Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14f


14.3 The influence of Neoplatonism

On the profound influence Neoplatonism has had and continues to have on Western culture, Wildberg wrote

It is an undeniable fact, although nowadays rarely acknowledged, that the general outlook and the principal doctrines of the Neoplatonists proved exceedingly influential throughout the entire history of western philosophy. …During the Renaissance, ancient Greek learning, and Neoplatonism in particular, experienced a dramatic revival in the West in the wake of the work of Gemistus Plethon (1355–1452), Bessarion (1403–1472) and, above all, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), whose translation and interpretation of Plato and Plotinus in the second half of the 15th century influenced not only the philosophy, but also the art and literature of the period. It may even be true to say that even more than the writings of Plato and Aristotle themselves Neoplatonic ideas have continued to influence Western thinkers of the idealist persuasion, such as the Cambridge Platonists (who were really Neoplatonists), Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin, to name but a few.1

With regard to the influences on the Hermetica, van den Broek wrote

the philosophical Hermetica were all written in the first centuries of our era, under a strong influence of Greek philosophy and Jewish and Egyptian mythological and theological speculation.2

Chlup expanded

The distinction between the highest principle and Intellect as the first hypostasis derived from it originally appeared in Speusippus, re-surfacing in Platonism around the first century AD possibly under the influence of Neopythagorean speculations (cf. Whittaker 1969 and 1973). Extensive, though thoroughly unsystematic use of this idea was made by the platonising Hermetic treatises (e.g. Corp. Herm. II 14; XI 4; XII 1; XII 14), most of which probably originated in the second century AD.3

In Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper we read

the Hermetica attributed to (Hermes Trismegistus) are certainly of late Alexandrian origin, dating from the time of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics (i.e., the second to the fourth century A.D.). This correct dating of the Hermetica, accomplished by Isaac Casaubon in 1614, accounts for the heavily Platonic and Neoplatonic tone of the Hermetic corpus.4

Magee also acknowledged a significant influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism

(Plotinus claimed) that we possess an astral or aetherial body, which was to become a major tenet of the later Hermetic philosophy and of the contemporary “New Age.”5

In An Introduction to Jacob Boehme there are a number of references to the influence of Neoplatonism on Böhme and theosophy

‘These resonances, in conjunction with perceived pantheistic elements, have prompted suggestions that Boehme drew ultimate inspiration from an ancient theology that embraced currents of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Christian adaptations of the Jewish Kabbalah.’6

‘Taken together, these mediated and directly encountered textual and oral sources explain the other-wise problematic presence in the corpus of a non-university educated shoemaker of sophisticated mystical, apocalyptic, alchemical, astrological, and seemingly Gnostic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic ideas’7

‘Just as writings under the name Paracelsus may have been a conduit for Gnostic vestiges, so too did they channel streams of Neoplatonism. Running from Plotinus through the Florentine Platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), this Neoplatonic current may, in its appropriation and adaptation, partially account for Boehme’s elaboration of a process of emanation during the creation as well as what certain commentators regard as a pantheistic imbued conception of nature.’8

‘The notion of divine powers in nature is Neo-Platonic and patristic. …Nor are Boehme’s multiple worlds new. Nicholas of Cusa, Johannes Reuchlin and Agrippa von Nettesheim could have served as precedents’9

‘It is clear that his (Böhme’s) writings can be located within broader currents: alchemy and alchemical medicine; apocalypticism and prophecy; astrology; heterodox writings; utopian literature; mystical theology, with a particular emphasis on Neoplatonic authors; and spiritual contemplation.’10

On the subject of Hegel’s Idea ‘freely releasing itself’, Magee quotes Schelling having implied that the inspiration for this came from Böhme

most amusingly, we must note the words of Schelling. In a lecture given in the 1830s, Schelling remarks disdainfully, “Jacob Boehme says: divine freedom vomits itself into nature. Hegel says: divine freedom releases nature. What is one to think of this notion of releasing? This much is clear: the biggest compliment one can pay to this notion is to call it ‘theosophical.’”11

Surely less amusing for Magee if he were to consider it – given the singular force of his argument – should be his own view that we must equally note

Notoriously, Hegel employs Neoplatonic emanation imagery to describe the transition from Logic to Philosophy of Nature, saying that the Idea “freely releases itself.” This sort of approach is to be found in Eckhart as well.12

Redding recognised the importance and long-standing influence of Neoplatonism in Germany prior and up to Hegel’s time. He writes of a commentary by the nineteen-year old Schelling on Plato’s Timaeus

This work, only recently discovered, has added weight to the thesis of the importance of Platonism and Neoplatonism for the development of the post-Kantian idealism of Schelling and Hegel. …popular forms of Christianity in the German states had long had a deep-running Neoplatonic pantheistic-tending stream which had found expression in heterodox thinkers like Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) and Jacob Böhme (1575-1624)… In the 1780s Böhme had been taken up by the Catholic philosopher Franz von Baader, and in the 1790s Plotinus himself was being read under the urging of Novalis, who had stressed the proximity of Plotinus’ views to those of Kant and Fichte (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-88).13

On the relationship between Romanticism and Neoplatonism Hannak wrote

In their search for a deeper dimension of being not beyond but rather within reality itself, the Romantics were fascinated by Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and Kabbalistic  texts as well as by contemporary Mesmerism.14


1. Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/
2. Roelof van den Broek, ‘Hermetism and Gnosticism’ in The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit. 201
3. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., Note, 14
4. Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner in Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), op. cit., 105
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit.,, 118
6. Ariel Hessayon and Sarah Apetrei, ‘Introduction: Boehme’s Legacy in Perspective’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 30-79, 33
7. Ariel Hessayon, ’Boehme’s Life and Times’, Ibid., 80-178, 146
8. Ibid., 150
9. Andrew Weeks, ’Radical Reformation and the Anticipation of Modernism in Jacob Boehme’, Ibid., 179-262, 197-198
10. Ariel Hessayon, ’Jacob Boehme’s Writings During the English Revolution and Afterwards: Their Publication, Dissemination, and Influence’, Ibid., 344-434, 374
11. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 1024
12. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 266
13. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 126
14. Kristine Hannak, ’Boehme and German Romanticism’ in An Introduction to Jacob Boehme: Four Centuries of Thought and Reception, op. cit., 701-776, 726

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14a


14. Magee on Hermeticism, Böhme and Hegel

14.1 Magee’s misrepresentation of the Hermetica

My writing in this section is premised on my thesis to this point – that Neoplatonism underwent significant development and adaptation within both pagan and Christian cultures and that the most complex and thorough manifestation of that development and adaptation is the philosophy of Hegel.

Prior to my reading the Hermetica1 I have given Magee high praise for arguing that Hegel was not only influenced by mysticism – the evidence abundant and the influence decisive2 – but that he was a mystic. Magee correctly wrote that it should no longer be possible to treat Hegel as an arch-rationalist, ‘let alone to read him in a non-metaphysical or anti-theological manner.’3 His discussion of Hegel’s mytho-poetic circumscription is insightful and accurate. Magee’s philosophical position is all the more notable given that he is an academic – the great majority of philosophy academics still dutifully parrot the ideological line that Hegel is the patriarch of conceptual reason.

The evidence Magee details of Hegel’s interest in Hermeticism4 throughout his career is undeniable, long-overdue and excellent but the very charge that he makes of other academics, that they wilfully distort and misrepresent that evidence, seeing what they want to see5 applies equally to him in his argument that Hegel’s mysticism is Hermeticist. Magee’s writing on the subject exemplifies the academic ignorance of and hostility towards Neoplatonism and the developments within it, deliberately and grossly misrepresents the Hermetica in order to shoehorn Hegel into the status of ‘Hermeticist’ and fails to recognise the deeply ethical aspect of the philosophies of both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism.

Magee begins Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition with a simple, striking and challenging assertion

Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom – he believes he has found it. …Hegel claims to have arrived at Absolute Knowledge, which he identifies with wisdom. Hegel’s claim to have attained wisdom is completely contrary to the original Greek conception of philosophy as the love of wisdom, that is, the ongoing pursuit rather than the final possession of wisdom6

He states dramatically

Hegel’s thought is not a part of the history of philosophy. It represents an altogether different standpoint, one that represents completed wisdom, not the search for wisdom. Hegel is a wise man offering not Philosophie but Wissenschaft, scientia, episteme. He calls this science of wisdom “speculation” and opposes it to reflection (Reflexion).7


Hermeticism replaces the love of wisdom with the lust for power. As we shall see, Hegel’s system is the ultimate expression of this pursuit of mastery.8

There are a number of problems in the above for Magee. Not only has he repeatedly referred to ‘Hegel’s philosophy’ and Hermeticism as philosophy in his writing,9 Magee fails to recognise that the Greek ‘love of wisdom’ was never the arcane abstract divorced from the world so beloved of modern philosophy academics, but that it was centred on their thinking about the world. The ‘first Greek philosopher’ Thales modelled this – the root of ‘wisdom’ is ‘knowledge’.

To lay claim to ‘absolute knowledge’ – capitalised or not – is a philosophical position no less than is a claim to be pursuing ‘wisdom’ or to be the proud possessor of it. Each must be defended. According to his argument, Magee not only implies that one philosophical school – Hermeticism – is the mere expression of a lust for power, he also rejects Neoplatonism, according to my argument and with parallels to Hermeticism from the history of philosophy – a school described by Hegel as the consummation and culmination of Greek philosophy.10

By implication, Magee is denying that what Hegel wrote reflecting the ‘world within’ of consciousness is a complex and deeply subtle philosophical enquiry – a position I do not believe he holds. Again, Magee fails to appreciate the ethical nature of both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism – both of which are focused on the Good as a fundamental principle and a pinnacle of their systems. Both schools contain reflections on the physical world in relation to their world of consciousness.

Magee argues that what he claims is Hermeticism describes Hegel’s system. That he charged Hegel with replacing philosophy with theosophy is particularly noteworthy

Hegel displays the essential characteristic of Hermeticism: the doctrine that God alone is not complete, that He lacks self-knowledge, and that He therefore creates the world as the mirror in which he recognises Himself, specifically through the speculative activity of the Hermetic adept, who by knowing God, allows God to know himself. Hegel claims to be such an adept, having replaced the love of wisdom with the possession of wisdom, philosophy with theosophy.11

Magee repeats this claim over and again12 But in doing so, he deliberately and grossly distorts Hermeticism – specifically, the philosophy in the Hermetica (both the Corpus Hermeticum which he quotes and the Asclepius to which he referred). The following quotation summarises why Magee thinks Hegel was an Hermeticist

Hermeticists not only hold that God requires creation, they make a specific creature, man, play a crucial role in God’s self-actualisation. Hermeticism holds that man can know God, and that man’s knowledge of God is necessary for God’s own completion. Consider the words of Corpus Hermeticum 10: “For God does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of God. It is ascent to Olympus.” Corpus Hermeticum 11 asks, “Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him.” As Garth Fowden notes, what God gains from creation is recognition: “Man’s contemplation of God is in some sense a two-way process. Not only does Man wish to know God, but God too desires to be known by the most glorious of His creations, Man.” In short, it is man’s end to achieve knowledge of God (or “the wisdom of God,” theosophy). In so doing, man realises God’s own need to be recognised. Man’s knowledge of God becomes God’s knowledge of himself. Thus the need for which the cosmos is created is the need for self-knowledge, attained through recognition. Variations on this doctrine are to be found throughout the Hermetic tradition.13

According to the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, God does not require creation for his completion – he is complete (which is expressed in several ways). Mankind plays no role in God’s ‘self-actualisation’; mankind’s knowledge of God is necessary for mankind’s ‘completion’ – return to divinity. Magee’s partial quotations from Corpus Hermeticum X and XI deliberately misrepresent Hermetic philosophy. Regarding the first quotation, God does not ignore mankind and wishes to be recognised because of his goodness, not from need. ‘Recognition’ (knowledge) of God is mankind’s only deliverance – from evil. The full, substantiating quote reads

For god does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of god. It is ascent to Olympus. A soul becomes good only in this way, (my italics) though it is not good [forever] but becomes evil. By necessity it becomes so.’

