Neoplatonism

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Neoplatonism is a strand of Platonic philosophy that emerged in the third century AD against the background of Hellenistic philosophy and religion. [note 1] [1] [note 2] The term does not encapsulate a set of ideas as much as it encapsulates a chain of thinkers which began with Ammonius Saccas and his student Plotinus (c. 204/5 – 270 AD) and which stretches to the sixth century AD. Even though neoplatonism primarily circumscribes the thinkers who are now labeled Neoplatonists and not their ideas, there are some ideas that are common to neoplatonic systems, for example, the monistic idea that all of reality can be derived from a single principle, "the One".

Platonism philosophical theory

Platonism is the philosophy of Plato and philosophical systems closely derived from it. The philosophy affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to exist in a third realm distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism. Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are sometimes called nominalists. The terms "platonism" and "nominalism" have established senses in the history of philosophy, where they denote positions that have little to do with the modern notion of an abstract object. Platonists do not necessarily accept any of the doctrines of Plato.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

Contents

After Plotinus there were three distinct periods in the history of neoplatonism: the work of his student Porphyry; that of Iamblichus and his school in Syria; and the period in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Academies in Alexandria and Athens flourished. [2]

Porphyry (philosopher) Neoplatonist philosopher

Porphyry of Tyre was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre, in the Roman Empire. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. His commentary on Euclid's Elements was used as a source by Pappus of Alexandria.

Iamblichus Syrian philosopher

Iamblichus was a Syrian Neoplatonist philosopher of Arab origin. He determined the direction that would later be taken by Neoplatonic philosophy. He was also the biographer of Pythagoras, a Greek mystic, philosopher and mathematician.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Neoplatonism had an enduring influence on the subsequent history of philosophy. In the Middle Ages, neoplatonic ideas were studied and discussed by Muslim, Christian, and Jewish thinkers. In the Islamic cultural sphere, neoplatonic texts were available in Arabic translations, and notable thinkers such as al-Farabi, Solomon ibn Gabirol (Avicebron), Avicenna, and Moses Maimonides incorporated neoplatonic elements into their own thinking. [3] Latin translations of late ancient neoplatonic texts were first available in the Christian West in the ninth century, and became influential from the twelfth century onward. Thomas Aquinas had direct access to works by Proclus, Simplicius and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and he knew about other Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus and Porphyry, through secondhand sources. [4] The mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328) was also influenced by neoplatonism, propagating a contemplative way of life which points to the Godhead beyond the nameable God.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th to the 15th century

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

Islamic philosophy

Islamic philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from an Islamic tradition. Two terms traditionally used in the Islamic world are sometimes translated as philosophy—falsafa, which refers to philosophy as well as logic, mathematics, and physics; and Kalam, which refers to a rationalist form of Islamic theology.

Christian philosophy

Christian philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from a Christian tradition.

Neoplatonism also had a strong influence on the Perennial philosophy of the Italian Renaissance thinkers Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, and continues through nineteenth-century Universalism and modern-day spirituality and nondualism.

Perennial philosophy, also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world's religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.

Marsilio Ficino Italian philosopher

Marsilio Ficino was an Italian scholar and Catholic priest who was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance. He was an astrologer, a reviver of Neoplatonism in touch with the major academics of his day and the first translator of Plato's complete extant works into Latin. His Florentine Academy, an attempt to revive Plato's Academy, influenced the direction and tenor of the Italian Renaissance and the development of European philosophy.

Universalism is the philosophical and theological concept that some ideas have universal application or applicability. A community that calls itself universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions, and accept others in an inclusive manner. It is centered on the belief in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine.

Origins of the term

Neoplatonism is a modern term. [note 1] The term neoplatonism has a double function as a historical category. On the one hand, it differentiates the philosophical doctrines of Plotinus and his successors from those of the historical Plato. On the other, the term makes an assumption about the novelty of Plotinus's interpretation of Plato. In the nearly six centuries from Plato's time to Plotinus', there had been an uninterrupted tradition of interpreting Plato which had begun with Aristotle and with the immediate successors of Plato's academy and continued on through a period of Platonism which is now referred to as Middle Platonism. The term neoplatonism implies that Plotinus' interpretation of Plato was so distinct from those of his predecessors that it should be thought to introduce a new period in the history of Platonism. Some contemporary scholars, however, have taken issue with this assumption and have doubted that neoplatonism constitutes a useful label. They claim that merely marginal differences separate Plotinus' teachings from those of his immediate predecessors.

