Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist 12c

12.3.2 The reconciliation of faith and ‘reason’

Neoplatonism, ‘the greatest flowering of philosophy’, emerged from the soil of decay and decline, the environment most conducive to it. Plotinus taught and wrote at the time of the decline of the Roman Empire, Proclus at the time of the decline of paganism and the rise of Christianity, Cusanus at the time of the passing of the Middle Ages and scholasticism and Hegel and the German idealists at the time of the decline of absolutism, the rise of science and of the bourgeoisie to domination. Hegel’s owl of Minerva only takes flight at the end of a period.

The philosophy that was most sensitive to contradiction and its resultant change, that, in reflecting ‘reality’, has contradiction as its engine and that, once ‘righted’ by Marx, enabled materialism to be developed by him and Engels far beyond the mechanical, was itself theorised in reaction – not simply to decay and decline – but, more fundamentally, to what decay and decline are the appearance of – the one absolute, change.

Negation, generated from the greatest activity in the One is the driver of Plotinus’ system, but this derivative from the merging of the philosophy of Heraclitus with Platonic dialectic and Aristotelian theology is inseparable from the greatest stillness, sourced in the stasis of Platonism. This greatest contradiction – the more the activity, the more the stillness (well illustrated by Cusanus in De possest with a spinning top) – is the beginning and end of a profound philosophy in which the attainment of ‘stillness’ is meant to overcome ‘the horror of the contingent’.1

Proclus, with his commitment to Neoplatonism

set up his elaborate Platonic Theology in an attempt to rationally justify a pagan religious tradition whose existence was threatened by the upcoming Christian civilisation2

Hegel, too, was particularly opposed to Christianity in its Deist, Enlightenment form, with its ‘fossilised and untrue religion of a segregated, hypocritical and power-hungry priesthood’3 who held that God (truth) cannot be cognised, thus obstructing, as Hegel believed he achieved in his philosophy, the reconciliation of religion and reason

the Enlightenment and its Deism gives out that God is unknowable and so lays on man the supreme renunciation, the renunciation of knowing nothing of God, of not comprehending him.4

Hegel thought of Deism and the Enlightenment as working together, against philosophy

The Enlightenment – that vanity of understanding – is the most vehement opponent of philosophy.5

He held this view in a broader context – that of what he thought was the fragmentation the of modern bourgeois world and particularly, the decline of community.

As Neoplatonists,6 Proclus and Hegel wanted to ‘reintegrate’ people and they thought that, since both philosophy and religion were necessary to this purpose and to the development of community,7 the merging of their metaphysics with theology and divine power was the means to go about it.8 Faith (pistis), for both, mediates between us and the One.9

In his early writing Hegel pursued the ideal of a non-transcendent folk religion that gave philosophical knowledge based on the experience of an immanent ‘absolute’ which is subject to negation – a religion in which God was to be apprehended as spirit in its cohesive, political community.

The religion he theorised would be

a vital, integrative, ethically transformative force in not only the personal life of individuals but also the cultural, social, and political life of a people (Volk)10

but although an idealised reading of Greek public or folk religion (Volksreligion) was his model,11 he believed that its ethos could not be revived in the modern world. Rather, he would find what was needed by

releasing the transformative power of Christianity from its dogmatic and rationalist encrustations.12

With this done, the entire community – now a church founded on divine-human unity and reconciliation – which generates the principles of political and civil life from itself13 would be the universal divine human being in whose knowledge of him God achieved self-consciousness and self-knowledge – hence completion.14 Hegel’s kingdom of God was on earth.



1. ‘This horror of the contingent, as it might be called, is at the root a metaphysico-religious sentiment.’ Charles O. Nussbaum, The Musical Representation, Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, 259. Writing of the idealists ‘horror of the contingent’, Nussbaum discussed ‘the seldom-noted fascination of (the) arch rationalist (Kant) with a brand of Neoplatonic mysticism.’ He wrote ‘Toward the end of the Dreams of a Spirit Seer, Kant concludes, with characteristic resignation, that “human reason was not given strong enough wings to part clouds so high above us, clouds which withhold from our eyes the secrets of the other world”.’ Ibid., 297. The Google book review states: ‘Most Kant scholars regard the work as a skeptical attack on Swedenborg’s mysticism. Other critics, however, believe that Kant regarded Swedenborg as a serious philosopher and visionary, and that Dreams both reveals Kant’s profound debt to Swedenborg and conceals that debt behind the mask of irony.’