“What do you mean, O Trismegistus?”

“Envision the soul of a child, my son, which has not yet accepted its separation from itself; its body has not yet attained its full bulk, {of which it has only a little as yet}. How beautiful it is to look at, from every point of view, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still depending closely from the soul of the cosmos. But when the body gets its bulk and drags the soul down to the body’s grossness, the soul, having separated from itself, gives birth to forgetting, and it no longer shares in the beautiful and the good. The forgetting becomes vice.14

Likewise with Magee’s second quote – the full text, echoing the point of my first quotation reads

And do you say, “god is unseen”? Hold your tongue! Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him. This is the goodness of god, this is his excellence (my italics): that he is visible through all things.15

Magee has quoted from the Corpus Hermeticum in such a way as to incorrectly identify a basis for Böhme’s theosophy and on the back of that, to define Hegel’s mysticism as Hermetic.

The parallels between Neoplatonism and Hermeticism are several. Neoplatonism and Hermeticism are both built on emanation from and return to a source. In both the Enneads and the Asclepius that source is ‘motion motionless’. Where the Enneads have the three hypostases (the One, Intellectual-Principle and All-Soul) and Proclus’ more developed triad within the second hypostasis comprising Being, Life and Intelligence reflected, as I have argued, in the structure of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia and then Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, the Corpus Hermeticum speaks of God, the cosmos as son and human. In both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism there is that same move from first principle to existence to intellect which is the means of return again to a ‘community’.

The potential for the One, which Plotinus described as ‘that self-intellection which takes place in eternal repose’,16 to be known is resolved in Proclus’ triad in which Being is fully a part of the process of knowledge. Cusanus, following him, theorised the knowing of God (13.6.6). Furthermore and again contrary to Magee’s distinction between Plotinus’ One and Hermeticism’s God – a most important point – the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius speak of the knowledge of God as ineffable, the latter of the limited capacity of our consciousness to see ‘great things’.

Both philosophies recognise the centrality of contradiction and change, the fundamental difference overall between them being that Hermeticism is philosophy as myth and aphorism and Neoplatonism philosophy as analysis and argument.

In order to show how and the degree to which Magee misrepresented Hermeticism and the Hermetica (I include here as did Copenhaver in his translation both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius) and to illustrate the parallels between Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, I include quotations from those texts, with my summarising points in italics. I have used two translations for each, the first two by Copenhaver, the second two in turn by Everard (published twenty six years after Böhme’s death) and Mead’s, published in 1906.

Hermetica, Brian P. Copenhaver, 2000

Corpus Hermeticum


Concerns how to be saved


God gives everything and receives nothing

‘“God has one nature – the good. In god and the good together there is but one kind, from which come all other kinds. The good is what gives everything and receives nothing; god gives everything and receives nothing; therefore, god is [the] good, and the good is god.”’


The divine (without mention of ‘human’) is wisdom, a beginning and completion

‘God is the glory of all things, as also are the divine and the divine nature. God, as well as mind and nature and matter, is the beginning of all things that are since he is wisdom meant to show them forth. The divine is also a beginning, and it is nature and energy and necessity and completion and renewal.’

The gods created humans to contemplate and know (not complete) divine power

‘…The gods sowed the generations of humans to know the works of god…And through the wonder-working course of the cycling gods they created every soul incarnate to contemplate heaven, the course of the heavenly gods, the works of god and the working of nature; to examine things that are good; to know divine power…’


God sent man to earth because god is good; man recognised, in astonishment, its maker

‘Because he is good, it was [not] for himself alone that he wished to make this offering and to adorn the earth; so he sent the man below, an adornment of the divine body, mortal life from life immortal. …The man became a spectator of god’s work. He looked at it in astonishment and recognised its maker.’

If a man develops his mind he will be drawn up to god


Pray to the father for the grace to enable you to understand god (i.e. god gives one the grace to understand him)

‘You then, Tat, my child, pray first to the lord, the father, the only, who is not one but from whom the one comes; ask him the grace to enable you to understand so great a god, to permit even one ray of his to illuminate your thinking.’

There is nothing that god is not – god gives everything and takes nothing

‘so great is the father of all. …there is nothing in all the cosmos that he is not. He is himself the things that are and those that are not. …There is nothing that he is not, for he also is all that is…You give everything and take nothing. For you have it all, and there is nothing that you do not have. …you are whatever I am; you are whatever I make; you are whatever I say. You are everything, and there is nothing else; what is not, you are as well. You are all that has come to be; you are what has not come to be; you are the mind who understands, the father who makes his craftwork, the god who acts, and the good who makes all things.’


God, the good, is perfectly complete

‘The good, Asclepius, is in nothing except in god alone, or rather god himself is always the good. If this is so, the good must be the substance of all motion and generation (for nothing is abandoned by it), but this substance has an energy about it that stays at rest, that has no lack and no excess, that is perfectly complete, a source of supply, present in the beginning of all things. When I say that what supplies everything is good, I also mean that it is wholly and always good.’

God lacks for nothing
‘God lacks for nothing…Nothing is stronger than god…[nothing is more beautiful] to cause desire in him…nothing is wiser, to make him jealous.’

God is the good

‘The good is in god alone, then, or god himself is the good.’

We need to be reverent and to know god – we have need of the good and the beautiful – of what god is – i.e., we need god, not he us

‘Only one road travels from here to the beautiful – reverence combined with knowledge. …Such, Asclepius, are the good and the beautiful for humans, things we can neither shun nor hate. Hardest of all to bear is that we have need of them and cannot live without them.’


The greatest evil in mankind is ignorance concerning god

God wishes to be seen

‘The greatest evil in mankind is ignorance concerning god’

‘seek a guide to take you by the hand and lead you to the portals of knowledge. There shines the light cleansed of darkness. There no one is drunk. All are sober and gaze with the heart toward one who wishes to be seen…But first you must rip off the tunic that you wear, the garment of ignorance…Such is the odious tunic you have put on. It strangles you and drags you down with it so that you will not…look up and see the fair vision of truth and the good that lies within’


‘god begins, contains, and composes all things.’


God wishes to be seen because he is good but we are not strong enough to open our minds’ eyes and look

‘the good can come to be in none other than him alone who receives nothing but wills all things to be.’

‘god also wishes this seeing to happen…For being recognised is characteristic of the good. …the vision of the good…illuminates to the extent that one capable of receiving the influence of intellectual splendour can receive it. …we are not yet strong enough to open our mind’s eyes and look on the incorruptible, incomprehensible beauty of that good. In the moment when you have nothing to say about it, you will see it, for the knowledge of it is divine silence and suppression of all the senses.(my italics)’

When soul has looked on the beauty of the good it is drawn upwards and deified.

God wants to be recognised so that we may acquire knowledge and become divine

‘The vice of soul is ignorance. …The virtue of soul, by contrast, is knowledge; for one who knows is good and reverent and already divine.’

Everything is the result of contradiction

‘everything must be the product of opposition and contrariety, and it cannot be otherwise.’

The human, too, is not good and because he is mortal, he is evil as well.

There are three – god, the cosmos (son) and the human

‘There are these three, then: god the father and the good; the cosmos; and the human. And god holds the cosmos, but the cosmos holds the human. And the cosmos becomes the son of god, but the human becomes the son of the cosmos, a grandson, as it were.’

God wishes to be recognised so that mankind may be delivered (may ascend) from evil through his knowledge of god

‘For god does not ignore mankind; on the contrary, he recognises him fully and wishes to be recognised. For mankind this is the only deliverance, the knowledge of god. It is ascent to Olympus. A soul becomes good only in this way, though it is not good [forever] but becomes evil. By necessity it becomes so.’

“What do you mean, O Trismegistus?”

“Envision the soul of a child, my son, which has not yet accepted its separation from itself; its body has not yet attained its full bulk, {of which it has only a little as yet}. How beautiful it is to look at, from every point of view, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still depending closely from the soul of the cosmos. But when the body gets its bulk and drags the soul down to the body’s grossness, the soul, having separated from itself, gives birth to forgetting, and it no longer shares in the beautiful and the good. The forgetting becomes vice.”

‘the human, because he moves and is mortal, is evil.’

‘when mind has entered a reverent soul, it leads it to the light of knowledge. Such a soul as this never has its fill of hymning and praising, always blessing all people and doing them good in every deed and word, in memory of its father.

Therefore, my child, one who gives thanks to god must pray to acquire a good mind. …There is a community of souls: the souls of the gods commune with souls of humans, those of humans with souls of unreasoning things. The greater take charge of the lesser…God stands above all things and watches over them.’

Mind unites humans to the gods and all things exist by action of the one

‘The greater take charge of the lesser: gods of humans, humans of living things without reason, and god takes charge of them all. For he is greater than all of them, and all are less than he. Thus the cosmos is subject to god, mankind to the cosmos and unreasoning things to mankind. God stands above all things and watches over them. And energies are like rays from god, natural forces like rays from the cosmos, arts and learning like rays from mankind. Energies work through the cosmos and upon mankind through the natural rays of the cosmos, but natural forces work through the elements, and humans work through the arts and through learning. And this is the government of the universe, dependent from the nature of the one and spreading through the one mind. Nothing is more godlike than [mind], nothing more active nor more capable of uniting humans to the gods and gods to humans; mind is the good demon. Blessed is the soul completely full of mind, wretched the soul completely empty of it.”’

‘we must dare to say that the human on earth is a mortal god but that god in heaven is an immortal human. Through these two, then, cosmos and human, all things exist, but they all exist by action of the one.”’


God’s power does not come from humans, humans exist because of him – they are images of him

‘god’s energy is an insuperable power, not comparable to anything human or divine. …Because he is an energetic power, his autonomy does not come from things that come to be; those that come to be exist by his agency.’

‘God…is what he makes. …All things come to be by the agency of god’

The human is, ultimately, an image of god.

God makes the good necessarily because it is god’s life and movement

‘Just as a human cannot live apart from life, neither can god exist without making the good. For in god this making is life and movement’

‘All things are in god’

‘And do you say, “god is unseen”? Hold your tongue! Who is more visible than God? This is why he made all things: so that through them all you might look on him. This is the goodness of god, this is his excellence: that he is visible through all things.’


(because of mind and reason) ‘humans are mortal gods’

‘And god, who is energy and power, surrounds everything and permeates everything’

God is all and the all permeates everything and surrounds everything

‘in the all there is nothing that he (god) is not. …For god is all. And the all permeates everything and surrounds everything.’


Concerned with the means for purification and rebirth. It discusses the singing of a hymn of praise to god the one.

God is all-powerful, not impotent

‘we must understand these two things: what comes to be and who makes it. Between them there is nothing, no third thing.’

‘(Those who do not know god) profane him greatly by imputing to him conditions of disdain and impotence. …in god there is only one condition, the good, but one who is good is not contemptuous or impotent. This is what god is, the good, all power to make all things.’


God is master, maker, father and container. He is one

‘I shall open the discourse by invoking god, the master, maker, father and container of the whole universe, the all who is one and the one who is all. For the plenitude of all things is one and is in one, not because the one duplicates itself but because both are one.’

Permanence is change

‘the permanence of every body is change’

God is all things and his making is ceaseless

‘all things are parts of god. But if all things are parts of god, then all things are god, and he makes himself in making all things. His making can never cease because he is ceaseless. And as god has no end, so his making has neither beginning nor end.’


We praise god to confess our father’s limitless power

‘Moreover, this very fact contributes to god’s renown: that he is greater than his own progeny, and that the preface, beginning, middle and end of our praises are to confess our father’s limitless power and limitless extent. Praising god is in our nature as humans because we happen to be in some sense his descendants’



Why were humans put in the world?

In the reply to the question ‘Why then, Trismegistus, should humans have been put in the world?’ is the reply: ‘so great and so good was (god) that he wanted there to be another to admire the one (another god) he had made from himself, and straightaway he made mankind, imitator of his reason and attentiveness. God’s will is itself perfect achievement since willing and achievement are complete for him at one and the same moment of time. After he [had made] mankind ousiōdēs (a divine likeness) and noticed that he could not take care of everything unless he was covered over with a material wrapping, god covered him with a bodily dwelling and commanded that all humans be like this, mingling and combining the two natures into one in their just proportions. Thus god shapes mankind from the nature of soul and of body, from the eternal and the mortal, in other words, so that the living being so shaped can prove adequate to both its beginnings, wondering at heavenly beings and worshipping them, tending earthly beings and governing them.’

‘god…has two images, world and mankind.’

Spirit supplies the world and is subject to the will of god

‘Spirit supplies and invigorates all things in the world; like an instrument or a mechanism it is subject to the will of the supreme god.’

The one, the supreme governor, always begets what he wishes

‘And the whole of it complies with that supreme governor, the master, so that really there are not many, but rather one. In fact, all depend from one and flow from it…he is one and all…god, the only and the all…ever pregnant with his own will, always begets whatever he wishes to procreate.’

God is completely full of all things and wills all that he has

‘God wills nothing in excess since he is completely full of all things and wills what he has. He wills all that is good, and he has all that he wills. All things are good that he considers and wills. Such is god, and the world is his image – [good] from good.’

God is everywhere and surveys everything

‘seated atop the summit of the highest heaven, god is everywhere and surveys everything all around.’

God shows himself by illuminating people with the understanding of mind

‘the father and master of all, who alone is all, shows himself freely to all – not where as in a place nor how as through some quality nor how much as in a quantity but by illuminating people with the understanding that comes only through mind.’

Nothing is stable or fixed other than god who is whole and perfect

‘Nothing in this situation is stable, nothing fixed, nothing immobile among things that come to be in heaven and earth: the lone exception is god, and rightly he alone, for he is whole, full and perfect in himself and by himself and about himself.”’

Our consciousness and capacity to see the things that are in heaven are limited

we humans see the things that are in heaven as if through a mist, to the extent that we can, given the condition of human consciousness. When it comes to seeing great things, our concentration is quite confined, (my italics) but once it has seen, the happiness of our awareness is vast.’

God is everything – all things are from and in him

‘god is everything; everything comes from him; everything depends on his will. …Without god there was nothing, nor is, nor will be, for all things are from him, in him and through him’

Here below, it is the gods who help US

‘here below our gods render aid to humans as if through loving kinship’

The Asclepius concludes with a prayer to god

‘Asclepius asked: “Tat, do you think we should suggest that your father tell them to add frankincense and spices as we pray to god?”

When Trismegistus heard him, he was disturbed and said: “A bad omen, Asclepius, very bad. To burn incense and such stuff when you entreat god smacks of sacrilege. For he wants nothing who is himself all things or in whom all things are. (my italics) Rather let us worship him by giving thanks, for god finds mortal gratitude to be the best incense.”

“We thank you, supreme and most high god, by whose grace alone we have attained the light of your knowledge; holy name that must be honoured, the one name by which our ancestral faith blesses god alone, we thank you who deign to grant to all a father’s fidelity, reverence and love, along with any power that is sweeter, by giving us the gift of consciousness, reason and understanding…”’


The Corpus Hermetica, John Everard, 1650


v ‘First, God; Secondly, the World; Thirdly, Man.’

vi ‘God is good, Man is evil.’

viii ‘Things upon Earth do nothing advantage those in Heaven, but all things in Heaven do profit and advantage the things upon Earth’

‘What is God? The immutable or unalterable Good. What is Man? An unchangeable Evil.’


xxi ‘Holy art Thou Whom Nature hath not Formed. Holy art Thou that art Stronger than all Power. Holy art Thou, that art Greater than all Excellency. Holy art Thou, Who art Better than all Praise. …’


xxiii ‘For there were in the Chaos, an infinite darkness in the Abyss or bottomless Depth, and Water, and a subtle Spirit intelligible in Power; and there went out the Holy Light, and the Elements were coagulated from the Sand out of the moist Substance.’


xxvi ‘it is the property of Good to be known’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

xxvii ‘for the present we are less intent to the Vision, and cannot yet open the eyes of our minds to behold the incorruptible, and incomprehensible Beauty of that Good; But then shall we see it, when we have nothing at all to say of it. For the knowledge of it, is a Divine Silence, (my italics) and the rest of all the Senses; For neither can he that understands that understand any thing else, nor he that sees that, see any thing else, nor hear any other thing, nor in sum, move the Body.’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

xxviii ‘For God, and the Father, and Good, is neither spoken nor heard.’ (my italics)

xxxi ‘For God is not ignorant of man, but knows him perfectly, and will be known by him. This only is healthful to man; the Knowledge of God: this is the return of Olympus; by this only the Soul is made good, and not sometimes good, and sometimes evil, but of necessity Good.’

xxxvi ‘Wherefore we must be bold to say, That an Earthly Man is a Mortal God, and That the Heavenly God is an Immortal Man. Wherefore, by these two are all things governed, the Word and Man; but they and all things else, of that which is One.’


There is nothing that God has or is not

xli ‘all things are in thee; all things from thee, thou givest all things, and takest nothing; for thou hast all things and there is nothing that thou has not.’

xlii ‘thou art what I am, thou art what I do, thou art what I say. Thou Art All Things and there is Nothing Else Thou art not. Thou Art Thou, All that is Made, and all that is not Made.’


God wants for nothing

xliii ‘And this Essence hath about or in himself a Stable, and firm Operation, wanting nothing, most full, and giving abundantly.’

‘the Good…is present to none, but God alone; for he wanteth nothing, (my italics) that he should desire to have it, nor can anything be taken from him…’

It is mankind that needs

xlvi ‘Mankind has need of the Good (i.e. of god) and cannot live without it.’


The Eighth Book. ‘That The Greatest Evil In Man, Is The Not Knowing God.’


lxxix ‘it is the greatest evil, not to know God.’


From God comes the World and from the World comes man

‘God is the Father of the World, but the World is the Father of things in the World. And the World is the Son of God, but things in the World are the Sons of the World.’


cxxi ‘He (God) is stronger, and One, and only knowing all things indeed, as not having any thing more ancient than himself.’


The Perfect Sermon (The Asclepius), George Robert Stowe Mead, 1906


God made man to contemplate the world and the things in heaven


‘(God made the second god [the world/his son]). Accordingly, in that He (God) was so mighty and so fair, He willed that some one else should have the power to contemplate the One He had made from Himself. And thereon He made man, – the imitator of His Reason and His Love.’

‘The Will of God is in itself complete accomplishment; inasmuch as together with His having willed, in one and the same time He hath brought it to full accomplishment.’


‘(God made man so that he could) admire and worship things in heaven, and cultivate and govern things on earth.’

xix ‘’Tis in the admiration, adoration [and] the praise of men, and [in their] acts of worship, that Heaven and Heaven’s hosts find their delight.’


The three Gods of Hermeticism

xxi ‘The Lord of the Eternity is the first God; the second’s Cosmos; man is the third.’


God is all-complete

xl ‘He (God), then, alone, yet all-complete in the fertility of either sex, ever with child of His own Will, doth ever bring to birth whatever He hath willed to procreate.’


God helps man to hope and effort

xliv ‘as for man, He (God) doth distinguish him from all the other animals by reason and by discipline alone; by means of which men can remove and separate their bodies’ vices, – He helping them to hope and effort after deathlessness.’


God is full and perfect

lxi ‘Immoveable [is] God alone, and rightly [He] alone; for He Himself is in Himself, and by Himself, and round Himself, completely full and perfect. (my italics) He is His own immoveable stability.’


lxii ‘God, then, hath [ever] been unchanging…’

God is motion motionless

lxiii ‘For that (God’s) stability is in His vastness motion motionless; for by His vastness is [His] law exempt from change.’

The God of Hermeticism is ineffable

For where, and when, and whence, and how, and what, He is, – is known to none. (my italics) …His stability is in Himself [alone]


We perceive the things in heaven as through a mist

lxvi And thus it comes to pass for men, that we perceive the things in Heaven, as it were through a mist, as far as the condition of the human sense allows. (my italics)


God has need of nothing

lxxx …naught is there of which He (God) stands in need, (my italics) in that He is all things, or all are in Him.


lxxxi (in a prayer addressed to God) ‘Sire, who (endowed us)…with reason that we may track Thee out from the appearances of things; with means of recognition that we may joy in knowing Thee. Saved by Thy Power divine, let us rejoice that Thou hast shown Thyself to us in all Thy Fullness. …For this is the sole festival of praise worthy of man – to know Thy Majesty. …For in the whole of this our prayer in worship of Thy Good, this favour only of Thy Goodness do we crave; – that Thou wilt keep us constant in our Love of knowing Thee, and let us ne’er be cut off from this kind of Life.’



1. ‘before the eleventh century…there is no sign of the Corpus as such, although individual treatises were evidently in use as early as the third century CE.’, Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., 70; ‘The Greek Perfect Discourse (Logos teleios) that became the Latin Asclepius…seems to have been written in the latter part of the period in which scholars generally locate the theoretical Hermetica, 100 to 300 CE; most would put C.H. I toward the beginning of that time.’, Ibid., 73
2. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 253
3. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 17
4. Magee quoted Antoine Faivre having written that ‘Hermeticism’ has come to be used ‘to designate the general attitude of mind underlying a variety of traditions and/or currents beside alchemy, such as Hermetism (the religion of the Corpus Hermeticum), Astrology, Kabbalah, Christian Theosophy, and philosophia occulta or magia’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., Note, 8
5. ‘Scholars seize on the negative things Hegel says about Boehme (e.g. that he was a “barbarian”) and assert that Hegel “decisively rejects” him. This really amounts to a wilful distortion. It’s an instance of seeing what one wants to see.’, Magee in an interview by Stanislav Panin, posted 28.12.16, https://academia.fzrw.info/archives/1107; Magee begins an essay by making the point that Hegel scholars have often been eager to minimise Hegel’s strong interest in Böhme ‘and have, in some cases, misrepresented the available evidence’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 527
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 1
7. Ibid., 120
8. Ibid., 8
9. ‘Hegel’s major objection to Boehme is that he expresses ideas in “sensuous” form. In Hegel’s philosophy, this is called Vorstellung (or das vorstellende Denken), often translated into English as “picture thinking”’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 540; ‘The divisions of Hegel’s philosophy follow a pattern that is typical of many forms of mystical and Hermetic philosophy.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 4
10. ‘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. 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.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 202
11. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 255

12. ‘As a Hermeticist…Hegel regards God before creation as incomplete. To complete himself, God must know himself, and the immediate self-cognition God possesses before creation is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge requires mediated re-cognition. It requires that the self see itself reflected in another and recognise itself there.’, Ibid., 257
13. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 9-10
14. Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., 234-235
15. Ibid., 252
16. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xciv, V.4.2

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13w


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

Cusanus’ contribution to Neoplatonism, as discussed (13.6.2), was based on his overlay of the Trinitarian myth across Proclus’ triad, which triad and adaptation Hegel used in his philosophy to both disguise and illustrate the stages of the Neoplatonic process, better anchoring Neoplatonism in the world, to maximise the mytho-poetic potential of his philosophy1 for the optimal conveyance of its content and to fully explore its potential in conceptual, representational and logical language.

