Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15b


15. Conclusion (continued)

Both Marx and Engels referred to Hegel’s philosophy as mystical. Because of their hostility to mysticism, neither had any interest in recognising that it was the consummate achievement of a long process of development within Neoplatonism.1 For them, it was simply Hegel’s mystical philosophy, the dialectic of which suffered because of its mysticism.

Marx acknowledged his great debt to Hegel – and thereby, to Neoplatonism. He also put his finger on why the ideologues of the bourgeoisie – particularly in philosophy – have been and are so fearful of acknowledging this current, now materialist, and of according it its rightful position as our method of knowing

I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything, being in its very essence critical and revolutionary.2

In his Dialectics of Nature Engels summarised what was involved in his and Marx’s inversion of Hegel’s philosophy

This mystical in Hegel himself, because the categories appear as pre-existing and the dialectics of the real world as their mere reflection. In reality it is the reverse: the dialectics of the mind is only the reflection of the forms of motion of the real world, both of nature and of history.3

Cyril Smith wrote importantly that Marx had demystified mysticism without rejecting it.4 In other words, Marx had demystified mysticism by retaining and using what had been developed within it.

In his eleven short Theses on Feuerbach of 1845, Marx discussed fundamental materialist precepts, distinguishing between them and idealism. In the first, he distinguished between contemplative activity and sensuous activity/practice. He wrote

the active side, in contradistinction to materialism, was set forth by idealism – but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such.5

Neoplatonism, with its emphasis on creativity and dynamic, dialectical development was ‘perfectly’ suited to ‘set forth the active side’ within idealism.

In his second thesis, Marx wrote that the question of truth is a practical question

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which isolates itself from practice is a purely scholastic question.6

In his eighth thesis Marx wrote that the solution to questions of mystical theory is to be found in practice and in the comprehension of this practice.7

Materialist dialectics is a philosophical method for investigating nature and society.8 It holds practical activity to be the basis of our relations with the world and therefore of cognition. Praxis is thus a criterion of knowledge. Only when practical activity confirms the coincidence of ideas and hypotheses with reality can it be said that they are true. Since practical activity is relative to the level of technological development, truth can never be that absolute ardently sought and equally trembled before by the idealists, rather, it is a deepening relative in relation to an absolute which can only ever be theoretical. Lenin wrote

From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature’9

Contradiction is the chief category of materialist dialectics. It expresses the inner source of all motion and development and is the essence of objects, the basis of their self-development.

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. …The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.10

Every concept and category is historical by nature and therefore warrants investigation.

Engels put the excellent argument that scientists should know dialectics

Until the end of the last century, indeed until 1830, natural scientists could manage pretty well with the old metaphysics, because real science did not go beyond mechanics…Now, however, everything is quite different. Chemistry, the abstract divisibility of physical things, bad infinity – atomistics. …and finally the identity of the forces of nature and their mutual convertibility, which put an end to all fixity of categories. Nevertheless, the bulk of natural scientists are still held fast in the old metaphysical categories and helpless when these modern facts, which so to say prove the dialectics in nature, have to be rationally explained and brought into relation with one another. …Dialectics divested of mysticism becomes an absolute necessity for natural science11

In standing the philosophy of the consummate Neoplatonist on its material feet, Marx and Engels enabled the fruits of that current’s long development to flourish, not least those of its perspectival unity – a development from the unity-in-multiplicity of Plotinus’ ideal second hypostasis to the unity-in-multiplicity of Cusanus’ ideal Christian cultus to the unity-in-multiplicity of Hegel’s ideal philosophical cultus to the unity-in-multiplicity of the brains of an infinite number of finite individuals

Just as the infinity of knowable matter is composed of the purely finite things, so the infinity of the thought which knows the absolute is composed of an infinite number of finite human minds, working side by side and successively at this infinite knowledge, committing practical and theoretical blunders, setting out from erroneous, one-sided, and false premises, pursuing false, tortuous, and uncertain paths, and often not even finding what is right when they run their noses against it.12


1. ‘dialectics has so far been fairly closely investigated by only two thinkers, Aristotle and Hegel.’, Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 43
2. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, 103. Redding wrote of Marx’s ‘inversion’ of Hegel’s mystical philosophy of history ‘(Hegel) is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account that was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of an historical development culminating in communism.’, Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/, op. cit.
3. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 203
4. ‘In demystifying mysticism without rejecting it, Marx shows how humanity can bring about its own emancipation.’, Cyril Smith, Karl Marx and Human Self-creation, 2002, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/alteration/ch06.htm
5. Karl Marx, First thesis, ’Theses on Feuerbach’, 1845 in The German Ideology, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 618
6. Ibid.
7. ‘Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.’, Ibid., 620
8. ‘dialectics…offers…the method of explaining, the evolutionary processes occurring in nature, inter-connections in general, and transitions from one field of investigation to another.’, Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 41
9. V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171.
10. Ibid., ‘On the Question of Dialectics’, 357-361, 357
11. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, op. cit., 203-204
12. Ibid., 234

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From NGC 7052 to capitalism – all things are doomed

The doomed dust disk of NGC 7052: thousands of light years across, containing more mass than a million Suns, probably the remnant of a titanic galactic collision, rotating faster than 100 kilometres per second at a distance of 150 light-years from its centre - a theorised massive black hole that may swallow the entire disk in the next few million years.

The doomed dust disk of NGC 7052: thousands of light years across, containing more mass than a million Suns, probably the remnant of a titanic galactic collision, rotating faster than 100 kilometres per second at a distance of 150 light-years from its centre – a theorised massive black hole that may swallow the entire disk in the next few million years.

Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite. We have before this (§80) identified Understanding with what is implied in the popular idea of the goodness of God; we may now remark of Dialectic, in the same objective signification, that its principle answers to the idea of his power. All things, we say – that is, the finite world as such – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, Remark to §81, 118



Neoplatonic essence and appearance


(Neoplatonic) emanationist cosmology rests on the tenet—based to some extent in observation, but elevated by them to the status of a heuristic principle—that every activity in the world is in some sense double insofar as it possesses both an inner and an outer aspect. For example, the inner activity of the sun (nuclear fusion, as we now know) has the outer effect of heat and light, themselves activities as well. Or the inner activity of a tree that is determined by the kind of tree it is (its genetic code, we would now say; the Neoplatonists spoke of an inherent formative principle, logos) results in the bearing of a particular kind of fruit; or again, thoughts and feelings internal to human beings express themselves in speech and actions. In each case, the outer effect is not the purpose or end of the inner activity; rather, it is simply the case that one falls out of the other and is concomitant with it. Furthermore, it is also the case that these outer activities will typically be productive of yet other outer activities that are ontologically more remote and derivative: Fruit serves as nourishment or poison for other individual life forms, and human speech and action constitute, over time, a person’s biography or a society’s history. It is important to note that, in all cases, the outer activity will not be some random affair, but rather something intimately connected with the inner activity it is an expression of. In other words, any inner activity will somehow prefigure the character and nature of its outer effect. Thus, the Neoplatonists insisted that there is nothing on the lower ontological levels within the chains of causality that is not somehow prefigured on the corresponding higher levels. In general, no property emerges unless it is already in some way preformed and pre-existent in its cause.


Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11m Metaphor and prose poetry

Redding acknowledged the function of metaphor and analogy in Hegel’s Science of Logic

I have argued elsewhere that Hegel’s ‘being-logic’ in fact describes the categorial structure of a type of pre-predicative thought which relies on analogy and metaphor to form its basic statements. In contrast to the  categorial structure of the ‘essence-logic’ of book 2, being-logic lacks the conceptual resources to differentiate any underlying substrate from its properties. The closest it can come to predication is to (metaphorically) identify the different as in the ‘passing over’ of its categories into their contraries.1

But because Hegel’s philosophy is dialectical, and all the more so because it is mystical, the problem faced by his ‘being-logic’ is fundamentally that faced by his philosophy in its entirety. As I have argued previously (10ff.), Hegel rejected propositional argumentation and the predication of Verstand because they separate subject from predicate and keep ‘each determinate content…immovable…(and) rigidly for itself…’2

One difficulty which should be avoided comes from mixing up the speculative with the ratiocinative methods, so that what is said of the Subject at one time signifies its Notion, at another time merely its Predicate or accidental property. The one method interferes with the other, and only a philosophical exposition that rigidly excludes the usual way of relating the parts of a proposition could achieve the goal of plasticity.3

Metaphor, as I have argued (11.3.1ff.), is not only necessary to ‘speculative’ philosophy, it is unavoidable – our language is full of metaphors and our mutual understanding depends on them. Hegel’s philosophy is built no less on metaphor – the metaphor of sculpting and ‘shaping’ – of consciousness and soul in the Phenomenology4 and of the ‘formal structure of reality,’ of God the self in the Science of Logic – than is Plotinus’ (6.4)

