The development of a philosophical current – from mysticism to materialism, from God to science

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

‘The German Idealists showed some interest in Nicholas of Cusa but the real revival of his thought was stimulated by…Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) who called him “the first modern thinker”…and by…Karl Jaspers.’

Dermot Moran, ‘Nicholas of Cusa and modern philosophy’, The Cambridge Companion in Renaissance Philosophy, Ed., James Hankins, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 173

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‘Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist?’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’, 1440), II, 2, 100

‘since God is Infinite Actuality, He is the cause only of actuality. But the possibility of being exists contingently. Therefore, if the possibility were absolute, on what would it be contingent? Now, the possibility results from the fact that being [which derives] from the First cannot be completely, unqualifiedly, and absolutely actuality. Therefore, the actuality is contracted through the possibility, so that it does not at all exist except in the possibility. And the possibility does not at all exist unless it is contracted through the actuality.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 137

‘since the contraction of possibility is from God and the contraction of actuality is the result of contingency, the world—which, necessarily, is contracted—is contingently finite.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 139

‘without possibility and actuality and the union of the two there is not, and cannot be, anything. For if [anything] lacked any of these, it would not exist. For how would it exist if it were not possible to exist? And how would it exist if it did not actually exist (since existence is actuality)? And if it were possible to exist but it did not exist, in what sense would it exist? (Therefore, it is necessary that there be the union of possibility and actuality.) The possibility-to-exist, actually existing, and the union of the two are not other than one another. Indeed, they are of the same essence, since they constitute only one and the same thing’

Nicholas of Cusa, De possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’, 1460), 47

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

‘Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance, and, on the other hand, this chance is rather absolute necessity. (Logik, II, Book III, 2: Reality.) Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical trifling, as self-contradictory nonsense, and, as regards theory, has persisted on the one hand in the barrenness of thought of Wolffian metaphysics, according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at once; or, on the other hand, in the hardly less thoughtless mechanical determinism which in words denies chance in general only to recognise it in practice in each particular case.

While natural science continued to think in this way, what did it do in the person of Darwin?

Friedrich Engels 1860

Friedrich Engels in 1860

Darwin in his epoch-making work, set out from the widest existing basis of chance. Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species, differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz., the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without the concept of species, however, all science was nothing. All its branches needed the concept of species as basis: human anatomy and comparative anatomy – embryology, zoology, palaeontology, botany, etc., what were they without the concept of species? All their results were not only put in question but directly set aside. Chance overthrows necessity, as conceived hitherto. The previous idea of necessity breaks down. To retain it means dictatorially to impose on nature as a law a human arbitrary determination that is in contradiction to itself and to reality, it means to deny thereby all inner necessity in living nature, it means generally to proclaim the chaotic kingdom of chance to be the sole law of living nature.’

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 217-221

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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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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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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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On the most deliberate, profound failure in social and intellectual responsibility by academic ideologues

Plotinus 204/5-270

Plotinus (204/5-270)

I quote Lloyd Gerson and Christian Wildberg from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, who both point to the immeasurable significance of Plotinus. In my thesis I argue for a developmental continuum from Plotinus via Hegel to Marx who ‘inverted’ that mystical current and stood it on its material feet. Where Marx had no interest in mysticism other than recognising it in Hegel’s philosophy, once this continuum has been acknowledged, it can be mined – particularly its weaknesses – to further develop dialectical materialism.

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Porphyry’s edition of Plotinus’ Enneads preserved for posterity the works of the leading Platonic interpreter of antiquity. Through these works as well as through the writings of Porphyry himself (234 – c. 305 C.E.) and Iamblichus (c. 245–325 C.E.), Plotinus shaped the entire subsequent history of philosophy. Until well into the 19th century, Platonism was in large part understood, appropriated or rejected based on its Plotinian expression and in adumbrations of this.

Proclus (412-485)

Proclus (412-485)

The theological traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all, in their formative periods, looked to ancient Greek philosophy for the language and arguments with which to articulate their religious visions. For all of these, Platonism expressed the philosophy that seemed closest to their own theologies. Plotinus was the principal source for their understanding of Platonism.

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

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

Through the Latin translation of Plotinus by Marsilio Ficino published in 1492, Plotinus became available to the West. The first English translation, by Thomas Taylor, appeared in the late 18th century. Plotinus was, once again, recognized as the most authoritative interpreter of Platonism. In the writings of the Italian Renaissance philosophers, the 15th and 16th century humanists John Colet, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Thomas More, the 17th century Cambridge Platonists, and German idealists, especially Hegel, Plotinus’ thought was the (sometimes unacknowledged) basis for opposition to the competing and increasingly influential tradition of scientific philosophy. This influence continued in the 20th century flowering of Christian imaginative literature in England, including the works of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.

Lloyd Gerson, ‘Plotinus,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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It is an undeniable fact, although nowadays rarely acknowledged, that the general outlook and the principal doctrines of the Neoplatonists proved exceedingly influential throughout the entire history of western philosophy. Through Augustine (354–430) in the West and the 4th-century Cappadocian Fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus) in the East as well as the pseudo-epigraphic writings of Dionysius the Areopagite (early 6th century), Neoplatonism profoundly influenced the emergence of mainstream and not so mainstream Christian theology (John Scotus Eriugena, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Meister Eckhart). In addition, by way of a pseudo-epigraphical treatise entitled Theology of Aristotle, Neoplatonic thought facilitated the integration of ancient philosophy and science into both Islam (especially through Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Avicenna [Ibn Sina]) and Judaism (Maimonides).

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

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

…It may even be true to say that even more than the writings of Plato and Aristotle themselves Neoplatonic ideas have continued to influence Western thinkers of the idealist persuasion, such as the Cambridge Platonists (who were really Neoplatonists), Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Fichte, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin, to name but a few.

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

Marx (1818-1883) in 1875

…Perhaps another reason that this kind of thinking strikes the general public as arcane and alien may that the Abrahamic religions, even if they too posit a single divine principle as the source of all being, conceive of this principle as a person and maker. This vestige of pre-philosophical anthropomorphism bypasses the difficult questions that the last pagan thinkers so arduously struggled to answer when they sought to explain the existence of the diverse and complex physical world from a non-material principle that they assumed to be nothing but One.

Christian Wildberg ‘Neoplatonism,’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

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

Uluru-1

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.

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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) 

tennemann_grundris_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_contents

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.)

brucker_historia_critica_philosophiae_vol-4-1

From page 360 of vol. 4.1

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

tiedemann_geist_der_spekulativen_philosophie_vol-5

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)

buhle_lehrbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-6-1

From page 101 of vol. 6.1

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

tennemann_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-9_contents

Contents of vol. 9

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

 

ast_grundrisse_einer_geshichte_der_philosophie

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.’

rixner_handbuch_der_geschichte_der_philosophie_vol-2

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).

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-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)

buhle_geschichte_der_neuern_philosophie_vol-6

From the Index, vol. 6

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

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‘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

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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

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Notes
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.