Plant on Hegel: the importance of praxis to knowledge


Gustave Courbet, The Stonebreakers, oil on canvas, 1849. Destroyed, Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Theoretical mind is the attempt of the self-conscious person to take possession of the world through the exercise of the intellect, but Hegel argues that without the supplement of practical activity such a grasp cannot be achieved. In practical activity man transforms objects and once they are thus transformed by human activity, the products can be appropriated by the human intelligence. Full self-consciousness is achieved when the mind can fully elucidate its own relationship to the world in practical activity. This is a point of crucial importance. A conceptual grasp of an object can only be attained when that object has been formed and structured by human praxis

Accordingly, full self-consciousness is achieved when man can have a full grasp of the kinds of transformations which he has effected through his practical activity on a world which is not the mere product of his mind, but which can be shaped by his will, this process at the same time contributing to his own development as a person.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 151-2


Hegel, mystic, and the ‘Reason’ of the ‘master’ race

The Abduction of Europa, Rembrandt, 1632. Oil on oak panel, Getty Centre, Los Angeles.

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 45


What comprises the reason that this European master of ‘Reason’ and ‘the rational’ asserts? He rightly looks past the propositional but adheres to the linguistic and conceptual. Is it not philosophic to question beyond these as well? Does not his own life and work provide ample justification?


The philosophy of Plotinus: part six


Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Plotinus called the grasp by Intellect of the immaterial object – their  immediate identity and unity – ‘intuitive thought’.

‘(Intellect)…is the level of intuitive thought which grasps its object immediately and is always perfectly united to it, and does not have to seek it outside itself by discursive reasoning: and we at our highest are Intellect, or Soul perfectly formed to the likeness of Intellect …’1

As with every aspect in his distinction between the universe of matter and the senses and the universe in Intellect, Plotinus made the logic of discursive reasoning (which he equated with sense perception) the deficient copy of intuition (dialectic) in Intellect.2

In order to use language, discursive thought has to consider things sequentially, it passes from one point to another, it endlessly divides.3 This is the method of description. Such reasoning is utterly inadequate to address the relationship between soul and the One – it is a hindrance to the love which desires beyond Form. Discursive thought is inseparable from the burden of sensory life. The need to reason thus results in a diminution of the independence of ‘thought’:

‘Does the soul use discursive reasoning before it comes and again after it goes out of the body? No, discursive reasoning comes into it here below, when it is already in perplexity and full of care, and in a state of greater weakness; for feeling the need of reasoning is a lessening of the intellect in respect of its self-sufficiency…’4

Dialectic is the method of Intellect. Dealing with the truths of the higher cosmos, it involves a surrendering to the illumination of God’s light in which Intellect ceases a

‘wandering about the world of sense and settles down in the world of intellect, and there it occupies itself, casting off falsehood and feeding the soul in what Plato calls “the plain of truth,” using his method of division to distinguish the Forms, and to determine the essential nature of each thing, and to find the primary kinds…and then, keeping quiet…it busies itself no more, but contemplates, having arrived at unity. It leaves what is called logical activity, about propositions and syllogisms, to another art, as it might leave knowing how to write…whatever is submitted to it it perceives by directing intuition…’5

Intuitive reasoning ‘is a static activity and a kind of reflection of Intellect…’.6 It is practised separate from the body, because the body would only impede its inquiry.7 It is an activity of our true self in which it moves with a motion which is not bodily but of its own life.8

The desire for a unifying intuition underlies Plotinus’ doctrine. Not only can we intuit being, Plotinus theorised on the direct intuition of the Good:

‘…our power is that of knowing the intelligible by means of the intelligence: but this Entity (the First Existent or The Good) transcends all of the intellectual nature; by what direct intuition, then, can it be brought within our grasp?’9

He answered:

‘But possess yourself of it by the very elimination of Being and you hold a marvel. Thrusting forward to This, attaining, and resting in yourself, seek to grasp it more and more – understanding it by that intuitive thrust alone, but knowing its greatness by the Beings that follow upon it and exist by its power.’10

He believed that any intuition, particularly that of the Good, depends on how much of what is being intuited we have within ourselves. An intuition is a ‘direct intellectual act’, an intellection of self. In being known, the subject is excluded.11 Soul therefore holds that act not as a memory in time, dependent on an external source, which memory can be easily lost, but as a possession of its eternal essence.12

In its intuition in Intellect, Soul looks first to what is a unity and then to what is multiple, to all that is.13 It possesses and becomes the totality of things, but imperfectly. It grasps not a pure unity, but

‘all the intellectual facts of a many that constitutes a unity. For since the object of vision has variety (distinction within its essential oneness) the intuition must be multiple and the intuitions various, just as in a face we see at the one glance eyes and nose and all the rest.
But is not this impossible when the object to be thus divided and treated as a thing of grades is a pure unity?
No: there has already been discrimination within the Intellectual-Principle; the Act of the Soul is little more than a reading of this.
First and last is in the Ideas not a matter of time, and so does not bring time into the Soul’s intuition of earlier and later among them. There is a grading by order as well: the ordered disposition of some growing thing begins with root and reaches to topmost point, but, to one seeing the plant as a whole, there is no other first and last than simply that of the order.’14

Plotinus defined ‘intuition’ as ‘knowledge with identity’.15 It is by such a method that Soul might attain the highest, and a complete unity with the One – in which it cannot distinguish itself.16 He made the greatest possible distinction between Soul’s intellection and the body’s sensory perception:

‘…the Soul is unfailingly intent upon intellection; only when it acts upon this image-making faculty does its intellection become a human perception: intellection is one thing, the perception of an intellection is another: we are continuously intuitive but we are not unbrokenly aware: the reason is that the recipient in us receives from both sides, absorbing not merely intellections but also sense-perceptions.’17

Consciousness is the reflection of the life of Intellect, through the soul’s engagement with body. Plotinus criticised conscious awareness as being

‘likely to enfeeble the very activities of which there is consciousness; only when they are alone are they pure and more genuinely active and living; and when good men are in this state their life is increased, when it is not spilt out into perception, but gathered together in one in itself.’18

Not all outside Intellect seek to attain it because the requisite motives are ‘reasoned’, but all look to the Good because it is before all ‘reason’.



1. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxi

2. In the analogy of the Divided Line in Bk VI of the Republic, illustrating the relation between the two orders of reality and states of ‘mind’, Plato allowed knowledge by the direct apprehension (vision) of truth through Intelligence (Dialectic) or by Mathematical Reason. Belief and illusion function in the physical realm, giving mere opinion.

3. Plotinus believed that the language of numbers may help us to a direct apprehension of the realities of the intelligible universe and the One.

4. IV,3.18. In a most interesting sentence, implying a relationship between intuition and ‘pre-reason’, Plotinus wrote: ‘And again the reasoning thing is not of that realm: here the reasoning. There the pre-reasoning.’ VI,7.9.

5. I,3.4

6. IV,3.18

7. ‘But what about reasoning and intellect? These no longer give themselves to the body; for their work is not done through the instrument of the body: for this gets in the way if one uses it in rational investigations.’ IV,3.19. Plotinus wrote of his experience of descending from Intellect to discursive reasoning. IV,8.1.

8. Plotinus referred to this as ‘…the superior life of reason…’ III,4.6. Reason functions above chance. Cf. Bergson.

9. III,8.9

10. III,8.10

11. See following note.

12. ‘(A self-intellection is not)…something entering from without, to be grasped and held in fear of an escape…’ IV,3.25. ‘When we seize anything in the direct intellectual act there is room for nothing else than to know and to contemplate the object; the subject is not included in the act of knowing, but asserts itself, if at all, later and is a sign of the altered; this means that, once purely in the Intellectual, no one of us can have any memory of our experience here. Further, if all intellection is timeless – as appears from the fact that the Intellectual beings are of eternity, not of time – there can be no memory in the intellectual world, not merely none of earthly things but none whatever: all is presence. There; for there is no discursive thought, no passing from one point to another.’ IV,4.1.

13. IV,4.1. ‘…the unity of the Soul’s faculty (of intuition) is not incompatible with multiplicity in the object; it does no possess all its content in a single act of thought; each act is incomplete in itself, but all are being constantly exercised; the faculty is permanently there and its effects are external. The object itself is no unity and can therefore harbour a multiplicity which previously it did not contain.’ Ibid.

14. IV,4.1

15. IV,4.3

16. ‘Soul must see in its own way; this is by coalescence, unification; but in seeking thus to know the Unity it is prevented by that very unification from recognising that it has found; it cannot distinguish itself from the object of this intuition. None the less, this is our one resource if our philosophy is to give us knowledge of The Unity.’ VI,9.3. Plotinus distinguished between Soul’s understanding given by contemplation and Intellect’s apprehension of presence: ‘Wisdom and understanding consist in the contemplation of all that exists in the Intellectual-Principle, and the Intellectual-Principle itself apprehends this all (not by contemplation but) as an immediate presence.’ I,2.6.

17. IV,3.30

18. I,4.10

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson.

Some thoughts on mysticism

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy

Hello Moshe,

I’m sorry I haven’t replied to you earlier. I wanted to sit with your question. And I could sit with it a great deal longer.

Mysticism for me is the deepest feeling for and orientation to the whole, yet sensitivity to the parts that comprise it (in each part is the whole), to the relationship between whole and parts, to their infinite complexity and unceasing motion – and that awareness is essentially ineffable, yet intuitively understood.

If you remove ‘feeling’, ‘the ineffable’ and ‘intuition’ from this statement you have the description of a relationship that bears comparison with the first words of Lenin’s ‘On the Question of Dialectics’ – ‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) or dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).’

My comparison is appropriate, because mystical philosophy, as Marx acknowledged (particularly its Germanic current culminating in the philosophy of the ‘German Proclus’, Hegel), is the philosophical core, stood by Marx on its feet, of dialectical materialism.

Lenin went on: ‘the correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science.’ This can be simply demonstrated – if you hold a rock in your hand, you hold a unity. While it looks utterly still – in its composition, in its parts, it is in unceasing motion. The contradictory motion of those infinitely divisible parts is the very thing which results in the apparently stable unity you hold in your hand (I am reminded of Plotinus’ profound and profoundly poetic position regarding his One – that it is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness).

And the interaction of this rock, this material composition, with the greater, infinite material whole will one day result in the passing of the form and contents of that stone into other material structures.

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

While capitalist ideologues treat mysticism like pornography as they secretly study and draw from it, claiming, as true patriarchs, that their appropriations are the result of the most rigorous conceptual ‘reason’, materialists should be proud of their philosophical heritage and continue to mine it for more philosophical gems.

Intuition’ is one such. I believe it is a form of reasoning far more holistic and connected to our ‘emotions’/our ‘feelings’, our ‘sense of self’ than is the reason of language and concept. The latter, while its benefits and the achievements made with it are obvious, comparative to intuition (which is always functioning in the background), is plodding.

An example: suppose you were to walk around a corner while another did the same thing walking towards you. You bump into each other. Your eyes meet. Without doubt you would both have an instantaneous wealth of thoughts and feelings so rich and complex that thinking linguistically in and of that moment would not only be an impediment, it would be an impossibility.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), ‘Ecstasy of Saint Theresa’, marble, 1647-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Yet the thoughts and feelings you both have in those few seconds will be formative, evidence of a type of reason which I think is central to our sense of self.

When the monotheist prays to God – ‘God, give me guidance’, they are calling on that other form of reason which requires emotional ‘stillness’ to be heard and listened to. They speak of ‘stillness’ and ‘listening’ at such times.

It is a flux of reason that draws on their life’s experience, on their spiritual connection to the world, on all that comprises them.

‘Spirituality’ – a concept I rejected for many years – for me is the feeling for and knowledge of profound material connectedness.

Intuitive reason is like ‘another’ to that of our usual, linguistically conditioned self.

There is certainly nothing of the patriarch to it, yet if you fail to listen to that ‘voice’, you do so at your peril. You will be like the man in the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket – reading all the labels, unable to choose, looking for an impetus and answer only in words, his linguistic ‘self’ disconnected from that other, deeper, more holistic, intuitive ‘self’.

In this unity of self (both linguistic and intuitive) and the world is to be found the unity of both mystic and materialist – it is one, unwilled yet profoundly dialectical, profoundly ‘poetic’ world.

When I am presented with any problem, I first try to intuit a way forward or a solution, then I apply my ability to reason linguistically. And although the results are usually different (my intuition seems consistent with necessity – which supports my understanding of intuition), I play those two results against each other to arrive at my answer.