Shape here is only an image; so that which underlies it is also only an image. But There the shape is true shape, and what underlies it is true too.5

The shaping that is begun in the Phenomenology (including a specifically sculptural reference in ‘The living work of art’6) is completed with Hegel’s most developed and comprehensive category in the Science of Logic – Absolute Idea – of which he not only wrote of its various ‘shapes’ but further described it, again necessarily metaphorically, Neoplatonically

…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.7

What does the ‘shaping,’ the ‘creating,’ is the Notion

the Notion…as absolute negativity…is the shaper and creator…8

A philosophy professor said to me ‘In the Science of Logic there is not a poetic phrase to be found – it is just how one concept is derived from another.’ To show the error of this ideologically motivated assertion that obstructs the full appreciation of both Hegel’s art and his subject, I highly recommend reading a few times aloud and listening to yourself as you do so the following two quotations from the Science of Logic – the first on being and nothing, the second on cause and effect.

Without analysing the texts, ask yourself what you have taken from this exercise. Isn’t the first point the rhythm of each? Don’t rhythm and metaphor carry you irresistibly from beginning to end? Isn’t ‘rhythm’ itself a metaphor for movement and the passage of the concepts into their other? And what of how profoundly interwoven are the elements of each pair with its other, to the point of their disappearance into it? To convey the nature of dialectics is to convey above all a feeling for it, is to necessarily employ art. Nothing other than the poetry of dialectics can reflect the poetry of reality

in so far as being and nothing, each unseparated from its other, is, each is not. They are therefore in this unity but only as vanishing, sublated moments. They sink from their initially imagined self-subsistence to the status of moments, which are still distinct but at the same time are sublated.9

though the cause has an effect and is at the same time itself effect, and the effect not only has a cause but is also itself cause, yet the effect which the cause has, and the effect which the cause is, are different, as are also the cause which the effect has, and the cause which the effect is.

But now the outcome of the movement of the determinate causal relation is this, that the cause is not merely extinguished in the effect and with it the effect, too, as in formal causality, but that the cause in being extinguished becomes again in the effect, that the effect vanishes in the cause, but equally becomes again in it. Each of these determinations sublates itself in its positing, and posits itself in its sublating; …Causality…conditions itself.10

In pointing to the superiority of poetry and metaphor over the prose of Verstand Hegel wrote

If, for instance, we say ‘the sun’ or ‘in the morning’, the meaning is clear to us, although there is no illustration of the sun or dawn. But when the poet says: ‘When in the dawn Aurora rises with rosy-fingers’, the same thing is expressed, but the poetic expression gives us more, because it adds to the understanding of the object a vision of it, or rather it repudiates bare abstract understanding and substitutes the real specific character of the thing.11

Prose poetic philosophy and the use of metaphor were central to Hegel’s mytho-poetic circumscription in his ‘scientific’ exposition of ‘the real specific character’ of Absolute Idea, of God thinking himself.



1. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 146
2. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 185
3. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 39
4. ‘…by passing through a series of shapes (Spirit must) attain to a knowledge of itself.’ Ibid., 265; ‘In this knowing, then, Spirit has concluded the movement in which it has shaped itself, in so far as this shaping was burdened with the difference of consciousness [i.e. of the latter from its object], a difference now overcome.’ Ibid., 490
5. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. II, II.4.5
6. ‘This undisciplined revelry of the god must bring itself to rest as an object, and the enthusiasm which did not attain to consciousness must produce a work that confronts it, as in the previous case the statue confronts the artist; as a work, moreover, that is equally complete, but not, however, as an intrinsically lifeless, but as a living, self. …Man thus puts himself in the place of the statue as the shape that has been raised and fashioned for perfectly free movement, just as the statue is perfectly free repose. Although each individual knows how to play the part of at least a torch-bearer, one of them comes forward who is the patterned movement, the smooth elaboration and fluent energy of all the participants. He is an inspired and living work of art that matches strength with its beauty; and on him is bestowed, as a reward for his strength, the decoration with which the statue was honoured, and the honour of being, in place of the god in stone, the highest bodily representation among his people of their essence.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 438
7. ‘…(Absolute Idea) embraces those shapes of real and ideal finitude as well as of infinitude and holiness, and comprehends them and itself.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 824
8. Ibid., 603
9. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 105
10. Ibid., 565-566. Hegel’s writing on contradiction is comparable with the subtlety of that of Cusanus but he more vitally explored contradiction as a process of negation than did the latter. Here is Cusanus on enfolding and unfolding: ‘…if you consider [the matter] carefully: rest is oneness which enfolds motion, and motion is rest ordered serially. Hence, motion is the unfolding of rest. In like manner, the present, or the now, enfolds time. The past was the present, and the future will become the present. Therefore, nothing except an ordered present is found in time. Hence, the past and the future are the unfolding of the present. The present is the enfolding of all present times; and the present times are the unfolding, serially, of the present; and in the present times only the present is found. Therefore, the present is one enfolding of all times. Indeed, the present is oneness. In like manner, identity is the enfolding of difference; equality [the enfolding] of inequality; and simplicity [the enfolding] of divisions, or distinctions.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,3,106
11. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 1002

