The ascetics Proclus and Nietzsche on eternal recurrence

Proclus 412-485 C.E.

Proclus (412-485)

‘Prop. 199. Every intra-mundane soul has in its proper life periods and cyclic reinstatements.

For if it is measured by time and has a transitive activity (prop. 191), and movement is its distinctive character (prop. 20), and all that moves and participates time, if it be perpetual, moves in periods and periodically returns in a circle and is restored to its starting-point (prop. 198), then it is evident that in every intra-mundane soul, having movement and exercising a temporal activity, will have a periodic motion, and also cyclic reinstatements (since in the case of things perpetual every period ends in a reinstatement of the original condition).’

‘Prop. 206. Every particular soul can descend into temporal process and ascend from process to Being an infinite number of times.

For if at certain times it is in the company of gods and at others falls away from its upward tension towards the divine, and if it participates both intelligence and unintelligence (prop. 202), it is plain that by turns it comes-to-be in the world of process and has true Being among the gods. For it cannot (have been for an infinite time in material bodies and thereafter pass a second infinite time among the gods, neither can it) have spent an infinite time among the gods and again be embodied for the whole time thereafter, since that which has no temporal beginning will never have an end, and what has no end cannot have had a beginning. It remains, then, that each soul has a periodic alternation of ascents out of process and descents into process, and that this movement is unceasing by reason of the infinitude of time. Therefore each particular soul can descend and ascend an infinite number of times, and this shall never cease to befall every such soul.’

Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R. Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, 175, 181

‘At the twilight of antiquity there were still wholly unchristian figures, which were more beautiful, harmonious, and pure than those of any Christians: e.g., Proclus. His mysticism and syncretism were things that precisely Christianity cannot reproach him with. In any case, it would be my desire to live together with such people. In comparison with them Christianity looks like some crude brutalisation, organised for the benefit of the mob and the criminal classes.

Proclus, who solemnly invokes the rising moon.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, ’We Philologists’, Trans., J.M.Kennedy, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Delphi Classics, Hastings, East Sussex, 2015, 7535



“What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.'”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 194-195


Images: top/below left/below right

Lenin: the philosophical idealists – part six

The capitalist class and its ideologues – ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power

German diplomats award Henry Ford, centre, their nation’s highest decoration for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, July 1938

German diplomats award Henry Ford, centre, their nation’s highest decoration for foreigners, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, July 1938

Hitler and Fritz Thyssen

Hitler and Fritz Thyssen


John Heartfield, ‘The Meaning of the Hitler Salute: Little man asks for big gifts. Motto: Millions Stand Behind Me!’ Allgemeine Illustrierte Zeitung, 16.10.32

John Heartfield, ‘The Meaning of the Hitler Salute: Little man asks for big gifts. Motto: Millions Stand Behind Me!’ Allgemeine Illustrierte Zeitung, 16.10.32

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 1.06.05 PM

Hitler with bust of Nietzsche

Hitler with bust of Nietzsche

In What Direction Is Empirio-criticism Developing?

We judge a person not by what he says or thinks of himself but by his actions. And we must judge philosophers not by the labels they give themselves (“positivism”, the philosophy of “pure experience”, “monism” or “empirio-monism”, the “philosophy of natural science”, etc.) but by how they actually settle fundamental theoretical questions, by their associates, by what they are teaching and by what they have taught their disciples and followers.

V.I.Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975, 199


The ‘fundamental theoretical question’ that Lenin unceasingly drove at in Materialism and Empirio-criticism, which underlies all other questions, is ‘Which takes precedence over or which is the product of the other – objective reality (matter) or consciousness/thought?


Heidegger, middle of 2nd row, on his way to give his first address as Rektor of the University of Freiburg, 27.05.33. He joined the Nazi party on the 1st of May.

Heidegger, middle of 2nd row, on his way to give his first address as Rektor of the University of Freiburg, 27.05.33. He joined the Nazi party on the 1st of May.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 12.44.05 PM

Heidegger (indicated by cross), in his capacity as Rektor of the University of Freiburg, at a public demonstration of support for Nazism by German professors on 11.11.33 in Leipzig.

Heidegger (indicated by a cross), in his capacity as Rektor of the University of Freiburg, at a public demonstration of support for Nazism by German professors on 11.11.33 in Leipzig.

Part six/to be continued…


Full text of Lenin’s book at Marxists Internet Archive

Highly recommended: ‘Ford and GM Scrutinised for Alleged Nazi Collaboration’ at

Images: top left, top right/2nd row left, 2nd row right/below that/below that/below that/bottom image

Henri Bergson, Neoplatonist, and the Cubist Aesthetic: Part Thirteen

Bergson’s view of man as a creator, above the approval of fellow humanity, reads as Nietzschean. In Mind – Energy he wrote ‘the joy he feels is the joy of a god.’1 He equated this person with ‘superman’2 – in Nietzsche’s philosophy the higher state of Übermensch embodies the ‘will to power’ and creation.

Another parallel between these two philosophies is that just as creative intuition entails a willed effort to transcend logical patterns of thought, Bergson’s élan vital and Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ both represent a struggle to gain freedom from the social and material environment. Bergson also distinguished between the artist or poet and ‘the common herd.’3 He wrote that the aim of art is to lay bare the secret and tragic element in our character,4 and that ‘True  pity consists  not  so much in fearing suffering as in desiring it.’5

Bergson wrote that the ‘inward states’ of creative emotion are the most intense as well as the most violent.6 His words ‘for what interests us in the work of the poet is the glimpse we get of certain profound moods or inner struggles’7 are closely echoed in those Picasso used with regard to Cézanne and Van Gogh.