Just as Hegel discussed the syllogism in his Science of Logic, Cusanus did so in De venatione sapientiae

This art [of the syllogism] the master-inventor handed down to an obedient student and gave instruction that he construct syllogisms in accordance with all the modes set before him. To some extent, perhaps, the artistry of the world is like this.2

It would appear from this that Cusanus subscribed to ratio – Hegel’s Verstand. Further, Hopkins wrote in a note to this

Every complete syllogism consists of three propositions: two premises and a conclusion. Each of the propositions has both a subject-term and a predicate-term. The two premises must have one term in common (either both subject-terms or both predicate-terms or the subject-term of one and the predicate term of another) so that altogether there are only three different terms. …3

Yet in the second last paragraph of the final chapter – Chapter 39, ‘Summarising conclusion’, Cusanus indicated how different from academic analysis was the nature of his reasoning

All men, not unjustifiably, praise the great Plato, who ascended [inferentially] from the sun unto wisdom by way of a likeness. Thus too [proceeded] the great Dionysius, who ascended [inferentially] from fire unto God, and from the sun unto the Creator, by means of likenesses-of-properties which he expounds. Likewise also Gregory the Theologian, in his theological orations against the Eunomians, urges that [this ascent] be made, because in this present world—where we know in part and prophesy in part—we must ascend by means of a mirror and a symbolism, as the divine Paul reports.4

Cassirer correctly wrote that

(To formal logic Cusanus objected that the absolute and unconditioned can never be caught in the net of syllogistic logic. …On this basis) every kind of ‘rational’ theology is refuted – and in its place steps ‘mystical theology’.5

Weeks’ point that the tri-unity of God is fundamental to German mysticism6 can be seen in Cusanus’ triad – modelled on that of Proclus

Divinity is Infinite Oneness, Infinite Equality, and Infinite Union—in such a way that in the Oneness there are Equality and Union, in the Equality there are Oneness and Union, and in the Union there are Oneness and Equality.7

The triads of Proclus, Cusanus and Hegel – as does Plotinus’ Intellectual-Principle in its working – all conclude in a perspectival cultus. While absolute truth is beyond one person’s grasp, an infinity of finite ‘minds’ embodies it. It is not we ourselves who know, but rather it is God who knows in us. Cusanus wrote towards the end of De docta ignorantia

Therefore, this union is a church, or congregation, of many in one—just as many members are in one body. each member existing with its own role. (In the body, one member is not the other member; but each member is in the one body, and by the mediation [my italics – cf. Hegel] of the body it is united with each other member. No member of the body can have life and existence apart from the body, even though in the body one member is all the others only by the mediation [my italics] of the body.) Therefore, as we journey here below, the truth of our faith can exist only in the spirit of Christ—the order of believers remaining, so that in one Jesus there is diversity in harmony. …The church cannot in some other way be more one. For “church” bespeaks a oneness of many [members]-— each of whom has his personal truth preserved without confusion of natures or of degrees; but the more one the church is, the greater it is; hence, this church—[viz.J the church of the eternally triumphant— is maximal, since no greater union of the church is possible. …8

Hegel wrote towards the end of his Encyclopaedia Logic

Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea…It is only in (individuals) altogether and in their relation that the notion is realised.9

Of the Idea he wrote

The idea as a process runs through three stages in its development. The first form of the idea is Life: that is, the idea in the form of immediacy. The second form is that of mediation or differentiation; and this is the idea in the form of Knowledge, which appears under the double aspect of the Theoretical and Practical idea. The process of knowledge eventuates in the restoration of the unity enriched by difference. This gives the third form of the idea, the Absolute Idea: which last stage of the logical idea evinces itself to be at the same time the true first, and to have a being due to itself alone.10

Being, Life, Intellect. Science of Logic (Being, Essence, Concept), Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics, Physics, Organics), Philosophy of Mind/Spirit (Subjective Mind/Spirit, Objective Mind/Spirit, Absolute Mind/Spirit). Emanation, perspectival development and return. The roots of the ‘syllogism’ of the German Proclus are not traced through any structure of validity but through Cusanus’ Trinity and Proclus’ triad of triads to Plotinus’ contemplation on the relation between Being, Intellectual-Principle and Living Form.11



1. Magee wrote: ‘Hegel claims that the results of theology (true theology) turn out to be indistinguishable from those of philosophy: God is revealed to be the Absolute, and the Christian Trinity to be a figurative way of speaking about the three moments of the Absolute: Logic (or the account of the Absolute Idea), nature and Spirit.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 245-246; again, ‘The Trinity, for Hegel, is a kind of mystic representation of the three moments of speculative philosophy.’, Ibid., 52. ‘Hegel conceives the first moment, the Christian “Father,” as “God in-Himself,” in potentia. God is the eternal Logos; hence, Logic. Exactly as do Eckhart, Cusa, Böhme, and Goethe, Hegel conceives the second moment, the “Son,” as Nature. Through the third moment, Spirit, God achieves full actuality as “objective” and “absolute” Spirit…Spirit is the most adequate “embodiment” of God.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 122. Magee joins Hegel in disguising the influence of Proclus’ triad, of Neoplatonism – in Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, the ‘second moment’ is not the Son (‘Christ’ doesn’t even occur in Book II) but the universe into which is contracted the Trinity (see De docta ignorantia II,127,7 [‘The trinity of the universe’] 75), Christ being the subject of the third book. Hegel’s distortion, as I have discussed (, is in his wordplay ‘Nature is the son of God, but not as the Son, but as abiding in otherness’ (my italics), Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14. Understood literally, these words are neither Neoplatonic nor Christian. ↩
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 10,4, 1286. The Chapter title is ‘How one is aided by an example from the art of logic.’ ↩
3. Ibid., n. 25, 1359-1360 ↩
4. Ibid., 115,39, 1349 ↩
5. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 12-13 ↩
6. Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 34 ↩
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II,173,17, 252 ↩
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,256,12, 146 ↩
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 275 ↩
10. Ibid., 279 ↩
11. Of Hegel’s ‘divine triangle fragment’ of 1804-5 Magee wrote: ‘It seems clear that in this fragment…Hegel is developing the outlines of his philosophical system. And to do so, he is employing the language and style of Boehme. Hegel’s first triangle, “God the Father,” is analogous to the later Logic (with its threefold structure of Being-Essence-Concept), while the second triangle, of the Son or earth (my italics), corresponds to the Philosophy of Nature (Mechanics-Physics-Organics). And the relationship between the two triangles is strikingly similar to the relationship between Hegel’s Logic and Nature: it is the telos of Idea to become embodied as the natural world. (In Hegel’s words, the “Idea of God” becomes “the universe of God.”) In the third triangle, God intuits the Son, or earth (my italics), as himself, and achieves self-consciousness, a moment that approximates the role played by Spirit in Hegel’s mature system. Spirit—human Spirit—brings the system, and reality itself, to completion when it recognises that it itself is the embodiment of Idea, and that all of nature (as well as history) is intelligible as a kind of progressive unfolding of its own being.
What is particularly odd about the triangle fragment is that it is so close to Hegel’s own description in the Lectures of Boehme’s Trinity. We know that during roughly the same period in which he wrote the triangle fragment, Hegel altered his philosophical system from four divisions to the familiar triad of Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Spirit—the same triad seemingly depicted in mythic, Boehmean style in the fragment. I would like to suggest the possibility that Hegel’s study of Boehme’s Trinity played a role in helping him to formulate his system as tripartite. I do not mean that Hegel got from Boehme merely the idea of a three-part system. Rather, I am suggesting that it may have been Boehme’s peculiar interpretation of the Trinity that helped Hegel to see specifically how his own system could be unified in a tripartite form.
To put things in the starkest possible terms (and at the risk of repetition), the tripartite system that Hegel eventually arrived at in Jena:
1. begins with the Logic, which expresses a self-related Idea that is nevertheless mere Idea; an inchoate reality (“God in himself”), which then,
2. “freely releases itself” as nature, a scale of forms (described in The Philosophy of Nature), imperfectly expressing or embodying Idea, culminating in,
3. Spirit (the subject of The Philosophy of Spirit), which understands itself as the final flower of all that has gone before—as the fully adequate embodiment of Idea; self-related Idea made flesh in the form of living, human self-awareness.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit. Magee’s description of Hegel’s triangle fits the order and philosophical development of both Proclus’ triad and Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia – both of which Neoplatonic parallels Magee, in his determination to argue the influence of Böhme on Hegel, ignored. I will discuss Magee’s views regarding Hegel, Böhme and Hermeticism next. ↩

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13v


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

The significance of triads to the Neoplatonists of late antiquity, their belief that being is before the thinking subject and that ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’1 come together in Proclus’ triad of triads – Being, Life and Intelligence2 which he suspended from the first, unparticipated hypostasis. He systematically explored in this triad the potential of all three terms in their inter-relationships. To repeat, Prop. 103 from his Elements of Theology is

All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature: for in Being there is life and intelligence; in Life, being and intelligence; in Intelligence, being and life; but each of these exists upon one level intellectually, upon another vitally, and on the third existentially.3

Proclus’ argument for this proposition is

For since each character may exist either in its cause or as substantial predicate or by participation, and since in the first term of any triad the other two are embraced as in their cause, while in the mean term the first is present by participation and the third in its cause, and finally the third contains its priors by participation, it follows that in Being there are pre-embraced Life and Intelligence, but because each term is characterised not by what it causes (since this is other than itself) nor by what it participates (since this is extrinsic in origin) but by its substantial predicate, Life and Intelligence are present there after the mode of Being, as existential life and existential intelligence; and in Life are present Being by participation and Intelligence in its cause, but each of these vitally, Life being the substantial character of the term; and in Intelligence both Life and Being by participation, and each of them intellectually, for the being of Intelligence is cognitive and its life is cognition.4

Each term in the triad and each predominant term in the sub-triads mediates the other two terms which mirror it, bringing out an aspect of them such that they form a coherent triad or sub-triad.5 The sub-triads are a yet more thorough means of exploring and determining the relations between the terms within the overall triad which, as previously stated, are not only to be regarded as three aspects of a single reality but three successive stages, predominating in turn, in the Neoplatonic process. This is how Hegel used his philosophical ‘syllogism’.

 In On the Theology of Plato Bk IV, Ch. III Proclus wrote of the three gods Being, Life and Intelligence

All things therefore subsisting in these Gods…they are divided triply…Eternity, therefore, abides stably in the first triad. But the triad posterior to this, is the supplier to wholes [and therefore to all things,] of progression, motion, and life according to energy. And the third triad is the supplier of conversion to the one, and of perfection which convolves all secondary natures to their principles.6

He expanded on each sub-triad, comprised of ‘an appropriate peculiarity…an all-various multitude…of powers, and a variety of forms’

The intelligible and at the same time intellectual Gods therefore are, as I have said, triply divided. And essence indeed is that which ranks as first in them, but life is the middle, and intellect the extremity of them. Since however, each of these three is perfect, and participates of the intelligible monads, I mean of the essence which is there, of intelligible life, and of intelligible intellect, they are tripled according to the participation of primarily efficient causes. And the intelligible of life indeed possesses essence, intellect, and life intelligibly; but the intelligible and intellectual of it, possesses essence, life and intellect, intelligibly and at the same time intellectually; and the intellectual of it possesses these intellectually and intelligibly. And every where indeed, there is a triad in each of the sections, but in conjunction with an appropriate peculiarity. Hence three intelligible and at the same time intellectual triads present themselves to our view, which are indeed illuminated by the divine unities, but each of them contains an all-various multitude. …Each triad therefore comprehends in itself a multitude of powers, and a variety of forms, producing intelligible multitude into energy, and unfolding into light the generative infinity of intelligibles. And we indeed, being impelled from the participants, discover the peculiarity of the participated superessential Gods.7

Proclus wrote of his triad of triads that

according to the order of things, the intelligible and intellectual monads generate about themselves essences, and all lives, and the intellectual genera. And through these, they unfold the unknown transcendency of themselves, preserving by itself the preexistent cause of the whole of things.8

Hegel, as quoted in his discussion of Proclus’ triad (11.3.6), recognised this

These three triunities make known in a mystical fashion the absolute cause of all things, the first substance.9

and made it the basis of his own philosophy. The same ‘objective rationality’, the same ordering of the terms, rebadged as Logic, Nature and Spirit, the same ‘mediation’ of the other two terms by the predominant one in, effectively, a triad of triads, occurs in Hegel’s ‘doctrine of the triple syllogism’10

