The battle for art – part five: the bourgeois art gallery, capital’s House of the Lord

UM, Weisman Art Museum | Minneapolis, MN | Frank Gehry with MS&R

Symbols for the two great approaches to God the Self:

  • floors of lacquered woodgrain – the pathway of contemplative (Romantic) spiritual activity
  • walls of pure white – the surrounds of contemplative spiritual stillness

Lighting from the ceiling accentuates and unites floor, walls and artworks to form a spiritual whole – for Plotinus, the greatest contemplative activity in the greatest contemplative stillness.1


1. Think this a bit far-fetched? In the Roman banquet room the ceiling and floor were also significant – the ceiling symbolised the universe and the floor symbolised the earth.

And remember, art galleries and the layout of everything in them (including the cafeteria) are designed by people educated in both the theory and practice of art.


Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13a

13. Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa

13.1 The use of Neoplatonism

Nothing could more clearly exemplify the dishonesty that permeates modern Western philosophy, a dishonesty motivated by a careerist pandering to the requirements of the dominant ideology, than the relationship between Neoplatonism and the philosophy of the German idealists, particularly Hegel.

The reason of the former – fluid, poetic and ‘speculative’ – always eager to acknowledge meaning beyond the constraint of concepts and argument and to explore ways of conveying it was appropriated to the reason of the latter, and not acknowledged.

Where Neoplatonism’s vitality and dynamism, necessary to lifting philosophy out of scholasticism was retained, its reason was now forced into conceptual structures and this done with greatest determination by Hegel, the self-appointed master of the ‘scientific’ philosophising of the ‘concrete’1.

Yet that very determination, together with his orientation to Neoplatonism and his sensitivity to creativity resulted in him taking Neoplatonism to its highest point of development. Cusanus, following on Proclus, was instrumental to Hegel in this regard.

13.2 Philosophers who didn’t acknowledge those who influenced them

German philosophy of the period is emblematic of Western philosophy under capitalism in its failure to deal honestly and openly with Neoplatonism and with philosophers considered to be ‘suspect’ or disapproved of in relation to the dominant paradigm of ‘reason’ – an activity still little understood. Redding said of Spinoza

there was an underground distribution of his works and they were very influential in Germany in the eighteenth century. Jacobi blows the lid on this by saying that Lessing had told him that he was a Spinozist on his death-bed, resulting in many coming out saying that they had read Spinoza. Spinoza took off like a bomb. Teenagers began reading Spinoza.2

Magee wrote of the ‘highly probable’ influence of the Swabian mystical theologian Friedrich Christoph Oetinger on Hegel

Hegel never mentions Oetinger, but then neither does Schelling, even though we know from independent sources that Oetinger was important to him. The reason for this silence is very clear. Academics and clergymen who referred to Oetinger or expressed sympathy for his ideas were generally ridiculed and even sometimes dismissed from their posts.3

and similarly of Hegel’s interest in Böhme

the only reference to Boehme in Hegel’s published writings up until the Berlin period is in the 1817 Encyclopedia, where a brief reference occurs in paragraph 472 of the Philosophy of Spirit. Perhaps Hegel felt it prudent not to advertise his interest in Boehme in his published writings. By the Berlin period, however, he felt secure from academic persecution, and so decided to openly acknowledge his interest in print. Hence, not only does a reference to Boehme appear in the 1832 Doctrine of Being, but also, as mentioned, in the preface to the 1827 Encyclopedia.4

The motives of a fear of disapproval and of the termination of a career in not acknowledging a philosophical influence or interest could also merge with ambition. Küng wrote that Hegel and Schelling, though never acknowledging him, were

greatly in Fichte’s debt both for the development of the monism of Spirit and for the development of dialectic5

Magee wrote that Hegel’s ‘true infinite’ ‘would seem to owe something to Spinoza’s theology.’6 In fact all three notions – the monism of Spirit, dialectic and Hegel’s ‘true infinite’7 were staples of Neoplatonism.

Again, the motive could simply have been egotism

Hegel’s treatment of Böhme is fundamentally no different from his treatment of any number of other figures in the history of ideas: he sees him as in certain ways approaching the ideas that only he, Hegel, fully and adequately articulates.8

Other examples of German philosophers who concealed their interest in or debt to the writing and philosophies of others include Schelling with regard to Swedenborg9, Nietzsche with regard to Stirner10 and, of most interest to me, Hegel with regard to Cusanus – on which I will now begin to expand.



