun is nothing but a ‘remarkable’ coincidence to Cusanus’ use of it. Despite incorrectly attributing the first use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun, in reference to the ultimate principle, to Cusanus (instead of Plotinus),15 Magee himself implies a continuum from Cusanus through Schelling to Hegel

Hegel accepts Schelling’s conception of the Absolute as beyond the subject–object distinction16

Of Hegel’s approach to ‘Absolute’ Magee wrote

I believe that Hegel was aware of the fact that Boehme’s doctrine was unique in the history of mysticism, precisely in its rejection of God as an ineffable Absolute.17

This rejection of the ultimate principle as an ineffable Absolute had been explored throughout the long, developmental history of Neoplatonism, from Plotinus onwards, as I have shown. Cusanus was one who had done this and I have argued that Hegel was well-acquainted with his work. It would be far easier for such a supremely ambitious and political (as Magee has shown, both re- Hegel’s interest in Hermeticism and in his discussion of Hegel’s relations with Baader) person as Hegel was to acknowledge and focus attention on one of far lesser ability (Böhme) than on another also of genius (Cusanus) – to whom, given the parallels in their philosophies, he knew he was greatly indebted.18

Magee compounds his errors in his discussion of ‘the true is the whole’

Immediately after writing “The true is the whole,” Hegel states: “But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development.” The developmental, organic understanding of the nature of the Absolute was, as far as Hegel and the other idealists knew, original with Jakob Boehme and his school.19

If he has any concern for historical accuracy and giving credit where it is due – particularly with regard to one of the West’s greatest and most influential philosophers, rather than constructing a fanciful moat of uneducated Teutonic purity around one of Plotinus’ countless derivatives,20 Magee should make the time to study the Enneads. Not only, as I have indicated, did Plotinus repeatedly use ‘Absolute’ in reference to the ultimate principle – which Hegel called both ‘God’ and ‘the One’ – in his tractate ‘Nature, Contemplation, and the One’, translated by Creuzer in 1805, he wrote of Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind, Divine-Intellection), 1300 years before Böhme took first breath

(In) the true and first universe (of Intellect)…each part is not cut off from the whole; but the whole life of it and the whole intellect lives and thinks all together in one, and makes the part the whole and all bound in friendship with itself, since one part is not separated from another and has not become merely other, estranged from the rest; and, therefore, one does not wrong another, even if they are opposites. And since it is everywhere one and complete at every point it stays still and knows no alteration; for it does not make as one thing acting upon another. For what reason could it have for making, since it is deficient in nothing?21

Armstrong wrote

Plotinus’s World of Forms is an organic living community of interpenetrating beings which are at once Forms and intelligences, all “awake and alive,” in which every part thinks and therefore in a real sense is the whole; so that the relationship of whole and part in this spiritual world is quite different from that in the material world, and involves no sort of separation or exclusion. This unity-in-diversity is the most perfect possible image of the absolute unity of the One22

Magee cites Böhme and Hegel using other Cusan and Neoplatonic terminology – ‘Böhme holds that nature is an unfolding of the dynamic “eternal nature” contained within God’,23 “Böhme wrote of the ‘contracted being’ of God”;24 Magee quotes Hegel using the expression ‘point of contraction’ – “the Ego is ‘contracted’ into its primordial self-relation” adding “This brings to mind the doctrine of the ‘coincidence of opposites’ in Eckhart, Cusa, and other mystics”25

Magee is continually pushing for his claim to be accepted:

The 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion introduce a doctrine of the ‘immanent Trinity’ clearly inspired by Böhme’s initial triad of ‘source-spirits.’ …In sum, all the evidence indicates that Hegel’s Hermeticism was no mere folly of youth, abandoned with maturity (my italics).26

What is so striking (in his early writing) is how indebted Hegel obviously is to Hermeticism. The chief debt is clearly to Böhme (my italics).27

Hegel did go on to employ some Boehmean expressions and now and then what can be characterised as a vaguely Boehmean ‘style’ (my italics).28

But of the full details, nature and extent of the direct influence Magee tells us Cusanus had on Schelling, he shows not the least interest in pursuing.


1. Magee commented on both of these – ‘(Hegel believed) Philosophy is purely conceptual, whereas religion uses “picture-thinking”: myths, allegories, images, and the like.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 580 and ‘Hegel is unambiguous in sharply rejecting Boehme’s “picture thinking.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 258
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 103
3. Ibid.
4. ‘Böhme does not present philosophical arguments.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 45; ‘Boehme’s methodology is to argue by analogy from human psychology to theology’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, 539
5. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 106; “David Walsh writes that Jena in Hegel’s day ‘had become the focal point of the German Romantic movement, and many of its greatest figures were assembled there, including Tieck, Novalis, Schelling, F. Schlegel, and A.W. Schlegel. Within that company an intense centre of interest was formed by their rediscovery of the German mystical tradition. For the first time the works of the great medieval and Reformation mystics were becoming widely available within their native land.’”, Ibid., 133
7. Ibid., 134; ‘Schelling himself was an avid reader of Böhme and Oetinger, and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest.’, Ibid., 3 etc.; Magee’s stance, revelatory of his class perspective, on the degree of parental significance he attributes to Böhme – both with regard to a resulting bastardy and modernity – is exemplified by the following: ‘Boehmean ideas were communicated to Hegel by Schelling in Jena, and they exercised a strong influence on him. Arguably it is through Hegel – whose bastard children include Marxism, existentialism, and certain strains of modern conservatism – that Boehme has had his greatest influence: not just on the history of ideas, but on the formation of the modern world.’, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 525-526
8. ‘(Cusanus’) theory of the polarity but unity of man, God, and nature is elaborated by Schelling (who, we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas).’, Beck, Early German Philosophy, op. cit., 71. Also, as previously quoted, ‘when Nicholas of Cusa made God the coincidence of opposites, (he) set a pattern which Böhme accepted and Hegel rationalised (my italics) by seeing the Absolute as itself a dialectic process, not an Eleatic product of dialectic.’, Ibid., 156. Beck’s position on the influence of theosophy and Protestant mysticism directly contradicts Magee’s: ‘theosophy, and Protestant mysticism…this stream did not lead to the most significant work in philosophy.’ Ibid., 71
9. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
10. ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno. See Walsh, Boehme and Hegel, 326.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
11. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid., 221
14. Ibid., 19
15. ‘Like Eckhart, Cusa would teach that God is the coincidence of opposites. (He was also the first author to refer to God as Absolutum.)’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 26
16. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 273
17. Ibid., 272
18. I will address the influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism and Böhme soon.
19. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 276
20. ‘(Böhme’s) thought is, as Hegel observed, genuinely Germanic and (as Faivre points out) owes nothing to classical sources. It is thoroughly Teutonic in character; earnest and unsophisticated, utterly lacking in irony or literary pretensions of any kind.’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 526
21. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. III, III.2.1
22. Ibid., vol. I, xxi
23. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 168
24. Ibid., 163
25. Ibid., 82
26. Ibid., 256
27. Ibid., 110
28. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 590

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts