Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 3

Hegel and subjectivity

Hegel thought that the great advance in modern philosophy was the recognition of the importance of subjectivity.1 While Descartes was most important to this development, Hegel correctly traced a line from Aristotle’s Metaphysics with its ‘First Science of Theology’ and particularly its theorising the divine activity of thought thinking itself to Neoplatonism, which philosophy was then absorbed into the Christian doctrine of the Trinity,2 enabling Hegel to reinforce the process, spirituality and immanence of his Neoplatonism.3 Hegel believed that modern philosophy had resumed the primary current in philosophy which had been interrupted by the Middle Ages.

Schlitt wrote that Hegel’s philosophy of religion is a movement of divine subjectivity.4 His entire philosophy is such

The proper subject matter of religion is not the sensibility and feeling of the finite subject, which abandons any cognition of God, but the infinite self-consciousness of the absolute subject, which encompasses finite subjects within itself.5

In his Science of Logic he gave that movement poetic Neoplatonic expression

Each new stage of forthgoing, that is, of further determination, is also a withdrawal inwards, and the greater extension is equally a higher intensity. The richest is therefore the most concrete and most subjective, and that which withdraws itself into the simplest depth is the mightiest and most all-embracing.6

Not only is subjectivity the essential nature of Spirit, it reconciles itself with itself – in another, giving the Absolute. This ‘principle of the modern age,’ one’s own subjectivity, was explored in the first phenomenology, the Enneads. Hegel wrote

If I now go further (than the standpoint of ‘empirical’ understanding) and seek to view consciousness from a spiritually higher standpoint, I find that I am no longer observing. I forget myself in plunging into the object. I immerse myself in it as I seek to cognise and to conceive God. I surrender my particularity in it, and if I do this I am no longer in the relationship which, as an empirical consciousness, I wanted to maintain. …if God is no longer a beyond for me, then I no longer remain a pure observer, I become interwoven with the thing instead.7

The utter self-focus of Hegel’s Neoplatonic philosophy, expressed in mystical language, is clear

It is I who produce that beyond; the finite and the infinite are equally my product, and I stand above both of them, both disappear in me. I am lord and master of this definition: I bring it forth. They vanish in and through me – and thus the second position is established: that I am the affirmation which at first I placed outside in a beyond; the infinite first comes into being through me. I am the negation of negation, it is I in whom the antithesis disappears; I am the reflection that brings them both to naught.8



1. ‘Modern philosophy is the philosophy of subjectivity, or simply subjective idealism.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 236
2. ‘God is subjectivity, activity, infinite actuosity,’ Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, op. cit., 15
3. The kingdom of God is an ‘ascent into pure inwardness,’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 367
4. Dale M. Schlitt, Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, University of Scranton Press, London, 1990, xvi
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Editorial Introduction, 24
6. G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 840-841
7. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. I, 283-284
8. Ibid., 295

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