Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 5

Hegel’s Neoplatonic world of God the self

Hegel wrote that ‘an individual man is God, and God an individual man.’1 More precisely, the kingdom of God lies within and a process which is both a withdrawal inwards and an ‘ascent’ to it is required to gain knowledge of it. Plotinus’ system provided Hegel with his model for a conjunction of the mystical and the metaphysical, the religious and the philosophical.2 It is a model for ‘strong individuals who reach god by their own internal effort.’3

That world within is created by thinking

thinking that strikes home within itself, going within itself, spreading out from there and creating its world from within.4

Plotinus described it as God giving birth to a universe within himself

The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour5

The universal of this world of consciousness6 develops from the power of a singularity – the Neoplatonists used metaphors of seed and tree to describe it. Plotinus compared it with a tree

The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.7

Cusanus compared it with a seed and a tree

For when we take note of a very small grain of mustard and behold its power and might with the eye of our intellect, we find a vestige [of God], so that we are aroused unto marvelling at our God. For although the grain is so small in physical size, nevertheless its power is endless. In this piece of grain there is present (1) a large tree with leaves and branches and (2) many other grains in which, likewise, this same power is present beyond all numbering.8

as did Hegel, never missing an opportunity for metaphor, as well as drawing on the One – the wholly simple that contains not-yet existent multiplicity

The entire tree is contained within the seed. Nothing comes forth from the seed that is not in it, and this seed is simple, is a point. …It is essential to know that there is something wholly simple that contains multiplicity within itself, but in such a way that the multiplicity does not yet exist.

A more important example is the ‘I’. When I say ‘I’, this ‘I’ is something wholly simple; it is the wholly abstract universal, common to everyone. Yet it is the manifold wealth of the individual’s representations, impulses, desires, and the like. Each ‘I’ is a whole world, and this whole world is contained within this simple point, within the ‘I’, which has in itself the energy of all that comes forth from it.9

The activity, the thinking within this immaterial ‘mind’10 is utterly self-referential – it is the exploration by self of itself.

Thinking is movement within self, but pure reference to self, pure identity with self. …Thinking is…at the same time also mediation with itself11

In exploring itself, the ‘I’ creates and knows or assimilates its objects. Self-knowledge is knowledge of the whole

I know everything as mine, as ‘I’, that I grasp every object as a member in the system of what I myself am, in short, that I have in one and the same consciousness myself and the world, that in the world I find myself again, and, conversely, in my consciousness have what is, what possesses objectivity. This unity of the ‘I’ and the object…constitutes the principle of mind12

For Hegel and his fellow Neoplatonists, the completion of the process of emanation and return to the most profound unity entails the fullest consciousness and activity.13 Given his stated aim to cognise the only object of philosophy – God, Hegel’s acknowledgement of what previous Neoplatonists achieved in this regard could not be more significant

the dialectic is none other than the activity or vitality of what thinks itself within itself. The Neoplatonists look upon this connection as exclusively metaphysical, and through it they have come to cognitive knowledge of theology, the unfolding of the mysteries of the divine essence.14



1. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 534
2. Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., li
3. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 261
4. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 230
5. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.8.12
6. ‘each of us is an Intellectual Cosmos,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit,. 169; ‘(human nature) enfolds intellectual and sensible nature and encloses all things within itself, so that the ancients were right in calling it a microcosm, or a small world.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), 1440, in Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance, A Translation and an Appraisal of De Docta Ignorantia, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1990, 3-151, III,3,198; ‘Outside there is the natural world; inwardly there is our world, where we are,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. I, op. cit., 258; ‘the world…of consciousness,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 8
7. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.8.15
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De quaerendo Deum (‘On Seeking God’), 1445, in A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 314-330, III, 44
9. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, vol. I, op. cit., 50; ‘(Spirit) seeks to…fulfil and realise its own true nature…just as the seed bears within it the whole nature of the tree and the taste and form of its fruits, so also do the the first glimmerings of spirit contain virtually the whole of history,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 53. Another Neoplatonist, Bergson, whose philosophy influenced some of the most creative artists and writers of the first half of the twentieth century wrote in Creative Evolution ‘…life is tendency, and the essence of a tendency is to develop in the form of a sheaf, creating, by its very growth, divergent directions among which its impetus is divided.’ In H. Larrabee, ed. Selections from Bergson. New York, 1949, 72.
10. ‘Mind is just this elevation…above the material,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op, cit., 179
11. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 111; ‘(the soul) can be an object of consciousness to itself. …(in Neoplatonism) the ‘self’ which is thus known is not an isolated individual, but contains in potentia the whole range of reality. …to know the self truly is to know it as actually one though potentially all things, and thus as divine,’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 203
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op, cit., 165
13. A.H.Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, William Heinemann, London, 1966-1988, vol. I, xxvii
14. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 207

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 3

Hegel and subjectivity

Hegel thought that the great advance in modern philosophy was the recognition of the importance of subjectivity.1 While Descartes was most important to this development, Hegel correctly traced a line from Aristotle’s Metaphysics with its ‘First Science of Theology’ and particularly its theorising the divine activity of thought thinking itself to Neoplatonism, which philosophy was then absorbed into the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,2 enabling Hegel to reinforce the process, spirituality and immanence of his Neoplatonism.3 Hegel believed that modern philosophy had resumed the primary current in philosophy which had been interrupted by the Middle Ages.