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11k Being, being and nothing

Dillon wrote

One major problem which Plotinus inherited from previous Platonism was a contradiction between the Platonic-Pythagorean doctrine of the first principle as a radical unity – One, or a monad – and the belief, enunciated most notably by Aristotle (but going back to Anaxagoras) that the first principle was an intellect (nous), and specifically an intellect thinking itself1

Plotinus’ ‘solution’ (modified by Proclus, Cusanus and Hegel) was to make the One and intellect the first and second hypostases (the latter generated from the first – followed by the third, Soul, created by the second). Dillon continued

That the first principle was both a monad and an intellect was accepted already by Xenocrates in the Old Academy (Frs. 15, 16 Heinze) – though not, we may note, by his predecessor Speusippus – and became the accepted position in Middle Platonism, no contradiction being apparently observed between absolute unity and self-intellection.2

Hegel drew on this flexibility, maximising the philosophical and creative potential of his first principle by not only conflating Plotinus’ One with the first element Being in Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence in the second hypostasis Intellect, but also by overlying the Christian Trinity across that triad. The first principle could now, with a range of philosophical and religious meanings to use creatively, be known as One, Absolute, Mind, Being and God – forming the first element both in a single reality (Hegel’s ‘reason-world’) and in the stages in the unfolding of ‘reality’.3

For Plotinus the activity of Intellectual-Principle is thinking. It is the author of being and Plotinus equated Intellectual-Principle with it.4 Hegel began his Science of Logic and Encyclopaedia with this thinking, the first element in Proclus’ triad.5

Not only does Being think,6 that thinking, as Hegel indicated in a quote in Greek from the Metaphysics at the culmination and close of his Encyclopaedia, is divine, is God7 which Hegel described using the same expressions – ‘essential being’ and ‘absolute being’ – he had used when discussing the One in Plotinus’ philosophy (7.1).

Hegel’s God and Plotinus’ Intellectual-Principle are only truly what they potentially are having ‘emanated’ and returned, and in that process become fulfilled and complete.

Hegel wrote

in our thinking, our first thinking, God is only pure being, or even essence, the abstract absolute, but not God as absolute spirit, which alone is the true nature of God.8

and Plotinus expressed the result of the same Neoplatonic process thus

It is now Intellectual-Principle since it actually holds its object, and holds it by the act of intellection: before, it was no more than a tendance, an eye blank of impression: it was in motion towards the transcendental; now that it has attained, it has become Intellectual-Principle9

The divine activity of thinking requires an object to initiate that process and it finds that object by creating a distinction within itself

Intellect, to act at all, must inevitably comport difference with identity; otherwise it could not distinguish itself from its object by standing apart from it, nor could it ever be aware of the realm of things whose existence demands otherness, nor could there be so much as a duality.’10

Redding identifies that initial object

As the Logic is an investigation into the categorial structure of thought, its starting point will be the most immediate thought determination, that presupposed by all others: being, or das Sein.11

and thinking about that initial object is the basis of all further development

Being seems to be both immediate and simple, but it will show itself to be, in fact, only something in opposition to something else, nothing. The point seems to be that while the categories being and nothing seem both absolutely distinct and opposed…they appear identical as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category within which they can coexist as negated (Aufgehoben) moments. This category is becoming, which saves thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts. Becoming contains being and nothing in the sense that when something becomes it passes, as it were, from nothingness to being.12

The dialectical cognition of God is underway, to which process negation is essential

There is…a technical, logical sense in which the second concept or form is the “opposite” or negation of—or is “not”—the first one—though, again, it need not be the “opposite” of the first one in a strict sense.13

Theorising the relationship between contradictories, between a concept and its other is fundamental to Neoplatonism. Proclus discussed being, non-being and the negation of being and Cusanus discussed both the relationship between creation, being and nothing and Being, being and not-being. (8.4.5)

Plotinus described the process whereby Intellectual-Principle comes to know its prior14 – the same process whereby divine Being comes to cognise itself in the Science of Logic

Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent, is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent in very essence but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realised) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of the multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex.

