From NGC 7052 to capitalism – all things are doomed

The doomed dust disk of NGC 7052: thousands of light years across, containing more mass than a million Suns, probably the remnant of a titanic galactic collision, rotating faster than 100 kilometres per second at a distance of 150 light-years from its centre - a theorised massive black hole that may swallow the entire disk in the next few million years.

The doomed dust disk of NGC 7052: thousands of light years across, containing more mass than a million Suns, probably the remnant of a titanic galactic collision, rotating faster than 100 kilometres per second at a distance of 150 light-years from its centre – a theorised massive black hole that may swallow the entire disk in the next few million years.

Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite. We have before this (§80) identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, in the same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of his power. All things, we say – that is, the finite world as such – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, Remark to §81, 118

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Neoplatonic essence and appearance

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(Neoplatonic) emanationist cosmology rests on the tenet—based to some extent in observation, but elevated by them to the status of a heuristic principle—that every activity in the world is in some sense double insofar as it possesses both an inner and an outer aspect. For example, the inner activity of the sun (nuclear fusion, as we now know) has the outer effect of heat and light, themselves activities as well. Or the inner activity of a tree that is determined by the kind of tree it is (its genetic code, we would now say; the Neoplatonists spoke of an inherent formative principle, logos) results in the bearing of a particular kind of fruit; or again, thoughts and feelings internal to human beings express themselves in speech and actions. In each case, the outer effect is not the purpose or end of the inner activity; rather, it is simply the case that one falls out of the other and is concomitant with it. Furthermore, it is also the case that these outer activities will typically be productive of yet other outer activities that are ontologically more remote and derivative: Fruit serves as nourishment or poison for other individual life forms, and human speech and action constitute, over time, a person’s biography or a society’s history. It is important to note that, in all cases, the outer activity will not be some random affair, but rather something intimately connected with the inner activity it is an expression of. In other words, any inner activity will somehow prefigure the character and nature of its outer effect. Thus, the Neoplatonists insisted that there is nothing on the lower ontological levels within the chains of causality that is not somehow prefigured on the corresponding higher levels. In general, no property emerges unless it is already in some way preformed and pre-existent in its cause.

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Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11k

11.3.11.6 Being, being and nothing

Dillon wrote

One major problem which Plotinus inherited from previous Platonism was a contradiction between the Platonic-Pythagorean doctrine of the first principle as a radical unity – One, or a monad – and the belief, enunciated most notably by Aristotle (but going back to Anaxagoras) that the first principle was an intellect (nous), and specifically an intellect thinking itself1

Plotinus’ ‘solution’ (modified by Proclus, Cusanus and Hegel) was to make the One and intellect the first and second hypostases (the latter generated from the first – followed by the third, Soul, created by the second). Dillon continued

That the first principle was both a monad and an intellect was accepted already by Xenocrates in the Old Academy (Frs. 15, 16 Heinze) – though not, we may note, by his predecessor Speusippus – and became the accepted position in Middle Platonism, no contradiction being apparently observed between absolute unity and self-intellection.2

Hegel drew on this flexibility, maximising the philosophical and creative potential of his first principle by not only conflating Plotinus’ One with the first element Being in Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence in the second hypostasis Intellect, but also by overlying the Christian Trinity across that triad. The first principle could now, with a range of philosophical and religious meanings to use creatively, be known as One, Absolute, Mind, Being and God – forming the first element both in a single reality (Hegel’s ‘reason-world’) and in the stages in the unfolding of ‘reality’.3

For Plotinus the activity of Intellectual-Principle is thinking. It is the author of being and Plotinus equated Intellectual-Principle with it.4 Hegel began his Science of Logic and Encyclopaedia with this thinking, the first element in Proclus’ triad.5

Not only does Being think,6 that thinking, as Hegel indicated in a quote in Greek from the Metaphysics at the culmination and close of his Encyclopaedia, is divine, is God7 which Hegel described using the same expressions – ‘essential being’ and ‘absolute being’ – he had used when discussing the One in Plotinus’ philosophy (7.1).

Hegel’s God and Plotinus’ Intellectual-Principle are only truly what they potentially are having ‘emanated’ and returned, and in that process become fulfilled and complete.

Hegel wrote

in our thinking, our first thinking, God is only pure being, or even essence, the abstract absolute, but not God as absolute spirit, which alone is the true nature of God.8

and Plotinus expressed the result of the same Neoplatonic process thus

It is now Intellectual-Principle since it actually holds its object, and holds it by the act of intellection: before, it was no more than a tendance, an eye blank of impression: it was in motion towards the transcendental; now that it has attained, it has become Intellectual-Principle9

The divine activity of thinking requires an object to initiate that process and it finds that object by creating a distinction within itself

Intellect, to act at all, must inevitably comport difference with identity; otherwise it could not distinguish itself from its object by standing apart from it, nor could it ever be aware of the realm of things whose existence demands otherness, nor could there be so much as a duality.’10

Redding identifies that initial object

As the Logic is an investigation into the categorial structure of thought, its starting point will be the most immediate thought determination, that presupposed by all others: being, or das Sein.11

and thinking about that initial object is the basis of all further development

Being seems to be both immediate and simple, but it will show itself to be, in fact, only something in opposition to something else, nothing. The point seems to be that while the categories being and nothing seem both absolutely distinct and opposed…they appear identical as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category within which they can coexist as negated (Aufgehoben) moments. This category is becoming, which saves thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts. Becoming contains being and nothing in the sense that when something becomes it passes, as it were, from nothingness to being.12

The dialectical cognition of God is underway, to which process negation is essential

There is…a technical, logical sense in which the second concept or form is the “opposite” or negation of—or is “not”—the first one—though, again, it need not be the “opposite” of the first one in a strict sense.13

Theorising the relationship between contradictories, between a concept and its other is fundamental to Neoplatonism. Proclus discussed being, non-being and the negation of being and Cusanus discussed both the relationship between creation, being and nothing and Being, being and not-being. (8.4.5)

Plotinus described the process whereby Intellectual-Principle comes to know its prior14 – the same process whereby divine Being comes to cognise itself in the Science of Logic

Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.15

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Notes

1. Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xcii
2. Ibid.
3. ‘Are Being, Life and Intelligence to be regarded as three aspects of a single reality or as three successive stages in the unfolding of the cosmos from the One? Proclus characteristically answers that both views are true: they are aspects, for each of them implies the others as cause or as consequent; they are successive, not coordinate, for each is predominant (though not to the exclusion of the others) at a certain stage of the process.’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
4. ‘Intellectual-Principle is Being,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.16; ‘Thus it is true that “Intellection and Being are identical”,’ Ibid., V.9.5; ‘The Being of Intellect…is activity, and there is nothing to which the activity is directed; so it is self-directed.’ Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. V, V.3.7
5. ‘the beginning…has the significance and form of abstract universality. …it is…thinking,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 827
6. ‘the absolute Being is just this being that is thought,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 371
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 315; translation from Aristotle, The Metaphysics xii, 7, 1072b, Trans. and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 374: ‘And God also has life; for the activation of thought is a life, and He is that activation. His intrinsic activation is supreme, eternal life. Accordingly we assert that God is a supreme and eternal living being, so that to God belong life and continuous and eternal duration. For that is what God is.’; ‘God, far from being a Being, even the highest, is the Being,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 164
8. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 527
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.11
10. Ibid., VI.7.39
11. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 145
12. Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/, op. cit.
13. Julie E. Maybee, ‘Hegel’s Dialectics,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyhttp://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/
14. Neoplatonic theory is anything but hard and fast. Plotinus’ position regarding the One’s transcendence is an instance. Dillon wrote ‘(Although Plotinus) emphasises the transcendence and otherness of the One, its superiority to Being and Intellect, and its unknowability by any normal faculty of cognition…in a number of passages…he makes some attempt to explore what sort of apprehension the One might have of itself. For Plotinus, after all, the One is not really a negativity…,’ Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., , xciii-xciv. He then quoted from V.4.2: ‘The intellectual object (i.e. the One) is self-gathered, and is not deficient as the seeing and knowing principle (i.e. Intellect) must be – deficient, I mean, as needing an object – it is therefore no unconscious thing…it is, itself, that self-intellection which takes place in eternal repose, that is to say, in a mode other than that of the Intellectual-Principle.’ Ibid., xciv
15. Ibid., V.3.11

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Reply to Jason 3

pyramid_of_capitalist_system

Hi Jason,

I do believe the result of the poll (that ‘49% of Australians support banning Muslims immigrating to Australia’) is accurate – it was taken twice to confirm the result. One of the pollsters said the number was too big to say that it is unrepresentative.

I have heard the poll discussed in the middle-class media and no-one (as much as they would like to) has claimed that the result is in any way ‘false’.

If you step back and look at the ‘big picture’: there is a rising anti-refugee sentiment across the US, Europe and Australia. Fascism and fascist parties play an increasing part in this – discussions in the Australian middle-class media about the possibility of a Trump presidency have included mention of fascism in the US.

What is fascism? Capitalism in extremis. When the GFC hit the fan, a lot of tax-payers’ money was thrown at it. That money has now gone but the GFC hasn’t. The capitalists ponder – ‘What to do?’

Blame someone, ramp up protectionism, wage war and make force and the threat of force internally more prominent.

All of this, with regard to Australia, feeds into a pre-existing cultural ‘mind’ set.

Not only has racism always been deeply ingrained in Australia (the ‘White Australia policy’ was only finally dropped in 1973) – recent instances of anti-Chinese xenophobia yet again exemplify this – this racism is representative of a broader problem in Australia – the fear of difference.

Aussies on their island continent at the arse-end of the earth (to quote a former Prime Minister) cannot comprehend difference and its necessity, wrapped otherwise than in conformist ‘decency’ (hence the comparative welcoming of the Vietnamese refugees after the defeat of the US and Australia in their war on Vietnam).

Again, what is particularly repulsive about the behaviour of the white-dominated nations (including Australia – one of the richest nations in the world) towards the present great tide of refugees is that those people are fleeing from destruction initiated either directly by capitalist nations or as a consequence of their previous behaviour – led by the number 1 capitalist power, the US.

The West fears ‘Islamic terrorism’? Think of the treachery and terrorism that the West has dished out over and again to the Islamic people, particularly in the last 100 years.

As capitalism goes deeper into crisis, within capitalist nations, the rich get richer, the poor poorer and the middle class diminishes while beyond those nations, their militaries continue to wreak the destruction and suffering that puts further pressure on capitalism.

This is dialectics in action.

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Hegel on the dialectical relationship of cause and effect

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…though the cause has an effect and is at the same time itself effect, and the effect not only has a cause but is also itself cause, yet the effect which the cause has, and the effect which the cause is, are different, as are also the cause which the effect has, and the cause which the effect is.

But now the outcome of the movement of the determinate causal relation is this, that the cause is not merely extinguished in the effect and with it the effect, too, as in formal causality, but that the cause in being extinguished becomes again in the effect, that the effect vanishes in the cause, but equally becomes again in it. Each of these determinations sublates itself in its positing, and posits itself in its sublating; what is present here is not an external transition of causality from one substrate to another; on the contrary, this becoming-other of causality is at the same time its own positing. Causality therefore presupposes its own self or conditions itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 565-566

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 10a

Concepts, propositions, predication and the speculative sentence

10.1 Hegel, philosopher of concrete concepts

In bourgeois ideology Hegel is known as the philosopher of concrete concepts, the hard man, master and exemplar of reason. Whilst he agreed that we are always thinking – even in sleep – (something of immense importance that he never explored or allowed to influence his theorising) he believed that it is only in the waking state that ‘Intellect’ and ‘Reason,’ for him the modes of proper thought, are active and that conceptual thought is our essence.

Hegel equated ‘conceptual’ with ‘scientific’ – philosophy for him is the scientific grasp of Truth which could only be expounded as a conceptual system. Philosophy proceeded according to the categories of reason. This rigour supposedly gives us reasoned knowledge of the Idea and of fully concrete Spirit, a conceptual account of the Absolute and, above all, true self-knowledge.

10.2 Hegel’s concepts are spiritual, religious and open

Hegel’s concepts are, as is his philosophy, spiritual and religious – his system is the service of God the self and his concepts must be assessed on that basis

the content of philosophy, its need and interest, is wholly in common with that of religion. The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth. God and nothing but God and the explication of God. Philosophy is only explicating itself when it explicates religion, and when it explicates itself it is explicating religion. For the thinking spirit is what penetrates this object, the truth; it is thinking that enjoys the truth and purifies the subjective consciousness. Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion.1

For Hegel the activity of ‘reason,’ of forming concepts and dialectical thinking is the practice of religion. He described the conceptual grasp of an object Neoplatonically

The conceptual grasp of an object consists in fact in nothing but that the self makes the object its own, penetrates it and brings it to its own form.2

Further, the categories of logic, ‘the all-animating spirit of all the sciences’ comprise a ‘spiritual hierarchy,’3 a movement of concepts or thought determinations which, though expressed in language, is not reducible to language.4 Hegel wrote of a movement of ‘pure thought’5 – God ‘as he is in and for himself’ – ‘the pure thought of eternity.’6 Jaspers wrote

In this thinking concepts are not defined with logical cogency and are not related to one another, but denote guiding threads whose meaning is disclosed in the course of attempts at speculative thinking.7

Marcuse wrote

All fundamental concepts of the Hegelian system are characterised by the same ambiguity. They never denote mere concepts (as in formal logic), but forms or modes of being comprehended by thought.8

10.3 Speculative exposition preserves the dialectical form

Speculative reason looks for the principle of motion in an object that makes it what it is. The speculative proposition or, much better, sentence (spekulativer Satz) reflects the dialectical nature of consciousness in its self-development. In the dialectical movement of thought, every thing comprises a coexistence of opposed elements and speculative exposition preserves this form.

Findlay described the superficial view of the proposition of judgement as

an external connection of independently significant elements…(whereas) the speculative view…sees…the self-development, through complimentary differences, of a single significant content. …the fixed points of reference necessary for the former are lacking in the latter.9

The task of speculative reason is not the analysis of concepts but the development of them – speculative dialectic shows fixed (false, limited) distinctions of the understanding breaking down in their development. Speculative philosophy is a continual unfolding of consciousness to itself. Hence, for Hegel, categories develop themselves.

Hegel continued the Neoplatonic emphasis, established by Plotinus, on the metaphors of sight and mirror in his incorporation of the meanings of ‘speculative’ in his philosophy – from theoria ([divine] ’contemplation,’ ‘speculation,’ from theoros ‘spectator’), from speculum (‘mirror’) and speculatio (‘contemplation,’ ‘speculation’) – ‘reality’ and consciousness, infinite and finite, ultimately subject and object mirror and contemplate each other, developing conceptually through their relationship.

Cusanus placed the greatest importance on our ‘mind’s’ generation of concepts as an image of the working of God’s ‘Mind’ and his study of them as the ‘coincidence of opposites’ was, within idealist philosophy, fully, dialectically developed by Hegel. This aspect of Cusanus’ philosophy is one of the greatest debts Hegel owed to him (which I will discuss later).

10.4 Neoplatonic concepts are always dynamic

Neoplatonism has shown that concepts have life. Cusanus and particularly Hegel explored the potential of concepts in their inter-relationship and development. Verene wrote that in the speculative proposition the subject is not separate from the predicate but

is extended into the predicate and the meaning of the predicate must ultimately be found by returning from it into the subject term.10

Findlay wrote of

a logical flux, a passing of contents tracelessly into one another…In a given exercise we both can and should preserve comparative clarity, distinctness, and fixity, but the thought-material we are coercing never fully acquiesces in our fixations, and forces endless revision upon us no matter how we seek to withstand this.11

10.5 The importance of negation

For the Neoplatonists, ‘the true is the whole.’ Magee set out Hegel’s position

each standpoint in Hegel’s dialectic is ‘false’ because each, taken on its own, is only a part of the whole. Taken in abstraction from the whole, each part is, in a way, misleading. For instance, each category of the Logic is a ‘provisional definition’ of the Absolute. Each on its own terms, is false as a definition – but each is part of the entire system of the Logic, which constitutes the complete articulation of the nature of the Absolute. (my italics)12

But ‘the whole’ is not something bounded, it is a process the essential, unrelenting aspect of which is negation, the driver of the dialectic. Hegel, who wrote

Everything concrete, everything living contains contradiction within itself; only the dead understanding is identical with itself13

concluded his explication of God in his Science of Logic with his most ‘concrete’ concept Absolute Idea. With it, we are to accept that negation has now found completion, when surely the primary lesson of the Science of Logic, which documents the movement of incompatibles in their never ending unrest is the opposite

To hold fast to the positive in its negative…this is the most important feature in rational cognition14

Negation in the process of emanation and return drives the Enneads no less than it does Hegel’s use of the Christian myth (God goes into the world/first negation, God dies and returns to self/negation of that negation) and his Science of Logic. Just as the second hypostasis negates the first (because agent, object and movement are introduced) so the first hypostasis negates the second (because agent, object and movement disappear). The third hypostasis negates the second by lighting and ordering the world which engagement is in turn negated by Soul’s return to the second hypostasis.

