My comment on ‘Nicholas of Cusa and the instruction of ignorance’

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

From ABC Radio National 12.04.14
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/nicholas-of-cusa/5341208

Your treatment of Cusanus from the perspective of bourgeois ideology – interspersed with nineteen product placements, appropriately detailed for those keen to make a purchase – was very interesting. Perspectivism, reconciliation, the acknowledgement and acceptance of difference and diversity… True, but why ‘neo-Platonic’ once and ‘Plotinus’ never? Could Inigo Bocken really believe that the reason why Cusanus is known as a mystic is because he had an aptitude for religious paradox? Cusanus was a Christian Neoplatonist. What are you collectively afraid of?

Now that the ideological caravans of modernism and post-modernism have run out of steam, what next? Mysticism? But this is a very hot potato – for two reasons:
– 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 been eagerly responded to, particularly by male philosophers, and its profound influence on their work dissembled about or denied. To explore mysticism in this regard threatens to undermine gods, expose lies, damage careers and lay bare a cultural arrogance and self-delusion that we in the West are the champions of ‘Reason’ while others stare at their navels or are obsessed with filial piety
– as Marx recognised, its contradictory core is nothing but revolutionary. It rings the bell for the passing of all and everything but matter in motion itself – it speaks of a mobile infinity…’in some strange way’

No sooner did you present this genius and humanist to us than you buried him in the very academicism he despised and reacted against. Your speakers have sought to contain and gut the subject and bleed the passion that has inspired so much.

I think of Morawski’s definition of ideology: a system of belief…delimited by interests.

Philip Stanfield

Hegel on contradiction: part four

 

…internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing.


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 440-441

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Part four/to be continued…

On philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’

Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C.Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

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God is not dead: Nietzsche’s aesthetics of self

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Michelangelo, ‘The Young Slave’, marble, c. 1530-34, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

‘…since Kant, transcendentalists of every kind have once more won the day – they have been emancipated from the theologians: what joy! – Kant showed them a secret path by which they may, on their own initiative and with all scientific respectability, from now on follow their “heart’s desire.” ’1

When we begin to study a text, we place our craft on a flow of words and are borne away. Are we won by their cogency? Or convinced by their force – by the impulse from their origin? Might we know them by the friends they keep, and by the deeds they commit upon us? Or do we engage with them and seek the contradictions – where the eddies, the cross movements, and the undertow – where the richer signs of life? …And to what are we blind, and why?…

We have understood Nietzsche, a man who wrote so much on the relation between form and content, largely according to his will. His writing on and against philosophical idealism sustains his work – he boasted that he had risen above that current running from Plato, through Christianity (‘Platonism for the people’, for which he felt the most bitter antipathy) to Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer.2 He told us that Dionysus and Apollo overthrew this sickly orientation, that perspective should replace universals, that binary oppositions are false, and that the best art is synonymous with creativity, life and truth. And we welcomed his perspective.

Evocative of Proverbs 1: 20-31, Diogenes the dog in search of an honest person and Macbeth, Nietzsche’s madman entered the market place, lantern in hand, and cried words which have echoed through a much larger marketplace – ‘God is dead’. If not a shout of victory, these words convey the stamp of finality, emphatic in their simplicity. But why have they been ripped from their context, why has their meaning been torn from them, and both context and meaning discarded?

‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives – who will wipe this blood off us?…Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?‘ (my Italics)3

This quotation indicates how Nietzsche ‘solved’ his primary concern, the problem of God(’s death). Having willed His death in eternity…Nietzsche resurrected (created) Him in the temporal flesh. He brought back to earth and maintained in ‘life’ that which he attacked Plato and Christianity for having sent beyond. But it was to an earth beyond time, the life of ‘mind’.4 And he proselytised God in the name of another faith – his own creation, Dionysus.5

Nietzsche’s Dionysus and Apollo arose from a chain of inspiration originated by Plato, which has continued across generations, with inevitable developments and variations in emphasis. The Timaeus, a dialogue from Plato’s ‘middle’ or ‘late’ period, and generally and mistakenly regarded as a minor work, is his attempt to give a scientific explanation for the divine creation of this world  – for that reason alone positioning it as a major work by him. In it is written an encapsulation of a process and purpose which is of the greatest importance to Western philosophy, Christian theology and Western art theory and practice

‘And (the Demiurge) gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible.’6

This little group of words summarises the dual yet undifferentiated pathway Plato established between perfection, its divine medium, and creation; it asserts that creation and ‘thought’ in its motion are equivalent; it defines the nature of that process. The motions of his divine beings differ from those of the sensory world, they are effects of the soul in its activity.