Plotinus Neoplatonist philosopher

Plotinus was a major Greek-speaking philosopher of the ancient world. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic metaphysicians and mystics.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC – when Antiochus of Ascalon rejected the scepticism of the New Academy – until the development of Neoplatonism under Plotinus in the 3rd century. Middle Platonism absorbed many doctrines from the rival Peripatetic and Stoic schools. The pre-eminent philosopher in this period, Plutarch, defended the freedom of the will and the immortality of the soul. He sought to show that God, in creating the world, had transformed matter, as the receptacle of evil, into the divine soul of the world, where it continued to operate as the source of all evil. God is a transcendent being, which operates through divine intermediaries, which are the gods and daemons of popular religion. Numenius of Apamea combined Platonism with Neopythagoreanism and other eastern philosophies, in a move which would prefigure the development of Neoplatonism.

Whether neoplatonism is a meaningful or useful historical category is itself a central question concerning the history of the interpretation of Plato. For much of the history of Platonism, it was commonly accepted that the doctrines of the neoplatonists were essentially the same as those of Plato. The Renaissance Platonist Marsilio Ficino, for instance, thought that the neoplatonic interpretation of Plato was an authentic and accurate representation of Plato's philosophy. [7] Although it is unclear precisely when scholars began to disassociate the philosophy of the historical Plato from the philosophy of his neoplatonic interpreters, they had clearly begun to do so at least as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century. Contemporary scholars often identify the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher as an early thinker who took Plato's philosophy to be separate from that of his neoplatonic interpreters. However, others have argued that the differentiation of Plato from neoplatonism was the result of a protracted historical development that preceded Schleiermacher's scholarly work on Plato. [8]

Friedrich Schleiermacher German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity. He also became influential in the evolution of higher criticism, and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics. Because of his profound effect on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the "Father of Modern Liberal Theology" and is considered an early leader in liberal Christianity. The neo-orthodoxy movement of the twentieth century, typically seen to be spearheaded by Karl Barth, was in many ways an attempt to challenge his influence.

Origins and history of classical neoplatonism

Neoplatonism started with Plotinus in the third century. [1] [note 2] Three distinct phases in classical neoplatonism after Plotinus can be distinguished: the work of his student Porphyry; that of Iamblichus and his school in Syria; and the period in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Academies in Alexandria and Athens flourished. [2]

Hellenism

Neoplatonism synthesized ideas from various philosophical and religious cultural spheres. The most important forerunners from Greek philosophy were the Middle Platonists, such as Plutarch, and the neopythagoreans, especially Numenius of Apamea. Philo, a Hellenized Jew, translated Judaism into terms of Stoic, Platonic and neopythagorean elements, and held that God is "supra rational" and can be reached only through "ecstasy". Philo also held that the oracles of God supply the material of moral and religious knowledge. The earliest Christian philosophers, such as Justin and Athenagoras, who attempted to connect Christianity with Platonism, and the Christian Gnostics of Alexandria, especially Valentinus and the followers of Basilides, also mirrored elements of neoplatonism, [10] albeit without its rigorous self-consistency.

Saccas

Ammonius Saccas (died c.AD 265; Greek: Ἀμμώνιος Σακκᾶς) was a teacher of Plotinus. Through Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus may have been influenced by Indian thought. The similarities between neoplatonism and the Vedanta philosophies of Hinduism have led several authors to suggest an Indian influence in its founding, particularly on Ammonius Saccas. [11] [12] [13]

Both Christians (see Eusebius, Jerome, and Origen) and pagans (see Porphyry and Plotinus) claimed him a teacher and founder of the neoplatonic system.[ citation needed ] Porphyry stated in On the One School of Plato and Aristotle, that Ammonius' view was that the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle were in harmony. Eusebius and Jerome claimed him as a Christian until his death, whereas Porphyry claimed he had renounced Christianity and embraced pagan philosophy.