In their objective sense, the three figures of the syllogism declare that everything rational is manifested as a triple syllogism; that is to say, each one of the members takes in turn the place of the extremes, as well as of the mean which reconciles them. Such, for example, is the case with the three branches of philosophy: the Logical Idea, Nature, and Mind. As we first see them, Nature is the middle term which links the others together. Nature, the totality immediately before us, unfolds (my italics) itself into the two extremes of the Logical Idea and Mind. But Mind is Mind only when it is mediated through nature. Then, in the second place, Mind, which we know as the principle of individuality, or as the actualising principle, is the mean; and Nature and the Logical Idea are the extremes. It is Mind which cognises the Logical Idea in Nature and which thus raises Nature to its essence. In the third place again the Logical Idea itself becomes the mean: it is the absolute substance both of mind and of nature, the universal and all-pervading principle. These are the members of the Absolute Syllogism.11



1. “The general principle…that ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’, is ascribed by Syrianus…to ‘the Pythagoreans’, and by Iamblichus to Numenius. …it is explicitly laid down by Porphyry and from Iamblichus onwards is much resorted to. The later school saw in it a convenient means of covering all the gaps left by Plotinus in his derivation of the world of experience, and thus assuring the unity of the system: it bridged oppositions without destroying them…The formula was taken over by ps.-Dion. …to be echoed at the Renaissance by Bruno, and later given a new significance by Leibniz.”, Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
2. ‘Such, therefore, is the order of this triad; so that what is divine indeed is unmingled and ranks as the first; that which is immortal is the second; and that which is intelligible the third. For the first of these is deified being; the second is life subsisting according to the immortality of the Gods (my italics – cf. Hegel’s Nature); and the third is intellect, which is denominated intelligible in consequence of being replete with union.’, Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. I, Ch. XXVI. He wrote of the triads of this triad: ‘here the first triad is essence, life and intellect, with appropriate unities. For essence is suspended from the first deity [of this triad,] life from the second, and intellect from the third. And these three superessential monads, unfold the monads of the first triad. But again, the second triad after this, was in the intelligible order, a superessential unity, power, and intelligible and occult life. Here however, essence, life and intellect are all vital, and are suspended from the Gods who contain the one bond of the whole of this order. For as the first unities were allotted a power unific of the middle genera, so the second unities after them, exhibit the connective peculiarity of primarily efficient causes. After these therefore, succeeds the third triad, which in the intelligible order indeed was unity, power, and intelligible intellect; but here it consists of three superessential Gods, who close the termination of the intelligible and at the same time intellectual Gods, and begird all things intellectually, I mean essence, life and intellect.’, Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. IV, Ch. III.
3. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 93
4. Ibid., Prop. 103, 93
5. Dodds exemplified Proclus’ application of mediation to Being: ‘This may be expressed by saying that the triad is mirrored within each of its terms, so that while e.g. the first term has Being as its predominant character, it is at the same time Life and Intelligence sub specie entitatis (under the appearance/aspect of being). The scheme is elaborately worked out in Th. Pl IV. i-iii; its purpose, as we there learn, is to reconcile distinctness with continuity.’, Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
6. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. IV, Ch. III
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 344
10. Hodgson in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 277
11. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 250-251; Cf. The Elements of Theology, Prop. 148 ‘Every divine order has an internal unity of threefold origin, from its highest, its mean, and its last term. For the highest term, having the most unitary potency of the three, communicates its unity to the entire order and unifies the whole from above while remaining independent of it (prop. 125). Secondly, the mean term, reaching out toward both the extremes, links the whole together with itself as mediator (prop. 132); it transmits the bestowals of the first members of its order, draws upward the potentialities of the last, and implants in all a common character and mutual nexus – for in this sense also givers and receivers constitute a single complete order, in that they converge upon the mean term as on a centre. Thirdly, the limiting term produces a likeness and convergence in the whole order by reverting again upon its initial principle and carrying back to it the potencies which have emerged from it (prop. 146). Thus the entire rank is one through the unifying potency of its first terms, through the connective function of the mean term, and through the reversion of the end upon the initial principle of procession.’, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 131

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13u

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

In his ambition to be recognised as the master of reason, of Vernunft, Hegel was not averse to using the tools of Verstand. He wrote

The syllogism, which is also threefold, has always been recognised as the universal form of reason1

and gave a chapter of his Science of Logic over to it, yet his ‘syllogism’ is nothing of the sort – it derives from Proclus’ triad of triads. When one reads that philosophy is a syllogism based on Logic, Nature and Mind2 and that ‘God…is that Being in whom Spirit and Nature are united’3, that a plant is a syllogism comprised of three further syllogisms of universal, particular and individual4, that everything is a syllogism5 or, to put it most simply, that the ‘absolute syllogism’ – ‘God as Spirit’ – addresses the unity of subject and object, of subject with itself6, surely one must ask “What is the ‘reason’, the ‘logic’ the ‘science’, the ‘syllogism‘ here?”

Two types of reason employ two triadic structures for reasoning which are used in completely different ways towards completely different ends – that of ‘analysis’ (Hegel’s Verstand) uses the syllogism as a means for the setting out and testing of formal logic, that of dialectic and ‘speculation’ (Hegel’s Vernunft) uses the Neoplatonic triad as a means for attaining and knowing God.

Hegel attributed the formal syllogism (that of ‘the understanding’) to Aristotle and distinguished such reasoning from Aristotle’s ‘speculative’ logic

Aristotle brought to light the ordinary logic of the understanding; his forms pertain only to the relationship of finite elements to one another. But it is notable that his own logic is not grounded in this, that he does not base it upon this relationship of the understanding, for he does not proceed according to these syllogistic forms. Had Aristotle taken this path, he would not be the speculative philosopher that we have recognised him to be. None of his theses or any of those speculative ideas could be framed or asserted, nor could they be valid, if one were to keep to those forms of thinking that are accessible to the understanding. We certainly must not suppose that Aristotle thought, proceeded, or carried out demonstrations according to this [formal] logic of his, according to these forms in the Organon. Had he done so, he would not have arrived at any speculative thesis.7

Hodgson summarised Hegel’s speculative thesis – his development of the Proclean triad of triads

The first figure of the syllogism, in which nature mediates between the logical idea and spirit, specifies the order of the philosophical system (logic, nature, spirit). In a valid syllogism (my italics – validity has no place in Neoplatonic logic), according to Hegel, each of the elements must in turn occupy the middle position. Thus in the second syllogism, spirit mediates between the logical idea and nature; and in the third, the logical idea mediates between nature and spirit. The basic assumption of Hegelian philosophy is that the logical idea functions as universal principle (Allgemeinheit) in the syllogisms, nature as particular quality (Besonderheit), and spirit as singularity or individuality (Einzelnheit). The result is speculative or absolute idealism, as opposed to subjective idealism (for which finite spirit or mind is universal principle) and naturalism or materialism (for which nature is universal principle). Absolute spirit, or infinite subjectivity, encompasses and unifies all three figures of the syllogism.8

With its long history of development, a sustaining consistency identifies Neoplatonism – from Plotinus, who initiated it, to Hegel, who completed it:

  • The Neoplatonic triad is a divine triad comprised of an ultimate principle, a principle of nous and a principle of nature or that which creates it
  • the elements of that triad comprise three aspects of a single, ‘true’ reality referred to as one divinity
  • each principle represents a step in a process of generation (the ultimate principle), division/outflow/unfolding (the second principle) and return to/enfolding and resolution in the source (the third principle)
  • the elements of the triad each imply the others as cause or consequent
  • each element predominates at a successive stage in the development, without excluding the others
  • the ‘secondary’ triad of Proclus – the ‘Trinity’ of Cusanus and Hegel – has its origins in the Enneads which also addresses ‘all things are in all things, but in each after its own fashion’ (which Plotinus applied to the Forms in general). The development of this triad and that principle by later Neoplatonists exemplifies the development of Neoplatonism which Hegel completed within idealism.

Plotinus’ Divine Triad – each hypostasis of which is divine – is comprised of the One or First Existent, Divine Mind or First Thinker and Thought and All-Soul or First and Only Principle of Life – the eternal cause of the existence of the sense-grasped universe. This Triad is a unity the divinity of which is conveyed or approached via any one of the hypostases

The Three Hypostases of the Supreme-Being are…quite frequently spoken of collectively as one transcendent Being or one Divine Realm: sometimes, even, where one of the Three is definitely named, the entire context shows that the reference is not to the Hypostasis actually named but to the Triad collectively or to one of the two not named9

Each of the hypostases is intimately bound to the others – all overflow outwards in one continual streaming, the second generated from the first, the third created by the second. At the same time the second and third look back to the One and Intellectual-Principle in turn. As so much in the Enneads that is implicit, was open to or required clarification or development, the origins of Proclus’ secondary triad in the second hypostasis lie there. Dodds wrote

The elaboration within this hypostasis of a subordinate triad…is in the main the work of (Plotinus’) successors, though a tendency in this direction is already observable in one or two passages of the Enneads – cf. V.4.2 init. and esp. VI.6.8. The motives governing this development seem to have been (a) the recognition that reality is logically prior to thought, since the thinker, in order to think, must first exist; (b) the desire to arrange causes in an ontological order corresponding to their degree of universality; (c) the post-Plotinian theory that all intelligibles have a triadic structure, mirroring at every level the fundamental triad (Greek) (prop. 35 n.) or (Greek) (props. 89-90 n.)10

VI.6.8 reads

At the outset we must lay aside all sense-perception; by Intellectual-Principle we know Intellectual-Principle. We reflect within ourselves there is life, there is intellect, not in extension but as power without magnitude, issue of Authentic Being which is power self-existing, no vacuity but a thing most living and intellective – nothing more living, more intelligent, more real – and producing its effect by contact and in the ratio of the contact, closely to the close, more remotely to the remote. If Being is to be sought, then most be sought is Being at its intensest; so too the intensest of Intellect if the Intellectual act has worth; and so, too, of Life.

First, then, we take Being as first in order; then Intellectual-Principle; then the Living-Form considered as containing all things: Intellectual-Principle, as the Act of Real Being, is a second.11



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 837
2. ‘(Philosophy is comprised of a syllogism) which is based on the Logical system as starting-point, with Nature for the middle term which couples the Mind with it. The Logical principle turns to Nature and Nature to Mind.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 314
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 8
4. ‘the process of the plant…splits up into three syllogisms, the first…is the universal process, the process of the vegetable organism within itself, the relation of the individual to itself in which the individual destroys itself, converts itself into its non-organic nature, and through this self-destruction comes forth into existence – the process of formation. Secondly, the organism has its other, not within it, but outside of it, as a self-subsistent other; it is not itself its non-organic nature, but it finds this already confronting it as object, an object which it seems to encounter only contingently. That is the specialised process towards an external nature. The third is the process of the genus, the union of the first two; the process of the individuals with themselves as genus, the production and the preservation of the genus – the destruction of the individuals for the preservation of the genus as production of another individual. The non-organic nature is here the individual itself, its nature, on the other hand, is its genus: but this too is also an other, its objective nature.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 321-322. Ideologues fail to recognise the parallels between the ‘syllogistic’ processes of the plant and those of the ‘Trinitarian’ God – the requirement for his ‘diremption’, thereby ‘coming forth into existence’ etc.
5. ‘Everything is a syllogism, a universal that through particularity is united with individuality; but it is certainly not a whole consisting of three propositions.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 669
6. ‘The import of the absolute syllogism…is that an object, a subject, or whatever it is, conjoins itself with itself – [and there results] a third element, which is the unity of the first two. God as Spirit is the [absolute] syllogism, or what conjoins itself with itself; [whereas] the syllogism of the understanding concludes from one determination to another. That [absolute] unity constitutes the essential moment of the speculative content, or the speculative nature of the rational syllogism.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 261
7. Ibid.; ‘Aristotle was the first to observe and describe the different forms, or, as they are called, figures of syllogism, in their subjective meaning: and he performed this work so exactly and surely, that no essential addition has ever been required. But while sensible of the value of what he has thus done, we must not forget that the forms of the syllogism of understanding, and of finite thought altogether, are not what Aristotle has made use of in his properly philosophical investigations.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 247
8. Hodgson in Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 277
9. ‘Extracts from the Explanatory Matter in the First Edition’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xxxiv
10. Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 252
11. VI.6.8 from: http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0204-0270,_Plotinus,_The_Six_Enneads,_EN.pdf (Trans. MacKenna)