Plotinus’ mystical and emotive development on this (on the Soul’s contemplation of and desire for its source, his development of the realm of Forms into that of Intellect, and differentiation between its lower and higher aspects as the ascending Soul’s activity quickens, culminating in its unity with its source, his hypostasis of the One – which he defined as the greatest activity in the greatest stillness) was absorbed into Christian theology and Western philosophy as the methods of contemplation of form and (the movement through) desire, passion and the emotions, toward union with that which was desired (God).

These methods underlie Kant’s notions of the beautiful and the sublime,7 they echo in Schopenhauer’s writing and recur in his aesthetics8 – and again in Nietzsche’s Apollinian and Dionysian.9 As Plato’s Demiurge created the world and gave it form, as Plotinus’ Soul brought form from the far more ‘real’ universe of Intellect to Intellect’s eternal creation in matter, as the God of Christianity created the world to which He sent His Son as the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, so Dionysus eternally creates the world and gives of himself through the beauty of Apollinian form (which Nietzsche applied to appearance). Demiurge, Soul, Jesus and Dionysus are the media, ‘mind’ the message.10

For Nietzsche, the ‘tragic’ artist attains the Dionysian state through Apollinian apotheosis, the perfecting of man’s self.11 Obsessive self-love has its justification.12 Nietzsche emphasised the fecundity of Dionysus, destroying as he eternally creates – in so doing he drew from the work of Plotinus, who had an immense impact on Nietzsche’s own thought and of whom it was written that because of his mysticism, he has been a greater inspiration for Western philosophy than even Plato13

‘…the tragic artist…creates his figures like a fecund divinity of individuation…and as his vast Dionysian impulse then devours his entire world of phenomena, in order to let us sense beyond it, and through its destruction, the highest artistic primal joy, in the bosom of the primordially One.’14

The notions of vitality and creativity are fundamental to Plotinus’ philosophy. Not only are Intellect and particularly its source, the One, overflowing with activity, there is in Intellect an ‘…endlessness for ever welling up in it, the unwearying and unwearing nature which in no way falls short in it, boiling over with life…’15 The language Plotinus used to describe this excess of life resonates in Nietzsche’s description of Dionysian creativity.16 Creation is not for its own sake, but to produce objects of ‘vision’, to enable knowledge and ultimately the unity of seer, seeing and seen.17

Even Nietzsche’s description of man’s perfecting of himself

‘(In a Dionysian state, man) is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity. The noblest clay, the most costly marble, man, is here kneaded and cut, and to the sound of the chisel strokes of the Dionysian world-artist rings out the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries…Do you sense your Maker, world?’18

is shaped not by Kant’s hand of nature, but by that of Plotinus, who  commanded, in reply to the question ‘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…the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty’s seat is There.’19

Consistently, this current in philosophy is not driven by a will to life in this world but to one, as the hero in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities said as he mounted the scaffold, in ‘a far better place’. What connects Plato, Plotinus and Nietzsche in this is their artistry, their immense sensitivity to the creative process and therefore their intense spirituality.

But they theorised about spirituality not as a fundamental quality of community but only of the male self and its Soul. They were unable to reconcile the elements of their brain’s functioning (from the emotional and non-discursive to cognition) both internally and to the world in which they lived.20 Their philosophies, ostensibly developed as a guide to life, grew in reaction to it. They direct away from life. Plotinus concluded his Enneads

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’21

The metaphor of flight illustrates their desire to break free from the gravity of objective reality – the flight of the poet in the Ion, the flight of the Soul in the Enneads, the flight of angels in Christianity, the flight of man in The Birth of Tragedy.22 This flight was aided by the non-discursive tools of intuition23 and, as Nietzsche was the first to acknowledge, the self-deceptive art of lying

‘…there is only one world, and this is false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, without meaning – A world thus constituted is the real world. We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this “truth,” that is, in order to live…To solve it, man must be liar by nature, he must be above all an artist…This ability itself, thanks to which he violates reality by means of lies, this artistic ability of man par excellence – he has it in common with everything that is. He himself is after all a piece of reality, truth, nature: how should he not also be a piece of genius in lying!…In those moments in which man was deceived, in which he duped himself, in which he believes in life: oh how enraptured he feels! What delight! What a feeling of power! How much artists’ triumph in the feeling of power! – Man has once again become master of “material” – master of truth! – …(man) enjoys the lie as his form of power.’24

Nietzsche wrote

‘An artist cannot endure reality, he looks away from it, back: he seriously believes that the value of a thing resides in that shadowy residue one derives from colours, form, sound, ideas; he believes that the more subtilised, attenuated, transient a thing or a man is, the more valuable he becomes; the less real, the more valuable. This is Platonism, which, however, involved yet another bold reversal: Plato measured the degree of reality by the degree of value and said: The more “Idea,” the more being. He reversed the concept “reality” and said: “What you take for real is an error, and the nearer we approach the ‘Idea,’ the nearer we approach ‘truth.’” – Is this understood? It was the greatest of rebaptisms; and because it has been adopted by Christianity we do not recognise how astonishing it is. Fundamentally, Plato, as the artist he was, preferred appearance to being! lie and invention to truth! the unreal to the actual! But he was so convinced of the value of appearance that he gave it the attributes “being,” “causality” and ‘goodness,” and “truth,” in short everything men value.

The concept of value itself considered as a cause: first insight.

The ideal granted all honorific attributes: second insight.’25

In the above, Nietzsche stated his belief that the artist cannot ‘suffer’ reality and that there is a profound connection between the artist, Plato and the Christian. He wrote that this connection, developed by Plato, opposes the equivalents of Idea or form (as Apollinian appearance), lie and the unreal, to being, and the actual. He tied their retreat from reality to the creation of and faith in a higher one in ‘mind’. For Nietzsche, Apollo and Dionysus were the gods bringing form and content to his new and lonely faith – a faith in which he was torn, as Plato revealed of himself in his writing of the Timaeus.

Nietzsche’s philosophy has much to offer, not least because it details the tension in his thought between life and Life, between perspective and religious vision. That he was a man of ‘god’, no less than his father and both grandfathers, who were all ministers in the Lutheran faith, he could not have denied. That his faith was strongly flavoured by the Christianity he despised he would have rejected, but it underpins his mask of the myth of Oedipus

‘Sophocles understood the most sorrowful figure of the Greek stage, the unfortunate Oedipus, as the noble human being who, in spite of his wisdom, is destined to error and misery but who eventually, through his tremendous suffering, spreads a magical power of blessing that remains effective even beyond his decease.’26

and his greatest mask, his ‘counterdoctrine’ of Dionysus

‘One will see that the problem is that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. …The god on the cross is a curse on life, a signpost to seek redemption from life; Dionysus cut to pieces is a promise of life: it will be eternally reborn and return again from destruction.’27

Not only does Christianity teach that Christ on the cross is the symbolic promise of eternal ‘life’, as Dionysus was for Nietzsche a signpost to seek redemption from the life of objective reality, both the god on the cross (who was also ‘cut to pieces’) and Nietzsche’s creative interpretation of his own god embody Platonic and Neoplatonic influence.

Nietzsche never lost the ‘intense piety’ of his youth – he adapted it.28 He was a major figure in the development of twentieth-century Modernism, and as we contemplate art that bears his influence, we might think of him and his heritage not as he willed, but critically.29

The epistemological flow which I have addressed here – this pathway to perfection, this stairway to heaven – is intimately bound to patriarchal power. Plato was born into a prominent Athenian family with many political connections – his mother’s second husband was a close friend and supporter of Pericles. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus was ‘greatly honoured and venerated’ by the emperor Gallienus.