Plotinus

Plotinus (c.205 c.270; Greek: Πλωτῖνος), born in upper Egypt, was a major Egyptian [14] philosopher of the ancient world who is widely considered the father of neoplatonism. Much of our biographical information about him comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. While he was himself influenced by the teachings of classical Greek, Persian and Indian philosophy and Egyptian theology, [15] his metaphysical writings later inspired numerous Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics over the centuries.

Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity, nor distinction; likewise, it is beyond all categories of being and non-being. The concept of "being" is derived by us from the objects of human experience and is an attribute of such objects, but the infinite, transcendent One is beyond all such objects and, therefore, is beyond the concepts which we can derive from them. The One "cannot be any existing thing" and cannot be merely the sum of all such things (compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence) but "is prior to all existents".

Porphyry

Porphyry (Greek: Πορφύριος, c. 233–c. 309) was a Syrian [14] neoplatonist philosopher. He wrote widely on astrology, religion, philosophy, and musical theory. He produced a biography of his teacher, Plotinus. He is important in the history of mathematics because of his Life of Pythagoras and his commentary on Euclid's Elements, which Pappus used when he wrote his own commentary. Porphyry is also known as an opponent of Christianity and as a defender of Paganism; of his Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians) in 15 books, only fragments remain. He famously said, "The gods have proclaimed Christ to have been most pious, but the Christians are a confused and vicious sect."

Iamblichus

Iamblichus, also known as Iamblichus Chalcidensis (c.245 c.325; Greek: Ἰάμβλιχος), was a Syrian [14] neoplatonist philosopher who determined the direction taken by later neoplatonic philosophy and, perhaps, by western philosophical religions themselves. He is perhaps best known for his compendium on Pythagorean philosophy. In Iamblichus' system, the realm of divinities stretched from the original One down to material nature itself, where soul, in fact, descended into matter and became "embodied" as human beings. The world is thus peopled by a crowd of superhuman beings influencing natural events and possessing and communicating knowledge of the future, and who are all accessible to prayers and offerings. Iamblichus had salvation as his final goal (see henosis). The embodied soul was to return to divinity by performing certain rites, or theurgy, literally, 'divine-working'.

Academies

After Plotinus' (around 205–270) and his student Porphyry (around 232–309) Aristotle's (non-biological) works entered the curriculum of Platonic thought. Porphyry's introduction (Isagoge) to Aristotle's Categoria was important as an introduction to logic, and the study of Aristotle became an introduction to the study of Plato in the late Platonism of Athens and Alexandria. The commentaries of this group seek to harmonise Plato, Aristotle, and, often, the Stoa. [16] Some works of neoplatonism were attributed to Plato or Aristotle. De Mundo , for instance, is thought not to be the work of a 'pseudo-Aristotle' though this remains debatable. [17]

Hypatia (c.360 – 415) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician who served as head of the Platonist school in Alexandria, Egypt, where she taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy prior to her murder by a fanatical mob of Coptic Parabalani monks because she had been advising the Christian prefect of Egypt Orestes during his feud with Cyril, Alexandria's dynastic archbishop. [18] The extent of Cyril's personal involvement in her murder remains a matter of scholarly debate.

Proclus Lycaeus (February 8, 412 – April 17, 485), surnamed "The Successor" or "diadochos" (Greek Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος Próklos ho Diádokhos), was a Greek neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major Greek philosophers (see Damascius). He set forth one of the most elaborate, complex, and fully developed neoplatonic systems, providing also an allegorical way of reading the dialogues of Plato. The particular characteristic of Proclus' system is his insertion of a level of individual ones, called henads between the One itself and the divine Intellect, which is the second principle. The henads are beyond being, like the One itself, but they stand at the head of chains of causation (seirai or taxeis) and in some manner give to these chains their particular character. They are also identified with the traditional Greek gods, so one henad might be Apollo and be the cause of all things apollonian, while another might be Helios and be the cause of all sunny things. The henads serve both to protect the One itself from any hint of multiplicity and to draw up the rest of the universe towards the One, by being a connecting, intermediate stage between absolute unity and determinate multiplicity.

