Hegel’s ‘Reason’ – the cognition of God who is Absolute Reason

The rose in the Rosicrucian cross is a concentration of mystical meanings including that of unfolding Mind. ‘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…’ Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Preface.

‘Philosophy in general has God as its object and indeed as its only proper object. Philosophy is no worldly wisdom, as it used to be called; it was called that in contrast with faith. It is not in fact a wisdom of the world but instead a cognitive knowledge of the non-worldly; it is not cognition of external existence, of empirical determinate being and life, or of the formal universe, but rather cognition of all that is eternal – of what God is and of what God’s nature is as it manifests and develops itself.’


‘Besides, in philosophy of religion we have as our object God himself, absolute reason. Since we know God who is absolute reason, and investigate this reason, we cognise it, we behave cognitively.’


G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Vol. I, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 116-7, 170


Excellent words from a priest

The masses are the victims of the deception of a priesthood which, in its envious conceit, holds itself to be the sole possessor of insight and pursues its other selfish ends as well. At the same time it conspires with despotism which…stands above the bad insight of the multitude and the bad intentions of the priests, and yet unites both within itself. From the stupidity and confusion of the people brought about by the trickery of priestcraft, despotism, which despises both, draws for itself the advantage of undisturbed domination and the fulfilment of its desires and caprices, but is itself at the same time this same dullness of insight, the same superstition and error.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 330


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12d

12.3.3 The retreat into a philosophy of subjectivity – ‘ancient’ becomes ‘modern’

‘Cogito ergo sum’ epitomised for Hegel the most important current in philosophy1 – a current in which thought thinks itself, a philosophy of subjectivity that he believed ran from the antique Neoplatonists (particularly Proclus) who drew on Aristotle’s notion of noesis noeseos, through Christianity, overleapt the Middle Ages and was revived by Descartes, who Hegel considered the first ‘modern’ philosopher

Now we come for the first time to what is properly the philosophy of the modern world, and we begin it with Descartes. Here, we may say, we are at home and, like the sailor after a long voyage, we can at last shout ‘Land ho’. Descartes made a fresh start in every respect. …The principle in this new era is thinking, the thinking that proceeds from itself. We have exhibited this inwardness above all with respect to Christianity; it is pre-eminently the Protestant principle. …it is now thinking, thinking on its own account, that is the purest pinnacle of this inwardness, the inmost core of inwardness – thinking is what now establishes itself on its own account. This period begins with Descartes.2

Because of its importance to my argument, I quote most of the note at the bottom of the page on which the above text was printed. Hegel was perfectly clear in tying together, in the same current, Neoplatonism, Christianity and ‘modern’ philosophy (of which he thought his to be the final word) which, together, uphold a ‘pinnacle of inwardness’

With the reference to a ‘pinnacle’ of inwardness Hegel establishes a connection between, on the one hand, the philosophy of Descartes and modern philosophy as a whole and, on the other, Christianity and Neoplatonism, for in discussing Neoplatonism he used the phrase ‘pinnacle of actual being’ (Spitze des Seyenden) to render Proclus’s (in Greek) ‘pinnacle of actual being’. This pinnacle of actual being is further defined, in W. 15:84 (Ms?), as ‘what is centred on self [das Selbstische] what has being-for-self, the subjective, the point of individual unity’. Hegel also sees (in W. 15:114-15) a parallel development in Christianity: ‘For human beings there has dawned in their consciousness of the world the fact that the absolute has attained this (in Greek) ‘pinnacle of concreteness’ – the pinnacle of immediate actuality; and this is the appearance of Christianity.’…Hegel regards modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes, as taking up again or resuming the history of philosophy, a history interrupted by the Middle Ages.3


This view that modern philosophy follows upon the philosophy of late antiquity is based not only on the scant importance Hegel attached to the Middle Ages as far as the history of philosophy was concerned, as a period ‘which we intend to get through by putting on seven-league boots’, but also on his supposition of an agreement in content between the philosophers of late antiquity and those of modern times regarding the concept of the self-thinking thought; see, for example, W.15:13: ‘The fundamental idea of this Neopythagorean – also Neoplatonic or Alexandrian – philosophy was the thinking that thinks itself, the nous, which has itself for object.’ This theme also links these two periods to Aristotelian metaphysics and to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.4

My argument has been that not only was the Christian doctrine of the Trinity ‘closely linked’ with Neoplatonism (F.A.G.Tholuck, with whom Hegel corresponded, thought so [11.3.4]), Dodds wrote that the Christian Neoplatonists used the Neoplatonic concept of unity-in-distinction to explain the doctrine of the Trinity [11.3.4] and Redding that Neoplatonism, especially Proclus’ was central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity and the doctrine of the Trinity [1.2]), and most probably sourced in both Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism,5 this Trinity is not the Trinity of Hegel which was based and remained based on Proclus’ philosophical triad Being/Life/Intelligence to which Hegel, following Cusanus, gave a Christian overlay – yet still obvious in its differences from the Christian Trinity6 – so that he could use it as the religious component he needed for his ‘speculative’ system and to metaphorically and symbolically illustrate and anchor in this world the Neoplatonic processes he set out and refined.

As Proclus used the henads to ‘reconcile’ ‘reason’ with faith, Neoplatonism with religion

as participated unities they bridge the gap between the transcendent One and everything that comes after it. The doctrine of the henads can thus be seen as a way of integrating the traditional gods of Greek polytheistic religion into the Neoplatonic metaphysics of the One.7

Hegel used his Neoplatonic ‘Trinity’ for the same purpose. Both intended that this merging would provide the means for the healing of what all the Neoplatonists perceived to be our spiritual, intellectual and social fragmentation. The application of ‘reason,’ together with faith and divine power would result in an ethical, perspectival cultus.

Further parallels between Proclus and Hegel are that, not only, contrary to the common perception that mysticism must be built around a mystical union with the Source, did Proclus make no explicit reference in his highly structured Elements of Theology to such a union with the One,8 Gods or God, in response to prayer, must come to us, we cannot go to them or him.9 What Chlup wrote, linking the gods of the Eastern Neoplatonists to their community and cultus applies equally to the Trinity, community and cultus of Hegel. These cults in which communities worship are tokens of the relationship between them and their gods or God.10

Proclus and Hegel equally recognised the use to their mystical purpose of inspired theological poetry (for the former, it was part of his theurgy11) – the very inadequacy of words being a plus such that, when expressed poetically, they function as symbols inspiring one to go beyond them to the unity of knower, knowing and known. Just as the text of Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Arts concludes with a a long section on poetry – for him, the most spiritual and perfect of the arts – so he concluded and almost concluded, in turn, his Phenomenology and tripartite Encyclopaedia with similar paeans in verse to Neoplatonic vitalism and mystical union

from the chalice of this realm of spirits

foams forth for Him his own infinitude.12

I looked into the heart, a waste of worlds, a sea, –

I saw a thousand dreams, – yet One amid all dreaming.

And earth, air, water, fire, when thy decree is given,

Are molten into One: against thee none hath striven.

There is no living heart but beats unfailingly

In the one song of praise to thee, from earth and heaven…13

Hegel advocated that philosophers be what Proclus was – priests and theologians (Cusanus was all three).14 In his maturity, in direct relation to the criticisms he had of his society, Hegel expressed a far more limited and gloomy view of what comprised a community both philosophical and religious – in which religion found not reconciliation with but refuge in philosophy15 from a people whose best times were past and from decay,16 in which ‘nobler natures’17 engaged in self-thinking thought and that reflected the closing words of the Enneads18 – than he had done in his much more idealistic youth. Hodgson encapsulated this

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 time, but the world must be left largely to its own devices in solving its problems. Philosophy can resolve this discord only in a manner appropriate to itself, by zealously guarding the truth, but it must recognise that its resolution is only partial. The community of Spirit as such is not passing away, but it does seem to be passing over from the ecclesiastical priesthood to the philosophical; if so, the truth of religion will live on in the philosophical community, in which it must now seek refuge.19

Echoing Nussbaum’s words regarding the ‘metaphysico-religious’ ‘horror of the contingent,’20 one of the greatest dialecticians wrote

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.21



1. ‘With Descartes, thinking began to go within itself. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ are the first words of his system, and these very words constitute the distinctive feature of modern philosophy.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 237
2. Ibid., vol. III, 104
3. Ibid., Note, 104
4. Ibid., Note, 105
5. ‘Another influence may have been the Neoplatonist Plotinus’ (204–70 CE) triad of the One, Intellect, and Soul, in which the latter two mysteriously emanate from the One, and “are the One and not the One; they are the one because they are from it; they are not the One, because it endowed them with what they have while remaining by itself” (Plotinus Enneads, 85). Plotinus even describes them as three hypostases, and describes their sameness using homoousios (Freeman 2003, 189). Augustine tells us that he and other Christian intellectuals of his day believed that the Neoplatonists had some awareness of the persons of the Trinity (Confessions VIII.3; City X.23). Many thinkers influential in the development of trinitarian doctrines were steeped in the thought not only of Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism…’ Dale Tuggy, ’History of Trinitarian Doctrines,’ The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
6. Discussed at 11.3.7 ff.; Hodgson wrote that Hegel ‘adjusted’ his original inner ‘philosophical triad’ (my italics – which clearly reflects the structure of Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence) ‘drawn from the three branches of philosophy – the logical idea, nature, and (finite) spirit…It has the peculiar result (my italics) that the “Son”…occupies the third moment of the triad rather than the second. The third trinitarian moment, the “Spirit,” becomes a kind of appendage, treated under Sec. C of the outer triad, “Community, Cultus.” ’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 12-13. As I have argued previously (11.3.7), I disagree – Hegel’s triad remained, beneath the Christian overlay, philosophical and Procline.
7. Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus,’ op. cit.
8. Prop. 123. ‘Pr.’s teaching here differs from that of Plotinus (a) in the absence of any explicit reference to unio mystica (the possibility of it is not, however, excluded); (b) in excluding the One from the possibility of being known by analogy.’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 265
9. ‘(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
10. ‘Thanks to the gods (the world) is a place…where human communities may worship the gods in cults that have been revealed to them as tokens of…bonds between them and their divine patrons.’ Ibid., 136
11. ‘inspired theological poetry…in late Neoplatonic circles was incorporated into the large complex of theurgic activities and whose philosophical exegesis seems to have performed an important part in the soul’s ascent to the gods.’ Ibid., 168
12. Adaptation of Schiller’s Die Freundschaft, Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 493
13. Hegel introduced these words and page-long excerpts from a poem by Jelaleddin-Rumi with ‘In order to give a clearer impression of it, (the unity of the soul with the One, my italics) I cannot refrain from quoting a few passages…’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 308-309
14. 2., Note and 9.8
15. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 161-162
16. ‘(When a people’s) best times are past and decay sets in…satisfaction resides then in the ideal realm.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 272-273
17. ‘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
18. ‘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), op. cit., VI.9.11
19. Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 23
20. Nussbaum, The Musical Representation, Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion, op. cit., 259
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 161-162

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12a

Hegel and Proclus

12.1 Academics on Hegel, Neoplatonism and Proclus

The response of academics to the influence of Proclus the Follower on Hegel is exemplary of that by them to the profound relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism generally. Despite their repeated and clearest acknowledgement of that influence and relationship, the former within the latter, their analysis of them, setting out the debt Hegel owed to both Proclus and Neoplatonism and how he further developed Neoplatonism on the basis of that debt is still lacking.

On the pervasive influence of Neoplatonism on the German idealists, Redding wrote, with a gross understatement

It is common within recent accounts of the emergence of German Idealism to find stressed the impact of Spinozism on the generation to which Schelling and Hegel belonged, but it is less common (my italics) to find discussion of the neoplatonic aspects of their thought, despite the fact that this was commonly noted in the 19th century. …Both early Schelling and Hegel were clearly attracted to Plotinian thought, and especially the particular role Plotinus had given to the processes of life.1


With Proclus (the) dialectic of the one and the many had reached the most developed phase capable of antique thought, but with Fichte, this neo-platonic dialectic was now reproduced at the level of individual, actual consciousnesses.2

While the direct connection of Neoplatonic dialectic to Fichte is correct, Redding’s interpretation of it is erroneous. The Neoplatonic dialectic of the one and the many always functioned at the level of individual, actual (whatever that means) consciousness. The individual consciousness and soul is the focus of Plotinus’ system – Neoplatonic perspectivism is built on this. Fichte is simply one more philosopher who never acknowledged his profound debt to Neoplatonism, who claimed the fruits of Neoplatonic philosophy, which he rebadged, as his own great invention.3

Of the influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel specifically

in contrast to Aristotle, Hegel’s ‘theology’ insists on the ‘incarnation’ of God in man, symbolised in the divinity of Jesus. Thus Hegel might be said to have been a Christian Aristotelianised Platonist, but his is a form of Christianity in which…there is no ‘transcendent’ place for the God of Augustine.4

Findlay correctly wrote of Hegel, in his Foreword to the Encyclopaedia Logic no less

Those who are unwilling to see Hegel as an ontologist and First Philosopher, or as a theologian in the sense of Aristotle or Proclus, will never be able to make more than a partial use of his brilliant insights5

and Redding noted that Feuerbach described him as ‘the German Proclus’6 writing

Hegel showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus…Importantly it was these neo-platonist, and especially Proclean features, that would be central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity7

The influence of Proclus on Hegel was both direct and indirect. Cusanus, who was also of the greatest importance to Hegel – a direct influence on him that has never been acknowledged by any academic – and whose philosophy bears so many similarities with Hegel’s had made a study of the philosophy of Proclus.8 Most important of all, as I have argued (11.3.4ff.), Proclus’ Being/Life/Intelligence triad provided the basic structure of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, recurring in that of Hegel’s non-Christian Trinity.

