Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13r

13.6.6 The cognition of absolute truth – God is a Proclean ‘syllogism’ (continued)

The philosophy of Cusanus was the last major reworking of Neoplatonism before Hegel completed its development. Cusanus is the link between Proclus and Hegel and both the former were equally important to the latter. Even though Cusanus wrote repeatedly in different ways that God, the ultimate principle, cannot be known, echoing both Plotinus and Proclus on the first hypostasis, he used the Trinity to substantially build on Proclus’ blurring of the gap between the ultimate principle and what could be known. He brought the One into the second hypostasis as the first element of Proclus’ triad Being, Life, Intelligence which he made the basis of his philosophy as Hegel, following him, did with his.

Now, not only could God be seen as can the One by the returning soul in its final stage prior to re-unification with its source, the ultimate principle itself ‘sees’ – it is no longer a principle that simply generates all else. ‘He’ is now an active participant in his own process. He mirrors it, his ‘seeing’ is his being. He is now both hidden and ‘visible’.

Where Cusanus substantially developed Proclus’ position on the limits of knowledge, he still remained, however, ambivalent. Hegel completed this historically protracted development in the Neoplatonic drive for knowledge, arguing that God – the entire process – can be fully cognised.1 To do this, despite his claim to Christianity – he was not consistent, as I have argued, with Christian and Trinitarian doctrine – he philosophised on the basis of Cusanus’ adaptation of Proclus’ triad, using the One as he did with the Trinity – as metaphorical, prose-poetic devices. Now, nothing was beyond Being.

In order to close the circle of Neoplatonic knowledge, Hegel also recognised and employed another profound development by Cusanus – the focus on concepts in their contradictory relations. What was for Cusanus the detailed study of coincidentia oppositorum was for Hegel the study of the flowing development of concepts in their dialectical relations. Hegel’s emphasis on concepts and the complexity of their development is at the heart of his claim to ‘science’.

For Cusanus, the primary way in which the ultimate principle can be known is in the act of ‘seeing’.2 Education in the humility of learned ignorance (openness to the dialectic) and the speculative potential of coincidentia oppositorum can only take us up to the wall of Paradise, wherein the ultimate principle exists.3 But ‘seeing’ takes us within because our vision of the triune God is God’s vision of himself – one ‘eye’ ‘sees’ itself.4 In Neoplatonism, to ‘see’ is to ‘know’ beyond conceptualisation – to understand the infinite ‘incomprehensibly’. It is the unity of lover/loving/loved, of knower/knowing/known.

This unity is that of intellectual intuition which Cusanus described as ‘perfect knowledge’ and which he defined as the coincidence of

being something one in which are all things and being all things in which there is something one5

The difference between knowledge of the ‘sensible’ world and that (intuitive) of the intellectual is like the difference between knowing that something is and why it is.6 This is clearly not ‘the immediate knowledge of the Absolute’ that Hegel was so critical of in his Phenomenology but is consistent with the ‘mindful’, ‘pure intuition or pure thinking’ that he most valued – an intuition that enables one ‘to apprehend the spiritual bond unifying all the details’ (see 9.4).

Cusanus philosophised on how we can have knowledge of God and attain the ‘pure intellectual life’7 of theosis  – which he defined as ‘knowledge of God and His Word and intuitive vision8 – by becoming his ‘sons’9 in the next life10

if we have accepted the Divine Word Himself, then there arises in our rational spirit the power of sonship. …It is as if the intellect were a divine seed – the intellect whose power in the believer can reach such heights that it attains unto theosis. …that is, unto the ultimate perfection of the intellect – in other words unto the apprehension of truth, not as truth is bedarkened in figurativeness and symbolisms and various degrees of otherness…but rather as truth is intellectually visible in itself. …if faith is present, ascent even unto being a son of God is not forbidden.11

Further, Cusanus explored the relationship between Concept and concept, between Word and word

Every corporeal utterance is a sign of a mental word. The cause of every corruptible mental word is an incorruptible word, viz., a concept. Christ is the incarnated Concept of all concepts, for He is the Word made flesh.12

He philosophised on how we should use words to attain the ‘mind’ of the teacher ‘while in this world’. The following paragraphs from De Filiatione Dei show how he ‘surmised’ we can have knowledge of God by this means

Hence, since the mastery which we seek and in which the happiness of our intellectual life consists is the mastery of true and eternal things: if our intellectual spirit is to become a perfect master, so that within itself it will possess eternally the very delightful intellectual life, then its study must not cling to temporal shadows of the sensible world but must use them, en passant, for intellectual study—as schoolboys use material and perceptible writings. For their study is not of the material shapes of the letters but rather of the rational signification of those letters. Likewise, they use in an intellectual way, not in a sensory way, the vocal words by means of which they are taught, so that by means of these vocal signs they attain unto the mind of their teacher.13

Just as the mental word is the source of the vocal word but is not contracted to it though signified by it, so the ineffable Word is the source of the mental word though not contracted to it yet likewise signified by it. The mental, intellectual word is the reception of the ineffable Word

the One is, in a way that cannot be participated in, the Fount of intelligible beings and is all that which they are. (By comparison, the mental word is the fount of the vocal [word] and is all that which [the vocal word] is; and the mental word is signified by the vocal word without there being any intermixing or dividing of the mental word, since the mind cannot be either participated in, or in any way attained unto, by the vocal word.) But the intellectual [i.e., mental] word is itself the intellectual reception of the ineffable Word. Therefore, every intellectual word remains free from all contraction to the sensible. Now, that which the intellectual is it has intellectually from the Ineffable. If the Ineffable is given a name by the intellect, then this [name-giving] is done in an unrestricted manner, since the intellectual mode, in turn, is not restricted to sensibly contracted things.

 Therefore, the Ineffable can in no way either be named or attained unto. Hence, a non-relational name—whether “being” or “deity” or “goodness” or “truth” or even “power” or any other name whatsoever—does not at all name God, who is unnameable. Rather, a non-relational name speaks of the unnameable God by means of various intellectual modes. In this way the Ineffable is effable, the Incapable of being participated in is capable of being participated in, and the Transcender of every mode is modifiable. Consequently, God is the Beginning, which is above the one and above mode; [yet,] in the one and in its modes He exhibits Himself as [therein] able to be participated in. Therefore, I surmise that the pursuit by which we attempt, while in this world, to ascend unto the attainment of sonship, is perhaps possible with the aid of something else, so that my speculation deals with the one and its modes.14

Just as words of the sensory world can signify those of the ‘mental’, these in turn can carry us to participation in the ineffable. Cusanus is not simply philosophising about a problem experienced by mysticism. No written or spoken word can fully convey our ‘mental’ content. In speaking or writing a word we have to thereby limit or bound our mental content in order to express it. It is an unavoidable constraint of the sensory world which mystics and artists with words give great consideration to.

