What is ‘reason’?

What the Man of Reason (linguistic, conceptual, propositional and academic) refuses to acknowledge

…it is also inadequate to…(say) vaguely that it is only in the waking state that man thinks. For thought in general is so much inherent in the nature of man that he is always thinking, even in sleep. In every form of mind, in feeling, intuition, as in picture-thinking, thought remains the basis.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 69


Plant on Hegel: the importance of praxis to knowledge


Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, oil on canvas, 1849. Destroyed, Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Theoretical mind is the attempt of the self-conscious person to take possession of the world through the exercise of the intellect, but Hegel argues that without the supplement of practical activity such a grasp cannot be achieved. In practical activity man transforms objects and once they are thus transformed by human activity, the products can be appropriated by the human intelligence. Full self-consciousness is achieved when the mind can fully elucidate its own relationship to the world in practical activity. This is a point of crucial importance. A conceptual grasp of an object can only be attained when that object has been formed and structured by human praxis

Accordingly, full self-consciousness is achieved when man can have a full grasp of the kinds of transformations which he has effected through his practical activity on a world which is not the mere product of his mind, but which can be shaped by his will, this process at the same time contributing to his own development as a person.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 151-2


Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa – part six

G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

p. 67 ‘Neoplatonism…’
p. 73 ‘Plato, Plotinus…’
p. 75 ‘Plato and Plotinus…’
p. 76 ‘Neoplatonic…Plotinian philosophy…’
p. 77 ‘Neoplatonic…Neoplatonic philosophy…’
p. 79 ‘Porphyry’s commentary…’
p. 81 ‘Nicholas of Kues, a village in Trier’
p. 122 ‘Neoplatonism…Kabbalism…’
p. 139 ‘Plotinus…Porphyry, Numenius, Amelius.’
p. 157 ‘Hermes Trismegistus, Zoroaster…Magic, Astrology, Necromancy…’
p. 170 ‘Plotinus…Neoplatonism…’
p. 172 ‘Plotinus…’
p. 268 ‘Averroes…’
p. 324 ‘Plotinus…’
p. 342 ‘the Cardinal Nicolaus of Cusa…the Philosophy of Nicolaus of Cusa…De docta ignorantia…De coniecturis…De sapientia…’
p. 367 ‘Kabbalistic legends…Neo-Pythagorean, Neoplatonic and Neo-Aristotelian philosophy…’
p. 368 ‘Aus Nichts kann Nichts entfrehn’
p. 379 ‘Zoroastrian philosophy…’
p. 380 ‘Emanationism…’
p. 445 ‘Jakob Böhme…’
pp. 445-446 Buhle discusses Böhme’s philosophy


Nicholas of Cusa, anonymous portrait drawn from Cusa’s tomb in Rome n.d. The portrait was offered to Klibansky by the Cusanus Gesellschaft in 1964, and is now part of the Raymond Klibansky Collection.

Cusanus’ texts referred to in volume 2 of Buhle’s History

De concordantia catholica (On Catholic Concordance, 1434)
De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance, 1440 – Buhle discusses)
De coniecturis (On Surmises, 1441-2 – Buhle discusses)
De Ignota Litteratura (On Unknown Learning, 1442-3 – Johannes Wenck)
De quaerendo Deum (On Seeking God, 1445)
De dato patris luminum (On the Gift of the Father of Lights, 1446)
Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (A Defence of Learned Ignorance from One Disciple to Another, 1449)
(Idiota) de sapientia (The Layman of Wisdom, 1450 – Buhle discusses)
Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles Against the Bohemians/Hussites, 1452)
De visione Dei (On the Vision of God, 1453)
De mathematica perfectione (On Mathematical Perfection, 1458)
Cribrationes Alchorani (Cribratio Alkorani, A Scrutiny of the Koran, 1461)
De venatione sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom, 1463)
De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation, 1464 – Cusanus’ last work)


Texts by Cusanus in the contents of the critical edition of his works, from Peter J. Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2006, p. 251