Ideas

The Enneads of Plotinus are the primary and classical document of neoplatonism. As a form of mysticism, it contains theoretical and practical parts. The theoretical parts deal with the high origin of the human soul, showing how it has departed from its first estate. The practical parts show the way by which the soul may again return to the Eternal and Supreme. [10] The system can be divided between the invisible world and the phenomenal world, the former containing the transcendent One from which emanates an eternal, perfect, essence ( nous ), which, in turn, produces the world-soul.

The One

For Plotinus, the first principle of reality is "the One", an utterly simple, ineffable, unknowable subsistence which is both the creative source and the teleological end of all existing things. Although, properly speaking, there is no name appropriate for the first principle, the most adequate names are "the One" or "the Good". The One is so simple that it cannot even be said to exist or to be a being. Rather, the creative principle of all things is beyond being, a notion which is derived from Book VI of the Republic, [19] when, in the course of his famous analogy of the sun, Plato says that the Good is beyond being (ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας) in power and dignity. [20] In Plotinus' model of reality, the One is the cause of the rest of reality, which takes the form of two subsequent "hypostases", Nous and Soul. Although neoplatonists after Plotinus adhered to his cosmological scheme in its most general outline, later developments in the tradition also departed substantively from Plotinus' teachings in regards to significant philosophical issues, such as the nature of evil.

Emanations

From the One emanated the rest of the universe as a sequence of lesser beings.

Demiurge or Nous

The original Being initially emanates, or throws out, the nous , which is a perfect image of the One and the archetype of all existing things. It is simultaneously both being and thought, idea and ideal world. As image, the nous corresponds perfectly to the One, but as derivative, it is entirely different. What Plotinus understands by the nous is the highest sphere accessible to the human mind, [10] while also being pure intellect itself. Nous is the most critical component of idealism, Neoplatonism being a pure form of idealism. [note 3] The demiurge (the nous) is the energy, or ergon (does the work), which manifests or organises the material world into perceivability.

The world-soul

The image and product of the motionless nous is the world-soul , which, according to Plotinus, is immaterial like the nous. Its relation to the nous is the same as that of the nous to the One. It stands between the nous and the phenomenal world, and it is permeated and illuminated by the former, but it is also in contact with the latter. The nous/spirit is indivisible; the world-soul may preserve its unity and remain in the nous, but, at the same time, it has the power of uniting with the corporeal world and thus being disintegrated. It therefore occupies an intermediate position. As a single world-soul, it belongs in essence and destination to the intelligible world; but it also embraces innumerable individual souls; and these can either allow themselves to be informed by the nous, or turn aside from the nous and choose the phenomenal world and lose themselves in the realm of the senses and the finite. [10]

The phenomenal world

The soul, as a moving essence, generates the corporeal or phenomenal world. This world ought to be so pervaded by the soul that its various parts should remain in perfect harmony. Plotinus is no dualist in the same sense as sects like the Gnostics; in contrast, he admires the beauty and splendour of the world. So long as idea governs matter, or the soul governs the body, the world is fair and good. It is an image – though a shadowy image – of the upper world, and the degrees of better and worse in it are essential to the harmony of the whole. But, in the actual phenomenal world, unity and harmony are replaced by strife or discord; the result is a conflict, a becoming and vanishing, an illusive existence. And the reason for this state of things is that bodies rest on a substratum of matter. Matter is the indeterminate: that with no qualities. If destitute of form and idea, it is evil; as capable of form, it is neutral. [10] Evil here is understood as a parasite, having no-existence of its own (parahypostasis), an unavoidable outcome of the Universe, having an "other" necessity, as a harmonizing factor. [23]

Celestial hierarchy

Later neoplatonic philosophers, especially Iamblichus, added hundreds of intermediate beings such as gods, angels, demons, and other beings as mediators between the One and humanity. The neoplatonist gods are omni-perfect beings and do not display the usual amoral behaviour associated with their representations in the myths.

Evil

Neoplatonists did not believe in an independent existence of evil. They compared it to darkness, which does not exist in itself but only as the absence of light. So, too, evil is simply the absence of good. Things are good insofar as they exist; they are evil only insofar as they are imperfect, lacking some good which they should have.