Our knowledge of God is an inward process of self-knowledge and self-realisation – of a world, of a universe, within

the intellect is actually an intellectual universality of all things… (As such, the intellect) does not behold temporal things temporally, in constant succession, but beholds them in an indivisible present. For the present, or the now, that enfolds all time is not of this sensible world, since it cannot be attained by the senses, but is of the intellectual [world]. Likewise, [the intellect] does not at all behold quantities in their extended, divisible materiality but beholds them in an indivisible point in which there is the intellectual enfolding of all continuous quantity. Moreover, [the intellect] does not [then] behold differences-of-things in a variety of numbers but beholds [these things] intellectually in the simple unit, which enfolds every number.15

The words of Cusanus

Now, knowing occurs by means of a likeness. But since the intellect is a living intellectual likeness of God, then when it knows itself it knows, in its one self, all things. Now, it knows itself when it sees itself in God as it is. And this [seeing] occurs when in the intellect God is the intellect.16

are echoed in those of Hegel

I only know an object in so far as I know myself and my own determination through it, for whatever I am is also an object of my consciousness…I know my object, and I know myself; the two are inseparable.17

God, ‘understandable truth’, exists only in that knowing18

Now, we call that which is the object [of the intellect] truth. Therefore, my God, since You are understandable Truth, the created intellect can be united to You.19



1. It is fundamentally on this point – that Hegel argued that the entire system (‘God’) can be conceptually cognised, that he warrants the description ‘the consummate Neoplatonist’. In making this claim, he brought development within Neoplatonism to an end.
2. ‘in the name “Theos” there is enfolded a certain way-of-seeking whereby God is found, so that He can be groped for. “Theos” is derived from “theoro,” which means “I see” and “I hasten.” Therefore, the seeker ought to hasten by means of sight, so that he can attain unto God, who sees all things. Accordingly, vision bears a likeness to the pathway by means of which a seeker ought to advance. Consequently, in the presence of the eye of intellectual vision we must magnify the nature of sensible vision and construct, from that nature, a ladder of ascent.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De quaerendo Deum (‘On Seeking God’), op. cit., I,19, 315
3. ‘every concept reaches its limit at the wall of Paradise. …You are free from all the things that can be captured by any concept.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 13,52, 704
4. Hegel quoted Eckhart: ’The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and he in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would he.’ In Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 347-348
5. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei (‘On Being a Son of God’), 1445, in A Miscellany of Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 341-358, 3,70, 349
6. ‘Therefore, [in that state] the intellect perceives all things intellectually and beyond every sensible, distracting, and obscuring mode. Indeed, it beholds the entire sensible world not in a sensory manner but in a truer, viz., intellectual, manner. For this perfect knowledge is called intuition because between the knowledge of that world and the knowledge of this sensible [world] there is something like the difference which there is between knowledge received by sight and knowledge received by hearing. Therefore, the more certain and clear is the knowledge produced by sight than is the knowledge (of the same thing) effected by hearing, the much more does intuitive knowledge of the other world excel the knowledge which there is of this [present world]—just as knowing why something is can be called intuitive knowledge, since the knower looks into the reason for the thing, and knowing that something is [can be said to come] from hearing.’, Ibid., 6,89, 358
7. Ibid., 3,71, 350
8. Ibid., 1,52, 341
9. ‘sonship is nothing other than our being conducted from the shadowy traces of mere representations unto union with Infinite Reason…to this [intellectual spirit] God will not be other than it or different or distinct; nor will Divine Reason be other or the Word of God other or the Spirit of God other. For all otherness and all difference are far beneath sonship.’, Ibid., 3,68-69, 348
10. He described this philosophising as ‘a surmise of sorts (although a very remote one) about theosis’ Ibid.
11. Ibid., 1, 52-53, 341-342
12. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,11,247
13. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei (‘On Being a Son of God’), 2,60, 345
14. Ibid., 4,77-78, 352-353
15. Ibid,. 6,87-88, 357
16. Ibid., 6,86, 356
17. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 47
18. ‘God exists only in knowing, in the element of the inner life.’, Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 543
19. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 18,82

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13j

13.6.4 The God of Hegel and Cusanus

God is living, eternal reason. He is everywhere, nowhere

We maintain, and it is evident truth, that the Supreme is everywhere and yet nowhere; keeping this constantly in mind let us see how it bears on our present inquiry.1

Every cause which is separate from its effects exists at once everywhere and nowhere.2

Hence, the world-machine will have its centre everywhere and its circumference nowhere, so to speak; for God, who is everywhere and nowhere, is its circumference and centre.3

and immanent

the Cardinal’s solution to the problem of how we can see the invisible God in this life was based on a version of Neoplatonic dialectical thinking not found in Augustine. …From the perspective of the Cardinal’s dialectical Neoplatonism, God’s transcendent otherness is identical with his absolute immanence.4

Hegel’s God is clearly an immanent this-worldly one, dependent on human recognition5

He is Simplicity

God is not the foundation of contradiction but is Simplicity, which is prior to every foundation.6

By descending from its eternal simplicity, the absolute being (the ‘Father’) attains for the first time its ‘highest being’ – which is not the remote and inaccessible deity of rationalism but a…relational being that comes down into history and makes itself manifest (the ‘Son’).7

Both echoed Plotinus’ portrayal of the One as the greatest activity in the greatest stillness

God…is…not only maximal motion but also minimal motion (i.e., motion which is most at rest).8

The Scholastics rightly regarded this as the definition of God, namely, that God is the actus purus. God is pure activity9

Reason in and for itself is eternal and at rest, but it is likewise activity, and its actions are exclusively rational. It produces itself from within itself10

For Cusanus and Hegel, given their conflation of the hypostases as well as their structuring of their philosophies on Proclus’ triad of triads, God creates because he thinks11 and creation, as the by-product of his contemplation is crucial. God, himself, is Infinite Art