Schlitt wrote that Hegel’s philosophy of religion is a movement of divine subjectivity.4 His entire philosophy is such

The proper subject matter of religion is not the sensibility and feeling of the finite subject, which abandons any cognition of God, but the infinite self-consciousness of the absolute subject, which encompasses finite subjects within itself.5

In his Science of Logic he gave that movement poetic Neoplatonic expression

Each new stage of forthgoing, that is, of further determination, is also a withdrawal inwards, and the greater extension is equally a higher intensity. The richest is therefore the most concrete and most subjective, and that which withdraws itself into the simplest depth is the mightiest and most all-embracing.6

Not only is subjectivity the essential nature of Spirit, it reconciles itself with itself – in another, giving the Absolute. This ‘principle of the modern age,’ one’s own subjectivity, was explored in the first phenomenology, the Enneads. Hegel wrote

If I now go further (than the standpoint of ‘empirical’ understanding) and seek to view consciousness from a spiritually higher standpoint, I find that I am no longer observing. I forget myself in plunging into the object. I immerse myself in it as I seek to cognise and to conceive God. I surrender my particularity in it, and if I do this I am no longer in the relationship which, as an empirical consciousness, I wanted to maintain. …if God is no longer a beyond for me, then I no longer remain a pure observer, I become interwoven with the thing instead.7

The utter self-focus of Hegel’s Neoplatonic philosophy, expressed in mystical language, is clear

It is I who produce that beyond; the finite and the infinite are equally my product, and I stand above both of them, both disappear in me. I am lord and master of this definition: I bring it forth. They vanish in and through me – and thus the second position is established: that I am the affirmation which at first I placed outside in a beyond; the infinite first comes into being through me. I am the negation of negation, it is I in whom the antithesis disappears; I am the reflection that brings them both to naught.8



1. ‘Modern philosophy is the philosophy of subjectivity, or simply subjective idealism.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 236
2. ‘God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 15
3. The kingdom of God is an ‘ascent into pure inwardness,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 367
4. Dale M. Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, University of Scranton Press, London, 1990, xvi
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Editorial Introduction, 24
6. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 840-841
7. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 283-284
8. Ibid., 295

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

The ascetics Proclus and Nietzsche on eternal recurrence

Proclus 412-485 C.E.

Proclus (412-485)

‘Prop. 199. Every intra-mundane soul has in its proper life periods and cyclic reinstatements.

For if it is measured by time and has a transitive activity (prop. 191), and movement is its distinctive character (prop. 20), and all that moves and participates time, if it be perpetual, moves in periods and periodically returns in a circle and is restored to its starting-point (prop. 198), then it is evident that in every intra-mundane soul, having movement and exercising a temporal activity, will have a periodic motion, and also cyclic reinstatements (since in the case of things perpetual every period ends in a reinstatement of the original condition).’

‘Prop. 206. Every particular soul can descend into temporal process and ascend from process to Being an infinite number of times.

For if at certain times it is in the company of gods and at others falls away from its upward tension towards the divine, and if it participates both intelligence and unintelligence (prop. 202), it is plain that by turns it comes-to-be in the world of process and has true Being among the gods. For it cannot (have been for an infinite time in material bodies and thereafter pass a second infinite time among the gods, neither can it) have spent an infinite time among the gods and again be embodied for the whole time thereafter, since that which has no temporal beginning will never have an end, and what has no end cannot have had a beginning. It remains, then, that each soul has a periodic alternation of ascents out of process and descents into process, and that this movement is unceasing by reason of the infinitude of time. Therefore each particular soul can descend and ascend an infinite number of times, and this shall never cease to befall every such soul.’

Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R. Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, 175, 181

‘At the twilight of antiquity there were still wholly unchristian figures, which were more beautiful, harmonious, and pure than those of any Christians: e.g., Proclus. His mysticism and syncretism were things that precisely Christianity cannot reproach him with. In any case, it would be my desire to live together with such people. In comparison with them Christianity looks like some crude brutalisation, organised for the benefit of the mob and the criminal classes.

Proclus, who solemnly invokes the rising moon.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, ’We Philologists’, Trans., J.M.Kennedy, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Delphi Classics, Hastings, East Sussex, 2015, 7535



“What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.'”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 194-195


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