I. De docta ignorantia
II. Apologia doctae ignorantiae
III. De coniecturis
IV. Opuscula I: De deo abscondito, De quaerendo deum, De filiatione dei, De dato patris luminum, Coniectura de ultimis diebus, De genesi
V. Idiota de sapientia, Idiota de mente, Idiota de staticis experimentis
VI. De visione dei
VII. De pace fidei
VIII. Cribratio alkorani
IX. Dialogus de ludo globi
X. Opuscula II: De aequalitate, Responsio de intellectu evangelii ioannis, De theologicis complementis, Tu quis es (de principo), Reparatio kalendarii cum historiographiae astrologicae fragmento
XI. De beryllo, Trialogus de possest, Compendium
XII. De venatione sapientiae, De apice theoriae
XIII. Directio speculantis seu de non aliud
XIV. De concordantia catholica
XV. Opuscula III: Ecclesiastica: De maioritate auctoritatis, De auctoritate praesidendi, Dialogus concludens amedistarum errorem, Opuscula bohemica, Epistula ad rodericum sancium, Reformatio generalis
XVI. Sermones I
XVII. Sermones II
XVIII. Sermones III
XIX. Sermones IV
XX. Scripta mathematica
XXI. Indices
XXII. Indices


English translations of the texts of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa – part five

Jakob Schlesinger, ‘Bildnis des Philosophen Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’ (1770-1831), Berlin 1831, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 341-353 continued

De sapientia, a work in three books, is a commentary on De coniecturis. It is in dialogue form, an imitation of the similarly titled dialogue of Petrarch.1 A Layman and an Orator (professor of rhetoric) meet in the Roman Forum; the former scoffs at scholastic learning, the latter defends it. The author makes a third person, describing the external setting of the dialogue. In the third book a fourth person makes his appearance, a renowned philosopher from outside Rome, present there for the Jubilee, whom the Orator meets by chance. Nicholas, speaking in the person of the Layman, presents in a popular form his theory of the numbers as the beginnings of knowledge. He begins with the observation that the people in the Roman Forum are counting money, weighing goods, measuring out commodities. How are they able to do this, he asks the Orator. And he proceeds to expound his philosophical system of numbers in its application to God, the world, and the soul. These dialogues demonstrate once again that the gift of setting out philosophical concepts in a comprehensible, popular manner was one utterly denied to Nicholas. Before long the Layman is speaking in such mathematically mystical terms that the Orator would be fully justified in throwing back at him the rebukes he himself suffered for his scholastic learning at the beginning of the dialogue. How much more appropriate and interesting is the Petrarchian dialogue that Nicholas is seeking to imitate! That Nicholas gives himself the role of the Layman is not so much due to contempt for scholastic learning, which Petrarch indeed shared, but to Nicholas’ desire to present his philosophy as one of non-knowing, as merely the outcome of speculation, as he called it, and thus opposed to the supposititious knowledge of the rhetoricians and philosophers of his time; for the renowned foreign philosopher too is brought by the Orator to the Layman and has to submit to his teaching.

Tomb in S.Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, with the relief ‘Cardinal Nicholas before St Peter’ by Andrea Bregno

Nicholas deals in particular with the numbers as the most appropriate signs of the nature of objects in a treatise of which the compendium has been transcribed;2 as he further expounds his theology in the treatises De visione Dei (On the vision of God), De Dato Patris luminum (On the gift of the Father of lights), De quaerendo Deum (On seeking God), De venatione sapientiae (On seeking for wisdom), and De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation).3 These last treatises differ from the aforementioned in being even more thickly interwoven with Alexandrine mysticism; in them Nicholas adopts much of the mystical theological enthusiasm of Dionysius the Areopagite, one of his favourite authors (as he is of most philosophers of the Middle Ages as well as of Nicholas’ own day), whom he follows almost without reserve. Nicholas further shows himself a fiery zealot on behalf of Christian Catholicism against the Muslims and the Bohemian Hussites. In a separate work he undertakes a comparison of Christianity with the religion of Mohammed,4 proves the Koran a forgery, and defends Christianity against the reproaches of the Moorish philosophers, in some cases from passages of the Koran itself. The Bohemians or Hussites are the target of four Epistles. His remaining works are concerned with mathematics, astronomy and physics.5

Part five/to be continued…



1. The opening of the dialogue is just like Petrarch’s, except that the Layman and the Orator, as the author notes, go to a barber shop to continue their philosophical discussion undisturbed (Vol. 1, fol. 75). I would draw attention to the following passage of the dialogue: ORATOR. Quomodo ductus esse potes ad scientiam ignorantiae tuae, cum sis Idiota? IDIOTA. Non ex tuis, sed Dei libris. O. Qui sunt illi? I. Quos suo digito scripsit. O. Ubi reperiuntur? I. Ubique. O. Igitur et in hoc foro. I. Immo etiam dixi, quod sapientia clamat in plateis. O. Optarem audire quomodo? I. Si te absque curiosa inquisitione affectum conspicerem, magna tibi panderem. O. Potesne hoc brevi tempore efficere, ut qui(d) velis degustem? (ORATOR: Since you are a Layman, how are you able to be led to a knowledge of your ignorance? LAYMAN: Not from your books but from God’s books. O.: Which books are they? L.: Those that He wrote with his finger. O.: Where are they found? L.: Everywhere. O.: Therefore, even in this Forum? L.: Yes, indeed! I have already said that wisdom proclaims itself in the streets. O.: I would like to hear how it does so. L.: If I saw that you were not motivated by idle curiosity, I would disclose to you important matters. O. Can you at this moment bring it about that I sense what you mean?) — We see that the Layman speaks as the scholar ought to speak, and the scholar as the Layman ought to. In Petrarch the converse is the case. In the second book or dialogue the Rhetorician goes looking for the Layman, finds him circa templum aeternitatis (near the Temple of Eternity), and the conversation resumes. In the third dialogue the Rhetorician meets the Philosopher, a stranger, on a bridge over the Tiber and takes him to the Layman, who is carving wooden spoons in the basement of a house. The Layman is of the opinion that if the stranger is a true philosopher he will not despise his occupation. The Philosopher replies that Plato too is said to have painted now and then.—Nicholas appends to each dialogue the time it took to complete. The first was written in one day in July 1465, the second in two days in early August, and the third and longest near the end of August.

2. Vol. 1, fol. 169

3. Ibid. fol. 99, fol. 193, fol. 197, fol. 201, fol. 219

4. Cribrationes Alchorani libb. III (A Scrutiny of the Koran) (3 books)], Vol. I, fol. 126ff.

5. Nic. Cus., Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles against the Bohemians), Works, Vol. III, fol. 5

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa – part four

The rose in the Rosicrucian cross is a concentration of mystical meanings including that of unfolding Mind. ‘To recognise reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to enjoy the present, this is the rational insight which reconciles us to the actual…’ Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Preface.

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 341-353 continued

Nicholas of Cusa’s system is once again a pantheism which was at the same time intended as a theism, and thereby destroys itself. It betrays a bizarre mixture of mathematical and logical concepts. The divinity to Nicholas, as to Ficino, was really the logical concept of the highest order, conceived through the mathematical concept of the absolute (not relative) maximum, which precisely because it excluded all plurality therefore coincided with the concept of the absolute minimum, the absolutely simple and, insofar as it must include the highest being, absolute perfection; yet it was no more and no less than a purely logical concept, to which nothing objective corresponded. Hence the concern that Nicholas expresses that we may not understand his concept of the maximum in sufficiently pure and abstract terms; hence too his advice first to purge ourselves of all circles and spheres, that is, of all material attributes. He must surely have suspected that notwithstanding all his purges, the understanding yet cannot conceive the maximum bereft of material attributes as something real, for without them the concept dissolves into nothingness. But for Nicholas this suspicion did not really crystallize in a clear form. As long as he expresses his concept of God and his identity with the world in mathematical terms, his theology sounds even more pantheistic than Ficino’s; in essence, his and Ficino’s system are the same, as one can see from the relation in which he places God to the world—an equally theistical one. Thus the same errors underlie his system and Ficino’s.

Nicholas’ ideas as presented here also dominate the other works mentioned above. Some clarifications of them can be found in the Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (Defence of learned ignorance by a student to a student), appended to Nicholas’ De docta ignorantia (On learned ignorance).1 It is addressed by a student of Nicholas to a fellow-student, against a work published by Wenck under the title Ignota literatura (Unknown learning), which argued with great passion against the nature of Nicholas’ conceptions. We may regard it as a production of Nicholas himself, as the author merely relates to his fellow-student Nicholas’ reaction to Ignota literatura and his judgements on the objections it contains. Possibly it is in fact Nicholas’ work, in which case it is the form in which he chose to defend himself.

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

De coniecturis, in two books, is not, as one might expect, concerned with speculations or with probabilities and their bases, but contains a theory of the human cognitive faculty in general, considered from the viewpoint which Nicholas adopted, appropriate to his metaphysical system. Absolute truth is unattainable to man; praecisio veritatis inattingibilis, as Nicholas puts it; thus all human knowledge is merely probable, a speculation; and an investigation of the principle of speculation in the human mind is therefore an investigation of the cognitive faculty in general. Here too Nicholas’ philosophical language is the same mathematical–mystic language as in De docta ignorantia. In my opinion his idea of the human cognitive faculty can be best grasped from the following passage, which I quote here in his own words: Coniecturas a mente nostra, uti realis mundus a divina infinita ratione, prodire oportet. Dum enim humana mens, alta Dei similitudo, fecunditatem creatricis naturae ut potest participat, ex se ipsa, ut imagine omnipotentis formae, in realium entium similitudinem rationalia exerit. Coniecturalis itaque mundi humana mens forma existit, uti realis divina.—Ut autem mentem coniecturarum principium recipias, advertas oportet, quomodo ut primum omnium rerum atque nostrae mentis principium unitrinum ostensum est, ut multitudinis, inaequalitatis, atque divisionis rerum unum sit principium, a cuius unitate absoluta multitudo, ab aequalitate inaequalitas, et a connexione divisio effluat; ita mens nostra, quae non nisi intellectualem naturam creatricem concipit, se unitrinum facit principium rationalis suae fabricae. Sola enim ratio multitudinis, magnitudinis ac compositionis mensura est; ita ut ipsa sublata nihil horum subsistat. — Quapropter unitas mentis omnem in se complicat multitudinem; eiusque aequalitas omnem magnitudinem; sicut et connexio compositionem. Mens igitur unitrinum principium; primo ex vi complicativae unitatis multitudinem explicat; multitudo vero inaequalitatis atque magnitudinis generativa est. Quapropter in ipsa primordiali multitudine ut in primo exemplari magnitudines et perfectiones integritatum, et varias et inaequales, venatur; deinde ex utrisque ad compositionem progreditur. Est igitur mens nostra distinctivum, proportionativum, atque compositivum principium. — Rationalis fabricae naturale quoddam pullulans principium numerus est. Mente enim carentes, uti bruta, non numerant. Nec est aliud numerus, quam ratio explicata.2 (It must be the case that speculations originate from our minds, even as the real world originates from Infinite Divine Reason. For when, as best it can, the human mind [which is a lofty likeness of God] partakes of the fruitfulness of the Creating Nature, it produces from itself, qua image of the Omnipotent Form, rational entities, which are made in the likeness of real entities. Consequently, the human mind is the form of a speculated rational world, just as the Divine Mind is the Form of the real world. …In order that you may recognise that the mind is the beginning of speculations, take note of the following: just as the First Beginning of all things, including our minds, is shown to be triune (so that of the multitude, the inequality, and the division of things there is one Beginning, from whose Absolute Oneness multitude flows forth, from whose Absolute Equality inequality flows forth, and from whose Absolute Union division flows forth), so our mind (which conceives only an intellectual nature to be creative) makes itself to be a triune beginning of its own rational products. For only reason is the measure of multitude, of magnitude, and of composition. Thus, if reason is removed, none of these will remain. …Therefore, the mind’s oneness enfolds within itself all multitude, and its equality enfolds all magnitude, even as its union enfolds all composition. Therefore, mind, which is a triune beginning, first of all unfolds multitude from the power of its enfolding-oneness. But multitude begets inequality and magnitude. Therefore, in and through the primal multitude, as in and through a first exemplar-multitude, the mind seeks the diverse and unequal magnitudes, or perfections, of each thing as a whole; and thereafter it progresses to a combining of both multitude and magnitude. Therefore, our mind is a distinguishing, a proportioning, and a combining beginning. …Number is a certain natural, originated beginning that is of reason’s making; for those creatures that lack a mind, e.g. brute animals, do not number. Nor is number anything other than reason unfolded.) — We see here the reason why Nicholas chose to describe his philosophical system in mathematical terms: he found in numbers and numerical relations the principles of the cognitive faculty itself. It would take up too much space here to detail the manner in which he developed these principles. In doing so, too, Nicholas often loses himself so deeply in his mathematical mysticism that his theory, at least to me, becomes quite incomprehensible. However, anyone who wishes to study Nicholas’ system in its full internal detail and relations must regard De coniecturis as preparatory to it, even though Nicholas himself places it after his metaphysics and to some extent bases it on the latter.

Part four/to be continued…



1. Nic. Cus., Opera (Works), Vol. 1, p. 35

2. Nic. Cus. de coniect. Book I, ch. 3.4, Works Vol. I, fol. 42

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa – part three

Bronze plaque of Hegel (1770-1831) by Karl Donndorf (1870-1941) emplaced in 1931 at Hegel-Haus in Stuttgart.

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?


From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 341-353 continued

The world is maximality contracted or made finite, and the diversity of things arises from the differing kinds and degrees of contraction of maximality.1 However, in order to understand the maximum in its relation to the world, we must first, as Nicholas expresses it, have purged our understanding of all concepts of circles and spheres. It will then be found that it is not the most perfect body, like the sphere; nor a plane figure, like the circle or triangle; nor a straight line; but is raised above all of these, as it is above everything that can be comprehended by the senses, the imagination and the reason with material attributes. The maximum is the simplest and most abstract understanding; it contains all things and one; the line is at once triangle, circle and sphere; oneness is trinity and conversely; accident is substance; the body is mind; motion is rest etc. But unless we realise that the oneness of God must necessarily be a trinity as well, we have not yet completely purged our understanding of concepts of mathematical figures. Nicholas demonstrates this by an example borrowed from human understanding. The oneness of human understanding is nothing else than that which understands, that which is understandable, and the act of understanding. If we wish to ascend from that which understands to the maximum (that which understands infinitely), without adding that this is at once also the highest understandable and the highest act of understanding, we will not have a correct concept of the greatest and most perfect oneness.2 Nicholas applies the concept of the trinity of the primal maximum to the world as well, which as an image of that maximum must also express a threeness. This threeness of the universe manifests itself (1) in the mere possibility thereof or the primal material, (2) in the form, and (3) in the world soul or world spirit, which inheres in all things as well as in the whole. The

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

primal maximum also expresses the contracted maximum; creator and creation are one.3 Nicholas believed (missing words in German text – I am drawing attention to the fact that the German sentence is incomplete: its construction does not ‘add up’. The intended meaning is something like ‘N. believed one/he could find in the contracted maximum…the principal kinds of worldly creatures…’ Trans.) in the contracted maximum and its relation to the divine the principal kinds of worldly creatures, which differ in their degree of perfection, as Ficino had assumed. He too placed man on the intermediate level, as a link between the lower, lifeless organic and animal world on the one hand and the world of the angels and the divine on the other. But in these premises he also found—as Ficino had not—the explanation of the mystery of the incarnation of god as man. God wished to raise his work, the essence of creation, to perfection, and this could only be done by himself becoming a creature (created thing). As this creature he chose man, because man occupies the middle position in the order of worldly beings and is therefore the bond of his connection with the whole. God, who exists omnipresent in all things, assumed physical humanity and could do so without coming into contradiction with his own being; for considered absolutely, creator and creation are in any case one.4

Part three/to be continued…



1.  Ibid. Book II, ch. 6. Vol. 1 fol. 16.

2. Ibid. Book I, ch. 10. Oportet philosophiam, ad trinitatis notitiam ascendere volentem, circulos et spheras evomuisse. Ostensum est in prioribus unicum simplicissimum maximum; et quod ipsum tale non fit nec perfectissima figura corporalis, ut est sphera, aut superficialis, ut est circulus, aut rectilinealis, ut est triangulus, aut simplicis rectitudinis, ut est linea. Sed ipsum super omnia illa est. Itaque illa, quae aut per sensum, aut imaginationem aut rationem cum naturalibus appendiciis attinguntur, necessario evomere oportet, ut ad simplicissimam et abstractissimam intelligentiam perveniamus, ubi omnia sunt unum; ubi linea sit triangulus, circulus, et sphera; ubi unitas sit trinitas, et e converso; ubi accidens sit substantia; ubi corpus sit spiritus; motus fit quies et caetera huiusmodi. Et tunc intelligitur, quando quodlibet in ipso uno intelligitur unum, et ipsum unum omnia, Et per consequens quodlibet in ipso omnia. Et non recte evomuisti spheram, circulum, et huiusmodi, si non intelligis, ipsum unitatem maximam necessario esse trinam. Maxima enim nequaquam recte intelligi poterit, si non intelligatur trina. Ut exemplis at hoc utamur convenientibus: Videmus unitatem intellectus non aliud esse, quam Intelligens, Intelligibile et Intelligere. Si igitur ab eo, quod est Intelligens, velis te ad maximum transferre et dicere, maximum esse maxime Intelligens, et non adiicias, ipsum etiam esse maxime Intelligibile et maxime Intelligere; non recte de unitate maxima et perfectissima concipis. (Philosophy, desiring to ascend unto a knowledge of this Trinity, must leave behind circles and spheres. In the preceding I have shown the sole and very simple Maximum. And I have shown that the following are not this Maximum: the most perfect corporeal figure (viz., the sphere), the most perfect surface figure (viz., the triangle), the most perfect figure of simple straightness (viz., the line). Rather, the Maximum itself is beyond all these things. Consequently, we must leave behind the things which, together with their material associations, are attained through the senses, through the imagination, or through reason—so that we may arrive at the most simple and most abstract understanding, where all things are one, where a line is a triangle, a circle, and a sphere, where oneness is threeness (and conversely) where accident is substances, where body is mind, where motion is rest, and other such things. Now, there is understanding when (1) anything whatsoever in the One is understood to be the One, and the One (is understood to be) all things, and consequently, (2) anything whatsoever in the One (is understood to be) all things. And you have not rightly left behind the sphere, the circle, and the like, unless you understand that maximal Oneness is necessarily trine—since maximal Oneness cannot at all be rightly understood unless it is understood to be trine. To use examples suitable to the foregoing point: We see that oneness of understanding is not anything other than that which understands, that which is understandable, and the act of understanding. So suppose you want to transfer your reflection from that which understands to the Maximum and to say that the Maximum is, most greatly, that which understands; but suppose you do not add that the Maximum is also, most greatly, that which is understandable, together with being the greatest actual understanding. In that case, you do not rightly conceive of the greatest and most perfect Oneness.)

3. Ibid. Book II, chh. 7–10, Vol. 1, fol. 17–20

4. Ibid. Book III, ch. 2f. Vol. 1. fol. 25

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

Excellent words from a priest

The masses are the victims of the deception of a priesthood which, in its envious conceit, holds itself to be the sole possessor of insight and pursues its other selfish ends as well. At the same time it conspires with despotism which…stands above the bad insight of the multitude and the bad intentions of the priests, and yet unites both within itself. From the stupidity and confusion of the people brought about by the trickery of priestcraft, despotism, which despises both, draws for itself the advantage of undisturbed domination and the fulfilment of its desires and caprices, but is itself at the same time this same dullness of insight, the same superstition and error.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 330


Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa

Hegel (1770-1831) with his Berlin students, Sketch by Franz Kugler


What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?

No direct connection has ever been established between Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel. It has been accepted that Hegel did not know of him.1 In fact, there is clear evidence that Hegel knew of Cusanus, and in detail. Not only did Bruno twice specifically refer to him, and with the highest praise, Buhle, whose history Hegel read, discussed Cusanus at length, citing all of his most important works.

In the first volume of his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel quoted Eckhart from one of his sermons – ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him.’2 In volume III of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel discussed Böhme – ‘the first German philosopher’ the reading of whose works was ‘wondrous,’ over eleven pages,3 giving five pages in the same volume to Bruno, yet he never even mentioned Cusanus – a figure in the German mystical tradition between Eckhart and Böhme.

But the ‘divine’ Cusanus who Bruno named, ‘the inventor of geometry’s most beautiful secrets,’ is Bruno’s guide in Cause, Principle and Unity,4 in which Bruno referred to key aspects of Cusanus’ philosophy. Bruno again named and referred to Cusanus as ‘divine’ in The Ash Wednesday Supper, citing his single most important treatise, De Docta Ignorantia.5

Particularly, in the same volume of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel wrote simply of Bruno ‘The fullest information about him is to be found in Buhle’s history of philosophy.’6 In that extremely interesting work (not only because of the sections on Cusanus but because in it Buhle discusses the impact of Neoplatonism, Kabbalism and Hermeticism in general on German philosophy) Buhle wrote on Cusanus in detail, naming his most significant treatises.7

Why did Hegel never even name Cusanus, in any of his writing – a man who was far more philosophical, and in the ‘Hegelian manner,’ than either Eckhart and particularly Böhme, of whom Hegel also wrote that his articulation was ‘unmistakably barbarous’ and that he ‘grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion’?8

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

My contention in my thesis will be that Hegel never named Cusanus, not only because he was so indebted to one who was known to be a Christian mystic/Neoplatonist (I have identified more than thirty points in the philosophy of Cusanus which occur in that of Hegel), but because to do so would immediately open to question the nature of Hegel’s vaunted concepts (several of which, I will contend, came directly from Cusanus), the apparent intellectual rigour of his philosophy, and particularly, the meaning of his ‘reason’ – his claims to and for it.