If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognisance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent and so is realised as an eye possessed of its vision.15



1. Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xcii
2. Ibid.
3. ‘Are Being, Life and Intelligence to be regarded as three aspects of a single reality or as three successive stages in the unfolding of the cosmos from the One? Proclus characteristically answers that both views are true: they are aspects, for each of them implies the others as cause or as consequent; they are successive, not coordinate, for each is predominant (though not to the exclusion of the others) at a certain stage of the process.’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 254
4. ‘Intellectual-Principle is Being,’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.16; ‘Thus it is true that “Intellection and Being are identical”,’ Ibid., V.9.5; ‘The Being of Intellect…is activity, and there is nothing to which the activity is directed; so it is self-directed.’ Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. V, V.3.7
5. ‘the beginning…has the significance and form of abstract universality. …it is…thinking,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 827
6. ‘the absolute Being is just this being that is thought,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 371
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 315; translation from Aristotle, The Metaphysics xii, 7, 1072b, Trans. and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 374: ‘And God also has life; for the activation of thought is a life, and He is that activation. His intrinsic activation is supreme, eternal life. Accordingly we assert that God is a supreme and eternal living being, so that to God belong life and continuous and eternal duration. For that is what God is.’; ‘God, far from being a Being, even the highest, is the Being,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 164
8. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 527
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.11
10. Ibid., VI.7.39
11. Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, op. cit., 145
12. Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/, op. cit.
13. Julie E. Maybee, ‘Hegel’s Dialectics,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyhttp://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/
14. Neoplatonic theory is anything but hard and fast. Plotinus’ position regarding the One’s transcendence is an instance. Dillon wrote ‘(Although Plotinus) emphasises the transcendence and otherness of the One, its superiority to Being and Intellect, and its unknowability by any normal faculty of cognition…in a number of passages…he makes some attempt to explore what sort of apprehension the One might have of itself. For Plotinus, after all, the One is not really a negativity…,’ Dillon, ‘Plotinus: an Introduction,’ The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., , xciii-xciv. He then quoted from V.4.2: ‘The intellectual object (i.e. the One) is self-gathered, and is not deficient as the seeing and knowing principle (i.e. Intellect) must be – deficient, I mean, as needing an object – it is therefore no unconscious thing…it is, itself, that self-intellection which takes place in eternal repose, that is to say, in a mode other than that of the Intellectual-Principle.’ Ibid., xciv
15. Ibid., V.3.11

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Reply to Jason 3


Hi Jason,

I do believe the result of the poll (that ‘49% of Australians support banning Muslims immigrating to Australia’) is accurate – it was taken twice to confirm the result. One of the pollsters said the number was too big to say that it is unrepresentative.

I have heard the poll discussed in the middle-class media and no-one (as much as they would like to) has claimed that the result is in any way ‘false’.

If you step back and look at the ‘big picture’: there is a rising anti-refugee sentiment across the US, Europe and Australia. Fascism and fascist parties play an increasing part in this – discussions in the Australian middle-class media about the possibility of a Trump presidency have included mention of fascism in the US.

What is fascism? Capitalism in extremis. When the GFC hit the fan, a lot of tax-payers’ money was thrown at it. That money has now gone but the GFC hasn’t. The capitalists ponder – ‘What to do?’

Blame someone, ramp up protectionism, wage war and make force and the threat of force internally more prominent.

All of this, with regard to Australia, feeds into a pre-existing cultural ‘mind’ set.

Not only has racism always been deeply ingrained in Australia (the ‘White Australia policy’ was only finally dropped in 1973) – recent instances of anti-Chinese xenophobia yet again exemplify this – this racism is representative of a broader problem in Australia – the fear of difference.

Aussies on their island continent at the arse-end of the earth (to quote a former Prime Minister) cannot comprehend difference and its necessity, wrapped otherwise than in conformist ‘decency’ (hence the comparative welcoming of the Vietnamese refugees after the defeat of the US and Australia in their war on Vietnam).

Again, what is particularly repulsive about the behaviour of the white-dominated nations (including Australia – one of the richest nations in the world) towards the present great tide of refugees is that those people are fleeing from destruction initiated either directly by capitalist nations or as a consequence of their previous behaviour – led by the number 1 capitalist power, the US.

