Hegel’s cultural supremacism and the myth of Western ‘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.

‘(The Oriental spirit) remains impoverished, arid, and just a matter for the understanding. For this reason we find, on the part of Orientals, only reflections, only arid understanding, a completely external enumeration of elements, something utterly deplorable, empty, pedantic, and devoid of spirit, an elaboration of logic similar to the old Wolffian logic. It is the same with Oriental ceremonies.

This is the general character of Oriental religious representations and philosophy. There is, as in their cultus, on the one hand an immersion in devotion, in substance, and so the pedantic detail of the cultus – a vast array of the most tasteless ceremonies and religious activities – and on the other hand, the sublimity and boundlessness in which everything perishes.

There are two Oriental peoples whom I wish to mention, the Chinese and the Indians.’

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, 106


Hegel’s Rose of ‘Reason’ on the Rosicrucian Cross

‘To comprehend what is, this is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason. …To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to enjoy the present, this is the rational insight which reconciles us to the actual, the reconciliation which philosophy affords to those in whom there has once arisen an inner voice bidding them to comprehend…’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Trans. T.M.Knox, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, 11-12



Image source

The Pilgrim’s Progress


‘Now, because it has only phenomenal knowledge for its object, this exposition seems not to be Science, free and self-moving in its own peculiar shape; yet from this standpoint 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, and achieve finally, through a completed experience of itself, the awareness of what it really is in itself.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 49

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Images: top/bottom

Nietzsche, Western mysticism and philosophy’s concealed priesthood

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), ‘Saint Francis of Assisi in His Tomb’, 1630-1634, oil on canvas, Milwaukee Art Museum

Philosophy, rather than some abstract ‘love of wisdom,’ should be a critical practice – of never accepting ‘at face value’ a person’s statements (particularly those of a philosopher) but of always analysing those statements, looking for the inconsistencies, for what is really being argued, seeking to understand how it is being argued – and of developing one’s own argument in response.

This should be all the more so in the case of Nietzsche, who was a master rhetorician, and more broadly, with regard to the impact of mysticism on Western culture. Mysticism (its primary Western form Neoplatonism) has provided the theoretical justification and tools both for what philosophers have presented as the achievements of the most rigorous thought, the most punctilious ‘reason’ and for an attack on that.

Nietzsche is exemplary of what happened in philosophy, particularly after the late eighteenth century, in response to the rise of science. In a nutshell, God was brought from heaven and placed – concealed – within. Nietzsche himself identified a concealed priesthood in philosophy1 – a priesthood Hegel overtly argued for in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.2 Nietzsche and Hegel themselves were of that priesthood.

Unless one is familiar with mysticism (how it is expressed, its theory and developments on it) one cannot fully appreciate its pervasive influence. Nietzsche’s philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy (in which he repeatedly referred to the Primal Oneness and paraphrased the core simile of the sculptor in The Enneads) to his final published work The Will to Power (which contains, in its final ‘aphorism,’ a synopsis of The Enneads) is suffused with the influence of mysticism – particularly Neoplatonism.

Nietzsche was through and through a man of ‘god’ (he came from a family of Lutheran pastors and was referred to when he was young as ‘the little pastor’). This bowerbird told us that the Christian God (which he hated, not least, because he was so damaged by it) was dead (he got the ‘death of god’, as did Hegel, from a Lutheran hymn) only so his god, a Dionysian Übermensch, similarly tortured and sacrificed like Christ (whom Nietzsche loved), could appear centre stage.

He, like many before and after on this matter, feared the disapproval of his fellow educated. Safranski wrote that, wanting to read the writing of Max Stirner (Johann Caspar Schmidt – Marx and Engels referred to him in The German Ideology as ‘Saint Max’), Nietzsche sent one of his students (Adolf Baumgartner) to the Basel library in 1874 to get it. On another occasion, Safranski reports, he was quoted by his friend Ida Overbeck as saying that she would not let on that he was familiar with Stirner’s writing.

Nietzsche was accused of not only having been influenced by Stirner but of having plagiarised him. Safranski quotes one contemporary of Nietzsche’s having written that Nietzsche would have been ‘permanently discredited in any educated milieu if he had demonstrated even the least bit of sympathy for Stirner’. (Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography, Trans., Shelley Frisch, Granata Books, London, 2002, 126)

Similarly, the lyricism, the centrality of creativity and the progression towards unity in the philosophy of Plotinus (and developments on it) became absorbed into Nietzsche’s philosophy (as it had been into Hegel’s) as an anchor for a Romanticism that had outlived its time, against the rising tide of the Common Man.

