Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy.
Greek Philosophy. Third Period. The Neo-Platonists

A. Philo.

Philo, a learned Jew of Alexandria, lived before and after the birth of Christ, in the reigns of the first Roman Emperors; that is to say, he was born B.C. 20, but lived until after Christ’s death. In him we for the first time see the application of the universal consciousness as philosophical consciousness. In the reign of Caligula, before whom very heinous charges against the Jews had been brought by Apion, he was, when advanced in years, sent to Rome as ambassador from his people, in order to give to the Romans a more favourable account of the Jews. There is a tradition that he came also in the reign of the Emperor Claudius to Rome., and there fell in with the Apostle Peter.

Philo wrote a long series of works, many of which we still possess; for instance, those on The Creation of the World, on Rewards and Punishments, the Offerers of Sacrifices, the Law of Allegories, Dreams, the Immutability of God, &c.; they were published in folio at Frankfort in 1691, and afterwards by Pfeiffer at Erlangen. Philo was famous for the great extent of his learning, and was well acquainted with Greek philosophy.

He is more especially distinguished for his Platonic philosophy, and also for the pains he took to demonstrate the presence of Philosophy in the sacred writings of the Jews. In his explanation of the history of the Jewish nation, the narratives and statements therein contained have lost for him the immediate significance of reality. He reads into them throughout a mystical and allegorical meaning, and finds Plato present in Moses; in short, the endeavour of Philo resembled that of the Alexandrians when they recognized philosophic dogmas in Greek mythology. He treats of the nature of Mind, not, indeed, as comprehended in the element of thought, but as expressed therein, and this expression is still both far from pure and is associated with all sorts of imageries. By the spirit of Philosophy the Jews were compelled to seek in their sacred books, as the heathen sought in Homer and in the popular religion, a deeper speculative meaning, and to represent their religious writings as a perfect system of divine wisdom. That is the character of the time, in consequence of which all that appealed to the finite understanding in popular conceptions has not endured. The important point, then, is that on the one hand the popular conception is here still allied with the forms of reality; but as, on the other hand, what these forms express only immediately is no longer sufficient, the desire arises to understand them in a deeper sense. Although in the external histories of the Jewish and heathen religions men had the authority and starting-point of truth, they yet grasped the thought that truth cannot be given externally. Therefore, men read deep thoughts into history, as the expression is, or they read them out of it, and this latter is the true conception. For in the case of the Divine Book, whose author is the Spirit, it cannot be said that this spirituality is absent. The point of importance comes to be, whether this spirituality lies deeper down or nearer to the surface; therefore, even if the man who wrote the book had not the thoughts, they are implicitly contained in the inward nature of the relation. There is, generally speaking, a great difference between that which is present therein and that which is expressed. In history, art, philosophy, and the like, the point of importance is that what is contained therein should also be expressed; the real work of the mind is wholly and solely that of bringing to consciousness what is contained therein. The other side of the matter is that although all that lies within a form, a religion, &c., does not come before consciousness, one can still not say that it did not enter into the human mind; it was not in consciousness, neither did it come into the form of the ordinary conception, and yet it was in mind. On the one side, the bringing of thought into definite consciousness is a bringing in from without, but on the other side, as far as matter is concerned, there is nothing brought in from without. Philo’s methods present this aspect in a pre-eminent sense. All that is has disappeared, and, therefore, in writers of the prosaic period that follows, miracles are of common occurrence, inasmuch as external connection is no longer required as a matter of necessity. The fundamental conceptions of Philo, and these alone need be taken into consideration, are then somewhat as follows: —

1. With Philo the main point is the knowledge of God. In regard to this, he says, in the first place: God eau be known only by the eye of the soul, only by Beholding orasiς). This he also calls rapture, ecstasy, God’s influence; we often find these terms. For this it is requisite that the soul should break loose from the body, and should give up its sensuous existence, thus rising to the pure object of thought, where it finds itself nearer to God. We may term this a beholding by the intelligence. But the other side is that God cannot be discerned by the eye of the soul; the soul can only know that He is, and not what He is. His essence is the primordial light. Philo here speaks in quite Oriental fashion; for light is certainly simple, in contrast with which perception has the signification of knowing something as determined, as concrete in itself. So long, therefore, as the determination of simplicity is adhered to, this First Light permits not itself to be known, and since Philo says, “This One is God as such,” we cannot know what God is. In Christianity, on the contrary, simplicity is only a moment, and only in the Whole do we find God the Spirit.

Philo continues: “The First is the space of the universe, encompassing and filling it; this existence is itself place, and is filled by itself. God is sufficient for Himself; all other things are paltry and meaningless; He fills all other things and gives them coherence, but He Himself is surrounded by nothing, because He Himself is One and All. Similarly, God exists in the primordial form of time (aiwn),” that is, in the pure Notion of time. Why is it necessary that God should fill Himself with Himself? Even the subjective and abstract has need also of an object. But the all is likewise, as with Parmenides, the abstract, because it is only substance, which remains empty beside that which fills it. Absolute fulness, on the other hand, is the concrete, and we reach this first in the logoς, in which we have that which fills, that which is filled, and a third composed of both.

2. To this Philo, now comes in the second place: “God’s image and reflection is thinking reason (logoς), the Firstborn Son, who rules and regulates the world. This logos is the innermost meaning of all Ideas; God Himself, in contrast to this, as the One, as such, is pure Being (to on) only — an expression which Plato also used. Here verily we come upon a contradiction; for the image can only represent what the thing is; if therefore the image is concrete, its original must also be understood to be concrete. For the rest., it is therefore only logical, after Philo has once limited the name of God to the First Light or to pure Being, to assert that only the Son can be known. For as this Being God is only abstract existence, or only His own Notion; and it is quite true that the soul cannot perceive what this Being is, since it is really only an empty abstraction. What can be perceived is that pure existence is only an abstraction, and consequently a nothing, and not the true God. Of God as the One it may therefore be said that the only thing perceived is that He does exist. Perception is the knowledge of the concrete self-determination of the living God. If we therefore desire to know God, we must add to Being, as the First, this other moment also; the former is defective, and as abstract as when we say, “God the Father,” that is, this undisclosed One, this indeterminate in Himself, who has not yet created anything; the other moment is, however, the determination and distinction of Himself in Himself, the begetting. What is begotten is His other, which at the same time is in Him., and belongs to Him, and is thus a moment of Himself, if God is to be thought of as concrete and living it is this that is here by Philo called logoς. In Christianity the name of God is therefore not limited to Essence, but the Son is conceived of as a determination which itself belongs to the true Essence of God. That which God is, He is therefore as Spirit only, and that is the unity of these moments.

God’s differences therefore, according to Philo, constitute the finite understanding (logoς) itself, which is then the archangel (arcaggeloς), a realm of thought which contains determinateness. That is man as heavenly man, primeval man, who is also represented under the name of Wisdom (sofia, המכח), as Adam Kadmon, as the rising of the sun-man in God. This finite understanding now separates itself into Ideas, which by Philo are also named angels or messengers (aggeloi). This mode of conception is not yet conception in pure thought, for forms of the imagination are still interwoven with it. Moreover there comes in here for the first time that which determines, where God is looked on as activity, which so far Being was not. This logoς is therefore itself, we might say, the first restful world of thought, although it is already differentiated; but another logoς is that which gives utterance (logos proforikoς) as speech. That is the activity, the creation of the world, as the former is its preservation, its permanent understanding. Speech has always been regarded as a manifestation of God, because it is not corporeal; as sound it is momentary and immediately disappears; its existence is therefore immaterial. “God created by the word of His mouth, interposing nothing;” what He created remains ideal, like speech. “If we would express the dogma in a still truer form, the Logos is the Work of God.”

This Logos is at the same time the teacher of wisdom for self-consciousness. For natural things are upheld only in their laws; but self-conscious beings know also of these laws, and this is wisdom. Thus the logoς is the high priest, who is the mediator between God and man, the Spirit of the Godhead. who teaches man — even the self-conscious return of God into Himself, into that first unity of the primordial light. That is the pure intelligible world of truth itself, which is nothing other than the Word of God.

3. In the third place, since thought has come to negativity, the sensuous existent world stands in opposition to this ideal world. Its principle with Philo, as with Plato, is matter, the negative (ouk on). As God is Being, so the essence of matter is non-being; it is not nothing, as when we say that God created. the world out of nothing, for non-being, the opposite of Being, is itself a positive, and as good as Being. It exists, in so far as there is placed within it a resemblance to implicit truth. Philo had the true perception that the opposite of Being is just as positive as Being. If this seems absurd to anyone, he need only be reminded that really when we posit Being, the negative of Being is thinking — which is something very positive. But the next step, the Notion of this opposition, and the passing of Being into non-being, is not to be found in Philo. In general this philosophy is less a metaphysic of the Notion or of Thought itself, than a philosophy in which Mind appears only in pare Thought, and not here in the mode of ordinary conception — Notions and Ideas are still represented as independent forms. Thus, for instance, it is said: “In the beginning the Word of God created the heavens, which consist of the purest Being and are the dwelling-place of the purest angels, which do not appear, and are not perceptible by the senses, — “but by thought alone; these are the Ideas. “The Creator before the whole of the intelligible world made the incorporeal heavens and the non. sensuous earth, and the Idea of the air and of the void, and after this the incorporeal essence of the water and an incorporeal light, and a non-sensuous archetype (arcetupoς) of the sun and all the stars;” and the sensuous world is the antitype of this. Philo now proceeds according to the Mosaic record. In the Old Testament history of creation, grass, plants, and trees are created on the third day, and on the fourth day lights in the firmament of heaven, the sun and moon. Philo therefore says (De mundi opificio, pp. 9, 10) that on the fourth day a number adorned the heavens, the four, the tetractys, the most perfect, &c. These are the main points in Philo’s philosophy.


Translated by E.S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, published by K. Paul Trench, Trübner in 1894.

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