It is a current suffused with exclusions – the exclusion of the complexity and possibilities of life in this world from what has been redirected and appropriated to a ‘higher’ one, the exclusion of ‘the feminine’ from ‘the masculine’ – of the intuitive and non-linguistic from the discursive – the exclusion of women from power, the exclusion from true power of the majority by the minority. The content of this current constitutes the core of the visual ideology of capitalism and permeates capitalist ideology.

The creativity which most fully involves the range of our brain’s capacities is that which can stimulate the viewer to recognise and embrace the necessity of contradiction and to engage ethically with the one (theoretical) absolute – that of change in a material world. Such a view is diametrically opposed to the philosophical current discussed, which aims to stimulate the viewer to the denial of contradiction and change – ultimately to a commitment to ideological stasis – through an orientation towards and a desire for God the Father, God the Self.

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Notes

1. In extracts from On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Third Essay, Section 25. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969, 156. The ‘secret path’ which Nietzsche bestowed underlay creative respectability.

2. ‘…the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error – namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself…this nightmare…It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the perspective – the fundamental condition – of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them…Christianity is Platonism for the “people”.’ From the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil: A Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. (1886) In G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. New York: Mentor, 1965, p.123.

3. From the madman’s speech in The Gay Science. (1882) 125. In the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (1883-1885). Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969, p.14.

4. Nietzsche wrote about the ‘…rare ecstatic states with their elevation above space, time, and the individual.’ The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. W.Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967, p.124.

5. ‘As a philologist and man of words (?!) I baptised it, not without taking some liberty – for who could claim to know the rightful name of the Antichrist? – in the name of a Greek god: I called it Dionysian.’ In ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ (1886), Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner op. cit., p.24. Also: ‘Whoever approaches these Olympians with another religion in his heart, searching among them for moral elevation even for sanctity, for disincarnate spirituality…will soon be forced to turn his back on them, discouraged and disappointed. For there is nothing here that suggests asceticism, spirituality, or duty. We hear nothing but the accents of an exuberant, triumphant life in which all things, whether good or evil, are deified.’ ibid., Section 3, p. 41; ‘(Dionysus is) a deification of life…the religious affirmation of life’. The Will to Power  (1901), Bk IV, 1052. Trans. W.Kaufmann. and R.J.Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1968. p.542; ‘I am a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus, and I would prefer to be even a satyr than a saint.’ (two gods and their ministers?) From the Preface to Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is? (1888), Section 2, in G.Clive. Ed. The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.134. Christianity has long had a central place for the passage of Spirit into flesh in its own mythology, under the rubric ‘et incarnatus est’. And this arose from a complex and rich heritage which Nietzsche correctly traced to the immeasurable influence of Plato (obviously Plato was not the only source).

6. Timaeus, 8, 40. ‘And he bestowed two movements upon each, one in the same spot and uniform, whereby it should be ever constant to its own thoughts concerning the same thing; the other forward, but controlled by the revolution of the same and uniform: but for the other five movements he made it motionless and still, that each star might attain the highest completeness of perfection.’ The Timaeus of Plato. Ed. R.D.Archer-Hind. New York: Arno, 1973, pp.131-133. Plato is too often simplistically remembered as having given us eternal Forms (Plato as an eternal Form?). This quotation also points to the importance and complexity of motion in his philosophy. Lee argued that a major concern of the Timaeus is human psychology and that ‘…as the first Greek account of a divine creation, containing a rational explanation of many natural processes, it remained influential throughout the period of the Ancient World, not least towards its end when it influenced the Neo-platonists and when its creator-god was easily assimilated by Christian thought to the God of Genesis.’ In his Introduction to Plato Timaeus and Critias. Trans. D.Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin,1977, p.7.

7. ‘…the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation and preserves it in this state.’ I.Kant, Critique of Judgement. Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, 24. Trans. J.Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952, p.94.