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13t

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

Plotinus asked ‘What art is there, what method, what discipline to bring us there where we must go?’1 and answered that it is not ‘all that coil of premises and conclusions called the art of reasoning’2 – that of Aristotelian and Stoic logic – but ‘authentic science’3, ‘supremely precious’4 Platonic dialectic, which deals not with propositions and rules, but with truths of difference and identity, motion and rest, knower and known5 – of unceasing negation in emanation from the source to return to it by a process of increasingly comprehensive conceptualisation, concluding in the absolute

It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things – what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.6

As did Plotinus, Cusanus7 and Hegel8 also rejected the ‘laws of thought’ (those of identity [a = a], non-contradiction [a thing cannot be both a and -a] and the excluded middle [either a or -a]) from their method of knowledge, making contradiction its centrepiece. In so doing, Cusanus set the precedent of freeing God’s omnipotence from qualification9

He believed that the highest mysteries of the Trinity couldn’t be attained as long as one held that opposites are mutually exclusive

The oppositeness of opposites is oppositeness without oppositeness, just as the End of finite things is an End without an end. You, then, 0 God, are the Oppositeness of opposites, because You are infinite. And because You are infinite, You are Infinity. In Infinity the oppositeness of opposites is present without oppositeness.10

He applied this subtle manner of thinking to the world

Now, hot things are originated from the beginning of heat. Therefore, the beginning of heat is not hot. Now, in the cold I see that which belongs to the same genus (as does the hot) but which is not the hot. The situation is similar regarding other contraries. Therefore, since in the one contrary the beginning of the other contrary is present, their transformations are circular, and there is a common subject for each contrary. Thus, you see how it is that receptivity is transformed into actuality.11

Hegel wrote

Positive and negative are supposed to express an absolute difference. The two however are at bottom the same: the name of either might be transferred to the other. …Positive and negative are therefore intrinsically conditioned by one another, and are only in relation to each other. …In opposition, the different is not confronted by any other, but by its other.12

Both recognised that contradiction is the moving principle of the world13

as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.14

Cusanus also preceded Hegel in recognising, better than Eckhart, ‘how much depends on defining the relation between the terms and how little on the terms taken by themselves’15.

Without a theology of contradiction, God could only be worshipped as Father, not considered philosophically as infinitude. Since, for Cusanus and Hegel, God is the coincidence (the unity) of opposites and God is all things, all things including God could now be incorporated into their method – this considered ambivalently by Cusanus, the development of which consideration Hegel completed. As I have argued, they illustrated and conveyed metaphorically and mytho-poetically their Neoplatonic system through their use of the Trinitarian myth – Hegel doing so in an overtly non-Christian manner

For Cusanus, speculative philosophical thinking and the Christian faith merge into one. …that which has been conceived in terms of philosophical speculation, and which Cusanus regards as consistent with the thinking of the Greek philosophers, is suddenly identified, as though this were the most natural thing in the world, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.16

Magee wrote of ‘speculation’ and ‘dialectic’

Speculation, in fact, is reason in its ‘positive’ aspect. …Dialectic, for Hegel, is reason in its ‘negative’ aspect: it identifies contradictions inherent in the understanding’s view of things. What is involved in speculation, again, is insight into the whole – which is what actually makes possible the supersession of opposing terms, and of one standpoint (e.g a definition of the Absolute) by a more adequate one.17

Cusanus and Hegel knew that speculative truth can only be sought through contradiction

Hence, we notice here an important speculative consideration which, from the foregoing, can be inferred about the Maximum: viz., that the Maximum is such that in it the Minimum is the Maximum, and thus the Maximum infinitely and in every respect transcends all opposition.18

Cusanus considered how contradiction functions in the process of speculation, ‘utterly failing’ Aristotle on this point

Although more than all the other [philosophers] Aristotle is held to be the most careful and most acute reasoner, I think that he and all the others utterly failed in regard to one point. For since the beginnings are contraries, [those philosophers] failed to arrive at [a correct understanding of] that third, assuredly necessary, beginning [viz., privation]. This [failure occurred] because they did not believe it to be possible that contraries coincide in that [third] beginning, since contraries expel one another. Hence, from [a consideration of that] first principle which denies that contradictories can both be true at the same time, the Philosopher showed that, likewise, contraries cannot be present together.19

Not only are our concepts images of what God creates, speculative thought itself is a contracted reflection of infinite divine being.20 Cusanus’ exploration of concepts preceded Hegel’s more dynamic and integrated process of aufheben (see 11.1.1). Coincidentia oppositorum is

a state or condition in which opposites no longer oppose each other but fall together into a harmony, union, or conjunction…a unity of contrarieties overcoming opposition by convergence without destroying or merely blending the constituent elements…it…sets forth the way God works, the order of things in relation to God and to each other, and the manner by which humans may approach and abide in God21

Similarly, his neologism of God as ‘Not-other’, the aspects of which are both ‘negative’ (not one of finite, created others) and ‘positive’ (not other than any finite, created other or all of them and divine and infinite)

Not Other is not an other, nor is it other than any other, nor is it an other in an other—for no other reason than that it is Not Other, which can in no way be other, as if it something were lacking to it, as to an other. For an other which is other than something lacks that than which it is other. But Not Other, because it is not other than anything, does not lack anything nor can anything be outside it.22

Particularly, though ‘Not-Other’ can be thought, it cannot be conceived – like coincidentia oppositorum, it functions beyond the literal meaning of words.23

Redding linked Hegel to Cusanus in relation to the coincidence of opposites

(Hegel) again (my italics) follows a Neoplatonist precedent, that of Nicholas of Cusa: within ‘the One’ we have to think of opposites as coinciding.24

He adds in a note

Extracts from Bruno’s, De la Causa, which reproduced key arguments of Cusanus’ On Learned Ignorance concerning the identity of the absolute maxima and minima were appended to Jacobi’s Über die Lehre des Spinoza, and this seems (my italics) to be the transmission route for the Cusan conception of ‘coincidentia oppositorum’ into German Idealism.25

What Redding failed to add was that as well as discussing key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy in that text, Bruno also referred to26 the ‘divine’ Cusanus (‘the Cusan’), ‘the inventor of geometry’s most beautiful secrets’, relying on him as his guide (see 13.4). 

Both Cusanus and Hegel had the same profound appreciation for contradiction and both took the same pleasure in speculatively exploring its complexity and manifestation. Both saw it as not only the engine of the world but, together with ‘speculative’ philosophy, the method of knowledge.

Yet even though Cusanus was the Neoplatonist who most thoroughly explored, prior to Hegel, the relationship between contradiction, concepts and speculation and how to convey his ‘conjectures’ on that basis, positioning coincidentia oppositorum as the way to God, rather than those of silence, apophasis and predication, his philosophising remained programmatic rather than, as was Hegel’s, systematic. Hopkins wrote

Nicholas advances considerations that cohere with his overall viewpoint in De Visione Dei, but these considerations do not connect into a chain in which each link of reasoning is presumed to depend necessarily upon the preceding links.27

and Jaspers

One defect in Cusanus’ philosophising is that he does not distinguish between contradiction and such related concepts as difference, polarity, and opposition. Nor does he put his thinking to test categorically and systematically (we have to go to Hegel to gain clarity on this point). He sometimes identifies opposition (oppositio) with contradiction (contradictio).28

Hegel recognised that the systematic development of Cusanus’ speculative use of coincidentia oppositorum, of his focus on the unfolding and enfolding of concepts in the triadic structure of the Neoplatonic model and his metaphorical style – mytho-poetic circumscription in Hegel’s hands – was the way to best serve his own philosophical purposes, completing the growth within idealism of the potential of Neoplatonism and thereby preparing the epistemological ground for the continuation of its development within materialism.



1. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.3.1
2. Ibid., I.3.4
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., I.3.5
5. ‘Thus the Primals (the first ‘Categories’) are seen to be: Intellectual-Principle; Existence; Difference; Identity: we must include also Motion and Rest: Motion provides for the intellectual act, Rest preserves identity as Difference gives at once a Knower and a Known, for, failing this, all is one, and silent.’ Ibid., V.1.4
6. Ibid., I.3.4
7. ‘Cusanus’ theology abandons Scholastic logic, the logic of generic concepts, dominated by the principle of contradiction and of the excluded middle; but it demands in its place a new type of mathematical logic, one that does not exclude but, in fact, requires the possibility of the coincidence of opposites, and requires the convergence of the Absolute-Greatest with the Absolute-Smallest as the firm principle and the necessary vehicle of progressing knowledge.’, Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 14
8. ‘The several propositions which are set up as absolute laws of thought, are, therefore, more closely considered, opposed to one another, they contradict one another and mutually sublate themselves. If everything is identical with itself, then it is not different, not opposed, has no ground. Or, if it is assumed that no two things are the same, that is, everything is different from everything else, then A is not equal to A, nor is A opposed to A, and so on. The assumption of any of these propositions rules out the assumption of the others. The thoughtless consideration of them enumerates them one after the other, so that there does not appear to be any relation between them…(it ignores) their other moment, positedness or their determinateness as such which sweeps them on into transition and into their negation.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 411
9. ‘For Cusanus, the law of contradiction itself qualifies God’s freedom and omnipotence. By making God the coincidence of opposites, he nullifies the law of contradiction as a criterion for God’s potentia absoluta and thereby extends his conception of God’s absolute power beyond that of the scholastics.’, Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op. cit., 46-47
10. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op, cit., 13,55, 705
11. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 46-47, 813
12. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 173
13. ‘Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract ‘either-or’ as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. …Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world’, Ibid., 174
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, 439
15. Louis Dupré, ‘The Question of Pantheism from Eckhart to Cusanus’ in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 74-88, 80
16. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 145, 148
17. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 221
18. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,16,43, 25
19. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 40, 810
20. ‘Our conjectures are said to arise in our mind, in the same way that the created external world arises in the infinite divine ground. Speculative thought is thus itself a contracted reflection of the infinite divine being.’, Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, op. cit., 115
21. Bond, in Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, op. cit., 335-336
22. Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On Not-Other’), 1461-2, 6,20, 1118, quoted by Clyde Lee Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa]’, op. cit.
23.Not-other may be called the Absolute Concept, which is indeed seen mentally but which, notwithstanding, is not conceived. …since every concept is not other than a concept, in every concept Not-other is whatever is conceived. But, without doubt, the concept Not-other remains inconceivable.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De li non aliud (‘On Not-Other’), 1461-2, 20,94, 1152-1153
24. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 153
25. Ibid. Hegel used ‘coincidence’ in his philosophy: ‘the inseparability of the Notion’s determinations is posited; for as negation of the negation it contains their opposition and at the same time contains it in its ground or unity, the effected coincidence of each with its other.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 620; ‘Truth…lies in the coincidence of the object with itself, that is, with its notion.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 237
26. As he also does in The Ash Wednesday Supper/La Cena de le ceneri in which he also cited De docta ignorantia. I repeat that Hodgson wrote Hegel was familiar with Bruno: ‘Hegel was familiar with Bruno through Schelling’s work as well as that of J.G.Buhle and F.H.Jacobi’, Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 274. See 13.4.1
27. Hopkins in Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialectical Mysticism, Text, Translation and Interpretive Study of De Visione Dei, op. cit., 43
28. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 258

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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)

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13r

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

The philosophy of Cusanus was the last major reworking of Neoplatonism before Hegel completed its development. Cusanus is the link between Proclus and Hegel and both the former were equally important to the latter. Even though Cusanus wrote repeatedly in different ways that God, the ultimate principle, cannot be known, echoing both Plotinus and Proclus on the first hypostasis, he used the Trinity to substantially build on Proclus’ blurring of the gap between the ultimate principle and what could be known. He brought the One into the second hypostasis as the first element of Proclus’ triad Being, Life, Intelligence which he made the basis of his philosophy as Hegel, following him, did with his.

