Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13o The use to an absolute idealist of the historical Christ and of Christianity

For Cusanus and Hegel, Christ signifies the necessary connection of the infinite and finite

Every happy spirit sees the invisible God and is united, in You, Jesus, to the unapproachable and immortal God. And thus, in You, the finite is united to the Infinite and Ununiteable 1

But where Cusanus discussed Christ’s incarnation and death in a manner consistent with Christian belief

Blessed is God, who by His own son has redeemed us from the darkness of such great ignorance in order that we may discern to be false and deceptive all the things which are somehow done by a mediator other than Christ, who is truth, and by a faith other than [faith] in Jesus.2

Hegel emphasised God’s requirement that Christ be made incarnate and the worldly physicality of Christ’s experience as a subject

for God to be spirit he must appear as man, as an individual subject – not as ideal humanity, but as actual progress into the temporal and complete externality of immediate and natural existence. …as an actual individual subject, he enters difference as opposed to both unity and substance as such; in this ordinary spatial and temporal existence he experiences the feeling, consciousness, and grief of disunion in order to come, through this opposition and likewise its dissolution, to infinite reconciliation.3

both for the purpose of illustrating through God’s appearance in history Neoplatonic division into subject and object and the process of the development between them

Because the concept of religion entails the unity of subjective consciousness and its object, namely God as absolute essence or spirit, when the concept of religion becomes objective to itself, this unity of finite and infinite consciousness comes fully to expression. For this reason, Christianity is the ‘consummate’ or ‘absolute’ religion4

and, again through the profound historical experience of god-as-man, for the purpose of objectifying his Neoplatonism, of anchoring it in the lived world and of making it a lesson for everyman.

In his Philosophy of Mind he wrote

even (the Greeks) did not attain, either in philosophy or in religion, to a knowledge of the absolute infinitude of mind…It was Christianity, by its doctrine of the Incarnation and of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers, that first gave to human consciousness a perfectly free relationship to the infinite and thereby made possible the comprehensive knowledge of mind in its absolute infinitude.5

Hegel knew this to be incorrect. He followed Cusanus in bringing the first hypostasis into the second, making it the first element in his Proclean, not Christian triad. Now the One was also one Being – enabling, for Hegel, complete knowledge of the entire process of emanation and return, including ‘knowledge of the absolute infinitude of mind’ – sans Christianity.

Further, as Chlup wrote of the ‘late’ Neoplatonists’ interest in religion

If in the sixth to fifth centuries BC philosophy emerged out of religion as an independent cultural phenomenon, in the fifth to sixth centuries AD she in turn received religion into her womb.6

He expanded

though late Neoplatonists do not see the boundaries between levels of reality as penetrable from below upward, they do see them as permeable in the opposite direction. In other words, while we certainly cannot climb upward, higher beings may easily send their irradiation downward. If we cannot ascend to them directly, we may at least open up and tune in to the beneficent power that they constantly keep on sending down towards us. …Eastern Neoplatonists strive to achieve a balance between…seeing our dependence on the free will of higher beings as no less important than philosophical practice. …As a result, eastern Neoplatonists take great interest in religion.7

Where the Catholic cardinal freely acknowledged his debt

Hence, as Proclus reports, the Platonists—viewing this infinite and boundless possibility-of-being-made—asserted that all things derive from the finite, or determinate, and the infinite: the Platonists related the finite to [a thing’s] determinate essence, and they related the infinite to [its] power and [its] possibility-of-being-made.8

Hegel wrote of consciousness in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion

It is I who produce that beyond; the finite and the infinite are equally my product, and I stand above both of them, both disappear in me. I am lord and master of this definition: I bring it forth. They vanish in and through me – and thus the second position is established: that I am the affirmation which at first I placed outside in a beyond; the infinite first comes into being through me. I am the negation of negation, it is I in whom the antithesis disappears; I am the reflection that brings them both to naught.9

These are clearly not the words of a Christian. Rather, they are those of one whose ‘absolute’ and ‘consummate’ are Neoplatonic.



1. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 21, 94
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., III, 11, 253
3. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 435
4. Editor in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 163
5. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 2
6. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 32
7. Ibid., 30-31
8. Nicholas of Cusa, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, op. cit., 29, 88
9. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 295

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13n Measure, circles, spheres and God

Brient asked

In what sense is the infinite the measure for the finite? 1

Hegel answered

Measure, like the other stages of Being, may serve as a definition of the Absolute: God, it has been said, is the Measure of all things.2

Cusanus used three mathematical metaphors to explain the possibility of this proposition. The first is the number series – that we can recognise the comparative as comparative implies an awareness of the superlative. The second is the division of the continuum and of a finite line in particular. He used this to indicate that the infinite, as its essence, is the measure of the finite.3 The third metaphor is of an n-sided polygon inscribed in a circle. The increase of its sides brings it ever closer to coincidence with the circumference of the circle, thus illustrating that the infinite is the measure of the finite as its goal and perfection.4 In all three, mathematical infinity is a metaphor for God’s infinity. For Cusanus, mathematics symbolises the creative power of the divine.

Cusanus further explored the metaphorical potential of an infinite line arguing that it is a triangle and, drawing on two concepts that are Neoplatonic markers, that the maximum triangle is a circle and a sphere.5 He likened the infinite circle to oneness.6

In De visione Dei he wrote

the angle of Your eye, 0 God, is not of a certain magnitude but is infinite. Moreover, the angle of Your eye is a circle—or better, an infinite sphere-because Your sight is an eye of sphericity and of infinite perfection.7

When praising this world as a copy of the intelligible, Plotinus asked

And what globe more minutely perfect than this, or more admirably ordered in its course, could have been conceived in the image of the self-centred circling of the World of Intelligibles? And for a sun figuring the Divine sphere, if it is to be more splendid than the sun visible to us, what a sun it must be!8

All-Soul and Intellectual-Principle (the Divine Sphere) form concentric circles around the One – the third hypostasis around the second, both around the first. This Divine Triad, a unity, is the Divinity itself which is also named, as a totality, the Divine Circle.

Prop. 33 In The Elements of Theology states

All that proceeds from any principle and reverts upon it has a cyclic activity.

The explanation is

For if it reverts upon that principle whence it proceeds (prop. 31), it links its end to its beginning, and the movement is one and continuous, originating from the unmoved and to the unmoved again returning. Thus all things proceed in a circuit, from their causes to their causes again. There are greater circuits and lesser, in that some revert upon their immediate priors, others upon the superior causes, even to the beginnings of all things. (my italics) For out of the beginning all things are, and towards it all revert.9

Prop. 146 states

In any divine procession the end is assimilated to the beginning, maintaining by its reversion thither a circle without beginning and without end.10

In On the Theology of Plato Proclus wrote

And intellect is that which converts itself to the principles, conjoins the end with the beginning, and produces one intelligible circle.11

Cusanus wrote in Book I of De docta ignorantia

Others who have attempted to befigure infinite oneness have spoken of God as an infinite circle. But those who considered the most actual existence of God affirmed that He is an infinite sphere, as it were. I will show that all of these [men] have rightly conceived of the Maximum and that the opinion of them all is a single opinion. …the infinite line, which is a triangle, is also a circle. And [this is] what was proposed [for proof].

Moreover, that an infinite line is a sphere becomes very obvious in the following way: The line AB is the circumference of the maximum circle—indeed, it is the [maximum] circle, as was just proved. And, in the triangle ABC, AB was brought from B to C, as was previously stated. But BC is an infinite line, as was also just proved. Hence, AB [which is the maximum circle] reached C by a complete coming around upon itself. (my italics) And since this is the case, it follows of necessity that from such a coming around of a circle upon itself (my italics) a sphere is originated. And given that we previously proved that ABC is a circle, a triangle, and a line, we have now proved that it is also a sphere. And these are [the results] we set out to find.12

In his Science of Logic Hegel wrote

The essential requirement for the science of logic is not so much that the beginning be a pure immediacy, but rather that the whole of the science be within itself a circle in which the first is also the last and the last is also the first.

 We see therefore that, on the other hand, it is equally necessary to consider as result that into which the movement returns as into its ground. …the line of the scientific advance becomes a circle.13

The image of the progress to infinity is the straight line, at the two limits of which alone the infinite is, and always only is where the line – which is determinate being – is not, and which goes out beyond to this negation of its determinate being, that is, to the indeterminate; the image of true infinity, bent back into itself, becomes the circle, (my italics) the line which has reached itself, which is closed and wholly present, without beginning and end.14

Finally, on the second-last page of the Science of Logic, Hegel not only echoes Plotinus, Proclus and Cusanus, writing

By virtue of the nature of the method just indicated, the science exhibits itself as a circle returning upon itself, the end being wound back into the beginning, (my italics) the simple ground, by the mediation; this circle is moreover a circle of circles, for each individual member as ensouled by the method is reflected into itself, so that in returning into the beginning it is at the same time the beginning of a new member.15

in the next sentence, as I argued at of §575 in the Philosophy of Mind/Spirit, he again refers to the ‘links of the chain’ of the Proclean triad and his Encyclopaedia, in developmental order – logic, nature and spirit.16

Links of this chain are the individual sciences of logic, nature and spirit. each of which has an antecedent and a successor – or, expressed more accurately, has only the antecedent and indicates its successor in its conclusion.17



1. Brient, ‘How Can the Infinite be the Measure of the Finite?’, op. cit., 210
2. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 157
3. ‘an infinite line is the essence of a finite line. Similarly, the unqualifiedly Maximum is the Essence of all things.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I, 17, 47
4. ‘Cusanus uses each of these mathematical metaphors to illustrate general metaphysical principles that pertain to the relationship between the infinite and the finite, namely, between God and creation. He uses the example of the number series to figure the unfolding of creation in all its multiplicity from divine unity. His reflections on the nature of the continuum, in turn, serve to articulate his conception of the immanence of the infinite in the finite and illustrate important aspects of his metaphysics of contraction. Finally, the the maximum polygon, which is resolved into identity with the circle, figures the link between the infinite and the finite – the locus of enfolding and unfolding as a limit-concept, one in fact that posits the coincidence of the privative infinity of the universe with the absolute infinity of God.’, Brient, ‘How Can the Infinite be the Measure of the Finite?’, op. cit., 224-225
5. De docta ignorantia, Bk I, Chapter 15, ‘The maximum triangle is a circle and a sphere.’
6. Ibid., Bk I, Chapter 21, ‘The likening of an infinite circle to oneness.’
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 8, 32
8. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., II.9.4
9. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op. cit., Prop. 33
10. Ibid., Prop. 146
11. Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. III, Ch. IX
12. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I, 12, 34; I, 15, 40-41
13. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 71-72
14. Ibid., 149
15. Ibid., 842
16. §575 ‘It is this appearing which originally gives the motive of the further development. The first appearance is formed by the syllogism, which is based on the Logical system as starting-point, with Nature for the middle term which couples the Mind with it. The Logical principle turns to Nature and Nature to Mind.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 314
17. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 842

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13m The fundamental notion in philosophy, conflation and the Proclean triad

For Cusanus and Hegel, the genuine infinite is the fundamental notion in philosophy, the most important principle of philosophical knowledge and the basis of all truth. Where Cusanus positioned the genuine infinite as the Maximum in the ultimate relationship of coincidentia oppositorum – that between the two superlatives Maximum and Minimum (the former enfolding all else) – and explored that relationship

the Maximum is such that in it the Minimum is the Maximum, and thus the Maximum infinitely and in every respect transcends all opposition. From this principle there can be elicited about the Maximum as many negative truths as can be written or read; indeed, all humanly apprehensible theology is elicited from this very great principle. …For whoever understands this [point] understands all things; he transcends all created understanding. For God, who is this Maximum, ‘is not thing and is not any other thing; He is not here and is not there,’ as the same Dionysius says regarding the divine names; for just as He is all things, so He is not any of all the things.1