1. ‘Schelling…gave to his Spinozism a neo-platonic twist, and the philosophy of Schelling and, especially, after him, Hegel, showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus (Beierwaltes 2004; Vieillard-Baron 1979). …The neoplatonistic thought of Plotinus and Proclus had been a recurring feature of German religious and philosophical thought since the late middle ages, having appeared in influential thinkers like Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa and, later, Leibniz and Jacob Böhme. In the 1780s and 90s, there seems to have been a revival of Platonist and Neoplatonist thought in the German states, and this would come to be especially influential on early “romanticism”. During the 1790s, the poet-philosopher Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) had even claimed to find similarities between the views of Plotinus on the one hand, and Kant and Fichte on the other (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-8). In retrospect, this does not seem too fanciful.’ Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 6
2. Lecture, University of Sydney, 13.09.10. ‘Lessing, who had died in the year in which the Critique of Pure Reason appeared, had posthumously introduced the ideas of Spinoza to the intellectual avant-garde. His enlightened friends in Berlin were deeply shocked when, four years after his death, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi reported a private conversation he had had with Lessing shortly before his demise (On the teaching of Spinoza in letters to Mr Moses Mendelssohn, 1785). In 1780 he was supposed, according to his own words, to have abandoned the orthodox ideas of God; appealing to Spinoza, he had rejected the notion of God as personal cause of the world and come to conceive of him as a kind of soul of the universe embracing the world as one and all. Thus Jacobi accused Lessing not only of pantheism, but also of determinism, fatalism and atheism.’ Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 103
3. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 276
4. Ibid., 264. His further understated words should be noted ‘This, plus the encounter with Baader, makes it exceedingly difficult for scholars to dismiss Hegel’s interest in mysticism as a mere “aberration of youth.”’ ‘In the 1840’s, Schelling publicly accused Hegel of having simply borrowed much of his philosophy from Jakob Böhme.’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 2
5. Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 151. ‘Fichte made the two “discoveries” which were to remain fundamental for post-Kantian Idealism. These were subsequently taken over and remodelled by the two younger men (i.e. Schelling and Hegel), without showing too much gratitude to Fichte! a) The monism of Spirit. …This was the “I” or the subjective reason, which proves to be a creative force and a productive power or, to use another name, Spirit. b) Dialectic. …the “I” exists in conflict with the “not-I”. Thus the structures and forms of the world arise out of the creative reason. The latter posits itself, continually confronting and overcoming the antithesis afresh. Hence, the genesis of Spirit occurs in the threefold act of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, or, to use another word, in dialectic.’ Ibid., 151-152. Plotinus was accused by his colleagues in Greece of having plagiarised Numenius of Apamea. Paul Henry ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’ in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., lxix 
6. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 225
7. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., Props., 91 and 102. The relationship between ‘infinite’ and ‘finite’ is Cusanus’ fundamental philosophical concern: ‘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.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op, cit., 10, 43, 699
8. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 544 
9. ‘There is not a single passage in the works of Schelling published during his lifetime that explicitly indicates that the author was engaged with Swedenborg, as were so many of the leading spirits of the time who in one way or another reacted against Enlightenment rationalism…(Schelling made only one reference to Swedenborg in his dialogue ‘On the Connection of Nature with the Spiritual World [Clara]’) but even here he is referred to only as “the Swedish spirit-seer” or “the Northern spirit-seer.” Even more astonishing, there is not a single direct reference to Swedenborg in Schelling’s letters. …as far as the available sources indicate Schelling never wrote the name “Swedenborg”…This once again confirms Ernst Benz’s assertion that the official academic judgement passed on Swedenborg was so potent “that Swedenborg was rarely mentioned by name even by his covert adherents.” Still, the references to Swedenborg in Clara demonstrate that Schelling regarded him as a true seer.’ Friedmann Horn, Schelling and Swedenborg: Mysticism and German Idealism, Trans., George F. Dole, Swedenborg Foundation, Pennsylvania, 1997, 27. Horn quoted Kant ‘in the future – I don’t know where or when – it will be proved that even in this life the human soul is in an insoluble community with all the immaterial natures of the world of spirits, and that it reciprocally influences it and receives impressions from it, of which, however, the soul is unconscious as long as everything is fine’ (p. 149 in Kants populäre Schriften, ed. Paul Menzer (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1911)’ 169
10. 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

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12d

12.3.3 The retreat into a philosophy of subjectivity – ‘ancient’ becomes ‘modern’

‘Cogito ergo sum’ epitomised for Hegel the most important current in philosophy1 – a current in which thought thinks itself, a philosophy of subjectivity that he believed ran from the antique Neoplatonists (particularly Proclus) who drew on Aristotle’s notion of noesis noeseos, through Christianity, overleapt the Middle Ages and was revived by Descartes, who Hegel considered the first ‘modern’ philosopher

Now we come for the first time to what is properly the philosophy of the modern world, and we begin it with Descartes. Here, we may say, we are at home and, like the sailor after a long voyage, we can at last shout ‘Land ho’. Descartes made a fresh start in every respect. …The principle in this new era is thinking, the thinking that proceeds from itself. We have exhibited this inwardness above all with respect to Christianity; it is pre-eminently the Protestant principle. …it is now thinking, thinking on its own account, that is the purest pinnacle of this inwardness, the inmost core of inwardness – thinking is what now establishes itself on its own account. This period begins with Descartes.2

Because of its importance to my argument, I quote most of the note at the bottom of the page on which the above text was printed. Hegel was perfectly clear in tying together, in the same current, Neoplatonism, Christianity and ‘modern’ philosophy (of which he thought his to be the final word) which, together, uphold a ‘pinnacle of inwardness’

With the reference to a ‘pinnacle’ of inwardness Hegel establishes a connection between, on the one hand, the philosophy of Descartes and modern philosophy as a whole and, on the other, Christianity and Neoplatonism, for in discussing Neoplatonism he used the phrase ‘pinnacle of actual being’ (Spitze des Seyenden) to render Proclus’s (in Greek) ‘pinnacle of actual being’. This pinnacle of actual being is further defined, in W. 15:84 (Ms?), as ‘what is centred on self [das Selbstische] what has being-for-self, the subjective, the point of individual unity’. Hegel also sees (in W. 15:114-15) a parallel development in Christianity: ‘For human beings there has dawned in their consciousness of the world the fact that the absolute has attained this (in Greek) ‘pinnacle of concreteness’ – the pinnacle of immediate actuality; and this is the appearance of Christianity.’…Hegel regards modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes, as taking up again or resuming the history of philosophy, a history interrupted by the Middle Ages.3


This view that modern philosophy follows upon the philosophy of late antiquity is based not only on the scant importance Hegel attached to the Middle Ages as far as the history of philosophy was concerned, as a period ‘which we intend to get through by putting on seven-league boots’, but also on his supposition of an agreement in content between the philosophers of late antiquity and those of modern times regarding the concept of the self-thinking thought; see, for example, W.15:13: ‘The fundamental idea of this Neopythagorean – also Neoplatonic or Alexandrian – philosophy was the thinking that thinks itself, the nous, which has itself for object.’ This theme also links these two periods to Aristotelian metaphysics and to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.4

My argument has been that not only was the Christian doctrine of the Trinity ‘closely linked’ with Neoplatonism (F.A.G.Tholuck, with whom Hegel corresponded, thought so [11.3.4]), Dodds wrote that the Christian Neoplatonists used the Neoplatonic concept of unity-in-distinction to explain the doctrine of the Trinity [11.3.4] and Redding that Neoplatonism, especially Proclus’ was central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity and the doctrine of the Trinity [1.2]), and most probably sourced in both Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism,5 this Trinity is not the Trinity of Hegel which was based and remained based on Proclus’ philosophical triad Being/Life/Intelligence to which Hegel, following Cusanus, gave a Christian overlay – yet still obvious in its differences from the Christian Trinity6 – so that he could use it as the religious component he needed for his ‘speculative’ system and to metaphorically and symbolically illustrate and anchor in this world the Neoplatonic processes he set out and refined.

As Proclus used the henads to ‘reconcile’ ‘reason’ with faith, Neoplatonism with religion

as participated unities they bridge the gap between the transcendent One and everything that comes after it. The doctrine of the henads can thus be seen as a way of integrating the traditional gods of Greek polytheistic religion into the Neoplatonic metaphysics of the One.7

Hegel used his Neoplatonic ‘Trinity’ for the same purpose. Both intended that this merging would provide the means for the healing of what all the Neoplatonists perceived to be our spiritual, intellectual and social fragmentation. The application of ‘reason,’ together with faith and divine power would result in an ethical, perspectival cultus.

Further parallels between Proclus and Hegel are that, not only, contrary to the common perception that mysticism must be built around a mystical union with the Source, did Proclus make no explicit reference in his highly structured Elements of Theology to such a union with the One,8 Gods or God, in response to prayer, must come to us, we cannot go to them or him.9 What Chlup wrote, linking the gods of the Eastern Neoplatonists to their community and cultus applies equally to the Trinity, community and cultus of Hegel. These cults in which communities worship are tokens of the relationship between them and their gods or God.10

Proclus and Hegel equally recognised the use to their mystical purpose of inspired theological poetry (for the former, it was part of his theurgy11) – the very inadequacy of words being a plus such that, when expressed poetically, they function as symbols inspiring one to go beyond them to the unity of knower, knowing and known. Just as the text of Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Arts concludes with a a long section on poetry – for him, the most spiritual and perfect of the arts – so he concluded and almost concluded, in turn, his Phenomenology and tripartite Encyclopaedia with similar paeans in verse to Neoplatonic vitalism and mystical union

from the chalice of this realm of spirits

foams forth for Him his own infinitude.12

I looked into the heart, a waste of worlds, a sea, –

I saw a thousand dreams, – yet One amid all dreaming.

And earth, air, water, fire, when thy decree is given,

Are molten into One: against thee none hath striven.

There is no living heart but beats unfailingly

In the one song of praise to thee, from earth and heaven…13

Hegel advocated that philosophers be what Proclus was – priests and theologians (Cusanus was all three).14 In his maturity, in direct relation to the criticisms he had of his society, Hegel expressed a far more limited and gloomy view of what comprised a community both philosophical and religious – in which religion found not reconciliation with but refuge in philosophy15 from a people whose best times were past and from decay,16 in which ‘nobler natures’17 engaged in self-thinking thought and that reflected the closing words of the Enneads18 – than he had done in his much more idealistic youth. Hodgson encapsulated this

Our age is like that of the Roman Empire in its abandonment of the question of truth, its smug conviction that no cognitive knowledge of God can be had, its reduction of everything to merely historical questions, its privatism, subjectivism, and moralism, and the failure of its teachers and clergy to lead the people. It is indeed an apocalyptic time, but the world must be left largely to its own devices in solving its problems. Philosophy can resolve this discord only in a manner appropriate to itself, by zealously guarding the truth, but it must recognise that its resolution is only partial. The community of Spirit as such is not passing away, but it does seem to be passing over from the ecclesiastical priesthood to the philosophical; if so, the truth of religion will live on in the philosophical community, in which it must now seek refuge.19

Echoing Nussbaum’s words regarding the ‘metaphysico-religious’ ‘horror of the contingent,’20 one of the greatest dialecticians wrote

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.21



1. ‘With Descartes, thinking began to go within itself. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ are the first words of his system, and these very words constitute the distinctive feature of modern philosophy.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 237
2. Ibid., vol. III, 104
3. Ibid., Note, 104
4. Ibid., Note, 105
5. ‘Another influence may have been the Neoplatonist Plotinus’ (204–70 CE) triad of the One, Intellect, and Soul, in which the latter two mysteriously emanate from the One, and “are the One and not the One; they are the one because they are from it; they are not the One, because it endowed them with what they have while remaining by itself” (Plotinus Enneads, 85). Plotinus even describes them as three hypostases, and describes their sameness using homoousios (Freeman 2003, 189). Augustine tells us that he and other Christian intellectuals of his day believed that the Neoplatonists had some awareness of the persons of the Trinity (Confessions VIII.3; City X.23). Many thinkers influential in the development of trinitarian doctrines were steeped in the thought not only of Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism…’ Dale Tuggy, ’History of Trinitarian Doctrines,’ The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
6. Discussed at 11.3.7 ff.; Hodgson wrote that Hegel ‘adjusted’ his original inner ‘philosophical triad’ (my italics – which clearly reflects the structure of Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence) ‘drawn from the three branches of philosophy – the logical idea, nature, and (finite) spirit…It has the peculiar result (my italics) that the “Son”…occupies the third moment of the triad rather than the second. The third trinitarian moment, the “Spirit,” becomes a kind of appendage, treated under Sec. C of the outer triad, “Community, Cultus.” ’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 12-13. As I have argued previously (11.3.7), I disagree – Hegel’s triad remained, beneath the Christian overlay, philosophical and Procline.
7. Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus,’ op. cit.
8. Prop. 123. ‘Pr.’s teaching here differs from that of Plotinus (a) in the absence of any explicit reference to unio mystica (the possibility of it is not, however, excluded); (b) in excluding the One from the possibility of being known by analogy.’ Dodds’ commentary, Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., 265
9. ‘(The late Neoplatonists believed that) the boundaries between levels of reality are penetrable in one direction only (- from higher to lower. So) while human Soul can never really enter the realm of the One, it can open up to the gods and act in unison with them, becoming their extension, as it were, and being filled with their power.’ Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 163
10. ‘Thanks to the gods (the world) is a place…where human communities may worship the gods in cults that have been revealed to them as tokens of…bonds between them and their divine patrons.’ Ibid., 136
11. ‘inspired theological poetry…in late Neoplatonic circles was incorporated into the large complex of theurgic activities and whose philosophical exegesis seems to have performed an important part in the soul’s ascent to the gods.’ Ibid., 168
12. Adaptation of Schiller’s Die Freundschaft, Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 493
13. Hegel introduced these words and page-long excerpts from a poem by Jelaleddin-Rumi with ‘In order to give a clearer impression of it, (the unity of the soul with the One, my italics) I cannot refrain from quoting a few passages…’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., 308-309
14. 2., Note and 9.8
15. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 161-162
16. ‘(When a people’s) best times are past and decay sets in…satisfaction resides then in the ideal realm.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 272-273
17. ‘periods must occur in which the spirit of nobler natures is forced to flee from the present into ideal regions, and to find in them that reconciliation with itself which it can no longer enjoy in an internally divided reality’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
18. ‘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), op. cit., VI.9.11
19. Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 23
20. Nussbaum, The Musical Representation, Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion, op. cit., 259
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 161-162

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12c

12.3.2 The reconciliation of faith and ‘reason’

Neoplatonism, ‘the greatest flowering of philosophy’, emerged from the soil of decay and decline, the environment most conducive to it. Plotinus taught and wrote at the time of the decline of the Roman Empire, Proclus at the time of the decline of paganism and the rise of Christianity, Cusanus at the time of the passing of the Middle Ages and scholasticism and Hegel and the German idealists at the time of the decline of absolutism, the rise of science and of the bourgeoisie to domination. Hegel’s owl of Minerva only takes flight at the end of a period.

The philosophy that was most sensitive to contradiction and its resultant change, that, in reflecting ‘reality’, has contradiction as its engine and that, once ‘righted’ by Marx, enabled materialism to be developed by him and Engels far beyond the mechanical, was itself theorised in reaction – not simply to decay and decline – but, more fundamentally, to what decay and decline are the appearance of – the one absolute, change.

Negation, generated from the greatest activity in the One is the driver of Plotinus’ system, but this derivative from the merging of the philosophy of Heraclitus with Platonic dialectic and Aristotelian theology is inseparable from the greatest stillness, sourced in the stasis of Platonism. This greatest contradiction – the more the activity, the more the stillness (well illustrated by Cusanus in De possest with a spinning top) – is the beginning and end of a profound philosophy in which the attainment of ‘stillness’ is meant to overcome ‘the horror of the contingent’.1

Proclus, with his commitment to Neoplatonism

set up his elaborate Platonic Theology in an attempt to rationally justify a pagan religious tradition whose existence was threatened by the upcoming Christian civilisation2

Hegel, too, was particularly opposed to Christianity in its Deist, Enlightenment form, with its ‘fossilised and untrue religion of a segregated, hypocritical and power-hungry priesthood’3 who held that God (truth) cannot be cognised, thus obstructing, as Hegel believed he achieved in his philosophy, the reconciliation of religion and reason

the Enlightenment and its Deism gives out that God is unknowable and so lays on man the supreme renunciation, the renunciation of knowing nothing of God, of not comprehending him.4

Hegel thought of Deism and the Enlightenment as working together, against philosophy

The Enlightenment – that vanity of understanding – is the most vehement opponent of philosophy.5

He held this view in a broader context – that of what he thought was the fragmentation the of modern bourgeois world and particularly, the decline of community.

As Neoplatonists,6 Proclus and Hegel wanted to ‘reintegrate’ people and they thought that, since both philosophy and religion were necessary to this purpose and to the development of community,7 the merging of their metaphysics with theology and divine power was the means to go about it.8 Faith (pistis), for both, mediates between us and the One.9

In his early writing Hegel pursued the ideal of a non-transcendent folk religion that gave philosophical knowledge based on the experience of an immanent ‘absolute’ which is subject to negation – a religion in which God was to be apprehended as spirit in its cohesive, political community.

The religion he theorised would be

a vital, integrative, ethically transformative force in not only the personal life of individuals but also the cultural, social, and political life of a people (Volk)10

but although an idealised reading of Greek public or folk religion (Volksreligion) was his model,11 he believed that its ethos could not be revived in the modern world. Rather, he would find what was needed by

releasing the transformative power of Christianity from its dogmatic and rationalist encrustations.12

With this done, the entire community – now a church founded on divine-human unity and reconciliation – which generates the principles of political and civil life from itself13 would be the universal divine human being in whose knowledge of him God achieved self-consciousness and self-knowledge – hence completion.14 Hegel’s kingdom of God was on earth.



1. ‘This horror of the contingent, as it might be called, is at the root a metaphysico-religious sentiment.’ Charles O. Nussbaum, The Musical Representation, Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, 259. Writing of the idealists ‘horror of the contingent’, Nussbaum discussed ‘the seldom-noted fascination of (the) arch rationalist (Kant) with a brand of Neoplatonic mysticism.’ He wrote ‘Toward the end of the Dreams of a Spirit Seer, Kant concludes, with characteristic resignation, that “human reason was not given strong enough wings to part clouds so high above us, clouds which withhold from our eyes the secrets of the other world”.’ Ibid., 297. The Google book review states: ‘Most Kant scholars regard the work as a skeptical attack on Swedenborg’s mysticism. Other critics, however, believe that Kant regarded Swedenborg as a serious philosopher and visionary, and that Dreams both reveals Kant’s profound debt to Swedenborg and conceals that debt behind the mask of irony.’
2. Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus’, op. cit.
3. Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 67
4. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 508. Hodgson stated the difference between the philosophy of Vernunft and the religion of Verstand most simply of all: ‘Speculative philosophy finds itself opposed by both the church and the Enlightenment’, in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 35. Speculative philosophy is comprised of “what the Enlightenment has called ‘mystical teachings’…Philosophy vindicates the more profound teachings, these religious mysteries, namely, the speculative doctrines, the doctrines of reason. Enlightenment reconciliation, which puts everything on the same level, proves satisfactory neither to the depths of religiosity nor to the depths of thinking reason.” Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 279 
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 246-247
6. See 2. ‘The criticism by Hegel and Plotinus of their societies’
7. One of the most important uses of Christianity to Hegel was that it gave him the specifically religious element. ‘The Neoplatonists believed that philosophy is necessary to the development of community which in turn is the vehicle to virtue’, Dominic O’Meara on Neoplatonism, Episode 96; ‘Proclus thought that religious teachings are necessary for us – our souls are permanently connected to the divine.’, Ibid., Peter Adamson, ’Proclus’, Episode 94
8. The passage of philosophy into religion and vice versa was a marker of late antique Eastern Neoplatonism.
9. ‘modern philosophy includes a different, immediate element that is not carried out by thinking, namely, a beholding in revelation, a faith, a longing for another world. Behind appearance stands something that is true although not known.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 236. Hegel, as I stated and quoted previously, repeatedly referred to God as ‘the One’: ’God is One, in the first instance, the universal./God is love and remains One, [subsisting] more as unity, as immediate identity, than as negative reflection into self./God is spirit, the One as infinite subjectivity, the One in the infinite subjectivity of distinction.’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 78
10. Hodgson, Ed., in G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 39
11. ‘A characteristic of the Greeks was their Heimatlichkeit – their collective feeling of being at home in the world as they were each at home in their bodies. Modern subjectivity is thereby purchased as the expense of a sense of abstraction and alienation from the actual world and from the self…In the writings he had produced in the 1790s Hegel had shown a clear attraction to the type of folk art-religions of ancient Greece in contrast to Christianity, whose other-worldly doctrines did not reflect the kind of Heimatlichkeit he valued in the ancient world…Philosophy proper only thrives under conditions of at-homeness in the world’, Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, op. cit.
12. Ibid.
13. ‘it is within a social whole – in my relation to others – that I am led to rise above a narrow concern with the satisfaction of my personal impulses and desires and to become aware of higher duties and obligations.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 182
14. I have argued previously (11.3.7, that Christ’s incarnation for the purpose of God’s achieving self-consciousness, self-knowledge and completion is not Christian but Neoplatonic metaphor and symbolism. Hodgson stated the difference between the philosophy of Vernunft and the religion of Verstand most simply of all: ‘Speculative philosophy finds itself opposed by both the church and the Enlightenment’, in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 35

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12b

12.3 The philosophies of Hegel and Proclus

In addition to my previous discussions of their Neoplatonism, of their belief that theology (for them, philosophy) is the science of the gods (Proclus) or of the Godhead (Hegel), of their obsession with triadic structures (a late antique Neoplatonic tendency), of the importance to Hegel of Proclus’ triad of triads Being/Life/Intelligence and of their perspectivism, there are numerous other points of similarity between the two that amply justify Feuerbach’s description of Hegel as ‘the German Proclus’.

12.3.1 Neoplatonists are not philosophers

Magee wrote the best first sentence I have read in philosophy

Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom – he believes he has found it. Hegel writes in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, “To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title of ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowledge – that is what I have set before me” (Miller, 3; PG 3 [sic]).1

While I certainly don’t agree that Hegel wasn’t a philosopher, Magee made a very important point which hinges on the difference between the literal translation of ‘philosophia’ – between its traditionally accepted meaning (and a highly admirable approach to life) – and, in my view, what amounted for Hegel to Neoplatonic teleology.

Chlup points out that

Eastern Neoplatonism…(attempted) not to capture all things all at once in their complexity, but rather to analyse this complexity into a network of exactly defined relations.2

As evidenced particularly in his Elements of Theology, Proclus hardened the unsystematic art, fluidity and passion of Plotinus into systematic, almost scholastic law

Proclus’ emanational model is similar to that of Plotinus, but differs in being formalised and brought to greater precision. In his thought the cycle of remaining, procession and reversion becomes a universal pattern working at all levels of reality and helping to explain all relations between (metaphysical) causes and their effects.3

In a system in which every intelligence is its own object,4 in which the true is the whole5 and the modes of ascent analogy and negation,6 Proclus’ Elements of Theology sets out a doctrine of categories and in On the Theology of Plato, as in the development in the Science of Logic from being and nothing to the culmination in Absolute Idea, the closer a concept stands to the One, the more it embodies multiplicity

In the primal levels of reality multiplicity is present secretly and without separation, while in the secondary levels it is differentiated. The closer a term stands to the One, the more it hides multiplicity within itself (PT III 9, 39.20-4)7

Proclus meticulously externalised his system, with the ultimate aim of achieving harmony between the psychic ‘reality’ inside and the metaphysical ‘reality’ outside by a progressive process of cognition

it was no longer accessible by introspection only, but was perceived as objective reality ‘out there’ to which one needs to attune oneself. The decisive task became to come to know the structure of this reality as precisely as possible. Only in this way could the soul be brought into accord with the order of the universe, linking up with the gods by means of it. Hence the characteristic passion of eastern Neoplatonism for painstaking conceptual distinctions mapping the outer zone lying between man and the One.8

