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, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1886/ludwig-feuerbach/ch01.htm
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,




Hegel on the role of academic philosophers – priests at ‘a continual divine service’

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

“This conceptual cognition of religion is by its nature not universal, but is rather only the cognition of a community. For that reason three stages take shape in regard to the kingdom of the Spirit: the first estate is that of immediate, naive religion and of faith; the second is that of the understanding, the estate of the so-called cultured, of reflection and the Enlightenment; and finally the third estate is ‘the community of philosophy.’”

In a note the Editor commented: “The ‘community’ (Gemeinde) – the community of faith, of the Spirit, the Christian community – seems now to have passed over into the philosophical community, and along with it its cognitive (i.e., its theological) activity.”

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion vol. III, The Consummate Religion, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 247



Contra sacerdotes latentes: Phillip Adams vs. ‘god’

Gilded mummy portrait of a woman, probably from er-Rubayat, Egypt, Roman Period, about AD 160-170. This image is often used to depict Hypatia of Alexandria because it dates from about the same time, comes from the same region and is beautiful - she was supposed to have been beautiful. A more life-like reproduction of this image is in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, Thames and Hudson, 1995. The original is in the British Museum, London.

Gilded mummy portrait of a woman, probably from er-Rubayat, Egypt, Roman Period, about AD 160-170. This image is often used to depict Hypatia of Alexandria because it dates from about the same time she lived (c. AD 350-415), comes from the same region and is beautiful – she is supposed to have been beautiful. A more life-like reproduction of this image is in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, Thames and Hudson, 1995. The original is in the British Museum, London.

Originally posted 30.03.14

Email sent to Phillip Adams 06.09.09

To Phillip Adams, host of Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, copied to John McDonald

Hi Phillip,

Would you be interested in delivering a very serious blow against ‘god’, against time-serving academics in a dozy, servile culture and in so doing, delivering an immense blow for intellect, the love of knowledge and the freeing-up of the potential of the most advanced organisation of matter yet known to us in the universe – what we all have between our ears?

If so, I strongly urge you to consider contacting and interviewing on Late Night Live William Franke from Vanderbilt University regarding the 2 vol. anthology he edited – ‘On What Cannot be Said’.

Despite one student posting on RateMyProfessors.com ‘Dr. Franke is the most boring professor I have ever had. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I sit in the back of Benson 200 and wait for death. Also, he answers every question with “Yes, that’s a question, isn’t it?”‘ and despite his intent in his editorship being far more limited than the result he achieved, he has compiled a body of texts from Western religion, philosophy and arts that, together, have the potential to contribute most significantly to the above.

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

In his anthology Franke presents the history of mysticism in Western culture till now, the evidence that clearly indicates the degree to which it suffuses our culture and underlies and informs the work of many of our culture’s most significant figures and particularly, he addresses how it functions now, despite the denials of those who would be thought of as representatives of ‘reason’ and the new – when in fact they argue for mysticism and the ancient. Franke himself believes his anthology comfortably extends the academic corpus – he does not see the former’s liberating potential.

The teaching of mysticism is rejected from Australian universities – ‘If you want that’ those in ivory towers behind cloistered walls believe, ‘do not even stop at religious studies, go straight to a college of theology – you will find one at the dead end of the street.’

Michael Lonsdale as Theon and Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

Michael Lonsdale as Theon and Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in Agora (2009)

As a materialist (those who describe themselves as ‘physicalist’ or ‘realist’ cause me to think of a mouse trembling before a trap, the cheese on which is ‘materialist’, the trap being ‘communism’…) I argue that the failure to even know about and understand this theological current let alone to teach it (not to advocate it but to teach the analysis of it, the understanding of it) as fundamental to our culture, which analysis and understanding is again fundamental to moving forward in the most rounded way, is the most massive failure, the most massive display of determined ignorance, dishonesty and servility to the dominant ideology by generations of academics – those in philosophy and the arts hold the greatest responsibility.

In relation to ‘god’, the most sound way for knowledge to progress is not to deny the concept, to dismiss it, to mock it. Doing this rejects engagement with it and does not show respect either for the religious who believe in that concept (for the a-theists who reject it – because they describe themselves against it) or for the cultural achievements made in its name. It is to do as Franke has done. He not only traced the history of mysticism in the West, but thereby showed how the arguments in its maintenance developed. He let ‘what cannot be said’ speak for itself. To fully understand the work of so many, particularly those in philosophy and the arts who dissemble about their sources and influences, would be impossible without such work.

Of the greatest importance, in his two volumes, Franke has unerringly and unintentionally flushed out a concealed priesthood, a priesthood that argues it is doing nothing other than the most principled and often most abstract reasoning – a priesthood that often denies its belief. With this priesthood, Franke has flushed a living ‘god’ into the open. And behind this ‘god’ there stands a dominant class and the most fundamental question of all – which precedes which – consciousness/thought or ‘matter’ (that which exists independently of consciousness/thought)?

I have tried for 25 years to get academic support towards my analysis and exposure of the impact of this mystical current on the visual arts – and to date have met, in the end result, with the most adamantine commitment to the dominant bourgeois ideology re- this crucial subject from academics in the visual arts and philosophy.