Therefore, the power of the Creative Art (this Art is the absolute and infinite Art, i.e., the Blessed God) works all things by His Spirit, or Will.12

Hegel put this most simply

God does not create the world once and for all, but is the eternal creator, the eternal act of self-revelation. This actus is what God is; this is God’s concept, God’s definition.13



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.8.16
2. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op. cit., Prop. 98
3. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,12,162
4. Bernard McGinn, ‘Seeing and Not Seeing – Nicholas of Cusa’s De visione Dei in the History of Western Mysticism’ in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 26-53, 34, 43; ‘(Cusanus did not believe in a transcendent God he) stands in the Neoplatonist tradition of Christian thought which veers toward an immanentist pantheism. The world, rather than being something separate from God and created by him, is the “emanation” or “explication” or “contraction” of God: the world, in a certain sense, is God, or an aspect of God.’ Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 27
5. Redding, ’Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 14; ‘To achieve the aim of coherence, all transcendence had to be exorcised from the world because Hegel recognised very early on that transcendence was a threat to community’ Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 135; ‘(One of the lessons in the Phenomenology is) the inadequacy of the assumption that the truth of the world is located in some transcendent beyond.’ Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 137
6. Nicholas of Cusa, De Deo abscondito (‘On the Hidden God’), 1444, in A Miscellany of Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1994, 300-305, 10, 303
7. Hodgson in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 20
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), op. cit., 10, 919; ‘The same (Pseudo-) Dionysius affirms of the same Beginning that it is finite and infinite, at rest and in motion—and that it is neither at rest nor in motion.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 11, 796; (with regard to Cusanus’ philosophy) ’in God the most tremendous motion is at the same time perfect rest.’ Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 136
9. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 237
10. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 209. See 6.2
11. As I have discussed previously (see 7ff.), for Plotinus, the One neither creates (it ‘generates’) nor thinks (because thinking requires an object and therefore a division into subject and object.
12. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 13, 147, 581; ‘because the Creator-Intellect makes itself the goal of its own works in order for its glory to be manifested, it creates cognising substances that are capable of beholding its reality [veritas]. …all that remains to be said is contained in an enfolded way.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 4, 793; ‘there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth)’, Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,1,6, 165
13. Hegel in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 210

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13g

13.6.1 Both Hegel and Cusanus sought to reconstruct the grounds of philosophy and theology and the relationship between them

What Hopkins wrote of the bishop and cardinal Cusanus could equally be applied to Hegel

Cusa was primarily a metaphysician – a theologically oriented metaphysician, to be sure.1

– in his Philosophy of Nature (a text by him that is discreetly downplayed by the academics) Hegel rejected evolution, Newton’s theory of colour, subscribed to the four elements and wrote that the sun is ‘the Notion existing as a particular body’2.

Both believed we are estranged from God – a marker of Neoplatonism. Moffitt Watts maintains her blindness in this regard, too

Cusanus, striving to overcome the disjunctions that estrange man from God and creation, comes to see that the new problems of knowledge and faith are better expressed in less formal and systematic ways. Knowledge and faith evolve through the unique movement of each individual’s interior mental and spiritual life.3

Hegel and Cusanus located the divine in human rationality and both were committed to creating what they thought of as a healing bond between Christian faith, theology, philosophy (metaphysics, ontology and epistemology) and community.

For both, as Jaspers wrote of Cusanus, ‘speculative (my italics) philosophical thinking and the Christian faith merge into one’4 and, again what he wrote of Cusanus applies equally to Hegel

It never occurs to Cusanus that his philosophical ideas and his theological ideas might conflict. To him philosophy was not a rational substructure supporting the higher, the mystery. Reflection on the mystery of revelation was itself philosophy.5

Further, the theological is not separated from the physical – knowledge of the world leads to knowledge of God. Hegel illustrated this Neoplatonic precept throughout his Philosophy of Nature

Nature is the bride which Spirit weds.6

Nature is Spirit estranged from itself; in Nature, Spirit lets itself go, a Bacchic god unrestrained and unmindful of itself7

God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity, in which otherness has only a transient being8

The two forms under which the serial progression of nature is conceived are evolution and emanation. …though (evolution) is of all theories the easiest to understand, it does not really explain anything at all.9

Each of these forms (emanation and evolution) taken separately is one-sided, but they exist together; the eternal divine process is a flowing in two opposite directions which meet and permeate each other in what is simply and solely one.10

The concluding sentence of the book is

The aim of these lectures has been…to see in Nature a free reflex of spirit; to know God, not in the contemplation of him as spirit, but in this his immediate existence.11

For both, ‘science’ is indistinguishable from the cognition of self and self-knowledge is the core of our religious experience. Both committed themselves to Neoplatonism in reaction, in turn, against scholasticism12 and Enlightenment rationalism – Cusanus, in doing so, overleapt the Enlightenment13.

Both sought, on the basis of Neoplatonism, to develop a new method for doing philosophy and theology. To illustrate the extent of sameness in their identification of the ‘problems’ and their solution, I quote Moffitt Watts

Cusanus is led increasingly to believe that the central problems of theology and philosophy revolve around the dimensions of human nature and its individual and communal capacities and potentialities.14

Cusanus himself indicates in both the De docta ignorantia and the De coniecturis that he is in fact attempting to establish a new framework for philosophising and theologising…His basic critique is levelled against what he considers to be the vanity and the hollowness of the scholastic mode of logical discourse…Cusanus was prepared to take on the scholastics on philosophical grounds and to establish new grounds and forms for speculation.15

As Cusanus attempted ‘to establish a new framework for philosophising and theologising’ in the Proclean triad God/universe/Christ of his De docta ignorantia (to which I will soon return) and in his De coniecturis, Hegel aimed to do the same in his Phenomenology of Spirit and in the Proclean triad of his Encyclopaedia Logic, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit (see 11.3.7).

Where Cusanus’ ‘basic critique is levelled against what he considers to be the vanity and the hollowness of the scholastic mode of logical discourse’, Hegel’s basic critique was levelled against what he considered to be the vanity of the priests and the hollowness of Enlightenment Deism and ‘subjective feeling’.

That Cusanus opposed scholasticism on the basis of the attainability of its goals – ‘the rational analysis and understanding of the essences of created things and of God’16 where Hegel opposed Enlightenment rationalism which held that God cannot be cognised appears to be a major difference between the two, but it is not – the solution to this apparent dilemma lies in Neoplatonic theory, to which point I will also soon return.