8. Consider his distinction between the methods of science and experience – the rational method which is alone of use in practical life and in science (the method of Aristotle) – and ‘the method of genius’ – which is valid and of use only in art (the method of Plato). ‘The first is like the mighty storm that rushes along without beginning and without end, bending, agitating, and carrying away everything before it; the second is like the ray of sun that calmly pierces the storm and is not deflected by it. The first is like the innumerable, violently agitated drops of the waterfall, constantly changing, never for an instant at rest; the second is like the rainbow, silently resting on this raging torrent.’ A.Schopenhauer, The World As Will And Idea. Book III, 36. (Abridged in One Volume) 1819. Trans. J.Berman. London: Everyman, 1995, p.109. His aesthetics, expounded in Bk III were overtly Platonic – simply, he believed the object of art is the Platonic Idea. ‘Raised by the power of the mind, a person relinquishes the usual way of looking at things…He does not allow abstract thought…to take possession of his consciousness, but, instead, gives the whole power of his mind to perception, immerses himself entirely in this, and lets his whole consciousness be filled with the quiet contemplation of the natural object…he can no longer separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one…then what is known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea, the eternal form…The person rapt in this perception is thereby no longer individual…but he is a pure, willess, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.’ Book III, 34, p.102; also ‘(Art) repeats or reproduces the eternal Ideas grasped through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world…it plucks the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. And this particular thing, which in that stream was a minute part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the endless multitude in space and time. So art pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time, for art the relations vanish; only the essential, the Idea, is its object.’ Book III, 36, p.108.

9. Nietzsche wrote of ‘…that splendid mixture which resembles a noble wine in making one feel fiery and contemplative at the same time.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 21, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.125.

10. Nietzsche was very aware of the heritage on which he drew – he creatively blended its elements in his writing ‘…the whole divine comedy of life, including the inferno, also pass before him, not like mere shadows on a wall – for he lives and suffers with these scenes – and yet not without that fleeting sensation of illusion.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section I, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.35. Here Nietzsche refers to Plotinus through Dante’s great Christian allegory of the Way to God – ‘to that union of our wills with the Universal Will in which every creature finds its true self and its true being.’ – from the Introduction by Dorothy L. Sayers, in Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri The Florentine. Cantica 1: Hell. Trans. D.L.Sayers. London: Penguin, 1988, p.19 (in which Dante is guided by the shade of the poet Virgil and then led by the beautiful revelation of God through philosophy, Beatrice, to Paradise), and directly to the simile of the cave in the Republic. Sayers referred to the ‘cold passion’ of Dante’s style (p.42). It might have been better described as repressed.

11. Nietzsche was consistent with the patriarchy of this philosophical current. In the Enneads, Soul, on its way to pure unity with itself, aspires to and unites with Intellect.

12. ‘If we conceive of it at all as imperative and mandatory, this apotheosis of individuation knows but one law – the individual…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 4, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.46. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote ‘Sense and spirit are instruments and toys: behind them still lies the Self…Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body.’ and ‘Your Self can no longer perform that act which it most desires to perform: to create beyond itself. That is what it most wishes to do, that is its whole ardour.’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., pp.62, 63. Likewise, Plotinus’ philosophy is concerned with the creation and perfection of self: ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal “bringing into existence”.’ Enneads VI,8,20.

13. P. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’. In The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged, Trans. S.MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, xlii-lxxxiii.

14. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 22, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.132. Plotinus wrote: ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ Enneads V,3,17. The same religious belief in creativity was held by another extremely influential voluntarist and vitalist contemporary of Nietzsche’s – Bergson, whose best known work is titled Creative Evolution (1907). Plotinus believed that through loving oneself in God, one becomes God, one becomes the Creator.

15. Enneads VI,5,12.

16. ‘…in order that being may exist, the One is not being, but the generator of being. This, we may say, is the first act of generation: the One, perfect because it seeks nothing, has nothing, and needs nothing, overflows, as it were, and its superabundance makes something other than itself…Resembling the One…Intellect produces in the same way, pouring forth a multiple power – this is a likeness of it – just as that which was before it poured it forth. This activity springing from the substance of Intellect is Soul…(which) does not abide unchanged when it produces: it is moved and so brings forth an image. It looks to its source and is filled, and going forth to another opposed movement generates its own image, which is sensation and the principle of growth in plants…So it goes on from the beginning to the last and lowest, each [generator] remaining behind in its own place, and that which is generated taking another, lower, rank…’ Enneads V, 2, 1-2. Nietzsche wrote: ‘(The aesthetic state) appears only in natures capable of that bestowing and overflowing fullness of bodily vigour: it is this that is always the primum mobile…“Perfection”: in these states (in the case of sexual love especially) there is naively revealed what the deepest instinct recognises as higher, more desirable, more valuable in general, the upward movement of its type; also toward what status it really aspires. Perfection: that is the extraordinary expansion of its feeling of power, riches, necessary overflowing of all limits.’ The Will to Power op. cit., Bk 3, 801, p.422.

