Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12b

12.3 The philosophies of Hegel and Proclus

In addition to my previous discussions of their Neoplatonism, of their belief that theology (for them, philosophy) is the science of the gods (Proclus) or of the Godhead (Hegel), of their obsession with triadic structures (a late antique Neoplatonic tendency), of the importance to Hegel of Proclus’ triad of triads Being/Life/Intelligence and of their perspectivism, there are numerous other points of similarity between the two that amply justify Feuerbach’s description of Hegel as ‘the German Proclus’.

12.3.1 Neoplatonists are not philosophers

Magee wrote the best first sentence I have read in philosophy

Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom – he believes he has found it. Hegel writes in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, “To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title of ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowledge – that is what I have set before me” (Miller, 3; PG 3 [sic]).1

While I certainly don’t agree that Hegel wasn’t a philosopher, Magee made a very important point which hinges on the difference between the literal translation of ‘philosophia’ – between its traditionally accepted meaning (and a highly admirable approach to life) – and, in my view, what amounted for Hegel to Neoplatonic teleology.

Chlup points out that

Eastern Neoplatonism…(attempted) not to capture all things all at once in their complexity, but rather to analyse this complexity into a network of exactly defined relations.2

As evidenced particularly in his Elements of Theology, Proclus hardened the unsystematic art, fluidity and passion of Plotinus into systematic, almost scholastic law

Proclus’ emanational model is similar to that of Plotinus, but differs in being formalised and brought to greater precision. In his thought the cycle of remaining, procession and reversion becomes a universal pattern working at all levels of reality and helping to explain all relations between (metaphysical) causes and their effects.3

In a system in which every intelligence is its own object,4 in which the true is the whole5 and the modes of ascent analogy and negation,6 Proclus’ Elements of Theology sets out a doctrine of categories and in On the Theology of Plato, as in the development in the Science of Logic from being and nothing to the culmination in Absolute Idea, the closer a concept stands to the One, the more it embodies multiplicity

In the primal levels of reality multiplicity is present secretly and without separation, while in the secondary levels it is differentiated. The closer a term stands to the One, the more it hides multiplicity within itself (PT III 9, 39.20-4)7

Proclus meticulously externalised his system, with the ultimate aim of achieving harmony between the psychic ‘reality’ inside and the metaphysical ‘reality’ outside by a progressive process of cognition

it was no longer accessible by introspection only, but was perceived as objective reality ‘out there’ to which one needs to attune oneself. The decisive task became to come to know the structure of this reality as precisely as possible. Only in this way could the soul be brought into accord with the order of the universe, linking up with the gods by means of it. Hence the characteristic passion of eastern Neoplatonism for painstaking conceptual distinctions mapping the outer zone lying between man and the One.8

The principles Limit (peras) and the Unlimited (apeiria) work together at the heart of existence

For Proclus, Limit and the Unlimited represent a sort of basic ‘interface’ between the One and the lower levels….Limit is always tied to the Unlimited (PT III 8, 31.18-32.7)…All that exists needs to depend on these two primal principles: it needs to be limited while possessing an indefinite potency.9

Hegel used the Trinity as a metaphor to illustrate his equally fundamental concern for these two principles and how they worked creatively together – most broadly, the infinite (God) required the Son to live in the world (the infinite become incarnate infinite-finite) so that, upon his death and resurrection, the infinite (God) could be ‘reconciled’ with the finite (humanity), thereby finding completion in Spirit’s cultus on earth.10



1. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, op.cit., 1
2. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 21
3. Ibid., 65
4.Every intelligence in the act of intellection knows that it knows: the cognitive intelligence is not distinct from that which is conscious of the cognitive act.
For if it is an intelligence in action and knows itself as indistinguishable from its object (prop. 167), it is aware of itself and sees itself. Further, seeing itself in the act of knowing and knowing itself in the act of seeing, it is aware of itself as an active intelligence: and being aware of this, it knows not merely what it knows but also that it knows. Thus it is simultaneously aware of the thing known, of itself as the knower, and of itself as the object of its own intellective act.’ Proclus, The Elements of Theology, op. cit., Prop. 168
5. ‘(Proclus believed that) every single level of reality is divided into sub-layers in a way that mirrors the structure of reality as a whole. Proclus sums this up in one of the most fundamental rules of late Neoplatonist metaphysics: “All things are in all things, but in each according to its proper nature.” Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 91
6. ‘In the next place, if the one is neither intelligible nor intellectual, nor in short participates of the power of being, let us survey what will be the modes of leading us to it, and through what intellectual conceptions Plato unfolds as far as he is able, to his familiars, the ineffable and unknown transcendency of the first. I say then, that at one time he unfolds it through analogy, and the similitude of secondary natures; but at another time he demonstrates its exempt transcendency, and its separation from the whole of things, through negations.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk. II, Ch. V; ‘All that is immediately produced by any principle both remains in the producing cause and proceeds from it.
…In so far, then, as it has an element of identity with the producer, the product remains in it; in so far as it differs it proceeds from it. But being like it, it is at once identical with it in some respect and different from it: accordingly it both remains and proceeds, and the two relations are inseparable.’ The Elements of Theology, op, cit., Prop. 30
7. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 91
8. Ibid., 274
9. Chlup, Proclus, An Introduction, op. cit., 77-78; ‘Hence it is not wonderful, if that which is primarily being, though it is neither bound nor infinity, subsists from both these, and is mixed, superessential natures themselves not being assumed in the mixture of it, but secondary progressions from them coalescing into the subsistence of essence. Thus therefore being consists of these, as participating of both, possessing indeed the uniform from bound, but the generative, and in short, occult multitude from infinity.’ Proclus, On the Theology of Plato, op. cit., Bk III, Ch. IX
10. ‘the truth is the unity – the implicit unity – of divine and human nature, of infinite and finite.’; ‘Because the concept of religion entails the unity of subjective consciousness and its object, namely God as absolute essence or spirit, when the concept of religion becomes objective to itself, this unity of finite and infinite consciousness comes fully to expression. For this reason, Christianity is the “consummate” or “absolute” religion.’; ‘the understanding persists in finitude. Indeed, even in the case of the infinite, it has the infinite on one side and finitude on the other. But the truth of the matter is that neither the finite nor the infinite standing over against it has any truth; rather both are merely transitional.’ Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, Hodgson, 30 and 163 and Hegel, 281

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

The ascetics Proclus and Nietzsche on eternal recurrence

Proclus 412-485 C.E.

Proclus (412-485)

‘Prop. 199. Every intra-mundane soul has in its proper life periods and cyclic reinstatements.

For if it is measured by time and has a transitive activity (prop. 191), and movement is its distinctive character (prop. 20), and all that moves and participates time, if it be perpetual, moves in periods and periodically returns in a circle and is restored to its starting-point (prop. 198), then it is evident that in every intra-mundane soul, having movement and exercising a temporal activity, will have a periodic motion, and also cyclic reinstatements (since in the case of things perpetual every period ends in a reinstatement of the original condition).’

‘Prop. 206. Every particular soul can descend into temporal process and ascend from process to Being an infinite number of times.

For if at certain times it is in the company of gods and at others falls away from its upward tension towards the divine, and if it participates both intelligence and unintelligence (prop. 202), it is plain that by turns it comes-to-be in the world of process and has true Being among the gods. For it cannot (have been for an infinite time in material bodies and thereafter pass a second infinite time among the gods, neither can it) have spent an infinite time among the gods and again be embodied for the whole time thereafter, since that which has no temporal beginning will never have an end, and what has no end cannot have had a beginning. It remains, then, that each soul has a periodic alternation of ascents out of process and descents into process, and that this movement is unceasing by reason of the infinitude of time. Therefore each particular soul can descend and ascend an infinite number of times, and this shall never cease to befall every such soul.’

Proclus, The Elements of Theology, Trans., E.R. Dodds, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, 175, 181

‘At the twilight of antiquity there were still wholly unchristian figures, which were more beautiful, harmonious, and pure than those of any Christians: e.g., Proclus. His mysticism and syncretism were things that precisely Christianity cannot reproach him with. In any case, it would be my desire to live together with such people. In comparison with them Christianity looks like some crude brutalisation, organised for the benefit of the mob and the criminal classes.

Proclus, who solemnly invokes the rising moon.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, ’We Philologists’, Trans., J.M.Kennedy, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Delphi Classics, Hastings, East Sussex, 2015, 7535



“What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.'”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Trans., Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 194-195


Images: top/below left/below right