Some troubling words for those who crave stasis

‘But it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking, that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For 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.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, (Vol. I The Objective Logic) Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 439


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Hegel on the poetry of the world: quantity and quality

Strokkur geyser, Iceland

‘At first, then, quantity as such appears in opposition to quality; but quantity is itself a quality, a purely self-related determinateness distinct from the determinateness of its other, from quality as such. But quantity is not only a quality; it is the truth of quality itself, the latter having exhibited its own transition into quantity. Quantity, on the other hand…is…quality itself in such a manner that apart from this determination there would no longer be any quality as such. The positing of the totality requires the double transition, not only of the one determinateness into its other, but equally the transition of this other, its return, into the first. …quality is contained in quantity, but this is still a one-sided determinateness. That the converse is equally true, namely, that quantity is contained in quality and is equally only a sublated determinateness, this results from the second transition – the return into the first determinateness. This observation on the necessity of the double transition is of great importance throughout the whole compass of scientific method.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, (Vol. I The Objective Logic) Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 323

Planet earth at twilight


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My comment on ‘Nicholas of Cusa and the instruction of ignorance’

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), detail of relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St. Peter’ on his tomb by Andrea Bregno, church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

From ABC Radio National 12.04.14

Your treatment of Cusanus from the perspective of bourgeois ideology – interspersed with nineteen product placements, appropriately detailed for those keen to make a purchase – was very interesting. Perspectivism, reconciliation, the acknowledgement and acceptance of difference and diversity… True, but why ‘neo-Platonic’ once and ‘Plotinus’ never? Could Inigo Bocken really believe that the reason why Cusanus is known as a mystic is because he had an aptitude for religious paradox? Cusanus was a Christian Neoplatonist. What are you collectively afraid of?

Now that the ideological caravans of modernism and post-modernism have run out of steam, what next? Mysticism? But this is a very hot potato – for two reasons:
– the primary Western form – Neoplatonism – has been treated by generations of academics as the pornography of modern Western philosophy, even as its Siren call has been eagerly responded to, particularly by male philosophers, and its profound influence on their work dissembled about or denied. To explore mysticism in this regard threatens to undermine gods, expose lies, damage careers and lay bare a cultural arrogance and self-delusion that we in the West are the champions of ‘Reason’ while others stare at their navels or are obsessed with filial piety
– as Marx recognised, its contradictory core is nothing but revolutionary. It rings the bell for the passing of all and everything but matter in motion itself – it speaks of a mobile infinity…’in some strange way’

No sooner did you present this genius and humanist to us than you buried him in the very academicism he despised and reacted against. Your speakers have sought to contain and gut the subject and bleed the passion that has inspired so much.

I think of Morawski’s definition of ideology: a system of belief…delimited by interests.

Philip Stanfield

Hegel on contradiction (on the engine and poetry of the world): in conclusion

If the contradiction in motion, instinctive urge, and the like, is masked for ordinary thinking, in the simplicity of these determinations, contradiction is, on the other hand, immediately represented in the determinations of relationship. The most trivial examples of above and below, right and left, father and son, and so on ad infinitum, all contain opposition in each term. That is above, which is not below; ‘above’ is specifically just this, not to be ‘below’, and only is, in so far as there is a ‘below’; and conversely, each determination implies its opposite. Father is the other of son, and son the other of father, and each only is as this other of the other; and at the same time, the one determination only is, in relation to the other; their being is a single subsistence. The father also has an existence of his own apart from the son-relationship; but then he is not father but simply man; just as above and below, right and left, are each also a reflection-into-self and are something apart from their relationship, but then only places in general. Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another or sublate each other and are indifferent to one another. Ordinary thinking when it passes over to the moment of the indifference of the determinations, forgets their negative unity and so retains them merely as ‘differents’ in general, in which determination right is no longer right, nor left left, etc. But since it has, in fact, right and left before it, these determinations are before it as self-negating, the one being in the other, and each in this unity being not self-negating but indifferently for itself.

Therefore though ordinary thinking everywhere has contradiction for its content, it does not become aware of it, but remains an external reflection which passes from likeness to unlikeness, or from the negative relation to the reflection-into-self, of the distinct sides. It holds these two determinations over against one another and has in mind only them, but not their transition, which is the essential point and which contains the contradiction. Intelligent reflection, to mention this here, consists, on the contrary, in grasping and asserting contradiction. …Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction do they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity. …when the difference of reality is taken into account, it develops from difference into opposition, and from this into contradiction…Ordinary…thinking, which abhors contradiction, as nature abhors a vacuum, rejects this conclusion…

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 441-442


Hegel on contradiction: part four


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

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


Part four/to be continued…

Hegel on contradiction: part three


the negative relation to self (is) the innermost source of all activity, of all animate and spiritual self-movement, the dialectical soul that everything true possesses and through which alone it is true; for on this subjectivity alone rests the sublating of the opposition between Notion and reality, and the unity that is truth. The second negative, the negative of the negative…is this sublating of the contradiction, but just as little as the contradiction is it an act of external reflection, but rather the innermost, most objective moment of life and spirit, through which a subject, a person, a free being, exists.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 835-836


Part three/to be continued…

Hegel on contradiction: part two


…the negative as determined in the sphere of essence (is) the principle of all self-movement…External, sensuous motion itself is contradiction’s immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this ‘here’, it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself.

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


Part two/to be continued…

Aristotle and Nicholas of Cusa: to be and/or not to be, that is the question

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

‘Now it is also the case that there can be nothing intermediate to an assertion and a denial. We must either assert or deny any single predicate of any single subject. The quickest way to show this is by defining truth and falsity. Well, falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not. Thus anyone who asserts anything to be or not to be is either telling the truth or telling a falsehood. On the other hand, neither that which is is said either not to be or to be nor is that which is not.

And if there were an intermediate of contradictory statements, then it would either be like grey between black and white or like the non-man-non-horse between man and horse.’

Aristotle The Metaphysics, Gamma 7 1011b, Trans. and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107


‘I want to tell you of one more thing that I see to be marvellous above other things. …since all things are singular, they are both similar, because they are singular, and dissimilar, because they are singular; (and they are not similar, because they are singular), and not dissimilar, because they are singular. A corresponding point holds regarding same and different, equal and unequal, singular and plural, one and many, even and odd, concordant and discordant, and the likes, although this (claim) seems absurd to the philosophers who adhere – even in theological matters – to the principle that each thing either is or is not (the case).’

Nicholas of Cusa, De Venatione Sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom), Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, 1320-21



All things come to pass through conflict


The Sparring Antennae Galaxies

‘The counter-thrust brings together, and from tones at variance comes perfect attunement, and all things come to pass through conflict.’




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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