Return to the One

Neoplatonists believed human perfection and happiness were attainable in this world, without awaiting an afterlife. Perfection and happiness— seen as synonymous— could be achieved through philosophical contemplation.

All people return to the One, from which they emanated. [24] [25] [26]

The neoplatonists believed in the pre-existence, and immortality of the soul. [27] [28] The human soul consists of a lower irrational soul and a higher rational soul (mind), both of which can be regarded as different powers of the one soul. It was widely held that the soul possesses a "vehicle", [29] accounting for the human soul's immortality and allowing for its return to the One after death. [30] After bodily death, the soul takes up a level in the afterlife corresponding with the level at which it lived during its earthly life. [31] [32] The neoplatonists believed in the principle of reincarnation. Although the most pure and holy souls would dwell in the highest regions, the impure soul would undergo a purification, [28] before descending again, [33] to be reincarnated into a new body, perhaps into animal form. [34] Plotinus believed that a soul may be reincarnated into another human or even a different sort of animal. However, Porphyry maintained, instead, that human souls were only reincarnated into other humans. [35] A soul which has returned to the One achieves union with the cosmic universal soul [36] and does not descend again, at least, not in this world period. [33]

Influence

Early Christianity

Augustine

Certain central tenets of neoplatonism served as a philosophical interim for the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo on his journey from dualistic Manichaeism to Christianity. [37] As a Manichee hearer, Augustine had held that evil has substantial being and that God is made of matter; when he became a neoplatonist, he changed his views on these things. As a neoplatonist, and later a Christian, Augustine believed that evil is a privation of good [38] and that God is not material. [39] When writing his treatise 'On True Religion' several years after his 387 baptism, Augustine's Christianity was still tempered by neoplatonism.

The term "Logos" was interpreted variously in neoplatonism. Plotinus refers to Thales [40] in interpreting Logos as the principle of meditation, the interrelationship between the Hypostases [41] (Soul, Spirit (nous) and the 'One'). St. John introduces a relation between 'Logos' and the Son, Christ, [42] whereas, St. Paul calls it 'Son', 'Image', and 'Form'. [42] [43] [44] Victorinus subsequently differentiated the Logos interior to God from the Logos related to the world by creation and salvation. [42]

For Augustine, the Logos "took on flesh" in Christ, in whom the logos was present as in no other man. [45] [46] [47] He strongly influenced Early Medieval Christian Philosophy. [48] Perhaps the key subject in this was Logos.

Origen and Pseudo-Dionysius

Some early Christians, influenced by neoplatonism, identified the Neoplatonic One, or God, with Yahweh. The most influential of these would be Origen, the pupil of Ammonius Saccas; and the fifth-century author known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, whose works were translated by John Scotus in the ninth century for the West. Both authors had a lasting influence on Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, and the development of contemplative and mystical practices and theology.

Gnosticism

Neoplatonism also had links with Gnosticism, which Plotinus rebuked in his ninth tractate of the second Enneads : "Against Those That Affirm The Creator of The Cosmos and The Cosmos Itself to Be Evil" (generally known as "Against The Gnostics").

Due to their belief being grounded in Platonic thought, the neoplatonists rejected Gnosticism's vilification of Plato's demiurge, the creator of the material world or cosmos discussed in the Timaeus. Neoplatonism has been referred to as orthodox Platonic philosophy by scholars like John D. Turner; this reference may be due, in part, to Plotinus' attempt to refute certain interpretations of Platonic philosophy, through his Enneads. Plotinus believed the followers of Gnosticism had corrupted the original teachings of Plato and often argued against likes of Valentinus who, according to Plotinus, had given rise to doctrines of dogmatic theology with ideas such as that the Spirit of Christ was brought forth by a conscious god after the fall from Pleroma. According to Plotinus, The One is not a conscious god with intent nor a godhead nor a conditioned existing entity of any kind, rather a requisite principle of totality which is also the source of ultimate wisdom. [49]