The principles Limit (peras) and the Unlimited (apeiria) work together at the heart of existence

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.9

Hegel used the Trinity as a metaphor to illustrate his equally fundamental concern for these two principles and how they worked creatively together – most broadly, the infinite (God) required the Son to live in the world (the infinite become incarnate infinite-finite) so that, upon his death and resurrection, the infinite (God) could be ‘reconciled’ with the finite (humanity), thereby finding completion in Spirit’s cultus on earth.10



1. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 1
2. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 21
3. Ibid., 65
4.Every intelligence in the act of intellection knows that it knows: the cognitive intelligence is not distinct from that which is conscious of the cognitive act.
For if it is an intelligence in action and knows itself as indistinguishable from its object (prop. 167), it is aware of itself and sees itself. Further, seeing itself in the act of knowing and knowing itself in the act of seeing, it is aware of itself as an active intelligence: and being aware of this, it knows not merely what it knows but also that it knows. Thus it is simultaneously aware of the thing known, of itself as the knower, and of itself as the object of its own intellective act.’ Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op. cit., Prop. 168
5. ‘(Proclus believed that) every single level of reality is divided into sub-layers in a way that mirrors the structure of reality as a whole. Proclus sums this up in one of the most fundamental rules of late Neoplatonist metaphysics: “All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature.” Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 91
6. ‘In the next place, if the one is neither intelligible nor intellectual, nor in short participates of the power of being, let us survey what will be the modes of leading us to it, and through what intellectual conceptions Plato unfolds as far as he is able, to his familiars, the ineffable and unknown transcendency of the first. I say then, that at one time he unfolds it through analogy, and the similitude of secondary natures; but at another time he demonstrates its exempt transcendency, and its separation from the whole of things, through negations.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. II, Ch. V; ‘All that is immediately produced by any principle both remains in the producing cause and proceeds from it.
…In so far, then, as it has an element of identity with the producer, the product remains in it; in so far as it differs it proceeds from it. But being like it, it is at once identical with it in some respect and different from it: accordingly it both remains and proceeds, and the two relations are inseparable.’ The Elements of Theology, op, cit., Prop. 30
7. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 91
8. Ibid., 274
9. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 77-78; ‘Hence it is not wonderful, if that which is primarily being, though it is neither bound nor infinity, subsists from both these, and is mixed, superessential natures themselves not being assumed in the mixture of it, but secondary progressions from them coalescing into the subsistence of essence. Thus therefore being consists of these, as participating of both, possessing indeed the uniform from bound, but the generative, and in short, occult multitude from infinity.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk III, Ch. IX
10. ‘the truth is the unity – the implicit unity – of divine and human nature, of infinite and finite.’; ‘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” religion.’; ‘the understanding persists in finitude. 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.’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Hodgson, 30 and 163 and Hegel, 281

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12a

Hegel and Proclus

12.1 Academics on Hegel, Neoplatonism and Proclus

The response of academics to the influence of Proclus the Follower on Hegel is exemplary of that by them to the profound relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism generally. Despite their repeated and clearest acknowledgement of that influence and relationship, the former within the latter, their analysis of them, setting out the debt Hegel owed to both Proclus and Neoplatonism and how he further developed Neoplatonism on the basis of that debt is still lacking.

On the pervasive influence of Neoplatonism on the German idealists, Redding wrote, with a gross understatement

It is common within recent accounts of the emergence of German Idealism to find stressed the impact of Spinozism on the generation to which Schelling and Hegel belonged, but it is less common (my italics) to find discussion of the neoplatonic aspects of their thought, despite the fact that this was commonly noted in the 19th century. …Both early Schelling and Hegel were clearly attracted to Plotinian thought, and especially the particular role Plotinus had given to the processes of life.1


With Proclus (the) dialectic of the one and the many had reached the most developed phase capable of antique thought, but with Fichte, this neo-platonic dialectic was now reproduced at the level of individual, actual consciousnesses.2

While the direct connection of Neoplatonic dialectic to Fichte is correct, Redding’s interpretation of it is erroneous. The Neoplatonic dialectic of the one and the many always functioned at the level of individual, actual (whatever that means) consciousness. The individual consciousness and soul is the focus of Plotinus’ system – Neoplatonic perspectivism is built on this. Fichte is simply one more philosopher who never acknowledged his profound debt to Neoplatonism, who claimed the fruits of Neoplatonic philosophy, which he rebadged, as his own great invention.3

Of the influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel specifically

in contrast to Aristotle, Hegel’s ‘theology’ insists on the ‘incarnation’ of God in man, symbolised in the divinity of Jesus. Thus Hegel might be said to have been a Christian Aristotelianised Platonist, but his is a form of Christianity in which…there is no ‘transcendent’ place for the God of Augustine.4

Findlay correctly wrote of Hegel, in his Foreword to the Encyclopaedia Logic no less

Those who are unwilling to see Hegel as an ontologist and First Philosopher, or as a theologian in the sense of Aristotle or Proclus, will never be able to make more than a partial use of his brilliant insights5

and Redding noted that Feuerbach described him as ‘the German Proclus’6 writing

Hegel showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus…Importantly it was these neo-platonist, and especially Proclean features, that would be central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity7

The influence of Proclus on Hegel was both direct and indirect. Cusanus, who was also of the greatest importance to Hegel – a direct influence on him that has never been acknowledged by any academic – and whose philosophy bears so many similarities with Hegel’s had made a study of the philosophy of Proclus.8 Most important of all, as I have argued (11.3.4ff.), Proclus’ Being/Life/Intelligence triad provided the basic structure of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia, recurring in that of Hegel’s non-Christian Trinity.

Where is Redding’s or any other academic’s thorough explication of these ‘important’, ‘clearly observed’ features of Neoplatonic and Proclean thought, these direct influences so ‘central to Hegel’s understanding of Christianity, and especially the doctrine of the trinity’?

Yet, with the decline of that stage of capitalist ideology known as ‘post-modernism’, there has been a small but growing recognition in academia of the immense philosophical and cultural importance of Neoplatonism – but even with that recognition, rather than acknowledging and analysing the direct influence of Neoplatonism on Hegel (for example), the acknowledgement is understated and the analysis is primarily of the relationships between him and those philosophers to whom he responded (particularly Kant, Fichte and Schelling) – all influenced by Neoplatonism – with Neoplatonism contained, like a dangerous philosophical tiger in an academic cage, in a secondary position.

It has been my intention throughout this thesis to argue for the direct relationship between Hegel and Neoplatonism and key Neoplatonists and to argue that his philosophy is Neoplatonism’s consummate achievement.

12.2 Hegel on Neoplatonism and Proclus

For Hegel, Neoplatonism was the ‘greatest flowering of philosophy’9 and the consummation of Greek philosophy, which brought it to a close

So Greek philosophy has the thinking that determines itself within itself. It develops itself into a totality of the idea (the world spirit does nothing by half measures). Its consummation10 comes in Neoplatonic philosophy, with which the history of Greek philosophy draws to a close.11

Again, noting that Neoplatonism incorporated all earlier forms of Greek philosophy, Hegel wrote

The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it.12

and continued by stating that Proclus was the culmination of this consummation

Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.13

There could not be clearer statements of the superlative regard which Hegel held for Neoplatonism and particularly Proclus.14



1. Redding, ‘Mind of God, Point of View of Man, or Spirit of the World? Platonism and Organicism in the Thought of Kant and Hegel’, op. cit., 9,10. Also see 1.2
2. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13
3. It is interesting that in a discipline that prides itself on honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’, that holds honesty and ‘the love of wisdom and truth’ to be at its basis, there is so much dishonesty and pretence.
4. Redding, ‘The Metaphysical and Theological Commitments of Idealism: Kant, Hegel, Hegelianism’, op. cit., 18-19
5. Findlay in G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., xxvi
6. ‘the Neoplatonic characteristics of Hegel’s thought came to be widely acknowledged during the nineteenth century, Feuerbach, for example, describing Hegel as “the German Proclus” (PPF: 47),’ Redding, Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche, op. cit., 137
7. Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 6
8. ‘The real rediscovery of Proclus started in the Italian Renaissance, mainly thanks to Marsilio Ficino who followed Proclus’ influence in his Platonic commentaries and even composed, in imitation of Proclus, a Christian Platonic Theology on the immortality of the soul. Before Ficino, Nicolaus Cusanus had already intensively studied Proclus in translations. Proclus continued to enjoy wide interest at the turn of the 18th century. Thomas Taylor (1758–1835) translated all of Proclus’ works into English (reprinted by the Prometheus Trust [London]) and tried to reconstruct the lost seventh book of the Platonic Theology.’ Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy op. cit.
9. ‘The revival of the ancient Greek philosophy was tied to the decline of the Roman Empire, which was so vast, wealthy, and splendid, but inwardly dead; the greatest flowering of philosophy, the Alexandrian philosophy, emerged only then.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 69
10. Hodgson in his Editorial Introduction to volume III of Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion explained Hegel’s use of the concept ‘consummate’, which Hegel also, consistently, applied to his Neoplatonic version of Christianity: ‘Christianity is the “consummate” religion in the sense that the concept of religion has been brought to completion or consummation in it; it simply is religion in its quintessential expression.’ Hodgson in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 4. In referring to Hegel as the consummate Neoplatonist I use ‘consummate’ in the same sense – his philosophy brought Neoplatonism to completion and in so doing, is the most developed instance, the highest achievement of it’
11. Ibid., 162-163
12. Ibid., 202
13. Ibid.
14. Redding wrote in his Stanford Encyclopedia article on Hegel that ‘Plato, and especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy’, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, contradicting this elsewhere, referring to ‘what for Hegel was the most developed form of Greek philosophy, late-antique neo-platonism’, Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 13; Helmig and Steel wrote ‘In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy, in the chapter on Alexandrian Philosophy, Hegel said that “in Proclus we have the culminating point of the Neo-Platonic philosophy; this method in philosophy is carried into later times, continuing even through the whole of the Middle Ages. […] Although the Neo-Platonic school ceased to exist outwardly, ideas of the Neo-Platonists, and specially the philosophy of Proclus, were long maintained and preserved in the Church.”’, ‘Proclus’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit.

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Paul Redding and Hegel on the pinnacle of ancient philosophy – was it Plato, Aristotle…or Neoplatonism?

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

‘Plato and, especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy…’

Paul Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


‘The revival of the ancient Greek philosophy was tied to the decline of the Roman Empire, which was so vast, wealthy, and splendid, but inwardly dead; the greatest flowering of philosophy, the Alexandrian philosophy, emerged only then.’

So Greek philosophy has the thinking that determines itself within itself. It develops itself into a totality of the idea (the world spirit does nothing by half measures). Its consummation comes in Neoplatonic philosophy, with which the history of Greek philosophy draws to a close.’