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria and Oscar Isaac as Orestes in Agora (2009)

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria and Oscar Isaac as Orestes in Agora (2009)

I know of no university in this country where one of the greatest philosophers and aestheticians in the West (in terms of an impact comparable with that of Plato and Aristotle) – Plotinus – is taught. It is an outrage against intellect, an utter failure in social responsibility by time-serving academics in their guardianship of a distorted and limiting understanding of ‘reason’. To expose and exemplify the extent to which mysticism pervades what they believe to be the products of the best ‘reason’ and what it has inspired in philosophy and the arts must challenge their understanding of ‘reason’ itself – an understanding increasingly at odds with the exponential growth of knowledge in brain science.

A couple of weeks ago you interviewed Jane Montgomery Griffiths re- the Neoplatonist Hypatia. For the sake of doing something truly new for philosophy and the arts in this country – and that to begin with, I urge you to expand that focus immensely, beyond Hypatia, to address the current of which she was a part, and interview Franke on your program.


Philip Stanfield




Images: top/2nd, 3rd and 4th/bottom

The motley play of the world and its dialectical relativity

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

‘In this motley play of the world, if we may so call the sum of existents, there is nowhere a firm footing to be found: everything bears an aspect of relativity, conditioned by and conditioning something else.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 180



A video for non-linguistic thought


Hodgson on behalf of Hegel, the concealed priesthood in Western philosophy and the supremacist lie of Western ‘reason’ 

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London

‘Our age is like that of the Roman Empire in its abandonment of the question of truth, its smug conviction that no cognitive knowledge of God can be had, its reduction of everything to merely historical questions, its privatism, subjectivism, and moralism, and the failure of its teachers and clergy to lead the people. It is indeed an apocalyptic time, but the world must be left largely to its own devices in solving its problems. Philosophy can resolve this discord only in a manner appropriate to itself, by zealously guarding the truth, but it must recognise that its resolution is only partial. The community of Spirit as such is not passing away, but it does seem to be passing over from the ecclesiastical priesthood to the philosophical; if so, the truth of religion will live on in the philosophical community, in which it must now seek refuge.’

From the Editorial Introduction by Peter C.Hodgson in G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. III, The Consummate Religion, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans. R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson and J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, 23



Engels on materialism: part 5 – mechanical materialism

Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751). French materialist, published L’homme Machine (Man-Machine) in 1748. Gravure de Achille Ouvré (1872-1951) d'après G.-F. Schmidt.

Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751). French materialist, published L’homme Machine (Man-Machine) in 1748. Gravure de Achille Ouvré (1872-1951) d’après G.-F. Schmidt.

…just as idealism underwent a series of stages of development, so also did materialism. With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, it has to change its form; and after history was also subjected to materialistic treatment, a new avenue of development has opened here, too.

The materialism of the last century was predominantly mechanical, because at that time, of all natural sciences, only mechanics, and indeed only the mechanics of solid bodies — celestial and terrestrial — in short, the mechanics of gravity, had come to any definite close. Chemistry at that time existed only in its infantile, phlogistic form1. Biology still lay in swaddling clothes; vegetable and animal organisms had been only roughly examined and were explained by purely mechanical causes. What the animal was to Descartes, man was to the materialists of the 18th century — a machine. This exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processes of a chemical and organic nature — in which processes the laws of mechanics are, indeed, also valid, but are pushed into the backgrounds by other, higher laws — constitutes the first specific but at that time inevitable limitations of classical French materialism.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886



1. Phlogistic theory: The theory prevailing in chemistry during the 17th and 18th centuries that combustion takes place due to the presence in certain bodies of a special substance named phlogiston.

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive


Engels on materialism: part 4 – the bourgeois prejudice against materialism

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The course of evolution of Feuerbach is that of a Hegelian — a never quite orthodox Hegelian, it is true — into a materialist; an evolution which at a definite stage necessitates a complete rupture with the idealist system of his predecessor. With irresistible force, Feuerbach is finally driven to the realisation that the Hegelian premundane existence of the “absolute idea”, the “pre-existence of the logical categories” before the world existed, is nothing more than the fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extra-mundane creator; that the material, sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are the product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter. This is, of course, pure materialism. But, having got so far, Feuerbach stops short. He cannot overcome the customary philosophical prejudice, prejudice not against the thing but against the name materialism. He says:

‘To me materialism is the foundation of the edifice of human essence and knowledge; but to me it is not what it is to the physiologist, to the natural scientists in the narrower sense, for example, to Moleschott, and necessarily is from their standpoint and profession, namely, the edifice itself. Backwards I fully agree with the materialists; but not forwards.’

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886


Full text at Marxists Internet Archive


Engels on materialism: part 2 – the ideological function of Hume and Kant

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

…there is yet a set of different philosophers — those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint. The materialistic additions made by Feuerbach are more ingenious than profound. The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice — namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such “things-in-themselves” until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the “thing-in-itself” became a thing for us — as, for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar. For 300 years, the Copernican solar system was a hypothesis with 100, 1,000, 10,000 to 1 chances in its favour, but still always a hypothesis. But then Leverrier, by means of the data provided by this system, not only deduced the necessity of the existence of an unknown planet, but also calculated the position in the heavens which this planet must necessarily occupy, and when [Johann] Galle really found this planet [Neptune, discovered 1846, at Berlin Observatory], the Copernican system was proved. If, nevertheless, the neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect the Kantian conception in Germany, and the agnostics that of Hume in England (where in fact it never became extinct), this is, in view of their theoretical and practical refutation accomplished long ago, scientifically a regression and practically merely a shamefaced way of surreptitiously accepting materialism, while denying it before the world.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886


Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Images: Hume/Kant