These are a few of my thoughts on the subject of mysticism.

What are some of your thoughts on the subject?

Best regards,



Images: 1st/2nd

Want to break someone who’s open to you, without using physical violence? Gaslight them.


Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film Gaslight.

Several weeks ago there was an article in AppleNews on gaslighting which entirely missed the point of what gaslighting is (like almost all writing on it), discussing it as a general ‘messing with someone’s head’. Gaslighting is much more specific, calculated and vicious than that. And it has a core element not necessary to general ‘mind games’.

It concerns what physically exists – e.g. when the aggressor draws their victim’s attention to something which physically existed and then the aggressor makes a specific claim about that thing, now removed or absent, perhaps denying that it exists/existed, that they ever said that it had or claims that the victim has done something with it. 

Evidence may be produced to support this – e.g. in the excellent 1944 film Gaslight, the husband pointed to the mark on the wall where a picture had been, charging his wife with having moved it (the charge of his victim’s having stolen it is not necessary to the aggressor’s purpose). 

What is being targeted is the victim’s most fundamental connection with reality – their trust in their senses and, following that, their trust in their memory.

The key aspect of gaslighting is that we naturally (i.e. by not taking into account the finer points the current initiated by Plotinus has done so much to explicate) accept physical existence. Physical existence is not up for debate – a thing either is or it isn’t. We take it for granted that there is nothing more certain and real than physical existence. Thus, the stakes are the highest.

The aggressor’s purpose is to aim directly at the qualities of the victim essential to living a healthy life – to destroy not only the victim’s perception of reality and trust in their memory and self but their sense of worth, reducing them to obsessively second-guessing the aggressor and, in effect, to utter psychological vulnerability to and domination by them.

A range of secondary tactics are employed on the victim to achieve this (e.g. shaming and the manipulation of affection). This is the ‘messing with the head’ part.

The film Gaslight correctly made another very important point about gaslighting – that the aggressor’s ultimate purpose in targeting their victim may not concern the victim at all, but be the achievement of another goal – in the film this is the aggressor’s discovery of hidden wealth and keeping that discovery secret. This points to the degree of self-focus of the abuser.

On the healing power of positive reinforcement (also in the film): it only took the (from memory) policeman to confirm to the victim that the gaslight was going up and down, as she saw and knew, for the husband’s web of lies and his power over his wife to crumble and vanish.



Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13f

13.5 What the academics refuse to acknowledge in Hegel they incorrectly attribute in Cusanus

Nicholas of Cusa is almost unanimously recognised by academics as a Neoplatonist – a ‘Christian Neoplatonist’ – yet the errors they make when discussing his philosophy reveal both their ignorance of and hostility to Neoplatonism. Beck rejected that Cusanus was a mystic, writing

If he were, one would not expect learned ignorance to be man’s final stance before God; and one would expect something more ecstatic than the somewhat modest language of the devotio moderna.1

Beck’s error is fundamental. Neoplatonism is a complex and subtle philosophy not a prescription for self-abandonment. Rather than advocating a mystical relinquishment of self, Cusanus argued for and developed on a philosophy of self-knowledge and self-realisation as the method for attaining God. This is the method of the Enneads – and of the more philosophically developed system of Hegel.

Man’s creative (introspective) activity is an image of God’s. Neoplatonism enabled its proponents to argue for the contradictoriness, dynamism, complexity and poetry of the world – for them, that of religious consciousness. The academics’ refusal to countenance Hegel as a Neoplatonic mystic is premised on the same grounds Beck used with regard to Cusanus – he was a philosopher, his philosophy is not ecstatic.

Moffitt Watts wrote

Cusanus was one of the earliest thinkers to understand deeply and develop comprehensively the intellectual, spiritual, and cultural implications of the idea that the human mind is its own world…Cusanus’ conception of mind represents an important step on the road to Cartesianism.2

Again, fundamental errors. More than a millennium before Cusanus lived, Plotinus founded the school of philosophy to which he subscribed and which Plotinus ‘developed comprehensively’ in his Enneads. The ‘conception of mind (representing) an important step on the road to Cartesianism’ was the achievement of Plotinus, not Cusanus, who revitalised it.

When it comes to the recognition of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on subsequent philosophers, academics (those who repeatedly emphasise the importance of correct attribution to their students) don’t have a problem, but when the name of Plotinus is put forward, who was at least the equal of Plato and Aristotle and who drew on both, the problems arise and persist in abundance.

Hopkins identified a number of themes in Cusanus that he thinks have a ‘peculiarly Modern ring’3 to them including:

• a part is not known unless the whole is known (De mente)

• when the part is wholly known, then the whole is known and vice versa (De mente)

• man is the measure of all things (De Beryllo)

• Cusanus’ distinction between ratio (reason) and intellectus (understanding) – the principle of non-contradiction applies only at the level of ratio – that which distinguishes/analyses

• ‘Nicholas, under the influence of Leon Batista Alberti, emphasises that human knowledge is perspectival’

• the infinite is manifest through the finite

• since the divine mind is reflected in and through the human mind, all knowledge of God is metaphorical

• human minds are like living mirrors that mirror each other – Leibniz adopted this comparison

• Mind ‘performs all (its operations) in order to know itself’ (De mente 9)

• the earth moves (break with Ptolemaic theory)

• the earth for those on it appears to be at the centre of the universe as would another body for those standing on it

• the universe is as perfect as it can be

Having identified these points, Hopkins then refuses Cusanus recognition as the ‘father’ of modern philosophy, granting that accolade to a non-Neoplatonist who had ‘mentioned’ him4. More importantly, every one of these points are Neoplatonic staples – they are all addressed in the Enneads.

Plotinus set out the mystical relationship between part and whole and the knowledge of both. While he didn’t write that ‘man is the measure of all things’, God, the measure of all that is, is within5. To attain God is to rise from the sensory world to reach our true self. Plotinus distinguished between the ‘two’ reasons – contemplative and discursive. His philosophy is perspectival. For him the infinite is manifest through the finite, the human ‘mind’ is the product of divine ‘mind’ (the second hypostasis Intellectual-Principle) and knowledge of God is metaphorical – the primary metaphor, resonant through Western history, being that of the sculptor chiselling his soul.

Plotinus employed the metaphor of mirroring, equivalent with that of ‘seeing’6. For him, ‘mind’ performs its operations in order to know itself (true knowledge progresses from the second to the first hypostasis). For Plotinus, all that is moves, driven by degrees of desire, most weak in the material realm, around the Good which, in its infinite power, is stationary – the divine light of Copernicus was at the centre long before Cusanus7. The appearance of centrality depending on position can be traced, again, to the second hypostasis where there is no centre and all the Forms comprise a totality of unity-in-diversity.

It was Plotinus who, in arguing for the beauty and worth of the earth and everything on it8, set the basis for the Neoplatonists’ interest in the world, which Cusanus exemplified brilliantly in Book II of De docta ignorantia and which, later, Hegel exemplified in the second book of his Encyclopaedia.

On the universe being as perfect as it can be, Armstrong wrote

The material universe for Plotinus is a living, organic whole, the best possible image of the living unity-in-diversity of the World of Forms in Intellect. It is held together in every part by a universal sympathy and harmony, in which external evil and suffering take their place as necessary elements in the great pattern, the great dance of the universe…Matter then is responsible for the evil and imperfection of the material world; but that world is good and necessary, the best possible image of the world of spirit on the material level, where it is necessary that it should express itself for the completion of the whole. It has not the goodness of its archetype, but it has the goodness of the best possible image.9

Cassirer made the same basic errors as Beck, Moffitt Watts and Hopkins

Cusanus arrives at the essential principles of a new cosmology…the earth may no longer be considered something base…the new orientation in astronomy…a totally new intellectual orientation…10

Cusanus explored and brought out through clarification and metaphysical application what was already in Neoplatonic theory. In doing so he made very important contributions to its development and to later science.

These contributions were crucial to Hegel’s furthest development of Neoplatonism but they were, more than anything else, clarifications and metaphysical applications of what Plotinus had set out in his unsystematic presentation of his vast system in his Enneads and had been passed on by his successors.

The profound failure in social and intellectual responsibility by academics in refusing to recognise and to acknowledge the immense impact of Plotinus on Western culture is not accidental. It is driven by the requirements, as I have argued, of ideology and Western supremacism.

13.6 Parallels between Hegel and Cusanus

Below in point form and in no particular order are some of the parallels between Hegel and Cusanus I have identified, some of which I will address in this thesis:

• both were Neoplatonists who philosophised within a Proclean triadic framework

• both their enquiries tie philosophy to Christian faith

• both made the triune Trinity central

• both addressed the two ‘reasons’ (what Hegel referred to as Verstand and Vernunft)

• the philosophies of both are very complex

• God is the beginning and end of all things/God as a creative force

• God is not transcendent but immanent

• God is a logical concept

• how God can be known

• the mysticism of both is intellectual

• the systems of both were an attempt to address a perceived challenge to unity

• both used devices: metaphor, etc.

• subject/object: the unity of knower/knowing/known, seer/seeing/seen

• Christ become man is the link between God and world

• what knowledge is/all knowledge is ‘speculative’

• for both, Being (God) is primary to being and non-being

• both sought to reconstruct the grounds of philosophy and theology and the relationship between them

• both thought their philosophies represented a break from previous philosophy

• for both, philosophy is theology

• both believed we are estranged from God

• self-knowledge is at the core of our experience

• God cannot be predicated

• the world originates in (divine) Mind

• our ‘minds’ are models of ‘the mind’ of God – what his ‘mind’ does is replicated by ours conceptually

• God is the greatest activity in the greatest stillness

• same concepts

– absolute (as a noun)

– being and nothing

– coincidence (coincidentia oppositorum)

– contraction

– contradiction

– emanation and return (from the One to the many and return)

– enfolding/unfolding

– finite/infinite

– modes of apprehending

– magnitude (maximum/minimum)

– rational ground

– posse

• Plotinus’ sculptor

• truth/Absolute truth

• their humanism

• Cusanus was far more philosophical than either Eckhart or Böhme

• ‘science’ for both

• their metaphysical understanding of the world

• the eye that sees its other etc.

• the importance of ‘community’ in their philosophies

• their views on language

• on sense experience

• the world is change

• Catholicism as a ground for mysticism



1. Beck, Early German Philosophy: Kant and his Predecessors, op. cit., 58
2. Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus, A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man, op, cit., 225
3. Hopkins, ‘Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464): First Modern Philosopher?’, op. cit., 14-17. In the entire article, ‘Plotinus’ and ‘Neoplatonism’ occur once each.
4. See 13.4
5. ‘Protagoras, then, rightly stated that man is the measure of things. Because man knows—by reference to the nature of his perceptual [cognition]—that perceptible objects exist for the sake of that cognition, he measures perceptible objects in order to be able to apprehend, perceptually, the glory of the Divine Intellect. Similarly, with regard to things intelligible when we refer them to intellective cognition: at length, from that same consideration, man reflects upon the fact that the intellective nature is immortal—[doing so] in order that the Divine Intellect, in its immortality, can manifest itself to him.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De beryllo (‘On [Intellectual] Eyeglasses’), op. cit., 69, 825. ‘Nicholas’s appropriation of Protagoras’s doctrine of homo mensura differs widely from Protagoras’s own understanding of it; for, ultimately, according to Nicholas, God is the Measure of all things’ Hopkins’ note 18, Ibid., 831
6. See 8.5
7. ‘Time in its ceaseless onward sliding produces parted interval; Eternity stands in identity, pre-eminent, vaster by unending power than Time with all the vastness of its seeming progress; Time is like a radial line running out apparently to infinity but dependent upon that, its centre, which is the pivot of all its movement; as it goes it tells of that centre, but the centre itself is the unmoving principle of all the movement (my italics).’ Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.5.11
8. See 11.3.7
9. Armstrong in Plotinus, Enneads, op. cit., vol. I, xxiv
10. ‘From these methodological premises Cusanus arrives at the essential principles of a new cosmology. …the earth may no longer be considered something base or detestable within nature. Rather, it is as noble star…we can see clearly why, from Cusanus’ viewpoint, the new orientation in astronomy that led to the supersession of the geocentric vision of the world was only the result and the expression of a totally new intellectual orientation. This intimate connection between the two was already visible in the formulation of his basic cosmological ideas in De docta ignorantia. It is useless to seek a physical central point for the world. Just as it has no sharply delineated geometric form but rather extends spatially into the indeterminate, so it also has no locally determined centre. Thus, if the question of its central point can be asked at all, it can no longer be answered by physics but by metaphysics.’ Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, Trans., Mario Domandi, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1963, 27