Once the learned and deep thinkers who had so thoroughly rejected the Neoplatonic vitalism of the outcast Nietzsche’s philosophy came to appreciate its usefulness (as they did Bergson’s equally vitalist Neoplatonism around the same time) against the rise of science, against the acknowledgement that we can and do know the world and particularly against materialism with its recognition of the primacy of objective reality (‘matter’) over consciousness and thought – their response changed and Nietzsche’s ascent – in memoriam – was underway.

Other examples: the same secrecy and denial was held by many with regard to their avid study of the writing of Spinoza and by Schelling, likewise, with regard to Swedenborg. And it is all in the same area – of ‘subjectivism’ (‘pantheism,’ mysticism etc.)’.

In hiding and denying this influence, academic philosophers – who have arrogated behind cloistered walls what Socrates practised on the streets of Athens and gave his life for – have utterly failed in both social and intellectual responsibility.

I have set up this blog to contribute to exposing and addressing their failure. I should also add that with the passing of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘modernism’ and increasingly, ‘postmodernism’, some academics are slowly coming to acknowledge and engage with this ‘unpleasant’ – and dangerous ‘subjectivism’ (‘dangerous’ because to do so threatens to expose not only so much dishonesty – particularly by career philosophers – but the central cultural arrogance they serve – that we in the West are the bearers of Reason and it is this reason that has enabled us to achieve all that we have).

To recognise the immense contribution mysticism has inspired in Western culture, to understand its ‘reason’ and to stop appropriating achievements made on that basis to a Reason foreign to it – I refer to the Neoplatonic distinction between the reason of dynamic unity and that of static analysis, between that which was for Hegel ‘speculative’ and that which separates, which pulls apart – would only be to the great benefit of philosophy.

Magee wrote ‘an appreciation of the role of mystical ideas in the thought of Hegel and other modern thinkers opens new vistas, new paradigms for the history of modern philosophy and for the philosophy of history. Modernity is a project, a social and historical movement with a linear trajectory: from unreason to reason, superstition to science, domination by nature to dominion over it, mastery and slavery to universal freedom, darkness to light.’3

I strongly recommend Stephen MacKenna’s magnificent translation of The Enneads (abridged) and William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot be Said, which exemplifies the extent to which mysticism has shaped and continues to shape Western culture and its reason.



1. ‘The decisive sign that reveals that the priest (-including the concealed priest, the philosopher) has become master not only within a certain religious community but in general is that décadence morality, the will to the end, counts as morality in itself, is the unconditional value everywhere accorded to the unegoistic and the hostility accorded the egoistic.’
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo 1908, Trans. R.J.Hollingdale, Introduction Michael Tanner, Penguin, 2004, 66-67

2. ‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.
Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’
G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

Plotinus wrote ‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’
Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans. Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

3. Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 253-280, 280


Hegel, mystic, and the ‘Reason’ of the ‘master’ race

The Abduction of Europa, Rembrandt, 1632. Oil on oak panel, Getty Centre, Los Angeles.

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 45


What comprises the reason that this European master of ‘Reason’ and ‘the rational’ asserts? He rightly looks past the propositional but adheres to the linguistic and conceptual. Is it not philosophic to question beyond these as well? Does not his own life and work provide ample justification?


How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).

The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…



1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

Hegel on contradiction: part four


…internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 440-441


Part four/to be continued…

On philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’

Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C.Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162



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) 


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.)


From page 360 of vol. 4.1

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


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)


From page 101 of vol. 6.1

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


Contents of vol. 9

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



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.’


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).


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)


From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14b


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more!1

Magee wrote

In the preceding section, I implicitly drew a distinction between two types of mysticism. One strain of mysticism emphasises the ineffable mystery of the coincidentia oppositorum, and stops there. The other strain, exemplified by Boehme, actually seeks positive knowledge of the nature of the divine, usually through some method of articulating the different ‘aspects’ of God.2

Six pages prior to this he had written

When Hegel discusses mysticism in the Encyclopaedia Logic, he is emphasising the coincidentia oppositorum as characteristic of mysticism3

These two quotes exemplify Magee’s confusion and problem.4 Not only have I shown, with quotations from the Hermetica, that, according to the key Hermetic texts, god is complete and perfect, that our consciousness and capacity to see the things that are in heaven are limited and our knowledge of god is ineffable, I have argued that the unity of opposites – what Cusanus named coincidentia oppositorum – is at the heart of Neoplatonic dialectics and is considered philosophically in a way and with a thoroughness that is entirely absent from the Hermetica. 

Further and again as I have argued (13.6.6), the cardinal Cusanus explored beyond the walls of paradise to the possibility of knowing God. Hegel rightly emphasised coincidentia oppositorum as ‘characteristic of mysticism’ – the mysticism of Neoplatonism – the current of which he was its consummate proponent.