Where is Redding’s or any other academic’s thorough explication of these ‘important’, ‘clearly observed’ features of Neoplatonic and Proclean thought, these direct influences so ‘central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity’?

Yet, with the decline of that stage of capitalist ideology known as ‘post-modernism’, there has been a small but growing recognition in academia of the immense philosophical and cultural importance of Neoplatonism – but even with that recognition, rather than acknowledging and analysing the direct influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel (for example), the acknowledgement is understated and the analysis is primarily of the relationships between him and those philosophers to whom he responded (particularly Kant, Fichte and Schelling) – all influenced by Neoplatonism – with Neoplatonism contained, like a dangerous philosophical tiger in an academic cage, in a secondary position.

It has been my intention throughout this thesis to argue for the direct relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism and key Neoplatonists and to argue that his philosophy is Neoplatonism’s consummate achievement.

12.2 Hegel on Neoplatonism and Proclus

For Hegel, Neoplatonism was the ‘greatest flowering of philosophy’9 and the consummation of Greek philosophy, which brought it to a close

So Greek philosophy has the thinking that determines itself within itself. It develops itself into a totality of the idea (the world spirit does nothing by half measures). Its consummation10 comes in Neoplatonic philosophy, with which the history of Greek philosophy draws to a close.11

Again, noting that Neoplatonism incorporated all earlier forms of Greek philosophy, Hegel wrote

The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it.12

and continued by stating that Proclus was the culmination of this consummation

Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.13

There could not be clearer statements of the superlative regard which Hegel held for Neoplatonism and particularly Proclus.14



1. Redding, ‘Mind of God, Point of View of Man, or Spirit of the World? Platonism and Organicism in the Thought of Kant and Hegel’, op. cit., 9,10. Also see 1.2
2. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13
3. It is interesting that in a discipline that prides itself on honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’, that holds honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’ to be at its basis, there is so much dishonesty and pretence.
4. Redding, ‘The Metaphysical and Theological Commitments of Idealism: Kant, Hegel, Hegelianism’, op. cit., 18-19
5. Findlay in G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., xxvi
6. ‘the Neoplatonic characteristics of Hegel’s thought came to be widely acknowledged during the nineteenth century, Feuerbach, for example, describing Hegel as “the German Proclus” (PPF: 47),’ Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 137
7. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 6
8. ‘The real rediscovery of Proclus started in the Italian Renaissance, mainly thanks to Marsilio Ficino who followed Proclus’ influence in his Platonic commentaries and even composed, in imitation of Proclus, a Christian Platonic Theology on the immortality of the soul. Before Ficino, Nicolaus Cusanus had already intensively studied Proclus in translations. Proclus continued to enjoy wide interest at the turn of the 18th century. Thomas Taylor (1758–1835) translated all of Proclus’ works into English (reprinted by the Prometheus Trust [London]) and tried to reconstruct the lost seventh book of the Platonic Theology.’ Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy op. cit.
9. ‘The revival of the ancient Greek philosophy was tied to the decline of the Roman Empire, which was so vast, wealthy, and splendid, but inwardly dead; the greatest flowering of philosophy, the Alexandrian philosophy, emerged only then.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 69
10. Hodgson in his Editorial Introduction to volume III of Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion explained Hegel’s use of the concept ‘consummate’, which Hegel also, consistently, applied to his Neoplatonic version of Christianity: ‘Christianity is the “consummate” religion in the sense that the concept of religion has been brought to completion or consummation in it; it simply is religion in its quintessential expression.’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 4. In referring to Hegel as the consummate Neoplatonist I use ‘consummate’ in the same sense – his philosophy brought Neoplatonism to completion and in so doing, is the most developed instance, the highest achievement of it’
11. Ibid., 162-163
12. Ibid., 202
13. Ibid.
14. Redding wrote in his Stanford Encyclopedia article on Hegel that ‘Plato, and especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy’, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, contradicting this elsewhere, referring to ‘what for Hegel was the most developed form of Greek philosophy, late-antique neo-platonism’, Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13; Helmig and Steel wrote ‘In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, in the chapter on Alexandrian Philosophy, Hegel said that “in Proclus we have the culminating point of the Neo-Platonic philosophy; this method in philosophy is carried into later times, continuing even through the whole of the Middle Ages. […] Although the Neo-Platonic school ceased to exist outwardly, ideas of the Neo-Platonists, and specially the philosophy of Proclus, were long maintained and preserved in the Church.”’, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11g The Phenomenology of Spirit and the Enneads

The Phenomenology of Spirit describes the experience of Soul in its epistemological ascent from sense-certainty – ‘the first and most primitive form of consciousness’1 – through what was for Plotinus the third hypostasis (All-Soul, Universal Soul, Soul of the All) to what was for him the second, Intellectual-Principle – the site of Hegel’s conflated ‘reason-world’. An ascent from the finite to an infinity of creativity, in itself though immeasurable but still an image of the infinity of the One and the Good, which infinity is addressed in the Logic as it details the ‘mind’ of God.2

As I have argued, the Phenomenology describes not a propaedeutic, a purificatory preparation3 for ‘proper’ philosophy, but the dialectical development of consciousness within an essential, philosophical stage of self-knowing in the Neoplatonic process of return to the source. In it, consciousness (Soul) both rises and goes within through a series of Neoplatonic ‘shapes’ to attain the point of ‘absolute knowing.’ Throughout, Spirit crafts itself, continuing that crafting in the Logic.

Having shaped our souls into Intellectual-Principle (Hegel’s ‘reason-world’), ‘we make over our souls in trust to it,’4 so that from there, our reason now ‘pure’ and active in the realm of unity-in-diversity, we may continue in the dialectical advance to the knowledge of God.

