From mysticism to materialism – ‘the tremendous power of the negative’, before which everything but change is doomed

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By arguing that Hegel was not only a mystic, but that he was specifically the consummate Neoplatonist, I address in my thesis the part his philosophy played in a continuum that was and is by its nature always open to development – running from the idealism of Plotinus (consciousness is primary) to its ‘inversion’ in the materialism of Marx (matter is primary). My thesis also argues that Hegel’s system, encapsulated in his Encyclopaedia, is based on Proclus’ triad of triads and that Hegel was fully aware of Cusanus whose De docta ignorantia was also structured on that triad, never mentioning him both because of the degree to which he was indebted to him and because of the implications of that acknowledgement. I provide evidence from Hegel’s own sources.

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Konstantin Yuon, ‘A New Planet,’ 1921. Tempera on cardboard, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

I address Magee’s claim that Hegel was an Hermeticist and argue that Magee misrepresented both the Hermetica and Hermeticism in order to argue that claim. I also argue that the response of the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary core that Marx and Engels brought out in Neoplatonism is fundamental to why Hegel’s thorough-going Neoplatonism is not recognised and acknowledged. With ‘the tremendous power of the negative’ – the source of all development, before which everything is also ‘doomed’ – as that core, this current is the greatest current in Western philosophy, and now, as dialectical materialism, is the epistemology of the future.

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The Crab Nebula and its pulsar

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‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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‘Massive stars form and explode, and brown filaments of dust are strewn about.’

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Spiral Galaxy NGC 4038 in Collision

‘Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite. We have before this (§80) identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, in the same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of his power. All things, we say – that is, the finite world as such – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself.’ G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, Remark to §81, 118.

The hostility towards Neoplatonism and dialectical materialism by the learned servants of the bourgeoisie and their inability to embrace them are for the same reasons – both the prime importance to this current of what they have assigned to ‘the feminine’ – the ephemeral, the creative, that which resists control and particularly, its recognition of the engine of contradiction with its resultant flux. Everything but change itself will pass.

The ideological silence for so long in academia with regard to the pervasive impact of mysticism on Western culture, particularly its primary Western form Neoplatonism and the distortions and fluff written and spoken in the attempt to explain that influence away can be compared with the erasure of a two thousand year history of materialism from Indian philosophy. The only place where this ‘survives’ is in the writing of those who hated it. Some of those in the West who built their careers on never using the word ‘mysticism’ other than disparagingly or on explaining it away are now teaching it as though it has been ever thus. They make a mockery of philosophy and excellently exemplify the early stages of a major adjustment in capitalist ideology – from ‘modernism’ to ‘postmodernism’ to…? What will the new ‘ism’ be that denies or instils doubt regarding the primacy of objective reality? 

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Trump (consciousness) is secondary, necessity (nature) is primary

 

From the current initiated by Plotinus – an idealist and a materialist on necessity:

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

‘All actions, including world-historical actions, culminate with individuals as subjects giving actuality to the substantial (see Remark to Paragraph 279). They are the living instruments of what is in substance the deed of the world mind and they are therefore directly at one with that deed though it is concealed from them and is not their aim and object (see Paragraph 344). For the deeds of the world mind, therefore, they receive no honour or thanks either from their contemporaries (see Paragraph 344) or from public opinion in later ages. All that is vouchsafed to them by such opinion is undying fame in respect of the subjective form of their acts.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Trans. T.M.Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, 348, 218

Lenin, Red Square, 1920

Lenin in Red Square, 1920

‘Engels takes the knowledge and will of man, on the one hand, and the necessity of nature, on the other, and instead of giving any definitions, simply says that the necessity of nature is primary, and human will and mind secondary. The latter must necessarily and inevitably adapt themselves to the former. Engels regards this as so obvious that he does not waste words explaining his view.’

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 171

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A nebula, its pulsar and a top – from Plotinus to Marx, the epistemology of the future

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The Crab Nebula and its pulsar

The greatest activity in the greatest stillness

CARDINAL: I shall try [to show you such an image]. I will take [the example] of boys [playing with] a top—a game known to us all, even in practical terms. A boy pitches out a top; and as he does so, he pulls it back with the string which is wound around it. The greater the strength of his arm, the faster the top is made to rotate—until it seems (while it is moving at the faster speed) to be motionless and at rest. Indeed, boys speak of it as then at rest.

So let us describe a circle, b c, which is being rotated about a point a as would the upper circle of a top; and let there be another circle, d e, which is fixed.  Is it not true that the faster the movable circle is rotated, the less it seems to be moved?

BERNARD: It certainly seems true. And, as boys, this [is how] we saw [it].

Nicholas of Cusa, De Possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’), 1460, in A Concise Introduction to the Philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1986, 914-954, 18, 923-924

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

 

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

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

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

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From Contents

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

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

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

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From page 360 of vol. 4.1

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

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Page 321 of vol. 5

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

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

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

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From page 101 of vol. 6.1

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

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Contents of vol. 9

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

 

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From page 315

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

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

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From page 164 of vol. 2

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

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

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From page 342 of vol. 2.1

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

De concordantia catholica (On Catholic Concordance, 1434)

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

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

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

De quaerendo Deum (On Seeking God, 1445)

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

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

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

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

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

De mathematica perfectione (On Mathematical Perfection, 1458)

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

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

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

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From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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

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

05.12.17

Hello Professor Smith,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Philip Stanfield

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ download

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I have put two links with a choice of title page colours for the PDF download of my thesis under my statement on my Home/About page and under both my emails to the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A has the above left title page, ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B has the one on the above right.

Instead of a thesis of 12,000 words, which I did not complete on time, I have completed one of 125,000 words.

If you find any processing errors, please let me know.

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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Coming very soon

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15e

 

15. Conclusion (concluded)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

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

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15a

 

15. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts