Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13s

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

The problems of language and epistemology are closely related. Cusanus gave a great deal of thought to how language frames and directs considerations of the latter. Believing that learned ignorance required a new kind of logic, he thought that coincident language and method in theology reconciles opposites and mediates between the infinite and the finite and that to attain knowledge, just as sensory reasoning has to be transcended, so too the sensory meanings of words – the limits of conceptual thinking. He subscribed to ‘non-conceptual insight’1 and held that the function of language in mystical theology is to kindle and rouse the soul. I have addressed this same fundamental aspect of Hegel’s philosophy throughout this thesis, using Magee’s apt expression ‘mytho-poetic circumscription’, particularly at 10.6.2

Cusanus was acutely aware of the imprecision of words

it is not the case that words are precise and thus that a thing cannot be named by a more precise word. For the form which a man conceives is not the thing’s essential form, which precedes each thing. If anyone knew the name of that form, he would name all things correctly and would have a most perfect knowledge of all things.3

Yet, while fully aware of the constraints of concepts, he also recognised their philosophical necessity (they are the vehicles for truth) and their speculative potential (the exploration of them in their unfolding is ‘mind’s’ means of movement). In his writing on both these points he far more than laid the groundwork for Hegel’s far more systematically dialectical conceptual philosophising.

As discussed (9.3,, God’s ‘Mind’ is the exemplar for our minds. As infinite ‘Mind’ (‘the totality of the truth of things’4) moves itself by conceiving, so does ‘mind’ (‘the totality of the assimilation of things’5). Where divine ‘Mind’ produces things, our ‘minds’ (as images of God’s), conceptualise in the unfolding and enfolding of their world – conceptualisation itself being the production of knowledge. ‘Mind’, the image of the Trinity and that of ‘a second god’6 is the always living, self-moving triunity of intellectual life that gives rise to the ‘rational operations’7 of its understanding.

As dealt with previously (13.4.1), Buhle, in vol. 2.1 of his Geschichte der neuern Philosophie, one of the histories Hegel is known to have used as sources for his Lectures on the History of Philosophy – but which history he did not name – discussed and quoted in detail Cusanus’ theory of cognition in his De coniecturis. For Cusanus, Christ, as the Word of God, is the centre of the conceptual structure of the world, the embodiment of the Concept of all concepts – the crucial bond between infinite and finite.8 When ‘mind’ functions as the image of God by producing concepts, God shines forth in it.

‘Definition’ (not that of ratio but of intellectus) was extremely important to Cusanus. In defining the concept as ‘the unfolding of the word’9, he implied that he considered its meaning to be a developmental process. It is both that which is first and, in its unfolding, defines (develops) itself and what grows from it

not only [must it be the definition of itself], but also all things must be defined through it, since they cannot exist unless they exist and are defined through it.10

For Hegel, God had the ‘presuppositionless’ right (! see that the Science of Logic (and Hegel’s entire system) began with him.11 Both his Logic and Encyclopaedia conclude with Absolute Idea which Hegel equated with Aristotle’s concept of God.12 Magee was not correct in writing that Absolute Idea is defined by the development leading to it13 because ‘God’, both the source and entirety of that Neoplatonic process, defines it. For Cusanus and Hegel, ‘God’ is his (its) own definition.14

The academic position – i.e. the position of those employed to maintain capitalist ideology and domination – is that German philosophy after Kant developed in response to him not that all of them developed in response to Neoplatonism, in response to a philosophy with ‘the tremendous power of the negative’15 at its core

Hegel derives the basic outlines of his account of self-driving reason from Kant. Kant divided human rationality into two faculties: the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of reason. The understanding uses concepts to organise and regularise our experiences of the world. Reason’s job is to coordinate the concepts and categories of the understanding by developing a completely unified, conceptual system, and it does this work, Kant thought, on its own, independently of how those concepts might apply to the world. Reason coordinates the concepts of the understanding by following out necessary chains of syllogisms to produce concepts that achieve higher and higher levels of conceptual unity. Indeed, this process will lead reason to produce its own transcendental ideas, or concepts that go beyond the world of experience. Kant calls this necessary, concept-creating reason “speculative” reason (cf. Critique of Pure Reason, Bxx–xxi, A327/B384). Reason creates its own concepts or ideas—it “speculates”—by generating new and increasingly comprehensive concepts of its own, independently of the understanding. In the end, Kant thought, reason will follow out such chains of syllogisms until it develops completely comprehensive or unconditioned universals—universals that contain all of the conditions or all of the less-comprehensive concepts that help to define them. As we saw Hegel’s dialectics adopts Kant’s notion of a self-driving and concept-creating “speculative” reason, as well as Kant’s idea that reason aims toward unconditioned universality or absolute concepts. …

Hegel adopts Kant’s dialectical conception of reason, but he liberates reason for knowledge from the tyranny of the understanding. Kant was right that reason speculatively generates concepts on its own, and that this speculative process is driven by necessity and leads to concepts of increasing universality or comprehensiveness. Kant was even right to suggest—as he had shown in the discussion of the antinomies—that reason is dialectical, or necessarily produces contradictions on its own. Again, Kant’s mistake was that he fell short of saying that these contradictions are in the world itself. He failed to apply the insights of his discussion of the antinomies to “things in themselves” (SL-M 56; SL-dG 35). Indeed, Kant’s own argument proves that the dialectical nature of reason can be applied to things themselves. The fact that reason develops those contradictions on its own, without our heads to help it, shows that those contradictions are not just in our heads, but are objective, or in the world itself. Kant, however, failed to draw this conclusion, and continued to regard reason’s conclusions as illusions. Still, Kant’s philosophy vindicated the general idea that the contradictions he took to be illusions are both objective—or out there in the world—and necessary. As Hegel puts it, Kant vindicates the general idea of “the objectivity of the illusion and the necessity of the contradiction which belongs to the nature of thought determinations” (SL-M 56; cf. SL-dG 35), or to the nature of concepts themselves.16

I could not believe that this mix of key elements in Kant’s philosophy, all found in Neoplatonism, did not come from Neoplatonism, particularly via Cusanus (see 13.4) or from others influenced by it – the two ‘reasons’, how concepts are created and used in a dialectical conception of self-driving reason – a ‘speculative’ process of necessity leading to concepts of increasing universality or absolute concepts and syllogisms that produce concepts that achieve higher levels of conceptual unity (which I will soon address).17 Above all is the importance of theology to Hegel’s theory of knowledge.



1. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 139
2. Magee himself engaged in his own mytho-poesis: ’the Absolute is literally embodied in the pure aether of thought. Hegel’s philosophical speech is not an account of the Absolute, it is the concrete, “aetherial” realisation of the Absolute itself.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 95. How an ‘aetherial’ realisation of the Absolute is ‘concrete’ is known only by Magee.
3. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 33 (‘The meaning of a word’),97, 1339; ‘just as human reason does not attain unto the quiddity of God’s works, so neither does a name. For names are imposed by the operation of reason. For we name one thing by one name, for a certain reason; and [we name] the very same thing by another name, for another reason. Moreover, one language has names that are more suitable, whereas another language has names that are cruder and less suitable. In this way, I see that since the suitability of names admits of more and less, the precise name [of a thing] is not known.’, Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 2,58, 536
4. Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa], op. cit.
5. I.e. ‘likeness of truth’. Ibid.
6. ‘note that Hermes Trismegistus states that man is a second god. For just as God is the Creator of real beings and of natural forms, so man is the creator of conceptual beings and of artificial forms that are only likenesses of his intellect, even as God’s creatures are likenesses of the Divine Intellect.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 7, 794; ‘For man is god, but not unqualifiedly, since he is man; therefore he is a human god. Man is also world, but he is not contractedly all things, since he is man; therefore man is a microcosm, or a human world’, Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II,14,143, 236
7. ‘mind brings forth from itself rational operations, [or rational movement]. Thus, mind is the form of moving.’ Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 15,157, 587
8. ‘As often before, the Word is the term for the unity of the created and uncreated worlds. However, with Cusanus the old mysticism of the cosmic Word is combined with new and remarkably modern theories of the universe.’, Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 111
9. ‘Aristotle asserted that the light of knowledge is in the definition, which is the unfolding of the word.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 33,98, 1339
10. ‘Dionysius saw these points very clearly in the chapter on the Perfect and the One, in The Divine Names, where he says: “That One—the Cause of all—is not a one out of many; rather, it is prior to everything one, prior to all multitude, and is the definition of every one and of all multitude.”…the trine and one God is the Definition defining itself and all other things.’, Ibid., 14,39-40, 1303-1304
11. ‘God has the absolutely undisputed right that the beginning be made with him’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 75, 78.
12. ‘now the idea comes to be its own object. This is the noesis noeseos which Aristotle long ago termed the supreme form of the idea.’, §236, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 292
13. ‘the entirety of the Logic is the “definition” of Absolute Idea’, ‘Hegel speaks of Absolute Idea as “the Idea that thinks itself” (EL #236), and he explicitly likens it to Aristotle’s concept of God.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 24, 100
14. ‘NICHOLAS: I ask you, then, first of all, what is it that most of all gives us knowledge?
FERDINAND: Definition.
NICHOLAS: You answer correctly, for the definition is the constituting ground (oratio seu ratio). But on what basis is [definition] called definition?
FERDINAND: On the basis of defining, since it defines everything.
NICHOLAS: Perfectly correct. Hence, if definition defines everything, then does it define even itself?
FERDINAND: Certainly, since it excludes nothing.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On the Not-Other’), 1461-2, in Nicholas of Cusa on God as Not-other, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1999, 1108-1166, 1,3, 1108-1109
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 19
16. Julie E. Maybee, ‘Hegel’s Dialectics,’, op. cit.
17. Consider Kant’s perspectivism and his transcendental unity of apperception, a ‘pure original unchangeable consciousness’ (Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, A 107, 136). Redding said Schelling ‘developed Kant’s hints about a type of Neoplatonic unity of the world of things-in-themselves by identifying this world with the totality of things in their interconnection. He identifies the world of appearances with this totality, as it were, grasped from within’, lecture, University of Sydney, 04.10.10. Plotinus ‘solved’ Kant’s phenomenal/noumenal dilemma – 1,500 years before Hegel: ‘Consider sense-knowledge: its objects seem most patently certified, yet the doubt returns whether the apparent reality may not lie in the states of the percipient rather than in the material before him; the decision demands intelligence or reasoning. Besides, even granting that what the senses grasp is really contained in the objects, none the less what is thus known by the senses is an image: sense can never grasp the thing itself; this remains forever outside. (my italics)

…The only way to this is to leave nothing outside of the veritable Intellectual-Principle which thus has knowledge in the true knowing (that of identification with the object), cannot forget, need not go wandering in search. At once truth is there, this is the seat of the authentic Existents, it becomes living and intellective: these are the essentials of that most lofty Principle; and failing them where is its worth, its grandeur?

Thus veritable truth is not accordance with an external; it is self-accordance (my italics); it affirms nothing other than itself and is nothing other; it is at once existence and self-affirmation.’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.5.1-2. Magee, to repeat, wrote, quoting Beck and without expansion, that Schelling read Cusanus. ‘Beck also makes the claim that the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as theosophy and Protestant mysticism, have their roots in Cusa’ (Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 28)

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Engels on Hegel: part 3 The end of philosophy?


With all philosophers it is precisely the “system” which is perishable; and for the simple reason that it springs from an imperishable desire of the human mind — the desire to overcome all contradictions. But if all contradictions are once and for all disposed of, we shall have arrived at so-called absolute truth — world history will be at an end. And yet it has to continue, although there is nothing left for it to do — hence, a new, insoluble contradiction. As soon as we have once realized — and in the long run no one has helped us to realize it more than Hegel himself — that the task of philosophy thus stated means nothing but the task that a single philosopher should accomplish that which can only be accomplished by the entire human race in its progressive development — as soon as we realize that, there is an end to all philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word. One leaves alone “absolute truth”, which is unattainable along this path or by any single individual; instead, one pursues attainable relative truths along the path of the positive sciences, and the summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking. At any rate, with Hegel philosophy comes to an end; on the one hand, because in his system he summed up its whole development in the most splendid fashion; and on the other hand, because, even though unconsciously, he showed us the way out of the labyrinth of systems to real positive knowledge of the world.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886


Full text at Marxists Internet Archive


There is nothing in the world but matter in motion


CMB Dipole

There is nothing in the world but matter in motion, and matter in motion cannot move otherwise than in space and time. Human conceptions of space and time are relative, but these relative conceptions go to compound absolute truth. These relative conceptions, in their development, move towards absolute truth and approach nearer and nearer to it. The mutability of human conceptions of space and time no more refutes the objective reality of space and time than the mutability of scientific knowledge of the structure and forms of matter in motion refutes the objective reality of the external world.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 158

Earth at Equinox, September 2013, from the Russian meteorological satellite Electro-L