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 13a

13. Hegel and Nicholas of Cusa

13.1 The use of Neoplatonism

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

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

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

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

13.2 Philosophers who didn’t acknowledge those who influenced them

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

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

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

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

and similarly of Hegel’s interest in Böhme

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

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

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

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

Again, the motive could simply have been egotism

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

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



1. ‘Schelling…gave to his Spinozism a neo-platonic twist, and the philosophy of Schelling and, especially, after him, Hegel, showed clear features of the type of thought found in the Platonism of late antique philosophers like Plotinus and Proclus (Beierwaltes 2004; Vieillard-Baron 1979). …The neoplatonistic thought of Plotinus and Proclus had been a recurring feature of German religious and philosophical thought since the late middle ages, having appeared in influential thinkers like Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa and, later, Leibniz and Jacob Böhme. In the 1780s and 90s, there seems to have been a revival of Platonist and Neoplatonist thought in the German states, and this would come to be especially influential on early “romanticism”. During the 1790s, the poet-philosopher Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772-1801) had even claimed to find similarities between the views of Plotinus on the one hand, and Kant and Fichte on the other (Beierwaltes 2004: 87-8). In retrospect, this does not seem too fanciful.’ Redding, ‘Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion’, op. cit., 6
2. Lecture, University of Sydney, 13.09.10. ‘Lessing, who had died in the year in which the Critique of Pure Reason appeared, had posthumously introduced the ideas of Spinoza to the intellectual avant-garde. His enlightened friends in Berlin were deeply shocked when, four years after his death, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi reported a private conversation he had had with Lessing shortly before his demise (On the teaching of Spinoza in letters to Mr Moses Mendelssohn, 1785). In 1780 he was supposed, according to his own words, to have abandoned the orthodox ideas of God; appealing to Spinoza, he had rejected the notion of God as personal cause of the world and come to conceive of him as a kind of soul of the universe embracing the world as one and all. Thus Jacobi accused Lessing not only of pantheism, but also of determinism, fatalism and atheism.’ Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 103
3. Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’ in Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, op. cit., 276
4. Ibid., 264. His further understated words should be noted ‘This, plus the encounter with Baader, makes it exceedingly difficult for scholars to dismiss Hegel’s interest in mysticism as a mere “aberration of youth.”’ ‘In the 1840’s, Schelling publicly accused Hegel of having simply borrowed much of his philosophy from Jakob Böhme.’ Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 2
5. Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 151. ‘Fichte made the two “discoveries” which were to remain fundamental for post-Kantian Idealism. These were subsequently taken over and remodelled by the two younger men (i.e. Schelling and Hegel), without showing too much gratitude to Fichte! a) The monism of Spirit. …This was the “I” or the subjective reason, which proves to be a creative force and a productive power or, to use another name, Spirit. b) Dialectic. …the “I” exists in conflict with the “not-I”. Thus the structures and forms of the world arise out of the creative reason. The latter posits itself, continually confronting and overcoming the antithesis afresh. Hence, the genesis of Spirit occurs in the threefold act of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, or, to use another word, in dialectic.’ Ibid., 151-152. Plotinus was accused by his colleagues in Greece of having plagiarised Numenius of Apamea. Paul Henry ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’ in Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., lxix 
6. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 225
7. Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op, cit., Props., 91 and 102. The relationship between ‘infinite’ and ‘finite’ is Cusanus’ fundamental philosophical concern: ‘Your Concept is most simple eternity itself. Now, posterior to most simple eternity no thing can possibly be made. Therefore, infinite duration, which is eternity itself, encompasses all succession. Therefore, everything which appears to us in a succession is not at all posterior to Your Concept, which is eternity. For Your one Concept, which is also Your Word, enfolds each and every thing.’ Nicholas of Cusa, De visione Dei (‘The Vision of God’), op, cit., 10, 43, 699
8. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, op. cit., 544 
9. ‘There is not a single passage in the works of Schelling published during his lifetime that explicitly indicates that the author was engaged with Swedenborg, as were so many of the leading spirits of the time who in one way or another reacted against Enlightenment rationalism…(Schelling made only one reference to Swedenborg in his dialogue ‘On the Connection of Nature with the Spiritual World [Clara]’) but even here he is referred to only as “the Swedish spirit-seer” or “the Northern spirit-seer.” Even more astonishing, there is not a single direct reference to Swedenborg in Schelling’s letters. …as far as the available sources indicate Schelling never wrote the name “Swedenborg”…This once again confirms Ernst Benz’s assertion that the official academic judgement passed on Swedenborg was so potent “that Swedenborg was rarely mentioned by name even by his covert adherents.” Still, the references to Swedenborg in Clara demonstrate that Schelling regarded him as a true seer.’ Friedmann Horn, Schelling and Swedenborg: Mysticism and German Idealism, Trans., George F. Dole, Swedenborg Foundation, Pennsylvania, 1997, 27. Horn quoted Kant ‘in the future – I don’t know where or when – it will be proved that even in this life the human soul is in an insoluble community with all the immaterial natures of the world of spirits, and that it reciprocally influences it and receives impressions from it, of which, however, the soul is unconscious as long as everything is fine’ (p. 149 in Kants populäre Schriften, ed. Paul Menzer (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1911)’ 169
10. Safranski wrote that, wanting to read the writing of Max Stirner (Johann Caspar Schmidt – Marx and Engels referred to him in The German Ideology as ‘Saint Max’), Nietzsche sent one of his students (Adolf Baumgartner) to the Basel library in 1874 to get it. On another occasion, Safranski reports, he was quoted by his friend Ida Overbeck as saying that she would not let on that he was familiar with Stirner’s writing. Nietzsche was accused of not only having been influenced by Stirner but of having plagiarised him. Safranski quotes one contemporary of Nietzsche’s having written that Nietzsche would have been ‘permanently discredited in any educated milieu if he had demonstrated even the least bit of sympathy for Stirner’. Rudiger Safranski, Nietzsche, A Philosophical Biography, Trans., Shelley Frisch, Granata Books, London, 2002, 126

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 11i The Science of Logic is a theology

Logic for Hegel is the ‘scientific,’ systematic exposition of the ‘formal structure,’ the infinite ‘mind’ of God

logic is to be understood as the system of pure reason, as the realm of pure thought. This realm is truth as it is without veil and in its own absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind.1