Further, Plotinus wrote of his second hypostasis, Hegel’s mystical ‘reason-world’

In that Intellectual Cosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: it is identity and difference, movement and rest, the object moving and the object at rest, essence and quality. All There is pure essence…and therefore quality is never separated from essence.15

10.6 Hegel used his concepts mytho-poetically

Magee wrote that Hegel was less interested in the truth of statements than in the ‘truth’ or meaning of concepts and that Hegel’s form of speculation is identical with mytho-poetic circumscription

Hegel rejects propositional thought, which would define the Absolute, and instead ‘talks around’ or ‘thinks around’ the Absolute, revealing at each point some aspect or part of it. The totality of Hegel’s philosophical speech is the Truth, the Absolute itself. …His is truly a mythology of reason: a new myth-form made of ideas16

Hegel’s philosophy is not ‘a new myth-form made of ideas’ nor does he employ concepts in a ‘radically different way,’17 his philosophy is the highest development of an ancient form in the expression of ideas which has been treated as pornography by generations of career-building, time- and ideology-serving academics – Neoplatonism.

Just as concepts (particularly the hypostases themselves) were stepping-stones to be ‘thought around’ for Plotinus and the Neoplatonists prior to Hegel, from and to spiritual unity with their highest concept the One-Absolute, so Hegel, following particularly Plotinus, Proclus and Cusanus used his concepts in the same way from and to spiritual unity with his God/One/Absolute. What makes Hegel’s philosophy ‘mythical’ is his overlay of the Christian myth across his Neoplatonism.

Hegel rejected the definition and propositional thought of Verstand both because he correctly saw their deadening limitations and because he faced the challenge confronted by all Neoplatonic philosophers and by those inspired by Neoplatonism and mysticism – how best to express and evoke, to draw their audience into the dynamic subtleties and spiritual flux of ‘reality.’ Inevitably he employed the devices of poetry including images, metaphors and symbols – myth, in Christian form, being the most important of them – Christian mythology provided Hegel with images, metaphors and symbolism.

Hegel didn’t build a conceptual argument but wove a dense mystical tapestry using concepts as focal or anchor points. He wrote that speculative thinking is from one point of view akin to the poetic imagination and he used words and concepts to create a rationalised feeling for the Absolute, rather than to attain a literal cognition of it. In his philosophy, God comes to know himself Neoplatonically – most importantly, he does so dialectically.

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Notes

1. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 152-153
2. Quoted in Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 144
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 40
4. Dale M. Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., 37
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 843
6. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 187
7. Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, Ed., Hannah Arendt, Trans., Ralph Manheim, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1966, 128
8. Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, Routledge, London, 2000, 25
9. Findlay in Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 503
10. Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1985, 23
11. Findlay in Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., Foreword xv-xvi
12. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 251-252
13. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 192-193
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 834
15. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.9.10. ‘Plotinus in particular…radically modified the ancient discipline of dialectic by prioritising the thinking of differences in identity and identities in difference. By setting the categories of identity and difference at the centre of dialectic, Plotinus fashioned a powerful dialectical mode of contemplation that was influential throughout the Middle Ages, with Nicholas of Cusa representing perhaps the last and best known example’ Andrew Cole, The Function of Theory at the Present Time, The Chicago Blog, 07.12.15, http://pressblog.uchicago.edu/2015/12/07/hegel-and-the-birth-of-theory.html 
16. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 95
17. Ibid.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 8a

Subject and object

8.1 What is Neoplatonic thinking?

It is the divine activity of a ‘subject’ generated from unity dialectically engaging with its other, its ‘object’. As a result of what develops from that first distinction, (self-)knowledge is finally attained and spiritual reunion achieved. In Hegel’s philosophy, subject comes to unite with its objects in the consciousness of the individual just as self comes to unite with its others in the social cultus.

Plotinus defined thinking as a soul’s

kind of seeking its substance and its self and what made it, and…in turning back in its contemplation and recognising itself it is at that point rightly and properly Intellect.1

For Hegel

Thought’s occupation with itself is a self-producing…Thought brings itself forth, and what it produces in this way is philosophy.2

8.2 In knowing its objects, subject knows itself

Plotinus wrote that self-intellection begins with the need for self-knowledge and asks whether the subject can know its objects without knowing itself, arguing that self and content must be simultaneously present

it is obvious that the Intellectual-Principle must have knowledge of the Intellectual objects. Now, can it know those objects alone or must it not simultaneously know itself, the being whose function it is to know just those things? Can it have self-knowledge in the sense (dismissed above as inadequate) of knowing its content while it ignores itself? Can it be aware of knowing its members and yet remain in ignorance of its own knowing self? Self and content must be simultaneously present3