Hodgson wrote that where Lessing and others had critiqued the authority of scripture as the basis for Christianity and Hume had undercut Enlightenment rationalism as a basis for Christianity, either a new philosophical theology had to be developed for the continued justification of Christianity or religion would have to be considered as a purely human expression. He added that Hegel set out to develop a speculative theology for Christianity. I disagree with the last sentence – in my view Hegel set out to develop a speculative theology (Neoplatonism) – using Christianity for its potential – both as metaphor and, in so doing, to further anchor Neoplatonism in the lived world.

 Just as Magee wrote that Hegel’s system

is an attempt to ‘re-enchant’ the world, to re-invest nature with the experience of the numinous lost with the death of the mythical consciousness17

so Nietzsche’s Übermensch and Weber’s Berufsmensch were equally Neoplatonically inspired ‘heroic’ individuals of their time, shapers of their spiritual selves in the face of the dissolution of spiritual unity by the rising tide of late nineteenth century capitalist consumerism. Two readings of the individual as God that all-conquering capitalism has thoroughly made one – ‘You are thoughtful, creative and beautiful – buy this!’



1. Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: volume two, op. cit., 3
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 223
3. Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op. cit., 229
4. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 145
5. Ibid., 148-149
6. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 13
7. Ibid., 14
8. Ibid., 15
9. Ibid., 21
10. Ibid., 26
11. Ibid., 445
12. Hegel and Cusanus criticised scholasticism from the same perspective: Buhle wrote of Cusanus ‘he attacked in particular the craze of the scholastics for debating any subject even if it utterly transcended the bounds of human reason.’ Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, vol. 2, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, 80-81; Brown wrote in Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy “Hegel contrasts the increase in dialectical hairsplitting on the part of the Scholastics by the use of Aristotelian logic, with ‘the properly speculative element in Aristotle’ that the Scholastics had forgotten.” In Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, Note 162, 232
13.Cusanus was not a precursor of the Enlightenment. He was interested…in speculative thinking’, Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 248; ‘Shallow rationalism loses sight of the intellect by raising discursive reason to the level of an absolute and by exalting sensory experience. It believes in progress, rejects speculative philosophy along with theology…Cusanus was the very opposite of all this.’ Ibid., 249
14. Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op. cit., 30
15. Ibid., 225
16. Ibid., 43
17. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 97

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The battle for art – part five: the bourgeois art gallery, capital’s House of the Lord

UM, Weisman Art Museum | Minneapolis, MN | Frank Gehry with MS&R

Symbols for the two great approaches to God the Self:

  • floors of lacquered woodgrain – the pathway of contemplative (Romantic) spiritual activity
  • walls of pure white – the surrounds of contemplative spiritual stillness

Lighting from the ceiling accentuates and unites floor, walls and artworks to form a spiritual whole – for Plotinus, the greatest contemplative activity in the greatest contemplative stillness.1


1. Think this a bit far-fetched? In the Roman banquet room the ceiling and floor were also significant – the ceiling symbolised the universe and the floor symbolised the earth.

And remember, art galleries and the layout of everything in them (including the cafeteria) are designed by people educated in both the theory and practice of art.


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11f

11.3.11 The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Logic unite in the Enneads

Epitomising the centrality of ‘seeing’ to mysticism, Hegel believed that philosophy unites in a ‘simple spiritual vision’ raised to ‘self-conscious thought’ the visual immediacy and poetry of art with the ‘mental’ pictures of religion. As Lauer noted, what in Hegel’s view is of supreme interest and importance to the human spirit is expressed in art, religion and philosophy together, not in philosophy alone –

we are speaking of interrelation wherein none is all that it is without the others1

This coming together in a ‘simple spiritual vision’ embodying the three manifestations of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit – the artistically sensuous, the religiously pictorial and the union of them in the philosophically conceptual2 – was given expression by Plotinus in his resonant metaphor of a sculptor (quoted at 6.4) perfecting his soul by shaping it to become vision of the Good.3

The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Logic function as the two elements of a unit, detailing the process of this Neoplatonic shaping of consciousness, of ‘reason,’ of self.4 As I have previously argued, Hegel pulled apart the philosophical strands in the Enneads for detailed treatment in different texts – where the Phenomenology is a study of consciousness, the Logic is a metaphysics and an ontology – a study of Being and its product, being.

But the metaphor of ‘shaping’ sustains both – from the development of the ‘shapes’ of consciousness  in the former to that of the ‘shapes’ of the categories in the latter, culminating in that of Absolute Idea, ‘defined’ by the entirety of the argument in the Logic.5

The Neoplatonic process of return to unity is begun in the Phenomenology with the rise from sense-certainty, and the development within the stage covered by the Phenomenology concludes with ‘absolute knowing’. This movement is the equivalent of Soul’s return to the level of the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle – a higher level of being than that of the third hypostasis, Soul (All-Soul, Universal Soul, Soul of the All).6

The Logic then takes over, detailing the development within what was for Plotinus Intellectual-Principle, the realm of unity-in-multiplicity, which development concludes with the attainment of Absolute Idea – the unity of subjectivity and objectivity.7

Negation drives the process, giving us in turn the development both in the processes of consciousness in the Phenomenology and in the processes of the ‘mind’ of God in the Logic. ‘Crises’ in the former become ‘inadequacies’ in the latter. Where ‘events’ unfold dialectically in the attempt to make the content determinate in the Phenomenology (determinations of consciousness), concepts unfold likewise dialectically in the Logic (determinations of logic).8 ‘Shapes’ gain more precise definition.

As the Phenomenology gives us the ‘lived content’ of ‘reality’ through a series of metaphors, the Logic gives us the ‘formal structure’ of that ‘reality’. First, reason as consciousness in the Phenomenology rises to an initial unity of subject and object – ‘absolute knowing’ – now as ‘pure reason’ in the Logic it engages with a multiplicity in that unity, with all that is. Soul having attained ‘absolute knowing’ becomes the activity of ‘pure knowing’ in the pursuit of unity.