In denying through his utter silence the significance of Cusanus and the foresight of his genius, Hegel was emblematic not only of the German intellectuals of his time (with regard to Spinoza then Swedenborg and Oetinger and later, Nietzsche with regard to ‘Saint Max’ Stirner) but of Western culture as a whole – suppressing key elements of our history, of what has made us, so that we may perceive ourselves, as Hegel did, the bearers and masters of ‘Reason.’9

We of the West believe it has been our ‘reason’ – understood as linguistic, conceptual and particularly propositional – that has enabled us to achieve so much and attain global domination. Mysticism, the myth goes, was only a stage that was shed long ago.

What if ‘reason’ were understood to function not only linguistically, conceptually and propositionally (the reason of patriarchy) but in a manner that has been relegated to and powerfully utilised in the mystical, in ‘the feminine’?

What if philosophers were to be materialists (Heaven forbid!) and recognise, consistent with science, that our brains function wholistically in relation to the world – and philosophise honestly about ‘reason’ on that material basis?

What would happen to our belief in our supremacy then – even as Asia rises?

And what new areas for philosophy might be opened up?

Part one/to be continued…

In subsequent posts I will publish a translation of Buhle’s writing on Cusanus.



1. ‘…Nicholas of Cusa (whom Hegel surprisingly never mentions)…’ Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992, 140. Magee, citing Beck, wrote ‘we know that Schelling was influenced by reading Nicholas (Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969, 71)…However, Hegel never mentions Cusa anywhere in his published writings or in his lectures.’ In the footnote to this Magee (who otherwise writes excellently on the relationship between Hegel, mysticism and Hermeticism, arguing that Hegel was an Hermetic mystic) expressed a standard view ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno.’ Glenn Alexander Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2001, 28. Redding wrote ‘In Hegel’s case, Spinozistic and Cusan elements (were) reflected through the speculative thought of Schelling,’ Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 31, also ‘Jacobi had not only introduced the German reading public to Spinoza but also to Giordano Bruno, and thereby, indirectly to Nicholas of Cusa.’ Paul Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, Routledge, London, 2009, 126. Hodgson wrote ‘Hegel was familiar with Bruno through Schelling’s work as well as that of J.G.Buhle and F.H.Jacobi,’ Peter C. Hodgson, Ed., G.W.F. Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007, 274. Jasper Hopkins wrote ‘Nicholas does not anticipate, prefigure, foreshadow, etc., Kant, so also he does not anticipate Copernicus or Spinoza or Leibniz or Berkeley or Hegel. …In retrospect, Nicholas must be regarded as a transitional figure some of whose ideas (1) were suggestive of new ways of thinking but (2) were not such as to conduct him far enough away from the medieval outlook for him truly to be called a Modern thinker. Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel never mention him, although Kepler, Descartes, and Leibniz do. …Nicholas’s intellectual influence on his own generation and on subsequent generations remained meager.’ Jasper Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, Renaissance and Early Modern Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 26 (2002), pp. 13-29, 28-29.

2. The editor wrote that Hegel was familiar with the writing of Eckhart from 1794. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion vol. I, Ed. Peter C. Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 347

3. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III Medieval and Modern Philosophy, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, p. 95

4. Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity (De la causa, principio e uno, 1584), Trans. and Ed., Robert de Lucca and Essays on Magic, Trans. and Ed., Richard J. Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 96-7

5. Giordano Bruno, The Ash Wednesday Supper (La Cena de le Ceneri, London, 1584), Ed. and Trans., Edward A. Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1995, pp. 139, 150

6. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 62

7. Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Widerherstellung der Wissenschaften, vol. 2, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, p. 81 and p. 342ff

8. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume III, op. cit., p. 103

9. Plotinus wrote his phenomenology of consciousness rising not through its ‘shapes’ or (with a Christian patina) ‘stations’ but hypostases one and a half thousand years before Hegel’s.

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Coincidentia oppositorum


NGC 2392: Double-shelled planetary nebula

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

H. Lawrence Bond in Nicholas of Cusa, Selected Spiritual Writings, trans., H. Lawrence Bond, Paulist Press, New York, 1997, 335-336