What does Uluru have to do with Neoplatonism and dialectical materialism?


Neoplatonic dialectics, culminating in the philosophy of the ‘German Proclus’ Hegel and implicitly recognised by Marx in his acknowledgement in his Postface to the second edition of Capital of his debt to Hegel’s mysticism, is the philosophical core, stood by Marx and Engels on its material feet, of dialectical materialism.

Neoplatonic dialectics can be simply illustrated – Uluru, like the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle, is a unity (in this case, a monolith). While the ‘ageless’ ‘stillness’ of its mass impresses in its rise from the desert, in its composition, in its infinitely divisible elements, it is in unceasing motion.

The contradictory motion of those elements and the laws bearing on them are the very factors which result in its appearance of immobile, permanent unity.

I am reminded of Plotinus’ profound and profoundly poetic position regarding activity in stillness and the relation between them, both maximal in the One.

What was, for Plotinus, a process of generation and the resolution of contradiction became recognised as one without God and without end.

The interaction of this rock, this material composition, with the greater, infinite material whole of the world, together with its own processes, will one day result in the passing of its form and contents into other material structures.

It will disappear.

Thus everything passes, and only matter (objective reality), driven by contradiction and the absolute of change, remains.



From my thesis ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’: ‘there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa’ (Magee, quoting Walsh)


In his Introduction in Volume I of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-1826 (Trans. Robert F. Brown and J.M. Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2009), Hegel named nine of his sources (pp. 99-101).

In that order (I use the details from the Bibliography), I exemplify references to Cusanus below the title:

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie für den akademischen Unterricht, 3rd edn., ed. Amadeus Wendt (Leipzig, 1820) 


From Contents

Thomas Stanley, Historia philosophiae vitas opiniones resque gestas et dicta philosophorum sectae cuiusuis complexa… (Leipzig, 1711) (Latin translation from English)

Hegel wrote ‘Its dominant viewpoint is that there are only ancient philosophies, and the era of philosophy was cut short by Christianity. So this treatise only contains the ancient schools…’

Jacob Brucker, Historia critica philosophiae, 4 vols. (Leipzig, 1742-4). (Hegel owned the 1756 edn.)


From page 360 of vol. 4.1

Dieterich Tiedemann Geist der spekulativen Philosophie  6 vols. (Marburg, 1791-7). (Hegel owned vols. i-iii)


Page 321 of vol. 5

Dieterich Tiedemann Dialogorum Platonis argumenta, expounded and illustrated 12. vols. (Zweibrücken, 1786)

This text, as its title indicates, is a study of the Platonic dialogues.

Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie und einer kritischen Literatur derselben, 8 pts. in 9 vols. (Göttingen, 1796-1804)


From page 101 of vol. 6.1

Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, 11 vols. (Leipzig, 1798-1819)


Contents of vol. 9

Friedrich Ast, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie (Landshut, 1807)



From page 315

Thaddä Anselm Rixner, Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie zum Gebrauche seiner Vorlesungen, 3  vols. (Sulzbach, 1822-3)

Hegel wrote ‘Most worth recommending is Rixner’s Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie in 3 volumes (Sulzbach, 1822-3)…he is a man of intelligence who provides a particularly useful selection of key passages…the accuracy of the citations and the other features make it highly commendable.’


From page 164 of vol. 2

Most importantly, Hegel did not name the other history by Buhle that he usedGeschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, 6 vols. (Göttingen, 1800-4). Brown, the editor, showed in his Notes that Hegel paid close attention to it with regard to his writing on Bruno (see vol. III, The Second Period: Medieval Philosophy, Notes 102, 104, 126, 129).

The most thorough discussion of Cusanus’ philosophy in comparison to Hegel’s sources above is in volume 2.1 of this history by Buhle, between pp. 341-353 (the Notes refer to both 2.1 and 2.2).


From page 342 of vol. 2.1

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

De concordantia catholica (On Catholic Concordance, 1434)

De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance, 1440 – Buhle discusses)

De coniecturis (On Surmises, 1441-2 – Buhle discusses)

De Ignota Litteratura (On Unknown Learning, 1442-3 – Johannes Wenck)

De quaerendo Deum (On Seeking God, 1445)

De dato patris luminum (On the Gift of the Father of Lights, 1446)

Apologia doctae ignorantiae discipuli ad discipulum (A Defence of Learned Ignorance from One Disciple to Another, 1449)

(Idiota) de sapientia (The Layman of Wisdom, 1450 – Buhle discusses)

Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles Against the Bohemians/Hussites, 1452)

De visione Dei (On the Vision of God, 1453)

De mathematica perfectione (On Mathematical Perfection, 1458)

Cribrationes Alchorani (Cribratio Alkorani, A Scrutiny of the Koran, 1461)

De venatione sapientiae (On the Pursuit of Wisdom, 1463)

De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation, 1464 – Cusanus’ last work)


From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B


‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ download

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I have put two links with a choice of title page colours for the PDF download of my thesis under my statement on my Home/About page and under both my emails to the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A has the above left title page, ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B has the one on the above right.

Instead of a thesis of 12,000 words, which I did not complete on time, I have completed one of 125,000 words.

If you find any processing errors, please let me know.

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B


Coming very soon

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Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15e


15. Conclusion (concluded)

With the decline of modernism followed by that of postmodernism, a profound shift is taking place in the ideology of the bourgeoisie – a growing preparedness to consider the impact of mysticism – fundamental to both modernism and post-modernism – on Western culture. The primary Western form – Neoplatonism – has been treated by generations of academics as the pornography of modern Western philosophy, even as its Siren call has met an eager response.

The task of the ideologues, while maintaining the façade of a smooth continuum in ‘scholarship’, is to explore mysticism without threatening to undermine gods, expose lies, damage the reputations and careers of those who were and are complicit in denying the influence of mysticism on modernism and postmodernism – in rationalising it – and to do so without laying bare a cultural arrogance and mass self-delusion that we in the West are the champions of reason, while others stare at their navels or are obsessed with filial piety – not a good look with the rise of Asia and the growing dominance of China. The consummate Neoplatonist Hegel, author of the Science of Logic and upholder of Western supremacism,1 is one such ‘god’.

The response by generations of learned spokespeople to Plotinus’ philosophy and to the current he initiated is a most unforgivable failure of scholarship. Why this failure? Because of its revolutionary dialectical core, explored by the Neoplatonists, and because of its all-embracing implications – brought by Marx and Engels from the subjective world within to the objective world without. Of its relevance for science Casarella wrote

Cusanus derives by a strictly speculative form of argumentation a new idea of the cosmos…In its implications Cusanus’s idea is much more far-reaching than the physical models of Copernicus and Galileo. Einstein with his theory of relativity will be the first to develop a physical model of the universe that also denies every centre of the universe.2

This ‘new idea’, like so many others, was Plotinusnot Cusanus’. The denial of every centre as of every claim to permanence other than the absolute of change are in the Enneads. This most powerful philosophy, now the materialist method reflecting objective reality, is also the most complex, subtle and aesthetic – reflecting what flows eternally, as Hegel wrote, from ‘inner life and self-movement’.

It is a current with the deepest belief in human potential, perspective and creativity

every mind…is a perfect and living image of the Infinite Art3

Magee4 and Smith5 wrote of Hegel’s and Marx’s achievements regarding our self-creation but this recognition, too, was not Hegel’s and Marx’s to claim but that of one to whom their debt was equally immense

But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.6


1. See 1.1
2. Regine Kather, ’The Earth is a Noble Star’, in Casarella, Ed., Cusanus, The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, op. cit., 226-244, 236
3. Nicholas of Cusa, Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’), op. cit., 13, 149, 582
4. ‘(Hegel believed he was) the first philosopher to discover the rational order within history…history is the tale of our gradual self-creation, and of our realisation that it is our nature to be self-creating.’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 106
5. ‘Those old mystics had probed the contradictory structure of self-creation, but only in its heretical-religious form. How could they do anything more under the conditions of their time? Hegel took this much further, attempting to systematise that knowledge. Marx, living in the last stage of alienation, is able, in his critiques of religion, the state, philosophy and political economy, to pose the problem in the form in which its practical solution can be discerned: the communist revolution. Instead of the mystical loop, ‘God making humanity making God’, Marx must express an even more sharply contradictory movement, that of ‘human activity or self-change’: humans make their own conditions of life, which in turn make humanity what it is. In its estranged shape, labour produces capital, which in turn enslaves labour.’, Cyril Smith, ‘Karl Marx and Human Self-creation’, 2002, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/works/alteration/ch06.htm
6. Plotinus, The Enneads, I.6.9, op. cit., 54

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

To those interested: I will now edit and collate my thesis (which hopefully won’t take too long) and make it available as a free download. I will publish a post notifying you when I have done this.

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 15a


15. Conclusion

Recognising Hegel to have been a Neoplatonist is to take the first step in recognising the philosophical current that ran and underwent continual and ultimately profound development from Plotinus to Marx and Engels. The next step is to review the entirety of that current in order to further develop it as the method for knowledge.

Neoplatonism was never a fixed set of beliefs – rather, it was always a ‘work in progress’ which absorbed every philosophical influence that could contribute to explicating the content and developing the potential of the unsystematic Enneads.

Plotinus set down the original beliefs in his fifty four tractates – his was literally the ‘big vision’. Proclus gave that vision detailed triadic structure and definition and in so doing, advanced it. Cusanus explored the subtleties of contradiction and wrote that knowledge results from our conceptualising, which reflects God’s productive activity – but he wrote of these in static relations, not in their dialectical development. Hegel combined the work of all three, systematically developing every aspect of Neoplatonism on the basis of its unity, dynamism and vitalism.

Just as Hegel regarded Christianity as the consummate religion in the sense that it brought the concept of religion to consummation and completion, so he did with Neoplatonism. Its development could not be taken any further within idealism. Marx and Engels then took what Hegel had achieved and stood it on its material feet, making materialism dialectical and praxis fundamental in cognition.

Redding stated that after Hegel’s death his supporters split into two camps – those who thought he was advocating a traditional Christian view of existence and those who thought he was advocating a secular humanist view of human existence. He added ‘But it might be that Hegel was introducing an entirely new perspective on human existence that is reducible neither to traditional theism or modern atheism. This view is a consequence of his key concept of “recognition”.’1 Not only was Hegel’s fundamentally an ancient perspective on human existence, reducible neither to traditional theism nor modern atheism, his key concept of ‘recognition’ was also a consequence of it – of Neoplatonism.

Hegel’s ‘Trinity’ is not a Christian Trinity – it is Proclus’ triad, the broad outlines of which appear in Cusanus’ theology. Yet the Trinity served Hegel’s Absolute and Cusanus’ Absolute Maximum equally well. As Buhle astutely observed of Cusanus

The divinity to Nicholas, as to Ficino, was really the logical concept of the highest order…He must surely have suspected that notwithstanding all his purges, the understanding yet cannot conceive the maximum bereft of material attributes as something real, for without them the concept dissolves into nothingness.2

Hegel advocated the intellectualist humanism of Neoplatonism, a belief in human worth and a theoretical perspectival unity in an individualist philosophy, which unity he saw as the solution to a perceived lack of community. Yet his lived solution, following the recommendation of Plotinus, was the ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’, to a community of philosopher-priests (see 9.8).3

As Proclus did to Plotinus’ philosophy, so ‘the German Proclus’ did to both of theirs – as he did to that of Cusanus. Both drawing on and responding to what they had philosophised and achieved,4 he developed to its furthest point within idealism a tremendously rich, dynamic and dialectical system with creativity at its core – which current has made such an enormous contribution to all aspects of Western culture, including science.


1. Slide for University of Sydney lecture 04.10.10
2. Buhle, Geschichte, op. cit., vol. 2.1. See 13.4.1
3. ‘And – so Hegel concludes – philosophic thought has no choice but to become a “separate sanctuary,” inhabited by philosophers who are an “isolated order of priests.” They cannot “mix with the world, but must leave to the world the task of settling how it might find its way out of its present state of disruption.” What an incredible, what a shattering turn of thought!’, Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, op. cit., 235; also, to illustrate how profoundly the notion of ‘flight’ is associated with Neoplatonism: ‘From so fragmented a world (as that of the twentieth century) the Hegelian philosophy would be forced to flee, as surely as Neoplatonism was forced into flight from Imperial Rome. Only thus could it maintain itself as a serene unity of thought free of fragmentation.’, Ibid., 236; ‘Whether the ethics of the Neoplatonic sage had a Proclean or Plotinian form, it always created a clear divide between philosophers and laymen. …No doubt the sage could still significantly influence the actions of laymen: his superhuman moral integrity turned him into a powerful ethical model that others could admire and imitate at least partially and imperfectly.’, Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 247
4. To exemplify, I recommend reading the Chapter Titles of the Books of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14h


14.4 If not the Hermetica, what is the source for God as process? (concluded)

At every stage of god as process, what is recounted and asserted in the Hermetica and theosophised by Böhme is speculatively philosophised in Neoplatonism.1 Magee wrote ‘“Nothing may be revealed to itself without opposition,” Boehme tells us.’2 Hegel quoted Böhme

You should know that all things consist of Yes and No, that the One as the Yes is energy and life – it is the energy of God and is God himself. But this truth would itself be unknowable without the No. The No is a counterstroke to…the eternal love. Nevertheless the Yes is not sundered from the No; they are not two things alongside one another, but only one thing. …Without them both, all things would be nothing and would stand still. Without them there is no understanding, for understanding originates in distinctiveness within multiplicity.3

But Hegel knew that someone else had not only told us this but had discussed it in a detailed, speculative manner in his tractate ‘The Knowing Hypostases and the Transcendent’, 1300 years before Böhme. Plotinus begins by asking a question

Are we to think that a being knowing itself must contain diversity, that self-knowledge can be affirmed only when some one phase of the self perceives other phases, and that therefore an absolutely simplex entity would be equally incapable of introversion and of self-awareness?4

He then states the problem

Either we must exhibit the self-knowing of an uncompounded being – and show how that is possible – or abandon the belief that any being can possess veritable self-cognition.5

and, after consideration, wrote

The intellective power, therefore, when occupied with the intellectual act, must be in a state of duality, whether one of the two elements stand actually outside or both lie within: the intellectual act will always comport diversity as well as the necessary identity, and in the same way its characteristic objects (the Ideas) must stand to the Intellectual-Principle as at once distinct and identical.6

In this discussion is not only the basis of Böhme’s and Hegel’s ‘distinctiveness within multiplicity’ (which Plotinus expanded into thought on subjectivity7) and of their casting of a tripartite theme into many forms8 but the source of mystical negation and speculative development.

Hegel placed great importance on ‘speculative’, thinking this of his philosophy and defining it as

the positively rational (apprehension of) the unity of the determinations in their opposition, the affirmative that is contained in their dissolution and in their transition.9

As previously stated, he equated it with ‘mystical’. He also used the concept in relation to the philosophies of Plato10 and Aristotle11 – the same influences of equal importance to his own philosophy as to Plotinus’ – and in relation to the Neoplatonists.12 Conceptual philosophical speculation, however, was what he thought Böhme’s ‘crude’, ‘barbaric’ theosophy reflected a profound craving for.13

Hegel believed that speculative logic in its dialectical, conceptual unfolding is the true vehicle for the account of the Absolute and therefore of self-knowledge. Magee wrote of this ‘science’

(Hegel’s) Logic requires a new form of conceptual thought that even avoids ‘applying‘ concepts to real-word examples, striving instead to understand concepts and their relations in as pure a manner as possible.14

That Hegel believed reason is both a faculty of ‘mind’ and objective in the world has its most abstract expression in this ‘system of pure reason, the realm of pure thought’15 which can be summarised as ‘the conceptual development of God within, manifest in his world without’. As Cusanus wrote in Idiota de mente (‘The Layman on Mind’)

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).16

Hegel’s linking of ‘philosophy’, ‘science’, ‘theology’, ‘religion’ and ‘reason’, finding its culminating expression in the closing quotation from the Metaphysics in his Encyclopaedia17 and his seamless move from a focus on ‘substance’ to one on ‘subject’18 reflects the influence of Aristotle within Neoplatonism, and comparatively very little – primarily the illustrative use of son as nature – that of the Hermetica and the theosophy of Böhme.

Hegel’s structuring his philosophy on Proclus’ triad of triads within a school always open to development, the equal significance to him and Neoplatonism of ‘speculative’ philosophy and the equal significance, again, to him and Neoplatonism of Plato and Aristotle all identify him as of that school, not, as Magee argues, of Hermeticism.

Even Hegel’s description in his Encyclopaedia Logic of his system as one of conceptual circles of reason

Each of the parts of philosophy is a philosophical whole, a circle rounded and complete in itself. In each of these parts, however, the philosophical Idea is found in a particular specificality or medium. The single circle, because it is a real totality, bursts through the limits imposed by its special medium, and gives rise to a wider circle. The whole of philosophy in this way resembles a circle of circles.19

echoes Plotinus’ description of his own system

The total scheme may be summarised in the illustration of The Good as a centre, the Intellectual-Principle as an unmoving circle, the Soul as a circle in motion, its moving being its aspiration: the Intellectual-Principle possesses and has ever embraced that which is beyond being; the Soul must seek it still20

Hegel, again echoing Plotinus, with his ‘flight of the alone to the Alone’, believed that ‘nobler natures’ should ‘flee into ideal regions’21 and practise in a religious community of philosopher priests, apart from the world (see 9.8). Magee wrote

Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel concerns the (Hermetic) initiation process…(whereby) initiation seems to fall into two parts, one dealing with self-knowledge, the other with knowledge of God. It can easily be shown, simply on a theoretical level, that these two are intimately wedded. To really know one’s self is to be able to give a complete speech about the conditions of one’s being, and this involves speaking about God and His entire cosmos.22

But here, too, Chlup puts the Neoplatonic position, writing that the main function of their theurgy was initiatory.23 Of Proclus’ Platonic Theology he stated

One scholar (Rappe 2000: 170-1) has even attributed an initiatory quality to the text: ‘the system that it supposedly conveys is more like a ritual invocation or theurgic rite than a handbook of metaphysics…Like the statues of the theurgists, this text is meant to become enlivened through the invocations of the gods that form its itinerary.’24

Why has Magee argued as he has, misrepresenting the Hermetica and utterly refusing to consider the possibility that Hegel may have been other than an Hermeticist, a Neoplatonist? Hegel’s philosophy, though (as Magee wrote) mytho-poetic, is far more than myth – its range and the Logic are evidence of this. It fully develops and fleshes out the system of conceptual artistry that is the Enneads, drawing on the same Greek philosophical tradition of detailed rationality.

Magee’s use of the time-worn description of Marxism as Hegel’s ‘bastard’ points to a motive – that Neoplatonism always was the school that best explicates the world of change – prior to Marx, that in consciousness and after, in objective reality. I will pass, Magee will pass, the bourgeoisie that employs him will pass – individually and as a class. Nothing remains but material change…and nothing can stop it.

The heyday of those stages of capitalist ideology known as ‘Modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’ (equally aimed at undermining our trust in our senses and our belief that we know the world) have passed and the ideologues of the bourgeoisie have been forced, under the very pressure of change that produced Hegel and saw the absorption of his philosophy into materialism, now dialectical, to address mysticism. Hermeticism and other similar ‘esoteric’ belief systems25 offer them yet another way out – philosophy as myth, as account, as subjectivity, as sacred, ancient authority – philosophy still suffused with ‘God’, still focussing on consciousness, on what is secondary.


1. ‘unlike the ancient theologians of Israel and Egypt, the Neoplatonists did not think that the universe could spring from the deity directly and in a way that surpasses all understanding, for example by being thought and spoken into existence. Their more refined view was that reality emerged from “the First” in coherent stages, in such a way that one stage functions as creative principle of the next.’, Christian Wildberg, ‘Neoplatonism’, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neoplatonism/ op. cit.; ‘the Plotinian path is indeed a philosophy, and not only a form of mysticism, insofar as this process of purification is an arduous intellectual and ethical path’, Gwenaëlle Aubry, ‘Plato, Plotinus, and Neoplatonism’, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 191-222, 209-210
2. Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 532
3. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 102
4. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.1
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., V.3.10
7. ‘Then, again, in the assertion “I am this particular thing”, either the “particular thing” is distinct from the assertor – and there is a false statement – or it is included within it, and, at once, multiplicity is asserted: otherwise the assertion is “I am what I am”, or “I am I”.’, Ibid. See 8.4.2. Magee relayed Hegel’s discussion of Böhme’s theology on this point: ‘The Son is the great Separator, who takes the qualities and powers that are bound into one within God the Father and “separates” them so that God comes face-to-face with himself. …(quoting Hegel) “This is the highest profundity of thought of Jacob Boehme. …Indeed Boehme has here penetrated into the entire depth of the divine being; evil, matter, or however it is called, is the I=I, the being-for-self – this is the true negativity.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, 587-588; Magee wrote ‘As a Hermeticist…Hegel regards God before creation as incomplete. To complete himself, God must know himself, and the immediate self-cognition God possesses before creation is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge requires mediated re-cognition. It requires that the self see itself reflected in another and recognise itself there.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 257; again, ‘Fichte, in his Foundations of Natural Right (1797), argued that opposition is a necessary condition of self-consciousness—specifically the opposition of other self-conscious human beings. So, it is unlikely that Hegel derived this view from Böhme’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 586-587. Magee elsewhere claimed that Fichte and Hegel ‘are merely Böhme’s followers in this regard’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 138
8. ‘Boehme says: “Heaven and Hell are as far from each other as are Ichts and nothing (ens and non ens), as day and night.” He casts this theme into many forms’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 101. The Note adds ‘Hegel…probably has in mind Philo and Plotinus’, Ibid., Note 46
9. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 268
10. ‘Plato’s speculative dialectic – something that originates with him – is the most interesting but also the most difficult [element] in his work; those who study Plato’s writings often do not become versed in it.’, Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. II, 198
11. ‘this is where Aristotle becomes properly philosophical and at the same time highly speculative.’, Ibid., 233; ‘This, then, is the pinnacle of the Aristotelian metaphysics – the most speculative thought there can be.’, Ibid., 254
12. When discussing the philosophy of Proclus Hegel wrote ‘In its proper sense “mystical” means “speculative”. The mystical or speculative [task] consists in comprehending as a unity these distinctions (i.e. Proclus’ three triunities) that are defined as totalities, as gods. The expression “mystical” does in fact occur frequently in the Neoplatonists for whom (Greek word) means none other than “to consider speculatively”. The religious mysteries too are secrets to the abstract understanding, and it is only for rational, speculative thinking that they are object or content.’, Ibid., 344-345; ‘Hegel here has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80.
13. ‘we cannot fail to see the profound craving for speculation which existed in this man.’, quoted in Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589; ‘Hegel…stated in print that he and Baader shared the goal of translating Böhme’s eccentric, sensualistic theosophy into “scientific” terms.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 48
14. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit,. 189
15. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 50
16. 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
17. ‘Hegel speaks of Absolute Idea as ‘the Idea that thinks itself’ (EL #236), and he explicitly likens it to Aristotle’s concept of God. ‘This is the noesis noeseos [thought thinking itself] which was already called the highest form of the Idea by Aristotle (EL #236 A).’, Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 100
18. ‘In Absolute Knowing the drive to totally grasp the object, and to annul the subject-object distinction will be realised. Absolute Knowing will be the total grasp of the only true, unique individual there is: the Absolute. In Aristotelian terms, it is the grasp of true being or substance. But in Hegel’s thought substance has become subject: “what seems to happen outside of [the self], to be an activity directed against it, is really its own doing, and substance shows itself to be essentially subject” (MIller, 21; PG, 28).’, Ibid., 171
19. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., §15
20. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., IV.4.16
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 143
22. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 10-11
23. ‘Conspicuous as the external theurgic operations might have been, for the Neoplatonists they were the less significant part of their hieratic art. Its main function was transformative and initiatory. Theurgy played a part in the ascent of the soul, allowing the induction of higher states of consciousness unattainable by pure philosophy.’, Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 173
24. Ibid., 38
25. ‘“Esotericism” refers to a number of theories, practices, and approaches to knowledge united by their participation in a premodern, largely pagan worldview. …Further, esotericists typically believe that (their) truths and practices are of the greatest antiquity – perhaps once widely disseminated and openly proclaimed, but now (and for a great many centuries) hidden and preserved by a few special individuals or schools. Discovery in esotericism is almost always rediscovery.’, Magee, Editor’s Introduction, The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, op. cit., 19-83, 57-58

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14e


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (concluded)

Hegel not only gave very high praise to Böhme for his recognition of the Trinity as a universal principle and of the necessity of ‘contrariety’, he also repeatedly made the strongest criticisms of his theosophy, for two fundamental reasons – Böhme’s failure and inability to appreciate the conceptual nature of philosophy, manifest in his dependence on sensory imagery1 – a claim which could equally be made of Hermeticism

(Böhme’s articulation of his main thoughts) is unmistakably barbarous, and in order to put his thought into words he employs powerful, sensuous images such as Salitter, Tincture, Essence, Qual, Schrack, and the like.2

and, on this conceptual basis, Böhme’s primitive grasp of the nature of contradiction

Böhme grasps the antitheses in the harshest, crudest fashion3

Magee, following Hegel, also made the same fundamental criticisms of Böhme,4 further writing

Hegel treats the parallels between his thought and Boehme’s as merely, it would seem accidental: Boehme anticipates much in modern, speculative philosophy. But Hegel never once says anything that would indicate that he is indebted to Böhme or that Böhme in some way influenced him.5

Despite these criticisms and Hegel’s never once acknowledging any debt to Böhme, Magee persists in arguing for that debt and, as he sees it, its extent, but completely fails to explore and expand on his most significant references to Cusanus – another whom Hegel not only never expressed any debt to but even knowledge of, despite the far greater number of parallels between their work (see 13.6 for a summary of them), including their equal emphasis on the abstract, conceptual nature of philosophy, their exploration of contradiction on that basis, their equal regard for Proclus and their Trinitarian triad of triads, none of which are Hermetic or in Böhme’s theosophy.

Magee cites Rosenkranz having pointed out Hegel’s interest in medieval German Christian mystics, starting from his time in Berne,6 and Magee over and again positions Schelling as the link of influence between Böhme and Hegel

Schelling was, of course, an enthusiastic reader of Böhme and Oetinger and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest in theosophy.7

But with regard to the relationship between Schelling and Cusanus, and the possibility of a far greater significance to Hegel of Cusanus than Böhme, Magee, simply quoting Beck,8 made this extraordinary comment

‘Schelling…we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas (my italics).’ Beck also makes the claim that the Naturphilosophie of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as theosophy and Protestant mysticism, have their roots in Cusa.9

Other than Beck and Magee, all the academics tell us that neither Hegel nor any of the German idealists knew of Cusanus – then suddenly, en passant, Magee tells us that Schelling not only knew of him and read him, but was influenced by him! How, logically, might his then close friend Hegel and their intellectual milieu which Schelling was at the centre of have been influenced as a result of Schelling’s reading of Cusanus? Magee doesn’t even question this – he only offers us a further enticement in a footnote.10 Simply…nothing more. Why so profuse on Böhme and so brief on Cusanus?

It should have been all the more pressing for Magee to investigate this relationship between Schelling and Cusanus since he named Cusanus in his discussion of speculation – a core concept for Hegel – writing not only that Cusanus associated the word with the Latin ‘speculum’, for mirror,11 that ‘Schelling and Hegel…picked up the term (from whom?) and both use it in a positive sense’,12 but that in his use of the concept, Hegel

has in mind precisely the thought of figures like Cusa, who sought knowledge of God through an overcoming of dichotomous, either-or thinking.13

Likewise, Cusanus’ use of Absolute in his philosophy

Schelling’s use of ‘Absolute’ is remarkably similar to Cusa’s. For Schelling, the Absolute is the ‘indifference point’ beyond the distinction of subject and object, or any other distinction.14

It is as though Schelling’s (and Hegel’s) use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun is nothing but a ‘remarkable’ coincidence to Cusanus’ use of it. Despite incorrectly attributing the first use of ‘Absolute’ as a noun, in reference to the ultimate principle, to Cusanus (instead of Plotinus),15 Magee himself implies a continuum from Cusanus through Schelling to Hegel

Hegel accepts Schelling’s conception of the Absolute as beyond the subject–object distinction16

Of Hegel’s approach to ‘Absolute’ Magee wrote

I believe that Hegel was aware of the fact that Boehme’s doctrine was unique in the history of mysticism, precisely in its rejection of God as an ineffable Absolute.17

This rejection of the ultimate principle as an ineffable Absolute had been explored throughout the long, developmental history of Neoplatonism, from Plotinus onwards, as I have shown. Cusanus was one who had done this and I have argued that Hegel was well-acquainted with his work. It would be far easier for such a supremely ambitious and political (as Magee has shown, both re- Hegel’s interest in Hermeticism and in his discussion of Hegel’s relations with Baader) person as Hegel was to acknowledge and focus attention on one of far lesser ability (Böhme) than on another also of genius (Cusanus) – to whom, given the parallels in their philosophies, he knew he was greatly indebted.18

Magee compounds his errors in his discussion of ‘the true is the whole’

Immediately after writing “The true is the whole,” Hegel states: “But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through its development.” The developmental, organic understanding of the nature of the Absolute was, as far as Hegel and the other idealists knew, original with Jakob Boehme and his school.19

If he has any concern for historical accuracy and giving credit where it is due – particularly with regard to one of the West’s greatest and most influential philosophers, rather than constructing a fanciful moat of uneducated Teutonic purity around one of Plotinus’ countless derivatives,20 Magee should make the time to study the Enneads. Not only, as I have indicated, did Plotinus repeatedly use ‘Absolute’ in reference to the ultimate principle – which Hegel called both ‘God’ and ‘the One’ – in his tractate ‘Nature, Contemplation, and the One’, translated by Creuzer in 1805, he wrote of Intellectual-Principle (Divine Mind, Divine-Intellection), 1300 years before Böhme took first breath

(In) the true and first universe (of Intellect)…each part is not cut off from the whole; but the whole life of it and the whole intellect lives and thinks all together in one, and makes the part the whole and all bound in friendship with itself, since one part is not separated from another and has not become merely other, estranged from the rest; and, therefore, one does not wrong another, even if they are opposites. And since it is everywhere one and complete at every point it stays still and knows no alteration; for it does not make as one thing acting upon another. For what reason could it have for making, since it is deficient in nothing?21

Armstrong wrote

Plotinus’s World of Forms is an organic living community of interpenetrating beings which are at once Forms and intelligences, all “awake and alive,” in which every part thinks and therefore in a real sense is the whole; so that the relationship of whole and part in this spiritual world is quite different from that in the material world, and involves no sort of separation or exclusion. This unity-in-diversity is the most perfect possible image of the absolute unity of the One22

Magee cites Böhme and Hegel using other Cusan and Neoplatonic terminology – ‘Böhme holds that nature is an unfolding of the dynamic “eternal nature” contained within God’,23 “Böhme wrote of the ‘contracted being’ of God”;24 Magee quotes Hegel using the expression ‘point of contraction’ – “the Ego is ‘contracted’ into its primordial self-relation” adding “This brings to mind the doctrine of the ‘coincidence of opposites’ in Eckhart, Cusa, and other mystics”25

Magee is continually pushing for his claim to be accepted:

The 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion introduce a doctrine of the ‘immanent Trinity’ clearly inspired by Böhme’s initial triad of ‘source-spirits.’ …In sum, all the evidence indicates that Hegel’s Hermeticism was no mere folly of youth, abandoned with maturity (my italics).26

What is so striking (in his early writing) is how indebted Hegel obviously is to Hermeticism. The chief debt is clearly to Böhme (my italics).27

Hegel did go on to employ some Boehmean expressions and now and then what can be characterised as a vaguely Boehmean ‘style’ (my italics).28

But of the full details, nature and extent of the direct influence Magee tells us Cusanus had on Schelling, he shows not the least interest in pursuing.


1. Magee commented on both of these – ‘(Hegel believed) Philosophy is purely conceptual, whereas religion uses “picture-thinking”: myths, allegories, images, and the like.’, Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 580 and ‘Hegel is unambiguous in sharply rejecting Boehme’s “picture thinking.”’, Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 258
2. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. III, 103
3. Ibid.
4. ‘Böhme does not present philosophical arguments.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 45; ‘Boehme’s methodology is to argue by analogy from human psychology to theology’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, 539
5. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 589
6. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 106; “David Walsh writes that Jena in Hegel’s day ‘had become the focal point of the German Romantic movement, and many of its greatest figures were assembled there, including Tieck, Novalis, Schelling, F. Schlegel, and A.W. Schlegel. Within that company an intense centre of interest was formed by their rediscovery of the German mystical tradition. For the first time the works of the great medieval and Reformation mystics were becoming widely available within their native land.’”, Ibid., 133
7. Ibid., 134; ‘Schelling himself was an avid reader of Böhme and Oetinger, and likely encouraged Hegel’s interest.’, Ibid., 3 etc.; Magee’s stance, revelatory of his class perspective, on the degree of parental significance he attributes to Böhme – both with regard to a resulting bastardy and modernity – is exemplified by the following: ‘Boehmean ideas were communicated to Hegel by Schelling in Jena, and they exercised a strong influence on him. Arguably it is through Hegel – whose bastard children include Marxism, existentialism, and certain strains of modern conservatism – that Boehme has had his greatest influence: not just on the history of ideas, but on the formation of the modern world.’, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 525-526
8. ‘(Cusanus’) theory of the polarity but unity of man, God, and nature is elaborated by Schelling (who, we know, was actually influenced by reading Nicholas).’, Beck, Early German Philosophy, op. cit., 71. Also, as previously quoted, ‘when Nicholas of Cusa made God the coincidence of opposites, (he) set a pattern which Böhme accepted and Hegel rationalised (my italics) by seeing the Absolute as itself a dialectic process, not an Eleatic product of dialectic.’, Ibid., 156. Beck’s position on the influence of theosophy and Protestant mysticism directly contradicts Magee’s: ‘theosophy, and Protestant mysticism…this stream did not lead to the most significant work in philosophy.’ Ibid., 71
9. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
10. ‘David Walsh notes that although there is no evidence that Hegel ever read Cusa, he was indirectly influenced by him through J.G.Hamann and Giordano Bruno. See Walsh, Boehme and Hegel, 326.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 28
11. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 80
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid., 221
14. Ibid., 19
15. ‘Like Eckhart, Cusa would teach that God is the coincidence of opposites. (He was also the first author to refer to God as Absolutum.)’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 26
16. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 273
17. Ibid., 272
18. I will address the influence of Neoplatonism on Hermeticism and Böhme soon.
19. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 276
20. ‘(Böhme’s) thought is, as Hegel observed, genuinely Germanic and (as Faivre points out) owes nothing to classical sources. It is thoroughly Teutonic in character; earnest and unsophisticated, utterly lacking in irony or literary pretensions of any kind.’, Magee, ‘Jacob Boehme and Christian Theosophy’, op. cit., 526
21. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. III, III.2.1
22. Ibid., vol. I, xxi
23. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 168
24. Ibid., 163
25. Ibid., 82
26. Ibid., 256
27. Ibid., 110
28. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 590

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14d


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

Magee asserted that Böhme, along with Eckhart, Cusanus and Hegel thought that nature is the equivalent of the Son.1 In mysticism, such an apparently simple equation is anything but. In the writing of the above, four meanings of ‘nature’ are used

  • the natural world or universe and its phenomena
  • the ‘inner’ world
  • different qualities (divine nature, human nature, intellectual nature)
  • the body of God

The equivalence between son and cosmos is Hermetic – it is stated in both the Corpus Hermeticum and the Asclepius, as I have quoted above.2 The Hermetica clearly distinguishes between the three gods (god the father, his son as cosmos, and man3) and there is no requirement in it either for the son to return to his father or for god to be completed by mankind as Magee claims. It is neither Neoplatonic nor Christian – irrespective of whether one defines ‘nature’ as either the natural or ‘inner’ world. Neither Eckhart nor Cusanus as I will show and again contrary to Magee, used it. Hegel, as I have quoted,4 used it in his Philosophy of Nature and it is plausible that his source for this may have been Böhme.

Magee wrote

In his tenth sermon, Eckhart preached that just as a son requires a father to give him existence, so the father is not father without the son. Similarly, God would not be God without creation: God must create to actualise His nature. (This is one of the innovations of the Hermetica.) Just as in Hegel more than five hundred years later, God the Father is conceived as “abstract” and “incomplete” apart from nature. Nature or creation is the Son. The “return” of the Son to the Father is the Holy Spirit and, again as in Hegel, this specifically denotes mankind.5

But there is no hint of God being incomplete or his Son being nature in Eckhart’s words

St. John says, “God’s love was disclosed to us in this, that He sent His Son into the world that we should live through him,” and with him. And thus our human nature has been immeasurably exalted because the Highest has come and taken on human nature.6

Of the world to which God sent his Son, Eckhart wrote

“God sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” You should not take this to mean the external world, as when he ate and drank with us, but you should understand it of the inner world. As surely as the Father in His simple nature bears the Son naturally, just as surely He bears him in the inmost recesses of the spirit, and this is the inner world. Here God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground.”7

Eckhart counterposed the ‘inner world’ to the natural world

Whatever of the soul is in this world or looks into this world, whatever is attached to her and looks out, that she should hate. A master says that the soul at her highest and purest is above the world. …A master says the soul in her own nature has as little to do with all that is in the world as the eye has to do with song, or the ear with colour.8