‘It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What forces our interest is Cézanne’s anxiety – that’s Cézanne’s lesson; the torments of Van Gogh – that is the actual drama of the man. The rest is a sham.’8

Bergson held that the object of art is to put to sleep the resistance of the viewer’s personality (a spiritualised hypnosis), to bring the viewer ‘into a state of perfect responsiveness, in which we realise the idea that is suggested to us and sympathise with the feeling that is expressed.’9 To provoke an intuitive response, the elements of the canvas must first arouse the viewer’s emotions and sensitivity to the flow of true duration.10 This can be achieved in a number of ways. Devices include the rhythmical arrangement and effect of line and words

Juan Gris. Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, 1915, Private collection

Juan Gris. Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth, 1915, Private collection

‘it is the emotion, the original mood, to which they (artists) attain in its undefiled essence. And then, to induce us to make the same effort ourselves they contrive to make us see something of what they have seen: by rhythmical arrangement of words.’11

Bergson also gave the example of letters (of words) which are parts of a poem which one knows, but randomly mixed. Because one knows the poem, one can immediately reconstitute the poem as a whole. This is an example of the reconstitution of the real parts of intuition (and metaphysics), distinct from the partial notations of analysis and the positive sciences, which cannot be reconstituted.

It was Bergson’s philosophy that the Cubists drew on in their use not only of material not previously associated with art (sand, wallpaper etc.) but also of part words and lettering.

‘Now beneath all the sketches he has made at Paris the visitor will probably, by way of memento, write the word “Paris”. And as he has really seen Paris, he will be able, with the help of the original intuition he had of the whole, to place his sketches therein, and so join them up together.’12 Negation also affirms and suggests aspects of an object.13

Another device is the conveyance of the notion of passage. The technique of passage derives from Cézanne, but its stimulus may well lie in Bergson’s philosophy.14 Not only did Cubism develop on this, a similar treatment can be seen in art contemporary with it and which has established connections with Bergson’s philosophy – that of Gleizes, Metzinger, the Futurists and Delaunay.15 Bergson wrote of flexibility, mobility, ‘almost fluid representations, always ready to mould themselves on the fleeting forms of intuition.’16 Evocative of the refined and far more relaxed methods of so-called Synthetic Cubism are Bergson’s words ‘Intuition, bound up to a duration which is growth, perceives in it an uninterrupted continuity of unforeseeable novelty.’17

Pablo Picasso, 'Ma Jolie', 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (Image, Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso, ‘Ma Jolie’, 1913-14, oil on canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis

‘So art, whether it be painting or sculpture, poetry or music, has no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the conventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself…realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul and…it is only through ideality that we can resume contact with reality.’18

Bergson’s entire philosophy, and the fundamental problem with it, lies in his distinction between the ‘mind’ (consciousness) and the brain, between subjective reality and objective reality. This is encapsulated in the following

‘That there is a close connection between a state of consciousness and the brain we do no dispute. But there is also a close connection between a coat and the nail on which it hangs, for if the nail is pulled out, the coat falls to the ground. Shall we say, then, that the shape of the nail gives us the shape of the coat, or in any way corresponds to it? No more are we entitled to conclude, because the physical fact is hung onto a cerebral state, that there is any parallelism between the two series psychical and physiological.’19

Georges Braque. Pitcher and Violin, 1910

Georges Braque, Violin and Pitcher, 1910

It is my contention that it was very likely to this most fundamental of philosophical issues than a play on illusion that the nail in Braque’s Pitcher and Violin 1909-10, referred. As Bergson and Braque would have been aware – a lot hangs on it.

Part thirteen/to be continued…


1. Selections from Bergson, op. cit., 114

2. Ibid., 101, from Creative Evolution, op. cit.

3. Laughter, op. cit., 151

4. Ibid., 160

5. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 19

6. Laughter, op. cit., 158

7. Ibid., 166

8. From an interview with M. de Zayas in Theories of Modern Art, op. cit., 272

9. Time and Free Will, op. cit., 14

10. Antliff wrote that for Bergson, the provocation of an intuition depends on the activation of the beholder’s subliminal ‘mind’.

11. Laughter, op. cit., 156

12. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 33

13. Creative Evolution, op. cit., 288

14. See G. Hamilton, ‘Cézanne, Bergson and the Image of Time’ Art Journal, xvi, Fall, 1956, 2-12

15. See Antliff on the use of passage to evoke the apprehension of the dynamism of form. Definition was not sought but suggestion ‘so that the mind of the spectator is the chosen place of their concrete birth.’ Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 52

16. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 198

17. Ibid., 39

18. Laughter, op. cit., 157

19. Matter and Memory, op. cit., 13

Image sources: 1st/2nd/3rd

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Four

Kant’s setting out of his dilemma – we can only know appearance – contained, for the Romantics, the solution – we are free to overcome it – by focusing on our inner experience.1

And not only to overcome that dilemma but, because of our freedom to focus on our inner experience, to bridge the schism between appearance and what stands beyond it (all the dichotomies symbolised by that schism, ‘the world’) – on the basis of mysticism (the dominant Western form being Neoplatonism).

The very dryness and one-sided rationalism of Kant’s philosophy was an incentive to take that step. The other incentives – our freedom (which Kant intended to be moral) and the justification to focus on the self by exploring the at first implicit then overt Neoplatonism2 in his writing (in fact, the very framework of the dilemma) were the answer.

Kant’s philosophy was both the concentration of a problem and a dare – to fully take up what had not been fully explored, fully indulged in, in German philosophy in the modern period. The Romantics, Schelling and Nietzsche responded eagerly to Kant and met his unintended challenge.

Nietzsche’s vitalist philosophy, from The Birth of Tragedy to the final ‘aphorism’ of The Will to Power (which ‘aphorism’ contains a synopsis of The Enneads) was built on Neoplatonism mixed with Platonism and Christianity – the parallels between his god Dionysus and Christ are numerous.3  In The Gay Science Nietzsche wrote: ‘Even less am I concerned with the opposition between ‘thing in itself’ and appearance: for we ‘know’ far too little to even be entitled to make that distinction.