He emphasised that the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle/Intellect/Divine Mind – Hegel’s ‘reason-world’ – and the objects themselves are all identical activity comprising knower, knowing and known, seer, seeing and seen.

the Intellectual-Principle, its exercise of intellection, and the object of intellection all are identical. Given its intellection identical with intellectual object and the object identical with the Principle itself, it cannot but have self-knowledge: its intellection operates by the intellectual act, which is itself, upon the intellectual object, which similarly is itself. It possesses self-knowing, thus, on every count; the act is itself; and the object, seen in that act-self, is itself.4

8.3 How is the subject to know itself? Distinction, desire and possession

For Plotinus, Intellect requires distinction within itself in order that there be/that it have knowledge

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

He notes the ‘strange phenomenon’ of a distinction in one self but continues

Unless there is something beyond bare unity, there can be no vision: vision must converge with a visible object. …in so far as there is action, there is diversity. If there be no distinctions, what is there to do, what direction in which to move? An agent must either act upon the extern or be a multiple and so able to act upon itself: making no advance towards anything other than itself, it is motionless, and where it could know only blank fixity it can know nothing.6

Not only must there be diversity but that diversity must be in identity as well

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 identity7

In describing Hegel’s method, Magee unintentionally summarised the Neoplatonic position

when the subject wishes to know itself, it must split itself into a subjective side, which knows, and an objective side, which is known.8

Fuelled by recollection, desire by the subject (and Soul) to unite with its object (and source) motivates subject (and Soul) in its passage through multiplicity to that union whereby subject dissolves object within itself.9 Hegel expressed the complex process from distinction to unity in the closing words of his Philosophy of Mind in a quotation from the Metaphysics

thought…becomes an object of thought in coming into contact with and thinking its objects, so that thought and object of thought are the same. For that which is capable of receiving the object of thought, i.e. the substance, is thought. And it is active when it possesses this object.10

8.4 Hegel’s application of this Neoplatonic distinction

8.4.1 consciousness and its other, self-consciousness

This is the distinction between ‘me’ and ‘myself’

Consciousness essentially involves my being for myself, my being object to myself. …this absolutely primal division, the distinction of me from myself11

Consciousness develops into self-consciousness which then has consciousness for its object. This is the subject of the Phenomenology of Spirit in which consciousness undergoes development through stages towards becoming aware of its ‘essence,’ attaining ‘absolute knowing.’

what consciousness examines is its own self…For consciousness is, on the one hand, consciousness of the object, and on the other, consciousness of itself12

8.4.2 The ‘I’ and its other, ‘Not-I’

The ‘I’ distinguishes itself from itself, becoming its opposite. Self-consciousness confronts itself as another ‘I.’ Hegel wrote

I am aware of the object as mine; and thus in it I am aware of me. The formula of self-consciousness is I = I …as it is its own object, there is strictly speaking no object, because there is no distinction between it and the object.13

Plotinus addressed this problem of identifying an object (and a world) in the ‘I,’ long before Hegel

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’.

If it be no more than a simple duality able to say ‘I and that other phase’, there is already multiplicity, for there is distinction and ground of distinction, there is number with all its train of separate things.14

8.4.3 God and his other, Christ

In order to fully know himself, God must dirempt himself through Christ’s appearance in the world. God’s revelation is the first negation in the process of self-knowing. His reunion with himself in his other through Christ’s death and resurrection is the negation of that.

God has revealed that his nature consists in having a Son, i.e. in making a distinction within himself, making himself finite, but in his difference remaining in communion with himself15

Magee, to his credit and very rare for an academic, argues that Hegel was an Hermetic thinker and that Jakob Böhme was a crucial influence on Hegel. He wrote that the notion of a process of development and actualisation in God is perhaps the most significant point of influence on Hegel by Böhme

the ‘other’ is necessary for God’s self-consciousness. Without self-consciousness God would not be God, for His knowledge would be incomplete.16

But there are errors and points of contention in Magee’s forceful argument that strangely discounts any consideration of the influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel or the relationship between Hermeticism and Neoplatonism. I will address Magee’s argument in detail later but discuss a couple of the more salient points here.