Byzantine education

After the Platonic Academy was destroyed in the first century BC, philosophers continued to teach Platonism, but it was not until the early 5th century (c. 410) that a revived academy (which had no connection with the original Academy) was established in Athens by some leading Neoplatonists. [50] It persisted until 529 AD when it was finally closed by Justinian I because of active paganism of its professors. Other schools continued in Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria which were the centers of Justinian's empire. [51] [52]

After the closure of the Neoplatonic academy, neoplatonic and/or secular philosophical studies continued in publicly funded schools in Alexandria. In the early seventh century, the neoplatonist Stephanus brought this Alexandrian tradition to Constantinople, where it would remain influential, albeit as a form of secular education. [52] The university maintained an active philosophical tradition of Platonism and Aristotelianism, with the former being the longest unbroken Platonic school, running for close to two millennia until the fifteenth century [52]

Michael Psellos (1018–1078) a Byzantine monk, writer, philosopher, politician, and historian. He wrote many philosophical treatises such as De omnifaria doctrina. He wrote most of his philosophy during his time as a court politician at Constantinople in the 1030s and 1040s.

Gemistus Pletho (c.1355 – 1452; Greek: Πλήθων Γεμιστός) remained the preeminent scholar of neoplatonic philosophy in the late Byzantine Empire. He introduced his understanding and insight into the works of neoplatonism during the failed attempt to reconcile the East–West Schism at the council of Florence. At Florence, Pletho met Cosimo de' Medici and influenced the latter's decision to found a new Platonic Academy there. Cosimo subsequently appointed as head Marsilio Ficino, who proceeded to translate all Plato's works, the Enneads of Plotinus, and various other neoplatonist works into Latin.

Islamic neoplatonism

There were three major reasons for the prominence of neoplatonic influences in the historical Muslim world:

  1. Availability of neoplatonic texts: Arabic translations and paraphrases of neoplatonic works were readily available to Islamic scholars greatly due to the availability of the Greek copies, in part, because Muslims came to rule over some of the more important centres of Greek civilisation (Egypt and Syria).
  2. Spatial and temporal proximity: "Plotinus and other Neoplatonists lived only a few centuries before the rise of Islam, and many of them were Egyptian Greeks."
  3. Neoplatonism's mystical perspectives: Plotinus' system has similar content to Islamic mysticism, like Sufism. This eased the acceptance of neoplatonic doctrines by Islamic philosophers. [53]

Various Arabic scholars and philosophers, including Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Ibn Arabi, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and al-Himsi, adapted neoplatonism to conform to the monotheistic constraints of Islam. [54] The translations of the works which extrapolate the tenets of God in neoplatonism present no major modification from their original Greek sources, showing the doctrinal shift towards monotheism. [55] Islamic adapted the concepts of the One and the First Principle to Islamic theology, attributing the First Principle to God. [56] God is a transcendent being, omnipresent and inalterable to the effects of creation. [55] Islamic philosophers used the framework of Islamic mysticism in their interpretation of Neoplatonic writings and concepts. [note 4]

The translation and interpretation of Islamic neoplatonists had lasting effects on Western philosophers, affecting Descartes' view on the conception of being.

Jewish thought

In the Middle Ages, neoplatonist ideas influenced Jewish thinkers, such as the Kabbalist Isaac the Blind, and the Jewish neoplatonic philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol (Avicebron), who modified it in the light of their own monotheism. Neoplatonist ideas also influenced Islamic and Sufi thinkers such as al Farabi and Avicenna.

Western mysticism

The works of Pseudo-Dionysius were instrumental in the flowering of western medieval mysticism, most notably Meister Eckhart.

Western Renaissance

Neoplatonism ostensibly survived in the Eastern Christian Church as an independent tradition and was reintroduced to the West by Pletho (c.1355 – 1452/1454), an avowed pagan and opponent of the Byzantine Church, inasmuch as the latter, under Western scholastic influence, relied heavily upon Aristotelian methodology. Plethon's Platonic revival, following the Council of Florence (1438–1439), largely accounts for the renewed interest in Platonic philosophy which accompanied the Renaissance.