For Nietzsche, we simply have no organ for knowing, for ‘truth’.4 The ‘truth’ to which he (as one drenched in ‘god’) referred was Absolute and ineffable, not (as for the materialist) deepening and relative (it was once true that the earth is flat). It was constrained by the same ‘limits of reason’,5 the same Neoplatonic perspectivism to which Leibniz, Kant and Schelling subscribed.6

In hindsight, the ‘diagnoses’ that Schelling and Nietzsche made of Kant convey that he was far too restrained, too controlled. But in their writing, all of the dualisms were retained – only the emphasis was different. The ‘reason’ of Kant shifted to the ‘emotion’ of Schelling and Nietzsche, but the writing of all three was equally within the embrace of Lloyd’s Man of Reason, equally divorced from true life and nature, and from the criterion of practice.

Kant wrote:

‘the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever un-discovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator.’7

He believed that in his Critique of Pure Reason he had made a similar revolutionary achievement in metaphysics – he too had developed an hypothesis that contradicted previous metaphysicians and made the spectator necessary.

What Kant and Copernicus did could not have been more different, each from the other. The observation of matter, and thought about and testing of those observations, resulting in certain laws, confirmed Copernicus’ hypothesis – one which did not seek the observed movements in the spectator, but of bodies in relation to the sun.

For Copernicus, the spectator (or particularly – their consciousness) was not required. His discovery went beyond appearances, which according to Kant’s Critique, was impossible. Kant engaged in sleights of hand to justify his division between theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge,8 between ‘conceptual knowledge’ and the distorting influence of the senses, between what goes on in the spectator’s head and in the world, of which that spectator’s head and body are a part.

Like Schelling and Nietzsche, Kant was not guilty of ‘spiritual sickness’ nor ‘decline of life’, he contemplated the world on the basis of a long philosophical tradition – one divorced from the criterion of practice.



1. In his metaphysics Kant argued that a person’s perception of the world is dependent on what they bring to the act, in his moral theorising he argued that the individual is free to determine their actions and in his aesthetics he argued the beautiful is to be found in the subject’s experience.

2. Behind which stood Leibniz

3. The final words of Ecce Homo (the words spoken by Pilate before the crucifixion of Christ) are ‘Have I been understood? – Dionysos against the Crucified…’ My reply – in the din of ideology, nowhere near well enough. Ecce Homo, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2004, p. 104, section 8

4. The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214 section 354

5. The Anti-Christ, p. 185, section 55, in Twilight of the Idols (or How to Philosophise with a Hammer) and The Anti-Christ, Trans., R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 2003

6. Schelling wrote: ‘Within the absolute all particular things are genuinely separated and genuinely one only to the extent that each is the universe unto itself, and each is the absolute whole.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 34, #26

7. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason op. cit., Preface to Second Edition, Note p. 25

8. The Critique of Judgement op. cit., p. 15. For any reader willing to consider Kant’s carefully worded and much repeated lie (in his and subsequent philosophy academics’ attempts to retain the relevance of metaphysics) that his great ‘achievement’ (in The Critique of Pure Reason) replicated in philosophy what Copernicus had contributed to science, I recommend my previous post.

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Three

Schelling and Nietzsche both made excellent criticisms of Kant. Schelling who wrote that to philosophise, one cannot neglect the issue of matter,1 that matter is the foundation of all experience2 also wrote

‘It is quite possible to drive even the most convinced adherent of things-in-themselves as the causes of our ideas into a corner by all sorts of questions. One can say to him, I understand how matter affects matter, but neither how one in-itself affects another, since there can be no cause and no effect in the realm of the intelligible, nor how this law of one world extends into another altogether different from it, in fact completely opposed to it. You would then have to admit, if I am dependent on external impressions, that I myself am nothing more than matter’3

He not only argued the priority of matter over thought but the impossibility of a law completely opposed to the material world and its causal determination, itself functioning in this world. Kant defined matter as ‘that in the appearance (of an empirical intuition) which corresponds to sensation’.4

Yet matter, as with space and time, is a concept for what exists independently of consciousness and thought – of us. Space is not a thing in which matter is distributed, it is the distribution of matter itself, time is not a measure which we rely upon, it is matter in motion. In the functioning of matter there is no requirement for us. We are manifestations of matter. This is the unity that Kant rejected.

It is most interesting that Schelling, the same person who wrote so well about matter (although his discussion of it, indicatively, slipped into the metaphysical), who, on this basis identified the flaw in Kant’s noumenon, then proposed as the solution that philosophy take over the role of religion, later that nature itself be deified and mythologised – that mythology supplant matter.5 He developed his ‘cure’ by drawing on a Platonic/Neoplatonic/Christian current present in German philosophy long before Kant, and in Kant’s philosophy itself.6

Nietzsche’s relation of Christianity and ‘god’ to metaphysics and Kant is justified – his thoughts are tersely, astutely and (as one would expect from him) acerbically expressed. His defence of becoming and praise for the senses themselves warrant praise.

But if one has any concern for what is preached and philosophically practised, when one examines Nietzsche’s arguments more closely, his own position becomes ‘the last smoke of evaporating reality’.7 I know of no more contemptuously hypocritical and self-contradictory philosopher than Nietzsche. In relation to his own writing, his condemnation of Kant warrants Homeric laughter. His indebtedness to Kant was profound.