2. Helmig and Steel, ‘Proclus’, op. cit.
3. Küng, The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel’s Theological Thought, op. cit., 67
4. Hegel, Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Art, vol. I, op. cit., 508. Hodgson stated the difference between the philosophy of Vernunft and the religion of Verstand most simply of all: ‘Speculative philosophy finds itself opposed by both the church and the Enlightenment’, in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 35. Speculative philosophy is comprised of “what the Enlightenment has called ‘mystical teachings’…Philosophy vindicates the more profound teachings, these religious mysteries, namely, the speculative doctrines, the doctrines of reason. Enlightenment reconciliation, which puts everything on the same level, proves satisfactory neither to the depths of religiosity nor to the depths of thinking reason.” Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 279 
5. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 246-247
6. See 2. ‘The criticism by Hegel and Plotinus of their societies’
7. One of the most important uses of Christianity to Hegel was that it gave him the specifically religious element. ‘The Neoplatonists believed that philosophy is necessary to the development of community which in turn is the vehicle to virtue’, Dominic O’Meara on Neoplatonism, http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/ Episode 96; ‘Proclus thought that religious teachings are necessary for us – our souls are permanently connected to the divine.’, Ibid., Peter Adamson, ’Proclus’, Episode 94
8. The passage of philosophy into religion and vice versa was a marker of late antique Eastern Neoplatonism.
9. ‘modern philosophy includes a different, immediate element that is not carried out by thinking, namely, a beholding in revelation, a faith, a longing for another world. Behind appearance stands something that is true although not known.’ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6, op. cit., vol. I, 236. Hegel, as I stated and quoted previously, repeatedly referred to God as ‘the One’: ’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.’, Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 78
10. Hodgson, Ed., in G.W.F.Hegel, Theologian of the Spirit, op. cit., 39
11. ‘A characteristic of the Greeks was their Heimatlichkeit – their collective feeling of being at home in the world as they were each at home in their bodies. Modern subjectivity is thereby purchased as the expense of a sense of abstraction and alienation from the actual world and from the self…In the writings he had produced in the 1790s Hegel had shown a clear attraction to the type of folk art-religions of ancient Greece in contrast to Christianity, whose other-worldly doctrines did not reflect the kind of Heimatlichkeit he valued in the ancient world…Philosophy proper only thrives under conditions of at-homeness in the world’, Redding, ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’, op. cit.
12. Ibid.
13. ‘it is within a social whole – in my relation to others – that I am led to rise above a narrow concern with the satisfaction of my personal impulses and desires and to become aware of higher duties and obligations.’ Magee, The Hegel Dictionary, op. cit., 182
14. I have argued previously (11.3.7, that Christ’s incarnation for the purpose of God’s achieving self-consciousness, self-knowledge and completion is not Christian but Neoplatonic metaphor and symbolism. Hodgson stated the difference between the philosophy of Vernunft and the religion of Verstand most simply of all: ‘Speculative philosophy finds itself opposed by both the church and the Enlightenment’, in Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, op. cit., vol. III, 35

Contents of Hegel the consummate Neoplatonist posts

Jürgen Habermas: ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ – ‘the Kingdom of God on Earth’

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

Habermas and Ratzinger, 19.01.04

I will first summarise what I think are the most salient points made by Habermas in his chapter ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ and I will then respond to what I think are the main issues raised.

The chapter is a study in the relation between reason (knowledge) and faith. It begins with a funeral service for an agnostic held in a church, indicating that ‘modernity’ could not offer a replacement for a religious ritual in order to mark a person’s death.

Habermas argues that the secular and the religious should engage in communicative dialogue. They share a common source in the Axial Age and while the secular must not presume to speak on religious truth the religious must accept the domination of the secular state and the ‘factual knowledge’ of science.

  • modern science compelled philosophical reason to break with metaphysics and little more was left to philosophy
  • modern reason can only come to understand itself when it addresses religious consciousness
  • Habermas rejected the Enlightenment’s unenlightened view of denying religion rational content and Hegel’s position regarding religion’s subordination to philosophy
  • Habermas states that his motive ‘for addressing the issue of faith and knowledge is to mobilise modern reason against the defeatism lurking within it.’ He is referring to postmodernism’s relativism and to scientism.
  • where ‘practical reason can justify law and morality, it falls short in motivating collective action in response to threats. Kant aimed to counter this with God as postulate. Habermas asks if an engagement with religion might resolve this dilemma for ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. Such an engagement would bear on current religious conflicts around the world ‘triggered…by (an) unexpected spiritual renewal’ and the politicisation of religion. The main religious winners are the Catholics, Evangelicals and Muslims. The Protestants in Germany and Britain, due to their national organisations, not so. The primary issue since the destruction of the World Trade Centre has been the instrumentalisation of Islam.
  • the neutrality of the state towards worldviews has set off conflicts which are either power struggles between state authority and religious movements or conflicts between those with secular or religious convictions. The liberal state cannot continue with this position – it requires convictions. And to acquire legitimation, it requires reasons to justify its neutrality which can be accepted by both the religious and the secular. On the basis of this the religious must accept the neutrality of the state in relation to worldviews, broad religious freedom and the independence of scientific research and its monopoly in producing factual knowledge. The secular state must at the same time protect freedom of belief for all. Habermas asks if the state might require the religious to justify themselves non-religiously with regard to politics or should a worldview-neutral language only be expected of politicians?
  • the liberal state must expect its secular citizens not to treat religious ideas as irrational. This engenders the question of how ‘modern’ reason and religion should relate with the other.
  • Habermas concludes with a brief genealogy of the rise of secular reason, arguing its development through a ‘shared reason’ of people of faith, unbelievers, and members of different religions.’