The West fears ‘Islamic terrorism’? Think of the treachery and terrorism that the West has dished out over and again to the Islamic people, particularly in the last 100 years.

As capitalism goes deeper into crisis, within capitalist nations, the rich get richer, the poor poorer and the middle class diminishes while beyond those nations, their militaries continue to wreak the destruction and suffering that puts further pressure on capitalism.

This is dialectics in action.



Hegel on the dialectical relationship of cause and effect


…though the cause has an effect and is at the same time itself effect, and the effect not only has a cause but is also itself cause, yet the effect which the cause has, and the effect which the cause is, are different, as are also the cause which the effect has, and the cause which the effect is.

But now the outcome of the movement of the determinate causal relation is this, that the cause is not merely extinguished in the effect and with it the effect, too, as in formal causality, but that the cause in being extinguished becomes again in the effect, that the effect vanishes in the cause, but equally becomes again in it. Each of these determinations sublates itself in its positing, and posits itself in its sublating; what is present here is not an external transition of causality from one substrate to another; on the contrary, this becoming-other of causality is at the same time its own positing. Causality therefore presupposes its own self or conditions itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 565-566



Engels on Dialectics, Part Five: Causality


The first thing that strikes us in considering matter in motion is the inter-connection of the individual motions of separate bodies, their being determined by one another. But not only do we find that a particular motion is followed by another, we find also that we can evoke a particular motion by setting up the conditions in which it takes place in nature, that we can even produce motions which do not occur at all in nature (industry), at least not in this way, and that we can give these motions a predetermined direction and extent. In this way, by the activity of human beings, the idea of causality becomes established, the idea that one motion is the cause of another. True, the regular sequence of certain natural phenomena can by itself give rise to the idea of causality: the heat and light that come with the sun; but this affords no proof, and to that extent Hume’s scepticism was correct in saying that a regular post hoc can never establish a propter hoc. But the activity of human beings forms the test of causality. If we bring the sun’s rays to a focus by means of a concave mirror and make them act like the rays of an ordinary fire, we thereby prove that heat comes from  the sun. If we bring together in a rifle the priming, the explosive charge, and the bullet and then fire it, we count upon the effect known in advance from previous experience, because we can follow in all its details the whole process of ignition, combustion, explosion by the sudden conversion into gas and pressure of the gas on the bullet. And here the sceptic cannot even say that because of previous experience it does not follow that it will be the same next time. For, as a matter of fact, it does sometimes happen that it is not the same, that the priming or the gunpowder fails to work, that the barrel bursts, etc. But it is precisely this which proves causality instead of refuting it, because we can find out the cause of each such deviation from the rule by appropriate investigation: chemical decomposition of the priming, dampness, etc., of the gunpowder, defect in the barrel, etc., etc., so that here the test of causality is so to say a double one.

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history, as found, for instance, to a greater or lesser extent in Draper and other scientists, as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development, is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. There is devilishly little left of ‘nature’ as it was in Germany at the time when the Germanic peoples immigrated into it. The earth’s surface, climate, vegetation, fauna, and  the human beings themselves have infinitely changed, and all this owing to human activity, while the changes of nature in Germany which have occurred in this period of time without human interference are incalculably small.


Reciprocal action is the first thing that we encounter when we consider matter in motion as a whole from the standpoint of modern natural science. We see a series of forms of motion, mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life, all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another, are in one place cause and in another effect, the sum-total of the motion in all its changing forms remaining the same (Spinoza: substance is causa sui strikingly expresses the reciprocal action). Mechanical motion becomes transformed into heat, electricity, magnetism, light, etc., and vice versa. Thus natural science confirms what Hegel has said (where?), that reciprocal action is the true causa finalis of things. We cannot go back further than to knowledge of this reciprocal action, for the very reason that there is nothing behind to know. If we know the forms of motion of matter (for which it is true there is still very much lacking, in view of the short time that natural science has existed), then we know matter itself, and therewith our knowledge is complete. (Grove’s whole misunderstanding about causality rests on the fact that he does not succeed in arriving at the category of reciprocal action; he has the thing, but not the abstract thought, and hence the confusion – pp. 10-14.) Only from this universal reciprocal action do we arrive at the real causal relation. In order to understand the separate phenomena, we have to tear them out of the general inter-connection and consider them in isolation, and then the changing motions appear, one as cause and the other as effect.


For one who denies causality every natural law is a hypothesis, among others also the chemical analysis of heavenly bodies by means of the prismatic spectrum. What shallowness of thought to remain at such a viewpoint!