Now, not only could God be seen as can the One by the returning soul in its final stage prior to re-unification with its source, the ultimate principle itself ‘sees’ – it is no longer a principle that simply generates all else. ‘He’ is now an active participant in his own process. He mirrors it, his ‘seeing’ is his being. He is now both hidden and ‘visible’.

Where Cusanus substantially developed Proclus’ position on the limits of knowledge, he still remained, however, ambivalent. Hegel completed this historically protracted development in the Neoplatonic drive for knowledge, arguing that God – the entire process – can be fully cognised.1 To do this, despite his claim to Christianity – he was not consistent, as I have argued, with Christian and Trinitarian doctrine – he philosophised on the basis of Cusanus’ adaptation of Proclus’ triad, using the One as he did with the Trinity – as metaphorical, prose-poetic devices. Now, nothing was beyond Being.

In order to close the circle of Neoplatonic knowledge, Hegel also recognised and employed another profound development by Cusanus – the focus on concepts in their contradictory relations. What was for Cusanus the detailed study of coincidentia oppositorum was for Hegel the study of the flowing development of concepts in their dialectical relations. Hegel’s emphasis on concepts and the complexity of their development is at the heart of his claim to ‘science’.

For Cusanus, the primary way in which the ultimate principle can be known is in the act of ‘seeing’.2 Education in the humility of learned ignorance (openness to the dialectic) and the speculative potential of coincidentia oppositorum can only take us up to the wall of Paradise, wherein the ultimate principle exists.3 But ‘seeing’ takes us within because our vision of the triune God is God’s vision of himself – one ‘eye’ ‘sees’ itself.4 In Neoplatonism, to ‘see’ is to ‘know’ beyond conceptualisation – to understand the infinite ‘incomprehensibly’. It is the unity of lover/loving/loved, of knower/knowing/known.

This unity is that of intellectual intuition which Cusanus described as ‘perfect knowledge’ and which he defined as the coincidence of

being something one in which are all things and being all things in which there is something one5

The difference between knowledge of the ‘sensible’ world and that (intuitive) of the intellectual is like the difference between knowing that something is and why it is.6 This is clearly not ‘the immediate knowledge of the Absolute’ that Hegel was so critical of in his Phenomenology but is consistent with the ‘mindful’, ‘pure intuition or pure thinking’ that he most valued – an intuition that enables one ‘to apprehend the spiritual bond unifying all the details’ (see 9.4).

Cusanus philosophised on how we can have knowledge of God and attain the ‘pure intellectual life’7 of theosis  – which he defined as ‘knowledge of God and His Word and intuitive vision8 – by becoming his ‘sons’9 in the next life10

if we have accepted the Divine Word Himself, then there arises in our rational spirit the power of sonship. …It is as if the intellect were a divine seed – the intellect whose power in the believer can reach such heights that it attains unto theosis. …that is, unto the ultimate perfection of the intellect – in other words unto the apprehension of truth, not as truth is bedarkened in figurativeness and symbolisms and various degrees of otherness…but rather as truth is intellectually visible in itself. …if faith is present, ascent even unto being a son of God is not forbidden.11

Further, Cusanus explored the relationship between Concept and concept, between Word and word

Every corporeal utterance is a sign of a mental word. The cause of every corruptible mental word is an incorruptible word, viz., a concept. Christ is the incarnated Concept of all concepts, for He is the Word made flesh.12

He philosophised on how we should use words to attain the ‘mind’ of the teacher ‘while in this world’. The following paragraphs from De Filiatione Dei show how he ‘surmised’ we can have knowledge of God by this means

Hence, since the mastery which we seek and in which the happiness of our intellectual life consists is the mastery of true and eternal things: if our intellectual spirit is to become a perfect master, so that within itself it will possess eternally the very delightful intellectual life, then its study must not cling to temporal shadows of the sensible world but must use them, en passant, for intellectual study—as schoolboys use material and perceptible writings. For their study is not of the material shapes of the letters but rather of the rational signification of those letters. Likewise, they use in an intellectual way, not in a sensory way, the vocal words by means of which they are taught, so that by means of these vocal signs they attain unto the mind of their teacher.13

Just as the mental word is the source of the vocal word but is not contracted to it though signified by it, so the ineffable Word is the source of the mental word though not contracted to it yet likewise signified by it. The mental, intellectual word is the reception of the ineffable Word

the One is, in a way that cannot be participated in, the Fount of intelligible beings and is all that which they are. (By comparison, the mental word is the fount of the vocal [word] and is all that which [the vocal word] is; and the mental word is signified by the vocal word without there being any intermixing or dividing of the mental word, since the mind cannot be either participated in, or in any way attained unto, by the vocal word.) But the intellectual [i.e., mental] word is itself the intellectual reception of the ineffable Word. Therefore, every intellectual word remains free from all contraction to the sensible. Now, that which the intellectual is it has intellectually from the Ineffable. If the Ineffable is given a name by the intellect, then this [name-giving] is done in an unrestricted manner, since the intellectual mode, in turn, is not restricted to sensibly contracted things.

 Therefore, the Ineffable can in no way either be named or attained unto. Hence, a non-relational name—whether “being” or “deity” or “goodness” or “truth” or even “power” or any other name whatsoever—does not at all name God, who is unnameable. Rather, a non-relational name speaks of the unnameable God by means of various intellectual modes. In this way the Ineffable is effable, the Incapable of being participated in is capable of being participated in, and the Transcender of every mode is modifiable. Consequently, God is the Beginning, which is above the one and above mode; [yet,] in the one and in its modes He exhibits Himself as [therein] able to be participated in. Therefore, I surmise that the pursuit by which we attempt, while in this world, to ascend unto the attainment of sonship, is perhaps possible with the aid of something else, so that my speculation deals with the one and its modes.14

Just as words of the sensory world can signify those of the ‘mental’, these in turn can carry us to participation in the ineffable. Cusanus is not simply philosophising about a problem experienced by mysticism. No written or spoken word can fully convey our ‘mental’ content. In speaking or writing a word we have to thereby limit or bound our mental content in order to express it. It is an unavoidable constraint of the sensory world which mystics and artists with words give great consideration to.

Our knowledge of God is an inward process of self-knowledge and self-realisation – of a world, of a universe, within

the intellect is actually an intellectual universality of all things… (As such, the intellect) does not behold temporal things temporally, in constant succession, but beholds them in an indivisible present. For the present, or the now, that enfolds all time is not of this sensible world, since it cannot be attained by the senses, but is of the intellectual [world]. Likewise, [the intellect] does not at all behold quantities in their extended, divisible materiality but beholds them in an indivisible point in which there is the intellectual enfolding of all continuous quantity. Moreover, [the intellect] does not [then] behold differences-of-things in a variety of numbers but beholds [these things] intellectually in the simple unit, which enfolds every number.15

The words of Cusanus

Now, knowing occurs by means of a likeness. But since the intellect is a living intellectual likeness of God, then when it knows itself it knows, in its one self, all things. Now, it knows itself when it sees itself in God as it is. And this [seeing] occurs when in the intellect God is the intellect.16

are echoed in those of Hegel

I only know an object in so far as I know myself and my own determination through it, for whatever I am is also an object of my consciousness…I know my object, and I know myself; the two are inseparable.17

God, ‘understandable truth’, exists only in that knowing18

Now, we call that which is the object [of the intellect] truth. Therefore, my God, since You are understandable Truth, the created intellect can be united to You.19



1. It is fundamentally on this point – that Hegel argued that the entire system (‘God’) can be conceptually cognised, that he warrants the description ‘the consummate Neoplatonist’. In making this claim, he brought development within Neoplatonism to an end.
2. ‘in the name “Theos” there is enfolded a certain way-of-seeking whereby God is found, so that He can be groped for. “Theos” is derived from “theoro,” which means “I see” and “I hasten.” Therefore, the seeker ought to hasten by means of sight, so that he can attain unto God, who sees all things. Accordingly, vision bears a likeness to the pathway by means of which a seeker ought to advance. Consequently, in the presence of the eye of intellectual vision we must magnify the nature of sensible vision and construct, from that nature, a ladder of ascent.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De quaerendo Deum (‘On Seeking God’), op. cit., I,19, 315
3. ‘every concept reaches its limit at the wall of Paradise. …You are free from all the things that can be captured by any concept.’, Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 13,52, 704
4. Hegel quoted Eckhart: ’The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and he in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would he.’ In Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 347-348
5. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei (‘On Being a Son of God’), 1445, in A Miscellany of Nicholas of Cusa, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1994, 341-358, 3,70, 349
6. ‘Therefore, [in that state] the intellect perceives all things intellectually and beyond every sensible, distracting, and obscuring mode. Indeed, it beholds the entire sensible world not in a sensory manner but in a truer, viz., intellectual, manner. For this perfect knowledge is called intuition because between the knowledge of that world and the knowledge of this sensible [world] there is something like the difference which there is between knowledge received by sight and knowledge received by hearing. Therefore, the more certain and clear is the knowledge produced by sight than is the knowledge (of the same thing) effected by hearing, the much more does intuitive knowledge of the other world excel the knowledge which there is of this [present world]—just as knowing why something is can be called intuitive knowledge, since the knower looks into the reason for the thing, and knowing that something is [can be said to come] from hearing.’, Ibid., 6,89, 358
7. Ibid., 3,71, 350
8. Ibid., 1,52, 341
9. ‘sonship is nothing other than our being conducted from the shadowy traces of mere representations unto union with Infinite Reason…to this [intellectual spirit] God will not be other than it or different or distinct; nor will Divine Reason be other or the Word of God other or the Spirit of God other. For all otherness and all difference are far beneath sonship.’, Ibid., 3,68-69, 348
10. He described this philosophising as ‘a surmise of sorts (although a very remote one) about theosis’ Ibid.
11. Ibid., 1, 52-53, 341-342
12. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III,11,247
13. Nicholas of Cusa, De filiatione Dei (‘On Being a Son of God’), 2,60, 345
14. Ibid., 4,77-78, 352-353
15. Ibid,. 6,87-88, 357
16. Ibid., 6,86, 356
17. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 47
18. ‘God exists only in knowing, in the element of the inner life.’, Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 543
19. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 18,82

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13q


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

For the Neoplatonist, as discussed (4., 10.7, 10.9.1,,, there are two types of knowledge, discursive, that which separates and ‘unified’ or speculative. Plotinus believed that the intellectual object is the activity of thinking itself. Knowing that object, that activity of knowing, equates to (Divine) Mind’s knowing (itself). In the activity of knowing, the object must be diverse. The activity is driven by difference and the knowing is perspectival. Thinking is movement – Divine Mind gives birth to objects as the embodiment of its outgoing creative power and in its contemplative recollection of and desire to unite with the One.