"Of all the students of Greek in Renaissance Italy, the best-known are the Neoplatonists who studied in and around Florence" (Hole). Neoplatonism was not just a revival of Plato's ideas, it is all based on Plotinus' created synthesis, which incorporated the works and teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and other Greek philosophers. The Renaissance in Italy was the revival of classic antiquity, and this started at the fall of the Byzantine empire, who were considered the "librarians of the world", because of their great collection of classical manuscripts and the number of humanist scholars that resided in Constantinople (Hole).

Neoplatonism in the Renaissance combined the ideas of Christianity and a new awareness of the writings of Plato.

Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) was "chiefly responsible for packaging and presenting Plato to the Renaissance" (Hole). In 1462, Cosimo I de' Medici, patron of arts, who had an interest in humanism and Platonism, provided Ficino with all 36 of Plato's dialogues in Greek for him to translate. Between 1462 and 1469, Ficino translated these works into Latin, making them widely accessible, as only a minority of people could read Greek. And, between 1484 and 1492, he translated the works of Plotinus, making them available for the first time to the West.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) was another excelling neoplatonist during the Italian Renaissance. He could not only speak and write in Latin and Greek, but he also had immense knowledge on the Hebrew and Arabic languages. The pope banned his works because they were viewed as heretical – unlike Ficino, who managed to stay on the right side of the church.

The efforts of Ficino and Pico to introduce neoplatonic and Hermetic doctrines into the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has recently been evaluated in terms of an attempted "Hermetic Reformation". [58]

Cambridge Platonists (17th century)

In the seventeenth century in England, neoplatonism was fundamental to the school of the Cambridge Platonists, whose luminaries included Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote and John Smith, all graduates of the University of Cambridge. Coleridge claimed that they were not really Platonists, but "more truly Plotinists": "divine Plotinus", as More called him.

Later, Thomas Taylor (not a Cambridge Platonist) was the first to translate Plotinus' works into English. [59] [60]

Transcendentalism and Perennial Philosophy

Modern neoplatonism

Notable modern neoplatonists include Thomas Taylor, "the English Platonist", who wrote extensively on Platonism and translated almost the entire Platonic and Plotinian corpora into English, and the Belgian writer Suzanne Lilar.

The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick identified as a Neoplatonist and explores related mystical experiences and religious concepts in his theoretical work, compiled in The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.[ citation needed ]

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 The term first appeared in 1827. [5] According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , "The term 'Neoplatonism' is an invention of early 19th century European scholarship and indicates the penchant of historians for dividing 'periods' in history. In this case, the term was intended to indicate that Plotinus initiated a new phase in the development of the Platonic tradition." [6]
  2. 1 2 Pauline Remes: "'Neoplatonism' refers to a school of thought that began in approximately 245 CE, when a man called Plotinus moved [to] the capital of the Roman Empire [and] began teaching his interpretation of Plato's philosophy. Out of the association of people in Rome [...] emerged a school of philosophy that displays enough originality to be considered a new phase of Platonism". [9]
  3. Schopenhauer wrote of this neoplatonist philosopher: "With Plotinus there even appears, probably for the first time in Western philosophy, idealism that had long been current in the East even at that time, for it taught (Enneads, iii, lib. vii, c.10) that the soul has made the world by stepping from eternity into time, with the explanation: 'For there is for this universe no other place than the soul or mind' (neque est alter hujus universi locus quam anima), indeed the ideality of time is expressed in the words: 'We should not accept time outside the soul or mind' (oportet autem nequaquam extra animam tempus accipere)." [21]

    Similarly, professor Ludwig Noiré wrote: "For the first time in Western philosophy we find idealism proper in Plotinus (Enneads, iii, 7, 10), where he says, "The only space or place of the world is the soul," and "Time must not be assumed to exist outside the soul." [22] It is worth noting, however, that, like Plato, but unlike Schopenhauer and other modern philosophers, Plotinus does not worry about whether or how we can get beyond our ideas in order to know external objects.
  4. Morewedge: "The greatest cluster of Neoplatonic themes is found in religious mystical writings, which in fact transform purely orthodox doctrines such as creation into doctrines such as emanationism, which allow for a better framework for the expression of Neoplatonic themes and the emergence of the mystical themes of the ascent and mystical union." [57]

Related Research Articles

Ammonius Saccas was a Greek philosopher from Alexandria who was often referred to as one of the founders of Neoplatonism. He is mainly known as the teacher of Plotinus, whom he taught for eleven years from 232 to 243. He was undoubtedly the biggest influence on Plotinus in his development of Neoplatonism, although little is known about his own philosophical views. Later Christian writers stated that Ammonius was a Christian, but it is now generally assumed that there was a different Ammonius of Alexandria who wrote biblical texts.