He wrote that two of the doctrines of the Hermetica that became enduring features of the Hermetic tradition are ‘God requires creation in order to be God’ and ‘God in some sense “completed” or has a need fulfilled through man’s contemplation of Him.’17 Not only did I find neither in the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, I found the opposite in them

in the all there is nothing that he is not…For god is all.18

Then, so great and good was he that he wanted there to be another to admire the one he had made from himself, and straightaway he made mankind, imitator of his reason and attentiveness. God’s will is itself perfect achievement since willing and achievement are complete for him at one and the same moment of time.19

Nothing in this situation is stable, nothing fixed, nothing immobile among things that come to be in heaven and earth: the lone exception is god, and rightly he alone, for he is whole, full and perfect in himself and by himself and about himself.20

he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are. Rather let us worship him by giving thanks, for god finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.21

Böhme’s words

No thing may be revealed to itself without contrariety. If it has no thing that resists it, it always goes out from itself and does not go into itself again. If it does not go into itself again, as into that out of which it originally came, it knows nothing of its cause.22

are essentially the same as of those of Plotinus, quoted above. Magee shows no awareness of or interest in this nor does he consider even the possibility of the influence of Neoplatonism on Böhme and Hegel.

8.4.4 ‘Mind’ and its other, itself

‘Mind’ is a distinguishing of itself from itself on the Neoplatonic model of knower, knowing and known

mind as such, is Reason which sunders itself, on the one hand, into pure infinite form, into a limitless Knowing, and, on the other hand, into the object that is identical with that Knowing.23

‘Mind’ is only actual through the subject seeing in its object what it lacks, what is essential to it and overcoming its Other, thereby making explicit the implicit identity of subject and object

this relation to the Other is, for mind, not merely possible but necessary, because it is through the Other and by the triumph over it, that mind comes to authenticate itself and to be in fact what it ought to be according to its Notion…The Other, the negative, contradiction, disunity, therefore also belongs to the nature of mind.24

8.4.5 being and its other, nothing

In his Science of Logic Hegel utilised all his skill as a prose poet, arguing that being and nothing comprise the first relationship in all that is to develop from there, and that they are reconciled by becoming in determinate being.

Nothing is, therefore, the same determination, or rather absence of determination, and thus altogether the same as, pure being.25

Theorising on this first dialectical relationship in Intellect runs right through the Neoplatonic tradition. After considering what first emanates from the One, Plotinus wrote

We may take it as proved that the emanation of the Transcendent must be a Not-One, something other than pure unity26

Proclus showed a subtlety equal to Hegel in his discussion of being, non-being and the negation of being

with respect to non-being itself, with which there is also a negation of beings, at one time considering it as beyond being, we say that it is the cause and the supplier of beings; but at another time we evince that it is equivalent to being; just as I think…that non-being is in no respect less, if it be lawful so to speak, than being27

Cusanus likewise when writing about the relation between creation, being and nothing in De docta ignorantia

Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist? For it seems that the creation, which is neither God nor nothing, is, as it were, after God and before nothing and in between God and nothing—as one of the sages says: “God is the opposition to nothing by the mediation of being.” Nevertheless, [the creation] cannot be composed of being and not-being. Therefore, it seems neither to be (since it descends from being) nor not to be (since it is before nothing) nor to be a composite of being and nothing.28

and again between Being, being and not-being in De possest

So, in order that I may now tell you the things you asked me concerning negation, let us take the negation which seems to be the first of all negations: viz., “not-being.” Doesn’t this negation both presuppose and deny?

…For through the negation [“not-being”] you see—by a simple intuition from which you exclude everything subsequent to not-being—that the presupposed [being], which precedes not-being, is the eternal being itself of all being.29

Neoplatonic negation, not the Christian Trinity, is the engine of a process of self-knowing both philosophical and religious that is generated from unity, that develops creatively in multiplicity and as a result of that development returns to unity, to the greatest activity in the greatest stillness of consciousness. This development in Intellect, in Mind, in the ‘reason-world’ begins with a necessary first distinction and dialectical relationship between two elements – consciousness/self-consciousness, ‘I’/‘Not-I,’ God/Christ, Mind/itself, being/nothing, and irrespective of the terminology used to analyse that process, follows the Neoplatonic model.