Plotinus wrote of this ‘system of pure reason’ and ‘realm of pure thought and truth’

(in the Intellectual Cosmos, dialectic) pastures the Soul in the ‘Meadows of Truth’: it employs the Platonic division to the discernment of the Ideal-Forms, of the Authentic-Existence, and of the First-Kinds (or Categories of Being): it establishes, in the light of Intellection, the affiliations of all that issues from the Firsts, until it has traversed the entire Intellectual Realm…it leaves to another science all that coil of premisses and conclusions called the art of reasoning2

The truth of logic is God alone, the relationship between religion and philosophy having a long history

Already for the Neopythagoreans and Neoplatonists, still situated within the pagan world, the folk deities were not deities of phantasy but had become deities of thought.3

Not only is the Logic, consistent with Neoplatonic philosophy, both an ontology and a metaphysics –

an account of what it means to be…(and) simultaneously an account of the highest or most complete individual being4

– as the exposition of God, again consistent with Neoplatonic philosophy, it is also a theology. Schlitt, who described Hegel’s logic as ‘speculative theology’5 wrote

In his 1829 lectures on the proofs for the existence of God, Hegel spoke of logic as metaphysical theology in so far as logic consisted in the elevation of finite thought determinations to the infinite. ‘Logic is to that extent, metaphysical theology, which treats of the evolution of the Idea of God in the ether of pure thought…’6

Jaeschke and Magee both refer to Hegel’s logic as a theology.7 Jaeschke importantly noted the potential for a ‘more detailed interpretation of the Science of Logic as speculative theology’8 and Magee, in identifying the philosophical strands in the Logic unknowingly identified the elements of Proclus’ triad – Being, Life and Intelligence

The Logic is simultaneously an account of the formal structure of God (the self-knowing Idea), the soul or mind (the living embodiment of Idea), and the Cosmos (the whole whose every part is an approximation to the being of Idea). It is thus at one and the same time a theology, rational psychology and cosmology.9



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 50
2. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.3.4. The note added ‘This puts Aristotelian and Stoic logic in its place. These logical systems deal with words and propositions and their relationships, and are thus merely preliminary to Platonic dialectic, which deals with the structure of reality.’ Of Hegel’s ‘structure of reality,’ Schlitt wrote ‘When (Hegel) spoke of “logic,” he meant the immanent and consistent self-positing and self-determining movement of pure thought,’ Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., 136
3. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. I, op. cit., 152; ‘In ordinary moods of mind there is a long way from logic to religion. But almost every page of what Hegel has called Logic is witness to the belief in their ultimate identity.’ Bibliographical Notice in Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., xlii
4. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 148; ‘Hegel himself did not hesitate to speak of categorical determinations of pure thought as metaphysical definitions of God. “Being itself and the special sub-categories of it which follow, as well as those of logic in general, may be looked upon as definitions of the Absolute, or metaphysical definitions of God …For a metaphysical definition of God is the expression of his nature in thoughts as such; and logic embraces all thoughts so long as they continue in the thought form.” (Logic #85)’ Dale M. Schlitt, Hegel’s Trinitarian Claim: A Critical Reflection, E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1984, 37
5. Ibid., 34
6. Ibid., 32
7. ‘(Hegel’s Science of Logic) is not solely a logic in the sense of an ontology but just as much a metaphysical theology.’ Walter Jaeschke, Reason in Religion: The Foundations of Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, Trans., J. Michael Stewart and Peter C. Hodgson, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990, 22
8. Ibid., 22
9. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 133

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 10b

10.7 Hegel and Plotinus rejected propositions of the understanding from their speculative philosophy

Hegel rejected from his philosophy those traditional tools of reason that are employed to test the worth and validity of concepts – the proposition of the understanding (Verstand), the use of predication and the formal syllogism – and he did so all for the same reason – that they deny the unity-in-difference and the principle of negation which are the engine of the conceptual openness and poetry of his Neoplatonic system, the mysticism of which neither he nor his ideological proponents would or could ever acknowledge.

For Hegel, the propositional language of the understanding, of Verstand is inadequate for the expression of the complexity of philosophical Truth. Dialectic, pre-eminently exemplified in poetry, is essential to philosophical demonstration. Hegel believed the proposition of the understanding is an empty form because it distinguishes between, separates subject and predicate resulting in a meaning other than what was intended. Such a proposition denies the complexity of the experience of consciousness (the process of freedom, reconciliation and truth), giving something that is one-sided

One difficulty which should be avoided comes from mixing up the speculative with the ratiocinative methods, so that what is said of the Subject at one time signifies its Notion, at another time merely its Predicate or accidental property. The one method interferes with the other, and only a philosophical exposition that rigidly excludes the usual way of relating the parts of a proposition could achieve the goal of plasticity.1

Hegel echoed Plotinus who asked rhetorically

What, then, is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the supremely precious.

Is Dialectic, then, the same as Philosophy?

It is the precious part of Philosophy. We must not think of it as the mere tool of the metaphysician: Dialectic does not consist of bare theories and rules: it deals with verities…Dialectic…has no knowledge of propositions – collections of words – but it knows the truth and, in that knowledge, knows what the schools call their propositions…it leaves petty precisions of process to what other science may care for such exercises.2

10.8 Proclus and Cusanus on propositions

Proclus, follower and systematiser of Plotinus, sought to structure the unsystematic presentation of his master’s philosophy in the two hundred and eleven propositions of his Elements of Theology and men with interests as diverse as Kepler and Coleridge responded equally to the same speculative Neoplatonic dynamism of his writing, which pushed beyond the linguistic constraints of mere propositions of the understanding

His language flows like a torrent, inundating its banks, and hiding the dark fords and whirlpools of doubts, while his mind full of the majesty of things of such a magnitude, struggles in the straits of language, and the conclusion never satisfying him, exceeds by the copia of words, the simplicity of the propositions.3

The most beautiful and orderly development of the philosophy which endeavours to explain all things by an analysis of consciousness, and builds up a world in the mind out of materials furnished by the mind itself, is to be found in the Platonic Theology of Proclus.4

Cusanus also believed that speculative thinking focuses on what functions beyond the constraints of propositions of the understanding, of ratio. Jaspers wrote of his philosophy

Whatever may be formulated in a proposition, in a word, is for this very reason not yet the point which thinking strives to attain – a point beyond the formulation, the ‘absolute ground,’ ‘being itself,’ ‘what precedes being.’ And even these expressions are only signs.5

10.9 Hegel’s ultimate concepts – beyond predication

10.9.1 God

‘God,’ to which all roads lead in Hegel’s philosophy, was for him the most perfect concept – the ‘most perfectly real.’ Hegel believed that predication is not appropriate to God because it cannot grasp God in his thinking. Verstand’s definition of God by the use of determinate predicates amounts only to a list of particular, rigid characteristics which remain unresolved contradictions.