> Habermas refers to several ‘reasons’: ‘secular reason’, ‘“natural” reason, ‘philosophical reason’, ‘modern reason’, ‘practical reason’, ‘religious reason’, ‘shared reason’, ‘secular knowledge’ and ‘revealed knowledge’ – not to mention ‘postmetaphysical thinking’. There is one reason – and that very poorly understood, particularly in philosophy where Lloyd’s Man of Reason with his dualist exclusions is dominant. And this reason is that of Habermas – linguistic, propositional, undialectical, ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

> Habermas writes that ‘modern science compelled…philosophical reason…to break with metaphysical constructions of the totality of nature and history.’ But metaphysics is not the point – it is a straw man for the question which underlies all others – ‘Which takes precedence and which the derivative – consciousness and language or ‘matter’ – the philosophical concept for objective reality?’ What modern science compelled was that God come from heaven to earth and go within. I refer to the rise of mysticism in the West, its primary manifestation Neoplatonism. And this mysticism, this ‘secret accomplice’ via Böhme, Habermas acknowledged was of great significance to him – in fact his theory of communicative reason, his magnum opus, is built on it.

> Habermas writes of the blinkered, unenlightened enlightenment, which denies religion any rational content. He takes his place on a continuum from Hegel through Nietzsche and Weber, critical of the enlightenment from a spiritual perspective, particularly from that of unity. Habermas wrote ‘the decision to engage in action based on solidarity when faced with threats (such as the tensions and fracturings of ‘modernity’) which can be averted only by collective efforts calls for more than insight into good reasons. Kant wanted to make good this weakness of rational morality through the assurances of his philosophy of religion.’ Hegel’s answer was that philosophers find sanctuary as an isolated order of priests and that the Holy Spirit come to a speculative Lutheran cultus; that man of god, Nietzsche’s, his mystical Übermensch; Weber’s his no less mystical hero of Beruf and Habermas’s a linguistified God, detranscendentalised in the mutual recognition of communicative subjects – for all, truly a ‘Kingdom of God on earth’.

> ‘Could an altered perspective on the genealogy of reason rescue postmetaphysical thinking from this dilemma?’ Certainly, but not in the direction Habermas advocates. The grounding would need to be material (which would immediately remove religion from claims to reason) not an abstract normative.

> Habermas writes of ‘conflicts which are currently being triggered around the world by the unexpected spiritual renewal and by the unsettling political role of religious communities.’ When the only form of organised resistance available is one’s religious structure, because the government of one’s country is so compromised and democracy crushed, undoubtedly this spiritual renewal will come as unexpected to many in the West.

> Habermas writes of ‘the neutrality of the state towards worldviews.’ I disagree. The state is the organ of the capitalist class and its fundamental purpose is to embody and represent the world-view of that class. While it is necessary for cohesion that the state give the appearance of impartiality, this is not the case in practice. Perhaps the potentially most dangerous instance of this is the delicate two-faced two-step between the state and the media with regard to China. At regular intervals a story is fed to the media on China – a recent one concerning Chinese spies on this campus. Could anyone possibly argue against there being Australian and American spies here as well? Wikileaks exposed the disgusting servility of Australian political leaders to the US on the subject of China. These stories keep the tension ‘just right’ so that if and when the state with the assistance of the media needs, at the behest of the US, to whip the majority into the acceptance of war, all is in place.

And on the point of public and religious schools, Habermas’s words do not stand up – funding by Federal and state governments for decades has increasingly been taken from the public education system and given to religious and so-called private schools. If it weren’t so serious, the rorting by religious schools that occasionally appears in the media would be amusing.

> Habermas writes that ‘the liberal state must…expect its secular citizens…not to treat religious expressions as simply irrational.’ There is everything right with calling the irrational such. What would be wrong would be to do so with intolerance, abusively and with the intention of provoking violence. Habermas writes of ‘the rational core of faith’ yet in ‘Fundamentalism and Terror’ he wrote ‘Every religious doctrine rests on a dogmatic kernel of belief’.

Habermas’s late concern with religion is that of its prodigal son.


Jürgen Habermas, ‘An Awareness of What is Missing’ in An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010