Magee wrote that Böhme represented a crucial shift in Christian philosophy –

from the idea of all reality as moving toward God to the idea of God himself as part of the movement of reality as well. This is the core of Böhme’s Hermeticism: the conception of God not as transcendent and static, existing “outside” the world, impassive and complete, but as an active process unfolding within the world, within history.5

Not only is the god of the Hermetica complete – it is man who undergoes development in his return to divinity. But the process to which Magee refers is explained by my developmental account of Neoplatonism, built on a current of thought thinking itself which, as I have indicated Hegel subscribed to (12.3.3), runs from Aristotle through Neoplatonism, Christianity and the ‘modern’ philosophy of Descartes.

Proclus wrote of the second element of his triad Being, Life, Intelligence (Intellect)

While Intellect is only participated in by beings capable of cognition, life pertains even to those that have no share in knowledge whatsoever; for we say of plants that they are alive. Accordingly, beyond Intellect we need to place the plane of Life which gives rise to a greater number of effects, irradiating its own gifts into more beings than Intellect does.6

Those ‘gifts’ are irradiated into and unfolded in the world generally, and therefore in its history.

Magee continues, asking

What initiates this process in the first place? Böhme held that God is moved by the desire to reveal Himself to Himself, but that this self-revelation is psychologically impossible (my italics) unless an other stands opposed to Him7

Here is the key to understanding Böhme’s theosophical take on Neoplatonism – in addition to his interweaving it with the mythology of the Trinity, he further ‘psychologised’ the Trinity. He addresses the Devil as ‘blackguard’ and ‘detestable tormenter’8

Hegel quoted him on God

God is…an all powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing, all-smelling, all-tasting one who exists within himself as mild, cheerful, sweet, merciful, and joyful, indeed as joy itself9

wrote of his Son that he is

the emanation of the will, which makes the One peaceably divided. The Son is the heart pulsating in the Father, the kernel in all energies, the cause of the burgeoning joy in all10

and quoted him again on Spirit, that it is

an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-smelling, all-hearing, all-feeling, all-tasting spirit.11

Magee wrote that it

seems quite plausible that Hegel was positively influenced by Boehme, and in a significant way.12

and that

This Hermetic doctrine of the “circular” relationship between God and creation and the necessity of man for the completion of God is utterly original. It is not to be found in earlier philosophy. But it recurs again and again in the thought of Hermeticists, and it is the chief doctrinal identity between Hermeticism and Hegelian thought.13

The originality and recurrence in thought are Magee’s. He has all but ignored the relationship between Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, the interest that those who subscribed to one had in the other and therefore their influence on each other, particularly by the latter on the former, and he has ignored the influence of Christian Neoplatonists such as Pseudo-Dionysius and Eriugena on medieval and later German philosophy and Christian theosophy. Magee cannot excuse himself by writing

Hermeticism is the tradition that grew up around these texts (the Hermetica) over the course of centuries. Many different influences came together to create the Hermetic tradition, until, in fact, it had drifted considerably beyond the ideas expressed in the Hermetica.14

because not only did he note of his argument that Hegel was significantly influenced by Böhme that

Of course, there are serious difficulties with (it)15

he twice quoted the Corpus Hermeticum, both times in a misleading manner, to anchor his claim that God requires the philosopher for his ‘actualisation’, for his completion, and that he sent his Son into the world for that purpose.


1. ‘But there is more. Hermeticists not only hold that God requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a crucial role in God’s self-actualisation.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 9; ‘Shockingly, Boehme claims that apart from or prior to creation God is not yet God.’, Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 257.
2. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ op. cit., 277
3. Ibid., 271
4. When Hegel began reading Böhme is uncertain. Magee gave different periods – in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (2001) he wrote that Hegel appears to have become conversant with the works of Böhme, Eckhart and Johannes Tauler in the period 1793-1801 (when he tutored first at Berne then at Frankfurt) (3) and ‘Hegel could have encountered Böhme’s work as early as the mid to late 1790’s’ (48). In ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ (2009) he wrote ‘H.S.Harris is “inclined to believe in Boehme’s influence upon Hegel from 1801 onwards.”’ (257) and in ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’ (2014) he wrote ‘‘It seems likely that Hegel took up Boehme for the fist time in Jena in the period 1801-07.’ (529)
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 38
6. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, quoted in Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 97
7. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 38
8. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 96
9. Ibid., 98
10. Ibid., 100
11. Ibid., 103
12. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 596
13. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 10
14. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ op. cit., 278
15. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op, cit., 596

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