God’s determinateness is not constituted by a predicate or a plurality of predicates…(because) each determinate content has become just as immovable, just as rigidly for itself, as the natural content was to begin with …The predicates do not correspond to the reality of the concept…the concept in itself is real, wholly free totality, free totality present to itself.6

Plotinus also wrote that God has no qualities, but is simple and single – that no name is apt to it. Proclus argued that while what is around the One (the henads) can be predicated, the One cannot. Cusanus also argued that God cannot be predicated and he did so using words very similar to those of Hegel – what displayed for the latter the rigidity and separation of Verstand in relation to Vernunft did so for the former those of ratio (understanding/discursive reason) in relation to intellectus (intellect/intellectual vision)

just as God transcends all understanding, so, a fortiori, [He transcends] every name. Indeed, through a movement of reason, which is much lower than the intellect, names are bestowed for distinguishing between things. But since reason cannot leap beyond contradictories: as regards the movement of reason, there is not a name to which another [name] is not opposed.7

10.9.2 Absolute

Hegel thought the aim of philosophy is cognition of the Absolute. He famously mocked in his Phenomenology of Spirit the Absolute in which

the A = A…(where) all is one. To pit this single insight, that in the Absolute everything is the same, against the full body of articulated cognition, which at least seeks and demands…fulfilment, to palm off its Absolute as the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black – this is cognition naïvely reduced to vacuity.8

How did Hegel position this concept in his ‘full body of articulated cognition’? To repeat, Engels observed that Hegel had absolutely nothing to say about his own Absolute Idea,9 with which he concluded the lengthy development of his categories in his Science of Logic. Magee also made an excellent point when he wrote that Hegel’s system embodies, realises the Absolute rather than describes (or, as I would write, defines) it – that for Hegel, simply to give the Absolute voice is to give it being.10

Where is the criticism in academia of Hegel’s posturing hypocrisy on this issue? The ideology of the dominant class is at stake, and the silence of the unspeakable reigns supreme behind cloistered walls. Not only did Hegel write that the concept ‘Absolute’ is devoid of predicates11 and is synonymous with that of ‘God,’12 he many times equated ‘God’ with his conflation of the One in his overlay of the Christian myth on his Neoplatonic philosophy. An example

God is One, in the first instance the universal.

God is love and remains One, [subsisting] more as unity, as immediate identity, than as negative reflection into self.

God is spirit, the One as infinite subjectivity, the One in the infinite subjectivity of distinction.13

To give a developmental account (‘exhibiting’ or ‘self-exposition’ to use Hegel’s words14) of the ‘Absolute’ as Hegel did – at great length – is not to define it – which Hegel did as little as those he mocked or criticised. A process, even in its complex totality, is not a definition.

Magee wrote

Hegel takes over the idea of an Absolute from Schelling, including the idea that the Absolute transcends the distinction between subject and object.15

This is incorrect. As I have argued previously, Plotinus was the first to use, and repeatedly, ’Absolute’ as a noun – long before Cusanus and the German idealists who were inspired by him – including in his tractate ‘Nature, Contemplation, and the One,’ translated by Creuzer in 1805 (Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit was first published in 1807), and Hegel took over that idea from Plotinus, as he did the transcendence of the distinction between subject and object and much else besides.

Hegel theorised his Absolute consistent with his conflation of the Neoplatonic hypostases in his ‘reason-world’ – Plotinus’ second hypostasis

the process of its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its goal, having its end also as its beginning16

For Hegel, this ‘reason-world’ is a systemic whole in which Mind or Being becomes conscious of itself. In the ‘unanalysable’17 beginning there is absolute identity which develops into a dialectically self-differentiating unity of ‘mutually antagonistic’18 elements eventually resulting in the sublation of the distinction between subject and object (between subjects/objects). Philosophy gives a ‘rational,’ dialectical account of the nature of the Absolute. All of this is explained by Hegel’s conflation of the Neoplatonic hypostases.

Plotinus wrote that a defined One would not be the One-Absolute (Absolute One) because the Absolute is prior to the definite19

this Absolute is none of the things of which it is the source – its nature is that nothing can be affirmed of it – not existence, not essence, not life – since it is That which transcends all these.20

10.9.3 Spirit

Hegel’s discussion of Spirit or consciousness is thoroughly Neoplatonic – it is One21 which through the process of producing itself, of self-differentiation and the positing of distinctions makes itself its own object, thereby gaining knowledge of itself. It is the process of the divine’s coming to self-consciousness in mankind. As with ‘God’ and ‘Absolute,’ it is

an eternal process (my italics) of self-cognition in self-consciousness, streaming out to the finite focus of finite consciousness, and then returning to what spirit actually is, a return in which divine self-consciousness breaks forth. The community is a process of eternal becoming.22

Hegel wrote

Spirit is consciousness that has Reason…by passing through a series of shapes (Spirit must) attain to a knowledge of itself.23

Again, utterly Neoplatonic. The simile of the sculptor shaping and perfecting his soul24 resonates through the Enneads and Western culture – specifically, Soul is shaped in its passage through Intellectual-Principle in its return to the One.

Shaping Soul through Reason’s thinking is the activity of Intellectual-Principle – Intellectual-Principle is the sculptor

The Intellectual-Principle is in one phase the Form of the Soul, its shape; in another phase it is the giver of the shape – the sculptor, possessing inherently what is given – imparting to Soul nearly the authentic reality25

10.9.4 Concept/Notion (using Miller’s and Wallace’s translations)

Hegel wrote in his Science of Logic that it is essentially only Spirit that can comprehend the Notion as Notion because it is Spirit’s ‘pure self.’26

As Plotinus described the creative energy of his second hypostasis, ‘boiling over with life’27 in its self-differentiating, so Hegel described Notion as the vital, boundless activity of its self-differentiating. As Plotinus wrote of Intellectual-Principle’s being at rest and in motion28 – a ‘stationary wandering’29 within itself, Hegel wrote of Notion pulsating within itself but not moving, inwardly vibrating yet at rest.30 For both, what characterises this activity – ‘the very heart of things (that) makes them what they are’31 – is its vital, divine nature.