Hegel believed that every content is something that thought has given to itself and Cusanus also believed that we know through our productive intellectual activity, a reflection of God’s activity. Cassirer wrote

Cusanus sets up and defends his basic view of knowledge, when he explains that all knowledge is nothing but the unfolding and explication of the complication that lies within the simple essence of the mind 1

Cusanus described that process

the mind both distinguishes all things and unites all things, [doing so] by means of a marvellous two-way progression in which (1) Divine and Absolute Oneness descends by stages in and through intelligence and reason and (2) the perceptible-contracted oneness ascends through reason unto intelligence.2

For the Neoplatonist, true knowledge is not only the knowledge of God, it must be an intellectual system – what Hegel described as ‘science’. He wrote in his Phenomenology that

knowledge is only actual, and can only be expounded, as Science or as system3

Redding noted the centrality of prose-poetic devices to Hegel’s ‘science’

Hegel employs forms of expression for the presentation of his own philosophical thought that are redolent with the type of imagistic and figurative locutions supposedly at home in religion. Moreover, the actual imagery employed seems to refer to the type of trinitarian version of Christianity that can seem antithetical to those forms of Christian thought that lent themselves to the sort of “demythologization” characteristic of the enlightenment attitude to religious doctrine. Such factors as these make it easy to portray Hegel’s philosophy as a type of irrationalist mysticism, or at least as a disguised theology with a content from revealed religion, and thus aligning him more to the spirit of the Counter-Enlightenment than the Enlightenment.4

Cassirer points to the roots of this in German culture

In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis; it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition.5

On the extent of possible knowledge, Armstrong wrote

Plotinus insists…that the One or Good is beyond the reach of human thought or language…Language can only point the mind along the way to the Good, not describe, encompass, or present It. As Plotinus himself says (VI.9.3), “strictly speaking, we ought not to apply any terms at all to It; but we should, so to speak, run round the outside of It trying to interpret our own feelings6

Proclus was consistent with Plotinus on this, but, with his henads, he also began to blur what was ‘god’ and where the limits of knowledge lay. Dodds wrote

(Prop. 115 [Every god is above Being, above Life, and above Intelligence]) seems to make it plain that whereas Plotinus puts ‘all the gods’ within nous (V.1.4), the divine henads are to be placed in the first of the three traditional ‘hypostases’ and not (as Vacherot, Simon and others assume) in the second. But it must be admitted that Pr. is himself responsible for a good deal of the confusion which exists on the subject, in that he frequently speaks of such entities as Eternity, Time, the (a word in Greek), and even the sensible world as ‘gods’, and of gods as ‘intelligible’, ‘intellectual’ or ‘intra-mundane’.7

Cusanus wrote that human reason cannot comprehend the infinite but it does proceed in finite steps on the basis of the entities it creates – ‘conjectures’, ‘surmises’ or ‘symbolisms’

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 Intellect8

The ‘mind’ is the form of a world of conjectures – aids that we use towards a truth beyond reason. Truth is enfolded in infinite ‘Mind’. Our concepts share in that truth as never-ending approximations as they unfold – we can only know truth in its ‘otherness’. Just as we are unable to know the absolute truth of God, so we are unable to know the world with ultimate precision.

It would seem clear-cut, as Hopkins tells us, that for Cusanus we cannot know God, the Absolute – we cannot attain the complete knowledge Hegel claimed his philosophy gives us. But we are dealing with a highly philosophical mysticism in which nothing is simple or, as Hegel would put it, nothing is to be judged by the method of Verstand, by the method of mere analysis and what seems to be so.

Neoplatonism is a dialectically functioning whole of intertwined constructs conceptually centred on the process ‘God’. Recognising these aspects enables one to explore beyond the literal, surface meaning of Cusanus’ words, to how he advised we can know God, and to understand the ways in which Hegel developed on that method to attain knowledge in his own philosophy.



1. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 57
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,4,16, 170
3. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit. 13
4. Paul Redding, ‘Some Metaphysical Implications of Hegel’s Theology’, paper given to the conference Hegel and Religion, University of Sydney, September 14-15, 2010, 1
5. Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 13
6. Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, op. cit., vol. I, xv
7. Dodds’ Commentary in Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 161
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 7, 794

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13p


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

Neoplatonism, from its outset, was a school of amalgamation and development.1 The same explicative process that the relation between infinity and finitude underwent can be seen in conceptual development – from Plotinus’ ‘impressions’ (a term Cusanus also used) to Cusanus’ concepts in their coincidental relationships to Hegel’s full development of concepts in their dialectical relationships and in the degree to which God/Absolute Truth can be known. Where Plotinus emphasised the One’s unknowability by normal cognition Proclus, while consistent with him also more systematically explored the potential for knowledge up to the first hypostasis with his henads, beginning with Being (Prop. 138), the first element of his secondary triad.

Cusanus, despite Hopkins’ assertion that he believed ‘human minds…will never—not even in the next life—be able to discern God’s nature as it is in itself’2 was ambivalent about the extent to which we can acquire knowledge (which I will soon address) while Hegel claimed to have closed the gap of cognition, reducing the One to a prose-poetic device that functioned entirely within the Proclean triad. Differences between Hegel and his predecessors are not fundamental but developmental.

Again, particularly in relation to what can be known/cognised, the language of Neoplatonism, redolent with prose-poetic devices, should never be taken literally. Hopkins himself gave three examples where it appears Cusanus contradicted himself but, from his mystical point of view, was consistent

Nicholas’s terminology is quite fluid. No example of this fluidity is more striking than is his language of coincidentia oppositorum: (1) God, says Nicholas, is the Coincidence of opposites; (2) opposites coincide in God; and (3) God is beyond the coincidence of opposites. However, Nicholas does not understand different things by these three different statements. On the contrary, he regards them as interchangeable. Accordingly, their apparent surface-meaning is not the same as their deeper true-meaning. Because God is the Coincidence of opposites, He may be called by opposing names, as in the case of Motion and Rest. Because opposites coincide in God, there is no opposition in Him, and, thus, all names to which other names are opposed may be denied of Him. Because God is beyond the coincidence of opposites, He is ineffable, and no names, whether positive or negative, at all befit Him.3

The same mystical reasoning applies to Cusanus’ assertion that we can’t know absolute truth and Hegel’s that we can. They were ultimately arguing the same thing – their philosophies describe Neoplatonic emanation and return, from infinite unity to division and finitude, to return and resolution in the unity of an infinity of finite perspectival minds in a cultus.

Rather than being, as Buhle wrote of Cusanus’ God, a logical concept4, or as Jaspers wrote, an ‘intellectual object’ that can only be seen ‘without seeing’5, it is, for both Cusanus and Hegel a ‘logical’, Neoplatonic process

the process of constituting…distinctions within himself. It is his nature and his concept eternally to make these distinctions and at the same time to take them back into himself6

Of ‘logical’, Redding wrote

it is clear that Hegel means something quite different by the term ‘logic’ than is meant in the ‘formal’ logic dominant in contemporary philosophy, but exactly what it is committed to beyond that is far from clear.7

In fact, it is quite clear that its meaning and what is committed to are theological – neither Cusanus nor Hegel separated faith from reason (an obvious contradiction in terms blithely accepted in academic philosophy) and for both, God is what God does.8

For the Neoplatonist, ‘mind’ (not only the power of perception, understanding and reasoning but of imagining) performs its operations in order to know itself. In performing those operations it not only knows itself but, as an image of eternal unfolding Being, as the mirror of God’s ‘Mind’, it knows the immanent God itself

when, as best it can, the human mind (which is a lofty likeness of God) partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, [which are made] in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a surmised [rational] world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world.9

and, for the Neoplatonist

the more subtly the mind contemplates itself in and through the world unfolded from itself, the more abundantly fruitful it is made within itself, since its End is Infinite Reason. Only in Infinite Reason will the mind behold itself as it is10

For Cusanus, our ‘minds’, again as images of God, are not only an Absolute Oneness, but triune

just as the First Beginning of all things, including our minds, is shown to be triune (so that of the multitude, the inequality, and the division of things there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth), so our mind (which conceives only an intellectual nature to be creative) makes itself to be a triune beginning of its own rational products.11

Hegel rebadged this

We know, in terms of our own spirit, that first of all we are able to think without this antithesis or cleavage within us, that secondly we are finite spirit, spirit in its cleavage and separation, and that thirdly we are spirit in the state of sensibility and subjectivity, of return to self – [which is] reconciliation, innermost feeling. Of these three, the first is the realm of universality; the second, the realm of particularity; the third, that of singularity. These three realms are a presupposition that we have taken up as our definition.12

Hegel wrote that Böhme had the idea that the Trinity is in everything13, which Magee repeated14 – although he also wrote that Hegel never expressed indebtedness to Böhme15 and, most importantly, that Böhme’s Trinity functions differently to that of Hegel16. I contend that developments in Neoplatonism on this subject were the inspiration for both Böhme and Hegel17.

The nature of the relationship between ‘mind’ and God, embodied in the concluding and culminating words in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia – his quotation from the Metaphysics 1072b18-30 resonates in the words of Cusanus

mind uses itself insofar as it is the image of God. And God, who is all things, shines forth in mind when mind, as a living image of God, turns to its own Exemplar and assimilates itself thereto with all its effort. In this way the mind beholds all things as something one and beholds itself as an assimilation of that one. By means of this assimilation it makes concepts of that one thing which is all things. (In this way it makes theological speculations.) In the one thing which is all things it very tranquilly finds rest as in the goal of all its concepts and as in the most delightful true being of its life. About this mode [of being], enough could never be said18.



1. ‘Heir to the great philosophies of the ancient world, those of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, (Plotinus) borrowed from all of them the insights which he needed, but without surrendering at any point the dominant influence of Platonism. Eclectic in appearance but powerfully unified by the strength of a single pervading impulse, his system has, by various channels often obscure and often indirect, come to be and remained one of the guiding forces in the thought of the West, whether Christian or secular, from Augustine and Scotus Eriugena to Dean Inge and Bergson. He 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.’ Henry, in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xlii
2. Hopkins in De Deo abscondito (‘On the Hidden God’), op. cit., Note 1, 308
3. Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations: volume two, op. cit., 59-60
4. See 13.4.1
5. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 139
6. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 171
7. Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 150
8. Hegel famously wrote that philosophy is the service and explication of God – ‘philosophy is theology, and one’s occupation with philosophy…is of itself the service of God.’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 153, 152, 84; ‘(The subject of the theology of coincidence) is God’s activity – by telling what God does, it tells what God is, for God is hidden except as God reveals Godself.’, Bond in Nicholas of Cusa, Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, op. cit., 35
9. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,1,5, 164-165
10. Ibid., 1,1,5, 165
11. Ibid., 1,1,6, 165. ‘In God all things are present in a trinity – and so too in our mind. Our mind is composed of modes of apprehending.’, Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., Chapter title, 532. ‘Modes of apprehending’ is one of Cusanus’ expressions Hegel used: ‘the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth. It is the sole subject matter and content of philosophy. Since it contains all determinateness within it, and its essential nature is to return to itself through its self-determination or particularisation, it has various shapes, and the business of philosophy is to cognise it in these. Nature and spirit are in general different modes of presenting its existence, art and religion its different modes of apprehending (my italics) itself and giving itself an adequate existence. Philosophy has the same content and the same end as art and religion; but it is the highest mode of apprehending (my italics) the absolute Idea, because its mode is the highest mode, the Notion.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824. To repeat the point made at 11.3.11, this quotation exemplifies Hegel’s application of the Neoplatonic metaphor of ‘shape’ to the ultimate category in his Science of Logic.
12. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 273
13. ‘(Böhme’s) sole thought is the Trinity: it is the universal principle in which and through which everything is, and it is indeed that principle in such a way that everything has this Trinity within it, not just as a Trinity of representation but as real. The rest of his thought is then the explication of the Trinity…For him this trinity is the universal life, the wholly universal life in each and every individual; it is the absolute substance.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 96.
14. ‘(In writing of Böhme, Hegel wrote that he perceived the Trinity in everything and) not as a Trinity pertaining to the ordinary conception, but as the real Trinity of the Absolute Idea. (LHP 3:196) Hegel notes that Böhme regards the Trinity as “the absolute Substance” (LHP 3:212)’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 49
15. ‘Hegel never once says anything that would indicate that he is indebted to Böhme or that Böhme in some way influenced him.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589
16. ‘As we shall see, Böhme’s Trinity works differently from Hegel’s’, Ibid., 550. I will soon more thoroughly discuss Magee’s position on the relationship between Hegel, Böhme and Hermetism.
17. Beck implied that Böhme and Hegel knew of or were at least influenced by Cusanus: ‘When Meister Eckhart ascribed (in accordance with his view of the Trinity) a tension within the Godhead to which God himself owes his being, when Nicholas of Cusa made God the coincidence of opposites, they set a pattern which Böhme accepted and Hegel rationalised by seeing the Absolute as itself a dialectic process’, Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, op. cit., 156; ‘There is general agreement among scholars as to the intellectual streams that coalesce to form theosophy: medieval German mysticism, alchemy, Paracelsism, and Kabbalism.’, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, Glenn Alexander Magee, Chapter 16, in Glenn Alexander Magee, Ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2016, 1012
18. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 7,106, 560

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