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 230-232


Part five/to be continued…


Lenin: On the question of dialectics

The 'indivisible' atom. 'With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form' (Engels)

The ‘indivisible’ atom. ‘With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form’ (Engels)

*   *   *

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III, “On Cognition,” in Lasalle’s book on Heraclitus1) is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).

The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples [“for example, a seed,” “for example, primitive communism.” The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation…”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral.

In mechanics: action and reaction.

In physics: positive and negative electricity.

In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.

In social science: the class struggle.

The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self – movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” – movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.

In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz., the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the Σ2 of its individual parts. From its beginning to its end.

Such must also be the method of exposition (i.e., study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics). To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with any proposition: the leaves of a tree are green; John is a man: Fido is a dog, etc. Here already we have dialectics (as Hegel’s genius recognised): the individual is the universal. (cf. Aristoteles, Metaphisik, translation by Schegler, Bd. II, S. 40, 3. Buch, 4. Kapitel, 8-9: “denn natürlich kann man nicht der Meinung sin, daß es ein Haus (a house in general) gebe außer den sichtbaren Häusern,” “ού γρ άν ΰείημεν είναί τινα οίχίαν παρα τχς τινάς οίχίας”).3 Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other.

Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a “nucleus” (“cell”) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the “aspect” of the matter (it is not “an aspect” but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.

*  *  *

Knowledge is represented in the form of a series of circles both by Hegel (see Logic) and by the modern “epistemologist” of natural science, the eclectic and foe of Hegelianism (which he did not understand!), Paul Volkmann (see his Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge,4 S.)

“Circles” in philosophy: [is a chronology of persons essential? No!Ancient: from Democritus to Plato and the dialectics of Heraclitus. Renaissance: Descartes versus Gassendi (Spinoza?) Modern:   Holbach—Hegel (via Berkeley, Hume, Kant). Hegel—Feuerbach—Marx.

Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade)—here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with “metaphysical” materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to the Bildertheorie,5 to the process and development of knowledge.

Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, überschwengliches (Dietzgen)6 development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is (“more correctly” and “in addition”) a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man. (NB this aphorism)

Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voilà the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscrutantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.



1. See p. 348 of this volume—Ed.

2. summation—Ed.

3. “for, of course, one cannot hold the opinion that there can be a house (in general) apart from visible houses.”—Ed.

4. P. Volkmann, Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge der Naturwissenschaften, Leipzig-Berlin, 1910, p. 35.—Ed.

5. theory of reflection—Ed.

6. The reference to the use by Josef Dietzgen of the term “überschwenglich,” which means: exaggerated, excessive, infinite; for example, in the book Kleinere philosophische Schriften (Minor Philosophical Writings), Stuttgart, 1903, p. 204, Dietzgen uses this term as follows: “absolute and relative are not infinitely separated.”

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11b

11.3 Hegel’s speculative thinking and his poetic imagination

‘Speculative,’ dialectical philosophy cannot be other than poetic because it is the attempt to most accurately explicate the processes of the world – for the idealist, those of the ‘inner world’ of consciousness, for the materialist, those of the objective world of matter, which subsumes consciousness.

Hegel exemplified his recognition of that challenge when he wrote in his Philosophy of Nature

We have now to make the transition from inorganic to organic Nature, from the prose to the poetry of Nature.1

The poetry of nature for him was that of Life (the capitalisation indicates Hegel’s mystical understanding of the concept) which

can be grasped only speculatively; for it is precisely in life that the speculative has an existence. …Wherever inner and outer, cause and effect, end and means, subjectivity and objectivity, etc., are one and the same, there is life.2

and, I add following Hegel, there also is poetry.

He wrote in his Lectures on Fine Art that poetry, the most spiritual of the arts, is the point at which art dissolves into ‘the prose of scientific thought’ and that speculative thinking is akin to the poetic imagination

(Poetry) abides by the substantive unity of outlook which has not yet separated opposites…there is none of the Understanding’s dissection of that living unity in which the poetic vision keeps together the indwelling reason of things and their expression and existence3

Not only is the subject matter of poetry ‘the infinite wealth of the spirit’4 and of spiritual connectedness, as Magee and others have commented, the real power behind dialectic is imagination, which facilitates the utterance of what is inward.