17. The points of focus Nietzsche created to enable his longed for ascent to Truth are the Dionysian reveller, the satyr and Dionysus: ‘Such magic transformation is the presupposition of all dramatic art. In this magic transformation the Dionysian reveller sees himself as a satyr, and as a satyr, in turn, he sees the god, which means that in his metamorphosis he beholds another vision outside himself…With this new vision the drama is complete.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 8, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.64. Compare Nietzsche’s words: ‘Only insofar as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he know anything of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a marvellous manner, like the weird image of the fairy tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator.’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 5, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.52, with the chain of inspiration in Ion and Plato’s use of the metaphor of sight in the Republic’s simile of the cave, in which the philosopher attains the supreme ‘vision’ – that of the absolute form of the Good (Bk VII 514-521), ‘the brightest of all realities’.

18. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

19. Enneads I,6,9. Nietzsche responded powerfully to the same ‘intoxicated’ drive to ‘shape’ and control the self in Plato in whom ‘…as a man of overexcitable sensuality and enthusiasm, the charm of the concept had grown so strong that he involuntarily honoured and deified the concept as an ideal Form. Intoxication by dialectic: as the consciousness of exercising mastery over oneself by means of it – as as tool of the will to power.’ The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 2, 431, p.236.

20. ‘Thrown into a noisy and plebeian age with which he has no wish to eat out of the same dish, he (‘who has the desires of an elevated, fastidious soul’) can easily perish of hunger and thirst, or, if he does eventually “set to” – of a sudden nausea. – We have all no doubt eaten at tables where we did not belong; and precisely the most spiritual of us who are most difficult to feed know that dangerous dyspepsia which comes from a sudden insight and disappointment about our food and table-companions – the after-dinner nausea.’ Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886), 282. Trans. R.J.Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1990, p.213. Nietzsche’s writing details over and again the gulf he felt between himself and others:  ‘I don’t want to be lonely any more; I want to learn to be human again. Alas, in this field I have almost everything still to learn!’ From a letter to Lou Salomé, 2 July 1882. From the Introduction by R.J.Hollingdale to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.21.

21. Enneads VI,9,11.

22. ‘…(man) has forgotten how to walk and speak and is on the way toward flying into the air, dancing…he feels himself a god…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 1, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.37.

23. ‘(Dionysian) music incites to the symbolic intuition of Dionysian universality…’ The Birth of Tragedy, Section 16, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.103.

24. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 3, 853, pp.451-452.

25. Ibid., Book 3, 572, p.308.

26. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 9, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.67.

27. The Will to Power. op. cit., Book 4, 1052, p.543.

28. I use Hollingdale’s expression, in his Introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. op. cit., p.12.  Also: ‘What the Christian says of God, Nietzsche says in very nearly the same words of the Superman, namely: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.”’ ibid., p.29.

29. ‘Art raises its head where creeds relax. It takes over many feelings and moods engendered by religion, lays them to its heart, and itself becomes deeper, more full of soul, so that it is capable of transmitting exultation and enthusiasm, which it previously was not able to do.’ From Human, All-Too-Human. A Book for Free Spirits. (1878) vol. I, 150, in The Philosophy of Nietzsche. op. cit., p.516.

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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 

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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) 

tennemann_grundris_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_contents

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.)

brucker_historia_critica_philosophiae_vol-4-1

From page 360 of vol. 4.1

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

tiedemann_geist_der_spekulativen_philosophie_vol-5

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)

buhle_lehrbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-6-1

From page 101 of vol. 6.1

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

tennemann_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-9_contents

Contents of vol. 9

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

 

ast_grundrisse_einer_geshichte_der_philosophie

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.’

rixner_handbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-2

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).

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-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)

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-6

From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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

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

05.12.17

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.

Sincerely,

Philip Stanfield

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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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

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Notes
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

Further

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

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Notes
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

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Notes
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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts