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.

***

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

***

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 

red-star

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

Nicholas_of_Cusa 2

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

***

‘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

Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel00 2

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

red-star

From mysticism to materialism – ‘the tremendous power of the negative’, before which everything but change is doomed

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.47.23 pm

By arguing that Hegel was not only a mystic, but that he was specifically the consummate Neoplatonist, I address in my thesis the part his philosophy played in a continuum that was and is by its nature always open to development – running from the idealism of Plotinus (consciousness is primary) to its ‘inversion’ in the materialism of Marx (matter is primary). My thesis also argues that Hegel’s system, encapsulated in his Encyclopaedia, is based on Proclus’ triad of triads and that Hegel was fully aware of Cusanus whose De docta ignorantia was also structured on that triad, never mentioning him both because of the degree to which he was indebted to him and because of the implications of that acknowledgement. I provide evidence from Hegel’s own sources.

Konstantin Yuon

Konstantin Yuon, ‘A New Planet,’ 1921. Tempera on cardboard, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

I address Magee’s claim that Hegel was an Hermeticist and argue that Magee misrepresented both the Hermetica and Hermeticism in order to argue that claim. I also argue that the response of the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary core that Marx and Engels brought out in Neoplatonism is fundamental to why Hegel’s thorough-going Neoplatonism is not recognised and acknowledged. With ‘the tremendous power of the negative’ – the source of all development, before which everything is also ‘doomed’ – as that core, this current is the greatest current in Western philosophy, and now, as dialectical materialism, is the epistemology of the future.

The_Crab_Nebula

The Crab Nebula and its pulsar

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.50.04 pm

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ A

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ B

Bottom image

red-star

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.

red-star

Image

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

red-star

‘Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist’ download

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.47.23 pm                     Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.50.04 pm

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

red-star

Coming very soon

Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.47.23 pm                     Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 2.50.04 pm

red-star

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

red-star

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.

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.

red-star

Notes
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.

red-star

Notes
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