Plotinus believed that philosophy is for the few and that the development of consciousness to the attainment of the complete unity of subject and object requires great effort, the soul repeatedly falling back to the realm of sensory experience

The soul or mind reaching towards the formless finds itself incompetent to grasp where nothing bounds it or to take impression where the impinging reality is diffuse; in sheer dread of holding to nothingness, it slips away. The state is painful; often it seeks relief by retreating from all this vagueness to the region of sense, there to rest as on solid ground5

Anchoring the same thoughts in the world with a more complex prose poetry, Hegel set out the process through a sequence of metaphors themselves described metaphorically – the Stations of the Cross echoed in the tribulations of a pilgrim’s progress

because it has only phenomenal knowledge for its object…it can be regarded as the path of the natural consciousness which presses forward to true knowledge; or as the way of the Soul which journeys through the series of its own configurations as though they were the stations appointed for it by its own nature, so that it may purify itself for the life of the Spirit…The road can therefore be regarded as the pathway of doubt, or more precisely as the way of despair.6

On descent to the sensory world, Soul loses its knowledge of unity with the One, with God and recollection is the means for its recovery. For Hegel and the Neoplatonists, Soul’s recollection of whence it came is a timeless and partless activity (distinct from the understanding’s memory which is the retrieval of things that have been introduced – of time, part and space7) essential not only to that recovery but to speculative philosophy and the developmental progress of consciousness which Hegel begins in his Phenomenology. When we fail to recollect we inevitably return to the world of sense.8

Recollection conveys not only the thought of the higher realm but also the emotional condition in which that thought was experienced. Thus imagination is the core of recollection and dialectic

Recollection proceeds through metaphors, ingenuities, and images…To recollect is not to form a proposition, but to form an image9

Plotinus wrote that recollection resides in the imagination or ‘image-making faculty’ and that words can act as a bridge between what is to be recollected (‘the concept’) and the ‘image-making faculty.’ Foreshadowing Cusanus’ use of both metaphors and concepts, followed by Hegel, Plotinus held that the ‘verbal formula’ can exhibit the indivisible ‘mental’ conception as in a mirror

the verbal formula – the revealer, the bridge between the concept and the image-taking faculty – exhibits the concept as in a mirror; the apprehension by the image-taking faculty would thus constitute the enduring presence of the concept, would be our memory of it.10

The Phenomenology is built on this theorising.11

Rather than using these ‘metaphors, ingenuities and images’ as mere illustrations or even as a means of circumventing ‘the unsayable,’ Hegel, consistent with the other Neoplatonists, used them as essential elements to condition the thinking of the readers of his Phenomenology to a non-discursive way of reasoning, of grasping ‘reality.’12

the metaphors or images in the Phenomenology of Spirit are not just any metaphors but the metaphors of consciousness itself, those by which it accomplishes the turning…of its being (my italics) at any given moment. The Phenomenology of Spirit is a philosophical speech in which all the powers of language, its imagistic and its conceptual powers, are brought forth so that the reader may recollect.13

Recollection is self-recollection – an inner vision of the ‘truth’ we unconsciously possess, of our spiritual core, giving it expression in philosophy.14 Magee wrote that the Phenomenology ‘is a “recollection” of the different forms in which Spirit has displayed itself and continues to display itself’.15 He discussed Hegel’s use of the concept ‘recollection’ (Erinnerung) in the final section of the Phenomenology, ‘absolute knowing’

At one point (Hegel) hyphenates the German word as Er-Innerung, suggesting an interpretation of ‘recollection’ as a ‘going within’ of the subject (inner has the same meaning in German as in English, and Innerung has the sense of ‘innering’ or ‘inwardising’). The Phenomenology is, in fact, a recollection of Spirit’s development by Spirit itself. It is Spirit going within itself, recollecting itself, and writing its autobiography – not in the sense of a literal history, but instead the natural history of its manifestations16

Both the Enneads and the Phenomenology conclude with the cancellation of otherness and a withdrawal into self17 but where the conclusion of the Enneads is the end of the entire process addressed through the Enneads, from the sensory world to unity with the Supreme,18 that of the Phenomenology is only the degree of self-development, of spiritual unity necessary for the continuation of the process at a higher stage of consciousness, of being, in the Logic,19 indicated by the closing words – again, not of discursive reason but a poetic and religious image of infinite Neoplatonic vitalism

from the chalice of this realm of spirits

foams forth for Him his own infinitude20

They invoke the Logic. The Phenomenology of Spirit: theatre of the ‘mind’

The Phenomenology is a theatre of the ‘mind.’ Centre stage is the dramatis persona, ’consciousness.’ The readers are the audience. At the side of the stage Hegel stands at a lectern

pointing out to us aspects of the action, highlighting features we may have otherwise missed, directing our attention.21

As Redding wrote

Our ability to follow the progress of the character is dependent on our ability to empathise with his experience and ambition…But at the same time we retain the external point of view onto the character on stage. The doubleness of consciousness demanded of the dramatic persona of the Phenomenology is demanded of the spectator as well.22

He asks, in regard to this perspectival, recognitive unity-in-diversity

Might it be…that the review of the whole drama constitutes our anagnorisis? This, it seems to me, is something like what is supposed to happen here: there is meant to be some strong sense of recognition of the self on our, the readers’ part.23

The Phenomenology is a great work of art. Hegel employed a range of literary devices, particularly metaphor,24 to draw his readers in to his philosophical theatre and by putting all of us on centre stage through the development of his dramatis persona ‘consciousness,’ to convey his Neoplatonic philosophy. It is because of this, that it is so clearly a work of art, that academics cannot accept that it is philosophy at the highest level – that they believe, as Redding does, that ‘philosophy proper’ is to be found in the text that followed this, which completed what Hegel began in his Phenomenology – the rise of consciousness from the sensory world to the knowledge of God.



1. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 166. It is necessary to begin with sense-certainty not only because sensory experience is the basis for contemplation: ‘when in seeing what is perceptible I understand that it exists from a higher power (since it is finite, and a finite thing cannot exist from itself; for how could what is finite have set its own limit?), then I can only regard as invisible and eternal [this] Power from which it exists.’ De Possest, 915, 3, it is also the basis of conceptualisation: ‘the power of the mind—a power that grasps things and is conceptual—cannot succeed in its operations unless it is stimulated by perceptible objects’ Idiota de Mente, 545, 77
2. The infinity of Intellectual-Principle is not that of the One: ‘This unity-in-diversity is the most perfect possible image of the absolute unity of the One, whom Intellect in its ordinary contemplation cannot apprehend as He is in His absolute simplicity. It represents His infinity as best it can in the plurality of Forms. Intellect is itself infinite in power (my italics) and immeasurable, because it has no extension and there is no external standard by which it could be measured, but finite (my italics) because it is a complete whole composed of an actually existing number (all that can possibly exist) of Forms, which are themselves definite, limited realities.’ Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxi. Thus the lines of Schiller’s Neoplatonic paean to infinite creativity that Hegel adapted to conclude the Phenomenology with are entirely apt, signalling Soul’s arrival at what was for Plotinus the second hypostasis.
3. ‘Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit represents, in the Hegelian system, an initial stage of purification in which the would-be philosopher is purged of false intellectual standpoints so that he might receive the true doctrine of Absolute Knowing,’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 14. Magee argues that his interpretation of this aspect of the Phenomenology exemplifies Hegel’s Hermeticism.
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.3
5. Ibid.
6. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 49; ‘Hegel’s own philosophical point of view is shot through with Christian images, to such an extent that his system would be difficult to describe without making reference to these symbols.’ Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 133 
7. ‘Now a memory has to do with something brought into ken from without, something learned or something experienced; the Memory-Principle, therefore, cannot belong to such things as are immune from experience and from time.’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.3.25
8. ‘When we forget we return to the world. We think in a present and when we do this, no self-knowing is possible. …We risk becoming merely a person again and not a philosopher.’ Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 75
9. Ibid., 3; ‘Without images, concepts become dry and abstract. Hegel’s own thinking is famously replete with images, metaphors, and analogies. …it is evident that thought continues to be fructified by the imagistic materials thrown up by representation,’ Hodgson, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion,’ op. cit., 239 
10. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.3.30
11. In the Phenomenology Hegel employed the ‘verbal formula’ of development through metaphor, in the Logic, he used the ‘verbal formula’ of development through concepts. Cusanus, whose example Hegel followed and developed on and to whom Hegel was profoundly indebted, also used both.
12. ‘The vivid images and metaphors used by (Plotinus) apparently did not just act as illustrations of mental concepts, but served rather to attune the mind to nondiscursive modes of grasping reality.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 180; ‘This Becoming presents a slow-moving succession of Spirits, a gallery of images, each of which, endowed with all the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just because the Self has to penetrate and digest this entire wealth of its substance.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 492; ‘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 
13. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 25; ‘(The author argues that) the philosophic meaning of this work depends as much on Hegel’s use of metaphor and image as it does on Hegel’s dialectical and discursive descriptions of various stages of consciousness.’ Ibid; Verene quoting Carl Vaught in The Quest for Wholeness: ‘the stages generated by Hegel’s philosophical quest for completeness can be regarded as a sequence of metaphors which are held together by analogical connections.’ Ibid., 118; ‘(Quentin Lauer argued that the most poetic of Hegel’s works is the Phenomenology of Spirit and) goes on to suggest that imagery, symbol, and metaphor are necessary not just for the comprehension of Hegel’s text (i.e. the Phenomenology) but for the comprehension of Hegel’s subject itself – the speculative understanding of history, reality, and spirit. I could not agree more.’ Ibid., xiii; Verene made excellent points with regard to Hegel’s use of irony ‘Hegel uses irony to exclude other positions. It is his principal weapon, for example, when he speaks against other doctrines of the absolute (“the night in which all cows are black”), or against phrenologists, or against ethical views (“the law of the heart and the frenzy of self-conceit’). He makes them into jokes. …Irony is a trope close to dialectic in that the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used. …In the end, irony as well as metaphor and recollection, is the key to Hegel’s system,’ Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 22, 31, 118 
14. ‘Vision of the Ideas through recollection is an inner vision…Plotinus is the ultimate inspiration for this focus on inner vision.’ Mark Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, 5
15. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 167
16. Ibid., 197
17. ‘(Spirit’s) withdrawal into itself, in which it abandons its outer existence and gives its existential shape over to recollection.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 492
18. ‘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), op. cit., VI.9.11
19. ‘In this knowing, then, Spirit has concluded the movement in which it has shaped itself, in so far as (my italics) this shaping was burdened with the difference of consciousness [i.e. of the latter from its object], a difference now overcome.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 490
20. Ibid., 493; ‘Hegel ends his whole work (the Phenomenology) with an image, an image of the inability of the divine to bring its own creation and its own being to a point of rest.’ Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 7
21. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 80
22. Ibid., 82
23. Ibid., 134-135
24. ‘we have so little experience in taking metaphorical speech seriously as a carrier of philosophical meaning that we read right past it. …we have become so accustomed to the monotone hum of the abstract concept and the category, the fluorescent buzz of the argument, that we have lost track of the dimensions of philosophical language. We have forgotten its secrets and cannot recollect its manner of eating bread and drinking wine.’ Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 34-35

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Tulika’s comment and my reply

The Swirling Core of the Crab Nebula. While many other images of the famous Crab Nebula nebula have focused on the filaments in the outer part of the nebula, this image shows the very heart of the Crab Nebula including the central neutron star — it is the rightmost of the two bright stars near the centre of this image. The rapid motion of the material nearest to the central star is revealed by the subtle rainbow of colours in this time-lapse image, the rainbow effect being due to the movement of material over the time between one image and another.

The Swirling Core of the Crab Nebula. While many other images of the famous Crab Nebula nebula have focused on the filaments in the outer part of the nebula, this image shows the very heart of the Crab Nebula including the central neutron star — it is the rightmost of the two bright stars near the centre of this image. The rapid motion of the material nearest to the central star is revealed by the subtle rainbow of colours in this time-lapse image, the rainbow effect being due to the movement of material over the time between one image and another.


I think I have been lucky to have, overall, had a good brand of Christianity passed on to me. I have come across people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who grew up in very unwholesome environments (Catholic or Protestant) and are very much haunted by memories – you cannot blame them. I value the spirit of skepticism (I myself have plenty of doubts) – though feel that most human beings require some kind of closure/certitude to build up a cohesive community. So perhaps constant and unlimited questioning has a downside.

Regarding Creator/Creation: From what I have read and observed, most cultures did not carefully distinguish between nature and supernature – this was something worked out in detail in medieval Christian Europe and may have aided the development of the physical sciences. There are two reasons: (1). Because God the Creator was transcendent here, nature was stripped of divine status and therefore, could be experimented upon. (2). Because nature was thought to have been “created rationally”, it was deemed intelligible and therefore, could be understood by the human mind. Take India, where nature was considered divine, there was no proper culture of physics, chemistry or biology until the arrival of the Europeans. Maths, yes, but not physical science. People were too busy worshipping nature to be able to analyse it. I see people thinking of Galileo and Darwin and immediately jumping to the conclusion that Christianity was an obstacle to scientific progress. The bigger question is — why did people like Galileo and Darwin only emerge out of a Christian framework and not out of any other? Of course, one cannot discount the scientific legacy of Greece and Rome but the Biblical worldview is far more important than most people realise and has its own place in the development of Western science…and world culture in general. Even non-believers can agree.

I also feel the idea of “divinity as something outside nature” has helped diffuse political and social power (to a great extent) within human society. Because God was thought to be removed from (but intimate with) all of nature, human beings could be valued equally (slaves too) and be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny (masters too). Hope I’m making sense! The current culture of human rights in the West has quite a lot to do with the Judeo-Christian legacy I guess — though that doesn’t mean that other traditions have nothing to offer in this field.


Hi Tulika,

thank you for your thorough and excellent reply!