In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge is an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe. The Gnostics adopted the term "demiurge". Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the monotheistic sense, because the demiurge itself and the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are both considered to be consequences of something else. Depending on the system, they may be considered to be either uncreated and eternal or the product of some other entity.

Theurgy

Theurgy describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more deities, especially with the goal of achieving henosis and perfecting oneself.

<i>Logos</i> Philosophical concept

Logos is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus, who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.

Thomas Taylor (neoplatonist) English translator and Neoplatonist

Thomas Taylor was an English translator and Neoplatonist, the first to translate into English the complete works of Aristotle and of Plato, as well as the Orphic fragments.

Numenius of Apamea was a Greek philosopher, who lived in Apamea in Syria and Rome, and flourished during the latter half of the 2nd century AD. He was a Neopythagorean and forerunner of the Neoplatonists.

Neoplatonism and Gnosticism

Gnosticism refers to a collection of religious groups originating in Jewish religiosity in Alexandria in the first few centuries CE. Neoplatonism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century, based on the teachings of Plato and some of his early followers. While Gnosticism was influenced by Middle Platonism, neo-Platonists from the third century onward rejected Gnosticism.

Henosis

Henosis is the classical Greek word for mystical "oneness", "union" or "unity." In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One, the Source, or Monad. The Neoplatonic concept has precedents in the Greek mystery religions as well as parallels in Eastern philosophy. It is further developed in the Corpus Hermeticum, in Christian theology, Alevism, soteriology and mysticism, and is an important factor in the historical development of monotheism during Late Antiquity.

John Myles Dillon is an Irish classicist and philosopher who was Regius Professor of Greek in Trinity College, Dublin between 1980 and 2006. Prior to that he taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens on 15 June 2010. Dillon's area of research lies in the history of Platonism from the Old Academy to the Renaissance, and also Early Christianity.

Neoplatonism and Christianity

Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.

Plutarch of Athens was a Greek philosopher and Neoplatonist who taught in Athens at the beginning of the 5th century. He reestablished the Platonic Academy there and became its leader. He wrote commentaries on Aristotle and Plato, emphasizing the doctrines which they had in common.

Platonism, especially in its Neoplatonist form, underwent a revival in the Renaissance, as part of a general revival of interest in Classical antiquity. Interest in Platonism was especially strong in Florence under the Medici.

Origen the Neoplatonist was a Platonist philosopher who lived in Alexandria. He was a student of Ammonius Saccas and a contemporary of Plotinus in Ammonius's philosophy school in Alexandria. It is possible that he was the famous Christian philosopher and theologian Origen of Alexandria, who was educated by Ammonius Saccas..

Commentaries on Plato refers to the great mass of literature produced, especially in the ancient and medieval world, to explain and clarify the works of Plato. Many Platonist philosophers in the centuries following Plato sought to clarify and summarise his thoughts, but it was during the Roman era, that the Neoplatonists, in particular, wrote many commentaries on individual dialogues of Plato, many of which survive to the present day.

Allegorical interpretations of Plato

Many Plato interpreters held that his writings contain passages with double meanings, called 'allegories' or 'symbols', that give the dialogues layers of figurative meaning in addition to their usual literal meaning. These allegorical interpretations of Plato were dominant for more than fifteen hundred years, from about the first century CE through the Renaissance and into the Eighteenth Century, and were advocated by major figures such as Plotinus, Proclus, and Ficino. Beginning with Philo of Alexandria, these views influenced Jewish, Christian and Islamic interpretation of their holy scriptures. They spread widely in the Renaissance and contributed to the fashion for allegory among poets such as Dante, Spenser, and Shakespeare.

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Further reading