Based on recollection, the enmeshed philosophical strands in the guided ascent to the philosopher’s God that is the Enneads was reproduced, expanded on and very substantially developed by Hegel in two parts – the Phenomenology followed by the Logic.9 Self-knowing, incomplete in the former becomes perfect in the latter. For Plotinus and Hegel, just as Soul is the principle of Life, Divine Mind is the principle of Idea.10



1. Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet’ op. cit., 12
2. ‘This science is the unity of Art and Religion. Whereas the vision-method of Art, external in point of form, is but subjective production and shivers the substantial content into many separate shapes, and whereas Religion, with its separation into parts, opens it out in mental picture, and mediates what is thus opened out; Philosophy not merely keeps them together to make a totality, but even unifies them into the simple spiritual vision, and then in that raises them to self-conscious thought. Such consciousness is thus the intelligible unity (cognised by thought) of art and religion, in which the diverse elements in the content are cognised as necessary, and this necessary as free.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 302
3. Cusanus wrote ‘suppose that a slab of wax were conceived of as being in-formed with a mind. In that case, the mind existing within the wax would configure the wax to every shape presented to that mind—even as the mind of an artisan endeavours to do now, when mind is applied from outside the object.’ Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 557, 101
4. ‘we must strike for those Firsts, rising from things of sense which are the lasts. …we must ascend to the Principle within ourselves; from many, we must become one…We shape ourselves into Intellectual-Principle; we make over our soul in trust to Intellectual-Principle and set it firmly in That; thus what That sees the soul will waken to see: it is through the Intellectual-Principle that we have this vision of The Unity’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.3
5. Hegel employed the Neoplatonic metaphor of ‘shape’ in both his Phenomenology and Logic, in which he applied it to his overarching category ‘Absolute Idea’: ‘the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth. It is the sole subject matter and content of philosophy. Since it contains all determinateness within it, and its essential nature is to return to itself through its self-determination or particularisation, it has various shapes, and the business of philosophy is to cognise it in these. (my italics) Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824
6. ‘First, consciousness has to enter into itself, it has to become concrete, become what it is in itself; hence it starts from immediacy, and through the sublation of this immediacy it elevates itself to thinking. This means that its true nature is to abandon its immediacy, to treat it as a state in which it ought not to be’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 201-202
7. ‘For the soul when looking at things posterior to herself, beholds the shadows and images of beings, but when she converts herself to herself she evolves her own essence, and the reasons which she contains. And at first indeed, she only as it were beholds herself; but when she penetrates more profoundly into the knowledge of herself, she finds in herself both intellect, and the orders of beings. When however, she proceeds into her interior recesses, and into the adytum as it were of the soul, she perceives with her eye closed, the genus of the Gods, and the unities of beings. For all things are in us psychically, and through this we are naturally capable of knowing all things, by exciting the powers and the images of wholes which we contain.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. I, Ch. III; ‘For whereas reason descends unto the senses, the senses return unto reason. And in this regard notice the stages-of-return: the senses return unto reason; reason returns unto intelligence; intelligence returns unto God, where Beginning and Consummation exist in perfect reciprocity,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 36, 180
8. ’Just the same dialectic that we have first seen operative among shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology and among categories or thought-determinations in the Logic can be observed,’ Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit.; ‘The soul…a traveller, re-ascends through the power of dialectic’ Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., li; ’dialectic analysis…orders the soul and prepares it for the influx of intellective light from above. In this way, the structures of being that dialectic has traced discursively may come alive within us and be transformed into one complex vision of intelligible reality.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 160-161
9. To think that the Logic, with Hegel’s claim of its rigorous conceptual reason is where he does ‘proper’ philosophy is erroneous and is the ideological, academic position. ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit was conceived as an introduction or propaedeutic to the tripartite system of Logic-Nature-Spirit.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 244-245; ‘absolute knowing is the standpoint to which Hegel has hoped to bring the reader in this complex work. This is the standpoint of science, the standpoint from which philosophy proper (my italics) commences, and it commences in Hegel’s next book, the Science of Logic.’ Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit. To recognise that the Phenomenology and the Logic form a developmental whole is the philosophical position – but to hold that would first require acknowledging Hegel’s Neoplatonism.
10. ‘As in Soul (principle of Life) so in Divine Mind (principle of Idea) there is this infinitude of recurring generative powers; the Beings there are unfailing.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.7.3

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Two mystics advocate flight from the world

The Keyhole in the Carina Nebula

The Keyhole in the Carina Nebula

‘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, 549


‘periods must occur in which the spirit of nobler natures is forced to flee from the present into ideal regions, and to find in them that reconciliation with itself which it can no longer enjoy in an internally divided reality…Thought is then impelled to become thinking reason’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, Trans., H.B.Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, 143


‘Philosophy, then, is the reconciliation of the decay that thought has initiated, a reconciliation taking place in an ideal world, one into which thought takes flight when the earthly world no longer satisfies it.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy, Together With the Introductions from the Other Series of These Lectures, Trans., Robert F.Brown and J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, 68

Close-up of the Bubble Nebula

Close-up of the Bubble Nebula

‘(When a people’s) best times are past and decay sets in…satisfaction resides then in the ideal realm. Spirit flees from the present and seeks a locus that is not present-day existence but instead a world apart from it, and that is the locus of thought. These are the times when we see philosophy come on the scene for a people.’

Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy, Together With the Introductions from the Other Series of These Lectures, Trans., Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, 272-3


‘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, 161-162


Images: top/bottom

Chomolungma: a challenge to humanity

Wikipedia definition of Chomolungma: ‘Tibetan natives called it Chomolungma, meaning "Goddess Mother of Mountains," but the British named it after Sir George Everest, the crack surveyor who charted much of India.’

Wikipedia definition of Chomolungma: ‘Tibetan natives called it Chomolungma, meaning “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” but the British named it after Sir George Everest, the crack surveyor who charted much of India.’

If you would be interested to watch a study of Western supremacism and of how vast the gulf is between the focused, manipulative self-centredness of late capitalism and what has been cut away from the human spirit to acquire this – its deep connectedness to others and to the world – I highly recommend the documentary ‘Sherpa.’



Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11e

11.3.10 Hegel infused the Trinity with Neoplatonic symbolism

As Hegel’s distortions through conflation in his discussions of the philosophies of Plotinus and Proclus in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy are reflected in his own conflated Neoplatonism (addressed in Chapter 7), so the Christian Trinity and his distortions of it provided him with a wealth of symbolism which he used to illustrate and enrich every aspect of his philosophy’s Neoplatonic process. God as a symbol for unity and difference

Most broadly, as Hodgson wrote

‘Father’ is not a divine person but a symbol designating the immanent Trinity, while ‘Son’ is a symbol designating the economic or worldly Trinity, and ‘Spirit’ is a symbol designating the inclusive or holistic Trinity.1

For Hegel, God symbolises the unitary source not only of emanation but of difference,2 Christ whose coming into the world entails the first negation symbolises the merger of the infinite Word with the plurality of the created, finite world and the Holy Spirit, actualised in the negation of that negation through the ‘death of God,’ the reunification of these first two terms. Hegel’s definition of ‘God’ is redolent with Neoplatonism

‘It (God) is also not an inert, abstract universal, however, but rather the absolute womb or the infinite fountainhead out of which everything emerges, into which everything returns, and in which it is eternally maintained. This basic determination is therefore the definition of God as substance.3 Christ as a symbol for unity in difference

the Son is other than the Father, and this otherness is difference – otherwise it would not be spirit. But the other is [also] God and has the entire fullness of the divine nature within itself.4

God, Christ and Holy Spirit all symbolise the unity-in-difference (unity-in-multiplicity) of Neoplatonic dialectics throughout the entire process, from emanation to return. Christ as a symbol for emanation

The kingdom of God – or spirit – is to move from the universal to determinacy, to pass over into actuality. This movement, the process of determining, takes place in the life of Jesus.5 Christ as a symbol for mystery

Christ was the ‘God-man’6 man mysteriously become one with God. Hegel blended Christian mystery with Neoplatonism for greater poetic effect. Christ as a symbol for the unity of divine and human

Christ’s coming to the world signified that the divine and the human are not intrinsically different – he represents the highest stage of the spiritual being of humanity. The kingdom of God is made actual through Christ. Likewise Soul in the Enneads is the intermediary between the ‘worlds’ of intellect and sense and the representative of the former in the latter. As our souls return to the One through the thinking of the second hypostasis and for Proclus, as our souls are infused with the gods, so in Christianity our souls return to unity with God through the ‘death of God’ and in the coming of a perspectival cultus of Spirit. Christ as a symbol for the unity of infinite and finite

Christ embodied the crucial Neoplatonic relationship between infinitude and the determinacy of finitude. Hegel used Christ to bring the relation between infinite and finite from theoretical abstraction into the lived world. The death of Christ reconciled the two (the finite individual with the infinite Absolute). Christ as a symbol for the unity of eternal and in time

(With Christ) The Neoplatonic timeless Trinity…at once remains timeless and yet actually enters into history.7 Christ as a symbol for the journey of the soul

The trials and tribulations of Christ are echoed in the trials and tribulations of the soul, exemplified in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

even the whole sharpness and dissonance of the suffering, torture, and agony involved in such an opposition, belong to the nature of spirit itself8 Christ as a symbol for the process of spirit and self-cognition

what this life of Christ brings to representation for us…[is] this process of the nature of spirit – God in human shape.9

With the ‘death of God’ spirit in humanity is reconciled with itself, thereby attaining true consciousness of itself. The goal of Neoplatonism is achieved. Christ as a symbol for contradiction

God’s suffering and death are the expression of his love. In dying (the death of death) he is resurrected into eternal life (the life of Spirit in the cultus, through God’s return to and eternal reconciliation with himself). Christ as a symbol for the process of negation

The death of Christ is the affirmative negation of the initial negation, his incarnation. Christ as a symbol for recollection

Because he physically dies, Christ can only live in the memories of the faithful. Plotinus wrote

At any time when we have not been in direct vision of (the Supreme), memory is the source of its activity within us10

Recollection, like a mirror, embodies higher ‘truth’ and since, for the Neoplatonist, it is closely related to love and desire, its activity (thinking or imaging) is the beginning of the soul’s ascent. Love for Christ in memory leads to desire for the return of one’s soul to union with God.

Relevant to Christ’s death and ascension, Plotinus perceptively wrote

Memory, of  course, must be understood not merely of what might be called the sense of remembrance, but so as to include a condition induced by the past experience or vision. There is such a thing as possessing more powerfully without consciousness than in full knowledge; with full awareness the possession is of something quite distinct from the self; unconscious possession runs very close to identity11

Such a recollection of Christ all the more powerfully illustrates the process of Neoplatonic return. Christ as a symbol for the means of return and unification

Hegel wrote that a single historical individual should enable the activity of reconciliation through his death and ascension, thereby actualising a universal self-consciousness of community, a unity of members in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit as a symbol for the return to unity in knowledge

Reconciliation occurs in the Holy Spirit – the third ‘moment’ of the Trinity, the unity of ‘Father’ and ‘Son.’ God, ‘completed,’ is now in his community.

Inspired by their mysticism, the Neoplatonists have always had a strong interest in the world. Chlup wrote of Proclus’ philosophy that while the Soul can never enter the realm of the One, it can open up to the gods and be filled with their power – the gods can come to it.12 This was Hegel’s intention in his use and distortions of the Christian myth and Trinity.

At every point in his use of the Christian myth and Trinity (comprised of the allegorical characters of ‘Father,’ ‘Son’ and the reunion of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ – Holy Spirit) and in his distortions of them, Hegel used them to more deeply anchor Neoplatonism in the world – God, needing completion, comes to the world, he finds and therefore we find (because we are God) completion through his participation in it, in us – ‘salvation’ lies in a philosophical community.

Hegel also used the Christian myth and Trinity and his distortions of them to poetically flavour and enrich his Neoplatonic philosophy – myth and Trinity are always present in his conceptual development, however abstract – myth, Trinity and Neoplatonic process flow out and return interlaced, but always the last sustains the other two. The rose and the owl face each other

In the Preface to his Philosophy of Right Hegel wrote of ‘the rose of reason,’13 a mystical metaphor he acknowledged he had used of the Rosicrucians to unintentionally point beyond ‘reason’ itself – the concept he had laid claim to – and which metaphor he used again in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion14 and of the flight of the owl of Minerva at dusk, as it philosophically reviews the course of human events.15



1. Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 247
2. ‘The Christian God is…the triune God who contains difference within himself’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 44-45
3. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 374. Cf. ‘The Good…is the Fountain at once and Principle of Beauty: the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty’s seat is There.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.6.9
4. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 311-312
5. Ibid., 123
6. Ibid., Hodgson in note 229, 149
7. Emil L. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, Indiana University Press, London, 1971, 172
8. G.W.F.Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, Volume I, Trans. T.M.Knox, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2010, 537
9. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 132
10. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.5
11. Ibid., IV.4.4
12. ‘Plotinus already saw the highest aim in one’s unification with the One, in which the distinction between subject and object melts down entirely. Late Neoplatonists followed suit, though they differed from Plotinus in their understanding of what this unification means and how exactly it is to be reached. Once again (as with the henads), we are approaching an area of Neoplatonism where philosophy passes into the realm of religion. …For Proclus, to unify with the One does not mean to leave one’s ontological station and ascend from the level of soul to that of the First Principle. (The late Neoplatonists believed that) the boundaries between levels of reality are penetrable in one direction only (- from higher to lower. So) while human Soul can never really enter the realm of the One, it can open up to the gods and act in unison with them, becoming their extension, as it were, and being filled with their power.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 163
13. ‘To comprehend what is, this is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason. …To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to enjoy the present, this is the rational insight which reconciles us to the actual, the reconciliation which philosophy affords to those in whom there has once arisen an inner voice bidding them to comprehend,’ G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Trans. T.M.Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, 11-12
14. ‘In the 1824 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, the same metaphor occurs: “in order to pluck reason, the rose in the cross of the present, one must take up the cross itself.” Most commentators agree that Hegel is making a reference to the imagery of the Rosicrucians, whose symbol was a rose blooming from the centre of a cross. Hegel himself makes it clear that he was referring to the Rosicrucians, in a review essay published in 1829. …In the Preface, prior to the “rose in the cross” image, Hegel refers to the reason inherent in nature as der Stein der Weisen, or, as it is usually translated into English, “the philosopher’s stone.” These are equivalent metaphors in the Preface: both the rose in the cross and the philosopher’s stone represent, for Hegel, reason, which he is calling upon his readers to discern in the present day. Given that the Rosicrucians were widely known as alchemists, Hegel could not have been ignorant of the connection between these two metaphors’ Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 263
15. ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, op. cit., 13. Verene wrote that this has practically become the emblem and seal of Hegel’s thought. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 26

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

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.



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 9c

9.5 God is cognised in a perspectival community

A perspectival cultus is Neoplatonism’s end point. In it, the divine as eternal, infinite all-knowing lives amongst (with a Christian patina, is reconciled with) the multitude of a community, finite in their lives and knowledge.

The recognitive intersubjectivity in this cultus has, as previously discussed, its basis in the relation between subject and its object in consciousness.

The object is the subject’s means of self-completion. By uniting with it after a dialectical process in consciousness, the subject attains self-knowing. Knowing becomes perspectival in society where all, with different points of view, are subjects/objects in relation to others.

In his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel sets out the development, from a phenomenological ‘we’ watching the drama of consciousness unfold to thinking of ourselves as belonging to the recognitive structure of a community which is ultimately, on the basis of recollection, historical.

In recognising and knowing myself in others, and they in me and others again, we all attain self-completion (self-knowing) as a unity of finite perspectives that is a plurality neither holistic nor atomistic, but one in which our differences are reconciled.1

God’s process is our process, in our individual consciousness and in the cultus – this is so because God is within all. Both God and we find fulfilment in the perspectival community

God…beholds in this Other himself, recognises his likeness therein and in it (my italics) returns to unity with himself…it is the Holy Spirit which proceeds from the Father and the Son, reaching its perfect actuality and truth in the community of Christians; and it is as this that God must be known if he is to be grasped in his absolute truth2

Plotinus’ primary aim was the same as Hegel’s – to move his readers to seek liberation from their ‘petty egos’ by returning to the unity-in-diversity of the divine All.

The spiritual universe Intellectual-Principle contains all ‘minds’ – forms or intellects which are ‘shadows’ of the universal or divine Mind and which mirror the whole of Intellect’s unity-in-multiplicity, but from their own individual perspective.3

Plotinus used the metaphor of viewing a painting to illustrate his perspectivism (Cusanus was to use the same idea for the same purpose in De visione Dei and De coniecturis)

Consider, even, the case of pictures: those seeing by the bodily sense the products of the art of painting do not see the one thing in the one only way4

He described the activity of a multiplicity in unity which, with a Christian overlay, became Hegel’s cultus – what is, in effect, a cultus of self

Self-intellection – which is the truest – implies the entire perception of a total self formed from a variety converging into an integral; every single unity in this variety is self-subsistent and has no need to look outside itself…Consciousness, as the very word indicates, is a conperception, an act exercised upon a manifold5

For Proclus, while the unparticipated knows all unconditionally, subsequent intelligences are perspectival

intellection embraces all things perpetually, and in all intelligences, but in each it delimits all its objects by a particular character. So that in the act of cognition and in the content known there must be some one dominant aspect, under which all things are simultaneously known and by which all are characterised for the knower.6

Cusanus maintained this position, adapted to Christianity – while God is infinite and omnivoyant (not bound to space and time), we are finite and restricted to perspectives. All viewing an icon of God will have the impression that they alone are being looked at by it, even though they view it from different positions.7 While all of our sights differ, their source Absolute Sight is perfect Sight.8

Of looking at a face he wrote

you contemplate the face not as it is [in itself] but in its otherness, according to your eye’s angle, which differs from [that of] all the eyes of other living beings. Therefore, a surmise (conjecture, speculation) is a positive assertion that partakes – with a degree of otherness – of truth as it is [in itself].9

Another device he used was to compare intellect in relation to truth to an increase in the angles of a polygon in relation to a circle – even if the former was comprised of an infinity of angles it could never equate with the latter.10

Cusanus described the perspectival Christian cultus in which all ‘minds’ partake of Divine Mind differently

For ‘church’ bespeaks a oneness of many [members] – each of whom has his personal truth preserved without confusion of natures or of degrees; but the more one the church is, the greater it is; hence, this church – [viz.] the church of the eternally triumphant – is maximal, since no greater union of the church is possible.11

Casarella wrote that the notion of perspective distinguishes Cusanus’ mysticism from that of Eckhart and from pantheism, and that he developed the concept ontologically in De visione Dei and epistemologically in De coniecturis

our knowing occurs always from a certain viewpoint, one that could be replaced by another one, and hence…it is intrinsically perspectival. The human mind never fully grasps reality…It remains a coniectura.12

9.6 Hegel’s perspectival community – the kingdom of God

As ‘minds’ in Intellectual-Principle are ‘aspects’ of the hypostasis’ unity-in-multiplicity, Hegel thought that every individual is an aspect of the Idea and that

It is only in (individuals) altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised. The individual by itself does not correspond to its notion.13

Put another way,

the relationship of men to (the world spirit) is that of single parts to the whole which is their substance.14

Hegel’s goal was the overcoming of dissonance and fragmentation through a communal and perspectival ‘unity of consciousness’ among people. This community, built on the negation (the return to unity of Father and Son with the crucifixion of Christ) of negation (God’s diremption in sending Christ into the world) was to embody a transfigured subjectivity of Spirit.