Hegel developed that same principle to its fullest within Neoplatonism, addressing the transitional unity of the infinite and the finite, each functioning inseparably and dialectically within the other.2 Magee wrote

The concept of the true infinite is extraordinarily important for Hegel’s philosophy. In the Doctrine of Being of the Logic, it sets the stage for a major transition: to the concept of being-for-self, which Hegel describes as ‘the infinite determinacy that contains distinction within itself as sublated’ (EL #96 A). Ultimately, Hegel will characterise the Absolute (the whole of the real) as precisely such an infinite which contains the finite within itself as its internal self-differentiation. The true infinite is also important for understanding Hegel’s treatment of God (the equivalent of the Absolute). Traditional theology, Hegel holds, is fundamentally mistaken in claiming that the infinite God and finite creation must be absolutely distinct for, again, this distinction would actually cancel God’s infinity. Therefore, God must ‘contain’ the world as a moment of his being; the infinite must contain the finite.3

Where for Cusanus God is Absolute Maximum uncontracted, the universe, its image, a oneness-in-plurality, is the contracted maximum (comprised of a multiplicity of finite elements) and Christ is the Absolute and contracted Maximum (both infinite and finite) – each, in turn, the subjects of the three books of De docta ignorantia – Hegel used the same focus on infinite (God), finite (nature) and the finite and infinite (Mind’/Spirit4) to address the same process and stages of development in his Encyclopaedia.

Where Cusanus distinguished between the infinity of God and that of the universe (which he described as privatively infinite because although it is unbounded by any physical reality external to itself it still lacks the negative infinity of God)5, Hegel addressed in his development of this a distinction between ‘two’ infinites in his notion of the ‘genuine’ and ‘spurious’ infinites – the former and its relationship with the finite cognised as for Cusanus on the basis of speculative reason, the latter the one-sided infinite of ‘understanding’6.

In the Doctrine of Being of the Logic, Hegel argues that when we consider a finite something we are automatically led to think of its other, which limits it. (He calls this ‘bad infinity’ -) that which simply goes on and on and on; an unending series of distinct, finite terms which succeed one another without end. This is the infinity of the understanding…This infinity, Hegel argues, is fundamentally false. …if the infinite is limited, it cannot truly be infinite! True or genuine infinity, therefore, cannot stand in opposition to the finite. This means that the only way that is left for the infinite to be genuinely infinite would be for it to contain the finite within itself.…The understanding finds this outrageous, and declares it impossible. But for Hegel there is a simple, speculative solution: the infinite can retain its infinity if, in effect, it absorbs the finite as its internal moments or internal differentiation. The shift here is from seeing the infinite and finite as externally related (which is how the understanding sees things), to conceiving them as internally related. The true infinite is infinite, then, not because it goes on and on, but because it contains finitude within itself and is thus not limited, restricted, or defined by anything outside itself.7

To recapitulate, the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind, Divine Intellection) is the beginning of plurality or complexity and connotes the highest knowable. It contains the Intellectual, Intelligible or Spiritual Universe – the totality of divine thoughts (Forms or Ideas).

While infinite in power and without extension because immeasurable, as the image of the One and though a complete whole, it is comprised of an existing number (all that can exist) of definite, finite realities – the Forms.

This ‘Totality of the Supreme Wisdom or “Mentation”’8 is also the totality of all finite ‘minds’ or intelligences which are images of the Universal or Divine Mind (which, I will argue, becomes the cultus of Cusanus and Hegel). Thus Intellectual-Principle is not only a unity-in-diversity of Ideas but a complexity of the finite within the infinite, through which the soul rises in its development. Magee put the Neoplatonic position

Only the whole is true, and discovering the ‘truth’ of any finite object or idea consists in understanding its relation to the whole.9

Cusanus and Hegel developed their philosophies against the background of their conflation of the hypostases10  – no longer on the basis of the hypostatic process of emanation and return from and to the One but, using the Christian Trinity and myth, from and to the one Being or God of Proclus’ inner triad of triads.

Of particular importance to this is their incorporation of the first hypostasis in the first element of Proclus’ triad – Being – in the second hypostasis, because the One is the Absolute infinite.

Cusanus’ words in De docta ignorantia (one of the most important of his treatises on the relationship between infinite and finite)

For the Infinite Form is received only finitely, so that every created thing is, as it were, a finite infinity or a created god, so that it exists in the way in which this can best occur.11

echo the generation from the first into the second hypostasis whereby Formless Form is received only finitely, so that every created thing (Form/Idea/intelligence) is, as it were, a finite infinity or a created god, so that it exists in the way in which this can best occur.12

This is the Intellective and Spiritual Universe, the philosophical not Christian realm about which Cusanus and Hegel philosophised. I strongly disagree with Magee’s assertion that

Hegel’s concept of the ‘true infinite’…would seem to owe something to Spinoza’s theology13

and that Hegel had ‘solved the dilemma’14. The nature of the ‘true infinite’ and the speculative (mystical) relationship between infinite and finite was established in the Enneads and clarified and developed particularly by Proclus and then Cusanus on the basis of the conflation of the hypostases into the second, within which was suspended Proclus’ triad of Being/Life/Intelligence. Cusanus wrote

Your Concept is most simple eternity itself. Now, posterior to most simple eternity no thing can possibly be made. Therefore, infinite duration, which is eternity itself, encompasses all succession. Therefore, everything which appears to us in a succession is not at all posterior to Your Concept, which is eternity. For Your one Concept, which is also Your Word, enfolds each and every thing.15

Prior to Marx’s incorporation of Neoplatonic dialectic in materialist epistemology, Hegel developed that relationship, as well as other aspects of Neoplatonism, to their highest point. Because of his debt to Cusanus, by no means only with regard to the theorising of infinity and finitude on the basis of a conflation of the Neoplatonic hypostases and of Proclus’ triad specifically, Hegel made sure he never even named him, although Cusanus is named and discussed to varying degrees including detailed in seven of the nine histories of philosophy (the other two dealing only with ancient philosophy) Hegel cited as sources for his Lectures on the History of Philosophy (see 13.4.1, 13.4.2).



1. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,16,43, 25; ’Cusanus’ theology…requires the convergence of the Absolute-Greatest with the Absolute-Smallest as the firm principle and the necessary vehicle of progressing knowledge.’, Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, op. cit., 14
2. ‘it is this unity (of the finite and the infinite) alone which evokes the infinite in the finite and the finite in the infinite; it is, so to speak, the mainspring of the infinite progress.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 142; ‘everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient…the finite…is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite.’, Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 118 (anathema to bourgeois ideologues and a fundamental reason why they refuse to give Plotinus the recognition he deserves are the words that follow ‘All things, we say – that is, the finite world as such – are doomed; and in saying so, we have a vision of Dialectic as the universal and irresistible power before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself.’); ‘Indeed, even in the case of the infinite, it has the infinite on one side and finitude on the other. But the truth of the matter is that neither the finite nor the infinite standing over against it has any truth; rather both are merely transitional. To that extent this is a mystery for sensible representation and for the understanding, and both resist the rationality of the idea. …life itself is a contradiction, and the way the understanding comprehends such distinctions is that the contradiction remains unresolved’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 281-282
3. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 119; ‘Traditional theology’ means ‘Christian theology’. Here is another fundamental difference between the Proclean triad and the Christian Trinity which ideologues gloss over.
4. ‘The two first parts of the doctrine of Mind embrace the finite mind.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 22. The ‘two first parts’ in my copy being Mind Subjective and Mind Objective, the third being, of course, Absolute Mind.
5. ‘The notion of Absolute Infinity…(is) central to (Cusanus’s) entire treatise (De Visione Dei)’, Bernard McGinn, ‘Seeing and Not Seeing – Nicholas of Cusa’s De visione Dei in the History of Western Mysticism’ in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 26-54, 47; ‘(For Cusanus) the infinite is the essence of the finite.’, Elizabeth Brient, ‘How Can the Infinite be the Measure of the Finite?’ Ibid., 210-226, 216
6. ‘Much depends on rightly apprehending the notion of infinity, and not stopping short at the wrong infinity of endless progression. …No doubt philosophy has also sometimes been set the task of finding an answer to the question, how the infinite comes to the resolution of issuing out of itself. This question, founded, as it is, upon the assumption of a rigid opposition between finite and infinite, may be answered by saying that the opposition is false, and that in point of fact the infinite eternally proceeds out of itself, and yet does not proceed out of itself. If we further say that the infinite is the not-finite, we have in point of fact virtually expressed the truth: for as the finite itself is the first negative, the not-finite is the negative of that negation, the negation which is identical with itself and thus at the same time a true affirmation.’ Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 137-138
7. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 118-119
8. In Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., xxxiii
9. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 252
10. I have discussed Cusanus’ and Hegel’s conflation of the three hypostases into the second and exemplified this, particularly with regard to Hegel (see 7.). They used ‘One’ in the sense of both first and second hypostases, wrote that the beginning is devoid of predication and used ‘One’, ‘God’, ‘Being’ and ‘Mind’ interchangeably. Exemplifying his conflation of the hypostases, Cusanus, when discussing ‘the four onenesses’, wrote ‘since intelligence’s oneness is unfolded in the soul, intelligence shines forth in the soul as in its own image. God is intelligence’s light, because He is intelligence’s Oneness; similarly, intelligence is the soul’s light, because intelligence is the soul’s oneness’, Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 7, 27
11. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II, 2, 104; ‘every existing thing is a combination of the finite and the infinite: from the finite it has its being; from the infinite it has its power.’, De venatione sapientiae (‘On the Pursuit of Wisdom’), 1462-3, in Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, 1278-1354, 21, 59; Hopkins wrote “when Nicholas refers to every created thing as ‘a finite infinity, as it were,’ he does not mean that Infinity itself is contracted, or delimited. The words ‘as it were’ signal a modus loquendi: every finite creature ‘resembles’ the Infinite God in that it is as perfect as it can be.”, Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa’s Metaphysic of Contraction, op. cit., 102. As I have indicated, quoting Armstrong at 13.5, this is the position of Plotinus. “In the Cusan infinite, each part is also infinite. God is ‘all in all.’”, Weeks, German Mysticism – From Hildegard of Bingen to Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Literary and Intellectual History, 107
12. ‘Cusanus gives expression to this important difference between finite and Infinite…Just as any creature is not other than itself so it is not other than the divine Not-Other. The divine Not-Other both is and is not every finite other.’, Miller, ‘Cusanus, Nicolaus [Nicolas of Cusa], op. cit.
13. Magee immediately followed these words with the Neoplatonic giveaway ‘For both Hegel and Spinoza, the true is the whole.’ ‘(Both Spinoza and Hegel conceived of God) as infinite, and understand this to mean that there are no beings existing outside God that would limit him. Thus, the finite must be contained within the infinite. This is Hegel’s concept of the ‘true infinite’, and it would seem to owe something to Spinoza’s theology. For both Hegel and Spinoza, the true is the whole.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 225.
14. ‘Speculation allows Hegel to solve many philosophical problems which remain insoluble for the understanding. For example, the understanding insists that the universe must be either finite or infinite, but cannot be both. However, as Kant demonstrated, there seem to be equally good arguments for either position. Hegel solves the dilemma (my italics) by asserting that the standard conception of infinity (as that which goes on forever) is false. Since the (false) infinite excludes the finite, it is actually limited by what it excludes, and thus cannot be infinite (or unlimited). The true infinite, for Hegel, has nothing ‘outside’ itself which could limit it, thus it must ‘contain’ or be composed by all that which is finite. This argument is impossible for the understanding to grasp, because it is incapable of adopting a critical standpoint about its most fundamental presuppositions. It is really for precisely this reason that Hegel regards the understanding as unphilosophical.’, Ibid., 252-253. Cusanus philosophised on the same relationship between infinite and finite with regard to the universe in Book II of De docta ignorantia.
15. Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op. cit., 10, 43. ‘Infinity exists and enfolds all things; and no thing can exist outside it. Hence, nothing is other than it or different from it. Therefore, Infinity is all things in such way that it is none of them.’ Ibid., 13, 56; ‘the Infinite is not contractible to equality with the finite, although it is not unequal to anything. For how could inequality befit the Infinite, which more and less do not befit? Therefore, the Infinite is not greater than or lesser than or unequal to any given thing. Yet, it is not on this account equal to the finite, because it is infinitely above everything finite. And because it is infinitely above everything finite—i.e., because it exists per se—the Infinite is altogether absolute and uncontractible.’ Ibid., 13, 57

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13l ‘Understanding’, ‘reason’, finitude and infinity

I will now go over and expand on my initial discussion at 4. of the difference between Hegel’s Verstand and Vernunft, sourced in the Enneads as discursive analysis and the reason of contemplation (the final stage of which, for the Neoplatonist, becomes ‘pure vision’), which Cusanus knew in turn as ratio and intellectus1.

The first pertains to the senses and excludes contradiction thereby dissolving relationships, merely distinguishing between things (e.g. the antithesis between infinity and finitude) and identifying only multiplicity. It draws inferences on the basis of non-contradiction

reason denies that there is an enfolding of opposites, and it affirms the unattainability of enfolded opposites…the root of all rational assertions is the following: viz., that a coincidence of opposites is not attainable.2

The latter functions on the basis of the unity of opposites, presupposing the self-movement of ‘mind’ unfolding in the process of its thinking.

That unity of opposites is reflected even in the name of Cusanus’ principle of ‘learned ignorance’ which principle exemplifies how those opposites ‘coincide’.

Where contradiction is a barrier for the understanding, for Cusanus, true reason’s grasp of contradiction and its necessity is the means by which the philosopher, in humility, makes their way to the wall of Paradise, their intellectus going beyond to the vision of God, while for Hegel it is the thoroughly explicated engine of a complete system, the pinnacle of which, again, is that same ultimate apprehension.

Of particular importance (on which I will soon develop), where the former reason works with bounded, defined concepts and judgements, the latter works with concepts which have their meaning in their inter-relationships – most importantly, that between infinity and the finite

through a movement of reason, which is much lower than the intellect, names are bestowed for distinguishing between things. But since reason cannot leap beyond contradictories: as regards the movement of reason, there is not a name to which another name is not opposed. Therefore, as regards the movement of reason: plurality or multiplicity is opposed to oneness.3

Where the act of understanding is that of finitude because it addresses objects as though they are distinct and self-sufficient, thereby taking them out of context and treating them abstractly, the higher ‘reason’ – intellectus or Vernunft – is speculative.

Where intellectus explores the contradictions in conceptual relationships, Vernunft, a most important further development on this, explores those conceptual relationships in their dialectical development. It treats objects as ‘determinate’, showing the ‘totality of relations that conditioned them.

While Neoplatonism has undergone development – clarification as much as anything – it has always pursued the mystical merging of knower, knowing and known, of subject and its object, leading to infinite and absolute truth. Towards this,

the main point is to distinguish the genuine Notion of infinity from spurious infinity, the infinite of reason from the infinite of the understanding; yet the latter is the finitised infinite, and it will be found that in the very act of keeping the infinite pure and aloof from the finite, the infinite is only made finite.4



1. ‘Nicholas’s distinction between ratio (reason) and intellectus (understanding) —the latter being the higher mental faculty—has been thought to resemble, in relevant respects, Kant’s distinction between Verstand (understanding) and Vernunft (reason), so that for the most part nowadays the Germans translate Cusa’s word “ratio” by “Verstand” and his word “intellectus” by “Vernunft”…Nicholas claims that the principle of noncontradiction applies only at the level of ratio, not at the level of intellectus.’ Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, op. cit., 15. Kant’s relationship with Neoplatonism is yet another, not only of philosophers, that has been suppressed in the name of patriarchal capitalist ideology and white, Western supremacism.
2. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., II, 1, 76, 200
3. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,24,76, 40
4. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 137

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13k

13.6.5 Infinity and the finite

the more subtly the mind contemplates itself in and through the world unfolded from itself, the more abundantly fruitful it is made within itself, since its End is Infinite Reason. Only in Infinite Reason will the mind behold itself as it is1

Neoplatonism could be defined as the theory of the movement of consciousness from infinity to the finite and back again. The most important relationship of all to Neoplatonists, from Plotinus to Neoplatonism’s consummate proponent Hegel, is that between the infinite and the finite.

For Plotinus, the One (the Formless Form, the Father, the Simple, the Absolute, the Infinite, the Transcendent, the Unconditioned, the Fountain and Principle of Beauty) is the principle of form, being, number, order, measure and limit though none of those itself. It is beyond space and time and is the greatest in reality. It is infinite power.

Its light, the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle is its most perfect possible image

Plotinus’ World of Forms…represents (the One’s) infinity as best it can in the plurality of Forms. Intellect is itself infinite in power and immeasurable, because it has no extension and there is no external standard by which it could be measured, but finite because it is a complete whole composed of an actually existing number (all that can possibly exist) of Forms, which are themselves definite, limited realities.2

Plotinus concluded an important section of the Enneads in which he proposed a contemplative method for ‘dematerialising’ the visible universe in order to ‘see’ that of the spiritual intelligible where all elements have no perceptible shape, magnitude, temporal or spatial difference (since each is all, and all, though distinct, are an infinite unity) with

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 infinite3

In sum, the second hypostasis is the realm of infinity within which finitude functions. It is there that the Forms or Ideas in their diversity have their most complex meaning, infinity being the dominant principle. The progress of one’s soul is through that realm, from least rationally developed within it, beyond most rationally developed within it (the near unity of subject and object), to the desired first hypostasis, the One.

Proclus believed that all that exists consists of the Unlimited (apeiria, which corresponds to procession) and Limit (peras). He was in agreement with Plotinus that both complement each other and cannot function apart

At the heart of all existence Proclus sees the cooperation of  two principles: Limit (peras) and the Unlimited (apeiria). …For Proclus, Limit and the Unlimited represent a sort of basic ‘interface’ between the One and the lower levels. …Limit is always tied to the Unlimited (PT III 8, 31.18-32.7)…All that exists needs to depend on these two primal principles: it needs to be limited while possessing an indefinite potency.4

Proclus greatly clarified the relationship in Neoplatonism between the infinite and the finite. Propositions 84-96 of his Elements of Theology address being, limit and infinitude. Prop. 89 states ‘All true Being is composed of limit and infinite’, Prop. 92 states ‘The whole multitude of infinite potencies is dependent upon one principle, the first Infinity, which is not potency in the sense that it is participated or exists in things which are potent, but is Potency-in-itself, not the potency of an individual but the cause of all that is’ and Prop. 95 states ‘The more unified potency is always more infinite than one which is passing into plurality’5



1. Nicholas of Cusa, De coniecturis (‘On Speculations’), op. cit., 1,1,5, 165
2. Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxi
3. ‘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…’ Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. V, V.8.9. I contend that Plotinus’ recommendation, via a similar passage by Bergson in Matter and Memory is reflected in the Cubism of Picasso and Braque, particularly the so-called ‘intellectual’, ‘Analytic’ phase (‘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.’) H.Bergson, Matter and Memory, 1896; trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer, New York, 1988, 208.
4. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 77-78
5. ‘For if the first Infinity is nearest to the One (prop. 92), then of two potencies that which is more akin to the One is infinite in a greater degree than that which falls away from it; since a potency as it becomes manifold loses that likeness to the One which caused it while it abode therein to transcend the rest, concentrated in indivisibility. For even in things subject to division potencies are multiplied by co-ordination, enfeebled by partition.’ Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op. cit.

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