10.9.5 Absolute Idea

Absolute Idea is the culmination of Hegel’s Science of Logic. It is the identity of the theoretical and practical Idea, God as divine thought thinking itself, embodied in the ‘mind’ of the philosopher – the union of subject and object.

This same union of subject and object occurs at the conclusion of the Enneads. Findlay wrote that ‘the Absolute Idea is defined by Hegel as the eternal vision of itself in the Other.’32 Plotinus wrote

In this seeing, we neither hold an object nor trace distinction; there is no two. The man is changed, no longer himself nor self-belonging; he is merged with the Supreme, sunken into it, one with it33

Magee writes that Absolute Idea ‘is understood to “contain” all the preceding categories, as, in effect, (Absolute’s) definition.’34 Such a claim, even though it is putting Hegel’s view, should not go without criticism. It is the attempt to impose a complete definition on a process which is without end in which such a definition has no part. The same provisional and inadequate definition of the Absolute by the categories in their dialectical development should apply no less to ‘Absolute Idea.’

The Neoplatonists, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, summoned forth a magnificent power – they gave expression to how the world (for them, in consciousness) works. Hegel took this to the highest point of development within Neoplatonism and Marx, having stood this philosophy ‘on its feet,’ applied it in its correct material orientation. But these greatest dialecticians all made the same error in seeking to impose the products of their own consciousness, their own volition on infinitely greater processes prior to it – from the soaring conclusion of the Enneads to that of the Science of Logic, from the Prussian state to communism.



1. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 39
2. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.3.5
3. Quoted by Thomas Taylor in his Introduction to Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit.
4. Quoted by E.R.Dodds in his Introduction to Proclus, The Elements of Theology op. cit., xxxiii
5. Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, op. cit., 140
6. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 185-186
7. Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’), op. cit., I,76,40
8. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., Preface, 9
9. Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Part I: Hegel,
10. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op. cit., 98
11. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 351
12. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 118
13. Ibid., vol. III, 78
14. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 530
15. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 160
16. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., Preface, 10
17. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 75
18. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 23
19. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., V.3.12
20. Ibid., III.8.10
21. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction: Reason in History, op. cit., 52
22. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 233
23. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 265
24. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., I.6.9
25. Ibid., V.9.3
26. Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, op. cit., 618
27. Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H.Armstrong, op. cit., vol. VI, VI.5.12
28. ‘(Intellect) is both at rest and in motion; for it moves around Him (the Good). So, then, the universe, too, both moves in its circle and is at rest.’ Ibid., vol. II, II.2.3
29. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.7.13. Plotinus also wrote of the ‘static activity’ of Intellect. Armstrong op. cit., vol. II, II.9.1
30. Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, op. cit., 100
31. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, op. cit., 232
32. Findlay in Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, op. cit., Foreword, xi
33. Plotinus, The Enneads (Abridged), op. cit., VI.9.10
34. Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 99

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Comment by Anon

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars

Hi Mr. Stanfield,

When I was still a young boy who was convinced by the explanatory power of Science, I had thought that we only need Reason to understand the world.

Now looking back as a 23 years old graduate student, I cringe at the naivete of myself back then.

Had it not been for my own Communist-leaning tendency, I wouldn’t have discovered Dialectical Materialism and would have been a dogmatist who only believes in cold Reason and Scientific Method alone.

Those who have renounced God but believe in Reason alone are nothing but priests in disguise.

Those who have upheld the Scientific dogma of dissecting the Whole and eternal unchanging of Scientific Laws will never embark on the correct way of Truth, because the Truth lies within the Whole, which is forever flowing.

The true Atheism is not a mere discarding of God, because something will just appear in place of his/her void, but the recognition that God is Nature in its totality, in its contradiction, in its never ending process of changing, developing and evolving.

Of course I don’t deny the importance of Science, but blind faith in just Science is not so different from the Religion which scientists mocked.

I must confess that when I grasped the method of Dialectics the first time, it had struck me like a divine revelation.

All the dogmas, which I had believed in, shattered like a castle of sand.

The correct way to understand the world is not standing far away from it, trying to become an objective watcher without emotion, but to immerse oneself in the world, to put yourself in the perspective of others, or as great mystics usually said, to become one with the Divine.

And Goethe had also said through the words of the devil: “All theory is grey, my friend. But forever green is the tree of life.”

I often despair over the inability of scientists to grasp the method of Dialectics. Even people who called themselves “Marxists” didn’t understand Dialectics too.

Some are just repeating the word of Marx, Engels, Lenin… but when it comes into modern science, they readily accept anything coming from the scientists, not knowing that the bad philosophy of those scientists is a direct attack on Dialectical method.

But your blog has always reminded me that people like me are not alone, and one day, mankind will come to understand the method of their ancient ancestors, on a higher level.

Thank you for all your posts.


Hi Anon,

thank you very much for your thoughtful and generous comment which I will make a post.

I do not doubt that just as dialectical materialism was the development of mechanical materialism, enabled by the incorporation of the consummate Neoplatonist Hegel’s philosophy, stood ‘the right way up,’ so developments on dialectical materialism are the way forward epistemologically (materialism, like the world it reflects, could never be a finished project).

These developments require above all, honesty

• the honesty to acknowledge (as Marx did) that his epistemology was profoundly indebted to mysticism, via Hegel

• the honesty to acknowledge that Hegel was obviously a mystic and a Neoplatonist and

• the honesty to pursue where these acknowledgements lead

A careful review of this entire current is necessary, from Plotinus to Marx and beyond because as well as drawing on Neoplatonism’s mighty potential, Marx incorporated important flaws and limitations of Neoplatonism in his own theory.

This was inevitable, because the orientations of Plotinus and Marx were diametrically opposed – Plotinus to the ‘world’ within, Marx to the world without.

Furthermore, as developments in science benefited Marx and Engels and were a stimulus to them, so the increasingly rapid growth in this knowledge now as it pushes ever more urgently against the constraints of bourgeois ideology should provide both benefit and stimulus to those eager to build on what they achieved.

My very best wishes to you,