Founded on reconciliation and the consciousness of the unity of divine and human, of infinite and finite, this church was to generate the principles of political and civil life out of itself. Both God and mankind needed this cultus for self-completion

God achieves self-knowledge or self-consciousness in the community, i.e. in man’s knowledge of him. Thus God is not complete and fully formed independently of the world and of mankind15

Hodgson summarised this, writing of ‘the universal divine human being, the community.’16 Hegel’s kingdom of God was, with the overlay of Christian mythology removed, Plotinus’ ‘kingdom’ of Intellectual-Principle.

9.7 The cultus is the site of freedom

The freedom of reason, synonymous with self-knowledge, is central to Hegel’s philosophy – as it is to the other Neoplatonists. For Hegel, existence as free and rational beings depends on mutual recognition of each other as free and rational. In the cultus

This freedom of one in the other unites men in an inward manner (my italics), whereas needs and necessity bring them together only externally. Therefore, men must will to find themselves again in one another.17

Plotinus wrote that freedom is the activity of Intellectual-Principle’s unity-in-multiplicity where ‘minds’ are both independent and united ‘in an inward manner,’ and that the proposals emanating thence are the expression of freedom. He wrote that the contemplating intellect

is utterly independent; it turns wholly upon itself; its very action is itself; at rest in its good it is without need, complete, and may be said to live by its will; there the will is intellection…Will strives towards the good which the act of Intellectual-Principle realises.18

9.8 Flight of the alone to the Alone – a priesthood of philosophers

Plotinus’ search for the divine within himself and his doctrine of salvation from the world which he more than once referred to as a ‘flight’ seems to have been a result of disenchantment with aspects of the world. The Enneads concludes

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.19

The Sage, having gone through a complex process of reasoning, is inward-oriented. Armstrong referred to this as the ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’.20

Of Proclus and the ‘late’ Neoplatonists, Chlup stated that they

(assumed) the role of priests and theologians besides that of philosophers. …they saw the endangered Hellenic cultural tradition as something to be treasured and admired21

Hegel, too, repeatedly wrote of thought taking flight into an ideal world22 and Hodgson well expressed Hegel’s motivating disenchantment

Our age is like that of the Roman Empire in its abandonment of the question of truth, its smug conviction that no cognitive knowledge of God can be had, its reduction of everything to merely historical questions, its privatism, subjectivism, and moralism, and the failure of its teachers and clergy to lead the people. It is indeed an apocalyptic time23

Hegel set out his ‘solution’ – a perspectival community of philosopher priests, isolated from the world

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. …

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.24

The Neoplatonists emphasised the social nature of thought and creativity25 and all had the same concern for resolving the conflicts of their time in a religious community on the basis of Neoplatonism or, in the case of Cusanus and Hegel, Neoplatonism garbed in the Christian fable.



1. Redding wrote of ‘a “circular” intersubjective structure within which two self-consciousnesses recognise both their identity or like-mindedness, their “we-ness,” and their difference and opposition, their “I-ness.”…It is recognition of self in an objective yet intentional other which is the key to the reconciliation of opposites’ Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 114, 127
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 12
3. John Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xcv
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., II.9.16
5. Ibid., V.3.13. The root of ‘conscious’ is the Latin ‘conscius’ – knowing with others or in oneself.
6. Prop. 170 (‘Every intelligence has simultaneous intellection of all things: but while the unparticipated Intelligence knows all unconditionally, each subsequent intelligence knows all in one especial aspect.’) in Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 149
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), 1453, in Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialectical Mysticism, Text, Translation and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei, Trans, Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1988, 679-736, Preface, 3,4, 680-682
8. Ibid., I, 8, 683
9. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 57, 190
10. ‘the intellect is to truth as [an inscribed] polygon is to [the inscribing] circle. The more angles the inscribed polygon has the more similar it is to the circle. However, even if the number of its angles is increased ad infinitum, the polygon never becomes equal [to the circle] unless it is resolved into an identity with the circle. Hence, regarding truth, it is evident that we do not know anything other than the following: viz., that we know truth not,’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I, 10, 8
11. Ibid., III, 261, 149
12. Peter J. Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, 83
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275
14. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 52
15. Michael Inwood in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, Trans., Bernard Bosanquet, Ed., Introduction and Commentary, Michael Inwood, Penguin, England, 2004, 190
16. Peter C. Hodgson in G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 136
17. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 171
18. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.8.6
19. Ibid., VI.9.11
20. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, William Heinemann, London, 1966-1988, Vol. VII, 345. Armstrong added in the note ‘These last words, in the common translation “flight of the alone to the Alone”, are the only words of Plotinus at all generally known and remembered.’ A damning indictment of Western philosophers.
21. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 186
22. ‘Philosophy, then, is the reconciliation of the decay that thought has initiated, a reconciliation taking place in an ideal world, one into which thought takes flight when the earthly world no longer satisfies it.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 68; ‘(When a people’s) best times are past and decay sets in…satisfaction resides then in the ideal realm. Spirit flees from the present and seeks a locus that is not present-day existence but instead a world apart from it, and that is the locus of thought. These are the times when we see philosophy come on the scene for a people.’ Ibid., 272-73. Just as Hegel tied Neoplatonism, which he believed to have been the consummation of Greek philosophy and the greatest flowering of philosophy to the decline of the Roman Empire, so he considered, consistently, his own Neoplatonic philosophy in relation to the entirety of philosophy and his time; ‘in the development of the state itself, periods must occur in which the spirit of nobler natures is forced to flee from the present into ideal regions, and to find in them that reconciliation with itself which it can no longer enjoy in an internally divided reality’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
23. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Editorial Introduction, 23
24. Ibid., 161-162
25. ‘Cusanus consistently emphasises that man’s creativity is not exercised simply on his own individual behalf and that his thoughts are not conceived in solitude, but rather that both the active and contemplative life are conducted in relationship to the needs and contributions of other men.’ Pauline Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1982, 231

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