He echoed Plotinus’ metaphor of the sculptor hewing his soul

A man who wants to make a pot takes a little clay; that is the material he works with. Then he gives it a form, which is in himself, and is finer in him than the material. By this I mean that all things are immeasurably nobler in the intellectual world, where the soul is, than they are in this world.9

In Chapter 25 of Book I of De docta ignorantia – titled ‘The pagans named God in various ways in relation to created things’ – Cusanus wrote that

(one of the names the pagans gave God was) Cupid because of the unity of the two sexes (for which reason they also called Him Nature, since through the two sexes He conserves the species of things).10

yet he still did not take this opportunity to equate the Son with nature and give his reason for doing so. The structure of De docta ignorantia shows why. Book I deals with God, the Absolute uncontracted Maximum, Book II with the world – the contracted Maximum, and Book III (not book II) with the Absolute and contracted Maximum – Christ. Not only did Cusanus believe Christ and the world to be qualitatively different and not only did he believe Christ to be God and man (the union of divine and human natures)11 not God and cosmos, the cosmos for him as was everything, was comprised of a Trinity based on Proclus’ triad of triads – Böhme was not the first to think that the Trinity is in everything, which Magee accepts that he was and which, as I believe Hegel knew very well, he wasn’t

…[in the case of the universe] the three mutual relationships—which in God are called persons—have actual existence only collectively in oneness.

We must consider the foregoing points carefully. For in God the perfection of Oneness, which is Trinity, is so great that the Father is actually God, the Son actually God, and the Holy Spirit actually God, the Son and the Holy Spirit are actually in the Father, the Son and the Father [are actually] in the Holy Spirit, and the Father and the Holy Spirit [are actually] in the Son. But in the case of what is contracted, a similar thing cannot hold true; for the mutual relationships exist per se only conjointly. (my italics) Therefore, it cannot be the case that each distinct relationship is the universe; rather, all the mutual relationships [are] collectively [the universe]. Nor is the one [of them] actually in the others; rather, they are most perfectly contracted to one another (in the way in which the condition of contraction permits this), so that from them there is one universe, which could not be one without that trinity. For there cannot be contraction without (1) that which is contractible, (2) that which causes contracting, and (3) the union which is effected through the common actuality of these two.12

Cusanus defined ‘nature’: ‘nature is the enfolding (so to speak) of all things which occur through motion.’13

Magee described the position of Böhme and Hegel on the creation of nature in Neoplatonic terms

Böhme holds that nature is an unfolding of the dynamic “eternal nature” contained within God14

The Philosophy of Nature shows how the Absolute Idea or “God before creation” is “embodied.” Notoriously, Hegel employs Neoplatonic emanation imagery to describe the transition from Logic to Philosophy of Nature, saying that the Idea “freely releases itself.” This sort of approach is to be found in Eckhart as well.15

Hegel’s own description begins with the Hermetic notion of nature as the son of God and merges this with Christian Neoplatonism

Nature is the son of God, but not as the Son, but as abiding in otherness – the divine Idea as held fast for a moment outside the divine love…in Nature, Spirit lets itself go (ausgelassen), a Bacchic god unrestrained and unmindful of itself…God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity, in which otherness has only a transient being16

Plotinus wrote most highly of nature, almost giving it the status of an hypostasis in his tractate ‘Nature, contemplation, and the One’, translated by Creuzer in 180517

And Nature, asked why it brings forth its works, might answer if it cared to listen and to speak: “It would have been more becoming to put no question but to learn in silence just as I myself am silent and make no habit of talking. And what is your lesson? This; that whatsoever comes into being is my vision, seen in my silence, the vision that belongs to my character who, sprung from vision, am vision-loving and create vision by the vision-seeing faculty within me. The mathematicians from their vision draw their figures: but I draw nothing: I gaze and the figures of the material world take being as if they fell from my contemplation.”’18

The relation between nature and divinity is one (and most important) aspect of the issue, the other was embodied by Proclus in his triad Being, Life and Intelligence reflected in the organisation of the Books of Cusanus’ De docta ignorantia (God/World/Christ) and those of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia (Logic/Nature/Spirit). Being by itself is abstract and for there to be Intelligence, there must be ‘Life’. For all three, the first element must posit the second so that it, in turn, can posit the third – the means of return.

Magee writes of Hegel’s application of this with a Christian patina

Hegel states in the Philosophy of Nature, “God as an abstraction is not the true God; His truth is the positing of His other, the living process, the world, which is his Son when it is comprehended in its divine form” (PN #246). …On its own, logic (or the logos) is formal and one-dimensional. To be fully realised, the Idea must “express itself” in the world of space and time. Thus, the Logic must be supplemented by the Philosophy of Nature.19

Hegel used Proclus’ triad of triads (which is in neither Hermeticism nor Böhme’s theosophy) as his philosophical basis, and, following Cusanus, overlaid the Trinity across it, matching the key elements of the triad with those of the Trinity in the same sequence of outflow and return and also made, for a richer and more anchored mytho-poetic purpose, the Hermetic notion of son as cosmos the conjunction between Being and Intelligence, God and Spirit.


1. ‘(Böhme believed that) Nature is the “body of God”…Along with Eckhart, Cusa, and Hegel, Böhme reads the second person of the Trinity, the “Son,” as equivalent to nature.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 39
2. Copenhaver, Corpus Hermeticum, X; Everard, The Corpus Hermetica, XIII; Mead, The Asclepius, VIII
3. Mead, The Asclepius, X; Being, Life and Intelligence are the three gods of Proclus’ triad.
4. See 11.3.7,, 13.6.6
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 24-25
6. Sermon 13 (a), Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, op. cit., 104
7. Sermon 13 (b), Ibid., 109
8. Sermon 21, Ibid., 149
9. Ibid., 150
10. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,25,83
11. Chapter 4 of Bk III is titled ‘Blessed Jesus, who is God and man, is the [contracted maximum individual].’
12. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., II,7,127-128 (‘The trinity of the universe’)
13. Ibid., II,10,153
14. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 168
15. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, op. cit., 266
16. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 14
17. Plotinus used ‘Absolute’ repeatedly as a noun in this tractate). ‘the All has its One, its Prior but not yet the Absolute One; through this we reach that Absolute One, where all such reference comes to an end.’, Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., III.8.10. Inwood and Magee are incorrect in claiming that Cusanus was the first to apply it to the ultimate principle.
18. Ibid., III.8.4; Magee wrote of Hegel ’By showing humanity a God who expresses Himself (in part) in nature, (Hegel) hoped to reconnect science with the experience of the divine, and specifically with the concrete presence of the divine. …Hegel’s system is an attempt to “re-enchant” the world, to re-invest nature with the experience of the numinous lost with the death of the mythical consciousness.’, Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 97
19. Ibid., 190

Contents of ‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 14c


14.2  But wait! Shockingly, there’s more! (continued)

Magee wrote ‘Hegel’s philosophy of religion is from the beginning indebted to Eckhart’s mysticism’1 – a mysticism which conceived God as the coincidence of opposites2 – and that ‘No one has demonstrated direct Hermetic influences on Eckhart, but his thought exhibits certain “Hermetic” features’.3 Magee exemplifies what he thinks is a key feature of Eckhart’s Hermeticism

At one point in the Lectures, in fact, (Hegel) quotes the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1328): ‘The eye with which God sees me is the eye with which I see him; my eye and his eye are one and the same. In righteousness I am weighed in God and he in me. If God did not exist nor would I; if I did not exist nor would he’ (LPR 1, 347-348)4

He quotes Eckhart and adds

“If I had not been, there would have been no God” (Sermon 4). Human self-reflection is the actualisation of God.5

Having dismissed ‘the ineffable mystery of the coincidentia oppositorum’, Magee approves of the mutual vision between and common existence of God and philosopher as symbolising ‘positive’ Hermetic knowledge of the divine.

But although sight and vision are fundamental to both Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, they are addressed differently in the two systems – in the former, seer and seen are philosophised abstractly as a unity and in a way that minimises reference to the material world

Now comes the question: what sort of thing does the Intellectual-Principle see in seeing the Intellectual Realm and what in seeing itself?

We are not to look for an Intellectual realm reminding us of the colour or shape to be seen on material objects: the intellectual antedates all such things…In the pure Intellectual…the vision and the envisioned are a unity; the seen is as the seeing and seeing as seen.6

In the Corpus Hermeticum, that relationship is set out as a mythical narrative which uses the material world for context and illustration

Poimandres said to me, “Have you understood what this vision means?”

“I shall come to know,” said I.

“I am the light you saw, mind, your god,” he said, “who existed before the watery nature that appeared out of darkness. The lightgiving word who comes from mind is the son of god.”

“Go on,” I said.

“This is what you must know: that in you which sees and hears is the word of the lord, but your mind is god the father; they are not divided from one another for their union is life.”7

“Such then, Tat, is god’s image, as best I have been able to sketch it for you. If your vision of it is sharp and you understand it with the eyes of your heart, believe me, child, you shall discover the road that leads above or, rather, the image itself will show you the way. For the vision of it has a special property. It takes hold of those who have had the vision and draws them up, just as the magnet stone draws iron, so they say.”8

Eckhart’s Christianity is redolent not with Hermeticism, but Neoplatonism – God is One, perfect, infinite and complete

‘God is one.’…God is infinite in his simplicity and simple in his infinity. Therefore he is everywhere and is everywhere complete. He is everywhere on account of his infinity, and is everywhere complete on account of his simplicity. Only God flows into all things, their very essences. Nothing else flows into something else. God is in the innermost part of each and every thing, only in its innermost part, and he alone is one.9

all things are contained in the One, by virtue of the fact that it is one, for all multiplicity is one and is one thing and is in and through the One. …note that the One in its most proper sense refers to perfection and to the whole, for which reason, again, it lacks nothing.10

(God) is perfect in knowledge and power, he is perfect too in his speaking.11

Eckhart believed that energised by his Neoplatonic abundance, God sent his Son to the world because of his Christian love for mankind, not for his own ‘actualisation’ and completion

Scripture says: ‘Before the created world, I am’ …The Father gives birth to the Son and derives such peace and delight from this birth that the whole of his nature is consumed within it. For whatever is in God, moves him to give birth; the Father is driven to give birth by his ground, his essence and his being.12

All that God does and all that he teaches, he does and teaches in his Son. All that God does he does in order that we may become his only begotten Son. When God sees that we are his only begotten Son, then God presses so urgently upon us and hastens towards us and acts as if his divine being were about to collapse and become nothing in itself so that he can reveal to us the whole abyss of his Godhead, the abundance of his being and his nature. God urgently desires that this should become ours just as it is his.13

…martyrdom and death of our Lord Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, which he suffered for our salvation.14

To rise up to the intellect, subordinating ourselves to it, is to be united with God. To be united, to be one, is to be one with God. …in the domain of the intellect where, in so far as they are intellect and nothing else, all things are without doubt in all things.15

Magee appropriated Cusanus to Hermeticism in the same way he did Eckhart, writing ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) is another mystic whose influence on the Hermetic tradition was important.’16 Magee again bypassed Neoplatonism to write

In De Visione Dei (1453) Cusa takes advantage of the ambiguity of the phrase “the vision of God” to make a truly mystical point, very much in line with Eckhart and also with the Hermetic tradition.17

But the thought of Cusanus, too, bore that same tension between God as perfect and complete and an ultimate principle Being, which functioned within a developing Neoplatonic system

just as an infinite sphere is most simple and exists in complete actuality, so the Maximum exists most simply in complete actuality. And just as a sphere is the actuality of a line, a triangle, and a circle, so the Maximum is the actuality of all things. Therefore, all actual existence has from the Maximum whatever actuality it possesses; and all existence exists actually insofar as it exists actually in the Infinite. Hence, the Maximum is the Form of forms and the Form of being, or maximum actual Being.18


1. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 226
2. ‘Like so many mystics, Eckhart conceived God as the “coincidence of opposites.”’, Ibid., 24
3. Ibid., 23
4. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 250
5. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 25
6. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.8
7. Copenhaver, Hermetica, op. cit., Corpus Hermeticum I, 177
8. Ibid., Corpus Hermeticum IV, 209-210
9. Latin Sermon 2 (Deus unus est), Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, Trans., Oliver Davies, Penguin, London, 1994, 258
10. Ibid., 259
11. German Sermon 12, Ibid., 156
12. German Sermon 10, Ibid,. 147
13. German Sermon 16, Ibid., 176
14. Sermon 10, Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Trans. and Ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe, Herder and Herder, New York, 2009, 92
15. Latin Sermon 2, Meister Eckhart, Selected Writing, op.cit., 262
16. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit. 26
17. Ibid., 27
18. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,23,70

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