Similar to the significance of Christianity to the rise of science in the West, I think mysticism has also shown the same significance.

In addition to the influence Neoplatonism had on Christianity, I think it influenced Copernicus’ heliocentrism (he thought the divine light is at the centre and without Copernicus there would have been no Darwin) and it certainly influenced Kepler (that the world is imperfect is reflected in his discovery of the elliptical orbits of the planets).

Particularly, having been ‘stood on its feet’ by Marx by his incorporating it into materialism (making materialism dialectical), Neoplatonism has brought immense, necessary potential to our knowing the world.

Just as Plotinus encouraged the recognition of the wonder of the world, Neoplatonism also focuses on the worth of each individual and was central to the rise of humanism in the Renaissance.

Neoplatonism in particular has had the most profound effect on creativity in the West – only one example is its formative influence via Bergson on Cubism.

I think not only that dialectical materialism, which has contradiction at its core, is the epistemological way forward in a world which has contradiction at its core (the latter is reflected in the former), there are still lessons to be learnt from mysticism itself – both from its theory and practice.

Best wishes,

Filippo del mondo


Tulika’s website


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 4

Hegel’s Reason

Hegel’s claim to a mastery of conceptual ‘reason’ is the core of his philosophy. His status, on the back of its acceptance, is a major element in capitalist ideology and Western supremacism. Many a career has been and continues to be built through a servile pandering to it. That we in the West are the bearers of patriarchal ‘reason’ has been and continues to be used, particularly since the rise of capitalism, as a justification for all forms of domination, exploitation and abuse – the noble white man goes forth to benefit assorted savages.

That Hegel is not recognised as a Neoplatonist shows both the power of ideology and the most determined ignorance of the pervasive philosophy that proves his mysticism by generations of academic guardians. Hegel himself, despite his demand that he be recognised as the master of conceptual reason, who showed how God can be cognised could not, short of openly declaring his Neoplatonism and thereby immediately putting an end to his career, have made the reality more obvious.

Where Divine Reason is the beginning and end for Plotinus1 it is the Alpha and Omega for Hegel.2 Where Plotinus wrote of ‘a stationary wandering, a wandering within “the Meadow of Truth”,’3 Hegel wrote of ‘an eternal realm of truth, a realm of eternal stillness, eternal rest.’4

Using the mystical device of simile, he theorised ‘Reason’ as a Neoplatonic development from unity to multiplicity

Reason is present here as the fluid universal Substance, as unchangeable simple thinghood, which yet bursts asunder into many completely independent beings, just as light bursts asunder into stars as countless self-luminous points5

and not only stated that his philosophy is true ‘reason,’ distinct from ‘the understanding,’ but that it is ‘speculative.’ He repeatedly used these concepts in relation to logic,6 the mystical, the religious, God, the divine – and to Neoplatonism itself. And so he should have. All of this is Neoplatonism

The expression ‘mystical’ does in fact occur frequently in the Neoplatonists, for whom (word in Greek) means none other than ‘to consider speculatively’. The religious mysteries too are secrets to the abstract understanding, and it is only for rational, speculative thinking that they are object or content.7

The distinction Hegel made between (the feminine) ‘die Vernunft’ and (the masculine) ‘der Verstand’ is exactly that which Plotinus made between the reason of contemplation8 and discursive reason, that Proclus made9 and that Cusanus made between ‘intellectus’ and ‘ratio’. The former pertains to Plotinus’ universe of Intellect – what Hegel referred to as ‘the reason-world,’10 the other to the universe of the senses.

Hegel wrote that Vernunft is ‘speculative’ because it is reasoning that is dialectical, that recognises that contradiction is the engine of thought, that thought develops on that basis. This is Neoplatonism. He wrote that Verstand is dead because it holds separate what is contradictory – it holds concepts apart, overlooking their connectedness. This dichotomy of ‘reasons’ is Neoplatonic.

 Of Hegel’s use of the concept ‘speculative’ – Plotinus founded the Western speculative school of philosophy that provided a ‘rational’ account of the mystical,11 of which school Hegel was its consummate member. Proclus frequently used the concept ‘speculative’ as did Cusanus, both in the same way as Hegel, in the same set of conceptual relationships. This is Neoplatonism.

The Neoplatonic dependence of speculation on recollection plays a decisive role in the development in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and the Neoplatonic, speculative sublation of ‘either-ors’ functions both within the thinking of an individual and within the community of individual perspectives comprising Spirit’s cultus. Magee correctly wrote ‘Hegel here has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa.’12



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.2.15
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 19
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.13
4. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 259
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 212
6. ‘what explains Hegel’s choice of the title Logic is the word’s derivation from the Greek logos, a favourite topic of the German mystics, especially Eckhart. The ascent to the Absolute Idea of the Logic closely parallels the classical mystic ascent to the Logos or the Universal Mind.’ Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 266
7. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 345. Hegel followed Plotinus in using space and time to exemplify the externality of the sensible world of the understanding, of Verstand.
8. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 212
9. ‘the divine is an object neither of opinion nor of discursive reason,’ Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R.Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, Prop. 123, 109
10. ‘the reason-world may be equally styled mystical,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 121
11. ‘(Plotinus) is the last great philosopher of antiquity, and yet in more than one respect, and notably in the stress which he places on the autonomy of spirit, he is a precursor of modern times.
He is in the West the founder of that speculative mysticism which expresses in intellectual or rather supra-intellectual and ‘negative’ categories the stages and states of union with the Absolute. It is a mysticism wholly philosophical, transposed into a new key which is specifically Plotinian’ Henry, ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought,’ op. cit., xlii; Chlup points out that ‘Eastern Neoplatonism…(attempted) not to capture all things all at once in their complexity, but rather to analyse this complexity into a network of exactly defined relations.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 20
12. Glenn Alexander Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, Continuum, London, 2010, 203. In this section I have only briefly discussed Hegel’s Neoplatonic use of the concept ‘reason.’ I wanted to introduce it as early as possible, given its importance. I will discuss various other aspects of his reason including his use of concepts, of language and the syllogism later.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

The Advice of a Concealed Priest, Motivated by a Love for Truth

‘…what is philosophy? To answer, we must know just where the boundaries of philosophy lie. A great deal that gets counted as philosophy we exclude; if we just went by the name, we would have to bring in much material that we nevertheless disregard. In the same way we could say about religion that, on the whole, we can leave it alone, although in history, religion and philosophy have not left one another alone. …Neither has left the other untouched; hence we may not do so either.

We have to speak about two main subjects that are connected to philosophy; the first is science as such, and the second is religion in particular and the relationship of philosophy to it; there must be open, direct, and honest consideration of this latter point.’

