I have started reading a book by Philip Stanfield, Hegel the Consummate Neoplatonist where he claims (page 1):

From a materialist perspective (‘matter’ or objective reality is primary to consciousness) I will argue that Hegel’s philosophy is most obviously Neoplatonic, that it is the consummation of a philosophical current begun by Plotinus and that Hegel’s philosophy can neither be understood nor accorded the full appreciation it deserves without understanding that current.

I don't know anything about Hegel and little about Neoplatonism, but I find Plotinus very interesting which is why Stanfield's book interests me.

A partial answer might be given by Robert Jackson to a question linking Plato and Hegel, but the connection seems weak: https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/54023/29944

In order to get a bearing, I wonder what an overview would be to the question: How much connection is there between Hegel and Neoplatonism?


Stanfield, P, Hegel the consummate neoplatonist https://philipstanfielddotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/hegel-the-consummate-neoplatonist-a2.pdf

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Comments should only be used to suggest improvements to the question. – Philip Klöcking Sep 14 '18 at 19:06

The claim that Hegel stands in any line at the start of which is Plotinus looks highly suspect to me.

I make just two points. In the first place, Hegel's Absolute or God, or One if one chooses that terminology, has an inescapably historical dimension. The Absolute develops through time, seeking ever more adequate modes of expression and embodiment, ever more adequate concepts and modes of knowledge through which it can be understood in and by the expanding self-consciousness of human beings - which is also its own self-consciousness. Whatever one makes of this, nothing like it could be remotely true of the One of Plotinus. Plotinus' One has no such historical dimension. It is, and eternally is what it is. It cannot undergo the historical development by which Hegel's Absolute unfolds in time. The perspective is quite different.

Secondly, in the Absolute Hegel had to reconcile infinity and personality. The Absolute is not a person but it is present in and known to persons; and these persons, with their capacity for self-consciousness, are manifestations of the Absolute - and necessary, not merely contingent, manifestations.

Plotinus's view of the relation of persons, or souls (psuches), to the One is quite different. The One is that perfect excellence with which the soul, in some way alienated, must reintegrate itself. It must return to the One and do so by its own efforts. Rist refers to :

Plotinus' confidence, based on personal mystical experience, that a return to the sources of the soul, to Nous and to One, is possible for every soul. For such a return to excellence is possible in Plotinus, as in Plato, by the soul's own efforts. The soul needs no further help from the One, or from Gods or saviours (III, 2, 8-9) to enable it to return, for it has been generated from eternity with the necessary powers within itself. Yet although Plato, like Plotinus, thinks that man can be "saved" by his own efforts, he fails to make clear on what psychological theory such a doctrine is based. In Plotinus, however, the psychological theory is made explicit: it is the theory of the undescended part of the soul. (John M. Rist, 'Integration and the Undescended Soul in Plotinus', The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 88, No. 4 (Oct., 1967), pp. 410-422 : 417.)

Hegel can accommodate no such view. Persons are not 'declensions' from the Absolute to which by some means they must return. Rather, they are products or manifestations of the historically developing Absolute. The rough picture is that the Absolute must in the temporal process express itself in persons, in self-conscious minds. They are a phase of its development; this is radically different from Plotinus' idea of the One as an already existing perfection from which human souls, psuches, persons, have managed to alienate themselves and with which they must reintegrate.

  • It may be helpful to note the Spinozian influence to Hegel via Jacobi that may indeed serve as a link in a possible line between Plotinus and Hegel. Hence, in some sense, there is "a line to be drawn" from one to the other - and Hegel had read both authors. On the other hand, while Spinoza indeed is in many respects closer to Plotinus, the ideas of aspect-but-independent regarding the relation person-absolute and historical development indeed seem to constitute a fundamental break, as they contradict fundamental principles that were similar in his predecessors. – Philip Klöcking Sep 13 '18 at 20:13
  • As a second remark: IIRC, there are some Hegelians ("right(-wing)", conservative) - built especially upon his Philosophy of Right - claim that the Absolute is and has always been the same and that only our conceptualisation has been gradually developing to be accurate, while others ("left(-wing)", progressive) tend to read him as if the Owl of the Minerva will never really fly and is only a fancy metaphor for the common "Afterwit is everybody's wit." or - probably more appropriate - that wisdom is built on knowledge of that what has been and the new cannot be without foundation in the past. – Philip Klöcking Sep 13 '18 at 20:23
  • Stanfield claimed his view was not the standard one whatever that might be. It looks like there is divergence between Plotinus and Hegel based on their different views of the One and the Absolute from what you are saying. – Frank Hubeny Sep 13 '18 at 22:47
  • @FrankHubeneny this trurned out to be a book review and the book looks interesting. Brady Bowden, "Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity" Cambridge Univ. Press (2013). ndpr.nd.edu/news/… – Gordon Sep 14 '18 at 2:30
  • (I should say instead: interesting but also sick that we need all this "apparatus" and "justification" to get back to Hegel. ). – Gordon Sep 14 '18 at 5:16

Plato sets the question of the Good going. In Aristotle it is read as a plenum. By example: All normal (this concept was not a problem for Aristotle as it is toady) human beings have some mathematical sense. Some develop it, improve it, bring it to fullness. They become master geometricians. Winning the fullness of being with respect to geometry.

Plotinus interprets all matter as evil, or as sheer lack, and the "silence and abyss" of nous as the Good. Ergo, the more one can move beyond the "temple images" in the inmost penetralium, even in the very idea of the "Good," which is now thought as a work of the demi-urge, and a trick of the intelligence, one reaches what is genuinely good. The parallel is: all human beings can resist material life, some develop this tendency, some to perfection. In Hegel, the path that is followed regards (moral) freedom as "the spirit of lightness," and reality opposes it as the spirit of gravity.

Gravity: wicked matter. Freedom: unbearable lightness. In Plotinus, the silence of the abyss is itself the goal, it is the "place beyond the stars." In Hegel there is a return to the material with the gain. A perfection of the evil lack inherent in stupid matter. One might read the interpretation of Plato's Cave in Heidegger in this connection, the going up and coming back down.

Note: What is written in the "Geoffrey Thomas" answer is also correct, but I wanted to bring Hegel closer to Plotinus.

  • 1
    The spirit of lightness vs. spirit of gravity picture seems to be a blend of Kundera's and Deleuze's notions that do refer to certain aspects in Hegel, mixed with Deleuze's interpretation of Nietzsche vs. Hegel (which should, if accurate, - and I guess it is - be noted). It may be an original blend, but the question is about Hegel himself and his actual mindset and not the already quite loose interpretations of some modern authors, so a bit of justification regarding appropriateness of the picture with reference to his own texts may be in order. – Philip Klöcking Sep 13 '18 at 19:55
  • I often confuse gnosticism with neoplatonism and Plotinus especially with regard to matter. – Frank Hubeny Sep 13 '18 at 22:50
  • We can't give a full course on Hegel in a short answer, nor can one simply "keep to Hegel." If one likes to be strict one can say "Geist," rather than "lightness." ‘As the essence of Matter is Gravity, so, on the other hand, we may affirm that the substance, the essence of Spirit is Freedom.’ This has a connection to Nietzsche, of which, I suppose the novelist knew, since Nietzsche talks often of "heaviness" in this connection. Geist is the most spiritual Geistigste form of the Will to Power. This aids our understanding of Hegel. – user26700 Sep 14 '18 at 2:17
  • "I often confuse gnosticism with neoplatonism and Plotinus especially with regard to matter. –" So far as I understand it both tags subsume Plotinus in their own way. The more tendentious, more subtle, but I have slipped it in here, but correspondingly more enlightening juxtaposition, is with Mani and his teaching, the two were contemporaries. Of course, in Mani there can be no ultimate victory of peace or violence, gentle intelligence or rough stupidity. Gnosticism, I believe, is a Christian co-opting, as it were, more than the academic tag Neo-Platonism. – user26700 Sep 14 '18 at 2:24

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