‘The third [epoch of the first] period takes the shape of Alexandrian philosophy (Neoplatonism, but likewise Neo-Aristotelian philosophy too). The consummation of Greek philosophy as such, it established the realm of noumena, the ideal realm. This philosophy therefore incorporated all earlier forms of philosophy within it. Plotinus lived in the third century and Proclus in the fifth. By choosing to regard Proclus as the culmination of this philosophy, the entire period of Greek Philosophy then amounts to about one thousand years.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6 Volume I: Introduction and Oriental Philosophy, Together With the Introductions from the Other Series of These Lectures, Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009, 69, 162-3, 202


‘We need not concern ourselves with the interpretative adequacy of Hegel’s reading of Aristotle’s noesis noeseos doctrine, but simply note how it is this allegedly ‘speculative’ dimension of Aristotle that allows Hegel to link Aristotle to subsequent forms of thought. First, it is linked to what for Hegel was the most developed form of Greek philosophy, late antique Neoplatonism, (my italics) which could equally be considered a form of Neo-Aristotelianism (Hegel 1995: vol. 2, 381), especially in its Proclean form (ibid.: 438), and thereby to the trinitarianism of the succeeding Christian theology (ibid.: 440-49), which Neoplatonism had influenced.’

Paul Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, in Graham Oppy and N.N.Trakakis eds., Nineteenth-Century Philosophy of Religion: The History of Western Philosophy of Religion, vol. 4, Routledge, New York, 2014, 49-61, 58



Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11m Metaphor and prose poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth. It is the sole subject matter and content of philosophy. Since it contains all determinateness within it, and its essential nature is to return to itself through its self-determination or particularisation, it has various shapes, and the business of philosophy is to cognise it in these.7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11l God: conceptual and categorial

As previously observed (, logic for Hegel is the ‘scientific’ exposition of God – not of the ‘thoughts of God’ as Plant claimed,1 but of God himself – of a system of ‘pure reason’. That reason is purportedly strictly conceptual2 and manifested in the dialectical development of Hegel’s categories.

Plotinus wrote

It is because there is something before (Being) that it has an object of intellection; even in its self-intellection it may be said to know its content by its vision of that prior.3

Being, in thinking itself, is in a way comprehending what it had from the vision of its prior. This is very similar to Cusanus for whom our ‘minds’ create conceptually as they model the ‘mind’ of God in his creation of the world

The Divine Mind’s Conceiving is a producing of things; our mind’s conceiving is a conceptualising of things. …If all things are present in the Divine Mind as in their precise and proper Truth, then all things are present in our mind as in an image, or a likeness, of their proper Truth. That is, they are present conceptually, for knowledge comes about on the basis of [conceptual] likeness (my italics).4

For Hegel, since there is no prior to divine Being, the exposition of the generation of concepts and the development of categories is the exposition of God himself in his activity of thinking, of producing. It is still no less a recollection of Spirit’s source and processes than the activity in Plotinus’ second hypostasis.5 To know the categorial infrastructure of God is to know the ‘formal’ structure of both reality and of our thought, thus giving knowledge of God the self.

Just as the process of Intellectual-Principle describes a circle going from unity through unity-in-multiplicity back to unity

From this Principle, which remains internally unmoved, particular things push forth as from a single root which never itself emerges. They are a branching into part, into multiplicity, each single outgrowth bearings its trace of the common source.6

so does that of the Science of Logic

the science exhibits itself as a circle returning upon itself, the end being wound back into the beginning, the simple ground…logic, too, in the absolute Idea, has withdrawn into that same simple unity which its beginning is; the pure immediacy of being in which at first every determination appears to be extinguished or removed by abstraction7

The end returns to the beginning, though the movement from beginning to end involves the self-specification of Absolute Knowing into the myriad forms of the Logic.8

Just as Plotinus expounded, on the basis of an initial impetus from the One, the Platonic doctrine of the categories of the intelligible world – being, rest, motion, same and other – arguing that they operate in thought to produce endless movement, change and variety, so Hegel’s Science of Logic, begun from an absolute without content and driven by negation is the systematic unfolding of the final category in the Science of Logic, Absolute Idea – all the categories prior to it being provisional ‘definitions’ of it.

Just as Idea is All in the Enneads

…nothing had part in the making but Being and Idea…The Exemplar was the Idea of an All…Thus nothing stood in the way of the Idea, and even now it dominates, despite all the clash of things: the creation is not hindered on its way even now; it stands firm in virtue of being All.9

so in the Science of Logic

(The Idea is) an eternal creation, eternal vitality, and eternal spirit … (but) it forever remains reason. The Idea is the dialectic…which brings the diversity back to unity. …the Idea is the eternal vision of itself in the other10

And just as in the attainment of Hegel’s Absolute Knowing (of Absolute Idea) – the telos of Spirit – there is no difference between knower, knowing and known, between subject and object, so in Plotinus’ philosophy

The First…is no duality – or rather, no manifold consisting of itself, its intellective act distinct from itself, and the inevitable third, the object of intellection. No doubt since knower, knowing, and known are identical, all merges into a unity: but the distinction has existed and, once more, such a unity cannot be the First; we must put away all otherness from the Supreme which can need no such support; anything we add is so much lessening of what lacks nothing.11

This concluding unity of knower, knowing and known, of subjectivity and objectivity is ‘the First’ in Hegel’s philosophy, because he conflated Plotinus’ One with Being in his use of Proclus’ triad Being/Life/Intelligence – a triad comprised of three aspects of a single reality which are also three successive stages in the unfolding of reality, finding completion not in re-enfolding but in reunion.



1. ‘Hegel regarded the categorical structure of The Science of Logic as the thoughts of God before the foundation of the world.’ Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, op. cit., 236
2. I have argued, following Magee, that Hegel’s use of concepts is mytho-poetic circumscription (10.6).
3. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.40
4. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), 1450, in Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, 1996, 531-589, 72, 543
5. ‘The Hegelian Logic is…a recollection…of the thought-forms which underlie the acts of Spirit. Spirit comes into its own when it consciously appropriates and understands these thought-forms as a system.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 175
6. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.3.7
7. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 842
8. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 113
9. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.8.7
10. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 278
11. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.41

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11k Being, being and nothing

Dillon wrote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hegel wrote

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

and Plotinus expressed the result of the same Neoplatonic process thus

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

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

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

Redding identifies that initial object

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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