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, 69-70

Jürgen Habermas, Guardian of Mystical ‘Rationality’

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

‘I would not object to the claim that my conception of language and of communicative action oriented toward mutual understanding nourishes itself from the legacy of Christianity. The “telos” of reaching understanding – the concept of discursively directed agreement which measures itself against the standard of intersubjective recognition, that is, the double negation of criticisable validity claims – may well nourish itself from the heritage of a logos understood as Christian, one that is indeed embodied (and not just with the Quakers) in the communicative practice of the religious congregation.’

Jürgen Habermas, ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview by Eduardo Mendieta1

It will be my argument that Habermas’s conceptions of language, of reasoned communicative action and of rationality itself are not only nourished from the legacy of Christianity but more specifically and in response to the rise of science, from a parallel rise in German mysticism since the late eighteenth century, particularly in the forms of Christian Neoplatonism and the closely related Böhmean theosophy. Habermas’s rationality is guarded by Lloyd’s Man of Reason – clothed mystically.

Habermas is vague and loose in his use of the concepts ‘rational’ and ‘reason’. He refers to ‘secular reason’, ‘natural’ reason, ‘philosophical reason’, ‘modern reason’, ‘practical reason’, ‘religious reason’ and ‘shared reason.’2 Wolterstorff wrote that he knew ‘of no place in his recent writings in which Habermas explains the concept of rational that he has in mind’.3 What compounds the confusion is Habermas’s use of the concept, taken from Weber’s psychological understanding of society, of ‘rationalisation’ – meaning the instrumental ‘de-magification,’ ‘de-sanctification’ of social life and the ‘robbing of gods’ from it – for Weber a religious negative4 but for Habermas a process that opens up social areas for the negotiation of all issues in the community.

Habermas believes that reason is to be found in the context of social interaction. It is not what a subject thinks in relation to an object (either metaphysically or ‘empirically’) but is what subjects do communicatively. Habermas claims he has moved philosophy from focusing on a subject/object relation to that of subject/subject, from ‘subjectivity’ to intersubjectivity. Rationality for Habermas is a discursive activity and it is this discursive and unifying activity that Habermas believes philosophy should remain the guardian of. Rationality lies not in what is claimed but in how the claim is made.

In this activity, according to Habermas, subjects make ‘truth claims’ concerning ‘facts’5 which can be defended with reasons when necessary, in order to gain the rationally motivated agreement of the relevant interpretative community as a whole. When agreement is found, validity (which like reason, is discursively contextual) is established.6

Habermas’s philosophy is utterly consistent with the Man of Reason identified by Lloyd which she defined as ‘the ideal of rationality associated with the rationalist philosophies of the seventeenth century. And, secondly, something more nebulous – the residue of that ideal in our contemporary consciousness, our inheritance from seventeenth century rationalism.’7 For Habermas reason is linguistic and propositional. Rejecting a dialectical understanding,8 Habermas holds that the aim and result of this intersubjective activity is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.9 His philosophy, beneath a seeming commitment to democratic discursiveness, is rigid and steeped in philosophical idealism.10

Part one/to be continued…


1. ‘A Conversation About God and the World’ Interview of Jürgen Habermas by Eduardo Mendieta in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, Ed., Eduardo Mendieta, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2002, pp. 146-167, 160

2. Reason is very little understood, particularly in patriarchal Western philosophy in which it is simply presumed to be only linguistic, conceptual and predominantly propositional.

3. Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘An Engagement with Jürgen Habermas on Postmetaphysical Philosophy, Religion, and Political Dialogue’, pp. 92-111, in Craig Calhoun, Eduardo Mendieta, Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Eds,. Habermas and Religion, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2013, 97

4. In Weber’s account, religion plays a fundamental role in producing ‘modernity.’

5. Habermas wrote ‘The world as the sum total of possible facts’, ‘Law as Social Mediation Between Facts and Norms’, Between Facts and Norms, MIT 1996, pp. 9-27, 14 repeating 1.1 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus ‘The world is the totality of facts, not of things.’ When our species becomes extinct we will take consciousness, thought, language and every fact with us – a totality of things on an ultimately dead planet will remain.

6. For Habermas contextual ‘validity’ means a justified claim that can be defended with reasons aimed at attaining a rationally motivated consensus.

7. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds. A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 111. Lloyd was most concerned ‘to bring into focus…his maleness’ since the Man of Reason is an idealisation of the male, not of the human being – yet he still embodies fundamental ideals of our culture. Ibid. The Man of Reason is the dominant model in Western philosophy, reaching back to the patriarchal theologian Plato. Both Lloyd and Plumwood exposed the anti-female and anti-human dualisms of this model.

8. ‘Habermas ventures that the Hegelian “paradigm” is unworkable because as scholars, “we cannot live with the paradoxes of negative dialectics” – of a totalising Reason that is supposed to be positive in the very “moment” of negation. The paradigm simply does not work: it is too negative in the plain garden sense of the term’ Michael Pusey, Jürgen Habermas, Tavistock, London, 1987, 34. Yet Habermas’s position regarding reason continued the (Neoplatonically sourced) teleology of Hegel and Marx: ‘The release of a potential for reason embedded in communicative action is a world-historical process; in the modern period it leads to a rationalisation of life-worlds,’ From ‘A Philosophical-Political Profile’, New Left Review, 151, 1985, pp. 75-105, 101; ‘as more settled traditional worldviews are fragmented and “liquefied”, we – you and I and everyone else – are together forced, to reach “forwards” (and “upwards”!) for understandings and agreements at an every higher level of abstraction and generality. …critical reflection achieved in one domain is supposed to release the “repressed traces of reason” that are latent in the others’ Pusey, op. cit., 117; ‘it is clear that this theory is guided by the idea of (a) more comprehensive notion of rationality that underpins his whole theory. How is this notion to be justified?…It seems clear that this underlying but orientating concept echoes past substantive concepts of reason like those embodied in the Marxian notion of socialism and the Hegelian concept of spirit.’ John Grumley, notes for University of Sydney seminar 20.03.14

9. ‘(these approaches regarding deliberative democracy) negate the inherently conflictual nature of modern pluralism…They are unable to recognise that bringing a deliberation to a close always results from a decision which excludes other possibilities and for which one should never refuse to bear responsibility by invoking the commands of general rules or principles.’ Chantal Mouffe quoted by Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics, Duke University Press, 2009, 13

10. ‘Habermas continues to assert that his critical theory is inspired by remnants of utopianism. He will not give up the search for a way of identifying the reasonableness of utopian hopes. …Habermas undertakes to rescue the utopian credentials of achievements whose significance had been overlooked by a tradition of critical theory shaped by Marxism. He not only considers that we have been looking in the wrong place for our utopian potentials but also that we have misunderstood the character of a utopianism relevant to a historicising and pluralistic age.’ Pauline Johnson, Habermas: Rescuing the public sphere, Routledge, London, 2006, 118


Jürgen Habermas: ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ – ‘the Kingdom of God on Earth’

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

I will first summarise what I think are the most salient points made by Habermas in his chapter ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ and I will then respond to what I think are the main issues raised.

The chapter is a study in the relation between reason (knowledge) and faith. It begins with a funeral service for an agnostic held in a church, indicating that ‘modernity’ could not offer a replacement for a religious ritual in order to mark a person’s death.

Habermas argues that the secular and the religious should engage in communicative dialogue. They share a common source in the Axial Age and while the secular must not presume to speak on religious truth the religious must accept the domination of the secular state and the ‘factual knowledge’ of science.

  • modern science compelled philosophical reason to break with metaphysics and little more was left to philosophy
  • modern reason can only come to understand itself when it addresses religious consciousness
  • Habermas rejected the Enlightenment’s unenlightened view of denying religion rational content and Hegel’s position regarding religion’s subordination to philosophy
  • Habermas states that his motive ‘for addressing the issue of faith and knowledge is to mobilise modern reason against the defeatism lurking within it.’ He is referring to postmodernism’s relativism and to scientism.
  • where ‘practical reason can justify law and morality, it falls short in motivating collective action in response to threats. Kant aimed to counter this with God as postulate. Habermas asks if an engagement with religion might resolve this dilemma for ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. Such an engagement would bear on current religious conflicts around the world ‘triggered…by (an) unexpected spiritual renewal’ and the politicisation of religion. The main religious winners are the Catholics, Evangelicals and Muslims. The Protestants in Germany and Britain, due to their national organisations, not so. The primary issue since the destruction of the World Trade Centre has been the instrumentalisation of Islam.
  • the neutrality of the state towards worldviews has set off conflicts which are either power struggles between state authority and religious movements or conflicts between those with secular or religious convictions. The liberal state cannot continue with this position – it requires convictions. And to acquire legitimation, it requires reasons to justify its neutrality which can be accepted by both the religious and the secular. On the basis of this the religious must accept the neutrality of the state in relation to worldviews, broad religious freedom and the independence of scientific research and its monopoly in producing factual knowledge. The secular state must at the same time protect freedom of belief for all. Habermas asks if the state might require the religious to justify themselves non-religiously with regard to politics or should a worldview-neutral language only be expected of politicians?
  • the liberal state must expect its secular citizens not to treat religious ideas as irrational. This engenders the question of how ‘modern’ reason and religion should relate with the other.
  • Habermas concludes with a brief genealogy of the rise of secular reason, arguing its development through a ‘shared reason’ of people of faith, unbelievers, and members of different religions.’


> Habermas refers to several ‘reasons’: ‘secular reason’, ‘“natural” reason, ‘philosophical reason’, ‘modern reason’, ‘practical reason’, ‘religious reason’, ‘shared reason’, ‘secular knowledge’ and ‘revealed knowledge’ – not to mention ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. There is one reason – and that very poorly understood, particularly in philosophy where Lloyd’s Man of Reason with his dualist exclusions is dominant. And this reason is that of Habermas – linguistic, propositional, undialectical, ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

> Habermas writes that ‘modern science compelled…philosophical reason…to break with metaphysical constructions of the totality of nature and history.’ But metaphysics is not the point – it is a straw man for the question which underlies all others – ‘Which takes precedence and which the derivative – consciousness and language or ‘matter’ – the philosophical concept for objective reality?’ What modern science compelled was that God come from heaven to earth and go within. I refer to the rise of mysticism in the West, its primary manifestation Neoplatonism. And this mysticism, this ‘secret accomplice’ via Böhme, Habermas acknowledged was of great significance to him – in fact his theory of communicative reason, his magnum opus, is built on it.

> Habermas writes of the blinkered, unenlightened enlightenment, which denies religion any rational content. He takes his place on a continuum from Hegel through Nietzsche and Weber, critical of the enlightenment from a spiritual perspective, particularly from that of unity. Habermas wrote ‘the decision to engage in action based on solidarity when faced with threats (such as the tensions and fracturings of ‘modernity’) which can be averted only by collective efforts calls for more than insight into good reasons. Kant wanted to make good this weakness of rational morality through the assurances of his philosophy of religion.’ Hegel’s answer was that philosophers find sanctuary as an isolated order of priests and that the Holy Spirit come to a speculative Lutheran cultus; that man of god, Nietzsche’s, his mystical Übermensch; Weber’s his no less mystical hero of Beruf and Habermas’s a linguistified God, detranscendentalised in the mutual recognition of communicative subjects – for all, truly a ‘Kingdom of God on earth’.

> ‘Could an altered perspective on the genealogy of reason rescue postmetaphysical thinking from this dilemma?’ Certainly, but not in the direction Habermas advocates. The grounding would need to be material (which would immediately remove religion from claims to reason) not an abstract normative.

> Habermas writes of ‘conflicts which are currently being triggered around the world by the unexpected spiritual renewal and by the unsettling political role of religious communities.’ When the only form of organised resistance available is one’s religious structure, because the government of one’s country is so compromised and democracy crushed, undoubtedly this spiritual renewal will come as unexpected to many in the West.

> Habermas writes of ‘the neutrality of the state towards worldviews.’ I disagree. The state is the organ of the capitalist class and its fundamental purpose is to embody and represent the world-view of that class. While it is necessary for cohesion that the state give the appearance of impartiality, this is not the case in practice. Perhaps the potentially most dangerous instance of this is the delicate two-faced two-step between the state and the media with regard to China. At regular intervals a story is fed to the media on China – a recent one concerning Chinese spies on this campus. Could anyone possibly argue against there being Australian and American spies here as well? Wikileaks exposed the disgusting servility of Australian political leaders to the US on the subject of China. These stories keep the tension ‘just right’ so that if and when the state with the assistance of the media needs, at the behest of the US, to whip the majority into the acceptance of war, all is in place.

And on the point of public and religious schools, Habermas’s words do not stand up – funding by Federal and state governments for decades has increasingly been taken from the public education system and given to religious and so-called private schools. If it weren’t so serious, the rorting by religious schools that occasionally appears in the media would be amusing.

> Habermas writes that ‘the liberal state must…expect its secular citizens…not to treat religious expressions as simply irrational.’ There is everything right with calling the irrational such. What would be wrong would be to do so with intolerance, abusively and with the intention of provoking violence. Habermas writes of ‘the rational core of faith’ yet in ‘Fundamentalism and Terror’ he wrote ‘Every religious doctrine rests on a dogmatic kernel of belief’.

Habermas’s late concern with religion is that of its prodigal son.


Jürgen Habermas, ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ in An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010