The letter of Lord Chandos

Morning mystery

Morning mystery

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

The Letter of Lord Chandos

This is the letter Philip, Lord Chandos, younger son of the Earl of Bath, wrote to Francis Bacon, later Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, apologising for his complete abandonment of literary ac­tivity.

…To sum up: In those days I, in a state of continuous in­toxication, conceived the whole of existence as one great unit: the spiritual and physical worlds seemed to form no contrast, as little as did courtly and bestial conduct, art and barbarism, solitude and society; in everything I felt the pres­ence of Nature, in the aberrations of insanity as much as in the utmost refinement of the Spanish ceremonial; in the boorishness of young peasants no less than in the most deli­cate of allegories; and in all expressions of Nature I felt myself. …

Abundance

Abundance

…For what had it to do with pity, or with any comprehensible concatenation of human thought when, on another evening, on finding beneath a nut-tree a half-filled pitcher which a gardener boy had left there, and the pitcher and the water in it, darkened by the shadow of the tree, and a beetle swimming on the surface from shore to shore, when this combination of trifles sent through me such a shudder at the presence of the Infinite, a shudder running from the roots of my hair to the marrow of my heels? What was it that made me want to break into words which, I know, were I to find them, would force to their knees those cherubim in whom I do not believe? What made me turn silently away from this place?

July quiet

July quiet

Even now, after weeks, catching sight of that nut-tree, I pass it by with a shy sidelong glance, for I am loath to dispel the memory of the miracle hovering there round the trunk, loath to drive away the unearthly tremors that still pulse around the nearby foliage. In these moments an insignificant creature – a dog, a rat, a beetle, a crippled apple tree, a lane winding over the hill, a moss-covered stone, mean more to me than the most beautiful, abandoned mistress of the happiest night.

Drenched

Drenched

These mute and, on occasion, inanimate creatures rise toward me with such an abundance, such a presence of love, that my enchanted eye can find nothing in sight void of life. Every­thing that exists, everything I can remember, everything touched upon by my confused thoughts, has a meaning. Even my own heaviness, the general torpor of my brain, seems to acquire a meaning; I experience in and around me a blissful, never-ending interplay, and among the objects playing against one another there is not one into which I cannot flow.

Falling

Falling

To me, then, it is as though my body consists of nought but ciphers which give me the key to everything; or as if we could enter into a new and hopeful relationship with the whole of exist­ence if only we begin to think with the heart. As soon, how­ever, as this strange enchantment falls from me, I find myself confused; wherein this harmony transcending me and the en­tire world consisted, and how it made itself known to me, I could present in sensible words as little as I could say any­thing precise about the inner movements of my intestines or a congestion of my blood. …

Busy as

Busy as

…For my unnamed blissful feeling is sooner brought about by a distant lonely shepherd’s fire than by the vision of a starry sky, sooner by the chirping of the last dying cricket when the autumn wind chases wintry clouds across the deserted fields than by the majestic booming of an organ. And in my mind I compare myself from time to time with the orator Crassus, of whom it is reported that he grew so excessively enamoured of a tame lamprey – a dumb, apathetic, red-eyed fish in his ornamental pond – that it became the talk of the town; and when one day in the Senate Domitius reproached him for having shed tears over the death of this fish, attempting thereby to make him appear a fool, Crassus answered, “Thus have I done over the death of my fish as you have over the death of neither your first nor your second wife.”

Luminescence

Luminescence

I know not how oft this Crassus with his lamprey enters my mind as a mirrored image of my Self, reflected across the abyss of centuries. But not on account of the answer he gave Domitius. The answer brought the laughs on his side, and the whole affair turned into a jest. I, however, am deeply affected by the affair, which would have remained the same even had Domitius shed bitter tears of sorrow over his wives. For there would still have been Crassus, shedding tears over his lam­prey. And about this figure, utterly ridiculous and contempti­ble in the midst of a world-governing senate discussing the most serious subjects, I feel compelled by a mysterious power to reflect in a manner which, the moment I attempt to express it in words, strikes me as supremely foolish.

Complicated

Complicated

Now and then at night the image of this Crassus is in my brain, like a splinter round which everything festers, throbs, and boils. It is then that I feel as though I myself were about to ferment, to effervesce, to foam and to sparkle. And the whole thing is a kind of feverish thinking, but thinking in a medium more immediate, more liquid, more glowing than words. It, too, forms whirlpools, but of a sort that do not seem to lead, as the whirlpools of language, into the abyss, but into myself and into the deepest womb of peace.

The price of gold

The price of gold

I have troubled you excessively, my dear friend, with this extended description of an inexplicable condition which is wont, as a rule, to remain locked up in me.

You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, “to compensate for the loss of our relationship.” Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out har­moniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a lan­guage in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge.

Glow

Glow

Fain had I the power to compress in this, presumably my last, letter to Francis Bacon all the love and gratitude, all the unmeasured admiration, which I harbour in my heart for the greatest benefactor of my mind, for the foremost Englishman of my day, and which I shall harbour therein until death break it asunder.

This 22 August, A.D. 1603

PHI. CHANDOS

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Source

With many thanks to Steven Baird for his permission to use his images

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

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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.

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A mystical tale

concrete

Hi Moshe,

You’ve asked me to briefly re-state my position on mysticism, so I’ll begin with a tale.

Long ago (aren’t these always the first words of a tale?), because a conversation I had with a girl seemed to go well, I asked her for a date and she agreed.

I turned up in a 3-piece suit with tie on a very hot and humid afternoon (in Australia we call such weather ‘stinking hot’). I waited and waited but she never appeared. I wondered, as one might, ‘Why not?’

I remembered that during our conversation I had said, and with some feeling, that I thought concrete is beautiful. Could this have been the reason for her ‘no-show’? That concrete is beautiful was something I had been cogitating.

Why is concrete beautiful? I recommend the study of it – the richness and subtlety of its textures, of its colours, its ‘flaws’, the processes and effects of its ageing.

concrete_dirty_0003_01_preview

At a deeper level, concrete and I are the same matter, the same objective reality, but organised differently (I just remembered that when I worked in the Tate as a gallery attendant, my supervisor, in philosophical conversation one day in the staff-room said sagely ‘Grass never grows on a busy footpath [my hairline had substantially receded] – or through concrete’. How you interpret that is up to you.).

When I die, the matter of which I am comprised will pass back into the same world into which all concrete, too, will similarly decay.

If all humans are beautiful in their mere existence (as I think), then why not concrete?

I particularly think concrete is beautiful because I perceive my profound relationship to it. At the most fundamental level (isn’t this what philosophers seek?), our beauty is its beauty.

Then there are the considerations of the relations of concrete and humans as parts to the material whole. These relations and the manifestation of them are what is most beautiful.

What links Plotinus to Chernyshevsky is that for both, beauty is reality and life. Where Plotinus referred to those of ‘another’ world, Chernshevsky referred to those in this.

Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out

Star Cluster R136 Bursts Out

The philosophical current developed in mysticism (particularly German) and then incorporated into dialectical materialism addresses all this.

But where both mysticism and materialism equally address the whole and its parts and processes, the centrality of emotion (though rationalised) and, particularly, intuition to mysticism give much greater scope to our ‘feelings’ and brain processes other than those of linguistic reason – a crucial point yet to be absorbed into dialectical materialism, which is still in the shadow of the patriarchal model, the Man of Reason.

Marx stood the mystical understanding of ‘reality’ and ‘life’ on its material feet. It is up to us to further develop dialectical materialism. While not a science, it is the philosophy of the future.

I look forward to your response,

All the best,

Phil

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Images: top/middle/bottom

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.

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Notes

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

Aristotle and Nicholas of Cusa: to be and/or not to be, that is the question

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet ‘…she described her character as “manly and resolute, but nonetheless thoughtful…[he] thinks before he acts, a trait indicative of great strength and great spiritual power”.’ (Wikipedia)

‘Now it is also the case that there can be nothing intermediate to an assertion and a denial. We must either assert or deny any single predicate of any single subject. The quickest way to show this is by defining truth and falsity. Well, falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not. Thus anyone who asserts anything to be or not to be is either telling the truth or telling a falsehood. On the other hand, neither that which is is said either not to be or to be nor is that which is not.

And if there were an intermediate of contradictory statements, then it would either be like grey between black and white or like the non-man-non-horse between man and horse.’

Aristotle The Metaphysics, Gamma 7 1011b, Trans. and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107

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‘I want to tell you of one more thing that I see to be marvellous above other things. …since all things are singular, they are both similar, because they are singular, and dissimilar, because they are singular; (and they are not similar, because they are singular), and not dissimilar, because they are singular. A corresponding point holds regarding same and different, equal and unequal, singular and plural, one and many, even and odd, concordant and discordant, and the likes, although this (claim) seems absurd to the philosophers who adhere – even in theological matters – to the principle that each thing either is or is not (the case).’

Nicholas of Cusa, De Venatione Sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom), Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Six Latin Texts Translated into English, Trans., Jasper Hopkins, The Arthur J. Banning Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1998, 1320-21

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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

Further

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

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Notes

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

The ground of unrest and becoming

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

‘in the negative as such there lies the ground of becoming, of the unrest of self-movement – in which sense, however, the negative is to be taken as the veritable negativity of the infinite.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 166

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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.

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Notes

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.’

https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Kant_on_Swedenborg.html?id=QTwQAQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y
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, http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/ 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, 11.3.10.9) 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

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

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‘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

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‘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

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From NGC 7052 to capitalism – all things are doomed

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

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

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

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

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