Part three/to be continued…


1. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature op. cit., p. 181

2. Ibid., p. 179

3. Ibid.

4. The Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., p. 65, A20

5. ‘(mythology) is the world and as it were the ground in which alone the exotic plants of art are able to bloom and grow.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 45, #38

6. In his writing on morals, Kant advocated not only belief in God as ‘a postulate’ but Christian morals and ‘practical’ faith in the Son of God. Schelling wrote: ‘(the divine imagination) is the means by which the universe is populated; according to this law life flows out into the world from the absolute as from that which is without qualification one.’ The Philosophy of Art op. cit., p. 37, #30

7. Twilight of the Idols, op. cit., p. 481, section 4

Nietzsche, Western mysticism and philosophy’s concealed priesthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant: Part Two

In his Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature Schelling, particularly in response to Kant’s philosophy, wrote that through philosophy, man had placed himself in opposition to the external world, had separated himself from his natural processes, making himself his object – thereby creating divisions between ‘mind’ and body, reason, emotions and sensuality, above all between himself and Nature and that with this separation, from the world and from himself as an active whole, he had begun to reflect on both.1

Reflection is a preoccupation with dissection, dismemberment and the evocation of chimeras which as things in themselves, lie beyond reason, intuition and imagination and are therefore impossible to fight. It is a spiritual sickness which kills man’s highest being, his spiritual life – which comes only from Identity between particular as self and universal as Nature.

By asking how ideas of external things arise in us, philosophers did away with the identity of object and idea, positing things as independent of us. The understanding endlessly divides. Yet, our ideas only have substance because of our assumption of agreement between them and things.

In asking how we have ideas, we raise ourselves above those ideas and become beings in ourselves, the counter of things in themselves. ‘Mind’ and matter are thereby permanently divorced. Utilising Kant’s assertion of our freedom, Schelling argued that on this basis I can raise myself above the interconnection of things, existing only for myself. He asked what drove philosophers to forsake common ways of thinking to invent arcane philosophical structures.

Where Plato set matter against God, Spinoza was the first who recognised ‘mind’ and matter as one. Both Leibniz and Newton also recognised this unity – the former in the pre-established harmony of the spiritual world, the latter with regard to the equilibrium of forces in the material world.

Where Leibniz and Newton diverge, it is to be hoped, thought Schelling, that the mid-point of our ‘universe of knowledge’ can be found such that the systems of Leibniz and Newton can appear either the same or as different aspects of the same.

To resolve the divisions and return man to identity and equilibrium within himself and with Nature, Schelling proposed a philosophy of Nature in which philosophy performed the function of religion – when we engage in philosophy, when we employ the appropriate concepts and ideas, we have the same purpose as that of religion.

In his Philosophy of Art he argued for the deification of nature, the infusion of religion, mythology and the gods in both nature and society, and for art and fantasy (which, with imagination can unite the Absolute with particularity in an image) to supplant reflective science, which is premised on the separation of knower from objectified known and is therefore incapable of expressing the Absolute in its unity.

Where Schelling responded to Kant, Nietzsche derided and condemned him. He banded Christianity and priests with philosophers and attacked Kant as exemplary of both with concepts such as ‘reason’, rationality (at any price), caution and opposition to the instincts. Kant (‘an underhanded Christian’2) was motivated similarly to the Christian – both devalued this world as ‘appearance’ to argue for a false ‘true world’ beyond that ‘appearance’ – ‘a mere reflex of the faith in the ego as cause.’3

Philosophers believe that they cannot perceive that which has being because the senses (the body) lie. Nietzsche argued that this world of ‘appearance’ is the only world and that just as the senses show becoming and do not lie, the ‘true’ world of Kant and the Christians is a lie.

Echoing Schelling’s terminology in his writing on the Kantian schism between ourselves and things in themselves, Nietzsche wrote that to devalue this world is a sign of decadence and the decline of life – a will to slander it. With equal relevance to Kant and the Christian, life comes to an end where the ‘true’ world (for Kant the unknowable, for the Christian, the ‘kingdom of God’) begins.

Kant’s distinction between appearance and the noumenal thing in itself was the basis for his holding that we are free agents and as such can be first causes. Nietzsche rejected this, believing that our actions take place in causal chains. Again, Nietzsche tied the free will of Kant, functioning in the shadow of his moral imperative, to Christianity – considering both as the attempt through the imputation of guilt to make mankind dependent on the theologian.

Nietzsche wrote that the reasons why this world has been characterised as apparent are the very reasons that justify its reality, that the criteria of ‘true being’ amount to naught. Most probably thinking of Kant, he wrote that the ‘true world’ is a promise ‘for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man’.4

Displaying ironic facility, he wrote that it is at least unattained and therefore unknown. It is an idea no longer good for anything. In abolishing the ‘true world’ the apparent one is also abolished…the briefest shadow…incipit Zarathustra!5

Part two/to be continued…


1. To exemplify the significance of Kant to Schelling: ‘With that separation, reflection first begins; he separates from now on what Nature had always united, separates the object from the intuition, the concept from the image, finally (in that he becomes his own object) himself from himself.’ Friedrich Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, Trans., E.E.Harris and P.Heath, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988, p. 172

2. F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, from The Portable Nietzsche, Trans, W.Kaufmann, New York, Penguin, 1976, p. 484, section 6

3. Ibid., p. 495, section 3 

4. Ibid., p. 485

5. Ibid., p. 486

Schelling and Nietzsche Respond to Kant

‘The begetting of the gods out of one another is itself a symbol of the way the ideas inhere in and issue from one another. The absolute idea or God, for example, encompasses all ideas within itself…they are begotten of him.’1

The question that underlies all others is ‘Which precedes the other? Which therefore is the product of the other – matter (the philosophical concept for objective reality) or consciousness and its manifestation in thought?’2 The referent of the ‘metaphysics’ of ‘metaphysical matter’ is not, as is commonly believed, Aristotle’s writing that came after his Physics, but what lies beyond the processes and change of the physical world – which nothing does.

At the core of First Philosophy, at the core of what Aristotle called the Science of Theology3 was and is an understanding of and orientation to ‘god’. Recognising the primacy of objective reality over consciousness and thought, my approach to the subject will be materialist.

To write thus avoids pitfalls – that the world can be known both metaphysically and ’empirically’ – with the latter’s exaggeration of the role of the senses and its deduction of knowledge not from reason on the basis of sensory experience and the testing of that reason in practice, but from mere experience.

In particular, it avoids the pitfall of being caught up by competing idealisms and philosophies which amounted to struggles within an argument (that consciousness and thought are primary to or independent of matter, that consciousness to any degree precedes that which is independent of it and especially, that the world cannot be known or that there are limitations on our knowledge of the world).

Kant expressed strong criticism of prior metaphysicians and claimed to offer something new. Schelling strongly criticised Kant, advancing his solution to the problems he identified. Nietzsche, the arch-rhetorician, made even stronger criticisms of Kant and metaphysics, pointing us to Dionysus and his ‘higher man’.

Yet, despite the assertions by all three that they were putting forward something fundamentally new, my argument will be that not only are there several strong continuities between Kant, Schelling and Nietzsche, those continuities – which were anchored in a long tradition from Platonism, through Neoplatonism and Christianity – and differences – can best be understood on a materialist basis.

As the Neoplatonists argued that the One in its unity cannot be known, so Kant argued that the one world in its unity, that ‘thing in itself’ of which we have representations, cannot be known – ‘appearance’ being the barrier.4 He denied that we can go from a knowledge of objects presented to us in consciousness to knowledge of ‘things in themselves’.

The Neoplatonism implicit in Kant’s earlier writing became explicit in The Critique of Judgement – what was possibly his attempt to overcome the dichotomies of his earlier work.5 Schelling and Nietzsche were to build their philosophies, in particular, on Neoplatonism.

Part one/to be continued…


1. Friedrich Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, Trans., D.W.Stott, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1989, p. 44, #36. This quotation exemplifies one of my arguments – in its compactness can be found the influences of Platonism, Neoplatonism and Christianity – all rolled into One. It echoes ‘For God so loved the world…’

2. At the very end of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant, under the heading ‘The History of Pure Reason’, discussed early developments regarding this question, in Greek philosophy – between ‘sensualists’ (represented by Epicurus) and ‘intellectualists’ (represented by Plato). ‘Those of the former school maintained that reality is to be found solely in the objects of the senses, and that all else is fiction; those of the latter school, on the other hand, declared that in the senses there is nothing but illusion, and that only the understanding knows what is true.’ Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan Education, London, 1987, p. 667 A 854. Epicurus, following Democritus, went much further than Kant’s division between bodies that sense and the objects they sense – he held that everything, including sensing bodies and their objects, is made of atoms moving continuously. Plato’s philosophy is also more complex.

3. Hegel wrote of ‘the science of religion’ ‘The object of religion, like that of philosophy, is the eternal truth, God and nothing but God and the explication of God. …Thus religion and philosophy coincide in one. In fact philosophy is itself the service of God, as is religion. …The linkage between them is nothing new. It already obtained among the more eminent of the church fathers, who had steeped themselves particularly in Neopythagorean, Neoplatonic, and Neoaristotelian philosophy.’ Georg Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Ed., Peter C. Hodgson, Clarendon, Oxford, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 152-153

4. Regarding his transcendental unity of apperception: again, it is not a unity of a thing, rather an abstract unity of ourselves as thinkers and the world as we think it.

5. ‘the feeling of the sublime involves as its characteristic feature a mental movement combined with the estimate of the object, whereas taste in respect of the beautiful presupposes that the mind is in restful contemplation, and preserves it in this state.’ Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, Trans., James Creed Meredith, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988, p. 94. Also ‘The mind feels itself set in motion in the representation of the sublime in nature; whereas in the aesthetic judgement upon what is beautiful therein it is in restful contemplation.’ Ibid., p. 107. The junctures of ‘the sublime’ and movement and of contemplation and rest are the two great pathways to ‘god’ in our culture – both in the sense of well-trodden and what has been created on that basis. They appear in Schopenhauer, and in Nietzsche where they recur as the Dionysiac and the Apolline, blended in The Birth of Tragedy for even greater effect. The linking of the sublime and movement is a core tenet of Romanticism. Again, cf. ‘the highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which each person must beget in his own consciousness…(and this) may more appropriately be called the ideal of the beautiful. While not having this ideal in our possession, we still strive to beget it within us’ (ibid., pp. 75-76). Compare with the central simile of the sculptor in The Enneads (I.6.9). As with in vino veritas, so often writing on art gives a similar result.

On the Mystical Shaping of Self

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Pygmalion and Galatea, oil on canvas, 1890. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. ‘Take an example from love: so long as the attention is upon the visible form, love has not entered: when from that outward form the lover elaborates within himself, in his own partless soul, an immaterial image, then it is that love is born, then the lover longs for the sight of the beloved to make that fading image live again. If he could but learn to look elsewhere, to the more nearly formless, his longing would be for that: his first experience was loving a great luminary by way of some thin gleam from it.’ Enneads VI.7.33

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Pygmalion and Galatea, oil on canvas, 1890. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. ‘Take an example from love: so long as the attention is upon the visible form, love has not entered: when from that outward form the lover elaborates within himself, in his own partless soul, an immaterial image, then it is that love is born, then the lover longs for the sight of the beloved to make that fading image live again. If he could but learn to look elsewhere, to the more nearly formless, his longing would be for that: his first experience was loving a great luminary by way of some thin gleam from it.’ Enneads VI.7.33

One of the greatest, most fruitful and resonant metaphors in Western culture

From Plotinus:

‘But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.’

The Enneads, Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, 54, 1.6.9

through Christianity:

‘A sculptor who wishes to carve a figure out of a block uses his chisel, first cutting away great chunks of marble, then smaller pieces, until he finally reaches a point where only a brush of hand is needed to reveal the figure. In the same way, the soul has to undergo tremendous mortifications at first, and then more refined detachments, until finally its Divine image is revealed.’

through Catholicism

through Cusanus:

‘For the wise thought as if [along the following line]: a craftsman [who] wants to chisel a statue in stone and [who] has in himself the form of the statue, as an idea, produces – through certain instruments which he moves – the form of the statue in imitation of the idea’

De Docta Ignorantia II.10, in Jasper Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance (De Docta Ignorantia, 1440), The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1985, 112

through Nietzsche:

‘Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: the artistic power of the whole of nature reveals itself to the supreme gratification of the primal Oneness amidst the paroxysms of intoxication. The noblest clay, the most precious marble, man, is kneaded and hewn here, and to the chisel-blows of the Dionysiac world-artist there echoes the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries, “Do you bow low, multitudes? Do you sense the Creator, world?”‘

Friedrich Nietzsche The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music (1872) Penguin, Trans., Shaun Whiteside, Ed., Michael Tanner 1993, 18

through Foucault:

‘This transformation of one’s self by one’s own knowledge is, I think, something rather close to the aesthetic experience. Why should a painter work if he is not transformed by his own painting?’

in Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984,  Ed., Lawrence D. Kritzman, Routledge, London, 1990, 14

And what does the concealed priesthood in academic philosophy, who have failed so profoundly in their social and intellectual responsibility have to say about all this mysticism in their and our midst?

The mystic Wittgenstein spoke for them: ‘What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), Trans., D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, Routledge, New York, 2005



The philosophy of Plotinus: on contemplation

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Wilhelm Uhde, 1910. Oil on canvas, private collection. 'No doubt the wisdom of the artist may be the guide of the work; it is sufficient explanation of the wisdom exhibited in the arts; but the artist himself goes back, after all, to that wisdom in Nature which is embodied in himself; and this is not a wisdom built up of theorems but one totality, not a wisdom consisting of manifold detail co-ordinated into a unity but rather a unity working out into detail.’ Enneads V.8.5. The ‘faceting’ of ‘Analytic Cubism’ could be interpreted as depicting the ghostly, fragmentary nature of material existence at the same time as seeking to evoke the second hypostasis, Intellect.

The object dissolved in the unity of consciousness: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Wilhelm Uhde, 1910. Oil on canvas, private collection. ‘No doubt the wisdom of the artist may be the guide of the work; it is sufficient explanation of the wisdom exhibited in the arts; but the artist himself goes back, after all, to that wisdom in Nature which is embodied in himself; and this is not a wisdom built up of theorems but one totality, not a wisdom consisting of manifold detail co-ordinated into a unity but rather a unity working out into detail.’ Enneads V.8.5.
The ‘faceting’ of ‘Analytic Cubism’ could be interpreted as depicting the ghostly, fragmentary nature of material existence at the same time as seeking to evoke the second hypostasis, Intellect.


But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

The Enneads I.6.9

Plotinus’ Enneads are built on contemplation. Its practice enables Soul to rise to Intellect. Inseparable from the notion of will, contemplation is the self-directed and self-contained thought of the higher realm. For Plotinus contemplation, thought and life are synonymous. They are most true and perfect in Intellect. The contemplation of Ideas is above the contemplation of images and the contemplation of the Good is above the contemplation of Ideas.

Plotinus differentiated between contemplation and reasoning,1 defining ‘reasoning’ as ‘the research into what a thing has in itself’, into that which exists independently. He asked whether ‘research’ means not yet possessing.2 Again, contemplation is not concerned with the mass, size or shape of matter perceived by the senses. It draws upon a higher vision which nurtures the Soul in its purpose3

Plotinus wrote of ‘creative contemplation’.4 Contemplation is perfect creative activity, and the latter occurs spontaneously when the former is entered into. In its activity, contemplation creates what is contemplated – from the weak and dreamlike contemplation underlying creation by Nature to that by Soul which in its contemplating (since it is more complete and therefore more contemplative than Nature) gives birth in a way and to a product superior to that of Nature.

‘And my act of contemplation makes what it contemplates, as the geometers draw their figures while they contemplate…What happens to me is what happens to my mother and the beings that generated me, for they, too, derive from contemplation, and it is no action of theirs which brings about my birth; they are greater rational principles, and as they contemplate themselves I come to be.’5

Contemplation is the true source of all production6 and activity and it is the goal to which these aspire at every level, from the earth and plants of Nature, upwards to the Soul’s contemplation in Intellect of the One.7 Because it is not perfect, Soul is eager to penetrate and unite with the object of its contemplation which is for it an object of knowledge.8

Plotinus distinguished between creative activity in Intellect and in this world. Though also – like the Soul(s of the strong) – driven by recollection, a longing for inward vision, and the desire to share that vision, those with weak souls create an object in the sensory world as a focus for outward sight – a poor imitation of the object of inward vision and of the contemplative process of and in the other world. We contemplate in that one in order to create all else, by becoming One.9

‘Men, too, when their power of contemplation weakens, make action a shadow of contemplation and reasoning. Because contemplation is not enough for them, since their souls are weak and they are not able to grasp the vision sufficiently, and therefore are not filled with it, but still long to see it, they  are carried into action, so as to see what they cannot see with their intellect. When they make something, then, it is because they want to see their object themselves and also because they want others to be aware of it and contemplate it, when their project is realised in practice as well as possible.’10

In Intellect, contemplation (thinking), substance and being are the same. In it, there are no parts but there is complete unity and identity of the ‘knowing faculty’ (Soul – become the activity of knowing) and the non-physical, known object of its knowledge (Being). Soul enters Idea as Idea infuses Soul.11

Plotinus proposed a method for ‘dematerialising’ by contemplation the visible universe comprised of separate elements in order to ‘see’ that of the spiritual intelligible in which all elements have no perceptible shape, magnitude, temporal or spatial difference – since each is all, and all, though distinct, are an infinite one.