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Notes

1. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. VII, VI.7.37
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 45
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.1
4. Ibid., V.3.5
5. Ibid., V.3.1
6. Ibid., V.3.10
7. Ibid.
8. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 69-70
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 166
10. Metaphysics xii, 7, 1072b in Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 315
11. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 178
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 54
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 165
14. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.10
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 17
16. Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 38
17. Ibid., 13
18. Hermetica, Trans., Brian, P. Copenhaver, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2000, XII, 23
19. Asclepius, Ibid., 8
20. Ibid., 30
21. Ibid., 41
22. Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), ‘The Seventh Treatise/The Precious Gate/On Divine Contemplation (1620)’ in The Way to Christ (1624), Trans., Peter Erb, Paulist Press, New York, 1978, 196
23. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 179
24. Ibid., 15
25. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 82
26. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.15
27. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. II, Ch. V
28. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,2,100
29. Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), op. cit., 66-67

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Plotinus’ subject and object and the activity of self-knowing

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

8-cell human embryo, day 3. ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ The Enneads, V.8.12

The One generates the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind) which in turn gives birth to the world of reflexive consciousness with its activity of self-knowing, and to Soul.

Knowledge by Intellectual-Principle – a unity-in-multiplicity – requires an object. ‘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. To abandon the belief is not possible in view of the many absurdities thus entailed’ (The Enneads, V.3.1)

On the division necessary for the creation of philosophical (conceptual, spiritual) objects Plotinus asks ‘How is the self to make the partition? The thing cannot happen of itself. …The intellectual object is itself an activity, (my italics) not a mere potentiality; it is not lifeless…’ (V.3.5)

For Divine Mind, knowing its objects in their ‘life’, in their movement, equates to knowing itself. Plotinus asks ‘Now, can (Intellectual-Principle) know those objects alone or must it not simultaneously (my italics) know itself, the being whose function it is to know just those things? Can it have self-knowledge in the sense (dismissed above as inadequate) of knowing its content while it ignores itself? Can it be aware of knowing its members and yet remain in ignorance of its own knowing self? Self and content must be simultaneously present…’ (V.3.1)

Plotinus continues ‘Unless there is something beyond bare unity, there can be no vision: vision must converge with a visible object. …If there be no distinctions, what is there to do, what direction in which to move? An agent must either act upon the extern or be a multiple and so able to act upon itself: making no advance towards anything other than itself, it is motionless, and where it could know only blank fixity it can know nothing. …the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity…If (the Intellectual-Principle) had to direct itself to a memberless unity, it would be dreasoned: what could it say or know of such an object? …In sum, then, a knowing principle must handle distinct items: its object must, at the moment of cognition, contain diversity; otherwise the thing remains unknown…Similarly the knowing principle itself cannot remain simplex, especially in the act of self-knowing…’ (V.3.10)

The ‘knowing principle’ is the activity of self-knowing – Intellectual-Principle and intellectual activity are the same. That activity is driven by contradiction1 and is known perspectivally.2

Divine Mind gives birth to objects as the embodiment of its outgoing creative power and in its contemplative recollection of and desire to unite with the One. This very activity means that it is incomplete. But the conceptual and spiritual development of its multiplicity (deepening self-knowledge rising from the particular to the general) brings it back to the One, enabling union with (vision/knowledge of) it.

‘Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.’ (V.3.11)

Here, prior to the fertilisation of Christianity by Neoplatonism and the conflation of the hypostases by the Christian mystic Böhme and the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel is their source for God’s requiring diremption from himself in the world through his other, Christ, to enable the process and completion of his self-knowing and its resolution in a unified perspectival cultus of the Spirit.

Notes

1. ‘In that Intellectual Cosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: it is identity and difference, movement and rest, the object moving and the object at rest, essence and quality.’ (V.9.10)

2. ‘…since the object of vision has variety (distinction within its essential oneness) the intuition must be multiple and the intuitions various, just as in a face we see at the one glance eyes and nose and all the rest. But is not this impossible when the object to be thus divided and treated as a thing of grades is a pure unity? No: there has already been discrimination within the Intellectual-Principle; the Act of the Soul is little more than a reading of this.’ (IV.4.1)

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 Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991

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Hegel fails the test of dialectics

Michelangelo, ‘The Awakening Slave’, marble, c. 1520-23, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

Michelangelo, ‘The Awakening Slave’, marble, c. 1520-23, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, Florence

‘…art has the vocation of revealing the truth in the form of sensuous artistic shape, of representing the reconciled antithesis…’

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, Trans., Bernard Bosanquet, Ed., Introduction and Commentary, Michael Inwood, Penguin, England, 2004, 61

The representation of reconciled antitheses is used to maintain dominant ideologies. It comforts and reassures.

The greatest art is that which represents antitheses unreconciled. The subject is left unresolved, uncertain, open – it entices with pathways inThe audience are either frustrated or forced to think.

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