In ‘The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism,’ written in 1796 or 1797 (ten years before he published his Phenomenology of Spirit) in Hegel’s handwriting and generally considered to be the expression of his views, Hegel wrote of philosophising as an aesthetic act and that great philosophy is a genre of poetry – ‘the art of philosophy’

I am now convinced that the highest act of reason, that in which it embraces all ideas, is an aesthetic act and that truth and goodness are siblings only in beauty. The philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet. Men without aesthetic sense are our literal-minded philosophers. The philosophy of spirit is an aesthetic philosophy. …

First of all I shall speak here of an idea which, so far as I know, has never occurred to anyone else – we must have a new mythology, but this mythology must be in the service of ideas, it must be a mythology of Reason.5

Responding to the creative vitalism of Neoplatonism, Hegel wrote

the poet is required to give the deepest and richest inner animation to the material that he brings into his work6

and that

in poetry the…rational is expressed…as vitalised, manifested, animated, all-determining, and yet at the same time expressed in a manner which lets the all-embracing unity, the very soul of the vitalisation produce its effect7

Hegel thought that both poetry and philosophy are a self-making (for the materialist, they are the product of the world reflecting on itself). The purpose of both is the liberation of the human spirit – synonymous with spirit’s coming to know itself as self-creative and self determining through artistic presentation. In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel wrote that philosophy is thinking which is at the same time a ‘making’. As such

it is like poetry in being creative of that which is supremely beautiful; it is like poetry in being an activity whose product is itself.8

In writing of a poetical work of art, Hegel summarised his philosophy

It is now clear that every genuinely poetical work of art is an inherently infinite [i.e. self-bounded] organism: rich in matter and disclosing this matter in a correspondent appearance; a unity…a whole…which closes with itself into a perfect circle without any apparent intention; filled with the material essence of actuality…creating freely from its own resources in order to give shape to the essence of things9

In his Phenomenology of Spirit he referred to the source of this as

the many-named One. This One is clothed with the manifold powers of existence and with the ‘shapes’ of reality as with an adornment that lacks a self10

11.3.1 Speculative philosophy and metaphor

Not only was Jaspers correct to argue that metaphors are necessary to ‘speculative’ cognition, they are unavoidable – our language is full of them and our mutual understanding depends on them. Barfield wrote

Every modern language, with its thousands of abstract terms and its nuances of meaning and association, is apparently nothing, from beginning to end, but an unconscionable tissue of dead, or petrified, metaphors…A man cannot utter a dozen words without wielding the creations of a hundred named and nameless poets.11

Geary wrote that metaphors are ‘entombed in even the simplest words’12 and he quoted Emerson from his essay ‘The Poet,’ in which Emerson described language as ‘fossil poetry’

language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.13

Philip Wheelwright thinks that ‘three-fourths of our language may be said to consist of worn-out metaphors.’14

Metaphors appeal to the senses, particularly sight – itself a fundamental metaphor of mysticism. They allow thought greater abstraction and, as Verene noted, they always point to what is not present in the literal sense of words.15

11.3.2 Hegel and metaphor

Redding said that Hegel came out of an idealist tradition in which truth can be expressed in metaphorical and imagistic ways.16 I will argue not only that the use of metaphor was a major device in Hegel’s philosophical method but that he based his philosophy on a metaphor – just as Plotinus built his philosophy on the simile of a sculptor.17

Verene wrote

To the logical mind, the Understanding in Hegel’s terms, tropes are improper forms of speech because they are imprecise. Logic attempts to exclude all such figurative meanings. But from the standpoint of dialectic and Reason, tropes allow thought to enter into new stages of consciousness. Tropes are not arbitrary because the translatio presupposes the discovery of a similitudo that makes the transfer possible.18



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 270
2. Ibid., 274
3. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 973, 975
4. Ibid., 972
5. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 25-26
6. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 998
7. Quoted in Lauer, ‘Hegel as Poet,’ op. cit., 8
8. Ibid., 13
9. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. II, op. cit., 996
10. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 419
11. Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1973, 63, quoted in James Geary, I Is an Other, The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, HarperCollins e-books, Pymble, Australia, 2011, 46
12. Ibid., 49
13. Ibid., 50
14. Ibid., Cited in Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain: A Study in the Language of Symbolism, Bloomington and London, Indiana University Press, 1968, 181
15. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 24
16. Interview of Paul Redding on ‘Philosopher’s Zone,’ ABC Radio National 27.10.13
17. ‘The vivid images and metaphors used by (Plotinus) apparently did not just act as illustrations of mental concepts, but served rather to attune the mind to nondiscursive modes of grasping reality.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 180. Geary wrote that ‘a simile is just a metaphor with the scaffolding still up,’ Geary, I Is an Other, The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, op.cit., 36
18. Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 22-23

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