‘Let us then apprehend in our thought this visible universe, with each of its parts remaining what it is without confusion, gathering all of them together into one as far as we can, so that when any one part appears first, for instance the outside heavenly sphere, the imagination of the sun and, with it, the other heavenly bodies follows immediately, and the earth and sea and all the living creatures are seen, as they could in fact all be seen inside a transparent sphere. Let there be, then, in the soul a shining imagination of a sphere, having everything within it, either moving or standing still, or some things moving and others standing still. Keep this, and apprehend in your mind another, taking away the mass: take away also the places, and the mental picture of matter in yourself, and do not try to apprehend another sphere smaller in mass than the original one, but calling on the god who made that of which you have the mental picture, pray him to come. And may he come, bringing his own universe with him, with all the gods within him, he who is one and all, and each god is all the gods coming together into one; they are different in their powers, but by that one manifold power they are all one; or rather, the one god is all; for he does not fail if all become what he is; they are all together and each one again apart in a position without separation, possessing no perceptible shape – for if they did, one would be in one place and one in another, and each would no longer be all in himself…nor is each whole like a power cut up which is as large as the measure of its parts. But this, the [intelligible] All, is universal power, extending to infinity and powerful to infinity; and that god is so great that his parts have become infinite…’12

Everything that exists and happens in the higher universe has its poor copy in this one – objects in this universe are the replicas of Forms in the other, physical reason the replica of contemplative reason, physical sight the replica of the vision of Intellect, physical activity in the creation of an object to be seen with a vision limited to the sensation of that object the replica of contemplative activity in the creation of an object which enables vision.

One acts in and engages with this world because one’s capacity for contemplative activity, for vision, is lacking. In Intellect, through contemplation, the subject’s thought and the object of desired knowledge (that is – being, itself the product of contemplation) have identity as self-living sight and real substance, as the partless essence of what is, complete within itself.

‘…as contemplation ascends from nature to soul, and soul to intellect, and the contemplations become always more intimate and united to the contemplators, and in the soul of the good and wise man the objects known tend to become identical with the knowing subject, since they are pressing on towards intellect, it is clear that in intellect both are one, not by becoming akin, as in the best soul, but substantially, and because thinking and being are the same.’13

The wise man is so because he has become vision, directed within himself.14 In contemplating (creating and seeing) eternity within oneself, one moves towards it.15 In bringing one’s contemplation to vision, one perceives substance from within it,16 and comes to unity with oneself. One contemplates…(One)self – as the god ‘silently present’. 17

‘But whoever has become at once contemplator of himself and all the rest and object of his contemplation, and, since he has become substance and intellect and “the complete living being”, no longer looks at it from outside – when he has become this he is near, and that Good is next above him, and already close by, shining upon all the intelligible world. It is there that one lets all study go…’18

Contemplation and living Being unite in Intellect as truth, beauty, eternal life and vision. The life (activity) of ‘Mind’ is far superior, far more vital, creative and real, than life in this world.



1. On this point which is crucial not only to an understanding of this Platonic/Neoplatonic current in philosophy and its influence on the Western visual arts, but, more broadly, to an understanding of how our reasoning functions, Plotinus, like Plato, confusingly used the term ‘reason’ both in reference to an activity of the physical body and the activity of Soul. For Plato and Plotinus, the former activity is concerned with the material world and the latter with contemplation of and in the spiritual. As with everything in the two realms, the first reason is the inferior copy of the latter. Ficino’s contribution to this confusion of reason as a function of matter with (disembodied) spiritual contemplation is exemplary: ‘Reason by itself grasps the incorporeal Reasons of all things…reason investigates heavenly things, and does not have a seat of its own in any part of the body, just as divinity also does not have a particular seat in any part of the world…’ followed immediately by ‘Reason…perceives not only those things which are in the world and the present, as sensation does, but also those which are above the heaven, and those which have been or will be.’ Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, Trans. J. Sears. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1985, Speech V, Chapter 2, pp.84-85.

2. Enneads, III,8,3

3. ‘When therefore he who is embarked on the contemplation of this kind imagines size or shape or bulk about this nature, it is not Intellect which guides his contemplation because Intellect is not of a nature to see things of this kind, but the activity is one of sense-perception and opinion following sense-perception.’ VI,9,3. Thus, an attempt to accurately depict the physical appearance of a person or an object, because it would focus the viewer’s attention on the sensory world, is not only not necessary but might distract the Soul from its purpose. Porphyry wrote of Plotinus ‘He showed, too, an unconquerable reluctance to sit to a painter or a sculptor, and when Amelius persisted in urging him to allow of a portrait being made he asked him, “Is it not enough to carry about this image in which nature has enclosed us? Do you really think I must also consent to leave, as a desirable spectacle to posterity, an image of the image?”’ Porphyry, ‘On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of His Work’  in  The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, cii.

4. III,8,5

5. III,8,4. Compare with Plato on birth in Phaedrus. Also compare with Rorty on Aristotle’s notion of activity: ‘An activity can only be identified as such if it has been brought to its natural fulfilment: so, for instance, the activity of reproduction has not occurred unless an offspring has been produced…’ A. Oksenberg Rorty, ‘The Psychology of Aristotelian Tragedy’. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XVI (1991), pp.70-71.

6. ‘… all things are a by-product of contemplation…the truest life is life by thought…’  III,8,8.

7. ‘… all things aspire to (the activity of) contemplation, and direct their gaze to this end – not only rational but irrational living things, and the power of growth in plants, and the earth which brings them forth…’ III,8,1. ‘…we must strike for those Firsts, rising from things of sense which are the lasts. Cleared of all evil in our intention towards The Good, we must ascend to the Principle within ourselves….It must be our care to bring over nothing whatever from sense, to allow nothing from that source to enter into Intellectual-Principle…’ VI,9,3.

8. ‘The Soul has a greater content than Nature has and therefore it is more tranquil; it is more nearly complete and therefore more contemplative. It is, however, not perfect, and is all the more eager to penetrate the object of contemplation, and it seeks the vision that comes by observation … it possesses its vision by means of that phase of itself from which it had parted.’ III,8,6.

9. Nietzsche believed that the artist of genius, inspired by the Dionysiac impulse, goes beyond physical phenomena and, through an inward vision, finds unity with the eternal One: ‘Only insofar as the genius in the act of artistic creation coalesces with this primordial artist of the world, does he know anything of the eternal essence of art; for in this state he is, in a marvellous manner, like the weird image of the fairy tale which can turn its eyes at will and behold itself; he is at once subject and object, at once poet, actor, and spectator.’ The Birth of Tragedy, (1872) Section 5, in F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, Trans. W. Kaufmann. New York, Vintage, 1967, p.52 and ‘…the tragic artist…creates his figures like a fecund divinity of individuation…and as his vast Dionysian impulse then devours his entire world of phenomena, in order to let us sense beyond it, and through its destruction, the highest artistic primal joy, in the bosom of the primordially One. The Birth of Tragedy, Section 22, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner, op. cit., p.132. The same religious belief in creativity was held by another extremely influential vitalist and Neoplatonic contemporary of Nietzsche’s – Bergson, whose best known work is titled Creative Evolution (1907).

10. III,8,4. See note 1. Superior to representational art with its referent in this world is the art of which it is desired to evoke, in the viewer’s ‘mind’ through contemplative ‘reason’, its referent in Intellect – the art of physical creation (resulting in the viewer’s critical appreciation of the work of another) contra the art of contemplative creation (in which the viewer is stimulated to complete the process, internally). On the determination of aesthetic value: ‘“Do you think that it will be a poor life that a man leads who has his gaze fixed in that direction, who contemplates absolute beauty with the appropriate faculty and is in constant union with it? Do you not see that in that region alone where he sees beauty with the faculty capable of seeing it, will he be able to bring forth not mere reflected images of goodness but true goodness, because he will be in contact not with a reflection but with the truth? And having brought forth and nurtured true goodness he will have the privilege of being beloved of God, and becoming, if ever a man can, immortal himself.”’ Symposium, 211a-212c.

11. ‘In proportion to the truth with which the knowing faculty knows, it comes to identification with the object of its knowledge. As long as duality persists, the two lie apart, parallel as it were to each other; there is a pair in which the two elements remain strange to one another, as when Ideal-Principles laid up in the mind or Soul remain idle. Hence the Idea must not be left to lie outside but must be made one identical thing with the Soul of the novice so that he finds it really his own. The Soul, once domiciled within that Idea and brought to likeness with it, becomes productive, active; what it always held by its primary nature it now grasps with knowledge and applies in deed, so becoming, as it were, a new thing and, informed as it now is by the purely intellectual, it sees (in its outgoing act) as a stranger looking upon a strange world. It was, no doubt, essentially a Reason-Principle, even an Intellectual Principle; but its function is to see a (lower) realm which these do not see.’ III,8,5. Compare with. Met., and De Anima 430a: ‘…(intellect) is itself thinkable just as the thought-objects are, for in the case of things without matter that which thinks is the same as that which is thought. For contemplative knowledge is the same as what is so known. …Each of the objects of thought is potentially present in the things that have matter, so that while they will not have intellect, which is a capacity for being such things without matter, the intellect will have within it the object of thought.’

12. V,8,9. Compare with Phaedo on Plato’s differentiation between the visible world and the true world ‘not in nature’, attainable by those who have purified themselves through philosophy (108a-114c), Ficino: ‘Therefore go ahead; subtract its matter if you can (and you can subtract it mentally), but leave the design. Nothing of body, nothing of matter will remain to you. On the contrary, the design which came from the artist and the design which remains in the artist will be completely identical.’ Ficino op. cit., pp.92-93, and Bergson’s method for bringing duration into consciousness: ‘Matter (separate from consciousness) thus resolves itself into numberless vibrations, all linked together in uninterrupted continuity, all bound up with each other and travelling in every direction like shivers through an immense body. In short, try first to connect together the discontinuous objects of daily experience; then resolve the motionless continuity of their qualities into vibrations on the spot; finally fix your attention on these movements, by abstracting from the divisible space which underlies them and considering only their mobility (that undivided act which our consciousness becomes aware of in our own movements): You will thus obtain a vision of matter, fatiguing perhaps for your imagination, but pure, and freed from all that the exigencies of life compel you to add to it in external perception. Now bring back consciousness…At long, very long, intervals, and by as many leaps over enormous periods of the inner history of things, quasi-instantaneous views will be taken, views which this time are bound to be pictorial, and of which the more vivid colours will condense an infinity of elementary repetitions and changes. In just the same way the multitudinous successive positions of a runner are contracted into a single symbolic attitude, which our eyes perceive, which art reproduces and which becomes for us all the image of a man running…The change is everywhere, but inward; we localise it here and there, but outwardly.’ Matter and Memory. (1896). Trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer. New York,1988, p.208.

13. III,8,8

14. ‘The Sage, then, has gone through a process of reasoning when he expounds his act to others; but in relation to himself he is Vision: such a man is already set, not merely in regard to exterior things but also within himself, towards what is one and at rest: all his faculty and life are inward-bent.’ III,8,7.

15. ‘What then, if one does not depart at all from one’s contemplation of it (eternity) but stays in its company, wondering at its nature, and able to do so by a natural power which never fails? Surely one would be (would one not?), oneself on the move towards eternity and never falling away from it at all, that one might be like it and eternal, contemplating eternity and the eternal by the eternal in oneself…eternity is a majestic thing, and thought declares it identical with the god…’ III,7,5.

16. Bergson believed that intuition probes the flow of duration, placing one within the object, giving an absolute.

17. V,8,11

18. VI,7,36